After all this time--all the wipes and drugs and cryo and God knew what else--there were a lot of things Bucky's body remembered better than his mind did. Bucky trusted his body in a fight and, after a few careful trials, he trusted it in bed. He could see on Steve's face sometimes that what he was doing was new between them, but Steve liked most of it and smoothly redirected the rest. Bucky definitely had no complaints.
He was learning to trust what his body wanted the rest of the time, too. He had never had to manage his own sleep or food or fluid intake before, but his body gave signals. Bucky only had to pay attention and supply it with what it needed.
A few weeks after he came in he started working regularly with Steve's team, and that was when the signals got weird.
He felt thirstier and hungrier than he had before, but regular training meant his body needed fuel, and there was no shortage of food or water. There was a dull ache in his pecs, but that could have been a minor muscle strain, or something to do with the new uniform he wore to train in, tight and lightly armored. It was a change from the loose civilian clothes he'd been wearing for camouflage while he was on his own, and cut a little differently from the Winter Soldier's gear, so it made sense that his body had to adjust.
In bed with Steve one night he felt an unfamiliar conflicted want/don't-want reaction when Steve's hand brushed his chest. The ache got worse, but he wanted more of something. At the same time, whatever the something was seemed suddenly, sharply out of place here, when he was naked with Steve, grinding hard against him.
Steve hesitated when he noticed the uncertain way he squirmed at the touch, obviously waiting for Bucky to take the lead, to know what to do. Bucky was still caught between conflicting impulses when Steve touched him again, more deliberately. Steve settled his left hand on Bucky's chest, his palm covering Bucky's nipple, and squeezed.
"Fuck." Bucky arched into it, grabbing at Steve to pull him closer as the ache in his chest blossomed into dizzying sensation and raw need.
Steve squeezed harder and bowed his head, and Bucky twisted instinctively, offering the left side of his chest to Steve's mouth. That much his body knew, but it all went sideways again when Steve only mouthed at him, soft and wet and purposeless.
"Harder," Bucky grunted, earning a squeeze of Steve's hand on his chest and Steve's teeth on his nipple. That still wasn't right, exactly, but it didn't matter; the sensation pushed him past being able to think or speak. He arched into Steve's hand and mouth, rutting frantically against Steve's body.
Steve's teeth raked over his nipple again and again, leaving it red and raw, wet from Steve's mouth but not--not--
He couldn't think of what it wasn't. He was too busy coming so hard he couldn't breathe.
He felt melted afterward, warmly limp and blissed out and useless. He pushed Steve away from his chest--the ache of it was just an ache now, not a hunger--but he didn't do anything more. Steve huffed a laugh and curled in beside him, rubbing off against Bucky's hip.
When he finished Bucky gathered him close again, drowsily obeying his instinct to cuddle up. Steve wriggled a little, trying to find a comfortable position--they didn't usually do this. Still, as with most things Bucky's instincts suggested, Steve didn't seem to mind.
He didn't recognize right away that the ache in his chest and the startling new sensitivity of his nipples had anything to do with Steve's team. His memories were still patchy, but he'd worked with plenty of teams in the past, and there had been nothing like this before.
None of those teams had ever included a woman like Wanda, though.
He was used to women like Natasha--coolly self-contained, violent and capable and sure of herself. Working with her was just a matter of knowing her skills and adjusting tactics accordingly.
But Wanda was young, half-trained. There was something about the way that fear or loneliness sometimes showed through her best efforts to be tough and professional that...
Made his chest ache.
Not his heart--his pecs. His nipples throbbed sometimes, too, and he was filled with weird conflicting impulses to shout at her to work harder, be tougher, and a foreign desire to gather her into his arms and hold her. It wasn't that he wanted to fuck her--when he tried that idea on, searching for the meaning of the impulse, it made him feel actually sick--but he wanted something with her.
He didn't know what it was, but he was sure it was something he wasn't supposed to have, or even want. He was careful not to let anyone see him watching her, but he was aware of her all the time.
It hadn't been even a week of his sore chest and oddly focused thoughts when Bucky found himself standing in the shower, kneading absently at his chest. He found himself thinking of Wanda's performance during the previous day's training exercise. Steve and Natasha had set her an impossible concentration task, pitting her against all the other Avengers. Bucky had seen her face when she realized that not only could she not do it but they had known she couldn't.
It was only training, a lesson, but Bucky had seen the fear and shock turn to grim determination. He had wanted--
The aching pressure in his chest turned to a liquid rush, and Bucky looked down at his hands. He watched them--both of them, flesh and metal--squeeze at his chest in the same practiced motion, and white fluid leaked from his nipples. The shower washed it away as it streamed down over his hands, but he couldn't avoid understanding.
He was producing milk. Somehow, sometime in the last seventy years, his body had been made able to produce milk, and now his body thought that Wanda needed it. Bucky closed his eyes and let his hands work, forcing the milk out to relieve the ache. It felt obscene to waste it, but it would be worse than obscene to--what, try to feed it to her somehow?
He remembered that impulse to hold her close. He remembered less clearly the weight of a warm body against his, a mouth that knew how to latch on. Milk gushed out of him even faster, barely requiring him to apply any pressure at all.
Bucky cursed softly and tried desperately not to picture Wanda. It felt horribly wrong to be thinking of her while he was naked in the shower, touching himself, even like this. Especially like this. His mind shied away from Steve and even further from Natasha; in desperation he pictured Sam--hurt, or hungry--
He remembered all at once overhearing Sam and Rhodes talking about SERE training--they had traded stories of starving in the woods, fearful and hunted. Their joking bravado had fallen away for a moment as they remembered it. At the time Bucky had only been conscious of feeling sympathy at that glimpse of remembered privation, but now his chest filled, pushing out milk to feed his team, to make them strong.
He looked down to see the milk jetting out of him with each squeeze of his hands. He felt dizzy, dislocated from his entire body. There was nothing about this--wasting the milk, producing milk in the first place, this freakish urge to feed his team from his own body--that didn't make him feel sick.
And in the next second it got worse, because the bathroom door opened behind him and Steve said, "You aren't drowning in there, are you, Buck?"
Bucky jerked his hands away and stared in horror as milk kept flowing from him. He couldn't, not Steve, not Steve--
He'd had Steve's mouth right there, last night, and it had felt so good, and--
Bucky leaned against the wall, lost in that tangle of wanting and horror. He called back, "Fine, just--fine, Steve, give me a minute."
He could hear Steve hesitating. Bucky straightened up and grabbed the shampoo, keeping his back to Steve the whole time, and after another minute he heard Steve walk away. He squeezed his eyes shut and let himself think of Wanda, of cuddling a small, warm body whose face was hidden against his chest, whatever his body wanted to get this over with. He worked his hands brutally over his chest until he couldn't squeeze another drop and he was even more sore than before.
In bed with Steve that night, Bucky pushed Steve's hands away from his nipples. He pushed back against the urge to gather Steve close and cuddle without having sex at all, and instead sucked Steve's dick like his life depended on it. By the time he'd finished that, his own dick had gotten with the program, and he could lie back and let Steve return the favor without danger of Steve touching him above the waist.
He woke up in the morning with his chest feeling more full than ever, his nipples throbbing with the need for release, and he knew that this problem was not going to just go away.
Bucky squeezed himself dry in the morning, and had to slip away in the afternoon to relieve the pressure. He scrubbed his hands thoroughly, but the milky-sweet smell seemed to linger around him. He didn't think anyone else noticed anything, but he was doing his best not to look at any of them or think about them, so his observations were inevitably impaired.
He was full again by bedtime, and had to work the milk out in the shower before he dared go to bed with Steve. He shut his eyes and tried to concoct a fantasy that the milk would answer to. Before long he was lost in imagining himself back in that HYDRA prison cell where his life had first started going sideways, all the Howlies crowding around him for a drink. The press of their bodies, their weight and warmth on every side, strong mouths drawing on him to relieve the pressure of milk inside him. And even better than that was the certainty that he would make them strong enough to survive, strong enough to escape...
He whimpered with relief as the milk started flowing fast and strongly, and in even greater relief when it was all finally gone, and his aching, sensitive nipples wouldn't release another drop no matter how he tried to force them. When he went to bed Steve kissed him and didn't press for more, and Bucky didn't have the energy to make a show of starting something. He curled away from Steve on his own side of the bed and slept deeply and dreamlessly.
He woke up when the milk came back in and he couldn't sleep through the pressure in his chest, and then he had to do it all over again.
By the third day he'd taken to wearing baggy hoodies any time he wasn't strapped tightly into combat gear. He had almost lost the ability to smell the sweet scent of milk that lingered on his hands no matter what he washed with.
His thoughts were carefully regimented except for the stolen moments when he would let himself think of anything as long as it encouraged the milk to flow. He imagined Wanda, Sam, Rhodes, the Howlies, sometimes just that small warm shape that he could almost feel against him. He didn't think about Steve, not like that, not then.
The rest of the time he didn't think anything about his teammates, didn't feel anything toward them at all. He was beginning to believe that he could adjust to this, or at least wait it out. He'd even had sex with Steve the night before, once he'd emptied himself in the shower. He still couldn't let Steve touch his chest, but he'd managed to get off on Steve fucking him, and even remembered to make himself squirm away after instead of cuddling close.
And then he got to training and Natasha announced, with a maliciously cheerful light in her eye, that they were going to be sparring today.
Bucky rocked his weight back onto his heels, folding his arms gingerly in front of his chest. He eyed Natasha and briefly, futilely entertained the hope that he would be put up against Steve.
"Barnes," Natasha said, "you're with Maximoff."
Bucky made himself glance at Wanda. The brave, determined look on her face made a whole tangle of instincts rush up his spine and stab into his brain. He wanted to spar, to assess her skills and teach her better, and he wanted to sit quietly with her after, to hold her to him and--
His nipples twinged, and he felt the wetness pulse out.
He shook his head sharply, turned on his heel and walked out.
He didn't start to run until he was out of sight of the others. It didn't really matter where he went. He couldn't hide from his team. He barely even wanted to. But he couldn't do this right now, in front of all of them. He couldn't--
He ducked into a locker room, two levels down from the one the Avengers usually used during training. It belonged to a staff gym, he thought. There was no one in it, which was all that really mattered. He shut himself in a bathroom stall to catch his breath and figure out what to do next.
This wasn't going to go away. He couldn't make it stop, and clearly he couldn't just manage it. Logically there had to be a way--doctors, something. They could turn it off. It was something HYDRA had done to him, even if he still didn't remember when or how or why. He could get it fixed and then the rest wouldn't matter.
He didn't want it fixed. He didn't want it to go away. Making the milk stop would be like--like solving sexual frustration by cutting his balls off. He wanted it, needed it, but he couldn't have what he wanted with Wanda or Sam or anyone. It was insane, it was--
Bucky turned before he thought, throwing open the latch and bursting out of the bathroom stall. Natasha couldn't be here. Not her. No one could know--if they caught her, if they knew she'd come after him--
He stopped short at the sight of her looking nonplussed by his sudden appearance. He recognized his own burst of panic and had just enough time to wonder what the hell that was about before Natasha was stalking across the distance between them.
"I don't know what your issue with Maximoff is," she said, leaning in, and then she stopped short.
She inhaled, deliberately, through her nose.
He couldn't remember any time in the last week when she'd been close enough to smell him. He hadn't even realized he was avoiding her, but--
Bucky shook his head and backed up. She couldn't be here with him. Not Natalia. He hadn't even let himself imagine it. He hadn't gone near her. He hadn't given her away, he hadn't given them any reason to suspect--
He didn't know who the fuck he was afraid of but he knew they were watching, listening, and Natalia wasn't paying attention to the danger. She was just standing there, frowning, breathing in the smell of him while her eyes turned away toward some memory.
Bucky shook his head and whispered hoarsely, "Natashenka--"
He clenched his teeth shut as soon as the name escaped. He didn't know why he'd said that. He didn't know her that way; he didn't have any right.
He knew better than to say it out loud.
Natasha's gaze snapped sharply to him, but she still didn't look afraid.
She stepped in closer, still frowning, and raised one hand to chest-height.
Bucky shook his head, shifting his weight back, but Natalia moved with him as smoothly as a dance. She'd always been graceful, and never afraid, even when she should have been, she--
"Don't," Bucky whispered, to Natasha or to the memory welling up from somewhere deep and dark, planted down in his bones, in the throbbing ache of his chest.
Natalia moved in another step, striking fast, but instead of a blow he could block she pressed her face to his chest and wrapped her arms around him.
Bucky felt his milk let down in a surging tide. His arms were around her, his face pressed into her hair, his nipples throbbing with pain and satisfaction as they leaked milk uselessly into his shirt. But he had his Natashenka in his arms; she was safe with him, close and warm and trusting--
He shook his head, trying to clear it, but that certainty wouldn't come loose.
She turned her head and murmured softly, too low for the technicians and monitors to overhear, "Mamochka."
He laughed in startled reflex, and that felt right too, just that fond startled laugh for the right-wrong nickname that only she used. She looked up at him with her wide green eyes in that china doll face and he saw the little girl who tucked herself fearlessly under his left arm. She was his Natashenka, who leaned warmly against him and drank her fill from his left side while the machines drained him from the right.
He shook his head a little, struggling to fix the memory, to make it fit somewhere. She turned her face against his chest again, her hand coming up to knead gently at his swollen pecs, making more milk spill for her.
"You smell the same," she whispered. "You--I didn't--they made me forget that part. The milk. I remembered the knives and the rifles--"
That came back to him as she spoke. He remembered towering over that horde of little girls and drilling them on their knife-handling, making them load and unload and sight down their rifles in the cold air. One, with red hair and quick hands, had been particularly fearless. She hadn't been his most promising sniper, but no one could match her with a knife. Natasha had known that about him already, that he had been her instructor.
This, though. This was something else.
