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Hiding From You

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Somehow, Steve survived the passing of the years. And while the pain of losing his soulmate didn’t get any easier, he slowly stopped thinking ‘if only Bucky could see this’.

During the Battle of New York, sure. That was the pervading thought in his mind aside from ‘minimal casualties, get the civilians safe’. Because, honestly, he would have loved this. The whole thing was just like those terrible sci-fi books that he was always buried in, and it was really his first actual fight without the brunette by his side. But he didn’t break down in tears after, and that was some sort of progress.

He’d found a place to stay in DC, and didn’t automatically reach for Bucky’s scars whenever things got tough anymore. As much as he had wanted to stay in Brooklyn, he couldn’t anymore. It was a little out of his price range these days; Bruce said was probably for the best anyways. But then, Bruce always insisted time and time again that he wasn’t that kind of doctor. And the person he usually had to remind was Tony Stark.

Which really threw Steve through a loop for a solid week, because Howard had a son who looked strikingly like him, but who clammed up the second his father was mentioned. So Steve learned not to mention it, and kept a fair bit of distance between himself and the engineer.

Slowly, he came to see that the world really was, at least somewhat, better these days. There were still problems, don’t get him wrong. The fact that sexism was still a problem after Peggy Carter had taken the world by storm continually baffled him, and the fact that racism was only somewhat better now? It ticked him off to no end.

Maybe, though, what had hurt the most was the way they wrote Bucky out of history almost entirely. And every time he went to the Smithsonian’s Captain America exhibit, it hurt anew. There was almost nothing written about Bucky. No mentions of all that he’d done for Steve. Just a few paragraphs, a few photographs, and mentions of him as Steve’s best friend, as if that defined him.

No one talked about all of the winters Steve wouldn’t have survived without Bucky, or the fights that Steve was constantly pulled out of because of him. They forgot that, and it killed Steve inside.

And yet, he ended up there often, and he couldn’t explain why.

Things somewhat settled down after the mess of Norse gods and aliens from the sky, though he heard about the disaster that Tony endured in Malibu before he settled in Manhattan for good this time.

Then everything had to go to hell again, and Steve found Director Fury dead in his apartment with a masked man with a more or less terrifying arm had escaped in the blink of an eye. Steve had to go underground, running with Natasha and picking up one Sam Wilson on the way out, even though he’d insisted over and over that Sam did not need to get involved in this.

Barely days passed before Steve was tearing the mask off himself, and it all stopped for him again.

It was Bucky.

No amount of stubble, or hair could hide that from Steve, because that was a face that had been more or less ingrained in his memory from the time he was six. Those wide grey eyes, the cleft chin, and those full lips that Steve had drawn a thousand times were burned in him to the point where he would know them anywhere.

“Who the hell is Bucky?” were the words spat back at him, brows drawn together as he advanced once again.

The ensuing fight tore him apart, but it was only in the aftermath that Steve found himself hollow again. Bucky had been alive this whole time and had turned into… What? A ghost of an assassin called the Winter Soldier? Someone whose head had been messed with to the point where he didn’t even recognize his own name anymore, where he didn’t recognize Steve?

Sometimes, he used to imagine what must have happened to Bucky after he fell. Maybe someone had found him, and taken him in. Maybe he’d needed surgery and that was why Steve woke up to a mess along his shoulder.

He didn’t even fathom that Bucky could still be alive. Not after over sixty years had passed them by.

And of course, as soon as Steve had found him again, Bucky had vanished without remembering a thing. After shooting Steve, and Natasha, he just disappeared.

They didn’t ask him to talk about it, after. Sam and Natasha just left it alone, and didn’t tell Agent Hill. And Steve sure as hell didn’t mention it to the apparently not dead Director Fury.

Even though Steve had to wonder why no one seemed to be staying dead. What was next, the rest of the Howlies turning up alive? Or would it be Red Skull, knowing his luck?

All that Steve could do was lock down the hollowness and move on. He needed to keep planning with his limited team, and plan for himself what to do next time he saw Bucky.

Chapter Text

Apparently Steve was just jumping right back into the ‘no regrets’ mentality from his childhood, and it really wasn’t working out too well for him this time around either. He had more people to lecture him for being reckless now, and none of his new friends seemed to pull any punches on telling him that he should be wearing a parachute when jumping out of a plane. And that trying to fight his best friend-turned-HYDRA assassin was a terrible idea.

On the helicarrier, there was no recognition in those winter-grey eyes. Not really. And while he said time and time again he wasn’t gonna fight Bucky, that he was his friend, it didn’t stop him from dislocating his human arm. From choking him until he passed out.

Sure. His eyes burned with tears when he had to drop Bucky’s limp body to the floor so he could finish his mission. But it didn’t do much for his guilt that rose in his throat like bile, even after Bucky had shot him. And then…

And then he’d seen Bucky trapped. That same fear in his eyes as when he’d been holding on for dear life to the rail, eyes pleading for Steve to get him, to pull him back, something. Steve hadn’t had to think twice. He didn’t have to think before freeing him, and then taking every single hit that Bucky gave him.

“You know me.”

And god it was hard not to flinch when Bucky had basically screamed, thrown back in his face that no. No he didn’t know Steve. So he just took the beating until he inevitably blacked out, just before they hit the water.

Sam had absolutely every right to be ticked at him, and Steve couldn’t for the life of him figure out why his main reaction to Steve finally waking up was to scoff and roll his eyes at the pretty terrible excuse of a joke he made. Sure, there were some relatively annoyed comments about nearly getting his dumb ass killed, but that was the extent of the immediate backlash.

The doctors insisted that he stay in the hospital a few more days after he woke up, despite his quick healing. Just to be sure, they insisted.

At some point, Sam went home to actually get some decent sleep. And it took a lot of nagging before he finally did, but Steve was thankful for the silence though it certainly wasn’t good for him to dwelling on what had landed him here.

Bucky took up a steady presence in his mind and without Sam to distract him the amount of space his old lover took up only grew larger until he was all Steve could think about.

It was the little things that stood out in his mind. Like the way that Bucky fought against him with no precision. It was so unlike him, really. He’d been a sniper during the war for a reason, and that reason was that he was careful when he fought. Unlike Steve, who always just threw himself at the problem, Bucky had held back and was really more effective for it.

But there, on the helicarrier? It was a mess. And Steve couldn’t even bring himself to protect himself from it, because if that’s what Bucky needed to do, then he wasn’t going to stop him.

That was one of the few things that Sam had immediately gotten on his case for, not fighting back.

Steve sighed, trying to curl on his side without disturbing the worst of his injuries or tug at the IV that he didn’t think he even needed.

And only then did he notice he wasn’t alone in the room. That there was a figure tucked in the corner of his room, and there was probably no way that he should have been able to silently get through the window, but Steve wasn’t entirely sure how else Bucky could have gotten in.

“Steven Grant Rogers,” he said, and damn if that didn’t just feel like another stab in the heart.

It was still Bucky’s voice. It was cool, almost robotic, but it was his voice. Steve sighed, rolling to his back again and barely covering up a small wince. “What are you doing here, Buck?” he asked in return, refusing to take his eyes off Bucky.

In the several days that had passed since they’d last seen, Bucky had changed his clothes at the very least. A beat up hoodie covered up most of that new arm of his, and the visor of a baseball cap was pulled low over his face. If Steve hadn’t been lying on a bed, he probably wouldn’t be able to see how lost he looked. And how it looked like Bucky hadn’t slept since they’d last seen each other either.

He shook his head nearly imperceptibly, brows furrowing deeply. “That’s not my… I know that name, but it’s not my name. Don’t call me that.”

Steve closed his eyes tightly, letting out a sharp breath. He didn’t know why he expected Bucky to automatically be better, when it was just days ago that he was screaming, insisting that he didn’t know who James Barnes was, or who he was for that matter. Why should the name ‘Buck’ automatically mean anything to him now?

“What do you want me to call you?” he whispered. “What’s your… What can I call you?”

For a while, the only answer Steve got was silence, and if he didn’t have Bucky in his sight, he might think that maybe he had left. But no, he was still there, completely motionless and crammed tightly into the corner closest to the window.

“James,” he said after what felt like minutes had dragged past. “That was my first name, right? James Buchanan Barnes?”

