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Holding Your Words In My Hand

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Cover Art for Holding Your Words In My Hand. The image shows a person's index and middle fingers touching the center of another person's palm, with the printed text of the story title laid over top. The braille translation of the story title is below the printed text. The author's name is in the corner of the image.

*             *             *

Seven months, two weeks and five days.

He kinda misses being in cryo. At least when he was frozen, he wasn’t aware of time passing.

He didn’t get bored.

He didn’t feel the endless drag of every minute slowly ticking by.

Sometimes he deliberately stops keeping track of the time and the number of days, but that makes time go by even slower.

He can see the time on a red digital clock in the guard office, since it’s situated right across from his cell. He guesses that’s kinda lucky—the prison is a circular shape so many of the cells don’t have the eye line into the office that he has.

He can also see the date—the guards have a paper calendar hanging in the office. They use it to mark down their birthdays and the length of their shifts. One week spent babysitting the world’s most dangerous assassin in a tomb sitting on the bottom of the ocean, then they get rotated out for a two week break.

Bucky never gets rotated out, obviously.

His cell isn’t that bad. He’s got enough room to do some exercising and a small cot to sleep on. There’s a low wall that separates a shower area, toilet and sink from his cot. He can tend to all of his basic needs right in his little cell.

The furniture is all bolted to the floor, which Bucky thinks is a bit pointless.

Breaking anything in his cell is the furthest thing from Bucky’s mind. Nobody ever comes into his cell and he’s never let out. He has no doubt that if he breaks something, they won’t bother replacing it. He’ll be hurting himself more than them.

Trays of food are shoved through a small opening on the bottom of the door three times a day, but the rest of the door stays firmly closed. The guards are too scared to interact with him. Bucky assumes they’ve been told about the trigger words, but maybe they fear that other words could set him off. Maybe they fear that if Bucky did get triggered, he’d tear the cell—and them—apart.

Right.

Even when he was in prime physical condition, he couldn’t get out of this cell without his metal arm—which had been removed within hours of him being taken into custody.

And now, after seven months of meager nutrition and very little room to exercise, he’s shed a lot of the Winter Soldier’s bulk. Not that he couldn’t do significant damage to the guards, but getting out of the cell—no, that’s not something that’s gonna happen.

Whether or not he could damage anything or anyone is irrelevant anyway. There are four canisters of deadly gas on the ceiling of his cell. With a single push of a button from a guard, the cell will flood with gas and Bucky would be dead in seconds.

He has to admit they’ve got the whole security thing down figured out, but it makes for an incredibly lonely existence.

Thankfully, he’s allowed to read books, but not paper books. The guards don’t want to risk him triggering himself by ripping apart the book and creating the trigger words from the paper letters, so he’s got a little electronic device installed in the wall above his table. He can read the books that the guards load on it.

The nice guards will ask him what he’d like to read and then load some titles on for him.

The not-so-nice guards will keep the reader turned off.

Clearly, there are those that feel that the world’s most dangerous assassin shouldn’t be allowed to read books.

He has no idea if access to the books is something the other prisoners get, or if it’s something Steve fought for.

If anybody knows how much Bucky loves to read, it’s Steve Rogers.

Ironically, it was because of Steve that Bucky learned to love reading in the first place, so everything’s come full circle.

Whenever Steve was sick, Bucky would spend hours at his bedside (or right outside the apartment door if Mrs. Rogers deemed Steve too contagious), reading to Steve. When Steve was feeling okay, Bucky would help him catch up with school material, but when Steve was feeling terrible and couldn’t concentrate, it was Bucky’s job as Steve’s best friend to keep him distracted. Steve would get terribly jealous hearing stories about what Bucky was doing outside with the other kids in their neighbourhood, so reading to Steve was a better bet for keeping him entertained and distracted from his pain and nausea.

Bucky would grab whatever bits of newspaper he could get his hands on and take advertisement flyers off building walls and read them to Steve. It wasn’t much, but it was a distraction. They didn’t have money to afford even pulp magazines, never mind books, and the library didn’t trust somebody like him enough to let him borrow books. On his really lucky days, Bucky would find discarded pulps or books in trash piles, and as long as they weren’t dirty enough to be a threat to Steve, he’d bring them to the Rogers house and read them to Steve, then he’d give them to his sisters.

As they got older, reading became less of a pure distraction mechanism, and became a source of joy for both boys. When they were living together and had money left over at the end of the month (and none of Steve’s medical bills were too overdue), they’d spend 15 cents on a pulp magazine and read it together when Bucky got home from work.

From time to time, Steve would get hired by the owner of a used bookstore a few blocks from their apartment and he’d be allowed to borrow some of the older titles and bring them home to share with Bucky.

He still can’t get over the fact that he has access to hundreds of books with a swipe of his finger. After decades of struggling to get their hands on any type of book, this is amazing.

It’s almost strange having access to an entire book. Bucky’s used to books missing entire chapters, or even half the story. He and Steve would make up the missing portion amongst themselves, but now he can get from Chapter 1 all the way to the end without any missing, smudged or torn pages interfering.

It’s incredible.

But…

…spending day after day reading gets boring, no matter how great the story is.

His only real highlight is visits from Steve.

Steve is allowed to visit once a month. Bucky isn’t exactly sure why—he’s sure that Rogers fought them long and hard about it—but that’s the procedure at the prison.

Once a month, the prison rumbles and groans and lifts itself to the surface like it does once a week for the guard transfers. During visitor hours, the prison rises and then Steve comes in to the circular chamber. Sometimes there are other visitors with him. Presumably they’re there to visit the other inmates whom Bucky has never met or even seen. They give Steve a chair and he sits just outside Bucky’s door.

Bucky sits on the floor of his cell, as close to the door as possible without being zapped. Layers of thick glass, metal bars and shimmering forcefields separate him from Steve, but it’s better than not seeing Steve at all.

The glass is completely soundproof so none of the visitors can trigger him. The guards communicate with him through speakers in his cell, but Steve isn’t allowed access to those.

Bucky desperately misses hearing Steve’s voice.

He’s really mad at himself because he can’t remember the last words Steve had spoken to him. During their crazy attempts to dodge the governments of a dozen countries and SHIELD, they hadn’t had a lot of time to talk. Plus, Bucky hadn’t known during their last conversation—whatever it might have been—that he’ll never get to hear Steve’s voice again, so it wasn’t a conversation he’d tried to hold on to.

He’d been the one to turn himself in—negotiating a surrender in secret with Natasha, in exchange for immunity for Steve. He’d been so nervous on the day of the surrender and the whole process of turning himself in that he doesn’t remember what they’d talked about. He remembers he’d had to lie to Steve about the entire surrender—the punk was dead set on spending the rest of his life on the run. But after the third close call with stupid Stark and the rest of the idiots in the span of a week, and Steve being held together by bandages and stubbornness in a damp cave, Bucky had contacted Natasha and told her to arrange for his surrender, in exchange for Steve’s freedom.

She hadn’t been happy about it, pointing out how mad Steve would be, but she acknowledged that Stark wouldn’t ever give in and there was no happy ending to this particular story.

Despite the loneliness of his current situation, he doesn’t regret stopping the constant threat to Steve’s life. The punk may be unhappy with the current situation, but he’s alive.

The only thing Bucky regrets is having forgotten that last, precious conversation with Steve.

He remembers some of their other conversations during months spent running and hiding in motel rooms, abandoned buildings, cabins and caves all over the world—but not their last conversation.

There’s one conversation that Bucky does remember, because it had been life-changing. He and Steve had been hiding out in an abandoned barn near a small town in Canada, and within two days of them being there, a carnival had been set up across the road. Tents appeared, carnival rides had been built and then streams of cars arrived, bringing hundreds of visitors. Seeing the large ferris wheel carrying people up to the sky and hearing the delighted screams of rider on the rollercoaster brought back a lot of memories of Brooklyn and spending their summers at the fair at Coney Island. Smelling hot dogs and listening to the sounds of cheerful music playing made their homesickness even worse.

Then Steve had suggested going to visit the fair. There were tons of people there and nobody would pay any attention to the two of them when everybody had so many other things to focus on. Despite having misgivings about it, Bucky allowed himself to be convinced and they went to the fair. After buying their tickets and joining the crowds of people inside the fair grounds, they wandered around, eating food and gazing in wonder at the new types of rides and games they could see.

When Bucky had said something funny, Steve’s reaction of lightly smacking him on the chest was normal—but when Steve had leaned in and given him an affectionate kiss on the temple, Bucky’s good mood had vanished. Fear had immediately run down his back and he’d shoved Steve away from him, glaring at him. “The point is not to attract attention, Rogers! Remember? How long d’ya think it’ll take SHIELD to find us if we get arrested for being queer in public?”

Instead of the look of shock and fear that Bucky was expecting to see on Steve’s face, a huge smile lit up the punk’s face instead. “Oh, my God—I can’t believe I forgot to tell you! Buck, you’re gonna love this!”

And then he’d proceeded to tell Bucky that queer people are allowed to be affectionate towards each other in public now. At first, Bucky thought it was only a Canada-thing, but Steve had reassured him it was okay in the States too and many other places. Homosexuals were allowed to hold hands and kiss and hug in public without being arrested.

Bucky was so stunned that he’d just stood there, letting the crowd brush past him. “So…so if we were back home…if we were in Brooklyn, we could—”

Steve had nodded, that huge smile still on his face. “You could kiss me and hold my hand and nobody would arrest you for it.”

That wonderful news had lit up within Bucky’s chest, but the joy had been bittersweet. For the first time, he was free to openly love the man he loved…but now another part of his freedom was being threatened. He’d gained the right to openly love whoever he loves, but he was on the run and his physical freedom was on the line.

After he’d surrendered, he’d lost his physical freedom completely.

He doesn’t know who he’s annoyed so badly, but the irony of the situation is crushing. Through a bizarre set of circumstances, he and Steve are both young and alive in a time period which they weren’t supposed to ever see, and they get to live in a time where their love is no longer a crime…but Bucky has to spend these years imprisoned. And because Bucky’s suffering, Steve is suffering right alongside him.

They’ve both gained freedoms they never thought they’d get, but they’ve also lost freedoms they never thought they’d lose.

Some days, Bucky gets so angry at the whole thing. He’s never done anything wrong. He’s spent his entire life working hard to take care of the people he loves. He didn’t start the stupid war and he certainly didn’t choose to go fight in it, but he did his duty. All he’d ever wanted was to come home and get back to his normal life, but somebody somewhere decided Bucky Barnes doesn’t deserve a happy ending.

But whenever he gets angry, he reminds himself to be grateful for what he does have. SHIELD could easily revoke Steve’s visitor privileges, which would take away the biggest source of joy Bucky has left. Bucky’s also glad that they don’t have to hide their feelings for each other. Communicating during their visits is difficult enough, with the constant monitoring and the restrictions that have been put in place. At least they can be open about expressing their love for each other. Or at least—as open as the restrictions allow them to be.

Aside from not being allowed to speak to Bucky, Steve’s also not allowed to write anything. The government fears that Steve will write the trigger words.

They are right to be concerned.

Back when he’d first been captured, they’d done a lot of testing on him. Bucky hadn’t ever known—maybe Hydra hadn’t even known—that he could be triggered by seeing the words written down.

Him thinking the words to himself didn’t do anything, but hearing them or seeing them sets him off. It doesn’t matter if somebody else says or writes the words, or if he says or writes the words—if he could hear them or see them, he’d be triggered.

That’s when they’d decided that the only safe place to keep him is in a tomb on the bottom of the ocean.

When Steve had first started visiting, he’d talked to Bucky and Bucky had done his best to read his lips, which was completely unsuccessful. Bucky had no experience reading lips, and he wanted to catch every single one of Steve’s words, so not being able to keep up with the conversation led to a lot of stress. To his horror, Bucky had burst into tears in the middle of one of their conversations when he’d completely lost track of what Steve was saying. Steve had become alarmed and several frantic minutes had gone by until Bucky could collect himself enough to try to explain the situation. He pointed at Steve and then covered his mouth with his hand.

Thankfully, except where lip reading is concerned, the two of them had always had an easy time communicating.

Steve blinked a few times, then pasted a smile on his face and mimed zipping his lips shut. He switched over to hand signals and resumed his story, hardly skipping a beat.

They’ve stuck to the hand signals ever since, and it works pretty well.

He always starts by waving hello, which Bucky copies. Then Steve points to Bucky and then holds up two hands in a questioning manner. Bucky smiles and nods. He’s fine.

Steve narrows his eyes and mimes sleeping and eating.

Yes, Bucky nods, he’s been doing both. He’s fine.

Then Bucky points at Steve and repeats Steve’s motions, to which Steve also nods.

Bucky doesn’t really believe him. The punk’s looking a bit skinny and there are dark circles under his eyes. Bucky figures he probably looks the same, so they’re both lying to each other.

Then Steve tells him about what he’s been doing.

A circle made with his hands like a little shield means Captain America. Wrists touching and all ten fingers wiggling are Natasha, the Black Widow. They’re going on missions but Steve doesn’t tell him any of those details, he just tries to convey funny stories—who fell off something, who bumped into someone. The punk does really funny facial expressions.

Then he tells Bucky about the latest baseball games he’s watched. Bucky isn’t sure which baseball team Steve’s following—something like that is too difficult to convey with simple hand gestures—but he doesn’t really care. As long as Steve’s telling him something—anything—Bucky will enjoy every second.

Steve takes him through a few games, swinging his arms to mimic hitting the ball, stamping his feet to indicate running and reaching up to the sky to catch balls.

It always lights a warm glow in his chest knowing that Steve is doing his best to give Bucky his favourite hobbies back—as much as he can in the given circumstances.

Bucky nods, smiles and gives the occasional thumbs up to indicate that he’s listening. Sometimes the idiot gets carried away and his gestures get sloppy and too fast for Bucky to follow, but Bucky will flap his hand at him and frown, and that’s Steve’s sign to slow the hell down and do it again.

Steve always stays as long as possible, until the guards are urging the visitors towards the exit.

Then they both stand and try to paste brave smiles on their faces—although Bucky can always see the unshed tears in Steve’s eyes, and he knows he’s no better—and wave goodbye. Then Steve points at his own chest, rubs a fist over his heart, then points at Bucky.

Bucky does the same.

I love you too, punk.

Bucky stands close to the door, ignoring the heat of the forcefield on his face and watches until Steve disappears from view.

Then it’s back to long, boring days of exercising and reading.

*             *             *

The current guard rotation is composed of not-so-nice guards, so the e-reader has been turned off for two days. It’ll probably stay off for another five days before shift change.

It gives him plenty of time to think, because exercising can only take up so much of his time.

He’s starting to think that his situation is pretty stupid.

Does the government really want to spend money and resources keeping him in this prison for the rest of his life? He might live another seventy or eighty years, depending on how the pseudo-serum ages him. That’s a lot of money and a lot of resources.

Back when he was first arrested, Steve had arranged for a lawyer for him. SHIELD had fought it, the government had fought it, but Bucky had gotten a lawyer.

The lawyer had explained to Bucky that he couldn’t be held responsible for what he did while under Hydra’s control, which the government had ended up agreeing with.

His lawyer had told him that Bucky could probably negotiate his freedom by giving up information about Hydra.

Unfortunately—or fortunately—Bucky’s entire recollection of his time with Hydra is a collection of fuzzy, jumbled noises and colors. The last thing he clearly remembers prior to fighting with Steve on the helicarrier is chatting with Steve, two days before they left for the mission to capture Zola. So even if he wants to trade information for his freedom, he can’t.

But then the government took that option off the table anyway. He could be triggered at any time, making him a permanent threat to society. Regardless of what he had or hadn’t done, regardless of what he did or didn’t remember, he needed to be locked up for everybody’s safety.

Those stupid trigger words will keep him locked up in this tomb for the rest of his life.

He does agree that he’s a threat—they’d shown him video of what he had done to the testing room while he’d been triggered—but if that part himself were removed, shouldn’t that entitle him to freedom?

But there’s no way to deprogram the trigger words.

Or if there is, nobody knows how.

Maybe they can find somebody from Hydra who’s still alive who was part of the Winter Soldier program?

Bucky snorts. Right. Like the government would spend time and resources doing that for him. Steve would do it in a heartbeat, but Steve got into enough trouble when he was helping Bucky. Bucky had a hell of a time getting the punk out of that heap of trouble—he doesn’t want him to get into a new heap of trouble.

So deprogramming him isn’t an option.

So he’s back to only having the tomb as an option.

Whenever he ends up circling back to that conclusion, he gets an unbearable urge to cry.

He doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life in this tomb.

He left to fight a war in 1943 and the only thing he ever wanted was to go back home.

Then he fell off a train.

Then he was tortured and brainwashed by Hydra for seventy years.

Now he’s in a tomb on the ocean floor, where he’ll spend the next seventy years.

It’s so damn unfair.

Ever since he was drafted, the only decision he’d ever made for himself was to stay behind in Europe to help Steve and the rest of the Howlies. Everything else had been decided for him.

There has to be another way.

There has to be another option.

*             *             *

Steve pushes open the door of the small coffee shop and immediately checks the corner table. Natasha is already there, two cups of coffee and a plate of pastries on the table.

He makes his way over to her and drops into his chair. “Hey, Nat. Sorry I’m late. Debrief took longer than I thought.”

She makes a face. “Some things never change, huh?”

He takes a sip of his coffee. She firmly pushes the plate of pastries towards him. He shakes his head. “I’m fine. Not hungry.”

“You’re getting too skinny, Rogers. If you don’t care, that’s fine, but I care, and I know that Barnes must have noticed and he cares. You really wanna cause him extra stress?”

Steve gives her an unimpressed look, but takes a brownie. She smirks triumphantly.

“Well played, Romanov.”

“Oh, please. You’re such an easy person to read. Pretty much the easiest I’ve ever met.”

He throws her what he hopes is a withering glare, but dutifully takes a large bite of the brownie. “You know, I’m getting sick and tired of you and Buck teaming up against me.”

She smiles. “We only do it for your own good, you know that.”

“We were doing fine.”

They both know Steve isn’t talking about today.

She rolls her eyes. “The serum was barely managing to keep you alive, you were both running out of steam and you were both getting cornered more and more frequently. It was only a matter of time before you both got yourselves killed protecting each other. At least this way, you’re both alive.”

Steve snorts. “Are we? I keep confusing this new life of mine with being dead. They sure feel the same on most days.”

She lapses into silence and swirls her coffee in its cup. Steve finishes his brownie and she gestures at the blueberry danish until he picks it up and starts eating it.

“So? Mission went well?”

Steve shrugs. “Yeah. Went fine.”

She gives him a long look. Steve realizes he probably should have tried to sound more enthusiastic about it, but he’s finding it harder and harder to fake his enthusiasm for anything these days.

“You don’t have to keep working for SHIELD, Steve. You know that. Your immunity isn’t—”

“My immunity has nothing to do with it but Ross made it clear—if I want him to do favors for Bucky, I gotta keep working for him. I stop working for SHIELD, suddenly they won’t let him read anymore, won’t give him desert or they won’t let me visit anymore. There’s only so much I can do to help make his life better, I’m not taking the risk that he loses any of that.”

She sighs softly. “I wish I could do more to help you two.”

“It’s not your responsibility, Nat. Life decided Buck and I deserve to have these cards, so this is what we get.”

“You’re my friend, Rogers. I don’t have many of those and I’m not too familiar with how the whole thing works, but I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be trying to help you. And Barnes cares about you way more than your stubborn ass deserves, so he’s okay in my books too.”

Steve smiles. “You are helping, Nat. You can’t get Buck out of that prison and you can’t do anything about Ross being an ass.”

She purses her lips. “I never said I can’t get—”

Steve glares and puts down his danish. “No, stop. That’s not happening. If anybody decides to put their lives on the line to break Buck out, it’ll be me. I’m not risking anybody else.”

“You know Barnes would be mad. He risked a lot to get you immunity.”

“I’ve got immunity but I’ve got about as much freedom as Buck. The only difference is that my prison’s bigger than his. As long as Buck’s locked away, I ain’t free. I’d rather be dead than unhappy, and if Buck was thinking straight, he’d realize that.”

“So you’d rather have him mad at you the rest of your lives?”

“I don’t gotta make that choice right now, because breaking him out isn’t my first choice. I’m gonna keep looking for a way to deprogram those trigger words. Once I’ve run out of all options, then I’ll consider doing something more…drastic.”

He’d already tracked down every last Hydra survivor who had worked on the Winter Soldier program and gotten absolutely nothing useful out of them. He’d spoken to every doctor and psychiatrist who had experience in the field of brainwashing and trauma recovery, but none of them had ever dealt with something like this.

He’d also asked Wanda for help, but she refused to use Bucky as a guinea pig to do something she’d never done before. Not to mention the huge risk of causing horrific brain damage for both of them. Once Steve realized how much of a danger the whole thing was to Wanda, he’d dismissed that option.

Last week he’d met with Thor. If nothing on this planet could help Bucky, maybe something on Asgard could help.

“Did you meet with the big guy?”

“Yeah.”

Natasha leans forward and raises a hopeful eyebrow. “And?”

Steve snorts and tears a flake of pastry off the danish. “If he had anything good to say, don’t you think I would have texted you last week?”

“So he had nothing?”

“Oh, he had something. A lot of different somethings. The only problem is that all of it’s designed for Asgardian physiology. He asked the doctors and all of them said the risk of causing large amounts of damage were way too high.”

Steve sighs. “I’ll keep looking, but I ain’t gonna consider anything that’ll damage Buck’s brain. He’s been through enough. The last thing I want is to turn him into a vegetable.” He pushes the plate of pastries back and rubs a weary hand over his face. “I’m tired, Nat. I just wanna go home with Buck. That’s all I’ve wanted since 1944 and it’s looking like no matter what we do or how hard we fight, that ain’t ever gonna happen.”

Natasha reaches forward and squeezes his hand that’s clenched in a fist on the table. “We’ll keep looking. And when you’re ready to have a hypothetical discussion over how somebody would hypothetically break out of a hypothetical prison on the ocean floor, we’ll have that chat.”

Chapter Text

The answer unexpectedly comes to Bucky one random morning when he wakes up with a headache.

It’s a minor headache, nothing to be concerned about. Maybe he didn’t drink enough water yesterday.

But it still annoys him.

He decides to hold off on getting out of bed and grimaces at the bright lights beaming down on him. He glowers up at the lights and turns on his stomach, shoving his head under his pillow.

He presses his arm across the pillow, pushing it down and blocking his ears.

It’s a bit difficult to breathe, but the darkness is soothing. The silence is nice too. There’s never a lot of noise in his cell—Bucky rarely talks to himself, but the forcefield constantly hums from dust particles bouncing off it—and his headache is appreciating the complete silence.

He shifts a bit so his mouth is off the mattress and he can breathe.

His throbbing head starts to calm, soothed by the darkness and silence.

No stupid lights to bother him. No stupid humming to aggravate him.

It’s nice and dark and quiet.

He smiles to himself. If only life were like this all the time. He couldn’t see the trigger words, or hear them. Of course, he couldn’t hear Steve either—but if Steve hugged him and talked, he could probably feel Steve’s chest rumbling.

That would be nice.

Wait.

Wait. A. Minute.

He releases the pillow and sits up straight, blinking at the sudden brightness.

He twists off the bed and goes to the door. “Guard? Guard! Can I talk to Secretary Ross? Please?”

He knows they can hear him—there are speakers in the cell. He squints through the metal bars and sees the guard lowering his coffee cup, frowning at him across the compound floor. He sees him press a button, then the guard’s voices is coming through the speakers.

“Why?”

“I have an idea. I know how I can get rid of the triggers. Well, not rid of them, but how I can stop reacting to them. It’s foolproof! Please? Can I talk to him?”

The guard looks bored, probably not believing him. He takes a sip of the coffee. “I’ll put in your request for a meeting.”

“Thank you. Thank you very much,” Bucky says, shooting him the most charming smile he can muster up.

There’s a good chance that Ross will never come, but Bucky will keep asking.

It’s not like he doesn’t have time to be a pest.

*             *             *

Ross looks extremely skeptical when Bucky explains his idea.

“Please, sir! You were at the testing! You know that I can only be triggered if I see or hear the words. So if we get rid of my sight and hearing, then I can’t get triggered.”

“There are ways to undo such changes with technology and surgery, Mr. Barnes.”

“I wouldn’t. I swear—I wouldn’t. It would be permanent. You can check every single day if you want.”

Ross blinks at him. “Are you feeling alright, Mr. Barnes?”

Bucky laughs—it’s an ugly sound. “Why? You think I’m crazy? How’s my idea any crazier than keeping me locked up on the ocean floor for the next eighty years? At least with my idea I get to feel the sun on my face and I get to have human contact.”

“You have no idea what you’re actually proposing.”

Bucky wants to punch the man—or his cell wall—, but he needs to stay civil if he wants him to stay. “I know exactly what I’m proposing, Secretary Ross! This—” he throws his right arm around himself, indicating his little cell. “—is hell and I would rather kill myself than keep living it. I thought those were my two options—death or this cell.” He’s breathing hard and he’s on the verge of tears.

He wants to get out of this damn cell!

He deserves to have his life back. It’ll be a different life, but anything is better than this.

He takes a deep breath and tries to remain calm. Ross has never cared about him personally and probably won’t be swayed by Bucky’s frustration.

“My idea is better than either death or keeping me locked up. Besides, I’m not charged with anything, I’m not technically a prisoner. My lawyer told me I have rights. Doesn’t that mean I can make decisions for myself? And as long as the public’s safety is my number one concern, doesn’t that mean you have to take my decision into account?”

Ross stares at him for a long time, probably waiting for Bucky to take it all back, but Bucky keeps his gaze steady.

“I’ll have to consult with other individuals before this can go any further, Mr. Barnes.”

“Will you be back?” Bucky demands.

“Mr. Barnes, believe it or not, you’re not our only priority. In fact, currently, you’re not a priority at all.”

“I understand, sir. But you’ll discuss it and come back?”

“We’ll see.”

*             *             *

Ten months, three week and five days.

That’s how much time passes between Bucky’s cell door closing and opening.

First, the forcefield flickers off. Then the metal bars slide away, and the glass door slides up—and Bucky’s staring through an open doorway.

There are fifteen guards outside the door, all of them with weapons pointed at him.

“Turn around and walk backwards towards us. Slowly.”

Bucky obediently turns around and shuffles backwards, out of his cell.

Goodbye cot. Goodbye toilet. Goodbye shower. Goodbye sink. Goodbye floor.

None of you will be missed.

He steps over the door’s threshold and is told to get on his knees with his hand up. Two guards step forward and work on cuffing him, while the others fan out around him. They lock a thick metal band around his waist and snap a cuff around his right wrist. His right hand’s pulled behind his back and attached to close to the left side of his body. His right shoulder begins aching right away from the awkward angle—but it guarantees he’s not going to be trying to get out of the restraint. They chain his feet together so he can take small shuffling steps, but there definitely won’t be any running happening.

He doesn’t care about the restraints. Running is the furthest thing from his mind. Steve would follow him, and he’s not starting that mess again.

He can see Secretary Ross standing outside of the circle of guards, watching him silently.

Bucky’s still wearing the prison’s blue jumpsuit and nobody offers him a change of clothes. He doesn’t mention it—he’ll probably have to get changed when he’s at the hospital anyway.

“On your feet.”

He gets up and slowly starts shuffling forward when given the order to do so. He struggles to keep the smile off his face as his feet carry him farther and farther away from that damn cell.

They load him into a helicopter where additional restraints are attached to his neck, chest and legs. He can’t move anything except his eyes. His right shoulder is aching.

But that’s all fine. He’s out of his cell and he’s not ever going back.

The helicopter starts up and lifts off the ground, carrying Bucky away from the cell. That’s all that matters.

It’s disorienting to be in the air and surrounded by so much noise and stimulation after months of monotonous boredom, but Bucky doesn’t let himself dwell on that. This will all be worth it, he’s sure.

They’re in the air for a long time. It gives Bucky some time to think. Surprisingly, he doesn’t dwell on the surgery, but instead, he’s trying to stamp down the guilt that’s been plaguing him for the past three months—three months which included three visits from Steve, none of which involved the slightest hint from Bucky about his plans.

He knows the punk would have protested. Steve has always held on to the hope that something will happen at some point that will magically fix all of this. But since neither his lawyer nor Steve have ever presented any plans of their own, Bucky knows his way is the only way.

Well, it’s the only legal way.

Back when he was first arrested, he’d told Steve that under no circumstances did he want Steve breaking him out. He was sick and tired of making Steve a fugitive and Steve deserves better than living a life on the run.

That doesn’t mean Steve will agree with him. Stubborn punk will probably fight and argue about this for years to come.

That’s okay. As long as he’s arguing and fighting with Bucky while Bucky’s by his side, enjoying the sunshine, Bucky couldn’t care less.

It was very hard to keep his mouth shut during their last visit.

Bucky knew it would be the last time he’d ever see Steve’s face. It hit him when the punk made a face of exaggerated despair as he mimed a missed baseball catch. He watched every tiny expression on Steve’s face, trying to commit them to memory.

When it was time for Steve to go, Bucky nearly broke—nearly begged for more time, just so he can spend more time looking at Steve—but he managed to stay strong.

His last memory of Steve was watching him wave goodbye, gesture that he loves Bucky, and seeing him walk out of the prison.

He takes a deep breath, not allowing himself to cry.

He’s fine. Well, he will be fine. Soon, he’ll be a free man and he’ll get to hug Steve for the next eighty years without letting go. It’ll be worth it.

All he has to do is hold on to that last memory of Steve and it’ll be fine.

But—

“Secretary Ross? Sir?”

Ross is typing on his phone and isn’t looking at Bucky. “Hmm?”

“Can you—uh, can you do me a tiny favor?”

Ross’ eyes slowly rise from his phone to stare at Bucky incredulously. “Mr. Barnes, you don’t get to make any demands.”

“Can you show me a picture of Steve? Please? So I can see him one more time?”

Ross sighs, annoyed. “You saw Rogers two days ago.” He’s already gone back to his phone.

“No, I mean, Steve from before. Steve before—before the serum. Before Captain America.” He says. “Please? I won’t ask for anything else, I promise. I’ll be quiet as a mouse for the rest of the trip. Please.”

Ross sighs again, making sure Bucky knows he’s really annoyed now. He types on his phone. “There are only pictures of Captain America.”

The guard next to him is looking over his shoulder, watching him type. “Boss, you’re not using the right keywords.” He pulls out his own phone and types on it, then turns the phone to face Bucky.

“This okay?”

It’s a picture of Steve at one of the army recruitment offices from 1943. It looks like it’s just a random photo—probably somebody from a news outlet had been doing a story about the war and only later realized who it was that he’d taken a picture of.

The skinny punk’s wearing his best white shirt and Bucky’s suspenders, cause his own were frayed and didn’t look so good. His hair is the usual mess and he’s got a stubborn frown on his face—probably cause he just got rejected for the hundredth time.

It’s perfect.

Bucky stares at the picture and burns it into his memory. Then he nods at the guard. “Thank you.”

He nods at Ross. “Thank you, sir.”

Like he promised, he keeps his mouth shut for the remainder of the trip.

He’s busy flipping back and forth in his mind between the image of Steve at the recruitment office and Steve’s last visit.

Even if he forgets how everything else looks, he doesn’t want to forget either of those images.

He’s so focused on those images that he forgets to feel nervous about what’s going to happen.

He thinks about Steve’s face and calmly follows all order that he’s given. They transfer from the helicopter into a van. Then they transfer into another van. Then they’re in the underground parking lot of a medical facility and Bucky’s being escorted inside.

Bucky has to sign a bunch of papers and has to change into medical scrubs. Then he’s told to lie down and they strap him securely to the bed. Again, the only things he can move are his eyes.

Then the doctors are allowed inside and it’s explained to him that they’re going to sedate him.

“Okay,” Bucky says. He realizes he’s been staring at Ross, who’s standing by the door and keeping an eye on everything.

Bucky shifts his gaze so he’s looking out the window, at the beautiful sunshine streaming into the room. He can see the branches of a tree close to the window, and blue sky beyond it.

The blue sky is the last thing he sees.

*             *             *

It’s night time when he wakes up. His head feels thick and fuzzy and he remembers he was put under. It’s also eerily quiet.

Usually when he wakes up in a medical facility, there’s the beeping of machines and the voices of the doctors. Now there’s nothing.

Well, it is night time, so maybe they only have a small crew working? And he feels fine, so maybe they decided to turn off the machines?

He blinks a few times and realizes his tongue is stuck to the roof of his mouth. He peels it off and dry swallows a few times. Jesus, he’s thirsty.

He tries moving his arm to see if there’s water nearby, but finds that it’s still restrained. In fact, when he tries shifting around, he realizes he’s still fully restrained.

Great.

He opens his mouth. “Water,” he says.

Only—

He doesn’t say anything.

No sound comes out of his mouth.

He frowns. He shifts his jaw around and runs his tongue along his teeth and lips. His mouth is dry and his lips are chapped, but everything seems to be in order. He’s not gagged. He should be able to talk normally.

“Water,” he says.

Nothing.

What the hell?

He can feel his mouth moving and he knows he’s saying ‘water’. He knows he is. He’s not an idiot. It’s a word he’s said a million times in his life.

“Water,” he tries again.

Still nothing.

He’s about to start really freaking out, when out of nowhere, something is shoved into his mouth.

He clamps his mouth shut on instinct and the thing bumps into his teeth, having gotten between his lips.

It’s a plastic straw.

But where the hell is it coming from? It’s so damn dark in the room that he can’t see the straw or anybody holding it.

But he really is thirsty so...

He takes a few cautious sips. The cool water tastes fantastic and soothes his dry throat.

As he drinks, he keeps looking around, trying to see where the straw is. He crosses his eyes, trying to look down to where the straw is coming out of his mouth. Even in the darkness, he should be able to see something. Maybe just a faint outline…

But there’s only darkness.

The straw is pulled back before he’s had his fill, but he knows hospitals have funny rules about that sort of thing.

“Thank you,” he says.

Or tries to say.

His voice still isn’t working.

Or is it?

How did that person know he wanted water when he didn’t say anything?

Suddenly, he feels a hand on his leg and his heart leaps into his throat. If he weren’t strapped to the bed, he would have jumped straight off the bed.

What the hell?!

He lifts his head—huh, they must have removed his head restraint—and glares down at the person touching his leg, but there’s nothing but darkness.

“Can somebody turn on the damn light?” he asks.

Then sighs—because again, he didn’t make a sound.

Great.

“Lights, please,” he says as loudly as he can.

Nothing.

Jesus. What kind of sedation did they give him?

Wait.

Sedation. Why did he need to be sedated?

They did a procedure…?

Yes, they did a procedure.

They let him out of the cell to do the procedure.

What procedure?

Come on, brain. Think!

He remembers seeing the picture of Steve at the recruitment office when he was in the helicopter. That picture is important.

It’s also important to remember how Steve looked during his last visit.

Why?

He gets to see Steve once a month and the punk pretty much always looks the same. Why is it important to remember what he looks like?

Suddenly hands are on his head, touching his forehead and smoothing a strap over it. He nearly jumps out of his skin and lets out a surprised shout.

Only—he doesn’t.

There’s no shout.

Whatever.

The mysteriously dark clothed person who gave him the straw and touched his leg is now reattaching the restraints to his head.

Okay, now he’s back to only being able to blink and move his eyeballs.

Whatever. Back to the original problem.

It has to do with the trigger words, he remembers that much.

His freedom in exchange for….

For….

For….

Something.

Great.

Jesus, Barnes. Make your brain start working!

He wants to ask the mysterious dark person who’s in the room with him about the procedure, but figures it’s useless—his voice doesn’t work.

Or does it?

How did that person know he wanted water?

Also—what if there’s more than one person here in the darkness? With these people’s ability to blend into this darkness so well, there could be fifty of them in here with him.

He glares into the darkness.

Then he remembers he still doesn’t know what happened here. Barnes, stay focused, damn it!

And just like that, the fog seems to lift from his mind and it all comes back to him.

He came up with a way to avoid being triggered permanently.

Ross had agreed that the government would release him if he went through with the procedure.

He would never have to go back to that cell.

He could enjoy the sunshine and Steve’s hugs.

The only thing he’d have to give up is—

Oh my God.

Oh my God.

Oh.

My.

God!

He blinks rapidly and his stomach lurches as he comes to the sudden realization that it’s not night.

No.

It’s.

Not.

Night.

He blinks but there’s no change in the darkness.

He—he’s blind. His eyes are still there but they aren’t doing anything except blinking.

Shivers run up his spine as he realizes that there could be a hundred people in the room with him and he wouldn’t know.

He marginally calms when he realizes that if there were a hundred people in the room with him, at least he could hear them.

Except—

Oh my God.

The silence. The complete silence.

It’s not because the room’s silent.

He’s never encountered such absolute silence before, especially in a medical facility.

That’s because such silence doesn’t exist in the world.

It only exists in Bucky’s mind because he’s deaf now.

His heart is hammering in his chest and fear clutches his throat. He’s having difficulty breathing. He has no idea who’s in the room with him or what they’re saying or what they’re doing.

This was a terrible idea.

He’s such an idiot! How could he have thought this was good idea?!

He can’t see, he can’t hear—he’s not even a real person anymore, is he?

This was stupid.

So unbelievably stupid!

They can undo it, right?

Suddenly there’s a hand on his face and he feels cold things being attached to his head. He doesn’t know or care what those things are, but that means there’s a person here who can help him.

“Undo it,” he says.

Or doesn’t say.

Of course, now he understands: he is talking (probably—hopefully) but he can no longer hear himself.

“Undo it!” he says louder (hopefully). He takes a deep breath. “Undo it!” he screams.

He knows he screams because his throat scratches a bit.

Suddenly, he feels a finger on his lips.

It’s the universal sign for telling somebody to shut up. Well, he’s not gonna. Now that he knows they can hear him, he won’t rest until they undo it.

He’ll go back to his cell and spend eighty years watching Steve mime out baseball games.

“Undo it!” he screams again.

The finger comes back, shushing him again. He bares his teeth and snaps at the finger. It’s yanked back.

Success!

“Undo it! I want—” He’s interrupted by a cloth restraint being fit over his mouth and snapped shut behind his head.

Damn them!

His heart is still hammering in his chest and he squeezes his eyes shut, forcing back tears.

He realizes it doesn’t matter whether there are people in the room with him or not. He’s alone.

He’s alone in this endless darkness and this endless silence.

This isn’t—he can’t—this—

This was stupid.

He’s so stupid.

*             *             *

Cheng tries to lean against the wall behind him without making it look like he’s leaning. He’s been standing here for five hours without a break, watching Barnes sleeping off the sedation.

Why didn’t they bring more people with them so they could trade off more often? Stupid planning.

He looks across the room at Thompson, whose eyes are sliding shut for longer and longer periods of time as he leans against the wall.

“Thompson!” he snaps.

Thompson springs to attention and blinks rapidly, then tries to act casual. “Why are you yelling? You’ll wake him up. The doctor says he needs to wake from the sedation naturally.”

Cheng rolls his eyes. “He’s deaf now, idiot. He can’t hear us anyway. And keep your lazy ass awake. If I have to suffer, so do you.”

Ten minutes later, Cheng sees Barnes’ eyes blink open. “Heads up! Sleeping beauty is awake,” he says into his earpiece.

Barnes is fully restrained so he doesn’t do anything except blink and stare around.

After a few minutes, Barnes asks for water.

Cheng holds up a hand to stop Thompson from approaching. “Stay where you are. I’ll call a nurse.” He steps up to Barnes’ bed and ignores his louder request for water and pushes the call-button.

A nurse appears a few minutes later, right when Barnes asks for water a third time. She slips a straw into his mouth, which seems to startle him and he clamps his mouth shut.

“It’s just water, Barnes, relax,” Thompson mutters, rolling his eyes.

Cheng sighs. “And again: he’s deaf, Thompson. He can’t hear you.”

Thompson rolls his eyes. “Whatever.”

They watch Barnes sip from the water and the nurse removes his head restraint. Cheng steps forward. Stupid civilians. “Ma’am! Don’t touch the restraints!”

She steps back, holding the restraint to her chest and looking alarmed. “Sorry, sorry! You want me to put it back on?”

Cheng looks Barnes over. He doesn’t seem to be agitated or aggressive, so it’s probably okay to leave it off for now.

The nurse checks the machine read-outs and goes to the end of the bed to make notes on Barnes’ chart. Along the way, she brushes a hand on Barnes’ leg.

Barnes startles badly and snaps his head up, looking down at his feet where the nurse is. His eyes are moving around, darting from the bed, to the nurse, to the window, to his legs.

Cheng frowns. It’s impossible to tell if Barnes can actually see the nurse or anything else.

His question is answered a moment later when Barnes asks for the lights to be turned on.

They ignore him, even when he gets annoyed and yells for the lights.

Cheng smirks over at Thompson. “You gonna tell him to shut up? Gonna check how useful that’ll be?”

Thompson glares at him. “How about I tell you to shut up?”

There’s a commotion in the hallway and then Ross strides in, followed by three more guards.

“Cheng, Thompson, retain your positions. The rest of you, fan out in the room. I want him covered from all angles,” Ross says, all business. He frowns down at Barnes. “Why is his head restraint removed?”

The nurse had backed into a corner when Ross had come barging in but she takes a hesitant step forward, the restraint still in her hand. Ross snatches it from her and hands it to a guard who puts it back on Barnes. Barnes lets out a surprised shout, but everyone ignores him.

Once the restraint is on him, Ross snaps at the nurse to get the doctor and to hurry up.

While waiting for the doctor, Cheng keeps watching Barnes.

He seems to have calmed from the surprise touch and now he’s glaring around the room. Like before, his eyes don’t actually settle on any of the people in the room.

All signs point to him not being able to see a thing.

The doctor comes in and starts doing multiple tests on Barnes. He hooks some machines up to Barnes and starts doing different things, checking for reactions and making adjustments on the machines.

Barnes seems to be becoming more agitated, but it doesn’t appear that the agitation is connected to the testing.

“Undo it,” he suddenly says.

They all ignore him.

“Undo it,” Barnes says again.

Nobody acknowledges that he said anything.

Then Barnes screams “Undo it!” and the doctor lets out an annoyed sigh and places a finger on Barnes’ lips. That doesn’t stop Barnes, because he screams it again. The doctor tries to shush him again, and then Barnes shows the first sign of aggression he’s shown in eleven months—he tries to bite the doctor.

The doctor leaps back with a surprised shout and two of the guards step forward.

“Gag him,” Ross says from the door.

A gag is put on Barnes and the restraints are double checked before the doctor feels safe enough to come back and continue doing the testing.

The doctor steps back. “Alright, the operation seems to have been a success. There seems to be full dual sensory loss.”

“Thank you, doctor.” Ross smiles tightly and gestures for the doctor and the nurse to step outside.

Cheng straightens up and adjusts his firearm.

Now comes the real test.

Ross has the guards check Barnes’ restraints again and places himself close to the door.

Cheng braces himself as Ross starts reciting the ten Russian words.

Cheng had been present during the initial testing that Barnes had been put through. He knows by the second word, Barnes usually starts showing signs of being triggered.

But there’s nothing. Barnes keeps staring straight ahead, breathing hard and still looking slightly hysterical, but nothing close to the blankness that would come over him as the Winter Soldier takes hold.

Ross slowly moves through the words and nothing changes about Barnes’ demeanour.

Ross gets through all ten words, and all of them wait, staring Barnes.

He fidgets a bit and seems distressed, but he’s obviously not been triggered.

Next, Ross pulls out a piece of paper and writes the ten words down. He hands it to Rigs, who has the unfortunate task of holding the paper above Barnes’ face so he can read it.

Only—he doesn’t.

He doesn’t even register there’s a piece of paper with those ten deadly words right in front of his nose.

They wait several minutes, but nothing else happens.

“Well, it appears to have been a success,” Ross says. He takes the paper from Rigs. “Take off the restraints that belong to us and report back to the van. I’ll finish up the paperwork and meet you in the van.”

Rigs removes the restraints from Barnes. Barnes startles at the unexpected touch but doesn’t struggle when he realizes the restraints are being removed.

Cheng waits until Rigs has collected everything, then he gestures for Thompson and everybody else to clear out. He goes last, keeping an eye on Barnes until he’s out the door.

Chapter Text

Bucky startles out of his panicking when the hands are back. He tenses, but relaxes when he realizes they’re removing his restraints.

He shifts his legs and arm, checking to make sure he’s really free to move.

Then he waits, not knowing when and where the next touch is coming.

Nothing happens for several minutes.

“If you’re not gonna do anything, then get out! I’ve done the procedure so now I’m a free man. You have no right to be in my room anymore!” he says.

At least, he hopes he says it.

He waits, holding his breath.

But no matter how hard he listens, he can’t hear anything.

How the hell will he know if they’ve left or not??

The darkness and silence that he’d found so soothing when he’d had that headache now seem vast and frightening.

He wants to curl up in a corner where he can properly defend himself against touching, but he doesn’t know where the corners are.

“I want everybody out!” he yells.

He desperately hopes they’re listening.

This is stupid.

This is so stupid. Why the hell did he agree to this?

He realizes his bladder is aching and he needs to pee.

Great. Where the hell is the bathroom?

He’s on the verge of panicking, so he tries reasoning with himself.

It’s a small room, Barnes. Calm the hell down. There’s always a bathroom in a hospital room. He can get off the bed and find it. It’s not that hard.

He sits up in bed—then is immediately overcome with heart stopping fear.

Darkness. Complete and utter darkness.

He can’t move. He sits there, afraid to even shift. What if he falls of the bed? How high is the bed? Is there something on the floor that could hurt him?

He takes a few breaths. You’re being ridiculous, Barnes.

Get off the bed and find the bathroom before you piss yourself like a baby.

Clenching his jaw and swallowing his fear as best as he can, he runs his hand along the surface of his bed. Where the mattress ends, there’s a metal railing. He traces the cold metal railing until he reaches the end of it. That’s where he needs to get off.

He shifts his legs off the bed and slowly scoots his butt closer and closer to the edge of the bed, keeping a tight grip on the railing. He points his toes and prays, and finally feels the cold ground beneath his bare feet.

He plants his feet and slowly pushes himself to his feet. He’s still holding on to the railing, but he realizes he can’t take the bed with him into the bathroom.

He slowly uncurls his fingers from the railing, but as soon as he feels himself standing adrift in the darkness, the fear is back and he feels like he’s going to fall flat on his face. His heart is hammering in his chest and his hand tightens on the railing again.

He tries again, but again, the fear and disorientation overwhelm him as soon as he releases the railing and then he’s back to clutching it like a drowning man.

His heart’s hammering in his chest and he feels cold sweat prickling on his neck. He’s shaking so badly that he’s having trouble keeping hold of the railing. He can barely breathe he’s so scared.

He needs to pee so badly that he fears his bladder is going to give out any second.

There’s a tight lump in his throat and he feels tears slipping down his cheeks. Why can’t anybody help him?!

“Help me,” he says.

No, that won’t do. Nobody can hear that. He’ll have to be louder.

“Help!” he yells as loud as he can, then bangs on the railing for good measure. He can feel in his throat that he used a loud voice, so hopefully that’ll work.

Nothing happens.

Then, suddenly, a hand touches his arm.

He startles and nearly loses his grip on the railing.

His thoughts about his bladder are momentarily pushed aside. There’s a hand on his arm—but where is this person? Who is it?

Another hand is suddenly on his hip and he’s being gently pushed back to sit on the bed. For a moment, he doesn’t care who this person is, just that they’re trying to prevent him from getting to the bathroom.

“I have to pee!” he says. He repeats it twice more in case he’s not speaking loud enough.

He feels two hands trying to pry his hand from the railing. He resists, increasing his grip, but the hands are gently stroking his hand, encouraging him to let go.

Well…

Whatever the person wants, maybe if he gives them his hand, he’ll end up being allowed to pee, so he swallows his fear and unclenches his hand from the railing. He’s still shaking like a leaf.

The person takes his trembling hand and tugs him forward, off the bed. He follows along, shuffling his feet as he goes, terrified that he’ll trip over something. He’s too scared to take proper steps. He hopes he’s not hurting them, but he’s holding the person’s hand so tight that he can feel their bones grinding together. He can’t seem to make himself loosen his grip.

It seems to take forever. Then a hand is pushing at his chest, indicating that he should stop. His hand is pulled forward and he’s touching something cold and ceramic.

The toilet.

He’s so relieved, that he yanks his hand out of their combined grip, shoves down his pants and releases, aiming towards the toilet that he’d touched. He hopes like hell that he’s aiming right, but right now, it just feels so good to be able to pee.

Once he’s done, his hand is pulled under a stream of water. A glob of something sticky is dropped into his hand. Maybe soap? The soap in his cell had been liquid form, not the bar he was used to. He rubs the soap between his fingers, and his hand is pulled back under the water to rinse it off.

Well.

That wasn’t so hard.

As long as he’s standing still, he feels pretty okay.

The hands are tugging him out of the bathroom and he gets that tight feeling in his chest again. He clenches his jaw and follows along until his hand is transferred to the railing.

He carefully turns himself around and sits on the bed and lies back down. The mysterious hands pull up his blanket and squeeze his hand.

“Thank you,” he says.

The hands squeeze again, and a hard piece of plastic with a small button is pressed into his hand. He turns it over in his hand.

His hand—still holding the button—is pulled to the person’s uniform shirt. His fingers skim the rough fabric until he can feel the outline of a name tag.

Ah. The plastic thing is the call button for the nurses. He’d spent some time in a hospital before being transferred to the prison and Steve had explained some of the things that had changed in the last 70 years, including these handy little devices.

Well.

He’s not letting this thing go.

Ever.

He feels something being wrapped around his wrist, and when the person tugs the plastic thing out of his hand, he realizes it’s been tied to his wrist.

Smiling, he releases it fully from his grip, feeling it bump against his wrist. “I love you,” he says, directing his voice in what’s hopefully the right direction.

Next, his hand is pulled somewhere again, until he’s brushing against somebody’s neck. There’s a necklace hanging around the neck. The person brushes Bucky’s fingers along the necklace, as if she—he’s figured out it’s a she by the shape of her hands—wants him to memorize it.

It’s got large beads on it. They’re different textures and are separated by smaller beads. It’s a pretty distinctive necklace.

It’ll make it easy to identify her.

He wants to cry.

He has a friend. In this unending, terrifying darkness and silence, he now has a friend.

He pulls their clasped hands to his lips and presses a kiss to the back of her hand.

She squeezes his hand and releases it to gently stroke his cheek.

It feels nice. It’s what Stevie would probably—

Oh, my God, Stevie!

He’s about to sit up, but remembering his earlier panic, he decides to stay flat on his back. “Can—can you call Steve Rogers? He’s my friend and—and he’ll come help me. Please?”

The nurse squeezes his hand. Bucky’s not sure if that means yes or no.

“He—uh, I don’t know his phone number or where he lives, but he works at SHIELD. Can you call them and find Steve? Steve Rogers. I need him to come, please.”

Another gentle squeeze. Hopefully that’s a good sign.

Bucky can feel her pushing off the bed and he tenses, wanting her to stay.

She pauses and he feels the plastic call button being pushed into his hand.

He can call her if he needs help.

He smiles. “Thank you. You’re very kind. Please—please don’t forget to find Steve Rogers. I need him to come help me, please. Thank you.”

When he’s left alone—rather, he’s choosing to assume he’s alone—he feels a bit better about the whole situation. Now that he’s safely in bed, he has the call button by his side, and Steve is on his way, the darkness and silence don’t feel so bad.

Maybe, just maybe this won’t be worse than the cell.

*             *             *

Steve’s putting the finishing touches on his latest mission report when his phone starts ringing.

He checks the caller ID. Secretary Ross.

Great.

Steve hates talking to the asshole, but for Buck’s sake, he’s always on his best behavior with the man.

“Hello, Secretary Ross.”

“Captain Rogers. The Paris mission went well, I hear.”

“Yes, sir. I’m just finishing my paperwork.”

“Good. I wanted to let you know that James Barnes has been released from custody.”

Steve blinks. What?

“What?”

“I finished processing the paperwork this morning. He’s currently at a hospital in Manhattan. Now that the papers are filed, he’s no longer in our custody so we’re no longer covering his hospital costs. The hospital will probably release him within a few hours and in his current condition, he may have some difficulties once released. I’m letting you know so you can decide whether you’d like to involve yourself in the situation or not.”

What?

Hospital?

Bucky’s been released?

Hospital?!

“Was he injured? Did something happen at the Raft?” Steve asks anxiously.

“No, no. You misunderstand, Captain. He agreed to the procedure.”

What?

“What procedure?”

There’s an annoyed sigh. “Mr. Barnes found a way to prevent himself from being triggered. We completed the procedure and testing yesterday and I’m satisfied that it’s been successful. As per my agreement with Mr. Barnes, he is now a free man.”

Damn Bucky and his sneakiness! What the hell? He agreed to some sort of procedure without telling him?

“What procedure was this?”

“Permanent and complete dual sensory loss, specifically sight and hearing. He can no longer be triggered, thus, the government no longer considers him a risk to public safety.”

Sensory loss?!

“I—What?”

Ross sighs again, louder this time. “What part of this did you not understand? I’m a busy man, Captain Rogers, I’m already going above and beyond my responsibilities to let you know about the situation.”

“You—you made Bucky blind and deaf?! You—you—are—you better hope it’s not permanent, you asshole or I’ll kill you.” He realizes he’s yelling. He also realizes he’s threatening a powerful member of the government.

He doesn’t care.

His heart’s in his throat and images are flashing before his eyes—Bucky with holes where his eyes used to be, sitting alone in a corner of a dark room, in pain and terrified.

“Captain, it was his choice. He was the one who requested the procedure.”

Choice? The idiot thinks Buck had a choice?! “He had no choice!”

“He had a choice between imprisonment or the procedure. He made his decision.”

He’ll kill—

No.

No, he needs to stop this conversation with this stupid man and go help Bucky.

He takes a slow breath. “Where is he?” he asks, his voice shaking with rage.

Ross tells him the name of the hospital.

It’s close by. At least that’s something. Steve hangs up the phone, leaps up from his desk and makes it outside the building in record time. He doesn’t want to deal with signing out a SHIELD vehicle, so he frantically waves down a hackie.

He tells the hackie the name of the hospital and promises him an extra twenty bucks if he hurries.

They make it to the hospital in record time and Steve asks him to wait.

He races up to the front desk and demands to see James Barnes. The nurse looks at the time. “I’m sorry, sir, visitor hours don’t start—”

Steve wants to smash her desk to pieces—doesn’t this woman understand how urgent this situation is??—but he restrains himself. Barely. He forces a polite smile on his face. “Listen, he went through a very traumatic event yesterday and I know he’ll want to see me as soon as possible. Please. Just five minutes.”

She checks the computer. “He’s having lunch right now.”

“I’ll wait until he’s done.”

She tells him what room Bucky’s in and he tears down the hallway, frantically checking room numbers.

When he finds it, he skids to a halt, staring through the glass window.

Bucky’s sitting up in bed, staring at the far wall, but it’s clear from his face that he’s concentrating very hard. There’s an elderly nurse sitting beside him on the bed and Bucky’s got a tray of food on his lap. The nurse is holding Bucky’s hand and he’s holding a sandwich. They move their joined hands to Bucky’s mouth, he takes a bite, then their hands and the sandwich go back to the plate.

Every time Bucky’s finished chewing, he says “More” and the sandwich travels back to his mouth.

Steve quietly steps into the room, staring at Bucky.

The nurse glances at him. “Can I help you, sir?”

“I’m—I’m Steve Rogers. I’m James’ friend.”

She smiles but doesn’t take her focus off Bucky. “Oh, good. I assume you’re the Steve Rogers who works at SHIELD? He’s been asking for you. Did our social worker get a hold of you?”

Steve can’t take his eyes off Bucky. “Uh, no. I got—somebody else called me.”

Bucky says “Water, please” and the sandwich is put down and she wraps his hand around the cup of water. It’s guided to his mouth and he drinks.

“That’s enough,” he says.

He seems to be staring right at Steve, who’s standing at the foot of his bed, but there’s no flicker of recognition. There’s nothing.

Bucky has no idea he’s there. He can’t see Steve. He can’t hear Steve.

It’s the first time they’ve been in the same room without being separated by forcefields and metal bars in eleven months…and Bucky has no idea that he’s there.

Steve wants to scream.

He realizes he’s starting to hyperventilate. The nurse shoots him a glance. She has a nice beaded necklace around her neck. “Go sit on a chair outside, please. Now,” she says. Her tone doesn’t sound angry but there’s no arguing.

He lets his feet carry him out into the hallway and collapses into a chair.

He lowers his head and wraps his hands around the back of his neck, trying to calm down.

He wants to cry. He wants to scream. He wants to gather Bucky into his arms and hold him until everything goes back to normal.

And by normal, he means 1937.

He feels a gentle hand on his back and he struggles to sit up straight.

It’s the nurse. She looks worried. “Are you alright, Steve? I apologize I was so abrupt, I didn’t want to worry him by tensing up or yelling.”

“He—he had no idea I was there, did he?”

“No. I’m sorry.”

“Is—what—Jesus—I—oh, my God,” he whispers and then the tears come like a floodgate and he’s sobbing.

She sits down beside him and gently rubs his back. “It’s okay to cry, sweetheart. I can tell you care about him.”

“How—how did this happen?” he chokes out.

“I’m not clear on the details, honey. All I know is that James wanted it done. I think there was something dangerous going on and removing his sight and hearing was the only way to fix it.”

That doesn’t help.

“What do we do now?” Steve asks. The world has tilted and they’re all sliding off the surface into nothing.

She smiles. “First, I’m gonna get that tray off his lap and then you two should hug. I think you both could use it.”

Steve nods numbly.

He stays in his chair, staring at the floor until she appears by his side again.

“Okay, before you go in, let me tell you some important things. He can’t hear and he can’t see. You’re gonna forget that from time to time, but you’ll remember when he doesn’t react. Touch, smell and taste are the most important things in his world now. Especially touch.”

“He’s always—” Steve sniffs hard and clears his throat. “He’s always been a toucher.”

“He’s gonna be even more tactile now. If it makes you uncomfortable—”

Steve snorts, wiping the remaining tears off his cheeks. “No. I’m used to it.”

“Okay. The other thing: try not to cry. He’s overwhelmed right now and he’s still trying to get his bearings. The last thing he needs is to worry over somebody else. He’ll be able to do that later, but not now. Wipe the tears off your face so he can’t feel them.”

Steve pushes off the chair and takes some deep breaths, calming himself down and wiping his face off with his sleeve. It’s the first time his recent weight loss will be a good thing—his puffy eyes won’t stand out so much.

He enters the room and can’t help but smile when he sees Bucky sitting up in bed, looking out the window.

“Hey, Buck,” he says.

Bucky doesn’t turn towards him.

Steve frowns, confused.

Then he remembers.

Damn.

He steps up to the bed. Bucky still doesn’t react.

Steve doesn’t want to startle him, but he has no idea how to approach him. He decides to lower himself onto the bed like the nurse had done.

Bucky immediately turns to face him but his beautiful blue eyes are staring at the far wall—his stare completely vacant. Those beautiful eyes can’t see anything but darkness.

“Nurse?” Bucky asks. He's speaking way too loudly considering Steve is just a foot away from him.

“No, Buck. It’s me,” Steve says.

He’s debating how the hell to let Bucky know it’s him. Bucky solves the problem for him by reaching up and running his hand up his arm. He pauses at Steve’s shoulder, squeezing it.

“You’re not my nurse,” he says.

“No, I’m not, buddy.”

Bucky’s hand runs along the collar of Steve’s shirt. Steve realizes he’s probably checking for that necklace. He’s verifying his findings.

“Definitely not my nurse.”

Steve wants to cry. What if Bucky doesn’t recognize him? What if he never recognizes him and thinks Steve abandoned him?

But—but he promised he wouldn’t cry.

Bucky’s frowning at the wall behind Steve’s head and he’s running his hand up Steve’s neck and touching his face tentatively.

Steve watches Bucky’s face, looking for any flicker of recognition.

There’s nothing.

Bucky touches his whole face, skimming over his lips, his nose, his eyes, his hair, but there’s nothing that triggers recognition.

That’s when Steve remembers the nurse saying smell is also important.

Apparently he looks like every other guy in town—according to Bucky’s assessment at least—but hopefully his best friend of nearly thirty years knows his smell.

He reaches up to touch Bucky’s face, then realizes that’ll probably startle him. So he gently takes Bucky’s exploring hand and brings their clasped hands to Bucky’s face.

He brushes the back of his hand under Bucky’s nose.

Bucky frowns with confusion and leans away from their hands. “What are you doing, sir? Who the hell are you?”

Steve unclasps their hands and turns his hand so his palm is right under Bucky’s nose.

Bucky is still frowning, but all it takes is two sniffs before Bucky’s face lights up. “Stevie? Stevie?! Oh my God, Stevie!”

Like a switch that’s been flipped, Bucky exhilaration dissolves and he bursts into tears. Obviously he’s used every last bit of his strength during the last twenty-four hours and he’s run out.

“Oh, Buck! Buck, it’s okay.”

Bucky’s waving his hand around, trying to grab any part of Steve he can reach. Steve anchors the waving hand into his shirt and pulls Bucky into his arms.

He wraps his arms around him and holds him tight, letting Bucky sob into his shirt. He clenches his jaw and takes deep breath. He can’t cry. Not now.

Not yet.

He brushes Bucky’s tangled hair behind his ear and presses kisses against his hair and temple, whispering comforting words to him. When he realizes that Bucky can’t hear him, he turns his head so his lips are brushing Bucky’s temple as he talks. Hopefully he can feel that Steve’s trying to comfort him.

“We’re gonna be okay, Buck. I promise. We’re gonna go home and we’ll figure this out.”

When Bucky finally calms down, he sniffs hard and lets Steve wipe his face with a tissue. He leans against Steve’s chest and adjusts his grip on his shirt.

“Buck, I gotta go clear some stuff with the staff. I gotta pay for today’s stay and sign you out and stuff like that.”

Bucky doesn’t respond—obviously—but he does tense up and whines fearfully when he feels Steve starting to push up from the bed. “Please, Stevie! Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me, don’t leave me, don’t leave me!”

“I’m just going down the hall, Buck. I’ll—” Bucky can’t hear him. Right. Steve can explain until he’s blue in the face, but Bucky won’t understand where Steve’s going or the fact that he’ll be right back.

“Okay, okay, it’s alright,” Steve breathes out and sits back down, pulling Bucky back into his arms. Bucky curls up against his chest again.

Okay.

Even though Steve has missed hugging Bucky like crazy over the past eleven months and he’ll gladly spend the rest of his life with Bucky in his arms—it does present some difficulties.

“Uh, Mrs. Nurse?” he calls into the hallway.

No response.

Steve looks around and tries to find the call button. He finally spies it dangling from Bucky’s wrist. Mrs. Nurse is one smart lady.

He discreetly pushes the button, hoping Bucky doesn’t notice. He doesn’t want to try to explain why he’s calling the nurse. He doesn’t want Bucky thinking he’s going to abandon him and leave the nurse in his place.

Moments later, Bucky’s nurse appears. She’s smiling sadly when she sees Bucky clinging to Steve.

“How’s he doing?”

“He’s pretty upset.”

“He put up a very tough front last night and today. He’s a fighter.”

Steve smiles down at Bucky, who’s sniffling into Steve’s shirt, relaxed again now that Steve’s not moving away. “Yes, he is.”

“What can I help you with?”

“I have—I have a million things that need to be done and a million questions that I need answered, but most importantly, I don’t want to physically leave him. He won’t understand that I’ll be right back and I don’t want to upset him.”

“Okay. Tell me what you need done and I’ll see how we can get it done.”

“I need—I need to pay his bill.”

“Not a problem. I’ll go get the print out. Will you be paying with a credit card?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’ll bring the card reader and we can get that done right here.”

“Okay. I also need to get him signed out.”

“I’ll bring those papers too. Do you think he’ll be able to sign his own name?”

“I’m pretty sure. I’m assuming he signed some stuff yesterday so his hand should remember.”

“You can help him—as long as he’s doing most of the movement, it’ll be legal.”

She disappears and Steve rubs Bucky’s back. “It’ll be okay, Buck. I promise. I’m not going anywhere.”

She comes back and hands Steve the papers.

“Thank you.” Steve pays the bill and makes Bucky sit up. He puts a pen into Bucky’s hand and the nurse brings the meal tray back and they put the discharge papers on it.

Bucky’s frowning in concentration, sensing that this is important.

Steve holds Bucky’s hand and strokes his cheek with the other. He guides Bucky’s hand to the line where he needs to sign. Steve relaxes his grip enough that Bucky will be moving the pen under his own power.

“You want me to sign this? Or something else? Sign, Stevie? Tap me on the back of the hand once if I should sign it.”

Steve taps the back of Bucky’s hand, indicating that yes, he wants Bucky to sign the paper. Nodding, Bucky frowns hard and slowly scribbles his signature on the page.

Steve examines it. Bucky hadn’t stayed on the line very well but it looks pretty much as good as his signature has always looked, so he hands the paper to the nurse and gives Bucky a kiss on the cheek.

“Good job, buddy.”

Bucky looks pretty pleased with himself, but as soon as the tray is moved away, he’s snuggling up to Steve again, still not willing to take the risk that he’ll disappear.

The next step is getting them home. But with that comes a whole slew of other problems.

Bucky can talk and express his own needs and wants, but Steve has no idea how to communicate with him. Bucky only recognized him because he’s known Steve forever, and Bucky guessed about the signing thing. But what other things? How’s he going to ask Bucky what he wants to eat? What he wants to wear? What he wants to do during the day? What if he needs to warn Bucky about something, or ask him something really important?

“I—ma’am, where can I get information on how to—how to help him? I—how do I communicate with him?”

She smiled. “I’m not the best source of information about that. We have a therapist on staff who you could talk to—”

“I don’t need somebody to talk about my feelings with, ma’am. I need information.”

She looks apologetic. “I’m sorry but we don’t have such resources. I would check the internet...”

In other words, it’ll be Steve and Bucky against the world.

Again.

Well, it’s a lifestyle they’ve been living for most of their lives.

Steve can handle that.

He nods. “Okay. Thanks.”

She gives him a smile. “Let me know if you need anything else.”

She leaves them and Steve starts mulling over the problem on his own.

Well, the first thing they need to is get home. The hospital can’t help them, and the faster Bucky’s settled at home, the better.

Steve rubs his chin over Bucky’s head. “You ready to go home, Buck?”

No response.

He tries to think of a way to get across the idea that they’re going home, but he has no idea how to convey that.

He decides Bucky will just have to trust him.

Well, it won’t be the first time Bucky’s followed him blindly into the unknown.

Although it’s never been this literal.

Steve holds on to Bucky’s hand tightly and starts shifting off the bed. Bucky tenses up, but Steve doesn’t stop, pulling Bucky’s hand with him. Bucky tightens his grip on Steve’s hand.

“If you think you’re leaving me here, punk, you’ve got something else coming,” Bucky says, letting himself be pulled off the bed. His voice is shaky, unsure, but he’s gamely following Steve. “I’ll go wherever you want me to go, but you ain’t leaving me alone.”

Steve looks around himself and realizes that Bucky has no other clothes other than the hospital scrubs. Swearing under his breath, he presses the call button dangling from Bucky’s wrist again.

Their nurse is back. “Ma’am, one more favor before we go, please. Do you have a pair of pants he can wear? Oh, and slippers?”

“Of course.”

She’s back a few minutes later with some hospital staff scrub bottoms and slippers. Steve sits Bucky onto the edge of the bed and hands him the pants. He helps Bucky run his hand along the waist of the pants and along each leg.

Then Steve taps both of Bucky’s legs.

“You want me to put these on?”

Steve reaches up and taps Bucky on the back of the hand. Yes.

When Bucky first tries to lift one leg to pull the pants on, he nearly falls over. Steve grabs him just in time.

“His balance is off now that he’s blind, Steve. It’ll take a while for him to get used to it.”

Steve shoves Bucky back onto the bed and tugs the pants out of his grasp. He bends down and tugs the pants over each of his feet, tapping on each foot to get him to lift them. Bucky’s scowling. “I can do it, Rogers. I ain’t a child.”

Steve finishing pulling up the pants and gives Bucky a quick peck on the cheek in apology. Slightly mollified, Bucky gamely steps into the slippers. The call button is detached from his wrist and Steve pulls him to his feet. Bucky immediately grabs Steve’s hand in a tight grip and his face goes pale when Steve starts pulling him forward.

“The disorientation is a lot worse when he’s moving, Steve. It’ll take him a while to get used to it, but moving around will scare him for a while,” the nurse says from the door.

Right.

Steve steps up to Bucky and pulls him into a tight hug. “It’s okay, buddy. You can do it.” Steve moves Bucky’s hand so it’s curled around his bicep. It automatically brings Bucky closer to his side and allows Steve to hold on to Bucky’s hospital gown top as an extra anchor.

He waits, watching Bucky’s face. He’s still pale and looks scared, but he gives a firm nod. “Let’s go. Oh, can I pee first?”

They slowly shuffle their way to the bathroom. They both take care of business and shuffle out of the room and down the hallway. Bucky’s sliding his feet along the floor, not lifting them up as he walks. Maybe he isn’t even aware he’s doing it. Steve assumes it’s due to the disorientation.

Their nurse accompanies them to the door where their cab is waiting.

Steve opens the car door and brings Bucky’s hand out to touch the roof of the car, the backseat and door.

“You want me to get into the car? Stevie, you’re coming too, right?”

Steve reaches up to Bucky’s hand and taps the back of it twice, pausing in between each tap. Yes to both questions.

Steve helps Bucky slide into the seat, does up his seatbelt, then steps back so their nurse can say goodbye to him. She takes Bucky’s hand and brings it up to her neck where he can feel her necklace. Immediately, Bucky smiles. “Hello, Mrs. Wonderful. Thank you for being so kind.”

“You’re welcome, sweetie,” she murmurs. Bucky takes one of her hands and brings it to his lips and presses a kiss to it.

Steve uses Bucky’s distraction to his advantage and races around the car to get in on the other side.

Bucky actually startles a bit when Steve slams the car door—he must have felt the vibration—and releases the nurse’s hand. “Thank you again.”

She steps back and says goodbye to Steve, then shuts Bucky’s door.

Immediately Bucky’s hand is groping through the air. Steve catches his hand and puts it on his thigh. Then he asks the hackie to drive them home.

Chapter Text

By some miracle, traffic cooperates and they make it to Brooklyn in good time.

They shuffle out of the car, make it across the sidewalk—then they’re faced with the flight of stairs that lead up to the main door of Steve’s apartment building.

Steve gapes up at them, but Bucky’s hanging off him, barely managing to support his own weight. He’s completely exhausted.

Steve is too, but they can’t stay here on the sidewalk. They have to get up these stairs.

Steve mulls it over for a second. Bucky won’t understand that he’s on stairs and it’ll freak him out and he might stumble. If Steve can’t catch him, he’ll slam his face into the concrete stairs, or he’ll tumble down the stairs.

So Steve loosens Bucky’s death grip on his shirt, gives his hand a kiss to calm him and turns around. He grabs Bucky’s knees and pulls him onto his back, ignoring Bucky’s surprised shout. Bucky quickly wraps his arm around Steve’s neck, cutting off Steve’s air supply.

Steve opens his mouth to ask Bucky to loosen up—then realizes how useless that would be.

Best to get this over with as soon as possible.

He starts climbing up the stairs, hauling himself up one step at a time with an iron grip on the railing. His other hand is wrapped around Bucky’s back.

Steve feels like he’s gone two rounds with the Hulk by the time they make it up the flight of stairs and he carefully crouches to release Bucky.

Bucky’s hand is groping through the air and Steve attaches it to his sleeve. Bucky’s pale and scared but he seems to understand that this is something that needs to be done, so he’s quiet, following Steve’s lead.

Steve unlocks the door and they slowly make their way down the hallway and reach Steve’s apartment. Steve’s never been so grateful that his apartment’s on the first floor and they don’t have to deal with more stairs.

They go inside, Steve locks the door, they shuffle to the couch and Steve guides Bucky down on it. Steve collapses beside him, exhausted and wanting to cry.

He takes a few minutes to get a hold of himself—now is not the time for him to fall apart. Now is the time to help Bucky.

Honestly, Steve has no idea what to do next.

Bucky’s hand is still curled around Steve’s bicep and he’s staring vacantly into the distance.

“Were we in a car earlier, Stevie?” he asks.

Steve nods. “Yeah.”

No response from Bucky.

Oh, right.

He reaches over and taps the back of Bucky’s hand. Yes.

“Where are we now?”

Steve stares at the floor. How the hell is he supposed to convey the concept of home?

Bucky jostles him, impatient. “Where are we, Stevie? A doctor’s office?”

“No, Buck. We’re home. We’re in my apartment but I don’t know how to tell you that.” He chews on his lip. “Damn it!” he bursts out, annoyed with himself.

Bucky must have felt something because he pulls back, frowning. “What’s going on? Why are you mad? Who’s here? Is there a doctor here? What’s he saying? Stevie?”

Steve takes a deep breath. This is rapidly getting out of hand. He’s being an idiot.

He’s sitting here, moping and getting angry, letting Bucky think they’re in danger.

He tightens Bucky’s grip on his bicep and carefully pulls them up. He walks them back to the front door. He untangles Bucky’s hand from his arm and gently runs their hands over the deadbolt and the doorknob.

Then he turns them and shuffles into his bedroom, where he runs their hands over his bed.

Their last stop is back in the living room at the couch where Steve sits them down and puts his sketchpad and a package of pencils into Bucky’s hand.

Bucky’s frowning in concentration, still pale from the walking. He’s running his hand over the coil on the sketchpad and leafing through the pages, running his fingers over the sheets. He touches the box of pencils and Steve opens it and pulls out a few of them.

Bucky grabs one of them and rubs his hand along the smooth surface and touches the tip of the pencil.

“Is this your sketching stuff? For drawing?”

Steve taps the back of his hand.

“Are we at the doctor’s office?” He sounds much less sure than he had a few minutes ago.

Oh, oh.

He needs a way to signal ‘no’.

Steve thinks quickly, then rubs his hand over the back of Bucky’s hand. Bucky frowns.

“What? What the hell is that? That’s not how ‘yes’ goes.”

Steve taps his hand. Yes, he agrees.

“Okay, let’s go again. Are we at a doctor’s office?”

Steve rubs the back of his hand.

“Is that no? Are you trying to say no?”

Tap.

“Okay! Okay good. That’s good. No doctor’s office. We’re somewhere with a lock and bed and your sketching stuff. Uh, we aren’t in your quarters at SHIELD, right?”

Rub.

“What—oh, did you get an apartment? Is this where you live?”

Relief floods Steve. “Oh, I love you, Bucky Barnes.”

Tap, tap, tap, tap.

Bucky’s face lights up. He looks relieved. “Oh, thank God! So nobody’s gonna bother us.”

Tap.

“Nobody’s just gonna come walking in here, right? Cause I’d hate that.”

Rub. Rub. Rub. “No, Buck. I promise. I’m not letting anybody in here without you knowing about it.”

Bucky sighs softly and bumps his head against Steve’s shoulder. “Good. Stevie, I’m really tired. Can we go to sleep?”

Steve glances at the clock. It’s barely three in the afternoon. But okay. Bucky must be exhausted after everything he’s been through.

Tap.

Steve gets them up and leads the way to the bedroom. They go to the closet and Steve pulls out some sleepwear for Bucky and guides him to the bed.

He sits Bucky on the edge of the bed and helps him out of the hospital clothes and into the sleepwear.

He’s giving Bucky encouraging shoves to lie down, but Bucky’s hesitating. “Stevie, can we go check the door? To make sure it’s locked?”

Steve stares at him. He knows the door’s locked. In fact, if he takes two steps to his left, he can see the locked deadbolt on the front door through the open bedroom door.

But Bucky can’t see it.

He reaches for Bucky’s hand. Tap.

They get up, Bucky’s hand grabs Steve’s bicep and they shuffle to the front door. Bucky runs his hand over the deadbolt, flipping it open and closed a few times. Then he tries the doorknob, yanking on it, making sure it doesn’t open.

“Okay. We can go to bed.”

They shuffle back to bed. Bucky slides into bed first, stretching out and carefully feeling for the edges of the bed before lying down.

Steve pulls the covers over them and gets comfortable next to Bucky. He realizes he forgot to pull his drapes shut, but he’s so exhausted it probably won’t bother him.

Obviously the bright sunshine streaming through the windows isn’t bothering Bucky.

Bucky turns to his side so he’s facing Steve and tangles his hand in Steve’s shirt but stays on his side of the bed. It’s how they’ve always slept. Barnes might be a cuddle monster when he’s awake, but he could never fall asleep cuddling.

Right now, that’s a perfect arrangement.

It means that if Steve lies perfectly still, he can finally release the tears that have been building up since he got to the hospital.

He lies there, letting the tears stream down his face, struggling to keep his breathing even despite the painful lump in his throat.

How the hell are they going to do this?

How the hell are they going to survive?

This—this is way out of Steve’s realm of things he can cope with.

He lies there, sobbing silently. He doesn’t dare lift his hand to wipe his face, so the tears are just streaming down his face, soaking his pillow.

Who the hell did they piss off so badly that the universe decides this is what they deserve?

All they ever wanted was to live quiet lives. Helping out their community. Make ends meet. Enjoy life. Then the stupid war had come and things got turned completely upside down.

But they had fought and struggled and battled their way through all of the trauma, all of the heartache, all of the loss and pain—and this is how the universe repays them?

Buck loses his arm—and then he has to choose between spending his life in prison, locked away from everybody, or losing the ability to enjoy life?

And—Steve realizes it’s a bit selfish—but Steve wanted his happy ending for himself too. He wanted Bucky and a quiet life.

But not like this.

Not with Buck having to suffer the rest of his life—and Steve not able to do a thing to help him.

It’s not fair!

None of it is fair!

“What’s wrong? You’re shaking.” Bucky pushes himself up on his elbow, his hand tightening in Steve’s shirt.

Steve quickly reaches up to wipe the tears off his face, but Bucky beats him to it. Bucky sits up and runs his hand up Steve’s chest, neck and his face. He frowns when he feels the tears.

“Oh, Stevie! Sweetheart, why didn’t you tell me you were upset? Jesus.” He lies back down and tugs on Steve’s shirt. “Come here, punk.”

Steve lets himself be pulled onto Bucky’s chest and feels Bucky’s arm wrap around his back. Steve buries his face into his best friend’s neck and lets himself cry.

“It’ll be okay. I promise, darling. I wanted this. I didn’t wanna spend the next eighty years of my life in prison without you and this ain’t ideal, but it’s the best option I had. Everybody’s gonna leave us in peace now, and we get to be together for the rest of our lives. Stevie, it’s like it’s 1945 and we’re finally coming home from the front. I’m a little banged up, but we finally get to go home and live in peace. That’s all we ever wanted, ain’t it?”

Steve sniffles. “Not like this, Buck. You—it ain’t fair.”

“Sweetheart, if you’re arguing with me, you gotta stop. This is what it is and we gotta look on the bright side. It’s been eleven months since I got to have you in my arms, and I’m telling you I don’t care what I had to give up to make that happen. It’s worth it.”

“But I don’t know how to do this, Buck. I don’t know how to give you a good life. Not like this.”

Bucky doesn’t respond, of course.

“Damn it, Buck. I’m scared. This whole thing is stupid and I’m scared,” Steve whispers.

Nothing. Buck’s rubbing his back, but he’s not realizing how upset Steve is.

Steve sits up and pulls Bucky’s hand off him. He makes Buck hold his hand up, then he places his hand on top of his. His hand’s shaking and he makes it tremble harder, hopefully communicating what he wants to say.

Bucky’s frowning. “Oh, Stevie that’s no good. Damn it, I’m sorry you’re scared, sweetheart. I’m scared too, but we’ll figure this out. I know we will.”

When Steve doesn’t move, Bucky curls his hand over Steve’s and pulls himself up.

He tugs his hand out of Steve’s grasp, finds Steve’s face and gently wipes the tears off his cheeks.

“Hey, it ain’t like we’re not used to being each other’s ears, right? I spent more than twenty years being your left ear, didn’t I? We figured that out, didn’t we?”

Steve sighs softly. Buck’s right. This isn’t the same thing, but he supposes it’s in the same ballpark.

He’d only known Bucky for about a year when his eight-year old self nearly succumbed to yet another illness. When he pulled through, everybody was just happy that he was still alive—and the fact that he’d lost his hearing in his left ear wasn’t something that anybody focused on until a few days later. His mother cried for days, until the issue with the school came up, which sufficiently distracted her. The principal at their school tried to get Steve thrown out of the school, telling his mother that they couldn’t teach deaf children. His teachers already didn’t like Steve much because he’d missed so much school due to his illnesses that he was still stuck in the first grade, plus they thought he was a walking pile of contagious disease, and they thought this was a perfect excuse to get rid of him.

Steve discovered he had two fighters on his side: his mother and Bucky Barnes. His mother would march him and Bucky to school each day, greeting the principal with a tight smile and daring her to block Steve from going inside. Bucky would link his arm through Steve’s left arm and stick by his side like glue, explaining to anybody who would listen that he was Steve’s left ear. Steve never had to worry about somebody sneaking up on his left side, because Bucky was always there. Bucky was supposed to be two years ahead of him at that point, but he put his foot down and said he was going to be in Steve’s class. Everybody—including Bucky—knew that Bucky wouldn’t be in school past the seventh grade anyway because he’d have to start working full time, so nobody put up too much of a fuss when his nine year old self joined Steve’s eight year old self in a class of six year olds. Whenever any of the kids or teachers tried being mean and deliberately tried saying something quietly on his left side where he wouldn’t hear, he had Bucky there to block them and stare them down until they moved to Steve’s other side.

For nearly twenty years, Steve barely noticed that his left ear didn’t work, all because his mother and Bucky always tried to make his life as good as it could be. They didn’t ignore his disability, but they learned how they could help Steve live life and added as much joy into it as possible.

Steve remembers the Howlies would laugh at Bucky sleeping on Steve’s left side and always, always walking on his left, even after the serum gave Steve his hearing back.

Bucky would always wave off the laughter, saying he couldn’t be bothered to break a twenty year habit.

Bucky’s smiling, probably remembering the same things. “I guess the universe don’t want us having four good ears between us, huh? We had a couple of months there during the war, but I think we’re just destined to never hear each other right with our ears. But that’s okay. It wasn’t the end of the world when you lost your hearing, and this won’t be the end of our world. Besides it’s about time you start being my ears, cause I’m exhausted. I spent twenty years being your left ear—it’s time for you to return the favor.”

A chuckle escapes Steve. Bucky’s fingers travel over his cheeks and his lips, tracing the smile that had appeared. “There’s that smile I know and love. See? Everything’s gonna be okay. I know it is.”

Steve takes a deep breath and wipes the remains of the tears off his cheeks. “I love you, Buck.”

Bucky doesn’t respond.

That’s not right.

Well, there’s a simple solution to that. Steve’s been telling Bucky he loves him for eleven months without saying a word.

Steve sits up and takes Bucky’s hand in his own. He carefully folds Bucky’s hand so he’s making a fist with his index finger pointing outwards. Then he jabs himself in the chest. He curls down Bucky’s finger so he’s making a fist and rubs his fist over his heart. The last part requires Bucky’s finger to be pulled out again and he jabs Bucky in the chest.

Bucky was frowning in concentration through the first two parts, but when Steve does the last part, he breaks out in a smile. “I love you too.” Then Bucky smirks. “Hey you know what else I haven’t had for eleven months that I’ve really missed?”

Steve frowns. Even if he has missed Bucky like crazy, he isn’t in the mood for sex.

“I haven’t gotten any sugar from my sweetheart. You gonna give me some sugar?”

Steve smiles. “You’re a goof, Buck.” He leans down and kisses Bucky’s lips. Bucky startles back slightly from the unexpected touch. “Sorry, sorry,” Steve breathes, kissing his cheek.

“Jesus, Rogers. Give a guy a little warning, huh? Get back here,” he says.

Steve kisses him on the lips and this time Bucky kisses him back. It’s slow and chaste, not meant to lead to anything more, just two people re-familiarizing themselves with each other.

Bucky sighs happily in between kisses. “This right here is why I did this, Stevie.”

*             *             *

Bucky comes out of his doze when he feels Steve shifting. He focuses on Steve’s movements beneath his hand, trying to guess what he’s doing. Steve rolls to his other side and Bucky’s hand slides to his side. He holds his breath, focusing. Steve’s side is rhythmically moving up and down, his normal breathing pattern when he’s asleep.

Bucky’s been trying to fall asleep but he can’t turn his brain off. He’s obsessively listening for any noise that would alert him to anybody entering their room.

And every few minutes he’s reminded that he wouldn’t hear anything, even if a hundred people burst into the dark room.

He’s on edge, alert, his eyes and ears straining in a futile effort to monitor his surroundings. It’s the only reason he’d detected that Steve had been crying.

The kissing seems to have calmed Steve, who’s (hopefully) sleeping.

The kissing had been very nice, but now that Bucky’s no longer focusing on Steve, he’s back to obsessing over his dark, silent surroundings.

He feels Steve shift again.

This time, he’s not just shifting into a different position, he’s sitting up.

“What’s going on?” Bucky asks.

He doesn’t hear himself say it, but he knows he says it.

Suddenly, something brushes against his cheek. He jerks back in surprise, before recognizing that it was Steve’s hand.

The hand pulls back, uncertain, then it’s stroking his cheek again.

Bucky’s hand has fallen into Steve’s lap and he tangles his hand in Steve’s shirt again. What’s Steve doing?

“Wanna make time with me, Stevie? This ain’t the way to get a proper night’s rest,” Bucky says, smirking.

But no, Steve’s shifting off the bed.

No, no, no.

Steve can’t leave him alone in the darkness. He tightens his grip on Steve’s shirt. He feels Steve’s hand brushing his cheek again. He ignores it.

“I’m coming too,” he says. He keeps his grip tight on Steve’s shirt and shifts across the bed.

He feels Steve’s chest rumbling under his hand. He’s saying something, probably wanting Bucky to stay here. But Bucky’s not staying by himself in the darkness.

“No, please, Steve. Let me come too,” he says, already starting to panic.

He feels a tap on the back of his hand that’s tangled tightly in Steve’s shirt.

Steve helps him slide off the bed and stand. Bucky slides his hand to Steve’s bicep and slowly shuffles along beside Steve.

Fear races along his spine as he moves through the darkness, terrified of bumping into something or falling. He can’t prevent the slight trembling that’s running through his body and his heart’s hammering in his chest again.

He keeps his feet firmly planted on the ground, only daring to slide his feet along in small shuffles.

They eventually come to a stop and Bucky can feel Steve shifting around. He has no idea what Steve’s doing, but doesn’t care.

As long as Bucky’s physically connected to Steve, he’s okay. He leans against Steve, pressing his face against his shoulder.

He waits patiently, then feels Steve shuffle them slightly sideways. Bucky waits again while Steve shifts around.

Then Steve’s turning them around and they’re heading somewhere again.

When Bucky bumps into something soft, he lets out a gasp, fear clutching him. He feels Steve gently peeling Bucky’s hand off his bicep and placing it on the soft thing he’d bumped into.

The bed.

Oh. They’re back at the bed.

He crawls onto the bed, feeling the warm indentation where Steve had lain. He moves past it and reaches his own warm spot. He lies down and pulls the blanket over himself, his hand moving across the mattress, searching for Steve.

He can feel Steve getting settled next to him and Bucky gently takes hold of his shirt, right over Steve’s heart.

He closes his eyes. Maybe if he tries to go to sleep very quickly, the darkness and silence won’t have a chance to freak him out.

*             *             *

It doesn’t work.

He still feels panicky and on edge. They had checked the door together, but what if it has unlocked in the mean time?

People could have come in and they could be hiding all around the apartment without him knowing.

Panic makes his hand shake and he tries to swallow the terror that’s creeping up his neck.

After endless more minutes spent in fear, he decides he’s had enough. “Stevie?”

He feels Steve shift. He feels a tap on the back of his hand.

“Can we check the door? Please?”

He feels Steve hesitate. “Please? I wanna make sure it’s locked properly.”

Not that he doesn’t trust Steve, but he needs to make sure.

He feels the covers being pulled off and Steve’s shifting off the bed. They repeat their earlier scoot off the bed and then they’re shuffling into the darkness again.

Bucky follows along until Steve comes to a stop and he’s taking Bucky’s hand and running it over something metallic and cold. Bucky frowns in concentration, tracing the shape of the deadbolt until he can hold it firmly. He flips it open, then closed.

Then open and closed again.

He runs his hand down the door to the doorknob and turns it, trying to pull open the door.

It doesn’t budge.

Good.

“Okay. It’s locked.”

Steve puts Bucky’s hand back on his bicep and they shuffle back to the bed.

Again, Bucky tries falling asleep, but no matter how hard he tries, the silence and darkness are terrifying him.

“Stevie?”

A shift. A tap on his hand.

“Can—can you hold me, please? I can’t—I can’t sleep when it’s so dark and quiet all around me. I don’t know if something’s waiting in the dark. It’s—it’s—I’m scared.” He feels mortified saying it. He’s kind of glad he can’t hear himself say the words.

He feels Steve’s hands run up his arms and hold his face. He feels kisses being brushed over his cheeks, forehead and lips.

Tap, tap, tap on his hand.

Steve’s pulling him over. Bucky follows, letting himself go limp in Steve’s arms. Steve pulls Bucky’s face into his neck and Bucky happily sighs into his neck. He wraps his arm tightly around Steve’s chest and feels Steve’s arms rubbing his back.

He’s surrounded by Steve’s smell and Steve’s touch, and the darkness and silence no longer matter as much.

“Thank you, Stevie.”

A kiss on his temple. A rumble in Steve’s chest.

You’re welcome, Buck.

*             *             *

Regardless of how much nicer it is to lie in the darkness in Steve’s arms, Bucky still can’t turn off the fear prickling in the back of his mind.

He manages to fall into fitful dozes occasionally, but he always jerks awake after a bit, blinking hard and trying to see in the darkness before he realizes how futile that is.

Exhaustion eventually pulls him under despite his terror. He wakes once more during the night when he has to pee and he and Steve shuffle to the bathroom, but aside from that, he sleeps a few solid hours.

He wakes before Steve and runs his hand up Steve’s chest to his face. Once he’s identified where Steve’s lips are, he wakes him up with soft kisses.

He feels Steve smiling under his lips.

“Good morning, Stevie,” he says. He feels Steve’s lips moving under his.

Good morning, Buck.

Steve gets them out of bed and they shuffle into the bathroom. Bucky clenches his jaw as they shuffle along, the fear racing down his back as they go.

Steve lifts Bucky’s hand and he’s touching what he identifies as the shower head. The thought of getting into the dark shower by himself terrifies him, but he tries to stay upbeat.

“Are you trying to tell me I stink?”

His hand is brought to Steve’s mouth and he can feel the punk is laughing. He feels the tap on his hand.

“Very funny. Alright, fine. But you have to come in with me. I can’t do it alone.”

He’s unbelievably grateful that Steve has enough money now to have an apartment with its own bathroom. This is bad enough—having to shuffle out of the apartment and use an outhouse with tons of people waiting in line and staring at him would be a million times worse.

He feels a bit bad because he knows how much better he has it now than Steve did back when Steve was the one who had needed help.

It had always been humiliating for Steve when he was sick and Bucky had to help him with basic things.

Normally they only bathed once a week, but when Steve was sick, Bucky didn’t like him stewing in his own sweat for days on end. He’d leave work early so he could haul buckets of water from the spigot out back up to their flat and get it warming on the stove. He’d prop Steve on a chair and bathe him with their precious soap and the cleanest rag they had. He’d use one bucket of water, while another warmed on the stove, and he’d switch buckets when the water got too cold. Steve would protest and fuss—if he was aware of what was happening—and declare that he could do it himself, but sometimes Bucky had to tie him to the chair with his belt so he wouldn’t slip off—so bathing himself was out of the question.

Bucky would carry him back and forth to the outhouses behind their tenement to use the toilet, Steve in one arm and a precious roll of toilet paper in his other hand. If Steve really had to go badly, Bucky didn’t care if there was a line of people waiting, he’d yell and push people aside, ignoring the nasty words and threats being directed his way. Steve often didn’t remember those trips in detail, but he had a few vague recollections, and they always embarrassed him.

It hadn’t ever bothered Bucky. Steve had needed help doing things when he was sick, and after Mrs. Rogers’ passing, there was nobody Bucky trusted more than himself to help Steve when he was in such a vulnerable condition. It had to be done, simple as that. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t humiliating for Steve.

So Bucky really shouldn’t complain in their current situation. Their roles are now reversed, but the situation is much better now than it had been back then. They have the entire bathroom to themselves for as long as they need it. Nobody banging on the door. Nobody barging in.

Steve sits him on the closed toilet and helps him pulls off his clothes. Bucky hangs on to Steve’s arm while he shifts around doing something.

While he waits, Bucky becomes aware of the darkness and silence pressing in on him again. He tightens his grip on Steve’s arm.

The fear is nudged aside a bit when he feels Steve pulling him to his feet. He’s pulled forward until he stubs his toes on what he thinks is the edge of the bathtub. He manages to catch the grunt of pain before it escapes.

His hand is lifted and suddenly it’s wet, covered in water that’s falling from above.

That irrational fear comes flooding back and it grows thicker—he can’t get into the black water thudding down from above!

“Steve, Steve, I can’t. I—can’t. I—I can’t.”

His hand is pulled out of the spray of water and then he’s got Steve’s arms wrapped around him, Steve’s lips moving by his ear.

“I’m sorry, Stevie, but it’s—it’s all dark and I can’t.” There’s a lump in his throat and he realizes he’s crying.

He’s terrified. Completely terrified. If he gets into the black water, he’ll drown in the darkness.

Steve’s lips are still moving against his ear.

They stand there, Bucky trembling and crying in Steve’s arms and Steve saying things.

Eventually, Bucky starts getting mad at himself.

Come on, Barnes! Stop being such a damn baby! It’s just a shower.

Get in there and stop being a baby!

He clenches his jaw and slowly pulls back from Steve. “Okay. Okay, let me try again.”

He feels Steve wiping the tears off his cheeks. Kisses are pressed to his forehead.

Then his hand is being pulled under the spray again.

He forces himself to imagine the spray as a beautiful waterfall, somewhere outside in the sunshine.

No darkness.

No scariness.

He’s just going to step into a nice, warm waterfall. He turns his hand, letting the water run down his arm. He decides to close his eyes to add to the illusion. That helps a bit. With his eyes closed, he can pretend that he’s somewhere sunny and bright, he’s just choosing not to see it.

Several minutes go by until he manages to calm enough to nod. “Alright. Let’s do it.”

A kiss on his temple. Then they’re moving.

Steve taps on one of his legs and Bucky slowly lifts it and let’s Steve pull it into the shower. He’s clinging to Steve’s bicep, feeling very off balance. He’s pulled forward and has no choice but to lift his other leg. He slams his shin into the edge of the bathtub, not having lifted it high enough. He ignores the twinge of pain.

He’s finally in the shower, under the stream of water. The warm water’s nice and has the highest pressure he’s ever experienced.

Waterfall. He’s in a nice, warm waterfall.

Don’t think about the darkness.

He can feel the safety of the wall behind him and to his left. On his right is the shower curtain and in front of him is Steve. He’s surrounded by protection on all sides. Nobody can get at him here.

He relaxes in the warmth, letting Steve move him this way and that, lifts his arm and legs when they’re tapped and lets Steve’s hands wander wherever they want, scrubbing him down. While Steve washes him, Bucky focuses on breathing and remaining calm.

Waterfall. It’s a nice, friendly, warm waterfall. He’s safe. He’s okay.

When the water’s turned off, he stands in the warm air, until there’s a sudden gust of cold. He lets out a little squawk and wraps his arm around himself. There’s a hand on his cheek and a quick kiss.

Steve pulls him out of the shower and gets him dried off. Then Bucky is put back on the closed toilet and locks his grip on Steve’s arm while Steve shifts around.

Then they shuffle somewhere else and Steve hands him an armful of clothes. They shuffle some more and Bucky bumps into the bed. He sits down and Steve helps him pull on his clothes.

The next few hours are pretty mundane.

Bucky hangs on to Steve’s arm and follows him around while Steve prepares them food. They sit at the table, their chairs wedged right beside each other. Bucky has his hand wrapped tightly in Steve’s shirt, focusing on the food that Steve’s nudging against his lips. As long as he’s focusing on the food, he’s less focused on the darkness and silence pressing in on him from all sides—except the side where Steve is.

