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just remains of an age

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Shield is a tiny town in the middle of nowhere Arizona. It's one of those places where everyone knows everyone else and always wants to know more. It still has a main street which the town is centered around, houses are passed down from parents to children. There is one hotel out on the edge of town so people don't have to deal with those outsiders much and two rooms for rent in town itself. It's not a town that most people bother to visit except by accident.

That's how Steve ends up there. A wrong turn off of the highway and the stretch was so open and beautiful that he didn't see a need to turn around. Then out of the desert, there was Shield.

He was born in Brooklyn, and the Army took him around the rest of the world. The one thing he'd never experienced was quiet town life. There are three restaurants and a bar. There's a feeling of energy around the town. Subdued and quiet, but alive. The bartender at the bar gives him a curious look and gestures for him to take a seat in front of her.

"Welcome stranger."

"Steve."

She grins and reaches for a glass. "I got two letters right." She pulls a beer for him from an unlabeled tab. "Maria Hill is renting out a room over the drug store across the street." Steve can't do more then blink dumbly at her. "No one comes to Shield just for a night." She grabs a napkin and scribbles out a number. "Though it's easier to just walk to City Hall and say hi."

"I…" He looks down at the number with the name Maria written neatly over the top. He should turn around and leave, get in his car and drive away. He's seen creepy before, and this definitely falls into creepy. But he wants a place to stay, needs somewhere to stay. In the army he had a place, but he had to pay for it with blood and it was exhausting. "I don't have a lot of money."

"You can start here, bussing, serving tables. Unless that's below you, soldier? Heard the art teacher at the high school kicked it so you could always ask about that."

His dog tags are in his car, the tattoo of his unit barely peaks out from under his sleeve but this woman just smiles. "What is this place?"

Her smile takes on a dangerous edge and she grabs a second glass, pouring another drink, except this one is for her, not him. "This is Shield, Steve. Tune into the radio tonight and you'll pick up on the rest." Her eyes dart to the door and then slide away and she smiles. "Name's Jessica by the way."

Steve turns to leave, his beer left half finished. Jessica doesn't say a word, but there's a feeling like she knows he'll be back. So he goes faster. He drives, he drives halfway back to the highway, the town nothing but a smudge on the horizon. He drives until his car sputters to a halt, inexplicably out of gas. He stares dumbly at the dash, not sure what to even do next. The highway is too far and the chances of being picked up out there are slim to none. He could probably make it to town without much problem, though he knows better then most that distances are deceiving in a desert. But the town has Jessica, it has convenient apartments and job openings.

The town knows things it shouldn't.

The answer is made for him when a truck comes out of the desert, and up onto the road only a hundred feet away. Steve knows if he sits there he'll die, and that's one adventure he doesn't want to have yet. So he gets out of his car to wave them down.

It's a woman behind the wheel but she still pulls to a stop when she sees him. "Where are you going?"

He looks down the road towards Shield and sighs. "Town. Heard there was a room for rent." He shoves his hands into his pockets, his fingers touching the napkin he knows he didn't put in there.

The woman gives him a sad look as if she understands and jerks her thumb towards the passenger side. "Get in, I'll drop you off by City Hall."

The first five minutes pass in silence when Steve's curiosity gets to him. "What's in the back?" He could see three crates but despite the space between the boards, couldn't make out what was in them.

"Oh those? They're for the angels," she says solemnly. "They really like maize."

"Angels?" His voice comes out as a squeak, maybe he should have tried his luck heading towards the highway.

She laughs and throws him an apologetic smile. "Sorry, just teasing. They're going to the farmer's market. The angels only talk to Rahne." Steve doesn't say anything else for the rest of the ride. He's not sure if he's grateful or not when the truck comes to a stop outside City Hall. "Ms. Hill has some rooms for rent I heard."

"But how-"

"If you ask enough questions, she'll find you." The woman tips her hat at Steve and leaves him in the dust.

-

The room for rent is simple. A bedroom and living room. There is furniture but no TV. Before leaving him, Maria told him that everyone used the radio for entertainment and to make sure he listened at midnight, all the daily news would be summed up on the public radio, as well as any upcoming events.

Steve's not sure he really wants to listen to the daily news for some town he's spent less then twenty four hours in. But he can't sleep. His life has changed so much in the past week. Medically discharged, back in the states with no home to really call his own. For two days, he tried to stay still, tried to be normal. Instead he bought himself a beater car and took off.

