Bucky is reading on the couch when Steve gets there. Bucky gave him a key the last time he visited, and the instruction to just let himself in whenever, so Steve does. Bucky is so absorbed in the book that he doesn't notice, and that makes Steve's heart swell even more than Bucky giving him the key had. The key said that Bucky's home could be his home too, at least a little; this says that Bucky is no longer so tactically aware that the sound of the door has him running probabilities of attack, at least not in his own home.
The couch is by the window and the afternoon sunlight falls on the planes of Bucky's face. His eyebrows are drawn together just enough to scribe a mark between them; not frowning, just concentrating. Steve's fingers itch for his sketchbook. He knows Bucky's face better than he knows his own, has drawn him hundreds of times, but every time he looks at him, he sees something new.
Steve drops his duffel to the floor. The sound it makes isn't loud, but Bucky's head snaps up. His face breaks into a smile, and he pushes himself to his feet, marking his place in the book with an index card and laying it aside so he can cross the room to Steve and wrap his arms around him. This is new, this further openness with touch. Steve never lets himself expect it; Sam has told him many times that recovery is not a straight road but one with lots of side steps and setbacks, and every time Bucky hugs him feels like a gift.
Steve leans into the hug, laying his head on Bucky's shoulder so he can draw in the smell of laundry detergent and shampoo and Bucky's skin. He spreads both hands flat on Bucky's back, the fabric of his t-shirt soft and warm. Steve always knew Bucky was solid as any rock in his self, but his body feels that way too, now; layers of dense muscle shift beneath Steve's palms. He could stay there forever, but after a little, Bucky pushes him back to arm's length so he can run his eyes over him. Checking for injuries.
"I haven't been doing anything more strenuous than pushing paper around for the last week, Buck, I promise," Steve says.
"Good." Bucky lets go of Steve's arms. Steve wishes he wouldn't. "Guess what? I'm making dinner."
"Really?" With his nose out of Bucky's shoulder he can smell something good kitchenwards.
"Yeah. Priya from Book Club sent me the recipe. I made it once before, to practice before I sprang it on you. Turned out pretty good." His mouth twitches up into a smile and Steve feels something that is the opposite of heartbreak, a little piece of his heart coming back home.
"Were you reading the next book?" He looks over to Bucky's discarded paperback. The Princess Bride. "Is that another one of those romances?"
"No. This is one Miriam recommended, but it's not for Book Club. It's not a romance--more of an adventure. It's got pirates and horses. Like an Errol Flynn flick, but inside a frame story in modern time. And it's funny." Bucky walks over to Steve's abandoned bag. "I've got a whole shelf of 'em, though, if you want to read another." He waves his metal hand at the bookshelf and leans down to heft the duffel over his shoulder. "Let me throw this in the guest room."
Steve walks over to the bookshelf. Sure enough, Bucky has an entire shelf devoted to romance books. Steve scans the titles: The Duchess War. The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal. The Lawrence Browne Affair. Ashwin. Hold Me. An Extraordinary Union.
Bucky had really enjoyed the precise shifts of emotion in the last one, but Steve almost felt like it was too close to the characters, like he was spying on something private.
"They're fictional characters, pal," Bucky had said, laughing at him. His face felt like a sunburn the whole time they were talking about it. And it was hard--wrong choice of word, Rogers. It was difficult to talk about sex with Bucky as he is now, not to give too much away. Bucky has a hard--a difficult time with basic human contact, some days. Steve would rather bite his own left arm off than put any pressure on him. He's had his whole life to get good at secretly wanting his best friend.
Even if the books feel too private to Steve, he's glad Bucky's reading them. There's probably no safer place than the pages for Bucky to work out how he feels about all that stuff.
"Actually, I do have a book for you," Bucky says now, leaning against the wall, watching Steve. "It's the first Harry Potter book next month. Have you read it?"
"No." It's on Steve's list of things-to-catch-up-on, though. He should have made a hashmark next to it every time someone suggested so he could remember just how many people had mentioned it. "I've heard of it. If you're reading it, I want to read it with you."
"I figured. I got you a copy." Bucky tilts his head so his hair falls in his face, slants Steve a look through his lashes. "Could you be in town for the next meeting? Janelle says it's fine to bring a friend if I want."
"Buck, I'd be thrilled to meet them. Just let me know when." Most of Steve's friends are Avenger-related, somehow. Even when he tries to befriend regular people--like Sam--he just pulls them into his orbit. Not that Sam had needed Steve's help with adrenaline junky-ing; Steve has seen what pararescue does. Bucky seems to be thriving here with his civilian friends. He's fought long enough.
