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A Thread of Light

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It was the weirdest normal day of Steve's life. He got to the firehouse fifteen minutes before the start of the day shift and accepted his share of ribbing about his three-day case of the stomach flu. It only ended when he was sent out on a call to a kitchen fire at a café four blocks away, and after dealing with that he barely had time to clean up and change before he and Mercer were headed out to a school visit. He was on stage immediately, talking to a gym full of first-graders about how to call 911 and execute a successful stop-drop-and-roll.

A few of the kids had that overzealous look in their eyes that meant dispatch was going to be fielding some false alarms in the next few days. Steve thought, I wish I could tell Bucky about them, and then remembered all over again that Bucky was alive after all. Steve could tell him anything he wanted to.

Sort of.

He forced the thought away and got back to encouraging six-year-olds to roll around on the floor, hoping Mercer hadn't noticed anything. She didn't say anything over lunch, although she did ask him a lot of questions about how his tummy was feeling and whether he needed a bathroom break. Steve grinned and threw french fries at her until she caught one in her mouth and accepted her rightful tribute in exchange for a little peace. He outweighed Mercer by at least a hundred and twenty pounds, but she had three years of fire crew seniority on him and had dragged him out of a burning building twice during training runs, so Steve knew his place.

And just like that he was thinking of Bucky again, but he couldn't. He couldn't. Not with another seven hours to get through before he could get home and find out if Bucky had eaten the lunch Steve left for him, or...

He couldn't.

Luckily there were three more fire calls (two actual fires and one unfortunate microwave popcorn incident), a couple of their homeless regulars to move along from businesses that weren't sympathetic to their presence, and a call to extricate a kid who'd gotten his head stuck in a fence. Steve would have said he thought of Bucky constantly if he hadn't spent the last five days actually thinking of Bucky constantly. A moment of anxious awareness a few times an hour was nothing compared to that total immersion.

By the end of the day he felt better than he had since the moment he recognized Bucky in the club. He was guiltily aware of how good it felt to be surrounded by functional people, doing a job he loved, helping people who could be helped in obvious ways. But still, as soon as night shift started coming on he felt himself switching over to thinking of nothing but Bucky again. The pleasure of the day shifted quickly into the dread of what he was going to find when he got home.

By the end of their fifth day together Steve had gotten into kind of a rhythm with Bucky, able to manage him pretty smoothly. After five days he'd known how to give Bucky all the orders he needed and which battles not to pick with him, but he'd still had to hand-feed Bucky everything he ate, had to tell him any time he wanted him to move from one place to another, and give him permission to use the bathroom. He hadn't even tried to get Bucky to take another shower after the shivering misery of the day before. Every other day was probably plenty; it wasn't like Bucky was exerting himself much.

Bucky might have been fine today. Steve had told him to try to sleep, and to eat the lunch Steve had left for him--clearly marked--in the fridge when he got hungry. But he hadn't been able to sleep the last five nights if Steve wasn't touching him, and this morning at breakfast he still hadn't been able to eat anything without Steve feeding him piece by piece. Steve wasn't feeling especially optimistic about how Bucky had reacted to twelve hours alone.

Steve had held out for nearly three days after he took Bucky away from his captor at the club, insisting that Bucky didn't belong to him, didn't belong to anyone, didn't have to wear a collar or crawl on the floor or wait for orders before he did anything. Three days, watching Bucky get more and more confused and terrified and lost, looking less and less like the fearless Special Forces NCO Steve had been in love with--and in command of--three years ago. When the moment came that Bucky was huddled in the corner of the bathroom, cringing from everything in the world and not even looking to Steve for rescue anymore, Steve hadn't been able to keep telling himself he was doing the right thing.

He had gotten down on his knees, put his hands around Bucky's throat, and whispered, "You're mine. I stole you and now you belong to me, and I won't let anyone take you away or hurt you. You're mine, and I'll tell you what to do to make me happy. All you have to do is listen to me. You're mine now, Bucky."

Bucky's eyes had gone wider and wider, his face clearing from its terrified pinch, and when Steve let go of him Bucky pressed his face down into Steve's thigh, sobbing a little as his whole body went limp with relief.

So now Bucky was his, and after twelve hours out in the real world, Steve was headed home to take care of him.

Steve's walk home from work was fourteen blocks, and by the halfway point he was almost running, duffle bouncing on his back as he tried to confine himself to long, firm strides. He couldn't stop imagining what he was going to find--where Bucky might be hiding, waiting for him to come back. Every second Steve spent stopped for a light was another second Bucky might be hungry, or scared, or desperate.

He bounced on his heels, staring toward home, not letting himself see or hear anything that might delay him. Bucky needed him. Bucky was alive, and waiting for him, and--Steve finally let himself break into a run when he was on his own block and raced up the three flights to his apartment. His hands shook as he got the keys out. As he pushed the door open he was already calling out, "Bucky?"

But Bucky was right there, six feet from the door, kneeling and smiling brightly up at Steve like he was happy to see him.

Steve grinned, shooting past relief and into something that felt like being suddenly, instantly drunk. He stepped quickly inside and shut the door before any of the neighbors could happen by and see Bucky kneeling naked on the floor with a black leather collar around his neck, but he couldn't take his eyes off Bucky's smile. Steve felt like he was dreaming.

Bucky looked happy, at ease, clean--impossibly better than he had this morning.

"Bucky," Steve repeated helplessly. "You look... you look really good."

"I got some sleep like you said, sir," Bucky reported. Steve took a step forward and found himself sinking to his knees, and Bucky dropped onto all fours and crawled to meet Steve's outstretched hands. He pressed his face into Steve's chest, right over his still-pounding heart, and Steve's arms went around his shoulders automatically, needing to feel the solid reality of him.

