It takes a while, but Bucky's breathing slows down, body loses the weird twistedness that says he doesn't really feel it, isn't really inhabiting it, is just using it and dragging it through the movement he wants, even if he's not moving.
About halfway through that while, Steve texts Sam and Natasha to bow out of dinner. He gets a reply from Sam that says damn then I guess the warning i was about to type out about msnbc's current fucking news rotations probably too late. Steve pinches the bridge of his nose and stops himself from wishing Hell on all news broadcasters.
He replies, if it's got something to do with dead kids then yeah and Sam replies with an angry smiley. And that should make the whole thing seem less serious, but it doesn't, because Sam doesn't use smileys a lot and when he does it's mostly because, well, he doesn't quite have the words right at hand. And the little dot-dot-dot of typing that lasts a couple minutes at least confirms that.
Then it disappears for another couple minutes before Sam sends:
i'll spare you the rant
pictures are disaster porn
blurring is shitty
and I'M writing a nasty letter b/c it's all over the fucking airport of course
and I PERSONALLY dont need to see that shit
let alone anyone else
insert angry rant about the fucking 'news' in this country here
And then, because it's Sam, a last one that says, make sure you order something if cooking's not great real food IS important and smiley that's winking and sticking its tongue out at the same time. Steve mirrors it back (Sam's not wrong: it's not like Steve'd skip eating but if he doesn't order something he might fall back on odds and ends and it's probably a better idea just to fall back on having someone else bring a real meal) and then tosses the phone onto the bedside table.
He's considered more than once writing his own nasty letters - and he's good at them, always has been - to more than one so-called "news" outlet, because when he starts having to rely on Britain and Canada for news coverage with any sense or sense of decency, that's a God-damn tragedy. Not that he would ever want it censored, but damn it, there's supposed to be a difference between tabloid and major news outlet coverage and right now Steve's damned if he can see what it is.
But he's sort of reluctantly come down on the side of figuring it'll just get hijacked by one pundit or other, and he . . . doesn't have the time or energy for that. Yet.
For now, it's nice to know Sam can write a nasty letter for both of them.
It'll heal is pretty high up there among Steve's least favourite things to hear, with allowance for different tenses (it would, it would have, any possibility in time). He'd managed to forget that the gut-punch to it'll stop is honestly worse.
That it throws him right back to that moment those few days after Bucky came home. That it pulls up everything, and says bad things about where Bucky's at in his head. That how it implies so much damned indifference, so God-damned much -
So much. So much of everything wrong. When even healing doesn't matter, just . . . cessation of the mess the injury makes.
If Steve never has to hear it again it'll still be too soon.
It's been a couple of hours when Bucky's eyes open, when he pushes himself up to sitting with his knees bent and arms around them. Body closed-off and tight.
"Sorry," he says, as the kitten gets up to bump her head against his ankle.
Sometimes the way he looks in moments like this reminds Steve of cloth worn almost through, just enough threads for it to keep its shape. And if you're careful you know it'll keep going for a while, but eventually it'll just rip for no reason, just disintegrate. Other times he knows it's just . . . tired, that thinking like that is stupid and frivolous. Sometimes he knows both.
He always just wants to make moments like this stop and never happen again.
"You don't have anything to be sorry for," Steve says, quietly. He pushes himself up on one arm to sit, or half sit. "Promise."
The look Bucky gives him is complicated, maybe too complicated to read right away, without the time to think about it for a while. Steve can see fond in it, and sad, and a twisted kind of humour, along with something that feels older than Steve likes to think, and something helpless in a way he almost doesn't want to understand, that he understands because he has to, and that scares him.
And Bucky's probably trying to make some kind of point by touching Steve's face with his left hand, but Steve elects to ignore it. Makes his counter-point by resting his hand on the back of Bucky's wrist and kissing the inside, metal cool against his mouth.
