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Restless knots to untie

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“Dreams are stories made by and for the dreamer, and each dreamer has his own folds to open and knots to untie.”
― Siri Hustvedt, The Shaking Woman

 

Sometimes T’Challa just stands in the shadow of the door, watching him watch the tank. Dr. Onwuatuegwu understands about killing against your family, understands ties that cannot be broken more than most. T’Challa recognizes the look in the man’s eye, the wish to do better, to fix the mistakes of the past.

T’Challa had stood by him at his son’s funeral. The boy had taken his father’s 9mm and put it in his mouth in the family bathroom. He had only been back a year. A year in which the family, Dr. Onwuatuegwu, had celebrated his recovery, vaulted the methods of his hospital and rehabilitation program.

The success stories had been numerous. Many families reunited. Not happy, but surviving, moving on. But not all.

He steps from the shadow of the door, clears his throat, announces his presence.

“How are you, Doctor?”

A slight tensing in his shoulders, and a respectful nod towards T’Challa.

“I am well Your Highness.”

He watches Barnes through the frosted glass. The bluish light in the tube makes him seem ethereal, not quite real. The tiny pinpricks of ice over his flesh sparkle as T’Challa moves closer, distorting his eye.

“How is our guest sleeping?”

The Doctor is silent for a long time. For a moment T’Challa thinks that he is not going to answer, the silence stretching out for too long.

“He is not asleep. It is not a dream state he is in.”

There is a box in front of him, white and sterile. Weathered hands resting on the sides, holding it like a treasure.

“Those in suspended animation do not dream. There is nothing but blackness. Darkness forever.”

His hands move over the box, like a caress. He flicks the safety latch open and lifts the lid. A silvery chip rests inside, not much larger than T’Challa’s palm.

“We all need dreams, do we not?”

It is a hopeful question asked by someone with no hope and it comes across empty.

T’Challa thinks of Captain Rogers who sometimes comes to the chamber in the dead of night when no one is around. He stands in front of the glass and watches. His face so filled with emotion, so overwhelmed. It is only in the darkness, in the silence that he shows it. The cool indifferent mask he wears in the day would fool T’Challa had he not seen Rogers at night.

If he had not seen how Rogers rests his hand on the cold glass of the tube, right over Barnes’ heart and whispers “Bucky” like a prayer. Had he not seen the pain like a splintered mirror bloom on the man’s face.

Dr. Onwuatuegwu is still speaking, voice steady and soothing.

“This would allow him to do so. To dream. It is my own design. For the hopeless cases.”

T’Challa wonders what lives in the mind of a killer, a murderer of hundreds, of a body designed purely for destruction.

“What if the dreams are nightmares?”

The Doctor doesn’t look at him, his eyes fixed on the tube, on the face of the sleeping man, captured in ice.

“We monitor his brain waves. I will see if there is distress. It can be turned off.”

Chapter Text

возвращение на родину - Homecoming

 

Bucky jolts awake. His legs are tangled in a maroon coloured duvet. He is lying in the middle of a large king bed, surrounded by pillows in matching maroon pillowcases. He is warm, but there is a part of him, deep in his gut that is still cold. A spark of ice somewhere inside.

He holds still for a long time, listening, assessing. Nothing in his body hurts.

Suddenly he looks down on the left arm lying on his side. A whole arm. The metal is smooth and shiny, reflecting the maroon colour of the sheets.

There are memories. Overlaid with one another. Hydra, blood, and saliva clogging his throat muffling his screams as they cut into his flesh. A clean hospital ward, a nice haze of morphine in his veins and kind blue eyes watching him as he wakes. He knows which one of them is the real memory, but his mind doesn’t want to obey. The sense recall of a hand holding his in the hospital is so overpowering, it covers everything like an avalanche.

He flexes the fingers and rotates his wrist, listening to the plates calibrate as he moves. Smooth as anything. He wiggles his toes, they are toasty warm inside the duvet. His pyjama pants soft against the skin of his legs. It’s nice.

He runs his flesh hand over the sheets. They too are soft, worn and old, clearly repeatedly washed. Objectively he knows that he should be scared, should find cover and a clean eyeline, assess the environment for threats, but for some reason, his brain is refusing to. Instead, he feels calm, comfortable. Strangely at home in a way he can barely remember ever feeling.

There is a fluffy rug on the floor, strategically placed so that his feet hit it as he gets up.

Bucky moves silently into the hallway, it’s short with a closed door on his left and opening to a wide, bright living space. Big TV and a large, comfortable couch with two worn-out looking armchairs. Bucky thinks that he can spy at least two gaming consoles on the shelf under the TV.

The walls are lined with pictures, some just scraps of paper attached with scotch tape, a few framed pencil works, and two large abstract canvases. Bucky recognizes the work, would know the artist anywhere.

Steve.

The thought hurts. The memory of his face just outside the tank. The last thing Bucky saw. But the memory of it feels faint as if he is looking at it across a vast distance. His brain having to work to pull it up.

He looks at the rumpled cushions and a blanket carelessly thrown over the back of the couch. It’s a quilted blanket like the one they used to have in Brooklyn, in the shitty flat in Red Hook. Worn with age but warm. A memory blooms, the blanket over his and Steve’s shoulders when the boiler packed it in three winters ago and it took the super two days to fix it.

The kitchen is a runoff from the living room, separated by a large-ish dining table. There is a dirty plate on the counter, a few apples in a garishly coloured fruit bowl. A few magazines on the table piled in a semi-resemblance of order.

Everything has a lived-in feel, it reminds Bucky of Red Hook more and more. Of course, this place is much nicer and cleaner. Bigger too, but just the nagging feeling of home that blooms under his sternum, it pulls him in like a drug.

He wanders back into the hall. The bathroom is small but comfortable, lived in with a cracked tile on the wall of the shower. He’d meant to get it fixed. He looks at the shower curtain. It has pictures of fish on it, and suddenly Bucky has the strongest memory of standing in an aisle of Bed, Bath and Beyond comparing a plain shower curtain with the one with fishes on it. He had bought the ones with the fish.

Bucky is pretty sure that he has never been in Bed, Bath, and Beyond but for some reason, his memory is telling him that he has.

There are two toothbrushes in a cup by the sink, leaning on each other. Two razors and a variety of men’s products on the shelves. Several thick towels hang from the hooks in the door.

As if by habit he picks up the blue toothbrush and brushes his teeth, cleans his face from the remains of sleep. It feels practiced as if he has performed these same motions in front of this same mirror, this sink, hundreds, thousands of times.

There are two black hairbands on top of the side cabinet, strands of dark hair wrapped around the elastic. It’s muscle memory, picking one up, gathering his hair at the back of his head, looping the band around to form a bun, a ponytail, something.

He hears the door opening with a click and a friendly shout of his name. He knows that voice would know it anywhere.

A shocked question rings in the back of his head. The breathless way it was said across a highway. Bucky. It’s easy to let it fall away and concentrate how the tenor of Steve’s voice is different now.

Bucky exits the bathroom and his breath stutters for a moment.

Steve stands by the front door, several shopping bags by his feet. White t-shirt, worn jeans, a leather jacket already thrown haphazardly onto the hook by the door. Face open and eyes gentle, the worry and tension that Bucky suddenly struggles to remember are gone.

“How’s the headache? You were pretty out of it this morning.”

He had been feeling poorly, mumbling his goodbyes into the pillow when Steve had shouted through the door. So he just shrugs.

“It’s okay, I guess.”

“Good! You gonna go teach the class tonight?”

Class. And suddenly the knowledge is there, as soon as he thinks it. He has an MMA class tonight. Beginners, smarmy city boys wanting to play at fighting. He had been looking forward to wiping the floor with them.

“I got you a Reuben from the deli. Though you might be hungry.”

Steve is smiling, dopey and happy. He’s back from the studio, he left early in the morning to catch the perfect light. Bucky isn’t totally sure how he knows this.

Steve lugs the shopping into the kitchen and pulls out a sandwich wrapped in grease paper, putting in on the side of the counter with a smile that crinkles the corners of his eyes. It feels like a gut punch, the normality, and the ease of their interaction.

“I asked for extra sauerkraut for you.”

The Reuben smells amazing and Bucky finishes it in just a few bites while leaning against the kitchen counter while Steve puts away the groceries and hums a tuneless song under his breath. He never could sing for shit.

Objectively he knows that this is a dream. Knows that he is cryo, can vaguely still feel the pain and flash freezing in his bones, but his brain is fighting him. Everything feels real, smells real.

The gut-wrenching way that the fabric Steve’s t-shirt stretches over his shoulders, hugging his arms as he washed up the dishes left over in the sink from breakfast.

The taste of the Reuben still lingering on his tongue, the acid of the sauerkraut.

The afternoon light through the blinds, how it picks the grooves on the wood of the dining table.

Every sense is telling him that this is real and he wonders if it would be so bad, to live in this place with Steve. To have a home.

After finishing his sandwich Bucky wanders back into his room and opens the door of the built-in wardrobe. It’s filled with more clothing that Bucky thinks he has ever owned. Nice looking jeans and a few pairs of dress pants. T-shirts and soft henleys, sweaters in dark blues and greys and one garishly red one with a reindeer on the front.

There is also a huge pile of workout gear and a container filled with rolls of boxing tape. He picks a pair of shorts and t-shirt and throws on a set of sweatpants and a hoodie against the cool autumn air of New York.

His feet take him down the road from the steps of their brownstone on muscle memory, across the small park and past a row of shops and cafes. It’s a nice neighbourhood, up and coming but not completely overpriced yet. A Whole Foods had opened not far last year so he thinks that it might not last long.

His feet stop in front of a classy looking gym. The sign above the door says “Fury’s”.

Bucky moves through the foyer and past the towel station like he knows where he’s going. And he does, the strange muscle memory again. He stops in front of a well-lit studio and recognizes Natasha immediately. Her red hair is in a messy knot at the back of her head and she waves and smiles at him through the glass wall. On instinct, he smiles and waves back at her. Surprisingly the smile doesn’t feel fake or forced.

She turns to say something to the women lining the bars at the edges of the studio and bounces to the door.

“Hey you! Going to kick some newbie ass tonight?”

Her smile is bright and luminous, and then she winks, theatrical and over the top.

“I’ll come by after I’m done here and give you a hand with the stragglers.”

Then as fast as she appeared, she turns on her heel and heads back into the studio. She teaches Barre and self-defence, he knows this again somehow. He watches her for a moment longer as she starts to lead the women through the warm up.

The gym is Natasha’s baby, she runs the show and the actual owner, Nick, is barely ever there. Bucky thinks that he’s never even met Nick. For a brief moment, the strangeness settles over him, memories that he has not made but still has in his head. The parallel lives running through his mind. His real life, the life outside the tank seems further and further away, almost like it happened to someone else or something he saw on TV.

He wonders if this is something he should be trying to escape from, but then he thinks of Steve’s smile and the Reuben. Thinks of the home they share, the gut feeling of belonging, the fish shower curtain that he seemed to have picked out.

It’s easy to push the real memories away, ignore the slight off feeling in everything around him until he barely even notices it. Bucky tapes up his normal hand in the staff locker rooms, puts away his sneakers, sweats, and his hoodie.

The MMA studio is one of the largest in the gym, now filled with dozen or so students. They are all men, city bankers or lawyers or some such wanting to be competitive, get a feel of danger away from their everyday desk jobs. Or maybe some of them had just seen Fight Club too many times and wanted to get Brad Pitt’s abs. They get that a lot in PT. People wanting to look like movie stars and only willing to commit an hour a week.

“Alright, gentlemen. I’m James and I will be your instructor for this course. You will be learning the use of both striking and grappling techniques, both standing and on the ground.”

He sees the looks, part curious and part frightened, the bravado in the way they hold themselves and look at the other participants. Sees the quick, darting glances thrown towards his metal arm. The Stark foundation had offered a fake skin overlay for the arm, but it had compromised some of the mobility so Bucky had decided against it. He had thought that the metal looked pretty bad-ass. Natasha had agreed when she hired him.

“Yes, this is top of the line StarkTech prosthetic, and no I will not be using it on any of you. Any questions?”

Some look at him owlishly, but there are a few that still have a challenge in their eyes. Good. Bucky was looking forward to teaching some humility this evening.

He cracks his hands, the metal plates shifting and smiles at the men wolfishly.

“Let’s get started.”

At the session’s end Natasha joins him and they do a demonstration of proper MMA fight. He uses the arm. It’s just a playful tussle for them, but it leaves their watchers queasy and impressed if the looks on their faces are anything to go by. Bucky assumes that only half will be back for next week. It’s why they charge the course fee in advance.

After the class is over and the students have cleared out Natasha helps him gather up the pads and put the mats back into place.

“Your boy came in about half an hour ago.”

“His not my boy, stop calling him that Nat.”

She just pokes her tongue out at him, mirth dancing in his eyes. He gives her a venomous look and heads out into the main gym, leaving the last of the pads for her as revenge.

Steve is in the free weights room. Bucky gives himself a brief moment admiring how Steve’s body flexes and moves as he heaves the dumbbell up, the way his butt tenses in his shorts on the upswing. He regrets it instantly as Natasha appears behind him.

“So, when are you two going to stop circling each other like two cats in heat?”

“Natalia!”

“What? You are. Like cats. In heat.”

She makes an all encompassing hand motion between him and Steve, who still hasn’t seen them. Bucky can see his lips moving, counting the reps under his breath.

Bucky isn’t sure how he feels about this development. Clearly Natasha knows about his feelings for Steve. He remembers a drunken confession at a dive bar after way too much beer and Natasha’s commiseration and waving over a set of shots for them. That evening had ended up with Bucky vomiting into the nearest gutter while Natasha leaned against the brick wall and laughed and laughed.

It’s a strange realization, that she is his confidante, his friend. Has kept his secrets.

“You can’t say that to him. He’s not like that.”

Natasha looks at him incredulously.

“He’s not what? Gay for you?”

He doesn’t grace Natasha with an answer, just a dark look.

“Jesus Bucky, you’re so fucking stupid sometimes.”

She sounds exasperated like they’ve had this argument before. He thinks that they have. He knows that this is a dream, but no dream of his is ever that good, no dream of his would ever give him Steve the way he has always wanted.

She touches his shoulder gently, mouth pulled into a tight smile.

“I just want to see you happy James.”

He pats her hand, so small under his own. Small but deadly. It’s a strange sort of comfort.

“I know Nat, and I do appreciate it.”

She heads back down to the studios for the final women only self-defence class of the evening.

Bucky lets himself look at Steve for a moment longer before making his way through the glass doors into the free weights area. He catches Steve’s eye in the mirror and waves. Leaning on one of the weight benches as Steve finishes his final reps.

“Pick up a pizza on the way home?”

Steve’s face lights up like Christmas and Bucky feels it twist deep in his belly.

They pick up the pizza from the hole in the wall on the way home. Crack open the beers Steve had bought earlier in the day and load up their Netflix queue. They poke and tease each other throughout the movie, easy, friendly touches, both full of pizza and beer.

It’s the kind of closeness that Bucky hadn’t even dreamed of. He had been happy with the brief touch of Steve’s hand on his shoulder, an anchor that he could hold onto. But this, shoulders and feet, and hands touching fighting over the last of the pizza. He lets Steve win, watching him devour the slice with a warm glow in his belly.

Steve tells him about the curator that came by in the morning to take a look at his work. He might be able to have his first solo show. Just a small gallery in the East Village but it’s a big break for him after years of trying.

They make plans for the weekend; to check out the new brunch place that opened two weeks ago down the street, maybe head up to Manhattan to buy Natasha's birthday present. Finally, fix the cracked bathroom tile.

The house is quiet when Bucky finally crawls under the maroon duvet, running his toes in the soft sheets. Wraps himself in the comfort and warmth, allowing himself to have this, the scent of home around him.

 

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Steve gasps awake in his room, the light of early morning sun of Wakanda filtering through the wooden blinds, painting stripes on the bed covers in golden yellow light.

Chapter Text

печь - Stove

 

He showers in the opulent bathroom attached to his suite. Arms and ribs and back still strangely tender, like a ghostly echo of Bucky’s teasing hands and infectious laugh from the dream. He brushes his teeth and wonders why he can still taste pizza even after the breakfast buffet laid out for him.

The dream hovers around him the whole day, glimpses of it in the corner of his eye, teasing his mind.

He runs on the outside track, trying to quieten his mind, counting steady breaths. In and out. In and out. His mind loops on Bucky devouring the Reuben with a sated bliss on his face over and over.

He declines T’Challa’s invitation for dinner. It’s only 8pm but already dark outside. Steve looks at his bed, the sheets still rumpled from the night before.

 

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Bucky is already in the kitchen, bacon and eggs on the griddle, steaming coffee mug in hand. The smell of breakfast fills the room. He’s humming something under his breath, Steve catches the faint melody of Big Band that he vaguely recognizes before Bucky sees him and smiles over the rim of his coffee cup.

“Jesus Steve, that was some serious pizza coma, I hollered like five times.”

He smiles back, it’s instinctive. Steve isn’t sure if he’s ever seen Bucky like this before. He has dreamed of it; is dreaming of it now he realises with an ache in his chest. The loose sweatpants and bare feet, his long hair pulled into a bun at the back of his head. The sway of his hips and the swell of his butt as he hums under his breath. Steve will deny to his grave to ever have looked at Bucky’s butt like that.

The food is amazing, Steve isn’t sure if it’s because it’s made by Bucky or because it has been created by his grief-addled brain.

He shovels eggs and bacon into his mouth, afraid that they might disappear any moment, wanting to keep this perfect moment of a breakfast cooked by Bucky. He had almost forgotten what it felt like. The last time had been sometime in 1941. Before the draft, before the serum. It had probably been watered down porridge, stodgy and flavourless, but perfect.

Bucky flips french toast on the pan, makes a joke about breakfast dessert, swings his body around to some tune in his head. His metal arm gleams in the morning sunshine.

