“Craigslist, Steve?” Sam snorts down the phone. “Seriously?”
Steve pinches the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger and fights the urge to sigh. “Yes, seriously.”
“Only freaks and weirdos use Craigslist.”
Steve walks into the kitchen, using his free hand to open the refrigerator and grab a bottle of water. He nudges the door shut with his hip and waits for the Sam Wilson Lecture Train to pick up speed.
“Have you taken a look at it recently? People write their posts in all caps. All caps.”
There is a shuffling sound, and Steve pulls out a chair at the kitchen table and sits down heavily, tucking the phone between his shoulder and ear while he unscrews the bottle cap and takes a mouthful of cold water.
“Okay, listen to this,” Sam sounds practically gleeful. “Room for rent in East Harlem. No drugs, must be okay with a cat.”
“That’s not so bad. I like cats.”
“Wait, wait, I’m just getting to the good part! Thirty year old part time nudist male and I prefer you to be nudist as well.”
Steve huffs. “Sam…”
“In need of nice, smart girlfriend/boyfriend to live with in Manhattan.” Sam laughs to himself. “I love sexual acts and living with my significant other makes the sex more accessible. Also I’d like to have an idea of your cock dimensions. I don’t want to be shocked when we meet.”
“Aww jeez,” Steve mutters under his breath, low enough for Sam to miss, and sips at his water.
“Free room for young woman willing to carry out household chores. You will be responsible for dishes, dusting, vacuuming, cleaning. No cooking required.”
Steve waits for the punchline.
“These chores must, that’s all caps. MUST. These chores MUST be done naked or in sexy lingerie.” Sam whoops with laughter. “Damn, better hope he keeps the place nice and toasty.”
Steve waits for the laughter to die down. “You’re a terrible therapist.”
“I am a great therapist. People love me.”
Steve can almost see Sam’s wide, gap-toothed grin. “Okay, so you’ve proved your point. Craigslist is an awful place. But what else can I do? Commissions have dried up lately and I can't pay my bills. I still need a roommate.”
“Steve, come on man. What you need to do is sell up, make a fresh start.” Sam’s voice turns softer. “It ain’t good for you, living with all those ghosts.”
Steve finally lets out his long-suppressed sigh. “We’ve been over this. I’m not selling.”
“You could get a place in Red Hook or-”
“I’m not leaving Brooklyn,” Steve snaps irritably. “I was born in this apartment.”
“Yeah, and your Ma died in it.”
The bottle of water slips out of Steve’s hand and hits the floor with a thud, spilling its contents across the dull white tiles.
Sam’s voice drifts down the phone line, soft with an edge of contrition. “I know you still miss her, but it’s been a year, Steve. You need to move on.”
“Eight months,” Steve mutters, making no effort to pick up the fallen bottle or move his feet away from the spreading puddle of water. “It’s been eight months.”
“Still. You need to seriously think about moving on.”
“I am moving on,” Steve mutters. “Just not away.”
Sam hums to himself, unconvinced. “Alright, we’ll do it your way. You want to send me what you got written down so far? If I can’t talk you out of it, I can at least help out.”
Steve slumps in his seat. “You’re a lifesaver, Sam.”
“You still gotta weed out the crazies yourself, mind.”
Steve scoops up his bottle from the floor and sets it on the table. “There won’t be any crazies, Sam.”
The knock at the door is early.
Steve is still running around trying to get all his materials packed away. it’s not that he lives in squalor or anything, but he’d gotten absorbed in his latest piece and didn’t notice the time.
“Just a second,” he shouts, moving the canvas to the corner of the room and taking his brushes and dirty glasses to the kitchen. He drops them in the sink to deal with later and washes the worst of the paint off his hands.
There is no response from the door, and for a second Steve thinks that they’ve left in a huff. He wipes his hands off on a dishcloth, tossing it onto the draining board and going to answer the door.
It occurs to him just as he’s rattling the lock that he’s not even dressed for potential roommates. Faded jeans and a paint spattered vest isn’t exactly a professional look.
