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Yours 'Til the End of the Line

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“James Buchanan Barnes,” the principal said into the microphone at the podium.

As he crossed the stage to accept the empty folder, the actual diploma would be mailed to the graduates (he’d heard it was a deterrent for possible streakers), James “Bucky” Barnes looked out at the other graduates. Catching his best friend’s eye, he grinned. Tiny and bold, Steven Grant Rogers grinned back, giving him a thumbs up and a loud cheer.

Steve was their class’s valedictorian, but, due to his penitent for fighting and causing trouble, the school’s administration chose another student to give the graduation speech. While Bucky had been livid when Steve told him, Steve had shrugged it off. He’d told Bucky it didn’t matter, but Bucky was offended that Steve had, yet again, been passed over.

When Steve was called, no one cheered louder than Bucky, who was honestly surprised that Steve had survived to this point. It wasn’t just his constant reaction to bullies. Steve’s health was fragile. Bucky had spent much of his life in hospitals at Steve’s bed side. Through all of the ailments, through the doctor’s visits, through the terror, Bucky had believed in Steve. He’d always known that Steve would be successful. . . if he could just survive high school.

Now, he got to see Steve accept his folder, his thin chest adorned with metals, a yellow sash draped over his shoulders, a white rope over that. He looked weighed down by his accolades, but he stood proud for his photo.

Bucky winked at Steve as he passed to return to his seat.

Steve winked back, his smile wide on his skinny face. 

After the ceremony was complete, Bucky met Steve in the crowd.

“I’m proud of ya, Stevie. How the hell can you carry all that?” Bucky asked, indicating his chest.

“Well, I’ve been carrying the Barnes-Rogers team for ten years. I’m used to it.”

Bucky slung an arm around Steve’s shoulders and ruffled his blond hair. “You think you’re clever, don’t ya?”

“I’m graduating top of our class, Buck. M’pretty clever. So what’s the plan for tonight?”

“Party at Brighton Beach,” Bucky replied. “I’ll pick you up. What time does your ma go to work?”

“Six-thirty.”

Bucky nodded. “I’ll be over early so I can see her.”

Steve smirked at his friend. “You’re such a sap, but she’ll like seeing you.”

“I know,” Bucky said cockily. “You’re mom loves me almost as much as she loves you.”

“Not ‘almost,’ Buck. She loves you as much as she loves me.”

“I very much doubt that, buddy, but. . .  if you say so.”

“I gotta run. See ya tonight,” Steve said, not noticing the way Bucky watched him as he hurried away, the way that Bucky always watched him. It was probably for the best. He wasn’t sure how Steve would react if he knew the truth. If he knew how Bucky felt.

 

That evening, Bucky accepted a kiss goodbye from Sarah Rogers after he and Steve walked her to the subway entrance. Sarah was a quiet, but fierce woman. She had lost her husband, Joseph, when Steve was six. Her son had had dozens of ailments, any one of which could have killed him. Even though she feared for her son everyday, Sarah Rogers had never let it show while she fought for him through every illness. She was Steve’s strength, and Bucky loved her for it.

“Don’t drive if you drink, James.” She was a mother, after all. 

“I won’t, ma’am.”

“Take care of my boy,” she told him with a smile.

“I always will.”

Cupping his face, Sarah replied, “Yes, James. I know you will.”

Bucky was silent during the drive to Brighton Beach. Now that he’d graduated, the future was hanging over him. Bucky was never meant for college, in fact, he was thinking about joining the army, seriously thinking about it. Steve. . .  Steve had a scholarship to NYU. He didn’t want to go too far from his ma. Bucky didn’t like to think about what his future would look like. He wasn’t smart like Steve. He’d never be anything great or amazing, not like Steve, but Bucky wanted to do something worthwhile. Bucky could follow orders. He could do something good. 

But. . . He would do it without Steve.

This was the first time they wouldn’t be together since kindergarten.  Bucky didn’t like to think of what his life would be like without Steve right there with him. Bucky didn’t want to be without Steve, but their lives were growing in different directions

What if they grew apart?

Steve had always been part of Bucky’s life. Now that things were changing. . .

Blinking those thoughts away, Bucky parked the car and watched the bonfire on the beach where their classmates and friends dance around it like the heathens they were. Bucky had known these people all of his life. Now they were all headed off in different directions. They were all going off to be the people they were supposed to become.

“Everything okay, Buck?”

Bucky glanced at Steve. “I’m fine. Just thinkin’.”

“Well, whatever you’re thinkin’ has you lookin’ upset. Spill, buddy.”

Sighing, Bucky replied, “Everything is changin’. We’re officially adults.”

“That’s good, ain’t it?”

“Yeah, but we’re. . . we have ta make decisions and, well. . . We ain’t gonna be together.”

Steve bit the inside of his cheek. He didn’t like to think about that. Bucky had always been a constant in Steve’s life. Through the illnesses, through the fights, Bucky had always been part of Steve’s life, by his side.

Reaching out, Steve squeezed Bucky’s upper arm. “No matter what, no matter how far apart we are, no matter how long we’re apart, I’m with you, Buck.”

Bucky smiled, just an upward tilt of one side of his mouth. “’Til the end of the line, pal.”

“Now, let’s go down. I could use a beer.”

Bucky ruffled Steve’s golden hair. He could use several.

 

After their several beers and just the right number of shots, Steve and Bucky stumbled to Bucky’s hand-me-down sedan, falling against one another, giggling.

“Sorry, Stevie. We ain’t drivin’ home tonight, and I. . .  ain’t gonna make it to th’ subway.”

Steve shrugged, opening the passenger side door. “I’m sleepin’ righ’ here, Buck. We’ll go home in th’ mornin’.”

Once Bucky settled in the back seat, he tossed the keys on the dash. His head was fuzzy, his body warm. Steve, however, was shivering in the front seat, his tiny body wracked with cold. It was a brisk night and, while Bucky was fine, Steve had virtually no fat on his body to protect him from the cold.

“Ya okay, buddy?”

“Yeah,” Steve chattered.

“Naw, ya ain’t. C’mere. I got a sleepin’ bag.”

Bucky climbed out and pulled the sleeping bag and nearly flat and useless pillow from the trunk. When he scrambled back into the back seat, he found Steve stuck between the two front seats.

“How’d that happen?”

Head hanging, Steve replied, “Dunno.”

Bucky laughed and, closing the car door, gripped Steve’s arms and tugged him until they landed in a tangled, giggling pile in the back seat.

His face buried in Bucky’s throat; Steve snorted a laugh and held on to his friend.

Bucky leaned forward, one hand, holding Steve against him and locked the car doors. Head spinning, Bucky fell back against the seat, Steve still cradled against his chest. After clumsily toeing off his shoes, Bucky lay down and covered them with the olive colored sleeping bag.

Steve moaned against Bucky’s chest and shifted.

“Stevie?”

Steve lifted his head and looked down at Bucky. “Yeah?”

Bucky’s blue-grey eyes darted from Steve’s drooping blue eyes to his plush, rosy lips. He couldn’t resist the temptation that Steve presented. Not anymore. Not with the future looming so near.

Surging forward, Bucky crushed his lips against Steve’s desperate to feel his friend’s body against him, to feel loved. Steve reacted almost immediately. His hands flattened against Bucky’s chest and his lips answered Bucky’s questioning ones. Bucky sighed, pleased that Steve wanted this as much as he did.

Bucky’s hand snaked around the back of Steve’s neck and he deepened the kiss. His other hand slid down Steve’s slim, tight body and gripped the ass that had taunted him for the last few years. He wouldn’t tell anyone, but Bucky had seen Steve in a different light for several years. He’d been feeling desire and affection since a sleep over when they were fifteen. Bucky had masturbated to thoughts of Steve more than once.

Steve groaned deep in his throat and spread his legs, straddling Bucky’s hips, while never breaking the kiss. Deftly, Bucky rolled, pining Steve beneath him, his hands framing Steve’s face. He thrust his hips down into Steve’s, eliciting another moan, this one long and keening. 

Breaking off the kiss, Bucky took the opportunity to suckle, nibble, and kiss the ivory column. Bucky was leaving his mark on Steve. He meant to. He wanted anyone who looked at Steve to know that he belonged to Bucky. No matter how temporary.

“Yes, Buck,” Steve sobbed. “Yes, Bucky. Please.”

Bucky rubbed against Steve’s throbbing body, their cocks touching through their jeans, adding friction.

“Hold on, babydoll. I’ve gotcha.”

Taking Steve’s lips again, Bucky continued to dry hump Steve, holding his hips down as he ground against him. Steve sighed, gasped, groaned, and cried out beneath him, motivating Bucky to knead harder, to chase an orgasm while also giving one to Steve.

At that moment, Bucky’s only goal in life was to get Steve off.

And when Bucky Barnes set a goal for himself, he completed it.

As a bonus, he found out that Steve was stunning when he came.

***

Bucky woke first the next morning, his head a mass of pain. Steve was curled against him, and Bucky was incredibly uncomfortable due to the angle at which he’d slept, with his head up against the thin pillow positioned against the door, and the dried semen that crusted his boxers.

Looking into Steve’s sleeping face, Bucky felt his heart fill and burst with the warmth of friendship, comfort, adoration that embodied his Steve.

Love.

He loved Steve, always had, but he’d never realized it, until this very moment.

Now, it may be too late. 

With great effort, Bucky extracted himself from Steve. He tried to open the door, but realized that he’d had the foresight in his drunken state to lock the car. Unlocking the doors, Bucky slid from the car.

Steve stayed asleep.

Bucky watched him for a moment, then turned away to stare out at the water.

He and Steve had grown up on this beach, swam here, played here, hell, Bucky had made Steve ride the cyclone over on Coney Island, right there, until he vomited. Every memory that made Bucky smile included Steve Rogers. Every adventure Bucky had had included, was likely because of, Steve.

“You okay, Buck?” Steve asked behind him. His voice was husky. Sexy.

“M’fine.”

“You sure? After last night. . .”

Bucky took a deep, deep breath. . . and fucked up.

“What happened last night?”

Bucky wanted to make sure that Steve knew what had happened, what it meant, how it changed things. He wanted to give Steve an opportunity to get out of this if he wanted. Bucky didn’t expect Steve to react the way he did. He expected Steve to make a joke and tell him to get over himself. Steve didn’t do that.

“You don’t remember?” Steve asked, his face falling.

How could he ever forget the most beautiful experience of his life?

“I. . .”

Steve turned away, staring at the back seat, the place where they’d kissed each other, touched each other, fulfilled each other. Where he’d finally made love after a decade of friendship. Steve had wanted this, but he’d been left to pine for Bucky. Steve would rather have Bucky as a friend than not at all. He. . . he couldn’t let Bucky go. He loved him too much.

Of course Bucky had been too drunk to know what he’d been doing. Bucky probably didn’t even know he’d been kissing Steve. If he did, how would he react? Would he be all right with it? Would he push Steve away? Steve couldn’t risk it.

Why would Bucky Barnes be interested in Steve Rogers?

“Nothin’, Buck,” Steve replied, his voice flat, lifeless. “Nothing that matters.”

Hearing it, Bucky realized what Steve thought. “Stevie-“

“I gotta get home, Buck. My ma’ll be home soon.”

***

That Monday morning, Bucky enlisted in the Army. He didn’t tell Steve before he did it. The little punk would just try to join with him and Bucky couldn’t let that happen.

Scheduled to leave for boot camp that Wednesday, Bucky went to the Rogers’ apartment to tell them face-to-face. He didn’t want the love of his life to hear about it on the phone.

Knocking on the door, Bucky took a deep, steadying breath. The door swung open and a harried Sarah Rogers blinked at Bucky. “Never mind, someone is here who can help,” she said into her phone. She hung up. “James, go get Steve. He’s having an asthma attack and his rescue inhaler isn’t working.”

Bucky didn’t waste time asking questions. He bolted into the apartment. “He’s in his room!” she called after him.

Bucky bulled his way to the back of the apartment, to a bedroom where Bucky had had countless sleepovers. The door was open and Steve sat on his bed, clutching his chest, gasping for air. 

Seeing him, Steve wheezed, “Buck.”

“Quiet,” Bucky ordered, picking Steve up. “I got ya, pal. I’ll take care of ya.”

Steve’s head lay against Bucky’s chest as he struggled to breathe. His hand curled around Bucky’s neck as he carried Steve through the apartment, past Sarah, and out the door.

“Keys, James,” Sarah demanded.

Shifting Steve, Bucky reached into his jeans pocket and tugged the keys out. He handed them to Sarah and followed her to his black sedan. While Sarah slid behind the wheel and adjusted her seat, Bucky slipped into the back seat, holding Steve in his lap.

As Sarah pulled out of the parking spot with a squeal of tires, Bucky pressed his forehead to Steve’s, fighting tears, and remembered the last time he was in this seat with Steve.

Steve rubbed his hand over Bucky’s shoulder as he panted for breath. “Buck-“

“Shh, Stevie. Concentrate on breathin’, buddy. We can talk later.”

Steve nodded, moving his hand to cup Bucky’s cheek.

When Sarah finally parked outside of the hospital, Bucky shoved his way through the emergency room with Steve’s mother in his wake.

“Can I help you?” the woman behind the desk asked. She was too calm for Bucky’s liking.

Before Bucky could snarl at the woman, Sarah replied, “My son is having an asthma attack that can’t be controlled by his rescue inhaler.”

“Of course,” the woman replied, picking up a walkie talkie.

“Triage six.”

A voice responded immediately. “Copy.”

“This way.”

Bucky followed her into the triage room. A nurse breezed in and, seeing Steve struggling to take a breath, quickly and calmly administered oxygen.

He shook Sarah’s hand, “My name is Brandon. Who do we have here?”

Steve tried to answer. Bucky placed a hand on Steve’s shoulder. “Breathe, Stevie.”

Brandon smiled at Bucky.

Sarah watched the pair with an indulgent grin. “My son, Steve, has severe asthma. He had an attack and his inhaler failed to relieve his symptoms. The ambulance I called for was caught in traffic. Luckily, James chose that moment to arrive for a visit.” Sarah was so efficient. Bucky was pretty sure she was his hero. 

Brandon glanced down at Steve as he took his vitals. “Good thing James came over.”

Steve’s blue eyes met Bucky’s and he nodded.

Hanging his stethoscope around his neck, Brandon said, “I’m gonna take you back to a room. A hospitalist will examine you. I’m not gonna lie to you. You’ll probably be here overnight at least. You expected that though, huh, Steve?”

Steve nodded.

“I can only let family back with you,” Brandon said with a pointed look at Bucky through his dark, almond shaped eyes.

Shaking his head, Steve reached out and clutched Bucky’s hand.

Brandon looked from Steve to Bucky with an indulgent smile. “Okay. Looks like James is your brother today.”

 

As promised, Steve stayed overnight. When Sarah had to go to work, Bucky stayed, sitting by Steve’s bed. Steve was asleep when Bucky’s younger sister, Rebecca, arrived with an overnight bag that she’d packed.

“There are clothes for both of you in there. I got some of Steve’s out of the drawer you keep in your dresser for him. Your phone charger is in the side pocket.”

“Thanks, kiddo.”

“Have you told him?”

Bucky shook his head. “He’s been in and out today.” Steve had been sedated and he was sleeping on and off. Bucky wanted to talk to him, but he couldn’t. 

Becca nodded. “You’ll get through this.”

“Am I makin’ a mistake, Becks?”

“I don’t think so. You’ve wanted to be a soldier for a long time. Steve was always college bound. The classroom was never for you.”

“What if. . .  what if I don’t see Steve again?”

Becca laughed. “You and Steve have been inseparable since you were five. I don’t think that’ll happen.”

Bucky thought about the shift in their relationship, the new relationship that included love on Bucky’s end. Something he wanted to explore with Steve, who was burrowed so deep in his heart that Bucky could never dig him out. He never wanted to.

“I hope not.”

“Never gonna happen,” Becca soothed. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Bucky nodded with a wave.

“What was she talkin’ about Bucky?” Steve asked, his voice raspy, husky.

Bucky stood and moved to sit on the bed beside Steve. “How ya feelin’?”

“Been better. What’s goin’ on?”

Bucky took a deep breath. “I joined the Army.”

Steve closed his eyes and shakily asked, “When do you leave?”

Rubbing a hand over one of Steve’s thin arms, Bucky replied, “Wednesday.”

Steve nodded. “How long?”

“Ten weeks.”

“I’m gonna miss you, Bucky. Ain’t never been apart that long.”

Steve looked up at Bucky. “Nothin’s gonna come between us, buddy. ’Til the end of the line, remember?”

Steve nodded again. “I remember, Buck. I remember.”

Chapter Text

“Hey, Bucky?” Rebecca Barnes-Proctor called, entering his apartment without knocking.

“What?” he asked, sitting at the bar in his kitchen, his mouth full of apple pie.

“Are you eating that out of the pan?”

“Don’t judge me,” Bucky said, shoveling another bite of soft, cinnamon covered apples in his mouth. “What do you want?”

“I was cleaning out Mom and Dad’s garage and I found this,” she said, holding out a shoe box with his name written in marker by George Barnes. The words were faded, old.

“What’s this?” Bucky asked, dropping his fork to take the box, continuing to chew the cinnamon and sugar covered apples.

“Letters that got forwarded home during your . . .” she trailed off.

“While I was a prisoner,” Bucky supplied. “It’s been years. I’m getting therapy, Becks, you can talk about it.”

Becca nodded. “Anyway, they came to us. I thought you’d like to finally have them.”

Bucky opened the lid and took out the top letter.

Steve.

“Are they all from him?” There had to be twenty letters here.

Becca nodded. Bucky cringed. He hadn’t thought about what Steve had gone through while he’d been a captive. Steve had expected him to continue to talk to him. His family hadn’t been allowed to tell anyone that Bucky had been captured. But Steve had deserved to know. He’d continued to write even though Bucky would never get any of these letters. 

The one in his hand was postmarked three years ago. Steve had continued to write for two years after Bucky had been captured. Two years. Steve hadn’t given up easily.

Bucky closed his eyes as the memory of his tiny best friend washed over him.

A day hadn’t passed by without Bucky thinking about Steve. Thoughts of Steve had been a comfort, a touchstone for those years as a captive. Steve, and remembering the feel of him in Bucky’s arms, his lips, his body, had kept Bucky alive. 

“Do you know where he ended up?” Bucky asked.

Becca shook her head. “We got an invitation when he graduated medical school. None of us went. I haven’t seen him since Sarah’s funeral. We didn’t know what happened to you. When they told us you were MIA, we were also told not to say anything. We couldn’t tell anyone else. Not even Steve.”

“He stopped writing three months before Nat and Clint rescued me.”

“He didn’t give up on you.”

“But he did. After two years, he finally gave up.”

Becca nodded. “He held out as long as he could. He kept writing to you through it all, even if you didn’t reply. He was a good friend to you. I’ll ask around, see if anyone knows anything.”

“Don’t bother. He was in D.C. the last time I talked to ‘im. He didn’t come back here.”

When Becca left, Bucky opened Steve’s last letter as Tucker, (his name was elaborate as Nat was the one who actually named him, the only input Bucky had was one (yes one) of his middle names— Tucker Grant Winter Barnes) Bucky’s chocolate lab, his PTSD/Therapy dog, padded into the room, his nails clicking on the hardwood floor.

Reaching down, Bucky rubbed the top of Tucker’s head. “I’m okay, boy.” Tucker licked his hand.

Steeling himself, Bucky unfolded the long ago written missive.

 

Bucky,

I’m not sure why you’re not responding to my letters or emails. I’ve been writing so long. I wish you’d send me something. Just tell me something. Even if you don’t want to hear from me, I need to know something. What do you want me to do? I’m stubborn, as we both know, because I haven’t been taking the hint here. When you missed our video chat the first time, I guess I should have stopped, left you alone. I should have stopped when you didn’t answer any of the emails or letters I’ve written for the last two years.

 

And, seeing that in black and white makes me feel like a creepy stalker.

 

Anyway, this is my last letter. I’m sorry it took me so long to realize that you don’t want to talk to me anymore. Even your family has been ignoring me. 

 

I’m not gonna lie, Buck. It hurts. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had.

 

I’ve always lo

 

I hope you’re safe, Buck. I hope wherever you are, you’re happy. I mean that sincerely. I want you to be happy. Always. You were always a great friend, and I want the best for you.

 

Thanks for all of the good times.

 

Steve

 

Gently, with tears burning in his eyes, Bucky folded the letter. He’d known that Steve had to have thought that Bucky was done with him. It was a stab to the heart to realize how long Steve had held out, thinking that Bucky was ignoring him, that Bucky didn’t want to answer him. Just three more months, and Bucky might have gotten this letter. Just three more months and he could have told Steve what had happened, why Bucky hadn’t been able to answer any attempts to contact him.

“Christ,” Bucky whispered to himself.

He needed to get out.

Grabbing his helmet and keys, Bucky patted Tucker’s dark head and left, closing the door behind him. He took the stairs as tight spaces bothered him. He’d been kept in a box the size of a bathroom (albeit a tiny one) when he acted out or tried to escape. Elevators caused him to think of punishment and fear. In the parking garage, Bucky swung one jean clad leg over the bike. After strapping on his helmet, he started the motorcycle and roared out of the parking garage.

He didn’t have a destination in mind. 

He didn’t mean to go to the cemetery.

But, once there, he easily found the grave.

Sarah Rogers was nestled beneath a huge oak tree with a stone bench in front of her. Bucky figured that Steve had placed it there. He could imagine Steve sitting there and talking to his mother. She’d been laid to rest beside her husband, Joseph, on a hill that overlooked  the other graves in the well-kept lawns. She had fresh flowers in the little vases on either side of her headstone. Steve never missed a touch. Was Steve there to place the flowers personally or did he have someone do it for him? 

He’d kept the engraving simple. Beautiful. Like her.

 

Sarah Rogers

Wife

Mother

Friend

She is like a leaf on the wind,

See how she soars

 

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here,” Bucky said aloud, tears tracking down his cheeks. “I wasn’t here to say goodbye. I wasn’t here when he needed me.”

He could practically feel Sarah’s comforting touch, her soothing response. It’s how Sarah lived. She loved her son and she loved Bucky.

“I loved him, Sarah. I always did. I bet you knew that, though. Didn’t ya? You were always too smart. Bet you’re still watchin’ over ‘im. Is he healthy? Happy? I hope he is. I hope you’re happy where you are, Sarah. You were always an angel, just like the boy ya created. I miss ya, Sarah. I wish I coulda said goodbye.”

He sat on the stone bench for a while, a long while, before he returned to his bike to return home.

If he hadn’t been so emotionally compromised, Bucky may have seen the pickup blow through the red light.

***

Steve groaned as his pager went of again. Three emergency surgeries on a Tuesday night wasn’t unheard of, but he should’ve gotten a little sleep. He needed it. He hadn’t been sleeping well lately.

That’s what he got for coming back to Brooklyn.

He’d been offered a partnership in D.C., but he’d needed to be at home. Close to his memories.

Of his mother.

Of Bucky.

Rolling off of the bunk bed, Steve tugged the green scrub top over his head.

He shouldn’t have decided to be in his own practice and on staff at the hospital. He took call for other hospital surgeons because they all knew he would. Steve Rogers, despite the fact that he was a hard ass when it came to medicine, was a nice guy. He was an excellent surgeon. He didn’t have any family, so could be talked into taking call on holidays and weekends. He was currently covering for one of the hospital surgeons whose daughter's birthday was that day. 

He scrubbed his hands as a nurse informed him of the patient’s stats.

“Patient was brought in with multiple contusions and dropping BP. Left arm completely crushed and may require amputation. Possible ruptured spleen. Four broken ribs on left side. Punctured lung.”

“Head injury?”

“None suspected.”

“Spinal?”

“None suspected.”

Nodding, Steve entered the operating room.

As a nurse tugged the surgical gloves over his hands, Steve asked, “How were the injuries incurred?”

The nurse at the patient’s head beside the anesthesiologist replied, “Struck by a drunk driver, who’s here as well. Patient was on a motorcycle.”

“Dick,” Steve hissed under his breath.

“Agreed,” Said the anesthesiologist.

“Okay, let’s start with the spleen and see if that’s where the internal bleeding originates. Keep an eye on BP.”

One of the nurses started his music, Big Band music from the thirties. He had a reputation at the hospital as the youngest old man on the planet. Just because he liked music from the thirties and forties and wore cardigans.

They called him Mr. Rogers.

It kinda fit.

Bending over the patient, Steve went to work.

 

Six and a half hours later, Steve walked into the private, surgical waiting room, his back aching and exhaustion leaking from every pour.

A young brunette woman saw him first. She reached out and gripped the older woman’s shoulder beside her. Blinking at him, she asked, “Steve?”

Confused, Steve responded, “Yes?”

“Ma,” the woman said to the older woman, her mother. “It’s Steve. Steve operated on him. Bucky’s fine.”

Something hot and hard pounded into Steve’s stomach.

Bucky?

Looking down at his patient chart, Steve read the name for the first time.

James B. Barnes.

Bucky.

He was alive. He was here. 

He’d been hit by a drunk driver on his motorcycle.

He could have died on Steve’s operating table, and Steve hadn’t even looked at his face. His face hadn’t mattered to Steve who was focused on the injuries sustained. Steve hadn’t even known he’d been working on the man who’d once been his best friend.

“Steven?” Mrs. Barnes asked. “Please. How is James?”

Gulping, Steve replied, “He’s in recovery. He came through the surgery beautifully.”

Winifred Barnes sobbed in relief.

“What did you have to do?” George Barnes asked as Steve took a chair across from Bucky’s family.

“I repaired and inflated a punctured lung, removed his spleen, and had to repair his left kidney. We stopped the internal bleeding, but his left arm was crushed beyond repair. . . I. . . I had to amputate. His left ankle is broken. An orthopedic surgeon will perform a repair and it should heal without any problem. He’s young and strong, so he can bounce back from this.”

George nodded. “He’ll need physical therapy.”

“Yes. He’ll need it, but let’s worry about getting him back on his feet.”

“You’ve changed so much, Steven,” Winifred said.

“Yes, ma’am. I hit my growth spurt in college after my scoliosis was repaired. I started working out because most of ailments righted themselves. I’ve still got asthma, but it’s under control. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been.”

“You look. . . wow,” Becca said. “If I wasn’t happily married with two kids. . .”

“You’d still be out of your league,” Winifred joked. “Steve never went for girls.”

Steve’s cheeks heated. It was true. He’d come out at fifteen, but had always worried that his friend would turn away from him; Steve couldn’t keep it in any more. He’d had to be honest about who he was. 

Winifred reached out and gripped Steve’s hand. “Thank you, Steven. Thank you for taking care of Bucky. He’s. . . He’s been through so much.”

Steve nodded. “We’ll let you know when you can see him. I don’t expect him to wake up tonight. He’s still sedated and is being given pain meds.”

“His arm is gone?” George asked suddenly, as if just understanding what had been said.

“Yes, sir. We had to amputate it at the shoulder. I couldn’t save it.”

George gripped Steve’s shoulder. “Don’t feel guilty, Steven. You saved his life.”

“Anyone coulda,” Steve argued.

“But you did it,” George soothed. “You took care of him. You were there when he needed you.”

Steve’s cornflower eyes rose to meet George’s. He wanted to ask where Bucky had been, why they’d all abandoned him but he couldn’t. After his mother had died, the Barnes became his only family. Bucky, his parents, and his sister had been the only people who he could turn to. Then Bucky had stopped writing, emailing, and video calling, and his family had stopped talking to him.

Steve had concluded that they’d all decided to distance themselves from him.

About a month before he started his practice in Brooklyn with his good friend, Sam Wilson, Steve gave up. He wrote a goodbye letter to Bucky, which, like all of the other letters for two years before that one, went unanswered. He’d realized that he needed to move on with his life, to stop pining for Bucky. He had to start living and stop waiting for a man who no longer cared for him.

That hadn’t happened. He hadn’t been able to move on from Bucky. He never had. Bucky had cared for him once. It could be possible that there was still a chance for Steve. At least that’s what he told himself.

“I’ll check on him in the morning,” Steve said. “I have every confidence that he’ll make a full recovery and adjust to his new physical circumstances.”

Steve stood, handing George a card. “If you have any questions, feel free to give me a call.”

Becca hugged him. “Thank you Steve.”

Steve patted her back. “I was just doing my job, kiddo.”

Her golden brown eyes rose to meet Steve’s. “I know, but you helped keep him alive. My brother isn’t dead because you took care of him. You’ve always taken care of him.”

Smirking, Steve replied, “I don’t think so, Becks. It was always the other way around.”

Becca shook her head and hugged him again. “No it wasn’t.”

***

Bucky groaned as he woke, his eyes heavy, his head fuzzy. The rooms unfamiliar, cold. Confusion filled him, lay over him like a net.

Where was he?

What happened?

Why did he hurt?

Why did his left arm feel. . . weird?”

“Bucky?” asked a voice. Soft. Feminine. Familiar.

“B-Becks?” he croaked. “What happened?”

Becca pressed the nurse’s call button. “You’re okay, sweetheart.”

“What. . . happened?”

Becca sat beside him on the bed. “A drunk driver ran a red light and hit you.”

“On my bike.” It was a statement.

Becca nodded, running one hand over his long, dark hair. “You’ve been here four days.”

The nurse breezed in, her blond hair pulled back in a sleek tail, her scrubs rose with smiling teddy bears. “You’re awake. Welcome back to the world of the living.”

“My arm. . .”

“Bucky,” Becca soothed.

“Your arm was beyond saving,” the nurse said briskly. “The surgeon had no choice but to amputate.” She didn’t even try to sugar coat it.

Bucky knew that he was fuzzy because he couldn’t have heard that correctly. With his right hand, which was attached to the IV, he touched his shoulder. He touched a gauze bandage.

And no arm. 

It was gone.

“You’re alive, Bucky.”

Bucky looked at his sister, his steely eyes glazed with tears. He was alive. “I need Tucker.”

Becca nodded and slid her phone out of her pocket to call Natasha Romanoff, who had picked up Bucky’s chocolate lab. 

“I’ve paged the surgeon who worked on you. He should be up here as soon as he can,” the nurse informed him. 

Bucky nodded.

“How’s your pain?”

