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“What we need,” said Bucky, fanning himself with a magazine, “is a fire escape. Sit outside, catch a breeze, cool down. Why doesn’t SHIELD send someone to fix your goddamn AC?”

“SHIELD has better things to do,” Steve said. He looked down at Bucky, lying on the floor. Bucky had stripped down to his boxer shorts, but he still wore his hoodie and glove. “Why don’t you put on a t-shirt?”

Bucky snagged the pitcher of lemonade, dripping with condensation, and held it to his red cheek. He always wore the sweatshirt and glove when he wasn’t on missions, and often when he was on them, too.

(“No need to warn the bad guys that we’ve unleashed the secret weapon,” Bucky once told Steve, tugging on his glove to make sure no glint of metal showed around his wrist.

“You didn’t hide your arm when you attacked us,” Steve said.

“That was different,” Bucky said. “That wasn’t supposed to be stealthy. You don’t become a legendary ghost assassin by waving around your fucking metal arm like a calling card.”)

Even the breeze from the electric fan felt hot on Steve’s face. He nudged Bucky gently with his foot. “You’ll be cooler,” he urged.

Bucky propped himself up to take a swig of lemonade from the pitcher and ignored Steve. “Or a fire hydrant,” Bucky said. “We could knock the top off one of those things and run around in the spray, like when we were kids.” He was silent a moment, shifting the pitcher from cheek to forehead. “Or ice cream,” he said.

“I think I have some left in the freezer,” Steve said.

“I ate it for lunch,” Bucky said. He tossed the crumpled magazine across the room. “Soviets made it better.”

Steve didn’t want to get into an argument about what the Soviets did better, so he didn’t reply. Instead he shifted the electric fan on the table with his foot, as if he might somehow move it to a pocket of air that was actually cool.

It was embarrassing, really, how dependent he had become on the air conditioner. As Bucky pointed out, they had lived through weather like this just fine when they were kids.

Well, more or less fine. The heat tended to make Steve’s asthma worse. But now that he no longer had asthma, he ought to be able to deal.

“Or an ice truck,” Bucky said now. “Run after the ice man and beg ice chips off him. Physics be damned, I swear they were colder than the kind you keep in your fridge.”

Steve wondered sometimes if Bucky really remembered these things, or if he just cribbed this stuff off some website (probably with a title like “Stuff kids did for fun in Brooklyn back in the bad old days”) and tossed it scattershot at Steve to see what stuck.

“I couldn’t run after an ice truck,” Steve reminded him. “Asthma.”

“Oh,” said Bucky. “Well. Wouldn’t be a problem now.”

Steve tilted his head back on the couch cushion and closed his eyes.

A tiny breeze riffled the curtains. They both looked up hopefully, but the sky remained cloudless: no sign of the cooling rain that the meteorologists so confidently promised. Bucky shifted the lemonade pitcher to his other cheek. Steve closed his eyes and tried to will himself to sleep.

“I got a funny story about a fire escape,” Bucky said.

Steve opened his eyes, then squeezed them shut again. “Is it actually funny? Or does it end with you shooting someone?”

“Not all my funny stories end with me shooting someone. The one where I killed the gulag commander with an icicle is pretty hilarious.”

Steve covered his eyes with a forearm. “No. No, it really isn’t. Especially not when you imitate his death throes.”

“He deserved it,” Bucky replied. He propped himself up on his elbows, getting ready to argue, then collapsed back to the hardwood floor. “You don’t like any of my funny stories,” Bucky said, and consoled himself by finishing off the lemonade.

“I like the funny stories that are actually funny,” Steve said. “The one where you used an ice cream truck as a getaway vehicle, that one’s fine.”

“Not as funny as the one where I chased the guy through Tblisi,” Bucky retorted.

No,” said Steve.

“You don’t even like the part where I shoot a single lock of hair off his head to let him know I’m still there? Come on. That part is great. He just about shit himself.”

No,” said Steve again. In between the heat and Bucky’s glee, he was beginning to feel a little sick. “For Christ’s sake, Buck, go put on a t-shirt. You’re going to get heatstroke in that sweatshirt.”

