He’d chosen this. That was the only thought that kept him from slamming on the breaks of the wheelchair they’d forced him into and demanding they take him back to the god-forsaken hospital. Or — no, that wasn’t a line of thought he could entertain. His sisters didn’t deserve this bullshit.
There was a reason he’d refused all visitation, phone calls, and contact of any kind. He didn’t want them seeing him like this. A broken, hollowed-out wraith of the big brother they’d wept over as they said goodbye at the airport. He’d been fucking naive, but hadn’t most of them? The promise of a future, of a purpose, of serving . Yeah, he’d known there was a chance. The news talked about people dying over there every day, but you never thought it would be you. He’d felt too goddamn invincible.
The orderly accidentally knocked his chair against the door as they made their way past intake, and he bit back a hiss of pain. His left side was still a blanket of pins and needles, only broken up by arbitrary lances of agony or bursts of fire.
“ —-matic doors, but funding you know?” The distant apology (or at least he thought that’s what it was) came to him halfway through, nothing but a faintly garbled mumble in the beginning.
He hunkered down a little more in the chair, avoiding the eyes of a passerby that must be a resident, considering the braces. The hall went on forever, door after door, some open, wafting low-volume music, others closed with ‘do not disturb’ signs. It almost felt like a hotel if it wasn’t for the distant beeping of a heart monitor or the roving care nurses walking briskly on their rounds.
“Here we go, room 14, B hall.” He was wheeled through an open door, the scent of freshly laundered sheets and cleaning fluid assaulting his nose. It was deceptively innocuous. A normal bed with a standard wood headboard, a horizontal dresser with a television on top of it, a closet, bookshelf, and the bathroom door closed. The only thing tipping him off was the CPAP on his bedside table, the lowered bed rails, and his prosthetic set on top of his desk.
The sight of it made his stomach roll. The first time he was fitted with it had been agony, and he’d all but banned it from his body ever since, even for test runs. His burns were healing slower than his shoulder anyway.
“If you need anything, just press the button by the phone, someone will be around soon to get you settled in. You’ll like it here, tight-knit bunch.” The saccharine grin on the orderly’s face did nothing to lift his mood, and he gave a thin grunt as he wobbled to his feet. The fistful of pills he took daily always gave him head rushes getting up and down. The antibiotics were worse than the pain medications.
He sat on the edge of the bed, eyes trailing to the deflated outline of his left shoulder sleeve. A nurse at the hospital had knotted it up to keep the sleeve from dragging or catching, but it only served as a reminder.
Laughter burst out from down the hall, sneaking past his slightly-ajar door. Bucky scowled and stumbled to his feet to close the door, resolving himself to finding one of those signs to plaster on his door twenty-four seven. It would only be an illusion of privacy in a place like this. The caregivers made rounds morning, lunch, and at night, because this wasn’t a hotel, vacation, or anything he could fool himself with. This was a place for broken people to tuck themselves away while life went by as normal outside. A warped green army man thrust to the bottom of a toy box.
Easing himself back down, Bucky laid gingerly on the bed, content to stare up at the ceiling until someone inevitably came to disturb his silence.
”You can’t stay in your room for three days straight, James!”
Bucky sat in one of the most deserted ‘quiet areas’, which was nothing more than a spattering of armchairs and a loveseat by the window. There was a bookcase laden with beaten-up paperbacks, a table with magazines, but otherwise, this was apparently for the residents who just wanted to sit and stare outside until they met their quota for being ‘active and engaged’ of which he was neither.
The past days were limbo following the hellish hospital stay. His wounds would have healed ages ago had it not been for being shuffled around from one hand to the next. Iraq to Romania, Romania to England, and then England to New York. Somewhere between A to D, he’d contracted a nasty infection, and things went downhill from there.
He’d been so close to keeping his fucking arm.
A bluebird landed on a branch outside, fluttering and bobbing on its perch precariously.
Footsteps approached, and Bucky wheeled around fast enough to topple the bowl of untouched grapes from his lap. He wasn’t even sure who had come by and given them to him for his ‘midday snack’, as if he was some kind of toddler.
“Oops! Sorry, did I frighten you?” It was the caregiver he was getting used to seeing, and he hated everything about her. From her sweet voice to her pretty smiling face, he hated that the woman looked at him and saw this . A girl he wouldn’t have minded flirting with way-back-when.
“No,” He replied gruffly, getting to his feet.
Her smile waned just a hair before ramping back up, "Physio time,” Seeing that her good cheer wasn’t about to rub off on him anytime soon, she must have gotten the hint as she turned and started to ‘guide’ him down the hall.
Halfway to the medical hall she briefly paused and lifted her hand,” Hey, Steve! How was it today?” She greeted what at first Bucky took to be a child, but upon further inspection, Bucky realized it was a grown man, just one of the smallest, most fragile-looking people he’d ever seen in his life.
Steve, or so Bucky guessed, waved awkwardly from the looped wrist-band of his right-hand crutch.”Ah you know, running laps around ‘em.” His cheeks were a little flushed, and his eyes weak, but his smile was easy. “Still on for that rematch?”
“Bet your behind I am, Rogers. Going to figure out how you're cheating,” she winked as they walked by.
“Sounds like sore-loser talk to me,” Steve laughed, leaning back a little on the neighboring wall to re-balance himself on gawky legs. For a brief second, their eyes met, and Steve’s grin broadened. Some of the pain in Steve’s expression softened in favor of something else, and Bucky diverted his eyes, not wanting to get sucked into his warm expression. The last thing he wanted to do was chat up someone before he went to cuss and sweat for an hour. Judging by how tense Steve was and the little strands of blond hair clinging to his forehead, Steve had already been drawn through the wringer. How the guy still had the will to smile and make nice with the caregivers, Bucky couldn’t fathom.
‘Hurt’ didn’t quite sum up the level of pain and discomfort he was in. He laid flat against his bed, staring ruefully up at the ceiling as if the ugly popcorned finish would fall and end his suffering if he stared long enough. The skin on his shoulder felt angry and puffy from Physio, and his side wasn’t much better. The lotion to calm the tight ache was sitting on his dresser across the room, but he didn’t want to move. The pain grounded him.
A small knock not much louder than the general sounds of life from outside his door dragged him from his fugue state. He ignored it, but another three taps a moment later were louder than the last.
“What?” He snapped towards the door, and to his chagrin, it opened.
It was the blonde from earlier, smiling as if he wasn’t interrupting Bucky’s slow descent into disassociation. Rude.
“Hey there,” ‘Steve’(? — Fuck, he was bad with names), smiled as he walked into the room. Bucky’s eyes briefly tracked to his legs, noting the awkward, stumbling gait only saved by Steve’s crutches.
Bucky sat up, biting back the wince before it could fully form. Crossing his legs, he waited, staring at Steve without returning the casual greeting. It was his room, he didn’t have to make nice unless he wanted to. Unannounced visits weren’t his idea of a pleasant afternoon.
To his surprise, Steve just chuckled.”Oookay then, I wanted to come by and say welcome. Connie says you’re new?” Only getting a blink out of him in reply, Steve plowed on.”I know this place is kind of big and it’s a lot going on but it’s pretty nice here. Haven’t seen you around though?” It was a prompt, one that he didn’t feel like rising to.
Steve pursed his lips, bright eyes narrowing.”If you were deaf or mute there would be a sticker on your door, and I know sign language anyway, even if it comes out with kind of a stutter.” He chuckled at his own bad joke, seeing as his whole body seemed to be unsteady even when he was standing still.
Seeing as his original tactic wasn’t working, Bucky shifted gears.”It really doesn’t phase you that I don’t give a shit what you’re saying, does it?”
This time, Steve visibly blanched, dark blond brows furrowing. “Connie said you were a pill but I didn’t think she meant a jackass,” he volleyed back.
It was his turn to nurse that one, taken aback. He hadn’t expected Mr. Sunshine over there to be so frank.”Yeah well, now you know.”
Unphased, Steve continued,” Well if you can stow it for a few seconds, or at least listen, I’ll give you the broad strokes.” Steve back glanced and carefully maneuvered himself to sit down on the chair, breathing an audible sigh of relief. “Would avoid breakfast on Tuesday. In theory, the idea of breakfast casserole doesn’t sound all that bad, but trust me, it is. Don’t go on the shuttle to the therapy pool on Thursday, that’s when Davidson goes and he pisses in it without fail. And — “ His smile returned, even as he shifted a little to presumably get some pressure off his left side.”Always be nice to night shift and they’ll let you get away with anything.” He said it like he was speaking from experience, and Bucky wondered what a half-pint like this guy could possibly get up to.
“. . .Okay?” Bucky didn’t plan to apply any of that, considering he was taking all his meals in his room, wasn’t about to go to any form of group therapy, and he didn’t give two shits if these people liked him or not. This wasn’t summer camp, it was a place people sent cripples who didn’t have anyone to care for them. Or in his case, self-imposed exile.
Rolling his eyes, Steve looked at him, blue-green eyes weighing him carefully.”You’re going to have a real crap time here if you keep that up. You’re not the first person to want to sit here dyin’ in your room feelin’ sorry for yourself. I’ll give you two guesses how it turned out for them — Here’s a hint, not good.” He struggled back to his feet, and for a pulse-pounding moment, Bucky was pretty sure Steve was going to pitch forward entirely. But he didn’t, and Steve got a decent grip on his crutches to right himself once more.
“Young guy like you shouldn’t look like he’s eatin’ nails all the time.” He had the audacity to wink as he took his leave.
What the fuck?
He’s burning. He feels the overheated metal sizzle against his flesh, cooking him alive. His free hand claws against the mangled door, smoke choking the breath from his lungs. He screams.
He can hear the pops of gunfire outside, yelling, groans of pain. His left shoulder twitches forward, trying to break himself free. The pain is blinding, and his wails permeate the metal shell of the Humvee. Distantly, he hears Dum-Dum shout for someone to help him get to Barnes.
It’s so hot he can’t even feel the pool of blood spreading into the sand, his mangled left arm trapped beneath the twisted, blazing metal.
Bucky woke with a soundless shout, flailing desperately against his bedsheets. He flopped to the ground gracelessly, shimmying back until he can wedge himself as close to under the small place between his bed and the floor as he can. The sounds of gunfire echoed in his head, the scent of charred flesh, and the pale look of realization on Dum-dum’s face when they finally pulled him free. They all thought he was a goner. Frankly, he would have too.
The longer the minutes stretched, the more his heart slowed, and the voices faded. He’s left shaking on the floor, a cold sweat sticking his shirt to his back. There’d be no more sleep tonight, he knew this by now. He guessed he could call a night nurse and request something, but when he stood to look down at the bed, all he could feel was dread.
He scrubbed his hand over his face, grabbed his jacket, and skulked out into the hallway.
Technically, no one was supposed to just be up and wandering at night, but he was a grown-ass man and no one could tell him when he can and can’t go somewhere. The place already felt like a goddamn nursing home, he won’t be so willfully babied. He might be broken and hollow, but he had some dignity to maintain, scraps as they were.
By some miracle, he managed to sneak out when there was a break in rounds, and the night air greeted him like an old friend. He zipped his jacket to his chin despite the balmy night, the left sleeve folded up and held in place by a safety pin. He wasn’t sure which ‘care-facilitator’ did it, but he wasn’t about to thank them, so he supposed it didn’t matter.
His hand still shook, and his heart was far from calm, but at least the crushing dread had abated.
Well, at least that was what he thought right up until a surge of nausea gripped him and he stumbled a few paces forward to unceremoniously vomit into a well-maintained shrubbery until his eyes watered.
A few paces away, he heard a low whistle right about the time he groaned piteously.”Rough night?” He glanced over across the wide concrete patio. A few yards away, Steve sat in a wheelchair, fishing into the saddle-bag attached to one side.
Bucky made an unintelligible sound that was supposed to be ‘fuck off’, but judging by Steve’s continued determination to bag-dive it wasn’t all that threatening.
“Here,” Steve held out a bottle of water from his bag,” I’d walk over and hand it to ya, but — “ He gestured with a tired grin to the chair below him.
Slowly, Bucky extracted himself from the bush and stumbled over, slumping to the ground next to Steve’s chair as he accepted the bottle with a dim grunt of thanks. He drained it without preamble until the vile taste of regurgitated meatloaf was mostly banished from his tongue.
“Deep breaths,” Steve gently reminded, not at all put off by his weak glare.”Four in, five hold, seven out. Hey — focus, look at me.” Steve shifted a little more in his wheelchair to catch Bucky’s eyes, holding him there. Even in the artificial glow of the dim outdoor lighting, Steve’s eyes were surprisingly vibrant.
Bucky reluctantly forced himself to match Steve’s breathing, afraid that if he didn’t the guy would continue to stare him down and yoga-breathe at him until he ran away.
