It had finally been long enough that Bucky could say, with some confidence, that Steve’s apartment was his home as well.
It’d taken some cajoling to convince him to move in, and even after he’d reluctantly agreed, it had taken a long while before he’d been able to say the words my apartment without feeling like a liar who needed to find a window to escape out of. Still. His toothbrush was in the cup next to Steve’s, his clothes were in a dresser in a room that belonged to no one but him, he slept every night in a bed tucked right up against the wall. Nestled into the corner, metal hand beneath his pillow and wrapped around a knife. Listening for movement in the other room to tell him if Steve was alive.
Sometimes, when Steve was sleeping, Bucky would pad down the short hallway to his bedroom and peer inside to make sure he was breathing. He always was. This did not stop surprising him. He would stand in the doorway and watch the motion of Steve’s back as he breathed, the way his muscles moved beneath his thin t-shirt, and he would try to slow his own inhalations to match him. Sometimes it would take a longer than a couple seconds, but once he was satisfied with this proof of life, he would retreat to his room on silent feet and curl up again in his now-cold bed to sleep without difficulty. He figured it was fairly harmless, as coping mechanisms went.
That is, until Steve caught him in the act of checking. This was very embarrassing until Steve beckoned to him with a sleepy “C’mere ’n quit lurking,” and pulled the blankets back to give Bucky room to slip in beside him, hand patting the empty spot at his side. Bucky took the invitation after a brief moment’s hesitation, leaning back carefully against the headboard. His limbs were long and graceful and more strong than he could easily predict; sometimes he had to move slowly so that he knew he would be completely in control.
“D’worry,” Steve said, eyes already closed again, hand curled loosely where it was resting on his pillow next to his face. “Won’t touch you or anythin’.”
Bucky lay there in the dark and thought about that, about the other times in their lives that they had done this. The thin slice of light from the hallway that cut through the gap in the doorway illuminated his metal hand as it lay, palm up, in his lap. It glittered when he curled and uncurled his fingers.
Whether it had truly been for warmth or if he’d had ulterior motives at the time, Bucky didn’t know now, but they’d spent most of their winters in the same bed. He liked to think he’d been completely altruistic, but the parts that he remembered most clearly (Steve’s breath against his throat, Steve’s hand on the small of his back or his stomach, their legs intertwined, Bucky’s body doing its best to surround Steve’s) weren’t about charity or even conservation of energy. In all his memories, he’d just really liked sleeping next to Steve.
He touched his mouth with his cool left fingertips and thought about his half-open lips just barely brushing the nape of Steve’s neck as they lay with one of Bucky’s arms slung around his tiny waist.
Steve of the present — who was all muscle, now, muscle and the same perfect bow of his lips — made a soft sound in his sleep, almost a sigh, and Bucky watched him through half-lidded eyes. He watched him, and eventually he slid down the bed until he was lying down, and when sleep came to take him, it was with Steve’s name in his mouth. Curled under his tongue, where it tasted both familiar and inevitable.
“Sorry about last night,” Bucky said over breakfast, hands wrapped around the coffee mug with the chip in the rim.
Steve waved him off with a sort of embarrassed smile, not meeting Bucky’s eyes as he poured milk into his cereal bowl. “Don’t sweat it,” he said. “Not a big deal.”
“I mean, I was staring at you while you were sleeping,” Bucky pointed out.
Steve shot him an amused glance. “That’s only, like, level five creepy,” he said. “You don’t need to apologize until maybe level seven.”
Bucky raised an eyebrow. “What’s level seven? Taking upskirt photos?”
“Or stealing my underwear,” Steve agreed, and they only managed to keep straight faces for a couple seconds before they both cracked up.
“Christ,” Bucky giggled, rubbing his eye with the heel of his hand.
That night, Bucky was pulling on a hoodie he’d stolen from Steve when Steve paused in his doorway, leaning against the frame.
“What’s up,” Bucky said, putting his hands in the huge middle pocket.
“I was thinking,” Steve said, and then stopped.
Bucky just looked at him. “That sounds out of character. Do you see my pajama pants…?”
Steve wordlessly pointed at where they were draped over the back of Bucky’s desk chair, so Bucky walked over to them and undid his fly, feeling the weight of Steve’s gaze on him as he pulled the zipper down and shoved them off his hips. When he looked up, though, jeans in a puddle at his ankles, Steve had looked away with a pink flush creeping down his throat. Huh.
“So was there an end to that sentence, or…?” Bucky asked as he stepped into his pajama pants, the soft grey ones with stars that he wore whenever he felt especially uncomfortable in his body.
“If you wanted, you could share the bed again,” Steve said, still studiously looking at the wall directly in front of him. “We used to do it all the time, before. It isn’t weird. Not for me, anyway.”
Whatever Bucky had been expecting, that hadn’t been it. “Oh,” he said.
“I’m gonna go brush my teeth,” Steve said, and disappeared down the hallway.
Bucky sat down on the edge of his bed and didn’t think about much of anything for a couple minutes, just sat and listened to the sound of the water running in the bathroom.
In 1935, winter had bitten into the city so hard that it was actually killing folks, and since they couldn’t afford to keep on their heater all night, Bucky started taking matters into his own hands.
“You don’t have to,” Steve said, speaking slowly because his teeth were chattering and it made it hard for him to talk. “I’m f-f-fine.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Bucky said, pulling Steve closer, bony spine to chest with his face pressed into the crook of Steve’s neck. “This is for me. Don’t flatter yourself.”
“Okay,” Steve managed through a shudder, sounding grateful.
They didn’t sleep much. It was too cold to relax. But they didn’t talk, either — something about the moment felt as brittle as glass, and Bucky wasn’t going to be the one to break it. They huddled beneath their three blankets, Bucky’s hand splayed over the flat plane of Steve’s stomach, and he tried to keep his breathing even. It should’ve been too cold for wanting, but his body didn’t listen.
