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"there is two
types of tired,
i suppose
one is a dire need of sleep
the other is a dire need of peace"
-- mandeq ahmed

 

"I'm tired," is the first thing Bucky says to Steve when they finally catch up to him after the Potomac. His voice is rough with disuse, and his eyes are hollow in surrender.

Steve takes a cautious step towards him and whispers, "Let me help you, Buck. Give me a chance. You won't be so tired after a while, I promise. You'll get better. Please let me help you."

Bucky is silent for a very long moment, still as stone. Then, he takes a single step forward.

 

*

 

By the time Bucky is given the all clear to go home from residential therapy, Sam and Steve have found a nice place for all of them in Brooklyn. Steve spends about five minutes folding his clothes into drawers and arranging his few possessions around the place, and then proceeds to hover around the room he'd picked out for Bucky-- soft cream walls, shiny floorboards, drenched in afternoon sunlight-- like a nervous expectant mother overseeing the nursery.

"Do you think the bed is big enough?" he asks Sam, frowning down at it critically.

"It's a California king," says Sam blankly.

"I know, but-- "

"My point is you can't actually purchase a bigger bed in a store, unless you want to build one yourself."

Steve looks thoughtful.

"Man," says Sam, alarmed. "Okay, I think the bed is plenty big enough for JB. Why don't you get him some blankets or something? Unless he's into the whole sleeping on a bare mattress thing. Is that something you used to do, back in the day?"

Steve rolls his eyes. "No, we preferred dirt floors," he says.

Sam grins. Captain America is a sarcastic little shit. It's kind of awesome.

"Okay, blankets."

Sam takes him to Bed, Bath & Beyond. Steve buys two enormous duvets, six ludicrously soft pillows, three sets of sheets with a frankly ridiculous thread count, and one of every coloured microfleece blanket they stock. Back at the apartment, he fits the sheets onto Bucky's bed with careful, precise movements, covers them with both duvets, fluffs all six pillows against the headboard, and folds the entire collection of microfleece neatly at the foot.

"Dude," says Sam. "I thought that haul was for both of you?"

"Oh," says Steve. "No, I bought my stuff at Target yesterday."

Sam raises his eyebrows.

"What?" says Steve defensively. "Bucky likes warm things." His face goes all soft.

Sam groans quietly. "Well," he says, "I guess JB's all set up."

Steve beams. "What time are we picking him up tomorrow?"

"I'm picking him up," says Sam.

Steve opens his mouth to argue.

"Not one word, Rogers," says Sam. "I'm sure he wants to get home without Captain America crying all over his shoulder in public first. Or, you know, starting a fight with another patient's parents over something that was definitely none of your business."

"That was one time," mutters Steve, blushing. He ignores the other thing entirely, because he's an irredeemable, if entirely well-intentioned, troublemaking pain in the ass. "It was an emotional day."

"Hey, man, it was a good day for both of you," says Sam, squeezing his shoulder. "I'm just thinking, the sooner he gets home, the sooner you can get him settled in, you know?"

Steve chews on his lip. "Yeah, okay," he says. "Does he know? Do you think he'll mind?"

"I told him already, we're cool," says Sam. "Wanna get takeout?"

 

Sam and Bucky make it home without incident. Bucky walks in ahead of him, arms full of the fluffy blue blanket he'd commandeered his third day in the facility. Sam follows with his bag.

Steve is hovering anxiously between the couch and the kitchen.

"Hey, Buck," he says softly, taking a single step forward. "Welcome home."

Bucky doesn't say anything for a long moment. Then he steps forward, arms still clutched around the blanket, and presses himself against Steve's chest. Steve's arms come up around him immediately, holding him close. There are tears in his eyes.

"Hi, Steve," mumbles Bucky into his shoulder.

Steve beams, bright and alive and truly, honestly happy like Sam hasn't seen apart from in footage from the '40s, and since Bucky came in from the cold.

 

Steve and Bucky go to bed early. Sam, because he likes to back up his old man chirps with as little hypocrisy as possible, stays up on the couch a few hours longer.

When he's finally thinking about heading to bed, setting the coffee pot on its timer, he catches a flash of movement in the hallway. It's Bucky, creeping silently out of his room, towards Steve's.

Sam doesn't say anything, because it's important to give JB his space and the benefit of the doubt, but he does inch a little closer to Steve's slightly-ajar door, because flashbacks are not unheard of, in general or for Bucky specifically, and it would be better for everyone if he doesn't accidentally try to murder Steve in his sleep. He hears the rustle of sheets, and Steve mumbling, "Bucky?" which is promising, because Bucky as the Winter Soldier would make no noise at all.

"Yeah," whispers Bucky.

"You okay?" says Steve.

Bucky doesn't answer, but there's a louder rustle of sheets, and then he says, "Can I sleep here?"

"'Course, Buck," says Steve. And then, hesitantly, "Is there-- is there something wrong with your room?"

"Yeah," mumbles Bucky. "You're not in it."

Steve laughs, soft and pleased. "Sorry 'bout that," he says.

Bucky hums. "Don't do it again," he says.

"Okay," says Steve earnestly. Sam rolls his eyes. "Night, Bucky."

 

The next time Sam's on laundry duty, he pokes his head cautiously around Bucky's door, arms full of his folded clothes. Bucky's out somewhere with Steve, but it never hurts to be careful.

