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Learning How to Fall

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blood red rivulets on dirty skin

the sound of gunfire, the frantic rush of a body wedging itself in front of Bucky, protection

the agony of falling, falling, falling onto the cold hard ground

a man screaming his name until he was hoarse, fading, fading...steve

the crunch of heavy snow under combat boots, someone was dragging him and he couldn't get his arms to move

the pain of losing every memory associated with steve, erased

the last sunset melting beyond the horizon, the last sunset as Bucky Barnes

being reborn as a machine, a hollow vessel to hold the hate in men's hearts, fighting on the wrong side

 

Bucky woke with a start, hands frantically patting down his torso, his legs, his arms. He was alive, another nightmare then. His forehead was damp with sweat, long tendrils of dark brown hair (the color he'd inherited from his mother) stuck to his forehead as he wiped them away. in and out, in and out. you've got this. Sometimes it was all too easy to forget how to breathe, how to survive.

Just as he'd pulled the thin t shirt over his head (damp, no surprise there) he heard feet softly padding toward his room. Steve.

It had been 1 year, 3 months since he'd clawed his way back from the dead and Steve had been there every step of the way, refusing to leave. It hadn't been easy and he'd spent too many nights waking up to the sound of his own screams, the bone crushing fear as he clutched a knife to his chest. He kept it under his pillow just in case, they won't take me alive this time.

Three months ago he'd moved into Steve's modest two bedroom apartment though Steve's excuse for the entire debacle had been lousy at best, he was never good at lying.
"Move in with me, I need to keep track of you in case they come back," he'd pleaded and to Bucky it sounded like salvation. He couldn't remember the last time he'd needed anyone, he'd been alone for far too long, convincing himself that it was for the better cause. He wasn't safe, he was a weapon but Steve.  

"To the end of the line, Buck,"  a steadfast reminder that Steve wasn't going anywhere. Bucky was free to walk away - to leave it all behind but despite it all he'd chosen to stay. Bucky's room was painted a dark gray and hardly held any furniture save for the full sized bed and dresser that held what little clothing he'd acquired. There was something to be said about a room reflecting its inhabitant, empty.

"Bucky? Is that you?,"  Steve gently knocked on the door and waited. He never allowed himself to step foot in Bucky's room, to touch his things. It was too intimate, too much too soon.

Bucky made his way to the door and opened it far enough to see Steve. He was standing there all tanned skin and muscles in a white t shirt and solid black pajama pants, hair sticking up as he rubbed his eyes. His heart refused to accept that this man was off limits. It beat harder in his chest as they stood there in silence. Get it together, Barnes. You tried to kill him once before, do you really think you have a future with him? He's keeping you here so you'll be safe, nothing more. The lies he told himself just to get through the night...

" 'mm fine, bad dream,"  he'd never tell Steve the extent of the dreams or how most of them centered around losing him and how they came back in vivid detail, bright flashes of Steve pushing Bucky behind him and taking on Hydra, Steve standing in front of their apartment in Brooklyn after his ma died, the two of them on the ferris wheel in another time that no longer existed.  Steve.

"I'm right here, Buck. I mean that,"  Steve purposely left the sentence vague and open for interpretation. He didn't want to push but damn if he hadn't longed to wrap his arms around Bucky the minute he'd saw him because even behind haunted eyes rimmed with black and surrounded by high grade weapons, he was still Bucky Barnes - back from the dead.

Bucky nodded and closed the door, flopping back onto his bed as he pressed his eyes as tight as he could get them. Go away, go away, go away! MAKE IT STOP!   

 

It was a routine they worked through every week. Feral screams in the dead of night, slight shuffling in the hall, gritted teeth and closed doors. Rinse. Repeat. He had to give Steve props for holding his own and never once complaining. Aside from the nightmares that he couldn't quite shake, they'd settled into a comfortable pattern. Cold cereal in the morning at a table for set two (Corn Flakes - the one food he seemed to recall before everything went wrong), two cups of coffee, cream sugar. A black and white movie together on nights when Bucky didn't feel like running the other way and staying gone, occasional visits from Sam (he didn't mind him, really he didn't but sometimes he felt like he was being replaced). It was starting to feel like home.

One night after a particularly rough dream he'd let Steve lead him to the living room where they'd watched It Happened One Night. Black and white comfort, Steve. A life raft amidst turmoil. He remembered looking at the clock and finding that it was 4am as his head felt heavy - waking in the early morning hours to find he was tangled up in Steve who had apparently chose not to go to his bedroom. At some point they'd stretched out on the sofa with Steve lying on his back, Bucky's hand resting on his chest, his head propped up on Steve's arm, legs tangled up in his. Move, you don't belong here. It's a mistake. NO.   He chose instead to rub rough fingers on his eyes to clear the sleep from them. He hadn't dreamed, no nightmares. He told himself it was a fluke.