“It’s okay.”

She shifted. “Give me a number.”

“One.” He’d always had a high threshold for pain, which had been helped during his time as a POW.

Nodding, she said, “Good. If you need anything, call.”

Becca returned and sat beside him. “How’re you feeling?”

“Confused.”

She nodded. “What were you doing? Why were you out?”

He swallowed. “I read Steve’s last letter. He. . . He was saying goodbye.” That caused sharp pain to shoot through Bucky. He’d lost his best friend and he hadn’t realized it until that moment.

“I’m so sorry, Bucky.”

“I think he was going to tell me he loved me. He crossed it out. I. . . needed to get out. I just went for a ride. Ended up in front of Sarah Rogers’s grave. I stayed a while. I had some stuff to say.” He’d had to apologize to her for everything. She’d trusted him to take care of Steve, but he hadn’t. He’d left Steve alone.

Becca touched Bucky’s remaining hand. “Of course.”

“How long will Nat be?”

“How’d you know she had Tucker?”

“Common sense. Clint kills plants. No one would let him take my dog. You’re too smart for that.”

Becca smiled. “She’s at the office, Tucker is there with her. She’ll be here in about half an hour.”

He’d put off asking long enough. “How’s my bike?”

“Total loss,” Becca answered as if tearing a bandaid off. It was a day of hard blows apparently.

“Fuck. I just paid it off.”

“It’ll be okay. The kid who hit you is loaded. He’ll get you a new one. A better one.”

“I loved that bike.”

Becca sighed. “Well, it’s gone, buddy. Besides, you’re not gonna ride it for a while, you one-armed menace.”

Bucky couldn’t stop the laughter that bubbled out of him. He should have been more upset about this, his wreck, the loss of his arm, but. . . after being a POW, it didn’t actually seem like that big of a deal. It was. But he'd survived it, so he couldn't complain too much.

As long as he was alive. He could get through anything.

It had taken a lot of work to get to this healthy place after coming home. Therapy, Tucker, his journals, his security work, his family. Bucky was in a good place. 

But the letter from Steve had hurt him.

Steve thought he, his family, had abandoned him. He thought he was alone.

It was too late for Bucky to disabuse Steve of his conclusions. 

It was too late to find Steve and tell him everything Bucky felt; how thinking of Steve’s lips had kept him sane during his “sessions” with Dr. Armin Zola, the man experimenting on him.

It was too late to tell Steve that he loved him and always had.

Or was it?

A knock sounded form the door. A tall man in green scrubs, sneakers, and a white lab coat entered. His blond hair drew Bucky’s gaze. Gold. The color of Steve’s. The exact color. He was BUILT. Muscular and near perfection, as if he were carved by benevolent gods. Gods who had decided that the world deserved something so gorgeous that it (he) made people want to cry. 

He was beautiful.

Not the same as he once was, but he was still just as stunning.

“I thought you were smaller,” Bucky said.

 

Chapter Text

Grinning at Bucky, Steve came fully into the private hospital room. “Yeah. I’ve changed a lot. Hit a growth spurt when my scoliosis was fixed.”

“I’ll say." Then his eyes narrowed and Bucky asked, “Did you cut off my arm? You did, didn’t you? Is this revenge for the cyclone? I apologized for that, Stevie. How was I supposed to know you’d get sick?”

Becca, with a secretive grin, discreetly left the room as Steve moved to the bed. “I weighed ninety pounds, and I could barely walk without getting motion sick. I think you knew I’d boot.”

“So is your vengeance complete?” Bucky asked, his lips upturned.

“Mwhahaha.”

Bucky barked out a laugh.

It felt like they’d never separated. It wasn’t stilted or awkward. They were comfortable together, as if no time had passed. As if nothing had changed. For a few moments, they were those boys who’d never been separated. But that couldn’t last.

“I gotta take a look at my work, Buck.”

Bucky nodded.

“Would you feel more comfortable if I called a nurse in to help?” He wasn’t sure how Bucky would feel about being examined by him.

Bucky scowled. That question felt weird. “No. I like that you’re the only one who’ll see me. . .  the way I am now.”

“C’mon, Bucky. I’m sure you’re as sexy as always.”

“Bite your tongue, punk. I look better than ever.”

Bucky shrugged the hospital gown off and laid back so Steve could take a look at the incisions from his surgery.

“Yep,” Steve replied, peeling a bandage on his abdomen away so he could inspect the incision site. “Better than ever, jerk.”

Laughing, Bucky replied. “I gave an arm for this body.”

Steve snickered. “You’re a dork.”

“You missed it.”

Steve’s blue eyes rose to meet Bucky’s blue-grey ones. “Very much,” Steve sighed.

Bucky curled his hand around Steve’s wrist as he pulled back the bandage on Bucky’s shoulder. “I missed you, Steve. It was like a piece of me was missing. I found myself always looking for you to tell ya a joke or make a comment, but ya weren’t there. I still do that.”

Steve’s free hand gripped Bucky’s right shoulder. “I. . .  I always thought of ya. You were always with me, Buck.”

“’Til the end of the line.”

But the line had ended. Bucky had ended it when he stopped talking to Steve. He wanted to ask Bucky why he’d stopped, what Steve had done five years ago to ruin everything. He couldn’t. He couldn’t put Bucky on the spot like that. It wasn’t fair. Bucky had his reasons for stepping away and if he’d wanted Steve to know, he’d have told him five years ago.

“Yeah, Buck. How’re ya feelin’?”

“M’fine.”

Steve returned to looking at Bucky’s amputation site, saying, “C’mon. Tell me.”

Bucky sighed. “M’hurtin’ and. . . it feels weird. . .  my arm. . .”

Steve nodded.

“How bad was it?”

As he replaced the bandage on Bucky’s shoulder, Steve replied, “It was bad. Completely crushed. Your X-Ray results looked like a grenade went off in your arm. There was nothin’ I could do to save it, Bucky.”

“I know, buddy. If you could have, I’d have a second arm right now. You were never one to just give up. What else did you do? I feel like, well. . .” Bucky accepted Steve’s help to put the yellow hospital gown back on and sit up.

“Ya got hit by a truck?”

Grinning, Bucky nodded. “What else did you fix?”

“Well, Steve said, sitting in a chair facing Bucky. “I had to repair your left kidney and lung, which had to be inflated because one of your broken ribs punctured it. I had to remove your spleen because it was beyond repair and was the cause of your internal bleeding.”

Bucky reached over and laced his fingers with Steve’s. “How long did you work to save my life?”

Surprised by this movement, Steve answered, “Not that long.”

“Steve,” Bucky warned.

“A few hours.”

“How many hours is a few?”

“Six.”

“Six? You did six hours worth of surgeries on me?”

“It’s no big deal.”

“How many breaks did you take?” Bucky demanded and, seeing the answer on Steve’s face, continued, “That’s what I thought. You spent a regular person’s entire work day fixing my broken bits and that’s ‘no big deal’? You’re wrong. It is.”

“That’s my job, Bucky.”

“I know, Stevie. I’ll always be grateful you’re a genius.”

“Hey, Barnes, here’s your dog,” Natasha said, bullying her way into the room, the chocolate lab on his green leash, and being followed by a harried nurse.

“Ma’am, you can’t bring a dog in here.”

“Nancy, it’s all right,” Steve said, standing. “He’s a service animal.”

Nancy huffed, “You need to make sure he’s in his vest to indicate he’s working.”

“It’s fine, Nancy,” Steve repeated. When Nancy had left the room, Steve asked, “He is a service animal, right?”

Bucky laughed. “Yeah,” he said as Tucker lay his head beside Bucky’s right hand. “He’s my therapy dog.”

Natasha moved forward. “Natasha Romanoff. I’m James’s business partner and Tucker’s dog sitter.”

Shaking her hand, Steve said, “Steve Rogers. I took Bucky’s arm.”

Bucky snorted a laugh.

“Steve Rogers?” Natasha asked, her eyes wide. “The Steve Rogers?”

“Uh. . . yeah?” It came out as a question because Steve wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or a bad one that he was the Steve Rogers.

“Wow. You are not how James described you.”

“Nat,” Bucky growled, causing Tucker to whine.

Natasha didn’t stop. “I expected you to be tiny. He always said you were small. Short. Thin.”

Steve didn’t look at Bucky. “I used to be. I hit a growth spurt in college. Bucky and I didn’t see each other face-to-face beyond video chatting after he was deployed. I was saving it as a surprise. I never got the chance to reveal it.”

Natasha nodded. “How long have you been in Brooklyn?”

“I was born here. Bucky and I grew up in Flatbrush. I’m surprised he ended up in the Heights though. We’d always made fun of the people who lived here. Many are stuck-up, which is still kinda true. We both said we’d never live here, but here we both are. I went to NYU then to Cornell. I did my internship and residency in D.C. I came back to Brooklyn about three years ago to start my own practice with my friend, Sam Wilson, another surgeon who was in the program in D.C. with me.”

“Oh? So James could have, theoretically, looked for you when he came home?”

“Nat,” Bucky warned. “We both know I wasn’t in a place where I could, mentally at least, deal with Steve when I came home.”

Deal with him? What did that mean? Was he something that needed to be dealt with? How would Bucky have “dealt” with Steve? What did Steve do to become a problem that Bucky had to “deal” with?

Frustrated, Steve said, “I should get back to work. If you need anything, let you nurse know. I’ll check on you before I head home for the day. It was nice to meet you, Ms. Romanoff.”

Steve squirted some hand sanitizer on his hand from the dispenser beside the door and left the room. 

“Damn it, Nat!”

“What?” She asked innocently. “You’ve spent the last twenty years tip-toeing around your feelings for him. You need a push.” 

“You basically told him I talk about him.”

“You do! Everywhere we go, you tell some story about a fight Steve got into there or something Steve did there. You fawn over him. You’re always saying that he’s so smart and so brave.”

“He is. He’s a doctor.”

“Yeah,” Natasha said. “He’s smart. I like him. You just need to realize that there is no way he’s single, Barnes. Did you see his chest?”

Bucky’s stomach jumped.

Natasha was right. Steve had to be with someone. Lucky prick. Anyone who knew him would want him. She also wasn’t wrong about Steve’s chest. It was. . . magnificent.

“Yeah, Nat. I know. But. . . I spent two years imprisoned, hoping to get back to him. I’ll take whatever I can get.”

Natasha sat in Steve’s vacated chair. “Are you still in love with him?”

Bucky nodded, wincing in pain. “I never stopped lovin’ ‘im. He. . .  He’s changed. I think those feelings may change as I get to know ‘im again.”

“Do you want to get to know him again. Do you want to love him again?”

“Yes. He’s not the same person he was the last time we talked. He’s not that skinny kid who couldn’t run away from a fight. I want to know who my Stevie has become, I wanna know everything about ‘im.”

Natasha shook her head with an indulgent smile. “You don’t ask for much, do you, Barnes?”

“Not really. All I wanna do is fall in love with the man he’s become.”

She didn’t want to ask it, but she had to. “What if he doesn’t feel the same?”

Shrugging his good shoulder, Bucky said, “Then I’ll live with his friendship. He loved me once, Nat. I know he did.”

“Yeah, yeah. The night in your car,” Natasha groaned. “I don’t need the details again.”

“Those details are hot and you know it, and it’s not just that night, which was Earth-shatteringly beautiful, the stuff poems are made of, by the way. Becca brought me a box of letters. From Steve. Ones I received while I was in a concrete cell underground. He started to write it, that he loves me, then crossed it out in his last letter, the one telling me goodbye. It was just a few months before you and Clint found me.”

Natasha sighed. “That was three years ago.”

“Yeah, and I don’t think those feelings just go away.”

“Because they didn’t for you?”

Bucky placed a hand on Tucker’s head. A comfort. An anchor. “No, they didn’t. Loving Steve kept me alive, kept me sane. Nat. He’s always been there.”

“I know. Just try to be patient, James. He doesn’t know what you’ve been through.”

Bucky nodded, scratching Tucker’s ear.

“You will  have to tell him.”

“I was afraid you’d say that,” Bucky sighed. “I don’t want his pity. I can’t live with that.”

“Barnes,” Natasha said, exasperated. “He cut off your arm five days ago and made a joke about it to me when he introduced himself. I don’t think he’ll feel sorry for you. I think he’ll be upset and regret the fact that he gave up on you because he didn’t know what you were going through over there.”

“I don’t wanna do that to ‘im, Nat.”

“He deserves to know, James. He needs to know why you stopped talking to him.”

“He thinks I abandoned ‘im.”

Natasha’s eyes closed. “Don’t let him continue to think that. I’m sure he was hurt. Think of how you’d have felt if your positions were reversed.”

It was like a kick to the gut. If Steve had stopped writing him, he would have been desperate to know why. To know what he’d done to cause Steve to back away. If Steve had suddenly cut him off without an explanation, Bucky would have been devastated. If that was how Steve had felt, Natasha was right. Not that he would ever tell her that. Steve deserved the closure. 

Bucky had to tell him everything.

“I’ll tell ‘im, Nat.”

The door opened and an enormous flower arrangement with legs entered.

“Hey, Clint,” Bucky greeted.

Clint Barton, Natasha and Bucky’s business partner and the other half of the duo who’d gotten Bucky out of Hell, (and Nat’s worse half) grinned around the flowers at Bucky. It was hard to believe that this man had been on the same spec ops team as Bucky and Natasha. It was even harder to believe that Natasha was with him, but that actually worked for them. If Bucky hadn’t seen him in action, he wouldn’t have believed it. Clint seemed like he was a lovable goof, and he was, but he could also kill someone without a single regret.

“Nat said you were awake. I figured you could use a ‘Sorry your arm got cut off with a bone saw’ present. I need to email Hallmark. They don’t make that card.”

“The inside should say: ‘It’s a good thing you’re right-handed,” Bucky joked.

Clint laughed, setting the flowers on a cabinet beside a hand-washing sink. 

“I saw Becca down the hall flirting with a buff doctor. They seemed really friendly.”

“He’s gay,” Natasha said.

“How do you know?”

“That’s Steve.

Clint nodded, then his eyes widened. “Steve? The Steve?”

“Mmmhmm.”

“He’s . . . well. . . I thought he was smaller. You know. With the way you described him. I mean, I’m not gay, but given how he looks, I’d go there.”

“Watch it, Barton,” Bucky warned. “Even with one arm, I will end you.”

The nurse, Nancy, entered, carrying a new piece of equipment. “Dr. Rogers ordered a PC pump for you. He figured it would be easier for you to control your own medication dispersion. He seems to think you’d be too stubborn to ask for pain meds,” she explained as she hooked up the pump and loaded it with medication.

While she looped the cord attaching the red button to the pump, she continued, “It resets every ten minutes. I suggest you get ahead of the pain, because it’s harder to catch up with it. If you’re hurting at all, press the button. Dr. Rogers told me to tell you not to try to bear the pain. He seems to know a lot about you.”

Bucky wanted to grin, but Steve was right. He had been enduring and hiding the pain.

He’d had worse. He’d endured torture and the fear of death for twenty-five months, sixteen days and he thought he could handle surgical pain. He could but Steve was doing his job and Bucky knew that Steve was also looking out for him. He was giving Bucky the control he needed. 

“Thank you, Nancy.”

“You’re welcome, Sargent Barnes. It’s really Dr. Rogers who you should thank. I just follow orders.”

“He gave you a pain control pump to make sure you’re comfortable?” Clint said as the door closed. “Yep, I’d go there.”

 

Chapter Text

The sun was sinking behind the city by the time Steve made it back to Bucky’s room.

Sitting up, watching TV, Bucky noticed the exhaustion pumping off of him. Bucky needed to get Steve off of his feet. “I’m bored,” he complained. “Sit down with me.” Bucky scooted over and patted the bed beside him.

He didn’t think Steve would do it, didn’t think that the years between them would allow for that intimacy. He was pleasantly surprised when Steve lowered onto the bed with him.

“So, the orthopedic surgeon was in here today. Do you private practice surgeons always work on Saturdays?”

Steve leaned back and crossed his ankles. “I’ve been on call all day. Darcy, Dr. Lewis, isn’t private practice. She’s on staff here. Your ankle is shattered and needs to be repaired ASAP. It’s already been too long. She’s worried that it’ll start to heal on its own. That’s a concern considering the extent of the damage.”

“Yeah, that’s what she told me. They’re gonna take me down for surgery in the mornin’.”

Steve nodded. “I’m scrubbing in.”

Bucky turned to him. “You are?”

“Yeah. I. . . I wanna be in the operating room. Just in case.”

Bucky’s voice softened, “Stevie. . .”

Tucker, his red vest in place, moved to the bed, sensing Bucky’s distress.

“It’s no big deal.”

“It is. It’s a big deal, Steve. You’re coming in on your day off to be with me while I’m under. You’re. . . watchin’ out for me.”

“You’ve watched out for me plenty.”

Bucky smirked. “I’d term it ‘saved your ass,’ but yeah. You owe me.”

Steve smiled as Bucky ruffled his hair.

“How’s the pain?”

“Good. Thanks for the pump.”

“Your stubborn streak hasn’t changed.”

My stubborn streak? You’re the one who never backed down. You always got your ass kicked because you’re a stubborn little shit.”

“Not so little anymore.”

“Big or small, you’re a perfectly stubborn shit. You’re perfect, buddy. You always were.”

Steve closed his eyes as Bucky’s blunt nails scrapped lightly over his scalp. “Not perfect,” he said softly.

“Always were. Perfect. Beautiful.”

Tiredly, Steve replied, “Not like you, Buck.”

He supposed it was cheating to use Steve’s exhaustion against him, but he was fine with that. Steve wasn’t immune to Bucky, and that was exactly what he needed. Steve needed him. Hearing Steve agree that Bucky was perfect and beautiful was exactly what Bucky needed to motivate him to move forward. To tell Steve where he’d been and what had happened to him.

“Stevie?”

“Hmm?”

Bucky took a breath, “I didn’t abandon you. Not on purpose.”

Steve opened his eyes and met Bucky’s. “You don’t have to do this.” The pain was clear in Steve’s eyes. He didn’t know why Bucky had stopped talking to him, and part of him didn’t want to know.

“Yes. I do,” Bucky replied, touching Steve’s cheek. “You deserve to know the truth.”

Apprehensively, Steve nodded.

“I was out on a mission. You didn’t know that because of the confidential nature of the mission at the time. I’m a sniper, that you already know. Anyway, I was out with the Howling Commandos, Nat and her man, Clint, are a couple of 'em. Our task was to assassinate a war lord from an organization called Hydra, a terrorist organization which was known for their attempts to create the perfect soldier, to the point where they experimented on people from the area. He was in Siberia, and we followed him there. The mission was clear and easily completed so, I figured it would be over quickly. I knew I’d wanna see your face afterwards. I always did after I took out a target, so I emailed you.”

“The video call. . .”

“Yeah. I needed that video call.”

“You missed it,” Steve whispered.

“I did,” Bucky agreed. “The mission went tits up. The details are still classified. My spotter, Jim, got the flu of all things, so I was on my own, hiding about a half-mile from the compound in some trees. I took out my targets at Nat’s signals. I shot a couple more threats to their mission, but, without my spotter, I didn’t realize I was vulnerable. I’d been spotted.”

“Oh, God,” Steve sighed as tears flooded his eyes. He slipped off of the bed and began to pace, something he’d always done when nervous or upset.

“Steve. . .” Bucky said. “I need to touch you while I tell you this. Please let me touch you.”

Steve sat in the chair beside the bed and carefully took Bucky’s hand. “I’m sorry, Buck. I always thought. . .”

Shaking his head, Bucky said, “It doesn’t matter. No one told you. There’s no way you could have known.” He squeezed Steve’s hand. “Do you want me to stop?”

“No. If you’re okay with talking about it, I need to know.”

Rubbing his thumb over Steve’s knuckles, Bucky continued. “I woke up on a concrete floor. Alone. It was freezing. Turns out, the war lord, Johann Schmitt, got away. He had me. While he and his dog Zola interrogated me, I got information from them, a skill I learned from Nat. None of the Howlies died. They all got away alive. I’m the only one who was captured.

“They. . .” He didn’t want to tell Steve everything. “They tortured me, questioned me, experimented on me.”

Steve tried, unsuccessfully, to contain a sob. “Shh, babydoll. I’m okay. I’m here. I’m home and you’re with me.”

“You didn’t abandon me. You didn’t. . . I did.”

“No, Stevie. No you didn’t,” Bucky argued. “You didn’t have a fuckin’ clue what happened to me.”

“Language,” Steve chided softly, looking down at their interlocked fingers.

Chuckling, Bucky continued, “You had no idea what happened to me. How long did you hold out? How many letters did you write? How many emails?” When Steve remained silent, Bucky answered, “Two years. You wrote for nearly the entire time I was held captive.”

“You. . . Two years?”

“Look at me, Stevie. I’m okay.”

“You’re lyin’ in a hospital bed after getting hit by a truck. You’re not okay.”

“I’d say that’s bad luck. . . but I got you back because of it, so I can’t.”

“You lost your arm.”

“Yeah. You’re worth more than that.”

Steve pressed his lips against Bucky’s hand. “I’d prefer if we’d reconnected under different circumstances. Like in a bar or the grocery store.”

“Trust me, Stevie. I’d prefer that, too.”

“I don’t wanna ask. . .”

“I’m not tellin’ ya right now. I’m not tellin’ ya what they did to me. Maybe later, but I ain’t puttin’ ya through that right now.”

Steve nodded. “I can handle it.”

“I know you can. Right now, though, you just need to know that I’m home and fine.”

Steve looked at Tucker. “You got the help you needed?”

“Yeah. I. . .I still have episodes, but my therapist says they’re normal. Tucker keeps me calm. He’s tuned to my moods and senses my episodes, wakes me from my nightmares.”

“Do you have many?” Steve asked. 

“I don’t have as many as I used to. I used to wake up in violent rampages almost every night. Since I got Tucker. . . things are better. I feel almost as if I’m myself again. I don’t think I’ll every be the same person I was, we change daily, but I’m not a shell of myself anymore. You wouldn’t have liked who I was when I got back.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I was broody, violent, angry.”

“You were tortured for two years, Buck. You had, still have, every right to be angry. Those bastards treated you like you were nothing. They hurt you. . .” Steve choked back a sob.

Bucky ignored the twinges of pain making themselves known and pulled Steve back down onto the bed. He didn’t put up much of a fight, and returned easily to Bucky’s side.

“Calm down, babydoll.”

Tucker placed his head on Steve’s arm. The dog was very good at his job. With the hand not holding Bucky’s, he petted the dog’s dark fur. “How am I supposed to be okay knowing what you went through? You won’t give me details, but I’ve seen your body. I can figure it out.”

“Were you checking me out while I was unconscious, Dr. Rogers?” Bucky teased. 

“You know me,” Steve deadpanned. “I’m a slut for crash victims.”

Bucky laughed. “Naw, Stevie. Just ex-soldiers who own security companies.”

“It helps that you’re ripped.”

“That won’t last.”

“I imagine I’ll enjoy doughy Bucky just as much.”

“Almost as much as I’ll enjoy getting doughy.”

Sharing a laugh with Bucky was as natural as breathing.

“I’m sorry I gave up on you, Bucky.”

“Don’t be sorry. You couldn’t have known. . . I read the last letter you wrote. I didn’t even know about the letters until the night I had my wreck.”

“You didn’t?”

“No. They were forwarded to my parents’ house while I was MIA. My dad kept them in a shoe box in the garage. Becca found them that day and brought them to me. I read the one on top, the last one you wrote, and. . . I had to get outta my apartment.”

“You left because of my letter?”

“Don’t go there, Stevie. This wasn’t your fault.”

Bucky shifted toward Steve and tried to hide the wince. “Push your pain control button.”

“M’fine.”

“No you’re not. Push the button, Buck.”

“Fine,” Bucky groaned, reaching over Steve and pressing the red button. “There. Are you happy? Now M’gonna fall asleep. You gonna take advantage of me?”

“Oh, yeah. That’s how I roll.”

“I’d like ya to take advantage of me.”

Steve’s cheeks heated. “Maybe when you’re in your right mind, Buck.”

“Go on home. You’re so tired. Go home and get some rest ’til ya get to see me naked again.”

“Highlight of my day,” Steve snickered.

“Sure. Y’boyfriend’ll love that,” Bucky slurred.

Steve’s gold eyebrows knit. “I’m single, Bucky. I haven’t had a serious boyfriend since college. I’m not seeing anyone.”

Bucky’s blue-gray eyes, blurry from the drugs, rose and met Steve’s. “How can ya be single. You’re perfect.”

Steve kissed Bucky’s temple. “I’m not perfect, Bucky. You’re just seeing me through the haze of pain meds.”

“Nope, babydoll. You’re perfect. Beautiful. Always was.”

Bucky was asleep before Steve could answer.

“That’s adorable,” said a husky, feminine voice from the door.

Natasha closed the door behind her quietly. “Stay,” she said as Steve began to stand. “Will he remember you telling him you’re single?”

“Hard to say. I want him to.”

Natasha sat on the chair. “I’ll remind him.”

Steve looked at her. “Thank you for gettin’ ‘im outta there.”

One crimson eyebrow rose. “He told you?”

“Not everything. He skipped a lot."

“I’m not telling you the condition he was in when we found him. He said three things while lying on that exam table. His name, his serial number, and your name.”

“What?”

“He kept repeating your name. ‘Steve’. He whispered it. Trust me, the name was familiar. He talked about you all the time. After he got an email, letter, or call from you. And don’t even get me started on his reaction to your video chats. He was always so giddy. Talked about how good or happy you looked or sounded. Sometimes we wanted to deck him. Dum Dum thought it was cute.

“When James went missing, Dum Dum, one of the sergeants, and the most experienced among us, argued with Colonel Phillips. He told the colonel that Barnes had a sweetheart at home who needed to know what had happened to him. The colonel expressly ordered us not to inform you of his capture.”

Steve watched her. “It would have been nice to know. I thought he was done with me.”

Natasha laughed. “No luck there,” she said. “Barnes has been gone for you since I’ve known him.”

Steve took a breath. “All my life. It’s always been Bucky for me.”

“Then don’t be an idiot. You’ve got a second chance, Steve. Don’t waste it.”

***

Because it was Darcy Lewis’s operating room and Steve was a guest in it, Steve didn’t complain about the ear splitting rock, or her lax style of running the room. 

Her hips swayed with the music as she executed a perfect “L” shaped cut on the side of Bucky’s left foot.

“Your boyfriend is gonna require a lot of physical therapy. It’s gonna take about twelve weeks for this to heal completely. Suction. It looks like thirteen screws, at least eight wedges. The douche who hit him needs a swift kick in the ass.”

“No argument,” Steve replied, not correcting Darcy’s assumption that Bucky was his boyfriend because he liked the thought.

Steve stood beside Bucky’s head, looking down into his sleeping face.

“BP dropping,” a nurse monitoring Bucky’s vitals stated.

Bucky’s  blood pressure was dropping. It wasn’t in the dangerous range, but it was still a bit worrisome Considering his recent internal bleeding. “He’s on blood thinners due to inactivity,” Steve informed Darcy. “Aid in prevention of blood clots.”

Darcy nodded, continuing to work. “Keep an eye on BP.”

Steve checked over Bucky’s vitals. He didn’t usually sit in on operations he wasn’t involved in performing, but he needed to be with Bucky to make sure he was all right. Bucky had taken care of Steve long enough and Steve had to do what he could to take care of Bucky.

“BP still dropping,” the nurse said.

It was still in the acceptable range, but it worried Steve. He looked at Darcy, who nodded.

Steve went to work, adjusting and ordering medication that would help Bucky’s blood flow. 

“Resp counts dropping.”

“Increase O2,” Steve ordered.

He looked down at Bucky’s face. Christ, he never wanted to do this again. Bucky had better never need surgery again. Never. 

 

When Bucky awoke the next morning, his bed inclined slightly to aid in oxygen flow. Clint was asleep in the chair beside the bed. “Hey,” Bucky said, greeting his friend groggily.

Clint’s eyes opened.

“How’s it goin’?”

“Good,” Bucky said. “Where’s Steve?”

“He’s at his office. He has consults. He’ll be here this afternoon. He told me he only does office visits in the morning, then he does his rounds and paperwork in the afternoons. He books all of his surgeries on Tuesdays and Thursdays, then does rounds on Fridays or takes call. He has two days of call a month. He spends the night in a bunkbed in the on-call room and performs emergency surgeries. Sometimes he covers on the weekends.”

“You two had quite the convo.”

“Yeah. He slept here last night. He was holding your hand when I got here. I wanna get to know the guy you haven’t shut up about for years. I like him, Barnes. He’s a good guy, and he adores you.”

“How can you tell?”

“Nat and I were with your parents when he came out to talk to us about your foot. He looked like he’d been through hell.”

“What happened?”

“There were a couple of complications that are no big deal, but Steve was a wreck.”

“Did I die on the operating table?”

“You wish you were that interesting,” Clint scoffed. “Naw, dude. Your blood pressure and respiration kept dropping. It was expected, but I guess your man didn’t like knowing it was you on the table and not a faceless stranger.”

“You read ‘im well.”

“That’s why Nat pays me the medium bucks.”

***

Bucky's room was full of doctors when Steve returned that evening.

The orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Lewis, bent over his foot, checking his incisions. The hospitalist, Dr. Foster, looked at his shoulder, inspecting the amputations site, and Dr. Banner, Bucky’s therapist, who had arrived to ensure Bucky was feeling safe and secure, sat on a couch, petting Tucker.

“Welcome, Dr. Rogers,” Dr. Lewis said. “This is a happenin’ spot.”

“So I see.”

“Hey, Steve,” Bucky said from the bed.

“Hi, Bucky.”

This is Steve?” Banner asked incredulously. He rose to shake Steve’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. Sergeant Barnes has told me a great deal about you.”

Steve’s cheek heated. “I hear that a lot, actually.”

Banner laughed. “He’s very proud of you.”

“I’m proud of him, too.”

“Dr. Rogers,” Dr. Foster said. “You’ve done excellent work, as always. I’ll see you tomorrow, Mr. Barnes. I don’t expect you to be stuck with us for too much longer.”

Bucky nodded.

“You need to get around. I’m ordering you a knee scooter since you can’t use crutches. Some tool cut off your arm.”

