Actions

Work Header

Let Me Come Through

Work Text:

"Hey, Buck," Steve said, "can you get me one of your guns? The Derringer should be good. Bring it to the table. Come on, sit."

Bucky sat across from Steve at the little kitchen table with the gun in his hands. He put it down and started pushing it across the table to Steve.

"No," Steve said, "take the bullets out. Put them on the table. Like that. Now push it over." He picked up the gun and patted his knee. "Okay, come here."

Bucky slid onto the floor and crawled over to Steve.

"Okay, knees," Steve said. Bucky knelt up, facing him, and Steve put his left hand on Bucky's face. He guided his mouth open and put the gun inside it. Bucky went limp, drooping against Steve's legs and into his hand. He was so relaxed Steve imagined he could transubstantiate and sink through the floor. Steve moved his hand so he could stroke Bucky's hair; Bucky moved his head, trying to take the gun deeper into his throat. "That's fine," Steve said. "Yeah, Buck, it's all fine."

When he took the gun out he wiped it across Bucky's face, smearing drool on his cheek. Bucky was still drooling, too, his mouth hanging open.

"Here," Steve said, wiping Bucky's chin with his sleeve. "Open your eyes, Buck."

Bucky's eyes were unfocused, quartzy; they looked more like glass than real eyes. Without being told he began struggling to focus, to look at Steve; Steve considered telling him he didn't have to, but he let him do it.

It did squeeze him hard in his chest when Bucky's gaze solidified on him. Steve patted his shoulder. "How's that for you, Bucky?" he asked. "Feels good?"

Bucky looked a little overwhelmed to be asked a question, but he nodded several times. Steve waited, running a finger over Bucky's neck, so he felt it in his hand when Bucky started trying to talk. "Yes, Steve," he finally managed to say. "Felt good."

It wasn't like Bucky was broken. He tried harder than anyone had any right to expect.

///

He was never any trouble. Steve couldn't help but sometimes wish he would be. He never woke Steve up with crying or screaming or punching walls; instead Steve would wake up from his own bad dreams, and when he went out into the kitchen for a glass of water, Bucky would be sitting somewhere odd--the kitchen table or the counter or the floor--with his legs crossed and his back straight and his vision fixed on the empty space right in front of him. At the same time he looked like he was looking through walls.

"Would you believe I'm just up looking for a midnight snack?" he asked with an air of cheery helplessness, and God damn him but Steve couldn't keep from laughing. When he laughed Bucky smiled and caught his hand and said, "But enough about me, what are you doing up? I know you can't cook for yourself." Steve laughed more, falling against the table.

///

It was especially funny because Bucky couldn’t even eat anymore. He'd used--well, that was the polite way to say it, used a feeding tube, except that he never chose it. Steve had read all about how you were supposed to discuss assistive technology, emphasizing agency, but it didn't really make sense in this case. Used a prosthetic arm, used electroshock therapy, used a cryogenic casket--one of the earlier models of which had deep gouges on the inside from Bucky's fingernails--the Soldier didn't use anything. He was used, and all that technology was just along for the ride.

"We should put a G-tube in," the doctor said. "It'll be easier on his body than a nasogastric tube--"

"Don't talk to me, talk to him," Steve said. Bucky sat in the corner facing the wall. "He's listening. Buck, raise your hand."  Bucky raised his hand. "I'm just company, he's your patient."

"It's a very short surgery," the doctor said, awkwardly directing his comments at the back of Bucky's head. "It only takes an hour and it'll be easier for your friends to feed you--"

"What friends?" Steve said. "We don't have some kind of big army of people coming in to feed Bucky. I'll do it if he can't do it himself. And he doesn't want surgery."

"I don't want surgery," Bucky confirmed. "I'll learn how to eat again."

The doctor sighed. "It's not that easy, and in the meantime you would have to use a nasogastric tube. That's down his nose," he explained to Steve, "you'd have to get a nurse to come and do that, unless you're volunteering to do it to him yourself--"

Bucky glanced over his shoulder.

"I'm volunteering," Steve said.

A nurse came over just once, to show Steve how to do it. She was great; she complained about her ex-husband and flirted with Bucky while she put the tube in. For her, he said, "You're gorgeous but you're barking up the wrong tree. Wish you weren't. As a matter of fact, Steve, go take out the trash."

"I've been worried since you started holding hands," the nurse said. "I was hoping this was just a, what do they call it--"

"I have no idea what they call it," Bucky said.

"A bromance," Steve said.

"Is that it?" the nurse said. "Bromance?"

"I don't get it," Bucky said. "You thought we were brothers?"

///

Bucky had let himself be found easily; he'd immediately trusted Steve and anyone Steve told him to trust. They hadn't yet bothered to talk about what Bucky remembered, when just getting through the day was requiring so much effort. But it was obvious that he was focused on Steve, that he knew Steve was the person who was going to get him through this.

Steve didn't know or care if they were going to fuck or do the obedience stuff, the same way he didn't care if Bucky remembered anything, if he was going to be able to take care of himself, what he was going to do with the rest of his life. In the early days, if it wasn't urgent--like the feeding tube, or trying to find a way for Bucky to sleep--it went out the window.

So he didn't know, until Bucky said, "You're barking up the wrong tree," that Bucky remembered, and wanted to.

He'd already been sort of giving him orders, just because it felt natural and it worked. Steve hadn't thought through whether it was because Steve had been his commander; or because of the stuff that had been just the two of them; or because the Soldier had done nothing but take orders. But he wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth and Bucky seemed calm and things moved smoothly, if Steve just laid out the unimportant things for him. This is your room, you'll sleep here, you'll sit here, you'll wear this. Let Bucky focus on the hard things, the things that Steve couldn't decide for him. There were enough of them.

After a few weeks, Bucky made two executive decisions. Steve was putting a new tube in--intubating, it was called--and he could see Bucky was--well, he had a way of sort of freezing, deer-in-headlights, not moving, just paralyzed. He'd kept up a good attitude for the nurse, but he couldn't keep it up for Steve.

Steve tried to joke, "I'm scared I'm gonna knock some of your back teeth out with this."

Bucky tried to joke back, "Well, you wouldn't be the first," and Steve tried to keep from letting the horror show on his face, but Bucky got an agonizing look of worry and said, "Aw Steve, I'm sorry, I never meant to put that on you--" meaning Steve knew for certain that Hydra techs had actually knocked some of his teeth out. Steve hadn't known any were missing--Bucky wouldn't go to the dentist, and it wasn't exactly at the top of Steve's list of concerns. It was out the window with all the other long term stuff.

"I can take it," Steve said. "It's fine."

"Wrong," Bucky said. When Steve was getting the litmus paper to make sure the tube was in Bucky's stomach and not in some other place inside him, Bucky said, "Hey, I'm getting a G-tube--it's just an hour. Much better for both of us than this. And if I apply myself I should be able to eat soon. Or at least drink formula or something."

"Okay," Steve said. "I'll call that shitty doctor."

"Oh, it's not just me, is it," Bucky said. "I thought I was just sensitive about doctors."

"You are, but I'm an expert on doctors and that one is a grade-A asshole," Steve said.

Steve was about to turn in for the night when Bucky said, "Does that other room have to be my room?"

"Well, no," Steve said. "What did you have in mind?"

Bucky glared at him as if he resented having to say it.

"You want to sleep in my bed?"

"You're getting warmer," Bucky said.

When Steve woke up in the middle of the night, Bucky was sleeping on the floor next to his bed. The sight was a little startling; Steve used to make him sleep on the floor sometimes in Brooklyn. But Bucky always slept hard and deep--Steve had been jealous of it--and now, he woke up pretty much as soon as Steve looked down at him. "Hey," Steve said.

"Hey yourself," Bucky said.

"What are you doing?"

"Can't you tell?"

"I mean what are you doing wearing clothes," Steve said. Bucky got a huge smile on his face. "Wipe that smile off your face and get to it," Steve said, "how do you think I feel being denied my rightful view?"

Pretty soon Bucky was lying there naked, but he was still smiling. He was trying to bite it back, a little, but it just kept coming.

"I don't give out As for effort," Steve said. "What's so funny? Stop smiling! This is serious business." Bucky burst out laughing; he covered his face and folded into a giggling ball. "Now I can't even see anything!" Steve complained. "You're getting it for this in the morning."

Bucky peeked out at Steve through his fingers. "Well, good," he said.

///

"You stop that right now," Steve said.

Bucky looked quizzical; he was getting ready to attach his feeding tube to the port in his stomach. He’d already filled a syringe with the super-high-calorie formula he was supposed to eat.

"I'm doing it," Steve explained. "Put your hands in your lap."

Bucky complied. "Why do you have to do it?" he said.

"‘Cause I want to be the person who feeds you, unless I'm not home when you need to eat. You'll wait with your hands in your lap while I get everything ready; you'll say please before I put the food inside you; and you'll thank me for feeding you after. Can you do that?"

Bucky stared at him. "Yes," he said.

Steve was embarrassed. "I mean, if you don't want to, I don't care. Sometimes I get carried away."

"Aw!" Bucky said. "No. I want to. I like everything you do. I'm just...you don't have to be so good about everything."

"I'm not being good," Steve said.

"I do like it," Bucky said. "I'm just saying, it's not exactly as picturesque as feeding me chocolate, is it?"

"Excuse you, that formula’s probably delicious," Steve said.

He waited for Bucky to laugh before he opened the port, because he had this whole half-formed fear that Bucky's insides would come squirting out of his stomach if he laughed while it was open.

“Here we go,” Steve said, and Bucky pulled his shirt up for Steve to attach the feeding tube to the port. It took Steve a minute to get it set up properly, but he didn’t mind; it was interesting. It was a new kind of thing, being able to put Bucky’s food right inside him. He stroked Bucky’s stomach, next to the port, and looked up at him. Bucky was watching him steadily. “You want this?” Steve asked. “You want your food?”

“Yes, please, Steve,” Bucky said.

Steve picked up the syringe of formula and started putting the tip of it into the tube. “You want this?” he said again. “You want me to put it in all the way?”

Bucky rolled his eyes.

“Oh, you don’t have to have it if you don’t want it,” Steve said.

Bucky put on a pleading look. “Please, Steve,” he said in a soft desperate voice. “Please, I need it. Please, put it in me.”