"You make too many promises to me, Steve," Bucky says, quietly, letting his hand fall. Steve shrugs and keeps his palm curved around Bucky's wrist without actually holding on.
"And I can keep all of them." He lets his mouth twitch a little and waits until Bucky's willing to look at him, see it, before he adds, "Promise."
The sound Bucky makes is halfway between laughter and something coming from pain, while he looks down and shakes his head.
Steve shifts his weight so he can lean over and take Bucky's right hand, the one that can feel more than pressure. Bucky's fingers curl over the space between Steve's thumb and forefinger and Steve says, seriously this time, "I can, you know."
Bucky closes his eyes and looks down again. Takes a breath and lets it out. Opens his eyes; says, "Steve I've known you since you were six fucking years old and would've snapped your fucking arms off at the shoulders if I pulled you over too hard, I know what you think you can do."
He doesn't pull his hand away, though. Uses the left to drag fingertips over his eyes. So Steve drags out a very serious face and says, "Are you doubting m -" and gets just about that far and no further before Bucky's cutting him off.
"Don't even start with that," he says, "you little shit," and if the edge of the laughter also hovers on the edge of the place where things fall apart, well, he's on that edge anyway Steve knows, so everything would.
"See," Steve counters, "I win when I do that, though. It exposes the fundamental logical flaw in your arguments."
He turns Bucky's hand over and kisses the inside of this wrist, too. And now Bucky's watching him with the same complicated look as before. "Steve," he says, "you don't," and then he stops and looks away, starts again with, "I am not ev - "
Steve waits until the stumble, the second hesitation, before he says, "You know, you've told me what you think you are before. And aren't." He runs his thumb over the backs of Bucky's bent fingers. "My answers haven't changed. You're yourself. And you're my best friend." He moves so he can hold Bucky's hand in both of his, and his right leg hooks a little behind Bucky's ankle. "And a lot of other really God-damn good things you won't even hear me say, but - that's the part that matters to me."
Bucky exhales, abrupt and small, and closes his eyes for a second. "And in twenty fucking years," he says, bitter, "when you wake up and this is still your fucking life, you're still fucking stuck with . . ." he stops, looks away from Steve and swallows before he says, "everything I am?"
Steve doesn't miss how Bucky still doesn't pull his hand away. Or how Bucky makes his grip loosen again, after his fingers first try to close. So Steve kisses the back of his knuckles and says, "Then that'll be a good way to wake up."
And he figures that's probably enough talking, maybe more than enough, so that there's only one good way back down from here. Knows he's right by the way Bucky responds, when Steve leans over to kiss him. By how the way he sits and moves stops being like every part is made of sharp-edged steel scraping against every other one, and starts being more like muscle and tendon, skin and bone.
By the way the kiss Steve sort of means to let be light and undemanding turns into Bucky's tongue in his mouth, to Bucky pulling him over and close, right hand at the back of Steve's neck and left arm wrapped around him, pulling tight, the inside of Bucky's legs pressed against either side of his hips.
Steve slides his left hand under Bucky's lower back, tugs a little until they're both more on their sides, so he doesn't have to hold himself up so much. Bucky tilts his head back in invitation when Steve kisses the corner of his mouth and then the corner of his jaw, and his breath catches when Steve bites over his pulse-point, bites, kisses and then sucks hard enough that the mark is wet-bright on his skin.
When Bucky shudders it mostly takes the rest of the twisted-up tension out. Like something - like that's some threshold crossed, like if Steve's willing to leave marks for some reason that really does mean it's okay, everything's okay. And right now Steve doesn't really care as long as it fucking works. More than that can be "someday", more than that can be "later": someday maybe Bucky won't have to wait, will be able to move when he needs it and take what he needs, even times like this; later, maybe, he'll be able to believe reality's not that fragile, doesn't change like that.
At least, the part of the reality that has Steve in it.
For now Steve sucks another mark into Bucky's skin under the first, and when he's done Bucky turns his head and slides down to catch Steve's mouth. And this time the kiss is easier. Less desperate.
