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Cleanliness is next to godliness (only in a very abridged dictionary)

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1. Unwanted

Steve is a good boy, but even he has limits. Both he and Bucky have had a bath this week. There is no need for another one. So they are both in a cupboard in the back of the orphanage, being very quiet indeed. They are both hoping that in the confusion of getting twenty small boys bathed, two boys will not be missed.

They have not factored three things into their calculations. One, they will have to leave the cupboard at some point. Two, they have the filthiest knees in all Brooklyn, which makes it very obvious they have missed the bath. And three, that Sister Maria has twenty years’ experience in dealing with small boys who hate baths.

So as soon as they sneak out of the cupboard, there is a hand on the collar of each of their shirts.

“James Barnes, I expect this sort of thing from you, but Steven, I expected better from you. Cleanliness is next to godliness, boys.”

They are frogmarched to the bathroom, made to strip and are dumped unceremoniously into a tepid bath.

“Hot water is for boys who behave. Now wash.”

(Sister Maria is not a cruel woman. Her standard punishment in these circumstances would be an icy cold bath, but she knows that Steve is too fragile for that.)

Steve picks a washcloth up and starts to wash himself grumpily, but Bucky sits there, arms crossed in furious defiance.

Sister Maria is used to defiant children, and uses her most commanding voice to say, “James Buchanan Barnes-”

But Steve is already passing a washcloth to him and saying, “Bucky...”

Bucky huffs but starts half-heartedly drawing the washcloth over himself.

After a few minutes Sister Maria says, “And don’t forget behind the ears, boys.”

Steve sees his opportunity and dives for Bucky’s ear with his washcloth. Bucky is in no mood to take this and launches himself at Steve, and the bathtub becomes a mass of flailing arms and legs. Sister Maria has to pull them apart by the hair, and Bucky’s reputation as a bad influence on Steve is cemented forever.

2. Sick

This is the first time since they moved out of the orphanage that Steve’s been really sick. A couple of their neighbors from down the hall have been looking in on Steve so Bucky can still get to work. The bills are going to come whatever shape Steve’s in, so Bucky has to try and concentrate and not screw up when all he’s thinking about is whether Steve will still be alive when he gets home.

When he opens the door to their apartment, Mrs. Roper is sat by the bed. She smiles at him, and even better, Steve turns his head and smiles too.

Mrs. Roper says, “Fever’s broken, m’dear. Now don’t you go letting him do anything strenuous too soon, will you?”

She pats him on the arm as she walks out of the apartment. Bucky’s heart leaps, because Steve’s through the danger. But she’s right, he’ll get himself back in this situation by over-exerting himself if Bucky doesn’t stop him.

“How are ya?”

Steve makes a face. “Okay. Uh, I gotta-”

Bucky passes over the jerry. Steve’s probably been holding it in all day, while it was his female neighbors looking after him. He waits till Steve’s done, then goes down the hall to empty it in the bathroom.

When he comes back, Steve says, “You shouldn’t have to-”

“You’d do the same for me.”

“You’d never need it. Most you need from me is help unlacing your shoes when you’re drunk. Mrs. Roper said the Walsh boys were looking for someone extra to split the rent-”

“Then who’d look after you?”

Steve is defiant. “I’d manage.”

“Sure you would.” As soon as he’s said it he wishes he hadn’t, but doesn’t know what to say to make it better, so he changes the subject. “You’re looking better than you did yesterday at least.”

“Yeah. I should wash-”

Steve starts to sit up, probably wanting to prove that he really could manage if he was on his own, but Bucky puts a hand on his shoulder and pushes him down. “There’s no way you’re well enough for a walk to the bathroom.” Bucky wrinkles his nose. “But you do need washing. Stay there.”

“Oh no, Bucky, c’mon, you’re not going to wash me down like Sister Maria-”

“Yeah, I am, ‘cause you try and walk down that corridor you’re gonna pass out. So either I wash you, or you stink up the apartment, and it’s too damn cold to go opening the windows.”

They have a sink and a tiny stove in their apartment, and Bucky runs some warm water into a basin, brings it over to the bed. He’ll change the sheets once Steve is clean.