Steve nodded slowly, almost hesitantly holding his hand out to the brunette. “Yeah, Bu— James. Yeah, James.” He frowned a bit at how clumsy the name came off his tongue.  Bucky had hated that name, constantly grumbled about how it was his grandfather’s name and it made him sound more snobbish than he could ever dream of being.

Bucky—James offered the barest hint of a smile, shoulders loosening just a bit. He looked almost a little self-satisfied by it, and if that was what would help him, then Steve was just going to have to learn to adjust.

“You can come closer,” Steve said, still awkwardly reaching out to him. “If you want. I won’t make you or anything, but… You can come closer.”

His eyes flashed towards the door, tension immediately resettling in his shoulders. And Steve wasn’t sure how he’d missed how he favored his right side, as if the metal arm was uncomfortable for him. “I shouldn’t…” James bit his lip shrinking further into the corner even though his right hand twitched towards Steve. “I don’t know who you are. To him. To Bucky, or James, or… Whoever I used to be.”

Steve’s hand dropped, hanging limply off the side of the bed. He shouldn’t have been surprised. It shouldn’t have hurt that much, when he already knew that. It was so painfully clear that Bucky… That James didn’t know who he was. And he knew that James didn’t know who Steve was, so why would he all of the sudden know now? It had been mere days. It should be enough that he knew his own name and Steve’s name on top of that.

And in the back of his mind, Steve thought that he shouldn’t tell him, and should just see if he remembered on his own. But at the same time, since when had Steve ever been good at his own impulse control when his heart was involved?

“You were mine. I mean, we were best friends. More than that, even, we just…” Steve huffed, impatient with his own ability to say this properly. Out of a habit he was sure he’d broken, he reached up to touch his left shoulder, feeling the rope of scar beneath the thin hospital gown. “We’re soulmates.”

And if Bucky knew what the term meant, it didn’t light up his eyes with recognition. Instead, they narrowed slightly, still aimed at the door before he turned abruptly towards the window. “I have to leave.”

Steve tried to sit up to argue but felt his ribs ache at the slightest bit of motion and he hissed softly.

He saw James hesitate, glancing back with concern painfully clear in his gaze. Within seconds, he was by Steve’s side, gently pressing him back to the mattress. “Don’t hurt yourself,” he said softly, the warm palm of his human hand steady over his sternum.

Steve instantly had his hand over James’, hoping to hold him there, but the second that their skin touched he was moving back to the window. “Don’t hurt yourself,” he repeated, barely above a murmur. And then within a second, he had the window open and closed behind himself.

And Steve couldn’t do a damn thing to stop him. Couldn’t stop the emptiness that sapped any sort of positive emotion he may have gained from their meeting.

In the back of his mind, he registered the sound of footsteps near his room, but he couldn’t bring himself to look over to see who it was. They probably weren’t heading to his room anyways.

“I know you’re not actually sleeping.”

Steve startled a bit, looking over too fast to see Sam standing in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest. Looking more or less deadpan, and only a little less tired than when he’d left not even an hour ago. “Thought you were going home for the day,” he shot back in return.

“And leave you here to do nothing but think? Yeah, I like to think I’m a better friend than that.” Finally he offered Steve that warm smile that almost eased away all the worries from his mind if only for a moment. He set down a pad of paper on Steve’s bed, and a couple of pens that were probably lent from one of the nurses. “Forgot to bring this by earlier. Heard you used to draw and thought you could use a distraction.”

Steve huffed a laugh, paging through the sketchpad. The paper was nicer than anything he’d ever used, even when Bucky had scraped together all his savings for Steve’s art classes and a whole new set of supplies for the occasion. “Thanks, Sam. That’ll hopefully keep me sane until I can finally get out of here.”

Sam’s grin widened, and he made himself right back at home in the cheap plastic chair by his bed and stayed there until visiting hours were over.

The second he was gone, Steve’s eyes were right back on the window, hoping that meant Bucky would come back. That James would come back.

By now, though, Steve knew he was used to disappointment. It still hurt when the room was empty when he finally went to sleep, but it didn’t surprise him in the slightest.

Chapter Text

The second Steve was out of the hospital, he was on the move again. The few days that he stayed because the doctors weren’t sure if he was all right were a few days too long, and if it weren’t for Sam constantly telling him that he should just wait it out and that he wasn’t going to miss anything, Steve would probably have left the same day that Bucky had turned up.

The same day James had turned up.

As far as Steve knew, Sam didn’t know about that yet. He’d already made his opinion of him very clear, and that opinion was that James was dangerous, and not the man Steve used to know. And yet the second Steve was out of the hospital and had said he was going to go after the man, Sam had insisted on going with him.

After three months straight of running down bad leads and hitting dead end after dead end, Sam insisted they pause, take a break for a little bit of time. Just for a few weeks. Steve had grumbled about it for a while, but he didn’t really argue with it. He went back to DC without much of a fight.

Three months after seeing Bucky in the hospital, he was tired. There was only so much disappointment Steve could take; only so many empty HYDRA bases the trail ended at before it wore him down. Steve was pretty sure he hadn’t felt this brand of helplessness since he’d gone on that first reckless mission that had found Bucky strapped down to a table for god only knew what.

Sam kept saying that he’d turn up eventually, and that he should just wait. Natasha had said that the Winter Soldier was a ghost story, so if he didn’t want Steve to find him, then Steve probably wasn’t going to find him.

And it really didn’t matter how vehemently he disagreed with that, because it was looking like both of them were right.

He’d said that he would stay put for a month, more for Sam’s benefit than his own because Steve would just rather keep running down leads if it meant one of them would lead to Bucky.

If one of them would lead to James.

Three months in, and Steve was no better at referring to the brunette as his legal name, it seemed. It felt just as stilted as it had the first time he used it in the hospital.

Steve didn’t leave his apartment often, mostly venturing out to get groceries or a cup of coffee occasionally. He got several messages from Tony asking him to check out his floor in the Avengers Tower, and he was trying to ignore those as well. If he did, he ran the risk of seeing everyone on the team, and that wasn’t something Steve was necessarily prepared for at the moment.

It was on one of those infrequent visits out, though, that Steve got the distinct feeling of being watched. The one time he was convinced to meet Natasha for coffee instead of just going on his own, he felt a pair of eyes on him from the moment he left his apartment, but the second he turned to check, there was no one there.

He even felt it through their meeting, and he was sure that Natasha would maybe be able to feel it too, but she gave absolutely no indication that anyone was there.

Maybe he was getting paranoid.

He’d tried to hurry home after that, the whole time feeling antsy over the fact that he knew there was someone out there. Someone he couldn’t see was watching his every move, and maybe they were good enough to escape Nat’s attention.

He wasn’t paying much attention, it seemed, and his shoulder collided with someone else on the barely crowded sidewalk.

“I’m sorry,” he instantly said, looking up and holding his hands up to steady them. Even if it didn’t seem like the other person was even fazed.

For a split second, his eyes met the other man’s before he ducked his head and gently tugged down the visor of his baseball cap. Bucky.  “Sorry,” he had said in return, sounding just a hint more like himself, less robotic.

It took more effort than it should have for Steve not collapse right there. It was him. The man he’d literally flown across the globe searching for and he was just… here, in DC, walking around like normal. As if he just sort of fit in there.

Steve stood there, hands gently pressed against Bucky’s shoulder as if he had actually needed to steady him right then. Maybe, though, it as if Steve moved his hand, that Bucky would just disappear again if he dared to even take his hand away.

“What are you doing here?” he asked; eyes wide and scanning over to check to see if he was visibly hurt. If he was still favoring his right side.

Bucky’s eyes flicked around the somewhat empty street, but he didn’t make any move to answer. Instead, he stayed still under Steve’s palm while seeming to be more vigilant than Steve ever could be.

Eventually, Steve sighed, dropping his hand. “Do you have a place to stay?” he asked instead. It was hard to resist the urge to cup Bucky’s cheek, and insist that the other man look at him like he used to do when they were younger.

He quirked a brow, same tick as always, and shook his head. “You’re worrying about it. You don’t need to worry about it.”

Probably, Steve thought, that meant no. But it also meant that Bucky—James wanted him to leave it alone, and that was something he just couldn’t bring himself to do. “Stay with me,” he murmured, slipping his hand down to take the brunette’s hand.