The memories are strange. They are clearly his but Steve knows that they aren’t real. He remembers the roadside bomb, the heat, and the blast wave hitting his side. The pain from the shrapnel didn’t come until later, not till the airlift.

He remembers the glassy incomprehension on Bucky’s face when he looked down on the bloody, torn-up stump of his left arm. At the vivid red of the sand under him. They way the tear tracks on his face made the dust darken and pool on the edges of his eyes. He remembers not letting go of Bucky, not on the airlift or the transport to Germany, not until they wheeled him into surgery.

But Steve also knows that none of those things are real. He knows that he did let go when it mattered the most, he didn’t catch Bucky when he needed to.

He jerks when Bucky places three slices of french toast on his plate with a flourish and a grin.

“You okay, buddy?”

“Yeah, just still half-asleep I think.”

The french toast is buttery and moreish and Steve could cry from the simple joy of it. From being allowed to have this one perfect moment with Bucky again. He wants to hold onto it, to keep it forever.

He had tried to not let it show, not let Bucky see how much all of it was hurting, how hard Steve had wanted to keep a hold of him. Cryo had been Bucky’s choice, had been his right, no matter how much Steve had wanted to fall on his knees and beg. Beg for him not to go, for him not to leave Steve all alone again.

Give Barnes the dignity of his choice.

Peggy had told him that once, and he had tried to believe it then and respect it now. He had tried to give Bucky the freedom to make his own choices, no matter what he wanted for himself. He had been selfish, he had hurt people. Tony. Wanda. Natasha. He knows that there was never going to be a happy ending, there wasn’t going to be a flat in Brooklyn or a shared floor in the Avenger’s compound for him and Bucky.

He had wanted it, oh had he wanted, but the past few years had taught Steve to be a realist, to accept what he could have and leave the rest to fantasy.

After breakfast, they clear up the dishes and wash up together in companionable silence. Steve washes while Bucky dries. Then Bucky heads to the gym for an early class, and Steve knows that he should head to the studio soon. It’s strange, having the knowledge of this life in his head, the parallels of it running with his real life.

He goes to get dressed and stops in the front of the dresser. Looking at himself in the narrow mirror fixed on the door of his wardrobe. He pulls down the right side of his pyjamas. The scarring is not extensive but it’s puckered and pink, running down his side and over his hipbone. He touches it, runs his hand down it. It feels numb, strange.

It a reminder, a physical mark that Bucky is still here, that they both made it out.

Steve thinks that he could believe this, could believe this life that they have. Selfishly wants to keep it. It’s seductive, almost insidious in the way his real memories seem fainter and further away, harder to reach and the life of the dream sharper at the forefront of his mind.

He remembers those angry months after the honorable discharge so clearly. Trying to settle back into Brooklyn. The multitude of broken crockery and Bucky’s overwhelming despair. Holding him tight on the floor of the living room while he sobbed, his stump aching with phantom pain.

They had been put in touch with the Stark foundation through the VA. It had been an experimental procedure and no guarantees of success. There had been a possibility that Bucky might even lose the stump that was left of his arm.

Steve had argued against it. The risk, he felt, had been too high, but Bucky wanted it and in the end had pulled through. Coming out in recovery with a dopey smile from the morphine and a new, shiny metal arm. Coming home, few weeks later, the flat had been filled with the fragile joy of recovery. Catching tennis balls in the living room, watching Bucky eat peanuts with chopsticks to refine his motor skills. He’d become ambidextrous after the surgery to everyone’s surprise.

The Doctors had asked him to come back for a study, scanned the neural connections. Steve thinks that there was a paper published on it, he thinks that Bucky might have even read it. He knows that Bucky has been thinking about Columbia and the engineering program, the leaflets left on the coffee table. He thinks that Bucky would be a brilliant engineer, but Columbia is expensive.

He catches the train the few stops to the studio from their brownstone, his legs walking him down the streets on autopilot. The space is beautiful, set in an old warehouse with large picture windows. There are seven artists who rent spaces there, sharing the communal kitchen and bathrooms, all chipping in to buy coffee, tea, and pastries on Fridays. Steve likes the community feel of the space, sharing of ideas and tips on galleries open to up and coming artists.

He paints late into the afternoon, surprised at how easy it comes to him. The way his hands remember the exact pressure and speed, the brush picking up colour from the pallet and moving across the canvas like he has been doing it for years. And he has, in this place this has been his life.

The walls of the flat had been filled with his drawings. Some silly little things, ironic pictures and making fun of Bucky’s metal arm. Some beautiful portraits, a painting of his mom sitting in a field of sunflowers. He thinks that it might be based on a photograph, but even with the dream memories, he can’t fully recall.

Around four, he cleans up his brushes and tidies the space for tomorrow. Rather than taking the subway he walks back to their neighbourhood. Stops by at a grocery store.

He hasn’t really done this in a long time; a normal life of wandering through the aisles thinking about what to cook. In the compound, everything is delivered and the pantries and fridges kept filled by Stark’s money. He had been grateful for it, the variety of choice too overwhelming in the beginning, and after he had just never picked up the habit again, had been too busy, too important.

He thinks about the breakfast this morning, about the gentle slope of Bucky’s smile and wanting to give something back, wanting to be the reason for that smile. He wants it now, all these possibilities in front of him, all these different options to make Bucky happy. Choices that he is free to make.

He thinks about the grubby little flat in Bucharest. The small, dirty bed and empty kitchen. Blocked-out windows and hidden things inside the floor. Of Bucky trying to carve out a space for himself in the world. The hopelessness in his voice.

It always ends in a fight.

Steve picks up beautiful Norland potatoes and a whole chicken, a really nice organic one and feels a bit faint at the price. Chooses variety of veggies for roasting and a salad. He stands by the wine section for a long time, reading the little labels, trying to figure out what to buy. He ends up getting a white wine, the price makes him wince a tiny bit, hoping that it will be good.

There’s a little bakery nearby and he buys a pie. A nice big, lattice blueberry pie and some bread for the morning.

Bucky isn’t home yet so Steve gets started on roasting the chicken and peeling potatoes. He is surprised to find that he can cook. The motions are practiced and easy. He knows which herbs to pick from the window box. Knows to rub the chicken skin with butter and sage.

The chicken is resting on the counter, covered in tin foil and the potatoes and veggies roasting in the oven when Bucky comes home. He kicks off his shoes and sniffs the air, looking at the plates, cutlery and glasses laid out on the table with a curious air.

“What’s this for?”

“Dunno, just felt like cooking today.”

Bucky drops his gear and his bag where he’s standing and nearly falls into Steve, his arms coming around Steve’s back, trapping his arms.

“You are a saint. A saint I tell you. One day people will write songs about you.”

The words are a hot breath against Steve’s shoulder. It makes him shudder. Bucky’s body is hot against his own. He smells of sweat and Brooklyn. Steve taps Bucky’s sides awkwardly trying to fight the urge to slide his hands over Bucky’s lower back, to edge his fingertips into the waistband of his sweats and feel the slick skin over his tailbone.

Eventually, Bucky lets him go, his smile still blinding, hands solid over Steve’s biceps.

“Let me just grab a quick shower and I’ll be right back.”

Bucky disappears into the bathroom and Steve tries to not think of Bucky, naked and wet, lathering himself. Instead, he looks at the chicken again and pokes the veggies in the oven.

He can still feel the impression of Bucky’s arms around his body, burned into his skin. In this world Bucky has touched him a lot, friendly hugs, teasing pokes into his unguarded side, tickling his feet when he falls asleep on the couch, but in reality, he has never felt the touch of the metal hand. Not outside the Helicarrier. It was surprisingly gentle, warm even. He wonders if Bucky’s hand would feel like that in reality, and then remembers that the hand, the arm is gone.

Blasted away. Because of him. Because of what he had chosen.

Steve has to lean on the counter for support, the hurt and guilt too much to bear. He isn’t sure if it’s the dream that pulls him out, the smells of the kitchen grounding him, the sound of Bucky singing Katy Perry, very off key, in the shower. The memories feel far away suddenly as if they had happened to someone else, something he saw in a movie once.

The shower turns off and Bucky comes out of the bathroom not five minutes later. His hair is curling at the ends, leaving wet droplets on the shoulders of his gray t-shirt. He’s pulled on a worn pair of jeans and Steve thinks he looks good enough to eat. But he always did, no matter what Bucky wore. It seems that he has always thought that, in the dream and in real life.

The food is amazing and even the wine is pretty good. They both devour a ridiculous amount of potatoes until Bucky leans back in his chair holding his belly with a pained smile.

“No more! I can’t.”

Steve pulls out the little, forked bone from the carcass of the chicken, caught between his thumb and forefinger, offering it to Bucky across the table.

Bucky catches the tip of the bone between his fingers, a smile and a challenge dancing in his eyes. The both pull and it doesn’t take much for the bone to splinter, the larger share of it now in Bucky’s hand. Steve smiles, secretly happy, secretly wanting to give Bucky all the wishes in the world.

“What did you wish for?”

Bucky smiles back, gentle and heartbreaking.

“This, just for this.”

Chapter Text

Один - one, alone

 

He wakes up in the maroon sheets again, warm, still comfortably full of chicken and potatoes from the night before.

Head full of Steve’s gentle smile and the wishbone. Of wishes that never come true.

He never meant to feel like this about Steve. He tried not to, tried to stop. Squashed the thoughts down, forced himself to no see it. Took out girls, twirled them around the dance halls and walked them home. Lipstick on his collar like an armour.

It was easier back then, no one looked at Steve and he was all Bucky’s. Bucky’s to keep and protect. It made him feel important, wanted.

After. After he got really good at it, the pretending. The reflex of it, smile, be happy. You go Stevie, go and get the girl. No matter how much it hurt on the inside. It didn’t matter if it was on a dirty field filled with soldiers or through the curved window of Volkswagen Beetle and seventy years in between.

The memories are still there, under the surface if he goes looking. The real ones of his life. Of things that actually happened, rather than the ones constructed by his desperate, broken mind.

Maybe it had been a relief for Steve, watching Bucky be frozen. No longer having to carry the burden of a broken-down war buddy. Steve had given up so much, the others too, and Bucky had known all along that he was not worth it.

He had tried to be strong, to not fall on his knees in front of Steve, to beg to be allowed to stay, to tell Steve how scared he was, how much cryo hurt.

Instead, he had smiled, said the words that Steve needed to hear.

He brushes his teeth and makes coffee, and he feels better. The dream pulls him in, wraps itself around him like a real lifetime and the memories fade again pleasantly.

Steve comes out of his room, hair sleep rumpled and pyjamas low on his hips. Bucky tries not to stare and fails as Steve cradles his coffee mug like a saviour. The familiarity of that morning scowl breaks Bucky’s heart a little bit. Thousands of memories dreamed up and real, overlaid with one another. From the thin swill that passed for a brew for them in Brooklyn to the desperation with which Steve clung to his enamel mug over the fire out in the Eastern front. From countless early morning Starbucks runs and Steve breathing in the smell of freshly ground hipster coffee in their apartment.

It’s comfortable, familiar and Bucky clings to it because it is all that he has left.

Natasha is standing outside the gym when he arrives, nearly ten minutes late, staring at the store opposite with narrowed eyes. The windows have been covered with newspapers and the door and window panes newly painted.

“Someone has leased the old restaurant.”

It had been empty since Bucky started at the gym and Natasha seems displeased at the development. Bucky is kind of glad of the distraction to his lateness.

“It’s gonna turn into fucking hipster central and we are gonna have to start doing kale smoothies and shit.”

Bucky shrugs. He thinks that the new storefront looks neat.

“It might be something nice.”

She gives him an indignant stare and turns on her heel to head back inside the gym. Bucky secretly thinks that a few coffee shops and other businesses would do the street some good.

He has four classes today, two sets of lunchtime Body Combats back to back and boxing in the afternoon. He likes the boxing ones, it’s usually only about five or six guys who are into the sport and know what they are doing. Makes his job easy.

Natasha is still grumpy about the restaurant across the street and Bucky sees her giving the ladies in her self-defense class a harder time than usual. She gets him to join in and pretend to be a knife-wielding maniac. It is rather satisfying to get to see the bewildered pride on the face of the college girls that make up most of the class as they manage to disarm him for the first time.

Bucky takes the long route home enjoying the late summer air, after having a peek through the gap in the newspapers in the window of the old restaurant. The workmen inside had been building some kind of strange dome in the middle of the main room.

He puts together a lazy stir fry, leaving the leftovers in the fridge for Steve. He’s out late with his studio buddies for a monthly bender. Well, as much of a bender as a bunch of arty types really get. Bucky is half-asleep in front of House of Cards on the sofa when Steve finally comes in. Slouching next to Bucky on the couch, eating the stir fry cold straight from the Tupperware, swaying a bit and smelling of beer and Soho.

“He’s really evil.”

Steve’s pointing at Frank Underwood and Bucky snorts. Drunk, but accurate observation.

They both pass out of the couch until 2 am when Steve jolts awake and accidentally pushes Bucky off the sofa. He kicks Steve in the shin as revenge when they make their way to their respective bedrooms.

Steve drags him up early on the Saturday morning for a run, which is clearly revenge, Bucky thinks mulishly. It’s ridiculous how Steve is never hungover. He glowers at the back of Steve’s overly tight t-shirt for the whole five miles, but half a mile from home he grabs the hem of the offending shirt, yanking it up almost to Steve’s armpits. Revealing his well-defined abs to two women with prams, and sprinting past him with a gleeful yell:

“Dibs on the first shower.”

“You fucker! Oh, sorry ma’am.”

Steve nearly runs into the prams as Bucky hears him giving chase. He sprints through the streets, breath burning in his lungs. Steve catches him on the stairs of the brownstone. They shove and push each other, running up the hall of their building trying to trip each other up.

Steve body checks him into the wall of the entryway, only narrowly missing the coat hooks. Bucky gets his own back in the hall outside the bathroom, tripping Steve on the runner while wrenching the bathroom door open.

Bucky rips off his t-shirt leaping into the bathtub, shorts and shoes still on and turns on the shower head, soaking himself in the process, grinning madly at the outrage on Steve’s face when he finally scrambles into the bathroom.

He starts to strip out of his shorts, pulling the waistband over the swell of his ass. Bucky has to suppress the slight twinge of disappointment when Steve spins away from him, ears burning red as he marches out of the bathroom. The door slams followed by a grumpy whine:

“You’re such a shit Bucky.”

“You snooze, you loose grandpa!”

Bucky can’t help hollering through the closed door. Winding Steve up has always been one of his favourite past times. Getting the blush rise on his cheeks, down his neck and over his ears.

Bucky always wonders how far down it goes.

He lets himself wonder again, allows himself to imagine Steve getting into the shower behind him, blushing but determined. Sliding Bucky’s shorts down, over his ass, releasing his cock and balls, hard and tight. The hot water sliding over his flesh. Pressing himself against the bulge tenting Steve’s now soaked shorts.

Steve’s hands running over his hips, teasing the hairs at the base of his dick, circling the girth of him with strong, calloused fingers. Lips grazing against the shell of his ear, breath hot and low. Bucky’s hips stutter.

Yeah, Buck, just like that. Show me what you’ve got Sweetheart.

Hands sliding over his dick, fingers teasing the slit, wide palm cupping his balls, fingers teasing the sensitive skin behind.

Bucky comes, pained grunt muffled by the metal fist in his mouth. He slides his hand over the mess on the wall, letting the water wash it down the drain.

Steve hits him in the face with a sweaty t-shirt as soon as he steps outside the bathroom.

“You fucking punk!”

He’s swearing at a closed door and at the pearly laughter echoing in the bathroom. He smiles so hard his face aches with it.

Bucky tries to remind himself that it is a dream, that it’s not real, especially when they are laid out on the couch, post-run with Steve’s feet in his lap. With Steve smelling of soap, slept in cotton and just Steve, something he has just always though as home.

Bucky digs his metal thumb into Steve’s instep and Steve makes these sinful noises with his head thrown back and lips parted. The tip of his pink tongue flicking out to wet his delectable bottom lip. Bucky misses most of the next episode of House of Cards.

On Sunday, they sleep in and then catch a train to Manhattan. A lazy brunch and a truckload of coffee later they wander around Bergdorf Goodman for a while because Bucky wants to get Natasha something nice for her birthday, but nothing seems appropriate.

In the end, Steve comes up with a genius plan and they get her tickets to the All Robbins ballet showcase at Lincoln Center. Very nice seats and a voucher for an intermission champagne. Bucky also buys her a card that says ‘The Older You Get, The Better You Get, Unless You Are A Banana’ which he thinks is hilarious. Steve gives him side-eye in the store and a solemn:

“It’s your funeral, man.”

But Bucky if anyone is willing to take risks, especially when it comes to his friend’s and colleague’s and boss’ birthday present.

They go to the grocery store on the way home. It’s easy and companionable, filling the trolley with things that they know the other likes, the near silent communication between them. Throwing Steve’s favourite brand of peanut butter in with a smile and a wink. The grin he gets in return feels like a victory on its own.

He sees Steve slide a tube of cookie dough into the trolley in a way that he clearly thinks is covert and Bucky pretends not to notice. It was one of the few things that he would eat right after discharge.

Bucky wonders that maybe here he can have this. After all, it’s not real. It’s only a product of his desperate mind that can’t seem to accept that Steve has never and will never see him as anything more than a friend.

He is, always was, selfish. He’d wanted, wanted with such fevered desperation in their tenement flat in Brooklyn, and huddled together in cold tents in the European Theatre. Even in that shitty little bed in Bucharest, he had wanted, in a formless, intangible way, waking up gasping and sweating, missing something he couldn't even name.

It feels like cheating, watching Steve on the cereal aisle with the possessive curl of want low in his belly. Standing next to him to choose the steaks, close and intimate. But this is all that he has left now and Bucky is not above cheating and stealing what he can.

That night he wakes up screaming. A patchwork of memories in his head, hot desert and ice cold ravine and the blood seeping from the stump into the ground colouring the snow and sand ruby red. Ice so cold over him it burns.

