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Coming Back from the End of the World

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It’s a day much like most others in Wakanda have been lately; Steve trying to concentrate on what they need to do, pushing back the hollowness residing inside his chest. Over the last months, ever since Thanos won, they’ve tried every avenue they can think of, but nothing leads them forward. Thanos and the Infinity Stones with him seem to have disappeared into thin air, or more precisely into the unknown vastness of space.

Only it turns out it’s a day fully unique, because there is suddenly a wind blowing inside the palace, there are sparks of light dancing in the current, and instead of anyone disappearing, people thought long lost suddenly start to reappear where they stood when they fell into ashes. Steve blinks once, twice, shaking out the shock, and he’s running as soon as he can command his legs to move toward the edges of the city, toward the forest, faster than he’s ever run before.

He makes it there first with his head start even though the others have taken the hovercrafts and arrive right behind him. His chest is heaving, he’s short on breath but it doesn’t matter because there are shapes moving toward him, turning into familiar forms and faces. Bucky is solid in his arms, Sam, Wanda, and T’Challa look just as he remembers, and right then the hollow inside him is filled with incandescent joy.

That day is only the beginning, there is still a fight to be had, but this time they do better. This time they win.

It shouldn’t perhaps surprise any of them that all those lost were brought back because Thanos, like so many other megalomaniacs, couldn’t be satisfied with his victory. He got what he wanted and settled down, but as time passed he couldn’t accept the cost. He thought that if only he readjusted things a bit, maybe he could get the same results and not pay the price. He ended up starting the process of his own downfall.

It’s a grueling battle, not just one but many, but they take it on, they protect each other while doing better than the previous time, and they win. They come back to the Earth that’s still reeling from the reinsertion of half of its population, all of them giddy of their success, exhausted from the ordeal.

Many of them end up staying in Wakanda, and Steve still has his rooms in the palace but it’s not right, not what he wants now. Instead, he and Bucky do what Steve was unable to ever since Bucky vanished; they head to Bucky’s farm, where someone has replenished the stores and brought his little goat herd back, healthy and well taken care of.

They feed the goats, eat dinner, get cleaned up, and finally crawl into bed, exhausted but content, safe under the protective shield.

***

Steve wakes up in the early hours of the morning, blinking in the darkness, feeling like there isn’t enough air in the room. By some miracle, Bucky is still slumbering next to him, relaxed and in peace. Steve stares at him for a long moment, reassuring himself that Bucky really is there and not gone, that he didn’t just dream that everyone came back. Nothing has snatched Bucky away since they went to sleep. He wants to stay there, wants to curl around Bucky and hold onto him, but he knows if he gives in to the urge right now he’ll never let go, and it’s no way to live. Instead he silently pulls on shorts and a t-shirt, and grabs his running shoes to be put on outside.

He runs for hours, circling the perimeter of the protective shield until the sun is well up and people are going about their business. When he arrives back to the farm Bucky is cleaning the goat pen, the chores visibly easier now that he has two arms, even though he managed perfectly fine even with just one. He usually got a bit of help from the group of local kids, the ones that even now are playing nearby, waving at Steve when they see him, but absorbed enough they keep to their game instead of coming to talk.

His heart constricts when he comes near Bucky, he can feel uncertainty and threatening loss growing inside him, and he can’t take it, so he heads to the lake to wash himself without a word. Bucky of course can tell something is wrong, and he keeps glancing at Steve during their mostly quiet breakfast. Steve never deluded himself that Bucky wouldn’t see something is troubling him, but he doesn’t explain, doesn’t really know what there is to say, and Bucky seems to be at loss for words as well. They do the dishes after the meal, together but carefully not touching each other. Steve realizes that since Bucky was brought back they have touched exactly twice outside of helping each other during combat; the hug when he first laid his eyes on Bucky, and after the final struggle with Thanos when they checked each other for injuries. Even when they sleep they have carefully stayed on opposite sides of the bed.