But the second James flinched, he pulled back. His hands held up to show that he wouldn’t touch, and would leave him alone.

“Please.”

James sighed, once again glancing around the street. “Just tonight,” he agreed.

Steve sagged in relief, a small smile spreading across his lips. “Yeah?” he asked, taking a rather lurching step further down, in the same direction as his apartment. “It’s not far; we’ll get there pretty quickly.”

Maybe it was wishful thinking, but he thought he saw a ghost of a smile on Bucky’s lips as well. Just a bit rueful as he seemed to automatically fall in step with Steve.

He didn’t seem too keen to talk, though, and Steve found himself rambling on to fill the silence between them, sort of like the days when Steve used to walk Bucky home and he was too busy watching their backs instead of responding.

Although, that was probably why Steve didn’t notice when all of the sudden he was gone again. Somewhere between asking how long James had been there and if he could maybe persuade him to stay a bit longer, he had vanished among the other people walking.

His first reaction was to panic, to look around to see if he could find Buck again but he was just…

God, he shouldn’t hurt this much over it. He should have expected this. It had been so easy to convince him to stay just tonight; of course he was going to disappear like that.

And apparently he wasn’t the only one who had expected it, judging by the text Natasha sent him. Insisting that he come take a look at his floor that Stark designed just for him.

The one that said the Winter Soldier was a ghost for a reason and that he’d turn up when he wanted to.


 

Tony, it seemed, didn’t understand restraint in the slightest. That said, it looked like someone else must have designed the actual layout of his floor, since it mostly comprised of soft, simple couches and no-nonsense tables. It was nice, really. Entirely too much space, but it wasn’t as ostentatious as Tony’s spaces.

“So, I’m probably going to put up a few walls here and there, maybe do something different with your lighting. Didn’t know you were an artist; I would’ve given you a studio to the start.” Tony had a tablet still clutched in his hand, probably designing the new space as he rambled on.

“Tony, you don’t have to do anything like that. It’s not like I’m moving in; I still have a place,” he repeated, trying to be patient despite having said that over a dozen times since their first battle together.

He waved dismissively before pacing out a space by one of the windows. “I hear you’re not there much, though. It’d really be easier if you just stayed here with the rest of us. Wouldn’t have to pay rent.” Tony waggled his brows, as if that was probably the best selling point.

Which, really, for Steve it was.

“I’m not leaving DC,” Steve said, shaking his head. Bucky knew where he lived there. He’d gone to DC specifically because he knew that’s where Steve was; he was sure of it.

Tony sighed, leaning against the kitchen island. “You know soulmates aren’t the be-all-end-all, right? And even if they were, you can’t make someone come back to you. You can’t stop your life just because you think you need him.”

He tensed up, hands clenching into fists by his sides. Tony never knew how to mind his own business, it seemed. He just hoped that he wasn’t observant enough to pick up on that already. “That’s none of your concern, Stark. It has nothing to do with that. And even if it was, you have no right to talk, after what you did to keep yours around.”

Brows furrowed, and his hands paused over the screen. “Sorry, what?”

Steve huffed, very nearly glaring at Tony who was still hanging about so casually as if he… Ok, he did own the place, but that wasn’t the point. “Bruce? It’s pretty common knowledge that you pretty much bribed him to stay with you. You can’t tell me to let my soulmate go when you refused to let yours even live somewhere else.”

Tony blinked a bit, setting his tablet down on the granite counter before turning his full attention to Steve. “Bruce isn’t my soulmate. I mean, sure I wasn’t subtle in my efforts to convince him to stay here with me, but when my actual soulmate wanted out, I let her go. Maybe not gracefully, but I didn’t try to make her stay here with me.”

That brought Steve a pause. He was so sure that they were together like that. It seemed so apparent in the little things like how Tony didn’t even remotely fear the possibility of the Hulk, when everyone else treated Banner with caution even now. How were they not?

Tony hummed sympathetically, crossing the room to place a hand on Steve’s shoulder. “All right, Spangles. I don’t know if this is a new concept or anything, but ‘meant to be’ isn’t always so literal. Sure, me and mine were all right as a couple, but we were always better as friends. And me and Brucie? It feels better than we ever did. So maybe you and yours were perfect and meant to be back then, but things change. Don’t go chasing down someone who doesn’t want to be found just because you two were destined for each other. Give him space and see what happens.”

Tony offered him not much more than a smile, and then he was right back where they left off. With Tony trying to convince Steve to move in, and Steve vehemently refusing to leave DC despite the brunette’s words. They didn’t really speak about who Tony’s soulmate was, though when the man lit up when JARVIS announced a ‘Miss Potts’ was calling, Steve might have a few suspicions.

Either way, Steve still probably wasn’t going to be moving in anytime soon. As tempting as it almost looked.

Chapter Text

They didn’t have a chance to get back to looking for Bucky again. Before their month off was even over, Tony had essentially created what was, in Bruce’s words, a murder-bot, and he wasn’t sure if it was better or worse than their first battle together.

In New York, there had been far more casualties, including people on their own side. It had brought them all together, sure, but at what cost? In Sokovia… Well. It didn’t matter that the final battle had resulted in one death. It was one death too many, and the aftermath had torn them all apart.

They’d gone their separate ways, for the most part. Tony was frantically searching out Bruce; Clint and Natasha had more or less vanished, most likely hiding out in that little safehouse Clint kept for her; no one really knew where Thor was.

Steve didn’t go back to DC this time. He was busy training the new Avengers team, including the Maximoff twins, and it just made more sense to stay in Stark’s tower.

Despite the fact that they butted heads a lot, he did respect Tony, and how could he be expected to just… leave him there in that monstrosity of a building all on his own? It just seemed unnecessarily cruel.

Even though he didn’t see Tony too much, unless JARVIS informed him that he hadn’t eaten in twelve hours or hadn’t slept for twenty. And those visits were usually cut short anyways.

A lot of Steve’s free time now was spent back in Brooklyn, trying to see the place he grew up in through the ways that it had changed. The shops had gotten new owners, but the buildings still stood right where they always had, and maybe it was more comforting than anything else. Things had changed drastically, in a way. But everything still seemed the same sometimes.

It was months again before he would run into Bucky, and Steve wasn’t sure why he was so surprised to see him looking at their old apartment building. The people just walking around him as if he wasn’t even there, carrying on with their lives without realizing who it was that they were giving such a wide berth to.

Steve was slow in crossing the street to him, noticing how he was still wearing the beat up hoodie and baseball cap that he had worn in the hospital, and then in DC as well. His hands were still shoved deep into his pockets and there was still a vaguely blank look in his eyes.

He wasn’t really sure what to even say to him, though. If he just spoke, would it startle him? But if he touched his shoulder like he always did to get his attention, would it provoke an attack? Steve didn’t know.

It was Bucky who broke the silence, before Steve was even in his field of vision. “Landlord always kicked up a fuss whenever our rent was late,” he said with his head still tilted up. Maybe looking right at their third floor apartment, but Steve couldn’t tell.

Steve’s shoulders slumped a bit, finally stepping forward to stand by his side. “He liked the lady next door, though. She got away with late payments more than once while we were there.”

He hummed softly, bright eyes still focused on the building. “Allison, right? Think she cried every time he came around and that’s why she got away with it so much.” There was a slight shrug of his right shoulder before he finally looked over at Steve.

It didn’t seem to matter how often he had looked at Bucky in his life; he always took Steve’s breath away. “You remember it here, Buck?” he asked, brows lifting hopefully.

“Ain’t my name anymore,” he chided. The second the words passed his lips, he frowned, lips twisting a bit as if he didn’t feel comfortable with them. “I told you to call me James. I’m not him anymore.”

Steve huffed, not even thinking before gently knocking against Bucky’s shoulder. Or maybe not so gently, considering that Bucky was actually moved in the process. “You’re still you. Doesn’t matter if you’ve changed or if you don’t remember, because you’re still James Buchanan Barnes.”

Bucky grimaced a bit, shoving back and shoving his hands deeper into the pockets of his jacket, as if the motion had somehow pulled the metal hand out. “I get the feeling you’re never gonna stop calling me that then, huh?”

He ducked his head; pretty sure he was blushing faintly. “I’ve been trying,” he offered weakly. “You’ve been Bucky all my life. It’s hard, trying to change that. ‘m sorry.”

