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Peace and Quiet, and a Place to Rest

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There hadn’t really been a contingency plan for the outcome of ‘we don’t die in siberia, but can’t really come home either.’ There’s things that need to be done, the others need to be rescued, and then there’s the Wakandans to think about, but that’s all for later. After he helps Bucky off of the floor, drops the shield and all the metaphorical weight it carries, Steve leads them through the ruined bunker back to the quinjet that's still sitting out in the snow unharmed. It's slow going, they're both bruised and battered, but by the time he's helped Bucky into the passenger's seat, he can already feel his broken body stitching itself back together.

Bucky looks a little better too after he wipes of the blood on his face, and there doesn't seem to be anything else wrong with him, so Steve feels safe enough to sit in the pilot's seat and put the quinjet back in the air and away from this place. After a moment’s consideration, and a wave of guilt he fights off, he sets the coordinates in the guidance system to the one place he’s relatively sure Ross isn’t going to think to look for them.

He keeps glancing at Bucky out of the corner of his eye, worried as hell about the fact that he barely seems to be moving. He isn’t bleeding, there’s no wound to tend to, there’s nothing Steve can do once the quinjet is off into the wind. The guidance system is taking them to Barton’s farm, because Steve feels like he owes Laura a personal explanation about why Clint’s not coming home, and it’s also still off the grid, which was a condition of Clint’s retirement. A retired Avenger is still a target, if a less better equipped one.

Bucky’s sitting in the passenger seat, his jaw locked, eyes staring straight ahead, unmoving each time Steve glances over. It’s not the Winter Soldier’s hundred yard stare, however. There’s sweat beading on his brow and it looks like he’s concentrating on something with all his attention.

Half of Steve's attention is on flying, but he keeps shooting glances at Bucky, trying to figure out if he got hurt somewhere else and Steve missed it. He asks about it eventually and Bucky just grunts that he's fine. Steve knows he's lying though and, after a moment of deliberation, sets the quinjet on autopilot so he can go and check Bucky over himself.

There’s lacerations on his face, same as Steve’s, but they have the dried, crusted look of scabs now, already well into being healed, and when Steve crouches down in front him, Bucky’s eyes flick to him and then away.

“Can I check your ribs?” Steve asks, and Bucky grimaces.

“I’m fine,” he says again, but makes no move to escape Steve’s hands, unzipping the outer layer of his jacket and running over the shirt underneath, checking the shape of the bones.

Steve frowns when he can't find anything, because he knows he's not wrong, something is hurting Bucky. He spares a thought that it might be something internal, but the way Bucky is holding himself makes it clear it's something much more obvious. His eyes flick to what's left of the metal arm and he pauses for a moment.

"Does your arm hurt?" he asks. He has no idea how the metal arm worked, but Bucky was able to move it like a normal arm, so it would make sense that there'd be some kind of connection to the rest of his body there.

"No," Bucky says, clearly lying.

“You’re in pain,” Steve says softly, hand hovering near the exposed wires of the metal arm.

“No nerves there to feel pain,” Bucky says dully. “Rudimentary spatial feedback and pressure. No sensation.”

Which makes sense, you couldn’t use a limb like Bucky uses this one if it experienced pain. He remembers Bucky stopping the bike from tipping over by bracing his hand on the road, or much earlier, before Steve knew he was Bucky at all, digging the metal fingers into asphalt on the overpass.

“But you’re in pain,” Steve says again, more sure now, and Bucky grimaces again.

"It's... I shouldn't really be feeling anything, but I remember... I remember losing my real arm, what they did to me. And now it's gone again. I guess my brain is just jumbling it all up," he says mechanically, looking over Steve's shoulder.

"Bucky..." Steve says, his face crumpling, but Bucky just shakes his head.

"I'll be fine. It's tolerable and I've had worse," he says and Steve’s heart all but breaks.