The day passes like that, with them not talking except when it is to do with mundane things, Steve trying to force down the unreasonable panic that tries to overwhelm him, and Bucky watching him with a frown. In the late afternoon they’re called back to the palace because there is to be a celebration of victory, and they go, but the aching emptiness inside Steve doesn’t go away.

Bucky is not the only one that notices he’s not quite alright; in fact a lot of Steve’s friends give him worrying looks despite him trying to summon a smile. It’s a happy occasion; they won, they’re safe, they’re all together. He shouldn’t feel like this, he should feel something other than dread, but he can’t.

In the end, Natasha is the one that corners him, and asks him straight up what the problem is.

“I think I’m still processing, what happened hasn’t really sunk in yet,” he says, hoping with every fiber of his being that it’s indeed true.

She looks at him, the little frown of worry on her face, before hugging him. “You know you can always talk, about whatever you need.”

Steve hugs her back. “I know, Nat. Thank you.”

They walk back late that night with Bucky, keeping an easy pace. They’re so close that Steve can feel Bucky’s warmth on his skin, but not touching. Halfway to the farm he finally decides to just go for it and slips his hand in Bucky’s, who squeezes it tight in his. They walk the rest of the way hand in hand, and it’s good, better than anything since they came back, even when Steve has to fight against the constriction in his chest.

They sleep on different sides of the bed again, a careful few inches between them.

***

It doesn’t get better as days pass. Steve wakes up with a weight in his chest, he runs for hours, he does the chores, spends his days with Bucky, but nothing changes. The terror is always there, just under the surface. Part of him wishes there was something to do, a mission that would demand all his attention and skill, but there’s nothing, it feels like the whole world is still reeling, still trying to recover. Part of him is grateful too, because for hours at a time the anxiety spikes whenever he doesn’t have Bucky in his sight, and he doesn’t want to think what would happen if they were actually in danger.

He did honestly hope that it would just take him a while to readjust, that it was just the shock of what he’d been through that was lingering on him, but as days pass and he becomes more aware of the thought patterns connected to the fear, he has to admit it’s not so. The fear is not related to the past, because they made it through, they got everyone back and they’re safe. Instead, the question that tries to overwhelm him is, when is he going to have to lose Bucky again?

It’s not a question of if it’s going to happen. There is such an enormous certainty inside him that it will, he has lost Bucky so many times already, and it’s inevitable it must happen again. He knows too, in the rational part of his mind, that there is no correlation like that. The past does not dictate the future, but he just can’t make himself believe it. Maybe it was once too many times, maybe the last shock was so big that there is no recovering from it anymore. Maybe something broke beyond repair.

Bucky doesn’t ask, just goes about his days alongside him. Steve knows he’s worried, but Bucky knows him well enough to understand that right now Steve doesn’t have the words for it, that they have to wait until it bubbles over as things always have before they can hash it out. Steve sometimes hears him talk to the others, but no one from the city visits them, only the kids and their neighbors come by, because they belong in the life on the farm. He knows it’s Bucky’s doing, and he’s grateful for it, because he can’t even fathom how he’d react to people prodding at him the way his other friends tend to do.

They haven’t touched since holding hands on the night of the celebration.

***

He barely sleeps, and after a while it starts to weigh down even a supersoldier. On the tenth day after they returned he wakes up early again, dresses, and ties up his running shoes, but when he stands up he’s just so exhausted he can’t even imagine actually running. He also can’t imagine going back inside, he is still afraid of tipping over to too possessive. Instead he just sits by the side of the hut and looks up to the stars, not really paying attention to how they fade out of sight as the sky lightens.

Bucky finds him there when he comes out a couple of hours later, no doubt to feed and milk the goats, because he’s clearly not expecting to find Steve sitting there. He recovers soon enough from his surprise, but even without looking at him Steve can tell his worry goes up a notch. Bucky crouches in front of him, concern clear in the lines of his body, the way he obviously restrains himself from touching Steve.