The lock finally gives and Steve pulls the door open and peers out into the hallway.
He looks up and down the hall, but there’s no one there. Just the lines of front doors to other apartments on the floor. Steve huffs and pushes the door shut, the lock clicking into place. He sighs and turns back to the room, letting out a yelp at the man standing there.
He would probably be close to Steve’s height if he wasn’t hunched over. He’s wearing several layers of clothing hanging loosely over his slight frame. A scuffed black baseball cap on his head shields his eyes and most of his face from Steve’s view. His dark hair hangs limply down to his hunched shoulders, his head bowed. He looks wary, defensive. Like a dog that’s been kicked enough times to learn caution.
Okay, so maybe Sam had a point about weirdos.
“Hey,” Steve says slowly, resisting the urge to wrestle open the door and… What? Run? What the hell?
The man smells… weird. Not unwashed, or like he’s homeless, though he looked like a hobo. He smells like sea air and seaweed, like wet stones and the charged, ozone rich air before a thunderstorm.
“You here about the room?” Steve asks.
The man nods.
“You sent me the email, right?” Steve adds, still unable to shake a sense of… something. Something felt by small mammals when dinosaurs still stomped across the earth.
The man shoves his hand into the pocket of his jeans and pulls out a phone. He taps at the screen with his thumb, then holds out the phone.
On the screen is a mail program displaying a copy of the message Steve had received that morning, asking to look at the room.
Steve nods, and the man tucks the phone back into his pocket.
“Thanks. Just wanted to be sure, you know?” The man nods silently. “Okay, well I’m Steve.”
He holds out his hand, and after a moment the man takes it. His hands are large and warm, his fingers dotted with callouses and blisters.
After a moment of silent hand holding Steve gives him an awkward smile. “And you are?”
The man doesn’t withdraw his hand, and after a moment of uncertain silence, opens his mouth.
Syllables rattle between Steve’s ears, low and grating, like the shifting of tectonic plates beneath the sea. He stifles the low whine of animal panic that creeps up his throat.
“I’m sorry, I didn't catch that,” Steve smiles, brittle and uneven at the edges.
The man speaks again, a dull roaring in his ears.
“Bugsh…” Steve frowns. “Bucky? Your name is Bucky?”
The man finally tugs his hand away from Steve’s, tucking it into the pocket of his jacket. “Bucky.”
His voice is low with a slight rasp, as though from disuse.
“Okay. Come on, I’ll show you around.”
Bucky moves softly alongside Steve as he walks around the apartment, nodding silently at the bathroom and kitchen while Steve tries to remember what to say.
“Kitchen’s pretty small, but you’re welcome to use what I’ve got. You’ll get your own cupboard and shelves in the refrigerator. Just… Don’t take my stuff, okay?” Steve gives him a weak smile. The man hums to himself and pulls open the kitchen drawer, poking his finger into the cutlery curiously before pushing the drawer shut again and giving Steve an odd grimace, like he’s trying to smile.
“Okay,” Steve says, pushing on. “The bedrooms.”
He leads the way through the living room and points to the door leading to his own room.
“That’s my room, and over here is the…”
Bucky has wandered off. The apartment is small, so it’s not like it takes Steve long to find him, over in the corner of the living room, crouching down in front of Steve’s latest canvas.
Bucky has both hands tucked under his chin, and is staring at the painting like he’s communing with it.
Steve flushes pink. “Yeah. That’s my. Uhm. I’m an artist.” He scratches the back of his head, embarrassed. “I mean I try. Work’s pretty slow at the moment.”
“Sorrow,” Bucky murmurs.
Steve freezes. “What?” It comes out sharper than he intended. Bucky glances up at him before turning back to the painting. Underneath the baseball cap his eye are the deep blue of the Pacific. Bucky nods to the image, a still life of a handful of wildflowers, tall spires of yellow and white, their stems crushed from being held too hard.
“Sorrow,” he repeats. “A gift never given.”
Steve lets out a choked sound and claps his hand over his mouth, effectively silencing himself. He breathes in, counts to five, and exhales.
