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N. Romanov: Still looking for a roommate?

Rogers: Last I checked, rent is still stupidly high, so yeah

N. Romanov: Think I have someone. Tony’s suggestion.

Steve rolls his eyes. Tony was too much on a good day. Nat must’ve suspected because she followed up with: He’s a vet.

The “like us” goes unspoken, but it's resounding all the same.

Rogers: When do I meet him?

--

The dude sitting across from him is slouched but leaning backwards, as if to put the maximum amount of space between them, and his arms are folded in front of his chest defensively. He’s smiling though, and not-so-subtly letting his eyes sweep the expanse of Steve’s chest.

Steve sighs internally and sips his coffee. Might as well get to it.

“How long have you been back?”

He blinks, surprised but not angry. “Almost four years.”

Steve nods and the guy narrows his eyes, questions clearly milling around in his head, so in the interest of not sharing one goddamn bit of personal information, Steve forges on.

“Job?”

“I work in IT for Stark Industries.”

“That’s how Tony knows you.”

“Yep,” he says with a smile meant to deflect. Clearly, there‘s more to the story than that, but Steve lets it go for now.

“Rent is due the first. Utilities vary but’ll never be more than a hundred per month. I like shit clean. I’m up weird hours. Will that be a problem?”

The guy, James, opens his mouth as if to say something, then closes it and shakes his head. “Nah.” Despite the tired and wary look about him, he’s quite beautiful, Steve realizes.

“Anything you need me to know about you? Any questions you want to ask?” Steve wants to be done as soon as possible, he’s so tired, but he wants the guy to feel comfortable.

It turns out to be a non-issue as he shakes his head. “No. When…when can I move in?”

Steve gives him a small smile and extends his hand, “Whenever you like, James.”

“Oh,” he says, slender fingers gripping Steve’s own. “Please. Call me Bucky.” He looks surprised at himself for having offered the information up, but then he smiles and it’s softer than before, and Steve wonders if he’s just made a huge mistake.

--

He moves in a week later. Steve offers to help, it’s a fourth floor walk up, but Bucky just shakes his head and carries the shit himself. He only has three boxes anyway.

After that first day Steve doesn’t see him for almost a week. Occasionally, they’ll run into each other at meal times but Steve’s work hours have been crazy lately. He’s never sure whether Bucky is locked in his room or out of the apartment altogether and it’s not until Sunday night that they’re finally in the same room again, as Steve gets home from the hospital.

It smells delicious, like garlic and thyme. Steve’s stomach growls and he smiles to himself. He pretends he’s excited about the food.

Scrubs were probably one of the more comfortable options for work attire, but after a 14 hour shift, even they became unpleasant. He’s just pulled off his top and thrown it through the open door of his bedroom when he hears the sound of someone scrambling either to or from Bucky’s room.

Must’ve been from, because a moment later, the kid emerges, tugging the sleeves of a hoodie down over his hands.

“Hi,” he says stiffly.

“Hey,” Steve counters with a smile. “Long time, no see.”

A smell from the kitchen distracts them both, and he follows Bucky to where he’s flipping something around in a pan. It smells delicious.

“You want some?” Bucky says. “I am incapable of making food for only one person.”

A grumble from Steve’s stomach makes him blush and Bucky chuckle. “Uh, sure. Thanks.”

Bucky nods and swallows. He's looking at Steve strangely, who realizes he's shirtless and hurries to his room to find some clothes.

They end up eating in the living room, Steve on the couch and Bucky on the floor, wrapped tightly in his hoodie.

After a few episodes of House, Bucky turns to him and asks, “When did you get back?”

He could’ve been asking when Steve got back from work, or from his recent vacation, but he wasn’t.

“It’s been five years.”

“You served with Natasha?”

“Yeah, you know her?”

Bucky nods. “Through Tony. We go out sometimes.”

Steve is confused by the pang that dances through his stomach, like anger but not quite, and all he can think to do is murmur, “Oh.”

Bucky’s eyes are haunted but clear, observant, and he looks thoughtfully at Steve for a moment before turning back to his food.

“When did you get into nursing?”

“Soon as I got back,” Steve says, grateful to be on more comfortable turf. “Couldn’t sleep for a year, thought I might as well use all that time for something productive.”

The hollow laugh Bucky gives is enough for Steve to know he empathizes.

“You like it?”

“Yeah.” Steve is more thoughtful this time. “Yeah. I like helping people, making them feel comfortable. It’s hard for people in the medical profession to understand what it’s like on the other side, but…well…” he trails off for a moment, trying to get the wording right. “You’ve served. You know.”

He glances up. His new roommate's entire body has gone rigid and tight. His eyes are too big, and he looks torn between terror and tears, but when Steve says, “Bucky?” he shakes himself and smiles. It’s cocky, full of bravado, and while it makes Steve’s jeans a little tight, it makes him sad, too.

“Ah, sorry,” Bucky says, and turns back to the TV, effectively ending the conversation.

--

“So?”

“So?”

“How’s the roommate situation?”

“Mm.” The hum is meant to be a positive response, because Steve has decided he doesn’t want to talk about this and stuffed his mouth with pasta.