The bed is a little lighter than the last time Sam saw it; one of the duvets is missing, and about half the microfleece blankets too. There are three knives on the bedside table.

Sam sets the laundry on the bed and leaves.

When he delivers Steve's clothes to his room, he finds the missing duvet and blankets on his bed. There are another two knives on his bedside table beside Steve's pile of books.

 

By the end of a month, Bucky has moved entirely into Steve's room. They're not actually together, Sam doesn't think, although that's not for lack of wanting on Steve's part. He couldn't keep the naked affection off his face if he tried, and he's not trying. Sam's pretty sure Bucky's in the same boat, although it's a little harder to gauge. Steve has been his anchor from the start of this, and before that too, obviously, but recovery and comfort tend to warp these things a little. Still, the way he curls into Steve whenever they're on the couch together, drawing one of his blankets around them both and dropping his head onto Steve's shoulder as they watch documentaries or shows on Steve's list, maybe leans a little further than mere familiarity.

They've got time to figure it out now, in any case.

 

Sam comes home from the VA one day about six weeks in to find Bucky on the couch reading Harry Potter, glaring at the book. There's a knife between his teeth.

Steve is in one of the armchairs, sketching.

Sam clears his throat at Steve and raises his eyebrows.

"Huh?" says Steve.

Sam glances meaningfully at Bucky.

"Oh. He was sharpening his knives, but I think the book distracted him."

"Yeah?" says Sam, grinning. "Getting into the HP there, JB?" He snickers.

Bucky lifts his eyes slowly from the page and levels Sam with a blank, unimpressed stare.

"Seriously man, you liking it?"

Bucky spits out the knife and twists his mouth. "I just-- " he says, and stops.

"Go on, Buck," says Steve encouragingly.

Bucky's eyes flick to him, then down to the book. "I just think," he says slowly, like they taught him in therapy, "The magic is cool and all, but what if kids just want to learn how to draw?"

"Huh," says Sam. He looks back at Steve, then has to look away.

He's not sure if the blatant adoration on his face is more sickening or sweet.

 

Bucky still has nightmares. Sam knows because he wakes almost every night to the sound of them. Sometimes it's screaming, sometimes just ceaseless whimpering. Sometimes it's the crash and thump of Bucky throwing things, terrified and not fully awake.

The nights he's silent, at the beginning, Sam suspects aren't because he sleeps peacefully, but rather because he doesn't sleep at all. Steve does seem to help him, though. Some nights, now, Sam wakes not to shouts and cries but rather the soft murmuring of two separate voices.

He hopes some of the silent nights Bucky actually gets some rest.

Bucky has bad days, too. Some he can't get out of bed at all. Some he does, only to disappear from Steve's room into his own and lock himself inside. Some days he doesn't speak at all, his face slipping back to that blank, awful Winter Soldier mask. Some days he stares at his metal hand for hours on end, brows furrowed, flexing his fingers into a fist over and over. Some days he digs up the battered pack of cigarettes he hardly ever smokes and sucks down the entire lot on the back stairs to the house, knees pulled up close to his chest.

 

After one such day, followed by a silent night during which Sam suspects no one in the house got much, if any sleep, Bucky shuffles into the kitchen just as Sam and Steve are drinking their first post-run coffee. His hair is loose and tangled about his face, and he's wearing soft brown yoga pants, nothing else, chewing on his lip and staring hard at the coffee pot.

"'M sorry I'm a mess, Stevie," he mumbles.

Steve looks stricken. "No," he says. He takes one jerky step forward before he stops himself. "No, don't, don't ever-- you're doing so good, Buck. I'm so damn proud of you every day, even the bad ones-- especially the bad ones-- because you never give up. You-- I know it's awful and hard and-- but you're the best-- the bravest person I've ever met. Don't ever apologise, okay?"

Bucky's eyes are on the floor, now. "Still a mess," he says quietly.

Honestly, Sam thinks it's pretty great he didn't just straight up deny what Steve said.

He keeps his mouth shut, though; Steve's got this.

"You're my best friend," says Steve. "I don't care if your mess is a hundred times worse. You're here. That's-- Buck, that's-- the first time I saw you again and knew who you were-- " He doesn't elaborate; they all know when that was. "It's selfish, but that was already the best thing that ever happened to me since I woke up. This is-- you're here, Buck," he finishes quietly, helplessly. Sam remembers their conversation when Steve first voiced this to him; his guilt over being glad Bucky was alive, because being alive meant he'd been through decades of unimaginable torture. He's gotten better at remembering that being happy to have his best friend here and wanting to erase every bad thing that ever happened to him can be more mutually exclusive than they seem. "You're here, and you know who I am. Who you are. You're getting better. That's all I ever wanted. I don't know how else to tell you how happy I am, but you gotta know, Buck."

Bucky looks up at him. He's not smiling, but his mouth looks softer, like he could maybe be persuaded to smile sometime in the near future.

"Can I hug you?" whispers Steve.

Bucky is silent for a moment, still, and then he holds his arms out wordlessly.

Steve is there in less than a second, wrapping him up tight, and Bucky clings onto him so hard it's gotta bruise even a super soldier, head buried in the crook of Steve's neck. Steve's got that look Sam has come to think of as him silently thanking any and everything he can think of.

