The thing is, they'd already been through this once, had almost lost Steve a couple of years ago, when Steve lost Peggy after a long, drawn-out battle with ovarian cancer. It's only because Bucky got himself some hardship leave and came home that Steve hung on. Only because he couldn't make Bucky go through what he'd just been through.
So when Steve opens the door one day to see two officers standing on his doorstep, their presence telling him the news before they even open their mouths, he doesn't know what he's going to do. The future, which once seemed to hold such bright promise, now stretches out ahead of him blank and dark. He grew out of his childhood asthma years ago, but suddenly his chest is tight and he can't breathe, and the edges of his vision go black. He retreats back into his shambles of an apartment and doesn't come out for weeks.
That numb indecision is probably what saves his life. Or, rather, what gives Tony and Pepper the time to come up with something to anchor him to it now that Bucky's gone. Missing in action, they said, but that was just a false way to say dead and gone. Missing. Lost. There was still some faint vestige of hope clinging to those words, and Steve couldn't bear it, couldn't bear the thought of hope again, not after everything else. He knows, vaguely, that Tony'd used every connection he had left to discover the truth, but Steve doesn't need to see satellite photos or even, eventually, the box of ashes they said were Bucky's remains, to know the truth in his bones.
Four months later, he finds Tony and Pepper on his doorstep instead, Pepper looking kind and Tony looking awkward, as they tell him they need his help.
"Tony bought me a bakery," Pepper says after Steve invites them in. "The only thing I know how to bake is Pillsbury biscuits. You know, the ones from the can?"
Steve stands at the sink, washing out mugs so he can give them tea he doesn't really want to make and they don't really want to drink.
"But you--you've got a real talent, Steve," she says, looking at him with earnest, hopeful eyes.
"And it would really help us out," Tony adds, looking up from his Starkphone. "It's only a few blocks from here, so you wouldn't have to move or anything."
"Why don't you get dressed and come see it?" Pepper says. "It's a lovely day."
To this day, Steve doesn't know what he was expecting when they walked the three blocks over to the bakery, with its bright white Formica countertops and gleaming chrome appliances, and the cheery anthropomorphic teapot on the sign above the door. Of course Tony had named it after Pepper, and Steve was okay with that, didn't want his name up in lights ever again, even if those lights were just over the door of a bakeshop. He doesn't know what he was expecting, but it wasn't to fall a little bit in love. It looks like the bakeries of his childhood, though it doesn't have the same sugar and yeast smell yet. He'll take care of that.
As soon as his lease is up, he moves into the apartment above the bakery, as if bad news won't find him there just as easily. Still, Tony owns the building and charges him a symbolic dollar-a-month rent for both the apartment and the shop, and it's the closest thing to a new start he'll ever get.
Natasha is the first to hire on. A friend of Pepper's who ran her own cupcake and wedding cake business out of her apartment, she'd needed room to expand and Steve had been happy to provide it. He's a bread maker--it's what he knows and likes best: flour, salt, and yeast coming together to produce the most basic and yet most delicious staple of life. The fussy vagaries of cakes irritate him, though he's competent enough at the basics. It suits Natasha right down to the ground, though. She's the most intense baker he's ever met, and her wedding cakes are fluffy tiers of perfection for which they often charge exorbitant prices that make Steve feel guilty (which is why Natasha doesn't let him deal with the brides or the brides' mothers).
Bruce is next, trying to rebuild his life after a messy divorce and several years of being on the downward spiral due to what he chooses to call anger management issues. Steve has never pressed him on it; he seems pretty mellow most of the time. Supposedly, baking is his form of stress relief, and he's a genius with flavors, especially in cookies. He's always looking for that perfect bite, and if sometimes even Steve can't taste the difference between this batch of madeleines and the next, he's learned better than to say so.
Darcy showed up the day they opened, took one look at Steve's harried face behind the counter, and signed on as the manager. She's got a gift for it that rivals Pepper's, and she knows her way around a Kitchen-Aid well enough to help out when things get hectic.