He feels lost, a little helpless, there’s nothing he can do to take this pain away. He cups the back of Bucky’s head, trying to give what comfort he can, and Bucky leans into the touch before he seems to realize what he’s doing, straightens up again.

Back before everything, before the Avengers and the Russians and the years of pain, before the death and ice robbed them of so much, Bucky had loved it when Steve played with his hair. Would flop down on their tiny little couch with his head in Steve’s lap and blink at him like a demanding cat, waiting to be scratched. Even during the war, he’d brush off an arm around the shoulder in public or shrug out of a hug in private, but laying together at night, if Steve reached over and buried his fingers in Bucky’s thick hair, he’d push into it, not pull away.

Steve pauses for a moment, but doesn't remove his arm. He doesn't want to push for too much. Bucky remembers him, but there hasn't really been time to slow down and see where they stand now and he doesn't want to force anything on Bucky. But Bucky is in pain and his earlier words echo in Steve's head, how Bucky doesn't think he's worth Steve dropping everything for him, so he holds on, folds himself closer to Bucky's seat and winds his other arm around Bucky's waist.

Bucky stays rigid, but Steve persists, leaning his head forward, so it comes to rest on Bucky's chest.

Bucky holds still for a couple more heartbeats, and then slowly, his right arm winds around Steve’s back. It’s an awkward position to hold for a long period of time, a weird half-hug with one of Bucky’s knees digging into Steve’s solar plexus.

He’d stay like that forever, though, except then Bucky’s drawing back, drawing in on himself, his right arm falling back to his side. Steve sits up, a new wave of helplessness swelling over him, because he doesn’t know what to do. He can’t make the pain stop, and he can’t give comfort, it’s just another example of him failing Bucky, one more time he isn’t able to help.

It’s sundown by the time they come within sight of Barton’s farm, and Steve guides the quinjet to rest where it had the last time he was here, over a year ago.

“You sure about this?” Bucky asks hesitantly, and Steve nods.

“It’s unlisted, hidden as well as any safe house can be when it's an actual house,” Steve promises, and though the look on Bucky’s face says that that’s not what he meant, he follows Steve’s lead nonetheless.

Laura meets them on the porch, baby propped on her hip, and the color drains from her face when she sees it’s just the two of them.

“He’s fine,” Steve rushes to assure as they approach, “I promise he’s alive, he’s not hurt.” And here Steve hesitates, because Clint is alive, yes, but so cut off from Laura and his children he might as well be on another planet.

"Where is he?" she asks, even though she looks like she already knows and Steve sighs, his heart heavy with what he has to say next.

"He and the others were captured during the fight. I know where they are though and I fully intend to go back for them and get them out," he promises. "I just- We need a place to stay, rest and regroup," he says hesitantly. He probably has no right to ask this of her considering it's his fault her husband isn't here, but they don't have any other options.

She looks at him for a long time before answering. "I can't say I'm happy about how this played out, but you're Clint's friend and he trusts you, so I'll trust you to keep your word too. You can stay for as long as you need to."

The kids are hovering in the doorway to the dining room, and Steve realizes with a jolt they must have interrupted dinner. “You boys can join us if you like,” Laura offers, walking back to the kids, who are looking at Bucky curiously. He smiles at them hesitantly, and the little girl ducks behind her mother, shy.

They’re both covered in blood and dust and ash, and Steve just wants to be able to check in on Bucky and make sure he’s really okay, more than he wants food or company. Frankly he’s itching to wash the stink of blood and sweat and mechanical oil off of themselves. “Maybe in a bit. Is it alright if we use the shower in the guest room?”

"Sure, you remember where it is?" she asks.

Steve nods. "You don't have to wait for us, we'll probably be a while," he says, turns to walk away and then stops. "I'm sorry, I probably shouldn't have dragged him into this."

"Maybe not, but one of the best things about Clint is that he can't stand by when his friends are in trouble, so it was inevitable really," she says with a resigned smile.

