Bruce comes to Steve's room looking two parts professional and one part like he would very much like to die.
"Steve," he says, and makes a beeline for the small desk in the corner. His expression strained, he lays some papers there. Steve looks up from his novel and slides off the comforter, coming over and glancing down at the printouts. They look like they're from WebMD. "We need to talk."
"Is this about Bucky?" Banner had been Bucky's go-to doctor for the brief time when he couldn't trust more people than he had fingers on his right hand, but they'd gotten him a real GP over a week ago, hadn't they?
"Yes, I'm afraid it is. It's - no, don't panic, he's fine. He's fine." Bruce lifts his glasses and pinches the bridge of his nose, a gesture Steve has noticed he does a lot during periods of stress. "I wanted to give you a heads-up on a few things... Bucky came to me this morning, and seeing as you're his emergency contact, and he's not strictly my patient, and I'm not strictly bound by HIPAA in any way, I decided to be sensible and just. Let you know the broad idea of what's going on."
"But he's fine," Steve repeats slowly, unable to will his heartbeat to slow.
"Yes, yes. More than fine, actually. He's getting better." Bruce touches the top page of the print outs, which says SSRIs in big letters. "We weren't able to determine exactly what they'd been giving Bucky to keep him... docile... but we know it involved several mixes of sedatives and uppers as necessary, with an underlying current of several things, including SSRIs that probably... kept the edge off. I'm not a psychiatrist. Just." Bruce is gesticulating something that could either be the shape of his lack of knowledge in this area or perhaps whatever an SSRI is.
"Okay," Steve says, because he's found saying that occasionally helps Bruce or Tony continue in whatever it is they're talking about.
"The half-lives of such medications depend on the person, their metabolism, even diet, how long they've been taking it, but, yes, well, eventually they wear off if not continued."
"So Bucky's... edgy?" That would certainly merit a warning.
"No, not exactly, he's," Bruce breathes in deeply. "SSRIs have several side effects, again, they vary depending on the person, but a common one involves li, libido, that is, interest, and often other things involving, that, those things." Bruce's expression is tilting away from 'professionalism' and far, far closer to 'would like to die'. Steve swallows. "So, as the medications work their way out of his system, it would be very common for things to... to rebound, to, to return to as they were,"
"Oh," Steve says.
"And, and so it's not an issue, so much as, as a heads-up! That, that things are returning, um,"
"To, to normal..." Bruce blinks a few times, trying to hold it together, but finally he rips off his glasses and rubs at his eyes. "Jesus, Steve, I just had to explain to a ninety-something year old ex-killer that it was normal to have dreams and wake up with unusual physical attributes and, and listen, we have to get him a male GP, a, a man, because when I asked him why he hadn't just called her to discuss this he looked at me like I'd suggested he slap her in the face."
Steve reaches the breakfast table to find two empty plates already there. Bucky is curled on the couch up like a cat, head in Natasha's lap, eyes shut and face serious as she strokes his hair. Occasionally she murmurs in Russian, nodding as he gives brief replies. Steve watches this for a few moments before joining Sam in the kitchen, who waves to him before double-taking and leaning in.
"You okay, man?" Sam looks worried. "You look like you've seen a ghost. A ghost that punched you in the face."
"I think," Steve says, leaning heavily against the counter, "that I have the same feeling of dread in my stomach as fathers watching their girls reach puberty."
Sam, god bless him, doesn't ask any more questions, but he does have the brilliant idea to take Bucky running, suggesting that "maybe he just needs to let off a little steam". They both pretend they're talking about cabin fever and Steve lends Bucky some sweatpants.
Sam and Bucky come back panting and smudged with dirt. "Can I borrow like thirty thousand dollars?" Sam asks Tony.
"What in the hell happened?" Steve says. Bucky has a sullen expression on his face and he is defiantly avoiding eye contact.
"Sure thing. What for, exactly?" Tony asks drily.
"There was an incident with a statue in Central Park," Sam says, seemingly unconcerned, though his eyes flick once to Steve's.
"You need me to replace one of the historic landmarks in Central Park," Tony repeats. He looks from Sam to Bucky, then back again.
"Yeah," Sam says.
Tony thinks about this. "I knew there would be a certain amount of collateral damage involved with this superhero business, but I guess I just expected most of it to happen during a fight, or an explosion, as opposed to a morning jog."
"I can take out a loan if you need me to, man," Sam says with a shrug.
"Absolutely not, this is an excellent opportunity to redouble my efforts to get the city to greenlight an Iron Man statue. I'm just complaining, which is my right as your bankroller."
"I think the arm got him off-balance," Sam tells Steve later, quietly. "It's weird, like - it's like he doesn't know where his own body is anymore. Maybe he's not used to long distance, I don't know. He smacked into the statue, got angry."
Steve tries not to chew on the inside of his cheek. He nods. "It was a good idea, Sam. Thank you. And thank you for -" Steve gestures inarticulately. It's always been difficult for him to talk about money. "The loan thing," he says.
Sam nods without missing a beat. It's one of the things Steve is so grateful for, that he rarely has to explain himself fully to Sam. "It wasn't Bucky's fault, not exactly," Sam tells him with a smile. "I'd never hang him out to dry like that." Then he gives Steve a pointed look. "But your problem is not fixed," he says. "Tearing down important artwork definitely did not help that dude unwind. You gotta try something else, like maybe weightlifting."
Steve settles for boxing, which he and Bucky used to do together in the camp, and which is more productive than trying to find weights heavy enough to even register with either Steve or Bucky.
"Do you need a refresher on the rules?" Steve asks Bucky in the locker room, keying in his thumbprint to open his locker.
"Rules?" Bucky asks disdainfully, so that's a yes.
Steve ticks it off on his fingers. "Three minute rounds. No hitting below the belt, no holding, tripping, biting, or spitting. No elbows, no headbutts."
