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of your fingers in my palm

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There are a lot of ironies to his life, but right now the one that Bucky really doesn't fucking appreciate is that of all the shit his brain could devote its fucking fractured memory to, half of it seems to be fucking rote-learned Bible verses in Latin, and the smell of chalk dust and kids and whatever it was the nuns used to wash their habits that he learned them in. First off he resents (and resented) the time spent learning the fucking things at all - and then he resents so much more that they're still here, when so much else isn't.

And they get stuck in his head, like earworms of songs except silent, just the ideas of words repeating over and over and over again. Mostly when he's throwing up, or when something hurts enough to demand his attention, or when he's on the edge of losing the fucking room. Of dissociation. Until the rhythm of the words in his head seems to fucking melt into the nausea, into the pain and makes him want to shoot himself.

More than normal.

Fuck: half the time it feels like the swaying rhythm of the rote Latin makes him nauseated, but he doesn't think that's true. Thinks it might actually be his fucked up brain trying to focus on something else, scrabbling for something familiar to lean on instead of whatever he doesn't want to feel: it's just his fucking luck it's this.

Though maybe he should be grateful it's nothing more important to him getting tainted. Not that he could summon up an actual ounce of gratitude, of the feeling, but fuck. He can acknowledge when he should. Maybe.

Right now, it's fucking Corinthians, which he mostly hated anyway. Had less time for Paul than he had for anyone else. Not that that's saying much.

Right now his head pulses, aches, and he's probably fucking dehydrated, makes himself take that fucking cue and get up and drink water and ignore how his stomach tries to heave it up. It'd be nice if the universe would fucking pick one - top of his head misery or somatizing it all into fucking being sick - but it never fucking does. The kitten follows him into the kitchen complaining and he stifles the single half-second urge to kick her, and then tries to stifle the sour backwash of guilt. Gives her some of the cat-stomach-safe milk she likes instead.

Fuck, someone should just shoot him. He drops himself back onto the futon and glares at the window.

It's grey outside, with sun only breaking through once every hour or so. It's cold. It's one in the afternoon and he hasn't eaten since a protein bar at six and he's a fucking idiot. And in his head first Corinthians fucking thirteen beats out words he can't forget.

And Steve's on the couch fiddling with putting together a new toy he got for the God-damned cat like nothing's wrong, frowning a little in concentration, eyes moving from instructions to little plastic construction and back again. He picks these things up like he's gathering fucking flowers, and they don't need them except they make the stupid little ball of fuzz happy, and it should be Bucky getting them except it's been two days since Bucky managed to make it out of the condo without the way everyone he sees flattens into targets and obstacles driving him back again, so no one else gets hurt.

So Steve goes out and Steve gets things and Steve puts them together, sits there with tiny screwdriver and double-A batteries and little packets of God-damn catnip that come with everything, that she's not even old enough to care about yet. Fiddles with tape and screws and plastic and cheap fabric covers, sleeves pushed back up his arms to keep them out of the way. Like nothing's fucking wrong. Always like.

And Bucky's head rolls over fucking verses, et si tradidero corpus meum ita ut ardeam, caritatem autem non habuero, nihil mihi prodest -

(Thoughts are shapes. Thoughts are a fucking patchwork of pieces and scraps and fragments glued and stitched and hammered together and every one of them has ragged edges of too much, brings debris and trailing baggage. Sometimes one patch works and another brings everything crumbling and there are thoughts that only work in a single language or none of them and there are thoughts he can't, can't actually look at yet-ever-yet and some of them, some of them hide in the rote recitation of sing-song words eight decades gone and everyone else who said them dead. Some of them. Some of them come back. Some.)

Caritas patiens est benigna est; caritas non aemulatur non agit perperam non inflatur, non est ambitiosa non quaerit quae sua sunt non inritatur non cogitat malum, non gaudet super iniquitatem congaudet autem veritati; omnia suffert omnia credit omnia sperat omnia sustinet - and, Bucky thinks and tries to keep himself from grinding his teeth, if caritas doesn't stop being so fucking understanding and patient, caritas is going to get a phone thrown straight at his temple, and it's going to hit, and it's going to hurt.

It's stupid and spiteful and fucking childish, but Bucky's been a miserable piece of shit for two days and he knows it, hears every edge of petty irritable nastiness that comes out of his mouth - or doesn't even manage to get that far, just sulks in how he looks and how he reacts and the fact that he can't keep himself from acting like a petulant child about food, about rest, about fucking everything.