The radio programming ends and there's a commercial break. Just as it hits midnight a calm smooth voice interrupts, not caring about the deals at a local furniture store. "If they're really watching you, give them something interesting to watch. Maybe a tango? Good evening, listeners, new and old, this is Shield Community Radio. I have to start our broadcast this evening with a reminder to not leave any living animals around the library, you're only encouraging the librarians. If you really want to get rid of your pets, please speak to the local ASPCA."

The speaker doesn't introduce himself as he continues going through the community calender. Female-Identifying Night at Jessica's bar is this Thursday, followed by non-binary night on Friday. He reminds everyone to stock up on school supplies, since the punishment for not having the right supplies come the first day of class is of course stoning.

Steve's really not sure what kind of town he ended up in. This must all be a joke, something elaborate. Dugan used to pull elaborate pranks on everyone in the unit.

Except Dugan is still over in Afghanistan and this is all very real. He pinches himself just to be sure. Maybe the broadcast itself is the joke, like SNL but on the radio. Just to make some small town in the middle of nowhere a little more exciting. He's about to turn off the radio and go to sleep when something in the speaker's voice changes. Becomes brighter and less rote, as if he really cares about what he's about to say.

"So everyone knows that Shield is a special place, and usually it's just us, going about our business. But today, has everyone heard there's someone new in town?" He sighs like a schoolgirl. "Tall and broad shouldered. Our very own Adonis?" There's muffled voices in the background and a small thud over the microphone like he hit it with his hand. All the details feel very far away from Steve. They're talking about him. He's never felt like anyone's Adonis, even after he finally got his growth spurt at seventeen. "Ok, apparently according to the hard work of our lovely intern Rikki, compliments are awkward. But he does glow. And everyone had better be planning on making his move here very welcoming and smooth. Including you Clint Barton."

The broadcast switches topics, going to the weather but Steve is barely listening. Some voice on the radio likes him. He doesn't know how the man knows him, or if he knows anything except what he looks like. But it feels like someone is looking out for him, and he falls asleep with the radio on, and a small smile on his face.

The bar is closed the next morning when he wakes up, so he takes the time to explore the town. Main Street isn't very big, dominated by City Hall. There are small office buildings all the way up and down, interrupted by small shops. People go about their daily business. Cars fill the streets, competing with two buses and there are kids hanging out outside a Starbucks while their moms order their Frappuchinos and gossip. It's normal. The world of the radio broadcast seems like it was just part of his dream.

He takes a turn, moving away from Main Street. There are apartment buildings and he finds a small diner, obviously for the older residents in town.

"Hey, Steve!" The woman who had given him a lift jogs across the street. Steve realizes he doesn't know her name, he's not sure how she knows his name but after everything else in the last twenty four hours, it barely registers. "Dani Moonstar," she smiles, obviously noticing his discomfort. "How did you settle in?"

"Good, small place but, good. Um thanks, for the ride."

"Hill is good, reliable. Sometimes. Have to have lots of secrets to run this town. Have you got your car?"

"No, it's still-" he gestures out towards what he thinks the right direction is. "It's out there."

"There's a shop, a few blocks away. I can't show you now, I'm at breakfast with my grandpa-"

"It's okay," he says quickly. He doesn't want to put anyone out. Dani seems less convinced this really is okay but nods.

"I'm sure we'll run into each other again." She darts back across the street to the diner without waiting for a good bye from him. Steve doesn't have much to do but keep walking. After a few blocks the town starts to fade, properties getting bigger and further apart, and he can see the desert around them through the cracks. So he turns back.

On the walk back towards the bar, he can see the radio tower, outside the city limits but still tall enough to give the feeling like it's looming over all of them. Out of the corner of his eye it looks like there are tentacles coiled around the tower, like shadows but once he looks straight at it, they're gone.

He can see Jessica in the bar when he gets back and knocks gently on the door. She opens the door with smile and flourish. "Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life."

-

The bar keeps Steve busy for the rest of the day. He completely forgets about his car until someone comes bounding in and leans on the bar, waiting impatiently for Jessica and Steve to notice him.

"Your car out there on the road, mister?"

