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In the back of his head Bucky keeps quiet count of the people in the neighbourhood he knows are damn well aware of who Steve is. Not for any particular reason he'll bother to articulate, even to himself, but just . . . because.

The number's smaller than you might think, because the kid isn't wrong: a lot of people need context to recognize faces, and people can look surprisingly different out of context. Doesn't hurt that all most people would ever see of Steve in the first place is old footage, most of it black and white, the footage from distant news cameras, or a very few formal photos taken since SHIELD found him in the ice. All of it either bad resolution or full camera makeup, and all of it honed in on the what he is instead of anything else - the costume, yeah, partially that, but more than that the expression, the body-language, all of it meant to make it clear that here stands (or sits, or punches) Captain America.

It is still - thank fuck - a very different collection of tells than when he's not bothering. As it fucking should be. But also in ways that mean it really isn't that natural to connect that image and performance with the guy who's at the cash register buying groceries and who's probably apologizing because he forgot to cut his own coupons out of the flyer and bring them in.

Not many people make that connection. Just a few. And each one seems to consider it their private, delightful secret.

Sheena at the Starbucks - who still insists on upping the size on anything either of them orders - is one of them. Definitely one of the ones that gets a kick out of her secret, too, but also manages not to be too obvious about it, even if you know what you're looking for.

Today Steve's dragged Bucky here because he's having issues with fucking food, again, and a breve mocha is an easy way to account for calories that he doesn't have to talk himself into ingesting without fighting to even keep down. Though it's "dragged" mostly because of inertia, not because Bucky's actually against it. It is an easy way to get calories and the idea doesn't nauseate him, just . . .

Even with that, he couldn't drag himself off the bedroom floor in order to get over here.

He's not up for human pleasantries, though, so Bucky goes to sit down at the table that puts his back to the wall and not with Steve up to the cash. He can't keep from paying some attention, but he can let it be a wash of noise instead of words, hold back to only hearing how either of them talks instead of what they're talking about. Keep his awareness of where they are and how they move down to the barest pragmatic assessment and not try to derive any fucking meaning.

There's a headache digging into the bone around his temples, just bad enough for him to notice, but not bad enough to do anything much.

Steve brings the drinks, both in mugs instead of paper cups. The movement makes Bucky pay more attention and now he reads all the amusement with the extra details that mean the amusement's based in being a pain-in-the-ass little shit. Bucky takes the mocha and gives Steve a sideways look as he sits down, waiting for him to share.

He's going to share, of course. Steve can't stop himself from sharing, moments like this. Never has been able to; hopefully never will. So Steve's barely sat down before he says, "For the record, Sheena says you look like you've been eating better, and that's good."

Bucky stares at him for a minute. His head abruptly feels like the moment when the next stair in a flight of the fuckers is twice as far down as you were expecting (not that that ever happens to him anymore) and even if you manage not to fall on your face it's like everything jerks oddly and throws you off-balance. He stares at Steve and very definitely doesn't look at the girl behind the counter, whose hair's back to being short and curled like it should be.

His thoughts just skip for a couple seconds, unable to figure out where to land. It takes him a couple of beats before he can make them stop, grasping at words and settling with, "Jesus, you're contagious," as pretty safe and not something he's going to regret later.

There could be. Part of what he manages to think is just as exasperated as he sounds, but there's a part under that twisting up like an angry snake - no, a scared snake, a snake that realizes something just fucking saw it. He can't do that, can't let it do that. There's only so much he can do to keep from being seen, being noticed, unless he just doesn't stay anywhere long enough for people to have the chance.

And if sometimes he doesn't know what he wants other than not being anywhere, Steve doesn't want to be anywhere else, which makes the answer easy. So this just something he has to figure out how to deal with.

Steve looks innocent, or at least as he can when he's trying to look innocent. Which isn't very. It's distracting enough that he can drag himself over to play, to playing: he can kick Steve's ankle under the table and cover his own face with one hand and make a production out of sighing.

 

Bucky manages to make himself be okay with being out for a while longer, long enough to pretend to be vaguely human and to eat the tacos Steve gets from a truck. They walk, because he can't make himself okay with staying in one place for too long and they both pretend he doesn't know Steve's watching him close enough not to have to ask.

At one point, Steve launches into a preemptive defense of some new Broadway show Carter Jr's turned him onto, and Bucky uncooperatively gives him shit about the part where it's about a Founding Father whose entire legacy is "wrote a bunch of shit nobody actually reads but everyone pretends they do, got shot". Steve pretends to be aggrieved.

