“They’re putting in a treadmill tomorrow,” said Clint, popping open a beer. “Keep them from going stir crazy. Director Coulson approved it.” He grinned at Natasha. “Anything for the Captain.”
“I guess so.” She glanced around the small utilitarian room next to the cell, wondering how many of the other agents came here. She’d only seen two so far in the entire base.
“And Bucky’s new therapist will be here the day after that,” said Clint, resting a hip against the counter next to the monitor and taking a sip of his beer. “He’s gonna be a busy guy. Bucky’s not his only patient. I think Coulson was happy for the excuse to hire somebody.”
“SHIELD’s always been messed up,” said Natasha.
“Yeah, no kidding. More so now.” He shrugged. “I think they’re all pretty happy to be doing this for Steve. Including the interior decorating on their cell.”
“You should see the other cell they’ve got in this place. Not nearly as homey,” said Clint. “Then again, the psychopath in it isn’t nearly as nice either.”
“As nice as Barnes, you mean? Who is it?”
“The guy who killed Victoria Hand, among a bunch of others.”
Natasha’s eyebrows shot up. “He’s here?”
Clint nodded. “Real psycho. They keep him in a bare cell. He makes Bucky look pretty cuddly.”
Natasha frowned. “Do they know what ‘Bucky’ has done?”
Clint’s lips pressed together. “They all know, Nat. They were briefed.”
“Not just as the Winter Soldier.”
“Trust me, they know everything he’s done,” Clint said evenly. “But if Captain America is willing to keep working with him, they’re willing to try too.”
“Captain America has no sense of self-preservation.”
“Most of us don’t,” Clint pointed out. “The folks living here don’t, or they would’ve turned themselves in a long time ago. Instead they’re in a hidey-hole in Bumfuck, Nowhere.” He took another sip. “So, how’s it going back home? Has the media gone apeshit with Captain America’s vanishing act?”
“That’s a pretty accurate description, actually,” said Natasha. She, Sam and Tony had given statements about Steve’s disappearance, making it sound like he’d gone off after a promising lead, but no one had bought it.
“How close are they to putting out a warrant for him?”
Natasha pursed her lips. “It’s hard to tell. Steve’s doing pretty well right now, image-wise. Everyone knows he’s willing to put himself on the line for what’s right. If he says he’s keeping quiet about Barnes because of HYDRA, people are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt so far. I don’t think anyone’s eager for a repeat of the last time he was declared a fugitive and it turned out he was just being his usual hero self.” She glanced at the monitor again. “So how have they spent the last two weeks?”
Clint shrugged. “At first it was pretty grim. You know Steve; he was all stoic and square-jawed and inspirational. Bucky didn’t want to be here. He was still pushing for cryo.”
Natasha raised her eyebrows. “You’re buying that?”
Clint sighed and sat down, straddling the chair in front of Natasha and giving her a level look. “Nat. He’s trying. I know you wanted cryo, too, but he’s trying. We need to give him the benefit of--”
“We were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt before. Look how that turned out.”
“Being suspicious of him now isn’t going to help. We decided to help him--”
“We didn’t decide this; we were outvoted,” Natasha clarified, still bitter. She glared at him. “All right, what changed? You fought tooth and nail to get him put in cryo until we figured out how to rewire him. I’m gone for two weeks and come back to find he’s your new best friend?”
Clint returned her glare. “You know damn well why I felt how I did,” he shot back. “OK, fine. You want me to couch-psycho-analyze myself, fine. I was sympathetic to Bucky because I can identify with being forced to do something for someone else, and with - with all the other shit that happened to him.”
Natasha put a hand on Clint’s arm soothingly, somewhat sorry she’d needled him. Clint had had enough abuse in his childhood that it hadn’t surprised her to see him identify with someone with Bucky’s history.
“And OK, fine, so I’m not the most well-adjusted guy,” Clint continued. “So it didn’t take much for me to go from identifying with Bucky to identifying with Steve when he was pretty much forced to let Bucky hurt him. Mighta made me a little tetchy when we were trying to figure out what to do.” He gave her a wry grin. “I own my psychopathologies, y’know?”
“Bucky has,” he said simply.
“In what way?”