"Can't argue with that," Steve smiles. "Thank you for letting us stay."

She nods at them and then herds the children back into the dining room. Steve motions for Bucky to follow him to the guest room. He guides Bucky through the house, watching the way he moves like he’s trying not to disturb the air around him, but with a definite tilt towards the right side of his body, the weight of his metal arm obviously missing.

He points out the small bathroom joined to the guest suite. “You’re welcome to go first,” he invites, and Bucky nods with a quiet thanks. But when Steve glances over, he’s struggling even more with his missing arm, having not had time to adapt to its absence. He’s struggling to get undressed, much less wash himself or his long hair, which had been soft looking but is starting to hang in greasy curtains.

Steve watches him struggle for a moment longer and then steps closer. "Let me help with that?" he offers.

Bucky looks like he wants to say no, but he's been trying to get his shirt off unsuccessfully for the past few minutes and he has to admit defeat. "Okay," he mumbles quietly.

Steve gives him a small smile and reaches out for the hem of his shirt, careful in how he takes it off so he doesn't jostle Bucky and cause any more pain. He does his best not to stare when the shirt is off, but he can't really help himself.

Bucky’s body is remarkably free of scars, for all the fighting Steve knows he’s done. The one exception is the ropey, irritated area where his shoulder shifts from flesh to metal, and then ends, abruptly, unsettlingly in frayed wires.

“Still hurt?” he asks carefully as he helps Bucky unlace his boots, then steps back to let Bucky shuck his jeans himself with one hand.

“It doesn’t even hurt,” Bucky says, frustration edging into his voice. “Just aches. My entire arm up to the joint aches, except there is no arm.”

Phantom limb pain floats through Steve’s head, a phrase he remembers reading at one point, but he says nothing, instead nudges Bucky towards the bath in the guest room. “Run some water, I’ll wash your hair.”

Bucky gives him an incredulous look, but Steve just raises his eyebrows. "You've done the same for me in the past," is all he says. There's a chance Bucky doesn't remember this, but he knows he didn't misjudge when Bucky lets out a sigh and does as he's told.

Steve undresses down to his boxers while Bucky runs the water and gets into the tub. He's not sure what they're going to put on once they're clean. Laura would probably let them borrow something of Clint's, but chances are it won't fit and Steve feels a little guilty taking advantage of her hospitality as it is.

They lapse into silence as Steve grabs a shampoo bottle, squirting some into his hand and working a lather into Bucky’s hair. His eyes flutter shut after a moment, pushing back into Steve’s hand a little, like he can’t quite help himself.

Steve hums softly, scratching a little at Bucky’s scalp. “Did you know that when you go to the barber’s nowadays they’ll do this for you? Just wash your hair before they trim you up?” Bucky doesn’t reply, but Steve doesn’t really expect him too. “The first year after I came out of the ice, I used to go once every couple weeks. Didn’t need to get my hair cut that often, but. It used to be the thing I looked forward too. If I could make it two weeks, I’d get to have someone touch me.”

Bucky makes a quiet sound, but if it’s concern or hurt or simple acknowledgement Steve couldn’t tell you. “I’ve never told anyone that,” Steve admits. “But it always made me think of you. Every time.”

"I only started to really remember you once I couldn't stay awake anymore and passed out," Bucky murmurs.

Steve freezes for a moment, eyes wide when he looks down at Bucky. He has his eyes closed and looks relaxed, so Steve goes back to shampooing his hair, heart hammering. He wants to ask for an explanation, ask Bucky to tell him more about what happened to him after the Potomac crash, but his mouth won't listen to his brain. Luckily, it doesn't seem to need to.

"I read up on you, went to that museum exhibit, but then I had to get away, had to get somewhere safe where no one could find me. I didn't want to sleep, but my body forced me too. The first time I dreamt after everything that happened, it was about you."