“The room is this way.”
Bucky stands up with easy, sinuous grace, and follows Steve to the spare room.
Most of the contents have been cleared out, either put into storage or given to Goodwill. And the room itself isn’t exactly spacious, but there is a bed and a chest of drawers, and a window overlooking the street below.
Bucky walks into the room, brushing his hand along the walls. They had been yellow, once, but were now an inoffensive shade of pale blue.
Steve would be damned before he painted any room in his apartment beige, and the thought of white was too reminiscent of sterile hospital wards.
“There’s a lock and key to the room,” Steve points out, hovering in the doorway. “I have a copy but obviously I won’t use it, and I’ll only come in with your permission.”
Bucky doesn't answer, going over to sit on the bed. He bounces up and down a little, looking slightly alarmed at how springy the new mattress is.
“I mean, if you disappear for a week then I’ll have to come in. Or if you throw a big party and I have to come break it up. Or if there’s a…” Steve realises that he’s babbling and falls silent.
Bucky shifts from the bed onto the floor, sprawling out on the carpet in a starfish shape. He closes his eyes and after a minute Steve wonders if he's fallen asleep.
“Uh. Bucky?” he calls out, still reluctant to enter the room.
Bucky opens his eyes. He looks peaceful. Serene. All the weight that he had been carrying gone from his shoulders. He tugs off his baseball cap, letting his hair fan out around his head in a chestnut sprawl. He leaves the hat on the floor beside him, like he’s marking his territory.
“Sarah,” he says, rolling onto his feet in a single, graceful move.
Steve damn near chokes on his own tongue. “What?!”
Bucky saunters towards him, reaching out to trail his fingers along the wall beside him. “That was her name.” It’s not even a question.
“How the hell do you know about my mother,” Steve snarls, angry and defensive. “What the fuck are you playing at? You get a kick out of-”
“She was a child of the Shoggoth,” Bucky talks over him. Calm. Patient. There is something in his tone that silences Steve. “Poor creatures, cast out for their failed insurrection. We all were.”
Steve can only stare in silence as Bucky speaks, his voice low and melodious as he leans against the doorframe.
“She fed them with her horrors. They grew fat and content on her fears.” Bucky smiles at him, wide and bright and unexpectedly beautiful. “Thank you.”
Steve nods dumbly as Bucky runs the flat of his palm against the blue painted wall.
“It is a worthy offering. I accept.”
It’s enough to make Steve’s head spin. He holds up a hand, and realises that he’s shaking.
“Now. Now just a minute…” he shudders. “This is.” He stops, lowering his hand. “You knew my Ma?”
Bucky shakes his head. “The walls remember her. Her voice resides in the floors, her laughter chases through the copper wires.” He moves his hand to the light switch by the door, tracing the path of electrical currents. “That is why you remain here.”
Steve stares at him, and nods carefully. “No one seems to get it. They all keep telling me to leave.”
“Why would you leave the things that matter to you most? If I could remain with my kin, I would.” Bucky pulls his hand away from the wall and shoves it in his pocket, his shoulders tensing up. “But that way is closed to me now.”
“I’m sorry,” Steve says genuinely. It was just me and Ma. Were you close to your family?”
Bucky shrugs. “My brothers wish me dead. But I have claimed this world as mine, and should any dare approach I will slaughter them, and their progeny.”
“Oh,” Steve says weakly. “Well, it’s tough coming from a large family.”
Bucky pushes past him and heads back into the living room. “It is of no concern.”
Steve follows him. “What do you do for a living?” he asks as Bucky starts to poke through the bookshelf, pulling out novels and reference books at random.
“Conservation,” Bucky says after a moment, and climbs over the sofa to take a closer look at the TV.
“And why should I rent you my spare room?”
Bucky quickly loses interest in the TV, picking up the remote and giving it a shake. “Because your soul sang out to me, across the infinite where the dead lie dreaming. You called and I have come.” He says absently, setting the remote back down on the coffee table and continuing his exploration of the living room.
