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In the Brooklyn he remembers, when he and Steve were kids, Bucky wasn't much interested in being a Boy Scout. His mother tried to tempt him with the thought of going camping - each of the boroughs had their own special camp, she said - but if he couldn't go with Steve, he wasn't interested.

Plus, the thought of being in all that nature just seemed unnatural.

Stevie, Bucky remembered, had loved those uniforms the Boy Scouts got to wear, with real sharp hats. But Stevie had gone to the summer camps organized by the YMCA, the ones for the weakly boys, for the disadvantaged boys. "Weakly," like Steve wasn't going to split somebody's lip on the first day for being rude. "Disadvantaged," like putting a big word on it would make the hit to Steve's mom's pride any easier to take. Still, Sarah put up with it every summer she could, because Steve always came back with a little color in his cheeks that wasn't a fever no matter how much he sulked at having to leave in the first place.

In this new Brooklyn, the one where he and Steve live in an apartment and pretend to be normal (even though Bucky knows he'll never be normal again, never was normal, the way he felt about Steve), Bucky stands in front of a rec center and considers the address. It's a Thursday afternoon.

"Idle hands make the devil's work,” his ma had always said - and his mother's hands had never been idle. She'd taken in washing and mending and sewing and she'd made a few special teas on the side for girls who found themselves in trouble, too. That'd be how she'd met Sarah Rogers in the first place, comforting a sobbing girl with a torn dress and a black eye.

His hands, flesh and metal both, had been idle for too long. So Bucky takes a few awkward steps closer before kids streaming out of the big double doors nearly knock into him. Their shouted laughter and half-hearted apologies almost startle him back down the block like birds flushed from the wire. Instead, Bucky squares his shoulders and rubs his thumb over the printout he carries with him, from something called Craigslist, advertising a need for a self-defense instructor.

If there's one thing Bucky knows how to do, it's defend himself. No reason to think he can't show some people how to do it for themselves.

Despite his own conviction of that, it's still a surprise when the program director - a vet herself, with close-cropped and tightly curled hair - limps her way out from behind her desk to shake his hand and offer him a trial at the job. Bucky hadn’t actually been sure anyone else was going to agree with his self-assessment. He notes it as a victory to take back to his therapists.

“We’ll try you out in the Tuesday night class - just get here a little before six so you’ll already be in place when the students arrive.” Glenda - her name is Glenda - has a sympathetic smile. “And in the meantime I’m going to send some paperwork home with you. If we both think you work out, leave it with me then.”

His hands shake, a side effect Banner attributed to all the drugs Bucky has had to kick. Everyone else seemed real invested in monitoring how he might get steady again but Bucky found he didn’t care very much. He’d shot enough people. Bucky could live without getting that ability back.

But it does mean his handwriting is awful. Bucky carefully folds the blank forms that Glenda passed him and stuffs it all in the back pocket of his jeans. Tasha’s handwriting is better than his and she knows how to keep a secret.

After an awkward farewell, Bucky hunches his shoulders so his hood falls a little further over his face and makes his way back to the apartment, careful to keep his distance from other pedestrians.

***

Everyone he knew figured Bucky would have missed Steve. After all, their friendship was immortalized in books and articles and that museum exhibit. Everyone knew. And none of those people were wrong.

But Bucky had missed his ma almost as much as he'd missed Steve, had written her just as many letters - some of them longer and more rawly honest than the ones that had been addressed to his best friend - from training camps and trenches. The memory of her face had been one of the hardest for Hydra to erase but one of the most important - he could not be a thing if he had a mother, so long as he remembered having those familiar features look at him with a combination of love and concern.

Later, the Russians had tried to instill in him the concept of the Motherland.

That hadn't gone particularly well.

***

His hands still shake as he pulls the identification that Coulson had given him out of his wallet and hands it to Tasha. "Don't got a license. But they gave me a Social Security Card."

He'd objected back in 1936 and it hadn't done him much good then either. There'd still been a few places willing to hire someone without a number by '37 but he'd been hoping for a union job.

Again, for all the good it'd done him.

Tasha's handwriting is small and tidy. She doesn't ask questions but Bucky could tell she was curious as soon as she'd arrived. He'd sent her a too-casual text message about playing with the cat to even get her to come over. She'd surveyed him closely the whole time he'd explained.

"I just figure I can't sit here all the time is all." It's true. He'd never been very good at sitting still. "And I can maybe help some people out a little."

He doesn't mention his mother and how she'd never once thrashed him for fighting, only quietly asked him to show Becca how to throw a punch once his littlest sister had started walking home from school alone. Bucky hadn't know what to do with the request at first. Until Becca had come in, blue eyes bright at seeing him and dress dusty from the dry afternoon heat. They'd spent hours in the alley then, him letting her practice throwing her weight behind her shoulder. He hadn't even minded the bruises.

"You were a very good teacher, Yasha." She doesn't touch him but Tasha never has to. She always leaves him gasping a little anyway. "You will do well and when you are ready to tell the others, that is when they will find out."

After he'd been drafted, before he'd lied to Steve about enlisting, Bucky had gone to his ma and cried. She'd touched the hair on the back of his head and promised him that somehow everything would be okay. He'd believed her. He'd always believed her.

Bucky doesn't know how to tell Tasha that he believes her in the same way. But he suspects she probably knows.

***

Tuesday night was good because Tuesday night was when Steve went to the life drawing class he'd signed up for at some college Bucky didn't remember the name of. Sam had been the one to convince Steve that getting out of the apartment was a good idea and that giving Bucky some alone time was an even better one. Bucky owed Sam about a million dollars, as far as Bucky could tell, for the favor.

A million. A billion. Maybe Tony could help him figure out what the right hypothetical amount was; sometimes Bucky couldn't stand to do the math on inflation. He was a long ways off from making 45 cents an hour in a machine shop. And he'd thought that was a good job.

"Are you sure you don't want to come along?" Steve hovers by the door, jacket on and backpack held by its straps.

Sam had explained a little, that they'd all been worried about Steve before Bucky had come in from the cold. So Bucky tries to be patient with the mother henning. Even so, he gives Steve an unimpressed look.

"Don't want to see your messed up mug until at least ten, punk." Bucky puts on a little eyeroll as well. It'll be a disaster if Steve figures out that Bucky’s impatient. That'll make him curious. And nothing has ever been more determined than a curious Steve.

That just earns him an eyeroll in return. "Jerk. Don't eat my ice cream this time. I'm saving it."

"What for?" But Bucky waves off whatever Steve was going to say. "Nevermind. Whatever. I promise not to eat your ice cream if you just get out of here. You're going to be late."

That gets Steve out the door at least.

Bucky heaves a sigh - and then heads for his bedroom. He's going to be late, too, if he doesn't move fast.

He settles on yoga pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt.