Nat rolls her eyes as he chews and swallows. “I’ll try that again. How’s the - ”

“Fine. It’s fine. Jesus, Natasha.”

She smiles at him with faux-sweetness from behind her wine glass. “You mean you’re sharing space with another human being? Without freaking out? Without cleaning the whole house? Without losing your mind? Wi-”

“Cut it out,” Steve growls. “It’s been years since I’ve had an episode like that, and it’s shitty of you to bring it up.”

She doesn’t look even vaguely remorseful and instead points out, “You still haven’t spent any sort of one-on-one time with anyone since you got back.”

“What are you talking about? I hang out with you all the time.”

“Yeah, under duress.”

Steve chuckles. “Oh come on, I like you fine,” he says, and Natasha smiles and pats his hand.

“I know you do, Rogers. I’m just saying. I’m a different kind of friend.”

“You’re a different kind of everything Nat. How do you know Bucky, anyway?”

She chews contemplatively for a moment before saying, “I met him at the VA hospital. Tony had been looking for new recruits, and James came highly recommended. Several companies were vying for him, but of course, I convinced him we were the best option.”

“Of course,” Steve says dryly.

“Well, we are, Steve. Great pay, good benefits, he has more flexibility with us than he’d get anywhere else. Anyway. He’s a genius. We’re lucky to have him.”

“Genius.” Natasha was not a flatterer, so when she said genius, she meant it.

“Yeah. Too bad about what happened to him. It’s always the good ones, isn’t it?”

Dread pools in Steve’s spine and he drops his fork to the plate with a clatter. “What happened to him?”

After a silent moment of Nat observing him she shakes her head. “Not my story to tell, Steve. Ask him yourself.”

Steve knows he won’t. It’s been over half a decade since he’s given any part of himself to anyone, and talk of the war always takes a piece out of him. Looked like Bucky’s secret was safe.

--

“Are you making hamburgers?”

“Damn right,” Steve grins. “I hope you’re hungry, ‘cause I made extra for you.” He blushes a little at the forwardness of the comment, but Bucky just leans in over his shoulder and breathes in the smell of cooking beef with a smile.

“Well shit, I might just keep you around, Rogers!” he shouts over his shoulder on his way back to his room.

Steve’s noticed Bucky getting more comfortable lately. He smiles more often, his mouth wide and beautiful, and converses easily when they’re home together. He’s kind of a smartass. In all honesty, Steve’s surprised that he himself is as comfortable with Bucky as he is after knowing him for only a few months.

After the war, shit was just different. He’d lost countless friends and his mom had passed while he was abroad. He didn’t even get to go to her funeral. People in his classes and at work were kind, but try as he might, he just couldn’t connect.

He saw a therapist for long enough to get on some good meds for the OCD and pass the psych eval, then promptly quit. Natasha and Tony had both been on him about it for years, but he didn’t see the point. No point spending tax dollars trying to fix something that was beyond repair.

Something about this kid set him at ease, though. He was sarcastic but sweet, interested but not invasive. He was clearly struggling with some baggage of his own, but that actually made Steve feel even more comfortable. Safe.

“Can I help with anything?” Bucky reemerges, having shucked his coat and traded it for another giant sweatshirt.

“Uh…I guess cut up whatever you want on your burger,” Steve says, gesturing to the fridge.

Bucky’s hair is down and keeps falling in his face and Steve wants so badly to tuck it behind his ears, or maybe tug on it a little…

Jesus Christ. Get it together, Rogers.

“Lettuce, cheese, tomato, onion, anything else for you?” Bucky asks and Steve shakes his head.

“N-no.”

If Bucky notices the stutter he doesn’t say anything.

They end up on the couch watching some crappy home improvement show. Bucky won’t let him change the channel, looking for design ideas for his room, he says, which makes Steve inordinately happy to think Bucky might be hanging around long enough that he wants to make changes to the apartment.

Maybe he’s just projecting.

It doesn’t matter because they’re pressed knee to knee, snarking about obnoxious paint color choices, and Steve realizes he’s happy here. Like this. With Bucky.

Bucky’s text tone goes off several times before he checks it.

“Who is it?” Steve asks, aiming for casual and almost certainly failing.

“Tony, Natasha, Tony, Tony, Jesus Christ Tony, and Amanda.”

“Who’s Amanda?” Really?

“Woman from work. She’s nice enough. Goes out with Tony a lot, I think he’s trying to use her to lure me out of the house.”

“Is it working?” he asks, hoping it sounds like a joke. Bucky just sets his plate on the coffee table and wriggles down deeper into the couch, pressing their shoulders together and Steve is suddenly struggling for even breaths.

He rolls his eyes and says dryly, “Does it look like it’s working?”

--

Time passes. They settle in a little. It’s not perfect. Steve works too much, and Bucky shuts himself in his room for days at a time, but they understand. And it works.

When Steve gets home from work that night its so late it’s almost early and Bucky is passed out on the couch with the TV flickering with some sort of CSI show. Steve smiles fondly at his sleeping form and sneaks into the kitchen to find something to eat.