Steve bites his lip, swallowing hard. He wants to ask what Bucky dreamt of, what he remembered. How much of their lives before he remembers now. But he doesn’t think Bucky will tell him if he asks, will lie if he pushes. “I looked for you,” Steve says instead, and his voice goes hoarse. “Before Sokovia, I looked for you.”

“I know,” Bucky admits, tipping his head to the side to guide Steve’s fingers where he wants him, and Steve is happy to oblige. “I didn’t want to be found.”

Thinking of that tiny bare one-room apartment in Romania, crumpling but clean, taken care of, bed made to military standard and carefully guarded secrets, Steve guesses, “You just wanted peace. A place to rest and remember, and live quietly.”

Bucky nods, curling his right arm around his knees.

"I'm sorry that was taken from you," Steve says quietly. He wanted to find Bucky because... because he was selfish and wanted Bucky back in his life, but he also thought Bucky was struggling. When he thought about what would happen when he caught up to him, he always imagined Bucky would either be hurt or on the run, but he never imagined the peaceful existence Bucky had carved out for himself. It was stupid of Steve to think Bucky wouldn't be able to take care of himself and now that he knows what it was actually like, he wishes Bucky could've kept it, even if it meant Steve would never see him again.

"I knew it couldn't last forever," Bucky says, resigned. "I'm good at staying invisible, but eventually someone would've gotten too close and I'd have to run again."

“I just wanted to–“ protect you? keep you safe? be with you? Steve sighs. “I missed you. Like a limb.”

“Ha ha, funny guy,” Bucky says lightly, quietly, and motions with the stump of his prosthetic. Steve bites down on his smile, cupping his hand into the water instead, moving it over Bucky’s hair to start slowly working out the foam.

“I did. But if I’d know what you had, I wouldn’t have gotten in the way. I never wanted to hold you back from a happy life, Buck. Even when we were kids.”

“I don’t get to be happy,” Bucky says into the stillness. “Quiet is the best I get.” But he’s leaning back into Steve’s hands, still, and Steve wonders how long it’s been since someone touched him without trying to kill him, beat him, or control him.

"You deserve all the happiness in the world Buck," Steve says softly, keeps rinsing out Bucky's hair so he won't do anything drastic, like climb into the tub with Bucky and cling to him like a small child,

"Well, the world's never really cared about what I deserve," Bucky says and god, Steve is so in over his head.

They lapse into silence again as Steve washes Bucky's hair out and Bucky doesn't comment when Steve proceeds to lather up a washcloth and starts rubbing it over Bucky's shoulders.

"What are we gonna do now?" Bucky asks.

Steve swallows, thinking of Laura and her kids downstairs, of Sam’s unwavering loyalty, of Wanda who never wanted anything other than to protect the people she loved. “Ultimately? Break into a prison and bust out the rest of our team, I think. For now? Sleep. Heal. Help Laura with the kids if we can. Figure out how to help your arm.”

“And then what? You threw down the shield.”

“Then… we find somewhere safe.”

“Nowhere in the world is safe, Steve. Not with the accords in place. They’re never going to stop looking for us, especially if you stage a prison break.”

“I have some ideas about that,” Steve admits, thinking of T’Challa’s offer of sanctuary. But he can’t ask Bucky to show that kind of trust yet. “If I’m being honest with you, pal, peace and quiet and somewhere to rest and rebuild our lives sounds pretty good to me.”

"And you think there's a place in this world where we can actually do that?" Bucky snorts, but Steve's not mad. He can't blame Bucky for not trusting him on that.

"I do, but that's not something to worry about right now. We're safe here for now, no one knows about this place, Barton made sure of it. Let's just concentrate on regrouping," he says. Bucky seems unhappy with this, but he nods in agreement.

Steve works the washcloth down Bucky's back, noting how Bucky seems to gradually unwind inch by inch and he wonders if Bucky will let him wash the rest of him or if he'll grab the washcloth out of his hand and insist he can do it himself.