“Think my lips’re going numb,” Steve eventually muttered, and Bucky watched the dim outline of his hand in the dark come up to feel his mouth. “Betcha they’re actually blue.”
“C’mere,” Bucky said, and pushed up on an elbow so he could roll Steve onto his back. The rush of cold air that slipped in between their blankets was unpleasant, but Steve was looking up at him with confusion and something a little more guarded, and that wasn’t something Bucky was going to apologize for.
“How’m I looking?” Steve asked softly.
“Just fine to me,” Bucky answered with a grin, and felt Steve’s mouth with the back of his hand. “But you are real cold.”
Steve nodded silently. His breaths were shallow and his eyes were very wide, so Bucky only hesitated a moment longer before he leaned down and kissed him like he knew what he was doing. Steve’s surprised gasp against his mouth was a sound that Bucky would replay in his head over and over again later, but in the moment, it just made him press closer, kiss harder, until the late hour and their hot breaths pulled them both into heated, confusing dreams.
They didn’t talk about it in the morning, and the weather got warmer real fast. Bucky liked to think he could take credit for that, for scaring away the cold with his mouth and his hands in the dead of the night, but he knew more than ever by the end of it all that the winter would listen to no one. Especially not to him.
Bucky took his turn in the bathroom and stared at his face in the mirror when he was through washing it, watching drops of water run down his cheeks and wishing, absently, that his reflection would stop surprising him. He didn’t know what he expected to see instead of himself, but it wasn’t this. Not this face. Not these haunted eyes.
He heard a quiet thud and a low mutter of Steve swearing somewhere in the next room, and that broke that train of thought quickly, made him grin as he dried his face with a towel and left the bathroom to join him.
Steve was pulling his shirt on over his head, sitting in the middle of his bed when Bucky hung back in the doorway, watching him.
“Uh, hey,” Steve said, quickly fixing his shirt with hands that fumbled a little. “Listen, about earlier — ”
“You still hog the covers, you know that?” Bucky interrupted.
Steve’s smile was slow, but it was real and honest when it finally touched his eyes. “I wasn’t gonna mention your icicle feet,” he said. “But if we’re airing grievances…”
“Grievances? You’ve got grievances?” Bucky walked inside to perch on the edge of Steve’s bed, trying to ignore the twinge in his stomach when Steve immediately scooted over a couple inches to give him space. “I’ll give you grievances, Rogers — your singing in the shower. Now that is a travesty.”
“You use all the shampoo,” Steve said, affronted.
“You won’t let me adopt fifteen cats.”
“Do you ever stop eating?”
“You spoiled the ending of Star Wars for me.”
“You still call me short stuff and you still mean it.”
“Okay, okay, you got me there,” Bucky laughed, and scuffed a hand through his hair. “But someone’s gotta keep you humble.”
“And you’re just the man for the job, huh?” Steve rolled his eyes, but he was grinning, and Bucky thought some of it looked like relief.
“Well. I mean.” Bucky rubbed a hand over the back of his neck, shrugging a shoulder. “It’s worked pretty well for the past hundred years or so. If it ain’t broke, and all that.”
Steve’s smile turned a bit sad at that point, so Bucky ducked his head, uncomfortable with the expression and the way he knew it was probably mirrored on his own face.
“Wanna go to bed?” Steve asked after a long moment, soft voice feeling strangely large in the small room.
“Yeah,” Bucky said.
“Okay,” Steve said.
Steve took the right side of the bed, which left Bucky with his back to the wall, as he preferred. He hadn’t even had to say anything. Steve had just known.
There was some awkward shuffling as they both tried to get under the covers without disturbing the other, but they managed it eventually with a few knocked knees and elbows. Bucky, curled up on his side, watched through his eyelashes as Steve turned off the bedside lamp and lay down beside him. The shape of Steve as he pulled the covers up was desperately familiar, his silhouette a form that Bucky could’ve picked out of a lineup in a heartbeat.
“Night, Buck,” Steve whispered.
“Night, Steve,” Bucky whispered back.
In the morning, Bucky woke with Steve’s side of the bed empty. His stomach dropped until he remembered that Steve was one of those freaks that liked to run in the mornings, and he rolled back over and went right back to sleep.
The second time he woke worked. He was disoriented for a moment — where was he? Why wasn’t he in his bed? — before he remembered the night before and felt a little swoop in his stomach at the memory. He rose feeling more rested than he had in weeks, padding out of Steve’s room toward the kitchen, where he found Steve and a large bag of bagels.
“Lox is in there somewhere,” Steve said, flashing Bucky a smile before he went back to his newspaper.
“Are you actually doing the crossword, old man?” Bucky asked, digging around in the paper bag until he retrieved the lox from beneath the little tub of cream cheese.
Steve shot him a brief look that wasn’t impressed. “You’re older than I am.”
“Cryo doesn’t count, asshole.”
“You were older before the cryo.”
“Cuter, though.” Bucky spread cream cheese on half a sesame bagel, threw some lox on top and tried to pretend that DC’s bagels were as good as the ones in Brooklyn used to be, the kind you could get dirt cheap from the Jewish bakery a couple blocks from their old apartment, as long as you could order in Yiddish.
“Wasn’t arguing that point,” Steve said, chewing on the end of his pen with his eyes still firmly on the page.
Bucky didn’t really know what to do with that, so he just sat down and stole a sip of Steve’s coffee, finished his bagel, wondered if he could still mumble his way through the Yiddish his grandmother had taught him.
Steve had superhero business to attend to, so Bucky was left to his own devices for the day.
He spent the rest of the morning re-casing the apartment, checking all the locks and exits for weak points. He didn’t find any that had appeared since the last time he checked, but it still felt good to be doing the checking, to be doing the small things he could to keep himself and Steve safe.
On days like this, it was easy for jealousy to bite into him. He was supposed to be out there watching Steve’s six, not sitting at home; he may have been fucked up, but he still knew how to use a gun, and use it well. The only reason he hadn’t decked himself out in leather again and tore after Steve anyway was because of the soft, bruised way Steve had said “Please, Buck,” before he left.
