Bucky would rather have his teeth pulled, sans anesthesia , than admit his weaknesses. He’s never been one to lay belly-up and bare himself to the world, flaws and all for everyone to see.
He’d never subject himself to that kind of torture—all eyes on him, judging and dissecting him like a bug under a magnifying glass.
When Hydra took everything away from him? That’s all he was. A bug under a magnifying glass. Another puppet to dance for them, execute their orders like the perfect little solder they’d engineered him to be.
He bit off more than he could chew in the Recovery Department when he released himself from Hydra’s stranglehold, and it took a lot of pride to admit that he couldn’t shoulder his getting better all by himself.
But, by the grace of God himself, one thing remained constant in his life—as constant as the Northern Star.
Steve, Steve, Steve.
Still so pink-cheeked and eager, just as the day he met him on the playground in Brooklyn , 1930. Wholesome and intact. Still also just as stubborn and hard-headed when faced with a challenge, never doing anything half-assed, and ready to devote himself religiously to everything he does.
Which, unsurprisingly, is the exact thing he does with Bucky’s recovery.
Steve pulled no punches. He insisted that Bucky stay in his quarters in Stark Tower, as beautiful and brazen as ever, leaving no margin for argument, and insisted that no, you cannot mess around with his brain, Tony, for fuck’s sake.
He graciously offered up his guest bedroom, albeit a bit dusty and sterile-looking, but he made Bucky feel welcome.
Which, he hasn’t felt in a long time.
He offered up his home and his time to help him recover, and if there is ever a time that Bucky is ungrateful, then by God—strike him dead right then and there.
Because only once in a lifetime do you get yourself a one Steve Rogers. And he’s not taking him for granted anymore, never again .
And when Bucky opened his mouth to utter a sentence— not the telegraphic speech he’d been using since Steve had first encountered him— to thank Steve for his unyielding kindness, he’d been met with an, of course, Buck, why wouldn’t I be anything other than kind to my best guy? As if it were the easiest answer in the world and not some monumentous exaltation.
He’s surprised he didn’t cry right then and there. Out of what? Out of joy , or shock, or jealousy? He can’t tell. But the least he could offer is a meek smile and start unpacking his few belongings.
He’s not quite ready with touching just yet, but he’d hug Steve so hard that his eyes would bulge right out of their sockets if he could.
He’s working his way up to that.
He knows that he’s been living in the same apartment as Bucky for a while now, but it still feels like he’s living by himself.
Bucky’s like a ghost, leaving no trace of his being there, and clearing out of the room before Steve even enters, like he’s able to read his mind. He lives up to his name that was given to him by Hydra— The Ghost .
He doesn’t want to think about that for too long.
Steve cooks all of the meals for the two of them, leaving a tray by Bucky’s closed bedroom door with a light knock, and then coming back up to take the plate away when he’s finished.
He tries his hardest not to make Bucky feel unwelcome in his home. Everything that he’s ever done has been dedicated to Bucky, making every decision on grounds of, what would Bucky think? Or, what would Bucky do?
He’s been gone on Bucky since the dawn of time and the fact that he’s willing to put being Captain America on hold until Bucky gets better, speaks words that he’d never be able to string together, even if he tried.
Of course, it makes him upset that Bucky doesn’t feel comfortable with him just yet, but he doesn’t blame him. He’s not fully even comfortable with himself yet, like a newborn foal just learning how to walk on its wobbly little legs.
Sam had told him just to give him his own time to gather himself together and then meet him with only encouragement from there on.
“Progress isn’t linear, Steve,” Sam said resigned, clasping his hands together like the trained therapist he is.
“I know,” he sagged, “It just feels like he doesn’t even want to be near me. Am I doing something wrong?”
“You’re doing everything exactly right.”
“Then why does it feel like I’m still living alone?”
Sam gives him a pitiful look. “You just need to give him time, man. He’ll come around. If he ever wants to reach out and get some therapy and treatment, you know where to find me.”
Steve gives a watery laugh. “I think you’re a little underqualified for that.”
“I’ve seen worse, Steve. I’ve dealt with worse. There’s just a... learning curve, is all. I don’t think I’ve met anyone with his history other than you,” he chuckles, “but I think I could be accommodating.”
“Thanks, man. I really appreciate it.”
“No problem. You’re doing everything right, Steve. Let him take the pace.”
Let him take the pace.
From then on, that’s exactly what he does.
