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Grab Your Things (I've Come to Take You Home)

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“Fuck,” Barton hears over his comms. It’s the first thing he’s heard in several minutes that isn’t Tony’s constant chatter, which he mostly just tunes out. Pretty much everyone just tunes Tony out, in his experience. It’s easiest on everyone’s blood pressure if they let Tony chatter, and if they also ignore him.

Usually they keep the comms mostly to the business at hand. Cap keeps them moving where they're needed, keeps them updated with current sitreps--Barton assumes that it's the Ghost being his eyes up high, speaking only to Steve as per usual, because it’s certainly not Clint doing it, but he's never thought enough about it to ask. Tony never shuts up, but it does at least make it easy to tell when something's going wrong on his end. Hulk doesn't wear comms but then, he's the Hulk and he apparently doesn't like the way they feel in his ears. He has good eyesight though, and checks in, in his own way. Thor is... Well, he's Thor, yanno? Barton doesn't even know if he wears a comm but he always seems to know what's going on anyway. Fucking gods and their omniscience.

Wanda's off with Strange still, learning to harness her magic. Who knows when she'll be back. And Vision is... as far as Clint was able to tell, Vision is on a vision quest or some shit.

It’s Sam who's speaking now, and Clint can hear the wind behind Sam, keeping him aloft; he'll have to mention the noise to Tony sometime, it makes it hard for Clint to decipher what Sam's saying. He's getting it now though, and it's no bueno.

“Cap’s down,” Sam reports, and there’s a collective silence that screams shit from everyone, even Tony. “Got hit with some weird sparkly purple shit.”

Clint looks for where he last saw Cap, and doesn’t see him. He keeps his eyes peeled. He doesn’t usually keep a close eye on Cap, because he doesn't really need to, because the Ghost does it for him, and he does a far better job at watching Steve’s six than anyone could ask for. It’s part of the reason why they let him on the team, because he kept getting in the way keeping an eye on Steve’s six anyway so why not make him official?

“Aw, Cap, no,” he mutters, under his breath.

“You got eyes on?” Natasha barks. She’s all business, but Clint can hear the worry underneath. She and Cap have gotten really close since all that bullshit in DC. "Does anyone have him? Hawkeye?”

“Negative,” Barton replies. "I got a general area and that's it."

Soldat?”

There’s no answer.

She’s the only one who calls him that. The only one he allows to address him with that term. The Winter Soldier and Natasha seem to have something of an understanding between them. Most of the rest of them avoid talking to him at all; he’s kind of a scary motherfucker. Only Steve seems immune to it, oblivious to it. He always smiles when the Winter Soldier enters the room. Steve calls him Bucky, and smiles at him like sunshine.

“I can go,” Clint speaks up, into the silence.

“We’re kinda busy down here,” Natasha replies. And they are, her and Sam and Tony. (Thor is off-world at the moment, and Bruce hadn’t thought he’d be needed, so neither of them are there.) They’re mopping up the last knot of bad guy idiots, and they’re all doing fine, they don’t need Clint, so it’s safe for him to go after Steve and the Ghost.

He heads down off his rooftop, in the general direction where he’d last seen Cap. He knows he’s close when he starts finding the bodies, neat head shots in all of them, and he draws an arrow, just in case.

It takes him a minute to decipher what he’s seeing, when he goes down the alley. Maybe it’s because of the gun pointed at his face. The very large, very automatic gun pointed at his face. The Ghost had not had that gun visibly on him on the quinjet what the fuck dude where do you keep all this shit?

What he’s seeing is this: Cap’s on the ground, stretched out, in the Ghost’s lap. His head is thrown back on the Ghost’s shoulder, and the Ghost has his hand on Steve’s throat, his knees on either side of Cap in what Clint would call a protective stance, if it weren’t for the hand at his throat.

Clint makes an abortive step forward at that, but the gun never wavers from its aim directly at his face, and he stops again, because he likes his face with no additional holes. The Ghost isn’t even looking at him. He has his eyes on the man leaning against him, and he’s talking to him, low and urgent, but somehow calm and reassuring all the same.

Barton stands perfectly still, and between his hearing aids and his lip reading he starts getting what the Ghost is saying to Cap. He’s talking to him, soothing him, reminding him to breathe, jesus he keeps calling him sunshine in Russian for fuck’s sake and this is when Clint starts to realize that according to the Winter Soldier, he’s the threat here. He’s the one intruding, and he has no idea what’s going on.

Cap’s hands are clenched on top of the Winter Soldier’s thighs, and he’s gasping for breath, his chest heaving, and heaving, and heaving and it dawns on Clint that this is utterly impossible and Cap is definitely having an asthma attack. And the Winter Soldier--Bucky fucking Barnes--is talking him through it because Cap doesn’t have asthma attacks but Steve Rogers used to, and his pal Bucky would definitely know how to handle them. The hand on his throat is gentle, keeping his head back, his airway clear; Cap’s helmet is on the ground forgotten not because it’d been torn off him in duel to the death with one’s best buddy battle but because Barnes had taken it off him in order to get him more air. Cap is in his lap because that way he can feel his friend at his back, taking deep breaths, and hear him murmuring reassurance in his ear. This is comfort. This is help. This is probably familiar to both of them.

This is the point at which the gun finally drops, but Clint knows that doesn’t for a minute mean that Barnes isn’t keeping an eye on him, even though he isn’t looking at Clint at all, even though he’s still urging the man in his arms, in his lap for fuck’s sake to keep breathing, to match his breaths to mine, c’mon Stevie, c’mon solnishka you can do it, just keep breathing with me, I’ve got you.

Finally, finally, after agonizing minutes of Clint standing there watching helpless, Steve takes what seems to be a solid breath, and Barnes moves, shifts Steve’s weight against him and murmurs, “Good, that’s good, keep going Stevie,” in Cap’s ear before he looks up at Clint.

“Evac,” he growls, “now.”

Clint nods and doesn’t ask where Barnes’s comms are. Or Steve’s, for that matter.

Steve’s fists aren’t clenched against Barnes’s thighs anymore; he’s holding on now, holding Barnes’s knees against him, against his ribs as he takes another labored breath and seriously what the fuck is going on here Cap doesn’t even have asthma why is he having an asthma attack but Clint turns away and tunes back in to the chatter in his ears.

“Cap’s down, we need an evac on my position,” he reports. “Barnes is here with him, uh, I think he’s gonna go with.”

He glances at Barnes, and the Ghost nods once in response.

“Cap all right?” Sam asks, sounding winded and worried.

“He’s alive, but that purple shit did a number on him.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah.”

----

He blinks slowly, easing back into consciousness with the dim awareness that something isn’t quite right. He was asleep, and now he’s awake, and the room is dim, and there is beeping-- Oh. He’s in medical. A slight shift of his head confirms this; probably back in the Tower.

They’d been in New York. There’d been bad guys, so what else is new, and Bucky was there watching his back, Tony had been chattering away like normal, and things were almost all taken care of, and then they’d tried to shoot something at him, at Bucky where he was at Steve’s back, making rude comments in Steve’s ear, and Steve had--

“You awake?”

Steve turns his head the other way, and there’s Bucky, alive and safe and looking really, really angry in the dim light coming from outside the room. The door is ajar, and sound is muted, like his hearing has gone wonky or like maybe he’s lost some of his hearing on one side again.

“Hi,” Steve mumbles. He’s not sure it actually makes it out of his mouth as an actual word, but he’s also pretty sure Bucky understands him.

“You stupid son of a bitch,” Bucky says, biting off each word like he’s fighting to keep from shouting, voice low and vicious and he’s scared. He’s really scared. Why is he so scared, Steve’s fine. He’ll be fine. He’ll be out of here in no time at all.

Steve slides his arm towards Bucky, and Bucky glares at it for a moment before taking his hand, squeezing so hard that Steve can feel his bones grind together. It hurts, but it’s a good hurt. It’s a grounding hurt. It tells him he’s alive, he’s really here. It distracts him from the other aches. His ribs shouldn’t be protesting every breath, should they? His lungs shouldn’t be protesting either.

“You don’t ever, ever do something stupid like that again, do you hear me?” Bucky continues, drawing Steve’s attention back to him, away from his aches and pains.

“Were gonna hurt you,” Steve mumbles. His voice still isn’t quite working, and it kinda hurts to breathe. Actually, everything kind of hurts, and he doesn’t remember that happening in a really long time. His lungs don’t feel like they’re filling up properly, and his heart is pounding, pounding, pounding, aching in his chest.

“I’ll survive,” Bucky retorts. “God, Stevie--” And he gets up, pacing away from Steve’s bedside, running his hands through his hair. It’s not pulled back anymore, and it’s greasy, obviously dirty. Steve blinks at him a couple times, and sees that he’s still mostly in his tac gear. He’d come straight to medical with Steve and he hadn’t left since. There’s still grease smeared on his face. He must have been giving the doctors fits, dressed like the Winter Soldier and likely growling at them wordlessly as they got Steve settled.

Steve maybe makes a distressed sound, now that Bucky isn’t next to him anymore, isn’t holding his hand. “How long?”

Bucky looks back at him, sighs, and comes back, slumps into the chair next to him, takes his hand again. He runs his other hand, his metal hand, through his hair again, and tucks it messily behind his ears, and sighs again.

“You passed out in the jet; you’ve been down for several hours. They think that’s mostly down to exhaustion, though. Apparently you need more sleep all of a sudden.”

Steve makes a noise, questioning, and Bucky shrugs.

“They don’t know exactly what that stuff did to you, they’re running tests overnight and a few more in the morning.”

Steve reaches up with his free hand and starts to tug at the tube feeding air into his nose. It’s dry. It’s making his nose hurt.

“No, no, Stevie stop,” Bucky chides, standing and leaning over him to grab his wrist, gentle. “Leave it in, you need the oxygen right now.”

Steve tries to bat Bucky away, and it’s completely ineffectual. His arms don’t seem to really want to do what he wants them to do. He’s weak, all of his strength gone. That’s… probably not a good sign. He makes grumpy noises, though. Lots of grumpy noises, and Bucky leans back to smile down at him, just looking at him for a moment. Then he leans in and presses a brief kiss to Steve’s forehead, and sits back down, now that Steve’s not fighting him anymore.

Steve stares at him for a moment, feeling the blush creep up his neck and over his cheeks.

“Go back to sleep, Stevie,” Bucky says, soft again, the anger gone (at least for now. Steve doesn’t think for a moment that he’s not going to hear about it again later, when he’s better). He’s still smiling at Steve, a smile that Steve doesn’t think he’s seen in decades, and it makes him warm all over.

Steve complies.

----

When he wakes up again, it’s to the sound of voices in the hall. They’re low, muted, and he thinks that he should probably be able to hear them, he should probably be able to make out every word without straining, and that worries him a little. He can usually hear everything a little too well, but before. Before he had issues with his right ear, and he doesn’t want to think about that. His throat hurts when he breathes, and his chest feels tight. His heart's still pounding away, so that’s good at least.

Bucky is still next to him, on his left side when he turns his head, though they’re not holding hands anymore. Steve’s hand is around Bucky’s wrist, he can feel the slow steady thump of his pulse against his fingertips, and Bucky is glaring at the door, at the oncoming intrusion of doctors and nurses and probably eventually the entirety of the team, now that it’s morning and they’ve all been debriefed and had showers and sleep. Lucky assholes, getting to sleep in their own beds last night, without the beeping of a heart monitor in their ears.

“What are they saying?” Steve asks, and Bucky flicks a glance at him from the corners of his eyes before turning his attention back to the doctors outside.

“They’re talking about your chart,” he murmurs, after a few moments. “I think they just sent someone to find your old charts, from the SSR.”

Steve snorts. “Where the hell are they going to get those?”

Bucky turns his head to fully look at Steve, expression incredulous. “Um, the internet?”

Steve blinks. “Really?”

Bucky nods. “I think most of the old Rebirth stuff got declassified in the 80s, what was left of it, so it’s probably all been archived and uploaded at this point.”

“Jesus wept,” Steve mutters, and Buck smiles at him a little. Neither of them has the luxury of much privacy, when it comes to their past. It’s just that Steve’s is more of the embarrassing and sickly variety, what still exists of it, and Bucky’s is more of the terrifying and brainwashed variety, what hasn’t been reclassified in the interests of not getting him attacked on the street.

“They just sent the med student off to Google it,” Bucky adds. “I think they want to have something to compare to whatever your test results are.”

“Can’t they just ask?” And Steve’s voice sounds whiny even to his own ears.

“They wouldn’t be doctors if they treated you like an actual intelligent being, Stevie.”

Steve makes a face, and Bucky smiles at him sympathetically. A few moments later, still without the med student, the gaggle of doctors who are on duty this morning come into the room.

Medical in Avengers tower isn’t quite the same as a regular hospital, with the exception of all the paperwork and the way time drags.

The doctor who is apparently in charge glances at Bucky for a moment before looking at the floor, and then back at Bucky.

“Uh, Mr. Barnes,” he starts. “I’m sorry but we need to speak with Captain Rogers, so we’re going to have to ask you to excuse us for a few minutes.”

Bucky just blinks at him, his eyes narrowing just a bit. The doctor swallows.

As much as Steve would like to just let Bucky intimidate them into letting him stay (which is most likely what he’d done last night when they’d brought Steve in; the visiting hours here are basically non-existent because superheroes), he doesn’t have the patience to deal with this right now.

“Bucky can stay,” he says. His voice comes out a bit hoarse, and he hates the wheeze in the back of his throat.

The doctors all look at him as one, it’s almost eerie. “Captain Rogers--”

“He’s my next of kin,” Steve continues, cutting the doctor off. “He has medical power of attorney. He can stay.” He tries to put his Captain America voice on for the end of that. It sort of works.

