As Bucky jogged the last few blocks on his way home, the cold wind nipped at his nose. He sniffled and then rubbed at his nose with his free hand all while keeping a tight grip on the precious beef in his other hand. Once he could feel some warmth in his nose, he tugged the worn, woolen scarf up higher before reaching for the door knob to his building. Just as he cracked it open, a gust of wind came up behind him and yanked the door knob from his hand. The door slammed loudly against the brick wall as Bucky stumbled inside, a flurry of snowflakes on his heels.
A transient, who sat huddle beneath the staircase started and glanced at Bucky from beneath the brim of a dirty woolen cap. Bucky didn't acknowledge the man; instead, he struggled to shut the door. Once he heard it click, he whirled around and ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time until he reached the third floor.
As he rounded the corner he nearly ran over two knee high little girls. They both looked up at him and waved in tandem as they began to talk over one another, "Sorry, no time today," he said to Mrs. Nelson's twin girls. Bucky could hear the pleas of the girls, asking him to stop for a moment, but paid no heed until one of them mentioned Steve by name.
"What was that?" he asked, as he juggled the meat in his hands while he pulled out his door key.
"We heard Steve was sick again, so we thought he could have our blanket." The two little girls each gripped on side of a blanket and held it up with pride in their green eyes. Smiling, and with a multitude of thanks, Bucky took the gift and patted each girl on the head while managing to juggle now the meat, the blanket, and the door key.
"You'll tell him it's from us?" One of the girls asked.
Bucky nodded. "When he wakes up I will, of course, and I'm sure he'll thank you himself when he’s better." As he smiled at them as they waved good bye, he made a mental note to let their mother know where the blanket went when she got home that night.
The little girls were still wishing Steve a fast recovery as Bucky step inside the small room he and Steve called home.
Before even taking off his hat and coat, Bucky went over to Steve's bed. As he approached, he felt his stomach twist and his mouth go dry as he braced himself for the worse. The specter of Steve cold and still in the small bed taunted Bucky. As he drew near the knot of fear tightened. Though Bucky could see the rise and fall of Steve’s chest, Steve still matched the horror his imagination painted for him too well. He lay on his back, the two quilts they owned drawn up over his chest, arms like dead weights on top of them. His face was as pale as paper, except for the scarlet red of the fever that gave him a mockery of healthy color to his cheeks.
Bucky pulled off a glove with his teeth, the meat still balanced in his other hand, and held his hand above Steve's forehead, needing to feel the warmth of Steve's skin. As he stood there, the memory of his mother lying in bed, looking asleep as Steve did now, shoved to the forefront of his mind. Bucky swallowed hard against the flip his stomach did.
He'd been twelve and had gone into his mother's room to see if she felt better today. He’d grabbed her hand to shake her awake, but her skin had been cold, cold and dry; she had already become stiff.
Even though now, with his hand over Steve's face feeling the heat that radiated from Steve's skin, Bucky couldn't shake the fear that as soon as he touched Steve, Steve would be as cold as his mother that morning.
"I'm alive," Steve rasped. His eyelids fluttered open for a moment before he drew in a deep breath and coughed.
"I know," Bucky said after taking a deep breath. “Course you are, I could hear you breathing out the door.” He didn't bother to ask Steve if Steve felt better because the answer to that was always 'yes.'
"What's that?" Steve whispered. He managed to lift his arm and point at Bucky's hand.
"Oh the Nelson twins gave you their blanket, which was sweet, but I figured we shouldn't get too many germs on it before I make sure their mother knows they did this and is okay with that."
Steve shook his head. "Is that meat, Bucky?"
Steve frowned. It wasn't much of his frown, and far less powerful than his usual disapproving look, but it was still enough to make Bucky shift from one foot to the other.
"You need good food, Steve. Our usual mush ain't cutting it, and don't argue because I won't take it back and I'm bigger than you, and besides I’ve already been making the stock all afternoon."
Steve smiled. "Stubborn," he whispered.
"As a mule" Bucky agreed. "You get some rest, I'm gonna make stew."
"What do you think I'm doing?" Steve yawned. "Painting the Sistine Chapel?"
Chuckling, Bucky went to the small stove and pulled out a pot to boil some water in.
The familiar steps in making dinner, cutting up potatoes and carrots then cooking the meat, helped take Bucky's mind of Steve's illness and the worst case scenario that was never far from his thoughts. He stirred the stew until everything seemed soft enough, then put some into a bowl and carried that and a glass of water over to Steve.
"Steve?" Bucky murmured, as he stood over his friend. When Steve opened his eyes and smiled up at Bucky, Bucky let out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding.