“Good, keep going, don’t mind me, just going to talk a bit.” Steve reached to snag the empty water bottle from Bucky’s hand and tuck it back into his bag. “Little surprised you made it outside without someone steering you back in. I mean, it’s not like we’re forbidden , but they want you escorted and how the heck are you supposed to just relax with someone in scrubs standing near you twenty-four seven in case you keel over? I’d rather pitch over right here under the stars, thank-you-very-much.” Steve smirked, flopping out his legs in front of him, the foot pedals of his chair kicked up.
Bucky smirked faintly, giving up entirely and leaning his shoulder against the locked wheel of Steve’s left side. He felt like he’d ran twenty miles, and probably smelled like it too by this point.
Steve continued to chatter, about what Bucky couldn’t tell you, but it was oddly pleasant. A bit like letting the television play in the background.
His eyes trailed from the cement to Steve’s legs, watching as every once in a while Steve would shift and his feet would drag awkwardly against the ground. Even on such a skinny guy, the ankles peeking from his pajama pants were startlingly thin.
“What’s wrong with you?” He blurted before he could think better of it. For some reason, his mind had latched onto that as something worthy of focusing on, and it was too late to stop it now.
Silence reigned. Maybe he’d finally said something offensive enough to get Steve to shut up, but that didn’t seem likely. Little guy sounded like he enjoyed his own voice. He tilted his head up slightly, catching the chagrined smirk Steve was aiming his way.
“Real charmer, ain’t you Barnes?” Steve rolled his eyes, “Loaded question though, but you look like you got time.” It was a terrible joke since the only thing anyone living here had was time.
“Since you’ve been eyeballing them for a while, I guess I’ll start from the bottom and work my way up. I have — had, I guess, Scoliosis, but I got surgery to correct it. ’Course, anytime you start shifting around your spine something bad can happen, and I just won that lottery.” He shrugged faintly,” So I’ve got a fused spine and a boat ton of nerve damage, but least my hips and shoulders aren’t in two different area codes anymore.” He laughed, not one put on, but a genuine eye-crinkling laugh that Bucky couldn’t figure out for the life of him. Why the fuck would you laugh at a doctor fucking up your spine?
“Let’s see,” Steve held up fingers he began to tick off,” Anemia, the deadly one, asthma, got a bum ear, heart can get moody, allergic to everything you can think of, and — Oh, stomach issues.” He finished with a pleasant smile, “Those are the major ones anyway. Questions?”
Bucky stared, trying to absorb how that laundry list of issues could exist in one person. He knew there were some people around here with a fuckton of problems, but he’d never seen someone so pleasant about it. “How the fuck are you alive?” Not tactful, but he doubted Steve expected anything less out of him.
The bark of laughter that peeled from Steve’s thin chest startled them both, and Steve quickly clapped his hands over his mouth to stifle the bubble of laughter shivering his shoulders.
“Spite,” Steve declared once his laughter abated, beaming a megawatt grin that lit up his angular face.”’Sides, what else am I going to do, die?” He snorted, aiming a cocky smirk down from his lofty heights.
Despite his resolve, Bucky felt the corners of his lips turn up.”You’re mental, you know that?”
Steve’s chest puffed with pride, “If I had a dollar,” He chortled, right up until he heard the sliding glass open behind them. “Jig’s up,” he groaned.
Bucky glanced over his shoulder, watching as an older orderly stepped out,” Little late for socializing don’t you think boys?” he said with a genial tone, but it was strained at the corners as if he was preparing to have to drag them in kicking in screaming.
Bucky stood, brushing off his pajama bottoms.”You think we’re going to burn the place down or something?” He asked, which was probably the longest sentence he’d said to one of the orderlies yet.
The man flinched slightly, cutting his eyes between them until Steve heaved an even more dramatic sigh and swiveled around in his chair. "Calm down, Jackson, just getting some night air. Not planning to careen myself into the pond.” He rolled past Bucky with a surprising burst of speed.
“There’s barf in the bushes by the way!” Steve chortled right over the threshold, disappearing into the muted-lit halls of the care facility.
The orderly peered slowly towards the bushes, and Bucky swallowed, tasting the ghost of bile on his tongue still.”Sorry,” He mumbled, slinking past the orderly with a faint smirk.
There was a stupid amount of birds around this hellhole. Every morning he could hear his quiet hours of the night bleed into the loud chirps of pre-dawn switching over. The sound of the nurses beginning their morning rounds would start thirty minutes after, and an hour later, someone would —
“Good morning, Jame — oops! Bucky , how are you this morning?” Sheila, Carol, or Megan, Bucky wasn’t sure which at this point since they were all dirty blonde with similar voices, walked into the room with her supplies after a cursory knock.
She received a grumbled,” Fuckin’ peachy,” for her troubles.
After a few weeks here, he was starting to get into the habit of things. Bucky sat up a little more against the headboard where he’d leaned for the past three hours. His doc wanted to pump him full of sleeping pills, but they made him too groggy to think straight till nearly lunch. He didn’t have much to be awake for these days, however, he didn’t want to be sedated. You never knew what could happen, and where would he be if he was off his ass on pills?
“Stiff this morning?” The nurse with the mystery name smiled, and he peered a little at her nametag and hoped she didn’t think he was looking down her shirt. A half a year ago he would have gladly and winked at her after. Her name was Amanda. Where the fuck had he gotten Carol?
Bucky grunted an affirmative and prepared for the morning onslaught. The wounds were long healed, but the skin was taut and tender, angry from yesterday’s physical therapy. Twice a day the creped skin of his burn scars were massaged; Kneaded until his face was wet with unwanted tears and he felt like he could finally collapse back into bed. The scars always felt better after the nurses were done, but he hated every one of them that touched him this way. Smiling, cheery, genuine people that probably went to work just wanting to help people, but instead were saddled with his wretchedness. He didn’t want to be touched, seen, or talked to. He just wanted peace .
“Just a little more, Bucky.” Amanda’s soft voice cut through the haze of pain, filled with empathy as her slender hands slid over the plane of his left pec, dancing dangerously close to the curve of his underarm where the skin was nearly white with scar tissue. The fractured Humvee piece had tucked up just far enough to cradle his left arm in an oven of hot metal and sand.
The moment her well-lubricated thumb slid over the sinewy flesh, he bit back a shout and bent double. Her hands flinched away, manicured brows pulling.”I’m sorry, it must be awful but I’m almost done if we could —”
“ What the fuck do you know ?” Bucky snapped viciously, blinking up at the poor woman that couldn’t be much older than he was. He instantly regretted it, seeing her face momentarily fall. She hadn’t deserved that, none of them deserved it.
He hung his head, righting himself with a weary sigh.”Sorry,” he mumbled, willing himself to keep it together. After this, he could eat breakfast and hopefully pass out a few hours once the pain pills kicked in.
Amanda returned to the massage, and to her credit, she had truly meant they were almost done before.”There we go,” She gathered up the used supplies on her cart and bagged them, cutting her deep brown eyes at him haltingly.”I know I shouldn’t say it, Mrs. Alice would gripe, but they’re going to really start pushing you to get out of your room if you stay in here so much,” She glanced around the room, untouched and undecorated save for a lone sweatshirt thrown over his chair.
”Breakfast is usually easy? Quieter at least, if she sees you going out for it, you can probably avoid her pushing you out more.” She wavered, looking unsure of herself.
But, he appreciated it. That, and he felt real fucking guilty for snapping at someone that was so kind to him.
“Okay,” He wanted to slap himself for being so easily manipulated, yet he had heard the Head Nurse gripe at him more than once about ‘engaging himself’. Anything to get that harpy off his back.
He doggedly ignored the little bounce in Amanda’s step as she exited while he dragged himself out of bed. The usual sweat-shirt sweat-pant combo went on him. He looked between his slippers and his shoes, sighed, and just went with the slippers. It was seven-thirty in the morning and he didn’t give a shit who judged him around here. There wasn’t much purpose in trying anymore, who did he have to impress?
The scent of cooked food hit him as soon as he shuffled from his side of the residential halls and into the main area. Today was supposed to be build-your-own-oatmeal day, which probably didn’t sound awful to most, but he was sick of anything that tasted chunky and viscous. MRE’s weren’t his Ma’s home cooking by any means, god rest her soul. He was just glad his parents hadn’t lived long enough to see him like this. It would have broken his mother’s heart.
He steered away from the oatmeal, deciding instead to head for a bagel and some cereal. It was all carbs, but at least it was easily digestible and wouldn’t taste as awful if he got sick thirty minutes after eating it. Between his pills and his head, it was a hit or a miss if he was going to keep breakfast down most days. By lunch, his stomach evened out, if he kept it light.
His ass was hovering a seat at an empty table when he heard his name called across the modest cafeteria.
“Bucky!” His eyes scanned the area until he saw Steve waving like a moron to his right. Shit. He glanced between the empty table and Steve’s and heaved a heavy sigh. He guessed he should go over, Steve hadn’t been an asshole to him over his ‘episode’ so he couldn’t be all that bad.
“Never seen you at breakfast before,” Steve grinned over his little bowl of oatmeal that looked more like a child’s portion than a grown — How old was Steve? Bucky had just assumed they were around the same age but the care facility accepted adults as young as eighteen, so for all, he knew Steve could still be a teenager.
Bucky sat, looking down at his tray like he was trying to find the best way to eat a live slug.”Didn’t have much of a choice,” He picked up his spoon to push around his cereal.
“Alice givin’ you a hard time?” Steve chortled knowingly, scooping up a fat raspberry on his oatmeal. “She’s real big on shut-ins engaging, there’s programs with therapy dogs around here though if you’d like that. I love them, but last time someone brought in a cat in the same room and since then they won’t let me anymore.” He rolled his head, shoving the bite into his mouth with more force than necessary.
He wasn’t sure how Steve managed to yammer on with what he figured to be crappy lungs. The idea of dog-therapy did sound nice, admittedly, and he might look into it, but he wasn’t going to say that out loud. “I just want to be left alone.” He grumbled like the petulant jerk he was.
Unperturbed, Steve plowed on. "Trust me, that’s a recipe for disaster. There were people that keep to themselves, sure, but people need some interaction or else you get —" Steve looked Bucky over, "Well.” He smirked lightly, a slightly cheeky grin tugging up the corners of his lips.
Bucky glanced over, noticing Steve was definitely a far cry from his sweats-on-sweats combo. In a comfortable blue cardigan and pale slacks, Steve looked like he was ready to sit by the sea-side and type a novel instead of wheel himself around this purgatory.
“You judgin’ my slippers, Rogers?” Bucky muttered around a mouthful of bagel, satisfied when Steve’s nose curled at his lack of table manners.
“Slippers and your plain bagel, what are you, an alien?” Steve snorted,” No way you could be allergic to more things than I am, and even I can eat cream cheese or butter, so you just gotta be weird.”
Cheeky jerk,”’s easier.” Huffing, he took a larger bite of his plain, untoasted bagel just to see Steve’s nose curl even more. Bucky almost chuckled. Almost.
“Allergies why you eat like a bird?” If Steve was going to dish it out, Bucky was going to go fishing for more information. Intel was always important.
Steve shrugged, pushing a blackberry around his oatmeal.”Can’t stomach much. Allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, bananas. And stuff like corn and overly fibrous stuff make me barf.” He seemed perfectly content to air out his medical file like it was a normal topic of conversation. Then again, around here, maybe it was.
“...my meds make me sick.” He had no idea why he said it, but it was past his lips before he could stop it.
Humming through a nod, Steve pushed his half-eaten oatmeal away.”They have crackers and stuff you can get for your room if you take your pills before you eat. ‘S easier. Trust me.”
Despite Bucky lapsing into silence to eat, Steve kept on just as he had that night sitting under the stars. By the time he’d eaten half his bagel and all of his cereal, Steve had given him ‘the rundown’ on most of the residents in his hall and promised to tell him the rest at lunch or dinner. He struggled to swallow a mouthful of soggy cardboard to tell Steve there was a fat chance in hell, but Steve fixed him with a bright grin and said —
“Tonight’s movie night, you should come. Supposed to be a classic, I’ll save you a seat.” Steve winked, stupidly thick lashes touching his slender cheekbone. Bucky had never seen someone so simultaneously frail, masculine, and feminine at one time.
“A movie?” He repeated stupidly.
“Tonight at six, I’ll see you there. I gotta get going.” Steve was gone in a blaze of wheels before Bucky could let it sink in that Steve had taken his question as interest and ran with it.
By the time six rolled around, Bucky had nearly puked and had changed back into his pajamas twice.
“This is fucking ridiculous,” He hissed at himself, walking a slow circle in the lobby as he tried to scrape together the pathetic remains of his nads to walk into the main rec room to watch a simple movie.
He could hear the quiet chatter of people gathered down the hall, and every time he thought he had the nerve to walk in he heard a burst of laughter and a cold sweat bloomed against his nape. He should be able to do this. Normal people did this all the time. Steve did it for fuck’s sake and that guy was apparently barely able to function.
Bucky paused, tugging up the hood of his sweatshirt and just breathing . Four in, five hold, seven out. Four in, five hold, seven out.
“Bucky?” Steve’s voice floated down the hallway, and Bucky about-faced on his heel to find Steve wheeling down the hallway towards him. A few yards away, he saw an orderly (Luke?) try and duck into a doorway before he spotted him. Christ, did everyone around here know how much of a basket case he was?