There was a soft sigh before Bucky took a step back. “I’m not the man you lost, Steve. You can try all you want, but I’m not him anymore.”

That was wrong. Steve knew it was wrong, but how was he even supposed to argue with Bucky on this sort of thing? Especially when he didn’t really know what Bucky went through. All he had were blacked out files that Natasha had passed on to him, and what he’d managed to piece together from all the burned out HYDRA bases that he and Sam had kept finding in their search for him.

“Come home with me anyways?” he asked, still looking down at the sidewalk. It was sort of pathetic, really. Even now, after everyone had told him to stop and just let Bucky be, to give him space… Here he was, still asking more from the man. It wasn’t really fair.

“You’re never gonna give up, are you…” Steve could easily imagine Bucky rolling his eyes. “You remember what happened last time you tried to take me home, right? You really want to risk that happening again? I know you cried that night.”

He may have winced a bit at the reminder. He’d stopped crying, for the most part, over Bucky sometime while they was still chasing him down through Europe. “It’d be worth it. If there was the chance you’d actually come back with me? It'd be worth it.”

There was a moment of silence between them before a warm hand wrapped around his wrist, barely touching the skin beneath his sleeve. “All right, Steve. I’ll come with you.”

For a second, Steve wasn’t sure he’d heard right, since he was a little busy staring at Bucky’s hand on him. And then when it registered, he swallowed thickly around the knot that suddenly was in his throat. Now wasn’t the time to get emotional over it. That being said, he smiled sweetly at Bucky, eyes crinkling a bit at the corners. “Thank you.”


 

It was too much like old times, Steve thought. They were still quiet while they walked, but this time Bucky actually kept a hand on him the entire time. Maybe it was just because he’d left Steve last time, and he could sense that Steve was keeping a closer eye on him this time.

Bucky didn’t seem to question when Steve led him to Manhattan, and then to the ostentatious tower that Tony had built and then rebuilt. He just stayed close by Steve’s side, and kept his hand around Steve’s wrist.

Once they were inside, he asked JARVIS not to let Tony know that he’d had company, and if it was possible to keep everyone off of his floor unless Steve explicitly gave permission.

The AI agreed, though he sounded mildly disapproving, if that was even possible.

Tony had actually built the little art studio that he’d been talking about before Steve moved in. The floor was still mostly open, mostly bare, but there was another room just off the main space. Part of Steve wanted to show it to Bucky, but at the same time he didn’t actually know if Bucky would remember that part of their past.

“You want something for dinner?” Steve asked, toeing off his shoes by the elevator. “I don’t know if I have much in the kitchen, but we can get something delivered if you want.”

Bucky stood still, glancing over the space with his eyes narrowing at the numerous windows lining the wall. Hell, the exterior walls so to speak were basically just one large window with small breaks and a few interior walls to break it up. It was a tactician’s nightmare before one realized they were 237 stories up and that the windows were pretty much invulnerable to everything short of the Hulk.

Steve reached out, gently cupping Bucky’s elbow. “Buck?” he prompted, ducking down to get in the other’s field of vision. He was a lot more focused than he had been the first two times they’d met again recently. Though, maybe that wasn’t such a good thing right now.

“Is it safe up here?” he asked instead. Bucky brushed him off easily, not bothering to remove his boots or either of his coats before crossing the room and tapping on one of the windows.

The sound of metal on glace made him flinch, the noise setting his teeth on edge. “Yeah, it’s safe. Tony’s very adamant about that after what happened to his last home. You don’t have to worry about anyone getting in here.”

Bucky glanced back, brows furrowed slightly though he didn’t ask any further.  He just returned to the elevator and knelt down to unlace his heavy boots.

“I can take your coat if you want. Then maybe we can get some food delivered?”

He shook his head, though he did shrug off at least his coat before shoving his metal hand back into the pocket of his hoodie. “Just want some sleep,” he admitted after a while.

Steve relaxed, smiling softly. “I have a guest room if you want. I’d just have to set it up, unless you want to sleep in mine? I can set up the spare for myself if you just want to go now.”

Bucky hesitated, licking his lips and looking around the space again. “I can stay in the spare. If you don’t mind.”

He nodded, assuring the brunette that he didn’t mind at all, and that all Bucky had to do was ask and he’d do what he could before hurrying to the spare room.

Why Tony had put it there, Steve wasn’t sure. It had popped up around the same time as the art studio, though and Steve figured that it was generally best not to ask why the man did the things he did.

It was still light outside, still early, and as soon as Steve had gotten Buck settled in the room, once again reassuring the man that it was safe up here and that no one was going to come in, he’d curled himself up on the couch and started doing something he hadn’t in a long time.

He started drawing Bucky.

It was more difficult than it used to be. For the most part everything was still the same, but the little things that had changed so drastically?

It wasn’t just the arm, though. It was the little furrow that seemed permanently set between his brows, or the small frown that Steve was still getting used to. It was the stubble and the hair that waved down to his shoulders.

Steve had been trying to shade the new gauntness of his cheeks when he felt eyes on the back of his neck. He glanced over and almost immediately dropped his pencil.

Bucky had taken off his hoodie, and the shirts he’d worn beneath it. His jeans were unfasted but thankfully still around his hips, and Steve was trying his damndest not to stare or to think about anything inappropriate. And he really tried not to stare at the place where the metal of his shoulder met his skin, and the gnarled scar roping around it.

Steve cleared his throat, closing the sketchbook and setting it aside. “Need something, Buck?”

There was an aborted fidget in his hands right before Bucky just clenched them into mismatched fists. “We used to sleep in the same bed.”

Was that an invitation? Steve wasn’t sure if he was just stating a fact or… “Do you want me to come lay down with you?” he asked, not wanting to just assume anything. Bucky had been through enough.

There was a slight nod in answer, and maybe Steve was being selfish but he wasn’t going to ask twice just to be sure.

He nodded slightly, easing himself up from the couch. “Want to stay in the guest room, or mine?” he asked while hesitantly edging around the couch. “I’m all right with either.”

Bucky stood still, though his shoulders relaxed a bit. “Yours is fine.”

It was definitely awkward to show Bucky to his bedroom. There wasn’t anything salacious between them, and it wasn’t like they were going to do anything but sleep, but there was still…

He’d never had to show Bucky where anything was in his house before. He’d always known exactly where everything was, and he’d never had to tell him that his bedroom was on the left, or the right in this case.

After they’d settled themselves, still mostly clothed, in Steve’s bed, he assumed they would just stick to their own sides and that would be that. And for a while, that was how it was.

But then Bucky had gotten antsy, tangling himself up in the sheets and huffing every time he moved again until finally he just dragged Steve’s arm over his waist before settling again.

“Just stay like that, punk,” Bucky muttered, still wrapped up in the covers as well as Steve. His back was nearly pressed against Steve’s chest and his right hand was a solid weight over his arm.

Apparently that was enough. Whatever Bucky had been looking for, that was enough to satisfy it and Steve was really too shocked to even try and stop him.

Tears welled up in his eyes, and Steve didn’t know why he felt so empty all of the sudden. This was what he had been searching for. He’d threatened to tear the world apart looking for this, and now that it was here…? It just felt too easy. It was right there, and Steve didn’t even know what to do with it.

He could feel Bucky’s breathing level out and his body go completely pliant. It felt like hours passed, with Bucky tucked neatly in his arms just like in the war. But it was safer now. It was warmer, and more comfortable, and Steve didn’t trust it.


 

Waking up, Steve instantly noticed two things. First, that his bed was empty, and the sheets were cool where Bucky had been tangled up in them. Second, someone was making coffee. The sunlight peeking through the blinds indicated that he’d slept a lot later than normal, and part of him assumed that for once Bucky was up first.

He dragged one of the blankets from the bed with him, trailing across the floor behind him as he went to the kitchen space, so sure that it was going to be a mildly disgruntled Bucky that was puttering around.

Instead, it was Tony half collapsed on the island with an entire pot of coffee in front of him. Bucky was nowhere in sight.

“Thought JARVIS was supposed to ask me before letting someone in,” Steve said, playing at blasé when he was pretty sure his heart was somewhere in his stomach once again. Had he left? Without a word again?