Bucky pauses in the middle of unzipping his gym bag to roll his eyes theatrically. "So what you're saying is, no fun."
Steve shucks his shirt off over his head and throws it in his locker. "Rules make it more fun. If you cheat, how do you know you're really -" He looks up and stops, because Bucky is staring at him. "Uh," he gulps, suddenly feeling a lot more naked than he did a second ago.
Bucky is looking at him like he wants to eat him alive.
Steve grabs blindly in his bag for his tank top. He pulls it on. It could be inside out for all he knows. He can feel himself flushing not just on his face but on his whole body, arms, chest, everywhere Bucky looked. Panic sets in. "Okay, so I'll be out there warming up with the bag," he says, wincing at his own unnaturally high, loud voice, and then he practically runs out of the locker room.
He holds on to the bag in the corner, steadying himself. He's seen that look before, but never, ever directed at himself. Usually Bucky would be drunk, and staring at a chorus girl, or at one of the very few women they would come across on tour. The worst of it isn't that Bucky looked at him that way; he knows it's just the - the hormones rebalancing, or reverting, or whatever Dr. Banner said. The worst of it is that part of Steve liked it. Part of Steve reacted.
Steve takes a deep breath to quell the rising guilt and tells himself sternly, You will not be part of the problem. Bucky doesn’t need you fawning all over him on top of everything else. He hits the bag, suddenly and fiercely. He hits it again. It feels good, better, to be angry at himself. Steve can put it aside; he can do this. He won’t take advantage. If the worst Bucky's slow, torturous reintegration into society can offer Steve is a little personal embarrassment, then he's got nothing to complain about. Bucky's the one actually going through it.
By the time Bucky comes out, changed and ready to fight, Steve has himself under control.
"Or that one," Steve hears Natasha say, and then the flip of a page. When he turns the corner Bucky is sitting at the dining table with a bright magazine, Nat standing over him and pointing to a corner of one page. "Don't do this kind. You need a lot of gel in your hair."
"I don't want gel in my hair," Bucky mutters sullenly, and Nat smacks his shoulder, expression unchanged.
"Which is why I told you not to do that kind," she says, and looks up to nod at Steve. "We're looking at modern haircuts."
"There's too many," Bucky says under his breath, and gets a light smack again. Steve still wonders just what it is about Natasha that lets her get away with that. (Not really. Nobody actually wonders why Nat can get away with bossing Bucky around.)
"We're going out to the salon and then get Chinese on the way back, do you want anything?"
Steve crosses to the wall where he left his phone to charge, unplugging it and squinting to see how far the little bars have gotten. "The place with the good lo mein?"
"You got it."
Natasha comes in to Steve's room without knocking two hours later, dropping a brown paper bag in front of him. She's holding another bag in her left hand.
"You didn't eat there? I thought we were trying to keep him out as long as he could-" Steve winces. "You didn't make it through dinner."
"His hair looks great," Natasha says brightly, in that way that means she isn't actually happy. "It's really, really cute. A girl on the street even winked at him."
"That's all it took?" Steve, even before people realized who he was, had to endure so much worse when going anywhere without at least a baseball cap.
"Oh no, he soldiered through it. We got to the restaurant, ordered, and then the girl at the counter started telling the other girl about just how cute this shy white boy is, pretty dark hair in front of his pretty blue eyes..."
"What, in front of him?"
"Oh, it was all in Cantonese."
"Bucky knows Cantonese?"
"Bucky left via fire escape and will not leave the roof."
Steve presses his face into the palms of his hand. "Our roof or the restaurant roof?"
The roof is clean and elegant, with twin helipads at one end and a low garden and seating area at the other. Bucky is sitting on the garden wall, foot propped up on the curve of the giant "A" logo.
"Bucky?" Steve says when he's in earshot, and when Bucky turns, Steve has to suck in a breath, because with his haircut he looks just like - he looks -
Bucky sees his expression and his face crumples a little bit. "You hate it."
"No," Steve says immediately, honestly. "You look -" like your old self, but he can't say that, that's insulting, he doesn't want to - "good," he manages.
Bucky regards him suspiciously.
"It looks really good, Buck," Steve repeats, throwing more sincerity into it, and then: "So, you speak Cantonese, huh?"
Still glaring a little, Bucky says, "Yeah."
"Pick up any other languages on your travels?"
Bucky shrugs. "I never know until I hear it."
Steve props his forearms on the wall, looking out over the view Bucky's staring over. "You know you can tell me anything," he says, because he doesn't know what else to say and because it's true.
"Girls did not talk like that before," Bucky mutters.
"What did they say?" Steve can't help but ask, and when he peeks over Bucky's cheeks are blotchy under the stubble.
"They were talking about my - I - I'm never wearing these jeans again."
Steve swallows. "Oh," he says, and then, "yeah, I've, um. Girls in this decade seem particularly interested in, um. Well." He scrubs at his face. "I don't bend over to stretch when I go jogging anymore."
Bucky barks out a harsh laugh. "Yeah, but you -" He cuts himself off and grumbles under his breath. Steve waits, knowing Bucky's working through the frustration. "Did 'Tasha bring food back for me?"
"I think she did," Steve begins, and stifles his disappointment when Bucky slides down off the wall and walks past him to the door, not looking at him.
Steve keeps taking him down to the gym to box, but he's not sure it's helping. (Steve showed up to their next session all taped up and ready to go; ever since, Bucky has followed suit and changed before they get to the gym.) For one thing, Bucky's still costing Tony money - fourteen thousand dollars in property damage in the last week, which isn't as bad as the Central Park statue but is still kind of a problem. The last thing Bucky destroyed was actually his own bed, which Steve steadfastly refuses to ask about.
