Actions

Work Header

To the Marrow of Our Bones

Chapter Text

Captain America looked like hell.

Bucky held on to that thought. It wasn't exactly the reason he'd gotten himself into this situation, but it would have to do. He wiped his hand on his jeans as he looked up and up.

Fuck, Avengers Tower was daunting, even though he was only going in for another round of tests. It wasn't like anyone expected anything of him, he reminded himself. Probably just some of his blood, and he was pretty good at spilling that.

With one last deep breath, Bucky gathered what courage he had and walked through the automatic doors and into the vast, opulent lobby. Jesus, he'd had half the day to get ready, he should have shaved. Worn the good jeans. Pulled his hair back.

It's just a test, it's just a test, it's --

"Sergeant James Barnes?"

Bucky snapped his attention to the man approaching him.

The first thing he noticed was his hair, sides shaved, the rest of it artfully tousled, jet black with streaks of bright blue that brought out his eyes, even from behind his thick rimmed glasses.

"I'm Grant," the guy said, looking down shyly as he stuck his hand out for Bucky to shake. "I'm Captain America's assistant."

There was no reason in the world for Grant to be nervous here, but Bucky kind of appreciated that he wasn't alone in it, anyway, and he shook his hand as quickly as politeness would allow. "Uh, hi, I'm Bucky. Barnes. I don't usually go by Sergeant anymore, now that I'm out."

He gestured at where his left arm used to be. He usually liked getting that part out of the way as soon as he could. Hopefully Grant wouldn't be one of the ones who would try to hug him and thank him for his service. Not that hugging Grant would be a bad thing. Not at all. Grant seemed very huggable, in a warm cardigan that hung loosely on his slender shoulders. But if he ever got the chance to hug him, Bucky didn't want it to be about what he'd done as a soldier.

"Sure thing, Bucky," Grant said, with a soft smile and a sharp nod.

"Am I supposed to be meeting Captain America today? Because I am not prepared for that," Bucky said. He tried to play it off as a joke, but seriously, he would have found something nicer to wear than his Jubilee concert t-shirt and his scuffed, one-armed leather jacket if he'd known he was going to meet a national icon.

"Uh, it's only me," Grant said, biting his lip a little, just enough to show off the bright gold of his lip ring, and Bucky kinda wanted to help out with the whole biting thing, because Grant's lips were lush and pink and very biteable looking.

Bucky knew exactly what he was doing. He wasn't especially proud of himself for it, either. But a little bit of distraction was what he needed, and Grant, with his meticulously precise tattoos that ran the length of each slender wrist, with his bright blue hearing aid announcing that he had no fucks to give for anyone who didn't accept him as he was ... Well, he was an excellent distraction. He didn't seem to mind, either. For as nervous as he seemed, Grant was also kind of brazen about looking Bucky over once he realized he was being checked out. And if the slow smile and raised eyebrow were anything to go by, he liked what he saw.

"Your first interview is with Natalie Rushman," Grant said with a little shake of his head. "Right this way."

"Wait, interview?" Bucky asked, following along after Grant, down a long corridor, away from the sun drenched lobby and into the fluorescent depths of the building.

"Oh, they didn't tell you?"

"Nobody told me anything."

Grant led Bucky into a small waiting room that only held two chairs, with no windows. There was just the door they'd come through and another blank door opposite it. "Sorry, I didn't realize you'd been kept in the dark. You're here because --"

The blank door opened and a small, auburn haired woman bustled through it. "Grant," she said with a touch of edge in her voice. "Let me do my job, and I'll let you do yours. For as long as you have one, that is."

Grant didn't look at all worried. He even smiled a little as he asked, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Oh, come on," she said with a wicked quirk of her lips. "We all know that as soon as you get the chance you'll be moving on to bigger things."

For whatever reason, Grant gave her an epic eye roll, and he drew a breath for what seemed sure to be a deliciously snarky response, but she flicked her eyes toward Bucky and Grant snapped his mouth shut.

She turned and said, "Sergeant Barnes --"

"It's Bucky," said Grant, and she narrowed her eyes, first at him and then at Bucky.

"Sergeant Barnes," she said again, ignoring Grant's glare. "I'm Natalie Rushman, and I'll be conducting your first interview of the day. Come this way."

Bucky followed her through the blank door, and Grant stayed behind.

Natalie waved imperiously at a leather chair as she went around the desk to her own, bigger, more comfortable looking chair, and said, "Have a seat."

He did. It was just as uncomfortable as it looked.

She steepled her fingers. "Your physical tests have all been excellent, and your marrow is a match for Captain America."

Jesus. They really hadn't told him anything, and apparently there'd been plenty to tell. "That's good, though. Right?"

She tilted her head enigmatically. "I guess that depends. What happens now is that I find out exactly how big of a threat you are to Captain America's security."

"Oh. Because he'd be incapacitated for the procedure?"

Shit. Wrong thing to say. She was going to flay him alive. Shit.

"Let's get started."

 


 

Bucky's VA appointed therapist liked to tell him, "Dissociation is not a solution."

But his therapist wasn't here. Nobody was here. Nobody but Natalie, who was slowly working on tearing him apart.

Bucky had to get through this. He reminded himself again that Captain America looked like hell in that infomercial Stark had made. America's golden boy was all washed out, dark circles under his eyes that the make-up couldn't quite cover, still standing tall, but not filling out his suit the way he used to. The first time Bucky had seen it, he'd muttered something about eating more fucking protein and switched the channel.

It wasn't until a few nights later, because a few nights was the most he could ever get between horrifying dreams that made sleep impossible, that he actually watched the thing.

It was vague about the details. Cap was still strong, but he was sick, and only a bone marrow donation "from one of you out there, right now," could cure him. "Be a hero," Stark said into the camera. "Make America big again!" And they cut to the image of the two of them, Stark looking like he always did, Cap looking tired and underfed but otherwise the same as usual.

But then Captain America had his say. He didn't talk about himself at all. He didn't ask anyone to be a hero. He just talked steadily about how bone marrow donation was simple, relatively painless, ("I know, needles aren't my favorite thing, either," he said, "But it's not much different from donating plasma.") and it saved thousands of lives. He didn't even amend it to say innocent lives, or show sad eyed children in hospital beds. He just said it saved lives, as if he believed that sick people deserved treatment, no matter what. Then he looked into the camera and said, "I know you'll do what's right."

Bucky tried to remember that as he listened to his own voice, mechanically answering Natalie's questions about the friends he'd gotten killed, about the explosion that blew him to pieces, about the cell and the chair and the pain.

"You can go now," she said finally, not even looking up from her tablet.

He went. He straight-armed his way through one door after another until he found sunshine and bus fumes and a thousand voices all talking at once. He rounded a corner, stumbled upon a little plaza with a tree growing in a boxy planter, and propped himself between the planter and the building.

He wanted a cigarette.

He wanted a beer.

He wanted his eyes to be dry and his hand to be steady.

As usual, he didn't get what he wanted.

"Hey," a voice huffed beside him. The guy from before, Grant, was there, all out of breath, bent over with his hands on his knees, his skin pale but with bright spots on his cheeks. He looked up through his bangs and gasped, "Can I help?"

"What?" Bucky asked, still not quite back inside himself, but aware enough to figure he should be the one asking that question.

"You kinda ... ran off. I thought ... You okay?"

"Um, I'm fine." Bucky sniffed and wiped his eyes, and gave a wry smile. "Obviously."

Grant wheezed a laugh. "Yeah, me too."

Bucky shoved himself up onto the edge of the planter to sit, and held out his hand in offering. Grant considered it for what felt like a long moment, but finally took it and pulled himself up. His fingers were long and strong, with bruises on the knuckles. Bucky didn't bother trying to understand why he found that particular detail quite as hot as he did.

The look Grant was giving him was kind and compassionate, and Bucky said roughly, "I don't want to talk about it."

"Well, that's good, 'cause I'm a terrible listener," Grant said, shaking his head sadly with a ghost of a smirk on his lips.

Bucky's shoulders came down a little. "Oh yeah?"

"I'm pretty sure I've been told that. Maybe they meant someone else though, I wasn't paying attention." Grant bit his lip, trying to hold back a grin. He really was the best kind of distraction, and once again, Bucky wanted to help with the lip biting.

He settled for smiling and giving him a light shove, instead. "Dork."

"Dweeb," Grant shot back, bumping their shoulders together.

"Doofus."

"I can only think of one other d-word," Grant said, blinking widely.

Bucky gasped in mock outrage. "I can't believe you were going to call me a doodlebug."

Grant almost toppled over laughing. Bucky caught him around the shoulders, just in case, and Grant nestled in closer, still chuckling.

They both froze for a moment.

Bucky carefully lifted his arm, and they arranged themselves shoulder to shoulder. To fill the silence, Bucky blurted out, "It turns out I'm a match. For the bone marrow. Guess maybe you knew that, though."

"I would have told you --"

"It's okay. I just ... wasn't expecting the Spanish Inquisition." Bucky grinned.

Grant grinned back. "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

Good listener or not, Grant was damned easy to talk to, and Bucky said quietly, "I'm not sure I'd go through this if it was for anyone else."

"I don't think you'd have to, if it was anyone else." He looked so sad about it, frowning down at his knees. "But I know he really appreciates it."

"Just trying to do my part," Bucky said, pressing a little harder into his shoulder rather than put his arm around him again like he wanted.

Grant's phone buzzed, startling them both. He checked the text and turned to Bucky. "You ready for another meeting? This one is just for paperwork, no thumbscrews or comfy pillows."

"As if paperwork isn't its own form of torture." Bucky hopped down from the planter.

Grant hopped down beside him. "Can't argue with that."

They went back inside, and through the entire endless stack of papers, Grant stayed with him.

There were forms consenting to the peripheral blood stem cell donation, ("Five days of injections is a little more intense than a plasma donation, though.") forms consenting to the traditional bone marrow donation if the stem cell option didn't work out, ("Fun, drilling holes in your hip bone.") forms for his own privacy, ("Oh look, you could win a fiddle of gold.") forms for Stark Industries privacy, ("This one says your second born child is the rightful property of Mr. Rumpelstiltskin.")

Grant kept Bucky laughing, kept him focused, kept him in his own skin.

Damn, Bucky didn't want to be done.

The woman who'd been handling all the paperwork, Maria, had already left the conference room, and Grant was going to say his goodbyes any second now.

"I guess it'd be inappropriate to ask you out?" Bucky said, somehow finding exactly the wrong tone.

A little flash of disappointment, and then resignation, flickered across Grant's face almost too fast to see. "Yeah, I guess so."

"I could do it anyway," Bucky said, keeping his voice low and moving closer, until Grant lifted an eyebrow and gave a ghost of a smile.

"You could."

"Come to dinner with me." Bucky licked his lips, aiming for seductive but maybe landing on nervous. Either way, Grant followed the movement and swallowed.

"Right now?"

"Right now."

"Let's go."

 


 

It was Bucky's favorite restaurant, the one that he'd been to often enough to almost feel comfortable in. He grinned across the table. "So, do you work for all the Captains, or just the one?"

"No, Sam and Sharon don't need the help." Grant smiled, but his eyes flicked to the door as another customer came in.

"And Rogers does?"

"Well, you know. He missed a lot. Doesn't know how to use things like self check outs, doesn't get all the pop culture references," Grant said, scanning the entire area again.

Bucky reached out with his chopsticks and swiped a piece of pork off Grant's plate, trying to draw him back in. "Nobody gets all the references."

"I guess not," Grant smiled and swatted at him, far too late. "But he's got this whole list of things to catch up with."

"Must be kind of fun though, right?"

The look Grant gave him was equal parts confusion and dismay.

Bucky shrugged. "I like new stuff. If we didn't get to show each other new stuff then I might never be able to talk you into going to my place to watch Airbender."

To Bucky's immense relief, Grant looked delighted, his raised eyebrow doing nothing at all to hide his grin as he said, "Oh, is that what we're doing?"

"Maybe. Unless you've already seen everything. In that case I'll have to invite Captain America, instead."

Grant shook his head like that was the weirdest, worst thing he'd ever heard.

"Wow," Bucky said, "is he really that bad?"

"No!" Grant looked down at his napkin, which he was twisting mercilessly. "I don't know. He's an okay guy. But sometimes he seems ... scared and selfish."

Bucky didn't have an answer for that. He planned to spend the rest of the week getting stuck with needles for Captain America, but any loyalty he had for him didn't measure up to the idea of taking Grant home and bringing him off fast, barely inside the door. He wanted strong hands on his shoulders and bitter salt on his tongue. The thought of it was half of what had gotten him through the day, and the other half was the way Grant made him laugh.

Besides, there were much better topics of conversation.

He moved closer, propping his elbow on the table. "I like your lip ring."

"Uh, thanks." Grant looked up at him and said politely, "Do you have any piercings?"

"Wouldn't you like to know." Bucky tilted his head and gave a sultry smile.

After a moment of surprise, Grant smiled back, slowing looking him over. "Yeah, I would."

"Well I'm not telling. You'd have to find out for yourself."

"I'd like that even more."

They didn't stay for dessert.

 


 

There were a lot of disadvantages to only having one hand, but this was one of the highest on the list. Grant's skin was satin smooth everywhere that Bucky touched, but he couldn't touch nearly enough of it at once. The dip at the small of his back, the slight curve of his waist, the gentle planes of his chest, Bucky wanted all of it under his hands, and instead he ended up tangled in Grant's shirt, a problem Grant solved by pulling the shirt off. It landed on the floor somewhere, just like his cardigan had. The soft thwump of it had neatly coincided with the sound of Bucky hitting the light switch as they got inside, and they hadn't slowed down since.

God he was gorgeous, pale in the soft lamplight, and Bucky kissed at the shadows formed by the sharp angle of his collarbones as Grant clutched at his hips. The way he sighed, not quite a moan but oh so close, was intoxicating, and Bucky bent lower, licking and nibbling and sliding a nipple between spit slick fingers.