 

Bucky goes to therapy twice a week. Sometimes he comes out looking thoughtful, sometimes happy, sometimes haunted, sometimes just sad and tired and quiet. Every now and then he comes out with red-rimmed, over-bright eyes. He keeps going, though, never puts up a fight, and it's this, more than anything, Sam tells Steve, that shows how far he's really come.

(When he first entered the residential facility, Bucky point blank refused to talk to his therapists. They'd asked Steve and Sam to come in, see if they could get through to him at all.

When Steve asked, Bucky shrugged minutely, eyes blank on the wall over Steve's shoulder, and said, "Don't think I can be fixed. Not worth it even if I could."

"You are worth it," said Steve immediately, fiercely. "Bucky. You-- you think you're not worth it because of the things you-- the things they made you do, but that's exactly why you are. Because you know it was awful and you feel guilty, even though it wasn't your choice. That's-- that means you're a good person. You've always been a good person."

Bucky snorted softly, disbelieving.

"Better than me, Buck," whispered Steve. He looked so sad, so fucking pained. "You did for me what I couldn't do for you."

Bucky's eyes shifted from the wall to Steve's face. "What," he said. He still wasn't great with the affect part of his speech.

"You saved me," said Steve softly. "I fell, and you went down after me, got me out. That's what I shoulda done for you. I should have gone down after you. I should have looked for you. I should have known-- "

"Steve," said Sam gently.

Steve swallowed. "You saved me, Buck," he repeated. "Everything they did to you, everything they made you do, and you still knew. If that's not worth saving right back, I don't know what is."

Bucky hadn't looked convinced, exactly, but he had started talking to the doctors.

Sam thinks it was probably more for Steve, at that point, rather than any real belief in the worth or even the possibility of his own redemption. He hadn't had much more than that instinct, at the start, that need to please and protect and save Steve so ingrained and unshakeable that even HYDRA and all their years of torture couldn't erase it.

That hasn't gone anywhere, of course, but Sam thinks now Bucky gets what Steve was trying to tell him, and maybe even believes it, on his good days.)

Sam isn't entirely sure how much of more his memory Bucky has regained since then.

He seems to be reaching a place he can reconcile with being Bucky Barnes even as he's learning the ways he's changed post-twentieth century and Winter Soldier, enough of him still there to make it true for himself and for Steve, but this is one thing Steve will always know better than Sam. He asks Steve once, as they head towards two months with Bucky in the house.

"Maybe half," says Steve. "Of the stuff before, I mean. I'm not so sure about after. I think he might be pretending to remember less than he does, about that. To me, at least."

"Half is pretty fuckin' good for where he's at, man," says Sam. "Looks like he's still building it up, too. And hey, the old Bucky woulda done the same with you about the other stuff, right?"

"Yeah, he would," says Steve. "I know. Even if he didn't remember a thing, I'd still-- " He stops, shrugging helplessly. "I know I'm really, really lucky. He's doing so good."

"You're doing pretty damn good yourself, buddy," says Sam, clapping Steve's shoulder.

Steve smiles at him, just small, but real, grateful. "Thanks, Sam," he says, with all the earnest, utter sincerity of Steve Rogers and Captain America combined. It's a hell of a lot.

Sam has probably never been so touched.

 

Sometimes, now, Bucky goes out on his own.

Each time, Steve looks torn between worry and pride.

Bucky always comes back, though, and so far unharmed. He's a little quieter at times than others, depending on what kind of day he's having, how many people he ran into, whether he felt afraid or threatened or suffocated, but either way Sam thinks it always helps him.

He almost always comes back with something or other in tow. He'd seemed mostly uninterested and slightly baffled when Steve first told him about his money, his army back pay and various pensions plus accrued interest, but now he seems to delight in picking up things just because he can. Sam can't figure a pattern in his purchases; sometimes he comes back with piles of colourful fruit and vegetables from the farmers market, sometimes with six different drinks from Starbucks, sometimes stacks of books. He's started buying himself clothes, although he still wears Steve's stuff half the time. A size too-big sweatpants and knitted sweaters seem to be his favourites, followed closely by skinny jeans. One time he comes back with a whole set of cushions for the couch. He likes exercising his freedom to choose whatever the hell he wants, and he likes finding things he likes. Slowly the selection of fruit and vegetables start to become more predictable, and the drinks whittle down to one or two at a time.

Another time he comes back with a little rosebush in a plastic pot. He looks down at it uncertainly, then up at Steve, and says, "I remembered-- your ma used to grow these, right?"

Steve swallows, setting his book aside. "Yeah, Buck, she did," he says, soft with pride.

Bucky nods. "Do you think this will grow?"

"I think so," says Steve. "What do you reckon, Sam?"

"Sure," says Sam. "There's a nice spot by the kitchen window. Lots of sun."

Bucky smiles, and goes to set it gently right there behind the sink.

 

Sam and Steve go for runs every morning, apart from Sundays, when Steve goes alone. There's no amount of patriotic super soldier enthusiasm that can convince Sam Sunday isn't a day of rest. Bucky never joins them. He works out in his bedroom for hours instead. No one sleeps in there at night anymore, but Sam's kinda glad it's still getting some kind of use.

