He comes across The Velveteen Rabbit by accident and reads it once.
He doesn't remember throwing the tablet. He doesn't remember much of the story, or if he even finished it, or if he'd gone on to something else after it. Doesn't remember, like something in his head turned around and started trying to cut the words out before they sank in too deep.
The tablet screen shatters when it hits the tile floor in the kitchen, and he cuts himself picking up the glass; doesn't hurt so as he'd normally notice, but the single sharp bright moment is like slamming a door shut or turning off a light, and most of the last two hours are gone.
Bucky finishes cleaning up the glass, puts the remnant of the tablet on the desk beside the computer. The cut isn't deep enough to bother doing much more than rinse and ignore. He makes coffee, makes a face at the quiet beep of the timer from his phone and digs out a Clif bar, eats it without tasting and then turns on the radio.
(The thing is, they're all gonna die. They're all already dead. Not enough food, not enough water, too much work: they're all fucking well dead men walking. And you tell yourself that and maybe you even believe it and you still don't do what you should and go out killing Them, because you can't stop hope )
Means to turn on the radio.
( and Dugan has a wife the Brit's got kids, Christ, Jones is a fucking kid, and that's )
He's still standing in the kitchen. The coffee in his cup is cold; the bar's half-eaten; the condo's silent, no, the condo's quiet nothing's ever silent not anymore always some sound somewhere down to the hum of electricity in wires. He meant to turn on the radio. He's been standing here long enough for the coffee he poured to get cold.
(He isn't standing.)
He's still standing in the kitchen.
(He isn't standing anywhere.)
(and they're all dead anywhere and maybe he's tired of waiting so that's why when they come he
and when starts, when it starts to hurt and burn he starts to scream he thinks of Steve and home and shoves it away as fast as he can because no no no - not bringing that here, starts to pray then it's almost more funny than it hurts because fuck that fuck you fuck Him fuck all of it and he ends up without much
name rank number. not an answer. weren't any questions. nothing in his head they wanted nothing in his head they ever wanted just, just
words wrap a wall of words around and make everything else unreal and maybe it'll hurt less
maybe he'll hurt less
maybe feel less pain feel less sick feel less used feel less
The second cup of coffee he poured's cold again and his phone has . . . three? three messages he doesn't remember hearing the chime for. He's leaning hard on the counter, both hands, hard enough and long enough there's a line biting into his right palm from the edge, and he doesn't remember when that happened. He looks at the phone and the script's Latin and he can't read it, slips out of his head and then back like a listing ship, so he can read Steve and Elizabeth and Steve again.
(the others are all dead. must be dead. maybe dead
maybe he's dead; maybe this is Hell; maybe there never was anyone else, maybe none of it's real, maybe this is just Hell and it spins out story after story maybe the blue fire just rained down and that wasn't bad enough so now there's this
maybe he's dead or maybe he's just dying and all all all of it will stop, oh God you fucking bastard please make it stop
name word number like a rope in a flood clutching and clinging and knowing you'll drown)
He's standing in a different room now, couch-armchair-end-tables-coffee-table, stuffed toy in the armchair, window right in front, and he knows where this is. Knows. Knows? It's . . . home?
(touch. touch that doesn't hurt. hands, human, people, person, man, face -
familiar face, but wrong. familiar face but wrong and can't be, can't be here, can't remember why; familiar voice says
No. Wrong. Different. Where?
Unfamiliar voice says -
- voice that goes with the face says, Bucky, it's me, and it's like sun - )
" . . .Bucky?"
(But. Unfamiliar voice wrong voice familiar face? is it? something not right something off -
familiar voice says, it's
- and the voice says, Soldier - )
And it snaps. Everything shatters, there aren't two fucking moments, no three fucking moments trying to exist all at once anymore, all at the same time; snaps and shatters and this is the one, this one, this is the one that's real, because this is the one with the pressure of Steve's hand around his left forearm, the fingertips of Steve's other hand digging just barely into his shoulder and this is the one he doesn't know what happens next, can't see everything unrolled in front of him like a fucking road to be dragged down.