Grant pulled at him, slipped his hands around his waist and under his shirt, his fingers a cool spark against his skin.

"Oh sugar, yes." Bucky murmured, and hooked his arm around Grant's shoulder to bring him closer.

He didn't even think about what he was doing, until Grant slowly pulled out of what short grasp Bucky had with his stump, and whispered, "I can't do this."

Fuck.

Bucky backed away, giving him plenty of room and not meeting his eyes. "Yeah, okay. I -- uh -- It happens. It's fine."

"I'm sorry, I didn't --"

"It's fine!" Bucky snapped, proving that it fucking wasn't fine, and he couldn't bring himself to feel sorry that they both knew it now. He scooped Grant's shirt off the floor and threw it at him. "I get it, okay? You can stop trying to make me feel better about it and just fucking go."

"You -- What do you mean you get it?" Grant said. He let the shirt fall right back to the floor and reached out to Bucky as if he hadn't just flinched away from him. "How do you --"

Bucky twisted away, putting his stump behind him, mortified to feel tears coming to his eyes, again, but goddamn he had thought it could be good with Grant, thought he'd understand, somehow, or at least not be disgusted with him. "Just go. Find somebody else to practice being brave on. I'm not -- I can't --"

Grant went from looking confused to looking horrified. "No, Bucky it's not that! Oh fuck, I'm so sorry. It's not about your arm or your injuries or whatever you might think it is."

"Right." Bucky sniffed and scrubbed his palm over his eyes, shaking his head.

"I swear it's not that," Grant said, and touched Bucky's shoulder. "You called me sugar and I wanted you to say my name, I wanted you to be with me, but -- Grant is my middle name. My real name is Steve. Steve Rogers."

"What the fuck difference --" Bucky stopped. "Steve Rogers?"

"Yeah."

That was not possible.

Sure, Captain America had looked thinner than usual, but ...

He had looked a lot thinner than usual, but ...

Grant's hair was all wrong, and he had the incredibly hot lip piercing, the tattoos, but shit, none of that proved anything and he had the same fucking eyes, behind those thick-rimmed glasses. "That Steve Rogers?"

Grant, STEVE, sighed. "Yeah."

"You're Steve Ro--"

"I know, and I hate being so dishonest, but I never thought --"

"Really fucking dishonest, yeah." They hadn't exactly bared their souls or anything, but jesus. "Was any of it true?"

"All of it was true, I --"

"All of it except for the part where you're actually Captain America?"

"Technically, Sharon is, at the moment." When Bucky gave him a flat look, he stuck his chin out and went on, "She is. And so is Sam, he's just on hiatus while --"

"The same way you're on hiatus? Or does he tell people his actual name?"

"I really am sorry." Steve slumped against the wall and blew out a breath. He looked like hell, with his skin even paler than usual and his hands trembling despite how he clenched them tight and tried to hide it.

"Go sit down," Bucky said, not so pissed that he couldn't also be worried. He went to the fridge and pulled out a pair of water bottles, handing one over and sitting on the opposite end of the couch to watch him drink.

"Thanks," Steve said once the bottle was half empty. He'd pulled his cardigan back on, over bare skin that Bucky still wanted to touch, and he rubbed his chest, muttering, "Damn, this sucks."

"Tell me what happened. You're about a foot and half shorter than I'd have expected." It was an exaggeration, but Bucky was feeling petty.

"It's classified." Steve shrugged. "But we were planning to raise your clearance level anyway, since you were supposed to meet everybody tomorrow. If you're still in."

"Who's everybody?"

"The Avengers."

Bucky blinked in horror. "Nobody told me about that."

"Yeah, well, sometimes people try to kill us, especially when we're all together. We try not to announce things, because somebody could steal Ant-Man's suit and ride in on your shoelaces, and you wouldn't even realize until the shooting started. Or they could use a tracker and send in a drone. The fewer people who know where we are, the safer everyone will be," Steve said bitterly.

He was Captain America. Of course there were people who wanted him dead, who wanted worse. Of course he'd had a hunted look in his eyes when they were out in public. Of course he should keep himself safe.

Christ, looking at him like this, miserably hunched in the corner of the couch, trying to do what he thought was right, Bucky wanted nothing more than to keep him safe.

He sighed. "If I'm meeting The Avengers, I guess I'd better wear my good jeans."

Steve tried to smile. "Well, you already met Natasha. She interviewed you. Natalie Rushman."

"That was --" Bucky sucked in a breath. "Fuck, I'd have been a lot less embarrassed if I'd known it was her. How many guys can say the Black Widow made them cry?"

"So many," Steve said, shaking his head, and they both laughed a little.

Jesus, it felt right to laugh with him.

Steve settled back into the cushions. "All right, you asked what happened, and it's a long story, but it started when Sam was part of a secret flight suit program."

Bucky smirked. "Everybody kinda knows about the Falcon suit."

"Yeah, well they didn't at the time, smartass."

"Come over here and say that to my face," Bucky said, playfully narrowing his eyes.

Steve shoved himself out of the corner of the couch and leaned in, so very close. He raised an eyebrow and said, "Smartass."

The space between them melted into a soft sigh and a press of lips and a hand tangling in blue streaked hair.

"Wait," Steve murmured, putting a hand on Bucky's chest but shifting closer. Bucky licked his lips and Steve kissed him again, open mouthed so their tongues caught, the chill of his lip ring a bright counterpoint to all his warmth.

Bucky ran his fingers lightly over Steve's earlobe and brushed their lips together again. "You wanted to wait?"

"Uh, yeah," Steve muttered, barely moving back at all. "Shit, sorry, yeah."

"Don't want you to be sorry about this," Bucky whispered against Steve's temple.

"No." Steve took a deep breath and sat back. "Not sorry about you. Not a bit. But you deserve the truth before -- Before you make any decisions."

"Okay." Bucky nodded and tried to pick up the threads of their conversation. "And it starts with Sam Wilson?"

"Right. Sam got out of the Air Force after he watched his partner get shot down. He came home, made a life for himself, found a way to help people. Then he met me, and a few days later I dragged him back into fighting."

"Against HYDRA, Project Insight," Bucky said.

"Yeah. They sent an assassin after us. The Winter Soldier. During the fighting, the Soldier's mask came off, and ... It was Sam's partner, Riley. We don't know how he survived the fall, just that he got captured by HYDRA, and they used him to test out a version of the serum. It's not exactly like mine, but it made him stronger. Strong enough that he could keep healing when they tortured him, and when they damaged his brain, over and over."

"Fuck," Bucky muttered. "Fuck."

"Yeah." Steve took a deep breath. "They made him into their perfect soldier. He didn't even know his own name anymore. And Sam ... he's stronger than I could ever be, he got through to Riley, he broke the conditioning and almost got himself killed in the process. But the helicarriers crashed, and when Sam woke up, Riley was gone. Word got around, and a lot of powerful people were scared at the idea of a rogue super soldier out there, so they all started trying to find a way to counteract the serum."

"And one of them succeeded." Bucky brushed his knuckles over Steve's knee, and Steve twined their fingers together.

"Yeah. They created a situation, and we played right into their hands, Tony and I both. I got arrested, put in a top security prison, along with some of my friends. They made Wanda wear a collar, they treated her like --" Steve scowled and clenched his free hand into a fist.

"Arrested," Bucky said. "So this was our people? Our own fucking government did this to you?"

"Funny thing is, I'd already agreed to be experimented on. I signed all the papers, back in '43, so it wasn't even technically illegal, according to General Ross."

"Oh yeah, that's hilarious. Jesus christ, no wonder you always look like you want to punch somebody."

Steve chuckled, which seemed like a hell of a victory to Bucky, under the circumstances. "Anyway. They tried a lot of things, and even after they found one that seemed to work, they didn't stop experimenting. If Sam hadn't convinced Tony to help break me out, I would've died. Hell, I still might. I can't make enough blood cells now. I'm too weak to get the serum again."

"And that's where the bone marrow comes in," Bucky said.

"Right. It's more than that, though. At least, according to Doctor Erskine."

Bucky blinked in surprise, and Steve said, "What?"

"Nothing, just ... It's a little weird. I only know Doctor Erskine as a character in a movie, with the sparky lights and the goofy hair." He didn't mention that it was a little like talking about Doctor Frankenstein. He wasn't about to imply that Steve was a monster.

"His hair wasn't actually goofy, and the sparky lights were mostly Howard's fault." Steve waved his hand dismissively. "But one thing the movie got right was that he chose me because he believed that I was a good man. He believed that the results of the experiment would be affected by that. Bruce thinks so, too. He's an expert on the serum, he knows more about it than anyone."

"Okay?" Bucky said, because Steve was giving him a significant look that he didn't understand.

"That's why I wanted you to know all this. That's why the rest of The Avengers need to meet you before we move on with the transplant. We have to be sure, because Erskine said it's what's inside that matters, and part of what's inside would be, well, you."

He was looking right into Bucky's eyes, with the kind of unspeakable bravery that Steve Rogers was known for.

"No, that's --" Bucky swallowed desperately. "I'm not like that, I'm not like you, I'm --"

"Scared and selfish?" Steve said with a crooked smile. "Yeah, I know the feeling."

Having one less hand didn't make it any easier to figure out what to do with the one he still had. Bucky settled for running it through his hair and then clenching it at his side. "What happens if it goes wrong?"

"It went fine last time, and that was seventy years ago. We have better tests, better medicine, and a better Stark."

"We do?"

"We do. Howard was a great inventor and a great businessman, but Tony is a hero. And a genius. And an asshole, but nobody's perfect."

Bucky knew he wasn't doing a great job of processing all this. Using his body to help Captain America was one thing. Hoping that his moral compass was strong enough to be trusted with Steve's life was something else entirely. But instead of any of that, he said, "Was the real Howard like the one in the movie?"

"He helped pay for the movie, so no. He was probably the only one who came out looking better than in real life."

"Did you ever get to talk to him, after?"

"No, he was already gone."

"What about the others? Jim Moore, and --"

"Morita," Steve said, practically in a growl. "His name was Jim Morita. His parents got sent to a fucking internment camp while he was out fighting for our country, but the filmmakers made him white instead of Japanese. They spent loads of money on special effects to show Arnie falling off the train, but it was too expensive to show that he was Jewish or that he was gay. And the shit they did to Gabe -- Gabe Jones was a fucking poet, that man never said 'aw shucks' in his life, goddammit."

"Jesus. I didn't know any of that."

"Hardly anyone does," Steve said, opening his water bottle and taking a long drink. "I talk about it, but nobody really listens, not in the press anyway. They just want to hear about who Natasha is dating."

Bucky nodded and tried to pretend he wouldn't want to know the answer to that.

Steve rolled his eyes and said, "It's Sharon. They met while I was getting myself arrested, been together ever since."

Bucky snorted. "Well, at least something good came out of it."

"Oh, it wasn't all bad. Bruce came back to us. Sam found Riley again."

Something about the way Steve shrugged and turned away gave Bucky an idea about what he wasn't saying. "What about you? The tattoos and everything, is that ..."

Steve ran his hand over his wrist, over the crisp clean image of a stylised yellow wing. "It's kinda nice."

"Being someone else?" Bucky asked doubtfully.

Steve shook his head. "Bein' me."

Bucky nodded, only vaguely understanding. He reached over and ran his thumb over the image of a compass on Steve's arm. "You figure the ink will stay, if you get the serum again?"

"Last time, all my scars went away, so I doubt it. But the serum's not an if. I'll get it eventually. There's other donor candidates, if you decide not to go through with it, and if none of them work out then I'll take my chances without it."

Bucky had no doubt that he would, with the way he was looking steadily back at him, his unnaturally black hair falling over his eyes and his lips set in a firm line, determined and infinitely kissable. Bucky shook his head. "That sounds really stupidly dangerous, but I don't suppose that's ever stopped you before."

Steve huffed a laugh. "Yeah, well, Arnie always told me not to do anything stupid without him, but it never seemed to take."

"Were you and him ..." Bucky waved his hand between them.

"Nah. He had a boyfriend, Michael. He died in the war, too. After I crashed the Valkyrie, the rest of the Howlies went back for Arnie's remains and made sure they were buried next to each other."

Maybe it was inappropriate to want to hug a national icon, but what the hell, it was probably more inappropriate to want to slip his hands under the national icon's sweater, trace each one of his ribs, nuzzle along the line of hair that disappeared so tantalizingly under the band of his jeans. Bucky bit his lip, trying to sort out whether he wanted to comfort Steve or slowly coax him into blissful oblivion.

Steve, who had no reason to know where Bucky's mind had been, shrugged and said, "It's good to talk about them."

Right. Focus. "What about you and Carter? Did she really talk to you on the radio as you took down the Valkyrie?"

"Yeah." He smiled a little. "She cussed a lot more than what they showed, though. That dame had a mouth like a sailor."

Bucky waggled his eyebrows. "Oh really?"

Steve snorted. "Not like that! I mean, I was gonna ask her, but the Red Skull had other plans. The timing never worked out."

Well fuck, maybe blissful oblivion would be a comfort.

Bucky looked Steve up and down, making sure that he noticed this time, and gave him a slow, dirty smile. "Anybody have other plans for you now?"

"Nope," Steve said, and he swallowed like he was nervous, but he looked Bucky right in the eyes.

The couch wasn't where he wanted to do this, so Bucky got up and offered Steve his hand. They walked to the bedroom in silence, Steve's long cool fingers entwined with his own, and once they got inside, Steve closed the door behind them. As if he wasn't interested in keeping an escape route open. As if maybe he wasn't so nervous after all. As if he belonged here.

Bucky started to fold down the covers, and Steve moved to the other side of the bed to do the same. It felt like an oddly meaningful gesture, maybe because he didn't remember it ever happening before, but he was a little too distracted to bother working it through. They each undressed, on their opposite sides, openly watching each other, Steve's sharp collarbones and slim waist coming into view again, just as tempting as before, and then the gorgeous angles of his hip bones, and dark curls, his hardening cock, his pale, slender legs.