Tony stirred a bit, propping his chin on his crossed arms as he looked morosely at his coffee. “I’ve got overrides. No one else is here, so I figured you wouldn’t mind much.”

God, he looked exhausted. Red eyes, swollen with blotchy cheeks and bags deep enough that they looked etched there.

Steve sighed, putting his own heartbreak on the backburner as he grabbed mugs for both of them and setting them down with a matched set of clinks against the granite counter. “What happened?”

Tony filled both of their mugs and more or less stole the blanket away from Steve and wrapped himself in it, barely leaving the corners of it for the blond. “Bruce got a potential match.”

His brows pulled together, just watching Tony and waiting for him to elaborate further. “A match?” he prompted when it became clear that was all Tony was going to say on the subject.

He shook his head before draining his entire cup in one go before refilling it. Sort of like how Howard used to drink bourbon, Steve thought absently. “I forgot he was on a few of those scar-matching sites. I never bothered, but Bruce always wanted to know if he actually had someone out there for him. But since we got together he gave me his passwords to them, and…” Tony managed to curl up on the stool, hiding his face in his arms again and falling silent.

Steve watched him, hands curled up around his mug and just unsure of what he could even say to that. He wasn’t sure if he was allowed to touch Tony, and it wasn’t like he was ever good at offering words of encouragement when they weren’t on a mission. That had always been Bucky’s strong suit. “He’ll come back, Tony. Just give him time, all right?” Almost awkwardly, he reached out to comb a hand through Tony’s hair, grimacing at the texture. He was pretty sure the man hadn’t showered in days. “Go clean yourself up, ok? We’ll go do something to get your mind off it.”

Maybe Tony had nodded. It was really hard to tell when the genius was so hunched in on himself, but he slowly uncurled, finished his second cup and proceeded to grab the half full pot. “I’ll bring this back with me,” he muttered before stumbling to the elevator, still wrapped up in Steve’s blanket.

Steve had no idea if that was an agreement or not. He’d give it about an hour before going down to check on him.

In the mean time, he cleaned up best he could. There wasn’t any mess left over from Bucky last night other than the messy sheets. The bits of dirt from his boots were cleaned up, and his sketchbook and pencil had been neatly set on the coffee table.

For a moment, Steve considered just going back to bed himself, wrapping up in the sheets to see if they at least still smelled like Bucky and staying there for the foreseeable future. But it was sort of like when he was still with the Howlies, and he had to look after them after Bucky fell. He could just numb it out and keep pushing forward to help someone else.

Steve ended up at the dresser, opening the drawers to grab whatever was easy and comfortable.

He saw it in with his shirts. A scrap of paper in the place where one of his favorites had been neatly stored away.

It was just like that asshole, Steve thought. It pushed hollowly at his chest, and when he unfolded the paper he momentarily ignored the little clink of something falling out.

It was just like Bucky to meticulously clean up any trace of his presence but then steal something of his. Back when they lived together, Steve would find gloves and scarves missing from his side of the room and they would turn up in Bucky’s pockets or something. Sketches would go missing and he’d find them in Bucky’s wallet, but the apartment had always looked immaculate.

Steve absently wondered why that weird little habit stuck even if Bucky barely remembered anything about them.

The only thing on the paper was a phone number, but it was more than he’d even hoped for at this point. It was his, it had to be; there was no other reason for him to be leaving it. He looked back in the drawer and—

That was his mother’s ring.

The gold was tarnished, and the little gem was dull, but Steve would know that ring anywhere. The one that he’d given Bucky; that he’d fallen with. The same one that Steve made him promise to come back with. And here it was, in his room and wrapped up in a scrap of paper with a phone number on it.

With shaky hands, Steve plugged it into his contacts list, double and triple checking it to make sure it was right before finally sending a message.

Steve: You used to insist I made pancakes in the morning.

Hours later, after he finally got Tony out of the tower for the first time in weeks, he got a text back. At some point between arguing with the man that no, he didn’t need a fancily tailored suit, and then arguing that yes, he did need to go to this cheap chain coffee shop his phone went off.

Bucky: You always used to burn them, though.

Bucky: Hope you don’t mind me borrowing your shirt.

Tony asked why he was grinning so widely at his phone, and all Steve could do was shake his head and blink back the tears that were threatening to rise again.

“Just some guy who took my clothes,” he said.

Chapter Text

They kept texting periodically. There would be weeks where Steve didn’t hear back from Bucky, but more often than not he would get a response within the day. People slowly came back to the tower, though still no one really could keep track of Thor’s comings and goings.

Natasha and Clint were the first to come back, even though Clint now openly complained about missing his other soulmate before he and Natasha would leave for a few days, presumably back to Laura. They lived on their own floor in the tower most of the time, and even when they were staying with their third partner, they made sure to come back in time for Tuesday movie nights.

It would be almost two months after they all officially settled in that Bruce came back with a worn out canvas duffle over his shoulder, looking like he hadn’t slept in days and acting a little more skittish than usual up until Tony pretty much dragged him into the lab, where they weren’t heard from again for a day and a half.

Bucky didn’t come back again, as far as Steve was aware. Four months ticked by with just the two of them texting back and forth with the occasional brief phone call. A lot of it was mundane; Steve never really asked where he was, and Bucky didn’t ask about his Avengers missions. He’d tried asking, of course. But those were usually the texts that got deflected or just went unanswered.

Occasionally, Steve would ask him to come back and stay with him. Bucky eventually stopped saying no and just evading the question with bad jokes.

They’d talk about how Steve got in a fight with Fox News again, and if Clint’s movie choices were getting any better, and sometimes he’d get pictures of Bucky wearing really tacky Captain America merchandise.

Natasha somehow got those more, and while Steve wasn’t entirely sure how she got his number, they seemed to talk more often than sometimes even he and Bucky talked.

Maybe that’s why she didn’t seem even remotely surprised when JARVIS announced in the middle of Birdemic that they had company. Everyone else had glanced at each other with pinched brows and soft questions of who it could be to their neighbors. Nat, on the other hand, just watched the movie and shushed Clint, telling him not to ask stupid questions.

The elevator opened, and almost everyone’s eyes went there, looking to see who JARVIS just let into the tower without consulting Tony first.

Bucky didn’t step out of the elevator, staying pressed up against the wall with a bag strapped to his back and eyes scanning the room, shoulders up near his ears until his gaze fell on Steve.

His heart was in his throat, peering over the top of the couch to see Bucky there, looking better than he had since… since the war, maybe. Steve cleared his throat, sitting up straighter and turning so it was easier to look at him. “About time you came back, jerk.”

Bucky’s shoulders dropped, and a wry grin curled his lips just like back in Brooklyn the first time around. “Can only say no to you so many times, punk.”

Steve laughed, steadfastly ignoring how watery it sounded. He also pretended not to see Natasha gently guiding everyone’s attention back to the movie, even if they were all listening anyways. “That mean you’re gonna be staying here for a while?” he asked, hoping that the backpack held most of Bucky’s things.

The second Bucky nodded, Steve was out of his seat, muttering an apology to the rest of the team before joining the man in the elevator.

And really, he was pretending he didn’t hear Tony say that their floor was soundproofed and that they should use protection. But he would treasure the sound of Bruce smacking him upside the head.

The ride up to Steve’s floor was quiet, almost as awkward as their previous trip even though Bucky looked completely at ease beside him. Steve was trying not to nervously wring his hands the entire ride up.

“I can feel you worrying,” Bucky murmured, gently nudging his shoulder. “C’mon, Steve… Just relax, all right? I’m not running off on you this time.”

Steve took a shaky breath, reaching out to wrap his hand around Bucky’s wrist, not realizing until it was too late that it was his left. Bucky winced a bit, but didn’t pull away.

Steve dropped his hand anyways, eyes locking on the floor. All that time away from Bucky, and somehow now he didn’t know how to behave with him anymore. It was a hard realization for Steve to accept, especially when Bucky was here acting more or less like he used to.

“Sorry, Buck,” he said, just as JARVIS announced they were at his floor.

“Just relax,” Bucky repeated, still standing in the elevator after the doors opened. Presumably waiting for Steve to move.

It took several seconds before Steve nearly stumbled out of the elevator and Bucky followed more gracefully than he used to, and didn’t proceed any further than Steve did. “I can stay in the guest room. Won’t bother you too much, all right?”