"It is-"

"Brought it back to town, parked it outside." He walks out without another word, whistling softly.

"That's Pietro. Dad is on the City Council, likes to piss him off so got a job at Madrox's auto shop." Jessica tears up a french fry and pops it into her mouth. She had introduced him to the chef earlier, Luke, big guy but just as welcoming as everyone else has been. "Has a sister at the newspaper, and another teaching physics at the high school."

"Do you know everyone?"

Jessica grins as the door jingles with another customer. They're starting to get to lunch time, there are already a few people sitting off to the side by the window. Jessica had sent him over to get their order and bring them their drinks, but mostly it's been quiet. Calm. "I know almost everyone. And if I don't know them, I know of them."

"It helps she's Barnes' friend." A woman sits down at the bar and beckons for Jessica. Jessica rolls her eyes but goes without protest, leaning over the bar for a quick kiss.

"Shouldn't you be at work, Carol?" Jess twists to look at Steve. "Carol is a cop. Carol meet Steve."

While keeping one hand entwined with Carol's she reaches over to shake Steve's hand. "You're the ones Barnes mentioned last night? Welcome to Shield."

"Thanks. I think."

Carol laughs. "Good answer." She seems to be the first person who sees this town in a similar way to Steve. "Well," she looks back to Jessica, propping her chin up on one hand. "Can I get one of Luke's amazing burgers?"

"Of course, Steve? Bacon cheeseburger."

Steve excuses himself and pokes his head back into the kitchen. Luke is at work with some local kid, Eli. He gives Luke Carol's order and steps back out to the bar. Someone else has joined the two of them while Steve had stepped out. He has a coffee in front of him and the way his hair sticks up in all directions makes it look like he just rolled out of bed.

"Oh here we go." Jessica smiles at him and pokes the man in the arm at the same time. "Steve, meet Bucky Barnes, the voice of Shield."

The voice of Shield doesn't know how to make small talk. He immediately blushes and ducks his head. Away from his radio booth it turns out he's quiet. But his eyes startle Steve with their intensity, they move away and dart back, taking in everything. Unnaturally bright. Steve has never been looked at like that. Like he was anything more than just another face in the crowd.

Bucky Barnes looks into him. For a moment Steve has to pretend to be busy with pouring a drink, just to get used to it, to figure out what to even say.

"You talked about me last night," Steve finally says when Carol and Jessica are distracted by Carol's burger and the only person he can embarrass himself to is Bucky.

"You listened?" Bucky smiles slowly and leans forward. It's warm, lessening the intensity of his eyes. It makes Steve feel warm.

"Everyone told me to."

"Well you are gorgeous."

"I- What?"

"Can I get a beer? Anything, I like surprises." Steve jerks as if from whiplash. Bucky doesn't seem like the type to flirt with someone for a drink. But if that's what he wants, Steve moves to get him a drink. "So what brings you to our tiny town?"

"A wrong turn." Steve keeps the answer simple, he's not sure how to read Bucky and wants to keep his secrets close.

The beer is cold and dark and for a long moment Bucky just stares at it. "It's how a lot of people end up here, the town is tricky like that." Bucky's hair flops over his eyes and he hunches slightly. It all makes it hard to read how old he is. "But she must like you, to let you in."

"She?" The few women he met had nothing to do with him staying.

"The town. It's uh, can't really explain it, but you'll feel it." Bucky looks up and meets Steve's eyes and Steve thinks it isn't the town that's going to keep him here at all.

-

Jessica gives him a few hours to get stuff out of his car and into the small apartment. There isn't much space in it, but he doesn't own much. Luke gives him some leftovers to take home and keep in his fridge. He only has two photographs, one is old, him and his mother when he was a kid. He keeps it hidden in a book to keep it safe. The other is with his unit, before everything went wrong.

It occurs to him, while he's standing there, staring at the photo, he realizes the injury doesn't even hurt. Hasn't hurt since he stepped foot into this town.

His fingers drift to his shoulder, to the scar hidden now under a tattoo.

A knock on the door startles him from his thoughts and he leaves the photo on the dresser to go answer. It's Eli at the door, fidgeting nervously from foot to foot. "Hey Mr. Rogers, Ms. Drew says if you're all set, she needs you back at the bar." Something catches Steve's eye, he's not sure what, someone on the stairs maybe.