Steve has a lot of friendly acquaintances in the neighborhood, all of whom somehow (thanks, Tony) know about his series of heartbreaking losses, and they all make it their business to buy his bread. And then the word spreads that he's not just a hard luck case, he's actually good at this, the only thing he's been really good at since he left the service to be with Peggy.
But Darcy is the one with the huge social network, the one who sets up their Facebook page and befriends other local businesses, the one who convinces Coulson to set up his Clover coffee machine in the space Steve was originally reserving for extra refrigerator cases, but which Darcy said should be for a coffee bar and two or three tiny hightop tables, so people could stand in the sweet-smelling warmth of the shop and drink their fancy coffee and eat their morning buttered roll. She's the one who befriends the owner of the Valhalla bier garden across the street, Thor Odinson, and his sell-out brother, Loki, who flirts outrageously with her while he tries to convince her to get a liquor license so he can sell them beer. The flirting doesn't stop even after he marries the dark-haired girl who reminds Steve of Xena; Natasha had made them a rich German chocolate wedding cake with three tiers and golden horns.
Steve still blushes when he thinks about it, because they'd all drunk a little more than was wise that night, and he and Natasha had ended up in bed together. Luckily, she'd been even less interested than Steve in having a romance or making their work relationship awkward, but he remembers the night fondly whenever she makes a German chocolate cake.
It's a good life, and Steve's glad he has it for however long it lasts. He doesn't think in terms of forever anymore--he can't, and believe it could be real; everything is transient, and he's learning to live in the moments as they come.
It's five am, Natasha is cursing out some batter that froze in the back of the fridge, Bruce is nattering on about experimenting with gluten-free snickerdoodles, and Steve's got the first loaves of the day in the oven when his phone rings.
"Speaking," he says out of habit, before he remembers it's been years since he was Captain Rogers. "It's just Steve now, though. How can I help you, Colonel Fury?"
"I think you should come over to my office, Steve. I think you're going to need to see this in person. How soon can you get here?"
"I can be there in an hour, sir, if there's no trouble on the trains."
"I'll see you shortly, then."
Natasha and Bruce look over at him as he shrugs his jacket on. "Take the loaves out in twenty-five minutes," he says, "and put the next set of pans in. If Tony comes by, tell him I'll call him when I'm done. We were supposed to have breakfast this morning."
He tries not to think too much on the long train ride into the city. He's been out of the service for years now, and though he always thought he'd be career Army, he doesn't really want to go back. He's given enough to his country; he doesn't have anything left but a broken heart and some sourdough starter. But he's never been able to resist helping when people need him, and he's afraid Fury might play that card again.
When he arrives at Fury's office, they still look at him like he's some kind of hero, though, as if what he'd done in Kabul had been any different from what any other soldier would have. The press had jokingly called him Captain America and it had stuck, even though he'd had a whole team of guys and couldn't have done it alone.
Fury meets him at the door. He pulls on his coat and leads Steve back outside. "Come on."
They get into a black town car and move out into the early morning midtown traffic heading south on Seventh before turning east on Twenty-third. Steve gets progressively tenser as he realizes where they're heading.
"So, Stark bought you a bakery," Fury says. "I hear good things."
The fact that Fury is attempting to make small talk--about something that happened three years ago--is enough to push Steve over the edge. "What the hell is going on, sir?"
The car pulls to the curb in front of the VA Hospital, and Fury says, "You were listed as Sergeant Barnes's emergency contact and next of kin."
Steve's heart still seizes a little whenever Bucky's mentioned and this time is no different. "Yes, and?" He bites the words off, sharp and irritated.
They walk in through the sliding doors and Fury nods at a nurse before leading him down a white hallway, their footsteps echoing off the linoleum. Steve hates the smell of hospitals, illness and death and antiseptic, so many reminders of a childhood spent shuttling between them and home, always worried that this would be the time he didn't get to leave.
Fury pushes open the door to one of the patient rooms and nods at the bed.
Amid a profusion of IV tubes and bandages, Bucky lies asleep.
"What?" Steve asks, his voice barely a whisper. "How?"
"The Russians found him a week ago, among the wounded from that bomb blast in Parvan. He's lost some of his memory, wasn't sure how he got there or what he was doing there, but it looks like he's been in a Taliban POW camp for the last three years."