Without a word, Bucky set the lemonade pitcher on the coffee table, rolled to his feet, and headed for his room. Steve sat up. “Wait - “ he started; but Bucky shut the bedroom door firmly behind him. Steve fell back on the couch and smacked the heel of his hand against his forehead.

Direct orders. Bucky still followed direct orders like that, immediately and without complaint; Steve tried not to give them, but sometimes they slipped out -

No, it hadn’t slipped out. Steve ordered him away on purpose, because he couldn’t handle it when Bucky talked like (a bully) -

Steve shoved the thought away.

- when Bucky talked so callously, as if his victims were pinball machines. Put a coin in the slot, the machine lights up and dings. Put a bullet in the chest, the victim screams and flails and spits blood. Very amusing.

Well, what did Steve expect? Bucky had been treated like a thing for decades. It shouldn’t be a surprise that he’d learned to see other people that way. It felt like a punch in the gut every time.

Bucky, Steve realized suddenly, had been gone an awful long time for just changing into a t-shirt.

Steve slid off the couch. He wasn’t so worried about assassins anymore - they’d pretty much given up on attacking the apartment - but sometimes Bucky would just sit down and stare at nothing till someone snapped him out of it. Steve didn’t know what set it off, and when he asked, Bucky claimed he didn’t remember.

And maybe he didn’t. But his eyes slid away from Steve’s when he said it, and left Steve with the uneasy feeling that, after all, there was a lot that Bucky was not telling him.

He knocked on Bucky’s door. “Buck?” he called. No answer, so he said, a little more loudly, “Bucky?” Please don’t make me call him Soldat, he thought, and called again, “Bucky?”

“Come in,” Bucky said.

Steve sagged against the door in relief, then gently pushed it open. The room was almost dark: the lights were off and Bucky had closed the Venetian blinds, though the blinds swayed in the breeze and let in little puffs of air and light. One of the rays of light glinted off something on the floor. Steve took a step inside the room, looking down at the thing, but it took him a few moments to process what it was.

Bucky’s metal arm.

“Bucky?” he said, his voice rising sharply.

“Right here,” said Bucky. Steve’s head snapped up. Bucky sat on the bed, bare-chested, ugly scars radiating from the empty metal socket in his left shoulder, grinning at Steve like a kid who’s scared his friends good and well with a Halloween prank. “It detaches. For maintenance and upgrades.”

Steve crossed the room, reaching out to touch the socket. “Why did you - ” he began. Then his fingers met the flesh-warm metal, and he jerked back. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t touch you without asking.”

“It’s all right,” said Bucky. He took Steve’s hand in his own and guided it back to his shoulder, pressing Steve’s fingers on the join between metal and flesh.“C’mere.”

Steve perched next to Bucky on the bed, his knee bumping up against Bucky’s thigh, and gently moved his fingers over Bucky’s shoulder, exploring the radiating scars with his fingertips. His heart pounded, with guilt as much as excitement. This couldn’t be a good idea, when Bucky was still so remote, so elusive, and still followed orders implicitly. If Bucky had offered himself to Steve, Steve could have said no easily. But when Bucky asked for nothing but pleasure for himself...

Perhaps it was a bad idea. Probably it was a bad idea. Steve had no excuse. But he went along with it every time.

Bucky removed his hand from Steve’s and took Steve’s dangling left hand in his grip, pressing Steve’s palm against his thigh. He would move it where he wanted it later; for the moment he just held it there, and a small separate part of Steve’s mind felt the heat of Bucky’s skin against his palm, the heat of his skin and the firm muscle underneath.

But most of his attention focused on Bucky’s shoulder, on the rough join between Bucky’s skin and the metal socket. It seemed uneven, choppy: hot to his touch, even a little inflamed, as if the metal arm was a permanent irritant to Bucky.

Was this the best they could do? Or had they simply not cared to do better?

It was almost certainly the first. Neither the Soviets nor Hydra would have willingly impaired the effectiveness of their prize weapon.