Steve couldn't help running a hand over Bucky's hair. He'd had to coax and bribe Bucky through a shower two days ago. He had washed Bucky's hair while Bucky stood there hugging himself and shaking. Now it was shining-clean, silky under Steve's fingers and smelling faintly of the tear-free baby shampoo Steve had invested in after the disastrous first try.

"What," Steve said, letting his hand drift down to the back of Bucky's neck, trying not to touch the collar, still stiff with newness and stark black around Bucky's throat, "what else did you do today, Buck?"

"Got ready, sir," Bucky said, picking his head up to look at Steve. There was a weird kind of eager, pleased pride there. Steve remembered the Bucky of three years ago saying, Come here, Cap, watch this shot, coaxing Steve over to see what he and the others had dreamed up as sufficiently challenging target practice for their best sniper.

"Ready?" Steve echoed. Bucky twisted and turned under his hand, pulling away and making Steve's left hand, resting on his back, slide right down to his tailbone.

Bucky tilted his hips and spread his knees apart, looking at Steve over his shoulder now, and he repeated, with a smirk in his voice that barely showed on his face, "All ready, sir. For you."

Steve couldn't help seeing the shiny wetness of lube between the cheeks of Bucky's ass. He also couldn't help noticing that Bucky's balls were shaved smooth. He wasn't just clean, he was--

Steve jerked his gaze away from Bucky's ass, so eagerly presented, and he felt Bucky flinch under his hand.

"I'm sorry, sir," Bucky said, his head dropping and the eagerness vanishing from his voice. "I thought you would like it, sir."

"Hey, no," Steve said, softening his voice, leaning over to tuck his fingers under Bucky's chin. Bucky looked up at him, wary but still hopeful. "It's okay, Bucky, you didn't do anything wrong. You--your body is..."

Yours, he wanted to say, yours to make decisions about, yours to do what you want with, but he'd already promised that wasn't so. He'd been managing to shut Bucky down every time he offered sex like this, like something he owed to the guy who put a collar on him and made him crawl. Bucky hadn't been quite this... aggressively premeditated about it until now, and Steve had no idea what it meant--could he believe Bucky wanted something that he initiated like this, or did it mean he was trying desperately to please Steve even when Steve wasn't around?

But whatever it was, Steve had said Bucky was his, because as far as he could tell that was what Bucky needed right now. If Steve was going to own every other part of Bucky--if he was going to let Bucky believe he did, because that was what Bucky needed to believe to feel safe--he couldn't really avoid this part.

Not forever, anyway. Maybe until after dinner.

"You look great," Steve said firmly. "You're perfect. I'm not quite ready myself, you got ahead of me. What else did you do today?"

Bucky straightened up on his knees and looked out into the rest of the apartment beyond the front hall. Steve stood up and looked around, and realized the question answered itself. The whole apartment was clean--not merely tidy, in the way Steve generally managed to keep it when he wasn't managing the traumatized resurrection of Bucky Barnes, but ready for inspection. Now that he wasn't solely focused on Bucky, Steve could smell cleaning products he hadn't even known he owned.

Bucky was kneeling up beside him, hands at his sides, when Steve looked down. Bucky looked--not proud and excited like before, but hopeful, at least, and Steve nodded. "That's--wow, Bucky, that's really great. Jesus, the place hasn't been this clean since I moved in."

"I can see the floors closer up than you can," Bucky pointed out, with a hint of heartbreakingly familiar slyness in his tone. If he was teasing Steve about the fact that he was spending all his time on his knees--still, it was Bucky down there on his knees.

"Yeah, well, you've got the best eyes, too," Steve said, still smiling. "Guess that explains it."

Bucky grinned and said, "And I went shopping."

Steve had been about to investigate the sparkling-clean kitchen and figure out what he could make for dinner. He actually stumbled, turning back to look at Bucky again.

Bucky flinched, shoulders curling down, and he said, "You said--if I needed--there was money. And a key. So I went. You--was I not--"

"No, Bucky, that's--"

Steve had said that days ago, leaving a stack of twenties and a key on the kitchen counter sometime on the third day, when he was really convinced that Bucky would be better off anywhere but with him. It had been about three hours later that he finally gave in and told Bucky he owned him, made a makeshift collar out of his own dress uniform tie so Bucky would stop bringing him belts and electrical cords and dirty socks with that awful pleading expression, trying to replace the collar that had been taken from him before Steve took him out of that club.

Steve dropped into a crouch again to put his hands on Bucky's shoulders, then brought his hands in deliberately, rubbing his thumbs on the collar to either side of the buckle that rested at the front of Bucky's throat. Bucky had been so happy yesterday when Steve brought him a real collar, something permanent and not an improvised stopgap. Bucky relaxed under the touch now, his eyes going half-lidded as Steve staked that claim all over again by acknowledging it.

Steve said in his gentlest, steadiest voice, "You did great, Bucky, I'm just surprised because you did even better than I thought you would. I'm really proud that you did all this stuff without me having to tell you first."

Bucky winced at that, despite Steve's hands on his collar, and Steve brought a hand up to cup his cheek. Bucky pressed his face into Steve's palm, keeping his eyes down and letting his hair fall across his face as he said, "I know you hate telling me."

It was Steve's turn to wince.

"I know I'm not supposed to need you to tell me," Bucky whispered. "But I. Please, s--Steve."

Steve had given up on trying to make Bucky call him by his name sometime on the second day; he could see the effort it cost Bucky to get it out now.

"I--Bucky, pal," Steve sat down and pulled Bucky close, letting him hide his face against Steve's throat. "It's not that I mind telling you what to do if you need me to. I just--I need to know I'm not hurting you. I need to know it's helping. Today you--you seem like you were happier today than you've been. Like you were better without me around."

Bucky flinched and pushed so hard to get closer that Steve almost fell backward. He tightened his grip on Bucky, adjusting his balance to account for the pressure of two hundred pounds of anxious naked guy trying to burrow into his chest.