With a bowl of reheated take-out in hand, he settles in the armchair to watch the end of the episode. He’s seen it a handful of times before, avid sleep-avoider that he is, and his attention easily wanders to Bucky breathing softly only a few feet away.

The dark circles under his eyes are less pronounced in sleep, and his hair is falling from the ponytail. Steve thinks he could stare at that face for the rest of his life, especially when blue-grey eyes flicker open. Bucky yawns sweetly and smiles at him, all soft edges. “Hey,” he says.

“Hey,” Steve replies softer still. “Sorry if I woke you.”

“Nah,” Bucky murmurs sleepily. “Horatio woke me up.” He smiles and gestures to the guy on the screen.

Steve chuckles. “Fair.”

“How was work?”

“Long. You?”

“Same.” It's a dumb conversation, but something about the domesticity of it soothes Steve in a way he hasn’t felt for a long time, and the look on Bucky’s face makes him wonder if they might be feeling the same way.

Shifting under the blanket, Bucky finally sits up. “I guess I should sleep in my own bed, huh?”

“Nah,” Steve responds with a smile, hoping Bucky’ll decided to stay out here and keep him company, but then the blanket falls and he sees everything.

Sees the scar tissue running the length of Bucky’s side, pink and purple and grey, mottled. Sees the prosthetic arm, silver plates where they embrace the stump that used to be an arm.

Sees Bucky’s eyes widen in realization. Sees him jerk the blanket back around his shoulders and spring from the couch so suddenly that Steve is still sitting in the living room when his bedroom door slams shut.

“Shit,” Steve mutters to himself. “Shit!”

Steve had been lucky. Other than a few bullet wounds and some shrapnel to his leg, he’d escaped the armed forces with few physical wounds. Didn’t mean he wasn’t intimately acquainted with injuries like that. He was a nurse for fuck sake.

He doesn’t think he’d stared, or acted strangely, which means Bucky’s probably just self-conscious. Understandably so, but Steve can’t help but feel a little wounded that Bucky would think so low of him.

They‘re both veterans. And they’re friends. Aren’t they?

Standing heavily he calls out, “Bucky?” He raps his knuckles on the bedroom door. “Buck?” No sound at all.

He runs a hand over his face. Figures. The second he makes a friend, something stupid and out of his control happens. Again.

“Bucky. I don’t care. I mean…I care that you’re hurt, I wish you’d have told me but this doesn’t change the way I see you. You’re strong, smart, you survived. There’s nothing wrong with you, man. Or there’s something wrong with all of us maybe,” he admits. “You just came home with the kind of scars people can see, and I -” He stops there and sighs.

For the first time in a long time has the desire to talk to someone about his own scars. His own pain. But he’s just scared off the only person who could understand, and he doesn’t really want anyone else, so he dumps his uneaten meal in the sink and falls into bed.

--

Bucky avoids the shit out of him for a few days and Steve lets him, keeping to his bedroom, which is were he is, halfway through an episode of Twin Peaks when Bucky knocks on Steve’s door. He answers immediately with, “Come in.”

There’s a pause. “Hey,” he says softly when Bucky peeks around the door.

“Hey,” Bucky replies. “Can we talk?”

Steve swallows hard and nods, unsure of why he’s suddenly so nervous, and scoots over in bed so Bucky can perch on the edge.

For the first time since they’ve lived together, Bucky is wearing a t-shirt and the marbled scarring traces up his throat and over his collarbone.

Steve wants to taste it.

“I’m not great at telling this story,” Bucky begins. “I’ve opted out of a lot of psychological counseling to avoid it in fact, but Nat says you did the same thing, so maybe you understand.”

Steve just nods and lets him continue.

“IED. The arm was amputated. Shitty, but run-of-the-mill. Honorable discharge. Came home. Couldn’t cope. Did any drugs I could get my hands on. Tony found me, asked if I wanted a second chance. This is his design.” Bucky held up the prosthetic, moving it around before continuing.

“I was a good soldier, and a great programmer, but not…anything special, you know?” Steve makes an injured noise and places a hand on Bucky’s knee, squeezing as if to tell him off. Bucky smiles faintly. “But I got clean, took him up on the offer, and went to work. And here I am.”

He sighs then, relieved or sad or both, and looks down at his hands, one flesh, one metal, like he’s waiting for Steve to kick him out.

Steve’s heart is pounding, but he tries to give what he’s got.

“I lost a lot of men, I mean, we all did, too damn many, but my company more than most, and in a lot of freaky ways. No one’s fault, but I sure felt like it was mine. When I got back I dreamed about them all, alive, dead, dying…a million scenarios. I tried to drink myself into a coma but Nat wouldn’t let me.”

Bucky snorts at that, amused and aching. Steve pinches the bridge of his nose for a moment with the hand that had been on Bucky’s leg, and when he lowers it, Bucky tugs it back to him.

Amazingly, Steve feels himself grin, and he continues. “Once I decided on nursing, it all got easier. Never good, not for a long time, but better. I’m…uh… I developed OCD, only affects me when I’m really stressed, though. Therapist says it’s about control. Just…fair warning.” He hesitates then adds, “Scars on the inside instead of out.”