"But the photos. The box of ashes."
"Some other poor fucker we'll never identify." Fury puts a hand on Steve's shoulder and squeezes gently. "There's a substantial amount of paperwork involved in officially bringing him back to life. My office is getting started on that. But I thought you'd want to see him as soon as the doctors said it was all right."
"Yes," Steve says, pushing the word past the lump in his throat.
"We'll talk soon," Fury says, and normally it would sound like a threat, but at the moment, Steve doesn't hear anything but miracles in his voice. Fury walks out and lets the door to the room swing slowly shut behind him. Steve sits down in the visitor's chair next to the bed and takes Bucky's hand gently. He presses a brief kiss to it, and discovers that he's crying. He leans forward and sobs into the bleach-scented sheets of Bucky's hospital bed, cries the way he never could after he'd gotten the news that Bucky was dead.
His breathing's still a little shaky and he's used up the meager supply of tissues in his jacket pockets when Bucky's eyes open.
"Steve?" he says, his voice rough with lack of use. "What? How?"
"That's what I said, too, before I remembered you're just too damn stubborn to die," Steve says, his own voice thick and hoarse from crying.
Bucky's mouth curves up in a familiar and much-missed grin. "Damn straight, pal."
Steve spends the rest of the day with him, and it's only when the nurses shoo him out of the room to change Bucky's bandages and help him shower ("Ain't it the life?" Bucky says wryly, and Steve's heart stutters in his chest, because Bucky's alive), and he goes out to grab a cup of coffee and a sandwich, that he thinks to check his phone. He has twenty-seven texts (thirteen from Tony, four from Pepper, three each from Darcy and Natasha and Bruce, and one from Coulson, demanding to know why he's not answering everyone else's texts) and eleven voicemails (six from Darcy and one each from everyone else).
He calls Tony back first.
"Steve, what the hell? Natasha said you went off to meet with Fury and you haven't been answering your phone. You can't do shit like that. It makes Pepper worry."
Normally, Steve would respond that Tony does stuff like that all the time, and how Pepper's not the one who worries, but now his head is too full of what's just happened to engage in their normal banter.
"I'm at the VA," he says. "Bucky's alive." He takes a deep breath, still a little shaky with the enormity of it. "Bucky's alive," he says again, because saying it out loud makes it real and not a dream. Some of the tension he's been carrying in his shoulders unravels, leaving him feeling loose and free, like the world is his for the taking.
Two days later, Steve bundles Bucky into a cab and takes him home to Brooklyn. He has a handful of prescriptions, a list of instructions for all of them, and a stern directive to bring Bucky back for therapy appointments twice a week, but most of all, he has Bucky. He's entirely too thin, desperately in need of a haircut, and probably not really ready to get back into the world, but he's anxious to get out of the hospital and Steve's anxious to get him home.
"Got your room all set up," Steve says. "You'll like the new place, though it's smaller than the old one. And there's work at the bakery or the bar, when you're ready."
"You got the future all figured out, don't you?" Bucky says, but his voice is warm and he's smiling when he says it.
"Yeah," Steve says. "I guess I do. Now that you're here."
Bucky's eyes widen and he sucks in a surprised breath. He bites his lower lip, which is chapped and pink and Steve has to look away, because he has the urge to lean in and bite it, too, just so he can lick away the sting. He takes a deep breath of his own and holds it, trying to get his heartbeat under control. These feelings are as old and familiar as his friendship with Bucky, and Steve had thought he was done with them a long time ago, but sometimes they still sneak up on him, make him wonder. Make him want.
Bucky was the first thing Steve ever wanted for himself--he'd wanted his attention when they were kids, his friendship and his time, and wanted to be like him when he beat up the kids who bullied Steve and charmed the girls into going out with him with nothing more than a smile and some pretty words. Steve was never that good with words; he was lucky Peggy saw past the awkwardness and took a chance on him, and once he had her, he'd never looked back. It was, he'd learned, a whole different ballgame to want someone who wanted you back, and he doesn't know if he'll ever be lucky enough to find that again, but he's pretty sure that even if he does, it won't be with Bucky. So it's a little startling to have all the old feelings come rushing back.
