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take off all of your skin (i'm brave when you are free)

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1.

Bucky not caring about clothes is still weird and unsettling, if Steve lets himself think about it.

He gets it, and also gets that there are multiple levels here to get. There's the mostly-harmless level that's just a symptom of exhaustion and the depression it's impossible to avoid, where caring about anything like appearance or clothing or whatever is just one level more work than Bucky can do, especially if he wants to do anything else. On one of Steve's many dances around the internet in the hopes that someone came up with magic while he wasn't looking, he came across the idea of "spoon theory": that people working with chronic difficulties (whatever that happened to be, and whether it's in head or body or some combination of it) have a limited capacity to get through things other people think are normal, and you can think of it like being handed a certain number of spoons at the beginning of the day, and having to spend them for every single thing you do, including "getting out of bed" or "having a shower".

The theory as-is doesn't quite work for Steve, in part because Bucky's capabilities are both irregular and erratic, and can both suddenly drop to nothing with no warning or visible cause, or suddenly increase, likewise, and when you try to maintain the spoon metaphor through all of that you start having a head full of images of flying cutlery.

(He'd been sketching when he thought that through; now there's a page that has a little cartoon of himself, ducking, with the caption "the spoons are attacking!" although he'd ended up finishing his latte before he actually drew any flying spoons.)

Plus enough of Steve's life has been defined by extreme conditions that thinking of anyone's supply as unlimited just doesn't work: most people might never pay out more strength or energy than they build up, but that doesn't mean there isn't a limit, and they might not find out about it when they least expect. But the general idea is sound, the idea of energy as an issue of resource and demand, and the point is at least one reason not to care about what he wears or what it looks like is that it's just low on the list of priorities Bucky's got for the energy he does have to spend.

The other levels include self-worth and self-loathing, and Steve has a harder time with those. Gets them, but has a harder time, and getting them does nothing for it feeling strange. Back when, Bucky cared a lot; even during the War, bar a couple bad slips that Steve at the time found other reasons for, Bucky cared. Witness, among other things, the now-famous coat, which he'd got off a French lady whose basement they'd hidden in for a day and a half and who also tried to give them most of her food and half her silver as well. It'd been warm, and hard-wearing, but the fact was it'd also looked good. And even out in the middle of nowhere, it mattered.

Some of that's about power, and how appearance gives it or takes it away, and about the same kind of control that meant Peggy's makeup was always flawless even in the middle of two days of bombardment in pretty primitive conditions. Steve's not even sure if Bucky can make those kinds of connections anymore, sometimes: it wouldn't be the only thing that seems like it means about as much to him as killer-whale song does to Steve.

Mostly, though, Bucky'd just always been a hedonist, ever since they were kids, and clothes that looked and felt good were just part of that. It was that simple and that constant: if it was fun, if it was enjoyable, if it felt good, Bucky wanted it. He was (and is) smarter than a lot of people who thought the same thing, in that most of the time he could think forward a week or even a lifetime and balance something being good now against the bill for it later, but that didn't change the central fact. And that was intrinsic.

Or at least, some part of Steve had always thought it was intrinsic, built in. Which is why the back of his head still stumbles on it, now and then.

Now, everything comes down to function and purpose, and the purpose doesn't tend to be enjoyment. And Steve doesn't know how to separate what's coming from the poison place of not-allowed and not-worth and what's just . . . like the way his laugh changed, the kind of change that just is and doesn't mean anything needs to be fixed.

The only echoes Steve notices now, in most things, is stuff like how Bucky gravitates to things that are on the warmer end of whatever's right for the season, and how he gravitates to things worn enough to be really soft, but there Steve's not sure it's about enjoying it so much as it keeps the painful static in Bucky's head down a bit: not so much that it feels good as it feels less bad. Food - well, food's food, and it's maybe starting to worry Steve how much that problem's still sticking, and he knows it bugs Bucky to Hell and back and then back to Hell again. Drink - well, it's frankly a good thing alcohol's kind of pointless. Steve tries not to dwell on that.

Then there's sex.

 

Natasha'd asked him about it, once. About the start of it.

They'd been walking in a small park, and they'd stopped on a bridge over a little stream, barely even running at that point in the late spring, and she'd said, Don't take this the wrong way, but what did you think was going to happen when the War ended? With you and him and you and Carter?