Steve presses his thumb to the bridge of his nose. Sam was right. Sam was right about crazy people on Craigslist and Steve is never gonna live this one down.
Sam is going to be insufferable.
Bucky drifts back to the painting, tilting his head to one side. “You did not lose her.” he says abruptly, just as Steve is trying to figure out how to get the weird guy out of his apartment. “She is with you. You were made of her blood and bones, she gave you the colour of her eyes, the cadence of your laughter. These are the parts of her that you will carry until you are wrought to atoms and returned to the stars.”
Steves knees give way and he sits down heavily on the couch.
“Oh, he whispers.
Bucky makes himself comfortable on the floor, sitting crossed-legged and resting his elbows on his knees. He stares at the handful of yellow flowers, their sunny petals wilting.
Of all the people who have seen Steve’s wildflower paintings, Bucky is the first to look past the bright colours and see the grief underneath.
“When can you move in?” Steve chokes out.
Bucky turns to him and smiles, the fine skin at the corner of his eyes crinkling.
The silences stretches out between them, and as much as Steve expects it to become awkward, it doesn’t. Bucky sits on the floor, basking in the late spring sun filtering through the window, waiting patiently for Steve to pull himself together.
He does, eventually, getting up to go to the kitchen and make coffee.
Steve bites his lip, tipping coffee grounds into the filter paper and filling the reservoir with water, taking small comfort in the familiar routine. He sets the jug on the hotplate and switches it on.
“You want some coffee?” he calls out as the water begins to boil.
There is a thoughtful hum. “Tea.”
He doesn’t have a kettle, but he could probably boil some water in a pot on the stove.
“I don’t have any tea. Uh. A glass of water?”
“Look in the cupboard,” Bucky sounds amused.
Steve frowns and opens the empty cupboard that he had cleared out in preparation. Inside was a couple of cans of sardines, a candy bar and a box of green tea. Steve picks up the box like it might start ticking, and glances back at where his new roommate is still sat on the carpet, his chin resting on his cupped palm, his eyes half-closed like he’s dozing in the sun.
Steve huffs. He must have slipped them into the cupboard when Steve wasn’t looking, which was kind of forward but... Hmm. Not necessarily bad.
He opens up the box, it's full of little twists of dried green leaves. Okay, so maybe he can boil it up on the stove and strain it into a mug? He puts the open box on the counter, and as he’s reaching for a pan he notices the electric kettle on the counter, already plugged in and filled with water. There is a mug next to it, fine white china with a domed lid. A fish has been painted on the mug in blue ink, its tail an expansive flourish.
Steve glances back at Bucky, who is definitely asleep, sat in the sun like a cat.
He lifts the lid warily, and finds a little ceramic bowl inside the cup, nesting just inside the rim. Holes have been poked into the bowl before it had been fired and glazed, and it resembles a little tea strainer. He tips a little of the tea into the bowl and flicks on the kettle.
He checks on Bucky again, to see if he’s sneaking about while Steve is occupied, moving shit around or fucking with him somehow. But he’s still asleep, or at least feigning it well.
The kettle clicks off, and Steve pours water through the leaves, watching as they unfurl and release a sharp, grassy aroma. He lifts out the bowl and leaves it in the sink with his dirty brushes, puts the lid back on the mug and takes it out to his new housemate.
He takes the chance to get a closer look at Bucky while he’s sleeping.
A strong, well-defined jaw. A dimpled chin. Long, dark lashes. Steve has a sudden urge to get his sketchbook, to fix down the sight of him in broad sweeps of charcoal, to mark down his eyelashes in fine ink, to flood heavy paper with endless washes of watercolour until he found the exact shade of blue of his eyes.
Steve swallows. Oh, that kind of thinking isn’t good. He tamps it down and puts the mug on the floor at Bucky's feet, the rattle of the china lid making his eyes crack open.
Gouache. Watercolour isn’t rich enough, it would have to be gouache.