The doctors all look at Steve, and then at Bucky, and then seem to collectively shrug and decide it’s not worth it to argue with Captain America that the Winter Soldier isn’t allowed to be included in his medical discussions. They’re next of kin, after all.

Steve refuses to look at Bucky, concentrating on the doctors as much as he’s able instead. They’re all highly qualified and very smart men and women, and they take turns talking to him about the things that are wrong with him now, and their many and varied theories on what the weapon he was hit with did to him, and basically what it all boils down to is that it deactivated the serum, and all of the shit that was wrong with him when he was a kid, before Dr. Erskine got a hold of him, has come roaring back and they’re really not sure how that happened or why he’s still in Captain America’s body or if the serum will return to full functionality.

Steve is pretty sure he’d already figured most of that out on his own, what with the asthma attack and the way he feels. He doesn’t really need the doctors to tell him that.

“Can I go home?” he asks, instead. Home is only a few floors away, but it feels like the other side of the moon right now.

“Ah, we’d like to keep you for one more night,” the lead doctor responds, and he doesn’t sound nearly sorry enough about that for Steve’s liking. “There are a few more tests we’d like to run, and we need to get you the medications you’ll need.”

Steve nods, and after that he pretty much tunes them all out and finally they leave. All that’s left in his head is the litany of ailments he remembers so well, like it was yesterday, like he still carries each of them with him: asthma, scoliosis (not this time, they don’t say anything about it but he can feel his back aching like it’s trying to curve, trying to break him down), the heart murmur, that extra lub in the lub dub of its beat, the way his hearing hasn’t been right on the one side since that one especially nasty ear infection when he was twelve, and he didn’t bring that up to them, it’s never been on one of his charts, but he knows that Bucky knows about it because of where he’s sitting and the way he pitches his voice, low but meant to carry, looking directly at him so Steve can watch him speak and get what he isn’t hearing that way, all those childhood illnesses and their toll on his body, writ large across his mind, over and over and over again.

And Bucky. Bucky is sitting next to him with his wrist in Steve’s grasp, and he looks almost as broken up as Steve feels. Except no one can see that but Steve. None of the doctors had spared him more than a glance, all they had seen was the Winter Soldier, the silent assassin. They hadn’t seen the worry in Bucky’s eyes, they couldn’t see it, not the way Steve can, can’t see the worry or the anxiety or the fear, and it makes Steve’s heart hurt, knowing that Bucky’s here for him even though he’d rather be anywhere else, he can feel the tension in his arm, see it in his shoulders; no one else sees that in Bucky. He hates it.

“You don’t have to stay,” Steve says, his voice coming out shredded, and he’s going to need that goddamn inhaler sooner rather than later. “I know you hate hospitals.”

“Probably not as much as you do,” Bucky mutters. “‘M’not goin’ anywhere, Stevie, so you can shut the fuck up about it.”

Steve tries not to blush, tries not to feel as relieved as he does at that, tries not to let his fingers tighten around Bucky’s wrist, a silent thank you, silent relief. “You can run upstairs at least, and shower, if you want. Grab some food. Honestly, you kind of stink.”

Bucky gives him a look, but he nods. After a few more minutes, he looks down at his wrist in Steve’s grasp, and Steve forces his fingers to let go. It takes more effort than it should, and it leaves him feeling-- Naked. Stripped bare. Alone.

Bucky stands slowly, and looks at him. Steve can see him waver, so he forces himself to smile, although it hurts his face and he’s pretty sure it looks just as painful.

“Go, Buck. I’ll be okay.”

Bucky nods, and turns a little. “What should I bring you?” he asks, soft, looking back at Steve so Steve can hear him.

Steve shrugs. “Pajamas, maybe? A sweater. My tablet. Socks, definitely, my feet are freezing.”

“You want your sketchbook?”

Steve shakes his head immediately. “No. Not here. It’s too--” He doesn’t finish the sentence, but Bucky nods like he understands anyway, and he goes. He doesn’t look back. He walks away, steps deliberate, deliberately slow and steady, casual, but Steve knows he’s desperate to be away, to be out, to be elsewhere, and he tries not to let it hurt because he knows that Bucky isn’t desperate to be away from him, just to be away from the medical floor, but it still hurts.

He turns his head away and doesn’t watch Bucky go.

----

By the time Bucky gets back, over an hour later, Sam is in the chair next to Steve’s bed, feet propped up next to Steve’ hip, taunting him with coffee and donuts that Steve apparently isn’t allowed to eat. Natasha is sitting at the end of the bed with her knees drawn up to her chest, smiling at the both of them. Clint is perched on the windowsill, somehow. He looks like he’s about to fall over. Tony is pacing back and forth espousing on whatever it is going through his head: Steve’s tuned him out already. Everyone has, by the looks of it.

Bucky stops in the door with his arms full of clothes and Steve’s tablet and glares at all and sundry. Steve grins at him, and he stalks across the room, still glaring, and deposits his bundle next to the hip that doesn’t have Sam’s feet next to it.

“Get your feet off the bed were you raised by wolves?” Bucky mutters, and Sam drops his feet to the floor hastily, eyes wide with surprise.

Bucky has maybe never really spoken aloud to anyone on the team except for Steve and Natasha. Steve looks between them, at the shock on Sam’s face and the glare on Bucky’s, like he hadn’t meant to speak. Maybe he hadn’t. When he looks away from the silent staring/glaring contest, Natasha is looking right at him. She smiles at him, a secret little smile, like she knows something he doesn’t.

She probably does. She usually does.

“Buck,” Steve says, gentle, reaching for Bucky’s wrist again.

Bucky looks at him, but he steps away so he’s out of Steve’s reach. Apparently that’s not okay right now, touching. He’s wearing a hoodie and a red t-shirt, one he’d left behind when he’d moved out of the Tower; Steve had never told him about it, and sometimes wears it around his apartment. He only does it when Bucky’s not there. It has a bear on it. It says “don’t feed the hipsters”. He’s wearing a pair of sweats that Steve is pretty sure are his own; they sit low on Bucky’s hips, like they’re too big, and Steve glimpses a sliver of bare skin when Bucky turns and stalks to the corner of the room, where he can see everyone and the exits, and glares at all of them. He doesn’t look like the feared master assassin in sweats and a t-shirt, with his hair clean and pulled back into a tail. His eyes are clear and blue and his mouth is twisted into a frown and he’s glaring but he looks-- normal. None of them are used to that, used to Bucky looking like anything other than the Winter Soldier.

Not even Stark is talking anymore, and one by one, people start leaving, making their excuses. Tony is first, with a casual good-bye and an even more casual quip about Steve being okay that Steve takes to heart because he knows that Tony actually means it, and actually means it when he says he’s going to work the problem of how to get Steve back to fighting shape, as soon as he gets Bruce into the lab.

Steve doesn’t like it at all though. He can feel their sympathy, their worry, their knowledge that he’s different now, even though he’s not, he’s still Steve, even without Captain America’s strength. This is probably more him than Captain America ever will be.

When he looks across the room, Bucky is watching him, and Steve can’t bear the look in his eyes, that Bucky knows what he’s feeling, how much he hates being treated like this. He looks away quickly.

Sam gives him a hug when he leaves, ignoring Bucky’s low warning growl and promising to bring him soup when he gets sprung from the hospital. (Sam makes really amazing soup, actually. And it’s fall now, Sam’s self-described ‘soup season’.)

Clint wanders off with a vague wave. He keeps throwing glances at Bucky that Steve is unable to interpret. Bucky glares extra hard at Clint, but Clint seems more immune to it than he has been in the past.

Natasha is last to leave, uncurling herself and slipping off the bed, kissing Steve on the cheek with that same small smile on her face. She looks briefly at Bucky and says something to him in Russian; it sounds like she’s teasing him, and she laughs when he growls at her, leaving without another word. Natasha is the only other person besides Steve that Bucky speaks to regularly, as far as Steve knows. Their conversations are mostly in Russian though, so Steve only has a general idea what they talk about; his Russian isn’t that great yet. He hasn’t had much time to devote to it lately.

Bucky stalks around the room for a few minutes once they’re all gone, like he’s checking for bugs, or explosives. Steve watches as his hackles slowly settle, until his shoulders relax down from their position at his ears, and Steve feels himself relaxing along with Bucky. He loves his teammates, but he has always hated being treated like he’s weak, like he’s sickly, and he doesn’t know how to explain that to them.

“What did Natasha say to you?” Steve asks, as Bucky is helping him get out of bed and put on the clothes Bucky had brought him. God, they hadn’t even left him his underwear, what the hell? But Bucky is perfunctory about it, and Steve wonders if he remembers that he used to have to do this, help Steve get dressed sometimes, when things were bad for Steve but he had to get up anyway, had to get dressed and force himself through the day no matter how badly he felt. Bucky had rarely argued with him about it, even though it often made Steve feel worse, made him sicker, made breathing more difficult. But Steve had always been stupid and stubborn and bad at asking for or accepting help. He always made comments under his breath about it, and cuffed Steve about the head, dragging him into one armed hugs with a hand around his neck, or a arm slung around his shoulder, and he always pretended he didn’t notice the way it made Steve’s breath hitch, being man-handled that way. Pretended or just plain didn’t notice; Steve honestly doesn’t know which. He’d always felt like it was obvious, but maybe he was better at hiding than he thought.

Bucky pushes him gently back into the bed when he’s dressed and hands him his socks. He watches while Steve puts them on and leans back against the pillows, winded in a way he really shouldn’t be. He hates it. Bucky tugs the covers over Steve’s legs, and it doesn’t make Steve feel coddled, it just makes him feel cared for, and he blushes with it.

“She was teasing me about being overprotective of you,” Bucky says.

“Oh,” Steve replies. He wasn’t expecting such an honest answer. He was expecting Bucky to brush him off, to be honest.

“She called you my beloved,” Bucky adds.

Steve looks up at him. He can feel himself blushing, again, still, and Bucky smiles at him a bit, a quirk of his mouth, reminiscent of his old smirk. It tugs at something in Steve’s chest, something that has nothing to do with his shit lungs. Bucky pats his knee and goes around the bed to the chair, picking up Steve’s tablet as he goes.

“You got Netflix on this thing?” Bucky asks. Steve watches as he wakes it up and types in Steve’s passcode, 0310, without even asking about it, and flicks through his screens until he sees the Netflix icon, tapping it. Steve watches as he flicks through his queue, looking for something to watch. He turns onto his side so he can see the screen better, and that’s when Bucky looks at him, and looks at him for another moment, and then seems to come to a decision.

“Scoot over,” Bucky orders, standing up. He toes off the sneakers he’d put on instead of his combat boots, and when Steve scoots over he slips into bed beside him.

The hospital bed really isn’t meant to fit two super soldiers side by side, even if one of them isn’t really super at the moment. Steve turns back onto his side, and pillows his head on his arm, and lets his forehead come to rest on Bucky’s shoulder.

“What do you want to watch?” Bucky asks.

“I dunno, you pick,” Steve responds.

“Okay.” Bucky scrolls through his queue for a while, finally settling on Sleepy Hollow. He tilts the tablet a little at Steve, as though asking if that’s an okay choice.

“Have you seen this?” Steve asks.

“No, you?”

“No. I just added it because it’s fall and it’s a good halloween story.”

“Works for me.”

“Me too.”

They watch the movie quietly, and if Steve drifts in and out, pressing each time a little further into Bucky’s side, neither of them mentions it.

Later, the doctors come back. By that time, Bucky isn’t in the bed with him anymore, he’s back in the chair, and Steve is dozing, warm in his own clothes, watching Bucky read on his tablet when he blinks back into wakefulness every now and again, everything syrupy slow and quiet and almost content.

The doctors, of course, screw all of that up, with their inhalers and their medications and all of their instructions. Steve feels more like a science experiment than he has in a long time, and judging by the way he glares continuously, Steve’s pretty sure Bucky knows that. It’s reassuring, somehow, knowing that Bucky is annoyed on his behalf.

They want to monitor his sleep that night, and Steve doesn’t disagree with them, because he’s tired and he’s tired of listening; he doesn’t say no to them monitoring his sleep even though he’s spent more time asleep in the last couple of days than he thinks he has at any one time in the last several years. But they’re the doctors, so he agrees, he says yes, that’s okay, and they tape electrodes all over his chest and head. He’s not sure how he’s supposed to sleep like this, he doesn’t really feel tired anymore at all.

Bucky settles down in the chair next to him when they’re gone and Steve is fading back into sleep, despite not feeling tired. He’s not sure why he’s so tired, but he vaguely remembers feeling like this often, Before.

“You can go home if you want, Buck,” he mumbles, even as he’s reaching for Bucky’s arm. His fingers snag on the hoodie Bucky’s still wearing, and he tugs a little, holds a fold of it between his fingers. It’s reassuring.

“Thought we weren’t gonna talk bullshit about me leaving you alone in the hospital, Stevie,” Bucky replies. He glances over at Steve, and Steve blinks slowly at him. “I’m still not going anywhere.”

“M’kay,” Steve mumbles. Bucky looks back to whatever it is he’s been reading on Steve’s tablet. After a moment, Steve mumbles again. “Buck?”

“Yeah?”

“Wha’s ‘solnishka’ mean?”

Bucky looks at him, and Steve blinks again. He doesn’t want to fall asleep. Not yet. Even though he’s tired, and his eyes want to fall shut and stay that way.

“You were callin’ me that,” he adds, words slow and slurred, even to his own ears. “In the alley, you kept callin’ me solnishka. Wanna know wha’it means.”