And Steve'd rubbed his forehead and said, I didn't. Seriously, I didn't think at all. The whole question was a big black storm where I didn't know any good answers so I hid from it instead, told myself I'd cross that bridge when I got there and it wouldn't help to think about it now.

He'd added, I'm not really proud of that. Meant it. Meant it a lot. He can forgive himself, sorta, for a lot of stuff, for missing stuff and not knowing, because considering the entire canon of psychology up to that point hadn't figured out what the Hell was going on with what war did to human brains anyway, Steve can accept that he just didn't know enough to see. But he's really not proud of looking at the whole mess and then hiding his head in the sand, deciding to just run with what he wanted and not consider the consequences.

Natasha'd given him a look that seemed older than she was and said, Steve, you were twenty-four and nobody'd even kissed you before except for a nasty joke, and the whole thing was a can of worms the size of, Hell, I don't even know. I'm not exactly shocked you didn't want to think about it. I just wondered if you had.

Steve'd looked down, and thought about that. It'd be wrong to mix some of the conversations they have up with Confession, and inaccurate too, but half the time it feels like they share something with it - some sense of someone on the outside, maybe with more wisdom and clarity on the subject than Steve can manage, gently smacking his head into line.

(There's still a part of Steve, a part of his upbringing, that's more than a little horrified at the idea of casually talking about sex with a woman, but it runs into the practical part of him, which points out that there's probably very little Natasha doesn't already know on the subject, know much more about than he does, and probably there's no one in the world it'd be less awkward with. Natasha doesn't have most people's hangups about sex. She may have many of her own, but they haven't come up yet.)

It was still a pretty cruddy thing to do, he'd said. And probably would have played out with it just sort of . . . ending, and us never talking about it, and then everything eating him alive, and that . . . He'd sighed. It would've ended bad. That's kind of the point, for me. Bad, and I think most of the bad would've landed on him..

Natasha'd considered that and shrugged. Maybe Carter would've figured it out. She's a pretty smart person. Steve, she'd said, turning her head to look at him, probably because his attempt to laugh'd fallen through. You were both young, you were both fucked up, and neither of you wanted to deal with any of the complicated shit. Plus I'll bet you money James was banking on getting killed before it ended up a problem so he didn't need to say anything, or let you say it. But it's over. What is, is. What isn't, isn't. Stop beating yourself up.

I'm not, Steve'd protested and she'd huffed a laugh at him.

That, she'd said, is a lie, Steve. She'd looked out over the rest of the park and said, Sometimes we do things we didn't think through and can't justify. Sometimes we want things more than we can handle. Someone'd just rewritten your whole body from the ground up and now the whole world wanted you just for that. Are you really surprised you got caught up in proof you couldn't argue with that the one constant in your life still wanted you, too?

And that had struck home, hit him dead centre, hit him where he lived. He'd leaned his forearms on the bridge railing for a second, hands clasped, before he managed to say, Could you maybe tone down on the wise-and-perceptive? You're making everyone else look bad, and she'd laughed, leaning sideways against the rail herself.

Sorry, she'd said. Perceptive about people's kind of built in by this part. Besides, she'd added. Turned out to be a life-saver.

And she's not wrong. He wouldn't've admitted it to himself at the time even if he'd known and God knows (and God does know, Steve's sure) he wasn't the most self-aware or self-examining guy in the world at the time, but she's not wrong. And even if he hadn't seen how messed up Bucky was, he'd known Bucky didn't want to be there, wanted to go home. Worried about that. He'd tried to make a joke of it, when he'd come back to Bucky after the others agreed, but he'd been afraid, even then. Wouldn't've blamed Bucky for going home - just would have felt like someone cut a leg out from under him.

So beyond the simple fact that there were very few circumstances in which anyone who liked men would kick Bucky off their lap, it'd been . . . comforting. Reassuring. Safe.

It doesn't actually take him all the way to finishing that bit of thinking before he's casting a slightly sour look upwards (as reasonable a physical stand-in for really Heavenwards as any) because he sure isn't missing the neat inversion of where he and Bucky used to stand here either.

(Steve's pretty sure the Vatican wouldn't see eye-to-eye with him on the conclusions he's come to, after a lot of thought, about sex and ethics and why rules might be what they are and also why that might not apply, because the Sabbath was made for man and not the other way around. But Steve's okay with that, because back before he suddenly woke up in the future the Vatican was still sitting on its hands about the brutal slaughter of millions, so Steve is quite comfortable being at odds with the hierarchy when they're wrong.)