“Wow. You went to medical school for how long?” Bucky asked with a snicker.

“Top of my class. Trust me, you’re gonna love the scooter. You’ve lazed about long enough. You got a man like Doc Rogers, you gotta keep the body you’ve got.”

“I have it on good authority he’d still like me doughy.”

Darcy made a note on her chart. “Must be love,” she said and walked out.

With the door closed, Banner asked, “Are the two of you dating.”

While Steve stuttered, Bucky snickered. “We haven’t defined our relationship. It’s hard to get to know each other again a hospital.”

“I imagine so. Have you been honest about your condition, Sergeant?” Banner asked. “Steve needs to know what he’s dealing with, full disclosure.”

“I know. I told ‘im. I. . . I’m not ready to go into detail. He isn’t ready to hear it.”

Steve sat on the chair beside the bed and took Bucky’s hand.

“Do you think you’re ready, Steve?”

Steve looked at Banner. “I don’t know. I figured out some of it during my exams. The burns. The punctures.” His gaze returned to Bucky’s. “When you’re ready to tell me all of it, I’ll listen and try to be strong.”

“Sergeant Barnes has been through a great deal, Steve. While you need to be strong, you also need to be honest. If his ordeal becomes too much for you, he needs to know.”

Steve met Bucky’s eyes. “I’ll tell you, Buck.”

Banner smiled. “Tell Steve something about your time as a captive.”

“I don’t think. . .” Steve began.

“It’s fine, Stevie.”

“Whatever you’re comfortable with, Sergeant.”

Bucky nodded and squeezed Steve’s hand. “When I woke up in that cell, I was. . .  well, piss-your-pants scared. I was terrified, but I was angry. I was furious.  I didn’t even care that they were going to torture me, hurt me. They’d taken me away from my friends, my unit. . . you. They’d taken me away from you. I had a video chat with you. I was gonna see your face, hear your voice. They took that from me. That anger. . .  missing you. . . it kept me quiet and sane the first few times they tortured me. You, Stevie, you kept the pain at bay.

“Thoughts of you got me through it. You got me home.”

Hot tears flooded Steve’s cornflower eyes. “Two years. . .”

“Yeah, babydoll. Everyday. You helped me survive it just by existing.

“Thank you for your honesty, Sergeant. I’d like to schedule another session. Dr. Rogers, do you expect Sergeant Barnes to be here long?”

“Another week at least. The amputation site is healing well. When the surgery on the ankle has healed, Dr. Lewis will put you in your hard cast, then you’ll be able to go home,” Steve told Bucky.

“And will you see Sergeant Barnes outside of the hospital?”

“I’ll have follow-ups,” Bucky said. “He did cut off my arm after all.”

Banner smiled. “That’s good, but you know I meant in a personal sense.”

“If. . . If you wanna see me,” Steve began. “I did cut off your arm.”

“Can’t wait to tell that story at a cocktail party when someone asks how we finally got together.”

 

Chapter Text

“Are you sure about this?” Steve asked, opening the letter for Bucky. “I wrote them. I know how bratty they get.”

Bucky lay on the bed, his black cast elevated on a pillow. “I’m sure, Steve. If it gets to be too much, we can stop.”

Resigned, Steve opened the first letter. Bucky wanted him to read them in the order that they were sent. At least Steve would be there to explain away some of the shit he’d written as opposed to Bucky getting all of Steve’s angst at once without Steve there as ballast.

Blowing out a breath, Steve read:

 

Bucky,

 

You missed our video chat yesterday. I don’t believe you did it on purpose. You’ve never done that before and, well, I’m scared. Your mom doesn’t know why you would miss it. She thinks you had a mission. That isn’t really a comfort to me.

 

I’m trying not to think about you hurt or. . . or dead. Bucky Barnes, if you’re dead, I’m gonna be seriously pissed. For my sanity, please don’t be dead. You’re too important to be dead. To me. To others. 

 

I can’t go on if you’re dead.

 

I sent you an email, which I’m hoping you’ve already answered by the time you get this.

 

If you have, I’m sorry I freaked out. My roommate keeps telling me you’re fine. He thinks you’re still out on your mission and you just can’t answer me. He’s probably right and I’m worrying over nothing.

 

I need something, Buck. I need to know you’re alive. I’m sorry. I’m so needy. I know how you hate needy people, but you’re my best friend. My family.

 

Please be okay.

 

Steve

 

 

 

The silence hung heavy in the air.

“I’m so sorry, Stevie,” Bucky whispered.

Steve refused to meet Bucky’s pitying gaze as he folded the letter. “I told you this was a bad idea. You don’t need to deal with my angst right now. I shouldn’t have dumped it all on you back then. You had enough going on and I should’ve thought of you. I was being whiney and needy, and. . . stupid.”

“Babydoll,” Bucky soothed. “You could never be stupid.”

Steve shoved to his feet, pacing away. “I’m so fuckin’ selfish. I didn’t think of you and what you coulda been goin’ through. Hell. What you were goin’ through. All I could do was whine about myself because I thought you were cuttin’ me off ‘cause your family backed away, too. Still, I wrote. Makes me look pretty stupid and desperate.”

“Stevie. Baby, c’mere.”

Steve sat at the foot of the bed. Bucky sat up and glossed his hand down Steve’s cheek. “You may have thought I was ignorin’ ya, but that was all surface. Deep down, ya knew I hadn’t. Deep down, you knew I never would. That’s why ya kept writin’.”

Bucky leaned forward and pressed his lips to Steve’s, gently. “You always knew I wouldn’t leave ya unless they took me away.”

Steve’s tongue darted out and moistened his lips. Bucky’s blue-gray eyes followed the movement of the pink flesh. “Careful. Last time you looked at me like that, you were on your back in the back of my car, comin’ in your pants.”

Steve gasped, “You remember?”

“‘Course I do. It was a beautiful experience. Angel’s wept.”

Laughing, Steve replied, “It was a couple of drunk teenage boys dry humpin’ in the back of a sedan.”

“It was magic.”

Steve took Bucky’s lips with his again. “Then why did you pretend you didn’t remember?”

Bucky slid his fingers into Steve’s hair. “Because you were the smart one. I wanted to be coy, mysterious, make sure you were okay with the shift in our relationship. And I fucked it up.”

“Yeah. Yeah, ya did.”

“And I can fix it. Now that I have a second chance.”

“We, Buck. We can fix it.”

“Did we miss the kissing?” Clint asked from the door, his comment followed by a grunt.

“Yes, Barton, you ill-timed dick, you did.”

Steve laughed and, kissing Bucky’s cheek, stood. “I need to sign your release papers. I’ll be right back.”

After Steve left the room, Clint put the discarded letter back in the shoe box. “So, your experiment worked?”

“Yeah. He. . . He didn’t wanna read them Said they get whiney.”

“I’d be surprised if he didn’t complain. Your family told him that you were alive when he asked. They didn’t tell him you were MIA. He heard you were alive and thought you didn’t want him. He held out for a while.”

“How do you know all that?”

“I sleep with a spy.”

Bucky laughed. “Reformed spy. Steve was awful chatty with her.”

“Steve? Oh, no, he clammed. She got all that from his partner in his practice, Sam Wilson.”

“He was Steve’s roommate during his internship and residency in D.C. Steve talked about him sometimes.”

“Yeah, well, he’s your chatterbox, especially when he sees hot chicks. Then he found out she’s a friend of yours.”

“What does that mean?”

“Wilson told Nat that you broke Steve’s heart. He was really pissed about it. I wasn’t gonna say it, but we both know Nat’s gonna hit you with it; just wanted to warn you.”

“Sounds like her.”

“Yeah. According to Wilson, Steve doesn’t date. Since he’s known Steve, Wilson has seen him with one person, who he slept with one time.”

Bucky hadn’t expected Steve to still be a virgin; he’d had a boyfriend in college, who Bucky had known about while they were talking during the war. He didn’t really want to hear about it because of Natasha’s ability to spy on people, though.

“If it’s any consolation, dude, Steve didn’t enjoy the sex with the other guy.”

“Sam tell Nat that?”

“Yup. Apparently, Steve came home that night, bitching that some men have no stamina. Sam was all too happy to tell Nat that Steve said drunk teenagers last longer.”

Bucky grinned. “See. Beautiful experience in my car. What about the boyfriend from college?”

“Nat got info on him too.”

“Is she doing a background on ‘im?”

“Naw,” Clint soothed. “She did that years ago.”

“Christ. I don’t wanna know.”

“You sure?”

He did want to know . Bucky really did, but he said, “I’m sure.”

“Sure about what?” Steve asked, entering with Bucky’s discharge papers. He was adorably befuddled, standing there in his robin’s egg blue cardigan and loafers.  

“Nothing. Just Nat’s old habits peeking out.”

“Oh? Did she kill someone or investigate me?”

Bucky laughed. “Investigated you.”

“And you don’t want the information?” Steve asked incredulously. 

“I’d rather get it from you.”

Steve went over the discharge papers with Bucky, telling him about each of the many medications he would take and what to do if he had any problems, and had him sign them. Once the business was over, Steve asked, “So, what was Clint telling you? You’re curious. I saw the way you were watching me.”

“He was talking about the guy Sam told Nat about.”

Steve’s eyebrows knit as he added Bucky’s discharged papers to his chart. “What guy?” Steve asked, genuinely confused. Bucky found it endearing.

“A guy you slept with in D.C.”

“Ah. I only slept with one guy in D.C. His name was Connor. And. . . sex is a strong word for what happened that night,” Steve snickered.

“What does that mean?” Clint asked.

Laughing, Steve replied, “You asked for it. Even wearing a condom, he shot his load when he was barely inside me. Ended it before it began. He was hot, but. . . couldn’t close the deal for me.”

Bucky grinned. “Not as much stamina as me, huh?”

Steve snorted, “Sam’s got a big mouth,”

Clint was the one to ask, “What about the guy from college?”

“Ah. Brock. Yeah. He’s the reason I work out.” 

“What do you mean?” Bucky demanded, his eyes narrowed, his cheeks flushed. Bucky thought he knew what Steve was going to say, and he didn’t want to hear it. If it was what Bucky thought, Steve should have told him years ago. Now, he had to know. “What happened?”

“Clint, will you excuse us, please?” Steve felt that privacy was necessary for the conversation he was about to have with Bucky.

“Sure,” Clint replied, walking out. “Good luck, Steve.”

Steve closed the door and moved into the room, crossing his arms over his cardigan clad chest. Bucky thought that the blue wool brought out Steve’s eyes beautifully. He wanted to hear what Steve had to say about this Brock guy, but at the same time, he didn’t. He didn’t want to hear what Steve had to deal with without Bucky there to protect him. He’d been so small. 

“Stevie?”

“I didn’t want to date anyone while you were gone. I guess I was living a lot on remembering that night in your car. You didn’t really give me much hope, though. . . so I started seeing Brock. He was older and kinda made me feel good, not as good as you did though, about myself. You remember how thin I was. I was a freshman, he was a graduate student. It was. . . heady to have someone so. . . I dunno, cultured, I guess. . . want me. I was with him for just over six months. We had sex, but. . . it wasn’t satisfying, so that night with you in the back of your car was the best sex of my life, if that makes you feel any better.”

“It doesn’t. You didn’t have any good sex?”

“Sure. I mean, I got off with Brock. It wasn’t. . . explosive or whatever. It was just. . . like a pop of a cork. Usually when I was stressed. I never really needed sex with Brock. Even while I was dating him, I emailed and wrote, and talked to you. You knew I was seeing someone at the time.”

“Yeah.” Bucky had known. He’d been jealous and bitter about it, but he’d known. 

“Anyway, Brock was jealous of my relationship with you. For a while it was just complaints that my life revolved around talking to you, finding out where you were (as much as you could tell me anyway), what you were doing, how you were. He used to tease me about having a crush on you. He. . . he wasn’t wrong. He was really a placeholder for you, but I didn’t tell him that. I think he knew, though. Eventually, he got angry. He told me that I cared more about some idiot soldier than him. He was right. Toward the end, I didn’t even like him. When he ordered  me to stop talking to you, I dumped him. He accused me of cheating with you. I guess he wasn’t wrong. Emotionally, at least.”

“Did he hit you?” Bucky growled.

Sensing the need to proceed with caution, Steve soothed, “Shoved me. It was after my mom got sick. She lingered until I was twenty, but after she went to the hospital, I was living in Stark Tower and Tony’s AI told him what had happened, so Tony was there pretty quickly. He got Brock outta the apartment I was in, and I got a restraining order. I made myself stronger, and refused to let that happen again.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“What could you do from Iraq? From Afghanistan?”

“I would have ended him for putting his hands on you like that.”

Steve sat on the bed with Bucky and accepted his touch. “It’s over,” Steve said. “Long over. I’m here, with you. I dunno where Brock is, and I really don’t care.”

“No one else will ever touch you again.”

“Your possessiveness is showing, Buck.”

Bucky kissed Steve hard, his hand curled around the back of Steve’s neck. “You’re mine, and everyone will know it.”

“You’ve only been back in my life for three weeks.”

“That’s long enough. You became my best friend in five minutes. You can become my best guy in three weeks.”

That sounded like permanence, something Steve had always wanted from Bucky. 

Steve’s stomach jumped, his blood warmed.

“Is that you defining the relationship?” Steve asked.

Bucky kissed Steve again. “I let you go once, Steve. I ain’t makin’ that mistake again.”

***

When Steve, Clint, and Natasha had Bucky and Tucker back at his apartment, they were met by the private nurse whom Steve had arranged to care for Bucky while he was at work. She was tall in a pair of jeans and a blue v-neck tee-shirt, her stethoscope slung around her neck, her blond hair spilling around her shoulders.

“Bucky,” Steve introduced. “This is Sharon Carter. She’ll be your in-home nurse.”

“Excuse me?” Bucky gaped.

Steve pushed Bucky’s wheelchair deeper into the apartment. “I can’t be here to take care of you all the time. Sharon can take care of you when I’m not here.”

“So you’re staying here now?”

“That’s what you said you wanted. If you changed your mind,  I’ll arrange for a second nurse to stay with you overnight.”

“I want ya here, Stevie. I just think it’s odd that you’re gonna leave me here with some woman while I’m drugged up and vulnerable.”

“Don’t worry, Buck. Sharon won’t do anything to you. She fears me. They all fear me.”

“Don’t know ya well, do they?” Bucky joked.

“I am very scary in my field.”

“I hate to break it to ya, babe, you’re wearin’ a cardigan. You’re not scary. You’re a cinnamon roll.”

“Shut it,” Steve said, helping Bucky sit on his recliner. “You adore me.”

More than you know. 

“You’re awful full of yourself lately.”

Steve grinned at Bucky. “How can I not be? The sexiest, most amazing man I’ve ever known talked about me to his Army buddies. So much that they all called me ‘The Steve’ when they met me. You were so into me, you annoyed people.”

Bucky snickered. “Did Nat tell you that Dum Dum called you my sweetheart?”

“Yeah. She did.”

“She’s got a big mouth.” Bucky groaned and patted the arm of his chair. “When can I go back to work?”

“That’s up to you, sweetheart. You’re cleared for light duty, very light duty,” Steve said, sliding onto the arm of the chair. “As long as you keep it to office work, consults, stuff that isn’t too strenuous, stuff you can do that allows you to rest a lot, you should be fine.”

“That’s no fun.”

“Oh? And how much are you gonna do with one arm and a bum foot?”

“I can do a lot.”

“Such as?”

“Rock your world.”

Steve chuckled. “That I don’t doubt. You’d just lay there and let me ride you into oblivion.”

“Is that an offer, Dr. Rogers? I’m more than a little amenable to you taking advantage of me in my vulnerable state.”

“Trust me, sweetheart. I know that.”

Bucky kissed Steve’s knuckles. “I want you, Steve.”

Steve smoothed Bucky’s dark, shoulder-length hair. “I want you, too, Buck. I’m just not ready for it yet. You’re not ready for it yet. We’ll have each other, but right now, you need to heal and I need to get to know you again. Not to mention, getting you better is more important than getting off.”

“Speak for yourself.”

“Trust me, sweetheart. I’m a doctor.”

 

That night, Steve helped Bucky into his lake sized bed covered in a chocolate colored duvet, after helping Bucky bathe. 

“You’ve certainly seen me naked a lot lately.”

“Yes. And I enjoyed every moment of it. When you’ve healed some, we’ll explore more of each other. I want you. Please don’t think I don’t.”

It was something Bucky had worried about. He’d always been confident in his body, had always had good reason to be. Bucky was an attractive man. . . before. He knew Steve had been attracted to him, but Bucky worried that. . . he didn’t look like he used to. What if Steve didn’t like his body as it looked now.

“Stop it,” Steve ordered, sitting on Bucky’s bed, running a hand over his wet hair. “I can practically hear your doubt. I. . . Bucky.” Steve took a breath. “Your body has changed. So has mine. Do you find me less attractive?”

“No! God, baby.”

“Then you should know that it’s the same for me. Arm. No arm. You’re. . . gorgeous.”

Bucky laughed and pulled Steve to him, kissing him long and deep, his tongue exploring Steve’s mouth, learning the contours, the curves, the taste. “Stay.”

“I don’t wanna hurt ya.”

“You’re not gonna hurt me,” Bucky argued. “I was tortured for two years, babydoll. I think I can handle sleeping beside you.”

Because he said it with a cocky smirk, Steve didn’t feel sick to be reminded of what Bucky had been through. He stood and stripped down to his boxers. Bucky’s blue-gray eyes followed every move, every new curve of Steve’s body, his powerful biceps, his ripped abs, his hard thighs. “Steve Rogers, ladies and gentlemen,” Bucky said, reverently. “I wanted to take you to pound town when we were eighteen. . . Now, I wanna take up residence in that ass. I should fill out a change of address form.”

With a delighted laugh, Steve slipped into the right side of the bed as most of Bucky’s damage was on the left side of his body. Bucky cushioned Steve with his right arm, bending it at the elbow to hold him, touch his hair, his face.

“I missed you, Stevie. It was an ache. . . like a tooth.”

“So, I’m like a toothache?”

Bucky snickered. “You’re right, that wasn’t sexy.”

“You’re a dork.”

“You love it.”

Steve pressed his lips against Bucky’s shoulder. “Yeah. Yeah I do.”

***

Bucky was bored.

Steve had had to go to work, so he’d left Bucky with Sharon, who Bucky actually liked a great deal. She made Bucky walk, had, in fact, taken his wheelchair out on the terrace, so Bucky had to wheel around on his knee scooter, but he knew that Sharon was right. He needed exercise. When he was winded just from going from the living room to the kitchen, he nearly sobbed. Bucky had always been in good shape, and this was not acceptable. He needed to get his stamina back.

“Don’t push yourself, Sergeant,” Sharon said as Bucky panted his way across the huge loft.

“You’re kidding, right? Last month I repelled into a building to rescue hostages in Munich. I can handle this.”

“Last month, you had two arms.”

“You’re a bitch.”

Sharon grinned brightly. “I hear that a lot. You’ll get back to that place, Sergeant. You just need to be patient and trust Doc Rogers.”

“I do trust Steve. Did you think I didn’t?”

“No, I don’t," Sharon replied. "I know him. It’ll seem like he’s rejecting you when he’s really trying to protect you. He wants you to heal. I’m sure you know him well enough to know that he’s afraid what you’re feeling is just some Florence Nightingale thing. You know, you’re just attracted to the person who takes care of you in your illness, in your case, injury.”

“Bull shit. I’ve wanted Steve since I was sixteen,” Bucky snarled, flopping onto his recliner. “Ow.”

Sharon tossed Bucky’s pain pills to him, which he caught. At least his reflexes were still in place. He’d figured out how to use his leg to press down on the top of the pill bottle and twist so he could open it. Steve made him take pain pills and antibiotics to stave off infections (which Steve worried about a lot). He’d never seen so many pills in his life. He finally knew how Steve had felt when they were kids.

“Did Steve tell you we tried to date?”

Bucky dry swallowed a pill. “Tried?”

Sharon smiled. “Yeah. Last year. He wasn’t even in me. He just wanted companionship. So. . . It was more like two friends going to charity events and parties.”

“You were his beard.”

Sharon’s laugh was pure and delighted. “Yeah. I guess you could say that. I was safe. He didn't have those kind of feelings for me. He told me that he didn’t feel that way about anyone. . . except this guy he’d known since childhood. So, if what you’re feeling is real, don’t conceal it again.”

Sharon stood and moved into the kitchen to chart Bucky’s pain pill.

 

 

 

 

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Chapter Text

 

Steve threw his green and yellow surgical cap across the room, hot tears in his eyes, dejection pooled in his belly. He knew better than to get personally involved, but he always did.

“It wasn’t your fault, Steve,” Sam said, following him into the locker room.

“It feels like it’s my fault.”

“We knew this could happen. Her parents knew this could happen.”

Steve sat on a bench, his face in his hands. “She trusted me to take care of her, Sam. I didn’t.”

“You did, Steve. You did your best. Her parents understand that.”

“My best wasn’t good enough today, Sam. Two people have to bury their child because my best couldn’t save her.” Steve tugged his bag out of his locker and strode out of the locker room.

Knowing that he couldn’t do anything to change Steve’s mind, Sam texted someone who could get him through this, someone who could pull Steve out of his self-recriminations and self-loathing. Someone who loved Steve and could take care of him.

Steve changed into his street clothes and took the subway to Bucky’s apartment, despair weighing down on him like lead. 

Bucky, in his apartment, breathed through an exercise when his phone pinged with a text message. Hearing it, Sharon said, “Take five, Sergeant.” Sitting up, but remaining on the floor, Bucky opened the text from Steve’s partner, Sam Wilson.

 

 

Just a heads up, your man’s upset. -SW 6:12 pm

 

What happened? -BB 6:13 pm

 

He lost a patient. -SW 6:14 pm

 

Bucky’s closed his eyes. “Fuck.” Steve would take it hard. He’d always had this complex, where he thought he could save everyone. It was too much for Steve. No one asked Steve to be perfect, but he demanded it of himself.

 

Is he coming here?-BB 6:15 pm

 

I dunno. He just left. I’m doing his paperwork. -SW 6:16 pm

 

U R a good friend. -BB 6:16 pm

 

I know. -SW 6:17 pm

 

Hearing a key in the lock, Bucky looked at Sharon. “We’re gonna need a little time, Sharon.”

Sharon nodded. “I’ll go down to the market.”

She picked up her purse while Bucky struggled off of the floor. Sharon never helped Bucky up after his exercises. Where Steve would coddle Bucky, Sharon made him do things for himself. While he loved the way Steve treated him, Bucky kinda liked the independence he had with Sharon.

“Back in a bit, Doc,” Sharon said, breezing out of the door.

Steve’s face looked wind burned, his hair sticking out in tufts from his fingers. He was ravaged.

When Sharon closed the door behind her, Steve said, “I should have gone home.”

“No, baby. You came to me. I am home.”

And Steve broke.

He lifted Bucky and carried him easily, gently into the bedroom. Bucky had never experienced Steve carrying him since he’d always been so skinny and weak, but Bucky really liked it. Bucky held Steve, soothing, rubbing while he emptied his grief and guilt.

“What happened, baby?”

His voice husky, Steve replied, “I lost a patient. Five year old girl with an abdominal aortic aneurism that had ruptured. I wasn’t quick enough. She died on my table.”

Bucky carded his hand through Steve’s hair. His left side hurt, given that he was lying on it, and he wasn’t fully healed yet, but Bucky had long ago learned not to complain. “So you think it’s your fault?”

“It is.”

“I didn’t know I was dating God.”

“What?”

“You can’t control everything, Stevie. I know it hurts right now, baby. You do the best you can, and that’s all you can do.”

“It’s not enough.”

“Bullshit,” Bucky said. “You’re not perfect. You’re a man. Your best, babydoll, is enough. It’s terrible that little girl is dead, but you’re not to blame. You gave her your best, but it was her time. It isn’t fair, but it is what it is.” Bucky had seen enough death during the war to know that no matter how young and vital, when it was your time, there was nothing to stop the wheel of fate.

Steve buried his face in Bucky’s chest. “I blame myself.”

“I know you do, babydoll. No one else does. You’ll get through this. I’m here. I’m right here.”

Steve hadn’t realized how much he’d needed Bucky. After a dozen years without him, Steve had thought he had moved past this terrifying need. Steve, even when he was small, had always been independent, had never depended on anyone to take care of him. Even when he had nothing, he’d had Bucky.

Now, the thought of going on without Bucky was a depressing one that he didn’t want to dwell on. He could do it. He could live a full and happy life without Bucky. But the life he could have with Bucky. . .  It was what fairy tales were made of.

That was stupid. Steve was a grown man thinking of fairy tales with Bucky Barnes, a man who’d been through hell. 

Bucky kissed Steve’s hair. “We’ll get you through this, baby. You don’t have to do it alone.”

Steve held Bucky a little tighter, terrified that having him back was a dream and Steve would wake to the way things used to be.

***

The next morning, Steve woke alone in Bucky’s bed, the left side, Bucky’s side, cooling in the morning air.

Hearing Bucky curse, Steve got up and padded into the kitchen. Bucky, on his scooter, bent over with a towel, wiping up broken eggs.

“Ya want some help, sweetheart?”

Bucky looked up at him. “I’d like to say I’ve got it, but this is damn near impossible.” He tried to maneuver with one arm and a bum foot, but he couldn’t get it accomplished.

Laughing, Steve took the towel from Bucky and deftly cleaned the broken eggs. “Were you tryin’ to make me breakfast?”

“Yeah. Tryin’.”

Steve dumped the shells in the trashcan and placed the towel in the hamper. With a wet cloth, Steve wiped up the egg. “Well,” Steve said, standing. “Get to it, sweetheart. I’m hungry.”

He pulled another carton of eggs from the refrigerator and set them on the counter for Bucky. “Do you want me to chop for you?”

“Naw. M’making pancakes.”

“Because they’re my favorite.”

“Always were. Your ma showed me how to make ‘em when ya were sick once. She wanted to make sure I knew how to make ‘em for ya if she wasn’t around. She said I’d always be there.”

“You’re makin’ my ma’s pancakes? You learned to make my ma’s pancakes? For me?

“Who else would I learn to make ‘em for?”

Bucky measured out flour, baking powder and soda, salt, and sugar. “Do me a favor, babydoll. Separate two eggs. I gotta melt some butter.”

Zipping past Steve on his scooter, Bucky got out a stick of butter and a half gallon of milk. It took some doing, but he maneuvered to the counter with his load while Steve separated the whites and yokes and put them in two bowls. 

Taking the whites, Bucky added them to milk and whisked them together then put the yokes with melted butter and beat them well. Steve leaned on the counter and watched Bucky mix the wet ingredients with the dry ones. Which looked exceedingly difficult.

This was what he wanted.

This was the life he wanted. Bucky there, making his mother’s pancakes after Steve had had a hard day.

Comfort.

As Bucky ladled pancake batter onto the griddle, Steve said, “I think I may have a solution for your arm.”

“Oh?” Bucky asked.

“Yeah, my friend, Tony Stark-“

“Your housemate from college. You’re still friends?”

“Yeah.”

“He’s a billionaire.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. What about him?”

“He’s. . . made this prototype.”

Bucky turned to him. “An arm?”

“He also made a leg.”

“I see.”

Bucky was silent so long that Steve was afraid he’d offended Bucky. He very nearly apologized for it. 

“What would it do?”

Steve released the breath he didn’t know he was holding. “I have no idea. He just told me to ask you if you’d be willing to be his test subject.” He watched Bucky silently as he flipped the pancakes. “You don’t have to do anything, Bucky. Tony. . . he’s a moron. You don’t-“

“I’ll do it.”

“What? No, Bucky. You don’t have to.” Steve trusted Tony with himself, but until that moment, he didn’t realize that he didn’t trust Tony with something more precious. . . Bucky.

“I know. I want to.” Bucky met Steve’s eyes. “If everything I read about him is true, he’s a genius. This arm he made could. . . well, give me a second arm, a second chance. I can go back to doing my job." He took Steve’s hand. “I can hold you proper-like.”

“Don’t do it for me, Bucky. Do it because it’s something you want.”

“I want to hold you,” Bucky replied. “I want to try to get my life back. I want to have a chance at a normal life. Tony Stark may be able to give me that. He is a genius after all.”

“Whatever you do, sweetheart, don’t tell him that. He’s got a big enough head as it is.”

“Don’t worry babe. I think I can handle him.”

Steve leaned over and kissed Bucky. “I know you can. You can handle anything.”

“Now,” Bucky said, running a hand over Steve’s cheek, neck, bare shoulder. “Quit distractin’ me. If I burn your ma’s pancakes, she’ll take me down when we see her again.”

“You could always blame me.”

“Trust me, baby. I’ll throw you under the bus to get outta trouble with that woman.”

“Buck,” Steve said softly.

“Hmm?” Bucky asked, plating pancakes and adding more to the griddle.

“I think I’m falling in love with you again.”

“Yeah, babe. I know.”

“You know?” Steve asked incredulously. “Did you just Hans Solo me?”

Gripping Steve by the back of the head, Bucky hauled him against his chest, just managing not to fall, and ravaged Steve’s plush mouth. Not releasing him, Bucky gazed into Steve’s eyes, noticing the specks of green in the blue depths. What some would have called a flaw, Bucky adored.

He grinned. “I think I’m falling in love with you again, too, baby.”

“You loved me back then?”

He slid a thumb along Steve’s cheekbone. “How could I not?”

“Uh, lots of reasons.”

“Oh, you mean the fact that you were always gettin’ me into fights?”

“There was that,” Steve said, as Bucky turned to flip the pancakes. “Also I was short.”

“And skinny.”

“Yeah.”

Bucky smiled at him. “You were always beautiful. Always, Stevie.”

Steve punched Bucky lightly in the good shoulder. “Do you realize how long we could have had together? Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I could ask you the same question.”

“Fair enough. I was scared.”

“Of what?”

“Of losing you. Of ruining our friendship. I’d rather have you as a friend than not at all,” Steve whispered.

“You couldn't lose me,” Bucky said. Steve had been a part of his life for as long as he could remember. Nothing could cause him to actually abandon Steve.

“I didn’t want to risk it. I couldn’t risk it.”