Steve’s at his door, shadowed in the muted street light filtering past the blinds.

“Buck, you alright?”

Bucky’s shivering, throat tight. He thinks he might be crying, face wet and tight.

“Just a bad dream.”

“The ambush?”

“... Yeah.”

He holds onto the arm, it feels strangely alien, cold and heavy against his right palm.

Steve doesn’t say anything, just goes moves around the bed and crawls under the duvet on the other side. He remembers this, after the discharge, nightmares and uncontrolled rage. Steve holding him so tight that he couldn’t move and it had helped. Had reminded him that Steve would never let go.

He holds Steve and cries. Ugly and wet against the cotton of his shirt. The wails ripped from deep in his belly. The grief and anguish finding its way out, like a thick, black coil pulled from his throat and mouth, and he can barely breathe from the heaving sobs.

Steve just holds him, warm and steady, hands over his spine and the back of his head like handling something precious.

“It’s okay, Buck. It’s all going to be okay.”

And Bucky believes him, just for that moment, their bodies pressed together, feet entwined.

 

------------------------

 

Steve can’t sleep. His body seems to have finally tapped past all of his sleep debt. He can easily function on only 3 hours a night and his normal sleep pattern is only 4 to 6 hours. The effects of the serum were useful during the war, and even with the Avengers but now he can’t help but feel resentful.

The crescent moon is bright in the cloudless sky, the night air only slightly cooler than the baking heat of the day. Everything around him is quiet. It's the brief time of night after the night people have gone to sleep and the early birds are yet to wake.

It’s not a fully thought out plan, just a feeling, a need of seeing more of Bucky and the comfortable life they share. It drives him out of the compound and into the surrounding city. The lock on the back door breaks easily under his grip and the security system is easy enough to disable.

The Pharmacy is dark and silent as he moves through the store and into the medicine storage area. He empties the pharmacy’s inventory of Temazepam and Lormetazepam, shoving the boxes into a black bag.

Sleep comes much easier after. He doesn’t wake until later into the afternoon. T’Challa gives him a curious look but says nothing.

Steve runs and eats. Crushes a handful of pills into a smoothie and crawls back into his bed.

Chapter Text

Добросердечный - kind-hearted

 

Bucky wakes up with his face pressed into Steve’s chest. He’s been drooling, the fabric is wet and dark with moisture and Bucky grimaces. Steve doesn’t seem to have fared any better. He can feel Steve’s open mouth against his forehead, saliva gathered on the skin and hairline. He’s part disgusted at the spit in his hair and part giddy at the intimacy of it.

He should really get up. His mouth tastes disgusting and the chubby morning wood he’s sporting against Steve’s hip isn’t something he wants Steve to notice. Not that it would be the first time, but it’s always awkward and he’s had enough of embarrassment with the crying and the drooling.

He slides himself out of Steve’s grip who makes a protesting noise but doesn’t wake, curling himself around one of the multiple pillows that litter Bucky’s bed.

Shower and a coffee later he feels much more human, more in control of his runaway emotions from the night before. He shouldn’t be placing this burden on Steve, not even here, not even in the privacy of his own mind.

When Steve finally emerges from the room Bucky tries to stay resolute, but Steve’s hair is sticking up in all directions and his feet are bare. Bucky wishes that this was his every day. Steve in his bed, in his room. It’s a visceral, possessive thought and it makes him feel ashamed.

Steve yawns and leans against the counter, making a grabby motion at the coffee maker.

“You feeling okay?”

“Yeah, sorry about...”

Bucky rubs the back of his neck and makes a vague hand gesture, trying to encompass everything he is feeling while pouring Steve a cup. There is a beat of silence as Steve inhales the steam.

“It helps me too you know.”

The quiet words are like a punch to the gut. Steve is looking at him over the rim of the cup with new softness in his eyes, and Bucky feels like something is shifting, some fundamental change in the landscape of their friendship is happening around him.

Steve stands close by while he finishes the coffee, bodies almost touching and a quiet little smile on his lips. The ache that has been Bucky’s companion for most of his life eases in his chest.

When he puts the mugs into the sink Steve’s hand comes to rest over his own, warm and calloused, tiny sweeps of his fingertips on Bucky's skin. There is a tension coiled between them now like a string pulled tight, but Bucky isn’t ready to pull on it yet.

He’d always thought that if this moment ever came he would grab it with both hands, would greedily pull it to himself and never let go, but suddenly he feels shy. It makes him feel strange, scared and small. Unworthy.

Knowing that he is the reason for that gentle smile hurts. The possibility that he might be allowed to wake up every morning with a patch of his drool decorating Steve’s shirt. The ridiculousness of the thought helps.

“Just leave them for tonight, I’ll wash up when I get home.”

He hates his own cowardice, but here, in this place he has the luxury of time. He watches Steve as he wanders into the bathroom and allows himself to hope.

A scaffolding has been set up in front of the empty store when he get’s to Fury’s and Natasha is giving the builders nasty side eye from the doorway. Bucky would be perplexed if it all weren’t so funny. She’s territorial, posturing and ruffled up now, almost as if she feels someone is invading her turf.

“Come on Romanov, it won’t be that bad.”

He smiles at her as he enters. She just shrugs and follows him down the stairs and into the staff area. She’s quiet for a long time, drinking her Gatorade and not even making fun of his My Little Pony t-shirt. It was a birthday gift from Steve and he tries to wear it ironically.

He lets the silence stretch as long as he can bear.

“Nat, what’s wrong?”

“I don’t want this place to change.”

Her voice is tight, controlled but Bucky can hear the edge, the tremor in it.

“I guess I just finally had something that felt like my own, something real and I don’t want it to disappear like so many other places here.”

“Natalia…”

He only ever calls her that when something is serious.

“Fury’s is never gonna disappear. We’re all here to keep it the way it is”.

He knows that she doesn’t really believe him. It takes a lot of her to trust anything, anyone.

“Don’t matter that we get some nicer neighbours. No one’s gonna be able to take this from you.”

She looks at him for a moment until her face goes hard and flinty again, and she leaves without a word. He’s learned over the years to not take it personally. Any level emotional vulnerability makes her prickly and the only way over it is just to let her retreat back into the hard shell until next time.

When the scaffolding comes down mid-week Bartons Pizza has been painted above the window in large white letters.

Bucky’s leaving the gym in the middle of the day when he sees a guy standing outside, waving his arms and screaming into a phone.

“Where’s the fucking apostrophe?! Why do I pay you idiots?”

The man is stocky with dirty blond hair, and Bucky knows him. From the other life. The life that’s felt more and more distant in the last few days. He watches Barton rage at the sign for a while until he turns around and sees Bucky standing by the gym doors.

“Hi man, I’m Clint.”

Bucky walks across the street taking the proffered hand.

“Bucky. Nice to meet you.”

“You go to the gym?”

“I actually work there.”

He jiggles the bag with the Fury logo on it on his shoulder and Clint’s face lights up.

“Ah, cool man! I was gonna do like a neighbouring business discount.”

Natasha is just going to love that. Bucky looks in through the window where the newspapers have been removed. The dome seems to be some kind of an oven.

“So, pizza?”

“Yeah, I’ve always wanted to open up a pizza joint. Got a pretty decent deal on the lease for this place so decided to finally take the plunge.”

Clint’s rubbing his hands together

“Proper Neapolitan stuff. Come and pick up a free sample when I open next week!”

“Well, I hope you sort out your missing apostrophe before then.”

Clint snorts an aborted laugh and turns back to the sign as Bucky heads home.

He tells Natasha about the pizza discount and the missing apostrophe the next day.

“You spoke with him?”

“Yeah, seems like a nice guy. His name is Clint.”

She gives another non-committal shrug and heads to teach her Barre class.

Life at the gym and at home settles back into its familiar grooves and the shift between Bucky and Steve is inconsequential and earth shattering at the same time. Their lives already so entwined, the intimacy and the knowledge of each other already there, but now they watch Netflix with knees touching, thighs pressed together. Bodies so aware of one another that Bucky could scream.

He feels the change in the way Steve bumps his hip with his own when washing dishes. The touch of his hand that lingers a moment too long on his shoulder, over the small of his back in the kitchen when Steve passes him on his way to the fridge.

Bucky wonders if this is his brain’s way of trying to give him what he most desires.

He does think about it, leaning in and kissing Steve. Folding his body tight to Steve’s side on the couch, running the cold tip of his nose down the slope of Steve’s neck and listening to his inhale.

But he doesn’t.

It’s fear and shame. The things he wants, things that he thinks about. He’s never done any of them. If asked he would lie, and lie convincingly too, but he doesn’t want to lie to Steve, wants it to be real.

Sometimes he wishes that he would have at least tried the once. Gone to the docks or the bars with no names on the doors. Or in the trenches or that one time on leave in Paris. His memories of the dream world offer no insight either. He just remembers don’t ask don’t tell and the bone-deep fear of Steve finding out.

He’d been stupid and in love with his best friend and he hadn’t wanted to think of Steve while fucking someone else, hadn’t seemed fair then. Now he just wishes that he’d thought a bit less about fair.

Instead of doing any of the things he dreams about, he presses his thigh against Steve’s like a brand though their sweatpants. Rubs Steve’s instep after a run, feet cradled in Bucky’s lap. He wishes for more nightmares in the hopes of being allowed to wake up pressed together again.

Barton’s, now with the apostrophe, opens for business on a Friday. He hands out free pizza and vouchers for the lunchtime crowd and Bucky gets Steve to come to the gym in the morning to get in on the free pizza action.

They both join the queue and Natasha mouths “Traitor” at him through the glass doors of the gym.

Clint recognizes him and Bucky is able to bring back two whole pizzas for the staff and pretends not to notice when Natasha steals a slice. And then another one, stuffing it into her mouth like a hamster. He also pretends not to notice how she goes around to the restaurant once the queue has died down.

The last class of the evening is white collar boxing and the gym is already almost empty by the time Bucky leaves the studio. Only a few stragglers still in the weight room. He gives them the 15 minutes to closing warning. Natasha’s nowhere to be found.

He closes up what he can, leaving the office as it’s been left.

A ‘closed’ sign if flipped up on the door of Barton’s, but the lights are still on and Bucky can easily see both Nat and Clint through the window from the dark street. Bottle of wine is open between them. Natasha is leaning across the table, a wry smile on her face, body language uncharacteristically open, even flirty.

I said I would help you find him, not that I would let you capture him. There is a difference.

He knows that owes her more than he can ever hope to repay. In this life, or in the other. So he locks up the gym doors and sends her a quick text to let her know to not to worry. To enjoy her evening.

It’s not much, but it’s all that he can give her for now.

He comes home to find Steve sitting on the couch, cradling a manilla file like an infant in his hands. His eyes are huge and luminous when he looks up.

“I’m getting a solo show.”

“What? Really! That’s amazing Steve.”

He pulls Steve into a hug that lasts and lasts. He can feel the slight tremble of Steve’s back under his hands.

“The curator that came by few weeks ago wants my work for a small gallery in Williamsburg.”

He is still looking at the folder like it might suddenly disappear.

“Sounds trendy.”

“Yeah.”

His laugh is bewildered and happy.

“I always felt that my work was too old fashioned but apparently that’s trendy suddenly.”

Bucky smiles so much it hurts.

It is amazing, but because of the nearness of the date agreed for the show Steve has to spend most of his time at the studio. Bucky manages to wheedle a promise from him that he will be free for Natasha's birthday the following week but barely sees him around the flat after that. Even their weekend run has to be cancelled.

He accosts Clint the following week out of boredom and surprisingly he is more than happy to close the restaurant and host Nat’s party on the Friday night.

Bucky goes a bit overboard in one of those online party stores and they end up attaching a luridly coloured banner announcing HAPPY BIRTHDAY NATASHA over the bar, joined by dozen balloons and streamers.

On the day, she pretends to be horrified by the decorations as they walk her into the restaurant, but Bucky can spy the smile on her face when she thinks that no one is looking.

The gift table is groaning under the weight of presents, including what looks to be a full smoothie and juicer system. When she finally get’s to their card, she reads the front and gives both of them a murderous stare which melts into a genuine smile when she finally folds it open and the tickets slide out.

Bucky elbows Steve into his side and stage whispers.

“Beat out that juicer, man.”

Steve giggles into his hand and Bucky feels warmth spreading through his insides. Natasha gives them both a tight hug and Bucky can’t help but rib her a tiny bit.

“You’re all marshmallow on the inside Romanov.”

“I will cut you, Barnes, I swear to god.”

But she is smiling, wry and slightly self-deprecating and there is no heat to her words. She does punch him in the arm as she goes to the bar which means that they are all okay.

The party lasts late into the night, and Clint announces his gratefulness that the loft space above the restaurant is empty with popping open a champagne bottle while standing on the bar. The cork wedges itself into the ceiling tiles.

Steve’s always been a terrible dancer, but get enough beer and wine into him and he loses his innate embarrassment and is now gracing the make-shift dance floor with his terrible dad dance moves. Bucky is too full of pizza to be graceful so he doesn’t mind either.

Steve’s leaning on him, swaying to the music surprisingly with more coordination now that he is completely wasted. His fingers curl in the belt loops of Bucky’s jeans and pulling him close, his smile is luminous even in the relative dark of the back room.

He can see Natasha miming “Cats!” from her perch on the bar. She’s not even being covert and Bucky gives her the finger behind Steve’s back.

Steve’s leg is between his, his thumbs suddenly stroking the sliver of skin visible between his t-shirt and the waistband of his jeans. He can feel the rush of blood to his dick, the tender way it pushes against the inside seam.

The string pulled tight and taut between them and Bucky wants to, wants to lean in and kiss and take and shove Steve against the wall. He’s choked by his own inexperience and inadequacies and the scarring all over his body. Instead, he spins Steve around the dancefloor until:

“Buck, Buck, I’m gonna hurl.”

And they are both laughing and leaning against each other and the moment passes.

They both empty a few more beers for good measure as the crowd starts to thin out. Few hardcore revelers are still making use of the dance floor and some brave souls have moved on top of the tables.

Bucky leans against Steve’s shoulder, half-asleep on his chair. He feels pleasantly drunk and happy. Watching Clint and Natasha dance on the bar to Single Ladies at 2 am feels a lot like healing. When Natasha does a full body roll and Clint starts twerking, Bucky shoves Steve awake.

“Come on buddy, let’s go home and leave them to the tender loving care of Beyonce.”

Steve falls asleep against him in the back of the cab and Bucky touches his lips gently to the top of his head like a benediction.

Chapter Text

Рассвет - dawn, daybreak

 

On some days, he forgets it’s not real. When catching a few hours of sleep on the ratty couch in the studio’s kitchen or travelling back and forth on the train. Grabbing a shower at home only to head back to the studio an hour later.

He’s never had this before, not really. This glut of materials, the money to buy whatever he needs. Setting up the huge canvasses, wider than the span of his arms, without worry on transport or running out of paint. Finally working towards a show with an angry curator on speed dial.

He’d had to try and fit his ideas into edges of envelopes and scrap paper before. Now they flow and bleed across the large expanses of his new canvasses. Endless and hopeful. It’s always been in his head, the long brush strokes and exploded colors, reaching across the tiny spaces he’d always had to fit himself into. He’s never been able to get them out, always at the back of his mind, just a collection of maybes and some day.

Until now.

In the past week, Bucky’s started filling the fridge with Tupperware labelled with post-it notes like Eat Me! or I’m here just for you Rogers! and even If you don’t eat me there will be hell to pay!

He eats them standing in the kitchen and smiling to himself. The food satisfying his hungry belly as well as his heart. He leaves little drawings in their place in the fridge or on the counter. A hasty sketch of a sunrise over the East River. A field of sunflowers. A funny little comic of Bucky cooking a rotisserie chicken with his metal hand. A quick portrait of Bucky sleeping.

They are his little love letters. Trying to express all the things that Steve doesn’t have the words or the courage to say yet. He’s working up to it. Him and his little notes.

Some nights Bucky falls asleep on the sofa waiting for him, the light of the TV illuminating his sleeping face. Steve stands on the edge of the room and watches him, the relaxed lines of his face and the long planes of his body. The longing curls in him like an illness and its cure, pain and pleasure all at once.

He drags out the memories. It’s harder now, like reaching to remember a long ago dream. There was an empty apartment in the corner of the Avengers compound. Windows facing the woodland, nice double doors opening to the back lawn.

He went there sometimes, looked around the empty space. Made plans in his head.

They could put a nice dining table by the bay window, have a nice view for breakfast or for dinner parties. Get some big sofas and a projector screen on the wall for movie nights. The bigger bedroom would fit a king bed easy. He’d order it with a hard mattress. Get nice pillows. Proper big duvets. Blankets. It wouldn’t be cold, even in the upstate winter.

He would stand in the empty space after reading the Winter Soldier files for the thousandth time. He’d walk around the empty rooms and make floor plans in his head after they found the chair in DC. Think about living in the apartment with Bucky. Dinners and breakfasts and long evenings on the couch catching Bucky up with all the things he’s missed. Showing him the things that Steve’s found, has learned to love.

He’d think about lazy mornings. Tufts of Bucky’s dark hair against his chest. Bucky’s feet caught between his own. Wandering warm hands and even warmer lips over his own.

He knew even then that it was a just a fantasy, an unhealthy coping mechanism. That none of it could ever be real. That there was never going to be a space for the Winter Soldier among the Avengers. No matter how much he hoped.

He watches Bucky now, on the couch and over the breakfast table on the rare mornings that he is at home. Watches him from the corner of his eye as they laze in front of House of Cards. Watches the tight curve of his back as he gleefully runs away from Steve to get the first shower.

Steve’s selfish and he wants and wants and wants.

He leans down, crouches by Bucky’s sleeping face. Thinks about kissing the top of his head, the cold tip of his nose and his lips pursed in sleep, but he doesn’t want kisses stolen in the dark anymore. He wants to look into Bucky’s eyes and see the want, the longing reflected back at him.

