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Nine Lifetimes

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Bucky wakes up at — fuck, 3:14 a.m. — with his body drenched in a cold sweat, his legs snared in the bedsheets, and his breath rattling out of him like he's just finished a 40-mile hump with a rucksack full of rocks.

There's also a weight pressing down on his chest, and it's not the metaphorical, panic-attack type of weight that he's used to. It's an actual weight, something perched neatly at the center of his sternum, shifting itself minutely to maintain its balance when he moves. Bucky's been here before, woken up from dreams and hallucinated shit that was absolutely categorically not real, so he just freezes, blinks, stares at the shape of the thing and waits for it to resolve into a discarded t-shirt or a play of shadows or something else that isn't actually there.

It reaches out and touches his face, though, very gently, and there's just a moment's press of soft fur and impossibly delicate foot-pads, before the animal — it's definitely an animal, it's definitely actually there — winds back and hits him hard instead, three rapid-fire strikes against his cheek.

"The fuck," Bucky says, his voice raw and rasping like he's been screaming in his sleep. (Entirely possible.)

The cat says, "Mrowwwwwwr," which isn't very goddamned helpful, and then reaches out again and gives Bucky a solid whack on the nose, to drive its stupid point home.

Bucky yelps, flails, and falls out of his own bed. It's not the kind of tactical response he was trained for in Q Course, but it doesn't seem unreasonable either, given the circumstances. The cat bails out when he starts moving, hops neatly off his chest, and when he manages to get himself on his feet, he can see it crouched primly in the center of bare mattress, like this is something it does every day.

He flips on the overhead light, and it's still there: not a dream, not an apparition, just a smaller-than-average cat blinking owlishly in the sudden light. The apartment, too, is just as Bucky remembers leaving it the night before: two battered duffel bags and a footlocker shoved into the far corner, the door to the tiny closet open and a single jacket hanging inside, bathroom door open and the mirror above the sink reflecting the shower curtain, empty shower, no other intruders. The apartment's small, defensible, a corner unit with several exits available and mature trees shading the windows, good sightlines inside but shitty vantage points for a sniper from the outside; that's why he chose it. Nothing's out of place, except the cat.

He knows he didn't have a cat when he moved in, but this isn't the first time he's felt like he's going crazy.

The cat meows at him again, long and wailing and much too big a voice for that tiny a cat, like it's telling him to stop thinking so loud. Then it stretches and yawns, makes itself at home on his goddamned pillow.

"Who the fuck are you?" Bucky says, but the cat's only response is to stretch out its toes, apparently satisfied, and hook its tiny claws into the pillow, to make sure its new bed won't be going anywhere without it.

Bucky's acquired a lot of skills in his time, knows how to speak Russian and train a guerrilla force, can rig up impromptu explosives with the best of them and do things with a sniper rifle that it's probably best not to contemplate, in the darkest hours of the night. He doesn't have the first clue what to do about a mysterious cat in his apartment. It's not a problem he's been prepared to handle, and he's not exactly at the top of his game these days, anyway.

He finally strips off his sweat-drenched t-shirt, flips off the lights, and curls up to sleep again. He takes the opposite side of the bed, with the covers drawn up to his chin just in case he needs to dive beneath them to protect himself from any more assaults to his person. The cat just grunts and rolls over onto its back, tiny pink-padded paws in the air, and starts snoring through its ridiculous pink nose.

In the morning, the cat's gone like it never existed, but there's a collection of black, white, and orange hairs on the pillowcase, and a little indentation where the cat slept, so Bucky knows at least that he's not finally losing it. He checks underneath all the furniture, just in case, and on the tops of the kitchen cabinets, but there's no cat anywhere in the apartment. There's also no obvious sign of how it got out, or how it got in in the first place; the door is locked the same as it was last night, the windows tightly shut and latched, the floor vents secure.

Bucky desperately wants coffee, but he doesn't own a coffee maker. He doesn't own much of anything. He's never lived alone, either, went straight from home to Fort Benning, and it's all been close quarters and barracks since then. The apartment is hollow, empty, quiet in a way that Bucky can't really handle, not today. If he stays, he's going to end up tearing the place down to its bones, trying to find the vulnerable point that admitted last night's intruder.

A stray cat's not going to kill him, he knows that, but the thought of anything creeping in through some hidey-hole that Bucky can't find makes a shiver crawl up his spine.

He doesn't have to bother to put his prosthetic on — the new one's hard-wired in, responds almost like a real limb, if a little too sluggishly for Bucky's preference — so he just shrugs his jacket on over it, pulls out his phone to find the nearest coffee shop, and goes out the door before he can give in to the urge to use his pocket knife like a screwdriver to start prying open the vents, looking for traces of cat hair.