“Tea,” Steve mutters. “I don’t know how to make it, so…”
“Thank you,” Bucky murmurs sleepily, and that does something to Steve’s guts that he's not remotely ready to think about.
“Coffee,” Steve says sharply, heading back to the kitchen.
He pours himself a mug, forcing his hands to remain steady while he slowly and thoroughly packs the mass of conflict going on in his chest, seals it up in a box and labels it ‘Deal with this never’ before shoving it into the coldest recesses at the back of his mind.
“You are an artist,” Bucky murmurs beside his ear.
Steve yelps and slops hot coffee over the counter. He sets down his mug before his hand finally gives way and grabs a dishcloth, wiping up the spill and pointedly ignoring the way his hands are shaking.
He refills the mug and takes a sip before turning around to face Bucky.
He is standing less than a foot away, and the sharp, earthy aroma of his tea mingles with the scent of him, salt and mineral and ozone.
“You said you are an artist?” Bucky clarifies.
“Oh. Yeah. I am. I try to be,” Steve nods, flustered.
“Can I see more?”
“Oh. Sure.” Steve takes another sip of coffee while he tries to work out what to say.
“There is no colour in the void,” Bucky offers. “But here there are… lights that are beyond imagining. Fires that dance in the sky where there should be nothing. In the deepest trenches of the ocean there are motes of light and colour, shimmering unseen, just because they long to shine.”
Steve takes another sip of coffee, and presses down a little harder on that damned box.
“Uhm. Rent,” he says abruptly. “I’ll need a deposit, and the first month upfront,” he tries to remember what Sam had told him. “You’ll get your deposit back when you move out.”
“Oh, I’m not leaving,” Bucky says quietly.
He shoves his hand in his pocket and pulls out a crumpled bundle of notes, tacky with something dark and pungent. He reaches forward, waving them gently as if enticing a wild animal closer, bills dropping to the floor. Steve puts down his coffee and holds out both hands, stuttering in confusion as Bucky presses the money into his outstretched hands. The remaining notes are glued together with the treacly substance, pungent and sweet.
“I. Er. I wasn’t expecting cash,” he tries to explain as he drops the pile on the table, ones scrunched up with twenties and fifties and hundreds. His fingers are sticky with a residue that won’t rub off.
Even with all the singles there must be close to five thousand dollars. “Bucky this is too much.”
Bucky shrugs. “Tell me when you want more,” he says and takes a sip of tea.
Steve rubs his finger and thumb together. “Is this… Engine oil or something?”
“Ichor,” Bucky watches idly as more notes flutter to the floor. “Can I see those paintings?”
“Steve!” Sam yells down the phoneline.
Steve tucks his phone between his shoulder and ear and wipes off his brush. “Hey Sam, what’s up?”
“Nothing, nothing. Just checking that you've not been chopped into little pieces and left in the bathtub.”
Steve lets out a snort. “No, Sam. I’ve not been murdered by someone looking for a reasonably priced room in Brooklyn. Thank’s for asking.”
“Good to know. You had any interest? Any trouble?”
Steve bites the inside of his cheek. “Yeah. He moved in yesterday.”
Sam lets out an incredulous snort. “Seriously? The guy’s references checked out already?”
“I… don’t think he had references.” Steve puts down his brush and waits for the lecture.
“What? Steve are you shitting me?” Sam sighs audibly down the phone. “What’s his name?”
“So I can tell the police when we find you in a bathtub full of ice? Why do you think?”
Steve gets up from his stool, giving his canvas a last, apologetic look before going to the kitchen.
“Bucky,” he says, fetching a bottle of water from the refrigerator. “His name is Bucky.”
“What? That sounds Irish, what’s his last name?”
Steve pauses in unscrewing the bottle cap. “I didn’t ask.”
Sam lets out a shrill noise. “Steve, what the hell?! Are you trying to get yourself-”
“He’s not like that,” Steve mutters defensively. “He’s… nice.”
“Uh-huh? What does he do?”
Well that one Steve can answer. “Conservation.”
“Mmm-hmm? He fill out a contract?”
Steve doesn’t answer, giving his water bottle a guilty look.