It isn't that he's worried exactly. He hasn't blanked out in a long time. But just in case, he wants soft things, comfortable things. Things that are as far from his armor as he can get. Plus, he just really loves yoga pants.

***

Glenda's waiting for him when Bucky gets to the rec center. He's an hour early - Bucky’s got unreasonable ideas about what being late means - but she seems happy to give him a tour and show him a little locker where he can keep his stuff. He doesn't really have anything other than the forms, so he leaves them in the locker. He left his phone at the apartment; he knows Tony has trackers in all of their things, just as a safety measure. Bucky tries not to think about that too much.

"The mats are already set up but you'll need to wipe them down with cleaner and put them away after class." Glenda leads him to a corner of the gym covered the same sort of safety mat Bucky has seen in the training gym at the Tower. "And there's pads for you on the bench over there."

Bucky nods, though he's less familiar with those. He'll figure it out. He's good at improvising. That was one of his strengths as an asset.

"I'm going to observe from the bleachers. Just let me know if you run into any snags." The bottom row of the bleachers across the gym seem to be half full of teenagers waiting for parents. The youths are by turns sullen and excited, depending on who they're talking to and what they're talking about. Bucky understands that kind of emotional rollercoaster.

The pads, when he picks them up and really looks at them, are safety equipment. He rolls his head around, stretching his neck, and puts everything back down. He probably doesn't need any of that tonight, not for where he wants to start.

So Bucky waits. He's good at waiting. That was also one of his strengths as an asset.

***

Bucky ends up with three students. The teenagers have mostly left, though Glenda has remained to supervise the rest, and the gym is quiet as the small group makes their way over to him.

Sometimes Bucky cannot help the way he organizes his thoughts, as though he is still summing people up as potential threats. One young male, white, probably 13 years old, brown hair in soft waves past his shoulders, ragged denim cut-offs, baggy t-shirt. One tall female, probably mixed race, shoulders square and chin up, dressed similarly to Bucky himself. One shorter female, white, still sporting a black eye, scowling even as she makes herself small in her own workout gear.

Bucky glances at Glenda. She's got her phone out but he can tell she's splitting most of her attention between the remaining teens and him.

"So, uh. Welcome to self-defense, I guess. I'm Bucky and I'm your instructor tonight." He'd practiced that speech in front of the mirror as much as he could without giving Steve any reason to be suspicious. "Can you tell me your, uh, names you want to be called and, um, I guess, pronouns, too?

He's read about the pronouns thing. Clint had sent him links. Clint's relaxed a little more every time Bucky's referred to them as "they." Coulson has, too. He’s protective.

The kid - and, damn, that bull-headed expression on those delicate features takes him back - glares. "Jessie. Call me Jessie. And my pronouns are she and her."

Well, he'd gotten that wrong then. Bucky's glad he asked. He doesn't smile, because he knows his smiles aren't particularly reassuring but he nods. "Got you. Nice to meet you, Jessie."

"Um, I'm Nora. And I'm here because my friend is here." Nora nudges the other woman with her elbow. "And I'm she and her also."

"I don't need to be here. It was a one time thing, Nora - it's not going to happen again." The other woman has crossed her arms but her eyes flinch when she does.

"Cracked a rib?" Bucky stays where he is but he looks more closely, enough to register that most of her weight is on one leg, less like she's ready to turn and flee and more like her knee was recently injured. Possible rib injury. More soft tissue damage to the torso - definite bruising on her arms.

Her protests are drowned out by Nora's anger. "I swear to Christ, he's going to kill you one day, and then I'm going to kill him. Mikki, don't make me kill a man."

It's Bucky's turn to wince. "So, I'm just going to say from experience, killing people isn't really great for the person doing the killing." He fiddles a little with the hem of his shirt. Things have escalated really quickly. He thinks he might wind up not needing the paperwork he went over so carefully after all.

"Oh, shit, are you a vet? You're a vet, aren't you?" Jessie looks a lot more intrigued.

But the other woman, Nora's friend, looks a lot more nervous. Nora puts a hand on her shoulder, squeezes it, and Bucky gets a bad feeling about why the woman is so twitchy. He'll think about it later.

"I've been, uh, home. For a while now. I'm teaching self-defense because my best friend was bullied when we were kids so I got in things a lot defending him. And my ma got me to teach my sisters and a couple of other girls how to fight, too." Becca had brought two or three girls named Mary to him (good Catholic girls, he was sure), and he'd coached all of them through scraping their way out of as much trouble as he could. He remembered Theresa thanking him one day, her sleeve torn but her posture straight.

He hasn't practiced saying any of that but saying it is easier than he'd expected it to be.

Nora squeezes her friend's shoulder again. "Come on. We're just giving it a try tonight. Please."

The woman sighs. Closes her eyes for a long count and opens them again. "You can call me Mikki. Whatever, Nora already told you my name. I'm she and her as well. Just don't touch me."

Bucky can work with that.

He plops down onto one of the mats. "So, I thought we'd start with a little stretching. An attacker isn't going to give you a chance to limber up but it feels nice and it's good to feel nice, right?"

He can feel them all watching him in confusion. But all three of them lower themselves to sit close enough to watch and listen.

He guides them through a couple of easy stretches, talking Mikki through compensating for the injuries he can see and the ones he only suspects. He considers mentioning to Jessie that denim isn't the best for this kind of thing but leaves it alone. She might not have anything else she's comfortable in; she might not have anything else at all. Becca had practiced in her day dresses; Bucky had worn his work clothes.

"So, the first thing you got to know is that when someone is trying to hurt you, it isn't because of anything you did." He folds himself down over his extended leg to reach for his toes. Hip openers don't do as much for him as shoulder work but there's only so much good anything is going to do for his jacked up body anyway. "They're making a choice that's fucked up, so no matter what happens, it isn't your fault."

Jessie has her face against her knee. Her snort is still loud and clear. "Tell that to the assholes at school."

"Don't think they'd let me on campus, which is probably for the best." Bucky never did like bullies either. "Doesn't change the truth. Your existence doesn't ever count as anyone's reason to start a fight."

That had been a hard lesson to learn. Of course they'd chosen him, Bucky had reasoned. Things had been the same in the old neighborhood where people knew his mother was Jewish. Beyond that, hurting Bucky was the best way to hurt Steve and Steve wasn't the most popular guy. It had been all too easy to catch Bucky by himself when Steve was off at those summer camps.

Hydra, Bucky had reasoned, had figured it out, too.

He mostly manages to believe his therapists now though. It wasn't his fault.

"Bucky? Everything okay over there?" Nora sounds like she's asked this more than once.

It takes a couple deep breaths to give Bucky back the ability to speak. "Yeah, sorry. Still not great at talking sometimes. We're going to try some arm stretches now."

He leads them through a gentle routine that Banner assured him would be a good way to assess people's flexibility without injuring anybody. Banner was good at not asking questions, too.

