The first thing he does after the transition, after the hospital and the terror, and the agony of narcotic withdrawal and the agony of comprehension, of all that was done to him and all that he did, the first thing he does is ask, “Am I free?”
“Yeah, Buck,” Steve says in that slightly rough voice, the voice he used to get after a bout of pneumonia had him coughing and in bed and menthol smeared on his chest for a week or more. It used to be weird, hearing such a low voice coming from such a little body. Now the voice fits, and it’s the body that’s wrong. “Yeah, you’re free.”
Steve’s no liar. His habit of unrestrained honesty landed him with a busted nose more than once in the past, and from what he’s seen of Steve, the Steve that Bucky hangs on to when the world lurches under his feet, when he’s sickened by himself, when he screams, well, time hasn’t even scratched a nail on much less eroded that part of him.
“So I can do anything now?” Bucky says. "Anything I want?"
“Inside of the law,” Steve says. Cautious. He’s got all of Bucky’s worldly possessions in a sports bag hanging off one arm, and he’s opening the door to his apartment, their apartment now, no, he’s not ready to think of it like that yet, he’s opening the door to the apartment with the other hand. He’s watching Bucky as he does it. Just from the corner of his eye. And there’s the faintest smile curling up the corner of his mouth.
“Course,” Bucky says, shrugging with one shoulder since the other shoulder, and everything that attaches to it, is in a lab somewhere possibly in DC, and his new arm isn’t ready. “Course I'll say inside the law. This place is gonna be crawling.”
“It’s not bugged,” Steve says. “Special request.”
For a minute he thinks Steve might say something else, but instead Steve sighs and shrugs and pushes open the door. Both of them look inside. Brick walls, and not too bad a space. Good view, the lights from outside throwing enough illumination inside that neither of them really need the lights on, but Steve flicks them on anyway. Bucky tries not to look for points of ingress and egress, and fails. Steve sees him fail.
“Bedroom’s that way,” he says, “Fire escape,” he adds. Bucky nods. When Steve goes over and opens the closet door for no reason at all, Bucky grins.
“You’re just as paranoid as I am,” he says and it’s not a question and it's not a jab. There is comfort in shared unease. This world is full of things that are too rich, too perfect, too good for two poor boys who never had nothing and lost it all anyway. Steve smiles a small, wry smile, and Bucky suspects with a thrill that expression is a secret between them.
Steve sets him up. Offers him the big bed in the bedroom but Bucky shakes his head. He wants the floor under him, and the hard security of bricks at his back, so Steve kits him out on the floor beside the couch, where he’s got a view of the windows, the way to the bedroom, and the door to the hall. He’s got a feeling Steve’s slept there himself some times. It's a good spot.
Once Bucky’s unpacked his possessions -- plastic toothbrush (orange), comb (also plastic), coat, ball cap, slim and battered copy of Tales of the Amazing Future that assured him everybody would have flying bicycles by the year 2000 and which Steve brought him as a joke but which he loves and reads and rereads -- Steve takes him around the apartment, then sits him on a stool in the kitchen and starts in on making dinner.
“Oh. Your keys,” Steve says, sliding a little ring and two keys across the counter as the steak cooks in the pan. They're having steak and potatoes, just like Steve promised when things were bad. That was right around the time Bucky asked the counsellor if you could die from misery and then they took away his shoes and his belt and Steve stayed three nights in a row, catching a couple hours a night sleeping on two chairs pushed together while Bucky lay on the bed and tried real hard to will his heart to just give up.
It had been late, Steve’s words getting a little slurred with weariness. There’s this really great butcher down the road from where I live. Steaks as thick as a mattress. When you're better and you can come live with me, I’ll get us some. Best steak you ever ate.
And potatoes, Bucky had said, tired too, and suddenly hungry for the first time in, god, maybe ever. Potatoes. Fried, like… like something he couldn’t remember. Fried, he said again, aware that some very small part of him wanted that, wanted something. The doctors said wanting something, even a little, was a good sign. They told him there would be good days and there would be bad days, and he should try to lay up good things in the future, so he had stuff to look forward to. Must have told Steve that too because he’d smiled in the dark.
Yeah. Potatoes like Mrs Fitzwilliam used to make. Crispy and golden on the outside, but fluffy inside. That’s what we’ll have to celebrate when you’re better. Steak and potatoes. And I'll get you a set of keys too.
“My keys,” Bucky says, while Steve portions out the potatoes.
“The silver one is the building door, and the brass one is the apartment.”
Steak and potatoes, and keys to the place. As if it was easy. He takes the keys and turns them over. They're sharp, recently cut, so new there's still a burr of metal sticking to one.
"This is your place now," Steve says.
"It's not my place," Bucky says, nodding thanks for the plate of food that Steve passes him. "But thanks."