But Natasha's also not wrong about that. It has been a life-saver.

 

2.

The thing that's better, now, even if it would never have occurred to Steve before . . . is that there's no performance. Steve's pretty sure he's the only one who's ever had that, and he's also pretty sure that most people would feel smug about it, instead of ending up with the faint ache of complicated braided-up delight and sadness, and of wanting to hide something away so nobody else gets dirt on it.

Because he wasn't that person, in 1944. Different performance than so many girls and a handful of guys, maybe, different story Bucky wanted to tell and things he wanted to hide, but that's all. And there's a lot of deep, sometimes sobering, sometimes agonizing thoughts Steve can have about that, not so much because it bothers him for himself but because of what it says about Bucky holding things back, putting up walls - and (and Steve only has this thought quietly, alone, usually at night) if he maybe had a good God-damned reason.

There's been some pretty damned compelling evidence about what getting attached to someone means Bucky might do. And if Bucky knew that, suspected somehow that's how it was, how it worked, even subconscious . . . that's a pretty good reason to try to live behind a wall, even in your own head.

That wall's gone now, at least the part of it facing Steve, and that's probably taking that metaphor just about as far as it'll go. There's no performance because there's no point, or maybe because it's just not something he can get ahold of anymore: Steve doesn't know for sure, and he's not exactly going to ask.

But Steve'd be a liar if he said he didn't like it, didn't kind of basically fucking treasure it, and he's never been that kind of liar. And never will be. It's of a piece with the pleased feeling he doesn't really have a word for, the one that basically spread everywhere when he realized that it really was just him being there that let Bucky fall asleep - really fall asleep. In knowing there's something he can do, something about him, that helps.

He's really, really careful with that feeling, God knows. He doesn't actually have nightmares about it, because it's too complicated an idea for a sleeping brain to concentrate on, but he's pretty carefully aware of how easy it could be for that to slide sideways, to get unbalanced, how it could start being about him helping rather than point of the help. And that's one of the last things Steve could possibly want.

Still has the feeling, though, and it's a good one. All its shapes. Even the one that comes with feeling like the skin just got ripped off his soul, because Bucky's is so clearly bleeding out of every breath with no defenses at all and there's no way in Heaven, Hell, Purgatory or on Earth that isn't terrifying for all the ways it could go wrong.

And doesn't. Or at least hasn't yet.

 

This morning something twists wrong. Maybe in the shower or the bath, maybe before: Bucky's up by four-thirty and off their floor. Since "rooftops" aren't really a usable option in the Tower, Bucky substitutes an agility course programmed into the grown-up jungle-gym which firstly is a miserable gruelling monstrosity, Steve can tell from looking at it, and secondly Steve is pretty sure he's got maybe a month before he gets dragged on it himself. And he can't exactly argue, not without undermining his own half-stealth attempts to get Bucky comfortable sparring and practicing and that kind of thing again.

For now he just goes for a run outside, unless the weather's ugly. On balance he's okay with being the comparatively lazy one on this score for at least a little while longer.

But Bucky comes back in and goes straight for the bathroom, which could mean everything and nothing, so Steve just glances up from reading his book on the couch. He looks at the corner you go around to get to the bathroom, listening, but all he hears is water in the pipes: he'd have to get closer to be able to tell whether it's shower or bath, and there's nothing else, and not enough beyond a gut feeling to make getting up to go check not look like he's hovering. Which Steve doesn't want to do.

So he tries to go back to his book.

Sometimes Bucky forgets to make noise, still. And where at home there's an audible difference (at least to Steve) to just the general hum of the place depending on what doors are open or closed, in the Tower suite it's not that obvious: the fan in the bathroom is just about silent even in the same room, and up this far even if the balcony's open there's not much in the way of noise-pollution, not much noise there to change. It means that in the Tower, Bucky occasionally startles the Hell out of Steve without actually meaning to.

Like now, when he takes the book out of Steve's hands and kneels straddling his hips, in more or less one continuous movement, leaving Steve blinking at him after one startled half-jump, meeting Bucky's eyes.

(And God, it gets to Steve how Bucky moves, can move now, economy and grace and one movement into the other. Considering the Hell behind it, behind that change, he probably shouldn't find it as incredibly, distractingly hot as he does, but no matter how many times he makes that point, his libido just doesn't care, and his pulse skips up a notch.)