"Were you?" Steve asked gently. "Were you happy today, while I was gone? I want you to be happy, Buck."

"For you," Bucky insisted into his throat. "Sir, I--it was for you. I could do it for you. Because you wanted me to. Like a mission."

Steve squeezed his eyes shut, feeling like they'd gone all the way back to square one, the first night, Bucky sir-ing him like he was a stranger, an officer who might send him to the stockade for back-talk or an untucked shirt. Like someone who might tie him up to a cross in front of a roomful of people and beat him until he screamed--or casually ask a stranger to do it for him.

"I used to send you on a lot of missions," Steve said quietly. Bucky had been the one of Steve's Commandos most likely to be sent on detached duty alone. A sniper by himself could accomplish a lot.

Bucky nodded against his shoulder. "Bodega was easy. Right downstairs."

Just to the bodega; he'd only gone downstairs. That was a less dizzying thought than Bucky having made it all the way to the supermarket on his own. Steve could ask, kind of casually, if they'd seen... whatever Bucky might have looked like to strangers. Steve really hoped he'd been wearing clothes.

"No camo required?" Steve asked.

"Just enough to blend in with the civilians, sir," Bucky said. "I used--the things you said were for me. They weren't dirty when I was finished. I put them back."

"Okay," Steve said. "Good. What'd you get?"

He realized even as he asked that he shouldn't, that he should allow Bucky the privacy of his own errand, but Bucky pulled back enough to smile at him. "Well, I needed a razor, sir."

Steve's eyes actually crossed a little, thinking about that, and Bucky's smile widened before he cuddled back in against Steve's shoulder. Steve spent several seconds wrestling the fact that Bucky was naked (and shaved, and lubed) out of the forefront of his mind again.

"There was extra money, so I got groceries, too," Bucky said. "For dinner, maybe, sir?"

Steve grinned down at Bucky and resolved to eat beef jerky and candy bars for dinner if that was what Bucky had brought home. Anything to reward initiative.

"Let's see what we're working with," Steve said, pushing gently at Bucky.

Bucky quickly backed off, kneeling again as Steve got up and walked over to the kitchen. Bucky crawled after him to the fridge, where Steve discovered a gallon of milk, a carton of eggs, a pound of butter, and a bag of shredded cheese, so if nothing else Steve could make every kind of eggs he knew how to make. There were also two shiny red apples from that bin by the register, which Steve knew for a fact would turn out to be mealy and bruised and generally disappointing, but if Bucky wanted apples they would eat apples.

"That's good, Buck," Steve said, looking down to meet Bucky's eyes, and Bucky looked up at him hopefully and cut a glance toward the cupboard.

"Oh, but wait, there's more," Steve said, and shuffled to the side to open the cupboard, which turned out to hold a loaf of white bread--so they could have toast with eggs, okay, they were in business--and...

Steve reached out and took all four boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese down to set on the counter together. He dropped his hands and stared at the row of blue boxes.

Bucky used to talk about mac and cheese. It had been one of the things he obsessed about the way other guys talked about pizza or beer or their girlfriends. Bucky had been insanely possessive of any container of Easy Mac that ever turned up in a care package, regardless of who it had been originally addressed to, but even so the whole time he was eating it he would be waxing rhapsodic about the real thing. According to Bucky that meant the kind made with bright orange powder, milk, and butter. Actual cheese was permitted only as a garnish on the mac and cheese of Bucky's dreams.

It had been three years since Bucky had seemingly died before Steve's eyes on a highly classified mission. Whatever had happened to him since then--however he had gotten from there to a club in New York on the end of a rich man's leash--Steve would bet that he hadn't had many chances to eat Kraft mac and cheese since then. Steve hadn't even thought to make it for him in the last five days, but the first chance he had, Bucky had found a way to ask for it.

"Yeah," Steve said, his voice coming out almost strangled. He cleared his throat and forced himself to smile as he looked down at Bucky, who was watching him anxiously. "Yeah, okay, Buck, I guess that'll feed you if you're not too hungry, but what am I gonna eat?"

Bucky smiled shyly, like maybe he got the joke, and he nodded toward the cupboard again. Steve looked back, scanning the shelf the mac and cheese had been on, and then he thought to look up, where he usually kept junk food, although that shelf had been empty for a while. He'd been scraping the bottom of the barrel since the third day, trying to keep Bucky fed without leaving to buy groceries. Getting the collar had been the only errand he dared to leave for, and only because the leather shop happened to be on the next block.

There was a package of cookies on the top shelf now, and Steve didn't have to see any more than the edge of the tan packaging to know what they were. Cookies with chocolate were banned from their care packages when they had a desert address, and they'd all developed their own favorites from the options that left. Most of the guys had gone the Nutter Butter route; Monty had been insistent on shortbread. Steve's cookie of choice had been Pecan Sandies, and Bucky had forever been tracking down a packet of them to present to Steve at odd moments.

None odder than this, though. Steve hadn't eaten one of those things in years, but he could taste it on his tongue at the mere sight of the package. He could see the slightly self-conscious pleasure in Bucky's--Sergeant Barnes'--eyes, offering him some cookies when they were three days into a mission.

"Buck," Steve said, dropping to his knees, his eyes prickling. "You remembered."

"Course," Bucky said, biting his lip and looking up at Steve--not like he would have before Steve lost him, but Steve knew Bucky was seeing him, the guy he'd known years ago. The one Bucky had trusted with his secrets--the one Bucky had loved as fiercely as Steve loved him. "Of course I did. Sir."

Steve squeezed his eyes shut and wrapped his arms around Bucky's shoulders, tucking his face down to hide against Bucky's throat, inhaling the sharp new smell of Bucky's collar, the stiff leather of it pressed against his cheek.

"Thanks, buddy," Steve whispered. "Thank you. That's just what I wanted."