And he tried not to see the way that those grey eyes still nervously flickered around the still sparsely decorated space. Maybe he wasn’t as back to normal as he first appeared.

“If you want to. But you can also stay in bed with me if you want; I know you had trouble sleeping alone last time.” Steve blushed faintly at the over-share, not sure if that was something he was supposed to be saying or not.  If it was like the metal arm and they were decidedly not talking about it.

Bucky huffed a laugh, nudging his shoes off—different form the ones he’d worn last time, Steve noticed—but keeping his coats and bag. “Just like old times, huh? Gotta warn you, I’m not really a sound sleeper anymore.”

“You weren’t a sound sleeper to begin with.” Steve hesitated before offering Bucky a hand. “Come with?”

There was marked hesitation in Bucky’s eyes, and Steve almost stopped right then. Almost pulled back, apologized, and said that he could definitely have his own room. But then the brunette slid his right hand right into Steve’s and it fit just as well as it always had.

“Lead the way, Captain,” he said softly, a small smile on his lips that almost stopped Steve’s heart.

Just like last time, Bucky settled right into Steve’s bed, though at least this time he was fully clothed and looked markedly more… Steve didn’t want to say human, but there wasn’t really another word to encompass how much more alive Bucky seemed now than he had four months ago.

“We can get you your own dresser tomorrow if you want. Or I could just clear out half of mine and we could share?” Steve wasn’t really sure what to do with himself here. If it’d be all right if he sat on the bed as well, or if he should be doing something else.

Bucky fiddled with the straps on his bag before setting it on the floor next to his feet. “We can just share. No sense in getting a second if we don’t have to.” He scrutinized Steve for a moment before sighing softly and holding out his hand. “C’mere. Don’t look so sad over there, all right? We’ll work this out.”

Steve startled a bit, brows pulling together. Only then noticing how tight his throat felt, or that he was struggling to breathe evenly. His steps were shaky before he pretty much fell to his knees in front of Bucky, holding his hand like it was a lifeline.

Maybe it was a lifeline.

Bucky tutted softly, squeezing his hand and letting Steve more or less curl up on his thighs. “You didn’t used to get this high strung. Always used to be me that needed to be settled.”

Steve tried to laugh, temple pressed against Bucky’s leg. “I always worried about you. You were the one that kept me grounded, and having you back is just…” He squeezed Bucky’s hand tightly. “It’s just surreal, Buck.”

There was a brief moment of panic when Bucky pulled his hand away, and Steve lifted his head to protest until his palm rested on the back of his neck. Just like what Steve always did to get Bucky to ease a bit.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Bucky promised, stroking through the hair at the nape of Steve’s neck.

His eyes drifted shut, melting against him. No wonder Bucky always reacted the way he did… “Thanks, sweetheart,” he whispered, barely aware of the pet name passing his lips until it was too late. He immediately tensed up, peeking back up at Bucky.

Bucky’s brows were lifted, eyes almost vacant as they looked at the space just above Steve’s head.

“’m sorry,” Steve said, moving to withdraw before Bucky’s hand tightened on his neck.

“It’s ok, Steve. Just gotta get used to that again; don’t you worry. Just let me do that for a while.” As he spoke, he continued to almost idly stroke through Steve’s hair like he was just waiting for Steve to oblige.

And really, there was only so long he could hold out. It wasn’t long until Steve was more or less putty in Bucky’s hands, just content to stay with his head on Bucky’s lap.

Eventually, Bucky reminded him that he was tired, and Steve was quickly on his feet, wobbling a little bit when his knees protested. He blushed faintly, stumbling through asking if Bucky had any clothes to sleep in or if he wanted to borrow something of Steve’s.

Bucky closed in on himself a bit then. “Don’t really got much by the way of clothes,” he muttered, eyes on the covers.

Right. Steve’s gut twisted a bit, remembering that, just like a lot of his questions, the ones about Bucky having a place to stay, and food to eat were often avoided. Why would he have nice things to wear when he probably hadn’t even been in a bed since leaving Steve’s? “You can borrow something of mine, and we can get you your own tomorrow.”

He looked up, shoulders hitching a bit. “You don’t gotta…”

“I want to,” Steve insisted, pulling out a second pair of sweatpants for Bucky and one of his softer shirts. “Let me look after you, all right? You always used to do that for me, so let me… Let me do this for you.” He set the bundle of clothes on Bucky’s lap, resisting the urge to push his hair back.

There was a moment of hesitation before Bucky slowly shrugged out of his own clothes. His jackets were haphazardly piled behind him, but his shirts were neatly folded and set aside.

Once again, Steve was struck by the seam of scarring that separated Bucky’s soft flesh from the unforgiving metal arm. He couldn’t deny it was beautifully crafted, formed the same as his other arm but the dichotomy of it all unsettled him, and the knowledge of how he had obtained it still made him furious.

He was still beautiful. Maybe Steve was biased, but there was so little in his mind that could change that simple fact about Bucky.

Bucky’s skin turned pink before quickly pulling Steve’s shirt over his head. It hung a little loose off his frame, and Steve wondered just how little he had taken care of himself. If he had lost so much weight or if Steve was worrying too much and the shirt was simply too big on him.

Grey eyes lifted, focusing on Steve in a way that unnerved him and made him blush darkly at the same time. “You gonna get in bed or are you just gonna watch me all night?”

Steve huffed; damn sure he was bright red at this point. “Used to like it when I watched,” he retorted. Though, he still walked to the other side of the bed, trying not to watch as Bucky shuffled out of his jeans and folded them up just as nicely before setting all of his clothes on the floor and tugging on the loose sweatpants.

And he definitely didn’t see the curve of Bucky’s ass as he did that.

“Yeah, well I ain’t giving you a show tonight, so you may as well just come here.”

Steve slid under the covers, waiting until Bucky did the same and basically arranged him just as he had the last time. Bucky curled up on his side with Steve’s arm draped over his waist.

As time ticked by, Bucky slowly nestled back against Steve’s chest, eventually nudging one of Steve’s thighs between his own before he finally fell asleep.

He smiled softly through the whole thing, just letting Bucky do what he wanted until he was comfortable even if it was different from how he was used to. There had been a time where they rarely slept in anything but a pile of blankets, and they never left or entered their apartment without a kiss.

But times had changed drastically for them. They had changed drastically. So Steve could get used to a different kind of normal, so long as Bucky was there with him.

That didn’t stop him from pressing a soft kiss against the back of Bucky’s neck before sleep found him as well.

Chapter Text

It had been two months since Bucky had come back. Two months falling asleep with Bucky in his arms, but waking up to find them empty. It wasn’t always nightmares, or the brunette losing himself for a few moments, granted that certainly happened quite a bit. Sometimes he’d wake up to a little note on Bucky’s pillow, telling him that Natasha had taken him out shopping, or to get coffee.

Some mornings, the man would just be in the kitchen making breakfast. Very rarely, Steve would find him curled up on the couch. And Steve was pretty sure he’d yet to see Bucky even attempt to sleep in the guest room.

But on the other hand, it was two months in before Steve got to wake up with the other man still in their bed, wrapped up in each other and the inordinate number of blankets that Bucky kept around for some reason. The light was still soft, and everything still felt warm and muzzy as Steve nuzzled the back of Bucky’s neck, only faintly aware of his thigh slotted between the other’s legs.

This was what he’d been waiting for, through the horrors, and the seemingly endless patience he’d had to learn. It was all so he could wake up with Bucky in his arms while the sun was actually peering over the horizon.

“Sweetheart,” he murmured, lips brushing against the top of Bucky’s spine.

The answering groan brought a grin to his lips, and it wasn’t long before the brunette was rolling over so he could mock-glare at Steve with half closed eyes. “T’s still early,” he complained with a small pout. “Now what are you waking me up for?”

Steve was more or less content to hide himself in the crook of Bucky’s neck, feeling the roughness of stubble along the man’s jaw scrape across his cheek. “Ain’t my fault you’re a light sleeper these days. Used to be able to get halfway through a suckjob before you’d wake up.”

Bucky shifted back, eyes narrowed as he no doubt tried to decide if that was actually true or if Steve was just teasing. Which he certainly had done before, but not this time. “I don’t believe you for a second, Stevie. No way anyone could sleep through that. ‘Specially not me.”