It's fine. He's going to be fine.


The fucking cat comes back the next night, and it doesn't hit him in the face this time; it attacks his feet through the covers instead, sinks its claws in and lets out a yowl like something straight out of the bowels of hell.

Bucky wakes up gasping, but he didn't even manage to get to the part of the not-dream where Pittman takes a slug in the back, so he can't exactly mind being woken up, either. He looks down the stretch of his own body and the cat's peeking out at him from around the shape of his own toes beneath the covers, its eyes eerily luminescent with reflected moonlight from the window.

It makes a strange little trilling sound at him, like it's asking if he's okay, and its claws gingerly disengage from the blankets.

"Yeah," Bucky tells it. "Alright."

The cat settles in to sleep in the curve of his bionic elbow, and when he wakes up in the morning it's gone again.

Bucky doesn't have a cat, but when he goes grocery shopping, he buys some canned cat food, and a tiny felt mouse that makes a crinkling sound when he squishes it between his metal fingers.


Natasha calls him in the evening, playing at nonchalance like he doesn't realize that she's checking in for a reason, making sure he's still breathing. When she asks how the new apartment is, he says, "Seems like it came with a cat," and he texts her a picture of the damned thing, which has showed up early tonight, apparently able to detect the opening of a cat food can from wherever the hell it goes during the day, appearing and disappearing like it walks through fucking walls.

He sends her a picture of the open can of cat food, too, because it looks disturbingly like the contents of an MRE, and then he puts down the paper bowl — he's managed groceries and plastic utensils, fucking cat food, but real dishware hasn't happened yet — and watches it tuck in.

"You give her a name?" Natasha asks. There's a distant sound like mortar fire, and Bucky realizes he doesn't even know where she's deployed now, has lost track of her movements in the long stretch of hollow that was the field hospital, the military hospital, the lab where they stitched his new arm to his nerves and muscles one tiny connection at a time, with surgery after surgery.

"How do you know it's a her?" Bucky asks, squinting at the cat's back like maybe Natasha can tell by the haphazard splash of color over the animal's spine.

Natasha says, "Calico. They're pretty much always female."

Bucky frowns at the cat. "Huh. I don't know. Does she need a name? She's not my cat. I'm not even sure she is a cat half the time. Might be a ghost cat. Or an alien."

"Tell me about her," Natasha says, because she's softer and kinder than she likes for anyone to realize, and she has to know that he has literally nothing else to talk about.

The cat looks up from her empty bowl and meows, like she knows too.


He can admit, if he really thinks about it — which he tries hard not to do — that he's using the cat as a distraction from himself.

But well, the cat's easy, isn't it? He just has to supply her with food, some seriously intense petting, and a nice place to sleep, and that's it: instant happiness. It's such an easy thing, when his own brain is a hornet's nest of memory and trauma and bottomless pits he can trip over without any warning, to have something he can fix. Cat's unhappy? Scratch her behind the ears, and that problem's solved. Just like that. Working on himself isn't so easy, so it's better if he just... doesn't.

Anyway, the cat helps with that. She's either got an uncanny radar for distress, or he's louder in his nightmares than he thinks he is, but however she does it, she always knows when he's wading into the shit, and she always pulls him back out of it. The first week in his new place he sleeps better than he has since before his first deployment, and maybe his sleep is interrupted more but it's not tormented. He even has something like a good dream, once, where he's swimming in a river and there are fish everywhere like a dazzling scaly rainbow, and when he wakes up the cat's right in front of his face, snoring out fish-scented breaths against his nose.

So what if he seems to hit the pet store now more often than he does the grocery store? He's talking to people, which his therapist says is a good thing, even if "talking" means listening to a store clerk discuss the merits of various types of cat litter for fifteen minutes.

He's outside his front door, trying to get an absurdly expensive, ridiculously oversized carpeted cat tree in without breaking his prosthetic or wounding his own pride, when he meets his next-door neighbor. It's not exactly the first impression he would've hoped for. Personal grooming hasn't been his highest priority lately, so he's got a baseball cap jammed down over his unruly hair; the jacket he's wearing has a couple of literal bullet holes in it — the Kevlar stopped them, and according to Barton it makes him look tough — and maybe he doesn't smell so great. Plus he probably looks like a literal crazy cat person. Which maybe he is.

His neighbor, on the other hand, is neatly dressed, pressed slacks and a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, waistcoat over the top, kind of old-fashioned but classic, and his blond hair is neatly combed into a side part. There's some ink on his forearms, though Bucky can't see it very well. He's short, and real slender, but the clothes are impeccably tailored and he looks good, put together like it's effortless. Beautiful.

