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In retrospect, it takes a lot longer for Bucky to realize it than he thinks is probably normal.  It’s been a while.  He’s healed physically—mentally, well of course that will take more time. But he figures his first issue is that he doesn’t realize it for so long.

He should probably be even slightly aware of it before he finds himself drinking a little too much after a particularly rough day, and before he knows what’s happening, he’s half naked and there’s this lovely girl on top of him but…but he doesn’t care.  She’s gorgeous and spunky and just the right amount of everything but Bucky can’t get it up to save his life.  And what’s worse is he’s not interested.  At all.  And he should be.

She grinds down low on top of him but there’s nothing there but some dull friction and this uneasy feeling deep in his gut.  And suddenly he doesn’t want to be there.

That’s his first, glaring, blinking-neon-light sign that something is wrong.

 


 

His S.H.I.E.L.D-appointed therapist tells him that a diminished sex-drive is normal for someone in his situation.  That many times depression results in the deterioration of activities we once found pleasurable. But Bucky tells her that it isn’t diminished, it’s fucking gone.  She assures him that it’s not unheard of but Bucky thinks there’s something seriously wrong.  Like, regardless of how traumatized or depressed he may have been or still is, he should be able to be at least a little interested.

So now he finds himself making excuses hand over fist. 

He’s too tired. 

There’s too much stress and his body needs to recuperate. 

He has more important things to worry about than sex. 

They all do an adequate job at temporarily blunting the sting that comes from a sudden drop in libido.  But that’s all it is: temporary.

 


 

He doesn't tell anyone.  Why would he?  Just because he has absolutely zero interest in something someone his age should be obsessing over…that doesn’t mean anything, right?  So he doesn't go out and get laid like some of the other Avengers (who he won’t mention specifically), it’s not a big deal.

Until it is.

Because it’s all he can think about.

He’s practically tearing apart a sparring dummy in the training room when Steve clears his throat to announce his presence behind him.  Bucky tenses--which is a feat all in its own because he’s already beyond on edge--and turns, his chest heaving and forehead slick with sweat.

“What.” he barks.

Steve offers a concerned eyebrow raise. “You okay, bud? You seem more wound than usual.”

Bucky chuckles soullessly, gripping his knife and wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. “Just peachy.”

Steve isn’t convinced, but he doesn’t say anything.  He just stands there, an uncertain frown staying in place as Bucky turns to resume his slaughter of the mannequin.

He stays, watching over his friend for some unknown amount of time and Bucky knows he won’t push it—knows he’ll wait until Bucky comes to him to talk about it.

Which he won’t.

Because how uncomfortable would that conversation be?

 


 

 

Bucky convinces himself that it’s just a period of his body adjusting to all the bullshit he went through.  He convinces himself so strongly, a constant rambling in his mind, that he agrees to go out with Natasha to get drinks.  And he’s going to find someone and get laid, goddamnit.

He doesn’t factor in that people probably think Natasha is his date, which is fine because anyone would be lucky to be with her, but it doesn’t suit his plans for the night.  So when she makes conversation with the person walking by, Bucky takes the opportunity to set his plans in motion.

He finds a fairly attractive girl who seems to have been dragged here with a group of guy friends.  It’s obvious in the way she’s tuning out of the conversation, her eyes wandering the bar as she slips the thin straw in her vodka-soda between her lips.

Bucky walks up right to her—pure confidence—her interested smile quirked around the thin black straw doing nothing but stroking his ego.  It’s a ballsy move with all those other guys around her, but he doesn’t particularly care and used to do this 70 years ago so why not now too?

“Have you come to save me?” she asks, her voice just barely audible over the music pumping through the speakers near them.

Bucky grins, “Looks like someone needs to show you a good time.”

She blushes, pretty and smitten, her eyes dropping down as she sips lightly at her drink.

“Your boyfriend got your next one?” Bucky says smoothly, motioning toward her glass.

This draws a laugh from her but she rolls her eyes. “I think he forgot I’m even here.”

Oh shit. Bucky seriously didn’t think she was here with any of these guys as a date. But he presses on because it’s not like they even have any idea that he’s over here. “Hm. Not sure how that’s possible. You’re the prettiest girl in here.”

That gets her smiling again, and he can see that telltale glint in her eyes as she glances over to the guy in a ratty green hoodie a few people down. He’s laughing and boisterous and basically being the stereotypical douchey drunk guy—more likely than not the boyfriend in question.

Bucky watches him and then meets her gaze when she turns back toward him, a small smile playing across his lips.

“He’s not very attentive.” She explains listlessly. “I think you can tell.”

Her honesty is refreshing. “It’s a shame,” he grins, “girl like you should get all the attention she deserves.”

“And how much is that?”

“I dunno. How about you let me pick up your next drink and we’ll see?”

The proposal is out there—forward—and it only takes her one moment to glance over at the group of guys before setting her now empty glass on the table.  Bucky leads her away from the table, a gentle hand pulling her into the crowd and away from her boyfriend.

Again, it’s ballsy.  And he would probably start shit really easily if this was his go-to move.  But it’s not.  And while this girl is certainly charming and attractive, he’s desperate to light that spark again—feel even a little something.

He’s good at flirting—always has been.  He’s so good at it in fact, that he can do it without actually feeling the pull, the want to do it.  He’s a couple drinks in with this girl and he already knows that he doesn’t feel it.  The normal pull of arousal isn’t there like it should be.  All he really cares about is how extremely effortless it is to talk to her.  How easy it is to grin and laugh at the funny things she tells him.  She’s a wonderful girl—really she is, and he knows that he has to at least try.  That maybe, once they’re in the heat of the moment his instincts will kick in and he’ll wonder why he was ever worried in the first place.

He doesn’t offer right away because how weird would that sound? ‘Wanna get outta here? I’ve got this great wing in Avengers Tower that we can fuck in.’ On second thought, that might sound pretty awesome to some girls, but he doesn’t go down that path.

And he doesn’t have to, because soon she’s grinning at him over the lip of her glass, her eyes swimming with desire and probably quite a bit of inebriation as she tells him not so subtly about the flat that she’s renting just a few blocks down.

He agrees, literally steals her right out from underneath her inattentive boyfriend’s nose.  And even if the arousal isn’t kicking in yet, he’s got that spark of adrenalin that helps a whole hell of a lot.

They walk down the street and she keeps talking and Bucky keeps listening.  She goes on and on about the big plans she has, her heels dangling from her hand as she balances barefoot across the risen stones on the path.  She’s beautiful.  Captivating.  Bucky’s still waiting for his body to catch up.