Sometimes during the day Steve sprawls out on the ridiculous California king with his sketchbook, because he likes the way the room catches the afternoon sun. Generally when he does this Bucky can be relied upon to find him eventually, crawling up beside him on the mattress and tucking his head against Steve's hip to nap in the warm pool of light. Something about the picture looks well-worn, like maybe they used to pass spare hours like that as kids. Steve will drop one hand to Bucky's hair, stroking absently while he continues to sketch with the other, until he inevitably sets his pad aside and tucks himself up close against Bucky to sleep as well.

They always leave the door slightly ajar, and sometimes Sam sees them like that as he passes on his way along the corridor. It's nice, he thinks, for all that Bucky's still recovering, still struggles, to see the two of them so content. Maybe he's getting too soft, but they deserve it.

 

One thing Sam notices as Bucky's recovery progresses is not even for Bucky, but for Steve. It's a hard thing to explain, but he thinks the best way is probably that Steve is just more Steve. Everything about him is amplified somehow: his smiles impossibly brighter, his resting face more content, his occasional snarkiness dialled up to properly hilarious levels. Sam figures this is more like how he was before the war, more of the guy Bucky grew up with stealing through. It's good to see, the way Bucky's efforts to get better are making Steve better, too. Sam knows, for all his steadfast determination and the work he did and his slow-growing ties to the people here, that Steve wasn't exactly happy after he woke up. Even if he hadn't noticed it the first time he met Steve, it would be obvious from the contrast now. Sam hopes Bucky can see it too, can see what his hard work is doing not only for himself but the person he cares about most in the world.

 

The other thing about Bucky's recovery, about him becoming more and more human with each passing day, each completed therapy session, is that the flaws you can't help noticing when you live with someone full time start making themselves apparent. Steve has a Bucky-sized blind spot and hardly ever says a thing, but Sam is a little more objective, and also fully onboard the 'get JB better' mission, part of which requires treating him like a human with flaws.

Not that Steve doesn't, really, but he is incredibly indulgent, or else these things just don't even register as faults. It's entirely likely. Sam figures that can't be helped; the dude just got his best friend back after thinking him dead for seventy years and then finding out he wasn't but didn't remember Steve at all, and also he's almost definitely in love with him.

Bucky is none of these things to Sam, just a friend, so it's a lot easier for him.

Bucky drinks milk straight from the carton and leaves it out on the counter more often than not. He spends more time in the shower than anyone Sam's ever met; so much that every window in the house gets fogged up on more than one occasion, and Sam starts having nightmares about utility bills. He refuses to do laundry, with increasingly terrible excuses. "The washing powder gets under the metal," he says one time, flexing his prosthetic fingers. "The machine freaks me out," he says another. "It makes weird noises, like morse code. What if it tells me to kill something?"

"I'll accidentally rip the clothes with my arm," he says today, frowning down at it.

Steve looks pained and goes to do the laundry himself.

Sam levels Bucky with an unimpressed glare. Very, very slowly, Bucky smirks.

"Did Captain America learn to be a total shit from you, or was it the other way 'round?" Sam asks.

"Dunno," says Bucky. "My memory's kinda funny. Can't recall how to do laundry, even."

"Ha ha," says Sam flatly.

Bucky, the asshole, takes a long drink of milk. From the carton.

"Steve!" shouts Sam. Bucky glares at him. "JB's pulling a laundry con!"

"I know," says Steve, coming back into the kitchen.

"You know?" says Sam, folding his arms.

Steve shrugs. "Buck always hated doing the laundry," he says. "Spent so much time trying to get out of it, usually it was just easier to do it myself. 'Course, now it's not even a hassle."

"You let him get away with this shit?" demands Sam.

Maybe it's just him, but he thinks that even being in love with the asshole who refuses to do laundry probably wouldn't trump putting a stop to such a blatant con.

"Well," says Steve. "I figured it was fair, since he always ended up in fights because of me."

Sam sighs. "You two fools deserve each other."

Bucky grins at him. It's disgustingly smug; the closest Sam thinks he's looked to the old photos.

"We do need to have words about the milk, though, Buck," says Steve.

Bucky blinks at him for a moment. "HYDRA never let me have milk," he says.

Steve goes still. Sam isn't sure whether he should be sad or impressed. On the one hand, it's almost definitely true, but on the other-- damn, Barnes has a lot of gall.

"Okay," says Steve eventually. "We should maybe put a cap on how many times you can use that in a week. For this kinda thing, I mean. You can always talk to us about-- "

"I know, Steve," says Bucky, rolling his eyes. "Seven."

"Four," counters Steve.

"Six," says Bucky.

"Five."

"Deal." Bucky holds his hand out. Steve shakes it solemnly.

"I can't believe I agreed to live with you two idiots," says Sam.

 

These aren't actually the worst of Bucky's habits, in Sam's opinion. The worst is that their open plan kitchen and living area has big windows on either side, and some days Bucky likes to follow the patches of sunlight across the floor, curling up with a book wherever it's drenched most heavily. This in itself is not a problem, but Bucky doesn't always remember to wear clothes when he's at home, and Sam likes the guy, but seeing his dick on a regular basis, often first thing in the morning, is somewhere they could probably draw a line.

Bucky actually looks surprised the first time Sam cracks and mentions it, looking down at himself and then back up at Sam, uncomprehending of Sam's pain. Probably because he spends most of his time around Steve, and Sam gets the feeling Steve wouldn't have objections to Bucky being naked, even if almost everything about Bucky causes Steve to occasionally seize up from the pain of his pining, or some romance novel shit.