"Uh," Bucky says, and he's bent over, the cat tree firmly lodged half-way through the door and half-way to tipping right over. He's pretty sure if he moves, something catastrophic is going to happen.

His neighbor blinks at him like he's some kind of disturbing hallucination, and then says, "Jeez, buddy, don't hurt yourself," in a surprisingly deep voice, and walks over like it's no big deal, puts a foot up on the base of the cat tree to help balance it. "Got it a little stuck, huh? I'll slip through to the other side, with the two of us together this'll be no sweat."

"You don't have to—" Bucky tries, but the guy's already squeezing through the space between two of the cat tree's larger sections and the door frame. There's a thunk from inside the apartment, and the cat tree shifts a little, ominously. "I don't wanna ruin your clothes," he finally says, raising his voice a little to make sure the other guy can hear him.

The guy snorts and mutters something that can't possibly be, You can ruin me all you want.

He says, "What?" and the guy says back, louder, "Don't worry about it. Just uh... okay, give it a little twist to the right — your right — and push at the same time. That should get it in. I'll hold up the top."

Bucky gives it a little twist, dutifully, to the right. He pushes. The damned thing finally slides in like it's nothing, and winds up standing just inside his apartment door, like it's always been there, like he hasn't just lugged it up four flights of stairs single-handed before getting it stuck in his own front door.

"Wow, that thing's deluxe," the neighbor says, and stuffs one beautiful slender hand into his pocket, while the other reaches out flick one of the cat tree's many dangling toys. "My cat would probably never bother to touch the ground again, if I gave her something like that."

"You've got a cat, too?" Bucky asks. This is not the smoothest he's ever been; he hasn't really flirted since... well, for a long time. He's pretty sure this doesn't even count as flirting. He's got to talk to this guy about something that isn't cats.

"Yeah," the guy says, and smiles one of those fond, faraway smiles people get when they're thinking about someone else. "I found her behind the building next door, in a trash can. She was just little; I think she might've gone in after some Chinese food and then couldn't get back out again. She was kind of covered in soy sauce. How about yours? Didn't slip out when you were trying to this thing in, I hope?" He looks around, like he's trying to catch a glimpse of the cat, and there's a singular horrible moment when the guy visibly realizes that Bucky's got a huge luxury cat tree and a scratching post and bowls set out in the kitchen, but there's still no human furniture in the whole place. Bucky spends that same moment realizing that the guy is realizing how bleak Bucky's life is.

Fuck. Fuck. He's fucked it up.

He clears his throat anyway and tries to proceed gamely on. "She kind of appears and disappears whenever she feels like it. I don't think she's out here right now."

"Ah," the neighbor says, and glances toward Bucky's half-open bedroom door, like he figures the cat's hiding in there somewhere. For all Bucky knows, the cat just blinks out of existence when she's not around, she's like something out of a sci-fi novel, Schrodinger's cat brought to life-slash-death. Thank god the gorgeous guy in Bucky's living room can't really see into the bedroom, at least, where the only furniture is the mattress and rickety bed frame, left behind by the apartment's last tenant.

"Are you—" Bucky starts, at the same time the guy says, "Do you—" and they both cut themselves off, the neighbor with a chuckle, Bucky with a grimace.

"You want some help getting that to where you want it?" the guy says, brushing his bangs back from his eyes, fingers sliding down the side of his neck like—

Bucky needs to— not watch him do that. He wants to touch for himself. He can't remember the last time he wanted to touch someone, wanted them to touch him. He's not really sure what to do with that, anymore.

"It's uh, I'm good," Bucky stammers, and then offers his right hand, even though it's kind of sweaty and there are tiny invisible fibers of cat furniture carpet clinging to what feels like every inch of him. "I'm Bucky, by the way."

"Steve," the neighbor says. His handshake is gentle and firm all at once, and Bucky pushes back a really bad, inappropriate, very poorly timed thought about how that hand would feel around his own cock.

He needs an emergency escape from his conversation before he says something he really shouldn't say. He hasn't got practice at speaking to people anymore, much less people he wants to climb like a fucking cat tree. "Thanks for the help," he says, lamely.

Steve shrugs, smiles, pushes his shirt sleeves up just a little bit further, so the tender, pale insides of his elbows are visible, and Bucky lets the breath rush out of his lungs so he won't whimper out loud.

"No problem. I'd help you with the rest, but I'm on my way to work. I hope you've got friends to help you bring in your couch, and stuff."

Oh god. Steve thinks he's just moving in, right this second. There's a little voice at the back of his head demanding that he roll with it, make himself look a little less pathetic, but what his mouth actually says is, "I've been here like a week, I just don't have any furniture yet."

