James can still feel blood on his hands. He rubs his fingers to the inside of his palms, looking down at his pristine clean knuckles, thinks back to the time he spent in the shower before throwing on clothes and getting on a plane home. He thinks it may have been 30 hours ago, or possibly 40, he’s not sure anymore. Natasha was already gone when he left Vladivostok, the reminder of the two of them having shared a room, two weeks, a mission, in the lingering spicy sweet smell of her perfume. James doesn’t mind; rather that than rehashing the mission, the Red Room agents and the secrets they’ve been unearthing. She’s going back straight to SHIELD, to her precious Agents Coulson and Barton, James knows this for a fact.
He’s not going back straight back to SHIELD, they’ll wait for his report. Everything will wait for after this, after what he’s about to do now, important above all else now that he’s home, the smells of Brooklyn reassuring, a little stifling in the dead of summer. It’s late at night and the air is unmoving, stale around James. The lights of the hallway flicker as James gets his key in the door he’s standing in front of. He steps in quietly, leaving his duffel bag on the couch, the air cooler in here, and he can hear from here the standing fan blowing from a corner of the bedroom.
James takes his time toeing off his shoes, shrugging off his jacket, fingers resting on the butter soft leather as he drapes it over the back of the couch. Then he drops his pants, the belt making clicking noises in the silence and darkness, and he leaves them in a puddle on the floor as he steps toward the open door of the bedroom. Metal gleams in the lamppost lights coming through the windows when he raises his hand to rub at his face; it’s something he forgets, nowadays.
The bedroom is darker than anywhere else in the apartment, curtains drawn to block the filthy light coming from the street, and it’s also cooler, the fan on and the windows open. James leans against the doorframe for a moment, studying the shape in bed, the spread legs under the flimsy sheet thrown over them, covering Steve to his waist. He’s sleeping on his stomach, as always, taking too much space in the bed, his arm reaching out to Bucky’s side like it's seeking warmth and flesh and heartbeat. He snuffs out a breath, a little noise he only makes when he’s asleep, and James smiles to himself, steps closer still, until he’s sitting on the edge of the bed, on his side of it. Steve is awake instantly, his body tensing for a hazy second before relaxing when his eyes focus on James’ face.
“Hey,” he says, softly, his fingers reaching out and curling in the waistband of James’ boxers. James smiles, shifts until he’s sitting on the bed with his back to the wall, closer to Steve now. He wants to touch him, he does, so much that it’s an ache through his limbs, but he’s still pulsing with the memories of what he’s done – again, in another time, it shouldn’t matter anymore, but it does. It matters more now than it used to, because now he has Steve again, caring about him and for him, and James wants to be better for Steve. He wants to make him proud and not be this killing machine that follows orders blindly, but he knows barely anything else, even now. This is why he needs this, needs Steve and his touch and his smiles and his proof that James is more than he used to be.
“Barely knowing up from down.”
Steve smiles, his face all soft and fond, and his fingers are warm where they’re touching James at his hip. He still looks sleepy, one of his arm curled under his head now as he looks at James, looking, for a lack of a better word, relieved that James is here again. It’s only been a couple of weeks, but James feels the exact same way.
“Bit banged up here and there, but we’re okay. Had to sew myself back up,” James announces, lifting his shirt to show the fine line of surgical stitches going from his belly button to his rib. “It wasn’t a deep one, but Natasha couldn’t help.”
Steve grunts, frowns, moves his fingers to run them over the red, angry line, and James’ stomach muscles clench at the touch involuntarily. He breathes slowly, forcing himself to relax, closes his eyes when Steve comes closer, closer, breathing through his nose right against James’ skin. His lips are warm and wet against James’ stomach. James drops a hand around Steve’s shoulders, unable to hold out longer, wanting the hardness and strength under his fingertips. Steve’s skin is covered by a fine sheen of sweat and James’ fingers slip over his shoulder blade. Steve growls, this time sounding frustrated.
“I hate this.”
“You’re not going to Southern Russia with us, Steve.”
“I know. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“It’s okay. We’re okay.”