Bucky’s looking at him with an expression Steve’s not familiar with, eyes wide and scared, but mouth smiling. “You really don’t mind?” he says. “About the arm?” and he opens and closes the metal hand twice, like punctuation.

Steve takes his hand, the one Bucky had stolen before, and slides it into the silver palm, just holding it for a moment. “No, Buck. I don’t mind.” He’s speaking more gently than he has in years, and when he catches himself he says, “Plus, it’s kinda badass.”

Bucky laughs in earnest, lighting something up in Steve’s chest.

--

Amazingly, Steve is actually home when Bucky gets off work and comes bounding into the house. He’s got his bike helmet tucked under his arm, which explains the state of his hair (which is ridiculous), but Steve stops thinking about that when Bucky smiles at him, face lighting up.

“Rogers! Fancy meeting you here!” He pauses, a mischievous twinkle in his eye then says, “Wait a minute. Do you actually have the day off?”

“That I do. Tomorrow, too,” Steve adds with a smile.

“Steve Rogers taking two consecutive days of rest? Be still my heart!” Bucky grasps at his chest.

Mine first, Steve thinks. What he actually says is, “Shut up.”

“No can do. It’s a miracle. Or the apocalypse,” Bucky calls as he moves to his room. Steve hears him shuffling around for a moment before he adds, “Check outside. Does it look like the end of days?”

“Bucky, really.”

When he comes back out of the bedroom he’s not wearing a shirt, just holding the clean one in his hand. Steve should probably look away, but he doesn’t.

“Feel that cold breeze around our ankles?”

“What? No, Buck - ”

“It’s hell freezing over.”

It’s Bucky’s expression that makes him laugh, all somber and serious. He stands and watches Steve crack up for all of five seconds before he’s losing his shit, too. It’s a mistake, but Steve looks up at him and is pretty sure his heart stops.

Bucky’s hair has fallen down and around his face and his cheeks are flushed from the wind. His body is beautiful, even and especially because of the scars that trail down his well-muscled torso.

I’m so fucked, Steve thinks.

“Come out with us tonight,” Bucky says, checking his phone.

“Alright,” Steve says before he’s even realized he’s spoken.

--

“You came!” Natasha launches herself into Steve’s arms and he catches her, laughing.

“Yeah, yeah.” He sets her down far less gently than most people would a lady, but that would also be their mistake for thinking Natasha is a lady.

“You never go out! What changed your…mind?” Steve glances down at her and realizes she saw him watch as Bucky hugged that Amanda girl up at the bar and he’s sure she read the expression on his face. If it were anyone else he’d be safe, but it’s Natasha and she knows him too well for that. “Oh,” she says. “Does he…”

He shakes his head. “No. And you’re going to stay out of it. Natasha,” he warns, seeing the protest on her lips.

“Ok, ok, fine. But you’re an idiot. He definitely - ”

“Natasha!” Steve’s a little terrified of Nat, but he tries to make his voice sound serious and not desperate.

“Arguing already?” Bucky says amiably as he joins them. Natasha looks mutinously at Steve, who tries a smile.

“Can you blame me?” he says.

Bucky doesn’t get the chance to answer because Tony joins them, his whole existence louder than what Steve can handle right now. He does though, because they’ve been friends since they were little kids, and he knows Tony means well very deep down. “Rogers! You’re alive!”

“So they tell me,” Steve answers dryly.

“And living with my genius techie!”

Something about the “my” really bugs Steve but he tries to let it roll off. “Yeah, I dunno how I got so lucky.”

“He puts up with your weird shit?” Tony asks and Steve shifts from foot to foot, embarrassed and unsure of how to proceed when Bucky swoops in.

“Actually, Steve is one of the best roommates I’ve ever had.” Warmth rises in his chest. “Although, my last roommates were shell-shocked vets and some very poetic junkies so I don’t know if I have a basis for comparison.”

They all laugh, and Steve ignores how the warmth has faded a little. After a few minutes, Amanda comes over and asks Bucky to dance. He makes a little face at Steve as she leads him away and Steve nods in amused empathy, but Bucky goes just the same.

Steve isn’t jealous. He doesn’t want to dance. He can’t even remember the last time he went out like this, so it’s not like he’s missing out. And Bucky’s had this sarcastic smile on his face since they walked in, the one he hides behind. Steve had almost forgotten about it.

He doesn’t care for it. The real one is so much better.

It’s irrelevant though, because Bucky’s dancing with Amanda. He keeps his jacket on, and is wearing a glove on his left hand. Steve can see he’s keeping it away from her, instead pulling her to him with his right arm. He wonders if Amanda even notices.

Bucky moves beautifully and Steve watches them from the bar for several songs, sipping some whiskey. It probably won’t get him very far, he’s too big for his tolerance to be anywhere near reasonable, but the taste is comforting. It reminds him of when he got home. When he was still allowing himself numbness and forgetting. He’d moved on, and it was better now, but he still misses it sometimes.

“Care to dance?” a deep voice says.

Steve shakes his head. “No thank you.”