The time passes surprisingly quickly. The quiet is nice.

"This week, once or twice a day, take time to stretch and feel how your, uh, body feels when you do it. Like, pay attention to the way your body moves." Bucky doesn't think, just rolls to his feet. "You don't have to get up like that though. And, uh, remind yourself that if other people make the choice to try to hurt you, that isn't your fault."

Jessie sits on the floor and watches him with narrow eyes for a minute but then gets up on her own. Nora helps Mikki to her feet, though both are moving slowly and watching him.

"Any, uh, questions?" He's backing away a little, unsure if he's done a good enough job for this first meeting.

"Are you coming back next week?" Jessie ties up one corner of her t-shirt and then blouses the rest of it out around her thin body.

Bucky hopes so. "If Glenda says I can. I wanted to work on how to get out of a wrist grab."

Sometimes Bucky doesn't know that moments are important until they are over and done with, until days later when he is taking them back out to savor. But this one, he knows it matters. So he watches Glenda walk back over to his side of the gym, watches her smile at him and the little group he’s tried to teach.

"Let's go get your paperwork sorted out. Looks like Tuesday nights are yours." Glenda grins at Bucky's students. "See you all next week, I hope."

Bucky labels the light feeling in the middle of his chest: relief. And maybe, he considers, a little bit of pride as well.

***

Steve gets home at five minutes past ten o'clock, like he'd been waiting down the block just counting down until he could join Bucky on the couch. But he's got charcoal under his fingernails and some of the tension that always sits in his back has eased.

Bucky hides his grin in a throw pillow as he listens to Steve in the kitchen, rummaging through the freezer.

"Seriously, Buck? Are you serious?" Steve's voice changes as he moves around the kitchen, probably checking the trash for the crumpled cardboard pint container to confirm his suspicions. "June Gloom was a limited edition flavor."

It isn't that Bucky wants to laugh at Steve. It's that he can't not laugh at Steve. Not when Bucky is happy and Steve's only playing at being put out.

He sits up, puts the pillow aside. "Come on, Stevie. We'll find someplace that's open."

"Fine, but you're buying." Steve puts his jacket back on and all but drags Bucky out of the apartment.

***

Bucky can't remember if his ma liked ice cream. He's not sure if he ever got to watch her eat it. She liked butter spread thick on bread though, he remembers that.

They didn't keep kosher. They didn't even celebrate the high holy days. George Barnes was a lot of bad things but he was also worried, in the wake of war and in the days leading up to war, what might happen to his family if his wife's religion were too well known. Bucky's ma mostly kept her own counsel on the wisdom of that, so Bucky didn't know how she'd felt about any of that in her own words.

Maybe he'd have asked her, if he'd been able to come back at the end of it all. Maybe he'd have let those questions go unanswered, the way none of them asked about the eggs and butter and sugar women brought to Bucky's ma to barter for what Bucky's ma could help them with even after the Crash, even after George Barnes had keeled over one night after drinking too much.

But sometimes he thought he knew what her answer would have been anyway: Bucky's ma believed in doing what needed doing, in taking care of herself and her own. She'd loved George Barnes through all his faults but she'd done what needed doing to protect her family.

It had taken Bucky months to work up the nerve to ask Tony what happened to his family. It had only taken a day for a thick dossier to show up with Bucky's name on it. Names and dates, a visual representation of how his family had branched out even as the roots of it that he knew, the roots of it that he belonged to, had slowly died out. All of his sisters, dead. Their children old enough to have children with children of their own.

His ma had kept their family going.

Bucky had tucked the file between his mattress and his boxspring, next to the knife he kept there just in case.

***

There are four students at Bucky's next class. Jessie has brought another slight youth, this one with hair that hangs in their face (Bucky's just planning to use "they" until he knows what people prefer going forward) in the front but that's spiked up in the back and shaved on one side. The person has lots of earrings.

Bucky grimaces. "Those'll be hell in a fight if they ever get yanked out."

"Hasn't kept me from wearing them yet." The look that accompanies the statement is defiant.

And it's a fair enough point so Bucky just moves them all, including Ryan - they and them, Ryan says like they've had a lot of practice arguing about it - back onto the mats to go through another stretching routine.

"I was thinking this week that self-defense is a shitty name for this class but I don't know what a better one would be." Bucky can do it just as well as the other poses but he hates holding plank. "Because you shouldn't have to be learning how to defend yourselves at all. Douchebags should be learning how not to assault people."

Nora outright laughs. "Douchebag defense does have a certain ring to it. But I'm not sure anyone would put that on the marketing materials."

"They should." Mikki is scowling again but she's moving more easily.

Bucky takes that as a good sign her injuries are healing. He still doesn't touch her though. He's just glad she came back at all.

Jessie shifts from plank to downward dog, which Bucky also hates, then walks her hands back. "Douchebag Defense works for me. Those assholes at school need to keep their hands to themselves.”

She’d said as much the week before, Bucky remembers.

"They do. And since sometimes they don't, we're going to work on breaking out of wrist grabs today." Bucky moves from plank to crane and then tumbles forward so he can use the momentum to stand again. "I need a volunteer so I can demonstrate and then you can partner up to practice with each other unless you really want me to help."

Nora climbs to her feet. "Are we breaking out of that fancy metal hand you've got or what?"

He hasn't been wearing a glove. It isn't like he's tried to hide it. But the casual mention still hits Bucky like he's been slapped. He's surprised by the sting.

The old arm had been poisoning him. A slow-acting kill switch that Tony had only found during one of his scans because Tony was just as paranoid as Bucky in some ways. The surgery to remove it is one memory that Bucky wishes he didn't have, one he'd gladly give up. The prosthetic that Tony had given him is lighter and more sensitive, stronger and more easily repaired. But it's not his original arm, will never be, and Bucky hasn't ever asked for a way to disguise it, even when he isn't sure how he feels about the shiny metal surface of it, decorated only with Steve's shield on his shoulder.

"Hey, shit, Bucky, she didn't mean it like that." Mikki isn't touching him, isn't even close. But her concern is clear. She and Nora are holding hands, leaning closer to each other.

He thinks they may be braced just in case he freaks out.

"Last week I said I'm not great at talking sometimes, you know? I guess this is the week I tell you sometimes I'm not great about talking about my arm." He waggles the fingers at the group though, tries to get his heart rate back down using some of the breathing techniques he's learned.

Ryan, of all of them, waggles their fingers back, a friendly little wave that breaks the tension.

"Okay, so, uh, if you're still volunteering, Nora, you can grab whichever wrist of mine you want and I'll demonstrate." Bucky stands like he would while waiting for the subway, if he were able to ride the subway without panicking. "Most people won't have the kind of hypervigilance that I do, so I'll slow things way down."

He walks them through it a couple of times. He's careful when he shows Nora how to break his hold. Jessie is next, bouncing on her toes as she moves into position. Ryan rolls their eyes once Jessie is done but lets Bucky show them as well.

