When Bucky Barnes opened the door of his garden-level Park Slope apartment, the first thing he noticed was the smell of barbecued chicken that filled the air. The second thing he noticed was the sound of music: specifically, that New Agey crap that his husband, Steve Rogers, liked to listen to when he was deep in his creative groove. Bucky considered going down the hall to tell Steve that he was home, but he decided against it; if past experience proved anything, it was that he'd likely find the workroom draped in plastic and Steve naked and covered in clay.
Instead, he made his way into the galley kitchen, following his nose. The crock pot sat out on the counter, chicken leg quarters cooking away merrily in barbecue sauce; he grabbed the tongs and opened the lid, turning the pieces over quickly before putting the lid back down again. There was a note lying on the other side of the crock pot; it read, chicken will be ready at six; could you make some rice? With a smile, Bucky pulled out a package of Minute Rice and checked the clock. Five forty-five; he put the Minute Rice back and pulled out a box of Rice-a-Roni instead. Once the rice was minding its own business, he meandered to the upstairs door - technically, what used to be the basement door, when the building was a single family dwelling back in his grandpa's childhood - to check for messages.
Bucky considered himself to be one lucky son of a bitch in more ways than one. He'd lost an arm in Afghanistan, sure, but there were a lot of guys who lost more than that. At least he managed to come home under his own power and with his head mostly on straight. And he had a home to come home to. His great-grandfather had paid cash for the Park Slope brownstone back in 1910, and his father had subdivided it into apartments in the early 1980s, before Bucky was born. Now it was Bucky's. And Steve's.
Bucky was an only child; when his parents died only a month after his eighteenth birthday, Bucky had gone a little wild out of grief. After very nearly flunking out of his senior year of high school, he'd joined the Army in a last-ditch bid to get himself turned back around. When he got his orders and discovered they were sending him to Afghanistan, he'd spent a long night up on the roof, examining his life and everything in it. The next morning, he'd called Steve.
“I need you to move in over here.”
“Bucky, we've had this conversation; I'm fine where I am for now, and we're not ready for that yet. I know we've been dating since junior year, but - ”
“They're shippin' me out, Steve.”
There was a long silence on the line. Then Steve spoke. “I'll be there in fifteen.”
When he arrived - already red and blotchy in the face but struggling to keep it together - Bucky simply folded him up in his arms and sat on the couch, holding him, for a long time. “If I thought it'd do any good,” he murmured into Steve's baby-fine hair, “I'd tell 'em about you and dare 'em to kick me out.”
“Bucky,” Steve said, his voice strained and desperate.
Bucky sighed, squeezing Steve a little tighter. “I know. I know, Stevie,” he murmured. He palmed Steve's cheek. “So, I got like three weeks before I gotta go,” he said. “I figure that's enough time to get everything arranged and settled.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” he said, pressing his forehead against Steve's, “you know as well as I do I could get my ass blown up over there. If that happens - ”
“It won't!” Steve's grip on his shoulders became fierce. “It won't!”
“If it does,” Bucky continued, his voice firm, “I want to make sure you're taken care of. I don't want you livin' in some shithole, takin' every damn minimum wage job you can get to try to make ends meet until you get your big break. I want you taken care of. I want you here.”
“Buck,” Steve said softly, “what are you sayin'?”
Bucky swallowed. “I'm sayin',” he said softly, “if we were married, then if anything happened to me over there, then the house would be yours. I want you to move in here and take care of the place for me while I'm gone - I'd rather have you do it than have to depend on some shyster real estate place - and if I die over there, I don't want you gettin' put out in favor of some damn cousin I've never even met or something. I want it all to be yours. The rents would be enough for you to get by just fine until you start sellin' art pieces.”
“But Bucky, I - ”
“Steve,” Bucky interrupted him. “I love you. And I was gonna ask you anyway.” He released Steve, crossing the living room to the built-in bookshelves. He opened up the little Moroccan box that sat on one of the shelves, pulling out a tiny box of black velvet. “I had this for awhile. Been tryin' to work up my nerve. Thought maybe I'd wait until Christmas, but now...” He shrugged. “Don't look like I'm gonna be here for Christmas. So, what do you say?” Crossing back to the couch, he went smoothly to one knee and popped the box open, revealing a simple gold band. “Will you marry me, Stevie?”
Steve stared at him for a long moment, then slid forward off the couch onto his knees, wrapping his arms around Bucky's neck. “Yes,” he whispered. “But I swear to God, Bucky, if you get blown up over there, I'm gonna kill you.”
As he predicted, he missed Christmas... but he was home by Easter. Well, most of him was, anyway.