Bucky kissed Steve again. It was wonderful to be so open, finally. He got to show Steve what he meant to him. “I understand, Stevie. We’ve got a second chance. We’re together.”

“We are?” Steve asked. “You said we’re dating. I just. . . I don’t know what that means to you.”

Bucky took Steve’s hand. “It means I’m yours, and you’re mine.”

Steve had never dreamed he would have Bucky, had never thought he’d. . . but here he was, with a second chance and Bucky wanted him. 

“’Til the end of the line, Bucky. Now, pay attention to those pancakes.”

Chapter Text

 

Bucky’s next post op office visit, his second since leaving the hospital, did not go according to plan.

Understatement of the century.

About two and a half hours after kissing Steve goodbye, Bucky sat in the office’s waiting room, brooding that Steve always pumped the breaks when Bucky tried to go any further than they had (kisses and cuddles). Bucky was healing well and was nearly to a point where he would beat Steve with a bat if he didn’t do something about the raging erection Bucky always had because of him.

“James?” A nurse called.

Bucky maneuvered onto his scooter and wheeled himself back.

“I’m sorry, but Doc Rogers has been called into a meeting, so Dr. Wilson will be taking care of you this visit,” the nurse informed him while checking his vitals.

“What kinda meeting?”

“I don’t know, James. They don’t tell me,” the nurse replied. “The doctor will be in with you shortly.”

By “shortly,” she meant forty-five minutes after his appointment was supposed to begin. And he’d been twenty minutes early! That’s what he hated about doctor’s offices. A lot of waiting and a shit ton of money for a few minutes with the doctor. That was three-quarters of an hour that Bucky spent gnawing on his lip and shaking his legs. He wanted to see Steve. Needed to know what his meeting was about. His gut, which had gotten him out of many scrapes during and since the war, told him that something was wrong.

When Sam entered, Bucky demanded, “Where is Steve?”

Sam sighed and sat on the stool. “He’s in a meeting.”

“What kinda meeting?”

Reluctantly, Sam responded as he checked Bucky’s amputation site for infection and healing. It looked great. Steve really knew his shit. “An emergency hospital board of directors meeting. Chief of Medicine. Chief of Surgery.”

“That. . . That’s bad.”

“Probably.”

“Why? Why do they need Steve? He’s. . . He’s the best.”

“Yeah. . . well, six weeks ago, he operated on you. Steve figured this would be coming. There are protocols against operating on loved ones.”

“He didn't know it was me.”

“I know, but that doesn’t matter. He did operate on you and he scrubbed in on another surgery performed on you.”

“Where is he?”

“The hospital.” When Bucky stood, Sam said, “Let me check you over for Steve before you ride in on your white steed to rescue him from the dragon.”

“You better hurry, Sam. I've been here. . . Steve’s been alone too long.” 

Bucky pulled out his phone and texted the one person he knew who could swoop in and take care of this. Natasha Romanoff.

***

Sandwiched between the Chief of Surgery, Phil Coulson and Chief of Medicine, Nick Fury, Steve listened to the bureaucracy that was the board of directors. The most long-winded among them was Thaddeus Ross, who's family had endowed the hospital with millions. He was the one with all the questions.

Steve couldn’t help but feel like he was on trial. Perhaps it was the fact that they were using a lecture hall, and the board sat behind a table high above the rest while Steve, Coulson and Fury sat behind a smaller, shorter one. They could have done this in a conference room. The choice of the lecture hall was deliberate.

“Dr. Rogers,” Ross began. “Six weeks ago, on April fifth, you operated on one James Buchanan Barnes, did you not?”

“I did.” Steve wasn’t going to lie. He’d operated on Bucky. He would do it again.

This wasn’t a meeting. It was an inquest. But Steve couldn’t feel sorry for operating on Bucky. He was alive. And Steve could live without the hospital if he needed to.

“What did you do for Mr. Barnes.”

“Sergeant,” Steve corrected.

“Excuse me?”

“His Army rank. He’s a Sergeant.”

“Very well,” Ross huffed. “What did you do for Sergeant Barnes?”

“I performed a splenectomy due to its ruptured status, and the fact that it was causing internal hemorrhaging. Once the bleeding was stopped, I repaired and inflated the left lung, punctured by a broken rib. Next, I repaired his damaged left kidney. Finally, I amputated the left arm, which was damaged beyond repair.”

“And at the time of the surgery, were you aware that you were operating on your best friend from childhood?”

How does he know that? 

“I did not. By the time I got into the operation room, his face was covered with the oxygen mask, his hair covered by the cap.”

“And you didn’t ask the patient’s name?” Ross demanded.

“I did not.”

“Why?”

“Because the patient was beginning to crash. His BP was dropping rapidly, as was his respiratory intake. I had to act fast and did not believe that his identity mattered as much as saving his life. Buck. . . Sergeant Barnes,” Steve corrected. “Was dying on my operating table. I felt that saving my patient was more important than who he was.”

“I see,” Ross said. “And now? If you knew who he was would you still perform the surgery?”

The door opened and Bucky wheeled in. Steve’s eyes met his and he felt his stomach jump. Bucky couldn’t be there. Why was Bucky there?

“You can’t be here, sir,” Ross said.

“I think he can,” Dr. Nick Fury interrupted, speaking for the first time beyond acknowledging that he was present for the “meeting.” Natasha followed Bucky inside and closed the door with an angry snap. “You’re questioning Dr. Rogers for performing surgery on him. For saving his life,” Fury said, pointing to Bucky. 

Bucky and Natasha sat behind Steve. Taut as a blade, Steve tried not to watch him. Feeling Bucky’s hand glide over his back, Steve immediately relaxed, feeling the comfort and support flowing from Bucky into him.

“Doctor?” Ross said, calling Steve’s attention back to the matter at hand.

“Yes?”

“If you did know the identity of your patient, would you have performed the operations on James Barnes?”

“Yes, I would. This was an emergency surgery. Sergeant Barnes, had I refused to operate, would have died before another surgeon could have gotten to the hospital. So, yes. Even if I did know that I was about to operate on my childhood best friend, I would do it again.”

“And should Sergeant Barnes need another surgery?”

“My partner would perform the surgery.”

“You had no issue with it six weeks ago. You had no problem scrubbing in on a simple orthopedic surgery. You had no issue breaking protocol a moment ago.”

“And six weeks ago, I would have no problem going against regulation. And If he had a surgical emergency, I would take care of him. I’ll always take care of him; but if he needs a scheduled procedure, he’ll need to use my partner.”

“I’m sorry,” Ross said, not sounding sorry at all. “It sounds as if you have a relationship with your patient.”

Steve took a long, shaky breath, and, feeling Bucky’s fingers tighten around his shoulder, replied, “I do. I’m in love with him.”

Ross had to calm the members of the board who had begun to stir with the admission. “Dr. Rogers, you are aware that your license is on the line? Your behavior is not what we expect here.”

“I am,” Steve replied, grave but resolved.

“The hell it is,” Bucky interjected.

“Bucky,” Steve warned.

“No, Steve,” Bucky argued. Then said, sharply, “Nat.”

Natasha stood. “Mr. Ross. Your threats against Dr. Rogers are unfounded. At the time of Sergeant Barnes’s surgery, Dr. Rogers did not know that he was operating on an old friend. Nowhere in the hospital’s handbook does it expressly forbid a surgeon from performing surgery on an acquaintance or even a loved one. In fact, your handbook does indicate that medical personnel can not deny emergency treatment. That, Mr. Ross, is your policy. Dr. Rogers cannot be penalized for performing the surgery on Sergeant Barnes.”

“Miss-“

“Furthermore,” Natasha continued, speaking over Ross. “Sergeant Barnes has made no complaint against Dr. Rogers’s treatment, and their relationship grew after the surgery was performed. If you continue to persecute Dr. Rogers, I’d advise him to sue you and your hospital.”

“Are you a lawyer, young lady?” Ross demanded.

“Among other things.”

“Dr. Rogers,” Ross snorted. “Show some caution from now on. Make sure you’re not personally connected to your patients.”

“That isn’t gonna stop me should I have an emergency, Mr. Ross.”

“You’re too outspoken, Rogers.”

“Just don’t like bullies, Ross.”

“Remember, Dr. Rogers. You need this hospital more than the hospital needs you.”

“Bullshit,” Bucky snarled.

“Bucky,” Steve said, taking Bucky’s hand. “I understand you think that. However, this is not the only hospital in Brooklyn Heights. I am currently on staff at two other hospitals and the surgery center. If you decide that I don’t add to your hospital, then I can withdraw my contract with you. Do what you feel must be done, as I will. I won’t walk away from a situation that I feel needs to be handled just because you think that I should."

Steve stood and waited for Bucky to situate himself on his scooter. Without being dismissed, he left the lecture hall where the board meeting took place, followed by Bucky and Natasha.

“Rogers,” Fury called. Steve turned and Fury ordered, “My office, now.”

Steve nodded to Bucky and, without a word, followed.

“Get what you can, Nat,” Bucky said, watching Steve walk away.

In Fury’s office, Steve sat in a crimson leather covered chair in front of the enormous desk.

“You’ve made powerful enemies, Rogers.”

“I’m not afraid of Ross.”

“You should be. Ross is a powerful man. You’re just one doctor from Brooklyn.”

“Yeah. But, I have dangerous friends,” he said thinking of Natasha. “And I’m dating a dangerous man.”

“The red-head?”

“Yeah.”

“She’s a good arrow to have in your quiver. I want you to be careful, Rogers. You’re young and eager, intelligent. Sometimes you have to play politics, especially when you want to move up in this business. You can be the most brilliant doctor in New York, but if you can’t play the game, you’ll stay where you are. Or go somewhere else.”

“Honestly, sir, I don’t care if I don’t move up in the hierarchy in this hospital. I became a doctor to save lives. As naive as it makes me sound, it’s true.”

“I admire your dedication, but you should keep your head down.”

“If I wanted to be a politician, I would still be in D.C. I don’t like bullies, and Ross is one of  the worst.”

“No argument. Just. . . be careful.”

“Yes, sir.” 

Steve stood and turned to leave, “Rogers.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good job today. The look on Ross’s face when you didn’t back down will stick with me for the rest of my life. I’m proud of you for standing up to the board, even though it was ill advised.”

Steve nodded, leaving.

“You still got a job, baby?”

Steve grinned at Bucky. “Why? Worried you’ll have to be my sugar daddy?”

With a smirk, Bucky replied, “Now that you mention it. . . I’m kinda hopin’ you lost your job.”

“You realize, even if I don’t work in this hospital, I still have a job.”

“Shh,” Bucky whispered. “I’m thinkin’ of how grateful you’d be. . . and how you’d show it.”

Steve giggled a bit. “Are you enjoying that?”

“I will when I get you to do what I’m thinkin’.”

“Like what?”

“Like stuff I’ll tell ya about a little at a time. I don’t want you to run off ‘cause I’m too well. . . kinky.”

“You’re kinky?”

“Not really, but compared to you. . .”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m a prude.”

Bucky kissed Steve. “Yeah. But you’re my prude. Besides, I’ll fuck that outta ya.”

“Bucky! Language!”

Bucky laughed. “I’ll see ya tonight, baby.”

Steve kissed him. “And you’ll tell me what Sam said.”

Bucky nodded. “Later, punk.”

“Jerk,” Steve said, shaking his head as he walked away.

***

As Steve carried his duffle bag up the stairs to Bucky’s apartment, he thought that he should really have stayed at his own apartment. He didn’t want to stay home alone. Just as he had every night since Bucky had been released from the hospital, Steve didn’t go home, he went to Bucky

Steve wanted to clutch his chance at happiness with Bucky. Unfortunately, he also feared that Bucky would grow tired of him. He couldn’t handle Bucky disappearing from his life again. Steve loved him more now than he had at eighteen.

That had been a lust-filled love, revolving around the hormones that envelope eighteen year old boys. That love had grown from Steve’s need for love and affection for Bucky. Maybe it had been just a crush, but now. . . This was all-consuming. It filled him. Emptied him. Made him happy. Terrified him. All at the same time.

He didn’t knock, just entered Bucky’s apartment. 

Sharon, seeing him, handed Steve Bucky’s chart. “He had a pain pill this morning. He’s refused to take another all day. I haven’t noticed any discomfort. He’s getting around easier.” She picked up her purse. “He cleaned out a couple of drawers for you and refused to let me help him.”

“He cleaned out drawers?”

“It’s sweet. See ya tomorrow, Doc,” Sharon said, breezing out of the apartment. “By the way. You really need to jump him. He’s ready.”

“Shut it, Sharon.”

She laughed as she strolled to the elevator.

Steve called out, “Bucky, I’m here.”

“Hey, baby,” Bucky called back. “How was the rest of your day?”

“Pretty good. You cleaned out drawers for me? How long did that take ya?”

“Shut up, punk,” Bucky said, moving into the kitchen. “Go put your shit away and come back. Food’s ready.”

Rolling his eyes, Steve went into the bedroom and emptied his duffle. Bucky had washed some of Steve’s clothes that had been left and placed them in the dresser.

“You okay?” Bucky asked from the doorway. 

Steve turned to him. “You want me here.”

“Of course I do. Why would you think I don’t?”

“I. . . I. . .”

Tucker, who’d been laying in his bed in the corner of the room sensed Steve’s distress and whined. Bucky motioned for the dog to remain in his bed, and wheeled into the room. He sat on the bed, pushing the scooter to the end of the bed. “C’mere, baby.”

Steve stood and sat beside Bucky on the king sized bed. “Stevie, baby. I know things feel unstable right now. Things are moving really fast, but. . . I never stopped loving you. I won’t. I can’t. You’ve been my sanity. You. . . you’re everything. I have you back. I finally have you, Stevie. Nothing is gonna take you from me.”

Bucky slid his hand not Steve’s hair. “You’ve always been mine, Steve. Believe me,” Bucky said, moving his hand to cup Steve’s cheek. “I’m not givin’ you up again. I’m not gonna do anything to lose ya. Please believe that.”

Searching Bucky’s eyes, Steve saw everything Bucky felt. Heart swelling, Steve pressed his lips to Bucky’s, wrapping his arms gently around him.

But Bucky wanted more.

Deepening the kiss, Bucky thrust his tongue into Steve’s mouth. What Steve had intended to be a gentle, loving embrace, turned into something else entirely. Steve closed his eyes, opening to the taste of Bucky while his hand cradled the side of Steve’s face. Bucky searched deeper, nudging and caressing, leaving Steve’s heart pounding. 

Bucky’s lips moved to Steve’s neck, working his way to the hollow behind Steve’s ear. Steve found himself twisting to get closer to him, his fingers digging into Bucky’s shoulder. “Bucky. . . you should know. I’m really bad at sex.”

“No you’re not, baby.” Bucky replied, nibbling at the juncture of Steve’s neck and shoulder. “I’ve had you in my car, remember?”

“Yeah,” Steve gasped. “But. . . you were drunk. . . and we didn’t actually have sex.”

“So?” Bucky asked, then, sighing, leaned back to look at him. “Why do you think you’re bad at sex?”

“Uh. . . the last time I had sex, I didn’t get off. And, well, you know about Brock. The best I’ve had was a dry hump in the back of your car.”

“I thought we didn’t have sex.”

I thought angels wept.”

Bucky nipped Steve’s bottom lip. “True. Angels. Earth shattering. Poetry. Blah blah.”

“Well, thanks for relegating the best sexual experience of my life to ‘blah blah’.”

That was the best? I feel like I need to find those other two and whip some ass.”

Steve flopped back against the bed. “Guess that tells you how mediocre I am.”

“You’re not mediocre, baby,” Bucky said, running his hand over Steve’s taut abdomen. “You push yourself. You didn’t really want Brock or that other guy. Donner.”

“Conner.”

“Whatever. You didn’t want them, and you forced yourself to have sex with them. In my car, it was more. . . organic, so it was. . . awesome. We don’t have to do anything you don’t wanna do. Hell, you don’t even have to bottom if ya don’t wanna.”

“I don’t? Brock told me I was a shit top.”

“Ya know, I think Nat can get his address so I can tear that guy a new one.”

“Leave it alone, Buck. That was a long time ago. And he was right. I didn’t really have any practice at it.”

“Full disclosure,” Bucky said. “How many times have you topped?”

“Once.”

“Once?” Bucky demanded. “You were with that guy six months and he only let you top once?”

“I was thin. . . short.”

“And I’d’ve let you fuck me eight times by the third date.”

Steve laughed.

“You think I’m jokin’. I ain’t.”

“I believe you,” Steve replied. “So. . . what about you? How many times have you bottomed?”

“My fair share.” Sighing, Bucky lay beside Steve, leaning on his elbow. “I’m not a virgin, Stevie. Hell, I ain’t even a novice, but I satisfied all my partners, man or woman. I didn’t hurt any of ‘um. I never pretended to have feelings that weren’t there. I was always honest.”

So. . . Bucky had a lot more experience than Steve. Where Steve had been searching for someone to help him move past his feelings for Bucky, Bucky had been substituting Steve with sexual conquests.

“Say somethin’, Stevie.”

“I. . . At least you know what you’re doin'.”

“I never got emotionally involved because they weren’t you. It just became a bodily function that needed to be seen to once in a while. I haven’t touched anyone since I got captured. I haven’t been able to think about it. Now. . . with you. . . I am. We can move as slow as you need, babydoll. But. . . can you do somethin’ for me?”

“What?”

“Be honest. If I do anything that makes ya uncomfortable or scared, I wanna know. I ain’t psychic. I need ya to let me know when ya don’t like somethin’.”

Steve nodded. “I will.”

“Good. Let’s go eat. I worked hard on that meal.”

“I saw the take-out boxes, Buck.”

“What? I only got one arm. Dialing the phone is hard.”

Chapter Text

The nightmare woke Steve.

Beside him, Bucky’s legs moved restlessly, his face clinched in pain, his body trembled, braced for an attack, Sweat beaded his forehead and he moaned.

Tucker whined and stood from his bed on the floor, moving to Bucky’s side, bumping his head against Bucky’s knee.

“No,” Bucky whimpered. “No, please, don’t. Not again. Steve. Please, Steve.”

“I’m here, Bucky. I’m right here, sweetheart.”

“Ain’t tellin’ ya nothin’.” Bucky growled. “Barnes, Sergeant. 32557038. Steve. Steve.”

He was stuck in that Hydra facility.

Then, arching up, Bucky screamed.

Tucker gave up trying to wake him gently and barked loudly while Steve shook him.

Bucky reared, hand wrapping around Steve’s throat, cutting of the air supply. 

Steve, stronger than he once was, flipped Bucky onto his back and pulled the hand away. Bucky. . . arched and fought, screaming obscenities, calling for Steve, for help. 

“Shh, sweetheart,” Steve soothed in Bucky’s ear, brushing back his long, sweat dampened hair. “I’m right here. You’re home and I’m here. I gotcha.”

“Steve?” Bucky asked, his steely eyes clearing.

“Yeah. Ya back?”

Bucky nodded and Steve let him sit up. Racked with sobs, Bucky lay his cheek against his knees, his face turned away from Steve.

“Don’t hide from me,” Steve ordered quietly.

“I ain’t hidin’. I need a minute.”

Steve nodded, slipping from the bed.

“No,” Bucky said, desperately. “Don’t leave. Please, Stevie. Don’t go.”

Kissing the top of Bucky’s head, he replied, “I’ll be right back. You need water. Let me take care of you.”

“I love you.”

Because he needed to do it, Steve cupped both sides of Bucky’s face in his hands and kissed him slowly, gently. “I love you, too. Be right back.”

Steve struggled not to punch the wall as he calmed himself. He’d never heard anyone make the noises that Bucky had. The keening, desperate, pain-filled wails. The cries for Steve, full of need. It felt like Steve had become some sort of anchor for Bucky during his captivity.

Gripping the edge of the sink, Steve let the tears come. He didn’t indulge himself long, just took a few moments to cry for Bucky, for what he’d been through when Steve hadn’t been there for him. Bucky had been alone because Steve had been too weak to be with him. To protect him.

After he’d wiped his face, Steve filled a glass with water and returned to the bedroom.

Bucky was hobbling from the bathroom. Setting the glass down, Steve picked him up bridal style and carried him to the bed. 

“I can make it,” Bucky protested.

“I know you can. I need to hold you.”

That calmed Bucky. When Steve had arranged himself against the headboard with Bucky spooned against him, Bucky murmured, “I’m sorry, Stevie.”

“Don’t apologize for this, Bucky,” Steve whispered into Bucky’s hair. “You can’t control when this happens. I’m here. This time, I’m here when you need me.”

“You were there, Steve. Not physically. You didn’t even know it, but you were always with me. Here.” Taking Steve’s hand, Bucky pressed it against his chest, over his heart. Steve felt the faint thump of the organ and pressed his lips to the back of Bucky’s damp neck. “I always carried you right here, Steve.”

Steve buried his face in the crook between Bucky’s neck and shoulder. “I love you, Bucky. I love you.”

“I love ya, too, Stevie,” Bucky replied. “Did I hurt ya?”

Steve shook his head.

“Think you’re lyin’, Steve. What’d I do?”

“You were back there. You defended yourself.”

“How?” Bucky demanded.

“Went for the throat.”

“I choked ya?”

“Not for very long. I gotcha off. Woke ya up. I’m fine.”

Staring at nothing in particular, Bucky trembled in Steve’s arms. Steve tightened those arms. “I’m fine, Bucky.”

“I coulda hurt ya,” Bucky moaned. “I choked a man ta death. I got free one day . . . He was a little older than me. I was. . . enraged. I got ahold of ‘im and choked ‘im. ’Til he didn’t move again. I killed ‘im.”

“Buck,” Steve said, turning Bucky in his arms. “Do you think I’ll blame you for doing what you had to? Do you think I’ll see you any differently? Love you less?”

“Maybe.”

“No, sweetheart. Everything you did brought you back home. Back to me. Nothing could make me love you less. My love for you fills me, consumes me. You were always part of me and always will be.”

Bucky wrapped his arm around Steve’s shoulders and kissed him, showing everything he felt, the desperate need.

Steve pulled back from him. “Back to sleep, sweetheart. There’s time yet.”

***

Sitting in a comfortable armchair, Bucky watched Dr. Banner stir honey into his tea. 

“How have things been?” Banner asked.

“It’s been all right. I. . . I had a nightmare.”

“Do you remember it?”

“Some. It was a day. . . about eight months after I was captured. I got away. I killed a guard. . . I made it outside, almost got to the road. They found me, electrocuted me, and took me back. They beat me, burned me, cut me. I just kept repeatin’ m’name and serial number. . . Steve. I kept sayin’ his name.”

“What about Steve?” Banner asked. “Last time we had a session, you told me he was sleeping at your apartment every night. Was he with you?”

“Yeah. Steve was there. . . I choked ‘im.”

“I imagine he’s fine,” Banner said, waving the hand holding his pen, giving his faith that Steve could take care of himself.

“That doesn’t matter!” Bucky burst out, shoving to his feet. “I coulda. . .”

“James,” Banner soothed. “Steve is a strong man. I know he wasn’t always, but he is now. Tell me, how did he react to your nightmare. What did he do?”

Pacing, Bucky replied, “He. . . he woke me up, got me water. Listened to me when I talked about it. Held me.”

“Yes. He held you. He reassured you that he was there. Listened to you. Took care of you.”

“Yeah.”

“Where you honest with him. Did you tell him about the man you killed?”

Bucky returned to his chair and ran his hand through his long, dark hair. “Yeah. I told ‘im. I. . . I told ‘im I love ‘im.”

“Good. And what did he say when you talked about your dream?”

“What I did got me home. Nothin’ I did will make ‘im stop lovin’ me.”

Banner smiled. “Well. . . That’s lovely. Do you believe him?”

Bucky nodded.

“As do I, James, if that makes any difference. I hope you’ll seize this chance at happiness. Take this opportunity.”

Bucky wanted it. . . God how he wanted it.

***

At his apartment, Bucky waited for Steve. He wasn’t sure if Steve would even come back. He couldn’t blame Steve if he didn’t. If he decided never to cross the threshold, Bucky could accept that. He didn’t want to, but he would. He’d choked Steve, could have killed him.

That thought brought tears to Bucky’s eyes.

He didn’t want to live without Steve again. He wanted Steve to stay with him. He wanted forever with Steve.

“You okay?” Natasha asked, sitting at the bar with Bucky.

Wiping his eyes, he looked at his long-time friend. “Yeah. I’m good. What’s goin’ on?”

“Steve called. He thought you’d like someone to talk to. He wouldn’t tell me what was going on. I’ve never met a man so close-lipped.”

“That’s because he’s the first who didn’t want to sleep with you, Nat,” Clint said, closing the door.

“True,” Natasha agreed. “Why did Steve think you’d need us?”

“Because he’s thoughtful,” Bucky replied. After a moment, he continued. “I had a nightmare. A bad one. Bad enough that I. . .  I hurt ‘im.”

“How?” Natasha asked gently, calmly. “He didn’t seem hurt when we talked.”

“I. . . choked. . .”

“You choked him?” Clint asked, pulling a bottle of water out of the refrigerator and twisting off the cap. He set it front of Bucky and joked, “Hey. . . he may be into that.”

Bucky laughed, as Clint wanted him to, “He got me pinned and woke me up. Then. . .  He took care of me. I coulda killed ‘im and he comforted me.”

“He loves you, Bucky,” Clint said. “Nat can kill me, literally any minute, but that doesn’t stop me from loving her. Even if she is psychotic.”

Rolling her eyes, Nat rubbed Bucky’s back. “What’s really wrong, Barnes?”

Bucky swallowed. “I don’t think I deserve Steve. I’ve done so much. . . evil. Steve’s so pure-“

“Shut up,” Clint ordered with an un-Clint-like glint in his sapphire eyes.

“Don’t go there, Barnes,” Natasha said.

“What?”

“Start questioning your relationship or whatever with Steve. When we were in the war, you never shut up about him. Now you have him; you finally have the man you’ve loved for so long. Don’t you fucking dare give him up.”

“He isn’t giving up on you,” Clint said.

“He ain’t here. How can ya tell?” Steve was an hour late.

“Oh! He told us to tell you he was getting takeout. How did we forget that?”

We didn’t,” Natasha said. “You had one job, Clint.”

“Quiet, woman.”

Natasha’s eyes narrowed. “You do have a death wish.”

“Little bit.”

“He’s comin’ back?”

“Of course he is. He thought you’d need friends tonight, so he arranged a get together.”

Someone knocked on the door. Natasha got up to answer it. “That’s the other thing,” Clint said, as if he’d forgotten his job again.

“What other thing?”

Voices he hadn’t heard in. . .  so long floated into the kitchen from the entrance hall. Turning, Bucky’s throat closed as Thomas “Dum Dum” Dugan, Gabe Jones, Jim Morita, James “Monty” Falsworth, and Jacques Dernier came into his apartment.

“You’re. . .” Bucky choked, his eyes filling.

“Yeah,” Dum Dum said, stepping forward. “Your Steve called, said you needed us.”

“Damn, Barnes,” Jim said. “I hate to see what the other guy looks like.”

“You will,” Clint snickered. “The guy who took his arm is feeding you.”

“Yeah,” Dum Dum laughed, hugging Bucky. “You got him. You’ve finally got him,” he whispered into Bucky’s ear for him and him alone. “Don’t fuck this up, Barnes.”

Pulling back, Bucky nodded. “I won’t.”

Steve entered, ladened with bags, and followed by Sam, also carrying bags.

That’s Steve?” Gabe asked incredulously.

Placing the food on the bar, Steve laughed, “I hear that a lot.” He kissed Bucky, and quietly asked, “Ya okay?”

Bucky kissed Steve again, deeply, uncaring that his brothers-in-arms watched, even cheered.

How could he ever repay Steve for this? How could he not need and desire Steve. Amazing, beautiful Steve.

“I’m great, Stevie. I. . . I don’t know how to thank you.”

“You don’t have to thank me for taking care of you. You’d do the same for me. Anything, Buck. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you,” Steve said quietly. To the room, he asked, “Who’s hungry?”

Once the food was dished out, Steve sat beside Bucky, listening to the Howling Commandos tell stories about their wartime exploits. They stuck to the good times, stories that made them laugh. Stories that helped Bucky forget, for a moment, what he’d been through. Dum Dum chose to tell about “Bucky’s brush with death.”

“He was flaggin’,” Dum Dum said. “He’d been up late the night before because he had a video chat with a certain boy from home.”

Many of the men groaned and Steve and Bucky laughed.

“Oh yeah. The kid never shut up about his ‘Stevie.’ It got annoying, but it was pretty adorable to see him so in love. Don’t seem to’ve changed much. Anyway, the kid was tired, and he was startin’ to sag. The colonel saw it, saw all of us startin’ to get lazy. We’d been drillin’ all day.”

“It was so hot,” Gabe remembered. “Ain’t never been so hot in m’life.”

Dum Dum nodded, taking a drink. “So, the colonel wanted to wake us up.”

“Yeah,” Clint grumbled. “Some wake up.”

“What’d he do?” Sam asked.

“Tossed a dummy grenade.”

Sam’s eyes lit. “What did you do?”

“Fuckin’ hit the deck,” Jim replied.

Steve snickered then stopped as he brought a bite of roasted chicken to his lips. Setting down his fork, he looked at Bucky, “You didn’t hit the deck. Did you?”

“Uh. . . No. Naw, baby. I didn’t hit the deck.”

“Wrapped around it like a vine,” Jacques put in.

“Quiet, Frenchie,” Bucky hissed. “You’re not helping.”

It was supposed to be a funny story, but it made Steve’s stomach drop to think of what Bucky had dealt with while Steve was safe at home, at college.

“Stevie?” Bucky asked, running his hand over Steve’s thigh.

“Hmm?” Steve replied, taking Bucky’s hand and interlocking their fingers. “I’m fine.”

“So. . .” Clint began. “Who tops?”

“And. . . I’m done eating,” Gabe said, putting his fork down.

“Clint,” Natasha groaned.

“What?” he asked, his mouth full of bread slathered with herbed butter. “Like no one else was wondering.”

“Really wasn’t,” Sam protested.

“And on that note, I need a drink.” Dum Dum said.

“I’ll get the whiskey,” Steve said, standing.