When they reach her flat, his body does catch up.  But instead of the warm burn of want, it’s a steady churning sense of dread.  Because he knows what’s coming.  And…he still doesn’t want it.  But he’s come this far and to back out now…

He settles onto her couch, mentally psyching himself up, trying his goddamn hardest to get a move on.  When she straddles his lap he’s first and foremost a little startled by how quickly everything is happening.  For someone who’s technically taken, she’s certainly putting herself out there.  It almost makes him feel worse—like she’s been waiting for someone to come along and break the monotony of her relationship and he’s the one.

She kisses him but he doesn’t feel anything.  There’s no spark.  No light in his veins.  He almost forgets to kiss back.

Her hands run through his hair and it’s something that usually gets him going.  Instead his stomach is churning and he’s trying to make all of those excuses again for himself.

It’s late. 

They don’t really know each other that well yet.

He’s had a bit to drink and sometimes that makes people apathetic instead of horny, right?

Her hands make their way to the hem of his shirt but before she can pull up, he’s got her wrists and he’s subconsciously holding her hands back.  He doesn’t realize he’s doing it until she leans back and says, “I’m sorry, is something wrong?”

He swallows, blinking up at her, and for a split second he considers telling her.  Breaking down and letting it slip that he doesn’t want this—didn’t before, either. But the moment passes and instead he moves her hands to rest on his shoulders, shaking his head.

She’s a good kisser.  That’s not the problem.  The problem is Bucky.  And as much as she runs her hands through his hair and grinds down smoothly into his lap, he can’t shake the pit in his stomach and the overwhelming want to be far far away from here.

And it’s only a matter of time before she’s going to realize that he’s not getting hard.

His ego can’t take it—the shame of not getting it up and suddenly being a very unimpressive fuck.  So his hands find purchase on her hips and he rolls them until she’s sitting back against the couch and he’s kneeling between her legs.

She smiles at him and it’s honest and wonderful and he hates himself. 

Before he can stop—before he can reason to himself that he doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone—he’s running his hands up her legs and against her thighs and up under her skirt.  She bites her bottom lip as he tucks his fingers into the waistband and pulls the soft cloth and panties down over her ankles.

It’s not that he wants to.  It’s not that he feels the need to breathe hot and wet against the inside of her thigh, so close to her that she trembles with want.  It’s that he feels bad.  It’s that he knows he can’t and won’t fuck her so he does the next best thing because she deserves at least something.

Bucky closes his eyes, swallows down the lump in his throat telling him that it’s okay and he doesn’t need to do this, and he licks, long and wet against her warmth and her clit and her strangled moan that sounds beautiful should at least affect him a little bit but it doesn’t.

He brings her legs up so her knees drape over his shoulders, pulling her closer to him as he swirls his tongue against her—inside her.  She’s falling apart and he figures as long as one of them is getting something out of this he should be happy…right?

It takes a surprisingly short amount of effort before she’s tangling her fingers in his hair and her orgasm rocks her body against his mouth.  He’s persistent. Dedicated.

And at the end of the night he goes home.  Tired. Upset. And no longer convinced that this decreased sex-drive thing is just a phase.

 


 

 

Natasha teases him about ditching her for a couple minutes the next morning until she catches on that his chuckled responses aren’t fully honest.

He just wants to talk to Steve.

 


 

 

They share the same floor in the tower because Bucky doesn’t need a lot of space when he moves in and maybe some of it is that he’s still scared and wants to be close to Steve.  Even after enough time has passed for the nightmares to start waning to a minimum, he still misses the comfort of knowing his best friend is just down the hall.

The feeling is strong tonight, an ever-present sense of hopelessness that comes with clinically diagnosed depression.  He can usually fight it—hold himself up in his room and just sleep or stare at the ceiling and try to think about something—anything.  But tonight he’s feeling remarkably low.

He finds his way down the hall and knocks on Steve’s door, his eyes falling lethargically to the ground even when the large metal door slides open and Steve is standing there.

“You okay?” he hears him ask.

But Bucky isn’t.

And Steve knows what’s going on so he reaches out calmly, his hand resting gently against Bucky’s arm as he leads him inside. His voice is hushed and unhurried. “Come on.”

He never presses Bucky to talk about what’s bothering him, if anything actually is bothering him or if he’s just hit a low.  They sit there and let their eyes scan over the television that’s flickering softly against the darkness.  Bucky steels himself, tries to swallow it all down, but he can’t and the comfort he gets as he eases casually into the larger man’s side makes him feel at least a little better.

Steve stretches his arm over the back of the couch and Bucky settles in a little closer, but not too close.  He just wants the contact. 

Steve is usually extremely devoted to staying awake as long as Bucky—knows that he’s here because he needs the company—but tonight his eyes fail him and he’s sound asleep as the small hand on the clock above the TV graces the three.

Bucky blinks slowly into the darkness, makes sure Steve is actually asleep, and then nestles closely into Steve’s side, his head falling against his leisurely rising chest.  It feels good.  Safe.  And regardless of what anyone else would say if they saw him, Bucky very much wants to stay like this—to have Steve drape his arm around him and hold him like he needs to be held. 

He settles for letting his hand rest lightly against Steve’s stomach, his eyes slowly drifting closed.

 


 

 

You see, Steve’s always been there for Bucky—been the shoulder to lean on, the guy to just sit and listen to his bitching.  Steve is Bucky’s security blanket.  He’s always managed to be there when things turn south.

But he couldn’t be there that night with the lovely girl from the bar.  He can’t be there in the therapy sessions where Bucky all but yells at his therapist because she doesn’t get what it feels like to go from being at the top of the most sought-after list to the very bottom where he doesn’t even want to think about sex.

Steve can’t be there when Bucky forces himself to keep trying to get it up with all of these girls but he can’t and it’s driving him crazy because he realizes that he just plain and simple doesn’t want it.

His therapist asks him if maybe he thinks he’s not responding because he’s not as attracted to these girls as he thinks. 

He scoffs.

His therapist asks him if maybe he thinks he’s not responding because in reality he’s more attracted to men.

Bucky stares at her.  Blinks.  And then walks out of the room.

 


 

 

If you asked Bucky if that stuck in his mind for a couple days, he’d deny it.

If you asked him if he eventually used the computer hooked up in his room to very slowly, tentatively look up things that he might possibly find attractive in men, he’d deny that too.

