Steve is a good one for locking up before bed. It isn't a habit born of a fighting instinct not to leave himself vulnerable to attack as one might think, but a relic of growing up in a neighborhood burglarized left and right.
He's only human though, whatever they say, and if heavy is the head that wears the crown, no one talks about the weight on the fighting standard bearer. The day's battle leaves him drained and that's on top of weeks worth of anguish. Steve doesn't make it home until late at night, sweltering in the costume and with only enough energy to tear his bedroom window open, strip it off, and eat cereal in bed out of the box for dinner. Captain America is a symbol of hope, but Steve has learned to stomach a belief that the world is cruel, or at least fate is. He finally has the money to eat, but barely the time, and lately food tastes like worry and guilt anyway.
Sleep comes for him. She takes Steve from the world for a good ten hours. He wakes to grey daylight and the box of cereal isn't on the nightstand where he left it. It's on the floor, beneath the window. Steve slides out of bed to investigate and finds the box nearly empty.
Someone has been in his bedroom. Someone who's hungry. Nothing else is disturbed or missing.
It's still an intrusion and he's Captain America. He's expected to call SHIELD with their forensics. He has deadly enemies, one of them above all others on SHIELD's wanted list. Yet all Steve can do is stand at the window staring out at what he can see of the city three stories below, his insides knotting up with hope. The files described the Winter Soldier as an expert tracker. If any of Steve's enemies could find where he lived it would be him.
That should have given Steve twice as much reason to call in SHIELD. The Winter Soldier is out there to kill him and to be in his sights is to die. But he's Bucky too, in there somewhere, and after all the years they've scraped for food together during the Depression, the thought of Bucky out there hungry is too much to stomach.
The next night, Steve sets his alarm for 3am and lays out the cereal, a blue plastic bowl and spoon, and the milk on the balcony. It's cold enough in the mornings now that the milk won't spoil out there for a couple hours.
Steve goes back to sleep and wakes three hours later. The cereal box is completely empty and the milk a quarter gone.
He does the same for four more nights, lays out the cereal and milk at exactly 3am and wakes to find them heartily depleted by the time he gets up for his morning run.
Fury comes by first thing on the fifth morning with updated intel on where the Winter Soldier was last seen three weeks ago, sleeping in a train station in Maryland. Steve barely has time to throw on pants and a shirt, much less to pick up on the balcony, before he answers the door. Through the sliding door, Fury sees the blue plastic bowl Steve left out and comments, "Feeding strays now, Rogers?"
He hands him the intel, complete with dark grainy photos of a man with dark, too-long hair and black clothes. Steve takes it, glancing at the balcony and swallowing the fear that he's playing with fire along with a small pang of guilt. He may not trust SHIELD, but Fury has meant well warning him dozens of times that the man behind the Winter Soldier's mask isn't his long-lost best friend and worse, Fury has SHIELD exhausting every resource to find Bucky at that very moment in a genuine effort to save lives—Steve's own not the least of them.
But Steve has no proof it's the Winter Soldier coming to his balcony each morning and loyalty to your best friend naturally comes before loyalty to Fury or SHIELD, so Steve nods and lies.
"Just a cat in the neighborhood, sir. I don't think it has a home."
Steve needs proof it's the Winter Soldier. He needs the Winter Soldier not to have abandoned him now that the men controlling him have fallen, needs to be his focus, even only as a target, because he's all Steve has left of the friend he lost.
The next night, Steve lays out the cereal and milk and decides to wait sitting in one of the plastic chairs on the balcony. He knows he's leaving himself open to a sniper shot or a knife hurled out of nowhere in the dark, but no bullet or gleaming metal flies at him and no one climbs up for the food either. Apparently, there are rules. The Winter Soldier won't come if someone is out here.
The weather gets suddenly colder. In addition to the milk and cereal, Steve leaves out coffee in a thermos to keep it warm. He gets more determined too and after three more nights of luring his visitor with the usual routine, puts the food out and lies awake in his bed, listening. They say the Winter Soldier takes out his victims as quiet as a shadow, but climbing up three stories has to make some noise.
It's 4:39 exactly when Steve hears the metal railing creak. He bolts out of bed and creeps as far as the hallway where he can peek through the half-open blinds covering the patio door without being seen.