This is the one that's real, except that word feels sick in his head; he steps back enough to pull away, tries to get a fucking grip, says, "It's fine, I'm sorry, it's fine."
Glances at Steve's face and the worry and the frown means two times strangle him for a second, the third bleeds in and he has to look away, look somewhere else, try to get ahold of his breathing.
Steve doesn't say anything. And that's . . . different, different enough. And the shattered tablet's there and Bucky feels like he's six thousand fucking miles away; he says, "I broke that," struggling for normal, struggling for real, struggling for words and finding them strange when he finds them, nodding at the tablet.
"I noticed," Steve says, carefully. "Why?"
Something. Something about . . . real? It's like trying to catch fucking fruit-flies when you're drunk, so Bucky shakes his head, "Can't actually remember," he admits, then thinks maybe he shouldn't admit to that. "Something about - "
Steve's reaching over, catching his arm again, pulling his left hand carefully away from his right arm. "You're going to break your own wrist," he says. Something about that digs at something in Bucky's head, warped and wrong.
"Who cares?" he asks, two places shivering together again, two times, rancid stink blooming at the back of his throat. In one of them Steve looks younger and in the other he doesn't and that's Bucky's fault.
And the words are wrong, for every thought there's two words that mean the same thing -
"I do, for a start," Steve says, in one of them - one time, one language, and Bucky hates how he looks, and somehow here it's harder to lie than it is in the other place, the other time -
"It would heal," he says, dismissive.
"It would hurt," Steve counters. "And yes, that matters." And Steve's upset and that matters, but it's hard to remember how, why, what it means. And for a minute the dark and the noise is realer, louder, more -
"When something's broken beyond use," he says, "it doesn't really matter what happens to it after that," and he's quoting something, saying something he heard but he loses it, loses the voice in his ear, and -
"You're not a God-damned thing," Steve says, reaching over to catch his right shoulder, pull him back; Bucky hadn't realized he'd been moving away. "Bucky, look at me."
His hand touches the side of Bucky's neck, his jaw; and smell and sound get fucked up again, for a second, for just a second until Steve's hand doesn't move and it . . .stops.
"You're not a thing," Steve says, letting his voice drop a little, frown etching its line on his forehead the way it does when he's worried. "You don't have 'use', that's not how it fucking works. You're not - You're a person," Steve tells him, thumb brushing across Bucky's jaw. "You're my friend. You're important. Okay?"
Reality wins. It wins with a backwash in Bucky's head like sewer water fouled with decay, but it wins, and he can feel Steve's hands like his body's actually his, mostly, and he can't smell corpses or old blood anymore. He exhales carefully, closes his eyes and rubs at them with right finger and thumb, resting his left hand on Steve's forearm. "Sorry," he says, mouth twisting a little, letting Steve pull his right hand away from his face.
"Nothing to be sorry for," Steve says, leaning his forehead against Bucky's, the same bullshit he always says, as if it doesn't rip him up any time Bucky does this - but Bucky can't get ahold of that argument and he lets it go.
After a second Steve asks, "What in God's name were you looking at?"
Bucky exhales a bad imitation of a laugh. "I honestly don't fucking remember," he says, truthful. "Everything fucking slid - Austria, here, something I can't even fucking remember either." Something he doesn't want to remember. Not even now. "I lost it all."
He gets distracted by a side-thought. "I never told you about Austria."
"No," says Steve, his voice now going a little patiently resigned and chagrined, words making his skull buzz ever so slightly against Bucky's. "You were lying and I was ignorant, and somehow every time it might've come up there was a magical distraction. You were good at that."