How much had it hurt, shattering the arm in the fall? Or having it torn off, even - lying in the snow in the Alps, waiting for help that never…

It was as much to hide his face as anything else that Steve leaned forward and pressed his lips against the scar tissue. Bucky drew in a slow breath.

That was as much noise as Bucky ever made for this. The walls have ears, he’d told Steve, so many times that it was almost a mantra; and he wouldn’t change his mind no matter how often they checked for bugs. So maybe that was why; or maybe it was something else, old shame rising up to silence him. They never talked about it.

Steve kissed along one of Bucky’s scars, mouth closed, from his shoulder almost to his neck. He hesitated there, breathing in the smell of Bucky’s hair, the tang of lemonade on his breath. Then, delicately, he touched the tip of his tongue to the scar.

Bucky didn’t shove him off the bed. All right then. Steve opened his mouth a little wider, tasting Bucky’s skin with his tongue. The warm unpleasant smell of metal rose from Bucky’s shoulder, but Steve concentrated, instead, on the feeling of the muscles moving in Bucky’s shoulder, the roughness of the scar beneath his mouth. It was ugly to look at, but it didn’t taste ugly.

He ran his right hand up the nape of Bucky’s neck, into Bucky’s hair, massaging his fingers across Bucky’s scalp as he slid his hand up beneath Bucky’s hair tie. Steve pulled, very gently, drawing Bucky to lie back on the bed. The hair tie slipped out, so his hair fell loose against the bedspread. A few strands tickled Steve’s nose. He sneezed. Bucky let go of Steve’s hand for a minute to cover his mouth: stifling a laugh.

Steve took the opportunity to slide his hand higher up Bucky’s thigh, up under his boxer shorts. Bucky’s hand descended on Steve’s again, moving Steve’s hand decisively to his cock, and his soft fast breath ruffled Steve’s hair as Steve caressed him. Steve’s own cock had begun to ache a little, but that didn’t matter, he would deal with that later. He stroked Bucky’s cock with his left hand, and twined his right hand through Bucky’s hair, digging his thumb into the hollow behind Bucky’s ear; and wished beyond anything to touch Bucky’s face. But Bucky hated that.

Bucky nudged at Steve’s forehead with his nose, and Steve knew, although Bucky would not ask, that Bucky wanted him to move farther down his shoulder - to kiss the place where the metal and skin met.

Steve obediently kissed along the line of Bucky’s scar till he reached the uneven join. The flesh was hot beneath his lips, hotter than the rest of Bucky’s skin, and the metal -

Steve hadn’t opened his mouth, but the hot taste of the metal crept in, clinging to the back of his throat and filling his nose, and he almost gagged. It tasted like blood.

He jerked away, and moved his mouth back to the safe territory of Bucky’s skin. The metallic tang lingered in his throat. Bucky nudged him with his nose again. Herding him back.

Steve felt a sudden burst of exasperation. Bucky could be so damn demanding and gave so little back. Could Bucky even feel Steve’s lips on the metal? Given the way he used it in battle, Steve was pretty sure Bucky could no more feel his metal arm than Steve felt his shield.

He looked up at Bucky. Sometimes looking was a mistake, because sometimes Bucky was just staring into space as if Steve wasn’t there. But this time Bucky was looking at him, his face very close, and his eyes bright and - greedy, Steve thought, although that wasn’t quite right; famished, starving -

Steve moved his mouth to the join again. Bucky let go of Steve’s hand and reached up to trace his fingers through Steve’s hair, feather-light.

That was new.

The light scrape of Bucky’s nails on Steve’s scalp went straight to Steve’s cock. He dry-swallowed, then moved, carefully, to kiss the inside of the metal socket.

Bucky gasped. His hand tightened in Steve’s hair, and it was more reaction than Steve had ever gotten out of him, ever, and worth the blood-metal taste clogging his nose and his throat. He stroked Bucky’s cock, and dug the fingers of his other hand into Bucky’s tense shoulder, massaging the muscle, and nuzzled his head against Bucky’s side and kissed another scar -

And that was too much, or just enough. Bucky arched off the bed and came.