"I'll be there in two minutes."

"Yes, sir." Eli hesitates, his lips almost forming another word but then he nods and takes off, clomping down the stairs to head back across the street. The figure in the shadows moves again and this time Steve manages to see it.

Him.

"Bucky?"

Bucky steps forward and suddenly he's clear as day. "Didn't mean to sneak, but I wanted to say something before heading to work." He takes a few steps forward to stand in front of Steve. "You're something new, Steve. There's not a lot of new here."

"You were talking about stonings and apparently people believe angels are running around." Steve feels a lump rising in his throat but he's started talking and he can't stop. "People knew I was a soldier and my name without me being introduced. I don't even know when you first saw me to-" He sucks in a sharp breath. "Sorry I- sorry."

Bucky catches his hands and gently pushes him back into the apartment. He takes a quick glance and leads Steve to the kitchenette. Steve is pushed into a chair and Bucky gets a glass of water. "It's okay. Carol moved here about seven years ago, almost drove her car into the City Hall." He takes a seat next to Steve. "I grew up here, interned at the radio station for two months, almost the longest internship on record," he says smugly. "Jim Hammond set the record twenty years ago with 84 days. But this town takes something, and if you're here at all, then you have it."

"I'm not sure about that."

"I am. You've had your car back for hours and you're here setting up an apartment." Bucky smiles, and it's just like back in the bar earlier. Something in his smile is intoxicating, combined with the way his voice warps and twists like it did on the radio and Steve feels himself leaning forward without even thinking about it. "I barely know you Steve, but I want you to stay," Bucky whispers.

"Why?" Steve whispers back, to talk any louder would be wrong.

"Because, you're something special." When Bucky's phone goes off, Steve isn't surprised. Nothing can be easy. "Need to get to work, Management is kind of titchy." He leans in to kiss Steve's cheek and then he's answering the phone. He doesn't say goodbye but Steve likes that. Gives him the feeling that they're just putting the conversation on pause to continue later. The language coming out of Bucky's mouth doesn't sound like English but Steve can't place it. He listens to it as Bucky goes down the stairs until he's out of range and the silence presses in on him.

With a start he realizes he's supposed to be at the bar and takes off running. He almost stops when he sees his car on the curb outside. He could leave, get back in and drive away. Who in this town would really blame him.

But he has a commitment now, Jessica is expecting him. Even if he never saw anyone from this town ever again, the guilt would eat at him. He has enough guilt over simply being stateside while so many good men aren't.

-

On the radio that night, the big talk is about some geese circling the town. Apparently they've been attacking anything low flying, including balloons, other birds, a small plane. One might have taken off with a child, but the report doesn't seem clear about that. Or even if it's a human child.

Steve still listens until he falls asleep with Bucky's voice in his ears.

-

"He's something, isn't he?" Carol shoots him a smirk as Steve clears away some glasses from the bar. It's her day off and she's spending it teasing Jessica and Steve at the bar.

"Who?" There's only one man Carol could be talking about but Steve hasn't seem him for a few days when Bucky surprised him with a lunch invitation and quick kiss before saying goodbye. Each night he listens to his voice, even later shifts at the bar, the noise level drops and the radio comes on. Everyone pauses to listen. It feels like a community. Steve starts to learn the feel of the place, Jessica tells him about the people around town. The rest he learns from the people themselves. Jamie Madrox comes in to complain about his employees and at least once a week Tony Stark, the town's richest resident, comes to make Jessica an offer for the place which Jessica coldly refuses. If Carol's there she'll mutter a few sharp comments to Steve.

The most he learns about is Bucky. Even if they don't see each other every day, for the past few weeks they see each other enough. He learns how easy it is to crack through Bucky's carefully built walls of words. All it takes is a smile or a touch and Bucky has no defense.

It's charming, making dinner while Bucky explains some new occurrence in town, sleeves rolled up to expose pale skin and intricate ink. He learns Bucky likes to curl his arm through Steve's while they're walking even if it's just across the street to the bar for Steve to get to work. Somehow this thing with Bucky is simple, as simple as everything else has been since he arrived. The apartment was waiting, and the job was waiting. It was all simple.

