There were a lot of things Bucky never planned to tell Steve, one of which was that he kind of liked it when things hurt. He didn't get off on the pain exactly, but there was something consuming about it, the way that discomfort and pain took over his brain and made it impossible to think about anything else. He wasn't good at meditation, but he thought meditation might be a little like that.
And he got a stubborn kind of enjoyment out of seeing how far he could push himself, although he recognized that past a certain point, it was less a game of self-control and more like punishing himself. But he was still learning how to feel again, and pleasure and pain were both feeling. There was little enough difference between them: the deep burn of muscles doing hard work becoming strain and pain afterwards, with such a fine line in between that it might as well not be there at all.
He was transplanting flowers on the roof of the Avengers tower. Jane and Darcy were on the next level down, their light laughing voices drifting up to him, but tuning out the words reduced it to a soft background hum and he could almost imagine he was alone. He'd always liked high places, even as a kid -- used to climb the fire escape on Steve's building right up to the roof, or as close as they could get; it didn't go all the way. But on hot days like today they'd sprawl on the uppermost landing of the fire escape and read comic books, seeking whatever faint breath of cooler air they could find.
And it was hot, bakingly hot, a July day in Manhattan with heat shimmering up from the rooftops around him. At least up here, there was a bit of a breeze. Not like down at street level, he thought, where the air would be heavy and thick as warm syrup, the pavement too hot to touch. In this era of air conditioning and scheduled activities, did children still drape themselves on fire escapes and go looking for ponds and puddles to cool down in? Perhaps they did. It was hard to imagine things changing that much.
He hadn't brought a bottle of water with him, and he'd lost track of how long he'd been on the roof. Thirst became discomfort became pain, a sharp ache in his throat and a dull throb in his head, but it was pain-on-the-edge-of-pleasure; it made it easier to get lost in the work, to be aware of nothing but the cool rough dirt between his fingers, the fragrance of crushed leaves in the sunshine. His entire world narrowed in focus to his activities, everything else pushed to the background while he basked in a pleasant, timeless haze.
It wasn't until he stood up and everything went gray that he thought maybe he'd been out in the sun longer than he should have.
He took a step and nearly fell down. It was startling. He recognized what was most likely happening -- he'd grown up in Brooklyn, for God's sake; he knew you could get sick and dizzy when you stayed out in the sun too long -- but he wasn't sure, he supposed he must've thought this would be one of the things that was less of a problem for his enhanced body than it used to be. If he'd ever discovered differently in his years as the Winter Soldier, it must be one of those things he'd forgotten.
He staggered, tried to catch himself on a stake supporting a tomato plant, but it snapped and he nearly went over. Equilibrium was difficult; the pathway rolled under him like the deck of a ship. He felt bad, shaky and wobbly and sick to his stomach. He took a couple of steps and fell to his knees to dry-heave.
Someone said his name in tones of alarm. "I'm okay," he rasped out, because it was basically true. He was pretty sure. He just needed to get to shade and maybe drink some water. His stomach cramped again and he dry-heaved at the thought. Okay, maybe not water. Maybe just lying down somewhere out of the sun would be best ...
"Get Steve," the alarmed voice said. It was Jane, crouching next to him, and okay, Steve was absolutely the last person he needed right now, because Steve would probably worry. But he was having trouble saying so.
"Come on, get up," Jane said, tugging at him nervously. Bucky shrugged her off. He didn't like people touching him unexpectedly. She backed off but not much. "Come on, you have to get out of the sun. I think you're dehydrated, or, uh, heat-prostrated, I don't know, I'm not a doctor -- not that kind, I mean. Darcy's getting Steve."
"Steve's not a doctor either," Bucky pointed out. He was lying down now for some reason, his face pressed against the paving stones they'd just installed on the walkway between the garden beds. It wasn't actually cooler down here -- the stones were hot enough to hurt against his cheek -- but pressing his head against something made him feel less like he was about to fall off the ground. If he stayed down here for awhile, he'd probably be okay.
