The first time it happens, Steve wakes up with a knife pressed to his jugular. Bucky’s had a nightmare and woken up disoriented and terrified. It takes fifteen minutes of Steve talking him down for Bucky to lower the knife and relax, but he doesn’t go back to sleep. He just cried in Steve’s arms until dawn.
The second time, they’re in the middle of sex and Steve says something—he doesn’t know what—that triggers Bucky. Metal fingers end up clenched around Steve’s throat—cutting off his oxygen. JARVIS calls Tony, the other man busting through the door in his suit. It takes about five seconds for Tony to get Bucky off of Steve and for Bucky to instantly lock himself in his room. Tony doesn’t talk about it.
The third time, Steve decides it’s time to talk about it. Bucky’d been doing so well—seeing his therapist every week, being open and honest with Steve, even sparring with Clint and running with Sam and Steve in the mornings. But Steve comes in from a mission to find the whole floor trashed and Bucky in the corner digging his fingers into the scar tissue around his metal arm. It takes almost an hour of Steve gently coaxing for Bucky to stop hurting himself and another thirty minutes for Bucky to talk about it. He’d apparently been worried, and the next thing he’d known, he’d found himself on the floor in the middle of the living room. That hadn’t been a good day.
It’s taken Bucky three months to learn that the pain in his stomach was from hunger. He hadn't been eating and Steve blames himself for not noticing sooner, but they got through that one. Steve teaches Bucky how to use the microwave and the stove and the oven and Bucky’s been eating more regularly, even if he has to wait for permission or for someone to start eating first. He’s still wary, but that’s to be expected. He’d been tortured for any sign of independence for almost seventy years—who wouldn’t be nervous of all the free choice in the 21st century?
Steve gets Bucky a phone and teaches him how to text and call and use Google. Bucky spends a lot of time on Google, just like Steve did in the beginning. It’d almost be fun for Steve—teaching Bucky all of these new things—if it weren’t so goddamn depressing. Bucky’s a quick learner, but he’s anxious about everything. It’d taken Steve almost six months to convince Bucky that he didn’t need Steve’s permission to shower or eat or sleep. He didn’t need to ask anyone’s permission to use the gaming systems downstairs. (He has quite an affinity for Mario Kart—he and Natasha play a lot).
Bucky tells Steve that he’s helping, that Bucky feels like he’s getting better. But that everything is just too noisy and too bright and different and loud. That he’s having trouble adjusting. And he apologises. Steve has to tell him that no, it’s okay. That Steve had issues with the same things. So Steve gives Bucky his list of things he should do to catch up, adding some more things he thinks Bucky would like.
-World Cup Final (1966)
-Rocky (Rocky II?)
-Gay Marriage Laws
-Talk to Stark about tech
Steve and Bucky have been working their way through the list, but Bucky still doesn’t seem happy. He moons over Star Trek and Nirvana, and that may be the happiest he’s seen Bucky since Steve told him he loved him seven months ago. But it still isn’t enough. There are still fair shares of bad days where Bucky locks himself in his room and doesn’t come out for hours. When Bucky doesn’t come to bed (in Steve’s room where they sleep) and Steve can hear the brunet throwing knives at the wall. When Bucky wakes up screaming and crying from the nightmares.
And one day, when Steve is eating breakfast with Sam down in the main kitchen in the Avengers Tower, Sam tells him he’s had enough.
“What do you mean?” Steve asks, confused. Is Sam going to try to kick Bucky out?
“Don’t worry, man,” Sam assures him. “I have a plan. It’s gonna be great. I’m sick of all the solemn super soldiers around here. We’re gonna have some fun. Just make sure you and Barnes are dressed and down in the game room in two hours, okay?” Steve agrees, curious, but sure that Sam wouldn’t try to hurt Bucky.
Two hours later, Bucky, Steve, Natasha, and Clint are playing Mario Kart waiting for Sam to come back. Bucky’s blue shelled Natasha one too many times and in less than a second, she has him pinned on the ground. They shuffle good-naturedly for a few moments before he finally pins her down, metal hand between her shoulder blades.
“Give up?” he asks, grinning.
“Whatever, Barnes. Get the fuck off of me.”
“You’re just mad I can still kick your ass,” Bucky says, still smiling. Natasha rolls her eyes.
“Steve, your boyfriend is a menace,” Natasha says, sending Steve a dirty look.