Steve shakes his head, pushing his face into James’ stomach like he’s trying to fuse with him, be one and all, but James knows that he wouldn’t be able to hold all of Steve inside, even if he tried. Steve is – too much, too big, too grand, and James can only sit on the outside and look at him being beautiful and admirable, hope to be touched by it from time to time. It’s always been like this, even when they were in their own time, even when Steve was little and sickly and broken. He was always the bigger man. James’ memories are hazy and blurred with blood and lies, but he remembers that. He remembers Steve enough.
“Just feels like a waste.”
“Hey, I’m able to protect myself, Steve. So’s Nat. We’re good. It’s all part of the game, we knew what we were getting into.”
Steve looks up for a second, his eyelashes curling against Bucky’s skin. “It’s not a game, though. It’s not like when we were kids.”
“The shit we did when we were kids could have killed us just as easily as missions can now,” James reminds Steve, reminding him of the orphanage and the bullies and their shared inability to keep their mouths shut, all those things that usually Steve reminds Bucky of. “I still think it’s kind of a game.”
James smirks. “You love me for it.”
There’s a pause, but James keeps his smile in place; he knows what’s coming, they’ve done this often enough now. He’s too keyed up to sleep anyway, not really tired, needing to be ground down before he can remind himself he is safe here, right here in Steve’s arms. It will take a moment, it will take a bit more, but he knows Steve will give this to him.
“C’mere,” James hears Steve mumble against his skin, and he couldn’t be closer, but Steve tugs him this way and that until he’s lying down on the bed next to Steve, and Steve pulls him into a kiss, hard, fierce, on the verge of angry. James breaks down, the barriers he builds up during a mission dissolving as he frames Steve’s face with his hands keeps him exactly where he is, his hair tickling James’ forehead and his nose mashed against James’. A wrecked noise escapes Steve’s throat, and when he pulls away he doesn’t do it for long, his hands against James’ hips, lining their bodies together, his kisses moving to James’ jaw, open-mouthed, wet and hot.
Steve never asks about the details of the missions. He asks if James is okay, he asks if there is anything James wants to talk about. But if James doesn’t, Steve doesn’t push, doesn’t analyse him, doesn’t ask further. He treats him like a person who can deal with his own feelings. So many times James has wanted to leave, to leave Steve behind and offer him a better life than this, than waking up in the middle of the night to a man with half his memories and half a life of destruction and chaos, a man who might wake up in the morning unsure of who he is supposed to be.
James fights tornadoes in his own head constantly, storms of clouds and thunder and blood and terror and Steve is always there to hold him through it. He talks him through it when they’re apart, any time of day or night over the phone, whispering about Brooklyn, about fairs and girls James took dancing, about ice cream stolen on Brooklyn pier and incubators and Peggy and Dum Dum and that picture James kept of his mother. He talks James through the worst of his waking nightmares, and that is why James can’t leave Steve, needs Steve more than Steve will ever need him, because Steve makes him a better person, but he will never be able to make Steve better than he already is.
It doesn’t matter, though, because it’s not what Steve asks of him. Steve….just wants James to be here, to be with him, and that, that he can do, wholeheartedly, happily. He’d move to upstate New York and get a house with a white picket fence and a dog and a front porch swing if that was what Steve wanted. He’d send everything else to Hell, if Steve asked it of him.
As James slides his hands along the planes and notches of Steve’s back, he can’t feel blood on his fingers anymore. As he kisses Steve with his mind dizzy and his eyes closed tight, he can’t smell Natasha’s perfume lingering in the air. As he thrusts his hips into Steve’s and moans into Steve’s mouth and listens to Steve calling out his name, James and Bucky mixing and melting and fusing on his tongue, James loses the very last of his defences and allows himself to be exactly who he remembers to be before – before everything else.
He laughs as he comes in his boxers and laughs as Steve’s stubble tickles his neck. He drags his fingers through Steve’s sweaty hair and holds him when he comes, too, muffling his choked gasps in James’ skin. And for a moment there, he thinks of himself as Bucky, this man Steve loves, this man he is not anymore but he wants to be. He’s getting there.