It's Bucky—or rather the Winter Soldier—out there, with the same long hair and black clothes, no doubt armed to the teeth beneath them. He crouches in the corner of the balcony, clawing open the cereal with the surprisingly deft fingers of his metal hand and yanking off the cap of the milk in a hurry to eat. It hurts, watching him hunched over the blue plastic bowl with his hair in his face, frantically shoveling milk and cereal into his mouth. He's starving.
Steve waits for him to finish, lets him eat as much as he wants. Bucky saves the coffee for last, something warm after the cold milk. He sets the thermos down and rises to vanish off wherever it is he goes. Steve makes his move out onto the balcony before he can.
The Winter Soldier doesn't react to his name, only the threat of being cornered. He backs up and grips the rail, ready to leap over if Steve takes another step.
Steve stays where he is. If he unnerves Bucky too much he might not come this close again. He looks terrible, ragged and dirty. There's an angry red cut on the right side of his forehead near his hairline and some of his hair is matted, probably with blood. He's been in a fight and now that his hair's pushed back Steve can see his cheeks are gaunter than they should be. No one's been feeding him, but who would? The Red Skull and Lukin were brought down weeks ago.
Part of Steve fears that's why the Winter Soldier has been coming around, to observe Steve's habits, bide his time, and kill him in revenge. The files say the Red Room made Bucky loyal...
Steve makes his voice non-threatening anyway.
"Come on, don't run. What are you gonna do all alone out there in the cold? There's more food..."
The Winter Soldier stares at him with half wild eyes. Steve's not sure he understands—he's not sure he's sane—but Steve knows he'll only feel cornered as long as Steve's standing here.
He goes back inside, closes the door, and pretends to go back to bed. He wakes at his usual time to find the Winter Soldier gone, but the next night Steve comes home late from a SHIELD briefing on the latest of the Winter Soldier's suspected whereabouts to find Bucky curled in the corner of the balcony beside the sliding door. He's asleep, leaning against the building, seeking what protection he can get from the wind.
Steve can't leave the food out early now without letting him know he's there. He sets his alarm for 4:30 and decides to lure him with something hot. He opens a can of Spaghettios and heats it in Bucky's bowl. Steve leaves it alongside the coffee on the living room floor a few feet from the sliding door. The door he leaves open a crack, hoping the sight and smell of a warm meal will draw Bucky inside. He can't stay out there.
It works. The bowl is licked clean by sunup, no doubt eaten off the floor, and the Winter Soldier is gone from the balcony. Steve is relieved, both for getting Bucky to come inside the apartment and that the Winter Soldier made no move to murder him in his sleep.
It rains a couple nights after that. The storm starts out light, but with the downpour comes the heavy winds in the middle of the night. Steve gets out of bed and sure enough the Winter Soldier is huddled in the corner of the balcony beside the door. He's soaked, long hair plastered to his head. The building and the awning above providing him no protection.
Steve opens the patio door.
"You can sleep inside." Though you'll likely try and kill me with a toothpick or your bare hands, he doesn't add. The Winter Soldier's eyes are fixed on him but he makes no move. Steve opens the door wider and coaxes, "Come on. It's warm in here." The coaxing tone seems to cut through his wariness a fraction. Maybe Steve can get him to trust him the same way he had his handlers.
He won't come in with Steve standing there though. Steve turns away for the kitchen. He doesn't have another can of Spaghettios to heat up and lure the Winter Soldier with, but he has a microwaveable breakfast of eggs and pancakes. He puts the eggs in Bucky's blue bowl and butters the pancakes and sets out hot coffee beside it.
The sleep Steve falls back into is a deep one, deaf to any noise inside the apartment or out. He comes out of the bedroom in nothing but his boxers, ready for his morning shower, only to halt at the sight of the Winter Soldier standing before the bathroom mirror. He's bare to the waist and his hair is wet and curling loosely, freshly washed. He's taken a shower—a hot one by the amount of steam fogging the mirror. Steve stares a moment at his metal arm and the way it goes all the way up to his shoulder, but even that's not the shocking part. He can see how thin Bucky is now after weeks without care. His ribs show and there's another, angrier cut on his shoulder blade. Whatever fight he's been in had been a bad one.
"Hey let me look at that," Steve tries to say, a hand extended toward him.
Bucky quickly grabs his shirt and leather jacket from the bathroom counter and makes a line for the sliding door, as if he doesn't want Steve to see how badly he's wounded.