He doesn’t care what he’s eating. He knows Steve will make sure he’s eating the right kind of things. He keeps eating as long as Steve is pushing food against his lips, letting Steve judge when he’s had enough. Bucky’s too busy focusing on his surroundings to pay attention.

They do the dishes with Bucky holding on to Steve, his silent shadow. While Bucky waits, the fear creeps in again, sticking in his throat and making his neck prickle. He turns his head and buries his face in Steve’s shirt.

Steve stumbled a bit but adjusts himself and there’s a gentle hand running through his hair before Steve goes back to the dishes.

Then they’re back on the soft couch where they’d sat the day before. Steve is shifting around, doing something as they’re sitting.

Realizing he feels a bit better when he’s surrounded by Steve and other things, Bucky turns so he’s wedged into Steve’s side, his face pressed into Steve’s shirt again, his back pressed against the couch.

Time slowly goes by.

Now that he’s not moving around and the darkness and silence can’t attack him from all sides, Bucky starts to calm.

That’s when boredom starts to set in.

“Whatcha doin’, Stevie?”

Bucky’s hand is pulled over, and then he’s touching some type of device that’s on Steve’s lap. Bucky gently runs his fingers over it. The thing is covered in buttons. Some kind of machine. Maybe a computer? Steve had used one from time to time when they’d been on the run.

Bucky can feel Steve’s fingers moving over the keys, typing.

Time goes by.

He has no idea what Steve’s doing on the computer, but even if he asked, Steve can’t possibly explain it using yes and no hand signals.

Besides, if he’s honest, Bucky’s too busy keeping the fear at bay to really care.

Steve can do whatever he wants on the machine as long as Bucky can stay plastered to his side.

Chapter Text

With his face in Steve’s shirt, Bucky zones out after a while, but he’s startled back into attentiveness when he feels Steve squeeze his hand.

“Are we going somewhere?” he asks, reluctantly sitting up.

A rub.

Okay.

Steve is flattening Bucky’s palm and smoothing his hand over it, from his fingertips to his wrist. Then he starts tapping the center of Bucky’s palm with one finger. The taps stop, then he’s doing short lines for a while. Then it’s back to taps. It feels nice and soothing. Bucky relaxes.

“Having a good time, Rogers? What are you doing? Is this some new game?”

Maybe Steve wants Bucky to repeat the pattern of taps and lines back to him?

Steve abruptly rubs the back of his hand and gives it a hard shake for good measure.

Pay attention, Barnes.

Looks like it’s not time for a game.

“Okay. I’m paying attention.” Bucky sits up straight and focuses on the taps and lines.

Now that he’s paying attention, he realizes Steve is doing a very specific pattern.

Three light taps.

Three hard, short lines.

Three light taps.

Three hard, short lines.

And so on.

No, wait. Now that he’s paying closer attention, he realizes the pattern is more complex.

Tap, tap, tap.

Line, line, line.

Tap, tap, tap.

A long pause. The pause feels deliberate—Steve’s finger remains on his palm, resting very lightly and definitely not moving. Then it starts the pattern again.

Tap, tap, tap.

Line, line, line.

Tap, tap, tap.

Another long pause.

Clearly, the three taps, three short lines and three more taps are meant to be one unit. Steve is repeating it over and over and over again.

There’s something vaguely familiar about the pattern.

He knows that set of three.

He’s never felt it on his palm before, but the longer Steve repeats the pattern, the more clearly he can hear them as…beeps.

He’s heard these beeps before.

Steve takes his finger off his palm, maybe thinking that Bucky isn’t getting it.

“Keep going, Steve. Don’t stop. I think—I’m on the right track. Maybe. Keep doing it. It’s jogging something in my memory.”

Steve resumes the pattern.

Tap, tap, tap.

Line, line, line.

Tap, tap, tap.

The longer he does it, the more clearly Bucky can hear the echoes of beeps in his head.

The taps become little high pitched noises. Dit.

The lines are longer sounds. Dah.

Di, di, dit.

Dah, dah, dah.

Di, di, dit.

He finally gets it. Of course the pattern is familiar! Jesus Christ—how did he not recognize it earlier?!

“Steve—is that SOS? Are you doing Morse code?”

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

Steve is clearly thrilled that he caught on.

That’s—oh, my God. Maybe Steve is on to something.

“You think you can use Morse code to talk to me?”

Tap, tap.

Bucky’s a bit skeptical. They’d both learned Morse code during the war, but Gabe had been their go-to translator. Bucky thinks he remembers most of the letters, but he’s never translated without being able to scribble things down at the same time. Plus, his brain has been zapped by a lot of electricity since then. He has no idea if he can do this.

“Okay, let’s try. But slow. Let me figure out every letter before you do the next one, okay?”

Tap.

Di, di, di, dit.

Pause.

Four dots. That’s….he combs through his memory. That’s an H.

“H.”

Tap.

Di, dit.

Two dots. S? No, S is three dots. Two dots is…I.

“I.”

Tap.

Steve’s fingers are resting on his palm, not spelling anything. That must mean the word is finished.

H and I.

H-I.

Oh! “Oh! Hi! Hi! Hi, Stevie!”

Tap, tap, tap on the back of his hand. Then he’s being pulled forward and he feels his face bump into Steve’s chest. Steve’s chest is rumbling and he’s squeezing Bucky.

Steve is definitely happy.

Bucky’s grinning, very pleased with himself. He pushes himself off Steve and holds out his hand. “Do another one, Stevie!”

Dah, di, di, dit.

“D.”

Rub.

“No? Are you sure? That’s not a D?”

Rub.

Shit. Dah, di, di, dit.

“Oh, that’s a B. Sorry.”

Tap.

Di, di, dah.

“U.”

Tap.

Dah, di, dah, dit.

He remembers that one. “C.”

Dah, di, dah.

“K. Right? That’s K?”

Tap.

Steve’s fingers aren’t moving. They’re at the end of the word.

But shit, Bucky has been concentrating so hard on deciphering each individual letter that he’s completely forgotten what the letters were. He remembers there was a C and a K, but nothing before.

“Damn, I’m sorry, Stevie. I already forgot the first two.”

Steve doesn’t miss a beat—he re-starts the letters from the beginning.

Dah, di, di, dit.

“Oh, right. B. What was the second one?”

Di, di, dah.

“U. Okay—B-U-C-K. Oh! Buck! That’s me!”

Tap, tap, tap.

Steve flattens his hand out again.

Di, di, di, dit.

“H.”

Di, dah.

“A.”

Di, dah, dah, dit.

It takes him second, but then he knows it’s a P. “P.”

Di, dah, dah, dit.

“I already said P. Was I wrong?”

Rub.

“Then do the next one. I already said P.”

Rub, rub, rub.

Di, dah, dah, dit.

Bucky’s starting to feel tired. This is way, way harder than he thought it would be.

“That’s P. We’ve been over this a hundred times, Rogers.”

Tap.

Di, dah, dah, dit.

Bucky’s starting to feel annoyed. “That’s…a…P.”

Tap.

Dah, di, dah, dah.

“C.”

Rub, rub.

Dah, di, dah, dah. Steve is pressing the last dah into his palm very hard, as if he’s trying to indicate that it’s the contributor to Bucky’s error.

“That’s a C. Why ain’t that a C?”

He’s feeling completely drained.

Rub, rub, rub.

Dah, di, dah, dah.

He can’t remember.

“I don’t know, Stevie. I’m sorry. I don’t remember that one.” Plus, he can’t even remember the other letters they had been spelling. He knows they did P a bunch of times, but he’s forgotten everything else.

“I’m—Steve, I’m sorry but this is exhausting. If I could write down the letters while I’m translating, it would be easier, but I can’t. This—this is too hard right now. Can’t we do simple things? Like our yes and no? I like those. They’re easy.”

Steve squeezes his hand and then Bucky feels a kiss pressed into his palm.

Steve taps Bucky on the chest with their clasped hands. That’s pretty clear. “Me? That means me, right?”

Tap.

Steve taps two dots on his palm, followed by a half circle underneath.

Bucky’s about to get annoyed—hadn’t he just told the man that he doesn’t want to do more code today? But then he realizes the half circle isn’t part of code.

It’s almost like he’s…drawing something?

“Do it again.”

Two dots beside each other. A half circle underneath.

Definitely not code. The two dots are very deliberately being placed beside each other, and the half circle is definitely underneath. So all those items must be part of one picture.

It’s almost like two eyes and a mouth underneath…?

“A smiley face?”

Tap. Then Bucky feels Steve poke him in the chest again—twice for good measure, and he does the smiley face.

“Me? Smiley face? Me—am I happy?”

Tap.

“Yay! Okay, do another one.”

Steve repeats the smiley face, but this time, the half circle is upside down. That’s easy. After Steve jabs Bucky in the chest, Bucky immediately knows. “Am I sad?”

Tap.

Oh, this is better. Bucky feels his confidence flooding back. “More.”

Bucky feels himself being jabbed in the chest again, then he feels all of Steve’s fingers chomping on the edge of his hand. It’s almost as if he’s trying to eat his—“Hungry? Am I hungry?”

Tap.

There’s a bit of shuffling, and Steve is pulling Bucky’s hand forward—until he’s brushing cold glass. That’s the glass of water Steve had put on the small table in front of the couch.

Bucky’s happy that Steve hadn’t decided to press the glass to Bucky’s lips. In general, he’s happy Steve hasn’t done any symbols that involve touching his face unexpectedly. He’s fine with Steve unexpectedly touching his hand, but having anybody touch his face when he’s not expecting it would freak him out.

Steve taps Bucky’s hand on Bucky’s chest, then gently touches the glass of water again.

Bucky gets it. “Am I thirsty?”

Tap.

Bucky frowns. “That ain’t real practical. We should do a hand symbol for it too so you can ask me when we don’t have a glass round.”

Steve pauses for a while, then he gently rubs the edge of Bucky’s hand, right where he had done the chomping motion for eating.

“That works. Just don’t do it on the back of my hand—that’s no, remember?”

Bucky’s exhausted. Doing these small symbols is much easier than the lengthy spelling, but he’s already used up a lot of energy. He wants to call it quits for today, but if this is important for Steve, he’ll do a few more. He doesn’t really understand why Steve needs to be able to ask him if he’s happy or hungry—Bucky will tell him if he is.

But maybe Steve likes being able to ask him things.

Maybe Steve is feeling powerless too.

And Bucky realizes it’ll be nice for Steve to tell Bucky how he’s feeling or if he’s hungry.

“How about toilet? What are we gonna do for that? Just don’t spell out ‘toilet’ or ‘washroom’, those are way too long.”

Steve thinks for a while. When he can’t seem to come up with anything, Bucky thinks it over.

“Give me your hand.”

He feels for Steve’s hand and flattens it out on Steve’s thigh. He places the tips of his index and middle fingers on Steve’s palm and ‘walks’ them forward a few steps.

“See? This is somebody walking into the toilet—”

Then Bucky lets his fingers collapse against Steve’s palm. “And these are somebody’s shorts being pulled down. Or I guess it could be somebody sitting down on the toilet? Either way, I think that’ll work.”

He does it again—walking two fingers across Steve’s palm and then having the fingers ‘sit’ down.

He notices Steve’s palm is shaking.

“What? Are you okay?”

He touches Steve’s chest and feels it vibrating. When he touches Steve’s face, he can feel the huge grin on his face.

The punk is laughing at him.

“Are you laughing at my genius? If you ain’t careful, I’m gonna get offended, you twit!” He lightly smacks Steve in the chest.

He feels Steve pull him against his chest and Bucky presses his face into Steve’s shirt. Steve kisses his temple and gives him an apologetic squeeze.

Bucky acknowledges that his toilet symbol might be a bit funny, but honestly he’s too exhausted to have a good laugh about it. He also realizes he’s hungry.

“Stevie, give me your hand.”

He takes Steve’s hand and puts it on his thigh, smoothing it out. Time to let Steve see what it’s like to listen without hearing anything.

He taps their hands on his own chest, then he does the chomping motion on the edge of Steve’s hand.

Steve pulls his hand free and sticks his thumb on Bucky’s open fingers. He’s pushing down, encouraging Bucky’s fingers to curl around his thumb.

Bucky waits—trying to figure out what he’s doing. Having his fingers wrapped around Steve’s thumb isn’t an obvious representation of anything.

He gets his answer when Steve’s other hand unwraps Bucky’s fingers and encourages his fingers to explore the rest of Steve’s hand      .

Bucky can feel that Steve’s hand is folded into a closed fist, except his thumb, which is pointing straight up.

He’s—he’s giving Bucky a thumbs-up.

Oh, this adorable dork.

“Should that be our symbol for okay? The thumbs up?”

Tap, tap.

Bucky grins. Oh, this is so much better than the exhausting spelling. “I love that! Excellent. Look at us go! We’re doing so good. Come on, Stevie. Let’s make some food. And by make food I mean, you make the food and I’ll be the taste tester.”

He feels himself being pulled forward and he’s pressed into Steve’s chest again. He feels Steve’s chest rumbling and Steve’s lips are smiling against his temple. He’s laughing.

Chapter Text

Over the next few days, things get worse rather than better.

Whenever he’s moving around, that crippling fear grips him and he doesn’t really register until later that he’s clinging to Steve’s arm and forcing Steve to take care of himself and Bucky at the same time. As soon as he’s sitting on the couch, he feels better and he starts feeling guilty that he’s more helpless than a small child.

He’s as helpless as Steve used to be during a delirious fever episode.

He spends every second of the day and night glued to Steve’s side. When he’s sitting down somewhere, he feels a bit safer and he can focus on doing small tasks himself as long as Steve’s pressed against his side.

On the third day, Bucky realizes it’s absolutely ridiculous that Steve has to feed him and help him drink. He’s got a perfectly good arm and he’s not weak from any illness. As long as Steve is pressed against his side, he should be able to eat and drink by himself.

It’s not perfect. Bucky can’t see what’s on his plate, and only having one utensil for help can make certain meals messy. Food gets pushed off the plate, food falls off his fork or spoon and lands in his lap, and large pieces of food need to either be cut by Steve or stabbed with a fork and eaten in little bites. Steve doesn’t allow him to use a knife for safety reasons—and when Bucky stabs himself in the face with the fork a number of times, he appreciates Steve’s foresight—but with practice it gets easier. Steve starts putting his food into bowls instead of plates, and that decreases the food spillage. His bowl always slides all over the place, which gets frustrating quickly, so Steve stacks rolled up towels around the bowl to keep it in place. It must look bizarre, but Bucky can eat by himself and that’s what important.

When drinking, he needs to line up the cup very carefully with his lips and lift it slowly to make sure he doesn’t end up dumping the contents all over his face or choking. Steve had offered him a straw, but Bucky had refused. He’s not a five year old kid. He’s been drinking by himself for decades—he can handle this.

Meal times take forever, but it’s not like he doesn’t have the time. While he’s eating, he always has to stop every few bites and touch Steve just to anchor himself. He can feel him by his side, but touching him makes it better.

He learns to use the toilet himself and gets pretty comfortable using the sink and brushing his teeth himself, as long as Steve has guided him there and is right by his side.

Overall, these little feats of independence should make a big difference, but they actually don’t. Except for those small things, he needs Steve’s help for everything else.

He can’t dress himself. He can’t walk around by himself. He can’t stay anywhere by himself. He can’t bathe himself. He can’t prepare food for himself. He can’t do anything except sit and cling to Steve.

That’s not the worst part. As long as he’s doing something—following Steve around or doing one of his little solo activities—he can keep the fear at bay. But as soon as he doesn’t have anything to do—like at night when he’s in bed—his brain has nothing else to do other than make him fear the darkness and silence around him.

He asks Steve to get up multiple times during the night to check the deadbolt on the door, and he doesn’t dare stay in bed by himself if Steve has to use the bathroom.

After a few nights, he’s lying in Steve’s arms, trying desperately to fall asleep, but as usual, his brain isn’t letting him. The back of his neck keeps tingling, reminding him that someone might come into the room—or someone might already be in the room—and he wouldn’t know.

Objectively he knows that Steve would hear an intruder and he’d protect them—but that thought does little to calm the anxious, fearful thoughts racing through his head. They keep chasing themselves around in his head, sending bursts of fear shivering down his spine and keeping him wide awake until exhaustion takes over and he falls asleep. Once he’s asleep, he sleeps well, but getting there is the struggle.

Like tonight.

He can feel Steve’s chest moving under his cheek. He’s fast asleep.

Bucky wishes he were fast asleep. But there’s no way he can get any rest until he’s checked the deadbolt again.

That means waking Steve.

He gently shakes him. “Stevie? Can we check the door?”

They’d already been up to check the door once that night, but his brain is being extra stupid tonight.

He feels Steve waking and Bucky waits for Steve to throw the covers off himself and start getting himself off the bed, but instead, he feels Steve tensing.

Moments later, he feels a thud on the bed. He startles, fear racing down his spine.

“What was that?”

Usually Steve would be reassuring him with kisses or hand squeezing, but he’s just lying there, very tense and still.

“Stevie? What’s wrong?”

Bucky runs his hand up Steve’s chest to his face, where he can feel his jaw is clenched. Bucky runs his hand down Steve’s arms. The arm on his far side is very tense and the hand is balled in an angry fist. Steve must have punched the bed out of frustration.

Steve’s—

Steve’s angry.

Why?

“What’s wrong? Why are you mad? We—we don’t gotta check the door if you don’t wanna.”

Bucky really, really does want to check the door, but not if it makes Steve mad.

“Steve?”

Steve’s still not moving. When Bucky touches his face again, he can feel that Steve’s eyes are squeezed shut. His jaw is still clenched. He’s not crying.

Rogers is definitely angry about something.

Bucky wants to cry. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, sweetheart. Whatever I did, I’m sorry. Steve? I’m sorry.”

He desperately wants to know what he did to make Steve mad, but Steve doesn’t seem to be in the mood to explain.

Even if he could, would their meager collection hand signals be enough to allow Steve to explain himself? And when he’s this anxious, there’s no way Bucky can follow along if Steve wants to spell something complicated.

Damn it!

Bucky’s on the verge of panicking, when he feels Steve picking up his hand. Steve jabs his own chest with Bucky’s hand, then places his palm flat over Bucky’s, like somebody is lying flat in bed.

It’s a symbol they’d created yesterday.

Steve’s tired.

Then Steve’s jabbing himself in the chest with Bucky’s hand again and he draws two dots and an upside down half circle.

As if his body language wasn’t clear enough, Steve wants to make absolutely sure that Bucky gets it—

Steve’s not happy.

Thinking back, Bucky realizes that of course the man’s a bit tired and grumpy. Bucky’s been waking him up multiple times every night to help him go to the bathroom or check the stupid door.

But they’ve been sleeping quite a bit. In fact, he knows Steve’s been sleeping more than Bucky. Whenever Bucky feels scared enough to want to check the door, he always pushes it off as long as he can in order to let Steve sleep undisturbed as long as possible.

He shouldn’t be that tired.

He realizes with an abrupt lurch that Steve’s probably sick and tired of carting around an invalid who’s less capable of taking care of himself than a small child, but he still doesn’t understand why Steve’s so tired.

Abruptly, he’s aware that Steve’s pulling him off the bed. He follows.

When Bucky feels the deadbolt under his fingers, he’s overwhelmed with love for Steve. “Thank you. You—I know you’re still mad. Thank you. I’m sorry for making you mad. I won’t bother you about the door again.”

Steve’s leading him away from the door. They shuffle along until Bucky bumps his feet into some type of ledge. Steve gave him some hard toed slippers that Bucky can wear around the apartment without fear of stubbing his toes on things.

There shouldn’t be a ledge on the way to the bedroom….

Steve’s pulling him forward and Bucky suddenly feels warmth on his face.

He knows what this is.

Sunshine. They must be standing in the open door of the balcony and the sun is shining on his face.

Oh, that feels so good! He can’t believe he’d forgotten about being out in the sun since they’d come home! He’s about to tell Steve that he wants to go sit outside and soak up that wonderful sunshine—

But wait.

Wasn’t he just sleeping? Wasn’t it just night?

His stomach lurches with disorientation.

“Steve—what—is it daytime?!”

Tap.

“Then—why were we sleeping like it’s night?”

Bucky feels a jab on his own chest and then Steve’s palm is laid flat over Bucky’s. Right. He’d told Steve he was tired.

In fact, it’s always Bucky who tells Steve when he’s tired, and Steve always taken them right to bed.

“Stevie, am I messing up the time? Like day and night? Am I doing it wrong?”

Tap.

He sighs. Well, no wonder Steve’s exhausted. Jesus Christ!

He lets out an annoyed sigh. “Shit, I’m sorry. I thought my system would be so used to the schedule in the prison that it would keep going normally. I never realized…”

He feels his hand being squeezed. Steve’s thumb presses against Bucky’s fingers. He’s giving him a thumbs up.

“No, it’s not okay. Shit! Steve, I’m officially putting you in charge of deciding when we sleep. Obviously I have no idea when it’s day or night. All I’m doing is messing things up.”

He shakes his head, still annoyed with himself. He can no longer tell time—great. Add that to the long list of reasons why he’s now useless.

But—that doesn’t solve the problem that Steve is exhausted.

“Let’s go back to bed. You sleep as much as you want to catch up. Give me a book or something to do with my hands and that’ll keep my brain distracted enough that I won’t be scared.”

Steve isn’t moving.

“Come on, Rogers. Back to bed we go.”

They shuffle back to bed and Steve hands Bucky a sketch pad and a few pencils. Steve curls up beside him and is asleep in minutes.

Bucky amuses himself by sketching whatever comes into his head. As he scribbles, he’s kind of amused that he can’t see what a mess he’s creating. He can pretend they’re masterpieces like Steve’s sketches.

But best of all, the sketching keeps him distracted enough that Steve can sleep.

As he doodles, he makes a promise to himself. Starting today, he will learn to conquer his fear of the darkness and the silence and he’ll become more independent.

He can’t continue being such a ridiculous burden on Steve.

*             *             *

Steve had discreetly set his alarm clock to wake him in two hours. Bucky hadn’t noticed him setting it; he’d settled right in with the sketchpad and pencil, making himself comfortable against the headboard.

Steve wakes when the alarm goes off and he slowly reaches over to turn it off.

Bucky doesn’t notice.

Steve stays on his side and keeps his breathing even, letting Bucky think he’s still sleeping. He doesn’t want to sleep through most of the day again, but he doesn’t want to worry Bucky with the idea that Steve’s still too tired. He’ll fight through the day and hopefully sleep better at night.

Besides, he needs some time to think.

Number one priority is getting back on a normal schedule.

At first he hadn’t realized Bucky couldn’t tell whether it’s day or night. He figured Bucky was so exhausted from his time in the hospital that he needed to catch up.

But Bucky never slept longer than an hour or two. Sometimes he’d wake up and Steve would help him go to the bathroom, or they’d go to the door to check it, but then Bucky would randomly decide that it’s time to start a new day.

Sometimes they’d wake up in the middle of the night, sometimes in the middle of the day, or anywhere in between. Bucky seemed completely unaffected by his random schedule, but it was wreaking havoc on Steve’s system.

Steve had been doing a lot of research on the internet over the past few days and he’d come across the phrase ‘circadian rhythm abnormalities’, but he hadn’t really paid attention to it.

Now everything has fallen into place. Bucky’s body no longer receives any environmental cues that could tell him whether it’s day or night. He has to (literally) blindly follow his body’s cues whether he should be asleep or awake.

Steve has been waiting for Bucky’s body to adapt, but as the days have gone by, he’s started to realize that Bucky didn’t even realize this was an issue.

When he’d told Natasha about it yesterday, she’d told him that he needs to put his foot down and fix the issue before it becomes a more serious problem. Steve doesn’t want to push Bucky too hard, but she’d reasoned that there are some things which Bucky needs to be pushed on in order to stay healthy and happy.

They’ll have to settle into a normal schedule and force Bucky’s body to adapt. Steve will take over the responsibility of deciding when they should be sleeping and when they should be awake, and hopefully that’ll fix the problem.

The issue with the door checking is another problem.

He knows Bucky’s freaked out by the idea of not being able to hear if anybody opens the door.

How the hell can he fix it?

Maybe if he attaches a bell—oh, right.

His first few internet searches don’t help. All of the door indicators are either sound or light dependent. Hooking up lights to flash in every room when the door is opened won’t help. Nor will any sound effect.

Well.

That’ll require more thinking and research.

*             *             *

As soon as Bucky feels Steve shift, he lowers the pencil.

“Good morning, Stevie. It is morning, right?”

He feels the bed shake. He moves his hand to Steve’s face and feels his smile. Steve’s laughing at him. He feels a tap on his hand.

He pushes aside the sketchpad and pencil and runs his hand up to Steve’s chest to his face. Once he’s found Steve’s lips, he gives him a kiss.

“I’m sorry I’ve been so annoying, Stevie,” he says. He feels Steve’s lips moving. He kisses him. “No, don’t argue with me. I’ve been letting my fear run the show and that ain’t right. I wanna be more independent and give you more space, so I gotta conquer my fear.”

Steve’s quiet for a while, then Bucky feels him press his thumb against his fingers.

Okay.

Bucky smiles. “Good. To prove how serious I am, I’m gonna make it to the bathroom all by myself this fine morning.”

Rub, rub, rub.

Bucky scowls. “Let me try, punk. If it doesn’t go well, you can help me. But let me try.”

Nothing. Then, a very, very reluctant tap.

Bucky climbs over Steve and scoots himself to the edge of the bed. He moves his toes around on the floor until he finds his slippers.

With slippers on, he slowly pushes himself to his feet.

He’s fine until he’s standing up. That’s when the familiar fear floods him and he’s paralyzed, standing adrift in the darkness.

He has to stop himself from sitting back on the bed.

This is ridiculous. He’s been standing for just a few seconds. He can do better than this.

Very, very slowly, he forces one foot to slide forward. Then the other foot.

He’s so focused on his feet that he forgets about the fact that he could be heading straight into a wall. Alarmed, he puts his hand out in front of him. He can feel his hand shaking. He’s trembling all over.

His heart’s hammering in his chest and he’s breathing way too fast. The darkness and silence are pressing on him from all directions.

He’s gonna fall. He’s gonna trip over something. He’s gonna be swallowed up whole.

A little shift with one foot. Then the other foot.

Another shift forward, and the other foot follows.

“How—how far am I from the bed?” he asks. He desperately hopes he’s at least half way there.

He feels Steve grasp his outstretched arm and pull it behind him—where he can feel the bed.

Damn. He’s only moved a few inches.

He swears under his breath, pulls his hand from Steve’s grasp and puts his hand out in front again.

Come on, left foot. A little forward. Okay. Now right foot, let’s go.

At this rate, he’ll reach the bathroom in about a year.

He squeezes his eyes shut. “I can’t do it,” he says. His throat feels tight. He wants to cry. “I—I’m too scared. I don’t know why. It’s stupid. I know even if I bump into something it won’t really hurt me,   but—”

He feels Steve grasp his hand and run his hand up Bucky’s arm to his face. He’s being pulled into Steve’s arms, with Steve’s lips moving against his temple.

Bucky takes deep breaths. Surrounded by something familiar, he immediately feels better.

Wait.

He pulls back.

“Steve, I wanna try something. Can you stand behind me and wrap your arms around my waist?”

Steve slides around him and dutifully anchors his arms around his waist, his chin hooked on Bucky’s shoulder.

“Okay. Now let me try. Don’t push, just follow.”

With Steve plastered against his back, Bucky feels much safer. The darkness and silence can’t attack him from the back, or even the sides anymore. It’s like when he’s sitting on the couch. This is much better.

He sticks his hand out and slides his left foot forward. He feels himself taking a much longer slide than before. His right foot follows.

Left foot again. Then the right foot.

He feels Steve turning his face so he’s pressed against Bucky’s neck. Bucky can feel him smiling and his lips moving, probably saying encouraging things.

Bucky’s so focused on moving forward that he barely notices when Steve gently steers his hips a bit to correct his direction. Other than that, he doesn’t interfere.

Bucky quickly realizes that he might bump into something that isn’t the same height as his hand, so he starts moving the hand up and down and side to side.

That’s how he ends up smacking his hand into something solid. Frowning, he grabs it and runs his hand along the surface. The table? No. There’s a smooth ledge sitting on the surface—and the smooth ledge quickly drops down into a bowl shape.

The sink.

Oh, my God, he made it into the bathroom!

“I did it, Stevie. Oh, my God, I did it!” Steve squeezes him tightly and presses kisses into his neck.

While he’s brushing his teeth, he realizes he hasn’t been paying attention at all when he’s been following Steve around, clinging to his arm. He hasn’t learned the layout of the apartment at all.

That’ll have to change, starting right now.

When they finish up in the bathroom, Bucky decides that instead of walking straight out, he’ll use the walls as guides. Every wall has to eventually lead to a door. Every door has more walls connected to it.

And given the fact that the apartment is in an enclosed space, he knows that if he traces the walls, he’ll eventually do a full circuit.

It might take him a year, but the faster he starts, the faster he’ll learn.

He presses his hand to the bathroom mirror and slowly shuffles to the left. Steve stays plastered against his back but doesn’t interrupt, except to move his lips against his neck so Bucky knows he’s saying something encouraging.

The hard surface of the mirror is replaced by the smooth wall. He follows it, and ends up in a corner. Not being deterred, he follows the corner, and there’s the rippled texture of the door frame. The doorframe ends and there’s open space.

The doorway.

They move through the doorway, Bucky’s hand back on the doorframe. He traces the doorframe to its other side, then he’s on a wall again.

He’s tracing the wall when he feels Steve gently pulling his hips back. When he runs his hand down the wall, he feels a piece of waist-high furniture that’s against the wall. He definitely would have bashed his hip into it if Steve hadn’t moved him.

He lets himself lean against the furniture, keeping his hand on the wall. He doesn’t want to lose the wall, but he wants to know how long this furniture is.

He makes a face when a bunch of knobs on the furniture dig into his stomach, but he keeps tracing the wall. They reach another corner and the furniture ends, then suddenly there’s a doorframe, but this time there’s a closed door.

Bucky frowns. There aren’t any closed doors in their apartment—then he feels the deadbolt.

“Ah, the front door! I know this fellow well,” he says, exploring the rest of the door with his hand.

They move to the kitchen, the living room, the balcony, then back inside the living room and into the bedroom. Along the way, he touches and explores every piece of furniture he encounters.

Bucky keeps a careful mental picture in his head of the orientation of the rooms and their relative spacing. It’s way too much to memorize in one go, but he feels it’s a doable goal.

After they do one circuit, Steve pulls him into the kitchen and makes them breakfast, but once they’re done eating, Bucky insists on doing another circuit.

Once that’s done, they have a seat on the couch and Steve starts typing on the computer again.

Bucky’s exhausted so he leans against Steve’s shoulder and is about to doze off, when he’s rudely jostled awake.

“Stevie, I’m tired.”

His palm is pulled out, and Steve places his palm flat against Bucky’s, then does a bunch of rubs on the back of his hand.

The message is clear.

“Okay, fine. No sleeping.”

Bucky must sound as mopey as he feels about the prospect of not sleeping. He’s not just tired, but sitting on the couch beside Steve is boring.

He feels Steve pause. Then his palm is pulled out again. A poke into Bucky’s chest. Two dots and an upside down half circle.

He pauses. Yeah. Yeah, he is a bit unhappy.

“I guess, yeah. I’m—I—I don’t wanna be ungrateful, Stevie, but it’s boring sitting here. I know you gotta do what you gotta do on the computer, but I can’t see what you’re doing, and honestly, when I sit here doing nothing, it’s even harder to stay awake and not let the fear crawl in.”

He feels Steve pause again, then he feels Steve getting up. He’s about to raise his arm for Steve to pull him up—but he pauses.

He feels Steve standing by his feet, waiting for him to get up too.

“You know what? If you’re only gonna be a few seconds, I can stay here by myself. I think.”

A question mark is drawn on his hand. Is he sure?

“Yeah. Yeah, let’s try. Just be quick. Please.”

He sinks back against the couch. There are pillows beside him and he pulls them so they’re propped against his sides. He feels better like this—surrounded on nearly all sides by safety.

Steve disappears somewhere. A few seconds later—the punk must have sprinted—he’s back, gently putting the sketchpad and the pack of pencils on Bucky’s lap.

Bucky grins. “Oh, that’s great! Thanks, Stevie. Oh, can we go sit outside?”

Bucky holds the sketchpad and pencils in his hand and feels Steve grasp his elbow to help him up.

As soon as he feels himself leaving the safe cocoon of the pillows and the couch, he starts feeling scared again.

Damn. If only he could carry the couch around with him. The only other solution is having Steve plastered against his back, but that’s not a long-term solution—

“Do we have a spare blanket I can sit outside with?”

He feels Steve releasing his elbow. Steve’s hesitating.

“I’ll be okay. Just be quick.”

He sinks back against the pillows, until Steve’s back again. Bucky feels a blanket dropping into his lap.

He puts the sketchpad and pencils down and struggles to shake out the blanket with one hand. Steve helps. “Okay, can you help me drape the blanket over me?”

It’s a nice, fuzzy blanket and Bucky immediately likes how it feels when it’s draped across his shoulders and runs down his back. This might work.

Steve takes the sketchpad and pencils out of his lap, leaving his hand free to hold the blanket closed under his chin.

With a heave, he manages to get to his feet without help. He can feel the coffee table press into his shins. He knows he has to go around the coffee table, then walk straight forward to get to the balcony.

He feels Steve hovering, a hand by his elbow, ready to help him.

Slowly, he shuffles sideways, letting his shins tell him when he’s reached the end of the coffee table.

Then it’s time to move forward. As soon as he’s left the safety of the furniture, he starts feeling scared again, but the blanket helps. He pulls it tight around his neck and feels it embrace him in safe warmth.

The darkness can’t attack him through his safe blanket shield.

It can’t.

He hopes.

He slowly shuffles forward, one foot at a time. He can feel Steve behind him, both hands on his hips, but Steve isn’t plastered against him as before. He has no idea how the punk is holding the sketchpad and pencils, but that’s the least of his concerns right now.

Slowly, very slowly, he shuffles forward. “Steve, is there anything in front of me except the balcony door at the end?”

Steve leans around him and rubs the back of his hand that’s clutching the blanket.

Okay, good. He can do this.

The promise of sunshine pulls him forward and he carefully slides one foot in front of the other, until he bumps the front of the slippers against the balcony door frame.

He feels a rumble beneath his feet—Steve must have reached around him to pull open the door. Bucky carefully lifts one foot and feels around with the foot to find the opening in the balcony.

Steve tightens his grip on Bucky’s hips when he tilts forward, his foot searching for the balcony floor.

When he’s found it, he plants his foot and carefully brings the other foot across. He shuffles forward until he bumps into something.

He releases his tight grip on the blanket and touches the thing he’d bumped into.

He feels fabric, pulled taut, but that’s all the information he gathers before he has to pull the blanket closed again.

“Stevie, can you help me sit down somewhere?”

He feels Steve press up against his back and wrap one arm around Bucky’s waist. He’s gently pushed over—and he’s being pulled down. He’s about to panic, but Steve keeps a strong grip on him—and then he’s sitting on a chair.

And oh, it’s wonderful!

The warm sunshine is streaming down, bathing his face in warmth. The blanket he’s wrapped in soaks up the heat and he’s sitting in a nice toasty cocoon. He tilts his face back, smiling.

This darkness isn’t frightening. This darkness is warm and safe and just wonderful.

“Stevie, this is wonderful. I could stay out here all day.”

He feels Steve squeeze his hand. When Steve’s hand leaves him, he realizes he actually doesn’t know where Steve is. He could have gone back into the apartment, he could be standing right beside him.

But he finds he’s okay.

He feels safe and comfortable right where he is. He releases his tight grip on the blanket and snuggles back into it. He opens up the sketchpad and takes out a pencil and starts doodling.

Chapter Text

Sitting outside becomes Bucky’s favourite activity. He can’t really explain it—he thinks it has something to do with the apartment being so utterly…still.

Outside, things are never still. He can feel the warmth of the sun, and the way the warmth shifts across his face as the sun moves during the day. There are always different smells—cigarette smoke from a nearby neighbor, the exhaust from cars, different food smells drifting around as their neighbors cook various dishes during the day. When it rains, everything has a moist scent over it. He can feel the wind and even rain drops if he stands up and stretches his hand out from under the awning—it’s all moving and surrounding him, and his functional senses are so busy enjoying those things that he doesn’t have time to be scared.

But even when he’s inside, sitting by himself is getting more bearable—if he’s wrapped in blankets and sitting on the couch with a bunch of pillows around him.

They re-organize the bedroom a bit—re-arranging the bed so Bucky’s side is up against the wall, jammed into the corner. He has to climb over Steve or scoot to the bottom to get out, but he’s got tons of pillows propped against the wall and the corner, so when he’s wrapped up in his blankets, he’s got the wall and the pillows on one side, and Steve on the other, and there’s no part of him that the darkness can wrap around anymore.

He still needs Steve to help him check the door at night, but he’s gotten it down to only checking once per night, so that’s heading in the right direction too.

*             *             *

Bucky spends a lot of time focusing on crossing off two big goals on his list. He wants to be able to do everything in the bathroom by himself, and he wants to undress himself without help.

After days of practice, those two goals are conquered. Steve’s always there, ready to help if needed, but mostly he just hovers by the open doorway, watching.

Bucky takes off his clothes on his own in the bedroom before going into the bathroom. When he’s sitting on the bed, he can do it even with one hand. He keeps the clothes on the bed—putting away clothes is something that’s still Steve’s job—and makes his way into the bathroom with Steve’s guidance.

He sits on the closed toilet lid to turn on the shower. He finds the shower tap and faucets and turns the water on all by himself. Climbing into and out of the tub is still nerve wracking—he’s practiced a bunch of times, but he still goes slowly—sitting on the edge of the tub, slowly swinging one leg over, then the other. When he’s sitting on the ledge, facing the tub wall, he reaches forward and finds the metal bar that Steve has drilled into the wall. He wraps his hand around it and pulls himself up. Keeping hold of the bar helps keep him oriented. Once he’s standing, he slowly pulls the curtain closed.

Showering is pretty easy. All of the shower stuff he needs is in a basket glued to the wall, right below the bar. He knows which bottles of liquid he needs in which order and they’re never moved into a different spot. Even if he loses track of what he’s doing—sometimes the fear overwhelms him and makes him forget what step he’s on—he can smell the bottle that’s in his hand and he’ll know what it’s for. Steve’s put a stool into the bathtub so Bucky can sit while he’s scrubbing himself, lowering the chances of him falling over. He stands up to rinse off and he can hold the bar while he does that. It takes a while, but every day he gets faster and more confident. Sometimes the fear comes back and he gets disoriented, but usually all he has to do is sit on his stool and hold the bar, and those points of safety help keep him anchored.

If the fear doesn't recede after a while, Bucky will call for Steve, and he'll put his arm into the shower and squeeze Bucky's hand. That usually helps calm him down.

But those days are getting less frequent as time goes by. Following the step-by-step routine helps keep him focused and doesn’t allow his mind to wander and dwell on the darkness.

Once he’s done, he pulls aside the curtain and climbs out the same way he’d gotten in. He feels along the bathroom wall for his towel, which is always the first towel he touches. He dries himself off and hangs the towel back up. With his hand still on the towel, he slowly turns around. He takes his hand off the towel, reaches forward—and grabs the edge of the counter. Perfect.

Putting toothpaste on a toothbrush with one hand is difficult, but Bucky’s getting used to it. Brushing his teeth is easy. He finds the faucet and taps by touch and turns the water on to rinse his mouth and the toothbrush. Then he runs the back of his hand along the countertop until he reaches the cup where his toothbrush lives.

He knows it’s where his toothbrush belongs—Steve’s stuff now lives on a high shelf, while Bucky’s stuff stays on the countertop.

Toothbrush put away, he carefully finds the toothpaste cap—the morning he’d dropped it on the floor had been very frustrating—screws it back on and puts the toothpaste back into its spot.

Then he finds his comb and brushes his hair. He can’t put up his hair with one hand, so Steve does that for him, but Bucky can at least comb his hair himself.

He uses the toilet by himself and washes his hand.

Then it’s time to shave. He’s very grateful that they’re living in the twenty-first century with electric shavers. There’s no way he could have safely shaved himself while blind and one-handed back in the 40s. But with the electric shaver he can get it done.

There are still many things that Bucky can’t do, but he tries to add a few new skills to his routine every week.

He’s very relieved that things are getting more bearable. When he’d woken up the hospital, he thought he’d made a huge mistake and that his life would be nothing but darkness and fear—but slowly, things are getting brighter.

Plus, he gets to be around Steve every single day, and that right there would have made it worthwhile anyway—but it’s nice that he’ll get more than just Steve’s company out of this new life.

Sometimes when he’s lying awake at night, scared and waiting as long as possible before waking Steve to check the door, he starts having regrets about the whole thing.

He’ll think back to how the whole mess had started and berate himself about all the things he could have done differently.

When he’d tailed Steve in Washington after the punk had come back from searching for him, Bucky should have been more cautious about approaching him.

He’d been too focused on Steve; watching him spend his days at the museum, sitting in that half empty apartment by himself, or looking for Bucky in all the wrong places. Every time he’d seen Steve, a new memory had come back—sleeping in a tent in the pouring rain somewhere in Europe, riding the Cyclone on Coney Island in the summer heat, sitting next to Steve’s bed and reading to him when he was too sick to hold up a book himself.

Bucky allowed himself to focus on those memories and he became complacent.

He should have known that Steve was being tailed by Tony Stark and SHIELD. He should have seen the signs. But he was spending his days lost in memories and wanting to see Steve smile again—so he approached the punk one random afternoon on the street.

And that’s when everything had fallen apart.

As soon as the SHIELD agents and Stark surrounded the two of them, Bucky could see by the look on Steve’s face that he hadn’t known he was being tailed either. Maybe Steve had been too lost in his own head too.

Of course, Steve’s shock hadn’t lasted long—he put himself between the guns and Bucky and informed them that he wasn’t letting them take Bucky.

Stark tried to reason with him—pointing out that Bucky was a criminal and needed to face justice and blah blah blah. Bucky was paying more attention to Steve, who stuck his hand behind his back and was giving Bucky very familiar hand signals. He’d seen those hand signals more times than he could count.

He knew what the punk wanted, and within moments, Bucky made another one of the decisions that would lead them to where they are today.

Bucky pulled out two guns, slapped one into Steve’s outstretched hand, and kept the other. They both dove behind a nearby car, and the fight was on.

They successfully got away from Stark and SHIELD and run for it. Steve took his cash out of his wallet and then threw his SHIELD-issue phone, his apartment keys and his wallet into the trash. By that evening, they were stowing away on a plane for Europe with only the clothes on their backs, Steve’s bit of cash, two guns and a knife.

Bucky made a fuss as soon as they had a second to catch their breath. The last thing he wanted to do was turn Steve into a fugitive. Steve gave him an unimpressed look and told him that, first of all: there’s no way in hell he was standing by while the government locked Bucky away for crimes he had been forced to commit and didn’t even remember; and second of all: end of the line, Barnes.

End. Of. The. Line.

Being on the run wasn’t hard. They were used to making do with nothing. They probably confounded Stark—who was probably expecting them to use some sort of technology that he could trace—but they didn’t have anything on them and didn’t need such things anyway.

They were Brooklyn boys from the 1930s. Using paper maps, buying paper tickets with cash, stowing away on trains and planes, and sleeping in abandoned buildings was all second nature. Steve had about $30 on him, which Bucky was shocked to find out wouldn’t get them very much, but it didn’t matter. They bartered where they could—exchanging a bit of work for food or other things, and exchanging those other things for stuff they needed or selling them for cash. They slept where they could: abandoned buildings, barns, under bridges, or motels when they could barter for a free night.

They didn’t have much time for personal discussions since most of their conversations focused on what their next step should be—where to go and where to get food and other supplies—but after Bucky realized Steve was being just as careful as he was to avoid any potentially intimate contact, he waited until they settled down in the hay loft of a barn in their second week and then he rolled over to face Steve.

“Stevie, listen. I want you to know that I remember basically everything from before. I remember everything important. And in case you’re wondering, I still feel the same that I did before. I understand if you don’t, that’s okay, but I want you to know that I do. And—”

The rest of his carefully planned speech disappeared when Steve grabbed him and kissed him. It turned out that kissing Steve Rogers in the 21st century was no different than kissing him in the 20th century.

It’s like hardly any time had passed, except instead of fighting Nazis, they were fighting SHIELD and Tony Stark.

For both of them, the situation started out as a grey area.

For Steve, he was conflicted because he’d been friends with Tony, and he knew the SHIELD agents were just following orders.

For Bucky, he was conflicted because he knew that people—like the SHIELD agents—who didn’t know the full story of the Winter Soldier assumed he was a cold-blooded killer, and cold-blooded killers belong in prison.

But then Stark made it clear that the situation was not grey for him.

At all.

It was clear the man was devoting tons of resources and money to hunt them down. They noticed the local police in practically every town they were in giving them weird looks, trying to see through the layers of baseball caps and sunglasses that they wore. When things got very shifty, Steve would switch to speaking in French or German and although they were both far from fluent in either language, they could hold basic conversations with each other, and more importantly, they could confuse the hell out of law enforcement officials who were looking for two English speaking Americans.

SHIELD agents seemed to pop up wherever they went, speaking to shopkeepers in the cities and farmers in rural centers. Their faces were constantly splashed on the front pages of every newspaper they saw, with the reward money for providing information growing each day.

Bucky was made out to be the most ruthless, dangerous psychopath to have ever lived, and Steve was a no-good criminal who was protecting him and spitting on his victims.

There was no way that the American government was devoting that much time and money to hunting them both, so Bucky was pretty sure Stark was behind it.

As the weeks had turned to months, and the SHIELD agents got no closer to nabbing them, Stark decided he had enough of that approach and he waded in.

They got into skirmishes daily and Stark seemed to care less and less over how many innocent people were around when he attacked. Steve and Bucky refused to separate and they did their best to keep to areas that weren’t flooded with people, but hiding in a city was much easier than hiding in open farmland, and they had more access to food and shelter in a bustling city.

They realized pretty quickly that Stark wanted Bucky alive, but he didn’t care about Steve. And if Steve wanted to put himself between Bucky and Stark, he had no problem going through Steve to get to Bucky.

As time wore on, Stark and Steve both got angrier, both convinced that they were on the right side things.

Bucky was just exhausted.

He wasn’t just physically tired, but Steve’s anger made the punk more reckless—as if that was news—and he didn’t care if he threw himself in front of Stark’s energy blasts or a SHIELD agent’s firing gun, as long as he could protect Bucky and other people. And protecting Steve when he was hell-bent on getting into a fight was always a tough job. Bucky had been doing it for nearly 30 years and it never got easier.

Bucky was so busy trying to keep Steve and himself alive that he didn’t noticed Natasha for a long time.

It wasn’t until he was rummaging through a pharmacy which he broke into late at night that he came face to face with her for the first time. He wasn’t paying a lot of attention to his surroundings because Steve was wounded and unconscious and Bucky dragged his dead weight into the pharmacy after he forced the door open with his metal arm. He found some first aid supplies to replenish their kit and he was searching through the shelves and gathering whatever food and other things he needed—when he heard a female voice from behind him comment that he should grab Steve a can of coke so he’d have something to look forward to once he wasn’t half-dead.

When Bucky spun around saw her standing between him and Steve, he nearly had a heart attack—until he realized that if she wanted to harm either of them, she could have done so already. He knew who she was and he’d seen her interacting with Steve in Washington, but he also knew she worked for SHIELD.

They stood there, staring at each other, an unconscious Steve slumped against the shelves behind her. Then she walked over to the freezers, pulled out a can of coke and threw it towards him.

He struggled to catch it with his arms full of supplies, and by the time he sorted himself out, she was gone.

When he told Steve about it, he wasn’t surprised that she was playing both sides. They didn’t know what her long term plans were—maybe she didn’t either—but it was clear that she didn’t want to harm any of her friends.

Bucky paid more attention from that point on, and now that he was watching for it, signs of Natasha were everywhere. While teams of SHIELD agents swarmed around the building they were hiding in and Stark flew overhead, he could hear a female voice shout out an order that drew the agents away from their location. When he was about to break into a grocery store for supplies a few nights later, he found a note stuck in the door, letting him know the key was under the door mat. When they went in, a packed shopping basket was waiting by the door, a paid receipt stuck amongst the supplies.

As the weeks wore on and it became clear that the only ending Stark would accept was catching him, Bucky figured it was up to him to stop this craziness.

After yet another skirmish where Tony threw Steve through a wall with those energy blasters of his, Bucky was trying to put Steve back together in a damp cave somewhere in Eastern Europe. Steve was taking longer and longer to recover, which was a clear sign that his body was getting tired.

And he might be a super human, but at the end of the day, he was human.

Bucky gently propped Steve up between his legs, letting him rest against Bucky’s chest, and fed him soup and medicine a few spoonfuls at a time.

He couldn’t count how many times they’d been in this exact position—Bucky desperately trying to keep Steve alive, one mouthful at a time.

But at least those other times Steve had been fighting for other people and other causes, not Bucky.

And Bucky started to realize that he was the only one who could end this conflict without Steve ending up dead.

So during their next skirmish, Bucky purposefully separated himself from Steve for a few minutes and went looking for Natasha. They pointed their guns at each other but neither had pulled the trigger. He told her that he wanted to negotiate his surrender but he’d only speak to her. She nodded and told him that she’d be in touch.

A few days later, Bucky went looking for supplies—Steve was conscious but weak and had insisted on remaining behind in their current hiding place while Bucky went to get supplies—and he found a note stuck under the cans of cake, giving him a time and a place.

His demands were simple. He’d turn himself in and cooperate fully, but he wanted to go into the government’s custody, not SHIELD’s or Stark’s. Plus, he wanted full immunity for Steve. In addition, people would probably wonder why he’d asked Natasha to help him with this, so he wanted full immunity for her too.

He realized later that he should have probably made demands about keeping his arm, but he hadn’t even considered that they’d take it from him.

He’s spent a lot of time thinking back over the entire mess, but overall he doesn’t regret his decisions. Every single one of his decisions had been made because he wants to spend the rest of his life with Steve Rogers and he’s known for a long, long time that he enjoys life a lot more when he has the punk by his side.

He could have chosen to stay away from Steve in Washington.

He could have chosen to leave Steve while they were on the run, and gamble that Natasha would get Steve out of trouble eventually.

He could have chosen to continue running and fighting with Steve by his side.

He could have chosen to remain in prison waiting for Steve to come up with something—knowing it might take years for him to find something, and the government could ignore Steve’s plans anyway.

He’d made every decision knowing that the alternative was losing Steve—either because the stubborn ass would get himself killed, or Bucky would be forced to stay away from him.

Their current situation isn’t ideal—but every morning when Bucky wakes up and feels Steve sleeping next to him, and they cuddle up on the swing outside and listen to each other breathe, he’s happy with his decision.

*             *             *

“Hi, Rogers.”

Steve ignores her greeting. “They won’t give me back his arm.”

Natasha barely misses a beat. “I know. I told you they wouldn’t. They’ve classified it as a weapon.”

“It’s his arm, Nat.”

“I know, but it’s not an ordinary prosthetic. You know that.”

“There are tons of tools that can do more dangerous things than that arm, and people are allowed to buy those.”

Steve hears her sigh softly. He knows what that means. She’s upset that he’s upset, but there’s nothing she can do.

She’d started sighing like that when Bucky was first locked up.

“Steve, think about it. Even if you got the arm back, what the hell would you do with it? They took off the arm, all the anchor points from his spine and ribs, all the electronic components—this isn’t something you can just snap back onto his side like a toy. Bucky would have to undergo multiple surgeries to re-attach the whole thing, which I’m betting would be pretty traumatic for him at this point—and anyway, who would do the surgery?”

Steve doesn’t reply.

“SHIELD wouldn’t allow their scientists to help, you know that. And even SHIELD barely understands how the arm functions. You’d have to trust some random doctor or engineer to figure it out. You really wanna take that risk?”

Steve clenches his jaw. “No.”

“There’s only one person who—”

Steve shakes his head. “No, Nat. Forget about Stark. I told you, I don’t mind if you’re friends with the man—that’s your business, but I don’t wanna deal with him ever again, and he doesn’t wanna deal with me and especially with Buck. And Buck wouldn’t wanna deal with Stark either.”

“Then forget about the arm.”

Steve doesn’t reply. He doesn’t wanna just give up on it. That arm was a part of Bucky and nobody had the right to remove it.

“Look, Rogers. I know you’re mad that they took it off—I’m sure Bucky is too. But it’s gone. Like his sight and his hearing, they’re gone, and you can either waste your time dwelling on that, or you can move forward. For now, there are a million things that you guys need to deal with—but replacing Bucky’s arm isn’t on top of that list, is it?”

Steve sighs. “No. No, you’re right. He’s—he could do some things faster if he had both arms—”

“But he’s not completely helpless or miserable because he’s missing his arm, right?”

Well—Natasha has a point. Things are slowly getting better. “No. Things are improving.”

“So let’s forget about the arm for now. Later, when things have calmed down, you can ask him if he wants a prosthetic or not.”

Steve sighs. “I just—I don’t feel right being the one to make that decision for him.”

“Has he asked about it?”

Steve blinks. “Well…no.”

“That’s because it’s not a top priority right now. Focus on the million other things on your list. Later, when things are calmer and you’re both more comfortable, you can have that conversation with him and decide what to do.”

*             *             *

Cooking is one of those things that Steve flatly refuses to let Bucky do. He doesn’t even like Bucky being in the kitchen while Steve’s cooking. Once Bucky is no longer clinging to Steve constantly, Steve forces him to stay out of the kitchen while he’s preparing their meals. Bucky assumes Steve’s worried that he’ll accidentally knock a hot pan off the stove or cut himself with something on the counter.

Steve Rogers, Mr. Worrier.

While Steve cooks, Bucky quietly sits on the couch, with his blanket around his shoulders and leaning into his nest of pillows. Eventually he feels Steve take his hand and do the munching gesture.

With Steve’s help, Bucky carefully shuffles from the couch to the table and takes his usual seat.

Yes, cooking is way too dangerous at this point, but Bucky thinks there’s a way he can contribute to the whole eating procedure.

“I wanna do the dishes,” he says when he’s done eating.

He feels Steve hesitate next to him—he’d been shifting in a continuous rhythm that means he was eating, but now he’s still.

“Jesus, Rogers. You’ve got enough money to buy more dishes if I break something. Just let me try. Please?”

Finally, there’s a reluctant tap on his hand.

Steve helps him into the kitchen—moving between rooms is still scary and takes forever—and puts the dirty dishes into the sink for Bucky. He puts the sponge into Bucky’s hand and moves his hand to touch the bottle of dish soap and the faucet.

“Okay, I got it.”

He turns on the faucet and adjusts the water temperature. He gets the sponge wet and puts it on the counter. He grabs the dish soap bottle and decides if he’s just going to guess where the sponge is—but that’ll create a mess. So he keeps hold of the bottle and stretches out a pinky finger, feeling for the sponge.

Having found it, he turns the bottle over and squeezes what he hopes is a small amount on it.

It’s times like these he sorely misses his left arm. Not the Hydra arm, but the arm he was born with.

But there’s no point wasting time being mopey about such things.

He needs to move forward, not be a sad sack about things he can’t change.

The bottle is returned to its spot, he grabs the sponge and puts it into the sink. He carefully feels for the first dish, then makes a face. He can’t do this one-handed when he’s got a thousand dishes in here.

“Steve, get the other dishes out of here, please. One at a time.”

He feels the other dishes being lifted out, then he’s left with just the one plate. He rubs the sponge over it, turns the plate over and rubs the other side with the sponge. The dish slides all over the place, so he tries keeping it jammed against a corner, but that’s not too successful. But he finally gets the plate clean.

Satisfied, he drops the sponge and holds the plate under the spray of water to get it rinsed off.

He hesitates, not knowing where the dish rack is—and doubting his ability to get it in there, but Steve saves him by grabbing the dish from him.

The other plate is put into the sink.

Bucky moves through all the dishes. The cutlery is very hard—he ends up chasing the cutlery around the sink bottom without much cleaning happening until Steve reaches in to hold the items steady.

He feels unbelievably proud of himself when he’s done. When he’s finished rinsing out the sponge and turning off the water, he can’t smother the grin on his face.

“All done. Piece of cake.”

He feels Steve wrap his arms around him and squeeze him tight. His lips are moving against his cheek.

He’s being turned around so he’s facing Steve, his back to the sink. Steve picks up Bucky’s hand, makes him poke Steve in the chest, rubs over Steve’s heart, then pokes Bucky.

“I love you too, Stevie. Thank you for the help.”

*             *             *

Within a few weeks of being home, Bucky asks Steve cut off his hair. He’s never really gotten accustomed to the long hair and it reminds him of being with Hydra, so he’s really not fond of it. To top it all off, dealing with his hair is another thing that Steve has to help him with, so it’s an easy decision for Bucky to ask Steve to grab scissors and chop it off.

They have to reassure each other a hundred times that they’re fine with his hair being short before Steve goes to get the supplies.

They’d always cut each other’s hair so Bucky has absolute faith in Steve’s ability to give him a half-decent haircut without making it look like somebody took a hacksaw to it.

Steve sits him on a chair in the kitchen with a towel draped around his neck, just like they did it back in the day. It’s very soothing having Steve running his hands through his hair, and the scissors and comb are gentle as they snip chunks of hair off.

It does feel a bit strange when he can no longer feel hair by his ears.

When it’s finally done, Steve lightly kicks him in the shins.

“Done?”

A tap.

Bucky reaches up and touches his hair—and has a heart stopping sense of déjà vu when he runs his hand over his hair and feels the same kind of hair that he’d had seventy years ago. It’s a bit shorter than he’d kept it back then, but he remembers Steve’s is shorter too. Probably a more modern style.

He smiles, satisfied. He doesn’t really care what it looks like—he’s just excited that he won’t have to fuss with it or ask Steve for help with it.

“Great! Thanks, Steve.”

The towel is pulled away and Steve helps Bucky makes his way to the couch. He waits while Steve cleans up, then he feels the couch dip beside him. He grins in Steve’s direction.

“So? You like my hair?”

There’s a hesitation before he feels the expected tap.

Bucky frowns. “Don’t tell me you changed your mind, punk. I asked you a million times whether you wanted me to keep it. I can grow it back out if you want.”

Rub, rub, rub.

Bucky twists on the couch and crawls into Steve’s lap. “Then why the hesitation? You should be overjoyed that I got rid of that mop.”

Steve’s tense and there’s a slight tremor in his chest when Bucky touches him. Bucky doesn’t understand why until he runs his hand up to Steve’s face and feels the tears.

“Sweetheart, what’s wrong? I thought you liked the hair cut?”

Tap, tap, tap.

He puts his hand on Steve’s chest. He can feel him say something and taking shaky breaths. Bucky rubs his chest.

“It’s alright, honey. Even if it don’t look that great, it’ll grow back out and we can try again. Don’t worry about it.”

Steve’s chest is still tense and trembling.

Steve’s hand clutches Bucky’s where he’s pressing against Steve’s chest.

His hand is turned over.

Number sign.

His thumb is squeezed.

1.

Pause.

Starting from his thumb, the tip of each finger is squeezed one by one. When Steve reaches his pinky finger, he goes back to his thumb and counts off four more fingers. Bucky counts the squeezes.

1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…9.

Pause.

Steve goes back to his thumb counts off four fingers—

1…2…3…4.

Pause.

And then back to his thumb and three fingers are counted off—

1…2…3.

Pause.

Steve’s fingers are resting on Bucky’s palm, not moving. He’s finished.

The numbers make no sense to Bucky at first.

1-9-4-3.

He tries to puzzle it out, not wanting to force Steve to offer up more explanations, but he’s coming up empty.

“I don’t understand, Stevie. I’m sorry. What’s 1-9-4-3?”

There’s a pause.

Then Steve is smoothing his hand across Bucky’s palm.

Oh, shit. Time for spelling.

Damn it! Immediately, he starts panicking. He tries to stay calm, but the spelling is still very hard and he doesn’t want to upset Steve by not getting words right. Steve never gets upset or annoyed, but Bucky knows eventually he’ll start getting frustrated at Bucky’s inability to do such a simple task properly.

“If it’s a word that’s got more than 3 letters, can you grab the board, please?” His good mood is already rapidly deserting him now that he knows he’s facing some stupid spelling, and the last thing he wants is to get into a complete snit if he forgets which letters Steve has spelled.

Steve shifts Bucky off his lap and disappears. He’s back moments later and slides a board onto Bucky’s lap. Bucky feels the smooth, cool surface. There’s nothing on it right now.

Then Bucky feels something plastic being slid underneath his exploring fingers. Steve is putting the letters on the board. They’re magnetic letters that stick to the board so Bucky can touch them without letters shifting all over the place.

As soon as the board is on his lap, some of his panic fades. He can do the stupid spelling when he’s got the board and the letters. He might still be slow at it, but it’s much better than without the board. If his stupid brain is focusing more on his panicking about forgetting letters, rather than actually remembering the damn letters, Steve always has to repeat every word a bunch of times, and Bucky hates that.

He waits until Steve squeezes his hand, indicating he’s done.

Honestly, Bucky would love to just feel the letters on the board, but Steve insists on using Morse code too. He believes that it’ll eventually get easier for Bucky to remember and string together letters.

Bucky doubts it, but he’ll humor him. It’s really damn annoying that Steve has to get up, get the board and letters, come back to Bucky and lay out the letters—all to communicate a tiny word, but the harder Bucky tries to translate code without the plastic letters, the worse he seems to get.

He holds out his palm and takes a deep breath. Here we go.

Dah, di, dah, dah.

“Y.”

He touches the first plastic letter on the board. Two diagonal lines merging into one line. Yes, a Y.

Dit.

That’s easy. “E.”

He touches the plastic E on the board, re-tracing the Y and then the E again. Y-E.

Di, dah.

“A.” Its plastic counterpart confirms it.

Di, dah, dit.

“R.”

He can feel that the R is the last letter on the board, so they’ve reached the end of the word.

As usual, Bucky can’t even remember which letter they had started with, so he retraces the plastic letters on the board.

Y-E-A-R.

At least when he’s using the plastic letters, Steve doesn’t have to repeat the letters a million times. But it still takes way too long.

It feels like it’s taken him half an hour to understand the word ‘Y-E-A-R’. That’s pathetic.

But whatever.

He focuses back on what they’d been talking about.

What had they been talking about? It takes so damn long to do the stupid spelling that Bucky’s forgotten.

What had Steve been talking about?

Steve had been saying something about numbers.

Oh, right: 1-9-4-3.

He mulls it over, then he gets it. Steve’s remembering the year 1943.

Bucky smiles sadly.

“You’re remembering the last time my hair looked decent, huh? Does this come close?”

Tap, tap, tap.

His annoyance about the letters disappears. Bucky reaches up and wipes the tears off Steve’s cheeks, then kisses both of them. “Shove over, darling. Cuddle time.”

Steve takes the board off his lap and Bucky lies down, pulling Steve with him.

Bucky wraps his arm around him and Steve snuggles into Bucky’s side.

It must be weird for Steve to see him with short hair again. It’s 2016 and 1943 at the same time.

Well—Bucky’s body is a definitely more banged up than it had been in 1943, but he’s glad Steve is overlooking those things.

Bucky takes Steve’s hand that’s fiddling with Bucky’s shirt collar. He taps himself on the chest, then rubs their hands over his heart and taps Steve on the head.

That seems to make Steve cry harder.

Shit. He thought he was being cute. He didn’t want to make Steve feel worse.

“Is this happy crying or sad crying, Stevie? I didn’t wanna make it worse.”

Steve taps himself on the forehead with their clasped hands, then smooths out Bucky’s hand to draw smiley faces on it.

Bucky grins. The stupid spelling didn’t succeed in ruining their day. Excellent.

Chapter Text

Natasha picks up on the second ring. “How’s the Barnes-Rogers household doing?”

Steve smiles and leans against the counter, watching Bucky washing dishes. “We’re doing good.”

“No more shower curtain disasters?”

Steve rolls his eyes. “That only happened once. And I closed it before the bathroom flooded.”

“Did you tell him about it?”

“I didn’t wanna make him feel bad—I just told him to include that in the routine. Now he checks that it’s closed as soon as he gets in.”

Bucky carefully puts a plate into the dryer rack. Steve reaches out, ready to adjust the plate if it isn’t sitting right, but Bucky checks it himself.

“You letting him wash the knives yet?”

“Nope. That’s a line I ain’t willing to cross yet.”

She laughs. “You know, I’m so amused that your accent came back so fast. I used to forget you’re from Brooklyn, but now…”

Steve chuckles. “Now I ain’t leaving no doubt that I’m a born and bred local. I don’t need to sound like Cap no more. Plus, with this jerk here talking my ear off all day with his accent—I knew it was gonna come back.”

They fall into silence, Steve watching Bucky pick up the other plate from his pile and carefully put it into the sink.

“You know what, Rogers?”

“What?”

“I’m really impressed with you.”

Steve chuckles. “You mean you’re impressed with Buck.”

“Well, I am, obviously—but I’m impressed with you too.”

“Why?”

“I thought you’d have a much harder time letting go of your anger with the whole situation.”

Steve smiles. “You know what? I realized staying mad about the whole thing only hurts me and Buck. The government and SHIELD don’t care that I’m angry, but it would definitely affect Buck. And there’s no way I’m spending my time on something that hurts Buck, and distracts me from taking care of him. Like you keep telling me—this is our new reality and going backwards ain’t helping anybody. We gotta accept how things are and move forward, and the best way to do it is to leave all that anger in the past.”

“Like I said—I’m impressed with you. There are a lot of people who wouldn’t be able to put their own feelings aside in cases like this.”

He snorts. “When it comes to Buck, it’s not hard. Plus, I have a good friend who lets me complain about things when I need to rant.”

He knows she’s smiling.

“So you’re not mad at Barnes for the way he jumped the gun?”

That makes the smile disappear from his face.

Is he mad at Bucky for not waiting for Steve to come up with a better solution than sacrificing such a huge part of himself? That’s a complicated question.

“I—I’m not mad at Buck, I’m…sad about the whole situation. But I’m not mad.”

“I don’t know—I thought you’d be a bit offended that he doubted your ability to find a solution.”

Steve sighs. “I don’t think he did. That’s the thing—it’s complicated. Buck—Everyone always thinks I’m the only impulsive one when it comes to people I care about, but when things are real bad, Buck sometimes jumps before looking if he thinks it’ll help the situation. Not as often as I do, but he does. I remember when I was about 20 or 21 and I got real sick. It was one of those few times that Buck had to take me to the hospital because I was in such a bad way. The doctors weren’t too happy about me being there since I had a lot of overdue bills with them already. They basically demanded payment up front.”

“Is that even legal?”

Steve shrugs. “Probably not. But I wasn’t in a condition to be part of that conversation so I couldn’t argue with them, and Buck wasn’t gonna waste time going to the police—who might not even have listened to him anyway—when I was on death’s door. So he had to find the money somewhere.”

Steve hadn’t known about any of this until days later when his fever had broken and he’d woken up in the hospital.

As soon as Bucky showed up at the hospital, Steve convinced him he was healthy enough to leave the hospital. His stomach was in knots since he realized how many days he already spent at the hospital, raking up bills they didn’t have the money for.

It wasn’t until days later when Steve was strong enough to go to the hospital to inquire about his new—no doubt outrageous—bill. When the hospital told him it had been paid up front, he assumed they made a mistake…but he wasn’t about to ask any questions which might make them realize as much, so he’d quickly made his way to the door. Months passed and when he went to the hospital to make a payment on one of his other bills, one of the nurses warned him that the next time he came in sick, they’d follow the same procedure as last time. When Steve asked what she was talking about, she told him about Bucky paying the entire bill up front. Steve went home and puzzled over the situation for hours until Bucky came home. Nothing obvious was missing from their apartment, and when he did the math, he realized there was no way that Bucky could have made that money in that short time frame while doing any legitimate jobs.

So he confronted Barnes as soon as the jerk was in the door. Bucky hemmed and hawed for a while, handing Steve one ridiculous lie after another, until Steve lost his patience and threatened to walk all over town and ask every person he came across until he found his answer.

Finally Bucky admitted that he’d gone to that certain bar down by the river and he’d “put himself to good use”.

It took Steve a few seconds to understand what Bucky meant. Once he figured it out, he was livid, yelling at Bucky for making such a rash decision.

First Bucky tried to make light of the situation: giving him a lewd grin and telling him it was worth it, since he got extra practice plus he picked up some new skills. Steve thought his face must have done a good job showing how completely unimpressed he was with those comments, because the lewd grin disappeared from Bucky’s face and he switched tactics.

To his surprise, Bucky hadn’t yelled. He reminded Steve that he hadn’t exactly been a hundred percent at the time. He’d been sleep deprived from taking care of Steve and picking up extra shifts, not to mention that he’d been scared out of his mind about Steve being so close to death’s door, so pardon him for not hesitating when his brain had come up with a solution.

It had been a drastic thing to do, sure, but ultimately he got the results he wanted.

Steve was mad for a few days, until he realized that he wasn’t really mad at Bucky. He was mad at the entire stupid situation.

And taking out his anger on Bucky wouldn’t change any of the things that had happened.

He watches Bucky carefully putting their forks into the sink.

Steve sighs, a soft smile on his lips. Bucky may be a stupid jerk at times, but he's Steve's stupid jerk.

And Steve knows his own faults aren't exactly easy to put up with either.

“I’m assuming he found the money?” Natasha’s voice brings him back to the present.

“Oh, yeah. He found the money.”

Natasha makes a curious noise. “What did he sell? I thought you guys barely had anything in that apartment of yours.”

Steve pauses before answering. “He…he sold something he…shouldn’t have sold. But he was desperate, he was scared and it was the first idea that came into his head. I was mad at him for a while until I realized I was more mad at the situation. What was done was done. Being mad at Buck wouldn’t change what he’d done.”

“Just like your current situation.”

“Yeah. I’m sad about him being put into such a situation, but I know he didn’t do it because he doubted my ability to help him. He just—he was in a desperate situation, he wasn’t thinking clearly, but what’s done is done. We gotta move forward.”

“That’s very mature of you.”

Steve chuckles. “Don’t sound so surprised.”

She laughs. “So—any progress solving the door problem?”

Steve groans and watches Bucky washing a mug. Steve had bought a rubber mat—which he’d found through a link that Sam had sent him—that Bucky puts into the sink, which prevents dishes from sliding around and makes it much easier for him to do the washing. Sam had been sending Steve links to websites which sell supplies for individuals who have mobility issues and along with the rubber mat for the sink, Sam had suggested buying rolls of Dycem. It’s a thin, non-slip matting that can be cut into any size, washed and reused. Anything that’s put on it will stay in place even when given firm nudges. Steve keeps their table and the kitchen counters covered in it, which helps Bucky while he’s washing dishes and also while he’s eating.

Bucky had a big smile on his face the first time he ate without the rolls of towels keeping his bowl in place. It was a small thing, but it brought a sense of normalcy back into Bucky’s meal times, which he’d desperately needed.

The Dycem and the rubber mat had also helped improve Bucky’s dish washing. With daily practice, Bucky can now wash all the dishes—except the knives—and put them in the rack by himself. He’s cut his time down from one hour to twenty minutes. He gets a ton of water and soap all over the counter, but he always wipes it down when he’s done.

Steve can’t believe how much progress Bucky’s made since he’d decided to become more independent. There are mistakes along the way, but luckily Bucky doesn’t often realize he’s made any. Steve tries not to point out the mistakes—he knows Buck would feel bad and get nervous during future attempts—but he tries to nudge Bucky to do things better next time

Water and soap can always be mopped up, but Bucky’s confidence is growing on a daily basis and Steve isn’t going to interfere with that.

They’re ticking off each of their initial problems one by one, but the stupid door situation is still leaving him at a loss. Regardless of how much progress Bucky is making, he still can’t get over his paranoia of not being able to hear the front door opening. He still has to get up at least once a night to check it. Steve has honestly thought about letting Bucky do the check himself, but he knows it would take Bucky ten times longer to get to the door, and he could get hurt along the way.

Besides—it’s not like Bucky likes having to check the door any more than Steve does.

“My google skills are failing me, Nat. I can only find door alarms that use lights or sound. I can tell you thirty websites that sell those things—but none of them would work for Buck.”

She chuckles. “You sure it’s a problem with what you’re typing? Not a problem with what you’re typing on? Are you sure you don’t wanna switch to a typewriter and see how that works out?

Steve rolls his eyes. “You worked way too hard to fit that one in. You’re slipping, Romanov.”

“Whatever. Alright, I think it’s time for me to step in and assist, old man. Let me see what I can find.”

“Okay, thanks. How was newbie training?” Steve knows Natasha might grouse about it, but she enjoys teaching the new recruits.

“Nothing unusual. None of them are terrible, but none of them are great. Pretty much an average bunch. But they’re hard workers.”

“So you love them?”

“Absolutely.”

Bucky lifts a large pot into the sink and carefully pulls out the hand held faucet to wet it down. Steve knows what’s coming and manages to get up a hand to shield his face and phone from the ricocheting water just in time. Once the faucet has been returned to its home and Bucky’s scrubbing the pot, Steve feels safe enough to lower his hand. He shakes the water off his hand. “Has anybody bothered you about me going back to work?”

She chuckles. “Nope, not since last month. Everett’s not a stupid man. I’ll follow his orders, but when I tell him Captain Rogers is taking personal leave for an indefinite period of time, he knows not to push that. Don’t worry, I’ll let you know if he starts getting antsy. Things are quiet right now anyway.”

Steve feels a bit guilty. He hadn’t asked the question because he’s concerned that he’s letting his team down—he only asked because he doesn’t want Everett Ross giving Natasha a hard time because of him.

Honestly, SHIELD and the world’s problems haven’t been on his mind since he’d brought Bucky home.

To be more honest, SHIELD and the world’s problems haven’t been on his mind since he and Bucky had gone on the run.

He’s more than happy to let somebody else fight for the little guy at the moment. He has his hands full and he’s so damn tired anyway.

*             *             *

Two days later, he gets an email from Natasha with a link.

He follows the link and has to spend several minutes trying to understand the technical jargon on the page, but once he understands what the device does, he does a happy dance while sitting on the couch and places an order immediately, ignoring the nearly $300 price tag.

He’s thrilled when the intercom buzzes a few days later and he gets a delivery. He’d ordered a bunch of stuff, not just Natasha’s device.

Bucky’s getting a bit more comfortable moving around the apartment, but he’s still very scared to bump into things. He’s still shuffling, and he depends on Steve to steer him around. Steve thinks that being able to move around the apartment without depending on Steve will be a huge boost to Bucky’s confidence, but he has to remove the fear from the process.

So Steve has ordered him a cane.

It came in a holster, which can be clipped to a belt or the waistband of Bucky’s sweatpants. Steve thinks it’ll be more practical for Bucky to put the cane into the holster when he doesn’t need it, as opposed to leaning it against something and risk having it fall over, or forgetting where he’d put it.

He takes the cane out of its holster and carefully unfolds it. The different sections click into place, and he’s holding a long cane. It’s very light and covered in white paint. He digs through the packaging until he finds the rolling ball tip that he’d ordered. He’d read that it might be helpful for people in the early stages of getting to know their environments. He attaches the ball and tries sweeping the cane side to side.

The ball rolls smoothly right along with the cane, back and forth across the floor, the movement quiet and smooth. It’s big enough that Bucky will hopefully feel when it bumps into something.

Next, he finds a smaller package and tears it open.

Steve knows it bothers Bucky that he never knows what time it is. He asks Steve, and Steve dutifully counts off the time on Bucky’s hand, but he knows it’s frustrating for Bucky. It’s another one of the many things that Bucky used to be able to do on his own without a thought, and Steve knows it annoys him that he can’t do it anymore.

He pulls out the Eone watch from its package and smiles happily. When he’d researched watches which deafblind individuals could use, he’d come across braille watches. They had raised lines to represent each number on the watch face, and a thick hour hand and thinner minute hand. He’d called Natasha and had her look at them, and they both agreed that the hands’ movements would probably be impacted by Bucky touching them too firmly. If touching them messed up the hands, then the time wouldn’t be accurate. But if he didn’t touch them firmly enough, he probably wouldn’t be able to tell what time it is.

So Natasha had done her own search, and within minutes, she told him to google ‘Eone watch’.

As soon as Steve had clicked on the link and seen the picture of the watch, he knew this was the winner.

Like the braille watches, most of the numbers are represented by lines. The 12 is a raised triangle—which allows somebody to orient the watch correctly no matter how they’re reading it—and the 3, 6 and 9 are thicker lines than the others. There is a small track that runs inside the number lines, and there’s another track around the outside edge of the watch. Both tracks contain a small ball bearing, which moves around the track as time passes. The inside ball represents the minute hand, and the outside is the hour hand.

It’s perfect. Steve had been torn over what color to get—until Natasha gently pointed out that it wouldn’t matter to Bucky. So Steve had ordered one with a soft leather strap that shouldn’t chafe.

Steve pulls on the little dial to adjust the hands and closes his eyes as he spins it.

He keeps his eyes closed, sets it to a random time, and runs his fingers over the watch face. He squeezes his eyes shut harder, avoiding the temptation of looking at the watch. He wants to make sure this is something that won’t be too frustrating for Bucky before he gives it to him.

He finds the triangle first. That’s twelve o’clock. Next he locates the long and short lines, creating a picture of the watch in his mind. He finds the outside ball with one finger and uses his other fingers to line it up with the raised lines. It’s at one of the long lines…that’s three. Yes, it’s at the three. He finds the inside ball. It’s close to the…ten? No, the line is just before the triangle…that makes it the eleven.

He pictures it in his mind—hour hand on three, minute hand on eleven.

Okay. So that would make it…five minutes before three o’clock. 2:55.

He opens his eyes and checks.

2:55. Excellent.

He leans over to check the time on the microwave and sets the proper time on the watch. The only downside is the lack of difference between AM and PM, but now that Bucky’s sleeping pattern is pretty much back on track, he should know whether it’s 2:55 in the afternoon or the morning.

Lastly, Steve turns to the big box.

Natasha’s device—the answer to their door checking problem.

A wireless motion detector.

Before Steve tears into the box, he takes a second to check on Bucky sitting out on the balcony.

Bucky’s sitting on the new patio swing that Steve had bought, surrounded by his pillows, with the fuzzy blanket around his shoulders. Steve had folded up a bunch of papers for him and Bucky entertains himself by doodling on the various folds.

Bucky never complains about being bored these days but Steve still makes a mental note to find more things for Bucky to do.

Steve does most of the household chores and researches deafblindness on the internet, but even if he weren’t busy with that, he could read a book or watch television. Bucky doesn’t have those options anymore.

He definitely has to deal with that—but Steve’s realized weeks ago that the list of things that they need to conquer is three miles long, and if he spends too much time thinking about that, he gets anxious and starts freaking out that he’s failing Bucky, and Bucky can always sense his anxiety and starts freaking out too—which leads to chaos because Steve can’t properly explain to him why he’s anxious.

They both stay calmer if they conquer a small batch of goals at a time. They have the next fifty years to figure this out—they don’t have to knock off all their goals in one week. Not only is that impossible, but it would lead to frustration and anxiety for both of them.

So—slower is better.

For now, Steve is putting the door-checking problem ahead of Bucky’s need for hobbies.

He focuses back on the motion detector.

He unpacks it and reads over the instructions. It’s simple enough to install one of the sensors on the front door, another on the balcony door and one on each window that can be opened.

Then he unpacks the receiver and turns it on. He sets it up according to the instructions, then goes to the front door. He opens it up and right away, the receiver lets out a high pitched whistle.

Steve makes a face. That won’t work.

He knows it has a vibration setting, he’d specifically—

Ah, there it is. He switches it to vibrate and opens the door again. The receiver gently vibrates in his hand.

Excellent. Bucky can adjust the vibration if he wants it to be stronger.

Steve checks the balcony door and each window, and everything works perfectly. He sets up a slightly different vibration for the front door, versus the balcony door and a third vibration type for the windows, but figures that’ll be sufficient. They can make changes if Bucky doesn’t like the vibration types.

Grinning, he picks up all of his stuff and is about to head to the balcony to show Bucky, but then he looks down at the mess by his feet.

He’s about to break one of their biggest rules: Never leave anything on the floor.

The last thing he needs is for Bucky to trip in this mess. So he gathers up all the empty boxes and wrapping material and stuffs it under the sink. They’ll go down to the garbage later.

Bucky’s fine not being by his side every second of the day anymore, but neither of them feel comfortable leaving Bucky alone in the apartment, so they shuffle down the hallway together to the garbage chute.

Having Bucky go down the long stairwell to the basement laundry is too dangerous at this point, so Steve’s been doing laundry in their apartment. Unlike in the 30s, their current apartment actually has a sink with running warm water. No more lugging buckets of water from the alley up to their apartment and waiting patiently for the water to heat on the stove! For Steve, he still gets such a joy out of the running hot water in their sink that he actually enjoys washing dishes and doing the laundry without the machines.

*             *             *

Bucky snuggles back into his nest of pillows on the bed and runs his hand over his new watch. He loves his new watch. He loves all the presents Steve gets him.

When Steve had first put the watch on his wrist, Bucky immediately realized it wouldn’t work the way Steve had intended. He could feel how happy Steve was about the situation so he kept his mouth shut at first.

But then he realized that Steve would notice really quickly if Bucky can’t use the watch, and that would make his present a waste. So Bucky gave Steve a big kiss, thanked him for the present, and gently pointed out that he can’t read the watch if it’s attached to his wrist—he’s one hand short.

So Steve had removed the strap from the watch and put it on a chain. It’s long enough that Bucky can hold it on the palm of his hand or a flat surface and read the time with his fingers. Within a few days, he gets good enough that he can read it while the watch is hanging on his chest.

He keeps it tucked under his shirt during the day so he can check the time whenever he wants. He thinks it’s a bit silly, but he really does feel a million times better about life now that he can tell what time it is.

At night, he hangs the chain from a nail in the wall above the bed.

He gently runs his fingers along the outside track. The ball is at ten. He traces the inside track. It’s at six. So it’s 10:30 in the evening. He entertains himself by lightly keeping his finger on the minute ball and feeling it slowly move forward while he waits for Steve to get into bed.

The bed eventually dips.

“Hey, Rogers,” he says, grinning.

Steve reaches over and taps his hand.

“Guess what time it is?”

He feels Steve roll over and then he’s got Steve Rogers lying on his chest, chin propped on his sternum. Steve draws a question mark into his hand.

“It’s 10:30. No, actually, it’s about 10:32.”

He feels Steve’s jaw moving. Steve’s saying something.

Bucky releases the watch and reaches down to run his fingers through Steve’s hair. “Hey, Rogers? You wanna get up here and kiss me?”

He feels Steve shift upwards and kisses are pressed along his neck and up his face. Bucky lets his eyes drift closed when he meets Steve’s lips for a kiss.

He shifts to sling a leg over Steve’s ass, pressing him down. He tightens his grip in Steve’s hair, keeping him close. He opens his mouth wider and licks into Steve’s mouth.

He feels Steve let out a gasp of air against his lips and Steve’s tongue tangles with his own.

It’s definitely been way too long.

He nibbles Steve’s lip and sucks his tongue into his mouth. He lifts his hips, pressing his groin to Steve’s. They’re both wearing only thin boxer shorts and Steve’s cock is stiff and warm in his shorts. Bucky can feel his own arousal tingling along his spine and his cock is rapidly filling.

He pulls back. “Shorts off.”

He feels Steve pull back. His hand drops from Steve’s hair.

Steve’s thumb is pressing against his fingers, then a question mark is drawn on his palm.

Okay?

He smiles. “I’m fine. I’m completely, 100 percent fine.”

He really is. He’s surrounded on all sides by safety and warmth, and he’s got the slim motion detector receiver strapped to his upper arm. Even in the midst of being distracted, he’ll feel if any window or outside door is opened.

It’s been two nights since he and Steve have done any door checking and he’s feeling pretty good about himself. Tonight’s the first time that his body’s expressed a decent interest in sex since he’s come home. That’s another huge positive sign.

“I promise, Stevie. I feel really, really good. Are you okay? If you ain’t in the mood, you gotta tell me.”

In response, he feels Steve pull back, then his shorts are yanked off.

He laughs. “I guess that answers that, huh?”

Steve rubs his nose against Bucky’s and kisses down his neck, moving slowly and not putting too much distance between each kiss. Bucky knows exactly where he is and what he’s doing and he can just focus on how good it feels as opposed to worrying about where Steve is.

Steve kisses his chest and moves to his right shoulder, then crosses back over his chest to his left shoulder.

When Steve presses a kiss to a patch of sensitive skin just below his collar bone, Bucky abruptly remembers.

“Steve, don’t.”

He feels Steve freeze, his breath gusting over Bucky’s left shoulder.

Or rather, what’s left of his shoulder.

When they’d removed his left arm, they’d also removed the entire anchor mechanism, which had acted as his left shoulder joint. Now the entire area where the joint mechanism had anchored the arm to the rest of his shoulder is covered in horrific scar tissue that winds all the way across to his collarbone. The scarring runs down his left side where they’d removed the anchors from his ribs, and there’s some scarring running down his back too. He hadn’t had a mirror in prison but he’s touched the areas enough to know they must look awful. He avoids touching any of the scarred areas as much as possible—spending just enough time cleaning to avoid complications, but nothing more.

He knows Steve’s seen the scarring up close. Bucky knows Steve had washed the areas when he’d helped Bucky bathe, and he still has to help Bucky pull on shirts everyday—but Bucky’s always been focused on other things during those times.

Now…he knows that Steve can see the ugliness and it makes him want to put a shirt on. But that’s ridiculous—he sternly reminds himself that Steve sees it all the time.

Okay, so maybe he can’t prevent Steve from seeing the ugliness, but he can certainly stop Steve from touching any of it.

“Steve—don’t touch that stuff. It’s disgusting.”

Steve picks up Bucky’s hand. They tap on Steve’s chest. They rub over Steve’s heart. Then they tap in the middle of Bucky’s chest.

Bucky makes a face. “I know that. That has nothing to do with the fact that my left side is trash. It looks like somebody threw me into a meat grinder.”

Steve releases his hand long enough to press a finger against Bucky’s lips. Then he picks up Bucky’s hand again.

Steve’s chest.

Steve’s heart.

Bucky’s chest.

Again:

Steve’s chest.

Steve’s heart.

Bucky’s chest.

Steve does each step firmer, pushing harder as if to emphasize his point.

Bucky clenches his jaw. “Are we both blind here? I know how bad it looks, Rogers. I’m not a kid. You pretending that it don’t look bad is dumb.”

Steve doesn’t respond.

Bucky sighs. “Look, we were having a great time, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been in the mood for sex. Can we please go back to what we were doing, but can you not touch any of…that stuff? Please?”

Steve is silent for a while, until he taps Bucky’s hand twice.

Eventually Steve goes back to kissing him, working down his throat and drifting over his chest to the right shoulder and down his arm.

When Steve moves back to his chest, he stays clear of the left side and instead moves up his neck and finds Bucky’s lips, licking Bucky’s lips apart.

Bucky sighs happily and relaxes, letting his tongue tangle with Steve’s. This is what he’s been waiting for.

They spend a long time kissing, Steve deepening the kiss and pressing Bucky into his pillow.

Bucky soon forgets all about his disgusting left side.

*             *             *

To his surprise, having sex is one of the few activities that doesn’t feel very different from the way it was before.

For years they had sex in secret, under the cover of darkness and silence. In a way, it’s exactly the same now as it was back then.

Back then, they’d extinguished every light source nearby and kept as quiet as possible, muffling sounds behind hands or into pillows. They’d had to rely on their other senses to keep track of how things were going.

Bucky noses his way from Steve’s face to his left ear and presses kisses right behind it. He waits for it, then feels the full body shiver that runs through Steve. He smiles to himself, satisfied. Some things never change. He wedges a hand between them, where Steve’s sliding his cock against Bucky’s. Bucky wraps his hand around Steve and pulls long and slow, tightening his hand right below the head. Steve’s forehead falls against Bucky’s, his breath warm and choppy against Bucky’s cheek. Bucky keeps stroking him until he feels Steve body tense and his head drops onto Bucky’s chest. That’s his cue to stroke faster, focusing on the spot right under the head. Steve’s entire body tenses and he’s coming, Bucky’s hand covered in warm, stickiness.

Bucky smiles, pleased with himself. He lifts his hand and sucks two fingers clean. “Damn, I missed you, Rogers,” he mutters.

He’s a bit startled when he feels a sudden air movement close to his face and then he’s got lips pressed to his own. His heart skips a few beats, but of course, it’s just Steve. They kiss for a while, Bucky letting his heart rate calm.

“A little warning next time, huh?”

He feels Steve freeze. “Hey, no, no, no. Don’t start feeling bad. It was a tiny mistake and I’m fine.”

Steve’s still not moving.

Bucky brings up a foot and jabs him in the side with it. “I’m sure you can think of a way to make it up to me, Rogers.”

A hand is pressed to Bucky’s chest and he feels kisses right over his heart. The hand slowly moves downwards and kisses follow. The hand moves all the way down to where his cock is waiting, hard and leaking. Steve strokes him a few times, then swallows him down, enveloping him in tight, wet heat. Oh, he’s missed this.

“Jesus, Stevie,” he manages to breathe out.

Steve’s hand runs up Bucky’s chest and down his arm until he finds Bucky’s hand. They tangle their fingers together.

Steve knows exactly how to make it last, how to wind him up and back down. He knows without hearing it that ridiculous things are coming out of his own mouth.

From time to time, Steve switches to shallow, tight sucks just around the head and he uses the time to draw little question marks on Bucky’s hand.

Bucky always gasps out some variation of being fine.

When he comes, Steve sucks him through it, then he’s kissing his way right back up Bucky’s chest to his lips. Bucky licks the familiar taste of himself out of Steve’s mouth.

He shifts his leg, amused when he nudges Steve’s still hard cock.

“You ready to go again, Rogers?”

He feels Steve smile against his lips.

“How about you give me a few minutes while you go get some slick, huh? While you’re doing that, you can come up with a plan on how many times you’re gonna make me come again while your dick’s in my ass, okay?”

He feels the bed bounce as Steve vaults off it to get the lube.

Chapter Text

Four steps…three steps…two steps….one step…and there—

He can feel the ball on the tip of his cane bump into the bathroom counter. He grins. Exactly eight steps from the bed until his cane hits the counter.

He shuffles up to the counter and turns around to face the open bathroom door. He pushes the cane forward and side to side, making sure there are no obstructions in the doorway.

It’s clear.

He takes two confident steps, then raises his hand and feels the doorframe, like he knew he would.

He takes another step forward and pivots to his left. Now it’ll be six steps until he’s beside the table.

He starts moving, sweeping the cane in front of him, the ball rolling side to side. He feels the cane bump off the wall on one side and nothing on the other—until he’s taken six steps, then he feels the cane hit the edge of what he knows is the table.

Grinning, he steps closer to it and touches the top of the table with a finger, double checking.

Yes, definitely the table.

Excellent.

“Rogers, I think I’m getting this.”

He feels Steve’s hands appear on his hips, squeezing gently. A kiss is pressed to his neck. He can feel Steve smiling against his neck.

He knows Steve has been following right behind him, not touching him, but ready to intervene if Bucky’s about to take a nose dive over something.

Thankfully, they don’t have much furniture and Steve keeps the floor as clean as possible, so moving around the apartment is getting pretty easy.

The mental layout of the apartment is crystal clear in his head now, with every doorway, wall and piece of furniture mapped out.

He’d practiced bumping the ball against various pieces of furniture, learning the difference between the softness of the couch versus the hard resistance of a wall. The cane has a convenient strap, so he doesn’t have to worry about dropping his cane if he wants to explore something with his hand.

They have breakfast and bring their dishes into the kitchen. Steve makes him a cup of coffee while Bucky starts the dishes. He grabs the rubber mat that’s hanging on the wall by the sink and places it into the sink. The water’s turned on and he picks up the sponge wand. Steve got it for him a few days ago—the handle can be filled with dish soap so he doesn’t have to worry about getting dish soap all over the counter. He knows he’s gotten it down to twenty minutes, but he’s hoping to get it down to fifteen minutes at least. It bothers him enough that Steve still insists on doing the knives himself, and Steve has to refill the sponge wand for him.

When the dishes are done and the counter is wiped dry, Bucky dries his hand on the kitchen towel, pulls his cane out of his thigh holster, unfolds it, wraps the strap around his wrist and makes his way out onto the balcony, knowing Steve is following behind him with his coffee.

A few hours later, he’s sitting out on the balcony, working on one of his art projects. Steve had bought these weird waxy string things that stick pretty well to paper but can be pulled off and re-used. Steve draws Bucky whatever design he wants, then Steve sticks the waxy sticks onto each line, creating raised lines that Bucky can easily trace with a finger. He can color in between the raised lines and remove the waxy lines when he’s finished and re-use them on his next project.

Steve’s gotten him a whole arts and crafts kit which contains everything he could possibly want for his projects. Colored pencils, felts, crayons, paints, glue, scissors and paintbrushes all have their own little spots in the kit.

Dealing with the different colors is a headache. At first, Steve had sat down with the art kit and put the metallic board on Bucky’s lap. Steve had patiently spelled out ‘green’ in code and in plastic letters, but it took about five minutes. By the time Steve had finished telling him that the next color is ‘light green’, Bucky was about to fall over from exhaustion and panic. He knows it would take them about five years to get through all the colors, and Bucky wouldn’t remember where they are anyway.

He’s getting a bit better at understanding words spelled in code, and keeping track of letters on the board allows Steve to spell longer words, but overall it still takes forever and he still gets anxious about the whole process. He tries to avoid situations where Steve has to spell things.

In this case, that means not going through the colored pencils.

He’d reasoned with Steve that he can’t see the colors anyway, so it doesn’t bother him.

That’s only partly true.

When it comes to the clothes he puts on every day he really doesn’t care what color they are, but where his art is concerned—

It actually does bother him. When he’s doing his art projects, he likes being able to imagine what the thing he’s creating looks like, and it really does annoy him that he doesn’t know what color anything is.

So he switches between colors randomly, but imagines everything is different shades of grey.

That’s the only way he doesn’t get annoyed enough about the situation to let Steve in on the problem.

Steve spends most of his days on the computer, finding Bucky things that will help him or entertain him. Bucky’s not going to bother him about every tiny thing.

He likes doing textured projects much better. He has no trouble seeing textured materials.

Steve had shown him how to paint glue over parts of his drawing and press different textured items to the surface, making them stick.

Bucky likes that much better than the colors.

He can feel the results of his work and he knows exactly how good—or bad—it looks.

Bucky uses rice, different spices, cotton swabs, toothpaste, crumpled aluminum foil and anything else he can find around the apartment for his materials. Steve always saves the bubble wrap and soft wrapping sheets and some bits of cardboard from the deliveries they get. Everything is neatly organized in little boxes and jars that live in a large box. Each box or jar has a sample of its contents glued to the side so Bucky can easily tell what’s where.

It’s pretty great.

Steve hangs his projects around the apartment, and Bucky can actually use the scent of the project to determine where he is in the apartment, not to mention it gives the entire apartment more of a personality—in Bucky’s view at least.

He hopes his art doesn’t look too awful—he knows Steve would never admit to not liking them, but for Steve’s sake, he hopes he’s not making the apartment look like a two year old child threw up on the walls. According to what he can feel, he thinks he does a pretty good job on his projects.

He’s got nothing but time these days, so he’s very careful about staying within the raised lines and he spends time planning out his projects, deciding what he’ll put where before he starts.

Besides, he likes to remind Steve that he’s just following the lines that Steve had drawn, so he likes to joke that Steve is to blame if they’re awful.

He runs his hand along the little jars that are in his storage box and pulls out the third jar. He can feel rough flakes glued to the side of it so he knows he’s grabbed one of the spice jars. He unscrews the lid and takes out a small pinch. It’s the third jar from the right so it should be the oregano. He can already tell by the rough little flakes that it’s oregano or basil. He rubs it between his fingers and smells it. Yup, oregano.

A small triangular section of his drawing is filled with the oregano. He gently presses down on the flakes and feels around the triangle to ensure he’s covered it adequately. Satisfied, he screws the lid back on and reaches for the paintbrush waiting in the glue pot. The circular area surrounding the triangle oregano is filled with glue and Bucky reaches into the large open box in his kit and takes out a small amount of rice. He carefully presses each grain into the glued area, nudging them close together.

He startles a bit when he suddenly feels a hand touch his elbow.

While the rational part of his brain knows it’s Steve, that small, panicky, fearful corner of his mind refuses to listen to reason.