Mikki gives a quick little shake of her head and Bucky nods. "Just practice with Nora. She's got a real good grasp of it." He gives it a second. "No pun intended."

The group groans and Bucky hides a tiny smile.

Jessie and Ryan partner up, and Bucky moves between the two pairs offering advice. And he would doubt the wall clock if his internal clock weren't impossible to turn off because their session is over in what feels like a blink.

Bucky leads them through a couple of cool down stretches before it's time to walk them out. "Remember to keep stretching, once or twice a day, even if it's just a little bit. The idea is to feel, uh, centered in your body. And also remember that when shitty people make the choice to assault you, it is not your fault.”

Nora hangs back when the others leave. “Hey, Bucky, got two seconds really quick?”

“Sure.” Bucky fidgets a little with the paper towels he’s going to use to clean up the mats. “What’s up? You were doing really good helping Mikki with the wrist grab stuff tonight."

Nora gives him a steady look. “I just wanted to apologize. I shouldn’t have said anything about your hand. I won’t do it again.”

The paper towel shreds in his fingers. “That’s, uh. Thanks?”

Steve had apologized for all sorts of things, most of them things that weren’t Steve’s fault. Now Steve makes sure Bucky’s always as comfortable and happy as Steve can help him be, up to letting Bucky eat his precious ice cream with only minimal complaint. Tony had apologized for hurting Bucky every time he'd had to do anything with the arm, especially in the early days - and he’d followed that up by making the new arm as close to painless to live with and upgrade as possible.

But this feels different. And Bucky’s not sure what to say. If it were Steve, Bucky would tell him to stop being a stupid punk. If it were Tony, Bucky would tell him to stop worrying about it because he fixed it.

Nora can’t fix the way Bucky still has to prepare himself for his own reflection sometimes, can’t fix the way Bucky always has back pain and always will, even with the lightest weight polymers Tony can come up with.

“Actually, let me try that again. Thank you. Uh, for apologizing. I guess I have to get used to it, right?” Bucky tries a casual shrug.

Nora offers her hand. “Actually, actually, you don’t have to get used to a damn thing on anyone else’s schedule. And that’s why I’m apologizing. I overstepped.”

Bucky takes her hand with his own metal one, registers the feedback from the pressure and texture sensors. Tony had done really good work. He squeezes her fingers gently before letting go.

“We’ll see you next week.” Nora gives him one last look, like she’s making sure he’s steady on his feet, before she leaves the gym.

***

The next time they meet, Bucky has six students. Jessie and Ryan have dragged along another kid - "Billy, just call me Billy, ugh, my name is not Bill, and I’m he and him” - this one kind of chubby, with bright blue bangs and a rainbow on every article of clothing he’s wearing.

Bucky’s starting to think they have some kind of club at school.

Which would be kind of cool, actually, even if Bucky doesn’t know if he’s the best person to be teaching a bunch of kids how not to get their asses kicked. He’d only managed it with Steve by following him around literally everywhere possible.

Bucky hasn’t had a very good week. It’s possible he isn’t being rational.

The other new student trades suspicious looks with Nora and Mikki, like she - “Lorraine, honey, everyone just calls me Lorraine, and I’m a lady” - knows them and doesn’t entirely trust them. As long as everyone works together and no one tries to hurt each other, Bucky doesn’t care. Her outfit isn’t very practical but Lorraine makes it work.

Billy starts to look anxious though when they’re stretching. Bucky considers the way he’s got his own torso twisted around and then actually considers Billy’s body compared to Jessie and Ryan. “So, uh, I don’t know as much about this as I should, but we should probably start talking about modifications and stuff. Because bodies are all different? And not everyone's got the kind of, uh, training and motivation I do to stay limber.”

“Is the motivation really athletic sex?” Billy looks hopeful.

Jessie shushes her friend. “God, you can’t just ask that. Even if everyone is thinking it.”

“I can totally ask it. I totally just asked it.” Billy sits up, a mulish set to his jaw.

And Bucky has to reevaluate if he’s the best person for these kids to know or not because they all wear Steve’s expressions every time he sees them. Bucky will always do what he can in the face of that.

“My motivation is not really athletic sex. I’m not having sex with anybody right now.” Is that too much information to share? Bucky has no idea. “My motivation is maintaining my, uh, mobility - my prosthetic is kind of heavy and the accident I lost my arm in was kind of, uh, bad. The metal goes all the way into my shoulder.”

He cuts a look over to Nora to see what her reaction is but she just watches, listening like the rest of them.

“Are you asexual?” Ryan brushed their bangs out of their face. They’ve got a nose ring this week that wasn’t there before.

Bucky has no idea how anyone handles these kinds of questions.

“I’ll be sure to look that up when I get home. But for now, we’re going to work on the false surrender, okay?” Hopefully Tony isn’t monitoring his search history.

***

Tony is totally monitoring his search history. At least he is if the email full of links about asexuality and yoga modifications for fat bodies - and disabled bodies, he’d gotten a little caught up in researching - is anything to go by.

The links are useful so he isn’t going to complain.

***

Bucky had taken plenty of girls out dancing, especially once he and Steve were grown enough for the whispers about their friendship to really put Steve in danger. Most of the neighborhood was willing to look the other way but that didn’t mean he’d ever wanted to find out Steve had caught the wrong end of a line-up.

He’d never wanted that to happen to him either for that matter.

So he’d made a point of going out with the prettiest girls who would say yes to him, and he’d liked it, the way they smelled and the way they trusted him to lead when they were on the floor. And he’d been nice to them, nice with his fingers and his mouth. Not a one of them had ever had to visit his ma, that was for damn sure.

Steve didn’t even trust Bucky to lead him around the living room of the tiny apartment they’d gone in on together when Sarah Rogers had died, couldn’t quite believe Bucky wasn’t making fun of him somehow. But Steve being scrawny and pretty had always bothered Steve way more than it bothered Bucky. No matter what Steve had feared at the time, Bucky had never thought of Steve as one of his girls. So Steve had taken more convincing but he’d let Bucky be nice to him with his fingers and his mouth, too.

Putting a little effort into keeping up appearances had just made life easier.

The point, Bucky thinks to himself, is that he wasn’t asexual then. So he’s probably not asexual now. He just hasn’t really thought about it in a while.

He makes a note to bring it up with his therapists.

“You have to stop eating my ice cream, Buck. I’m serious.” Steve drops two empty pint containers on the coffee table by Bucky’s propped up feet. Steve is frowning.

Bucky leans over and checks the containers. Raspberry Pink Peppercorn Sorbet and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. He makes a face. “The EVOO was weird. The other one was pretty good though. I used it in a milk shake.”

Steve’s strangled whine is worth how strange that olive oil ice cream had been.

