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slow uncurling

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He's dozing in the bedroom, or something that pretends to be dozing, when Steve comes home. The tablet's playing something by Bellini. He honestly can't remember what - he just picked it because it was there, because he hadn't heard it before, because he can ignore the Italian the way there's a lot of other languages he can't. The kitten's a curled ball of slightly greater heat on his stomach.

He listens to Steve come in, take off his boots, hang up his coat. Listens to the click of the light turning on, because when he came in here it'd been light and now it isn't. The hum of the filament sounds for a second, but then it's drowned out by water running, the clink of a few dishes, and then the louder hum and faint waves of the dish-washer.

Steve changes the loads over from the washer to the drier, puts a new one in. Bucky listens to the thousand small sounds of that: cloth on cloth hissing, cloth on cloth on the metal of the dryer's drum, the washer's drum, the clicks and thunks of doors closing, the water running. The noises paint their own picture, right up until the moment Steve stops in the bedroom door, and then stays there long enough that Bucky opens his eyes, turning his head to look.

Steve's leaning on the door-frame; it looks like he turned the lights back off out there, sounds masked by the hums and hisses of the dishwasher, laundry machine, drier, all those. It means the yellow-orange light of the one bedside lamp throws soft shadows, on Steve and his folded arms, t-shirt and jeans, and the half-smile on his face.

And if he's honest it's not the first time that Bucky thinks that sometimes he didn't think he'd ever see Steve make it this far, this age. Remembers that he didn't. He'd never have admitted it, not to Steve, not to himself, not to fucking anyone, but the problem with not being a total fucking moron is there's only so much you can lie to yourself before some part of you knows, and some part of you wonders even if you do spend as much effort as he did shoving it away and refusing to listen.

Some part of you looks at the idiot lying in bed, sick again, delirious again, and wonders if this really is going to be the last time. If there's going to be an exhale that doesn't have an inhale to follow, if pale skin's just going to get paler and go cold.

Wonders if you'll ever get to find out what the idiot looks like when he's twenty five, thirty, forty. Old. Wonders when the face is going to stop, freeze, only exist in memories and photographs and never change again.

Wonders what the fuck you're going to do, when that happens.

He can't actually remember which fucking birthday Steve's really on now (he can't even fucking think how to count his own, but he figures it's fair to pause the whole fucking thing while Steve was frozen in the fucking Arctic Ocean), but it's got to be working its way up to decade number three, and he remembers that he wondered about that a lot. If he'd see Steve get there.

All things considered, wherever it is they are by now, it looks okay. For once when Bucky's paying attention Steve doesn't even need a haircut and the bruise where Stark managed to elbow him in the face with the suit yesterday's almost completely done.

(Bucky'd watched that happen, folded his arms and by the time Steve got back where he could hear it Bucky'd said, "You deserved that."

"Yeah, yeah," Steve'd said, sourly.

"Stop fucking trying to substitute enhancement for technique," Bucky'd told him, and the look Steve'd given him had been more than sour.

"I feel so vindicated," Romanova'd said, in a mock-dreamy, sing-song voice, and Steve's look turned on her, too.)

So Bucky looks at Steve standing there, and thinks about that for a minute before he puts a question in the look, and Steve shakes his head a little.

"Sentimental bullshit," he says, and when Bucky raises his eyebrows a little to repeat the question, Steve shrugs. "I remember when you were just pictures. Photographs. Was the only way I'd get to see you anymore."

Sometimes God really does think he's funny. The irritating fucking bastard.

When Bucky says, "You're right. That is sentimental bullshit," it's not because there's any . . . reason he can't admit the coincidence. Any reason he doesn't want to. Not even ones that can be traced back to ego shit. To feeling awkward, to any kind of self-deceptive belief he doesn't have a lot of sentimental bullshit of his own.

Instead it's animal shit, stupid and frantic and incapable of hearing reason, let alone listening to it. The parts of the brain that are absolutely fucking sure that past this line, or that line, there's nothing but pain and it won't even calm down enough for you to ask why.

So he says what he says to move on, move past that, and because it's a sidelong lie he's been telling so badly for so long Steve doesn't even pretend to believe it anymore.

It's almost funny, except where it's sad.

Steve just pushes off the doorjamb and crosses to the bed. He scoops up the kitten in spite of her protests and puts her down in the ridiculously plush little cat bed that lives on the bedside table now. The little twit makes an indignant trilling sound, but she doesn't try to get back on the bed and Bucky stops thinking about her for a while.

Instead he catches Steve's arm, silent encouragement, pulling Steve over him and down to the bed.

There's no real urgency, no sharp edge, and Bucky's fine with that. Tries to let himself unwind into it and comes close to managing, as close as he ever does: forgetting all the other shit, just letting this be. Not thinking about before or after or slotting it into the endless sequence of fucking moments that make up a life and then getting caught in all the fucking questions (the poison ones, like whether or not he deserves this or how he's going to pay for it and what it makes him - ) and just . . .existing.

He's bad at that. But right now, maybe not as bad as other times.

Steve's half-beside him and half-over him, with his weight on his right arm and his left leg lying across Bucky's while his left hand slides up under the right side of Bucky's shirt. Bucky works his left arm around Steve's waist, turning towards him and resting his right hand on Steve's neck, fitting himself against Steve or Steve against him or both and who the fuck cares, as he kisses Steve's jaw and his mouth, not hard but long, lingering.

There's a grinding digging thing at the back of Bucky's head that doesn't go quiet but it gets drowned out, gets just fucking drowned, by Steve's palm sliding up over his right side and his thumb stroking over his ribs as Steve draws his hand back down. Slowly.

Steve turns his hand, drags his fingertips down Bucky's stomach and then flattens his palm out again to press back around his waist. Rests his hand at Bucky's hip, sliding under the waistband of his sweats with his thumb tracing over the point of bone under skin.

Bucky bends his outside knee, pulling Steve's leg between his and pulling Steve closer. Steve moves his hand to cradle the side of Bucky's head and neck and rests his forehead against Bucky's.

"God I missed you," Steve murmurs; Bucky realizes he's holding onto Steve's forearm, holding his hand where it is. And it's not the first time he's thought those words don't mean the same thing to them as other people, shorthand for so much God-damned . . . else, and it's not the first time he shies away from the thought, either. It pulls too much other shit out of the festering dark spaces in his head and he doesn't want it, doesn't want to think about it.

And he'd say I know and it would mean . . .more than one thing, mean a window and a mirror: I know you did and I know what you mean, and he would say it but it's not, he can't - but that's . . . farther than he can go, out loud, more than he can. He can't.

Not yet.

"Jesus, Steve," is what he says, sliding his hand down Steve's forearm and then up to his shoulder, pulling him closer not for anything else but just to . . . be closer. And he manages, "I'm not going anywhere."

Steve brushes curled fingers against the side of Bucky's face, strokes his thumb over Bucky's temple, and then down so his palm's against the curve of Bucky's neck and his thumb strokes circles over Bucky's throat.

The inside of Bucky's head feels like someone's poured everything out, all of it, so there's Steve's hand there and Steve's body against his and maybe Steve's mouth touching to his temple and the corner of his jaw while Steve says, "I'd just follow you anyway," and maybe the pull between never fucking moving again, and pushing Steve over onto his back and fucking him senseless, until they both can't move and Steve's voice breaks.

Never moving wins for a while, for now. Keeps Steve's weight against him, heat that goes from skin through cloth to skin again, and the sound of Steve's breathing and the way he smells. Just right now. There's time later.

There's time for everything later.