The only thing he says is, “Steve,” and while it’s not a question, he’s still asking.

Steve is tired, and so he finally surrenders to it, finally allows himself to admit the truth. “I keep expecting you to disappear.”

The tension goes out of Bucky, not in relief but something along the lines of defeat before the steely determination that Steve has seen so many times before comes through again, and Bucky reaches for his hand, finally touching him after being careful for so long. His hand is warm, the skin calloused from handling tools and ropes. He’s so real.

“I’m here, Steve.”

“I know.” Steve squeezes Bucky’s hand in his, hard. “I do. It’s just, there have been so many times that I’ve had to watch you disappear, I get you back and something always happens. By now it seems inevitable it’ll happen again, and I can’t get over it anymore. I’ve always known it was a possibility, but now it’s coloring everything.”

“Just too many times,” Bucky says, and Steve sees he understands. Bucky scrubs at his face with his metal hand. “Fuck. Maybe I–“

Steve can see the line of his thoughts, can tell clear as day that Bucky’s blaming himself for it, thinking back that maybe he should have done something differently, shouldn’t have done what he needed to heal. It spurs Steve into action, and he yanks Bucky to him, pulls him close and wraps him in his arms.

“Don’t think like that, don’t blame yourself for what the world has done to us.”

“Doesn’t change the fact I have walked away from you before, and maybe if I hadn’t, maybe you wouldn’t suffer like this now.”

“And maybe you would be suffering instead. We don’t know how it would go, whatever the choices we made, I still might feel like this regardless. It’s not your fault that you were just trying to deal with your own hurts the best you could.”

Bucky wraps his arms around Steve’s waist, worming them between him and the wall he’s leaning to. “We’ll deal with this too, together. You’ll be fine.”

Steve doesn’t say anything, he has a hard time believing they can do it even now that he’s opened up, even though he knows how much a human being can endure and recover from, and he’s grateful Bucky doesn’t say they will never be separated. That wouldn’t help, he wouldn’t be able to believe it, but of course Bucky knows it. They just linger in each other’s arms, and when they finally get to their chores the air is clearer.

***

Ideally it would start getting easier after the words are out, but of course it’s not that simple for them. They’re both conscious of the problem, but finding ways to combat it turns out to be much trickier. Steve suspects Bucky has asked advice from the others, because he starts to instill a routine into their days even more than there used to be, and some of the things he says sound so much like Sam that Steve succumbs to giggles once when the parallel is just too hilarious after a short night. When he explains the reason for his laughter Bucky looks torn between being annoyed at the comparison and relieved by the fact Steve is actually laughing. He hasn’t done much of it lately.

Steve thinks back sometimes to the moment when he first saw Bucky after he rematerialized, to the brilliant joy and happiness. It’s still both a visceral memory and an uncertainty, because where did it go, how did something that huge just get buried somewhere? There’s no knowing, only that he can’t reach it now, and it makes him question the verity of it.

After their talk Steve’s sleeping patterns start to change. He manages sometimes to sleep all through the night, and he no longer has to get out if he wakes up too early in the morning. In exchange there are more nightmares, unsurprisingly depicting all the ways he’s ever lost Bucky. Up until now his nightmares have tended to be a mix of reality and imagination, details melded together into something that never happened but feels familiar regardless, but now every nightmare he has is of moments that actually happened, and he finds it harder to combat them.

He spends a lot of night time hours awake in bed, lying next to Bucky whose sleep is much more peaceful. It’s a change Steve has seen happen over the months and years during which he kept coming back to spend time with Bucky here in Wakanda between the missions. Every time he came back Bucky was more centered, calmer and in peace. Wakanda has been good for Bucky, and Steve knows he can never express how grateful he is, can never repay the debt. It still keeps accumulating, since they’re allowed this safe haven to try and recover in.