They met in the middle of the bed, and Steve curled a hand into the back of Bucky's hair and pulled him into a fierce kiss, all tongue and teeth, and Bucky gave as good as he got, until he was breathless with it, hand slipping over the lush curve of Steve's ass, squeezing there before trailing to the back of his knee, wanting him wrapped tight around his thighs, wanting --

"Wait," Steve whispered, pulling away to lie on his back. "Sorry, gotta ... hang on a sec."

He pressed his fist against his chest and breathed in deep, then covered his eyes with his other hand, his face crumpling into a frown.

"Steve?" Bucky sat up, not even sure if he was allowed to touch him.

"Goddammit," Steve said, rough and low, as if to himself. "Heart was already fucked up. Then the anemia, too. I get dizzy. Pass out. Die, if I don't rest." He moved his hand so one eye peeked out, and gave a wry smile. "Might be worth it."

Bucky shook his head. "I appreciate the vote of confidence, but I'm pretty sure nobody is that good."

Steve shoved himself up and sat ruler straight with his back to Bucky. "I really wanted to find out for myself."

"What if ..." Oh christ, he really shouldn't make any suggestions, should just watch Steve go, maybe text him when this was all over, and definitely not put his health at risk. But the look Steve shot him was so hopeful, and Bucky wanted him. "What do you do when you're by yourself?"

"Uhh, usually I just ... in the shower ..."

"And that's been, you know, safe?"

"So far," Steve said, with the slightest smirk.

"C'mere." Bucky slid his arm around Steve's waist and pulled him into the v of his legs, savoring the shift of Steve's shoulder blades against his chest. He tucked his chin against the crook of his neck, making sure he was on the side with Steve's good ear. "Show me," he whispered. He slid his hand under Steve's and trailed their fingers up the inside of his thigh. "Show me how to touch you. Soft and easy. Show me."

"What about you?" Steve sighed, "You aren't getting anything from --"

Bucky shifted closer, his cock riding right along Steve's tailbone. Steve moaned softly and arched back.

"Getting plenty, Steve. Touchin' you. Christ, so gorgeous."

Finally, Steve moved both their hands, Bucky's fingertips brushing over the delicate skin at the crease of his thigh, trailing through dark hair, and wrapping gently around the hard length of him. They set up a slow pace, soft and easy just like Bucky had said, and Steve leaned back, pressing them together as they stroked him. Skin on skin, from shoulders to ankles, Steve's wiry body stretched out against him, warm and open.

It was nothing like the quick and dirty fuck he'd been hoping for when he asked out 'Grant'. This was devastatingly intimate, honest in a way he wasn't at all used to, and Bucky found himself saying, "If I had my other hand, god the things I'd do to you."

Steve turned his head, giving Bucky a long, measured look before licking his lips. He reached up and caught Bucky's stump, still carefully gauging his reaction as he pressed it just above his elbow and murmured, "Show me."

He would never have mistaken it for his own arm, covered in Steve's meticulously planned tattoos, the knuckles bruised, because Steve fights for what he believes in and damn all the consequences. It wasn't like his own arm at all, but damn if it wasn't erotic, the way he responded to Bucky's movements, as if -- As if Steve was completing him, even just for this moment.

Bucky guided that beautiful hand up to his lips, brushing kisses over each of the fingers before licking between them and guiding him back down, to slide over and around Steve's nipple, exactly the way Bucky would have done with his own hand.

"Yeah, just like that," Bucky breathed. "You feel it? Nice and hard and tight for me?"

"Yes," Steve sighed, his toes curling and uncurling.

Bucky led his hand down, along his ribs, across his stomach, "Skin there is damn near like velvet. So soft."

Steve huffed a laugh. "Guess so."

Keeping up the same steady rhythm with his own hand, almost agonizingly slow, up and down Steve's gorgeous cock at a pace that was safe for his heart, both of them rocking their hips to give Bucky the barest friction on his own erection, he moved Steve's hand lower again, over his hipbone, to slide along his thigh. "Feel the muscles there, the way they flex and shift for me."

"What muscles?" Steve scoffed.

It caught Bucky by surprise, until he thought about how strange it would be to wake up with his left arm in place again. He probably wouldn't feel quite at home in either version of his body anymore. It had to be even more profound for Steve, since his two bodies barely had anything in common. "There are muscles," he said against Steve's shoulder. "Your legs are plenty strong. You're flesh and blood and bone, Steve. You're right here with me, every bit of you gorgeous and fuckable and real."

Steve turned to him, cheeks flushed, eyes wide, lips parted, and he caught Bucky in a harsh, feral kiss. Bucky savored the clash of it for a long moment then pulled back, turning it into something soft, something tender. Again and again, achingly delicate, pausing to suck at his bottom lip and pulling away again, dipping in to brush their tongues together before slipping away again, catching gently on his lip ring and moving away again. It was like nothing he'd ever done before, breathing together, their hands slowly stroking Steve's cock, Steve's ass pressing back over and over, and Bucky was looking right into Steve's eyes, feeling like something in his chest had cracked open and left him exposed, when he came, sudden but soft, and Steve arched back into it and moaned and came right after him.

Steve leaned his head back against Bucky's shoulder, and Bucky kissed along his collarbone and up to his pulsepoint, resting his lips there long enough to check that Steve's heart wasn't racing.

"Can you stay?" Bucky whispered against his jaw. "Spend the night with me?"

"Yeah, if --" Steve moved back a little and looked over Bucky's face, then slowly smiled. "Yeah. I'll stay."

Bucky brushed another soft kiss against Steve's lips and said, "Good."

Chapter Text

They rode to Avengers Tower together, with a surprising lack of awkwardness between them. Taking turns showering hadn't been awkward, either. Lending Steve a clean shirt to wear, soft old flannel with the too long sleeves rolled up. Even wordlessly hunching over the coffee maker as they waited for it to brew hadn't been awkward. It was kind of disturbingly comfortable to spend time together. As if Steve could slip seamlessly into his life, and every single day could start with sleepy cuddling, and end with weirdly heartfelt handjobs.

Oh, this was a disaster.

Steve was an Avenger. Steve was Captain America, no matter what he might say about being on hiatus. Erskine had been right, Steve was a good man, and Bucky could never begin to measure up. What the hell had he been thinking?

He was wiping his palm on his good jeans in the elevator when Steve patted him on the shoulder and said, "I promise, they don't bite. Well, the Hulk might, but only if you make him really mad."

He didn't know what his face might be doing right that second, but it made Steve stop smirking and say, "He's really very nice. You'll be fine. They're loud, but they mean well."

Before Bucky could tell him that he wasn't good at any of this, that they'd picked the wrong guy and he needed a place to go puke before running home to hide under the covers, the elevator doors opened. Steve led him inside a big open room, putting a reassuring hand on the small of his back as they went. It helped. That single point of contact, reminding him why he was here, why he needed to be strong.

They made their way to a huge table, where a sandy haired man was idly spinning what looked like an arrow between his fingers and sitting on a railing above a one story drop. He looked up as they approached, and his eyes widened.

"Hey Cap. And Cap's ... friend."

"Clint. This is Bucky, the bone marrow donor. Bucky, this is Hawkeye."

They shook hands, and Clint continued shooting looks at Steve until Steve said, "Out with it. What?"

"Nothing. I'm happy for you."

Steve frowned. "Why?"

"Look, it's not my business."

"But?"

Clint took a long drink from a water bottle that'd been on the rail beside him. "But, you don't touch people. Sometimes you let Sam or Natasha pat your shoulder. Maybe you even return the favor, and I've never noticed. But that?" He pointed his arrow at the hand Steve had on Bucky's back. "That's new. And if I noticed it, you know Natasha will. And Sam. And Sharon. And Wanda doesn't need clues. So, I'm happy for you, but you might want to put away the giant neon sign that says you just got laid."

Steve sighed. "Well, you're right, it's not your business."

"Yup." Clint made a kind of flashing motion with his hands.

Steve took his hand away and motioned back, signing faster than Bucky could follow, but it made Clint laugh and say, "Probably."

"No, no, no, you know the rules," said a voice that Bucky recognized, but hadn't placed yet. He turned, and there was Tony Stark, pointing accusingly at Steve. "No talking in languages that the whole class doesn't know."

"I didn't realize you were here yet," Steve said smoothly. "Tony, this is Bucky Barnes. Bucky --"

"He knows who I am," Tony waved his hand rather than shaking Bucky's. "Friday darling, translation please."

Steve's eyes went wide and a voice from nowhere said, in a soft Irish lilt, "Is it too much to ask that my sex life stay private?"

Clint covered his face with his hand and seemed to be trying not to laugh. Bucky had so far not found a way to melt into the floor, but he was looking.

Tony laughed. "Aww, with donor guy? You know, there's easier ways to find somebody. We could've hired some --"

Steve growled, "Tony. Leave him alone."

Tony's mouth dropped open. "Wait, seriously?! With donor guy? Holy shit, is that why your heart rate was elevated last night? Oh this is the best day --"

"You've been monitoring my heart?"

Tony either didn't notice the furious glare Steve was giving him or didn't care, because he pointed his finger at him and said, "Technically, Friday has been doing the monitoring, I just --"

"Who the fuck do you think you are? That is so goddamn invasive --"

"Who do I think -- I'm your friend, Steve," Tony said, in a not so friendly voice. "A friend who knows some shit about non-consensual body modifications, who knows what it's like to hide the fucking trauma until it almost fucking killed me, and I will not let that happen to you. Not after --"

"Oh, hey, looks like my timing is as good as ever."

Everyone turned as Sam Wilson walked over to join them.

That brought the total up to two Captain Americas, two other Avengers, and still no way to sink into the floor.

There was another guy, who had come in with Sam and settled into a nearby corner. He was pale, with blond hair that fell in his face, and he had a way of measuring the spaces around him that was immediately familiar to Bucky. A sniper, with the stalking movements of a hunter and the flickering eyes of the hunted. Bucky had seen a version of that look in his own eyes, when he first came back. And sometimes even now, on the bad nights, if he forgot to avoid mirrors.

Tony took one look at the guy and walked away without another word, to the furthest corner of the room, where the bar was.

Bucky had been pretty distracted last night, but he didn't remember Steve saying anything about Tony hating the Winter Soldier.

"You got a second?" Sam asked.

Steve nodded and turned to Bucky, holding his arm as he said, "I'll be right back."

Sam noted the way Steve's hand lingered and gave a little smile as he followed Steve to the opposite corner of the room.

Bucky fought the urge to fidget. The room was sunny and airy, but there were too many people with too many fault lines between them. His plan to go home and hide was sounding better all the time.

Clint, looking around at the suddenly empty space where everyone else had been, said, "Oh. Riley, this is Steve's friend, Bucky. Bucky, this is Riley, Sam's partner."

"Hello." Riley kept his hands clasped in front of him and gave a sharp nod.

Bucky hadn't realized it before, but one of Riley's arms was made of silvery metal, with a blood red star on the shoulder. His hands fitted neatly together, the joints of the metal fingers moving just as fluidly as the flesh ones, and his wrist turned and swiveled perfectly.

Bucky nodded back. "Hi. Nice arm."

Riley's eyes flicked to the empty space below Bucky's t-shirt sleeve. "It's damn useful. You ought to look into getting one yourself. Just don't go for the package deal. Mine came with a shit ton of brainwashing and torture."

He said all of that in a near monotone, but Bucky heard the challenge hidden inside. He was waiting to see if Bucky would freeze or sneer or cry.

Bucky shook his head. "I'll be sure to check the fine print if I sign up then, 'cause that's as bad as bundling phone with internet."

Riley chuckled softly, a definite show of kindness given how weak that joke was.

From across the room, Sam snapped around to look, with the most excruciating smile Bucky had ever seen, so full of hope and pain and want. Riley seemed to sense his gaze, and turned to him, all his hard edges falling away for just a moment as he smiled crookedly back at him.

Steve turned too, and Bucky's eyes were drawn helplessly to him.

He was an adult, he reminded himself. He was a fucking combat veteran, and he didn't need an angry, anime-haired woobie to hold on to, any more than his woobie needed a one-armed ball of anxiety at his side, even if Steve's shoulders did come down a little as he looked back at him.

Bucky caught movement from the corner of his eye, and turned to see that 'Natalie' had silently appeared beside Clint. Her hair was redder than yesterday, and her shirt was less revealing. She moved her fingers as if she was brushing lint off her slacks, but making the same kind of flashing sign Clint had made earlier. Clint nodded at her, almost imperceptibly, and went back to watching Steve and Sam.

Riley turned to the elevator, and a second later it opened.

Christ, it was already too fucking crowded, now there were two more people and one of them was purple.

Purple.

With a cape.

Steve was still occupied with Sam, and Riley was hugging someone from the elevator. The not-purple someone. She was small and sort of soft looking, which probably meant she was exceedingly scary. Great.

He could just make out her saying to Riley, "You're doing so well."

Riley shrugged slightly and pulled out of the hug. "Wanda, this is Steve's friend, Bucky."

She shook the hand he offered, and her eyes went wide. "Oh. It's you. You're going to save him!"

She stretched her arms out. Just as he braced himself to be hugged, she stepped back. "Of course. My apologies. I'm so glad you're here."

"Uh, thanks." This was definitely one of the weirdest mornings he'd ever had.

"And you, I think, are not so glad to be here," she said.

Riley grimaced. "Why the hell would he be? Everybody here is damn dangerous, and most of them are fucking loud."

"And some of them can't seem to complete a sentence without cursing," said Wanda.

"Too fucking right," he said, shaking his head sadly.

She laughed. "We should sit down then, and get this over with quickly. I'll see you after."

Wanda found a seat near the railing. Riley pulled out two chairs and waved Bucky toward them. Bucky sat down, with his stumpy side toward Riley, in the hopes that Steve would sit on the other side, because that was where Steve's good ear was, and because Bucky was pathetic.

He did not look longingly at Steve.

He wanted to, but he didn't.