“It’s not just how he was while we were still in New York,” said Clint, and Natasha nodded, remembering how Barnes had insisted there was nothing to be done, that he was too damaged for them to keep wasting their time on him. She’d had a hard time not believing him herself. “It’s how he’s been since they’ve been here. He’s even more confined than before, but he’s...” he trailed off, then shrugged helplessly. “He’s just different, is all. Toward Steve - toward everyone. He’s lost the ginormous chip on his shoulder, for one thing.” He paused. “I mean, he... he still gets frustrated and pissed off, but he’s not taking it out on anybody else. And yeah, OK, so he’s sorta tried to figure out how to get out twice, but he told Steve about both attempts pretty quick.”
“Had anyone noticed what he was doing?”
“Yeah. JARVIS had noted it. They weren’t serious attempts.”
“So you have no proof that he wasn’t just doing both - the attempts and the telling Steve about it - to lull you into a false sense of security.”
Clint nodded tiredly, conceding the point.
She glanced at the monitor, where Steve had now switched on the unit’s video screen and the two of them were watching a show. MASH, of all things. “They’ve settled into domestic life, then?”
Clint followed her gaze. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Has he tried anything?”
“Barnes. With Steve.”
Clint’s eyes widened. “You mean, has he come on to Steve again? Are you kidding?”
“Why would I be?”
“Natasha. He was...” Clint stopped. “OK, um, you haven’t seen him. He’s pretty destroyed. I think he can deal with everything he’s done, but not hurting Steve.”
“He was a good guy before HYDRA got a hold of him. I think he was still holding on to that. Thinking of himself as a good guy who’d done bad stuff because he was brainwashed, and because he was trying to get out. He can’t tell himself that any more. And it’s killing him.”
Natasha gave an indelicate snort and tilted her head at the screen, where Barnes and Steve were chuckling at the show. “Obviously not, in that he’s very much alive. He’s an assassin; if he wanted to kill himself he would’ve found a way.”
“Don’t joke about that,” said Clint. “I think he would have if it wasn’t the easy way out.”
“Easy way out?”
“He knows it would kill Steve.”
Natasha held her tongue, unwilling to argue with Clint about this just yet, and glanced around at the SHIELD quarters where Steve and Barnes had ended up.
Isolated, yes, and far more off the radar than Tony’s tower, but not exactly the middle of nowhere. They’d talked about putting them somewhere like Outer Mongolia, but had decided against it in the end. Bucky was an American, and would stay in America, for now at least.
If they did move him, they’d have to move him somewhere that nobody cared about. Some country with no international influence, where nobody would care about endangering civilians. Nowhere in Europe, certainly. They had a couple of bases in South America. Nobody cared what went on there.
She suddenly remembered a rather cynical equation she’d seen a long time ago, calculating how valuable individual lives were in terms of outrage in the world’s media when they were lost or endangered. One American life was worth two British, if she remembered correctly. Also three Canadians, four Germans and about a thousand Africans. Maybe they could send Bucky to a safehouse in Africa...
And how would Steve feel about them coldly deciding that endangering African lives didn’t matter as much as American ones? This was the man who’d decided his own life didn’t matter all that much, several times, after all...
“Hey,” Clint said softly, interrupting her train of thought. “Nat. Come on. What’s with the hardass bitch routine?” Natasha stared at him impassively. “You know better than anyone what that guy’s gone through. You know how people like him are trained, you know how hard it is to come out of it. Why are you giving him such a hard time?”
“I do know how hard it is to come out of it,” Natasha snapped back. “That’s exactly why I don’t trust him.”
“Come on. That’s not all of it.”
Natasha swallowed, her mind churning. “Steve is naive as hell.”
“No shit. And?”
“He’s naive and idealistic and he’s in love and he’s going to let Bucky Barnes destroy him.”
Clint looked away.
“If we’d put Barnes in cryo we still could have helped him eventually. I didn’t argue for execution. But this... Steve...”
Steve is going to lose here. He’s going to lose his innocence, his innate idealism, which he’s somehow still held on to despite his childhood and the War and loss and despite everything. And for someone who can’t possibly return the depth of his feeling, because he’s broken like me, and I know just how much people like us can feel, and Steve could’ve recovered from losing the Bucky he knew - he was recovering from losing him - he could recover again if Barnes was safely stored away somewhere else, and instead he’s going to...
No. She couldn’t articulate any of that. The words stuck in her throat, even in front of Clint.