His milk had fed the girls, making them stronger, faster, quicker to heal. But there were so many little girls and only one Soldier to fill enough bottles to feed them. The scientists had known somehow that the machines that emptied him, efficient though they were, didn't make the milk flow the way a child would. So they had chosen the girl who would most willingly cuddle close. They had made it her responsibility to drink from him, so that he would make enough milk for all the others.
He had known he must show no preference for her, betray no affection that reflected the hours while she leaned trustingly against him and drank up all he could give her. She had known it too. She had called him mamochka in secret, only even whispering it a few times in the course of that year.
More often she had traced the letters--Cyrillic and Roman--on the bare skin of his back where her arm curled around him while she was cradled in his lap. He had responded in kind, spelling out Natashenka on the nape of her neck, hidden by the fall of her hair. It had been their secret, their minuscule shared rebellion, to love each other in that simple animal way, parent and child, the one who gave and the one who grew strong.
Neither of them had been allowed to remember. When the feeding and training were no longer required, he was wiped and put away, and Natasha's memories of him taken. But his body remembered what had been stripped from his mind, and it had brought him back to her. To this, to the chance to give her this again.
He ran his hand over her hair, carefully, lightly, as she went on standing there, pressing her face and hand against him through the muffling layers of his clothes. He could feel the ache of more milk building up in him, the desperate thirst that, if satisfied, would let him make more still.
She wasn't disgusted by him--she remembered, and she was clinging to him every bit as tightly as he held her. But he didn't know if that meant she wanted what he'd given her before. That had been something the Red Room did to both of them--
Her fingers twitched and pressed against his chest, making another jet of milk spurt out. She nuzzled against him like a baby rooting, like a midnight session when she was too sleepy to look where she was putting her mouth.
He found himself laughing again, low and quiet. She hadn't said it again, hadn't even spelled it with her fingers, but she was calling him her mamochka all the same.
"Not here," he murmured when she looked up at him. Her smile was shy, but there was no hesitation in the way she pressed against him. "All you want, but not here."
"My quarters are private," Natasha told him, boast and promise at once. She stepped back and looked around, then shook her head slightly. "Come with me, there's a back way--"
Natasha led him through a utility closet to a quiet, narrow corridor and up two flights of stairs. When they emerged into a wide, windowed corridor he knew they were near the Avengers' quarters--the apartment he shared with Steve was up another level from this and around a corner.
Natasha pulled out her phone, and he watched as she texted Steve. B is ok. Ancient history, I need to talk to him.
After she'd sent that she added, Don't pull your punches! :)
He couldn't think about Steve, about what he might think that meant. It was enough to know that their absence was accounted for. They stopped by a door and Natasha touched the ID pad beside it.
"Come into my parlor," she said dryly--a little spider after all, and she meant to have her fill of him. Bucky followed her, and she waved him toward a sleekly decorated living room and walked on further into the apartment.
Bucky walked automatically toward the armchair and then hesitated in front of it.
He remembered the soft chair he'd sat in to be milked, the only gesture toward comfort in that big, sterile room. Even then Natashenka had barely fit into his lap with her mouth at his chest. She was taller now, and in any case--they didn't have to do this the way they'd been made to do it.
He sat down in the center of her couch and leaned forward to peel out of his wet shirts, pulling off t-shirt and hoodie together. When he sat up, shirtless and wet all down his front, Natasha was standing there with a washcloth in one hand, a bottle of Gatorade in the other.
Bucky reached for the bottle, and Natasha handed it to him with a smile, reminding him of the endless cups of sweet tea she had fetched for him while he sat still, attached to a pump. She sat down at his left side with the wet cloth and gave him a look, asking permission.
He nodded as he twisted the cap off the drink, raising his left arm out of her way as she gently wiped him clean, not putting pressure anywhere that would make the mess worse. He tipped his head back, gulping down the Gatorade.
When he was finished, so was Natasha. She took the bottle and set it aside with the cloth, and then gave him a serious look.
"You know you'll--if we do this, you'll make even more. That was kind of the whole point of me in the first place."
"I don't care how much I make if I'm actually feeding someone," Bucky said, pushing away the problems more would bring--more to hide or dispose of, more to hide from Steve. But if he could just have this...
Natasha nodded understanding, and Bucky made himself think twice.
"You don't have to either," he said. "If you just want milk, we don't have to--"
She was already settling herself against him, curled on her side facing him. She raised a skeptical eyebrow. "It never tastes the same from a bottle. You spoiled me."
"Oh, I spoiled you," Bucky parried automatically as she leaned in against his chest. Bucky wrapped both arms around her, holding her close and helping her find the right angle without having to prop herself up.
She made a little satisfied sound as she trusted her weight to him and leaned her cheek against his chest. Bucky gasped at the feeling of milk letting down again. But this time, for once--
He tightened his grip and Natashenka turned her head, her mouth covering his nipple where it was already wet with milk, just waiting for her. Bucky let his head fall back at the feeling of her first strong suck, milk streaming into her mouth as he held her safe in his arms.
His breath caught as she drew on him, barely pausing to swallow. He knew that rhythm; he knew the feel of her drinking from him when she was hungry, needy, wanting it too much to even remember to breathe. He barely breathed himself for a moment, overwhelmed with tenderness. Then he shifted his grip on her and pushed the tip of his left thumb into the corner of her mouth, breaking her latch.
Her eyes flashed open, shining wetly as she looked up at him. Bucky made a helpless crooning sound and curled his left arm around her again. She panted, her open mouth still against his chest, if not sealed, blinking quickly to keep the tears from spilling.
"Slow," he finally managed to make himself say. The words came out in English. English was safer, and even in English he wouldn't say anything out loud about her crying. "Remember to breathe, Natashenka."
She closed her eyes, but he could still see the wetness on the lashes. He cradled the back of her head in his left hand, urging her closer again.
She shook her head then, looking up again and pressing back against his grip to get her mouth clear. "It just--it tastes the same. It's the same--you're the same, the way you feel. I was back there for a second."
Bucky curled down over her, nuzzling against her hair. "We're here now. We're safe."
She nodded and put her mouth to him again. When she started back up she went slow, stopping to swallow and breathe after each mouthful he spilled for her.
Bucky knew this rhythm, too, the unhurried pace that let them savor the time they had together. He relaxed back into the couch, letting his eyes fall half-shut. She was warm on his bare skin, a pleasant weight in his arms and against his chest. His milk flowed readily for her, barely needing the firm pull of her mouth.
It felt good to have his Natashenka close, good to be feeding her, but more than that there was a fuzzy, soft-edged pleasure to it. His milk was running, and her mouth was soft and strong, her tongue pressed against his nipple just right. It felt good.
And it felt strange, too, to be here in this bright, quiet room, so still that he could hear the little sounds of Natasha drinking from him. They were alone. For the first time, this belonged to them and no one else.
But the strangeness was swallowed up in the old dreamy haze of nursing. He felt his heartbeat slowing and knew that the rhythm of hers would match it, and that they both felt this cozy contentment that dwarfed even the physical pleasure of it.
Much too soon Bucky felt himself run dry. Natasha gave a little frustrated grunt and sucked harder, knuckling in a familiar pattern against the left side of his chest.
Bucky felt an instant's resigned disappointment that the session was over, and then realized that his right side was still aching with the need for release. He opened his eyes and saw the milk pearling up on the nipple on that side. It had been dripping; there was a little wet trail down to the top of his pants.
It wasn't just that they were alone and the room was quiet. They were missing the rhythmic mechanical noise of the pump on his right side. It should have drowned out the sounds of her suckling, shielded the sounds of them speaking to each other if they were quiet and brief enough. It should have been taking half and more of what he could give.
"Tch." He twisted a little, a habitual motion to let Natashenka know he wanted her to let go. She let her mouth go slack at once, and converted the press of her knuckles to an apologetic pat. But as soon as she opened her eyes Bucky was tugging her across his body.
Her eyes went wide as she recognized that he was only prompting her to change sides.
"Oh," she said softly. "Oh. That seems... greedy."
Bucky gave her a half-smile. "You're only competing with the shower drain, sweetheart. Take all you want."
Natasha gave him an outraged look. "You've been just--that's a waste."
Bucky shrugged and adjusted his grip on her, settling her hip against his thigh. "Didn't know what else to do with it until now."
Natasha looked up at him, holding his gaze long enough to let him know she heard what he didn't say: this was a secret, their secret. Telling Steve was not an option. He suppressed a shiver at the thought.
After a moment Natasha said, "More for me, then."
Bucky felt a little tension ease inside him, letting him sink back into the drowsy pleasure of it even before Natasha had latched on again.
He was aware, after a while, of her finger tracing out letters beside his spine. Mamochka but then also Bucky. He finished spelling Natashenka with his thumb and spelled Black Widow, and then Avenger, which got him Avenger right back, nearly in unison.
This time when he ran dry Natasha let go after one last testing pull of her mouth. She sighed and cuddled into his grip. Bucky closed his eyes and breathed in rhythm with her, his mind a pleasant, thorough blank.
"I think you saved my life," Natasha said quietly.
Bucky opened his eyes as a reflexive denial twisted through him. He hadn't, he hadn't saved her at all--but Natasha was here, safe, looking up at him with her serious eyes. She'd had longer than he had to sort out her memories, and she wouldn't say it if she didn't mean it. He pushed the unease away.
"How did I do that?"
She twisted in his grip, turning to lie face up across his lap, and Bucky brushed her hair back with his right hand. She looked at the ceiling instead of his eyes, but her left hand still pressed against his back, hidden against the couch cushions.
"When I joined SHIELD--when I let Clint bring me in--they had people evaluate me. And the thing they kept getting stuck on was why I trusted him. Clint figured he won me over, but the shrinks said that the ability to really trust someone is learned in childhood, and then you either have it or you don't. They couldn't find anything in my background that would make it possible for me to trust someone enough to make that kind of leap. I kept insisting it was a rational choice. I didn't want to live like that anymore, I wanted a way out and Clint offered me one. But the truth is I did trust him, and I didn't know why."
Natasha looked directly at him and smiled a little. "An American sniper who wanted to make something of me. And I believed he could, but I didn't know why. It took me a long time to be sure it wasn't some kind of sabotage programming--even longer than it took to convince them. I never guessed that he reminded me of home."
Home. Not the Red Room, not that room full of supervising technicians, but this. Them.
Bucky smiled back, his throat too tight to speak, his mind empty of words.
"You saved my life," she repeated, and then she sat up and grabbed the washcloth, offering it to him to clean up. "And you owe me a training session. I think I've got a clean shirt you can borrow, maybe we can get back downstairs before Steve teaches Wanda to always lead with a right hook."
Bucky groaned at the thought but tidied himself up and followed Natasha to her bedroom door. He stopped on the threshold and waited there until she tossed a t-shirt at him.
"Leave your other stuff here," Natasha said briskly as he pulled the shirt on. "Come here when you need me--I'll set the door to let you in. How often have you been... showering?"
Bucky was momentarily distracted by the t-shirt he was now wearing. It was thin and gray with a deep v-neck, but he didn't need to hide his chest; his pecs were rounder than usual, but not swollen with milk now, and still shaped more by muscle than anything. They weren't any bigger than, say, Steve's.
When he looked up, Natasha was still waiting expectantly, and he tracked back to the question.
"Before bed, when I wake up, and sometime during the day," Bucky said. "I'll shower tonight, but--in the morning? Early?"
He could see Natasha once again drawing the conclusions he didn't want to spell out: he had to be empty before he went to bed with Steve, and he didn't want to draw attention by changing the part of the routine that was most obvious to Steve.
"In the morning," she agreed, making it sound like something close to an order. "Early."
They got back to the gym where they'd left the others only to find Steve slumped against the wall with Vision and Rhodes crouched over him. Wanda was still in the sparring ring, holding an ice pack to the lower half of her face while Sam stood beside her holding a bloodied towel in one hand and a watch in the other.
"Well," Natasha said, heading for Wanda, "I guess Steve finally didn't pull a punch."
"And she didn't pull hers," Bucky agreed, eyeing Steve. He was starting to move, though, so Bucky swallowed the urge to check on him and followed Natasha. Steve would be fine. Steve was always fine, and he hated Bucky hovering. He was already trying to wave Vision and Rhodes away before he even sat up fully.
"So that move will work better if you do it before he lands the hit," Natasha said as they came in range of Wanda.
Up close, Wanda looked defiant in a brittle way. Scared underneath, Bucky knew, and it made her look shockingly young. He wanted to gather her close, even if he didn't have anything to give her right now.
Wanda glanced from Natasha to Bucky, holding on firmly to the ice pack. Her eyes went to his arm, and so did Sam's--because of course when he covered or uncovered his arm, people thought it was about his arm. What else would he be hiding?
Bucky kept his voice even, casual. "He knock out any teeth?"
Wanda shook her head.
"Split her lip pretty good," Sam said. "And when she went to hit back--pow."
"Well, that's why we put you up against the indestructible ones," Natasha said dryly. Bucky glanced over to see Steve was on his feet now, rubbing the back of his head and smiling sheepishly at Rhodes. "Your turn, Barnes."
Bucky got his attention back where it belonged. He stepped forward and Wanda lowered the ice pack, revealing a clotted line of dark red bisecting her lower lip. She was still looking at him warily.
He stepped in closer, until he was right on the edge of what would make her back away. Sam stayed at her side, subtly between them.
"I'm sorry about that, earlier," Bucky said quietly. "You've been reminding me of something I couldn't place for days--figured out today it was Natasha, when I trained her. Shook me up to get those memories back all of a sudden."
Wanda looked startled and then faintly pleased, Sam startled and then carefully poker-faced.
"I was six years old, it's not that big a compliment," Natasha said. "Come on, Maximoff, let's see what moves you've got when you're using your actual hands."
"It's not not a compliment," Bucky assured Wanda with a wink as he squared up.
Wanda flashed a smile that set her lip bleeding again before she raised her fists.