He's probably not really aware that his thumb moves against Bucky's jaw, or that he shifts closer; most of the time he doesn't notice that kind of thing. That's why he's so fucking easy to read, most of the time, why Stark's comments aside Bucky doesn't need to read Steve's fucking mind, when his face and his body scrawl everything out there for him to see, and right now everything there is to see says -
And there's the itch that always comes after the fucking dissociation and the last thing Bucky wants to do is think anymore, so he tilts his head and pulls Steve's mouth to his and thank fuck Steve is starting to learn how not to overthink shit and doesn't try to stop to ask, to throw more words Bucky doesn't want, or anything else. Just slides his hand back fingers threading through Bucky's hair, cradles the back of his head and -
And it's relief. The thing that chokes Bucky at the end of one memory, the thing that twists and throws him face first into the black in the other, the thing right here, right now, his right hand on Steve's face and Steve's mouth open and inviting against his. Relief and gratitude enough to make him shake, did once, more than once but most importantly that once, so many fucking decades he doesn't remember past, that sent him groping for something, anything to say that wasn't oh thank God thank God thank fucking God it's you or anything else he didn't have a right to think, let alone say.
Never had a right to, because you selfish son of a bitch, how dare you be grateful, how dare you be happy that he's here in Hell with you, how dare you be relieved he got his stupid reckless self-martyring ass involved and then threw away a miracle new life to come find you and now he's going to get his fucking self killed. How dare you, how dare you how fucking dare you.
(How dare you want to go home now, so much so much, how dare you look at what comes next and think fuck, why, and oh God he gets his war, he gets to be what he wanted now, you'll never leave because he'll be here and you'll die here after all - )
So you find something else, so he found something else: something else to feel and someone else to be. So he stood up instead (and in the dark - no he doesn't want to think about that, he's not going to think about that, fuck that fuck you), became someone else instead and not the pathetic wreck who looked through all the fog in his head, who heard it's Steve and could only think Steve, Steve - thank God thank God thank fucking God.
He was good at it. Being someone else. But it's a fucking lie, and he knows it. Was. Is. Will be, always. In the fucking lab, every fucking day after (and in the dark, and - ) when every flashback passes when every nightmare breaks . . .
And, like now, every time the silent answer to selfish need is instant and it's yes and it's yes I want you and it's not a lie.
It's always been pathetic and fuck knows it's selfish and it's Steve so the answer is still thank fucking Christ, it's you.
And kiss me, fuck me - Christ, just touch me, don't stop, don't leave, just stay, if you're here I know where I am, who I am, what I am, just stay.
Please, please stay.
And then relief, again, because Steve does.
(And guilt, again, because Steve does.)
Here, though, and now, Steve's hands work under Bucky's shirt, palms pressed against his back one above the other, fingers curling to drag the tips across his skin from spine to ribs and none of the rest matters. None of anything has to matter, except hearing Steve's breath catch at Bucky's hand skimming over Steve's throat to his collar-bone and back, Steve's pulse beating briefly under Bucky's fingers and thumb as they brush over warm skin. Except not just hearing but feeling Steve moan and pull him close as Bucky works biting kisses down the line of Steve's jaw to the spot that makes Steve's brain light up like a fucking firework.
That he passes over, mouth barely brushing skin, right hand cradling Steve's head and left resting on his shoulder. So when he bites the shell of Steve's ear and breathes in the smell of Steve's skin and hair, Steve protests, "Christ, Bucky," his top hand clutching at Bucky's shoulder under his shirt.
Bucky's needled him for blasphemy before, considering how hard he fucking works to avoid it everywhere else, and Steve usually counters that it isn't blasphemy if you're actually calling witness; the way he says the words times like now you could almost believe that. Believe that he thinks this is holy.
Steve gets his revenge by stepping back enough to get Bucky's shirt off - and Bucky cooperates because why the hell wouldn't he? - and then pulling Bucky back in with one hand fingers-spread against Bucky's lower back, fingers sliding under the waistbands of jeans and underwear. Steve works the fingers of the other hand against the back curve of Bucky's skull, tangling in Bucky's hair and guiding his head to tilt over and back so Steve can kiss down the side of his throat.
And Bucky's still not sure if the shivering sparks that run down his ribs, along his collar and across his shoulder to run white-hot along his spine when Steve makes it to the join-scar are really there or just in his head but it doesn't matter, he's still the one catching his balance now.
His left hand curves around the back of Steve's head, Steve's neck, holding him there. And it's easier, keeps getting easier to believe, to trust he's not going to fuck up, miscalculate, that nothing's going to break under that hand, between those fingers because he did something wrong. Bucky's other hand finds Steve's shirt, twists in it, because the slow, open-mouthed, sucking kisses Steve presses one after the other from the front to the top of his shoulder are making his breath ragged.