Of course he doesn't. The Winter Soldier wouldn't want an enemy knowing he's weakened.
It rains off and on for a week. The Winter Soldier comes in to sleep. He eats the food Steve lures him with and showers, but only when Steve is asleep or pretending to sleep. The minute Steve comes out of the bedroom he darts away. He doesn't answer when Steve tries to call him back either, doesn't respond to his name, and should anyone come by in the night at the cropping up of a crisis, Bucky finds a way to slip out then too without being seen.
Steve goes shopping after an emergency briefing at SHIELD revealing they have information the Winter Soldier might be in West Virginia.
"I know you don't have much," Steve tells him from the balcony doorway when he gets home, careful to keep a distance of a good ten feet, "but I bought you some things." He shows the Winter Soldier a blue plastic bin holding a blue toothbrush, a comb, razor, and clean socks and underwear. "I'll leave it in the bathroom for you."
He sets the bin aside on the coffee table, hoping he isn't asking for it with the razor, and shows him what else he bought—a furry dark blue blanket for Bucky to sleep with. That, he sets out in the corner of the couch in an invitation for Bucky to sleep there instead of in the corner by the door where he prefers, in case he has to run.
The Winter Soldier stares with eyes both wary and confused. Steve can't blame him. The things he's bought means he's technically allowed one of the world's most dangerous assassins to live with him now, a man SHIELD is hunting and has worked around the clock to keep Steve updated on his possible whereabouts. Yet when the rain forces the Winter Soldier to stay inside yet again that night, Steve peeks making his way ever so quietly to the bathroom and sees Bucky curled on the couch wrapped in his new blanket. There's no guilt, just relief that Bucky's safe out of the wet and cold.
Steve wakes to the awareness of a presence in his bedroom. He opens his eyes to the Winter Soldier standing over him, a shadow in black save for the gleam of his metal hand. No, more like a ghost with his long hair and pale face. He just stares and part of Steve goes cold thinking the Winter Soldier has finally come to slit his throat or smother him in his sleep, but Bucky doesn't move.
Carefully, Steve draws a hand out of the blankets to touch him. "Bucky..."
He backs away and slips out of the room. Steve lets him go.
Rain turns to snow and Steve is in the middle of making dinner when the Winter Soldier creeps almost soundlessly through the patio door Steve left unlocked. It's progress, Steve tells himself, that Bucky will come while he's out here.
Bucky takes off his snow-dusted jacket. He wears nothing but a black tank top beneath and Steve gets another look at how thin he is. He throws another chicken breast on the Foreman the way Sam showed him and when it's done, cuts it up over rice and vegetables. It occurs to him that the breakfast he's put out for Bucky in the early mornings may be the only meal he's been getting. He wouldn't have any money...
"I made you something special." Steve brings the plate to him on the couch, careful to keep that coaxing tone so he'll see Steve's not an enemy, and to move closer very slowly. He sets the plate on the coffee table and it's a small triumph that Bucky doesn't move. It's the closest Steve has come to him. "I figure you haven't been getting much meat."
Steve hasn't gained near enough of the Winter Soldier's trust for him to eat with Steve watching so Steve returns to the kitchen. He glances over his shoulder a few minutes later and the plate is eaten clean.
"You want some more?" he offers, well aware he could be helping the Winter Soldier get his strength up just so he can kill him.
Bucky takes a long time warming himself up in the shower. He might be cold at the moment, but Steve has noticed he always takes a long time, as if some part of him feels he can't get clean enough.
Steve sits down to watch TV on the couch beside Bucky's rumpled blanket. He looks over the intel from the latest briefing, with more shadowy photos of a black-clad man about Bucky's height and build carrying a handgun in one hand. Steve can easily see it isn't him. The man in the photos carries his weapon uneasily. The Winter Soldier wields them like a part of him.
He looks up to see Bucky in the hallway entrance, staring at him. He wants his spot on the couch, but is hesitant with Steve there. Steve's beginning to think he makes the man Bucky is now feel as vulnerable as he does Steve.
Steve sits quiet and still though, and slowly Bucky comes closer and claims his corner of the couch with his blanket. He folds himself up small for a man six feet in height and paws at the blanket with his metal hand until he arranges it the way he likes it.
Steve hides the intel, doesn't want him to know SHIELD is hunting him. Bucky stares blankly at the TV and soon falls asleep. Steve sits there, quiet and watching him. It's been a long time since he's sat with his best friend, even if this isn't him now, just the body, just a shell.