She glanced at the monitor, where Steve and Barnes were still watching their silly war show. “How’s Steve doing?”
Clint rolled his eyes. “Well, he sleeps with his door open, the idiot.”
“I thought you trusted Barnes.”
“I trust that he wants to do better. I don’t trust that he won’t snap in the middle of the night. Neither should Steve.” He gave her a level look over his beer. “And maybe you could start using his name, Nat. Call him Bucky. He’s not the enemy. He’s a human being.”
“A dangerous human being.” Natasha stood up, looking away from the charming little scene on the screen, and realized she was clenching her fists. “So... everything’s all right, then. They’ve set up housekeeping in their little cell, Steve forgave Barnes before Barnes ever asked, and... everyone’s friends. Steve’s the devoted boyfriend and his faith will bring Barnes through. And we’re all fine with that.”
Clint blew out his breath. “Nat. Sit down.”
“Sit down.” He pushed the chair out for her.
She sat back down reluctantly and Clint fiddled with the label on his beer bottle for a moment, chewing on his lip. She waited impatiently for him to organize his thoughts.
“Nat.” He met her gaze seriously. “We’re not all fine with it. I’m not, anyway. It’s not OK. It’s nowhere in the neighborhood of OK. It’s really, really, really fucked up.”
Natasha stared at him.
“You remember when Bucky deliberately triggered Bruce? And then Bruce didn’t go near him again?”
“Bruce didn’t blame him, and he still tried to help him, but he wasn’t an idiot. He knew enough to protect himself. Steve doesn’t.”
“Steve’s not a child.”
“No, but we all know our esteemed Captain’s a little fucked when it comes to the whole self-preservation thing, and I know that coming from me that’s pretty rich.” He leaned forward. “Listen, the devoted boyfriend thing is all fine and good, but I’d be a lot happier if he hightailed it outta here. He’s not just putting his own rep in danger and putting himself damn close to being considered a fugitive. He’s not - after what happened, he should have gotten counselling, not gone to live with the guy who--” he broke off and shook his head. “And - and I know why he wants to keep trying. I mean, I know he’s in love with the guy. But... call me a cynic who doesn’t get lifelong soulmates or whatever, but to me it just... doesn’t look healthy.”
Natasha nodded slowly.
“The thing is, he’s gonna do it anyway,” Clint said heavily. “He’s gonna stay in there. He doesn’t have a ‘back off and cut your losses’ setting.”
“No, he doesn’t.”
“He’s not even dealing with what happened. He’s pretty much convinced himself that what happened was just a glitch. He’s ignoring it.”
“That’s not healthy either.”
“No, it’s not.” Clint waved at the monitor. “Look, I’ve changed my mind about Bucky, Nat. I finally agreed with continuing to treat him, and coming here to see if I could help. And not holding what happened against him.” He sighed. “I just never thought it was a good idea for Steve to still be involved.”
Natasha gazed at the two men on the monitor.
“‘Cause that’s not love, that’s codependence.”
Well, better than dealing with the press. Which was why she was recovering at SHIELD’s hidey-hole, instead of in New York or Washington.
“Why isn’t Captain America doing anything about this?” she’d been asked yesterday on the street by some eager beaver reporter, after he’d informed her of some explosion that was being blamed on HYDRA.
“Probably because he can’t step on American soil without the government tracking him down and wanting him to talk about Sergeant Barnes,” she’d snapped.
Sergeant Barnes, she’d been careful to say. Not the Winter Soldier.
Just as she was now careful to refer to him as Bucky, not Barnes, when she thought of him.
They were so damned shorthanded, she thought, looking around. This SHIELD bolt hole Phil had taken over was huge but almost always empty, its few agents frazzled and overworked. Not the best place to put Steve and Barnes - Bucky - but it’s not like they’d had a lot of choices.
Well, at least she could help with that right now. She wasn’t totally useless. If she couldn’t help fight HYDRA right now, she could at least help Steve. Clint was right; the decision had been made, and she needed to try to help, not hold on to her suspicions past the point of usefulness. She’d been unwilling to make herself actually talk to Steve and Bucky last time she’d been here, but that had been almost three weeks ago. She’d go in and see Steve tomorrow. Maybe even talk to Bucky, as it was impossible to see one without the other.