Which wasn’t playing fair, really.
After he was done securing the perimeter, he clambered out of the window in his bedroom, using the roof gutter to haul himself onto the roof. He lay on his back, stretched out on the warm roof tiles, hands linked behind his head and legs crossed at the ankle. Had he always felt safe so high up, or was it new? He’d been a sniper in the war, so maybe his longing for height and distance had started then.
But he thought it might have come sooner, when he remembered sitting on the fire escape with Steve, passing a cigarette back and forth and making up stories about the people that walked on the street beneath them. The sunset used to turn Steve’s hair to burnished copper or even spun gold on those summer evenings, and it had taken real effort not to reach out and touch it with his fingertips.
Steve used to look at him through his eyelashes, smile slow and lopsided and a little too knowing for Bucky’s comfort, gesturing with that lit cigarette between two fingers, smoke rising in lazy curls. And Bucky had played his part well, laughed in all the right places, ignored the clench in his stomach when Steve’s ankle knocked into his own, leaned his back against the railing and felt the cold metal bite into the flesh between his shoulder blades. Took the cigarette when Steve passed it to him and didn’t make their fingers brush on purpose.
If it happened accidentally, that was hardly his fault.
Now, lying on the roof, Bucky thought about the dance he and Steve were still doing, deliberate space between their bodies at all times. Only allowing short, discreet touches that could be explained or apologized for easily. Careful squeeze of the hand to the shoulder. Foot brushed against foot under the table. Nudging elbows and knees and not meeting each other’s eyes, the brief and heavy weight of Steve’s palm on the nape of Bucky’s neck as he passed behind the couch where Bucky was sitting.
Just thinking about it made restless energy prickle down Bucky’s back, jaw clenching as he watched the breeze make the trees in the neighbor’s front yard wave back and forth.
Bucky had come down off the roof by the time Steve came home, but that restless feeling hadn’t gone away, only built up in his throat enough that he could almost taste it.
Steve was out of sorts as well, but he waved off Bucky’s questions, so Bucky left him alone while he went to go shower the concrete dust and blood splatter off him. Meanwhile, Bucky put leftover soup from the fridge into a saucepan and heated it up.
The distant sound of the shower through the walls reminded Bucky of their old apartment and how cramped it’d been, the careful way he and Steve had averted their eyes so that they wouldn’t see each other coming in and out of the bath. The fleeting guilty glances Bucky had stolen out of the corners of his eyes. The way it made his face flush when Steve caught him looking, Steve’s eyes dark and a little defiant, he’d probably thought Bucky was judging him for the concave dip of his stomach or the skinny cut of his arms —
“You’re an angel, you know that?” Steve said, toweling off his hair as he leaned against the kitchen counter. Bucky hadn’t even heard the water turn off, and he supposed it was a testament to his training that he didn’t jump out of his skin at the sound of Steve’s voice.
“Figured if I was playing housewife I might as well do a good job,” he said, and held up a spoonful of soup to Steve’s mouth. “Taste this. Hot enough?”
Steve dutifully bent his head to taste the wooden spoon. The brush of his long, damp eyelashes to cheekbone was uncomfortably pretty. “Yeah, ’s fine,” he said, and licked his lips. “Good, too.”
Bucky opened a cupboard and took out a bowl, poured soup into it. “You can thank Sam for the recipe.” And the dog videos, and the badly photoshopped pictures of Bucky’s face on raccoons. Bucky could never tell if it was a stroke of luck or misfortune that he and Sam had finally become friends.
Steve accepted the bowl and got out a couple spoons, handed one to Bucky. “I find myself thanking Sam for a lot of things,” he said, the twist of his smile wry, and didn’t bother to sit down at the table. He and Bucky ate their dinner leaning against the counter, elbows just barely touching.
“You don’t really feel like that,” Steve said after a couple minutes, eyes on his bowl. “Like a housewife. Do you?”
Bucky fiddled with his spoon. “Nah,” he said eventually. “Don’t own nearly enough frilly aprons for that.”
Steve nudged him with his elbow. “Not really your look, huh?”
Bucky snorted, but he had to smile. “Absolutely not.”
“Scruffy hobo, though…”
“Oh my god.”
“I’m just saying.”
Bucky tugged on one of his long locks of hair, held it in front of his eyes. “I was thinking about cutting it, actually.”
“Oh yeah?” Steve asked, voice carefully neutral, Bucky could hear the effort that went into it.
“Yeah,” Bucky said. “Will you help me?”
Steve swallowed hard, but then he nodded.
Sitting on the lip of the tub with his feet inside, shirt off and discarded on the back of the toilet, Bucky bent his head so Steve could slowly clip the hair on the back of his head short. He was using scissors, and Bucky hoped he knew how much trust he was putting in him, letting him anywhere near his unguarded throat with a sharp object.
“How’re we looking?” he asked, hands resting on his knees, palms up.
“Like someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing is cutting your hair,” Steve answered, strained.
Bucky grinned at his lap. “I’m sure it isn’t as bad as you think it is.”
Steve made a noncommittal noise. “Remember when I gave you a trim after you finally landed that awful office job?” he asked. “Because we couldn’t afford an actual barber? You said that then, too.”
Bucky very purposefully did not laugh so he wouldn’t end up with a chopped-off ear by moving too suddenly. “This is a very low stakes operation, I promise,” he said, laughter leaking into his voice anyway. “As long as it’s out of my eyes, I’ll be happy.”
Steve guided Bucky’s head up and to the side with gentle hands. “Well, in that case,” he said. “Self-doubt retracted.”
The rest of the haircut passed in a blur, locks of hair falling to the tiled floor in curls, the soft sound of Steve breathing the only noise in the room. Bucky closed his eyes and focused on the touch of Steve’s hands to his head, combing through his rapidly-shortening hair. The itch under his skin was momentarily quieted, especially when Steve’s warm, broad hand curled over the base of his neck to hold him in the right place.
