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Steve Draws Bucky Eight Hundred Times

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            “Look at us. Moved in with each other before we fell in love, and then we moved in with each other before we started necking again- Don’t you think we’re taking this out of order?”

            “You’re taking this out of order,” Steve said, head still pressed to the pillow.

            Bucky slapped a hand on his spine. “Whatever happened to early bird Steve, huh?”

            “He’s gone. Never knew him. Steve who?”

            Bucky started beating him with a pillow. Steve didn’t move. “You know,” Bucky said between whacks, “life’d be a lot easier,” whack whack, “if you’d just get,” whack, “out of,” whack, “bed!”

            “I haven’t had sex in seventy years, Buck. Give a guy a break.”

            Bucky laughed and fell back against the headboard. “I know. I had to promise Bruce we hadn’t consummated the century before he let me outta the tower the other day. But you’re a super soldier, too, Steve. If I can recover from that conversation you can sit up. Right?”

            Steve groaned into the pillow.

            That was when Bucky started to worry. “Steve? Stevie? You okay?”

            “M’fine.” He didn’t sound very convincing.

            Shit. “Stevie. Don’t lie to me.” He’d just been joking joking he didn’t think Steve was-

            Steve groaned again. It’d been a cheap shot, and Bucky knew it; nickname and pleading in the same breath? Still, might be the only way to get Steve moving at all that day. Might be the only way he’d tell Bucky what was wrong.

            After a couple more seconds of silence, Steve said, “I think it’s a bad day, Buck.”

            Bucky stamped down the panic that rose in his chest at that and reached out to lay a gentle hand on Steve’s shoulder. “I’m sorry baby. I know you don’t- I know you probably don’t want to talk right now, but is it-”

            “No.” Had to have been the pain in Bucky’s voice that got Stevie to look up. “Not that. Sometimes I just remember I’m a hundred years old, and it… aches.”

            “Okay,” Bucky said, forcing the panic back. “Okay. Want me to stay up here with you?”

            Steve mumbled something about not ruining Bucky’s day, already buried in the pillow again.

            Sometimes it was like that. Bucky knew it was like that. Steve’d wake up a little sluggish and go from fine to sinking in a split second. Not like Bucky didn’t do it, too. It was just different. Bucky could get out of bed easier when it happened. He could pretend. Couldn’t trust himself to do much else, but Stevie always kept an eye on him and he was grateful for that. No- when Steve had a bad day sometimes he couldn’t move. Hadn’t had one that bad in a while, maybe he thought one was coming, shit, Steve was always doing that, thinking bad things were gonna come and making them accidentally, he’d never admit it but Bucky had seen that hesitation growing in Steve’s eyes for weeks. Self-fulfilling prophecy, Steve called it. When he was in a sarcastic enough mood to talk about it at all.

            He wasn’t in a talking mood then.

            “I’m gonna make breakfast. You want some breakfast?”

            Steve hummed. He was probably at least a little hungry. Steve’s metabolism had a way of overriding his brain’s emotional-nausea sensors.

            Bucky was grateful for it. “Okay. I’m making pancakes or something. You always like pancakes, right? Easy, Stevie. You don’t have to get dressed. But I want you to come eat with me, if you can, okay?”

            A hum of acknowledgment.

            Bucky went down to the kitchen and waited for muscle memory to kick in.

            He knew how to cook. He’d figured it out the first time, after ignoring his ma’s attempts to teach him, and then a second time, when he was in a trench without any silverware, and then a third time pretty recently, because twenty-first-century takeout got old surprisingly fast, even in New York. The task was easy. Methodical. Kept the worry at bay. Wasn’t panic. Not anymore. He trusted Steve. He trusted Steve and Steve needed him. No time to panic now.

            Bucky waited ‘til the first batch were cooking and sat on the floor for a second.

            Get up. Get up get up get up.

            He didn’t burn them.

            Went upstairs to check on Steve. Didn’t want to yell. “Can you come downstairs, Stevie? Or do you want me to bring them up?”

            Steve flipped over. Didn’t look like he was gonna accomplish much more.

            “Okay. One second. You want water? Or orange juice? Think you can drink a glass of that for me?”

            Steve nodded.

            Bucky was so happy Steve wasn’t unresponsive he almost slipped and fell down the stairs.

            On the way back up he started worrying again and had to tell that part of himself to quit it. “Alright, Steve. Here you go. I know you’re a frail old man, but you’re gonna have to feed yourself. I got errands to run, okay? Nothing outside the house, I’m not gonna leave you- just have things to do, alright? You okay if I go in the bathroom for a while?”

            “Can you leave the door open?”

            Steve looked so hopeful that Bucky said ‘yes.’

            They got through it. They always got through it.

            Bucky had a nightmare after. But he never had to explain those to Steve.

            Steve wasn’t demanding. That wasn’t it. Bucky had been around a lot of demanding people and Stevie wasn’t one of them, at least when it came to important stuff. But there was the obligation. The ring on his finger he told Steve he woulda put there at twelve if he could have. Sickness and in health. And Steve was sicker than Bucky was. So Bucky had to take care of Steve. Even though he could barely take care of himself.

            Not true. Bucky was doing well. He was pursuing hobbies. He had started researching dogs. He went outside almost every day. More than some people who weren’t as headfucked as he was. Not even, anymore. Bucky remembered things for days at a time, old things, sometimes got them back for good, kept remembering more. They didn’t fade as easily as they used to. Sometimes went in and out. But he always found the frequency again.