The Winter Soldier slumps sideways. seeking warmth in his sleep. Steve moves his arm out of the way and Bucky sinks down all the way, his head against Steve's thigh.
Steve freezes. Bucky's warm and heavy and for the moment he feels content, his breathing slow and even. A flood of emotions surges through Steve, too many to understand, and he for a long time he just sits there.
His phone chimes with a text message, but he doesn't want to disturb Bucky by getting up. The sound is enough to wake him though. His eyes fly open, alarmed by where he is.
"It's okay..." Steve brings a hand up to his hair and carefully strokes. It's silky and soft and he's almost too warm to the touch. The Winter Soldier closes his eyes again and falls back asleep. The cut on his forehead is still there and Steve hasn't forgotten about the blood he'd seen matted in his hair.
He carefully parts the strands while he has the chance. There's scabbing in Bucky's scalp and some of his hair's still matted. Steve tries pulling the mat apart with his fingers for a better look. He must have pulled too hard because Bucky's head jerks up, blue eyes wild as if ready to bite him.
Steve takes his hand away. "You have to let me look."
There's the wound on his shoulder too, but Bucky pulls away for his corner of the couch and Steve is afraid that if he tries again he'll run.
Steve sleeps heavy the first couple hours of the night, but wakes in the dark thirsty and restless. He goes to the kitchen for water, aware of the Winter Soldier's eyes following him from his place on the couch. Steve turns, opening the cabinet for a clean plastic cup. He brings it to the fridge and straightens. The Winter Soldier's footsteps don't make a sound, but Steve is aware of him behind him.
He's so close, Steve almost steps on his foot. What's left of Bucky is nothing but a thin, shaggy shape in the scant light from between the blinds over the sliding door, staring at him with unsettling intensity. Part of Steve's afraid he's come to throttle him from behind, or grab for the cutlery, but he's so still and his face is uncertain.
Steve hopes it's the programming breaking down. that maybe with his handlers gone the Winter Soldier has decided he's better off here with him.
Taking a breath, and a chance, Steve lifts a hand to touch his face. "Hey, Buck..." he says as gently as he knows how.
For a moment, the Winter Soldier rigidly allows the touch. He's confused by it, but their eyes meet and for Steve the distance of less than a foot suddenly becomes more painful than anything the Winter Soldier might have been ordered to do to him.
Something changes in Bucky's eyes and then he's lunging for him. Steve has half a second to get his hands up, ready to fend off an attack, only for Bucky to shove him backward into the fridge with the press of his body.
The heat of him smothers Steve everywhere at once. There's the push of his hips against Steve's and the too intimate pressure of the Winter Soldier's—Bucky's—thigh against his, the scratch of whiskers against Steve's cheek, and the breath Bucky lets out stinging the side of Steve's neck.
It's sharp with the longing for human contact, too warm just like the rest of him. Panic swells up in Steve to match the relief in it. Bucky is hard. Does he even know what he's doing? Bucky likes girls and the Winter Soldier is barely sane, but maybe this is what he needs.
Bucky rubs his body against him, grinds his hips, his cock against him, panting into Steve's neck. The thin veneer of principle Steve clings to, of allowing this only because it might salvage something in the shell Bucky is now, gets dragged under the pounding of his own blood in his ears and in his cock. Steve's hard too, groaning with the friction. Bucky's stronger now from the Red Room's training, even underfed. His long hair's in Steve's mouth and he's letting out choked sounds in Steve's ear. His hands curl into Steve's upper arms, the human one scratching, the metal one bruising. His teeth sink into Steve's shoulder with a helpless, overwhelmed sound and Steve realizes he's coming.
The pain and the thrill send Steve over the edge. He was afraid of the Winter Soldier forgetting him in the wake of Lukin's fall, of being nothing to him anymore, afraid of losing all that was left of his best friend, and now Bucky's clinging to him. Steve grips him just as tight and he's coming too, his head spinning so fast Steve almost forgets the guilt that Bucky isn't in anything near his right mind.
It's the first emotion that crashes back the instant the stars fade from behind Steve's eyes. The puncture marks on Steve's neck sting and he's sure the arm Bucky clawed with his human hand is bleeding. He barely feels it. His heart's beating fast and he's groping for an adequate apology Bucky might not even understand as Bucky untangles himself and backs away.