“You’re staring at the dance floor.”

“Just spacing out,” he says, finally turning to look at the man sitting next to him. The guy is gorgeous, tan and well dressed. His dark hair is cropped short and he looks deliberate about not having a hair out of place. Steve finds himself returning the guy’s smile in spite of himself.

“Can I buy you a drink, then?” the man asks.

Steve glances back to where Bucky and Amanda are dancing. He can see Bucky’s face as he whispers something in Amanda’s ear, and she giggles. He’s smiling, but Steve can see even from here that it doesn’t quite spread up to his eyes. But then he tugs her closer, grinds into her, and Steve’s body reacts strangely, arousal and pain, and not the fun kind. “Yeah,” he says. “Scotch. Please.”

The guy smiles at him, all white teeth, as he orders their drinks. “I’m Jack.”

Steve offers his hand and his name and nothing more.

Jack works in investment banking (Steve figures he should’ve known by the appearance). He seems very interested in talking about his own work, and Steve is starting to feel just tipsy enough to smile back occasionally, but is not above glancing at Bucky over the guy’s shoulder occasionally.

He almost misses it, but catches the tail end of Bucky looking over at he and Jack at the bar. There’s something burning in his eyes, but Steve can’t read it. He’s distracted when Jack leans in to say something in his ear, and regardless of his lack of attraction to the guy, warm breath on his neck will get his attention every time.

They talk for a while longer, until Bucky and Amanda eventually make their way back to humanity, at which point Steve politely excuses himself.

“Havin’ fun?” Bucky asks as Steve plops down next to him. His arm is around Amanda where she sits on his other side, but she’s chatting with a friend so exuberantly that Steve feels comfortable speaking honestly.

“I…I guess,” Steve says with a smile. “It’s been a while,” he admits.

“You seem to be doing just fine,” Bucky counters, and there’s something tight in his voice as he glances to Jack where he’s perched at the bar chatting with some friends. Steve just shrugs.

There’s a weird silence and a staring contest between them. It’s broken by Natasha with a bottle and a stack of shot glasses. Steve’s not sure whether to be relieved or irritated.

They get through three shots. Tony toasts beautiful women (suck up, Steve thinks), Natasha toasts Steve for joining them ("For once!"), and Bucky toasts Natasha. “For helping me find a great place to live.” He’s smiling at Steve when he says it.

After that, things get a little weird.

Natasha disappears. Tony raids the dance floor with more women than Steve thinks were in the original party.

Bucky kisses Amanda. Or maybe she kisses him.

All Steve knows is that he doesn’t want to be here anymore. On his way out, Jack stops him and asks for his number. He’s not sure whether he gives it or not. He sees Bucky watch him leave but he can’t bring himself to look at his face.

When a coworker asks him to cover a shift the next day, he agrees without hesitation and sets his alarm for 4 am.

--

Bucky gets around to asking him where he ran off to and he makes some excuse about being tired. He wishes Bucky didn’t believe him.

Things stay weird for a while. Steve wishes things would go back to normal, where they cooked for each other and fell asleep watching crap TV, but Bucky stays out of the house, and Steve make sure he had plenty of hours.

When Steve comes home a few weeks after the bar incident, he immediately knows something was wrong by the blood on the door handle.

“Bucky?” he calls. “Bucky!”

Thankfully, Bucky answers. “In here,” he calls from his room.

Steve doesn’t even knock, doesn’t even think about it, just barges into his room demanding, “What happened?”

Bucky’s sitting on his bed in a sweater and boxers, holding a towel completely saturated with blood to his thigh.

“Car door while I was biking. Got a corner somewhere.”

“Let me see.”

Bucky raises an eyebrow at Steve’s tone, but lifts the towel. The blood flow is slowing, but the wound is deep, enough to need stitches.

“We need to get you to a hospital.”

“No!” Steve’s never heard Bucky’s voice like this before. Rough and angry and terrified, almost a sob, almost a scream. “I…I can’t. Please, Steve,” he pleads, voice softening.

Steve regards him for a long moment then says, “Don’t move.”

He gets the first aid kit (heavy duty, he stole it from the hospital), the whiskey, and a clean towel before washing his hands and returning to Bucky’s room.

“Drink,” he says, offering the bottle. “I don’t have any topical pain relief.”

“I got my arm blown off,” Bucky mumbles. “This’ll be fine.”

They’re silent while Steve organizes what he needs and Bucky takes a few swigs of whiskey. Before he puts on his gloves, Steve does the same.

“Up to date on your tetanus shots or do I have to steal some for you?” he mutters.

“Immunizations up to date, doc,” Bucky says with small salute and Steve is relieved. He’s pretty sure he’d actually steal that, if Bucky couldn’t be in a hospital, which terrifies him.

“Here we go,” is all he can think of to say. He tucks the new towel under Bucky’s leg and cleans the wound thoroughly, then stitches it up as quickly as he can while still being careful.