The purple person was sitting beside a timid looking man with dark curly hair, and Sharon Carter was talking with Tony Stark. She looked amazing in her uniform, a tower of righteousness in stars and stripes. That brought the total up to all three Captain Americas, and seven or eight other Avengers.

Bucky looked longingly at Steve.

It didn't work, Steve was deep in conversation with Sam and Natasha and didn't notice. And why should he? He was Captain America. He belonged here.

Wanda had said, "You're going to save him!" She'd seemed so certain. But if she had any idea what was in his head ...

Sam yanked his phone out of his pocket. After he checked the screen, he looked over at Riley and rolled his eyes.

Steve finally turned around, as Sam excused himself and sat beside Riley. Sam teased him about texting from the same damn room, and Riley replied that it was more effective than staring. Bucky figured that was probably aimed at him, but he didn't really care, since Steve was smiling at him.

Also, he didn't have Steve's number, but Riley didn't need to know that.

"Hey," Steve said, as he settled into the chair beside Bucky. "Sorry I abandoned you. Did you meet everyone?"

"Uh ..." Bucky didn't get the chance to say no, because Tony Stark whistled really fucking loudly.

"Let's get this started, kids. Viz, you're running this one. Call it."

The purple person clasped their hands behind their back. "If we could all be seated?"

While everyone filed into seats, Riley nudged Bucky in the thigh. Bucky looked down to see Riley's phone, with the words, "That's Vision. Friend of Tony. Avenger." on the screen.

"Thanks," Bucky whispered.

Finally, Vision was the only one left standing. They gave a sharp nod to themself and began. "We recently agreed that major decisions must be reached unanimously --"

"Fucking terrible idea," muttered Riley. Steve shot him a look, which didn't seem to impress him at all.

Vision went on as if they hadn't heard, "And as re-introducing the serum to Captain Rogers fits the definition we chose for 'creating or enhancing a superpowered person', and therefore constitutes a major decision, we are here for a preliminary vote on the matter. Doctor Banner, if you could explain further?"

"Uh, sure." The timid man stood up and took a deep breath. "General Ross captured Steve, stripped away his serum, and then continued to irradiate his body. Sam mounted a rescue before Ross finished murdering him, but the damage to his bone marrow means that he can't produce new red blood cells. Transfusions of whole blood analog have kept him alive so far, but it's a stop-gap measure at best."

Nobody seemed surprised by any of this, but they sure as hell looked uncomfortable. Natasha and Sharon, sitting on opposite sides of the table, were the only ones who would meet each other's eyes.

Steve was clenching his jaw and looking straight ahead, at nothing. Bucky bumped him with his foot, and Steve faked a smile. Bucky tried to wordlessly convey that he didn't appreciate bullshit smiles, while also being supportive, which probably wasn't an expression that human faces were capable of, and it didn't matter because Doctor Banner was talking again.

"A successful bone marrow transplant would cure Steve's anemia, but only Doctor Erskine's serum can make him a super-soldier again. The trouble there is that the donated bone marrow could change things, and we don't want him to turn out like me."

There was another uncomfortable silence, and Bucky had no idea why.

Riley nudged his leg again. His phone read, "Banner = Hulk".

Oh.

Shit.

"Which is why we needed to find a donor who we think will meet Doctor Erskine's standards," Banner said. "Erskine's notes were very clear that to avoid creating another Red Skull, he needed a subject who was 'good'. Someone with empathy. Compassion. Kindness."

Probably the big bowl of flowers was the closest place to throw up. Maybe if he grabbed it and ran for the bathroom ... wherever the fuck the bathroom was. Oh god.

Vision stood up again. "Friday and I did exhaustive research on all of the potential donors and concluded that Sergeant Barnes --"

"Bucky," said Riley, loudly enough that everyone in the room turned to look. "He goes by Bucky."

Vision nodded. "Very well. Bucky is by far our likeliest candidate. You've all had some time to review the file, which shows a consistent pattern of his bravery and selflessness. The probability of finding a more suitable donor is very low indeed."

Just as Bucky was thinking that this couldn't get much more horrifically embarrassing, Tony slapped the table and said, "So! I automatically vote for the guy who got Steve in the sack."

Clint said, "Seconded."

Sharon frowned. "Seriously? Even if he did --"

"Oh, he did," said Natasha. "Friday said his heart went pitter pat."

"Jesus christ," Bucky muttered, and wiped his hand on his jeans.

The ceiling voice said, "Ma'am, I didn't say any such thing. I only reported that last night Captain Roger's heart rate --"

"Not helping, Friday," Steve snapped, glaring around the table before he softened and added, "But thank you for trying."

"You're welcome, sir," the ceiling said, and Bucky didn't really like how affectionate it sounded.

"Obviously the sex couldn't have been that great," Tony said, "since your heart rate wasn't up by much, but still --"

"Not true," said Wanda, far too knowingly,

Steve eyed the window like maybe he wanted to jump through it.

"Really?" Clint said, grinning at Wanda. "What did --"

"Hey!" Bucky lurched to his feet. "Shut the fuck up!"

Tony waved his hand. "Relax, O negative, it's just friendly banter between --"

"It's not friendly if it makes him uncomfortable," Bucky snarled. "Learn some fucking boundaries."

Natasha raised an eyebrow. "Steve can stand up for himself."

Steve was blinking at Bucky, and looked plenty damned grateful, so Bucky said, "He shouldn't have to. You're supposed to be his friends."

"I vote for the guy who can use 'boundaries' in a sentence," said Sam, raising his hand.

Tony frowned. "I can use --"

"Without the words 'I don't have any and neither should you' attached," Sam added.

"Fair point." Tony shrugged. "And on that note, I can't believe I of all people am saying this, but the sex stuff can't happen any more, Hipster Cap."

Steve didn't look grateful anymore. "Excuse me?!"

"Yeah, you're back on virgin duty until --"

"That is not your decision --"

"Your condition is deteriorating," Banner said, wringing his hands. "Rapidly. Any strain on your heart could --"

"See, no more sexytimes," said Tony. "Not until after the donation. Which is why --"

"No. We talked about this," said Steve. "It's less invasive --"

"Did you ask loverboy what he thinks about that?" Tony asked. "Hey Barnes, we could drill into your bone and cure Steve today. You in?"

Steve growled, "Tony ..."

Sharon leaned forward. "Let him answer."

All eyes turned to Bucky, who wished he'd sat back down. He looked at Steve. "If it's what you want, then absolutely."

Tony hopped out of his chair. "See, and I didn't even tell him about the quick heal stuff. You two could be doing the horizontal bop together by this time tomorrow if --"

"We're not voting without Thor," Steve said.

"If it was anyone else, we wouldn't, but --"

"We don't get to say it's a special case every time," Steve said. "That's how we got into this mess in the first place."

Tony looked down at the table. "When we pulled you out of there, you said you'd let me fix this."

"I will. As soon as we get word from Thor. We agreed to make decisions together, and that's --"

"Unless there's an emergency!"

"Which there isn't!" Steve stood and braced his fists against the table. He was paler than Bucky had ever seen him. "I'm fine. I've lasted this long, I can go a few more days."

Tony scowled. "Fine. Five more days while he gets prepped," he jabbed a finger at Bucky, "and then we go, with or without Mjolnir's bodyguard."

Steve and Tony glared at each other across the table, until Vision asked, "Does anyone object?" They looked around the room, and no one spoke. "Right. Motion carried. I suggest a break before we go on with further business."

In the general clamor of everyone getting drinks or snacks or whatever, Steve said quietly, "So. That could have gone better."

"Did I make it all worse?" Bucky asked.

Steve smiled shyly. "You were the best part. The rest of this is all Avengers business though, so you can't stay."

"Oh thank god," Bucky said, sagging against the table.

"Don't take it too hard, Buck."

"I'll muddle through somehow. In my nice quiet apartment. With all my pillows and fuzzy blankets. Maybe I'll make cookies."

"You should, you deserve cookies. Um, can I give you my number?"

Rather than stare at Steve's gorgeous, hopeful smile, Bucky said, "Oh, yeah, definitely," pulled out his phone and handed it over.

Steve looked at the ceiling. "Hey Friday, can you --"

"Already done sir," said the ceiling voice.

Bucky's phone lit up, and played a song he didn't recognize, brassy and patriotic and ... "Who's strong and brave, here to save the American waaay?"

Bucky blinked. "Is that ... You have a theme song?"

"You don't have to keep it. It's probably kind of --"

He snatched his phone before Steve could try to change it. "It's fantastic! Of course you have your own --"

"Excuse me, sorry." Doctor Banner reached out as if to tap Bucky's shoulder, but stopped just shy of making contact. "We need to start the filgrastim injections. And now would be better. Ready?"

"Yeah," Bucky said, but Steve caught his hand.

"Give us a second Bruce," said Steve.

"Sure. I'll be over here," Banner said, pointing his thumb over near the door as he backed away.

Steve turned back to Bucky. "They're all going to be talking about us, so before you leave, is it okay if I kiss you?"

Bucky blinked. That was not at all where he thought Steve was going with this. "Uh, yeah. Yes. Very okay."

It was more of a suggestion than a kiss, soft and quick, but no less sweet for that. Steve's eyelashes fluttered beautifully as he moved away.

Bucky murmured, "I'll text you."

"Good."

"Yeah."

He turned before he could decide to kiss Steve again. Doctor Banner was still by the door, talking to Riley, and Bucky joined them.

"You're all right with this?" Riley asked as they followed Banner into a small, overly bright room.

"Oh, sure. It's a regular shot, right? There's not some Starkified needle with laser beams or anything?"

Banner laughed. "Don't give Tony any ideas. No, it's just a normal needle. Please sit down." He gathered his supplies, wiped alcohol on Bucky's arm, and flicked the bubbles out of the syringe. "Any more questions before we start?"

Suddenly faced with the reality of a needle and Steve's future on the line, Bucky swallowed. "I ... how do I do this? How can I be a good enough person for this? Steve is ... How do I learn to be better?"

Bruce laughed without a trace of humor. "Well, I guess you start by being the kind of person who would ask that question. And if I had a better answer, then maybe I wouldn't have knocked down as many buildings."

"It's not like that," said Riley. "I got some serum type shit too, and it didn't turn me colors or anything, even though --"

"You were a pararescueman, Riley." Bruce said.

"Doesn't mean I wasn't a dick. I'm sure as hell not like Steve, and I never have been."

"Nobody's like Steve," Bucky muttered.

"That's true." Bruce held up the syringe. "And you're our only chance at keeping him."

"I got your answer, though," said Riley, breaking out into a smile. "You want to be good like Steve, you should spend time with Steve. Dinner by candlelight and long walks under the stars and all that shit."

Bucky turned to Banner. "Please Doc, shoot me before he gives any more not-so-subtle dating advice."

Bruce took him at his word and gave him the injection. "Long walks probably aren't a great idea for Steve right now, though. Maybe a picnic in your living room."

"I was already planning to ask him out again, please stop helping."

Bruce and Riley bumped fists, and Bucky rolled his eyes.

 


 

He managed to get some work done. Sort of. The new bugs he'd created in his program were even worse than the bug he'd fixed, and he ended up going back to the previous build, but at least he'd found another way not to solve the problem.

Sometimes he had to count the littlest things as wins.

His other win was that he waited two and a quarter hours before texting Steve.

He didn't send a note, just a picture of Steve's sweater, draped over the arm of the couch (not over the bed, even if that was where Steve had taken it off, looking at Bucky with desire in his eyes and not paying attention to where it fell). The sweater was dark blue, and had been perfectly delectable against pale skin.

A few minutes later he got back a picture of his own flannel shirt, the one he'd loaned Steve this morning, with Steve still inside it. The delicate skin of his throat was barely visible at the top of the frame, and since there was no one around to see, Bucky brushed his fingertip over his phone, just there.

He grabbed a cover off the chair, burritoed himself in it, and flopped on the couch. He sent Steve a picture of his toes poking out from under the blanket.

Steve sent back a picture of Clint draped over a chair with his feet on the conference table. Natasha was stacking Oreos on his forehead. Clint wasn't even asleep, he was twirling his arrow in his fingers and grinning. Bucky chuckled.

He turned on the tv and sent Steve a picture of the Netflix logo.

Steve sent a picture of a slice of pizza.

Bucky sent a picture of his empty bottle of protein shake.

Steve - no cookies?

Bucky - too queasy, maybe later

Steve - queasy from the shot? :(

Bucky - nbd, i've had worse

Steve - maybe eat first next time

Bucky - maybe

Steve - maybe with me?

Bucky - in that case, yes

Steve - meet in lobby at 11

Bucky - can do

A few minutes later, he got a picture of Clint standing on the conference table juggling mugs, with a huge tower of Oreos still on his forehead.

He took a picture of himself laughing and looking particularly dorky, and sent it to Steve.

Steve - wow, really looking forward to tomorrow

Bucky - same :)

Chapter Text

There was a food truck parked in the lobby of Avengers Tower.

More specifically, there was a Hard Times Sundaes truck selling burgers in the lobby, and Steve was waiting nearby, looking up at the big clock above the elevators.

Bucky hadn't forgotten how attractive he was, but it was still a bit of a shock. His eyes were big and blue behind his glasses, and the upward tilt of his chin would have made the perfect angle for kissing along his throat. It was probably a bad idea to think about doing that. To remember what his skin smelled like, and how it felt against his tongue.

Yeah, bad idea.

He was halfway across the lobby when Steve caught sight of him, and that brilliant smile made him even less resistible than before.

Bucky smiled back at him. "Hi."

"Hi." Steve tucked his hands in his pockets and nodded toward the truck. "Are burgers okay? They have soup if you wanted something easier on your stomach."

"Burgers are great. I didn't expect them here, though."

Steve nodded, eyes wide. "Yeah, sometimes Tony has different trucks come in. We pay them for the day, instead of per order. Works out for everybody."

"We pay them?"

"Um, in this case, I paid. It was ... I wanted ..."

"You brought in a truck just to have lunch with me?" Bucky grinned. "Very impressive."