He forces himself to calm down. It’s Steve. He knows it’s Steve. If it were some stranger who wanted to hurt him, they wouldn’t be patiently waiting for him to acknowledge them.

“Hi, Stevie.”

He feels the porch swing sway gently as somebody settles next to him. A gentle squeeze on his elbow.

Of course it’s Steve, but…

But if Steve were wearing something on his wrist that Bucky could easily touch…something distinct…then Bucky would know for sure.

He carefully puts his project on the table and reaches for his box with his containers in it. He brings it to his lap and slowly sifts through the boxes, thinking.

Most of the items aren’t practical, but when he gets to the little bag containing a bundle of plastic ties, he gets an idea.

“Hey, punk, you wanna do me a favor?”

His hand is tapped several times.

“I—This might sound silly, but whenever you come up to me, it annoys me that I don’t know it’s you. I mean—I know it’s you—it’s gotta be you—but…it just annoys me that I don’t know for sure, you know?”

Bucky knows that Steve’s knows when he says it ‘annoys’ him, he really means it scares him.

Steve gently squeezes his hand and taps on it.

“I was thinking you can make a bracelet out of these plastic things. Or you can use something else, but it would be really great if you had something on your wrist that I could touch and know it’s you and nobody else.”

Steve immediately taps on his hand and takes the box off his lap.

Nothing happens for a while. Steve is shifting around from time to time and Bucky waits patiently.

Finally, Bucky’s hand is picked up and placed on Steve’s wrist. He can feel the thin little strips of plastic under his hand. He explores it with his fingers. Steve had twisted together a bunch of the plastic ties, squeezing them together so the sharp ends don’t poke him. The plastic ties circle one wrist—and when Steve switches his hands, Bucky feels that he’s put another twist tie bracelet on his other wrist.

Bucky smiles, pleased. He finds Steve’s chest, then his face, lifts his chin and kisses him. “Thank you.”

Bucky feels Steve’s hands on his face and Steve’s nose brushes against his. He feels Steve’s lips moving against his.

You’re welcome, Buck.

“If the plastic things ain’t comfortable, you can change it to something else. As long as I know what you’re wearing, it makes me feel less…annoyed.”

Steve kisses him and releases his face. Bucky feels the swing sway as Steve leans back, getting comfortable.

Now that they’ve sorted out this situation, Bucky can focus on his art again. He reaches for his project and pulls the clipboard and his drawing back on his lap. “You like my project?”

Tap, tap, tap.

“I’m making this one for you, so don’t worry, I ain’t gonna put any dill on it so we can put it in the bedroom and you won’t die in the middle of the night from the smell.”

Another squeeze on his elbow.

“You’re welcome, punk.”

He finishes applying the rice, then reaches into the cup holder attached to the swing for his coffee. He takes a sip and makes a face. Lukewarm.

That’s what happens when he gets too focused on his art projects.

He’s turning into Rogers.

“Hey Steve? Can you re-heat my coffee, please?”

He feels the swing sway and the cup is taken from his grasp.

Then he pauses. “Hey, Rogers? Stop a second. You’re just gonna re-heat it in the microwave, right?” He knows what the microwave is. Steve had shown him how to use it in one of the motels they’d stayed in while on the run.

A tap on the back of his hand.

“Can I learn how to do that? Please? I know you don’t like me cooking, but using the microwave isn’t dangerous cooking.”

There’s no response. “Come on, please? I’ll only use it if you’re in the room with me, I promise.”

Finally, there’s the reluctant tap on the back of his hand that he’d been waiting for. Then he feels Steve rubbing his hand between both of his.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ll wash my hands before touching it, ma, I promise” he grumbles. They’d come up with the handwashing symbol when he’d started doing his art projects.

He carefully puts his drawing on the table and gets to his feet, pulls his cane out of the holster, unfolds it and heads inside to the bathroom.

He washes his hand and heads into the kitchen.

Steve’s waiting for him. Bucky goes to grab the cup, but feels it being moved away from him. Instead, Bucky’s hand is lifted up to what he can feel is the microwave.

He hadn’t been paying very close attention to Steve’s explanation in the motel, so he actually doesn’t know how to use it, but he figures it can’t be too hard.

Steve guides his hand over the surface and sides of the machine, letting him feel how big the whole thing is. It’s sitting on a little shelf above the counter. Most of the front is taken up by a smooth cover and there’s a section covered in small raised surfaces, with a large rectangular shape on the bottom. A few of the raised surfaces have familiar small domed dots on them.

Steve had purchased sheets of adhesive plastic domed dots that they can stick on various objects that allow Bucky to identify items. They’d stuck the dots on the hangars that have Bucky’s clothes and use them to label cans of different varieties of soda in the icebox to separate the kind that Bucky likes versus Steve’s cans of coke.

Steve must have put dots on specific buttons on the microwave.

Steve presses Bucky’s fingers to the rectangular shape. He presses it and feels the machine shake a bit. Steve guides his hand back to where the large smooth surface had been. It’s no longer there.

He frowns when he feels his hand being guided inside the machine, then they trace the door.

Ah, the rectangle opens the door. Bucky’s hand is brought down to his coffee mug and they put it into the machine. The door is closed.

Bucky’s fingers are guided to the buttons with dots on them. Steve draws a number sign on the back of Bucky’s hand and squeezes his thumb. He presses his finger to the first dotted button. He presses Bucky’s thumb and index finger, then presses his finger to the second button.

Ah. The first button is one. The next button is two. The third button is preceded by Steve squeezing his thumb, index and middle fingers. That’s three. They go through nine different buttons, then all of Bucky’s fingers are folded in, paused, then he finds himself tracing the dot on the tenth button.

“Numbers 1 through 9, and 0?”

Tap.

“So I type in how long I want the thing to bake?”

Tap.

“How long should the coffee be in there?” He has no idea how long a microwave takes. It could be ten seconds or an hour.

Steve does the number symbol on his palm and counts out three numbers using his fingers:

1.

1…2…3.

His fingers are folded into a closed fist.

1-3-0.

“One hour and thirty minutes?”

A rub on the back of his hand.

1-3-0.

“Okay, how about one minute and thirty seconds?”

Tap, tap, tap.

He moves his hand to trace the dotted buttons. He stops at the first one and presses it. He moves to the third, and then down to the zero.

Then his fingers are guided to a button below the zero. It’s got two dots on it.

“What’s this one?”

He feels Steve hesitate. Oh, God. That usually means he has to spell something out.

Damn it, things were going so well! Now he’s going to wreck it by needing half an hour to understand a simple word.

Bucky feels his hand being turned over and his palm being smoothed out. He feels Steve hesitate. Bucky knows he’s debating whether to go get the metallic board or not.

Not only will it take Bucky forever to understand the word, but now Steve will have to go get the board and letters—turning this small thing into a huge, inconvenient mess.

Bucky decides not to be pathetic. He can do this without the stupid board.

“Is it just one word?”

Tap.

“Okay, I can do it. I don’t need the board.” He hopes.

Di, di, dit.

“S.”

Dah.

“That’s it? Just dah?”

Tap.

“Okay, that’s T.”

Di, dah.

“Uh, E? No, no, that’s dit. Sorry, that’s an A.”

Steve is about to continue, but Bucky’s brain is busy panicking that he won’t be able to do this. As usual, his brain is busy doing that instead of actually focusing on remembering the stupid letters. “Wait, wait. Let’s review. We had an S, E and A, right? S-E-A?”

Rub.

Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Three letters in and he’s already failing. “Okay, the first was S?”

Tap.

“What was the second?”

Dah.

“Oh, right. Sorry. That’s a T. So we had S and T. What was the third?”

Di, dah.

“A. Okay, so S, T and A. S-T-A. Is that right?”

Tap.

“Okay, keep going.”

Di, dah, dit.

“R.”

Dah.

“T again.”

Steve’s fingers stop moving.

“Alright, we had S-T-A…and then we had R-T. That’s S-T-A-R-T. That’s start. Start?”

Tap, tap, tap. A kiss on his palm.

Jesus. Five minutes of time to figure out that the stupid button is the start button. He’s glad Steve’s happy about it, but he’s not.

He presses the button and feels the machine vibrating gently. He keeps a hand on the machine so he can feel it working.

They wait. Bucky uses the time to push his annoyance behind him. He hates that he’s so terrible at remembering the letters as they spell them. It takes so long to convey each letter that he starts freaking out half-way through that he won’t know what it is…and by the time he knows what it is, his mind is too focused on his anxiety to remember the other letters.

It’s stupid, but no matter how much they practice, Bucky isn’t getting much better.

Whatever. He learned how to use the microwave today, that’s a huge win.

When the vibration stops, Bucky opens the door and reaches inside. He’s about to grab the mug, but Steve yanks his hand back. Then he slowly moves Bucky’s hand to the mug, making him touch the surface of the mug with his fingertips as opposed to grabbing it.

“You worrier, you,” Bucky mutters, smiling fondly.

He brushes his fingers over the mug surface. “It’s fine.”

He takes it out and lifts the mug to his nose, the smell and heat of the coffee drifting up his nose. It’s nice and warm.

He shuts the door.

“How did I do?”

He feels Steve wrap his arms around his waist. Smiling, Bucky puts the mug on the counter and turns around, running his hand up Steve’s back and tilting his head to press their foreheads together.

“Thank you for showing me to how to use the microwave,” he says. He can feel Steve’s nose right by his, so it’s easy to aim a kiss right on his lips without having to feel for them. “I love you, you know that, right?”

He feels Steve’s lips curl into a smile. Then Steve steps back slightly, takes Bucky’s hand and presses it to Steve’s chest, rubs over Steve’s heart firmly and then gently presses into Bucky’s own chest.

“I know, punk.”

*             *             *

The plastic ties do end up being too uncomfortable for Steve to wear continuously. Bucky doesn’t want this being an annoyance for Steve so he wants him to find something he can comfortably wear all the time without having to think about it.

“But I want it to be something that lets me know it’s you. Not any old bracelet that other people could have.”

Steve buys himself some plain leather bracelets which are soft and comfortable to wear. When Bucky feels them, he makes a face. He’s not terribly pleased with them. There are two large beads embedded in the leather, but neither the beads nor the leather strap are unique at all. Anybody could be wearing these things.

When he opens his mouth, he feels a finger pressed to his lips.

Steve disappears. He stays gone for about an hour and when he’s back, he grabs Bucky’s hand and runs his fingers carefully along the leather strap.

The leather is no longer smooth. Steve has carved notches into the portion of the leather strap that’s between the two beads. Some notches are small, some are large. The size differences seem to be random.

“Oh, that’s better. The cuts are nice and random. Definitely unique.” He gives Steve a smile.

He feels Steve vigorously rubbing his hand.

Okay.

Steve disappears, and moments later Bucky feels the metallic board being slid on his lap. There’s already letters on the board.

Bucky runs his fingers over the letters.

S-T-E-V-E.

“Congratulations, Rogers. You can spell your own name. Good for you,” he laughs and rolls his eyes.

Steve grabs his hand and gives it a shake. That means ‘pay attention’.

Bucky’s still struggling to stop laughing. Steve takes Bucky’s hand and smooths it out.

That makes the laughter stop.

Great. Spelling time.

Immediately, that stupid panic floods him—he won’t be able to keep up, he won’t remember the letters, he won’t understand—

He knows it’s dumb. He knows he’s got the letters right there on his lap, he knows Steve will be spelling ‘S-T-E-V-E’ (for reasons unknown). There’s nothing to panic over.

But telling his brain to not panic doesn’t make it actually stop panicking.

He’s sure he’d be getting better at understand code spelling by now if his stupid panic didn’t overwhelm his brain. He’s told Steve about it and Steve does his best to use the board instead of spelling things on his hand, but Bucky hates that he’s admitting defeat.

Using the stupid board is time consuming and makes the whole thing much more inconvenient for Steve. Bucky desperately wants their communication to be easier for Steve…but the harder he tries to understand the code spelling without the board, the worse he seems to get. He knows it’s because he’s focusing too much on his panic and his desire to do a good job…rather than actually focusing on the letters themselves, but he can’t seem to get the hang of it.

It frustrates him beyond belief.

Anyway. Right now, he needs to focus.

He already knows Steve will be doing three taps on his palm to start spelling.

Di, di, dit.

That’s the S. “That’s S. Steve, why are you—”

Steve takes his hand, folds down all of his fingers except his index fingers. Bucky can feel his finger tip being pressed to the leather bracelet, right next to one of the large beads.

Steve’s rubbing his finger tip across a small portion of the bracelet.

Specifically, he’s rubbing his finger over three cuts…which seem to feel like circular gouges.

Wait.

Wait a second! “Is that—is that an S? On the bracelet? Is that an S in code?”

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

Immediately, Steve folds his hand out again. Bucky knows what’s coming. T.

Dah.

His finger is brought to the bracelet again. He can feel a deep cut in the leather, next to the three circular gouges. The cut is definitely longer than the circles.

Oh, my God, Rogers is brilliant!

“You spelled your name on the bracelet in Morse code?!”

Tap, tap, tap.

Bucky grins and holds out his hand. “Let me feel the whole thing!”

He flattens the bracelet on his thigh and carefully runs his finger along the leather band. The cuts are no longer random gouges in the leather—they’re carefully placed hollow circles and deep rectangular lines, running between the two large beads.

He starts at the first large bead.

Di, di, dit.

Dah.

Dit.

Di, di, di, dah.

Dit.

Then he feels the other large bead.

A warm glow settles in his stomach. “They’re perfect. Absolutely perfect. Put it on, punk.”

He holds up the leather bracelet and Steve takes it from him. A few minutes later, Steve picks up his hand and Bucky runs his hand up to Steve’s wrist. The leather band is secured around his wrist. Bucky can feel the circles and notches in the leather. He doesn’t have to feel the letters themselves—he knows that nobody else would ever know what the cuts symbolize, and nobody else could possibly have the exact same bracelet.

Steve takes his hand and switches to his other arm. He’s got an identical bracelet on that one so Bucky can tell it’s him no matter which arm Steve touches him with.

Bucky releases Steve’s wrist, runs his hand up to Steve’s chest and grabs his shirt to pull him closer. He ends up with his nose buried in Steve’s neck. He presses a firm kiss into his neck. “You’re amazing, Stevie. You better know that. Amazing.”

Chapter Text

It’s one of those really bad days right from the start.

Bucky isn’t paying enough attention so he slams his shin into the edge of the tub when he’s getting out. He puts his arm into the head hole of his shirt so he ends up confused and struggling with it for several minutes until Steve rescues him. He forgets to put the cane’s strap on his wrist and he accidentally drops the cane on his way into the kitchen. When he bends down and feels around the floor for it, he gets disoriented and ends up smacking his head into the icebox. Usually he’s a huge fan of having an icebox—it’s something he would have sold a kidney for back in the day—but today it’s just another annoyance.

He feels like it’s gonna be a miracle if he survives today. He’s already grumpy and in a bad mood when he sits down for breakfast.

He reaches over for the salt. It’s always the little container that’s sitting closest to Bucky. He shakes a generous amount onto his eggs then digs in.

Moments later, his mouth erupts like it’s on fire and his nose starts burning. He gags and spits out the mouthful of eggs.

That.

Was not salt.

God damn it!

He’s choking and coughing, trying to get the excess amount of pepper out of his mouth.

He feels his hand being wrapped around a glass, and he chugs down the water. He’s handed another glass and he empties that one too.

He feels a concerned hand on his back.

Once he can breathe, he reaches around the table, trying to determine if he’d messed up.

He grabs the first container and brings it to his nose.

That’s definitely pepper.

But the container closest to Bucky needs to be the salt.

It’s always the salt.

That’s how Bucky needs it to be.

The container closest to Bucky. Is. The. Salt.

Period.

Oh, this day is great.

“Jesus, Rogers, why’d you move the stupid salt? You know it’s gotta be on my side! Christ!”

He feels Steve’s hand on his arm, going for his hand so he can no doubt start spelling out a long and stupid explanation that Bucky won’t be able to piece together without needing the stupid board.

Bucky rips his arm out of Steve’s grasp and pushes his chair back. He pulls his cane out of the holster, unfolds it and heads to the balcony.

He feels Steve make another grab for his hand, but he curls his hand around his cane and continues moving forward. “Don’t touch me! I’m going outside. I wanna be alone.”

He reaches the balcony door, unlocks it and yanks it open, feeling the vibration on his bicep from the motion sensor being triggered. He steps through and pulls the door shut behind him. The receiver vibrates again. He’s put a literal wall up between himself and Steve.

He’d left his art kit inside, but he’s in no mood to work on his projects anyway. He just sits on the porch swing and sways back and forth.

His bad mood slowly evaporates.

He knows Steve’s probably very sorry about moving the salt.

Also, it’s not Steve’s fault that today is a terrible day.

He pulls his watch out and checks the time. Based on their routine, he’s been sulking out here for about half an hour.

He realizes he’s more annoyed at himself than Steve.

He’s been getting more and more comfortable with everything and he’s been getting sloppy and not paying as close attention as he should be.

He’s coming to the realization that not paying attention is no longer a luxury he can afford. Every task, every minute of every day needs to be done carefully with full focus.

Damn, he misses his eyesight. And his ears.

There’s a very tentative touch on his hand. The sudden contact startles him, but he no longer lets the panic take hold—he’s got a procedure to follow if any strange hands touch him.

He immediately runs his fingers over the strange hand, going up to its wrist, where he feels the leather bracelet. He finds the first bead and runs his fingers over the notches—

Di, di, dit.

Dah….

Steve. Definitely Steve.

He sighs. “Hi, Stevie. I’m sorry I yelled. Do you wanna sit down?”

The swing doesn’t sway. Instead, he feels Steve’s hands on his knees. He can feel Steve leaning against his legs. He’s kneeling down in front of Bucky.

“What are you doing?”

His hand is lifted and kisses are pressed on the back of his hand and into his palm. Steve’s lips are moving against his palm.

Steve’s probably apologizing for the salt thing.

“It’s okay. I know you just forgot. I should have stopped to smell it before pouring half of it on my eggs. Let’s share the blame, okay?”

Another kiss on his hand and a gentle squeeze. “I forgive you. Come sit with me.”

Bucky turns himself sideways so he’s lying on the swing, snuggled in the nest of pillows. The swing shifts and Steve’s sitting between his legs. Bucky pulls him down so Steve’s lying against his chest, Bucky’s chin resting on his head.

He wraps his arm around Steve’s chest, his palm right over his heart so he can feel it beating.

“So not to be whiny, but I didn’t really finish breakfast. Once we’re done cuddling, do you mind making me more eggs?”

A tap on his hand.

Bucky presses a kiss onto Steve’s head. “Thank you.”

Eventually they go back inside and Steve makes him more eggs. Bucky eats his belated breakfast and heads back outside when he’s done.

He’s in a slightly better mood, but still doesn’t feel like doing any art, so he’s just relaxing on the swing. It’s started to rain a bit and he’s enjoying the smell of the rain slowly rising around him.

A touch on his hand, a sway in the swing. He touches the wrist.

Leather bracelet. Bead. Di, di, dit. Dah. Dit…

“Hi,” he says.

Steve settles beside him. Bucky feels a poke against his own chest, then Steve does the munching symbol on the side of his hand, followed by a question mark on his palm.

Bucky frowns. “I ain’t hungry yet, punk. I just had my eggs.”

Rub, rub, rub.

His bad mood is rapidly flooding back.

“That ain’t wrong. I know that ain’t wrong. I know those symbols. You asked me if I’m hungry. I promise, I ain’t some bottomless pit. I’ll tell you when I’m hungry.”

Rub, rub, rub.

His hand is turned around and flattened out, Steve smoothing his hand over Bucky’s palm.

Bucky swallows a sigh.

Great.

Time for spelling.

This day is turning back into being garbage.

He feels Steve pausing, probably wondering if Bucky wants the board or not. “You know my criteria. As long as it don’t have more than three letters, we can try without the board.”

Steve shifts as if he wants to go get the board—definitely a long word then—but Bucky takes a deep breath.

“You know what? Forget the board. I’m not stupid. I can do it.”

Steve is still hesitating, so Bucky wiggles his hand impatiently. “Come on, let’s do it.”

Dah.

“T.”

Di, dah, dit.

“W.”

Rub, rub.

Di, dah, dit.

“Uh. Hang on. That’s R. Sorry”

Dit.

“E.”

Di, dah.

That’s another easy one that he’s very familiar with. “A.” He’s starting to get tired, but hopefully the word has lots more easy vowels.

Dah.

Bucky’s exhausted. “E?”

Rub, rub.

“What? I know that’s an E. It’s one dit. That’s an E.”

Rub, rub.

Dah. Steve presses extra hard and stretches it across his entire palm to make his point.

“Oh. Dah. Sorry. That’s….T.”

Steve’s fingers have stopped moving.

Great. Bucky doesn’t even remember how many letters they did or what they were. He knows there were T’s and E’s. Or maybe there wasn’t an E? Why can’t he do this? Why is he so damn stupid?

Steve is patiently waiting for him to try to put the letters together.

The longer Bucky’s anxiety swirls, the further away the letters get. “I—I don’t remember. Sorry.”

A kiss is pressed into his palm. Then:

Dah.

Great. Steve must be starting from the beginning.

Bucky doesn’t manage to catch his sigh. He wants to cry.

He desperately, desperately wants to know what Steve wants to say, but he can’t do it. Not like this.

“Stevie, not again. Please? It’s been a shit day today and I can’t do the spelling on a shit day.”

He feels Steve pausing, holding his hand.

“I—I know you wanna communicate with me more, but I can’t do the spelling thing. It’s too hard. I—I’ve been trying so damn hard but I can’t do it. It takes way too long for even simple words and it annoys me that I can’t do it. I know you’re trying so hard and I’m sorry I’m so damn stu—”

A finger is pressed to his lips.

Bucky closes his mouth. His eyes and cheeks feel moist and he realizes he’s started crying.

Steve’s hands move up his arms to his face and the tears are wiped off his cheeks.

“I’m sorry, Stevie. I’m sorry. I—I know it’s frustrating for you.”

He feels Steve’s face pressed against his and Steve’s lips are moving against his cheek.

Bucky squeezes his eyes shut.

Oh, how badly he wants to know what Steve’s saying!

He realizes with a lurch that it’s been more than a year since he’s heard Steve’s voice.

Oh, how he misses Steve’s voice!

He always tries to avoid thinking about the fact that he’ll never hear Steve’s voice again.

No matter what he learns how to do, no matter how many years go by, no matter how hard he tries—he’ll never hear Steve’s voice again.

He wishes—he wishes there was a way he could hear Steve, even if it’s for a few seconds. He’d do anything to hear his voice one more time.

But he knows that’s not possible.

The tears are streaming down his face now and he sniffs hard.

Steve pulls back from his face and Bucky feels a tissue wiping his face. He feels kisses on his cheeks, his chin, his nose, his closed eyes.

He wraps his arm around Steve and pulls him close. Steve hugs him tight, squeezing the fuzzy blanket around him, his lips moving against Bucky’s temple.

When Bucky can’t stop crying—because he’s being ridiculous and today’s a terrible day—he feels Steve leaning back and pulling Bucky’s hand between them.

Frantic question marks are drawn on his palm, one after the other.

“I—I miss your voice, Stevie. I miss hearing you say my name. I miss hearing you laugh. I miss hearing you talk about whatever comes into your head. I—I remember what you sound like, but I know I’ll forget at some point and I’ll never get to hear it again,” he chokes out, hoping Steve can understand him through the tears.

Steve kisses his hand and pulls Bucky into his arms, holding him tight. His lips are moving against Bucky’s cheek.

Bucky lets himself cry some more, burying his face in Steve’s chest. Steve re-arranges them on the swing so Bucky’s lying on him, Steve’s arms wrapped around him. From time to time, a tissue touches his face and wipes the snot and tears off his face.

Lying on Steve’s chest and feeling the vibrations of his chest as he talks helps calm Bucky.

It’s definitely not the same as hearing Steve’s voice, but he knows Steve’s saying comforting things and that goes a long way to making him feel better.

Once he’s calmed down, he props his chin on Steve’s chest and nudges his chin with his nose. “Thanks for putting up with me,” he says.

Now that he’s no longer crying, he can feel the slight tremor running through Steve’s body. Frowning, he reaches up and runs his hand up Steve’s neck to his face.

Steve’s face is wet with tears.

“Oh, Stevie! I’m sorry, sweetheart. I didn’t mean to make you cry too. I’m just being a sad sack today. Can you hand me a tissue?”

A tissue is pressed into his hand. He carefully wipes Steve’s face and kisses him.

“We’re a pair today, huh?” He settles back against Steve’s chest. He’s quiet for a while, thinking.

“You know what I’m starting to realize? Being blind makes doing things tough, but I’m learning how to see things and it’s getting easier every day. Even your face—I can see it whenever I want when I touch it. But being deaf is harder. I can listen to some things, but it’s not the same. I don’t know why, but it ain’t. I miss hearing things more than I miss seeing things. It’s weird. I thought it’d be the other way around.”

He snuggles into Steve’s shirt and pulls the fuzzy blanket tighter around himself. It’s a pretty warm day, but he cares more about the comfort than the heat. Steve gently squeezes the back of Bucky’s neck. His other arm wraps around Bucky’s back.

Gradually, his mood lifts.

He wishes he was better at the stupid spelling, but there’s nothing he can do about it. He tries to be sneaky and only ask Steve yes or no questions, but that doesn’t work all the time. He knows he’ll have to keep suff—

Or does he?

Do all deafblind people in the world use Morse code and plastic letters to communicate? He has no idea, but Steve could find out. Or they could make their own system. Part of his problem is that it takes so long to convey each letter that he forgets what the letter is by the time he’s working on the next one. If the symbols for each letter were shorter, easier to understand, he might be able to keep the letters in his head without using the board.

“Steve, can we talk about the spelling thing?”

Steve taps on his back.

“I can’t do it using Morse code. Well, I can do it with the board, but that’s not practical. I hate that you have to go get the board every time you wanna tell me a tiny word, but doing it without the board is just too hard and I’m stressed myself out and that makes it even worse. There’s got to be an easier way. What if we had simple symbols for each letter? Not a bunch of dits and dahs that take forever? That would let you spell things faster and I’d be able to put the letters together faster.”

Steve’s hand leaves his hair and turns Bucky’s hand over. He presses his thumb against Bucky’s fingers. For good measure, he taps the back of his hand a few times.

“We can make up our own or you can see what the computer says. Is that okay?”

Steve has wrapped his arms back around him, so he taps on Bucky’s back multiple times and kisses his temple.

Bucky starts relaxing. Steve will figure it out.

*             *             *

Bucky can tell Steve’s frustrated. They’ve spent most of the day sitting out on the balcony, Bucky making an aluminum foil drawing and Steve on his computer.

Bucky’s sitting sideways on the swing, his feet tucked under Steve’s thighs. He can feel the tension in Steve’s entire body and how he’s hitting the keys harder as time goes on.

From time to time, Steve shifts, the swing sways and a weight is lifted off his thighs—probably Steve getting up to pace around—but then he’s back a few minutes later, tense and annoyed.

Bucky wishes he could help Steve, but trying to assist him with the computer would create more tension than help. He doesn’t even know what Steve’s doing on the computer.

He pulls out his watch and checks the time. It’s almost time for bed anyway. Time to get Steve’s mind off the laptop.

He pulls one foot out from under Steve and pokes him in the side with his toes. “Hey, Rogers. I think it’s time to get you to bed. And I don’t mean for sleeping.”

Steve’s body stills—he’s stopped typing for a moment. A slight vibration in Steve’s body—he’s saying something.

“Don’t argue with me. You’ve been working on the computer all day and you’re just getting more wound up and tense every hour. Take a break for the night and you can keep going tomorrow.”

Bucky puts his art project on the table and shifts over. His hand traces Steve’s thigh, up to his face. He grabs his chin and turns him to face Bucky. A quick peck on the cheek, then he gives him a gentle shove.

“Get going. I’ve got grand relaxation plans for you, mister.”

A not surprisingly short while later, Bucky’s got Steve right where he wants him.

Naked, on his hands and knees on the bed, head buried in his pillow and Bucky stretching him open.

Steve’s entire body is vibrating with tension and arousal and he keeps shifting impatiently. Bucky pulls his fingers from his hole and smacks his ass lightly. “Patience, Rogers. I’m gonna fuck you hard enough to make your teeth rattle, so I gotta get you ready properly.”

He slides four fingers back into Steve. They slide in easily, his hole slick and loose. Satisfied, Bucky pulls his fingers out and squirts more lube down Steve’s ass crack. He traces its path with his fingers and pushes it into his hole. The more lube the better.

“There. That’s a hole that’s ready for hard fucking.” He pulls his fingers free. “Up, up, up, Rogers. To the headboard. Grab on with both hands, but keep some distance. I don’t wanna slam your face into it.” He feels the bed shifting and takes time coating with cock with so much lube that it trickles down his balls.

He shuffles after Steve and finds his ass by feel. “Ready?”

He lifts his hand to Steve’s face and hovers close enough that he can feel Steve nod. They’d realized that using their usual hand signals wasn’t practical during most sexy times, so Bucky relies on cues from Steve’s body and little head nods or shakes.

He lines up and sinks into Steve with one smooth, slow thrust. He glides into his warm, wet hole with no resistance. It feels so good that it steals his breath for a moment.

“Damn, that’s good. Oh, I love lube and I love your ass, Steve Rogers.”

He’s plastered against Steve’s back and feels how tight and tense his entire body is. He props his chin on Steve’s shoulder and reaches forward to grab the headboard between Steve’s braced hands. He feels his motion sensor receiver rubbing against Steve’s shoulder where Bucky’s reaching over him, so he shifts a bit closer to Steve, giving him a little bit of a height advantage. It’s enough that the sensor holster is no longer threatening to chafe Steve.

Alright, back to business.

He doesn’t waste time winding Steve up—Steve doesn’t need any help with that after days like today. Bucky settles into a hard, fast rhythm, staying deep and smacking hard into Steve’s ass with every thrust.

Steve is slowly being pushed forward from the hard thrusts and Bucky pauses his movements and nips at Steve’s ear. “I wasn’t kidding when I said you gotta hold on, Rogers. I don’t wanna slam your face into the headboard.”

Bucky keeps the pace slow, letting Steve adjust himself—shifting his knees further apart and moving his hands to a better grip on the headboard—then Bucky resumes the hard pace, fucking Steve hard and fast.

His heart rate is spiking and he’s breathing in choppy bursts, right against Steve’s ear. He feels Steve’s head bumping into the side of his face, then falling forward, the rest of him staying braced. The room gets warmer as they start to sweat—Bucky can feel the slick slide of Steve’s back against his wet chest. He’s surrounded by the heavy scent of their sweat, arousal and lube.

“That’s it, Stevie. That’s it, my love. My precious, my sweet, sweet Stevie. You feeling good? I know you’re feeling good. You have no idea how good you feel around my cock. You smell so good. Jesus, I love you,” he’s muttering in between gasps of air into Steve’s ear.

He feels Steve tensing slightly more, then his whole body seems to freeze. Bucky knows he’s coming—completely untouched. Steve comes so hard that Bucky feels warm wetness hit his wrist where it’s braced on the headboard.

“Jesus Christ.”

He keeps fucking him, slowing the pace a bit. Steve’s body droops a bit and Bucky takes his hand from the headboard and wraps it around Steve’s chest, holding him close so he can keep fucking him while he regains his bearings. Steve’s chest is covered in sweat and stickiness and Bucky’s hand slides for purchase before grabbing onto his shoulder.

Steve’s head is rolling on his shoulder, his hot breaths warming Bucky’s cheek in short bursts.

“You doin’ alright, sweetheart? Talk to me.”

He feels his hand being lifted to Steve’s face and he feels him nod. Then his hand is moved down to Steve’s cock. He’s still hard, his cock warm and sticky. Bucky rubs his thumb over the tip and feels Steve’s body shudder as a drop oozes out.

“Oh, you’re ready for more, ain’t ya? You wanna change positions or you gonna go back to bracing yourself?”

In answer, Bucky feels Steve shift. When he runs his hand along Steve’s arms, he’s back to bracing himself against the headboard.

Bucky braces his own arm and goes right back into the hard pace from before, pounding into Steve’s ass in hard thrusts.

He presses his forehead against the back of Steve’s neck, feeling the heat from Steve’s skin on his face. He can’t kiss him properly like this, but he can lick a stripe up Steve’s neck, tasting his sweat. Steve’s body’s vibrating—he must be talking.

“You liking this, sweetheart? My darling, my amazing Stevie. I love you so much, you know that? You feel so good,” Bucky mumbles into Steve’s skin.

Steve’s ass is warm from the constant pounding and Bucky keeps up the hard pace. He can feel his own orgasm tingling at the base of his spine, but he ignores it. He’s gonna make Steve come again before he comes.

Steve lasts longer than he did for the first one, but right when Bucky’s starting to tire, he feels Steve tensing and he knows he’s coming.

He fucks him through it. He’s so focused on not coming and not collapsing that he doesn’t notice Steve’s lost his grip on the headboard until Bucky suddenly loses the Steve-wall that he’d been braced against and he’s falling forward, tumbling down on Steve, who has done a face plant onto the mattress.

Bucky lets out a squawk of surprise as they land.

“Jesus, Rogers. Warn a guy next time. I’m still inside you—do you want me to break my dick?”

Steve’s just lying there, his sweaty back heaving he’s breathing so hard. Bucky pulls out and leans over Steve to touch his cheek.

“You okay if I keep going?” He feels Steve nod. Bucky licks his dry lips and tries to catch his breath for his next question. “I can finish on my own, sweetheart. You gotta tell me if you had enough.” Steve’s vigorously shaking his head and Bucky feels Steve’s hand groping at his hip, trying to tug him closer.

Bucky smiles and pushes Steve’s legs further apart so he can sink back into him. He closes his eyes and fucks him in shallow thrusts, enough to get him off but giving Steve a bit of a break.

His orgasm has been waiting patiently for a while so as soon as Bucky lets it happen, he’s coming, pumping hot spurts into Steve’s relaxed body.

He lets himself fall onto Steve, not caring that their hot, sweaty bodies are plastered together. His heart’s racing and he’s having trouble breathing properly.

“Jesus,” he manages to gasp out, although he doesn’t think he manages to pronounce any of the letters properly.

He’s content to just lie there on Steve. He feels his softening dick slide out of Steve’s ass. It stays close enough to Steve’s hole that he can feel warmth trickle out of him. Probably Bucky’s cum and lube.

He groans in frustration. He feels Steve shift under him. Bucky’s arm is splayed out on the mattress and he feels Steve drawing a question mark.

“I wanna reach down so I can feel my cum sliding out of your ass, but I’m too exhausted to move.”

Steve’s body vibrates. He’s laughing.

“Oh, you just laugh it up, Rogers. These are serious problems I’m talking about. You’ve just got no respect, do ya?”

Steve shifts some more and Bucky is gently dumped onto the mattress while Steve turns around. Bucky’s being pulled into Steve’s arms.

He feels Steve’s hands on his face, wiping sweat off his forehead.

He feels something nudge his nose. He nudges back, then realizes it’s Steve’s nose. That means his lips are right there.

He kisses him and Steve lies back, pulling Bucky with him. They kiss. It’s slow—they’re still focused on getting their breath back, but they don’t want to separate.

Bucky reaches up so he can touch the side of Steve’s face. He can tell by Steve’s entire body that he’s relaxed and feels good. He’s forgotten all about the stupid computer.

“How you feeling, darling? Good?”

He feels Steve nod. Bucky smiles and kisses him.

Hopefully tomorrow the computer situation will go better. If not, well, it’s not a hardship for Bucky to fuck Steve through the headboard every day of the week.

Chapter Text

They’re playing a new game that Steve had bought. Bucky has no idea what it’s called—Steve is avoiding doing the Morse code spelling as much as possible—but the main objective is to drop circular discs into a plastic wall that’s covered in holes. Once a disc is dropped into the wall, the hole it reaches is filled. The objective is to make a line of four discs.

Bucky calls it Line of Four.

Steve has glued soft patches of fabric on one set of the plastic discs so Bucky can feel the difference between his discs and Steve’s.

He frowns, concentrating as he runs his fingers along the bottom row of holes. The first hole is empty. Then there are two smooth discs—those are Steve’s. Then there’s the soft fabric covered disc that Bucky had dropped in the fourth hole to interrupt Steve’s attempt at a horizontal line. The other spots in the row are empty. Bucky moves to the second row, trying to find the disc Steve had just dropped. Ah, there it is. In the second column, second row, on top of Steve’s other disc.

“You’re not getting away with that, Rogers,” he mumbles, grabbing one his fabric discs. “Second column,” he says, carefully feeling for the wall with his disc between two fingers.

He carefully finds the top of the wall and moves his hand along, feeling for the spaces between the plastic which indicate the different columns. Bucky stops at what he knows is the second column. “Second column. This is the spot,” Bucky says, dropping the disc into the column.

He moves his fingers down the column, grinning in satisfaction when he feels the line of Steve’s two smooth discs interrupted with his fabric covered disc sitting right above it.

He knows he can drop a disc into the third column—right over Steve’s other one—and he’ll be able to connect with his disc that’s waiting in the bottom of the fourth column—but he’ll keep that thought to himself.

He waits while Steve decides where to drop his disc.

Once he feels Steve squeeze his hand, he knows Steve finished his turn. Bucky runs his hand along the first row—no new discs. Then the second row—and damn, Steve has dropped his disc in the third column, interrupted Bucky’s attempt at a line.

“Damn! Are you sure, Rogers? I think maybe you put it here by accident—here, let me get it out for you.” He shoves his finger against Steve’s disc and slowly pulls it upwards.

His hand is lightly smacked and the disc drops back down.

“Hey! That’s abuse, that’s what that is! I’m just trying to be helpful and fix your mistake,” he says, laughing. He flails his hand in the air and successfully smacks Steve in the chest.

Steve grabs his hand—his hand’s vibrating. Steve’s laughing too.

His hand is being pulled up and he feels a kiss on it.

“Don’t you go giving my hand kisses and expect me to forgive you, you goof. Now, leave me alone. I gotta make a new plan, seeing how my current plan was destroyed.”

An arm is draped across the back of his chair and a hand rubs the back of his neck.

Bucky runs his fingers along the wall, mentally creating an image of what it looks like now. Steve keeps rubbing his neck, patiently waiting for Bucky to choose his next move.

*             *             *

Steve keeps an eye on the time as they finish another round of Connect Four. When Steve lets Bucky win the next round—making the overall score 2 for Bucky and 1 for Steve—he presses a kiss to Bucky’s hand and does the munching symbol along the side of his hand.

“You gonna make lunch, Rogers?”

“Yep. It’s that time of day,” Steve says, tapping Bucky’s hand. He cleans up the pieces of the game and returns everything to the shelf.

He helps Bucky get situated on the couch with his art kit and pulls his newest creation out of his portfolio for him. Once Bucky’s set up, Steve heads to the kitchen to make lunch.

He makes them tacos using the small hard shells which Bucky can easily eat using one hand. While Steve’s cooking, he notices the garbage is nearly full. He’ll have to take that out once lunch is done.

Bucky’s alright staying in the apartment for the ten seconds it takes Steve to sprint out to the garbage chute in the hall and back—but he’s still doing laundry in the apartment.

While the ground beef is simmering, Steve decides to check on the laundry that’s drying outside. He passes Bucky on the couch. “I’m gonna check the laundry, Buck,” he says.

He knows it’s stupid—talking to Buck when Bucky isn’t aware he’s doing it, but it’s a habit Steve can’t break. At first he got mad at himself for being so dumb, but then decided that nobody knows he’s being dumb, so no harm in continuing.

Thankfully the balcony door’s partially open today, so Steve won’t trigger the motion sensor going in and out. That means he doesn’t actually have to tell Bucky where he’s going.

He’ll go out, check the laundry, and Bucky won’t ever know.

That’s…that’s…that’s one of those things that still seems unreal to Steve.

He shakes that thought out of his head. On some days, the unfairness of all that makes him really angry, but on other days he realizes this is their reality.

He knows by now that it takes Bucky a lot of focus to concentrate on what he’s doing—and telling him every tiny detail of what Steve is doing during the day would take much longer than actually doing the tasks and going back to join Bucky later. Besides, Bucky’s so focused on things right in front of him all the time that he rarely asks what Steve is doing anyway.

He steps out onto the balcony and checks the clothes pinned to the little rack he’s put out here.

“Underwear’s dry, that’s good. Most of the socks are good too. One of the shirts is dry, but the others are gonna need a few more hours, Buck.” He unpins the dry items and carries them inside. He passes Bucky—who’s carefully gluing cottonballs to his paper—and puts the items on the bed to fold later.

He goes to check on lunch. He stirs the ground beef. “Beef’s almost done. Just gonna chop up the vegetables.”

He takes the head of lettuce and tomatoes out of the icebox and gets out the cutting board. “What do you think? Will one tomato be enough, or do we want two?”

Of course, there’s no response to his question.

“I’ll make us two. If we have leftovers, we’ll eat salsa and chips tonight after dinner. That’s a good plan, huh?”

Again, no response.

Bucky’s quietly working on his art project on the couch, completely unaware that Steve’s speaking to him.

That cloud of sadness threatens to settle over him, but Steve firmly gives himself a shake and starts chopping the tomatoes. “None of that today, Rogers. Come on. We’ve had a super day. Stay focused and stay positive.”

*             *             *

Steve has one of those days where things aren’t going well right from the start.

Bucky has a dizzy spell when he’s in the shower from turning around too quickly—those are getting rarer as time goes on, but they still happen—so Steve reaches into the shower to help him sit on the stool before he falls over.

It means Steve completely soaked and needs to change into dry clothes once Bucky’s out of the shower.

Then Steve cracks the eggs too hard into the pan and bits of shell end up in the eggs. Steve spends several frantic minutes picking the pieces out before the eggs cook. He manages, but he’s slightly frazzled already and turns on the coffee maker without remembering to put coffee into the machine—so he gets a nice pot of hot water.

“God damn it, Rogers. Pay attention!” He snaps at himself, pouring the hot water down the sink.

Bucky’s sitting at the table, patiently waiting for breakfast. “Sorry, Buck. I’m not doing great today. Breakfast will be a bit slower than normal.”

No response.

He hurries to get the coffee maker set up, then the eggs are ready. He gets the sausages out of the icebox and tosses them into the frying pan. Slices of toast are put into the toaster and he goes to check on the coffee maker. By the time he gets back to the frying pan, he realizes he’d turned the heat on way too high and half the sausages are burnt.

“Oh for crying out loud! Get it together, Rogers. Seriously!” He decides the burnt sausages are edible and puts the burnt ones on his own plate.

After breakfast, he monitors Bucky washing dishes.

Then he helps Bucky get situated on the living room floor to play with the building blocks Steve bought for him a few days ago.

“Can you grab my blanket, please?” Bucky says.

“Sure thing, buddy.” Steve taps him on the hand and grabs his fuzzy blanket from the couch. He drapes it over Bucky’s shoulders and guides Bucky’s hand to the containers of little blocks, making sure he knows where everything is.

Bucky touches everything, frowning in concentration.

“You good on your own for a while?” Steve asks. He taps Bucky on the chest and presses his thumb against his fingers. Then a question mark.

“Yeah I’m okay.”

Steve heads back into the kitchen and washes their breakfast knives. He checks on Bucky as he works. He seems content and focused on what he’s doing.

Maybe…maybe today Steve will try to have a real shower.

When Bucky had first come home, they had showered together, but when Bucky got the hang of doing it on his own, Steve was left on his own. He knows that Bucky wouldn’t mind if he left to shower, but he minds he leaves to shower.

What if Bucky falls and hurts himself? Steve won’t be able to hear him cry out over the rushing water, and if Bucky fumbles around to try to get himself sorted out, he could hurt himself even more.

Steve knows he’s being stupid and paranoid, but he’d rather be safe than sorry.

He’s spent most of his life bathing out of a bucket of water, so he doesn’t see anything wrong with continuing that.

Sure, the reason why he’s doing it today isn’t the same as it was back then, but who’s gonna complain about it?

Not Bucky.

And not Steve himself.

And there’s nobody else around.

So Steve usually strips himself down and washes out of the sink in the bathroom. He can keep an eye on Bucky the entire time. He’s had a couple of close calls where Bucky gets up and comes into the bathroom to use the toilet—but Steve can see him coming and he always has enough time to wrap a towel around himself and hurry out of the bathroom to wait by the front door until Bucky’s done.

So far, Bucky hasn’t noticed Steve’s adapted showering method.

But there’s that nagging voice in the back of his head that’s been telling him that he can’t keep doing things like that.

He’s been leaving Bucky alone for longer and longer periods of time, and the more confident Bucky gets at doing his art or his other activities, the more certain Steve is that Bucky will be happy staying in one spot and won’t do anything that could get him hurt.

The problem is: Steve can’t go to Bucky and tell him that he’s gonna shower. Bucky’s gonna question why the hell Steve is telling him now—hasn’t Steve been showering these past few weeks??

Bucky’s gonna get mad if he knows how overprotective and paranoid Steve has been.

It’s best if Bucky is kept in the dark about it. Literally.

So Steve decides to give it a shot and have a quick shower.

In the bathtub—not the sink.

He takes his clothes off right there in the living room. He wants Bucky out of his eyesight for the shortest period of time possible.

When he’s taken off his underwear, he races to the bathroom, jumps into the shower and turns on the water. The water is ice cold when it shoots out and he lets out a startled shout, steps back and nearly trips on Bucky’s stool. He fumbles and manages to grab the bar on the wall and get himself seated without falling out of the bathtub.

“Jesus Christ, Rogers! Get a hold of yourself!” He reaches through the cascading freezing water and adjusts the temperature.

Once the water is warmer, he quickly washes himself. Steve’s put little pump bottles into a rack glued to the wall so Bucky can easily dispense what he needs with a press of his fingers. Steve washes his hair with one hand and washes the rest of himself with the other—

—and he’s turning off the water three minutes later, ears straining to hear if Bucky’s calling for him.

There’s no sound, but that doesn’t mean everything’s okay.

He shoves aside the curtain and hurries into the living room, water dripping off him. He shivers from the abrupt cold, but he’s purely focused on Bucky…

…who’s sitting on the living room floor in the exact same position Steve had left him. He’s pulled the blanket from his shoulders and put it into his lap, but other than that, nothing’s changed.

Steve nearly collapses from relief. “Thank God. Buck, you did so good! And so did I. I showered in the tub! Can you believe it?” He lets out a laugh, really happy with himself.

Bucky doesn’t react. Of course.

Steve feels that twinge of sadness. He wants to share his success with Bucky—but that would involve a very lengthy conversation which is out of reach for them at the moment.

Sometimes he gets the crazy feeling like he’s invisible. A ghost. It’s still so strange to be doing things around Bucky and not have him react. Sometimes Steve has to look down at himself or go look in the bathroom mirror to make sure that yes, he’s still here.

Steve sighs sadly, but then shakes himself. He’s getting water all over the living room, he’s freezing, and he needs to keep his day going. He’s got to clean the bathroom, lunch needs to be made, and he needs to put in some computer time today too.

Once he’s dried off and changed, he looks at the clock and realizes he’s a bit ahead of schedule. He showered a lot quicker in the tub than he usually does in the sink, so it’s no surprise he’s gained a bit of time.

He watches Bucky with his blocks, then decides lunch preparation can be put off for a while.

He’s still feeling a bit sad about not being able to share his shower success with Bucky, and he knows the best way to shake that feeling off is to interact with Bucky.

They may not be able to have real conversations, but they can cuddle and Steve can help him with his building blocks. It’s not perfect—but Steve doesn’t let himself dwell on that.

He always feels better when he’s touching Bucky and working with him on something, but he tries to balance his own needs with Bucky’s need to be more independent. He knows Bucky has to get more comfortable being on his own, so Steve does his best to balance both of their needs.

He tries not to let Bucky know when he’s upset. Not only does Bucky get worried and upset with himself for not being able to talk to Steve about it, but if Bucky feels cuddling isn’t making Steve feel better, he always shifts to using sex as a way of cheering Steve up. It’s a nice distraction, but in general the sex doesn’t fill Steve’s need to communicate with Bucky more.

*             *             *

Bucky’s building a tall tower using his building blocks which Steve bought him. The blocks come in a variety of different shapes and sizes and Steve had taped together several of the flat base boards so Bucky can press the blocks down without anything falling over.

He’s built several small things, but he’s currently working on an elaborate, tall building. When Bucky’s sitting down, the building is about eye-height now.

He’s working on adding some pieces that jut out from the side of the building. He thinks he’ll make other buildings later and then he’ll be able to connect them.

He needs a thick, eight dot piece.

He runs his hand over the case with different compartments that hold the different shaped blocks. He counts off until he reaches one of the last compartments. He reaches inside and feels the shape of the blocks.

Eight little bumps on the surface. It’s one of the thick ones.

Perfect.

He holds it in his hand and turns back to his structure. He carefully runs his hand along the flat base boards until he bumps into the side of his building. He lightly runs his fingers up the sides until he reaches the top.

He snaps the eight piece into place and double checks it. Excellent.

Now another eight piece.

He feels a shift in the air and then feels a hand on his hand. He immediately feels the person’s wrist.

Leather bracelet.

Large bead.

Di. Di. Dit.

Dah.

Dit.

“Hi. You wanna hand me an eight piece, please? One of the thick ones.”

The hand leaves. It’s back moments later and presses the correct block into his hand. Bucky focuses on  attaching it next to the other eight block.

“You okay, Stevie?” He reaches over and feels around for Steve’s hand. Steve brings their hands to his own chest, then draws a smiley face on Bucky’s palm.

Bucky frowns. Steve says he’s happy, but Bucky can feel he’s tense. Bucky runs his hand up Steve’s arm, rubbing gently. “You sure? You seem tense. Are you tense?”

Steve doesn’t answer for a moment, then he does a hesitant tap on Bucky’s hand.

Oh, good. Tension is something Bucky can fix. He leers in Steve’s direction. “You want me to make the tension go away? I hear it’s good to exercise before a meal anyway.” He gently squeezes Steve’s hand, waiting for him to tap his hand.

But to his surprise, Steve rubs his hand, squeezes it and repeats his smiley face from before.

Huh.

Okay, maybe Steve’s not in the mood. That’s fine.

“Alright. No pre-lunch sexy times for Rogers. Feel free to change your mind anytime—I’m available.”

He feels Steve bring their hands to his face and he can feel Steve smiling.

“Oh, good. There’s the smile I love.”

He feels Steve bring his hand to Bucky’s own chest, then a smiley face is drawn in his palm, along with the question mark.

“I’m fine. Being inside ain’t so bad if I have something to do.”

They’ve been practicing having Bucky spending more time inside lately. It’s still summer, but they both know winter will eventually arrive, which will force Bucky to spend several months inside. He’s slowly getting used to this whole situation.

His hand is squeezed.

He feels Steve sit behind him, his legs on either side of Bucky’s legs. Steve wraps one arm around Bucky’s chest.

“Wanna help me?”

A tap on his hand.

So Bucky asks Steve for specific blocks and Steve retrieves them. They bring the block to the building and snap it into place together. Sometimes Steve will choose a certain block and guide Bucky’s hand to where he thinks it should go, but mostly he lets Bucky be in charge. Bucky appreciates Steve’s input—he relies on Steve’s eyes to detect certain structural flaws that could bring the whole thing down, and he likes working on something together.

*             *             *

Steve’s sitting on the couch, watching television. He’s got his laptop on his lap, but he’s not having much luck finding useful things today. He’s already spent time doing his usual search for a better communication method but as usual, he’s only finding websites about American Sign Language or other complicated methods which would take Bucky forever to learn. He just wants a simple way to spell things for Bucky.

He’s very close to admitting defeat with the whole thing and just making up their own alphabet, but he’s still holding out hope that he’ll find something which Bucky might be able to use to communicate with other people.

He’s getting a bit better at finding things for Bucky, but he finds that his energy drains more and more rapidly these days. He needs to set himself a time limit, telling himself exactly how much time he’ll spend doing research. Without the time limit, he finds himself gazing off into space, his hands resting uselessly on the keys.

He’s already done the twenty minutes he told himself he’d spend looking for games and activities, but the forty minutes he said he’d spend on researching communication methods is leading nowhere.

When he realizes he’s checked the time on the laptop every minute for the past five minutes, he knows he won’t get a useful forty minutes of research done.

His failure annoys him, which adds to the general grey mood that’s settling over him.

He’s trying to get rid of his darkening mood by watching television. It’s a show about a couple looking for a new house. They live in Boston and they’re looking for an older home. The realtor is just showing them the second house.

“Oh, this one’s nice, Buck. Look at those floors! They look like they’re original. Maybe even from our days. They’d make perfect firewood, wouldn’t they?”

Bucky’s sitting next to him on the couch, working on an art project. As usual, he doesn’t respond.

Steve makes a face when he sees the wallpaper in the living room in the house. “That wallpaper is not original, that’s for sure. Look at that! Who would want that many flowers pasted to their walls?” he chuckles. The wallpaper is awful enough to be funny and he can’t believe that Bucky isn’t laughing too, so he glances at him—

And he remembers why Bucky isn’t laughing.

His heart twists. “No. No. Keep it together, Rogers. Come on. Keep watching the show. They’re going into the kitchen. Let’s check out the kitchen.”

He forces himself to watch the screen, Bucky sitting silently next to him, gluing aluminum foil onto his paper.

No matter how hard he tries, Steve can’t seem to focus on the show anymore, so he turns it off. The computer is leering at him from his lap, so he puts it on the table and gets up to do something else.

It’s time to do another load of laundry anyway, so he grabs the dirty clothes, dumps them on the bathroom floor and fills the bathtub with water. He pulls the washing detergent out from under the sink and gets to work, scrubbing the clothes.

The physical labor nicely keeps him occupied.

He’s covered in foam and water and he’s in the middle of scrubbing a pair of his jeans when the intercom buzzes. Shit, it’s Tuesday, so that’s the groceries delivery.

“Buck, can you grab the door? It’s the groceries,” he shouts over his shoulder, dunking the jeans under water and scrubbing at a stubborn stain—is that ketchup?

The intercom buzzes again. For Christ’s sake—“Buck! Answer the door! I’m half in the tub with the laundry here.”

He scrubs at the stain some more. Jesus Christ, is it really asking so much for Buck to get his ass off the couch and let in the—

—and that’s when Steve remembers.

He freezes, the water logged jeans in his hands.

That dark cloud comes flooding back over him and he squeezes his eyes shut. He’s got a lump in his throat and he knows he’s seconds away from losing it—but then the intercom buzzes again.

He pushes himself up, dries his hands on a towel and races to the intercom, vigorously rubbing a hand over his face to stay in control. He presses the intercom ‘talk’ button. “Hi! Sorry, sorry.”

The man announces in a bored voice that he’s from the grocery store that Steve orders from.

“Come on in,” Steve says, pushing the button.

He looks down at himself. He’s soaking wet, he’s got foam on his shirt and Bucky’s sitting on the couch, completely unaware that Steve desperately needs help.

Not just with the groceries, but with life in general.

There’s a knock on the door and Steve goes to open it. He pays for the delivery and pulls the bags into the front hall. Bucky’s lifted his head the moment he felt the door being opened, and as soon as the door is shut, Steve hurries to the couch.

“Was it the groceries, Steve?” Bucky asks.

“Yeah, Buck.” He taps Bucky’s hand.

Satisfied, Bucky relaxes and reaches for his paintbrush in the glue pot.

Steve stands there, less than a foot from Bucky, staring down at him. “Buck—Buck I ain’t doing too well today. I feel—I don’t feel too great today.”

He’s very, very close to just collapsing next to Bucky and crawling onto his lap and crying his eyes out, but he knows that would alarm Bucky. Plus, after cuddling, Bucky will probably use sex to make Steve feel better, and Steve’s absolutely not in the mood.

Plus, Bucky’s having a good day and he’s got more important things to worry about, so Steve takes a careful step back from the couch.

He wraps his arms around himself, his shirt still moist. He needs to focus. He needs to put the groceries away and he needs to finish the laundry.

He brutally shoves the roiling emotions in his gut to the side and goes to take care of the groceries.

Once that’s done, he heads back into the bathroom. He manages to finish scrubbing the clothes, rinses them out and twists the water out of them. He shoves everything into the basket and goes outside and hangs them up on the rack.

He’s not feeling any better when he comes back inside. He stands by the couch, looking down at Bucky.

“Buck—I’m having a hard time. I—I miss you. I know you’re right here, but I miss you. And I know that’s stupid, but I feel like I’m here all alone, just like when I woke up. That’s stupid, but that’s how I feel.”

He feels tears brimming his eyes. He clenches his jaw, his hands itching to pick up his phone to call Natasha—but she’s on a mission so she won’t answer.

The only other person who could possibly make him feel better is sitting right there on the couch—but he’s on a completely different world.

Steve doesn’t want to upset Bucky, so he goes to the front door. He slides down it and pulls his knees up. This is the one spot in the apartment which he knows Bucky won’t come to.

This is the one spot he can sit and have a good cry without Bucky being aware of it.

He lets the tears flow—the grief heavy in his gut.

Grief for their old lives.

Grief for their old friendship.

How is it possible to be living in the same apartment, yet he feels like they’re worlds apart?

“I know this is way harder for you than me, Buck, but I need you to help me. I know that’s not fair on you, but that’s what I need. I need to talk to you and I can’t and it’s killing me. I—I just—I miss you.”

Chapter Text

As is always the case, after Steve has a good cry, he feels a bit better about everything.

Nothing has actually changed, but he feels better. Or at least, he feels strong enough to continue with his day.

Steve knows he can’t afford to take a single day off. Bucky depends on him for so many things and Steve doesn’t want to make Bucky’s life any harder than it already is.

Once he’s back in control of himself, he goes to prepare dinner.

When dinner’s done and Steve’s supervised Bucky doing the dishes, he finishes washing the knives and they play a few rounds of Connect Four.

Steve loves playing games with Bucky. Once Bucky gets the hang of the game, he gets comfortable enough to be able to joke around with Steve while playing it. Unlike in other situations, it’s easy to have a conversation while playing games together even without using any complicated spelling.

They make each other laugh, they’re both on the same page, and best of all, Steve doesn’t feel alone.

Once they’re done, Bucky spends time with his building blocks and Steve gets on the computer.

Since he’s had a good cry today and he just finished playing a game with Bucky, he’s feeling newly re-energized and he tells himself he’s going to spend at least one hour on the computer. Thirty minutes looking for a communication method and thirty minutes looking for a new toy or activity for Bucky.

That’s how he finds the special markers.

*             *             *

A few days later, Bucky gets an amazing present from Steve. Well, all the presents Steve gets him are amazing, but this one is especially amazing.

When Steve hands Bucky the package of markers, Bucky frowns and informs him that he appreciates the present but his markers from his kit are still good. Why is Steve spending money on things they already have?

Steve takes the package out of his hands.

Suddenly, Bucky can smell a strange, chemical scent right under his nose. It smells kind of like an orange, but an orange that’s been drowned in toxic chemicals, and it’s way too sweet.

“What? What the hell is that? That ain’t a real orange,” he says.

He feels Steve grab his hand and wrap it around what he can tell is one of the markers. Steve’s hand is shaking and tense. Bucky hopes it’s from excitement, not concern. He doesn’t know what Steve could be worried about where markers are concerned—so he’s pretty sure it’s excitement.

As soon as the marker is within smelling distance, Bucky can smell the orange scent.

He freezes.

Oh, my God.

Oh, my God!

“Oh, my God, the marker has a smell??” He gets very excited for a second, until he deflates slightly. Probably all the markers smell like oranges. It’s neat but it won’t help him distinguish the colors.

He feels the marker being taken out of his hand and being replaced with another one.

He sniffs it.

And nearly falls over. Cherry. It smells like cherry. Not orange.

“This—Steve, is it red? Cherry red?”

Tap, tap, tap.

“The orange one, is it an orange color?” He’s barely breathing.

Tap, tap, tap.

A shiver of excitement runs down his spine. He wants to cry. He wants to run around, telling the entire world.

“Are you serious? They each have their own smell?? I can actually color things and know what color it is?”

Tap, tap, tap.

Still holding the marker in his hand, he steps forward and yanks Steve into a hug. “Stevie, this is the best thing that’s happened since you got me my cane. Oh, my God—I can color properly!”

He does a happy little dance, jostling Steve along. Steve’s lips are moving against Bucky’s cheek and he’s vibrating—Bucky knows he’s just as excited.

Bucky pulls back and kisses Steve. His aim is slightly off and he smacks a kiss on to his cheek, then he adjusts and kisses him properly. “Thank you! This is so great! So great! I can’t wait to use them!”

He insists on smelling each of the colors one by one and identifying what they are.

There are only a few he can’t identify. Once he’s figured out the easy ones, he returns to the unidentified markers and sniffs each one, wracking his brain for any association he can make with those particular chemical smells. Some smell sweet, some smell gross, but he has no idea what the scent is supposed to represent. When he informs Steve that he has no idea what they are, Steve sticks one of them under his nose, then reluctantly smooths out his hand to start spelling the name of the color. Bucky pulls his hand back with a grimace.

“Is it a color I have to use often?”

A rub.

He hands it back to Steve. “Then put them away somewhere. Once we have a better spelling system, you can tell me what color it is.”

But Steve is hesitating. He firmly wraps Bucky fingers around a particular marker, and when Bucky brings it to his nose, he barely has to sniff it before he’s gagging from the disgusting stench. “Oh, not this one again!”

He quickly holds it away from him. “Lid, Steve! Put the lid back on it! That smell can’t be healthy.”

But Steve—the punk—is being insistent, pushing Bucky’s hand back towards his face.

Fine. “Is it a color I need to use, Stevie?” Please say no, please say no.

A tap.

Really? They made an important color have such a disgusting smell?”

Another tap.

Bucky sighs. “Fine. Spell it out.”

Steve goes to get the board. Steve isn’t bothering with the Morse code anymore—he just spells words on the board. It’s more work for Steve, and it doesn’t really allow Steve to communicate a lot of words at once, but it’s better than the stupid Morse code spelling that Bucky can’t get the hang of.

When Steve’s done laying out the plastic letters, Bucky runs his fingers over them until he knows what the word is.

B-L-A-C-K.

“What the hell is black and stinks so bad?” he demands.

He feels Steve lift Bucky’s hand to his shoulders and he can feel Steve shrugging.

Whatever.

He won’t let anything ruin his mood today.

He has a whole set of colored markers that he can use and actually know what color he’s using!

“Rogers, grab some paper and throw some sticky string things on it—I don’t care what it looks like. Meet me at the table. We have some serious coloring to do!”

*             *             *

“You don’t sound good, Rogers.”

Steve sighs, glaring at the computer on his lap. It’s a pretty bad sign when he sounds so mopey that Natasha can detect it from the way he says ‘Hi Nat’. “I’m—I’m not a hundred percent.”

She sighs unhappily. “Okay. That’s it. I’m gonna get you guys some help. I’ll call—”

Fear races down Steve’s spine, and with it comes anger. “The hell you are! I ain’t letting them put Buck into an institution! That ain’t happening!”

There’s no way—no way—that anybody will come and take Buck away.

He remembers different teachers trying to be sneaky and make ‘special appointments’ for him to go to certain places for ‘special evaluations’. He remembers his ma would always be livid and put the teachers in their place, and Buck would stick to his side like glue in case somebody came and hauled him away while they were playing stickball or eating lunch. Every strange adult who walked past them got a nasty look from Buck, warning them without words to stay away.

“Steve, calm down. Did I mention anything about institutions? Quit letting your anger run the show—you’re acting like an idiot. Obviously I wouldn’t send somebody over there who would try to take Buck away.”

Steve clenches his jaw. “You won’t be sending anybody over here, that’s the end of that story.”

He doesn’t trust any of those kinds of people, and besides—Buck had never needed extra help taking care of Steve. He isn’t gonna dodge his responsibilities just because they have money for extra help these days.

She sighs—it’s her angry sigh, not her sad sigh. “Okay, I’m putting my foot down. Not being able to talk to that boy of yours is literally driving you crazy, and that’s gonna stop now. I’m gonna spend two hours looking for an alphabet that you can use, and I don’t find anything, we’re gonna make our own.”

Her attitude is really starting to annoy him. “You think I’ve been sitting here, doing nothing? I’ve been working on it!”

“I know, but you aren’t in a good place right now so your energy is being sucked up with feeling like shit. You’re practically moving backwards with everything else.”

“What the hell do you know you?”

She’s silent for a moment. “Quit taking it out on me, Steve. Please? I’m trying to help and trust me, the worst thing you can do for Buck is to shove me away. He’s depending on you to figure this out, and if you aren’t going to listen to a professional, you have to listen to me.”

He’s still livid. “I’ve been doing the best I can! I’d never, ever do anything to make things harder for him!”

“I know that, Steve. Listen, my precious little idiot, I know that. But you’re under a lot of stress and you haven’t had a break and right now your brain is at the stage where it’s no longer completely under your control. You gotta let me call the shots for a little while, okay? I promise I won’t hurt Bucky.”

His anger slowly drains. He looks at Bucky sitting quietly on the couch next to him, coloring in a picture of a cat with his scented markers.

What is he doing? Why is he arguing with Natasha, when she’s offering to help them?

Shit.

He rubs a hand over his face and leans back against the couch. “I’m sorry, Nat.”

“I know. Don’t worry about it. We’ll figure this out, one step at a time, okay?”

He’s struggling not to cry. “Okay.”

“Here’s what we’re gonna do. I’m gonna look on the internet, and you’re gonna tell me every little thing that you’ve been wanting to tell Buck over the past week.”

He smiles sadly. “Thanks Nat, but I ain’t gonna bore you with telling you about the TV shows I’m—”

“Yes, you are. Tell me about the TV shows. Tell me how Bucky’s doing. Tell me how your showering’s going. Believe me, after the month I’ve had, you’re doing me a favor. Go ahead—talk my ear off. I’ll let you know when I found something.”

*             *             *

“So they had to take out the entire floor in the basement and redo all the plumbing. It was a disaster.”

Natasha makes a clucking noise. “But the guys fixed it, right?”

“Oh, yeah. They also—get this—they also put in some tubing under the floor that supposedly heats the floor! Did you know they make things like that? Heating under the floor?! Insane.”

She chuckles. “You’re such a dinosaur.”

“Ha ha. Anyway, so then they—”

Oh! Rogers, I hate to interrupt you, but I think I found it.”

Honestly, Steve doesn’t even remember what she’d been searching for. He’s just so happy to be having a conversation with somebody. “Found what?”

“Oh, my God, you. Check your email, I’m sending you links.”

Steve’s put the computer on the coffee table but he dutifully pulls the computer back onto his lap and logs into his email. While it’s loading, he checks on Bucky. He’s switched to a different color and he’s working on the cat’s ears.

His email loads and he sees Natasha has sent him an email with two links.

He clicks on the first one.

The top of the page has a title in bright orange font: The Deafblind Manual Alphabet

Steve nearly stops breathing. “Is it—is it—”

“It’s easy, Steve. One little symbol for each letter, just like you wanted.”

The pictures are a bit grainy but when he scrolls down a little, he sees there are descriptions for each letter.

‘For A, Touch the tip of your friend’s thumb’ it says.

“Is—is—” He’s trying to talk and read at the same time and it’s not working well.

“Steve, I have no idea what you’re trying to say.”

He tears his eyes off the page. “Does it repeat movements? The A is touching the thumb, how many other letters use the thumb?”

“A couple of them, but none of them use the tip of the thumb. This is good, Steve. Each letter is distinct and simple.”

He’s back to reading. He scrambles to put the phone on the armrest of the couch and puts it on speaker. He holds out his left hand and uses the index finger of his right hand to start tracing the letters on his palm, trying out the letters.

‘Touch the tip of your friend’s thumb.’

A.

‘Bunch the tips of your fingers and place them on your friend’s palm.’

B.

He runs through all 26 letters, and as Natasha had promised, they’re all different and they’re all simple.

Such an immense feeling of relief settles over him that he nearly bursts into tears. “This, this is doable Nat. I think Buck will be able to do this.”

“I know he can. And I know you can do it too. And you know the best part? This is an official alphabet. If you’re ever dealing with strangers, like in a hospital, you can tell them Buck needs the deafblind manual alphabet to communicate, and they’ll find somebody who knows it. That’s huge, Steve.”

He’s nodding. He’s barely remembering to breathe.

He’s started from A again, spelling the letters on his palm. He has to blink hard to keep the tear at bay, but he can’t start crying now.

He has work to do.

He runs through the alphabet twice more, then at Natasha’s urging, he watches the short video she’s sent him. The video has no sound and shows a man’s palm. A man does the symbol for each letter and a woman copies him. He’s teaching her how to make the symbols on his palm.

He starts the video at the beginning and does each letter with them, and he gets more and more excited the more he watches. Here are two people, complete strangers, who are using this new, wonderful alphabet.

At the end of the video, he watches in amazement as the woman spells a phrase on the man’s hand.

She’s communicating an entire sentence on the man’s hand!

An. Entire. Sentence.

“Nat, Nat, I’m gonna teach Buck.”

She laughs. “Good. Hurry up. And then practice. Both of you. Good luck, and call me if you need me. I’m here until Tuesday.”

“I love you, you know that, right?”

“I love you too. Hurry up and get the board so you can start explaining to Buck.”

*             *             *

Bucky’s coloring with his wonderful new scented markers. He’s almost done the multi-colored cat he’s working on. While he loves doing his art projects—the scented markers are a wonderful addition—he’s getting a little bored of it. The building blocks are great—he needs to use his brain a lot more to create more complicated structures—but he’d really love some more variety in his life.

He thought spending those ten months in prison would cure him of that—but he spent nearly thirty years doing a million things every day. He tries to convince himself that this is his new reality and he has to get his brain accustomed to enjoying less complex tasks.

But telling himself that and actually getting his brain to go along with it are two different things.

For now, he’s very careful not to give Steve any hint that he’s bored.

He knows how hard Steve’s working to find him activities to do, and he knows Steve is responsible for taking care of all the chores, plus he has to help Bucky with a lot of things. Steve didn’t choose any of this—so the least Bucky can do is put on a good front.

He can spend hours wracking his brain and trying to come up with new ways of doing the little pile of activities he has, and he can desperately hope for Steve to find more things for him to do—but on the outside, he’s going to smile and be enthusiastic. If Steve is happy to see Bucky spending four hours with his building blocks—then Bucky will spend four hours with his building blocks, with a smile on his face, and telling Steve how much fun he’s having.

He focuses back on the picture of the cat. He touches his watch and realizes it’s getting pretty close to bed time.

He’s trying to determine if he’ll have enough time to finish the cat today—when he’s interrupted by Steve abruptly grabbing his thigh and shaking it.

He startles slightly—he knows Steve is sitting next to him on the couch, but that doesn’t mean the punk should just grab him like that—

But before he can admonish Steve for it, he realizes Steve is really, really excited about something. Steve’s shaking Bucky, kissing him all over, his whole body vibrating and he’s talking a mile a minute. He takes Bucky’s hands and runs them over the computer, then taps a dozen times on his hand.

Bucky has no idea why Steve is so excited, but clearly he’s found something on the computer that will help them.

Bucky’s being pulled to the floor so they can sit facing each other. Bucky feels something being placed into his lap. He runs his hand over it and recognizes the metallic board.

Steve is pushing a plastic letter under Bucky’s fingers. Bucky brushes his fingers over it.

It’s the ‘A’.

Okay.

“That’s an A.”

He feels a tap on his hand. Then his hand is turned over, and his thumb is tapped.

Bucky waits.

Nothing more happens. He has no idea what the thumb tap meant, but if Steve’s gonna spell on the board, he’s gotta get a move on. He’s thrilled that Steve isn’t using code, but he doesn’t understand why he isn’t putting the next letter down. He really wants to know what Steve found on the computer.

“Rogers, I’m ready. It’s an ‘A’. Do the next letter.”

Rub, rub, rub.

Instead of another letter being placed by the A, his hand is turned over and pressed over the A again.

“It’s an A. I already said that.”

His hand is turned over and his thumb is tapped. The tap is a lot harder than it normally is.

Bucky frowns. “What—is that what you wanna do for A? The tap on the thumb?”

Tap, tap, tap on the back of his hand.

“You—you found an alphabet? An easy alphabet?”

Tap, tap, tap. Steve’s practically smacking his hand, he’s so excited.

“The symbols are easy?”

Tap, tap, tap.

A glimmer of hope erupts in Bucky’s chest. Maybe, maybe this will be doable.

“Okay. Thumb tap is A. Alright. Next.”

The A is removed and Bucky’s hand is pulled over the next letter.

It's a B. “That’s B.”

His hand is turned over and he feels a bunch of Steve’s fingers poking him in the center of the palm.

“Middle of the palm, a bunch of fingers. That’s B.”

Tap, tap, tap.

The letter C involves Steve running his finger down the outside of Bucky’s thumb and then up the outside of his index finger.

“Hey, that’s neat! That’s like a C! I like that one.”

Then he feels a tab on his thumb. “That’s A.”

Tap, tap, tap.

Bucky’s shifting around, actually feeling excited about this spelling thing. The symbols seem to be easy and straight forward. It’s something he knows he’ll be able to handle.

“Keep going, Steve. You don’t gotta do the magnets unless I’m not tracking the letters right. Do D.”

*             *             *

Steve goes to bed feeling lighter and happier than he has in weeks. Even the first night with the motion detector hadn’t made him feel this good.

Buck had flown through all 26 letters and they’d run through the entire thing twice more. Buck had remembered about a quarter of the symbols by the end of their third run, and Steve pretty much had it memorized by then.

He’s already mentally re-arranging their schedule for the next day, wanting to fit in as many practice sessions with Bucky as possible. Maybe they can even start doing words tomorrow!

With practice, he knows he’ll eventually be able to actually talk to Bucky.

He’ll be able to actually. Talk. To. Bucky.

They’re finally back on track.

*             *             *

Bucky pulls his reheated coffee out of the microwave and shuts the door. Steve has moved the microwave so it lives on the counter now. If Bucky knocks over whatever’s in the microwave, the contents will spill out on the counter—not over Bucky’s head.

Grabbing his mug, he very carefully makes his way out of the kitchen. Holding a cup filled with liquid in his hand makes it impossible to use his cane, but he’s starting to get comfortable enough in the apartment to move short distances without his cane.

He takes three steps, then turns right. He takes two more steps and carefully sweeps the area around him with his foot until he smacks into the table leg. Putting his mug onto the table, he moves around the edge of the table, keeping a hand on it until he’s reached Steve’s chair.

He finds Steve and wraps his arm around his chest and kisses the top of his head. “Hey.”

His hand is pulled from Steve’s chest and turned over.

A quick swipe over his palm. H.

A tap on the tip of his index finger. I.

H-I.

A little pause.

A bunch of finger tips pressing into the center of his palm. B.

A tap on his pinky finger. U.

A swipe along the edge of his thumb up to the tip of his index finger. C.

A finger is curled against his index finger. K.

B-U-C-K.

The entire thing has only taken seconds and Bucky has been able to keep track of the letters easily. With so little time required for each letter, it’s easy to keep a clear mental image of what the letters are.

“You said ‘Hi Buck’.”

Tap, tap, tap on the back of his hand.

Bucky’s grinning, a burst of pride in his chest. He wraps his arm around Steve’s chest again. “That’s so cool, Stevie! I can hear you say my name!”

He can’t believe Steve just told him two separate words, all in one go and they didn’t need the board and it only took seconds!

He feels Steve turning around and then he’s got Steve’s arms wrapped around his waist and Steve’s face is pressed into his stomach. His mouth is moving against Bucky’s belly.

“I’m proud of me too. Also—I’m proud of you. You learned that whole alphabet just as fast as me. You don’t need your cheat sheets anymore and I don’t need the magnets anymore.”

He kisses Steve’s head.

“You wanna come sit outside with me?”

Tap.

*             *             *

They’re lying on the living room floor, playing the word game. They’ve got one metallic board that’s for the letters, the other board is for the man picture.

Steve told him the game’s called Hangman, but Bucky doesn’t understand what hanging has to do with it, so he just calls it the word game.

Steve twisted together a bunch of the waxy strings that they use on his drawings and he’s created a round face, an oval torso and four thick arms and legs.

Right now it’s Steve’s turn. Bucky runs his hand along the letter board and counts five of the little waxy string pieces, signifying a five letter word.

He starts with the vowels. “A?”

Tap on his hand.

He feels a motion in the air and knows Steve’s shifting around, adding the magnetic A to the spaces. Bucky runs his fingers over it. The first space now has the A on it. The other four spaces are empty.

“E?”

Yes, the E goes into the last space. But there’s no I, so the I letter is put on the board above the word so Bucky can keep track of which letters he’s guessed.

Bucky makes a face as he grabs for the round waxy head and smacks it onto the other board.

There’s also no O, so Bucky adds the torso below the head.

He randomly guesses L, which ends up being the fourth letter.

Bucky frowns and runs his fingers over the letters. A. Space. Space. L. E.

“Oh! Apple! Obviously!”

Tap, tap, tap.

Bucky grins. “Yay!”

Steve adds the two Ps to the word and Bucky runs his hand over it, feeling very satisfied with himself.

“Okay, Rogers. My turn. You reset and I’ll think of a word.”

He settles on the word ‘Punk’ and instructs Steve to please lay out four letter spaces on the board.

Steve taps on Bucky’s thumb. “Nope, no A.”

Bucky’s in charge of the man board so he adds the waxy head. He knows Steve is putting the magnetic A on top of the letter board.

A finger is hooked around his pinky. “No, no S, Rogers.”

The torso is added.

Middle finger tap. “No, no I. Jesus, Rogers. You’re not doing very well,” Bucky chuckles and adds an arm to the man.

When Steve incorrectly guesses an M, Bucky goes to add the other arm to the man on the board—only to realize that the man’s first arm has gone missing.

Oh, he. Did. Not. Just.

“Rogers! Did you steal the other arm?! You cheating twit, you! I don’t believe this! You thought I wouldn’t notice?”

He pushes the two boards aside and grabs through the air until he feels Steve’s shirt. “Where’s the other arm, huh?”

He can feel Steve leaning back and his whole body’s vibrating. He’s laughing hysterically.

“Oh, you think this is funny, punk? Huh? Disregarding the rules? Blatant cheating? What the hell is this world coming to? I’m living with a degenerate. This is unbelievable!”

Steve laughs harder and Bucky tackles him to the floor. Bucky tries to stay serious but he’s grinning too hard. He feels Steve trying to roll them over and dump him off but he flattens himself over Steve. He grapples for both of Steve’s hands and pins them above his head.

“Now try and cheat, Rogers.”

Steve’s laughing and wraps his legs around Bucky.

Bucky leans down and noses along Steve’s neck up to his face. He gives him a hard kiss.

“So, the question is, how are you gonna make it up to me, huh?”

He feels Steve’s lips moving against his. He kisses him again. “Oh, I’m pretty sure I know what you’re saying. And all I can say is that you better deliver top quality if you wanna make up for the trauma you’ve put me through.”

He feels Steve laughing against his lips, then they’re tilting over and Bucky sprawls out on the floor, Steve on top. Bucky releases his grip on Steve’s hands and they run down Bucky’s face, down his shirt and over his sweatpants.

He feels Steve’s hot breath on his groin and he feels Steve rubbing his face against him. Bucky lifts his hips. “It works better if the pants are off, Rogers.”

Steve obliges and pulls the sweatpants and his underwear down to his knees. Bucky’s not that hard, but moments later, Steve’s wet hand is stroking him and his cock fills quickly.

He feels Steve settling between his legs, his breath hot and moist on his hardening cock. A soft lick right over the head and his cock is enveloped in the familiar warmth of Steve’s mouth.

Bucky lets out a happy sigh. “Oh, you can cheat all you want, Rogers, if this is how you’re gonna make it up to me.”

*             *             *

Within a week, they’re spelling abbreviated sentences to each other. Bucky is a bit surprised when he realizes that Steve is automatically leaving out certain filler words and only communicating the most essential words in a sentence.

And he rarely does more than 3 words per sentence.

It’s a let-down. Bucky was very hopeful that their new communication method would allow them to spend more time chatting with each other. He’d love to spend more time interacting with Steve like that, plus, figuring out what Steve is saying would be a nice way to keep his brain busy. He knows he’d be able to handle more complex sentences with practice…

…but then he realizes he’s being selfish. Communicating like this takes up a lot more time than talking did, and he already takes up so much of Steve’s time with other things.

It makes sense that Steve doesn’t want to draw out their communication.

Quick and to the point is what Steve seems to be gravitating towards.

Well, if that’s what Steve wants, that’s what they’ll do.

While Bucky would love to communicate with Steve a bit more, he’s not going to be selfish and make Steve sit there and spend half an hour telling him about mundane things.

*             *             *

Before Steve heads into the kitchen to make lunch, he decides it’s high time that he give Bucky a choice about what to eat for lunch. Due to their communication difficulties, Steve hadn’t been able to ask Bucky wants he wants to eat and he’s been using his thirty-year knowledge of the jerk to make him things he knows he likes.

But now he might be able to ask him.

He sits down next to Bucky who’s working with his building blocks. He touches Bucky’s hand and lets him feel the leather bracelet.

“Hi, Stevie.”

Steve flattens out Bucky’s palm.

H-I.

He mulls it over how to ask the question. He doesn’t want to frustrate Bucky and turn it into a sentence that’s too complex to keep mental track of.

Bucky must sense his hesitation. He shoots a smile in Steve’s direction.

“What’s wrong?”

Steve still hesitates. Should he spell out ‘What do you want to eat?’. That’s a very, very long sentence.

He could do an abbreviation: ‘What you want’ and then do the munching gesture and a question mark.

“Stevie, is it a real important question? If not, you don’t gotta ask me. I’m fine.”

A sinking feeling settles in Steve’s chest.

He—he thought they’d be able to have actual conversations with this new spelling method.

But…but maybe he’s being selfish. Bucky has to spend so much time focusing on his daily activities that it’s no wonder if he finds it difficult and time consuming to deal with big sentences.

Well, Steve isn’t going to make his life any harder than it already is.

He gently squeezes Bucky’s hand and releases it.

“It’s fine, Buck. Don’t worry about it.”

He stands up and heads to the kitchen. By the time he gets there, his throat clogs and the tears spill over.

Instead of making lunch, he goes to sit by the door.

Chapter Text

Steve’s already lying in bed while Bucky gets changed. He’s changed his sweatpants into boxers already, now he’s pulled off his shirt. He hands the shirt to Steve, who throws it into the laundry hamper for him.

Bucky is focused on unfolding his sleep shirt. He gives it a few shakes, but when he tries smoothing it out on his lap to get it flat and ready to pull on, it stays in a stubborn bundle. He makes a face.

“Steve, help. Stupid thing’s gotten tangled up.”

He feels Steve sit up behind him. Steve’s arms reach around him and he works on untangling the shirt. While he’s working, Bucky can feel that Steve’s leaning over Bucky’s left shoulder. While he fusses with the shirt, Steve props his chin on what remains of Bucky’s left shoulder, right over his collarbone. That entire area is covered in scar tissue.

Bucky freezes.

Steve has been respecting Bucky’s request to stay away from his left side, and usually he’s pretty good about it. Nobody touches the disgusting areas except Bucky—and he only does it when he’s having a shower or drying himself.

Bucky’s about to remind Steve, when Steve finishes untangling the shirt, smooths it over Bucky’s lap, presses a kiss to the (horrible, disgusting) scarred skin and retreats.

The kiss had been automatic—it hadn’t felt like a deliberate act.

Like Steve hadn’t even thought about it—he’d just felt Bucky’s skin under his chin and decided to kiss it before he lay back down.

How—how can Steve put such an unconscious declaration of affection on something so horrible?

Doesn’t that entire area have a (metaphorical) huge, glowing sign on it—stay away, this area is gross and shouldn’t be touched…?

Bucky certainly thinks so.

Steve’s eyesight is fine, Bucky knows it’s fine. Better than fine, actually.

So Bucky knows Steve can see the scar tissue. How can he just put his lips on it like it’s no big deal?

Unless…

Unless…it…isn’t that bad?

Is that even possible?

“Steve—do you…”

He feels Steve shift behind him. He’s waiting for Bucky to finish asking his question.

When Bucky doesn’t say anything, Steve takes his hand and draws a question mark on his palm.

“I—Is it really not that bad?”

Another question mark.

“The—my shoulder. My left shoulder. Is it…it’s not horrible to you?”

Steve’s answer is immediate.

Rub, rub, rub, rub.

Bucky doesn’t understand that. “Why? I know it looks disgusting. It don’t look like my right shoulder, that’s for sure. Why is it not a big deal to you?”

He feels Steve shifting and moving his hand so he can spell on Bucky’s palm.

U-S-E-D.

T-O.

I-T.

“Still. Even if you’re used to seeing it, you shouldn’t be kissing it. There’s a difference between accepting that something’s ugly, and kissing it.”

Steve is silent for a moment.

Then:

H-U-R-T.

“What? No, it don’t hurt. It’s a bit more sensitive than the other side, but that’s it.”

Rub, rub, rub.

Bucky figured he’d gotten it wrong. Besides, Steve hadn’t put a question mark after the word ‘hurt’. So it hadn’t been a question. That makes even less sense.

A-B-U-S-E.

Again, there’s no question mark. It’s a statement. But a nonsensical one.

Bucky doesn’t get it. “You ain’t making any sense. What abuse?”

The bed shifts. Steve’s sitting up. He’s stretching his legs out around Bucky and he slides up so he’s pressed against Bucky’s back. He picks up Bucky’s hand again.

Together, they tap on Bucky’s right shoulder.

H-U-R-T.

Bucky’s about to explain to the dumbass that no, his shoulder doesn’t hurt and that isn’t the topic of this conversation—but Steve’s continuing.

Again, there’s no question mark. Steve’s making a statement.

Their clasped hands gently tap on the remainder of Bucky’s left shoulder.

L-O-T-S.

H-U-R-T.

They tap on Bucky’s right shoulder again.

D-E-S-E-R-V-E.

They rub over Bucky’s heart.

They tap on Bucky’s left shoulder.

D-E-S-E-R-V-E.

They rub over Bucky’s heart. And they keep rubbing over Bucky’s heart.

And they keep rubbing over Bucky’s heart.

Bucky smiles softly and gently pulls their hands away from his chest. “I get it. I guess you’re right. My left side’s been through a lot. I guess it would be kinder to give it some love rather than ignoring it, huh?”

Tap, tap, tap.

Steve presses a gentle kiss to the scar tissue by his collarbone.

Steve is still holding his hand and he taps Bucky on the chest, presses his thumb against his fingers, then a question mark.

Bucky takes a deep breath. “I—I guess I’m okay with it if you’re really okay with it. I don’t want you touching that area just because you pity—”

Steve’s one hand vigorously rubs the back of Bucky’s hand, while the other squeezes him around the waist.

A firm kiss is pressed to his left shoulder.

Bucky smiles. “You’re really okay with it? You’re used to it?”

Tap, tap, tap.

Their hands tap Steve on the side of the head.

S-H-O-W.

Bucky’s chest.

Question mark.

Bucky manages a smirk. “Well, I ain’t ever gonna say no to letting you have your way with me.”

Steve shifts back and snatches the shirt off Bucky’s lap. Bucky nudges past him and lies down in his corner.

As soon as he’s lying down, Steve’s straddling him and kissing his neck.

The kisses are soft and light, purely affectionate and not meant to arouse. Steve kisses down his neck, across his chest and moves to his right shoulder.

He kisses his way back to the center of Bucky’s chest and just as slowly kisses his way to his left shoulder.

Unlike the last time they’d been in this situation, Bucky doesn’t stop him.

He carefully catalogs Steve’s kisses, trying to determine if the kisses are hesitant, or if there’s any other sign that Steve’s forcing himself to do this.

But there’s no sign of that.

Instead, Steve spends even longer on his left side than he had on his right. He presses gentle, slow kisses to his left shoulder and travels down over his scarred ribs, nuzzling and kissing the damaged skin.

Bucky’s not completely comfortable with it, but Steve is projecting so much love through his kisses that Bucky doesn’t want to stop him.

Maybe Steve’s right.

Maybe Bucky’s been treating his left side a bit unfairly. It certainly has been through a lot.

Maybe it does deserve more love instead of less love.

*             *             *

Steve’s on the couch, relaxing while he waits for Bucky to finish wiping down the counters. He no longer stands beside Bucky while he’s doing the dishes and Steve’s way too comfortable to do the knives right now. He listens to Bucky wiping the counters and unfolding his cane and slowly making his way to the couch.

Steve stays still, watching him sweeping the cane back and forth, finding the table and then the couch. Bucky gets to the couch and folds up his cane, putting it on the coffee table next to Steve’s phone. He bends over Steve and reaches out, finding his shoulder.

“What are you doing, punk?”

Steve smiles and lets Bucky run his hand along his body, figuring out how he’s situated on the couch.

“Oh, excellent! You’re in perfect cuddling position.”

Steve shifts a bit back and lifts up an arm, letting Bucky carefully climb onto the couch and settle over him, burying his face in Steve’s chest with Steve’s arm around his back.

That’s when Steve’s phone ring. He glances at it.

It’s Natasha.

As always, a happy surge fills his chest. Finally—a person he can have an actual conversation with! While he can now communicate with Bucky regarding day-to-day issues, he’s slowly giving up hope that they’ll ever be able to talk the way they used to.

Steve feels a bit guilty for looking forward to his chats with Natasha so much, especially because Bucky is completely unaware of how much Steve chats with her on the phone.

He reaches out the hand that’s not wrapped around Bucky and taps the button to accept the call, then puts it on speaker.

“Hi,” he says. He hopes he doesn’t sound too excited.

“Hi, you.”

“You back home?”

“Yup, until Wednesday. How are things?”

Steve smiles. “Things are going well. We’re pretty much fluent with the manual alphabet.”

“So things are going well?”

Well. Yes and no. But he doesn’t want to bother Natasha about that right now.

“Oh, yeah.”

Bucky snuffles softly and makes himself more comfortable on Steve’s chest. Steve knows he can feel the vibrations in Steve’s chest when he’s talking, but he’s probably assuming Steve’s talking to him or himself.

“So, Rogers?”

“Yeah?”

“Can you guys knit?”

He frowns. “Knit? Yeah. Why?”

“Really?” She sounds surprised.

Steve chuckles. “Yeah, really. I don’t think you realize how much time I had to spend indoors and confined to a  before the serum. And Barnes here wanted to spend time with me, but there’s only so many things you can do when you’re bedridden and weak for weeks on end.”

“You said he’d read to you.”

“Oh, he did. He’d read whatever he could get his hands on, or he’d make up stories—”

She makes an interested noise. “What kind of stories? Stuff about what he was doing while you were sick?”

Steve chuckles. “Oh, no. Never. I’d get into a snit real quick if he was telling me about the things that I was missing, so he’d always make up stories. Most of them would feature the intrepid adventures of Stevie Bear and Bucky Bear.”

“Bears, seriously?”

Steve smiles down at Bucky, who’s dozing against his chest. “Barnes has always had a damn good imagination. Came in real handy when we were sleeping in the mud in the middle of winter in Europe.”

Steve smiles to himself, lost in memories. The rest of Howlies laughed about Stevie Bear and Bucky Bear at first, but they started appreciating the stories real quick. “But anyway, you can’t do that all day long for weeks. We’d get bored and get into snits with each other, so one day Ma pulled out two sets of needles and yarn and taught us how to knit.”

She laughs. Steve smiles at the memory and rubs Bucky’s back. This is something else he misses—he knows Bucky remembers everything from before, but jogging his memory about a specific event while only using a few simple words is difficult—and honestly it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

Steve has no idea if Natasha actually likes listening to him reminisce, but he’s selfish enough to not care. He’s just thrilled to have somebody to share the stories with.

“Yeah, we’d knit scarves at first—that’s easy—and then we’d do socks and hats and things. Buck would make things for me or for his sisters. He was really damn good at it. I was slow—my hands would cramp up and my vision wasn’t the best, and when I was sick, I’d be too weak to hold the needles for very long, but Buck would take over and do a few rows and then I’d have enough strength to keep going for a bit. We made a ton of our own clothes and other things.”

She’s quiet for a moment.

“So, why the question about knitting?” He asks.

“I was looking online for stuff that Barnes might be interested in, and I found this knitting aid that can be used by people with one arm.”

Steve freezes, about to sit up, when he remembers that he’s got a Bucky-blanket draped over him, and he doesn’t want to tell Bucky about this if it turns out to be nothing.

“Really?”

“Yeah, really. It works really well according to the reviews. Mostly it’s used by older people who had a stroke or who have bad arthritis in one hand. I’m texting you the link right now. I don’t know if he’ll be able to do it blind, but you said he used to be good at it so…”

Steve hears his phone ping and he reaches over to open the text. He taps on the link and brings the phone to his face so he can see the website.

It’s a wooden device which is designed to sit in the knitter’s lap. The needles can be inserted into the device and they’ll be held stationary in whatever position the knitter puts them. The top of the device has a soft cushion so the knitter can rest their wrist on the cushion and reach down with their fingers to manipulate the yarn and the needle tips.

This might work. This might actually work! He’s careful to keep himself calm so he doesn’t alert Bucky to what’s happening.

“You know what? I’ll order one and see if I can use it, and if it works well, I’ll see if Buck wants to try it.”

“Okay. Let me know how it goes.”

“Will do. Hey Nat?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re the best, you know that?”

She laughs. “Believe me, I know. Give Buck a kiss for me.”

“I will. Good night.”

“Night.”

*             *             *

When the knitting aid arrives, Steve makes sure Bucky is busy out on the balcony with his art project before he pulls out the yarn and needles he’d also ordered and gets things set up.

He decides to try knitting without the aid first.

That turns out to be a good decision. It takes a while until his hands remember what they’re doing, but eventually the yarn stops becoming a tangled knotted mess and starts resembling neat rows of stitches.

Once he’s got the hang of it using both hands and his eyes, he decides to try it from Bucky’s perspective. First he decides to try it with one hand. He sticks his left hand under his thigh and stares at his right hand, holding the needle and yarn. Okay, let’s do this.

He realizes immediately that it’s not as easy as he’d thought.

He gets stuck right away when he has to cast on the first row of stitches. He squeezes the needle between his knees with the needle pointing straight upwards, and he carefully moves the yarn and his fingers around the needle until he manages to cast on the first stitch.

It takes him ages.

And he’s only managing to get it right because he can see what he’s doing.

Once he gets the first row cast on, he puts the needles into the knitting aid and starts knitting. It actually works quite well. The device is supporting the needles so he can focus on moving the yarn and the tip of the needles.

He manages, but again, the only reason it’s a success is because he can see what he’s doing.

He closes his eyes and tries it, but he doesn’t get anything close to a knit. Once his eyes are closed, his fingers get clumsy and don’t remember which part of the yarn is used for what purpose. His fingers get tangled in the yarn and that tangles the yarn on the needles—and it turns into a mess.

So he puts the entire thing aside and goes to make lunch.

He tries again for several days, but the process remains frustrating and painstakingly slow.

He’s trying to find hobbies that will make Bucky happy, not just keep him busy, and he thinks that doing knitting like this is a little too advanced for them right now.

He has no doubt Barnes will be able to do it eventually, but when he has so few options to keep him busy during the day, Steve doesn’t want one of those options being a frustration.

So he hides the knitting aid on top of the shelving unit in the living room wall and goes back to the internet.

That’s when he stumbles across loom knitting.

It’s not something that had existed back in the 30s, but wow, Steve would have been able to knit much easier if he had one of these back then. The websites he finds show the loom and other supplies, but don’t really show how to do the knitting, so he decides to see if he can find videos. He’s very fond of the fact that there are so many wonderful people in the world who decide to make videos of themselves doing something and they put it on the internet purely with the intention of helping other people learn.

How fantastic is that?

The very first video which he comes across shows a woman demonstrating how to loom knit a dog sweater. Steve’s marvelling over the large sweater that she’s holding up, which even has little holes for her dog’s legs. The dog is practically sitting in her lap and the whole thing is really cute. The woman uses a measuring tape to demonstrate how to take measurements on her dog. Steve notices that she’s not using her left hand while she struggles to stick one end of the tape under her patient dog’s collar so she can measure his back. He thinks that’s a bit strange…

…and then the woman makes an offhand comment that she’s disabled and she can only use her right hand, so she asks the viewers to pardon her for not using both hands.

Steve bursts out laughing and nearly falls off the cough.

“Are you kidding me? Oh, my God. This is too good.”

This must be universe trying to balance things out for him a bit.

What are the chances that he stumbles across a video on loom knitting…and the instructor isn’t only disabled—but she’s missing the use of the same arm as Bucky?

Wow.

Steve feels a hundred percent more confident that this will be something Bucky can do.