Bucky twists in the chair and leans over so his head is close to Steve’s. He smiles at Steve, soft like Steve hasn’t seen in years. “It means sunshine,” he murmurs. “Go to sleep, solnishka.”

“‘Kay,” Steve mumbles, smiling back at Bucky as much as he can. “Don’ go anywhere.”

“I’m not.”

----

Steve is finally discharged the next morning, which of course means he doesn’t actually get to leave the hospital level of the Tower until almost two o’clock in the afternoon. By the time all of the doctors and nurses have told him all their instructions four times, he’s more than a little fed up with hearing the same thing, over and over again.

With very few exceptions, the instructions are all the things he’d heard over and over again for most of his life. Platitudes and reassurances and warnings against expending too much energy and getting too excited. It’s ridiculous, and Steve hates it, and it makes him so angry he can barely speak.

The wheelchair is the last straw.

“No,” he says.

The nurse looks up at him in surprise. “Captain Rogers--”

“I said no. I’m not being wheeled out of here like a fucking invalid. I can walk.” To prove his point, he levers himself out of bed, standing and glaring at her with his arms spread.

The nurse just sighs explosively at him and leaves, muttering something under her breath. Steve can’t make out the words like he normally would, but when she’s gone Bucky chuckles. Steve growls at him, glaring, and Bucky holds up placating hands.

“I’d forgotten what an asshole you are when you don’t feel good,” Bucky says.

Steve growls again, and Bucky just laughs at him. “C’mon Steve, let’s get you out of here.”

----

Clint is the first one to visit, once Steve’s back on his own floor, settled in on the couch. He’s in Bucky’s spot on the couch, where he usually sits when he’s knitting, wrapped up in Bucky’s blanket. If he drapes his hand over the arm of the sofa, he can feel the half finished afghan that Bucky’s been working on for months. It’s pretty; a lovely cornflower blue. It’s reassuring, knowing that Bucky had left that behind, left something behind so Steve would know he would be back, after he’d moved out.

And he had. Bucky had come back, he keeps coming back. And it is supremely reassuring, especially now, when he feels like death only vaguely warmed over.

Bucky is asleep at the other end of the sofa, stretched out with his feet pointed at Steve. He’s asleep until Jarvis speaks up.

“Captain, pardon my intrusion, but Agent Barton is requesting access to your floor. Shall I allow him up?”

Steve glances at Bucky, but even though he knows Bucky’s awake, Bucky isn’t opening his eyes or acknowledging Steve or Jarvis. No help there.

“Uh, sure, I guess,” Steve replies. Maybe he shouldn’t have, because Bucky was sleeping, but it’s too late now. He can guess just how little sleep Bucky’s gotten over the past couple of days. He wants to apologize, but there’s no time for that now.

Steve wants to do a lot of things. He wants to scream and hit things. He wants to throw things. He wants to rage. But he can’t. He doesn’t have the strength. He barely has the strength to do more than sit here staring at whatever the hell it is that Bucky put on the tv. Walking down the hall to the bathroom wears him out. Everything wears him out.

Was it always this bad? Or is it worse now because his bum heart has to pump blood through so much more body than it used to have to, when he was in this condition before? Either way, it’s awful and he hates it.

A moment later, Clint wanders in. He doesn’t greet Steve, he just wanders into the kitchen. A few minutes later, he wanders back out with a mug of what is probably coffee and a bowl of cereal. Steve didn’t even know he had cereal in his kitchen. Clint sits next to him on the couch and puts the coffee mug down on the table. He glances at the tv and then points.

“Hey, I love this show!” Clint says.

Steve doesn’t even know what show it is, just that it’s something on Animal Planet. Bucky had turned it on for background noise before he’d stretched out on the couch and turned away from it to take his nap. It had been an unconscious thing, like the way they used to have the radio on whenever they could, just a low white noise type thing. They both like that, that background noise that lets them know they’re in the present. Not asleep. Not frozen.

Clint is speaking again, but he’s on Steve’s bad side, so Steve can’t quite hear him. He’s mumbling around the coffee and cereal in his mouth. Seriously, how Barton can handle that combination is way beyond Steve’s comprehension. And he’s always thought he was a decently smart person.

“What?” Steve asks, turning to look at Clint, hoping to hear him a bit better.

“Oh,” Clint says after a minute, understanding dawning. “Are you hard of hearing now, too-- OW!”

Clint rubs at his hip, where Bucky had just kicked him, hard.

“Tact,” Bucky growls, not even opening his eyes. “Fucking look it up Barton, Christ.”

Clint grabs his coffee from the table and glares at Bucky. “Oh, you do speak English then, Barnes?”

Bucky flips him off as he sits up and snatches the mug from Clint’s hand, and proceeds to chug all of his coffee.

“What the hell?!”

“Okay, you’ve seen him, he’s alive, he’s fine; get the fuck out, Barton. I’m trying to sleep. Leave my cereal.”

Clint stares at Bucky for a minute, but he’s no match for Bucky’s Winter Soldier glare. When he looks away, it’s at Steve, and Steve just shrugs at him.

“Sorry,” Steve says. He probably shouldn’t have told Jarvis to let Clint up. Bucky’s always grumpy when he hasn’t had enough sleep, when his sleep is interrupted.

Clint shrugs at him, and Steve doesn’t correct his assumption. He’d probably been apologizing more to Bucky than to Clint, but Barton doesn’t need to know that.

“Glad you’re home, Cap,” Clint says. “Glad that shit didn’t kill you or whatever.”

“Fuck off, Barton,” Bucky growls.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m going.” He throws a little wave Steve’s way, and wanders out the way he’d come.

Steve blinks at the tv screen. After a minute or two, when it’s clear that Clint really is gone, Bucky sits up and grabs the cereal, taking a couple of bites and then snorting and putting the bowl back on the table.

“Ugh,” Bucky grumbles. Steve looks at him. “This shit’s stale as hell.”

While Steve is watching, Bucky twists around and stretches back out, this time with his head pillowed on Steve’s thigh. Steve’s fingers find their way into Bucky’s hair, and Bucky doesn’t object.

“Find something else to watch, would’ja Stevie? This shit’s depressing.”

“Yeah,” Steve murmurs. “Okay, Buck.”

Steve spends the rest of the afternoon watching movies on Netflix while Bucky naps with his head in Steve’s lap.

----

Later, Steve sits in bed with his tablet, reading. It’s getting late and he should really go to sleep, but he’s enjoying this: reading for the simple pleasure of it. He doesn’t have any reports to fill out, or after-action reports to read, because apparently he’s not to be stressed in his “condition”. It should make him angry, it does make him angry, furious really, but it’s a far away sort of anger, and he doesn’t try very hard to hold on to it.

He knows he used to be good at it, good at being angry, angry all the time, so angry at everything, everyone, but that feels far away now, too. More than seventy odd years, anyway, even though he really only feels the past five or so of them. There are so many things he should probably be angry about, be furious about, but a lot of the time he’s too stupidly grateful to be angry.

It’s a nice change of pace.

Bucky appears in his doorway, wearing a pair of Steve’s sleep pants and a t-shirt. He’s holding the “don’t feed the hipsters” tee that he’d been wearing earlier. His hair is wet, dripping a little bit on his shoulders. He looks a little bit confused, a furrow between his brows, the corners of his mouth turned down just a little.

He looks amazing. Steve looks at him and waits for him to speak.

“Did I leave this here, when I moved out?” Bucky asks.

Oh. Shit.

“Um. I guess so?” Steve replies. He thinks maybe he doesn’t sound totally caught out. Because Bucky did leave the shirt here, when he’d moved out. And Steve should’ve told him, should’ve told him as soon as he found it mixed in with his laundry that weekend. But he hadn’t. And it was a piece of Bucky and he realized even then he was being ridiculous, he was, he was pining, but he didn’t bring it up. He washed it and he put it away with the rest of his clothes and he didn’t mention it when Bucky showed up again on Monday and sat in his corner of the couch and picked up his knitting. Steve kept the tee shirt. Steve wore the tee shirt (to bed, mostly). And he kept not telling Bucky about the t-shirt, like a total sap.

Bucky is looking at him, his eyes a little narrowed. “It was in your dresser, Steve.”

“OK? I guess I didn’t notice?”

And even Steve knows it sounds unbelievable, because it sounds unbelievable even to his own ears. Sure Buck, I just washed and put away your t-shirt without ever noticing it even though it’s pretty much your favorite t-shirt and it makes you cackle every time you wear it even though you kind of are a little bit of a hipster these days. Super believable, Rogers.

“Didn’t I ask you about it?”

“Maybe? I dunno, Buck.” Steve is blushing. It’s a dead giveaway, he knows. Also, Bucky’s always been able to tell when he’s lying, even when he’s doing a decent enough job of it.

“You’re an awful liar, Steve.”

Steve just stares at him, unable to think of anything to say in reply to that, because it’s true, it’s so goddamn true.

Bucky is just looking at him, smiling a little, even though his eyes are still a little bit narrowed, even though there’s that furrow between his brows still. “I’m taking my t-shirt back, Stevie.”

“...Okay?” Steve tries to keep his features neutral, aware that he’s failing even as he tries.

“You better not have stretched it all out,” Bucky grumbles, half-hearted.

“Buck, you’ve been wearing it all day, I think you’d have noticed by now.”

“With those ridiculous arms of yours,” Bucky goes on, smirking now.

“Buck!” But Steve’s laughing, and he knows that’s what Bucky wanted, to make him smile. So he keeps smiling, and Bucky smiles back at him.

“G’night, solnishka,” Bucky says, soft and gentle.

And Steve blushes some more. “G’night Buck.”

“Yell if you need me; I’m right next door.” Bucky smiles at him a moment more before he takes his t-shirt and disappears down the hall to the other bedroom, the one that Steve still thinks of as Bucky’s, even though it hasn’t really been his for a while now. Not since Bucky moved out.

----

He wakes up from a nightmare gasping, gasping, he can’t breathe, and it takes him a moment to remember: he has asthma again. He’s having an asthma attack. Steve rolls over and fumbles for the nightstand, for his inhaler.

It’s not there.

Fuck.

He rolls out of bed, hitting the floor hard, gasping, gasping, and he climbs to his feet. Don’t panic, don’t panic, don’tpanicdon’tpanicdon’tpanic. His inhaler is still on the coffee table in the living room. He’s definitely panicking.

Fuck fuck fuck why is the living room so far away?!

He trips over his own socks, or his own feet, or something, it doesn’t matter. He trips, and he hits the floor of his room like a ton of bricks, and even if he wasn’t already without breath it would’ve knocked the breath out of him, and he wants to just lay on the floor and cry because he’s going to die like this, like a sad sack of bricks on the floor of his own room because he’d fucking forgotten to bring his inhaler to bed with him.

It’s awful, and it makes everything worse.

His epitaph is going to be awful. ‘Here Lies Captain America; he saved the world a couple times and then died a pitiful asthmatic death on his own bedroom floor.’

Steve rolls over, gasping, gasping, probably crying a little but he can’t really feel his face, and Bucky is standing over him, shaking his inhaler. Oh thank fuck. If he had the breath for it he’d be sobbing in relief.

Bucky leans down and hauls him into a sitting position, crouches behind him, and hands him the inhaler, sits and holds him and just breathes with him as Steve slowly relearns how to breathe. Steve lets himself slump into Bucky’s warmth for a few minutes, because it’s exhausting, asthma is exhausting and he hates this and he’s still wheezing a little. Steve takes a deep breath, and starts coughing. Bucky’s arms go a little tighter around his chest, and Steve shouldn’t find it as reassuring as he does.

“Do you wanna go back to bed?” Bucky asks him eventually, soft against his good side, in his good ear.

Steve shakes his head, still trying to breathe properly. It’s better now, but still not great. His face is still wet from the tears that he hasn’t bothered to wipe away.

“Okay.” Bucky pats his shoulder and then stands up, holds out his hand and helps Steve stand as well. He doesn’t let go when Steve gains his feet.

Steve trails him out to the living room and collapses on the couch. Bucky grabs one of the blankets from his corner of the couch and throws it at Steve. It hits Steve in the face, but he’s smiling a little when he spreads it out over his legs, making sure to leave enough for Bucky to spread over himself too, if he wants. Not that he has to stay out here with Steve.

“You don’t have to stay out here with me, Buck,” he says.

Bucky just glares at him.

“But you can if you want?”

“I’ll make some tea,” Bucky says, expression softening, and he disappears into the kitchen. He comes back several minutes later with two mugs of chamomile tea, hands one to Steve and sits down beside him, close. He shifts and puts down his mug, spreads the blanket over his legs, and then picks his mug up again, taking a sip and sighing.

“Put on a movie?” Bucky suggests.

“Okay,” Steve murmurs. He grabs the remote and turns on the tv, pulls up Netflix, and flicks through his queue. He’s gone through the whole thing twice, not really seeing anything at all, let alone anything that he actually wants to watch, his eyes blurry, when Bucky reaches over and tugs the remote from Steve’s unresisting hands. His touch is gentle, and he nudges Steve until Steve takes the hint and leans against him a little bit. Bucky picks something and turns it up so Steve can almost hear it. It’s something old, black and white, but Steve doesn’t recognize it. His eyes are so bleary.

Steve shifts and lays his head on Bucky’s shoulder. Bucky finishes his tea and takes the half empty mug from Steve’s hand, leaning forward and putting them both on the coffee table. When he leans back, he puts his arm around Steve’s shoulders.

“Go ahead and sleep if you wanna,” he murmurs in Steve’s ear.

“M’not gonna sleep,” Steve mumbles back. But his eyes are drifting shut and staying that way, for longer and longer amounts of time, and his breathing is still a bit wheezy and short, and he’s really very tired.