“Children, work this out amongst yourselves,” Steve says, smiling softly. They’re about to start their game up again when Sam walks in with a huge piñata shaped like a horse.
“Y’all ready for this?” he calls, hanging the monstrosity up. Clint breaks into a grin and Natasha rolls her eyes. Bucky just looks confused. It’s kind of adorable.
“What is that?” Bucky asks, unamused. Sam grins.
“It’s a piñata,” he explains patiently. “It has candy in it. Kids have them at birthday parties. They hit it until it breaks and all the candy comes out.” Bucky still looks confused and Steve glances over at him every few seconds to gauge his reaction.
“Why do we have a piñata?” Natasha asks dryly.
“Because Bucky’s had a hard few months,” Sam says, looking at the brunet with a carefully guarded expression. “Steve told me you used to have a real sweettooth and I know neither of you guys have gotten to try a lot of new foods. What, with me and Steve running all over the world tracking you down and then getting back and having to reconstruct what’s left of S.H.I.E.L.D and then having missions out the ass . . . I figured we could give the two of you a candycation.” Sam breaks into a grin and Natasha laughs.
“Candycation?” she asks. Sam glares at her.
“It’s totally a word. Shut up.”
“So does that mean . . .?” she asks, trailing off and looking at Sam expectantly.
“Hell no, Natasha. We are not feeding Bucky your super-hot chilli chocolate. That’s just cruel.”
“Dick,” Natasha mutters, pouting. Steve hears Clint tell her he loves her chilli chocolate.
Steve is too preoccupied watching Bucky grab his gun and shoot the piñata.
“Seriously, Barnes?” Sam asks after he gets off of the floor where he’d dropped when the shot rang out. Bucky just shrugs.
“It’s easier than hitting the thing.” The brunet surveys the floor, confusion furrowing his brows. “What the fuck is this, Wilson?” Bucky asks, looking from the pile of candy on the floor to Sam and back. Steve has to admit that it is a lot of candy.
"Well, seeing as you and stars and stripes over here have been on a 21st Century crash course downer lately, I figured that you needed something good in your lives. Hence, candy." Sam grins like he’s proud of himself and Bucky huffs a laugh. Steve grins at the expression on his boyfriend’s face—it looks like the beginning of happiness. “And I was thinking maybe getting you a puppy, but Tony said we can't have pets. Something about Pepper giving furry animals more attention than him.” Sam snorts and Natasha giggles. Steve glances at Bucky’s face and finds him smiling, so Steve allows himself a smile. “So . . . candy?” Sam asks, looking hopeful. Steve stands and throws his arm around Bucky’s shoulders like Bucky used to do to him when they were kids.
“You up to a bunch of candy and a sugar rush, Buck?” Steve asks, pressing a kiss under Bucky’s ear. Bucky laughs—an honest to God laugh—and Steve’s grin can barely fit on his face.
“How can I say no to candy?” Bucky asks, still laughing softly. Sam woops and they all sit in a circle around the pile of candy on the floor. Sam tosses something with an orange wrapper at Bucky who catches it before it can hit his face.
“First up—Reese’s,” Sam says, taking one for himself and tossing one at Steve. “It’s chocolate-covered peanut butter, Barnes,” Sam says when he sees Bucky’s wary expression. Bucky looks up at Steve for permission and Steve squeezes Bucky’s hand.
It takes a lot of persuading and Steve biting into things first for Bucky to try the candies without permission. Free choice and food are two things Bucky’s struggled most with—besides leaving his room without a full arsenal, that is. Steve’s been trying to coax him into trying new things, but he doesn’t want to overwhelm him. Bucky’s been doing better than any of them had expected—except Steve, of course. Steve’d known Bucky would be fine, that Bucky would come back to him.
So Steve can't help but laugh watching Bucky try all the new candy. He picks up something that says “Ring Pop” on the wrapper and Clint laughs, reaching over to tear the packaging. The archer slips the contraption onto Bucky’s metal fingers and sits back, holding his laughter in heroically. Steve slings his arm over Bucky and fits his chin on his shoulder. Bucky glances at Steve before looking over to Clint.
“Go on,” Clint says. “Lick it.” Clint mimes bringing his hand up and licking and Bucky looks so horrified that Steve breaks down into hysterics. Bucky glares at him, betrayal painted all over his face, and Steve only laughs harder.