He watches her finish the measuring and then begin the loom knitting, carefully explaining what she does as she does it. She struggles with the loom a bit due to only having the use of one arm, but it looks doable. The knitting process itself is surprisingly simple and straight forward, so Steve orders a small loom and anxiously waits for it to arrive.

When it gets there—Bucky’s been getting suspicious about these deliveries, but Steve lies and tells him they’re grocery deliveries—Steve sits down and tries it. He doesn’t want to tell Bucky about the knitting idea until he’s found a method that will work for him. If the whole idea is too complicated at this point, he’ll put it aside until Bucky’s ready for it.

He decides to try it one handed right away. If the woman in the video could do it, and he’s going to expect Bucky to do it, he might as well give it a go. He can hold the loom sideways between his legs and wrap the yarn around the pegs with one hand. Once he’s got two rows of loops on the pegs, he tucks the loose end of the yarn under his thigh so the whole thing doesn’t unravel and he grabs the little pick tool and pulls the bottom loop over the top loop and off the peg.

One row of stitches done—and he’s done it in record time and only used one hand.

But there’s still another hurtle to go.

He unwraps everything from the loom, puts everything down, closes his eyes, and starts from the beginning.

It’s much slower doing it when he can’t see what he’s doing, and making sure he’s only pulling one loop off the peg and not both is also tricky, but by moving the pick slowly and feeling its progress with his finger, he can do it.

He moves all the way around the loom and then opens his eyes to take a look.

The stitches are a bit loose, but this is doable. Perfect.

“Oh, Barnes, you’re gonna love this!”

He pulls everything off the loom and goes to get Bucky.

*             *             *

Bucky is over the moon when Steve hands him the yarn and the knitting needles, until reality sets in and he realizes that he’s one arm and two eyes short of being able to do it.

“Rogers, it’s a nice idea but—”

Rub, rub, rub, rub, rub.

Then the needles are taken out of his grasp and being replaced by something plastic. Bucky puts the object on his lap and runs his hand over it. It’s a plastic circle with pegs on it.

“What the hell is this? And what does it have to do with knitting? Rogers, I wanna find things to do, but if it’s too frustrating then—”

Rub, rub, rub, rub.

Steve pulls Bucky’s hand off the plastic thing.

E-A-S-Y.

Bucky makes a sour face. “I doubt it.”

Steve gives his hand a hard shake. Then:

I.

T-R-I-E-D.

They’ve stopped pointing to each other’s chest to communicate ‘Steve’ or ‘Bucky’ a while ago. They realized that spelling out 'Y-O-U' or a simple 'I' on Bucky’s palm was much faster.

The only time Steve still tapped their chests was when he was telling Bucky he loved him. For some reason, he really liked the sequence of those motions, so he’s keeping it.

“That’s nice, Rogers, but you doing it ain’t the same as me doing it.” He doesn’t mean to sound annoyed, but he kind of is. He hates it when Steve gets him excited about something only for them to figure out that he can’t do it. He hasn’t done it in a while, which is why Bucky’s extra annoyed now.

His hand is being shaken again.

I.

T-R-Y.

B-L-I-N-D.

“Okay. But I’ve still only got one hand. How the hell can I knit with one hand?”

I.

T-R-Y.

O-N-E.

H-A-N-D.

A small glimmer of hope starts blooming in his chest. “Really? You tried it without eyes and only one hand? Seriously?”

Tap, tap, tap.

“And it was doable?”

Tap, tap, tap, tap.

Steve’s so excited that he’s practically smacking his hand, but Bucky doesn’t care. If this works—oh, my God, if this works he’s got another hobby that he can do by himself!

“Okay, let’s do it. I’m ready. Let’s do it.”

Steve pulls him to the couch and sits them down so Steve’s behind him and his chin is hooked on Bucky’s right shoulder.

Steve steers and Bucky focuses intently on what Steve is having his hand do. The plastic thing is wedged sideways between his knees and Steve hands Bucky the yarn. They wrap the yarn around a little nob on the side of the plastic thing to keep it in place, then they slowly loop the yarn around one of the plastic pegs. Then they move to the next peg and do another loop. Then the next peg and so on.

Eventually they hit Bucky’s knees, so they tuck the yarn under Bucky’s thigh and readjust the plastic thing. Then they pick up the yarn and continue. Once they’ve gone around twice, Steve puts a metal tool thing into his hand and carefully shows him how to do the next step. That part’s trickier—Steve has to put a finger on the tool to stop it’s movements a couple of times when Bucky’s about to do it wrong—but he eventually gets the hang of it.

When they’ve moved around the plastic circle multiple times, Steve tugs the circle out and puts it on his lap. Together, they touch the neat rows of wool stitches that they’ve created.

Bucky’s face erupts in a smile. “Look at that! Look what we made, Stevie! Oh, my God!”

He turns his head and kisses Steve on the cheek. He can feel Steve smiling against his neck. Steve gives him a tight squeeze, letting him know how proud he is.

“Let’s keep going! I wanna do more!”

*             *             *

Bucky’s out on the balcony working on one of his art projects. He’s painted the stem of the flower a nicely smelling lime green, now he’s painting glue in one of the petals. He rummages through his small containers and finds the black pepper. He presses the pepper grains into the petal, carefully feeling around the edge of the waxy stick lining the edge of the petal, making sure he didn’t miss a spot.

Suddenly, he feels a burst of air and feels his hand being grabbed. He reels back, a burst of fear and shock racing down his spine until he realizes that the stranger is taking Bucky’s hand and running his fingers along the leather bracelet on his wrist.

Large bead.

Di, di, dit.

Dah.

Knowing it’s Steve does calm him down somewhat, but Steve is always slow and gentle when approaching him. He never just grabs him.

“What the hell, Rogers? Give a guy a little—”

He feels Steve roughly brushing the pepper flakes off his palm and then he’s frantically talking, spelling very quickly.

I-N-T-E-R-C-O-M.

Bucky’s confused. “Intercom? What the hell do you mean ‘intercom’?”

Steve is spelling something else. Bucky can feel the tension in his grip on Bucky’s wrist and the shakiness in his finger while he spells.

C-O-M-I-N-G.

N-O-W.

“Who? Who’s coming? Someone’s coming here? Now? Who?”

He feels himself being frantically tugged to his feet. He clenches his jaw, feeling fear for the first time in weeks. He feels his drawing slide off his lap and he’s being pulled inside.

There’s definitely something bad going on. Steve would never just let one of his drawings slide to the ground like that. And Steve wouldn’t yank him around like this unless it’s something bad.

Steve’s pulling him too hard and Bucky didn’t have time to pull out his cane, so he stumbles over the doorframe with a muffled curse and it’s only Steve’s grip on him that keeps him from doing a face plant into the living room.

“Rogers! You gotta slow down! What’s going on? Who’s coming?”

Steve’s arms around him are shaking and Steve’s entire body is tense and anxious. Dread is curling in Bucky’s stomach and for the first time in weeks, the darkness and silence around him are pressing in on him again, thick and suffocating.

He’s pulled forward and then he’s being turned around and shuffled backwards until he feels the back of his calves hit the couch. He sits. Immediately, Steve’s hands leave him.

“Stevie, wait! Where are you going?!”

He’s left alone in the dark until he feels something on his arm.

The motion sensor is vibrating.

It’s not the vibrating motion of the balcony door.

That’s the one designated for the front door.

Did they get a delivery? They aren’t expecting anything and Steve always tells him in the morning if they’re expecting a delivery during the day.

Bucky waits, his senses on hyper alert, trying to figure out what’s going on.

The sensor vibrates again.

That was the door closing.

He stays still, waiting for Steve to come back and explain.

But Steve doesn’t come.

While he waits, a new, horrible thought enters his mind.

Maybe when the door opened, somebody had come into their apartment.

Maybe strangers are in their apartment right now.

But who could possibly be in here? If they’re a danger to Bucky, Steve wouldn’t have led Bucky to the couch in the open living room. He would have shoved him into the bedroom, out of the way.

That rational part of his brain tries to remind him that he doesn’t know there are any strangers in the apartment…but he doesn’t know for sure that there aren’t strangers in here!

Bucky hunches in on himself, automatically trying to protect himself from whatever—whoever—is here. There could be a hundred strangers!

And where’s Steve?

Maybe…maybe the people came in and tricked Steve into thinking they were friends, but then they attacked him?

Shit, he needs to help Steve.

Well, first he has to protect himself, then he has to help Steve.

His hand anxiously skitters across his thighs until he feels his cane holster. That’s better than nothing. He pulls his cane out and it snaps into shape. He tightens his grip on it, ready to use it. He needs to help Steve.

“If you’ve hurt Steve, I’ll kill you. I’m warning you now,” he says, hoping he sounds threatening enough.

Suddenly, he feels a hand on his arm. It’s a gentle touch, but it’s unexpected and when Bucky shakes the hand loose and touches its wrist, he doesn’t feel a leather bracelet.

Fear clutches him.

Shit. Shit, shit, shit!

There are strangers in the apartment!

He yanks his arm free and shifts away from the touch. He stays on the couch—if he stands up, he’ll need to use his cane to move around and can’t use it to defend himself.

“Don’t touch me!” he snarls, lifting his cane in what he hopes is a threatening manner. “Get the hell out of here! What did you do with Steve?”

Several minutes go by, during which his brain is racing a mile a minute, throwing up one disaster scenario after another.

Then there’s a hand touching his hand again. He gropes for the wrist, ready to shake it off again if it’s not Steve—but there’s the leather bracelet.

A quick check, just to make sure—

Large bead.

Di, di, dit.

Dah.

Dit.

It’s Steve.

He calms immediately. He feels Steve pulling the cane from his grasp and then it’s being put back into his holster. Bucky doesn’t fight him. There’s no hesitation in Steve’s movements, no question, no pause. Whatever’s going on, Steve means business.

His hand is clutched in Steve’s hand and Steve’s frantically spelling on his palm.

Y-O-U.

B-E.

B-R-A-V-E.

Bucky’s head is reeling. “Why? Why should I be brave? Who’s here, Steve? What’s going on?”

I.

W-I-L-L.

C-O-M-E.

“Come where? I don’t understand. What’s going on?”

Y-O-U.

B-E.

G-O-O-D.

A ball of dread twists in his stomach.

This is not good. Nothing about this is good.

Bucky feels frantic kisses being pressed into his palm and then on his cheeks. “I—”

His hand is being pressed to Steve’s chest, then rubbed over his heart, then being pressed to Bucky’s chest. “I—Stevie, I know. I know that. Why—what’s going on?”

His throat is getting tight. He’s on the verge of tears and he’s confused and he wants the strangers out of their apartment.

He’s being pulled to his feet. He feels a presence close to him. Since Steve is on one side of him, the presence can’t be Steve. He immediately shifts closer to Steve. “Stay away from me!” he snarls in the direction of the presence.

He feels Steve’s forehead press into his and a kiss on his cheek. Then Steve is back to spelling frantically.

I.

W-I-L-L.

C-O-M-E.

A longer pause, giving Bucky time to understand the words before continuing.

Y-O-U.

B-E.

G-O-O-D.

There’s a shift, and Bucky feels the motion detector being unstrapped from his arm. No, no, no. the motion sensor is only removed if he has to shower. There’s no good reason why Steve would be removing it now. “What are you doing?”

Another shift and a presence steps closer. A strange hand grabs his bicep. Bucky’s about to tear himself out of the grasp, but then he feels Steve’s hand right under the strange hand, lightly squeezing his arm.

Right.

Be good.

He has to be good.

He doesn’t know what the hell is going on, but he has to be good.

These strange people will eventually leave and then Steve will explain.

Another kiss on his cheek. He feels the moisture on Steve’s face as he’s pulling away. “Why are you crying, Stevie? What’s wrong?”

More spelling.

G-O.

W-I-T-H.

T-H-E-M.

Bucky reels back from him. “What?! What do you mean go with them? With who? Why? Rogers I  ain’t—”

Steve’s face is pressed against his again, his tears smearing on Bucky’s cheek. His lips are moving against Bucky’s wet cheek.

Steve’s squeezing Bucky’s hand over and over again, pleading with him.

Fine.

Fine.

Whatever the hell’s going on, obviously Steve can’t stop it. Bucky can’t fight properly and he doesn’t want to risk having them hurt Steve in retaliation.

Damn it!

“Okay. I’ll go. You’ll come get me?”

Tap, tap, tap.

“Promise?”

Tap, tap, tap.

Frantic kisses on his face and his palm.

“Okay. Okay, I’ll go.”

Y-O-U.

B-E.

G-O-O-D.

“I will. I promise.”

Y-O-U.

B-E.

B-R-A-V-E.

“Don’t worry, Rogers. I got this,” he says.

Whatever ‘this’ is.

He feels something being pressed into his chest. He touches the edge of the object—they’re his running shoes. He obediently lifts one foot, then the other and leans on Steve’s shoulder as he slips Bucky’s feet into his shoes and ties the shoelaces. Then Steve helps him pull on his jacket, zipping it up for him. It’s not cold out, but it’s better to be prepared. He can feel Steve fussing with the empty left sleeve, ensuring it’s pinned to the body of the jacket and won’t flop around in the wind.

He feels Steve stepping back, then the strange hand on his arm is pulling him forward. He digs his heels in. “Will you hold up for a second? Jesus. I’m not a dog on a leash. You don’t gotta yank me around. I need my cane if we’re gonna walk anywhere.”

He pulls out his cane. The familiar shape of it in his hand is a comfort. As the strange hand pulls him forward once more, he follows along, letting the cane roll in front of him.

He steps out of the apartment, leaving Steve behind.

Chapter Text

As soon as Bucky steps out of the apartment, he’s so disoriented that he has no idea what direction he’s facing or where he’s going. He hasn’t left the apartment building since he’d come home with Steve.

There’s a tight ball of fear in his gut and he focuses on his cane rolling back and forth in front of him, reassuring him that there’s nothing blocking his path in the darkness surrounding him.

The hand on his arm is pulling him along and he follows, hoping the idiot will keep his pace even. He has no idea where he is or where he’s going and if he’s pulled forward any faster, he’ll start panicking.

He realizes he’s sweating, his heart hammering in his chest. He’s terrified, but he’s using so much focus on reading what his cane is telling him that he doesn’t actually have that much energy to devote to his fear.

He uses it to his advantage.

He doesn’t let himself dwell on where he’s going or who he’s going with. He doesn’t focus on the fact that he’s walking through an unknown darkness, the silence pressing in on him, every step an unfamiliar lurch into this endless dark abyss.

He focuses on what his cane is telling him. The floor stays the same, then he’s pulled to a brief stop. When he’s pulled forward again, his cane bounces over a small obstacle. He steps over it.

He can feel the breeze and sunshine on his face.

They must be outside.

A moment later, his cane suddenly drops into nothingness. His heart skips a beat and he tries to stop, but he’s being pulled along so quickly that his feet end up following—and he’s falling face first into nothing.

He lets out a panicked shout, and frantically hopes that he’ll be able to brace himself somehow—then the hand that had been holding onto him grabs his jacket sleeve and pulls him back.

Once he’s got both feet under him again, he can’t breathe for a second, his throat is so tight with fear. His heart is racing in his chest and he’s so terrified that he can’t move.

He wants to go back inside. God, he wants Steve and he doesn’t want to go with these people.

A moment later, he’s pulling tugged forward. He digs in his heels. “Are you whacked? I ain’t going forward—there’s nothing there!”

Another strong tug. These idiots aren’t giving in.

He realizes he’s being pulled sideways.

Oh.

That could be alright. He lets himself be pulled to the side and then his hand is put on something cold and metallic that seems to be sloping downwards. He yanks on it—it’s pretty sturdy.

He’s so panicked that it takes him a second to realize it’s a railing.

Which means the reason he thought he was falling off a cliff was because these idiots were trying to lead him down a set of stairs. So they’re not trying to shove him off a cliff, but pretty damn close.

He hasn’t had to go down steps yet, and he’s really not excited to be doing it for the first time surrounded by these nitwits.

“You better not let go of me, cause if I fall and die Steve will kill you, I promise you that,” he says. “Hold my cane.” He holds out his cane and feels somebody take it. It frees up his hand so he can hold the railing properly. He feels hands on his jacket.

For the first time, he welcomes the strange hands on him. Okay, let’s do this.

He wishes he knew how many steps there are, but even if he asks, these people won’t know how to tell him in a language that he understands.

Keeping a tight grip on the railing, he shifts one foot carefully forward until he feels the ground drop out from under his foot again. He wishes he could use his cane to tell him how wide the step is and how far down the next one is—but that would mean letting go of the metal thing.

Damn, if only he had two arms!

He leans forward a bit more, his heart hammering frantically in his chest. His foot’s still going down into nothingness. It’s a terrifying feeling to be lowering his foot and not having it encounter anything.

Although he knows that he’s not stepping off a cliff, it sure feels like it. He’s so scared he thinks he’s about to start crying.

Then—

He feels the step underneath his foot. He carefully puts more weight on his foot, wiggling it a bit to check how wide the step is. There seems to be sufficient room.

Clenching his jaw so tight that his teeth are aching, he brings his other foot down too. Then he shifts the first foot forward—and there’s nothingness again. His foot goes down, down, down—then he hits something solid again. Once he’s got that foot down, he brings the other one.

It seems to take hours until he reaches a spot where he moves his foot forward and continues to encounter solid ground.

He puts both feet on it and shuffles forward a bit. He must have reached level ground.

He survived the steps.

After verifying that he’s definitely back on level ground, he slowly lets go of the railing that he’s been his lifeline during the endless trip down the steps.

The first thing he does is pull the strange hand off his jacket.

That turns out to be a pretty dumb decision.

Now that he’s not so focused on his feet anymore, he realizes he’s standing in the darkness and has no idea where anything or anyone is. The fear which had briefly abated when he finished with the steps comes flooding back. “I want my cane. Give me my cane.”

He holds out his hand and thankfully feels the handle pushed into it. He’s always been very fond his cane, but he feels like he’s being reunited with a dear friend.

Please help me, cane, he thinks. I can’t focus if I keep panicking. He slowly feels around himself with the cane. He doesn’t encounter anything except solid ground, which is a good sign.

He wants to sob with relief. He barely has time to recover from the entire ordeal when a hand grabs his elbow again.

Oh.

He’d forgotten about these idiots. The hand pulls him to a stop and he feels his hand being tugged—the person trying to fold up his cane.

Bucky yanks his cane out of the grip. “Don’t touch my cane! I can fold it.”

He folds it up and tugs it into the holster. Then he’s being pulled into a leathery seat. A slight vibration to his side, then the smells around him get heavy and thick. They must be in some tiny room.

There’s a vibration all around him and they’re moving forward.

A car. He’s in a car, being taken somewhere.

Once again, now that he has nothing to focus on, the fear comes back. He feels it crawling up his spine and lodge in his throat. The darkness and silence are ready to press in on him—ready to swallow him whole.

No. No, no, no!

He won’t focus on that. He needs to be brave.

He’ll think about Steve. He’ll think about the punk coming to get him from wherever they’re taking him. He thinks about his art project, how he wanted to put the pepper in every alternating petal so he could put cornmeal in the other pedals. A nice black pepper and yellow cornmeal flower. He hadn’t really thought about what to put in the center. Maybe some cinnamon? Yeah, that would be nice. He thinks the brown would go well with the yellow and black.

*             *             *

The car eventually stops and the person who had sat beside him the entire ride helps him out of the car and grabs his arm again. Bucky unfolds his cane and they start walking again. He knows they’re outside for the first little while, then the floor and air around him changes and they’re indoors. They keep walking until the hand releases his arm. He stops, wondering what they want him to do next. Then someone grabs his sleeve and tugs him forward a bit more. He shuffles a little further forward, then the hand lets go. He waits, not knowing where they want him to go next.

Nothing happens.

He waits a while longer.

Still nothing happens.

“Uh, do you want me going somewhere, or are we just gonna keep standing here…?”

Of course, he gets no reply. Nobody touches him. Nobody even brushes up against him. Frowning, Bucky turns in a slow circle, using his cane to sweep around himself. There’s nobody close enough to grab him.

That’s a positive sign, but it doesn’t answer any of his other questions.

He stands still for several more minutes, wondering if somebody is coming back to bring him somewhere else.

Still nothing happens.

He moves forward a few steps, rolling his cane side to side. Nobody stops him, so he figures he’s free to move around a bit. He wants to find out where he is—a room, a hallway…?

He wanders until the cane hits a wall. He leans his shoulder against the wall and slowly walks along the wall, trying to map out the size and layout of the area.

He gets to a corner, then the cane smacks into a sturdy thin object. Bucky reaches out and encounters a smooth, heavy surface. It’s a table pushed against the wall. He walks around the table and finds the chair that’s pushed underneath it, then he can use the wall again. He stops and goes back to the chair, pulling it out and leaving it at a slight angle.

He continues walking. He follows the walls, and eventually he gets to a table and a chair again.

The chair’s at an angle. So if that’s the chair he felt before, it means he went in a full circle. A fully enclosed space must mean he’s in a room of some sort.

Maybe some sort of waiting room…? Maybe a doctor’s office? Or maybe they’ve put in a cell?

The room is quite small but larger than any cell he’s ever been in. There’s the table, chair, a bed, a closed door, and another door that opens and leads to a small bathroom. There’s a soap dispenser, a few towels and some unidentifiable bottles in the bathroom and there’s a small stack of bed linens and a pillow sitting on the bed, but the room is otherwise bare.

He goes back to the other door, which must be main door, but the handle doesn’t budge when Bucky tries it. Where ever he is, they’ve locked him in and don’t want him leaving.

He sits on the bare mattress. Within moments of being inactive, he feels the panic returning. The darkness and silence are filled with questions, with danger, a thick nothingness that’s trying to swallow him whole.

There’s a lump in his throat and he wants to curl up and cry. He wouldn’t mind feeling strange hands touch his hand, as long as he’d feel that familiar leather bracelet with the beads and the dots and dashes. Steve would wrap his arms around him, pull him up from the bed and spell H-O-M-E on his hand.

But none of that happens.

He’s alone, locked in a dark, silent room.

Tears well up in his eyes, then he angrily wipes them away and sits up straight. He’d promised Steve he would be brave. This isn’t being brave. He isn’t some little kid. He can take care of himself and keep himself together until Steve comes to get him.

To do that, he needs to stay focused and keep the fear at bay.

To do that, he needs to stay busy.

So he stands up and starts the long, difficult task of making up the bed. It takes forever to do it with one arm—especially because he refuses to put down his cane, so it dangles off his wrist, constantly getting in the way—and he can’t see which way the linens are supposed to go. But he manages. He imagines he’d probably be court martialed if anybody from the military inspected the bed, but it’s the best he can do.

Then he spends time pacing between various points in the room, learning the distances and placements of everything.

He checks the time on his watch. It’s a little after 5 in the afternoon. He hopes they let him keep his watch. His room doesn’t have any windows so he can’t feel the sunshine, and if he’s locked in for days at a time without access to his watch, he won’t be able to keep his 24 hour internal clock on track.

He’s mulling over what else he can do to keep himself entertained—

—when he suddenly feels somebody touch his hand.

The fear and shock nearly make his heart stop and he jerks back from the contact. “What—what do you want?!”

Nothing happens for a few minutes, but Bucky braces himself, knowing some type of contact will be coming. Finally, somebody grabs the sleeve of his jacket.

The touch is hesitant, unsure. Definitely not the same person as before.

Bucky shakes the hand off his sleeve and fumbles to touch the hand and the wrist. No leather bracelet. Definitely not Steve.

He releases the person’s wrist, and the fingers of the strange hand lightly grab his sleeve again. The fingers tighten in the fabric and start pulling him forward.

He debates fighting the person off—but what would that accomplish? If he has any chance of figuring out why he’s here and finding a way to get himself home, he needs to stay polite and cooperative. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to let these people treat him like a child.

“Where are we going? You don’t have to pull me. You can just hold on to my arm and we can walk together.” He bends his arm and holds up his elbow.

He’s surprised when the hesitant fingers release his sleeve and two trembling fingers curl into the crook of his elbow. He feels the person step forward and Bucky walks with them.

He already knows they’re heading to the table before they get there. As they get close, Bucky can smell food. The fingers release his elbow and Bucky feels an object bump into his hip. He touches it—the chair. The person must have pulled out the chair for him.

Bucky has a seat. He shakes the cane’s strap further up his forearm so it stays in place, but he doesn’t want to holster it. He feels around for the cutlery, but right when his hand touches the bottom of something metallic, the object is being pulled away.

A second later, something warm and moist is being pressed against his lips.

He reels back, sputtering. “Hey! What the hell? Stop! Stop, stop, stop!” He reaches up and pushes away the arm that’s way too close to his face.

“Okay, let’s get this straight: I’m not a child and my arm works really good. I ain’t need help feeding myself. Give me the fork. If that’s too dangerous for me to have, then give me a plastic spoon. I don’t care, but I ain’t letting you feed me. Understand?”

The arm had disappeared as soon as Bucky had pushed on it, but the presence next to him hasn’t shifted away.

Bucky sighs softly. He holds up a hand. “Come on. I’m hungry.”

Like before, Bucky’s not actually expecting the person to listen to him. If he’s a prisoner here, he’s going to be ignored, restrained or beaten for being contrary.

So when a fork is pressed into his open hand, he knows he’s definitely not a prisoner. That, and the person with him isn’t a complete asshole.

Bucky takes the fork. “Thank you. You don’t gotta stand so close to me, I promise I ain’t gonna fall over.”

He has no idea if the person steps back or not, but he or she doesn’t touch him again, so Bucky feels safe enough to start eating. Bucky slowly scoops up the various things on his plate and sniffs them. Rice, thick beef stew and some vegetables.

He’s definitely not in a prison.

He eats his dinner, then feels around the plate for a napkin. He doesn’t find one. “Could you grab me some toilet paper from the bathroom? Apparently you people are too cheap for napkins.”

Again, the person with him does exactly as instructed, and Bucky feels a wad of toilet paper being pressed into his hand. He wipes his mouth, then leans back. “Alright, I’m done. Thank you.”

He feels the presence step closer, then a rush of air. When Bucky touches the table top, the tray has disappeared. Bucky stands up and does a quick walk around the room, checking for changes.

He’s alone again. Or if he isn’t, the people in the room with him are actively avoiding him and his cane. He stands in the center of the room and swings the cane around a bit, keeping his movements unpredictable.

He doesn’t hit anybody except the table and the chair, so he tries convincing himself that he’s alone.

Probably.

Hopefully.

He gets back to his bed and feels a set of clothes that his meal-bringer had left behind. He decides to keep his own clothes on—if something happens, he wants to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

He sits on the bed and checks the time on his watch. It’s still early, but he should try to get some rest. He doubts he’ll be able to sleep, but he knows he should try. He can’t fully focus if he’s sleep deprived.

The second he puts his head on the thin pillow, he feels the darkness and silence press in on him from all sides and he squeezes his eyes shut.

Oh, he wants to go home.

He wants his comfortable, safe bed with his wall of pillows on one side and his wall of Steve on the other where he can snuggle in the warm, cozy darkness.

Not this cold, crushing darkness that seeps into him from all sides. Plus, anybody could just walk in here at any time and Bucky wouldn’t even know they’re in the room with him until they touch him.

God—anybody could touch him at any point! His skin crawls at the thought, fear prickling through him.

He tries to even out his breathing and think about Steve and other thoughts, but he can’t distract his hyper active brain. He sits up and pulls the blanket over his shoulders. He picks up his cane and keeps his hand wrapped around the handle. He leans against the wall and pulls his knees up to his chest, pressing his forehead against them. It feels a tiny bit better than lying flat on his back, fully exposed, but it’s still terrifying. The blanket is too thin to be a comforting barrier and there’s nothing familiar around him.

He wants to go home.

Please come get me, Stevie.

Please.

I’m scared and I want to go home. Please, please, please hurry up and come get me.

I’m trying to be brave but it’s too hard. Please come get me.

*             *             *

Steve’s in a state of shock. A part of him still can’t believe that this day actually happened.

Just this morning, Bucky had been out on the balcony working on his art project, and now he’s stuck in some facility, scared and not understanding what had happened. The only positive thing that’s happened over the past few hours is that Steve finally understands why they’d taken Bucky.

At first he’d been terrified that they were taking Bucky to an institution and Steve would never be able to get him out. How ironic—and terrible—it would have been if the two of them had managed to avoid having Steve end up in an institution for twenty years, only for Bucky to be put into one within a few months of being the disabled one?

But thankfully, it turned out that the stupid people weren’t from an institution.

When the intercom started buzzing, Steve had no idea who it could be. Had he ordered something and forgotten? Their next grocery delivery wouldn’t be coming until Tuesday. He didn’t remember ordering anything else.

“Mr. Rogers? This is Paul Dunsfield from Adult Protective Services. Can we come in?”

No part of that sentence made any sense. “I’m sorry, who?”

“Paul Dunsfield from Adult Protective Services.”

“I—we didn’t contact you, sir. I think you have the wrong apartment.”

“We have the correct apartment, Mr. Rogers. We’ve received a complaint and we’re here to investigate it. You can either let us in voluntarily, or we’ll come back with the police.”

What?

He watched Bucky sitting out on the balcony on the swing, fiddling with one of his little containers of spices, completely unaware of what was going on.

“Mr. Rogers?”

What the hell—?

“Uh, okay. I guess. Come on up.”

The last thing he needed was having the police barging into the apartment. He pressed the button to let them in, then he hurried to the balcony, his mind racing frantically. How the hell could he explain this to Bucky? He didn’t even know what’s going on, how could he explain to Bucky before they got to the front door?

A terrible thought occurred to him as he hurried to Buck—what if they were from an institution and they were here to take Buck away?

Well, that wasn’t gonna happen. No way.

He grabbed Bucky’s hand and Bucky startled badly.

“Sorry, Buck! Sorry, sorry, sorry. We need to hurry,” he muttered, cleaning off Bucky’s hand so he could explain what was going on. The only word that had popped into his head was ‘Intercom’, so he spelled that out.

There was no way he would spell out ‘institution’. That would terrify Bucky, and Steve didn’t want to upset him any more than necessary, especially with unconfirmed suspicions.

Unsurprisingly spelling the word ‘intercom’ onto Bucky’s palm hadn’t answered Bucky’s questions. He pulled Bucky inside, his mind swirling with a million questions and a knot of fear in his gut.

What was gonna happen? What was Adult Protective Services? What complaint had they received? What the hell was gonna happen?

He told Bucky that somebody was coming, but he didn’t want to create more confusion by spelling out Adult Protective Services, so he left that out. He knew Bucky would want to know what they were and why they were coming, and Steve didn’t have those answers at that point. He had no idea if those Protective Services people were associated with an institution or not, so it was best not to tell Bucky any of that.

There were three men at their door. One of them stepped forward and offered Steve his hand. “Mr. Rogers? I’m Paul Dunsfield.” Steve shook his hand out of reflex. “Can we come in?”

Dunsfield was already walking into the apartment anyway, so Steve’s ‘yes, of course’ hadn’t really been necessary. He stepped back and the other two men swept inside.

Immediately, all three of them focused on Bucky on the couch. Bucky was frowning, his face pale with confusion and fear.

“What’s this about, Mr. Dunsfield?” The faster they got to the heart of this situation, the faster they could clear it up and get these people out of their apartment.

Whatever these people wanted, the only way Bucky was going to be taken to an institution was over his dead body.

“We received a complaint from a concerned citizen. This is James Barnes, correct?” Dunsfield asked, stopping a few feet from the couch to stare down at Bucky.

They’d received a complaint? People didn’t normally have to file complaints to get somebody institutionalized. Maybe the rules had changed since then?

“Yeah, that’s him. What’s the complaint?”

Dunsfield looked Bucky over while another man wandered around the living room, peering at everything. The third stayed close to Steve, keeping an eye on him.

“We received a complaint involving allegations of neglect and abuse.”

What?

“I’m sorry, allegations of what?”

“Neglect and abuse, Mr. Rogers. Since Mr. Barnes has severe disabilities, we’re taking the complaint very seriously. Due to the nature of the allegations, we’ll have to remove Mr. Barnes from your care immediately.”

Steve felt the floor fall out from beneath his feet. “You—what?

Dunsfield pulled out a bundle of papers from his jacket pocket and handed them to Steve. “Everything is in there, Mr. Rogers. We’ll remove Mr. Barnes immediately and move him to an appropriate facility where he can be cared for until our investigation is complete. Once our investigation is complete, we’ll either allow Mr. Barnes to return to your care or we’ll find a permanent care facility for him.”

‘Permanent care facility’ sounded an awful lot like an institution.

But—neglect and abuse?? They weren’t here because of Bucky’s disabilities, they were here because…

…because they thought Steve was hurting Bucky??

“You—you can’t just—”

“We can, Mr. Rogers. If an individual is not competent, APS can legally act on their behalf.”

“What do you mean not competent?”

At that moment Bucky seemed to decide that Steve had been missing from his side for too long and that must mean he was in trouble. He pulled out his cane and brandished it around him. The man who was closest to him took a hasty step back, nearly falling into Bucky’s building block city.

“If you’ve hurt Steve, I’ll kill you! I’m warning you now,” Bucky said. The man who’d stepped back from him wisely chose to stay by the building blocks.

Dunsfield scowled at his assistant. “Remove the weapon from Mr. Barnes, Tyler, before he hurts himself or us. Hurry up.”

Steve stepped forward, alarmed. “Now, hold on a second! You leave his cane alone!”

“We can’t allow—”

“That ain’t a weapon, it’s a part of him. He’s got rights, don’t he?”

Dunsfield hesitated.

Steve grabbed that hesitation as his advantage. “Mr. Dunsfield, the allegations were against me, right? Bucky—James is the victim, right? So he’s got rights that you’ve got to respect. And as a disabled person, he’s got the right to keep the things that help him get around.”

Steve had no idea if that was true or not, but he’d keep saying whatever’s necessary until these assholes let Bucky keep his cane.

The assistant, Tyler, decided to leave Bucky’s cane alone, but grabbed his flailing arm. Steve was about to protest—who the hell did this guy think he was, touching Bucky with no warning—but Bucky beat him to it, snarling at the guy not to touch him and demanding to know what they’d done with Steve.

Steve turned to Dunsfield. “Sir, please. Let me explain the situation to him. If you just grab him and pull him out of here, he won’t understand what’s going on and you won’t be able to explain it to him. He’ll be scared and he’ll fight you and that’ll make this whole thing worse. He’s the victim here, right? You don’t wanna upset him, do you?”

Dunsfield made a face, looking torn about the unusual situation. “Fine. You can sign to him from where you are.”

Steve barely restrained himself from laughing at the idiot. “Sign from—Sir, he’s blind. I can’t sign to him from across the room.”

Dunsfield sighed heavily, clearly annoyed. “I can’t permit you to have physical contact with him.”

“Well, you’re gonna have to bend those rules because physical contact is the only way to communicate with him. He’s completely blind and completely deaf, sir.”

“He doesn’t have a hearing aid?”

Steve blinked. Stay polite. Stay polite. Stay polite. “No. No, a hearing aid wouldn’t help. He’s completely deaf. The only way to communicate with him is with physical contact. You can keep an eye on me the entire time. If it looks like I’m about to hurt him, you can intervene. Please, sir. He deserves to know what’s going on.”

Dunsfield glared at him. “I can’t permit the alleged abuser to have contact with the victim, Mr. Rogers.”

At that point, Steve really started losing his temper. “Well then you’re gonna have to get somebody over here that knows the manual alphabet so they can explain the situation to James. You can’t just grab him and pull him out of this apartment.”

Dunsfield took out a notebook. “Which alphabet did you say?”

“It’s called the deafblind manual alphabet.” Steve waited to see the man writing it into his notebook, but the pen didn’t move. Apparently this information wasn’t important enough to be written down.

Finally, Dunsfield pursed his lips and gestured for Steve to come forward. “Provide him with a quick explanation that we’ll be removing him for his own safety and that we’ll be investigating the allegations of abuse.”

“Okay.” Steve stepped up to Bucky. He had no intention of telling Bucky about the ridiculous abuse allegations. He didn’t want him getting any angrier than he already was. He gently pulled the cane from Bucky’s grip, folded it up and put it into Bucky’s holster.

As he predicted, Bucky relaxed as soon as he touched the leather bracelets on Steve’s wrists. Bucky started peppering him with questions. Steve’s mind raced, trying to choose the most important things to communicate to him.

He settled on telling him that he needed to be brave and that Steve would come get him. He kissed his palm and his cheeks, his heart squeezing painfully at Bucky’s barrage of confused, upset questions demanding more details.

Steve could hear Dunsfield warning him not to kiss Bucky again, but he ignored him.

He told Bucky he loved him and pulled him to his feet. His mind screamed at him—Don’t let them take him! Don’t let them take him!—but he ignored it. They didn’t have a choice about this.

Steve could probably make a successful run for it, but he knew Bucky wouldn’t be able to keep up. And that made the whole idea pointless.

Bucky still looked panicked and upset, and he was in no mood to be grabbed by strange hands, so when Tyler stepped close again, Bucky snapped at him to stay away and leaned closer to Steve.

Steve’s heart ached and his throat clogged with tears. He’d started crying at some point. He wanted to bundle Bucky up and go somewhere far, far away where no strangers would touch either of them or threaten to take Bucky away to a strange place.

But Steve knew the last thing Bucky needed was to live a life on the run. It was stressful enough doing that when Bucky had all his senses intact. It wasn’t a decent life then, and it would be a million times worse in their current situation.

Steve pressed his forehead against Bucky’s. “You have to be brave. Please, Buck, you have to be brave and I promise I’ll come get you,” he murmured and kissed Bucky’s cheek.

He opened Bucky’s palm again and told him that he’d come get him and Bucky needed to be good.

Dunsfield instructed Tyler to remove Bucky’s motion sensor. Bucky wasn’t happy with the touch, especially once he realized the motion sensor was being removed. “What are you doing?” he snapped, angry and annoyed.

Steve put his hand right below Tyler’s, trying to calm him. He kissed Bucky’s cheek again.

Bucky frowned. “Why are you crying, Stevie? What’s wrong?”

Steve sighed at himself. He hadn’t wanted Bucky to realize he’s upset. He wanted Bucky to stay focused on himself so he could cope with whatever was gonna happen. That’s when he told Bucky that he had to go with the people.

Predictably, Bucky was outraged at first—this whole thing was a hundred times more confusing for him than for Steve—but as Steve repeated his instructions, Bucky seemed to resign himself to whatever was happening. “Okay, I’ll go. You’ll come get me?”

“Of course I will, Buck,” Steve choked out, frantically tapping the back of Bucky’s hand.

“Promise?”

“Yes, I promise. I swear on ma’s grave I’ll come get you.” He tapped several times on Bucky’s hand, then kissed Bucky’s face and his palm.

“Okay. Okay, I’ll go.”

He reminded Bucky to be good. He didn’t want these people taking things away from Bucky or restraining him if they thought he was a threat.

“I will. I promise.”

“Please be brave, Buck. I know you can do this.” He said, telling Bucky to be brave on his hand.

“Don’t worry, Rogers. I got this,” he said.

“Alright, it’s time to go. Mr. Rogers, step away from Mr. Barnes.”

Steve glared up at the man. “I need to help him put on his shoes, or are you gonna make him walk out of here in his slippers?”

Dunsfield made a face. “Get on with it.”

Steve helped Bucky into his shoes, then put a jacket on him. He hoped Bucky wouldn’t need it, but maybe they only had thin blankets in whatever stupid facility they were bringing Bucky to.

Tyler stepped forward and grabbed Bucky’s arm again and started pulling him forward.

Both Steve and Bucky protested at the same time. “He can walk just fine on his own! Don’t pull on him like that. Let him use his cane.”

Steve was so focused on his anger that he didn’t really register that Bucky was gone until the door shut behind him. Tyler and the other man had gone with him and Steve was left with Dunsfield.

He wanted to strangle the man and throw his body off the balcony.

But that wouldn’t help get Bucky back any quicker. Steve needed to be polite and cooperative and get this ridiculous situation dealt with as soon as possible so Bucky could come back home.

“Would you like to sit down, Mr. Dunsfield?” he said, gesturing at the table.

Chapter Text

“Would you like to sit down, Mr. Dunsfield?” Steve said, gesturing at the table.

“Thank you.” Dunsfield sat down and pulled out another notebook and a folder. Seeing the man sitting at their table created a sour taste in the back of Steve’s throat but he kept his ‘Captain America’ smile pasted on his face.

Dunsfield sorted through his papers.

“Would you like something to drink, sir?”

“No, thank you. Please have a seat, Mr. Rogers and keep your hands on the table at all times.”

Jesus Christ. Steve did as he was told.

Dunsfield spent some time taking notes. Steve cleared his throat. “Sir? Do you have somebody at your facility who knows the manual alphabet?”

Dunsfield gave him a bland look. “You don’t need to concern yourself about that. We’re going to provide Mr. Barnes with the care he requires.”

“Right.”

The idiot better make sure they provide Bucky with the care he requires, or Adult Protective Services won’t be dealing with Captain America anymore—they’d be dealing with Steven Grant Rogers.

Dunsfield was finally ready and he folded his hands over the folder and stared at Steve. “Alright, this is what’s going to happen, Mr. Rogers. I’m going to inform you of the allegations made against you, I’ll interview you and inspect your home. We’ll also interview Mr. Barnes and then determine whether he’s mentally competent to make his own decisions, or whether we have to make decisions for him. If he is competent, he’ll be given a choice whether to take advantage of our services or not. If we are taking over legal responsibility for his welfare, the findings of our investigation will inform our final decision on Mr. Barnes’ future care.”

Steve stared at him. Mentally competent? Do these idiots think Bucky got a lobotomy? “Mr. Dunsfield, Bucky is completely competent. There’s nothing wrong with his brai—”

“Your opinion on that matter is irrelevant. Professionals will be consulted and their opinion is the only one that will be taken into account. You need to focus on answering my questions.”

Asshole. “Yes, sir.”

“Do you and Mr. Barnes engage in sexual activities?”

What?

Steve gaped at him. “How is that any of your business?”

“One of the allegations against you is that you have been sexually abusing Mr. Barnes.”

“What—what does that even mean?”

“It means we believe you have been forcing Mr. Barnes to engage in sexual activities when he is not able to properly consent to such activities.”

Steve blinked. “Sir, I have never, ever forced Bucky to do anything he doesn’t want to do in bed. Ever. And I never will. I don’t understand where this whole consent or competence thing came from. He’s a hundred percent capable of making decisions for himself. He’s deafblind, not mentally—uh--challenged.”

He hoped he’d used the right term. He knew they weren’t supposed to use the term ‘retarded’ anymore. He got a stern talking to from Natasha a few weeks ago when he used that word during one of their chats. On the other hand, calling somebody a ‘moron’ these days wasn’t offensive, which makes the whole thing very confusing. He made sure to pass on his new found knowledge to Bucky after his conversation. Bucky thought the whole thing was ridiculous, but he agreed not to use either word, just in case.

“When did you begin having intimate relations with Mr. Barnes?”

He wanted to snap that it was none of the guy’s business, but he started to understand that the man was completely serious and if Steve didn’t cooperate, this asshole had the authority to lock Bucky away and claim he was doing it for Bucky’s own good.

“Many years ago. We’ve known each other since childhood. We’ve been making time—uh—been intimate with each since we were teenagers. After Bucky’s release from prison, we picked up where we left off.”

“So the intimate nature of your relationship is not a result of Mr. Barnes’ handicap?”

What? What kind of disgusting people has this man met? “No, sir. If I thought Bucky couldn’t properly consent or didn’t want to do something, then I wouldn’t push him. He’s the one who re-initiated that part of our relationship.”

“You believe he initiated it, even though you brought him to live in your apartment and he sleeps in your bed?”

“I—You think Bucky feels—obligated to sleep with me? That’s ridicu—” He could feel his temper starting to flare up and forced himself to stay calm. “That’s not true. I swear to you, I’ve never touched him against his will. Even now that physical touch is pretty much a requirement for communicating, if he doesn’t want me touching him, I don’t.”

Dunsfield took notes. “The other complaint we received has to do with neglect.”

Steve frowned. “Neglect? I don’t understand. I’m with him practically every second of every day.”

“We had reports that you keep Mr. Barnes locked out on the balcony for several hours each day, regardless of the weather.”

That was the point when Steve started to put the picture together.

A nosy neighbor across the street with a view of their apartment must have seen Bucky on the balcony. Steve supposed that somebody watching Bucky slowly doing his art might get the mistaken impression that Bucky was mentally challenged. If they made that assumption, then seeing Steve’s displays of affection towards Bucky might seem problematic.

But that didn’t excuse the concerned citizen from adding incorrect embellishments to make their complaint sound more serious. “Who made the complaint?”

Dunsfield didn’t looked up from his notes. “We keep the identities of complainants confidential. Please stay on topic.”

Fine.

“First of all, the balcony door is never locked. If it’s really windy, we don’t keep it wide open, but it’s always open enough so I can hear Buck when he calls for me. Second, it’s Bucky who wants to be outside. He—he had a real tough time when he first came home and he didn’t like the silence in the apartment. He likes being able to feel and smell the weather. The wind and the sun and the rain. He says it gives his working senses something to focus on. We’ve been working on having him spend more time inside because winter’s gonna come. I’d be happy to put a million heaters out there for him, but it won’t be ideal. But believe me, it’s his choice to be out there. I don’t force him out there and that door is never locked.”

Dunsfield made more notes. “So if Mr. Barnes expressed his desire to remain indoors, you would have no problem permitting that?”

Steve was getting exhausted of this whole ridiculousness. He ground his teeth together and forced a polite smile onto his face. “No, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. He goes in and out whenever he wants. He’s not a kid.”

“And if the weather is not appropriate, what level of force would you utilize to make him remain indoors?”

That felt like a trick question. “Like I said, it’s Buck’s choice whether he wants to be inside or outside. When it’s really gross outside then he stays inside. He’s not an idiot. He’s not gonna sit out there getting completely drenched or freezing to death, but if he wants to go out for a few minutes, it’s a free country. I’d want him to mop up the floor if he brings a rain cloud in with him, but he’s not a kid. Going outside is his choice.”

Dunsfield wrote some more in his notebook. “Alright, now I’d like to take a look around the apartment. Do you consent to the inspection?”

He barely restrained himself from letting out an annoyed snort. He knew he didn’t have a choice. “Yes, I do.”

“Remain seated and keep your hands on the table.”

Dunsfield picked up his papers and started wandering around.

Steve wasn’t worried. Everything was neat and tidy. Both Steve and Bucky had become accustomed to keeping things in their place and cleaning things up right away. It made it easier for Bucky to be independent and led to less tripping and ‘pepper incidents’.

Dunsfield inspected every room and spent extra time on the balcony. He wrote in his notebook, then returned to the table. “Alright, that’ll be all for now.”

“What happens now?”

“We’re going to interview Mr. Barnes and have his competence assessed by a therapist. The results of those assessments will dictate the next steps.”

“So somebody’s interviewing Bucky now?”

Dunsfield gave him another bland look. “We’ll interview Mr. Barnes when the time is appropriate. We aren’t obligated to share the details with you.”

Dread settled in Steve’s stomach. Not for himself, but for Bucky. “So you can just keep him in that facility until you decide it’s time to interview him?”

“Again, the details of our procedures aren’t something that we need to share you, Mr. Rogers. We’re finished here. Please keep your phone nearby so we can contact you if we have any further questions.”

With that, Dunsfield gathered up all of his things and swept out the door, shutting it behind him.

Now Steve is left sitting at the table, alone and numb with shock. “You—you can’t just keep him there. He doesn’t know what’s going on—” he mumbles. He realizes he’s talking to an empty room.

For a moment, he gets the ridiculous urge to turn around and ask Bucky what the hell they should do. And of course, that’s the problem.

Bucky’s alone in some facility, probably scared out of his mind. All he has with him is his cane and his watch. He has nobody to explain things to him, nobody to help him move around.

Steve needs to get him out of there as soon as possible, but for the first time in his life, he has no idea what the next step is.

Well, the second time. The first time had been when he’d sat in an empty, bombed out bar, mourning Bucky’s death.

He desperately wished Bucky would suddenly appear and tell him what to do—and it’s as useless now as it was then. Well—if Buck can’t tell him what to do, then maybe Natasha can help.

Steve gets up, grabs his cellphone and presses Natasha’s contact button. While it rings, his numb legs give out on him and he just barely manages to land on the couch.

“Hi, stranger. What’s going on? Do you still need the cheat sheets for the alphabet?” Her voice is friendly, teasing.

“He—they took him, Nat. They took him to a facility.”

A pause. Then: “What? They took Bucky? Who? Where?”

“Paul Dunsfield. Adult Protective Services. They took him to some facility because they think I’m hurting him.”

What?

“Somebody—somebody complained. They said I do awful things to Bucky and three men came and they made Buck go with them. They’re keeping him in some facility.”

“How long are they keeping him there?”

Steve takes a shuddering breath. He can feel tears welling up in his eyes. He’s so scared for Bucky that his heart is aching in his chest. “I—I don’t know. They say they have to interview him but they’re gonna need to find somebody who can talk to him properly and who knows how long that’ll take, and until then, he’s alone and scared and he has no idea what’s going on.”

Natasha is silent for a moment while she thinks. “Steve, we’ve got two options. Either we break him out and you two disappear. Or I can call in some favors and get lawyers to encourage them to hurry the hell up. What do you wanna do?”

“I—we can’t run, Nat. That’s not—Buck can’t do that. Not in his condition. He needs to come home.”

“Okay. You sit tight. Don’t go anywhere and don’t do anything dumb. I’ll call my contacts and see what we have to do. Don’t go anywhere. Do you hear me, Rogers? Stay put.”

Steve doesn’t think he could get off the couch if somebody holds a gun to his head. “Yeah, I heard you. I’m not going anywhere.”

Natasha hangs up so she can call her contacts, so Steve is left sitting here, the phone clutched in his hands. He’s having trouble breathing. He remembers feeling like this right before he’d have an asthma attack—but he knows it can’t be an asthma attack.

Looks like he’s having a panic attack instead.

He stares at the phone in his hands. Obviously he can’t call Buck and Natasha is busy trying to help Buck.

There’s only one other person listed in his phone who Steve would want to call. Without stopping to think about it, he presses Sam’s contact button.

The phone only rings twice, and then Sam’s voice comes through. “Hello?”

Steve opens his mouth to say hi and instead, a hiccupping sob comes out instead. He’s still struggling to breathe, so words aren’t his mouth’s priority.

“Hello? Steve? Are you okay? You don’t sound good. Do you need me to call for help? Can you press a button on your phone? Press a button and I’ll call somebody for help.”

Steve presses the phone hard against his ear and squeezes his eyes shut, trying to calm himself down.

Oh, how he loves this wonderful man. He hasn’t been keeping in touch with Sam as much as Sam wants him to and he knows he hasn’t been a good friend lately, but here he is, freaking out and calling the man while completely hysterical, and Sam just goes right along with it. “I—I—Sam I can’t—I can’t breathe.”

“Do you need me to call 911? Yes or no.”

“No—no, it’s—I think—I think I’m just panicking.”

“Alright. Put your phone on speaker so your hands are free. Put the phone down next to you.”

Steve struggles to obey—his hands are shaking and he can’t seem to keep his eyes focused on the phone’s screen, but he manages to put it on speaker and puts it down on the arm rest.

“You need to slow your breathing. Try breathing in for five slow seconds, then hold it for five slow seconds before letting it out. It’s gonna be tough, but really try. I’ll count.”

So together they spend several agonizing minutes helping Steve get control back over his breathing.

Once he’s no longer hyperventilating, Sam talks him through the steps required to get himself a glass of water—Steve’s having way too much trouble remembering how to do things like that right now—and having him drink the whole thing in slow, even sips.

When Steve declares that he feels as good as he’s going to get, Sam asks him what’s going on. That’s when it all comes flooding back.

Jesus Christ, Steve’s almost forgotten about Buck while he was busy panicking. He stumbles through the facts of the day, explaining about Buck being taken away, why he was taken, and the fact that the whole thing is out of Steve’s hands.

Sam listens, only interrupting to ask questions when Steve stumbles over things. “So Natasha is getting her people involved?”

“Yeah. Yeah, she is. That’s—that’s the best we can do right now. We can’t run. We can’t—Buck can’t do that in his condition.”

“No, no, he can’t. You made a good decision staying put, Steve. I know it doesn’t seem like it right now, but you haven’t done anything wrong and once APS realizes that the accusations are bullshit, they’ll let Bucky come home.”

“But when? He can’t—he’s alone and he doesn’t know why they’ve taken him and he doesn’t like being in strange places. He doesn’t like the dark and the silence—they’re the bad kind of dark and silence. There’s the nice, cozy kind and there’s the bad kind and—”

“Steve, take a breath. I know things are really tough for Bucky right now, and that means things are tough for you, but you have to try to stay calm. You gotta stay focused and be ready to answer your phone when Natasha or APS call, right?”

“When are they gonna call?” It never occurs to him that Sam wouldn’t know the answer to that question.

“You know Natasha will get her people on this as fast as possible. She’ll get the ball rolling—it’s probably already rolling—and she’ll get Bucky back home as soon as possible.”

“But—but he needs to be home now. He can’t sleep if he doesn’t know that nobody’s gonna come in when he’s sleeping.”

Sam sighs softly. “He’s tough, Steve. You know that. He’s tougher than both of us put together. He’s lived through so much worse than this. He’ll get through it, you know he will. He needs you to stay calm and focused so you can go get him as soon as they call you.”

Steve’s nodding. “Yeah. But—I don’t want him to be scared, Sam. I can’t help him from here.”

“I know. And that sucks and APS sucks and everything about this situation sucks, but he’ll get through it, Steve. You both will.”

“But he can’t sleep when he doesn’t know that nobody’s gonna come in.”

Steve’s mind keeps whirling in a strange circle for a while. He understands what Sam’s saying, and he knows that pointing out the same issues won’t get him a different answer, but his mind keeps bringing up the same things over and over.

Sam is his wonderful, amazing self and repeats his calm, reassuring answers as many times as Steve needs him to. Eventually Steve’s brain exhausts itself, and he falls silent. That’s when Sam encourages him to try to get some rest so he won’t be completely dead on his feet tomorrow.

“Bucky’s depending on you to stay focused, Steve. If you let yourself get into a complete panic, you might end up hurting yourself or passing out, and that’s not gonna help Bucky, right?”

Once he hangs up the phone, he decides to follow Sam’s advice and get some rest. He tries going into the bedroom, but as soon as he sees their bed, he spins around and heads back to the couch.

He can’t sleep on their bed with Bucky’s empty nest of pillows.

So he lies down on the couch, staring up at the ceiling, his stomach in anxious knots. He knows Bucky probably can’t sleep either. He knows he’s probably scared and tense, not able to stop his brain from obsessively listening and looking for dangers.

He knows neither of them will get much sleep tonight.

*             *             *

Bucky doesn’t manage more than light dozing that night. He’s exhausted, but he can’t sleep in a strange place. This isn’t the friendly, cozy darkness he’s gotten to know at home. This darkness is terrifying and cold.

His senses are on high alert, his ears and eyes straining to detect anything in the room. He’s terrified that somebody will come into his room. Somebody could come in at any second and grab him or hurt him or drag him somewhere else.

He’s trembling with fear and can’t stop the tears that are streaming down his face.

Please come get me, Stevie.

Please.

I tried being brave, but this is too hard.

I wanna go home.

*             *             *

“Buck, please hang on. I’ll come get you, I promise. I know you’re being as brave as you can and I know you’re scared. I’ll come get you, I promise.”

*             *             *

Bucky touches his watch for the hundredth time that night. Once it’s six o’clock, he figures he’s spent enough time sitting on the bed and pretending to sleep.

Telling himself it’s day time now helps makes the darkness less threatening. It’s stupid, but it fools his brain enough to make the rampant fear calm.

He carefully makes his bed as neatly as he can, killing time and then he makes his way to the bathroom. He drinks from the faucet and uses the toilet. He’d really like to have a shower, but he doesn’t dare put himself into such a vulnerable situation while anybody could come barging in. He does find a toothbrush and toothpaste so he can brush his teeth.

He entertains himself by doing more circuits around the room. Eventually, he detects a strong food scent in the room.

Definitely eggs and bacon.

The thought of food is immediately overridden by that terrifying feeling that he knows somebody had walked into the room and he hadn’t know they were there.

They could have walked in while he was sitting on the bed. They could have sat there and stared at him for hours. A shudder runs down his back. He wants to go home so desperately that his stomach aches.

But he has to focus. First he has to eat something. He needs to keep up his strength so he has the energy to focus properly.

Second, he has to work on figuring out why he’s here and what he has to do to get himself back home. Steve is no doubt working on bringing him home, but if Bucky can do anything to speed up the process, he’ll do it.

“Good morning,” Bucky says, hoping he sounds polite. Whatever these people want, he doesn’t want them accusing him of being uncooperative. He’d promised Steve he’d be good.

Maybe if he stays nice and polite, they’ll let Steve visit. Or maybe they’ll feel inclined to provide an explanation for why they’ve locked him up.

He gets up and makes his way to the table. He has a seat and feels for the cutlery. Unlike yesterday, the person doesn’t interfere. Bucky still has no idea if it’s the same person from yesterday.

“Thanks for bringing breakfast. It smells really good.” Bucky carefully picks up the fork and pokes around on his plate, smelling everything and figuring out what and where everything is, then digs in.

After a few mouthfuls, he swallows and glances to his side where he knows his buddy is standing. “Did you happen to bring something to drink?”

Moments later, he feels a wet, cold surface being nudged against his hand. He fumbles to drop his fork and grab the offered glass. “Thank you.” He sniffs it. Orange juice. He takes a sip, then carefully puts the glass back down.

“By the way, it would be easier if you tell me yes or no before you hand me things. It’s just a surprise, you see, and I might drop the thing you’re trying to hand me. You can tap me on the back of the hand for yes, or rub the back of my hand for no. Is that okay? You don’t gotta do it if you ain’t comfortable.”

He feels a hesitant tap on his hand. “That’s great! Thanks, buddy.”

He finishes eating. To his surprise, he feels a napkin being pushed into his hand. That’s nice. “Thanks!”

He turns in his chair and smiles politely. “Hey, I don’t even know your name. If you’re comfortable, can you write your name on my palm? Nice, slow capital letters.”

Steve has tried doing letter spelling instead of Morse code when he’d realized how much Bucky had struggled with using Morse code, but it was just as difficult as code. Too many letters felt similar to each other, and doing the multiple lines took just as long as code, but if he can gain more intel about his current situation, he’ll put up with stupid letter spelling. Besides, if he knows the guy’s name, he might be able to get more information out of him. People like having their names used.

He holds out his palm. There’s a hesitation, then a few shaky lines are drawn. Bucky has no idea what letter it was. “That’s great. Press a little harder and do it again until I can figure out what letter it is. One letter at a time.”

The tracing is a bit firmer and the lines are repeated over and over until Bucky figures out it’s a T.

They move slowly through each letter. His name has six letters and thankfully, it has a lot of repeat letters so it’s not as difficult as it could be.

Terell.

“Hi, Terell. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Bucky.” He turns his hand and holds it out for a shake. Terell’s grip is a bit hesitant still, but he seems to be getting more confident.

Bucky has no idea if the guy fears him or if he’s just new at his job, but he seems to be getting better. “Terell, do you know why I’m here?”

No response. Bucky pulls out what he knows is his winning smile. “Come on, buddy. I won’t tell that you told me. Do you know why they took me away from home?”

Terell slowly pulls his hand out of Bucky’s loose grip, then there’s a very hesitant tap on the back of his hand.

Bucky smiles. They’re getting somewhere.

Maybe.

Terell puts his hand back into Bucky’s, since Bucky’s not paying attention and has kept his hand extended. He loosely holds on to Terell’s hand. He actually doesn’t mind the contact—he’ll be able to feel Terell’s reactions to his questions before he answers them. “Okay. Is this some kind of prison?”

Bucky feels Terell tense, then he’s frantically rubbing Bucky’s hand.

“Am I in trouble? Is that why they’re keeping me here? Did I do something wrong?”

More frantic rubbing.

Okay. He mulls it over. So they didn’t take him away because he did something wrong. They’re making sure that all of his basic needs are being taken care of. So they want him to stay healthy and he’s not in trouble.

So that just leaves—

“Is Steve in trouble?”

No response. He probably doesn’t know who Steve is. “The man I live with. Is he in trouble? Did he do something wrong?”

He can feel Terell’s hand jerking as if he’s moving to respond, but he stops himself. That answers Bucky’s question, but he wants to try to get actual confirmation.

He smiles. “Come on, Terell. I won’t tell, I promise. I’m just curious. They didn’t tell me anything, they just locked me up in here. That’s not right, is it?”

Terell rubs his hand.

“No, it ain’t right. So I’m just trying to put things together. Somebody who ain’t a cripple like me, they’d know what’s going on, right? It ain’t fair that I don’t know just because I can’t hear and I can’t see.”

He’s hoping he’s successfully tugging on the guy’s heart strings. He lets that sink in. Then: “So, is Steve in trouble? Did he do something wrong?”

A hesitant tap.

Bucky keeps smiling. “Thanks for talking to me, Terell. You’re great. And thanks for breakfast. Are you gonna be back for lunch?”

A confident tap.

“Great! Well, I’ll see you then,” Bucky gets up and keeps a hand on the crook of Terell’s arm, helping him collect the tray and escorting him to the door as if Terell was his date for the evening.

Bucky can be a damn polite gentleman when he wants to be. He waits until the door has clicked shut behind Terell, then he lets the sugary smile slide off his face.

They think Steve did something wrong. The only reason they’d take him away from Steve if they think Steve did something wrong is for his protection. Maybe they think Steve took too long finding the special alphabet?

But no, that’s stupid. How on earth would anybody know such things?

He spends time mulling it over, trying to come up with some explanation, but when lunch rolls around and he still isn’t any clearer on the situation, he starts to get mad. He’s been nothing but cooperative and polite, and he’s been here for—he checks—about sixteen hours and he hasn’t been given any explanation for why he’s here and how long he’ll have to stay.

And if he’s not in trouble, that means he has rights, doesn’t it?

He waits until he’s finished lunch and has used the napkin Terell has handed him. “That was great, Terell. Really yummy.”

He puts down the napkin and turns to face Terell. He takes the smile off his face and makes sure he looks serious. “Now, I want you to go and find me your supervisor, please. Tell him or her that I want to speak with them right now. If your supervisor doesn’t wanna come, tell him or her that I have very important friends who can make their life very difficult. I just want a short meeting, that’s all.”

He actually doesn’t have such friends and he has no idea if Steve has any such connections anymore, but he’s hoping the threat will be enough.

Terell has frozen beside him. Bucky shoots him his best smile. “Don’t worry, buddy. It’s got nothing to do with you. You’re doing a great job. I just don’t think it’s right that I’ve been here for this long without knowing why I’m here. So please get me your supervisor.”

There’s a tap on his hand, then Terell disappears. He left in such a hurry that he left the lunch tray behind. Bucky sweeps the plate with the fork and licks off the remaining pasta sauce that clings to the tines.

He’s startled by somebody touching his hand. Out of habit, his fingers trace the stranger’s wrist.

No leather bracelet. It’s expected, but still a let-down. He doesn’t let himself dwell on that. Focus, Barnes. “Is this Terell?”

The hand leaves his arm, but nothing else happens. Not Terell. Okay, so this must be somebody else. Hopefully Terell had done as he’d asked and brought a supervisor.

“I’m gonna assume you’re the supervisor around here. I have a complaint to make. I’ve been here for nearly a full day and I haven’t been given any explanation for why I’ve been taken from my home without my consent. I know I haven’t done anything wrong and I know I have rights. You are going to tell me exactly why I’m here and what I can do to get released. To do that, you’re gonna go find somebody who knows the alphabet for deafblind people so I can speak to them. You’re gonna go and do that right now or I’m gonna let everybody know how you’ve been trampling on my rights and making life difficult for a confused, innocent deafblind person.”

He figures the person is probably responding, arguing, pleading or explaining. Bucky couldn’t care less.

“In case you’re trying to talk to me, let me remind you: I can’t understand what you’re saying. That’s why you’re gonna stop wasting my time and you’re gonna go find somebody who can talk to me properly.”

Hopefully that’ll get things moving along. He hates the idea that he’ll have to spend another night in this place.

Chapter Text

Prabhjot is in the middle of an interpretation when she feels her cell phone vibrate with a missed call. It happens twice more before the session is finished.

“Thank you so much for your time, Dr. Kapur.”

She smiles and shakes the man’s hand. “You’re welcome.”

She turns to the other participant, who signs her thanks. Prabhjot signs back, letting her know she’s very welcome and to call her anytime she needs more help.

Then she checks her phone. Three missed calls, two voice mails and five text messages. Dialing into her voice mail, she listens to the frantic message.

“Prabhjot, it’s Kathy Cho from APS. We have a deafblind client who’s in our temp housing unit. He—he has no sight and no hearing so we can’t communicate with him. He’s getting really upset about the situation because we can’t explain why he’s here, and we just had a call from his two lawyers and they’re threatening to sue our asses off if we don’t find him communication assistance. I know you’re super busy this week, but I’ll take you out for dinner twice—any restaurant you want, I’m paying—if you can please help us out.”

Prabhjot erases the messages and presses Kathy’s contact button as she heads out of the building. Kathy picks up on the first ring. “Please tell me you’re on your way.”

“I’m coming, don’t worry. Why didn’t you call me last night? The poor man’s probably scared out of his mind.”

“I had no idea he’s deafblind. Paul left that out of his case summary. We were slammed last night so I didn’t have time to look over his whole file until he started making threats.”

Prabhjot frowns, pressing the phone between her head and shoulder as she unlocks her car and gets inside. “He threatened you?”

“Well, he threatened to bring lawyers, and then ten minutes later, his lawyers called.”

“I’m on my way. Just hang tight. But I will hold you to those dinners.”

She hears Kathy let out a relieved laugh. “Any restaurant, I promise. Just please get here.”

*             *             *

Prabhjot takes the file from Kathy as soon as she’s in the door, but doesn’t open it. She likes to meet the client first and form a first opinion before reading the details.

Especially one of Paul’s files. The man either leaves way too many details out, or he colors the entire thing with his own opinions and biases.

“What communication tool does he use?”

“You won’t believe this, but Paul didn’t bother writing anything about his communication methods in his files. I called Paul this morning and he says he uses some kind of alphabet?”

“What room’s he in?”

“24.”

“Okay. Please keep everybody out for the time being.”

She finds Room 24 and grabs one of the visitor chairs propped beside the locked door. Terell has been hurrying after her and he steps around her to unlock the door.

“You’ve been spending time with him, Terell?”

Terell nods. “Yeah. He’s—”

Prabhjot holds up a hand. “Not yet, Terell. Let me talk to him first, then I’ll get your opinion.”

She heads inside and lets the door shut behind her.

The man is sitting on the chair by the table. He’s positioned the chair so he’s facing the door, but his face doesn’t change to indicate that he knows anyone has entered the room.

She notices he's missing his left arm and his jacket sleeve has been cut off and neatly sewn up. In her experience, if somebody has permanently altered their clothing like this, it means they don't usually use a prosthetic. It's not unusual for upper arm amputees to not use a prosthetic, especially for people who have vision problems.

She finds it curious that Kathy hadn't mentioned the fact that he's an amputee. She's wondering how long he's been missing his arm and how it impacts the fact that he's deafblind. She hasn't ever met someone deafblind who was an amputee. But right now, that's not important.

She approaches him and gently touches his shoulder—standard practice when approaching somebody blind or deafblind—and keeps her hand there so he will notice that there’s a new presence in the room with him.

He startles a bit—his arm tenses and there’s a sharp intake of breath, and he frowns, clearly unhappy with the touch. He shifts, and shoves her hand off his shoulder. “Don’t touch my shoulder! You can touch my hand, but I ain’t give you permission to touch my shoulder.”

*             *             *

When the unexpected touch comes, fear is the first emotion that runs through him, but there’s also annoyance. Terell had done a great job touching his hand to initiate contact with him, and Bucky doesn’t think he’d change his routine like this, so this must be a new person.

A new, rude person.

“I know you ain’t Terell. I don’t know if you’re the person from before, but I’m warning you—I’m in a pretty nasty mood by now, so if you can’t communicate with me properly, get out and find somebody who can. I’m getting sick of saying the same thing over and over.”

The mystery person gently touches his hand. The touch is light and seems apologetic. He guesses it’s a woman, based on the slim hand.

“Do you know how to talk to me? Tap my hand for yes.”

Tap, tap, tap.

A sense of relief floods through him. Oh, thank God!

He turns his hand over, holding up his palm so she can start to spell. But instead of spelling anything, she turns his hand over and folds it over her closed fist.

He frowns. What the hell is she doing?

Her hand starts moving rapidly beneath his grasp. What the hell??

Bucky pulls his hand off hers. “Listen, lady. I don’t know what you’re doing, but this ain’t funny. I told you: I want you to find somebody who can do the deafblind manual alphabet so I can talk to them. I’ve got rights, don’t I?”

He feels her hand touch his again, and this time, she smoothes out his palm, a clear sign that she’s going to spell on his palm. Finally!

But instead of the familiar symbols, she starts to draw individual lines. It takes Bucky a few seconds to realize that she’s writing capital letters, not using the normal symbols.

He struggles to suppress a sigh. Apparently nobody around here knows the manual alphabet and he’s going to be stuck trying to decipher the stupid capital letters.

Fine. If it’ll get him out of here, he’ll do it. “If you’re trying to write letters on my palm, you gotta do it slower. That ain’t how the manual alphabet works, so I ain’t used to it.”

She slows her writing, and Bucky can eventually tell that she’s trying to write ‘H-E-L-L-O’ on his palm.

“Hello? That’s what you’re trying to say?”

Tap.

“Okay, we’re getting somewhere. For future, if you wanna say ‘no’, just rub the back of my hand.”

Taking a deep breath, he sits up straight and puts on a polite smile. “Alright, let’s start over. My name’s James Barnes.”

She spells her first name. He frowns, trying to follow the letters. “Again, please. Slower.”

She spells her name two more times. It’s not a name he’s familiar with and it takes him a second to put the letters together in his head.

“Prab?” he asks.

Tap.

“So, Prab. Please tell me why I’m here. Terell told me I’m not in trouble and this isn’t a prison.”

Rub, rub, rub.

“Yeah, I know this ain’t a prison. The food’s too good and the bed’s too comfortable.”

H-A.

H-A.

H-A.

He grins. Well, that’s adorable. He’s never had somebody laugh on his palm before. “That’s a good one. Usually Steve doesn’t have to tell me he’s laughing. I can feel it. Alright, so, I want to know why I’m here.”

P-L-E-A-S-E.

W-A-I-T.

He frowns and his good mood vanishes. Is this more baloney? “Why? I’ve already waited.”

R-E-A-D.

F-I-L-E.

“Okay, fine. Read fast and then I want answers.”

Tap, tap, tap.

*             *             *

Stepping out into the hallway with her chair—she didn’t want to leave a strange object in the room that he could trip over—she has a seat in the chair in the hallway and reads through his file.

As she reads the details, she realizes two unfortunate things.

The ‘Steve’ who Barnes had referenced must be the same Steve who is the alleged abuser in his case, and based on the affection in Barnes’ voice when he talked about him, it doesn’t seem that Barnes wants to get away from him.

The other unfortunate fact is that Barnes’ case really isn’t that uncommon. She sighs softly.

‘Allegations of sexual abuse: Complainant reports seeing Steve Rogers (SR) making multiple sexual advances on client. Complainant believes SR is forcing client to engage in non-consensual sexual acts. Allegations of neglect: Complainant reports seeing client locked out on balcony for prolonged periods of time every day. Client has no access to shelter or other necessities while confined to the balcony.’

She flips a page.

‘Complainant believes client lacks mental capacity to consent to sexual activities and is not able to adequately communicate his needs.’

Oh, boy. Something about the situation doesn’t sit right with her. Just based on the few minutes of interaction she had with Barnes, she can tell he’s perfectly capable of communicating his needs and wants. In her experience, if such a big part of the complaint is false, the whole case is usually based on nothing but baseless suspicions.

“Terell?”

“Yes, Doctor?”

“What’s your impression of Barnes?”

Terell smiles. It seems he’s fond of him. “Oh, he’s a really nice guy. He’s a bit upset because he doesn’t know why he’s here and I totally get that. But he’s really nice. He told me when I was helping him too much, or when he needed more help. And he taught me how to do yes and no.”

She smiles. “Keep in mind that those signals are his personal ones. They’re not universal.”

Terell looks a bit crestfallen. “Oh.”

“If you’d like to learn about different ways of signing, just let me know. I’d be happy to teach you.”

Terell smiles. “Oh, that’d be great!”

“So tell me more about your interactions with him.”

“Well, when I brought him dinner last night, I tried to help him walk from the bed to the table and he told me I was doing it wrong and I should hold on to his elbow. Then I tried to help him eat, but he told me he could do it himself, and he did. Then he asked me to get him toilet paper—I was an idiot and forgot to grab a napkin—anyway, I got him the toilet paper and he was grateful for that. This morning he taught me yes and no and he was really happy that I remembered the napkin. He seems like a nice guy.”

Prabhjot listens carefully. Everything Terell says confirms her earlier suspicions. Barnes understands and communicates his own needs and wants properly. Plus, he seems to have spent time exploring his new surroundings and learning the layout of the room enough that he could move from the bed to the table only using his cane and Terell’s minimal guidance. All signs that he’s capable of taking care of himself and that he’s capable of making appropriate decisions for himself.

Regardless, she’ll still have to interview him. “Thanks, Terell. That was really helpful.”

She picks up her chair and goes back into Barnes’ room. She walks up to him and touches his hand again.

He startles again, but he recovers quickly, masking his shock with an annoyed frown. He brushes his fingers over her wrist again—it seems to be an automatic motion. “About time,” he says and holds up his hand, waiting for her to start spelling.

She puts down her chair and sits. She takes hold of his hand and launches right into the situation.

I

A-S-K.

Y-O-U.

Q-U-E-S-T-I-O-N-S.

She draws a question mark on his palm. It’s a pretty universal sign, so she hopes he uses it.

He nods. “Okay. Go ahead.”

W-H-O.

I-S.

S-T-E-V-E.

Question mark.

A smile appears on his face. “Steve’s—Steve’s my best friend. My—the love of my life, the man I live with, my best fella. He’s my everything. Has been since I was eight years old.”

Interesting.

D-O-E-S.

H-E.

H-U-R-T.

Y-O-U.

Question mark.

An immediate frown. “Hurt me? What do you mean, ‘does he hurt me’? He annoys me from time to time, and we get into little snits and we might say a few rude things, but we apologize and make up ten minutes later. It’s always been that way.”

She rubs the back of his hand multiple times.

“No? That’s not what you were asking? Then you’re gonna have to be more specific because I don’t get it.”

I-S.

T-H-E-R-E.

P-H-Y-S-I-C-A-L.

H-U-R-T.

Question mark.

“Physical? You’re seriously asking if we beat each other?! Hell no! We roughhouse a bit here and there, but that’s it. It’s just play. He’s not actually hurting me.”

Now comes the tough question.

I-S.

T-H-E-R-E.

S-E-X-U-A-L.

H-U-R-T.

Question mark.

He reels back with shock. “What?! What do you mean sexual hurt? You’re asking if Steve—if Steve makes me do things I don’t wanna do?” He looks completely gobsmacked. “Are you crazy?”

She doesn’t respond. She needs him to actually answer the question.

“You—what the hell? Where is this garbage coming from? I can’t believe you’re asking me something like that!”

She calmly holds his hand, waiting. She’s accustomed to such defensiveness. She hates doing interviews using print-on-palm technique. Because it takes so much time to write out each word, it’s not practical to use full sentences or transition slowly from topic to topic, but it does allow the deafblind individual to keep up with the conversation and moves the interview along at a reasonable pace. The downside is that she needs to keep her questions succinct and be very blunt, which makes discussing personal issues even more difficult.

She finds herself wishing that Barnes could understand ASL. She’d come across a lot politer and less crass if she could communicate with him using ASL, but they don’t have that option.

He takes a deep breath, calming himself down. He sits up straight. “No. No, Steve doesn’t hurt me sexually or physically, or in any other way. He never has and he never will. If somebody told you that he is they’re lying.”

Y-O-U.

C-A-N.

S-A-Y.

N-O.

T-O.

S-E-X.

Question mark.

He’s glowering in her direction. “Yes,” he says with clenched teeth. “Yes, I can say no to sex with Steve if I don’t feel like having sex with him. And yes Steve will respect my choice. Just like he can say no to me, and I’ll respect his choice. I can’t believe you’re asking me these questions.”

S-E-X.

I-S.

N-O-T.

P-A-Y-M-E-N-T.

Question mark.

“What? What the hell do you mean ‘payment’? For what?”

A-P-A-R-T-M-E-N-T.

F-O-O-D.

C-L-O-T-

He folds his hand over hers, interrupting her spelling. “Okay, okay, I get it! Look, I don’t see how it’s any of your business who’s paying for our rent or our food or anything else. But okay, if I have to answer the stupid question, then I will. Steve and I have lived together for a long time and we’ve never kept track of who pays for what. Ever. So no, I don’t have to have sex with Steve so he’ll keep feeding me or letting me sleep in our bed. This whole thing is ridiculous. You hear me? Ridiculous! I hope you’re writing that down.”

She feels pretty confident that the sexual abuse allegations are false. Nothing in his behavior or his answers point towards that type of abuse.

An added bonus is that she’s feeling more and more confident that he’s fully competent. That means she just has to address the last part of the complaint, then she can tell him he’s free to go if he chooses.

T-E-L-L.

M-E.

A-B-O-U-T.

B-A-L-C-O-N-Y.

“The balcony?” he shrugs. “Are you new to the planet? You don’t know what a balcony is?”

She doesn’t respond to his baiting.

D-O.

Y-O-U.

U-S-E.

B-A-L-C-O-N-Y.

Question mark.

He huffs in annoyance. “This is so stupid. Yes, I’m on the balcony a lot. The balcony is where I like to spend a lot of my time. I like being able to feel and smell the weather. I can concentrate better and I feel safer than if I’m inside. I’m getting better at being inside, but I still prefer being out on the balcony.”

D-O.

Y-O-U.

L-I-K-E.

I-T.

Question mark.

“Didn’t I just answer that? I can’t believe somebody actually pays you to ask me these stupid questions. Yes, I like being on the balcony. If somebody is saying something crazy like Steve’s forcing me to stay on the balcony against my will, they’re stupid and wrong and I hope they fry in hell.”

W-H-A-T.

A-R-E.

Y-O-U-R.

H-O-B-B-I-E-S.

Question mark.

“My hobbies? Not that it’s any of your business but I have a lot of them. I do art projects, I’ve started knitting, I play games with Steve, I practice doing things around the apartment…lots of stuff. Steve is always working hard to find new things for me to do or finding ways to make things easier for me.” He glares in her direction. “Would you like to know how many times I use the bathroom in a day too? Because you’ve practically covered every other private topic in my life, so it would only be right for you to get the whole picture.”

She hides a smile. His defensive outbursts are actually helping his case. It helps demonstrate his understanding of the conversation and his mental independence.

She’s confident James Barnes is mentally competent.

As such, she will now tell him that he can chose whether to accept their assistance or if he wants to put a stop to the entire thing.

She debates apologizing for the abruptness of the interview questions and trying to explain to him that the situation would be different if they had a different method of communication.

But then she realizes that the kindest thing she can do for Barnes is to move things along as quickly as possible. She guesses he desperately wants to go home, so she’ll help make that happen as soon as possible.

She squeezes his hand, hopefully signalling to him that she’s about to change topics.

D-O.

Y-O-U.

W-A-N-T.

H-E-L-P.

Question mark.

He frowns. “Help? Is that what you’re calling this whole thing? You practically kidnapped me and left me locked up alone and terrified. You think you’re somehow helping me? You’re all idiots.”

She waits.

He leans forward. “No! No, I don’t want your help. I want to go home and I never want to deal with you people again.”

O-K.

He freezes. “Okay? That’s it? Just ‘okay’?”

Y-O-U.

C-A-N.

G-O.

H-O-M-E.

He straightens up. “Good. Good! Let’s go. Right now.”

He’s completely serious. He drops her hand and shakes his cane into his hand and stands.

She gapes slightly. Damn, she should have phrased that differently. She gently takes hold of his hand.

P-L-E-A-S-E.

W-A-I-T.

He glares. “I’ve been waiting for hours! You people have wasted enough of my time and Steve’s time. I ain’t waiting any longer. Terell will bring me outside to wait while you do whatever paper work shit you gotta do and call Steve to come get me.”

He yanks his hand out of her grasp and walks to the door. He bangs on it, loudly telling Terell to open the door.

She sighs softly. Well, that could have gone better.

She hurries after him and reaches around him to open the door. As soon as it’s open, Barnes pushes past Terell. He stops in the hallway. “Terell, let’s go pal. Bring me outside and we’ll wait for Steve.”

Terell gapes at him, then at Prabhjot.

She nods. “He’s free to go. Bring him outside and stay with him. Hopefully he’ll calm down when he’s outside. I’ll call his pick-up, do the paperwork and join you in a few minutes.”

Terell and Barnes head towards the lobby and Prabhjot hurries to the main office. Along the way, she pulls open the file and reads over Paul’s interview with Steve.

Steve flat out denied every allegation and his story about the balcony matches Barnes’. Either they’re both good liars and got their stories straight, or the allegations are false.

Either way, it doesn’t matter any longer.

Prabhjot is completely confident that James Barnes is mentally competent and he clearly doesn’t want their assistance, which means this case is closed.

*             *             *

The down side to keeping their apartment so clean all the times is that Steve ends up wandering around, his mind reeling and his hands have nothing to do.

He goes out to the balcony and is immediately annoyed at himself when he sees that he’s left Bucky’s art kit and his project out here all night. He carefully picks up Bucky’s half-finished pepper flower drawing and slides it into one of the plastic sleeves in his art binder. Some of the small containers have gotten nudged around with the wind overnight, so he carefully puts everything back into the right places. He closes up Bucky’s art kit and takes his mug of cold coffee into the kitchen.

Then he sits on the couch, waiting.

The phone rings and he scrambles to answer it.

It’s Natasha, letting him know that the lawyers will be calling APS to pressure them into moving along Bucky’s assessment. Unfortunately she can’t do anything else.

Neither can Steve.

Since he’s agreed to play ball with APS, all he can do is wait.

He hangs up and goes back to sitting on the couch, waiting.

The phone rings again.

This time it’s Sam, asking him how he’s doing. The only positive thing that Steve can report is that he didn’t make himself physically sick from panicking overnight.

Sam tells Steve he’s going to talk to Natasha and if it looks like this situation will take a few days to resolve, he’ll be on the next plane to New York. Then Sam tries to distract him by asking him about other things, but Steve’s mind is so focused on worrying about Bucky that he can’t keep track of the conversations Sam tries distracting him with.

Then Sam tells him he has a group session starting and he needs to go, but he wants Steve to call him if there’s any news.

Once he’s hung up with Sam, Steve is back to sitting on the couch, worrying about Bucky and staring at his phone.

He spends so long staring at his silent phone that he nearly jumps out of his skin when it abruptly starts ringing that afternoon.

He nearly drops it as he fumbles to pick it up.

“Hello?”

“Is this Steve Rogers?”

“Yes, that’s me. Who’s this?”

“My name is Prabhjot Kapur. I’m a therapist who works with APS. I wanted to let you know that we’ve finished James Barnes’ assessment and he’s free to go. Are you able to pick him or do you want us to put him into a cab?”

Steve’s heart nearly flies out of his chest. He’s on his feet, already hurrying towards the door. “I’ll—I’ll pick him up. Where is he?”

She rattles off the address. Steve memorizes it. He has no idea where it actually is, but hopefully the hackie will know. He steps into his shoes, grabs his keys and he’s out the door while he disconnects the call.

When he gets outside, there are no hackies in sight so he sprints three blocks over to a busier intersection and basically steps in the path of a passing hackie, forcing him to stop. Steve rattles off the address and tells him he’ll pay him double if he gets there as quickly as possible.

Along the way he texts Nat, telling her he’s going to pick Bucky up, and thanking her. She sends back a bunch of smiley faces in response. He also texts Sam with the good news. He immediately gets a reply: ‘Go get your boy!’.

That’s the plan.

*             *             *

The second Bucky feels the cool breeze on his face, he feels better. No matter what happens, at least he’s outside and out of that stupid room.

Terell’s walking beside him, keeping two fingers tucked into Bucky’s elbow.

When Bucky feels his cane suddenly drop off, he freezes. Is there a hole in the sidewalk?

Whatever. He’s fine staying where he is.

“This is good, Terell. Are we right by the street?”

A tap on his hand.

“Okay, thank you.”

Bucky lapses into silence. The minutes tick by.

Hurry up, Rogers. Hurry up. I wanna go home. I want home, and you, and no more stupid people asking stupid questions.

He thinks about checking his watch, but he has no idea what time it was when he came out here, so there’s no point. As long as he’s outside and not in that stupid room, he can wait.

Suddenly, Bucky can feel Terell tensing and his fingers slip off his elbow. Bucky tenses and tries to prepare himself for whatever’s about to happen.

Moments later, he feels somebody touch his hand. He brushes his hand over the strange hand, half afraid that he’ll feel nothing again—but he touches a leather bracelet.

He makes himself stay calm—lots of people could be wearing a leather bracelet. He runs his fingers over it.

A large bead.

Di, di, dit.

Dah.

Dit…

He grins, relief flooding him. He wants to yank Steve into his arms, but he knows if he lets himself hug Steve right now, they’ll be standing on this sidewalk for hours, and he’d much rather hug Steve at home.

“Hi, Rogers. Let’s go home.”

He can feel Steve’s hand trembling and when Steve moves closer to him and tucks Bucky’s hand into the bend of his elbow, he can feel that Steve’s entire body is trembling.

Bucky’s throat is tight and he tightens his grip on his cane.

They need to get home.

They need to get home right now.

Steve helps him fold up his cane, then guides him into a car of some sort. Steve settles in beside him, then they’re moving.

The car stops moving after a while and Steve shifts around a bit and helps pull Bucky out of the car.

They walk for a little while, Bucky’s cane vibrating as it moves over the ground—they’re walking over some type of rough surface. Then Steve’s pulling him to a stop.

Suddenly, Bucky feels Steve grabbing his knees. A moment later, he’s being pulled onto Steve’s back. He bites back a startled shout and wraps his arm around Steve’s neck. He realizes the cane is digging into Steve’s face, but he doesn’t dare adjust himself.

He remembers they did this when they’d first come home. He stays as still as possible and feels Steve moving. Then he’s being let down and Steve wraps a tight arm around him, pulling him forward before Bucky has a chance to use his cane. He lets himself be pulled forward and they walk a few more steps before Steve’s releasing him. Bucky sweeps around with his cane and hits something on both sides of him. Walls maybe?

He’s swinging his cane back and forth, then the left wall suddenly disappears and he’s being pulled into the empty area.

Then he’s surrounded by the scent of home. The door—he’d just stepped through the door.

He’s home.

Home, home, home.

As soon as he’s inside the door, Bucky pulls Steve in after him, slams the door shut and runs his hand over it until he finds the deadbolt and flips it shut.

He drops his cane and reaches for Steve.

He feels Steve’s arms wrap around him and Steve’s face tucks into his neck. They’re both trembling—from relief, anxiety and fear that had built up over the last twenty-four hours. Bucky tangles his hand in the back of Steve’s shirt and holds him close, burying his face in Steve’s neck.

They stand there for long minutes, breathing each other in, giving and taking comfort from each other.

Bucky feels like he’s going to collapse. He’s completely exhausted. The stress of the whole situation and his lack of sleep are rapidly catching up with him now that he doesn’t have to be on alert anymore.

“Stevie, I’m exhausted. Can we go to bed? I bet you didn’t sleep good last night either, huh?”

He feels Steve shaking his head against his neck.

“Come on, let’s go to bed. I don’t care what time it is.”

He hates letting go of Steve, but the thought of cuddling in their bed push him into moving. “Stevie, hand me my cane, please. I gotta get my shoes off.”

His cane is pressed into his hand and the strap is wrapped around his wrist. He leans on the wall next to him and toes off both shoes and heads for the bedroom. His cane smacks right into Steve and Bucky edges around him with an apology.

As he walks, he’s surrounded by the scents of home. It’s like his fuzzy blanket—warm and comforting. He knows exactly where everything is and how everything should smell and feel. The darkness is warm and the silence is a safe cocoon.

He reaches their bed and pulls off his clothes. He finds his sleepwear exactly where it should be, folds up his cane and puts it in its holster on the bedside table. He gets changed and crawls onto bed, collapsing face down in his nest of pillows, his comforting wall of pillows right beside him.

Moments later, he can feel the bed dip and his comforting wall of Steve lies down on his other side.

He rolls onto his back and pulls off his watch. He hangs it on the nail on the wall.

Steve’s hand is on his stomach, rubbing over his shirt, then he’s taking Bucky’s hand and pulling him to sit up.

“Rogers, I just laid down. I wanna cuddle. What are you doing?”

Then he feels Steve pulling a familiar strap over his arm. It’s pulled up to his bicep and a gentle press closes the Velcro.

Bucky grins. It’s his motion sensor receiver.

“Thank you.”

He lies back down and reaches for Steve. His hand lands on his shoulder and he runs his hand up to his face. Steve’s not trembling anymore and he’s smiling.

“That whole thing was terrifying and dumb and I hate that we had to go through that, but I’m pretty confident it’s over.”

Steve taps on his hand multiple times.

“Yeah? You talked to them before we left?”

Tap.

“It’s over? Completely over?”

Tap, tap, tap.

Relief runs through him and he lets out a sigh. “Oh, thank God.”

He moves his hand to the back of Steve’s neck and tugs him forward. “Come here.”

He closes his eyes when he feels the first brush of Steve’s lips on his. They exchange soft, warm kisses, trying to comfort each other and erase the last traces of fear and anxiety that are still sitting in the back of their minds.

Before long, Bucky’s swimming in warmth and contentment. He’s got his wall of pillows on one side, his motion sensor on his arm and Steve is covering the rest of him.

One of Steve’s legs is draped over both of his, one of Steve’s arms is on his belly, the other is running through his hair, his lips are kissing Bucky’s face, his breath warming wherever his kisses land.

“I’m okay, Stevie. I promise.”

He feels Steve press his forehead against his.

“Come here, punk. Let’s get some sleep.” He runs his hand up Steve’s face and gently brushes through his hair, pulling his head down to rest on Bucky’s chest.

“Blankets,” he murmurs into Steve’s hair. He feels Steve shift around and the blankets are being pulled over them. He slings a leg around the back of Steve’s legs and pulls the blanket tight around them, snuggling into his pillows, Steve’s breath warming his skin above the collar of his shirt.

“We’re okay now, Stevie. It’s all over. We were both brave and now we’re both home and everything’s gonna be okay.”

Chapter Text

Bucky wakes up feeling a lot better. He’s warm, comfortable and even though he has to pee, having Steve Rogers’ arm draped over him feels good enough to ignore his bladder for the time being.

He keeps his breathing slow and even and doesn’t move, not wanting Steve to wake up.

Steve’s breaths are slow and deep, warm air heating Bucky’s shoulder on each exhale. Bucky knows he’s snoring softly. Steve’s arm is completely relaxed, practically dead weight on Bucky’s chest. This is Steve Rogers, sound asleep.

And Bucky doesn’t want to be anywhere else.

He wants to check the time, but that much shifting would wake Steve. It’s not worth it.

He’s so happy he’s home.

He holds out until his bladder starts really protesting. Making a face, he slowly pushes himself up and tries wedging himself against his wall of pillows so he doesn’t bump Steve.

He quietly scoots to the end of the bed and steps off from there, hoping he doesn’t wake Steve.

He keeps a hand on the edge of the bed as he quietly moves towards the bedside table where his cane is waiting in its holster. He’s about to pull it out, but then decides he doesn’t need it.

He knows how to get to the bathroom. He turns so he’s facing the bathroom and he’s the right distance from the bedside table.

He holds his arm a bit in front of him—habit more than necessity—and takes the required eight steps, then he’s touching the counter top. He does his business and makes it back to the bed, hoping he’s managed to do everything quietly enough not to wake Steve.

He goes back to the end of the bed and carefully feels for the lump that should be Steve’s feet so he can get back on without crushing him.

There is no lump.

Bucky frowns and runs his hand over a larger area of blanket. He knows Steve is too tall for his feet to not be in this area.

Then something touches his hip.

He jerks away from the touch with a startled shout.

A second later, his hand is being squeezed with multiple apologies.

“Jesus, Rogers. I thought you were still sleeping,” he says. His heart is hammering in his chest from the shock.

A kiss on the back of his hand.

“It’s okay. I’m fine, punk. What time is it? Should we go back to sleep?”

A rub. Then his hand is being turned over and his watch is pressed into it. He feels for the time. 7:30ish.

“Is it evening or morning?”

M-O-R-N.

“Jesus, we slept a while, huh?”

Tap.

Bucky grins in what he thinks is Steve’s direction. “Well, since we’re both up, how about we go brush our teeth and then I was thinking of getting back into bed, but not for sleeping.”

He feels Steve come closer and then he’s got Steve’s arms wrapped around his waist and kisses are being pressed onto his neck.

He groans, but twists his hand into Steve’s shirt and pushes him back. “I’m serious. I haven’t brushed my teeth since yesterday morning. I’m only thinking of you here. Trust me, you really want me to make time with a toothbrush before I make time with you.”

Steve’s arms drop and he disappears. Bucky moves back to the bedside table and counts the eight steps to the bathroom counter. As he’s brushing his teeth, he feels Steve brush past him from time to time, but Bucky never collides with him and he’s always got full use of the sink when he needs it. Steve’s a wonderful, wonderful fella.

Bucky tells him exactly that when he’s dropping his toothbrush back in its cup.

He feels Steve’s arms wrap around his waist and feels Steve smiling into his neck. “Come on, Rogers. Back to bed we go. We have stuff to do.”

Bucky pulls off his shirt once he’s back by the bed and shoves off his shorts. He feels a hand running up his back and tangling in his hair to tilt his head—and lips are brushing his own.

He kisses Steve and wraps his arm around Steve’s waist. He realizes he’s taken off his clothes too.

As they kiss, Bucky feels a slow burn of arousal in his belly, but he’s enjoying the slow pace. They tumble down on the bed, Bucky shuffling himself over so he’s in his comfortable nest and Steve follows, his lips barely leaving Bucky’s.

Bucky spreads his legs and nudges Steve between them, their cocks brushing, heat and arousal building slowly. Steve’s kisses are getting sloppier, his breathing is quickening, his cock thickening against Bucky’s thigh.

“Stevie, fuck me. Please,” Bucky manages to get out between kisses.

Steve shifts and his lips and heat move away for a moment. Then he’s back, catching Bucky’s bottom lip between his teeth and tugging light, his hand running down Bucky’s chest to his cock.

A few strokes, a little rub across his leaking slit and he feels lube-slicked fingers pressing against his hole. He pulls his knees up, spreading himself open more. Steve’s weight on him shifts and he feels Steve’s knees pressing against his ass.

Steve fingers him open slowly, leaning down to kiss him every few thrusts. Bucky feels his cock twitch, arousal tingling at the base of his spine. He lets out a groan when Steve eases in a third finger.

“Damn it, Steve, get in me already,” he says, groping in the air for Steve. He finds a shoulder and follows that shoulder down his arm, bumping over the leather bracelet on his wrist, then the hand and down to where the hand’s fingers are slowly thrusting into him.

He’d meant to find Steve’s hip or another body part that he could pull on that would bring Steve’s cock closer, but he uses his mistake to his advantage, tracing his rim where Steve’s fingers are slowly thrusting in an out. Oh, that feels good.

“Rogers, if you don’t get your cock in me, I’m gonna add a couple of my own fingers and then I won’t need your—”

His words are cut off by a hard kiss and Steve’s body is pressed close enough that he can feel Steve’s cock twitching against his thigh. His heart skips a beat at the sudden kiss—but when Steve’s this excited, he can be forgiven for not giving advanced warning. Bucky grins into the kiss.

Steve pulls back completely—his fingers too—and then Bucky feels the slick tip of his cock pressing against his rim. He grins through his panting. “Come on, Rog—”

A hard thrust buries Steve inside him, cutting off Bucky’s words and breath for a moment. Steve’s still for a moment, his arms braced on either side of Bucky’s head, nose nuzzling Bucky’s face.

That’s when Bucky feels wetness on Steve’s face. Some of it is sweat, but they haven’t been active enough for Steve to be this sweaty.