Shaking himself out of memories, Bucky pulled the upstairs door open and checked the message board hanging there on the side of the interior staircase. It was blank - none of the tenants needed anything repaired today. Always good news. He shut the door again, turning the lock, and headed back down into the kitchen. By the time he got there, the music had been turned off (not that it helped; he already had “Orinoco Flow” stuck in his head, and it would likely be there for days) and the shower was running.
He went into the kitchen and started serving up plates; by the time he was ready to put them on the table, Steve was there. Still damp from his shower, he slid around Bucky in the narrow galley and paused to press a kiss onto Bucky's shoulder blade before reaching up into the cabinets for glasses. He filled them with lemonade from the pitcher in the refrigerator, then brought them to the table, pausing for a proper kiss before dropping into his chair. “How was the day?” he asked.
“Good,” Bucky replied. “Figured out what the problem was with the lighting.”
“Oh, good,” Steve said. “The show will go on!”
“Yeah. Opens Friday night. You wanna come?”
“Sure.” Steve grinned. “You know I love opening nights.” He stood, going back into the kitchen for bread and butter, and returned. “Natasha called today.”
“Oh?” Bucky raised an eyebrow. Calls from Natasha - Steve's very Russian, very crazy art agent - were usually good news. “What'd she have to say?”
“She got me into a show. In a week.” Steve fairly vibrated with excitement. “At Stark Tower.”
Bucky blinked, then stared. “Stark Tower? Are you fuckin' kidding me?”
“Nope!” Steve's grin was nearly wide enough to split his face. “Pepper Potts, Stark's new CEO, is having some kind of gala thing, and she decided she wanted to feature 'undiscovered gems of the art world' - that's what Natasha said, not me. And probably not Miss Potts, either.” He waved a hand. “Anyway, she's got me a spot for a painting and a sculpture.”
“Which would explain why you have clay under your fingernails,” Bucky teased.
Steve grinned some more. “Nah, I'm not putting a new piece in; I think I'm gonna use the one you sat for.”
“Oh my God,” Bucky groaned. “Are you kidding me with this?”
“No! Come on, it's really good, you know it is.”
“I know, but... Steve, I'm naked in it.”
“Well, yeah, you're supposed to be,” Steve replied. “That's the whole point.”
Bucky groaned again, covering his eyes. “And you're going to want me to go, aren't you?”
“No, you don't have to,” Steve replied. He took a bite of chicken, and Bucky watched between his fingers as his shoulders slumped, his eyes fell to the tabletop, and he sighed softly, chewing his food slowly enough that it may as well have been made of cardboard.
Bucky removed his hand. “Con artist.”
Steve's eyes rolled up to meet Bucky's, the wicked glint in them detracting only slightly from his generalized air of dejectedness. “Bucky,” he said softly, echoes of gloom in his voice, “you know I would never ask you to do something you were uncomfortable with.”
“You're a lying little shit, you know that?” Bucky reached over, tucking two fingers under Steve's chin, and raised his face up. Then he leaned in and kissed Steve, warm and slow. “I'll go to your damn show. I'll even let you tell people I sat for the sculpture. But I swear to God, Steve, if I get propositioned by your weird ass friends again...”
“That was one time,” Steve protested. “And all you had to do was say no politely!”
Bucky, grumbling for the show of it, went back to his dinner.
Steve stood in front of the bathroom mirror that night, glass of water beside the sink, handful of pills in his hand. He sighed, popping the first two in his mouth and washing them down, then repeating the process with the last three. God, he hated being sickly. He took a deep breath, puffing out his chest as he sometimes did, trying to imagine how he might look if he were a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier. He shook his head, unable to wrap his mind around the concept.
If he was honest with himself, his stature didn't bother him as much these days as it used to. Now that skinny and nerdy was in - especially in Brooklyn, where the hipster reigned supreme - it was easier to find interesting clothes and he was less likely to be mistaken for Bucky's twelve-year-old brother. Bucky himself had never seemed to have a problem with Steve's stature; as he became more confident in his own identity as a bisexual man, he'd even started teasingly referring to Steve as his “favorite twink”. What really bothered Steve was his tendency toward illness.
Since childhood, it had been one thing after another. Classified medically fragile at age five, he'd been in and out of the hospital with this or that condition; he actually had to be home-schooled in the fourth grade, because he spent more time bedridden than he did ambulatory. Even now, as an adult, he had to be more careful of drafts and germs and so on than any properly-evolved human being ought to be.