“And yet, it’s true.” Steve grinned, pulling Bucky back against his chest and kissing the top of his head before releasing his loose hold on his sweetheart. “Go back to sleep, Buck. I’m gonna get some coffee in a sec.”

Before Steve could even start climbing out of bed, though, Bucky was pulling him right back; his recently remodeled arm locked tight around the blonde’s waist. “You’re warm,” he complained. “Can’t leave when you’re acting like a better heater than we ever had in Brooklyn.”

He huffed a laugh, smoothing a palm up Bucky’s side before maneuvering out of his hold. “How about this. I go get us coffee, you stay in bed, maybe let me draw you, and then I’ll keep you warm as long as you like. Sound like a plan?”

It was hard to miss the way Bucky’s eyes darkened at the mention of drawing. Maybe he remembered that little part of ‘before’, because Steve hadn’t so much as picked up a pencil since Bucky’d come back to live with him.

“You gonna draw me again?” he asked softly, grasping the pillow Steve had been using and pulling it to his chest. And it was fucking sad how hopeful he looked at the mere thought of it.

It wasn’t like Steve had really made it a secret that he still thought Bucky was beautiful. He’d made a point, especially early on, to remind Bucky how gorgeous Steve knew he was. Maybe Steve hadn’t done a good enough job of it. He leaned down, brushing a soft kiss to Bucky’s temple. “Course I will. You miss it?”

Bucky nodded slowly, staying curled up on the bed but with a soft smile curling his lips. Looking a lot more sweet and innocent than he honestly was. “You used to be so bossy about it. Dunno why I’m signing up for it all over again, but… yeah. I miss that.”

Well, that was something Steve could definitely fix. He grasped Bucky’s shoulder, squeezing gently before leaving to actually make them coffee and get his sketchbook and charcoal. And while it certainly didn’t feel like he was gone for very long, it was a very different sight that greeted him once he returned to their room.

While Steve didn’t drop their mugs, it was a near thing, because it had been a long time since Bucky had been naked before him, outside of the brief glimpses when he changed.

And yet, there he was: bare, save the sheet that was draped around his waist. Sitting up in bed with a knee bent up, and the prettiest but most ridiculous bed-head Steve had seen in a long time.

His heart clenched, and Steve couldn’t help but set the coffee and such down just so he could lean over the bed to kiss Bucky’s forehead. And then his temple, cheek, the corner of his mouth… “I love you,” he murmured, maybe a little more reverently than necessary.

A hint of a blush rose to his cheeks, just as pretty as ever, before Bucky gently shoved him back with a shy grin. “Love you too, you sap. But you’d better hand me my coffee before you even think about trying to pose me.”

Steve huffed, sitting down in front of Bucky before reaching over to hand him the still-steaming mug with more sugar than he thinks Bucky used to take. But that might’ve been because of how expensive it was, even before the war. He watched as Bucky sipped at it, nose wrinkling even as he continued to drink it.

Whether or not that meant that Steve had made it wrong, again, Steve couldn’t tell. He’d always made that face when drinking coffee, and he never said anything about why. Never claimed that the coffee was bad, or offered suggestions on what to do next time to make it better.

While he waited, Steve pulled a chair closer to the bed and double checked that he had his charcoal ready. Made sure to get himself set up while he tried to figure out how he wanted to set Bucky up. How he wanted to capture his lover this time. What angles he wanted to see, and how he wanted this to end.

Bucky took his time, settled comfortably among the sheets with his coffee and his hair still tangled up in knots. And he seemed more than content to wait it out, until Steve had long since flipped to a fresh page and planned out the posing. Steve’s own coffee had gone half cold by the time Bucky set his on the nightstand and turned his expectant gaze to him, brows raised just a touch.

Now that the moment had actually arrived, Steve thought maybe he wasn’t ready. It had been two long months. But they’d done little more than share kisses in that time, and Steve was pretty sure that Bucky hadn’t been quite ready for it either, maybe. But maybe he was wrong.

It was with a shaky breath that Steve stood up, wavering unsteadily before he knelt on the bed. “You remember?” he murmured, fingers closing around Bucky’s wrist. He needed to be sure; if this was something that hadn’t come back…

He clicked his tongue, turning his hand over. “Go ahead and move me, Stevie. I’ll let you know if it ain’t working for me.”

That was going to have to be enough, Steve supposed. With a slow breath, he steadied his palm over Bucky’s shoulder, gently pressing down and marveling at how easily he slid right down to the mattress.

Even after all this time.

It was strange, really. There were times like this where it seemed like everything was exactly the same between them. Moments when it felt like they were still in their Brooklyn apartment, worrying over anyone from the outside world seeing them for what they were. It was hard to remember that it was only a matter of time before one of them broke the illusion.

Maybe he was a little slower this time, gently nudging Bucky’s limbs where he wanted them to go, tugging on the sheet until he liked how it fell. The only indication of time passing was the slightest changes of the light bleeding through their curtains. Before the serum, Steve wasn’t entirely sure he would have even noticed it.

Bucky was pliant under Steve’s hands and staying exactly where he was placed even as time slipped by them. When he finally took a step back, Steve couldn’t be happier. He nodded once, never taking his eyes off Bucky while he stepped back and settled into the chair he’d taken from the kitchenette. Just like old times, he supposed.

“Stay just like that,” he instructed idly, finally turning his eyes to his sketchbook.

The rough shapes came together quickly, wide sweeping arcs and dips that set the impression of the man in front of him. It wasn’t long before Steve got lost in it completely, without Bucky even trying to fidget on the bed.

The only things that shifted was the fabric of the sheet as it slowly had to accommodate for Bucky’s growing hardness, and the light filtering in.

Maybe hours passed before Steve sighed, closing his eyes to give himself a break. Despite the serum, sitting hunched up in the chair was starting to bother his back, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been that still.

Bucky, on the other hand, seemed to feel no similar discomfort. He was still sprawled across the bed, twisted just enough to give a better impression of those sharp hips and powerful thighs beneath the fabric. It couldn’t have felt good, Steve thought. He’d intended to leave this at a half hour, or whenever Bucky asked him to stop.

Unless he thought he couldn’t ask that.

Steve set his work aside, mentally cursing himself for not even thinking of that possibility before crossing the room to press Bucky’s hips back to the bed, smearing charcoal across the white sheets.

“You did so good for me,” Steve murmured, brushing a kiss across Bucky’s temple. “You’re so gorgeous.”

Bucky hummed contentedly, letting himself go boneless against the mattress as he smiled up at Steve. “Still trying to sweet talk me, huh?” As he spoke, his human hand curled around Steve’s wrist, tugging just the slightest bit.

Steve’s heart lodged almost painfully in his throat before he maneuvered the two of them until he had Bucky’s back pressed against his chest. Kisses no less chaste than their earlier ones were scattered across the brunette’s neck, even as Steve had to sweep his hair forward so he could continue. “I love you,” Steve reminded him, palm firm over his sweetheart’s chest, feeling his pulse hammering away.

His breath was unsteady, head tipping as his hips arched back. Rubbing up against Steve’s cock that he hadn’t even noticed hardening until the sudden pressure on it.

Steve couldn’t help but curse under his breath, curling a hand around Bucky’s hip. “Is that what you’ve been planning on?” he asked, tracing his fingertips to the insides of those strong thighs, completely ignoring where his cock was straining. “Sit so good for me so I’ll make you feel good?”

There was an answering hum as Bucky opened his legs, neatly bracketing Steve’s with his own as his hips rose. “Like you couldn’t tell how bad I want you? ‘T’s been over half a century, Stevie… Think I earned a little more than a couple praises.” His cocky tone was belied by the slightest hint of unease in those grey eyes.

“You’ve earned whatever it is you want,” Steve promised, being careful and sliding his palm back to somewhere the slightest bit safer. If that unease was because of something Steve had done…

That got him a dirty look, Bucky making sure to keep his eyes on Steve as he dragged the blond’s hand to curl around his dick. “I never treated you like glass, Stevie. Don’t do that to me; I remembered how this game worked over a year ago.”

And maybe that was the problem, at the end of it. There was so much time that they had spent apart and Steve wasn’t sure where they were drawing new lines for themselves. But Bucky was right, and he was just going to have to trust him to put a stop to anything that was too much. “Tell me what you want,” he prompted, fingertips finding home against the smooth skin behind his balls.