He’s felt the shift in Bucky and in himself after that night. The way their bodies had fit together, so unlike the nightmares right after Bucky’s discharge. This had been different. Steve had felt it in his gut and in his heart.

He can wait for a little while longer. Wait for the right time. Wait for Bucky to be ready too.

The weeks leading up to the exhibition go slowly and then suddenly too fast. Canvases packed and the selected pencil works sent for framing.

Steve manages to actually sleep the night before the private view. Not a lot but enough to not feel like the walking dead when Bucky cooks them breakfast and refills Steve’s coffee three times with a knowing smile.

Steve goes to the framers to pick up the final pieces himself. They had been last minute additions and Steve wants to make sure they get to the gallery, that the work has been properly done. He’s back at home just before five to shower and get dressed in the three piece suit he’s laid out special for the private view.

Bucky wolf whistles when Steve emerges from his room, long and theatrical, his eyes sparkling with mischief.

He, in turn, is wearing his nice dress pants and a waistcoat. The sleeves of the crisp, white shirt are rolled up, revealing his forearms. Muscled and peppered with dark hair and silver and shifting under the lights of the hall, both sexy as hell. The whole thing is finished with a skinny black tie.

Steve wants to drag him back into the bedroom, systematically strip off all of his clothing and lick him all over. Instead, he tries for levity.

“Watch out. If you look any more like a hipster Natasha might fire you.”

Bucky just gives him the finger and gathers his hair into a loose knot at the back of his head effectively proving Steve’s point.

They get a cab to Williamsburg and Bucky playfully pokes him with fingers and elbows, leans their shoulders together every time Steve starts to fidget. He appreciates the distraction. Especially when they arrive at the gallery and can see some of the final pieces still in the process of being hung up. Both ushered in by the harried curator.

Natasha and Clint arrive together not long after six and she spends most of the time pretending she isn’t there with him. He follows her aimlessly looking lost and confused until Bucky takes pity on him and takes him to the back room for some beers.

It only takes Natasha about five minutes to realise that her hanger-on has disappeared and to start looking for him.

Bucky gets kicked out of the back room sans beers not long after and he gives Steve a dirty grin when he wanders out.

“Man, you should advertise your art as some kind of aphrodisiac.”

“Really?”

Bucky shoots him a mix between a shrug and filthy little smile.

“Yeah. I’d avoid the crates in the back room.”

There's a crash and Bucky sniggers.

“I’m the best matchmaker in the world.”

“That you are pal. I just hope that they don’t break all the champagne.”

There is a decent crowd by seven. The curator seems happy enough with the few private collectors who have shown up. They amble around looking cool and distant and Steve doesn’t approach them no matter how much she badgers him. He’s kind of glad when Bucky manages to freak one of them out with his metal arm and then get’s the man to apologise for being rude about his prosthetic.

Steve is chatting with an old lady with more jewelry than sense when he sees the curator suddenly freeze. She’s standing near enough for Steve to see her eyes zeroing in on the doorway, glazed with open hunger. He turns to look at what could have possibly shaken her professional demeanor to that degree.

Tony Stark stands at the entrance to the gallery holding the door open with proprietary air.

Without sparing Steve a glance she marches over to Tony with as much grace as she can. Trying for cool and professional but Steve can see the agitation and awe in her posture, how she tries to still the shaking of her hands.

The only thing Steve can think of is Tony’s face just before the shield came down on the arc reactor. Of how close he was to slamming it into Tony’s face and Tony had known it.

He looks so different now, greeting the curator jovially, still wearing his ridiculous sunglasses even inside the gallery. His arm coming to rest securely around Pepper’s waist as she walks through the door, pulling her to his side tightly. She is dressed in a stylish, cobalt blue dress, her hands resting protectively over the large bump of her stomach. There is an ostentatiously large diamond on her left ring finger. Steve wonders dazedly how she can still wear those towering heels.

Tony’s face shines with the kind of gentle adoration Steve has only seen on him a few times. Always with Pepper and never when he thinks that someone can see. Pepper, on the other hand, is glowing, the inner core of steel of her still visible when she speaks to the curator but she looks more at peace that Steve has ever seen.

Steve swallows a lump in his throat when they approach, but Bucky is suddenly by his side. The metal palm cool and heavy on Steve’s back.

“You look like you’re about to hurl. Don’t.”

Bucky’s right hand slides into his, fingers squeezing his own. Steve wants to thank him. Wants to make sure that Bucky knows how much this means to him. Before he can say anything Tony is swaying in front of him in that restless way that belies how much he does not want to be here tonight.

“You are the artist, yes? I’m not really big on art. Except that one with the toilet. Pepper, honeybun, what was that artist with the toilet?”

Pepper rolls her eyes in a way that Steve has become very accustomed to around Tony. Before he has a chance to reply Tony whirls around again and points at Bucky’s arm with gleeful excitement.

“That’s one of mine!”

“Tony!”

Pepper smacks him on the side not so gently and turns to Bucky.

“I’m so sorry, he has the manners of a potato.”

Steve swears he hears Tony mutter “a genetically engineered super potato” under his breath, but if Bucky hears it he gives no sign.

“No problem ma’am, Mr. Stark, it is a StarkTech prosthetic and I was very fortunate to be part of the program.”

Before Tony can say anything Pepper turns to Steve, extending her hand.

“Mr. Rogers, it’s wonderful to meet you. I’ve heard great things about your work from the gallery’s publicist. She insisted that we attend and I have to say that I am glad to have made the trip.”

There is still a catch in his throat, watching the way Tony and Pepper stand together, the incremental way they lean towards each other. The easy tilt to Tony’s smile that Steve hasn’t seen in an age.

“Um… Thank you. ”

Tony waves at him, or possibly at Pepper.

“Buy whatever you want, sweetpea, I need to talk metal arm now.”

And drags Bucky off to the side asking questions a mile a minute on the performance of the arm while Bucky looks on with slight alarm. Part of Steve is glad that he knows that this is perfectly normal behaviour for Tony. Understands his kid-in-a-candy-store excitement.

Pepper smiles indulgently her hand smoothing down the fabric over her bump.

“Would you mind taking me around the exhibit Mr. Rogers. I would love to hear directly from the artist.”

“Of course ma’am.”

Steve offers her his arm and she takes his elbow in a light grip.

“Call me Pepper, please.”

“Then you must call me Steve.”

She smiles and leads him easily to the large canvases that take up most of the central space. Pepper listens attentively when he talks about his work and asks smart and insightful questions. Steve knows she has a degree in art history but he’s never had a chance to properly talk to her about art or go to galleries with her. He regrets it now, thinking about MoMa and the Met. Regrets not having taken the time to get to know the collection she had at the Tower.

He tries not to look at her stomach but fails. Steve doesn’t know anything about pregnancy but he assumes that she is quite far along from the size of the bump. He wonders if it’s rude to ask. In the other life, in Berlin, he had jumped to conclusions, but they had all been waiting for the announcement. There was even a betting pool started by Rhodey at the compound. Steve had said that it was intrusive and rude but eventually after everyone had joined in he had too.

He wonders if this is some kind of twisted sort of healing concocted by his brain.

Steve keeps a constant eye on Bucky while walking Pepper through the gallery while studiously trying to avoid the eyes of the few collectors still present, who are clearly looking to join the conversation.

Bucky and Tony are by the back office, Bucky picking up pens and papers from the table while Tony watches and pokes the arm. Steve can see the curator standing off to the side wanting to ask Bucky to stop but not willing to agitate her biggest meal ticket of the evening.

Pepper laughs under her breath when she notices, the sound gentle and kind.

“Most of the participants for the prosthetics program were from out of state. We do of course get updates, but for him, it’s not the same as seeing his work used how it was meant to.”

Steve draws in a breath, the pain of Bucky’s injury still a dull sort of pain under his ribs.

Maybe she senses his thoughts, Pepper was always good at that, reading people. She goes to retrieve Tony, who goes with her back to the main exhibition space while shooting longing looks at Bucky’s arm. Steve can see her guiding Tony to the large canvases that dominate the space. Her gentle hold on his arm keeping him there.

Bucky walks over, looking bewildered, flexing the fingers of his metal hand. He’s looking at Tony with a mix of awe and suspicion.

“I think that I just got a full ride at Columbia…”

Steve has to laugh. If he ever had an ideal scenario of Tony meeting Bucky, this had been it.

As they say their goodbyes and thank yous not long after, Pepper kisses him on both cheeks while Tony makes the international hand signal for “call me” at Bucky behind her back.

“It was wonderful to meet you Steve, and of course your lovely boyfriend as well.”

Steve means to correct her, but then just doesn’t, and Bucky doesn’t say anything to her either. Steve holds the thought close to his heart and hopes, his fingers gently brushing over the back of Bucky’s hand.

“If Tony has his way we will probably be seeing each other soon.”

She flicks her eyes between Tony and Bucky’s arm pointedly and Tony has the grace to look abashed. Well as abashed as Tony can ever look, which isn’t much.

The curator corners him after Pepper and Tony have departed with a mad gleam in her eyes. Pepper has reserved all of the five large canvasses and two of the smaller pencil works. She already has a receipt from Tony’s black Amex secured away. It’s almost half of the exhibition and most of the larger works sold even before the show even opens.

For a moment, Steve is speechless, until Bucky pulls him into a hug swaying him around like a rag doll and Natasha gives him a lazy salute across the room.

The cases of champagne are brought out and the curator clicks her tongue in displeasure at the few broken bottles. Clint tries to, unsuccessfully, drag Natasha into a corner to hide from her wrath. Not long after Steve loses count of how many glasses he’s drunk.

At some point in the evening, Bucky has lost his tie, the top buttons of his shirt are undone and Steve wants nothing more than to drag him to some dark corner and explore that delectable dip of his throat with his tongue.

The more he drinks the less it seems like a bad idea and turns into a completely brilliant idea.

Bucky leans into him drunkenly, warm against his side and breath teasing on Steve’s neck. They are hiding from Natasha in one of the back corners. Steve can’t even remember why and thinks that they have been hiding for a suspiciously long time, and Natasha has probably already left, but Bucky is insistent. And Steve doesn't mind, it's the perfect dark corner.

Steve leans back toward Bucky, his nose touching the smooth skin of Bucky’s neck. Right where he wants to run his tongue over the skin. Bucky smells like sandalwood and home.

“You said that my art was an aphrodisiac. Is it working?”

Bucky looks at him then, eyes wide and luminous and a hint of a smile.

“It’s always worked on me, pal.”

His hand on Steve’s hip, the touch burning his skin even through the layers of fabric between them. A stray finger curling in a belt loop, pressing against the leather of his belt.

“Wanna take me home, Buck?”

“Yeah, Rogers. I’ll always wanna take you.”

His words brushing against the shell of Steve’s ear and he wants to take them as a promise.

Bucky stays close by in the cab, the sides of their bodies pressed tight together from shoulder to knee. It’s dark in the hallway when they get home, neither of them moving to turn on the lights. Steve curls his fingers around Bucky’s belt loops, reeling him back against Steve’s body. He comes, easy and languid.

Steve’s breathing against the side of Bucky’s lips, over the stubble on his jaw, rough on his lips. Bucky’s eyes intense and questioning, but not pushing him away, hands spread over Steve’s ribs.

“Steve. You sure about this?”

A breath against skin and he can feel Bucky shiver under his palms.

“Oh god yes. You don’t know how long…”

He can’t finish because Bucky’s mouth is on his, breath hot and demanding, teeth on his bottom lip. Steve moans and Bucky seems to take it as a permission to devour him whole. To lick into his mouth, hands roaming over Steve’s back, whispering Steve’s name like a prayer. Press him against the wall, thigh pushing between Steve’s legs, hands pulling shirt tails out and sliding to explore the hot skin underneath, and Steve never wants it to stop.

 

------------------------

 

Steve is asleep for 36 hours before anyone notices. His schedule has been so erratic that the kitchen staff have given up on set meal times. They just leave the food covered in the fridge in the kitchen. But even they notice eventually.

T’Challa knocks on the door, reserved and polite. Waits and knocks again. Finally, he forces the door open.

He calls Steve’s name from the front room. Shakes Steve’s limp body when he gets to the bedroom. Checks his breathing when Steve doesn’t wake up.

T’Challa calls his personal physician. His voice is steady and firm on the phone.

They make a decision two hours later to move Steve to the medical wing.

Steve doesn’t wake up.

Chapter Text

 

Желание - desire, wish, longing

 

Bucky jolts awake. His legs are tangled in a maroon coloured duvet. He is lying in the middle of a large king bed, surrounded by pillows in matching maroon pillowcases, Steve’s arms are wrapped loosely around him, wide palm hot over his ribs.

He is still mostly dressed from last night, dress pants, socks, a badly rumpled white shirt. Steve’s face is close by, resting on the edge of his pillow, lips slightly parted. Breath sour, a reminder of the night before. He grumbles unhappily when Bucky tries to move.

It feels strange, a déjà vu of the first morning now with Steve curled by his side. His real life suddenly feeling so much closer than before. The insidious cold in his gut again.

Bucky forces his mind to the night before. Remembers the making out against the front door in a haze of alcohol. Curious fingers against the heat of Steve’s back. Falling into his bed still mostly clothed, lazy, drunken kisses late into the night. The memory fills him, grounds him and the icy chill in the pit of his stomach eases.

The dash of the alarm clock reads 5.38, blinking blue in the early morning light.

He’s wanted this for as long as he can remember, Steve in his bed, hands and fingers on his body, breath against Bucky’s lips. Not because of nightmares and heating turned off in the middle of winter, but because they both want to, no excuses, just simple desire.

He doesn’t want to move but he really needs to take a piss, the pressure in his bladder getting uncomfortable now. Steve’s leg heavy over his hip. Bucky manages to extradite himself with minimal fuss from under Steve’s arm. He brushes his teeth and washes his face, catching a sight of himself in the mirror. He doesn’t look any different, no outward sign that anything has changed. The shift is internal, secret and hidden.

Steve’s woken up while he was in the bathroom, has stripped down to his boxers and dress shirt, sitting on the edge of the bed looking around the room uncertainly. Giving Bucky a tiny smile when he walks back in, clearly readying himself to leave, the words nearly on his lips.

He looks so hesitant and Bucky knows the look, Steve unsure of being wanted. He’d always been filled with fire and guts in a fight, a righteous fury burning bright against any perceived injustice. But it’s always been different with people who he likes, he’s never been sure of himself, always questioning if he’s wanted. Always standing hesitantly on the sidelines, waiting to be invited in. So many playground stickball rounds and double dates where he’s been left out in the cold. Skinny and tight with loneliness and trying not to show it.

It makes Bucky’s chest ache for him all over again, an echo from years ago. It makes him want to ensure that Steve knows how much he is wanted, has always been wanted.

So he pushes himself between Steve’s spread legs, reaching for him, palms over that heroic jawline, bending down for a light kiss against Steve’s lips. New, but not unwelcome intimacy. Blue eyes wide with surprise and it breaks Bucky’s heart anew.

“Go brush your teeth and come back to bed, Stevie.”

The nickname comes easy as breathing and Steve smiles into the kiss, tensions in his shoulders easing, licking Bucky’s lips playfully.

“Eww man. Teeth. Brushing. Now.”

Steve laughs low in his throat, suddenly certain in his happiness. He palms Bucky’s hips like a promise as he gets up, their bodies brushing as he goes.

Bucky strips down to his boxers, studying himself in the mirror for a moment, considers the planes of his body, scarred and ugly, skin still tender from the memory of last night. The metal arm dull in the morning light. He’d thought the friendly contact would be enough, but he aches with the need to be touched in places that no one ever does. Aches for something more than friendship.

He pulls on a t-shirt from the floor, hiding the scars and the needy flesh. The guilt sits in his belly, light like air, shifting and moving. He wonders if he should allow this, even within his own mind. He knows very well that none of this could ever be real. Not in the real world. Seventy years of torture and killing and blood on his hands gives him no right to seek comfort or love.

He’d wanted to, the night before cryo, to crawl into Steve’s room and into his bed and just be held, just be close to Steve. To feel his breath and his heartbeat and know that he was real, that Bucky himself was real.

Of course, he did nothing of the sort. Instead, he’d just lied in his bed, half in slumber waiting for the inevitable, for the cold that would wipe away all feeling.

He crawls back into his bed, the sheets still warm from their bodies, the imprints of them still folded softly into the mattress. He listens as the water turns off in the bathroom and Steve comes back. The shy, beaming smile on his face as he crawls over the pillows to lie by Bucky’s side.

It’s awkward at first neither of them sure where to put their hands, until Steve reaches out, brushing a lock of Bucky’s hair behind his ear, thumb grazing the shell. It’s such a simple, intimate touch, a touch of a lover that he has not felt, well ever.

He just blurts it out.

“I’ve never done this before.”

Steve’s eyes widen, just a fraction and Bucky expects him to pull away.

“With guys?”

There had been girls, lots of girls. Dates and dances, their petticoats swirling as he spun them in the dancehalls. Frenching against walls of dark alleys and chaste kisses goodnight, but nothing more. The memories flow with surprising ease. He’d talked big, bragged in the docks like everyone else, but it had all been just that, talk. It’s what you did back then. How you fitted in.

Bucky lets the silence stretch, considers lying. In the end, he decides not to, Steve deserves the truth.

“With anyone.”

Steve leans in, their foreheads touching, gentle fingers at the back of his neck, teasing the curling hairs there.

“That’s okay, we can take it slow.”

Then he smiles, small and self-deprecating.

“I’ve only done it once with a guy and it was pretty unsatisfying.”

Bucky kind of wants to ask but doesn’t. Not now, not in his bed when this is all still so new.

“So… slow?”

“Yeah.”

The kiss is slow, considering the night before, Steve’s lips gentle and measured against his. A shy swipe of his tongue as if asking permission. Clearly a lack of champagne courage.