If you asked him if he bit the bullet and went home with a tall, built guy from the bar across the street, and if you asked him if there was the tiniest goddamn bit of a spark there but he still had no interest and made a shit excuse to leave before things got too heated…well, you know what he’d say.

 


 

 

Bucky decides after that night that he just simply doesn’t give a fuck anymore.

 


 

It would be kind of nice--not leading every decision with his dick for once--if he could actually function normally without crippling bouts of depression that leave him not giving a fuck about much of anything anymore.

He’s spending so much time with Steve that he’s starting to feel guilty.  Like he’s lingering when all Steve wants is to have space.

Steve reassures him that it isn’t the case, but Bucky doesn’t believe for one second that he has the capacity to ever make anyone feel uncomfortable or upset because he’s Steve and that’s not who he is.

Bucky ends up spending more nights crashing on his friend’s couch instead of his own bed.  He tries to leave before Steve wakes up, but that’s pretty early since he feels the need to take his goddamn crack-of-dawn jogs with Sam.  So he stops trying.

When Steve comes back a few hours later, shirt nearly soaked through and forehead beading with sweat, Bucky instantly feels less alone and he can close his eyes again.

 


 

 

Tony is not Bucky’s favorite person in the first place, and now he won’t leave him alone with some nonsense about taking him to the strip club as a celebratory and long-awaited initiation into the “Big Boys Club” as he so fondly calls it.

Bucky could literally not care less about going to the strip club with Tony.  In fact, it’s probably on his list of things he would never even consider.

But Tony won’t let up, and Bucky has to try really hard not to snap on him because Steve told him once that he needs to play nice.

It’s so hard not to, though.

 


 

 

His therapist sits him down and tells him that he needs to think positively about sex.

Bucky tells her to go fuck herself—how’s that for thinking about it?

 


 

 

Steve starts leaving his door unlocked, that way Bucky can come in whenever he needs to.  It’s nice at first, but eventually it does nothing but encourages him to leave his bedroom every night that he’s low and make his way down the hallway.  Bucky is becoming so cripplingly dependent on Steve’s presence that when Steve isn’t there one night, Bucky doesn’t know what to do.  He honestly can’t wrap his mind around the fact that Steve isn’t physically there, his chest feeling like it’s caving in as he slumps down against the door.

When Steve returns a few hours later, he finds Bucky still huddled there, legs drawn up and chin resting on his knees as he stares lifelessly at the wall in front of him.

“Oh God,” Steve’s voice is dripping with concern and he’s instantly kneeling down and pulling Bucky up. “Sorry. I’m sorry.”

He wraps his arms around the slumped form and Bucky’s eyes close tiredly, the soft fabric of Steve’s shirt pulling him out of his daze.  He stands there for a second, and then slowly wraps his arms around Steve too, the security returning in full force as they hold each other in the empty hallway.

Steve mumbles something against the top of Bucky’s head.

Bucky just wants to stay like this forever.

 


 

 

It’s a few nights later when he finally tells him.  Steve is the only other person in the entire world who knows about Bucky’s missing sex drive besides his therapist (she doesn’t count) and somehow, it doesn’t bother either of them.

Granted, Bucky is a tad wary when the words finally push out from his lips, “I don’t care about sex anymore,” but the weight bearing down on him nearly physically lifts from his shoulders and he almost feels better.

Steve watches him, his face remaining stoic. “Is it from what happened to you?”

That topic doesn’t surface much—HYDRA, the facility, whatever it was that they pumped into Bucky to get him the way he is now—but Bucky figures now is a good time for it to be brought up again so: “No,” he shrugs. “I just don’t care.”

Steve watches him again, and then nods, and Bucky can tell that he’s having a tough time knowing how he’s supposed to be reacting to such a confession.  He goes with a slow: “Well…are you alright with that?” Testing out the waters.

And for once, Bucky is stumped. Is he? Is he growing accustomed to this?  “I don’t know. It sucked at first but now I’m just…over it I guess.”

Steve nods again and it’s actually very reassuring. “I hear there’re plenty of people who don’t concern themselves with that kind of stuff.”

Bucky flashes him a goofy but questioning look. “Where’d you hear that?”

“Around,” Steve smiles and it fits perfectly on him. 

Bucky loves that Steve doesn’t say something that reminds him of how he slept his way through Brooklyn back in the day and how he could never imagine Bucky keeping it in his pants for so long. He loves how there’s no immediate, negative reaction like there would be with some people. Bucky loves it. Loves him.

They don’t talk about it anymore, which is perfect because Bucky prefers to shove it as far back into the recesses of his mind as possible.

It’s the opposite of what his therapist keeps telling him to do but that’s just one more thing that Bucky doesn’t give a fuck about these days.

 


 

 

Stark is relentless about this strip club thing and Bucky all but tells him a straight out “no”. Because if he’s learned one thing living in Avengers Tower, it’s that Tony Stark does not take kindly to a lot of things—and one very big thing is being told “no”.

Natasha rolls her eyes at them from behind a water bottle and Clint offers the wonderful advice of: “Just go, Barnes. He’s not gonna let up on this thing. Trust me.” And he must be speaking from experience because Tony winks at him.

But Bucky doesn’t want to go.

At all.

Men go to strip clubs to get wasted and watch women bare all.  And all of that usually end up in becoming visibly aroused which…yeah, really isn’t in Bucky’s department these days.

He tells Steve about it one night over burgers and Steve quirks a concerned eyebrow, “That wouldn’t…work out very well…” is what he says. And it doesn’t help at all.

“No shit, Steve. That’s kinda my point here.”

Steve’s brow furrows like he’s adopted this problem as his own. “Well can you just…pretend?”

Bucky stares at him, incredulous. Then he says in this unbelieving tone, “Did you just ask me if I can pretend to get hard?”

It’s pretty blunt but Steve supposes that is what he asked so it’s his own fault. “Well there’re…pills now.”

“What?” Bucky scowls, dropping the fry that was almost to his mouth. “I’m not gonna fake a boner for Stark’s sake.” It’s a weird sentence and it feels odd on his tongue.

Steve notices but doesn’t say anything.  Instead he takes the discarded fry from Bucky’s plate. “You shouldn’t go.”

“If it were that easy I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you in the middle of a fucking diner,” Bucky scowls, his eyes landing on damn near every other person just to make sure no one is listening in.

Steve sighs, takes a sip from his chocolate shake, and then nudges Bucky’s foot underneath the table. “Who knows? Maybe it’ll work out.”

 


 

 

It doesn’t. 