Steve sighed like he was relieved. "I didn't mean for it to be weird, it's just --"

"Shush, let me be impressed with your epic lunch date skills."

Looking up through his eyelashes, Steve laughed a little then led the way to get in line. "Um, before we met, I read the file about you. The one Vision and Friday made. I thought you should know, since that's also pretty weird."

"Oh." Bucky gave himself a second to take that in. "It is weird, but I watched that movie about you. A few times. Plus, unlike your movie, the file's probably not full of lies or anything."

"Probably not, but it doesn't tell the whole story, and I'd rather hear that from you."

They'd reached the front of the line, so he was saved from blurting out how adorable Steve was, and instead they placed their orders.

When their food was handed out, Steve grabbed it and led the way toward the elevators. "Do you mind if we eat upstairs?"

"In the conference room?"

"I have an apartment here, but if you'd be more comfortable --"

The elevator opened, and Bucky led the way inside. "Your apartment is fine. I didn't really want all the Avengers watching us."

"Neither did I. It's bad enough that Wanda -- I mean it's not her fault, she just picks things up when --"

"Wait, what about Wanda?"

"She, uh, she reads minds. Sometimes. That's how she knew about ... us." Steve curled in on himself a bit.

Oh jesus, and she told everybody how good it was. "She read that out of my head?"

"I assumed she read it out of mine."

Bucky caught Steve's sideways glance and laughed. "Okay, nice to know that the earth moved for everyone."

Steve ducked his head, black and blue hair falling over his eyes, and Bucky wanted nothing more than to kiss him until he ... Lost his breath. Which would maybe kill him. Fuck.

The doors opened. Steve stepped out first, into a small entryway, and pushed some buttons on a security pad to let them through another door.

His apartment was spare, with some framed pictures on the floor leaning against walls that were a little too white. Bucky half-expected to see the shield somewhere, but Sharon probably had it hanging on her wall. The carpets were white, the couch was white. If they ever got to the gift giving stage of their relationship, Bucky resolved to buy Steve some blankets and throw pillows. He'd even get white ones, if that was really what Steve wanted, which he doubted, since Steve had more color on his left arm than in this whole room.

Without slowing, Steve went through to a glass door that opened out onto a balcony. A little dining set made of clear lucite was almost invisible against the skyline, with all of Manhattan laid out in front of them.

After they sat down, Steve offered Bucky a straw. "Riley's been texting me tips all morning. He said straws mean you don't have to put your fucking burger down and have it fall to shit."

"Well, he's right about that." Bucky stuck the straw in his drink and set about unwrapping his burger. Jesus, what else had Riley said? Had Steve asked for tips? Why would he do that? Was he worried? Did he think Bucky wasn't --

Steve reached over and snagged a slice of pickle off of Bucky's burger and stuffed it in his mouth.

"Hey!" Bucky was too late to swat at him, so he swiped some of Steve's fries and snarfed them down.

Steve covered his mouth and laughed, and Bucky successfully avoided choking on stolen fries and laughed with him.

They ate in companionable silence for a while. The clear table meant he could see Steve's knee as it inched closer and nestled against his own. It was warm and sweet, and Steve visibly relaxed as Bucky pressed into the touch.

Bucky could just hold him forever, that would be fine. His hand was full at the moment, but as soon as he finished eating he could happily cuddle with Steve for the rest of their lives.

Yes, a lifelong commitment on a second date. That was a good idea.

Steve, unaware that Bucky was a moron, smiled over at him. "So. I know you have a sister named Rebecca --"

"Becca," Bucky said, grinning. "She yells at me when I call her Rebecca. Possibly because I used to tease her and say 'You didn't Becca right. You should Re-Becca.' Which seemed much funnier when I was 12. But she's great. She helped me a lot when I got back. And you're an only child?"

"Yeah, I mostly grew up in an orphanage, though, so I was never alone. And there was Arnie." He smiled, not too sadly.

"How'd you meet?"

"A couple of guys had ganged up on him in an alley, and I tried to help him. We got our asses kicked together, and I told him he should learn boxing."

Bucky laughed. "You really told him that?"

"In my defense, I was ten years old, and he became my best friend. For a long time."

"I didn't so much have a best friend," Bucky said around his last mouthful of hamburger. He swallowed and added, "We bounced around."

"With your Aunt, right?"

"Yeah, Aunt Heather. You know, the older I get, the more I realize that I could never do half of what she did." It was amazing how positive that sounded when he said it with a charming smile. "So, you really have a list of shows you're supposed to watch?"

Steve wiped his hands on a napkin and reached into his back pocket. He pulled out a small, battered notebook, flipped it open and set it on the table.

There were several pages before this one. Star Wars was crossed out, and so was something called Trouble Man. The Godfather wasn't crossed out, but underneath it, Monty Python was, and Mario Cart had three lines through it.

At the bottom was Airbender?

The question mark was undeniably cute. The whole thing seemed kind of wrong though.

He tapped the list. "The Godfather? I haven't seen that either, and I get along just fine. Who recommended it?"

Steve chuckled. "Queen Elizabeth."

"Really?" Bucky laughed. "And you haven't crossed it off yet! Oh my god, this is my favorite thing about you."

Steve smiled. "You sure? I saved a kitten in a tree, once."

"It's not my only favorite thing." Bucky allowed himself a quick glance at Steve's lips. "You know, your list sounded like a lot more fun before I realized people were basically giving you homework."

Steve shrugged. "I missed a lot."

"Everybody missed a lot. I watched Dirty Dancing like fifty different times instead of ever watching Lawrence of Arabia, and nobody cares. Why should it be different for you?"

Taking back his notebook, Steve penciled in Dirty Dancing, and smirked at Bucky. "I like new things. How else am I gonna talk you into watching The Godfather with me?"

Bucky laughed, figuring he'd watch anything if it meant he could hang out with Steve. "I bet you have a story behind every one of those," he said, pointing at the tattoos on Steve's wrists.

They were each in their own boxes, with distinct borders and white space around each one, like a comic book page. A red and white feather. A compass. Two fingers above an eyebrow. A shamrock, not bright green, but muted, with text behind it, as if it had been pressed between the pages of a book.

"This one is for Tony," Steve said, pointing out a red and gold wrench. He touched the set of reading glasses on a green background. "That's for Bruce." He pointed to the feather. "Sam." A marionette cutting its own strings. "Natasha."

Bucky brushed them with his fingertips. "Did you design them yourself?"

"Yeah. I used to take art classes, so ..."

"They're beautiful." He found one that showed part of Steve's original shield, blue on top with stripes running down, and he pressed a kiss to it. "You're beautiful."

Maybe he would have stopped at that, but Steve's lips parted in surprise, and well ...

Steve kissed back enthusiastically, gently cupping Bucky's face, caressing his cheekbones.

He really was beautiful, and he should fucking know it. He should be told every day and shown every damned minute, but instead he was so lonely he almost literally wore his heart on his sleeve. God, Bucky wanted to be the one to tell him, over and over.

He ran his fingers through the fuzz of hair at the back of Steve's head, and Steve made a pleased little sound and dragged both hands down Bucky's chest. Suddenly, cool fingers were splayed against his stomach, and he sort of lost track of things, pulling Steve closer, slipping his hand up his shirt, pressing their chests together --

"Captain Rogers?"

Goddamn ceiling voice.

Bucky froze. He'd ended up with Steve sitting on his lap, in a move Bucky wished he remembered, 'cause he wanted to repeat it. Often. And their lips were still locked softly together, and he wanted more of that, too.

Steve pushed away just enough to say, "Uh, yeah Friday. What is it?"

"I was asked to inform you that the meeting will reconvene once Doctor Banner completes his appointment with Mister Barnes."

"Please tell Tony he's very subtle, and I'll be there soon."

"Permission to be sardonic, sir?"

Bucky chuckled against Steve's shoulder, and Steve said, "Absolutely. Bye Friday."

"Goodbye, sir."

"So, how soon is soon?" Bucky asked, and softly slid his lips along Steve's neck, pressing harder as Steve tilted his head to give more room.

"I dunno," Steve said, his voice rougher and deeper and even hotter than usual. "Bruce is the one holding everyone up with this appointment of his."

Bucky sighed, still tucked up in the crook of Steve's shoulder. "Yeah, I gotta go. God I like kissing you, though. There hasn't been a moment since we met I haven't wanted to kiss you."

Steve shivered and his arms tightened around Bucky's waist. "Oh yeah? What about when I told you my actual name?"

"Then too. It just would have been kind of an angry kiss. Maybe some teeth." He nipped lightly at Steve's collarbone.

"Ohh," Steve breathed. "We'll have to try that some time."

"Sure. We'll argue about whether pie is better than cake. But I really have to go now." He even pulled his hand out from under Steve's shirt, though he ran his palm over as much skin as possible along the way, over the knobby bumps of his spine and the soft sinew of his waist.

"Yeah." Steve slid down onto his feet and started gathering their lunch debris.

Bucky stood up. "See ya later, then."

Steve dropped everything onto the table and stretched up to kiss Bucky's cheek. "Thanks for having lunch with me."

"My pleasure."

He was absurdly tempted to walk backwards to the door so he could keep looking at Steve, but he resisted, except for the tiny peek he took as he pulled the door closed behind him, which almost convinced him to go back inside.

But the elevator was standing open and waiting for him.

"Very subtle," Bucky muttered to himself as he stepped into it.

The image stayed with him, though. He replayed again and again, while he got his injection and went home and tried to do some work. The glimpse he'd caught of Steve closing his eyes and touching his lips when he didn't know Bucky could see.

He could just hold him forever. That'd be fine.

 


 

He had just slapped the microwave closed on his dessert when his phone buzzed.

Steve - Can I see you again?

Laughing a little, Bucky typed in his reply.

Bucky - Name a time and place.

Maybe they could meet for breakfast and hang out all through lunch. They could even watch one of Steve's movies. Bucky could bring a blanket for them to --

There was a knock at his door.

Bucky crossed over and opened it, prepared to see Steve, but still not ready for the combination of the shy head tilt and the tiny smirk and the way he seemed to glow under the streetlights. "Uhh, hi."

"Hey Buck." It wasn't the first time Steve had called him that. Bucky didn't know for sure when the first time had been, and he kind of wished he'd marked it in his memory. He liked it. The easy familiarity of it. The shape it took on Steve's lips. "I can go, if this is --"

"No! Come in. I was ... It's good to see you."

Steve grinned, and Bucky grinned back, and closed the door behind him once he was inside. He watched as Steve trailed his fingers over his own sweater, still draped over the arm of the couch, but didn't pick it up. If there was something significant to the gesture, Bucky couldn't say what it might be, but it felt like Steve didn't intend to leave soon.

Good.

"Have you ever microwaved a moonpie?" Bucky asked. Steve's incredulous look was answer enough, so Bucky waved him over. "C'mere, you gotta watch."

It was fun to watch, and not just an excuse to get Steve in close beside him as the microwave hummed and the moonpie slowly inflated. When it was just the right amount of poofy, Bucky pulled it out, hissing a little at the heat on his fingertips.

He held it out to Steve, who leaned in for a bite, eyes locked on Bucky's even as his lips brushed Bucky's knuckle.

There was just no looking away. That little wisp of marshmallow fluff, achingly white against rosy lips. Earnest blue eyes. An eager huff of breath against Bucky's mouth. The perfect slide of Steve's tongue, so sweet, in every possible sense of the word.

Bucky tossed the remainder of the moonpie in the general direction of the sink and slipped his hand down to the curve of Steve's back, taut and trembling as he arched up to meet Bucky's mouth again, their hips lining up just so and --

"We can't," Bucky said, and if he was a better person he probably wouldn't have mouthed along Steve's jaw just then, but ... "We will, but we gotta wait. I swear I'll make it so good for you." He forced himself to pull away, with only one more kiss at Steve's pulse point. "So good. But we can't. Not 'til after."

"Right." Steve shot him a smile and pushed away. "After."

Even the casual shrug of his shoulders was an obvious lie.

He didn't believe there was going to be an after.

Fuck. It was plain as day, and if Bucky hadn't been distracted with his own wants he would have seen it sooner. Should have seen it. "You said ... Better medicine and a better Stark. But you don't think it's enough, do you?"

Steve looked into his eyes, suddenly so fucking vulnerable that Bucky's breath caught. "Last week, I passed out. I remember I had been reading, and I think maybe I was going to go get a drink, and next thing I knew I was on the floor and Wanda was shaking me and crying. I wasn't sick, I wasn't doing anything, stupid or otherwise. I just blacked out, and ..."

Bucky pulled him against his chest, the closest he could get to a real hug, and Steve whispered, "It keeps happening. The serum almost killed me the first time, and I'm sicker now."

"We can do the procedure tonight, the drilling kind, we can --"

"No." Steve shook his head against Bucky's shoulder. "I have to wait for Thor."

"But --"

He pushed away and looked Bucky in the eye again. "Principles I'm not willing to die for don't count as principles at all. I have to do this right."

Bucky swallowed down a retort. He had no right to question Steve's position on this. None.

What he could do, what he did do, was pull him close and reverently kiss every available inch of his skin. He wasn't willing to let him go just yet, so the skin available was mostly his neck and shoulder.

Steve tugged at Bucky's shirt, lifting the hem of it, and Bucky gave him a sad look.

"Trust me?" Steve asked in a whisper.

Bucky did trust him, much more than was reasonable, so he nodded, and he followed as Steve led the way to his bedroom.

Hesitating for just a moment, Steve took off his glasses and his hearing aid and set them carefully on Bucky's bedside table.

This time, when Steve tugged at his shirt, Bucky let him pull it off. Let him unhook his belt, unzip his pants, push them down his hips.

Standing in the puddle of his jeans, Bucky reached out before Steve pulled his own shirt off and murmured, "Let me help?"

Steve nodded.

Bucky flattened his hand on Steve's stomach, doing a lot more touching than undressing, smoothing his palm up his ribs and chest and shoulder while Steve lifted the shirt away. He let his hand fall back to his side and watched as Steve unfastened and shoved off his jeans.