Bucky may not have fucked men (or anyone) but he can still kiss like a champion, and proceeds to show Steve exactly how well, fingers digging into the back of his neck, scratching his fingers through the short hairs there, tongue sliding over Steve’s and teeth sharp on his bottom lip.

It’s gets heated quickly, hands wandering down, pushing under t-shirts and shyly past the waistbands of boxers, thin cotton between fevered flesh. Neither of them built for patience.

He can feel Steve’s erection, hot and heavy against his hip, the tiny flicks of his hips seeking friction. Sliding his hand over the swell of Steve’s ass giving the muscle a firm squeeze. Steve bucks against him, thigh pushing in between Bucky’s. He moans at the feel of hard muscle against his already oversensitive cock, the wet tip rubbing against cotton.

Finally Steve shoves his hands into Bucky’s briefs, uncoordinated and impatient, pushing the elastic under his balls, skimming his fingers over the aching length of him. Hungry, blown out pupils following the trailing fingers, thumb teasing Bucky’s foreskin, the wetness gathered at the tip.

“Look at you.”

Voice like honey in his ears and Bucky thinks he might come just from this, whining needy in his throat. Steve stops teasing, wrapping his fingers around Bucky’s cock, solid and secure. Holding him like Bucky has always needed him to. It only takes a few pulls of Steve’s callused palm and Bucky is tensing, nipples and balls aching as he comes all over his stomach and Steve’s fingers.

Once the shock of it wears off Bucky flushes, ashamed at his own inexperience. Refusing to meet Steve’s eyes, but Steve seeks him out, lips gentle over his face, against the tight curl of his mouth and closed eyelids, coaxing and tender.

“Oh, Buck.”

He sounds so reverent and Bucky dares to look, meet the eyes searching for his own. Steve looks so unsure, still a hint of that old insecurity coloring his face and Bucky smiles, the reassurance etched into the muscle memory of his face. He wants to give back, show Steve how much this means to him, how much Steve means to him in ways that he has no words for yet.

Steve is still restlessly rutting his cock against the side of Bucky’s hip, now certain and impatient in his own desire. Humming and running his hands over Bucky’s stomach and hips, gentling him. It makes Bucky feel cherished, cared for, touch so unlike anything he has ever experienced or has any right to expect. So different even from the friendly touches he’d gotten so used to in this world.

Shyly sweeping the back of his hand over the bulge tenting Steve’s briefs, running his thumb over the wet spot until Steve whines, plaintive and needy. Palm flat under the cotton of his shirt, over the steady thumping of Steve’s heart.

Steve helps to pull his briefs down, kicking them away and off the bed. His cock is huge, uncut and pink, the red slick tip peeking from the foreskin, leaking precome. It fits into Bucky’s hands like it belongs there, exactly the way he’s always imagined.

“Bucky, please.”

Steve’s voice, breathless and wanting as he ruts into Bucky’s palm, fast and graceless. His balls tight and heavy as Bucky runs his hand over them, curious now. Steve spreads his legs in invitation, pulling his knee up. A flash of the tight pucker of his asshole visible between his thighs.

Bucky tightens his grip, thumb over the vein on the underside. Reaching for a kiss, it’s messy and unskilled, just breathing into each other's mouths. Whispering Steve’s name like prayer, like a blessing.

Steve shoots off, thick, milky ropes of come over their shirts. He looks transported, eyes squeezed shut and mouth slack with pleasure. Bucky returns the coaxing kisses then. Over Steve’s mouth and nose and closed eyelids, reverent in his affections and Steve sighs, full body like a second release.

Bucky pulls off his own briefs, wiping them both down prefunctionarily, before Steve hauls him in tight against his chest, already shuffling half-asleep. Bucky stays awake longer, memorizing the feel of Steve against him, the heartbeat under his ear, steady and strong. Steve’s long legs entwined with his own and keeping him warm.

The ice inside him thawing out, finally completely gone.

They sleep in Bucky’s bed from then on. Steve’s navy pillows and duvet making their way to his room slowly over the week. The feel of it takes Bucky by surprise, the intimacy of being curled around each other in sleep. Steve’s hands over his back, on his stomach, over his shoulder and in his hair. Not having to pretend a bad dream for comfort.

He didn’t even know that he could want it so much, the feel of another body close to his own, warm skin touching his. A hunger he didn’t know he had, now strangely sated just with the press of Steve’s chest against his back. The lazy feel of Steve’s morning wood insistent against him. Wiggling against it, teasing, whispering:

“Good morning soldier.”

Unsurprisingly he’s late for work that morning. When he finally get’s in Natasha takes one look at him and snorts:

“Fucking finally James.”

“You’re one to talk… I think you owe the gallery quite a few bottles of Moët Chandon.”

She just gives him the finger but Bucky can see the smile threatening to spill loose. It’s great to see her happy. Life continues in its set grooves but he feels lighter, happier in being able to walk up to Steve and kiss him in the morning over coffee and when coming home from work. The closeness on the sofa now purposeful.

Steve’s exhibition is a success, a few small papers and online art blogs run positive reviews and the rumour that Stark has bought most of the paintings doesn’t hurt. Bucky prints out few of the nicest ones and beams when Steve reads them with dopey smile in the kitchen.

The dream settles around him, so much like the real world now and Bucky finds it almost impossible to pull on any of the memories of his actual life. They are hazy and unfocused and he accepts it with ease. If he is to fly across the decades in the cold again, losing everyone anew, he wants to keep this life, this Steve with him.

He wants to keep this as long as he can. He wants to have the lazy Saturday mornings, waking up to Steve’s hands over his belly, sneaking into Bucky’s pyjama pants.

Bucky spreads his legs, inviting and wanton at the touch. Steve’s fingers playing over the head of his dick and cupping his balls, murmuring a quiet “good morning” against the back of his neck, lips grazing the skin. Bucky smiles, sleepy and content. A very good morning indeed.

Steve’s fingers slide behind his balls, teasing the sensitive skin slick from sweat. He’s been doing it lately, teasing, pushing as if asking a question. They haven’t crossed that particular bridge yet, but Bucky wants to. The forbidden intimacy of it pulling him. The thought of Steve inside him, marking him somehow, leaving a piece of himself behind for Bucky to keep.

“Um… you can, if you want to...”

Angling his hips up, spreading his legs open a fraction more inside the humid confines of this pants. Steve’s finger sneaks further down, circling over his asshole. The muscle contracts at the touch. Steve’s breath hot against his ear:

“This okay?”

Bucky nods. He wants it, craves the feeling now and he whines when Steve pulls his hand away. Sucking on his fingers until they are shiny and slick with saliva, pushing them back inside the pyjamas and between Bucky’s legs.

The tips of his fingers slippery now, rubbing over the tender rim. Just a tip of a finger pushing in, Bucky grunts low in his throat at the intrusion, at the gentle push of the first knuckle against the tight furl of muscle. His toes curl against Steve’ shins, flannel of the pyjamas between his toes.

“More.”

“Okay, hold on a sec.”

Steve disappears from the bed and Bucky feels bereft, cold suddenly. Shame and apprehension starting to curl in his belly at what he’s letting Steve do. What he wants Steve to do. The feel of his now saliva slick asshole. It’s been with him so long, a chime like clockwork inside, don’t let him know, don’t let anyone know. The shame of the things he longs for.

Steve’s back not thirty seconds later with some kind of tube in hand and he must see it in Bucky’s face, the nervousness reflected there.

“You okay?”

“I…”

“Too much?”

“... Yeah, maybe.”

Steve just smiles and throws the tube of lube somewhere into the mess of pillows and duvets. Crawling over Bucky on his hands and knees, covering Bucky’s whole body and coming in for a kiss, deep and heated from the get go. He can feel Steve shudder against his chest when Bucky catches a bottom lip between his teeth, then gentles the bite with his tongue.

They neck for a while, like a couple of teenagers behind a dancehall, until Steve starts to slide down his body. Pulling and pushing the fabric of his shirt aside, lips wet and possessive over his neck and clavicle, teeth over his sternum and belly.

Pushing pyjamas down his legs and settling between his thighs. Burying his face in Bucky’s lap, nibbling and licking the sensitive skin in the crease of hip and thigh. Studiously avoiding Bucky’s cock until he whines and twists, knees spreading open even more.

“You’re such a fucking tease, Rogers.”

Steve laughs against the head of his dick, humming as he sucks it into his mouth. Bucky swallows back any further complaints. Steve’s hands hold his thighs up and wide, thumbs pressed into the crease between thigh and ass. Lips stretched almost obscenely over the length of Bucky’s cock.

He opens his legs wider, trying to silently encourage Steve’s curious fingers again. Words caught in his chest, hesitant and breathless:

“Steve… Can you.. uh, touch me again?”

The touch of his thumb is feather light, asking permission and Bucky moans, pulling his knees up higher, back curving, presenting his ass as much as he can.

Steve reaches for the lube, lost among the sheets. Click of the cap suddenly loud, lips hot on the sensitive skin of Bucky’s inner thigh. Wet, open-mouthed kisses over the vein on the underside of his cock. Bucky shivers and hooks his hands behind his legs.

Steve’s fingers are slick, not pushing but just teasing over the rim at first. Circle, circle, press over and over until Bucky is whimpering, fingertips like vices in the back of his knees. He thinks of the bruises forming there, reminders of this moment.

Steve takes the head of his cock back into his mouth, tongue teasing the slit and the frenulum as he eases a finger in again. It’s easy and slick and Bucky’s breath catches in his throat for how hungry he is for it.

Steve looks up at him, eyes blue like cornflowers and astonished, and Bucky loves him so much he can barely breathe with it. Tears suddenly stinging the back of his eyes. And then the sweet ache and burn of two fingers and Steve curls them, the tips brushing against something that causes heat to flood his spine and the base of his dick, weeping slick against Steve’s lips.

Steve hums around Bucky’s dick as he moans and twists on the bed, trying not to come, not yet, not yet, trying to prolong the feeling, hang on to the edge as long as he can. Keep himself in this perfect moment just a while longer.

But he can’t with Steve’s fingers playing him with such sweet devotion, back arching and knees locking as he comes. A breathless gasp of Steve, Steve, Steve into the air like prayer.

Steve holds him after, whispering nonsensical words into Bucky’s skin.

There is an adjustment, a change in their relationship, a newness that they are both learning. Bucky’s still not used to the closeness in public and both Clint and Nat tease them mercilessly over pizza until Steve, face and neck still tomato red, mentions that he thinks that the storage room at the gallery had a security camera. It shuts Natasha up but Clint asks for the tape with a worrying sincerity until Natasha punches him in the arm.

They try out different things. The internet is surprisingly helpful in their experimentation. While Pornhub is not educational it is informative and they discover that Amazon delivers lube. They choose the next day delivery option.

It takes him a while to discover how sensitive Steve’s nipples are. Really it happens by accident. Licking and sucking down Steve’s chest with a goal in mind until his teeth catch on a peaked point of a pink nipple and Steve keens like he’s dying.

Bucky smiles, gives the nub a curious lick, catching it between his lips, reaching with his metal hand to caress the other one.

“You like this Stevie?”

Steve’s squirming on the bed, hips jerking and rutting against Bucky’s belly. He mouths the swell of muscle, fingers twisting the peaks of hardened flesh, now reddened and slick from Bucky’s mouth.

“Buck. Bucky put a finger in me. Please.”

Steve’s making these little broken ah, ah noises at each pass of Bucky’s teeth and how can he deny anything when Steve sounds so pretty when he begs.

Bucky pushes fingers of his flesh hand into Steve’s mouth getting them wet and slides them between Steve’s open legs, seeking out the sensitive folds of his hole. He can feel the muscle flutter against his finger and then give as he pushes in. He twists, works his finger in and out until it’s sunk till the final knuckle, deep enough to find Steve’ prostate.

He watches his fingers disappearing into Steve’s body. The hot, tight pull around him. The wonder that he can touch someone without hurting them, that he can bring someone pleasure with his hands. The thought cracks him open like an egg, insides seeping out.

Bucky wants to cry, but instead he takes the left nipple between his teeth again, worrying the skin and Steve howls, coming wetly between their bellies, the grip of his ass tight around Bucky’s fingers. He laves the abused flesh, curling his finger, pressing his thumb into the sensitive skin behind his balls until Steve’s whines with oversensitivity, shivering and squirming on the bed.

Steve jerks him off with unsteady hands.

It becomes a bit of a game for Bucky after that. Catching Steve after a run, sneaking his palm over his chest and the nipples visible through his stupidly tight t-shirts. They don’t make it out of the hallway that time. Or even the time after that.

Sometimes Steve has a game of his own.

He’s back from the gym early, skin still wet from the shower. Droplets of water seeping into the pillows. Steve lying between his thighs, Bucky’s knees pressed to his chest, open and vulnerable. More used to it now, being under Steve’s appreciative gaze and the endlessly curious hands and mouth.

“Can I try something?”

“Uhh… yeah.”

He jerks at the hot breath ghosting over the sensitive skin behind his balls, tenses at the first, wet sweep of Steve’s tongue over the tight pucker of his asshole. It’s hot and intimate. Steve’s mouth open against him like a kiss. Tiny kitten licks at first, and slowly the tip of Steve’ tongue working against the rim, coaxing him loose.

Bucky imagines Steve breathing wordless promises into his flesh. I accept you, I want you, all of you, even these secret places that you’ve never shared with anyone. I will keep you and hold you, and it takes Bucky a moment to realise that he is thinking of marriage vows.

Steve works him open, tongue and fingers pushing in, slick with lube until Bucky is trembling with the need to come. Steve’s palms are so gentle over his thighs, holding him together, holding him in the moment. He’s begging he thinks. For Steve to let him come, for Steve to fuck him, for Steve to never stop. Steve laughs against him, the melody of it rumbles in his body. The sound is kind.

Steve eases him onto his stomach, lifts him to his knees, face buried in the sheets and pillows. Limp like a ragdoll from pleasure. Cold air against the tender edges of his hole as Steve spreads him open.

The blunt, slick tip of Steve’s cock feels huge against him, his own cock fat and tender between his legs. Steve pushes in slowly, so torturously slowly and Bucky wails against the sheets, a pillow caught in his fist. He tries to push back, impatient as always, but Steve holds him still, palms hot and wide over his ass. Fingers running over the swell of muscle and the valley in between, teasing fingers where they are joined as he bottoms out.

Steve pulls him tight against his chest, Bucky’s knees spreading wide over Steve’s thighs. Shushed, meaningless words against the back of his neck and the shell of his ear. Steve rolls his hips, gentle and slow, the thick drag of his cock inside Bucky’s body sets fireworks down his spine.

Their fingers entwined, locked together over Bucky’s dick, slick and tight. His ass clenching down as he comes. The overwhelming feeling of being held close, of being safe, of Steve deep inside him.

Steve trembles, sharp, reckless thrusts as he comes. Bucky can feel it deep inside his belly, a mark in him that no one can take away. His to keep forever. It feels strangely like the closing of a wound. So much like the unnatural healing, they both possess.

Steve whispering I love you against the sweaty skin of his neck. It’s a vow and a promise and Bucky returns it breathlessly into the air.

 

------------------------

 

T’Challa understands grief. Understands the overwhelming power of it, the pull like an undertow out into the sea, keeping you and taking you further and further from shore. The will it takes to not let it take your mind, to not let it pull you down a path you should not travel.

It has been two weeks and there has been no change in Captain Rogers’ condition. The team has done all the scans and test they can think of, tried to medicate him but nothing has worked, so he wonders if the malaise is indeed grief, of running out of things to live for.

He hesitates because he is afraid. Afraid of the power that he will bring down onto his home, but he owes it to Rogers to find a way. So against everything T’Challa makes the call.

Chapter Text

Грузовой вагон - freight car

 

She’s out in the bush when the call comes. Naoko comes to her find her in the jeep. For a brief moment, she considers not going, just staying here in the open savannah, no walls or bars anywhere. But it is only a fleeting thought, selfish and brief and Wanda jumps into the front seat of the jeep.

Naoko gives her the message in the car. It’s cryptic and brief, sent from Wakanda. Just a date, time and a set of coordinates.

She packs lightly, a duffle and her backpack, hopeful that her trip won’t be too long.

The coordinates turn out to be for a small, private airfield about a five-hour drive from the reserve and there is a familiar face waiting for her outside a tiny plane.

“Sam!”

Wanda hasn’t seen him since the escape from the Raft and he hugs her close. His clothes smell like dust and sea air.

“Hey, hey little witch. How’s Tanzania been treating you?”

“Good. Lots of space. The reserve is… big.”

The endless sky at night, like a dome of the world high above her. Sam hums, nodding like he knows already. He looks better too, still lingering tightness around his eyes. He’d taken what happened between Tony and Steve in Siberia so personally, felt responsible. So she tries for light, a teasing little sister.

“What’s with the mysterious messages and spy shit, Sam, you could have just called.”

“It’s Steve.”

His face twists, eyes tight again and Wanda can feel the helplessness coming off him in waves.

“He’s been asleep, well unconscious, for over a week. They’ve done a brain scan and all the tests the doctors can think of but they still have no idea how to wake him up. His body just burns through all the medications they try.”

They’re all so used to Steve’s strange physiology. The medical wing at the Avengers compound had been fitted with enough cutting edge medical technology to allow him to go through surgery or any other invasive procedure that he might require. Tony had been very thorough after Sokovia.

“He seems physically fine, just asleep. T’Challa called me in a few days ago.”

Sam looks at her then and she can almost hear the thought and wishes that she couldn’t.

“And you guys want me to do what? Have a look around his head?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Sam… I don’t know if Steve would be okay with that.”

She thinks of a dance hall. A beautiful, dark-haired woman in his head telling him that they can finally go home.

“He trusts you and he believes in you.”

Sam’s faith has always been unshaken, he’s the heart of them all. She sometimes wonders if he has a little bit of her gift the way he always knows the right things to say.

“Wanda, if it’s going to be anyone he’d want it to be you.”