            So Steve was maybe the right amount of worried about him. Long as he didn’t worry too much on his own bad days.

            They were getting through it.

            They always had.

            Always would.

*

            Some things were easy. Slipped back like Bucky’d never stopped. Like the married to Steve thing. They’d been acting as married as they could get away with since they were teenagers. That was what came back right away. That and all that came with it; their behavior around each other. Careful but practiced, learning a new way to handle a well-worn thing. Everything else had changed. But that stayed. A holdover from all the times something had threatened to throw them off balance- a lost job, a family argument, a war. They always got through it. That was how Bucky had started thinking of them as married, he thought.

            That and Steve kept his promises. Or Bucky was gone on him since day one. Either way.

            Everything else changing around them, that was usual. Bucky was used to it. He’d gotten drafted, and everything changed for a while. Not being near Steve at all, just letters. Then, finally, Steve being back again. Both of them were different that time. It happened over and over again. Just more this time. More things he’d seen and more things Steve had. They were still something of themselves under all of it. The very underneath stayed the same. Bucky had been terrified for a split second when Steve came to get him, that first time, not the first time he’d saved Bucky but one of the most important ones; what if Steve wasn’t the same under all of that? But he was. Didn’t matter he was different. He was still Steve.

            And Bucky was still Bucky. Now, anyway. He’d had to learn how to be Bucky again, a little, learn how to be this Bucky. But he still was.

            Steve was very different. Bucky had expected that. With the underneath still being Steve. The century had shaped him in strange ways, chipped away some of the bright parts and sharpened others. Bucky couldn’t even imagine how different he seemed to Steve. But it gave them patience. Bucky had been so worried when he came back this time, worried Steve might not know him. But Steve understood. Bucky was still there.

            Every once in a while he forgot he was still there. That was a problem. Before living with Steve again, he’d have to pull himself out of it, remember somehow on his own. Steve helped; him being there reminded Bucky that he was really there, too. That this wasn’t some fever dream in a cryo tank, or the side-effects of the drugs they’d pumped into him on the table years before that. If Steve was real he must be too. If Steve was a person he was too.

            Bucky knew there was something a little unhinged about that. He also knew Steve sometimes looked at Bucky like he was the only thing anchoring him to the twenty-first century. Same as Bucky. It’s here, it’s now, we’re here, we’re now.

            Bucky figured that was okay, too. Partners like always. Word didn’t feel exactly right, didn’t carry enough weight, somehow, but he never could find a better one.

*

            Bruce thought he should go on the pills again.

            Bruce wasn’t an expert, apart from being one of the only people intimately aware of super soldier medicine tolerances, but Bucky didn’t disagree. Or at least he didn’t disagree with his psychiatrist. Who hadn’t disagreed with his therapist, who’d referred him. Even though all those SHIELD forms meant both of them knew Bucky couldn’t take regular medicine.

            That wasn’t exactly true. He could take some things, albeit in much higher doses and with much lower impact than normal. Still, though. She’d talked to Bruce about medicine before, helped clear the panic pills Bucky kept in case he woke up from a nightmare and wasn’t him so much he needed to sedate himself to protect Steve. Well. He guessed Steve would punch him out. But panic. If Bucky was losing it but lucid enough to take one. He didn’t get like that very much anymore. He learned to swerve away long before it happened, so there was never a question of danger.

            But he was in this place now. The one he knew from Bucharest, the one he knew from those days before the war when he still had Steve, even. Things were too good. He wasn’t doing enough. Bucky needed to be doing more than one endless basement renovation project and a growing pile of easily-abandoned hobbies. The days kept passing and things weren’t changing in noticeable ways anymore. He didn’t think it was a miracle when he woke up and saw Steve next to him. He did. Just not- that wasn’t the first thing he thought in the morning. And Bucky didn’t go on walks like he had at first, just to see New York and remember parts of it and fall in love with them all over again. He woke up and went to the basement and came back up and read while Steve went through sketchbooks and sketchbooks of paper, and-

            That was it. He needed a thing to do. Something that didn’t have a solid end date, like the basement, something that wouldn’t fail in the face of his attention span, like woodworking or paper folding or fucking jogging.

            Well. Maybe he should take something, again, too. Bucky had dropped those serotonin reuptake inhibitors a little early. Even for a super soldier.

            “Steve.”

            “Hm?” Steve was drawing him, like he always was when Bucky was sitting and reading.

            “I need a job.”

            Steve set down his sketchbook and looked confused. “You know that’s not necessary, Buck, and anyway, even if you wanted a job we still haven’t-”

            “No, not that. I need something to do. And I could get a fake ID if I had to, Stevie, I’m actually pretty good at convincing people to look the other way.”

            “Oh.” Steve didn’t pick up his pencil or stop looking thoughtful, which meant he knew Bucky was serious and was being serious, too. “What did you have in mind? I mean, I don’t know what you do in the basement, but if those carving tools are any indication, maybe you could-”

            “No. I did that ‘cause I wanted something to look right. The actual carving process is a pain in the ass.”

            Steve was studying him, then. “None of the other stuff you’ve tried has stuck, either, has it?”

            “Nope.” Bucky knew Steve knew he hadn’t had to ask, but Steve looked like he was winding up for something and Bucky wanted to hear it.

            Yep. Eyes lit up. “Let me make a call.”

            “As long as you don’t agree with Nat that I should go to cosmetology school.”

            Steve snorted. “Nah. This’ll be way better, I promise.”