“Okay, Stevie, stay awake then.”

----

Steve wakes up. He wakes up still on the couch. He wakes up with his arms wrapped around Bucky’s waist and his nose pressed into Bucky’s hip. Bucky’s knees are curled around him, and Bucky’s hand is on his head, gentle, hair between his fingers. Steve doesn’t remember falling asleep, he doesn’t know how they ended up like this.

He doesn’t know what woke him, but now that he is awake, he could really use his inhaler. Steve turns his head, rubbing his nose briefly against Bucky’s hip-- he smells good, earthy, like home-- and slowly sitting up. He misses Bucky’s hand in his hair even as it’s dropping away.

Bucky lifts his hand and rubs at his eyes, blinking up at Steve. “How you feelin’, Stevie?”

“‘M’fine,” Steve replies, scowling.

“You’re wheezing a little,” Bucky observes.

Steve can hear it. He knows he’s wheezing, and he feels vaguely short of breath even though he really isn’t, and his back hurts because it’s still trying to curve the way it used to and there’s a vague sort of general achiness. He knows. He knows.

“I’m fine,” he repeats, more forcefully, standing up and snatching his inhaler off the table and heading in the direction of his room. “I’m going to go shower.”

“Okay,” Bucky replies.

When Steve comes out of the shower, Bucky’s in the kitchen, making pancakes and bacon. There’s a bowl of cut up fruit on the table already, and the coffee pot is full, so Steve helps himself to a mug. Bucky is concentrating on flipping the pancakes as high as he can without losing them, and Steve stands next to him for a minute, watching. When Bucky glances over and grins at him, Steve bumps him gently, with his hip, and then takes a seat at the table.

Bucky sits across from him when he’s finished, and they both munch their way through a lot of bacon and a truly ridiculous number of pancakes, some plain, some with chocolate chips, some with blueberries. It is quiet and companionable, both of them making little pleased noises at the food.

“Natasha texted me,” Steve says, when he remembers that he’d checked his phone when he’d gone to shower.

Bucky looks up at him for a moment in acknowledgement, before he goes back to his pancakes.

“She and Sam are going to come over in a little while, if that’s okay?”

Bucky shrugs.

“Are you sure, Buck?” Steve puts down his fork while he waits for Bucky to answer.

“It’s your house, Steve.”

“I just don’t--”

“It’s fine, Steve. They’re your friends. You can hang out with them if you want.”

‘They’re your friends too,’ Steve wants to answer, but he knows that’s not entirely true, not really. Natasha and Bucky are friendly, at least, but Bucky doesn’t really interact with most of the Avengers. Steve’s pretty sure they all find him at least vaguely frightening in some form or another. He knows for a fact that Clint generally refers to him as “that scary-ass motherfucker” when he’s not simply calling him ‘The Ghost’. Clint is careful not to do it around Steve, for the most part, but Steve still knows. He knows that Bucky isn’t really friends with any of the Avengers, so he doesn’t say what he wants to say to Bucky.

“If you don’t mind,” is what comes out of his mouth.

Bucky shrugs again.

“Okay,” Steve says, because he doesn’t know what else to say.

----

Bucky knits. Steve knows that it’s something that Bucky’s been able to do since he was a little kid; his mother had taught him so he could help her with the little things for his sisters, and Bucky had never lost the knack. Now he does it because it’s something soothing to concentrate on, to focus on when he’s feeling like the world is too big and overwhelming. Also, he seems to really enjoy it.

Steve’s tried to pick it up several times; his mother had tried to teach him as well, he’s just not very good at it. It makes him antsy, and he always loses count of his stitches. Bucky had laughed at him for it, when they were kids. Steve was better at sewing than Bucky though, so Bucky had done the darning of their socks, and Steve had done the patching of their clothes, and it had worked out.

Bucky had started on an afghan, shortly after he moved in with Steve. Well, shortly after he’d moved in with Steve but not until he was able to venture out of the Tower on his own. So it wasn’t really that shortly. He’d bought approximately a million skeins of beautiful cornflower blue yarn and had curled up in the corner of the couch and started working on this blanket.

It’s almost finished.

It’s gorgeous. Sometimes, when Bucky’s not there, Steve will sit in Bucky’s corner of the couch and drape just a tiny corner of it over his knee. It’s soft and warm, and quite lovely. It reminds him of something, but he’s not sure what. Despite the eidetic memory, he can’t quite place it. It must be something from before he got the serum, something from when he was still small and frail; he always had a good memory but there are things from his childhood that haven’t stuck around.

Bucky hadn’t taken the blanket with him when he’d moved out.

After breakfast and his own shower, Bucky sits down in his corner of the couch, drapes one of the several blankets that are always nearby over his lap, and starts to knit. Steve sits next to him with his sketchbook and pencils, though he has no idea if he’s going to be able to draw at all; he doesn’t feel great, despite the hearty breakfast.

“Why didn’t you take it with you?” Steve asks, after a while of watching Bucky knit, listening to the steady sound of the needles hitting each other. Bucky uses wooden needles, he said once that they felt familiar, and that the plastic ones tend to be too slippery for him.

Bucky glances up, his fingers still moving. “Hmm?”

“When you moved out, you left your knitting. I just wondered why.”

“Oh.” Bucky looks back down at his work, and he doesn’t answer for a minute. Steve is starting to wonder if he’s going to answer at all when he hears Bucky speak again.

“Didn’t want you to think I wouldn’t be back,” he says, quiet, so quiet Steve almost doesn't hear him at all.

“Oh,” Steve replies. He just stares at Bucky for a minute, but Bucky isn’t looking at him at all, he’s concentrating on his knitting. Eventually, Steve blinks and looks away, looks down at the sketchpad in his lap. He grabs one of his pencils and doodles for a while. The only sounds in the apartment are the scratch of his pencil against paper and the soft sounds of Bucky’s knitting needles hitting each other.

----

Sam and Natasha show up together, in the early afternoon. Steve puts away his sketchpad and gets up to go say hello to them, even though there’s no door to answer here. It’s only polite, after all. They’re comfortable around each other, obviously, even more so than they were after Steve and Nat had showed up and crashed at Sam’s house that one time. It makes Steve happy, seeing his friends happy and friends with each other. Natasha has been smiling more lately, and Steve likes that as well.

He tries not to let it bother him, his friends and teammates all coming to visit him, one by one and two by two. He knows that they mean well. He wonders if there’s a schedule though. He wonders if Sam and Nat won a bet, that they’re here together, or lost one. He tries not to let it bother him; he really tries.

Bucky stays camped out in his corner with his knitting, frowning at it, in what Steve assumes is silent protest that they have company at all. But he’d said it was okay. He’d said it.

Sam is carrying a stack of board games, and Natasha has a bag of snacks, soda and chips and Oreos because she knows Steve has a weakness for them, and they both smile and greet Steve happily, happy to see him, happy he's feeling okay, happy happy happy Steve kind of hates all the cheer. They follow him down the hall and into the living room where Bucky’s still camped out. He barely looks up at them when they all troop into the room. Steve of course isn’t at all phased, having seen Bucky with the knitting numerous times before.

It takes him a moment to realize why Sam and Natasha are both staring at Bucky with nearly identical expressions of surprise.

Natasha is the first to recover. She says something to Bucky. Something in Russian, Steve gets enough of it to understand it as something along the lines of “Since when do you knit?” and Bucky replies in kind, “Since forever, pretty much.”

Steve smiles and sits down next to Bucky, as close as he dares, knowing that Bucky probably doesn’t want Steve touching him in front of other people, and eventually Sam and Natasha get the idea and spread themselves out around the room. Sam starts setting up the games he brought with them. He looks a little surprised by the whole knitting thing, but if there’s one thing that Sam Wilson is, it’s easy-going, more than ready to roll with the punches. Even if that punch is walking into Steve’s apartment to find the Winter Soldier knitting an afghan on his couch.

Sam’s first suggestion is Monopoly, and both Steve and Bucky turn that one down with flat denials. Sam looks a little surprised at that, and exchanges a look with Natasha, but not even his “but it’s the National Parks edition” wins them over.

“Okay then,” Sam says, shrugging and shoving the game under the coffee table. “How about Risk?”

Steve and Bucky exchange a look that could mean anything at all to the other two, but they agree to play.

At first, it’s all Steve, what with his world-renowned strategizing skills, and Natasha and Sam both whoop and holler at him, and it seems like that’s the way it’s going to go, but they both forget that Bucky has known Steve his whole life, and knows all his tells and tricks. And was his sergeant for a while. He knows all of Steve's moves, even the ones Steve doesn't consciously know.

And then Bucky gets Asia under his control, and it all goes downhill from there. He remains pretty much expressionless the whole time, but Steve can tell that he’s suppressing laughter, that he’s as amused as ever by Steve’s competitive streak.

By the time the game is over, Steve’s lost pretty much everything, and Bucky is gloating silently at him, letting a smirk work its way across his face. It’s phenomenal, and Steve wishes he could kiss him, despite how much he hates losing, despite all of that.

“There’s a joke in here somewhere about starting a land war in Asia being one of the classic blunders,” Sam says, arms crossed and just watching the two of them snipe at each other playfully. Natasha laughs and laughs.

Steve furrows his brows at Bucky, and they both look at Sam.

“What?” he asks.

It’s Sam and Natasha’s turn to exchange confused looks. “Please tell me,” Sam says slowly, “that somewhere, someone has sat down with you and watched ‘The Princess Bride’.”

Steve shakes his head, and beside him Bucky shrugs. “Never even heard of it,” Steve admits.

“Oh that’s just. That’s sad as hell, is what that is. ‘The Princess Bride’ is a classic, man. We’re watching that later. Jarvis, you can do that, right?”

“Certainly, Mr. Wilson,” Jarvis replies.

“Awesome. What should we play next?”

Steve wants to groan, but he doesn’t. His friends are trying to keep him occupied, trying to keep him upbeat, trying to keep him from dwelling. He knows that’s what they’re doing. He knows that Bucky knows that’s what they’re doing, and that’s why he’s letting them. He’s let down his guard some; he’s even said somewhere in the vicinity of about five words to Sam at this point. They were even words in English!

But Steve is ready to throw them out and curl up on the couch in the quiet with Bucky. He kind of wants a nap, if he's honest.

"Let's play this," Natasha says, holding up The Game of Life. "We can all see what it's like to have a normal life."

"I don't know what you're talking about, I have a normal life," Sam replies, even as he's taking the box from her and opening it up to set up.

Even Bucky snorts at him, and Sam makes scandalized faces for a few moments. They each choose their little plastic cars and put their little plastic “people” in them, and get started. It’s silly, but fun. Sam makes the occasional wry remark about how ridiculously conformative the whole thing is, and Steve silently agrees with him. It’s very cut and dry, go to school, get a job, get married, save for retirement. He’s paid enough attention to the world around him to know that that’s not the way it works for a lot of people, anymore. But if he doesn’t put too much thought into it, it doesn’t bother him. It’s just a game.

If he gets too worked up about it right now, he’s liable to work himself right into an asthma attack, and he really doesn’t want to have one of those in front of his friends.

When Steve gets married (in the game, he thinks, sounding defensive even in his own head), he picks the little pink plastic “person” to put next to him in his car. It’s incredibly heteronormative, and thinking about the things Peggy would probably have had to say about that almost makes him smile, the same things Natasha would probably have to say about that. The things his mom would say about that, god rest her soul. But it’s just a game, so he shrugs and finishes his turn. No one comments that it takes him a couple extra moments to do so.

They’re being kind to him. He hates it.

Bucky is the next to get married, and he picks up one of the blue pegs and puts it in his car.

Sam holds out a fist, silent, and Bucky bumps it with his own. Sam smiles at him, and Bucky doesn’t growl back at him.

“Uh, Buck, I--” Steve starts. Across from him, Natasha and Sam are already glaring at him, and he hasn’t even finished the sentence.

Bucky just looks at him, expression flat, a challenge. Steve recognizes it.

“I get to be your best man still, right?” he finishes, dredging up a grin.

“Sure, Stevie,” Bucky replies.

Steve smiles at him, but he thinks, for a moment, that he sees disappointment flash across Bucky’s face. But that can’t be. He dismisses it. Sam and Nat are exchanging exasperated looks, but Steve doesn’t ask what they mean by that. He doesn’t want to bring attention to it. He doesn’t want to think about it.

Both Sam and Natasha choose same colored “people” when they get married, and Steve ends up being the only one with a different colored peg sitting next to his person in his car. That probably says something about him.

He has the most kids of all of them though, by the time the game is over.

Later, they order pizza and watch ‘The Princess Bride’. Sam tells him that it’s based on a book, and Steve makes them pause the movie so he can go grab his tablet and buy it. Bucky loves the movie too; Steve can tell. He’s not smiling, except for that tiny quirk of his lips, the one Steve recognizes from a different life, but Steve can tell he loves it all the same. When the movie is over, Sam and Natasha say their goodbyes and head out. Steve thanks them for coming, for spending most of the day with him.

He really does appreciate it, and apparently he’s grown up a little bit in the last few years, because he keeps it to himself how much he hates it at the same time, he just hugs them both, kisses Natasha’s cheek, and thanks them for coming by.

“Where’s my cheek kiss?” Sam acts, all faux-indignance.

Steve grabs him by the shoulders and plants a big one on his cheek; all three of them are laughing.

When he goes back into the living room, Bucky has picked up his afghan and is knitting again. His brow is furrowed, and Steve knows that Bucky needs some decompression time now, too.

“Tea?” he asks.

“Please,” Bucky replies, not looking up.

Steve goes into the kitchen and makes tea for both of them. He sits next to Bucky on the couch and picks up his tablet.