"Oh," says Steve, and that could be plain old surprise or an internal alarm bell going off on Steve's face, it's really difficult to tell. "Well, I hope you're enjoying the neighborhood. I better get going; it was nice to meet you, though."

"Same here," Bucky says, but Steve's already halfway out the door, and he waits for the sound of footsteps to retreat down the hall to the stairwell before he beats his head one, two, three times against the round, carpeted side of the cat tree.

He hasn't called his sister since the day they sent him home, but he picks up his phone and calls her now, because she's the only person he's got left in New York, and this is a fucking DefCon One situation.

"Becks," he says, when she picks up, and doesn't let her get in a word in. "This is an emergency. My neighbor is hot. I need to buy some furniture so I can pretend to be an actual adult."

Her laugh is the best thing he's heard in months, even if it goes on a little too long.


The cat seems to like the cat tree, but she likes the new couch even better, somehow manages to stretch out her tiny body so she's taking up two-thirds of the cushions and relegating Bucky half the time to squeezing himself in against the arm rest. It's kind of nice, actually.

(The list of other things the cats likes better than the three hundred dollar pain in his ass hand-crafted cat tree includes tin foil, empty toilet paper rolls, full toilet paper rolls, empty boxes, and pens.)


If Bucky starts taking care of himself again — showers on a regular schedule, shaves, picks up some new civvies and relegates the rattier stuff that's been through two tours to the back of his closet, even breaks out a little cologne, now and again — he's not kidding himself about why. The next time he steps out into the hall and finds himself face to face with his hot neighbor, he's going to look fucking good.

It feels like overkill, maybe, when he finally does run into his hot neighbor, and this time he's the one who's put together, smooth, secure in the knowledge that his apartment has actual furniture, knows he's upgraded the bed to something anybody would be happy to get fucked into, and—

And his hot neighbor is standing in his own doorway, unsuccessfully trying to get his key into the lock, forehead leaning against the door, blood dripping from his face.

So Bucky's not smooth when he says, "What the fuck?" and he's maybe not really appropriate, either, when he just reaches out and turns Steve's face up to inspect the damage.

"Ow," Steve says, pathetically, and his nose is maybe not broken but definitely bleeding. He's got one eye nearly puffed shut, surrounded by the makings of what's going to become a serious bruise by the next morning.

"The hell happened to you?" Bucky demands, even though it's technically none of his business and he's technically just an over-invested stranger. He's still got his hand on Steve's face, can't quite bring himself to take it back; there's blood dripping onto the heel of his palm.

Steve says, "Y'should see the other guy," and drops his keys on the floor.

"Jesus," Bucky mutters, and finally lets go of Steve long enough to stoop down and retrieve the keys, slot the appropriate one into the door, and turn the latch. "I'm guessing from the way you look that the other guy probably came out of it just fine."

Steve probably doesn't strictly need Bucky's help to get into his apartment, but Bucky helps him anyway, slips the metal arm around Steve's back and under his opposite armpit, to hold him up. He sags against Bucky's side, so he at least doesn't mind. "No, I mean, he was about three hundred pounds of raw muscle, he would've kicked your ass, too."

Bucky snorts, because that's doubtful, and hauls Steve toward where he's pretty sure the bathroom ought to be. "You make a habit out of picking fights you know you can't win?"

"Yeah," Steve sighs. At least he's self-aware? "He was hassling a girl on the subway, I couldn't just pretend not to notice."

"Pretending not to notice is an essential life skill in New York."

Bucky deposits Steve on the edge of the bed — rumpled, blankets left askew, and there's something really wrong with Bucky because Steve's still bleeding but all Bucky can think about is tipping him back into the sheets — and goes into the bathroom. There are washcloths stacked on a shelf, and Steve says, "Under the sink," when he hears Bucky rummaging around for a first aid kit.

It's pretty well-stocked, though it's due for a refill on butterfly bandages and there's not a speck of dust on it, which means it's probably all too frequently used.

"Guess the self-preservation gene passed me up," Steve says, when Bucky walks back into the bedroom. "It's probably attached to the tall gene and the healthy gene."

"Well, next time try not to let them hit you in the face, because you gotta preserve the good stuff you got, and the handsome gene has clearly blessed you."

He's blushing as he says it, but he distracts Steve well enough by starting in with the wet washcloth, earning a hissed breath and a muttered curse.