“I was — on my way,” He lied pathetically. He was standing in the middle of the room trying not to hyperventilate and he’d probably had a pit-sweat ring under his arm by now. Maybe he could call in a favor from one of his old army buddies to come snipe a bullet between his eyes and put him out of his goddamn misery.
Even at the obvious lie, Steve grinned. “Great, It’s going to start, got us a spot at the back. They got kettle corn and normal stuff in there, I got the normal stuff because something about sweet corn grosses me out.” He turned around, slow enough to keep Bucky at the corner of his vision, probably watching to see if he’d bolt.
Bucky exhaled the held breath, unclenching the tight fist held in his pocket. Steve got seats at the back. He could do that. As long as there was no one behind him and he could see the door. He could do this.
“Kettle corn tastes like ass, caramel popcorn or go home.” He smirked, falling into step next to Steve.
Laughing, Steve bobbed his head.”They tried to stock the sugar-free caramel popcorn once but apparently the sweetener gave everyone the shits.”
Bucky bit back a laugh, feeling the mirth rise in him and press against his ribcage. He hadn’t felt the urge to genuinely laugh in — Fuck, a while. So long that his first instinct had been to swallow it.
Steve’s grin widened as they entered the room, never slowing even as Bucky’s heart decided to head to the races. There were about fifteen people inside, not a lot, but enough to make Bucky feel like he was going to have to fight for air in here.
Some people were in wheelchairs like Steve, another in an intense-looking rig that held her upright and strapped in. Maybe one of those standing wheelchairs he’d heard the orderlies talk about before while sitting listening to the birds? Others were on oxygen, braces, and one or two looking more or less whole like him, save for an eyepatch or crutches.
It was the first time he’d really seen anyone in this place other than Steve and not let his eyes pass over them. He didn’t know why it felt like he was walking through a wall and passing out the other side, but he felt different than he had in the hallway. Less likely to dive under a table until he felt like he wasn’t going to punch the first person to touch him.
Steve wheeled to the back next to a free seat draped with one of Steve’s old-man sweaters, and Buck took his cue to sit. A few people turned to wave at Steve, eyes sliding towards him knowingly. He sank deeper into his seat, pulling his hood down further over his head.
The opening credits started up,” What the hell are we watching?” Bucky leaned over to whisper, realizing he’d never even thought to ask.
“A Streetcar Named Desire.” Steve murmured back, eyes rolling when he received a blank stare,” Seriously ? It’s a classic, next you’ll be saying you’ve never seen Casa Blanca.”
“Which I haven’t,” Bucky could feel the levels of indignance rising in Steve.
“Oh my god, didn’t your high school make you watch any old movies? What were you doing? Sleeping?” Steve huffed, looking about ready to start compiling a list since apparently he wasn’t cinema-savvy enough.
The answer rose to his lips before he could think better of it,” Getting laid,” He smirked.
Even as Steve’s cheeks darkened to resemble coral, he burst out into a fit of laughter loud enough to have him shushed by four people in the room.”Glad someone was,” He tittered, accepting a bag of popcorn the person in front of him had held for him. “Popcorn?”
Bucky accepted a handful, brows furrowing.”Doesn’t corn fuck up your stomach?” He remembered Steve mentioning something about it in his breakfast ramblings.
Steve’s hand paused over the bag, one cheek already bulged out with a mouthful.”Yep.” He kept chewing.
A quiet chuckle filled Bucky’s chest as he popped a few kernels in his mouth.”You’re a fucking mess, Rogers.”
“Takes one to know one,” Steve tossed a kernel at him, and it tumbled down the front of his well-worn sweatshirt. Bucky picked it up and ate it, shaking his head.
“If you will excuse me. I'm just about to drop. “
“Sure, honey. Why don't you set down?”
“What I meant was I'd like to be left alone.”
It was a good movie, but Bucky liked watching Steve mutter the lines he knew while his face mimed the actor’s expressions more.
“Hey, Bucky would you — “
“You don’t even know what I was — “
“ No ,”
He glowered as the kid across the hall from him wheeled away knowing he should feel guilty. Kei was a good kid, in a nasty accident mid-college with absolutely no one in the world besides his elderly grandmother who was in a home herself. Usually, Bucky was semi-amiable to playing cards with him after dinner since they could mutually smirk at each other that it was the longest game of cards known to man. Kei was missing the majority of his right hand and a few fingers on his left, and well, Bucky was down one arm. Cards could be interesting.
So yeah, he was in a pissy mood. That in itself wasn’t new, but today was worse off than most, and he wouldn’t own up to why even under torture.
He’d fucking got here early to make sure Steve got his god-awful tofu scramble before Eric the newly-minted-vegan gobbled it all down. Except Steve wasn’t here and it was well after when he usually shuffled his skinny ass in here.
Bucky never expected to become friends with Steve Rogers, but here he was, two weeks after he was dragged to watch that black-and-white and sitting across from a cold wad of tofu tinted a garish yellow.
He shoveled down the rest of his cereal and abandoned the cafeteria before he was subjected to anymore unwelcome smalltalk.
If he wasn’t such a shitty person, he would just go stomping to Steve’s room and ask him what gives, but of course, he was that much of a shitty person. He had no idea what Steve’s room number was. He’d never asked. In the two weeks, he’d been dragged around in Steve’s weird gravity, he’d never once gone to the guy’s room. They’d either stuck to the main areas or Steve would barge into his room and poke around.
He hadn’t come here with the hope of friends. He’d come here to — to? Waste away he guessed. Honestly, he’d expected to die of infection by now. His arm still flared up like a nest of angry wasps lurked under the skin every time his prosthetic even got close to him. It was only nagging from the therapist that nudged him towards it. He was content to go without and just feel useless until nature took its course.
All thoughts he should be bringing up with said therapist, but he didn’t need a shrink to tell him how messed up he was.
Steve would probably punch him in the arm for bad-mouthing the empathetic doctor that went out of her way to check on her patients. Steve’s bony little fists hurt like shit when they got him at just the right angle.
The thing was, Steve didn’t really give him a choice in being friends or not, which he guessed he needed. Steve just did without concern that Bucky might bitch, moan, and whine the entire time. And yeah, Bucky did enjoy movie night and maybe sitting in the back of craft day watching Steve meticulously make things was a nice way to calm his mind for a few hours. Still, he thought Steve was pretty cheeky for a guy so worried about being nice to every person in here as if disabled people couldn’t be jackasses too. Phillips for one could take a metaphorical hike off a short pier. He’d ‘accidentally’ hit Bucky with his white cane one too many times for Bucky to be convinced. He’d thought he was capitalizing on being the most miserable jerk around here, but apparently he had competition.
He rounded the hall to start towards his room when the familiar plucky voice of Amanda jarred him from his thoughts.
“Back so soon?” She smiled, wheeling out of a room with her cart laden full of medical supplies.
“‘S just breakfast,” He grumbled, shoulder still dully aching from this morning’s session.
Amanda’s thick but well-groomed brow quirked,” Well yeah, but doesn’t Steve usually keep you there longer?” Since when did everyone expect him to just be bossed around by a man almost half his weight and size?
“He’s not my keeper,” That even sounded petulantly childish to him, but it was too late to retract it now.
He suffered Amanda’s poorly restrained titter and rolled his eyes,” You know what I mean.” He breezed past, resolutely ignoring the trail of eyes after him.
Lunch was usually spent in his room. He could only handle so much in a day, and the hours after his Physio or therapy appointments were for him to nurse old wounds. The welcoming darkness of his closed blinds and absent lamplight felt an awful lot like hiding, but it got him back to stasis. Or as close to stasis as he could get.
Except for today. Today he prowled up and down the halls on the pretense of ‘stretching his legs’ despite his shoulder and back killing him from PT.
The fifth pass of the hall’s nurse’s station finally broke the camel’s back. “You trainin’ for a marathon?” Xavier smirked over the desk. His dark eyes watched Bucky pace for the past thirty minutes.
“Maybe,” Bucky shot back, glaring daggers at a man that always looked like his dark skin radiated warmth from the inside out. It pissed him off when the fluorescent lights only served to make him look pale and vaguely jaundice. Not that he was going to be winning any beauty pageants lately, but he used to be proud of his looks. Xavier was attractive in a way Bucky wished he didn’t notice. Why were there so many young attractive nurses around here?
“If you’re lookin’ for Rogers he ain’t back yet,” Xavier drawled, flipping a page in his magazine.
Bucky tried not to bristle, but the smirk on Xavier’s face told him he’d failed spectacularly.”Yeah?” He sidled a little closer to the station.
“Hospital,” Xavier looked up, smirk softening. “Can’t tell you why man, sorry.”
Hospital. Steve was in the hospital. Which — around here that shouldn’t be so surprising except Steve had rolled over his foot with unapologetic glee the night before when ‘he wasn’t moving fast enough’. Despite his obvious limitations Steve just had the kind of energy that made Bucky forget how frail he was. If he said ‘frail’ in relation to Steve, said ‘frail’ person would probably do worse than roll over his foot. Bucky would hate to see what he could do with one of his crutches.
“Oh,” Bucky replied, hovering in front of the desk.
Xavier watched him, fingers pinching another page of his magazine held poised mid-air.”You good?”
Blinking, Bucky turned and stalked his way back to his bedroom. Right, he guessed he didn’t have to worry about being interrupted the rest of the day. Except, Steve had rambled on about a book he wanted (was forcing) Bucky to read and Bucky wouldn’t say it out loud, but he’d been looking forward to reading a little. What was he supposed to do now? He knew there was a library room around here but it required going to the other end of the home and exploring a new room, something he only ever did at Steve’s insistence.
Fuck, when had his life here started being guided by a tiny puppeteer?
He didn’t sleep much that night. Usually, his nightmares were filled with fire, sand, and screams. Tonight it was long, empty hallways, stretching endlessly into the distance. The sound of wheels, chairs scraping, and the distant beeps of monitors echoed, tiny whispers in the too-bright halls.
He didn’t know what woke up from the unending halls, only that he woke up to the familiar sound of birds by his window and sweat soaking his sheets through. He didn’t normally shamble out of his room so early, but the idea of staying in the small, dim space was even more unappealing than facing the early-risers.
Bucky tugged on a sweatshirt over his chilled torso and took to the halls, momentarily pausing as he stared down the long stretch of his residential wing. The lights were dimmed until seven am, casting an eerie light to the perpetually clean walls. He shivered and moved on.
He wandered aimlessly, pacing from his wing to another until a quiet conversation among a handful of people caught his ear.
“Careful — Don’t want to take out another door frame”
“I did that one time .”
“Twice, if you count the kitchen.” The third voice, while weakened and breathy, was one he knew. Usually, it was sassing him or making fun of his taste in entertainment.
Bucky’s pace quickened unconsciously, but by the time he rounded the corner, he saw two orderlies hovering in a doorway. Eight C.
“You know the drill,”
“Yeah, yeah. So much as a wheeze and I push the damn button. Go bother someone else,” Despite the grumpy words the two orderlies chuckled fondly and wished Steve a good rest before leaving.
Faced with the obvious choice between being a creeper and being a normal person and walking up to the door, Bucky went with option one. He crept just close enough to be able to hear Steve’s wheelchair in the room and the soft raspy notes of his breathing, not enough to peer around the doorframe.
He’d heard Steve get breathless before, he knew Steve had breathing issues, but hearing the rattle in his lungs bristled goosebumps. Hearing someone’s labored breath wasn’t foriegn to him, not after being Over There, yet he wasn’t used to hearing it from a civilian friend. Someone like Steve wasn’t supposed to breath like that.
“I can see your shadow, you comin’ in or what?” Steve scared the hell out of him.
Bucky bristled, staring until Steve wheeled himself to the doorframe, Judgement Brow™ in place. “How’d you know?”
“Ain’t many one-armed people with Johnny Depp hair around here.” Steve’s usual smirk lacked its potency. Deep purple bruises hollowed out the skin under his eyes, and his skin looked even more pale than usual. More than an obvious lack of sleep, Steve just looked sick in ways Bucky hadn’t witnessed before.
“Johnny De — “
“You comin’ or what?” Steve cut him off and wheeled back inside with far less pep than usual.
He should be conditioned against that tone by now, but his feet started walking before his brain could be too mule-headed to refuse.
“What gives?” He thinks that’s what leaves his mouth anyway. As soon as he stepped inside, his attention was elsewhere. Bucky saw Steve draw all the time, little sketches or things in colored pencil, but nothing like what decorated his walls. There were paintings, charcoals, watercolors, and some things Bucky couldn’t recognize the medium of since his only knowledge of art came from his Senior-year of highschool and he’d spent most of Art History baked in the bathroom.
It wasn’t even just the art, it was the bright quilt thrown on Steve’s bed or the small vase of modest yet lively blooms set on his dresser. Where his own room was bleak and cavernous, Steve’s felt twice as big from personality alone.