Bucky doesn’t make a single noise throughout the procedure. His breaths are measured. He doesn’t clench his fists. There’s no reaction from him at all until Steve has finished the stitches completely, and begins to wipe the mess of blood and dirt from Bucky’s skin. He makes a little hurt noise as Steve wipes up the side of his calf and Steve freezes, glancing up. Not being able to decipher Bucky’s facial expressions seems to be an Olympic sport for Steve and he's medaling in it.

“Do you want me to stop?” Steve’s voice comes out softer than he intends.

Bucky shakes his head and opens his mouth, but nothing comes out so Steve gets back to it. It’s a gift, honestly, after months of pining for the guy, to be able to take care of him. He slides the wipe gently over Bucky’s skin, spending extra time in the spots where the blood has caked on in patches. As he works he says, “Why no hospitals?”

He’s not expecting an answer but Bucky gives him one, voice gentle and calm, probably from the whiskey.

“I spent a lot of time in hospitals after my arm. I was pretty out of it, but I hated that fucking helpless feeling. I remember waking up and not even being able to eat on my own. It sucked. But,” he starts, then stops again, watching the slow movement of Steve’s hand. His leg is pretty clean, but Steve doesn’t want to break the spell.

“I overdosed. Later. After I got released. I don’t know how I got back to the hospital, but I sure as fuck ended up there.” His voice is bitter. “I was fucked up for a while, then detoxing for a while…It was awful, worse than overseas, less pain meds. More talking,” he says with some disgust and Steve almost smiles. “I just…it made my body healthier, but my mind worse. They finally transferred me to the VA hospital, I think because I was becoming increasingly uncooperative. Was there for a few weeks. Natasha found me. Haven’t been back.”

Steve finally gives up the pretense of cleaning but he can’t bring himself to stop touching now that he’s started, so he begins pushing his fingers up over the knotted muscle of Bucky’s shins and calves, massaging them loose.

His chest hurts. Overdosing patients come in all the time, sweating and raving or cold and clammy. Imagining Bucky there, worse, imagining him in a hospital without Steve to check in on him, to make sure the doctors weren’t fucking anything up…

Bucky had felt so alone coming home that he felt the need to escape this reality. Steve remembers that feeling, and doesn't wish it on anyone.

A sob threatens to escape and he catches it as a small but gasping breath and looks up, letting his hands fall to his lap.

“What?” Bucky whispers, tugging his bottom lip into his mouth and Steve’s so worked up he only barely thinks about kissing him.

“I’m just so glad you’re here, Buck,” Steve says. It’s true on so many levels, and all he can think to say.

Steve is pretty sure he sees Bucky’s eyes grow suspiciously bright and he figures he’ should clear out, give Buck some privacy. It takes him a minute to stumble to his feet and collect his crap.

“I’m going to insist on checking in on that tomorrow,” he says with a rueful smile, but Bucky salutes, still blinking hard and says, “Ay ay, captain!”

Steve pauses at the door. “Feel better, ok? Let me know if you need anything.” I don’t want to leave, let me crawl in bed behind you, let me hold you until you forget every drug, every doctor -

He turns to leave but Bucky says, “Steve?”

“Huh?”

The smile on Bucky’s face isn’t the one he hides behind. It’s wide and genuine and teary and if Steve wasn’t already in love with the guy, he would be now.

“Thanks.”

--

Things fall back into place in that the two of them fall back into a routine of spending time together, and Steve feels increasingly like his heart is going to beat out of his chest. It’s mostly wonderful.

He checks Bucky’s wound, which is thankfully healing perfectly, every other day. It’s more often then he needs to, but it’s one of the few times he’s allowed to touch him, and Steve maximizes on that opportunity.

There’s a particularly awful day when Bucky goes out for drinks with Amanda. Steve wants to punch someone and then drink a fifth of something, but instead he leaves for a run at the same time Bucky leaves to meet her. He runs until he can’t think, can’t feel, and considering that he runs almost every day of the week and long distances, too, ends up taking him over two hours. He staggers down the hallway and sees Amanda at the door.

Hopefully she’s on her way out.

“Hey, Steve,” she says as he passes, she looks concerned about something. He gives her an aborted wave and stumbles past.

“Holy shit,” Bucky says. “Were you running that whole time?”

Instead of answering, Steve cups his hands under the kitchen faucet and drinks ‘til he almost pukes, then sticks his head in the stream of water.

“Steve.” Bucky sounds hesitant. “You ok?”

“Yep,” Steve gasps. “Great. Wonderful. Fantastic.”

“’Cause you look like shit.”

Steve knows Bucky means for it to be an expression of concern but it hurts nonetheless. Finally standing and turning off the water he says, “Well, you’ll be ok. You got Amanda to look at now, right?” It comes out more bitter than he intends.

“Steve,” Bucky says softly, face breaking right the fuck open, which is more than Steve can really deal with so he says, “It’s ok, man. I’m just bustin’ your chops. I gotta go shower though, I have work in a bit,” and he dodges out of the kitchen.

A kid dies in the ER that night.

It’s the end of Steve’s shift, maybe three in the morning. They’ve been doing what they can for the overdose, Steve more than the rest, because duh. He checks on the kid every half an hour, more frequently if he can, but they're busy tonight.