***

Billy’s surprised when Bucky demonstrates an easier way for him to do some of the poses.

Lorraine still obviously doesn’t trust Nora and Mikki - and Bucky still isn’t asking - but her clothes have toned down and she focuses on breaking holds with a fervor that means it’s personal.

By the end of class, Bucky’s actually proud of his little crew of students. “You’re doing good work. Keep up the stretching once or twice a day. Remember it isn’t your fault if someone tries to hurt you. And I’m really glad to be your teacher.”

Jessie grins at him. “We’re really glad to have you.”

Bucky blushes and the others laugh at him the way friends do.

***

“Is that your phone ringing, Buck?” Steve looks at him curiously from across the table. One forearm is curled protectively around a bowl of ice cream while he holds his spoon like he’s ready to use it as a defensive weapon in his other hand.

“Huh?” Bucky hadn’t realized he even had a number for people to call, not really. Much less ringtones that were turned on for him to hear. “Yeah, hang on.”

He doesn’t recognize the number. But Hydra probably wouldn’t just call for a chat before coming after him.

“Hello?”

“Hey, is this Bucky? It’s Glenda from the rec center.” She sounds firmer on the phone, more in command.

Bucky glances at Steve and then gets up from the table. If he takes the call from his bedroom and is quiet about it, Steve probably won’t be able to hear. “Yeah, hey, what’s going on?”

There’s the sound of papers shuffling. “So, listen, your Tuesday night is getting popular - you’re doing great. Want to teach another class on Thursday afternoons?”

It will be harder to get away on Thursday afternoons; Steve doesn’t have a class to draw him out of their apartment and keep him busy. But Bucky was the Winter Soldier. He had been a ghost. He thinks he can get down to the rec center for an hour on a Thursday afternoon without Steve trailing him.

“Uh, sure. Yes, sure, that’d be great.” His face feels strange and it’s because he’s smiling, he realizes. His class is popular. He’s doing a good job.

Bucky is doing a good job. He’s helping people. Not a lot of people but maybe the people he’d always wound up helping anyway, back in the Brooklyn he remembers.

“Great. The class had a coach but he’s a shit heel so I fired him. You’ll probably have five more folks, mostly women.” There’s something relieved about Glenda’s tone but also something darkly satisfied.

There’s a story there but Bucky doesn’t know how to ask for it. Doesn’t know if he should. But he thinks it might be important so he thinks about how he was trained to interrogate people. He doesn’t want to make Glenda hurt. That’s not what he does anymore.

He’s been quiet for too long, though, thinking about it.

“Bucky? Is that going to be okay?” Now Glenda just sounds concerned.

Silence is still easier than anything else but he’s had to practice to talk for class. He falls back on that to answer Glenda. “Did something happen, uh, that I should know about?”

Not the most elegant request for intel but as long as it got the job done.

“He had a mouth on him. Said some things I didn’t think were appropriate.” The hard edge to Glenda’s voice doesn’t encourage followup questions about specifics. “Class starts at 2.”

“I’ll be there.” Bucky’s already planning what he’ll say to the group, how he’ll introduce himself. Whatever their previous instructor was saying, Bucky wants to make sure they know it was wrong.

He gets off the phone and heads back into the kitchen. Steve’s waiting for him, his ice cream going melty in its bowl. Bucky slips it out from under Steve’s arm and snags his spoon for good measure.

“Sorry about that. Wasn’t expecting a call.” Bucky boosts himself up on the counter.

Steve groans. “That’s the last of the Lemon Drop, I guess. And it’s okay. You’re allowed to have friends.”

Bucky licks the spoon clean. “I know.” Stevie’s never been a great liar though. Bucky knows what an unhappy and jealous Steve who isn’t going to admit it looks like. That’s something to bring up with his therapists, probably. “I like that stuff. We still got the chocolate? I’ll share.”

“We should, though I don’t know how it’s survived this long with you in the house.” Steve checks the freezer and comes out with the full pint.

“Here, let me.” Bucky reaches for it, pulls the lid off. He keeps his eyes down, digs the spoon that was Steve’s to begin with into the ice cream. Offers it to Steve. “First bite, all yours.”

He knows what a confused but hopeful Steve looks like, too.

Steve moves slowly but he lets Bucky feed him a bite of ice cream before Bucky takes a bite for himself. Steve’s always been a little skittish, Bucky remembers, but Bucky can be patient. He offers Steve another spoonful.

***

There’s nothing really stopping Bucky from explaining to Steve about the self-defense classes. It’s not like Steve is going to prevent him from teaching or even think it’s a bad idea. He’d probably get that look like he does, where he’s proud and holding back from touching Bucky for some reason.

Bucky hates that look.

But just the same, it’s nice to have something to himself. Bucky has listened to his therapists for long enough that he figures he knows at least part of what’s going on with that. He hadn’t enlisted; he hadn’t been able to make a major decision for himself since 1941.

He’s just not ready so Bucky isn’t going to force himself to say something.

Getting to class on Thursday afternoon is still going to take planning. And Tasha already knows so she’d be the best choice even if she weren’t the most likely to help him anyway. He sends her another text.

_Would you take Steve out tomorrow afternoon, show him a nice time?_

The time it takes for her to respond gives him plenty of time to imagine her expression. He doesn’t bother to hide his own grin when his phone rings. He recognizes Tasha’s number.

"Should I bring a corsage? That’s an American ritual, yes?” Her tone is very dry.

“Most of what I remember is him having allergies so I’m not the best one to ask about that. But everyone likes a little something pretty, right?” He relaxes back against his pillows. Steve should be in the shower for another fifteen or twenty minutes at least.

Tasha lets him hear her soft chuckle. “You did not make social calls, Yasha. What is it that you need?”

Straight to business. “They want me to take a second class. I don’t want to tell Steve or anyone else yet.”

The silence on the other side of the phone is considering. “So you want me to take over Steve duty so you can run your side mission every week?”

It wasn’t a refusal.

“He needs to get out of the apartment sometimes. You and Sam both told me that.” Bucky hasn’t pushed him because Bucky hasn’t wanted to be alone. But he’s ready for it now, for them both to stretch a little further, to be a little better. To be a little happier. He’s always wanted that for Stevie even when he couldn’t have said he wanted that for himself.

Some of that must come through even though he doesn’t explain. Or maybe Tasha has just been waiting for some excuse. “I’ll get him to commit to training with me. He’s one of the few who can make me sweat anyway.”

“He’s a nice girl, Tasha. Treat him right.” Bucky trusts her with Stevie. Trusts Steve just as much to treat Tasha well.

Tasha makes a humming noise that passes for agreement. “Consider, while I distract him, how much longer you want his attention focused elsewhere, Yasha.”

“Not forever. And I owe you.” He owes her so much already.

The shower cuts off and Bucky watches the span of hallway visible through his open bedroom door, watches for Steve to make his way out of the bathroom.