On his left, Steve grunted as he locked his chair by his bed.”If you’re done starin’ can you get me from point A to point B?” It took him a moment to figure out Steve was asking for help getting up, since in the history of their acquaintanceship(friendship?) he’d never seen Steve ask for help even when he ought to.
It was a little awkward to bend down and practically lift Steve up by his armpits with one arm, but it was easier than it had any right to be. Steve weighed as much as a bird, all sharp edges and hollow bones. Steve weighed as much as the equipment he’d been used to hauling around on his back in the desert. He could piggy-back the little terror all day if he was inclined, which shouldn’t be such a funny little thought but it made his chest feel strange all the same.
With combined efforts, they got Steve situated on the bed and his legs covered by the squashy, plush quilt. Steve’s hands quivered faintly, quickly hidden by bunching his hands in his lap.
“Those hospital beds are hell, feels good to be back.” Steve grinned as if he didn’t look like he was two seconds from keeling over.
“What was it?” Bucky asked, dropping into a chair beside Steve’s bed, trying not to make an obvious show of looking around his room like a middle-aged suburban housewife investigating new neighbors. There were too many places to look and not even Bucky Barnes could make a show of remaining aloof in the middle of the Shield’s own mini art gallery.
Steve snorted, leaning over towards his nightstand to fiddle with a small machine with a long, thin tube snaking from it.”What did me in? What do ya think?” He smirked, shifting back as he broke down a breathing mask with a little chamber connected to the bottom of it.
”Docs say I got the start of a bout of bronchitis and — “ Steve took a moment to catch his breath, his usual ninety-to-nothing slowed by having to wheeze every few words.”That’s what set off the attack. Nothing that ain’t happened before.” He shrugged, even as he fished a plastic vial of clear medication from his nightstand and poured it into the mask’s chamber.
‘Nothing that aint’ happened before’, as if that was comforting. From the way Steve looked he’d damn near died and he was trying to sit there acting like he’d stubbed his toe.
“What’s that?” Bucky asked instead of offering his sympathies. Steve didn’t want that and he didn’t want to give it when he was too annoyed at Steve for reasons he couldn’t plot out in clear English.
Steve looked up as he snapped the chamber back in place,” This? Breathin’ treatment. Tastes like death and makes me drool like an idiot but sorts out my lungs.” Despite himself, Bucky had to suppress the chortle.
Shaking his head, Bucky stood back up and took a closer look at a painting that looked like a pier. It looked familiar, but ever since the attack, his memory had been spotty at best. Simple things like childhood memories, cousin’s names, and more recently how to work a microwave were a hit or a miss that usually left him with a migraine. It felt like there wasn’t a part of his body that the RPG didn’t manage to fuck up.
“You really do all this?” He asked, tempted to reach out and touch the textured painting. One glance behind him at Steve’s level stare told him just how much he was broadcasting that thought and what Steve might do if he went through with it. Hand at his side then.
The sound of rustling turned him away from the painting in time to see Steve pop some kind of hard candy into his mouth. Good, scrawny jerk needed the calories.
“Yep,” Steve breathed with a quiet sigh, looking around the room with an expression so loaded Bucky had no hope to decipher it.
Bucky’s brow quirked as he sat back down,” And that’s — ?” He broached non-too-subtly. Their conversations weren’t about subtly.
Steve fiddled with his breathy-machine a little more, lips pressed into a thin line.”Getting harder to do. I used to — before the surgery and everything, I used to go to the park with all my stuff or just go in general. It hurt, but it didn’t take so much planning.” He shook his head, staring down at his lap.”Listen to me… I can still do everything, just takes more effort, get tired easier. Nothing to belly-ache about.” He mumbled resolutely, only looking up from his hands when Bucky snorted.
“Are you serious? Why can’t you? It fucking sucks.” Bucky had about enough of people minimizing their shit around here.
”I’d rather have two fucking arms and a head that’s screwed on right, and you know damn well you want a spine that isn’t fucked and your body just to stop sucking in general. Yeah, other people got it worse, but fuck them, they ain’t you.” Steve’s eyes got progressively wider the more animated he got, but Bucky didn’t care. For once, he wanted Steve to bitch about the lot in life he was handed. He couldn’t believe that Steve was so ruthlessly optimistic all the time.
“Doesn’t it piss you off the Docs fucked up your surgery?”
Immediately, Bucky feared he’d taken it a step too far. From what he knew about Steve, he’d always been disabled to some degree since birth, but it wasn’t until his botched surgery that things went to hell in a handbasket.
Steve crunched the hard candy loud enough Bucky winced.”Of course, it does,” He grumbled, “But there isn’t anything I can do about it so why bother being angry about it?”
Rolling his eyes, Bucky continued,”’Cause it fucking sucks, that’s why. You’re allowed to be mad about it. You’re allowed to cuss the fucks who did it to you. Allowed to just — Christ, ain’t you the one that goes on about feelin’?” Bucky sniped, accent out in droves the more he rambled on. He’d almost forgotten it in the desert.
“So you want me to be a pissy, miserable cuss like you, that it?” Steve shot back, jaw set but eyes looking dangerously close to lighting up again.
“ Sometimes !” Bucky finished, holding Steve’s eyes.
He didn’t know who started laughing first, but one of them did and they didn’t stop until Steve started to wheeze again. Bucky sprang up, fumbling a little under Steve’s instructions as he helped Steve into his breathing mask and flicked the machine on.
“You’re right...it sucks, and I hate it.” Steve’s strained voice sounded muffled in the mask,” Can’t even eat all the ice cream at the hospital. ‘S too cold wheezes me up.” He sneered, the look of chagrin so deep on his face that Bucky started sniggering once more.
They tittered until one of the nurses waddled in and banned him from the room until Steve’s treatment was done and he’d had a nap. Bucky shuffled to breakfast, getting his usual and sitting at their usual table. He hated looking like a weirdo eating by himself, but maybe by dinner, Steve would feel up to taking up a little space.
Hey! It’s been a while. How are you doing over there? Last time we talked it sounded like you were making a friend? I’m glad. Marie is doing great in school, got on the honor roll and everything. Not really sure who she gets it from. We’re thinking about getting a dog, which I know, yikes, but Marie really wants one and who am I kidding, we’re pushovers.
I read that dogs are really good for PTSD? Maybe something to think about?
I know you’re tired of me saying this but, I wish you’d come here. Be with us. We have plenty of room and Marie would be overjoyed to have her Uncle here, and so would I. I miss you Bucky. I understand that things wouldn’t be like they were, and that’s okay. You’re still my brother, no matter what.
I love you,
Steve had friends here. He was friendly enough, it was easier to live in a place like this when you let go of some of the bitter sensations that came with it. His Ma would have wanted him to be happy, no matter what, so he’d taken that to heart.
Despite all that, he’d never expected to develop a friendship close enough to have the quantifier ‘best’ in front of it. Now he’d firmly categorize Bucky as his best friend. Yeah, Buck was like adopting a grumpy stray cat and luring it with a can of tuna until it stopped biting your hand, but once Bucky let the tension out of his shoulders, he was nice to be around.
They had a schedule, all the more cemented since he’d come home from the hospital a month ago. Steve walked or rolled over to Bucky’s room, harried him til Bucky un-grumped from his morning physical therapy to loosen up his shoulder for the day, and they went to breakfast. Usually after one of them had something else to do, more therapy of some kind, and they reconvened for lunch. If nothing else was going on, they kept right on till they had to go to bed.
Somehow they’d just started spending more and more time together that when one another didn’t show up as planned, it was glaringly obvious not only to them but to everyone around them.
After three days of Bucky grumbling ‘Not today, Steve’ and banishing him from his room, Steve knew things weren’t right. Bucky was prone to funks, especially on migraine or high-pain days, but this didn’t feel like one of those days.
“Hey, Steve, where’s James?” For what had to be the fifth time today, a nurse paused him to smile and glance around as if they expected Bucky to materialize from behind him.
“Just going to get him,” He smiled weakly, feeling a little guilty he didn’t stick around to chat like he usually did. Worry gnawed at his stomach, urging him to roll faster towards Bucky’s room.
He didn’t bother knocking. Bucky was usually too lost in his own head to notice, and Bucky long learned to just walk into Steve’s room, especially when he’s drawing. Steve figured it was probably a good way to embarrass each other eventually, but at this point, Steve didn’t have much in the way of shame anymore. When you had to get naked in front of doctors so often you just got used to it.
Wheeling around, he didn’t immediately see Bucky, which was weird. He hadn’t seen Bucky anywhere else, and Bucky only went so many places without being dragged. Once he’d edged a little further in, he spotted Bucky’s bare feet hidden by the side of the bed, and his eyes adjusted to the darkness. Bucky liked to sit on the floor at the side of his bed when he was having bad days. Having something at his back made him feel grounded, and the other side of his bed was pushed against the corner. After a nurse had to root Bucky out from between the bed and the wall two weeks ago, it was decided that maybe having space between the two wasn’t the best idea.
“Buck?” He shut the door behind him, optimistic that he wouldn’t get chased away today.
More silence. Steve rolled a little closer and opened his mouth to try again. Bucky’s head twitched faintly in his direction and Steve startled. He’d suspected Bucky was asleep before that.
“Go away, Steve.” Bucky murmured, hollow. It was a world away from the growls and grumps Bucky usually directed his way when he’s in a mood.
A quiet huff left him as he kept on rolling, "You’ve been saying that for three days bud, I think —" He froze, words lodging in his throat. Out of all the things he thought he’d see today, a gun resting loosely in Bucky’s hand wasn’t one of them.
Bucky drew in on himself, knees tucking tighter to his chest, head hanging. He repeated, "Go away,” choked around unshed tears.
Bucky never told Steve what exactly happened to him, he’d never pry that deeply into an obviously loaded subject. He knew Bucky was in the war, knew that loud noises make him flinch, and sometimes his eyes got so distant Steve just had to wait for him to come back. He’d googled PSTD of course, but that was a broad subject and he still wasn’t sure what he could do for Bucky when he even felt mildly upset, let alone this . He knew what happened when residents got suicidal around here, and he knew Bucky enough that it would only make things so much worse. Bucky would go so far away in his own head in Psych there would be no coming back completely.
Slowly, he hefted himself up from his chair and used the edge of the bed to lower himself down next to Bucky. A thousand questions were on his lips, but none of them felt right. He leaned until their shoulders met, conscious not to rest too much of his weight on the scar tissue riddling Bucky’s side.
Bucky’s breathing didn’t sound right, too sharp and staccato. The quietest panic attack Steve had ever seen. Even as the minutes stretched by, it didn’t even, didn’t slow.
“Becca emailed me,” Bucky’s voice cut through the weighted silence. Steve didn’t know who Becca was, but she was obviously important.”You know she says the same shit in every email?” A thin, breathless laugh shivered Bucky’s body.”’You have a home here’, ‘We want you here’, even uses her kid — shit, fuck — my niece against me. You know I’ve only seen her once? Every other time was through a screen while I was sweating bullets in the goddamn desert.” His grip tightened around the gun, dragging the butt of it against his knee with a hiss.
“She doesn’t — She doesn’t fucking get it , Steve! How the fuck can I go back there? Like this!” Steve leaned up to avoid Bucky suddenly articulating every word with a jerk of the gun or his body. “The fuck am I going to do there but be a goddamn burden? She wants a kid and a fucking mental cripple?”
He had to avoid flinching, Bucky uses the word ‘cripple’ despite constant chastisements. Despite seeing everyone here, Bucky still saw them all, including himself, as broken. Unfortunates to be shoved aside by society. Not even punching him had gotten the message through to Bucky that he was anything but broken .
“I’m sure she just misses you, Buck.” Steve ventured, reaching out to place a hand on Bucky’s left knee.
Bucky flinched away from the contact, staring over at him as if Bucky just now realized he was even there.”Like I don’t miss her? I miss her — I miss them all so goddamn much but I can’t do that to them. I can’t have them tiptoeing around like they’re waitin’ on me to go off. Fuck, Steve, what if I do? What if I’m so cracked in the head I end up hurtin’ one of them?” He sucked in a harsh breath, the tall-tale signs of a fresh panic attack starting to well in the white’s of Bucky’s eyes.
Chewing the inside of his lip, Steve hazarded squeezing a little on Bucky’s knee.”Hey, look at me, Buck. I can’t promise you, you wouldn’t. But you’ve never hurt anyone around here, so that’s gotta say something right?”
“Does it?” Bucky whispered, eyes glistening.”I feel like I’m going to snap any moment, Steve. I’m — I’m so goddamn tired.” His body sagged under the weight of his burdens, crushed under it all until he was crushed.
”I’m so fucking tired of being in pain. Not sleepin’. Wakin’ up screaming when I do. Do you know what the human body smells like cookin’?” A mirthless laugh punched from Bucky’s chest.”Smells like fuckin’ barbeque.”
Steve’s stomach soured. He’d never heard Bucky talk about what injured him, but he guessed that partially explained the burn scars he’d glimpsed on a few occasions. Christ, Bucky had been awake for it?