And every deserved response all of that doesn't get is like another straw on a camel that's about to fucking lose its fucking mind.

And then the side of his right arm stings, sudden, making him start and look over to the couch to look at Steve trying to look innocent. The pieces of the toy and packaging are still on the coffee-table in front of him, and it's so fucking . . . juvenile, it takes a minute for Bucky's brain to ratchet down enough to fucking figure out what fucking hit him, before he says, "Did you just fucking shoot a fucking rubber band at me?"

"Yup," Steve says, blithely.

Bucky stares at him and after a second Steve sighs, slightly, leans his head on one fist with his elbow against the side of the couch and says, "Look, are you being a miserable jerk on purpose? Because it's fun? Because you want to? Would you be doing it if you could stop?"

"Someday I'm going to kill you in your sleep," Bucky says, which he knows is an admission, and childish, and petulant all on its own just to finish off. But it's better than, less childish (less childlike?) than the litany of no no no never no sorry sorry sorry no that tries to break through into his throat and his mouth, so he goes with the lesser of two fucking evils.

"So I'm not gonna make everything worse by getting worked up about it," Steve says, reasonably. And then adds, "I can tell your neck hurts from here."

Bucky does actually chuck his phone at Steve's head, but Steve dodges and catches it. "And don't fucking say it," Bucky warns, and Steve looks fake-innocent again.

"Say what?" he asks, and then says, "Are you gonna come here, or am I gonna come over there, and then we break a lamp while I try to kick you off the futon so I can work on your neck?"

"Mouthy little shit," Bucky says, but he gets up anyway.

Steve doesn't actually let him sit on the floor, turns himself the length of the couch instead and leans on the arm, gets Bucky to lean back against him, head against the front of his shoulder. "Takes the weight off your neck better," he says, when Bucky snorts softly. Like that's the only fucking reason.

He's not wrong, though. And it's easier, already, for Bucky to let Steve tilt his head to one side, one hand cradling the side of his skull and the fingers of the other hand exploring into the mess that is always Bucky's neck and throat and the front of his shoulder. Then Steve's resting three fingers just below Bucky's temple, above the back edge of his cheek and noting, "Would work better if you unclenched your jaw."

Bucky grimaces. "Yeah, right," he says. But he tries. Probably trades tightening something else up for it, but he lets his jaw move with the careful pressure of Steve's fingers diagonally down the middle of his cheek.

After a minute, Steve says, careful-casual, "You know I honestly don't mind doing this, right?" And Bucky doesn't know if he expects an answer, if he expects Bucky to be able to answer, but he can't. Not . . . well. Not right. Catches his jaw starting to clench up again and makes it, makes it God-damned fucking stop.

Steve moves his hand down so that he's stroking one thumb down the side of Bucky's throat when he adds, "I like touching you," and makes the world twist.

A little. A lot? Makes it jerk and throw Bucky off-balance makes breathing -

- not hard, just shallow and short, like everything just dropped a few hundred feet and your body isn't sure what happened yet: light head, sharp breath, everything too-still.

"You don't need to answer that," Steve goes on, quietly, working his fingers into the muscles under Bucky's collar-bone. "Can; don't need to. Just know it's true. Because it's always true."

Bucky doesn't answer. Can't; can't answer. Touches Steve's still hand without actually meaning to, like maybe something in his head thinks this isn't -

He doesn't know. Stupid, anyway. Hard to find more proof something's real than he has now. So he stops and stays still, and tries to make his jaw let go. Again.

"And you keep telling me you want me to," Steve goes on, hand moving back to the curve of Bucky's neck. "So I'm really not seeing any downside here."

Bucky swallows, or tries to: even that much kind of sticks in his throat, like something sucked it dry and all the words with it, or even the space where they could go. In the end he manages, "Shouldn't have to," four syllables, mostly consonants and shaped air and next to no voice.

Steve's fingers dig deep into the back of his neck and Bucky closes his eyes, the pulse of headache receding for half a fucking heartbeat. Finger and thumb working circles the base of Bucky's skull, Steve says quietly, "I kinda think you mean I shouldn't want to, Buck. Which is kinda different." He shifts his hand again to press four fingers into Bucky's scalp and push up and Bucky clings to the feeling and tries to find something to fucking say.

Doesn't find anything before Steve asks, "Do you trust me?" in the same voice and that, that at least shakes loose words Bucky can clutch at, even if they're shallow and petty.