Bucky snuggled in close to him, and Steve felt a movement in the air at his side that he thought might be Bucky raising a hand to touch him or put an arm around him. He held as still as he could, not daring to look in case he spooked Bucky away, and then his stomach rumbled like a train going by. Bucky jerked away.

"Sorry," Steve said, picking his head up. "How about I cook this up and we can share it, and then we can have cookies after, huh?"

Bucky nodded hopeful agreement, and Steve got up to find a pot that would cook four boxes of mac and cheese at once.

Steve kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but Bucky's calm persisted. Steve realized, as he was cooking, that today must have been much closer to what he was used to than the last five days. The suit-wearing bastard Steve took him from wouldn't have tried to supervise Bucky constantly himself; Bucky must have had routines for managing himself when his owner--Steve could almost think the word without feeling sick--wasn't around.

When Steve left and gave Bucky a specific span of time he'd be gone, Bucky knew he could do his own thing for a while without having to perform perfectly under Steve's attention. He'd been able to sleep and wash himself and do everything else because he knew Steve wasn't around--but also, if what Bucky had said about missions was true, because he knew Steve was coming back. Because he had Steve's collar around his neck as a promise.

You're not getting out of this one that easy, Rogers, Steve thought, and if the half-scolding half-amused voice in his head sounded an awful lot like Sergeant Barnes, well, that was nothing new. He'd carried Bucky with him for a long time now, and that probably wasn't going to stop instantly because Bucky was alive and in his kitchen.

Bucky with this new equilibrium didn't shake and give him pleading looks when Steve asked him to sit in a chair for dinner, and Steve in return didn't bother to bring more than one fork to the table. He didn't bother with plates, either, just sprinkled some shredded cheese into the pot and fed himself and Bucky in alternating bites. Bucky's eyes closed in bliss at the first forkful, and Steve stared so long that Bucky opened his eyes and caught him at it.

Steve dropped his gaze and felt his face burning red. He shoved a forkful of mac and cheese into his own mouth rather than try to say anything, and didn't look up further than Bucky's smiling mouth when he fed him another bite.

They made it through the whole pot of mac and cheese without Steve dwelling much on the fact that Bucky was naked and occasionally squirming. The table blocked enough of his view to save his sanity for a little while. Steve stood up when they were both finished to rinse out the pot, and Bucky slid gracefully out of his chair and back down to his knees.

Steve considered filling the pot with soapy water and leaving it, and then he realized that that would lead directly to Bucky washing the pot while Steve was at work tomorrow. Steve grabbed a sponge and washed it himself, and halfway through he looked over at Bucky, kneeling on the floor watching him. "Come here, you can dry."

Bucky crawled to Steve's side and then stood, snagging a kitchen towel from the front of the stove as he straightened up.
Steve kept his gaze fixed on the pot he was washing, not looking over to really stare at the spectacle of Bucky actually standing beside him. He kept his head down, trying not to make Bucky self-conscious, and finished washing and rinsing out the pot.

When he passed it over to Bucky, though, he couldn't help his attention catching on Bucky's left arm. It was a mess of scars edged in intricate tattoos, weirdly beautiful except that they were nothing Bucky ever would have chosen. The crossed rifles Bucky had gotten after he qualified as an expert marksman had been covered by a garish red star sometime in the last three years, and weird twining patterns of barbed wire and twisting lines of text Steve didn't want to read trailed from his scarred shoulder down to his left hand. Steve hated the fact that whoever had taken Bucky had left these marks on him, but by the look of the scars he was lucky to have an arm at all; Steve knew guys who had lost more and been marked worse, if it came to that.

Bucky's arm, defaced as it was, worked fine. Steve watched the flex and bunch of muscle in it as Bucky dried the pot and set it neatly on the dish rack. When he was done, Bucky folded down to his knees, putting the towel back on the oven door handle. Steve's focus on Bucky's left arm faded now that he was faced again with Bucky naked, collared, looking up at Steve from his knees.

"So," Steve said, and he was about to suggest cookies and milk and maybe watching some TV, but Bucky folded onto all fours and crawled to him. When he straightened up onto his knees again he was way inside Steve's personal space. He kept his chin tilted up, his eyes on Steve, as he swayed in, rubbing his cheek against the front of Steve's pants.

He'd done things like this again and again since Steve brought him home--eagerly at first and then almost desperately. It was one of the things that hadn't eased off even after Steve got him a proper collar. The collar had calmed Bucky somewhat, but it hadn't made him stop offering himself like this. Now that Steve knew he could have a conversation with Bucky, they had to talk about it.

"Hold on, pal," Steve said. "Let's--let's not do this here. Come on."

Bucky sat back on his heels and watched Steve attentively, and Steve turned on his heel and made for the couch in long strides. Bucky followed him on all fours, and when Steve sat down Bucky was right behind him, kneeling to Steve's left, his left arm brushing Steve's knee. His gaze flicked from Steve's crotch up to his face and back down, awaiting instruction, which was better than some of the really aggressive attempts to please he'd made in the last few days.

"Bucky," Steve said. "You remember about the cookies, and you remember how much you used to talk about mac and cheese, right?"

Bucky's expression turned wary, but he nodded.

"Okay," Steve said. "So--you remember you and me, back then, right? You remember we talked about it a few times?"

They'd done more than talk--enough to get them in trouble if anybody had interrupted them--but not much more than that. Steve remembered the taste of Bucky's mouth--the dust that got everywhere and the lingering trace of chewing tobacco and Gatorade powder, the sourness of too many days without sleep or facilities--and the grip of Bucky's hand on the back of his neck, not letting him hide from what was between them.

Now, Bucky nodded. "I remember, sir."

Steve closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the back of the couch. "Do you remember why we didn't do more?"

"We were Army, sir," Bucky said. "The Army wouldn't let us."