Steve cracked up. “I can’t believe you rolled your eyes at me. You’re the one taking this to the next level.” Bucky grinned, pleased with himself, and they both watched as Steve inserted the syringe into the tube and slowly pushed down the plunger, forcing the formula down into Bucky’s stomach.

"You know, this actually is sort of doing it for me," Bucky said.

"Everything does it for you," Steve said. "It's one of your best qualities." He'd been thinking about that--specifically, about Bucky taking care of him when he was sick. He'd been thinking about that a lot over the last few weeks.

At the time, Steve hadn't really believed that Bucky could be attracted to him when he was at his weakest. It didn't seem to fit with liking to be hit and bossed around. Steve would always get annoyed when Bucky said that he loved taking care of him, because he figured he was either lying, or he secretly resented Steve and liked seeing him powerless. Well, the second thing was pretty paranoid, but Steve did think he was lying.

At some point after the serum, Steve had enough distance to realize why Bucky would say that. There had been no weird secret. Bucky hadn't seen it as taking care of someone lesser; he'd been performing a service. Steve got it now, too, from the other side.

"You know, I never said thank you," Bucky said later, when Steve had capped the port closed and pulled Bucky's shirt down over it, smoothing it over his stomach.

"I didn't even notice," Steve said. "I guess I was just distracted by the sight of all that thick, creamy fluid pumping into you."

Bucky laughed so hard that he had to lay down on the table. "God, I'm so happy," he said when he lifted his head. "Missed you."

Steve was never much good at this kind of conversation, so he just ran his fingers through Bucky's hair. "How's it feel? I mean, was it uncomfortable or anything?"

"Honestly, it's so much better than the other way," Bucky said. "Maybe my doctor isn't so shitty and we should have listened to him before."

"I mean, maybe if he actually talked to you, we would have," Steve said.

"Aw, you can't blame him," Bucky said. "It's obvious you're the boss of me."

Steve leaned forward and kissed him, long and slow; it wasn't until he felt Bucky's ragged breathing that he realized it was their first kiss since 1944. Bucky pulled back to get ahold of himself, leaning his forehead against Steve's as he gasped for air. He was hanging on to Steve so hard with his metal arm that he ripped a hole in his sleeve. "Hey, hey," Steve said. He put his arms around Bucky's shoulders and rocked him a little bit. "The boss of you says it's okay. You can relax."

///

Pretty soon Bucky started drinking a little formula, and he learned to eat oatmeal and peanut butter and bread. He disliked eating, and anyway he couldn’t do enough of it to make a dent in his caloric needs; but he made himself practice, in case he could get used to it again. Steve would feed him little pieces of bread like a pigeon, or let Bucky lick the peanut butter off of his fingers.

"Hey Steve," Bucky started.

"No, I'm not letting you suck peanut butter off my dick," Steve said.

"You never let me do anything," Bucky said.

"That's right," Steve said. "Never let you do anything in--what, seventy-six years? And I've had no reason to change my stance so far."

"Hey Steve," Bucky said.

"What now," Steve said.

"Well," Bucky said, "speaking of pumping fluids into me--"

"--which we weren't even talking about--"

"--I'm ready whenever you want me," Bucky finished. He looked steadily at Steve, and he wasn't smiling like Steve might have imagined he would be. He looked sad, actually. Steve hurriedly wiped the peanut butter off his fingers so he could squeeze Bucky's shoulder.

"Is it hard to wait for me?"

"What? No," Bucky said. "I thought you were waiting for me."

"Oh, come on, I know you're always ready to give it up."

Bucky smiled sweetly.

"I'm just. Getting my bearings," Steve said. He didn't want Bucky to take it the wrong way, but it seemed like he was already getting hurt by Steve's silence on the subject.

Steve just felt like the screwing needed some thought. Pain, too; he'd barely raised a hand to Bucky since he came back. Pretty much he'd just smacked him on the ass or the back of the head, in a friendly sort of way. More a show of ownership than anything that could actually hurt Bucky, especially after the degree of pain and torture he'd been accustomed to.

Was that the rub?

Not exactly. He just was a different person--they both were--and Steve still needed to spend more time learning about that. Most of it was as simple as that he wasn't ready.

"I know you probably think my side is the easy side," he started, tearing a little piece off the soft crust of his pizza. He made sure not to get any sauce or cheese on it, so the meal didn't turn into another session of holding Bucky while he threw up.

Bucky opened his mouth for him. Steve could see how carefully he ate; he'd taste the food, chew it about a million times, swallow with a nervous look, and then sit there waiting to see if it would come back up. Steve felt himself getting nervous, too, just by osmosis. When Bucky realized the crust was going to stay down, he said, "Yeah, I know it's the easy side. Look at all the nice food you get while I'm living on crumbs. You treat me like some kind of rat that lives in your cabinet."

"Oh, a cabinet's too good for you," Steve said. "I'd keep you in a rattrap."

Bucky laughed. "You're so right. I wonder how much it would cost for us to built a human size mousetrap for sex. I mean, no amount of money is really too much for that. Seriously, though," he said, a little formally, "I never thought you had the easy job."

"Okay, good," Steve said. "I just don't want you to take it the wrong way when I say I need to get back into how to do it."

"Aw, you do not," Bucky said. He held up his hands at Steve's expression. "Sorry, I'm not arguing--I just mean you've already been so great at it since I came back."

"Well yeah," Steve said--Bucky started laughing at him--"but it's sort of like building a house. You need scaffolding first."

"Wow," Bucky said, "it's almost like you know nothing about building houses 'cause you never worked with your hands in your entire life."

"Okay, never mind, you can just remain in suspense about why I haven't fucked you yet."

"I don't mind waiting," Bucky said. "At all. I just--well, I never want to deny you anything that you want."

He was clearly quite serious about that, and Steve felt himself go strangely tender. "Oh, Bucky, I know that," he said, and Bucky nodded curtly, his slightly embarrassed look not covering his relief.

///

Steve couldn't help thinking Bucky looked like a gargoyle, when he sat around the house at night. Honestly, it really scared him; it wasn't that he was scared of Bucky doing anything bad, it was just that he didn't look like himself. Bucky had been very animated, when they were younger. In the war his movements had become more subdued, and that was even more the case these days. He'd still gesture or fall down laughing, when it occurred to him to do so, but it was kind of an exception to his normal way of moving. When he wasn’t thinking about it he moved quietly, unobtrusively.

But when Bucky sat up at night, he looked like he was made of stone, like he wasn't even there in his body. It was very far past brooding or grief or any of those things. It was absence.

At first Steve didn't realize how bad it was, because Bucky would start talking to him sometimes, and because he didn't realize how much it happened. But once they started sleeping in the same room, Steve realized that it happened several nights a week. He would wake up sometimes and go looking for Bucky, and as he found him more and more--sitting on the table, sitting in the empty bathtub, sitting in the front room facing the door--there were many nights when Bucky didn't answer him, didn't even seem to realize that anyone else was in the room with him.

If he did notice Steve, after a while, he'd apologize for worrying him. "I'm just sort of sleeping with my eyes open," he said. "Sometimes it's easier than sleeping lying down."

"Do you want to sleep in my bed instead of on the floor?" Steve asked.

"No, that's not it," Bucky said. "There's not anything you can do. Sorry to worry you. It's really none of your concern." He wasn't angry; he said it very politely. His voice reminded Steve of an announcer on a radio, one that wasn't quite tuned properly. He sounded blurry and calm and far away.

"Bucky, I'm worried," Steve said another time when he found him. He sounded very young in his ears.

Bucky raised his head slowly to look at him. It was like a statue moving, until Bucky reached out and stroked his arm, softly. "Don't worry about it," Bucky said, smiling. "I got it under control."

"But I want it to keep it under control for you," Steve said.

"That's nice of you, but it's not really your problem," Bucky said, as gentle and calm as before.

"Your problems are my problems," Steve said, feeling very stupid in the face of Bucky's calm. Maybe calm wasn't the right word; he didn't look serene so much as exhausted and empty and worn thin.

But he also spoke with total conviction. He probably did have it under control.

"I won't bother you about it anymore, if you don't want," Steve said. "Can I kiss you?" Bucky nodded. Steve wasn't sure exactly how to handle him when he was like this, which was why he'd asked. Steve just put his hand on the back of Bucky's head and kissed him quickly--more of a nip, really. Bucky put his flesh arm around him, squeezed, and released him.

"Thanks, Steve," he said, sounding a little more human than gargoyle for now. "You're a trooper."

///

"Oh, that's the stuff," Bucky said, the second or third time Steve had him take his clothes off and kneel on the floor while Steve was eating breakfast.

Well, Steve had just said "get on the floor." It used to be that when he said that, Bucky would curl up and wrap himself around Steve's legs and maybe try to push his head into Steve's lap unless he was explicitly told not to and maybe slapped around a little. But now he just knelt, with perfect posture, not making any contact with Steve. Steve had to be the one to reach out to him--stroke his hair, maybe, put his hand around Bucky's throat. Or just tell him that it was okay to lean his face into Steve's knees, which was what he'd done now.

"Mm," Bucky said, and Steve felt his warm breath on his knee; "I missed being naked. It's great." Steve couldn't help being puzzled--he'd seen the files--and Bucky intercepted him. "Been without my clothes a lot. Haven't been. Not like this, naked for you, with you, for you to look at--"

"Well, you better stand up and let me look at you, then," Steve said.

He kept eating breakfast and directed Bucky to stand about an arm's length away from him, with his back to him. "Do you want me to do anything?" Bucky said.

"Nope, just stand there," Steve said. He kept eating and looking at Bucky. Eventually he stuck his bare foot out and rubbed it on the back of Bucky's thigh.

"Is that your foot?" Bucky said. "What are you doing?"

"I can't use my hands, I'm eating."

Bucky made an annoyed sound.

"God, you're impatient. You're gonna stand there as long as I want to look at you, so getting pissy about it just a few minutes in really isn't a good move."

"Sorry, Steve."

Pretty soon Steve finished his breakfast. He still knew he didn't want to fuck anytime soon, but that didn't mean he couldn't give Bucky a little treat. He put his arms around Bucky from behind, like a sweetheart turn, and reached down to touch his dick. "How are you this hard just from being looked at?"

Bucky made a little happy mumbled noise and pushed up into his hand.

///

"Steve, I--"

Steve woke up in a flash. But everything was quiet and dim in his room. Bucky was standing by the bed, straight backed and still as ever. "What's going on?" Steve said.