He pulls back the sheets, reaches forward to undo the buttons on Steve’s pajama top, but Steve bats his hands away and undoes the buttons himself. He knows how much Steve hates feeling helpless, but Bucky can also see how weak Steve is right now. The only way he’d make it to the bathroom would be if Bucky carried him, which would mean showing his helplessness to the world, which Steve would hate even more.

He starts with Steve’s face (ignoring Steve’s expression), then his hair, then works his way thoroughly down his torso. Steve’s lost weight through his fever, and he didn’t have any to spare to start with.

He wants to kiss Steve’s collarbones, wants to lick the curve of his ribs, wants to do a whole lot of other things to him, but he suppresses those thoughts like he does every time he gets them.

He pushes Steve’s pajama pants down, washes him everywhere, keeps his mind on the job, he’s doing this because Steve’s sick, not any other reason.

Once he’s done he helps Steve into clean pajamas, helps him out of bed into the chair and changes the bed. He tucks Steve back in, over Steve’s protests that he’s not a kid.

He doesn’t care that Steve needs looking after, doesn’t care that he sometimes has to be a nursemaid, as long as Steve’s there and still breathing.

3. Mutual

They’ve drunkenly argued their way back from the bar. The girl that Bucky had found for Steve had openly mocked him, asked Bucky why he was hanging round with such a shrimp. Bucky had tried to find the words to defend Steve without driving away her friend, his date for the evening, and hadn’t quite managed it. The girls had both left, and Steve was going to head home on his own, but Bucky had persuaded him to hit a few bars, see if they could find anyone else to take dancing.

They hadn’t. Or rather, Bucky had, repeatedly, but wouldn’t leave without Steve finding someone too. So they’d got drunker and drunker, and Steve had got more and more maudlin, until Bucky couldn’t take his self-pity any more and started arguing back.

They went round in circles. Steve was convinced that no girl was ever going to like him, he was too short, too skinny. Bucky tried arguing that Steve was worth more than that. Then back to the beginning again.

As soon as they’re through the door of their building they stop talking, conscious of waking their neighbors, just glaring at each other as they climb the stairs.

Once they’re in their apartment Bucky leans in to Steve, so he can quietly hiss, “You’re a dumb fucking asshole if you really believe that about yourself.”

“Every girl agrees with me, it’s just you that doesn’t, idiot.”

“I ain’t an idiot, they’re the idiots.”

“Doesn’t make any difference.” Steve looks at him, and it’s only the alcohol that lets him ask the question, “Why do you stick with me anyway? There’s plenty of other people you can pity in this town-”

“Pity? That’s what you think it is? You- Jesus- you-” He grabs Steve roughly by the back of the neck and kisses him.

Bucky’s drunk and angry, but that’s not all of it. He’s more observant than other people think. He has noticed it, the way that Steve’s eyes don’t linger on the pretty girls the way he’d expect them to. The way Steve watches the guys when he thinks no-one’s looking. The way he watches Bucky when he thinks Bucky’s not looking. But it still takes a skinful of Dutch courage to actually kiss him.

Steve opens his mouth to the kiss, almost melts into Bucky, until his brain catches up with him. He pulls back forcefully, hisses at Bucky, “Queer pity’s still pity.”

Bucky pushes him into the wall, presses against him with his whole body, so Steve can feel he’s half-hard in his pants. “You’re not fucking pitiful, Steve.”

Bucky undoes Steve’s tie, then the buttons of his shirt, then grabs his neck to kiss him again. Steve’s always wanted this, not just Bucky kissing him, but Bucky manhandling him, using all that strength and bulk he has over Steve. He’s hard as a rock in his pants, and can’t help rubbing himself against Bucky’s leg.

Bucky swears softly, and puts his hands under Steve’s thighs to hoist him up the wall so they’re level with each other. Now Bucky’s pressing his own erection against Steve’s, and Steve has to bite down a moan. He pulls at Bucky’s tie, manages to get his shirt buttons undone, and Bucky’s hands are at his fly, until they’re skin to skin.