Bucky pushes his hair back behind his ears. "I was trying to remember; did we ever dance?"
"We went to dance halls pretty often." Bucky had been a fantastic dancer; Steve, not so much. Steve had most often stayed by the wall and just watched him move, graceful and sure on his feet, twirling around with whatever girl he was with that night. Steve could hardly blame them--he knew exactly what they saw in Bucky--but he could envy them a little. "You were great at it."
"No, I meant--did I ever dance with you?"
Steve's heart accelerates. He tries not to let any of it into his voice. "Sure. You taught me some. Not at the dance hall, though; just in our apartment." He wishes Bucky could remember it like he does; the two of them in their sock feet, table and chair pushed back against the wall so there was room on their faded, threadbare rug, the colors darker where the furniture had kept the sun away. Back then, Steve's resting eye level was about at the space between Bucky's clavicle and the dip in the center of his chin, and he'd had to tip his head up to look at Bucky's face, and both of them kept laughing when Steve messed up.
"It's not that I don't know the steps, Buck, but I'm doing 'em backward," Steve had said. Buck snorted and rearranged their arms so that Steve's hand rested on Bucky's solid shoulder and Bucky's hand was on the small of Steve's back. He'd felt Bucky's body heat through his shirt and wished it could brand him, a perfect handprint over his crooked spine. Bucky had turned them in a circle and dipped Steve back like something from a Busby Berkeley picture, and Steve's heart had stuttered out a rhythm of complete happiness. Even with both of them laughing like it was a joke, it was so close to what he wanted most.
Steve clears his throat. "I didn't ever get any good at it."
"I bet I was a great teacher, though." Bucky smiles at Steve, the-same-but-different as the Bucky in Steve's memory, and still the north Steve's compass will always point to.
"Yeah, pal. You were."
"Maybe you can teach me the steps this time around," Bucky says, and Steve finds himself wondering if he could schedule classes between missions, or if Nat could point him towards some tutorials on YouTube.
The kitchen timer goes off, and Bucky is moving away before Steve can ask him if he's serious. Steve sits on the couch and picks up Bucky's book, flipping it over to read the back.
"There's a movie," Bucky says behind him. "Of The Princess Bride. We could watch it."
Steve tilts his head back until he's looking up at Bucky upside down. Even at this angle, it's a familiar view. "I'm not sure we'd be respecting the narrative structure if we watched the movie before you got to the end of the book."
Bucky punches him, very gently, in the shoulder. "I'll make an exception for you, champ. Just this once."
Dinner is some kind of chicken and lentil thing that is very good. Bucky smiles smugly when Steve goes back for thirds.
Instead of pirates or horses, the movie opens on a child's bedroom. His grandfather comes over to read to him while he's sick. None of the details of the boy's room are like the rooms Steve grew up in, but he's thrown back into the past again anyway. He didn't have a grandfather to read to him when he was sulky with being stuck in bed, but Bucky had done it: after school, then after work, and later, when they'd lived together. The scene is only a few minutes long, and then it cuts to the main story, but the movie returns to the sick boy being drawn into the book against his will.
When all the buckles have been swashed and the swordfights are over and true love has triumphed, Steve turns to Bucky.
"Remember how you used to read to me when I was feeling poorly?"
"Yeah," Bucky said, sounding a little surprised. "I do, now you mention it. The movie made you think of it?"
"It was about the nicest thing going when I was sick," Steve says. "Better than the radio or cards."
"Hey, Steve." Bucky half-turns, angling his body toward Steve's. "Why don't we do that with the Harry Potter book?"
"You're gonna read the whole thing to me before I have to go back?" Steve can already feel himself smiling.
"Well, we could start. You're not sick anymore, so you could read too. We can take turns." Bucky shrugs. "When you're not here, we could do it over the phone."
"Like a bedtime story," Steve says without deciding to.
"Yeah, if you like." Bucky shrugs like it doesn't matter, but Steve can see he wants to and, hell, it sounds like a great idea. They talk most days, anyway.
"Let's do it." Buck's voice in his ear every night would be the second best thing to just staying here with him. Maybe someday Steve'll stay, if Bucky wants.
Bucky stands up, but only to grab a book off the bookshelf. He sits back down next to Steve and slides the book into Steve's lap. He leans back into the couch cushions, closer than he was before, close enough that the heat of his body could brand Steve again.
"If you're not tired," Bucky says, "we could start tonight."