He pulls back, bringing his hand to Steve’s face, carefully tracing his closed eyes. Definitely not sweat.

“Stevie, what’s wrong? I thought you wanted to have sex? Sweetheart, if you don’t wanna have sex, we don’t have to. Jesus—you gotta tell me these things—” His heart is clenching from worry and he’s debating how best to get Steve calm while in the position they’re currently in, but then he realizes Steve’s frantically shaking his head.

Kisses are peppering Bucky’s face.

Bucky frowns, confused.

“Stevie, I—are you okay? Talk to me, darling.”

He feels Steve sit up—Steve’s cock slip free—and Steve picks up his hand.

I.

A-M.

O-K.

“You sure?”

I.

Smiley face.

Smiley face.

Smiley face.

Bucky grins. “Okay, okay. I got it. You’re not upset, huh?”

Rub, rub, rub.

“You just missed me, you big lug, huh?”

Tap, tap, tap.

Then the air moves and kisses are pressed to his chest, up his neck and on his face. Bucky reaches up and tangles his hand in Steve’s hair and finds his lips with his own. “I missed you too. Jesus, I can’t even tell you.”

The kisses get heated fast and they’re both rubbing against each other, heat building between them again.

“Alright then, now that that’s settled, you wanna get back to what you were doing? Or rather, who you were doing?”

Bucky wiggles a bit, jostling Steve, who’s still kneeling between his legs.

His breath catches in his throat again when Steve rubs his cock over Bucky’s hole, giving him a bit of warning before he’s sliding back in. He’s thrusting, staying deep and close to him just like Bucky likes.

His arms are braced by Bucky’s head and Bucky braces his heels on the bed so he can join Steve’s thrusts, their bodies settling into a familiar rhythm. Steve’s head drops on Bucky’s shoulder and his hot breath gusts against his skin in warm bursts. His lips are moving.

Bucky turns his head so his lips are right by Steve’s ear. “I love you, sweetheart,” he says. He catches Steve’s earlobe in his teeth and gives it a little tug. Steve’s rhythm falters for a second and Bucky swears he can feel him twitch deep inside him.

Bucky grins and does it again, alternating nibbling and licking on Steve’s ear until he feels him tensing.

He feels Steve push himself up and then there’s a hand on Bucky’s cock, jerking him fast and rough, wanting to make him come before he does.

Steve gets his wish—Bucky comes with a shout, his hand clenched in the bedsheets, then Steve gives a few more hard thrusts and Bucky feels him come.

Oh, Bucky definitely loves being home.

*             *             *

The whole APS mess had taken about 24 hours, but it takes Steve and Bucky about a week until they’re back to normal.

Neither of them want to let the other out of their sight—or rather, out of their grasp. They revert back to walking around together and they do everything together. More specifically, Bucky hangs onto Steve’s arm or wraps his arm around his waist and patiently waits while Steve does whatever he needs to do, while Steve takes three times longer to get things done, because he keeps touching Bucky and asking him if he’s okay.

Bucky asks Steve how the whole mess had started, and Steve spells out:

A-N-O-N-Y-M-O-U-S.

C-O-M-P-L-A-I-N-T.

 Damn. So some stranger had filed an anonymous complaint.

That gets Bucky riled up and he demands to know who filed the complaint, and why they aren’t spending time trying to uncover the identity of the complainant.

“I’m gonna find ‘em and definitely give ‘em something to complain about. I promise you that.”

Steve spells out:

N-O-T.

G-O-O-D.

I-D-E-A.

“Fuck ‘good idea’. I just wanna get revenge on the idiot.”

Rub, rub, rub.

L-O-T-S.

T-I-M-E.

L-O-T-S.

E-N-E-R-G-Y.

“Well—”

Steve keeps spelling.

I-F.

Y-O-U.

W-A-N-T.

Steve presses his thumb against Bucky’s fingers.

Steve’s telling him that if Bucky wants to look for the complainant, they can, but Steve hadn’t included himself in the statement.

“What do you want, Steve? What do you think?”

Steve hesitates.

I.

W-A-N-T.

M-O-V-E.

O-N.

“You do? You wanna just put it behind us?”

Tap.

Fine. There’s no way he’s going to spend time on something that’s causing extra stress for Steve. “Alright, fine.”

So they spend their time trying to get themselves back to normal.

Each day things get easier and when nothing unusual happens, they start to relax again. They gradually feel comfortable being separated during the day, and Bucky goes back to checking tasks off on his ‘independence’ list.

*             *             *

A week later, Bucky’s finished washing the breakfast dishes. He carefully puts the last washed plate into the drying rack. He runs gentle fingers over all the items in the rack, making sure everything’s secure. He takes the rubber mat out of the sink, shakes it out and hangs it on the hook above the sink. He turns off the water and squeezes out the sponge wand. He grabs the rag next to where the sponge wand lives and wipes the counter dry.

Dishes are done. Time for coffee.

He runs his hand over the counter until he reaches the first container. It’s a square plastic container—like all their containers are now. Their old sugar jar—a glass, round container—hadn’t survived the roll off the counter after Bucky accidentally nudged it.

He touches the container and verifies that it’s the sugar jar. He knows it’s the sugar jar because he’d made labels for a lot of the dry, non-perishable ingredients in the kitchen using small samples of the food and taped them to the containers. The sugar jar’s got a little label with sugar glued to it. So that’s Bucky cue to lift his hand—and sure enough, he touches the mug/glass cupboard doorknob.

He pulls it open and pulls out his favourite mug. It’s got some funny bumps on it—Steve tells him it’s some sort of cartoon face—and Bucky likes it because it’s easy to identify. He likes knowing that he’s using the same mug each day. All the other mugs feel the same. Steve’s told him they’re different colors, but that no longer holds any meaning for Bucky.

He pulls out his mug and moves over to the coffee machine. He gently puts down his mug and touches the jar next to the machine and feels the label. It feels like coffee, but he opens the lid and leans down to sniff it, just in case. Yup, coffee. He hasn’t had a repeat of the ‘pepper incident’ yet and wants to keep it that way.

He opens up the machine, measures out the right amount of coffee and dumps it into the filter. Then he grabs the plastic jug that sits next to the coffee and goes to fill it with water. When he brings it back, he carefully sets it on the counter and opens up the water section of the machine. He spends time carefully lining up the jug with the water section opening, verifying that he’s got things properly aligned before he starts pouring water. He stops occasionally and touches the counter around the machine. Nice and dry, that means no spills. Excellent! He’s getting better every day.

Once the water’s all in, he closes everything, then double checks that he closed everything.

He checks three times to make sure the coffee pot is in place. He doesn’t want a repeat of the morning when he forgot to check the pot’s position, and the pot had sat quietly in the drying rack while the entire kitchen had been drenched in coffee. Steve had been out on the balcony and neither of them had noticed until Bucky had stepped into the puddles of coffee when he’d gone to check the machine’s progress. He hadn’t felt the liquid under his slippers, but once he noticed that the edges of his sweatpants were wet, he’d bent down to investigate the strangeness. He’d called Steve over and he’d waited patiently for Steve to explain what had happened.

Steve thought it was hilarious. At first Bucky was annoyed at himself and went to get a spare towel from the bathroom to mop up the mess—but once he’d re-done the coffee (properly) and had sat down with Steve with their coffee, he’d started seeing the humor in the situation.

Satisfied that everything is in its place and closed correctly, he finds the button panel. One push of the second button (it’s got a dot sticker on it), then two pushes of the fifth button (which also has a dot sticker on it), then the big circular button.

He checks his watch. In five minutes he’ll have fresh coffee.

He leans against the counter and keeps his hand on his watch. When the five minutes are up, he gently touches the side of the coffee pot. The glass feels hot, and when he pulls the pot out of its cradle, he can feel it’s heavy.  He leans down and smells the coffee and lets the steam drift over his face. All these signs point to things having gone well.

He carefully pours coffee into his mug and takes a little sip.

Excellent coffee.

That means: Excellent job, Barnes.

He grins, very satisfied with himself and heads into the living room. Along the way, he brushes past Steve, who’s sitting at the table. He feels Steve’s hand snag his shirt.

“Yeah?”

A gentle kiss is pressed to his forearm, careful not to jostle the coffee.

That means: Good job, Barnes.

Bucky grins. “I know, I know. I’m amazing.”

He feels a slight tinge of sadness—it would have been nice for Steve to say ‘good job, Barnes’—but Bucky has to remember not to be selfish.

It was kind of nice at the facility to have Prabhjot using longer words and more complex sentences. He’d been a bit surprised at himself that he could keep up with the conversation so well. He’s sure he could handle more complex conversations with Steve.

But—don’t be selfish, Barnes.

Steve has enough to deal with.

*             *             *

Steve is chatting with somebody on the online disability forums he frequents when his phone rings.

He glances at the display. He recognizes the number as the clinic where he’d left a message the day before.

A rush of excitement races through him and he snatches up the phone.

“Hello?”

“Hello, is this Steve?”

“Yes, this is Steve.”

“Hi Steve, this is Rakesha Moore returning your call. You wanted some information about arm prosthetics?”

Steve puts the phone on speaker and opens up a document on his computer so he can take notes during their conversation. Bucky’s out on the balcony with his knitting loom and snacks, so Steve figures he has lots of time to have this conversation without Bucky catching on. He doesn’t want to stress Bucky out about his arm before they know the whole story. Steve will gather all the relevant intel and then talk to Bucky.

“Yes, thank you for calling me back. I have a friend—James—he’s missing an arm and I wanted to get some information about prosthetics.”

“I see. Was the amputation a result of a trauma?”

Was it ever. “Yes.”

“Have his physical therapists okayed him for a prosthetic?”

Uh. “He—he doesn’t have a physical therapist. The amputation happened a long time ago.”

“No problem. Why don’t we make an appointment for James to come in, and we can show him some different options and do some fit tests and we’ll go from there.”

“Uhm. That’s—that’s not really an option at this point.”

“Oh?”

Steve realizes he must sound like an idiot. He decides if he wants to get accurate intel from this woman, he’ll have to tell her the whole story.

Well, a censored version of the whole story.

“The amputation happened a long time ago. He had a prosthetic but it was—it wasn’t a good fit for him. He stopped using it about a year ago. Since then he’s gone through another…uh, trauma. He’s lost his sight and hearing—”

“Oh, the poor man! I’m so sorry.”

Steve blinks. He’s not accustomed to people feeling sorry for Buck. But she doesn’t sound like she pities Buck—she genuinely sounds like she’s sad about the situation.

“Uh, thank you. He’s—the sight and hearing loss happened a few months ago so he’s been dealing with that. He still has trouble communicating and he hasn’t left the apartment yet. Going to your office at this point is way too much. But I wanted to get information about prosthetics so I know what our options are when he’s ready for that.”

“Okay, no problem. So are you familiar with today’s prosthetics at all?”

“No, not really. Neither of us are.”

“What kind of amputation does he have?”

“Uh, it’s his left arm.”

“I understand, but how much of his left arm is remaining?”

“None of it.”

“So the entire humerus is gone?”

“Yes.”

“We call that a shoulder disarticulation. I’ll be honest—for such extreme upper arm amputations, the prosthetic attachments tend to be quite complicated.”

She explains that Bucky would have three options. No matter which option he wants, since there’s no residual limb left on his left side to act as an anchor, he’d have to wear a complicated harness made up of various straps that would go around his chest and right arm to keep the prosthetic in place.

The first option is a straight forward non-functional prosthetic. The joints bend, but only through direct manual manipulation. The prosthetic is purely for cosmetic purposes and it’s for people who don’t need to use the prosthetic to do things, but want to look like they have both arms.

The second option is a prosthetic that functions through indirect manual manipulation. In addition to the harness keeping it in place, there would be additional straps and pulleys attached to Bucky’s right arm. He could move the prosthetic by moving his right arm in certain ways.

The last option is a myoelectric arm, which functions through indirect electrical manipulation. Along with the harness anchor, there would be wires running from the prosthetic to electrodes stuck to Bucky’s back muscles and right arm. The arm can be programmed to move in certain ways based on specific muscle contractions in his back and right arm.

Steve blinks.

That all sounds horribly complicated.

“Are you telling me it’s the 21st century and this is all the progress people have made on making fake limbs?” He doesn’t mean to sound so annoyed, but he is annoyed.

“Steve, you have to understand that the more complex a prosthetic is, the more expensive it is. A myoelectric arm is usually about $100,000 and that doesn’t include the constant maintenance and repair costs. Insurance companies cover very small amounts of prosthetic related costs, and most people can’t afford more than a basic prosthetic. Companies don’t want to spend time developing things that nobody will be able to afford.”

He wants to keep arguing about it, but then he realizes it’s not her fault, and arguing isn’t the point of this conversation.

“The cost doesn’t matter. So you’d recommend one of the electric arms?”

She’s quiet, thinking it over. “Honestly? In James’ situation, I don’t believe the prosthetic will be as helpful as you think it will be. The arm doesn’t have any sensory receptors. He could learn how to manipulate the arm, but he wouldn’t be able to feel if he’s managed to pick something up, or if he’s holding something correctly. People have to be able to see what the arm is doing. Since James doesn’t have that option, he’d have to use his right hand to constantly check what the prosthetic is doing. It wouldn’t be the same as having a regular second hand.”

Steve sighs. This—this is not what he’d been hoping to hear.

“Plus, in his current condition, I’m sure he’s dealing with a lot of things. Learning how to put on the harness and the arm and the electric wiring is very complicated, even for people who can see what they’re doing.”

Steve is picturing it in his head.

Bucky already has to wear so many contraptions to help him with daily life—the motion detector, his watch, the cane, his slippers—with the additional arm-related gizmos attached to him, he’d be a walking collection of gadgets and straps.

“So you’re not recommending it?”

“Honestly, no, I’m not. I think the costs—not just the financial ones—would outweigh the benefits for him. If you think his mental health is being negatively impacted by not having a prosthetic, that’s another issue, but if he’s fine and progressing well, I think it would be a lot more stress than benefit.”

“So we should wait?”

Rakesha is silent for another moment. “In general, arm amputees who wait too long after the trauma to get a prosthetic end up not liking and don’t use the prosthetic very often. They adapt to living with their residual limbs and they find that the learning curve and dealing with the inconveniences of a prosthetic aren’t worth it. I wouldn’t be surprised if James decides that he’s happier without one.”

So again, he’s being told to just put the issue on the back-burner.

He finishes writing down all the information Rakesha told him, thanks her for her time and hangs up.

He stares at Bucky on the balcony, quietly knitting on his loom, his coffee in the cup holder attached to the swing.

There’s no way he could get through the technical explanations for the different prosthetic options without Bucky getting frustrated.

He’s not even sure Bucky would completely understand the options in the first place.

So…

He’s stuck.

But then he realizes this isn’t an urgent situation. Right now, there’s no way Bucky would feel comfortable enough even getting to the clinic, never mind getting through multiple fitting sessions.

He decides to put the whole thing on hold until Bucky’s comfortable walking around outside.

Whenever that will be.

Chapter Text

Steve’s clicking around on the television, trying to decide between watching a baseball game or an episode of the sabotage-cooking competition show.

“What do we wanna watch, Buck? Baseball or cooking?”

Bucky’s knitting a scarf on his loom, quietly looping the yarn around the pegs. He doesn’t respond to Steve.

Obviously.

“Let’s see, for the game it’s the Jays playing the Red Sox. The Mets ain’t playing, but that might be a good game. Let’s watch that.”

He selects the game and settles back on the couch.

The game is in its fourth inning and the Jays are up to bat.

“Look at that, the Red Soxs are up by three and the Jays have two strikes already. Looks like it ain’t going well for them, huh?”

Bucky shifts the loom between his knees and adjusts one of his loops.

Steve watches the next Jays batter strike out and the teams get ready to swap over.

“Well, that didn’t go well.”

Steve watches the game for a little while longer, but his eyes keep drifting off the screen and staring out the window or thinking about what he needs to add to his grocery order.

When he realizes he’s missed the next inning completely, he shakes himself.

“Jesus, Rogers! You like baseball. Why aren’t you focusing?”

Well, he knows why he’s not focusing.

The reason is sitting on the couch next to him, not even aware that there’s a baseball game going on a few feet from him.

Steve’s only ever watched a handful of baseball games without Buck by his side and he’s never enjoyed them as much as he has when watching with Bucky.

Bucky might technically be sitting next to him now, but Steve’s still watching the game by himself.

Steve stares at Bucky. “I wish you were more comfortable with the spelling, Buck. Do you know we can watch any game we want from any year? You’d love it, and then I’d love it again.”

Bucky’s finished a row of loops and he reaches for his pick tool in his lap. He slowly finds his place on the loom and gently pulls off the bottom loops.

A wave of frustration runs through Steve and before he can get a hold of himself, he’s punching a fist into the couch.

Bucky feels the vibration and pauses, the pick tool frozen mid-air. “You okay, Stevie?”

Steve sighs. “I’m fine, Buck.” He leans over and taps the back of Bucky’s hand.

Bucky still looks puzzled by the strange movement, then he decides maybe Steve’s a bit wound up and gets that familiar leer on his face. “You feeling a bit tense? I can help with that.” He waggles his eyebrows suggestively.

Oh, not this again. “No, Buck. Believe me, I really ain’t in the mood right now.” He takes a deep breath and reaches over to rub the back of Bucky’s hand.

He writes:

I.

Smiley face.

That seems to reassure Bucky. “Okay, good.” He shoots a smile in Steve’s direction and goes back to his loom.

And Steve is back to staring at the baseball game by himself.

The next inning goes by and while Steve may be staring at the television, he’s not paying attention to what’s on it.

His phone lets out a cheerful sound. He’s really not that interested in what the phone has to say, so he lets it sit there for a while.

When he finally decides to check it, he sees that Sam’s sent him a text with a  link.

Steve sighs softly.

Sam’s been sending him daily texts, trying to do his part to keep in touch more.

Again, Steve’s the one not holding up his end of the bargain.

Sam sends him texts, telling him what’s going on in his life and asking him how he and Bucky are doing. Steve is very happy to share updates on Bucky’s progress, but he has no idea what to say when Sam asks him for ‘Steve news’. It’s easier to just send generic smiley faces as responses.

Today Sam’s sent him a link to the Good News website. Sam’s encouraged Steve to spend time on the website in an effort to raise his spirits, but he must know that Steve doesn’t have the motivation to do it, so he’ll pick stories which he thinks Steve will enjoy.

Today’s story is about an elementary school teacher in North Carolina who raised $80,000 to purchase a bicycle for every single child at the school.

Steve…doesn’t really care.

He knows it’s a very nice thing for the teacher to have done, but he doesn’t feel as connected to the story as he knows he should.

He also knows that’s not good.

“Buck, I’m not doing well,” he says.

Bucky continues working on his knitting.

Steve writes a responding text for Sam: ‘That’s fantastic!’ and adds a bunch of smiley faces. He sends it off.

That’ll hopefully get Sam off his back until tomorrow.

*             *             *

Steve refuses to let the baseball issue go. He knows deep in his gut that he can figure out a way to watch baseball together with Bucky.

He knows he’s not being completely selfish with that desire—he knows Bucky would love to watch baseball again.

But when he asks Bucky about watching baseball with him on the television, Bucky gives him what he probably thinks is a brave smile and informs him it would be great if Steve can tell him the score at the end of each inning.

Despite the lack of intonation, Steve can feel that there’s a hint of resignation in his tone. As if Bucky’s accepted the fact that getting that level of information about the game is as good as he’s ever going to get.

But Steve wants to give him more than that. Baseball is something they’ve always enjoyed together and Steve knows he can find a way to give Bucky more of the game’s action. Steve knows he has no desire to continue watching games by himself. This is something they’ll do together, or not at all.

So he writes:

M-O-R-E.

“More what?”

G-A-M-E.

D-E-T-A-I-L-S.

Buck smiles sadly. “Stevie, that ain’t gonna work. That would be really complicated, and take a long time. I want this to be fun for both of us.”

Steve sighs. “I know, Buck. That’s what I want too. That’s why I wanna give you more than that. We’re in this together.”

He writes:

Y-O-U.

A-N-D.

I.

L-I-N-E.

“Line? What the hell does that mean? What line?”

Steve rolls his eyes. “Jerk.”

E-N-D.

O-F.

T-H-E.

L-I-N-E.

“Stevie—” Buck’s voice sounds rough and he’s blinking hard.

Steve adds:

I.

F-I-N-D.

W-A-Y.

And he does.

He spends some time thinking about it and figuring out how he can keep Bucky informed of everything without using too much spelling, but he eventually figures it out.

It takes them several games of practice, and sometimes Steve makes so many mistakes that Bucky gets the completely wrong impression about the game and the score, and it would be too much work for Steve to correct the situation, so he makes up an alternate ending to the game and lets Bucky think whatever he’s thinking.

But with practice Steve does get better.

When they’re both in the mood, Bucky will get one of the small whiteboards and the small containers of smoothly domed and square magnets that they use to play tic-tac-toe while Steve selects a pre-recorded game to watch.

They’ll sit on the couch, line up all their materials. Steve will asks Bucky if he’s ready, and once he’s gotten the confirmation, he’ll press play.

*             *             *

Granderson steps up to bat, plants his feet, adjusts his grip and stares down the Braves pitcher facing him. The pitcher winds up and throws his pitch—and Granderson connects. There’s the satisfying crack of a bat connecting with a ball, and the camera follows the ball sailing over midfield.

Steve leans forward, eyes on Reyes, who had been on second base. Reyes takes off as soon as the ball goes flying, rounds third base and makes it home.

Steve pumps a first into the air. “Yes! One nothing for us.”

Bucky’s leaning into his side and he perks up when he feels Steve move. “What happened?”

Steve picks up the whiteboard from Bucky’s lap and carefully puts down a waxy string from the home plate, tracing the path of the ball. He grabs Bucky’s hand and makes Bucky’s finger trace the path of the string.

“Oh, that’s a good one. Did we bring anybody home? I thought we had somebody on second.”

Tap, tap, tap.

Steve takes Bucky’s hand and together, they pick up the smoothly domed magnet that’s representing Reyes. The magnet is sitting in the little second base square made out of waxy strings, and the magnet and their hands travel along a string pathway to the third base square, then they bring the magnet to the home square.

“Yay! That’s one nothing for us, right?”

Steve taps Bucky’s hand multiple times.

Steve sorts through the magnetic numbers from the box on his lap and picks out the 1. He changes the 0-0 at the top of the whiteboard to read 1-0 and brings Bucky’s hand towards it.

Bucky grins as he runs his hand over it. “Oh, that’s a good way to get things started, huh?”

Tap, tap, tap.

Steve picks up the magnet that had made its way home and they trace its path from home to the second base square, which is where Granderson is now waiting, having rounded first base easily.

Steve’s been listening to the announcer and he looks up in time to see Flores get a nice hit that lands him on first.

He adjusts the waxy string so Bucky can see the path of the ball, then they pick up the magnet and move it from home to the first base square.

Bucky’s frowning. “What about our second base guy? Did he get anywhere?”

Steve chuckles. “You’re nearly a hundred, you’d think you’d have learned a bit of patience, huh? I’m getting to it.”

Together they move the Granderson magnet from second to third.

Bucky makes a displeased noise. “Only one base?”

“It wasn’t that big of a hit, Buck,” Steve says with a small smile.

He realizes that he’d actually missed the next batter while they’d been discussing the previous one, so he picks up the remote and rewinds until he’s reached the end of Granderson’s advance to third, then he hits play.

He’s so damn grateful for modern technology.

Steve’s getting faster and more accurate at translating what’s happening on the screen and Bucky’s getting faster at understanding what Steve is saying, but it’s nice not to feel rushed. He can take his time explaining things to Bucky and making sure he doesn’t miss anything. And if it takes them five hours to watch one game—who’s going to complain?

The board and the magnets allow Bucky to keep track of the current score, strikes and other information without Steve having to repeat himself, and Steve hopes the use of the board allows Bucky to get a more complete picture of what’s happening on the television screen.

Unfortunately their method doesn’t allow Steve to identify players to Bucky, or tell him about funny or unusual situations that occur. It definitely takes some of the joy out of the game for Steve, because chit-chatting about specific players and bad calls by the umps was always one of the things he loved to do with Bucky—but he firmly reminds himself that he wants this to be an enjoyable activity for Bucky, and spelling complex things to him will only frustrate him.

Don’t be a selfish idiot, Rogers.

Bucky loves watching baseball games together and he’s never expressed anything but joy over the method which they use to communicate the game’s events, so Steve forces himself to count this as a win.

*             *             *

Getting to watch baseball again is great. Absolutely fantastic.

Honestly Bucky hadn’t even thought about baseball since he’d come home and when he’d realized that Steve could watch baseball whenever he wanted on the television, there had been an uncomfortable twinge of jealousy in his gut.

But when Steve had informed him that he wanted them to watch baseball together, he’d been cautiously optimistic.

Despite having thirty years of evidence for it, he still can’t believe how creative Steve is. His whole method of using the board, the magnets and the strings is fantastic.

Bucky had been looking forward to learning about the current teams and players. He’d been cautiously hopeful that Steve wouldn’t mind having complex conversations using the finger spelling during games, but while time isn’t an issue during games, Bucky realizes that Steve’s hands must be full with keeping track of what’s happening on the screen and translating it for Bucky. Asking the man to add in details about players and calls would be selfish and would probably add way too much stress on Steve.

So Bucky ruthlessly pushes those selfish thoughts aside. While he may not know what teams are playing, he’s still watching baseball and that’s fantastic enough.

*             *             *

Bucky notices his right shoulder is a bit sore a few weeks after getting home from the APS facility. In fact, his upper back has been a bit sore for a while, but now the soreness is spreading to his lower back and his right shoulder.

And on some days, the soreness is definitely edging towards pain.

He checks the mattress and the couch and he doesn’t find anything hard or sharp that he could be leaning against, and he knows he hasn’t fallen or smacked his shoulder into any doorframes in weeks.

It comes to a head one morning when he’s lifting the frying pan out of the sink after washing it, and his shoulder and upper back erupt into such an intense burst of pain that he drops the frying pan with a surprised shout.

Moments later, he feels Steve’s hands on his shoulders, tense and trembling. He’s scared.

“I—I’m okay. Well, not really, but I’m not in danger. My shoulder and my back have been hurting a bit. I don’t know why.”

Steve’s hands immediately go to what’s left of his left shoulder, gentle fingers running over the area to see if something’s changed.

“No, it’s my right shoulder.”

Steve’s hands move to his right shoulder and gently probe the shoulder. His fingers travel over his upper back, his neck and down to his lower back.

Bucky can tell from the smooth slide of Steve’s hands that he doesn’t feel anything unusual.

“I don’t know what’s wrong. It started a few weeks ago but it’s definitely getting worse.”

Steve reaches around him and fiddles around—probably turning off the water—and he leads Bucky to the couch and has him sit down.

A few minutes later, Steve tugs on Bucky’s shirt. Steve probably wants him to take it off. Bucky grabs the hem of his shirt and pulls up—but as soon as his arm is over his head, that pain flares up in his upper back again and he drops his arm. “Shit, that hurts! Damn it. Steve, I need help, please.”

Steve gently helps to maneuver Bucky around and tugs the shirt off him an inch at a time, trying not to move Bucky’s arm too much. He does have to lift his arm a little—which brings another sharp burst of pain—but as soon as he lower is arm again, the pain becomes manageable. It’s definitely more than a little sore now, but the pain isn’t intense as long as he keeps his arm still.

Steve is gently squeezing and rubbing his thigh, probably not wanting to touch his arm until Bucky’s ready.

Bucky takes a few deep breaths. “It’s okay now. Well, not completely okay, but it’s not that bad. I ain’t putting on a shirt again for a while though. Can we put some ice on it?”

Steve rubs Bucky’s hand and hands him a tube with a screw lid on it. Bucky frowns, running his fingers over it. “What’s this?”

Steve takes it out of his hand.

P-A-I-N.

C-R-E-A-M.

 “Great idea, Rogers. Let’s do it.”

Bucky can smell a strong, medical scent—which he’s always previously associated with Steve being sick—and then Steve’s rubbing cream on his right shoulder and back, gently massaging it in. The cream tingles and feels a little cool, which feels incredible after the bursts of pain.

Steve writes:

S-T-A-Y.

No problem. Bucky stays where he is, and to his surprise, the cream actually works and when he shifts his shoulder a bit, instead of a burst of pain, there’s only the mild soreness it had started as.

Steve checks the progress of the cream from time to time, and eventually writes:

O-K.

Bucky carefully leans back against the couch and lets himself relax. He’s probably getting a bit of the cream on the couch, but he doesn’t care. He’s not putting on a shirt until his arm has stopped being so dumb.

“Steve, I don’t get it. I haven’t done anything to hurt my arm or my back. Why’s it hurting now?”

Steve carefully turns over Bucky’s hand and writes:

D-O-N-T.

K-N-O-W.

“Well, can you check the computer? The pain’s been getting worse for a while. If this keeps up, I’m not gonna be able to use my right arm at all, and then…”

That’s—that’s too horrible to even contemplate, so he doesn’t finish that thought.

Steve settles next to him with the computer, and within a few minutes, he appears to have an answer.

O-V-E-R-U-S-E.

“What? Overuse? I’m using my right arm too much? That’s dumb. I’ve been using my right arm my whole life.”

Steve rubs his hand.

N-O.

L-E-F-T.

A-R-M.

N-O-W.

Oh. Well—that actually makes sense. Even while he was with Hydra, he had the prosthetic arm to help him lift and carry things.

For months now he’s been doing everything with just his right arm. But—

“But I haven’t been doing a lot of heavy work with my right arm. It’s not that weak.”

Rub, rub, rub.

D-I-S-H-E-S.

D-R-E-S-S-I-N-G.

S-T-A-N-D-I-N-G.

U-P.

That’s another good point. He used to do all those things with two arms so he was able to distribute the work between his arms. Now his right arm has taken over all those tasks.

“Okay, that makes sense. I’ve been a bit hard on my right arm, but that’s the way it’s gotta be. I gotta use my right arm! My arm will just have to get used to it. I’ll work through the pain and hopefully my arm will get over it.”

Rub, rub, rub.

B-A-D.

I-D-E-A.

Now Bucky’s annoyed. “I ain’t gonna stop using my right arm, Steve! That’s—that’s not happening. That’s not possible. That ain’t an option, okay?”

*             *             *

Steve sighs. “Obviously that ain’t an option, Buck. Jesus.” He taps Bucky’s hand to illustrate his agreement.

He looks back at the computer. The websites are very clear. The first step is to allow the muscles to heal, and the second step is to build up the muscles with stretches and exercises to prevent future overuse injuries.

But telling Buck that he won’t be able to use his arm for a few days won’t be a good conversation.

“Okay, Buck. Don’t get into too big of a snit, okay? Here we go.”

He writes:

M-U-S-T.

L-E-T.

H-E-A-L.

“Sure, I can do that. I won’t wash the heavy pots and pans for a few days.”

Steve sighs. “No, Buck. That ain’t gonna be enough.”

N-O.

D-I-S-H-E-S.

Unsurprisingly, Bucky gets a mulish look on his face. He opens his mouth to argue, but Steve beats him to it.

N-O.

P-E-R-M.

I-N-J-U-R-Y.

When Bucky’s facial expression only softens a bit, Steve adds a ‘P-L-E-A-S-E’.

Finally Bucky sighs. “Fine. No dishes. What about other things?”

“Buck, you know the answer to that.” Steve doesn’t bother replying, he just watches Bucky’s face.

Bucky’s slightly hopeful expression deflates. “Fine. I’ll be a completely useless lump until it’s healed. Then what? How do we stop this from happening again?”

“We gotta start doing some exercising, Buck. We’ve been way too lazy since we’ve come home.”

He writes:

E-X-E-R-C-I-S-E.

Bucky’s nodding, seeming to be onboard with that. “That makes sense. Okay. I’ll be a good patient, I promise. I don’t promise not to get into a few snits, but I’ll do my best.”

“That’s all I need, buddy.” Steve squeezes Bucky’s hand in gratitude and kisses his cheek, careful not to jostle him too much.

*             *             *

It takes Bucky’s muscles two more days to heal. They are an incredibly frustrating two days for both of them.

Even leaning on his arm to get out of bed is painful for Bucky, so from the time he wakes up, he needs Steve’s help for everything.

Steve wraps an arm around his waist and helps him out of bed, helps him shower, brushes his teeth for him and even feeds him. Multiple times a day Steve rubs the muscle relaxant on which helps dull the pain.

Bucky is allowed to knit with his loom and build with his blocks, but only if Steve is helping him so he’s not moving his arm too much.

Bucky manages to keep his temper most of the time, and Steve tries to be as comforting as possible, but Bucky’s thrilled on the morning when he manages to gently lift his arm above his head and it’s only mildly sore.

He’s not an idiot. He continues taking it easy for a few more days—letting Steve do the dishes and doing his best to move his entire body closer to items rather than extending his arm unnecessarily—but eventually the pain completely fades.

“Alright, my arm feels good. Now let’s figure out some stretches and exercises. I ain’t doing this again.”

So Steve orders some exercise equipment for them and looks up stretches and exercises which would specifically target Bucky’s back and shoulders.

Bucky realizes the situation was a blessing in disguise. Both of them haven’t been exercising since he’d come home, and they need to keep their bodies more active.

Steve gets an exercise bike which allows Bucky to sit comfortable and pedal with his legs without the risk of falling over or getting dizzy. Steve attaches elastic bands to the ceiling and Bucky can do different exercises with that. He starts every morning by gently stretching and focusing on getting his shoulders and back loose. He does a couple of exercises with the elastic band, building up the muscles. Then he spends time on the exercise bike and has a shower while Steve cooks breakfast. Steve usually jumps on the bike when Bucky’s doing the dinner dishes.

The end result is exactly what Bucky hoped it would be.

He can feel his upper back and right shoulder getting stronger, and when he goes back to doing the heavy dishes and dressing himself, there’s no more pain.

Lesson learned.

Chapter Text

They’re playing a new game that Steve’s bought, called Mancala.

It takes Steve forever to explain the rules and objectives of the game, but once Bucky gets it, he likes it.

It doesn’t include any communication with your playing partner which makes it a bit easier, but Steve knows Bucky does need to concentrate if he wants to do well. Like most of their other games, Bucky can either turn his brain off and just move pieces randomly around, but if he wants to do well, he has to fire up the old brain and focus.

It always amuses Steve when he realizes that Bucky thinks he’s doing a great job of hiding the fact that he’s not paying attention while they’re playing a game. Steve has known what Bucky’s ‘concentration face’ looks like for nearly 30 years, and it hasn’t changed. If Bucky’s too tired to properly pay attention, Steve will go through a few rounds for appearance sake and then he’ll lie and tell him he has to go do something else, so Bucky doesn’t feel like he’s letting Steve down when they stop playing.

Steve likes playing these games because he likes to see Bucky having fun—so if Bucky is clearly too tired to be enjoying himself, it takes all the joy out of it for Steve too.

But Bucky’s getting more confident every day, which means he has more and more stamina when it comes to playing without his sight or hearing or left hand.

Today’s one of the days where Bucky is really making Steve work at doing well. When they’re playing checkers, Steve usually—secretly—plays with a blindfold on so they’re both working with the same disadvantages, but Mancala doesn’t require Bucky to keep a clear picture of the entire board in his head as he plays, so Steve doesn’t feel guilty over playing with his eyes in full use.

Bucky’s currently winning, having grabbed a cup full of stones which allowed him to go around the board twice and get two winning stones into his collection cup.

“Damn you, Barnes,” Steve mumbles. He spells out ‘J-E-R-K’ on Bucky’s hand and rolls his eyes at Bucky’s pleased smirk.

“You’re just jealous, Rogers.”

“Get your fat head out of the clouds and back down here or I’m gonna have to sneak some of those winning stones into my own cup.”

It’s depressing that Steve can’t tell Bucky that entire threat—he thinks it’s a funny one, and Bucky would no doubt agree. Bucky knows as well as he does that Steve would never cheat in a way that wouldn’t be blatantly obvious to Bucky. Steve would be doing it more for the laughs than an actual attempt to get a dishonorable win.

But it would take way too long to communicate such a complex sentence, and Bucky needs to concentrate on the game.

So Steve settles for flicking Bucky on the nose and ignores his outraged squawk while he focuses on doing his own turn.

When they’re done playing, Bucky heads out onto the balcony, and Steve puts together a grocery list. He usually puts together their list on Monday evening so they’ll get their delivery on Tuesday. He drops the pad of paper on the table, sits down and starts listing the things he knows they need.

He gets stuck on whether they need eggs or not. He can’t remember how many were left in the carton after he made breakfast that morning.

He looks over at the icebox. It feels way too far away at the moment. He’s feeling really lazy and he doesn’t want to walk all the way over there to check.

“Buck, do we need eggs?”

Of course, he gets no response. Bucky’s sitting on the porch swing and the door’s wide open, but that doesn’t help.

Obviously.

“Buck, I’m too lazy to check the icebox.”

Nothing.

Steve’s busy glaring at the icebox and shaking his head at his own silliness, when Bucky suddenly comes back inside.

Bucky carefully makes his way across the living room and passes right by Steve at the table…

…and goes to the icebox. He opens it and starts feeling around inside it.

“Buck, check the eggs!” The sentence is out of Steve’s mouth before his brain catches up.

He snorts at himself. “You’re an idiot, Rogers.”

He can’t believe he’s still make these mistakes.

He remembers it had taken nine year old Bucky Barnes a few months to remember that Steve had lost his hearing in his left ear. It hadn’t made much difference in their day-to-day conversations, unless Bucky was trying to whisper into his ear.

At the beginning, Bucky would forget all the time and try to whisper into Steve’s left ear.

Steve would always give Bucky an unimpressed look and say: “Not that one, Buck, use my good one!”

Then Bucky would smack himself in the forehead, annoyed with himself for having forgotten. Then he’d scramble over to Steve’s other side so he could whisper in his right ear.

Steve can’t remember exactly how long it had taken until Bucky wasn’t making those mistakes any more, but either way, Steve’s still annoyed that he keeps forgetting.

He watches Bucky pull out a can of sprite, which is his new favourite soda. Bucky carefully stuffs it into his pocket and then makes his way back to the balcony with his cane in his hand.

Steve realizes he could have gotten Bucky’s attention as he passed by the table! He could have asked him to check how many eggs they have.

But then he realizes that question may have been too complex for Bucky to understand.

‘How many eggs left’ would have left him confused—maybe he’d assume Steve is asking about his breakfast. Steve would have to explain that he’s making the grocery list first. Then he’d have to ask if Bucky can check the eggs in the icebox.

Way too much work for a man who just wanted a can of soda.

Steve stares at Bucky carefully stepping over the door frame and back out on the balcony.

Looks like he’s on his own for grocery list compiling.

Well, it’s not like he’s not on his own for most other things during the day too.

That’s just how things are now.

…But no matter how many times he reminds himself of that, he never feels better about it.

He’d been in a relatively good mood while they were playing Mancala, but it’s definitely fading now.

He thinks about turning on the television, or checking to see if Sam’s emailed him something cute or funny, but the more he thinks about doing those things, the more he realizes he really doesn’t want to.

So he spends a few hours sitting on the couch, doing nothing, just staring at the dark television.

It no longer surprises or alarms him when he doesn’t feel bored or annoyed at himself for just sitting here, being lazy.

It’s not that he enjoys sitting here doing nothing.

He just…doesn’t care.

He knows that’s not a good sign, but there’s no easy fix, so he decides to keep that whole thing to himself.

He doesn’t want to upset any of the people who care about him, so it’s best to keep these things to himself.

*             *             *

“Hey, Rogers, you think I’m ready to go outside? Not the balcony. I mean the real outside.” Bucky asks, fishing a set of connected wheels out of the ‘miscellaneous parts’ building blocks container and pressing them on to the bottom of the truck he’s building. The balcony door’s open and Bucky’s enjoying the cool fall breeze on his face as he works.

He knows Steve’s sitting on the couch so he waits patiently, pressing another set of wheels onto the truck. He feels a hand touch his shoulder, then his hand. While he knows that it has to be Steve, it’s instinctual now to feel for the bracelet.

He follows the hand that’s touching him up to the wrist and finds the leather bracelet with the circles and lines cut into it.

Bead. Di, di, dit. Dah…

Steve.

The truck is taken out of his grasp and Steve spells on his hand.

Y-O-U-R.

C-H-O-I-C-E.

“I know it’s my choice, but I wanna know if you think we’re ready for that. I’m gonna need a lot of help.”

Steve holds his hand for quite a while before Bucky feels a hesitant tap.

“I think we can do it, Rogers. And if I freak out and it’s too hard, then we come back inside and try again later.”

T-A-K-E.

H-A-C-K-I-E.

Question mark.

“If you wanna take a hackie, we can. But I’d really like to hoof it.” He takes a breath. He curls his fingers over Steve’s and gives him a squeeze. “Stevie, even if I get scared, I really want us to work on this. I feel good in the apartment and I think I’m ready to start going out regularly. It ain’t normal that we’re home all the time, Stevie. I know you’ve been doing it for my sake and I’m ready to go out more.”

A hesitant question mark.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m sure. Can we—how about you find us a park somewhere close by and we can walk there? That’ll be a good first trip.”

Steve isn’t moving. Bucky grabs his hand and gives it a shake. “Come on, Rogers! I really think I can do it. And if I can’t, then I’ll have you right there. You’ll be my eyes and ears and you’ll get me home. I ain’t worried.”

Another hesitation.

Then:

Steve’s thumb is pressed against his fingers. Okay.

Satisfied, Bucky turns back to his truck and carefully parks the truck in the driveway of the apartment building he’s working on. He’s built the entire first floor already, but he got a bit bored of that, so he’d focused on making some vehicles and working on the garden. Now he’s ready for the second floor.

He shifts over and feels for the container with the thin, double six pieces. He takes one out and carefully attaches it over the first apartment’s walls, creating part of the next level’s floor.

By the time Steve touches his hand and hands him what he identifies as his jacket, he’s finished the entire second level’s floor.

“You found a park?”

Tap.

“Okay, let’s do this.”

Steve squeezes his hand and spells out ‘W-A-I-T’.

“Okay. Wait for what?”

N-O.

C-A-N-E.

Bucky waits for the question mark. Once Steve has finished asking the question, Bucky will be telling him that of course he’s bringing his cane.

But there’s no question mark.

“What do you mean ‘no cane’? Of course I’m bringing my cane. How am I supposed to know where I’m going if I don’t have my cane with me?”

Steve squeezes his hand.

L-E-T.

M-E.

L-E-A-D.

Bucky makes a face. “I’m the one who wants to go outside, Steve. It’s stupid that you gotta go with me at all—I don’t want you having to do all the work.”

Rub, rub, rub.

I.

W-A-N-T.

T-O.

Bucky sighs. “We can do both, can’t we? I can walk with my cane and I’ll follow your lead.”

Rub, rub, rub.

T-O-O.

M-U-C-H.

What? Too much of what? “What are you talking about?”

T-O-O.

M-U-C-H.

S-T-R-E-S-S.

Bucky thinks it over.

Maybe—maybe—Steve has a point.

If he’s walking with his cane, he has to focus on where the cane is and what it’s telling him. Being outside will probably involve a lot of stressful situations, and leaving the cane at home will take away a lot of that stress.

Maybe for the first trip, he’ll let Steve lead.

“Alright. We’ll leave the cane at home and see how it goes. But if I do well, I wanna start using the cane.”

Tap, tap, tap.

He feels Steve pull his head closer and then he feels a kiss on his forehead.

“Yeah, yeah. Come on, let’s get going.”

He feels Steve walk away, and moments later the motion sensor on his arm vibrates in a familiar pattern—Steve’s closed the balcony door. Another vibration with a different pattern—Steve’s closed a window. Must be the one in the bedroom.

When Steve’s back, Bucky holds out his arm and feels Steve undoing the velcro strap on his arm and pulling the motion sensor off. Steve pulls him to his feet and Bucky slips his arm into his jacket and carefully does up the buttons. Steve has attached snap buttons onto Bucky’s zippered jackets so he can close his jackets by himself now. Zippers are a two handed job.

At first Steve had kept the empty left sleeves of his jackets and sweaters pinned to the torso portion—but Steve always had to adjust the sleeves when they got loose, so eventually Bucky had asked him to just cut off all the left sleeves. Steve had kept a bit of the sleeves and sewn the openings shut.

With his jacket on, Bucky heads for the door. He slides into one running shoe, pulls the elastic coiled shoelaces tight on both sides, then does the other shoe.

His shoelaces are something he had fought with Steve over. Although he hadn’t needed to put on his running shoes since he’d been taken to that facility, he knew this day would come so he’d tried learning how to tie his shoes by himself.

Bucky spent days sitting on the floor with his running shoes on his feet, twisting himself into a pretzel and trying to use his hand, feet and teeth to tie the laces into something resembling a knot.

Getting the laces into the first knot wasn’t hard—but pulling it tight was damn near impossible. He finally figured out he could step on one lace with the other foot and pull the other lace with his hand. But then came the loops—and with only one arm and no sight, that was beyond him at that point.

He’d gotten more and more frustrated with the whole thing.

Tying his own shoes is something so simple that he doesn’t even remember how old he was when he’d learned to do it as a child, and not being able to do it now makes him feel dumb.

He absolutely refused to let Steve do it for him. Just the idea of Steve having to tie his shoes for him for the rest of his life made him feel useless.

So he was in a snit for a few days, ignoring Steve’s attempts to tell him about different types of shoe fastening methods which they had access to these days.

Finally, Steve got it through his head that this wasn’t the best use of Bucky’s energy and annoyance. He’s got so many other things to learn and master so if there’s an easy way to cross something off his list, he might as well take it. Steve tells him it’s not giving up, it’s being practical. Bucky should conserve his energy for learning something that can’t be easily adjusted.

So Bucky had given Steve permission to purchase elastic coiled shoelaces, and he hasn’t thought about his shoelaces since.

He checks to make sure the laces are tight and his jacket buttons are all done up.

He’s ready.

“I’m ready. Hurry up, old man.”

He feels Steve bump into him.

Alright, time to do this.

But instead of moving towards the door, Steve wraps his arms around Bucky’s waist and turns him to face Steve.

Steve’s tense and when Bucky raises his hand and runs it over his face, he can feel that he’s chewing on his lower lip and he’s got a frown on his face. Bucky gently tugs his lower lip free and smooths a thumb over the frown lines.

“It’ll be okay, Stevie. I promise. I’m ready for this,” he says. He leans forward and rubs his nose against Steve’s and kisses him. “But we don’t gotta go if you don’t wanna.”

He feels Steve shaking his head. His hand is moved to tap Steve’s chest, then Steve’s thumb is pressed against his fingers. He’s okay.

It’s not a smiley face, but it’s also not a frowny face, so Bucky will take it.

“Alright. Let’s do this.”

He gives him another kiss and turns back to the door. He pulls it open and heads through, pausing on the other side for Steve to lock the door.

He feels Steve take his hand and wrap his fingers into the crook of Steve’s elbow.

“What a gentleman you are, Steve Rogers. Lead the way.”

Bucky follows along as Steve heads down the hallway to the front door. It feels weird to be walking without the comfort of the cane sweeping the area in front of him, but he forces himself to relax.

It’s not like Steve’s gonna let him trip over anything.

But maybe Steve can tell that he’s feeling a bit nervous, because he’s walking really slowly and he’s squeezing Bucky’s hand with his right hand from time to time.

They make it down the hallway and Steve comes to a stop.

“What’s going on?”

Steve takes Bucky’s hand off his arm and spells out ‘D-O-O-R’.

“Can we do symbol for that? It takes too long if you have to spell out the whole thing.”

So Steve writes a capital letter ‘D’ on his hand. Instead of putting Bucky’s hand back on his arm, Steve holds onto Bucky’s arm instead and gently pulls Bucky close to him. They shuffle through the door like that. Bucky carefully slides his feet along instead of picking them up, which is how he finds the doorframe before he trips over it. He feels unsteady on his feet and he’s very grateful for Steve’s tight grip on him.

He kind of wishes he had his cane.

Bucky can tell the moment he steps outside. There’s a breeze on his face and he can smell car exhaust and the slight dampness from a morning rainfall.

He’s a bit confused when Steve pulls him sideways instead of continuing forward. He’s about to ask what he’s doing, when he feels Steve take his hand off his arm and wrap his fingers around a familiar metal railing.

Great. He remembers these stairs.

“Steve, these are stairs, right?”

Tap.

“I think we’re gonna have to deal with a lot of those. Can you do an S for it?”

Steve pauses, then he pulls Bucky’s hand off the railing and writes a capital ‘S’ on his palm.

“That’s good. How many are there?”

Pause.

Then:

Number symbol to indicate a number. Steve counts off eight fingers on Bucky’s hand.

1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8.

“8 steps?”

Tap.

“Okay. This is gonna be slow but I can do it.”

Tap, tap, tap.

P-L-E-A-S-E.

S-L-O-W.

Bucky smiles. “Don’t worry, Rogers. I ain’t gonna be jumping down these steps three at a time. Just promise you’ll try to catch me if I fall.”

Tap, tap, tap.

A-L-W-A-Y-S.

Then Bucky feels Steve wrap his arms around him and give him a tight hug. Steve kisses his cheek, puts Bucky’s hand back on the railing and steps back.

He feels Steve step around him—hopefully pausing on the step below so he’ll be in a good position to catch him if he falls.

He hopes Steve understood that Bucky wasn’t trying to be cute with his request.

Bucky gives the railing a hard pull to make sure it’s sturdy, then he slides one foot towards the drop off.

The motions are vaguely familiar since it’s the second time he’s doing this. It also helps knowing that Steve is right there…

…but now that Steve is no longer touching him, it doesn’t feel like Steve is right there. Steve said he’d be close by—but now that he’s surrounded by darkness, Steve might as well be standing across the street. The fear is slowly creeping back in.

Sure, he knows he’s only got 8 steps to do, but he’s not ready to do it completely alone. Not when he’s stepping down into the darkness.

“Stevie? Can you—can you come back up here? I—This is a bit—I’m—”

There’s small rush of air, and then he’s got one of Steve’s arms wrapped around him and Bucky’s nose is bumping into Steve’s cheek. Bucky’s guessing Steve’s other hand is on the railing.

He takes a deep breath. He immediately feels better with Steve touching him. Steve’s hand is gently rubbing his back and Bucky feels Steve’s breath against his cheek. He’s talking to Bucky, probably saying reassuring things.

Slowly, the fear fades.

“Can we do it with you touching me? I know you gotta hold the railing, but can you keep your other hand on me?”

Steve steps back a bit, brushes a kiss on Bucky’s cheek, then tightly wraps his hand in Bucky’s jacket. His grip is pulling the jacket tight so Bucky can feel it.

Now he knows that Steve is really right there. That makes him feel much more confident about this whole thing.

He shifts his focus back to the stairs, now that he’s got Steve’s comforting grip on his jacket. He slides his foot towards the drop-off again and stays calm when his foot is off the step and dropping down through nothing. His foot touches the top of the first step and he moves his other foot to join it.

He adjusts his grip on the railing and moves his foot again. He can feel Steve’s grip on his jacket shift a bit as Steve moves a step down too.

Definitely not as scary, but he knows his days of jumping down steps three at a time are behind him permanently.

But one step at a time is doable, especially if he’s got the railing and Steve helping him.

*             *             *

Steve stays one step below Bucky, keeping one of his hands on the railing and gripping Bucky’s jacket with the other. He’s actually glad that Bucky asked for Steve to hold on to him. This way Steve has a much better chance of preventing Bucky from tumbling head first down the steps if he stumbles.

“Nice and slow, Buck. Please,” he mutters.

Bucky keeps a good grip on the railing and moves very slowly.

It must be very disorienting to be stepping down into a dark abyss.

“You’re doing so good, buddy. You’re amazing.” He wishes he could tell Bucky how proud he is of him, but Bucky’s hand needs to stay on the railing, so now is not a good time to talk to him.

Bucky’s on the third step when Steve hears somebody call to them from the sidewalk.

“Oh, sir? Do you need help? Here, let me help!”

A moment later, a man jumps up the steps next to Steve and reaches for Bucky.

Steve panics—he can’t let go of Bucky or the railing and he doesn’t have a third arm—so he twists his body, putting himself between the man and Bucky. “Hey! Sir, no, he doesn’t need any help. Please don’t touch him. You’ll just startle him.”

The man flails his arms to catch his balance and frowns at Steve. “I wasn’t talking to you!”

Steve spares the man one glance but then focuses back on Bucky. “He can’t hear you, sir, he’s deaf.”

“But—being deaf doesn’t make going down the stairs hard. He’s having a hard time going down the stairs.” The man’s speaking slowly as if Steve is really, really dumb.

Steve swallows a sigh and desperately hopes the man will leave them alone. “He’s deafblind. That’s why he’s taking his time with the steps. Sir, please stay back. I need to be focused on helping him.”

The man glares at him. “You call that help? He’s obviously having a hard time! You’re not being helpful at all, grabbing his jacket like that.”

“I’m giving him all the help he—”

“You’re being way too rough with him!”

Bucky’s made it to the sixth step—completely oblivious to what’s happening right under his nose—Steve and the man keeping pace with him and staying two steps below him.

Steve clenches his jaw. He realizes the man’s just trying to be helpful, but Jesus, this kind of helpful isn’t actually helpful. And he’s had enough of people accusing him of abusing Bucky.

“Sir, I’m not being rough with him. He’s trying to learn how to get down these stairs by himself. Believe me, I’m giving him the help he wants. Please, leave us alone. I need to stay focused.”

Steve decides to ignore the man and watches as Bucky makes it to the bottom of the steps. Steve knows Bucky has been keeping track of how many steps he’s done, so after taking a few careful steps to verify that he is on level ground, a smile appears on his face. “Look at us getting down the stairs together! Always a great team, aren’t we?”

Bucky lets go of the railing and Steve pulls him close, pressing their foreheads together. “Damn straight we do.” He taps Bucky on the back multiple times. He presses his face against Bucky’s so he can feel his lips moving. “I’m so proud of you. That was so good.”

Bucky’s smiling, obviously pleased with himself. He wraps his arm around Steve’s waist. “I’m proud of you too, Rogers. You’re doing great! I know you would have liked to just carry me down the steps, huh? But you let me do it my way. You’re a peach.”

Steve notices the man has taken several steps back when Steve had pulled Bucky into his arms and the man’s frowning at them.

Maybe he’s frowning because Bucky just told him exactly what Steve had told him.

Maybe he’s frowning because he’s not a fan of such displays of affection.

Maybe he’s frowning because they’re both men.

Whatever. Steve couldn’t care less.                     

Bucky just got down the stairs with only minimal help from Steve.

That’s a great start!

*             *             *

Bucky is very proud of himself when he gets to the bottom of the stairs by himself.

This is doable. This whole thing is completely doable.

Steve hooks Bucky’s hand back onto his arm and they slowly make their way down the sidewalk.

Bucky smiles.

This is familiar.

Heading into the unknown—Bucky Barnes on Steve Rogers’ left side.

Although the reasons behind it are now flipped, it’s nice to see the universe has a sense of humor.

They make their way down the sidewalk. Bucky’s enjoying the different smells around him—car exhaust, wind, food. Bucky’s thinking this is really not as hard as he thought it would be—

—and that’s when he suddenly trips.

His feet get tangled up, his heart’s in his throat and he’s falling face-first towards the pavement—but he manages to tighten his grip on Steve’s arm. He feels Steve’s other arm grabbing him, and instead of hitting the pavement, Bucky hits Steve’s chest.

“Shit! What the fuck? What did I trip on?!”

He manages to right himself, and now that he’s got a tight grip on Steve’s jacket and his feet are back under him, he starts to calm. He takes several deep breaths.

“Jesus Christ, that wasn’t fun.”

Unlike him, Steve is not calming. Bucky can feel he’s trembling and his arms are tight around Bucky. “Stevie, I’m fine. It scared me a bit, but you caught me. It’s okay.”

He frees his hand from Steve’s arm and touches his face. “You wanna go back home?”

He feels Steve shaking his head.

“Alright. You wanna keep going?”

Steve doesn’t answer for a moment, then Bucky feels his arms loosening around him. Steve steps back a bit and firmly loops Bucky’s arm back through his. Then he taps Bucky’s hand.

Steve’s ready to keep going.

But when they resume walking, Bucky realizes Steve may have gotten over his fright, but Bucky hasn’t.

He takes a few steps, but that familiar fear races through him and he finds his feet shuffling along in tiny increments.

Don’t be ridiculous, Barnes. You’re not going back to shuffling around everywhere, damn it!

But despite his stern internal admonishments, the fear keeps his feet glued to the sidewalk.

He has no idea what he’d tripped on, but he’s realizing that there are so many unknowns around him!

Unlike in their apartment, Bucky doesn’t know what the ground is like out here.

The darkness out here is cold, scary and full of hidden dangers.

He opens his mouth, ready to tell Steve that he’s changed his mind and he wants to go back home.

But he catches the words before they come out.

He has to do this. He has to be braver and give it a better try. He can’t spend the rest of his life inside their apartment. That’s not the kind of life he wants for himself.

Besides, Steve is here. Steve won’t let anything happen to him.

“Stevie?”

Steve taps his hand and they stop walking.

“It’s—I—I’m scared. I don’t like not knowing what’s in front of me. But I wanna keep going.”

Steve squeezes his hand and runs his other hand up Bucky’s arm to his neck. His thumb is gently rubbing under Bucky’s ear.

Steve spells out:

A-R-E.

Y-O-U.

S-U-R-E.

Question mark.

No. No, he’s not, but he refuses to give up. “Yeah. Yeah, let’s keep going a bit. But can you hold on tight?”

Steve taps on Bucky’s hand and pulls his arm through Steve’s. Steve clamps his arm against his side so Bucky’s arm is tightly squeezed against Steve’s body.

Alright, at least now Bucky is reasonably sure that if he trips over something and his feet don’t cooperate, Steve will be able to keep him from hitting the pavement.

“Okay, let’s try again.”

Steve takes a step forward and Bucky shuffles to keep up. His heart is still thudding in his chest and the fear is sticking in his throat, but he forces his feet to keep shuffling along.

They’re moving very, very slowly, but as long as Bucky’s shuffling along, he’s pretty sure he’ll be able to detect things which he might trip over.

He feels how uneven the pavement is beneath his feet. There are rougher patches and then smoother patches. There are bumps and cracks and little stones and other things he can’t identify.

He’s so focused on his feet that he nearly has a heart attack when something suddenly slams into his left shoulder. The impact jerks Bucky half way around, but his grip on Steve keeps him upright. Instead, his feet get tangled again.

Immediately, Steve’s arm tightens and his other arm grabs Bucky’s jacket to hold him steady.

Bucky wants to cry. This is way too much! What the hell hit him?

He can’t—he can’t do this if he’s going to have mysterious things slam into him from all sides!

“What—what was that?”

Steve stops them and gently pulls Bucky’s fingers loose from their death grip on Steve’s arm. He squeezes Bucky’s trembling hand and Bucky feels a kiss on the palm of his hand.

Steve spells out:

S-O-R-R-Y.

P-E-R-S-O-N.

P-A-S-S-I-N-G.

Oh. Bucky’s forgotten all about that. Unlike in their safe, cozy apartment, he has to deal with strange people out here on the street.

Jesus Christ.

Not only does he have to worry about what’s under his feet, but he has to worry about what’s around him!

It’s exactly like how he felt when he’d first come home, when everything around him was unknown and frightening.

He’s even closer to telling Steve that he wants to go back home—

—but Steve’s still spelling on his palm.

I.

W-I-L-L.

W-A-T-C-H.

B-E-T-T-E-R.

Well…that might help.

Bucky knows he’s not nearly as scared of walking around as he was at the beginning. If Steve promises to watch out for things around him, then maybe this is doable?

“You promise? You won’t let people bump into me?”

I.

T-R-Y.

H-A-R-D.

P-R-O-M-I-S-E.

“Squeeze my hand if we can’t avoid having somebody bump into me, okay?”

Tap, tap, tap.

“And you’ll keep an eye on the ground and steer me around things I can trip on?”

I.

T-R-Y-.

H-A-R-D.

P-R-O-M-I-S-E.

“You really promise? You’ll do your best?”

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

T-R-Y.

V-E-R-Y.

H-A-R-D.

Then Steve’s squeezing his hand and Bucky feels a kiss on his cheek.

“Okay. Let’s keep going.”

Steve tightly wraps Bucky’s arm around his arm and Steve slowly starts forward again.

Bucky shuffles after him. He’s still mainly focused on what his feet are doing, but he does notice that Steve often slows down and gently pulls Bucky to one side or another.

Bucky doesn’t know exactly what obstacle Steve is helping him avoid, but it doesn’t matter. As long as he doesn’t have to deal with the obstacle, he doesn’t care about it.

At one point, Steve squeezes Bucky’s hand, and moments later, something brushes past him.

It’s not the rough hit from before, and having gotten the warning from Steve helps Bucky brace himself. It’s definitely not as a much of a scary shock as before.

It’s still very disconcerting to be touched by something when he doesn’t know exactly what or who it is, but at least he can mentally brace himself for it.

He’s still fearful of tripping over things, but Steve is letting him shuffle along at his own pace, which Bucky’s grateful for. This is his first time outside—he doesn’t have to get everything perfect on the first try, right?

Right.

They’re fine until they get to a spot where Steve stops walking. Bucky nearly walks past him, but when he feels that Steve’s arm has stopped moving, he stops too.

“What’s going on? Why did we stop?

He feels Steve pull his hand off his arm, and his hand being turned palm up. Then:

C-U-R-B.

Oh.

Jesus. Another new thing to deal with. Well, first thing’s first:

“Can we do a symbol for that? I’m assuming we’re gonna have a lot of those.”

Steve thinks for a second, then he writes a capital letter ‘C’ on the back of his hand.

“Perfect. Thanks.”

Bucky goes to step forward but Steve tightens his grip on his arm. Bucky so frazzled and focused on his feet and his fear that he doesn’t understand why Steve is stopping because of a curb.

It takes a few seconds before Bucky’s brain puts it together.

A curb means the sidewalk is ending.

The sidewalk ending means they have to cross the street.

Crossing the street means cars.

Oh, God.

He hasn’t thought about this part.

Dealing with the sidewalk is hard enough. But now they have to leave the sidewalk?!

The idea of stepping off the safety of the sidewalk and into the street with cars zooming around makes his heart clench with panic.

He can’t see or hear the cars—what if they don’t stop? What if he gets hit?? What if both he and Steve get hit?? Sure, there’s the traffic light—but what if the driver is stupid or not paying attention and drives though the red light? Bucky won’t be able to see or hear him coming.

This is too much. He’s using the last of his bravery just standing here—he doesn’t think he has enough left to deal with crossing the street.

“Steve, I change my mind. I’m sorry. I can’t do this today. I wanna go home. Please, let’s go home.”

Chapter Text

“Steve, I change my mind. I’m sorry. I can’t do this today. I wanna go home. Please, let’s go home.”

Steve’s heart nearly breaks at the sadness in Bucky’s voice. He sounds completely dejected.

Steve can count on one hand how many times he’s heard Bucky Barnes sound like this and he’d still have fingers leftover.

Steve pulls Bucky’s hand off his arm and runs his hands up his neck to his face. He gently cups Bucky’s face and rubs his cheeks with his thumbs. “Buck, you can do this. I know you can. You’ve been so brave so far.”

He kisses Bucky’s forehead and gently takes his hand. He wishes he could communicate with Bucky better so he could tell him all these things, but as it stands, he has to choose his words carefully.

Y-O-U.

C-A-N.

D-O.

T-H-I-S.

Bucky’s sighing and shaking his head. “I don’t—”

I.

K-N-O-W.

K-N-O-W.

K-N-O-W.

Bucky’s still shaking his head. “Steve, this is too hard. There’s too much going on.”

Steve hesitates. While he’d be happy to turn them around and go back home, he knows that giving up at this stage will be a huge hit to Bucky’s confidence. He’s worked too hard to take such a big hit.

P-L-E-A-S-E.

T-R-Y.

“Steve—”

J-U-S-T.

L-I-T-T-L-E.

M-O-R-E.

Bucky sighs heavily. He seems to be thinking it over.

Somebody brushes past Bucky and Steve can see the panic on his face as he cringes from the unexpected contact. Damn it! Steve isn’t doing his job! “Shit! Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Rogers, you said you’d watch out! You ain’t doing it.” Bucky sounds close to tears.

Steve squeezes Bucky’s hand, spells out ‘S-O-R-R-Y’ and pulls Bucky into his arms. He pulls them close together so the people walking past them have more room to pass around them without bumping into Bucky. He really wants to shuffle over so they’re not in the middle of the sidewalk, but he doesn’t want to add to Bucky’s stress by making him move right now.

He turns his head so Bucky can feel his lips moving. “I know this is real hard, Buck. It’s way harder than either of us thought it would be, but I know you can cross this street. I know you can. And even if we go home right after, you’ll feel so much better about today, I promise.”

Steve waits, feeling Bucky gradually calm down. When he seems settled, Steve asks him what he wants to do.

Bucky clenches his jaw. “If I really wanted to go home, you’d help me go home, right?”

“Of course, Buck.”

Steve taps his hand.

“But you think I can do this?”

“I don’t think you can, I know you can.”

Tap, tap, tap.

I.

K-N-O-W.

K-N-O-W.

K-N-O-W.

He presses his fingers hard into Bucky’s palm for every letter, making sure he knows how much Steve means it.

There’s a small smile on Bucky’s face. “Okay. I think—I think I wanna try. Let’s cross the street and then come back, and then we’ll go home?”

Tap, tap, tap.

“Promise? We’ll go home after this?”

“Yeah, Buck. I promise.”

He taps on Bucky’s hand a few more times.

Steve gently rubs Bucky’s arm and gives him a few minutes to collect himself. While he waits, Steve notices a man passing them and giving them a dirty look.

“Why the fuck do you have to stand in the middle of the fucking sidewalk? Go have your fag conversation somewhere that’s not in the middle of the street.”

Steve doesn’t bother replying. He does realize that they’re standing in the gathering area on the sidewalk where people wait to cross the street, but there’s plenty of room for people to go around them.

Besides—Steve isn’t all that concerned about other people at this point. Bucky would be embarrassed if he knew Steve was being rude, but Bucky has other things to worry about, so Steve keeps all that to himself.

Bucky seems to have accepted their new plans, but now he’s fully focused on the idea of crossing the street and his earlier worries are back.

“Steve—Steve, you gotta check to make sure the cars are stopped.”

“Of course, Buck.” He taps on Bucky’s hand.

“You gotta check real well. You don’t just gotta look both way once, you gotta be looking the whole time. Just like doing grid searches in the field—that’s how you gotta be scanning.”

Tap, tap, tap.

“Promise?”

Tap, tap, tap.

I.

P-R-O-M-I-S-E.

“And this can’t be like when you said that you’d watch out for people and then you got distracted and forgot. You gotta be focusing and really doing it. Promise!”

Steve cringes, annoyed with himself for having scared Buck with his lack of attention. Multi-tasking is the name of the operation, Rogers. Get that into your thick head.

“I promise, Buck. I’m gonna make sure we get across safe. I promise.”

I.

P-R-O-M-I-S-E.

Bucky still looks unhappy about the situation, but he’s nodding. “Fine. But if we get hit and die, I’m blaming you. Plus, I’m gonna tell your ma the second we see her that’s it’s your fault, and she’ll yell at you for eternity.”

Steve can’t help a little smile at that comment. He decides to be a wise-guy and presses his thumb against Bucky’s fingers. “I’m okay with that, Barnes.”

Bucky’s eyes narrow. “Oh, you think that’s funny, huh?” He takes a deep breath. “Alright, let’s do this.”

Bucky clutches Steve’s jacket with a death grip, probably hoping that Steve can somehow fly them right over the street.

“Buck, it ain’t gonna work like this.”

But Bucky’s pale and not letting go, so Steve wraps an arm around his waist, hoping that they don’t fall flat on their faces in the middle of the street.

He waits for the light to change, makes sure all the cars have stopped and shuffles them towards the curb. The second Bucky’s foot starts falling off the curb, Bucky panics and jerks backwards.

They stumble, Steve lets out a curse and barely manages to catch his balance and keep a hold of Bucky and Bucky lets out a shout: “Shit! Sorry, sorry! I forgot about the curb.”

Steve’s heart is hammering in his chest. They’re gonna get themselves killed if they cross the street all bundled together like this. “Jesus. Barnes, it ain’t gonna work like this. You gotta walk on your own. I’ll be right next to you, I promise.”

He glances around and realizes that quite a few people are staring at them.

He gives the woman closest to them a tight smile. “It’s our first time crossing a street,” he tells her. He only realizes after the words are out of his mouth that he probably sounds—and looks—crazy.

She nods and gives him a tight smile. It’s clear that she thinks the whole thing is a circus act. Nobody who just looks at Bucky would know that he’s deafblind. Both of them probably just look like drunk fools.

Right then, Steve hears: “Hey! Oh, my God, it’s Captain America!” Then there’s a phone in his face. “Oh, my God, this is awesome! Hey, can you do a salute for me?”

The phone is in the hands of a middle aged man, who’s grinning ear to ear and completely oblivious to the fact that Steve’s trying not to fall off the curb and has a terrified Bucky hanging off of him.

Steve directs a strained smile at the man. “Sir, I need you to step back, plea—”

“Come on, don’t be a dick! You gotta be nice to your fans. Most people hate you now that you’re a Russian spy or whatever. I’m one of the good guys—see, I don’t care about that stuff. Do a salute! Come on, do it!”

Steve is seriously thinking about ripping the phone from the man’s hands and throwing it into traffic. But that would involve dropping Bucky, which isn’t happening. Plus, the resulting chaos would freak Bucky out. He tightens his grip on Bucky and shuffles them farther away from the curb.

“Sir, I ain’t gonna pose for you because I’m busy right now.” With that, he turns his attention back to Bucky and checks on the light.

They’ve lost their crossing light, so they have to wait through another red.

“What the hell is your problem, dude? I change my mind, I think they should have locked you up. You’re a traitor to your country.”

Their interaction has attracted even more attention than before and even the people across the street are staring at them.

Well, let them stare.

Steve ignores all the staring eyes and doesn’t let himself worry about what they’re thinking. Bucky had never cared about the people who used to stare at the two of them walking down the street—wondering what somebody like Bucky was doing walking with a skinny, shrimp of a person like him. The fact that now it’s Bucky’s who’s attracting the attention of strangers is irrelevant. Steve has never paid curious onlookers any mind and he’s not going to start now.

The only two people who matter are himself and the one who’s in his arms, scared and tense but willing to give this a try.

Steve’s busy keeping an eye on the rude man and making sure he doesn’t try to do something stupid like grab either Steve or Bucky. So he startles a bit when Bucky suddenly tenses and lets out a startled shout.

Steve automatically tightens his grip on Bucky and frantically looks around to see what happened.

“Somebody pulled on my jacket, Steve.”

Steve looks down and sees a little boy staring up at Bucky. He seems a little confused by Bucky’s reaction to his attempt to get his attention, but that’s nothing compared to the fear on Bucky’s face.

“Don’t touch him,” Steve snaps, pulling Bucky closer to him. He knows he’s being rude, but he’s had just about enough of people giving Bucky a hard time during his first time outside.

The kid frowns. “I wanted to tell him a secret.” A small woman wearing a head scarf had reached for the boy at Steve’s outburst, but the boy doesn’t seem scared, he just seems unimpressed by Steve’s attitude.

Steve presses his cheek against Bucky’s so he can feel that Steve’s breathing normally—there’s no reason to panic—and he peels Bucky’s hand off his jacket long enough to do their symbol for ‘Okay’ over and over again, trying to calm him. He spares a little bit of his attention for the boy. “Well, he can’t hear you and we’re really busy right now.”

“But it’s a very good secret.”

Jesus Christ. Steve struggles to paste his Captain America smile on his face. “What is it?”

The boy points at the lamp post. “He can use the special button.”

“What?”

The woman is nodding and smiling at Steve. “If your friend is scared about crossing the street, he can touch the button,” she says in a soft, slightly accented voice.

Steve blinks at her. Nothing in that sentence made any sense. He knows about the devices attached to lamp posts at most intersections. They have a button that needs to be pressed which alerts the traffic light that a pedestrian wants to cross, and that’s how the pedestrian light will change to allow him to cross the street.

But having Bucky touch the button device won’t make a difference to him.

He tries to keep his smile polite. He can see out of the corner of his eye that they have a crossing light again, but Bucky’s slumped in his arms looking tired and scared so Steve figures they won’t be crossing with this light either. He smiles down at the woman.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

The woman looks down at the boy, who’s nodding at Steve. He looks very excited. “The button vibrates and makes a special noise when it’s time to go so blind people know when to cross safely. We learned it in school. Here, try!”

He lets go of his mother’s hand and tugs on Steve’s jacket. Steve tightens his grip on Bucky and they shuffle to the lamp post with the button device. Bucky makes an unhappy noise at being moved, but Steve gently squeezes his arm.

“It’s okay, Buck. Just hang on a second.” He spells out ‘W-A-I-T’ on Bucky’s palm as they shuffle over.

When they’re at the post, the boy pushes the large button on the yellow device attached to the pole. There’s a little light above the button that turns red, indicating the button had been pushed. Steve knows that means the signal has been sent and they’ll get a crossing light again soon.

The boy flaps a hand at Steve. “Put your hand on the button and keep it there! Hurry!”

Steve still doesn’t understand what any of this means, but he decides he might as well give the kid what he’s after and then he’ll hopefully be on his way. Steve doesn’t want to be rude, but he really needs the kid to stop bothering him so he can focus on getting himself and Bucky across the street.

Steve gives the kid a smile and untangles one hand from Bucky and gently touches the button. Now that he’s this close to it, he can hear that it’s emitting a slow, deep ticking noise. He keeps his fingers on the button…

…and nothing happens.

But the kid’s staring at the light across the street with such certainty on his face that Steve decides to keep humoring him.

Steve does notice that the button he’s touching has a large arrow on it, which points in the direction of the crosswalk which they’re waiting to cross. It’s a raised arrow so somebody can feel the edges of it.

Maybe that’s what the kid was talking about? That’s a little helpful. Bucky can touch the button and know which way to cross the street.

But having an arrow on a button really isn’t that big of a—

Then the pedestrian light changes to the go symbol, and suddenly, Steve can feel the button gently vibrating under his fingers. He stares at the button in surprise.

“Do you feel it?” The boy demands, looking at him with wide eyes.

Steve grins. “Yeah, I do. Does it stop when the light turns red?”

“Yes!”

Now that he’s paying attention, Steve can also tell that the sound being emitted from the device has changed to a faster, higher pitched ticking noise.

“That’s really neat,” Steve says, his smile becoming genuine.

The kid grins, and then as is common for children, he abruptly decides his interaction with Steve is finished, and he hurries back to his mother with a shouted ‘Bye’ over his shoulder. The woman gives Steve a parting smile and they cross the street with the rest of the crowd, leaving Steve at the lamp post, his fingers still on the button device, feeling the gentle vibrations.

He watches the traffic light and the pedestrian light and the moment the traffic light turns yellow, the button’s vibrations stop.

“Hot damn,” he mumbles to himself. “Well, if this ain’t the cat’s meow.”

Bucky shifts a bit in his arms, abruptly reminding Steve of his presence. Bucky—the damn sniper—has always been much more capable than Steve of staying quiet and still when the situation requires it. Steve’s ma had always praised that ability in Bucky—and made sure to lament the fact that her own flesh and blood could never sit still for longer than a few minutes.

Steve has never appreciated Bucky’s ability more. Despite not understanding what’s going on around him and not knowing what will happen, he’s willing to patiently stay still and give Steve the time and space to figure things out.

Steve squeezes Bucky’s arm and presses his forehead against the side of Bucky’s head. “You’re awesome, Barnes. Thank you.” He presses a kiss to Bucky’s cheek to thank him for his patience.

Okay. Time to see if the vibrating device will help Bucky.

First, time for spelling. Lots of spelling.

“Alright, Barnes. I’m sorry for complicating things, but I think this will help you feel better about getting across this street.”

He keeps one arm wrapped around Bucky and pulls up Bucky’s hand.

W-A-L-K.

S-I-G-N-A-L.

He brings Bucky’s hand to the lamp post and helps him feel the shape of the large button, making his fingers trace the arrow and the button.

“This is the walking light control?”

Steve gives Bucky a kiss on the temple. “Exactly, Buck. Good job.” He taps on Bucky’s hand.

He presses Bucky’s fingers to the button again. This time they actually press it, since the people around Steve are giving them nasty looks for taking up space so close to the button.

When Bucky is about to let go of the button, Steve presses his fingers back.

He reaches underneath Bucky’s hand to keep spelling on his palm while his fingers stay on the button.

W-A-I-T.

Steve waits, keeping an eye on the light across the street, and Bucky’s face. The moment the light changes, he can see the surprise on Bucky’s face as he feels the vibration.

V-I-B-R-A-T-E.

M-E-A-N-S.

W-E.

G-O.

“It vibrates when the walking light turns on? Is that right?”

“How did I get so lucky to end up with such a smart fella, huh?” Steve happily smiles into Bucky’s hair and taps the back of his hand.

When Steve leans over and looks at Bucky’s face, he sees he’s got a small smile now.

“That’s better, Buck.”

They stay at the light and Steve confirms for Bucky when the vibration stops that the walking light is now turned off.

They go through the whole cycle again, with Bucky helpfully pressing the button for the pedestrians who gather around them waiting to cross. This time when the walk signal turns on, Steve sees Bucky’s lips moving. It takes him a second, but he realizes that Bucky’s timing the length of the safe-crossing signal.

Steve grins. “You’re really something, Barnes, you know that?”

When their crossing light turns red again, Bucky turns his head into Steve’s direction.

“Okay, I’m ready to try. The next time the walking light turns on we can go. But you gotta help me.”

Steve presses a kiss to Bucky’s cheek. “Of course I will, jerk. What, you think I’m gonna shove you into the street and head back home on my own? Idiot.”

He taps on Bucky’s hand.

“And what are you gonna do before we step into the street, Rogers?”

Steve shakes his head with a rueful smile. “Jesus Christ, Barnes. I’m not two years old.”

L-O-O-K.

F-O-R.

C-A-R-S.

“Okay. And what are you gonna do while we’re walking across?”

Steve sighs and repeats his answer.

“Good. You better not get distracted by some shit when we’re half way across. I’ll tell your ma the second we see her.”

Bucky presses the button, and lets Steve get them organized and ready for crossing.

He stands next to Bucky and helps him hold his fingers against the device so he’ll be able to feel the vibration. Steve gently squeezes Bucky’s hand and keeps an eye on the light.

The light changes and Bucky nods, feeling the vibrations against his hand. “We can go.”

Steve takes Bucky’s hand off the button and wraps his fingers around Steve’s arm. He does a quick check to make sure there aren’t any cars making a last-minute run through the intersection, and then they’re off.

Now that they’re not tangled up, Bucky’s shuffling allows him to find the edge of the curb easily and he steps off the curb pretty smoothly.

Bucky keeps his pace even, and Steve can see his lips moving slightly. He’s counting down the time he has left so he’ll know if they have to hurry.

Steve carefully keeps his pace even, making sure they move in a relatively straight line and avoid the pedestrians around them.

Bucky’s following him pretty well, but Steve can feel how tense he is.

Knowing how much time he has left to cross the street only decreases the stress of the situation a bit for him, since he has no idea how much farther they have to walk.

They make it to the other side of the street and the tension drains from Bucky the second his feet have stepped up the curb.

“Stevie, I need a minute.” Bucky tells him in a shaky voice.

Steve knows they’re both exhausted—Bucky probably even more than Steve. The stress of this whole thing has been much bigger than either of them had anticipated.

He steers them to the nearby steps of a church which are broad enough that they can sit down and sprawl out without having to worry about people not being able to get past them.

He puts an arm around Bucky’s shoulder. Bucky immediately melts into Steve’s side and visibly relaxes. “I wish we could stay here forever,” he says.

Steve smiles and kisses Bucky’s temple.

He can’t believe everything they’ve accomplished. He realizes he needs to look at the streets around him with a new perspective.

Just walking down a block isn’t a 30 second exercise that doesn’t require any real thought or concentration.

Not anymore.

There are dozens of obstacles, potential dangers and unknown scenarios around them.

He hadn’t ever realized how helpful his sight is for walking around. He automatically steps over and around small obstacles, he can move over to avoid collisions with people and large objects, and he can adjust his pace and footing when he sees a change in elevation or ground type.

But Bucky can’t see any of that.

He still feels enormously guilty for Bucky tripping over that bump in the sidewalk from a tree root pushing up the pavement. Steve had stepped over it without even thinking about it. It hadn’t even occurred to him to steer Bucky around it.

And then he hadn’t even thought to move Bucky over so he wouldn’t nearly get bowled over by that pedestrian who had passed them. He just assumed Bucky would shift himself over and turn slightly sideways—but of course he didn’t because he can’t see or hear people around him.

Steve thought his only responsibilities for leading Bucky would be to steer him in certain directions.

But it turns out that Steve’s role needs to include much more.

He can’t just be Bucky’s navigator—he needs to be Bucky’s eyes and ears.

He desperately hopes that today’s experience won’t shake Bucky’s confidence too badly. Steve’s heart nearly shattered when he’d noticed that Bucky had gone back to shuffling his feet, his body tense and scared with each step.

Steve hopes Bucky will be willing to practice walking more. He knows they’ll figure out how to make things easier and less stressful for him.

But—

Steve comes to the sad realization that even if Bucky ever learns how to walk down a block by himself and despite the wonderful vibrating button, he’ll never be able to cross a street by himself.

It’s way too dangerous. Bucky can tell when the light changes, but just because the light changes doesn’t mean the drivers of the cars around him will obey the light. The light can’t tell him if the street is clear and safe to cross—the light can only tell him when it should be clear and safe to cross. If Bucky could hear the cars around him, that would be a different story, but he can’t. He’s always going to need a pair of eyes or ears to tell him when the street is actually safe to cross.

No matter how much Bucky learns, how much time and practice Bucky puts into this, crossing the street will never be something he can do completely on his own.

That thought is thoroughly depressing, but Steve roughly gives his head a shake and pushes those thoughts away.

He wants to stay focused on the positives.

Sure, they’d only walked one block, but they’d encountered lots of difficult situations and Bucky had made it through all of them.

Forget the park.

Steve’s starting to understand that this will be a much slower process.

The park will happen, just not right away.

While they’re sitting there, Steve spies two people across the street taking pictures of them, and he gets several dirty looks from people walking past, with one yelling “Traitor”.

Thankfully Buck isn’t aware of the stares or the rude comments—whether they’re directed at Bucky himself or Steve. And Steve can easily ignore them.

He never liked the celebrity status that came with being Captain America anyway, and he’s never cared that he butchered Captain America’s reputation when he went on the run with Buck. He’s never paid close attention to the rumors that have swirled around and he’s just glad he isn’t being stopped for pictures and autographs as much as he used to be. He couldn’t care less about the nasty comments. He’s spent his entire life dealing with nasty comments and being taught by Bucky Barnes to ignore them.

And he will never regret putting the life of his best friend ahead of his duties to his country, so if people want to shout mean things, they’re welcome to.

*             *             *

It takes several minutes until the stress of crossing the street fades. Having that vibrating button did help calm his nerves. He likes knowing when the walking light turns on, and he now knows exactly how many seconds the light stays on for. He needs to figure out if all of the walking lights stay on for the same length of time, and he needs to get a better feel for the length of the crossing. Once he puts those things together, he knows he’ll feel more confident crossing the street. In the middle of the street, he’ll know exactly how much time he has left and how much ground he has left to cover.

But despite Steve’s help and the vibrating button, that whole thing was very stressful.

This whole walking thing is very stressful.

He desperately misses his cane and the comfortable, smooth floors of their apartment.

Sitting on the steps is a nice change of pace.

The cool fall breeze and the sun feel wonderful on his face. He can smell car exhaust, the rain dampness and some type of food. Maybe somebody’s cooking nearby? Or they’re near a restaurant?

It’s so nice sitting on the cement steps with Steve right next to him.

His hand is turned over.

W-E.

G-O.

H-O-M-E.

There’s no question mark at the end.

Another kiss on his temple and his hand is squeezed.

Bucky really does want to go home, but now that’s he’s calmed down, he’s embarrassed about his earlier panic.

He hates that he was so ready to give up so easily.

What kind of a lame-brain can’t walk more than a block?

“No. Come on. I don’t wanna give up yet. I—just give me more time and I can go further. I ain’t a baby.”

But his heart really isn’t in it and he feels Steve vigorously rubbing his hand.

Then:

Y-O-U.

Steve places his flat hand over Bucky’s. Their symbol for being tired.

I.

Steve’s flat hand is pressed against Bucky’s again.

They’re both tired. That’s true.

Then:

T-O-M-O-R-R-O-W.

Y-O-U.

Smiley face.

I.

Smiley face.

Bucky wants to cry he’s so disappointed in himself. “I’m sorry I did so bad,” he whispers.

*             *             *

Bucky looks like he’s on the verge of tears. “I’m sorry I did so bad,” he whispers.

That startles Steve right out of the comfortable slouch he’s in. “What? What the hell do you mean you did bad? You did good, Buck! You did so good! So, so, so good.”

He spells out:

Y-O-U.

D-I-D.

V-E-R-Y.

G-O-O-D.

He really wants to make sure his message was heard loud and clear, so he repeats ‘G-O-O-D’ three more times, pressing his fingers firmly into Bucky’s palm. Damn, he wishes he could be more specific and tell Bucky exactly what Steve’s proud of, but he won’t add more stress to Bucky’s day, so ‘G-O-O-D’ will have to suffice.

“I’m so proud of you and you worked so hard. This is just a lot harder than we thought it would be, but that’s okay. We’ll keep practicing. You’ve got things to work on and I’ve got things to work on but we can—”

“Really? You think it went well?” Bucky’s got a small smile on his face. That’s a big improvement.

“Of course I do!” He taps Bucky’s hand multiple times, pauses to press a kiss to his palm, then taps it some more.

Bucky manages a shaky laugh. “Alright, alright, I get it. I guess I did okay. I got down those stairs and made it all the way here, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, you did, buddy.” Steve taps on his hand a bunch of times. “There’s no way you could have done that a few—”

Bucky takes a deep breath. “Okay, let’s head home. But we’ll try again tomorrow, right?”

Steve makes a face. He doesn’t want to make promises on that. Bucky needs to be completely focused and committed to doing this. If he’s not in the right frame of mind tomorrow, then there’s no point in trying. They’ll both get frustrated and it’ll turn into a disaster.

Steve carefully spells out ‘M-A-Y-B-E’ on Bucky’s palm, hoping it won’t be met with a stubborn argument.

It’s clear that Bucky’s exhausted when his only response is to nod and tell Steve that he’s ready to go home.

Steve gets Bucky standing, hooks Bucky’s hand into his elbow, and they’re heading home.

*             *             *

The way home seems to go a bit faster, but Bucky’s so exhausted that he’s practically hanging off Steve’s arm. He’s moving his feet, but he doesn’t have the energy for anything else.

He realizes walking is not nearly as scary if he turns his brain off and doesn’t think about the fact that he’s walking through an unknown darkness.

He thinks about lying down on their couch and cuddling with Steve, and he carefully avoids thinking about what his shuffling feet could trip over and how many people could slam into him before Steve manages to warn him.

He knows that isn’t good, but he’s used up all his energy on the outbound trip.

Steve eventually pulls him to a stop, spells out ‘H-O-M-E’ and then draws a ‘S’ on his hand.

Right. Eights steps.

Steve helps him grab the railing.

Climbing up is much less scary than climbing down, but thankfully Steve keeps a hand on his lower back, letting him know he’s right there in case Bucky falls. With that reassurance, Bucky makes it up the eight steps pretty smoothly. Once he’s at the top, he holds his hand out and takes a few steps until he’s touching what he thinks is the front door. He feels Steve at his side, opening the door and leading him inside.

Once they’re through their apartment door, he rips open his jacket, drops it to the floor and toes off his shoes. He stumbles his way to the couch, doing a face plant on it once he feels the edge of it.

He feels the couch dip next to his head and he gropes around for Steve’s leg. Finding it, he pulls himself over so his head’s on Steve’s lap, one of Steve’s hands carding through his hair.

“I’ll go clean up my mess when I don’t feel half dead, Rogers, I promise,” he mumbles into Steve’s pants.

Tap.

He lets himself relax.

Tomorrow he’ll get farther than that street corner.

Or maybe the day after.

Maybe he needs to stop putting so much pressure on himself.

Whatever.

Today he’s gonna cuddle with Steve and do nothing more draining than work on a simple art project. He and Steve have earned it.

Chapter Text

Steve’s glad that Bucky seems to calm down relatively quickly once they’re home, but his exhaustion probably has a lot to do with that. He’s sure that if Bucky weren’t so tired, he’d be as annoyed with Steve as Steve is.

Upon further reflection, Steve realizes he’s not just annoyed—he’s angry at himself.

He’s angry for making so many dumb mistakes while they were out on their walk. Not watching for obstacles which Bucky could trip over or keeping other people from bumping into Bucky were stupid mistakes that Steve shouldn’t have made.

He’s also angry that he couldn’t tell Bucky properly how proud he was of him—and it’s all his fault.

‘So good’.

That’s all he could tell Bucky.

That’s what their communication has turned into. Bucky does something huge and amazing, and all Steve could tell him is ‘so good’.

Steve realizes that he had let Bucky know in other ways how incredible of an accomplishment his walk had been—kisses, taps, squeezes—but damn it, he hates that he couldn’t tell Bucky in words.

This will get added onto the huge list of things that Steve can’t communicate to Bucky, purely because he knows explaining those things would be too difficult for Bucky to understand.

That list is growing bigger everyday—as is the heaviness in Steve’s chest.

That list has serious things on it as well as trivial things, but they’re all things Steve desperately wishes he could tell Bucky:

He can’t tell Bucky about the multiple options he has if he wants a new prosthetic arm. It would take Steve forever to explain about modern day prosthetic options.

He can’t tell Bucky about his conversations with Natasha or Sam. He could tell him what subjects they’d discussed, but he can’t share the details of his conversations.

He can’t tell Bucky that he’s adopted the New York Mets as their new baseball team. Bucky would want to know about the players and their stats and that’s all too complicated.

And he certainly can’t tell Bucky that every evening when Bucky thinks Steve is exercising on the bike, Steve is really sitting by the door, struggling not to cry.

He knows he should be exercising on the bike, but he can’t muster up the energy or the will to do it.

He doesn’t tell Natasha or Sam that he’s not using the bike because he knows they’ll just fuss and get mad at him, and Steve doesn’t have the energy to deal with that.

It’s the same reason he’s been pretending to be too busy for long, in depth conversations with either of them lately. He knows they aren’t happy with how he’s dealing with things, but this is his new reality, and one of the only things he has control over is whether he chooses to listen to his friends’ nagging or not.

He chooses not.

It’s easier to lie to both of them and tell them he’s feeling good, he’s exercising, he’s keeping himself busy with fun, positive activities, he’s adjusting well, and so on.

He knows by now exactly what he needs to say to make them both back off.

As for Bucky, Steve knows he’d have a fit if he knew Steve wasn’t bothering to exercise and was spending a large part of his day doing absolutely nothing, so he doesn’t tell him either. And even though he’s right under Bucky’s nose twenty-four hours a day, it’s ridiculously easy to tell Bucky he’s doing one thing and then do something completely different without Bucky ever getting a hint that he’s lying.

At first Steve had really worried that Bucky would somehow know that Steve was lying—Bucky had always been able to tell when he’s lying—but then he’d realized that Bucky is so involved in his own world these days that he doesn’t notice anything which Steve doesn’t directly tell him about.

Bucky’s right under his nose and has no idea what Steve’s doing when he’s not interacting with Bucky.

He knows it’s a mean thing for him to do, but honestly, he’s stopped caring a while ago. Letting Bucky think Steve is doing alright keeps Bucky happy and focused on his own progress, and that’s what’s most important.

When they get home, he holds it together until after dinner. Bucky’s washing the dishes and Steve goes to the door.

He feels so damn guilty that he can’t even tell Bucky properly how amazing he is and how proud Steve is of him.

If the universe had always intended on giving Steve a limited number of words he could tell Bucky over the course of their lifetimes, Steve wishes he would have known and he would have rationed his words out from the age of seven.

He remembers so many pointless conversations where they just chit-chatted over nothing in particular for hours on end. Lying on the floor in their apartment, trying to will the summer heat away and saying whatever came into their heads. Huddling together for warmth in their tiny bed in the middle of winter, trying to distract each other from the cold by talking about any little nonsense they could think of.

They’ve literally spent years doing nothing but talking to each other—using words as a way to fill time and distract from illness, boredom, cold or heat.

Steve never imagined he’d lose that.

Words are as precious to him now as pennies had been in the 30s.

And he knows that’s his fault.

It’s his fault that Bucky finds the finger spelling confusing.

His fault, not Bucky’s.

It had been Steve’s stupid idea to use the Morse code spelling method, which had been unnecessarily complicated and made Bucky doubt himself so badly that he’s only comfortable communicating in short sentence fragments and isolated words, despite their current finger spelling method being much simpler.

Why the hell didn’t he let Natasha find him a professional to help them?! He wouldn’t have been comfortable letting the person come to the apartment, but he could have talked to him or her over the phone.

Instead, he let his stubbornness and paranoia lead the way, and he completely destroyed Buck’s confidence in communicating.

And now he’s resigned them both to a life of isolation and living in separate worlds, despite being in the same apartment.

He takes a shaky breath and tries to wipe the tears off his cheeks, but they just keep coming, so he eventually gives up.

“I’m sorry, Buck. I screwed things up so badly. I’m never gonna be able to really talk to you, and you’re gonna live in your little bubble without knowing what’s going on around you. I’m such an idiot!” He chokes out, slamming a fist on the floor.

Bucky turns off the water, finds the drying rag and slowly wipes the water from the counter.

“I should have asked for help. It would have been better for both of us,” he mumbles.

Bucky puts down the rag and unfolds his cane.

He slowly makes his way to the bedroom where he thinks Steve is exercising on the bike. “I’m done the dishes,” he says, standing in the bedroom doorway.

Then Bucky makes his way to the bathroom. Steve pulls up his knees as Bucky passes to get his legs out of the way and remain undetected. When Bucky’s past him, Steve lets his legs out again.

Steve sniffs hard and tries to stop crying. He’s being such an idiot. “Stop it, Rogers! Get a hold of yourself! You gotta be more creative with talking to Buck, that’s all. We’ve been doing well with the baseball. That’s kind of like talking, ain’t it? At least it’s as close as you’re gonna get to talking because you’re an idiot.”

He’s so consumed with being annoyed at himself and feeling sorry for himself that he forgets to pull his legs up when Bucky comes back out of the bathroom.

That’s how Bucky’s cane ends up hitting Steve’s legs.

Immediately, a shiver of fear races up Steve’s spine and he yanks his legs in, desperately hugging his knees to his chest.

Buck can’t find him here.

Steve doesn’t have a good explanation for why he’s sitting on the floor by the door when he should be on the exercise bike.

He holds his breath, watching Bucky.

Bucky immediately frowns when he feels the cane hit something. “What the hell? Steve, did you leave your shoes lying around? Punk.”

He sweeps the cane around where Steve’s legs had previously been. But now there’s nothing there. That makes Bucky frown harder.

“What the hell? There was something here, I know there was. Cane, are you playing tricks on me?”

Steve’s holding his breath, hoping Bucky will shrug off his confusion. But then Bucky decides to swing the cane wider, expanding his search area—and he smacks the cane into Steve’s pulled up feet.

“Shit, shit, shit,” Steve mumbles. He’s made himself as small as possible, but before he can try to sneak past Bucky, Bucky zeroes in on the object his cane encountered and he’s sweeping the cane around Steve’s body, investigating the foreign object just like he does when they’re out on the street.

There’s no way Steve can get past him without Bucky noticing.

“You punk! Leaving your shoes all over the place. Jesus Christ! Making me do all the work round here.” Bucky drops the cane handle, leaving it dangling from the strap on his wrist and he bends down, searching for the object the cane had isolated.

Steve’s barely breathing, his mind racing. Bucky’s gonna know it’s him the second he touches him—and what the hell is he gonna say to explain what he’s doing?

Maybe if he can at least hide the fact that he’s crying—?

As Bucky’s hand touches his foot and runs up his leg, Steve quickly brings a hand up to wipe his face, but he can feel his face is still moist.

Bucky’s face pales the moment he realizes that he touched a human leg.

A human leg which should not be sitting by their front door.

“Oh, you better be Steve, or you’re not gonna like how this turns out.” Bucky quickly finds Steve’s knee and from there he finds his shoulder and runs his hand down Steve’s arm, searching for his wrist.