There's always that second, knotted up and miserably tense. Just a fraction of a fragment of time where the fear that Steve hates just about more than any of the others waits for him to even start to pull away. Waits for distaste, for disgust and then maybe anger, for the things that are never going to come. It's that second that means that the first thing Bucky does - after even the most basic parts of Steve's brain catch up enough that he raises his hand to rest on the back of Bucky's neck and make it easier for Bucky to finish leaning down to kiss him - is relax.

It's fractional, but it's there, every single muscle releasing a little bit, softening and letting go of how they were ready to scramble back and crawl away.

(Someday it won't be there anymore. Steve's sworn that a thousand times and he'll do it again. A lot.)

The second thing Bucky does is pull back enough to say, "Just, don't ask," in a voice that's mostly breath except for the ragged edge, and make the very beginning of please before Steve says, "Okay," and kisses him again instead. That's fine. He doesn't need to ask. He doesn't need a reason.

He tries to put that in the kiss, deepening it: don't need a reason, don't need an excuse, don't need to justify this - I always want you. Feels Bucky respond, the way he holds himself soften a little more.

(Someday.)

Bucky got dressed before he came over here; Steve's not going to try to guess whether that's because Bucky didn't plan so much as get caught by the thought and act on impulse, or if he's twitchy enough he couldn't stand not to, even just to walk across the suite. Steve drops his hands to rest on Bucky's waist, working them under the thin ribbed cotton of the y-back to smooth over skin still just faintly tacky from the shower. He slides his fingers underneath the waistband of Bucky's jeans, pushing them down a little so he can stroke the points of Bucky's hips with his thumbs. He maybe has half-shapes of thoughts about eros and clothing, working around it or out of it, but then his thoughts are sort of shredding like mist because Bucky kisses him back, hard and demanding.

Steve is fine with demanding. Actually, Steve is great with demanding, yes, please: demand things, anything, this, him - demand anything and I'll find it, I will, find a way to give it to you . . . Demanding means at least some part of Bucky knows what he needs, wants, at least an idea, and Steve can follow that, follow him into that, and know it'll be okay. Demanding means Bucky wants, enough to get through anything else, and as far as Steve's concerned that's a good thing.

Bucky shifts his weight, moves till he works one knee between Steve's thighs. He brushes parted lips past Steve's jaw to mouth at the shell of his ear, and Steve lets go of Bucky's hips with his left hand, tangling his fingers in Bucky's hair instead, tilting his head back in encouragement. When Bucky moves his mouth down to the spot on Steve's neck, Steve's right hand slides against Bucky's left shoulder, trying to find a hold; Bucky bends his arm to catch Steve's wrist and then slides fingers down to intertwine with Steve's and pin that hand to the pillow against the arm of the couch.

Bucky presses an open-mouthed kiss just below Steve's jaw and then breathes, blows air over the wetness. Steve feels himself move, spine curving enough through to push his hips up against Bucky using gravity to hold them both down. Steve's fingers close in Bucky's hair, against his scalp, can't stop them from it, when Bucky scrapes his teeth over the same place and then sucks hard against the skin; Steve closes his eyes and knows he's squirming, a little. Doesn't bother trying to help it. Draws his outside leg up to wrap around Bucky's, encouraging, instead.

The first bite is hard, open, deep, a circle that flashes deep red into the black behind Steve's closed eyes and pools as hot at the base of his spine; the second is sharp, bright pinch catching his skin, making his hips jerk and his breath catch. Bucky's weight braces against the arm of the couch with his right forearm and he lets go of Steve's hand so that he can rest his left hand against Steve's throat. His hand is all points of heat and cool as the fingertips rest against Steve's spine and thumb strokes back and forth over his pulse.

And maybe, maybe there's another second there, a hitch or a stutter, but even if there is Steve's already working right hand back under Bucky's shirt and up the side of his ribs, stroking the back of his knuckles across skin and metal and skin again because he can, because he wants to, because Bucky's here for him to touch, and if there is another second that might be fear it's gone before Steve finishes noticing it and that's what matters.

Bucky soothes over the bites with his tongue and then bites Steve for the second time, teeth scratching hard before digging in; Steve manages, "Oh God, Bucky," as Bucky does it again and grinds down hard with his hips and Steve is thinking about clothes and less of them and - fuck - that kind of thing except that means this would have to stop, even for a second, and stop the shivering sparks that flood his backbone, bottom ribs, bones of hips and his thighs.