He's seen references to the show, got curious enough to listen to about seventy-six seconds of a couple songs, which was enough to tell him it's the kind of style where it doesn't even fucking matter whether he likes it or not as such because the patterns dig into something in his spine and send his agitation through the roof. And that's pretty much the extent of him giving a fuck about it, beyond giving Steve a hard time.

As back-and-forth go it's mechanical, or maybe just automatic, but he's not sure that's bad.

 

He gives up and stretches out on the futon at home, afterwards, if only because the headache's got worse. TV's playing something about giant squid with a narrator going for more serious than hyper-dramatic and a lot of talking-head scientists talking earnestly with their names in the corner. Bucky isn't actually paying attention, is half-heartedly twitching one toy that's basically a long strip of cheap faux-fur with a bell in it for the idiot kitten, and mostly trying to find the exact position to lie in that comes closest to making his neck not try attacking his skull with knives.

The fucking thing is, he's pretty sure if he just started tuning his whole God-damn body out again, he could go back to not noticing. And sometimes that sounds really fucking attractive. That doesn't make it a good idea. It's not a good idea. It just -

It'd be easier, sometimes, he thinks.

And skimming over the top of that, he's trying not to fuck up a dozen and a half hours of being okay (for a given value of okay) by picking at how the ambit of his life is small, cramped, contained, and how that mostly means Steve's is, too. Has been fucking doing that all day. Isn't sure why today is the day some malfunctioning corner of his fucking brain decided to fucking fixate on that, but it is and now he's just . . . trying not to let it.

He's not sure exactly what Steve's doing now, is giving a shot at making himself not follow those thoughts through to fixed, obsessive focus. Tells himself that something in the kitchen is e-fucking-nough and tries to pay attention to the tinny noise of the bell in the toy instead, because it's a noise, because it's there, because maybe he can. To the stupid furry lump throwing herself across the rug to try and catch it and kill the inanimate object she can't see.

Success is mixed: he knows Steve's cleaned the kitchen and done something with the coffee-pot by the time the kitten's exhausted herself enough to crawl up on the futon and flop down by his ankles to groom. But he doesn't know exactly what. Hoo-fucking-ray, he'll give himself a fucking prize. And he tries to turn off that thought, too.

Sometimes it feels like most of his life is made up of things he's tried to forbid himself from fucking thinking, and some very fucking mixed success.

On his way out of the kitchen, Steve throws a rectangular something towards Bucky, who can't be bothered catching it except when it almost hits him. It turns out to be a box of fund-raising chocolate almonds; it's enough that something in Bucky's head untwists a little, that he breathes half a laugh or so.

"That time already," he says. But he opens the box and rips open the plastic packet inside to get at the chocolates.

"This year it's something to do with an arts' club," Steve says, "which I'm pretty sure is Hannah's thing that Mercedes and LeAnn are just doing out of solidarity." He balls up a dish-towel and cloth and chucks them down the hall in the general direction of the laundry alcove before coming back into the living-room. When he sits down by Bucky's hip on the futon, Bucky tosses the box of chocolates back at him, half-empty.

He's seriously starting to lose this fight with all the things he doesn't fucking want to think. Eats the fucking chocolates one by one like the compromise they are - always have been - and stares through the TV trying to think. Maybe manages to think far enough.

A scientist is being earnest again, and Bucky flicks it off and pitches the remote away. He also nudges the cat with his foot enough times that she makes a trilling disgusted noise and abandons the futon for the top of her cat-tree, to groom even more ferociously at the affront. He waits until Steve's done the chocolate he fished out before he catches Steve's forearm and pulls him over and down to kiss him.

It's a much fucking better way not to think. And Steve doesn't seem to disagree.

 

(Later, Steve pushes Bucky's hair back from his face. They're both still breathing fast, Steve's legs on either side of Bucky's hips and Bucky's left arm around Steve's waist. Skin and breath and metal and Steve's fingers threading through Bucky's hair, to cradle his head and wordlessly ask him to look up.

Steve kisses Bucky's mouth, rests his forehead against the side of Bucky's. "Today was good, Buck," he says, quiet but not careful. "Anything trying to tell you otherwise is full of shit."

When Bucky says, "Shut up, Steve," his right hand going to rest on the back of Steve's neck, he's not sure he means it.)