Still, Bucky makes more of an effort to clothe himself after that, which Sam appreciates. Clearly this wasn't so much an example of Bucky Barnes: Enormous Jerk as just something he genuinely didn't think about. There's still the occasional eye-searing slip-up, but the stupid sweatpants are truly a godsend, which isn't a thought Sam ever thought he'd have, and more often than not Bucky will burrito himself inside one of his blankets, so in the end it's mostly okay.

 

Being based in New York again means that they are inevitably surrounded by the other Avengers. Tony invites them to every stupid fancy party at Stark Tower, most of which they turn down, Steve and Bucky especially, but it's still incredibly cool to be invited. Nat drops in a lot, sometimes for dinner, other times just to hang out. She talks in Russian with Bucky when they're not chatting to anyone else. Sometimes she brings things she thinks the house is missing: a cuckoo clock, a thrifted crochet afghan that smells like mothballs, a set of bowl-sized coffee mugs, expensive-looking crystal shot glasses, a sheepskin rug for the living area. Sam honestly isn't sure whether she considers these things necessary or just incredibly amusing, but he guesses it makes the place look sort of homey. Or more unique, in any case.

 

Tony stops by a couple months in to bring them a house-warming gift of his own: a hamper full of nothing but expensive alcohol. "Every house needs a well-stocked bar," he says, as Sam lifts the bottles of real Russian vodka and hundred year-old Scotch onto the counter, whistling lowly.

"You are aware there's only one person in this house who can get properly drunk, right?" says Steve, watching Sam arrange the bottles reverently at the end of the kitchen island.

"More for you, Wilson, am I right?" says Tony.

"Damn right," agrees Sam.

"Besides," says Tony loftily. "You can appreciate the palate, Rogers, you heathen."

Steve actually laughs. "You do that often, Tony?"

"Fuck you, Capsicle," says Tony. "Where's the Metal Man?"

"In his room," says Steve, narrowing his eyes. "Why?"

"Thought I'd offer my services for mechanical arm maintenance, if he wants."

"You offering or asking, Stark?" says Sam, grinning.

"I will take back my incredibly expensive alcohol," threatens Tony. "Okay, yeah, I kinda wanna get a look at that piece of tech, but I'm also offering a completely free and completely on-his-terms service, and I am a genius with a very high price tag, so, you know. Pass it on."

"Well, thanks, Tony," says Steve after a moment. "I'll let him know, okay?"

"Sure thing, Cap," says Tony. "Hey, what's with the cuckoo clock?"

 

Probably the most regular standing dates for the entire team are the movie nights. Generally they happen at Stark Tower, but some days Bucky doesn't feel like leaving the house, and those times the entire team traipses out to Brooklyn to crowd into their living room.

Sam still can't quite believe the people he hangs around with these days.

It's even more surreal to know he's pretty much part of the team, now. The fuckin' Avengers.

"Man," Tony is saying this time, as he shuffles through the door with his arms full of snacks. "I resent you making me come all the way out here. Why hasn't everyone just moved into Stark Tower yet? I will build you all your own private floors, not even kidding. I had to commute, Barnes, I'm so offended. And you won't even let me install an AI." He dumps everything onto the kitchen counter and huffs. "Shoulda worn the fucking suit," he mutters.

"Cry me a fucking river, Stark," says Bucky, not even bothering to glance over.

He's curled up on one end of the couch, wrapped in two or three of his fuzzy blankets. Steve is sitting in the middle of the three-seater, probably partly a conscientious effort to leave room but mostly to sit close to Bucky. Clint throws himself down into the leftover space, hips and shoulders bumping against Steve's. Bucky frowns at him over Steve's chest.

"What's up, Bucky Bot?" says Clint cheerfully, grinning at him.

"Don't call him that," says Steve immediately.

Bucky rolls his eyes. "'S fine, Stevie," he mumbles.

"Yeah, Stevie, he said it's fine," says Clint.

"Don't call him Stevie," snaps Bucky, switching lightning-fast to menacing and glaring at Clint. Despite the three fuzzy blankets in various shades of bright colour he has wrapped around his shoulders and the hair falling out of his loose bun, it's actually incredibly terrifying.

Sam is suitably impressed.

Clint holds up his hands.

"Buck," says Steve quietly, although he's smiling.

Bucky nudges him. "Shoulda taken up more room, then we wouldn't have to share with this mook."

"What did you just call me?" says Clint incredulously.

Bucky raises his eyebrows, all 'you wanna go?' Sam prepares himself to step in, sighing. Even mock fights between superheroes cause a lot of damage. Sam knows from sad experience.

"No," says Clint, "I'm genuinely asking, I have no idea what that means, gramps."

Bucky actually growls.

"Okay!" says Steve loudly. "What are we watching, guys?"

"Disney," says Natasha, plugging a flash drive into the TV. Then she curls up on the floor with another of Bucky's blankets and two of his extra fluffy pillows.

"You guys haven't finished watching them all yet, have you?" says Bruce.

"Not yet," says Steve. "Getting pretty close though, right, Buck?"

Bucky hums.

Tony is still in the kitchen getting the snacks ready, because the dude can't cook for shit, as far as Sam knows, but has strong opinions on the correct method of preparing microwave popcorn.