"C'mere." Steve pulled back the quilt and crawled under it, rolling to welcome Bucky into the bed and into his arms.

God damn, what a picture he made, pale skin against paler sheets, and the kindest eyes Bucky'd ever known. He only took a moment to appreciate the image, though, too eager for the soft warmth of his skin. He climbed in beside him, let himself be folded into his arms, wrapped his own arm around Steve's waist.

He slid his hand up and down Steve's back, softly, softly, making him shiver. He'd never wanted to kiss anyone so much, but they'd both want more than kisses, and it wouldn't be fair to make Steve ask him to stop. Flattening his palm between Steve's shoulder blades, Bucky held him close, and wanted him.

Quietly, so quietly that Bucky could barely hear him, Steve said, "Sometimes, ever since the serum, I wake up and I don't know what body I'll be in. And I used to take a deep breath before I opened my eyes, just to prove I that could. Only now I can't again."

"Jesus," Bucky whispered. "Sometimes I can't figure out why the snooze button isn't working, and then I realize it's because I'm trying to hit it with the hand that isn't there."

Steve nodded, bumping his chin a little against Bucky's hair. "Do you ever ... I try to pick things up and ..."

"Not unless I'm asleep. When I dream ... sometimes I lose it again, in different ways."

He'd tried to say it casually, but Steve nuzzled against him just the same, stroking his arm and saying, "Yeah, the dreams are the worst. When they did the experiments they put these big cuffs on me, on my ankles and wrists. Those are what I dream about the most, how it seemed like they got bigger, like the whole world grew and I got left behind. Like always."

Bucky brushed his lips over Steve's shoulder, wishing he could kiss away every hurt he'd ever felt. And if not that, then at least let him lose himself for a little while, trembling under Bucky's mouth and hands, hard against his tongue, the scent of him filling his lungs, he could --

No. He couldn't.

"Sorry," Bucky whispered, shifting his hips back. "Trying not to embarrass myself, but ..."

"It's -- It doesn't bother me. Or anything." Steve buried his face against Bucky's neck. "I like it. I like that you're hard. It felt so good last time, with you against my back and your hand ... I know we can't do that again but, if this is all I can ever get, then I want to have it."

"Okay. I can give you that." He slowly slid closer, hooked his leg up over Steve's thigh so they were pressed snug against each other, and Steve was hard too, and Bucky wanted him even more. "As long as it won't hurt you, I'm game for anything. I trust you."

"Just hold still for now."

Bucky held still, and forced his breathing to be slow and regular. He didn't know for how long.

Eventually, Steve shifted and started to push away. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't make you --"

"Shh, no. You're allowed to be selfish right now. In fact, you're always allowed to be selfish with me, okay? I'm giving you permission, officially, to take what you need from me. Any time."

It was an outrageous, terrifying promise to make, all the more so because he meant it. If the slightest thing went wrong, Bucky's heart was going to be left trampled and bleeding, but he opened it anyway, because too damned many things had been denied to the beautiful idealist who was tangled up with him.

Steve licked his lip ring as he studied Bucky's face, then curled around him again, and Bucky held him as well as he could.

"I was six years old when my mother died," Steve said against Bucky's forehead. "The neighbors took me to the orphanage at the convent. I made my bed every morning, and kept my clothes clean and never argued or cried. And when we said our prayers at night, I'd pray that I'd been good enough that she'd come back to me."

Bucky traced his fingers over Steve's spine. "My Aunt Heather came to pick me up from school one day. She told me that Mom was taking our dog to the vet, and that someone ran a red light, and that Mom died in the crash. And I was eight years old, I was -- I asked if Freckles was okay. And she slapped me. Right across the face. I don't think we ever forgave each other for that."

Steve's hands tightened into fists against Bucky's back, and his voice was practically a growl as he said, "There is nothing for her to forgive."

Bucky tipped his head up and kissed him, slow and chaste. "S'okay." He kissed him again. "M'okay. Don't wanna be mad right now. I just wanna be with you."

Steve swallowed and kissed Bucky's forehead. "I can do that."

They were quiet for a long time, loosely clinging to each other in the dark. It put Bucky in the mind of camping trips and sleepovers. He'd never been to one, and he expected there'd be a lot less cuddling if he had, but there was a kind of innocent freedom that came with spilling their secrets in the night.

He rubbed his thumb over Steve's shoulder blade. "I wish we could've known each other when we were kids."

"Were you gonna live in the 20's or was I gonna be in the 90's?" Steve said, with a smile in his voice.

"We'll meet in the middle, grow up in the 60's."

Steve laughed. "You know, you could've wished that we'd have rocketships or ride on dinosaurs, but you went with being flower children."

"I just wanted to see you in bell bottoms." He slipped his hand down and cupped Steve's ass through his boxers, making him laugh again, more softly this time.

Steve pushed at Bucky's arm, guiding him into lying on his back. He nuzzled along the divot of Bucky's sternum, took a deep breath like he was steadying himself, then licked delicately over his nipple.

Bucky had expected it enough that he managed not to arch up and grind their hips together, but he couldn't prevent the interested twitch his cock gave, hopeful that it was next in line for that kind of attention, and Steve's cock twitched back as if in reply. Letting his head fall back on the pillow, Bucky breathed out a sigh as Steve licked, and sucked, and stopped.

Steve rested his head on Bucky's chest and traced over that same nipple with his fingertips. "I've never done that before. Never done a lot of things." Then he whispered, "I don't want to die. Putting down the Valkyrie went fast, but this ... I've been so scared for so long."

Bucky rolled them over so Steve could feel the weight of him, since he couldn't hold him as tight as he wanted. He kissed along Steve's cheek and his temple, whispering as he went, "We'll do all of it someday, everything you want. You'll get through this. You're so strong, and you have the best team in the world, and they won't dare let anything go wrong, 'cause I'll kick their asses. Even with just one arm, I'll find a way. I don't care if they are superheroes. I'm never letting go of you. It's only a few more days. We'll get you through, I swear."

He couldn't swear, couldn't promise a damn thing, but he did it anyway. He'd pull the mountains from the earth if it would keep Steve by his side, and if it didn't then he'd dive into hell right after him and bargain with Hades himself. He knew it was too much, too soon, too over-the-top, and he did not care. Steve deserved so much better than the world had given him, and Bucky would give anything to help right that particular wrong.

Steve didn't cry or shake. He just wrapped Bucky in his arms and hugged him tight, without a word.

Curled around each other with their backs to the darkness, they clung together and drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Bucky woke up with soft warm skin under his hand. He caught his thumb against the edge of Steve's navel and smoothed his fingers through the trail of hairs that started just there as he nuzzled against the back of Steve's neck. "Morning beautiful." Then he remembered Steve saying "I wanted you to say my name, I wanted you to be with me," and he amended it to "Beautiful Steeeve," drawing it out and grinning.

"Was hopin' you meant me," Steve said with a sleepy smirk. He rolled, staying under Bucky's arm and getting in close so he could see. "You're one to talk, though. Jeez, a guy could get used to waking up next that face."

Sunshine always made Bucky braver, but he liked to think it didn't make him stupid, so he didn't give in to the part of him that wanted to offer to let Steve do just that, every morning, forever. Instead he smiled and reached up to trace his fingertips over Steve's cheekbone. Steve's eyelashes fluttered and he turned into the touch, so Bucky kissed his eyebrow, then his eyelid, then the corner of his mouth.

Steve shoved at him and sprawled all over his chest, thoroughly boneless, and christ Bucky loved ... this. This closeness. This warmth. This. He settled his hand on the small of Steve's back and lazily swept his thumb back and forth, closing his eyes and savoring this.

Until Steve's phone went off.

Steve coiled up tight and muttered, "Fuck," and Bucky was completely and irrationally furious at whoever had called and reintroduced all the stresses of the world into the little cocoon they'd made here.

Right. The world should just wait, because Captain America was busy cuddling.

Jesus christ, Bucky was a disaster.

Luckily he kept all of that to himself while Steve lurched to his feet, nearly toppled over, righted himself, and dug his phone out of the pocket of his pants.

"Hey Nat," Steve said, hunching up on the corner of the bed.

Bucky scooted closer and tucked his chin over Steve's shoulder. He couldn't hug him from this angle, could only sort of pat him with his stump, so that's what he did. Steve must not have minded, he leaned into him and went a little less rigid.

"Uh, no, I can't." Steve said into his phone. "I'm not in the tower right now." He stretched out and used his toes to grab his shirt off the floor.

Steve had adorable monkey toes.

Now Bucky had to live with that knowledge.

Steve huffed at Natasha. "Well if you knew then why did you ask?"

Bucky'd never been interested in anyone's toes before in his life, including his own, and that didn't make it any less precious when Steve stretched out his foot again and pulled over his jeans with his fucking adorable toes.

Yep. Complete disaster.

Steve tugged his jeans on and stood up to zip and button them. "You just want an excuse to drive one of Stark's ridiculous cars. By the time you got here --"

There was a series of honks from outside.

"Dammit Natasha." Steve scowled and hung up his phone.

"Your ride's here?" Bucky asked, knowing that his smile came out a little crooked.

"We have a meeting with the UN in two weeks, and we have to hammer out all the details, and --"

Bucky caught him up in a kiss. "You don't need to explain. Go be Captain America."

"Okay," Steve said. And then he did it. He took a deep breath, drew himself up, and became a national icon. A slender, gorgeous national icon with black and blue hair, a lip ring, and tattoos up both wrists. He nodded at Bucky. "I'll call you."

"From my front door?" Bucky asked.

And then Steve was back, smiling shyly and saying, "Maybe?"

"Good." Bucky leaned their foreheads together and whispered, "I'm glad you came."

"Me too," Steve whispered back.

They didn't get to stay that way for long. Natasha honked again, and Steve gathered up his glasses, his hearing aid, and his shoes, gave Bucky one more quick kiss, and hurried out the door.

Without Steve around, it turned into a long damn morning.

Debugging while pining turned out to be a bad combination. Spotting stray semicolons was hard when he was busy thinking about the way Steve touched his lips after they kissed, as if he wanted to hold on to the feeling.

Steve clearly didn't get kissed enough.

Bucky had very definite plans to change that.

Plans that interfered with focusing on his job.

So a few hours later, when his phone started playing the 'Star Spangled Man' song, Bucky grinned before he even swiped to answer, just because it was Steve.

"You miss me already?" he said, low and flirty.

"We're doing this now, Barnes," said a voice that was definitely not Steve's.

"Stark?"

"You're still in for the bone marrow, right? You better fucking still be in. I need you to go outside."

Bucky lurched out of his chair. "Outside where? What's --"

"Outside anywhere! The roof, the fire escape, I don't care! Get outside so I can get you here! NOW!"

Bucky shoved his phone into his pocket so he could yank open the window. He ignored the cold bite of the metal against his bare feet as he climbed onto the fire escape. "All right," he said, pulling his phone out again. "I'm outside, I'm headed for the roof. Tell me what happened."

"Steve's -- he had a heart attack."

"No," Bucky whispered. He had to stop climbing and lean against the wall, since his hand was too full to grab the rail.

"I know it sounds bad, but if we give him the serum --"

"Giving him the serum could fucking kill him!" Bucky snapped.

"You think I don't know that?! I've been doing the calculations in my head for the past four minutes and thirty five seconds, but I don't have any other options and he's dying." Tony's voice broke on that last word, and it was the most terrifying thing Bucky had ever heard. "I have to try."

"Can I talk to him?"

"He's, uh, he's not awake."

"Oh." Bucky sniffed wetly and wiped his eyes with his stump.

"Tell me you're still in."

"Yeah. Yes. Anything." There was a streak of light and a loud rush of air, and suddenly bits of metal were flying everywhere, clanking into place around him and lifting him away before he even had time to react. "What the hell?"

"Oh finally, the suit's there. Look, in a minute you're gonna pass out from the anesthesia, but I'm going to go ahead and switch you over so you can talk to Steve. I mean, he can't answer, I don't even know if he can hear, but ... Okay, here ya go."

There wasn't a click. Bucky was flying out over the city in Iron Man's suit, with empty silence all around him, and nothing to do but talk and try desperately to hope. "Steve. I'm on my way. I'll be there as soon as I can. Please be okay. Please, I --"

He sniffed again, and tried to wipe his eyes, only to smack his hand against the helmet. He held his hands out where he could see them. Both of them. Oh, that was weird. It was the suit, he knew it was, but it was weird and the whole world was going fuzzy at the edges.

"Anesthesia," he murmured. "Think I'm passing out, Steve. Everything'll be okay. Be there soon. Talk to you. After. You'll be okay. Please be okay."

The world faded, white to gray to black.

 


 

"Bucky?"

Bucky forced his eyes open at the sound of Steve's voice. Everything was bright and glowy. Not Steve's hair, it was still black and blue, but everything else was bright and glowy, especially Steve, jesus, he didn't even have a shirt on. "Steve, you're big."

"Uh, yeah, the serum worked," Steve said, looking down at himself. "We just finished."

"Really big though," Bucky said, words floating right out of his slippery brain and into the air.

There was a laughing sound somewhere and Steve looked over at it and scowled until the door closed.

"S'okay, c'mere," Bucky said, reaching out. "Shit, 'm all tangled." He tried to pull off the wires and stuff, but his other arm was gone. Maybe with his teeth ...

Steve grabbed his hand. "I don't think you're quite awake yet, Buck. You should probably leave those alone."

Bucky looked down at Steve's unbruised knuckles and blank wrists. "Aww, your tattoos."

Steve gave him a crooked smile.

"You were so lonely," Bucky said sadly. "Wish I could hug you. Stupid arm, being gone like that. I'd hug you so much, Steve."

Steve had a weird, wobbly look on his face, but he folded himself across Bucky's chest, snuggling under his stumpy arm. His hugs were so good, they made up for anything Bucky couldn't do, and he said, "You saved me, Bucky."

"I love you," Bucky said, squeezing him tight.