Bucky glances at him from the corner of his eye and then nods, once. Steve moves closer and puts his head on Bucky’s shoulder, getting comfortable and picking his tablet back up. He reads for a while, soothed and lulled by the sound of Bucky’s knitting.

----

Later, Steve adds ‘The Princess Bride’ to his short list of “things that make it so the 21st century doesn’t totally suck’:
-Bucky is still alive
-Baseball still exists
-the internet (although this is also on his list of terrible things about the future, too, to be fair)
-no polio or smallpox
-food that isn’t boiled all the time
-Bucky is still alive

----

He has another asthma attack that night, after another nightmare.

----

Another day, another visit, another couple of asthma attacks to get him through the night. Or interrupt his night repeatedly, as the case may be. Steve stumbles out of his room after the second one of the night and heads slowly towards the living room, leaning against the wall the whole way there. He feels old and feeble and every single one of his years, both on the ice and off it. He feels sick, sicker than he remembers ever feeling, when he was growing up sick.

Bucky is already up; it looks like he hasn’t been to bed at all yet. He’s fully dressed, down to his favorite combat boots. He’s wearing his own clothes again--he’d gone home briefly that morning--and Steve sort of misses seeing him wandering about in his sweats. He’d liked it. It had made him feel possessive, like Bucky was his. And that had made him feel guilty, because Bucky is his own, and Steve has no wish to own him; the thought makes him sick.

Bucky’s pacing in the living room, talking to-- Oh. He’s talking to Jarvis. Steve’s surprised by that, because Bucky has pretty much never spoken to Jarvis, at least not in Steve’s experience.

But they’re having a full-on conversation right now. About Steve.

Figures.

Steve shuffles slowly across the open floor and collapses face down on the couch. He can mostly hear what they’re saying. He wishes he could care that they’re talking about him while he’s right there, but he feels worse than ever and he just wishes he could sleep a full night without being woken by the stupid asthma.

He doesn’t remember it being this bad when he was a kid. He’s pretty sure he’d mostly outgrown it by the time Erskine got to him.

“I’m not sure it is wise to remove Captain Rogers from the Tower,” Jarvis is saying, when Steve tunes in a bit.

He listens to Bucky move back and forth.

“I can see your point on that, Jarvis,” Bucky replies. “But the asthma attacks are getting worse, and I’m pretty sure that’s because of the way the air is processed here. I might not have bulletproof glass at my place--yet-- but I do have fresh air. Fresher air, anyway.”

“There are a great many potential allergens in the outside environment; the air filters here in the Tower take care of most of those.”

“Yeah, but he’s still having asthma attacks! We grew up with shitty air quality too, Jarvis, don’t forget that. God, the stink of the river in the summer, ugh.”

Steve half-heartedly makes a noise of agreement; he remembers the way the river stank to high heaven too. He’s almost glad that Bucky remembers that. He doesn’t know exactly what Bucky remembers, the extent of it. He’s never dared to ask. He doesn’t care, honestly. Bucky knows who he is, and that’s enough for him.

“Anyway, his asthma’s never been this bad before, and we lived in a dusty, dirty, moldy rat-hole of an apartment for ages so he’ll probably be okay in my place. I keep it clean, anyway. If he’s not, we’ll come back and figure something else out.”

“You make a solid point, James,” Jarvis replies.

Jarvis calls him James?!

“I would like to point out that the group who originally targeted Captain Rogers may be more likely to get to him if he’s removed from the Tower,” Jarvis adds. “They may wish to finish what they started several days ago.”

Like he’s a piece of furniture, to be removed from the Tower. Steve wishes he had the energy to be offended by that.

“They won’t even know where he is,” Bucky replies.

“Oh?”

“Jarvis, do you know where I live?”

There’s a pause, during which Steve thinks, I don’t even know where you live, Buck. You never told me, you just moved out one weekend.

Bucky sits down next to him, puts his hand on Steve’s back, rubs in little circles, and Steve is soothed by it, like Bucky had known what he was thinking and wants to reassure him.

“No. I do not know where you live, James. I cannot find any trace of you outside the Tower, in fact,” Jarvis says, and he sounds a little be awed even to Steve. “Please allow me to express that I’m rather impressed.”

“Aw, shucks,” Bucky replies, smug as hell. His hand on Steve’s back stills for a moment, and Steve makes a distressed noise. Bucky starts those little circles up again. “So, any other objections, Jarvis?”

“I have no further reasons to attempt to prevent you from escorting Captain Rogers from the Tower,” Jarvis says.

“Good. We’ll be out of here shortly, then.”

“Do you not wish to wait until morning?”

“And get waylaid by his team and then the reporters usually camped outside the damn building? No thanks.”

“Ah, yes, I see your point.”

Bucky pats Steve’s back. “Go pack a bag, Stevie. We’re getting the hell out of here.”

Steve just groans. He doesn’t think he has the energy to pack, or even really to get up.

Bucky chuckles and pats his back again. “Okay, stay here, I’ll take care of it.”

----

Steve must doze off or something along those lines, because the next thing he knows, Bucky is sitting pressed against his hip, running his hand up and down Steve’s arm. Steve doesn’t want to move. He doesn’t want to go anywhere or do anything except be better, be himself again, the way he’s supposed to be, not this sick husk of a person. He hates it.

“C’mon, sweetheart,” Bucky says, eventually, when Steve makes no move to get up on his own. “Time to get moving. Put some shoes on for me, okay?”

Steve makes a noise of some sort, vaguely affirmative. He doesn’t move, though. He doesn’t do anything at all, and Bucky doesn’t move either. After a minute or two, he resumes running his hand up and down Steve’s arm, and another moment later, he gets up. Steve misses him immediately. He misses the way he used to be able to curl up in Bucky’s arms, suddenly and fiercely. If he’s sick like he used to be, why isn’t he the little guy he used to be, who could at least take a little comfort sometimes from his best friend? When he’d let himself, anyway.

When Bucky comes back, Steve cracks an eye open and looks at him. He can only really see the dim outline of Bucky moving through the room, putting bags by the hallway, gathering up Steve’s sneakers from their spot by the elevator and coming back, sitting down at his hip again.

“C’mon, solnishka, help me out here. You can put your shoes on without help, right? I don’t need to carry you to the car, do I?”

“I don’t feel so good, Buck,” Steve mumbles.

“I know you don’t, sweetheart. That’s why we’re getting you out of here. You might feel better with a change of scenery, some fresh air, right?”

“I guess so.”

“I know so, Stevie. So sit up and put your shoes on, okay?”

Steve shrugs into the couch, but he starts to shift, and Bucky stands so he can sit up and shove his feet into his sneakers. When he’s done that, managed to lever himself to his feet, Bucky hands him a hooded sweatshirt, and he pulls it over his head. Next Bucky hands him a hat and a pair of glasses, and he puts these on without protest as well.

“Ready?” Bucky asks him. He can’t really see Bucky in the darkness of the apartment, but he can hear the smile in Bucky’s voice, feel the gentleness of it like a caress against his skin, and he sways towards it, towards Bucky and his voice and everything he represents.

Steve shrugs. “Guess so.”

Bucky takes his hand and leads him down the hall, stopping only briefly to heft both of their bags with his left arm. They get into the elevator, and Bucky says, “The garage please, Jarvis.”

“Of course, sir,” Jarvis replies. “Drive safe. I hope you feel better soon, Captain.”

“Thanks,” Steve mumbles. He leans heavily against Bucky, and Bucky lets go of his hand to wrap his arm around Steve’s shoulders.

“Won’t take us long to get there, this time of night,” he murmurs in Steve’s ear. “We’ll have you back in bed and feeling better in no time at all, isn’t that right?”

“Sure, Buck,” Steve mumbles. He shuffles out of the elevator at Bucky’s side, when it finally opens on the garage level (mostly filled with Stark’s varied and ridiculous vehicles). Bucky steers him between the cars to a nondescript gray Honda. He puts their bags in the trunk and tucks Steve into the front seat. Steve buckles himself in while Bucky walks around the car and slides in the driver’s seat.

Steve has never seen this car before. He didn’t even know Bucky had a car. Where did Bucky get a car?

“Where did you get a car?” he asks.

Bucky grins at him and starts the engine. “Know what I like about living in the future, Stevie?”

“What?”

“Power steering.” Bucky’s still grinning as he backs out of the spot and heads out of the garage. He still hasn’t answered Steve’s question.

“You haven’t told me where you got the car,” Steve says.

“I know. I will. Just rest a while okay, Stevie?”

Steve crosses his arms, but Bucky’s idea has merit. It’s been a long time since he was in a car and wasn’t the one driving it. He finds it soothing, and he lets it lull him. He still feels like hammered crap, so he slumps in the seat and watches Manhattan pass by out the window. He watches as they cross the bridge into Brooklyn, and he shuts his eyes and smiles.

He doesn’t really take in any of their surroundings as Bucky pulls the car into a little lot and turns it off. He gets out and Steve has only managed to straighten up a little and unbuckle himself by the time Bucky is around the car and opening the door.

“C’mon sweetheart,” Bucky is saying, voice still gentle and soothing and close to Steve’s ears, “almost there, almost back in bed.”

Steve stumbles in Bucky’s wake, holding his hand, into the building and down the hall and into the industrial elevator, up two floors and down another hall and through a door into a dark… place. He’s not really observing, he’s not taking any of this in. He’s just following Bucky. He has no idea where they even are, other than Brooklyn, which doesn’t really narrow it down much.

“Let’s get you into bed,” Bucky says. He leads Steve across what feels like a vast expanse of floor, and dumps their bags next to a big bed. Steve manages to lift his head a little bit, and realizes they’re in a loft apartment, big and open. The bed is in what is-- considering this is Bucky’s place, he’s assuming-- the most defensible position in the entire apartment, with the best viewpoints as well. It’s also the only bed.

“Bucky, I don’t--”

“Get in the goddamn bed, Rogers.” Bucky’s voice brooks no argument. He sounds exhausted even to Steve’s not-quite-right ears.

“Okay,” he replies, his own voice coming out small and tired. He starts toeing off his sneakers, and dumps the hat and glasses on the floor on top of them, and then the sweatshirt on top of that, and slumps down in the bed.

Bucky looks down at him critically, like he’s waiting for Steve to argue some more, and when he decides that Steve isn’t actually going to do that (Steve feels far too much like shit to have the energy to argue), he nods once and goes off somewhere. Steve doesn’t know where, and he doesn’t really care. He turns into the pillow and shuts his eyes.

A few minutes later, he hears Bucky coming back and opens his eyes again. Bucky’s wearing nothing but a pair of sleep pants, and he glares at Steve.

“Fuckin’ arm overheats at night if I’ve got a shirt on,” he mutters, pushing at Steve until he’s moved around enough to get the covers out from under him. Bucky settles in the next next to him. “Don’t say a word, Steve.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“You didn’t have to, you punk.”

Steve sticks his tongue out at him, and Bucky chuckles.

“G’night, solnishka,” Bucky murmurs.

“G’night, Buck,” Steve mumbles back. He falls asleep wondering why Bucky keeps calling him that, calling him sunshine.

----

It had been a rough year, the one after Bucky came back.

It had been a rough couple of years, really.

Steve doesn’t really like to think about it much, looking back on it. He doesn’t know what good he was to Bucky through all that; he’s never known what good he is to Bucky, he’s only ever known how much he needs Bucky, more than he needs anything else, more than he needs air. He’d felt helpless through it all, like all he could do was stand at Bucky’s side, as close as Bucky would allow, wringing his hands. He was used to being able to fight these days, to really wade in and get shit done, but there was nothing for him to plot and plan against, nothing to hit or throw his shield at. There was only Bucky, struggling and often failing to be a human being, struggling to pick up the pieces of his own mind and fashion something approaching a whole out of them.

Steve and Sam had run themselves ragged, all over the world, searching for Bucky, and they never found him, always one step behind. Or three. Eventually, Sam had put his foot down, dragged Steve back Stateside, back to DC. He wanted to see his family. He wanted to cook in his own goddamn kitchen again. He wanted to run around the Mall in the morning and yell at Steve every time he lapped him. Just for a few days, he’d said. Just until he could get a decent night’s sleep and maybe eat at Shake Shack.

They were at Shake Shack when Bucky showed up. Just plunked down in the seat across from Steve with his own burger and fries and concrete. Sam had startled, muttered “Jesus Christ” under his breath.

Bucky had looked at him, expressionless, and Sam turned his eyes back to his food and didn’t say another word.

Steve, on the other hand, had spent the rest of the day grinning like an absolute fool, and when Sam risked glancing at Bucky, at the Winter goddamn Soldier, who was now sitting on his couch in his living room, drinking his orange juice what even is his life, he’d thought maybe he’d seen an expression in the Soldier’s eyes. Something like wonder, like awe.

But after that, everything got kind of worse before it got better. Through it all, Steve insisted on being at Bucky’s side, being his friend. He had never wavered, never doubted, even when Bucky was incapable of speech, incapable of anything beyond lashing out. Even when there was nothing he could do at all other than sit outside Bucky’s room at night and listen to him scream, silent tears tracking down his face.

Eventually, things started looking up. The Winter Soldier started following them on missions-- no one knew where he got any of the gear he always had on him, the big fuck-off sniper rifles, and no one wanted to ask because of how scary he kind of was-- and Steve was ecstatic. He was happier than he remembered being for a long time. Bucky was still recovering, he still had bad days, but if anyone really watched Steve, really knew him the way Bucky does, they’d know that Steve was still recovering too, that Steve still had bad days. He was just a little bit better at hiding them than Bucky was or bothered to be.

“I don’t like Manhattan,” Bucky said to him. “I think I’m going to move.”