Bucky shuddered in his arms, reaching back to grasp the sheets by his head. “Fuck me,” he whispered. “Doll, been waiting so long, please, just…”

And that was a request Steve could never deny him. He ducked down to kiss the hollow between Bucky’s throat and shoulder before gently pushing him upright. “I’ll take care of you.”

He had to take his hands off of him, rolling Bucky off so he could reach the lube he’d kept stored in his bedside table since the brunette’s first return. It had been a joke gift from Tony, and had gone unused since then. There was some sort of magnitude to opening it for the first time, the lid clicking audibly.

It had a different consistency from the Vaseline he was used to, but maybe that was a good thing. So long as it wasn’t worse, Steve wouldn’t complain. The liquid poured out easily, smelling faintly of cherries.

Bucky quirked a brow, but made a show of flopping back against the mattress and opening his legs wide. Leaving more than enough room for Steve between them.

It was more than a silent request, Steve thought as he settled himself where Bucky wanted. It was as close to a demand as Bucky ever really gave while they were in bed. He pulled the brunette’s hips into his lap, dry hand holding his back steady. “I love you,” he reminded.

That earned him an impatient tut that Steve made sure to quickly cut off as he pressed slick fingers against Bucky’s hole. Not pushing in yet, just testing, circling. Watching the tension bleed out as much as it could when Bucky was being held up like this.

“I love you,” Bucky repeated, already turning away. Hiding his face in the rumpled sheets. He whimpered as soon as Steve dared breach his entrance, probing softly.

And Steve would never get over how Bucky felt around him. Burning hot, torn between clamping up and letting him in. Impossibly tight, and Steve could feel his cock jerk just from the thought of being inside fully.

Maybe later Bucky would accuse him of treating him like glass, but Steve wanted to take his time again. In a way, it was like their first time all over again, even though Bucky would definitely claim their ‘second first’ was really in that Allied camp back in ’43.

Either way, Steve was intent on learning Bucky all over again. He needed to know how this new body reacted, if he still would muffle the slightest hint of noise, how sensitive his skin was, and, most importantly, what would be the thing that got him to scream.

Three fingers in and Steve was fixated, half of his focus devoted solely to how Bucky’s rim clung to his fingers and the rest on the hoarse, half formed sentences fell from his plush lips. Sometimes they were in English. Most of the time it was some foreign tongue that he had picked up in the seventy years they had been apart.

“Wish you could see yourself,” Steve whispered, pressing his fingers against Bucky’s prostate and watching him jolt with a wounded little sound. “You’re so pretty, Buck. Prettier than any picture I could paint.”

Bucky managed to pick his head up enough to glare at Steve, despite the fact that his eyes were glazed over and he collapsed back down within seconds. “Baby-doll, please…”

And really, Steve couldn’t help but to give in to that demand as well. He bent down, kissing the quivering muscle of Bucky’s thigh as he finally drew his hand out. “I’ll take care of you,” Steve promised, reaching for the lube once again.

As he was pouring more of the cherry-scented liquid onto his palm, Steve was struck with a thought. Something different than what they did, even if it was hardly unconventional by any stretch of the word.

“Let me fuck you like this,” he murmured, pressing Bucky’s legs open wider even. Later, he’d marvel over his flexibility considering how easy it was.

In the entire time they had been together, Steve couldn’t actually remember a time when Bucky hadn’t ridden him. At first, because of Steve’s weakness, and later because that was just how they did things. But now… Maybe this time they could really try something different. Beyond the new arm, the long hair that was spread across the bed and the fact that they could both fit the bed to begin with.

Bucky vaguely nodded, hips canting as the sheets were fisted once again in Bucky’s mismatched hands.

While Steve would honestly prefer Bucky to answer with his voice, he remembered that sometimes he was just beyond words when they had sex. Some things didn’t change, he supposed, despite everything that had.

He hissed as he slicked himself up, belatedly realizing he hadn’t taken the time to warm it up, but more so because he had been ignoring his own need ever since he picked up the stick of charcoal. It was all placed out of his mind so he could focus on Bucky. He stroked over his own length a few times, exhaling shakily before he could convince himself to stop.

The first press in was a little unbearable, Bucky still tight despite how long he insisted on prepping him. Steve choked on his own breath, dropping his head to his lover’s shoulder though he couldn’t stop from pushing on, only stopping once his hips were flush against Bucky’s ass. His hands never let up on the tight grasp on the man’s hips.

“Feel like a dream,” he swore, trembling as he tried to adjust and thankful that at least Bucky was in the same situation.

It felt like minutes dragged by before his right hand looped over Steve’s neck and he rocked back against Steve. “Need you. C’mon, Stevie, I need…”

That whispered plea, so familiar but still strange after all this time, was all it took for Steve to comply, fucking into his willing body.

It was different this time. Bucky didn’t bite back his moans, even as they jumbled into praises that more often than not got cut off on a particularly good thrust. The fingers clutching at Steve’s back were almost as tight as his hole.

But their faces still burned pink, and every hint of praise was returned tenfold by Steve. Because he needed Bucky to understand. Even if seventy years had passed, and there were four scars between them, and god only knew that they were far from the kids they’d been in Brooklyn, playing house and fighting to get by, Steve still loved him. Still needed him more than air, and there was absolutely nothing in the world that was ever going to change that.

Tears streaked paths down Bucky’s face as he gasped for breath, and Steve quickly kissed them away as soon as he could, ignoring the way the sight of them only made the heat in his gut curl tighter. Bucky had been reduced to repeating a simple mantra that he could manage to get through even as his voice spiraled higher.

“I need you.”

And god if Steve didn’t return the sentiment, raining kisses down anywhere he could reach, hitching Bucky’s legs over his shoulders as he shoved himself deeper into Bucky and earned a sharp sob as the man clung to him like a lifeline even as he was bent in half. He looked perfect, and Steve made a point to tell him. He was so gorgeous, so good, and Steve loved him with all he had.

It was a miracle Steve managed to hold off his own orgasm this long, but he’d been balancing on the edge almost since the tight heat closed around the length of his cock. And while Bucky seemed more strung out than ever, it was clear that it would take a lot longer before he was actually going to spill. And while that would be something to test out later…

“Let go for me,” Steve ordered, hand wrapping around Bucky as he jerked him off in tandem to the snap of his hips. “C’mon, sweetheart, let me see…”

It was mere seconds before Bucky did as asked, tensing up as he came all over himself and Steve’s hand with a cry that only resembled Steve’s name before going completely limp against the sheets.

Steve didn’t hold back after that, brutally chasing his own pleasure in spite of the way it shocked soft whimpers out of his lover until he finally spilled into him.

He was careful when he collapsed, shaking with the intensity even as he gathered a teary-eyed Bucky against his chest. And while Steve could say he was steadier within minutes, Bucky was taking longer to recover.

He always had, really. So until then, Steve contented himself with smoothing circles against Bucky’s back, continuing to whisper praises even while he shook in his arms.

Time slipped by, and Steve got the sense that it was somehow early afternoon before Bucky finally calmed down. Hours had passed since they woke up, and Steve couldn’t care less about that. “You back with me?” Steve asked, fingers combing through Bucky’s still-tangled hair.

“Was it always like that?” Bucky asked instead, head buried in Steve’s chest. “That… that intense?”

And if that wasn’t a little complicated. Because a lot of it had been exactly like their first few times, where Bucky would get himself worked up to the point of incoherency, but at the same time, it had never been that overt. He’d always managed to snark back, or run his mouth until Steve was rendered a blushing mess.

Steve dragged the covers back over them while disturbing his partner as little as possible. “Don’t think you ever cried before. But yeah, it was always a lot for you.”

Apparently, that was enough to satisfy Bucky who just hummed and curled himself up closer to the blond.

Steve smiled ruefully at Bucky, content to just leave him be. Maybe they wouldn’t leave their bed all day. And maybe that was all right now.

There would still be nightmares to contend with later. Neither of them was stupid enough to think that it was going to be easy just because they had recreated some old memories. But Steve couldn’t feel the hollowness in his chest that had resided there since he’d seen Bucky fall from the train, and for now?

That was more than he could have ever thought to ask for.