"Don't turn our microwave into a bomb, Stark!" shouts Sam as Bruce flicks through the movie selections on the big-ass widescreen Sam made Steve buy for the place.

"Fuck you, Wilson," Tony calls back cheerfully.

Thirty seconds later there's a minor explosion, followed by the acrid smell of burnt popcorn.

Tony comes up behind the couch with his arms folded.

"Your microwave is cheap and shitty and the power settings are all wrong," he says.

"Tony," groans Steve.

"I'll buy you a better one, relax," says Tony, waving a hand and retreating back behind the kitchen counter. "Besides, that was a test run, I totally got this now."

He bins the first attempt and throws in another.

"Open a goddamn window," says Bucky moodily.

Thor arrives shortly thereafter with a flurry of noise and a pink bakery box held aloft proudly.

"I have brought cupcakes!" he says. "I find them deceptively pleasing for a dessert so small in stature. Your Midgardian food is truly fascinating."

Bucky untangles himself from his blankets enough to make grabby hands at Thor.

"Greetings, friend Barnes," says Thor with a grin, handing Bucky the box.

"Hey, Thor," mumbles Bucky, narrowing his eyes at the cupcakes. After a long moment he picks out something that looks like chocolate with peanut butter frosting. Guy's got good taste.

Bucky passes the box to Steve and stares intently at the side of his face until Steve picks one out for himself too. "Thanks, Buck," he says, nudging Bucky and passing the box along before he takes a bite. Bucky nods and takes a bite of his own.

They wind up settling on Tangled. Natasha says, "You'll like this one, Steve."

Steve smiles and settles back against the couch, leaning almost imperceptibly towards Bucky.

Ten minutes into the movie, Clint leans across Steve with the bowl of popcorn and whispers to Bucky, "Twenty bucks says I can get one under Tony's collar before you."

Bucky tilts his head. "You're on," he says with a sharp grin.

Clint goes first, but misjudges either the weight or trajectory of his popcorn kernel, and it flies just wide of Tony's shoulder. Bucky throws Clint a smug look.

"Let's see you do better, Barnes," hisses Clint.

Steve's eyes are still fixed on the TV, sitting between the two of them, but he appears to be biting the inside of his cheek to hold in his smile. Bucky curls his metal hand around Steve's forearm and lines up his shot with the other. It lands perfectly. Tony twitches, hand flying to his neck.

"Pay up, bird brain," says Bucky.

Clint grumbles and digs into his pockets, handing over a crumpled twenty.

"This doesn't mean you're a better marksman," he says.

"Sure it doesn't," says Bucky.

He looks down at himself-- the sweatpants, Steve's henley and the blankets-- and then reaches over to tuck the money into the front pocket of Steve's jeans instead. Steve goes so fast from looking indulgent and amused to desperate and pained, Sam has to muffle his sudden cackles against the inside of his elbow. Steve shoots him a distinctly venomous glare.

Sam makes kissy faces back at him.

The rest of the movie passes in relative peace. At one point Tony asks the room at large, "Does that horse remind anyone else of Cap when he's being all grumpy do the right thing?"

"Nah," says Bucky. "Steve's the princess."

Steve looks like he doesn't know whether to be amused or offended.

"'S alright, Stevie," says Bucky. "She's real pretty."

Steve sighs and looks to the heavens. Bucky drops his head onto Steve's shoulder, smiling.

It's kinda good to see JB this relaxed, on the days he has it in him to be around other people. From the things Steve has told Sam about their life before the war, it sounds a bit like Bucky was only ever this way around Steve. He seems to have had no time or inclination for other real friendships, rather surrounding himself with people who cycled in and out of his life without leaving any real mark or allowing him the time to relax into them: the interesting but unsavoury characters he brushed shoulders with at work, the string of short-lived flings.

There's still no one who'll ever trump Steve in the Bucky being at ease department, obviously, and on his bad days Steve is the only person who has even a hope of getting through to him, but having a wider circle of friends he doesn't have to try too hard to be around is important, too.

It's the kind of thing that will help him feel anchored to this time and place and who he is now, more roots than just the one he started this whole thing out with.

It's still the most important, of course; the one that goes deepest, burrowed into the heart of Bucky's recovery, but surrounding it progressively with smaller ones only makes the entire thing stronger-- more likely to keep growing, and more certain to stay standing.

As the team files out at the end of the night, Nat pauses by the sofa and says to Bucky, "Check your email, there's some good stuff in there." Sam honestly isn't sure he wants to know.

 

A couple days later, Sam finds Bucky on the couch with his laptop, watching a video of a puppy startling itself every time it hiccoughs. "Whatcha doing there, JB?" says Sam.

"Nat sent them," says Bucky defensively.

Sam opens and closes his mouth silently.

"They calm me down, fuck off," says Bucky, eyes fixed on the screen.

"Sounding real calm there, Barnes," says Sam, recovering and grinning as he opens the fridge.

Bucky holds his middle finger up over his shoulder.

 

Bucky has also developed a mild obsession with Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

He only watches it on his good days, the days Sam thinks he's probably most like his old self, as much as he's ever going to get, but he has the entire series lined up on Netflix, and watches the screen with fierce intensity whenever it's playing, brows furrowed.

Steve doesn't exactly share his passion for it, but he watches every minute of it with him anyway. "This show is awful, Buck," he says every time, sighing. "Well, most of it," he amends, because he can't give unwarranted insults to save his life.