Bucky sat down cross legged on the bed. He was dressed; he always slept in his clothes unless Steve had instructed him not to sleep in anything. "You know," he said, "how I told you it's none of your concern."

"I do remember that, yeah," Steve said.

"There's some of it that I guess it's your right to know," Bucky said. He was fiddling with his hair. Steve waited. "Was there anybody after me for you?"

Steve's heart sank. "No," he said. He reached out and rubbed Bucky's knee. "Not...I just wasn't interested."

"I wasn't either," Bucky said quickly, "but--"

Steve pulled on him gently to lie down on the bed with him. They lay next to each other.

"Aren't you going to ask me the same question?" Bucky asked.

"I know what you're saying," Steve said. He felt empty, like all the air had been squeezed out of him. He reached over and took Bucky's hand, loosely. "During those times. They made you. With them, or, uh, with targets?"

"Uh, both," Bucky said, "yeah, both."

"Oh," Steve said. It shouldn't have been a surprise--they'd taken everything else. But he put his hand over his face and pressed down hard. Bucky's arm came over and wrapped around him.

"Hey, hey, don't worry," he said, like he was cajoling a stray dog. "Steve, it's okay. It's okay. I just thought you deserved to know."

"I don't, really," Steve said. "Well, not that you shouldn't have told me, but I mean--it's not, it's not like it counts."

"Oh, it counts," Bucky said. "One of the shitty doctors already tried to tell me it doesn't count, but, well, you can't just say something didn't happen because you don't want it there. And you weren't my last, not by a long shot--that's just a fact."

"Oh, Bucky," Steve said. It was such a dumb thing to say that he found himself on the verge of tears. "Fuck, I'm sorry."

"It's okay," Bucky said. He leaned over Steve and kissed him, thorough and gentle. Steve thought Bucky was trying to distract him, but pretty soon he didn’t care, he just wanted to kiss him. He put his hands on Bucky's back and Bucky climbed on top of him, straddling him. They kissed for a long time, Steve mostly holding Bucky in place but sometimes moving one hand to stroke his hair or hold onto the back of his neck.

When Steve pulled back he said, "You know, you have to promise to tell me about problems like you always did."

He expected Bucky to snap at him like he would have done before, but Bucky just said, "I promise.” Steve looked in his eyes for a minute, feeling him out, and Bucky said, “Please? Can we?”

“Okay,” Steve said. He opened Bucky's pants and pushed everything down to his thighs so he could cup and grope Bucky's hips and ass, sliding his hands over him. Steve didn't even touch his dick but Bucky was fully hard and trembling all over when Steve touched him. "You know about video games?" Steve asked him.

"No?"

"Never mind," Steve said. He'd been going to say Bucky was the easiest setting. He was and Steve was so grateful for it, that he could do something for him, even though he couldn't do much. "Sit up straight for me."

Bucky straightened his back and Steve laid back and considered him, holding him hard by his hips.

“Slap yourself in the face. Right hand.”

Right hand,” Bucky complained.

“No backtalk. I’m not having you break your face--it’s the only thing I have to look at to distract myself from your personality.” Bucky slapped himself. “Well, you could go a little harder than that. Try again.” Bucky slapped himself again and it made a nice, sharp sound. He was getting a haphazard look. “Five more,” Steve said. “I’ll count for you. One. Two. A little kid could hit harder than that, Buck. Three--that’s better. Four. Five.”

Bucky looked down at him, both disoriented and focused; like he was lost in a dream and could only just drag himself up enough to look at Steve, to follow his orders. Steve felt himself smiling, a big stupid smile. He gave Bucky one little gentle stroke where he was holding him.

“I’ll get you here,” he said, suddenly digging his nails in--Bucky startled but didn’t try to get away, just kept paying attention--”and you get, hmm, your nipples with your right hand--first one, then the other, back and forth--and pinch around your stomach with your left hand. Scratch yourself. Don’t break the skin, but as hard as you can do it short of that.”

Steve laid back, occasionally loosening his grip on Bucky’s hips or pushing his nails in a little deeper, but mostly just lying still and watching Bucky hurt himself. He was so great at doing it--Steve never really understood how someone could be so good at that, but he didn’t need to understand. Bucky whimpered and flinched as he twisted his nipples and raked his metal fingers along his belly and waist, but he didn’t let up on himself. Maybe for a minute he’d pause, just overwhelmed, and then he’d gasp out, “Sorry,” as he started again, “sorry, Steve,” and be rougher on himself than before. He was very conscientious.

“Good,” Steve said. “You’re done. Now--” He waited a minute, thinking about it. Then he took his hands off Bucky, took Bucky’s hands, and put them flat on the bed on either side of him, so Bucky was leaning forward, bracing himself on his arms. He took Bucky’s hips again and guided him a bit, just so, until his naked erection was right against Steve’s clothed one. “You feel me?” Steve asked him.

Bucky nodded, eyes wide.

“Get me off with your dick,” Steve said. “You can come after I do.”

Bucky nodded again and began thrusting his hips forward to drag his dick against Steve’s. At first he moved cautiously, waiting for Steve’s response.

“Good,” Steve said. “You’ve got it, Buck, that’s right.” Then he got embarrassed when he couldn’t help hissing, almost gasping, at how quickly Bucky figured out the best way to do it. He hadn’t been thinking this would be for him. He’d wanted to do it for Bucky, but he felt his own body and brain unspool with how good it was, and how confident he was that it would stay good with no effort on his part. Bucky didn’t need direction, not when he was so sweet and careful, and he looked so good rutting against Steve, his hair messy and sweaty and that look growing on his face, the look that you couldn’t really call embarrassed because it was too happy--flustered, floating--like he was wallowing in the feeling of being just a thing that got Steve off.

“Just for me, Buck, it’s just for me, not for you,” Steve said, almost to himself, and Bucky made a sad little noise. He was so sensitive, and he’d been touched more anyway; it wasn’t easy for him not coming, when he was being made to use his dick.

Steve wondered if he was on the verge of begging to use his mouth or his hand instead, so he could make it. That might be a little fun--it was fun to imagine--but Bucky would never fail him like that. He looked pained by now, squeezing his face up in concentration, trying not to enjoy it too much, when every movement of his hips was probably shocking him with pleasure the same as it was for Steve.

“Faster,” Steve said, and Bucky made a noise of protest, but he got down to it, grimacing and driving his body against Steve’s. It only took a minute for Steve to come then, filling his eyes and head with how overwhelmed and desperate Bucky looked; and then he was pulling Bucky down to him, Bucky’s head on his shoulder and Steve’s arms around him as he came, shaking and crying out. Then Bucky relaxed all at once.

“Hey, move, let me clean us off,” Steve said.

“No,” Bucky said, perfunctorily, but he rolled off so Steve had room to get his underwear off and use it to wipe off both of them before throwing it on the floor. “Don’t just throw it,” Bucky said, “mice’ll eat it.”

“Mice don’t eat come,” Steve said.

“Ants maybe.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Steve said.

Bucky nosed up to him, seeing if it was allowed; when Steve stroked his hair he pushed his face into Steve’s neck and cuddled up, fitting himself back into Steve like a puzzle piece.

"Doesn't it hurt to sleep on your arm like that?" Steve said.

"It always hurts," Bucky said, and laughed. "I sound like Grandma. Grandma Hattie, I mean." He kissed Steve's neck. "Thanks for that."

Steve didn't do anything cuddly in return; he was starting to worry again.

He opened his mouth to speak and Bucky said, "Can it. We don't ever have to talk about it. Kind of a mood killer, right?"

"No, not really," Steve said. "You're overestimating me if you think anything ever kills the mood for me. I'm more or less all dick and no brain."

"Don't I know it," Bucky said.

He kissed Steve some more, sucking and lapping at his neck; it wasn't so much immediately sexual as just a sensation that filled his mind up for a while. Bucky had used to do it when Steve was in pain, and it really helped. Steve wondered if doing something similar could help Bucky with his arm.

Finally Bucky said, "I just mean because I'm supposed to be just yours. I don't like that it happened, just because of that."

"You are just mine," Steve said. "I don't think anyone can do anything about it."

"No," Bucky said. He sounded tired. "You just think that because you weren't there."

///

Steve woke up, and Bucky was on the floor where he should be, but he didn't look right. His eyes were so big and wide that, half asleep, Steve couldn't help glancing at the ceiling to see if there was something up there. "Bucky, get up in the bed," he said.

Bucky said, "I don't deserve to be in the bed with you."

Steve was blindsided; Bucky had never said anything like that in his life. "That's my decision," he said. "Come on, get up here."

Bucky's eyes focused on him. "I can't, Steve, don't make me." Steve shrugged and got down on the floor with him. Bucky made a horrible, gutted-sounding noise that Steve would have really liked in different circumstances. "No," he said.

"No what?"

"You shouldn't have to get on the floor for someone like me."

"What?" Steve poked Bucky in the shoulder with his finger. "What are you talking about?"

"I don't know," Bucky said.

He stared up at the ceiling. Steve started telling him off, mildly. "My boy," he said, "you come to me when I tell you to; I'm the one who decides where you ought to be, not you. It's better like that. You're not very bright, are you?"

He meant it to be comforting, and he could see it was; Bucky said, "No," and scooted a little closer to him on the floor.

"What's all this about?" Steve said.

"It's--"

"It's not my business, right? Not my problem?" He sighed. "Look, I'm really trying not to be an asshole here but--"

"Oh, hilarious," Bucky said. "Like that's ever happened." Steve was heartened. In a moment Bucky said, "You know, if I don't follow orders it's okay to just force me to do them. I don't mind."

"Really?" Steve squinted at him. They had never done that kind of thing. Of course Steve couldn't do it when he was small, and later Bucky didn't want it.

"I know it used to bother me," he said, "but it doesn't anymore. If I'm not listening, or if I say no, just make me do it anyway. It's your right."

That got to Steve immediately. He really was all dick and no brain. "But you said you couldn't get up on the bed," he protested.

"It shouldn't really matter what I can and can't do," Bucky said. "Even if I say I can't, you're strong enough to make me do it, and you know best."

"I do, huh?" Steve said.

"Who knows better? I'm about as functional as a sack of flour at this point. You know me, you love me, you're a good guy. I put myself in your hands."