"No milk, but I can get you some water," Bucky said. He waited for Steve to push himself up into a sitting position. He itched to help but knew Steve would just shrug him off, and really, Steve could sit up on his own. Once Steve had gotten comfortable, Bucky handed Steve the hot bowl wrapped in a towel.
Steve took a few bites then gave Bucky a tired smile. "It's good."
"Hot food always helped me feel better. I wanted to make chicken soup, but I could get a better deal on the beef." Bucky answered. "Oh, and I picked up the mail earlier. You got another letter from your friend in Providence. Want me to read it?"
Steve looked a bit more alert at that and nodded his head. Then though, he frowned.
"Aren't you gonna eat?"
"After I read your letter," Bucky promised as he carefully opened the envelope and pulled out five pages. "Creezus this man writes a lot."
Steve shrugged. "So do I."
"Yeah well, you aren't allowed to write any epic letters right now. You are eating and sleeping."
Steve wrinkled his nose at Bucky, "Yes, mother." He took another bite. "Anyway, he'll understand. He's sick a lot himself."
Bucky just nodded and began trying to make out the man’s handwriting, having to be often reassured by Steve that he was saying something write, and not to worry, it was made up.
"-truly astounded by how well your art captured the dreary, dark world I try to capture in the when I invoke the Necrono-" Bucky paused and glanced at Steve for a verification of the odd word. Steve though, was nodding off, the soup bowl held threatening to spill its contents into Steve's lap. Setting the letter on the nightstand, Bucky took the bowl from Steve's lax grip and set that on the nightstand as well before he moved Steve back into a sleeping position and the tucked the covers around him. Steve's breathing became deeper and he snuggled into the blankets, which Buck decided was a good sign if improving health. With one last look at Steve, Bucky picked up the half finished soup and went to dispose of it.
Dolling out his own dinner, he sat back in the chair beside Steve's bed and kept watch as he ate. Steve didn't move much and Bucky finished his dinner in piece then just sat there, watching Steve.
He'd just dozed off when shouting started him awake. Bucky looked to see Steve moaning in the bed and thrashing against his covers.
"Whoa, whoa," Bucky yelped, trying to untangle Steve. Steve didn't have much fight in him, so it was an easy matter to get the cover sorted out. After that, Bucky held Steve loosely, not wanting to add to Steve's panic by restraining him too much. Steve slumped against Bucky's arm, his chest raising and falling as he took short, rattling breaths.
"Bucky?" Steve murmured.
"Here, right here, Steve." Bucky answered. He pressed his hand to Steve warm brow. "Right here."
Steve opened his eyes, though Bucky suspected he wasn't awake, not really. He turned toward Bucky, smiled a moment, and then his eyes drifted shut again.
Bucky held his breath until he could see Steve's chest rising and falling in a steady pattern once again. Then he slid from the bed and worked to arrange the covers back over Steve. Steve mumbled a bit, but didn't wake. Bucky stood over Steve for several more seconds. His gaze swept down Steve exposed arm, looking for signs that Steve had more than a passing illness. Every shadow became a dark bruise, every pink flush to his skin, a sinister rash. Bucky took a deep breath, then rubbed his eyes and sank back into the chair he'd pulled beside Steve's bed.
"Just a bad cold," he insisted and he ignored anyone memories of anyone he knew whose cold had been pneumonia or tuberculosis, or who just hadn't had the strength to get over it.
Bucky rubbed his eye again and looked around for something to read. Yesterday's newspaper was on the counter. Bucky had been too preoccupied to think to throw it out. He stared at it longer, but didn't get up from the chair.
Beside him, Steve coughed in his sleep and rolled over onto his side. Bucky's hand was on Steve's back before he even thought about it. He had to lean almost out of the chair, but he held the contact with Steve despite his own discomfort. As Steve continued to cough, Bucky bowed his head and resorted to a desperate ritual of comfort. His voice just above a whisper, he began to repeat the prayer his mother had taught him to say whenever Becky had been sick,. The same prayer he had said every night while she was ill, until his father had insisted on "proper" prayers being said in the Barnes house.
Proper prayers hadn't helped his mother, so every time Steve had been sick at the orphanage, he’d said the prayer his mother had taught him, in the language his mother had said it in, and suffered the consequences if anyone overheard him. He’d forgotten most of what she’d taught him, but not this.
Bucky finished the half remembered prayer in broken Russian and then glanced up at the ceiling. "If you really are all knowing, you get the picture, even if I can’t say it all right anymore," he muttered. Bucky remained stretched out between the chair and the bed a few minutes more, and would have stayed like that longer if his back hadn’t threatened d rebellion. Leaning back into the chair, he gripped the armrests, lifted it, and to moved closer to the bed.