Steve was devastated, because Bucky said “I” not “we”, and it was impossible to hide that from Bucky. Bucky hated doing that to Steve, hated that he needed to leave, but he needed to do it, needed that little bit of something of his own. Steve tried to be strong, tried to hold himself together, tried not to cling to Bucky, but it was hard. Harder still because he knew that Bucky still wasn’t particularly comfortable with being touched overly much. All Steve wanted to do was crawl into Bucky’s lap and wrap around him and never let go. But he didn’t. The most he does is lean a little, when they’re sitting together on the couch, and take what reassurance he can from that.

Three weeks later, Bucky moved out of the Tower. No one argued with him, because, well, no one thought it was a smart idea. Steve didn’t dare argue with him, afraid of what he’d say if he tried. Bucky didn’t tell him where he was moving to, only that it was close. He didn’t ask for any help, he just took what little stuff he’d accumulated since coming in with Steve and left.

He left behind his knitting, the blanket he had just started, and Steve let himself feel comforted by that. And a few days later, he’d come home from his early morning jog to find Bucky sitting on the couch with a mug of coffee, the television on with the volume low, knitting. That, more than anything else, had reassured Steve.

----

At some point, Natasha had gotten her hands on Steve’s phone and changed his ringtone for her to Mambo No. 5. It’s a really obnoxious song, and Steve hates it. It sets his teeth on edge. It’s awful. And every time he changed it to something less awful and frankly less embarrassing, she changed it back. Never once did he even see her with his phone. No matter how many times he deleted the ringtone, it always showed up again, attached to Natasha’s (public-ish, he doesn’t pretend that more often than not when she contacts him it isn’t from a completely unknown and often blocked number) contact info. Eventually, he just gave up changing it. There’s no point, really.

That’s what wakes him up the next morning. Mambo No. 5. Ugh.

Steve jerks awake and fumbles around for the phone.

“Nightstand,” Bucky mumbles, from very close beside him.

Steve turns and grabs the phone off the nightstand next to the bed. It’s entirely too early for this.

“‘Lo?”

“Good morning, Steve,” Natasha says, sounding entirely too awake for this ungodly hour. “Were you kidnapped last night?”

"Wha..? No?" Steve hasn’t even managed to lift his head from the pillow. Next to him, Bucky’s grumbling under his breath. All he wants is to go back to sleep for a little while longer. He’s pretty sure Bucky feels the same.

"But you're not in the Tower anymore?"

"M'stayin' with Buck a while. Tower was fucking up the asthma." He’s awake enough now to realize that he’s breathing easier this morning. Also to notice that he’s still exhausted; if he can get off the phone soon he might even be able to go back to sleep for a while.

Bucky is grumbling behind him, still under his breath. It’s mostly in Russian, but Steve gets enough of it to get the gist, even with his bad ear.

"I'm going to put you on speaker now, Steve. Tell the team what you just told me?" Natasha is putting on her sweetest voice, he can hear her smirking at everyone around her. She doesn’t give him time to answer or protest, he hears the beep of her putting him on speaker, and she says, "Go ahead Steve."

Dutifully, Steve speaks again. "I'm staying with Bucky for a while guys, I'm fine, can I go back to sleep now?"

"Yes," Nat says as she clicks speaker off again. "Give James my love, sorry to wake you, bye!"

She hangs up on him before he can say goodbye, or anything else. Steve takes the phone away from his ear, and puts it on silent before dropping it over the side of the bed. It makes a muffled thump when it hits the rug.

“Remind me to try and kill Natasha sometime soon,” Bucky says, shifting in the bed and punching the pillow a couple times.

Steve turns his head to look at Bucky, smiling. “‘Kay,” he mumbles. He lets his eyes slide shut, and after a moment he feels Bucky’s breath gust against his face. Morning breath, ugh, but it sends a shiver down his spine nevertheless.

“Go back to sleep, Stevie.”

“Yeah,” Steve says. Or perhaps he just thinks it. Moments later, he’s asleep.

----

Later, he wakes up again, with his face pressed into Bucky’s neck, and Bucky’s arm slung around his waist. Bucky’s awake, Steve can feel it in the way he’s breathing, but he seems content to lie abed with Steve plastered all over him.

God, he’s drooling. If it weren’t for the fact he’s woken up this way literally hundreds of times, back when he and Bucky shared a bed more often than not, it would be embarrassing as hell.

At least he’s not hard on top of all of that.

Steve lifts his head; he’s blushing anyway, despite the fact this is nothing new. Bucky smiles at him, a little. A little smile, a quirk of his lips, that small private thing that belongs only to Steve.

“Hi,” Steve says. He lifts a hand to rub at his face.

“You have awful breath,” Bucky replies.

“So do you, jerk.”

Bucky grabs his head and breathes directly in his face, laughing when Steve squawks and tries to break free. He keeps laughing, letting Steve go and letting his head fall back into his pillow, and Steve stops squawking and squirming and settles back down.

“You sleep all right?” Bucky asks him, after a moment.

“Yeah, actually. Other than the interruption.”

“Good. Your lungs sound better today. Clearer.”

“Yeah, I guess I needed Brooklyn smog instead of Manhattan smog.”

“Home sweet home,” Bucky murmurs.

They don’t get up for a while, not until both of their stomachs are rumbling. Bucky runs his hand up and down Steve’s back a few times and slides out from beneath him.

“I’ll get breakfast started, you can go shower if you want. Try and wash some of that ugly off your face.”

“Ha ha,” Steve replies. He sits up, though, watching Bucky pad across the loft towards the kitchen area. He looks around, now that he can see everything in the light of day. There are a lot of windows. It looks like they’re in some sort of converted warehouse.

How did Bucky find this place? How did he afford it? Steve knows for a fact that Bucky hasn’t touched any of the back pay they’d given him, because for some reason the account it’s all in is attached to Steve’s account, so every time he checks his account online, he sees Buck’s too.

Those are questions best left for when he’s had some coffee, though. And yeah, a shower sounds like a really good idea, so Steve gets out of bed and heads towards the bathroom.

“Towels are in the closet,” Bucky calls.

“‘Kay.”

Steve showers and gets dressed. By the time he’s finished, Bucky’s started putting plates on the little table in the kitchen, pancakes and eggs and bacon. It smells like heaven. Steve slides into one of the seats at the table and starts heaping things on a plate. Bucky turns from the stove and smiles at him.

“So, you gonna give me the tour?” Steve asks, when he’s finished stuffing himself full of good food.

“Yeah, sure,” Bucky replies. “Lemme get showered first.”

“Okay,” Steve agrees. “I’ll do dishes, if you want?”

Bucky snorts. “When do you ever do dishes?”

Steve grins at him. “Hey, it could happen.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Bucky replies, but he leaves the dishes in the sink and goes to get showered and dressed.

Steve rinses dishes and loads the dishwasher while Bucky’s showering. He finishes before Bucky does, so he grabs his tablet from the bag Bucky’d packed for him, and sits on the couch. He only stays there for a few moments before getting up, dumping his tablet on the coffee table, and wandering around the loft, getting a feel for the place.

It’s big and comfortable; it feels lived in. Something about it feels like Bucky to Steve. There are a lot of windows, far more than he thought Bucky would ever be comfortable having in his living space. Bucky has been uncomfortable with open spaces for a while now; Steve never questioned it because he’s not overly fond of being places where there’s no cover himself. The whole space is open, only divided into sections by shelves and furniture. There’s the kitchen and the bathroom and the corner Bucky uses as his bedroom, and the living space framed by the couch, the coffee table and the television.

It’s nice; Steve likes it here. He tries not to think about Bucky setting all of this up himself, during all that time when he was away from Steve, after he’d left the Tower, left Steve behind.

He can’t help but feel a little bit abandoned, when he thinks about it, even though he tries not to, tries to push it away.

“Hey.”

Steve looks up, at Bucky looking down at him. His hair is still damp, hanging against his shoulders.

“Hey,” Steve replies, dredging up a smile.

“You all right?” Bucky asks.

“Yeah, ‘m’fine.”

“Steve,” Bucky says, in that tone. That tone that means he knows that Steve is lying.

“It’s nothing,” Steve insists. “I like it here, I like your place.”

Bucky sits next to him, puts his arm around Steve’s waist. “I didn’t mean to leave you behind, Stevie.”

“You didn’t.”

“I did, and I’m sorry. I’ve been wanting to find a way to bring you here for ages, only I need to keep it from… everyone else. I’m glad you know; I just need it to be… between us.”

“Okay.” Steve smiles again, and it’s a little easier this time, a little less pained. He understands, he really does, even though it hurts.

“Although probably Natasha has figured it out. I wouldn’t put much past her.”

“I won’t hold a grudge if she does,” Steve replies.

Bucky smiles at him, and gives him a squeeze before letting go and standing up. “C’mon, I’ll show you the whole building.”

Steve gets up and follows Bucky out of the loft.

“So, up here there’s just gonna be another loft,” Bucky starts explaining, pointing across the open space towards a door. “It’ll be the same size as this one. It’s all framed out, but I haven’t finished it yet.”

They go down the hall and get into the elevator, going down one floor. “There’s four apartments on this floor; two of them are done. Wade lives in there.” Bucky points again. “He’s been helping me out some with the repairs and the rehab and stuff.”

Steve nods.

“I’m thinking about making the whole place a co-op, when it’s done. Yanno, really vet everyone who wants to move in, put it to a vote, so everyone has to agree. Make it a community place. There’s some space outside, we can do it all up in a garden, or common space or something like that. Wade’s started building a porch, there’s a little bit of space upstairs next to one of the apartments that would be a good indoor communal space.”

Steve just watches while Bucky talks, animated, about this building and what he wants for it, the community he wants to build. He wants it to feel like home, for everyone in it. He hasn’t seen Bucky this animated about anything in a really long time, and it makes him ache, right in the center of the chest, with wanting. With wanting that for Bucky, with wanting to taste it, with wanting that for himself.

“The bottom is all open, and I haven’t figured out what we’re going to do with that yet,” Bucky goes on, seemingly oblivious to the way Steve is watching. “Maybe turn it into shops or something, eventually. Right now I’m just using it to store stuff for the lofts.”

“This is amazing, Buck,” Steve says. Breathes, really. He’s absolutely blown away by the life Bucky is clearly in the process of building here. Blown away and breathless and stunned. And totally floored, that Bucky is able to do this, while he’s left standing in his wake, floundering, with nothing of his own except his shield. It hurts. It aches, right in the center of his chest.

“Thanks, Stevie,” Bucky replies, smiling. He’s proud of what he’s done here, Steve can feel it, and it warms him from the inside out, even while it hurts. They start working their way back upstairs to Bucky’s loft.

“Um, how--” Steve starts to ask, and then stops. He’s not sure if he should ask. He’s not entirely sure he wants to know.

Bucky just grins at him, knowing and a little smug. He waits, Steve can see it in the way he stands, the way he’s watching him. It takes Steve a few minutes to figure out how to word what he wants to ask. He can’t just demand to know where Bucky came up with the money to buy an entire huge warehouse. It’s none of his business, to start with. And it’s rude. And he doesn’t want to piss Buck off when he’d just brought him here for the first time.

“How did you… get this place?” Real smooth, Rogers. Steve is blushing already, he can feel it.

Bucky smiles at him for a moment more, just a quirk of his mouth on one side, really. He must know what Steve is thinking, worrying about. He must know, because he’s Bucky and he knows Steve better than Steve knows himself. Or at least it feels that way, even though they don’t live in each other’s pockets the way they used to.

Steve misses that. He misses it every day, even when Bucky is sitting next to him.

“Won it in a card game,” Bucky drawls, and laughs at the expression on Steve’s face.

Steve cracks a smile himself, after a moment. “Seriously, Buck.”

Bucky shrugs, his expression sobering. “I met the guy in a record shop nearby, the developer. He was sinking fast. I was interested. He showed me the place, we made a deal.”

“But where--” Steve stops himself. Presses his lips together.

Bucky raises one brow at him. “Where’d I get the money?”

Steve just nods, blushing again. But it’ll pick at him, if he doesn’t ask. If Bucky doesn’t want to tell him, he’ll deal with it, but he wants to know. He wants Bucky to be safe. To be not robbing places so he can buy a warehouse. Or whatever.

“Back pay,” Bucky says.

Steve furrows his brow at him, confused. “But you haven’t touched your bank account.”

“You mean the one they attached to your bank account for whatever reason?”

“I think SHIELD had us listed as married.” Steve shrugs, looks away.

Bucky snorts, but he leans over and nudges Steve with his shoulder, softening it. They’re back in his loft now, and he pushes Steve towards the couch, sits down next to him, just looks at him for a few minutes before he speaks again.

“HYDRA had a lot of money in a lot of places, solnishka. A lot of it that most of the organization didn’t know about. Lots of numbered accounts.”

“Oh,” Steve says. Well, that’s probably all right, then.

“Pierce had several off the books accounts all on his own. I was just… misappropriating it back.”

“Okay,” Steve says.

Bucky gives him a searching look. “You’re not gonna give me shit for it?”

“Fuck no. Fuck those guys, anyway.”

“Indeed,” Bucky says, wry.

----

The day passes quietly. Bucky putters around the loft, seemingly a little out of sync, what with Steve there. Steve tries to be unobtrusive, not to get in the way, but he’s not sure how much good he does. He catches Bucky smiling at him, soft around the edges, several times, and he doesn’t know what to make of it, of that smile, of the way his eyes follow him, when he gets up to go get a glass of water.

Bucky gets a text around five, and he laughs a little to himself when he reads it. “You up for Mexican food for dinner?”

Steve shrugs. “Sure, why?”