Steve couldn't tell if he was serious or flirting. Honestly, he felt like Bucky had a pretty good grip on things--it would be shitty to say he was doing well, because he was so unhappy, but he amazed Steve with his patience. He'd always been patient, but most patient people wouldn't be able to be patient through this. "You're a good guy," he said.

"Okay," Bucky said in a tone that indicated Steve was missing the point. He must have been flirting.

"I can force you," Steve said, self-correcting; then his throat caught it on the way out. "I mean--I--"

"It's okay," Bucky said soothingly. He took Steve's hand and kissed it, then just held it against his shoulder like he was keeping them attached to each other.

"Don't you think it's kind of--I mean, don't you think it would bother you to--"

Bucky sighed. "You'd think that, wouldn't you," he said. "Let me tell you something. I--well--"

There was a long hesitation, so Steve said, "I can take it."

"I hate that," Bucky said. "All this Winter Soldier bullshit isn't your problem, I hate making you carry it around for me."

"Well, you know what I think about that."

"Yeah, I do," Bucky said. "I just--sometimes the idea of you owning me the way they did. Or treating me like they did. It's kind of comforting."

"Like what kind of thing?"

Bucky snorted. "You don't have to do it! It's bad enough that I think about it. It's just the only thing that...I don't know." He tangled their legs together as he talked. "Sometimes I just...I can't stop remembering it, over and over. In Technicolor...it's like this stream of, you know, positions, and I feel like I'd rather die than remember it one more time."

"So you put me in there instead of them?"

"Well, sort of. Sometimes," Bucky said. "But sometimes I get more elaborate." He hesitated.

"I want to hear it," Steve said. "I don't care if it's bad, it's just thoughts. Thoughts never hurt anyone."

"Okay," Bucky said. "I like to think about you stealing me away from them. Like..." He paused, chewing on it. "Maybe they're running a train on me, I don't know, and you just come in and kill everyone. And I don't remember you, so I try and fight you, but you just grab me and pull my clothes off--maybe you tell me to suck your dick and you have a gun to my head, you're gonna blow my brains out if I don't do as you say--"

"Oh, I see," Steve said.

"Well, that's one of the nicer ones," Bucky said. "I probably shouldn't tell you this kind of thing anyway."

"What are the bad ones like?"

"Problem," Bucky said.

"You don't have to do that, you could just say no," Steve said.

"I hate saying no to you."

"I know that."

"I'm just trying to say," Bucky said, "that there's nothing you can't do to me or make me do--there's nothing scary in that for me anymore. If it's you, it's safe. Honestly, feeling like I can't get away from you is a nice feeling."

///

So one time Steve woke up and found Bucky sitting by the window and there wasn't even anything out there; their apartment looked out onto a brick wall. They'd chosen that. They liked it. They hadn't had a lot of time to choose an apartment and Bucky was barely speaking the first few days but he tapped Steve once, twice, and smiled out of the corner of his mouth.

They didn't need a view, and they liked that no one could see them.

"Come to bed with me," Steve said, which he figured was what he was supposed to do. He could see Bucky was looking at him, even though it was more like he was tracking him than actually looking straight at him to communicate. Steve was prepared to wrestle him into bed if that was what he wanted.

But Bucky had always liked the idea of struggle more than he actually liked resisting. Apparently that hadn't changed; as soon as Steve reached out for him, Bucky took his hand and let himself be led back into Steve's room, curled up on his bed with him.

"Can you tell me what's on your mind?" Steve said.

"No," Bucky said.

"You know you've really screwed yourself," Steve said. "I can get it out of you if you won't let me have it."

He was bluffing, but he was starting to think Bucky just needed him to bluff a little more, to come up on the edge of force. He was right this time--Bucky loosened in Steve's arms, limp on the bed, and said, "Just the usual stuff."

"Sorry," Steve said.

"So am I," Bucky said. "It seems kind of selfish, you know? I should be thinking about my victims. It's not...my psychiatrist isn't really so stupid, it really doesn't count, it wasn't real sex, it doesn't do any insult to you--but I just can't--"

"I mean, it's kind of an insult to you, don't you think?" Steve said.

"I guess that's where I'm hung up," Bucky said. He sighed. "I do think about my victims, you know. A lot. I'm not some kind of--I do care, but I just, somehow I'm more hung up on the selfish aspects."

"You're not selfish," Steve said.

"Wrong."

"It was an awful thing, Buck." Steve said what he'd thought to himself: "They took everything from you. That's crazy. How could you not think about that?"

"I don't know," Bucky said. "I just wish I could stop."

"Come over my way," Steve said. Bucky turned over to face him and Steve pulled him close, kissed him, pulled his shirt up to scrape the small of his back. Bucky startled and Steve said, "You know when we were younger, I'd keep my fingernails long and sharp."

"Yeah, you never really--ssss--took care of yourself," Bucky said. "You could have--oh--looked nicer--"

"I didn't forget to cut them. It was for you," Steve explained, "and I've been trying it a little bit, again, they grow so fast--how's this?" Bucky didn't say anything, just hissed while Steve scratched him. Steve could feel some of the scratches were bleeding, but that would be over soon. He wasn't bothered. "You're not selfish, Buck," he continued, twisting the skin up to get more friction, so it would hurt more; "so just be easy on yourself and let me distract you."

"But I can't be easy on myself," Bucky said, and he sounded like he was almost crying.

"Why not?" Steve asked. He reached down and unbuttoned Bucky's jeans, pushing them and his underwear down over his hips. "Kick these off for me, would you? And get your shirt off. Why not?"

"It's too hard, okay?" Bucky said.

Steve flipped him onto his stomach and got on top of him, pulling his hands tight together behind his back. He'd been right, in all his fantasies of doing stuff like this--it was thrilling, being able to just move Bucky around like he was a doll, being able to pin him. "Okay?"

"Yes okay, I already told you," Bucky said, irritated.

"God forbid I double check something with you. Now why can't you be easy on yourself?"

"Steve, I can't."

"It's a problem, or you're just being a little shit?"

There was a long pause--Steve waited--and Bucky said, "I'm just being a little shit, Steve." Steve stroked the back of his neck, then ran his nail over it. It wasn't a scratch, just a reminder of how sharp his nails were. "It's so hard to try and get through this," Bucky said. "I can't--I got to never let up on myself, or I'll lose it, completely lose it."

"I'll keep a lookout if you lose it," Steve said, and Bucky sobbed, just once, burying his face in the pillow. "You decide. But you're being real good, it's no skin off my back if you can't keep it together all the time."

"Not good at all," Bucky said, muffled. "Can't be, anymore."

"What a dumb thing to say," Steve said. "Anyway. Your choice, but if you want to lose it sometimes I got you. I can make it real bad for you without any effort on your part. Questions? Comments? Just kidding, we both know that's too complicated for your pea-brain. Yes or no?"

///

After the first time Steve made him suck the Derringer, Bucky told him he could hang onto the gun. Steve was shocked. Bucky always wanted to know where all his weapons were.

"I prefer bigger guns anyway," Bucky said. "And. You're a place, aren't you? Just hang onto it, so I know it's with you."

"I can't bring it when I go to the VA," Steve said.

"Just bring a pillow and put it in a pillowcase. Say you need the pillow for your bad back."

"My bad back."

"Or put it in a box of tissues and say you have a cold." Steve laughed helplessly. Bucky pushed his way up into the big armchair where Steve was sitting, settled into his lap. "How come you have such a fucked up old chair anyway? You only been here less than three years."

"It's my friend's."

"Some friend, giving you this fucked up old chair."

"Some friend, giving me this fucked up old body to play with," Steve said, putting his fingers under Bucky's shirt and squeezing his waist. Bucky squeaked and treated Steve to a look of pure happiness.

He was still so easy. Steve would have figured it out if he had become more difficult; but God, he was still so easy to take care of.

Steve took the gun out of his pocket and set it against Bucky's temple. Bucky smiled at him, his eyes suddenly all heavy lidded and sleepy. "So what if I told you I put the bullets back in here?" Steve asked him.

"You did not," Bucky said.

"Good," Steve said. "You free on Thursday?"

"I'm always free, I'm an invalid."

Steve boxed his ears. "Excuse me! Lots of invalids are busy, just because you're a lazy ass--"

"Okay, okay, sorry."

"I mean, seriously, do you have any appointments or any plans, because this guy and I have some ideas for you. Can we have you all day?"

Bucky laid his head wearily down on the arm of the chair. "Twenty minutes in, you and the gun are already having conversations about completely non mission relevant subjects," he said.

Steve gently bumped the gun against his head. "Are. You. Free."

"No, I'm not free, I'm apparently getting fucked by you and the gun all day.”

"Now that’s an idea. You think you can fit both of us?”

"It’d hurt you more than me," Bucky pointed out. He did his best to elbow Steve in the ribs without lifting his head off its resting place.

///

Steve didn't do anything much Thursday morning, just fed both of them and made Bucky take a bath, which he complained about endlessly.

"I want you to do this more regularly," Steve said, "you stink." It wasn't true; Bucky took showers. Steve just thought he didn't spend enough time in there. He used to really like them. He made Bucky sit still in the bath and not move at all, except when Steve needed access to different parts of him. They were in there a long time, maybe forty minutes, and sometimes Steve would soap him gently and sometimes he’d scrub him so roughly he yelped. “Shh, no complaining,” Steve told him. “You need to get clean.”

By the time he'd been cleaned to Steve's satisfaction, Bucky was happy as a clam. He reached out for Steve and pulled him against the tub to kiss him. "Do you want me to cut my hair?" he said, apparently out of nowhere.

"Do you want to cut your hair?"

"I don't know. I wondered what you thought."

Steve thought about it. "I think I need the rest of the day to decide," he said, which was true. It seemed like it could really be useful for hauling Bucky around, but he'd also been daydreaming about cutting it short and then buzzing it or maybe shaving it. He had a whole setup in his mind--he'd sit in his armchair, Bucky would sit on the floor, between his knees. He might look sort of tender without his hair--nothing to hide under, his scalp exposed.

"Oh, you have an idea," Bucky said. “I want it!”

"I don't really have an idea," Steve said. "I was thinking about shaving your head."

"Okay!" Bucky said.