Steve noticed. He'd stretched and woken an hour later and smiled down at a once again sleeping Bucky who had turned on his side, his back against Steve's chest. He looked more relaxed than he had in months. He shouldn't, he really shouldn't, but he pressed a small kiss to Bucky's forehead, brushed the hair back from his eyes, allowed his fingertips to linger on Bucky's arm - shining metal and rounded fingers. He told himself that he was checking on him, it wasn't because he cared, wasn't because he'd returned home to an empty apartment after the battle with Bucky and cried until he couldn't breathe. It wasn't.

"I didn't mean to...,"  Bucky trailed off as he quickly sat up and felt exposed. He'd been snuggling, yes snuggling, with Steve...bare chest and all. Stupid.

"It's okay, really it is. We were both tired, I think we must have dozed off during the movie,"  Steve pushed down the words he wanted to say instead. I want this for the rest of my life, you beside of me, you in my life. We've wasted so much time.

"You didn't have a nightmare,"  he stated as he stood and stretched his legs. Bucky had already moved to the other room to collect a t-shirt.

Silence on the other end. Maybe he shouldn't have mentioned it.

"I didn't,"  Bucky confirmed as he made a beeline for the kitchen. Corn-flakes, two cups of coffee, cream, sugar. Steve.

"I'd like to help you if..if that's okay with you,"  Steve ducked behind a cabinet as he pretended to be searching, for what he didn't know.

"Second cabinet to the right - if you're looking for the cereal,"  Bucky was an expert at skirting questions. It never failed to make things awkward.

Steve sat two bowls down on the table, two cups of coffee, cream and sugar. Two spoons. Pairs.

It was nearly ten minutes of deafening silence before Bucky spoke.

"I would like that," he stared at his empty bowl of cereal, moving the milk around with a spoon.

Steve nodded with a small smile. Progress.

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The next morning Steve woke in an unfamiliar room, dark gray walls in stark contrast to the light blue of his own room. Bucky.

He had his back to Steve close enough that his body heat warmed him. His sheets, his pillows - it all smelled like him. Steve laid there tracing the curves and outlines of Bucky's body with his eyes, the even breathing, the way he curled the covers against himself. Scooting closer (softly so as to not wake him) Steve gently kissed the side of Bucky's neck, breathed him in. He wanted to get lost in those arms, those eyes, in everything that Bucky Barnes was. Don't push it, Rogers. Do you want to lose him for good?

Bucky felt warm breath against his neck, lips barely meeting skin - Steve.  He didn't move an inch until he heard retreating footsteps. He couldn't breathe and yet his mind refused to come up with a rational reason as to why Steve had ghosted warm lips over his neck.

Corn-Flakes, two cups of coffee, cream, sugar.

He didn't say anything though he found himself stealing glances when Steve wasn't looking.

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"This man can't outrun me, I've ran a 10K!,"  Sam had dropped by the following week, calling first before he did. He was cautious like that - didn't want to startle Bucky.

Steve laughed and shook his head as he leaned back on the couch, "He's lying," he said to Bucky who sat beside of him - closer than necessary.

Bucky would be lying if he said he'd never felt out of place in these conversations, felt he didn't have anything to contribute but he tried. For Steve. He smiled back and wrapped his hands around his drink.

For the past week they'd gone through the basics. Soundless nights spent tangled up in bedsheets, waking to small touches when Steve thought he was sleeping, Corn-Flakes, two cups of coffee, cream, sugar.

"This guy here was once too scrawny to run,"  Bucky pointed a finger in Steve's direction and smiled. He remembered bits and pieces - Steve's asthma, fending off bullies in back allies, Coney Island. It wasn't all back, not yet.

Steve smirked and clapped a hand to Bucky's leg. "Don't let him fool you. The only exercise he ever got was chasing after dames," he allowed his hand to linger far longer than it should. Bucky didn't move to stop it. Sam took notice and quickly looked away as if he'd intruded on a private moment.

He laughed and stood up to go, "That's about how it goes. I should be going, Pepper and Tony invited me to dinner and she hates to be kept waiting."

"So soon?,"  Steve walked him to the door and told him to send his regards to the happy couple. Whats gotten into him?  He's always five minutes late to everything, never seemed to mind before.

"There's a Basil Rathbone marathon on AMC tonight, care to join me?,"  Steve asked after he'd gone. He knew Bucky had a fondness for the actor and doubted he could resist. 

"I've got no where to be,"  Bucky replied as he stretched out on the couch. 

Before he could catch himself Steve's eyes trailed over lean muscles in a cotton t shirt, bare feet, the small patch of skin where the shirt rode up at the waist, worn jeans over hipbones he'd like to trace with his tongue.

Bucky, blessedly, had closed his eyes. What Steve didn't know was that he didn't need to see him to know he was looking, admiring.