Art had always been his escape. When his mother died, leaving him an orphan at fifteen, he had turned to art for solace. When Bucky's parents - who had taken him in, thus saving him a trip through the foster system - had died, he had turned to art. While Bucky was going through his wild phase, hurting everyone around him as he tried to escape from his own rage and pain, Steve made art. When Bucky was gone to Afghanistan, Steve was making art. When Bucky came back from Afghanistan alive but missing an arm, Steve made art.
And now, with any luck, his art would make him.
He stared at himself for another moment or two, taking in his perpetually narrow face, skinny shoulders, and pale chest. Then, with a soft sigh, he pulled his t-shirt on over his head, grabbed a towel, and shuffled out of the bathroom.
Bucky, dressed only in a pair of blue boxer-briefs, was already lying in bed, his prosthetic arm tossed carelessly on the desk like the remnants of a bright silver skeleton. Steve tossed the towel to Bucky, who laid it on the mattress to his right. Then he clambered onto the bed at its foot, getting up on all fours and crawling up Bucky's body, a grin on his face. Bucky grinned back. “You look like you got somethin' dirty on your mind,” he commented idly, reaching up to grab the hem of Steve's t-shirt and pull it off.
“I do,” Steve replied easily, leaning down to lick a slow path up the center of Bucky's chest. “You.”
Bucky rumbled softly, a sound that never failed to make Steve shiver, and reached down to cup Steve's face, drawing him up for a long, slow, decadent kiss. When he released Steve's mouth, he murmured against his lips, “You wanna be on top or on the bottom?”
Steve sucked in a deep breath. “Bottom,” he said softly. “You know I love it when...”
“Yeah, I know.” Bucky kissed him again, his tongue flicking against Steve's, his teeth nipping gently against Steve's lip. “I know.” He waited for Steve to slide off him and stand, watched the smaller man shuck his pajama pants, and grinned at the sight before him. Steve might be slight everywhere that most people could see; his cock was nothing of the sort. Bucky swung his legs off the side of the bed and sat there for a second, admiring his lover. “Damn,” he finally whispered. “Come here, baby.”
Steve went, and Bucky slid off the side of the bed and onto his knees, reaching up to take Steve's cock in his hand. He leaned down, licking a slow stripe up the underside, and then swallowed the head and most of the shaft. Steve bucked and swore, his hands coming to rest on Bucky's head, fingers carding through Bucky's thick hair. “Jesus, Buck...” he managed.
Bucky laughed softly, taking another minute to work Steve over with his mouth before releasing him. He let Steve help him up out of the floor before guiding him to bend over the side of the bed, then checked the bedside table. He made sure that Steve's inhaler was there, took a second to check the counter on the base of the plastic mouthpiece, just to make sure it wasn't a spare empty that was still lying around, and then he fished into the drawer, pulling out a condom and the pump bottle of Aquaglide. He rolled the condom on first, then pumped some of the lube out onto his fingers.
Steve was watching him over his shoulder, eyes hazy and heavy-lidded with arousal, and a deep pink flush stole across his body as Bucky turned to him. There was a time when Bucky could have held Steve down with one hand while applying the lube with the other; these days, Steve held himself down, and if Bucky caught himself sometimes trying to reach with the stump of his left arm, neither of them mentioned it.
Steve raised one knee, setting it on the edge of the bed, and arched his back, opening himself for Bucky as best he could. Bucky ran two fingers across Steve's entrance, drawing a shiver from the smaller man, and then slid one finger inside. Steve shuddered hard, whimpering, and Bucky only gave him a moment to brace himself before nudging a second finger in alongside the first.
The whine Steve let out at the stretch was delicious, running down Bucky's spine and making him quiver and grin, and he thrust his fingers in gently, reveling in the warm, slick softness inside of Steve, searching with two fingers for the spot that would make Steve writhe and whimper and cry out in want. When he found it, Steve did all of those things, his body jerking under Bucky's, and the dark-haired man laughed softly. “God, you always want it so bad.”
“Yeah,” Steve agreed, panting softly. “Always, Buck, always want you.”
Bucky's heart clenched. He leaned to the left, bracing himself with one knee on the mattress, and murmured, “Steve. Lean up.”
Steve turned, blinking up at him for a moment before realizing what Bucky wanted; he pushed himself up on his hands and twisted, kissing Bucky hard, biting down on Bucky's lower lip and groaning into his mouth when Bucky's fingers brushed across his prostate again. “Jesus, Buck,” Steve choked out. “Please, Jesus.”
Bucky chuckled. “Roll over.”
Their sex life had gotten a lot more vocal since Bucky's return from Afghanistan; where he had been accustomed to guiding or simply manhandling Steve into the desired position, he couldn't do so any longer. The first time Bucky tried to use his prosthetic hand during sex had ended with Steve badly bruised, and since that time, he had refused to wear it in bed. Now he directed, and Steve obeyed with a grin.