“Consider it repayment of old debts.” There’s a hanging moment of dead air. And then Tasha hangs up on him.

That’s fine with him. Bucky doesn’t really like saying good bye these days. Just in case.

***

His new class is already five weeks into their meeting schedule. Bucky thinks he’ll begin with his usual stretching routing and then evaluate where they are in their practice.

Instead, the class feels like a disaster before it even begins.

There are five people, all cringing away from him even as they walk onto the mats where he’s waiting. Their body language is stiff and unfriendly, arms crossed and weight balanced to flee.

Bucky thinks he should have pushed for more intel before Glenda got off the phone with him.

“So, uh, I’m Bucky. I’m taking over instructing your class. Will you please tell me your names you want to be called and your pronouns, please?” It’s easier this time, even with the tension in the room.

Alison, Leslie, Donnie, Maria, and Alex. She, he, he, she, and she, given with varying levels of enthusiasm for the question. Alex in particular keeps her distance, her hair in a low braid that’s tucked into the back of her hoodie.

Ponytails can be grabbed, so it’s not bad for a safety tactic, Bucky guesses. But it worries him that she thinks she needs to use it here in class. She could be dealing with the same kind of paranoia that keeps him up at night. But he thinks it’s more likely that something happened in class. Or if not in class specifically, at least with the last instructor. Something that was more than the guy mouthing off.

Bucky sits down on the mat. “Usually I like to start with some stretching. It, uh, feels good. But I think I should probably tell you a little more about me first, so you know who I am, what kind of person you’re trusting.” He takes a deep breath and then pulls his long-sleeved t-shirt off over his head.

He knows how people used to look at him. The girls he danced with had liked how his shirts fit the breadth of his shoulders and the long muscles of his back and the power of his thighs. Steve had liked his stomach, the little trail of hair that led into his trousers, the drape of his suspenders loose and relaxed against the curve of his ass when Bucky had let them hang down in the peacefulness of their living room. But that version of his body has been reduced to vague memories. His chest is broader and heavier with muscle and livid scars still dominate the left side.

“I’m a veteran and I lost my arm when I was a prisoner of war.” Bucky keeps his eyes on the mat, keeps breathing to a long, slow count. The voice of calm in his head sounds a lot like Banner. “I’m fortunate to have this, uh, experimental prosthetic. But I still get, you know, weird about it sometimes.”

The rustle of cloth is a good indication the others have joined him. One person sits more slowly and he thinks that’s probably Alex. Still, they’ve all put themselves at his level after he deliberately put himself on the floor in front of them, let them have the powerful position. So he’ll take what he can get.

“I don’t really like touching people and sometimes I’m real nervous and it’s hard to leave, uh, the apartment. That’s one reason I started teaching the other class, I figured using what I know in a way that helps people might help me settle in a little, too.” Well, that’s what his therapists had said anyway. And they hadn’t been wrong.

He chances a look up at this new group. They’re all in a half circle around him, ignoring the other occupants of the gym and focused completely on his words.

Bucky can feel his face heat up with a rapid blush. “I’m going to put my shirt back on now and then we can stretch. But, uh, if there’s ever anything you need? Like, if you don’t feel safe? I’m available to talk to about that.”

His blush hardly fades but the rest of class goes mostly smoothly. Bucky counts it as a win.

***

It’s probably that speech - delivered in different variations to two more classes - that results in Bucky escorting one of his students to an abortion clinic.

Lucy reminds him of the girls in the neighborhood, the ones who had a reputation for being fast but who never smiled, the ones who just got passed from the arm of tough guy to tough guy because who else was going to have them with that kind of reputation.

The neighborhood gossips had always clucked their tongues about girls who behaved that way. Bucky’s ma had pulled the window shades and sat Bucky down to remind him he had three sisters, all of whom were fortunate to have more options than some girls.

Even Steve had been worried about the number of fights Bucky had gotten into that month.

Lucy’s phone call had come during movie night with Steve. Bucky had finally programmed all of his students into his phone in case of emergencies, so at least he knew who was calling - but he could also tell Steve had caught sight of the name by the way the corners of Steve’s mouth turned down in that old disapproving frown.

He’d stepped into his room to take the call and any regret he might have felt about Stevie’s expression had evaporated when Lucy had choked out her request through frightened tears. He’d agreed without any hesitation.

The protestors outside the clinic make him even more glad he’s there. Lucy - she and her, smooth tan skin and dark brown eyes that make her look younger than she already is, religious family who doesn’t approve of the way she’s moved out to go to college on her own - is trying to disappear into herself and Bucky offers his arm. She nods and moves so that it ends up wrapped around her back, keeping her close to his side. Keeping her safe.

All the yelling is making his skin crawl but the signs aren’t helping. He knows what murder is, with the kind of personal and intimate insight he wishes he could explain better. Lucy isn’t murdering anyone.

“What do you have to say for yourself? How can you let this woman murder your baby?” One protestor gets in their path and targets Bucky instead of Lucy.

The door is only a few feet away; Bucky keeps moving and uses his body to block Lucy from the man yelling at them. She’s already crying, though. Her own boyfriend had refused to come, had implied she must have slept with someone else.

The protestor steps back into their path, like he’s determined to get a reaction out of Bucky. “You’re both going to burn in hell for murdering innocents.”

Bucky can feel Lucy’s shaking, the way her steadiness is eroding.

“Buddy, you really want to get out of my way right now.” He puts some ice in his voice and makes eye contact. He doesn’t want to cause a scene but he can feel himself winding up in response to Lucy’s near-panic. He’s not above decking the guy if it comes down to it but Bucky really doesn’t want it to come down to it.

“I really don’t. God doesn’t want me to. God wants me to stand between you and damnation.” The man raises his hands to lay them on Lucy.

He talks about nonviolence and deescalation every week, so Bucky spares a thought for how embarrassed he’s going to be when it gets around to his students that he got into a fight at the local clinic. It doesn’t stop him from twisting the man’s arm up behind his back before he can touch Lucy, though.

“Head on inside, okay? I’ll be right in behind you.” Bucky keeps his voice soft for Lucy and even though her eyes are huge and she’s on the edge of hyperventilating, she does what he tells her because he’s worked hard to get his students to trust that he’s not going to steer them wrong when it comes to self-defense.

Bucky waits until she’s closed the clinic door behind her before he lets go of the douchebag. “Hasn’t anybody ever told you not to touch someone without permission?”

The encounter goes downhill from there, not that Bucky really cares, even when the paparazzi gets there, because it takes the heat off Lucy and the other folks inside.

***

There’d been a trial when Bucky had first come in, first surrendered himself to Steve and Sam after they’d followed him most of the way around the world. He’d finally figured out that they weren’t going to give up on him so giving up on himself was no longer a feasible plan.