“You look happy, Barnes,” Jim said as the others stood, taking their plates to the kitchen.

“I am.”

“And . . . You’ve got your Steve.”

Bucky smiled. “Yeah. I’ve got ‘im. Just gotta hold on to ‘im.”

“If I’d been there that day-“ Jim began. 

“No,” Bucky interrupted. “Don’t. Don’t blame yourself. You’d probably have been right there with me. I hate to think of that, so I’m glad ya had the flu, buddy. M’glad ya weren’t there. I got through it. M’fine,” Looking at Steve while he poured whiskey for Monty, Bucky sighed. “I’m happy.”

Chapter Text

Bucky woke to the scent of bacon and coffee. He stretched and luxuriated in the feel of the cool cotton against his bare back. While he wished Steve was lying beside him, the smells coming from the kitchen were extraordinary. Steve was in the kitchen making breakfast for him. Bucky wanted this life. A life in which he woke to Steve every morning, went to bed with him each night. Held him and was held by him.

He’d missed his chance at having this life with Steve and he wasn’t going to do so again. Sliding out of bed, Bucky slipped into lounge pants and, using his scooter, wheeled into the kitchen. “Mornin’, baby,” he said to the expanse of Steve’s bare back.

“Hey,” Steve said, moving to him to check Bucky’s amputation site. “I think you’re ready for a prosthetic.”

“Ya okay?”

“Yeah,” Steve said, kissing Bucky quickly. “Just talked to Tony and he wants to fit you today. I told ‘im he’d have to wait because of your orthopedic appointment.”

“You remember that?”

“I do. I also have it on good authority that you’re getting your walking cast today.”

“Now I just need to figure out how to walk lopsided.”

Steve kissed Bucky again. “You can do it. You can do anything.”

“That’s a lot of faith, Steve.”

“You once thought you were jumping on a live grenade.”

“I was terrified,” Bucky said, wrapping his hand around the back of Steve’s neck. “All I could think of was you. I didn’t get to tell you I loved you. I was gonna die, and you wouldn’t know what you meant to me.”

“You thought of me?” It was an awesome thought. Bucky thought he was going to die. What he thought were his last moments had been spent thinking of Steve.

“Your face will be the last thing in my mind when death does come.”

Steve wrapped his arms around Bucky’s middle. He kissed Bucky repeatedly, long, indecent kisses, slippery friction, and hot silk. Bucky gasped at the abrasion of Steve’s shaven jaw and cheeks, the insistent exploration of his tongue. Bucky, experienced Bucky, could think of nothing, nothing at all. Only needed. The craving.

Steve slid one hand down, cupping Bucky’s ass, urging him against the stiff pressure of his erection, leaving Bucky panting, aching.

Steve’s kisses gentled, his mouth absorbing the sounds torn from Bucky’s throat. In all of his experience, nothing had ever felt as perfect as Steve’s mouth, his body, the hands that urged Bucky forward until his hips met Steve’s, rubbing against each other lazily.

Bucky pulled away, his breaths coming out in short bursts. “Yep,” he panted. “I told ya you weren’t bad at sex. God, you light me up, babydoll.”

Steve nuzzled the column of Bucky’s throat. “I want ya, Bucky. I. . . want to make love with you.”

“Thank God. I was really close to begging.”

“You wouldn’t beg.”

“I’d beg you.”

“You don’t have to, sweetheart. I have to go to work soon and your appointment with Darcy is in an hour. We don’t have time this morning.”

“Why don’t we actually have a date?” Bucky asked suddenly.

“What?” Steve asked.

“I’ll feed you then take you into the bedroom and ravage you.”

Steve snickered. “That sounds perfect.”

“You’re perfect.”

Steve kissed Bucky. “You’re just lookin’ at me through love-filtered eyes.”

“And you’re perfect.”

“You’re such a sap.”

Your sap.”

***

“It’s not going to hurt Sergeant Barnes,” Darcy said, holding up the hand saw.

“You sure? How many times’ve ya done this?”

“Hundreds. I’ve done this hundreds of times. I’m not going to hurt you. Doc Rogers would have my ass.”

“Steve’s not scary,” Bucky scoffed.

“You’re kidding, right? Doc Rogers is terrifying. He’s the best. No one tells him ‘no’, at least. . . no one who’s seen him work. I have personally seen him tear a seasoned doctor a new one without even raising his voice. Seriously. . . the guy needed to check his sphincter.”

Steve?”

“He seems mild-mannered, but he could figuratively rip out throats. We all know better than to screw up around him. He tries to help everyone, to pick up the slack, takes call on holidays so other doctors could spend them with their families. But. . . if someone makes a mistake that can easily be avoided, watch out.”

“Wow. So, my man is a hard ass.”

“Yeah. Brilliant, but really scary. His operating room is his domain and you do as he orders or he demolishes you.”

Bucky smiled. “Okay. Take the cast off. And. . . Remember who I’m dating.”

“Thanks a lot, Sarge.”

Bucky closed his eyes at the whir of the electric handheld saw. The cast pinched a little when Darcy cut away the plaster, but it didn’t hurt. In moments, Darcy had the cast off and in the trash. “It’s gone. You can scratch. I know it itches.”

Bucky scratched his calf. It was shrunken from disuse, but he could work back to where it had been before the accident. He’d have to fight to get back, even to the point that he’d have to get a specially made arm. He was stronger than his circumstances.

“You’ll need physical therapy three times a week,” Darcy said, making notes on Bucky’s chart. She stood and, in a cabinet, found a walking cast that would fit Bucky. As she fit it over his jeans, she said, “Don’t go insane, Sergeant. Take it easy for these first few days. Your ankle is healed, but weak since you’ve been in the cast for nearly two months.

Bucky nodded. “Don’t walk too much at first. Got it.”

Darcy smiled. “You’ll be assigned a physical therapist. You should get a call Monday or Tuesday.”

“Sounds good,” Bucky said. “How long will I be in this one?”

“Four to six weeks,” Darcy answered. “It depends on how well your physical therapy goes. I fully expect you to make a speedy recovery.”

Bucky would make a speedy recovery. Being idle was driving him insane. He needed to get back to work. The real work. He was used to action because of his government contracts, because of the covert situations he’d been sent into. He hadn’t been able to give it up completely. He mostly went into hostage situations headed south or rescue missions. He should have stayed away from that type of work considering what he’d been through, but he couldn’t. He was good at that work and he loved it.

“I’ll order some X-Rays for four weeks from now, and I’ll let you know the game plan.”

Bucky nodded, repeating, “Sounds good.”

Sharon was waiting for him in the waiting room when he scooted in. She grinned when she saw the black boot. “You're not gonna need me soon.”

“I hope we can still be friends.”

Sharon giggled and led the way out of the offices on the top level of the hospital. The elevator stopped on the medical/surgical floor and Steve stepped in.

Pleased surprise glowed on his face. “Well, hello,” he chirped, giving Bucky a quick kiss. “How was your appointment?”

“Good,” Bucky replied. “Walkin’ boot. Looks like I’ll be in it for another month or so.”

“You’re makin’ great progress. You headed over to see Tony?”

“Yeah. We’re headed there now.”

“Sharon, when do you start with your stroke patient?”

“He gets out of the hospital on Wednesday. James will be independent by then as he’ll start physical therapy next week. As long as he continues to do his at home exercises.”

Steve nodded. “Yeah. Before long, he won’t need either of us.”

“Ah, Stevie,” Bucky interjected. “I’ll always need ya.”

***

Stark Tower was insane. 

It was all glass and metal. Sleek and modern. Enormous. Intimidating. He figured that was on purpose. Bucky didn’t like it. Yeah, it was luxurious, but it was also opulent and pretentious, like Stark was trying to both impress and intimidate. 

He did both.

“Sergeant Barnes?” A tall, lovely woman with a fall of strawberry blond hair and a slick pearl-grey pencil skirt and pale pink silk button down blouse, and spiky grey heels asked, stepping into the waiting room to which Bucky had been led.

“Yes, ma’am.”

With a warm smile, she shook his hand firmly. “Pepper Potts. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Steve speaks so highly of you.”

“Yeah, well, he’s biased.”

“Love isn’t as blind as they say, Sergeant. In my experience, it opens our eyes to the flaws that make up the person we love. The flaws we adore just as much as their perfections.”

“You’re speakin’ from experience?”

Pepper grinned delightedly. “When you’re with a man like Tony, you have to learn to love the flaws, as they are numerous.”

“Well, I don’t really have that problem with Steve.”

Leading Bucky to a huge metal door, Pepper laughed. “Yes, I can see your predicament there.”

Bucky followed Pepper into the lab. He didn’t like the building, but he did like her.

“Tony,” she called. "Sergeant Barnes is here.”

Tony Stark stepped out, a bag of chips in his hand. “Steve wasn’t kidding.”

“About what?” Bucky asked.

“You’re a big ol’ slab of beefcake. Even without an arm.” He set the chips down and rubbed his hands together. “Let’s see if we can fix that, shall we?”

“Tony,” Pepper warned.

“I promise,” Tony said, holding up his right hand. “I am taking this absolutely seriously. If I happen to have a good time, so be it.”

“I was actually talking about the chips. You’re not thirty anymore, darling.”

Bucky tried not to burst into laughter as she turned on her heel and clipped out of the lab.

“Never let that one go,” Bucky said.

“Believe me,” Tony replied, “I’m dug in. Anyone would want her. Okay. . . I need you to take your shirt off.”

While Bucky, who’d perfected the act of removing his clothes one handed, shrugged out of his shirt, Tony strode to a glass case, where a plated metal arm was displayed. “I’ve waited a long time for this, Sergeant. I just got lucky that the college kid who used to live with me in my D.C. house is in love with a guy who got hit by a drunk driver.”

“Yeah,” Bucky said, sitting on the chilled metal table in his white undershirt. “I feel real lucky.”

Tony brought the arm to Bucky. “I’m sure. I made this based on your specs. I measured your right arm while you were unconscious.”

“Steve let you do that?”

“Sure,” Tony replied.

Dark eyebrows knit. “He had no idea, did he?”

“Noup. I didn’t exactly advertise.”

“I can see why. I’ve just learned he can be pretty scary.”

“Cardigan wearing Rogers? Scary?” Tony asked incredulously. “The guy wears loafers. Seriously, he may as well be calling everyone ‘neighbor.’”

“Yeah. That’s what I said. So, what’s so special about this arm?”

“It’s literally one of a kind,” Tony said, his voice filled with pride. “I’m fitting it today and running some tests. I’ll need to make some adjustments. This arm, when it’s ready, will act as a regular one. It’s going to be connected to your nervous and muscular systems. You’ll be able to control it, just like you could with your original arm. You won’t be able to feel it much, pressure mostly, but you’ll be able to use it.”

“So. . . I’ll be whole?”

“In a manner of speaking. You’ll have a metal arm that’ll be stronger than your flesh one, so you’ll need to be more careful with delicate work.”

“Is that your way of saying ‘sex’?”

“Yeah. Be careful, otherwise you might rip his dick off.”

Bucky winced a little as Tony maneuvered the arm into place. “It’ll pinch some because I have to fit it for you. Once I’ve adjusted it, it’ll fit you perfectly, so it won’t hurt anymore.”

“I’ve had worse.”

“You were in spec ops, right?”

“Yeah,” Bucky said.

“So, you’re pretty rough and ready?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Bucky replied through gritted teeth during the attachment.

“Okay. . .” Tony said, stepping back, his eyes followed the curve of the arm, of each plate. “Try to move it.”

Nothing happened.

Tony adjusted the attachment to Bucky’s body and the straps that held the arm in place. “Now try.”

The arm whirred audibly as it moved at Bucky’s command. He held it in the air and bent at the elbow.

“Good,” Tony chortled. “Hold it out.”

Bucky did so, swallowing tears as he saw hope at the end of this ordeal that had been so cruelly thrust upon him. He could have his life back. He could have everything he’d always wanted. His work. His life. Steve.

“So,” Tony asked, making notes in a small flip-top notepad. “What happened to the drunk dick who hit you?”

“He’s out on bail right now. I dunno where he is. My business partner has been keeping an eye on ‘im. It doesn’t matter to me, not really. It sucks. . . I mean really sucks that this is happening to me, but. . . I found Steve again. Because I needed a surgeon, I got Steve back.”

“You’re more forgiving than I’d be.”

“Oh, no. I’d break his fuckin’ nose if I had the chance.”

Tony grinned. “Bend the elbow.”

Bucky did so.

“How’s it feel?”

“It’s pinchin’ a bit.”

“Every time you move it?”

Bucky nodded.

"How about when it isn't moving?"

"Yeah."

Tony made a note. “Okay, do me a favor and grip this bar, I want to test the grip potential,” he ordered, wheeling one in front of him.

Bucky reached out with the metal hand and grabbed ahold of the metal bar. He didn’t think he gripped it as hard as he apparently did because the metal bar bent, leaving an imprint of the new hand.

“Oops,” Bucky said.

“Don’t even worry about it,” Tony said, making more notes. “I’ll need to adjust the grip potential. Try gripping a little softer.”

Bucky did so, and didn’t leave anymore damage to the bar. 

“Good. I’ll need you to come back on Monday to retest. If I don’t need to make any more adjustments, you’ll be able to take it home. Back to normal, Sergeant. Well, sorta.”

Bucky sighed in relief when Tony took the arm off. “Once I get it adjusted, that won’t hurt anymore. I’m sorry. It seemed a bit tight.”

“Just a little.”

Setting the arm on his work bench, Tony made more notes. “Other than that, how did it feel?”

“Fine. It was just uncomfortable. A little tight.” 

Tony nodded. “Okay. Good. I’ve got some ideas of stuff I need to add for you. Thank you for this. This technology could change the lives of so many, especially soldiers who lose limbs in battle.”

“You’re the one who made the arm.”

“But, you’re the one who’ll wear it.”

***

Steve dressed for their date at his apartment and Bucky tried to decide what he would cook for Steve. But. . . the answer alluded him, so he called the only person he could think of to help. His mother.

“Hey, Ma. M’makin’ a special ‘date night’ dinner for Steve and. . .”

“You don’t know what to make.”

“That obvious?” Bucky asked.

“Yes, James, my darling boy, you are. How are you at risotto? I remember he always loved my rosemary risotto.”

“Yeah, Ma!” Bucky exclaimed. “I remember how to make it,” Bucky wrote it down. “What would you make with it?”

“Bacon wrapped asparagus and stuffed chicken.”

Bucky smiled and made notes. “I love ya, Ma.”

“Yes, James. I know. Now, you cook that meal and marry Steve. I’ve waited long enough.”

“For me to get married?”

“To Steve, darling. I’ve waited long enough for you to marry Steve Rogers. You’ve got work to do. I suggest you get to it.”

So Bucky got to it.

He maneuvered things so he could chop one-handed though the chops were very rough. He mixed, wrapped, stirred, and sautéed. When the rice, chicken and asparagus were done, Bucky realized he had produced the single most beautiful meal of his life. Surprisingly, with one arm.

According to his mother, it had to be. He had a goal with this one.

He changed into a pair of black slacks and a blue, chocolate color lined long-sleeved tee shirt, one of the sleeves hanging empty. It was a cool, spring night, so Bucky opened the terrace doors so he could hear the sound of Brooklyn. Sounds he’d missed during his time away.

Steve arrived and used his key to enter. He wore a pair of khakis and a dark green cardigan. “It smells amazing in here, Buck,” Steve said as he moved into the dinning room. Spotting the food on the table, he asked, “Is that your ma’s risotto?”

“‘Course it is.”

“If I hadn’t already decided to sleep with ya, that woulda made it happen.”

“If I’d known the way into your pants was rosemary risotto, I’da made it as soon as I could stand,” Bucky snickered.

“Yeah. I’m a slut for rosemary, cream, and rice.”

Bucky limped to Steve and tugged him against him. “Baby. You’re not a slut for anything. Not even risotto.”

With that, he pressed his lips to Steve’s, searching slow and deep until Steve was weak. Bucky maneuvered him to the plush sofa and sat, Steve draped across his lap. His mouth possessed Steve’s with long kisses, bites, and nibbles. Steve slid his fingers into Bucky’s long, thick hair, meeting each kiss.

“Buck. Let’s go to the bedroom.”

“The food. . .”

“Will warm up. I need ya.”

Bucky couldn’t say “no.”

In the bedroom, Bucky shrugged out of his shirt. Steve took that as a cue and unbuttoned his cardigan and tugged the white tee shirt beneath it over his head.

Steve ran a hand over Bucky’s chest and down his stomach, his blue eyes dancing over the gold-dusted, bared skin. Despite, or perhaps because of, the scars, Bucky was. . . stunning. Strong. His.

“You’re so beautiful, Buck,” Steve sighed.

Bucky lowered Steve to the bed, mouth seeking Steve’s again. Steve moaned as Bucky’s dragged his lips over Steve’s jaw, throat, chest. When he tugged one of Steve’s nipples into his mouth, Steve’s hips arched, aching for more.

Slipping his hand beneath Steve’s waistband, Bucky set Steve ablaze with longing. 

“Please, Buck. God, please.”

“Sure, baby. You’ll have to take your own pants off.” 

Steve stood when Bucky slid off of him. “Wait,” Bucky ordered and, after removing his slacks, boxers, socks, shoe and the walking cast, moved to the bed to watch Steve undress.

“Now.”

Steve grinned and unfastened his trousers. As he tugged the pants down, Steve groaned, finally releasing himself from the constraints of the pants.

“You’ve been holdin’ out on me, Stevie.”

Steve’s eyes met his. “Why do you say that?”

“You been hidin’ this body from me.”

Steve scoffed. “I sleep in my boxers with you every night. That doesn’t exactly leave much to the imagination.”

Bucky reached out and stroked Steve’s jutting erection. “I didn’t imagine how magnificent you are. C’mere babydoll. Let me show ya.”

Steve moved over Bucky to straddle him, facing away as guided by Bucky. Steve, at this point, was wild for him. He writhed over Bucky. When Bucky’s tongue pressed inside of him, he cried out and thrust his hips back. Bucky gripped Steve’s hip, holding Steve secure for his mouth, for eager kisses, for slow marauding. Steve felt an orgasm rolling toward him, but Bucky pulled away.

“Don’t stop. Fuck, Bucky.”

“Trust me, baby.”

Bucky slipped two lubricated fingers past Steve’s tight ring and kept them there. Not moving, just letting Steve’s body adjust to the intrusion. Bucky’s lips pressed against the flesh of Steve’s bottom.

When Bucky finally moved his fingers, Steve’s body tightened around the gentle thrust. Steve arched back, needing Bucky inside of him. He had never felt this desire, this desperation before. He called Bucky’s name over and over. “Now, Bucky. Now. Please.”

“Turn around.”

Steve did so and reached into the nightstand for a condom. With shaking hands, Steve slid it over the velvet covered steel of Bucky’s erection. Steve straddled Bucky’s hips as he sat up against the headboard, watching Steve. 

He sank onto Bucky in one deep-rooted thrust. With his hand on the back of Steve’s head, Bucky took Steve’s sobs into his mouth.

“Shh, baby. I got ya.”

The pleasure was thick and sweet, every nudge of Bucky inside of him guiding Steve closer to the edge.

“Yes! Yes, Bucky.”

Bucky worked Steve, guiding him with his hand at the small of his back, his face nuzzling the curve of Steve’s neck, the scrape of his bristle was. . . so good. Steve moaned, his hips thrusting, seemingly of their own accord, needing it faster than Bucky was giving it.

Blindly, Steve gripped the headboard, using it to measure his thrusts. Bucky held Steve’s hard flesh in his hand as Steve bounced, crying out atop him. Steve surrendered himself to the pleasure, to Bucky’s silent demands.

At long last, after years of waiting, Steve let go, his climax painting his and Bucky’s stomachs and chests. Bucky let the voluptuous clenching of Steve’s flesh draw out his own release.

Secretly, Steve was glad he hadn’t known what making love with Bucky would be like. He didn’t think that he could have survived the wait. Hell, he wasn’t even sure if he could survive the night.

Chapter Text

Steve woke before Bucky, with whom he was snuggled, his back against Steve’s front. Taking a deep breath of Bucky’s hair, he smiled. The night before had been the best of Steve’s life. He had Bucky. He’d had Bucky. He finally knew the feel of Bucky around him, in him.

He buried his face in the juncture of Bucky’s neck and shoulder.

Bucky moaned and cuddled closer. “Why’re you awake? It’s your day off. Go back to sleep.”

“Can’t. Too happy.”

Bucky held Steve’s hand and kissed the fingers. “Me, too. I never thought I’d be this happy.”

“What’s your plan for the day?” Steve asked. “Now that you’ve got some freedom.”

“My ma wants us to come over. She says she needs help cleanin’ out their garage. Dunno how much good I’ll be.”

“You’re kiddin’ right?” Steve scoffed. “We could leave all the work to ya. We should. You’d probably get it done quicker without all of the distractions.”

“Naw,” Bucky said, turning over with a slight wince. “I like your ways of distractin’ me.” He kissed Steve’s plush lips.

“I’ll show you distraction.”

With the superior strength honed from years of vigorous work, Steve flipped Bucky onto his back. He took Bucky’s face in his hands, fingers slipping around Bucky’s skull, his long, dark hair spilling around him on the pillow. His lips found Bucky’s, and he opened to Steve, kissing him back.

Steve’s mouth tore from Bucky’s and roughly searched the side of Bucky’s neck. He kissed his way over Bucky’s collarbone to his chest. As Bucky had done the night before, Steve suckled on Bucky’s nipple.

“Christ, Stevie.”

He ran his tongue over Bucky’s scarred, taut stomach. Bucky had called Steve magnificent, but he was extraordinary. Nipping and suckling, he roved down Bucky’s body, spurred forward by Bucky’s sounds of helpless pleasure.

When he reached the juncture of Bucky’s thighs, he slid his tongue over the head of Bucky’s cock.

Bucky groaned, his hips jutting beneath Steve. The sound made Steve feel powerful. Opening his mouth, Steve took Bucky deep inside, pressing Bucky’s flesh into the back of his throat. A cry of pure pleasure tore from him as Steve’s throat worked around Bucky’s hardness.

Steve bobbed his head over Bucky’s flesh. With each pull of Steve’s lips, Bucky felt himself pulled closer to the edge of a precipice.

“Stevie, baby. I ain’t gonna last long.”

So Steve doubled his efforts. He wanted to taste Bucky, to swallow him down. Bucky’s fingers twined in Steve’s golden hair and his hips bucked, meeting Steve’s suckling lips. “Steve. . . Steve. . . I’m coming.”

Steve swallowed as Bucky’s orgasm tore through him and flowed into Steve. 

Bucky eventually came down from his climax, and Steve held him. “See. . .You’re not bad at sex, baby. You’re a fuckin’ prodigy.”

“Naw,” Steve said, kissing Bucky’s temple. “Just a quick study.”

“No. You’re the Mozart of cock suckin’.”

Steve gave Bucky’s thigh a light smack. “Don’t spread that around.”

“And have someone try to take ya away? Because. . . that mouth. . . No. I’ll take that secret to my grave.”

Laughing, Steve stood.

“I want ya to stay here,” Bucky said suddenly.

“I need to shower and brush my teeth. I ain’t leavin’.”

“That’s not what I meant, Steve. I want ya to live here. . . with me.”

Shocked, Steve sat back down on the bed. “I. . . I dunno what to say, Buck.”

“I know it’s quick; we’ve only been together like this for a few weeks, but It’s the right thing for us. I love ya,” Bucky said softly, causing Steve’s heart to stutter. “I love ya, and I don’t wanna waste any more time. I wanna spend my life with ya.”

Bucky ran his hand over Steve’s gold hair. “I need to think about this, Bucky. I. . . I just need some time to figure this out.”

Bucky nodded.

His impromptu proposal seemed to have scared Steve. He had frozen and gone pale. Bucky didn’t know what that meant. He didn’t even know if this was something that Steve wanted, but Bucky had to ask. He needed Steve to know that he wanted a real relationship with him.

“Take your time, Stevie. I don’t want ya to feel pressured here.”

“I don’t. I just. . . It’s so quick, Bucky.”

“I think it’s late. I’ve been in love with ya for half my life. I don’t want ya to feel like ya have to move in here. I want ya to do what you wanna do. M’gonna love ya whether ya move in tomorrow or next year ‘cause m’with ya ’til the end of the line.”

Steve kissed Bucky. “I’ll think about it Bucky. We’ve rushed into this relationship. Let’s take a minute before we’re too hasty.”

Nodding, Bucky nipped Steve’s bottom lip. “Let me take care of this,” he brushed a hand over Steve’s hard flesh. “Then you can take a shower.”

***

At the Barnes’ house in Flatbrush, Steve hauled a box of Christmas decorations out and set them on the concrete slab for Winifred Barnes to look through.

With a laugh, she took out the ornament at the top. “Do you remember this, Steven?”

It was one Bucky had made for her in first grade. It was a laminated Christmas tree with a picture of Steve and Bucky, their arms around each other, identical missing front teeth, with deep, laughing smiles.

Steve grinned and took it from her. “Mrs. Best told us we couldn’t take the pictures together. Bucky told ‘er our mas would want both of us on them, so she gave in and let us be in each other’s pictures. I’ve got my ma’s copy of it. It was her favorite.”

“It’s always on my tree.”

Steve gave the ornament back to Winifred, who put it in a large tote set aside for Christmas decoration she was keeping. “You were always part of our family, Steven. I don’t expect you to forgive me anytime soon, but you were in our thoughts as much as James was.”

Steve looked away from her earnest hazel eyes. “I understand why you backed away from me. I brought memories of him. You were worried about Bucky and seein' me hurt ya, brought all that to the surface.”

Winifred took Steve’s hand. “That shouldn’t have mattered.”

Steve squeezed her hand. “It did. It mattered. I ain’t mad at ya. I don’t even blame ya.”

Tears swam in Winifred’s eyes. “I blame myself, Steven. You lost your mother and needed me. Before he left, James asked me to take care of you, watch out for you. That was the only thing he asked me to do while he was gone. I failed. I got so caught up with what could have been, God, what was happening to my boy that I didn’t even think of you.”

“I was all right.”

“Yes, Steven. I can see you’re fine. That doesn’t alleviate my guilt.”

Bucky limped out of the garage, lugging a box beneath his arm.

“I thought Becca cleaned out the garage couple of months ago.”

“She did,” George replied, bringing out another box. “Just like she does everything else.”

“Half-assed?” Bucky asked.

“I heard that!” Becca called from the garage.

“Wasn’t hidin’ it!” Bucky yelled back.

Steve took Bucky’s box and stacked it with the other Christmas decorations.

“I could handle it,” Bucky complained.

“I know,” Steve replied. “I figured you and Becca would have a wrestling match soon, so you’d need your arm free.”

“You think you’re slick, don’t ya?” Bucky asked.

“Yeah. I’m pretty slick.”

Bucky kissed Steve’s cheek. “You’re cute, baby.”

Steve wrapped an arm around Bucky’s waist. “Yeah, I know.”

“Boys,” George scolded. “Flirt after the work is done.”

Steve kissed Bucky quickly. “Help your ma,” he ordered, jogging back up the drive to the garage.

“Don’t tell me what ta do,” Bucky called up to him.

Steve turned around and winked. “Wouldn’t dream of it, sweetheart.”

Winifred laughed, placing a string of lights aside to be given away. “I never thought I’d see you two like this.”

“Like what?” Bucky asked, pulling the laminated ornament out of the tote, grinning at the toothless, laughing boys.

“Happy,” Winifred replied. “You’re finally together and happy. I’ve waited so long to see it, James.” She touched Bucky’s uninjured shoulder. “Don’t mess this up.”

Why does everyone say that? 

“Don’t plan to, Ma.”

“No one intends to mess something up, James. You’ve been in love with him for so long. I don’t want to see either of you hurt again.” She took a deep, cleansing breath. “We hurt him, James.” 

“I know, Ma. We didn’t mean to, but we did. He’d never do anything to intentionally make us feel guilty, but. . . I’m surprised he gave me a second chance.”

“He didn’t know you’d been captured. We didn’t tell him.”

“No. He didn’t.  He listened to my explanation and gave me another chance to be part of his life,” Bucky said, still full of wonder at how amazing and forgiving Steve was.

“He has a generous spirt.”

“Luckily for me.”

Winifred nodded. “For all of us, James. Steven has always been very dear to us, even. . . even when we’d abandoned him.”

“Ya didn’t abandon ‘im, Ma.”

“Yes, I did, James,” she sighed. “I wasn’t there for him. None of us were. He needed a family. We were supposed to be that family, but you were captured and. . . That poor boy. We abandon him and his mother. . . Sarah had only been dead two years.”

Bucky grasped his mother’s hand to stop her tears and tirade. “We’re here now, Ma. We’ve got ‘im now.”

After several hours of sweaty work, the garage was finally clean and organized. Bucky and his mother made pizza that night from scratch, forcing Steve to help, to be Bucky’s left arm.

“You really need to learn to make more than bacon and toast, babydoll.”

“I can make more than that. Not much more, but more.”

“Sarah didn’t teach you any of her recipes?” Winifred asked.

“Some. Mostly I couldn’t get them down. I’m really good at her meatballs.”

“The ones with bacon and cheese?” Bucky asked.

“Yeah,” Steve said with a laugh. “The awesome ones she made when we had sleepovers at the apartment. . . Anyway, I’m not a very good cook. She taught 'em to Bucky.”

“She did?” Winifred asked.

“Just a few,” Bucky said.

“I’ve got her recipe cards. Always figured someone would use them,” Steve told Winifred. “Bucky’s handy in the kitchen."

“You show those to James and force him make your favorites.”

“He made me my ma’s pancakes.”

“Oh, James. . .” Winifred sighed.

“Ma,” Becca said, sipping her wine. “Let Bucky and Steve be sappy on their own. They don’t need you adding to it.”

“I can’t help it.”

“Don’t be too romantic, James,” George warned. “Your mother will expect more from me.”

“George, after thirty-five years with you, I guarantee, I don’t expect romantic gestures from you. There’s still a chance for the boys, though.”

Under Bucky’s watchful eye, Steve put the freshly chopped onions in a sauté pan with olive oil and minced garlic.