The team stuck together for the rest of the day. It felt something like being back with the Howlies, and Bucky found that there was still room for him to slide into his old role, mediating a little between Steve and the others. He could tell that Steve felt the similarity too; Bucky hardly had to prompt him to get him telling old stories, backing him up when someone called bullshit.
And if he found himself backing Natasha up, too, and coaxing Wanda to talk about old times with her twin... well, so. It was a sergeant's job to look after his team. It didn't have to mean anything more than that.
But by the time he went home with Steve his chest was swollen and aching again, and he couldn't stop thinking about that quiet half hour on Natasha's couch. If he made some excuse, slipped away, she'd let him in. She'd let him feed her and tell her how well she'd done today before she went to bed.
He was still thinking of it when Steve reached for him in the elevator, tugging him close for a kiss. Bucky startled instinctively away before their mouths could meet.
It wasn't just that he didn't want Steve to notice his chest. His full pecs felt like some kind of counterweight to his dick, and he couldn't stomach the thought of sex when what he really wanted was someone to feed.
Except, he realized as he saw the startled hurt in Steve's eyes, it hadn't even been that kind of kiss. Of course it wasn't; they were only going up three levels and Steve didn't start that kind of thing in public. It had only been a friendly little promise for later, when they'd barely been alone together all day.
There wasn't time for Bucky to make an excuse or apology before the elevator stopped and the doors slid open. He turned away as soon as the escape route was offered, because he didn't want to know what Steve would do, if Steve would walk away first. He squeezed his eyes shut as he headed for their door.
He used to be better at keeping secrets than this, although he had hardly any practice keeping things from Steve. He ought to ask Natasha to--
He broke stride, nearly stumbled, as his milk let down at just the thought of her as an escape from this sudden awful awkwardness. He didn't have to look to know that the thin t-shirt would be conspicuously wet over both nipples. If he just turned around now Steve would see. He would know.
Bucky felt something like panic as he slapped his hand against the ID pad and pushed his way into the apartment. Steve was only a stride behind.
Bucky didn't break stride, making straight for the bathroom. "Shower."
"Bucky." He felt the warmth of Steve's hand nearly making contact with his shoulder, but Bucky threw himself forward like he was dodging a bullet, slamming the door shut behind him as soon as he was through.
He stared at himself in the mirror. He was wild-eyed, leaning hard against the door like someone might break it down.
The low-cut shirt wasn't just wet in two patches on his chest. It was nearly transparent. Even if it had been dry his nipples and the swollen curve of his pecs would be obvious under the thin fabric.
"Dammit, Natasha," he muttered, and then froze all over again as he heard Steve take an abrupt step away from the other side of the door.
He'd been right outside. Close enough to hear.
Bucky closed his eyes and let his head fall back with a thump. "Dammit, Barnes."
He fumbled out of his clothes and into the shower. Under the pounding spray he dared to touch his chest, thinking of Natasha on purpose now. His milk flowed eagerly, barely needing to be squeezed out. The press of his own hands under the running water wasn't anywhere near as comforting as Natasha nursing from him, but he could do the job this way. And he could go back to her in the morning, slip out of bed early and curl up with her on the couch...
He let himself fall into that sweet, safe mental image until his milk was gone, and then he scrubbed and shaved, hastily but thoroughly. He rinsed out the borrowed shirt and hung it over a towel rack, and spared himself the barest glance in the mirror--normal, everything still looked normal--before he opened the door to go find Steve.
He didn't have to look hard; Steve was sitting at the kitchen table. Bucky could tell from the tilt of his head and the angle of his shoulders that he was sketching.
Bucky considered going back for a towel, or putting some underwear on. Steve was fully clothed, and might refuse to be taken away from his drawing if Bucky had really fucked this up badly. But he'd bolted for the shower exactly so that he could be safely naked with Steve afterward, and Steve knew that he'd opened the door. Steve knew he was standing here considering his next move; he would know if Bucky turned away.
Bucky wasn't going to make that mistake three times in one night.
He walked over to Steve, coming up directly on his six. Steve didn't hunch in over his drawing, didn't pause the motion of his hands, so Bucky wasn't actually banished from his personal space. He leaned down to put his chest against Steve's back, propping his chin on Steve's shoulder and wrapping his arms around in the practiced way that didn't interfere with Steve's work.
He looked at the drawing first. He recognized Wanda immediately, though Steve had barely sketched in the lines of her flying hair and her upraised arms, the curve of her jaw and throat.
It looked, actually, like he had been working on this drawing since right about the time Bucky turned the shower off.
Bucky pressed an apologetic kiss to the back of Steve's jaw, which was when he noticed that Steve had fixed himself a snack while Bucky was squeezing himself dry. There was a half-drunk glass of milk at his left hand, accompanied by a plate of scattered crumbs and a handful of surviving chocolate chip cookies.
Bucky's fingers twitched against Steve's shoulders. He remembered Natasha's horrified look as she said that's a waste the way anyone who grew up in his and Steve's neighborhood would have said that's a sin.
But Steve didn't want anything like that from Bucky. Even as he thought it Steve was giving a little twitch of his shoulders, shrugging him off.
Bucky obeyed the cue and moved to sit down in his own chair, sideways so he could look Steve in the face.
"Help yourself," Steve said, his tone exactly as cool as Bucky knew it would be.
Bucky obediently took a cookie. It was dry in his mouth. He wanted Steve to have handed it to him, wanted to hold it to Steve's lips. He wanted a lot of stupid things.
But what he got was this: the same old song and dance from a hundred not-quite-fights he and Steve had had before. Sooner or later one of them always pulled away, and with a few rare exceptions, the other always let him. It was something they'd always understood without speaking of it.
What they were to each other was too much--friends and lovers and roommates and brothers in arms--and they'd always known it was never, ever going to be enough. Bucky was always going to find some nice girl to marry, and Steve... well, Steve lived in hope. It was always going to have to become something less than what it was. They'd both known that. And every little fracture, every week they didn't speak or touch, was like practice for what was coming.
That was what Bucky had told himself, anyhow. He was building up a necessary callus. He didn't know what Steve had thought of it, or if Steve thought anything of it. Maybe Steve just wanted a little breathing room; he'd said that often enough. You're not my Ma, Bucky Barnes.
Bucky swallowed a mouthful of cookie crumbs. Steve was sketching Wanda's face, the details of her uniform, with quick, meticulous pencil strokes.
Without slowing down, as if it didn't matter any more than the cookies, Steve said, "So you knew Natasha when she was a kid. The Red Room."
"Yeah," Bucky said. Steve had been across the room and pretty badly concussed when Bucky said so, but Sam would have filled him in. "They thawed me out to teach the girls riflery and knives. Natalia had extra sessions with me, we--"
Got attached to each other, but his throat closed on the words.
He couldn't let anyone know, because they would--they would make him--he couldn't--
"Six years old, huh," Steve said, and Bucky focused on him like a distant target, letting everything else disappear. "Was the rifle taller than she was?"
Bucky snorted and held out a hand to show Natalia's height. "Not quite."
Steve glanced over, gauging the distance from Bucky's palm to the floor and twitched a tiny smile. The next second, looking down at the drawing again, he frowned.
"I was worried that you--she--" Steve stopped drawing and scraped his thumbnail over one eyebrow, still holding the pencil. He didn't stab himself with it, but it looked as near a thing as ever.
"Have you and Nat ever talked about Odessa?" Steve finally asked.
Bucky frowned. Odessa. He'd done a few missions in that region, two of them after Natalia's time, after he came into American control.
Bucky shook his head.
Steve set the pencil down and looked at him, concerned and steady and--Bucky was unhappily aware--thoroughly Captain Rogers, commanding officer. Mediating between his troops.
"You shot her," Steve said simply. "She was trying to shield your target and you shot him right through her. I don't know if she knew then who you were or that you'd really known each other, but..."
She had said that he saved her life and he'd known it wasn't true--he still knew, that curl of unease still snaking through him--but the two didn't connect up. He remembered cool stone under his body as he lay prone, the distant sight of his target obscured by some irrelevant obstacle. The calm certainty of a mission completed, and no unanswerable ache in his chest.
"Where?" Bucky asked. He couldn't remember her, even searching his memory for the image. He couldn't picture how she'd been positioned.
"I told you, Odessa," Steve said dryly, and Bucky let out a startled little laugh even as he glared.
"Abdomen," Steve said more hesitantly. "Lower right side."
Entry on the front of the body, he was somehow sure. She would have kept her back to the target, facing the threat. He would have been able to see her face through his scope. Her green eyes. Fearless even then?
But he hadn't fired anywhere near her face.
Bucky shook his head slightly, pushing away the feeling of lingering danger. He had shot Natasha in Odessa--he'd shot her in DC--but he hadn't done anything worse. Natasha was safe. Whoever had needed to save her life, it had been saved. He would see her again in the morning, and for now he needed to find his way back to Steve.
"I was thinking of her," Bucky said, gesturing toward the front door to indicate when. "When she was a kid, when she was--" he swallowed hard and tried to force the words out. He could say it to Steve; Natasha wouldn't be in danger from Steve knowing. "She was my..."
Steve's eyes flew wide. "Please don't say daughter."
Bucky felt a little queasy himself at the implications of Steve being horrified by that thought. "You been fooling around with my little girl, Rogers?"
Steve shook his head, but there was a betraying flush of pink at the tips of his ears.
"Jesus," Bucky muttered, trying not to picture it--not Steve and his Natalia, his Natashenka, that was obscene--
"A kiss, one kiss, that's all," Steve said quickly. "She's always been a grown woman to me, Buck. I missed all of that. And it was before I knew you were back, anyway."
Bucky shook his head, experiencing a weird, awful dissonance. Up until twelve hours ago he'd only seen Natasha as a grown woman; his eyes had idly traced the shape of her body in her uniform more than once. But he couldn't un-know the last twelve hours, the memory of her body soft and trusting against his.
"Do you, um," Steve was frowning down at his sketch like he was deliberating over a line, but he had already set the pencil down. "Wanna hit me?"
It might make him feel better, but Bucky shook his head. "It's not like that, I know you--I know it wasn't. And Natasha wouldn't appreciate me acting like it was."
Steve nodded and kept frowning at the picture. Out of options, because kissing was off the table until Bucky could get the thought of Natasha out of his head, and Bucky had refused to punch him. What else was there?
Bucky's eye fell on the cookies, the glass of milk. He'd lost all track of which one of them was supposed to be making up for what by now, but he had to try. He reached out and tapped the glass. "Get you a refill? More cookies?"
Steve shook his head shortly, picking up his pencil again and curling his arm around the paper defensively, blocking Bucky's view. "I'm fine, Buck. I can get more myself if I want it."
It felt more like a blow than it should; it was the mildest rebuff he was likely to get from Steve. If he tried anything else--if he even stayed at the table--he'd only make it worse.
"Right," Bucky said. "Course you can. I'm going to bed, Stevie."
He fell asleep before Steve joined him, listening to the scratching of pencil on paper in the kitchen.
He had been screaming for a while. The water pouring down around him couldn't hide the screaming, but the screaming didn't really matter. It was just that he couldn't stop.
They already knew. They already knew, and they had already done the worst they would do to him. If they wiped him now, froze him, if they killed him for the very last time, it would only mean he didn't have to know anymore.
And still he was hiding from the eyes watching him. He had his arms wrapped tight around his chest, water pouring down over him to wash away tears, wash away--
But no, it wasn't blood. There had been no blood. He had snapped her neck, quick and clean.
The liquid rush between his body and hers had not been blood.
"Natalia!" he screamed again, and the tile echoed it back. "Natalia!"
As though he could call her back. But she had been right there in his arms. Right there, cuddled against his chest, and his milk had let down for her, and--
He slammed his open right hand against the tile, but that didn't hurt enough. He tried to smash his face against it and was caught, held back from hurting himself by hands strong enough to actually restrain him.
He thought that this, like the screaming, had been happening for a while. He huddled in on himself again, giving in to the futility of it, and the hands went away, leaving him in peace to clutch himself and scream for his little girl. It didn't matter anymore if anyone knew she was his, that he loved her better than all the others, that--
"I'm here, I'm here," she said, startling him into silence.
There were other hands, smaller hands but stronger than they should be, tugging at his arms. She was insistent, making a space for herself where she should always be, and he couldn't hold her out.
He opened his eyes and she really was there, looking up at him with wide green eyes in a pale china doll face, her red hair already wet and flattened to her head. She looked fearless, like always (but she had not been fearless, she had been shaking as he reached for her).
She looked sad, but it might just be the water already clinging to her eyelashes. He wanted nothing but to hold her, comfort her, feed her, but he knew now what he had done.
"Natalia," he whispered, hoarse and broken. "Natalia."
"I'm here," she repeated, pressing herself close and tugging his arms around her. He ached everywhere she touched him, but he held on tight. He could feel her warmth even with the hot water falling down all around them, her living strength.
"We're safe now," she said quietly. "We're here. We're safe. Remember?"
Bucky opened his eyes and looked. Steve was still crouched just outside the shower, his hair as wet as Natasha's, water dripping down his face. His hands were held up, open and ready to move. His blue eyes were very wide. Bucky blinked at him and then looked away, unable to think of what it meant, what he had seen.
"You're not," Bucky said softly. "You can't be. I killed you. They made me kill you."
Steve made a small, sharp motion in Bucky's peripheral vision, but Natasha only snuggled closer. Her fingers crept under the edge of his sodden shirt to write against his skin. Mamochka.
"Was it a dream or real?" Natasha asked. The question sounded practiced, like the catechism of some unfamiliar religion.
"Real," he said softly.
He remembered the smell of fresh death in his arms--the sweetness of milk and bitterness of urine both standing out in the sterile room. It was simple, linear, with no more horror than the events accounted for--less, in fact, because he had been very calm at the time. He only understood what he had done after he woke.
Bucky, she wrote on his skin.
"Was it really me? Am I dead? Am I not your Natalia?"
His left hand was hidden from Steve, tucked against her side. He rucked up the bottom of her shirt with two fingers and began to trace Natashenka on wet skin.