She glanced over at the monitor. It bothered her somewhat to have no permanent guard on duty, as there had been while Bucky had been at Avengers Tower, but the agents were doing their best. A Tony-loaned version of JARVIS was running 24/7, and there was often also human surveillance over the monitor. The local agents, frazzled as they were, were regularly going in to the cell to keep Steve and Bucky company - especially the one whose grandfather had apparently been one of the Howling Commandos, though apparently he hadn’t shared that with either of the men in the unit yet.
She rubbed her eyes, wondering if anybody else was awake, and if anybody else was watching the screens right now other than JARVIS. She’d glanced at them desultorily herself a few times, but it was late and Steve and Bucky hadn’t done much other than watch TV, take turns on the treadmill, then go to bed. The displays were on infrared now, showing black-and-green images.
There had been nothing to see, for weeks. Bucky occasionally lashed out, but never at Steve. For the most part, they just existed together. Reading, drawing (in Steve’s case), watching TV, and exercising.
Now she glanced over the reports about Bucky. Bucky had been attending his therapy and cooperating. He’d had a few incidents lately, but been restrained before he could do much damage to himself, since he couldn’t damage the high-tech cage they had him in. JARVIS had dumped sedative on him - knocked out Steve at the same time, but that couldn’t be helped. A couple of the more techy agents were going to make something more localized... in their copious spare time.
She rubbed her eyes again, wondering about maybe going to bed. Decided to glance over one more report and raised her eyebrows at its description.
Apparently Bruce Banner had been here a little while ago. She hadn’t even known he knew about this place, but apparently he’d been to visit Steve and spoken to Bucky while he was here. She felt a prickle of guilt at her own distance from them since New York.
She opened the transcript file, scrolled past the pleasantries... catching Steve up with what was going on back home... Steve had left and gone to his alcove... Bruce and Bucky talked about random stuff...
Banner: You know I do have some experience being responsible for some pretty crappy stuff.
Barnes: You weren’t yourself when you did it.
Banner: Neither were you.
Barnes: Close enough.
Banner: And I have some experience with wanting to deal with what I've done by just not being around to deal with it anymore.
Natasha blinked. Had Bruce really insinuated that...
She glanced at the time stamps on the transcript. There had apparently been a long silence after that.
Barnes: He wouldn’t have to deal with me. He wouldn’t have to be here. He’d be free.
Banner: And what do you think it would do to Steve if you freed him that way?
Had Bucky actually gone that low, that Bruce had thought to come and give him a pep talk? Clint had mentioned something like that, but...
Or was he maybe manipulating them again? Getting everyone worried about him so they’d let down their guard?
She glanced at the screen, where Steve turned over in his bed, muttering something. She smiled tiredly. That’s right, Steve was a bit of a talker when he was asleep. It had happened a few times during long operations. Usually just indistinct mumbles, but she remembered one time after an op when he’d clearly said, “Penny each, that’s all,” startling the dozing medical tech next to him on the helicopter. And the time he’d been roundly teased by the STRIKE team for muttering, “Chocolate only, vanilla’s fucking disgusting.” They’d never figured out what it meant.
She glanced over the other screens. Bucky was in their small living room, getting himself a snack from the little fridge that Coulson’s people had been only too happy to stock for them.
"Bucky," Steve sighed, turning over in his sleep. "Please..." he mumbled. He sighed and moved restlessly, and Natasha noted that Barnes was making his way back to his own alcove.
Nightmare? Well, Steve’s heart was going a little fast and his temperature was elevated, but he didn't sound upset...
"Yeah..." Steve drew in a deep breath, his head tilting back slightly, and Natasha suddenly noted the heat signature image and chuckled. Ah, no, not a nightmare. Apparently Steve was having an... interesting dream.
“Bucky...” Steve murmured, and one hand groped blindly along the sheets. “Oh God please...”
"Steve?" the door to Steve's room cracked open slightly and Natasha sat up, alarmed. Bucky was at the door, peering into the room, and on the infrared screen she could see the worried frown on his face. He watched Steve for a moment, moving into the small room a step, and Natasha saw when the penny dropped and he realized what was going on. He bit his lip, stood still a moment longer, then started to back out.
Natasha flicked her glance at the bed. Steve was starting to sit up, blinking blearily.
“S-sorry,” Bucky stammered. “I didn't mean to wake you.”