"You're right," Jane said. "I'll call Bruce. He'll know what to do. I shouldn't leave you, that doesn't seem right. Oh, water! Here, my water bottle --"
The bottle appeared out of nowhere, sun-warmed plastic pressing against his lips. He discovered that he really was thirsty, took a few eager swallows and then threw it up again, causing Jane to scuttle backward in alarm.
"Oh God," Jane moaned. "I am really bad at this. I'm sending Bruce a text right now, okay? Do you feel like you're dying? You sort of look like you're dying."
"I'm not dying," Bucky mumbled irritably, because God only knew what sort of rumors were about to start spreading through the Avengers tower now, but he really felt awful. Like he'd been poisoned: dizziness and nausea and the ground rocking under him. If he was sick from the sun, he should probably feel hot, but he didn't. He felt cold down to his core.
Then hands were on him that refused to be shaken off, big strong hands. Steve. He'd know those stupid, stubborn hands anywhere. Goddammit, getting Steve involved really wasn't playing fair. "I'm okay," Bucky informed him, trying to focus his eyes. Steve ignored him and hauled him upright. That was not at all good; his stomach twisted and the ground tried to toss him off. "I wanted to stay there," Bucky told him peevishly.
"No, you need to be in the shade, you're red as a lobster," Steve said. Somehow one of Bucky's arms had gotten around Steve's neck and he had to stumble along or be dragged.
"Do people like us sunburn?" he mused. "I don't, much. It seems to heal pretty quickly. Steve, I actually don't feel that good."
"I know," Steve said. "When was the last time you had water?"
"Jane gave me some."
"Good for her."
"I threw it back up though."
"For God's sake, Bucky," Steve said, sounding unhappy and irritated. They stumbled out of the sun into the darkness of the stairwell. The difference was stunning, like sudden silence after impossibly loud noise. Steve didn't attempt the stairs, just sank down against the wall and dragged Bucky down with him. The concrete floor was actually a little bit cool, unlike the paving stones outside. Bucky wanted to press his face against it, try to make his head stop pounding, but instead his head had somehow ended up in Steve's lap.
"Drink," Steve ordered, and the lip of a water bottle was pressed against his mouth.
"It's your own fault if I throw up in your lap," Bucky warned him, but he took a few small sips that cramped in his dry throat. Then he went for more and Steve pulled the bottle away. "Give that back, dick."
"Not yet," Steve said. "I'm not sure how much is okay for you to have."
Bucky cracked his eyes open -- the rest of his body might not be working very well, but he was pretty sure could grab the bottle back with his metal hand -- and discovered that he had an audience. Jane and Darcy were hovering around him with worried expressions. "Go away!" he said, which had absolutely no effect. Darcy was consulting her phone.
"It says here that you've got two sorts of basic sun-type things that happen," she reported. "You've got your heat exhaustion, that's not so bad, and your heat prostration which is like, get him to the hospital yesterday. Is he sweating?"
Steve's hand settled on his forehead. Bucky smacked it away. Feeling like shit was bad enough without having an audience for it.
"I can't tell," Steve said. "His hair's damp."
"But he could have been sweating earlier, and if he's stopped then we might need an emergency airlift or, you know. Thing." Darcy went down to her knees and tried to grope his head. Bucky growled at her.
"Wow, he's hot as blazes," Darcy said, sitting back on her heels and checking her phone again. "That's like, the bad kind of sunstroke? Because otherwise it says to look for 'cool, pale skin'. In either case he should be cooled down immediately with wet cloths and stuff like that."
"But," Jane said. "Supersoldier. It might be different. Steve, do you have any heat regulation issues that you know about?"
"It doesn't seem have changed that much since before I was --"
Bucky took advantage of Steve's distraction to seize the wrist of the hand holding the water bottle in an implacable metal grip. Steve gave up and let him have a few more sips of water, then poured most of the rest of the bottle on his head.
"Cooling you down," Steve said, putting the bottle back to Bucky's lips and tipping it up to get the dregs.
"Actually, that's probably pretty effective," Jane said.
"Here," Darcy offered, "you can have my water bottle too."
Bucky, who was starting to feel slightly more competent as long as he didn't move too much, snapped his metal hand up to intercept the bottle and rescue it from people who might be thinking about pouring it on him. "You are all terrible at first aid," he informed them between his clenched teeth, pulling the water bottle protectively into the curve of his body.