It’s dark and hot and loud and everything that Bucky is technically trained for, but not under these conditions.  There was no training for how to dodge the steamy stares.  There was no training on how to not feel like your heart is in your throat when a woman in this lacy little getup holds out her hand and tries to pull you up onto the stage.

Tony is, unsurprisingly, having a blast.  And Bucky inwardly wishes he could keep his cool like that instead of consistently swallowing down the feeling like he’s going to lose his dinner. It’s not that he’s nervous—okay maybe he’s a little nervous—but mostly he’s just wildly uncomfortable.

Before he knows what’s happening, Tony is oh so coolly whispering something into the ear of one of the more gorgeous girls, and her eyes are flicking up to Bucky’s.  That’s not good.

When she struts over to him he just reminds himself that this is the one and only time this has to happen and he just needs to grin and put up with it, but then she’s leading him to this little closed off room in the corner. And that’s not something he factored in.

The chair she pushes him into rocks onto its two back feet, her stilettoed foot finding a spot just between his legs on the seat of the chair as she brings it back down with a snap.

His heart sinks as his body lurches forward from the impact because what the fuck, this girl is crazy.

His face must show it.

“Relax, baby,” she coos, bending so she’s at eye-level with those surely uneasy blue ones. “Just a gift from Mr. Stark.”

Bucky swallows, considers saying fuck it and getting up and leaving right now, but then she’s strutting teasingly around him, letting her hand splay out across his chest and up his neck as she moves behind him. 

When she completes the circle she straddles him, the lacy blue bra nearing dangerously close as she arches and then grinds slowly down into his lap.

But Bucky’s not even mentally there anymore.  He’s miles away, wondering how often this happens—this...“initiation”. Does Stark send everyone in here with a girl?  What about Natasha?  He supposes that should be an arousing image but of course it’s not.  Then his heart does this stupid little aching thing because what about Steve?

The sudden lack of dull friction pulls Bucky from his thoughts, a split second of hope that everything is over coursing through him.  But then he realizes that she’s just repositioning, bent over once again so her ass is sticking out playfully behind her and she’s too close to his face.

“You’re so pretty,” she hums.

And Bucky doesn’t know if it’s her adjective choice or if it’s the fact that she thinks she can just kiss him like that, but he stiffens, actually leans back away from her lips and breaks it off.  And now he’s just mad.

“Alright,” he begins, trying not to snap, but really he’s done.  No more trying to please people. No more—

He’s almost up out of the seat before her hands find his chest and pushes him back down.  And honestly he doesn’t expect it, which is why he’s taken off guard enough to allow it to happen.

“Where you goin’ baby?” she smirks, and Bucky is beginning to think that maybe this is her kink or something. Dominance. Then all he’s thinking about is why Stark picked her specifically.  Like…does he assume that Bucky’s into that sort of thing, or…“You’re not gonna let me suck your cock?”

Bucky zones back in as he feels her hands just beginning to touch his belt and he’s pushing her away, firm but not unkind. “Ok listen.” He’s unyielding. “You’re hot and all but this kinda thing isn’t for me.”

The stunned look in her eyes as he stands and readjusts his shirt almost makes him feel bad. “What, you’re into guys?”

And that’s the final straw. Has she been talking to his therapist? “What is it with you people? How is that the most obvious reason to you?”

She stares at him, tucks a lock of dark hair behind her ear, and then shrugs.

He frowns and turns to leave, and then thinks of what Steve would do—of course, it always comes back to Steve. “Thanks anyway,” he says, and then disappears behind the door.

It’s super lame but he does. not. give. a. fuck.

 


 

 

When he busts through Steve’s door that night, Steve is still up, his face nearly pressed against the microwave window as the bag of popcorn inside begins to rise.  He startles slightly from the intrusion, but then just looks over at Bucky, noting the expressionless look on his face. “Should I ask about how tonight went?”

Bucky flops down onto the couch and immediately zeroes in on whatever has been left flickering on the television. “Nope.”

So Steve doesn’t.  He doesn’t press.  He doesn’t ask a bunch of personal questions like if Bucky got it up for the stripper.  Instead he just goes back to watching the bag inflate as tiny pops evaporate into the air. “Want some?”

“You know I do.”

He does.  Steve knows that whenever food is involved, Bucky is game.  In his long nights secretly researching the causes and symptoms of depression because he wants to know what's going on with his friend and how he can help, he is interested to find that loss of appetite is not something Bucky suffers from.

The microwave beeps and Steve empties the contents into a big bowl, chucking the greasy bag toward the garbage can.  When he makes his way over to the couch, Bucky is already lost in an episode of River Monsters.

“This guy is great,” Steve notes, settling the bowl in the space between them and motioning to the man on TV, who is in the middle of reeling in a surprising catch. “I love when he’s like ‘Fish on!’”

Bucky breaks out into a smile, Steve’s attempt at this guy’s accent proving to be truly comical. “That should be your new battle-cry." That makes his smile grow, just imagining Steve in all of his spangley glory, shouting “Fish on!” in midair as he hurls his shield at a foe. He even manages a real chuckle.

Steve grins and throws a piece of popcorn at him. “You can’t tell me that wouldn’t strike fear into the hearts of my enemies.”

Bucky plucks the stray popcorn piece from where it landed on his shirt and tosses it into his mouth. “Maybe if your enemies were trout.” And this…this is exactly why Bucky came here instead of hiding away in his room.  Because even when things get super shitty, Steve can still manage to get him to laugh, to forget, to not worry about everything all the time.  “I fucking love you, Steve.”

It comes out before he can swallow it down—before he can think and process what it means and suddenly there’s this pang of panic in his chest.

He doesn’t look over.  He doesn’t do anything but sit there and try to catch up with his mind.  There’s still a chance that Steve thinks he meant it like a brotherly love sort of thing. Did he mean it like a brotherly love sort of thing? Bucky taps his fingers lightly against his thighs and tries to focus on the fucking gigantic fish that Jeremy Wade is reeling into the tiny boat—

He’s caught off guard as another piece of popcorn sails through the air and bounces off of his cheek.  Bucky chances a glare at Steve out of the corner of his eye, and Steve is smiling at him.

“What?” Bucky snaps, but it comes off with little bite.

And Steve just grins. “Nothin’.”

Then a popcorn bit nails him in the eye.