For another thing, he hasn't stopped looking at Steve. He's more covert about it now, but Steve can see him sometimes in his peripheral vision, or he'll get a prickle on the back of his neck, and turn around to find Bucky behind him, studiously examining something nearby. It makes Steve feel panicky and sort of feather-light, though he's getting better at not reacting outwardly. He doesn't know how to help Bucky, how to make it stop. If he could just get him a girl - and then he thinks, maybe Natasha, and then he thinks about how badly she would hurt him if she knew he was thinking it. It's just that the number of people he trusts with Bucky is a single digit-number, and all of them live in this tower.
"Just think for a minute about how much worse it could be," Natasha tells him levelly when he voices his concerns.
Steve considers the truth of this. "Yeah, but -"
"But nothing," she says. "He's taking steps. Baby steps, naturally, but they are steps. We went to a department store yesterday."
"And he didn't pick a fight with any inanimate objects?" Steve asks, only half sarcastically.
"Not a one," Natasha says with a smug smile. "He picked out four new shirts, two jackets, and a pair of shoes. We had a list."
Steve shakes his head. "How do you do it, Natasha?"
Natasha's lips purse. "It's not that hard," she says. "You're doing it, too, you know."
"Yeah, sure I am," Steve mutters. He doesn't feel like he's helping at all.
TW FOR THIS CHAPTER: There's some drunken misunderstanding/noncon kissing and fumblings involved.
Bucky starts sparring with Clint, once he learns that he barely has to hold back with him. Steve doesn't know what to make of it, because when Clint tugs his sweatpants down a little one afternoon to check that the fresh bruise Bucky left on his hip isn't bad enough to stop training, Bucky hardly looks at the exposed jut of hipbone, the tan skin. Steve isn’t attracted to Clint, but that doesn’t stop Steve from knowing that Clint is attractive.
Bucky’s eyes don't go dark. Steve starts wondering about what Sam calls "types" and can't work it out in his head, panics, and drops the thought process by turning back to the punching bag and, really, thank God that thing's reinforced. Steve has a lot to work out.
Three days later Pepper's guiding a man with a toolkit and a badge around his neck through to the bedrooms. When Steve asks, Pepper tells him he's re-tiling a bathroom wall.
"That's a new one for him," Steve mutters, not needing her to tell him whose bathroom it is.
"It's not, actually." Pepper arcs a brow in that perfect arch that means she's not angry, but he should be paying attention. "This is the second time. You know what, though? He actually apologized to me for this one, so I'm counting that as an improve- yes, I'm coming, it's the one on the left." Pepper follows after the man and Steve stares after her.
Tony and Pepper subvert a kidnapping attempt at a gala. It's over before the others can even hear about it and suit up, really, and the constantly-on flat screen in the common area is just beginning to discuss breaking news at the Stark event downtown when Tony bursts through the door, Iron Man gauntlet on one hand and still punch-drunk from what he insists on calling the 'turn up function.'
"I am invincible," Tony proclaims, opening up the wet bar as the others filter into the room to see what the commotion is. "I cannot be vinced. None of you can vince me. None of you - is Thor in town today? No? Nope, nobody can vince me."
The wines are incredible, and Pepper, who Tony insists used some kind of fire move on a "luddite terrorist" that singed her dress and was the coolest thing he's ever seen, opens a bottle of some dark liquor that makes Bucky's eyebrows snap up. In a rare moment of sharing he tells her, quietly, that it smells like what he used to drink except good, and when Pepper smiles at his joke he actually smiles back. Steve watches the exchange and can't bring himself to interject and ask Bucky if he can still get drunk, or if it's a good idea. Any kind of bonding session is far too rare.
By the time everyone's adrenaline has worn off, alcohol has picked up the slack - except for Steve, who's thinking about calling it a night. Tony is trying fruitlessly to convince Sam and Clint to do karaoke on the big screen with him. Bucky is tucked away in a corner with Natasha murmuring quietly in his ear, smiling a sloppy half-smile that Steve recognizes from every bar they ever went to together. Bruce went to bed the moment someone suggested a knife-throwing contest (they didn't go through with it, but Bruce tends to remove himself from stressful situations before they occur). Steve is starting to feel that tired melancholy that comes from being the only sober person in the room.
"Aw, what, are you leaving?" Tony yells at him from across the room, ruining his quiet escape.
He turns with an awkward smile. He really hates to be that guy, the sober guy. "Yeah, I'm pretty tired. Think I'm just gonna crash."
"You can't crash, I'm about to sing some Miley Cyrus!" Sam calls.
Bucky makes a move like he's going to get up, but Natasha tightens the arm she has around his waist and he relaxes back onto his stool with a glance at her. Steve watches this and finally identifies the queasy feeling he's had ever since they went to the corner together: jealousy.
It's really time to go to bed.
"Thanks, no," he says to the karaoke crew. "Not tonight." He doesn't look at Bucky again, just turns on his heel and leaves. Not exactly a graceful exit, but at least he makes it out of the room.
He stirs a little, hours later, when a heavy weight lowers onto him. He can smell liquor and sharp metal and his apartment in Brooklyn, that warm, instantly familiar smell that always made him feel safe. Bucky's mouth is soft on his, and Steve puts his hands up to touch the heat of his body. There is a little vibrating sound, and Steve makes one too, moving with Bucky, a slow arch underneath him. Bucky drops his head to mouth wetly at Steve's neck, and it's so good, so sweetly perfect, that Steve finally comes fully awake.
Bucky clearly mistakes his intake of breath for something good, because he starts using teeth instead of tongue, and God, it is good, Steve's whole body seizes up with it, but - "Bucky," he whispers urgently, trying to find his hands in the sheets. "Bucky."
"Shhhh," Bucky says into his ear, breath hot. "'Sokay, Steve, I want -"
"No," Steve croaks, heart nearly failing him. He finds both of Bucky's wrists and grabs them, where Bucky would have started peeling down the sheets between them. Bucky pulls the metal hand free as if there were no resistance and tries again. "Bucky, please."
"'Sokay, it's okay," Bucky whispers. "I got you."