“I think I’m done,” Steve said, and drew back. “And you don’t look like someone mauled you with a pair of scissors, so we’re gonna call it a success.”
Bucky swung his feet over the rim of the tub and stood on slightly unsteady legs to look in the mirror.
Bucky Barnes from the '40s looked back at him.
“Oh,” he said, feeling vaguely like he’d been punched in the abdomen. “Oh.”
His cheekbones were sharper than they’d used to be and he hadn’t shaved in a couple days, but if he disregarded these facts and focused on the shape of him, he could almost imagine he’d be about to clean himself up for a date and dancing.
Then he saw his metal arm, thick scars roping around his shoulder joint, and the effect was ruined. But it was still unnerving.
Steve’s reflection looked nervous. “D’you like it?”
Bucky could only nod.
“You’ve got some cut hairs on the back of your neck,” Steve said, and reached up to brush them off, touch firm and familiar.
Bucky made a small, slightly strangled noise before he could help it and Steve pulled back immediately like he was burned.
“Sorry — fuck — ” Steve said, abashed.
“No. It’s,” Bucky said, and braced his hands on the sink in front of him. “It’s good.”
Bucky could see the moment realization dawned on Steve’s face, and he tried not to let it embarrass him, although he could feel his face going pink. Slowly, Steve put his hand on the back of Bucky’s neck again, smoothing it down across the bare skin between Bucky’s shoulder blades.
“Jesus, Buck, your whole back is one big knot,” Steve said quietly. “Has it been like this the whole time?”
Bucky nodded, doing his best not to move so that Steve would not stop touching him. Steve’s other hand came up to touch Bucky’s flesh shoulder, squeezing lightly, and Bucky exhaled shakily around the sharp thing that had begun to form in his throat.
Steve looked just about as wrecked as he felt. “Do you want me to…?”
“Yeah,” Bucky said, and hissed a breath through his teeth. “Yes. Please.”
“Okay,” Steve said. He exhaled audibly. “Okay. Let’s go somewhere you can sit down.”
That was how they found themselves in Steve’s bedroom, Bucky sitting on Steve’s bed with his feet on the floor, Steve kneeling behind him and massaging his shoulders with expert care. Bucky, through the haze that came from being half melted, supposed that although back rubs weren’t what Erskine had been designing the serum to enhance, the sheer power in Steve’s hands was a lovely side benefit.
Seventy-two years’ worth of tension was slowly bleeding out of him by degrees. He hadn’t realized how much pain he was in until now, when he was beginning to feel its absence. He’d become accustomed to the discomfort, it had been inside him for so long that it had all but become a part of his body, white noise that he’d been able to ignore with moderate amounts of success — but now that it was easing a little, he wanted to cry with how good it felt.
He made a sound when Steve’s hand brushed scar tissue.
“Sorry,” Steve said.
Bucky put his hand behind him, found Steve’s leg so he could squeeze it. “Sensitive. Not bad.”
Steve made a little huh noise in the back of his throat and continued the trail of his fingertips down the seam where metal shoulder met flesh, and Bucky wondered why the bed was trembling until he realized it was his own body.
“You sure you’re good?” Steve murmured, mouth close to Bucky’s ear, and Bucky nodded, eyes closed, mouth hanging half open. Yeah, he was good. Real good. There was a heavy warmth that had settled in his gut, made him lean back into Steve’s hands, made him gasp aloud when Steve’s thumbs pressed directly into the tightest knot of muscle beneath his left shoulder blade.
The noise he made when Steve dragged the heel of his hand down his spine was obscene, and Steve’s sharp inhalation afterward made that now-familiar restless heat prickle down the backs of his arms. Even the metal one felt sensitive to touch, especially when Steve slid his hand down it, palm resting over the top of Bucky’s hand that was clenched around a fistful of sheets.
“Buck, are you…” Steve started, but he trailed off. It took Bucky a second to put together what Steve was talking about, but then he realized he was breathing hard, blushing pink down to his chest, eyes glassy and a little wild. When he shifted slightly in his seat, he also realized he was hard.
“Maybe,” he admitted, voice a rough sort of rasp. "Sorry.” He looked behind himself to gauge Steve’s reaction and bit his lip.
“Want me to do something about it?” Steve asked. His eyes were darker than Bucky had ever seen them before.
“Please,” Bucky said, voice cracking. “There isn’t anybody else I’d trust with this, you know that — ”
“Fuck,” Steve said, with feeling. “Fuck. Yeah. Okay.”
Steve sat back against the wall with an arm around Bucky’s waist to pull him with him, held him in the cradle of his legs as he fumbled Bucky’s fly open. Steve had a thigh on either side of Bucky’s hips, so Bucky smoothed his hands down them, felt the muscles of Steve’s stomach clench against the small of his back.
“Steve,” he breathed.
“I’m here,” Steve said, and pushed Bucky’s jeans down his hips. Bucky shimmied out of them, kicked them off the bed. “I’m right here, pal.”
Bucky’s head fell back against Steve’s collar bone at the first touch of Steve’s hand to his cock, palming tentatively over the front of his boxers. He couldn’t help his moan, not sure if he wanted to press back against the solid form of Steve’s body behind him or push his hips up to try to get some more friction.
“Shh,” Steve said, and slipped his hand inside Bucky’s underwear, other arm tight around his waist to keep him close. “Shh. Don’t worry. I’ve got you.”
“Did we ever? Before?” Bucky asked, which was a common game for them, but not usually with Steve’s hand between his legs.
“No,” Steve answered, rubbing his thumb over the head of his cock. “Not this far. Not like this.”
“Oh,” Bucky sighed and then Steve pressed down ever so slightly on the slit and whatever gentle melancholy he’d been feeling disappeared. “Oh —”
It was over very quickly. Steve jerked him off with long, even pulls, mouth open against the side of his throat, murmuring words of encouragement that Bucky could barely hear and did not remember. He was too focused on his body, how good it felt to be held by Steve, all the tension inside him pulling taut.
