Details are sometimes sparse and hard.
If he can, Bucky avoids giving them. And part of that's maybe about not wanting to remember but most of it, Steve's willing to bet pretty heavily, is about not wanting Steve to know, not if Bucky can help it. Either so Steve doesn't think about it at all, or especially so Steve doesn't think about it happening to him.
Pride and guilt, and it's not like Steve doesn't get that. It's also not like there's any point, because pace Bucky's kind of flattering conviction about Steve's capacity (or lack thereof) for malice (which actually isn't anywhere near as true as Bucky thinks it is, but Steve'll leave that one alone for now), Steve can read and has read more about what kind of obscenities humans inflict on each other than he really cares to think about, and that means his imagination does plenty on its own. It fills in sketches and allusions and educated guesses, usually in full colour.
But he's not going to push, for eight dozen reasons, and that means it all stays pieces and guesses, things stitched together from the stuff Bucky can't help saying, or what body-language says whether he wants it to or not.
Electricity's in there, for one: Steve's grateful that there's something in the inner workings of Bucky's left arm that seems make it so that static shocks happen way less often than they do with most people, because when they do, Bucky flinches fairly badly and Steve's choosing to go with "flinch" over other words he could pick. Electricity and burns, hypothermia, water - and Bucky can stick to one version if he wants, but at this point Steve can connect enough dots to know it's not all - noise . . .
Silence too. Darkness. Steve didn't realize that, not really, until they had a black-out in the middle of the night and for once it actually was dark and almost silent and he ended up finding candles and playing some audiobook on the tablet pretty damn quick.
And that only counts the stuff that was . . .deliberate. Instead of anything that could be counted as coincidental, a side effect of maintaining their machine. Repairing it. Things that come from wanting to dictate a body down to the last functions. And from knowing that almost anything you did would heal, so why not do things the fastest way, the easiest way, the simplest way?
(One of the thing Steve's really damn careful about is making sure nothing ever happens that might make Bucky, say, choke on a drink. The outcome isn't funny. Putting it mildly. And learning that meant Steve pieced together the time (at least one time) Bucky almost drowned in thin mud, and they'd just used carefully balanced saline to flush any residue out of his lungs and then strapped him somewhere until the inflammation healed enough, because the only thing that worried them was fucking cardiac arrest.)
Honestly, he's pieced together a lot of things like that. And sometimes they just get caught on a loop in Bucky's head and there's not much you can do about it except . . .handle it. Except find some way to break the loop, except try to find ground in the here and the now and how it's not that.
Except try to move away from the awful and try to remember that moving from a hundred percent to ninety-nine point double-nine . . . still counts.
Sometimes Steve really wishes it could feel less like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon.
Bucky's sitting on the single bed in the second bedroom, and Steve knocks lightly on the doorframe.
Bucky focuses on him for a second, gaze swimming in from whatever thousand yards through the carpet it had been resting on, and his expression turning faintly disbelieving: the really, Steve? is silent but definite. Steve gives him a look back that says yeah, really and then out loud, after a second, adds, "I'm still asking."
He's not sure what it says that faint, fond exasperation is something he can pretty much always drag out of Bucky even when he's only tenuously grasping the world, but Steve doesn't actually mind. After a second Bucky gives in and jerks his head slightly in invitation.
He's sitting on the bed with his back to the wall, knees bent, arms resting around them, second out of two poses Steve's quietly classified as dormant and the one that worries him less out of the two. If you connect the right dots you can see the way it lines brace-points against each other, takes as small amount of energy as possible to stay in, while maintaining as much body-heat as you can. But he's up off the floor and he's actually sitting, instead of braced against the wall and crouched on the floor - so of the two, it's the one that worries Steve less.
And the kitten's glued to his hip, sleeping. That's a good sign. There's something about the times when Bucky's seriously off she really doesn't like - some change in smell, maybe, or who knows what - and she'll either tend to groom his hand or even his face, or paw at him, or if that doesn't work come yowl at Steve, until it stops.
Steve still doesn't know exactly how to read Bucky using the room again, except that part of him wonders if it's just the only place to be out of the way, that if they were at the Tower it'd be the library or the media-room, or if they owned a house it'd be some out of the way corner, probably in the damn basement. But here there just isn't that much space to be anywhere Steve won't come across as a matter of course, if he's here. And if he's right, there could be a lot of reasons for that, including testing - subconsciously or not - whether Steve would come looking.
Which Steve could tell him is always going to be yes, but if it worked like that, life would be a lot simpler.
He sits in front of Bucky instead of beside him, knees bracketing his; the kitten lifts her head up enough to sniff at his foot and then settles down again. After Steve sits and finishes settling Bucky takes a deeper breath than he has been, one that's not quite a sigh; his arms relax and his posture opens a little, and Steve'll take it.
"What?" Steve asks, not that he's surprised when Bucky shakes his head. By the look of his eyes Steve could tell he hasn't been sleeping, even if he didn't already know, and he's pale again which probably means nausea, at least coming and going.