He wasn't in the chair though, more than a few minutes, before Steve began to thrash in the bed again. Bucky moved himself from the chair to the bed and pulled Steve into his arms.
"Sorry, I know you'd hate this. Probably glare and accuse me of babying you," Bucky whispered as he pushed Steve's sweat damp bangs back." But, it's not like you're awake enough to notice, so you don’t get a say this time."
He tightened his grip on Steve, clinging as though his grip could keep Steve's soul for leaving his body if the illness took a turn for the worse. He rested his chin on Steve's head and took another steadying breath. Then Bucky wrinkled his nose. "First thing when you're well, you're bathing."
He managed a small smile, spirits lifted as he imagined the look of indignation of Steve's face if he'd heard that last comment. Steve would puff out his cheeks and glare in a way the redefined 'ice blue eyes.'
The respite from worry though ended as Steve began to cough in his sleep yet again. His thin body shook in Bucky's arms, helpless against the coughing fit that took hold. Bucky held his breath and prayed again as he waited for it to end.
Finally the fit passed, but the fear in Bucky's chest didn't begin to loosen until Steve's breathing returned to normal.
Bucky could feel the unusual heat of Steve's body, even through both their shirts, and knew the fever had come back. The disappointment combined with his helplessness against this disease to evaporate Bucky’s fear for a moment. Bucky felt a swell of fury rush through him and looked up at the ceiling, eye narrowed in anger.
"Why do this?" he demanded to the unseen forces. "Why put good people like Steve here and then just – just waste him? You let gangsters, rapists, bullies and all kinda of scum live, but a good person like Steve is sickly and apt to die young? What the fuck is wrong with you? Crimminey, when we have a saying down here that only the good die young, you've got a seriously mucked up things up!" Bucky glared out the window at the city lights that created eerie shadows in the alley below. Then he looked up again, glaring up at heaven.
"And what they hell have I don’t that you feel like trying to take everyone close to me? You took my mother, then my father." Bucky ground his teeth for a moment before continuing. "Then just when Becky and I were getting on, really feeling like a family just us, you had some bitch adopt her because she was young, pretty, blue eyed and blonde and most important didn't look or sound like mom, like I did." He inhaled, his breath shuddering as he drew it in. "So, you damn well owe me Steve, don't you think? You’ve taken everyone else I've loved! Can’t you just let Steve be?"
Bucky bit his bottom lip and shook his head. "Or is that it?" Bucky looked down at Steve, feeling the familiar desire stirring. "You're punishing Steve because I’m messed up? If I’m the problem for loving him wrong, why not just have an anvil fall on me and leave Steve damn well alone."
Bucky closed his eyes again and slouched against the wall feeling the anger ebb out like heat pulled from his body by cool air. HE took a few deep breath, before cursing good. He leaned over and kissed Steve’s warm forehead before looking up one last time. "Please don't let him die," he whispered.
He intended to stay up the whole night, unable to shake the irrational fear that his sleeping would enable Steve to drift off for good; however when he opened his again -sure he’d just rested them for a few minutes- it was light out. He blinked at the sunshine that assaulted him and was rubbing the sleep away when he realized Steve wasn’t in bed with him. Bolting up right, he stared across the room and saw Steve making breakfast. Flapjacks from the smell o fit.
"Why are you up?" he demanded, getting up with every intent of picking Steve up and putting him back to be by force if it came to it.
"The fever broke early morning and you were exhausted. Really Bucky, you've got to learn to sleep when I’m sick. Anyway, I'm better, least enough to make a quick breakfast, and I was starving when I woke."
Bucky folded his arms, still debating carrying Steve back to bed, but he did seem livelier. "I guess you do seem to be feeling better," Bucky admitted as he went over to the stove and inspected Steve’s handiwork. The flapjack's were blackened on one side and when Steve caught him looking at that, he blushed a little.
"So I don't cook as well as you," he said with a defensive shake of the spatula. "But you don’t cook at all when you stayed awake all night mother henning me and then can’t get up in the morning."
"Yeah, yeah, I’ll work on that," Bucky said.
Steve shook his head as he scraped the second flapjack off the pan. "You say that every time but I don’t think you ever do." Steve put each flapjack on one of the tin plates and carried both plates to the table. Bucky trailed after him, flatware in hand.
Bucky began to devour his breakfast, too hungry to care about the charcoal taste. Steve ate slower, but not by much. The main difference was his bite's were smaller but he ate quicker than Bucky. Both were about half way through breakfast when Steve stopped eating and looked over at Bucky.