"It was at the end of that year," Bucky said, piecing it together, trying to reconcile the memory with the woman tucked into his arms. "I was still--the way they made me for you."
Still lactating, his body not yet returned to its mission-hardness, his chest swollen and soft and full. After a year of maximized output, milk had defeated muscle, giving his pecs the unmistakable roundness of breasts.
Natasha nodded understanding against his shoulder.
"They wiped me." That part wasn't a memory so much as a void in memory whose shape he could deduce from everything else: the calm, the obedience, the total failure to understand what was happening and why.
He hadn't known, until tonight, that he had betrayed his Natalia, his Natashenka. He hadn't known that the axe had fallen, on him and on Natalia.
"They brought me a little girl with red hair and green eyes. The right height. They told me her name was Natalia, they told me that she was--" the words caught in his throat, the fatal words.
Natasha nestled tighter against him and her fingers moved over his skin, telling him who he was, which told him who she was. There had never been anyone else who named him that way.
"They told me to hold her," Bucky said.
But she had been scared of him like his Natalia never was. She had been stiff in his arms, and her hand had not slipped out to trace letters against his side. His milk had let down for her, wanting to feed her, but she had not nuzzled against him--no little mouth seeking his nipple, no little hand kneading his chest for more.
"Then they told me to kill her."
He had done it, quick and neat and quiet, overtaking her last spasm of fear. After her neck snapped her body had been limp against his, a horrible parody of trust.
Natasha rubbed her cheek against his chest, wet with water and leaking milk, then pulled back and looked him in the eyes and returned to the grim catechism.
"Was it really me? Am I dead? Am I not your Natalia?"
Bucky swallowed and shook his head before he answered the ritual question in full. "Not you. You're here. My Natalia."
"You made me strong," Natasha said quietly. "I had more of you than any of them, and you made me the best of us. You made me too valuable for them to sacrifice just to punish you or test you. You saved my life."
Bucky shook his head, but he couldn't scream for her when he was holding her, when she was right here. He had killed her. He had killed her and here she was telling him he had saved her.
"You couldn't save that other Natalia," Natasha said softly. "But you saved me."
Bucky squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head again, but Natasha pulled his head down so that she could whisper it in his ear. "You made me strong. You saved my life."
He let out a ragged noise that was almost her name, almost a scream, and then again and again. He was sobbing and clutching her tight. She shouldn't have to comfort him, but she kept one hand at the back of his neck and the other on his side, spelling out his names again and again while he could do nothing but hold on.
The bathroom door closed with a quiet, definite click.
Bucky hid his face against Natasha's hair and wailed no one's name until the water shut off, leaving nothing to soften the sound of him grieving. But Natasha's voice crept in under his, making soothing sounds as she pulled him out of the shower.
She pushed him through stripping out of his wet clothes, pulled every towel out of the cupboards to wrap around him and make a sort of nest on the floor. She got her own wet clothes off, too, wrapped up in another towel and settled herself against his chest.
Bucky's arms went around her by reflex, supporting her weight so she could relax. She nuzzled aimlessly against his chest--it must be the middle of the night. She must be tired. His milk let down one more time, beading white on his nipple before her mouth closed over it.
The first pull of her mouth made the world snap into focus. Bucky was aware of his entire body, from his feet tucked under the edge of a towel and braced against the tiled floor to his head, tipped back against the edge of the tub. The light over the sink was on, but not the light over the shower. There was no light showing under the closed door, no sound from outside.
Natasha's eyes were closed as she nursed from him, a sweep of dark lashes against her pale cheeks. Bucky ran his fingers through her wet hair, careful of tangles, and Natasha made a satisfied little sound and leaned more heavily into him, suckling in the sleepy rhythm of a nighttime feeding.
He let his own eyes close, keeping up the motion of his hand through her hair by touch. They were both wrapped up in towels, and he was warm where they were pressed together. The bathroom was quiet, small enough to feel secure with just the two of them closed inside.
He had made her strong. He had kept her safe. His Natalia. He remembered her among the crop of little girls learning to load rifles, and he remembered--
He remembered a different crop of little girls. No ache in his chest but anger, then. No favorites. The rifles had been ten--twenty--how many years older? Which rifles? How many times had they tried?
But it had always been the same. He had always been angry. He had never had a favorite.
He had meant to get them all out, every one.
Bucky opened his eyes and stared up at the plain white ceiling. Natasha nursed from him, steady but slow, a soothing, cozy rhythm, and he remembered this feeling.
Damp, naked, barely thawed, staring up at the plain white ceiling. There was a line feeding into his arm, pumping something new into his blood.
Prolactin. It's a naturally occurring hormone. Suppresses testosterone, curbs aggression, someone was saying. You need your attack dog to live in the house for a while--you want to keep him out of cryo without him going erratic--you pump him full of this. Promotes a sense of wellbeing, encourages bonding and prosocial behavior.
Is this going to turn the attack dog into a milk cow?
Well, if it does then you get milk, too, from a very special cow. Little girls drink milk, don't they? It'll make them strong.
Bucky looked down. His hand came to rest, cradling the back of Natasha's head.
He had never tried to rescue her. He had loved her. He had wanted nothing but to feed her, care for her, make her strong. He had wanted only to have her in his arms again, and for that he had gone willingly to the chair in the big open room, day after day, let himself be attached to the pumping machine. He had taught two dozen little girls to kill and never questioned his orders, because he was allowed to feed them and believe he could keep them safe.
They had known he would get attached, and they had given him one little girl to get attached to in particular. They had known he would focus on her, focus on keeping her safe, and never think about the big picture. They had given her to him to control him, and in the end, when they wanted their attack dog back, they had made him kill a little girl called Natalia to be sure that he would never again think he could stay in one place and take care of someone.
But after all these years, here he was again. His Natashenka in his arms, his team nearby. A safe place where he could make a home. People to care for.
His choice, this time. His and Natasha's. He combed his fingers through her hair and she drank from him in slow, steady pulls, turning the ache in his chest to warmth in her belly.
His body had remembered, even when he did not, how to give him this connection again. How to feel this again. How to live indoors and be gentle. How to make someone else strong, even if it meant becoming a little bit soft himself.
Even if it had to be a secret, he wouldn't give this up. He had paid in blood for this. He wasn't going to waste it.
It was close to an hour later that Bucky stumbled drowsily into the bedroom. Natasha had put on the t-shirt he'd rinsed out earlier, which had dried before he woke up from his nightmare. Bucky hadn't bothered clutching a towel to himself once she turned her back. He crawled into bed naked, and scooted toward Steve, too warm and content to resist the urge to have someone in his arms.
"I can take the couch," Steve said in a wide-awake voice that startled Bucky into alertness.
"Nat's on the couch," Bucky said, because he didn't want to ask why Steve didn't want to sleep in the same bed, why he'd spoken before Bucky could even touch him. He didn't want to know.
There was a core of cold inside him, shattering the calm of that hour with Natasha. Steve had heard what he said, in the nightmare and after it. He hadn't slipped out of the bathroom until after Bucky talked about killing that other Natalia. He knew, and he didn't want to share a bed with Bucky now.
Steve made a little frustrated noise. "She could come in here. I'll sleep out there."
Bucky blinked and tried not to sound too much like he was begging. "Steve, it's not like--we're not--"
"I know," Steve said harshly. "Believe me, I know it's different. But she's the one you needed tonight. I couldn't touch you, you didn't even know me."
Bucky stared at him for a moment. His eyes adjusted as he waited, showing him Steve's face in ever clearer detail, set in stubborn lines. Holding himself apart, holding on to his dignity. As if he were the one with something to lose, when he'd seen Bucky sobbing his guts out in the shower an hour ago. When he knew the worst thing Bucky had ever done.
"Steve," Bucky said slowly. "It was a nightmare. I wasn't even really awake until after she got there. But if I wanted to sleep with Natasha, her bed is a hundred yards away. We could have gone there."
Steve's tight posture softened by a few degrees, and Bucky scooted cautiously closer.
"Nat's on the couch because she wants to be close by if I have another nightmare. But I don't think I will, so I came back to bed where I belong. With you."
Steve's gaze searched his for a moment, softening further. His lips parted, and Bucky's heart beat faster, anticipating something big, something important.
But what Steve finally said was, "Turn the other way, you hate sleeping on your left side."
Bucky's lips twitched--of course that was all Steve would say. He rolled over obediently, putting his back to Steve and snuggling into his pillow. It was enough to have Steve in the same bed, it was--
He felt Steve moving closer a solid ten seconds before he actually made contact. Excruciatingly slowly, as though he constantly expected Bucky to bolt or push him away, Steve snuggled up to his back. He brushed a kiss against the nape of Bucky's neck, nuzzling through his nearly-dry hair to do it.
"Okay?" Steve murmured.
Bucky let out a long breath and sank back into the comfort of closeness, the drowsy warmth. He let himself sag back against Steve's body, molding to the angles and curves of him. Steve's arm settled over his waist, holding him close. Keeping him where they had both chosen to be.
"Okay," Bucky agreed. His own left arm curled protectively in front of his chest, but it was all right. His milk wouldn't come back in for hours yet. He could sleep as late as he wanted to here with Steve.
It was the middle of the day before Bucky slipped down to Natasha's apartment.
He and Steve had both woken up when she slipped out shortly after daybreak. Bucky had obeyed the instinct to kiss and press close for sleepy early-morning sex, grinding dreamily against each other, and then urgently, until they came. They'd fallen asleep after and woke up again a couple of hours later, groggy and sticky.
Bucky hadn't actually remembered what happened the night before until he went into the bathroom to take a piss and found every towel on the floor, along with his still-damp clothes. Natasha's things were gone, at least, so Steve hadn't found him hanging up her underwear to dry.
The ease of their lazy morning was spoiled, though, and Bucky was on edge through the hours that followed. For the first time he anxiously awaited his milk coming in enough to be worth expressing; it was a relief in every way to step into Natasha's apartment and find her waiting for him.
There was a mug of tea already on the coffee table, and he could smell the sweetness of it from the door. Beside it was a machine he'd never seen before, instantly familiar in its arrangement of tubes and seals: a milk pump, this one small and tidy and modern, with glowing digital numbers on top.
Bucky peeled out of his layered shirts and sat down, leaning forward to examine it. Natasha curled up at his side without a word, waiting for him to ask. She wouldn't volunteer anything superfluous, wouldn't speak just to be speaking.
The pump was two-sided; he could drain both sides neatly and efficiently this way, without wasting anything. He remembered for a moment a chilly, sterile room, relentless suction at his chest and the bewildering sight of his milk flowing for the first time.
He was here now. It was his choice. His and Natasha's, and Natasha had set this out for him. "You want me to use this?"
Natasha shrugged. "I don't want to be greedy. And I don't want you to waste milk if you don't have to. If I'm not around, you can come down and use this, put the bottles in the fridge for later."
Bucky looked at her sideways. "And for now?"
Natasha smiled with one corner of her mouth. "I'm here now."
"Well, help me set this up, then, if you don't want to be greedy."
Natasha's smile flexed by a small pleased degree, so Bucky had parsed that correctly. He sat back and helped her get the soft plastic cup sealed over his right nipple, starting up the pump on that side before Natasha settled in to drink from his left.
This felt even more like before than anything else--but still better. This new pump was nearly silent, so he could still hear the little sounds Natasha made as she nursed from him. It didn't feel as brutally efficient as the machine he'd been hooked up to six times a day before--but then he didn't have a whole cohort of little girls to feed. Just his Natashenka.
Though maybe... he closed his eyes and ran his fingers through Natasha's hair the way he had the night before, feeling the pull of her mouth and the pump, his milk flowing out where it was wanted. He let himself imagine where it might go. With the milk pumped and politely bottled, maybe he could find a way to share it with the team. He'd still have to tell them what it was, but it wasn't asking so much if they didn't have to nurse from him directly.
He thought of that glass of milk on the table the night before and had to open his eyes and force his thoughts away. Not Steve.
Natasha shifted in his arms, settling her left hand on his chest. Her pinky finger moved restlessly back and forth, tracing the spot where his skin met the plastic of the suction cup. He let out a shaky breath, remembering. She used to do that all the time, as if to comfort him for the harshness of the pump. He shifted his hand down from her hair to her shoulder, tracing her name beside the strap of her tank top.
She gave one harder suck in answer, and her right hand traced his name beside his spine, telling him he was where he belonged.
This was enough. Natasha wasn't going to be greedy, and Bucky shouldn't either.
It became a routine, simple and reliable. Ever since that nightmare, Bucky could feel Steve carefully not remarking on any time Bucky and Natasha were alone together. It was another space between them, Steve making room for this thing Bucky shared with Natasha, even though Steve had no way of knowing what it really was.
Bucky half expected--half wanted--Steve to punish him for it a little, to be gone on inflexible secret errands of his own when Bucky came back from feeding Natasha. Steve had obviously noticed that Bucky went down to Natasha's apartment every night before going to bed, that he slipped out of bed and went to her first thing in the morning, that he vanished sometime in the middle of the day, every day. If they fought about it, even if silently, by pulling further apart, at least Bucky would know that it bothered Steve to be excluded from something.
But Steve gave no sign of minding. He didn't mention it. When Bucky came back from Natasha to go to bed, Steve might be in bed already, or sitting up reading or sketching.
One night Bucky walked in and found Steve watching TV, or... sitting in front of the TV, anyway. His eyes were open but heavy-lidded, and the sound was turned down low on a man standing at a canvas painting something that looked like an old bruise, although according to his low narration it was a sky.
"Bob Ross," Steve said. "Sam told me I should watch him to unwind."
The cadence of the painter's voice was steady and soothing, and his words were all reassurances: no mistakes, just happy accidents. This is your world and you make it what you want it to be.
"You wound up?" Bucky asked.