When he feels the leather bracelet with the bead and the notches, he visibly relaxes a bit.

But then the confusion is back. “You idiot! Nearly gave me a heart attack. Why are you sitting by the door? I thought you were on the bike.”

Steve’s desperately hoping Bucky won’t touch his face, but he’s so busy panicking that he forgets to give Bucky an answer. That makes Bucky even more confused, and he decides to go looking for answers himself.

He touches Steve’s face, and immediately feels the moisture from Steve’s bad tear-wiping job.

The confusion is replaced by fear. “Are you hurt?” He sounds frantic.

“No, Buck. I ain’t hurt. Don’t worry about it.” Because his brain is running in a million directions, he forgets to answer the question non-verbally, so Bucky’s concern sky-rockets.

“Steve, where are you hurt? Show me. Bring my hand there. Can you call an ambulance if I bring you your phone?”

Bucky finds one of Steve’s hands and gives it a shake. “Talk to me, Steve. Oh my God, are you unconscious?! Shit!”

Steve has to put a stop to this before Bucky gives himself a heart attack. “Get a hold of yourself, Rogers. Jesus.” He sits up straight and gently squeezes Bucky’s frantic hand.

He rubs it multiple times.

He spells out:

N-O-T.

H-U-R-T.

Bucky doesn’t look convinced. “Are you sure? You don’t need me to get help?”

“No, I’m fine. I’m sorry I’m freaking you out, Buck. I’m just being an idiot.”

He rubs Bucky’s hand.

N-O-T.

H-U-R-T.

He squeezes Bucky’s hand to hopefully drive his point home.

Bucky looks a bit less freaked out, but now he’s back to being puzzled. “Why you are sitting by the door? No, forget that. More importantly, why are you upset?”

Steve tries to get the residual tears off his cheek and rubs Bucky’s hand, trying to appear as upbeat as possible. He’s happy that at least Bucky’s talking to him and not automatically trying to get him into the bedroom to take his mind off things.

“Don’t—don’t worry about it, Buck,” he says. He still has those annoying hiccups he gets after crying too hard, but Bucky doesn’t know that.

I.

A-M.

F-I-N-E.

He hopes Bucky can’t tell his hand’s trembling.

He thinks he’s successfully wriggled out of the situation when Bucky pushes himself to his feet, but his hopes are dashed as soon as Bucky opens his mouth.

“Come on off the floor. We’re gonna go sit somewhere comfortable and you’re gonna tell me what’s going on.”

“Buck, it’s fi—.”

“And I ain’t giving you my hand to help you up, because I know you’re just gonna use it to keep telling me you’re fine and you ain’t fine.”

He heads to the couch and sits down. “Come on, Rogers. Get over here.”

Steve takes a deep breath.

He doesn’t want to have this conversation. It’ll only make Steve upset again and there’s nothing Bucky can do about it anyway. It’s not Bucky’s problem that Steve’s an idiot, nor is it his fault that he can’t handle more advanced finger spelling.

All those things are Steve’s problem.

He stares after Bucky, who’s making his way to the couch. He finds the couch easily and has a seat, folding up his cane and putting it on the coffee table.

Then he just sits there, waiting for Steve.

Steve knows that the stubborn jerk will sit there until tomorrow morning if Steve doesn’t go over there and talk to him, so Steve gets up and heads to the couch.

He drops down beside Bucky. Bucky holds out an expectant hand.

“Alright, tell me what’s wrong. And don’t tell me it’s nothing because nobody sits by the front door on the floor crying over nothing.”

Steve sighs and thinks over what to say.

Maybe he can give Bucky a half-truth which will fulfill his curiosity, but not make him feel guilty?

I.

L-I-T-T-L-E.

Frowny face.

“Why?”

Steve hesitates. Bucky’s face isn’t giving away what he’s thinking, but it’s clear his mind is racing.

When Steve stays quiet, Bucky presses his lips together, unhappy. “Okay, different question. Is this the first time you’ve been sitting by the door like that?”

Damn it. He doesn’t want to outright lie to Bucky again…but there’s no way he can tell him the truth without making him feel guilty and horrible.

“I—Jesus Buck, why can’t you just let this go?”

Again Steve takes so long trying to come up with a sufficient half-truth that Bucky gets his answer anyway.

Bucky’s face crumbles and his eyes fill with pain. He takes his outstretched hand back and rubs it over his face.

“Jesus, Stevie. Don’t do this. Please don’t do this. Shit!”

Steve frowns at him. “Do what? I ain’t doing nothing, Buck.” He reaches out and draws a question mark on the back of Bucky’s hand.

Bucky grabs Steve’s hand and holds it tightly against his chest.

“You—You lied to me. I asked you if you were gonna go on the bike before I did the dishes, and you said yes. You lied to me. And you know why that terrifies me? Because you did it so easily without any hesitation. You used to have such a hard time lying to me and you did it so easily, so I know you’ve been doing it lots.”

Steve has no idea what to say. He feels like shit.

Bucky clenches his jaw hard and his eyes are shiny with tears, but he’s not letting them fall.

“I’m sorry.”

That nearly startles Steve off the couch. Bucky’s sorry? Bucky’s sorry?

What?”

He tries to tug his hand free, but Bucky’s not letting it go, his thumb rubbing the leather bracelet on Steve’s wrist. Steve knows he could use his other hand to spell on the back of Bucky’s hand—but it’s an unspoken agreement that Steve shouldn’t cheat and use his second hand during times when Bucky wants him to stay quiet and listen.

“I’ve been able to tell what you’re thinking and what you’re feeling and what you’re gonna say before you say it our entire lives, and I just assumed that I’d be able to keep doing that. But I’m starting to realize that I have no idea. I don’t know what you’re doing or how you’re feeling or anything about you, unless you tell me exactly what’s going on. And the thing is—”

Bucky’s voice breaks slightly and he swallows a few times before continuing.

“The thing is, you haven’t been telling me how you’re doing and I haven’t been asking. I’ve been making assumptions, but I’m realizing that even when I’m wrong you don’t tell me when I’m wrong. I haven’t been a good friend or a good partner, and I’m so sorry for that.”

Steve gently tries to tug his hand free, and this time Bucky lets it go. Steve gently lays Bucky’s hand flat on his thigh.

Y-O-U.

B-U-S-Y.

Bucky snorts and blinks hard, but a few tears are rolling down his cheeks. “That’s not a good enough excuse. It can’t be. We’re supposed to be a team, that means we can never be too busy to ask how the other one is doing.”

Steve reaches up and gently wipes the tears off Bucky’s cheeks. Bucky catches his hand and kisses his palm. Then he brings their hands back to his thigh and stretches out his hand under Steve’s fingers, ready to listen.

“Please tell me why you were by the door. What’s making you sad? Tell me. Please.”

Steve sighs. “Even if I tell you, you can’t do anything about it, Buck. I ain’t gonna make you feel even more guilty because you can’t give me what—”

“Come on, Stevie. Tell me. Please.”

When Steve doesn’t start moving his fingers, Bucky changes tactics.

“Do you remember your neighbors when we were young? The Pickertons? Mr. Pickerton came home from the war missing his legs, remember?”

Steve blinks. He has no idea what this has to do with anything. But yes, he remembers the Pickertons.

“Yeah, Buck I do.”

He taps Bucky’s palm. Before he can ask why Bucky’s talking about his neighbors from 70 years ago, Bucky continues.

“He couldn’t work anymore and his wife seemed like she was completely on board with supporting him. She was always by his side and she was working and she was taking care of him, and it seemed like she was so supportive, and then one day she just up and left. You remember that?”

Yes, Steve does.

And the parallels immediately send a shiver down his spine. “I—Buck I’d never leave you! Jesus!”

He spells out:

I.

N-E-V-E-R.

L-E—

Bucky curls his fingers over Steve’s, stopping his words. “That’s what Mrs. Pickerton said, I’m sure. That’s what she told herself and Mr. Pickerton. She wasn’t a terrible person, she just got overwhelmed and she didn’t take care of herself and she didn’t tell Mr. Pickerton that she needed more help and support. She ran out of steam and by the end there was nothing left.”

Steve’s fingers are frozen in Bucky’s palm.

“You gotta talk to me. I don’t just mean right now. We do gotta get to the bottom of this situation, but after this you can’t be sitting by the door. The door can’t help you. You gotta let me be your door, or find somebody else you can talk to. Otherwise you’re gonna walk out that door one day.”

Steve’s first instinct is to try to deflect Bucky’s concern and make him think he’s fine—but the instinct stutters to a stop before his fingers start telling those lies.

He does need help. Specifically, he needs Bucky’s help.

He does want Bucky asking him how he’s doing more often. He does want Bucky being able to deal with the situation if Steve’s answer isn’t ‘fine’ or a smiley face.

He needs Bucky to support him and take care of him when he doesn’t have the energy to do it himself.

To his complete surprise, he ends up bursting into tears.

Bucky must feel the sudden jerk of emotion when Steve’s hand shifts in his grip. He frowns and immediately runs his hand up Steve’s arm to his face.

When he feels that Steve’s crying, he twists to the side. “Come here.” He gently tugs Steve closer, his movements hesitant, not wanting to bash their heads together when Steve’s not fully paying attention.

Steve helps, burying his face into Bucky’s neck and wrapping his arms around him. Bucky wraps his arm tightly around him and rubs the back of his neck. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart. I haven’t been paying close enough attention to you and that’s not acceptable. That’s not how we do things. That’s never been how we do things.”

Bucky holds him and gently rubs his back and neck while Steve sobs into his shirt.

He realizes it’s been way too long since he’s let Bucky comfort him like this and he’s missed it so badly.

Bucky kisses Steve’s neck and tightens his grip around him. “I’m gonna take better care of you, I promise.”

It seems to take Steve forever to calm down, but Bucky keeps holding him, not rushing him.

When Bucky can feel that Steve’s stopped crying, he kisses the side of his head. “I gotta get you a tissue. Hang on a second.”

He untangles himself from Steve and goes to the table and brings the tissue box back with him. He gently wipes Steve’s face and helps him blow his nose.

“Okay, you ready to talk or you wanna sit for a while longer?”

Steve’s ready to talk. He knows exactly what he needs to say.

He keeps one arm around Bucky’s waist but pulls back enough that he can puts Bucky’s hand on his thigh and spell on it.

I.

M-I-S-S.

Y-O-U.

Bucky’s face falls as soon as he understands the words. “Oh, Stevie. Honey, I know. I haven’t been doing a good job being here, have I? I’m sorry I’ve been so wrapped up with myself. I didn’t realize how limited my view of everything is. I’m gonna take much better care of you from now on, I promise. But you gotta help. You gotta tell me what you want to change. I don’t wanna smother you and I don’t wanna get in your way. So you gotta tell me.”

Steve hesitates. He knows Bucky can’t help the fact that he finds the finger spelling difficult.

But maybe…maybe they can do it just a bit more often?

I.

M-I-S-S.

T-A-L-K-I-N-G.

T-O.

Y-O-U.

Bucky freezes. “You—you miss talking to me?”

Bucky sounds weird when he says it. Steve pulls back a bit and frowns at him.

Maybe Bucky misunderstood? But he’d repeated exactly what Steve had said…

Bucky’s frowning. “I miss talking to you too! But I know you’re busy, so you don’t have time for long chit chats. We’ll try to work around—”

“What? I don’t have time? What the hell does that mean?”

Steve rubs Bucky’s hand.

I.

A-L-W-A-Y-S.

H-A-V-E.

T-I-M-E.

Bucky’s frown deepens. “Okay. Then why haven’t you been talking to me more? You’re always saying things so quick and short.”

Steve gapes at him. “I—I’m doing it for you, you jerk!”

F-O-R.

Y-O-U.

Y-O-U.

Y-O-U.

Now Bucky looks confused. “Me? But why? I want you to talk to me more. Ever since we started doing the easier alphabet I’ve been wanting you to talk to me more. Why do you think I don’t want you to talk to me?”

T-O-O.

H-A-R-D.

“What’s too hard?”

M-O-R-S-E.

C-O-D-E.

T-O-U-G-H.

Steve watches Bucky’s face, waiting for him to put the pieces together.

Bucky’s frowning. “I know I found the Morse code tough, but I think that was because I stressed myself out about it. This spelling is much easier. And with practice, I know I can get real good at it. I want us to talk more, and not just little words and phrases. I want you to actually talk to me. I know I can do it. Is that what you want?”

Steve lets out a choked laugh. “Yes, Buck. Yes, yes, yes.”

He taps on Bucky’s hand multiple times.

W-A-N-T.

M-Y.

B-E-S-T.

F-R-I-E-N-D.

B-A-C-K.

Bucky’s frown changes into a sad smile. “You’ll get him back, don’t you worry. Starting right this second, I promise.”

A glow of happiness lights up in Steve’s belly and he forgets to alert Bucky and just tackles him a hug, wrapping his arms tightly around him.

Bucky lets out a little squawk of surprise, but he wraps his arm just as tightly around Steve.

“We ain’t gonna have a Pickerton situation, Rogers. We just ain’t.” He kisses Steve’s cheek. “But that means no more lying, okay? Promise?”

Steve nods and uses both hands to tap on Bucky’s back.

*             *             *

The first thing Bucky insists Steve do is spend a few minutes on the exercise bike. While Steve hasn’t actually confirmed whether or not he’s been using it, Bucky seems to know he hasn’t.

“Not exercising has probably made you feel even worse, Rogers. If you ain’t gonna take care of yourself properly, then you gotta do what I say. Whenever you were sick that was the rule and now is no different.”

Steve isn’t really enthusiastic about doing the exercise but he goes. It’s really embarrassing that his legs are aching after just a few minutes. He really hasn’t been doing much since Bucky’s come home.

Bucky’s followed him into the bedroom and sits on the bed, one hand on his watch, keeping track of how much time Steve spends on the bike. Once he’s satisfied, he holds out his hand towards Steve.

“Alright. Now you pick where you want us to sit and you’re gonna tell me whatever comes into your head.”

They sit on the couch. Bucky is on Steve’s left—for multiple reason. History, of course, but also because this way Steve can wrap his left arm around Bucky’s shoulder and easily spell on Bucky’s palm with his right hand.

Steve’s hand is shaking, he’s so excited.

He doesn’t even know what to say first.

Or how to say it.

He doesn’t want to overwhelm Bucky with too many words at once.

He thinks it over, then decides to ask Bucky.

H-O-W.

M-A-N-Y.

W-O-R-D-S.

Question mark.

Bucky smiles. “As many as you want. Just give me a little longer pause after four or five words so I can get that part straight in my head before we keep going.”

Steve presses his lips together, not knowing which of the million thoughts in his head he wants to tell Bucky first.

Finally his eyes land on the television.

That’s a good place to start.

W-E.

A-R-E.

F-O-L—

“Do more abbreviations, Rogers. No ‘I am’ do ‘I’m’. Do ‘we’re’. I know we don’t do the apostrophe but I don’t think I’ll need it. I can tell from context what words you’re saying.”

Okay.

W-E-R-E.

F-O-L-L-O-W-I-N-G.

N-Y.

M-E-T-S.

“The Mets? You traitor. My pa and Mrs. R would have heart attacks. Why aren’t we following the Dodgers?”

M-O-V-E-D.

T-O.

L-A.

“Seriously? When?”

Number sign.

He squeezes Bucky’s thumb. 1.

He squeezes all five of his fingers, one by one, then starts back from the thumb and does four fingers. 9.

Bucky closes his fingers, stopping his words.

“That’s too slow. I got a better idea for numbers. Give me your hand.”

He lays Steve’s hand flat on his thigh. He does the number sign. Then he starts tapping the tip of each of Steve’s fingers, starting from his thumb and counting through to 5.

Steve opens his mouth to interrupt him. Tapping the tips of fingers is the same as the vowels of their alphabet.

Bucky beats him to it. “You know it ain’t the vowels because of the number sign. Always start a number with the number sign and end it with the number sign so you know it’s done. For 6 through 0, do two taps on the finger tips.”

He starts from the beginning.

Number sign.

He taps through each finger from the thumb. “1…2…3…4…5.”

He goes back to the thumb and does two taps on each finger. “6…7…8…9…0.”

Bucky lifts up Steve’s hand and replaces it with his own hand. “Okay, do it again. Try the new way and see how that works. What year did our precious Dodgers leave Brooklyn?”

Number sign.

He taps on Bucky’s thumb once.

“1.”

He taps on his ring finger twice. “Uh that’s 9.”

He taps his pinky once. “5.”

His index finger gets two taps. “2. No, shit, sorry! 7.”

He does another number sign to signal the end of the number.

“1…9…5…7. 1957. 1957. Is that right?”

Steve grins. “Yeah, that’s right, Buck. That’s so much faster!” He happily taps on Bucky’s hand.

Bucky’s grin mirrors his without him realizing it. “That’s much better for the numbers. You think that’s okay?”

“Oh, yeah.” He taps Bucky’s hand multiple times.

“Alright, back to business. 1957 you said? Jesus, they’ve been gone for a while.”

“Yeah, but wait til you hear what they did before they left!”

F-I-R-S-T.

B-L-A-C-K.

P-L-A-Y-E-R.

Bucky smiles but gently grabs Steve’s fingers and gives them a little shake. “Give me whole sentences. I can do it. You can shorten words, but give me whole sentences. Makes it seem more like you’re talking to me.”

Steve thinks it over for a minute.

D-O-D-G-E-R-S.

H-A-D.

F-I-R-S-T.

B-L-A-C-K.

P-L-A-Y-E-R.

“Really? That’s great! I’m not surprised. Our boys were always a good bunch.”

Tap, tap.

“Tell me more about it.”

Number sign.

Single tap thumb. 1.

Two taps ring finger. 9.

Single tap ring finger. 4.

“What? That’s three taps. That’s wrong.”

“Sorry, sorry. I didn’t put enough of a pause.” Steve is about to just erase his words and start over, but he decides if he’s saying sorry verbally, he might as well say it so Bucky can hear him. That’s the whole point of this isn’t it?

S-O-R-R-Y.

Bucky smiles. “You better be. Confusing the poor deafblind man here. Okay, start again. Number sign.”

For good measure, Steve rubs his palm over Bucky’s entire palm a few times, making sure he understands that he’s starting again.

Number sign.

Single tap thumb. 1.

Double tap ring finger. 9.

Pause.

Single tap ring finger. 4.

Double tap index finger. 7.

Number sign.

“1947? What happened in 1947?”

Steve gapes at him. “Seriously? We just finished talking about it.”

But Bucky’s giving him a half smile. “Talk to me. Me guessing what you’re saying ain’t you talking to me. Tell me, Stevie. I’ve got all day.”

Another happy glow lights up in his belly and he presses his face against Bucky’s cheek. He lifts his face so Bucky can feel his happy smile against his cheek.

Bucky grins. “So, what happened in 1947? Use short words, but lots of them. Come on.”

D-O-D-G-E-R-S.

H-A-D.

F-I-R-S-T.

B-L-A-C-K.

P-L-A-Y-E-R.

Steve pauses a bit, not wanting to overwhelm Bucky.

H-I-S.

N-A-M-E.

W-A-S.

J-A-C-K-I-E.

R-O-B-I-N-S-O-N.

Another pause.

H-E.

W-A-S.

R-O-O-K-I-E.

O-F.

T-H-E.

Y-R.

“Really? Good for him! Are there other black players in the league today?”

Tap.

L-O-T-S.

“That’s great! Now tell me why you picked the Mets.”

Steve laughs. He honestly didn’t put much thought into it.

I.

W-A-N-T-E-D.

N-Y.

T-E-A-M.

He pauses.

B-U-T.

W-O-N-T.

S-U-P-P-O-R-T.

Y-A-N-K-E-E-S.

Bucky lets out a laugh. “Obviously! Good choice. So who’s your favourite player on the Mets? Tell me his stats.”

*             *             *

Steve would have loved to spend the entire night talking, but after about an hour, Bucky was losing track of words and mixing up similar signals, and honestly Steve’s fingers started cramping up.

“We both need more practice,” Bucky says when Steve tells him.

T-O-M-O-R-R-O-W.

Bucky smiles and pecks a kiss to Steve’s nose. “You bet. Rest up those fingers, or better yet tell the left hand that starting tomorrow it’ll be expected to put in a full day’s work too.”

Steve can’t keep the smile off his face.

It may seem like such a small thing from the outside, but the conversation they just had meant the world to him.

It truly felt like he was talking to Bucky.

Chapter Text

They spend a few days at home and while it may look like they’re not doing very much, they work very hard at improving their communication. Now that they’re talking more, Steve realizes pretty quickly that abbreviating words and phrases is essential.

He asks Natasha for assistance and she teaches him some ‘text-speak’ which he’s never understood (or appreciated the need for) before now but it speeds up his finger spelling considerably.

Y-O-U and A-R-E becomes U-R.

T-O-M-O-R-R-O-W becomes T-M-R.

Common endings to words, such as ‘I-N-G’ and ‘E-D’ get their own special symbols, which saves even more time.

Very common words like ‘T-H-E’ get their own abbreviations.

He notices that Bucky keeps a smile on his face and remains encouraging and eager to keep chatting as long as Steve wants, whenever Steve wants, but the huge shift in mental focus that he’s going through is tiring for him.

When Bucky’s barely managing to keep track of what topic Steve’s talking about one evening, Steve gives Bucky’s hand a hard shake.

U.

G-O-T-T-A.

T-E-L-L.

M-E.

W-H-E-N.

U-R.

T-I-R-E-D.

Buck had given him a (very tired) smile and opened his mouth to deny it, but Steve had pressed a finger against his lips.

D-O-N-T.

B.

M-R-S.

P-I-C-K.

Bucky doesn’t need her last name fully spelled out. He gets it right away and he nods. “You’re right. We both gotta be honest. It’ll take me a while to keep up with you, but we’ll work on it every day, I promise. We ain’t letting this thing go backwards.”

*             *             *

Bucky’s annoyed with himself for a few days. He’s careful not to let Steve know. Steve’s not feeling good, he hasn’t been feeling good, and Bucky isn’t going to make it worse by making Steve worry about him.

He’s annoyed because he should have realized how limited his view of the world around him now is.

More importantly, he’s annoyed because he had promised Mrs. Rogers that he would always take care of Steve the best he could—and when Bucky’s not doing it, he’s letting her and Steve down.

Damn it.

Steve’s ma had been a very practical woman whose feet were always planted firmly on the ground. Of course she’d understand that Bucky’s going through a huge lifestyle change right now—but she’d always said that just because somebody wasn’t paying attention to something, it doesn’t mean it didn’t exist.

When Steve got really sick and Bucky was old enough to understand the idea of life and death, she’d be fully upfront with him and tell him whether the situation was bad enough that Bucky should stay at Steve’s side if he wanted to be there in his last moments, or if Bucky could go to school or work or his own family and look in on Steve from time to time.

When Bucky made it clear that supporting Steve and her and was just as important to him as supporting his own parents and sisters, she was always honest with him about their financial situation. If money was very tight, or a particular bill was long overdue, she’d tell both of the boys and they’d come up with a plan together. She knew she couldn’t do it on her own and both Steve and Bucky would know something was wrong and would be sick with worry anyway.

It wasn’t until Bucky’s pa started getting annoyed with the way Bucky would spread out his pay that Bucky realized not everyone in his large family was in agreement with how things were. But he informed his pa that if he was old enough to work and make money, then he was old enough to decide which people he wanted to spend it on. That’s when his pa yelled at him that ‘those damn Irish don’t deserve a penny of our hard-earned money’, and Bucky finally started to understand what his pa’s problem with the Rogers’ really was.

That’s when Bucky’s relationship with his pa really soured. He tried arguing with him at first, but there was no winning with him: If his pa was having trouble finding work, he blamed Mrs. R for taking work away from the ‘real Americans’, or if Mrs. R was having trouble paying some of Steve’s hospital bills, he blamed her for being a ‘lazy immigrant’ and ‘not contributing to society’. Bucky tried pointing out more than once that those ideas completely contradicted each other, but his pa smacked him for being wisecracker, so Bucky hadn’t brought it up again. He found it easier on both of them to just stay out of each other’s way.

Looking back on it, Bucky’s sure that part of the problem was his pa’s inability to accept the fact that he couldn’t support his family by himself, and the Rogers being Irish was an easy target to direct his anger at. Mrs. R never made it easy—her accent would always magically grow thicker when she was around his pa—but everyone else in the Barnes and Rogers households did their best to keep those two apart, and that maintained peace relatively well.

The older he got, the more he and his pa drifted apart, but it hadn’t really bothered him. After all, he had plenty of other family.

He loved his ma and his sisters dearly, but his ma never really knew how to relate to a son. She’d grown up in a family of girls and she was raising a bunch of her own. And she really didn’t know how to relate to a son whose circumstances forced him to go from being a child to a grownup by the age of twelve.

So while Bucky loved his ma and took care of her the best he could, more often than not, when he had a problem on his hands or needed somebody to talk to, his first stop would be Steve and Mrs. R.

Things were always hard, but they had all settled into living in their little corner of Brooklyn Heights. What they didn’t have in money or material goods, they made up for with lots of love, laughter and hugs. There was always something to worry about—Steve getting sick again, somebody losing their job, overdue bills, the landlord trying to kick them out, Steve being behind in school—but even those things became part of routine which they dealt with the best they could.

But having Mrs. R get sick was not part of the routine.

He remembers he was eating dinner with Steve and Mrs. R at their rickety little table when he noticed that she was coughing a lot. She waved it off and said something about bad air.

But after another coughing fit, she pulled her hand away from her mouth and they all saw the specks of blood on her hand.

Bucky remembers feeling like he got punched in the stomach. He knew the signs. He and Steve had been taught the signs to look out for since Mrs. R had started working at the ward. Bucky sat there, struggling to remember how to breathe, while Steve got so pale that Bucky thought he’d pass out.

Their first concern had been for Steve. The automatic response when dealing with somebody who was sick in Steve’s vicinity was to put as much distance between the sickness and Steve as quickly as possible.

Mrs. R got up, grabbed her coat and her hat and wrapped a towel around her mouth. “Steve, open up the windows right now. Bucky, get water and start heating it. Everything I touched in the last few days has to be scrubbed with the good soap. Understood?” He could barely hear her through the towel, but there was no mistaking the firm orders in that Irish accent.

They both nodded, numb with shock.

“I’m going to the hospital. I’ll send word when I know what’s going on. Bucky—scrub everything and then boil my clothes and everything from the bed. Steve, wrap yourself in your blanket and go stand by the open window and don’t move until Bucky has finished cleaning everything.”

She paused by the open door and looked back at them both. “I love you both. You remember that, you hear? I love you both very much and I need you to be the smart boys I know you are.”

Not wasting any more time, she swept out the door.

None of them had known at the time that Sarah Rogers would never come home again.

While Bucky’s mind was numb, his hands carried out the familiar scrubbing routine. Steve wrapped himself up and stuck his head out the window. Neither of them spoke for the next few hours.

They got word from a messenger boy from the hospital a few hours later, confirming what they already suspected.

Mrs. R had tuberculosis.

She sent word a few days later that she had admitted herself into a sanatorium. To their surprise, it wasn’t the one she had worked at. She later explained to Bucky that it was common practice amongst TB staff to not check themselves into the ward they worked at if they got sick. They didn’t want to demoralize their colleagues by dying right in front of them from the very illness which they dealt with every single day.

The doctor insisted her prognosis was good and she would probably come home in a few months.

They all clung to that hope and as the months went by, Bucky and Steve worked extra hard to make enough money to cover the rent at the Rogers’ apartment.

Bucky was allowed to visit Mrs. R once a week. The sanatorium allowed more visits, but Mrs. R set strict limitations. Visiting her took up nearly an entire day, in between the travelling to and from the ward, bundling himself up in the protective clothing she insisted on, and scrubbing himself head to toe once he left the ward.

She refused to allow Steve to see her.

Steve yelled and cried for days, but Bucky promised Mrs. R that he would do whatever it took to keep Steve away. The last thing she wanted was for Steve to also get sick.

There was very little change in her condition until Bucky went to see her in her seventh month at the sanatorium. According to Mrs. R’s rules, he was only allowed to visit her during the patients’ outdoor hours so he’d be sitting in the fresh air while they talked.

She was always lying on her bed amongst the dozens of others ones under the brilliant blue sky and Bucky would sit in a visitor chair, a few steps away from the foot of her bed. He wore the protective gown over his clothes and the mask which Mrs. R insisted he get from the nurses. She put on her own mask and wouldn’t allow Bucky to come any closer.

On this particular day, Bucky noticed right way that she was paler and more frail than she had been previously. Usually she’d make the effort to sit up and prop up her pillow behind her on her own when Bucky arrived—but on this day it had already been set up for her.

Bucky realized with a sinking feeling it might be because she didn’t have the strength to do it herself anymore.

The first few minutes of their visit followed the usual routine.

“You’re both getting enough to eat?”

“Yes, Mrs. R. We’re doin’ fine.”

“Rent’s been paid?”

“Last Monday, yes. I picked up a few double shifts at the docks and Steve’s picked up shifts on Mondays and Thursdays at the bookstore.”

She smiled. “Mrs. Hartley’s a good woman.”

Bucky smiled too. They all knew the Hartley’s store wasn’t really doing well enough for them to be paying to take on extra employees, but when Steve explained their situation, they agreed to give him a few shifts a week. Steve had started working evenings at the picture house, but the shifts weren’t very long and didn’t pay very well. The extra shifts at the bookstore helped make the rest of the rent money they needed.

“He brought home ‘Treasure Island’ the other day. We’ve been reading that. That punk son of yours keeps insisting that he ain’t cheating and reading ahead when I’ve got my double shifts, but I know he’s lying. But at least he’s making a decent effort pretending that he ain’t read it already when I get home.”

She laughed weakly.

Then he’d ask her how she was doing.

Her smile got more strained. “The doctor did a new set of x-rays on Wednesday.”

Bucky nodded, a small bit of hope blooming in his chest.

But her eyes hadn’t looked hopeful at all.

“It’s not good, honey. It’s not good at all. It’s gotten worse. Even if the x-ray hadn’t shown it, I feel worse. I—” Her words dissolved into a coughing fit and she quickly pulled her blanket up to cover her face. When the harsh, wet coughing was done, she emerged from the blanket. She was pale and trembling and Bucky’s hands automatically reached for her to offer comfort and get her blanket settled—but she pulled away and frowned at him. “Bucky! No touching! Remember?”

Bucky yanked his hands back. “Sorry, sorry! I forgot.”

“It’s alright, honey. As long as one of us remembers, that’s all that matters. Let me catch my breath for a minute.”

He nodded, feeling numb.

While he was waiting for her to catch her breath, the patient in the next bed dropped the book she was reading and erupted into a harsh coughing fit. Her hands scrambled to hold onto the book she’d been reading, so there was nothing covering her mouth.

“James Buchanan Barnes! Cover your face!”

Bucky quickly hid his face behind his arms, hopefully shielding himself from the death being spewed from the coughing patient. He remembers being incredibly grateful for the mask which Mrs. R always forced him to put on.

Once she was satisfied that Bucky was protecting himself, she turned on her fellow patient.

“You! Cover your mouth, you twit! Ain’t it bad enough that we’re all sick? Idiot.”

The outburst from Mrs. R hadn’t surprised Bucky. He’d spent his entire life dealing with the Rogers’ temper so this hadn’t been anything new.

The coughing woman waved a dismissive hand in Mrs. R’s direction, but she did cover her mouth with her hands until she was finished coughing.

When Mrs. R was satisfied that her words were being taken seriously, she focused back on Bucky. “Bucky, honey, we have to keep talking about what the doctors said. I don’t want you spending too much time around here, even if we’re outside.”

Bucky nodded. “Okay.”

“I have about a month left.”

Bucky clenched his jaw. “Don’t—don’t—that’s a bunch of hooey, Mrs. R. You’re gonna get better. You just need to stick to doing what the doctors say. You know the routine. Lots of rest, lots of fresh air—”

She shook her head, her eyes sad. Despite how tired she was, he could tell she was smiling behind her mask, trying to make him feel better. “I know these things, Bucky. I’ve seen it for ten years. My train’s about to pull into the station. I’m getting to the end of the line.”

“I—” Bucky struggled to form words around the lump in his throat.

“It’s alright. You’re gonna be fine, and Steve’s gonna be fine. I’m at the end of my line, but you boys still have a ways to go, you hear?”

He managed to nod but his mouth hadn’t been capable of forming words.

“Now, I have two things to ask of you, Bucky. Do you need some time or can I ask them?”

The importance of the situation settled into him and he managed to sit up straight and focus. “I’m ready.”

“First, I want to figure out a safe way for Steve to visit me. It’ll only be once, and it’ll be the last time, but I won’t go without saying goodbye to both of my boys. It’ll be too hard on him otherwise. We’ll have to plan it out, step by step, and you can’t come with him since you’ll need to be clean and ready to help get Steve scrubbed properly.”

Bucky nodded. They would figure it out, he knew they would. Despite the dangers, not letting Steve see his ma one last time wasn’t an option.

“Second, I want you to promise me something.”

He opened his mouth but it had taken him a few tries to form the right answer. “Anything.”

“You boys have a long train ride ahead of you, I know you do. And the best way to make sure you get to the end of the line is for you to take care of each other. You can argue and get into snits with each other, that’s fine, but you have to listen to each other and take care of each other.”

Bucky nodded.

“Promise me, Bucky. You’ll take care of each other until the end of the line, no matter what.”

He nodded, struggling not to cry. “I promise, Mrs. R. As long as I’m breathing, I’ll take care of Steve.”

*             *             *

He sends a mental apology Mrs. R’s way. He’d been so damn wrapped up in himself that he’d forgotten to take care of Steve properly.

He’d been sitting in his own train car, moving forward at a nice pace—and completely ignorant of the fact that Steve’s train car got left behind a few stations ago.

That stops right now.

They’re back together on the same train and they’re moving forward—together.

I’m back on track, Mrs. R.

I promise.

Together til the end of the line.

*             *             *

Steve glances at the timer on the bike and reaches over to crank up the resistance level for one more round. He focuses on his breathing and forces his sore legs to push through a solid 30 seconds of hard pedalling. He watches the timer, praying for the numbers to go down faster.

They don’t listen, but once he reaches the end of his 30 seconds, he decreases the resistance and lets his aching legs slow down while he gets his breathing back under control.

His mood has shifted dramatically over the past few days. He joins Bucky for his morning stretches and uses the bike every evening. He knows the exercise is definitely helping with his mood.

But the biggest boost has come from spending most of the day, every day talking to Bucky. There are certain times of the day when talking isn’t practical—Buck needs his hand to eat and to move the cane when he’s outside, but when he’s got a free hand, they’re busy chatting.

When they’re playing games in the evening or making things with the building blocks it takes them three times longer than before because they’re so busy talking.

And they’re both always smiling like loons during it.

It’s clear that Bucky’s missed Steve as much as Steve has missed him.

Steve can tell Bucky still feels guilty about not having known how badly Steve was doing, but no amount of reassurances will make him go easier on himself. Steve knows he’d be just as stubborn about it if it were the other way around so he doesn’t bother arguing with him too much.

Bucky has stepped back into the role of being Steve’s caregiver and being the captain steering Steve’s ship, and Steve is very happy to let him do it.

It’s a role Steve fully trusts him with.

When he’s done cooling down on the bike, he slowly gets up and stretches, then heads to the bathroom for a shower. It fits their routine better to have Bucky exercise and shower in the morning and Steve do it in the evening. In the evening Steve knows Bucky’s no longer hungry, the dishes are done, the knives are put away and there’s less chance that the intercom will buzz. He can take his time exercising and showering, and then join Bucky until it’s time to go to bed.

He can’t believe how much more relaxed he is now that he can take his time showering.

It’s such a small thing, but it helps a lot.

He finishes showering and puts on a comfortable sweater and sweatpants. He grabs his sketchpad and pencils off the games shelf and goes to sit on the couch next to Bucky.

He hasn’t done any sketching for himself since Bucky’s come home. He’s always happy to draw outlines for Bucky, but he hasn’t been in the mood to work on his own projects for a while.

But at Bucky’s urging, Steve spent more time looking around and seeing if anything inspires him, and lately the urge to put things onto paper has started coming back.

When he’s comfortable on the couch, the first thing he does is turn to Bucky, who’s playing with the new sliding puzzle game Steve’s bought him. It’s a wooden box filled with wooden tiles which can be slid around in the box. There are three sizes of tiles, each one with a little raised dot glued to it to make it easier to push it around. The object of the game is to slide the largest tile to a specific side of the box and out through a wooden slit.

Steve watches him for a bit. Bucky’s got an intense frown of concentration on his face as his fingers drift over the tiles, feeling their shape and creating a mental map of what the box surface looks like. He doesn’t just shove the tiles around—he carefully makes a plan and only starts shifting tiles when he’s got a sequence of steps prepared.

You can take the sniper out of the army, but you can’t take the army out of the sniper.

It actually takes Steve quite a while to solve the thing—and he has the benefit of using his eyes while he’s doing it—so he’s always amazed (but never surprised) when Bucky can solve it even faster than he can.

Before, Steve would try to stick to his side of the couch and not bother Bucky, but they’ve always been  much happier when they’re bothering each other, so they’ve gone back to that.

He reaches out and gently touches Bucky’s thigh. He sees Bucky smile and lift his fingers from the box. He touches Steve’s wrist and feels the leather bracelet.

“Hi, Stevie! Give me a kiss.”

Steve leans over and kisses him, smiling when Bucky run his hand through Steve’s wet hair. Bucky pulls back a bit and nuzzles Steve’s neck. “You smell real good. You used the coconut soap again?”

Steve’s hand is on Bucky’s thigh, so he taps it.

There’s a happy glow in his chest. He loves that Bucky’s deliberately noticing things about him again. Bucky deliberately spends time touching and smelling Steve all over, commenting about the types of clothes Steve’s wearing and what soap he decided to use. If he realizes Steve’s eating or drinking a snack, he wants to know what it is and why Steve likes it and when he discovered it and on and on and on.

Bucky Barnes is back in his favourite place in the world—smack dab in the middle of Steve Rogers’ business.

It’s only fair, since Steve has always liked spending more time involved in Bucky’s business than his own too.

Bucky loudly sniffs Steve’s neck, then smacks a loud kiss to it and leans back, a satisfied smile on his face. He runs his hand along Steve’s thighs and touches the sketchpad. Steve watches his fingers trace the coiled edge of the sketchpad and the pack of pencils.

Bucky’s smile grows bigger. “You gonna sketch something?”

“Yup,” Steve says, tapping Bucky’s exploring hand.

“Something for me or something for you?”

Steve grins and tells him he’s going to do something for himself. Bucky’s grin widens and he gropes for the nearest part of Steve—which happens to be his thigh—and happily jostles it. “That’s great! I’m so proud of you, sweetheart. Before you start working on your masterpiece, you wanna tell me about the biking?”

Steve taps his hand.

“Alright, tell me how it went.”

Bucky rarely asks him yes or no questions anymore and sneakily phrases his questions in ways that don’t let Steve get away with one-word answers anymore.

Steve tells him it went well and he did 30 seconds on level 5.

“Really? Level five?”

“Uh huh.” He taps Bucky’s hand.

“For 30 seconds? That’s great, Rogers! Much better than last week. What was yesterday? 5 seconds on level 2?”

Steve lets out a laugh and smacks Bucky in the shoulder. “You jerk.” He spells that on Bucky’s hand.

Bucky’s laughing too. “It wasn’t 5 seconds, or it wasn’t level 2? I don’t remember. Refresh my terrible memory.”

Steve smacks Bucky’s shoulder again. He tells him he did twenty seconds on level 4.

“Oh, that’s right! Now I remember. Twenty seconds on level 4. My bad.”

Steve’s still laughing. “You’re a jerk, Barnes. That’s the problem.” He spells it as he says it.

Bucky’s still chuckling at him. “Quit being so nasty to me, Rogers. Jesus Christ. Work on your sketching and leave me to my puzzle solving, okay?”

Steve laughs and kisses Bucky’s cheek. He gets comfortable on the couch and opens up his sketchbook. He turns on the television and finds the show he’d recorded the other day. It’s a cooking show, but it hadn’t caught Steve’s attention due to the subject matter, but rather because of how beautiful the host looks with the sunshine streaming in through the window behind her. He presses play, then immediately pauses it, freezing the scene he wants on the screen.

Putting the remote down, he pulls the right pencil out of the package and gets the sketchpad oriented on his lap. He spends a few minutes re-familiarizing himself with his reference points, then he continues sketching. He’s got the basic outline done, now he’s working on her face.

Steve sketches for a while. He pauses from time to time, needing to look away from his sketch and the television screen in order to see the small details better when he looks back. He uses the small breaks to check on Bucky’s progress on the puzzle box.

The large tile has been moved to the top right corner, which actually puts it farther away from the slit on the bottom, but Steve knows it’s all part of a carefully thought out plan in Bucky’s head. Then Bucky pauses, thinking.

For a while, there’s no other sound in the apartment than Steve’s pencil on his sketch pad. Bucky’s fingers are slowly drifting over the tiles, but he’s not moving them.

Although Bucky’s fingers may not be moving a lot, Steve knows his brain is churning at break-neck speed, formulating and discarding one plan after another.

Steve has time to finish most of the woman’s face on his sketch before Bucky suddenly says “Okay,” and sits up straight.

Steve smiles, not taking his eyes off his sketch. He knows what that means.

The sniper has a fully formed plan in his head and is ready to execute it.

One second his fingers are slowly drifting over the tiles, then his fingers start flying over the box, sliding tiles this way and that, barely pausing in between moves.

After less than a minute of moving tiles, Steve hears Bucky let out a happy sigh, and when Steve looks over, he sees Bucky gently sliding the largest tile out through the slit in the box.

That means it’s time for Steve to put down his sketch and properly congratulate Bucky for a job well done.

Chapter Text

Now that Bucky’s focusing a lot more on Steve during the day, he realizes that they’ve developed some very unsafe and unfair habits.

When he’d found Steve sitting by the front door and Steve hadn’t responded to him right away, Bucky’s heart had nearly stopped. It turned out that Steve was fine—he just forgot to communicate in a way that Bucky could understand—but there were several heart stopping seconds where Bucky didn’t know that Steve was fine. Steve could have been seriously injured—he could have been slumped against the front door for hours without Bucky knowing anything was wrong.

Steve could have been slumped there, dead, a few feet away from Bucky and he wouldn’t have known.

He’d put aside his fear during his conversation with Steve, but that situation continues haunting him.

Whenever Bucky hurts himself, Steve knows right away. He can either see Bucky having problems, or if he’s in another room, he can hear if Bucky calls out, or if he knocks something over.

But Bucky can’t see or hear if something happens to Steve.

And that thought is terrifying.

If Steve slips in the shower and breaks his leg and can’t get out, he could be lying there for an hour before Bucky would get suspicious and go looking for him.

That’s not right.

That’s not right at all.

The fact that Steve can’t communicate with Bucky except if he’s directly touching him isn’t safe for Steve.

It also isn’t fair for Steve.

Whenever Bucky needs to talk to Steve, Bucky either calls for Steve to come to him, or he goes to find Steve.

Whenever Steve needs to talk to Bucky, Steve always comes to Bucky.

Always.

It’s a habit born out of necessity—Steve can call Bucky’s name from across the room as much as he wants, but Bucky won’t know.

Bucky doesn’t like that the burden on communicating is always on Steve’s shoulders. Steve already has to do so much for him during the day.

From a safety perspective, and a fairness perspective, this is something Bucky has to fix.

So he spends a few days thinking over how Steve could alert him from across the room.

The answer comes to him when he’s doing his morning stretches in the bedroom and he feels the motion sensor on his arm vibrate.

Steve’s opened the balcony door to let in fresh air.

Wait a second!

Bucky’s nowhere near the balcony door, yet he was alerted to it opening, thanks to the motion detector.

So during breakfast, Bucky asks Steve if they have extra motion sensor things.

Steve doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

“The things that you attached to the windows and the doors so the receiver on my arm vibrates. You had to put something on the windows and doors, right? Do you have another one?”

Steve hands him one of the things after Bucky’s done the dishes.

He’s surprised to discover that the thing is relatively small. It’s a rectangular shape and it’s made out of hard plastic.

“Steve, can you turn it on for me and connect it to my motion sensor?”

Bucky’s glad that Steve isn’t asking him a bunch of questions. He wants to see if his idea will work before he brings Steve in on it.

Steve takes the plastic sensor out of his hands and nothing happens for a while.

Then Bucky feels an unfamiliar vibration pattern coming from the detector on his arm.

“Was that the sensor?” He holds out his hand and Steve hands him the sensor. Bucky carefully turns it in his hand and he discovers a little nob at the top which can be pressed—which triggers the vibration on his arm.

Excellent.

“Okay, Rogers. Are you ready for this? I think I have a whacky idea.”

*             *             *

Bucky’s sitting at the table, working on an art project. As per Bucky’s request, Steve’s been making some more difficult templates for him. The newest kind don’t use the sticky strings to act as guides. Instead, Steve makes the sketch using a pencil, with the thick sketch paper on a foam pad. The lines he draws become indents, which Bucky can feel. He can choose to use the side of paper with the indents, or the side of the paper with raised lines. If he’s feeling really creative, he can apply textures and colors to both sides of the same paper.

This new method allows Steve to add more details to the sketch and it requires more concentration for Bucky to determine what part of the sketch he’s touching.

Bucky had asked Steve to drawn something from the old hometown, so he’s currently working on a picture of Brooklyn Bridge over the river.

He’s been working on this particular sketch for a few weeks. Steve’s put a lot of details into the bridge and the cityscape over the river and Bucky’s taking the time to add different textures and colors to different parts. Just because he probably won’t ever be back in Brooklyn doesn’t mean he can’t pay homage to his old hometown with his art projects. Besides, the city where they’re currently living—and Bucky doesn’t know where that is, but he doesn’t actually care—is fine.

He’s working on one of the tall buildings just to the right of the bridge, when he feels his motion sensor vibrate.

He smiles.

That’s not a window or a door.

That’s Steve.

He pauses, concentrating on the detector. If it buzzes with that particular vibration two more times, it means Steve is in trouble and needs urgent help.

But there’s only the one vibration. That means Steve isn’t hurt. That just means Steve’s calling for him.

He calls out: “Coming!”

He wipes his hand on the moist towel next to him and carefully snaps the lids on the glue pot and the other containers he’s got sitting open around him.

He gets up from the table and wanders around the living room, looking for Steve. His first stop is always the couch, followed by the kitchen, the bedroom and then the bathroom. Steve can’t tell him where he is, but the apartment’s small enough that Bucky can find him relatively quickly.

This time Steve’s sitting on the couch. Bucky sits down next to him and runs his hand up Steve’s arm to his hair. “Hi.” He kisses Steve’s neck. “You hollered?”

He feels Steve turn his head and his lips nuzzle Bucky’s cheek. Bucky can tell he’s smiling.

Bucky smiles, happy that his new idea is working out so well.

He puts his hand on Steve’s thigh. “What do you want, punk?”

He leans against Steve’s shoulder as Steve starts spelling.

He’s making a grocery list and he wants to know what Bucky would like.

“What do you have on the list already?”

Steve lists off the usual items—bread, milk, butter, ham, eggs etc. “Did we eat all those flaky triangle things? With the spinach and feta in them? I liked those. Let’s get more of those.”

Steve shifts a bit and when Bucky touches Steve’s right hand—Steve’s getting pretty good at doing the tactile spelling with his left hand these days—he feels Steve holding a pencil and writing on a pad.

“Hmm. How much coke do we have left?”

Steve tells him he doesn’t know, then shifts as if to get up. Bucky grabs his shirt and pulls him back down.

“You stay. I’ll go check.” Bucky gets up and cautiously makes his way into the kitchen without his cane. He knows by now how much distance there is between the couch and the table, and the table and the kitchen counter. He doesn’t count his steps anymore, but instead, his body knows how much distance it needs to cover. It’s weird and Bucky can’t really explain it in words, but he’s getting more comfortable moving around the apartment without his cane, and that’s all that matters.

He finds the counter and he knows exactly which direction to turn and when to put out his hand so that he’s touching the icebox. He doesn’t exactly manage to grab the handle on the first try—that’s a level of skill he hasn’t gotten to yet—but he does recognize the cool surface of the icebox under his hand, so it just takes some exploring to find the handle.

He opens the icebox and finds the shelf where the soda cans are kept. All the cans he touches have a sticky dot on it—meaning they’re Bucky’s sprite cans. Finally he finds one can without a sticky dot on it, which means Steve only has one can of his precious coke left.

“We need more coke, Rogers. I’ve got enough sprite. How about the chips? I’ll check.” He finds the right cupboard and sits on the floor, carefully feeling inside. He finds the chip bags right away—that’s not hard—but he carefully feels for the plastic dots on them.

He carefully counts how many bags have one, two or no dots.

“We need more salt and vinegar chips. We’re good with other kinds.”

He wanders back to Steve and sticks out his hand. “Anything else you want me to check?”

Steve spells out 'juice'.

So Bucky heads back to the icebox and counts the different juice boxes with the different number of dots on them to figure out which ones they need more of.

It would probably take Steve way less time to put together the grocery list himself, but both Bucky and Steve love doing it together. They’re interacting with each other, Steve can be a bit lazy, and Bucky feels like he’s more involved and that he’s contributing to their household.

*             *             *

Bucky waits a few days until he’s sure that Steve’s feeling much better from their whole communication debacle. Then he tells him he wants to go out for another walk.

But this time he wants to take his cane with him.

Steve asks him if he’s sure.

“Yeah, I’m sure. I know you gotta hold my arm if I’m holding my cane, but I think I’ll feel much better if I can use my cane. I can feel what’s in front of me.”

Bucky doesn’t add that even if the cane doesn’t tell him anything useful, he now associates the cane with safety, and he automatically feels better when he’s got it in his hands. He thinks maybe it has something to do with having more control over his surroundings. He may be exploring the apartment without the cane, but exploring the outside without the cane isn’t something he feels comfortable with.

Steve is willing to give it a try, so they get their jackets and shoes on and head out, this time with Bucky’s cane.

They go down the steps the same way they did the first day (Bucky puts his cane into his holster before he grabs onto the railing), but this time, Bucky’s very pleased to discover that he’s getting down the stairs faster. The stairs actually aren’t as scary as the sidewalk. He’s got the wonderful railing to hang onto, and the stairs surfaces are flat and each one is exactly the same. There are no nasty surprises for him to trip over. And even if people slam into him, Bucky knows his grip on the railing will keep him safe.

He knows he’ll eventually be able to get down stairs without Steve having to help at all.

For now, Steve holds on to his jacket and they move slowly, and he makes it to the ground in one piece.

Then Steve helps him get the cane out of his holster and they get organized. Since Bucky’s holding his cane, Steve hooks his hand into Bucky’s elbow.

Using the cane outside is a whole new experience.

Right away, Bucky feels a little safer than the first day they’d tried this. It’s a relief knowing that if there’s a steep drop-off like a curb or something big in his path, he’ll know about it whether Steve manages to warn him in time or not. It’s nice not being so fully dependent on Steve to provide him information about his surroundings.

He sweeps very thoroughly and he’s moving at a very slow pace, but after a few minutes, he realizes he feels safe enough to start taking actual steps again instead of the slow shuffling. If there’s an area he’s not so sure of, he can stop and re-sweep the area as many times as he wants before continuing.

Steve is being fantastic and he’s keeping pace with Bucky.

As Bucky’s fear slowly recedes, he starts focusing more on what the cane is telling him.

It’s very different from walking inside their apartment. The rough pavement they’re on is making the ball bounce and vibrate much more than the smooth hardwood floors of the apartment or the carpeted hallways. It’s hard to get used to the shakiness.

Then there’s the fact that the cane keeps hitting things on either side of him that he can’t identify. Sometimes there’s something on his right, sometimes on his left, sometimes there’s nothing.

At one point he hits something, then feels the cane jerk in his hand as if it’s trying to jump out of his grip. “Hey!” he tightens his grip on it. “You stay put, you,” he admonishes the cane. Must have gotten stuck in something.

*             *             *

Steve’s watching the mesmerizing rhythm of the ball rolling back and forth over the sidewalk, so he doesn’t notice that Bucky’s swinging the cane too wide until it swings right between the legs of a woman walking past them.

The swinging cane has done a good job so far of making people aware that Bucky needs more space, and they haven’t had to deal with members of the public slamming into them as much as the first day, but not everybody manages to avoid Bucky’s thorough sweeping.

The woman stumbles with a curse, barely managing to catch herself on a railing next to her. Both she and Bucky let out a “Hey!”, although she directs it at Bucky and Bucky directs it at his cane.

She’s glaring at Bucky. “Watch where you put that thing!”

Steve cringes. “Sorry, ma’am. Sorry, sorry. He’s learn—.”

She rolls her eyes and shoves past him with an annoyed “Idiot!”

Well, that went well.

Bucky’s wide swinging continues getting the cane stuck in objects or people. Some people can see the swinging cane when approaching and they flatten themselves against parked cars or buildings while they pass, with Steve giving them a smile and a “Thank you”.

Then there are those who obviously think Bucky should be doing a better job of sharing the sidewalk.

When Bucky narrowly avoids getting the cane tangled in the walker of an older man shuffling past them, Steve acknowledges that while Bucky can’t be completely blamed for the unintended contact, he will need to adjust his sweeping method.

But that’s not something Steve wants to bother Bucky about today.

After Bucky gets the cane wedged underneath a mailbox, he finally demands to know what he’s getting hung up on. Bucky seems annoyed and concerned that he keeps getting stuck on things, so Steve tells him to relax and not worry about it right now. He’s got other things to focus on.

They need to deal with one problem at a time—and right now, Steve’s just thrilled that Bucky’s managing to pick up his feet properly every few steps. He’s still shuffling a bit, but it’s much better than the first time they went out.

Nobody else might understand what a huge accomplishment that is, but Steve knows.

*             *             *

They make it to the same street corner as they had on their first trip. Bucky is still too frazzled by the whole thing to keep detailed track of where they’re going, but he knows they walk on a sidewalk, Steve writes a ‘C’ to indicate they’re approaching the curb, they stop at the pedestrian light button which Bucky presses, and once it starts to vibrate, they cross the street and then sit on the same concrete steps as on their first trip.

They make it back to their apartment building—Bucky has no idea they’ve reached it, but Steve has come to a stop and he’s telling him they’re home and there are stairs—but Bucky wants to keep going.

They turn and walk away from their building in the opposite direction.

Bucky tells Steve he doesn’t want to cross the street again, but he wants to walk a little more. They walk to the other end of their block and slowly turn around and make their way back to their apartment.

Bucky is very pleased when he feels comfortable enough to lift his feet with nearly every step. He only shuffles if the cane tells him he’s moving over a rough area.

That’s a definite improvement from their first trip.

*             *             *

The next day they head out again, but this time Steve asks if he’s willing to cross the street more than once.

Yesterday’s improvement gave Bucky a huge confidence boost, so he’s willing to give it a try.

He makes it down the stairs and they’re walking down their block—Bucky’s very pleased with himself when he correctly identifies a certain bump close to a tree as being the tree root which Steve has told him he’d tripped over on his first day. He slows down and carefully steps over it.

Steve happily squeezes and shakes his hand multiple times.

But having his hand being shaken and squeezed while it’s guiding his cane unfortunately interferes with Bucky’s sweeping. He knows Steve didn’t mean to interfere—he’s just happy and proud of Bucky. It’s a little jarring and disruptive, but not a big deal.

As Bucky gets more comfortable and increases his walking pace, Steve has to steer him a bit faster—which creates a whole new set of problems.

When they were moving very slowly, Steve could take the time to gently pull or push Bucky’s elbow to indicate that he wanted him to turn, stop or go, but when they’re moving faster, Steve’s indicators become harder and more sudden.

When they make a right turn at a street corner, Steve pulls Bucky’s elbow to make him turn, and Bucky’s careful sweeping progress gets interrupted. He keeps a tight hold of the cane and lifts it off the ground as Steve practically drags him sideways. Being turned like that nearly makes his feet tangle up and pulls Bucky off-balance.

It’s only Steve’s arm linked through his that keeps him on his feet.

It’s annoying, but Bucky’s hoping that Steve will realize that pulling and pushing on Bucky’s arm like this will end up with both of them falling flat on their faces on the pavement.

But Steve doesn’t realize anything’s wrong.

They reach an intersection and Steve abruptly yanks him to stop, nearly making Bucky stumble.

Then Steve writes ‘C’ on the back of his palm and pulls Bucky’s hand to the lamp post where he can press the button to make the light change. Bucky nearly gets his feet tangled up with the cane as his hand is pulled, but he manages to lean on the lamp post and stay upright.

Bucky waits. He’s very grateful for the vibrating button, because it gives him a heads up before Steve’s pulling him forward.

He gets ready to search for the sloping part of the sidewalk. They realized yesterday that it’s much easier to step off the curb when he’s using the sloping part, unlike the steep drop-off. Bucky knows the extra step down won’t be a problem when he’s used to it, but for now, the gently sloping curb makes things easier.

Unfortunately, Steve doesn’t give Bucky time to find the slope. Bucky gets the cane positioned properly and starts sweeping—and then Steve’s pulling his arm forward and the cane is lifted off the ground. He’s being dragged down the shallow slope, and even that small incline is enough to make Bucky unsteady on his feet, and he trips.

He lets out an annoyed curse and manages to grab Steve’s jacket to stay on his feet.

“Jesus Christ, Rogers. Stop pulling on me like that. Fuck!”

He feels Steve’s arms loosen around him, but he gives Steve’s jacket a rough shake. “Don’t let go of me when we’re in the middle of the street, idiot! Get me out of the street.”

Steve practically drags Bucky back onto the sidewalk. Bucky’s so tangled up with Steve’s jacket, Steve’s arms, his cane and his own feet that he barely knows where his own body parts are.

Once Steve’s dragged him back onto the sidewalk, Bucky pushes Steve back a bit so he can properly grasp his cane.

“Find us a place to sit down so we can talk. We gotta get this figured out before you get me killed.”

He feels a bit guilty that he’s being so nasty to Steve, but this whole thing is very stressful, and Steve is supposed to be helping him, not making things harder.

Steve touches Bucky’s arm very tentatively and slowly guides him somewhere. The cane hits something and when Steve pulls Bucky’s hand down, he touches the object and realizes it’s a bench.

He carefully sits down and takes a few seconds to calm down. He folds up his cane and puts it beside him so he has a free hand to talk to Steve. He reaches out and finds Steve. His body’s stiff. Bucky can’t tell if he’s angry or upset over what Bucky said.

“Sweetheart, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. That wasn’t fair. I know everything you do is to help me.” Bucky finds Steve’s hand and brings it to his lips for a kiss…when he freezes.

They’re in public. Just because he can’t see any of the public doesn’t mean…

…wait a second!

He remembers what he and Steve had discussed before. It doesn’t matter if they’re in public. If he wants to kiss Steve’s hand—in broad daylight, in public—he can.

His stomach twists with a bit of fear, but he knows Steve hadn’t lied to him. Steve had kissed Bucky multiple times during their first walk outside and nothing had happened to either of them.

Taking a deep breath, Bucky pulls Steve’s hand to his lips and kisses it.

Then he freezes, waiting.

When nothing happens, he decides to do it again. He kisses Steve’s hand again, letting his lips linger for a few more seconds this time. Then he waits again.

When nothing happens again, he realizes Steve was right. There’s still that little ball of fear sitting in his gut—it’ll probably be there for a while—but Bucky feels a pleased smile on his face.

This is fantastic!

Then he’s abruptly pulled out his musings when Steve pulls his hand free and flattens Bucky’s hand on his thigh. He tells Bucky he would never do anything to intentionally hurt him. Never ever. His fingers are shaking as he’s spelling and he’s pressing each letter hard into Bucky’s palm.

Bucky forces himself to refocus on their conversation. “I know you wouldn’t, Stevie. I know. I’m sorry for what I said. I’m stressed and this is new for both of us. I should have said something earlier instead of waiting until I got into a snit. I’m real sorry.” He brings his hand up Steve’s chest and gently strokes his cheek. “Forgive me?”

Steve pulls Bucky’s hand off his face and taps on it multiple times. Then Steve asks him what he’s been doing wrong.

“You—you can’t yank on my arm when you’re steering me. It makes the cane go all over the place and I lose track of what I’m doing and it pulls me off-balance.”

Steve doesn’t say anything.

“The way you’re doing it, is that how everybody leads deafblind people?”

Steve tells him to wait and he’ll look up information on his phone. Bucky waits, enjoying the smells around him and exploring the wooden seat and metal railing of the bench with his fingers. He’s enjoying the cool, smooth metal of the bench railing—until he touches something soft and squishy.

He yanks his fingers back and wipes his fingers on his pants. Eww. Probably gum…or bird poop?

“Steve, what’s on the railing here? I touched something soft and gross.”

Steve shifts next to him—probably leaning around Bucky to take a look. He tells Buck it was gum.

Okay, so that was gross, but not as gross as it could have been.

He rubs his hand on his pants more thoroughly and makes a mental note not to touch Steve’s face until he’s gotten home and washed his hand.

Steve tells him they’ll bring some wipes with them next time they go out.

“And water would be good too. I know we ain’t exactly racing along, but if we don’t know how long we’re gonna be out for, water would be good.”

Then Bucky leaves Steve to do more reading on his phone. He carefully keeps his hands on his lap, not wanting to touch more gross things.

Finally, Steve tells him he’s been doing it wrong. He tells Bucky he’s:

S-O-R-R-Y.

S-O-R-R-Y.

S-O-R-R-Y.

S-O-R-R-Y.

Bucky gently closes his fingers to stop Steve’s flood of apologies. He knows Steve probably feels really bad for not looking up more information before they started this whole ‘walking-outside’ adventure.

“That’s okay, sweetheart. I didn’t know it would be this complicated either.” He carefully brings his head closer to Steve, finds his shoulder and then presses his forehead against the side of Steve’s head. “Don’t do something silly like blame yourself, okay? You’re not being silly, are you?”

He feels Steve hesitantly rub his hand.

He pulls his hand out from under Steve’s and smacks him on the leg. He would have flicked him on the nose instead, but he remembers his gross hand at the last second. Touching Steve with germy hands is a no-no—serum or no serum. “You liar. I know you’re being silly and blaming yourself. Quit it. Let’s focus on fixing the situation instead, okay?”

The urge to kiss Steve on the cheek is very, very strong and he forcibly restrains himself—getting arrested would turn this day into even more of a…

…wait a second!

Ignoring the ball of fear in his belly, he finds Steve’s cheek with his nose. He kisses it and then presses his smile against it.

He’s never going to get over how wonderful this is!

But back to business. He flips his hand back over so they can talk. “What did your research tell you?”

Steve tells him he’s been holding Bucky’s arm wrong.

“That’s okay. Do you know how to hold my arm better?”

Tap.

“Show me.”

He feels Steve shift to put more distance between them, and then Steve gently curls his fingers around the back of Bucky’s upper arm.

That…will not solve their problem.

He tries to be gentle when breaking the news to Steve. “Okay, that’s great. But the main problem is that you’re pulling or pushing on my arm. We gotta have a way of communicating without you moving my arm so much. I don’t wanna interfere with the cane’s movements so much. It’s really distracting.”

Steve isn’t doing anything—his hand stays curled around Bucky’s upper arm, so Bucky thinks he’s probably still a bit upset over the whole thing. Well, there’s no reason they have to solve this problem while sitting on this bench.

“Alright, why don’t we head home—nice and slow—and when we’re home, we can take the time to come up with signals.”

*             *             *

That evening, Bucky spends time thinking up different signals Steve can use. He uses his thigh to represent his own arm and he wraps his hand around it and tries different things.

He discards any signals which involve him pushing or pulling on his leg. But signals that are too light—like stroking with different fingers—are too difficult to feel properly through a thick jacket or sweater.

And the signals have to be different enough that Bucky will be able to quickly understand them while they’re moving around.

He figures out that squeezing is a pretty good signal.

Then he realizes that he can move his hand up and down on his leg without his leg shifting.

“Steve? Come here and sit with me for a second. I wanna try something.”

Steve sits down on his right side and Bucky tells Steve to let him know how he feels about the signals he’s thought up.

He wraps his hand around Steve’s upper arm and gives it a quick but strong squeeze.

“That can mean stop. It’s quick. Then two squeezes—” Bucky demonstrates. “—can mean go. Sliding up the arm—” he slides his hand up Steve’s arm until his fingers catch on Steve’s armpit, “—means turn left—when you do it on my right arm it’ll feel like you’re trying to push me left without actually pushing me—and sliding down to the elbow—” he demonstrates, “—means turn right. That’ll kind of feel like you’re about to tug my elbow to go right, but you won’t actually be pulling. You try.”

He lowers his hand and feels Steve gently curls his hand around Bucky’s upper arm.

There’s nothing for a while, until Bucky feels a little…something…happening on his upper arm.

“Rogers, I love you, but you gotta do the signals harder. I appreciate you worrying about the physical state of my arm—seeing how it’s the only one I’ve got left—but there’s a huge difference between you doing the signals hard enough so I can feel them, and you actually hurting me. Come on, try again. Little harder.”

Steve tries again, and this time, Bucky clearly feels the strong squeeze. Steve moves through the different signals and Bucky can easily differentiate between them.

Then Bucky stands up and he pulls out his cane. He asks Steve to repeat the signals while he’s sweeping with his cane to see how it feels.

It works great.

They move through the signals, with Steve randomly rotating between them and Bucky telling him what they mean. Steve’s confidence seems to have returned, so Bucky’s pleased when Steve suggests some changes.

Two squeezes should mean ‘slow down’, Steve suggests, and three squeezes should mean ‘go’ or ‘go faster’.

“I’m happy with that. We’ll have to practice a lot. Plus, can you try to let me know when we’re approaching stairs or a curb or something before we get there? That way I can look for it with the cane and I know what’s coming up.”

Tap, tap.

“Okay, good. Now, come cuddle and tell me about any interesting people we saw on our walk today.”

Steve curls up next to him and takes his hand. He tells Bucky despite the stress of the day, he was happy that Bucky felt comfortable giving him some kisses when they were outside.

Bucky grins. “I ain’t gonna lie—it felt weird and scary, but I’ll get used to it. And you go ahead with the kissing too. It’s gonna be weird for a while, but the quickest way to get past that is to keep practicing.”

His hand is pressed to Steve’s lips and he can feel Steve smiling. Steve tells him that’s the kind of practice he’s willing to do whenever Bucky wants.

Bucky laughs. “Yeah, that ain’t exactly a hardship, punk, is it?”

Chapter Text

Steve never imagined how difficult it would be to take on the role of a sighted guide.

It’s why he hadn’t bothered to look up any information before going out for their first walk.

He’s been mentally kicking himself for that ever since. He realized it had been a big mistake on his part to not look at the ‘walking-outside’ activity from Bucky’s perspective before going out. If he had done that, he would have been able to anticipate some of their problems—or at least he would have realized that he should look up some information before going.

But what’s done is done. He screwed up, he’s apologized, and now they need to move forward and start doing things right and he needs to properly fulfill his responsibilities as a sighted guide.

He hadn’t even known there was a special title for leading around blind or deafblind people, but that’s what he is when he’s responsible for leading Bucky around outside.

Being Bucky’s eyes and ears when they’re walking around outside is the most important part of being a sighted guide. He needs to be constantly scan the area around them to identify potential obstacles and dangers and make sure he keeps Bucky safe from them.

But being Bucky’s eyes and ears isn’t the end of it. He can’t steer Bucky around the way he would steer a car. He has to use the proper signal to tell Bucky what’s coming up ahead and what Bucky needs to do in preparation. He has to make sure his signals are clear and easy to understand but don’t interfere with the cane’s movements, plus, he has to time the signals properly. He can’t tell Bucky something too early because Bucky will get confused if nothing happens, but if he tells him too late, Bucky won’t have time to understand the signal and get mentally and physically prepared for it.

When they go out for more practice the next day, it’s Steve who’s asking Bucky to walk slower so he has time to fulfill his own responsibilities.

Walking outside is a serious task that requires full concentration from both of them. If either of them aren’t having a good day, they don’t go out. From the time they step foot out of their door, until they step back inside, they need to be completely focused.

Just walking down their block safely is a huge task.

Steve keeps a firm grip on Bucky’s upper arm but he keeps his arm very still so he’s not yanking on Bucky’s arm.

He squeezes Bucky’s arm three times to get moving. Bucky’s getting more better at stepping over and around obstacles which he can detect with his cane, but Steve needs to watch out for unexpected things like puddles, car doors opening, construction cones, broken branches, pedestrians and a hundred other things that might hurt or startle Bucky—not to mention the garbage and piles of dog poop which they sometimes come across.

When they get close to one of these obstacles, Steve runs his hand up or down Bucky’s arm to indicate that he wants him to make a slight shift in a certain direction. When they approach certain obstacles which Bucky can’t just step around (like stairs or curbs), Steve writes the corresponding letter symbol on the back of Bucky’s hand so he knows what’s coming up.

It takes a lot of practice and concentration until Steve can reach around with his right hand and write the capital letter he wants to use on the back of Bucky’s hand—while Bucky’s hand is busy sweeping, and while they’re moving forward. Plus, while Steve’s trying to do that without interfering with Bucky’s movements, he still has to keep an eye on their surroundings. Steve’s so bad at it at first that they practice walking up and down their hallway in their apartment building so at least Steve doesn’t have to worry about missing any dangers around them while he’s trying to write. Eventually Steve can reach over, find Bucky’s arm with his right hand and run down it to Bucky’s hand with a light enough touch that he’s not interfering with his cane movements. He can draw the relevant letter without having to look at Bucky’s hand while he’s doing it.

Crossing the street remains one of the most stressful and complicated procedures. Not only is dealing with crowds of people at an intersection stressful, but the curb itself can come in different shapes and sizes.

Steve has never taken the time to actually look at the type of curbs which exist but that’s changed now. Many intersections have sloping curbs where a gentle incline makes the transition from sidewalk level to street level very smooth. Some of the sloping curb areas have yellow pads which are covered in small round bumps that Bucky can feel with his cane and underneath his shoes. Other sloping curb areas have grooves and bumps carved into the pavement, which Bucky can also feel with his cane. Along with Steve telling Bucky when they approach a curb, if there’s a sloping curb, Bucky can feel when he’s getting to the edge of the sidewalk and when he’ll be on the street. Plus, Steve doesn’t have to worry about Bucky tripping off the edge of the curb.

But Steve quickly realizes that the existence of the sloping curbs isn’t always the best or least stressful option for Bucky. Sometimes there are many people waiting to cross and they have to navigate through the crowd in addition to dealing with crossing the street. Sometimes these people have strollers, walkers or are in wheelchairs which means they also want to use the sloping part of the sidewalk. Sometimes the sloping curb is too far from the pedestrian signal posts, and Bucky really enjoys keeping his hand on the vibrating button while he’s waiting for the light to change, so sometimes Steve will deliberately chose to stay close to the post and have them step down the high part of the curb. If there’s a big crowd waiting to cross the street, Steve will try to find a less crowded spot, which often has a high curb. Dealing with the curb isn’t that big of a deal for Bucky when he’s got his cane—but dealing with jostling from other people and having to dart left and right throughout their crossing is a stress they don’t need.

When they reach a curb, Steve squeezes on Bucky’s arm to get him to stop. If they’ll be walking down a sloping curb, Steve just writes ‘C’, but if they’re using the other part of the curb and Bucky will have to step down, then Steve writes ‘CC’. When the light changes, Steve squeezes Bucky’s arm three times to get him going and Bucky uses the cane to help him find the edge of the curb and safely step into the street. When they get close to the other side of the street, Steve again writes ‘C’ or ‘CC’ to let Bucky know what he’ll have to step up on.

Steve had thought that walking with Bucky would be a depressing exercise for him, since he can’t easily talk to Bucky when he’s using his cane—but it turns out that they’re both way too busy for chit-chat.

It takes way too much concentration and focus for him to safely guide Bucky.

It takes several days until Steve gets into a good rhythm. After about two weeks of practice, he’s no longer forgetting to signal things, he’s rarely using the wrong signals, and he knows exactly when and how Bucky needs to be signalled for their walk to be smooth and safe.

As Steve gets more accustomed to his responsibilities as a sighted guide, he focuses more on how Bucky’s doing.

Using the cane has huge benefits. Bucky feels much more comfortable walking around with his cane telling him what’s in front of him. He barely shuffles his feet unless the cane tells him he’s going to be moving over very rough ground.

Plus, unlike that first day when people were constantly bumping into Bucky, when he has the white cane it automatically lets people know that he’s blind. A lot of people see them walking from far down the block and they’ll automatically get out of their way without Steve having to say anything. Even if people don’t know what the white cane represents, when they see Bucky swinging his cane around, a lot of people go out of their way to clear a path for them.

But just because people know that Bucky’s blind doesn’t mean that all of them appreciate Bucky taking up the entire sidewalk with his wide swinging.

Bucky often swings the cane right into people’s paths and gets the cane stuck in wheelchairs and walkers. He also gets the cane stuck under benches, mailboxes and in fences. His swing pattern is unpredictable so Steve finds it hard to steer him away from certain objects or people in time before Bucky’s cane encounters them. Bucky sweeps the cane all over the place, re-sweeping areas he’s not comfortable with and moving the cane in different patterns which only seem to make sense to Bucky.

Steve wants him to be comfortable when walking around so he hates the idea of forcing him to limit his cane movements, which is why he lets Bucky use the cane the way he wants to do it, and Steve spends his time apologizing to his fellow Brooklyn Heights citizens.

But after a few weeks of practice, Steve feels that Bucky is comfortable enough with the current walking situation, so he should be able to better control how he’s using his cane.

Steve knows it’s mostly his fault.

In addition to not researching the role of a sighted guide properly, he hadn’t thought to research the proper use of a cane. He knew Bucky would be using it to get information about his surroundings, but he had always thought that Bucky would just figure it out naturally. He never realized that Bucky’s method of cane-use might be a problem for the rest of the public.

After just a little bit of research, Steve realizes that there are very simple and specific methods for using a cane—and if he hadn’t been an idiot and had bothered researching in the first place, he could have taught Bucky these methods to start with.

But spending time being angry with himself wouldn’t help solve the situation.

Instead, he spends time watching multiple videos where blind individuals demonstrate how to use a cane properly when walking around and he reads websites with tips and information. That’s when he learns that the concept of ‘walking around outside while blind’ is something that’s so complicated that there’s a specific category for all information related to the learning of it:

Orientation and Mobility Training.

In fact, he learns that some sighted people have made it their careers to be orientation and mobility instructors. That’s how complicated it is—people can make careers out of helping others with it.

So Steve carefully watches videos and reads websites and takes notes. He borrows Bucky’s cane and practices the techniques. It’s slow going. A lot of the information is geared towards blind people who can hear, and there’s very little information specific to deafblind people—especially for people who have complete dual sensory loss like Bucky.

But Steve knows by now that as long as he pays attention and takes his time, he’ll be able to figure this out.

*             *             *

On a rainy afternoon when they’ve spent the day being lazy and comfortable at home, Steve tells Bucky that he wants to talk to him about how he uses the cane.

“The cane? What do you mean?”

Steve lets him know he’s not using the cane properly.

“What do you mean ‘properly’? I’m using the cane all the time.”

Rub, rub. Apparently there’s a right way to use the cane and a wrong way, and Bucky’s been doing it the wrong way. Steve is quick to tell him it’s Steve’s fault—he never researched proper cane-use techniques.

Bucky’s a little concerned. He’s gotten very comfortable using his cane and he’s not looking forward to re-learning everything.

“What am I doing wrong? Everything?”

Rub, rub, rub. Steve gently squeezes his hand. That doesn’t really reassure Bucky and he nervously waits for Steve to elaborate.

Steve tells him he’s swinging the cane too wide.

Bucky has no idea what that means. “What? The cane is supposed to be swung side to side. I can’t get enough information if I don’t do it like that.”

Steve tells him he’s been tripping people.

Bucky gapes in Steve’s direction. “What? I’ve been tripping people? Oh, my God, when?!”

According to Steve, Bucky’s been doing it a lot.

“Are you kidding me? Oh, my God! Is that normal? Do people trip other people with the cane?”

Rub, rub, rub.

“Oh, shit. What am I doing wrong?”

Steve tells him he’s swinging the cane too wide.

Ah. That’s what he’d meant. “I swing too wide?”

Tap.

He can’t help but feel disappointed. “I thought I was doing well. I can’t believe I’ve been tripping people. Damn. Look at me being a public nuisance.”

Another squeeze. Rub, rub, rub.

Steve’s hand runs up his arm and then he feels Steve forehead against his temple, his lips moving by his ear.

It’s nice, but that won’t help Bucky be a better member of the public.

“Can you show me what I’m doing wrong?” Bucky asks.

They stand up. Bucky pulls out his cane and lets it unfold. He feels Steve stand behind him with one hand around his waist and the other holding his hand and the cane.

Steve releases his hand and taps Bucky’s chest. Then he grabs his hand and moves the cane side to side the way Bucky usually does it.

Then he rubs Bucky’s hand.

He grabs his hand again and moves the cane side to side again, but instead of letting his arm sweep while fully extended, Steve bends Bucky’s arm so his elbow is tucked just above his right hip. Then he swings Bucky’s hand side to side. He doesn’t let Bucky move his entire arm, only his hand. It’s only his wrist that’s moving the cane, not his entire arm.

Tap, tap, tap.

Bucky frowns. “Are you serious? I can’t feel anything useful if I’m only sweeping like that. That’s too narrow.”

Steve squeezes his hand, trying to calm him. Then Steve tells him that Bucky only needs to know what’s directly in front of him. He doesn’t need to know what’s three feet away from him.

Bucky chews on his lower lip, thinking that over.

Well—it’s not how he’s used to doing things…

But Steve is technically right.

Sometimes Bucky still thinks the way he did when he had his sight and hearing. Years spent working in dangerous environments like the docks had taught him to always be scanning around and to be gathering information from a big area. It’s one of the skills that had allowed him to take on the role of a sniper relatively easily.

That, and his ability to do lots of math in his head with relative ease.

But anyway, Bucky needs to remember that it’s no longer his job to scan his whole environment for dangers. That’s Steve’s job.

Looks like his scanning responsibilities only need to include what’s right in front of him.

Bucky sighs. “Okay. This might take me a while to get right, Steve. It’s a whole different way of looking at things. But I guess we’ve done okay changing the way we do things so far, right?”

Tap, tap, tap.

A kiss on his palm.

Then Steve asks him if he wants to practice a bit.

Bucky feels the motion sensor vibrate. Steve’s opened the front door.

“Right now?”

Tap.

“Okay. Let’s go see if this is something that’ll take me a decade to get right, or if I can go back to being a considerate citizen some time sooner than that.”

Bucky puts on his shoes, tightens the elastic coils and squeezes past Steve and out the door. He waits while Steve steps behind him again. They do the tiny sweeping motion.

Bucky makes a face. “I can’t feel either wall like that. I wanna feel at least one wall so I know what’s going on.” Walking without having the cane touch anything still creeps him out. It’s too much like he’s walking into a dark abyss. In the apartment, he’s now comfortable enough to walk around without having the cane touch walls and furniture—but outside of their apartment is a different story.

Steve pushes on his hip and nudges him over. Then they do the sweeping again. This time the cane is hitting the wall. That’s better. It allows him to mentally picture the wall and where he is in relation to it.

He’s no longer just walking through a dark abyss.

Steve untangles Bucky’s hand from the cane, leaves it dangling from the wrist strap and asks Bucky if he wants to try going down the hallway on his own.

Bucky thinks it over. They’ve been down this hallway dozens of times already and Bucky knows the entire area is covered in smooth carpet and there’s nothing for him to trip over.

“There ain’t anybody else here, is there?”

Rub.

“Alright, I’ll give it a try. But come grab me if anybody comes into the hallway.”

Tap.

Steve kisses his neck and gives him a little shove forward.

Yeah, I love you too, Rogers.

Bucky shakes the cane handle back into his hand, gets himself lined up so he’s hitting the wall with each sweep, and then he’s ready.

He walks forward, keeping his elbow close to him and doing the narrow sweeping. Sometimes he stops hitting the wall, so that’s his cue to move himself over. Sometimes the vibration he gets from hitting the wall changes. He touches the object that made the different vibration. It’s made out of wood as opposed to the plaster of the wall. And there’s a doorknob on it. He realizes these are the other apartment doors.

He continues, paying careful attention to when he’s hitting the wall versus a door, but he’s too  focused on doing the sweeping properly to keep track of how many doors he’s passed. He’s moving along, when the cane hits something in front of him. Bucky sweeps side to side. The obstruction is solid and stretches the entire length of his sweep. He widens his sweep, trying to see if he can get around whatever it is. But the object is very wide. He can’t feel the ends of it with his cane.

Oh! He must have reached the main door.

He steps closer to it and touches it with the back of his hand to confirm. Cool, solid wood, and there’s the round metal doorknob—larger and thicker than the ones on the apartment doors. He realizes this wood is cooler to the touch than the apartment doors had been. That makes sense. People’s apartments are warmer than the outside.

Definitely the front door.

He carefully turns around. He presses his back against the door, feeling the doorknob digging reassuringly into his back. He can picture exactly where he’s standing and what his surroundings look like.

He shuffles sideways until the cane hits the wall. Then he’s moving forward again, focusing on doing the sweeping properly.

He’s still not counting the doors or his steps so he has no idea where Steve is, but the narrow sweeping motion is become more natural.

He’s moving along at a steady pace…

…until the cane smacks into something standing directly in his path. He freezes and re-sweeps, just to make sure he wasn’t imagining things.

But no—the cane is smacking into something right in front of him. There shouldn’t be anything in the middle of the hallway.

He explores the object, poking at it with the cane. It feels…squishy, soft. And it’s not that wide either.

“What the hell is—Oh, my God! Rogers! Is that you? That better be you. Don’t tell me I’ve been poking one our neighbors with my cane and you haven’t stopped me!”

A hand touches his own and Bucky drops the cane, letting it dangle from his wrist and he runs his fingers along the strange hand. There’s the leather bracelet.

One bead. Di, di, dit. Dah. Dit.

Definitely Steve. Thank goodness.

The punk’s hand is shaking. He’s probably laughing. Bucky runs his hand up his arm to his face and runs his hand over his face to check.

Yup, definitely laughing.

Bucky rolls his eyes and struggles not to laugh. “You think you’re pretty funny, punk, huh? Standing in the middle of the hallway, waiting for me to figure out what and who you are? But ain’t it great that I figured it out all by myself? You’ll be pleased to know, you don’t feel anything like a door or a wall.”

That makes Steve laugh harder.

Bucky smirks at him. “I know. I’m such a charmer.”

Moments later, Bucky feels something flick him on the nose. He’s startled for just a moment, but he knows it was Steve. He lets out a laugh, grabs his cane and gently smacks Steve in the legs. “Being disrespectful to the poor deafblind person, huh? I’m telling your ma as soon as I see her. I have a list I’m keeping in my head.”

Steve’s hands run up his sides to his face and then he’s got Steve’s face pressed against his, and Steve’s kissing him. They’re nice, soft kisses. Apology kisses.

Bucky smiles. “That’s better.” He kisses Steve one more time, then pulls back. “Now, back to business. Was that good or do I need to adjust something?”

Steve tells Bucky that he did a great job, but he needs to coordinate his steps with his cane movements.

“What? How?”

Steve steps behind him and wraps his arms around him, one hand putting the cane handle back into Bucky’s hand and curling around Bucky’s hand so they’re moving the cane together. His other arm is holding Bucky’s hip. He turns Bucky so they’re facing down the hallway, away from the front door.

Steve gently kicks the back of Bucky’s right foot. Bucky obediently moves his right foot forward. As he’s moving his foot forward, Steve is moving his hand so the cane tip swivels to sweep in front of his left foot.

Then Steve kicks the back of Bucky’s left foot. When they take the step forward, Steve moves the cane to sweep in front of his right foot.

Oh!

Steve wants him to sweep an area before he’s putting his foot into it. That way he’ll know what he’s stepping into.

Bucky keeps moving his feet, maintaining a steady rhythm with his steps, and Steve continues moving the cane back and forth.

When the cane hits the end of the hallway, they turn around and go back.

Bucky’s settling into the rhythm—right foot forward, cane sweeping left; left foot forward, cane sweeping right. It’s actually easier to remember to keep his sweeping narrower with this new rhythm. He only has time to sweep a little bit on one side, before he has to move to the other side if he wants the cane getting to that area before his foot.

He picks up the pace, walking and sweeping a bit faster. He feels Steve loosening his grip gradually until he’s no longer touching Bucky at all.

Bucky ends up encountering the door much sooner than he thought, so he spins himself around and continues—but he ends up kicking his cane when he takes a step. When he takes another step, the cane is there again.

“Damn it. I lost the rhythm.” Looks like he got overconfident. He slows down and gets himself oriented again.

Left foot forward, cane sweeping right. Right foot forward, cane sweeping left.

Again, once he’s in the rhythm, he’s flying down the hallway.

He realizes that he’s okay with doing the narrow sweeping. Steve was right—he’ll be fine only covering the area he needs to cover.

He really was sweeping way too much. There’s no need to sweep areas where he isn’t going to put his feet, is there? Somebody else—namely Steve—can worry about what’s going on in those other areas.

Bucky Barnes, the sniper has officially retired. Somebody else can do wide scans from now on.

He encounters the end of the hallway, turns, and takes time to get set up before he starts walking again.

After a few more trips up and down the hallway, he stops when he’s back at the front door.

That’s when it hits him—he’s been walking by himself, outside their apartment and he hasn’t just gone down the hallway once, he’s done it multiple times!

Walking. By. Himself!

He’s been going up and down the hallway, he didn’t get scared, he didn’t bump into anything and he walked all by himself!

He turns and grins down the hallway, where he knows Steve is standing somewhere, watching him.

“Look at me walking in the hallway by myself and doing the sweeping right! I’m just full of accomplishments today, ain’t I?”

He smiles and heads back towards Steve, making sure he’s hitting the wall as he goes. He’s getting used to the rhythm now, so he can focus on counting the apartment doors as he passes them. He knows their apartment is the third door on his left.

He stops at the third door. “Ta da!”

A moment later, he feels Steve squeezing his hand and then he’s being pulled into Steve’s arms. Steve’s jostling him happily, his chest moving.

Bucky smiles into Steve’s neck.

“I think that earned me a special present, didn’t it?”

Steve’s chest vibrates like he’s laughing and one of Steve’s hands moves down his back and smacks his ass.

Bucky laughs and smacks a kiss on Steve’s neck. He untangles himself from Steve and feels for the doorknob.

“Hurry up and get inside, punk. I want my present.”

He feels Steve grab his hand. All Steve spells out is:

J-E-R-K.

Bucky lets out a laugh and shoves open their door.

Chapter Text

Bucky wakes up slowly, always enjoying the feeling of being able to wake up but knowing he doesn’t have to leave the warm comfort of his bed right away. After years of being told when to get up—by his teachers, by his bosses, by Steve not wanting to be late for church, by his military commanders, by his prison guards—it’s very nice being able to wake up and just lie here.

He blinks up at the white ceiling and slowly stretches his arms above his head, letting out a satisfied yawn.

Steve is still softly snoring beside him. Bucky carefully lowers his arms so he doesn’t wake him. He rolls to his side and stares at Steve sleeping.

Steve’s hair is a mess, sticking up all over the place. His face is mushed half into the pillow and he’s kicked the blankets off himself—and onto Bucky—sometime during the night, and the blue shirt he sleeps in is rucked up.

Bucky carefully reaches over and gently tugs the shirt back down. Steve keeps snoring and doesn’t stir.

Bucky watches him sleep for a while. He glances at the clock on the bedside table and sees it’s ten minutes before they usually get up, so he makes himself comfortable. He curls up on his side with his hands under the pillow so he can keep watching Steve sleep.

It’s not a hardship. He’s warm, very comfortable and he gets to watch Steve sleep.

This is the true meaning of happiness.

When ten minutes have gone by, Bucky reaches over with his left hand and gently strokes Steve’s cheek.

“Good morning, sleepy.”

Steve’s breath catches slightly and he abruptly stops snoring. His eyes blink open and he’s looking at Bucky, those blue eyes sleepy and relaxed. A smile tugs on Steve’s lips.

“Hey, Buck,” Steve mumbles, the words half lost in the pillow. He shifts, grabs Bucky’s hand and kisses it.

“How’d you sleep?” Bucky asks, gently rubbing Steve’s lip with his thumb.

“Good. You?”

Bucky nods. “Same.”

Steve shifts and stretches, letting out a groan. Then he rolls on top of Bucky and rubs his nose against Bucky’s. “Guess what?”

Bucky smiles up at him, loving the happy sparkle in Steve’s eyes. “What?”

Steve kisses him. “I love you. Did you know that?”

Bucky laughs into the kiss and tangles his hands in Steve’s hair. “Nope. I had no idea. Why don’t you say it a couple more times? Just to make sure I got it.”

Steve laughs and kisses him again. “Wisecracking jerk.”

Bucky grins. “That’s definitely me. But you love me.”

Steve shakes his head. “No, I don’t. I take it back.”

“You can only do a take-back if you didn’t mean it. And I know you did. So—no take-backs.”

Steve lets out a laugh and presses a hard kiss onto Bucky’s lips. “Jerk.”

“I might be a jerk, but I’m a jerk you love. You said so yourself.”

Steve smiles. His eyes are filled with such warm affection that Bucky can’t help but smile back. Steve kisses him and rubs his nose with his own again. “I do, so help me God. I love you, Buck.”

And then Bucky wakes up.

One second he’s watching Steve smiling at him and hearing him say he loves him…

…and moments later, Steve starts to fade and his words start to dim.

And Bucky’s back to darkness and silence.

He blinks hard, looking around, half convinced that if he stares hard enough, he’ll see Steve sleeping next to him.

But there’s only darkness.

But it had seemed so real…!

He reaches out his right hand and gropes through the darkness. If Steve isn’t there, then maybe…

But his hand smacks into something solid, and when he grabs it, he can feel the fabric of Steve’s shirt.

Steve is lying right next to him…

…which means the darkness and silence are still definitely real.

Still holding onto Steve’s shirt, he tries to sit up—but nothing happens because the left arm which he tried to use is no longer there.

His stomach lurches and grief floods him.

The dream had seemed so real!

He can still see it and he can still hear it—Steve smiling at him, his eyes sparkling, saying ‘Hey, Buck’ and ‘I love you, Buck’.

Bucky’s throat clogs and he’s clenching his jaw so hard that his face is aching. The tears come and within seconds he’s sobbing.

It had seemed so real!

Damn it!

He’s still regularly dreaming with sight and sound, which Steve tells him is perfectly normal. Usually, it doesn’t bother Bucky very much. His dreams are usually ridiculous things that his brain makes up—showing up at training camp in 1943 and being told he’s going to be taking a spaceship to fight Nazis on the moon; Steve and him living in a never-ending maze and the whole dream consists of them walking around, trying to find the kitchen—and the ridiculous nature of the dreams makes it much easier to shake them off when he wakes to darkness and silence.

The dreams have never been like this.

So real. Such a perfect sum of everything that Bucky misses most.

He’s still holding onto Steve’s shirt, so he can feel when Steve starts shifting—probably having woken from Bucky’s hysterical sobbing.

He feels Steve’s hands running up his arm to his chest and his face, his hands frantic and trembling.

“I—I—” He’s crying so hard that he can’t even make his mouth form words.

Steve grips his face hard, probably worried sick.

“I—I’m—I had a dream again. But a real bad one this time.”

Steve releases his face and grabs Bucky’s hand, spelling something.

Bucky’s way too upset right now to keep track of letters. But he knows what Steve’s asking.

“It’s—I could hear you and I could see you, and I had both my arms. It was so real, Steve. So real. We were here, in bed and we woke up and you were smiling and you were talking to me.”

To be honest, the fact that he had both arms in his dreams was nice, but not something that causes him a lot of anguish.

And he can feel Steve’s smile whenever he touches his face.

But hearing Steve talking!

He hears the echoes of ‘Hey, Buck’ in his head again.

‘Hey, Buck.’

‘I love you, Buck.’

He knows he’ll never get to hear Steve say those words to him again.

His chest tightens and he’s crying even harder, overwhelmed with sadness.

Steve’s hands have calmed now that he knows Bucky isn’t physically injured. His hands gently wipe the tears off Bucky’s cheeks and then Bucky feels light kisses all over his face.

It reminds him too much of the Steve from his dream.

The last thing he wants right now is to have Steve right here—and be reminded that he’s probably saying lots of things, none of which Bucky can hear.

Ever again.

Plus—that nagging, horrible voice in the back of his head reminds him that this is all his fault anyway.

He’d been the idiot who got too impatient and didn’t want to wait for Steve to come up with a solution for the trigger words.

No, no! He had to come up with a  solution on his own and then—of course—it had to be implemented right away. Can’t be taking time to think things through…no, no.

Cause he’s an idiot!

And he’s going to pay for being an idiot by drowning in this silence for the rest of his life.

And Steve would probably be the first to point out that this is all Bucky’s fault.

Well—maybe he’d be kinder than that.

But it doesn’t matter.

Right now, having Steve right here is making Bucky feel worse.

Bucky reaches up, finds Steve’s chest and pushes him back. “I—I wanna be alone. Don’t touch me.”

Then he fumbles for the blanket, pulls it up to his ears and rolls over into his wall of pillows.

He can feel Steve not moving, and he knows—he knows—that Steve is talking, saying comforting things, saying soothing things, saying wonderful things…

…saying ‘Buck’ over and over again.

And he can’t hear any of it.

The pain in his chest grows thicker and he sobs into the pillows.

Steve obeys his demand and doesn’t touch him. After a while Bucky can feel the mattress shift. He assumes Steve is getting off the bed.

Good.

Bucky wants to be alone with his misery. He doesn’t deserve anybody’s comfort right now—plus, Steve can’t offer him the comfort he truly wants:

Hearing Steve’s voice, even if it’s just for a second.

*             *             *

Bucky stays in bed, crying and miserable for about an hour. Steve obeys his wish not to touch him, but he does put a box of tissues on top of the blankets so Bucky can wipe his face. Later, Steve brings the water bottle that they bring on their walks and leaves it on top of the blankets too.

When Bucky’s all cried out and he really needs to pee, he digs himself out of his blankets and goes to the bathroom. When he comes back to the bed, he realizes the blanket’s been shaken out, the pillows have been swapped around, and his disgusting pile of used tissues is gone.

Steve’s been cleaning.

Bucky doesn’t have the energy to thank him. He just crawls back into bed and rolls to face the wall again.

Eventually he feels the mattress dip and he can smell ham and mustard.

Steve must have been made him a sandwich.

Now that he’s all cried out, he’s feeling numb.

At least the overwhelming grief has faded, but now he just feels drained.

He is getting hungry. But eating when he’s feeling this drained is always tricky. Because he’s not able to focus properly, he often grabs things incorrectly, spills things and drops things, and he often misaims and the food ends up missing his mouth and getting all over his shirt and the table. In this case, it would be the bedding that would get the worst of it and Bucky’s not going to make a mess that Steve has to clean up.

He rolls over, away from his pillows. “Stevie, can you help me eat my sandwich? I don’t feel good and I’m gonna get mustard all of myself and crumbs all over the bed.”

Within seconds, the mattress is shifting again and Steve’s arms are gently running up Bucky’s arm and pulling him up. Steve gets Bucky comfortable, sitting up against the pillows and getting him to cross his legs to give Steve room to sit in front of him.

Just like they had when Bucky had first come home, Steve helps feed him. He touches Bucky’s lips with the fingers of one hand, alerting him that food is coming, and then presses the sandwich against Bucky’s lips for a bite. All Bucky has to do is chew, swallow and open his mouth when he wants another bite. Every few bites, a napkin gently wipes his mouth.

“Stop for a second. I need water.” He has no idea where the water bottle went. “Can you hand me the bottle, please?”

The bottle is pressed into his hand. He loves this water bottle. It’s got a plastic nub on top that Bucky can pull open with his teeth. He can wrap his lips around it and drink and never have to worry about water spilling anywhere. When he’s finished, he can close it and put it wherever he wants without having to worry about it spilling. He doesn’t like using it when they’re at home—he’s not a baby and he’s perfectly capable of drinking from glasses and mugs—but when they’re outside, or Bucky’s having a bad day, it’s very handy.

Steve has figured this out without Bucky ever having talked to him about it, and Steve automatically gives Bucky the water bottle instead of glasses or mugs when he’s having a bad day.

He finishes drinking, snaps the nub closed and drops the bottle in his lap. Then it’s back to eating.

He makes his way through the sandwich and drinks some more water.