The media had published anything it could get its hands on, including some videos of his torture that Bucky has never been able to watch. At the time, he’d told Sam that as much as he wanted to reclaim his identity, he was fine leaving that little corner of his experience in a box.

In hindsight, Bucky thinks, he’s also just kind of squeamish about having everyone look at him and know things. That’s why he can’t help the way he’s squirming under Steve’s steady and disapproving gaze.

“Seriously, Bucky?” Steve is the only one pointing at the damning headline on the actual physical paper spread across their table but he’s not the only one crowded into the apartment. Tasha and Clint and Sam are at least sitting. Banner and Tony are leaning against the wall, Tony with a cup of coffee that he’s using to hide his amusement.

Coulson’s probably still at work, dealing with the fall out, Bucky thinks. That, more than anything, makes him feel guilty. He didn’t mean to cause any of them any more trouble.

It’s like all the intervening years haven’t happened. Bucky falls back on what he’s always done in the face of Steve’s disapproval. He slouches in his chair, folds his arms across his chest, stretches his legs out. He grits his jaw tight and waits for Stevie to lose his temper at him.

WINTER SOLDIER ASSAULTS PRO-LIFE PROTESTOR blares the headline. The story itself is less inflammatory, since it quotes observers and clinic workers who are very clear that the protestor started it first by getting in Bucky’s face.

LONGEST HELD PRISONER OF WAR SERVING AS CLINIC ESCORT is actually his favorite of the headlines, not that anyone is asking him.

“I think it’s pretty cool.” Clint signs at the same time as they speak. “I mean, that fucker thought he could get away with assaulting people.”

There’s a reason Bucky likes Clint so much. But he keeps his own mouth shut.

“No one wants to let anyone get away with assaulting people. Least of all me.” Steve just keeps thumping the paper with his finger. “But, seriously, Bucky?”

This is the other reason why he hasn’t wanted to tell Steve. He hates that disappointed look. Has always hated that disappointed look. Had enough of it directed his way every single year Steve got back from camp and looked at the mess of bruises Bucky sported.

If Bucky kept Steve from getting his head caved in, Steve kept Bucky from going off the rails just as much. They’ve depended on each other for all of their lives that matter.

But that doesn’t mean Bucky’s ever told Steve every single thing. Like how Bucky knew what he was doing the first time he went down on Steve - Clive Jackson, four blocks over, the hottest day of the year, ten years older than Bucky and big enough not to take no for answer. Like why certain girls always said yes to to going out with Bucky even when they were way out of Bucky’s league - Bucky was safe and the girls whispered it to each other. Like how every summer Bucky made it his personal mission to keep the neighborhood boys in line - his sisters, his sisters, especially around his sisters but Bucky’s never liked a bully either and that’s always going to be the biggest thing he and Steve have ever had in common.

Steve was just younger enough that he probably doesn’t remember how desperate some of Bucky’s ma’s visitors were, if he ever noticed it to begin with. Steve’s memories of Sarah Rogers aren’t something Bucky ever wants to push at, so he’s never asked if Steve’s ma gave him the same lectures that Bucky got.

Tony pushes off the wall and uses two fingers to lift Bucky’s chin, like he’s studying Bucky’s expression. Bucky jerks his head away. Tony blinks at him like he’s thinking his way through a stubborn equation - and then he lights up.

Bucky probably doesn’t want to know whatever Tony’s figured out.

“Well, this is all very interesting, and I do mean it’s always good to get some insight into how people tick, because who doesn’t want to know that, am I right? But this is hardly the kind of crisis we need to be all ‘Avengers assemble’ over, also am I right?” He puts his coffee mug down in the middle of the newspaper. Liquid sloshes over the rim and spreads in a streak right for the edge of the table. “Oh, oops, better throw that trash away.”

Banner moves in to gather up the wet newspaper in a tidy little bundle before Steve can object.

Tony and Banner are a good team, Bucky thinks. But he still refuses to speak.

“Yasha.” It’s enough to keep everyone else silent. Tasha has always been good at conveying heavy meaning in a single word.

Bucky sighs. Shakes his head. He doesn’t want to. He doesn’t want Steve to think he’s fucking up.

She gets up and comes just as close as Tony had been. Tasha leans down to kiss his forehead before she turns to face Steve. “He did a good thing. Why are you really upset, Steve? Perhaps you should tell him that.”

Clint follows her silently when she leaves, just waves with a jaunty flick of their fingers.

The tension in the room had been as fragile as the surface of water anyway. Sam heaves a sigh and claps Bucky on his right shoulder. Banner gathers up the paper with the headline Bucky likes, folds it, tucks it under his own arm. Tony, all business now, retrieves his mug.

“Looks like I’m on empty. Can’t have that. See you later at the Tower, Buckminster Fuller, yeah? It’s time for a tune up.” He breezes out, Sam and Banner in his wake.

That leaves him with Steve.

Bucky’s always been glad of that before but at the moment being left with Steve just makes him feel kind of tired and sad.

Steve is looking at the surface of the table, at the damp streaks that were left on its surface. “I just. I knew you were doing something. Going out. And you’re allowed to have friends, I know that.”

There’s something in his voice and Bucky has a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach, like he’s just woken up out of cryo after they froze him with a belly full of nutrient slop.

“I just didn’t think you were dating again, you know? I thought if you found, um, a girl you liked, I’d at least hear about it.” Steve’s blushing now, bright red ears and in streaks down his neck. “And I didn’t think you’d ever gotten a girl, um, in the family way before. I thought. I don’t know what I thought.”

At least, Bucky thinks, he was right about something - he really could have lived without knowing what Tony had figured out about why Steve was so disappointed.

“You really think that low of me?” Bucky’s voice is rough from how tight his jaw is. “You think I’d stay here, live with you, take up with someone else without even telling you? You think that’s why I was there?”

It’s Steve’s turn not to have an answer. He looks smaller than he has in a long time. Since before Azzano.

Bucky gets up, walks to the door, pauses with his hand on the door frame. “I replaced your pint of June Gloom. Enjoy it.”

He’s in his room with the door locked before he hears the unmistakable sound of Steve punching the wall.

***

“I’ve had a shit week. So we’re going to spend a little extra time stretching on the floor if no one minds.” Bucky has made it to Tuesday, and he’s a little surprised at how much of a relief that is. He’d barely left his room, much less the apartment, until he had to for class.

The media furor has died down but Steve’s still giving him that disappointed look. Sam promised Bucky that it had nothing to do with Bucky and everything to do with Steve needing to get his head out of his ass but that’s cold comfort even though Bucky trusts Sam to always tell him the truth.

Billy’s already on the ground, working on his legs. “Man, it’s finals. If you said we could just take a nap for class, I don’t think I’d mind.”

The laugh that jerks out of his mouth is rusty and a little closer to tears than Bucky would ever want to admit. But it surprises him and makes it easier to breathe and it feels good.