Adapting to unexpected dead animals and a forest that seems to brainwash people is harder. But running away has never sat well with him and he'll get used to it, he knows he will. One day, a giant creature comes crawling down the street, carrying Reed Richards who comes in after his work at some local bio lab every Thursday in it's mouth, leaving a trail of slime behind it. Jessica calmly says it's a librarian heading into the desert to die and as long as Steve stays inside until it's passed, he'll be fine. After it passes, a team of specially outfitted police come out and burn the slime residue. He knows without being told Reed won't ever be coming back. To keep back the panic, he dials Bucky's phone number but only gets his voicemail. He leaves a quick message, he only wants to say hi.

Steve doesn't hear back from Bucky, but that night on the radio, he talks for a moment about the message he received and how caring Steve is. It's enough to make Steve blush alone in his room but it makes the day a little easier. Maybe this place will make sense if he waits a little longer even if the town seems against him being fully settled.

The nightmares strike everyone in town, but Steve doesn't know that. All he knows is he walks out of his apartment and there's a thick haze over the town. In the distance there are noises that come echoing through the haze, they might be screams or explosions. The panic starts in his stomach and twists out, freezing his limbs. He's not in some small desert town, he's back in the desert.

There's a shape in the haze, a figure that might be human but that doesn't mean it's a good thing. Adrenaline kicks in and he finally gets himself moving again, ducking behind a car. The car feels like it should be familiar but why would he have a car while serving abroad? He's a grunt with a gun and nothing else.

Steve realizes with a dull ache he doesn't even have his gun. He's a sitting duck, waiting for the next attack and he can hear it getting closer.

He refuses to sit around and die, he has to find the rest of his unit. He moves carefully down the street, through the haze. A woman comes crashing through a window. She twists in mid air like a woman shouldn't and when she looks at Steve she has no face, he realizes she's not a woman at all. Steve falls onto his ass trying to get away. There's a flash of purple and what looks like an arrow being shot, but Steve can't stare away from the angel.

When he was a boy, he spent three years in a Catholic orphanage before a foster home was found. He knows about angels, the old angels, more macabre than lovely.

The angel screams, inhuman and horrible. Steve can't look away. It's here to drag him to hell, there's no other answer. He's killed, there's blood on his hands and he must be dragged down to hell. A hand grabs his arm and for a second he tries to fight it, it would be wrong to fight his fate but the hand pulls and pulls and finally he gives in. He can't see much of the person dragging him, it looks like they're covered head to toe. Wisps of black hair escape around a hood but that's it.

Around them the town they're in goes mad. They almost trip over a couple fucking or fighting in the middle of the street. Steve can barely tell before they're moving on. The person has some destination in mind, almost to the edge of town. The building is a solid flat brick thing. Somehow looking at it seems to hurt, like watching a 3-D movie without the glasses on.

The person throws them both inside and slams the door shut behind them. There's no haze inside here, Steve starts coughing hard as if coming in from a sandstorm. He looks around, feeling awareness return to him. He knows now that he's not back in Afghanistan, he's in New Mexico but it still feels distant, like he's walking between two world. The inside is gorgeous, a big tiled room with a receptionist's desk at the far end. The only sound is a faint echoing of the radio playing but Steve can't focus on it, it's too much for the moment.

The person who dragged him in quickly strips down and Steve realizes it's a young woman. Too young for the bar so Steve doesn't know her name.

"You're the new guy, right? The one Mr. Barnes adores?"

Steve tries to think and form the words, but it doesn't come out. He knows who Bucky is but it's as if that part of his life belongs to someone else. She grabs his arm again and starts dragging him. With each step, and with fresher air, he feels more himself. "What's going on?"

"Not sure, think the City Council screwed up the sacrifice." They stop outside of the recording booth. Bucky's sitting underneath his desk with the microphone pulled down to him. "I think he's speaking Lakota. Or Ancient Norse. I didn't pay much attention during language classes, except French. But it'd probably help the town if he was doing something to calm everyone."

Steve wants to argue that he's not the right person for this, two minutes ago he was convinced he was back in the Army. "Can I ask one thing?" The girl shrugs and waits. "Was the angel real?"

"Of course. They hang out with Rahne by the auto shop. Not good to see them out on their own. The City Council doesn't like them." She nudges his shoulder towards the door. "Now go."

Steve takes a deep breath and lets himself into the booth. Bucky doesn't notice him until Steve sits down in front of him. And he goes silent.