He says, "That's a fucking stupid question," and almost sits up. Almost. Part of him wants to say he's not sure why he doesn't, but he is fucking sure, and he doesn't want to. Doesn't, just, fuck, stop, make the rest of him stop. He doesn't fucking want to.

"Yeah, I ask fucking stupid questions sometimes," Steve says. His thumb presses into the tension behind the corner of Bucky's jaw and Bucky tries to figure out how to answer, what to answer, what the answer is, what the word trust even fucking means.

Stumbles over yes except every time he twists up and loses his balance and waits for Steve to do things he never fucking would he makes that a lie, and no except that's wrong wrong wrong and other things, other shapes, things that aren't answers so much as, he doesn't know - begging in disguise, shit he chokes on, shit that comes from a tiny dark fucking narrow world and -


And: when you're here, I can sleep. I can rest. I can stop, it's safe, it's allowed, I can sleep.

He hates the shape of that, the needy, clinging outline, but -


"I'm here," he says, in the end. Two sounds he can make that might carry what he means, maybe, that he can make come out before the rest gags him again. That make it easier to close his eyes again for a moment when Steve's fingers thread through his hair and then slide down to his neck, curl against the side of it.

"I don't lie to you, Bucky," Steve tells him. "I'm bad at it anyway but it doesn't matter, because I'm not trying. You've been fed enough God-damn lies, and I don't need to. There's nothing," he says, leaning on the word, "I need to lie to you about."

And something tries to lash out, around, tries to coil up like a snake and sneer and how do you repay that at the inside of Bucky's own head, but it . . . misses. Or gets caught, or something; hits the fact that it doesn't matter anymore, and gets thrown off, or something. Because it doesn't matter anymore, because his own lies don't work anymore, because somewhere Steve stopped being easy to fool and if that just means he got hurt enough to have to, and if that's Bucky's fault, it's also done and he can't fucking undo it again.

"Nothing," Steve repeats, softer. "And definitely not this."

It's stupid, it's fucking . . . something, that maybe five minutes and less than a dozen words, and Bucky feels like a doll someone someone shook and hurled at the ground. Five minutes and a dozen words. Doesn't have an answer now, not really. Not something he can say. Ends up catching Steve's free hand, tracing the bones with his right fingers, holding it in his left.

Fucked up metal thing for killing with. Except this one isn't. Just. Isn't just. Isn't only. There's a metaphor there, or there's trying to be, and maybe if he doesn't fucking look at it yet -

Steve says, "And I'm happy that you're here," and then, because he's a shit, he adds, "though I gotta admit I'd be happier if you ate something before you start losing weight again."

And he does it on purpose because he knows how it's going to hit, run into the side of Bucky's head and shatter all the . . .shit into laughter, even if it's coughing laughter that fucking hurts, and it works anyway. Breaks the rust-brittle tension enough Bucky can talk again, maybe.

"You and your fucking food," he manages, call and response, canticle and antiphon.

He does sit up now, twisting a bit so he can look at Steve, at eight fucking people's worth of sincerity he's trying to convey with one face. For a second, anyway, before everything . . .falls off balance again, a little, and he has to look away. Until Steve says his name again, quieter even, and then he has to look back.

"I like touching you," Steve says, this time the slight weight landing on like instead of touch. "And I feel less useless if there's something I can do that helps. But that's not a good reason to pretend something helps if it doesn't," he adds, almost like he just thought of it and Bucky has to shake his head.

"I don't," he says, and he still feels like the thrown doll but he's not wound like a fucking spring.

"I know," Steve says. "Just, don't start, okay?"

The best Bucky can do for an answer is reaching over and messing up his hair, and then pushing his own back when Steve ducks his head out of the way. He tries to think and feels his lip curl a little, has to shake his head. "Anything I eat right now, I'm just gonna throw up," he says. Tries to haul his head to where he can think like a person instead of a petulant kid or not at all.

"There's still a bunch of day left," Steve says. Tugs once at the sleeve of Bucky's shirt until Bucky lies back again, this time Steve settling him on the other side - other hand, other side of his neck and shoulder. "And the cat just noticed we're not moving, she'd be sad if we got up."

Bucky snorts softly. Then drags his thoughts to following Steve's fingers, hand, because the fucking rocking verses have stopped for now and maybe he can keep it that way long enough for the nausea to give up. Maybe. It's been two days like this so he's probably already fucking lost weight again anyway, but he's not going to point that out.

It's not like Steve doesn't know.