“Wade’s got leftovers, says he’ll bring them by, except for the chimichangas. That dude is obsessed with fucking chimichangas.” Bucky laughs again, and then sees Steve’s confusion. “He owns a food truck. Great tacos.”

“Oh. Well, okay then.”

----

It’s not until the next day that Steve notices the spaces. He’s not sure what to make of them, because Bucky’s always had a good sense of space. He’s always been able to make a place look homey and lived in. Even when they were living in a drafty, tiny apartment, Bucky was able to do it. Maybe it was just because Bucky was there. Maybe it was always Bucky that filled the spaces, and Steve just never put it together.

So the spaces here are glaring, to Steve. He doesn’t know what it means, that they’re here, that he can see them so clearly.

He thinks, perhaps, that it means that maybe Bucky is leaving room for someone.

He hopes that, perhaps, Bucky is leaving room for him.

But he can’t be sure, and he has no idea how to ask.

----

“We’re not having this argument again, Steve.”

“Buck, really--”

No, Steve. Stop fighting me on this. You should not be sleeping on the couch. And I’ve spent enough time on it to have no desire to sleep there myself. It’s comfortable, it’s not that comfortable.” Bucky is grabbing the extra pillows off the bed. He’s annoyed, bordering on pissed off.

It’s Steve’s fault. He’s arguing for taking the couch again. He doesn’t want to put Bucky out. (He doesn’t want to give himself away.)

“What the hell is the big deal, anyway?” Bucky asks, sharp. “It’s not like we’ve never shared a fucking bed before. We slept together for years, in a goddamn twin bed! This is not a twin bed!”

Steve blushes to the tips of his ears. “I just--”

“You just what, Steve? Spit it the hell out.”

“I don’t want to put you out in your own home, okay? I’m trying to be considerate!”

“Since when has consideration been something I deserve from you?! I’m your best friend, Steve!”

“I just--”

“Steve, get in the fucking bed.”

“Buck, I’m not--”

“Get in the fucking bed now, Steve.” And now Bucky isn’t annoyed with him. Now he’s genuinely angry. His voice has gone all soft and deadly, and his eyes are flat and-- Hurt. Steve’s hurt him.

Steve gets in the bed. He turns on his side, away from Bucky, and curls up as best he can. At least when he was little he was better able to curl up in a little ball and try to disappear. He hears Bucky climb into bed behind him and curls up tighter. A moment later, Bucky’s right arm is sliding across his waist.

“C’mon, Stevie,” Bucky murmurs, snuggling up to him, close and closer. Steve can’t help but relax into him a little bit, even though he feels bad, and knows he’s hurt Bucky and hates that.

“‘M’sorry,” Steve mumbles.

“No, no,” Bucky replies. “No need for that. Just.” Bucky heaves a deep breath and sighs against Steve’s neck.

Steve pretends it doesn’t make him shiver.

“Just, I wish you didn’t forget so often that you’re allowed to be human, too. You’re allowed to need a little help. You’re allowed to let someone else do the work for a little while, sometimes.”

Steve just shakes his head, swallowing hard, unable to speak.

Bucky sighs again. “All right, we’ll argue about it some more tomorrow. Go to sleep, solnishka.”

----

Steve wakes up alone the next morning. He rolls over and grabs his phone from the nightstand, and has to stare at it for a while, blinking at the time and taking in the fact that he just slept for almost twelve hours.

And he doesn’t feel great, despite that. His head is pounding, right in time with his heart. He is slow to throw off the covers and sit up, and he’s a little dizzy when he does so. He sits there on the edge of the bed for a few minutes, hand over his eyes while his head continues to pound away, and wonders vaguely where Bucky is.

He stands up, eventually, and sits right back down again, because standing is. Not good. His vision grays out and he thinks he might throw up but then he’s sitting again and that’s a little bit better. A little bit.

Eventually, he stands up again, slower this time, and the dizziness passes after a few moments, and his heart is still pounding away, so hard it almost hurts, but the gray retreats to the edge of his vision and his stomach decides to stay in its place.

Bucky is watching him, from the couch where he’d been reading. The book is open in his lap, forgotten while he scrutinizes Steve; Steve can feel it. He can feel Bucky worrying about him from across the loft, feel it like a weight on his shoulders.

Bucky watches with one eyebrow raised in question as he crosses the space between them and sinks down onto the couch next to him.

Steve shrugs. “I’m fine.”

“Sure, Steve,” Bucky agrees, all too easily. But there’s a tone.

Before Steve can actually move to get out of his reach, Bucky’s grabbed him, both hands on his face and looking him dead in the eye.

“Tell me,” he commands.

Steve shrugs again, as much as he’s able, anyway. It’s nice, with Bucky’s hands on his face. It keeps the world from tilting, although he’s afraid Bucky can feel how hard his heart is pounding.

“I don’t feel so good,” Steve mumbles.

Bucky snorts.

“Got a headache, is all. Stomach’s a little… off.”

“Better,” Bucky says. The tone is still there.

“That’s it. Really!” It hurts to put that much into his voice, but he manages not to wince at it.

Bucky lets go, reluctantly. “You want something to eat?”

Steve shrugs again, and slumps back into the couch, now that Bucky isn’t holding him up anymore.

“Toast sound all right? Maybe some fruit? Bananas may be gross but at least they’re easy on the stomach. I can go raid Wade’s kitchen for some if you want one.”

“Toast,” Steve agrees. “Tea?”

“Okay,” Bucky allows. “Toast and tea.”

----

Steve eats most of his toast and sips his tea under Bucky’s watchful eye. He remembers this, Bucky forcing food on him when he was sick and didn’t want it, but desperately needed it. He doesn’t think he really needs food right now, and it certainly doesn’t do much to settle his stomach, or soothe his aching head, or slow his pounding heart.

Bucky watches him the whole time, the way he used to, concerned and exasperated at the same time. It’s familiar. It feels warm to Steve, like home, like love.

When it becomes clear that Steve is finished, Bucky grabs his plate and his mug and takes them into the kitchen. When he comes back, he sits down next to Steve and says, “C’mere.”

Steve blinks at him, and Bucky doesn’t wait for Steve to get it, he just manhandles him until he’s got his head in Bucky’s lap.

“I don’t like this, Stevie,” he murmurs, keeping his voice low and soothing. He puts his metal hand over Steve’s eyes, cool and gentle, and Steve sighs. His other hand goes into Steve’s hair, stroking along his head, around his ears and the back of his neck.

Steve makes a noise. He’s not sure if it’s meant to be encouragement or disagreement. Bucky probably takes it as the latter. It’s a safe bet. But Steve doesn’t move, not to look at Bucky or protest or anything, because Bucky’s hands over his eyes and against his scalp are the only relief he’s had, even if his heart is still pounding uncomfortably and he’s pretty sure Bucky can hear it.

“We should go back to the Tower so you can get checked out,” Bucky continues. “Your heart sounds like a freight train.”

This time the noise Steve makes is definitely disagreement. Bucky sighs, and is silent for a little while.

“Compromise?” He asks, eventually. “If you don’t feel better tomorrow we go get you checked out. I don’t care what you say, solnishka, this isn’t good, how terrible you clearly feel.”

“Okay,” Steve replies, after a few minutes.

“Try to sleep some more,” Bucky says, and his voice is colored with worry. His hand in Steve’s hair is tense, though not enough so that his touch is ungentle, just enough that Steve notices.

Steve sighs again, and lets himself drift off under Bucky’s ministrations, under his care.

----

He wakes up again, later, and nothing is better. His head is still pounding, possibly even worse than before. When he opens his eyes, there are spots everywhere, so he shuts them again. His head isn’t in Bucky’s lap anymore, and he feels a brief stab of aching in his chest at that.

Or maybe that’s just his pounding heart.

“Buck?” He mumbles as he struggles into a sitting position. “I don’t feel so good.”

Slowly, he stands, and that is clearly the worst idea ever because the spots get bigger, and the pounding in his head is so intense he’s pretty sure he really is gonna throw up or pass out. Or both.

“Steve?”

It sounds like Bucky’s voice is coming from far away, down a long tunnel. He turns slowly, and Bucky’s right there and a million miles away at the same time.

“Steve? Stevie?!”

He can’t make his mouth work to reply, and--

Everything--

Goes--

Black.

----

Steve doesn’t so much wake up as he sort of floats back into something that resembles consciousness. There are people all around him, moving around urgently and with purpose.

That’s probably not good, but everything still hurts in a sort of vague far-off way that means he’s probably got a lot of drugs being pumped into his bloodstream, so he lets go and lets them pull him back under with only a half formed thought of “where’s Bucky?”

----

Awake again. Sort of. Enough so that he can open his eyes, anyway. The light isn’t so harsh this time, and his feet are cold. There’s hardly any light, and he can’t really move his head much; he’s wearing an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose. He doesn’t like it, doesn’t like it at all. He’d never actually had to spend time in an iron lung, but somehow it puts him in mind of that, of being trapped and unable to go anywhere.

Bucky’s face swims into view, and Steve’s brain immediately starts going mushy and relieved. Bucky is here so everything must be okay. But Bucky doesn’t look good. Steve can hear him sniffling. In the dim light, his eyes look red-rimmed and watery. He’s been crying? Why has he been crying? What happened?

“Jesus,” Bucky gasps, as he bends over, closer and closer until his lips collide with Steve’s skin, with his cheek, his eyelid when Steve blinks at the first kiss, his temple, his forehead.

“Jesus, Stevie, Jesus you’re okay. You’re gonna be okay you are not allowed, do you hear me?”

“What happened?” Steve asks. Only he can’t really make his throat work and the oxygen mask muffles what little does come out so it’s something closer to “whappe’ed?”

Bucky moves his lips from Steve’s forehead enough to bump his own forehead into Steve, against his chest--ow--against his shoulder and then against his own forehead. It’s nice, like this, and Steve hopes he stays, and he wants to put his arms around Bucky and hold him there but he can’t move his hands, he can’t move his arms. He can’t really move at all.

He must make a noise, because Bucky is touching him more, with more than just his forehead, his hands are on Steve’s face, and he’s making soothing noises.

“No, Steve, don’t move. It’s okay, I promise it’s okay, we’re just waiting for the quinjet, that’s why, I promise, I promise.” Bucky sounds nearly frantic, trying to reassure Steve, trying to keep him from panicking, from freaking out and thrashing his way off whatever it is he’s on.

There must be something in his eyes, because Bucky takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. He keeps doing that until Steve gets the idea and starts to breathe with him, slowing his own breaths to match.

“Good, good,” Bucky says. “Are you listening to me, Stevie? Are you with me?”

Steve lets his gaze settle on Bucky’s face, so close to his own, and he nods.

“You passed out at home. Your heart was racing, and I called 911, and it’s a good thing, because shortly after that--” Bucky stops and looks away for a moment. His breath hitches.

“You stopped breathing in the ambulance, Steve. They couldn’t get your heart to stop racing and it just-- It stopped. I, um, I might’ve broken a couple of your ribs doing chest compressions.”

His breath hitches again, and Steve makes a pained noise. He can’t reach out to Bucky, and he wants to, more than he can remember ever wanting anything.

“‘M’sorry, Buck,” he tries to say. He’s not sure it comes out at all, though.

He’s starting to go fuzzy around the edges again. There must be some really powerful drugs in the IVs at his side.

Bucky must notice, because he starts speaking again, faster now. “We’re waiting for the jet so we can get you back to the Tower, Steve. You have to stay with me, do you hear me? You are not allowed to--”

“‘M’sorry,” Steve mumbles again. “Love you, Buck.”

Bucky starts to say something else, but Steve doesn’t hear it.

----

He dreams that Bucky and Natasha are having a really intense argument in Russian over his corpse. It is a very strange dream, with her admonishing Bucky to ‘tell him’ and Bucky telling her to mind her own goddamn business.

Well, that’s not the strange part. The strange part is that they’re doing it over his corpse.

He doesn’t find it strange, dreaming about being dead. After all, it’s something he has a lot of experience with.

----

Steve blinks up at the ceiling above him, against the harsh fluorescent light. What is it with hospitals and fluorescent lights? They’re so awful. He blinks against the light, and he listens to the beeping of the heart monitor that must be right next to his head. He doesn’t bother turning to look. He listens to it beeping and he counts his heartbeats. His heart is not racing, its pace is nice and slow, the way he’s grown used to it being. It’s nice. He’s not in pain, and his heart isn’t pounding, and he has no idea how long he’s been out of commission, and that’s when he lifts his head and looks around.

Natasha is perched at the end of the bed, with her chin on her knee and her arms wrapped around her drawn up knees.

Steve looks around.

Bucky is… not there.

“He went home,” Natasha says, when Steve looks back at her.

“Oh.”

She makes a tsking noise, and Steve frowns at her.

“I think you freaked him out. I know you two are both even more emotionally constipated than I am,” Natasha continues, her voice low. “And normally I make it a point to stay the hell out of shit like this, but you’re really never going to get anywhere at all if you don’t actually tell him how you feel.”

“I did,” Steve replies. “I think.”

“If you’re almost dead it doesn’t count, Steve. C’mon, even you should know that.”

“Story of my life,” Steve mutters.

Natasha snorts at him, completely unsympathetic. “Get your shit together, Steve.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because James ran away when I tried to tell him,” she replies with a shrug. “You’re sort of a captive audience.”

Steve sighs, and Natasha raises one perfect eyebrow at him.

“What happened?” he asks. He feels better. He feels fine. Something clearly happened.

Natasha shrugs. “Thor showed up with a healer from Asgard. Took all of about twenty minutes to get you sorted. Weird sparkly pink shit, whoosh, you’re fine. Good thing, too, your heart was about to give out. They think you had a pretty massive heart attack, but your heart looks fine on all the tests they’ve been running.”