"But I'm not sure," Steve said. "Let me see." He grabbed all Bucky's hair and yanked Bucky's head back, baring his throat. Bucky cried out in pain, so Steve tried pulling his hair in two different directions, which he figured would feel even worse. Bucky nearly screamed at that. "Yeah, there's no way I'm ever getting rid of this," Steve said. "I like having such a long handle for you."

Bucky gazed at him like he could barely understand what Steve was saying. Steve pulled gently on a smaller section of his hair, tugging his head to one side.

"You see," he said. "It's like a leash." Bucky smiled at him in a dazed way, and nodded. He stuck his wet head out of the bathtub and just pushed it into Steve's shoulder, so Steve would scratch and pet his head and the back of his neck. "Remember when you used to cut my hair for me?" Steve said.

"Yeah," Bucky said immediately. "I loved that. I want to do it again."

"Sure you can, when I need a haircut," Steve said.

"There's something I have to tell you," Bucky said. "You need a haircut."

"Not right now," Steve said.

He had a vague memory of sitting down for Bucky to cut his hair, and Bucky saying--or did he say it when Steve walked through the door, or when he was getting on his knees for him?--"It's the man of the hour! Just like you are every hour."

"You're the man of the hour," he said to Bucky now.

///

They ended up shaving the rest of him instead. Steve had never done it before, to himself or anyone else, but once he thought of it he couldn't stop. Bucky didn't seem unused to the process, which gave Steve a little pause because he definitely hadn't ever done it before the train; but he seemed to be enjoying himself too.

"Does it look good to you?" Bucky asked.

"No, I think you look ridiculous," Steve said, which was true, but not the whole story, which was that Bucky looking ridiculous was a favorite sight of his. He made Bucky walk dripping in front of the full length mirror in the hall, so they could look at themselves together.

"Jesus," Bucky said.

"You look like the little match girl," Steve said. Being shaved made Bucky look smaller everywhere, and younger; his stringy, wet hair hung around his face. Somehow the muscles and metal arm didn't make a dent in how helpless and vulnerable he looked. Steve wasn't that much taller than him, but looming behind him fully dressed, with one arm wrapped across Bucky's shoulders and the other hand on his waist, proprietary--he looked like he could snap him in half.

Bucky got a hungry, canine sort of grin which didn't exactly go with the little match girl thing.

"You know, your G-tube sort of makes you look like a blow up doll," Steve said.

"What's a blow up doll?"

"Come on."

"You expect me to know things they had no reason for me to know," Bucky said.

"It's this inflatable--it's sort of a giant balloon shaped like a person that people fuck."

"You can't fuck a balloon, stupid," Bucky said.

"It has, um--" Steve tried to show Bucky by making a little tunnel shape with his hand. "It has little tunnels at the mouth and the asshole, so you can fuck it."

"What are you talking about?"

"It blows up, like a life raft, it's shaped like a person, and it has holes you can fuck."

Bucky tried to turn around but Steve held him where he was; he settled for rolling his eyes at Steve in the mirror. "You obviously made that up."

"No, it's real."

"Steve, you're the only person who would even want something like that. A balloon shaped like a person with holes for you to put your dick in? That's ridiculous. You just made that up so you could compare me to it."

"It's real!" Steve said. He gave up. "Well, I don't care if you believe me, you look like one. Like I just filled you up with air so I could use you and if I opened this hatch--" he tapped Bucky's stomach next to the closed port--"you'd just deflate and I could put you away in a drawer."

"You can already put me away in a drawer," Bucky said.

"I'd like to see a drawer that could fit you."

"You could put me in a trunk. We'd figure it out."

Steve licked some of the water out of the crook of his neck. "Do you want air holes?"

"I mean, if I'm good."

"I like that," Steve said. "I decide when you get to breathe, when you get to eat, when you get to wear clothes--N.B., never--" he hugged Bucky from behind, holding him still and grinding against him. Bucky gasped really sweetly. He'd been hard pretty much since Steve called him the little match girl. "Oh, and when you get to come. Also never. Not really what you're for."

"Okay," Bucky said, totally unconcerned. He closed his eyes and did his best to be something nice for Steve to grind against.

"I mean, you can," Steve said.

"I know. You're always nice to me."

Steve was appalled. "I am not."

"You are. You never make me deal with that breathing and eating and clothes bullshit. I just get to be a blow doll for you."

"Blow up doll."

"Oh, sorry for getting the name of your made up thing wrong."

Steve started grinding on him again, mostly because he liked watching him thrust up unsuccessfully at nothing. Mirrors were great. "I didn't make up blow up dolls, they're real. You know I'm honest as the day is long."

"Days aren't long," Bucky pointed out, and made a doomed attempt to start touching himself. Steve immediately pinned him against the mirror with his hands behind his back.

"Now you have to stare right at your stupid face," he told him.

"But now I can hump the mirror, though."

"No you can't."

Bucky stopped moving.

"You know you’ll only get to come if you ask me--well, if I want to, anyway, but it's possible. But that's probably the only way it'll happen."

"Will you please touch me," Bucky said.

Steve thought about it, then put his hand in front of Bucky's face. "Slime this up for me," he said, and when Bucky gratefully started licking, "but this is only because of how bad the rest of the day's gonna be for you, okay? This is just me coddling you because if I'm hard on you all day it might be too much for you."

"Nothing's too much for me," Bucky said. He'd immediately gone rigid and grumpy, just like Steve had expected. "Fine, don't jerk me off, I don't need to come, I can take it."

"I'm just fucking with you," Steve said. He stepped the two of them back and started jerking Bucky off. "Look in the mirror."

"You don't have to tell me twice."

Steve thought of asking Bucky if he liked how he looked, but these days it was pretty possible that he didn't. No point discussing it. Just as long as he knew how much Steve liked it. "This is the last time it's gonna be nice for you, today, though, unless you stop me."

"Understood," Bucky gasped. His voice was so thin it was almost whistling; it did sound like all the air was rushing out of him.

///

"I just wouldn't mind if you were a little mad at me," Bucky said. "For letting other guys fuck me. For taking orders from the wrong people."

He was still standing in the hall, but the day was more than half over; they'd both had something to eat, and he was fully dressed, blindfolded with his hands bound behind his back. Steve was leaning against the wall, watching him, holding the gun and a knife.

Bucky had talked around similar things before, and Steve had just told him he wasn't mad at him; and some of the things he talked around made Steve mad at other people, some of whom were long dead. It made him feel less than human, like it wouldn't be such a stretch for him to rip someone apart with his teeth. Physically, he was probably up to the task.

But those reactions weren't really going to do it for Bucky now. Obviously he knew it was just something that other people had done to him, but knowing that wasn't enough.

"Sure, I could be mad at you for that," Steve said, coming back around behind Bucky and holding the knife to his throat. It was only a steak knife from the kitchen drawer; just for fun. Bucky'd seen it before the blindfold went on anyway.

But he got soft all over, like his body had just turned into liquid. He tipped his head back, slowly, letting Steve follow his neck with the knife. It looked very nice in the mirror.

"How do you think it would go, if I was mad?"

Bucky struggled to answer. He didn't have much room to move his vocal cords, so Steve stepped back for a minute, put the knife down on the side table a few feet away, then just wrapped an arm around Bucky instead, breathing on the back of his neck. "I can't tell you that," Bucky said.

"You can and you will," Steve said mildly. Bucky had ways of saying he really couldn't, but this looked more like he just didn't want to, or he was scared. "Or you could start by telling me what you're doing when I find you."

He put the barrel of the gun against Bucky's temple with his other hand. "Oh, okay, okay," Bucky said, in a sweet little panic. Steve could feel his heart rate fluttering. "I'm, uh, sucking dick. This isn't the way it usually really was, they'd just take it because I was there and I had to do it and they just wanted to I guess, but--"

Steve took a moment to tell himself to stay where he was. He wanted to get into Bucky's head for this and he couldn't do it if he was feeling his own real fury instead of the kind that Bucky wanted him to have.

"--but sometimes they would make me, a lot of them together, as a punishment, you know? Because it really upset me sometimes. Especially earlier on 'cause I still remembered I was, you know, supposed to be--"

"Mine," Steve said, and he took the gun off for a minute so he could use the same hand to pull some of Bucky's hair.

"Yes, all yours, please, all yours, Steve," Bucky burst out, soft and gibbering, "please, please, please, put the gun back."

Steve put the gun back against his temple and he stilled. "You really like that, huh." Bucky nodded eagerly. "You know, I think he likes you too," Steve said. Bucky giggled. "Here, show him you like him." Steve eased the gun across Bucky's face, so he could feel it, and put the tip of it into his mouth. He sucked obediently. "You licking him? Just make sure you use your tongue, swirl it around him, yeah? You don't want to make him angry."

Bucky laughed around the barrel, although Steve thought he was doing as instructed.

"I know it's a little weird, talking about a gun like it's a person. But no weirder than talking about you that way, I think. Hold that in your mouth, I'm gonna let go." Bucky clamped his mouth around the gun and Steve let go of the handle and ran his hand over Bucky's forehead, smoothing his hair back. "You don't got anything in your head, do you? Nothing in here. Only good for one thing, you know what that is?"

Bucky nodded as Steve pulled the spitty gun out of his mouth and put it back against his head.

"What is it?"

"Fucking?"

"Got it in one. Hey, I want to gag you but I need to hear the rest of the story first."

"You're the one. Who got sidetracked," Bucky mumbled at him.

"Okay, okay. So you're sucking dick. I come in, kill everybody. Uh--"

"Kick me to the floor."

"Then I put my dick somewhere or other in you, I assume."

"Yeah, you do."

"Then what?"

"It doesn't--" Bucky moved his head away from the gun and turned around haltingly. Steve loosened his arm and let him. When Bucky was facing him he leaned over to rub their faces together and said, "It doesn't matter as long as you keep me. No matter how bad I am or how bad you have to hurt me to keep me from getting away. That's all there is to it." Steve put his arms around him and Bucky dipped his face into his shoulder. "You're welcome to it--to me. I'm ready."

"Wait a sec," Steve said. He stepped away for a second to pick up the gag from the side table. "Open your mouth. I just got this yesterday--never used one of these before, so be patient."

Bucky was more than patient. He hummed with pleasure when Steve put the ball in his mouth, and leaned into Steve while he fastened the straps around the back of Bucky's head.

"No, put your head up," Steve said.