"I ... Bucky, you ..." Steve said. He sounded weird and wobbly, too. "I'm so glad it was you."

That was good. That was really good. Everything was good, especially Steve, so Bucky just drifted, warm and cozy and good.

He wasn't sure if any time passed at all before the door flew open.

"Hey, you're getting all touchy feely," Tony said as he breezed into the room. "Wow, okay. I was gonna suggest putting clothes on, but now I see what a terrible mistake that would've been."

Steve stood up and frowned.

Stark grinned. "Anyway, glorious visuals aside, I came in to let you know that Scary Cap and Swoopy Cap are in the hall, and they'd love to see what a great job I did at not letting you die, so everybody's --"

"They're not coming in here," Steve commanded, in a voice Bucky hadn't really heard from him before.

Even Stark seemed surprised, for about a tenth of a second. "Okaaay, but the creepy assassins are muttering in Russian, Clint is literally swinging from the rafters, and Bruceybear is looking a little green around the gills, so ..." Stark swept both hands toward the door.

Steve turned to Bucky, and didn't quite meet his eyes. "I --"

"Go," Bucky said, keeping it to one word because he felt like maybe his mouth wanted to run away with him.

"You heard the man," Stark said, grabbing Steve's arm and tugging. "Places to be, muscles to show off, let's go."

With one last glance at Bucky as he went through the door, Steve walked out.

Bucky would have wiped his hand on his jeans, but he wasn't wearing jeans, he was wearing a sheet and maybe nothing else.

It was cold here, and Steve was gone, and everything sucked, and there was no reason to stick around. Bucky pulled off his sheet.

He'd been mostly right about not wearing anything, except there was a bright white bandage taped on his hip. That probably didn't count, though. He pulled it off. Underneath was a red patch of freshly healing skin. Weird.

He swung his feet over the side of the bed so he could leave, but his brain was still kinda slippery and the IV was confusing.

"Sir," said ceiling voice, "I'm afraid teeth are not the most sanitary option for that."

"Then what is?" Bucky snapped. "Shit, fuck, sorry. I need to go, how do I --"

Two horrible long robot claws unfolded from the wall. Bucky scrambled away, off the bed and onto the floor, which was very cold against his bare ass but his legs weren't cooperating with him.

Ceiling voice said, "Sir? Your arm please?"

The horrible robot claws made slow pinchy motions at him.

Oh.

Bucky used the bed to haul himself up and put his arm in pinching range, and the robot quickly detached the IV and covered the spot with a bandage, then gently patted him.

"Uh, thanks," Bucky said, as the claws withdrew. They came back a second later, holding a bag of clothes.

Oh, good idea. Clothes should make leaving a lot less awkward. He opened the bag and pulled out a flannel shirt.

It was the same flannel shirt he'd lent to Steve a few days ago.

Bucky swallowed and shoved it back in the bag. Stupid shirt wouldn't fit Steve anyway, now that he was all big and healthy and didn't need Bucky anymore.

Steve wouldn't --

Even if Steve was trying to send some kind of message, he'd be saying thank you, he wouldn't --

He wouldn't.

Still sitting on the floor, Bucky carefully pulled on his boxers. He tried to do the same with his jeans, but they were fucking impossible, so he pulled on his t-shirt instead. He could do that much. He wasn't totally worthless.

The robot arms dropped a pair of sweatpants on his head.

Bucky frowned up at the ceiling and muttered, "Thanks."

"You're very welcome, sir," ceiling voice said, without even asking for permission to be sarcastic.

Once he had the pants on, he buried his face against his knees.

Steve didn't mind that Bucky couldn't hug right. He didn't.

Steve had curled in bed with him and shared secrets in the dark.

Steve hadn't even wanted to leave, had he?

"I told him to go," Bucky said, without quite meaning to.

"Sir? Are you referring to Captain Rogers?"

Bucky sighed. "Nevermind."

"I am an Artificial Entity," said the ceiling. "I can promise utmost discretion in anything you share with me."

"It's nothing. It's just ... He doesn't flinch or turn away. He doesn't --" Ugh, he was not going to talk to a computer about hugging Steve, or holding him when he was lonely and scared and he turned up on Bucky's doorstep.

Steve lived in the same building with the Avengers, and he'd gone across town to be with Bucky.

"He still needs somebody," Bucky murmured.

"I'm sure he does."

Bucky would do damn near anything to be Steve's somebody. "Can you show me how to get to him?"

"Of course sir." A glowy square appeared at the door, and pulsed as Friday said, "This way."

Bucky forced himself to his feet and padded across to the door. There hadn't been any shoes or socks in the bag, and the floor made him shiver, but he wasn't going to wear the flannel shirt.

There was another glowy square down the hall, and Bucky shuffled toward it.

He could hear Steve, somewhere up ahead, "... in there alone. I have to --"

"We'll all go!"

"Like hell you will."

"We should thank him."

"You can wait until he's recovered."

Bucky cracked open the door. Everybody in the world was in there. Purple guy and Arrow dude and everybody.

Fuck.

"He's plenty recovered," said Tony. "He gave bone marrow, not a lung."

The door flew inward, and without the doorknob to hold onto, Bucky toppled over, right into Steve's arms.

"Bucky! Shit, are you hurt? Friday, what--"

Ceiling voice, Friday, said, "Mister Barnes is uninjured, sir."

"I was just checking on you," Bucky said in a small voice, and it sounded exquisitely ridiculous, and he accidentally added, "In case you needed me," which only made it worse.

But Steve was still holding on to him, saying, "I'm sorry, Buck. I shouldn't have left you alone like that."

"No, you should, it's the Avengers, it's important."

It was the Avengers. They were all right here, avidly watching everything Bucky said and did.

"You're important," Steve said. He didn't stick a "too" on the end, as if it was a secondary thing. He just said it like he believed it, without even glancing at the crowd around them.

Bucky swallowed with a dry click in his throat. How was he supposed to reply to that? Tony Stark and Sharon Carter were frowning at him from opposite corners of the room. Black Widow and Hawkeye were sharing some kind of significant look, and Wanda and Bruce were smiling at Steve and lightly clinking their glasses together.

Riley stalked over and planted himself beside Bucky. He stood at parade rest and said, "They didn't fuck with your head."

"No, just my hip," Bucky said, loosening his grasp on Steve's shirt. He was pretty sure Steve hadn't had that on earlier. He wondered who had found it for him, because it was about two sizes too small for this body. Steve kept an arm around Bucky's waist, trying to take all his weight for him.

Riley stared off into some middle distance. "Medical laser applied to pelvic bone. Marrow extracted. Rapid-heal technology employed. Technician maintained distance from subject's brain sufficient to imply that --"

"Riley," said Sam, rushing up beside him and gently putting an arm around his shoulders.

Riley carried on without pause. "-- subject was not conditioned or wiped. Further inquiry required for optimal certainty."

Sam somehow looked sad and proud at the same time, with his eyebrows all crinkled up and his mouth halfway open. He blinked and turned to Bucky. "You know your name? You know if you like coffee?"

"Know his name?" Stark said from across the room. "Of course he --"

"I'm Bucky, and I like coffee a lot." He rubbed his stump against Steve's shoulder to ground himself and told Riley, "My head doesn't hurt. I don't smell oranges. My mouth doesn't taste like rubber."

Riley was finally looking at him, eyes wide in horrified recognition. "Aww fuck, not you too."

"I'm better now. Well, except for the arm. But they only had me for a little while and --" Nobody seemed particularly reassured by any of that, so Bucky broke off and said simply, "I'm okay Riley. Thank you for keeping an eye on me."

Riley nodded and stepped back.

Steve's hands were balled up in tight fists, and if they'd been alone, Bucky would have asked if maybe he hadn't read that part of the file, if he hadn't known about the days Bucky spent in the chair. He wouldn't have wanted him to find out this way.

But they weren't alone, Stark was cursing quietly and rubbing his hand over his face while Banner patted him, and Natasha was murmuring to Riley, and Wanda was whispering to Vision, and Bucky couldn't think anymore. So it was Sam, not Bucky, who murmured, "You okay Steve?"

"Uh, yeah," Steve said, blinking himself back from wherever he'd been and smiling at Sam. "I keep trying to push up my glasses, though."

Sam's smile was only a tiny bit more genuine than Steve's, and they quickly looked away from each other, maybe for a bit of plausible deniability.

A sudden shiver jolted through Bucky's body. He hadn't realized how cold he really was until then, with the only bit of warmth coming from Steve's arm across his back.

"C'mere, you should sit down," Steve said, half carrying Bucky toward the closest of the couches.

"I can handle it," Bucky said. He hoped it wasn't an outright lie.

Steve kept his grip just as tight while he said, "I know, you can handle anything, but I still want to help, ya dork."

Somebody snorted, and Bucky looked up. Natasha was rolling her eyes at Hawkeye, who was covering his mouth. She shook her head and said, "Very subtle."

"Come on, it's funny," said Hawkeye. He turned to Bucky, "You know how Steve is, and now he's gotta deal with somebody else who won't admit there's things they can't do."

"I've never actually seen anything Steve couldn't do," Bucky said, leaving out the part where the only things he'd ever really seen Steve do were making out and eating, both of which he'd done very successfully.

Sharon laughed. "Don't encourage him! He tried to punch out a tank once!"

"Did it work?"

Tony yelled, "That is SO not the point," at the same time Steve said, "Yes! Thank you!" and Sam laughed.

Steve and Bucky paused their journey to the couch long enough to share a fist bump.

"Nice job, Clint. Now there's two of them," Natasha said.

Clint's mouth dropped open. "How is this my fault?"

"You'll find a way."

"No, this is not on me. Vision found the guy."

"Friday helped," Bucky said, aiming a thumbs up at the ceiling.

Steve said solemnly, "Thank you, Friday."

"You're very welcome, sir." If it was possible for an artificial entity to sound pleased with itself, then Friday had managed.

They finally got to the couch, and Bucky eased down onto it with far too much help. Steve sat beside him and said, "Thank you too, Vision. And Tony. Everybody. Thank you guys so much."

"Gross," Natasha said. "You've said that three times already."

"Tasha ..." said Sharon, with a wicked smile.

She barrelled across the room, right at Natasha, who immediately leapt over the back of the couch to escape. Sharon followed right after, tackling her so they both ended up giggling on the floor.

It was cute. Adorable, even. And Bucky still flinched at the impact.

He tried to cover it, but Steve noticed. He set his hand on Bucky's knee, too casually to really be casual.

It was hard to tell if Steve's hands had changed. Bucky hadn't memorized the shape and size of them from before, and now he kind of regretted it. But he was still Steve, tracing his thumb over Bucky's kneecap, giving him something to focus on, keeping him present.

Bucky leaned into the touch and tried to let it relax him a bit. Steve was just so fucking warm and generous and Bucky was ridiculously lucky to be with him.

"Was I right?" Wanda asked. She had appeared beside Riley and Sam while Bucky was distracted, and she was looking expectantly at him.

"Right about what?" Steve asked, with a soft, gorgeous smile.

"Oh!" Bucky finally figured it out. "When we met, she said that I ..."

"You saved me, Bucky."

"I love you."

"... that I was going to save you," Bucky finished weakly.

Oh shit.

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.

He'd told Steve he loved him.

He should say something instead of staring blankly. Steve's smile was starting to falter. Steve needed him and he was letting him down but if he opened his mouth another I love you might fall out. He did love him, he couldn't unsay it, he didn't want to unsay it, he loved him, but they hadn't even known each other for a week yet, how was he supposed to --

"Maybe you want some privacy?" Wanda said. She looked thoroughly bewildered, glancing back and forth between them. "So you can talk to each other?"

Steve took his hand away and drew himself up Captain America style. "Yeah. We should talk."

Great. Just great.

By the time Bucky got off the couch, Steve was two giant paces ahead, not looking back at all, and Bucky couldn't begin to catch up to him.

"Hang on Furiosa," somebody said. "Donor guy. Barnes."

Bucky turned around, and Tony was stalking over to him.

"Before you head out, I know that body modifications are sensitive or whatever, I've been there," Tony said, vaguely gesturing at his own chest. "So when you decide you're in the market for a new arm, look me up. It's a total win-win. You get to be handsier with Captain Blue Balls, and I get to even out my karma on the prosthetic front."

Steve turned back. "What."

"Karma?" Riley said. "My arm works fine, Tony. You fixed it."

"Sure did. Made Cap so he's not fun-sized anymore, too. I even resisted the urge to scramble your new friend's brains," Tony said pointedly.

"You're pissed that I kept watch for Bucky? Fucking seriously?" Riley said.

"You thought I was going to brainwash him. Like I'm no better than --"

"I don't trust anybody. How do you not --"

"You wouldn't have checked up on Sam or --"

Sam said, "Oh, he would," at the same time that Riley said, "Yes I would! It's got nothing to do with you."

"Really? I blow your arm off and you're just okay with it?" Tony scowled, like maybe he hadn't meant to say that.

Riley scrubbed a hand through his hair. "For shit's sake, stop being such a drama llama, if I really thought you were gonna fuck with his brain, I'd have shot you."

"Huh. Yeah, I guess you would," Tony said, and Riley rolled his eyes.

Tony was saying something else, but Steve turned to Bucky and said, "We're leaving."

"Right."

"Hey," Tony called as they were walking away. "I meant it about the arm. Let me know, I'll make you good as new. Maybe better."

Steve shot Tony a look that make him blanch and ushered Bucky to the elevator.

The doors closed, and blessed quiet surrounded them. Bucky shut his eyes and tried to soak it in.

"You're not broken," Steve said quietly.

Bucky blinked at him. "What?"

"You're not." Steve looked him in the eyes, he was always looking him in the eyes, and said, "If you want a new arm, you should get one, but it's just a tool. You don't need it. There's nothing wrong with how you are."

Bucky blinked again. There was plenty wrong with how he was, but he wasn't eager to point any of it out to Steve. "Well that's ... I mean ... You want to go back down there, give Iron Man a wedgie?"