"I heard you last night, after the coughing fit I kinda woke up."
It was Bucky's turn to blush and he looked away from Steve for a moment. "Well, it was three in the morning, Steve, what can I say, at that time of night cursing god seems like a good idea."
"I can imagine, but actually I meant the part about you loving me; I heard that."
Steve was so blunt and so natural in what he said that it took over a minute before Bucky fully understood what Steve had just admitted to overhearing. He had been mid bite and began to splutter on his food.
"Good Lord, don't choke on me," Steve said, jumping to his feet. Bucky waved him back through, having got the food in his mouth sorted out, if not his thoughts.
"You-you heard-oh Christ Steve, look it’s not, if it makes you uncomfortable..."
Steve shook his head. "I didn't say any of that; I just said I heard you."
Bucky reached for a glass of water and only then realized neither he nor Steve had though to bring drinks to the table. "And," he asked his mouth feeling very dry.
"And. . .did I ever tell you I think my mother was seeing another nurse?"
Bucky stared at Steve for several minutes and shook his head. "No, no, Steve, that for sure has never come up."
Steve shrugged. "I was too little to really think on it at the time, but now that I think back on it from an adult’s point of view, I think she might have been seeing the other lady. I’ll never know for sure, but the point is- the point is, Bucky, it doesn’t bother me if she was."
Bucky looked wistfully at the sink and licked his lips. "Yeah, but, but Steve, there’s gotta be a difference in not being bothered by the possibility of your mother being –you know- and your roommate being in love with you. How does it not bother you?"
Steve fiddled with this plate for a moment, turning it one way, than another.
"Because I'd be hypocritical if it did bother me," he answered, meeting Bucky’s eyes.
Bucky sat still, only daring to breathe, as his mind processed what Steve had just said. If there had been any doubt to the meaning of Steve's sentence, the flush that had started at Steve’s cheeks and was working up to his ears made everything clear.
"Oh of course, you tell me this after a promise god not to corrupt you," Bucky groaned.
Steve's grin lit up his whole face and he leaned in closer to Bucky. "No you didn't. All you did was offer to have an anvil fall on you, which hasn’t happened, so I’m assuming god didn’t take you up on that."
"Steve. . ." Bucky poked at his breakfast with a fork, staring intently at it as though the flapjack could provide advice on how to proceed in this situation. He could feel Steve watching him and the silence in the room was eating at him, but each time he tried to say something his mouth didn’t seem to want to work. While he struggled to speak, Steve stood and came over. And then Steve was standing next to him, hand on his shoulder. It was a simple gesture, something Steve had done probably thousands of times since they’d known each other, but now, Bucky jerked as though Steve's touch had sent a static shock through him.
"Are you going to be ok? This not talking thing is starting to worry me, Bucky."
Bucky nodded his head, the normalcy of Steve's words and actions helped him find his voice. "You always tell me I’m the slow one," he said, trying to sound normal, but hearing how tight his voice sounded.
Steve reached out and took Bucky hand. He smiled as he did when he showed his more personal artwork to Bucky. It was a small, uncertain smile that didn’t change until Bucky approved whatever Steve had drawn. Steve raised Bucky's hand to his mouth and kissed Bucky's knuckles.
"You’re stealing that from me," Bucky whispered.
Steve’s grin widened. "You always say I should learn from the best."
Bucky chuckled a little and risked touching Steve's other hand. "Yeah, well, ok." He squeezed Steve's warm hand and searched again for something to say. "So I guess we're not worried about falling anvils?"
Steve laughed and gripped Bucky’s fingers tighter. "No, no I don't think so, Bucky. However, if you want to bring God back into this, Mom always said he works in mysterious ways, so who’s to say he didn’t have me get sick just so you’d admit you loved me at a point when I’d overhear?"
Bucky paused to think about Steve’s words. With a rush of laughter he pulled Steve against him. "Ok, I like your version better than mine," he said as he leaned forward to kiss Steve. He still aimed for Steve’s cheek, but Steve twisted so that Bucky couldn’t avoid his lips.
Faced the with the undeniable reality that Steve wanted to be kissed by him, Bucky threw himself into the kiss and didn’t let up until he felt Steve patting him on the back.
When he looked at Steve, Steve was frowning and his eyebrows were furrowed. Bucky’s breath caught in his throat, his stomach twisted into knots, and he wanted to say something about being sorry, but his mouth had gone dry again and he couldn’t find his voice.
But then Steve gave Bucky his 'sorry-I’m-sick' smile. "Fantastic," Steve whispered. "I've got a whole new reason to hate being asthmatic."
Bucky felt relief wash through him and he pulled Steve in for another kiss.