Steve opened his eyes and looked at Bucky. He could see how Bucky would formulate it that way now, in terms of who belonged to who and what rules had been set for them. The Army had owned them both back then, and the Army didn't want its men fucking each other, so that was that--wiping away the temptation and the constant weighing of the consequences, and...

"The Army wouldn't let us," Steve agreed. "For a few reasons. But one of them was that I was your CO. I had authority over you, do you understand that? It wasn't right for me to have sex with you--or have any kind of special relationship with you--when I was giving you orders, keeping you under military discipline and sending you into harm's way. It wouldn't be fair for me to ask you for sex when I had that much power over you."

Bucky's face had gone blank, like none of this was computing.

"I--Buck, I have too much power over you now. When it was the Army, there were rules, there were other people you could go to if you thought I treated you unfairly. Now--it's just you and me, and you--you belong to me, and I have to make all the rules. And I don't mind doing that, but I don't feel right having sex with you when you feel like you have to do what I say."

Bucky's stare was taking on a steadiness and intensity that made Steve feel exactly like a butter bar captain fresh out of training, dropped into the field to assume command of a battle-tested special forces unit.

"Sir," Bucky said, giving it that particular emphasis that meant allow me to call your attention to the mistake you're making without being inflected as a question or a command.

Steve frowned, waiting for Bucky to actually point out a problem.

Bucky's steady gaze dropped, his shoulders curled in, and Bucky folded down, hiding his face against the side of Steve's knee, shivering visibly.

Steve lunged forward, reaching for Bucky with both hands, rubbing frantically over his bare skin. "Bucky--no, please, I don't--I'm sorry, it's okay, it's--"

Bucky straightened up and met his eyes again, and said it exactly the way he had said it before. "Sir."

Steve froze, hands still splayed across Bucky's shoulders, mouth hanging open.

Bucky had just shown him that he knew perfectly well how to protest Steve's orders. Furthermore, he'd been protesting all of Steve's orders that he didn't agree with--every order that made him feel unsafe, every order that might be a bad idea for some reason his stupid fresh-minted owner hadn't figured out yet. Bucky had tried like hell to show Steve the SOP for this command for five days straight, and Steve had ignored every cue and reduced Bucky to a shivering, incoherent mess, trying to make him feel safe by his own standards instead of Bucky's. Trying to make him be the man Steve had known three years ago, like Steve could ignore everything that had changed and Bucky would be the guy he remembered again.

"Oh," Steve said. "Oh, hell, Buck. I'm sorry, I--"

"Sir," Bucky said, gentler this time but still unmistakably interrupting. He bit his lip, and Steve took the cue for once and shut up.

"Right," Steve said, and sat back. "Right. You were saying."

Bucky leaned in, rubbing his cheek against the top of Steve's thigh, and Steve squirmed under it. Knowing that Bucky knew what he was doing, Steve could admit to himself that he was desperately turned on, but this was still a long fucking way from anything he'd ever imagined with Bucky. It was nearly as far from anything he'd ever done at the club where he'd found Bucky--even though that was how he'd spotted Bucky, even though he'd been there to dominate people, hurt them if that was what they were into, it had never been like this. It had only been a game. This was much too real.

"Can you," Steve said, not wanting to get in Bucky's way but needing to find a foothold here somewhere.

Bucky lifted his head, looking up at Steve patiently.

"Please, can you come here?" Steve said, patting the top of his opposite thigh with his right hand. "I just--I want to kiss you, can--"

Steve cut himself off there, because Bucky was already moving, complying eagerly with an order that actually made sense. Steve caught him as he launched himself up to straddle Steve's lap. He didn't touch Steve anywhere--didn't initiate the kiss himself even if that was what Steve had said he wanted. He knelt there, his thighs pressing lightly against Steve's, and looked Steve in the eyes, waiting.

"Right," Steve said, and he swallowed hard and then hooked two fingers into Bucky's collar and pulled him down. "Let's see if I'm remembering this part right, huh?"

"Yes, sir," Bucky whispered, and then his lips were on Steve's, opening to the first tentative press of Steve's tongue. Steve moaned like a virgin into Bucky's mouth as his tongue swept inside--Bucky tasted like mac and cheese this time, but he felt the same as he had out in the desert, he kissed like Steve's team leader, just as hungry for it and just as ready to take what he wanted.

Steve kissed back hard, licking up into Bucky's mouth, taking everything Bucky offered. He shifted his grip on Bucky's collar, slipping all four fingers of his right hand through it and pulling it tight. His knuckles pressed into Bucky's throat and Bucky whimpered and licked eagerly into the kiss. Steve got his other hand on Bucky's ass--cupping one cheek, which was already more than he'd ever touched Bucky before. Steve squirmed, hard in his jeans just from this, after days, years, of not letting himself want Bucky too much.

"Do you want--" Steve said, dropping his head back to break the kiss. He stopped short and jerked his hand out of Bucky's collar as soon as he opened his eyes--Bucky was red-cheeked and breathing hard, and it wasn't entirely because of the kissing.

"Sorry, that was--sorry. Come here," Steve curled his hand around the nape of Bucky's neck instead, pulling him down for one more kiss. Bucky moved easily to meet his mouth, leaning over Steve without hesitation.

"God," Steve murmured, when he loosened his grip on Bucky's neck and Bucky lifted his head to blink down at him, looking pleasantly dazed and not even a little bit asphyxiated this time. "God, Bucky, I've been wanting you so long, I don't even know what to do with you first. I know you got yourself all ready for me, but..."

Bucky licked his kiss-slicked lips, already pinker than usual. "Anything you want, sir."

Steve slid his hand around from the back of Bucky's neck to cup his cheek, rubbing his thumb over Bucky's lower lip. He'd had a lot of fantasies about Bucky's mouth. He could feel them all waking up again, tumbling through his brain in a string of vividly obscene images, but none of them could hold a candle to touching Bucky's lip now that they were really here.