When Bucky shifts his weight to his left hand, braced against the couch-arm beside Steve's head, and sits up, Steve doesn't actually have time to protest before Bucky catches the hand that's letting go of his hair and turns his head to kiss the palm and scrape his teeth against the heel.

Pours same-but-different light down every nerve in Steve's hand and arm when he starts to tease his mouth over Steve's wrist until he bites there, too, and Steve arches up under him at the shivering white sharpness that digs into the bone.

They're both still in their clothes when Steve comes, right hand fisted in Bucky's shirt and Bucky still holding his left hand, mouth still pressed to Steve's wrist. Until he lets it go and bends down to press his mouth against Steve's instead, demanding as before, until Steve has to pull away to breathe.

He slides his hands up under Bucky's shirt, wrapping around to hold him there; the miserable tension's gone and Steve can hear the half-smirk in Bucky's voice when he murmurs, "Easy," against Steve's ear.

Tissue thin over something else, maybe, but who cares - Steve doesn't. Not even a little. Not like he's going to tear it.

"For you," he says, and adds with a bit of feeling, "jerk." Now he definitely needs to get rid of these jeans.

"Mmn," Bucky replies, resting his forehead against Steve's, and then adds, "shut up and come to bed, not enough room on here."

Steve doesn't actually bother to ask for what?; Bucky's tone of voice is persuasive enough on its own. He had no plans anyway.

 

3.

There was a hotel in Paris in 1944, and Steve spent his first two years in the twenty-first century resolutely not finding out if it still stood.

Its occured to him that he probably could, now, and that it's almost even odds: it was a nice enough place that it might've stayed preserved over the decades, but on the other hand it wasn't famous - or at least, hadn't been famous when they stayed there, the seven of them, and didn't get famous enough that Steve couldn't avoid it being shoved in his face through those years, the way so much else had been.

The leave itself is famous, mostly because of that time Dugan dangled Jim from the Eiffel Tower, the famous street-soccer game that ended up with the wine-barrel crash, and because apparently sometime in the eighties someone spilled about Dernier's aborted attempt to break in through de Gaulle's window and tell him off. Or possibly cut his throat, depending on how drunk Frenchie'd been at the time, but the story as it got related to Steve was "tell him off".

It had ended with Gabe and Dugan bodily carrying Dernier back to one of the brothels and then some poor girl had been severely underpaid (because there wasn't enough money in the world) to feed Jacques wine and listen to him rant at length about how de Gaulle was wrong about everything, ever, including the colour of the sky and the existence of God, until he fell asleep from the wine.

Steve's always been a combination of amused, privately slightly insulted and thoughtful about how the assumption all round is that he wasn't there because he was somehow too . . . well. The places that come out and say it mention morals or standards of behaviour, but frankly Steve can't not think of it as too self-righteous and stuck up to play around on the Eiffel Tower, get drunk, or visit brothels at all. And that's the bit that's slightly insulted, the bit that can't help thinking of it that way. He's pretty sure he knows exactly how history decided he was some kind of uptight prude, and he's also pretty sure he doesn't like it; what he's not sure is exactly what to do about it, especially since challenging it comes with collateral damage, now.

He thinks about it every now and again, but he hasn't come up with an answer yet. Maybe, when he lost his temper and sued to get rights back over his own damn name and image from everyone and their mangy dog, he should've taken the publicity then. Maybe he should have made a bigger deal out of exactly why he was so angry, about how it went right all the way down to being furious about things like union-busting companies making money off his face. He'd been too - well, he should probably give up and call a spade a spade and admit he'd been too depressed at the time to want to, had been mostly burying himself in SHIELD and SHIELD missions and trying to ignore the gnawing dissatisfaction and doubt, insisting it'd all get better once he settled in.

That had been the first time Tony'd actually offered to help with something, Steve remembers, offering legal counsel to threaten with and, when things were settled (which happened pretty quickly) offering to find manufacturers and so on that Steve could approve of. Steve'd agreed because he mostly wanted it all off his plate and out of his face, and he'd stipulated he needed to look everything over before anything was settled, figuring then that this'd keep Tony from being able to pull a fast one.

Now it's kind of helplessly amusing, now that he knows Tony better, now that he paid a bit of attention. Tony, Tony's attempts to make friends, the way he manages to combine being hopelessly thoughtless with doing things like what he's done, which manage to hunt down and arrange things with an array of companies Steve actually can like, quite a bit, and then hand it to Steve as a finished product. It took a little over three years, maybe, but all things considered -

Maybe he'll do something about it now, since this stuff is coming so close to launch, since he's going to have to do some kind of publicity or statement or something anyway. Pepper's promised a PR person, a concept Steve finds oddly unsettling. Maybe he'll sort it out now.