Steve's phone chimes, breaking the long moment and giving Steve a chance to breathe again. It's a text from Darcy, demanding that he bring Bucky to the shop instead of sneaking in through the residential entrance. Everyone wants to see him, she writes. Nat even made a cake.
"There's cake," he says. "If you're feeling up to it."
Steve doesn't mean it like that, or maybe he does, but the implied challenge makes Bucky straighten up and square his shoulders. "Sure," he says. "Cake. Why not?"
When they arrive, Steve finds himself suddenly nervous. He looks at the shop and wonders how Bucky sees it--the hand-painted Mrs. Potts' Bakeshop sign with its cheery little teapot and the name repeated on the plate glass window in old-fashioned gold lettering. Loaves of bread are on display in baskets and a handwritten blackboard advertises cakes and cookies and the best coffee in Brooklyn.
"Wow," Bucky says, standing on the sidewalk and taking it all in. "So you finally stole Pepper away from Tony?"
"What? No. Tony named it after her."
"You mean he finally got smart and made it official?"
Steve nods. "Yeah."
"It's about time." Bucky huffs a soft laugh. "Maybe I'll steal her away from him."
"You know, I actually missed that a little when you were gone." Tony's standing in the doorway, grinning, and Pepper's behind him, beaming, her eyes bright with unshed tears.
There's a lot of hugging, then, and a little crying, and watching them, Steve's heart feels like it's too big for his chest. And then Bucky pulls him into the tight circle and says, his voice low and rough, "Thank you for taking care of him while I was--while I couldn't."
"It was our pleasure," Pepper says, kissing Bucky's cheek, and the only thing missing is Peggy, and Steve's lived with that absence long enough now that it's a bittersweet ache rather than the paralyzing loss it had been at first.
"You guys are scaring the customers," Darcy says, breaking up the huddle. Even Tony is surreptitiously wiping his eyes, though Steve knows he'd deny it if anyone said anything. She gives Bucky a long once-over. "So, you're Steve's secret soldier boyfriend that he never mentioned?"
Steve chokes out something that's supposed to be, "Darcy, no," but Bucky just grins easily and says, "Something like that."
"Did you get to meet the President?" Darcy's on a roll now and Steve's not sure how to stop her. Natasha and Bruce have come out from the kitchen, the two customers on line are watching interestedly, and even Phil looks up from his damn Clover machine to see what's going on. "Why wasn't there a big news conference? Are you going to be on The Daily Show?"
Even Bucky loses a little of his sangfroid under her barrage of questions. "No," he says slowly, shoulders hunching. "It's classified."
"Ooh," she says, "you could tell me but then you'd have to kill me?"
"Darcy," Natasha says, voice like a whipcrack, "why don't you help me serve the cake?"
Steve shoots her a grateful glance that she acknowledges with a quick nod. "Sorry," he murmurs, "she's a little," he lifts a hand and drops it, unsure of what he wants to convey, "she's very...Darcy."
"I can see that."
"So, hey, everyone, this is Bucky. Bucky, this is everyone." Steve introduces Bruce and Phil. "The redhead is Natasha." Bucky makes an appreciative humming noise and Steve wonders if he's going to have to have an awkward conversation with Bucky about her when she and Darcy come out of the kitchen with plates.
Steve decides to ignore any potential awkwardness by announcing, "Free cake for everyone."
The cake is red velvet with rich cream cheese frosting; Bucky chokes down a couple of mouthfuls while he listens to Phil wax rhapsodic about his fancy coffee machine, but Steve can see the discomfort in the tense line of his shoulders and the tightness around his mouth.
He makes sure Bucky knows he's there, puts a gentle hand on his elbow, and says, "You wanna go upstairs?"
Bucky nods and gives him a small, grateful smile. Steve catches Tony's eye and tips his head in the direction of the door; Tony nods and starts talking, drawing everyone's attention his way so they can slip through the kitchen and up the back stairs.