 


 

 

Tony gives him an unreal amount of shit about what happened at the strip club. At first, Bucky thinks it’s because he knows he bailed mid-lapdance. After being dragged into further conversation, he learns that it’s because Tony thinks Bucky brought the stripper home with him.  Apparently she hadn’t gone back to him and mentioned how completely uninterested Bucky had been, and they were both gone for the rest of the evening.

So now Bucky is kind of like this super cool guy in Stark’s eyes because according to him, no one had the balls to actually bring the stripper home before. And while Bucky certainly did no such thing, he’s not exactly going to let Tony know that.

He maybe basks in the glory for a little bit.

 


 

 

It’s been a week and his therapist pulls an entire 180 on him. She tells him that if he can honestly say to himself that he is content with not being interested in sex, then that’s all the justification he needs—that the only reason she was pushing him was because he initially seemed distraught by his sudden drop in interest. He doesn’t need to be a sexual individual at all if he doesn’t want to be, but he has to be comfortable with the decision.

He can be in relationships without sex.

He can be in love without sex.

He can be happy and thrive without sex. Plenty of people do it all the time.

It’s one of the only things she’s said in a while that he actually retains. Mostly he’s thinking about the ‘love’ part.

 


 

 

It’s late.  It’s raining.  It’s thundering so loud that even if Bucky could lift himself from this incredible low and maybe fall asleep, he can’t.  He’s waiting for the lights to dim and the power to fail like it did so many times in his and Steve’s shitty apartment in Brooklyn.  But Avengers Tower is powered by Stark technology so he’s pretty sure he doesn’t need to dig the candles out from under his bed.

There’s an impressive streak of lightning that rips open the sky and Bucky’s eyes close slowly from the intruding light.  His chest hurts.  He’s got this sad little hopeless tug going on in his heart and it pulls harder with each rumble of thunder.

And suddenly he wants nothing more than to be near Steve.

The lights in the hallway are out but it’s because they’re shut off at night now to conserve energy.  Bucky’s shadow stretches long and deathly thin against the floor as another flash of lightning bursts behind him.

Steve’s door is unlocked.  It always is now. Bucky enters without thinking twice. There’s another flash of lightning and the couch looks smaller and more isolated than the bed back in his room had been. His chest scrunches up and he glances at the door to Steve’s bedroom.  It’s cracked open.

Bucky sticks his head through and quietly glances around to where the lump in Steve’s bed shifts smoothly.  He debates it.  He really thinks it over.  And then he slips through the door and shuts it behind him.

A low rumble of thunder nearly shakes the floorboards as Bucky steps across them silently.  He doesn’t consider it anymore after that, he just slides in under the covers, his head coming down to lay on the edge of the pillow and his back resting comfortably against Steve’s. The contact is enough to settle his aching heart, his eyes drifting closed to the sound of gentle breaths coming from the man next to him.

The room lights up with another sheer, blinding bolt of lightning and Bucky tenses, waiting for the ominous roar of thunder that will follow.  He holds on, waiting, and then it comes, loud and brazen—but then so do Steve’s arms.

The hopeless pang in Bucky’s heart ebbs away as Steve presses his chest against Bucky’s back, his arms folding around him and his lips planting a kiss so lightly onto the top of his head that he barely feels it.  All he feels is the warmth and the security of being held by Steve, and he brings a hand up to rest on Steve’s arm, almost as a way to make sure Steve won’t let him go.

He doesn’t.

He holds him through the entire thunderstorm.  And then longer.  Until the rain has settled into the morning and the only trace left by the storm is the way Bucky clings onto Steve.

 


 

 

He doesn’t tell his therapist.  Doesn’t tell her that he’s pretty sure he’s found someone and it’s pretty fucking stupid because he’s been there literally the entire time.

He doesn’t tell her that all he wants now is for Steve to hold him like he did during the storm, but just on normal occasion.

He doesn’t tell her that he thinks he can see himself actually living his entire life with him.

He doesn’t tell her that he’s desperately afraid that Steve won’t accept him because he knows exactly how broken he is.

 


 

 

Bucky is sparring with Natasha when it happens.  He’s tiring, sweaty and stripped of his shirt a long time ago because it’s getting down to the finish.  She’s fast and excellently trained, but so is he. 

Natasha executes some sort of rapid-fire punch/kick move and Bucky blocks all but the tail end of it, recuperating quickly by dealing a blow of his own.

Bucky’s in the zone--total game-face--that is until he picks up movement by the wall of observation windows and he’s met with Steve’s broad form casually passing by. His eyes lock onto his, onto how Steve notices him and then flashes him a friendly smile as he passes. Bucky stares after him, one corner of his mouth coming up in a shy grin until Natasha’s foot collides mercilessly with his chest and he stumbles backward.

He falls pretty gracelessly on his ass, but the floor is padded so it doesn’t hurt too much, just knocks him off his guard.  He bites back the wince and chances a glance back over to the windows but Steve is gone already.

Natasha approaches him, offering a hand and pulling him to his feet. “Eyes up, soldier,” she says, the smallest smirk ever flashing across her lips.

Bucky’s ass hurts for a few days after that incident.

So does his pride.

 


 

 

The weeks go by and Bucky still has his lows, still makes his way into Steve’s part of their wing in the tower, still feels some of the hopelessness lift from him just from being near Steve.

Every once in a while he’ll sneak quietly into bed with him again and the sensation of the warmth from Steve’s back while he peacefully breathes in and out will calm him into sleep. He’s not entirely sure how many nights Steve realizes he’s there.

There’s a specific morning when a soft breeze sifts through the open window and Steve’s eyes slowly drift open to the combination of cool wind and the warm body pressed firmly into his side.

He glances down, Bucky’s face resting comfortably against his shoulder and long eyelashes gracing the tops of his cheeks. And for that moment, Bucky is pristine. Faultless.  He looks exactly like Steve has always seen him, all of his demons and all of his wrongs evaporating into the breeze that chills his skin and causes him to aimless slide his hand over Steve’s chest and around him into a light embrace.

Steve doesn’t go for a run that morning—doesn’t want to wake Bucky when he’s the most serene he’s ever seen him.

 


 

 

They all go out for the night because a break is definitely needed, given how much they’ve been busting their asses lately.

Bucky isn’t sure who picked out the club that they’re currently holed up in, but he finds the music an insufferable mixture of heavy bass and weird noises that sound like robots coming to life.  Tony rolls his eyes at him, says “It’s called dubstep, Grandpa”, and then disappears into the crowd of people near the dance floor. Bucky is almost positive that Steve doesn’t find the music appealing either…wherever he’s gone off to.