His head is down, startled by what just happened maybe. Sweat shines on his face and he looks unsteady, but he says nothing, just creeps toward the shower where he stays for a while.
Steve cleans himself as best as he can in the kitchen sink and makes an effort, shaken as he is, to go back to sleep.
Sleep he manages, but guilt weighs like a brick on his conscience the instant Steve wakes. Worse, he's aware of solid heat pressed to his back and realizes the Winter Soldier is curled facing away from him on the opposite side of the bed.
Steve swallows. He doesn't doubt Bucky might have gotten cold out there on the couch, but... The feel of him against his back brings back the feel of him from last night, the pressure against Steve's cock, the rhythm of Bucky's breathing in his ear, the desperate rhythm of his hips. Steve's cock tingles and he feels sick. What would Bucky think of him if he ever got his memory back? How could Steve have gotten off on it? Bucky doesn't even know his own identity. How could he really know he wanted it?
But Bucky was showing signs of trusting him now, wasn't he? Getting close, going to him for something he needed, sleeping in Steve's bed... Maybe that didn't make it so bad.
Steve carefully turns toward him. He strokes a hand over Bucky's shoulder and his eyes open. Steve smiles at him, though it's forced.
"You nice and warm there?" he says in the gentle tone he's been using. It walks the line of baby-talking.
The Winter Soldier wets his lips like he wants to speak. Steve holds his breath only for someone to pound on the front door.
It's Fury, yelling at him to open up. Steve barely has time to scramble into sweats and a t-shirt, but he's careful to close the bedroom door.
SHIELD has a lead on the Winter Soldier in Philadelphia and Fury is adamant Steve leave at once to investigate.
Steve gives the intel no more than a cursory glance. SHIELD underestimates Bucky. If his intention was to run, they wouldn't be lucky enough to get leads on him. But Steve has to throw SHIELD off his trail for a while if he wanted to keep Bucky here.
"With respect, I think Agent Romanoff would be better suited for this."
Fury is not easily fooled. He looks Steve over carefully. "Why's that?"
"The Red Room is her world," Steve shrugs.
Fury sees his attempt to shield Bucky for what it is. "I want this guy brought in, Rogers."
They've had this fight a dozen times before, but Steve is no less angry or rooted in his conviction this time around. "I won't let anyone hurt a man for things he can't be blamed for doing."
Steve must have shown a little too much conviction. Fury's one eye moves over the healing scratches on his arm and the teeth marks on his neck. His expression becomes shadowed with suspicion and it's amazing how he can be thunderously irate and so composed all at once.
"Hot date last night, Captain? Or has that cat you've been feeding been getting a little too feisty?"
Before Steve can answer, Fury heads for the couch, snatching a long dark hair from Bucky's deep blue blanket.
"This belong to anyone I'm looking for?"
Angry and put on the spot, Steve falters.
Fury starts looking around the apartment. He sees the blue bin with Bucky's things in it through the bathroom doorway.
"You buy your new cat a blue collar too? Call him 'James' maybe? Either you need help, Rogers, or you'd better come clean."
Getting ahold of himself, Steve draws himself up. "With respect, sir. You don't have the authority to search my home.
Fury turns, looking Steve hard in the eye. He says, punctuating every word, "I'm under reasonable suspicion you're harboring a terrorist and an enemy of the state. You have no rights, here, Rogers."
Steve doesn't flinch from Fury's gaze. He's just as angry. "According to what Agent Romanoff tells me and what's in the files, whatever the Winter Soldier has done isn't Bucky's fault. He was under someone else's control. I won't let you or anyone brand him a terrorist, sir."
If you weren't Captain America... everything in Fury seethes, but he holds on to a shred of patience and takes a deep breath.
"No one under my command wants to hurt your friend, Rogers. He's one of our own. But the fact is, we don't know what's in that fucked-up head of his—triggers, a second level of programming set to kick in at any time in the event of Lukin's fall... He's still a danger. If you care so much about Barnes, do you think he'd want that?"
That hits home and Fury draws a syringe from his coat pocket. He doesn't have to tell Steve it's loaded with a heavy tranquilizer.
"It's up to you. You can bring him in and maybe we can help get your friend back with a little less blood on his conscience, or you can let him be hunted and taken out someday as the thing he is now."