“Sam, I’m not a little kid! I can take care of myself.”
Sam doesn’t argue, though Steve can almost hear him lining up a dozen reasons to kick Bucky onto the street. “He’s fine, Sam. He’s actually kind of sweet. Leave it alone.”
But Sam can sense blood in the water. “Steve…” he’s using his therapist voice. Fuck. “Steve, it is not a good idea to get involved with someone who’s paying you rent. Sex and money can be a nasty business.”
Steve rubs his cheek, fighting at the pink flush blooming across his features.
“I know you Steve, you’re too damn trusting. You don’t want to get in a situation like with…”
“I’m NOT!” Steve snaps. “Jesus Christ Sam, that whole thing was a misunderstanding. Give me a break.”
“Fine,” Sam grumbles. “But this conversation is not over.” Steve hums in acknowledgement. “So, he’s not a weirdo then?”
Steve huffs. “He’s… weird, yeah. But he’s harmless.”
“Oh yeah?” Sam doesn’t sound convinced.
Steve picks at the label on his bottle. “Yeah.”
The cats start appearing after a week.
The first one, a tiny little puff of black fur and whiskers, is sitting on the counter one morning when Steve comes out for coffee.
Bucky tends to be up before Steve in the morning, and leaves him a fresh pot of coffee before heading out to do whatever conservationist do. He never drinks it himself, though will sometimes pour himself a cup just to warm his hands and breathe in the aroma, pouring it away when it’s cold and stale.
But it’s a little something he does for Steve every day, and Steve quietly treasures it.
The cat, however, is an unexpected addition.
“Hey, puss.” Steve says, and gives the little bundle a stroke.
It purrs, jumping up to rub against his hand and shivering with delight when he strokes along its back, tail pointed straight up and trembling.
“Are you Bucky’s?” Steve asks the cat, who responds by climbing up his arm, it's needle-point claws pricking through the sleeves of his shirt, and settling on his shoulder.
He gives the cat a scratch under the chin, and it purrs, flexing its tiny claws in the soft cotton of his shirt. It’s warm weight and low, thrumming purr keeps Steve company the rest of the morning.
When Bucky shuffles back into the apartment just before lunch the cat leaps to its feet and lets out a high ‘krrr’ at the sight of him, barely even wobbling on Steve’s shoulder.
“Lord Dunsany,” Buck answers politely.
The cat settles down again, tucking its paws primly under its body and wrapping its tail around itself until it’s a snug little ball.
“Hey, Buck,” Steve looks up from his painting. “I didn’t know you had a cat.”
Bucky comes over to see how he’s progressing. “His Lordship is his own, and honours us with his presence.” Bucky looks uncomfortable. “Should I ask him to leave?”
The cat digs tiny claws into Steve’s shoulder. He huffs and gives it a rub on the noise, fighting a laugh at Bucky’s scandalised expression. “I like cats. Dum-Dum is fine where he is.”
Bucky turns to the cat, looking a mixture of aghast and apologetic. “My Lord, I can only apologise-”
The cat lets out a tiny little ‘mew’, and Bucky falls silent.
It’s not what Steve had expected from having a roommate.
There are a half dozen cats that come and go as they please. They don’t take up much space, or even make a mess, and mostly spend their time sleeping in sunny patches on the living room floor or winding around Steve’s feet in the kitchen when he’s making dinner.
Bucky had formally introduced each one to Steve, giving them full names and titles while they rolled around his feet, batting at the laces of his boots. Steve nodded politely and listened intently, then renamed each cat, just to see the look of horror on Bucky’s face.
Menes the Wanderer became Morita. Celephais, the Horseman of the Sky became Falsworth. Sarnath, the fall of the Mnar became Jonesy.
Eventually Bucky just accepted the new names, though he still greeted each cat formally on meeting them, and Steve never saw him pick them up for a cuddle. He was clearly fond of them, feeding them bites of canned sardines or picking out the pieces of chicken or ham from the meals Steve made for them both and surreptitiously feeding them to the cats lurking under the kitchen table.