"Fuck, I don't know," Bucky says, looking to one side, at the wall or beyond it. "Nothing. Everything." He pushes fingers through his hair to push it back and lets his legs straighten a little, fall. Touches the fingers of his right hand to Steve's left arm and stares through it. Steve doesn't move, not yet: Bucky's started to do that, started not waiting to see if Steve'll touch him and reaffirm the world exists, and Steve figures that's probably a good thing.
Bucky shakes his head again, like he's trying to shake something off. "I'll spare you the song and dance on why you should just fucking put me down," he adds, a little flat, "and why I'm a useless fucking waste of your time. You're not going to listen."
"You're just skipping it so you don't have to listen to me tell you why you're not," Steve counters, almost mock-solemn. That actually gets a pale imitation of a half-smile, eye-contact for a moment. Exhaustion's marking his eyes faintly red, too.
"Yeah," Bucky says, "probably." He runs his hand up Steve's arm to rest at the curve of his neck so he can pull Steve forward a little and rest his forehead against Steve's.
Steve covers his hand with his own and pulls it away, down, and holds it so he can rub circles over the heel of Bucky's hand and the line of his wrist with his thumb. He rests his other hand so it cradles the back of Bucky's head: he's never figured out why exactly that tends to let Bucky unwind one more notch, but it does. And does now.
"I feel like shit," Bucky clarifies, quietly. "I haven't been outside these fucking walls for three days and I can't go now and I don't know why. Every time I close my eyes I get fucking HD showings of stuff I don't wanna see. I don't want to eat and I can't fucking sleep and everything I can fucking do just lets me sit here instead of fucking . . . picking fights to find the place you'll lose it and pushing harder when you don't."
The shudder is really, really faint, but it's there and Steve feels it, acts like he doesn't.
"That place's over there," Steve replies, as lightly as he feels is a good idea. "Way the Hell and gone. Where there's really different people. Really, really specific different people." Not his most brilliant retort, maybe, but it gets the point across. Bucky sits back against the wall with a flicker of a smile that doesn't get to his eyes and rubs at the side of his neck, and Steve adds, "I know saying it doesn't help that much. But it's still true."
The light in the room's flat and grey, except for where the incandescents give it their yellow-orange tinge. It wouldn't be true that there aren't any bad days on sunny days - bad days can happen whenever, sometimes with no rhyme or reason at all - but Steve's also not going to pretend sunlight doesn't make a difference.
"You're an idiot," Bucky tells him, not so much flat as tired. "With a fucking martyr complex."
"Ye-eah," Steve says, drawling the word out, "we've had pretty conclusive proof that you wouldn't know me if I wasn't, so I'll keep it."
That actually gets him a laugh, a silent, slightly pained laugh, and Bucky shoves his shoulder, lightly. "Jesus," he says, shaking his head, and Steve figures, why stop now?
"No," he says, mock thoughtfully, "if you take into account average heights at the time, I'm pretty sure I'm taller than Jesus - " and then he ducks out of the way of Bucky lightly cuffing the side of his head, and grins; catches Bucky's hand and interlaces their fingers.
And kissing really is underrated, not least because it can be and mean and say so many things; this one's mostly reassurance. And Steve is grateful, again, so much so, that Bucky lost out to whatever impulse it was, whatever need, back then and there in that bombed out house, because God damn well knows, Steve doesn't know how he'd get some points across, otherwise.
If he couldn't do this, lean over and kiss Bucky's mouth and make finding a retort a moot point, get past the words Bucky puts up like spiked railings out of habit and in defense.
(Too many lies means words stop meaning much, and bodies say everything: if I didn't want you, why would I do this.)
When the kiss ends Bucky rests his forehead against Steve's again, his right hand resting along the side of Steve's face, and when he says, "Why the fuck do you do this, Steve?" it's not a rhetorical, not anything but what it is.
And what it is, is tired. And frustrated, Steve thinks: frustrated too. With the frustration of knowing the answer to what you're going to ask and not being able to believe it, so you ask it again anyway, and get more answers you can't really believe. Not all of it. Not yet. And Bucky knows that and knowing it's honestly a good thing, but -
Well. With this stuff, there's always but.
At least it's easier to answer now, at least Steve's got a better sense of where the ground's safe, what he can say. He kisses Bucky's temple and says, "Because I want to. Because you're my best friend. And if you weren't I'd be a fucking mess," he adds, "assuming I wasn't dead, and that's a big assumption so I'm not making it."
It's nothing new. It's nothing he hasn't said before, in these words or grafted into other ones. And it's a good thing he knows what he knows, too, when it comes down to it, so he knows repetition isn't pointless echoes into a void. That it matters that Bucky can ask the same question a hundred ways, and get the same answer a hundred times.
Bucky pulls back a little, maybe so he can see Steve's face. And there's echoes of the look Bucky gets when he's looking for something, so after hesitating for half a beat, Steve says, "The only time I honestly didn't care if I lived or died is when I thought you were dead."