Steve gave a surprised laugh. "Sure. We'll let him put on the suit first, make it a fair fight. Unless, I don't know, the suit looks pretty uncomfortable, it might do the job for us."

"It's actually pretty nice in there. Corinthian leather or something."

"When did ... Oh." Steve frowned down at the floor.

"Yeah." Bucky looked at the floor too, at Steve's feet, which were still bare, and his toes, which were still adorable. "You had a heart attack."

"Sorry," Steve said, quiet and miserable.

Bucky started to reach for him, wanting to hold him forever, only belatedly remembering that they were on their way to have a 'talk' about how Bucky had already taken things too far, too fast. He let his hand fall.

The elevator doors opened.

Chapter Text

Shuffling into Steve's apartment was awkward. Their shoulders were too wide for them to fit through the door together now, unless one of them put their arm around the other. Which they didn't. Instead they bumped into each other and gestured politely and finally Bucky wordlessly convinced Steve to go first.

Once they made it inside, Steve led the way to the kitchen and hunched down with his back against a cabinet, making himself almost the same height he used to be. Still twice as wide, though.

Bucky couldn't imagine what that must have felt like, any of the times that Steve's body had torn itself apart and rebuilt itself into a new shape, bigger and smaller and bigger again.

"Did it hurt this time?" Bucky asked. "The serum?"

Steve looked down at himself. "I was sort of unconscious until the end of it, but no."

"Yeah, I was pretty unconscious too." Ugh, this was horrible, pretending he hadn't already wrecked everything. He didn't know what the hell he was going to say, but he had to say something. "Um. When I was waking up, and I said I love --"

"Don't," Steve said, with a crack in his voice that turned it into a plea. He took a deep breath, steeling himself. "I know it was the anesthesia, and I know I'm different now. You don't have to explain or ... or take it back."

Oh.

Well, Bucky hadn't gone wrong yet in putting his entire heart in Steve's hands. He blurted out, "I want to say it again."

Steve looked like he was relieved, or happy, or terrified, or all three.

Bucky felt pretty much the same. "It's way too soon, and I didn't mean to say it, but I meant it, and I want to say it again someday."

Steve went a little wobbly, just like last time. "Someday I want to say it too."

"Okay," Bucky breathed.

"And um, your hugs are great," Steve said, smiling shyly.

Bucky covered his eyes. "Oh christ, what did I say?"

"You said you would hug me so much."

Laughing together hadn't lost a bit of its power to make him feel braver. It was exactly the same feeling he got from sunshine and outside air, and all he needed was Steve.

"Well, a promise is a promise," Bucky said, and he wrapped Steve in a hug.

Steve curled around him, cradling him against his chest. "You said I was lonely, and I told you that you saved me. And I didn't say it very well, but I'm so fucking glad they found you. I never thought there'd be someone like you for ... for me."

There was really no response for that but to kiss him.

His lips hadn't changed at all, and neither had the intoxicating sound of the little sighs he made, or the way he gripped Bucky's hips and held him tight.

Pulling away just enough to free his mouth, Steve asked, "The surgery, which side was it on? Does it hurt?"

"No, it's -- it hurts a little, but it's fine," Bucky said, touching where the bandage had been.

Steve kept him close in his arms, his breath hot as he whispered against Bucky's neck, "Can I kiss it better?"

"Yes," Bucky sighed. All other words fluttered out of his head at the feeling of Steve's mouth sucking soft kisses over his throat. "Yes."

In complete defiance of gravity, Steve eased oh so slowly down to his knees, his hands sliding over Bucky's ribs, down to his waist, and finally tugging delicately at the elastic of his waistband, pulling his sweats and boxers aside exactly enough to expose the barely healed skin, but no more than that. He touched his lips there, almost too light for Bucky to feel it.

"It's all pink." Steve ran his thumb across Bucky's other hip bone, through the fabric of his pants, and looked up into his eyes. "I could make them match."

Bucky very nearly said something horrible about how he wasn't exactly symmetrical anyway, before he realized what Steve was asking. And he was asking, even if he hadn't made it a question. He had that hopeful look on his face that made Bucky want to rearrange planets if that's what it took to give Steve whatever he wanted. So instead of saying yes, Bucky dug deep for more vocabulary and said roughly, "I've never -- Nobody's done that before. To me." He swallowed, because Steve's eyelashes fluttered, then added, "God yes, do it."

Steve carefully lowered Bucky's waistband on that side, too, making a long line of it, low across his belly. He followed that same line with his mouth, murmuring kisses like prayers across Bucky's skin, focused and tender, and Bucky threaded trembling fingers into Steve's hair to steady himself.

The burn was sharp and sweet as Steve sucked hard over the bone there, claiming Bucky with his mouth and his eager, adoring, uncertain eyes.

"Does it hurt?" Steve asked, brushing the mark with his fingertips before kissing it again.

"It's good. Do you want ... on you?"

"Oh. I don't bruise so easy. Guess I missed my chance on that."

"We can find something else. I can dig up my dogtags for you to wear or ... I mean, if you wanted to go steady or whatever," Bucky said, cringing. "I have never said 'go steady' before in my life. I'm pretty sure nobody has ever said that. I'm an embarrassment to my entire generation, I'm so sorry."

Steve wrapped his arms around Bucky's waist, resting his head against his stomach. "You're perfect."

It was demonstrably untrue, of course, but Bucky tried hard not to argue, not to ruin the moment, because god it was a nice moment, running his fingernails through the fuzzy short hairs at the nape of Steve's neck, Steve nuzzling in against his belly, breathing deep like he was inhaling his scent.

"Tell me what you want," Bucky husked. "Anything."

For a second Steve looked slightly overwhelmed. He got to his feet with breathtaking grace and leaned close. "I want my hands on you," he said against Bucky's cheek, and he swept his hands around Bucky's waist. "I want to hear you. I want to know what feels good for you."

Bucky had only just gotten proper feeling back in his legs, and now it seemed like it was gone again. He kind of missed it, but hearing those words from Steve was worth walking on jello for the rest of his life. "We doing this on the kitchen counter, or you got a bed around here somewhere?"

"No, I sleep in the bathtub." His snarky face was perfectly adorable, though he couldn't hide his smile for more than half a second. He gave Bucky a light shove toward the doorway. "Yes I have a bed, and you should be in it."

"Being a smartass won't make that happen any sooner." That was a lie, it would get him in bed as soon as physically possible, and Bucky pulled Steve in what he hoped was the right direction.

Steve steered him down the hallway, trying to get his hands up under Bucky's shirt while they walked. "I could carry you. That'd be faster."

"You will not."

The low rumble of Steve's laugh was fucking delicious, and Bucky turned around to kiss him for it. He ended up against the wall, and they were both smiling too much to kiss properly, but Steve finally did get his hands under Bucky's shirt, sliding hot and smooth across his chest.

"Bed, c'mon, jesus," Bucky said, making no move to get them there and grabbing at Steve's shoulder to keep him where he was.

Steve walked backwards, pulling Bucky along with him, kissing his way across Bucky's jaw as they went.

Not surprisingly, with neither of them looking where they were going, they crashed into the door frame on the way through.

"Good thing you don't bruise so easy," Bucky said breathlessly.

"Yeah, I ..." He waved a hand vaguely at himself. "Everything is different, but I guess it's all better."

"It's --" That was the second time Steve had said something like that. Bucky stopped and looked him in the eye. "Everything is the same, too."

Steve stripped his shirt off and raised an eyebrow.

Okay, good point.

"Yeah, I had noticed that," Bucky said, valiantly not staring. "Your face is still the same, though. You made that commercial and nobody suspected."

Steve twisted his shirt in his hands. "They put me in a padded suit and had me stand on a box."

"Shit, that must have sucked." Bucky sat on the edge of the bed, and Steve sat beside him, their fingers barely brushing on the icy-white blanket.

"A bunch of people found donors because of it. And I found you. That's worth a few days of Tony cackling at me."

It must have shown on Bucky's face that he was plotting out ways to exact revenge for Stark's bullshit, because Steve added, "And after we finished filming, I convinced Friday to play 'America the Beautiful' on Tony's phone. Full volume. Non-stop. It only took two hours for him to apologize."

While Bucky was laughing, Steve kissed him on the forehead. Bucky retaliated by knocking him over on the bed and kissing his nose.

God, his eyes. So soft and kind, just like always.

Bucky braced his stump on Steve's shoulder so he could skim his fingertips over his chest. "Same smooth skin. Same laugh. Even your toes are the same."

"My shoes are three sizes bigger now," Steve said, not nearly as light-hearted as Bucky would have hoped.

"Sure, but your toes are still the same. Here, watch."

Bucky dipped his head and sucked at one of Steve's nipples, blindly feeling for the other one and tracing over it with his fingers.

"Oh jeez," Steve moaned.

Bucky smirked up at him. "Did your toes curl for me?"

"Dunno, I was distracted," Steve said, smirking right back.

Bucky laughed. "I bet they did, though, 'cause you're still you. You even taste the same."

Steve's smirk turned softer and sweeter. "Flesh and blood and bone. That's what you said before."

"That's exactly what you are. Gorgeous and fuckable and real." He shifted up tighter between Steve's legs, not quite grinding but, okay yes grinding, and Steve's hands were suddenly on his ass, pulling him even closer.

"Big talk for a guy who still has way too many clothes on."

Bucky laughed again as Steve tugged at his shirt, and they lifted it off together, Steve's fingertips leaving trails of heat on his skin.

"I do not miss needing glasses," Steve murmured, running his hands down over Bucky's shoulders, his chest, his stomach. "You're amazing, Buck."

"Even with too many clothes on?" He raised an eyebrow and flipped his waistband.

"Any way I can have you," Steve said solemnly. "But ..." He gathered Bucky in, rolled them over together, and slipped his hands down to tug at Bucky's sweatpants. "I was hoping I could take these off. If we're going steady and all."

Bucky grinned. "Yeah, sure. Since we're going steady."

"Yeah? You'll be my sweetheart?" Steve said. Oh, he was perfect, with his dirty shy smile and his hands wandering over Bucky's thighs.

"Your sugar pie."

He slid Bucky's sweatpants lower. "My doodlebug."

It shouldn't have been sexy, with Steve grinning at his own dumb joke while Bucky giggled helplessly, but even before he caught his breath they had found each other's lips again, trading kisses as they slipped off each other's pants, curling together, exploring each other's skin.

Steve shoved at Bucky's shoulder, rolling him onto his stomach, and ran his fingertips lightly over his back, and his sides, and his hips, before brushing his lips up the length of Bucky's spine. All the while, Bucky clenched at a pillow and slid his stump across the sheets, seeking a handhold that he'd never find, until Steve's arms bracketed him and gave him something to cling to.

"C'mere," Steve murmured. He lifted Bucky up and around to sit with his back flush against Steve's chest and their ankles twined together, a mirror image of their first time together.

Bucky wondered if similarities would make Steve feel more at home in his own body or less. He'd been doing his best not to dwell on the comparisons, not to miss slender arms or the catch of a lip ring and instead appreciate the steady thrum of Steve's heart and the careful way he used his strength. Both versions suited Steve so well, it was slightly disconcerting.

All of that was driven from his mind when Steve slipped his hand under Bucky's and trailed their fingers across his stomach and down to his hip. Bucky shifted closer, and Steve sighed as Bucky pressed back against the hard hot length of his erection.

Steve didn't really need any guidance on what to do with his hand, since what Bucky wanted most was Steve being bold and curious, which he certainly was, tracing out patterns and altering rhythms and seeming to just enjoy playing with Bucky's cock.

Bucky definitely enjoyed it. He gripped Steve's thigh in his hand and hooked his other arm around Steve's elbow, getting the leverage he needed to arch back against him, chasing those sweet little moans he made, until both of them were sweating and shuddering.

That first time together, Bucky hadn't realized how utterly vulnerable Steve must have felt. How much trust he'd placed in him, right from the beginning, to let himself be so exposed, so totally naked to his every whim, the way Bucky was now, with Steve watching and caressing and stroking, his eyes full of wonder.

It was glorious and terrifying and perfect.

"Kiss me," Bucky said, almost too quiet to be heard. "Kiss me kiss me kiss --" and finally Steve's mouth was on his, sloppy, barely controlled, desperate, licking into each other, sharing helpless moans, Bucky caught between the thrill of the sounds Steve made and the ecstasy of thrusting up into his hand. He groaned, and Steve rocked up hard against him, again and again, and Bucky was soaring and falling and wrapped up in Steve's tight embrace as they fell apart together.

Steve gently rolled them to the side and used a corner of the sheet to wipe them clean. He didn't even seem out of breath, which was kind of hilarious, but Bucky didn't have the energy to laugh. He twisted around to face him, hooking his leg up over his thigh so they could be closer. He was on the wrong side, but Steve tucked Bucky's stump under his arm and it was ... It was good. He could hold him like this, and it was so good.

"I visited the Louvre once," Steve said, syrupy slow. He brushed his thumb over the base of Bucky's spine. "It was during the war. The walls were covered in empty frames. They'd taken all the masterpieces and hidden them away. That's -- I want to hide you away where you'll always be safe."

Steve's eyes went wide, an apology about to take shape on his lips, and Bucky didn't want that. Protectiveness wasn't something he ever got to be on the receiving end of, and he sure as hell didn't want to hear Steve say he regretted it. He kissed away the 'sorry' before it even began.

Resting their foreheads together, tangled up in the dark, he wasn't afraid to share even his most ridiculous thoughts. "Like a dragon. It's good. We'll be dragons together. We're already up in the highest tower."

Steve chuckled. "What happened to being flower children?"

"We'll be dragons who wear daisy crowns, and I'll bite anybody who tries to mess with you."

"A lot of people try to mess with me Buck," Steve said, his smile turning sad.

"I'll bite them all. I've got a lot of teeth."

Steve looked him in the eyes the way he always did and whispered, "I love you."

Glorious and terrifying and perfect.

Yes, that's exactly what it was.

"I love you too."

They shared a lot of secrets and dreams, wrapped up together through the night, but that one was the best.