Bucky hums in agreement. "That's the fun of it, Stevie," he says. He watches a moment longer, then adds, "I would ask whether all rich people are this nuts, but I've met Tony Stark."

He's midway through the second series, at this point, and today he actually asked to watch it during communal TV time without being prompted or nudged or even waiting for the topic to come up, which still happens only sometimes. It's definitely a good day.

He's sharing the couch with Steve, like usual, and Sam is sprawled in one of the armchairs.

He's also only half dressed, the uniform sweatpants with a very obvious lack of anything underneath, and a blanket settled loosely over his bare shoulders. Steve is once more wearing an expression somewhere between awesome and please help me, an arm draped across Bucky's back, thumb dragging absently back and forth across the waistband of his pants.

Business as usual, basically.

Sam is studiously ignoring the pair of them, because he knows exactly what will happen if he doesn't: Bucky will ignore him right back, and Steve will either glare silently at Sam's lack of sympathy for his pain, or beg him with his stupid puppy eyes for some kind of rescue.

Steve doesn't need rescuing, doesn't even really want it, so Kardashians it is.

They've been through two episodes, the credits rolling on the second, when Bucky uncurls himself from Steve's side and yawns, arching his back into a long stretch, muscles flexing.

"So, Rogers," he says mildly, eyes on the TV as the credits roll over into the next episode, "You gonna kiss me anytime soon, or am I gonna have to wait another hundred years?"

Huh, thinks Sam. Good for JB.

Steve chokes on air, or possibly his own spit. It might be the least dignified thing Sam has ever seen Captain America do, which is saying something, because it turns out Steve Rogers is kind of a huge dork. "What?" Steve manages. He flushes pink all the way under his collar.

Bucky's mouth twitches into a tiny smirk. "I was an assassin, Steve," he says. "And before that I knew you my whole life. Remember more'n half of it now, too. I see you lookin' at me."

"I'm sorry," says Steve immediately, ducking his head. "I didn't-- I don't-- I can't help it, Buck, I'm sorry. I want-- I've always wanted-- "

"Yeah?" murmurs Bucky, nudging back in close to Steve. "Always?"

Steve looks up to meet his eyes, sets his shoulders. "Always," he echoes fiercely.

Bucky smiles, soft this time, and lifts his flesh hand to cup Steve's jaw, swipe gently over his cheek with his thumb. Once again they both appear to have forgotten Sam is in the room.

He stands as unobtrusively as he can and heads quietly for the kitchen. Not that he thinks either of those idiots is paying him the slightest bit of attention. He needs another beer, and then he needs to be in his own bedroom with the door shut, stat.

Bucky is leaning in now, careful and slow, and then they're kissing, building up quick to a point that has Steve gasping, clutching at Bucky's hips and whispering, "I love you, Buck, God, love you so much-- "

"Me too," breathes Bucky. "First thing I remembered, you know. Not sure the rest even matters so much, after that. Loved you my whole damn life, Stevie."

Sam leaves them on the couch, necking like damn teenagers, messy and hungry and happy, aching just a little with the desperate weight of everything they've both come through and where they are now.

They're gonna be okay, Sam thinks.

 

Steve registers Sam leaving the room somewhere in the back of his mind, but most of him is zeroed in on the feel of Bucky's mouth on his, Bucky's hands on him, Bucky's stubble scraping his skin as they kiss, and kiss, and kiss. Bucky must notice as well, because he takes it as a cue to lift one leg and sling it across Steve's lap, climbing up to straddle him.

Steve gasps into his mouth, hands closing over the ridges of his hipbones.

"Bucky," he breathes, chasing Bucky's tongue with his own.

Bucky pulls back a little to smile at him, just small, but so damn fond it takes Steve's breath away. His hips jerk a little in Steve's hold, and Steve glances down instinctively.

When he sees that Bucky is hard, the fabric of his pants damp from the tip of his cock, his entire body shudders with arousal, but because he is an irredeemable dork, what he says is, "Hey! That's-- the docs said it might take a while. How long have you been-- " He trails off stupidly.

Bucky just stares at him. "The first time I got myself off," he says, ignoring Steve's question entirely, "I thought about you." He leans in to nose along Steve's jaw, then nips at his ear, breath fanning out hot against the shell. "And the second, and the third, and every other time too."

Steve groans, dropping his head back. "You're killing me, Buck," he says. Then he snaps it right back up again, eyes wide, and stutters, "I mean, not-- obviously not like-- I don't-- "

Bucky bursts out laughing. He buries his face against Steve's neck, shaking with it. It's rough and unpracticed and he chokes on it a little, but he hasn't laughed like this in about seventy years-- Steve thinks it's the most beautiful thing he's ever heard.

"Yeah, yeah," he mutters, cheeks hot, sliding his hands up over Bucky's spine. "Yuck it up, jerk."

Bucky pulls back to look at him, eyes bright. "Nearly a century and you haven't gotten any smoother, huh, punk?" he says.

"Haven't had as much time to work on it as you might think," says Steve, shrugging.

Bucky bites his lip, then leans in to bite down on Steve's.

"I like it," he mumbles into Steve's mouth, licking in messily with his tongue.

"I like you," says Steve stupidly.

Bucky snorts softly but doesn't let up kissing him, which is great. Steve cups his hands gently over Bucky's hips again and arches himself up to press as close against Bucky as he can.