“I’m sure you’re plenty romantic, Mr. B,” Steve said as he washed his hands, trying to remove the strong scent of onions. Bucky had told him the garlic would be on his skin for a few days so washing that stench out would be useless. Bucky set three cans of whole tomatoes on the counter. “Open those, baby,” he said and stirred the garlic and onions. “How’s the crust comin’, Ma?”

“It’s about to go in for a par bake.”

Bucky nodded,  looking over the sausage and hamburger. He took the open tomatoes and dumped them in with the garlic and onions.

“How do you get the sauce to smooth out?” Steve asked.

“For this pizza, we want it to be chunky,” Winifred answered. “Those tomatoes will burst, but it’ll still be a little chunky with them and the garlic and onions.” She watched Bucky add the parsley and basil that Steve had chopped for him. “If you want a smooth sauce, you’ll use a food processor or blender.”

“I don’t think I have a food processor,” Steve said. 

Bucky grinned. “Don’t worry, Stevie. If you need one, you can use mine.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever need one.”

“Don’t be so sure,” Winifred said.

That night, Bucky awoke, Steve snuggled comfortably against his chest, the dream, different from his usual nightmares, fading from memory. He stared at the ceiling for a while, clutching Steve tightly. 

“I love ya, Stevie,” he whispered in the dark.

There was no response from the blackened room.

 

Chapter Text

 

Bucky held Steve a little harder than normal when Steve kissed him goodbye.

It concerned Steve. “Are you okay, sweetheart?”

With his face buried against Steve’s throat, Bucky replied, “M’fine.”

Steve cupped Bucky’s face in both hands pulling his face back so he could look into Bucky’s blue-grey eyes. “What happened, Buck?”

“Just a dream,” Bucky replied, his eyes closed. 

Steve released a shuddering breath. “God, I didn’t know. . . I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

Bucky gripped the back of Steve’s neck. “Don’t, baby. I’m fine. It wasn’t a flashback. It was. . . my subconscious, I guess, telling me something. I think I need to be completely honest with you. You need to know what to expect if you decide to take me on.”

Steve sat on the plush sofa, patting the spot beside him. “I’m with ya, Buck. Whether I decide to live with ya or not, though I’m practically doin’ that now, I’ve got ya. I love ya, and I’m not givin’ up on ya. You don't have to tell me anything you don’t wanna.”

Swallowing, Bucky sat beside Steve.

“You’ve seen the scars. You know some of it. I. . . I got the usual torture. Cuts, burns, beatings, electric shock.”

Steve looked away, tears filling his eyes, so Bucky took his hand as much to support Steve as to ground himself. Steve nodded for him to continue. “They. . . They experimented on me. . . injected me with. . . I dunno what. It hurt. A lot. I thought that, if I could just get home, get to you. . .”

Steve gripped Bucky’s good shoulder with his free hand. “What did the injections do? How did they make you feel? Hallucinations? Fatigue?”

“It’s pretty hot when you go all doctor.”

“That’s my secret, Buck. I’m always a doctor.”

Bucky gave a short laugh. “Yeah. I suppose. Anyway. . . The injections. . . whatever they put in me, hurt. Honestly, it was horrible. I’ve never felt such pain. I got tired, weak. Sometimes it was like the. . . serum, we’ll say, sapped my strength. It made me dizzy. I blacked out every time.”

“Did doctors run tests when Clint and Nat got you out?”

Bucky nodded. “A whole battery of ‘em. No lasting effects.”

“Swear to me that’s true. Swear right here and now or I’m gonna take you to the hospital and subject you to every test available.”

“Only if you’re the one to do the prostate exam.”

“You’re not funny,” Steve said, unable to stop the laugh that escaped.

“I’m hilarious,” Bucky said, pecking Steve’s shaven cheek. “I promise. I’m fine. Whatever they were injecting me with burned outta my system. I think they were just drugs to torture me, try to get me to give ‘em information.”

“And you only said three things.”

Bucky nodded. “Name, serial number. . . your name.”

“You’re sure that’s all you said? The serum didn’t compel you to tell them anything else?”

“I didn’t tell them anything else. Even at my weakest, I didn’t tell ‘em anything. That woulda put my friends, family, in danger. And once they had what they wanted from me, they woulda killed me. I wasn’t gonna die and leave ya alone. I had people to live for. They weren’t gonna take me away from ya. These are the memories I deal with, that you’ll deal with too, if ya live with me.”

“Whether I live with you or not, I’m gonna deal with your memories, Buck. I have my misgivings about living together. I worry that you’re gonna realize you’re makin’ a mistake and. . . well, regret. . . But, even if you change your mind, I hope you’ll still let me be part of your life.”

“Stevie,” Bucky began.

Steve stood. “I gotta go to work. I’ll see ya tonight.”

Standing, Bucky pulled Steve to him and took his lips in a desperate, brutal kiss. “You’re mine, Stevie. You’ll always be mine. Don’t ever doubt that.”

Steve panted and gazed into Bucky’s steely blue-gray eyes, the honesty shining from them. Dazed, he nodded and left for work. 

His phone rang while Bucky was thinking of ways to make Steve believe he wouldn’t change his mind, that he would always love and want Steve. He didn’t recognize the phone number displayed.

“Barnes?” he said, swiping to answer.

“Hello, Sergeant,” Tony Stark greeted. “Just thought you’d like to know that your arm is ready.”

“Awesome. When do you want me to come for adjustments?”

“I’ve cleared my entire day for you, it’s one of the perks of being the boss. How do you feel about the press?”

The guy’s thoughts were like pistons firing. Confusing.

“I’m tolerable, I guess.”

“My media liaison thinks we should have reporters there for today’s adjustments and tests. You know, to promote the project.”

“Okay. No problem.” A thought struck him. “I’m bringin’ a couple of Army buddies.”

“Sounds great. Jarvis is going to lose his shit because the support and solidarity will come across get on screen. How long do you think it’ll take for you to get here?”

“Give me an hour.”

After hanging up, Bucky called Natasha.

***

“Does anyone else feel like this place is. . . too much?” Clint asked.

“Oh yeah,” Natasha answered, not looking up form her phone. “Defiantly a penis symbol.”

“Couldn’t say,” Bucky said. “I’ve never had to over-compensate.”

“It is a tower,” Clint said.

Bucky laughed. “The biggest in the neighborhood.”

Conversation stopped when Pepper entered. “Sergeant Barnes, thank you for coming.” Today, she wore a gauzy green sun dress with a cream colored, quarter sleeve cardigan and grass green heeled sandals. “If you and your friends would follow me, we can get you into your new arm.”

“Bet ya never thought you’d say that sentence,” Bucky joked, standing to limp and follow Pepper to the lab.

“You never know with Tony.”

“How long have you worked for Mr. Stark?” Natasha asked.

As if you don’t already know. 

“I’ve worked for Stark Industries for seven years,” Pepper replied, opening the door to the lab that Bucky had been in a few days before.

“And how long have you been in love with him?”

“About half that time,” Pepper answered without missing a beat. “Tony,” she called. “Sergeant Barnes is here.”

“Excellent,” Tony said, coming out of the lab’s bathroom, rubbing his hands together. His dark eyebrows rose when he saw Natasha and Clint, both in their work clothes; a sleek black skirt and powder blue shirt and flowing black, organza scarf and a slick slate grey suit with a lilac tie. 

“This is Sergeant Major Natasha Romanoff and Staff Sergeant Clint Barton of the 107.”

“Sergeant Barnes,” Tony began. “Why do I have the feeling you aren’t what you seem.”

“Because I’m not.”

“Are there. . . video games based on your exploits?”

“Maybe one or two,” Natasha responded.

“So. . . are there. . . covert mission reports out there somewhere?”

“To be released to the public in the distance future. . .” Natasha said. “Yes. Even some with redacted statements.”

“My respect for you grows, Sergeant Barnes. Who knew that innocent Steve Rogers was sleeping with a special operative? Did you snipe anybody?”

“Yes,” Bucky answered simply.

“Wow. . . that’s. . . terrifying.” Tony replied, though he smiled.

“Mmmhmm,” Clint said as the door opened and a tall man with a rangy body in a black suit with a popping red tie entered, followed by a lovely woman with long chestnut hair, wearing a crimson jacket and a man with bleached blond hair in a silver track suit carrying a bulky case that Bucky assumed concealed a camera.

“Jarvis,” Tony greeted. “Come meet our first test subject. Sarge, this is my right hand, Jarvis.”

Jarvis held a hand out to Bucky and, with a musical British accent, greeted, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sergeant Barnes. I apologize that Mr. Stark is an ass.”

“Right hand comment?" Bucky scoffed. "Naw. It’s fine.”

“We’ve chosen Wanda Maximoff to cover this procedure.”

“I see why you chose her,” Bucky whispered to Jarvis, grinning at the faint blush that graced the man’s cheeks.

The woman shook his hand. “I’m Wanda. My camera man is my brother, Pietro.” Her accent was lightly Slovak, lovely, soothing. “We’re from KNW New York. I just have a few questions before we get started.”

“As long as you’re fine if I don’t answer all of ‘em,” Bucky replied.

Wanda smiled. “I’ll want to know as much as I can about your military service as possible.”

“Some of it is top secret.”

“That. . . that’s very sexy,” Wanda said, pushing some of her chestnut curls behind her shoulder.

“Not if ya’d been there, ma’am.”

“Very well. What division did you belong to?”

“The 107th. Its disbanded now. The Howling Commandos, that’s what we called ourselves, are all outta the game. We’re all retired.”

“And. . . Did you lose your arm in combat?” Wanda asked, noting Bucky’s answers.

“I wish it were that interesting. I lost it to a drunk driver who ran a red light and hit me when I was on my motorcycle. . . about two and a half months ago.”

“Really?” Wanda asked. “Pietro, will you go film Mr. Stark removing the arm from the cabinet?”

Her brother nodded and moved away. “Where is the driver now?”

“Uh. . .” Bucky said, feeling stupid because he didn’t keep tabs on the kid.

Luckily, Natasha had and she had no problem speaking to Wanda. “He’s out of jail right now and has made a plea arrangement with the prosecutor’s office. He’s in rehab.”

“More like a day spa,” Clint scoffed.

“Barton,” Bucky warned.

“No, Barnes. That stupid, rich bastard almost killed you and he gets to stay in a cushy retreat where he just accepts that he can’t control his addiction? No. Excuse me. I can’t be okay with that.”

Clint had never showed this much anger. He’d joked about Bucky’s arm, had been humorous about this whole ordeal. His outburst was out of character. “Clint,” Natasha soothed.

Wanda was busy writing in a notebook.

“Later, Nat,” Clint said through clinched teeth, as he walked away to the couch in the lab, where he put his face in his hands.

“May I ask your friends’ names?”

“Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton.”

“Were you members of the same division?”

“Yes. And we’re business partners now.”

“Business?”

Bucky looked away from Clint, who sat on a leather couch with Natasha crouching in front of him, cupping his face in her hands, a gesture he’d never seen her do. “We co-own The Red Room. It’s a security firm. In Brooklyn.”

“It’s amazing. You’ve been through. . . war together and you’re still together in the civilian world. Still friends.”

“They’re family.” Bucky answered. It was that simple to him. Natasha and Clint were members of his family. They were necessary to him.

“That’s beautiful,” Wanda sighed.

“Again, ma’am. Not if ya’d been there. It was ugly most days.”

“You’re giving me ideas for another feature.” Wanda said, furiously making notes. “Are you still in contact with the rest of these Howling Commandos?”

“Yes,” Bucky said, thinking of the reunion Steve had arranged. 

“Why do you smile like that?”

“Just. . . thinkin’ about the last time I saw all of ‘em.”

“I will defiantly be doing that story. I hope you’ll be willing to speak to me.”

“Do you have enough stock footage of me and the arm?” Tony asked, miffed. “Because I’d like to get Sergeant Barnes into this arm and complete our adjustments.”

Jarvis placed an arm on Wanda’s shoulder and guided her away. “Will you need to do your interviews before or after Sergeant Barnes is fitted for his arm?”

“I can do them after. Pietro, record all of the fitting and test.”

“Whatever you say,” Pietro said, his accent thicker than his sister’s.

Bucky moved to the worktable and looked down at the arm. Tony had added a red star on the shoulder. “You changed it.”

“I did. I upgraded the metal plating,” Tony said and gave the star a hard nudge. “I’ve also installed a shut down switch for emergencies. Can’t have you choking Rogers out during-“

“Tony!” Pepper barked, aware that the camera was rolling the entire time.

“What?” Tony whined. Rolling his eyes, Tony continued, “The metal upgrade also allows you to take it in water, swimming, rain, shower sex, whatever. It’s low maintenance, so you should be okay for a while. I want to see you once a week for about a month so I can run some tests.”

“Of course,” Bucky agreed, a little wary of the arm. “Thanks for adding the shut down switch.”

“You were worried last week about how strong it was, which is why I adjusted and lowered the settings and added the shut down. Try not to worry, Sarge. I’ve done dozens of probabilities and I’ve accounted for as many problems as I can foresee. Unfortunately, I’m not perfect, despite what everyone else, especially Miss Potts, thinks, and can’t think of all of the issues that may arise, so be flexible and prepared.”

“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. It’s a new situation, but I can handle it.”

“You know, I actually believe that. Sit on your stool, please.”

Bucky sat on the stool he’d sat on during his first visit to the lab. Natasha slinked across the room like a jungle cat and pulled his bark-colored hair into a stubby tail at the back of his head. “Don’t be nervous, Barnes,” she ordered in a whisper. “This is a good thing.”

“I know it is.”

“You’ll be able to hug Rogers.”

“I’ll be able to hug you.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Barnes.”

Bucky grinned, looking at Clint while he talked to Wanda, still on his leather couch. “Is Barton gonna be all right?”

“Yeah. He’s been bottling it up. You’re not getting justice, and as he’s your family, he hurts for you, is angry for you. The PA didn't even try to get that guy, and refused to tell the victim, that’s you in case you didn’t know. As if you didn’t matter.”

“How did you find out?”

“I hacked three systems, which is ridiculous. The cop who arrested him filed an official protest to the plea bargain.”

“That was nice.”

“She’s pissed. He got pleaded down to two charges and will serve twenty-eight days in a plush rehabilitation clinic for the rich and famous.”

“I can see why Clint is pissed. Maybe. . . I shouldn’t tell Steve about this aspect of things.”

“You’re partners here, Barnes. He has the right to know what happened to the spoiled, rich, little shit who almost killed you, and you have an obligation to tell him.”

“You’re probably right,” Bucky sighed. He didn’t want Steve to worry about him. He didn’t want Steve to be as angry as Clint was. He didn’t want Steve to have any negative feelings in association with him.

“I’m always right, Barnes.”

“You won’t hear that from me.”

“You ready?” Tony asked.

Natasha moved away, silent as a cat.

“As ready as I’ll ever be. I’m about to be whole again.”

“Missing an arm doesn’t make you broken, Sarge. You’re still the person you were before you lost your arm. You’ll just be a. . . cyborg one now. Besides, Rogers’ll love you either way.”

“This isn’t about Steve. He’s a factor, but I’m doing this for me.”

“That’s what I want to hear.” Tony picked up the arm and slid it into place. This time, it fit seamlessly. It didn’t pinch or hurt. Tony’s modifications were perfect. “How does it feel?” He asked, securing the metal limb.

“Good.”

“Any pinching? Discomfort?”

“No.”

“Excellent.” Tony exclaimed, running a hand over the limb, checking for abnormalities. “Let’s test the system connection. Bend the elbow.”

Bucky did and the arm obeyed the order, bending with a whir of machinery.

“Holy shit!” Clint exclaimed. “That’s amazing.”

Tony snickered. “I’m assuming that’ll need to be edited out.”

He placed the bar in front of Bucky. “Grip the bar, Sarge.”

Bucky did so. This time, he didn’t destroy it. “I adjusted it so the strength is equal to that of your other arm. You’ll need to practice using it, so. . . I think you’re ready to take it home.”

“Are you sure?” Bucky asked. “I can leave it here for another few days, let you modify it some more.”

“I’ve played with it long enough. It’s your arm, Sarge. It’s time you had it.”

***

That night, when Steve entered the apartment, he saw Bucky setting the table with two hands.

One flesh. One metal.

It was magnificent, plated and gleaming with a brilliant scarlet star on the shoulder. It moved with whirs of machinery, but did so naturally. Steve couldn’t help but feel that Bucky won’t want or need him now that he was mobile and had this bionic limb.

He knew it would hurt when Bucky pulled away, but Steve would accept whatever Bucky wanted, even if that didn’t include Steve.

“It’s beautiful, Buck.” Steve said, with a smile.

Bucky grinned back as he limped to Steve and pulled him into his flesh and metal arms. “Been waitin’ so long to hold ya. To feel ya in m’arms.”

Steve held back the tears, but only just.

Chapter Text

Bucky’s return to work was, in a word, tedious. He would have preferred a fire fight after more than two months away. Even though his physical therapy was going perfectly and all of his doctors were pleased with his progress, Bucky didn’t feel like going out in the field. He wanted it, but something was holding him back. Something besides his injury.

Steve.

Bucky was concerned about Steve’s insecurities He still acted as if he was just waiting for Bucky to leave him. Just waiting to be alone again. That wasn’t happening. A week after getting his new arm, Steve still hadn’t fully accepted that Bucky was well and truly with him.

Steve never said anything, but he was tense, as if he was waiting for Bucky to dump him, to ask him to leave. Perhaps that’s why Steve still hadn’t given him an answer about moving in with him.

Bucky couldn’t blame Steve for feeling the way he did. He had to be patient, but firm. He had to make Steve believe that Bucky loved him, wanted to spend his life with him. He had to shower Steve with the adoration he felt, give him affection.

Reassurance.

Trust.

He had to show Steve that he trusted him. He didn’t want to tell Steve about the war, what he’d seen, what caused many of his nightmares. Bucky should have told him this already, considering a backfiring car had caused an unfortunate incident two nights ago. 

Steve had been gracious, had seen him through it.

But. . . Bucky had hurt Steve.

Steve had told him that it wasn’t his fault, but Bucky couldn’t believe that. He couldn’t stop blaming himself. His demons still haunted him, but there were fewer episodes when he was with Steve.

He was going to have to show Steve what he meant to him. 

He was going to have to woo Steve.

As he didn’t have a client or consult at the moment, Bucky pulled out his phone. It was Steve’s office day, and, by now, he was finished visiting with his patients and would be at his desk, updating his charts, and filing paperwork. Bucky sent Steve a quick text to let him know Bucky was thinking of him.

 

So bored. -BB 2:48 pm

 

I’m sorry to hear that. What can I do? -SR. 2:49 pm

 

Tell me what you’re wearing. -BB 2:50 pm

 

Are you trying to initiate something here? -SR 2:50 pm

 

Always, baby. -BB 2:51 pm

 

You know what I’m wearing. You were there when I dressed this morning. -SR 2:52 pm

 

Yeah. The first time. You were dressed too seductively. I had no choice but to take those clothes off. -BB 2:52 pm

 

I don’t understand how my tie was seductive. -SR 2:53 pm

 

Because you were in it. Are you wearing it now? -BB 2:54 pm

 

You know I am. -SR 2:54 pm

 

MMM. I like thinking about you in that tie. Send me a pic. -BB 2:55 pm

 

You want me to send a pic of myself in a tie? -SR 2:56 pm

 

Of course. C’mon, baby. I’m so bored. I need it. -BB 2:57 pm

 

Fine. -SR 2:58 pm

 

The text was accompanied by a picture of Steve’s face and chest, the offending sapphire colored tied prominent against the starched white shirt.

 

That’s what I like to see. -BB 3:03 pm

 

You’re sick sometimes. -SR 3:04 pm

 

All the time, baby. Now take off your shirt. -BB 3:05 pm

 

You saw me naked this morning. -SR 3:05 pm

 

I could see you naked all day, every day for the rest of my life and it wouldn’t be enough. -BB 3:06 pm

 

That’s a lot of nudity. -SR 3:07 pm

 

Not enough. Now, show some skin, you prude. -BB 3:08 pm

 

I’m in my office, Bucky. -SR 3:09 pm

 

So? -BB 3:09 pm

 

Steve sent a picture of his bare calf. Bucky laughed aloud.

 

Oh, baby. I’m gonna have you tonight. -BB 3:12 pm

 

If I’d known you were so easily turned on, I would’ve taken pictures of my calves years ago. -SR 3:13 pm

 

And I would have banged the hell outta you. I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like with your little body. -BB 3:14 pm

 

Disappointing, so I’m told. -SR 3:15 pm

 

I very much doubt that. Not the way I remember it. I had wet dreams remembering that body. Now, I have to wake you up or tear your clothes off. -BB 3:16 pm

 

You’re pretty easy to satisfy. -SR 3:17 pm

 

Only by you, babydoll. -BB 3:18 pm

 

“Are you going to text him all day?” Natasha asked form the doorway to his office.

“How did you know I was texting Steve?”

“You get this big dopey grin on your face when you talk to or about him. Or when you think about him. Or when someone mentions him. You’re a dope in love.”

“Jealous?”

“Not at all, as I have a dignified love.”

“Clint is not dignified.”

“No. No he isn’t. He’s a huge dork, but he’s my huge dork.”

Seeing the way that Natasha smiled, Bucky knew what his face must have looked like.

“How are things? With Steve?”

Bucky stood, walking stiffly to the small bar and the little refrigerator housed there, and pulled out a bottle of water. Twisting the cap off, he replied, “He avoids things. He’s trying to keep things light. I think he’s still afraid I’m gonna change m’mind, like I’m just waitin’ ’til I’m back on my feet completely to get rid of ‘im.”

“If he’d seen the way you pined for him, he wouldn’t even question you. You were so pitiful. I had a bullet. Every time you got a letter or video chat, I thought about using it. It had your name on it. Really. Clint wrote it on there in marker. . . Just in case we needed to put you out of our misery.”

“I wasn’t that bad.”

“It was horrible. You were like a teenaged girl with a crush, but then, that’s offensive to teenage girls. Clint and Dum Dum looked around for a glittery pink diary.”

“No they didn’t.”

Clint breezed into Bucky’s office and took the bottle out of Bucky’s hand, chugging it. “Yeah we did. Found one, too. Dum Dum bought it but a week later, you were gone, so we couldn’t leave it in your bunk. He might still have it.”

“Well, I’m sorry that I got captured and ruined your joke.”

“You should be,” Clint complained. “It was hilarious. Anyway, I brought the crisis and negotiation contract with the NYPD. You each need to sign it so I can get it back to them.”

Bucky took the pen from Clint and scrawled his name in the spot left for him.

“You look like you need a beer.”

“A couple. But I’m takin’ my woman out to dinner tonight and she’ll keep me to one.”

Grinning, Bucky picked up his phone when it pinged, and the smile broadened when he saw the photo of Steve’s bare chest with the text.

 

Under protest, but I gotta keep you interested. -SR 3:22 pm

 

I’m setting this as my contact photo. We both know I’m interested. Very interested. -BB 3:23 pm

 

What time is your appointment with Banner? -SR 3:25 pm

 

Changed the subject. Steve was trying to keep things light. He didn’t want to talk about possible futures. He was going to be disappointed. Bucky would spend his life with Steve, whether he realized it now or not.

He wasn’t going to let Steve go. Ever. 

 

4:00. I’m about to leave the office. You’ll beat me home. I’ll bring dinner. Feel free to be naked. -BB 3:26 pm

 

Just like a man. Always thinking with your dick. -SR 3:27 pm

 

Mostly about your dick. -BB 3:26 pm

 

Har. -SR 3:27 pm

 

Nat’s glaring at me so I’d better get to it. I’ll see you tonight. I love you, Stevie. -BB 3:28 pm

 

I love you too, Buck. -SR 3:28 pm

 

***

Sitting in his usual plush armchair across from Dr. Banner in the comforting office, Bucky wiped his right hand on his khaki pants (Bucky didn’t wear suits because he thought he looked weird). Dr. Banner blinked at him and asked, “How have things been.”

“A little strained. . . I. . . I tackled Steve two days ago.”

“Did you have a flashback?”

Bucky nodded. “A. . . a car backfired and I just reacted.”

“Your first instinct was to protect him.”

“I dunno,” Bucky sighed. “I think I just wanted to get out of the line of fire. Steve just got in the way.”

“I don’t believe that. You heard what could have been a gunshot and it triggered you. Why don’t you tell me exactly what happened?” 

So Bucky told him.

They’d been binge watching “Firefly.” The violence and gunshots hadn’t affected Bucky at all, in fact, he’d enjoyed the show (Steve was a fan, having watched it with his mother when it first aired). The popcorn had run out, so Bucky had given Steve his puppy dog look until he’d given in.

“Do ya want another beer, too?”

“Yeah, baby. That’d be great,” Bucky had replied, his bare feet braced on the coffee table. “You’re so good to me.”

“And don’t you forget it.”

Steve had meant it as a joke, but Bucky wouldn’t forget how wonderful Steve was. How much he loved him; who he’d been, who he was, who he was going to be. Bucky loved everything about Steve.

He just had to make Steve believe it.

As Steve had padded toward the kitchen, a car on the street outside of the open terrace door backfired, and Bucky had sprung into action. He hadn’t thought, just acted. Protect. Save Steve.

Steve had gasped as Bucky’s mismatched arms had wrapped around him and Bucky’s weight had taken him down. He grunted when the back of his head bounced on the hardwood floor.

Bucky had ben remembering danger.

Explosions

Bullets.

The dead.

Soldiers.

Insurgents.

Innocents. Old men. Women. Children.

“. . . back to me,” he had heard.

Deep voice. Beautiful. Home.

Bucky’s blue-gray eyes had cleared. Steve’s big hands had cupped his cheeks while he whispered soothingly and allowed Tucker to lick his face.

“C’mon, sweetheart. I’m here. You’re safe, my love.”

Bucky’s flesh hand had curled around Steve’s wrist. “M’okay, Stevie.”

Bucky had tried to stand, but Steve had wrapped his arms tight around Bucky’s waist, and had buried his face in Bucky’s throat, keeping him on the ground with him.

“Is Steve okay?” Dr. Banner asked when the story was complete.

“Yeah. He has a knot on the back of his head. He. . . He comforted me. He made sure I was okay. He was hurt and I was the priority.”

“Does it bother you that Steve thinks of you as important?”

“No. I want to be important to Steve. I want him to figure out that I’m in this for the long haul, that I love him.”

“So, you need to show him, Sergeant. Patience is your friend in this situation. Steve is understandably afraid to lose you again.”

Bucky nodded. “That’s not somethin’ he’ll ever have to worry about. I love Steve more than anything. I’ve always loved ‘im. I won’t be without ‘im again. I can’t survive it. Not again.”

***

Steve wasn’t naked when Bucky got home. He would have been disappointed if not for the fact that Steve was wearing the tie he’d had on all day.

After setting the bags of Chinese take-out on the bar in the kitchen, Bucky tugged Steve against him and nibbled at Steve’s throat. “If I don’t get you inside me soon, I may actually die.”

Steve released a shuddering breath. “I’m not. . .”

Bucky pulled back. “You’re not gonna give me what I want?”

“I’ll give you anything, Buck. Anything you want is yours.”

“Good,” Bucky said, gripping the sapphire tie. “I want you to make love to me. I want you to fill me until I’m so full of you that you’re part of me.”

Steve carded the fingers of both hands into Bucky’s dark chocolate hair, and tipped Bucky’s face up to look into his eyes. “You’re the best part of me, Buck.” Steve lowered his mouth to the vulnerable curve of Bucky’s neck.

With indecent slowness, Steve’s hand slid from Bucky’s long, dark hair to the curve of his rear, fondling it gently.

“You’re mine, Stevie. Just as I’m yours.”

Steve snickered. “’Til the end of the line.”

“You know it, babydoll.”

Taking Steve’s hand, Bucky led him into the bedroom, to the bed where they’d made love and slept in each other’s arms for the last ten weeks, where Bucky wanted to keep Steve forever.

Bucky unknotted Steve’s tie and deliberately slid the buttons of his shirt through the holes, slowly revealing Steve’s porcelain skin over a solid chest. “You’re so beautiful,” Bucky said, running his flesh hand down Steve’s taut stomach.

After toeing off his shoes and shrugging out of his shirt, Bucky said, “It’s a crime for you to wear clothes, to cover all this.”

“I think my patients would take exception to that.”

“I don’t think so, baby,” Bucky said with a smirk, and kissed the expanse of flesh before him. Steve quivered beneath his lips and he sighed.

Steve felt uncommonly good and Bucky pulled him closer, his arms wrapping around Steve. Steve’s body against his, his long, delicious kisses, flooded Bucky with sensation.

When Bucky molded himself against Steve, almost urgently, desperately, Steve turned and pressed Bucky into the mattress. “I need you,” Bucky complained.

“And you’ll have me, just the way you want, sweetheart. But. . . I think I need to play with ya for a while first. Punishment for your texts this afternoon.”

“Fuck.”

Steve nipped Bucky’s right shoulder hard. “Language.”

“You can’t expect me to watch my mouth here, Stevie.”

“We’ll see.”

Steve pinned Bucky in place by his hips. Despite Bucky’s trying to control this experience, Steve took over, took him over. Steve leaned forward and pressed his mouth against Bucky’s pucker in a searching kiss. Bucky cried out and moaned with each flick of Steve’s tongue. The desire Bucky felt became too much, so he clutched Steve’s head hard and close. Steve took Bucky’s dissimilar wrists and pinned them to his sides, pinned them to the mattress.

Held in his grip, spread out, Bucky breathed in low cries as Steve nibbled and licked gently into the softness, and the sensation built in Bucky, his inner muscles clenching.

Then Steve was gone.

Bucky hissed out a disappointed breath. Even when he’d been captive, he hadn’t been this weak, desperate.

Steve was heavily aroused. He’d released Bucky’s hands when he sat up and Bucky touched him in wonder, sitting up with his legs spread around them. Steve went still, groaning deep in his throat. “I. . . I can’t, Buck. . . m’too close.”

He eased Bucky down to the bed and hovered over him, his mouth on Bucky’s chest, one thigh nudging Bucky’s thighs apart. Bucky wrapped his mismatched arms around Steve. His mouth found Bucky’s and Bucky went pliant, moaning, and all Steve’s.