He collapsed back on the coverlet, breathing hard. Steve let go, putting a couple of inches of space between them: better to move away himself than wait for Bucky to push him. Bucky leaned over to grab a handful of tissues from the nightstand. He wiped himself off.

Then, carefully, he cleaned Steve’s hand, finger by finger.

That was new, too.

Bucky’s touch was like electricity, jolting through Steve’s body to fizz in his stomach and cock. But Bucky just tossed away the tissues, dropped Steve’s hand, and relaxed back on the coverlet. He never offered to reciprocate. Steve could have snuck away to deal with it himself, but then he would have missed…

A breeze blew the Venetian blinds away from the window, stirring the loose hairs around Bucky’s face, and he rolled his head toward it as if to catch as much of the cool as he could on his face. His default frown had slipped off his face. He wasn’t smiling, but he looked… calm. Wiped clean.

...this. Steve would have missed this.

Another breeze pushed at the Venetian blinds. The bottom rail slipped off the windowsill, falling against the wall with a little clatter. Bucky tensed, opened his eyes to look at it, then snuggled back into the coverlet again. It began to rain.

“Fucking finally,” Bucky mumbled, and it was so characteristic that Steve laughed. Bucky shifted, rearranging himself like a cat. His empty arm socket knocked against Steve’s knee. Steve remembered, suddenly, what he had meant to ask before he got… distracted.

“Why did you take your arm off?” Steve asked.

Bucky didn’t open his eyes. “So I could put on a t-shirt like you told me.”

“So you could put on a t-shirt?” Steve echoed.

Bucky’s mouth pulled down sulkily at the corners. Steve was interrupting his nap.

But Steve couldn’t give it up. “I don’t see why you needed to...”

“So the neighbors wouldn’t see my arm,” Bucky interrupted. “So we won’t have to shoot them. I don’t - ”

What?” said Steve. The Venetian blinds clacked against the wall in a gust of wind.

Bucky’s shoulders hunched, the scars in the left shoulder pulling white against his skin. He squeezed his eyes shut.

“Bucky…” Steve said, and touched his shoulder.

Bucky’s eyes opened, and for a moment they were wide and dark, but then they narrowed. He glared at Steve. “It’s boring,” Bucky said defiantly, and raised his arm as if cocking a pistol. “Bang bang bang,” he said, moving his hand as if he was shooting imaginary targets in a carnival game. “And they’re all dead. Shooting civvies is no challenge.”

Steve tasted metal again at the back of his throat. “And it’s wrong,” he said quietly, because if Bucky had learned to see people as carnival targets, he could unlearn it too. That had to be true. “It’s wrong to shoot people unless you have to.”

“I do have to,” Bucky insisted. “A secret weapon isn’t much use if it’s not secret, is it? So you have to kill them, if they see.”

“But you’re not a secret weapon anymore,” Steve protested.

Bucky’s face settled into a scowl. He scooted away from Steve, into the corner of the bed, and flopped down defiantly. “Go away,” he said.

“Promise me you won’t shoot anyone,” Steve said.

Bucky pressed his face into the pillow. “Go ‘way,” he mumbled.

“Any civilians. No matter what they see,” Steve pressed.

“On my honor as a Bolshevik,” Bucky said.

That was the best promise Bucky gave. But Steve couldn’t bring himself to drop it. “Or kill them by other means,” Steve persisted.

“I already promised! Now go away!”

So Steve left. He closed Bucky’s door behind him, and sat on the couch listening to the rain.

Bucky came out not long after, his hood pulled forward so it nearly obscured his face. He’d reattached his metal arm, and it was hidden again by his too-long sleeve and his leather glove.

Bucky lay on his stomach on the floor, propped up on his elbows to look at the rain. “Still think an ice truck would be fun,” he muttered.

“Best I can do is make more lemonade,” Steve said.

Bucky didn’t look at him. “Well,” he said. “That’s enough.”