Bucky doesn't have much stuff so it doesn't take long to get him settled. "I, um, after I got the news, I kind of cleared out all your stuff," Steve says, rubbing the back of his neck. "I do have a couple of boxes in storage, but--"
Bucky shakes his head. "I don't need that stuff. And anyway," he says, gesturing at himself, "I doubt any of it would fit anymore."
"We'll get you some new clothes," Steve says, "but don't worry, I'm sure we'll fatten you up soon enough, between Natasha's cakes and Bruce's cookies."
"And your bread. Don't think I didn't notice those braided loaves in the window, just like your mom used to make." He smiles, wide and bright and real, and Steve feels something ease in his chest, even as his throat gets a little tight. "It's good to see you made something new while I was gone. Something good. After Peggy--I didn't know if you'd ever recover, and then I was--I wasn't here and--" His voice breaks and Steve pulls him in close; he knows how to do this now, learned it from everyone else who did it for him when he needed it, and from Bucky most of all, who'd been there through everything, until he wasn't.
"Hey, hey," Steve says, holding onto him tightly, feeling the sting of tears in his own eyes as Bucky cries into the crook of his neck. "It's not your fault. And I'm all right. Better now that you're here, but I was doing okay. You can't blame yourself."
"I was somewhere I wasn't supposed to be," he says to Steve later.
"Story of your life," Steve answers easily, past the lump in his throat, and slings an arm over his shoulders, giving him a squeeze. "But you're where you belong now."
"There are clean sheets on the bed," Steve says, "and I put out a pair of sweats for you to sleep in, and I bought you a toothbrush, so you should be all set."
Bucky looks at the bed and then at Steve. "This is your room."
"Yeah. I didn't get a chance to clear out the second bedroom. It's full of stuff from the bakery. But I can't make you sleep on the couch. Not after--And anyway, I get up at four am most mornings to get the bread started, so I would just wake you up if you were out there and I was in here."
Bucky still looks suspicious but he doesn't argue.
Steve putters around a while after Bucky closes the bedroom door, and then he makes up the couch. It's really not long enough for him to sleep on, and his back is going to be creaky in the morning, but it doesn't matter. They can clean out the spare room over the weekend. He falls asleep thinking about it, a smile on his face.
And wakes up two hours later to the sound of a shout and thump from the bedroom. Steve almost trips over the sheet tangled around his ankles but then he's pushing the door open. Bucky's sitting on the edge of the bed with his head in his hands.
"Hey," Steve says, glancing at the clock on the night table, which says it's 2:45 am.
Bucky looks up, his face drawn and pale even in the darkness, which, thankfully, hides the patchwork of scars on his chest and back. "Sorry I woke you. I'll just--"
"Come on," Steve says. "Put some clothes on. We'll get things started early this morning."
Bucky huffs but doesn't argue.
The kitchen smells like heat and yeast and sugar, and Steve breathes it in happily. He sets the bowls and the ingredients out, and they spend the next couple of hours mixing up batches of dough and waiting for them to rise.
"So you only do bread?" Bucky asks as he punches down a ball of semolina that's risen to twice its size and which gleams with olive oil in the bright fluorescent light.
"Pretty much. Around the holidays Natasha and I make pie--I do the crust and she does the fillings--but we've never managed to find a pastry chef who fit in. We're not a very--" Steve shakes his head. "Because Tony bought this place for me, he doesn't care if we make money, so it's kind of a loss leader. So we have the freedom to do what we want. In the summer, Darcy makes ice cream and sorbet, but mostly she just runs the counter and handles the suppliers and deals with the accountants. Bruce makes his cookies, and Natasha makes her cakes. She's really the biggest money-maker we have, because people will pay ridiculous amounts of money for a cake that looks like Hogwarts or the Enterprise, and she's good enough to make anything they ask for.
"We supply some of the local restaurants, but we're not really much of a business." He laughs. "If Darcy hadn't convinced Phil to set up his coffee machine here, I'm not sure we'd have half the customers we do, but he really does make the best coffee in Brooklyn."
"I'll have to try some of that," Bucky says, digging his fingers into the dough and squeezing.