"Could you," Steve said, experiencing the acute sensation that his dick had left his brain behind about a hundred miles back, and he needed to hurry up and get things done before it caught up. "God, Bucky would you--suck me? Please?"

"Yes, sir," Bucky said, grinning. "My pleasure, sir."

Steve groaned and let his head fall back, his eyes closing even as Bucky's hands went to the front of his jeans, opening them up. Steve took his hand off Bucky's ass to help, shoving them down as soon as Bucky's hand was on his cock. Bucky moved like he was going to get down on the floor again, and Steve caught him with a hand on his hip.

"Stay where I can reach you," Steve demanded, tugging Bucky to the side. Bucky grinned again and nodded, moving to kneel on the couch to Steve's right and bending over his lap.

Bucky looked up at Steve as he moved in, their eyes locked as Bucky opened his mouth wide around the head of Steve's cock. There was a second that felt like the instant of stepping out of a perfectly good plane, wondering if he'd really packed his chute correctly or if he was about to spend ten seconds feeling really stupid before he abruptly died. Then Bucky's lips closed around him and Bucky's eyelashes fluttered down and there was nothing to do but hold on and hope to survive the ride.

Steve groaned at the first suck, watching Bucky's mouth sink down his cock unhesitatingly, his lips stretching wide around it. He was in Bucky's mouth, God, it could have been the worst blowjob anyone had ever given and Steve still would have been on the edge already just knowing it was Bucky.

Bucky knew exactly what he was doing. He kept his hand tight around the base of Steve's cock, giving him enough pressure to remind him not to come from the wicked swirl of Bucky's tongue, the perfect wet heat of his mouth. He took Steve deeper and deeper, bobbing up and down on his cock. Steve pushed himself down into the couch, keeping his legs splayed wide--anything to remember not to thrust up into Bucky's mouth.

He didn't let himself touch Bucky's head, either, even though his hair, flying around his head with every rise and fall, made such a tempting handle. He reached out instead, getting his right hand on Bucky's ass again. His fingers slid straight to the cleft this time. Bucky had his knees spread wide enough to expose himself, and Steve couldn't help rubbing his fingers down across all that smooth skin, finding where he was still slick with lube, making his fingers glide down further, his fingertips finding the soft, slick furl of Bucky's hole.

Bucky moaned around his cock and went down all the way, his lips pressed against his fist. Steve could feel the head of his cock bumping up against the back of Bucky's throat.

Steve reached down with his left hand, wrapping it around Bucky's hand on his cock and squeezing gently. "You want me to fuck you, Buck, you gotta go easy on me."

Bucky pulled all the way off, dragging his hand--and Steve's hand, still curled around it--up Steve's cock as he went. "I could make you come and get you hard again, sir. I'm sure I could."

Steve groaned again because honestly, he was sure Bucky could too, but he really wasn't sure he'd survive the experience with any part of his brain intact. He rocked his fingertips against Bucky's hole, feeling how slick he still was--God, he'd forgotten he had lube that would stay wet that long, but obviously Bucky had done some important recon today.

Steve pressed in, still not quite penetrating, and Bucky dove back onto his cock, sucking him like he'd taken that as a challenge. Well, it was Bucky, of course he had. Steve grinned and pushed his fingers inside, shallow and teasing, and Bucky pushed back into the touch and moaned around Steve's cock.

"Oh, you like that?" Steve said, only a little breathless. "You want some more of that?"

Bucky tilted his head, giving Steve a sideways look that was pretty close to a glare, and then he got back to trying to suck Steve's brain out through his dick. Steve retaliated in kind, working his fingers in and out of Bucky's ass until he found the angle that made Bucky shiver all over and groan around Steve's cock. From there it was all-out war, Bucky driving him wild while Steve leaned sideways on the couch to get the best angle on Bucky's ass, fucking him with two fingers and then three while biting little kisses all down his side. Bucky's cock was hard, flushed dark red and riding up against his belly, bouncing with Bucky's movements as he rocked between Steve's cock and his hand. Bucky's mouth was a mind-altering experience, and Steve caught himself thrusting up against Bucky's grip, going deeper and deeper while Bucky took him and asked for more.

He caught himself on the edge of coming, jerked his fingers free of Bucky's ass and snapped, "Okay, enough! Stop!"

Bucky froze, and with the words still hanging in the air Steve realized that desperate-and-about-to-come had probably sounded more commanding than he meant it.

"Hey, Bucky, come here," Steve said, gentling his voice, leaning back curling his hand gently around the back of Bucky's thigh.

Bucky picked his head up and let Steve tug him into a kiss, and Steve tried to remember to be gentle and reassuring when he'd been on the verge of coming fifteen seconds ago. Bucky put up with that for a breath or two and then sucked Steve's tongue into his mouth and started squirming, and Steve laughed against his mouth and tipped his head back.

"Come here, then," Steve said. "You want to get fucked, you can do the work."

Bucky obeyed immediately, straddling Steve's lap and reaching for his cock. "Condom, sir?"

"Y--yeah," Steve said, realizing that if he said no, Bucky would accept the answer--that maybe he'd been told no to that question before now, and--Steve pushed the thought away. They'd deal with it later, and for now Bucky was executing an improbable backbend off Steve's lap that left his dick standing straight up. Steve curled his hand around it reflexively, and then watched as Bucky did an effortless curl to straighten up, a 3-pack of condoms--from the bodega downstairs, Steve would bet anything--and a tube of lube in his hand. Steve shared a locker room with plenty of people who could do that, and had spent plenty of time in the desert watching Bucky doing things every bit as athletic, frequently shirtless, but he didn't think anyone could blame him for staring.

