It's funny, in a not at all funny way, how some things don't change - or at least haven't yet. One of them is that Bucky still has difficulty asking for things.
Actually, that doesn't really do it justice at all. It goes well beyond that. It goes all the way to - for instance - how if Steve were to stop buying new notebooks, he's pretty sure Bucky would go back to finding pieces of scrap paper and thin boxboard, and if he ran out of that he'd just stop writing notes, which since there are a bunch of things - like reading - where the notes are almost a compulsive part of it, means a bunch of stuff would just . . . stop. Even if Bucky needs them not to.
Even Steve explicitly saying Bucky should tell him when he's running out doesn't seem to help, and Steve's checked; even asking hey do you need more gets a split-second hesitation before the yes. And it's not like remembering to get the notebooks regularly's a problem or anything like that. It's what it means that worries Steve, still. It's what it means that's the problem.
It's the same for a lot of things - clothes, books, specific foods, whatever. If it's something both of them use, like toothpaste, or something for the condo, like drywall mud or paint, there's no problem: Bucky sticks stuff on the household shopping list no trouble, or lets Steve know that they're out. But if it's something only Bucky wants or uses -
Then it's a problem.
"Now you see that," Sam says on a visit, when Steve brings it up while they have coffee, "sounds exhausting. Like, trying to keep up with that. "
Steve huffs a little bit of a maybe-laugh, leans forward with his elbows on his knees and sighs. "I'm not gonna pretend it isn't," he says. "Or, I dunno, maybe anxiety-inducing's the better way to put it, because I'm always worried I'm missing something. At this point I'm just kinda glad the stuff for coffee seems to fall under the stuff-for-both-of-us heading." And he is. Their coffee's basically a touchstone, a kind of consumable talisman.
"But honestly," he adds, "I'm just grousing. I'm pretty sure there's nothing that'll change it yet, and that if he could fix it he would. I don't think it's won't, I think it's can't, and bringing that kind of stuff up, or even pointing it out since half the time he already knows . . . " he makes a kind of defeated gesture, sits up and reaches for his mocha.
"You think he'd just end up embarrassed and self-conscious," Sam fills in for him and Steve gives him a level look for the weak wording.
"'Humiliated', Sam," he says. "The word is 'humiliated'. And it's only the word because we don't have a more intense one for that feeling. Wouldn't you be?"
At that Sam grimaces in acknowledgement. "Given that in fact I kind of pride myself," he says, making it a bit dry just, Steve thinks, to move away from the sharp edges of the preceding thoughts that Steve doesn't like either, "in being able to communicate what I want and-or need in a clear and confident if considerate and thoughtful manner - yeah," he says, dropping the slightly self-mocking tinge, "yeah, I would." He looks thoughtful. "Does offering stuff work?"
"Not really," Steve says. "Least not right out, and not verbally. Like, ask want a sandwich and the answer'll be no." He pauses. "Actually a lot of the time it's not even the word. Headshake, something like that. But," he goes on, "say 'I'm making a sandwich, should I make you one?', then the answer seems to at least have something to do with whether or not he's got any interest in food. Or if I leave stuff somewhere in a pretty clear way - "
Sam still looks thoughtful, and then he sighs. "That is . . . well" he says, picking up his frap, "that's deeply fucked up, Steve."
"Yeah," Steve agrees, "and I don't really want to think about how you get that, and that specific, because I'm pretty sure it won't give me any solutions anyway and a bucket of drywall mud can last us a whole month these days."
"Hate to ruin that," Sam agrees. He takes a drink and considers Steve for a minute before he asks, "What's got it on your mind? Seems to be looming pretty large."
Steve gives him a lopsided look. "You counsellor-ing at me there?" he asks, and Sam waggles his free hand.
"Only a little, and only since it's so obviously bugging you," he replies. "Come on, Steve. If you really just wanted to bitch you'd be bitching at Stark, who'd probably still give you advice you didn't even want but could completely ignore, since you didn't ask him. You're never just grousing at me." At Steve's look Sam grins, and holds it long enough that Steve has to quirk a smile.
"Okay, maybe," he admits. "I'm looking at renovating the kitchen - you be quiet," he adds, and Sam, whose grin had been getting wider, bursts out laughing, "I like doing it and actually I'm pretty sure me doing it does actually help. Claiming space, I don't know. But the point is, it's gonna make the living-room pretty unliveable for the duration."
He swirls the remainder of the mocha around in the cup, to remix any of the syrup that might have precipitated out, and says, "There's lots of ways to deal with that, except since it's only gonna affect him, really, since I'll be doing the renovating, I'm chewing over how to figure out which one's the right one."
"Any ideas?" Sam asks, and Steve sighs.
"Not really," he says. "I've thought up a handful things I think aren't the right answer, including staying at the Tower, letting him just sort it out, and asking."
"Good luck," Sam says, solemnly enough that Steve reaches over to whack his knee with the back of his hand.
"Thanks," he says, as Sam grins again.
It's the weather that eventually gives him the idea, because it getting warmer doesn't mean Bucky stops passively seeking out the sun - not going so far as to move the couch, for instance, but going from bedroom to living-room to dining-room table as the sun moves - it just means that eventually, at about the point Steve's also pondering whether a low setting on the portable AC and Bucky having a blanket and him not might solve the upcoming mild problem of night-time, Bucky's actually wearing shirts with short sleeves and only one of them at a time.
He spent a lot of the last summer sitting at the table on the balcony, Steve recalls.
A couple hours later, Steve's got both the computer screen and the tablet open with outdoor furniture sites up; he's not sure how subtle he's succeeding at being, but he's not sure how subtle he has to be, since this is one of those areas of fucked up Steve's pretty sure Bucky knows is there and tries to find his own ways around, as much as he can.
So eventually Bucky's leaning over his shoulder asking him what he's doing, and Steve pretends that actively fishing for what Bucky wants is indecision, and a few days for shipping later there's a futon with a pretty damn comfortable cushion that also happens to be waterproof and made for outdoors sitting out on the balcony at an angle, with one of the chairs from the balcony table living inside the door and the table and the remaining chair over in a corner.
And because it's already there, when Steve starts making noise and mess Bucky just moves out there without comment and without changing anything else. Steve figures it'll do.