He sets the syringe on the coffee table and leaves, but not before muttering one last thing on the way out.
"And please tell me you haven't been sleeping with him."
The instant he's gone, Steve rushes for the bedroom. Bucky's gone too, slipped out the window. Steve's heart drops, though part of him expected it. He can only imagine what Bucky—the Winter Soldier—must think, that here he had gotten halfway to trusting Steve only for SHIELD to come in and prove the apartment isn't safe. Steve doubted he risked staying long enough to overhear the whole of the conversation.
Steve knows Fury's right though. Who knows what other plans Lukin or the Red Skull had in place, and Bucky wouldn't want to hurt anyone else. The only question is how far Bucky could have gotten in ten minutes. Fear gets an icy hand around Steve's heart, fear that he might never find him again.
He doesn't know what else to do but call Sam. His ability to see through the eyes of birds is exactly what Steve needs right now.
Sam isn't happy, but he's not terribly surprised. "You didn't tell me that 'cat' you've been feeding could have killed you with a toothbrush in your sleep."
"He was hungry," Steve insists in his own defense, "and cold. Bucky always took care of me..."
"Yeah well if you get him back in his right mind the two of you can put 'in sickness and in brainwashing' in your wedding vows."
Sam hangs up, and the remark cuts deeper than it should. Steve doesn't have time to think about it now though. The snow will slow Bucky down, but not by much from what Steve's seen of the Winter Soldier.
Sam meets up with him and they search. There's no point in going door to door with pictures—the Winter Soldier wouldn't let himself be seen. Instead, they search alleys and behind buildings and empty places. They search until darkness lays its cloak over the city and Steve is reduced to looking behind cars with a flashlight and uselessly calling Bucky's name.
It's insult to injury that a few people stop to ask him whether he's lost his dog.
It's Sam who thinks he's spotted something. Steve finds Bucky at the bottom of a flight of dirty concrete stairs, beneath an old abandoned restaurant.
He looks awful, dusted with snow yet pale and sweaty as if running all day has taken something out of him. He's holding his left leg wrong. He must have stumbled. Something's not right and Steve can see he needs help.
Steve goes down the steps to him, slow and quiet.
For the first time, the Winter Soldier reacts to the name, lowering his eyes to the concrete. Steve can see him crawling with nerves, no doubt because he's injured and can't run half as well if he needs to.
Steve swallows and ventures closer, holding up his hands. "I'm not here to hurt you. I think you need help. You don't have to hide."
He'll try and hide no matter how hurt he is, Steve suspects. After what the Red Room must have done, Bucky would be used to pain by now. Yet Bucky doesn't move. Steve lowers himself to his knees in front of him so that he's eye level and less threatening.
"I know you don't remember me, but you're my best friend. I wouldn't let anyone-"
The Winter Soldier slowly lifts his head. He blinks and his eyes are wet. "I remember..." His voice is hoarse from lack of use and barely audible. "Steve."
Steve's heart freezes, constricts so tight it hurts. It worked, then. He feels like he's dreaming. The Cube as he had wrestled it from the Winter Soldier the last time... Steve had willed him to remember. Blue light had flashed, but Bucky had gotten away and Steve thought...
If Bucky remembers what does that mean about the rest, about last night? The thought brings cold doubt and something that rattles Steve more innately, but this is not the time.
"Then why'd you run? You know I wouldn't let anyone blame you."
Bucky is quiet for a long moment. He wets his lips as if he has to take time to remember how to form words.
"I don't trust them."
Was that the whole truth? Or did he not want Steve to be caught with him? He used to be so protective.
"They say you could still have triggers in your head. I know you don't want to hurt anyone, Buck."
Steve slides closer on his knees, hand around the syringe in his pocket. For the moment, Steve's less concerned about the triggers than he is the fact that Bucky's clearly not well. He was too hot last night and he's still sweating. Where else can Steve take him but SHIELD? Not a hospital, not the V.A.
"Buck..." He ventures another few inches, pushing the cap off the syringe, ready. "I'm sorry about this..."
Steve lunges and they struggle. He gets a few more bruises and scratches on his arms from Bucky's efforts to hold him off, but Bucky's either too weak for a real fight or doesn't care anymore. Steve jabs the needle in his neck and catches Bucky in his arms as he slumps unconscious.