He knows what to say to sway her, but she still doesn’t want to. She knows the destruction that lives in her, what she is capable of. After the Raft she isn’t sure how much of her control is left.

“Sam… I don’t know if I can.”

“They’re talking about putting him in cryo. This is the last shot before that.”

His voice is tight, and she understands. This is why T’Challa called him in, to make the decision. Sam is the closest to a family Steve has left.

No matter her fear she can’t say no, can’t refuse this.

The flight only takes a few hours. They are cleared by Wankandan air traffic control with speed that indicates how high their invitation comes from. Sam lands them on a private airstrip, the jungle breathing and living around them as Wanda jumps down from the plane.

T’Challa is waiting for them face passive and unreadable. Wanda doesn’t try to read him deeper. The last time they met was on the tarmac and he must not have very fond memories of her powers, but Sam greets him warmly, hands clasped and a quick hug.

The private medical facility is a short drive away from the airstrip.

Steve looks strangely small lying in the hospital bed. A tube is running into his nose attached to the side of his cheek with tape, cannulas attached to the backs of his hands.

She runs her fingers gently over his forehead and the tufts of his blond hair. He feels hot to the touch. Sam’s told her about the drugs they found in his room. She wonders what it has been like for him, the trace of loneliness she’s always felt from him must have become crushing.

“What have you’ve been doing, Steve?”

He doesn’t feel distressed which eases her nerves a bit.

The doctors do their checks and Wanda waits for them to be done on the other side of the room with Sam and T’Challa. He still seems skittish around her but she doesn’t mind, he isn’t openly hostile.

Finally the medical team clear out from the room and the support staff bring in an armchair for her, one of those big, comfortable ones that allow her to curl her feet under her body.

Sam asks if he can stay and Wanda nods gratefully, she needs the steady pull of him to be able to do this at all. She ignores the shaking of her hands as she reaches out, the tendrils of red caressing Steve’s face.

She hasn’t tapped into this part of her power in a long while. It frightens her more than she is ready to admit.

Control your fear. Not theirs.

Suddenly like descending through a cloud she is on a busy street. The weather is warm, hazy sunshine painting the windows of shops and cafes in a dewy sort of light.

She can see the Manhattan skyline in the distance.

It’s a beautiful day like it should be in a dream. The world around her feels like the best kind of hug, gentle and kind and strong. It envelops her, whispers for her to stay forever.

She sees them through the open window of the restaurant. The panes have been pushed back to allow the summer air in.

They sit together, relaxed, legs and feet entwined under the table in a way that tells her more about them than a thousand spoken words ever could. Barnes is smiling, running his metal fingers over the back of Steve’s hand on the table. Steve is smiling too, a kind of smile Wanda has never seen on him before. It reaches his eyes, makes the corners crinkle. The heavy loneliness is gone.

The intimacy of it makes her want to turn away. Her the sudden a voyeur to Steve’s fantasy.

They order more coffee and some kind of pastries, a plate overflowing on the table. Barnes grabs one lighting quick, shoving it fully into his mouth, smiling wide around the bun and Steve laughs, reaches to poke his puffed out cheek across the table.

She is in Steve’s head, can feel him now around her, but there is something else too. She looks at Barnes, the way he sits in the landscape and suddenly it all locks into place.

She’s not only in Steve’s head but in Barnes’ too. Barnes who is in cryo sleep.

Wanda can feel it, living, breathing around her. The love that they share, it built this world around them, straightened it, gave it life and form.

They are thinking of it. Putting Steve in cryo too and without knowing they would be giving him this world. She could choose to leave now and let it happen. Steve would be happy. It’s a seductive thought, but she knows that Steve is not a man of easy choices. So, she makes a choice of her own and steps into the restaurant. Walks to their table. Pulls up a chair.

“Hello.”

They both freeze and Wanda has to smile at the bewilderment on their faces. They must sense how she doesn’t belong here.

“You are both in a dream.”

It’s almost funny seeing the slight look of guilt crossing both of their faces. Wanda watches them with interest, connecting the dots. Their hands freezing where they touch.

“You both are.”

Then she understands. They both know it’s a dream. They both think it is their dream alone.

“Whatever has been going on it’s very much been mutual.”

The blush that spreads over Steve’s face is adorable. Barnes’ throat clicks as he swallows the remainder of the pastry.

“I’m here because Steve has been asleep for more than a week and people are starting to get worried.”

“How? The serum really allows me to sleep for about six hours or so.”

It’s strange, on how deeply he has been pulled in, he isn’t in cryo after all, not forced to sleep. She pushes past the dream, deeper. A swiftly moving darkness beyond the bubble of them. Something in the darkness, a static, a code.

“I’m not sure…. The drugs are all out of your system.”

Barnes nearly leaps from his chair, eyes wide and angry.

“Drugs! Steve what the fuck?!”

But she ignores him, listening to the static, following it down the rabbit hole.

“.... Because you made a choice. You chose this place. You wanted it more than the real world.”

She shakes her head, trying to look through the static, see beyond it. Then she catches it, as sudden like a crack of thunder, the source. She feels it around her, around all of them, like the endless sky at night, a dome of the world high above. Barnes’ mind cradling them.

“There is something in the cryo pod, I think. It powers this, allows both of you to stay here. Amplifies the dream.”

Steve is looking at her with a strange expression, his chin jutted forward and arms around his chest. He looks almost young. Barnes is looking at him too, but with recognition.

“I’m not leaving here if Bucky is going to stay. I come out of here and he comes out of cryo.”

“Steve, I can’t… We talked about this, the triggers…”

She doesn’t know much about Barnes, jus the cliff notes from Barton on the flight over to Europe.

“The triggers are in your head right?”

Barnes nods, looking at her cautiously and she shrugs like it’s nothing.

“Well right now, so am I.”

They both stare at her and part of her wants to laugh again, a plan slowly forming in her head. She knows what she does is strange, unfathomable, alien, but Steve at least should know better. So she clarifies:

“I can’t take the memories away, I won’t. But I can find the triggers.”

Barnes looks taken aback, like it’s a chance that he never thought he would have, too damaged and beaten down for hope. She thinks of the dog that used to live in the alley behind her and Pietro’s flat. Beaten and scared and hungry. An old ache in her chest, an old wound.

“I can help you both go back into the world. But only if you both want it.”

Steve’s shifting on his chair, looking at Barnes, for support, for approval.

“What’s the alternative?”

She thinks of Sam’s tired face, the pain in his eyes. All the decisions still to be made.

“They will put Steve in cryo.”

“No!”

The metal fist makes the crockery tremble and the staff turn to look at their little table with concerned frowns.

“Wanda, you can wake Steve up. Do it.”

Commanding, strong. The Winter Soldier, she thinks, but Steve is having none of it.

“Bucky, no! I’m not leaving you alone here.”

She lets them fight it out, orders a coffee and a plate of french toast with a side of fruit salad. The food is perfect and she wonders whose mind created it.

The argument goes on. A lot about the end of the line and not leaving you and I’m not letting go this time flying across the table.

She’s amused at how ferocious and heated Steve gets, the high blush on his cheeks, so unlike the leader she has gotten to know with the Avengers. The cool, calm facade cracked open. Barnes, on the other hand, is pleading, all gentle eyes and soft touches over Steve’s hands.

“Steve, I’m this disgusting, inhuman thing. You can’t possibly want me back in the world.”

Steve draws in a breath like he’s been hit and Wanda puts down her fork. It clinks against the plate.

“Stop.”

Surprisingly they both do, turning to look at her like they forgot she was even there. She reaches for Barnes’ hand, he flinches from the unexpected touch but she doesn’t let go. Instead, she opens up the connection the other way, inviting him in. She hasn’t done this since Pietro. The intimacy of it shakes her to her core.

She takes him into her cell. Shows him the hatred that drove them. The aggregate of her pain and suffering that had made her into what she is.

Barnes let's go, retreats before she can take him deeper. The mix of horror and sympathy on his face and Wanda struggles to find her voice again.

“Monsters aren’t born. We’re made.”

“Wanda…”

“No Steve, I need to say this.”

She turns back to Barnes.

“We can also be unmade. And that can be a choice we get to make for ourselves.”

She’s still holding his hand, suddenly realizing that it’s the metal one. Fingers cool in her grip but no less human.

“Make the choice now. For him.”

And he does. She feels it in the world around them, feels it envelop her like an embrace of a lover.

She sits in the chair for a long while without speaking after she comes back. Looking out into the darkening lush jungle. The hazy sunset painting the sky in brilliant reds and oranges and finally purples and blacks.

She isn’t sure what to tell them yet. Some secrets too great to share, some decisions that Steve and Barnes need to make on their own. When she is ready she tells them what she can. Both pulled into a dream, something in Bucky’s cryo powering it, helping to keep Steve there.

“Could you wake him?”

Such desperate hope in Sam’s voice and she feels cruel for her answer.

“I could. But I won’t.”

Both T’Challa and Sam look up in surprise, Sam’s face twisted in pain, but before he can voice his question, his objections Wanda answers.

“The body cannot live without the mind and he would just go back as soon as he could. You can’t stop him from sleeping.”

“What about Barnes, if we take the chip out?”

T’Challa’s voice is smooth and steady, she struggles to pick out any emotions from him and she tries again not to pry.

“No.”

She thinks of the darkness underneath it all, the eternal blankness and shudders. He seems to accept her denial for what it is, his mind already racing to the next option. Wanda appreciates a quick intellect.

“You want to find a way to remove the triggers.”

She smiles then for the first time, the plan already in her mind, the edges of it still touching the dream.

“Yes. So that they can both be woken up at the same time.”

Sam is looking at her intently as if trying solve a puzzle. She wonders how much he knows, how much he has guessed.

It takes a week. She has breakfast with Steve and Barnes and then moves through the dream. Walking the avenues and alleyways of Barnes’ mind, looking for the places where the triggers hide, mapping them, touching them with gentle hands. Touching them with the care she would give to a lover, to family.

She has to stop for a time when she gets to Hydra, into that Bank vault. Pull out from the dream and go to the balcony. Look out into the world and remind herself of the good and the beautiful.

She moves through the years, the months soaked in blood and frozen to the bone, right to the beginning. She isn’t sure if the screams, if that dank, dark cell where he crouched, dirty and naked and afraid, will ever fully leave her. Is she can ever wash it from her mind, if she even wants to. Someone should see it, someone should bear witness.

The operating room, glassy frightened eyes watching, feeling everything. The saw. The smell of burning flesh. The sounds of bones, grinding as they are cut.

She snaps out with a violent jerk and stumbles into the corner where her stomach promptly empties itself. Sam is up from his chair in a flash. Always watching over her. She retches and coughs for a while longer.

“Wanda?”

She waves him away. Don’t touch me. It’s his memory bleeding through and she doesn’t have the strength to stop it.

“What happened?”

His voice is gentle, keeping his distance.

“Hydra. When they first got him.”

She shudders again, her stomach rolling ominously.

“He was so scared.”

Sam doesn’t say anything, but she can feel edges of guilt seeping from him. She doesn’t look into him to see why. She doesn’t have the inclination or the right.

She doesn’t want to go back but instead she pushes on. Down, down all the way to Brooklyn and a set of sofa cushions thrown on the floor for a very small boy. She meets Sarah Rogers and her all-encompassing love and Winnie Barnes’ gentle hands that never scolded after a fight no matter the bite to her words. Wraps that love around herself like a balm, learns where they both come from.

Eventually she finds the triggers, stands in the places where they live. Finds them all but one. The last one.

She tries to explain to Sam, form words of wordless things.

“They are like a chain. I can’t remove them. They are now too much a part of him. Always were a part of him. If I remove them all, I will remove too much of him, of what he has gotten back. Of who he is.”

“What do we do then?”

Sam, always the pragmatist.

“I just need to break the chain. Take one of them out. No, not take out, change.”

“Change a memory?”

She nods, looking at Steve’s calm, sleeping face.

He is in the studio when she comes to him. It’s a beautiful space, the measured sweeps of the brush on a wall-sized canvas. The expanse of Steve’s hopes and wishes in this room. Wanda wants for him to keep this, create something like this for himself in the real world.

“Steve I need you to take me to the last one.”

He stills, watching her like he knows what is coming.

“I know where it is, I just can't go to it. He has walled it up, pushed it so far away.”

“What is it?”

“It’s the train.”

The expression on Steve’s face breaks her heart. The pain takes her off guard, she wasn’t sure if there was anything left there to break anymore. He nods resolute and allows her in.

It’s cold, the wind like pinpricks of ice over her face through the torn up wall of the freight car.

Barnes picks up the shield. The blast tears through the carriage and he falls. The shield clattering uselessly against a wall.

Steve rushes to the gaping hole, so much younger somehow, hopeful and still thinking himself all powerful.

She opens herself then, let’s it run through her. It’s a kind of power she has never felt before. Changing a memory, the feeling that powers the change, that allows her to be here.

Their love, their devotion runs through her like a river, cleansing her. She thinks of Pietro and for that brief, perfect moment she forgives herself.

She holds the tearing metal in her hand keeping it in place, the red tendrils of her will anchoring it against the laws of physics. She holds Steve as he reaches for Barnes. Their hands meeting in the cold air. Their grip supported by Wanda’s hand.

Steve hauls him back into the car and they hold each other, breathing the same air, lips nearly touching. They weren’t lovers yet, not in this time, but it’s there between them, like an undertow.

She lets herself feel it, the river, the flow, the love just one last time.

She’s crying when she comes back. Tear tracks down her cheeks, sobs wracking her chest. A kind of release. She can hear Sam moving behind her, coming closer but not touching. Hear his breath like a hiss when Steve mumbles from the bed:

“Wanda….”

Steve’s voice is hoarse, unused as he slowly blinks his eyes open.

He’s shaking on his feet like a newborn foal, but his voice retains the same timber of command. He wants Barnes out of cryo. Now. Sam tries to calm him, ask him to wait a few days, but Steve isn’t having any of it and it makes Wanda smile like a secret hidden behind her hand.

Sam helps Steve walk to the cryo wing, all the doctors and scientists already busy at work.

T’Challa introduces them to Dr. Onwuatuegwu and he explains to them about the chip. Wanda thinks of the static moving in the darkness. He wants to talk to her after, to understand how the chip interacts with the mind. She has a unique viewpoint he says.

Barnes’ skin is bright and sparkling like flint. Steve watches the staff move around him, prepping the pod, ferocious like a bear with a cub. The machines hum as they start to warm up Barnes’ body. She reaches out to him throughout the process, a gentle, now familiar touch of her mind against his.

The glass casing of the pod rolls down and Sam has to bodily stop Steve from rushing forward as two nurses ease Barnes from the restraints.

He’s coughing and shivering. Wanda feels the cold through him. The confused fear that usually comes after the thaw. Hands like claws digging into Steve’s biceps, desperation visible in all the planes of his body when Steve finally gets to him, eases him down on the cot laid out.

She opens her palm, reaches out, red tendrils and all, the blanket floats to her. Only briefly touching her hand before moving over to where Steve is crouched by him. It takes him a moment to see it, to shoot a grateful glance her way. To wrap it around Barnes, around both of them and to gather Barnes close to his chest, cradle him like something precious.

She feels Sam moving next to her, feels the sudden understanding in him, but he doesn’t say anything and Wanda is grateful for it.

They leave Steve and Barnes alone for a few hours. Leaving Barnes to thaw and wake up fully, both of them clearly needing the privacy. She and Sam sit outside on a balcony drinking strong, bitter coffee, waiting to be called back.

“I didn’t know it was like that.”

There is a catch in Sam’s voice and Wanda just hums noncommittally. He rubs his hands over his face, a gesture of the tiredness they both are feeling.

“I should have seen it, should have been there for him more.”

“Sam. You have been there for him, for all of us more than any of us has the right to expect.”

“I just….”

“I know.”

Wanada doesn’t know what to say to him that isn’t betraying confidences of the two men who have already lost so much faith in human decency, so she plays for laughs instead.

“But hey, at least you know now that Barnes isn’t angling for Steve’s BFF slot. That’s all yours, bird man.”

“Bird man! That’s it, little witch!”

But he’s laughing through his mock anger and Wanda feels lighter.

T’Challa comes to find them, not long after. He still stands slightly apart from her but some of the apprehension is gone from his posture. He pours himself a cup of coffee from the cart, sipping it quietly for a moment. Wanda admires his calm exterior, the way he hides the turmoil that she feels just under the surface. She respects him enough to not go looking deeper.

Finally he places the empty cup on the flat railing of the balcony and speaks:

“We need to test the triggers. Barnes wants to get it over with as soon as possible.”

The room is set on the side of the cryo area. It reminds Wanda of an interrogation cell and she has to force herself to step inside after Barnes. To tighten her fists and remind herself that she is the one with the power.

Barnes seems to suddenly notice her presence and panics.

“No, you can’t be here. I could hurt you.”

She smiles at him. He’s so much like Steve, so protective when she is the last one to need it.

“Barnes, you do know that I can move objects with my mind right?”

He nods, it’s a hesitant, jerky motion as if he doesn’t really want to agree with her.

“I can also make you think that you are a chicken. Trust me, I will be very safe.”

He is still looking at her mulishly.

“Or in the worse case scenario I will just give you a mission to make me a sandwich.”

That gets him to smile. Just a tiny bit. He sits down on the metal chair. No restraints even though he had asked for them.

The book is on the table, red leather and a black star. She would like the aesthetics if not for what they represent to him. She opens the pages, fingers trailing down the Cyrillic cursive.

She says the words, slow and measured. Watches him, head bowed. She wonders at their power, the simplicity of it. Having been to all these places with him, having understood what it means to be unmade.

After a long silence Barnes lifts his head, the mulish look back on his face.

“Make your own fucking sandwich.”

Wanda grins at him then, full body, and he laughs, surprised and fond.

Not even T’Challa’s Dora Milaje can restrain Steve from rushing into the room.