And he's one more from shoving Steve down onto something - floor futon table he doesn't care - when Steve raises his head to bite at the edge of Bucky's jaw and say, "Come to bed with me," and then like he can hear the thought Bucky's not half-finished having says, "Please. I want you to."
And fuck, Steve.
There's a curl of thought, or maybe an echo, snarl and relief again curled into you and your fucking beds but it doesn't get as far as his throat, his tongue, languages, words. He catches Steve's mouth again, kisses him hard and then manages, "Fine," and pushes him away a little.
Enough to remember the fucking room and where he is in it, and what direction the God-damned bedroom is.
It's not that difficult. Fuck, sometimes he wishes it was that difficult. That he could actually lose track. That he could stop knowing where, where everything is, where he is in relation, doors windows weapons shit that could be weapons all of it - that he could lose it all and not care that he doesn't know, not pay for it in fear. And while he's wishing he'd like the rest of his fucking memory back, in fucking order with detailed fucking notes, and a God-damned time machine, and world peace.
Whatever the fuck that even looks like.
For a heartbeat all of that hits him so hard he feels dizzy, reaches out to touch the wall with his right hand to make sure it's still there, still feels like paint over drywall over wood and concrete and not something else. God knows what else. Under his skin, in the under-his-skin that isn't real and doesn't have to be to feel like this, it's like hooks start to pull or work their way down, scraping the inside of him raw, laying everything open. He touches the wall and knows it's real. Just.
He's walked most of the way down the hall, with his hand trailing fingertips against that wood and paint, and he hasn't noticed: a little glitch, a little blip that makes him fight against letting his mouth twist up. Doesn't matter. Doesn't mean anything. Not right now.
Steve's standing at the door to the bedroom, leaning against the frame, shirt gone. And Bucky doesn't . . . look at Steve, that often. Doesn't bother to see. Like he forgets, like he doesn't have to. Steve is voice and mouth, the shape of words, how ideas come out of his head, and warmth and touch and smell, the way everyone has their own and nobody has words for. Bucky breathes him and hears him and knows exactly how he'll move but he doesn't look. Not to see more than expression, body-language. Not to see more than change. So sometimes, he forgets things.
Sometimes he forgets that Steve's objectively fucking gorgeous, even to people who aren't him. Is. Always has been - same eyes, same light, same mouth and the way it moves to smile. Was a time it didn't matter, not the way it does now, but never a time it wasn't true.
In Bucky's head there's a long time ago and there's now and they're not fighting now they just layer one on top of the other through what stays the same: same eyes, same light, same Steve, and under all of it the skinless question Jesus Christ, Steve, why the Hell are you bothering with me.
Because there isn't. No light, not his - no light, no life but a kind of laughter in the back of Bucky's head, all twisted up and broken: we traded places, you and me, but it's okay, you deserved it more than I ever did.And laughter. And if he doesn't shut it up, shut that kind of thought away there might be more, this suspended second might drag on too long and Steve's face change and the laughter will think worrying you again and it'll go . . . wrong . . . so Bucky shoves it away, pushes away from the wall and take the steps that close the distance between them.
And if maybe sometimes he forgets about what he sees all the God-damned time, he doesn't forget this. Remembers maybe he was more careful, once, hands more careful and mouth less demanding in the kiss but then Steve'd been uncertain and hesitant and now -
Right now Steve kisses like he's the one grasping desperately at the real world, like he's the one who can only trust what presses against his skin. One hand curves on the back of Bucky's head and the other flattens against Bucky's lower back to pull him in, so that the steps toward the bed take both of them and turn them until Steve can let go and push Bucky down onto it.
The coverlet's cool against his skin as Bucky stretches out on his back; the shape of the words you better not just fucking stand there has just enough time to unfold in two heartbeats of Steve looking down at him with an expression Bucky can't make sense of except that it's almost more raw, more open than he can take - then Steve's kneeling over him, leaning on one arm and bending his head to press his mouth to the hollow of Bucky's throat.