“God, look at you,” Steve said wonderingly, twisting his wrist just right, and Bucky made a wounded noise and came all over himself.
Before Steve had arrived on the warfront in WWII, he’d sent Bucky letters. All the other guys had photographs of their girls back home, cute notes arriving smelling like rose or lavender perfume, but Bucky had a strip of shitty pictures from a photo booth and pages of Steve’s tiny cramped text, and if he was going to be honest, he preferred what he had.
Steve was no good with words, but that didn’t mean he only wrote a little — he actually wrote a lot, talking about nothing, mentioning alarming things off-hand like he thought he could slip them in without Bucky noticing. Like when he sprained his ankle tussling with some asshole (he called me a fairy, Buck), or when he had a bloody nose off and on for a week straight (can’t afford the doc, but it’s nothing some of your ma's awful herbal tea won’t fix).
Then, at the end, he’d say something sweet wrapped up in something mean, and it would make Bucky’s teeth ache from clenching them, he missed him so hard.
In the barracks after dark, Bucky reread the letters by lamplight, pages clutched in one hand and his other in his army-issued pants. If he was ever caught, the other men didn’t say anything. And if they had, they probably would have assumed Bucky just had a wild girl back home, not a spitfire best friend whose stilted prose still managed to get Bucky hot under the collar from a thousand miles away.
Steve disappeared into the bathroom and came back with a warm washcloth and a cup of water. Bucky was sitting up against the headboard where Steve left him, dazed, just trying to catch his breath; the room wasn’t quite spinning, but it wasn’t quite not spinning, and that felt like an important distinction to make. Steve handed him the glass of water and wiped the come off his stomach, tossing the cloth aside so he could comb Bucky’s short hair back into place with gentle fingertips.
“That good, huh,” he said, grinning.
Bucky couldn’t even muster up the strength to say something sarcastic, he just sipped at the glass and reached for Steve’s hand, holding onto it tightly. Steve let him. Bucky stroked his thumb over the curve of Steve’s wrist, feeling how steady he was.
“D’you want me to return the favor?” he asked eventually, putting the glass down on the bedside table.
Steve squeezed his hand. “Nah. You look like you might be close to falling asleep, pal.”
Bucky opened his mouth to protest, but all that came out was a yawn. “Guess that’d make for a kind of cold handjob, anyway,” he said, wiggling the fingers of his left hand, and smiled when Steve guffawed.
Over the course of the next couple weeks, it slowly became a ritual. Bucky would sleep in Steve’s bed and eat his food and wear his clothes, and when he ached too hard to stand it, he would roll over in the dead of the night and let Steve take him apart with his hands or his mouth. They didn’t talk about it much — or at least, Steve never tried to define it, and Bucky was more or less happy to keep it nebulous. But he did wonder what Steve was getting out of their particular arrangement, when he never asked to be touched in return.
They never kissed, either.
Bucky could feel something brewing between them that he wasn’t sure he liked, an undercurrent of desperation when Steve touched him, like Steve was expecting every time to be the last. Bucky didn’t know how to confront him about it while also allowing Steve to escape the difficulty of naming what they were doing. This resulted in petty and then not so petty arguments, bubbling to the surface when Steve had to leave again, for a week this time.
“Let me come with you,” Bucky said, hands clenched tight around the back of a kitchen chair.
Steve scraped a hand through his hair, sighing a breath that sounded sort of like it hurt him. “I need you safe, Buck.”
“Right, because your safety is irrelevant,” Bucky said fiercely.
“I have a team, it’s not like I’m taking on all of HYDRA single-handedly — ”
“Yeah, a team I should be on, like the good old fucking days you’re always going on about— ”
“That’s not what I sound like, Jesus Christ, you have PTSD, I’m trying to — ”
“If you die,” Bucky interrupted, eyes flashing. His voice was sharper and more steely than it had been since the last time he’d caught Steve trying to register for the draft. “And I have to hear from Natasha or Sam that you died while I was sitting at home watching television. I will not recover.”
Steve just stared at him, mouth hanging open. “Buck…” he started, sounding small.
All the fight drained out of Bucky at once. “It’s fine. Whatever. Go do your mission,” he said, and leaned against the kitchen counter, rubbing a hand over his eyes.
“Hey,” Steve said, and when Bucky looked up, he was standing right in front of him, hands coming up to frame Bucky’s face. “I’m coming back.”
Bucky curled his hands around Steve’s wrists. “I know.”
“I didn’t mean to patronize you.”
Bucky leaned his forehead into Steve’s, closing his eyes with a breath that wavered. “I know.”
Steve stroked his fingertips down the back of Bucky’s neck. “You know what you said, though, right?” he asked softly.
Bucky frowned slightly. “What?”
Steve grinned kind of goofily. “You called this place home.”
Bucky didn’t kiss Steve goodbye before Steve left, but he wanted to, and that was a new urge to feel. There was a brief hug, Steve awkwardly squeezing his shoulder after he pulled back, and then Steve was out the door and off on his motorcycle and Bucky was left alone. Again.
Out of spite, he took all his weapons apart at the kitchen table and cleaned them. He knew that Steve knew he had a small weapons cache in the closet in the hallway, but like other things that were in the closet, Steve didn’t mention it and Bucky wasn’t ever in the mood to start the conversation.
He had two handguns, one sniper rifle with detachable scope, seventeen clips of ammo, and four knives of varying sizes. When they were all laid out on the table, he felt very formidable.
He and Steve both tended to forget that the Winter Soldier was still inside him somewhere, just as much as the Bucky of the ‘30s was. It was easier to pretend that he’d died. But if Steve wanted to believe that his Bucky was still alive, then they also had to acknowledge that the Winter Soldier was as well. It was a sick thought, but it didn’t change the fact that he had been the Winter Soldier for more than double the amount of time he’d been Bucky…
His phone rang, and he jumped at the sound.