Bucky gets kind of lost in a daydream, while he's tending Steve's wounds; he's done this plenty of times before, and it doesn't exactly demand his full attention. He thinks instead about leaning in to press a slow, soft, terribly gentle kiss against the corner of Steve's mouth, then the corner of his jaw, the arch of his cheekbone. Thinks about all the places he could touch, so light and careful that Steve might forget about the pain, thinks about what Steve's skin would feel like under his mouth, what he'd taste like, if he would—

"—Really don't need to do this, Bucky," Steve says, and Bucky misses the first word but he snaps back to himself, reverie broken, back to the here and now where he definitely, decidedly, does not have the nerve to make a move. "You're obviously going out. Shit, I didn't bleed on you, did I?"

Bucky looks down at himself, purely out of reflex, because he honestly doesn't give a single shit about blood on his clothes. He's a little more used to things with bloodstains than without. But his new, ridiculously soft sweater is just as spotless as it started out, and his clean, ass-hugging jeans are spotless.

He let his sister talk him into these jeans because of Steve. Jesus, what is he even doing here?

When he looks up, Steve isn't looking at his clothes, anyway. Steve's looking at his hand, the left one, the metal one, and the way his eyes snap away again when he feels Bucky watching him is depressingly familiar. Bucky touched him with that hand, wasn't even thinking, but maybe that was why Steve flinched when Bucky was cleaning him up, and it wasn't because of the pain, and—

Bucky stands up too fast, and the chair he'd pulled up to sit on nearly topples over with the force of it. "Yeah. I uh... I should get going. Out. Meeting friends. I guess I'm late. Uh. See you later."

He doesn't run; he makes a measured, tactical retreat, and he has to remind himself to breathe until he's all the way down the stairs and on the street.


The thing that sets him off isn't even the blood, or the prosthetic, or Steve seeing the prosthetic. Sure, his social skills are hovering somewhere around non-existent and he doesn't exactly extract himself from the awkward so-I'm-missing-an-arm situation gracefully, but that's not what tips him straight over from embarrassed to panicked.

It's his own stupid fucking excuse: he's meeting friends. He doesn't have any friends, not in this time zone, and he hasn't even hit the second floor landing before it occurs to him that maybe he doesn't have any friends, period: maybe in the time between the last phone call and now, Natasha and Barton and all the rest of them have walked into the desert and failed to walk out again. Schrodinger's dealing in more than just cats, now: they could be alive or dead in any one instant, and it's almost like they're both at the same time. Won't know for sure until he opens that box, that door, that letter, that newspaper.

Christ, no wonder sometimes he wants to dig himself a six-foot trench, and bury himself away where the world and the news can't reach him.

He shudders his way out of a panic attack, and he's huddled outside the back door of a restaurant that smells like curry. His head is pounding, his heart is racing, and his breath is shuddering into his lungs in an uneven way that's making his chest hurt. He has no memory at all of how he got there. There's a kid in a stained apron crouched next to him, hands on his knees, carefully not touching and not freaking out while he says, "Slowly, that's good. You're good, man. In and out."

When Bucky can breathe again, when his head's more or less stopped swimming, the kid vanishes inside for a minute, comes back with a bottle of water and presses it into Bucky's hand. The metal digits close around it slow, careful, but automatic; the hand is capable of crushing pressure, but he's never had to consciously think about not destroying things with it. Not at all like the rest of him.

"You okay?" the kid says. "You were gone a long time, there."

"I'm alright," Bucky says, even though it's kind of a lie. But right now, in this actual moment, with tears he doesn't really remember crying still on his face, he's actually okay. He's sucking down air again and he chugs half the bottle of water in one go.

The kid hums, like he's not quite believing that answer but he's going to be the bigger man about it. "You know you got blood on your hands? You hurt? You hurt somebody?"

Bucky looks down. There is blood on his hands, still: smeared spatters on his right wrist, where Steve dripped on him. The left is stained down in the seams of the prosthetic, almost dried now; it looks like rust. Steve wasn't even bleeding that much, but Bucky'd certainly botched trying to clean it up, left the job half-done and himself a mess.

"I'm fine. I didn't hurt anybody. Somebody jumped my neighbor, I was just patching him up."

The kid nods. "That flip you out? You bad with blood?"

Bucky says, "Nah," and pours what's left in the water bottle out onto his hands, rubs them together until the blood's almost gone. He'll need to wash the prosthetic better, to get it all off, but it's a start. "My problem is, I'm a little too good with it."

The kid nods like he knows what that means — Bucky's pretty sure the kid doesn't have any idea — and he says, "You hungry? My naniji makes the best malai kofta in New York."


The kid isn't even lying: the malai kofta is amazing. Everything else in the restaurant smells just as good, which is how Bucky ends up walking out of the restaurant with three bags full of take-out, the foil-wrapped naan so fresh it's still steaming, the smell of thick spices and hot meat drifting with him down the sidewalk back toward home. His therapist has been telling him to try cooking once a week, instead of buying microwave dinners and street-corner hot dogs, and he figures buying something home-cooked sort of counts. A little.