Regardless, drinks keep making their way to him, accompanied with a glance and a wink from multiple hopefuls across the bar, and Bucky’s not complaining.  Technically, he’s only had to buy one drink for himself and so far he’s got a nice, solid buzz going without draining his wallet.

The provider of a continuous stream of rum-somethings seems to finally pluck up the courage to separate himself from the crowd and approach him. He’s probably Bucky’s age, maybe a couple years older, but he’s got these startling blue eyes that make Bucky oddly uncomfortable. He’s big too—taller and broader than Bucky, but probably not quite to Steve’s stature.

This guy—no name has even been given—he laughs and puts his hand on Bucky’s thigh.  Bucky’s expression drops into this fake, barely-there smile and then he moves, shifts in his seat so the intruding hand drops from his thigh as he takes a generous drink from his glass. He thinks he’s made his point pretty clear, but then again he’s half drunk on these rum-somethings.

And the--…what the fuck did Stark call it? Dubstep? Yeah, that’s still almost as annoying as this guy is quickly becoming.

But he orders Bucky another drink and Bucky decides that he can hang on long enough to squeeze a few more out of this guy before getting the fuck out of here. If Tony were still around, he’d tisk and tell him that he’s acting like a college girl.

Now the guy’s talking about how much money he makes and Bucky is just so thoroughly unimpressed with everything that has to do with him that he’s not even bothering to look at him anymore, his posture leaning heavily over the bar instead of toward him.

But this guy isn’t very good at reading social cues.

“I kill people for a living,” Bucky interrupts nonchalantly, still not making eye contact.

It trips the guy up, the constant stream of bullshit spewing from his mouth temporarily ceasing.  And then he says, so seriously that Bucky is almost sure he’s crazy, “Wow, that’s hot.”

Bucky frowns, finally looks at the guy with such an unfiltered look of annoyance, and then gets up, completely done with this conversation.  He’s almost got a step or two under his belt when the guy is grabbing him, spinning him back around and oh no he fucking didn’t.

Bucky is ready to lose his shit until another set of hands are on him, these ones as comfortingly familiar as the voice that follows.

“Oh there you are, babe.”

Bucky falters, looks up at Steve--at this protective, loving persona that he’s adopted at break-neck speed as he keeps his hands on him while the guy’s grasp drops away. “W-…hey.”

Steve smiles at him, like they’re deeply, madly in love. And then he kisses him square and certain against his lips, tipping Bucky’s heart halfway through the floor. It’s over before it begins, Steve not even once glancing over at how the guy is clearly getting the picture and backing off. “Ready to go?” he asks sweetly.

And Bucky just nods, lets Steve pull him away from the bar.

When they’re out of sight Steve drops his hand and Bucky’s ego dropkicks his heart out of the way. “I was about to handle it myself,” he frowns. But he still feels the tingle on his lips and it’s hard not to give into the smile that’s threatening to surface.

Steve shrugs, his tiny, knowing grin becoming wider. “I know. I just figured we could go one night without bloodshed.”

It’s a joke. Bucky knows it is, but he’s still focusing on—

“Sorry about the uh--…” Steve looks uncomfortable now, guilty. “I know that was probably the last thing you wanted tonight.”

And instantly Bucky catches on that he’s talking about the kiss—that he’s worried not because he thought kissing his best friend was weird, but because he knows how Bucky struggles so with the entire premise of anything sexual now.

Bucky can’t help the stupid little smile that breaks through. “Well you definitely got your point across, at least.”

Steve’s grin is sheepish but adorable, far too childlike to be washed over by the flashing colored lights radiating from the dance floor. 

They hang around each other for the rest of the night until the music grates on their last nerve and they head home early.

It’s barely midnight by the time Steve plops himself down on Bucky’s couch, reaching in his pocket to check his phone (which he’s getting surprisingly good at navigating). He doesn’t notice how long Bucky has been hiding away in the bathroom.

The cool water from the faucet flows healingly over Bucky’s hands, then over his face.  He’s warm. And maybe it’s because he’s still riding on that buzz, or maybe it’s because he realizes how heavily that kiss had rocked his very foundation. There wasn’t a spark, per se. And it wasn’t an ignition in his veins.  It was light--airy in his lungs and in his heart and it had made Bucky feel like he was ten feet tall.

He glances at himself in the tiny mirror above the sink, how the droplets of water roll down his face.  Steve had kissed him. And…

Bucky emerges from the bathroom, his posture revealingly unsure. “I need your help with something,” he forces out, although it lacks confidence.

Steve looks up from where he’s pressing buttons on his phone. “Sure.”

Bucky stills, doesn’t move at all until Steve quirks his head to the side a little in curiosity. Then Bucky brings his bottom lip in, worrying at it with his teeth as he slowly approaches and sits next to Steve on the couch.

Something lights up on Steve’s phone but Steve ignores it entirely, his eyebrows drawing together in what now seems like real concern for his friend. “What, are you ok?”

Bucky blinks slowly, his eyes tracing the contours of Steve’s face before he swallows and says again, “Can you help me?”

The quickness in Steve’s nod is what helps Bucky push forward, lean in nice and close and brush his lips delicately against Steve’s. It’s soft, undemanding, closed-mouthed, everything that a real first kiss should probably not be.

Steve grows very still, so unsure with what to do with his hands that they remain lifted, his phone grasped loosely in one.  Because this is not pretending. This is not acting like you’re a protective boyfriend at the bar to get some sleazy guy to leave your friend alone.

Bucky swallows into the kiss, searching deep inside himself for what he’s feeling.  The spark of arousal isn’t there but his heart is so full as he moves his lips gently against Steve’s that he thinks he might float away. And he has to know for sure, so—

“Come on, Steve,” he murmurs against his lips, “Really kiss me.”

There’s a moment where neither of them move, still from head to toe. Bucky is sure that he’s crossed some sort of line until Steve gently runs his hand up the side of Bucky’s neck and pulls him in deep, his tongue sending shock waves as he slides it lightly over his.

Bucky’s eyes drift shut on their own accord, the feeling of Steve licking warm and soft into his mouth enough to bring his heart right to the cusp of overflowing. It feels…unbelievable.  And not in the way that it pushes him to want to get off, because that’s not what this is about anyway.

Bucky can’t help the quiet hum as Steve’s fingers find their way up his arm and stroke feather-light against him. It’s so intimate and affectionate that Bucky doesn’t know how to react. His entire life before the war was comprised of quick, meaningless fucks with girls he would never see again. But this, the way Steve is touching him now, the way he pulls him in deep and close to him…this is new.