Steve looked up at him and didn't say anything. After a beat he returned his gaze to the TV, and Bucky felt guilty and triumphant all at once. Steve was wound up over him, even if he was also being as delicate about it as if--well, as if it were a symptom of what had been done to him that Steve was trying not to make him feel bad about.
Steve kept his gaze fixed on the TV, but there was a muscle slowly tensing up in his jaw. Bob Ross wasn't enough to unwind him, not when Bucky just stood there like an idiot, leaving all that space between them.
Bucky sat down on the couch, automatically taking the middle place. Steve was on his right, not his left, but that was fine. This wasn't like being on the couch with Natasha.
Still, Bucky sat back and reached out to pull Steve close against his side. Steve resisted for a second and then gave in all at once, curling in under Bucky's arm and slumping against him.
Bucky tightened his grip, holding Steve close. He let his eyelids sink to half-mast as Bob Ross made trees appear, obscuring the bruised sky.
Steve's warm weight against his ribs felt good, safe and soothing. Bucky drifted on the animal comfort of it as the image of dawn in the woods took shape on the TV. The video ended and another started up; the next picture to take shape was in a palette of blues and greens--an ocean scene. Steve seemed nearly asleep, and Bucky let himself relax.
"What's that?" Steve mumbled.
"Happy clouds," Bucky replied, at the same time that he realized his finger was tracing shapes--letters--against Steve's side where his shirt had ridden up.
He jerked his hand away, his whole body tensing. There was no ache in his chest--he was dry, his secret was safe for hours yet--but the lazy comfort of holding Steve close had betrayed him anyway.
"Buck?" Steve sounded more awake now. "What..."
"Nothing," Bucky said. "Just doodling or something. Come on, we should get to bed. If you're still wound up I know a way to tire you out."
Steve looked up at him again, and didn't say anything again.
Bucky knew he wasn't going to ask. He was going to let Bucky get away with this too, because he thought he had to. Bucky should tell--it wasn't even a secret, not really, not that--but he stared Steve down.
"No," Steve said finally. "I'm tired enough. Let's just go to sleep."
The words sat at the back of his throat all the next day. It was only at night, holding Natasha and thinking of going upstairs to Steve and their bed, that Bucky finally let them out.
"If I told Steve..."
Natasha was finished by the time he spoke, only sucking lazily because she didn't want to let go. That made her pick her head up, though. She looked at him steadily, the same way Steve did when Bucky asked stupid questions.
"He would do anything you wanted," Natasha said finally. "And he wouldn't do anything you didn't want."
"But he," Bucky said, and swallowed. "I don't care what he does. I care what he wants."
Natasha's gaze softened at that. "Well, that one's kind of up to him."
Bucky tilted his head and tugged her back down to cuddle a little more. She latched on again even though he had nothing left for her, sucking for the comfort of it.
Bucky wrote her name on her shoulder, Natashenka. He let himself unwind in the calm and quiet, safe here with the choice he and Natasha shared. This was only what they made it, as long as they were alone here.
But if Steve knew, then it would be what Steve saw, too. And that would be up to him.
Barton turned up a few days later and disappeared into secret meetings with Natasha and Steve. Bucky knew what that meant even before she texted him at two in the afternoon: Meet me in half an hour?
Of course, Bucky texted back, already aching for her. The next half hour was agonizing--not the wait, but knowing why he was waiting, and how much worse it would be after this.
He was on her couch when she came in, his empty bottle of Gatorade left out to show her that she didn't have to worry about his hydration. He still had his shirt on, and she came straight over, pushing it up impatiently. He stripped it off as she settled across his lap, putting her mouth to his right side first. Allowing herself to be greedy.
He held her and stroked her hair, writing her name on her skin over and over though he knew she wouldn't forget. Her field ops weren't like that; no one took anything away from her. She only pretended to become someone else, programmed for whatever the job required.
Still. She was only his Natashenka for a little longer. He reminded himself that he was making her strong, that he had been making her strong all along. She was fast and smart and impeccably trained and vastly experienced. Whatever came next, she would be ready. She would come home safely.
Even after she'd drained him dry he felt a lingering ache. He hadn't given her enough. He didn't want to let her go.
"It's only a day or two," Natasha said, still leaning in against his chest and not meeting his eyes.
"Good," Bucky said. "I'll hardly have time to miss you."
"Good," Natasha agreed, as her finger finished tracing Mamochka one more time. "I have to get some things together. Go make sure Steve doesn't convince Clint that we need another six feet of obvious American on this. Clint's already more than I need."
"Americans," Bucky muttered under his breath.
Natasha pinched him, but she was grinning at the same time.
Bucky found Barton and Steve in the briefing room where they'd been sequestered for hours already. They'd left the door open, so they were obviously finished discussing anything classified, just waiting for Natasha to come back.
Steve said, in a not-quite-convincingly casual voice, "Hey, what does ochka mean?"
Bucky froze, still ten feet short of the door. He glanced around, but he didn't think there was any way Steve could have seen him coming, and he'd been quiet enough that Steve shouldn't have heard.
"Ochka?" Barton repeated.
"In a Russian nickname. I know I'm Styopa when Nat's being Russian at me and Styopka when she's being Russian at me because she's annoyed with how American I am. But Styopochka--"
Bucky closed his eyes. Of course Steve hadn't let it go. That had been even more useless to hope for than the possibility that he wouldn't remember and sound out the Cyrillic Bucky had traced on his skin.
"Nat didn't..." Barton stopped, then started over on the right tack. "You couldn't ask Barnes what he meant by it?"
"No," Steve said simply. "He didn't actually say it, I just... saw it written."
There was a palpable pause, and then Barton said, "Right. It's--Nat calls my daughter Lilochka sometimes. From a guy to another guy, it's--I don't know, pretty gay? Kinda like two guys having an epic love story spanning two centuries."
Bucky stared at the open door. He could see Steve's puzzlement as if he were in the room with them. It wasn't like neither of them had ever let slip a baby or honey or doll. It was cause for teasing, maybe, but not something Bucky should have panicked over, lying transparently to keep from having to talk about it.
"Don't ask me," Barton said. "I didn't even realize the -ka thing meant she was annoyed. It's the only one she ever calls me."
Bucky tried not to think about where Natasha was, or what she was doing. He tried to behave as if nothing was different, as if today was a normal day.
But a normal day meant the ache in his chest growing hour by hour, his milk coming in for his Natashenka. A normal day ended on Natasha's couch, letting his little girl and the pump drain him dry so he could go to bed with Steve without giving himself away.
He didn't think about it, and didn't think about it. The end of the day came, and he headed downstairs like he always did, except that he didn't get out of the apartment before Steve said his name.
Bucky stopped at the door and closed his eyes without turning back.
"She's not there," Steve said quietly, gently, like he was trying not to touch something painful. Like Bucky might really have believed this was a normal day.
"I know." Bucky stayed perfectly still, not shifting his weight, not opening his eyes.
He heard Steve come a half-step closer behind him, still well out of reach. "She won't be back tonight. Midday tomorrow at the very earliest."
Bucky nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
"Buck," Steve said, his voice wavering. It made Bucky hurt, sharpened the ache in his chest almost unbearably. Steve needed him, even if he didn't need what Bucky had to give. "Please, just come to bed."
Bucky couldn't restrain his flinch. He reached out, opening the door before he let himself think of it. "I will. I always come back, Steve. I just--I need..."
"She's not there," Steve said. "Bucky, I'm right here."
If Bucky told him, there were a dozen ways Steve could help him relieve the pressure in his chest, or just stay out of the way and not be hurt by whatever he was imagining.
But telling Steve meant admitting this as a weakness, showing him something vulnerable and having Steve see it as something broken, because to Steve those were the same thing. And in the end, there was still enough wounded animal in Bucky to choose hurting Steve over seeing himself hurt in Steve's eyes.
"Twenty minutes," Bucky said, and stepped out the door.
Steve didn't so much as shift his weight or raise a hand to stop him.
It took more than twenty minutes. Alone with the pump, acutely aware of how far away Natasha was and that his milk might be no use to her, he couldn't seem to make it let down. He had to turn up the pump to something brutal halfway through, and it still took twenty-five minutes to be sure he was dry.
After that there was no point in hurrying. He'd already made himself a liar.
He transferred the milk from the bottles to the freezer bags Natasha had left out for him, neatly labeling each and stashing them next to the growing supply. He washed out the bottles and tubing, set it all out to dry before morning.
He let himself back into his and Steve's apartment thirty-four minutes after he walked out. The apartment was dark and silent, and the absence of surprise was a weight in the pit of his stomach. He didn't turn on any lights, just went into the bedroom and stripped. He crawled into the empty bed, and pushed the covers down to leave his nakedness on display for when Steve came in.
He slept through the night without being disturbed, and woke up alone in the morning. He had been dreaming of Natashenka, hurt in training but refusing to cry, and his chest ached with fullness. He saw when he sat up that he'd leaked all over the sheets.
He stripped the bed and threw the sheets in the wash before he put last night's clothes back on and went down to Natasha's again.
Bucky didn't see Steve that morning; he'd taken Wanda off somewhere for one-on-one training. Bucky didn't let himself wonder whether Steve had deliberately taken away the next-most-consoling person for Bucky to try to look after in Natasha's absence. He didn't want to think it, but Steve had also taken himself away, so clearly Bucky was being punished.
He kept close to the rest of the team, letting Rhodes and Vision take turns declaring drills to practice. After a while Rhodes abandoned his suit, declaring it time to put in some training for "totally fucked up contingencies." He and Bucky and Sam took on simulated attacks orchestrated by Vision.
No one remarked on how often Bucky threw himself in the way of an attack to shield the other two. He was faster, stronger, quicker to heal; they might not have noticed anything unusual. He was only taking Steve's role, really. There was nothing incriminating about it.
Bucky slipped away in the afternoon to pump again, another joyless and slightly painful session alone on Natasha's couch. It was a stark contrast to the pleasure of working with even a subset of his team, a mockery of what the milk ought to mean.
He sensed someone outside when he was about to open the door to leave. For a moment he let himself imagine that it would be Steve waiting for him, to catch him... being exactly where Steve would know he was going. As if Steve would stoop to catching him. Steve could find him any time he wanted, but Steve just kept backing off.
Bucky stopped for a moment, leaning his forehead against the door while he pushed away the imagined sight of Steve's face--disappointed or coolly furious or sheepish and apologetic....
It wouldn't be any of those. It wouldn't be Steve. Steve would chase him to the ends of the earth to save him, but he wouldn't walk across a room to ask Bucky for something.
Except he had asked last night, and Bucky had walked out.
Bucky thumped his head against the door a couple of times, realizing, not for the first time, that he and Steve really did deserve each other. With that familiar bleak humor to brace him, he gave up and stepped back to open the door.
Sam was standing on the other side of the corridor, leaning at ease against the wall. He looked Bucky up and down--there was nothing to see, Bucky had taken the precaution of wearing his most camouflaging hoodie today--and said lightly, "You know, usually it's the person outside the door who knocks."
"Steve told you where you could find me." Bucky wasn't going to pretend this wasn't about what it was about.
Sam tilted his head, admitting the charge. "You want to talk about it?"
Bucky considered it for half a second. He could tell Sam what was going on, what he was doing with Natasha, what he wanted with the rest of the team. He could invite Sam in for a glass of milk.
And no matter what Sam's reaction was, it would be just a foretaste of what Bucky was in for, because once Sam knew, Steve would have to know too. Sam was Steve's friend first, and Bucky had no claim on his loyalty except through Steve. He might not actually tell Steve himself, but neither would he let Bucky keep his own secrets in peace.
Bucky missed Natasha like breath knocked from his lungs.
He shook his head in mute answer to Sam's question. "You want to tell me where Steve slept last night?"
Sam snorted. "My couch, if you want to call that sleeping. He was tossing and turning all damn night, except when he was muttering to himself. Or pacing. Or--punching things, maybe? There were some thumps, woke me up every time he started that."
"Gesturing," Bucky diagnosed, with a weird displaced sense of fondness. "If he was really punching he'd have broken things. But sometimes when he's arguing with somebody in his head he starts gesturing to make his points. You never caught him doing that before?"
Sam shrugged. "I don't think he was imagining arguing with you much when we were looking for you."
Bucky shook his head again. "Idiot."
Sam didn't argue with that, but after a few seconds he said, "So I didn't get much sleep last night because Steve was on my couch arguing with you, and you don't look like you're having a great day, so..."
Sam gestured down the corridor in the direction of his own apartment. "How many Star Trek movies do you think we can watch before we pass out?"
"We're skipping the first one," Bucky said. He needed to be close to somebody. Sam was offering, and letting him keep his own secrets after all, for as long as he managed to keep his mouth shut.
"There was no first one," Sam agreed, and that was that.
They were halfway through the one with the whales when the screen froze, and Kirk and Spock disappeared into an alert. Bucky glimpsed Incoming call, Clint Barton, and he felt himself turn to ice in the fraction of a second before Clint's face appeared on the screen.
"No, she's okay!" Barton yelped immediately, his gaze falling on Bucky and whatever Bucky's expression was just then. "She's here, she's in one piece, we're coming home."
Bucky exhaled and folded forward to bury his face in his hands, shielding his chest from Barton and Sam's view. It was getting close to bedtime. He was achingly full, and Natasha was on her way home.
"She just, uh..."
Bucky looked up to search Barton's face, holding his hunched-over position.
Barton grimaced. "She took a pretty bad knock on the head. Had her checked out before I let her in the quinjet--no fracture, no internal bleeds--but she's got post-concussion like a motherfucker. She's already thrown up twice and she can't really move or pick her head up or be exposed to bright light."
"And you decided a long flight was a good idea?" Sam demanded.
Bucky closed his hands into fists at the thought of someone keeping Natasha away from him when she was hurt, making her recover in some undisclosed location without him.