He washes across Bucky’s chest, not surprised when Bucky catches his wrist when his hand ventures down across Bucky’s stomach. No, the surprise comes when Bucky takes the cloth from his hand and drops it unceremoniously into the water, then flattens his hand on top of Steve’s, against the center of his chest. Steve can feel his heartbeat.

“I didn’t start questioning the memories until I remembered the way we used to blow off Sunday mass to stay together naked in bed. I thought…. sex during war time, that makes sense. Men have urges and with no other outlets, soldiers turn to each other. But I remembered… tracing the knobs in your spine while you read those socialist flyers out loud. Treating each bump like a rosary bead, my own special kind of prayer. And then I thought… no way that kind of touch came from me. Must be misremembering.”

"You're not," Steve chokes out, frozen in place, his heart stuck in his throat. When Bucky had remembered him, it felt like a gift and Steve had wondered if he'd remembered that part of their relationship too, but part of him didn't dare to hope, didn't dare to try and find out. Now it almost feels like too much all at once. "Sunday was the only day we were both guaranteed to have off from work. I always felt a little guilty about not going to mass, more because of my ma than anything else, but I had you all to myself and I wouldn't give that up for anything."

Bucky is looking at him like he still can't quite believe it, but his fingers curl around Steve's hand on his chest, holding it gently and Steve has to bite back a sob.

“I don’t think I’m him, anymore, Steve,” Bucky says, and in that moment, he sounds like he’s lived every one of the hundred some odd years since his birth. “I’ve seen too much, done too much… I don’t just remember Brooklyn, I remember every single person I killed. Every single one. I remember how they died, and I remember…. not caring about it at all.”

He shudders under Steve’s hand and Steve can’t help it anymore, climbs into the tub with him, heedless of the water spilling out over the side, or his own underthings.

“I don’t care. You’re my friend.”

“I’m not him-“ Bucky starts, frustrated and Sever gets both hands on the sides of his neck, so he can be sure Bucky’s paying attention.

“You are my friend. You, who you are right now, you are my friend. Whoever you choose to be in the future, you will be my friend then. Hell, I’m— I’m not the same as I was in 1936. And not just because I’m bigger. The things I used to believe in and stand for… I can’t anymore. All I have left to me now is the people I love, who have shown me loyalty again and again. And you are the top of that list, pal.”

"Steve... the things I've done..."

"I know. I've known for a while now Buck," Steve admits. "Natasha found some old files on you. I don't presume what was in there was all of it, but I know enough. It doesn't change anything for me. I don't expect us to be what we were before, if you don't want that anymore, I'll accept it, but don't shut me out of your life. Not because you think you don't deserve a friend."

"You're still too fucking stubborn and noble for your own good," Bucky says, his voice wavering.

“Yes,” Steve says firmly, and that startles a laugh out of Bucky. “We’ll bust Sam out of jail and he’ll tell you that himself.”

“I don’t think he likes me very much,” Bucky says dryly. “I don’t blame him. I punched him a lot.”

“He doesn’t know you,” Steve dismisses, “and that wasn’t you.”

Bucky sighs, and then suddenly there’s a bleed of tension from his body, like all his muscles just gave up on being high strung and went lax at once. Steve hums softly, running his fingers through the wet strands of hair at the back of Bucky’s neck, and Bucky’s eyes fall shut in a slow blink. “Every two weeks?” he asks, and it takes Steve a moment to remember his confession.

“Human beings need touch,” he says, remembers reading about skin hunger on the internet, the way it made his stomach turn over. “Like we need food and water and air, we need to touch each other.”

"Yeah, I guess we do," Bucky says and Steve looks at him, leaning against the bathtub, body lax and unprotected, and traces his fingers down to Bucky's collarbone, watches his chest fall as he exhales, follows the movement with his fingers down to his ribcage. There's so much more of Bucky now, hard muscle where before there was only soft skin, but he's still beautiful.