"Bucky, stop it," Steve says, and then they're playing a kind of game where Steve goes for Bucky's hands and Bucky avoids him. "Stop it. Goddamn it, Bucky, I said stop!" Steve gives a convulsive heave and shoves Bucky off and to one side.
His anger drains and there is Bucky, knocked backwards, staring at him with a small, closed mouth and wild eyes.
Steve's stomach drops. "Oh god, Bucky, I -"
But Bucky jerks away from his reaching hand and scrambles off the bed.
"I'm sorry," Steve says in a rush, because he has to get it out before Bucky leaves the room. "Bucky, I'm -"
It's too late. The door to his bedroom slams shut. He's left in the darkness.
Steve's phone beeps twenty minutes later. It's Natasha: I've got him. Stay.
Steve doesn't hear it because he's in the shower, ice cold but doing nothing to mask the trace scents on his skin. Steve breathes in deeply, hating himself, one hand braced shakily against the shower wall.
Bucky doesn't appear the next morning, which most people don't notice because they're nursing incredible hangovers. Steve doesn't look out of place among the grimaces and quiet groans - he feels the same way, and he knows he's not able to keep all of it out of his expression.
(Bruce also escaped without any damage, but he's far too sensible to advertise this, instead opting to grab some fruit bars and disappear.)
Steve sits down next to Clint, who is the least likely to talk, and proceeds to act as if everything is normal. He did not get his fourth-ever kiss last night, while he was asleep, from his best friend. He can not still feel his best friend's mouth on his neck, soft and warm with a flash of teeth, the memory of which makes him shift in his chair. He spreads the cream cheese onto the sesame seed bagel and does his best imitation of a normal morning.
Natasha comes in and walks past everyone, saying nothing. Even Tony, wearing one of his more expensive pairs of Gucci sunglasses, only spares a brief glance to her ass as she passes before staring down at the floor and rethinking his life choices.
Natasha goes for the fridge and pulls out the orange juice, motions tight, placing it on the counter.
Clint lifts his head very slightly. "Steve," he says, voice low enough that Tony can't hear it over the sound of his own groaning.
"Nat wants to talk."
Steve looks at Clint, then at Nat, who is pulling two glasses from the cabinet. She's not looking at either of them. Steve looks back at Clint.
"In private," Clint adds, dark-ringed eyes squinting at her as if reading Natasha Romanov Sign Language and trying to keep up with some very fast and very emphatic signs.
Steve looks back at Natasha. She's pouring two glasses of orange juice. He looks back at Clint again.
"Soon," Clint says, "in your room."
"Should I just assume telepathy with you two, or-"
"You might as well." Clint fades back into silence, staring expressionless at his untouched bowl of oatmeal. Natasha walks out with the two glasses and Tony, true to form, looks again.
Steve is going to the gym because he didn't train yesterday, and because with everyone else out of commission he can catch up on his fitness in peace. He definitely doesn't go to the gym next because he's avoiding a conversation he doesn't want to have.
"I was very clear," Natasha calls out ten minutes later, sitting on the leg adductor machine with her bare feet crossed over the other. Steve, who has no idea how she got past him and to the other side of the room, misses the punching bag and almost trips.
"I said soon. You weren't in your room. You're avoiding me."
"You have no idea what I'm avoiding."
She slides to her feet, and while she doesn't usually smile, her flat expression is colder than normal, and Steve takes a step back without realizing. "Are you avoiding the hungover mess curled up on the foot of my bed? Shaggy hair, stubble, about this tall?" When she gestures his height her hand cuts through the air almost audibly.
"Please," Steve says, and while he's actually slightly scared of her right now there's something much more terrible looming in this conversation, "if he went to you last night, if you two,"
"Steve." She closes the distance between them, matching his speed as he backsteps.
"Please don't tell me, I can't handle anything else right now, and-"
"Steve you are a goddamn idiot."
Steve is ready to hit right back, to tell her she has no idea just how stupid he is or what he's done, what he's ruined, but Nat's not letting him. "You are so focused," she is saying, "on who he used to be, that you are missing everything about him right now. The man curled up on my bed-"
"-the man curled up on my fucking bed does not have a drop of energy left for another wall. He gets angry to hide how terrified he is, which is always, and he might have had the strength and had his shit together enough before to hide what else he needed to hide, but he can't anymore, and it's killing him."
"What on God's earth are you talking about?"
"What he did last night wasn't right but I'm warning you, you need to get your head out of your ass and realize what's really going with him and how you feel about him. He's sure he's going to lose you if he hasn't already."
"He's not - " Shame descends on Steve, instant and suffocating. Bucky left his room last night thinking he'd lost Steve. Steve did that to Bucky. "That'll never happen," he says. "That was - what happened last night - " He grits his teeth, marshalling himself. "Bucky didn't do anything wrong. It was my fault, overreacting. I was just trying to - I do know what's going on with him, Natasha. Bruce explained it to me. I know he can't - turn it off, right now." He can feel his face burning, saying all of it out loud. "This is just going to happen, for a while, the outbursts and the - the other thing. I was just in the, you know, the line of fire. I'm just trying to make sure he doesn't do something he regrets when he's himself again."
Natasha looks at him in silence.
"It doesn't matter how I -" he adds, then finds himself briefly unable to continue. "How I feel about it. Him," he finishes, forcing himself to say it, and he has to look away from her.
When he is able to meet her eye again, Natasha is still staring at him, unmoved. "Tell me," she asks, "were you born this stupid or did the serum kind of get that ball rolling for you?"
Steve opens his mouth but can't find anything to say to that.
"He's himself right now," she says. "And you are the only one whose room he's breaking into in the middle of the night."
Steve tries not to examine too closely the relief he feels on hearing that. "Good," he says. "I hope we can keep it that way."
Natasha gets right up in his face, looming somehow despite being roughly two-thirds his height. "Steve. You're not listening."