He allows Bucky to warm up eventually, not pushing the envelope or making him feel like a cornered wild animal.
Eventually Bucky starts coming down for meals. Not in the same room as Steve, but it’s still progress. He eats his meals on the gigantic L-shaped sofa in the living room, watching some television show about space and some big blue box thing.
Steve still hasn’t really gotten the hang of using their TV, thus subsequently, is not caught up on most television shows. So sue him. He knows how to use the VCR, and that’s a start at least.
He cherishes the good days he has with Bucky, the moments where Bucky isn’t afraid to ask for what he wants. Bucky sometimes forgets that he has full autonomy over everything in his life.
So, when Bucky asks him shyly to show him how to use Amazon to order a metric fuckton of fuzzy blankets and pillows, his heart swells about a thousand sizes. He fights off the tears creeping in his eyes and orders them for Bucky, feeling overflowing with pride that Bucky feels comfortable to ask for things.
Because he knows that Bucky deserves all the comfort and good things in the world, and if he can’t provide him with that, then what’s the point of being here?
It’s all worth the tiny, awed smile that Bucky bestows him with as he picks up the big boxes addressed to him and carts them off to his room.
When he comes back up later in the day, Bucky’s door is left open a crack— the closest indication he could give Steve that it’s okay to come in to his room now. He makes the mistake of peeking in.
“Hi,” comes a small voice from underneath a mountain of blankets.
“Enjoying your new blankets, I see,” he laughs a bit, mirth tangled in his words.
“You hungry, Buck?”
“Yes,” his voice is muffled by the mountain of fluff, so it comes out more like, “ess.”
Bucky’s not acting averse, so he stays in the room a moment longer, hoping to wheedle a few more words out of him. Get him to be a bit more autonomous.
“You want anything specific?”
Bucky thinks for a moment. “Hot dogs.”
“Hot dogs?” He fights back a laugh.
“You got it, Buck. Hot dogs, coming right up.” He closes the door with a click and starts to get dinner ready.
It’s a few months later when Bucky’s nightmares start, full force.
Steve’s woken up by a loud thud and thrashing sound coming from the room adjacent to his, and a wounded cry.
Sam had told him to expect this, that Bucky wouldn’t be one hundred percent smooth sailing from here on. He said that he’d dealt with people who would break things, or hurt people, or worse, hurt themselves.
He took it upon himself to remove any objects that Bucky could possibly hurt himself with from his room. A gnawing guilt works its way from his stomach to his throat at admitting that he’d basically given Bucky the baby safety scissors, but it’s better safe than sorry.
He knows that Bucky could full well hurt himself with himself, what with his metal arm and other modifications Hydra has given him. But if it helps him sleep better at night knowing he essentially super-soldier -proofed Bucky’s room, then so be it.
Steve throws the sheets off of his body and his socked feet sweep lightly against the hardwood as he tentatively moves to Bucky’s door.
“Buck?” He taps at the door lightly, and the thrashing stops for a beat, so he turns the knob and edges into the room.
He sees Bucky’s listless form on the sheets, fluffy pink blanket strewn across the floor as well as all of the others. Bucky moans in his sleep, thrashing and crying out, words and moans caught in his throat.
“It’s okay, Buck, I’m here, you’re okay. It’s September 2 3 rd , and you’re in Stark Tower with me,” he croons, sitting sentinel like a silent protector at Bucky’s side.
If only he could forever protect him, shield him from scrutiny and from pain. He wishes that there were some way that he could transfer Bucky’s pain unto him. He never asked for this to happen to him, and he’s still feeling the effects. He doesn’t deserve that sort of weight.
Bucky’s breath finally catches up to him, his panting loud in the quiet, still room.
“Oh, Steve,” Bucky croaks, pulling Steve closer and pressing his forehead to his muscled shoulder.
“It’s okay, Bucky, I’m here now. You’re safe. I won’t let anyone hurt you here.”
Steve’s unsure if Bucky wants him to touch him, other than his forehead mooshed into his chest, so he respects his boundaries and keeps his arms stapled to his sides.
“I know, Steve.”
Bucky’s nightmares didn’t ease up after that point, the terrors making their appearance every night onward like clockwork.
Steve had done his best to calm him after them, just sit there and listen to his breathing slow down. Some sort of primal part of him just wants to keep Bucky in his arms and feel his heartbeat and match their breathing, just to make sure he’s still alive and safe.