"The dream I had. That first dream," Bucky murmurs. "You held me. I don't even know where we were or why, but I remember the feeling of your arms around me."

Steve swallows, dropping his head forward until his lips brush Bucky’s collarbones. Not quite a kiss, but more of a benediction. “I’ll hold you for the rest of my life,” he says sincerely, and when he looks up again, Bucky’s smiling a little, curls in the corners of his lips.

“Seems impractical,” he says, gently teasing, and Steve’s missed him, god, he’s missed him so goddamn, so fucking much it’s hard to breathe. Dying in your arms would be a softer death than I’ve waited for, my love he thinks, and then swallows, and pushes himself up to his knees.

“We flooded the bathroom,” he observes, and then clambers out of the tub to go find towels.

Bucky scrubs the rest of himself clean while Steve mops up the mess. He gets out of the tub and grabs a towel from the stack Steve found in a cupboard and walks out into the bedroom before Steve even registers it. He gets up and rushes out to remind him that his clothes are still in the bathroom and then stops short when he sees Bucky shrugging on a button down that somehow seems to fit.

"Oh," he says stupidly when he notices a pile of fresh clothes on the bed. Guilt twists in his gut again at the thought of Clint and his consideration, but he pushes it down.

"You good here?" he asks instead, intending to go back in and have a quick shower if Bucky doesn't need his help.

“I’m fine,” Bucky says, and his voice is going flat again, making Steve hesitate. It’ll take so little to provoke Bucky into slamming his walls back up, Steve knows. His eyes linger for a moment on the empty sleeve on Bucky’s left side, swallowing reflexively, he motions at him.

“C’mere?” he asks, hesitantly, but Bucky comes easily and lets Steve roll up the sleeve of the shirt, until it’s gathered just under the stump of his prosthetic. It’s still disconcerting, the empty air where the brain expects living flesh, but Steve thinks, this is what it would have been like if Steve had found him after the train. Bucky broken and missing a part of himself, but free.

“I’m—” he starts, and then bites down the reflexive apology, swallowing the sorry and turning it into “— going to go shower.”

Bucky just nods at him and Steve loiters for another moment before he sighs and goes back to the bathroom. He stays under the spray longer than intended, lost in thoughts about the man in the other room. Having Bucky back feels like being on a rollercoaster. He couldn't be more grateful to have him back, but with everything that's happened, it's a lot to process and he needs a moment.

He walks back into the bedroom with a towel slung around his waist. Bucky's lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling blankly and Steve almost wishes getting dressed would take longer, because he doesn't know what to do once he's done.

"Are you hungry?" he asks for lack of anything better to say and sits down on the bed slowly. "There’s probably some casserole leftover that we could heat up."

"No," Bucky says dully, and then quirks his lips at Steve in a tight smile. "I think if I tried to eat I might throw it up, actually."

"Pain?" Steve asks, concerned, because he's definitely familiar with the kind of pain that is so pervasive it makes you nauseous.

Bucky nods, and sighs. "It's better than it was, but. Still pretty overwhelming," he admits, and it sounds like a confession.

"Is there anything I can do?" Steve asks, because he's lost. Painkillers wouldn't work on Bucky, even if something actually physically hurt, and it's not like Steve can try to massage this better like Bucky had done for his many backaches back in the day. He hates just sitting by and watching the man he loves suffer.

Bucky shakes his head. "Don't think there's anything anyone can do," he says, resigned and Steve can't... he just can't. He lies down next to Bucky, carefully reaches out, telegraphing his movement, and when Bucky doesn't stop him, wraps his arm around Bucky's middle, his hand rubbing at his left side gently. It feels silly, he knows it's not going to help, but it's something. If he can't do anything to take the pain away, at least he can try and offer comfort.