“I wanna cuddle.”

Steve gets them organized, sitting up against the headboard and pulling Bucky against his chest. He pulls the blanket up around Bucky and rubs his back with one hand. His other hand is gently running through Bucky’s hair.

Bucky does feel better like this. He’s surrounded by Steve and he knows he can keep his brain turned off and just drift, and Steve will take care of him and protect him. He doesn’t have to worry about anything.

Bucky’s very appreciative of the fact that Steve isn’t trying to talk to him. Bucky’s not in the mood to decipher and track letters right now.

That’s another one of those things he’s never had to talk to Steve about. Steve just seems to know that Bucky doesn’t have the energy to use his brain very much when he’s having bad days.

They’ve always been very good at taking care of each other when one of them has a bad day. They know what to the other needs them to do and say—or in this case, not say—to make them feel better.

Bucky snuffles into Steve’s shirt and relaxes, feeling Steve’s heart beating in his chest and feeling him slowly breathing in and out.

He knows Steve is desperate to know what he can do to help solve this problem.

Bucky knows this situation is one that Steve can’t help him with, but keeping Steve in the dark isn’t a good thing to do either.

“You—in the dream, you were talking to me. I could see you smiling and that was amazing, but—but I could hear your voice. I could—I could hear you say my name and saying you loved me.”

The tears come again and he takes a shaky breath and swallows hard, hoping he can finish talking before he dissolves into sobs again.

“I can’t—I can’t remember the last thing you said to me. I know it was the morning when I went to surrender to Natasha. I lied to you about where I was going and I was so damn worried about you doing something to mess up my plans and getting yourself hurt or killed, so I wasn’t paying attention to what we were saying.”

Of course, had he known back then that it would the last time he would ever hear Steve’s voice, he would have paid much more attention.

“But—that’s—that’s not even—” He sniffs, trying to choke back his tears. “That’s not even the worst part. I—I remember what you sound like, but I know eventually I’ll forget. And I won’t have anything to remind me. I’ll just forget and it’ll be gone forever.”

And that’s as far as he gets because the pain squeezes his chest tight and he’s sobbing again.

He feels Steve’s arms tighten around him and hard kisses are pressed to his temple. Steve’s fingers are trying to brush the flood of tears that are streaming down his cheeks, but they just keep coming. Eventually, Bucky feels tissues on his cheeks instead, and Steve gently wipes his cheeks, nose and eyes as he cries, and Steve’s other arm rubs his back.

When he’s all cried out for the second time this morning, he lies there, his breaths shuddering and catching in his throat. Steve finishes wiping his face.

“Can—can we stay here for a while? I don’t wanna do anything for a while.”

Steve taps on his back and goes back to rubbing his back in long, slow strokes. Bucky can feel kisses on his face from time to time.

Bucky notices that he’s only been feeling vibrations in Steve’s chest from his heart, not the kind of vibrations when Steve talks.

He realizes Steve hasn’t been speaking for a while, probably not wanting to upset Bucky further.

Bucky is unbelievably grateful for that small kindness. On most other days, he loves feeling Steve talking to him and he knows Steve loves talking to him.

But today it’s like rubbing salt in a wound

Time goes by and eventually Bucky starts feeling a bit better. Nothing’s changed about the situation, but his body is worn out from crying and being sad.

Bucky pats Steve on the chest. “Thank you for being awesome, Stevie.”

Bucky feels a kiss on his temple. Then Bucky holds up his hand. “If you wanna talk to me, then I’m all ears. Just go slow, okay? Leave a big pause between words.”

Steve sits up and eagerly takes Bucky’s hand, but he obeys Bucky’s wish and spells slowly.

He asks Bucky what exactly the Steve in his dream had said that he misses hearing the most.

“When you said my name. And when you said you loved me.”

Steve wants to know exactly—exactly—how he’d said it.

Bucky frowns. “What does it matter? I—“

Steve jostles his hand impatiently. He wants an answer.

Bucky doesn’t see the point, but Steve’s been so fantastic this morning that he deserves an answer. “Okay. You said ‘Hey, Buck’. And you said ‘I love you, Buck’. Just like that.”

Steve tells him he has an idea.

“What kind of an idea? Steve, don’t start some stupid thing about giving me my hearing back—I ain’t taking that risk.”

Steve’s jostling his hand again, wanting him to shut up and listen.

Steve asks him if he still remembers what Steve sounds like when he says those two things.

“Of course I do. But eventually—”

Steve’s spelling again. He tells Bucky that he has an idea of how to keep those memories alive and fresh in Bucky’s mind. As long as he recalls those memories often, he won’t forget them.

“Alright. How? You wanna start each morning by reminding me to dredge up those memories? Like our stretching exercises?”

Rub, rub, rub.

Steve tells him he’ll show him his idea.

Then he takes Bucky’s hand and places his fingers against Steve’s lips. Bucky feels Steve’s lips moving beneath his fingers. Steve’s lips move while he says something. Then Steve stops talking.

Bucky can feel that Steve’s really tense. Like he’s waiting for Bucky to catch on.

Unfortunately, he’s not catching on.

“I don’t get it, Rogers. I touch your face all the time. I told you, it ain’t the whole ‘not seeing things’ that’s the worst, it’s not hearing—”

Steve presses Bucky’s fingers more firmly against his lips. Bucky’s fingers are completely covering Steve’s mouth now, so he can feel every little movement that Steve’s lips are making.

Steve is talking, talking, talking, but he’s not releasing Bucky’s hand.

Eventually, Bucky realizes that Steve’s lips are moving in a pattern. He seems to be saying two separate things—two words?—with a pause in between, then he does a longer pause before starting the whole thing again.

He’s doing it over and over and over again.

Bucky focuses on separating the two words (?) and feeling the individual movements for each.

First Steve’s lips part until his mouth is halfway open.

Then there’s a short pause during which Steve’s lips are closed.

Then his lips squish together, then they burst open and air pushes against Bucky’s fingers.

Then his lips close again and there’s a long pause.

Bucky knows Steve would explain what he’s doing if he asked, but he thinks he can figure it out. He starts mouthing letters to himself, trying to see which one is similar to that bursting motion.

‘A’ is unremarkable. Just a slight opening of his mouth.

But as soon as he forms the letter ‘B’, he realizes that’s it! It has that same lips squishing and bursting motion that Steve has been doing.

So Steve said one word, then he said another, starting with a B.

It hits him a second later.

‘Hey, Buck’.

That’s what Steve must be saying.

“Are you saying ‘hey’ and ‘Buck’?”

Steve happily taps on Bucky’s hand, which is still pressed to Steve’s mouth.

Then Steve lips are doing a different pattern. This one seems to have four words.

The first is again not distinct enough to figure out. Just a slight opening of Steve’s lips.

But the second word involves the tip of Steve’s tongue darting out and just barely touching Bucky’s fingers.

The third word has his lips pursed outwards. Way out. Steve’s lips are pushing Bucky’s fingers back.

The fourth word has the same motions as the ‘B’ in the first pattern: lips squished together and then bursting open. He knows that’s ‘Buck’.

Bucky already knows what Steve is saying, but he tries it himself, touching his own lips and mouthing what he thinks the words are to check if the motions feel the same as Steve’s had.

He moves his hand back and forth between his own lips and Steve’s, and Steve dutifully repeats the phrase whenever Bucky presses his fingers against Steve’s lips.

Slight opening of lips…I.

Tongue darting out…Love.

Lips pursing outward…You.

Lips squished and then bursting open…Buck.

“It’s ‘I love you, Buck’, right?”

Tap, tap, tap.

“Do it again. Say ‘Hey, Buck’, and then say ‘I love you’. I wanna line it up with the memory so do it slow but keep doing it.”

Steve slows down and does the first pattern, followed by the second one.

He repeats it over and over and over again.

Bucky realizes Steve has been sitting here, saying the same two phrases over and over again for more than five minutes but he doesn’t show any sign of wanting to stop before Bucky’s satisfied.

Jesus, Bucky loves this punk so much.

He pulls up the memory of the dream. Steve, smiling at him and saying ‘Hey, Buck’ and ‘I love you, Buck’.

Only this time, he matches the Steve in his memory with Steve’s lips moving under his fingers.

To his amazement, he almost feels like he can hear Steve saying the words. Not the Steve in his dream, but the real Steve, the Steve who’s here with him.

The echo of the memory in his head lines up perfectly with the movement of Steve’s lips.

It really feels like he’s hearing Steve talking.

A smile tugs on his lips and he feels a happy glow in his chest.

He lets Steve repeat the phrases a few more times until he pulls his fingers away from his lips and kisses him.

“Thank you, Stevie. That’s amazing,” he whispers against Steve’s lips. “It’s a great idea, thank you. You know how much that means to me.”

Steve’s arms wrap around him and he kisses him back. Bucky can feel that they’re both smiling.

*             *             *

It becomes part of their routine. They don’t do it all the time, but whenever Bucky’s having a bad day, or he’s just really missing hearing Steve’s voice, he’ll find Steve and put his fingers against Steve’s lips.

Bucky will say: “Hey, Stevie.”

And Steve will say ‘Hey, Buck’, and Bucky can hear him without anybody spelling on any hands.

Then Bucky will say: “I love you.”

And Steve will say ‘I love you, Buck’ and again, Bucky can match the memory of hearing Steve say those words to Steve’s lips forming them.

It’s not the same as hearing Steve’s voice, but it’s as close as he’s going to get. It always makes him smile, and on his bad days, that’s something he desperately needs.

The best part is that Bucky is recalling the memories of Steve saying those words to him whenever they do it, so he gets more reassured each day that he won’t ever forget.

Chapter Text

Steve nearly had a heart attack when he woke up to the sound of Bucky hysterically sobbing. His first thought had been that Bucky was physically hurt and he’d grabbed Bucky a bit roughly while he’d frantically attempted to find out what was wrong.

When Bucky had choked out what his dream had been about, Steve had felt like somebody had dumped a bucket of cold water over his head.

He’s been desperately hoping that Bucky will stop dreaming in sound and color sometime soon. But the brain is a funny and unpredictable thing, and according to his research, it’s likely that Bucky will keep dreaming in sound and color for years to come—maybe even the rest of his life.

Usually Bucky doesn’t even bother mentioning his dreams. Steve only realizes that Bucky’s had one if he wakes up grumpy and spends long minutes blinking and looking around before getting out of bed.

The cruelty of the situation makes Steve want to punch through a wall.

But that wouldn’t be any help to Bucky, so Steve had tried to calm him the only way he knew how—touching him and kissing him and talking to him.

But on this morning, Bucky didn’t want any of that.

“I—I wanna be alone. Don’t touch me.”

Steve had immediately yanked his hands off Bucky when he’d said that, and within seconds Bucky had turned to face the pillow wall. He’d pulled the blanket up around him and started sobbing again.

The sound of Bucky’s anguished crying had made Steve’s heart hurt and his eyes had brimmed with tears within minutes. His hands had twitched with the need to touch Bucky and offer comfort—but he’d kept his hands to himself, as Bucky had demanded.

He’d stayed there on the bed for several minutes, staring at Bucky.

“Buck, tell me how to help you. Please. I wanna help you. I can’t stand to see you like this,” Steve had mumbled through a throat clogged with tears.

The tears had started rolling down his cheeks and he’d brushed them away. He’d twisted his hands in his lap, feeling completely lost and helpless.

When it became clear that Bucky wasn’t going to move for a while, Steve had gotten out of bed. He hadn’t been doing anybody any good just sitting there, crying.

He’d realized that while Bucky hadn’t wanted Steve to comfort him, he still needed some basic things.

Steve grabbed the box of tissues from the bedside table and put it on Bucky’s blanket. He’d gone out to the front hall and taken the water bottle out of his backpack, filled it up and put that on Bucky’s blanket too.

Then he’d sat down against the bedroom wall, ready to wait until Bucky gave him some indication of what he needed or wanted.

As he sat there, listening to Bucky crying, his own tears had come flooding back.

“Oh, Buck. I’m so sorry, Buck. I’m so, so sorry.” He’d pulled his knees up to his chest and shoves his hands over his face and into his hair. “If I could share my eyes and ears with you, I’d do it. You could do half the day and I’d do the other half. We’d switch back and forth.”

It had been a stupid thought, but nobody could hear Steve saying stupid things, so it didn’t matter. He knew Bucky would never agree to something which would take anything away from Steve. And whenever Steve brought up the possibility of undoing the hearing or sight loss, Bucky always shut that down, saying it wasn’t worth the risk.

Steve didn’t understand what kind of risk Bucky was talking about—but he figured that Bucky was smart enough to know what he was talking about.

None of that helped with their current situation. Bucky had cried on the bed, and Steve had sat on the floor.

“You deserve so much more than this. I’m so sorry, Buck.” Steve mumbled. He leaned forward and squished his face against his hands, which were braced against his knees. His lips were squished against the back of his hands. “I know it ain’t the same thing, but when you died—or I thought you died—the thought of never getting to see you or hear you again…it was devastating. I can’t imagine having to face that for the rest of my life. You’re so much stronger than me, Buck, but I know that this is so, so, so hard for you. I just—I just don’t know—”

That’s when Steve had realized he’d been drooling on his hands while mumbling. He’d raised his head and wiped the drool from his hands…

…and that’s when he realized he’d been feeling his lips moving against his hands as he’d been talking.

It reminded him of what he’d read about Helen Keller. She’d learned to speak by touching people’s lips and throat while they spoke and learning the vibrations and motions which each letter required.

Steve had slowly straightened up from his slouch, his mind racing.

Bucky still remembered what Steve sounded like. If Bucky could feel Steve’s lips moving as he said those things he remembered…maybe Bucky could put the two things together?

It wouldn’t be the same as hearing Steve speaking of course, but it would be much closer than Steve spelling on Bucky’s palm.

He knew he’d have to ask Bucky exactly what he’d said in his dream and then he’d try to get Bucky to understand which words are produced with which mouth movements.

He’d been shaking out of his thoughts by a sniffling, pale Bucky crawling out of bed and stumbling his way to the bathroom.

Steve had jumped up and quickly cleaned up the bed while Bucky was out of it. When Bucky had come back, Steve had stood there, staring at him while Bucky had crawled back into bed.

But Steve had realized that standing here wouldn’t help Bucky at all.

So he’d gone to the kitchen and made them sandwiches for a late breakfast. He’d eaten his own in four bites, and then he’d brought a plate and a napkin into the bedroom.

Bucky hadn’t registered the smell of the sandwich, so Steve had carefully waved the plate back and forth above Bucky’s head until he’d smelled the sandwich and sat up.

Steve had helped him eat and drink, and he’d been thrilled when Bucky asked to cuddle.

As they’d lain there, Steve had opened his mouth half a dozen times to start telling Bucky his idea, but he knew Bucky wouldn’t appreciate Steve using his voice to speak right now, and he knew he’d never get through an explanation if Bucky was upset.

All Bucky would have to do to ignore Steve is keep his hand away from him. It’s not difficult for Bucky to shut him out very quickly and very thoroughly.

So Steve had waited while Bucky had gotten the strength to finally explain what had happened in his dream.

Steve had opened his mouth to tell Bucky that he already knew, and to offer words of comfort and to bring up his idea—but he’d pressed his mouth shut every time.

Finally, Bucky had held out his hand and said: “If you wanna talk to me, then I’m all ears. Just go slow, okay? Leave a big pause between words.”

That was the opening Steve had been waiting for.

He’d known that he was taking a gamble. There was always the chance that Bucky wouldn’t be able to connect his lip movements to the words and he’d just get frustrated and more upset—but Steve felt it was a gamble worth taking.

He’d pressed Bucky’s fingers to his lips and started saying those two phrases over and over and over again.

His chest had burned with fierce pride when Bucky had figured out what Steve was saying without him having to explain.

His Buck had always been a very smart fella.

Steve hadn’t cared when he’d had to sit there and repeat ‘Hey, Buck’ and ‘I love you, Buck’ about a hundred times each. His throat had started hurting after a while, so he stopped actually saying the words and only made the mouth  movements, letting out a small burst of air for the ‘Buck’ so Bucky could feel it.

Bucky hadn’t noticed the change.

But it was all worth it when Bucky had taken his fingers off Steve’s lips and kissed him.

“Thank you, Stevie. That’s amazing. It’s a great idea, thank you. You know how much that means to me.”

Steve had wrapped his arms around him and kissed him back, smiling at the beautiful smile on Bucky’s face.

Steve knew Bucky would still be a bit sensitive about Steve using his voice for the rest of the day, so he’d turned his head away from Bucky so he wouldn’t feel Steve’s lips move and he’d mouthed:

“I’m so damn proud of you, Buck. So damn proud.”

When he’d pulled away from the hug, he’d carefully spelled that on Bucky’s hand, and Bucky had given him that bashful little half smile he did when he’s happy that he made Steve proud.

*             *             *

They don’t go out for a walk that day, but by the next morning, Bucky insists he’s feeling better and he wants to go practice. Steve waits until noon so he can judge if Bucky really is feeling better or he’s just saying he is—going out while he’s unfocused never leads to a good walk—but once he sees that Bucky really is fine, they head out.

Each day, they travel farther and farther away from home before coming back. Now that they’re both comfortable with general walking, they increase the difficulty level each day.

Bucky always has to start out slowly and get his sweeping rhythm going before he can slowly walk faster. As he gets more accustomed to sweeping properly, he finds he’s getting to know the different things which he encounters on their block. He’ll tell Steve what he thinks a certain obstacle is—or even if he knows that a certain obstacle is coming up—and Steve will verify if he’s right or not.

Bucky knows where the tree root pokes through the pavement. He knows where the railing with the closely spaced spikes is, and where the railing with the wider spaced spikes is—which is the one he doesn’t like because he tends to get his cane tip stuck in it.

They go up and down the stairs at different buildings. Steve always writes a capital ‘S’ for stairs, followed by a ‘D’ if the stairs go downwards, or a ‘U’ if the stairs go upwards, followed by the number of stairs. As he gets more familiar with the areas they walk in, Steve can do the whole sequence without looking at Bucky’s hand or even thinking about it. Their own stairs are:

S.

D.

Number sign.

Double tap on the tip of the middle finger.

Number sign.

Even when Bucky gets accustomed to certain things and no longer needs Steve to signal for them, Steve keeps doing it for practice. Bucky can ignore the signals if he doesn’t need them.

At the beginning Steve had deliberately timed their walks so they aren’t outside when the big masses are going or coming home from work, but now they go out during rush hour at least once a week for practice. Some of the streets are so busy that Steve tells Bucky to put his cane away and he walks behind Steve, holding onto Steve’s arm which he holds out behind him.

They go in and out of stores just to practice moving through different doors.

They practice crossing intersections in large square paths, crossing one street after another.

When Bucky encounters an object, Steve sometimes stops him and spells the name of it—‘R-A-I-L-I-N-G’, ‘T-R-E-E’, ‘M-A-I-L-B-O-X’ and encourages him to explore the object with the cane. Bucky will move the cane’s ball tip around it, trying to get as much information as possible. He’ll put the information together—the width, the depth, the smoothness, the hardness—and connect it with the name of the item. As the weeks go on, whenever Steve tells him what an object is, Bucky will tell Steve what kind of textures he’s expecting to find when he explores it. It’s not just a good cane exercise, but if Bucky knows what the object is, he knows how he needs to move to avoid it and Steve can let him navigate around it on his own.

Along with learning how to use the cane properly when outside, Bucky has to add cleaning the cane to his list of tasks. Unlike their relatively clean apartment, the rolling ball tip is being dragged through all sorts of gross muck and dirt when they’re outside, and Bucky doesn’t want to bring that filth into their apartment. Plus, keeping the cane parts clean keeps the whole thing functioning properly.

When they come home, Bucky always folds up the cane and brings it to the bathroom so he can wash it. He washes the ball very thoroughly and wipes the rest of the cane, checking to make sure no debris has gotten stuck in it.

*             *             *

After they’ve spent a few weeks walking around the nearby streets, Bucky decides that walking is great, but he wants to actually end up somewhere interesting, not just turn around and go back home.

He doesn’t care where they go, as long as it’s somewhere fun.

“I don’t wanna just walk around to walk around. I wanna go somewhere, Rogers. There’s gotta be cool things around here.”

Steve doesn’t tell him where they’re going, just keeps telling Bucky to:

W-A-I-T.

They head out, go down the stairs and walk down their block. Bucky’s thrilled when he realizes he feels comfortable walking down this part of the sidewalk. They’ve done it so many times now that Bucky knows what his feet will tell him, what the cane will tell him and what Steve will tell him.

They cross a bunch of streets and he finds vibrating buttons at two of the intersections, which makes Bucky a very happy man. They’ve realized that while the vibrating buttons are at most intersections, they aren’t at all of them, which is disappointing. Bucky likes having that extra amount of information he can get from the vibrating buttons. He doesn’t have to purely rely on Steve to tell him when it’s time to go.

Eventually Bucky realizes he can smell water.

Not the kind you drink—that stuff has no smell—but it’s a water smell that he recognizes.

It gets stronger the farther they walk.

He doesn’t say anything to Steve—he’s probably just imagining remembering the smell anyway. He does notice that the air gets cooler and the breeze picks up. They must be somewhere more open—less buildings.

Then the ground changes.

One second they were on rough pavement—now they’re on something that’s shifting and crumbling under his feet. The ball bounces harder than it did on the pavement.

Steve stops him and tells him they’re in a park.

He has no idea what kind of ground they’re walking on—it doesn’t feel soft, so it’s not dirt.

Bucky insists on crouching down and touching the stuff.

Feels like—gravel?

He asks Steve.

Tap.

It’s disconcerting to realize that there are no objects for his cane to smack into. In fact, if he moves too far to the side in order to try to feel something, the cane gets stuck behind a fence that seems to run along the pathway, or gets tangled up in the vegetation that’s there.

He gets frustrated quickly. “How am I supposed to know where I’m going if I can’t follow a line with the cane?”

Steve pulls them to a stop. He kisses Bucky’s knuckles then tells him to just relax and enjoy the walk. Steve can lead.

Bucky makes a face. “I’m supposed to be practicing.”

Steve jostles their joined hands and tells him again to just enjoy the walk.

Bucky smiles. “Alright, fine. You lead, I’ll enjoy.”

So he keeps sweeping with his cane but he doesn’t let it bother him that he’s not hitting anything. Steve’s keeping a good grip on his arm and indicates when he needs to turn. There don’t appear to be many people around and unlike in the city center, there are no obstacles anywhere. Bucky gradually relaxes.

He’s learned something: sometimes having the cane not hit anything can be just as much of a guidance as having it hit something. It’s a bit unnerving to be walking around in complete darkness with absolutely no reference point, but Steve’s tight grip on his arm keeps him focused and keeps the fear at bay.

Within a few minutes, he stops worrying about his surroundings and starts enjoying them.

He can tell by the smell of vegetation that they’re surrounded by plant life. Steve stops them multiple times so Bucky can touch the different trees and bushes. It’s a nicer smell than the city center, that’s for sure. The city doesn’t stink nearly as bad as it did in the 30s, but it still doesn’t smell like nice plants.

It’s fascinating feeling the different leaves—so many shapes and sizes and textures!

He pokes Steve in the side. “These would be great for an art project, Steve! Do you have a bag on you?”

No, Steve doesn’t, but he promises they’ll bring bags next time.

There are thick leafs, and thin leaves, leaves with pointy ends and leaves that are round. Leaves that are soft and fuzzy, and leaves that are smooth and tough like plastic.

Bucky’s really enjoying himself—

—until a sharp pain erupts on his face, very close to his right eye.

He lets out a startled shout and jerks away from the source of the pain, stomping on Steve’s foot.

Steve’s arms immediately wrap around him to keep him from tripping over his own feet.

Bucky lets go the cane and touches the area that’s hurting. The skin feels swollen and tender but Bucky can’t tell how bad the damage is.

“What—what the hell was that? Something poked me.”

Steve’s trembling and his hands are running over Bucky’s face, gently brushing aside Bucky’s own exploring fingers and probing the area that’s hurting.

“Is it bleeding?”

Steve takes a hand off Bucky’s face and spells out ‘a little’.

“Damn.”

Steve tells him he’s going to clean the cut. A few moments late, Bucky can smell disinfectant and a cool, moist cloth is gently wiping across the cut. It stings a little, but Bucky carefully stays still until Steve’s done.

The disinfectant wipes always travel with them now, but mostly they’re for Bucky to clean his hand if he touches something gross, or to wipe off the cane tip if it rolls through something gross. This is the first time they’ve had to use them for a medical situation.

The cloth leaves his face and Steve tells him it stopped bleeding already.

That’s good, but it doesn’t explain what happened.

“What did I hit?”

Steve tells him it was a branch.

Oh. Now that he thinks about it, it’s pretty stupid for him to be sticking his face into a bunch of plants and bushes when he can’t see sharp ended branches.

He could accidentally impale himself on a sharp branch.

Shit. You stupid goof, Barnes.

Steve’s hands are still gently running over his face. “I’m okay, Stevie. It was just a shock. It’s my own fault—I shouldn’t be sticking my face into plants like that.”

He momentarily thinks he’s dropped his cane, but he can feel it dangling from the strap on his wrist. Thank God for that strap. This isn’t the first time it saved him from losing his cane, and Bucky’s sure it won’t be the last.

Steve’s hands pause, then they leave Bucky’s face. Moments later, Steve is pressing something into his hand.

They feel like glasses. Steve doesn’t need glasses—anymore—so these must be sunglasses?

“Are these your sunglasses?”

Tap.

“Punk, I don’t need your sunglasses.” He chuckles. “You need them more than I do. The sun ain’t exactly bothering me.”

But Steve is stubbornly closing Bucky’s fingers over the glasses.

Well—it would be a good safety measure.

So Bucky slides the sunglasses on. Then Steve’s pressing something else into his hands. It feels like—

Steve’s baseball cap?

“Rogers, I ain’t taking all your stuff. You’re gonna be squinting the rest of the day.”

But Steve isn’t changing his mind—he keeps refusing to take the hat back, no matter how hard Bucky pushes it against his chest.

Stubborn punk.

So Bucky pulls the hat on.

With the extra layers of protections on his face, Bucky feels safe enough to go back to exploring the different bushes and plants around them. He keeps his head tilted down so he can feel when branches brush against the brim of the cap. That’s his cue to step a little further back.

“Thanks, Stevie. This was a good idea. Can you order me my own sunglasses and hat when we get home?”

Steve tells him they’ll do it as soon as they’re home.

“I want a Mets hat.”

Tap.

They keep walking and the tall trees disappear from one side. They’re replaced by soft, moist grass and that water smell from before gets stronger.

Steve tells him they’re close to a bench and helps him sit down.

Bucky feels a water bottle being pressed into his hand. He pulls open the nub with his teeth and takes a long drink.

The breeze is strong and the water scent envelopes him. This close, he can smell that it’s salty. Despite the fall chill in the breeze, the sun is shining and it’s a beautiful day.

He bumps into Steve’s shoulder and offers him the water bottle. “This is so great, Rogers! I’m glad you found this place. It’s not that far from home. We should come here often.”

Tap, tap, tap.

The water bottle is taken from Bucky’s hand. Hopefully Steve grabbed it, not some random passerby.

Although that would be pretty funny.

“What’s that water smell? Is it the ocean or something?”

Rub, rub. Steve tells him it’s the East River.

Huh. “Isn’t that a coincidence, huh? We had an East River in Brooklyn too.”

His hand is still in Steve’s grasp, that’s why he can feel it when Steve tenses.

“What? I know I ain’t wrong. I spent a lot of time by that river, so did you. I remember its name.”

He feels Steve shifting, then Steve’s crouching before him, one hand holding Bucky’s, the other on Bucky’s knee, squeezing gently.

“What the hell is wrong with you, Rogers? Are you okay?”

His hand is being smoothed out. Steve’s fingers are shaking. In fact, he’s shaking so much that his fingers are skittering all over Bucky’s palm.

“Steve, you’re worrying me. Please calm down. I can’t understand what you’re saying when you’re shaking like that.”

Steve closes his fingers over Bucky’s and tightly squeezes his hands for a few minutes. Bucky waits, wishing he had his other hand still so he could comfort Steve with it.

Finally, Steve untangles their fingers. He carefully and slowly starts spelling, one letter at a time.

B-R-O-O-K-L-Y-N.

Okay. “I know, sweetheart. That’s what I just said. We had an East River in Brooklyn too. Just like this river. Same name. That’s a pretty neat coincidence, huh?”

Rub, rub, rub.

B-R-O-O-K-L-Y-N.

His press hard into Bucky's palm with each letter and Bucky can feel him shaking again.

Then Steve’s fingers leave his hand and Steve’s pressing his head to Bucky’s knees. Bucky pulls his hand from his loose grasp and rubs the back of Steve’s neck. Steve’s entire body is shaking.

Bucky’s starting to get worried. He has no idea what’s causing Steve to freak out like this. “It’s alright. I’m right here, Stevie. Take your time. I ain’t going anywhere.”

A few minutes later Steve pushes himself up and sits on the bench next to Bucky. He’s still tense but the shaking has stopped.

“I’d really like to know what’s bothering you. When you’re ready, you gotta tell me so we can fix it.”

Bucky waits him out.

Finally Steve picks up Bucky’s hand and tells:

W-E.

L-I-V-E.

I-N.

B-R-O-O-K-L-Y-N.                                                   

N-O-W.

Once Bucky’s put the words together, he feels such an intense emotion come over him that he can’t breathe.

That—

Steve can’t mean—

Steve’s moving on to something else, clearly thinking that Bucky isn’t getting it.

Bucky finally manages to take a breath, just in time to try to follow what Steve’s spelling.

T-H-I-S.

I-S.

B-R-O-O-K-L-Y-N.

B-R-I-D-G-E.

P-A-R-K.

It can’t possibly mean—

He takes a shaky breath. “Stevie, are you trying to tell me we’re in Brooklyn? As in, right now, we’re in Brooklyn and we live in Brooklyn and sleep in Brooklyn and eat in Brooklyn? Not just any part of Brooklyn, but you’re telling me we’re sitting by the East River and we’re eight blocks from home which means we’re in the Heights which means we’re home. I mean, really home?”

Tap, tap, tap.

Bucky nearly bursts into tears he’s suddenly so overwhelmed. “You brought us home? You really brought us home? We’re home?”

Tap, tap, tap.

He blinks hard, but the tears still come.

He feels such an intense sense of relief and happiness seep through him that he feels like he’s going to melt into the bench.

Everything suddenly feels different. Everything suddenly is different.

He’s home.

Seventy years later—a million lifetimes later—he’s made it back home. Steve brought him home.

“Steve—”

He tightens his grip on Steve’s hand and pulls him close. He buries his face in Steve’s shoulder and sobs, feeling Steve wrap his arms around him.

He’s home.

He’s home, he’s home, he’s home.

Steve brought him home. Bucky remembers a dozen promises whispered in the dead of night between two boys sleeping in a drafty tent in the middle of a muddy field somewhere in Europe—promises to each other that they’ll get the other home, no matter what.

And Steve kept his promise.

Once Bucky’s calm, he pulls back enough that Steve can dig through the backpack for something, then he’s wiping Bucky’s face with a tissue.

“Thanks,” he says, taking the tissue and blowing his nose.

He leans into Steve’s chest.

“So if we’re in the park and we’re facing the river, the bridge is somewhere to our right, right?” He points to his right.

Tap.

“Can you see it? What am I saying? Of course you can see it! We’re practically under it, ain’t we?”

Tap.

Steve tells him it’s beautiful.

Bucky smiles. “Yeah. I remember.”

Steve seems to have calmed down too.

“Listen, were you stressing because you felt bad that I didn’t know?”

A pause.

Then a tap.

Bucky sits up, feels for Steve’s face and kisses him. “Don’t. It’s my fault. I’ve been so busy that I didn’t care where we were as long we were safe. It never occurred to me to ask you where we were. And I’ve been keeping you busy. You forgot to tell me and I forgot to ask. We both messed up but now we’re on the same page. It’s okay.”

He’s brushing his hand over Steve’s face so he can feel Steve’s lips move.

“Thank you for bringing me home, punk. It’s nice that you didn’t break your promise,” he says, then leans in for another kiss.

*             *             *

As they walk home, everything feels different.

Just knowing that he’s back home is enough to make him feel more confident. Even though very little of the city is the same as it was seventy years ago, it’s the thought that helps.

He’s in the Heights.

He’s walking the same streets which he’s walked his entire life.

This is his home, his town, his place.

His Brooklyn.

And he’s going to learn to be just as comfortable in 21st century Brooklyn Heights as he’d been in 20th century Brooklyn Heights.

Chapter Text

They spend the next day at home. They watch a baseball game, Steve spends time on his computer and Bucky works on a fruit bowl sketch that he’s coloring with his scented markers. To make it fun, he deliberately uses the wrong color on each fruit, giving each fruit the wrong scent. Steve finds the picture hilarious when Bucky shows it to him.

Steve does the cooking, Bucky does the dishes and they make their way down the basement together to do the laundry.

The evening is spent playing checkers using a board that has every alternating square raised up. The playing discs have little pegs underneath which can fit into small holes drilled into each square. Bucky’s discs are the scratched up ones and Steve’s are smooth. It’s fun, but it’s a tough mental game to play. Steve plays with a blindfold on, so he has to work just as hard as Bucky to keep a mental picture of the board in his head. With such a large playing board and so many discs, it’s hard to do well.

Steve had told Bucky about playing with the blindfold on. He doesn’t do it for all the games they play, only the ones where Bucky has to work very hard to keep a mental image of the playing surface. Steve doesn’t like playing with the advantage of his eyesight, especially because it makes his turn go by so much faster than Bucky’s and he doesn’t want Bucky feeling pressured.

Bucky tells him he doesn’t want Steve deliberately making his own life harder. “You’ve got two good eyes now Rogers. You should use them. I know it takes me a lot longer to do my turn but I’ve accepted it.”

But there’s a hint of annoyance in Bucky’s words, and Steve knows it bothers him that he’s so much slower than Steve when they’re playing certain games.

So Steve just rubs Bucky’s hand and tells him he gets to play however the hell he wants to play.

When Bucky opens his mouth to keep protesting, Steve spells out:

E-O-T-L-I.

Pause.

Bucky frowns. “What’s the I?”

End. Of. The. Line. Idiot.

That makes them both laugh and by the time they’ve settled down, they’ve both completely forgotten what the board looks like, so they have to spend several minutes gently running this fingers over the board and their pieces again.

When their brains get tired, Bucky grabs his knitting supplies and Steve grabs his sketching supplies and they sit out on the balcony.

The days are definitely getting colder. They’re both in warm sweaters which they had knit and Steve brings out a blanket which Bucky had finished last week. Steve drapes it over their laps and they get comfortable.

It takes Bucky a few minutes to get the mini knitting loom set up. He’s starting a new pair of socks for Steve. He holds up the yarn he’d brought outside.

“Is this the color you wanted? Speak now or forever hold your peace.”

Steve taps his hand.

Satisfied, Bucky attaches the yarn to the loom. Starting something new is always tough—and he can feel that Steve is motionless, probably watching Bucky’s progress and ready to help if he needs it—but Bucky manages.

They sit quietly side by side, and Bucky’s enjoying the fall breeze and the scent of somebody cooking nearby. Bucky gently rocks the swing back and forth with one foot.

When he’s gotten a good start on the first sock, he pauses.

“Hey, Steve?”

Tap, tap.

“Once you’re done your sketch, do you wanna tell me about Brooklyn?”

The swing jerks—Steve must have shifted suddenly—and Bucky’s hand is being frantically tapped.

Bucky smiles. “You ain’t enthusiastic about that at all, ain’t ya?” He chuckles. “You sure you don’t wanna finish sketching first?”

Rub, rub, rub.

“Okay, are you warm enough out here or do you wanna go inside?”

Steve tells him he’s fine. Bucky feels the loom being taken off his lap and the swing is shifting again and Steve flattens Bucky’s hand on top of the blanket.

Steve’s ready.

“Well? What are you waiting for? I ain’t just gonna ask you yes or no questions. Tell me about our Brooklyn.”

Steve tells him he doesn’t know where to start.

“Okay. Let me see—” he really wants to ask about his parents and sisters and some of their old friends, but he figures that’s not going to be a very cheerful conversation, so he wants to save that until the end.

“Tell me which of the old places are still there. The bookstore, our old apartments, the school, all of that.”

Now that he has a direction, Steve is off, talking a mile a minute. Unfortunately, most of what he says isn’t too nice to hear.

All of the old tenement buildings which they’d both lived in since birth until they left for Europe had been all been demolished to make way for the expansion of the subway system. Steve puts a nice spin on it, telling him you can cross all five boroughs using only the train system and you don’t have to walk very much or pay for a hackie.

All of the streetcar lines in Brooklyn had been taken out of service and demolished, the last being in 1956. There was a lot more traffic on the streets, and the subway system had expanded so much that the streetcar lines weren’t considered efficient any more.

The dock yard where Bucky had worked for years had been closed in 1966 when the government wanted to save money.

The Hartley’s bookstore had closed in 1947. Mr. Hartley had been killed in the war and Steve assumes Mrs. Hartley didn’t have the heart nor the time to keep running things on her own. That entire block is now full of restaurants and clothing stores.

Steve seems happy to be sharing the information he’s learned and Bucky is happy that Steve’s happy, but…

He makes a face. None of that is very good news.

But come on, Barnes, that’s to be expected in a busy city like New York. In a place where everything is always moving, only a fool would think that things wouldn’t have changed a lot over 70 years.

And Bucky isn’t a fool—but he can’t help that little glimmer of hope in his gut.

“Is there anything left except the river, the train and the bridge?”

Steve doesn’t answer.

“Well, Coney Island’s still there, ain’t it? I can’t image that they’d close all that up.”

Tap, tap, tap. Steve apologizes. He’s looked up Coney Island on the computer but hasn’t gone there since waking up. He completely forgot about it until Bucky mentioned it.

A sense of relief settles over Bucky. “That’s great!” He’s about to ask Steve if it’s changed a lot—then he remembers that he doesn’t want to ask too many yes or no questions. He rephrases the question in his head. “Tell me what it’s like today.”

Steve tells him that the Cyclone is still there, as are many of the rides they used to go on. Plus, Nathan’s hot dog stand is still there.

“Seriously?”

Tap, tap.

Steve tells him they’re a huge company today with 1400 stores all over the USA.

“Hot damn! Ida and Nate did well for themselves, didn’t they?”

Steve asks him if he remembers Murray, their son.

“Murray? Of course. We went to school with him for a while, didn’t we? Did he take over the place from his parents?”

Yes, he did, Steve tells him. After he got back from the war, Murray had gone to college but then he’d gone back to parents’ business. It was Murray who had expanded the business from one hot dog shack to an empire.

“Wow, good for him! Are the Handwerkers still running the shack at the fair?”

Steve hesitates.

Oh, right. He’s not talking about a few short years ago. 70 years is not a few short years. “They’re all dead, ain’t they?”

Tap.

“Even Murray?”

Tap.

“Oh.” Bucky pauses. “Well, I’ll tell you what. Next summer, we’ll go to the fair, okay? We’ll get hot dogs from Nate’s and we’ll see how many of the old rides are still there. Okay?”

Steve points out that they can go to Nate’s any time they want.

“I know, but I wanna make a day of it. Go to the fair, eat lots of hot dogs, go on lots of rides, win lots of stuffed bears—the whole thing. Once the fair opens in the summer, we’ll go.” Bucky gives Steve’s hand a squeeze. “Steve, I wanna ask you something but you gotta be honest with me, okay?”

Tap.

“What—what happened with my parents? My sisters? Do you know?”

Nothing.

Then:

A hesitant tap.

“Are any of them still alive?”

He’s already prepared himself for the answer to be no. Seventy years is a damn long time and everyone else they’d known is dead, so it’s no surprise—

Tap.

Bucky blinks.

“You—what?”

Tap.

“Are—Steve you know what a tap means, right?”

Tap, tap.

“You—my—my family’s still alive?”

Steve flips his hand over and is spelling quickly. But Bucky’s so shocked by Steve’s initial tap that he isn’t tracking the letters.

“I—Steve, stop, stop, stop. You gotta start again. Sorry. A little slower. I’m—I’m a little shook up. I wanna know, but I ain’t tracking as quick as usual. Pause longer between words, please.”

Tap, tap.

Steve tells Bucky that one of his sisters is still alive.

“What?! Who? Becca?”

Steve taps his hand.

She’d been the youngest out of the bunch. She was born when Bucky had just turned twelve. He’d adored all of his sisters, but because he was closer in age to Elsie and Laura, his relationship with Becca had always been different.

She’d been the cutest little thing, but nobody in the Barnes household was excited about adding another mouth to feed to the bunch. Bucky had quit school and started working very soon after Becca was born, and with both his parents also working, it was left to ten year old Laura and eight year old Elsie to raise Becca while going to school at the same time.

Bucky can’t believe she’s still alive. Seventy years later and Becca’s still alive. This—he never even thought this was a remote possibility.

Oh, my God.

His sister is still alive.

70 years later, and she’s still alive.

“She’s gotta be—she’s gotta be—I can’t do the math right now. How old is she?”

Steve tells him she’s 88.

“Hot damn! Baby Becca is 88 years old. Have—have you seen her? Is she in New York?”

Steve doesn’t reply.

Bucky frowns. “Rogers, now is not the time to forget how to spell. This is—you know how incredible this is! I can’t believe you didn’t tell me earlier! Jesus Christ, Rogers. Baby Becca! I can’t believe it.”

He’s getting more excited by the minute. He wants to see her as soon as possible. Even if she isn’t in New York, he can handle a plane ride if it means it brings him to another member of his family. First he gets Steve back, and now Becca! Unbelievable!

Talking to her will be tricky. Steve will have to translate. Oh, and she’ll notice his arm. Maybe that’ll be too much for her? Maybe he should get some kind of prosthetic thing that he can attach just so it’s not such a shock? Maybe she won’t notice it’s not real if he—

Steve’s talking again.

Bucky eagerly follows along, ready to make plans.

But Steve’s words are not what he wants to hear.

Steve tells him Becca’s sick. Very sick.

“Sick? What’s wrong with her? Who are her doctors? What are they saying she’s got? We can pay for—”

Steve says there’s nothing the doctors can do. She has Alzheimers and it’s in a very late stage. She doesn’t recognize anybody around her and she barely remembers anything about her life.

Bucky feels like somebody dumped a bucket of cold water over him. This—this is not what he wanted to hear.

“Where is she?”

She’s in New York, at a long-term care home in Queens.

“Have you—” His throat is getting tight. He swallows hard and tries again. “Have you been to see her?”

Steve takes a while to start talking. Bucky can feel that his hand’s shaking. He’s torn between not wanting to force Steve to continue a conversation that’s as painful for him as it is for Bucky, but on the other hand, he has a right to know, and right now Steve’s the only one who can give him the answers he needs.

Steve tells him he talked to the staff at the home. They said Becca wouldn’t recognize him and she has a tendency to get violent and upset when she gets confused. They told him the visit would only be upsetting for both of them and he wouldn’t get what he’d come for.

They advised him to stay away and remember Becca the way she used to be.

That’s what she would want if she were capable of understanding the situation.

When Steve is done telling him this, he runs his hand up Bucky’s arm and pulls him into his arms. Bucky buries his face into Steve’s sweater. He’s having trouble breathing and he can feel tears clogging his eyes.

It’s so damn unfair!

He’s finally home—and even though Becca’s still here, she’s not really here.

“So they’re all gone?”

Steve kisses his head and tightens his arms around him, rocking the swing gently. He doesn’t answer the question, but Bucky knows the answer.

He’d known—they’d all known—that he’d probably never see his family again once he’d stepped foot on that train bound for training camp.

Never in a million years did Bucky think that he’d be the one to come home and that they’d be the ones who were gone.

Bucky quietly lets his tears flow, sniffling into Steve’s sweater.

Even though he’d known that he’d probably never see his family again—but the reason behind it was supposed to be that he would be the one dying, not the other way around.

He remembers his pa hadn’t been able to take the day off work to come to the train station. That hadn’t really surprised Bucky. By that point, his pa and him rarely spoke.

His ma, Laura, Elsie, Becca and Steve had all come to see him off at the train station. He’d hugged and kissed his ma, who’d been struggling not to cry. Elsie was busy making eyes at all the other soldiers around them saying goodbye to their families, Laura fussed with Bucky’s uniform and Becca kept smacking him on the arm to get his attention and reminding him to write to her.

“Babies don’t get letters, Becca. We’ve been over this. If you’re too little to read, then you don’t get a letter.”

14 year old Becca gave him that narrow-eyed unimpressed look which Bucky knows they both got from their pa. She smacked Bucky on the arm a bit harder than before. “For the millionth time, I ain’t a baby no more.”

“You just keep telling yourself that. Now hurry up and give me a hug.”

He hugged each of his sisters, one by one, telling them each he loved them and to take good care of each other.

Then he turned to Steve. He’d already said goodbye to Steve properly at their apartment, since they couldn’t say goodbye the way they wanted in public, but he still bent down and pulled him into a tight hug. As he’d done for fifteen years, Bucky automatically put himself next to Steve’s right ear while they hugged.

He remembers Steve was shaking and tense. “Don’t you start crying, punk, or I’m gonna start crying and I ain’t gonna be able to kill Nazis if I’m busy crying.”

Steve let out a strained laugh. Bucky squeezed him tighter and turned his head so his hat was blocking his lips from view. He lowered his voice and whispered into Steve’s right ear. “I love you. You hear me? I love you and I want you to do take care of yourself and the girls and ma, okay? You gotta do that for me, Stevie, or I’m not gonna be able to focus over there, and that ain’t good.” He barely moved his lips, so scared that somebody might overheard. He doubted anybody could overhear them in the noise and bustle surrounding them, but it was better to be safe than sorry.

Steve nodded, shaking even harder. He turned his head so his lips were close to Bucky’s neck. His voice was shaking when he spoke, the words also a hushed whisper. “You better still be in one piece when I see you again, jerk. And you remember that I love you, okay? No matter what happens over there, you remember that.”

Bucky smiled, given him another squeeze, then he pulled back, aware that their hug was taking much too long.

He remembers Laura stepping forward and tugging his hat straight while he slung his pack over his shoulder. Elsie had wandered away from them and was flirting with one of Bucky’s soon-to-be fellow soldiers and his ma was struggling to look brave.

Steve put his hand to his mouth and to anyone else it would have looked like he was struggling to stay in control of himself—but Bucky could see him kiss his hand and discreetly fling the kiss in Bucky’s direction.

Bucky grinned and lifted his arm, trying to make it look like he was shifting his pack’s strap, but really, he was catching the kiss. He stuck the kiss into his pocket and smiled at Steve rolling his eyes. But the punk was smiling a bit, so that’s what mattered.

When Bucky started walking towards the train car to board, he threw a wink in Becca’s direction. “Bye, Baby Becca!”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “You listen, Bucky Barnes! I better be the first name listed on top of every letter, or you’re gonna get it when you’re back. That’s a promise!”

That comment drew his ma’s attention away from him, and the last memory he has of them is Laura, Elsie and Steve waving, while his ma and Becca argued over her wording choices.

He remembers how terrified he felt getting on that train.

The first 25 years of his life had been relatively predictable, but that predictability was over now.

He remembers throwing one last glance up at the sky before he got onto the train car, thinking about another member of his family who hadn’t been here to see him off.

Mrs. R had been gone for seven years already. Unbelievable.

I know I usually I just ask you to look after Steve, ma and the girls, but for the next little while, I’d really appreciate it if you added me to that list, Mrs. R.

That had been an enormous comfort to him: knowing that Mrs. R was coming with him and she’d watch over him.

When he got into the train car, he saw there were about a dozen soldiers crowded around the window, all of them trying to stick their hands or faces through the little portion of it that opened. Bucky didn’t feel like getting into a fight within ten seconds of being together with these people, so he’d settled in a seat where he had a tiny view out of the window. He could see Elsie’s bright red hat, and from there, he could identify Steve, his ma and the girls. They were all waving frantically, even though none of them could see him.

That was the last time he’d seen the people he loved most all together.

And now, seventy years later, even though he had been granted the miracle of having Steve back in his life, his earlier fears have now finally been verified.

Steve’s all that’s left of his family.

Well, Becca’s still physically here, but really she had passed away years ago, just like everyone else.

He snuggles into Steve’s chest and feels Steve pull the blanket up higher around him. It’s getting a bit chilly, but Bucky doesn’t want to move. The sadness is sitting heavy in his gut but being comforted by Steve makes him feel a bit better.

At one point, Steve pulls Bucky’s hand out from under the blanket and tells him he’s gonna go turn the heat lamp on.

“Okay.” Bucky releases Steve and waits for Steve to get off the swing. Moments later, he feels heat warming his face from the nice little lamp Steve had installed when the evenings had started getting chillier.

Steve comes back and buries himself back into the blanket and pulls Bucky back into his arms, gently rubbing his back.

Bucky lets himself drift in memories. He hadn’t spent as much time with Becca as he had with Laura and Elsie—there was the age difference, but also the fact that they were rarely in the same place at the same time—but she’d been so similar to him that everybody always commented on it.

“You remember when you caught her making money as a paperboy? She’d pinned up her hair and she was wearing a pair of my old trousers that she’d rolled up about ten times?”

He can feel Steve laughing and he taps Bucky’s back several times.

Steve reminds him he’d walked right past her the first time.

Bucky chuckles. “That’s right! You told me about that. You went looking for work.”

Tap, tap.

Steve had been doing his usual rounds in the area, going into shops and asking if anybody had some work for him or if they had any signs or pictures they wanted re-done. He hadn’t had any luck, so he was heading back home to get his good sketching supplies and he’d been planning to head down to the river to try to get money doing portraits—when something about the paperboy standing by the Court Street Station stairwell had caught his eye.

It wasn’t until he looked closer that he recognized eleven year old Becca Barnes. He forced her to come home with him immediately—he didn’t know how angry Mr. Barnes would be, but he knew Bucky would be a kinder alternative—and Steve yelled for a bit and then they sat there until Bucky came home from work.

Then it was Bucky’s turn to yell. No matter how many times Becca tried explaining that Steve had already yelled about those things earlier, Bucky’s fear kept him yelling.

Hawking papers at that time wasn’t an easy or a very safe job. Due to the fierce competition for any work, the youngsters found themselves competing with grown men for the jobs which traditionally had been reserved for children. Not only did the children have to compete with grown men, but the kids themselves competed hard for the best paper-selling spots in the city. Territory was everything and kids would group together to fend off newbies who tried encroaching on their area. Then there was the competition between the newspapers themselves. It was common for papers to hire individuals specifically to sabotage the sales of other papers—which was easiest to do by attacking the competitors’ paperboys.

It really wasn’t the easy, safe job that it had been ten years earlier. Definitely not something an eleven year old girl should be doing by herself.

Becca glared throughout the yelling, and then calmly explained that she was taking all the right precautions. If Steve would have paused and let her explain before hauling her away, she would have been able to explain that she was working with Henry Crayworth.

That shut Bucky up—and made Steve frown—because that didn’t make any sense. Henry Crayworth had suffered a brain injury during the Great War and couldn’t write his own name anymore, never mind do much for work. He was still living at home with his mother and nobody knew what would happen with Henry once she passed.

So Becca went on to explain that Henry was her protection. She paid him a third of her day’s wages in exchange for him standing nearby and making sure nobody hassled her or put hands on her. During her first few days, he’d had to put his foot down with quite a few people, but now that word was getting out, things were going very well. As for the trousers and her hair—she said she’d gotten hired on while dressing as herself, but the boys wouldn’t let her get her own corner as a girl, so she’d ‘quit’, pinned up her hair, dressed in Bucky’s old clothes and had gone back a few hours later and got hired as ‘John Smith’.

That still makes Bucky laugh. “Oh, my God, you remember her explaining about Henry and ‘John Smith’?”

Steve’s laughing. He pulls out Bucky’s hand and tells him that it was exactly the kind of thing Bucky would think of.

Bucky chuckles. “Yeah. She definitely had brains, that kid. Oh, Baby Becca.”

Despite her smart plan, Bucky had put his foot down and told her that her days of hawking papers were done. She demanded to know why, and Steve reminded her that she was supposed to be in school, not selling newspapers out on the street.

She glared at both of them, but focused most of her glare on Bucky. “You quit school when you were my age.”

Bucky let out an ugly laugh. “Yeah. And you know why? So you four could keep going to school!”

“I don’t need school! You quit school and you’re doing real good.”

“Yeah, I quit school, and you know what the rest of my life is gonna be, huh? Boring, hard manual labor. Day after day after day. Six days a week from now until the day I die. Because that’s the kind of work you get if you ain’t educated.”

Becca had started looking less sure about her whole plan, but she still had that stubborn glint in her eye. Bucky desperately searched his brain for something else that would make this plan of hers less desirable.

“Or! Or you can hope that you’ll marry some rich man who’ll take care of you.” Bucky knew that would get her riled up.

“I ain’t need a man to take care of me! I can take care of me!”

Steve stepped forward. “Yeah, you can. And you can do it one of two ways: you can quit school now and do backbreaking physical work for the rest of your life, or you can spend a few years in school, get a good education and then you can get a decent job, like at an office or in a shop.”

“I’m smart, I can work in an office or shop any time I want!”

Steve let out a sigh. “Of course you’re smart, Becca! But if you quit school, you ain’t gonna have proof that you’re smart. You remember when I worked at the picture house a few years back? Before they gave me that job, they asked me if I’d finished school, and the only reason they picked me over two others is because I had and I had the paper to prove it.”

Bucky gently laid his hands on her little shoulders. “Becca, believe us, this ain’t something you’re gonna find useful today or even tomorrow, but you will later.”

She still looked undecided about the whole thing, so they finally decided to compromise by letting her sell papers just for a few hours each Tuesday and Thursday morning. On Saturdays, she could spend all day hawking papers if she wanted. She’d miss a bit of school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but not enough that she couldn’t catch up.

“Okay. I guess that’s fair.”

Bucky rolled his eyes. “Jesus. You’re gonna make me go grey by the time I’m thirty. You hear that, Baby Becca? Who does that to their brother, huh?”

Steve frowned at Bucky. “What d’ya mean ‘thirty’? Ain’t you looked in a mirror recently, old man?”

Bucky glared at Steve—and then at Becca, who started laughing. “I hate both of you.” Then he went out to get water while Steve got Becca helping with dinner preparations.

Over dinner, they finalized Becca’s work and school schedule. One thing they all agreed on was that their ma and pa shouldn’t know about it. His ma would cry and fuss and worry about what the neighbors thought, and his pa would probably give Becca a beating. If he didn’t like the idea of Bucky working at that age, Bucky could only imagine what his reaction would be to his youngest daughter deciding to work.

At the end of each shift, Becca would head back to the office and hand in a portion of her pay to her boss. A third of the leftover went to Henry, and the rest went into a jar hidden in the wall behind the stove in Bucky and Steve’s apartment. If it was a Tuesday or Thursday, Henry would then take her to school. Bucky would add her money to the portion of his own pay that he always gave to his ma. Becca was contributing to the Barnes household like she wanted, and their ma and pa were none the wiser. Everybody was happy.

Bucky sighs happily, snuggling into Steve’s sweater. That’s one of his favourite Becca memories.

Then Steve asks Bucky if he remembers Becca’s ninth birthday.

“Of course I do. We’d saved up for months to get her and two of her friends tickets to see Snow White at the picture house. You remember she didn’t believe us when we told her we got the tickets?”

Bucky’s quiet for a moment. “You remember when she showed up in the middle of the night that one winter? She must have been five or six?”

Steve’s hands shake—he must be laughing—and he taps Bucky’s back.

It was the dead of winter and Bucky and Steve had just managed to fall asleep, when somebody had started banging on their door. Thinking it was a neighbor who needed help, Bucky untangled himself from the pile of blankets, clothes, wrapped up warm bricks, and a snoring Steve—who was lying on his right side so he probably hadn’t even heard the knocking—and went to open the door.

And there was Baby Becca, bundled up in her winter clothes, glaring and looking very unimpressed with the world.

At first, Bucky thought he’d drunk something bad without realizing it, or he was getting sick and was hallucinating things—because surely, his baby sister couldn’t be standing outside his door in the middle of the night in the middle of the winter.

But when she let out an annoyed sigh and pushed past him, muttering that his staring wasn’t helping her get warm, he realized that yes, Baby Becca was actually here.

She took off her boots and immediately shoved her way into bed, where a sleepy, confused Steve was just blinking himself awake. He startled at the expected intrusion into the bed, but once he recognized her, his fear had turned to confusion.

“Wh—Becca, what are you doing here?”

Bucky had a better question. “How the hell did you get here?”

She wiggled around on the bed, getting herself comfortable amid the layers of blankets and clothes. “I walked, stupid. And I’m here cause your bed has more room in it. And don’t swear, Bucky, or I’ll tell ma.” She shot a glare in Bucky’s direction. “Shut the door, Bucky! You’re letting the cold air in! And come to bed. Steve ain’t warm enough for me. Can you budge one of the bricks up higher? I can’t reach it.”

Because he was getting cold, Bucky shut the door, checked the fire in the stove and nudged one of the wrapped bricks up between Becca’s feet before getting back into bed. All three of them got comfortable with Becca in the middle and Bucky draping his arm across both her and Steve. Bucky had fussed with the blankets and clothes, pulling everybody’s hats down over their ears and making sure the blankets were tucked in tight.

Finally, he poked Becca in the cheek—which was one of the only parts of her still exposed. “You did tell ma and pa where you were going, right?”

She glared. “They ain’t got the right to know. They were being nasty to me.”

Steve groaned loudly into the pillow and Bucky wanted to cry. He knew what this meant. It meant he had to get up and go walking through the cold night to tell his parents that Becca wasn’t dead in a ditch somewhere.

God damn it!

So Bucky got back up, tucked the blankets around the other two and put more of their precious wood into the stove to provide extra heat while he was gone.

He found his pa on his way to the Barnes apartment and explained that his nitwit of a daughter was safe and sound at Bucky’s apartment. His pa had ranted and raved, but Bucky had been too cold to stand there and listen to it—besides, he hadn’t been the one to run off in the middle of the night, so that yelling should have been directed at Becca—and he headed back home.

He spent long minutes warming himself in front of the stove, not wanting to bring any additional cold into the bed with him.

By the time they were all tucked into bed together again, Becca could barely keep her eyes open, so explanations could wait until the morning.

It turned out that Becca didn’t enjoy the sleeping arrangements at the Barnes’ when it got very cold. On those night, the two beds got pushed together and his ma, pa, Elsie, Laura and Becca would snuggle together for warmth. Apparently Becca would complain all night about not having enough pillow space, about being kicked, about getting somebody’s hair in her mouth, about being elbowed, about somebody’s snoring etc. His ma and pa had finally started telling her to keep her mouth shut because her whining was interfering with everybody’s sleep.

Becca had decided that she no longer wanted to participate in that sleeping arrangement, and had come over to Steve and Bucky’s apartment instead.

When Bucky took Becca back home to discuss it with his ma and pa, it was decided that Becca would continue sleeping at Bucky and Steve’s when it was very cold out. Steve was barely bigger than Elsie, so while it was a bit crowded with the three of them, it wasn’t too bad.

For some reason, Becca never seemed to have problems sleeping with Bucky and Steve, despite the fact that she had even less room in their bed than she’d had with his parents and sisters. Plus, Bucky knew he sometimes elbowed her accidentally, and both he and Steve snored. But she seemed happier sharing with them, so that’s the arrangement they had. Bucky always thought she was fussing for the sake of fussing, but he loved spending time with his youngest sister, so he kept his opinions to himself.

Steve is spelling on Bucky’s hand. He asks if Bucky remembers giving them good night kisses.

Them? What are you talking about?”

Steve tells him when Bucky would come home very tired from a double shift, he’d take off his boots and fall straight into bed. The only thing he always took time to do was give both Becca and Steve a kiss on the cheek and tell them both he loved them and for them to have a good night.

Bucky chuckles. “Seriously? I kissed you too? Was that before we were…?”

Tap.

“Jesus. I don’t remember that.”

Steve figures he didn’t. Steve hadn’t ever said anything because he’d secretly enjoyed it, and Becca had been too young to understand why Bucky shouldn’t be doing something like that to Steve. She thought it was sweet, but Steve told her it had to be a special secret between the two of them. Otherwise, if word got out, everybody would want Bucky kisses before going to sleep, and Bucky wouldn’t have any time to actually sleep.

Bucky laughs. “So you were in cahoots with Baby Becca whenever she stayed over?”

Tap.

“Was I doing anything else when I was half asleep that I should know about?”

Steve tells him that no, there’s nothing he should know about.

Bucky narrows his eyes. He’d caught Steve’s specific wording, but he decides to let it go. Right now, he’d rather focus on remembering Becca.

As they continue sharing memories, Bucky realizes that he never asked Steve exactly how his parents, Laura or Elsie had died…

…but he realizes he doesn’t need to know that right now. No matter how they died, it’s gonna be a sad story, and Bucky’s not in the mood for more sad stories. Maybe one day he’ll ask Steve, but not today.

He doesn’t want to spend any more time thinking about the last time he saw his family and how unfair this whole situation is.

Instead, he’d rather spend time reminiscing about happy memories. Especially when it comes to Becca.

He realizes Steve got good advice from Becca’s caregivers. This is the way Becca would want them to remember her.

The six year old stubborn nitwit who threw a fit and marched through a frozen, dark city by herself to find a bed with even less room than the one she’d left behind.

The eleven year old smart, independent girl who got herself a job despite enormous odds, and at the same time, helped Henry Crayworth, who was somebody nobody had time to help.

Chapter Text

A few days later, Bucky brings up an idea he’d had. He’s always trying to help Steve find new activities for him to do—especially activities that he doesn’t need Steve’s help for—and being at Brooklyn Bridge Park had given him a good idea.

“Can we buy some plants that I can learn to take of, Stevie? It can’t be that hard, and as long as the plants feel different from each other, I can always tell what’s what.”

Steve is very excited about that idea. But he reminds Bucky that winter is coming, so there’s no point in doing outdoor plants.

“Okay, but what about ones that we can keep inside? Let’s try to find some like that.”

They head off to a nearby flower shop and when Steve tells him to explain to the shop employee what he’s looking for, Bucky rattles off his list of requirements.

He’s never done any gardening before so the plants shouldn’t be too fussy. Plus, he has to interact with them purely based on touch and smell, so they should each feel and smell different, and of course, all of them should be safe to touch.

At first, the employee brings them to some flowers, which all feel very nice, but when Bucky realizes that the flowers won’t last very long, and he’ll be left with leaves and stems which pretty much feel identical, he asks to focus on other types of plants.

Steve steers him to different parts of the shop and helps guide his hand to whatever plant the employee shows them. Bucky is careful to keep his hand to himself unless Steve directs it—the last thing he wants is to break something or touch a plant that will hurt him.

The first plant which he immediately knows he’s bringing home has the softest, fuzziest leaves he’s ever touched. “Is this a real plant, Steve? Are you sure? I ain’t petting a dog?”

No, Steve reassures him, it really is a plant. It’s called Lamb’s Ear.

“Well, they chose that name well. It really does feel like a lamb’s ear! Touch it, Steve. It feels amazing.” He gropes around for Steve’s hand and brings their hands to the leaves so Steve touches it too. “I definitely wanna get this one.”

Another one that Bucky loves has long, fuzzy flowers that feel like fuzzy rope hanging off the stems. That’s a Chenille, and the shop employee tells him it’s a fast growing plant, so he’ll have to prune it regularly.

They buy a Sedum, which has thick, waxy leaves that have a wavy edge. The leaves grow in bundles that feel like little flowers. They also get a Sea Holly, which has flowers composed of a round ball covered in soft spikes, with a base made out of long, thin spiky edged pedals. The stem also feels different from the other plants—it’s thin and sturdy, so even if it doesn’t have flowers, Bucky can tell it apart from the others.

Lastly, they go to a section with Geraniums. Bucky already likes the big clump of little flowers that they all have, but the leaves are unremarkable—feeling very similar to the Chenille’s leaves. But then Steve brings Bucky’s hand back to one of the plants, rubs his fingers over one of the leaves, and brings his fingers to his nose.

It smells like lemon.

Lemons!

Then Steve brings his hand to another one, and that one smells like a rose!

Bucky spends lots of time smelling every single one, before he decides he likes the Peppermint Geranium the best.

They take a hackie back home with all their new plants and supplies, and Bucky waits until Steve’s cleared space on the shelves for them.

The employee had given them little cards with information about each plant, and Steve carefully translates the information for Bucky.

Bucky can easily differentiate between the five plants by touching and smelling them, and within a few days, he can tell the difference between healthy leaves and shrunken, half-dead leaves. He can also feel when a flower is starting to dry up and die. He learns how much water each plant needs and when he needs to feeds them a little fertilizer. During the day, he’ll often stand between the plants and the window, waiting to feel the warmth of the sun on his face. If it stays cold, that means the drapes aren’t open enough or the plants need to be moved around a bit.

Watering them is very difficult at first. Steve had bought him a normal watering can, but it has a long spout, and Bucky can’t see or feel where he’s putting the spout. Plus, he has no idea how much water he’s pouring. He tries putting the plant on a tray, pouring a bit of water and then checking to see if he got it on the plant or the tray—but the process is slow and frustrating.

Next, Steve buys him a plastic child’s watering can, which has a very short spout, but it has a thick head so Bucky can’t get it to water the soil itself. He can pour it over the leaves, but he realizes that a lot of the water doesn’t actually get down to the soil.

He switches to using a small cup. He can hold it with two fingers and feel with his other fingers where he water’s going and if he’s watered enough. But sometimes he loses his grip on it and it falls, spilling water everywhere and sometimes the glass even breaks.

Steve goes searching on the internet and gives Bucky other options to try.

None of them work very well.

Finally, Steve suggests using the same kind of water bottle that they bring on their walks. When turned upside down, water doesn’t come gushing out unless the bottle is squeezed, and it has a little bit of a spout—enough that Bucky can jam it underneath the leaves and squirt water directly onto the soil.

That works wonderfully. He can water the plant, then close the water bottle and put on the floor while he checks the soil to see if he’s watered enough. Even if he knocks over the water bottle or steps on it, nothing bad happens.

Bucky loves his plants. He loves that their care is purely in his hands. He’s the one feeding and watering them and making sure they’re getting enough sunlight. He loves that he can tell which plant is which by their unique textures and scent, so he often moves them around the apartment to find better patches of sunlight.

One afternoon, he’s tending to the geranium and feeling for flower buds which have shrivelled up so he can pluck them off. Once he’s done with the flowers, he touches each of the leaves, checking for insects or other irregularities. He comes across a few leaves which feel thinner and more fragile than they should.

He asks Steve to look up what that means, and Steve tells him maybe he’s overwatering them. Geraniums should only be watered when the soil is dry, and Bucky’s been so excited about tending to his plants that he’s been overwatering it.

Bucky feels terrible about it and adjusts his watering immediately.

A few days later, he feels the leaves and they’re all back to their usual thickness. “Hey, Steve? Can you come and check if the geranium’s leaves are back to normal? They feel good to me.”

Steve comes over and confirms that they’re no longer yellow.

That comment completely takes Bucky by surprise.

He realizes that he has no idea what color any of his plants actually are. In his mental picture of the plants, they all have green leaves and green stems and the flowers are always pink. It hadn’t occurred to him to ask Steve what color they are.

He could ask Steve what color is plants are…

But does it really matter?

He realizes that it actually doesn’t.

He knows exactly what the plants look like and color isn’t the most important characteristic for him anymore.

*             *             *

Steve’s sketching Bucky, while Bucky’s sitting on the floor, carefully working on creating a tree out of building blocks. It’s a nerve-wracking project due to its fragility, but Bucky’s spent a lot of time planning out how to create the branches so they would be stable. The tree is almost level with Bucky’s face when he’s sitting on the floor, and it looks incredible.

Steve’s distracted from his sketch by his phone letting out a chirp.

He puts down his pencil and picks up the phone and sees he’s got a new text message. It’s from Natasha.

I hope you two geriatrics enjoy today’s adventure! Hope you didn’t  break a hip!

He smiles and dials her number.

“Hey, old man. How’s it going?”

“Good! We had a fantastic day.”

“Oh, yeah? You made it to the grocery store?”

“Yup. And not just the grocery store. We went to the hardware store, had hot dogs from a street cart and then we went grocery shopping.”

“Tell me everything.”

Steve smiles and makes himself comfortable again, moving the sketchpad to the coffee table.

“So Buck not only put on his shoes and his jacket by himself, but he got out the door, went down the hallway, went outside and made it down the steps all by himself. I was there—obviously—but I didn’t guide him at all. I didn’t even have a hand on him. He did it all by himself. That was the best part of the day.”

“That’s awesome! His progress is unbelievable, huh?”

Steve smiles. “That’s Buck, through and through. Stubborn as a mule but when he puts his mind to something, he does it.” He struggles to contain a yawn that’s threatening to escape. It was an awesome day, but also a tiring one.

Bucky’s finished building another branch and he’s slowly lifting it to the attachment point on the tree. Steve really wants to get up and help him, but Bucky’s insisted on doing it by himself.

“The hardware store went great. Buck wasn’t too enthusiastic about it, until he realized he could touch everything and nobody would care. Nat—it never occurred to me how many different things you can touch in a hardware store. It was such a gas! They’ve got different chains and all sorts of light bulbs and different kinds of sandpaper. The only thing I didn’t let him explore were the bins with the nails in them. He could have probably spent a whole year in there, just touching things. I tried it out—I closed my eyes and touched the different stuff too. It was really nifty, Nat!”

“You’re appreciating the world in a whole different way, huh?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Did you bring some sandpaper home for his art?”

“Are you kidding? We bought two sheets of each kind. The cashier looked at us like we were whacked, but you should have seen Buck’s smile! He’s thrilled with them.”

“I think you both did awesome, Rogers.”

Steve smiles proudly. “I agree.”

Natasha laughs. “I’m glad. So did you really go for groceries? You’re such an expert at ordering them online now.”

Steve makes a face. “Yeah, but I want Buck involved, you know? I found a grocery store that’s just three blocks away.”

“Let me guess: it’s one of those tiny family owned places, huh?”

“Aw, it’s like you know me or something,” he laughs. “Yeah, it’s a tiny place. You’ll get a kick out of this: it’s actually one of the stores Buck and I went to back in the day.”

There’s a surprised pause. “Back in the day, meaning in the 30s?”

“And 20s. It opened in 1922 when I was four. We didn’t go there too often—we had other places that were closer to home, but we did shop there.”

Ever since his discussion with Bucky about how much Brooklyn has changed, Steve’s been trying extra hard to find meaningful places which have stayed the same.

“Do you know anybody who works there?”

“The man who ran it back in the day has passed away, but his son was born in ’32. He was just a little kid back then, but I remember seeing him from time to time. He owned the store after his dad passed and he’s retired now. His son runs it now.”

“The old man’s what? 83 by now?”

“Yeah.”

“Spring chicken compared to you and Bucky, huh?”

Steve laughs. “You’re hilarious.”

“What’s his name?”

“Reginald Garland. We always called him Little Reggie. He was a little goof back in the day. Always running around the store, knocking stuff over. I don’t remember his father’s name—we always called him Mr. Garland. And Reggie’s son’s name is Frank. He’s in his fifties. He’s got two daughters in college.”

“Reggie didn’t recognize you from back then, did he?”

Steve smiles. “No. He was 11 when Buck and I shipped out so that’s not a surprise. I didn’t recognize him either, I only remembered when he introduced himself. I almost didn’t recognize the store! It’s been renovated and changed over a bunch of times, but it was really nice to see something that’s still in the same spot, you know?”

Steve doesn’t tell her that the real reason he didn’t put much effort into jogging Reggie’s memory is because Garland’s Groceries had been one of Bucky’s preferred ‘five-finger-discount’ stores. When money was very tight and even the garbage cans weren’t yielding anything that would sooth their hunger, Bucky would have to steal from grocery stores. He never stole from their nearby stores. He didn’t want to risk getting caught and being banned for life. When Steve was sick, it was essential that Bucky could get whatever he needed close by. But the Garland’s store was far enough away that Bucky could access it on his way home from the docks but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he were caught and banned. There had been quite a few winters where the Garland’s bottom line had probably been impacted by Bucky Barnes’ ‘discount’ shopping method, but when they were starving, they didn’t have a choice.

Buck had only gotten caught once. Steve was sick, Bucky had been up all night taking care of Steve and then had gone to work. Bucky was exhausted and pay day was days away, and Steve’s medicine had used up all of their money. Bucky went to Garland’s Groceries, grabbed a small loaf of bread and left the store. He was too tired to notice one of the store employees watching him the whole time. He was barely out the door when Mr. Garland smacked him over the head with a bat and shoved him to the ground, where he stayed until the police had come.

Bucky spent two days locked up until they released him due to overcrowding. Steve didn’t know what happened to Bucky, so he focused on keeping himself alive as long as possible. He dragged his fever weakened self outside so he had easier access to the outhouse and he could drink from the spigot. Thankfully it was summer, so Steve managed to stay alive while huddling against the building wall and praying that Bucky wasn’t dead. Overall, it was a pretty miserable two days for both of them. Bucky was frantic when he found him and helped him back inside.

Steve had only stolen from the Garland’s once. He remembers it clear as day: He’d gone in, hungry and cold and annoyed at the world. In the week before, Bucky hadn’t managed to get as many shifts as they’d needed, so he was going to work extra early to make sure he was first in line. Neither of them had eaten more than restaurant vegetable peelings since yesterday. Steve wandered into Garland’s to escape the cold on his way home from scavenging, and he saw one remaining sausage link in the display. He’d sworn to Bucky that he’d never steal anything, since he couldn’t possibly outrun anybody and he wouldn’t do well in jail, but his fingers snatched up the sausage before his brain really caught on. His feet carried him out of the store and he was down the block before it had really sunk in. Bucky was spitting mad, but he ate his half of the sausage at the same time, so there was more chewing than yelling.

Steve decides to keep these things to himself.

“How did Buck do during the shopping?”

“He liked the different smells and touching everything, but I did the shopping. One hand on Buck, the other holding the basket—we got the job done. He wanted to know everything that we were buying so it took about two hours, but it’s not like we ain’t got the time, right?”

“Did you tell him it’s the same store he used to go to?”

“No, not yet. As soon as we’re done here, I’m gonna tell him.”

Natasha makes a pleased noise. “Did you tell Reggie who you really were?”

“No. I didn’t wanna create a fuss. He just happened to be in the store and I knew who he was once he introduced himself so I chatted with him a bit, but I didn’t wanna chat too long. He was really nice. I told him Buck is deafblind but he didn’t seem to really understand, cause he kept asking Buck questions.”

He’s careful not to admit the fact that he had completely botched translating their conversation for Bucky. He thought he’d been ready to translate a flowing conversation between multiple people—but wow, he had been mistaken.

*             *             *

Bucky carefully holds the fragile block branch between two fingers and uses his other fingers to trace the attachment points on his tree. He counts as he moves up—first branch, second branch, and there, an attachment point without a branch. Moving slowly and very carefully he snaps the branch onto the block jutting out of the tree trunk.

When he’s sure it’s stable, he gently withdraws his hand.

Excellent.

He can picture it in his mind and he thinks his tree is looking pretty damn good already.

He’s especially proud of himself because they’d had a long and tiring day already, but he has enough stamina and focus left to be working on his tree with no big problems so far.

Overall, Bucky thinks they had an excellent day. He’s getting faster at getting down the stairs by himself and the hardware store had been awesome. So many interesting things to touch!

And the sandpaper sheets are a great addition to his collection of art supplies.

The grocery store had been tough. Steve had been leading so Bucky just followed along. Some parts were enjoyable—like when they were picking through the vegetables and fruits and Bucky could smell each item and guess what it was. The rest was a bit boring. Steve told him what it was they were buying—but all the cans and boxes pretty much felt the same.

Bucky was already tired and not enjoying the lack of stimulation when Steve had stopped walking. Bucky had patiently waited for Steve to continue, but when the punk continued standing there, Bucky had demanded to know what was going on. Then Steve had stepped on his foot once—which is their signal for Bucky to greet someone.

Bucky had quickly dropped his cane, letting it dangle from the wrist strap and held out his hand.

He doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to shock of having a strange hand suddenly grab his hand and shake it.

He’d remembered to paste a polite smile on his face and he’d greeted the person.

Then suddenly there was a different hand shaking his hand.

Okay.

He greets the new person.

He’d been waiting for Steve to tell him who’s hands he had shaken, but Steve hadn’t told him.

Instead, Steve had spelled ‘how are you’.

So Bucky had said: “I’m doing very well, thank you. How are—”

Then Steve had started spelling something else, but because Bucky had been busy focusing on his reply, he hadn’t caught all the letters. He just got:

L-I-T.

R-E-G.

Number sign.

Tap on thumb.

Double tap on ring finger.

S-A-M-E.

What?

Bucky had struggled to keep up with what Steve had been trying to tell him, but since he hadn’t even know the topic of the conversation, he couldn’t keep up with the abbreviations which Steve was making up.

Usually he can figure them out based on context, but this was impossible.

Finally, he’d decided to tune Steve out. He’d let Steve’s fingers dance across his palm and spell whatever he wanted and Bucky kept a polite smile on his face.

He didn’t want to cause a scene or make Steve feel bad about the terrible translation job he’d been doing.

So he’d stood there in silence, keeping the smile on his face and patiently waiting until Steve stepped on his foot twice. That was his signal to say good-bye.

“It was nice to meet you! Have a great day.” He carefully hadn’t said ‘it was nice to meet you both’ since he hadn’t been completely sure that he’d been only talking to two people, and he hadn’t added a ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ to it, since he had no idea what gender the people had been.

Since Bucky needed Steve focused on being his sighted guide and not feeling annoyed at himself, Bucky had decided to wait until they got home before bringing it up.

*             *             *

Bucky keeps working on his block tree until he feels a hand touch his arm while he’s fishing new blocks out of their containers. His fingers drop the blocks he was holding and trace up the hand to the wrist.

There’s the leather bracelet with a bead and the familiar notches.

Di, di, dit.

Dah.

“Hi, Stevie. You done talking to Natasha?”

Tap, tap.

“Okay. Can we go sit on the couch for a while? I wanna talk about what happened at the grocery store.”

Steve tap, tap, taps his hand, seeming very excited. His hand disappears and Bucky gets up and makes his way to the couch. Once he’s settled, Steve’s hand is back on his, talking a mile a minute.

He tells Bucky that they had shopped at Garland’s Groceries.

That derails Bucky’s planned conversation entirely, because there’s something very familiar about that name.

“That’s—that’s—well ain’t that just the coincidence of the year, huh? Or are you saying it ain’t a coincidence? Is that—that can’t be the same shop we went to when we were younger, is it?”

Steve confirms that it is.

Bucky blinks. “Seriously?”

That’s when he remembers Steve had spelled out ‘L-I-T’ and ‘R-E-G’…

That can’t mean…

“We weren’t talking to Little Reggie, were we?”

Steve taps his hand.

“Seriously?! The man must be over a hundred.”

Steve tells him he’s not quite that old, but yes, it’s Little Reggie, he’s just not so little anymore.

Bucky lets out a laugh. “You remember why we liked Garland’s Groceries? It was my favourite—”

Steve interrupts him, spelling ‘five finger discount store’ on his hand.

“Yeah, it was. Damn! We better not remind Reggie about that, huh?”

Steve’s fingers shake on his palm as he laughs. He tells Bucky that at least they’re paying for their groceries now.

Bucky chuckles. “Yeah, that’s true. We don’t need to use our special shopping method anymore, huh? Jesus Christ, I can’t believe the shop’s survived this long! I guess the fact that we never paid for anything didn’t impact them in the long run, huh? Hey, you remember that time you stole that sausage, you punk? Your life of crime.”

Steve points out that at least he never actually got arrested for it, which makes Bucky laugh.

“It seems I’m destined to be the one who always ends up in prison. It’s the universe’s way of righting things since you spent half your life locked up in hospitals.”

He pulls Steve close and gives him a kiss, feeling the smile on his lips.

“Listen, I wanna talk to you about our chat in the store today.”

Steve’s tap on his hand seems very hesitant. Then he’s immediately apologizing. He says he knows he did very badly and he’s been waiting to apol—

Bucky curls up his hand and squeezes Steve’s fingers. “I know, sweetheart. You did your best, I know. Translating a conversation between multiple people has to be hard. It ain’t the same as you and me chatting back and forth. We gotta work on it, that’s all. I don’t need to know every single thing that’s being said.”

He can feel Steve trying to loosen his fingers so he tightens his grip.

“I mean it, Steve. There’s no way you can translate every word that’s being said. I don’t need that. You just gotta make sure I know exactly when it’s my turn to say something and what I should be saying. And you gotta let me know who I’m talking to. Tell me the person’s name or if you don’t know, tell me if they’re male or female and who they are—a cashier, a stranger. If you give me some clues, then I can keep up easier.”

He pulls Steve close again and kisses his cheek. “Let’s take it nice and slow, okay? You’ll get better at it, and we’ll figure out what systems to use.”

*             *             *

As usual, Steve turns to the internet for help. He learns that apparently what he's trying to do isn't 'translating' but 'interpreting'. Translating is for written things. That's one of the only helpful pieces of information he finds. There are a lot of websites listing do's and don'ts for interpreting for somebody, but they include things like: being punctual and knowing what communication method the deafblind individual prefers.

And all the websites agree: to be a successful interpreter, a person should have the right training.

Steve doesn't have the right training but he thinks this is something he and Bucky will be able to tackle and eventually master. They figured out how to walk around outside without having to take expensive classes and put up with having a stranger sticking his or her nose into their lives. Steve hopes they'll have the same luck with this. If Steve really can't do it, he'll hire a professional, but he wants to give it a decent try first.

Like with the walking, they'll have to practice, practice, practice.

Eventually Steve hopes he'll get the hang of translating properly.

Damn it.

Rogers, let's start by getting the words right, okay?

Interpreting. Steve will get the hang of interpreting.

Eventually.

Hopefully.

*             *             *

A few weeks later, Steve’s chatting with Natasha on the phone. When the conversation’s winding down, an idea pops into his head. “Hey, you wanna drop by tomorrow?”

There’s a pause before she answers. “Really?”

“Yeah. I think Buck’s ready for it.”

“Are you?”

“Nat—it’s you, not some stranger. It’ll be fine. I’ll talk to Buck about it.”

“If it’s okay with Buck—and I really mean only if it’s okay with Buck—I’d be honored. Really.”

Steve smiles. “You gonna bring us lunch?”

“Sure. So—ground rules?”

“Simple. If you move something, please put it back exactly where you found it. As for Buck—you can touch him, but start with his hand and then move up his arm if you have to go anywhere else. But in general, try to only touch his hand and give him space when he’s moving around. If you aren’t sure about something, ask me before guessing. Oh, and when you come in, you gotta say hi to Buck before anything else. He’ll know you came in so he’ll feel anxious until he knows who you are.”

“Got it. Now go ask your boy if he’s okay with having company and text me back. And don’t worry—if he says he’s okay with it, I’ll do my part to make sure it goes well.”

“You’re my second favourite person in the universe, you know that?”

She laughs and hangs up on him.

*             *             *

Bucky’s playing peg solitaire. Steve’s made him a wooden board that’s filled with holes. Marbles are placed in all of the holes except the very center one. He can use a marble to jump over another marble and into the empty space. The marble he’d jumped over is then removed from the board. The objective is to only leave one marble on the board. When he’d started playing it, he had a hard time keeping a mental picture of the playing surface in his head, so he’d started out with fewer marbles.

But now he’s using a full set and he can actually finish a game in one evening—whereas a few weeks ago, it would take him several days to play through one round.

He’s sitting on the couch and running his fingers over the marbles, deciding which sequence of steps he’ll do next.

He’s slightly startled when he feels somebody touch his hand and gently lift it off the board. Bucky immediately feels for the person’s wrist and feels the familiar leather bracelet with the beads and the notches.

“Hey, Stevie. What’s going on?”

Steve asks him if he’d be okay with Natasha coming over for a visit.

Immediately, Bucky feels a little anxious. While he would happily spend every day of the rest of his life with Steve, it would be nice to interact with some other people…

…but that’s the problem. Interacting with anybody these days is no longer a simple, natural exercise.

Steve’s been working hard at trying to interpret three-way or four-way conversations for Bucky, but it’s very difficult and Steve gets flustered and annoyed with himself when he screws up—which makes his interpretations even harder for Bucky to follow.

Honestly, dealing with short conversations is difficult enough. The last thing Bucky wants to do is have to endure hours of three-way conversations. He’ll either find it too difficult to follow Steve’s interpretations, or if he stops listening, he’ll be bored.

Either way, he doesn’t get a lot of joy out of those conversations. They’re more stress than enjoyment.

But not having Natasha come over is also not an option. Steve’s been close friends with Natasha since he’d woken up and he knows Steve talks to Natasha on the phone a lot.

So there’s no way he’s going to keep such joy from Steve, even if the thought of being confused or bored for hours makes him want to cry.

He realizes his grip on a marble he’s holding is way too tight and he casually relaxes his grip on it. He puts a big smile on his face. “That would be great! When’s she coming over?”

Steve spells ‘T-M-R’ into his hand.

“Great! Tomorrow! Great!” He hopes his smile isn’t coming across as phoney.

He wants to cry.

Or maybe throw his peg solitaire game out the window.

He hopes his smile is still in good condition. “That’s really great, Steve! You must be so excited!”

One of Steve’s hands was on Bucky’s knee, and it disappears—and the wooden peg board is being pulled out his hand. Steve’s hand is on Bucky’s chin, his thumb gently stroking the fake smile on his lips.

It’s clear—Steve knows something’s wrong.

Steve’s other hand is squeezing Bucky’s hand. Steve tells him he can see Bucky doesn’t look happy about it.

Bucky sighs. “I—I guess—I—I’m not thrilled about it, yeah.”

W-H-Y.

Question mark.

When Bucky hesitates too long before answer, Steve starts talking again. He tells him it’s okay if Natasha doesn’t come over.

“No, Steve, that’s not okay. I meant it—I want Natasha to come and visit. I know how important she is to you.”

A squeeze.

Steve tells him Bucky’s more important to him.

Bucky smiles. “You charmer, you. I know that, but you don’t have a lot of friends and I don’t want you losing the ones you have because of me. I want her to come over. But—can I stay in our bedroom when she’s here?”

A long pause.

Then:

Tap, tap, tap.

Steve confirms that he can stay wherever the wants, but he wants to know why Bucky would want to stay in the bedroom.

“Honestly? Because we’re still not good enough at having multi-person conversations properly. It’s exhausting and difficult and I don’t want that extra stress for either of us. It’ll take the joy out of her visit for you. That’s not an option. I’ll take my art supplies and I’ll be quiet in the bedroom—you won’t even know I’m here.”

Steve suddenly squeezes his hand hard enough to almost be painful, then the back of his hand is being vigorously rubbed.

Bucky opens his mouth to complain, but a finger is pressed against his lips. Steve tells him he should be inmolmed.

Bucky frowns. That’s not a word. “Do the last word again, please. I screwed up.”

I-N-V-O-L-V-ED.

‘V’s, Barnes. ‘V’s. Not ‘M’s. Pay attention.

Oh.

Oh.

Bucky sighs. It’s a nice thought but the reality is that they can’t handle complex multi-person conversation yet, especially if they last for hours.

“Steve, you gotta be realistic. Neither of us are ready to deal with hours of a three-way conversation. It’ll turn into a mess and then—” Another finger on his lips, stopping his words.

Steve tells him he’s already thought about that. He’ll do his best to structure Natasha’s visit so there’s not a lot of three-way talking going on. Steve will talk with Bucky, or if Bucky’s talking to Natasha, Steve will interpret but he won’t add his own words into the conversation.

Bucky bites his lip. “That could work. But it ain’t exactly fair to always leave one person out, is it? We gotta have activities to do during the visit so the third person doesn’t feel left out.”

Steve tightens his grip on Bucky’s hand and pulls him to his feet. Steve leads him over to the shelves with their collection of games and Steve runs their clasped hands over the games.

He asks Bucky if he likes the idea of playing a game together when Natasha is here.

Bucky mulls it over. “Alright, fine. That’ll work. What else?”

Steve takes him back to the couch and presses the television remote into his hand, then tells him they can watch baseball together.

Bucky frowns. “Does Natasha like baseball?”

Steve hesitates. That’s enough of an answer for Bucky. “No, let’s be good hosts, Rogers. How about one of our other shows?”

A.

C-I-I-K-ING.

S-H-O-W.

Question mark.

Ciiking? No, that must have been cooking. That makes more sense. Damn, he’s tired.

“Cooking show?”

Tap, tap.

“Yeah, that’ll work. Even if she doesn’t watch it regularly, she might enjoy it. You can tell her about the competitors and what’s happened in past episodes. That doesn’t have to involve me, and then you can interpret the show for me while she watches.”

They stand there for a moment, Steve gently squeezing Bucky’s hand. Bucky can practically feel the punk’s worry radiating from him.

“Steve, you can still change your mind. If you wanna have a normal visit with Natasha, I can go into the bedroom and keep myself entertained. I don’t mind.”

Rub, rub, rub.

“Alright, fine. But if you get tired of this and just wanna have a normal—”

Steve’s fingers are again pressing against his lips.

The fingers slide off and are replaced with Steve’s lips, giving him a gentle kiss.

Steve flips his hand over. E-O-T-L-I.

The message is clear:

They’re making a new normal, one that will include Bucky in every way possible.

*             *             *

The next morning, they go through their morning routine, but they’re both a bit off—bumping into things and each other and forgetting what they’re doing.

They’re both nervous.

Bucky’s sitting on the couch, playing with his wooden pyramid puzzle. It’s made up of several blocks which are different shapes and the objective is to assemble them to create a pyramid shape. Steve knows Bucky has done it often enough that he can assemble it in just a few minutes—but right now he’s just fiddling with the blocks and jamming them together in nonsensical ways.

Clearly, his mind is elsewhere.

Steve’s no better—he’s spent most of the morning on one of the deafblind support forums where he’s a frequent poster, but he’s just clicking around on different posts without actually reading anything.

Finally, the intercom buzzes.

Steve nearly leaps off the couch. His slides the computer onto the coffee table and reaches for Bucky’s hand. He squeezes the anxious fingers which are busy fiddling with the wooden blocks.

He tugs the pyramid pieces out of Bucky’s hand, turns his palm up and tells him that Natasha is here.

Bucky nods and sits up straight. “Okay. I’m ready,” he says. He’s pale but looks determined.

The intercom buzzes again, but Steve takes a second to turn Bucky’s chin towards him and give him a kiss. He squeezes Bucky’s hand—a reminder:

They’re in this together.

They make their way to the door, Bucky staying a few paces behind Steve.

Steve waits until Natasha knocks, then pulls the door open.

Natasha grins at him. “Hi boys.”

Chapter Text

“Hey, Nat. Come on in.” Steve steps aside and Natasha brushes past him. She toes her shoes off, carefully hangs up her jacket, hat and gloves on the hooks Steve points at, hands Steve the pizza box in her hands and makes her way directly to Bucky.

Bucky’s smiling at her, but Steve can tell it’s his strained, nervous smile.

Natasha reaches out and gently touches Bucky’s hand. He reacts immediately: “Hi Natasha. It’s nice to see you again.”

He transitions smoothly into shaking her hand.

Natasha releases his hand, turns his palm up and swiftly starts spelling on his hand.

He watches her spell:

H-I.

B-U-C-K-Y.

Her finger movements are just as fast as Steve’s. Steve opens his mouth, surprised, but Bucky beats him to it.

“Oh! You know the special alphabet. That’s great!” His smile brightens and is much more genuine. “Thanks for taking the time to learn it. That means a lot to Steve and me.”

Bucky steps back and gestures in the direction of the table. “Would you like to sit down?”

She taps the back of his hand.

Bucky’s grin is bright enough to light a room. “Great! Would you like some coffee?”

Another tap.

“Okay. Please, have a seat and I’ll get us coffee. Steve, please help me with the coffee.”

Steve hasn’t moved a muscle during their interaction.

“Romanov, when the hell did you have time to learn the manual alphabet?”

She has a seat at the table and rolls her eyes. “Please. I memorized it within 10 minutes of looking at the website.”

Steve knows that might be true, but he also knows becoming fluent at using the symbols isn’t something that happens with memorization. Clearly, she had practiced.

“And you know our symbols too?”

She gives him a flat look. “What do you think I’m doing when you’re telling me things? You think I’m busy daydreaming about something? No, you silly fossil, I listen. It’s called ‘being a friend’.”

There’s a warm glow in Steve’s chest.

He makes his way to the table and wraps his arms around her, giving her a tight squeeze and kissing her cheek. “You’re a peach, you know that?”

She smiles and smacks his hand. “Go help Bucky with the coffee. And get me a plate. You have no idea how much I struggled not to eat that pizza on the way over here.”

Steve steps into the kitchen where Bucky is pulling three mugs out of the cupboard. Steve touches Bucky’s hand and discreetly asks him if he’s okay.

Bucky closes the cupboard door and silently taps Steve’s hand.

Okay, so far so good.

Bucky hands Steve each mug one at a time as Steve fills them with coffee. They head out of the kitchen, Steve carrying the three mugs and Bucky carefully running his hand along the counter and the icebox to orient himself.

Natasha is watching them from the table.

“He really doesn’t need the cane anymore in the apartment, huh?”

Steve smiles proudly, watching Bucky smoothly walk out of the kitchen and have a seat in his usual chair, the movements only a little less fluid than normal. It’s clear Bucky’s still a bit nervous, but he’s so accustomed to moving around the apartment by now that his body knows where to go even if his brain is elsewhere.

“Practice makes perfect.” They have a seat at the table and Steve hands Natasha her coffee. “He—”

“Steve, can you get the plates please?” Bucky asks.

Natasha’s still looking at Steve, but then she glances at Bucky. Steve lets out a laugh. “It’s weird when Buck interrupts, huh? I’m used to it now. You just wait—he’ll get you a couple of times too.”

She laughs. “Go get the plates. But tell Bucky you’re getting the plates or he’ll get annoyed that you’re being a rude host.”

Steve rolls his eyes, reaches over, taps Bucky’s hand and goes to get the plates and napkins. Bucky opens the pizza box and everybody helps themselves to a slice.

They eat mainly in silence, enjoying the pizza. Bucky had made it clear to Steve that as long as he has something to keep himself occupied—like eating delicious pizza—he doesn’t mind being left out of conversation. Steve and Natasha chat about a few things, but mainly focus on eating.

*             *             *

This whole thing is much stranger than Bucky thought it would be.

It’s very, very weird to be talking to somebody when he isn’t touching them.

Bucky realizes that the only other person he’s talked to without being in direct contact with them all the time was Terell—and Bucky hadn’t been talking as much as ordering the kid around.

He’s gotten so accustomed to being able to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ Steve just by touching him. He can tell exactly how Steve’s feeling by his body language—whether he’s tense or relaxed, what his hands are doing, whether he’s frowning or smiling—and by other cues: What’s Steve doing? Where is Steve sitting? Is Steve talking to Bucky a lot with his voice and his hands, or only with his hands? Is Steve using full sentences or is he using short, isolated words?

Now that he’s sitting across the table from Natasha, he realizes that he has no idea how she’s feeling. Is he being a good host? Is she feeling uncomfortable? Is she even sitting at the table still or did she go to the bathroom while Bucky was smiling in her direction??

It makes him feel nervous and weird.

He realizes how easy he has it with Steve. The ability to touch Steve whenever and however he wants has been filling his darkness and silence to an extent he wasn’t even aware of.

He’s even having a hard time choosing what to say. He’s been good at small talk his entire life, but he’s used to relying on people’s feedback—their body language, their tone, whether they’re responding with words or just little verbal noises—and he doesn’t have that anymore.

It’s great that Natasha can spell on his hand, but he realizes that doesn’t give him the feedback he really wants.

But it’s not like he has a choice. He can’t be touching people constantly, especially people who aren’t as comfortable with Bucky as Steve is. Even if it were considered okay to do that, Bucky doesn’t like that idea. He wants to be as normal as possible when he’s interacting with people.

But now he’s starting to realize how hard that’s going to be.

So he does his best to keep a polite smile on his face and tries to phrase his questions politely. If he misjudges and says the wrong thing, hopefully Steve will give him a sign before he makes a bigger mess.

This is a lot harder and a lot more uncomfortable than Bucky thought it would be.

Thank God it’s Natasha and not a complete stranger. He doesn’t know her well, but he knows he’d feel even more awkward if he were dealing with somebody he didn’t know at all.

*             *             *

Steve can tell from the polite smile on Bucky’s face that he’s not completely at ease with the situation. He’s got his ‘polite gentleman’ smile on, which he only pulls out for Steve when he’s doing it sarcastically.