Bucky slid his fingers out of Steve, to the musical accompaniment of Steve's groan of protest, and pumped his hand full of lube as Steve flopped onto his back. He slicked himself, then pushed two fingers back into Steve, who arched beautifully under him, narrow rib cage heaving. “Okay there?” Bucky asked.
Steve nodded. “Good, good,” he managed. “Please, Bucky, please...”
“Just a second.” Bucky carefully introduced a third finger, stretching Steve wide, and the smaller man whined, writhing helplessly, wordless pleas escaping from his mouth along with desperate pants and mewls of pleasure. When Bucky was sure that Steve was ready, he pulled his fingers out and pushed his cock in, sinking slowly in until he was buried firmly inside of Steve.
Steve let out a deep groan that his tiny form should not have been able to make, and Bucky chuckled, grabbing the towel and pulling it closer so he could brace his hand without fouling the bedspread. He leaned down and pressed a hot kiss to Steve's open mouth, his tongue teasing at Steve's lips before making its way across his jaw to that sensitive spot on the side of his neck. Steve shivered underneath him, his fingers clawing at Bucky's back. “Buck,” he panted. “Buck, please , I need you.”
“I got you, baby,” Bucky murmured against Steve's skin. He adjusted his angle until he was braced properly - it would only take one time of falling on Steve to break some of those birdlike ribs - and slowly withdrew until only the fat head of his cock remained inside. “Brace yourself,” Bucky said, and Steve lifted his arms over his head, gripping the mattress.
“Do it,” Steve whispered. “Give it to me.” And he leaned up and bit Bucky's collarbone sharply.
Bucky groaned, his body taking over from his mind, and he shoved himself back in, setting up a rough but not brutal pace of thrusts that had Steve writhing and moaning and whimpering underneath him. God, it was frustrating; he wanted so badly to reach down and grab Steve's cock, but all he managed to do - once again - was wave the damn stump. He growled in frustration, but fortunately Steve had his eyes closed and just thought Bucky was being sexy.
Bucky had to grin at that, and he leaned down again. “Touch yourself,” he murmured. “Touch yourself for me.”
Whimpering, Steve reached down with one hand and fisted his cock, and Bucky watched avidly as he stroked himself, slicking himself with his own precome, twisting his wrist, dragging the foreskin up and back and whining, pleading, begging for Bucky to fuck him harder, fuck him deeper, make him come.
And then he did come, spurts of white splattering both himself and Bucky, and Bucky thrust once, twice, again, and then his body bowed over Steve's. Groaning, his hips jerking, he buried his forehead in the crook of Steve's neck and filled the condom, Steve's arms wrapped around him, Steve's fingers sliding into his hair.
Steve sighed softly into Bucky's ear. “God, you always feel so good.”
Bucky pressed a gentle, open-mouthed kiss to the side of Steve's neck. “Love you,” he murmured.
“Love you, too,” Steve murmured back.
The best part about having professions like artist and stagehand was the way they could sleep indulgently late almost anytime they liked. When Steve rolled out of bed the next morning a little after eleven, Bucky was still asleep, sprawled out across the double bed they shared, his skin gleaming golden in the morning sunlight. With a sleepy smile, Steve found his pajama pants and pulled them on, shuffling out to the kitchen and putting on the coffee pot. He leaned against the counter as it percolated, thinking about breakfast, and finally decided not to bother; there was a tiny diner around the corner, a determined hold-out from the 1940s, where they could get breakfast all day.
Bucky shuffled in just as Steve pulled two mugs out of the cabinet, shrugging into his prosthetic as he came. Steve paused to help Bucky adjust the straps that went around his shoulder, then pulled the vanilla creamer out of the refrigerator and poured them both a cup of coffee - Bucky's black, Steve's topped off with the vanilla because he loved the sweetness. They both leaned against the counter then, and Steve snuggled into Bucky's side. Bucky draped his good arm over Steve's shoulder, carefully maneuvering the coffee cup with his prosthetic.
Steve sighed, content. “This is good,” he said after a minute. “I like this.”
Bucky chuckled softly. “Me, too.” Then he yawned. “But don't get any ideas. I see that lazy-day-on-the-couch gleam in your eye. I have to go in to the theater later.”
Steve pouted, but not very hard. He knew how much Bucky loved working at the theater, putting the engineering knowledge he'd gotten in the military to a use that the military would never have expected and probably wouldn't approve of. He kissed Bucky's pectoral. “When later?”
“About one. Need to double check the rigging and make sure it's all working. And Clint said something about redoing some of the props.”
“He's such a perfectionist.”