Bucky shudders under his hands, and he almost draws away, concerned, but Bucky grasps his arm with his right hand hard, tight, clutching him close, and Steve relaxes. He lets his head tip down onto Bucky’s shoulder, momentarily hating the fabric separating their skin. For a moment he just lets himself be selfish and holds on.

“This helps,” Bucky says softly, and Steve has to blink against the rush of tears in his eyes.

“Yeah?” he asks, hopeful, and Bucky nods.

"I already told you, I'll hold you forever if you want me to," Steve murmurs, swallowing down the painful sound trying to crawl out of his chest.

"Still seems impractical," Bucky laughs softly. "But I think I'd like that."

Steve holds on tighter, hiding his face in Bucky's chest, and when Bucky lets go of his hand and runs his fingers through Steve's hair hesitantly, Steve can't hold it in anymore, breathes out in a quiet sob.

Bucky doesn’t say anything, but Steve doesn’t need him too, the soft touch of fingers in Steve’s hair is enough. When he squeezes his eyes shut, he can almost pretend that it’s 1936 and they’re in Brooklyn, or that it’s 1945 and they’re on the western front. Not quite, because Bucky never smelled like cucumber and eucalyptus soap, with the faint background of ozone from his damaged arm, never fit exactly like this against Steve’s body. In Brooklyn Steve had been smaller and on the front Bucky had.

It’s enough, though. Enough to knock Steve’s brain sideways with a hundred memories, a hundred different embraces layering over this one in his mind. And if it’s like this for him, hell, what must it be doing to Bucky, who’s been carefully curating and guarding his own memories, nurturing them, but so hesitant to admit he has them at all.

"I missed you," Bucky says so quietly Steve barely catches it and Steve's chest fills with so many emotions he can't even distinguish them all.

"I missed you too," he whispers back, the words seeming inadequate for the hole in his chest that's been bleeding open ever since he lost Bucky, but he doesn't think there are words that could describe his loss and what he's feeling now that he's gotten his heart back. He's exhausted, has barely slept a wink since Lagos, but he doesn't dare close his eyes now, doesn't want to miss a second of being with Bucky again.

Instead he pries his eyes open, fully intending to watch Bucky sleep, only to find Bucky watching him instead. Bucky smiles a little, a sad thing, and just like that Steve aches to kiss him. It’s been…. it’s been either 75 years or 5 years, since the last stolen kiss before the mission in the alps, and he wants it.

But he has no way to know if Bucky does. Seeking affectionate touch is one thing, but a kiss always borders between affectionate and sexual, and Steve has no way of knowing Bucky’s level of comfort with that part of himself. He’s been so withdrawn in every other way, Steve doesn’t want to overwhelm him. Can’t bear the idea of pushing his own desire onto Bucky.

And yet he aches to be kissed.

He ends up just staring at Bucky for a while until Bucky's smile morphs into amusement. "You don't gotta ask Stevie, you never had to," he says softly and before Steve can ask what he means, Bucky tugs him forward, presses their lips together softly.

It's a simple kiss on the mouth, innocent, but it runs through Steve like electricity, threatening to break him as much as it soothes over all the hurt and longing and he can't help the broken sound he makes. When he pulls back, Bucky looks just as shaken as he does, and for a moment Steve's afraid it was too much, even if Bucky is the one who instigated it.

“I remember that,” he says hoarsely, and Steve rubs at his side, offering comfort as best he can.

“But memory’s not the same,” he concludes, because it really, really isn’t. Bucky nods, still looking blown away, and Steve smiles a little at him. “S’okay if you don’t want it anymore.” And it’ll hurt like hell, but he’ll carve out his heart for Bucky, if it’s what he needs.

“I do, I think… I’m just—“ Bucky sighs, and then tips his face down onto Steve’s shoulder, hiding in the crook of his neck. “I’m so tired, Steve.”

“Sleep,” Steve says gently, even though he knows Bucky means more than the physical kind of tiredness, an existential exhaustion that grips your soul. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”