"I'm a scientist, I'm supposed to be," Jane protested.
"It says one of the symptoms is dark-colored urine," Darcy reported, phone held close to her face.
"No one," Bucky said firmly, "is checking that. Go away, I have water and I'm fine now." As long as he didn't try to stand up.
Steve lightly scritched his fingertips through Bucky's (now sodden) hair. "Settle down, Buck. Don't make me sit on you."
"If that happens I am so putting it on Vine," Darcy said.
At this point footsteps clanged on the stairs and Bruce appeared in Bucky's field of vision. The idea of being subjected to anyone's medical attention didn't make him happy, but it was better than having people practice incompetent Internet first aid on him, so he allowed Bruce to tip his head back with firm but gentle hands.
"I got some very intriguing texts," Bruce said. "What are your symptoms?"
"He passed out and started throwing up," Jane said.
"I didn't pass out," Bucky muttered. "I was conscious the whole time."
"Dizziness?" Bruce asked. "Headache? Seizures? Heart palpitations?"
"Are seizures a possibility?" Steve asked with alarm.
"Yes to the first two, no to the second ones," Bucky said, and discovered that Steve had ever so quietly removed the water bottle he'd been holding onto. Steve absolutely had payback coming as soon as Bucky could get up again.
"Well, for an ordinary person, this would be a medical emergency," Bruce said. "For you two? I have absolutely no idea. Steve was frozen for seventy years and thawed back out, which is impossible. As far as I can tell, your temperature is coming down already and you're starting to sweat, though I'd really like to take you down to the medical wing --"
"Nope," Bucky said as forcefully as he could manage while lying on his side with his head resting on Steve's thigh. He tried to raise his head by way of making his point better, but Steve planted a hand on top of his hair and pushed his head back down. Jerk.
"I knew you'd say that," Bruce sighed. "Well, try to get him cool, keep him comfortable, and give him water. If he does pass out, has a seizure, or seems confused, bring him down to my lab. Okay?" He hesitated, then awkwardly patted Bucky's shoulder, and retreated, somehow managing to tow Darcy and Jane along with him. "No more sun today," he said over his shoulder. "And get him to drink as much as he's comfortable with -- not just water, but Gatorade or something with electrolytes."
"Thank you," Steve said, heartfelt.
"But I was about to take a video of --" Darcy protested, and then the elevator doors at the bottom of the rooftop stairs closed, leaving them in blessed peace and quiet.
"Here," Steve said softly, putting the other water bottle to Bucky's lips. "Drink."
"I can do it," Bucky muttered, and Steve let him take the bottle. "I can also sit up."
"I know," Steve said. He'd gone back to lightly scratching his fingertips across Bucky's scalp. "But you don't have to. They're gone, so why don't you stay down for a little while longer and relax 'til your body stops feeling out of whack."
As much as he didn't want to admit it, the gentle circles Steve was tracing on his scalp felt good, and seemed to be helping with his headache, or maybe that was the water. "I can't always tell if something is a serum thing or a regular human thing," Bucky admitted.
"I know," Steve said again. "You know, when I first started being able to run so much more easily than I used to, I'd overheat regularly, though not nearly as bad as this -- I'd just get dizzy, then I'd stop running and feel better. It took me awhile to figure out what was happening. I think it was perfectly normal heat generation while running, except I was running a lot faster than I was used to, so I was generating more heat than my body really knew what to do with. But once I stopped making more heat, the healing factor kicked in."
"Does that happen now?" Bucky wanted to know, curious.
"Not really. I think I just got used to it. Like people have to work themselves up to running marathons. Except I never worked myself up to it, I just got dumped into it, so it took awhile to adjust."
"I don't remember," Bucky said honestly. "If there was any difference -- But for me, I guess the difference wasn't nearly as big in the first place as it was for you."
Steve nudged the water bottle. Bucky rolled his eyes and drank the rest of it.
"No puking in my lap, by the way," Steve said.
"Depends on if you plan to pour another bottle of water over my head."