Steve should have been annoyed that Bucky kept bringing the cats into his apartment, especially without asking. But he was utterly charmed by them all. And the way Bucky introduced him to each one, like introducing two members of state at some grand function.
Yeah, maybe he was a little charmed by that too.
“So when do I get to meet your weird-assed new roommate?” Sam asks, following Steve through the front door.
Steve shrugs and fetches two bottles of water from the refrigerator, tossing one over to Sam, who is still out of breath and kind of steamed at Steve for being a faster runner than him. Again.
“He’s not weird,” Steve mutters, defensive. “He’s just different.”
“Dude, he sounds weird,” Sam laughs, heading over to the couch. “Where is he anyway?”
“I don’t know, I’m not his keeper,” Steve grumbles, then kind of misses his point by walking around the apartment, calling out to see if Bucky is around. He even checks in the bathroom, which is empty, though there is something… disgusting in the bathtub.
Steve takes a step closer and pulls back the shower curtain.
“What the hell?” he mutters.
The bath has a thick layer of viscous, dark slime in it. The smell is surprisingly sweet, like the sticky substance Steve had to wash off the rent money, and has the same deep rich brown colour.
“What’s with all the cats?” Sam calls from the couch, where Pinky and Sawyer are climbing over him and giving him a thorough sniffing.
“The Howling Commandos,” Steve calls out, reaching down to prod at the slime. The surface is slightly gelatinous, resistant to his touch, and leaves a smear of something on his fingertip.
Steve has the oddest urge to lick it off, but wipes his finger on his jeans and heads for the kitchen.
Sam has three cats sprawled on his lap, and he’s scratching Sawyer behind the ear and calling him a cutie. Sawyer purrs loudly and stretches, flexing his little ginger toes.
Steve grabs a bottle of bleach from under the kitchen sink, and leaves Sam to commune with the Howlies.
He pours the whole bottle of bleach into the bath and turns on the hot water, watching the slime get flushed down the drain and quietly deciding to have a serious word with Bucky about keeping the communal areas of the apartment clean and free from ooze. He rinses out the bottle, pours it down the drain and lets the water run for a couple of minutes before shutting it off and taking the empty bottle to the kitchen and dropping it into the recycling.
“You guys getting on?” he asks, joining Sam on the couch.
“Yeah, they’re pretty cool,” Sam grudgingly agrees.
The apartment door crashes open and Bucky storms in, soaking wet and smelling like a sewer.
Steve looks over the back of the sofa at him. “Hey Buck. You okay?”
Bucky glares at him, the most murderous death-glare that Steve has ever had thrown in his direction. The room seems to grow darker, the air gets a little colder.
Pinky sits up from her spot on Sam’s lap and lets out the softest little chirrup.
Bucky visibly deflates, and the room gets brighter, though no warmer. He lets out a low growl and stomps into the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind him.
Steve bites his cheek to keep from smiling. They guy probably won’t even thank him for cleaning the crap in the bath.
“That’s Bucky,” he says, scooping up Pinky and giving her a scratch behind the ears.
Bucky has been living there for almost a month when Steve realises that he is happy.
It’s an odd revelation, and happens at the strangest moment, when they are sat on the couch watching an old Buster Keaton movie.
Bucky doesn’t much care for reality TV or dramas, but he finds TV in general fascinating, and when he isn’t out doing whatever conservationists do, he is sat on the couch, wrapped in the thick, dark blanket that seems to be the only thing he had brought with him when he moved in, flicking through the channels until he finds something that catches his interest.
Steve is tucked up at the far end of the couch, a sketchpad on his knee, though he isn’t really working on anything. Bucky is barely visible under the folds of his blanket, but Steve can hear him chuckle as Buster on the TV runs down a hill, pursued by giant fake boulders.
Dum Dum is curled up asleep on Steve’s shoulder, nose tucked under his ear, Jonesy balled up against his hip.
Bucky laughs again, low and sweet, and the box buried deep in Steve’s chest rattles.
