“We’re going to take a nap,” said Bucky.
His rusty voice startled Steve out of his daze. Blinking, Steve looked up from the frost-rimed cornstalks that crunched beneath his boots as he walked (had they gotten anywhere in all their hours of walking? There had been cornstalks all day and through the night, too). “What?”
Bucky frowned. “Exhaustion impedes judgment,” he said. “So we’re going to take a nap in the barn.”
And Steve realized that there was indeed a barn, halfway down the gentle hill, its unpainted sides silvery with moonlight. “But Hydra…” he said.
Bucky’s scowl deepened. He didn’t like having his orders questioned when they were on missions.
(Once, he slapped Steve in the face for questioning him. It nearly wrecked the mission, and afterward Bucky and Steve shouted till Steve left the room, because if he didn’t leave he was probably going to hit Bucky back.
But the next day, Bucky apologized. “I’m not your handler,” he said to Steve. “I had no right.”
“You wouldn’t have a right even if you were my handler - if I had a handler,” Steve replied. “It’s wrong to hit people who aren’t your enemies – who aren’t actually fighting against you.”
Bucky looked at him, with that quiet implacable look that might mean anything but probably meant he disagreed. But all Bucky said was, “I won’t do it again.” And he hadn’t done it again.)
“We lost Hydra hours ago,” Bucky said. His breath made a little white cloud in the air as he talked, like the smoke from the cigarettes that Bucky no longer smoked. “And if they catch up with us while we’re in this condition, we’re as good as dead.” And he strode down the hill toward the barn.
There was really no way to stop him when he got like this, and anyway, he had a point. Steve could hardly fight off a Hydra attack when he was so tired he didn’t even notice a barn sitting in a cornfield.
The barn walls cut the wind, but it was still almost as cold inside as out. The moonlight that spilled through the open door illuminated two cows in their stalls. One of them lowed at the sight or the smell of them, but Bucky crossed the dusty floor unhesitatingly and soothed her with a hand on her neck.
Animals still liked Bucky. They were supposed to be good judges of character, weren’t they?
“We’ll sleep in the hayloft,” Bucky said, and just as unhesitatingly he climbed a ladder up into a black emptiness that must have been the loft. Steve started to follow, but Bucky said, “Close the door!”
Even Steve’s serum-enhanced vision took a few moments to adjust to the darkness of the barn with the door closed. Only the barest glint of moonlight wormed its way through the space around the doors, and Steve felt more than saw his way across the barn floor to ladder up to the loft.
In the loft, moonlight trickled through the vents under the peak of the roof, picking out Bucky’s silhouette. He was digging out a nest-like depression in the hay. “We’ll share it,” Bucky said. He gestured for Steve to get in, the movement barely visible in the dark. “Warmer that way.”
Steve crawled into the nest. The hay poked into him at odd angles and the rising chaff made his chest squeeze a little with the memory of asthma attacks, and yet when he let his head drop on the hay he nearly fell asleep. He hadn’t realized he was so tired. Maybe he was too tired to realize much of anything.
But he woke up a little when Bucky crawled in next to him. He’d expected Bucky to settle down so they would sleep back-to-back, like soldiers on campaign - the way the Howling Commandos slept when it got cold.
But Bucky lay down chest to chest, draping his arm (and Steve was painfully glad it was his flesh arm) over Steve. He pulled hay on top of them like a blanket, then settled down with the cold tip of his nose in the curve between Steve’s shoulder and neck.
Bucky’s whole body was stiff, not just with the hardness of his armor but with a tension in his muscles, too, like he wasn’t too enthusiastic about this snuggling thing. (Why do it if he didn’t want to?) “Wouldn’t you be more comfortable lying back-to-back?” Steve said. He would have been more comfortable.
Bucky’s arm tightened around Steve. “No.”
“Okay then,” said Steve. But Bucky remained tense, and Steve couldn’t help adding, “Are you sure?”
“Shut up, Steve, I can’t sleep with you yammering.”
Steve had asked entirely the wrong way, anyway (clearly Bucky was right about exhaustion impeding judgment): he never should have asked if Bucky were comfortable. Bucky was precise, even demanding, about his physical needs. If he was tired or hungry or hurt and they were not in mortal danger, he told Steve. He was happy to tell Steve what he expected Steve to do about it, too, if Steve didn’t take care of it properly, and he never said thank you, either.
