Steve is warier than everyone thinks he is, most of the time. You just have to know him to see it.
What throws people off is that the wariness tends to come backed up by absolute confidence that whatever happens, he can handle it. It makes for people missing the other, subtler cues, because it means that while Steve may well be watching for who's going to stab him in the back, he doesn't feel the need to look for the exit: he doesn't need to worry about getting away.
That's something that came after Erskine's procedure, something that (if memory can be trusted) actually made Bucky put his face in his hands and curse at one point. Because it meant he'd been right from the start, and now the idiot really did think he could take on all of Germany all by himself. That just because he was bigger and stronger, he was invincible. That life worked that way.
Not that Bucky was surprised Steve thought like that: before, that confidence had been sullen, stubborn refusal to admit fear, let alone defeat. The angry refusal to look for the way out, even if he would need it. And sometimes the resentful certainty that if only, if only he wasn't small and fragile, everything he wanted would work out, and there'd be nothing he couldn't handle.
Bucky hasn't actually enjoyed seeing him learn otherwise, or seeing the tired settling of something like age from the lessons Bucky didn't get to see. Especially since most of it's his fault. But Steve is definitely less stupid about things now, and if he was reckless before it was about not caring, instead of being unreasonably optimistic about what he could handle.
But he can still handle a lot. It means most people see him and assume just because he doesn't show fearfullness, he's wide open, an easy target. And he's not. Maybe he's not as calloused and defended as he could be, and maybe Bucky worked really fucking hard at one time to make sure he didn't have to get that way, but there's still a fuck of a lot that goes on behind walls other people don't even know are there, and a lot of things protected back there too.
Except like this. Except here, except now, naked and panting. And maybe, maybe someday Bucky will have to tell Natalia exactly how fucking glad he is none of her attempts to set Steve up worked, and how it has nothing to do with jealousy and everything to do with how sex, sex that works, makes Steve's walls drop like fucking water.
And how it's hard to tell what's worse, because if you know what you're looking at you know how easy it would be to fuck him up and that makes him such an easy fucking target - but if you don't, you might just do it by accident anyway.
It's a thought Bucky's had often enough that it doesn't even have to fucking unwind itself all the way, doesn't have to spread out into consciousness, just flickers by in the space between breaths. It just winds itself through the brighter tangle of everything else, another texture, one that makes him slide his right hand from the lower curve of Steve's right ribcage across his chest to grip the top of Steve's left shoulder. Hold tight and pull him back, biting the back of his neck and leaving a mark on the back of his shoulder, while Steve rocks with that and moans. Because no, because never, because -
Here Steve doesn't have any walls: there's only everything thrown wide fucking open, every fucking shield thrown down. Here he doesn't remember what to do with shame or self-consciousness either and fuck someone could hurt him with that later, Bucky knows it, except that he'd tear them apart if they tried.
And he knows that isn't a metaphor anymore and that fucking terrifies him but it's at the edge, the very edge of . . . everything, and so much of what's left of him now doesn't care. The blood on his hands would be worth it. Anything, everything, is worth it.
He lets go of Steve's shoulder, slides palm and fingers down Steve's arm to tangle fingers in his and then pull Steve's hand out from under him, pushing him down onto the bed, wordless because he can't fucking find words right now, because they stick in his throat and so fucking grateful Steve doesn't seem to need them. Just moves with him instead, understands.
And here, for a while, everything can be okay, here he can pretend he's a fucking human being for as long as it lasts, because the only scattered inadequate God-damn pieces of him who remember this, who know this - bodies, sex, wanting, using it all to say everything you fucking can't and hoping the other person understands - they might have been fucked up but those pieces were all people.
He used to be. And only those parts remember this.
Steve pulls their hands towards him, kisses the back of Bucky's and pushes himself up, a little; Bucky pulls away enough so that Steve can roll onto his side, twist back far enough to pull Bucky back to him, back into him, and pull Bucky's mouth to his. Wraps his left arm around Bucky's waist and digs fingertips into his skin, tangles the other hand in Bucky's hair. Bites at Bucky's lower lip and holds him. Groans Fuck, I love you, against Bucky's mouth when Bucky starts to move again, and drags his fingertips up to Bucky's lower back, still digging deep enough in that the white brightness of it hits and pools at the base of Bucky's spine.