“Yeah, but it really makes a difference in the work,” Bucky said. “Besides, you're a perfectionist, too.”
“True,” Steve replied. “I'm not judging.” He drained his coffee cup. “Wanna go get pancakes before you have to go in?”
After breakfast, Steve and Bucky shared a kiss on the street in front of the diner and went their separate ways; Bucky to catch the train into Manhattan at Seventh Avenue, and Steve back to the apartment. As he arrived, Mrs. Petrakis, the elderly first floor tenant who'd been living there since the mid-sixties, was coming out of the front door. “Yoo-hoo, Steven!” she called out, and he grinned.
“Hey, Mrs. Petrakis,” he greeted her. “Heading out?”
“Yes, I have to go to the bodega.” She sighed, rolling her eyes a little. “My son is bringing his new girlfriend over to dinner tonight and I have to pretend to like her.”
“Now, Mrs. Petrakis, you know you can't walk that far by yourself,” Steve said, hurrying up the steps to give her his arm on the way down. “Not after you fell last year. Why don't you wait for Emmanuel to get home from school?”
“Because it'll be too late,” Mrs. Petrakis replied. “They're holding back some of those roasted chickens for me, but if I wait, they're apt to sell them before I get there.”
Steve cracked up laughing. “You're going to put them on a platter and claim you made them yourself, aren't you?” he guessed. “You're a sneak and a vixen, Mrs. Petrakis.”
“I was something of a terror, in my younger years,” she admitted, her eyes twinkling. “Well, must be going.”
“Not by yourself, you're not,” Steve replied. “I'll come with you. We're low on milk anyway.” He darted down the stairs, grabbed the collapsible shopping cart from its place in the coat closet, and hurried back up again.
He ended up getting a chicken as well; they were lemon-pepper, and they smelled good enough that Steve felt like Bucky would forgive him for serving chicken two days in a row. He also got milk and a bottle of juice, and was glad he'd brought the cart because Mrs. Petrakis ended up getting a case of soda as well.
When they got back to the building, Steve was startled to find Natasha sitting on the front stoop, wearing a blue beret and smoking a cigarette and looking as though she sat on his front stoop every day of the week. She watched the grocery cart while he carried Mrs. Petrakis's soda inside for her, then followed him downstairs and into the garden apartment. “I have been waiting for you,” she told him, giving him a significant look.
“You should have called,” Steve replied easily. “I'd have told you I wasn't home.”
“Steven,” Natasha said, her accent slipping out just a little bit. “Did you understand when I said to you one week?”
“Sure,” he said. “Come on back; I'll show you the pieces I've picked out.”
She followed him through the little apartment and back into his work room. He flipped the light on and headed for the back of the room, where a set of industrial shelves held a number of completed sculptures. Natasha, predictably, made a beeline for the work table under the windows, trying to examine the piece that was currently in progress. It was covered in heavy duty plastic, to keep the clay from drying out before he was done with it. “Hands off,” he warned her just as she reached for the edge of the plastic.
She drew her hand back and glared at him. He just smiled, unperturbed, reaching out and pulling a piece off the shelf. “Here,” he said. “This one.” He brought it over to the table and set it down, pushing it in her direction.
She examined it carefully, looking it over with the critical eye of a woman who knows her art. It was a nude man - Bucky, though of course most people wouldn't know that - reclining on his side, upper body propped up on his elbow, hips canted just so, half-erect and wearing that come-hither smirk that never failed to make Steve shiver. After a long moment of examination, Natasha finally snapped, “Adequate,” which for her was fulsome praise indeed. She continued, “What painting?”
“Oh,” Steve said. He darted back to the other side of the room, flipping through a stack of unframed canvases that leaned against the wall. “How about one of these?” He pulled out two large canvases. They were very similar in subject, both being views of the street outside as seen from the sidewalk. One of them, a watercolor, was a sort of abstract impressionist version, heavy on shades of blue. The other was an oil painting in the realist style.
Natasha pointed at the realist version. “That one is far superior to the other,” she said. She stepped closer to it, examining it in detail. “Very well done, I must say,” she said. “Nearly photorealistic. Your technique continues to improve.”
Steve smiled. “Thank you,” he said.
“You should focus more on the realist style,” Natasha said. “It suits you better than the other.”
“Oh, I know,” Steve replied. “But sometimes I think I'd like to be the next Van Gogh.”
“Bah,” Natasha waved a hand. “There will never be another Van Gogh. Be the next Steven Rogers, instead.”
He gave her a playful salute. “Yes, ma'am.”
“Good. Now help me wrap this naked Bucky, so we can talk money and then I can go. I'm very busy, you know.”