Bucky was grinning as he tore a condom open, deftly working around Steve's extended arm to get it on him. He gave Steve a few slow strokes once the condom was on, focusing his attention, and Steve let go of Bucky's cock, resting both hands on Bucky's hips. When Bucky gave him an expectant look, though, Steve leaned all the way back on the couch, stretching his arms out to either side and settling in decisively.

"This is your show, Barnes. You run it."

Bucky grinned with enough menace to make Steve squirm. Steve held Bucky's gaze while Bucky slicked him up, and then Bucky moved in close with a curl of hips that just begged for Steve to touch, and Bucky was sinking down onto him.

Steve's hands clenched at the overwhelming sensation--tight slick heat, the glorious sliding grip of Bucky's body, Bucky--and he pressed himself back into the couch, not pushing up, not grabbing. He dragged his gaze up to Bucky's face and caught him with his eyes closed and mouth open, his head tilted back, and Steve knew past the possibility of doubt that right at that second, Bucky was getting exactly what he wanted.

When he was all the way down to Steve's lap, Bucky stayed there for a moment, breathing fast. Steve stared at his mouth, at the column of his throat interrupted by the heavy black leather of his collar. He struggled with every throbbing heartbeat not to move while his cock was buried in Bucky's ass.

Then Bucky tipped his chin down and opened his eyes, baring his teeth in a wicked grin. He leaned in, curling down to bring his mouth almost to Steve's. Steve licked his lips but didn't move, though it was taking all his strength now to hold still.

"My show, sir?" Bucky whispered.

Steve nodded, not letting his lips touch Bucky's.

Bucky ground down on him, his ass tightening around Steve's cock, and Steve groaned and dug his fingers into the couch cushions, holding on against the onslaught. Bucky started to move, riding him slowly at first, rising and falling deliberately to let Steve feel every inch. Steve's finger joints were throbbing almost as badly as his cock after a few minutes of that, holding still and letting Bucky do it his way.

Then Bucky sped up, and Steve cussed helplessly, actual words breaking down into drawn-out sounds as Bucky worked him ruthlessly, taking him closer and closer to the brink while Steve struggled to keep still. The pleasure of it was overwhelming, and the dizzying experience of Bucky taking charge fed into every bit of it, more intense than any physical sensation.

Steve didn't know how long it had gone on when he cracked, but when he felt himself nearing the point of no return he gave up on being still and reached for Bucky, grabbing him by the back of the neck to pull him into a kiss. Bucky complied, of course, rocking helpfully on Steve's dick while Steve kissed him deep and desperately. He pulled back long enough to say, "Yeah, yeah, you win," because he could feel Bucky's smugness radiating at him.

Bucky made a hollow sound that Steve barely had time to recognize as a laugh before he was coming, hauling Bucky down into another hungry, breathless kiss. Bucky kept moving on him all the way through it, until Steve let him up from the kiss and pushed him gently away.

Bucky dismounted gracefully and peeled the condom off of Steve, tying it off with deft motions while still straddling Steve's lap. He moved like he was going to stand up, and Steve's gaze caught on Bucky's cock, harder than ever, standing tight against his belly and purple-red, a slick line of pre-come sliding down from the head.

"Hey, now," Steve said, getting his hands on Bucky's hips. "What are we going to do about this?"

Bucky held perfectly still under Steve's hands. "Whatever you want, sir."

Steve raised his eyebrows, smiling. He shifted both hands in, running his thumbs into the lines of muscle definition that angled down toward Bucky's cock. "Whatever I want, huh. And what if I want to do something nice for you, since you were so good for me?"

"You could," Bucky swallowed visibly, his hands twitching at his sides as Steve touched him. "You could tell me I'm allowed."

"Allowed," Steve repeated. He pushed the implications of that away and let himself treat this like a game, like it was just sex. Bucky wanted to have sex, and this was how he wanted to have it, and this one part of it almost wasn't strange at all. He needed Steve to take charge and get him off. Steve could do that, and he was going to make sure Bucky got to enjoy the process.

Steve brought his hands in closer, his fingers brushing over the freshly-shaved skin to either side of the base of Bucky's cock. "I have to tell you you're allowed before you can come, huh?"

Bucky gave him a jerky nod. "Please, sir."

"Lie down," Steve said, tilting his head to the right, and Bucky threw himself down on the couch, landing on his back with his legs splayed wide. Steve couldn't help seeing his hole at this angle, pink from use and shiny with lube, but he dragged his gaze up, past Bucky's cock, past his whole body trembling with need, to his eyes wide and fixed on Steve.

Steve knelt between Bucky's thighs and leaned over him, settling his hand on Bucky, his finger and thumb splayed along the lower edge of the collar. Bucky tipped his head back, pressing his throat up into Steve's touch.

"I have to tell you to do everything, don't I?" Steve said, rapidly considering his options. His hand, Bucky's throat. Permission. "That's what you need, isn't it?"

Bucky nodded, the movement shifting the collar against Steve's hand. "Please, sir."

"Coming's practically a reflex," Steve said, rubbing his thumb against the buckle of the collar, pressing it gently into Bucky's throat. "But you can't do it unless I tell you to. I bet you couldn't even breathe if I told you not to."

Bucky's eyes went wide; Steve felt his breathing stop at the suggestion. Steve put his other hand on Bucky's cock, to feel it straining hard against his palm.

"Breathe," Steve said. "Deep breath."

Bucky inhaled and exhaled while Steve kept his hand perfectly still on Bucky's cock, his other hand resting along Bucky's collar. Bucky breathed in a again, and while he was still inhaling Steve said, "Stop."

Bucky stopped breathing, and his cock jerked against Steve's hand. Steve grinned and curled his hand around it, giving Bucky a long, slow stroke while he pushed his thumb down into the notch between Bucky's collarbones to feel his pulse hammering away. Bucky's eyes were wide, and after another stroke of his cock Bucky's mouth fell open, but he didn't breathe. Because Steve had told him not to.