Steve delayed, teased, and tormented Bucky’s flesh with two lubricated fingers, his lips never leaving Bucky’s. Silently, Bucky begged, his hips rocking, rocking, his hands fisting and dragging down the skin of Steve’s back.

After sliding a condom on, Steve eased into Bucky in a deep, thick slide. Bucky clutched his shoulders, arching, exposing the column of his throat.

“God, Buck,” Steve whispered, quivering when he was fully seated inside Bucky.

His lips caught Bucky’s as he gave a long, slow thrust. He was sensitive to Bucky’s every breath and heartbeat while he searched for that bundle of nerves where Bucky’s pleasure was centered. When he found it, Bucky cried out helplessly.

“You feel so good, Buck.”

“So. . . good. . . Stevie. Christ.”

Bucky gripped Steve’s back, his hips lifting into Steve’s weight. Steve was solid, heavy, impaling. Delicious. Steve held Bucky’s hips, forcing him to accept his pace and Bucky relaxed into the pleasure. Bucky’s head pillowed on Steve’s arm and Steve’s mouth wondered over his throat.

Steve thrust tirelessly, in and out, the friction sweet as his damp stomach trapped Bucky’s cock between them, giving Bucky everything he wanted. Made him helpless. All at once, Bucky began to fragment, coming hard in silky jolts, his ankles locked around Steve’s hips. Steve rode out the spasms then moved in a few final thrusts as he found his own release.

Burying his face against Bucky’s throat, Steve caught his breath, holding Bucky tight as he rolled off of him.

“You’re unbelievable, Steve.”

“I hope that’s a compliment.”

“Trust me, baby. It is.”

His fingers combing though Bucky’s soft hair, Steve said, “You’re the love of my life.”

Bucky raised his head and looked down at Steve, into his trusting blue eyes. “I’m alive because of you, Stevie. You’ve kept me alive. Love for you kept me alive. You’re all I need. Ever.”

And it was true. Bucky needed food, water, shelter to survive. He needed Steve to live.

 

Chapter Text

 

Saturday morning, Bucky held Steve tight against him when the alarm went off shrilly. Groaning, Bucky turned it off and buried his face in the juncture between Steve’s neck and shoulder. He didn’t want to leave this warmth. This love. This peace.

“I’ve gotta get up, sweetheart. I’m on call today.”

“Not for another couple of hours,” Bucky argued.

“I have to wash my scrubs.”

“Go throw ‘em in the washer and come back,” Bucky ordered. Then, inspired, Bucky said, “I got a present for ya.”

Steve sat up, sending Bucky a squinty glare. “What is it?”

“You’ll see when you come back.”

“You’re dangling that in front of me to make sure I come back. It wasn’t fair.”

“I know how curious you can be.”

“Fine. Give me ten minutes.”

“Hurry back, baby.”

Bucky scrambled from the bed, swearing as his still healing ankle popped. He limped to his dresser and, at the bottom of his socks and underwear drawer, found the long, rectangular box, and took it to the bed. He opened the box and pulled out the toy. It was clear, stretchy plastic, and he had a plan for it.

After securing his metal arm and testing the connection (he was getting really good with it), Bucky sat on the bed and held the toy. 

“Okay,” Steve called, entering the bedroom. “What. . .” seeing the toy in Bucky’s hand, he asked. “Is that. . .” 

“It’s called a fleshlight, baby.” Bucky said. “Take your boxers off and c’mere. I wanna try somethin’.”

Astonished, Steve obeyed.

Setting the toy aside, Bucky took Steve into his arms, and kissed his lips. “You’re gonna be on a twenty-four hour call rotation, baby. I’m gonna miss havin’ ya here.”

“It’s one day, Buck,” Steve admonished.

“Yeah. I know. That’s so long. God forbid you go to one of those three day conferences.”

“Next month.”

“I need a second fleshlight,” Bucky groaned.

Laughing, Steve pressed his lips to Bucky’s. “You’ll get through it.”

Bucky gripped Steve’s hair with his medal hand and held the globe of one of Steve’s ass cheeks tightly in the flesh one. He brought his lips to Steve’s and kissed him deep and hungry. His flesh hand urged Steve closer, forcing him to spread his legs around Bucky and to sit in his lap. Steve rubbed against Bucky searching for friction, his nerves screaming.

“Yes, Bucky. Yes,” Steve sobbed, his head falling back.

Spreading his legs, Bucky raised his knees to hold Steve’s hips. After squeezing some lube into the opening of the fleshlight, Bucky lowered it onto Steve’s erect cock. Hands braced on the bed, Steve arched his back and let out a deep breath.

“Shit, Stevie. You’re so beautiful.”

Steve was panting, head thrown back as the pleasure washed over him. While Steve was distracted, gasping with each stroke, Bucky slid the stretchy rubber over his own cock, adding an element of warmth to the toy.

Feeling Bucky’s flesh against him inside the transparent toy, Steve cried out and looked down at the display. Steve had never used toys in the bedroom before (his sexual experience was limited after all), and he realized that he had been deprived. Seeing Bucky’s erection against his, the toy wrapped around both of them, Steve felt the heat spread through him. It was beautiful.

It was too much for Steve. Unable to hold himself up anymore, Steve fell onto his back, panting and groaning in turns as Bucky sped up the strokes, adding thrusts of his hips.

“Bucky. . . Buck. . . I’m gonna-“

“Me, too, baby. Come for me.”

Steve’s release triggered Bucky’s, their seeds mixing in the end of the toy. Steve’s chest rose and fell as he came down from the high of his orgasm. Bucky ran his flesh hand through Steve’s gold hair, calming his Steve panted from the release.

“So beautiful.”

“You’re. . . evil.”

“You love me.”

“More. . . than. . . anything.”

Setting the toy carefully aside to be washed, Bucky moved over Steve to kiss him. “I love ya, too, Stevie. You’re the best thing that has ever happened to me. I’m gonna spend my life showin’ ya.”

Steve kissed Bucky long and deep. “Take a shower with me. I have to go to work soon.”

“Quit. We’ll move to an island with drinks with those tiny umbrellas.”

“You’d just use the opportunity to take out pirates. Or become one.”

“True,” Bucky laughed.

“C’mon, sweetheart. I’ll let ya wash my back.”

“Highlight of my day.”

***

Bucky quickly discovered that he hated Steve’s being on call. Steve’s emergency rotation was tedious. He had texted when he could and Bucky was thankful for that. He was just so bored. Steve wasn’t helping.

 

You should get a hobby. I still paint. I also weave and crochet. -SR 10:20 am

 

Really? I haven't seen any of that. -BB 10:21 am

 

My supplies are at my apartment. -SR 10:22 am

 

You should bring some stuff here. -BB 10:23 am

 

Perhaps. -SR 10:23 am

 

I’m sorry. I have to go. Text you later. -SR 10:24 am

 

Sighing, Bucky threw his head back against the couch. Tucker padded over and laid his chin on Bucky’s lap. His whiskey colored eyes were sympathetic as they met Bucky’s.

“It’s just one night, buddy. I can handle that.”

Tucker groaned as he huffed out a breath.

“Yeah,” Bucky said, as if agreeing with the dog. He scratched behind one floppy ear, saying, “I miss ‘im, too, buddy.”

Bucky felt stupid. Here he was, a grown ass man, pining for his lover. He’d just gotten. . . used to Steve being there. Gotten used to holding Steve while they watched TV, to joking with him while they ate together, to talking about their days. He’d gotten used to Steve. It was idiot to need someone this much. He wasn’t codependent, but he felt like it just then. Sitting on the couch wanting Steve with them. The guy had a job! So did Bucky. What was wrong with him!

Whether Steve wanted to or not, he had become part of Bucky’s life. He’d made a place for himself in Bucky’s life, Bucky’s heart.

At the sound of keys in his lock, Bucky stood and crossed his arms. Natasha breezed in, followed by Clint, who carried pizza boxes. “What’re you doing here? And how did ya get pizza at ten in the mornin’?”

“I have many connections, Barnes,” Natasha said. Bucky didn’t doubt her.

“We figured you were lonely, with your boyfriend at work and all,” Clint said, putting the boxes on the dining room table.

“Are ya gonna tuck me in, too?”

“Only if you want me to, but. . . not the same way Doc Rogers does,” Clint joked

“Stop flirting, you two,” Natasha said. “We wanted to keep you company. It’s been a while since we had a movie/police scanner night.”

Bucky laughed. “It has. You’re right, we should.” Padding unevenly into the kitchen in his walking boot (which he was officially sick of), Bucky got plates and gave them to Clint. “I’ve got wine, if you don’t want beer.”

“It’s ten in the morning,” Natasha said. 

“Closer to eleven,” Clint corrected.

“Oh, that makes it all better.”

“So,” Clint asked, mouth full of pizza. “Is ‘e movin’ in?”

Bucky sighed. “I have no idea. He hasn’t said. I think he’s avoiding givin’ me an answer. He’s . . . keepin’ things as light as he can. He loves me, tells me so all the time, shows me. I think I’m finally getting through to him. I’m bein’ patient. I’m tryin’ to, anyway.”

“You’re doing great, Barnes. You just need to reassure him. Show him that you’re not going anywhere. He’s afraid to lose you again,” Natasha assured.

“I know,” Bucky said, sliding a slice of supreme onto his plate. “Ain’t gonna happen.”

Natasha and Clint exchanged a look behind Bucky’s back. “What movie are we watching?” Clint asked, filling his plate with pizza while holding another piece between his lips.

***

Halfway through his call rotation, Steve sat at a table in the cafeteria, using his fork to push the questionable meatloaf and vegetable melody around the hard plastic plate. He wondered what Bucky and Tucker were doing. He knew that Natasha and Clint were there because Bucky had texted him to tell him about some movie and police scanner thing they used to do all the time. They’d showed up while Steve was performing an emergency appendectomy, and they’d be spending the night at the apartment. It was tradition. Steve couldn’t really say anything since it wasn’t his apartment, and he hadn’t really answered Bucky’s question about moving in.

Steve hadn’t thought that it was possible, but he felt so settled with Bucky. He was still afraid that Bucky would change his mind and want their relationship to be. . .  platonic but. . . he wasn’t actively expecting it. He kept finding himself thinking that this was his life. He had Bucky, even if he was afraid he’d lose him again.

It was progress.

“Hey,” Sam Wilson said, sliding into the seat across from him.

“Hi. What are you doin’ here? You’re not on the roll today.”

“Naw. Hot new paramedic.”

“You’re a dog, Wilson.”

He grinned at Steve. “So, how are things with the one-armed bandit?”

“You should call him that to his face.”

“Don’t have a death wish, thanks. Seriously, though. How are you?” 

Steve sighed. “We’re okay, I guess. I just. . . I worry that he’s looking for the person I used to be, not who I am now.”

“So you think he’s stuck in the past?”

“I dunno,” Steve said. “I loved him then. I love who he’s become. I just worry that he doesn’t have a distinction in his mind. I’ve changed. Does he see that? Or am I still that skinny kid from Brooklyn?”

"Steve,” Sam said, using Steve’s spoon to take a bite of his jello. “Sugar free? Really? You’ll always be a kid from Brooklyn. You really have to talk to Bucky about this. He needs to know how you feel. You’re part of a couple, Steve. Couples take care of each other. That includes your emotional needs. You need to feel secure in your relationship. Bucky can’t see to those needs if you don’t tell him.”

“When did you become a therapist?”

“I have many talents.”

Steve set his fork on his tray. “What do I do if Bucky decides I’m not what he wants? What if I’m not worth it? What if he doesn’t love who I am now?”

“First,” Sam said. “He’s not gonna do that. Even if things don’t work out, you’ll get through it. I’ve never known anyone as strong as you. You don’t have to worry about that. Bucky loves you.”

“He always says so. I don’t think it’s stupid for me to worry.”

“It’s not. Love is scary. But yours is returned. So quit bein’ an idiot.”

Steve knew that. He also knew that he would never get over losing Bucky. Not again.

“Ooh! Hot paramedic,” Sam said, standing and swiping Steve’s dinner roll. “Later.”

Steve laughed as Sam hot-footed it to the food line, where an exceedingly pretty woman with blond hair and dark brown eyes, her tight body in the paramedic’s jumpsuit emblazoned with the hospital’s logo placed a plate on her tray.

His phone jingled with a text message.

 

Incoming. Gang shooting. -BB 9:43 pm

 

Thanks for the heads up. -SR 9:44 pm

 

Just thought you’d like to know. -BB 9:45 pm

 

It gives me a chance to prep. I really wish I were at home with you and Tucker, though.  —SR 9:46 pm

 

When his pager beeped, Steve sighed, and told Bucky that he had to go and that he loved him, then rushed to the locker room. He grabbed his American flag surgical cap from his locker and covered his hair.

“Incoming, Doc Rogers?” one of the nurses, Beatrice, asked as he turned on the water in the huge sink and opened the packaged scrub brush.

“Gang shooting,” Steve said with a nod. “My boyfriend,” (and that was such a high school term) “and his friends are having a police scanner party.”

“That’s not weird at all.”

“Sarcasm isn’t lost on me, Beatrice,” Steve said, scrubbing his hands under the scalding water. “I don’t judge, considering what they do for a living.”

“Is he a cop?”

“No. He’s a security expert. He is on the crisis and riot teams for the cops, though.”

“That’s so hot.”

Grinning, Steve rinsed off the antibacterial soap and tossed the scrub brush into the trash. “Yeah. He’s very hot.”

“I’m so jealous. I can’t even get a decent second date. How’d you meet?”

“We were best friends in school. Met ‘im in kindergarten. Fell outta touch while he was in the Army and I was in college. Then he got hit by a drunk driver and i performed surgery on ‘im.”

“That’s so romantic.”

“Oh, yeah. Amputating his arm was the real clincher.”

“You amputated his arm and he’s still dating you?” Beatrice asked incredulously. “Hold on to that one, Doc Rogers.”

“As long as I can,” he said, entering the operating room.

“Patient in route.” Riley said, setting out Steve’s tools. “Secondary surgeon caught in traffic.”

Beatrice helped Steve into his gloves as the anesthesiologist, Brian, entered. 

“Patient status?” Steve asked.

“On site. No tests run yet,” Riley answered while the two other nurses prepared the imaging, which would be used by the radiologist when she arrived, and Steve’s surgical equipment. “Paramedics set main line, we’ll add secondary line in the room. Two gunshot wounds, one chest, one abdomen.”

Steve nodded. “Inform the ER that the OR is prepped and to bring the patient back. What are the stats?”

“Sixteen year old male. Good health. Six feet tall, 165 pounds. Dropping BP. Flatlined in the ambulance.”

“Sixteen? Bystander?”

“Not indicated.”

“Shit,” Steve whispered.

You know curse words?” Brian asked. “Mr. Rogers swears?”

“Not often,” Steve defended. “When the occasion calls for it.” Mr. Rogers. . . If they only knew. . .

The patient was wheeled in, his smooth, semisweet chocolate colored skin ashen beneath the tube attached to oxygen. “Brian,” Steve said. “Go ahead and administer anesthetics. Riley, call for the imaging team. We need to know what we’re dealing with here.”

He looked over the boy while Riley accepted the chart from the ER nurses who brought him in. “Anything we don’t already know?”

“Suspected collapsed lung. Heart may have been nicked. We’ll know more when the imaging team gets here.”

“Given the damage I see,” Steve said as Beatrice rubbed chlorhexidine over the boy’s chest and stomach while one of the other nurses set a secondary IV in his leg, “I can believe it. What’s his name?”

Riley looked down at the chart. “Charles. Charles Isaiah Jackson.”

Steve nodded. “Okay. Let’s get-“

A series of indistinct popping sounds stopped all movement in the operating room.

“Were those. . .” Brian began.

“Gun shots,” Steve finished.

The doors to the OR opened, and Steve stared down the long barrel of a hand gun nearly the size of the boy holding it.

***

“How crappy is it that a gang shooting that lasted all of three minutes is the most exciting thing to happen on a Saturday night,” Clint complained.

“So, it’s a slow night for crime. That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Natasha said.

“Defiantly not a bad thing,” Bucky agreed as the police scanner cracked.

A frantic voice came over the scanner. “Shots fired. Shots fired. Officers down.”

When the officer calling in the downed officers spouted the name of the hospital where the shots were fired, Bucky shoved to his feet, ignoring the twinge of pain in his still healing ankle. “Steve,” he whispered, snatching his phone from the coffee table to call Steve.

He didn’t answer.

“Answer me. . . YOU ANSWER ME!”

He called again.

Still no answer.

Clint’s phone rang.

“Barton?” he answered.

His eyes rose to meet Bucky’s. “How many hostages?” Clint asked, pulling out his crisis notepad, the one he never left home without. “Names of hostages?” Clint scribbled then paused, glanced back at Bucky and asked quietly, “You sure?”

Clint wrote one last name and asked, “Demands?” A pause. “Okay. Is the negotiator in house?” Another pause. “HT name?”

Natasha pulled her boots on over her jeans.

“Okay. We’re on our way.”

“Get your gear, Barnes.”

“Tell me quickly.”

“One of the bangers from tonight. . . Tyress Jackson. . . His sixteen year old brother was shot-“

“I said quickly, Barton,” Bucky scolded.

Clint sighed. “Steve and four others were prepping him for surgery, and Tyress came into the hospital. He shot a security guard, two cops, and a paramedic, and broke into the operating room. He’s taken Steve and the others hostage. He told the FR that if his brother dies, he’ll kill the surgical team.”

“The hell he will,” Bucky growled, striding away to get his gear.

Nobody was taking Steve from him. Not now. Not ever.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

In the doctor’s locker room, Bucky tossed his walking boot on the ground and laced up his shit kickers. He looked up at the locker across from him, where he had purposely sat. S. Rogers. Had Steve sat here after finishing surgery? Had he sat here thinking before he cut someone open? Had Steve sat here after losing a patient? After saving one? He’d get Steve out. Standing, Bucky touched the placket with Steve’s name on it breathing through the fear, then pulled his hair back into a short tail, getting it out of his face.

“We’re gonna get him out, Bucky,” Clint said.

Bucky looked at his friend and partner. “Yeah. We are. I ain’t losin’ ‘im. Not like this.” Not ever. 

The negotiator was on site, waiting at a nurse’s station outside of the operating room while some technicians patched into the OR’s communications system. Bucky, Clint, and Natasha arrived at the nurse’s station. Being so close to Steve, knowing that he was in the operating room, in danger, put Bucky on edge. He itched to move. He needed to storm the room, get Steve, and swoop him out of there and back home where he could keep Steve within arms reach and safe.

“Status?” Natasha asked.

The negotiator, an efficient looking woman with long, medium brown hair pulled back from a stunning, pale face, glanced at her. “Are you the crisis team?”

“Yes.”

“Good. The first responder, an officer already on site due to the gang violence this evening, called into the operating room and got the information you’ve already been given. HT’s name is Tyress Jackson, he goes by T-Bone. His brother was wounded in tonight’s shooting and T-Bone broke in when he heard where Charles was. He arrived shortly after the ambulance. Charles had just gotten into the operating room when Tyress arrived. He shot two officers, both of whom have survived and a security guard, who is in surgery right now. An off duty surgeon was in the on site, apparently in the cafeteria flirting. Tyress wasn’t present at tonight’s festivities. He has two hand-guns that we’re aware of, we’ll know more once we get eyes and ears in the room.”

“Has he hurt any of the hostages?” Bucky asked, his palm sweating, his stomach jumping. 

“As of an hour ago, no. HT stopped answering the phone. He doesn’t expect to get out of this. He isn’t a normal hostage taker. He doesn’t want anything material, and I believe that he’ll kill the hostages if his brother dies.”

“What are the boy’s odds?” Natasha asked.

“Low. Very low.”

“Fuck,” Bucky growled turning away to catch his breath. Clint rubbed Bucky’s back. “We gotta get ‘im out.”

“We will. We need an opening. You know how this works. Steve’s smart, and he’s good. He’ll give that kid his best.”

“Comm’s up,” the tech called.

The negotiator, who introduced herself as Maria Hill, ordered, “Patch me in.”

The tech nodded and went to work on the communications system. Maria opened a notebook as the sounds of beeping and a man reading vitals aloud, and low murmurs. A deep voice ordered, “Suction.”

The knot around Bucky’s heart loosened. Steve was alive. He was alive and working not only to stay that way, but to keep a sixteen year old banger that way.

“T-Bone,” Maria said softly.

“I told you,” a young voice said. “I got nothin’ ta say. You know I ain’t gonna come out.”

“I just want to check on everyone. I need to know if anyone is injured in there.”

“Nobody’s hurt,” T-Bone replied. “Zig Zag lives, nobody’ll be.”

“How’s the doctor?” Maria asked, reading a note that Clint shoved under her nose.

“Fine.” 

“I’d like to hear that from him, T-Bone,” Maria said. “I’d like to hear his patient’s status.”

“Go ahead, Doc,” T-Bone ordered.

“BP’s dropping,” Steve responded efficiently. “Respiratory is strained. Collapsed lung. Heart rate is dropping. I need imaging, but our friend here with the gun won’t allow it, so I’m goin’ in blind.” 

Steve was such a snarky little shit. Bucky loved it. As long as it didn’t get him killed.

“T-Bone, will you allow us to send in the imaging team to help Dr. Rogers work on your brother?”

“So you can send in a cop? No. I’ve seen the movies.” This asshole seemed to want to kill Steve and the others since he wasn’t allowing anyone in to help his brother. Granted, Bucky would go in with the imaging team, so he had that much right. But Bucky wasn’t letting that dick take Steve away from him. He’d put a knife in the bastard’s throat.

Bucky might be a bit violent when it came to Steve.

“T-Bone, Dr. Rogers needs help. Zig Zag may die.”

“Then I guess Dr. Rogers would die. I don’t wanna talk to you right now.”

Hearing his agitation, Maria shut down her end of the communications, but kept his side open, so they could hear the operating room. Bucky looked at Clint. “Get what you can.”

Clint nodded and strode away.

“He’s been working on that kid for hours, Nat,” Bucky said. He was worried that Steve was too tired, that Steve could lose the kid because he was exhausted. Steve needed help.

Bucky listened to Steve give orders, listened to him work. When he heard the ping of a bullet being dropped into a metal bowl, Bucky breathed a little easier. “Steve doesn’t think he’ll make it. He didn't say it, but. . . I could hear it in his voice. He expects that boy to die. He expects to die.”

“We’re not going to let that happen,” Natasha said soothingly.

Frantic beeping came from the operating room.

“What’s that?” Bucky demanded.

“Flatline,” one of the nurses said.

“Get the paddles,” Steve ordered. “Crash cart! Charge to 250. Brian, prep twenty-five of adrenaline.”

Bucky was rooted to the spot, his stomach tight. His muscles bunched, prepared for action. He could barely breathe. Natasha gripped his leather clad shoulder tight.

“Get those eyes up,” Natasha ordered, her eyes never leaving Bucky’s taut face.

“Clear,” Steve ordered. His voice was calm, as if his life didn’t depend on the boy’s survival as if he wouldn’t die if he didn’t bring the boy back.

“Charge to 300.”

“You fucker,” Bucky heard T-Bone shout. “You bring ‘im back.”

“Eyes are up.”

Bucky shoved the tech out of the way, not caring that the man stumbled, to see a very young man, twenty at most, in a hunter green hoodie jab Steve in the back with a large hand gun. He clinched his teeth and took in the room. The span, the people, the distance form the door to the HT, the distance from the door to Steve.

“Clutch piece in the kangaroo pocket, Natasha observed, as Steve shocked the child on the operating table.

No change.

“Charge 350,” Steve ordered as if there wasn’t a pistol jammed into his back, as if the pistol wouldn’t put a softball sized hole in Steve before Bucky could get to him.

“Small caliber,” Bucky said, looking over the hostage taker. “Nothin’ like that Deagle.”

Natasha agreed with a single nod. Steve’s call of, “Clear,” was met with another jolt and a small, distinct beep.

“He’s back,” One of the nurses said.

“Okay,” Steve replied. “How long was the flatline?”

“Under four, Doctor.”

“Low probability for brain damage,” another nurse said.

Steve nodded and, annoyed, turned to the boy. “Son, you need to stop pokin’ me with that toy and take two steps back.”

To Bucky’s surprise, the boy obeyed, but kept his weapon trained on Steve.

Maria called back into the room to check on them. Bucky kept his eyes on Steve and his smooth, practiced movements.

“Is everything all right in there?”

“Zig Zag’s still alive. We good,” T-Bone answered.

“Do you need anything? Food?”

“No food in the OR,” Steve barked irritably. 

Bucky smiled at that. Yep. He’s a little shit. But Bucky loved him. More than anything. Tucker, in his red vest, nudged Bucky as if to keep him grounded. Bucky scratched the lab under the chin and patted his back. Bucky liked to keep Tucker with him when he was on a mission, but when things looked dangerous, Tucker stayed behind. The dog was well trained, but he was a therapy dog, not a combat dog. 

“What about you, T-Bone? Is there anything you need? Anything I can get you?”

“I wanna know who shot Zig Zag. Heard it was a cop.”

“I doubt that,” Steve said boldly. “These bullets are hollow point. No cop’s gonna carry that.”

“Shut up!” T-Bone shouted at Steve, who shrugged and continued to pick through his patient’s chest.

“Why? Why does he always pick a fight? He can’t just let it go,” Bucky said, exasperated.

Natasha smiled knowingly. “You love that about him.”

“Don’t mean I want ‘im doing it now.”

Maria continued. “So you want me to find the officer who shot Zig Zag?”

“Yeah. Call me when you got ‘im.”

Maria disconnected, looking at Bucky and Natasha.

“Steve’s right,” Bucky said. "That kid wasn’t shot by a cop.”

“I know," Maria said. “By the time officers arrived on scene, the shooting had stopped.”

Clint returned to Bucky’s side and rolled out a blueprint. “Bad news. Two entrances. One from the scrub-in room here,” he pointed at a cut out to the west. “The other from the hallway to the north. By the time tactical can get in, the HT would have at least one of the hostages down.”

Clint watched the monitor showing the operating room. “I think we know the hostage he’d take out.”

Bucky looked at the screen. Steve was flagging. He was so pale, Bucky thought that his hand should be able to pass through him. “He’s so tired,” Bucky said softly.

“He’s been at this for hours. He’ll do what he needs to do,” Clint said. “We’ll get him out. Then you can take him home and pound him into the mattress.”

“Probably won’t make it that far,” Bucky said, continuing to watch the screen. “Probably get to the couch.”

“I sit on that couch.”

“Don’t care,” Bucky said, an idea occurring to him.

Clint snickered as Bucky strapped his combat knife to his thigh. “Go ahead. Run your idea by the negotiator.”

“How did you know I had an idea?”

“Because I saw it in your eyes,” Clint replied, picking up Bucky’s Glock and holding it out to him. 

***

In the operating room, Steve worked feverishly even though he knew it was useless. “Bottom lobe of right lung requires removal,” he said, looking at Riley, who nodded and moved away to prepare equipment for the procedure.

Steve knew a long shot when he saw one. He could literally feel the boy slipping away beneath his hands. He was surprised that he wasn’t afraid. The only thing he needed to do was work, to try to save this boy (which he would do anyway). He could only do his best.

Four other people depended on him and his abilities.

He had to have a plan for when this fell through.

“Suction,” he ordered Beatrice.

Another nurse patted a sponge over Steve’s sweaty forehead. He ignored the exhaustion and slipped his scalpel into soft lung tissue, removing the irreparable lobe. Taking the soldering iron, Steve cartelized to close.

Finally, the lung inflated.

One thing down. 

“Respiratory leveling out,” the nurse reading the vitals said.

Beatrice sighed with relief behind her surgical mask.

“Moving on to the heart.”

Riley nodded.

“Suction,” Steve ordered, then whispered to Riley. “If this goes south, I’ll do what I can to distract ‘im. You get everyone outta here.”

“Doc-“

“Quiet,” Steve hissed. “You get ‘em out, Riley, and. . . Give a message to James Barnes, Bucky. Sam knows ‘im.”

“That’s your new boyfriend?”

“What is this, high school?” Steve whispered before continuing. “Yes. If this goes south,” Steve placed another bullet fragment in a metal container. “I need you to tell Bucky. . .”

“You love ‘im?”

Swallowing, Steve looked at the heart’s blood pumping, gushing through three miniature holes. “Suction,” he ordered. “Prep O neg.” He nodded to Riley. “Tell ‘im ‘’til the end of the line.’ He’ll know what it means.”

When the frantic beeping began again, Steve closed his eyes. “Crash cart!”

***

Hearing the call from the operating room for a crash cart, Bucky rushed to Maria. “Call in there. Tell the kid ya found the cop who shot his brother.”

“He wasn’t shot by one of the responding officers.”

“No shit, Hill. Lie.”

Maria glanced down at the screen showing Steve working to bring the boy back. “I can’t. Standard Operating Procedure is not to lie. It puts the hostages at risk.”

“Steve probably won’t be able to bring that kid back. The hostages are already at risk. Make. The. Call.”

“I need to run it by my captain.”

“Damn it, Hill. We don’t have time for that.” Bucky said, annoyance in every syllable. “This ain’t a normal hostage situation. If Steve dies in there, you’re gonna be responsible. I’m givin’ ya this opportunity to get them out and you’re hidin’ behind SOP and the chain of command.”

Maria’s eyes narrowed, but she contacted the room. “T-Bone,” Maria called as Steve shocked the patient’s heart.

“Not now, bitch.”

“We found him, T-Bone. We found the officer who shot Zig Zag.”

As Bucky had expected, T-Bone demanded, “I want ‘im in here.”

“I’ll try to make that happen, but I need you to give me something.” 

“What d’ya want?”

“I need you to release the hostages.”

Maria must have realized that Steve and the others couldn’t revive the boy, but they were still working even though it was useless. They were putting on the show for the hostage taker. Steve had to know this was the end.

“I ain’t releasin’ ‘em.”

“Then you don’t get the man who shot your brother.” Maria disconnected.

“What are you doing?” A voice demanded.

Bucky turned to find Thaddeus Ross, the dick from the hospital board meeting who had tried so hard to crucify Steve.

“Negotiating,” Maria answered, writing a quick note in her log. She looked at Bucky. “I’m assuming that you’ll be the one to go in.”