“Don’t sugar-coat it, Nat, jeez.”

She shrugs again. “You should be used to almost dying by now.”

It’s Steve’s turn to shrug, because, well, yeah.

After a moment, he sits up and starts removing all the random bits of medical machinery still attached to him. He can tell that the serum is working again, in a hundred thousand little ways that he never thought he’d miss until they were gone and everything hurt again.

He has better things to do than stick around the Tower’s medical level right now.

Once everything is detached, he starts casting around for clothes. Thankfully his sweats and t-shirt are folded neatly on the table next to the bed. Natasha just watches impassively as he gets dressed. At least they’d left him his underwear this time.

“Enjoying the view?” he asks Natasha.

“Yup.” She grins at him, ignoring the sarcasm.

“You’re the worst,” Steve replies.

“Yup,” she agrees. “You want a ride or not?”

“Yes, please.”

Natasha rolls her eyes.

“You’re the best, Nat.”

“Yeah, yeah yeah. C’mon, Rogers, get your sneakers on before the docs show up and try to detain you. You’re really terrible at this, you know that right?”

“So you keep telling me,” Steve replies, hopping on one foot as he puts the other shoe on.

----

She drops him off outside of Bucky’s building. She hadn’t even asked for directions. Steve wonders briefly if he should tell Bucky that Natasha knows where he lives, but then he figures ex-assassins probably think alike, so Buck probably already knows.

He runs into Wade downstairs.

“Did you guys have a fight?” he asks, when Steve says hello.

“No. Why?” Steve replies, instantly worried. Is Bucky okay?

Wade shrugs. “He was real upset when I saw him earlier, and he said you weren’t with him. He seemed sad about that.”

“Oh,” Steve says, because he has no reply for that, besides the truth. “Well, he might be mad at me. I sort of, almost, um. Died on him, a few days ago. We seem to keep doing that to each other.”

“You should stop that,” Wade points out.

“Yeah,” Steve agrees. “We should.”

----

Bucky answers the door after only a few moments. He seems surprised to see Steve standing on his threshold in ratty sweats and a t-shirt. Steve thinks he shouldn’t be surprised. Or maybe it’s just that Steve looks terrible. Which he probably does. He did apparently almost die a couple days ago.

“Hi,” Steve says.

Real smooth, Rogers.

“Hi,” Bucky replies. Wade was right, he does seem upset.

“I’m sorry,” Steve adds. He’s not sure what he’s sorry about. Probably everything. Probably that he’d maybe told Bucky he loved him when he was on death’s door.

(But then, he’s pretty sure he’s done that before. Funny how it hasn’t gotten through Bucky’s thick skull yet.)

(Of course, Bucky’s still around. And Steve’s still not sure he believes it of Bucky either.)

(Jesus, Natasha’s right.)

Bucky nods at him, steps back from the door, and Steve definitely deliberately brushes against him as he passes by, if only for the way it sends a shiver down his own spine. Maybe it does the same for Bucky. He hopes it does.

“I really like your place, Buck,” Steve says, going towards the couch, looking around, looking at the spaces that Bucky has left. The spaces for him, he hopes.

Bucky doesn’t say anything; he’s watching Steve. Just watching, but there’s something in his eyes that makes Steve feel electric.

“You’re real good with space, yanno? You always were, even when all we had between us was a ratty couch--”

“I still say someone died on that couch,” Bucky interrupts.

Steve glares at him; it’s an old thing, they’d argued over it for years. No one had ever died on their couch. Maybe a rat had died in it, it sure smelled that way, but no one died on the couch. It was a terrible couch though. Apparently it’s an argument that isn’t going to go away ever.

“Yeah, well, your new one is much nicer, Buck.”

“Damn right it is. Bought it new, even.”

Steve glares at him. I’m trying to say something here, Buck. Bucky notices his glare and mimes zipping his lips, motioning for Steve to go on. His eyes are dancing. He’s such an asshole. Steve wants to kiss him forever.

It’s a strange feeling, thinking maybe that might actually be possible. Maybe. Possibly. If he’s right. If Natasha was right, which is a much more likely scenario than Steve being right.

“Even when all we had was a ratty couch and a card table and two chairs and the clothes on our backs, you always made our little place feel cozy. Feel like it was home. It always felt all filled up with stuff, I couldn’t ever explain it--” Steve cuts himself off, looking around, looking anywhere but at Bucky, who’s still watching him.

He doesn’t know how to finish that. Is he really about to ask his best friend if he can move in? Is that why he’s here? Is that too much?

When he finally lifts his eyes to Bucky’s, Bucky is laughing at him. Oh, his face is somber, waiting, but Steve can tell. Bucky is definitely laughing at him, and Steve just growls in frustration, grabs Bucky’s face, and plants one right on him.

It’s over almost as soon as it starts, because Steve doesn’t really know what he’s doing. Not that he doesn’t know how to kiss, no matter what Natasha still likes to insinuate occasionally, but he doesn’t know if Bucky will welcome that sort of thing. He doesn’t know, but he also has no idea how to say what he really wants.

So he presses their lips together, dry, chaste, and then he pulls back. Drops his hands, lets go of Bucky. Takes a step back, and forces the words out of his mouth, “I was wondering if maybe you left all the spaces in here for me?”

It comes out almost as all one word, one breath, because he can’t stand the not knowing, and he can’t stand having the words in his head any longer.

Bucky takes a step forward, into his space, looking him dead in the eye, a little smirk playing at the corners of his lips.

“Naw, Stevie,” he drawls. “I’ve just been calling you sunshine for months now cuz of you bein’ my best pal and all.”

But he’s tangling his fingers with Steve’s, and smirking at him, all charm, and he nudges at Steve with his nose, til Steve turns just a bit, tilts his head, and Bucky is kissing him again, slow and sweet, like they’ve got all the time in the world.

He won’t let Steve have the kiss, won’t let him lead, and after a bare moment, Steve gives in, gives over, and Bucky hums his approval against his lips.

When it ends, eventually, Bucky’s still smirking, and Steve is breathless. He leans back and tries to glare.

“You’re a jerk,” Steve accuses.

It only makes Bucky grin wider. “Punk.”

“Why do you call me sunshine, anyway?” Steve asks, after a moment. He leans in, until Bucky’s arms go around him, holding him close, and he drops his head to Bucky’s shoulder, turns his face into his neck and breathes deep.

Bucky doesn’t answer, he just starts humming, and the words pop into Steve’s head. Bucky’s humming ‘You Are My Sunshine’, and Steve can remember him singing it, ages upon ages ago, in another lifetime.

“You’re a sap,” he says into Bucky’s neck.

“Yup,” Bucky agrees. “But so are you, so it evens out.”

They’re swaying, a little, to the tune of the song that is running through both their heads. Bucky’s hands are moving up and down Steve’s back, slow and steady, and it’s the most soothing thing Steve’s ever felt, soothing and relaxing.

“You’re about to fall asleep on me, aren’t you?” Bucky asks, eventually. His voice is low, and Steve shakes his head in denial.

“No,” he says, but his voice is slow and a little slurred.

Bucky chuckles. “You’ve been unconscious for three days, Stevie.”

“‘M’fine.”

“Yeah, you’re fine.”

“‘M’sorry I almost died on you, Buck. Sorry I told you I loved you when I was almost dead.”

“Eh,” Bucky replies, and now they’re shuffling, probably towards the bed. That’s probably good. Steve shouldn’t be tired. He shouldn’t be like this, he’s fine, but it’s okay, because Bucky’s here. Bucky’s got him. “I should be used to it by now. You’ve spent most of your life almost dying on me. C’mon Stevie, let’s get you into bed. You can tell me you love me again when you’re conscious for real.”

Steve sort of falls over, into the bed. It’s a big bed. “You bought a big bed,” he mumbles.

“The biggest I could find,” Bucky replies, easy enough. “You’re a cover hog. Go to sleep, Stevie. My solnishka.”

“My Buck,” Steve mumbles. “You love me too, right?”

Bucky leans down and kisses him, soft against the corner of his lips, and Steve turns towards him but he’s already gone. “Eh,” Bucky says, soft in his ear. “You’re all right, sweetheart.”

“Sweet talker.” He’s not even sure if it actually comes out of his mouth or if he just thinks it.

“Love you too,” is the last thing he hears before he drifts off.

Chapter Text

Natasha is sipping her first cup of coffee of the morning when Jarvis clears his throat. She hates that she is watched, even if it by a benevolent AI, even though she knows Jarvis keeps only the bare minimum of surveillance on her. It makes her paranoid, and she has enough to be paranoid about without worrying about Tony Stark watching her sleep.

"Pardon my intrusion, Agent Romanoff, but perhaps you may be willing to join your teammates on the common floor?" Jarvis says. He sounds contrite.

Natasha sighs. "What happened."

"I would be happy to explain, only it appears that Sir is working himself into something of a lather and Miss Potts is unavoidably detained in Dubai at the moment and cannot calm him. I am hopeful that the team may be able to help."

Only Stark still doesn't really trust her so she's not sure how much help she'll be. But Tony in a lather might at least be amusing so.

"Okay." Natasha picks up her coffee mug and heads for the elevator. She doesn't stay in the Tower often, it makes her slightly claustrophobic. Also: constant surveillance, not really her bag. But she's been sticking close by for Steve. Because she's worried about him. He's her friend. Hell, even Clint has been sticking close by, and Clint flat out hates the Tower. It's too shiny and new and not-rundown for Clint's tastes and comfort level. They’ve all been on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop with Steve, waiting for him to get better or get sicker. They all miss Captain America, in their own ways, although Natasha is pretty sure she likes Steve Rogers far more than she likes Captain America.

Maybe she'll suggest to Clint that they head out to his place for the weekend, indulge in beer and pizza and other things before coming back to the Tower again. It would be a nice break.

Maybe she should suggest Bucky do the same with Steve. Take him away for a couple days. Indulge in something or other. Or each other. It would be a nice break for them, too.

She's been teasing James for a while now, about his crush on his best friend. She's told him Steve feels the same way, because it's obvious, but neither of them has done anything about it yet. Idiots. She hopes they don’t keep this dance up much longer, or else she’s going to get annoyed and probably butt in where she really shouldn’t. But they’re her friends. Once upon a time, James was something more than that to her. She wants them both to be happy.

When the elevator opens on the common floor the first thing she hears is Tony. Yelling. Because of course he is. It’s a common enough occurrence, but she still rolls her eyes.

Natasha sips her coffee as she wanders into the kitchen, taking in the scene before her. The whole team is apparently watching Tony pace and rant. He appears to be ranting at Jarvis. Natasha takes up a perch leaning against the counter next to Sam, whose eyebrows are somewhere near his hairline, his coffee forgotten in his hand while he watches Tony. Bruce is sitting at the table with his chin in his hands, eyes flicking back and forth, following Tony’s movements. He doesn’t appear awake enough to be concerned. No one else is apparently around for this, and Natasha wonders if she should get out her phone and record it to send to Pepper. But no, Jarvis will probably take care of that for her. Pepper and he are very close. Natasha glances across the room to where Clint is sitting on the counter eating Lucky Charms and slurping his coffee.

What's going on? She signs to him.

Clint puts down his cereal and signs back, The Ghost kidnapped Steve last night.

Has anyone called Steve to check on him? she replies.

No?

Natasha rolls her eyes, because of course no one had thought to just call Steve and check on him, and tunes back in to the rest of the scene when Jarvis speaks up.

"Sir I must assure you that Sergeant Barnes's reasoning for removing Captain Rogers from the Tower was quite sound. He believed it to be best for the captain's health and I agreed with him. Captain Rogers gave his uncoerced consent to going. He wasn't kidnapped."

"You can't just let the most feared assassin in the world waltz out of here with a national icon, Jarvis!" Tony yells in response. He throws his hands up, exasperated, and everyone is collectively grateful that he doesn’t have anything in his hands.

Natasha clears her throat, as a matter of pride.

Tony points at her. "Second most feared assassin!"

Natasha smiles at him, salutes him with her coffee mug. It's way too early for Tony's dramatics. As he launches back into his theatrics, she pulls her phone from her pocket and calls Steve.

He answers on the third ring, his voice slurred by sleep. The wheeze, however, is gone already, and Natasha finds herself smiling. Apparently James had been right to kidnap him; and really, she’s certain Steve hadn’t minded being kidnapped.

"'Lo?"

"Good morning Steve," she replies. "Were you kidnapped last night?"

"Wha..? No?"

"But you're not in the Tower anymore?"

"'M'stayin' with Buck a while. Tower was fucking up the asthma." He sounds like he hasn’t even lifted his head from the pillow, and she wonders when the last time he got a decent night’s sleep was. Probably before this all happened. She hopes James is next to him in that bed, although she’s willing to lay odds that he’d tried to give up the bed for Steve, and that Steve had protested, had insisted that he’d take the couch instead, not wanting to put his friend out of his own bed.

Self-sacrificing idiots.

At this point, everyone is staring at her, dumbfounded all, except Clint, who knows her better.

"I'm going to put you on speaker now, Steve. Tell the team what you just told me?"

She hits a button on her phone and says, "Go ahead Steve."

"I'm staying with Bucky for a while guys, I'm fine, can I go back to sleep now?"

"Yes," Nat says as she clicks speaker off again. "Give James my love, sorry to wake you, bye!"

Natasha hangs up and glares at Tony, who is staring at her, stunned, like it had never even crossed his mind to just call Steve. Because it hadn’t. It hadn’t crossed anyone’s mind. Natasha wonders how she fell in with such… men.

"I think I'm going back to bed, too," she says, and leaves them all to go pack her bag and go home for a few days.