“There’s nowhere to go from here, Steve… I’m just sittin’ around taking up space. I thought — I thought after I got back I’d get a job lined up with the school credits I got over there. You know? Do something with my hands,” A quieter, more brittle laugh left Bucky in a croak,” I ain’t nothing now. Just fucking useless.”
There’s nothing he could possibly say to make any of this better. Steve isn’t so delusionally optimistic to believe it. In all of the panicked self-loathing, Bucky had very real concerns.
Bucky might very well hurt someone on accident if his brain didn’t recognize friend from foe at the time. Fulfillment was a hard thing to come by, even around here, and Steve struggled with it himself. And the pain — well, everyone around here knew the trials of what dealing with chronic pain did to someone over time. A human being wasn’t meant to exist in pain.
Okay, this was probably the wrong way to do this, but he didn’t know what else to do. "Do...do you think I’m a burden to then?” He ventured, "If you are, I gotta be right? You’ve seen how many pills I take, my physical therapy. So that qualifies me right?”
Bucky blinked slowly, turning his head in a few mechanical clicks. “What?”
“Me, a burden. I am one, right?”
Dark brows pulled down under the messy, uncombed canopy of Bucky’s bangs. "No — Jesus, Steve, of course not.”
“Then why are you? The ‘what ifs’? I’ve actually hurt someone, on accident, but I did. I fell one day and ended up pushing someone into a desk and they busted their jaw, lost two teeth. Might not have been a big thing, but I got them hurt because my body. So that means I’m a burden.”
Bucky’s entire face scrunched, “I’m being serious Stev — “
“So am I,” He pressed, pinning Bucky with his eyes the best he could in the dark. “What about living here, is it awful?”
Swallowing, Bucky barely shook his head. "Not really,”
“Then what’s a small thing you think maybe could be interesting to do? Even something stupid — Like learning how to make a card house.”
This took longer, Bucky’s red-rimmed eyes flicking in the darkness, searching.”Steve…”
“Come on, Buck. One thing.”
“I want to learn how to play music again? I — used to play guitar over there, just for something to do. Now I can’t wear the fuckin’ prosthetic and I can’t...I can’t Steve.”
Steve pressed a little closer,” Hey, you can Buck. You watch YouTube, there are people with no arms playing all kinds of things.” He smiled lightly, earning a weak, watery laugh.
Slowly, his hand drifted to Bucky’s wrist, just gently holding it against Bucky’s right knee. "It’s not much Buck, but I like you being here. I’m glad you’re here. You’re — you’re my friend, you know that? My best friend.” His hand closed around the gun as gingerly as he could, and Bucky eased his grip off of it as if he’s glad to be rid of it. Glad to be rid of the temptation.
Steve had no idea where he was going to put it, but he can’t report it. Maybe it’s the wrong thing to do, he didn't know. But he’d keep Bucky safe, even if it was from himself.
As soon as the gun is tucked away under the bed, the final string holding Bucky together snapped. Abruptly, Bucky bent, pressing his head into the bony groove of Steve’s shoulder as a tide of emotion swept through him so hard Steve could feel him shaking.
Steve ignored the twinge in his spine and hips as he twisted about to get his arms around Bucky’s shoulders, pulling him close. Bucky wasn’t a loud crier. Steve thought he’d gone through too much over there to make that much noise when he was breaking apart.
“I’ve got you, Buck.” Steve murmured, curling his spindly fingers through Bucky’s unruly hair.
Bucky allowed himself one ragged sob, chest heaving with it. It was the most gut-wrenching sound Steve thought he’d ever heard a grown man make, and he never wanted to hear it again, for Bucky’s sake.
At one point there was a gentle knock on the door, probably for nightly rounds, but Steve waved them off as a head peered around the door. Steve would make sure Bucky took his medicine and he always carried a day’s worth of his own in his pocket, just in case.
“Come on, Buck. Let’s get off the floor, okay?” He whispered quietly, not wanting to spook Bucky into another episode.
Bucked nodded, shoving his palm against his eye before roughly scrubbing his hand over his tear-streaked face.”K,” He complied, dragging himself up. He hesitated, bending down to hook his hand under Steve’s right armpit.
Normally, Steve would wave the help off, but he’d been down here so long he wasn’t sure he could get back up again without Bucky’s help. With a little determination, they got him up and sitting on the edge of the bed as he watched Bucky crawl in.
Steve swallowed his medication dry before he forgot, but he made a point to pass off Bucky’s water and pill-planner with a pointed look. Bucky didn’t argue, which was as telling of his mental state as everything else. Bucky always groused when he stared down at the pile of colored pills rattling around his planner.
“You should get some sleep Buck, you haven’t been sleepin’, have you?” The little head shake was expected, "I’ll turn off the light when — “
“Wait,” Bucky’s quiet interjection cuts off his train of thought.”Would — would you stay a bit? I uh — I don’t...I don’t want to be alone. Right now.” Bucky swallowed, downcasting his eyes.”I don’t really trust myself to be alone.”
Steve shifted before Bucky could properly get done with his sentence, motioning for Bucky to tug the bedsheets down a little while he wiggled his shoes off.
“‘Course.” He agreed with false-ease, even while his heart was a fluttering mess. Bucky looked so small and young Steve felt like he could reach out and Bucky would crack apart like spun sugar. He was so afraid of doing something wrong, making things worse, but if Bucky wanted him to stay, he’d stay until Bucky felt he was alright to stand on his own two feet again. And even then, Steve would never let himself be that far away.
Bucky laid down first, laying on his right side. Bucky’s left side hurt him too much to sleep any other way. Steve either had the choice to lay facing Bucky or away from him, since sleeping on his back was just out of the question. He technically wasn’t supposed to sleep flat either, but it would be alright enough for the night. His stomach could take one for the team.
Steve opted for laying away from Bucky, and while the beds here weren’t large, it was at least big enough where they didn’t have to sleep right on top of each other.
Only Bucky’s breathing behind him reminded him that Bucky was even there considering how still he was.
“...Thanks, Steve.” The quiet whisper at the back of his head rippled gooseflesh against his skin in the darkness of the room.
“Anytime, Bucky. I’ll do it every time.” He promised, “Get some sleep, tomorrow’s pancake day.”
The barely-there chuckle was heaven to his ears,”Can’t miss that.”
Steve didn’t expect sleep to find either of them, not after tonight. To his surprise, Bucky’s breathing evened out within ten minutes of laying down, arm pulled tight to his chest. Steve got the impression that if he wasn’t here, Bucky probably curled himself into as tight of a ball as possible. It was easier to protect himself if Bucky made himself small and compact.
He was slower to lull under. Even under the bed, he could feel the malignant presence of the gun. A reminder of what could have happened. He’d take it with him tomorrow, find somewhere no one else could get to it, especially Bucky.
Steve was a morning person by nature. Every morning he’d be awake and dressed by first rounds when even the nurses were still a bit dozy and smelling of strong-brewed coffee.
He woke when the blue morning started to bleed orange. When barely any sounds were in the halls, and it would be another hour before most got up and moving. He wasn’t sure why he was so warm, or why his bed felt so different. He lacked the heavyweight of his sheet, blanket, and quilt on top of his body, but even without, he was pleasantly comfortable.
The first sleepy flutters of his lids revealed a plain dresser and a familiar chair with Bucky’s hoodie thrown over it. He was in Bucky’s room. More importantly, he was in Bucky’s bed. Bucky shifted slightly behind him, his breath tickling against Steve’s head.
Steve froze, last night rapidly cascading into place along with the fact that somewhere in the night they’d slotted together. He was playing little spoon to Bucky’s big. Bucky felt like a furnace against his back. Solid. All-encompassing.
Bucky exhaled; his breath ghosted through Steve’s dark blond hair, sending a ripple down his spine. Bucky was bent so close to him Steve had no idea how he was comfortable enough to sleep. Steve was too boney, too many sharp edges and curves to be held like this and be comfortable.
Birds twittered outside, reminding him that time crept on. That every moment he lingered, savoring something he wasn’t allowed to take comfort in, was one step closer to damning. He didn’t have a right to enjoy this when Bucky was in such a vulnerable place. When Bucky didn’t realize what he was doing.
Cautiously, he wiggled to the edge of the bed and reached for the handle of his wheelchair to guide it towards him. He didn’t really want to leave Bucky like this, but he needed to leave and compose himself before breakfast. He’d come back after morning rounds to make sure Bucky was alright, and hopefully, coax him into sitting somewhere quiet while they ate.
He didn’t forget to crane underneath the bed for the gun on his way out, carefully tucking it into his wheelchair bag. He’d have to Youtube how to make sure it was safe before he disposed of it somewhere, but the good thing about everyone being used to you around here was that no one really watched him too closely anymore.
The magazine got buried in a rosebush while the main body was hidden in a sack of molded, sprouted potatoes set next to the dumpster.
Around the fourth time Steve stabbed a strawberry on his plate with a viciousness usually reserved for toppling dictators, Bucky figured he’d ask.
“What gives?” As far as empathetic questions went, that was one of Bucky’s better attempts.
He was giving it an effort since ‘that night’. It was nearly two months ago, but it was a night that would probably be burned into his skull from now into eternity. He hadn’t wanted Steve to witness him like that. Hadn’t wanted his only goddamn friend on the planet to have to pull him back from the brink. He didn’t even ask what Steve did with the gun. He didn’t want to know.
Steve paused, glaring down at his speared berry while contemplating what Bucky figured was a combo murder-suicide if there is any clue in his expression.”Why do some people have to be assholes?” Hearing a frustrated growl that vehement from someone as small as Steve would usually be hilarious, but Bucky didn’t like what this was implying.
“Who did it?” Bucky’s expression soured, hackles instantly rising.
“What?” Steve blinked up, raising the fruit to his lips.”No — not, well I guess not nothing, it’s something, but I don’t know if I’m overreacting? I don’t feel like I am, but…” He chewed the tip of the berry, staining his plush lips red.
“But?” Bucky pulled his eyes from Steve’s lips to his eyes.
“Have you met the new therapist? He got here a few weeks ago?”
“The one that looks like a frat bro with the douche-hair? Swaggers around like he’s hot shit?”
Steve snorted a quiet titter, and Bucky counted it as a win.”Yeah, that guy. Rumlow.” He paused to finish off the rest of his bite, tongue momentarily peeking out to clear away any leftover juice. “Some of the crap he says just — rubs me the wrong way. But since my other therapist went on maternity leave, I’m kind of stuck with that guy.” He pushed the rest of his picked-over plate towards Bucky, their usual ritual. Steve always ate just enough for his medications not to wreak havoc on his stomach, and Bucky’s appetite was starting to find him again enough to finish off Steve’s leftovers.
“You got him today?” Bucky finished up the rest of Steve’s crepe which was woefully under-syruped. What kind of weirdo just drizzled maple syrup on pancakes and crepes? What was the point of eating something that was more dessert than breakfast if you actually tried to be health-conscious about it?
“Yeah,” Steve breathed out the word in a sigh,” Not gonna lie, kind of thinking of faking a stomach ache.” Like it wouldn’t be that hard to believe. Steve’s stomach always hurt him, ulcers, Bucky found out over dinner one night. As if Steve didn’t have enough problems.
Bucky chewed thoughtfully, he didn’t really have anything to do till eleven.”Want me to come with you?” He offered. Since their talk, Bucky attempted to put more effort into engaging, even if it was just baby steps. Going to PT with Steve wasn’t a hardship, and he had the time. There was no reason he needed to immediately run back to his room. He could do this.
The light returning in Steve’s expression was just the push Bucky needed to solidify that offering was the right choice.
”Would you? He probably won’t be such an asshole with you around. He doesn’t shut up about being in the military.” Though no one could get out of him exactly what branch he’d been in.
Oh great, this was going to be even better than Bucky thought. All he wanted out of today was the ‘talk shop’ to some asshole who probably thought being in the military was his glory days. Probably got off on it.
Steeling himself, he nodded.”’Course,” It was the least he could fucking do. Nothing he could do for Steve would ever measure up to the guy literally saving his life. Well, Probably. He wasn’t sure where his headspace had been then, but it wasn’t anywhere good. Would he have pulled the trigger? It was anyone’s guess, including his own.
He hated the way the PT room smelled. The combo of rubber, disinfectant, and the floral scent plug-in made his stomach churn. His usual days were Tuesday and Thursdays, but Steve had Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Like most of these spaces, it was open, bland, and full of a lot of equipment that looked vaguely like torture implements. Blessedly, there weren’t a lot of mirrors. Bucky didn’t want to deal with mirrors.
“Right on time, Rogers,” Rumlow announced as he swaggered in from the side office, his white T-shirt stretched too tight over his muscular upper body, and his black slacks an odd fit that made them seem too tight in the hips and too big in the thigh.
Rumlow’s eyes swiveled to him, a note of barely-there annoyance passing through them.”And you are?”
“This is Bucky,” Steve supplied readily, knowing he wasn’t fond of introductions.”Mind if he sits in? We’re doing stuff after.” Which wasn’t necessarily a lie, they probably would be.