"Well, he usually gets here around six, so you'll have opportunity. We open at seven." Steve frowns at him. "That's not--You'd think you never made bread before, Bucky." Steve moves around behind him. "Can I?" He waits for Bucky's nod before he slips his arms around Bucky's and threads their hands together. He can smell the yeast and olive oil in the dough, and Bucky's soap and sweat and skin. He takes a deep breath and starts to knead, slowly. "You need to use the heels of your hands," he says. His voice is low and sounds odd. Bucky hums in agreement and doesn't pull away, so maybe Steve is just imagining things. There's a rhythm to it, and they fall into it fairly easily, breathing in time as their hands knead and press and work the dough, and the motions are so familiar to Steve that his mind focuses on other things, like the way Bucky fits perfectly against him, and how he can feel every jut of Bucky's spine if he presses close enough, and it makes him unbearably sad on the one hand, but so unspeakably pleased that Bucky's here with him now, and that's when he realizes that his body's pretty happy about it too. He loses the rhythm and jerks away before things get awkward.
Bucky turns and gives him a surprised look, his eyelashes fluttering and his mouth curving up in a slow half-grin when he realizes why Steve is suddenly three feet away. "I guess that's not a rolling pin in your pocket, huh? You really are happy to see me."
Steve's face gets hot and he makes a strangled noise. "Yes."
"So you're not banging the cake lady?"
"Or the busty, mouthy chick?"
"Darcy has a boyfriend. I think. There's this guy who comes in for coffee every day and spends all his time chatting her up. And Natasha and I--"
"You did get a piece of that," Bucky crows. "You sly dog."
"It was a one-time thing," Steve protests. "We got a little tipsy and things got out of hand, and, you know."
"We're good friends."
"Mm hmm. You and I are good friends, too, so next time you want to rub one off against my ass, feel free to give me a reach-around, huh?"
Steve is caught somewhere between embarrassment and amusement, and the exaggerated leer on Bucky's face tips him over into laughter, the deep, reverberating kind that makes his belly ache when he finally stops.
The fond look on Bucky's face makes him feel warm in a good way and they manage to get the rest of the bread kneaded and ready without any other embarrassing incidents.
The next few weeks follow the same general pattern--Bucky doesn't sleep through the night and he and Steve spend the endless sleepless hours down in the kitchen.
Bucky starts looking up what he says are more interesting recipes online and trying them out. One night while Steve's forming baguettes and loaves of sourdough, Bucky bakes a dozen cannoli shells and stuffs them with cream. They're a little raggedy around the edges, definitely more homemade than professional, but the delighted look on his face when he serves them to Darcy and Bruce and Natasha in the morning more than makes up for any cosmetic shortcomings in his pastry. They can always work on that later. The important thing is that Bucky's starting to lose that spooked and desperate look, and starting to feel more at ease both in the kitchen and with Steve's friends. (Sure, the therapy sessions and the anti-anxiety drugs are helping too, but Steve's always been a big believer in the efficacy of hard work and good food for making a person feel better after their world's been turned upside down, and the bakery provides both in spades.)
"You know," Bucky says one night while they're getting ready for bed, "I'm the one waking you up every night, so you might as well take the bed and let me have the couch. Then you'd at least get a full night's sleep."
Steve shrugs. He's had his share of sleepless nights, knows the shape of his own nightmares so well now that he can mostly brush them off, even when he wakes up shaking and sweating.
Bucky looks down at the t-shirt in his hands. "Or you could sleep in here with me," he says.
"Do you think that would help?"
"I don't know. It couldn't hurt."
"Might actually keep you from falling out of bed again."
For one of the rare times in all the years Steve's known him, Bucky blushes. He pushes a hand through his hair. "Yeah, that, too."
"Okay, then," Steve says, and then climbs into bed before things get weird and awkward. He's always slept on the left side, and Bucky gets in on the right, and it's okay, he can do this without inappropriate touching or freaking Bucky out. He scoots a little closer to the edge and folds his arms across his chest, like an Egyptian mummy. He's never going to get to sleep in this position, but he thinks with Bucky right there next to him, he's never going to get to sleep anyway, and at least this way he can minimize the chances of embarrassing and untoward groping.
"Steve, if you're worried I'm going to hurt you, I will go and sleep on the couch."