“You didn't. Did you need something?”
“You were talking in your sleep,” said Bucky.
“Was I?” Steve rubbed his face. “What did I... never mind.”
“I didn’t - I wasn’t listening, I was leaving,” said Bucky. “I wasn’t gonna--”
“It’s all right,” Steve said wearily. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Bucky cleared his throat. “I’ll just...”
There was an awkward pause, and then Bucky turned to leave. Steve blew out his breath and drew up his knees, clasping his arms around them. “It’s never gonna be the same, is it?” he asked Bucky abruptly. His voice was still heavy with sleep.
Bucky stopped in the doorway. “What?”
Steve put his head down on his knees. “I should’ve fought you.” His voice was muffled. “I should’ve - you’re never gonna - I should’ve--”
Bucky frowned and came into the tiny room, stopping by Steve’s bedside. “Steve...”
Steve huffed out a bitter laugh. “Sorry. I’m just - you...” He rubbed his face and looked up at Bucky, suddenly looking and sounding much younger than Natasha was used to seeing him. “You... you don’t even look at me anymore.”
Bucky swallowed. “After what--”
“I forgave you, Buck. And there was nothing to forgive.”
“And it’s never going to be like it was and I wish I’d - I wish I’d figured out what to do--”
Bucky put a hand on Steve’s arm, stopping his words. “It wasn’t you. I - there was nothing you could’ve, it was me, I--” he withdrew his hand and Steve grabbed it.
“It’s like we’re never gonna get past it,” he said, frustrated. “This is the first time you’ve even touched me since--”
“I didn’t think you’d want--”
“Christ, I’d have to be dead not to want you, Buck,” Steve said roughly.
Bucky sat down heavily, still holding Steve’s hand. “I’m sorry. Shit. I’m so sorry, there’s nothing I can say to--”
“And we can’t get past it, can we?” Steve said bleakly. “Every other fucking thing life threw at us, we got past, but this...”
Bucky stiffened. “I can’t. I hurt you. I can’t - the one thing I was all about, was protecting you. I don’t remember everything about my past, but I know that’s what I always did. It was one of the only things I was good for.”
Steve shook his head impatiently. “That’s not true. That’s your memories messing you up. You were good for a lot of other stuff. Christ, Bucky, I didn’t fall in love with you because you protected me. I fell in love with you because you were...” he gripped the hand in both of his. “You were everything good and strong and - you were like fucking sunshine--”
“Well I’m a fucking winter storm now, Steve,” said Bucky wryly.
Steve put a hand on his cheek, his eyes fierce. “You’re not. You’re still--”
“Stop.” Bucky’s face darkened. “Look, I don’t know what you were dreaming about, but--”
“What the hell do you think? You, you dumbass.”
Bucky took a deep breath and held Steve’s gaze. “Steve. Whatever you were dreaming about just now - that’s not me anymore.” Steve opened his mouth to object and Bucky continued. “I know you used to tell me about your dreams back in the War, but I’m not--”
“You think I still dream about you back in the War? Jesus.” Steve stared at him. “I don’t. I dream about you now, Buck. Metal arm and all.”
“I mean, if you really want, I can tell you what I dream about...” Steve said with a small smile, and Bucky gave a startled laugh.
“No, fuck, you always had a filthy mouth,” said Bucky. “I remember that part.”
Steve huffed a laugh. “Do you?”
Bucky nodded slowly. “I remember... I remember they let us sleep in the same tent but we’d promised we wouldn’t do anything else, so all we did was kiss sometimes. And then sometimes you’d talk really quiet and we’d jerk off.” He frowned. “I think. Did... did that really happen?”
Steve nodded. “A few times, yeah.” He sighed. “Never thought I’d feel nostalgic about any of it.” He shifted restlessly. “I remember wishing so much that the War was over so we could get out of that nightmare and just be together - not scared someone would overhear us, not watching ourselves every minute.” He swallowed. “And then you were gone and I would’ve given anything to have those days back.”
Steve ran a hand through his hair. “God, I am so damn tired of wanting you,” he said, his voice hollow.
Steve reached out again slowly, and caressed Bucky’s cheek. “I keep thinking,” he said slowly, “that here we are, I wish we weren’t shut in here - I wish you weren’t shut in here... but what if some day I look back on these days and wish I could have them back? What if this is as good as it ever gets?”