He just stood there a minute, with one hand on Bucky's cheekbone and the other resting on his waist. Bucky looked so sweet and handsome that it made Steve feel dazed; he leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek before he pulled the blindfold off to make eye contact.

Bucky was bristling before the blindfold was even all the way off his head. "Oh, come on," Steve said. "If you can't talk then I need to be able to see your eyes." Bucky glared at him, which was pretty much proving Steve's point. It's good to know if the person you're fucking is glaring at you. "You can keep 'em closed if you want," Steve said.

Bucky squeezed his eyes shut obnoxiously, and Steve spun him around and kicked him in the back of the knees, knocking him to the ground.

"We're on," he said.

///

There were scissors on the table too. Steve put the gun down for the time being and came up behind Bucky, pinning him against the wall and cutting his shirt off. Steve didn't feel bad because it was his shirt.

Bucky had had some weird looking clothes when he'd first come back--Steve thought they were stolen from a Laundromat or something--and since then he'd bought about three shirts and pairs of pants and underwear and socks, and those only because Steve had told him to. But he didn't even wear those most of the time; maybe he'd tolerate the socks and underwear, but he liked wearing Steve's clothes, especially his shirts.

Steve kind of liked the shirt Bucky had picked out today, but oh well. This was important.

Bucky stiffened when the scissors touched his back, but then he relaxed against them. Having his arms tied up meant that Steve couldn't actually get the whole shirt off him--he just cut everything off except the sleeves. It looked stupid, but that was something that Steve had never minded. Once he finished the shirt he pushed Bucky's pants and underwear down to his knees. Bucky tried to step out of them but Steve slapped him hard on his bare ass; "I didn't tell you to do that," he said.

Steve had always liked--well, there were a lot of ways he liked to look at Bucky, but the way he looked with his pants pulled down was pretty good. Steve liked how dumb he looked with everything exposed but some clothes still on, his arms tied up and his legs hobbled.

Besides, it was like Bucky said--being naked is different from not having any clothes, and Steve wanted him to know for sure which one it was. He wanted Bucky to feel embarrassed, shy of his body, inspected.

Bucky was very still, at attention, and Steve thought he got the picture. He was almost fully hard just from getting stripped. But Steve tried to help out a little--he ran his hands over everything, Bucky's shoulders and hips and thighs. He got down on his knees behind him and spread his ass open, so he'd know he was being looked at.

Bucky made a keening kind of noise--well, maybe not exactly a keen with the gag in his mouth. Just a soft high little sound.

"Shut up," Steve said.

It happened again.                   

Steve had a pretty sure feeling that Bucky couldn't help it, so it was especially pleasant to crack him on the ass again, much harder this time. Steve could hit really hard even with the flat of his hand, because he could hit so fast. "You think I brought you here to make noises? Turn around," he said.

He stood up as Bucky turned around, and proceeded to do the same to his front as he had to his back--stroking the inside of his neck, his nipples, the scars ridging his arm. He petted Bucky's stomach and then grabbed his dick; Bucky pushed his hips up and Steve immediately dropped his dick and smacked him so close to his balls that Bucky visibly had to keep himself from jumping back.

"I didn't bring you here to get you off, either," Steve said. "Get on your knees."

When Bucky knelt Steve stepped back from him, licked his hand, and started jerking himself off. Bucky perked up; he'd kept his eyes closed so far, but he could hear what Steve was doing. Steve had a particular goal in mind so he went as fast as possible, focusing on how stupid Bucky looked and how much he was drooling around the gag, until he splattered all over his face.

It dripped nicely down his chin, onto his chest. "You don't even know how many times I can come," Steve said. "I think you're gonna regret leaving the guys who had you before--I'm gonna wear you out more than a whole team of them." Bucky's face was tipped up toward him, listening; then he scooted a little toward Steve and very gently touched the ball of the gag to Steve's hip. "You kissing me?" Steve said. Bucky nodded.

"Up," Steve said. He took Bucky's hair in both hands and pulled, and Bucky cried out around the gag but came up to his feet pretty quickly and easily, given that he didn't have his arms. But he'd always had annoyingly good balance. Steve gave him a little push and Bucky wavered a little and caught himself, planting himself. Steve thought he could see a little pride in his closed eyes, the way he firmed up his shoulders.

"You know, I don't like that," Steve said, and he shoved Bucky so hard that he fell on the floor. Steve might not have been able to do it under usual circumstances--Bucky wasn't stronger than him, but he was so graceful--but he overbalanced and tripped over his pants. He struggled to get up, but Steve pushed him, directing him to lie on his back, then to turn over onto his stomach. He put a hand on his ass to keep him from moving.

"I don't think I like you walking," Steve said, pleasantly. "That's more for real people, isn't it? And you're just--you're just for me. Don't you think so?"

Bucky talked, but it just came out as two short moans.

"I'll take that as a 'yes, Steve,'" Steve said, "or a 'yes, sir'--I'm easy that way. I won't be too hard on you. I won't tell you that you have to crawl, since you can't really do that with your hands behind your back. You can walk on your knees, and I'll lead you by the hair. Come on, now."

Once Bucky got in position, Steve took hold of a longer piece of his hair and walked backwards down the hall, toward the extra bedroom. As they walked by the table he picked up the gun and slotted it into place against Bucky's head, with his other hand. "I think this is overkill," he said, "I think you're gonna give it all to me anyway, but there's no harm in being cautious."

Bucky made another noise. "Pretty sure you're just expressing yourself, not trying to talk," Steve said. "And that's better, 'cause I sure don't need you to talk, but I don't want you making noises unless I say either, you understand? Nod or shake your head." Bucky nodded, and Steve let his hair pull; but Bucky was careful and didn't make any pain noises.

Steve mostly was just holding his hair to let him know where he was, but when they got in the door of the extra bedroom he yanked Bucky in, hard, and Bucky let out a sharp, pitiful sound, then froze. Steve dropped the gun on the floor and Bucky flinched at the sound.

"No," Steve said. He shut the door, closing them in the room, and slid the bolt across. "What did I tell you? No, don't answer, you just sound like a sick cow when you try to talk around that thing; but I just told you to be quiet. Sure, if you have something actually important to tell me, you'll have to make noise, but I already know that it hurts when I do that and I don't care."

He sat down on the floor across from Bucky. He had more to say, but he really liked how having his arms back made Bucky's chest stick out, so he reached over and squeezed one of his nipples--not hard, then hard, with the nails in. Bucky tensed up, but stayed quiet. "Good boy," Steve said, releasing him. "Now open your eyes and look around."

Since Bucky wasn't using the room anymore, they'd just been using it to store junk and they hadn't been very organized about it. But Steve had stuffed all the junk in other places, and put Bucky's old bed on its side against the wall. The room was pretty much bare now, except for a rough looking gray blanket spread out on the floor, and a bottle of lube. Bucky's eyes got very bright and wide when he saw the blanket.

"That's going to be your bed now," Steve said. "It's where you'll sleep and where I'll fuck you. When I let you lay down for it, anyway. You'll stay in here all the time except when I let you out to use the bathroom--which'll be on my schedule, but I bet you'll adjust to it after the first few accidents." Bucky shivered. "Obviously, I'll make sure I keep you fed and cleaned and shaved. I want you to look nice, the way you do now."

Bucky shivered again, and Steve was going to put it all down as a win when he realized that Bucky was starting to cry. He sat perfectly still as silent tears started to run out of his eyes and down his face. Steve watched him, put a hand on his shoulder, quirked an eyebrow at him. Bucky just looked back at him, his eyes open and wet.

"You want to stop?" Steve said. "No problem." Bucky shook his head, hard, at once, and leaned forward infinitesimally. Steve pulled him forward into his arms for a minute, put his hand on Bucky's right hand behind his back and stroked the palm. He felt Bucky doing the kiss thing again, bumping the gag against Steve's neck, and he couldn't help saying, "Aww. You like this?" He felt Bucky do it again, or maybe he was nodding. "You like being just mine?" Bucky pressed himself hard into Steve's arms, and Steve squeezed him tight.

///

Before he laid him down on the blanket, Steve said, "Break out of this for me, yeah?" and Bucky got himself situated and tore his arms out of the ropes. It didn't seem like it took that much effort, even on the right side. "Weren't you sweet to keep that on so long for me," Steve said. "Lay down, knees up. Spread for me, that's the ticket."

It still unnerved him a little to do things like this. He specifically remembered that Bucky wouldn't have liked it in Europe--well, probably he wouldn't have liked having his arms tied either. But putting him on his back especially made some old warning flare up in the back of Steve's mind. "You sure you don't mind this?" he asked, and Bucky honest to God rolled his eyes at him. "No need to be ornery, I'm just looking out for you." Bucky spread his knees a little more, apologetically.

"I'm gonna see what I got here, then," Steve said, "just taking you for a little test drive, you know." He lubed up his fingers and pulled Bucky open with his other hand, pushing in with his fingertips. Bucky relaxed for him. "It's nice in here," Steve said. "You're really good at taking it, aren't you? Aren't you?" He stared at Bucky until he nodded. "Who taught you to be so good at taking it?"

Bucky had such a sweet, dopey look in his eyes that Steve could visualize the exact smile he'd have if he wasn't gagged. "Come on, I'm asking. Who taught you to get fucked? Who taught you how to give such good blowjobs? I know those guys didn't have the patience to teach you to be such a nice hole, and you're not smart enough to learn it all by yourself. Who was it, Bucky? Who made you like this? Come on, answer me."

Bucky searched his face, eventually understanding that Steve wanted him to speak, and he started trying to answer. But it just came out as an inarticulate moan.

"I can't understand you," Steve said. "I want to know, who was it? Try again." Bucky tried again, louder. "I asked for words, not cow noises," Steve said. "It wouldn't kill you to enunciate."

Bucky tensed in concentration, struggling to make himself understood. "Aioo," he said, "ayoo, oooh, ayoo--"

"Aw, that wasn't so hard," Steve said. "It was me, wasn't it?" Bucky nodded, looking ragged. "I don't really like the thought of those Hydra people benefiting from my hard work on your asshole," Steve continued mildly, and Bucky's hips snapped up at nothing--he was hard and drippy and had been for a while, but that wasn't really the point for either of them. "Or your dick, I guess," Steve said. "I know it's gonna shoot off when I tell it to and not a minute earlier. I made it like that, too."