There are still the perpetual few inches between them whenever they lie in the bed. It’s Steve’s favorite part of Bucky’s hut, because while there are all the necessary comforts, it’s all still very practical, no excess. Yet, even from the start there has been a bed that’s bigger than necessary for one person. It’s a pallet rather than a bed frame but the mattress is comfortable and there’s a mountain of pillows and blankets. It was there when Steve first arrived, and in contrast to everything else he knew what it meant, knew the wish it communicated. It had eradicated the last doubts over whether Bucky wanted to rekindle the closeness they used to share.

Now the ease of touch is gone again. There is some deliberate contact every day, but it’s not casual like they managed before Thanos shook their world asunder, it’s always a reminder that they’re here, that they’re together. They both need it, but Steve can’t handle anything more than that, and he knows Bucky sees it. He hates it, hates that he’s mostly unable to breach the gap between the two of them, because Bucky was always tactile, and ever since he was healed by Shuri he’s been seeking touch again. The difficulty Steve has is taking a toll on him, and Steve hates that the trouble in his head spills over the both of them.

He even mentions is once, but Bucky shushes him with a crooked smile, telling him, “I always kind of figured something was going to happen and things would fall on your head finally, that you’d have to deal with everything you’ve been through because so far you haven’t, not really. I didn’t know how it would happen, but it doesn’t change the fact I know we’ll make it.”

He pulls Steve to him, and it’s one of the easier moments, so Steve clings to him, buries his face into Bucky’s throat and just breathes him in.

He understands the problem with physical contact is related to the fear of loss, making his subconsciousness want to keep the barriers up, not allowing him to get used to the comfort and happiness, because it’ll be so much more difficult if it gets snatched away. When it gets snatched away, according to the messed up part of him.

Sometimes, in the quiet hours of night he even finds himself thinking that maybe he should leave, maybe he should just give up the ghost and decide when the break is going to happen. In the mornings when they’re getting along with their chores, it’s much easier to know he doesn’t want to leave. He doesn’t want to do that to either one of them, because this is where he belongs, with Bucky, always.

He doesn’t manage to talk about his occasional urges to leave. He doesn’t want to see the pain that those words would cause, and he can spare Bucky from that at least.

***

Steve doesn’t know how long he’s been looking at Bucky this time around when he wakes up, blinks his eyes open and focuses on Steve. This night Steve has ended up between Bucky and the wall; it varies which side of the bed they choose, depending on who happens to go to bed first or who is feeling more restless in the evening. What is always the same is that Bucky tends to sleep on his stomach, face always turned toward Steve, and Steve sleeps on the side facing him. He never has to shift when he wakes up at night to see Bucky.

“I love you,” Steve says, surprising even himself.

They’ve never said the words to each other before, even though they’ve been true for decades, and they’ve always known. The knowledge, the certainty has made saying them unnecessary, and Steve also thinks that since it was so dangerous to be together before the ice parted them, they were reluctant to give out too much even in private, as if it was courting danger more than usual.

Now the words burst out, maybe because he thinks he would regret it if they were parted again and he hadn’t said them even once. He now thinks he should have spoken them long time ago regardless, because Bucky deserves everything, even and especially Steve laying his soul bare in front of him. There’s still too much desperation in the words, it’s all still colored by the fact there’s the part of him that is certain he will lose Bucky again, and he would like nothing more than to be able to say the words without that weight on them. He says them regardless.

Bucky’s smile lightens him up even when it’s obvious he too knows everything Steve is thinking of. He shifts, moves slowly, telegraphing his intentions before he curls his hand over Steve’s shoulder and pulls him close. Steve moves with it, wraps his arm around Bucky’s waist, and they settle their bodies flush together, legs tangled, Bucky’s hand cupping the back of Steve’s head.

“I know,” Bucky says, reassuring. “I love you too.”

It’s easy, suddenly, to close the distance and seal their lips together. It’s the first kiss they’ve shared since Steve left Wakanda before Thanos arrived, but there’s no urgency in it, no pent up energy bursting out. It’s soft and tender, acknowledgment really, and it doesn’t even last that long. Steve tucks his head under Bucky’s chin, holding on tight, Bucky’s touch centering and calming him, and they fall asleep like that.