He finishes up intake for a girl with a few broken fingers and hurries down the hall to check on the kid before the next patient. The bed is empty and stripped and Steve slides down the wall and stares until his supervisor tells him to go home early, voice dripping with understanding Steve knows she can’t possibly have.

It’s almost four when he gets home, and as he kicks off his shoes he notices the scuff marks on the baseboards in the entryway from the same activity he’s performing right now. He drinks a bottle of water and makes some toast, but those damn marks won't get out of his mind, like black bruises on the white molding…

Before he knows it he’s on his hands and knees with a rag and a bowl of vinegar and he’s wiped down not only the baseboards but the floor of the entryway as well. This turns into sweeping every room in the house. Lint rolling the couch. He’s scrubbing the little lip where the tiling of the kitchen meets the hardwood of the living room with a toothbrush when Bucky wanders out of his room rubbing his eyes.

“Sorry, did I wake you up?” Steve says. He absently notices that he’s speaking faster than usual, but he’s too tired to care.

“No,” Bucky answers slowly. “I was up. Couldn’t sleep.”

Steve nods, finishes the lip with a wipe of the cloth and then goes back to the kitchen to dump and refill the bucket of vinegar water. While he’s doing that he notices little splatters on the tile behind the stove and sets to work on those.

“Steve.” Bucky keeps saying his name in this careful sort of way and it’s driving him nuts. “What’s going on?”

“The apartment’s a mess!” Steve shouts.

He turns to look at Bucky, who’s not moving. Not running away, not leaving, just staring at him, evaluating, then offers, “You need any help?”

You need any help? Like he’s going to get down on his hands and knees and scrub fucking baseboards with Crazy Steve. You need any help? Like he’s going to let Steve have this breakdown if he needs to, but he’s not going to leave him alone.

Steve shuts off the water, opens the kitchen window, and breathes deeply ‘til his lungs fill and empty with regularity. He feels raw and distant as he says, “Kid overdosed tonight. Died. All I could think was, what if it was you? He needs a second chance. Maybe he’s supposed to come into someone’s life and…and s-save it…” He stops talking because now he’s crying and he feels stupid, but again, too tired to care. Tries to keep it quiet though, shoulders shaking until he feels arms wrap around his waist and squeeze.

“Come on, Steve,” Bucky says quietly into his back and he let’s himself be led to his room.

The sky is beginning to lighten and they both watch as Bucky pushes Steve’s shirt up and off then tugs down his scrub bottoms, damp at the knees. It’s gentle, not sexual, and when Steve is down to his boxer briefs Bucky lifts the covers and pushes him down into bed before crawling in behind him. His metal arm slides beneath the pillow and the right arm wraps Steve up and pulls him tight.

Bucky presses his nose to the nape of Steve’s neck and Steve truly breathes out for the first time in half a decade, pushing out and back into the hard line of Bucky’s body. He cries a little then drifts off, the cadence of Bucky’s soft breathing lulling him to sleep.

--

He wakes just exactly when his body is ready to, sore from the run but otherwise relaxed and pliant. As the night before filters in though, he rolls over quickly to see…empty space and wrinkles in the sheets where Bucky’s body was. Rolling back over he scrubs at his eyes and tries to ignore the sinking feeling in his chest. Of course he didn’t stay. Bucky was just being nice. Being a good…friend. Steve knows he is, despite his sarcasm and hiding, and it’s silly to expect…

It doesn’t much matter what Steve was expecting though, because Bucky comes padding back into the bedroom in nothing but his boxers and slides right back into bed easy as you please.

He sees Steve is awake and says ruefully, “Sorry I woke you up, had to pee. What?”

Steve’s pretty sure he’s smiling so hard his face is about to crack in half but all he says is, “Thank you. For last night. I…thank you.”

Bucky shakes his head. “Thanks for letting me.”

“Doesn’t explain why you’re half naked in my bed though,” Steve tries to joke, hoping hoping hoping…

“Well I’d like to be completely naked in your bed, but I hear you’re supposed to talk about that shit first.” It’s a very Bucky response.

“Buck. I…” Steve sits up, back pressed to the cool of the wall and tries again. “If this is just…I haven’t…” He looks at Bucky, pleading. “I mean if you and Amanda - ”

“We’re not - ” If Steve didn’t know better, he’d think Bucky looked nervous. “We’re not together. Not since that night you came out with us.”

“What? But you…what?”

Bucky smiled. “I saw you with that guy and ...and it fucking killed me, Rogers, but then I saw the way you looked at me when Amanda…and I thought maybe you...” He paused, breathing deeply. “Maybe you loved me back.”

There’s a broken noise in the room, Steve thinks maybe it came from him, but he’s leaning forward and like always, Bucky meets him halfway.

Bucky’s mouth is soft and warm and opens easily for Steve's tongue to sweep through, kissing back, deeply and without hurry. He sighs against Steve’s lips and pulls him in, sliding them down back into bed, and spreads his legs eagerly for Steve to settle between them.

It’s perfect.

It feels like Steve’s whole life is breaking apart and instead of everything rushing out and away, it's all coming in through the cracks, gift after wonderful gift, currently in the form of Bucky’s beautiful body writhing beneath him.