He wants to call Natasha, because the thought that maybe his friends are all gone is still itching at the back of his brain, but that isn't how phone calls to a war zone work, so he leaves his cell in his pocket and takes the stairs in his building two at a time, walks right up to Steve's door and raps on it like it's something he does every day.

His friends from his unit are out of his reach, sometimes, but that doesn't mean he has to be on his own, either.

When Steve opens the door, he's changed his shirt and he's considerably less bloody. He's got ice held up to his swollen eye, so when he smiles it's a little lopsided and comes with a wince on one side, but it's at least sincere. The corner of his visible eye crinkles a little. He's stupidly beautiful.

"You like Indian?" Bucky says, and holds up the bag hoping the rich, delicious smell of it will get him through the door.

It doesn't. Steve leans against the door jamb, all put-on casual, and says, "Are you asking me out on a date to my own apartment?"

Bucky shrugs, grins back, rolls with it because he definitely, absolutely likes where this is going. "Saves you the trouble of inviting me up for coffee."

Steve snorts, and then flinches like it hurts, because probably his entire face hurts, the idiot. He clearly needs Bucky around, to protect him from himself.

He's got a little sense, though, because he steps back, opens the door wide, and invites Bucky inside.


At the end of their first date, Steve walks him to the door, which seems a little old-fashioned maybe, but... nice, actually. Bucky chooses to take this as a sign that Steve wants a kiss goodnight, so he carefully pulls away the fine-fingered hand that's holding the latest cold compress to Steve's face, and he presses a gentle kiss to the corner of Steve's mouth. Then he tries to put on that smile he used to wear all the time easy as anything, the one people thought was charming.

He says, "Good night, Steve," and leaves, like there's some tiny part of him, deep inside, that still thinks he's smooth.

When he gets back into his own apartment, he finds the cat sitting on the arm of the couch, and she stares at him the same way his mom used to when he stayed out later than he was supposed to.

"Don't judge me," he tells the cat, but he's already judging himself, for talking to a cat. "I'm making really good life choices right now."

The cat narrows her eyes, but when he goes to bed she curls up against the back of his neck, and he sinks like a stone into a sleep without bad dreams.


After the second date, Steve's the one who kisses him. For the third date, they go to Coney Island and wind up thoroughly surveying the terrain for any and all available nooks, corners, doorways, and other spaces to steal a kiss between rides. Steve being Steve, he practically turns it into a competition. They cap things off by necking all the way around the Wonder Wheel.

So by the end of the night Bucky's ready to beg, whatever it takes to get Steve into his apartment and into his bed. As it turns out, he doesn't have to: when they get to their floor, Steve walks right up to Bucky's door and says, "Invite me inside."

Bucky's not an idiot. He invites him inside, though it's less a formal invitation and more opening the door, kind of shoving Steve inside, and then shoving him again, right up against the door as their combined weight slams it shut with a snap.

"You make me fuckin' crazy," Bucky mutters against Steve's neck, gets his hands up underneath Steve's shirt. He's a little obsessed with touching with his left hand, the muted sensory receptors in his hand feeding him information in a new way that his mind is still learning to process, the way Steve shivers when he touches with it but decidedly not in a bad way. He's jerked himself off with that hand, more than once — of course he has — and it's good, like fucking fireworks going off behind his eyes, the sensory receptors getting into some kind of weird feedback loop with the pleasure centers of his brain and he'd honest to God almost blacked out, he came so hard. He's dying to get that hand around Steve's dick, too; get his mouth around it, get it in him, get them both off. He doesn't even know what he wants to do first.

He's just dying, is all, and the way Steve grips his hips, hard, pulls him in with more strength than Steve's skinny body would hint at, that's definitely not helping. Well, it's helping some things, but not so much others; Bucky's worried, for the first time since he was a teenager, that he's going to come too soon and the whole thing will be over. He hasn't been with anybody in too long, hasn't wanted it even when he'd had the opportunity, and he'd almost forgotten when it's like to burn this way.

Steve says, "Hey, you got furniture," and twists them around, grabbing Bucky by the belt loops on his please-fuck-me-Steve jeans and pulling him toward the bedroom. "And not just cat furniture, either."

Bucky huffs, and lets himself be towed along, works on Steve's belt buckle while he's at it, thumbing open the button on Steve's jeans with one hand. "I might've bought the bed with you in mind," he admits, and the way Steve's eyes darken and his pupils blow a little wider makes admitting it more than worth it.