"Your intern says you know what's going on. I think it's your intern," Steve says, forcing his voice steady. It's almost intimate, sitting knee to knee on the floor, but he has to remind himself there's a crisis outside.

"Kate, isn't she great? The Council failed in their duties," Bucky murmurs, voice taking on a more dangerous edge than Steve is used to. It's intoxicating and Steve feels like the haze from outside is creeping in.

The realization makes him jerk back, banging hard into Bucky's chair. "It's you? You're creating this riot?"

"I only report the news." Bucky smiles, dark and sinister. This isn't the man who gave him shy kisses in his apartment. Steve doesn't know this man. But he's so alluring, Steve realizes he wants to. "And the news today is chaos." He leans forward without warning, moving into Steve's lap. "You came here at random Mr. Rogers. You must appreciate some chaos."

"I hate it." His fingers close around Bucky's hips, trying to create some space. "I hate the unexpected. I like having a plan."

"And how does that usually go, Soldier?" Bucky's fingers touch the scar on his shoulder. The reminder he'll never lose, even if he's not thinking about it, it's still there. "Come on Steve, you have some appreciation for surprises."

Steve closes his eyes, trying to focus instead all he can think of is Bucky's hands on him, warm even through his clothes. The haze would be so easy to fall into and it wouldn't matter that nothing is right. He could shove Bucky onto his back and Bucky would beg for it. Maybe it would still be them simply uninhibited by the haze, but it wouldn't be them. "What's going on?" He grits out.

Bucky sighs, his shoulder slumping, like it was all a mask he had up. "I told you, the Council pissed off the Eldritch beast that lives in the caves that run under the town. So it's punishing the town. It'll be over soon."

"You- you-"

Bucky smiles and slips off of his lap, curling back up under the desk. "I told you that too, I report the news." He presses his thumb to Steve's lips. "Lots of secrets in this town. You haven't asked Jessica about her pet spider, or Carol that she's never touched alcohol despite spending all her time in a bar or why Madrox looked so confused when you asked about his twin. Let me have this." His fingers curl around Steve's chin, fitting as if they belong there and there's no more fighting the urge to lean in and kiss. Bucky falls backwards, taking Steve with him, touching nowhere but their lips. Steve's hands curls into fists, one on either side of Bucky's head.

It's Bucky who ends it, twisting a hand in his hair and pulling Steve back.

"Have to do the news." He reaches for the microphone again. "Sorry about dropping off there Shield, bit of a distraction here in the studio. It's a bit hard to think and it's not even a Tuesday. But-" The door opens and his intern comes in, holding up a piece of paper. "Oh good news Shield, the City Council has apparently performed the rite they were supposed to, there was a mix up in their schedule, you all know how it is." His eyes close while he talks, focusing on something away from Steve. "The weird haze should pass shortly, we'll be waiting here for counts of the dead and the maimed. Please remember your assigned hospital or clinic to make things go smoother for everyone. You know Shield Hospital's motto, the sooner you let us stick you with needles and possibly infect you with a dangerous disease for the sake of research, the sooner you can go home and kiss your child who was probably replaced with a changeling good night."

Steve sits back, moving until his back hits the wall. It still sounds so bizarre to him, but it's as if it doesn't matter anymore. He's clear headed again, there's no danger in Bucky's voice. The intern comes back and forth with slips of paper, dressed now in her normal clothes. She gives Steve small knowing smiles each time she passes.

He waits until Bucky finishes his broadcast and someone else who works at the station steps in to relieve him. Bucky unfolds neatly from the floor, unashamed of how disheveled he is. The woman doesn't look particularly surprised either. Steve can feel her eyes on them as Bucky leads him away and down the hall. Back to the outside world. The town looks like a storm has swept through it but people, mostly looked as overwhelmed as Steve feels, are slowly trying to set things back to normal.

"Want to come back to my place? I've got dumplings left over from dinner and cheap wine," Bucky offers, stepping carefully over the remains of a bird with its head torn off.

"I-" Steve thinks of the angel who swooped down and feels the way the scar aches in his shoulder and he thinks he'd rather be home. Possibly curled up under a blanket for a few hours, simply to process.

Bucky stops and turns to look up at him. "Please."

He takes a deep breath and lets it out all at once. "Ok."