Bucky gently pulls himself away but then rests his forehead against Steve’s, breathing out slowly. He has to think, has to figure out what he’s doing, what he wants.

Steve doesn’t say anything, just continues to run the pads of his fingers up and down the sensitive skin on the inside of Bucky’s arm.

And it’s not an elegant thing to say, considering how personal the moment remains, but Bucky says it anyway, cool and hushed as his eyes flutter closed. “That helped.” His voice feels grainy but no longer unsure.

Steve smiles, and if the lights were on maybe the slight blush creeping into his cheeks would be noticeable too. “Glad I could help.” His phone is somewhere on the floor at this point, having been tossed with little care in favor of touching Bucky’s warm skin.

“Can I uh-…” Bucky swallows, his eyes still closed and forehead still pressed gently against Steve’s. “Can we do that again?”

“Now?”

Bucky notes how his chest is beginning to tense as he says so quietly: “No, like…always.” That insecurity is returning in spades, quicker and heavier with every passing second that Steve lingers wordlessly.  It was a long shot and he’s not sure what ridiculous thread in his mind made him believe this could all turn out okay for him. “Never mind,” Bucky clears his throat, leaning back now because his anxiety has gotten the best of him.

Steve frowns, leaning forward a touch, “Well wait, Buck. What’re you thinking?” It’s not an accusatory question.  It’s honest.  Curious.  Maybe even helpful?

Bucky averts his stare, opts for letting his eyes land on something in the darkness in the other direction.  Are they really having this conversation? Who does Steve think he is, his therapist? But that’s just the thing, he’ll lie hand over fist until the day he dies to his therapist, but no matter how much he wants to deny it, he can’t keep anything from Steve for long. “I don’t—…” he starts, clearly flustered already. Then he sighs and tries again. “No one from this goddamn era is gonna wanna be with me if I’m never gonna fuck them.”

It’s a thick and heavy confession, but as it falls off his tongue, Bucky realizes that it’s the one thing that’s upset him the most throughout this whole ordeal—knowing exactly how sex-crazed people from this time are, and how hard-pressed he’ll be to find someone who accepts him as he is. Who would be willing to stay with him for good.

Steve shifts beside him and then speaks, knowingly and kindly. “You know, not everyone you know is from this era.”

Bucky is about to scoff and let out a wary, ‘What, like you, you punk?’, until his brain catches up with his mouth and his brow is furrowing.  That… He glances at Steve, who is smiling, and…that couldn’t have meant… “What, you’re saying you’d stay with me even though I’d never lay a hand on you?” His tone is a sour mixture between doubt and poisonous distrust.

But Steve just sits there, that ridiculously barely-there and knowing grin enough to make Bucky’s stomach churn.

And Bucky has to do it—has to lay it all out brick for brick. “I’m a disaster.”

“We’re both disasters,” Steve retorts without losing his grin.

That’s true, Bucky supposes, but—“I’m different from Brooklyn.”

That’s a fact.  He may look nearly the same, and may act mostly similar as when they were growing up together seventy goddamn years ago, but inside Bucky is a changed man.

But Steve says: “I’ve spent enough time with you to know who you are.”

Bucky pauses, doesn’t understand how Steve can throw it back as soon as Bucky dishes it out. “I’m not gonna fuck you.” He states blatantly, laying it all out then and there because he knows it’s the truth.

And Steve just smiles, chuckles a little, and says, “Who said I’m askin’?”

It’s a very surreal moment. Each reason Bucky throws at Steve about why no one would want him quickly getting turned on its head and spit back at him, but this time accepted and friendly. He stares at Steve, full on this time, his brow furrowed in a staggering amount of both doubt and hope that it almost hurts to say it. “You really wanna be with me?”

The lights are off but Steve’s smile shines through the darkness without a problem, “Why is that so hard for you to believe?”

Bucky stills, eyes shimmering with unshed doubt and sentiment as they search Steve’s face.  Could it be possible? Could they really be together—form a relationship after everything that’s happened and everything that will probably go wrong in the future and that overwhelming lack of sexual intimacy that will loom over them forever—

“Stop thinking,” Steve smiles, finally bringing a hand up to Bucky’s cheek and stroking feather-light against his skin. “Stop worrying.”

And Bucky doesn’t want to lean into the touch—into the comfort and security blanket that is Steve Rogers, but he does anyway.  He gives in. Because he knows he always has, and probably always will now.

 


 

 

It’s startlingly similar to their previous relationship.

Spending time together, maybe even a little too much, is not by any means a foreign concept to them.  The constant need to have the other in the near vicinity has been coursing through their veins since the 40’s.  And now that the army and Hydra and Alexander Pierce aren’t tearing them halfway across the world from each other, it’s only natural to pick up where they left off, shoulders brushing and bodies much closer than really necessary but they don’t mind because it’s an unspoken, agreed-upon thing.

Even now, comfortably tangled up in each other with the thin white bed sheet cradling their bodies, a blanket of tranquility settles over them.  Because this is how it’s supposed to be, how it should have been back in Brooklyn if it weren’t for the hot, sticky summer nights without air conditioning and the fact that secretly Bucky was afraid he was going to roll over and squish Steve every single night.

Air conditioning is no longer an issue, a cool stream of air pumping out of the ventilation system above Steve’s—their—bed. And Bucky no longer feels that steady pang of worry when he rolls over because Steve is built now—all muscle and heart and heavy, warm arms draped across him as Bucky rests his head against his firm chest.

Nothing really changes except the frequency and intimacy of the touching. Everything else is exactly the same—exactly the way it should be.

 


 

 

Bucky does tell his therapist that he’s gone steady with someone, but he doesn’t mention that it’s Steve and he sure as fuck doesn’t mention that it’s a guy, because he doesn’t want to give her the satisfaction of knowing she was right the whole time about him being more into men.

In fact, they don’t tell anyone.  But Sam knows—can just tell, Bucky guesses. And Nat, too. There’s no prodding, no “we should talk about this”.

It’s just accepted and Bucky is pleasantly surprised by the undeterred level of acceptance that some people from this day and age have about things like this—things like him and Steve.

 


 

 

One of the things that Bucky loves so much about Steve is how fucking steadfast and dedicated that man is to everything—how he does what he says he’s going to do and never goes back on his word.

He was like that even in Brooklyn, swearing to be the one to take out the trash and be there when Bucky gets home from working at the docks.