"Yeah?" Steve growls, and reels him in close again, plants a vicious, nipping kiss on his mouth. He's found the bed, put his own back to it, and he lets Bucky go so he can flop back onto it, unzipping his jeans and wriggling them down off his hips as he goes, along with his boxers. "Do you lie in it and touch yourself while you're thinkin' about me?"

Bucky stutters to a stop, every rational thought blowing out of his brain at once. Steve's dick is pretty much exactly proportional, on the small side and slender, just like the rest of him, and Steve's curled his hand around it, not so much stroking himself off as he's fucking up into his own tight fist.

Bucky's spent a lot of time and effort in his life trying not to die, but he doesn't think he'd mind so much, going like this.

Steve pauses, lets go of his dick and props himself up on his elbows. "Buck? You with me?"


"I said, are you with me? You kinda checked out for a second there."

"Yeah," Bucky says, and gives himself a little shake. "Sorry, I just..."

"Just what?" It's kind of amazing, the way Steve can go from masturbating in another guy's bed to just sprawling there, all loose-limbed and comfortable, with his pants opened in a V around his dick and his shirt rucked up against his stomach, like it's all no big thing. Like whether he comes within the next ten minutes or the next ten hours makes no difference at all.

"You're so fucking beautiful," Bucky tells him, and it's one hundred percent truth; Bucky's used to getting lost in his own head, spinning useless circles, but it's a whole different thing to get lost in somebody else, to want to sink into them and never leave.

Steve snorts, like it's not true or Bucky's just trying to butter him up, which — they're going to discuss that later. But not now, not when Steve's lying there like some kind of gift from the universe. Not when he's pulling off his own shirt, exposing fresh views of pale skin and delicately etched tattoos. Not when he's reaching for his cock again like he's really going to get himself off this time, if Bucky isn't going to get with the program.

"Don't," Bucky says, and pulls off his own shirt, carefully doesn't pause to take in Steve's reaction to the mess of scars on his shoulder or the strange contrast of flesh, mesh, and metal where the prosthetic is grafted to his body. He opens up his own jeans too, doesn't take them off but leaves the fly open, takes a little off the pressure off of own erection, where it's pressing against his boxer-briefs. "Let me, can I?"

He doesn't even specify what exactly he's asking for, but Steve just smiles at him, soft and a little dopey, stops reaching for himself and leans back on his elbows again instead, says, "Whatever you want, Buck."

Bucky wants everything, but for the moment he settles for this: digs one of his hopeful-and-optimistic condoms out of his pocket, rolls it down over Steve's cock, and follows it up with his mouth. Steve's perfect against his tongue, hot and rigid, just long enough to fill Bucky's mouth but not quite big enough to make him gag. Bucky's out of practice, but it doesn't matter; with Steve's dick he's a fucking natural, and Steve's reaction just makes it better. "Responsive" is an understatement; Steve's not shy about giving directions — "fuck yeah, Bucky, just like that, you're so good, baby, go a little harder, I want it" — and the way he groans and writhes against the bed as Bucky works on him is flattering, to say the least. He watches, too, doesn't just lie back and take what Bucky's giving him, he's got his eyes on Bucky the whole time like looking is half the act, like he's etching a picture of Bucky's mouth around his cock into memory. Bucky's never worked so hard at giving head in his whole life, never been so motivated, never been driven so goddamned wild as he is by the flex of Steve's ass under his grip and his lips meeting Steve's pelvis with every downward twist.

Steve doesn't precisely warn Bucky, when he's about to come, but what he does is better: he fists his hand in Bucky's hair, rolls his hips up to fuck gentle but insistent into Bucky's mouth, and says, "Take it, Buck, take it, it's yours." It's the kind of thing that would have gotten some of Bucky's previous partners a one-way ticket to the door, but with Steve it's so fucking hot, like Steve's taking control and surrendering himself all at once. When he comes, Bucky does take it, gratefully, softening his mouth and stroking his hands over Steve's hips, while Steve shouts, almost sobs, and comes undone.

Bucky pulls the condom off, keeps stroking Steve's body through it, and Steve is just wrecked, breathing in stunned gasps and fumbling blindly for Bucky's body, touching everywhere he can touch but obviously not entirely aware of what he's doing yet, either.

"So good, Buck," he says, and pulls Bucky up for a kiss. He sucks a mark onto Bucky's throat and tugs their hips together, rubbing Bucky's hard cock against his own wet and softening one, with only the barrier of Bucky's underwear between them.

Bucky gasps and rolls his hips down, just this side of too hard. He's still not sure what he wants, except that he desperately needs to come, needs Steve's hand around him, or maybe wants to fuck down into Steve's mouth, fuck into Steve's body, he'll give just about anything to get off however Steve wants to give it to him, and he pants, "Steve, fuck, fuck," against Steve's mouth, not entirely sure what he's asking for.