Steve tamps it down and tosses the sketchbook on the table, leaving the half-finished portrait for another time, and settles back to watch the rest of the movie.
Steve wakes up alone, still curled up on the couch. Even the cats have wandered off.
He gets up, stiff and sore from sleeping in an awkward position and stretches before heading to the bathroom.
Bucky is making coffee when he comes out, and Steve watches from the doorway as he measures out coffee grounds and water before making himself tea.
“Hey,” he murmurs, still waking up. “You sleep okay?”
Bucky fetches a mug from the draining board. “I am one with Darkness, I have no need of sleep,” he announces.
Steve huffs, filled with a sudden burst of affection. “Yeah, but did you sleep okay?”
Bucky raises his chin, defiant. “No thanks to your snoring.”
Steve laughs and comes further into the room. “I don’t snore.”
Bucky’s mouth quirks up a little, but he maintains his stern expression. “The Herald of S’gilhuo, Alala, is but the whimpering of mice compared to you. You sound like a sawmill.”
Steve shakes his head. “Well you sound like…”
He knows what Bucky sounds like when he’s asleep. It’s like a soothing white noise, like waves crashing onto a sandy beach. Like rain on grassy meadows.
Bucky’s eyes darken, shifting from the deep blue of the Pacific to stormy skies, and he crosses the kitchen floor in two paces, swift and implacable as wind or wave. He shoves Steve up against the wall and kisses him.
Steve’s back slams against the drywall hard enough to knock down one of the framed pictures hanging there, and Bucky takes advantage of Steve’s involuntary gasp of surprise and pushes his tongue into his mouth, forcing his teeth apart.
Steve moans, his hands grabbing at Bucky's shoulders. Not to push him away, but to pull him closer. He tastes like saltwater and seaweed, and a metallic tang sweet like blood but richer, darker. Bucky’s hands pin Steve’s hips to the wall, keeping him in place, and grazes his teeth along Steve’s plush lower lip before licking into his mouth again, deep and rough and near frantic.
Steve closes his mouth and sucks on Bucky’s tongue. It feels strange against his soft palate, rough and dexterous and pitted with raised discs. They stick to the roof of his mouth, catching on his tongue and teeth.
Bucky rumbles against his lips and moves his hands lower, curling around Steve’s hips and pulling him closer. Steve whines, low and desperate, and ruts his thickening cock against the crease of Bucky’s thigh.
Under the faded denim of Bucky’s jeans, something squirms.
Steve pulls back, Bucky’s tongue suckering against the inside of his upper lip and detaching as Steve pushes against his shoulders, turning his face away.
“Stop,” he whispers.
Bucky withdraws, lifting the back of his hand to his mouth. “Steve?” he asks, his voice muffled and concerned.
Steve shakes his head. “I can’t… We can’t…”
Bucky lowers his hand, his lips damp and kiss bitten, and all Steve can think of is that he did that.
“Your colours…” Bucky says, confused.
Sam’s voice rings in Steve’s ears. He thinks of all the adverts he saw for rooms in exchange for… He swallows, tasting saltwater and minerals.
“If you can’t make rent, you come talk to me. You don’t offer…” Steve’s mouth can’t even shape the words. “Trade.”
Bucky’s eyes widen, shifting from blue to silver. “You want money?” he shoves his hand in his pocket, and Steve shakes his head, holding up his hands, palms outwards.
“No. Please, don’t.” He takes a breath. “It’s just… A bad idea.”
Bucky seems to diminish before his eyes, like his edges are fading. “But we were-”
“It was a mistake,” Steve says quickly, trying to salvage what he can from the situation.
Bucky wraps his arms around himself, looking wounded. “But I did everything right,” he says weakly. “I followed the rules.”
Steve lets his hands drop to his sides. “I’m sorry.”
Bucky nods once, biting the inside of his cheek. He doesn’t say another word, just walks to the front door, still in his socks and the t-shirt he slept in. He doesn’t look back, just opens the door and slips out, pulling it closed behind him.
He doesn’t come back.