"Is this okay?" he breathes.

Bucky hums. "Would be okay if you touched me, too," he says, grinding down a little. Steve can feel him now, his erection pressed hard and hot against Steve's own. He makes a helpless noise in the back of his throat, hips twitching without his conscious control.

"Really?" he says.

"Really," echoes Bucky.

Steve lets one of his hands skim down to cup Bucky through his pants. It's-- it's the most crazy erotic thing, that blood-hot, hard flesh beneath his fingers, damp through the fabric.

He feels a tremor go through Bucky and scratches his free fingers lightly over his skin in reassurance. "Okay?" he says again.

"Feels good, Stevie," says Bucky tightly, scraping his teeth along Steve's jaw.

"Yeah?" murmurs Steve. He tightens his fingers, dragging the fabric of Bucky's pants along his cock as he strokes him slowly. "How 'bout this?"

"Steve," groans Bucky.

Steve strokes him like that for a while, a little nervous, a little clumsy, but Bucky doesn't seem to notice or care. Steve loves the soft noises it coaxes out of him, the way it makes his mouth go a little slack against Steve's, wetter and hotter. Doesn't think he'll ever get enough.

Eventually he gets his hand inside Bucky's pants to touch him properly, and that's even better for both of them, he thinks. Steve has never been so turned on. The skin of Bucky's cock is so soft, so hot, and he's so wet around the tip. Steve swipes his thumb over the head to gather some of it up, mainly thinking to make the slide easier, better for Bucky, but it makes Bucky jerk and let out a low, desperate sound. "You like that?" says Steve, doing it again. Bucky shivers and bites down on Steve's neck, sucking hard, and the sting of it zips straight to Steve's groin. He's so hard it almost hurts, breathing fast like miles and miles of running can't ever make him.

Eventually Bucky stills Steve's hand with one of his own and says, "No, I want-- I want-- "

"Anything you want, Buck," says Steve softly. "Tell me."

"Both of us," says Bucky. "Like-- " He tugs at Steve's jeans with his metal hand.

At the first touch of Bucky's fingers on Steve's cock, Steve's entire body lights up like a wire, little shudders of pure pleasure chasing each other down his spine like drops of rain on a window. He doesn't want Bucky to ever stop, but after a moment he bats Bucky's hand gently aside to grasp them himself, because he wants to do this for Bucky their first time more.

Bucky cups the sides of Steve's neck while Steve jerks them both off, pounding hot flesh trapped tight between his fingers. He keeps flicking his gaze between that, between him and Bucky getting off against each other in the circle of Steve's hand, the slick purple-red skin of his and Bucky's cocks so close together he can barely tell them apart, making him dizzy with desperate want, and between Bucky's face, his pink bow lips shocked open and swollen, his eyes wide and fixed on Steve's face. Steve doesn't think-- knows he hasn't seen anything better, more beautiful in his entire life. His head is spinning with it, with how much he loves Bucky, how good he feels above Steve, in his arms, in his hand. He can feel the tight coil of release starting to unspool at the base of his spine, and gasps out, "Buck, Bucky, I'm gonna-- "

Bucky jerks forward to kiss him again, lush and wet, and mumbles, "Yeah, Steve, come on, do it, come for me, come on, I want-- I want-- I want you to, Stevie, please-- "

Steve groans and throws his head back, shaking apart in wet stripes all over his hand and belly, messing up Bucky's cock real good with his own come. That image makes his dick twitch out another weak spurt, desperate to go again, keep going, never stop.

Steve sucks in a huge gulp of air, hand slowing, head spinning. He's never come so hard in his life. Of course, he's only ever had his own hand and his thoughts of Bucky to get him off. It's a laughably pale comparison to the real thing, warm and alive and so fucking gorgeous, right here in Steve's arms.

Bucky puts his mouth back on Steve's neck and groans lowly. "Steve," he breathes. "Stevie, baby, that felt so good, you feel so good, you gotta-- "

"Yeah," Steve manages. He tightens his fist around Bucky again. It's so slick now. "I got you, Buck."

The noise Bucky makes then is so raw and wanting, burrowing right into Steve's bones. Steve speeds up his hand and whispers, "You're so good, Buck, God, look at you, you're the best thing in the whole damn world, I wanna make you feel good, please, come on, let me see-- "

Bucky lets out a rough, broken moan and comes, warm in the hollow of Steve's palm, spilling over onto his fingers, his belly. He drops his weight forward onto Steve immediately.

Steve brings his arms up around Bucky's back, uncaring of the mess, just holding him close. He's breathing hard, skin warm and damp with sweat, face tucked against Steve's shoulder.

"Bucky," he whispers, skimming his lips along Bucky's hairline.

"'M good," mumbles Bucky. "Just-- can we-- stay here, a little while?"

"Long as you want, Buck," says Steve, tightening his arms. "Got all the time in the world."

 

*

 

"Not so tired anymore, Stevie," whispers Bucky eventually into the silence, shifting up to press the words against Steve's temple. His fingers tickle the hair behind Steve's ear.

Steve squeezes his stinging eyes closed and presses his smile into Bucky's scarred shoulder. "Real glad to hear that, Buck," he says. "So damn glad. You wanna go to sleep now?"

"Yeah," says Bucky, breathing out.