Steve mutters, "Yeah, come on," with his mouth pressed to the hollow of Bucky's throat.

The cat says, "MROWWWR," at approximately a million decibels, right next to Bucky's fucking ear.

"Godfuckingdammit," Bucky yelps, and jerks back so hard he tumbles clean off the bed, again. Fucking cat, he'd almost thought they had an understanding, that the cat might even like him in her own weird cat way, but no, here she was trying to fucking cockblock him, and—

"What the fuck," Steve says, from up on the bed.

Bucky picks himself up off the floor, wounded only in his pride and ego, and says, "Sorry, sorry, it's just the cat, she's fucking sneaky as hell, I—"

Steve's definitely not blissed out and fucked out anymore. He looks pissed, actually, which is not an okay expression for a guy who's just had a mind-blowing blowjob, and definitely isn't promising for reciprocation of same.

"Uh, that's just Koshka," Bucky says. He doesn't climb back into bed, because even he can tell that the mood is officially broken.

"No," Steve says, his tone slow and measured, like Bucky's out of his goddamned mind. "That's Soy Sauce. Did you... did you steal my cat?"

"No," Bucky says, vehemently and mostly out of knee-jerk reflex, except, well, "Okay, maybe. I mean, she just shows up. And I don't know how she gets in here, but I guess it's conceivable that she belongs to somebody. You. Belongs to you. Are you sure that's your cat?"

"I'm pretty fucking sure, Bucky," Steve says, and Koshka — Soy Sauce, whatever — seems pretty sure, too, because she's rubbing her face all over Steve's face like she's trying to mark her territory.

"Okay, fair," Bucky concedes. "I'm sorry? I didn't mean to? I'm not sure what to say, here."

Steve swings his legs over the side of the bed, hitches his pants up, and scoops the cat into his arms, walking toward the bedroom door, which is approximately the last thing Bucky wants him to do. "You're seriously telling me that a random cat you thought was some kind of stray just... appears in your apartment."

Bucky says, "Yeah," and resists the urge to try to physically drag Steve back into the bedroom. It probably wouldn't go over well. Also, Koshka might tear his other arm off if he touches Steve in a way she doesn't like. She's watching Bucky with big wide eyes that usually signal intent to fuck some shit up. He trails after Steve instead, through the bedroom door, like a lost fucking dog. "I mean, I. I didn't want to look, and find out where she was getting in, because then I'd feel like I needed to secure it, and maybe I've wondered a time or two if she belongs to somebody, but..."

"But?" Steve asks. He's stopped next to the stupid cat tree, and Koshka's purring against his bare chest with a noise like a tiny chainsaw.

Bucky shrugs with his good shoulder, and looks at the floor because he's not sure he can watch Steve walk out. This was stupid, maybe. He's been broken for a long time, and it's not very fair to try to pretend like he's not. "But I like having her around. She's a cute little murder machine. And she wakes me up when I have nightmares."

Steve makes a noise that's just a considering hum. "How much you pay for this cat tree?"

Bucky looks up, and Steve's got a half smile on his face, and deep in his ribcage Bucky's heart dares to hope: like maybe Bucky's stupid but maybe he's also Steve's. "Way too much. Fucking hipster hand-crafted piece of shit. Should've just made her a ball out of tin foil and been done with it."

Steve laughs, and then he puts Koshka — Soy Sauce, shit — down on the top little bed area on the cat tree. She trills at him, then flips over and stretches out onto her back like she's asking for a belly rub. (She's not. Bucky's made that mistake before and has the scratch marks to prove it.)

"She can stay out here," Steve says, and walks past Bucky, straight back into the bedroom. "I really don't need her watching while I fuck you through your nice new mattress."

"I— yeah, great," Bucky says, and he shuts the bedroom door behind him, when he follows Steve back in. Steve's shucking off his pants and crawling back into the bed, naked and gorgeous and somehow, impossibly, all Bucky's.

"That is, if you don't mind me filling in for her on nightmare duty," Steve says, while he's rifling in Bucky's bedside drawer and helping himself to the bottle of lube he finds in there.

"Uh, no," Bucky stammers, definitely not as smooth as he was hoping he could pretend to be. He strips out of his own shirt, shoves his jeans and underwear down his hips, trips a little as he tries to kick them off and get to the bed all at once. "I don't mind at all. I have a feeling I'm going to be a little too exhausted to dream."

"Well," Steve says, as he shoves Bucky down onto the bed, wrapping a slick hand around Bucky's cock, "it's good to have a goal to work toward."

The cat cries outside the closed bedroom door for maybe twenty minutes before she gives up, but they're a little too preoccupied to notice.