“I'm sorry, Buck,” he chokes out, head pressed into Bucky’s shoulder. “I can't—your face.” Steve’s still laughing when Bucky rips the plastic candy ring off his finger and throws it at Clint’s face. The archer catches it and slides it onto his own finger, sucking on it with a smirk curling his lips.
“Baby bottle pops next,” Natasha declares, picking a miniature plastic baby bottle out of the pile and tossing it to Steve. The nipple of the thing is some kind of hard candy—watermelon flavoured—and there’s some kind of powder in the bottle. “You lick the top and then dip it in the powder,” the redhead explains, demonstrating with her own. Steve follows her instructions and licks the powder off of the candy, scrunching his face up.
“It’s sour!” he exclaims, handing the thing off to Bucky with distaste. The brunet tries it and actually likes it to Steve’s shock and disgust. “That thing’s nasty, Buck,” Steve whines, but Bucky just grins at him.
“I like this one,” he says, bumping Steve’s knee with his own. Steve just smiles, happy that Bucky is happy. Even if he does like the disgusting bottle thing.
“Okay,” Clint says, pulling things out of the pile. “Almond Joys. They’re almonds, coconut, and chocolate.” Everyone in the circle eats them, and Steve decides they’re not half bad. Bucky doesn’t like them, but Bucky’s never liked coconut so there’s no surprise there.
“Try the Twix,” Sam says, grabbing something—a Twix bar?—in a golden wrapper and handing it over. Bucky reads the label and then tears it open enthusiastically.
“Anything with chocolate and caramel, I'm down with,” he says, stuffing the whole things in his mouth except for one piece that he feeds to Steve.
“You two are disgustingly adorable,” Tony comments from behind them, coming to sit on the other side of Steve. “Candy tasting?” he asks, grabbing things from the pile and beginning to eat.
“That one’s not so bad,” Steve tells Sam, who grins.
“We have to find one Steve likes,” Sam decides, riffling through the pile.
“Steve just really likes chocolate,” Bucky tells him after he’s cleared his mouth of the Twix. “He’s generic that way.” Steve pokes Bucky in the ribs for the teasing, but he really doesn’t mind. Bucky teasing him means Bucky’s comfortable. And Steve’d go through hell and back to make Bucky feel comfortable. Sam hands him a Crunch bar, which is okay, and then Snickers, then Kit Kats (which Steve really likes), and then Sam gives up on the chocolate and hands him what looks like a plastic tube.
“Blow Pop,” Steve reads, causing Bucky to crack up.
“Oh, God, Sam,” Natasha mutters. “You had to get those? Really?” Everyone laughs at some sort of inside joke, leaving Bucky and Steve to be confused. Natasha finally takes pity on them. “The kids used to use those to learn how to give blowjobs,” she explains. Steve looks at the candy for a second before making direct eye contact with his boyfriend and licking the entire length of the thing and sticking it in his mouth.
“Indecent!” Tony cries, shielding his eyes. “Ninety-five year old men should not be allowed to do that.” Bucky laughs and takes the thing from Steve to put it in his own mouth, grinning around it. Steve has to shift where his hands are to cover his hard-on. And Bucky knows it, the little shit. Sam breaks the sexual tension by tossing a few more candies at them, forcing Bucky to take the Blow Pop out of his mouth with an obscene slurping noise and Steve cringes, pressing down hard on this dick and willing the erection away. (It only partly works).
They try a few more candies including Runts (eh), Gobstoppers (ew), Cadbury bars (which Bucky really likes), Pixie Sticks (that Steve hates), Cadbury Eggs (fuck yes), and multiple kinds of Hershey bars before coming to Laffy Taffy. It doesn’t even look appealing. Banana flavored, the label reads. Oh God. Bucky takes a bite of it, chews for a half a second, and immediately spits the thing out back into the wrapper.
“What the fuck was that, Wilson?” he asks, looking offended at the world. “It said banana flavored and that sure as shit didn’t taste like bananas.”
“If you think that’s bad, don’t try the little yellow imposters in the fruit basket,” Steve says, wrapping his arm around Bucky’s waist and kissing below his ear.
Bucky is happy and hyper at the end of the “candycation.” Steve is just happy that Bucky’s happy and Sam leaves them with a loud “mission accomplished!” Steve and Bucky pick out their favourites from the pile and take them up to their floor, dumping them on the coffee table. And when Steve kisses Bucky, he tasted like chocolate. When Steve tells Bucky he loves him, Bucky says it back with a conviction Steve hasn’t heard from him since before the war.
A day well spent, indeed.