"What? No! That's not what I'm worried about. That never even occurred to me." Bucky's yelled and cried and fallen and shaken in the course of his nightmares, but he's yet to be violent, and Steve's in pretty good shape, even now, and more than able to handle that.
"But you are worried about something."
"No. I mean, yes. I mean, no. I mean, I don't want to be weird or awkward." He rolls over onto his side so he can give Bucky his most sincere look.
"Well, I think that's a lost cause unless you relax right now." Bucky rolls over to face him, their foreheads almost touching, close enough that he can feel Bucky's breath against his lips. "Hey, you're not worried because you're afraid you won't be able to keep your hands off my hot body, are you?" He gestures at himself, and though they've been feeding him up, he's still too skinny, way thinner than Steve ever remembers him being before, almost as thin as Steve had been as a kid. And yet, that doesn't seem to matter; Steve wants him now almost as much as he did when they were teenagers and every feeling he'd had was so intense he'd thought he would explode.
"I--Bucky." He means for it to come out chiding, teasing, but it sounds rough and serious.
Bucky's smirk disappears. "Steve." He reaches in between them, cups Steve's cheek in his hand. "Steve?"
Steve's finding it hard to breathe; it feels like the warm pads of Bucky's fingers are wired right into his nervous system, five little pinpricks of heat that are setting his whole body alight. His thumb brushes over Steve's lower lip and that's it, that's the match setting off the fireworks. Steve surges forward and kisses Bucky, desperate and sloppy, as if he were a teenager again, with too many feelings and no idea how to deal with them.
Bucky sucks in a surprised breath, but instead of pushing him away, he slips his hand around to the nape of Steve's neck to hold him close and curls his tongue over Steve's. After a kiss that makes the top of Steve's head blow off, he leans back just far enough to meet Bucky's gaze. They pant into each other's mouths for an endless second.
"Bucky? This okay?"
"Jesus, Steve." Bucky hooks his ankle around Steve's and thrusts his hips against Steve's. Steve can feel his hard-on through his boxers. "More than." He presses his mouth against Steve's for another searing kiss, and this time, when Bucky pulls away, Steve lets out a soft whimper.
"Are you--Do you? Really?" Steve manages.
"Really. Punk. For years. I just never thought you--You had Peggy and you were happy and I was," he lets out a soft laugh, "I was a lot of trouble. How long?"
"Forever," Steve breathes. "Jerk."
"I didn't--I never knew. I'm sorry."
"I didn't want you to know. I never thought you--this--could happen. And I loved Peggy with all my heart, and she loved me."
"But she's gone now and you're here and I--Bucky, I understand if you're just looking for comfort, but that's not what this is for me, and I--"
"It's not, Steve. I'm not. I want this. I've always wanted this. Now shut up and kiss me so we don't have to talk about it anymore."
Steve does, pouring every last ounce of longing into it, all the long years of being teenagers together, and then the desperation of the last few years, when he'd thought he'd never see Bucky again, let alone touch and taste and kiss him the way he is now. Bucky's stubble is like rough velvet against his skin and Steve gasps as Bucky bites at the hinge of his jaw, then licks away the sting.
They manage with fumbling hands to shove down each other's shorts, laughing into each other's mouths as they thrust and surge together, all slick heat and aching flesh and years of desire making it the quickest, sloppiest orgasm Steve's had in years, but one of the most satisfying.
Bucky collapses against him, tucking his head beneath Steve's chin, and Steve murmurs, "We should clean up."
Bucky hums in what might be agreement, or he might just be purring in his sleep. His breathing evens out and his body goes slack in Steve's arms. Steve lies awake for a while, listening to him sleep.
Neither of them wakes up until Steve's alarm goes off at five.
Bucky still startles easily and he still wakes up from nightmares more often than not, and sometimes Steve takes him down to the kitchen and they bake--he's working on perfecting puff pastry for napoleons now that the cannoli have become bestsellers--but sometimes they stay in bed and have sex until Bucky falls asleep again, boneless and satisfied, and safe in Steve's arms. Steve lets himself think about the future now, and the sweet things it might hold.