***

Steve wakes up still holding on to Bucky, still circled in Bucky’s arms. The last time this happened was before Thanos like so many things, and it feels like they have to relearn almost everything. Bucky’s awake already, but hasn’t made a move to get out of the bed yet. It must still be early, otherwise the goats would have made it known that they wanted their breakfast, and Steve stays motionless too, quiet, although from the way he starts running his hand in slow circles across Steve’s back, Bucky must know he’s woken up as well. When he speaks Bucky shivers as Steve’s lips brush at his throat with the words.

“It feels like for the longest time I thought I’d be the one to go first,” Steve says. “Only when you left for the war did I start fearing I’d be the one left behind.”

“I think the winter of ‘35 was the hardest for me.” Bucky speaks slowly, the way he tends to do when he needs to reach for a particular memory. “You’d been so sick the previous winter, it lingered on me. Even though you recovered, and the summer was fine, when it started to get cold I found myself getting anxious. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and wanting to get dressed to go see if you were still okay. Happened at least once every week that winter.”

Steve hugs Bucky tighter. He never knew of it, although he does remember Bucky was more on edge that winter. In the spring they’d finally acted on the pull between the two of them, and he’d figured the tension had been about that.

“So you kissed me in the end,” Steve says, rising up to lean on his elbow so he can look at Bucky who grins at him.

“Yeah well. Guess it helped to move things along.”

Steve thinks back to the war time and the fear of loss he’d felt then, and every day after whenever he’d known Bucky was in the world with him. “I dealt with the fear before. I always knew it was a possibility that something would happen, but it didn’t cripple me. I don’t know why it’s different now.”

“Who knows why our brains decide to act the way they do? You’re doing better though, it’ll pass.”

Steve tips his head forward to rest his forehead against Bucky’s. “I still hate this, I’m just so tired.”

“I know.” Bucky rubs at his back for a while more, and Steve enjoys the closeness until he starts to get restless.

“We should probably get the morning chores done.” There is a bit of regret in his voice, but he knows he can’t push, he’s tried and things only ever got worse with it. He kisses Bucky once more for an apology, although from the way he smiles, Bucky doesn’t seem to think one is necessary.

***

It does start to get better, bit by bit, but enough that it’s noticeable now for Steve that it’s different from how he felt right after they came back to Wakanda. The competing instincts to both withdraw and never let Bucky out of his sight lessen enough that they don’t dictate his every action anymore. He still gets the irrational urges to both run away and go check on Bucky, but he can push them aside and continue with what he’d been doing before they hit.

Their little bubble gets larger again, people start visiting them, and they take day trips to the city, both together and apart without it being a problem. Steve even contemplates starting a training regime at one point, in case there are missions he might take on, but he’s tired, and the quiet life feels right for them. He knows that realistically at some point he’ll probably want to get back to action, but for now he relishes the fact there is no trouble in the visible horizon, and he doesn’t go looking for it either.

He knows he could have stopped after Siberia, he could have stayed in Wakanda and lived a quiet life, but he hadn’t known then how to do it. He thinks he’s learning now.

It’s not training really, but sometimes when Bucky is having his arm looked at which inevitably derails into him playing Shuri’s lab assistant, Steve heads out to the practice ground of Dora Milaje and the King’s Guard, where they can set up an apparently infinite amount of different configurations for obstacle courses. They choose a setup on the most difficult level, and just run through them with Natasha and Sam, not competing but working as a team, helping each other. Since they took down the Insight helicarriers they’ve become a cohesive fighting unit, and while Steve doesn’t miss the battles, he loves the aspect of working together, solving problems on their feet, knowing they can rely on each other.