This night is different, and makes Steve’s heart swell with pride that Bucky is becoming more and more comfortable in their home. Their home.
He’s waited years, decades, eons , just to be able to say those words. This is his home now, with Bucky, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Steve is woken up out of the middle of his sleep to feel the left side of his bed dip and groan, and the covers being ruffled and pulled.
He opens his sleep-bleary eyes to see Bucky nestled in his bed, rings under his eyes and deep lines on his face, but still as beautiful as ever and the sight steals the breath from his lungs.
“Hey, Buck, what’s up?” he asks while feigning placidity with having Bucky so close to him, trying his best not to pervade Bucky and make him flee like a frightened street cat.
“I had a bad dream.”
“You wanna talk about it?”
He already knows that Bucky won’t want to talk about it, but he tries to get him to open up just the slightest bit, just to try. To let him know that it’s okay to talk about these things now.
“No,” he decides, meek and small, exhaling a long-held breath into the pillow.
“Okay,” he says simply, for a loss of what else to say that wouldn’t make Bucky feel cornered.
Bucky just turns to face him in bed, grey eyes big and doe-like, and outstretches his arms, a silent plea for contact—for comfort.
What kind of man would Steve be, to deny Bucky of what he wants?
No man at all, is what he’d be.
He meets Bucky in the middle and comes closer, pulling him easily to his chest. Bucky lets out a soft puff of air and a quiet hmmf of contentment and snuggles himself right up to Steve, easy as breathing and no second thoughts.
Tears threaten to escape Steve’s eyes, at the silent submission that Bucky’s offered to him, like a gift all wrapped up in pretty paper and a glittering bow. Secret and sweet, just for him.
His love for Bucky wants to just spill right out of his chest like a tsunami; words of love unsaid ache to leave his throat.
He loves Bucky.
Not like a friend, or a brother, but as something more.
And for some reason, that revelation changes nothing for him.
In books and movies, love has always been portrayed as some sort of monumental discovery. Life changing and illuminating, burning bright and golden. The character’s life was dull and grey, and then suddenly, headfirst, they fall in love and the universe rings out a harmonious chord and then their life is colorful and wonderous.
His life has always been full of color. Even when his body was small and frail, addled with illness and knocking on Death’s door. And it’s all because he’s had the same person by his side all the time.
He’s just always loved Bucky. He’s never needed to find it—he's had it beside him all along.
It’s as simple as that.
That small little invitation to touching that Bucky had given Steve that night seemed to break the levee for his touch-aversion, and evolved into his wanting to be cuddled twenty-four-seven .
Not that Steve is complaining, because having a warm and sleepy Bucky dozing on his chest at almost all times is a thing he thought he could only get in the deepest recesses of his brain.
“It’s okay if you want to touch me,” Bucky says, apropos of nothing at all.
“I’m touching you right now, Buck,” he says, arms tightening in their hold on Bucky’s waist.
“No,” he says, and Steve can practically see the cogs and gears turning in his head. “I mean, more.”
“Of course, Buck, I could do that.”
“I just—I mean, it’s just I—” he falters, unsure of what words to say and the right order to say them in.
“You just what, hm?” he pries gently, grinning at Bucky all sprawled out on top of him.
Bucky’s face is painted a deep red, spreading all the way to his chest. All at once, Steve understands just exactly what he’s asking for, and his heart skips in his chest like it’s 1940 again and he’s still got that heart murmur.
“It’s your call, Buck,” he said simply.
“It’s always been you and me, Steve. You’re it for me.”
He feels like an idiot, just sitting there staring at Bucky, somehow thinking that the longer he stares at him the easier the words will come to him.
He can only think of the constant chant inside his head, repeating I love you, I love you, I love you, like some sort of mantra that could cure his every ailment, soothe his every wound, but the time just isn’t right.
It feels like it never is.
“I waited for you, for so long, Bucky. I—” his voice cracks, “I never thought I’d ever get you again.”
“I’m here now. ‘M not goin’ anywhere.”
At that, Bucky perches up on his forearms on Steve’s chest to plant a light peck on his cheek.
His face is scratchy from not having shaved in a while, and his lips are chapped and faded from gnawing at them. He smells like Steve’s shampoo and sweat and something that’s all Bucky— hasn’t changed in the slightest since they shared a bed in 1939.
His heart is no longer in his chest.
It’s at home lying right on his chest, puffing breaths sweetly as he drifts off to sleep, using him as a human pillow.