"Nat decided," Barton said, shaking his head. "Both times she threw up were because I told her we needed to stay put and she wouldn't quit arguing. And I know my way around a head injury, I know the only thing that's gonna help is rest--but she's not gonna rest if she's freaking out about wanting to go home. So I'm bringing her home. She says she'll feel better after a night in her own bed."
Bucky's chest throbbed, and he felt the trickle of milk sliding down the undercurve of his pecs. He was leaking on both sides at just the thought of putting Natasha to bed when she was hurt, feeding her and comforting her.
He searched Barton's expression for any sign that he knew, but he met Bucky's gaze steadily, nothing new or unsettled in his eyes. "She said she needs you to wait for her. Tuck her in."
There was no insinuation even in those words, nothing from Barton to indicate that he found it strange or shameful for Natasha to want that, or for Bucky to give it.
Well, Barton was a parent, after all. Maybe he understood.
Bucky nodded. "I'll wait. However long it takes, I'll wait for her."
"Couple hours, tops," Barton said, nodding like he'd known Bucky would say exactly that. "I'm having to maneuver around rough weather so she doesn't get sick again, but unless Thor's in town and actively fucking with me it shouldn't be more than two hours. I'll call you if I have to detour us up the jet stream or something."
Bucky nodded. "Barton--thanks."
"Not much I wouldn't do for Nat," Barton said, like it was simple. "Over and out."
Bucky walked out and Sam didn't try to stop him. There were two non-emergency landing sites at HQ; Barton would doubtless put down in the one just outside Medical. No matter what Natasha said, she should be rechecked by Avengers' doctors after the flight.
He stood at the dark edge of the landing site, and then paced, striding as slowly as he could make himself from corner to corner of the tarmac. He did not fold his arms; it would only draw attention to his chest, and he didn't think he could bear any touch there anyway. He passed rapidly from being ready to express milk to being desperate. The ache in his chest turned sharp, and milk leaked from him in random spurts, soaking his undershirt.
His hoodie was black, at least, and no one would be looking at him anyway. Everyone would be focused on Natasha. As soon as she got here. Less than two hours, Barton had said, fifty-three minutes ago.
Bucky turned to pace out the eastern border of the tarmac and nearly stumbled at the sight of Steve, planted like a tree at the northeast corner. Bucky walked a few strides on autopilot, to keep from falling down or showing fear, but he ground to a halt thirty meters short of Steve.
Steve held his ground for a few seconds--long enough for Bucky to feel another useless jet of milk squirt out, wetness rolling down his ribs. Long enough for Bucky to wonder if they were both just going to stand there staring until something interrupted.
Then Steve looked down and shook his head. He put his chin up and started walking in long, brisk strides.
Bucky took a hesitant step forward and then another. He stopped again when Steve was still a meter away, and Steve stopped too, not requiring Bucky to ask him not to come closer.
Bucky wanted to kiss him, wanted to cling to him, but it was all he could do not to curl in and rock around the frustrated pain in his chest. He couldn't bear Steve to brush up against him, or to want something else from him than the comfort of closeness. Even if he could feed Steve now, he wouldn't. This was for Natasha. He had promised to wait for Natasha.
"I just want to wait with you," Steve said quietly. "We should talk later, but--you don't have to be alone right now. Okay?"
Bucky swallowed and nodded, forced out a single word through his painfully tight throat. "Thanks."
Steve nodded. He circled around to Bucky's left side, leaving a body-width between their shoulders.
Bucky closed his eyes and took a careful breath and then started walking again, trying to keep his stride natural, betraying nothing. Steve matched him exactly, falling perfectly into step with him. Steve didn't stop at the corner, just made a drill-perfect turn and kept moving. Bucky followed, letting himself fall just a fraction behind so that he was on Steve's flank where he belonged.
They paced the edges of the tarmac together, and Bucky fell under the familiar trance of a long march. Pain was irrelevant. Everything was irrelevant but continuing to move forward stride by stride. He only had to hold his position relative to Steve.
Steve stopped, raising a hand as he did, like they had an entire company behind them. Bucky stopped with him, looking up as the lights on the landing area brightened, but he was distracted from searching the sky by the medical team coming out.
It wasn't much of a team--Dr. Granger and a nurse Bucky hadn't met before. No stretcher, no gurney, no big triage kit, just a satchel in the nurse's hand and a tablet in the doctor's. Bucky looked back and forth between them. "You're not planning on taking her in?"
Dr. Granger shook her head. "Barton sent over all her scans and test results before they took off--I don't see anything that warrants running more tests tonight, or keeping her in the clinic if she's going to have someone with her to make sure she doesn't get into distress. I understand you've volunteered."
Bucky didn't look over at Steve. He didn't know if Steve had expected Bucky to leave Natasha in the clinic, or with Barton, overnight, but there was no choice to make.
"Yeah," Bucky said. "If she can't be roused or seems confused or loses motor control, if the pain worsens sharply, if she's throwing up and can't stop..."
Dr. Granger nodded approvingly. "Anything that seems like cause for concern, call us, we're five minutes--"
Bucky lost the rest of what the doctor was saying, because he finally caught the dark silhouette of the quinjet, blotting out stars above them. He couldn't tear his eyes off it all the way down, and it landed lightly as a bird in front of them.
He leaned forward like a runner at the mark, and as soon as the ramp started down he was moving, just barely holding himself to a fast walk. The interior of the jet was barely lit, but he had no trouble finding Natasha, lying under a thin blanket on a bench to one side.
He also had no trouble spotting the blood-soaked bandage on the side of her head. She had her eyes closed, her arms tucked against her chest, her left wrist in a splint.
Bucky looked up and found Barton coming back from the pilot's pod.
Was she SHOT in the head? Bucky signed furiously.
Barton signed back Didn't want to worry you with an apologetic grimace, not specifying whether that had been Barton's decision or Nat's.
"It's just a graze," Natasha muttered, keeping her eyes closed and barely moving her lips. "Popped a couple of stitches last time I threw up. Looks worse than it is."
Bucky folded down to his knees in front of her. His milk let down in a painful rush and soaked his shirt all over again. His voice came out low and gentle by sheer reflex. "How many times did you throw up, exactly?"
Nat moaned like she'd suddenly lost the power of speech, but Barton flashed two fingers twice when Bucky glanced up. The two before Barton called, and two more after.
"That's a concern," Dr. Granger said behind Bucky.
"Pushed a bag of saline after the third time," Barton said, and Bucky glanced up and spotted the spent bag and tubing. "She yanked the needle out in the middle of the fourth time, but that was only twenty minutes ago so I figured I'd better just get her on the ground."
"Shield her eyes, please, Barnes," the doctor said.
Bucky laid his right hand carefully over Natasha's eyes, touching just enough to seal skin to skin without pressing against her face. He saw every line of Natasha's body ease at the touch, and he saw the stutter in the doctor's movements beside him that meant she'd seen it too.
Bucky did not look up to see what Barton might make of it. He shifted his position to give the doctor and nurse better access, sitting tucked to one side with his hand over Natasha's eyes while they shone a bright light on the bullet-track creasing her scalp. They cleaned it out enough that the spray-on bandage stuff would stick. The nurse was running through more questions with Barton over his head, but that wasn't Bucky's concern now.
Bucky breathed slowly and leaned toward Natasha, resisting the urge to shove his shirt up in front of God and everyone to push a nipple between her dry lips. Touch was enough--touch and closeness and probably the smell of milk. She was already soothed by the promise of him putting her to bed. He was already helping.
"You're going to need to hydrate, Romanoff," Dr. Granger said. "I know it's probably the last thing you want right now, but you need to get more fluids--something with electrolytes, and you need to keep it down or you're going to have to come to the clinic for another IV."
Bucky felt the flutter of Natasha's eyelashes against his palm. They'd put away the bright lights when they finished with her scalp wound, so he eased his hand away to let her meet his eyes and then the doctor's.
"I'll drink something, I promise," Natasha said solemnly.
Bucky ducked his head and stared intently at the floor, suppressing a frantic, hysterical laugh that strained at his ribs and made every muscle in his upper body lock tight. More milk leaked out of him, wasted because they were keeping Natasha here instead of letting him feed her.
"Let's get you home," Bucky said, when he could speak evenly.
Natasha's eyes met his and she nodded, shifting a little without raising her head, inviting him to help. Bucky maneuvered carefully to get her into his arms without jostling her. She curled into him immediately, resting the uninjured side of her head against his left arm. He stood up slowly, gingerly, nodding absently to the doctor's instructions--don't let her drink too much too fast--yeah, they had that one covered.
He wasn't aware of anything except his Natashenka in his arms as he walked out of the quinjet and cut across the grass toward a side entrance to the housing wing. The door opened for him without his touching it, and the lights inside were dimmed. He was vaguely aware that that meant he had someone running interference, clearing his path, but Natasha's breathing was too steady, too careful, a sign that she was in pain. The fingers of her left hand, above the splint, were kneading restlessly against his chest, making milk leak out almost constantly as he walked.
"Almost there," he murmured. "Almost, almost. Soon, sweetheart, I promise."
She let out a harder breath in reply, and he walked as fast as he could while keeping his strides perfectly smooth. He stepped into a darkened elevator and stepped back out into a darkened corridor. The door to Natasha's apartment opened for him as soon as he reached it, and he didn't look back to see whether it closed or locked. He didn't break stride until he was in Natasha's bedroom, at the side of her bed, lowering her with infinite care onto the (deliberately, defiantly) rumpled covers.
He tugged a fold of blanket out from under her so she could lie easily on her side while he straightened up and whipped his shirts off. He dropped the sodden undershirt on top of the slightly less stained hoodie.
"Okay," he breathed. His whole chest was slick with leaking milk, the sweet smell of it almost overpowering now that he was uncovered. He lay down carefully on the bed, not jostling her. She moaned and rolled onto him as soon as he was down, tucking herself under his left arm. He lay flat on his back and she cuddled in to the whole length of his body, heedless of the mess, heedless of anything.
Her mouth closed over his left nipple. Milk was already jetting out for even before she sucked, strong and alive and greedy for him, for this.
Bucky let his eyes close, let his own body go limp as hers had when she knew he was there to take care of her. She was safe now, home with him in the quiet dark of her bed. He would make her strong, help her heal. He curled his left arm gently around her, cradling her close, and she rested her splinted wrist on his chest, her fingertips over his heart tracing out his name. He tilted his head, not quite nuzzling against her hair. It was enough to breathe in the scent of her, blood and antiseptic and a new shampoo but still and always his Natasha.
She nursed in the fierce rhythm of hunger, and Bucky sighed, almost moaning himself at the relief of pressure--on that side, at least. His right side hurt worse and worse as the left was relieved, and he knew he was leaking again.
He opened his eyes to look, and in the act of turning his head from left to right he froze, arrested by the sight of Steve, standing in the doorway of Natasha's bedroom.
Bucky's whole body tensed, making Natasha's suckling stutter in its eager rhythm.
Bucky closed his eyes and turned his head back, his lips nearly brushing her hair. He made himself relax under her, muscle by muscle, so she wouldn't worry. "Shh, shh, it's all right. Take a breath. Slow down."
The noise Natasha made was tiny and petulant and made him smile despite everything. She took a deep breath through her nose and then sucked again, strong and steady but more measured now, falling into a sleepy late night rhythm this time.
Bucky kept his eyes closed and his face turned away, traced out her name with his left thumb, but he could see Steve in his mind's eye as clearly as if he were still staring.
Steve was leaning against the doorframe, not standing tall, frozen in shock. That meant Steve had been watching for a while. He'd seen everything; he must have followed them from the quinjet, probably coordinating the blackout, the doors, the elevator. Of course he had followed Bucky inside to see if he could help. And he had seen this. Steve had been there long enough to sag against the doorframe for support, still watching.
He had one hand over his mouth--stopping himself from making a sound, hiding some unbearable expression. In the dimness Bucky couldn't read his eyes at all.
He heard the faint sound of Steve turning away and had to open his eyes to be sure.
The doorway was empty. Bucky heard faint sounds of movement elsewhere in the apartment and his eyes prickled with tears. He looked down at Natasha and made himself focus, touching her cheek gently with his right hand, petting with the backs of his fingers in time to her nursing. Natasha needed him. That was all that mattered right now.
Natasha's rhythm slowed further, and the force of her suckling eased. In another moment she was only mouthing at him, though he was far from drained on the left side, still painfully full on the right.
She was exhausted and wounded. He had soothed her enough to forget her pain, given her what her stomach could bear to drink. Naturally she had fallen asleep. She would wake, in minutes or an hour or two, and nurse again. He would stay all night, watching over her and feeding her.
She snuffled a sleeping sound against his chest. Bucky shifted to roll her mouth off of him so that she could breathe freely, a steady in and out over his wet skin.
It should be enough that she was safe and fed and asleep, but Bucky was still in pain. He was soothed a little from the agony of waiting, but he needed relief, and...
Small sounds came closer. Bucky watched without moving a muscle as Steve reappeared in the doorway and took a cautious half-step inside. He held up something that Bucky recognized, after a confused moment, as a washcloth.
Bucky nodded slowly, unable to tear his gaze away. Steve came all the way in, perching on the edge of the bed beside him. Steve hesitantly offered the washcloth, and Bucky closed his eyes again, stretching his right arm out to his side. He made himself breathe slowly and evenly, just the way Natasha did when she was in pain, waiting for an answer to his silent request.
The washcloth touched him just above the top of his jeans, warm and slightly rough. Bucky shivered as Steve wiped the sheen of milk from his skin in steady, firm strokes.
Bucky was intensely aware of every millimeter of progress as Steve worked his way up Bucky's ribcage. He stopped breathing a second before Steve's thumb brushed along the underside of his pec. The lightest touch on that taut skin made the ache unbearable, and milk jetted out from his right nipple, his body desperately offering it up to empty air.
Bucky opened his eyes on Steve holding very still. The washcloth rested over his ribs, Steve's hand perfectly motionless around it. The white of freshly spilled milk dotted Steve's knuckles. Bucky dragged his gaze up and found Steve staring down at his chest, but a second later Steve met his eyes.