“Whatever floats your boat I guess,” Rumlow shrugged, but Bucky didn’t miss the measuring glance before Rumlow turned off to start setting up.
By now, he was pretty familiar with watching the various ways Steve got around. Some days were better than others, and Steve used his crutches, which usually left red rings around his upper forearms and made his wrists swell. On others, his wheelchair, which unless he used his gloves, ended in blisters or his hands hurting. Bucky wished he could afford one of those electric deals because Steve needed his hands.
Bucky could spend all day watching Steve paint.
Still, it was awkward watching Rumlow practically pick Steve up to place him on a flat, padded table. He’d seen Steve get up and down from similar heights before. Had that really been necessary?
Rumlow took Steve through some exercises, manipulating his legs and hips through motions. Like this, it was hard to ignore just how small Steve was. His limbs were like baby deer’s, fragile and thin. Bucky could see the outline of his ribcage pressed against his light blue shirt every time he took a deep breath and the jut of his hip bones from where his sweats had ridden low.
And he’s apparently not the only one noticing either.
Bucky looked up in time to see Rumlow eye the pert swell of Steve’s ass while he helped Steve stretch his right, bent leg towards the left to rotate his hips. The fucking bastard.
The thing was. Objectively. Rumlow wasn’t a bad looking guy. He just screamed sleazeball. Tons of people around here probably loved his reptilian smile and predatory eyes, but Bucky knew these kinds of people. They were the assholes that used their position, their power, to advance themselves. To get whatever they could, consequences be damned. He’d seen soldiers like that and knew just what kind Rumlow must have been.
Rumlow grasped Steve’s shins and started guiding his little legs back and wide. The position was — Okay, well, the position looked pornographic but so did most guided stretching. Bucky nearly broke into a sweat just avoiding looking where the stretch highlighted out of curiosity alone. His eyes stayed on Rumlow.
Then the fucker winked.
“What the fuck,” Bucky was out of his seat and by the table fast enough to make Rumlow blanch. “The fuck was that?”
Steve blinked between them, wiggling to a sitting-up position when Rumlow let his legs drop. Bucky knew Steve saw the wink, it was Steve’s tensing that had made him get up so fast.
“Excuse me?” Rumlow played dumb.
“The wink, you think you’re being funny?”
“Oh come on, I was just teasing. We have fun here.” Rumlow dismissed easily, shark smile spreading wider.”Why don’t you have a seat and — “
“No, hell no. That’s not ‘teasing’. You can’t tease people when you’re between their legs, what kind of physical therapist are you?” Bucky saw the moment where Rumlow switched tactics, all the fake smiles draining out of his expression.
“If you’re going to disrupt Steve’s PT, I think you should leave.” Rumlow had the nerve to reach down and rest a hand on Steve’s shoulder, playing the concerned provider.
Bucky’s jaw set. He saw two other Physical Therapists look up, eyes sharpening for any signs of disruption. Fuck, if he got kicked out, then he’d be able to do jackshit to help Steve.
Grumbling low under his breath, he returned to his seat, plastering his best ‘I’ve killed more men then you’ve met’ face on for the rest of Steve’s session. Rumlow didn’t try anything else, so it must have worked.
“You can stop looking like you’re going to eat a duckling in front of its mother now, Buck,” Steve smirked as they settled outside. Steve busied himself with fixing an allergen mask over his face. The latest one had flower patterns on it, which would normally make him snigger like a ten-year-old, but he just wasn’t feeling it right now.
“What the fuck? How does a guy like that get a job here?” Bucky wasn’t about to get off his soapbox willingly.
Rolling his eyes, Steve locked his wheels and slid himself over onto the wooden bench next to Bucky. “He wasn’t a creep until — “ He abruptly cut off.
“Until?” Bucky looked down, catching Steve hesitate, ever the broadcaster.“Steve? Until what?” Steve couldn’t just shut up like that and not expect him to lose his shit filling in the blanks.
“Until he saw the rainbow button on my wheelchair bag.” It left Steve in a rush, and Steve’s bright blues cut to look at him expectantly.
Rainbow button. Wheelchair bag.
Bucky’s eyes slid over, staring the wheelchair over with more scrutiny than he’d ever given it before. Steve had a few pins and patches on it, ‘Space communist’(whatever the fuck that was), a hot wheels patch, and right there in the middle, a gay pride button.
Oh. Oh .
Bucky’s world came to an abrupt stop.
“Is...that cool with you, or — ?” Steve probed, looking more defensive the longer Bucky froze. Knowing the brat, Steve was gearing up to give him an earful.
Bucky swallowed, “What — Yeah, of course, fuck, I’m not — I’m not a homophobe.” He stammered to a start again,” I mean, I — “ Now it was his turn to trail off, but Steve’s eyes were still on him. Waiting.
“I guess I’m...Bi? I never really told anyone because even if ‘Don’t ask don’t tell’ has been repealed it’s not a good idea to go broadcasting you know? And before that, it was just easier to not say anything.” He hadn’t wanted to come out to his family, and the few friends he’d possessed would have dropped him in a hot minute if they knew. It wasn’t like he’d hated just dating girls, it sure as hell hadn’t stopped what kind of porn he’d watched though.
Steve looked like he could be knocked over with a feather. Which, yeah, he always looked like that, but at the moment he looked it more than usual.
“Oh?” Steve echoed, blinked, then recalibrated.”Thanks for saying that then Buck, you didn’t have to, but I’m glad you did.”
It felt like something else had shifted. Just like the day Steve came into his room, kept him company at breakfast, and took a gun from his hand. Steve had a way of turning the world on its axis when Bucky was least prepared.
Steve didn’t go to another PT appointment alone, Bucky made damn sure of that. He planted his ass in one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs and stared Rumlow down the entire time. He was getting eyes back, sure, but there wasn’t another bastard in this place as full of piss and vinegar as he was. Well, sometimes Steve on a bad day. But that was more like witnessing a pissed off kitten right out of a bath than an actual threat.
Except now Bucky struggled to keep his eyes from wandering. Which felt directly contradictory to what he was supposed to be doing here. He didn’t think Steve would appreciate him ogling him any more than Rumlow. But the nature of Steve’s physical therapy made it difficult not to sneak a few peaks.
By all rights, Steve was the exact opposite of the kind of man he usually went for. And yeah, most of his encounters with men were hurried affairs in the past, not something he’d thought through well, but he still had a type . He’d gone for other men like him — the past him. Gym rats and guys that probably willingly drank chalky protein powder shakes.
Steve. Steve was as delicate as they came. His limbs were the definition of the word ‘willowy’, his shoulders sharp, and his hip bones could cut glass. Steve had a jawline to die for, and a face that wasn’t quite masculine and definitely wasn’t feminine either. All angles and lines with no soft curves aside from the pale-pink swell of his lip. And his ass, but Bucky wasn’t about to go there.
Steve looked like he’d break if Bucky so much as held him. Not that he was going to. He just...thought that sometimes.
It was in one of those moments where Rumlow was guiding Steve into a deep, spread-leg split that sparked the incident that changed everything.
Bucky’s eyes traced along the knobby topography of Steve’s back when he glanced at Rumlow. Rumlow leaned too far over Steve, using his larger body to press Steve into the table. Rumlow’s eyes trailed low, and the hand bracing against Steve’s lower back slid down a few inches as he cooed praise.
“Good job, Rogers. You’re making an impressive picture like this,” It could have been innocuous if it wasn’t for where Rumlow was looking, and the oily grin.
He doubted anyone else saw Rumlow lean further down and whisper something in Steve’s ear. Bucky didn’t know what Rumlow said. He just knew that as soon as Rumlow said it Steve tried to push himself upright with a scarlet blush lighting a fire on his cheeks.
Steve’s desperate eyes met his.
He still had one good arm and one good fist. In retrospect charging from his chair and cold-cocking Rumlow in the face probably wasn’t the healthiest way he could have dealt with the situation.
He didn’t regret it.
Bucky knew there would be consequences, he just hadn’t thought he would care. He was wrong. God, how wrong.
“They can’t do this!” Steve was fit to explode. Bucky had already coaxed him into sitting in his wheelchair instead of swinging his body around on his crutches while narrowly avoiding knocking his easel down in the process.
“Pretty sure they can,” Bucky shrugged, staring down at the colorful patterns on Steve’s quilt. They’d tried saying their end of the story, and even with Steve’s good standing, Rumlow was staff and no one had watched the interaction. All the other staff knew was that Bucky had sucker-punched Rumlow’s jaw to fracturing. He guessed he should feel lucky no charges were pressed, but he got the feeling that was only because Shield knew that he and Steve were right. They just didn’t want to admit something like sexual harassment could happen on their watch.
Steve fixed his eyes so heatedly on him Bucky didn’t dare look up to fully meet them, "And you’re just going to let them?” If anyone else had taken that tone with him, Bucky would have either wanted to fight them or hide, but — Steve had special privileges. Who was he kidding?
Heaving a weighted sigh, Bucky risked looking up. "There’s nothing we can do Steve. They’re bringing it to the board or whatever. If I’m kicked out, I’m kicked out, what the hell am I supposed to do?” It wasn’t like they held any power here. He might be paying to be here, but that didn’t mean jackshit.
“Fight!” Steve snapped, reaching out to grasp the edge of the bed to awkwardly lift himself up and onto his unsteady feet. He swatted Bucky back a few feet on the bed so he could sit down, either forcing Bucky to abandon the high ground or face him head-on.
Being the stubborn bastard he was, he rooted himself in his new position. "That’s what started this mess.”
Steve rolled his eyes hard enough to threaten eye-strain, "I didn’t mean literally and you know that. We just don’t be quiet. Let everyone know what Rumlow did. I can’t be the only one he was doing that kind of crap too. They should be applauding you.”
“That’s not how the world works Steve.”
“You don’t think I know that? Look at me and tell me I don’t know that.” Steve squared off his jaw, lips pressed into a fine line.
Scowling at Steve would just make him double down, but Bucky couldn’t help himself. "Then don’t you think I’m tired of fighting?” He didn’t want to go stomping into offices like he was off to battle. It was bad enough he’d started this mess with his fists. The worst Rumlow would get is transferred.
“Look, Steve. It’ll be fine, if things go to shit I’ll...go to my sister’s.” The idea still felt horrifically daunting, but with Steve’s gentle urging he’d brought it up with his therapist and he’d started talking those thoughts out over the past month. It was helping.
He expected Steve to be relieved by that, or at least less pissed off, he just hadn’t expected the quiet note of distress that punched out of his narrow chest.
“But…” For once, Steve sounded speechless.
Bucky floundered, staring in growing horror as Steve’s eyes decided they wanted to glisten. Steve’s blond hair, big blue eyes, and general fragile body already made him a deadly force when he got puppy eyes, but when he was genuinely upset? It made Bucky feel like he’d fight god just to put a smile back on Steve’s face and he had no idea when he’d grown that loyal.
“Steve…” He trailed, reaching up to cup Steve’s angular cheek, thumbing the soft skin under Steve’s eye as if he could convince them not to well.
Then Steve tipped towards him, hands braced against his thighs, and — oh . Steve leaned up to kiss him, faintly chapped lips pressing against his own. There was no warning, and no finesse, just a hard press of lips and Steve trying to ball his fingers into fists around his sweatpants.
Steve broke away, dawning horror replacing the anguish.”Oh my god, Buck I’m so sor — “
This time Bucky leaned down, pressing their lips together in a gentler, more controlled slide with a hunger he didn’t know he was capable of till now. Kissing Steve felt a bit like finally getting to eat dessert after the longest meal known to mankind. He’d just been sitting there staring with his sweet tooth growing every day, pulling him closer and closer without ever knowing.
It was good, better than he goddamn deserved.
A soft moan rumbled against his lips, and Steve reached to pull him closer by the back of his head. It built, steady and paced at first. Steve was the impatient one, darting his tongue out to beg at Bucky’s lips. The slide of their tongues sent electricity coursing through his veins, waking up desires that had reared up only at the most inopportune moments so far since his accident. The flood gates had opened on his daydreams since Steve told him he was gay.
His hand caressed down Steve’s cheek, shoulder, waist, settling on his slim hip as he purred a note in reply. The kiss turned messy somewhere in the eternity they were locked together, the kind you have to pant through to get any air for fear of staying under too long.
By the time he realized that he was painfully hard, Steve was practically crawling into his lap. He knew the moment Steve noticed the tent in his sweats too by the way his chest hitched. Steve leaned back enough to glance down, face flushed and chest heaving as he worked to regulate his fussy lungs.
“S-sorry, it’s um..it’s been a while.” Bucky grimaced, feeling like he shouldn’t be hard enough to cut diamonds just from a little necking.
Steve chuckled, tongue darting out to wet his lips.”’s not like I’m hitting up bars on the weekend.” He teased them into a soft chuckle.
Except, this brought up an issue Bucky never considered until now. One that he’d rather have another limb blown off than ask, but Steve has always been open and transparent with him before. So maybe it’s okay?