“Hello?” he said, holding the phone between ear and shoulder while he wiped his gunpowdered hands with a wet rag.
“Hey,” Steve said on the other end of the line, voice tinny. “Feel like we left things kind of weird. Just wanted to check that we were still okay.”
Bucky felt his mouth curve up into a smile before he could help it. “That’s pretty queer, Rogers.”
“You’re pretty queer,” was Steve’s slightly indignant reply, and Bucky heard spluttering laughter on Steve’s end, as well as a choked off What did he just say? from what sounded like Sam.
“We’re good, Steve,” Bucky said, and found, once he’d said it, that it was true. “Just come home in one piece, yeah? Then I’ll show you just how queer I am.”
There was a slightly over-long pause while Steve digested that, and Bucky could see him blushing in his mind’s eye. What the hell Steve’s friends thought of that, he had no idea, but it made him bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.
“You wanna?” Steve asked, voice perceptibly deeper, and it made heat drop into Bucky’s stomach.
“Yeah,” he answered. “I wanna. Do you?”
Steve sounded slightly strained when he replied, “I do.”
“Guess you gotta kick some Nazi ass, then,” Bucky said. “Bring me back a souvenir.”
“I’m not bringing you back a decapitated head,” Steve said, and hung up before Bucky could ask for a couple severed fingers instead.
The week passed by torturously slowly. Bucky made himself busy, hung out with Clint’s dog and watered Sharon’s dying plants, but it turned out that although being a ghost assassin gave him a number of skills, killing boredom wasn’t one of them.
He wandered the city a lot, but it overwhelmed him to be surrounded by places that felt just slightly out of alignment with the image he had in his head. It was still his city, though. Even if he didn’t know her well. Steve said he hadn’t been able to live in Brooklyn for a while after he woke up from the ice, both because it reminded him too much of what he’d lost and because he’d seen Bucky on every corner. And Bucky sometimes caught a flash of blond hair out of the corners of his eyes, so he knew what Steve was talking about, the way it made the bottom of his stomach fall out every time.
It was worth it, though, to remember he had once had a place that was his in a way that was uncomplicated.
He went to an art gallery and sat in the middle of the impressionist wing for a long time, and then wandered the floors looking for paintings with angels on them. He sat in a park by the duck pond and ate too much pad thai, watching for the cranky ducks. There was a sign that told him not to feed them, but he did anyway, tearing up bits of an old bagel that he’d brought along with him in one of his jacket pockets. The ducks didn’t look that grateful — they actually looked kind of mean — which was annoying, but the brief fit of rebellion satisfied him.
He slept in Steve’s bed every night Steve was away. Some of it was because he missed him, but most of it was because he’d gotten used to it, and it felt good to have and keep habits that he got to choose.
Bucky woke up with a start when someone touched his shoulder, fumbling for the knife under his pillow and wrenching it upward quickly —
— But then Steve was holding his wrist still with an iron grip, point of the blade two inches from his face, both of them breathing hard.
“Hi, honey, I’m home,” Steve deadpanned, and there were two beats of silence before they both started laughing, the knife tossed aside onto the bedside table, Bucky throwing his arms around Steve’s shoulders to pull him into a tight embrace.
“You smell like gasoline,” he told the crook of Steve’s neck. “What were you burning?”
“Your, uh, souvenirs,” Steve answered, clutching Bucky back with what felt like hands that had missed him just as much as Bucky had. “Sam set a car on fire. He claims it was accidental, but I suspect foul play.”
Bucky snorted. “Sounds likely.”
“I’m gonna shower,” Steve said, pulling back, but only far enough to cup the side of Bucky’s throat. “Because I feel disgusting. But then, if you wanna…?”
“Wanna what, Rogers?” Bucky asked, just to be difficult.
Steve surprised him by leaning in and kissing him hard. It was a declarative kiss, lips soft but demanding, and it wasn’t until he drew back that Bucky realized he’d stopped breathing. He took a deep, shuddering breath to make up for it.
“Be right back,” Steve said, and got up, but paused in the doorway. “You were... right, by the way. It’s your decision. If you want to come along next time, I won’t stop you.”
He didn’t wait for Bucky’s response, and Bucky was left with his hands in his lap, eyes wide as saucers.
In WWII, Steve and Bucky had put their bedrolls together, Steve plastered up against Bucky’s back with a new, huge arm slung over Bucky’s waist. It had felt most nights like Steve’s hot breath fanning over the nape of his neck had been the only thing keeping him on this side of frostbite. “Turnabout’s fair play, pal,” Steve murmured in his ear, and Bucky shivered, but reluctantly agreed; it was his turn now to wear his best friend like a second skin, to burrow into the welcome heat of Steve’s embrace.
The other Commandos didn’t say a damn word about it up until Dum Dum decided that it was a brilliant idea and proceeded to all but court Morita into crawling into his sleeping bag.
Falsworth preferred to keep his own company — “Gentlemen, you kick.” — but Gabe and Dernier huddled up together as well, albeit with less drama than the others.
“Fuck you, it’s my turn to be the little spoon” became a phrase frequently heard at their campsites at night, usually followed by the sound of a brief scuffle and Dum Dum’s sigh of defeat.
Steve came back to bed warm from the shower, pink skin and the damp hair falling into his eyes making him look soft, an effect that was only amplified by the low yellow lamplight that made him glow. He put a knee on the bed and Bucky reached for him, curling metal fingers around his hard bicep and squeezing. Steve hovered over Bucky’s body, skated a hand up Bucky’s thigh, waited until Bucky hooked two fingers around the chain of his dog tags and pulled him in before he leaned forward and kissed the smile off his face.