In this particular century, Steve has affirmed this declaration that he’ll never ever do anything that could possibly make Bucky feel weird about not being interested in sex.  And he sticks to it. Hands never wander lower than they’re invited and while their kisses are always passionate, they never overstep that blurry boundary where Bucky begins to feel strange in his own skin.

But they’re goddamn cuddlers in every sense of the word. And when Bucky presses his lips against Steve’s, he does it because it makes his heart soar high above Avenger’s Tower and into orbit. He does it because he wants Steve to know that he’s not just being clingy because he’s selfish, it’s because he loves the hell out of him.

Steve is basically everything that Bucky never believed anyone would be.  He’s steadfast—a saint—and sometimes, against all of Bucky’s best efforts, tiny seeds of doubt begin to take root in his mind again.

“Steve,” he says one night, his body sprawled entirely over Steve’s as they lie on the couch and listen to the rain in the dark.

But then he stops, realizes where he is, tucked safely in Steve’s arms against his chest. And he plucks the tiny seeds of doubt from his brain and nuzzles in closer, Steve’s hand coming up to run through his hair.

 


 

 

It gets out of hand once. Only once. But once is still too often.

They go out—a drinks-after-saving-the-world-again sort of thing with everyone. The venue is small and intimate but there are enough hidden corners for Bucky to have too many drinks and push Steve into.

His breath is hot against Steve’s mouth and he knows he’s teasing, knows he’s getting him right up against that wall and kissing hot and dirty against him. He knows he’s turning Steve on with a sort of needy fervor and he knows nothing’s going to come from it because he’s not hard himself, just mentally getting off at how gorgeous Steve looks with his eyes blown and lips bitten and red like that.

Steve groans, grabs at Bucky’s hands until he’s holding them away. “Buck—Jesus—“ it’s the first time he’s ever heard him say anything even remotely dirty. “You—you gotta stop,” he breathes out, his chest heaving.

Bucky stares at him, the liquor in his veins clouding his judgment and persuading him to press another steamy, open-mouthed kiss against Steve’s lips.

Steve swallows, his eyes closing momentarily before pushing Bucky away with as much care and grace as possible. “—gotta stop.” He repeats even though he looks like he really, really, wishes it wasn’t the case. “Unless you’re suddenly up for doing something, I can’t—“ he swallows again, looks like he’s trying to reign himself back in, “I’m not totally sure I can hold myself back with you right now.”

He’s holding Bucky at arm’s length, and Bucky is staring up at him, not entirely surprised but still drunk enough to not reel in the smirk when he knows he should stop pressing. “What, you wanna fuck me, Steve?”

His words are thick in the air and Steve is so torn between what to say and what to do that he’s become visibly undone. Then his eyes scan the rest of the room, and his voice is low and apprehensive, the words rolling off his tongue slowly. “…are you offering?”

It’s quiet between them then, and the gravity of the situation finally settles on Bucky’s shoulders and he feels like complete shit. What is he doing? Steve isn’t someone he can just mess around with for fun. Steve is Steve. Steve is his. Bucky averts his eyes from the steady gaze and mumbles, “No,” the guilt very apparent as he adds a quiet, “Sorry.”

Steve’s eyes are still on him and Steve nods slowly, accepting the ultimatum. “Al-…okay. That’s okay.”

Bucky feels disgusting, unfit for his own skin, and it’s his own fault this time.

“Sorry,” he says again.

It gets out of hand once. Only once. But once is still too often.

 


 

 

It takes longer than Steve originally figures it would, but eventually Bucky starts to grow at ease enough to loosen up—to pull firmly at the metal’s edge and detach his arm in favor of shedding about fifty pounds of nearly dead weight.

He’s done it a few times before, stared at the grotesque scarring around his shoulder where skin meets metal, but he’s never done it in front of Steve—never allowed Steve to be anywhere near him when the transition was taking place.

He’s there this time though, a heavy presence hovering over him as Bucky runs his hands over the cool, sleek metal and detaches the appendage with a slight wince of discomfort.

Steve takes the arm from him, solid but remarkably lithe in his hands as he sets it down against the couch.

Bucky shifts, his bare torso moving experimentally as he adjusts to the weightless feeling, but also because he feels Steve’s eyes tracing over the scarring on his shoulder and it’s enough to make his skin crawl as his self confidence stutters out. He wishes he has a shirt now.

But, “Don’t,” Steve utters kindly, “Don’t get like that,” because he must sense it—the self-deprecating thoughts that are cycling through Bucky’s mind.

Bucky can’t meet his gaze, doesn’t want to. He’s not even sure why he allowed this close contact right now. Steve is just being nice, just trying to make him feel better about how shitty Bucky looks now, no longer a picture of perfection in his pressed army dress as he flashes his draft papers into the 107th.

But Steve smiles anyway, warm and sincere as he tangles his fingers in Bucky’s. “You’re gorgeous,” he grins, “no matter what.”

Bucky scowls, still doesn’t look at him, but his confidence might have swelled at an alarming rate from that comment. He stares at the tile floor and mutters, “Shut up, Steve.”

But it lacks all venom and he knows Steve knows it’s his way of trying to say thanks maybe. That he doesn’t want to be this self-conscious. That even though Steve might say some ultra cheesy things sometimes, they always help make Bucky feel better about himself.

Bucky adds a quiet: “You’re not so bad-lookin’ yourself.” for effect.

 


 

 

The lows still come in droves, peppering Bucky’s days with intense moments of deep depression.

But this time, he doesn’t have to sneak into Steve’s room—doesn’t have to wait outside his door for him to come home like a lost puppy—because Steve is always there, always picking up on all the signs that Bucky apparently exudes when he’s entered that low.

He’s laying down with him, pulling him into a heavy embrace that doesn’t let up the entire night.

Or he’s literally picking Bucky up from wherever he’s drawn into himself and carrying him to the kitchen for a snack or outside onto the balcony so the soothing wind can blow against his skin and waken the sense of hope that’s buried itself deep.

And Bucky clings onto him every single time, because Steve is his lifeline and his best friend and the one man in this entire universe that can make his heart feel like a goddamn dolphin cresting the surface of the water and flipping around a bunch of times in the welcoming sun.

He loves him to death. And when he says it, arms and legs tangled against each other, skin on skin, “I love you,” Steve’s smile is as bright as the sunshine he takes him out in to feel better.

“Since Brooklyn,” is Steve’s answer.

And it’s better than I love you too because it means I’ve loved you longer than most people have lived and it’s beautiful.