“Good assumption.”

Maria nodded. “Get ready.”

Natasha handed Bucky his clutch piece, a small 9mm, which he secured at the small of his back.

“You have been at this for eight hours,” Ross complained to Maria. “We don’t see any results. We demand action.”

Natasha snarled, “We aren’t just standing here.” She tugged sharply on a strap of Bucky’s black vest to tighten it over his broad chest.

“Barnes is about to go in and end it,” Maria said. “Barnes, I’m calling the room. SWAT is waiting outside of the doors in the scrubbing room. Stand outside the doors, so the HT can see you. Try to take him alive.”

Natasha and Clint flanked Bucky to the scrubbing room.

“We’ll be right here,” Natasha said. “Go get your best guy.”

Bucky turned and looked into the operating room. Steve was easy to find in his patriotic cap, his hands in the boy’s chest, using the wand shaped paddles to try to restart the kid’s heart. Steve gave an order and shook his head. And Bucky’s stomach dropped.

They were out of time.

***

“Clear,” Steve said sharply ordering the others to stop touching the boy, holding the paddle directly against the boy’s heart and sent another jolt into the unmoving organ.

Nothing.

Even though it wouldn’t work and Steve knew it was a lost cause, he ordered, “Charge to 500.”

Riley obeyed, even though he also knew it was over. They all knew they had to keep up the pretense because it looked like Tyress, T-bone, would let them out once the officer was in the OR. But. . . they couldn’t save Charles Jackson. He’d been gone too long.

There had been too much damage, and Steve couldn’t be sure what all was wrong with the boy. Going in blind, Steve hadn’t been able to catch everything. Fix everything.

“T-Bone,” the negotiator called. “The officer responsible for Zig Zag’s condition is outside of the door to the scrub-in room.”

Steve didn’t look up at the obvious distraction. “Clear.”

Jolt.

Nothing.

Steve shook his head.

“Keep goin’, Doc,” Riley said. “It’s almost done.”

Taking a deep breath, Steve ordered, “Charge 550.”

“I see ‘im,” T-Bone said. “Send ‘im in.”

“You know the deal, T-Bone. You release the hostages, and he’ll come in.”

“Charged,” Riley said.

“Clear,” Steve ordered.

Jolt.

No change.

“I keep the doc.”

“All of them, T-Bone.”

“I keep the doc. I send out the others. You send that fucker in then the doc can go. I want the one who shot Zig Zag.”

“T-Bone-“

“My way, bitch, or I drop one now.”

“Adrenaline,” Steve ordered.

“Very well, T-Bone. When you send the other hostages out, I’ll send the officer in.”

“Unarmed.”

“Of course.”

T-Bone gripped Beatrice’s arm and shoved her toward the door to the hall. “Go. All of ya. Get out.”

Keeping the gun trained on Steve, T-Bone watched the rest of the operation team move cautiously to the door that led to the hall. Steve reached over and shut off the shrieking alarm and met Riley’s eyes.

“Remember what I said,” Steve said.

Riley nodded and was swept away by men in black riot gear.

Steve realized that this may be the end. He wouldn’t see Bucky again. He wouldn’t tell him everything Steve had figured out. He wanted to spend his life with Bucky. It nearly made Steve laugh. He’d finally decided to take the leap and move in with Bucky, to let go of the fear of abandonment and keep Bucky, hold him, love him. And. . . now he was staring at his death. The end of the line. 

“Is Zig Zag dead?” T-Bone asked as Steve removed his blood-covered gloves, mask, and cover-up gown.

“Yes,” Steve replied, unafraid.

Gun still pointed at Steve, T-Bone nodded. “You got the hostages,” he said to Maria, “Send in the fucker who killed my brother,” he ordered. 

Still looking at T-Bone, Steve said, “This is a bad idea. You haven’t killed anyone. You can still walk away from this.”

“Don’t try talkin’ me outta this,” T-Bone growled. “M’brother is dead and that pig killed ‘im.”

“He wasn’t shot by a cop,” Steve argued through gritted teeth.

T-Bone jabbed the pistol against Steve’s cheek. “You don’t know what you’re talkin’ about. You’re not a cop.”

Steve knew that a bruise would bloom and that Bucky would be furious (if he got a chance to see Bucky again of course). He had to make a move now. He had to try to get out of this situation or die trying.

“Let the doctor go,” a familiar voice said.

Steve couldn’t see Bucky’s face, but he could hear the scowl. His stomach jumped in relief and fear. Bucky was here. Bucky was here.

“You the fucker who killed Zig Zag?”

“Sure, kid.”

Steve finally looked at Bucky, then grimmaced when he saw the storm cloud that was his face. Bucky’s blue-gray eyes darted to meet Steve’s. Just a quick glance which seemed to say Yes, you’re gonna pay for this.

It warmed Steve.

He knew Bucky wasn’t mad at him, but at the situation.

As T-Bone swung his weapon toward Bucky, Steve made his move. Even though he was stiff from the hours in surgery, his kick to T-Bone’s knee was effective and enough of a distraction for Bucky to finish it. Quick as a snake, Bucky delivered a sound punch to the boy’s throat, and knocked the gun from his hand. Sweeping T-Bone’s legs from beneath him, Bucky tugged his hands behind his back, rougher than strictly necessary, and zip-tied them together. 

Bucky deftly removed a secondary pistol from the boy’s kangaroo pocket, his jaw working, his eyes hot as they glared at the man who’d held Steve hostage all night.

Under his breath, Bucky hissed. “Fucker. Ya think ya can hold my best guy hostage. You’re lucky I ain’t poundin’ ya ta mush.”

“Buck,” Steve whispered wearily, exhausted with relief.

Stepping away from the boy’s prone and gasping body, Bucky barked, “HT secure.”

Bucky strode to Steve and hauled the shocked doctor into his arms, giving him a brutal kiss that relayed frustration, relief, anger, but was not pleasurable. It was. . . necessary.

Steve broke away and cupped Bucky’s face. “I’m okay, Buck. M’okay.”

As the SWAT team entered, Bucky pulled Steve out of the operating room. They were met by Natasha and Clint, who gave Steve a one armed hug. “Thank the great and mighty Thor you got out of there. Barnes was beside himself.”

“Actually,” Natasha said. “I think he handled himself rather well. He didn’t punch as many people as I thought he would.”

“You punched someone?” Steve asked.

Bucky, who held Steve against his side with his flesh arm around the waist, replied. “Just the HT. But that’s likely to change.” Steve’s eyes followed Bucky’s. Ross pushed his way toward Steve and Bucky.

“Dr. Rogers?” he asked with forced calm. “Why does trouble follow you where ever you go? I should ask the board to cancel your contract.”

Dr. Phil Coulson, chief of surgery, swept in as Steve gripped the back of Bucky’s leather vest, to hold back the furious tirade bubbling just under the surface. “You do what you feel is right, Mr. Ross.”

“How is a hostage situation Steve’s fault?” Bucky demanded. “Steve didn’t take everyone hostage. He didn’t shoot that boy. He was here doin’ his job. How can you possibly blame ‘im?”

“He brought you into this. This is going to be a media nightmare.”

“Yeah. I was brought in. I woulda come just because Steve was in danger. The truth is, the crisis and negotiation team called us in as we’ve got a private contract with the NYPD. Because we were called in, five of your employees are alive. Think of what the media would say if they’d been killed. That boy would have killed them when his brother died.”

“You don’t-“

“Enough, Ross,” Coulson said dryly. “You’re making an ass of yourself.”

Ross sputtered, his eyes flaring.

“Dr. Rogers was doing his job and as far as I’m concerned, he does amazing work. By rights, that boy should have died hours ago. Dr. Rogers kept him alive for nearly nine hours. As a result, he kept four other people alive. You know how to spin the media. That can be your start. The fact that Sergeant Barnes took the hostage taker alive is another good point.” Not because he wanted to. 

“Dr. Coulson-“

“Mr. Ross,” Coulson interrupted, talking over the board member. “I am not going to allow you to sacrifice my best surgeon to your ego. It’s best if you end your witch hunt now. I’ve faced more powerful men than you. Do not test me.”

“Dr. Coulson,” Bucky said before Ross could retort. “I’m taking Steve home.”

“Of course, Sergeant. The ER will be closed for the rest of the day due to recent events. Good work, Dr. Rogers. We will meet Monday morning for a debriefing.”

Steve nodded as Bucky guided him away.

When they were in the cab, Steve asked, “Are you okay?”

Bucky gave him a curt nod.

Of course, Steve didn’t believe that. Bucky’s silence was oppressive. Angry. Distraught. Steve’s concern was to lighten Bucky’s load, to help him sort through his strong emotions. After an uncomfortably silent cab ride, Bucky shuffled Steve into the apartment. When the door was closed and locked, Steve began, “Buck-“

“Shut up,” Bucky growled. “I’m done askin’, Stevie. I’ve been patient, tryin’ to give ya the time ya needed to make up your mind about us. You’re movin’ in, my apartment is bigger and closer to our work. You’re movin’ in here and I ain’t listenin’ to your arguments.”

“Ain’t arguin’, Buck.”

“And you’re marryin’ me. I came too close to losin’ ya tonight. Ain’t riskin’ that again.”

“You wanna marry me?”

M’gonna marry ya, baby. I ain’t askin’.”

Before Steve had a chance to answer, Bucky pulled Steve into a kiss filled with desperate, unadulterated need. For more than eight hours, Bucky had lived in abject terror that, after so long without Steve, Bucky would lose him again. 

Bucky slipped his hands into Steve’s hair, the metal and flesh gripping the golden strands as he thrust his tongue into Steve’s mouth, tasting him, drinking him in.

Tearing his mouth from Steve’s, Bucky grumbled, “You’re mine.”

Undone, Steve nodded.

Bucky shoved Steve face first onto the couch. “Bucky!” Steve practically squealed when he pulled Steve’s scrub pants down to pool at his knees.

“Shh, baby. I’ll take care of ya,” Bucky whispered, rubbing his metal hand over the generous globe of Steve’s ass. Then, without another word, Bucky buried his tongue deep inside Steve. Crying out, Steve bucked back into the wet caress. Using his tongue, Bucky stretched Steve, knowing that he wouldn’t last long. He needed the relief too badly. Bucky got drunk on Steve’s glorious body. Fumbling his wallet out of his pocket, Bucky shoved the lubricated condom over his painfully erect cock. Pulling his tongue from Steve’s alluring pucker, to Steve’s whine, Bucky gripped the base of his cock and guided himself into Steve.

“Oh, Bucky,” Steve sighed, backing into Bucky’s hips. 

With his metal hand, Bucky pressed Steve into the cushions and pounded himself into the pliant, eager body under him. The pace he set was brutal, exactly what they both needed to cleanse the fear and adrenaline. Each thrust drilled into Steve’s prostate, causing him to squeal and press back into Bucky’s swinging hips.

Steve stroked himself to Bucky’s relentlessly pounding hips, loving the way Bucky held him down, the constant stream of “Yes, Bucky,” and “Don’t stop” spurring Bucky’s thrusts into a desperate rhythm. 

With a grunt, Steve came, his channel spasming around Bucky’s swollen flesh. Moving to grip Steve’s broad shoulders, Bucky nibbled Steve’s ivory back. “Stevie. God!” 

Bucky roared as the orgasm tore through him, his blunt tipped fingers digging into Steve’s pale shoulders.

Falling forward, Bucky panted against Steve’s sweaty skin.

“By the way, sweetheart,” Steve groaned. “I’ll marry you. Even with that piss poor proposal.”

“Say that five times fast,” Bucky joked. “It wasn’t a proposal. I told ya, you’re marryin’ me.”

“Yeah. I know. What would your ma say?”

“She’d slap me upside the head. And don’t you dare tell ‘er.”

“Oh, I’m tellin’ ‘er. First chance.”

Sitting up, Bucky smacked Steve’s rear. “I’ll just have to keep ya in bed and m’self outta trouble.”

Shuffling Steve into the bedroom, Bucky did just that.

Chapter Text

 

 

EPILOGUE— ONE YEAR LATER

 

 

We should really get to sleep. -SR 3:12 am

 

Can’t sleep. -BB 3:13 am

 

So you said four hours ago. Are you nervous? -SR 3:14 am

 

I’m marrying the most wonderful man I’ve ever known in a few hours. Yeah. I’m nervous. -BB 3:15 am

 

Me, too. And excited. I can’t wait to marry you. -SR 3:16 am

 

Has my bed always been this uncomfortable? -BB 3:17 am

 

I don’t remember it being uncomfortable. -SR 3:18 am

 

Well, it is now. You’re not beside me. I can’t sleep without you. -BB 3:19 am

 

You’re the one who gave in to your ma. -SR. 3:19 am

 

She was persuasive. -BB 3:20 am

 

Yeah. You’re there and I’m here and we’re up at 3 in the morning, talking to each other. What would your ma say? -SR 3:21 am

 

She’d have to deal with it. Her superstition is why I’m in this awful bed instead of holding you in ours. -BB 3:23 am

 

I miss you. I haven’t been able to relax without you here. I’m exhausted and I can’t close my eyes. I just saw you a few hours ago at the rehearsal dinner. I’ll see you at the wedding. -SR 3:24 am

 

I miss you too, baby. I can’t wait to make you mine legally. Try to get some sleep. I’ll see you in a few hours. I love you. -BB 3:25 am

 

I love you too. -SR 3:25 am

***

Sam tightened Steve’s tie. “How’re you feeling?”

“Nervous wreck.”

Sam grinned and sat to slip on his shoes. “Did you ever think you’d be here?”

“Getting married?”

“Getting married to him?”

Grinning, Steve replied, “Honestly, no. I never thought I’d end up spending my life with Bucky. Hoped. Never expected it.”

“And here you are.”

Steve nodded. “Have you seen him today?”

Winifred Barnes had guilted Bucky into spending his last night single in his childhood home. Superstition had kept Bucky away from Steve all day.

Bad luck my ass. 

He loved Bucky, knew that Bucky loved him, but. . .  some insecurities are ingrained.

“Calm down. I saw him. He looks like he didn’t sleep at all.”

“I made ‘im go to bed about 3:30 this mornin’. It was hard to sleep without ‘im.”

Shaking his head, Sam said, “You’re both saps.”

“Yeah, that’s why we’re getting married.”

Winifred Barnes entered the room and closed the door. “Ah, Sam. How are things in here?”

“He’s a bit. . . jumpy.”

Winifred sighed, “May we have a minute?”

“Of course, Mrs. Barnes. I think Steve could use a glass of champagne. Or a shot. Or both.”

As Sam left them, Steve blew out a breath. “Is everything all right? Are the caterer and florist at it again? I thought we’d hammered this out. I don’t want lilies on the pie bar. Its a bar of pie. It doesn’t need to look pretty. It’s pie.

Winifred burst into laughter. “Oh, honey. I came in to check on you, not bring you logistical issues. Natasha is handling everything beautifully. If she ever gives up security work, she has a future in wedding planning.”

“I’m pretty sure she can do anything,” Steve said, thinking of the way Natasha handled each situation. She took Bucky into.

When he’d returned to work, Bucky had left a lot. Steve had been at home alone when Bucky left the state, sometimes the country. As much as Bucky loved his job, it took a toll on him to be away from Steve for so long, so Bucky changed his work load, and stayed in and around the Brooklyn. That way he could stay close to Steve, and could sleep in his arms every night.

“How do you feel?” Winifred asked

Steve sat on one of the plush chairs in the suite. “I love your son, Fred,” Steve said. “I always have. I can’t wait to begin my life with him. I want to make sure. . . I dunno. That it’s right for him, that he’s sure this is what he wants.”

Winifred sank down onto the coffee table in front of Steve. “You listen and you listen well, Steven Grant Rogers. My boy has loved you for years. No other person, man or woman, has ever even lodged their way into his heart the way you have, like a barb, you are. James adores you. You know that already. You still worry that he’ll change his mind?”

At Steve’s nod, she continued. “If I asked you who the most suborn person you know is, what would your answer be?”

“Bucky,” Steve answered with an easy shrug.

“Exactly. You know him. When he makes up his mind, he stays the course. With you, Steven, James hasn’t just made up his mind, but his heart. You are his heart.”

“He’s everything,” Steve whispered. “Bucky is everything.”

Winifred nodded, smiling as she saw the insecurities melt out of Steve.

She cupped Steve’s cheeks. “I haven’t seen James as happy as he’s been with you since before he left for basic. When he began to get better after his. . . ordeal, we’ll call it, and that’s a mild term, he came back but something was different. He’d changed, of course he had, that was expected. I could see glimpses of the old James, but something was missing.”

Steve looked into her hazel eyes as she said, “You. You were what was missing, Steven. You make my son happy again. You make him him again.” She pulled Steve into a hard, motherly hug something Steve never thought he’d feel again. “Your mother would be so proud of you. I love you, Steve. We all do.”

“I love you, too, Fred. She’d be glad you’re here with me.”

Steve wished that his mother could have been there. Sarah would have loved to see her only child marry the love of his life. As Steve hugged Winifred Barnes, Steve couldn’t help but feel as if she was there in spirit, that he had the love of more than one mother on his wedding day.

***

“Please,” Bucky begged as Clint brushed off his charcoal jacket. “Please tell me you’ve seen ‘im.”

“I haven’t, but I saw Sam, who was getting Steve a glass of champagne while I was getting you this,” Clint replied, handing Bucky the flute of champagne. “Guess we had the same idea to calm the two of you.”

“Is he okay?”

“He’s fine, Barnes,” Clint soothed. “Steve’s here and he’s fine.”

“Why am I nervous?” Bucky demanded, pacing. “I love Steve. I’m doing exactly what I want, what I need. Marrying him is right for me. For him. We’re gonna have a great life together, I know that, so. . . why am I so nervous?”

“Are you nervous about getting married or being married?”

“What’s the difference?” Bucky asked with a huff of frustration.

“Well, are you nervous about today?”

“Yeah. I gotta read m’own vows, which’re stupid, by the way, in front of everyone.”

“I’m sure they aren’t stupid,” Clint soothed.

“They aren’t good enough for Steve.”

“Maybe you should leave that up to him.”

Bucky sighed and sat on the couch beside the opulent gold and cream mirror. “I know.”

“Are you nervous about being with him? About your life together?”

“No,” Bucky said immediately, honestly. “Of course m’not.”

“So. . . you’re nervous about  getting married, not being married.”

Bucky nodded. “I could use something stronger than champagne.”

Natasha entered the room and closed the door behind her. “Everything okay in here?” she asked, her sapphire sundress swishing in the air, her gold pumps clicking on the hardwood as she crossed the suite to them.

“Yeah,” Clint said. “We’ve got it handled.”

Is everything okay out there?” Bucky asked. “Any more fights between the florist and caterer. We really should’ve made sure that everyone could work together before we hired those two.”

“Don’t worry,” Natasha said, falling onto the couch and gratefully accepting the flute of champagne Clint held out to her. “Those two won’t be giving you any problems.”

“You carrying?”

“You know it.”

Bucky sipped some of the bubbly and tart wine, feeling calmer already.

“We should get goin’.” Bucky said. “I got a best friend to marry.”

***

Bucky walked down the aisle first, grinning at the Howling Commandos, all of whom had come to see Bucky marry his Steve. Tucker sat at Dum Dum’s feet, his chest out, the red bowtie Natasha had put on him striking against his chocolate fur. Bucky’s knees were shaking as he escorted his mother to her seat. He hoped that no one could see the nerves. He wondered how Steve was feeling, how he looked (probably gorgeous as usual).

He moved to stand beside Clint, who reached out and patted his shoulder just above the metal prosthetic, and winked at him. Bucky’s heart pounded and his stomach leveled out when Bucky saw Steve for the first time. Like Bucky, he was in a black tuxedo, Steve had chosen to wear a pale blue tie while Bucky wore silver. Meeting Steve’s cornflower eyes, Bucky grinned, remembering the last time Steve wore a blue tie. Steve answering smirk, which lit his beautiful face, told Bucky that his tie choice had been entirely intentional.

When Steve reached him, Bucky took Steve’s hand in his flesh one. They exchanged a quick, hot look as the officiant began.

"Welcome to this day of celebration, it's great to have all of you here to witness the union of Steven and James as husband and husband before the Universe. Together, we will share in the joys of their wedding, both with the outward celebration of this occasion and with an internal appreciation for the love that surrounds us.

"Steven and James , you two have the opportunity to build an amazing life together. You are blessed to share this experience with the loved ones gathered here to support you as you embark on this journey together.

“Marriage is, truly, a magical gift. As Mark Twain noted, 'Marriage makes of two fractional lives a whole, and it gives to two purposeless lives a work . . .it gives to two questioning natures a reason for living, and something to live for; it will give a new gladness to the sunshine, a new fragrance to the flowers, a new beauty to the earth, a new mystery to life.'

"May you all remember and cherish this ceremony, for on this day, with love, we will forever bind Steven and James together.

“If there is any here who has any just cause as to why these two cannot be joined together for their lives, speak now or forever hold your peace.”

After a moment of silence, the officiant continued, “Steven and James have elected to write their own vows. Steven?”

Releasing Bucky’s hand, Steve pulled a folded piece of paper out of his pocket. Bucky saw Steve’s Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed, his pulse pounding in his pale throat. 

“Bucky,” he read with an uneasy laugh. He continued nervously, “For the better part of three decades, you’ve been my best friend. Even when I had nothing, I had you. My feelings for you have grown and evolved, and become this all-consuming love for you. Everything was paler without you, but now. . . now it’s perfect. We have our fights, every couple does, but I’d rather fight with you than be smooth with anyone else. I never imagined my life would end up here, marrying you, spending my life with you, loving you this way. But here we are. I get to be with you. Forever. You’re mine. I’m yours. ’Til the end of the line.”

Bucky chuckled at that last bit, his voice thick.

“James?”

Bucky took a deep breath and unfolded his wrinkled slip of paper. “Steve, I’m not a man of flowery words, as you know. But I love you. More than anyone or anything. I would do anything for you. Go anywhere. Thoughts and memories of you saw me through hell. In the worst time of my life, you were there, Stevie, whether you knew it or not. When I ended up on your operating table, it was the luckiest day of my life. Yeah, I lost an organ and my arm, but I can live without those. You? You, I need. You’re everythin’ to me, Stevie. ’Til the end of the line.”

The Howling Commandos chose that moment to let out a loud, heartfelt cheer to which Tucker barked and howled, causing Bucky to laugh. Steve looked at them with an indulgent smile. 

The officiant had to wait for things to quiet down so that could continue the vow exchange. “Steven and James please join hands.

“Steven , do you take James to live together in the union of marriage? To take him as your best friend and partner in life? To honor, cherish, and love him, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, for all of your days?”

“I do,” Steve answered, keeping his blue eyes on Bucky’s.

The officint asked the same of Bucky, who replied, “I do.”

The officiant smiled and began the Unity Candle ceremony. “Steven and James , while the words you have spoken have sealed your union, it is the lighting of the unity candle that truly symbolizes the melding of your two souls.

“At this time Steven and James are each receive a taper candle from James's parents, Winifred and George Barnes. while Winifred and George prepare the candles, we'd like to take this time to remember Steven's parents,  Sarah and Joseph, both of whom have passed on."

When Steve and Bucky had their candles, the ceremony continued. 

"You hold in your hands a single flame. Allow this flame to represent your life: every thought that's ever crossed your mind, and every word that's ever crossed your lips; all of your victories, and all of your failures; all of your joys, and all of your sorrows.

“And now, tilt these candles forward to light the center candle.

“Watch as the two flames instantly form one. So too, today, have your two spirits come together to form one singular entity. Just as your combined flame illuminates the space around it, let your magnificent union radiate with love and light your path as you move forward through life.”

Steve grinned at Bucky over the lit flame. It was an old fashioned ceremony, but Winifred had insisted. They’d used the Unity Candle she and George had lit more than three decades earlier. They had agreed to use it because Bucky thought it could be lucky. 

The officiant smiled as he guided them through their ring exchange. They’d bough matching rings engraved with “’Til the end of the line.” It was their phrase, and they decided it would add an element of luck to their rings.

“The wedding ring's circular shape reflects the unending power of love – a force with no beginning and no end. You should wear these rings proudly, and let them remind you each day of your commitment to one another.

“Please repeat after me:

“I, Steven , give you James this ring as a symbol of my love. As I place it on your finger, I commit the whole of my heart and soul to you. I promise to cherish you for the rest of my days. I give you all that I am, and accept all that you are.”

Steve repeated the vow, slipping the gold ring onto Bucky’s right hand. When he kissed the palm of Bucky’s medal hand, both Rebecca and Winifred sobbed.

When Bucky had put the ring on Steve’s left hand, Steve sighed. It was nearly over. Bucky was very nearly his. Legally. Forever.

When the officiant finally announced them married, Bucky tugged Steve against him, pressing his lips against Steve’s firmly in a sweet, dark kiss. Steve’s fingers sank into Bucky’s hair, which, per Steve’s request, had been left down, brushing his shoulders. Bucky was enjoying the moment, the moment that Steve became his; this moment of overpowering heat and Steve’s response.

The ruckus cheering in the garden finally broke through and Bucky forced himself to break his kiss with Steve and press his forehead against Steve’s.

“How long do we have to stay at the reception?” Bucky asked.

“A few hours,” Steve responded.

“Too long.”

“You can handle it, sweetheart. It’s just a couple of hours. Dinner, dancing, cake cutting.”

“Then I get you back to the hotel, make you mine. We have to consummate this wedding, then ten days in Bali.”

“Yeah.”

“Guys,” Natasha hissed. “Go!”

Bucky took Steve’s hand and guided him back up the aisle so they could take pictures. Winifred had refused to allow them to see one another before the wedding, so they hadn’t been able to take pictures before the wedding. Bucky gritted his teeth and bore the wait. 

He just wanted to be alone with Steve.

His husband.

Finally.

***

At long last, Steve and Bucky could leave the reception. Bundled into the decorated limo, Bucky poured champagne for each of them. “That took too long.”

“It’s only nine o’clock, Buck.”

“I need you, Stevie. I needed you four hours ago.”

“Don’t start that here, sweetheart. It’s our wedding night and I’ve got plans for you that don’t include limo sex.”

“Oh?” Bucky asked, kissing Steve’s throat. “And what does it include?”

“More champagne. Candles. Rose petals. It’s all cliche for a reason. And a bath.”

“A bath? Do I stink?”

“No. I just wanna take a bath with ya.”

“Bubbles. I want bubbles.”

Steve laughed. “Of course, sweetheart.”

Bucky kissed Steve’s lips, so happy in this moment, in a way he’d never thought he would be, never expected to. “I love you so much, Stevie.”

Steve cupped Bucky’s cheek. “I love you, too, Buck. I’m so lucky to be here with you.”

“You never needed luck, babydoll. You just needed to be you.”

Once they were in their hotel room, Bucky shoved Steve against the door and took his lips in a hard kiss. Steve wrapped his arms around Bucky’s middle, holding him tight, returning the ebb and flow of he kiss. It turned rougher, wetter, subtly erotic. Steve’s hips rolled, seeking Bucky’s hardness. He arched and didn’t think he’d last long, such was Bucky’s power over him.

He tore his mouth from Bucky’s, “Bath,” he croaked with a shudder.

“Mhmm,” Bucky moaned into the column of Steve’s throat.

Taking Steve’s arms, he pinned them to the door, holding both wrists in one hand. His mouth moved back to Steve’s. Steve’s lips clung desperately.

Still holding Steve’s wrists in his metal hand, Bucky tugged Steve’s button down shirt out of the waist band of his trousers. “Have ta have ya, Steve. Have ta have ya in me now.”

He pulled Steve to the enormous bed. Steve sank his hand into Bucky’s hair and kissed him, searching aggressively with his tongue, then caressed, stroked. Bucky tensed against him, a sound caught in his throat, his hands groping Steve’s shoulders. The need was intense, could never be satisfied. Not completely. Not ever. Steve shoved at Bucky’s jacket, unbuttoning the shirt with shaking fingers.

The undressing was frantic and quick, considering how long it had taken to get dressed. “I was right,” Bucky said, spread out, naked, looking stunning, on the gold coverlet. “Those suits do look good on the floor.”

Steve laughed. “You gotta joke when we’re consumatin’ our marriage?”

“You know me, babydoll. I got jokes.”

Steve latched his mouth on Bucky’s right shoulder, his hand wandering the arousing contours of Bucky’s body. Warmth and strength. Roughness.

Bucky opened eagerly to each caress. 

“God, Buck. You’re so beautiful. I could happily die lookin’ at you.”

“Touch me, Stevie. You can wallow later. I need ya. Now. 

Steve shook his head with a laugh and stood to get the lube from their bag. When he returned to the bed, Steve complained, “You’re awful demanding tonight.”

“I gotta get this marriage consummated,” Bucky wrapped his arms around Steve’s neck. “I finally wrangled me a doctor.”

“You make more money than I do.”

“Yeah, but think of the prestige. Dr. and Mr. Barnes-Rogers.”

“You’re a dork,” Steve said, taking Bucky into his mouth while he pressed a finger past Bucky’s tight pucker. Bucky didn’t respond with anything more than a breathy moan and an arched back as he pushed deeper into Steve’s mouth. 

There was no world outside of this bed, nothing but Steve and his mouth and hands on Bucky. Steve thrust his fingers gently in and out of Bucky’s beautiful body. Bucky’s hips rode Steve’s hand and he cried out.

“Please, Stevie. Baby. Please. Please. Please.” Bucky begged.

Steve moved to his knees and guided himself into his husband. He settled deep, every movement easy, and Bucky moaned as his body yielded to the steady press of Steve.

Overpowering sensation.

Steve began to rock, prodding and rubbing and caressing. The pleasure was shattering. Bucky’s legs wrapped around Steve’s waist and he reached between them, stroking himself into a blinding climax. Steve’s thrusts lengthened with a staccato rhythm. With a shudder and a groan, Steve flooded him.

Afterword, Steve held a dozing Bucky against his chest, remembering that he didn’t get Bucky into the huge copper tub in the suite’s bathroom. He hadn’t made their first time together as a married couple romantic and glorious. 

It had been quick and satisfying.

It had been right.

It had been them. 

They could make love with candles and rose pedals later. They had all night.

They had a lifetime.