Steve slides one hand between them as Bucky thrusts forwards, their dicks sliding against each other. It’s too good, better than his own hand, but he needs just a little more, a little more friction. He can’t get his hand fully around both their dicks, but can half-cup them both, and yes, yes. When Bucky thrusts again Steve comes, silently.

Bucky swears quietly again, thrusts a few more times through the come that’s splattered across Steve before he comes. He collapses against Steve, who finds himself pinned to the wall by Bucky’s weight.

After a few moments Bucky steps back and lets Steve down.

They’re a mess, half-undressed, both covered in each other’s come.

They’re not quite meeting each other’s eyes, and there’s a moment where they just stand there. But then Bucky’s stripping out of his clothes, putting them over the chair, and Steve follows suit, neatly folding his clothes.

They’re still not talking.

Bucky fills a basin with warm water at the sink. But instead of washing himself, he turns to Steve and says, “C’mere.”

Steve steps forwards hesitantly, and says, “You don’t have to-”

“I want to.”

And that, with the heat and intent in Bucky’s eyes is enough to have Steve stepping forward. Bucky cups his free hand around Steve’s head, draws him into another kiss, slower and gentler this time. When they break apart they stay close, Steve’s hand on Bucky’s hip, Bucky’s free hand still in Steve’s hair.

Without changing position, Bucky soaks a washcloth in the basin and wipes Steve down. Steve shivers, and it’s nothing to do with the temperature, but there’s no chance of him getting hard again any time soon. Bucky soaks the washcloth again, but Steve takes it off him, wipes Bucky down.

“You’re not pitiful, Steve. But why you’re hanging round with a dumbass like me-”

“Don’t be a jerk, you’re not a dumbass-”

“I wasn’t a dumbass, I’d have done this soon as there was no chance of a nun walking in on us.”

They’re standing there, buck naked, grinning at each other like a pair of idiots, and perhaps a pair of idiots like them can make this work.

4. Aftermath

If he didn’t think it would make things worse for Bucky, Steve would have already burst into the tent and dragged him out of there. He can hear everything that’s been said. No, Bucky doesn’t know what they did to him. No, he doesn’t know why he survived and the others didn’t. No, he doesn’t know what made this particular bruise or cut or burn, he was tied down and couldn’t see. Yes, they did talk round him, but even though he can speak some German he was too out of it to catch much more than that they talked about someone called Erskine, and about replicating experiments.

That last part is like a kick to the stomach. It makes him feel personally responsible for what happened to Bucky, even though he knows that’s nonsense.

Dugan appears, followed by Falsworth, Jones, Morita and Dernier. He’s gathered that Bucky and Dugan were in the same unit and were friends before they were captured. Dugan and the other four seem to have spontaneously formed their own little fighting unit and have been pretty much inseparable since they left the Hydra base.

The five of them exchange nods with Steve. They don’t need to say anything. They’ve all gone through the same questioning, but because Bucky had been in Schmidt’s hands the longest, he’s getting a far longer debriefing than they did.

They’re starting to ask the same questions over again, and Steve can’t stand it any more. He ducks into the tent, and the others follow him.

“Sorry, sir, but I think that Sergeant Barnes has answered all the questions he can. I’m sure if he remembers anything else he’ll come tell you.” Steve is quite prepared to stare down Colonel Phillips, but he doesn’t have to.

The Colonel turns to the Lieutenant leading the interview, and says, “The Captain’s right. Let the boy get some rest. Dismissed, Sergeant.”

“Sir.” Bucky stands up and sways slightly, and Steve wants to sling an arm around him to steady him. But he also knows that he wouldn’t want to look like he needs help in front of a senior officer, so he holds back.

As they walk away, Agent Carter sticks her head out of the tent. “Captain? The quartermaster has instructions to give you all fresh uniforms. And you should shower as well. That last part is an order.”

Steve doesn’t hide his grin. “Yes, ma’am.”

The camp is well established enough to have a rickety wooden shower block. Not just that, but there’s been enough jubilation at the prisoners coming back that fuel has been released so there’s still hot water. The seven of them strip, and Bucky stares at Steve.