Steve slides his hand under Bucky's shirt, pushes it up and runs his palm across Bucky's ribs and around to his back. The kiss breaks and he rests his head against Bucky's temple and says, "I'm not going anywhere. I don't want to go anywhere. I want to be here, I want to be with you, trust me, Bucky, I - " except then he has to stop because Bucky's pulling his head back and turning so he can leave mirrors to Steve's marks on Steve's skin and for a minute or two Steve can't do anything but close his eyes and try to breathe while bright hot static runs down and pools at the base of his spine.
"You," Bucky breathes in his ear, maybe half a growl, "are a stupid, reckless, self-sacrificing - " and at that Steve turns his head a bit, means to argue, but they end up just off coordinated and first his teeth knock against Bucky's lip and then the stutter-startle of the moment isn't even gone before Steve decides he wants to kiss Bucky instead of argue.
The kiss is an argument, anyway. Kinda. Probably more convincing. And by the time it's finished Steve decides that it's time to stop showing up for this argument, too, time to stop dignifying the poison by engaging so instead he murmurs, "I'm brilliant, is what I am," and considers it victory-for-now when Bucky shifts his weight a little so he can try to get Steve's ear with his right hand and yank on it.
"You got a smart answer for everything, at least," Bucky retorts, and then closes his eyes and tilts his chin back again when Steve moves his head to the side, to kiss Bucky's throat, lips parted and tongue flicking at Bucky's skin, and again just above that and to the left and then down the side of Bucky's neck to his shoulder.
Steve leaves another mark there, sucking at the skin until it's livid and red, capillaries breaking and spilling. He can feel Bucky's breath catch, this close; Bucky's right hand cradles his head again to keep him there, so Steve sucks up another mark beside the first one, closer to the scar where skin hits metal. He nuzzles against the curve of Bucky's neck, kisses the skin behind Bucky's ear, and knows he's pushing the edge of what's a good idea and thinks it's a good idea anyway when he says, "I want you. Bucky. I want you here, with me. Ten years twenty years, God, I want you here forever, I want you to always be with me."
And he's said it before, but by then it was babble, by then it was the kind of thing you say in the moment, in bed and tangled up, and this time it's not, not yet, and this time there's no excuse. This time Bucky can't brush it away, dismiss it like it's just that, just sex, and it's so close to the line but Steve thinks, Christ he hopes, thinks it's close enough to safe that the need is more than the risk.
Bucky's fingers tighten against the back of his head, his breath goes harsh, and when Steve starts to say, "You are - " Bucky cuts him off with a gasp of "Fuck, Steve," and twists under him, pushes Steve over onto his back and covers Steve's body with his. Catches Steve's hands and pins them to the bed, fingers interlaced with his, and leans down to kiss him deep and hard.
Steve groans against his mouth. He lets his legs move apart and get Bucky's between them and arches up a little until Bucky grinds down against him, his hips holding Steve's down against the bed.
Bucky kisses him until they're both gasping, until he rests his forehead against Steve's and lets go of Steve's hands. Starts to breathe, "Why are you so fucking - " but Steve slides his hands up underneath Bucky's shirt, palms pressed flat against skin starting to sweat just enough to make Steve's skin pull at his, smooth skin and scars.
And he doesn't need to finish that question, isn't going to hear because you're the best thing that ever happened to me you idiot, so Steve turns his head again a little, so he's speaking right up against Bucky's other ear and says, "Just shut up and fuck me," and there's only a half-heartbeat of thought stuttering before it gets him the sudden, startled, breathy laugh he wants.
"Manipulative little shit," Bucky says, and then bites the corner of Steve's jaw, the side of his neck, the hollow of his throat, which is exactly where Steve wants this to keep going. For so many reasons.
"Whatever works," he replies, distractedly, and watches while Bucky sits up enough to pull off his shirt.