But he almost certainly still isn't going to say anything, yet, about how people believing that about him and Paris is hysterical because actually over those four and a half days he and Bucky made it out of his hotel room for an average of maybe one and a half meals and out of bed for maybe half the day. He's not even ready to dump the stress of figuring out whether he's okay with the world knowing all of that on Bucky, not yet, let alone the result of the world actually knowing.

Admittedly, Steve would almost certainly have ended up awkwardly drinking one glass of wine all evening and sitting in the corner having a conversation about art with whatever girl needed a rest. He's willing to cop to that. He finds it funny that people forget where he grew up, but the idea of paying for sex has always seemed off-putting, to put it mildly. But still.

He spent almost all of that leave he could in his room, most of it in bed, all of it with Bucky never further than across the room. And then a few months idly speculating about the next time they might actually get four days in a civilized place with civilized things like reasonable food, running water, beds, and so on.

And then two years with the whole thing locked behind a door, and then another eight months shoving it back in a locked box every time it tried to get out. It's a relief to be able to take the memories out and look at them, these days.

Bucky's not the only person Steve's had sex with (Natasha's jibe about kisses notwithstanding), but he was the first, and Steve's thought about that, sometimes. And to be honest a lot of those sometimes he's wondered what Bucky thought he was doing, if he thought about it at all, and how. Looking back Steve can sure as Hell see it was the first time in months Bucky'd really seemed like himself, completely alive, and that was probably part of why it'd been so easy for him to blow it off when Steve gave in, after all Monty's half-nudges about Bucky being okay, and asked him. And why Steve'd believed him, happily pushed the thought away.

He'd've been relieved to take any excuse, honestly. He wasn't really equipped to deal with the idea of Bucky not being okay. Bucky wasn't really equipped to deal with Steve dealing with the idea of him not being okay, Steve thinks, so they both took every out they could. Pushed it under the bed.

One of the books in the series Sam likes and Steve flips through sometimes because they're entertaining, the one about the flat world on a turtle, did have a bit he liked: a bit where the main character's thrown back in time and ends up being his own mentor, and thinks about the whole fantasy of if I knew then what I know now and how it doesn't work, because even if you got told things, you still hadn't lived all the time, the years, the experiences, so you-then still wasn't you-now and still wasn't going to be able to fix the real problem behind all the stupid things you did or didn't do, which is that you were young and stupid and didn't know better.

And it's probably true. If Steve could actually step back through time, right now, and give himself back then a smack upside the head and tell him what he was missing . . . himself back then probably wouldn't believe it, would probably be sure he could handle it all some different, less messy way, would probably . . . be him, from back then. And the other part was, he probably needed to be, to be stupid and arrogant enough to think he could pull off what they did, the way they did. Because he didn't have anything to fill in for the stupid and arrogant back then and that he's pretty sure you can't get out of just being told things.

He's pretty sure that being able to look a totally hopeless situation in the face, know it's hopeless, and do what you have to do anyway, is a skill you have to acquire the hard way. Steve knows he didn't have it, back then. Maybe started getting it on the deck of the helicarrier, maybe sitting in the wreckage around Stark Tower and realizing that there was no God-damned way in Heaven or Hell they should've been able to beat the Chitauri back and they did it anyway. But definitely didn't have it in Europe, in 1944, whatever people thought about him. He had more confidence, self-delusion and naïveté than you could shake a stick at, but not that.

Thinks Bucky probably did. Probably still does.

There was a hotel in Paris in 1944, and Steve thinks he'll look it up: if it's still there, it'll be interesting to see how. And if it's not, he doesn't need it to be.

 

Steve's still working out what it is that makes the days Bucky can decide the world can go screw itself, he's going back to bed and wants Steve to come with him. Because Steve's pretty sure it's a matter of can: even days when Bucky probably should, they both even know he should, it still mostly ends up with him on the couch or the futon and too snarled up to even let Steve try to work the tension out of his shoulders and neck.

Today doesn't give Steve the answer, or even a clue he can recognize yet, but it does give him Bucky stretched out beside him on his back, right arm curved lazily over his head, eyes half-closed and marks on his shoulders and by his hips, naked and unwound, so Steve'll still happily call it a win.