“There goes my idea that there were two of you in that suit.”

“Sorry, just me.”

Bucky pokes him hard in the chest and Steve says, “Hey!”

“Checking.”

The noise that Bucky makes as he steps under the hot water is far too similar to the ones he makes in bed, and Steve has to go for his current default non-erotic mental images (Colonel Phillips, naked in pin-up poses) to stop giving himself away.

DumDum says, “Sounds like Captain America wasn’t always the size of a freight train.”

Bucky says, “Nope. Barely came up to here.” He indicates a point on his arm just above the elbow.

Steve knows how classified the serum is, but he also trusts these guys, and thinks they should know the truth. So instead of telling Bucky to keep quiet, he pokes at a point closer to Bucky’s shoulder. “Up to there, asshole. I wasn’t that short.”

“Yeah, standing on tiptoe you were.”

While the others are washing themselves, Bucky is barely moving, just standing in the hot water. For all his mouth, Steve can see that he’s almost dropping with exhaustion. Steve soaps his hands, then slides his hands into Bucky’s hair.

“Hey!”

“You ain’t gonna wash, I’ll have to wash you.”

“I was enjoying the water, punk.” But he doesn’t move away as Steve washes his hair. It might be a little too intimate, but he can’t bring himself to care. Bucky needs looking after. That’s what’s important.

He cleans down Bucky’s body, thorough and workmanlike. He wants to linger, not like he normally does any time he sees Bucky naked, but instead to soothe all the cuts and bruises and burns.

He’s aware that the others are giving them space, not commenting or joking. He’s extremely grateful for it. Bucky’s been keeping up his comebacks, but Steve can see the effort that’s he’s having to put in.

Finally he thinks that Bucky is clean. A couple of the wounds will need a dressing, but it’s not really the physical part that’s worrying him. He pushes Bucky back under the shower spray, says, “Yeah, you enjoy the water till you wrinkle up, y’lazy bum.”

“You can’t appreciate a good thing when you’ve got it, Steve.”

Steve’s lathering up his own hair, so he’s got a good excuse to close his eyes against the tears that threaten to well up. He does appreciate a good thing when he’s got it, especially when he thought he might have lost him forever.

5. High-Class

The new French headquarters of the SSR are in a stunningly beautiful chateau, which even has a couple of peacocks still running around the grounds. The SSR houses the Commandos as a group, not splitting officers and men (probably, Bucky says, so they can throw them out to do something stupid and dangerous faster).

They’re shown to a room that must have been a master bedroom at some point in the past, where there are army cots with grey blankets looking completely out of place against the fine baroque paintwork. They all dump their packs, and Falsworth opens the second door in the room.

“Gosh.”

The last time Falsworth had said ‘gosh’ in that tone of voice it had been at a number of half-naked ladies, so the rest of the Commandos are quick to go over to him.

It’s not naked ladies. It’s a bathroom. But bathroom seems understating it. Bathpalace? Everything is gilded and painted and sculpted, with mosaics of mermaids and dolphins across the walls. The bath is marble, and looks like it could hold four of them comfortably. Even the toilet is up on a step like a throne.

DumDum says, “Y’know Monty, this is what I imagine your bathroom at home looks like.”

“Good grief, no. All modern conveniences, yes, gilded loo-seats, no.”

Gabe says, “More importantly, have we got hot water? Bath sounds really good right now.”

“Bagsie first run.” says Falsworth.

It devolves into an argument, which Steve and Bucky stay out of. There are expectations of rank. They’ll take the last bath (though they both know that they could pull rank and take the first, neither of them want to do that), and if that means no hot water, they’ll live with it.

As Bucky leans past Steve, ostensibly to pull something out of his pack, he whispers, “There’s a lock on that bathroom door.”

Steve swallows.

It’s a long time later when all the Commandos are finally clean.

Morita cheerfully says, “Left the bathwater for you.”

They have. It’s beige.

Bucky pulls the plug. “Rather have cold than that.”

But there is still hot water coming out of the tap. Steve locks the door and while the bolt is tiny, no obstacle to anyone, it’s a clear message not to disturb. There have been half-coded conversations with the Commandos, to say that they know about the two of them and don’t mind, without actually saying any such thing.