He leaned over Bucky, pressing into him with three fingers and stroking his sweaty hair back from his face with his other hand. "But I got you now, don't I? Don't I got you?" Bucky nodded. He didn't look dazed or confused, just--simple, pure, very focused on Steve.

"You know, I was gonna give you my hand--you haven't had the whole thing in you since it was a lot smaller--I wanted to see how much you could take. You want to show me how much you can take? You can take anything if it's for me, can't you?" Bucky nodded again. "But I just, well. If you could see how you look right now you'd understand why I absolutely got to shoot off inside you."

Bucky made a pitiful sound in the back of his throat. Steve was feeling little shivers around his fingers, even as Bucky did his best to stay still and placid for him.

"Take the gag off yourself," Steve said, "but no talking, I just want your mouth, not your opinion." He leaned back so Bucky had room to lift his head up and unbuckle the back of the gag and lift it off. "Tip your head forward, let the drool come out." Steve laughed and laughed at all the drool that came pouring out of Bucky's mouth, how slack his jaw was. "I wouldn't mind showing everyone I know how stupid you look right now," he told him, when he managed to get ahold of himself. "I can't believe people were scared of you. Just my big, slobbering boy--what's there to be afraid of?"

Steve pulled his hand out and wiped it on the blanket, then used his hands to brace himself over Bucky, crowding him into the floor and kissing him deeply, overwhelming him with teeth and lips when his mouth was still stiff and numb. Bucky's mouth started moving again, he started to kiss back; for some reason the feeling hit Steve so badly he almost fell apart. It was like Bucky was unthawing for him, coming back to life for him. His eyes stung and, irritated, he paused. Bucky put an arm up around him, gently, and stroked his back. He knew Steve was crying.

"Sorry. Sorry, I can fuck you," Steve said, and reached down to unbutton his pants. "Come on, like this," he said, and moved Bucky around a little, helping him hook his legs over Steve's shoulders and hunching down to kiss him again. Steve hadn't ever gotten a chance to put anything on his dick, but he'd gotten Bucky pretty wet inside with his fingers. Maybe not as far inside as he should have, but Bucky could take it.

They were locking eyes as Steve slid into him; Bucky had that lovely intent look, although he startled and winced when Steve suddenly pushed all the way in. "Hey, it's okay," Steve said. "It's okay, it's just me." Bucky was looking kind of woozy, but trusting. He just needed to be talked into it.

"It's what you're built for," Steve said. "Just relax and take it like you're supposed to. Isn't it nice?" He thrust a few times, experimentally, since they'd never done it in this position before. Bucky's eyes cleared; he nodded.

"Probably not doing it nice for you, though," Steve said. "It's not really for you, and anyway, I'm not sure someone like you can tell the difference." He got a good hard grip on Bucky's thighs, pulled them against his chest, and started fucking him into the floor. Their faces were close enough that he could hear the breathy gasps Bucky let out when he was feeling something but trying to be quiet about it. "You can't even tell the difference, can you?" he said. "As long as you got something in there, you're happy, you stupid little thing."

Bucky made a funny noise--half laughing, half whimpering--he was pleased, though. Steve could tell he was pleased to be laid out like this, manhandled, treated like nothing but a body with no fear that he ever would be. There was something very particular about that, a kind of cruelty you couldn't get right unless you loved the person down to their bones.

"You like it?" Steve asked, rutting him into the floor, enjoying the slapping of his hips against Bucky's flanks, the grinding of Bucky's metal shoulder into the wood floor--shit, that would probably come out of their deposit someday, but he guessed it didn't matter. He was really able to be quite rough with him now, in the way Bucky had always deserved--Steve had never been able to wear him down into pieces the way he wanted to.

"Squeeze me, now," Steve said, "come on, just give me a little hug down there? That's perfect. Just like that." Bucky clenched around him, no longer laughing--he was watching Steve carefully, so he could orchestrate his movements to please him. When Steve came he kept his head up, so he could watch Bucky watching him come. It was weird, that he knew he was being monitored, sort of--attended to, taken care of--but that didn't make him feel any less in charge.

"Oh," he breathed when he'd pulled out, got his pants back up and laid down on top of Bucky on the gray blanket, cradling his face and kissing him. "Oh, aren't you sweet. Gonna have fun with you." He could feel how hard Bucky was, but Bucky wasn't trying to rub on him or get friction in any way. He knew not to ask for something that wasn't offered; Steve had taught him well.

Well, maybe that wasn't all Steve. Bucky was a little more polite and quiet than Steve had left him, and Steve didn't really--well, he didn't enjoy it less, but he didn't like thinking about how it had come to be.

"Did--" Bucky started, and then immediately stopped.

"It's okay, go on," Steve said. Bucky looked like he'd been peeled, which was always a nice sight. He concentrated on talking, and Steve stroked his arm.

"Did you like it," Bucky said, and waited again.

"What?" Steve squinted at him. "What do you think, Buck, do you think I liked it?"

Bucky didn't answer, just slowly shook his head--not in response to what Steve had said, but to what he was doing.

"You're--oh, okay," Steve said. He'd almost said "you're fishing," which would have been too mean, even though it was true. It just surprised him, but it wasn't a problem. "You want to know if you did good for me? You want to know if I want to keep you?"

Bucky glanced pointedly to the other side of the room, where Steve had dropped the Derringer.

"Oh," Steve said. "Okay, give me a sec, and I'll figure it out."

He got up to get the gun, and Bucky got up, on his knees, with his hands behind his back.

"What's this about?" Steve asked.

Bucky didn't say anything. He knee-walked over to Steve and bumped his face into Steve's leg. Steve put his left hand in Bucky's hair, and with his right hand, he held the gun to Bucky's head.

"You want a performance review?" Steve said. "You want to know if I think you're a good place to put my dick?" Bucky rubbed his face desperately against Steve's leg; "No, look at me," Steve said. Bucky looked up, pure, focused, like he was hanging on a string. Steve stroked his left hand along Bucky's cheek, his jaw, the side of his neck.

"Buck, you're the best place I could ever put my dick," Steve said, and Bucky slumped, gazing at him. "So good, Bucky. No one takes it like you, no one ever has, no one ever will. It's what you're for. Think you were made for me to use you." Bucky whined softly. "Don't whine, it's true. You're my good boy."

Bucky's face twisted and he ducked his head down, thumping it against Steve's hip, and Steve said, "No. You look at me." He dragged Bucky's face up by the hair. He was wincing, tearing up, more than he would be from just the pain. "What is it, Buck?"

He bumped the barrel of the gun against Bucky's temple. Bucky jerked his face back down and pressed into Steve's leg again. "No," Steve said firmly, "Look at me. I'm not fucking around, you will be punished if you don't look at me." He took hold of Bucky's hair and tugged--gently, for a start--and Bucky looked up at him. "Well?" Steve said. "Out with it."

"I'm not," Bucky said. He swallowed. "I'm not a good boy, I'm a horrible person."

Steve's heart sank. There was probably a way to respond to that feeling other than violence, but he had no fucking idea what that was. In a few movements he'd yanked Bucky to his feet and slammed him against the wall, pressing his face into the grain. He made sure to bump the gun against Bucky's temple again. "That's not your fucking call, Buck. It's mine."

Bucky was limp, crushed between Steve and the wall. Steve nudged his leg between Bucky's, where he was still wet and dripping with Steve's come. He put his left arm around between Bucky and the wall, squeezing around Bucky's upper chest and pulling him tighter against him. He was bundling him up.

"You don't know what you are," he said firmly, "and that's okay, that's fine--because I know. And I'll get it out of you, no matter what it takes."

Bucky lifted his face a little, turning it like he was trying to look at Steve. His eyes were blank, dreamy; he made a soft whimpering noise.

"Come on," Steve said. "Out. Now." He kneed Bucky in the balls, dug his nails into his shoulder, and cracked him on the head with the gun. It wasn't too hard then for Bucky to cry in earnest, loud and wailing, thrashing; Steve pinned him as close as he could and said, "That's a good boy. There you are. That's right."

It went on for a long time, Steve holding him tight and talking to him and occasionally striking him or scratching him to get him to start sobbing again. "This okay?" Steve asked after a while, because he liked it so much it was hard to gauge how Bucky was feeling.

Bucky got himself together and nodded tightly. "I'm sorry, Steve," he said.

"What'd you do now?"

Bucky went a little quiet and still; Steve had the feeling that he was holding him up, that Bucky would just sink to the ground if Steve wasn't there. "For not being yours anymore," he said.

Steve put his face in Bucky's neck for a minute. "Just don't let it happen again," he said. "It's over now."

Bucky glanced back at him, out of his peripheral vision. "What if," he said.

"If it's not over?" Steve said. "What if you go back, what if somebody else makes you theirs, what if you let somebody else inside you?" He was pretty good, still, at knowing what Bucky wanted. "That's what this is for, Buck," he said, and he tapped the gun against Bucky's temple. "I'd blow your brains out."

Bucky let out a heavy, relieved sigh.

"I got it," Steve said. "I get you."

"Leggo," Bucky said. When Steve stepped back from him Bucky turned around and stepped over to him again, kissing him and wrapping around him, tight and clingy.

Steve let him do it for a minute and then said, "Okay, get on your knees. You'll like it, I promise."

Bucky knelt down and stayed there looking up, in the lovely serious way he had sometimes. His face was swollen and red from crying, but he looked calm.

"Oh, don't look so serious, it's just my dick," Steve said. He put the gun on the floor and started undoing his pants. "Come on, open up. I'll feed it to you." Bucky opened his mouth and leaned into Steve, until he was full to the back of his throat and just about as close as he could be. Steve gripped his hair with one hand, stroked it with the other. "There you go," he said. Bucky's eyes were very wide and white. "This is what you are," Steve said, "what you're for. It feels just right, doesn't it? It's because this is what you're best at."

Bucky tried to move, but Steve said, "No." He just stood there and looked down at Bucky, all filled up.

///                    

When he finally let Bucky come, it wasn't much of a show. He told Bucky to hump his leg, which was always nice to watch--but it took about a second and then Bucky was already ruining Steve's pants and gasping several times, high and ragged, and then kneeling and hugging Steve's legs like he thought he could actually keep him where he stood.

"No, no," Steve said. "Come on."