Chapter Text

Ржавый - rusted

 

Bucky is still wearing scrubs and the white tank. He’d retrieved the blanket after the interrogation room, and it’s now huddled around his shoulders like a long cape. He stands in the middle of Steve’s rooms, looking awkward and out of place. So unsure of his own welcome.

T’Challa’s staff hadn’t had the time to prepare a suite for Bucky yet and Steve was more than happy to offer to take Bucky into his. To let him get cleaned up and find him some clothes. For a moment he thought that Sam might argue, but then Wanda touched his arm, gentle and brief, and Sam just nodded.

The scrubs rasp as Bucky moves, covered in a thin film of some kind of sticky material from the cryo chamber, his hair and face and arms slick with it. His gait is still strangely lopsided, not used to the lack of weight on his left shoulder.

It makes Steve want to hold him, but he isn’t sure if he has the right, if it would be welcome here and now. So instead of offering comfort, he offers practicalities.

“You wanna have a shower?”

“Yeah, that’d be nice. There’s hot water right?”

“Of course.”

“... Yeah, of course.”

Bucky is looking around as if seeing the suite for the first time and Steve wonders about the last time he came out of cryo. The quiet request for hot water, going back for the blanket. It aches in his chest like a bruise.

He’d held Bucky on the cot in the cryo room. Half awake and freezing, his hands like claws, desperate and hard on Steve’s arms. Like he couldn't bear to let go. Like it was the first time he’d had someone to hold on to.

Steve moves into the bathroom to help, pulling down thick, luxurious towels from the shelf. Bucky stands stiff on the edge of the room, his bare toes flexing on the cold tile floor, watching. Fingers fidgeting in the hem of his vest.

“I can manage on my own.”

Still holding the blanket around his shoulders like a shield, knuckles nearly white with it. Something fragile on his face, and briefly Steve wonders if it’s hope. If there is a wrong answer to this.

If this is test.

“You don’t have to.”

The memory churns in his gut, the mirror image of the same conversation from years ago, and Bucky doesn’t seem reassured. His jaw clenched against the words, the scars on his knuckles luminous on the white skin pulled tight.

“Was any of it real?”

He’s holding himself together, so tense and clearly ready for a rejection and Steve wants to cry.

“All of it. All of it was real Buck.”

His face closed off, so similar to what it was in Bucharest, in that shitty little flat. When Steve had hoped for more time, hours, even just minutes to make himself heard. The openness from the dream wiped clean by cryo and by hateful Cyrillic words that should no longer have any hold on him. Bucky shuffles, a nervous shift of his weight.

“But it’s different when it’s real life, right?”

Steve shakes his head.

“No. It was real. It was real for me.”

And then Bucky is in his arms, pressed tightly to his chest, and Steve stumbles with it. The stump of metal against his bicep like a brand, the neoprene cap strange against his skin. So unlike the metal arm that he had gotten so used to. The towels fallen in a lump around their feet.

Bucky smells like antiseptic and something acrid. His hair is stiff and matted. Steve presses his nose into a trembling shoulder and under all the industrial smells is still Bucky, still home. He is shaking and Steve shushes and rocks him, odd, instinctive comfort.

“You gotta believe me, Buck. It was all real.”

Real like a secret he’d been too scared to want, to scared to ever say out loud. And here it is, just in front of him, and Steve wants to grab it with both hands, but he’s never been good with fragile things.

Rough fingers on his jaw, guiding his face up, up and to the side. His nose sliding over Bucky’s cheek. Their lips slotting together like they belong. Bucky feels familiar, like they’ve done this before. Thousands of times. The sense memory of it thrums in his bones.

This kiss is like a question, both of them unsure but familiar. Then Bucky tilts his head and the kiss deepens, grows hotter, more urgent. A nip of teeth on Steve’s bottom lip.

Steve doesn’t want to let go, but he has to, just so that he can turn on the shower. The water runs hot straight away and steam begins to fill the room.

He eases his fingers under the hem of Bucky’s vest, fingers spread over the trembling muscles of his stomach, feeling his breath against his hands. Easing the fabric up and over Bucky’s head and down his arm. Pulling the drawstrings holding his scrubs up, opening the simple knot. Steve kneels, kissing a jutted-out hipbone as he pulls them down.

“Steve, you don't have to…”

“Shh, just let me take care of you for once.”

Kisses Bucky’s belly button, the soft hairs tickling his nose. Bucky sighs, imperceptibly leaning against Steve. Bucky’s cock is soft, vulnerable and Steve kisses it too. Bucky’s fingers tightening on his shoulder. He never thought about it in the dream, how different Bucky’s body is now. The muscular thighs, wide shoulders nearly matching his own. The definition in his stomach and waist. Steve runs his hands all over, light like a feather, and Bucky’s breath hitches like a sob.

Everything is still where he left it, his shampoo and razor and soap. Toothbrush and toothpaste, his comb on the side. Bucky runs his fingers over the items laid out by the shower. Looking into another person’s life, and Steve wonders for a moment what Bucky thought when he came home to find Steve in his kitchen, full armour and all. Wonders about all the lies and deceit. The gossamer threads of life that he destroyed.

“Why did you lie? In Bucharest.”

Bucky freezes, his fingers over the unopened bar of soap. The lines of his shoulders and back suddenly rigid.

“I thought…. I thought if I didn’t remember you that you would leave.”

The words hurt more than Steve thought they would and Bucky must see it on Steve’s face, his eyes suddenly soft.

“If you left, I wouldn’t be able to hurt you anymore.”

“Jesus Buck. The only thing that I wanted. I’ve ever wanted has been you. To have you.”

“I know that now.”

The words are dark and tired. Weighted down with everything that has come to pass and Steve doesn’t want them to weigh Bucky down more than they already do, but he has no idea how to share the burden. How to take some of the load.

Bucky walks into the shower and holds out his hand, invitation and acceptance, and maybe that is enough. It has to be. Steve pulls off his shirt and chucks his jeans and underwear into the corner. Running his hand over Bucky’s shoulder blade as he steps under the shower. The muscle and sinew moving under his hand. He’s been here before, but it feels far away now, truly like a dream, fading the more he tries to remember.

Bucky turns in his arms, rivulets of hot water washing away the smell of cryo. Leaning into Steve, noses bumping, lips seeking his, soft and unguarded. Steve knows for sure now that it’s been worth all the moments of horror and heartbreak, to have gotten here. He would give up everything, he would burn the world to be here, and the thought terrifies him.

He kisses harder to hide his fear, palms wide and hot over Bucky’s back, up and down over his spine, their legs slotting together, feet shifting on the wet tile. Lazy kisses now like a hello, like they suddenly have forever.

Bucky turns around to let Steve wash his hair, the lather running down his forearms, dripping down to the floor of the shower. The strands soft and pliable between his fingers. He massages the shampoo into Bucky’s scalp. Thumbs easing the muscles in the back of Bucky’s neck until he’s moaning quietly, body falling back into the cradle of Steve’s hips.

Bucky bends his head back for a kiss and it’s dirty and wet and perfect. Steve’s cock sliding in the valley of his ass. The atmosphere suddenly changed, thrumming between them like a live wire. This wasn’t his intention, but Bucky is warm and pliable and wanton in his arms. Rocking against him, with the knowledge of Steve’s intimate wants locked in his mind, and Steve pushes back, rutting into the tender heat of him. Breath like a sob in his chest.

He takes the bar of soap in his hands, runs it over Bucky’s chest and belly, spreading the lather around. Catching a nipple with his thumb, the flat of his palm over the swell of muscle. Running his soapy fingers into the thick thatch of hair at the base of Bucky’s dick, already hard against his thigh. Washing and tending to him, suds slicking his way. Fingers and palms slippery over Bucky’s dick and rough on his tight balls. Thumb teasing the sensitive skin until Bucky moans his name. Rutting against him, the flex of Bucky’s ass, the smooth skin of his tailbone already taking Steve to the edge.

“Buck, Bucky, Sweetheart, you gonna come for me?”

Bucky grunts, head bowed, arm against the tiled wall. Legs spreading as he arches against Steve, harder, more. Shuddering as he comes. White, milky stripes over Steve’s fist, instantly washed away by the pounding water.

Steve holds him still then, selfish and fingers tight on Bucky’s hips. Fucking into the valley of his ass, the tight flex of muscle enough to get him off. The noises Bucky’s making getting him to a hair trigger. Shooting over Bucky’s lower back, moaning his pleasure into the back of Bucky’s neck. The scars on his back rough against Steve’s chest.

They stand in the shower for a long time, wrapped around each other, breathing and holding on like drowning men.

Eventually they have to move, both pruny and overheated from the steam. Dry each other in the thick, fluffy towels and find clothing. Bucky emerges from the closet wearing Steve’s old sweatpants and a t-shirt, worn from many washes. Steve knows how soft, how comfortable they are. Wants Bucky to have them, the strange possessive curl in his stomach of seeing Bucky in his clothes.

He notices that no one has come to collect Bucky for his own suite, not that Steve would let him go, and he wonders if it’s Wanda or T’Challa he needs to thank.

After a moment’s hesitation Bucky crawls into the bed. Burrowing under the covers and sheets until only the top of his head is visible in between the pile of pillows. Steve pulls on his pyjama pants and a t-shirt, crawling into the bed too, making his way under the covers, pressing himself tight to Bucky’s body.

“You wanna sleep, Sweetheart?”

Bucky tightens his hold, face pressed against Steve’s chest.

“I love it when you call me Sweetheart.”

It’s a quiet, furtive confession. Bucky hiding his face and Steve can see his blush even in the low light. He palms the back of Bucky’s head, smoothing the still wet hair, running his fingers through the knotted strands. Kisses Bucky’s forehead with a smile.

Bucky wiggles up his body from the cocoon of duvets, easing himself into a comfortable position, his arm around Steve’s shoulders. Steve watches him wiggle and move. Watches the changes in his body. Bucky’s empty sleeve mocks him, showing him his own powerlessness. How small and insignificant he really is. How much Bucky has lost because of him.

The first sob feels like an avalanche rolling free, his gut clenching around the sound. Sudden and uncontrolled.

He holds on to Bucky, bruising and hard, but he can’t stop, can’t let go. Won’t let go. Ever.

Tears and saliva and snot into the cotton of Bucky’s shirt, against the warm expanse of his chest. Bucky’s fingers in his hair, holding him, whispering shh shh Stevie, like he’s still 90 pounds soaking wet. Like he deserves any kind of comfort.

It’s pain and sorrow and relief all rolled into one, and he takes the comfort more readily than he ever would have back in Brooklyn. The years gone by wearing down his pride and his reserves until he’s hollow and empty.

Bucky rolls them onto their sides, legs twining around Steve’s, locking him against Bucky’s body.

Slowly the sobs die down, his body burning through its grief. The pain still remains, somewhere deep in his chest, but it’s more manageable now, like a scar that he will learn to carry, will learn to live with.

Bucky whispers nonsense against his hair, kissing his temples. Holding him tight until he can sleep.

He’s woken by a knock on the door, feeling more rested and sated than he has in years. The hallway is empty when Steve finally stumbles out of bed and opens the door. On the floor of the hallway is a tray filled to the brim with breakfast foods and fruits, a coffee carafe and juice. A small note saying I thought you might need this in Wanda’s loopy cursive. She even added in a sloppy smiley face.

Steve hopes that she can tell how grateful he is, how much he owes her, how much the easy acceptance means to him. She’d been so gentle with Bucky, kind and open, like no one else had. He knows that even Sam sometimes struggles, and Steve understands his reasons, respects them.

But Wanda had opened herself to Bucky, had invited him in. The show of trust still bewilders Steve. Out of all the Avengers Wanda had been the most closed off, the most isolated. Wrapping her grief around her like an armour, a wall designed to keep everyone out.

He’d felt protective of her, but even then he hadn’t been able to truly know her. He wonders now if there is a chance for healing for both her and Bucky. If the connection they both seem to share will be powerful enough to break down some of those walls for both of them.

He takes the tray in and they eat in bed, Bucky devouring everything that isn’t nailed down. He crawls back under the covers once he’s eaten his fill, yawning and rubbing his face into the pillows.

“They used to shoot me up with all sorts of shit after cryo, otherwise I would have just slept for days. Eaten for days too.”

He rolls himself within the duvet like a big burrito, face pressed tight into Steve’s hip.

“It takes it out of you. Thawing.”

Steve thinks of the grubby sleeping bag in Bucky’s flat in Bucharest, of all the pillows and duvets piled in on Bucky’s bed in the dream. Runs his palm over the lumpy form, smiling and still eating his breakfast sandwich. He finishes the last of the coffee and takes the tray to the desk in the corner of the room. Hiding the reports from Siberia under its weight.

He can’t really sleep anymore, but instead grabs his phone and loads up the audiobook of The Lord of the Rings. He hasn’t had time to listen much in the past weeks, hadn’t felt like he deserved it, but it feels right for now. Bucky’s safe and warm next to him and he can allow himself to indulge. Find out what happens at Helm's Deep.

He snuggles down back into the bed, arms around the Bucky-shaped burrito, and settles to listen. Bucky’s steady breath, the expanding and contracting of his ribs between his hands, comforting and sure.

Bucky wakes up a few hours later, his hands sneaking out from under the covers and under Steve’s shirt. Running over his ticklish sides, making him twitch and jump and turn off the book. A sneaky thumb ghosting over a nipple and Steve whines, surprised, and Bucky laughs still half-asleep.

“Hu, so that’s the same.”

“Uh, yeah… The serum made me kinda sensitive.”

Steve squirms, embarrassed. Face half into a pillow, blushing, not sure if he wants to squirm away from the touch or push into it. Bucky, encouraged, pinches the sensitive nub between his fingers, rolling and tweaking until Steve is writhing and panting on the bed. His cock already aching, wet tip pressing into his underwear.

The serum had changed things, everything had become just more, brighter, more colorful, intense. He’d sometimes wondered, dreamed, what Bucky’s touch would be like on his skin, but he had forgotten the playful way that Bucky used to touch him, the teasing and horseplay.

Bucky bends his elbow, trying to ease the shirt up without letting go, still twisting and rubbing with calloused fingers.

“Come on Stevie, help out the one-armed guy here.”

Steve grunts, pulling the shirt over his head, and Bucky wiggles closer, getting his lips over the swell of Steve’s pecs, mouthing the muscles, licking from one nipple to another. Wet tongue and sharp teeth teasing him until Steve is humping against the side of Bucky’s duvet-covered thigh.

“Buck. I want you to fuck me.”

He’s thought about it, fantasised and wondered. Eased his own fingers inside and imagined them made of metal. It’s not something they got around to even inside the dream. Something new, something for just here. Just for them.

Bucky’s hand ghosts over Steve’s dick, fingers tapping the sensitive head over the cotton of his pants, and Steve pleads, wordless, bearing his throat. Bucky hums in approval.

“You got stuff here?”

Steve nods, fumbling into the bedside drawer, hoping that no one has cleared it away and blushing at the thought.

Bucky snaps the cap open with his teeth and it’s stupidly sexy, smirking at the dopey expression that must be on Steve’s face.

“You done this before?”

Steve shakes his head.

“You done it to yourself?”

Steve can feel the heat over his face, spreading down his chest, but he nods and Bucky hands him the open lube, eyes filled with hunger.

“Show me.”

Bucky helps him push his sweats and underwear down his legs, settles in between Steve’s bent knees, shouldering his thighs apart. Steve keeps his eyes closed at first. Letting his fingers circle around the tight pucker of his asshole almost shyly. Working in just the tip of a finger at first, cock leaking over his belly. He teases the head, a distraction.

“I… I used to think it was you doing it. With the metal hand.”

“Fucking hell Stevie.”

Bucky’s breath on his inner thigh, voice like he’s been punched. When he pushes two fingers in, Bucky makes a noise, a high-pitched whine and Steve has to look, has to see.

Bucky’s watching him, seeing Steve’s fingers disappear into his body. Stretching himself open. His face is transfixed, mouth lax and pupils blown. He’s pushed his sweatpants down, the meaty shaft of his cock pressed against his belly, slick and red. Hand loosely grasped around the base, giving it a few tugs.

Then Bucky leans over him, his lips and teeth finding Steve’s nipple again, still tender and slick from before. Steve feels the calloused tip of Bucky’s finger working against the tight furl of his asshole, slick with lube. Pushing in next to Steve’s fingers. He groans at the intrusion, the aching stretch of three fingers, of Bucky finally inside him.

“Fuck Stevie, you’re so fucking tight.”

Steve guides Bucky’s finger to his prostate, pushing his legs higher and wider, and Bucky teases him, finger curling light as a feather. Steve arches his back, cants his hips, tries to get more contact, but Bucky keeps the touch light, smiling against Steve’s chest. He was always the master of driving Steve up the wall.

Slowly Bucky pulls his finger out and Steve whines at the loss, working his own third finger in until Bucky tugs at his wrist, forcing him to pull out. He feels the cold air, how open he is. Feels the tender flex of the rim and shudders.

Bucky leans back against the pillows, his sweats pushed down to his knees, his dick in a loose grip, spreading the lube. Thumb teasing the gleaming red tip, working the foreskin.

“Come on Stevie, climb aboard.”

With the stupid cocky smirk again, and Steve wants to kiss him so badly, so he does. Climbing over him and easing himself back, guiding the thick head of Bucky’s cock against his ass, working the head in. The burn makes his toes curl, working down slowly, slowly, until he is sitting flush in Bucky’s lap.

He reaches down behind himself, feeling the tight press of Bucky’s balls, rolls them in his hand until Bucky groans and slaps his hip, squeezing the flesh in retaliation. The spark of pain makes Steve clench down and whine.

Bucky’s hand travels from his hip, over the swell of Steve’s ass. Curious fingers sliding over the stretched rim of him, where they are joined. The touch makes Steve shiver and moan. Tilt his hips, fuck Bucky into him, the thick length of him hitting all the right places. Slowly finding a rhythm, swaying in Bucky’s lap.

“Fuck Stevie, I’m in you.”