"I'm listening," Steve snaps. "I'm all ears. Please."
"It's just you," she enunciates clearly, like he's a small child.
"What's just me?"
Natasha starts muttering a stream of Russian, apparently to the ceiling.
"It's not," he protests as he starts to finally understand what she means. "It's everybody. He's just - isn't it?" He looks at her helplessly. "Isn't it everybody?"
"It's just you," she says again, very deliberately, as though daring him to make her say it again.
Steve's heart starts beating fast in his chest. "Oh," he says.
"Oh," she agrees with a little widening of her eyes that seems to say, dumbass.
Steve spends a while standing in front of Natasha's room, wondering what the hell to say, but eventually the panic that his time will somehow run out, that Bucky will leave through the window and exile himself to the woods of New York state or maybe somewhere in Romania, pushes him forward and he knocks on the door. He doesn't get a response, but he knows Nat isn't in there, so it's safe to go in without fear of walking in on someone changing. He knocks again for good measure, and opens the door slowly, and he really didn't expect Bucky to actually be curled up in the fetal position on the foot of Natasha's perfectly-made bed, but there he is, lifting his head slowly and eyes widening as he sees who it is. He uncurls himself, looking very much like he had a long and eventful night, still in the clothes from last night, stretching one leg out towards the floor and slowly getting to his feet.
"I was really," Steve starts, and finds that there's something about his throat that doesn't want to let him speak, and he gets locked up staring at Bucky's mouth, his Adam's apple rising and lowering, his huge blue eyes trying to take Steve in and figure out what's going on. "I was really worried, that, that you,"
"We don't have to ever talk about it again." Bucky's voice his hoarse and Steve realizes as soon as he hears it that Bucky isn't hungover, but is rather in the middle of something like a panic attack.
Steve forces himself to keep talking. Natasha is never wrong. "I was worried that your, your detox was leading you to have... to have temporary feelings, urges that you wouldn't otherwise have." He runs a hand through his hair, probably making it worse, and finds a spot on the wall about four feet away from Bucky's face to talk to instead. "And then, last night, you... I was, I thought you were just drunk enough to act on some temporary hormone rush, and I, I didn't want to take advantage of that."
There's a long silence as Steve tries to work out if he needs to say anything else, and he peeks at Bucky's face. It's wide-eyed and deerlike, ready to run, and so in a panic Steve adds,
"Jeez, Bucky, the whole time I knew you you were chasing dames and breaking hearts. You love girls. Seeing you do anything different made me think it wasn't-"
"I like girls." Bucky's eyelashes flutter as he looks down to the floor. "I love you."
The room does a slow tilt around him. Steve wonders if he's going to end up sitting on the floor in a minute. "You love me?"
Bucky looks back up at Steve a little defiantly. "Yeah," he says, but his voice is uncertain, and his eyes dart to the window, the door behind Steve.
"Since when?" Steve knows he should shut up, shouldn't scare Bucky, but he can't help asking it, and it comes out with an edge of desperation. He has other questions too, like Are you sure? and Why? but he presses his lips together before they can spill out of him.
Bucky's shoulders tense and his hands ball up into fists, but he stays put, staring at Steve like he's trying to bore holes through his skull. Then he asks, strangely loud, "Do you remember Gina Hernandez?"
The shift has Steve flailing for a moment, the only thing bouncing around in his head, I love you, over and over, but at length he recalls curly black hair, oversized glasses. "You kept trying to ask her out all summer," Steve says, frowning through his confusion.
"She liked you," Bucky says. "I thought if I took her out, she wouldn't ask you."
Steve stares at him. They had been twelve years old. "She liked you," Steve says. "You were funny. And handsome. And tall. I was..." He shakes his head. "No girl would like me instead of you."
Bucky makes a strangled sound that Steve identifies as a laugh.
"You remember that?" Steve says softly. He takes a step forward and is infinitely relieved when Bucky doesn't take one back.
"I can't control what comes back," Bucky says, his mouth pursed in a harsh line. He looks away from Steve and says flatly, "Just tell me. If you don't - feel that. If you never -"
"I love you," Steve says in a rush, because he's a fucking idiot and he can't believe he didn't say it right away, because it's true, and because if he'd thought about it for one second he'd have known it's been true his whole life. "I love you. I love you." He closes the distance between them and wraps his arms around Bucky, holding him as tight as he can.
Bucky is shaking, or maybe Steve is shaking, and Steve pulls away just enough to say, "Can I kiss you?" which draws a weak but real smile from Bucky.
"What do you want, a fucking written invitation?" Bucky says.
Steve kisses him.
It's soft, at first, because Steve is leading and he's never really initiated anything like this. Bucky fits perfectly against his body, coming in and just a little shorter, hands cradling Steve’s head and tilting it to get a better angle.
When Steve pants against Bucky's mouth in a way he hopes doesn't sound completely desperate, Bucky's stance changes, walking him backwards until Steve feels the door at his back. Feeling Bucky's chest flush against his. It brings back instant sense-memories of Bucky's weight on top of him in bed, of his mouth soft and hot and his throat, and Steve wants so badly to make Bucky as full of want as he was in that moment. He grabs Bucky's waist and pulls his mouth away from Bucky’s, hoping he's doing this right, a fast and awkward line of kisses down Bucky's stubbled cheek, jawline, to a soft and inviting-looking tendon on his neck that Steve kisses, runs his tongue along, and all of a sudden Bucky's fingers are tight in his hair, the metal ones solid and unforgiving.
"Can't in..." There's a husky quality to Bucky's voice that Steve hasn't heard before, and that sound is... doing things to him. Really immediate, insistent, blood-rushing things.
"What?" Steve is breathing Bucky's scent in, trembling a little, licking as long a trail as he can across Bucky's skin while he's being somewhat held in place. He can't believe it when Bucky lets out a sound like a whine, like he must have done it just right.