He got them situated the way he wanted, himself sitting on the floor with his back against the wall, Bucky lying with his head in Steve's lap. "Beautiful," Steve said, and Bucky looked at him like he was crazy. Steve laughed, because the expression was so funny and because Bucky wasn't wrong. Steve never used to say things like that--it wasn't that he didn't think it, it just wasn't his way. And it always sort of embarrassed him; when he did occasionally say something nice, it felt like it was being pulled out of him by accident, and it felt too raw outside his mind.

It still wasn't his way, but the last month and a half had been different from any other time in his life. Not worse, just different. A lot of things didn't seem important. Bucky was important, and getting him back together was taking a lot out of them both.

It seemed stupid not to say it now. With any luck, one day all the stupid things would file back in again--the dentist, work, weather. Bucky would raise an eyebrow at someone rude on the subway. They would each have friends the other one didn't like. And at that point Steve would once again be the kind of person who didn't sit on the floor, cradling Bucky's head in his lap and saying, "Beautiful, beautiful boy. You came back to me."

Because he didn't go in for that sort of thing.

///

Steve was more tired than he knew, and he fell asleep leaning against the wall. He woke up when Bucky's hair moved under his hand; he was alert pretty fast and he saw Bucky trying to sit up, looking--worried, like he was trying to focus--and Steve pushed him back down to how he'd been lying on the floor, held his hair tight in his lap. "Stay there," he said. "It's not even light out."

///

He woke up later and it was light out, late morning; Bucky was sitting in his lap and kissing his neck a little bit, wearing boxers and a t-shirt, and he'd put the bed back down and hauled it over to serve as a table. Steve couldn't believe he would have slept through the sound of furniture moving. That never happened to him.

There was a plate of bacon and scrambled eggs on the bed. "I couldn't taste it, so I hope it's okay," Bucky said, hopping out of his lap and passing the plate and fork to him. He'd brought all his feeding stuff in, too, and he sat on the floor to set his extension tube up.

"I can do that," Steve protested, going to put the plate on the floor.

"Steve, eat," Bucky said. Steve started eating again. "What's the verdict?"

"Bacon's overcooked, eggs are perfect."

Bucky nodded. "I'll do better next time." He put his syringe in the tube and held it with one hand while trying to open his bottle of formula with his teeth. It was pretty cute. "Stop watching me and eat. If the eggs are so perfect, eat them. You're hungry. Your stomach woke me up growling in my ear."

"I'm always growling in your ear," Steve said.

"That doesn't even make sense."

Steve kept eating. Bucky didn’t look so good. Well, he always looked good, but he looked like he’d been crying pretty recently, at some point when Steve had been asleep. If he was anything like Steve, his eyes didn’t stay red for very long after. “You want me to just get the bottle?” Steve said.

Bucky opened his mouth like he was going to snap at him, but instead he gave Steve a long look and said, “Okay.” Steve put the plate down and took the bottle and opened it. They had to mix the formula up specially, so they just made a bunch at a time and kept it in plastic water bottles. Three bottles a day kept Bucky in pretty good shape.

Steve poured the formula into the syringe while Bucky held it still, and put the plunger in so Bucky could inject it. As he was doing it, he realized Bucky hadn’t actually said he could do that--he wasn’t trying to push his way into doing the feeding, he’d just thought it would be easier if he set it up. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t--”

“It’s okay,” Bucky said.

Steve sat back and resumed eating. The bacon wasn’t really so bad. He looked at Bucky, studying him as they both leaned against the wall and ate breakfast. Bucky was watching him too. They’d just been kissing, but everything felt much quieter and emptier suddenly, kind of tense. Steve wanted to ask if he’d done something wrong--he wasn’t cowardly, he would have wanted to know, but he was afraid Bucky would feel obliged to reassure him and it just wasn’t the right time for that. Later, when things were better.

Bucky stuck his foot out and pushed Steve’s leg with his toes. “My hands are busy,” he said. Steve smiled. “I should have done this before I started eating,” Bucky said, and he scooted along the wall, holding the syringe in the air, until he was next to Steve and their sides were touching. “Okay, mission accomplished, nothing dislodged.”

“Thanks,” Steve said.

“You’re the best,” Bucky said.

Steve wanted to say, then why were you crying? So he just said, “The bacon is better than I thought. I mean, it’s okay.”

“You don’t have to go easy on me,” Bucky said. “You never did before.”

Steve balanced his plate on his knees. He reached and, not really knowing what to touch, he touched the feeding tube gently. It was pretty important; it was keeping his best guy going. He turned his face to kiss Bucky’s temple. Bucky’s head was important; it was keeping him going too, his steadiness and patience. Steve pressed his face into Bucky’s hair for a minute.

“I figured out why it bothered me,” Bucky said, his eyes down, when Steve had gone back to eating. “I mean, when they fucked me, when they made me fuck them, when they made me fuck my missions to get them vulnerable so I could kill them. I know why I can’t stop thinking about it.”

“Oh, yeah?” Steve said. He tried to keep his voice soft, but he wasn’t typically soft spoken, so it probably didn’t have the desired effect.

“Most of the things in my life were not. Normal,” Bucky said. “Things like going to the beach, even--even being in a war, it’s awful, but it’s...well, it’s more normal than what happened to me when I was the Soldier. Wasn’t eating, obviously, wasn’t sleeping much, definitely never in a bedroom, wasn’t reading or listening to music. Didn’t have friends.” He didn’t sound upset. “But that, well, fucking, it’s so normal.”

“Oh,” Steve said.

“But it wasn’t,” Bucky said, “and I think at those times I did remember. I knew it used to be a different thing, that it used to be someone who knew me, who did it the way I liked it...which almost was bumping up against the whole big idea, that there was a me at all. And so I think, even me being how I was then--it came close to really upsetting me, really bothering me, when nothing else did.”

Steve tried to concentrate on the eggs. They were really good. He felt like he had to stay calm--this was one thing he could give Bucky, he could be calm for him, be strong for him, because if Bucky couldn’t afford to break under the weight of it then it was hardly fair for Steve to break. It hadn’t even happened to him.

“Oh, come on,” Bucky said. “Put your plate down.” Steve put his plate down. Bucky’s face was very close to him--too close, Steve felt, and kind of luminously gentle. “You’re not going to fix it,” he said, “but having you around is good--really good”--his face twisted, but he got ahold of himself and kept talking. “It might get better. With time, probably. You’re not going to make it better. But you’re the best.”

///

It got a little better. Mostly time, and some knitting. Sam brought Bucky around to the knitting--he’d tried to bring Steve around to it, before, but he’d given up in disgust. Bucky was a better listener. Now they were both trying to bring Steve around to it.

“It’s a scientific fact, it’s not superstitious,” Bucky nagged, as if Steve had half the hard on for science that Bucky did--watching Blue Planet for hours and yelling at Steve to come over and watch it with him, and then clicking his knitting needles in Steve’s ears.

“I can’t even hear it,” Steve said. “I can just hear you making that ugly scarf.”

“It’s a beautiful scarf,” Bucky said. “Okay, I’m not a professional scarfmaker, but I’m making it for you, and you’re gonna wear it.”

“Wrong,” said Steve.

“Right,” Bucky said. “Even on hot days. To protect your neck from getting a sunburn.”

Steve covered his ears.

“Anyway,” Bucky would say practically out of nowhere, “it’s about how your brain goes over memories. Traumatic memories, right? You know. For me, certain stuff is really deep in there, my head’s always going back to it. But if I do something like this, then sooner or later, my head’s gonna go back to knitting more often than not.”

“Okay, okay,” Steve said.

“Your head isn’t great either,” Bucky said. “Put some knitting in there.”

They both got more busy. It wasn’t as unequivocally good a thing as Steve had imagined. As soon as the big things got easier, a dozen smaller problems rushed in exerting just about the same amount of force. Bucky was supposed to heal fast and he barely ever ate anything orally, but the back of his mouth got infected and he had to get dental implants. He was quiet but calm at the dentist and then, afterwards, jittery for weeks--at first just jittery, then sleepless, then more and more full of dread until it finally passed.

He started remembering more and more things, most of them horrible. He would get really angry, which he always complained about. “I’m not an angry person by nature,” he said. “Why should they be able to change that?”

“I don’t know,” Steve said.

Bucky started kicking the cabinet.

“Stop that,” Steve said.

Bucky stopped immediately, then smiled at Steve when he realized what he’d done.

“Same old you,” Steve said, trying to believe it.

///

Six months after Bucky came back, he had made so many long, ugly scarves that he could hang them on the back of every chair in the house. Steve was so annoyed that he tied Bucky up with the scarves and stuffed one in his mouth. “I’m going to do this to you every night until you stop making scarves!” he said.

Bucky spit out the scarf. “Good,” he said.

“No. Open your mouth,” Steve said. He stuffed the scarf back in and looked Bucky over. “I don’t know what’s uglier, you or the scarf,” he said. He moved closer so Bucky could rub his face against Steve’s shoulder.

///

Seven months in, Bucky still hadn’t progressed from eating small amounts of bland food. He’d pretty much taken over his own tube feeding--it wasn’t novel enough for them to enjoy doing it together all the time.

Instead Steve occupied himself by shaving Bucky’s head and checking every few days to see if his hair was long enough yet to pull. In the time before it got long enough it was nice just to touch it and feel how soft it was. Bucky liked feeling it even more than Steve did. He just sat, sometimes, running his fingers over his head.

And he was sleeping, thanks to time or the serum or the knitting. Probably the knitting, because Steve still didn’t sleep well and hadn’t for years, and maybe never would again. He’d wake up with a jolt, scared, ready to flee or fight. But he almost got to feeling grateful for it, because Bucky would be curled up on the floor, or on the bed if Steve had been in a nice mood that day, and he’d be sleeping hard and deep like he used to. He wouldn’t wake up when Steve moved or sat up or rolled over to look at him. Steve would just watch him, solid and peaceful, with the sweetness he had never really lost.

Steve didn’t ask Bucky if he missed enjoying food. There wasn’t any point. Sometimes one of them would ask the other if Steve could feed Bucky. It was fun every once in a while. Recently, Bucky would call Steve over to kiss him while he was filling himself up. Steve worried that he was starting to get upset about the feeding tube, but he didn’t want to ask.

“No, no,” Bucky said when Steve finally asked him. “I just think it’s fun. Most people can’t kiss someone while they’re eating. Don’t you think that’s interesting?”

“I guess so,” Steve said.

“I like it,” Bucky said. “It’s futuristic."