Bucky is in his arms kissing him as soon as he turns around. They get onto the floor, still kissing, fumbling with fastenings and pushing each other’s pants down so they can press against each other. There’s no time for any finesse, they could be disturbed at any point, so they’re focussed on bringing each other off as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Bucky buries his face in Steve’s neck as he comes, his hand still working on Steve’s dick. Steve follows a few moments later. They’ve long practice in being quiet, but they also know that silence where there should be conversation can be just as incriminating. But from the other side of the door they can hear Dernier in full flow with another one of his unbelievable anecdotes, and know they’re safe.

They stand up, finish stripping out of their clothes. The bath isn’t anything like half-full, but Steve shuts the water off anyway. He doesn’t have to say anything about not wasting resources, Bucky’s heard it all before.

The bath is huge, and they both sit before grinning at each other and sliding to lie in the water. It’s not long enough for either of them to lie full-length, but it’s close enough. They’re both content just to lie there, warm and comfortable for a change.

Bucky says quietly, “We need a bath like this. After the war. Big enough to take both of us. Not marble-”

“Because we could afford that-”

“You’re a national hero. National heros get discounts. But a bath this size, full, and bubbles.”

Steve turns onto his side to look at Bucky. “A bubble bath.”

“A really big bubble bath, with you in it.”

Steve wraps his arms around him, kisses him gently. “Sounds romantic.”

Bucky grins. “Right to the point I tell you what I’m gonna do to you in that bath.”

Steve chuckles. “We’d spill the water and flood the bathroom.”

“You’re a real killjoy, you know that?”

Steve reaches round him, picks up the bar of soap and begins to lather it. He really does mean to wash, but it turns into an excuse for each of them to get their hands all over each other, to kiss lazily in the warm water.

Steve’s hard again, and Buck wraps his hand around his dick, saying, “Ain’t ever gonna get used to you always being ready to go.”

“You don’t have to-”

Bucky looks at him very seriously and says, “I don’t pass up opportunities to get my hands on your dick.”

Bucky looks down for a moment, then bends to take Steve’s dick in his mouth. The water’s shallow enough that he can keep his nose out of the water if he only takes the tip in his mouth, but he holds his breath and ducks his face into the water to suck on Steve’s whole length.

Steve balls his hands into fists at his side, to stop himself keeping Bucky’s head under the water.

Bucky sucks up and down his length, slowly, teasingly, breathing at the points his nose is out of the water. Steve’s pretty sure that Bucky’s the only person in the world who can smirk with someone’s dick in their mouth.

It’s a slow burn of pleasure, building up until Steve hisses a warning, “Bucky, gonna-”

Bucky takes him deep, swallows round his dick as Steve comes.

He sits up, then drapes himself across Steve’s chest. Steve tangles his fingers in Bucky’s wet hair. They stay like that until the water is cold, and they can no longer ignore the world outside.

+1

Steve always showers. The power shower in his apartment soothes his muscles, and it’s more efficient than taking a bath.

But tonight he runs a bath, even pours some bubble bath under the running tap. He’d had to buy some that afternoon, and found the choice bewildering. He’d eventually chosen something that smelled of strawberries. They’d both liked strawberries in the summer. He hoped that hadn’t changed.

It’s not quite right. The bath’s not nearly big enough for a start. But nothing’s quite right, and he wants at least to try.

He doesn’t hear Bucky come into the bathroom, but he knows he’s there. He turns round and smiles. “I don’t even mind if we flood the bathroom.”

Bucky looks surprised, almost wary. “You remember that?”

“I remember all your dumb ideas, jerk.”

Bucky takes a step forward, and Steve steps in to meet him. He wraps his arms around him, tentative, allowing him space to step back if he wants. But instead Bucky sighs, leans in, hugs Steve back.

“That bath ain’t big enough for the both of us.”

“Don’t know until we try.”

“Now who has the dumb ideas?”

It isn’t big enough. They do flood the bathroom. But it’s worth it to make Bucky laugh for the first time since he came back.