Hopefully it’s not Natasha making him uncomfortable. Steve wants to know how he can make things better for Bucky, but he figures Bucky wouldn’t appreciate having his discomfort pointed out in front of their guest.

Steve knows Natasha can see through Bucky’s façade, but he decides the best thing to do is to keep going.

When everyone’s done eating and the table’s been cleared of everything except their coffee mugs, Natasha gets up to use the bathroom.

Bucky’s sipping from his coffee. He puts down his mug, smiles and faces the seat which Natasha had been occupying until about 5 seconds ago. “Would you like to play bingo?”

Steve panics for a second. Should he pretend that Natasha is still here and tap Bucky’s hand? Does Natasha tap the same way he does? Would Bucky know it’s Steve’s hand, even from a brief tap? If Bucky does figure it out, that will probably make things worse.

Shit. Steve should have told Bucky that Natasha was leaving the table before she left.

Damn it!

Steve really needs to put more effort into being a good interpreter and a good conversation coordinator. Those new roles are part of his life now and he needs to hurry up and get better at them.

He leans forward and tells Bucky that Natasha’s in the bathroom.

Bucky’s smile wavers and Steve can see him clench his jaw. Bucky’s embarrassed and looking more uncomfortable.

Steve glances at the bathroom. The door’s still closed.

He steps around the table and kneels next to Bucky’s chair. He squeezes his hand, gives it a firm kiss and tells him he’s sorry, it’s his fault he forgot to tell him.

Bucky shakes his head. He turns Steve’s hand over and tells him that this is harder than he thought it would be.

Steve spells out that he knows, he’s realized that too. He asks if he should cut Natasha’s visit short.

Bucky quickly rubs the back of Steve’s hand. He’s got that stubborn look on his face now. He tells Steve that he wants to keep trying, but Steve needs to help him more.

Steve taps his hand multiple times, spells out ‘I promise’, and then leaps back to his chair right when the bathroom door opens.

Natasha walks out and heads back to her seat.

Steve is about to take a sip from his coffee—when he realizes that once again, he’s screwing up.

Damn it.

He reaches for Bucky’s hand and tells him Natasha’s back and she’s listening.

Bucky puts his ‘polite gentleman’ smile back on. “Would you like to play bingo?”

If Natasha had heard him ask while she’d been in the bathroom, she doesn’t give any sign of it. She glances at Steve, who nods. She taps Bucky’s hand.

“Great! Steve, come help me, please.”

Bucky heads over to the game shelf and hands Steve the bingo boards while he carries the bucket of bingo items and the plastic tongs to the table. Because he’s nervous and not fully focused, Bucky puts the bucket down when it’s not quite over the table. Steve lunged for it, and manages to grab it before the whole thing tips over. A few things fall to the floor, but he saved most of it. Bucky would have definitely noticed—and been mad at himself and embarrassed—if the bucket had hit his foot.

But luckily Bucky doesn’t notice and sits down. Steve tries to be casual as he sets the bucket on the table and grabs a few items which had fallen to the floor.

Natasha is looking at one of Bucky’s art pieces on the wall next to the front door and doesn’t give any sign that she noticed the little slip up.

Steve knows that she did notice, but he’s grateful she’s not calling attention to it.

For the millionth time, he’s glad that their first visitor is Natasha and not a complete stranger.

Steve slides a bingo board in front of each of them. They’re covered in a grid created by pipe cleaners glued to the boards. Bucky gives the bucket a shake.

Natasha’s examining the board. “So how do—”

“Okay. Everybody needs to take items from the bucket and put one thing in each square. You can’t do any duplicates.”

Steve shots Natasha a smile as he reaches in and grabs a handful of items and starts arranging them on his board. “Told you he’d get you.”

He never tells Bucky when he interrupts Steve or somebody else. That’s something that Bucky can’t do anything about, and it would only embarrass him and make him self-conscious about talking. That’s the last thing Steve wants. It’s not a big deal when Bucky interrupts him, and Steve figures if he treats it as a light-hearted thing, hopefully other people will see it the same way—as opposed to focusing on the weirdness of it.

She shrugs. “I got my answer anyway.”

Steve smiles and focuses on setting up his own board. He pulls out a handful of items and sorts through them. He's got a coiled pipe cleaner, two aluminum foil balls, a muffin cup liner and a cotton ball. He arranges the items on his board, tosses the extra aluminum foil ball back into the bucket and pulls out another handful.

While he’s working on his own board, he keeps a discreet eye on Bucky, making sure he’s doing okay with his own board. Steve usually finishes his set up way before Bucky and he uses the extra time to check his phone or get himself something to drink, but this time he slows his pace to match Bucky’s.

He notices that Natasha’s doing the same. She doesn’t appear to even be looking at Bucky’s board, but she’s taking her time picking items and carefully choosing where to put them on her board.

Steve smiles, feeling incredibly grateful.

They set up the items on their boards. Once everybody tells Bucky they’re ready, he gives the bucket with the extra items a good shake and picks up the tongs.

“We take turns picking objects out of the bucket. You can’t look into the bucket when you’re taking out items, you just reach in with the tongs and pull something out. If you have that item on your board, you take it off your board. Basically you need to get a line of four things cleared from your board to win. Any questions?”

Both Steve and Natasha reach over and rub his hand at the same time. Bucky looks startled and lets out a laugh. “That feels weird. I ain’t used to having more than one person talking to me at the same time.”

Steve lets out a chuckle. Bucky holds the tongs in Natasha’s direction. “Ladies first.”

She takes the tongs, averts her eyes from the bucket and dips the tongs in. She pulls out a piece of sponge.

“Hand it to Buck so he can feel it, Nat.”

Bucky’s hand is already outstretched and Natasha drops the sponge into it. It takes him only seconds to know what it is. “Sponge.”

Steve doesn’t bother telling Bucky that he’s right—it’s been weeks since Bucky messed up any items. He knows exactly what everything in there is. Steve had tossed a handful of spare change into the bucket one day, but when Bucky had felt the coins, he'd demanded to know why the hell Steve was throwing money into their bingo bucket.

"Money ain't playthings, Rogers. Jesus."

Steve had tried to explain that pennies, nickels and dimes were practically useless and stores even had 'leave a penny, take a penny' jars on the counters, but Bucky refused to consider using them as part of the game.

"Money ain't playthings, Rogers. End of discussion."

Steve had realized that Bucky hasn't been exposed to modern-day prices and the huge inflation over the past seventy years, so his attitude is understandable. It's not worth the fight, so Steve is careful to keep his spare change in his wallet or shove it into the tip jars in stores.

Everybody checks their boards and Natasha lets out a quiet “Yay!” that lets Steve know she’s got a piece of sponge on her board. She takes it off and puts it to the side.

Bucky is frowning in concentration, running a gentle finger over his items. “I don’t have a sponge. Anybody got lucky?”

Natasha reaches over and taps his hand. Steve waits until Natasha withdraws her hand, then rubs Bucky’s hand.

“Oh, that’s good. Our guest got lucky on the first turn! Steve, we’re very good hosts.”

They all let out a laugh as Natasha hands the tongs to Steve. Steve is happy that Bucky’s laugh is only a little more strained than it usually is. That’s progress.

As they play, Bucky gradually relaxes, which makes Steve relax a little more too.

Bucky’s probably feeling more comfortable because there isn’t a lot of small talk going on, and the communication required in the game is routine and easy for Bucky to maintain. Plus, it probably helps that they’ve played this game a dozen times before and Steve knows Bucky’s comfortable with it.

He’s playing with more confidence and his smile gets more genuine the longer they play.

Steve struggles to hide his pleased smile and he really, really wants to tell Bucky how proud he is of him—but disrupting Bucky’s focus right now is the last thing he needs.

As Natasha gets accustomed to the game, she doesn’t wait for Bucky to ask if she got another item on her board—she waits until Bucky’s done checking his own board, then she lets him know if she got a match or not, like Steve does.

Their second round goes faster, Natasha matching their pace.

It looks like Bucky will easily win the second round when he clears three squares that are right next to each other in just five turns, but the last item he needs—a piece of cardboard—doesn’t want to be pulled out of the bucket. Four turns go by, with Bucky eagerly reaching out for the pulled item, only to make a disappointed face when he closes his hand around it and realizes it’s not cardboard.

When Steve pulls out the next item—a marble—Bucky grabs it and lets out a cheer. “Finally! Cardboard. Yay, I win.”

Steve snorts and reaches over to rub the back of Bucky’s hand. “Buck, are you drunk? That’s not a piece of cardboard and you know it.”

Bucky pulls his hand away from Steve, clutching the marble. “You’re wrong, Rogers. This is cardboard. Definitely.” He’s got a smirk on his face and it’s clear he’s struggling not to burst out laughing.

Steve lightly stomps on his foot under the table.

Bucky kicks his foot. “Don’t get violent with me just cause I’m right and you’re wrong. Let’s ask our guest—Nat is this cardboard?”

Steve already knows that Natasha has a piece of cardboard on her own board, so he isn’t surprised when she reaches over and confidently taps Bucky on the hand. “Hey! Romanov! It’s bad enough that Barnes is trying to cheat—now you’re joining him?”

Natasha is laughing at him. She throws her hands up. “It’s not my fault you’re blind, Rogers. That’s obviously a piece of car—.”

“Guess I’m right and you’re wrong, Steven.” Bucky shoots a triumphant smirk Steve’s way.

Bucky reaches down, ready to pluck his piece of cardboard off his board when Steve beats him to it, swiping the piece of cardboard off his board.

“You can’t win unless you can show the winning pieces.”

“Hey.” Bucky’s smirk dissolves into a glare as he feels around the edge of his board. “Rogers, you’re cheating.”

“Oh, I’m cheating? I’m cheating?” Steve reaches over with the hand not holding the cardboard and tells him he’s the cheating jerk.

Bucky grins and grabs hold of Steve’s spelling hand and follows it to Steve’s chest, trying to get to the hand holding the cardboard. Steve leans back in his chair with a laugh, keeping his hand away from Bucky.

“Rogers, give me back my winning piece, you cheat.” Bucky says, laughing and straddling Steve on the chair as he tries to catch his wandering hand.

Natasha’s laughing at both of them, making no move to lend a helping hand to either of them.

When Bucky nearly catches his hand a few times, Steve stuffs the cardboard piece down his shirt and lets Bucky catch his empty hand.

Bucky’s trying to make his glare look very menacing but the effect is ruined by his smile as he explores Steve’s empty hand. “Give it back, you cheating scum.”

“Oh, I’m the cheating scum?” Steve lets out a laugh and tells Bucky he’s the cheating scum, not Steve.

Bucky pretends to look shocked and smacks Steve in the chest. “Me? The poor cripple? Steven Grant Rogers, I’m shocked at you.”

Steve laughs. He tells him he’s no good, cheating scum. He repeats the ‘no good’ and the ‘cheating’ twice more to emphasize his point.

Bucky is trying to look scandalized, but he can’t help the smile that’s tugging on his lips. Steve smacks Bucky’s hip. That makes the smile spread over Bucky’s face.

“So you’re sticking with that, huh? You think little old me is trying to cheat?”

Tap, tap, tap.

Bucky lets out a laugh. “Fine! If that’s the way you want it—you caught me. Maybe you pulled something other than cardboard out of the bucket. Maybe. I can’t help it if poor blind me makes mistakes.”

Steve laughs and pinches Bucky’s side. Bucky lets out a surprised shout and nearly topples off Steve’s lap. Steve keeps him steady and reaches into his shirt to pull out the piece of cardboard. He presses it into Bucky’s hand.

“Thank you, Rogers. Now we can get back to playing. So does this mean I didn’t win?”

Steve lets out another laugh. “No, Barnes, you didn’t.” He rubs the back of Bucky’s hand, spells out ‘J-E-R-K’ and then smacks his ass. “Now get off my lap and get—.”

 “You live to make my life difficult, don’t you?” Bucky lightly pinches Steve’s cheek.

Tap. Steve confirms that’s his job.

Bucky laughs and climbs off Steve. He carefully makes his way back into his chair and puts the cardboard piece back on his board.

That’s when Steve remembers they have company and he clears his throat, feeling a blush creep over his cheeks. “Sorry, Nat. We’re not used to having company.”

She’s got a soft smile on her face. “No, it’s nice to see. And I have cardboard on my board too, so I was rooting for Bucky to win.”

He shakes his head, trying to look appalled. “I’m shocked at both of you.” He picks up the marble that’s been rolling around the table and forces it into Bucky’s hand.

Bucky smirks when he feels what it is. “So you wanna do this again? Alright, I’ll do it your way. Nat, it seems that Rogers ain’t willing to give a poor blind man any slack. He wants this to be a marble, so let’s do it his way.”

Steve rolls his eyes as Natasha laughs.

When they’re done playing bingo, Bucky and Steve put the game away and ask if Natasha wants to watch a show with them.

She glances at Steve and waits for his nod before she’s tapping Bucky’s hand. She stays seated until Bucky’s sitting on the couch and gesturing for Natasha to sit on his left. It hasn’t escaped Steve’s notice that she’s only moved from her seat when she knew that Bucky was settled somewhere.

Steve knows it doesn’t have anything to do with her feeling uncomfortable. She wants to make sure her presence isn’t interfering with Bucky’s movements around the apartment.

She notices his soft smile on her way to the couch. “What are you smiling at, Rogers?”

“You being awesome.”

“Quit being sappy and come sit down. What are we watching?”

Steve sits on Bucky’s right side so he can spell on his hand. “You got any preferences?”

She scoffs. “You know I rarely get to watch TV or movies. As long as it’s something fun and light, I’m happy.”

Perfect. That means they can watch the episode of the cooking competition they recorded last night. It’s half way through the show’s season so Bucky’s familiar with all the contestants and the structure of the show.

Steve fumbles with the remote, waking up the television and finding the right episode. While he gets things set up, he squeezes Bucky’s knee with his free hand. He realizes he needs to tell Natasha a bit about the show. “We’ve been watching this cooking competition. There’s a series of challenges each episode and each ep—”

“So we were thinking of watching this cooking competition show that we’ve been following. The people on it do some challenges each episodes—team challenges or individual things—and at the end of the episode one person is eliminated,” Bucky says. He shots a smile in Natasha’s direction while he’s talking.

Damn it! Steve did it again!

Natasha is smiling and shaking her head at Steve. “That was 100% your fault, Rogers. You didn’t tell Bucky that you were gonna explain things to me, so he had to step in.”

Steve is starting to get very annoyed with himself. Jesus, Rogers! It’s not so hard to keep Bucky in the loop. “Yup. I agree with you. Shit!”

She leans forward and gently touches Bucky’s hand. She thanks him for the explanation and tells him she’s looking forward to watching the show. Then she leans forward even more, trying to catch Steve’s eyes. “Hey, Rogers. Look at me.”

Steve is busy glaring at the television. He glances at her. “What?”

“We’re all doing the best we can right now. We’re all having fun and Bucky’s getting more comfortable. That’s what’s most important, right? We’ll all learn from this and figure out how to make things better. I should have told Bucky I was going to the bathroom earlier. See? We’ve all made some mistakes so far. Relax. Bucky’s doing great and you’re doing great. Now start the show.”

Steve takes a slow breath—he’s trying very hard to keep his body language from telling Bucky that he’s annoyed. He needs Bucky focused on listening to what Steve is saying.

Steve focuses back on the television. “Ready?” he asks Natasha. At the same time, he spells the word on Bucky’s palm, followed by a question mark. They both agree, so Steve starts the episode.

He fast forwards through the recap from the last episode. First up is a team challenge. The two individuals who had cooked the best dishes in the previous episode are the captains.

Steve uses abbreviations for the contestant names and the different challenges and fills in Bucky on what’s happening.

Steve spells out C-A-P-T-A-I-N-S and spells out the abbreviated names of the two contestants.

“Veronica and Pino are the captains.”

Tap.

C-A-P.

V-E-R.

P-I-C-K-S.

S-A-R.

“Veronica picks Sarah. That’s a good choice.”

Steve tells him Pino picked Terry.

“Pino picked Terry. Really? They’re both hot heads. That’s not gonna work well.”

Tap, tap, tap.

C-A-P.

V-E-R.

P-I-C-K-S.

M-I-C-H.

“Veronica picks Michael. He’s worked with Sarah before didn’t he? That’ll work. Good choice!”

Tap.

They move through the team selections, then Steve explains who the teams are cooking for, and off they go.

Steve watches the action and tells Bucky how each team is progressing. He lets him know when he’s switching between Team Veronica and Team Pino, and whether the team is doing well or something has gone wrong.

Natasha is looking back and forth between the television and Steve’s hand. He has no doubt she’s carefully tracking exactly what he’s saying. It’s actually making him a little nervous—he’s not used to somebody else being part of their conversation.

They get through the team challenge and Team Veronica is declared the winner. Their main course had been a big hit and gets them the win, despite the team burning their soup base and being left with only a tiny kale salad to serve as appetizer.

Bucky’s smirking when Steve tells him who the winner is. “Good thing everybody liked that salad, huh?”

Steve laughs and taps his hand. “No kidding.”

Steve reaches for the remote and fast forwards through a commercial. The elimination challenge is next. The members of Team Pino have to bake a tower of cream puffs. The actual name is something French and complicated which Steve wouldn’t be able to spell without looking up, and he’d have to repeat it a bunch of times for Bucky anyway, so he keeps things simple and calls it a cream puff tower the first time, and then just ‘tower’ the rest of the time.

While the camera cuts to various contestants expressing dismay over the challenge dish, Steve reminds Bucky who the four contestants are who will be doing the elimination challenge.

They get started.

T-E-R.

IS.

N-E-R-V-O-U-S.

“Terry’s nervous. Already? That’s not good.”

Steve tells him Terry has knocked his bowl of batter off the counter.

“Shit! Terry has to redo his batter. That’ll lose him time.”

Tap.

There’s a shot of Team Veronica on the balcony, expressing their dismay over Terry’s mistake, which leads into a commercial break.

Natasha sits up.

“Hey, can I try?”

Steve glances at her. “Try what?”

“Can I try translating?”

“That’s the wrong word, Nat,” Steve says, not taking his eyes off the screen. “Translating is for written things. This is interpreting.”

She lets out a laugh. “Well, excuse me, Mister Dictionary. Let me rephrase: Can I try interpreting?”

Steve smirks at her, then considers what she’d asked. He can’t help the worried frown that crosses his face. “You sure?”

“I’ve been watching you. I think I can do it. You think Bucky would mind us switching?”

Steve pauses the show and gives her a challenging smile. “If you think you can handle it, go ahead and ask him.” She doesn’t know the new abbreviations they’ve made up, but he thinks she’ll be able to keep up without them.

And there’s always the pause button.

She pulls Bucky’s hand out of Steve’s grasp and asks him if she can try.

Bucky’s frowning. “Try what?”

She spells some more words, but her hand is blocking his view of Bucky's palm so Steve can’t keep up. That’s okay—he isn’t the one who needs to be keeping up.

Bucky’s frown immediately turns into a smile. “Sure.”

Steve gets up and switches spots with Natasha. Steve nods his chin at the remote. “You know where the pause button is, right?”

She smirks at him. “I won’t need it, thanks.”

“You say that now. Wait until the dying seconds of the challenge when you’ve got things going wrong for everybody.”

“Just sit down, Rogers. Barnes and I—”

“You can pause the show if it’s too fast,” Bucky says kindly, smiling in her direction.

Steve bursts out laughing. “Looks like you’ll have to prove us both wrong, Nat.”

She raises her chin and smooths her hand over Bucky’s palm. “Press play, Rogers.”

He hits play and fast forwards the action until the show returns.

Natasha effortlessly keeps up with the action, telling Bucky about Terry’s new problem: he hadn’t made enough batter on his second try and as a result, he won’t have enough puffs for his tower. Then Pino burns his caramel sauce. The other two contestants are doing alright so Natasha only occasionally lets Bucky know that they’re still doing okay.

When the judges announce there’s 30 minutes left, Steve tells Natasha how to inform Bucky of the time limit. As the four contestants start assembling their tower, the action gets more intense, switching between the contestants faster. A few times Natasha has to use a commercial break to catch up, but she never gets so far behind that she needs the show paused.

Steve spends more time watching Natasha’s hand than the television, his head gently propped on Bucky’s left shoulder, reading her words right along with Bucky. She only messes up once—getting a contestant’s name wrong. Bucky has no idea she made a mistake, but Steve’s keeping half an eye on the television so he catches it.

Steve helps straighten it out. “That was Jess, not Sarah, Nat. They were talking to Sarah, but everyone’s talking about Jess. Don’t mention Sarah at all.”

“Right, shoot. Can you pause?”

Steve dutifully pauses the show and waits while Natasha erases her previous statement on Bucky’s hand and corrects herself. She spells out an apology but Bucky pulls his hand away in the middle of her spelling and waves it off.

“Don’t worry about it. I mess up all the time. Take your time. It’s okay to pause the show if you need to. Steve pauses baseball games all the time.”

That was her only stumble. As the challenge is coming to a close, Steve sits up. “Okay, start doing a ten second count down.”

“It’s not that time yet.”

“Trust me, by the time you’ve set it up and done it, you’ll be on pace with the show.” Since Natasha isn’t familiar with their new number system, Steve tells her step-by-step what to spell out.

T-I-M-E.

L-E-F-T.

Number sign.

She taps the tip of Bucky’s thumb once. 1.

She taps the tip of his pinky finger twice. 0.

S-E-C.

Bucky nods. “10 seconds left.”

The time ticks down, both on Bucky’s hand and on the television. The action slows as each contestant brings their baked creation to the front for tasting.

The judges call up Terry first. “How much detail do I pass on about the judging, Steve?” Natasha asks.

“I usually give him the most important positive thing and the most important negative thing. Those are usually the facts that decide who the winners are and who ends up in the bottom two.”

Terry’s tower is much smaller than the other towers, but that’s something they’ve all been aware of since Terry hadn’t made enough of the pastry batter in the first place.

Steve leans on Bucky’s shoulder, watching Natasha spelling. Steve’s so proud of both Natasha and Bucky. He presses a soft kiss to Bucky’s cheek.

“The taste was good, so Terry’s only problem is the tower’s too small. Maybe Pino’s tower tastes worse because of the burnt—” Bucky breaks off mid-sentence and turns towards Steve. “Rogers, I love you, but I’m trying to focus here. I can’t have you distracting me like that. Jesus!” Bucky’s smiling while he says it.

Natasha lets out a laugh and reaches behind Bucky to smack Steve over the head. “Yes, Rogers, have some respect. Bucky and I are busy talking—you can’t just barge into a conversation like that.”

Steve laughs. “Sorry, sorry. I’ll be on better behavior, I promise.” He squeezes Bucky’s knee in apology.

Bucky’s smiling in his direction and he presses a quick kiss to Steve’s face. It lands right under Steve’s eye. “There! That’ll have to last you until we have more privacy.” He turns back to Natasha. “I’m so sorry for that rude kid, Nat. I swear, I raised him better than that.”

She laughs and they resume discussing the judging taking place.

Steve goes back to leaning against Bucky’s shoulder, watching their easy back-and-forth. It’s clear they’re both getting comfortable being around each other.

Steve can’t seem to stop smiling. Things are much better than when Natasha had stepped through the door.

It’s not a surprise that the final elimination is between Terry and Pino.

T-E-R.

I-S.

S-A-F-E.

“Terry’s safe. Yay! I like that guy.”

She tells him Pino is eliminated.

“And Pino’s out. Well, what can you expect if you burn your caramel sauce? I’m glad I didn’t have to taste that tower.”

Steve stretches and presses a kiss to Bucky’s cheek. He grabs the remote from Natasha and deletes the episode. Dropping the remote, he squeezes Natasha’s knee.

“Good job, Romanov. I’m really impressed. A bit jealous, actually. Took me days to get that fast.”

Natasha shrugs off the praise. “You made the system, I just followed along.” But she’s got a little smile on her face, pleased.

Steve lets his arm drop around Bucky’s shoulder and pulls him into Steve’s side. He squeezes Bucky’s hand and tells him he did a good job.

“Thanks, Rogers. That was a good episode. I’m glad Terry’s safe.”

Steve tells him he agrees.

Bucky’s cuddling into Steve’s chest. He looks pleased with himself, but he looks tired. Steve knows how hard today was for him.

Steve looks over at Natasha and sees her smiling at both of them. “You’ve got something weird on your face, Nat. Might be something dangerous, I’m not sure. The corners of your lips are being pulled up in weird way.”

She rolls her eyes. “Very funny.”

Steve smiles. “That’s me.”

Natasha stretches and makes herself more comfortable on the couch. “I’ve known you for five years, and I’ve seen you smile and laugh more today than in the entire five years. And the only other time I’ve ever seen Barnes smile or laugh was in those videos at the Smithsonian.”

Steve rubs Bucky’s arm and slouches against the back of the couch, letting Bucky get more comfortable. “We’ve always done better when we’re together. Always.”

“Some things never change, huh?”

“Well, I kinda like this new Three Musketeers situation.”

She grins. “Me too.”

Steve’s about to ask Bucky what he thinks, when Bucky reaches his arm out in Natasha’s direction. “Nat, did you like the episode?”

She grabs his hand and taps it.

“Oh, good. You’re welcome to come over anytime you want. I love having this big lug all to myself but variety is good too.”

She squeezes his hand.

Steve smiles.

Chapter Text

Bucky carefully brings his lunch plate into the kitchen. He’s trying it without the cane, which is always nerve wracking, but much more convenient. He’s getting more comfortable walking around the apartment without his cane—but doing it when he’s carrying something is much tougher. He can’t use his hand to properly orient himself, so he’s come up with other tricks.

He walks right into the side of the counter and shuffles sideways, keeping his stomach pressed into the counter and following it along, letting the edge of the counter guide him. When the counter turns, Bucky turns with it.

He holds the plate in his hand and touches the back of his hand along the counter, feeling for the sink.

When he feels the cold metal, he gently moves his hand around until he feels Steve’s plate waiting beside the sink. He puts his plate on top of Steve’s, then makes his way back to the table for his cutlery.

When all the dirty dishes are next to the sink, he does the dishes and wipes up the counter.

He’s passing Steve at the table, when he feels his shirt being snagged.

“Yeah?”

His hand is smoothed out.

Steve tells him they need to talk about something serious.

“Okay.” He feels for the chair next to Steve and pulls it out. He drops his hand on Steve’s thigh, waiting for him to start talking.

Steve asks him if he wants a new arm.

What?

For a second, Bucky thinks he misunderstood.

New arm? What the hell is wrong with his arm?

“Is my arm not meeting your standards anymore?” he chuckles.

Rub, rub, rub.

Steve clarifies that he’s talking about his left arm.

Bucky abruptly stops laughing. “Are you serious? I can get my left arm back?”

Steve doesn’t respond right away. Then he spells out ‘kind of’.

“What the hell does that mean? I can either get an arm or not. It’s not complicated.”

Steve disagrees, telling him that yes, it is complicated.

Bucky sighs softly. “Okay, so it is complicated. We’re not talking about the Hydra arm are we? I don’t want that thing back.”

Rub, rub, rub.

“Okay, good. So getting a new arm is complicated. Why?”

Steve hesitates again. Then he tells him there are multiple options.

Bucky feels a bit off kilter with the direction of this entire conversation. He’s gotten used to not having his left arm—he does miss it, sure, and it’s damn inconvenient only having one arm at times—but compared to having a piece of Hydra attached to him, he’d rather go without an arm.

He’s been so happy to be rid of the Hydra arm, and he’s been so busy learning how to do things without his left arm that he’s completely forgotten to consider other options.

“Alright. I wanna hear about the options. Let’s have the first one.”

S-T-A-R-K.

For a second, Bucky doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but as soon as the meaning sinks in, he rips his hand away from Steve’s fingers.

“Rogers, I told you when we were on the run that I don’t ever wanna hear that name again. I don’t care how smart the guy is and what kind of arm he can give me—I want nothing to do with him ever again. You hear me? Anybody who’s not brainwashed and tries to kill you is on my shit list for life.”

Steve catches his hand and squeezes it.

Bucky pulls his hand back. “If that’s my only option for a new arm, forget about it. I’d rather give up my other arm than deal with him. Got it?”

Tap, tap, tap.

“Okay. Moving on.” Bucky takes a deep breath. “Do we have other options?”

Tap.

“Alright. Let’s discuss those other options.”

Thankfully, Steve moves the conversation right along.

He explains that Bucky could wear a prosthetic arm that’s attached to a harness.

“Harness? Why can’t they just implant something like Hydra did?”

Steve asks him if he’d rather have surgery.

Oh. He hadn’t thought that through. “No, no, I don’t. This harness would be removable?”

Tap, tap.

He likes that. He already has so many things he has to wear constantly to feel safe—his cane, the motion detector receiver, his watch. The fewer permanent gadgets are attached to him, the better.

Besides, having an arm permanently attached would remind him too much of the Hydra arm. He’s not a walking weapon anymore and he doesn’t want a bunch of technology attached to him permanently.

“Okay, so go ahead and order it and you can teach me how to put it on.”

Rub, rub, rub.

Steve tells him he’d need a doctor’s help.

Bucky makes a face. “Really? We can’t do it ourselves?”

Rub, rub, rub.

Well—he trusts that Steve has done enough research to know what he’s talking about. If Steve says they’d need outside help, then there’s no alternative.

He thinks it over.

Going to a strange doctor would be stressful, and he knows he probably won’t get away with only going once. Most of his enthusiasm for this entire process disappears.

But if he gets a second arm—especially a second hand!—then it’s worth it.

But how would that even work? The only reason the Hydra arm worked like a real arm is because it was attached to his spine and nerves.

He asks Steve to explain how removable arms would work—how exactly they’re attached, how he’d be able to move them, how many times they’d have to go to a doctor. Steve explains slowly, moving through each of the options and answering all of Bucky’s questions.

Moving the arms sounds very complicated, no matter which option he goes with. But again, if he could get a functional left hand out of it…

“So I could learn how to move the left arm, right? Does the left hand have sensors?”

Rub.

Oh. Well, that changes everything. If the new hand can’t feel anything, how the hell would Bucky know if he managed to pick something up? How the hell could he hear Steve if he spells on that hand?

The remainder of his enthusiasm for the whole idea disappears completely.

“Stevie, it’s okay. It seems like way more fuss than it’s worth right now. I don’t like the idea of going to a doctor and if I can’t feel what the hand is doing, then I’d need to use my right hand to check on it. Honestly, my right hand is too busy doing things to bother with that right now.”

Steve is hesitating.

Finally he asks Bucky if he’s sure.

He is.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m sure. Things are going really well and I’m doing fine without my left arm. I get annoyed with some things, but everything you said makes it seem like I’d be a lot more annoyed with a new arm than without it. Let’s forget about it for now. If I change my mind, I’ll let you know.”

*             *             *

For some reason, he’s really horny today. Steve is usually the more…active one out of the two of them—at least, after he got the serum—but as Bucky’s body calms and adjusts to his new life, he notices he’s in the mood more frequently.

Today is no exception. Steve had fucked him twice this morning, but after dinner, Bucky is ready to go again. He’s barely thought about anything naughty, and he’s already half-hard.

He knows Steve’s busy sketching and he’s debating whether to head to bed and have some alone time, but he’s in one of those moods where he really, really wants Steve to touch him. He goes back and forth about it for a while, until he finally decides to see how engrossed Steve is in his sketch. To be on the safe side, he slips the bottle of slick into his sweatpants pocket on his way to the couch.

Sitting down on the couch, he carefully slides closer to Steve, not wanting to jostle him. “Stevie? You gonna be done sketching soon? Or is it gonna take a while?”

He feels Steve grab his hand and tells him he’s almost done.

“Okay.”

He’s on Steve’s left side, so he slides closer to him without worrying that he’ll interfere with his sketching hand, pulls his legs up on the couch and rests his chin on Steve’s shoulder. Just the thought of Steve touching him soon makes his cock twitch. He knows if he puts his hand on himself, he’s gonna go off in no time, so he compromises by spreading his knees and sliding closer to Steve, pressing his aching cock against Steve’s hip.

His sweatpants tighten around his hips and he lets out a soft whine at the delicious friction pressing against his cock. He gently rolls his hips, rubbing his cock against Steve, sparks of arousal shooting through him.

Realizing he’s probably making all kinds of distracting noises which he can’t hear, he snaps his mouth shut and presses his face against Steve’s shoulder.

It feels so good, but he really wants Steve to touch him soon, so he hopes the punk will finish his sketching quickly.

He feels Steve shifting—which unfortunately shifts his hip away from Bucky’s cock—but then Steve’s laying his hand flat on his thigh and asking him if Steve can help him with something.

Bucky smiles and keeps his face pressed to Steve’s shoulder, shifting closer to Steve again until he’s grinding against his hip again. “I don’t wanna rush you, but I’ve got a bit of a situation here.”

A hand suddenly squeezes his cock through his pants, making Bucky gasp and twitch. Then that naughty hand is gone and it’s spelling out more letters.

Steve agrees with him. Bucky’s definitely got a situation going on. Does he want help with it?

Bucky grins and feels across Steve’s lap for his sketchpad. He tugs it out of his grasp and tosses it next to Steve on the couch, then finds his pencil in his right hand and tosses it on the coffee table. Now that Steve’s lap is clear, Bucky straddles him, sliding close to him so his cock is rubbing against Steve’s belly.

“Oh, that’s better. You’re already helping and you barely did anything. That’s how talented you are.”

Bucky’s got his hand on Steve’s shoulder, gripping his shirt, but Steve pulls the hand down so he can talk to him. He asks him what he wants.

“I want your hands on me.”

Mouth too? Steve asks.

“Yeah, but not on my cock. I wanna feel you everywhere.”

While having Steve’s mouth on his cock is one of his favourite things in the world, the downside is that while Steve’s doing that, most of Steve is down by his dick and his legs and Bucky sometimes feels too alone that way.

Steve keeps asking him questions.

Fast or slow?

“Slow. Stretch it out.”

Slick?

“In my pocket.”

Then Bucky feels Steve’s hand sliding around his hip and smacking his ass. That means: get up and get your pants off, Barnes.

Bucky stumbles to his feet, pulls out the slick—which he drops onto Steve’s lap—and then pulls his pants and underwear down before he climbs back onto Steve’s lap. His cock is thrilled to be released from the confines of the clothes and he slides closer to Steve, clamping his thighs tightly against his legs and rubbing his cock against Steve’s soft shirt-covered stomach.

He moans happily at the pleasant arousal curling in his belly and buries his face in Steve’s neck. He feels Steve shifting around—probably getting his hand lubed up. Then Steve’s arm is curling around Bucky’s back and gently pulling his chin away from his shoulder. Steve keeps his arm wrapped around him and his fingers on Bucky’s chin as he tugs him in for a kiss.

Bucky feels himself relax, loving the feeling of Steve pressed against his front and wrapped around his back. He can feel Steve getting hard too and he presses himself harder against him, rubbing against his cock and his belly. Steve is all around him and this is exactly what he wanted.

He presses his lips to Steve’s and feels Steve’s tongue licking at the seam of his lips, urging them to open. Steve tilts Bucky’s chin and when he parts his lips, Steve’s tongue slides in, kissing him slowly and thoroughly.

Bucky’s starting to wonder where Steve’s other hand is, when he feels a slippery and warm hand wrap around his cock and start to stroke him. The hand knows exactly what he likes. It pulls in a long, tight stroke up to the head and the thumb swipes over his sensitive head, making a shiver run up Bucky’s back and gasp into Steve’s mouth.

Steve keeps up the slow pace, tangling his tongue with Bucky’s, and keeping him pressed close.

Eventually he stops stroking Bucky’s entire cock and focuses on the head, alternating gentle squeezes with his thumb rubbing his fluid into his slit. Slowly, he increases the pace, squeezing and rubbing harder and faster.

“Jesus,” Bucky gasps into Steve’s mouth.

His arousal builds, his body is trembling harder and he’s having an impossible time kissing Steve instead of just moaning and gasping against his lips.

Then Steve stops, abandoning Bucky’s cock head to firmly grasp the base of his cock and prevent him from coming.

Bucky whines at the interruption and a hard twitch makes his entire body jerk. Steve tightens his grip on him, keeping him steady on his lap.

He pulls his lips back from Bucky and uses the arm across his back to press Bucky’s face against his shoulder. Bucky can feel Steve’s lips moving against his temple.

Bucky gradually calms until he knows he’s not seconds away from coming anymore. He doesn’t bother telling Steve—he knows Steve can tell.

He feels Steve shifting beneath him and then Steve’s hard cock is pressing against Bucky’s. He must have pulled it out from his pants.

Bucky smiles. “There you are.” He thrusts against Steve’s cock, feeling that Steve has slicked his cock with lube. He reaches down to grab their cocks, but his hand is grabbed along the way and brought back to Steve’s shoulder, where his fingers are curled into Steve’s shirt.

Bucky chuckles. “Okay, fine. But you better get back to what you were doing, Rogers. I did say stretch it out, but I didn’t mean I want it to—”

Then a finger is pressed against his lips, shushing him.

Alright, fine.

He drops his head back on Steve’s shoulder and presses his face against his neck. He realizes his hips have been grinding him against Steve’s cock and belly and he presses himself more firmly against Steve’s front.

Steve wraps one arm around his back again, winding his arm across his entire back so he’s covered by Steve. It feels wonderful.

Then Steve gets back to work, but this time, he slides a slick hand down Bucky’s ass, along his crack and circles his hole.

“Oh, fuck,” Bucky gasps into Steve’s neck, jumping a little at the unexpected contact, and then immediately pushes back against the circling finger.

Steve presses the pad of his finger against his hole, the rim barely giving way beneath the gentle push. He uses his other arm to pull Bucky forward, encouraging him to thrust in a specific rhythm. Bucky falls into it right away.

Forward against Steve’s cock, and backwards against Steve’s finger.

Steve presses kisses against Bucky’s neck and brings his lips to Bucky’s ear, saying wonderful things to him.

As Bucky’s arousal builds again, Steve’s finger finally slides in, pumping in and out in time with the rhythm Bucky’s hips are making. Another finger slides in soon after, stretching Bucky and making him whine.

It feels so good and he spreads his legs wider so he can thrust back against Steve’s fingers. “I want another,” he mumbles into Steve’s neck.

A third finger slides into his hole, stretching the sensitive rim, and then Steve curls his fingers and brushes over Bucky’s prostate, sending sparks racing up his spine.

“Oh, fuck! Fucking, Jesus Christ, oh!”

He feels Steve’s cock twitch against his, fluid dripping down his cock, and it’s unbelievably arousing to know that he has no idea whose cock it came from.

He’s panting into Steve’s neck and he’s so hard, his cock is aching. “Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop.”

A kiss is pressed to his neck, and then the arm that Steve had wrapped around his back disappears and it wedges itself between their bodies and grabs their cocks, squeezing and rubbing the leaking heads, pressing them together.

Then Steve abruptly increases the rhythm of the fingers in his ass, rubbing his prostate hard—and that’s it, Bucky’s body seizes up and he’s coming.

He can feel Steve’s cock twitching and his fingers in his ass lose their rhythm as he comes too.

Steve’s hand on their cocks slows, gently rubbing and pulling as they shot cum all over their shirts. Bucky’s gasping so hard against Steve’s neck that his skin is moist from his breath, and his entire body is twitching and trembling. He can feel Steve’s chest rising and falling as he gets his breath back too, and he’s shaking just as badly as Bucky is.

“Oh, that was good. Jesus, Rogers, that was good,” Bucky mumbles. He has no idea if Steve can understand what he’s saying, but the fact that he’s a twitching, limp mess must be a clear enough indication.

He feels Steve’s fingers slip free from his ass and then Steve is wrapping his arms around him, pulling him close. Bucky makes a face at the mess that’s covering their shirts, but the second he’s got Steve wrapped all around him, he no longer cares.

“I love you so damn much, you know that?” he mumbles into his neck.

He feels Steve kiss his neck and his shoulder and then tighten his arms around him.

That means he can stay here for as long as he wants, which is perfect.

*             *             *

A week later, they’re sitting at the table after lunch, playing Ludo. Steve bought the game board from one of his favourite accessible items online stores, which came with playing pieces and a wooden raised-dot dice. It’s got little soft fabric dots glued to each face to signify the number of dots.

It’s the first game they’re playing using a dice so Steve is excited to see how it’ll go.

The game is pretty simple. They each have a set of playing pieces, which are all on pegs. Each playing piece actually feels the same so Steve has glued different types of fabric on the flat tops, that way Bucky can differentiate between them. The pieces start in their own ‘starting’ area and with the roll of the dice, the pieces are advanced one by one along the holes in the board. The pieces have to be moved all the way around the board until they reach their designated ‘home’ area. The tricky part is deciding which playing piece to move, since landing on an opponent’s piece means that opponent’s piece is tossed back to the starting area. That’s a big deal since the objective of the game is to move all your pieces into your ‘home’ area before your opponent does.

“Okay, are you ready?” Bucky asks, holding his hand out.

“Yup.” Steve taps Bucky’s hand.

Bucky feels along the table for the wooden dice. He finds it and gives it a good shake in his hand and gives it an enthusiastic toss…

…and it bounces across the table, past their juice boxes and right off the edge of the table onto the floor.

Steve bursts out laughing. Why hadn’t he seen that coming?

Bucky is feeling along the surface of the table for the dice, and starts frowning when he can’t find it. “Where did it go?” As he gets more annoyed, his exploring hand gets rougher and he knocks over his juice box.

“Buck! Care—”

“Shit, my juice!” Bucky straightens up the juice box and feels around if he’d spilled any. A little has leaked out from the straw so Bucky reaches over for a napkin and wipes it up. Then he’s back to looking for the dice.

“Buck, it’s on the floor,” Steve says, reaching over and grabbing Bucky’s hand and telling him what happened.

“Oh. Damn! I must have rolled it too hard. Can you get it for me, please? It’ll take me forever to find it. I’ll try again.”

Steve ducks under the table, grabs the dice and puts it into Bucky’s outstretched hand.

Bucky tries again, giving the dice just a little shake in the palm of his hand and letting it roll off his hand.

This time the dice rolls off the table and into his lap.

The dice it too light for Bucky to feel where it landed, so he starts searching for it on the table.

The earlier hilarity of the situation has passed and Steve no longer finds it funny. He needs to fix this as quickly as possible or Bucky’s going to be mad at himself for taking so long.

“Buck, it’s on your lap, buddy.” He reaches forward, grabs Bucky’s exploring hand and tells him where it is. Bucky gets that annoyed frown on his face that lets Steve know he isn’t happy with his performance so far.

Steve gives Bucky’s hand a squeeze. He tells him he’ll get a tray from the kitchen and Bucky can roll on that.

“Okay.” Bucky finds the dice while Steve goes to get the tray and sets it up close to Bucky’s hand. Bucky traces the rimmed edge of the tray, making sure he knows how big it is.

He picks up the dice, gives it a gentle shake and lets it rolls off his hand and land on the tray.

“Perfect, Buck!”

Bucky immediately finds the dice and grins. “Yay! That’s better. The tray idea is a good one, Stevie.” He’s feeling the top face of the dice, trying to count the fabric dots.

Steve can see it’s a ‘four’ from where he’s sitting, but he waits patiently until Bucky finishes exploring the surface. “Is it a four?”

Steve grins and leans forward to tap his hand. “You bet. Good job, Buck.”

Bucky carefully finds his pegs in their starting area, pulls the first one out of its hole and carefully advances it four holes.

“Okay, done. Your turn.”

Steve rolls the dice. He’s got a two. He leans forward to ask Bucky how he wants to proceed. “You wanna read the dice or you want me to tell you what I got?”

“Just tell me. I’ll practice reading the dice on my turn.”

Steve tells him he got a two and he moves his own playing piece forward.

Things go well for a few more turns, until one of the fabric dots comes off while Bucky’s trying to read the dice. “What the hell? I swear there were five dots a second ago. Steve, did one of the dots come off or did I hallucinate a fifth one?”

Steve leans over to take a look, and no, Bucky’s not imagining things. One of the fuzzy dots is lying on the tray. “Shit. Great quality, huh?” He tells Bucky the dot’s come off.

Bucky makes a face. “Great quality, huh?”

Steve chuckles and taps Bucky’s hand. He tells Bucky he’ll just tell him what the dice says when it’s his turn. He’ll look for better dice later. “But first I’m gonna write a very disappointed review on the website. Three stars only. There’s no way to tell the playing pieces apart, and then the tactile dots come off the dice when someone is tactile with it. That’s stupid.” He thinks it over while he does his turn. “You know what? I might even give it two stars.”

They play for a while, getting used to the playing surface and dealing with the dice.

When Bucky gets more comfortable, he starts to relax and spends time exploring the board and figuring out where Steve’s pieces are. It’s time for strategy.

The next time Bucky rolls, he ends up getting a five. He spends time figuring out which of his pieces he wants to move. When he’s selected one, he grabs it, pulls it out and loudly counts out five spaces…

…but ends up moving seven spaces.

“Hey! Buck, that’s too many.” Steve leans forward and rubs the back of Bucky’s hand where’s he’s pressing the piece into the wrong hole.

“What? That’s wrong? That ain’t wrong. I counted five holes. You saying I can’t count, Rogers?” But he’s got a smirk on his face while he says it, so Steve kicks him under the table.

“Jerk.”

Bucky laughs. “You’re wrong, Rogers. I was right, I’m sure. Your turn. Hurry up.”

Steve kicks him under the table again, grabs Bucky’s hand and tells him he isn’t going to play with a cheater.

Bucky laughs harder. “Fine. Fine, accuse the disabled man of being a cheater. That’s fine.” He moves his piece back two spaces. “There. Satisfied?”

Steve spells out ‘never with you’ and then grabs the dice off the tray to do his own turn while Bucky keeps laughing.

Steve gets his revenge when he lies to Bucky and tells him he’s rolled a six. Bucky doesn’t get suspicious the first time he does it…nor the second time…but when Steve tells him he got a six for the third turn in a row, Bucky gets that narrow-eyed suspicious look on his face.

“Wait a second. There’s no way you got three sixes in a row! Let me see that dice!”

He gropes around the table, trying to find the dice. Steve lunges for it and frantically tries to turn it so the six is facing up, but Bucky finds him first.

“You cheater! Are you trying to change the dice? Jesus Christ, Mrs. R, look at what your son is doing! This is outrageous!”

Steve bursts out laughing and tightens his grip around the dice where Bucky’s trying to pry it out of his grasp.

Bucky lets go and comes around the table. He finds Steve’s arm and gives it a light smack. He’s grinning and trying not to laugh.

“Always such a cheater, Rogers!”

Steve lets Bucky pry the dice out of his hand and pulls Bucky down on his lap. He takes the dice from him so he can spell on his hand. “I ain’t the one who started with the cheating today.”

Bucky starts laughing and presses his forehead against Steve’s. “That’s true. It’s all my fault. Ms. R, it was all my doing. I’m a bad influence on this kid.”

Steve grins and wraps his arms around Bucky. He nudges his nose with his own and gives him a kiss. “You’re definitely an influence on me, that’s for sure.”

Bucky sighs happily and kisses him back. “I love you, you know that?”

Steve taps him on the back. He takes Bucky’s hand and presses Bucky’s fingers against his lips so Bucky can feel him respond. “I love you, Buck.”

Bucky smiles happily, as he always does when he can hear Steve talking.

That’s when the intercom buzzes.

Steve pulls back from Bucky and frowns. It’s shortly after lunch on a Friday. He’s not waiting for any deliveries and Natasha is away on a mission.

The intercom shouldn’t be buzzing.

A cold shudder races through him as dread creeps in.

The last time they had an unexpected visitor in the middle of the day, Bucky had been hauled away by APS and they had gone through 24 hours of fear and confusion.

Bucky must sense the change in Steve’s body language, because he pulls back with a frown. “You okay? What happened? You drop the dice?”

Like he had done the last time this had happened, Steve spells out ‘I-N-T-E-R-C-O-M’ on Bucky’s palm.

“Okay. It’s not grocery delivery day. What did you order?”

When Steve spells out ‘nothing’, the smile slides off Bucky’s face and he gets pale and tense. Steve can see the fear creeping over him.

The intercom buzzes again.

“Are—are you expecting somebody?”

Steve clenches his jaw tight, trying not to freak out. He rubs Bucky’s hand.

They sit there, frozen and scared, a million scenarios racing through their heads. Steve’s first instinct is to run, run, run—but that’s stupid.

He could probably get out of the apartment building undetected and make a run for it—but there’s no way Buck could keep up.

Running away isn’t an option.

He wants to reassure Bucky that nobody will take him away again, that nobody will make him do anything he doesn’t want to do—

But Steve learned last time that those are promises he might not be able to keep, so it’s better not to make them.

When the intercom buzzes for the third time, Steve realizes that whoever is on the other end isn’t going away. And sitting here won’t get them any answers. Buck can’t figure out who’s there, so Steve has to do it.

He has to be brave and get off his ass and deal with the situation.

He gives Bucky a hard kiss and gently pushes him off his lap. Bucky goes to sit in his own chair, quiet and scared. He knows Steve has to figure out who is on the other end of the buzzer before they can figure out how to proceed.

Steve gets up, tries to control the fear clogging his throat and sends up a desperate prayer—please, please, please, make it be the wrong apartment. Or a sales person. Or a neighbor who locked themselves out. He’ll go back to church every Sunday rain or shine—just please, please, Lord, don’t make this be about Buck. It can be about himself, that’s fine, but not Buck. Leave him alone. Please.

Please, please, please.

He presses the button on the intercom. “Hel—hello? Who—who is it?”

But as has been the pattern since his ma got sick, Steve’s prayers are turned inside out and shoved back in his face.

“This is Major Cheng from SHIELD. We’re here to do the testing on James Barnes.”

Chapter Text

“This is Major Cheng from SHIELD. We’re here to do the testing on James Barnes.”

What?

None of those words make sense to Steve.

The words ‘SHIELD’ and ‘James Barnes’ should never have to be in the same sentence ever again.

That’s the bargain that Bucky had made with them: they take his sight and hearing, and he’s a free man and will never have to deal with SHIELD again.

And now…SHIELD is here…and they want to talk to Bucky?

Maybe…maybe that’s not the bargain that Bucky made with them?

Steve fumbles to press the button again. “What—why—why do you need Barnes?”

“We’re here to do the testing, Captain Rogers. If you don’t let us in, we have the right to force our way in. Come on. Don’t make a scene in this lovely neighborhood of yours.” The Major sounds bored.

Steve’s mind is racing.

He has no doubt that they’ll force their way into the building if he doesn’t let me them in.

Not letting them in is stupid. It would lead to a busted door that the landlord will make Steve pay to fix, it’ll scare everybody else in their building, and it’s not like he can hide Buck away in the few minutes it’ll take them to break down the door.

He squeezes his eyes shut. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” He presses the button. “Okay, come in.”

He presses the button to open the front door.

His next priority is letting Bucky know what’s going on.

Well, Steve has no idea what’s actually going on, but he knows who’s here.

He hurries up to Bucky.

Bucky startles when Steve touches his hand so suddenly but he’s already holding his hand out, his jaw tight, ready to tackle whatever lies before them.

“It’s SHIELD, Buck.”

“SHIELD? For you?”

Steve rubs his hand.

“For me? Did they say I’m under arrest?” Bucky’s eyes are wide with fear and he’s tense.

Steve quickly rubs his hand. “No, no. They said—they said—”

There’s hard knocking on their front door. “Open up, Captain Rogers. Let’s go. The quicker we get in, the less of a scene we make in your hallway.”

“Just a second!” Steve yells towards the door. “I’m not wearing pants!”

Steve turns back to Bucky. He’s struggling to recall exactly what the Major had said. They didn’t say they were here to arrest Bucky…

He’d said something about…testing?

Right!

Testing.

Steve has no idea what that means, but it’s better than ‘arresting’.

He tells Bucky they’re here to do testing.

He knows Bucky’s fear will be partially replaced by confusion. He’ll ask a million questions which Steve doesn’t have the answers to. He’ll be scared and confused and Steve—

But that’s not what Bucky does.

In fact, Bucky’s reaction is the complete opposite.

The tension and fear immediately drain from Bucky and his lips curl into a little smile. He looks relieved. “Oh! Oh, good, I thought it was something bad. It’s about time, huh? I thought they’d come months ago.”

Steve blinks at him.

For the second time in five minutes, Steve doesn’t understand the words he’s hearing.

Nothing about Bucky’s body language or the words he’d said make any sense to Steve.

There’s more knocking and he hears the Major curse. “It doesn’t take this long to put on pants, Rogers. Let’s go! I have other things to do today.”

Steve is still staring at Bucky, who is relaxing against his chair and seems content with the entire situation.

What the hell?!

What. The. Hell?!

Steve stumbles over to the door and opens it. He can see Bucky shift slightly when he feels the motion sensor on his arm vibrate. He knows they’re about to have company.

Major Cheng is the first in the door, followed by six other SHIELD security personnel. All of them are wearing full tactical gear and they fill the apartment like black clouds, squeezing in between their furniture and surrounding Bucky, automatic weapons pointed at him.

That makes Steve angry. “What the hell is going on? You have no right to barge in here, especially dressed in full tactical gear!”

Major Cheng looks bored with the situation. “We’re just following security protocol, Captain. They aren’t going to shoot unless Barnes gets violent. We’ll try to restrain in non-lethal ways, but we have the authority to use any means necessary to contain him if he loses control.”

“Loses control?!”

Steve glances at Bucky, who’s sitting quietly and patiently in his chair, their Ludo game and juice boxes spread out on the table before him. Bucky’s put his hand on the table surface, in clear view and he’s not moving a muscle, but Steve can tell that he’s not scared.

He’s a little nervous, but not scared.

Steve wishes he understood why. It’s clear that Bucky knows more about this situation than Steve does.

It’s clear that everybody in the room knows more about this situation than Steve does.

And that’s terrifying.

Once Major Cheng has verified that everybody is standing where they should be, he sticks his head out the door. “We’re ready. Come in, doctor.”

A young African-American man comes into the room. He looks terrified and he’s clutching a metal case in his hand. He looks ready to pass out.

He’s staring at Bucky as if Bucky’s a rapid dog about to lunge at him.

Steve doesn’t like having a doctor in their apartment. The last time doctors touched Bucky, they took his sight and hearing from him. He steps in between the doctor and Bucky. “Major, you’re gonna explain to me what the hell is going on, and you’re gonna explain right now.”

Cheng gives him a bored look. “I told you: we’re here to do the testing.” He says the words very slowly like he’s talking to somebody who can’t understand English.

“I heard you the first time and I still don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. What testing? You have no legal right to barge in here like this. We haven’t done anything wrong and Buck—Barnes is a free man.”

Cheng frowns at him. “He’s a free man, yeah, as long as he fulfill the conditions of his release.”

Steve blinks at him. “Conditions? What conditions?”

Cheng is frowning at him even harder. “What the fuck is wrong with you, Rogers? It was all in the agreement that Barnes signed. You know that.”

“All he agreed to was doing the surgery in exchange for his freedom. That’s it.”

Cheng looks unimpressed. “Uh, no. That’s not ‘it’. There was a lot more in that agreement. And I know that’s the one he signed because I watched him sign it.”

Steve lifts his chin. “I wanna see this agreement. I’ve never seen it.”

Cheng shrugs. “That’s not my problem. Barnes signed it and my assignment on this lovely day is to ensure he fulfills one of the conditions he agreed to. If Barnes didn’t keep a copy or didn’t tell you about it, that’s your problem.”

Steve shifts so he’s standing between Cheng and Bucky. The doctor hasn’t moved a muscle so he’s not the immediate threat. “You’re not gonna touch him until I’ve seen this paperwork, because I know it’s baloney. This is some kind of stupid attempt from SHIELD to intimidate me to go back to work.”

The doctor’s eyes widen at Steve’s tone and he takes refuge behind Cheng, nearly trampling Steve and Bucky’s shoes by the front door. He’s looking back and forth between Cheng and Steve, trying to get an indication of what he should do next.

Steve points at him. “You better stay where you are, doc, or we’re gonna have problems.”

At his threat, Steve hears the sound of the safety’s being flicked off on several automatic weapons.

Right.

He’s forgotten about the rest of his visitors.

“Rogers, don’t be stupid. This isn’t a trick. SHIELD doesn’t have time for shit like that. Just—”

That’s when Bucky’s decided that the prolonged period of inactivity is probably due to Steve arguing with their visitors.

“Steve, are you arguing with them? Please, stop. Come here, please. It’s okay, gentleman—and ladies, if there are ladies here—I’m going to keep my hand on the table. I’m just gonna talk to Steve for a second. He’s gonna spell on my hand, but you’ll be able to see what he’s doing the entire time.” Bucky stretches his arm out further on the table, pushing the Ludo board back. His hand is flat against the table, his palm facing upwards.

“Steve, please come here. Walk slowly and don’t give them any reason to separate us, okay? Please? Just come here and we’ll talk about this.”

Steve can’t believe—he can’t believe—that Bucky’s being so calm about this.

He walks up to Bucky, but when he touches Bucky’s shoulder to offer some comfort, Bucky pulls back. “Just spell on my hand, okay? Don’t touch me. That’ll make them nervous.”

Steve tells him SHIELD is here because of some baloney story.

Bucky gives him a little smile. “Did they say they’re here to do the testing?”

Tap.

“That’s fine. No baloney there. It was in the papers, remember?”

“That ain’t in the papers, Buck!” He spells that on Bucky’s hand. He knows he’s pressing his fingers much harder into his palm than necessary, but he’s really irritated now.

Bucky frowns and he’s quiet for a moment, thinking things over. “Yeah. Yeah, it was. Along with the other stuff. Did—didn’t they give you a copy?”

Now Steve’s not just annoyed, he’s getting angry.

It seems he’s the idiot here.

“No, Buck,” he says through clenched teeth. He rubs Bucky’s hand roughly. “No, nobody gave me any papers and you never said there was more to it than ‘procedure-for-freedom’!”

Bucky’s confused frown turns into an apologetic look. “I—I’m sorry, sweetheart. I assumed you got a copy. Anyway, I’ll explain later. Right now, let these good people do the testing, okay?”

Steve rubs his hand. That’s not happening. There’s no way. “No, Buck. I ain’t just gonna let them—”

Bucky shakes his head. “No, Steve, it’s gonna happen. It has to happen. And it’s gonna happen now. If you keep resisting and fussing, they’ll take me away and make me do the testing in a facility. Please. Please, Steve, I don’t wanna go to a facility. I wanna stay here at home and I just wanna get it over with.”

Steve feels angry and on the verge of tears. This can’t be happening.

He wants to spell out ‘I won’t let them hurt you’, but remembers at the last second that he can’t make that promise. Major Cheng has the authority to do whatever he wants in this situation, and Steve is powerless to stop him.

Instead, he spells out: ‘I don’t want them hurting you.’

Bucky gives him a smile. “It ain’t gonna hurt, I promise. They did this at the hospital. They’re just gonna put some machines on me and nothing’s gonna happen. That’s the point—nothing’s gonna happen and it’ll be done in a few minutes and then they’ll go away.”

Bucky sounds so certain about all this. So completely certain.

Like he’d signed a bunch of complex documents which detailed this procedure—and never told Steve about it!

Bucky smiles gently. “I promise, everything will be okay. We can talk about this when it’s done, okay? Doctor? Please proceed. I’m ready.”

The doctor tentatively steps out from behind Cheng and approaches Bucky. He stares at the table covered in stuff. “I—I need some space.”

“Jesus Christ,” Steve grits out and gets to work packing up the Ludo game board and the dice tray. He puts their juice boxes into the fridge and throws out the napkin Bucky had used to wipe up his juice spill. That seems like it happened a million years ago.

When the table’s clear, the doctor puts his case on it and starts pulling out equipment.

The doctor seems to be fine while unpacking his stuff, but when he pulls out dozens of wired electrode stickers, he peers back at Cheng, looking terrified.

“I—I have to put these on him.”

Before Cheng can say something stupid, Steve speaks up. “Let me tell him what’s going on.”

Steve doesn’t wait for permission, he steps around the doctor to Bucky’s other side and gently touches his hand and tells him the doctor needs to attach some wires.

“Where are the wires going?” Steve asks.

“On his head.”

He tells Bucky the doctor will be attaching stickers to his face and head. There will be wires hanging from the stickers. Bucky nods, still calm. “Okay, go ahead, sir.”

Bucky doesn’t ask what the wires will be measuring. Maybe he already knows—but Steve doesn’t know. “What are these things gonna measure?”

The doctor looks nervous at having to answer so many questions. “Uh, brainwave activity.”

Steve is confused. Why the hell does SHIELD care about Bucky’s brain activity?

The doctor’s hands are shaking as he approaches Bucky, but he manages to stick the electrodes to Bucky’s forehead. There are over a dozen electrodes and Bucky’s forehead and head are soon covered. Bucky stays absolutely still and his hand is motionless on the table.

He probably knows he’s surrounded by many, many weapons.

The doctor continues setting things up, turning on machines and pressing various buttons. He turns on a display and Steve sees a picture of a wavy lines moving across the screen.

Those must be Bucky’s brainwaves.

“Will any of this hurt him?” Steve asks the doctor.

“No. I’m just going to check his auditory and visual reception capabilities.”

Steve blinks. The pieces are starting to come together.

Bucky hadn’t just agreed to the procedure—he’d agreed to get tested to ensure he didn’t use technology or surgery to undo the vision loss or the hearing loss.

The doctor tells Steve that he’s going to slide a pair of glasses onto Bucky’s face and put some headphones over his ears. Steve shakes himself out of his thoughts and tells Bucky what’s going to happen.

The glasses are heavy, dark goggle things, and the headphones are thick and padded. They’re put on Bucky’s head, and then the doctor fusses with his machines.

The scrolling waves on the brain activity monitor peak a bit when the headphones and glasses are placed on Bucky—that’s probably Bucky reacting involuntarily to the changes going on around him.

The peaks flatten a little bit as Bucky gets used to the new devices attached to him.

They all stand there, staring back and forth between Bucky and the machine that’s displaying his brain function. Once the readings have stabilized, the doctor starts pushing various buttons.

The testing is starting.

Steve has no idea what the doctor is doing, until he starts hearing loud music coming out of the headphones. The music gradually gets louder and louder until Steve can hear it as clearly as if the sound was coming from the television.

If Steve were listening to something with headphones and the volume were that loud, his ears would be ringing for days.

Bucky doesn’t react, and the brain waves scrolling past the screen remain stable.

When the sound is finally turned off, the doctor starts doing something else on his machines. Steve can’t see or hear any changes, and Bucky isn’t reacting, nor are his brain waves changing.

“What are you doing?” Steve asks.

The doctor motions towards the glasses on Bucky’s face. “I’m providing visual stimuli.”

“What if he’s closing his eyes?” Cheng demands.

The doctor shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter. I’m moving through different wavelengths of light and different brightness. Even if he squeezes his eyes closed, the brightness would penetrate his eyelids.” The doctor nods his chin at the screen showing Bucky’s brain waves. “We’d be able to see even the smallest stimuli reception.”

Steve now fully understands what’s going on and he stares at the monitor more than he’s looking at Bucky.

He knows that Bucky can’t see or hear any of things the doctor is trying to stimulate his brain with, but he wants to make sure SHIELD isn’t trying to pull some baloney like alter the readings.

The readings remain stable, Bucky stays still, and the doctor is gradually starting to relax.

Steve’s careful not to touch Bucky. He realizes Bucky probably insisted on Steve staying away from him because Bucky would react to any physical touch he feels. Bucky wants to do everything possible to keep those readings stable.

A few more minutes go by, and Steve hears more noise from the headphones. This time, it’s loud beeps and chirps and sharp piercing ringing that gets louder and louder. It’s eventually loud enough to make his own ears ring—and their neighbors are probably very annoyed—but Steve doesn’t move from Bucky’s side. He knows Bucky probably can’t feel him standing there, but Steve thinks Bucky must know Steve is somewhere nearby.

Steve’s feeling completely helpless, and standing as close to Bucky as Bucky allows is the only thing he has control over.

Then the doctor is doing something else, and Steve can see bright light leaking out from the sides of the goggles Bucky’s wearing. It’s bright enough to make Steve blink. He can’t imagine what it must look like on the other side of those glasses.

Then the piercing, high-pitched whistle is turned back on.

Bucky’s being bombarded with an immense amount of light and sound.

It seems that the doctor is taking no chances that he’ll be accused of going easy on Bucky.

If Bucky were able to see or hear anything at all, this would be torture.

But the waves on the monitor remain completely stable, and Bucky is still and relaxed, breathing normally, his hand lying open and relaxed on the table.

For Bucky, nothing has changed since the headphones and goggles were put on his head. He just knows he has to keep quietly sitting there in the dark and silence until the equipment is removed.

Good job, Buck. You’re doing such a good job, Steve thinks.

Finally, the doctor seems satisfied. “Okay, we’re done.” He seems much more comfortable around Bucky now that he’s verified for himself that Bucky can’t be triggered into a lethal rage by any sounds or sights.

He removes the goggles and headphones and starts peeling the electrodes off Bucky’s face and head.

Bucky startles a bit at the unexpected contact and Steve wants to grouse at the idiot for not letting him warn Bucky—but he wants these people out of here as soon as possible, so he keeps his mouth shut.

“Did everything record?” Cheng asks. “I don’t have time to come back if you messed up, doc.”

The doctor nods. “Don’t worry, everything’s recorded.”

“Good. Get your stuff packed and we’ll move out.”

The doctor finishes packing, closes his case and heads out the door. Cheng gives the order to move out and the SHIELD agents file out the door.

Cheng pauses before stepping out the door. “Next time, just let us do our work without the bullshit, and we’ll be out of your hair much quicker, Rogers. Jesus.”

“Get the hell out of our home,” Steve responds. He waits until Cheng has stepped through the door and he slams it after him, locking it securely.

He turns away from the door and stares at Bucky.

He’s still motionless, doing nothing except blinking and breathing. Steve knows he felt the motion sensor on his arm vibrate, but he’s not daring to ask questions or make assumptions about whether they’re alone or not.

Steve hurries over to him. “It’s okay, Buck. You did it. They’re gone.” He quickly spells that out on Bucky’s hand.

Bucky still looks unsure about moving. “We’re alone? It’s done?”

Steve taps on his hand. “Yeah, Buck. It’s done.”

“How—how did I do? Did it go okay? They didn’t try to fool the readings?”

Steve shakes his head. He rubs Bucky’s hand. “No, everything went well.”

“I didn’t have any reaction?”

“No. Not to the light or the sound. Just when he put the headphones and the glasses on you.”

With a deep sigh, Bucky seems to melt against his chair. It seems that his earlier relaxed posture was an act. “Oh, thank God. I was so worried that me being scared would register on the thing. I was trying to keep myself relaxed. You remember I told you about those exercises they taught me for sniper training? I was doing that. Oh, Jesus, I can’t believe it’s over.”

He gropes for Steve, and that’s when the fear of the entire situation floods back for Steve.

They could have taken Bucky away. If they didn’t like the readings, or if they thought Bucky wasn’t being cooperative, they could have taken Bucky away. They could have locked him up for who knows how long.

Steve has no idea what terms Bucky had agreed to in those papers, but he’s sure Bucky’s complete cooperation was non-negotiable.

He kneels down before Bucky and pulls him into his arms. Bucky wraps his arm around him and buries his face in Steve’s neck.

They’re both shaking and overwhelmed with what had just happened.

“You—you did so good, Buck. I’m so proud of you,” Steve mumbles, his throat tight. He’s too overwhelmed to spell right now, but he thinks Bucky knows what he’s saying.

“We’re okay now, Stevie. They won’t be back for a while. Well—I don’t actually know that. They could be back tomorrow if they want, but we did good today. You were brave and I was brave and it’s done.”

They cling to each other, trying to absorb strength and comfort from each other.

“Steve, I’m sorry you didn’t know about the testing. I—”

Steve reaches up and presses his fingers against Bucky’s lips. They’re going to talk about that, but Steve’s not in the mood right now.

Right now, he’s just relieved that they’re both safe and they survived another attempt to separate them.

*             *             *

Steve focuses on calming down for the rest of the day. He makes them ice cream sundaes and asks Bucky if he wants to finish playing Ludo or if he wants to do something else.

Bucky tells him he wants to finish playing Ludo. He doesn’t want to associate the game with bad memories, and he wants to do something that makes him use his mind.

“Otherwise my hands are busy doing things and my head’s still worrying over what happened and when they’ll be back. I wanna take my mind off it.”

But neither of them want to finish playing at the table, so they curl up in bed together with the wooden board and the tray for dice rolling.

They manage to distract themselves until it’s time to head to bed.

Chapter Text

By the next morning, both of them are feeling less vulnerable and their fear has receded, which means Steve is just left with his earlier annoyance.

Bucky signed a complex agreement dictating the terms of his freedom…

…and Steve has no idea what it says.

He calls Natasha, but as he’s listening to her phone endlessly ring, he remembers that she’s away on a mission.

He debates texting her and asking her to get him a copy of the agreement, but realizes she might not get the message for several days.

So he decides to go right to the source.

He knows he won’t be able to get General Ross on the phone directly, so he’s gonna have to be sneaky.

He calls SHIELD instead.

He gets passed from one receptionist to another—all of them claiming that they can’t help him.

Whenever he gets put on hold, he hangs up and calls back.

He eventually annoys them enough that they pass him through to his former—current?—supervisor, Everett Ross.

Everett starts the conversation by asking Steve when he’s coming back to work, but Steve ignores the question and tells him he wants a copy of the agreement which Bucky had signed.

Everett tells him what Steve already knows—that the information is classified and General Ross is the one who has access to it.

“That’s fine. Call him and tell him to send me a copy. I want it within 24 hours.”

“Captain, you are in no position to be making—”

“I’ll get the media involved in this, and even without the classified details, all they have to know is that SHIELD is making life difficult for a disabled man. You don’t need that kind of bad press, do you?”

Everett is silent for a moment. “Stay by the phone.”

Five minutes later, Steve’s phone rings with a number he doesn’t recognize.

“Hello?”

“Captain. Ross tells me you wanted to speak to me. I hope you realize that I’m being exceptionally accommodating just by making this phone call.”

None of those things were phrased as questions.

Steve hates this man.

Like he’d done with Everett, Steve just bulldozes right past his comments. “I want a copy of the agreement James Barnes signed before his procedure.”

“That agreement is between James Barnes and the American government. Since you are neither of these entities, you have no legal right to have that information.”

“But Barnes does, and Barnes doesn’t have a copy.”

“Mr. Barnes is free to file a request to get a copy.”

Steve clenches his jaw. “And his request will float from one office’s paper pile to another for six months before somebody ‘loses’ it. I want a copy of the contract and I want it right now. Barnes has a right to have it.”

“It’s not my fault he didn’t ask for a copy before—”

Steve is really starting to lose his temper. “Before you made him deaf and blind? No—funny enough, he had other things on his mind at the time!”

Ross sighs. “Like I said, Captain, you have no legal right to see that document.”

“I’m Barnes’ caregiver, that gives me legal right.”

“Do you have the necessary documentation backing that up?”

No, Steve doesn’t. But he doesn’t need it. “I’ll go to the media. I’ll tell them SHIELD is depriving a disabled man’s caregiver access to important documents that the disabled man needs.”

“If you share classified—”

“There won’t be anything classified in what I tell the press. I don’t need any of that to make the story huge. As soon as people hear ‘deafblind’ and ‘SHIELD depriving’, the outcry will start. I won’t even have to tell the press Barnes’ name.”

“You can’t threaten—”

Steve wants to strangle him. “All I want is a copy of that agreement, Ross! That’s it. Once I have it, I’ll go back to being quiet and obedient, I promise.”

Ross sighs heavily, like he’s about to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders on Steve’s behalf. “Fine, you’ll have a copy delivered to your apartment within the hour. I won’t tolerate your threats again, Captain. If you lose this copy, you’re on your own.”

Steve hangs up before he can say something that’ll make Ross change his mind.

He doesn’t tell Bucky about the conversation or that the contract is on its way. He carefully stays out of Bucky’s reach so he can’t tell how wound-up Steve is.

Steve wants to read the papers before Bucky has the chance to spin it one way or another.

As promised, within the hour, the intercom is buzzing.

Steve lets the delivery man into the building, but refuses to open the door. He doesn’t want Bucky realizing that someone’s arrived.

“Slide it under the door and leave.”

“Oh—okay. But can you sign my form? They said—”

Steve sighs. “Sure. Slide it through.”

He signs the paper that’s slid through, passes it back.

“Uh, I’m supposed to look at some ID, sir.”

Steve grumbles and goes to get his wallet. He digs out his driver’s licence and shoves it under the door.

Steve hears a click that sounds like the kid is taking a picture of the ID, then it’s passed back under the door.

Finally a large envelope is pushed under the door.

“Great. Thank you,” Steve says, snatching it off the floor.

“Have a nice day, sir.”

Steve sits on the couch with the envelope.

Bucky’s busy at the table, making tactile cards they can use to play Memory. He’s gluing different types of fabric and other materials to cardboard cards, making a pair for each texture.

Steve knows he’ll be pre-occupied for a while, so Steve has time to read the contract.

First he checks if Bucky really signed it.

If he didn’t—

But no, there’s Bucky’s signature. It looks more scribbly and vague than Steve has seen in the past—but Bucky not having held a pen for almost a year and being about to lose his sight and hearing probably had a big impact.

Steve flips back to the first page and starts reading. He notices they used Bucky’s full name and his real date of birth.

Damn it.

It turns out that Bucky has agreed to multiple conditions in order to remain a free man.

First and foremost, he had agreed to undergo a medical procedure to completely remove his sight and hearing in order to ensure he is no longer a ‘threat to public safety’.

That’s the part Steve already knows.

The rest is new to him.

Bucky has to willingly participate in testing, which will take place to verify he hasn’t undergone any procedures to undo the dual sensory loss. If it’s discovered that Bucky underwent, or attempted to undergo any of those procedures, he’ll be locked up for an ‘indeterminate length of time’.

Meaning ‘the rest of Bucky’s life’.

There is a full page detailing what’s included in these ‘procedures’ which Bucky could undergo, but Steve skips it. He realizes now that any of those measures aren’t just irrelevant for them, but they would be putting Bucky’s freedom and his life at risk.

The testing will be done at random times and the government and SHIELD are not required to provide any warning. Bucky must make himself available whenever testing is required—no exceptions.

Steve’s eyebrows rise when they go on to clarify that the ‘no exceptions’ really means no exceptions. Whether Bucky is hospitalized, incarcerated or dealing with a life-threatening situation—he must complete the testing when it’s required.

Bucky has to notify SHIELD where he’s living and he has to give written notice if he’s going to be somewhere other than his primary residence for longer than 48 hours.

If he violates those conditions, he will be locked up for an ‘indeterminate length of time’.

That’s the first time that Steve realizes how well SHIELD had timed their testing session. It had been a Friday afternoon and the fact that they were at home at that time was just a coincidence. He and Bucky had been out for a walk during the two Friday afternoons prior to this one, but SHIELD happened to come to their apartment on the Friday when they were at home.

He realizes that SHIELD is probably having an agent tail them on ‘testing’ day to ensure that they’re home when the security detail and the doctor show up.

The thought of SHIELD agents keeping track of their whereabouts makes his skin crawl, but again, he reminds himself that there’s nothing he can do about it.

He goes back to reading the contract before his temper can flare up again.

If Bucky is uncooperative at any time before or during the testing, all future testing will take place at a secure SHIELD facility.

If Bucky is uncooperative while at the secure facility, he will be locked up for an ‘indeterminate length of time’.

There are three pages which detail exactly what ‘uncooperative’ means, but what it boils down to is that Bucky has to be polite, quiet, calm and follow all orders immediately throughout the entire testing. In addition, anybody who is keeping Bucky company during the testing—Steve knows they’re talking about him—will also have to be cooperative.

No wonder Bucky had been so careful yesterday.

And Steve had been a jerk—mouthing off and being rude.

Thank God Bucky had calmed him down.

Steve is quietly hoping that the contract will specify that it’s only valid for a certain length of time. They can’t expect Bucky to abide by these conditions for the rest of his—

—nope, there it is, in black and white.

The contract is valid until Bucky’s death. No exceptions.

Steve notices they’ve sneakily tied the contract to the government, rather than SHIELD. Even if SHIELD doesn’t exist one day, there will probably always be an American government.

Which means Bucky is stuck with this contract for the rest of his life.

Steve is nearly at the end of the contract when there’s an ‘addendum’. It’s a section that doesn’t appear to have been part of the original agreement, but was added later.

He starts reading—and is immediately surprised when he comes across his own name multiple times.

Just like with Bucky, his full name and his real date of birth had been used.

It states that as long as Bucky fulfills the conditions in the contract, the government and SHIELD will grant Steve certain freedoms.

The first is a re-hashing of the immunity deal which Steve had signed. Bucky’s cooperation will allow Steve to remain free from prosecution in regards to the whole Winter Soldier ‘situation’.

But there’s more. As long as Bucky remains cooperative, the decision whether to continue being employed by SHIELD lies with Steve, and Steve alone. In addition, SHIELD is not allowed to contact Steve unless there is an emergency which directly involves Steve, or if there’s a situation that concerns Bucky, or if Steve initiates contact. There’s a small statement clarifying that SHIELD can contact Steve to ask him about his employment status with SHIELD, but nothing else.

Steve thinks back and realizes that this is why SHIELD has been leaving him alone for these past few months. He’s been expecting his phone to be ringing constantly and for SHIELD to find and flood the personal email account he’d set up.

He hasn’t had much time or desire to think about SHIELD since Bucky had come home, but now he realizes why they’ve been keeping their distance.

It’s not out of respect, it’s because they’re legally obligated to do so.

Because Bucky’s been fulfilling his conditions perfectly for every second of every day since he’s been released.

Bucky has willingly tied himself to SHIELD and the government for the rest of his life in order to guarantee that Steve won’t be bothered by phone calls.

“Oh, my God, Buck. Why the hell did you sign this? You stupid, stupid moron.”

Steve drops the contract on the coffee table and stares at Bucky, who’s pressing a piece of denim onto one of the cardboard cards.

Seeing him act so casually just annoys Steve further.

“You hear me, you idiot?!”

Bucky doesn’t respond, obviously.

What Steve should do is calm down and talk to Bucky about the contract when he’s not so angry.

But that’s not what he does.

He marches over to Bucky, takes the glue paintbrush out of his hand, wipes his hand off with the moist rag sitting on the table and tells him he read the contract.

Steve can tell Bucky was startled at the sudden contact, and Steve’s roughness, but as soon as he understands the word ‘C-O-N-T-R-A-C-T’, he gives Steve a little half-smile.

“You did?” Bucky sounds distracted when he says it—like he’s still focused on his stupid cardboard cards. Like he’s congratulating Steve for doing something that’s not very impressive, but Bucky wants to give positive feedback.

That’s not the reaction Steve was hoping for. Steve’s angry and upset, and he wants Bucky to be the same.

Steve taps Bucky’s hand twice. He taps way harder than necessary—they’re more smacks than taps. He doesn’t mean to be so rough with him, but he’s getting angrier the longer he’s faced with Bucky’s casual indifference.

“Oh, good. So you know the testing ain’t optional. But it went okay, didn’t it? It’s fine, Steve. It’s just a little inconvenient.”

“Inconvenient?! You think that’s all this is—inconvenient?!” He doesn’t have the patience to spell that out, so he just spells out ‘you’re an idiot’.

Bucky blinks. He seems surprised and confused by Steve’s reaction.

“Steve, it ain’t that bad. The biggest thing is the testing. You saw how it went yesterday—easy.”

Steve slams his fist on the table. “No, Buck! The biggest fucking thing is that you agreed to the fucking surgery in the first place!”

He spells out ‘surgery’ multiple times. He’s practically digging his fingers into Bucky’s palm, he’s so angry.

He knows he should be using more words, but he’s too upset to spell out the rest.

Bucky had startled at the vibration from Steve slamming on the table, but then he gets distracted deciphering what Steve’s spelling. When he understands what Steve is trying to say, he presses his lips together. “Okay—I guess if that’s how you’re thinking about it.”

Steve stares at him, incredulous. “You—Jesus, Barnes, you giving up your hearing and your sight for the rest of your life ain’t something that’s just a little inconvenient!”

He doesn’t have the patience to spell out any of that. He drops Bucky’s hand and runs his hands through his hair. “Oh, my God, Buck—Buck, why did you sign that thing?!”

Bucky doesn’t respond. He looks anxious and confused because Steve isn’t giving him enough information to work with.

Well, he wouldn’t be anxious and confused if he could still see and hear, would he?

Steve knows he isn’t being fair—and a small part of him is glad Bucky can’t hear what he’s saying—but he’s angry and upset and he has to get it out somehow.

“Well, Buck, that’s what you get for being a—”

Bucky is looking more and more upset. “Steve, I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time. I know—” He squeezes his eyes closed. “I know I shouldn’t have agreed to all those things, but honestly, I don’t remember what I signed. Not really. I don’t even remember much about that time. I remember your last visit, and I saw a picture of you on a guard’s phone in the helicopter. I remember I signed a bunch of papers, they said something about future testing, and then I remember feeling the nurse’s necklace and then you told me I was sleeping during the day—I really don’t have many memories of that time. I wasn’t doing well.”

Steve crosses his arms and glares down at him. “Then you should have waited! You fucking idiot—you should have waited for me to come up with something be—”

“Steve? Steve, please talk to me. I can’t—we can’t fix this unless you talk to me.”

Steve wants to punch through a wall. “I am talking to you!” He roars. He can barely breathe he’s so angry.

Bucky looks close to tears. He holds out his hand in Steve’s direction but Steve deliberately steps out of reach. “Steve? Please. I can’t hear you like that. You know that! Please talk to me.”

Steve knows he’s being a huge jerk, and that makes him feel guilty—but unfortunately, the guilt converts into more anger.

He steps up to Bucky, snatches his hand out of the air and spells out ‘you should have waited’ twice.

He’s smacking and poking Bucky’s palm hard with every letter, but he wants Bucky to know how angry he is.

It takes Bucky a second to understand, but when he does, his body stiffens. He rips his hand out of Steve’s grasp. “I did wait! I waited for years for you to help me and you never did!”

That throws Steve for a minute. Is Bucky’s memory from that time so bad that he thinks he was in the Raft for years?!

He spells out ’11 months’, but Bucky yanks his hand back. “I ain’t just counting that time, Rogers, I’m counting the time I sat in a Hydra cell, waiting for you to rescue me! I waited years and you never came! And then I finally rescue myself and I find you, and I get locked up again, and you promise to get me out—and again, you never do!”

Steve feels like he got punched in the face.

All of his angers has drained away so quickly that he feels like he’s going to fall over.

“Buck—”

Bucky’s shaking. “I’m sorry that I finally reached my breaking point. I’m sorry that my fucking head was so screwed up by that point that I thought something dumb was a really great idea. I just wanted to be free—and I didn’t care how it happened or what price I had to pay. I’ve had nothing but shit from the day I got that stupid letter from the draft board, and I was tired! I’ve never done anything wrong and I’ve spent years locked up in cells, alone and scared and miserable! You have—you have no idea what that’s like!”

Bucky’s crying now, tears streaming down his face. He wipes his face and takes a shuddering breath. “I’m sorry that I wasn’t thinking clearly and that I signed some stupid paper that you didn’t want me to sign. I’m sorry I can’t be a perfect human after years of being locked up and treated like shit!”

“Buck—”

Steve feels like an idiot. He also feels like a huge jerk.

He knows—he’s always known—that Bucky’s impulsiveness comes from a good place. Whether he decides to sell himself to strangers to pay off Steve’s hospital bill, or he agrees to give up his sight and hearing in exchange for being a free man—James Barnes may not make the best decisions when he’s been pushed past his limits, but he’s always making them for good reasons.

Steve grabs a box of tissues and kneels down in front of Bucky. He brings Bucky’s hand to the box so he can feel the tissues. He lets Bucky wipe his face and blow his nose. He doesn’t know how Bucky would feel about Steve helping him with that right now, so Steve keeps his hands to himself.

Bucky’s drawing in shaky breaths and more tears keep sliding down his cheeks as he tries wiping them away. “I—I—listen, what I said earlier? About me being mad that you didn’t come for me? I know now that you—” His words catch a bit in his throat and swallows hard before he can continue. “—you didn’t know I was alive. I know you would have come for me if you’d known. I don’t want you feeling guilty over that. That’s dumb. I’m just telling you that I’m sick and tired of being locked up and I made a choice.” He sniffs hard and blows his nose again. “I’m gonna have to live with that choice the rest of my life, but I’ve accepted that. I’m okay with it.”

Steve takes the tissues out of Bucky’s grasp and gives his hand a squeeze.

“You swapped one prison for another, Buck. You have to see that.”

He gently spells that on Bucky’s hand.

Bucky’s sniffling and having a hard time catching his breath. “Can you spell the last part again? I wasn’t tracking the letters.”

Steve repeats the last few words, slower this time.

Bucky frowns. “Swapped? No, I didn’t. This ain’t prison, Stevie. I thought it was, but it ain’t. I’m a free man. I get to go wherever I want and do whatever I want. Sure, I gotta follow a few rules, but who doesn’t? I don’t mind the testing. I really don’t. And I’m getting used to living like this. It’s better than being locked up in a cage all by myself. I know you think I’m lonely being like this, but I’m not. When I was locked up, I had my sight and hearing, but they didn’t do me much good. Now, I’ve got so many things going on around me and I’m enjoying life for the first time since the 30s. I’m enjoying it even more now since I don’t gotta get up six days a week at the crack of dawn to go to work.” He manages a little shaky chuckle.

Steve stares at him. He knows how tough Buck is, and he knows Buck’s always had the ability to see the positive in any situation and keep smiling no matter what—but it doesn’t sit well with Steve.

Bucky’s mainly focusing on telling him that he doesn’t mind the testing. He’s barely mentioning the loss of his sight and hearing. Steve knows how hard it is for Bucky to cope with it on some days—like that morning when Bucky had woken from that dream—but on most days there’s no sign of that devastation and intense grief.

Steve gets the feeling that the reason Bucky has those really bad days is because on the other days, he’s not treating the losses like they’re a big deal.

Sam had mentioned to Steve early on that he should expect Bucky to go through a grieving process, but from what Steve can tell, Bucky hasn’t allowed himself to do that. He ignores his grief and treats his hearing and sight loss like something that’s no big deal—and the grief piles up until it takes over on his really bad days.

Steve knows Bucky will have to eventually deal with the loss, but Steve has no idea how to help him do that.

Maybe Bucky would benefit from seeing a therapist?

Those thoughts get put on hold when Bucky finishes wiping his face and sits up. “Listen, Stevie. There’s something else we gotta talk about.”

Steve debates bringing up the thoughts he’s been having, but then decides that they’ve had a tough enough day. He knows Bucky will deny that there’s a problem, and then Steve will get angry again—and they don’t need to have another fight.

So instead of saying what he thinks he should say, Steve taps Bucky’s hand to let him speak instead.

“I know I said I don’t consider this a prison, but I know you do. I didn’t—I was being selfish and I wanted to get outta that cell and I didn’t care what it took. But you didn’t make that decision, and I know this ain’t fair to you. I condemned you to live this new life with me, and that ain’t fair. You can leave whenever you want, sweetheart. I won’t be angry and I’ll understand. Anybody would understand. I’m the one who signed those papers, not you.”

If there were ever any words which would make Steve forget all about the ‘Bucky-seeing-a-therapist’, it’s those words.

Steve sits up and takes the tissue out of Bucky’s hand. Just the thought of Bucky worrying about Steve leaving him is enough to make Steve anxious. “Buck, that’s—that’s—”. He spells out ‘never’.

Bucky smiles sadly. “Don’t say never. Pickertons, remember?”

“Buck, no place that has you and me together could ever be a prison.” He spells that on Bucky’s hand.

“That’s sweet. But I meant what I said. I made that stupid choice, not—”

Steve leans up and presses his fingers to Bucky’s lips. He loves and appreciates that Bucky’s giving him a way out, but Steve doesn’t need one. He doesn’t want one.

He takes his fingers off Bucky’s lips so he can spell on his palm.

“I ain’t mad about the surgery, Buck. I’m mad that you were put into that situation. You’ve had nothing but shit since ‘43, and you deserve so much more than this. I want you to have so much more than this.”

Bucky smiles. “What did Mrs. R always say about wanting things and getting things?

Steve gives him a rueful smile and dutifully spells out: ‘wanting things and getting things are two different things’.

“We’re living proof of that, ain’t we? Your ma was a smart lady and we’ve never gone wrong when we lived by her rules, so we just gotta keep accepting that one. Sure this ain’t what I deserve. It ain’t what you deserve either. But it’s what we got. And I’m happy with it. If you ain’t then—”

Steve presses his fingers against Bucky’s lips again. He pulls off his fingers and replaces them with his lips, giving Bucky a soft kiss.

He gropes for Bucky’s hand and spells out ‘end of the line’.

Bucky smiles against his lips and leans his forehead against Steve’s.

“I’m happy, Stevie. I really am.”

Steve sighs. “Me too, Buck.” He spells that on Bucky’s hand.

It’s true. If he’s going to accept the fact that Bucky handed over his sight and his hearing and won’t ever get them back—which he’s going to have to accept, because there’s no other way to cope with it—then the rest of the conditions in the contract aren’t so bad.

That reminds him of something Bucky had mentioned earlier. Steve pulls back a bit and leans against Bucky’s knees while he spells on his palm.

“Buck, do you know what else is in the contract? Aside from the surgery and the testing?”

Bucky frowns. “No. There’s other stuff? Shit. Is it real bad?”

“Kinda. Depends on how you wanna look at it. You wanna know what it says?”

Bucky nods. “Yeah. Please. You don’t gotta tell me today if you’re upset.”

Steve squeezes his hand. “You got a right to know, Buck.” He asks Bucky if he wants to sit on the couch while they talk about it.

“Yeah, okay.”

Bucky’s still upset and he can’t navigate well when he’s upset, so Steve gently guides him around the coffee table so he doesn’t smack his shins into it. They have a seat and Steve helps him touch the contract, letting him feel the faint lines where he’d signed it and the different sheets of paper. Bucky can’t actually read it, but Steve thinks it’s important that Bucky knows what it looks like.

Then Steve starts the slow process of going through the contract with him. He doesn’t interpret every single word, but he tells Bucky all of the important details.

He can see Bucky’s jaw clench when Steve tells him that his lack of cooperation during testing will force him to go to a SHIELD facility for future testing. “I remember a bit about that. I remember thinking to myself: I gotta remember to tell Steve about it so he don’t make a fuss when they come. Jesus. I messed that up, huh?”

Steve kisses his hand and tells him they’ve both made mistakes when it comes to this stupid piece of document. They’ll just have to accept that and move on.

They skim through the rest of it with Steve interpreting enough of it so Bucky has a clear idea of what he’d signed. When they finish the section regarding Steve, Bucky smiles for the first time. “I remembered some of this. I didn't remember what I made them agree to, but I knew I put you in there. Ross was so mad, but I didn’t give him a choice.”

Steve sighs softly. He squeezes Bucky’s hand, then starts spelling. “I appreciate all those things you put in there, Buck. You didn’t have to—”

Bucky curls his fingers up to stop Steve’s words. “I know I didn’t. But I wanted to. You’re always gonna be my first priority, Stevie. Always.”

Steve kisses Bucky’s knuckles and flattens his hand again so he can keep spelling. “I know, but…maybe can we try making both of us a priority from now on? Doing things that are good for both of us?”

Bucky blinks and thinks it over. “Yeah, I guess that’s something we’ve been working on, ain’t it? Communicating better and being honest about things. Compromising fits right in. Yeah, I can do that. But you gotta do it too!”

Steve nods and taps Bucky’s hand. “I will. I promise.” He squeezes Bucky’s knee and feels himself relax for the first time since he’d read this stupid document. He tells Bucky that they’ve reached the end of the contract.

Bucky nods. Steve can see that he’s tired. They’ve gone over a lot of information, but Steve hated the idea of Bucky being in the dark about it. "Hey, by the way, did you ever tell the government where we live?” Steve doesn’t think Bucky had known Steve's address when he was at the Raft, and he hasn’t had the opportunity to communicate with anybody from the government since the surgery, but he thought he’d ask anyway.

Bucky pauses and frowns. “You know what? I don’t think so. Did you?”

“Nope.”

“Oops. Well, looks like they know where we live anyway, so we’re okay. But for future, if we go travelling anywhere, we gotta let them know, okay?”

Steve taps his hand and pulls Bucky into his arms. “We’ll do that, Barnes. Don’t worry.”

Steve knows now that he’s going to spend the rest of his life helping Bucky fulfill the conditions in that contract. He’s not going to lose Bucky and condemn him to another cell because he couldn’t keep his temper in check or accept that the world is an unfair mess.

They’ll learn to make the contract part of their lives, like they’ve learned to cope with so many other things—Steve’s illnesses, poverty, losing his ma, war, Bucky’s disabilities.

It’s not perfect.

Bucky will probably continue feeling guilty for having forced Steve into this life, no matter how many times Steve tries to reassure him that it’s not Bucky’s actions that bother him—it’s the fact that Bucky shouldn’t have been forced to make such a choice in the first place.

As for Steve, even though his earlier anger has faded, his guilt is now stronger than ever.

It’s not guilt for not finding a solution to the trigger words in time. No, he knows he tried his hardest.

It’s not guilt for not going back for Buck when he fell from the train. No, he knows that nobody had reason to suspect that Bucky had survived that fall—and even if they did, they wouldn’t have found him before Hydra had.

No, those aren’t the things that keep gnawing on his heart and soul every day.

It’s the guilt he feels for not making Bucky go home after Azzano.

Steve’s never dared to remind Bucky about it. He knows that Bucky would agree with him—hell, everybody in the world would agree with him.

Everything bad that’s happened to Bucky Barnes after Steve rescued him from that Hydra prison camp—including this current pile of shit they’re trying to navigate through—is Steve’s fault.

No amount of time, love or effort will ever absolve him of that.

Chapter Text

Ever since Bucky had realized that Steve often lies to him because it’s easy to do, he spends a lot more time trying to figure out how Steve’s doing.

He doesn’t want to follow him around all the time, and while Steve is always happy to cuddle, Bucky’s more concerned with how he’s feeling when they’re not cuddling.

But Bucky can’t watch Steve from afar or tell by his tone how he’s doing.

He needs to use other cues.

One morning, Bucky notices that Steve is much slower at getting out of bed. Usually Steve gets up within seconds of being awake, but this morning he’s just lying there. Bucky brings his hand up to his watch to check the time—and yes, it’s their normal waking up time. Steve should have bounced out of bed already.

Bucky’s casually drapes his arm over Steve’s chest and he can tell by the way he’s breathing and shifting that he’s awake, but he’s not moving to get up.

While that’s a bit unusual, it’s not a cause for alarm.

But then Steve takes longer to prepare breakfast than normally.

Bucky knows he takes longer, because usually by the time Bucky’s done his stretches, his bike exercise, showered and changed, breakfast is ready.

This time, the table is still bare when Bucky comes out of the bedroom.

He keeps a hand on his watch and it takes Steve seven more minutes until he’s telling Bucky breakfast is ready.

Again—unusual but not very alarming. Maybe Steve got distracted by an email or text from Sam and started cooking late. Maybe Natasha called him.

But usually Steve tells him if any of those things happen…

When they’re done eating, Steve breaks from routine and brings his own plate into the kitchen. Usually clearing the table is Bucky’s responsibility, so that’s strange too.

As the day goes on, Bucky deliberately asks Steve to play lots of games together so he can keep a closer eye on Steve.

As the hours go by, Bucky notices that Steve is slow and unfocused. When Bucky makes a joke, he reaches for Steve very quick and lightly touches his chest…

…and his chest isn’t shaking. He’s not laughing. By the time Bucky’s moved his hand up to Steve’s face, he can feel Steve’s twisted his lips into a smile, but he hadn’t been laughing.

Bucky’s sure if he hadn’t moved his hand to Steve’s chest so quickly then Steve would have faked a laugh or dodged his touch.

He puts down his playing pieces. “Stevie, what’s wrong? I know something’s bothering you.”

Rub, rub, rub.

Bucky waits, hoping that Steve will change his mind and volunteer some information other than the blatant lie he’d just told.

But he doesn’t. Instead, Steve reminds him it’s his turn.

After lunch, Steve again insists on bringing his own plate into the kitchen, and now that’s a worrying sign.

Bucky’s been thinking it over throughout the day. This isn’t the first time that Steve’s been slower and unfocused throughout the day. It happens from time to time, but Bucky had never taken the time to consider that they’re the symptom of a larger problem.

As for Steve insisting on clearing his plates himself—which Bucky also remembers