-

The wine bottle lies discarded to the side, the dumplings were never touched. Steve's hands are curled around Bucky's bedframe, loosely trying to ground himself in reality while Bucky trails kisses over Steve's skin. If he looks down, Bucky's skin seems to be moving, his tattoos twisting and shifting in the dim light. Steve's only seen the hint of sleeves on his arms before but now he can see them all, curling over his arms and shoulders, and coming together across his back. He risks letting go with one hand to reach down and spread his fingers over Bucky's back, feeling the steady rise and fall with each breath, the slight arching to get closer to Steve's hand.

He expects to feel something of the tattoos themselves, the cool scales of snakes or the cool stone of a statue, but there is only skin.

"Tell me a secret," Bucky whispers against his stomach.

"No."

Teeth scrape against his hip. "I won't put it on air. I want to know you." Bucky's tongue draws a pattern on the inside of his thigh. And agonizingly slowly lips curl around the head of his cock. Bucky sucks him like he's savoring this. His fingers move over Steve's hips and thighs, and down to his entrance. Every movement is careful, calculated, but gentle. Steve understands the feel of a gun, he knows how to take and give orders but Bucky understands people. Steve has listened to him each night and sometimes during the day and knows intimately how Bucky twists words. But the way he knows how to touch is a surprise.

Steve's not sure he can do much but give in. He knows he doesn't want to do more. He cries out as Bucky's tongue teases his slit and Bucky's fingers move deeper. Steve is so lost he can't think of any secrets he might have. He is nothing but skin and muscle and bone, there's no room for secrets. Whatever ones he had, they're Bucky's now and when Bucky looks up and his eyes meet Steve, Steve understands somewhere deep down that Bucky is part of him too now.

He thinks he whispers 'please' but it doesn't matter, Bucky will give him what he wants anyway. He moves up Steve's body, fitting easily between his thighs and their fingers twisting together on the headboard. They move slow and in sync, not looking away until Steve physically can't and he comes hard. Bucky's lips press to his neck, right over his racing pulse and Steve feels him release, sticky and hot between them.

Steve presses his face against Bucky's shoulder.

"I'll have to leave you for the nightly broadcast," Bucky murmurs, curling against Steve's side, his head on Steve's shoulder.

Steve curses softly and wraps his arm tighter around Bucky's waist. "Should probably go to the bar." Life isn't going to wait for everything to be back to normal, they have to get up and make it normal. That's how Shield works, and in the time since he's been there, he's learned that much. But he's learning to enjoy the little things as well.

"You never told me a secret."

Steve twists them so he's on top, smiling down at Bucky. He'll whisper all of his secrets into Bucky's skin, burn them into his tattoos.

-

Steve drives his car to the edge of town, grabbing a bottle of water and moving to sit on the hood to look out into the desert. He can see the mesas to the south divided by deep canyons. Scrub land stretches around the town, turning into a ragged looking forest to the west. He grew up in New York, and never realized how alive deserts are.

It's become one of his favorite spots in town. It's quiet, calm. A coyote watches him from the brush and then trots away.

"You should learn to carry a weapon if you're going to come out here." Dani walks up to his car, an amused smile on her lips. She has a bow and arrow in one hand and a quiver over her back.

"I've had my fill of weapons."

Dani rolls her eyes and sits up on the hood beside him. "It's not about killing or conquering. It's-" She pauses to collect her thoughts and Steve stays quiet, waiting. "It's respect. Hopefully you never have to use it, but you are no better than what lives out in the desert and to underestimate them is to disrespect them, beast or otherwise."

"Otherwise?"

She smiles darkly and runs her thumb over a scratch in the bow. "Otherwise. Don't presume you safe because you stand taller." She slips off of the car hood. "Now if you'll excuse me, have to get back to the res to help out."

"You're walking?"

She laughs and waves as she starts out. "I warned you about the otherwise, Steve!" He thinks it must be the desert heat distorting the air that makes her figure hard to follow and she seems to simply disappear. Steve stays on the hood of his car for a little while longer. He doesn't think about getting into it and driving away, back out to whatever is going on in the rest of the world. He's content right here. With the radio tower standing behind him, keeping an eye on all of the town.

The radio in the car is on and finally the program changes and Bucky's excited voice spills out of his car windows and into open air, welcoming everyone who can hear him into something special.