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flickering light's just a flame

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"Are you sure?" Steve asks, with that worried tilt of his head, and Bucky makes a fist, opens it, exhales, and lets go of the fantasy of storming down the stairs and slamming the front door behind him.

"I wouldn't ask if I weren’t," Bucky says, scooting up the bed and leaning against the headboard, opening a little space from where Steve is sitting over the side. Steve makes a noncommittal noise and turns the handle of the device over in his hands. Bucky tracks his glance to the small black case of blown-glass attachments. "It's safe, Steve. It's not even really a shock. It's more of an- electrical poke. It's not going to hurt me. Well-"

"It wouldn't have much of a point unless it did," Steve finishes, and the smile ghosts across his face before he shuts it down.

Bucky almost huffs in frustration, but settles instead for curling and uncurling his bare toes against the comforter. "I don't want to- bring up anything," Steve says, and he looks down at the floor, shoulders slouched. "I don't want to be the one who reminds you of anything that- that they did."

He needs to come at this from another angle, Bucky realizes. "Remember when you were small," he starts, and Steve gives him a patented how could I have forgotten? wiseass look. Bucky waves it away and keeps going. "And you liked for me to throw you around a little bit."

"Still do," Steve says, and that's a better smile, one that stays longer and comes with a smug glint.

"Heh," Bucky says, indulging briefly in thinking about how he muscled Steve down onto the sofa the night before, climbing on top and squeezing his thighs around Steve's hips and- "Anyway," he coughs, "you like- you liked that, but if some tough tried to push you around in an alley-" Steve makes a face like there's someone he wants to punch but can't. "See? See, exactly."

"See what?" Steve asks, still looking slightly pissy.

"It's different when it's us," Bucky says. He looks down at his fingers, fidgeting with the hem of his undershirt. "I'm not going to lie to you," he says, and Steve puts his hand on Bucky's ankle gently, gently, the way Steve always seems to touch him now. "I'm not going to tell you they never hurt me, but - look, when you- when you're out there, being Captain America, people try to push you around all the time," Bucky meets Steve's eyes, tries to will some of their old synchrony back, "and it's different than when I do it. If someone else does it, you push 'em back. You kick 'em in the fucking head," Bucky says, gesturing, and Steve laughs.

"Yeah, I try," Steve says.

"So this is- it's like that," Bucky says. "When I say I want you to hurt me. It's because I like it when you do it. And I know you like to do it. I remember," he says, and Steve looks right at him, color high in his cheeks, lashes lowered, and Bucky thinks about that summer when he first started working at the docks. He thinks as hard as he can about the thousand bruises and scrapes he got from hauling and carrying and knocking into things, and how Steve would fit his fingers to each one, Steve would play him like a goddamned piano until Bucky's eyes would water and his nose would run and he would come, gasping. And then Steve would gather him up and say shh, shh, with his wheezy little breath, and Bucky would fall asleep wrapped around Steve's skinny ribcage, wet face pressed into Steve's neck.

Bucky thinks about it as hard as he can, and Steve swallows and says, "Yeah," and Bucky grins.

"Yeah?" Bucky asks.

"Yeah, show me how to work this damn thing," Steve says. "You know, back in my day, we didn't use fancy electroshock thingies. We had to-"

"Can it," Bucky says, and headbutts him in the shoulder.

"You can it," Steve retorts, shoving Bucky in retaliation.

That time, they don't use the toy, but they get around to it eventually.