"In 'Tasha's room. She'll. She'll stab me when I'm -- Jesus, Steve, get off my throat before I push you down by the shoulders, I can't-" Bucky catches his breath as Steve backs off, doing his best impression of someone who understands what that meant. Bucky's staring at his eyes and he figures his must look like Bucky's, right now, huge and dark and giving absolutely everything away.
"My room," Bucky murmurs, and Steve nearly knocks Bucky over as he tries to open the door behind them as quickly as possible.
They make it out into the hallway without punching a hole through Natasha's wall, and Bucky takes Steve's hand and leads him. Everything feels surreal, or rather hyperreal; Steve hasn't felt this observant since he fell out of the supersoldier capsule a new man. He notices the clean, slightly antiseptic smell of the air purifiers; the wall lighting, partially dimmed to accommodate the afternoon sun; their clattering footsteps in the tiled stairwell; the muffled silence of the thickly carpeted hallways. Bucky's human fingers threaded loosely through his own.
Bucky doesn't look back, but he doesn't let go, either, and he still doesn't let go when they get to his door, just flings it open and twists around to face Steve, walking backwards into the room and dragging Steve with him. Steve just manages to kick the door closed behind them and then he's stumbling into Bucky, and then they're kissing again, hot and openmouthed, big, sloppy kisses that Steve can't even find it in himself to be embarrassed about. Bucky's tongue makes its way into Steve's mouth and Steve shudders deeply, all the way down to his heels.
He goes blind for a while, lost in the slick warm slide of their tongues together. When Bucky starts moving backwards again, wrapping a hand around the back of Steve's neck to keep them connected, Steve wonders vaguely how long they stood there, clutching at each other like kids on a street corner. It could have been hours. He lets Bucky lead him to the bed, lets Bucky draw them both down, hitting the mattress with a soft groan from the bedframe.
"That's gonna be a problem," Bucky murmurs dryly, but Steve doesn't care, he doesn't care.
"Don't care," Steve says, always articulate, and Bucky's quick laugh trembles its way into a moan as Steve shifts his hips down, pressing. Steve says 'oh' very, very quietly as Bucky hooks a leg around his waist and coaxes him into a rhythm. The kissing is good, going until their lips are practically bruised, but then Bucky's leg pulls him a little tighter and Steve feels the familiar rush of his orgasm rising up. Blushing to the tips of his ears, he pushes himself up on his hands and immediately feels Bucky's body tensing up everywhere they're still connected.
"I just," Steve says, and something about his face must say everything, because Bucky breaks out into a crooked smile and rolls his body in a way Steve has only seen in music videos, and the effect it has where their ... where their groins are touching is overwhelming.
"You like it a little too much, Steve?" Bucky's voice is quiet and dirty, smug, and Steve wants desperately to think of a snarky reply but he feels like he's overheated and even sweatpants are far, far too confining. He settles on his knees and grabs at the hem of his shirt, pulling it up and off and throwing it somewhere in the vicinity of the hamper. Bucky's eyes are on him instantly and he looks hungry again. Like in the gym, before. Encouraged, Steve sits up a little more, fingertips brushing over the hem of his pants, gauging Bucky's reaction.
"What about you?" he asks, a little breathlessly, finally thinking of something to say. He tugs his waistband a little further down his hip. "Do you like it?" It comes out a little bit more of a genuine question than he intended, but it must go over okay because Bucky's hands clench in the bedspread.
"Jesus, Steve," Bucky says in that rough voice, and he licks his lips and waits.
Steve has to pull the elastic carefully away from his tented erection to get the sweatpants off. Bucky's little noise when Steve is exposed sends a hot shiver down his spine and he has to swallow back an answering groan. He slides the sweatpants down his thighs, going slow, watching Bucky, whose eyes are moving everywhere, like he's trying to see all of Steve's naked skin at once. Steve backs off the bed and stands up to get the pants the rest of the way off, but then Bucky is moving, picking himself up off the bed, sliding off the edge to his knees in front of Steve, putting his hands on Steve's hips to effectively trap him in place.
"What're you -"
"Just - I know you can't take it, but just give me a minute here," Bucky says, sliding his hands up the ribs and down the outside curve of Steve's backside. Steve isn't sure what he needs a minute for, but Bucky's breath is hot on his erection and Steve is really, really sure that he can't take it.
"I can take it," Steve lies immediately, and his facade crumbles instantly as he feels Bucky's nose press into the dark curls, breathing in deeply, making shockwaves jolt through his spine, and he has to clench his fists and force down his orgasm again. Not yet, please, he thinks to himself, and against his better judgement he looks down just in time to see Bucky spot the precome dripping down his erection, more of it by the second, and Bucky lets out a sigh like something's just broken inside him as he opens his mouth, tongue swiping across his lips and then up his-
Steve gasps and feels his body spasm, colors exploding behind his eyes as he scrabbles for Bucky's head to hold on to something steady. He can't be ashamed, not at first, it feels far too good, far better than anything he's ever done on his own - and even as he blinks his eyes back open, a little unsteady on his feet, the aftershocks keep rolling through him, ebbing, coming back as he feels a cautious press of lips to the head of his erection. Steve looks down again and sees Bucky, not upset but smug, mouthing at the head and collecting every drop he can find. Shocked, Steve reaches down to clean off the corner of Bucky's mouth, only to have Bucky's mouth chase after his thumb and capture it, sucking the taste off.
"Nnn." Bucky's mouth releases him with a lewd sound. "Tell me..." He's panting. "That you can get it up again."
Bucky raises his eyebrows and jerks his jaw at Steve's erection, which has barely softened at all, actually. "You're. You're like me, right? You can go three or four more times?"
Steve blinks and retreats to the edge of the bed because his legs are still shaking, just a little. Bucky follows him, on hands and knees, and Steve knows it's for show but can't help the way his mouth hangs open as he watches. Here he was worried that ejaculating too soon would upset his partner, but no, Bucky's biting his lower lip til it's blood red, aroused as ever.
