The third day of Bucky being an earlier bird than Steve, Steve found him asleep, leaning on the kitchen counter. Bucky was still in his pajamas. There was a glass of orange juice spilled over the marble countertop, and Bucky’s head rested on the cabinet door behind him.
“Bucky?” Steve said, rubbing his sleepy eyes and walking slowly towards the snoozing soldier. He tapped his shoulder and Bucky started awake. He gasped, eyes widening as he jolted forward, losing his balance slightly. Steve caught him and held him up.
“Whoa there,” Steve said, steadying him, “late night again?” Bucky nodded, swallowing. When he finally could stand on his own, Bucky started to cough. Steve recognized it as how he coughed when he started coming down with something in the chilly New York winters.
“Aw, baby…” He said, inching closer to a still wheezing Bucky. Steve rubbed his back as he rode out his coughing fit. “You’ve been through it this week, huh?”
“How much sleep have you been getting lately?” Steve asked. Bucky cursed under his breath and coughed again. It sounded like he was trying to get something out of his throat.
“Answer me, please.” Steve commanded.
“It’s been three days,” Bucky said, just as surprised as Steve. Steve didn’t answer, dumbfounded. “I’m sorry, please don’t be mad,” Bucky fidgeted, closing the journal.
“No, darlin’, I’m not mad, I’m just surprised I didn’t notice,” Steve confessed, “I knew you weren’t doing well this week. I should’ve paid more attention.” Bucky didn’t validate or deny Steve’s claim. Steve took Bucky’s hands and rubbed his thumbs over Bucky’s knuckles. “I’m sorry I didn’t notice.”
Bucky didn’t answer for a moment. “Let’s stop being sorry, p...pl..plea-” Bucky cut himself off with a sneeze. “Bless you, baby,” Steve said, reaching for a tissue. He handed it to Bucky and stood, guiding him back to bed. “Let’s get you settled d-”
“I’m fine,” Bucky said, cutting him off, not budging from his leaning position on the kitchen counter. “I don’t need to go back to bed, I’ll just get some coffee and I’ll be fine.”
“Buck, you fell asleep while pouring orange juice, for God’s sake. You’re sleeping.”
“Please, Stevie, I’ll be oka-” Bucky sneezed again. The sneeze was followed by another coughing fit. While Bucky was wheezing, Steve placed a hand on his forehead. The coughing subsided and he pulled away. Though he was hot, Bucky was shivering. It must be a really high fever.
“Jesus, you’re burning up, love…” Steve narrowed his eyes in concern and moved in to action quickly. He grabbed a blanket from a basket on the other side of the living room and tossed it to Bucky. Back when they were younger, Bucky would make Steve sleep without a blanket to get his fevers to break faster, but Steve needed Bucky to rest, so he gave him the blanket. Steve motioned for Bucky to lie down in the living room. He hesitated at first, but he was too tired to fight the stubborn Steve Rogers.
Steve poured a glass of water and set it on the coffee table. He placed a trash can by Bucky’s head in case he got sick. He kneeled on the floor by Bucky’s face and brushed away the flyaways on his forehead.
“What kept you from sleepin’, pumpkin?” Steve asked, more concerned than interrogative.
Bucky hesitated. “Nightmares. I was afraid to sleep… didn’t wanna wake you.” Bucky said, closing his eyes so he didn’t have to see Steve’s disappointment.
“Hey,” Steve said, “Look at me.” Bucky opened his eyes.
“Sorry…” he said in response, completely embarrassed.
“It’s alright, sweetheart. You never bother me.” Steve smiled, and when Bucky didn’t smile, he winked, making Bucky laugh, short and dry. “You get some rest, okay, love?” Bucky nodded sleepily, closing his eyes and curling into the blanket.
“I love you,” Bucky said, barely awake.
“I love you too, sunshine.”
Four hours and not a single nightmare later, Bucky was still asleep. Steve had to go about tending to Bucky very gently. He was a light sleeper, so Steve was careful not to make any noise. Steve checked his temperature before picking up a book. He finished it and read a couple magazines while Bucky snoozed on the couch.
About halfway through a National Geographic, the phone rang.
Steve jumped, starled. “Shit,” Steve said, moving quickly to the kitchen counter to silence the noise. “Shit, shit, shit, shit!” He mumbled to himself. He picked up the phone aggressively, still trying to be quiet.