Bucky tilted his head to the side.
“Buck... if this is as good as it gets, don’t shut me out,” said Steve. He came closer, slowly, and Bucky drew in his breath but didn’t back up as Steve brought their faces closer together, their lips inches apart.
“I want you,” Steve breathed. “I never came to you before, ever. You always came to me. You were always so much braver.”
“More selfish, maybe,” said Bucky, his voice low.
“Braver,” Steve repeated.
Natasha pressed her lips together. ‘Braver?’ Attacking him had been brave?
Obviously that wasn’t what Steve was talking about. He was talking about their history before Bucky had been confined. He was ignoring everything else.
Steve rested his forehead against Bucky’s, arms going around him, fingers running through Bucky’s hair. He pressed a hesitant kiss to Bucky’s lips, and even on the screen Natasha could see him trembling, see his vital signs speeding up, as Bucky’s did.
Bucky pulled back slightly. “Steve, after what I did--”
“You’re not asking. I am.”
Bucky hesitated. “What happened to we shouldn’t, and we’re being watched, and all the other reasons you gave me before?”
“I told you, we don’t know how long we’ve got,” said Steve.
Damn it, issues of Bucky’s lack of ability to provide meaningful consent were still there. Steve really didn’t seem to care.
Steve opened, then closed his mouth, his fingers absently toying with Bucky’s hair, looking down. “And I... I don’t want what happened to be the last memory I have of... of us,” he said, his voice low.
OK, now that was playing dirty pool, thought Natasha, but knowing Steve it was just honest fact. It completely undid Bucky, though. Bucky made a noise in his throat and didn’t move back as Steve pressed another gentle kiss to his mouth. He hesitantly returned the kiss, closing his eyes and putting a hand on Steve’s cheek, breath letting out, and then sighed as Steve’s lips ghosted over his cheek and over his face and his closed eyelids.
Steve pulled back slightly, and cleared his throat. “JARVIS,” he said, raising his voice slightly. “Or whoever’s watching, please.” He paused. “Please don’t barge in.” He took Bucky’s mouth in another kiss and Bucky returned it, slowly growing more passionate. He tilted Bucky’s head back gently and kissed his way down his throat.
Natasha clenched her fist. JARVIS should be putting a stop to this. She should be putting a stop to it. Then again, if JARVIS didn’t object, and he’d been programmed to make decisions about the men in the cell, and knew a great more about what had been going on in there in the last several weeks than she did...
“JARVIS--” she began.
“I am respecting the wishes of Captain Rogers,” said JARVIS immediately from the monitor beside her, and she started slightly. “Although I am keeping a close watch.”
Bucky moaned and Steve pulled back. "Is that... is that OK?"
"Uh - yeah," said Bucky, his voice unsteady, and blinked rapidly. "Yeah. Yeah, OK. Feels nice.”
Steve smiled slightly. "You always liked that."
"Did I?" Bucky asked faintly.
Steve returned to his throat and Bucky sucked in his breath, eyes closing involuntarily and head dropping back. "Oh - oh God..." he whispered. Steve moved his mouth along Bucky's neck and Bucky's hands came to his hair, neck arching back and mouth dropping open, chest rising and falling rapidly. Steve smiled, continuing down, his touch sure and confident.
Of course. Ten years. He would've known Bucky's body intimately, known what turned him on and what made him moan and mapped out every inch of him.
"That's OK?" Steve whispered, and Bucky was clearly overwhelmed. Natasha glanced at the vital signs screen - both fully erect, both heartbeats speeding - by all physical indications, Bucky was as much into this as Steve was.
All right, then. Natasha briefly wished JARVIS had a physical entity to glare at.
Fine. If JARVIS didn’t think this merited stopping, she was damn well going to make sure that at least Steve didn’t get hurt. And thank God she didn’t have the same kind of squeamishness most people had about watching others have sex. Her lack of squeamishness just might protect Steve - protect Bucky too, for that matter.
“Bucky,” Steve murmured as he gently pushed Bucky down onto the bed and they lay down next to each other. They kissed again, bodies pressing together, and Steve moaned. He caressed Bucky, hands moving over his t-shirt, then sliding under it. Bucky gasped, pulling the shirt up slightly, and then they were both sliding shirts off and coming back together, hands wandering over bare skin.