"I, I think so. I've never," Tried with another person, Steve stops himself from saying, and instead just hauls Bucky up on top of him to kiss some more. He tastes salty now, bitter, but Steve doesn't care, and when Bucky presses down (grinds?) against his hip, Steve fumbles between their bodies to fumble with the zipper, yanking Bucky's jeans and boxers down enough to wrap his fingers around him, not able to start up a rhythm himself before Bucky is moaning against Steve's collarbone and fucking into his hand. Steve lets him, his other hand coming around to the small of Bucky's back.
"Fuck, Steve." Bucky loses himself for a few minutes in the sensation, not speaking, before shifting his position to line up a little more with Steve's body, bending over him and running his tongue along the shell of Steve's ear. It feels amazing. "Wanted you so bad, Steve, wanted - oh, fuck, you - you always -" His teeth graze past Steve's earlobe, to his throat, and it's like last night but so, so much better. Bucky mumbles something Steve doesn't catch.
"Want to fuck you," Bucky whispers, following this up with his tongue, wet and obscene, directly into Steve's ear. "Will you let me -"
"Goddamn, Bucky," Steve moans, hips jerking helplessly, and he lets go of Bucky's erection to put his hands on either side of Bucky's face. "Anything you want," he says fervently. "Anything you want."
Bucky smiles, one of his old smiles, big and bright, and turns his head so that he can kiss Steve's wrist. He leans down and lowers his mouth to Steve's, and it's slow, sweet, and completely unbearable. He takes Steve's lower lip lightly between his teeth, then backs off. Steve tries not to whimper as Bucky gets up, leaving him alone and aching on the bed.
Some rustling sounds and the slam of a cabinet door, and then Bucky is back in the room, beautifully exposed (but technically still in all his clothes, which doesn't seem fair somehow) and holding some plastic stuff in his hand that Steve realizes with a jolt must be contraceptives.
"Hey," Bucky says softly, probably seeing the deer-in-the-headlights look that Steve knows he's making. "It's okay. Move over." He pushes at the back of Steve's thigh, and Steve scoots up the bed to accommodate him. Bucky kneels in between Steve's legs and puts his hands on them, rubbing gently with his thumbs. "I would have done this before, you know," he says quietly. "I - I thought about it. Going slow. Taking care of you. I would have taken such good care of you." His expression twists a little, and he leans in to kiss Steve's thigh.
"Bucky," Steve says softly, not knowing what else to say. He reaches out a hand to touch Bucky's head.
Bucky doesn't answer, instead mouthing the place where he kissed. He works his way down, leaving a wet trail, until he gets to the triangle between Steve's leg and his groin. Steve sucks in a breath. "Let me take care of you, Steve," Bucky breathes against his skin, and then his head drops below where Steve thought he was heading, and - oh -
The sound that comes out of Steve barely sounds human. He scrabbles for purchase, can't reach Bucky's head, clutches at the sheets instead, trying desperately to ride out the weird, shockingly intimate sensation of Bucky licking his way inside Steve's body.
"Bucky," he says at last, strangled, unable to take any more, and Bucky raises his head. He gives Steve a once-over, heavy-lidded, licking his swollen lips, and then he reaches for the things he brought.
"This'll be a little cold," he says, showing Steve the bottle, the clear gel that spirals out onto Bucky's fingers. "Just go with it." He puts his left hand on Steve's stomach to steady him, and then there is the most incredible stretching sensation, and that stuff is cold, and when Bucky's unforgiving metal fingers tighten on his stomach he realizes that he's breathing really fast. "Shh," Bucky says, rubbing Steve's chest. "Take it easy, Rogers."
Steve makes a valiant effort to calm down, and after a moment or two of deliberate breathing, his muscles start to unwind a little bit. Bucky moves in and out of him, slowly, letting him feel it coming, and when he adds a second finger, it's easier, slippier. It's even good. Steve stares at Bucky, watching the intense concentration on his face.
"You're okay," Bucky says, half statement and half question. Steve nods, keeping the eye contact until Bucky presses both fingers in as deep as he can and something happens, something quick and good and Steve needs to feel that again. He writhes, arching up to meet Bucky's hand, and Bucky presses a little more firmly on his stomach, urging him to stay still, pumping faster now but not as deeply. Steve's body arches in want, head tilted back, eyes shutting as he tries to concentrate on the feeling.
"Bucky, you - I need -"
"Shh, I know." Steve can feel warm lips pressing against his inner thigh, small kisses to comfort him, hands moving away, and there's the sound of a cap flipping open, then closed again, and before Steve can put together the words to protest they're back, bigger, a third finger, it must be a third one because his body is stretching further, wanting more but still so overwhelmed, and Steve keens and tries to fight the urge to move closer, to move with Bucky.
"So fucking gorgeous like this," Bucky whispers against his skin, pressing in slow. "You're so hard already, God, do you like it? Do you like this?" Steve feels the fingers curl gently inside him, testing, and Steve can't bite back the moan. He pushes himself up on his elbows, looking past where his erection brushes against his stomach to Bucky's lust-black eyes, the way he's biting his lip and making it even redder, and Bucky's metal arm is - is moving, moving fast, and when it dawns on Steve that Bucky's pleasuring himself while he does this he falls back on the bed, overwhelmed.
"I want," Steve says, and tries to shape his mouth around the next words, but they're gone. He cants his hips up higher and breathes as slowly as he can, and Bucky must understand, at least a little, because the fingers aren't so slow now and they go deeper, near that spot again, and Steve digs his heels into the mattress for purchase, shifting down a as Bucky presses in and there, that's it,
"Fuck, you do, you love it... Steve, I wanna,"
"Yes, now, now, now,"
Bucky withdraws his fingers all at once. Steve gasps at the loss. There is a tearing and crinkling sound, which must be the condom, but Steve doesn't have time to ask about it because then there's something else pushing in, something much bigger than Bucky's fingers and Steve's not sure how in the hell this is supposed to - it just gets bigger and bigger and Steve thinks he might shake apart before they even get anywhere. He throws his hand out blindly for Bucky's, grateful when Bucky takes it that the metal is too strong for him to crush, though between Steve’s sweat and whatever’s sticky on Bucky, they might slide right apart again.