Bucky’s hand is at his jaw and the kisses are slowly moving from sweet and hot to downright filthy. Steve feels like he’s keeping a level head about things until Bucky moans beneath him and he loses it a little, grinding down and biting at his neck. Things devolve quickly from there.

Bucky pulls Steve’s hair, Steve bites his neck, there are nails running lightly and not-so-lightly over skin, and then someone shifts and Steve is suddenly aware of how hard they both are, and Bucky somehow divests them of their underwear.

Steve finds himself of his back and Bucky’s shimmying down and kneeling near his knees. Steve has just enough time to prop himself up on his elbows to see Bucky spit into his palm, take his own cock in hand, and swallow Steve down.

The result is loud noises from both of them and Steve tries to tangle his fingers in Bucky’s hair without controlling his movements too much, but Bucky seems to like it a little rough. Those beautiful red lips stretched around his cock are almost too much and even after a few minutes Steve worries he might not be able to hold out.

Bucky uses his free hand to run up and down Steve's legs, and Steve is twitching, shaking, about to ask him to stop, but then Bucky’s making this strangled noise and Steve sits up, worried, but he just wipes his mouth on the back of his hand an says, “I’m gonna need you to fuck me.”

“Oh my god,” Steve murmurs, so turned on he aches. There’s a minute of fumbling in his drawer for lube and a condom, which gives him enough of a break to think and then say, “Is this too fast?”

Bucky’s lying on Steve’s pillow, stroking himself leisurely (Steve thinks he might pass out at the sight) and says, “Not really. I’ve been jacking off to the though of this since about a week after I moved in, so…”

This time Steve knows it’s him that gives a pained whine. “That long?” he says.

Bucky nods. “How long for you?”

Steve shakes his head. “From the beginning, Buck. I didn’t see it right away, didn’t know what it was because I’ve never…it’s never been like this before.”

Bucky makes a huffing sound but looks pleased, and pulls Steve to him. “Come ‘ere, you sap.”

He keeps the cocky demeanor together for a long minute, while Steve’s rolling on the condom and lubing up his fingers, but when Steve brushes the pad of his finger against Bucky’s hole he shivers and smiles, for real this time, and looks up at Steve with complete trust.

The scar from Bucky’s accident shines purple-silver in the morning light and Steve presses a kiss to it. “You saved me, that day,” Bucky says.

“Nah,” Steve shrugs.

“You would’ve been fine,” but Bucky shakes his head. “Aside from keeping me from an epic hospital related meltdown, the way you touched me that day made me think we had a chance.”

Steve blushes. “How’d I touch you?”

He sees Bucky glance to his prosthetic before saying, “Like you thought I was beautiful.”

“You are. Buck, you are so beautiful.” He presses kisses up Bucky’s sides and across the scaring then back down and Bucky breathes shakily, then yelps as Steve takes the head of his cock into his mouth and presses gently in to the first knuckle. Bucky arches his back and Steve opens up, allowing him to roll his hips up and fuck up into Steve’s mouth.

“Oh, fuck, Steve.”

He takes the first finger with ease and some harsh breaths, the second the breaths turn to whimpers, and by the third he’s moaning outright.

“Fuck, Steve, please, oh my god, you gotta – ah – fuck me right now please oh fuuuck.” He finally shuts up for a moment as Steve presses in.

“Buck, holy shit you’re so tight, fucking hot, god Bucky so perfect for me.”

Bucky beams and pulls him down, kissing him over and over. Steve moves slow at first and they both just tremble together. Steve’s well aware that despite his topping status, Bucky is in charge, and it seems Bucky knows it too because he gets impatient and rolls them so he can ride Steve hard.

As Steve gets closer he wraps his arms around Bucky, who buries his face in Steve’s neck, and fucks up into him, shaking, until they come apart together with each others' names on their lips. He comes to realizing he’s murmuring into Bucky’s hair, “I love you, I love you so much, Bucky, god I fuckin’ love you,” over and over. Bucky eventually groans and rolls off to clean them up with his shirt but comes back immediately and rubs his face on Steve’s chest, his neck, then finally kisses him again, long and slow.

“That was a great start to the day,” Bucky yawns.

“I’m calling off work tonight.”

“Christ knows you’ve got the days saved up. Ow,” he gripes when Steve swats at him. “May I ask what you plan on doing with your day, Rogers?”

The sly grin on Steve’s face feels unused but wonderful as he says, “Well…I thought I’d make breakfast, then fuck my boyfriend into the mattress a few more times, then get drunk, watch a movie, I don’t know. What do you think?”

Bucky’s grinning. “Boyfriend?”

Steve shrugs, trying to appear impartial. “If you want.”

“Idiot,” Bucky mutters as he pins Steve to the bed. “Of course I want. Jesus. Spent fuckin’ months pining after you and…what are you doing?” He asks as Steve goes for his phone.

“I gotta text Natasha. Tell her she was right.”

“She’ll be insufferable,” Bucky warns.

Steve shrugs. “I think we’ll be ok.”

They were. And then some.