He ends up talking with Wanda and Shuri about the significance of Internet to the art scene, how it gives amateur artists a way to reach audiences, and the way it has evolved. It fascinates him, the enthusiasm he can see feels much the same as the boom that happened in the early war years in the art circles of New York, one that he managed to appreciate only half way back then. He even contemplates on trying digital drawing techniques, and he’s pretty sure Shuri is already lining up the devices for him. He starts by getting his hand familiar with pencils and paper again, because it’s been far too long since he drew in any significant manner.

The two girls spend a fair amount of time together; they have the preserved body of Vision, as well as the Mind Stone, and Steve thinks with their combined skills and determination it’s possible to bring Vision back. He hopes so, anyway.

He sometimes talks to Tony, who’s gone back to New York. It’s stilted and awkward in the beginning, but it gets better. It’s more honest than they’ve ever been to each other, he thinks.

The feeling of inevitability is still there at the back of his head, the certainty that he’s going to lose Bucky once more, and he does regularly wake up from nightmares gasping, reaching for Bucky to make sure he’s still there. Nightmares happen to Bucky as well, although less often, and Steve is grateful that there don’t seem to be any lingering effects from when he was gone.

There are ups and downs with everything, moments of elation and frustration, and sometimes it’s only the knowledge that it’s been better before, that the bad moments have always passed, that allows Steve to push through. There are breakthroughs, but they don’t mean the particular thing isn’t going to ever be an issue again, just that it’s easier, usually.

The ease of physical contact keeps fluctuating, even though Steve does notice the upward curve when he looks at it as a whole. Sometimes they can sleep all through the night wrapped up together, sometimes there are those few significant inches between them. It’s not just Steve that has trouble either, Bucky too struggles, albeit much less these days. There are still days when when one of them craves contact and one of them can’t stand it, which leaves them both miserable for the duration, but they push through and deal with it.

It feels like a theme of Steve’s whole life sometimes, push through and deal with whatever problem comes at him.

***

Theirs is a peaceful life, but with the grapple of how to deal there’s also pressure, and in the end it’s inevitable that it just snaps. It’s a morning not unlike most others, they’ve had their breakfast and are finishing their chores. There’s nothing in their schedule for that day, no planned visits, which means the only people that might turn up are the kids, who most likely will do so before the evening, or their other neighbors, who probably won’t unless their help is needed for some heavy lifting.

When he’s done Bucky stops in the middle of the clearing, wiping his face with the hem of his shirt. He tends to alternate between traditional Wakandan and western clothing, while Steve sticks to things he’s gotten used to wearing since he was woken up from the ice. Today Bucky’s wearing a t-shirt with a scruffy neckline and jeans that are not so secretly Steve’s favorite; he likes the way they hug Bucky’s thighs. Steve pauses to look at Bucky, which is nothing new, it has been a constant for him ever since they met as children, but now that he catches a flash of skin at Bucky’s waist, the definition of the muscles of his back, it’s suddenly different from all the other times he has looked at Bucky recently.

The complication that physical contact has lately been has resulted in Steve as a lack of sexual desire. Even when they have touched, they’ve cuddled and enjoyed the closeness, but nothing more, and all the kisses they’ve shared have been gentle and tender, with no heat or expectation in them beyond what they were by themselves. Now though, he sees the flash of skin, the relaxed set of Bucky’s shoulders, and longing rushes through him, hot and all-encompassing, sudden enough that he’s weak at knees. Just the thought of Bucky now makes his cock start to harden, and he might as well have a line tugging at his sternum as it feels like he has no control over his legs when he moves to Bucky who’s still enjoying the sun, eyes closed and face tilted up, oblivious to the sudden shift in Steve’s mood.

Steve takes Bucky’s hand in his, almost overcome with how easily Bucky allows it these days, a far cry from when they first arrived in Wakanda. He’s not surprised, just curls his fingers around Steve’s, holding steady when Steve tugs.

Steve is surprised by how casual and even his voice comes out. “Come on inside for a bit.”

Bucky still hasn’t cottoned on, which Steve probably will find funny later when he’s less in a hurry. “Let’s just enjoy the sun for a bit.”