They took their time with it this time, learned the shape of each other’s mouths, and Bucky paid careful attention to what Steve liked, what made him make low, wanting sounds in the back of his throat. Steve liked it when Bucky tugged at his lower lip with his teeth. He liked it when Bucky’s metal hand made small circles beneath his shirt, over his shoulder blade. He liked it when Bucky slid a leg between his and pushed up with his thigh. That one elicited a gut-punched groan that went straight to Bucky’s dick, color blossoming over Steve’s cheekbones.
“Off,” Bucky murmured, making a fist around Steve’s tank top, and drew back just long enough to help him pull it up and over his head. Then, with reverence, “Jesus Christ — ”
“Call me Steve,” Steve said with his favorite shit-eating grin, and that pissed Bucky off enough to suddenly flip their positions, slamming Steve back onto the mattress and straddling him.
“Unbe-fucking-lievable,” he said, and took off his shirt as well, tossing it over the side of the bed to join Steve’s. “See if I ever have sex with you again after that.”
“What do you call what we’re doing now?” Steve asked, eyebrows raised, hands tight at Bucky’s waist.
“This is just annoyed foreplay,” Bucky said, but then he rolled his hips against Steve’s, grinding down, and getting Steve out of his sweatpants suddenly became a lot more urgent.
They wrestled each other out of the rest of their clothes, and Bucky ended up flat on his back again, Steve’s thumbs hooked around the waistband of his boxers and Bucky looking up at him through his eyelashes. Steve’s hands were shaking when he finally slid them off Bucky’s body, Bucky lifting his hips to help, and then he was bare and ever so slightly self conscious.
(Since when was he self conscious? Being the Winter Soldier, his body was nothing, meant nothing, it was just one more tool he could use if he needed to; but now Steve’s hungry eyes were on him and Bucky wanted so badly not to disappoint, he wanted Steve’s heavy gaze on him always, he wanted —)
“You’re so fucking gorgeous,” Steve said, hushed.
“Shut up,” Bucky said, squirming.
Steve’s hand pressed flat against Bucky’s stomach. “What d’you want me to do, Buck? Wanna make you feel good, I wanna — ”
“Fuck me,” Bucky said, the words coming out of his mouth in a rush. “Do it, I wanna feel you —”
Steve surged forward and kissed him to cut him off, but Bucky didn’t mind, he was tangling his fingers in Steve’s hair and giving back as good as he got, taking the weight of Steve’s body on top of his. Steve didn’t stop kissing him as he fumbled for the bedside table drawer, eventually producing a small bottle of lube and a packet of condoms. Bucky wanted to tease him — Planning ahead, Rogers? — but there was a fragile and determined kind of adoration on Steve’s face that he didn’t want to chase away by mistake.
“You ever done this before?” Steve asked, voice rough as he uncapped the lube.
“By myself,” Bucky answered. “Several times. Including, uh, earlier today.” Steve was staring, so he shrugged a shoulder somewhat awkwardly. “I was, y’know. Looking forward to having you home.”
Steve paused for a couple seconds and just breathed hard, sitting back on his heels with his eyes closed. “You’re gonna be the fucking death of me,” he said eventually, opening his eyes, and walked forward on his knees until he was more solidly between Bucky’s legs. “You know that? You’re killing me.”
“Come on, then,” Bucky replied. “We aren’t getting any younger here.”
Steve poured lube onto his fingers and wrapped his hand around Bucky’s cock, giving him three slow, wet strokes until Bucky’s head fell back, muscle of his thigh jumping. “Steve…”
“I’m getting there, okay, be patient,” Steve said, pouring more lube, and then his fingertips were stroking back behind Bucky’s balls and all Bucky could do was bite his lip and watch concentration crease between Steve’s brows. “This alright?” Steve asked, one tentative finger pressing up into him. Bucky nodded, pushing up onto his elbows so he could watch the way the tendons of Steve’s wrist strained as he started to push it in and out slowly, carefully.
“Ah, shit,” Bucky hissed when Steve added another finger, forcing his body to relax against the sensation. It was different when he wasn’t doing it to himself — Steve could get a better angle, and his fingers were thicker, and the wonder on his face as he watched them fuck into Bucky’s body was a thing of beauty.
Steve hooked his fingers to press up against his prostate and Bucky’s back arched, mouth open, although he didn’t make a sound. Steve bent forward to kiss his throat, hand still moving, slick and unfaltering.
How much time passed, Bucky had no idea. His heart was trying to beat itself out of his chest. He’d been asleep recently enough that everything felt slightly surreal, snapshots of images getting stuck in his head — the way the low light turned Steve’s shoulders gold, hard muscles moving beneath skin, the one bead of sweat that trickled down his throat glinting like a shard of glass. The dark stillness of the rest of the world, the only sounds the ones they were making, harsh breaths and soft skin-on-skin noises as the heel of Steve’s hand met Bucky’s ass.
Steve added a third finger, and Bucky actually did groan this time, fisting a hand in the sheets. “How is your wrist not sore yet?” he demanded, hoarse, shoving his hips back to try and get more.
“Are you kidding me?” Steve said, and curled his fingers. “I could do this all day.”
“Oh my god,” Bucky said in a voice that couldn’t decide if it was a laugh or a moan. “I swear I’ll start singing Star Spangled Man With A Plan, don’t test me.”
“Don’t you dare,” Steve said, and punctuated this with a bite to the flesh of Bucky’s thigh, and seemed all too pleased with himself when Bucky yelped. He looked at the pale skin beneath his mouth for a moment — now with an indentation of teeth in a neat semicircle — and Bucky was about to question the considering look on his face when Steve sucked a bruise into his hip.
Bucky’s hips jerked. His cock, leaking at the tip, smacked his belly when he fell back onto the bed.
“You okay?” Steve asked, laughing.
Bucky nudged him in the side with his knee. “Yeah, you punk, I’m just fuckin’ peachy.”
Steve nudged him back. “Jerk. You ready?”
The expression on Steve’s face, with the dark eyes and wet red mouth, made Bucky feel like his bones were melting. “Yeah,” he said, and swallowed hard. “If you are.”