So he would insist that they sleep in a barn, under the hay, snuggled together (like lovers) like puppies, because that was warmer. And of course warmer meant more comfortable. The fact that it might be uncomfortable because, oh, Steve had had a crush on Bucky for approximately ninety years…
Thank God Steve was too exhausted to worry about getting an inappropriate boner.
It wasn’t rejection Steve feared – or at least, not as much as he feared triggering some sense of obligation: if Bucky, through some awful quirk of his Winter Soldier training, thought he owed it to Steve to get him off. A perk to being the Soldier’s handler.
Maybe Bucky had good reason to be tense.
But as their bodies warmed the hollow in the hay, Bucky relaxed; so perhaps he was only stiff because he was cold. His armor remained rigid between them, but he snuggled close enough that his buckles pressed painfully against Steve’s chest. His arm draped more gently over Steve, and his breath was warm and slow against Steve’s neck. He could go to sleep just like that, turn himself off like a light.
There were little scurrying sounds in the hay, and the crunch of straw under the cow’s hooves, and occasionally the sound of wind outside the barn, but mostly it was quiet, and lying together covered in hay, it was warm. Peaceful.
Bucky was capable of enormous stillness - it was one of the ways that the new Bucky differed from the old, who was always up and doing. But that wasn’t peacefulness.
Steve ought to stay awake on watch, but he couldn’t do it. They had been awake and running for more than two days, and it was warm and quiet and comfortable and Steve fell asleep.
But he woke up, and it couldn’t have been too much later because it was still dark; and Bucky was wriggling a little, which let in little drafts of cold air.
At first he thought Bucky’s gun or his ammo case or any of the other things he carried on his belt must have shifted as they slept, but no. No. Bucky had a boner.
Steve’s first selfish thought was, Thank God it’s not me. Then he was embarrassed, both by the thought and by the next thought, which was that Bucky would be mortified if Steve knew, so Steve should close his eyes and pretend to be asleep.
“You awake?” Bucky said.
There was no point trying to hide it. “Yeah.”
“Can you deal with it?”
“Can I - what?” Steve asked.
“Deal with it,” Bucky repeated. He might have been asking Steve to pop him a bag of popcorn. Or pour him a glass of water. Or do any of the other things he was perfectly capable of doing but expected other people to do for him, because the Winter Soldier’s time was too precious to waste.
“You want me to give you a handjob,” said Steve, because he was having trouble processing this. “You can’t take care of it yourself?”
“No.” Bucky sounded annoyed. “That makes you go blind and grow hair on your palms.”
Of course one of the few things Bucky remembered from the thirties were anti-masturbation pamphlets. Of course. “It doesn’t actually work like that,” Steve said. “Those pamphlets are full of lies, they were just written to frighten boys out of…” Steve’s self-possession was not equal to giving Bucky the lowdown about masturbation. Right then he couldn’t even say the word.
“Self-abuse,” Bucky supplied, which was the word the pamphlets used.
“Yeah. Except it’s not really abusive, because there aren’t any negative physical effects to, uh…” Steve broke off his little physiological lecture and said, trying not to sound too skeptical, “Are you telling me you never – all the time we were growing up? Even you didn’t have a steady girl all the time.”
Bucky snorted. “Well, that’s what the docks are for.”
Steve’s brain short-circuited. “You went to the docks?” Bucky Barnes, the most over-achievingly heterosexual man in the universe -
“Yeah. It’s better’n going to a prostitute, because you know anyone at the docks is there for a good time.”
- went down to the docks to have sex with men. Because it was a good time. Or at least a better time than having sex with prostitutes. Okay, maybe not the highest praise in the universe, but Steve could work with...
Oh, for Christ’s sake. No, Steve could not work with it. The absolute last thing he should do was take advantage of Bucky – not when he had no idea what Hydra might have done to Bucky…
Bucky had gone stiff and sulky from Steve’s refusal. “Fine then,” he said, rolling over. “I’ll get out and walk around.” He pushed aside the hay. Cold rushed into their nest. “It’s cold enough, that’ll take care of it.”
It wasn’t taking advantage if Bucky was asking, was it?
“No, don’t,” said Steve, catching at Bucky’s arm. His fingers came up sharply against the hardness of the metal: it felt cold even through Bucky’s sweatshirt. “I’ll take care of it.”
He half-expected Bucky to ask what caused the change of heart, but of course he didn’t. Bucky never asked for reasons. Ours is not to reason why - He just settled back into the nest, his back to Steve’s chest, and pulled the hay over them again.