"God, I've missed this..." Bucky said. Steve smiled. "Wait - let me..." he gently nudged Steve onto his back and Natasha drew in her breath, but he only gave Steve a serious look as Steve gazed back at him, trust and vulnerability so naked in his eyes that Natasha suppressed the urge to press the damn button and stop this shit right now. Before it got even more out of hand, the hell with what Steve said or JARVIS thought.
Bucky pressed a kiss to his neck, then started down his neck and to his chest, pausing. He lowered his head and tongued Steve's nipple and Steve caught his breath.
"You always loved this," murmured Bucky. He gently took Steve's nipple between his teeth and then pressed a kiss to it, and Steve closed his eyes and dropped his head back on the bed, mouth open and pulse going haywire. "You were so tiny when we were kids, and the other kids made fun of you - I didn't wanna do anything to you that made you feel like a girl." He pressed a kiss to Steve's nipple again and smiled as Steve bit his lip and gave a soft groan. "You were... God." He stopped, swallowed. "I loved you so damn much," he said slowly, between kisses and nuzzles. "Kept thinking I was so fucking lucky, what you let me do to you, but God hated me because you were gonna die and leave me alone." He licked at Steve’s nipple again and Steve gave a soft keen, his eyes clenched shut.
"God, that sound always drove me so crazy," Bucky murmured, touching himself.
"Jesus, Bucky," Steve whispered. "Oh God." He pulled Bucky up into his arms and kissed him, caressing the back of Bucky’s neck with one hand and moving his other hand over Bucky’s chest and to his shoulder, where the metal met his body. He stopped, looking up at Bucky. “How much can you feel in your arm?”
Bucky shrugged. “Pressure, heat. Pain, if anything damages it. Nothing good.”
Steve nodded, and tears filled his eyes. Then he was moving them so that he was on top, moving over Bucky, cradling him as if he was something precious and fragile, and damn it, if Bucky was playing him she was going to kill him herself, because Steve was completely overwhelmed. He shook his head again and propped himself up on one elbow, wiping at his eyes quickly.
"I didn't think this would ever happen again," he whispered. "I dreamed about you all the time, but I never thought..."
Bucky surged up, capturing Steve's lips with his own, moving under Steve, arching into his touch. Steve choked back a groan and thrust against him.
“God, Bucky. Jesus Christ, Buck,” Steve whispered his name reverently as their bodies sped up and they held each other closely, mouths open and faces together, hands grasping, and Bucky’s legs came up to cradle Steve against him.
“Christ,” groaned Bucky. “Steve, come on, yeah--”
Natasha stolidly looked on as they rocked together urgently amid gasps and moans and occasional whispered curses from Steve. Steve had drawn the covers over them, but it was still fairly easy to tell what was going on as they strained together, Bucky’s eyes wide and vulnerable, his hands grasping Steve’s shoulders like an anchor - and then they cried out almost at the same time, locked together, shudders moving across Steve’s shoulders.
They panted against each other, their heartbeats gradually slowing, Bucky’s hands wandering over Steve’s back, Steve’s head buried against Bucky’s neck.
“I’ve missed you so much,” Steve whispered. “God, I love you so much--” he pulled back and put a finger against Bucky’s lips. “Don't - don't say anything back, please, I don't want you to - I just, I wanted to say it.”
Bucky pulled back and hesitated, then relaxed against Steve. “I don’t know if it’s the same as before. But as far as I can... I love you too.”
Natasha stood up, wincing as the sudden movement jolted her bandaged arm, and turned away from the monitor.
Seeing Steve tomorrow was probably a bad idea. No, not probably: definitely. Maybe Clint could deal with his psychopathologies and own them and come to deal with Steve and Bucky on their own terms and not just for what they represented to him, but as for herself...
Natasha was going to need a little more time to do the same. It wasn’t just her disagreement with Steve being here, she realized. It was too many memories. Memories of her own past, of being helpless, being coerced into letting others use her body, of mistrusting and manipulating and being mistrusted and manipulated herself...
No. There was no way she could go in there tomorrow and deal rationally with Steve, let alone Bucky.
She glanced back at the monitor, where it looked like they’d just finished cleaning themselves off. Steve was pulling a blanket over both of them and settling back in the narrow bed, Bucky nestled against his chest.
Natasha turned off the monitor and left the room.