Steve laughed softly. "Quick and dirty, but it was the fastest solution I could think of." He liberated the empty bottle from Bucky's hand and laid it against the back of Bucky's neck. It felt good and Bucky clenched his teeth on an involuntary sigh. "You're sweating again," Steve added. "You weren't, for a little while. I think your ability to heal is fixing things now that it's not being over-taxed by the sun. Which probably means we should get more water in you, because you're sweating it out. Meaning, either going downstairs or having someone bring water up to us."
"I can get up," Bucky said.
This turned out to be accurate, although he was still dizzier and shakier than he'd like. Design flaw, he thought, and then rerouted his thoughts hastily away from that. He wasn't a machine. Not anymore. He managed to stand on his own, brushed off Steve's attempts to help, and started down the stairs. After a few steps, he tried turning around, only to be met by Steve's version of an immovable object.
"Where are you going?"
"Steve, there are a dozen trays of seedlings out there in the sun. They'll wilt."
"Someone else can take care of them." Steve fastened a firm hand on his shoulder, propelling him forward. "I'll do it. You should be in air conditioning. And drinking water."
He could push through it. He knew he could. He could reach down inside himself and find the mental buttons to make his legs stop shaking (at least not so much), tap reserves of strength to go back up those stairs and do what needed doing. He'd pay for it later, of course --
-- but he didn't have to, and so he let Steve steer him down to the foot of the top flight of stairs, where the elevators were. He let Steve shepherd him like an over-attentive sheepdog back to the floor they shared (and also shared with Sam, when Sam was in town), and submitted to being installed on the couch with an absurdly comprehensive collection of items that Steve thought would make him comfortable: the TV remote, an ice pack, a bottle of Gatorade, a large glass of orange juice, and a plate of cookies.
"Where'd these come from?" Bucky asked, inspecting a cookie suspiciously.
"Thor made them," Steve said. "I think."
"We had cookies I didn't know about? You've been holding out on me."
"Well, maybe if you ventured into the kitchen every once in a while," Steve said. "Okay, I'll go get your plants out of the sun now. Tell me what needs doing."
A lot of things, really. He'd had plans for this afternoon -- as well as transplanting the verbena and cosmos, he was going to start on the frame for the first greenhouse, and get the beds ready for the shipment of border plants that were supposed to be delivered tomorrow ...
He looked up at Steve, who was standing there expectantly, ready and willing to do whatever needed doing so Bucky could stay here on the couch -- which was ridiculous, he felt pretty much okay now, just thirsty and kind of bone-deep achey, but not too bad.
"Well?" Steve said.
Bucky held up a finger and reached for his phone. His finger hovered over the increasingly long list of presets, finally came down on Darcy. Verbena wilting. Need transplanted.
The reply came back immediately: I am ON IT, Iceman. R U OK?
Better, he typed. For some reason it was easier to talk to people this way, rather than face to face. Easier to say things when he didn't have to come up with the words in realtime and then look them in the eyes when he said them. Drink water while you're up there. Maybe just put plants in shade & wait out afternoon heat.
10 4. See I am brushing up on my military lingo. Actually Jane has been eaten by the lab monster again but Thor looks bored so I will take him for a walk & exercise my green thumb too.
Thanks, Bucky typed. & for earlier. Tell Jane thx too. He tossed the phone onto the coffee table before he could see what she replied. "Taken care of. You're off the hook."
Steve sat down on the edge of the couch. "Did you just guilt someone into transplanting your flowers?"
"I asked nicely."
Steve's phone dinged; he glanced at it. "Ah. Bruce. Wants to know if you're staying hydrated -- I think that's a yes -- and whether you're having any other symptoms." His impish grin, which was 100% pure ten-year-old Steve Rogers, made Bucky's heart sink even before he said, "Should I ask about the color of your urine?"
"Steven. Go fuck yourself."
Steve grinned and rattled off a quick text, then dropped his phone on the coffee table next to Bucky's.
"Instant communication without moving from the couch," Bucky remarked. "Kinda convenient sometimes, living in the future."
"They had that in our day, Buck. It was called a telephone then too. Now drink your orange juice," Steve said, and stole a cookie.