“Shit, sorry if this is — I don’t, fuck let me start over. Is this okay?... Can you?” He didn’t want to say ‘have sex’ because he didn’t know where this was even leading to, but just in case?
Much to his infinite relief, Steve laughed. "Can I have sex?” He clarified with a knowing smirk, "Yeah Buck, I can have sex. Sometimes things don’t cooperate the way I like, but I still like to anyway.” One of his hands settled on Bucky’s thigh, and Bucky did his best not to squirm with hope.
“We don’t have to do anything,” Steve added, like the frustrating saint he is. Equal parts angel and demon.
Bucky puffed out a low breath that hefted out half his soul, "I mean — I’d like to? If you wanna?” That sounded awful but he was having trouble disconnecting his lizard brain from noticing Steve’s hand was so close to where he wanted it.
Steve’s expression simmered, twitching another tendril of interest through Bucky. "Good, because I really wanna.” He mocked Bucky’s word choice a little, and christ, Bucky was going to let him. “Lay back?”
Bucky didn’t drop to the mattress like a stone, but he didn’t waffle around about it either. After a moment he got where Steve was headed with this and he leaned up just enough to help Steve position himself so Steve is straddling his hips. God, that’s a fucking view and a half. Steve weighed nothing. He doubted Steve sitting on his face would even trigger his fight-or-flight, which was an idea he was definitely going to have to bring up if this went well.
Their lips met again, but this time Steve upped the ante by slowly grinding himself down until Bucky whimpered against his lips. He can feel Steve’s half-chubbed cock through their layers, and that’s all the temptation he can stand before his hand traveled down to cup Steve’s ass.
“Mmm Bucky, you can hold me tighter. Won’t break.” Steve mumbled, kitten-licking his tongue against Bucky’s lips.
Bucky begged to differ, but Steve was, and probably always would be, the boss. Bucky palmed the barely-there handful, kneading Steve’s cheek until Steve was making more fuss than he was.
Steve leaned up with a deeper growl than what Bucky ever expected out of him, hitting all the right notes. Steve pawed at his shirt, tugging it up as far as Bucky laying down would allow,” Too many clothes,” Steve pouted insistently.
Chewing on his lip, Bucky reluctantly let go of Steve’s ass to lean up a little.”Okay, but it ain’t pretty.” He warned, not wanting Steve to get freaked out by the mess that was one half of his body.
Snorting, Steve pinned him with an incredulous stare.”I ain’t the Mona Lisa over here, Buck. You want it to stay on?” He hesitated long enough to get the clear, before divesting Bucky with a triumphant tug.
Steve’s hands knocked him back to the bed, and Steve’s lips laid waste to his neck and collar bone that wasn’t a mass of scar tissue. Steve’s mouth never seemed to stop, finding sensitive dips and curves on him that he never knew he had.
Bucky slid his hand up under Steve’s shirt, fingers skimming his minute waist and up to his chest. He could trace every rib on Steve’s body, not an ounce of body fat to be found. Steve would kick his ass if he knew Bucky compared him to birds, fragile, but strong in ways he could never be. Steve could fly, navigating the world as if it hadn’t kicked him when he was down over and over again.
Steve helped him get the shirt over Steve’s head, revealing the pale swath of skin. The irregular swell of Steve’s AICD disrupted the smooth expanse, and Bucky could count every bruise on Steve’s body that came with regular blood draws and blood pressure readings. Steve was avoiding getting a port placed with every breath, not wanting anything else to make him look different , but Bucky thought he was beautiful anyway. Steve just couldn’t see it in himself.
Bucky slid his hand up and down Steve’s side, a low titter escaping Steve perched above him.”You would be ticklish,” Bucky smirked fondly, eyes hooding when he redirected his touch to dust over Steve’s small, dusky rose nipples. Steve swayed a little into his touch, biting his spit-slick lower lip with a shy sigh.
“Really going to make fun of me when I got my sights on something?” Steve tossed back, carefully lowering himself to get at Bucky’s sternum. His tongue began its journey all over again, humming soft notes of appreciation every time Steve encountered a new scar. They were losing their puffy appearance, but Bucky could hardly look at himself without cringing, which was an improvement on the occasions he’d thrown up after staring at himself in the mirror.
“Oh yeah? Where’s that?” Buck puffed a tremulous breath as Steve slithered down the length of his body further still. Steve’s kitten lips worried the skin just below his navel, pulsing hot need just a few scant inches below.
Steve looked up the length of his body, eyes dancing. "Figure it out, Sherlock.” Even with the talk, Steve hesitated at his waistband to give Bucky long enough to hurriedly nod.
The backs of Steve’s perpetually cool fingers dragged against his hips as the fabric of his sweatpants were drawn down agonizingly slow. The length of him sprang free seconds later, and Steve went a little cross-eyed focusing on it. He was really glad Steve looked so damn interested in what was going on or else he might have just ruined the mood cracking up at how cute Steve looked staring at his dick of all things.
“Christ, Buck.” Steve breathed, hands sliding in until he could trap the jut of Bucky’s erection between the triangle of his met index fingers and thumbs. "Not to inflate your ego, but — “ He trailed with a smirk, leaning in to breath a warm gust of air against Bucky’s cockhead.
Bucky fisted the quilt. He was going to make an idiot out of himself if Steve just hovering over it was getting him this keyed up. “Bet you — say that to all the girls,” He went for cocky, but Steve licking up the length of his cock mid-sentence squeezed an embarrassing octave out of him.
“Relax, Buck.” Steve had the nerve to smile before he wiggled a bit to get comfortable, then wrapped his wicked lips around Bucky’s tip.
Swallowing a moan, Bucky forcibly did as commanded. Unbunching his taut body while Steve was swirling his tongue around his cockhead should earn him some kind of medal as far as he’s concerned. For a man eternally chilled, Steve’s mouth was blistering hot around him. Only fear of dislodging Steve from his perch on his legs kept Bucky from rolling his hips up to seek more of the wet heat.
Bucky’s been around the block in his days. More than he’d probably admit to Steve. The point being he’s no stranger to getting head, except it had been a while . He’d been too closeted in the army, and even then he’d been too worn out to bother. His tour before his last hadn’t been a cakewalk, and coming back stateside had already made him listless. Going back just put the damn nail in the coffin.
Steve wasn’t skilled, didn’t have obviously honed tricks, but the sheer look of enjoyment and the wicked hum of his deceptively deep voice had Bucky seeing stars. Steve slid further and further down his cock with every breath, sliding another few inches within the tight space of his mouth.
“Don’t — stress out your lungs,” Bucky groaned out, reaching down to gently push his fingers through Steve’s hair.
Steve popped off him, a strand of saliva connecting his lower lip with Bucky’s reddened tip.”You really worryin’ about my asthma right now?” He deadpanned, rolling his eyes as he fisted the hard length below.
Little spasms tore through Bucky’s body,”T-tryin’ to be romantic h..here.” Fuck he was getting close just from this.
“Good effort,” Steve patted his thigh with his free hand.
“ Fuck ” Bucky swore as Steve unceremoniously swallowed him up until he felt the spasm of Steve’s gag reflex tighten around his cock. “Steve — fuckfuckfuck — I can’t...I’m going to — “
A couple more times of Steve sucking his cock like that was his undoing. He burst apart, atoms momentarily scattering to the aether as he spilled liberally over Steve’s tongue and down the back of his throat.
Try as he might contain it, Steve didn’t manage to catch it all with his lips, letting some dribble back down over his fingers and down Bucky’s dick.
For a handful of minutes, only the sound of their combined panting filled the stillness of the room as Bucky’s person assembled itself back into their reality.
Another minute and Bucky realized he was being an asshole.”Fuck — Steve, come’ere.” He reached down to help Steve onto the bed next to him, and their lips met for an admittedly messy kiss.
“You want me to — ?” Bucky never had before, but for Steve, he would punch Jesus.
Steve shook his head, staring dozily up at him with a contented smile.”’m okay.” His face must have given something away, “Nothin’s wrong, just not tonight. But um, definitely a raincheck I plan to cash in.”
“I bet,” Bucky smirked back at him, drawing the small body against his own with a feeling dangerously close to contentment.
Figures he’d probably be kicked out right when he found someone he wanted to stay for.
Sometimes, even though someone acts with the best intentions, they really get the shaft. Steve hated it. He couldn’t stand how people looked at Bucky when they’re together. He couldn’t stand how some of Bucky’s ‘privileges’ were restricted; monitored like he’s some kind of threat.
It was the faintest of silver linings, but Rumlow was at least fired. Not that it mattered much, he would just get a job elsewhere. Everyone knew what kind of asshole Rumlow was, Steve suspected Shield knew that Rumlow was guilty of sexually harassing Steve and who knows who else. They just don’t want to admit it. Can’t have their name dragged like that, how would they keep their residents and their families paying good money to be there?
It took a week after Steve went and did something so blissfully stupid like kissing Bucky for Shield to formally announce they were ousting Bucky from the home. A week of him sneaking into Bucky’s room and cuddling up against his side. A week of him waking to Bucky’s quietly whimpered nightmares, or Bucky waking him to make sure he was breathing alright since he couldn’t sneak his CPAP out and Bucky stubbornly refused to use his own for his smoke-damaged lungs.
It felt a little par for the course of his life to end up curled around Bucky, one hand idly trailing through Bucky’s soft patch of chest hair, and know their time was limited. They didn’t talk about it. It would feel too much like reality if they did that.
Steve sat on Bucky’s chair, smiling softly as he watched Bucky’s sister Becca heft the suitcase onto the bed and swat Bucky’s hand away every time he tried to help. She was a five-two whirlwind in mom jeans and Steve adored her right away with the ferocity of the hug she pulled Bucky into two seconds in the door of the Home. She’d smacked Bucky in between sniffles and Steve couldn’t blame her.
It was nice to see that Bucky was loved.
Especially with how sullen Bucky was the past two days. Every hour that ticked by, Bucky had withdrawn more and more into himself. He’d mentioned more than once his fear of going to his sister’s home. How he didn’t want to be a burden or disrupt his sister’s family’s lives. Or how he feared his other sisters converging on the house as soon as they could. He didn’t want to look in their eyes and see pity or disappointment in them and no matter what Steve said, he wouldn’t be dissuaded. So Steve just had to kiss him that much harder.
“Steve, you’re a saint. Look at this place, Bucky, you might as well have an organ in here and Phantom of the Opera yourself for how dreary you made it,” Becca smirked, her tone teasing but her eyes dangerously soft.
Bucky glanced up from his seat on the bed, shrugging.”Steve put that in here, ‘s something.” Bucky pointed vaguely to the singe painting on the wall of white and grey-furred wolf with jarring paint-streaks for fur and too-blue eyes. Steve painted it because he it reminded him of Buck. How he saw Bucky, instead of the broken down junkyard dog Bucky saw himself.
Becca’s eyes lingered on the painting,” You said you broke that guy’s jaw right? That Rumlow guy?” she asked, a dangerous gleam in her eye so close to Bucky’s it would have made Steve snort if not for the subject.
For the first time today, Bucky cracked a small smile. "Be eatin’ through a straw for a while.” He sneered triumphantly.
Satisfied, Becca shoved another rolled T-shirt into Bucky’s suitcase with a little more force than necessary. "Good. Asshole deserves it and more. When I think about it I just — “ She forced out a hard breath, full of righteous fury. "I know you said not to ‘get into it’ but I called up the other homes in the area and made sure they knew to background check that guy through the gills. Hope the fucker likes a job hunt. Should be arrested instead of fired.”
Steve tried not to eye Bucky for a reaction, but he couldn’t help it. He didn’t miss the impossibly fond look soften Bucky’s expression, knocking off years of worry and self-loathing around his eyes and lips. “Becks…”
“Thank you,” Steve said for the both of them, “Just sorry they’re treatin’ Bucky like the bad guy.”
Becca snorted, standing up for a moment to crack her back with a little twist of her hips. "Ah — god I’m getting old. And I’m not going to pretend I’m not a little happy with the outcome — not saying I wanted it to happen, by the way, just saying it’ll be nice to…” She trailed, eyes falling back on Bucky with a misty-sniff. “Really missed you Bucky. I stayed away like you said but you gotta know everyone is just glad to have you. I wouldn’t’ve cared if you came back just a head in a jar as long are you came back.” She made a valiant effort not to cry, but the more splotchy her pale cheeks grew, the more the dam weakened.
Bucky breathed out a held breath. Nervously, he reached to rub at the irregular topography of his scarred shoulder. "It’s hard...Feels like I left more than an arm back there Becks. ‘M not the same brother you had.” His voice fell to a whisper, and for a moment the air in the room stilled.
The suitcase closed with a click, and Becca walked around the bed to sit. Her hand reached to gently take Bucky’s, lowering it to squeeze in her hold. "I know Bucky. I’ve um...I’ve been going to meetings with other family members that have combat vets. A support group, I know it won’t be the same, but I don’t care. You’re my brother, and I love you, no matter what.”
Bucky squeezed her hand, and Steve discreetly dabbed his eyes on his jacket sleeve.