“Bucky.” This time the name comes out with an edge of desperation, and Bucky’s immediately alert. “We can enjoy the sun pretty much any time here.”

Now Bucky sees it, his lips form a silent, oh, and he grips tighter on Steve’s hand, pulling him in. Steve lurches forward, right into Bucky’s space, and the kiss now is full of demands and rush, the desire being reciprocated. Bucky fits against Steve same as he always has, and he too is getting hard, almost an instant reaction. For a moment Steve loses himself into the kiss, he tangles his fingers into Bucky’s hair, shakes it free from the bun he tied it up to keep it out of the way during the chores. He pulls at Bucky’s lower lip with his teeth, and Bucky’s metal fingers dig into his waist, not painfully but enough for Steve to really feel it.

He pulls away just enough to look at Bucky. “We really should go inside though, or I’m going down on you right here, and I don’t think we want any of the neighbors accidentally walking in on that.”

“God, no, that’s the last thing I want, starting with how it would cut things short.” Bucky pushes at Steve, makes him walk backwards toward the hut.

“Also I don’t want the goats watching either.”

Bucky’s response is a slightly breathless laughter, the mirth pooling out of him, but he still has the presence of mind to hold his hand over Steve’s head and guide him through without him bumping on the doorway.

Steve blinks in the dimness inside, momentarily pausing, and Bucky crowds closer, peeling his t-shirt off before tossing his own right after. Steve pulls him in for another kiss, groaning into his mouth because of the skin contact, their slightly sweaty bodies catching and slipping against each other.

The kiss doesn’t last long, because now that it’s started, the desire and want are cascading through Steve. He pushes Bucky back to sit down on their sleeping pallet and falls down on his knees in front of him, his hands already busy at Bucky’s flies, dragging his now fully hard cock out. There is time for finesse later, now Steve immediately bends down and swallows Bucky right in, relaxing his throat and pushing down, down until his nose touches the darks curls at the base. Bucky’s hand flies to the back of his head, resting there, not pushing or pulling, caress rather than force.

“Christ, Steve,” he grits out, voice thready and overwhelmed.

Steve pulls slowly up sucking and licking at the head, settling to pull all the tricks he knows that will make Bucky lose it all the faster. He knows them all, knows every quirk and demand of Bucky’s body, all learned anew after he was brought out from the ice for the last time, his mind finally his own. In the early days Bucky was quiet; even though they fell into bed with each other almost straight away it took time for Bucky to loosen up. He has now, and the way he dares to be loud these days goes right into Steve’s head, because they always had to hide before. Now all anyone around them cares is whether they’re happy, and as Bucky has loosened up he’s gotten more vocal, a clear tell he doesn’t care who knows what they do together, there’s no shame in it at all.

Steve listens, greedily gathering every little breath Bucky lets out as he works on his cock, and soon enough the hand in his hair tightens involuntarily as Bucky spills down Steve’s throat. Steve keeps sucking until Bucky slumps down, and then he rests his cheek on Bucky’s thigh, looking at him breathing hard and coming down from the bliss.

It happens in a blink of an eye, Bucky goes from relaxed to action, hauling Steve up on his lap, knees bracketing his hips, and it’s only when Bucky unfastens his jeans and gets his fingers around his cock Steve lets his own arousal flood back into the foreground of his mind, focusing on himself now. He kisses Bucky, but soon enough all he’s capable of is breathing against his mouth, with Bucky’s calloused hand working up and down his cock, twisting just right. Steve spills over Bucky’s hand, head falling on his shoulder, and somehow Bucky manages to get them mostly onto the bed, tangled together, their jeans still half on.

They get a good stretch of bliss, Steve laying boneless on top of Bucky, who hums under his breath. Steve recognizes the strains of a Wakandan song he’s heard his neighbors sing sometimes when they work, even when it’s rather butchered because Bucky can’t keep a tune to save his life. All his musical ability seems to have gone to understanding rhythm and dancing.