And he hesitates for a beat more before he half-shrugs and says, admits, "I need you," and hopes he's right, hopes by now it's okay. "Not to . . . do anything or be anything, that's not the point, I just -" he glances down for a second, not sure what he's looking for before he gives up and finishes, "- do. Just to be. And not hate me. Which kind of means you're stuck with me."
His hand's still against the curve of Bucky's neck so he can feel the few almost imperceptible tremors, can feel that Bucky's shivering and Steve doesn't know why; can see Bucky watching his face like he's looking for the lie again, still doesn't know why, so he just waits. Until Bucky closes his eyes and takes a slow, careful breath.
"You are such a fucking idiot," Bucky says, and leans over to kiss him.
Sometimes Bucky kisses less like it's about affection or even sex and a lot more like it's the only way he knows what's real, and this is one of those times. And in the end Steve shifts his legs and braces himself on one hand, catches Bucky's ankle gently with the other and pulls it to the other, to one side. He feels bad for the cat, a little, as he carefully pulls Bucky over, but she squirms away and keeps from getting lain on as Steve wordlessly convinces Bucky to lie on his back instead of instinctively curling on his side.
Steve settles beside him, leaning against and over him, and kisses beside Bucky's eyes, says, "It's okay," and waits for Bucky to believe him, at least for now. Steve moves the hand he's not leaning on to Bucky's opposite hip, sliding underneath his shirt to touch skin. The tremors are still there, at least for a second - faint, irregular shivering - but he doesn't say anything and after a minute or so, they stop.
When Bucky's unwound enough that his one still bent knee rests against the wall and his breathing's close to normal - and Abrikoska's wormed her way up to settle by his shoulder, briefly complaining - Steve takes a second to reach into his pocket for his phone, find the audiobook Sam'd sent earlier and set it up to play for an hour or so. Then he leans back and puts the phone on the bedside table while a voice with a British accent warns him that he's not allowed to sell the files.
"S'it?" Bucky asks, with the kind of distance that for someone else might sound sleepy and here and now doesn't.
"Some series Sam was talking about," Steve replies, moving pillows around to prop himself up a bit the way he wants, make sure he doesn't have to move much because his neck's going to kill him or his arm's falling asleep. "Sort of starting in the middle, but he insisted it was better that way, and we're kind of out of stuff we haven't already listened to that's not depressing."
Bucky's already starting to shift over to his side, unconscious of it, but stops and relaxes again when Steve works his hand under Bucky's shirt to idly mark circles over Bucky's stomach and ribs with his palm. Watches Bucky's eyes close slightly, watches him breathe.
And this is going on that presentation about Bucky secretly being a cat, one day, but not until Steve's pretty sure that's not going to undermine one of the better ways to use touch to make him calm down. It almost doesn't make sense, given the vulnerability in it, but Steve kind of has the inkling that's why. Or connected to why. And honestly he doesn't give a damn, because it works.
It's warm in the condo, probably warm enough they won't need a blanket, which is good: there's no extra one at the foot of this bed, and getting the comforter out from under them would probably wreck the calm enough to make it not worth the effort.
Steve moves his hand up under Bucky's shirt to trace out the edges of Bucky's collar-bone with his fingertips, circle the dip to the jugular notch, and then the line of Bucky's sternum to his bottom rib. He draws the tip of his middle finger along the rib to Bucky's waist and presses his palm from there to Bucky's hip and back to his stomach.
Bucky rests his hand on Steve's arm, but not to stop him. After a while he says, "You don't need me, Steve," and the idiot sounds like he actually believes it, too. Steve stops what he's doing and looks at him, hand still and flat on his abdomen, until Bucky turns his head enough to look back.
"You know what," Steve says, evenly, "you can just go fucking ask Sam, or Natasha, if I fucking need you. If you're not gonna believe me."
Bucky looks down and his brows knit and Steve regrets the tone; when Bucky starts, "It's not - " Steve moves so he can put his fingers to Bucky's mouth.
"Buck," he says, quieter. "Just stop. Please. Just hear what I'm telling you, okay? Just know that I mean it."
And it's not hard not to say God, I'm sorry they did this, but it's impossible not to think it, not to hate them for it, and right now Steve doesn't bother. Because this is everything, because this is what Steve knows Bucky hates, that Bucky sees as weakness and frailty and isn't, and sure as Hell isn't his fault.
Bucky nods, in the end, just slightly. Then he tugs once at Steve's arm, pulls him over until Steve's head is beside his, Steve's body half-covering his, Steve's top arm bent and forearm lying alongside his ribs. Until Steve's basically holding him there, on the bed, just with body-weight, and Steve's between him and everything else, anywhere.
Steve tangles their legs and feels Bucky exhale, long and slow, and the carefully counted inhale after. Bucky's right hand moves, restless, touching Steve's hair, his neck, his shirt, his arm, but Steve doesn't mind. Eventually, Bucky rests it on Steve's upper arm, tucked up under the sleeve of his t-shirt.
"You're still a damn martyr," Bucky murmurs.
"Yeah, I learned it from watching you," Steve retorts, as the narrator on the file starts talking about shaving as an act of rebellion, and he tries to figure out where the Hell the story got to.