He sounds wrecked, eyes glassy and worshipful. Steve rises up on his thighs, easing back down over and over. The thick length of Bucky’s cock aching in the best way, the helpless noises from Bucky’s open, lax mouth settling in his belly and in the base of his spine.

“Yeah, Buck.”

He clenches down, wanting Bucky to feel it, wanting him to buck into his body, to lose control. He’s rewarded with short little thrusts, uncoordinated and rough into his body. Bucky’s hand holding him in place. Steve can feel the fingertip bruises already forming.

Steve leans on the headboard, hands on both sides of Bucky’s head, starting to fuck him in earnest, the long slide of Bucky’s cock in him working over his prostate on every downward push. Rough fingers suddenly on his nipple, twisting and pulling, and Steve comes all over himself, thick, milky ropes over Bucky’s belly.

Bucky holds him steady as he fucks into Steve’s body, hard and rough, now totally in control. Delectable little grunts out of his mouth and Steve swallows them all, wants to keep them for himself. His cock and ass aching with oversensitivity, the rough thrusts making Steve whine and clench. Never wanting it to stop.

Bucky nearly growls when he comes, eyes squeezed shut, buried deep and holding Steve in place until he’s empty and spent. Neither of them willing to let go. Foreheads resting together, sharing a single breath

“Steve, I…”

“I know, Buck. I know.”

The words are unnecessary, the knowledge thick and heavy between them.

The next day T’Challa calls them in for a meeting in the hospital complex.

The holograph is large, taking nearly the whole width of the table. The different parts highlighted and charted in different colors.

Steve can see the plates and the complex internal mechanics. The multitude of nerve connections. The plates, the way they shift and move with and independent of one another. The full range of motion the arm is designed for.

T’Challa stands in the middle. This is his project but he is surrounded by the most brilliant technical and medical minds Wakanda has to offer. And the brain power on offer is impressive. Steve wonders if even Tony, or even Hydra or S.H.I.E.L.D in their heyday, could amass this level of brilliance. They are all here for Bucky. It makes Steve feel warm in the pit of his stomach. The care that these people are giving him and not asking anything in return.

Bucky reaches out to touch the holograph, fingers running through the arm. T’Challa watches him with a guarded expression but Steve thinks that he can see a hint of a smile.

“It won’t be a quick process, but we want to do this right.”

The lead surgeon, Dr. Saro-Wiwa, steps to the table and pulls up another set of holographs with a relaxed swipe of her hand. The display is now of muscle and sinew and bones grafted in metal.

“As far as the team has been able to map out, it will take at least three surgeries to complete. Followed by several weeks of intense physical therapy.”

Steve feels Bucky tense beside him but he says nothing, looking at the doctor with a flat expression. Not as blank as the Soldier was but getting there. Steve runs his hand down his back, trying to bring him back, and Bucky relaxes a fraction at the touch.

“This was taken when your body was mapped for the cryo procedure, and I have been able to use it to plan out an approach for the surgery and for the vibranium grafts.”

She swipes again and a set of plans hovers in the air, listing a set of goals for each procedure.

“An optimistic estimate is three surgeries, but I want you to prepare for at least five. I don’t want to promise anything until me and my team get in there and see how bad the nerve and tissue damage is.”

She’s looking a Bucky now, her demeanour professional but warm, waiting to continue until Bucky gives a small nod.

“We’ve read through the medical notes on Captain Rogers and I’m confident that we can perform the surgery with good anesthesia.”

Bucky looks up at him and Steve feels himself blanch.

“Um, I woke up on the table. Twice.”

“Jesus, Steve.”

His voice is strained, unhappy and his face drawn and pale. Mind clearly playing through unpleasant memories. Dr. Saro-Wiwa continues, looking to diffuse the situation.

“Dr. Onwuatuegwu has suggested that Ms. Maximoff might be able to assist on this front. Which I think is a good idea.”

Bucky looks at her tightly and eventually nods, slowly. Steve knows he is thinking about Wanda in the dream. The way she moved through it like she belonged there.

“We have time, so this doesn’t have to happen right now.”

She hands Bucky a thick, white folder.

“This is all the information on the designs of the new arm, the planned surgeries and the scans we took. Read through it, make sure that you understand everything. If you have any questions, me and the team are only a call away.”

Bucky doesn’t open the folder, just lays it on the table in front of him.

“When can we do this?”

Dr. Saro-Wiwa shrugs, and Steve is grateful how relaxed she is, hoping that the difference to any of Bucky’s past experiences will be stark.

“Well I would advise waiting at least a few weeks post-cryo, but after that it’s up to you. The team does need a few days’ notice if they are not on site.”

She motions to the team of ten doctors and nurses around them who had all introduced themselves when they got into the room, but Steve has already forgotten most of their names.

“We will also have to space out the surgeries depending on your rate of healing and how well the nerve grafts take.”

Bucky looks at the folder and the people assembled around the wide table. Looking at their expectant and curious faces.

“Why are you doing this?”

Bucky’s voice cracks and Steve has to close his eyes briefly just to compose himself. The tone so similar to the one Bucky had in the Quinjet, before Steve dragged him into hell. Before he lost his arm.

T’Challa doesn’t smile, he rarely does, but Steve can hear the warmth in his voice, can hear the conviction.

“Because you are worth it, my friend.”

Bucky starts to shake his head, but before Steve can jump in, T’Challa speaks again.

“If you cannot believe that yet, then believe in the good work that we are doing here. This will revolutionize the way we build prosthetics. It will help men and women who have lost limbs. A unique chance to help others. For normal humans this will be a process that takes several years. You will allow us to test something completely revolutionary in only a few months.”

He pulls back up the scans of Bucky’s shoulder to the holograph, the nerve connections flashing up in brilliant white.

“Not to mention the development we can gain just by having been able to scan the nerve attachments.”

Bucky looks at the layout of his shoulder, at the flashing nerves and then at T’Challa.

“I’m effectively a guinea pig?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re using what Hydra built to do good?”

“Yes.”

Bucky nods then, decisive, and looks down on the folder with renewed interest.

They have dinner after, laid out in the terrace. Stewed chicken and rice, some kind of a potato cake. A huge basket of flatbreads that Bucky stuffs with everything on offer. Finally a pudding made of plums, covered in sweet cream.

The thick folder rests between them, waiting to be opened.

After he’s finished Bucky leans back in his chair, face pensive. Steve’s been waiting for the question for a few days now, but when it does come he’s taken by surprise.

“Who was the guy?”

He knows what Bucky is talking about. The secret bar and an unmarked door. Howard had known where it was and Steve had never asked how or why.

“That time on leave in London. I just needed to know if what I was feeling was real. I needed to know without risking you.”

“Stevie. You would have never risked me. Ever.”

Bucky looks sad and wistful and Steve feels it too. They’ve wasted so much time.

“What about Sharon?”

This question he had not anticipated. He should have, after the pain around Bucky’s eyes through the windshield of the Beetle. He had thought it just a remnant of the Soldier at the time.

“It was… It was a thank you. I just wanted to thank her for everything she risked for me.”

“Well… I think if that’s the way you wanna thank people you owe the team quite a bit of necking, and I don’t feel too comfortable with that.”

Bucky is trying for levity and Steve rubs the back of his neck, uncomfortable and flustered.

“I’d asked her out. Before I knew who she was. I don’t know. She was at Peggy’s funeral, I guess I was just looking for a connection of any kind.”

He feels so ashamed now, looking back on it. How he had let the emotional turmoil of those few days get the better of him. It hadn’t been fair to Sharon.

“It’s okay Steve. I just wanna make sure that this is what you really want. You know. You have options.”

“Jesus, Buck, you still have to ask?”

There is a guilty look on his face, shame and apprehension. The curtain of hair falling in front of his face, an armour of sorts. It’s an answer enough.

“This is all I’ve ever wanted. You were seventeen and suddenly being friends wasn’t enough for me anymore. I was so fucking scared, Buck. Scared that you’d hate me, scared that I’d lose my only friend. Scared of what I was.”

He reaches across the table, arm over the folder and fingers over Bucky’s hand.

“You’re the love of my life, you stupid jerk.”

Bucky is still hiding his face, but Steve thinks that there is a hint of a smile on his face. He holds Steve’s hand over the table as they watch the sun setting over the jungle.

Bucky isn’t in bed when Steve wakes up deep in the night. The alarm clock reading just past two am. Fear bursts in his chest, uncontrolled and bright, until he hears the faint melody of something familiar from the lounge, or what they have started jokingly calling the common room. All of them looking for a touch of familiarity.

The tables and chairs have been moved, pushed into the sides of the room. The rug rolled neatly to the corner. Both of them are still in their pyjamas, Wanda wearing a loose t-shirt proclaiming I heart Falcon, a stupid gift from Sam. Steve didn’t even think that she had kept it.

In the middle of the common room Bucky is teaching her how to Lindy.

There is a lightness to her as she twirls under Bucky’s arm. She stumbles a bit and Bucky pulls her back, adjusting and compensating with only one arm but still making it look effortless. He smiles when she completes a perfect cross step.

“Look at you, little jitterbug.”

Then Bucky playfully dips her, easily holding on with one hand, and Wanda giggles. Laughter light like air and Steve realizes that he’s never heard her laugh before. Not like this.

It's not what he planned or what he dreamed of but it’s something. It's family and it's a sort of a home for all of them. All of them with their cracks and fault lines. Torn up and rusted, all of them who should only be shells of humans after everything, but beneath it all is hope.

Beneath it all is Wanda dancing like air and Bucky smiling like he used to a long time ago in the dancehalls of Brooklyn, the cocky smirk there, shining out of the face of the Winter Soldier.

They both twirl and bow when they notice him standing in the stairwell.

“Come on Steve, join us.”

He’s learning to know the gentle little smile on Wanda’s face, the slight tilt of her head when she is thinking of something funny. Probably silently mocking him, but Steve is more than happy with that. Especially when Bucky joins in, mocking him out loud.

“I tried to teach him how to dance. Many a bruised toe I tell you.”

The laughter bubbles in his chest, smile stretching his face, feeling suddenly light.

“Lies! All filthy lies!”

Wanda smirks then, impish, and it takes him a while to remember the exact same expression on Becca’s face so long ago in the dim light of the Barnes’ kitchen. Making fun of Steve like he was part of the family, like he belonged.

Wanda jumps to sit on the counter with ease, bare toes swinging in the air. Her fingers moving in the air, effortless and graceful as she changes the music. This song is slower. Steve thinks that he might know it in a distant sort of way.

Bucky takes his hand, leading their bodies to it, cheek against Steve’s.

His hand over Bucky’s shoulder, fingers grazing the stump and his palm grasped in Bucky’s. Safe and secure, held close. Lost in the music and it takes a while for Steve to realize that Wanda is nowhere to be seen, the lights turned low.

They dance late into the night, early into the morning, finally with the right partner.

Chapter Text

“True stories can't be told forward, only backward. We invent them from the vantage point of an ever-changing present and tell ourselves how they unfolded.”
― Siri Hustvedt, The Shaking Woman

 

Wanda empties her fourth cocktail and lazily throws up a shield as Sam dive-bombs into the pool. She’s painted her toenails black again and they gleam in the sunlight as the water spray neatly avoids her sun lounger.

The hot afternoon sun bathes them all in glowing light. The infinity pool slightly overflowing after Sam’s dive in, water lapping the stone walkway around it.

Wanda leans back, adjusting her hat, smiling at the couple of supersoldiers two loungers down from her. They sit with Bucky bracketed between Steve’s thighs, both of them looking at something on a tablet. A stupid, adoring look on Steve’s face that Bucky doesn’t even see, so focused on the screen in front of him.

Sometimes she is so angry at Tony for doing this. She knows it’s not all him and she should be angry at Steve too but she can’t, not after everything. Not after what she has seen, because Bucky was worth saving.

She wonders what it would have been like, to be able to have this in the compound. For everyone to see this side of Steve. The gentle way he holds Bucky to him like something precious. She understands, better than most, the desire to tear the world apart for the ones you love.

The metal plates on Bucky’s shoulder have been all removed now, the scarred skin of the stump red and shiny in the sun as Steve bends down to kiss the skin. His lips moving over the ball of the shoulder and what is left of Bucky’s upper arm. Bucky bows his head, hiding his face, but Wanda can spy the pleased little smile.

They’re five days out of the first surgery. Taking a day off, a pool party and an evening BBQ.

When the metal casing was removed it revealed the scarred, mangled stump of his arm and the metal jack that connected to his clavicle, spine and central nervous system. Skin regrowth around the fittings. The arm had been plugged into it. The team had removed not only the plates and wiring but several subcutaneous electric resistors and conductors connected to nerve pathways during the first surgery. Wanda had tried to not think of what they had been used for.

With his advanced healing factor the stump is already looking much better, the skin less red and the incision sites nearly healed.

One down, at least two more to go, Wanda counts down.

She’d sat in the operating room, scrubs and face mask and all by Bucky’s head. Helping him stay calm and making sure he stayed under. She remembers the problems the medical staff had had with Steve in compound.

They'd both been wearing those funny surgical hats. Steve and Sam and T’Challa watching from the gallery above. Her trio of men, always trying to protect. And Bucky, now almost like a brother, not a twin, never like Pietro, but older, ruder and funny. Teaching her to dance and trusting her in ways that the others will never be able to.

She’d held his mind throughout the surgery, kept him away from the pain. In return, he’d taken her to Coney Island, ridden the cyclone with her and bought her a corn dog. Like he used to do for his little sisters, he'd said. And with Steve too. He didn’t say that but Wanda heard it nonetheless in the empty space between his words.

A glimpse of the kind and gentle Bucky Steve seemed to have always known. She feels immense privilege in being allowed to see it.

Sam still doesn’t trust him fully and Wanda can’t find it in herself to blame him. Sam needs his own time to get to know Bucky on his terms. Find new equilibrium in his relationship with Steve in the mess of debt and forgiveness and guilt. In a way they all do.

Sam had gotten over the need to watch Steve’s back quite so closely a few days after moving into the suite next door, “just in case.” After two days, and especially, after two nights, Sam had decided to move to the other side of the compound.

Steve had been blushing and stammering apologies and Bucky had been smug and silent, chewing on a piece of dried mango. Not saying a word. He is such an asshole sometimes and Wanda can’t help but love him a tiny bit for it. She had already wisely chosen a suite at the other end of the complex.

They are all broken some ways, molded by their experiences, by loss and grief and hate.

She marvels how they can all be here today, on a sunny day, soaking up the heat as the translucent water of the pool shimmers and moves.The privilege of this reprieve.

She picks up Sam’s tablet from his lounger, levitating it to her, wanting to check on the evening’s weather report. The browser is already open to a page.

“Why are you reading TMZ, Sam?”

Sam swims to the edge of the pool, leaning his arms over the edge in front of her lounger.

“Tony’s on it.”

Wanda looks at him, unimpressed, and she can feel Steve tensing on his own lounger.

“I have a google alert!”

“Yeah right, sure you do, bird man.”

He splashes water towards her which Wanda blocks with ease.

“It’s on People.com too.”

Both Steve and Bucky looking up at her, but neither of them make a move to come over and see for themselves.

Wanda taps into the People.com tab and starts to read.

Is the spark back in Stark? the lurid headline asks with a blurry cellphone picture of Tony and Pepper eating lunch at a high-end New York restaurant.

The multi-billionaire known as Iron Man, Tony Stark, was seen at Jean-Georges with ex-girlfriend and still-current CEO of Stark Industries Pepper Potts enjoying a leisurely lunch. If witnesses are to be believed it was much more than just a business catch-up.

The billionaire is known for mixing business with pleasure, but according to witnesses, Stark looked like a man newly in love. The couple had eaten the four-course tasting menu and shared a dessert made especially by the chef for the couple, a fellow diner later told People.

Sources close to Ms. Potts have confirmed that romance may be back on the menu for the pair after the fallout of the Avengers in Berlin and Stark’s return to his NYC headquarters, The Stark Tower.

She has been spotted several times in Bergdorf Goodman stocking her wardrobe with romantic dresses as well as business smarts, so we may spy this couple on more than one romantic date in the Big Apple in the weeks to come. So do keep your cameras ready!

The picture of Pepper in a department store is even blurrier than the picture from the restaurant and the sidebar proclaims Get Pepper’s Billionaire-Nabbing Style on a Budget! with pictures and prices of dresses and tops selected from some American brands.

“Does he seem happy?”

Steve’s voice sounds so small, and Bucky laces their fingers together in his lap.

The photos aren’t sharp enough for her to tell but Pepper always did make him happy, so she makes a guess.

“Yeah, he looks happy.”

“That’s good.”

Steve nods, burying his nose briefly in Bucky’s shoulder, hiding just for a moment.

Wanda closes the browser and throws the tablet back to Sam’s lounger, making sure it lands gently. Then she gets up and walks up to Steve and Bucky’s lounger, gabbing Bucky’s arm and hoisting him up.

She thinks it’s mostly the surprise that gets him up and stumbling into the pool with her. She does put a little bit of her force into it. Just a tiny bit.

He screams like a girl when they tumble in, splashing water everywhere, and she can hear Steve laughing. She pokes her head out of the water, her hat sloppy and wet now, and trips Steve into the pool as well. He lands with a great big splash and indignant spluttering.

They spend the rest of the afternoon swimming and playing water polo. Bucky complains that his lack of arm disadvantages their Supersoldier team. That causes Sam to go on an extensive rant about both of their abilities to hold their breath for ridiculous amounts of time, to which Bucky deadpans with a perfectly neutral expression:

“I know, isn’t that why you moved to the other side of the building?”

Wanda laughs so hard she inhales some of the pool water and she swears she sees a bit of a smirk on Sam’s face too.

In the evening they sit around the firepit, beers and fruity local wines in hand, watching the meat slowly cook on the coals. A cool breeze tempers the heat, the cacophony of the noises of the jungle keeping them company.

The all look up when the small, black burner phone on the side table starts to ring.