The contentment doesn’t last though, and in truth Steve didn’t expect it to either. He knows by now that there are no magical fixes, every step of the way has to be earned, and even though they made a huge leap forward just now it doesn’t mean all the trouble is behind them. After a while the complex anxiety reminds him it still resides at the back of his head even now that he managed to forget it for a moment, but Steve makes himself stay where he is, keeps himself relaxed, although he does let out a small annoyed huff.

Bucky catches on to it, of course. “What?”

Steve rubs his nose on Bucky’s throat, trying to find suitable words. Finally he settles on straight honesty. “It just annoys me that my head won’t allow me to be happy. I mean, everything is great for once, no actual troubles, and yet, here I am.”

Bucky makes a sound in his throat, and when Steve props himself up to look at him his face says he’s thinking of something that probably both sobering and unpleasant, only he’s not sure if he should say it because he wants to spare Steve. It’s a tendency which has always annoyed Steve.

“Spill.”

Bucky lets out his breath in a whoosh, and curls his hand around Steve’s shoulder, a gentle caress, reassuring. “Just, when were you really, truly happy?”

Steve pauses both at the question and the fleeting pain in Bucky’s eyes, even when he doesn’t need to think of the answer. It’s not something he dwells on, or ever has, it has just been a fact of his life that there never really was a time when he was unconditionally happy.

“Are you suggesting my head is inventing trouble because it doesn’t know how to deal with happiness?” Steve feels incredulous, almost offended, even though the latter feeling doesn’t really have a proper target.

“No, just that it might be contributing to all of it. God knows you’ve got enough reasons to have your head be messed up, it was inevitable really. Maybe it makes the recovery trickier, because you don’t know where to aim at.”

Steve slumps down again, resting his head on Bucky’s chest, and Bucky rubs at his back. He doesn’t say anything, but Steve knows what he’s communicating; that they will get through this. These days it’s not even that hard to believe anymore.

***

Time passes, the progress Steve makes gets swifter, and soon he knows he’s reaching a plateau where he can say he’s fine. Even then there will be difficult days, the same as Bucky has, but they’re rare enough to be considered exceptions rather than something regular. They will probably hang on to them for a long time; with everything they’ve been through it’s impossible to shed all the baggage they carry, but it’s okay.

They stay in Wakanda, living on the little farm with the goats, and it’s nothing like any life Steve has ever dared to imagine or expect for himself, but it’s good, and it’s the right kind of a life for the two of them at this point in time. Later they will probably move to something else, even though Steve has no idea what it might be, but he isn’t in any hurry. He has his friends, he has enough activity to keep his days busy, he has taken up digital art, and he has Bucky. The last part stays true, and there are more and more days when he dares to believe it’s not so fleeting after all, the time they have together.

The days follow each other similar and different, however many there are. Steve has stopped counting and trying to keep track of the weeks and months. Hence he’s not sure when exactly it is, only that it’s spring, when on a completely ordinary day he’s standing in the sun, gazing over the water. He’s perfectly at peace, nothing is wrong, and a smile steals its way onto his face without asking permission or a reason.

Bucky comes and wraps his arm around his waist, just one because he didn’t feel like wearing the prosthetic that day, and rests his chin on Steve’s shoulder. Steve curls his hand over Bucky’s, and they stand in silence, enjoying the breeze gently flitting at their hair.

“This is happiness,” Bucky says, as if continuing a discussion from before, and maybe he even is, maybe it’s a part of one long discussion they’ve been having all through their lives.

He is right too, and Steve recognizes it, the newness and familiarity of the radiance in the middle of his chest. It’s both warm contentment and bubbling joy, all wrapped around a core of something as indestructible as vibranium that’ll make sure it won’t be shattered by the less than perfect days life will inevitably throw at them in the future.

Steve shifts to look at Bucky, and sees the same feeling wrapped inside him too.

“I could get used to it.”