Steve lay still a couple of minutes to let them both warm up again. But then Bucky said, “Steve.”
“Sorry,” Steve said, and he moved his hand around Bucky’s waist.
The nest felt warm as long as Steve stayed still, but moving his arm around Bucky’s waist felt like plunging it into a bucket of cold water. He worked his hand into the warmth under Bucky’s armor, resting it against his stomach. It didn’t feel quite real, being able to touch Bucky after so long admiring from afar…
Then Bucky said “Steve,” again.
Steve started guiltily. “Warming my hand up,” he said, and slid his hand down Bucky’s stomach to his pants. Bucky had already unbuckled his belt. Steve fumbled with the button in his pants, then slid his hand under the waistband of Bucky’s pants and boxers and began to stroke his cock.
Bucky exhaled softly and nestled against Steve. It was Steve who nearly moaned. He wasn’t aroused, not physically (thank God: there was no way Bucky wouldn’t notice, pressed up against Steve as he was), but his stomach felt like liquid. In fact, his whole body felt like it was melting, and his heartbeat was painful in his chest. He had wanted this so long, and now he could barely handle it; and still he wanted more.
Gently, almost gingerly, Steve kissed the knob of bone at the base of Bucky’s neck. Bucky didn’t push him away, or react at all, and Steve wondered if Bucky even felt it. He kissed Bucky’s neck again, a little higher, and Bucky still didn’t push him away; and Steve let go of his restraint and dotted little kisses up the nape of Bucky’s neck.
He wanted to open his mouth, to taste Bucky’s skin, but the wet marks would be uncomfortable for Bucky in the cold air. Instead Steve buried his nose in Bucky’s hair. It didn’t smell like much of anything, just hair, but Steve breathed it in and had to turn his face aside. It was overwhelming, to be so close to Bucky. It was just an illusion, just physical closeness; but Bucky so rarely permitted any kind of closeness anymore.
Bucky was close to coming; Steve could feel in the tension of Bucky’s body, the throb of Bucky’s cock under his hand. He stroked harder, maybe a little too hard; but no, Bucky let out a little sigh, he was pushing himself into Steve’s hand.
Steve ghosted kisses along Bucky’s hairline. He felt giddy, weightless, and it was hard to get a proper breath. He wanted to kiss Bucky’s face, but how would Bucky react to that?
Instead he kissed the hollow behind Bucky’s ear. He could feel Bucky’s pulse against his lips, fast and light as a bird’s. He wouldn’t know unless he asked – “Bucky - ”
“Shut up,” Bucky snapped.
Steve froze. The closeness was all in his imagination: wherever Bucky was in his head, it was a million miles away from Steve and he wanted to keep it that way.
Bucky suddenly stiffened against him. He stopped breathing for a moment, his whole body tensing, and his cock pulsed hot in Steve’s grasp.
And then Bucky relaxed. Problem dealt with.
Steve tried to blink the tears out of his eyes. Bucky might – no, Bucky probably would make fun of him. He did that now, if people cried over wounds that he didn’t think were bad enough to merit it, and Steve wasn’t injured at all.
(Bucky had been so surprised when Steve told him to quit mocking Tompkins. “He’s got to stop making that noise,” Bucky said, and he sounded nearly panicked. “He can’t keep blubbing on like that.”
“For fuck’s sake, Bucky, we’re in a Quinjet. It’s not like the enemy can hear him.”)
Bucky never used to be like that. Sometimes when they were growing up he would tease Steve, to stop him crying by making him laugh; but that wasn’t the same thing at all.
“Leggo,” Bucky muttered, and Steve realized he still had his hand wrapped around Bucky’s softening cock. Steve let go, hastily wiping his hand off on the stiff hay. God, it was so cold.
He turned his face into Bucky’s shoulder. His tears would never reach Bucky through the layers of thick fabric. But he could smell Bucky’s metal arm even through his armor, and the oily metallic scent clung at the back of his throat.
It was impossible to get away from Bucky in this cold: they needed to share their body heat if they were going to sleep. The best he could do was roll over, so they lay back to back (Like we should have done from the start, Steve thought bitterly). He curled his arms up against his chest and concentrated on not crying.
The barn was very quiet again. The beams creaked in a gust of wind. The cows shifted in their stalls below.
“Thanks,” Bucky mumbled.
Steve sat up. The cold air fell in on him like a rush of water, but he didn’t care. He stared down at Bucky.
But Bucky had turned himself off like a light again. He was already asleep.