Steve's on his side, leaning on one elbow, head in his hand; with the other one he's tracing random patterns across Bucky's skin, sometimes with his fingertips and sometimes with his palm, and watching with satisfaction as Bucky's eyes close and he shifts just slightly closer, head turning towards Steve a little. Steve moves his fingers over the hollow of Bucky's throat and then smooths his palm up across the side of Bucky's neck to his jaw and when Bucky's head tilts back slightly Steve actually can't stop himself from saying, "You're as bad as your cat, you know."

"Yeah, fuck you," is all Bucky says, words lazy, not moving. Steve snorts a soft laugh and runs his hand back down over Bucky's shoulder and chest to his opposite hip instead.

He almost tells Bucky about his intended power-point, but decides to save it for some time he's not actually idly running his palm over Bucky's stomach, and it isn't making Bucky relax even more.

After a moment Bucky takes a deeper breath, seems to remember something and says, "These are new sheets," eyes slitting open so he can give Steve a questioning frown. Steve's mouth quirks.

"Yeah," he says. "They are."

Well - newish, but this is the first time Steve's put them on the bed, so he figures that counts.

Bucky frowns a little more, fingers of his right hand running over a little of the pillowcase of the pillow his head's resting on. "What are they?" he asks.

"Natasha took the material tags off before she gave them to me," Steve says, dryly. "And refused to tell me. So I don't know."

For a second Bucky's face is a kind of unreadable blank, and then he scowls the way he does when he's pretending to be a lot more irritated than he is. "Damn her," he mutters and Steve snorts another laugh, because that's more or less Bucky admitting he likes them.

"She's got good intentions," Steve says, blandly.

"She needs a new God-damn hobby," Bucky grouses, not that it's all that convincing. He moves again, sort of restlessly, settling closer to Steve; Steve hooks his arm around Bucky's waist and pulls him even closer, and leans over to kiss his temple and the corner of his jaw.

"Uh-huh," he says, as Bucky turns his head towards him a bit more, "you could just admit you like them."

He kisses Bucky's mouth and Bucky bites his bottom lip for emphasis before he retorts, "I'm not fucking encouraging her."

The extent of Steve's reply is, "Hmn," because Bucky's worked his right arm under and around Steve's waist and slid down to stroke two fingers over the skin above his tail-bone and Steve's pretty much happy to give up the argument for now. The sheets are nice, and if Bucky's actually noticed a difference enough to ask - well, that's a good sign. They'll keep them.

Bucky rests his left hand against the back of Steve's neck, and Steve responds to the faint pressure of Bucky's arm around his waist by moving over until he's mostly pressed against Bucky, half-lying over him, left arm keeping him up a little and right hand stroking over Bucky's collarbone, tracing the seam between metal and skin, pressing his palm down along Bucky's waist to his hip and stroking over his thigh.

"Want you," Bucky murmurs against Steve's mouth, left hand sliding down his back and over his ass to his thigh, metal as warm as skin right now. Steve shifts his weight enough to hook his leg over Bucky's waist, brushes his tongue against Bucky's lower lip.

"Have me," he says, out loud just in case it needed it, because mostly Bucky saying that is pushing past a tripwire in his head, a not-quite-question where the answer helps.

Always the same answer. That matters. For the next seventy years, if needs be, over and over: I want all of you, and all of me is yours.

Bucky's exhale's ragged, and he pulls Steve close and kisses him hard before he rolls them both over so Steve's on his back with his legs on either side of Bucky's hips. And for a while that's as far as they get, because Steve pulls Bucky down and close again, licks into Bucky's mouth and rocks his hips up against Bucky's, both hands in Bucky's hair.

Steve kisses him until he feels Bucky's body start to release against his, just wants this for a minute, for a while: the taste of Bucky's mouth, his hair tangled between Steve's fingers, hips against the inside of Steve's thighs and pressed against his, cocks sliding against their stomachs and each other, already slick with sweat and lube from before.

Everything hot and bright and good, right, skin sliding over skin and nothing in the way, and in Steve's head a rhythm of you, want you, always, always want you.

The noise Bucky makes is soft, as he pulls away enough to slide his mouth down to Steve's jaw, the skin beside his ear and breathe his name; he slides his left hand under Steve's low back and pulls Steve up against him, and Steve manages, "Nng, fuck, yes please fuck me."

And there's always been the faint shadow of an idea he should be bothered, somehow, at how easy it is to get here, where he doesn't care what he's saying, if he's pleading, any of it at all - but he's never managed and he's not going to start and all that matters is it gets them where he wants them to be.