"I...um...pizza. Extra cheese? Pineapple? Ham? Spinach?," he didn't wait for Bucky to answer before he bolted from the room, making his way to the telephone (possibly they were the only residents in the entire building who actually chose to use a rotary phone).

An hour later they were squished side by side on the sofa (neither one protesting that there was more than enough room). Together they'd polished off two pizzas with unusual (for them) toppings.

"Pajama suicides....,"  Bucky made a confused face as he took in the movie. Sherlock Holmes & The Spider Woman, intriguing.

"It's always Moriarty,"  Steve countered as he stretched out one leg, purposely pressing it against Bucky's.

"He's not fooling anyone in that turban," Bucky laughed and then he did something...something he'd been wanting to do. He reached across and threaded his fingers with Steve's.

He didn't miss how Steve's breath hitched and how he'd relaxed against his shoulder, the gentle squeeze of his hand.

As usual they went to bed together but this time, this time Steve didn't wait until Bucky was asleep. He waited until Bucky was lying on his side facing the opposite direction and wrapped an arm around his waist, pulled him in closer. Bucky covered Steve's arm with his own and sighed. Steve.

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Corn-Flakes, two cups of coffee, cream, sugar.

Neither of them mentioned last night, didn't need to. Like it always had been since a brief kiss ('Just to see how it feels, just once Stevie and I won't ask again.' to which Steve hadn't put up much of an argument. Bucky's mothers kitchen, the smell of pie in the oven, Steve's lips on his - strawberries...he could've died of happiness in that moment) at the age of fifteen, it remained unspoken.

Steve refilled his cup, silently pouring more into Bucky's. He sat his on the counter - pressed a kiss to Bucky's forehead before he sat back down, promptly forgetting his own cup that still sat on the counter.

Bucky had smiled at him then, eyes shining with...love? After all this time?   Steve wanted to believe it, really he did, but he was afraid that if he reached out and embraced it it might just disappear and take Bucky along with it.

He'd left for a few hours to collect groceries as the fridge was looking sparse and they couldn't survive on delivery forever. He chose each item carefully - Bucky's favorite cereal, fresh oranges, a bag of sugar, flour, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, oil, applesauce. He had a surprise in mind.

When he got home Bucky was nowhere to be found but he'd left a note taped to the television.

"Sam came by, meeting him for coffee. Will be home soon."

Home. There was something about that word that warmed him from the inside out. This small apartment with the outdated appliances they'd chosen ('40s replicas that didn't come cheap), Steve's shoes in Bucky's room, their pillows side by side, scribbled notes in pencil when one left without the other. This was their home, together. 

He sat out measuring cups, flour, spices, sugar, eggs, oil, applesauce, baking powder and baking soda. Dry goods in first then wet and into the oven.

Bucky returned two hours later, making apologies about traffic and stopped as he closed the door behind him.

Applesauce...his mother's kitchen...soft pastel yellow walls and a scrawny twelve year old. She'd taught them how to make Bucky's favorite; applesauce cake. They'd giggled and only half listened as she stirred and measured.

Steve stood at the kitchen sink still washing dishes (by hand because who needs a dishwasher?) when Bucky came up behind him and silently hugged him, nuzzled his head into Steve's neck. Steve. He'd remembered after all these years. He felt tears gather in his eyes and he didn't try to keep them from falling. Steve turned around and pulled him in, held on tighter. No words were needed.

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It was an ordinary morning not unlike the rest when things shifted.

Steve with his hair sticking up in a million directions, wrinkled shirt from the night before, dark pajama pants, bare feet.

Bucky with a faded off white t shirt he'd snagged from Steve, bare feet under the table, gray sweats.

Corn-Flakes, two cups of coffee, cream, sugar.

"Steve," Bucky started as Steve looked up at him. He could drown in those eyes.

"I remember...when...I mean, in between, I remember you. Hydra. I remember wishing you were there," he wasn't the best at voicing his feelings but he was trying. It had to be enough for now.

Steve's eyes softened as he swallowed hard, cereal forgotten before he was even finished.

"I think even then I...," he broke off.

Bucky Barnes, once a ruthless assassin, was blushing.

"I think even then I...I loved you. Not...not as a brother," he stammered as he stared at the baby blue fridge. If he looked at Steve he'd lose his nerve.

"I know a lot has changed but that...didn't," he chanced a glance at Steve who looked for all the world, smitten. His eyes were soft, cheeks pink with color as he took Bucky's hand in his own, brushed small circles with his thumb.

"I love you Buck. Always have," he smiled wide as he reached across the table and took Bucky's face in both hands and gently brushed his lips against Bucky's, pulling back to make sure he was okay. You sure you want this?  Bucky's gaze dropped to his lips before he plunged deeper still into love. 

So this was falling and knowing someone would catch you before you hit the ground. He could get used to this.

And for once in their lives, it wasn't unspoken.