"Does it hurt?" Steve's voice was low and even--probably to keep from waking Natasha, who was still slumped bonelessly on Bucky's left side. Bucky couldn't read anything from the words. He still couldn't read Steve's eyes.
"A little," Bucky admitted, holding back everything else he wanted to say--to ask, to beg. "Just... really full."
Steve didn't move his hand. His gaze went down to Bucky's chest and over to Natasha before he met Bucky's eyes again. "What do you need, Buck? How can I help?"
And that was the answer, wasn't it? If Bucky could make this a favor Steve was doing for him, instead of something he desperately wanted to do for Steve...
"Keep going," Bucky managed.
Steve's gaze dropped to Bucky's chest and stayed there, and then he shifted his hand from the washcloth to the swollen mound of Bucky's pec. His palm was still hot from the damp cloth, and Bucky hissed when Steve squeezed, making more milk spray out. Steve was still sitting perfectly upright, his mouth nowhere near Bucky's nipple, and the milk striped Steve's hand and Bucky's belly, spilled uselessly.
"Don't," Bucky said without thinking, and Steve jerked his hand away.
Bucky shook his head quickly. "No, just--don't waste it, Stevie. Please. Don't waste it."
Steve's gaze cut to Natasha again, and then to his hand, curled in midair halfway between them. As Bucky watched, Steve licked his knuckles clean, taking Bucky's milk on his tongue.
"Please," Bucky whispered. His whole body seemed narrowed down to the throbbing ache of his right pec, his milk-wet nipple.
Steve met his eyes again and gave a short, sharp nod. Target acquired.
Steve folded down over him, lips parted. He hesitated an inch short and Bucky gritted his teeth, telling himself to be patient. Natasha shifted against his left side, and he tried to relax for her, to let her keep sleeping.
The tip of Steve's tongue swiped across his nipple, and Bucky's whole body jerked. His right hand came up on reflex, swatting the back of Steve's head, and Steve jerked back to glare at him.
Bucky was glaring too, his right hand in a fist to keep him from grabbing Steve and shoving him back down where he belonged.
"This isn't a suckjob, Rogers--"
"Pretty sure that's exactly--"
There was a hint of a pained moan in Natasha's voice. She hadn't picked up her head or opened her eyes, but Bucky could feel the unhappily wakened tension in the whole length of her body. He immediately turned his head to nuzzle apologetically at her hair, and he saw Steve's shoulders curl down at the reprimand.
"Be nice," Natasha added, rubbing her nose sternly against Bucky's chest, reminding him that he still had milk to give on that side. "It's not his fault he doesn't know how to latch. Most adults don't. You have to be patient with him."
Bucky could read furious indignation as it straightened every line of Steve's body, even out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head further to try to hide his smile in Natasha's hair, and murmured, "Maybe you'd better set him a good example, then."
"Mm," Natasha agreed drowsily. "Like this, брат."
She picked her head up just enough to set her open mouth wide over Bucky's nipple, latching on firmly. He sighed in relief as she drank, and then his breath caught at the sensation of Steve's mouth on his right side.
Steve latched on like a pro this time and sucked at him perfectly, letting Bucky's milk finally flood out for him. He swallowed and shifted off before he settled down and sucked again. As quickly as he mastered any other physical skill Steve got the hang of this, sucking and swallowing in a double-time counterpoint to Natasha's drowsy nursing. She was soothing herself back to sleep with every pull of her mouth, and Bucky rubbed gently at her shoulder with his left hand, bringing his right arm around Steve to coax him into a more comfortable position.
Steve grunted against his chest, rhythm breaking as he resettled himself. He lay along Bucky's body in a mirror of Natasha's position, resting heavily against his leg and side. Bucky closed his eyes, too overwhelmed to keep watching. The weight of their bodies pressed him down, and the twin pulls of their mouths drew out everything he could give them. He held them both close and let the soft-edged sense of contentment wipe away every other concern, including what the fuck this was going to look like in the morning.
For now it was dark and quiet and warm. He had his Natashenka, his Stevie, both safe, both here and his to feed. This was enough.
He drifted in and out of sleep, aware sometimes of Natasha or Steve starting to nurse again. Steve always followed when Natasha started, but sometimes while she was limp with sleep Bucky would feel one strong pull from Steve's mouth, as though he had woken up and had to remind himself that it was real. Bucky's right hand rested sometimes on the back of Steve's neck, sometimes on the crown of his head. He traced Steve's name behind his ear, combed his fingers through Steve's hair, every touch another way of coaxing him to stay in place.
Before dawn, when Natasha's bedroom was murky gray with the first light creeping under the curtains, Bucky woke up to the opposite sensation. He felt cold air on his nipple and the damp skin around it, and a weight lifting. He opened his eyes and saw Steve looking back at him.
Steve was wide awake. For maybe the first time all night, Bucky felt wide awake too, absolutely aware of what he'd done in the darkness last night, the anxious nightmare that had faded into such a prolonged good dream.
Steve stayed motionless, and Bucky still couldn't read his eyes; in this light they looked colorless and dark. After a second Bucky recognized what was pressing against his thigh, and why Steve was holding so very still. Bucky looked away from Steve's face to check whether Natasha was awake. In the half-second it took him to see her open eyes--definitely awake, mildly amused--Steve flung himself off the bed and bolted from the room like his tail was on fire.
Natasha pushed away from Bucky, giving him a shove as good as a shout: go after him.
Bucky went, rolling up to his feet and running after Steve, out of Natasha's apartment and down the corridor outside. Steve made for the stairs instead of the elevator and Bucky followed suit, racing after him to their floor and the door to their apartment.
Bucky was a couple of strides behind when he burst through the door and finally found his voice. "Steve."
Steve froze, there in the no man's land between kitchen and living room, bedroom and bathroom doors ahead of him. He didn't turn back.
"Where the hell are you going?" Bucky demanded.
They should be done with this now. The secret was out, and Steve hadn't shied away from him. If only in the dark, if only because Bucky said he needed it, Steve had accepted what Bucky wanted to give him. Steve had stayed with him all night. Why the hell was he running now?
"I need a shower," Steve said, his voice tightly controlled, and it wasn't like that was a secret. Bucky had been waking up with Steve's hard-on pressed against him practically since Steve was old enough to wake up with one.
"Steve," Bucky said, softer, letting his mind and body shift gears. It wasn't hard to see Steve as Steve again here in their apartment, and not Styopochka alongside his Natashenka. Bucky was as good as empty anyway; by the time he got Steve off he'd probably be ready for Steve to return the favor.
"I know. What are you running away for?"
"What am I--"
Bucky fell back a step, startled by the furious vehemence leaking through Steve's voice.
Steve kept still another moment, his hands flexing at his sides before closing into fists as he swung around to face Bucky. He had a look on his face like he wasn't just angry but righteously fed up, like he'd been pushed too far, one too many times.
And he was aiming that look at Bucky.
"Go back downstairs," Steve said, his voice controlled again. "Go back to Natasha. I get it."
Bucky stood his ground. "I've told you before, when I want to be in Natasha's bed I'll be there. I came after you, now will you just--"
"No," Steve said, low and final, stopping Bucky short. "No, I will not just."
Steve stalked forward, step by slow step, and Bucky registered that Steve was still in uniform--the slightly toned-down training version, because he'd come straight from working with Wanda to Bucky, stayed all night in Natasha's bed. Now he was fully armored in Captain America as he bore down inexorably on Bucky, backing him up against the door.
"I will not," Steve said. "Just anything. So you should go, Bucky, because I know this is one of those parts of you that is off limits to me, and I hate it."
Bucky stared at him, more baffled than intimidated. "I don't know what you're remembering about last night, pal, but there weren't any limits--"
Steve lunged into him, kissing Bucky roughly as he ground his hips into Bucky's, holding him against the door with the weight of his body. Bucky let him, for a couple of beats, hungry for the feel of Steve's body on his, the closeness he'd been missing for days. As soon as Bucky pushed back, though, Steve shifted, breaking the kiss and getting one hand on Bucky's chest.
He pressed the heel of his hand into Bucky's pec, shield callus slick and hard against Bucky's nipple, still sensitive from a long night's use. He was still pressed against Bucky from the waist down, his cock rubbing against Bucky through his clothes, and Bucky was seized with a dizzy sensation of things colliding all wrong.
He squirmed, making a protesting noise. Steve jerked away from him at once, falling back a couple of steps.
He looked less angry now, but not sorry.
He looked defeated, and the sight of that foreign emotion on Steve's face made Bucky feel sicker than any of it.
"I know," Steve said quietly. "I know. That's why--because you have what you have with Natasha, and you have what you have with me, and they're not the same to you. You slice things up like that, you always did. This piece for your family, this piece for your friends at work, this for the guys at the club. One piece for me, and I'm only allowed across the lines where you say I am. I always wanted more, I always wanted all of you at once, but you never..."
"Stevie," Bucky said helplessly.
He remembered--thought he remembered, though he should know better than to trust that--all the spaces between them, pushed apart by Steve's pride and his own need to be ready for the time when Steve wouldn't be his anymore. Hadn't that been the way it was? Hadn't he turned away because he had to? He had to have something else in his life that wasn't Steve--a lot of something else, to fill the space that little body took up. He had to have somewhere to go. Some bolthole, some backup plan. And Steve always wanted breathing room, always--
"You said I wasn't your Ma enough times," Bucky blurted.
Steve's eyebrows went up and he gave an incredulous unhappy laugh. "This wouldn't have been my reaction to sharing a bed with my Ma, Bucky. But that's what I'm telling you. You're all the same to me, not James here and the soldier there, not--whatever you were when Natasha was six years old. I know it's not sex for you and her, but--hell, seeing you handle a rifle makes me want to suck your dick. I can't have my mouth on you and not want everything else too. I always wanted more than you--"
It was Bucky's turn to lunge, cutting Steve off with a kiss that was mostly a clash of teeth.
"You couldn't," Bucky snarled. "You couldn't ever want more than I wanted. I just knew wanting didn't matter. I couldn't have you, not forever."
"We're here now, Bucky." Steve's hands were on his ass, pressing Bucky in. He felt a giddy rush like falling, but what did it matter if he did? He would follow Steve anywhere. "How much more forever do you need? You've got me now, and it's your own goddamn fault if--"
Bucky kissed him harder this time, felt the heat of blood between their mouths as somebody's lip split under the force. Steve growled and pushed, and Bucky pushed back.
"Not up against the fucking door, Steve--"
"I held still for you for six fucking hours, I can't--"
Bucky shoved harder, moving Steve a few more steps toward the bedroom, and Steve gave in and took the initiative, hauling Bucky with him as he covered the distance to the bedroom in long, fast strides. Bucky recognized the angle of Steve's grip on his arm and the target of his momentum as soon as they were through the door, and he let it happen: Steve swung him around and threw him down on the bed.
Steve immediately followed up with a tackle, like he might have to hold Bucky down, but Steve's weight on him was as much what Bucky wanted now as it had been an hour ago. When he put his hands up it was only to grab at the fastenings of Steve's uniform, not so much in the hope that he'd get them undone but to remind Steve that he should.
Steve clamped his knees tight around Bucky's hips, but straightened up and peeled out of the top half of his uniform and the shirt underneath. Bucky did his own part, getting his jeans open and shoved down as far as Steve's grip allowed. When Steve gave in to necessity and stood up to finish undressing, Bucky sat up and got out of his boots. God, that felt good. He hadn't realized until he'd unlaced them how long he'd had his boots on. He shoved his pants and socks off in a heap, falling back naked a half second before Steve was on him again, his hands going for Bucky's chest as he rubbed his hard cock against Bucky's hip.
Bucky didn't bother holding back the reflex to push him away, rebelling against the right-wrong uncanniness of it. Steve held on with one leg wrapped around Bucky's, so Bucky only managed to roll them over, pinning Steve's wrists and kissing him roughly. Steve arched up against him, his cock sliding along Bucky's. Bucky was half-hard, his whole body hungry for the press of Steve's skin against his--and his nipples were throbbing, his chest feeling heavy and sensitive, not empty after all despite being nursed from all night. Bucky shivered at the contrast of sensations, and that dizzy falling sensation hit him again.
Steve surged up under him and flipped him, pinning him to the bed. This time Steve straddled him, planting his weight on Bucky's thighs. He curled down over Bucky, and Bucky writhed in anticipation, letting out a groan even before Steve's mouth closed on his chest. Steve sucked hard, drawing a fresh surge of milk from him, and in the beat while Steve was swallowing, Steve's hand closed on Bucky's cock.
Bucky sobbed out loud as he arched up into Steve's mouth and Steve's hand. Steve kept both coordinated, nursing from him in the same rhythm he stroked Bucky's cock. Bucky couldn't ignore the way it felt good, the pleasure of feeding Steve, the electric feeling of Steve's tongue pressed against his nipple and the grip of his mouth, tighter than the grip of his hand. It was too much, strange and out of place, and his body couldn't guide him through this.
But that was what he had Steve for.
Steve switched sides, planting his mouth on Bucky's left side and nursing there, drinking what Natasha hadn't taken in the night. Bucky's cock was straining, and Steve tilted his hips down, rubbing his against Bucky's thigh, taking friction where he could find it.
Bucky wanted more.
"Steve, Stevie," Bucky grabbed Steve by the hair and tugged.
Steve looked down at Bucky with his mouth hanging open, a trickle of milk running from the corner of his mouth.
"Fuck me," Bucky demanded, pushing up into Steve's grip.
Steve shook his head and gave Bucky's cock another squeeze with one hand, kneading at his chest with the other. "Other way. Just like this."
Bucky groaned and shoved at Steve's hand, but Steve kept it planted on his chest. He let go of Bucky's cock to reach for the lube in the nightstand drawer, and Bucky managed to grab it from him once brought it in range. Steve acted like he meant for Bucky to do that part, scooting up Bucky's body and splaying his knees out wide.