Bucky cradles Steve's head with his left hand, runs the right down along Steve's spine, fingertips just barely digging into skin. They're both still in way too many fucking clothes, and not for the first time Bucky can't actually be fucking bothered undoing the button of Steve's jeans, or his own: his left hand snaps them off while Steve kisses him again, slow and deep. And Steve's mouth is distracting, gorgeous and distracting enough that for a minute Bucky loses track of what he's doing. Loses everything but the kiss and doesn't care, every movement of Steve's lips and press of his tongue going straight to Bucky's groin and the base of his spine, hot and bright.
It takes something, to get here, to find this, to find Steve giving and uninhibited and open - as far as Bucky knows nobody else has done it, yet, and that's good because it means anyone else would deserve it less than he does. He finds Steve's hips with both hands, slides fingers under the waistband of jeans and underwear and pushes them down far enough for Steve to take the hint, kick the last of his clothes the rest of the way off and help Bucky do the same with his.
Then there's just skin against naked skin, what he wants, his and Steve's, nothing in the way. Bucky pulls Steve to him, against him, hooks one leg over Steve's and rests his right hand on Steve's neck, thumb stroking over skin until Steve groans and rests his forehead on Bucky's shoulder. Bucky breathes against the side of his neck, brushes parted lips over the right place and Steve's hips twitch, his erection sliding against Bucky's and against Bucky's stomach, familiar and right.
And everything shifts and sharpens, feels as if it slides under Bucky's skin like a knife. He bites where he was kissing, making Steve gasp; rakes the fingers of his left hand up Steve's back and kisses and bites down Steve's throat as Steve takes weight on his arm. Before he can ask, Bucky pushes up against him, fingers curved around the back of Steve's neck again, and says, "You. In me. Now."
Each part gets its own breath. All of them make Steve's breath catch, make his eyes go dark, and that's the only reason Bucky bothered with them against the pressure in his head, in his spine - to watch that, to pull that in. To know he can do that. Still do that. Even now.
He brushes his hand down over Steve's shoulder as Steve gets his knees under him and leans over to reach for the night-table drawer; he flattens his palm along the top of Steve's chest where the faint flush is starting to spread, to match the flush across Steve's cheeks. He slides both his hands up Steve's thighs to the creases at his hips, thumbs stroking up the line of those, one feeling skin and the other just heat and both making it so that Steve's hands are unsteady with the lube he's trying to get.
Steve's left hand rests against Bucky's stomach, palm warm and still and fingers curved just barely towards his side, thumb stroking at his lower abdomen, while Steve slides two fingers into him. Bucky closes his eyes as Steve slides his other hand down to rest on the inside of Bucky's thigh; his fingers twist and curl, pushing deeper in and Bucky arches his back at it and against Steve's mouth on the points of his hips.
Bucky's breath catches, hard, when Steve flicks his tongue over the muscle just at the point of join between thigh and hip (gracilis the very back of his mind tosses up, and he lets it dissipate along with the knowledge of what happens when it's cut - ); he gasps when Steve licks up the underside of his cock and then takes it in his mouth, his fingers driving in one more time.
Last time. Bucky catches Steve's right wrist in his left hand, Steve's jaw carefully with his left, and guides him back up, pulls Steve to him, and it's not a hint so much as a demand in mostly the only place he can still make them, stop fucking playing and fuck me. Bucky's head falls back as Steve pushes in; Steve groans and then kisses and sucks at Bucky's throat - probably, and the laughter in Bucky's head's like a blink above the deep heat of pleasure and need, to keep from swearing.
He wraps his legs around Steve's waist, arms around his back to pull Steve closer, deeper. Feels quick breaths and heartbeat, sweat, faintly shuddering muscle. Human, here, alive, real -
Steve pushes himself up on his left hand, kisses Bucky's mouth. As his hips start to move he trails the fingers of his right hand over Bucky's left shoulder and down following curve of metal under shallow skin, and for a second everything is white-hot and bright running from his shoulder across his chest and ribs and up to his throat and leaving him biting out, "Fuck, Steve," and clutching at Steve's arm.