“Hello?” He said, just above a whisper.
“Hi! This is Charlie from the Better Business Bureau. I’m collecting opinions for a few surveys on local businesses. May I have a moment of your time, please?” the telemarketer said in a sugary business voice.
“No! And please never call this number again!” Steve said, annoyed at the intrusion on his silent day. He set the phone down and listened for any other noise. Steve breathed in deeply when he realized Bucky was still asleep.
Just as he turned to grab something from the fridge, Bucky groaned. Steve sighed and walked back to the couch. He knelt down by Bucky, who’s eyes were still half closed.
“Steve-” Bucky started, hoarse and high pitched. Clearing his throat, he tried again. “Steve, what time is it?”
“It’s one-thirty.” Steve said, guiding the sweaty hair out of Bucky’s face. “You hungry, babydoll?” Bucky nodded, still a little clouded from sleep.
“Ya know,” Steve said, “I’ll let you watch some TV while I heat up something for you to eat since you slept so good, okay?” Bucky nodded again, internally smiling when Steve’s Brooklyn drawl crept back into his voice. Steve Rogers tried so hard to hide it, but the Steve that Bucky knew at home never let his accent show through.
Steve passed Bucky the remote and went off to the kitchen. Bucky turned on a nature documentary and watched the polar bears intently, only being interrupted by a cough every so often. Steve loved this about him; Bucky was full of so much pain, but he never missed an opportunity for knowledge.
Sitting down next to Bucky with two bowls of chicken noodle soup, Steve smiled. “So this stuff is supposed to cure you right?”
Bucky smiled back, taking a spoonful of the hot liquid in his mouth. He swallowed it and said, “Worked for you back in the day.”
“I think that had something to do with my mom making it.” Steve said, remembering his mother fondly. Bucky nodded. Bucky loved Sarah. She found out about them being together by intercepting a message Steve had written in morse code. Steve lied about the message’s content, but Bucky was honest. Sarah was always supportive of them, right up until she died.
They sat in silence, finishing their soup and watching polar bears cubs play with each other, until Bucky yawned.
“Back to bed!” Steve said, standing quickly and readjusting the blanket around Bucky. He whined a bit in protest.
“Steve, lemme move to the bed, please. My neck’s stiff and you don’t get sick.” Bucky said, finding the energy to stand on his own. He started walking to their bedroom when Steve scooped him up in his arms, carrying him bridal style.
“You need to save your energy.” Steve said, grinning.
“Punk.” Bucky said, his voice gravelly. He poked Steve in the ribs, making him grunt. He threw Bucky on the bed.
“You’re in for it now, troublemaker!” Steve jumped on top of Bucky and tickled him until Bucky was laughing so hard he was wheezing again. Catching his breath, he used all his strength to flip them over, but was breathing heavy by the time he accomplished his task. Steve didn’t fight back, but instead craned his neck upwards to kiss Bucky. He leaned into the kiss, but pulled away after a moment, still attempting to breath normally.
“What, you got asthma or something?” Steve joked, sitting up. Bucky straddled his hips. He laughed, an inexplicably beautiful sound, and Steve gazed at him in awe.
“And you’ve got a staring problem, punk.” Bucky nearly giggled, riled up from the events that had just transpired.
“Only cause you’re beautiful.” Steve said, still staring. Bucky blushed, still not used to Steve calling him beautiful. It had been months since Thanos; they’d had plenty of time to settle down and live their lives, but Steve’s compliments still took Bucky by surprise. How could he be beautiful?
When Bucky didn’t say anything, didn’t do anything, Steve ushered Bucky into a more comfortable position on the bed. Steve kissed Bucky’s fingers and started to move up to his wrist.
Wrist to elbow, elbow to bicep, bicep to cheek, cheek to forehead… no ounce of Steve’s love was spared. Pure reverence flowed from Steve’s lips as he left trails of kisses along Bucky’s skin.
He finally connected his lips once more with Bucky’s. Bucky closed his eyes, finally calm again. Steve connected their foreheads for a moment. He laid down next to Bucky, wrapping him in his arms as Bucky fell asleep once again. Steve holds him tight enough to make Bucky feel like he belongs.
“What do I have to do to make you believe?”