This much Bucky could let his body do on automatic. Steve didn't distract him while Bucky was getting his fingers slick and pressing them into Steve, opening him up. Neither of them had the patience to do more than get him wet; Steve's teeth scraped his throat and Bucky was already pulling his fingers free. He slicked up his own cock and lined it up, pressing against Steve's ass, and Steve sank down in a hot, tight rush.
Bucky's breath went out of him at the sensation of being inside him. It was always familiar but it never got less intense. Steve kept still for a few breaths, kissing Bucky's throat and rocking his hips with Bucky's cock buried inside him.
Bucky closed his eyes, because he knew something else was coming; he knew Steve wasn't going to let this be simple, or only one thing. Steve wanted more than that, and Bucky, God help him, wanted to give Steve everything he could take. His hands closed into fists on the bedsheets as Steve's weight shifted on top of him, and then Steve's mouth was on his chest again, latching on firmly. Bucky shuddered at the dissonance, the sweetness of Steve's mouth and the clutch of Steve's ass.
Steve sucked and swallowed, and Bucky's hips bucked up at the shattering pleasure of it, all of it. All of Stevie, and all of him. Bucky's left hand was on Steve's ass, his right on the nape of Steve's neck, holding him close everywhere. Steve rocked back and forth over him, working his cock, pulling hard on his nipple, taking everything at once.
Bucky rolled them over again, landing close to the edge of the bed but not off it. He braced on his left arm, keeping his right hand on the back of Steve's neck to press him close while Bucky fucked him hard and fast. Steve sucked harder in response, brutally strong and in the same rhythm of Bucky's thrusts. He kneaded at Bucky's chest on the other side, spilling what milk he had left over Steve's fingers.
Bucky growled and shoved at Steve's neck, pushing him to latch on the other side as he fucked him in short, hard strokes. "You want it? You want me? Don't fucking waste it."
Steve bit down hard, making Bucky tighten his grip, but then he latched and sucked again. Bucky's hand gentled to a cradling hold by sheer reflex.
Bucky shifted his knees, correcting the angle of his hips until it felt right for what he wanted. He fucked Steve in the rhythm that would make him come. Steve moaned against his chest, the rhythm of his suckling broken, and Bucky felt the brush of his hand as he reached for his own cock.
"No you don't, babydoll." Bucky's voice came out breathy and hollow. He didn't have anything more to spare for talking. "Let me give you this. Let me."
Steve groaned but let his hand fall, sucking fitfully as Bucky kept fucking him just right. Bucky felt Steve's body stringing tighter with pleasure, until Steve was too busy letting out helpless little cries to nurse. He still kept his mouth pressed to Bucky's chest, muffling the sounds until Steve let his head fall back, gasping almost silently. Bucky knew what that meant, snapping his hips in hard to fuck Steve over the edge.
Steve gave a low cut-off moan of defeat as he came. Bucky felt the splash of Steve's come against his belly as Steve's ass tightened rhythmically on his cock.
"Come on," Steve demanded, sounding breathless and drunk, before he'd even finished coming. "Bucky, come on, come on, give it to me--"
His mouth found Bucky's chest again, teeth scraping up Bucky's chest to his abused nipple. His tongue touched lightly, teasing or just lapping up what had spilled. Bucky groaned and tucked his face down against Steve's hair as he buried himself deep one more time and came, the weird goodness of it finally dissolved in pure brain-blanking pleasure.
Bucky held himself up over Steve, panting, until Steve gave him a gentle push. He settled on his side then, face to face with Steve, one leg still hooked over Steve's to keep him close. The sun was properly up now; Steve's eyes were very blue in the early golden light, and his wet lips were very pink.
Bucky kissed him, and when he licked into Steve's mouth he tasted milk, warm and sweet on Steve's tongue. He twitched sleepily, and Steve pulled back, breath huffing out in a lazy laugh.
"C'mon, Buck, it tastes better than jizz, and you kiss me when I've got that in my mouth."
"It's weird," Bucky muttered, not very convincingly because he was already half asleep.
"Hey," Steve said, sounding serious.
Bucky opened his eyes.
"Do you--should you go back to Natasha? I really didn't mean to take you away from her when she needs you."
Bucky gave Steve's earnest face the skeptical look it deserved. "Should I go back to Natasha now that you've got me all naked and fucked out and covered in jizz and fresh out of milk for her?"
Steve looked slightly ashamed of himself, but he hooked his ankle over Bucky's at the same time. Bucky snorted and shook his head.
"She'll be all right for a few hours, I'll go feed her up again at lunchtime."
He'd barely finished speaking before Steve was sliding over, squishing him into the mattress. "You're mine for now, then."
Bucky hid his smile against Steve's hair. "Yeah, Stevie. I'm all yours."
Steve barely let him out of arm's reach for the rest of the day, although he kept his hands--and his mouth--to himself. He blushed when Bucky caught him staring at his chest, but he didn't stop looking.
He didn't say anything about it, so Bucky didn't either. He certainly wasn't going to complain. It was weird, staying so quietly and easily near each other--neither of them pushing, neither of them starting anything, even if the potential for it was there all the time. He could just lean on Steve, watching Star Trek on his tablet while Steve sketched, and know that he was exactly where he wanted to be, and Steve was exactly where he wanted to be, and neither of them was going anywhere.
Bucky didn't know how to do this--not his body, not his mind. He and Steve had never been quite like this before, broken open to each other without pulling apart to lick their wounds. But Bucky didn't need memory or instinct to guide him through this; he had Steve, and Steve had him. They could figure it out.
It was barely past noon when his chest felt full enough to ache, and Bucky texted Natasha to see if she was awake. Hungry?
Starving :( Natasha texted back, and Bucky snorted. She'd never stoop to using a frowny face if she were actually bothered about it, so she was feeling well enough to tease.
Bucky peeled himself away from Steve, stood up and stretched. "Lunchtime."
Steve stayed where he was, giving Bucky an uncertain look.
Bucky looked back at him, waiting for him to ask, or just stand up, but Steve stayed there, saying nothing.
"You shared last night," Bucky said finally. "You can share today, too. As long as you can be decent enough not to scandalize Natasha while you do."
Steve blushed the brightest he had all day, but he was on his feet before Bucky finished speaking. He leaned in and gave Bucky a kiss, soft and chaste and perfectly appropriate for company. Bucky leaned into him a little, already anticipating the pleasure of a half hour with Nat cuddled up against his left side and Steve on his right, feeding them both.
"I'll be good," Steve promised softly when Bucky pulled back from the kiss.
Bucky narrowed his eyes, not at all reassured. "I realize not scandalizing Natasha is usually a pretty low standard, but--"
Steve glared back and darted a hand toward his chest; Bucky slapped it down with his left hand, making Steve shake out his fingers. "I mean it, Buck. I will."
"As long as you promise," Bucky said, his sternness half joking and half serious.
Steve held up both hands in surrender. "I promise. Good as gold, Cap's honor."
Bucky rolled his eyes and turned on his heel. Steve fell in beside him.
"Were you..." Steve started, as they stepped out into the corridor. Bucky looked over at him, silently prodding. "This is--this is from when you knew Natasha when she was little. The Red Room. That's where this started?"
Bucky faced front and nodded, making for the stairs.
"And it stopped, after that. This wasn't happening all the time. It started again when you came here. When you joined up."
Bucky nodded. "First time, Red Room, it was a side effect of the stuff they were using to keep me cooperative, but the hormones are naturally occurring, and I guess my body just... thought somebody needed feeding."
"Oh," Steve said. He sounded faintly apologetic. "Wanda."
Bucky glanced over at him, and realized that Steve hadn't taken her away on purpose the day before, and that he felt bad about it. Bucky tilted his head, silently deflecting an actual apology. "Yeah. I didn't remember at first, so I didn't even know what it was about, why I was paying so much attention to her. I just wanted--"
Bucky touched the pad to open Natasha's door, and the words dried up on his tongue.
Natasha was sitting on the couch, curled up toward the right side. But the couch was already full: Wanda was sitting in the middle spot, curled up a lot like Natasha, and Sam was sitting on the other end. He was moving as Bucky's eye fell on him, straightening up from what must have been a comfortable sprawl.
Sam and Wanda were both staring at him--at his face, fixedly, like they were trying desperately not to look anywhere else. Bucky turned his gaze to Natasha, who looked amused and not at all sorry.
At his shoulder, Steve drew the same conclusion Bucky was drawing, and said in a very Captain America is disappointed in you tone, "Natasha."
"Well, once you knew, there was no point keeping it from anyone else on the team," Natasha said easily. She sounded like herself, and the lights in the apartment were barely dimmed, but she still looked tired and paler than she should be, and she was still holding her splinted wrist close to her chest. She needed him, needed to be strengthened so that she could heal. "Anyway, I didn't say a word, I just let Wanda take a peek."
Wanda was watching Bucky in undisguised fascination; it made her look even younger, and Bucky's chest ached with longing to feed her. She knew what Natasha knew--not just bare facts, but Natasha's memories of it. She would know the way it felt, the reasons for it.
Wanda looked away first, saying, "Natasha said that way I would not misunderstand. And then--we did not want Sam to misunderstand, either. So I showed him."
Bucky's gaze jerked over to Sam, who was also looking fascinated, though with an edge to it that reminded Bucky of the way Steve and Sam fell into flirtation sometimes, like they didn't know any other way to talk to each other. Bucky swallowed hard.
Sam's expression shifted to the same neutral friendliness he'd shown Bucky all the time when they were first getting to know each other. "We just hung around so we could let you know we know. We weren't trying to intrude."
But Natasha could have told him they knew, or warned him that they were there. She had wanted him to come in and see all three of them on the couch waiting for him. Bucky glanced over at Steve, but Steve kept his gaze on Sam and Wanda and didn't look back. Steve wasn't tapping out.
"Or you could stay," Bucky said. "If you want--"
Sam and Wanda got startlingly identical deer-in-the-headlights looks on their faces, and Bucky couldn't hold back a short burst of a laugh. Natasha was grinning, and he felt Steve's posture ease beside him, Steve's shoulder bumping gently against his. Sam and Wanda both eased up, relaxing again.
"You don't have to do anything," Bucky assured them, because just the possibility was almost enough, just the fact that they knew and could laugh about it. "These two might arm-wrestle you for their spots if you tried, anyway."
Sam snorted, glancing at Steve and then meeting Wanda's eyes conspiratorially. "I don't like our odds."
Wanda shook her head. "Anyway, clearly there is some skill involved--at first Steve didn't--"
"Nat," Steve said, in a slightly strangled voice hiding genuine embarrassment. "You had to show them that?"
"I didn't want them to be intimidated, брат." Natasha said primly. "Speaking of which, if you two want to try it the easy way first--there's milk in the fridge, you can just put some in a glass, see how you like the taste."
Natasha gave Wanda an unsubtle nudge with one foot and Wanda shoved Sam with both hands. In another second they were both up off the couch and headed for the kitchen. Bucky took his chance to go where he was supposed to be, sitting down in the middle of the couch. Steve sat down next to him, knees aggressively splayed out like there was any danger of Sam or Wanda trying to squeeze in beside him when they came back.
Bucky put his left arm around Nat, tugging her in for a hug that also let him check the line of the bullet-track through her hair. It looked better this morning; the skin was knitting under the sprayed-on bandage, showing no signs of bleeding or infection.
"Sam already checked that," Natasha muttered, ducking her head to nuzzle against his chest. His milk let down, dampening the front of his shirt, and Steve leaned closer on his other side. "With Wanda to make sure I wasn't lying about any of my symptoms."
"Well now I've checked too," Bucky said, rubbing his fingers gently through her hair. "Steve, you wanna check?"
"I can see it from here. Looks good, Natasha."
"Thanks," Natasha said dryly, and she pulled back enough to look up at Bucky.
Bucky took a breath, hesitating. He could hear Sam and Wanda in the kitchen, sorting out what they wanted; they would be occupied for another few minutes.
Bucky elbowed Steve away so he could pull his shirt off. Natasha and Steve both curled in before he even lowered his arms, latching on without hesitation, and Bucky's breath caught at the double sensation. His milk rushed out for them and his arms curled around them, holding them close as they squirmed through the first few sucks, finding comfortable positions. They settled with their heads and shoulders leaning together, bracing each other across his chest as they each curled close against his side.
Bucky let his head fall back against the couch as they settled into a matched rhythm. Their mouths worked on him in perfect concert, and the little sounds of them nursing were loud in the quiet of the apartment. Natasha's right hand, tucked against his side, traced out Mamochka while Steve's, opposite, traced out Bucky. He was both at the same time, after all.
He turned his head to look toward the kitchen, now silent. Sam and Wanda were standing in the doorway. Wanda was holding a mug and Sam had a glass of milk with a straw in it. Bucky felt warmed all over again, knowing he was feeding them too.
He took his hand off Steve long enough to beckon to them, and they came in quietly. Wanda went around to Natasha's side of the couch, tucking into the corner space Natasha had left. When Bucky shifted his left arm from holding Natasha, he could just touch her shoulder, and he tugged gently, encouraging her to lean on Natasha. Sam sat down on the floor in front of Steve. He leaned his shoulder against Bucky's knee and curled his left hand around Bucky's ankle; after a moment Steve shifted his leg in to rest against Sam's other shoulder, keeping him close.
Bucky let his eyes close, listening to the sounds of them drinking--Steve and Natasha nursing, drawing his milk out in steady pulls, while Wanda and Sam sipped tentatively, leaning closer as they relaxed. Their weight and their trust settled over him, a tangible abundance.
He let his thoughts drift in the warm haze, and he found himself thinking, We need a bigger couch. If Wanda could make Sam understand, she could show it to Vision and Rhodes, and Bucky could have the whole team gathered in. What he had already, with Steve and Natasha in his arms, Wanda and Sam tucked in close, was more than he could ask for.
Still, in this warm place, Bucky dared to want more. It was his turn to be greedy.