When Bucky pulls back enough to line himself up, Steve reaches up to run fingertips from the side of Bucky's neck down over his throat and down the seam-scar until Bucky shifts a little and catches Steve's hand. He kisses Steve's knuckles, fingertips, and slides Steve's first two bent fingers into his mouth as he pushes in, one steady slide and his mouth hot and slick at the same time so that Steve's head falls back and he gasps, "Christ, fuck - Bucky," his voice unsteady as Hell.

Bucky presses his open mouth against Steve's palm, against the inside of his wrist (and Steve gasps another breath in), against his shoulder and his throat. When he starts to move it's slow, steady, each thrust long and deep. Steve presses his thighs against Bucky's hips, wraps one arm around Bucky's ribs to dig the fingers into his back and the other to rest on the back of his neck, his skull, and pull him close enough his breath pants against Steve's neck.

There are words - words, some of them, the right ones, wrap around Bucky's spine, work their way into his head and light his brain up with sparks and they're easy to remember, to let tumble around Steve's head and out of his mouth, to say: praise, pleading, promises, want you and always and yours. It bothers Bucky how he can't always speak, can't answer, but Steve doesn't care, can read the way his breathing changes, catches, scrapes in his chest just as well as words.

And they hook back into him and around it all goes. The way it should, right and good.

Steve comes with his head tilted back, fingers digging into Bucky's right shoulder and pressed against his left arm, Bucky's right hand on his cock; Bucky stills and waits, looking at him the way that makes Steve want to bask in it, drown in it, until Steve reaches up to the back of Bucky's neck, to pull his forehead down to Steve's, and murmurs come on, turning his head to trace the shape of Bucky's ear with his tongue.

He feels Bucky breathe Christ, Steve more than he hears it; when Bucky moves to brace himself against the bed Steve wraps his arms under Bucky's, around Bucky's back, and presses his palms against the skin between his right shoulder-blade and the curve where the metal of his left starts. He rides the feeling of Bucky moving in him until Bucky comes, breath coming like a scraping sob and his forehead pressed against Steve's shoulder.

Goes still there again, panting, each breath hot on Steve's skin.

Steve pulls his right arm out from around Bucky and rests it on the back of Bucky's head instead, stroking down his hair a few times; he runs his left hand down Bucky's spine to rest against the curve of his back. Bucky shifts his weight a little, and Steve turns his head to kiss Bucky's temple - all the things that tell the poison that tries to get into these seconds that it should fuck off and Bucky shouldn't go anywhere and Steve's not interested in sharing. Not here, not with that.

And Bucky slowly lies down, sliding out of Steve; lets his body relax against Steve's again, settle and fit against Steve's again. The muscles across his shoulders soften, his hips settle against Steve's, and he rests his head in the curve of Steve's neck. Steve hears him take the kind of breath that mostly means someone's going to say something, and then there's a stop, a pause and Steve shakes his head a little. Kisses Bucky's forehead and murmurs, "Don't worry about it. Everything's fine."

There's a stuttering second and then Bucky exhales, slowly. Settles a little more and tucks his left arm around Steve's rib-cage, curving up under his shoulder, still body-warm. Steve runs his hand over Bucky's hair, traces the shell of his ear. Feels Bucky's breathing shift towards a drowsy rhythm and lets his own eyes close for a while, because they don't need to do anything, don't need to move.

After a minute Steve runs his hand down Bucky's right arm and interlaces their fingers. He touches them to his mouth and then just lets them rest against the pillow beside them. Bucky's thumb moves a little.

The thought curls up and around and Steve tries to sit on the half-laugh; he mostly manages it, and if Bucky weren't pressed so close it might've gone by, not noticed the tiny change in the way Steve breathes. But he is, and he does, and there's mild suspicion in the drowsy, "What?"

Steve half-smiles. Well, at least it'll probably be funny.

"I ended up thinking about that hotel, the other day. The one in Paris. N'it just occurred to me now at least I don't have to worry I'll break you by accident."

There's a second, and then Bucky is laughing, even if he's trying to pretend he's not, that he's annoyed, moving so he can lean on his right arm and mock-glare down at Steve. Says, "I'm not even gonna dignify that with a response."

Steve gives him as fake an innocent look as he can come up with, and then grins and ducks his head when Bucky tries to flick his ear with his left hand.