"Breathe," Steve ordered, stopping his hand on Bucky's cock, lightening the pressure of his thumb. Bucky took a long harsh gasp and let it out just as fast, took another heaving breath.

"Do you want to come yet, Buck?" Steve asked.

"Sir," Bucky said--not yes, not no.

"Stop," Steve said, and went back to jerking him off, faster this time. Bucky's eyes squeezed shut, his mouth opened wide, but he held out until Steve said, "Breathe."

Another frantic gasp in and then out, and Bucky's cock was so hard in his hand, Bucky's eyes so bright and wild. Steve wanted this to last forever, but then he wanted a lot of things.

"Stop," he said, when Bucky had had a few breaths and hadn't taken the initiative to beg. He gave Bucky's cock a slow, twisting stroke, and then he bent down to lap at the head. He barely got a taste--bitter and slick and new, Bucky--before Bucky arched sharply off the couch, shoving his hips up wildly.

Steve jerked his head back and raised his eyebrows at Bucky, who bit his lip and stared back.

"Breathe," Steve said, and Bucky heaved a breath that was almost a sob in and out before Steve said, "Stop. Try to hold still if you can."

Bucky went rigid, trembling with the effort, and Steve said, "When I tell you to come, you can breathe however you need to."

He lowered his mouth to Bucky's cock, watching Bucky's face as he went. Bucky bit his lip but nodded frantically as Steve's tongue traced over the head of his cock, and Steve had to reward that effort to say yes in the middle of all this.

"Later," Steve said, curling his hand around Bucky's cock. "I'm gonna let you breathe as much as you want as long as you hold still for me to suck your cock."

Bucky's eyes squeezed shut, but he nodded again. Steve started jerking him off, watching the pink of his face shade into red. His eyes opened again, staring at Steve, and Steve could feel Bucky's pulse pounding in his cock as he stroked it.

"Come," Steve said, when Bucky's face was close to being as red as his cock, and Bucky heaved in a huge breath and went off like a shotgun, recoil and all. He arched helplessly as his cock jerked in Steve's hand, jizz splashing down against his heaving chest.

Steve gentled him through it, keeping one hand around Bucky's cock and the other on his hip. When Bucky settled down to gasping and shaking, Steve sat back on his heels and opened his arms. "Come here."

Bucky scrabbled up and toward him, and Steve gathered Bucky into his arms, falling back to hold Bucky cradled against his chest while he shivered and settled down.

"That was perfect," Steve murmured, rubbing his cheek against his forehead. He couldn't help thinking of every other time in the last week Bucky had been shivering this hard, and at some point soon he was really going to take some time to kick himself for getting it so wrong. For now, though, he had Bucky to take care of.

"You were so good, Buck," Steve murmured. "Everything I asked for, you did it beautifully. You were amazing."

He could feel Bucky relaxing, melting into him and trusting his weight to Steve's body.

"How do you feel, pal?" Steve murmured, rubbing gently along Bucky's ribs, ignoring the ridges of scars under his hands in favor of feeling the way Bucky's breathing was steadying out and growing calm and shallow. "You want some water?"

Bucky shook his head against Steve's shoulder. "Just you, sir, please."

"Sure," Steve said, kissing Bucky's forehead. He'd clean Bucky up, once Bucky was willing to move as far as the kitchen, and then they could have some milk and cookies and Steve would order groceries to be delivered tomorrow while he was at work. But that was later, and for now Bucky needed Steve here, holding him close. "I've got you, Buck. I'm all yours."

Steve left a little early for work the next morning, leaving Bucky to go back to bed for a few hours after eating breakfast with Steve. He had been on his knees by Steve's chair before Steve could tell him to sit in his own chair, and Steve had shrugged sleepily and rolled with it, reaching down to feed him bites of toast with eggs heaped on top. It worked well enough, and Bucky would feed himself lunch and sit at the table for dinner.

Steve had a stop to make before he headed to work and left Bucky to have another good day on his own. He stepped into the bodega and went straight to the counter, where Eduardo was barely visible behind the walls of lottery tickets and cigarette ads.

"Hey," Steve said. "Did you see a guy in here yesterday--long brown hair, kind of twitchy, probably wearing an Army sweatshirt?"

Eduardo snorted and raised his eyebrows. "You know him? I figured with the shirt he must be a vet, but I was still ready to call the cops when he flipped out. It looked like it was going to be any minute. If I knew he was a friend of yours I might have taken my eyes off him once in a while."

Steve winced. "He--yeah, he's had a hard time, but I don't think he'd hurt anybody. He was just scared."

Eduardo's expression softened. "He had the hood tied up right under his chin. Kept touching his throat. He hurt there? Voice messed up? He didn't talk at all, I thought maybe he was covering a bunch of bandages or something."

Steve looked down, thinking of Bucky hiding his brand new collar in public but still touching it for reassurance. "No, he--he can talk. He just doesn't like to. He was okay, though? He didn't do anything weird?"

"Well," Eduardo said. "I didn't call the cops. He did stand in front of the dog food for ten minutes. Kept muttering to himself, picking things up and putting them down. Then he went and got the rest of his stuff and ran up here like someone was going to take it away from him. He used to have a dog or something? Over there?"

Steve closed his eyes. "Yeah, he--he gets confused. If he tries to buy any dog stuff, could you just take it from him and don't ring it up? Tell him--tell him Steve said we don't need any dog food. Get him to buy a candy bar or something instead. Don't make it a big thing, though, okay? He'll get embarrassed."

Eduardo nodded slowly, looking a little weirded out but mostly sympathetic. "I'll tell him. He's lucky to have a friend like you, you know that?"

Steve gave a short laugh, trying not to let it sound as wild and lost as he felt, thinking of Bucky on his mission to the bodega, agonizing over whether to buy himself kibble or mac and cheese. "I hope so, man. I hope so."