Steve pulled out his fingers. It felt like a loss once he was gone, Bucky’s body aching with how badly it missed the fullness, but then Steve tore open the condom packet and Bucky got to watch him roll it on with starving eyes, and that was alright. Bucky poured lube into his flesh hand so he could slick Steve’s cock up himself, smiling a brief flash of teeth when Steve grasped at his leg with a tight grip.
“C’mon, Steve,” Bucky said, meeting Steve’s eyes. He wasn’t sure what Steve could see on his face, but it was important, he thought, that Steve witness it.
Steve guided his cock into Bucky’s body and Bucky clutched at his shoulders, his back, his arms, anywhere that his hands could find purchase.
“Oh,” Steve whispered, like it was punched out of him. “Oh.”
They stayed like that, Steve with his hips pressed flush against Bucky’s ass, for a long moment. It was overwhelming just to breathe the same air. Steve was looking down at him with something that was half disbelief and half awe, and he didn’t start moving until Bucky did, restlessly making little circles with his hips in the hopes that it would encourage Steve to finally move.
“Fuck,” Steve gasped, and rocked his hips with little shallow thrusts that made sparks of lightning splinter down Bucky’s spine. Bucky wrapped his legs around Steve’s waist, a whine forcing its way through his teeth, ankles hooking together at the small of Steve’s back — his skin was on fire, he could feel Steve’s breath on his neck, it had been seventy-two years since anyone had touched him consistently without intent to harm, and he could feel an almost violent affection rising in him now as Steve started to fuck him for real.
He could hear himself talking, rasping out a litany of words that he hadn’t been aware were inside him, but he couldn’t stop. Steve’s open mouth hovered above his own, lips brushing over Bucky’s as he fucked him faster, hands tight at Bucky’s hips, tasting the words as they fell from Bucky’s tongue.
“Please, God, oh, please — feels so good, you feel so good, Steve —”
“Like this, Buck?” Steve asked, angling his hips a little better. He shot Bucky a lopsided grin when Bucky cried out. “You like it like that?”
Steve’s dog tags hit his chest with every thrust, so Bucky grabbed them with a metallic clink, yanked him down to kiss him his answer. Steve panted into his mouth, fucking him with increasing desperation, putting one hand down on the bed for leverage and wrapping his other clumsy fingers around Bucky’s cock to jerk him off. His gun-calloused palm made even the gentlest touches feel rough, and Bucky liked that duality. Liked that both parts existed in Steve simultaneously.
“Give it to me good, Rogers,” Bucky urged, tipping his head back as Steve dragged teeth down his throat. “I’m the one person in the world you don’t gotta worry about breaking, fuck me —”
Steve slammed into him and Bucky saw stars. This was what the burn under his skin had been screaming for, this, the flex of Steve’s arm next to his head, the shove of his cock into Bucky’s body like it belonged there. The ragged-painful longing that panged at the base of Bucky’s spine was silenced as it was satisfied.
“Gonna come,” Steve grunted, and Bucky mouthed the sweat from his face. He could feel a familiar heat coiling tight in his own abdomen, he was so close, and hearing that rough scrape in Steve’s voice only cemented that fact.
“Yeah, yeah, c’mon, sweetheart,” he heard himself gasping, and when Steve collapsed on top of him with a strangled cry, hand tightening around Bucky’s cock, Bucky fell over the edge after him with a breathless noise he had not known he was capable of making.
When they were small and underfed and had their shoulders squared against the world around them constantly, Bucky had thrown himself in front of punches and onto the dance floor with the same sharp, crystalline feeling just beneath his sternum. Fighting and dating had always felt the same, the same performance, the same teeth bared in a grimace or a smile.
Then he would come home to Steve and he could finally fucking breathe.
That feeling persisted, even through the decades spent in the ice. All he had to do was meet Steve’s eyes and the tight knot in his chest would ease in the wake of pure, unfiltered understanding, Steve the only person in the whole goddamn world he didn’t have to hide from.
Their muscles were too liquid to do more than a cursory cleanup, knotting the condom and tossing it into the wastebasket, wiping off come and lube with one of their t-shirts — Bucky was pretty sure it was Steve’s — and then they fell back into bed again, unable to keep their hands off each other. Sweat had stuck some of Steve’s hair to his forehead. Bucky’s mouth felt raw from kissing.
“You sure we never did that before?” Bucky asked after a while, fingertips skating up and down Steve’s spine.
“Pretty sure I would remember,” Steve told the crook of his neck, where his face was buried.
Bucky huffed an amused breath. “Good thing one of us is.”
Steve smacked his arm lightly. “Not funny.”
“A little funny,” Bucky said, tucking a smile into Steve’s hair. “Seriously, though? How the fuck did I manage to keep my hands off you that long?”
Steve put his chin on Bucky’s collar bone, looked up at him with serious blue eyes. “We kissed once,” he said. “But only once. I never knew if it was because you weren’t into it or because you were scared. I don’t know. It was illegal.”
“Because we both always cared about obeying the law,” Bucky said, raising his eyebrows.
Steve rolled his eyes. “Who knows what was going on in your head? We only kissed the once.” He paused, looking conflicted, and then said, “I mean, I was in love with you. I always was.”
A thrill of something, maybe anticipation, zinged down Bucky’s spine. “What about now?” he asked.
Steve just looked at him, disbelieving. “Bucky, what the fuck do you think?”
Bucky hauled Steve up and kissed him hard. Steve made a surprised sound but didn’t protest, hands scrambling to Bucky’s body, clutching at him.
“Me too,” Bucky said, once they’d parted. He rested his forehead against Steve’s. “I know I don’t know much sometimes, but I — I know that.”
Steve’s eyes were wide and a little wet. “We have the worst timing.”
“I don’t know,” Bucky said, and touched Steve’s lips with his metal fingertips. “I hear one hundred is the new twenty.”