He likes his other students but Tuesday nights, well. They’re his favorites.

“I don’t think that’s on the curriculum but I’ll keep it in mind for next session if I keep doing this.” He only realizes that’s true as he says it - Bucky is thinking about the next session, thinking about how he can update the curriculum to make it more accessible and less intimidating. He’s planning for his future, no matter who’s in it.

His therapists are going to be so proud.

It’s Mikki that waits for him after class. He’s careful to keep his distance and to keep his stance nonthreatening but she smiles and reaches out to rest a hand on his arm. “Nora and I saw that thing in the paper. We just wanted you to know that we were so proud of you.”

The contact is fleeting but Bucky holds on to the feeling of it, the way Mikki’s words make him feel warm, like his ma has reached out and touched him in passing just because she loves him and because he’s done well.

“If I can ever get between any of you and a fight, that’s what I’m going to do.” That’s a promise he’s probably been carrying around since the first class. He guesses it’s a night for realizations.

“None of us are actually looking for someone to save us. But it’s not all bad to have someone who wants to help sometimes.” Mikki bites her lip but her smile is genuine. “Do you have someone to help you, Bucky?”

Isn’t that the million - billion, trillion, whatever, he never did get around to asking Tony for that conversion - dollar question, Bucky thinks. “Pretty sure I do. Just maybe been a little scared of leaning too hard on that since I came home.”

Mikki shrugs. “Maybe it’s time to lean a little.”

She leaves him with that, alone in the gym.

***

Bucky had come home early one day, had paused in the hall when he heard his ma and Sarah Rogers talking. Steve had already been gone for a couple of days and Bucky was hating every second of it.

He’d gotten jumped only a block over, by a couple of thugs Steve had been antagonizing last month. Bucky was used to fighting with Steve at his side, and being alone threw him off, but he had still managed to knock both his assailants off before scrambling out of the alley.

There had been dirt all over his face and blood in his mouth but it had still been more important to wait and see if he could hear anything about Steve that wasn’t filtered through what Sarah Rogers deemed it appropriate to pass on. Bucky had figured he should know just as much about Steve’s health as he could.

Instead, Sarah Rogers had told Bucky’s ma about how Sarah had been snubbed at the market. Because her son, rumor had it, was an invert. The gossip mill would die down with Steve out of town at the YMCA camp, but she’d wanted to make sure none of that nastiness was touching Bucky yet. Bucky’s ma had been reassuring. Her Bucky was missing his friend something awful but he wasn’t pining. He wasn’t giving anyone any reason to think there was more than friendship there.

Both women knew there was more than friendship there. They were worried Steve wouldn’t live to see adulthood, that Bucky would self-destruct in Steve’s defense.

In the hallway, Bucky had bitten at the palm of his hand to keep himself quiet, to keep himself from busting in and yelling at the both of them. Even then he hadn’t been sure if he would have confirmed or denied what they thought was going on between their sons.

Bucky had fought to keep his breathing quiet while inside, the two mothers had agreed that better two live sons who loved each other than two dead sons - because their boys needed each other to survive, they could both see that.

When moisture made Bucky’s vision blur, he’d backed away and headed up to the roof instead. He’d waited an hour for Sarah Rogers to leave, and when he’d gone inside, his ma had scolded him for being so late his supper got cold. But she’d kissed the top of his head when he’d sat at the table and told him he was a good son.

***

The kitchen is full of ice cream.

Not literally full of ice cream. Figuratively literally, the way Bucky sees people using the word on the Internet. There are pints of ice cream stacked up all over the counters and on the table, and there’s ice in the sink to keep another couple of pints cold.

“Steve? What’s going on?” Bucky can’t quite bring himself to go in there just in case something’s wrong and Bucky has to call for help. He can’t tell if it’s a challenge or a cry for help or what.

“It’s an apology. I mean, if you want it to be. If you don’t mind it being one.” Steve keeps himself out of arms length, firmly outside of grabbing range.

It would be insulting but Bucky recognizes it from when he first came back. Steve isn’t afraid Bucky is going to grab him; Steve doesn’t want Bucky to worry about being grabbed.

“An apology.” Bucky looks back into the kitchen. He doesn’t get it but he’s a little worried everything is going to melt. And there’s no way it will all fit in the freezer. “What for?”

The article with the headline Bucky had liked has been clipped and stuck up to the front of the freezer with a little Hulk magnet. Banner’s got a sense of humor.

Steve takes a step closer, makes a gesture like he’s telling Bucky to go on and eat. “For making an assumption. And it had a lot more to do with me and how I’ve been feeling than it did to do with anything I’ve ever known about you.”

Bucky’s not made of stone. He heads for the silverware drawer for spoons. Offers one to Steve. Offers something else as well. “I should have told you. I’ve been teaching some classes at the rec center.”

If there’s a script for what they’re doing, Bucky knows he’s just gone off it.

Steve, his hand extended to take the spoon, freezes for just a moment. He blinks a couple of times. “Buck, that’s awesome. How many classes? What are you teaching?”

His face is making exactly the expression Bucky has been dreading. There’s not even a tiny bit of doubt that Bucky is doing something great, something to be proud of. And there’s the way he looks and catches himself looking and then looks away, like they hadn’t touched every inch of each other as often as they could get away with before war and Hydra had stolen Bucky from himself.

Bucky hates that expression.

“God dammit, Stevie, why won’t you touch me?” Bucky isn’t looking for someone to save him. But, Bucky thinks, he’d really like Steve's help. They’ve always leaned on each other. If he can’t lean on Steve, there’s no one else he wants. “You’ll do all this,” and Bucky gestures wildly at the pints of ice cream around them,” but you won’t fucking touch me?”

“If that’s what you want, Buck, all you had to do was ask.” Steve finishes his aborted gesture, takes the spoon and sets it on the counter behind Bucky. “All you ever have to do with me is ask.”

Then he puts his hands, steady and deliberate, on Bucky’s hips. He's gone red again, and as solid as his grip is, his breathing is all over the place.

“Punk, I’ve been asking since I came home with you.” Bucky settles his hands, flesh and metal both, and, oh, how they shake, on Steve’s ridiculous shoulders. “You think I turn myself in after being chased all over the world every day?”

“Jerk.” Steve’s expression is all fond now, the one Bucky loves, the one that’s soft mouth and happy eyes and looking at Bucky like he’s done something good. Like Bucky’s the only one he wants to look at. “I really worried you’d gone and found someone else while I was waiting for you to feel up to a discussion about how we used to be together that way.”

Bucky shakes his head. “One of my students. She needed some help. My ma would have wanted me to help her.”

“Will you tell me about it?” Steve steers them both to the table. “Tell me about it and help me eat this ice cream.”

That’s the kind of invitation that Bucky wouldn’t want to pass up even if he could. He holds up his spoon in victory and pulls the first pint over to see what the flavor is.