Bucky mouths at the corner of Steve's jaw and lower to his neck and hisses for all the noises he can't make when Steve cradles the back of his head, fingers tracing points on his scalp. When Steve says, "Want you," and "more," wraps his arm tighter across Bucky's back. And says, "Bucky, God, need you, please yes."
And these, these are the words that get under his skin, that run hot and bright over every fucking nerve and make it hard to breathe, that he wants to hear over and over again, fuck, because every God-damn time they spark through his brain but they're so fucking hard to believe and they burn off and just, just. Just he wants them, oh God, Steve -
And Steve lets go of his hair and catches his face. Makes him look up so he sees the shape Steve's mouth makes when he says, "Yours," and the heartbeat's worth of pleased he sees in Steve's face at whatever shows on his, before Steve's head falls back against the pillows in disarray behind him and he says, "Fuck, harder - "
For a minute, yes, and for a minute Bucky can, except then he wants, he wants - he pulls out, pulls back and pushes himself up far enough to push Steve down onto his back, move between his open legs and then Steve's pulling him close again, closer. Then Steve's guiding him back in and breathing, "Yes," like a hiss, "all of you, always," against Bucky's ear.
And Bucky wants, wants that, knows he'd beg for it if he had to and he doesn't, doesn't and Steve says these things like they're easy, like they're true. And they're like air against suffocation and here and now Bucky wishes he could burn them, carve them into his skin with everything else, over everything else, and know it's okay and he can't but now, now it's okay anyway.
Now Steve says them, wants him; arches his back up against him, baring his throat.
Steve comes first with Bucky's mouth against the side of his neck, fingers digging hard into Bucky's neck and shoulder. When Bucky follows he comes with Steve's mouth against his ear, while Steve murmurs, Stay, stay, with me, always and pieces of words and praise, and then wraps arms around him, thighs against his waist, and doesn't let him go. In the moments of breathing, of coming back that come after, Steve holds him and doesn't let him go.
And as the minutes crawl lazily on something makes him try, makes him try anyway - because the hooks fucking dig into any moment they can and try to pull it apart, fuck: they make him try to crawl back, pull away. Tangle guilt that doesn't even know what it's fucking for, and start the edge -
Steve just moves his arms so he can draw Bucky's head back down to the top of his shoulder, space between his shoulder and neck, and says, "Nnn, don't do that. There's - where could you possibly need to go?"
Bucky hears the catch, the switch from statement to question, and can't help the wry twist to his mouth or replying, "You know the answer to that."
"Mmn," Steve acknowledges, threading the fingers of his left hand through Bucky's hair again. "And we both know it's a terrible damn reason, so you should stay where I can touch you instead."
Bucky makes himself relax, and it's easier than it could be. Lets don't do that sink into his skin, rattle around his skull and it works. Right now it works, for once, thank fuck. He can settle back and let Steve hook one ankle over his, stay here and listen to Steve's pulse slow.
Aloud he says, "Blasphemer," and hears Steve snort.
"If that reason isn't damned I'm gonna have a talk with someone," Steve replies, dryly. "It should be. It's diabolical enough. So it's description, not blasphemy."
"Sophist," Bucky retorts, mostly automatic, letting his eyes half-close and tracing the fading edge of the flush across Steve's shoulders with the index and middle fingers of his right hand.
"Atheist," Steve counters, without even going to much effort to make his tone mock-despairing.
"Nn," Bucky corrects, "misotheist. New word. Same root as misanthropy."
Steve takes a second but then he's laughing, quiet but real, body shaking against Bucky's just enough to feel. "Okay, that's fair," he admits, "that's pretty descriptive when it comes to you." After a second he says, "It still isn't blasphemy, though."
"See," Bucky says, mouth quirking up, "this is why Sister Michael wanted you to be a Jesuit."
He'll have to move a little, soon. His left arm's stretched out to the side in a way the clusterfuck of muscles left in his shoulder don't always like, or put up with. But right now he doesn't want to.
After a minute Steve says, "I would have been a really terrible priest," in an idly reflective way, and Bucky has to laugh, and wants to see the look he's got on his face. He pushes himself up a little so he can brace his right forearm against the top of Steve's chest.
"Yes," he agrees. "You would have been fucking awful."
Then he kisses Steve, not so much because he's making a point but because Steve's mouth is there, and he can. "And you'd've got thrown out," he adds, and kisses the side of Steve's mouth, "for fighting," and the other, "after you punched some smarmy bastard in the face."
"Mm," Steve agrees, catching Bucky's chin and kissing him back. "Probably."