SHIELD has a team of doctors, scientists, and a small army of technicians waiting, so sure a moral hero like Captain America would do the "right thing" and turn in even his best friend to save lives. They can believe what they want so long as they help him get Bucky back.
He hands Bucky over on the condition that medical care comes first, before they test for the serum or what might have been done to his mind. They tell Steve they'll have to sedate him to look at his wounds, that he'll be too difficult to handle otherwise, and to go home, get something to eat, that what they had to do could take hours.
He doesn't trust them enough not to stay close by in case SHIELD has a mind to whisk Bucky off to a cell someplace they think Steve won't find. He waits just outside the door while they conduct their examinations and run their tests and equipment, but luckily it doesn't come to Steve having to barge in and demand why things are taking longer than they should.
A doctor comes out and tells Steve they're waiting for Bucky to come to, and an hour later two small female technicians walk him out. Bucky's woozy from whatever they've given him and looks like he can barely stand. As heavy as he is with his metal arm, the two women do a good job of holding him up.
"We cut his hair while he was out," one says proudly. "He's as cute as he was in the old photos now."
"I washed the blood out," chimes in the other. It hurts that much more to see Bucky so damaged. The old him would have thoroughly enjoyed the attention of these doting girls. Steve doubts they've been told the truth about him.
They've done a good job with his hair though. It's short and combed neat. They've gotten rid of his black clothes too and dressed him in a blue hospital gown and pants. Bucky looks clean and cared for instead of ragged and feral.
The doctors and scientists come to speak with Steve. The medical report comes first. Bucky's lab work shows he's malnourished from weeks out on his own and the wound on the back of his shoulder is infected. They've drained it and give Steve a print-out on how to care for it along with a paper bag full of heavy antibiotics and painkillers for his sprained leg.
They're letting him take Bucky home, or at least are smart enough not to try and stop Steve when he says that's what he plans on doing.
SHIELD's telepaths have examined Bucky's mind and are sure he's not carrying on a deception. The doctors say though that the psychiatric damage is too severe for Bucky to offer SHIELD anything useful on his own just yet and that Steve will have to take care of him and find someone else to do it when he can't.
Steve has to carry him up two flights of stairs after Sam drops them off.
"I got you some new clothes," he tells him as he leads Bucky into the apartment. He bought mostly comfortable things for Bucky to wear around the house, sweatpants and hoodies, most of it the deep blue Steve missed him in. "They gave me these too. The SHIELD shrinks said it might help keep you grounded."
Steve pulls a pair of dog tags out of his pocket on a chain. They had Bucky's name on them and would at least provide a means of identification if he wandered out and became confused or lost. SHIELD wanted to chip him, but Steve thought that was going too far.
Bucky lets Steve put them on, but not any of the new clothes. He won't eat or drink either and vanishes into the bedroom for what's left of the night.
Steve resigns himself to the couch and leaves him alone, sure the ordeal with yet more doctors and scientists had brought back memories and been stressful. He can't sleep though and turns on the TV, hoping he won't have to force Bucky's medicine on him at breakfast or have too much of a fight checking his wound.
It's almost dawn when Steve looks up and sees Bucky staring at him cautiously from the hallway. He already looks queasy from the dose of antibiotics SHIELD gave him earlier and maybe the painkillers.
Steve pats his spot on the couch. "You want your blanket?"
Bucky hobbles over on his injured leg and folds himself up miserably. Then, without a word, he lays his head in Steve's lap and settles himself.
Warmth spreads through Steve all over again and he's smiling. He carefully lifts a hand and smoothes Bucky's newly cut dark hair. Steve doesn't know if they'll ever talk about Bucky pouncing on him the other night, but Bucky's eyes squint closed and he makes a sound halfway between a groan and a sigh, curling his fingers into Steve's knee. He's still too quiet though.
"Bucky...?" Steve's hand pauses in its petting, "Can you say something so I know you're still in there?"
Bucky is quiet for a long time, but he opens his eyes and answers hoarsely, "Like what?"
"Anything. Just talk to me."
For a moment, Steve doesn't think he'll answer, but Bucky turns his head and nudges Steve's hand with his cheek to get it to move again.
"That feels good," Bucky says, "Keep doing it."
Steve smiles and goes back to stroking his hair. His hand wanders lower over Bucky's shoulder and his neck and his back and the sound of contentment Bucky lets out gives Steve hope they might just talk about that night someday after all.