Before Steve was kissing like he's the one who needs proof the world is real; now he moves like it, fucks like it, deep and hard, his free hand restless over Bucky's shoulder and throat, ribs and waist and shoulder again, matching Bucky's demand when Bucky cradles Steve's head to kiss him as hard as he can. The world shuts down to this, sex and sweat, Steve's breath on his neck and collarbone, forehead against his cheek, the rhythm of Steve's hips - not a single fucking thing else and it's fucking perfect and there's nothing else. Doesn't have to be anything else.
Steve runs his hand over Bucky's shoulder one more time and then down between them to wrap around Bucky's cock, strokes matching the rhythm of his hips and once Bucky would have had to bite his wrist to keep anything like quiet at this but now, sound doesn't come, just desperate almost-sobbing breaths when he comes, orgasm shaking him like a doll, the fingers of his right hand digging hard enough into Steve's shoulder to mark it.
And Steve's rhythm falters, falls apart; Bucky kisses Steve as he comes, the noise he'd make otherwise muffled and broken, scraping in his chest and his throat where Bucky can feel them and hear them and no one else possibly can. Because.
For a minute they're still, until Steve moves to look at him, like he's reassuring himself of something. He brushes the line of Bucky's cheekbone with curled fingers. Bucky kisses Steve's forehead and his temple, the corner of his mouth. He wraps his arms around Steve's upper body, skin and muscle and bone, and doesn't let him go for a while. Isn't willing to let the narrow world go for the one that has words and thought and everything else.
Not until reality plays dirty and he has to admit that his right leg's falling painfully asleep, and let Steve go, slide out of him and roll to one side, down onto the bed. Not that Steve goes far; he stretches himself along Bucky's right side, arm draped over his abdomen. Bucky reaches over to run his fingers through Steve's hair, mind still half-floating. Steve catches his hand and kisses the first knuckles of his fingers.
And here, now, in the afterward where his mind still doesn't hurt and he knows which way is up, Bucky says, "So we know what my problem is." He straightens one finger to brush Steve's bottom lip. "What's yours?"
Steve could try to dodge - it's a question with a hell of an open end - but he doesn't. He just looks down at Bucky's hand in his for a moment.
"You worried me," he admits. "It's been a while since you were that far gone."
"Hn," Bucky says, turning that over as Steve brushes his fingers over Bucky's hand, now resting on his own ribs, exploring the spaces between Bucky's fingers. It's soothing, not distracting. "Was I?" He doesn't remember - at least, not enough to gauge. He remembers losing things, losing his hold on things and then it's . . . bad. Past a certain point, it's hard to compare or see any range, from the inside. At least without chasing it back, and he's not going to do that. Not if he doesn't have to.
"Yeah," Steve says, tracing along the web between Bucky's thumb and forefinger and then carefully taking Bucky's wrist and pulling the arm up to Bucky's line of sight. "See?"
" . . . huh," Bucky says, because it's all he's got. He can see what Steve means: the bruising is already starting to show and a least for a little while it'll be livid, and is also more or less the shape of his other fingers and thumb. He frowns at his arm, turning it over to see the thumb imprint better. "What was I doing?"
"I don't know," Steve says. "I mean, it looked like you were trying to break your own arm. You don't remember." That's a statement, matter-of-fact, and Bucky shakes his head.
"Not really," he says. It's a bit unnerving, but not much, compared to other shit and he adds, "And I don't think you want me to try that hard."
"No," Steve agrees, a little quickly. "No, that's okay." Bucky shoots him an amused look; Steve meets it with one that's the silent equivalent of yeah, well.
And Bucky actually considers his next words for a while, quite seriously - for a given value of serious - but in the end he can't help saying, with completely fake sincerity, "Can I worry you more often? Because that - "
Steve bites the side of Bucky's hand and Bucky laughs; he's pretty sure Steve's first impulse was to punch him in the hip or smack him in the side of the head, but Steve won't do that yet. "Jerk," Steve says, with mock-feeling, as Bucky laughs at him some more. Then pulls him in to kiss, pretty intently, by way of starting an apology.