"Easy," Bucky says, but his voice doesn't sound easy, it sounds cracked open, and when Steve drags his eyes away from the ceiling to Bucky's face, his expression is falling apart. "Steve," Bucky croaks, and he finally slides all the way inside.
They stay like that for a long moment, staring, trembling, gripping each other's hand like a lifeline.
Eventually, Steve licks his lips and says hoarsely, "What are you waiting for, a written invitation?"
He feels Bucky's laugh more than he hears it, a searing little tremor that runs from Bucky's body to his like fire. Bucky withdraws his hand from Steve's so he can grasp both his hips, and then, slowly, maintaining eye contact with Steve, Bucky starts to move.
"God," Steve says without thinking, because it turns out he was only used to the size of Bucky when he wasn't moving. He can feel everything so vividly, the burn and the stretch and the way his whole body feels like it's somehow tense with how hard he's working to relax. Mouth hanging open, desperate for air, he stares at Bucky, who's sweating through his shirt, biting his lip to the point of almost drawing blood. "Bucky, it's-"
"I can go slower if-"
"No, no-" Steve feels his cock twitch at the sight of Bucky panting, swiping his tongue over dry lips, bent over him. He tries to take matters into his own hands, angling his hips and trying to guide Bucky toward that spot again, and when Bucky catches on he groans and lifts Steve up a few inches, scooting in tighter, starting to move more sharply and toward somewhere deep in Steve that he's starting to worry he imagined until it's there again and Steve is arching off the bed hard enough to almost dislodge Bucky, crying out, and Bucky moans back in response, holding Steve tighter and redoubling his efforts. The bed is starting to creak with every thrust and Steve doesn't care, can't, throwing an arm across his face and reaching out with his other and to try to find purchase.
"Steve, you're too tight, I can't- fuck, fuck," Bucky's litany continues as he readjusts his grip on Steve and snaps his hips, making Steve's eyes water with the sting of it but totally unwilling to let Bucky stop. He can feel his body tensing again, open to Bucky now but it's there, building, and Steve doesn't bother trying to fight it this time because Bucky is dead set on hitting that spot as many times as possible and Steve's sure he's about to either come again or die.
In the end, he comes, but it kind of feels like dying, a white-out dissolving of self that reminds him of letting go underwater. He comes back shaking, so out of it that it takes him a minute to notice that Bucky is bent half-over him, supporting himself with his left arm on the bedspread.
"Buck?" Steve says. His voice sounds totally unlike his own, gravelly and strange. A spasm of leftover pleasure seizes him and he clenches, unthinkingly; Bucky moans.
"Oh, god. That was -" Bucky licks his lips luxuriously, and Steve can't look away. "God, Steve." He thrusts just a little, just enough for them both to feel it, enough to coax a little sound from Steve.
The bed settles, abruptly. It feels unbalanced underneath them, like the deck of a ship. Steve cranes his neck, blinking in groggy surprise. “Did we - ?”
“We did.” Bucky raises his eyebrows in a way that says, I told you it would happen. Then, to Steve's deep disappointment, he pulls out, moving slow and hissing a little.
"Did you - ?" Steve doesn't want Bucky to stop just on his account. He doesn't really want Bucky to stop at all, when it comes down to it. He wants to get fucked like this, on his back in Bucky's bedroom, for the rest of his life if he can swing it.
"Did I ever," Bucky says with an arched brow. He shivers all over and bends down for a long, sultry kiss.
When things starts to heat up again, which takes approximately no time at all, Bucky sits up and wipes his forehead with the back of one hand. "Jesus," he says. "Can we clean up a little before the next round, or what?"
Steve looks down at himself. His bare chest is spattered with come, and the only reason Bucky looks any better is because he has a condom hanging off him.
"Shower?" Steve suggests.
"Well, we can’t stay on the bed," Bucky agrees with a dark gleam in his eye.
In the bathroom Bucky finally, finally strips off his shirt and his jeans, and while the water's getting hot Steve takes the opportunity to run his hands down the hard planes of Bucky's back, prompting a little pleased noise from Bucky.
"We should thank Natasha," Steve remarks, pressing in a little closer as he palms Bucky's hips.
"Hmm?" Bucky presses back into him, unconcerned.
"For telling me I was an idiot, mostly."
Bucky snorts. "And listening to me moan on like a lovesick dame."
"Weren't you?" Steve asks mildly, and is smart enough to dodge the smack he knows is coming.
The next morning at breakfast, Sam says, "Missed you in the park this morning." Steve tries and fails to come up with a reason on the spot why he skipped his morning run, so he ends up just awkwardly raising the bottle of orange juice he's holding to his face, half hiding behind it.
"I, uh," Steve says to the orange juice. "I took the morning off."
Sam's eyebrows climb practically into his hairline, but all he says is, "Pass the bagels."
Steve can barely meet Natasha's gaze, let alone thank her, but she, too, thank god, doesn't seem to need to talk about it. She settles for looking as smug as a cat with a saucer of milk instead.
When Bucky comes in twenty minutes later, having lost the coin toss for who got the first morning shower, he makes straight for Steve.
"Hey," he says, and he takes Steve's hand, fingers interlocking with Steve's like they've always been there and always will be.
"Hey," Steve says, surprised but - surprisingly - not embarrassed. He gives Bucky's hand a squeeze and takes a bite of bagel.
Bucky glances at the others almost defiantly, but nobody says a word.