A grin cracked Bucky’s lips, "Did you make a Futurama reference back there with that head in a jar crack?” He croaked with a wet sniffle.
Becca puffed a trembled laugh of her own, untangling her hand to knock her fist into Bucky’s thigh.”It was the first thing I could think of, shut up.”
They chuckled, and the lingering unease Steve had about Bucky going home dissipated. Fear made people think awful things, and Bucky had to have twisted himself up so hard he couldn’t possibly see his sisters loving him as he was now. Steve had read the emails with Bucky, and he knew Bucky’s family loved him, but it would take time. Like most scars, they just had to fade.
Becca looked around, deciding the rest of the stuff Bucky could pack himself. Her eyes lingered on him a moment, and Steve resisted the urge to squirm. The very few times he’d dated in his life, he hated being ‘appraised’ by people’s friends or family. He’d never been enough in anyone’s eyes to make someone happy.
“Thanks for taking care of this idiot,” Becca gestured to Bucky, "Glad he snagged a boyfriend with a level head. You’re free to visit anytime you want, okay Steve? I’d like to get to know you more.” She flicked nervous eyes at Bucky who was busy turning progressively darker shades of red.
Not that Steve was far behind.
For a moment, they shared semi-panicked looks of ‘What do I say?’ It wasn’t like he and Bucky really talked things out about where things were going, or even what they were. Steve had frankly been too afraid to ask.
Steve broke the silence, “That — I’d like that.” Judging by Bucky perking up from his semi-hunched slouch, he’d made the right call.
Satisfied she hadn’t made some kind of faux-pas, Becca heaved a relieved sigh and passed Bucky’s backpack to him. "I’ll let you finish up, I’m going to get this to the car. Don’t rush okay?” She picked up the suitcase, pausing only to lean down and pull Steve into a firm but admittedly cautious embrace. “Don’t be a stranger,” She winked and walked out.
Steve pushed himself to his feet, and Bucky was quick to follow. Within a few moments Bucky had him situated on the bed next to him, and their hands clasped.
“Boyfriends huh? Like the sound of that,” Bucky teased, leaning to press a tender kiss to the side of his lips.
Stubborn as ever, Steve wasn’t about to stand for that. He quickly turned his head to steal a proper kiss, “I got a formal invite, Buck,” He replied impishly, leaning into Bucky’s broad chest.
“If it’s formal, means you gotta, else it’s rude.” Bucky replied, pulling him close enough to take a bit of the wind from Steve’s lungs.”You...you got my number and everything, right?” Steve wasn’t going to call out Bucky’s thready question, not when he was fighting to keep it together himself.
“Yeah, I got it.” Steve sniffed, pressing his face into the groove of Bucky’s good shoulder. "Don’t wanna be rude,” He added, fully intending on following through. It would be a nightmare organizing it, sure, but Bucky was worth it.
Abruptly, Bucky pulled him back to kiss him hard and deep. He didn’t know how long they stayed like that, tangled up together, alternating between kissing and sharing panted breaths. Eventually, they parted, and Bucky pulled his chair up to the bed so Steve could swing himself down into it.
Just beyond the doors, Becca waited in her station wagon, apparently listening to something on the radio judging by her mouthing something while scrolling through her phone.
“Keep raising hell around here,” Bucky squeezed his shoulder. "Don’t do anything stupid though.”
Snaking his hand up to clasp around Bucky’s wrist, Steve snorted.”How can I? You’re taking all the stupid with you.”
The parting kiss was slower, hands pressed to cheeks while they pretended one another wasn’t under the dangerous threat of tears. “‘S not the last time we’re in the same damn room together, got that?” Bucky asserted, resolutely refusing to let the gathered moisture fall.
Pushing his sleeve at his eyes, Steve nodded.”It’s a promise then.”
Watching Bucky get into the car and Becca drive away felt an awful lot like the beginnings of an asthma attack. His chest felt impossibly tight, ribcage abruptly too small to contain all within.
No one ushered him from beside the doors as the minutes crept on.
After an eternity, his phone pinged.
Looking down, Steve saw a text from Bucky. He opened it, unsure of what to expect. A picture loaded, a stretch of highway with a flock of birds flying by.
[A hotel room?]
[My sister has two cats, you know, with your allergies…]
[Buck, you know a few people here have cats right? And I get allergy shots?]
[You just lookin’ to get lucky?]
[Not for a damn minute]
Steve counted down the days till his visit with an obsessiveness that wore on everyone’s nerves. It was bad enough that Steve didn’t shut up about Bucky these days, there was an undercurrent of jealousy in more than a few around the place. Who knew a pair like Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers would end up such a sickeningly cute match?
He’d waited six months. Six months of skype calls, texting, and phone calls through the night. It had taken a month and a half to get fully cleared for travel by various doctors and organize transit. A small cold had nearly derailed it all, yet Steve employed what he liked to call ‘aggressive RnR’ until it passed.
Armed with a backpack full of medication and sheer determination, Steve braved the seven-hour bus trip. Admittedly, he slept through most of it, which made it pass a hell of a lot faster. The crick in his neck was a necessary trial when on such an important journey.
He wasn’t sure what to expect out of the Barnes family, however, the semi-circle of people with a very grumpy Bucky at the center was as much of a surprise as it was amusing.
“Sorry…” Bucky grumbled as he hurried forward to steal the first hug before his family could swarm.
Steve chuckled, throwing his arms around Bucky’s shoulders from his wheelchair, burying his head in the groove of his shoulder.”Hey, Buck.” He murmured, savoring the warmth shared between them that he hadn’t felt in a criminally long time.
“Hey, Steve,” Bucky replied, pulling him into a feather-soft kiss.
Behind Bucky, a duo of female voices cooed. "There’s children present, saucy.” One of Bucky’s younger sisters teased, which set off a chorus of giggles from a largely female family structure. There was a lone uncle and son in the mix, but the rest of the family unit was an array of varied age women.
He noticed a new looking wheelchair ramp built onto the side of the porch. One look and Bucky responded, "Gave me something to do,” With rose-tinted cheeks that made Steve’s stomach melt even more.
Growing up, the idea of a family meal had just been him and his mother. He was thankful for everyone they had before she passed, but few things could have prepared him for the sheer exuberance of what a full dining table would feel like.
“They did this a week after I came back,” Bucky mumbled, spooning food onto Steve’s plate for the fifth time.
“It’s nice, never seen a twelve-seater except in movies.” Steve knocked his knuckles against the wood dining table.
“Just wait till Christmas,” Bucky’s blush returned with a vengeance, but Steve wisely didn’t comment on how Bucky was already making plans for the holidays. Steve might have bookmarked a few things in his shopping list to get Bucky for his birthday and Christmas. He had no room to talk.
Despite the occasional banter, Steve could see Bucky’s mood tank the longer they were forced to linger at the table. Bucky’s leg shook restlessly under the table, and he speared one of the escaped apples with a scowl.
Steve reached under the table when Bucky gave up the pretense of eating any more than half his pie. His fingers laced with Bucky’s, and he squeezed.”I’m here,” He leaned in to mutter, ignoring the soft looks shot their way at the display of intimacy. He understood Bucky’s family was thrilled for him for having a relationship, but being so overt about it wasn’t earning them any brownie points. Bucky never liked being on display, and this was as good as torture.
Once they’d sipped a little post-dessert coffee, Steve found their way out.”Sorry, but we should probably get settled before my meds kick in and I fall asleep on you guys.” He didn’t mind being vague about his medications or conditions if it meant they could escape the socializing for a bit of alone time. He didn’t even take medication to help him sleep anymore, but they didn’t know that.
Bucky guided him out to an old, but well-maintained truck. Bucky lowered the bed of the truck and slid down a ramp where he could push Steve’s wheelchair up once Steve was situated in the passenger seat. Steve turned to watch him, eyes narrowed suspiciously as Bucky tethered the chair down with a tarp as well as his bag.
He knew Bucky had recently gotten his driver’s license back, but he hadn’t known about the truck or that Bucky was comfortable driving much yet.
His expression must’ve shown, “I um...wanted it to be a surprise.” Bucky mumbled, starting up the truck with red cheeks.
Bucky had gone through so much effort for him, and Steve — he wasn’t sure how to process it.”You’re somethin’, Barnes.” He hadn’t meant to whisper it.
Bucky turned towards him, and Steve slid a little over on the bench seat to press their lips together. “So take me to that hotel room of yours, see what happens.” His left hand drifted to squeeze Bucky’s upper thigh before he retreated.
The blush darkened, and Bucky missed shifting the truck into drive and almost backed into his cousin’s car. Bucky didn’t see the humor in it nearly as much as Steve did.
“Wasn’t even the big surprise, yet,” Bucky remarked as they drove, and no matter how much he nagged, Bucky didn’t cave on the secret.
Getting to the room wasn’t as painful as Steve thought it would be. Bucky had made sure to get an accessible room, and the doors were wide enough where Steve could wheel around without worrying about hitting his elbows or hands.
It was nice, nicer than Steve expected by far. The king-sized bed was low enough for him not to need to scramble uncomfortably up, and the room was in pleasant creams and blues.
Steve wheeled into the bathroom, intent on getting a bath before they got up to no good. Or rather, hopefully, a lot of mutual good.
The sound of the water turning on paused him from taking off his shirt, and he looked over at Bucky sat on the wide ledge of the big bathtub to test the water on his hand. “Joining me?” Steve asked with a coy grin.
Bucky hid a smirked grin as he pulled off his own shirt.”Maybe,”
Humming his appreciation at Bucky’s toned upper body, Steve resumed stripping. “You’ve been working out.” With fantastic results. Results Steve couldn’t wait to touch, lick, and maybe even nibble.
“Kyle works out, figured if he’s going, I might as well.” Kyle was an alright guy, a good compliment to Becca, or so Steve inferred. “It feels nice, some days more than others,” Bucky grumbled, rubbing at the tight skin of his scarred underarm.
Steve allowed Bucky to help him get out of his jeans and to the tub. Bucky sank in first, sighing softly at the steaming water. He helped Steve in after, and Steve settled between his legs, content to lean back against Bucky’s broad chest.
For the first ten minutes, neither one of them really moved outside of cuddling; just soaking in the warmth. Bucky got them on track with a washcloth and soap, dragging it slowly along Steve’s slender body.
They didn’t need to talk. Not right then. For the past months, all they’ve done is talk, and Steve just wanted to enjoy the here and now. The feeling of Bucky slowly getting hard against his lower back as Bucky washed him. The drag of the cloth against his chest and stomach held in Bucky’s hand.
Steve stuttered a low sigh as Bucky’s hand drifted south, cloth finding his half-hard cock that was quickly rising to the occasion with the direct stimulation.
“Buck…” Steve tilted his head back, amused to see Bucky’s eyes staring with open intent down the flushed lines of his body. “Keep washing, “ He nudged, reaching down to cover his hand over Bucky’s.
He guided Bucky’s hand against the base of his cock, passing the cloth over the barely-there patch of dark blond on his groin. Bucky’s hand-dipped, running against the swell of his balls, and down further still.
“Okay?” Bucky asked against his ear, and Steve shuddered.
“Yeah — God, yeah, super okay.” It wasn’t like they’d kept their conversations PG over the months, but finally getting Bucky’s hand on him again made him feel like he was in lava instead of bathwater.
Steve widened his legs, slinging them on either side of Bucky’s thighs and carefully leaning forward. Bucky’s hand re-settled on his scarred back, soaping down the bumpy ridges of his spine and down to the swell of his ass. “I — oh ...I got something...to um, help. You know.” Steve didn’t want to get here and have his body be more frustrating than usual, even if the conversation with his doctor had been kind of mortifying.”I took it during dessert.” He hoped to god no one had noticed since he had to take a handful of pills after dinner anyway. Pills were all kinds of colors these days.
Bucky’s hand settled between his cheeks, middle finger rubbing the cloth gently against his hole. Bucky’s dick was fat and thick against his lower stomach, only his tip peeking above the waterline.
“Fuck,” Bucky breathed out behind him, and Steve quickly found himself in a bracing hug and his head gently turned so Bucky could capture him in a heated kiss. Steve groaned, turning to line their mouths up just right.
He groped for the washcloth and soap, intent on repaying Bucky in kind. Bucky didn’t let him take it slow, and they made an even quicker job of rinsing off, but they figured they would just have to wash again in a little while, why waste time.
Bucky didn’t know how Steve could be so relaxed about this. He didn’t know where to look, where to touch first. All of Steve’s milk-pale skin displayed mere inches away from him, warmed from the bathwater and pinked from toweling off.
Steve might think he wasn’t much to look at, but to Bucky, he was everything.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” He blurted, shifting a little on the bed. They’d spoken more than once about how sex would work between them. Bucky didn’t like his scars to be touched sometimes, and his sensory issues could crop up especially on high-stress days. He was more worried about Steve, who had literal metal in his spine.
Huffing out a small chortle, Steve scooted a little closer, reaching to trail fingers up Bucky’s broad chest.”I’ll let you know if something starts to hurt,” Steve promised,” Sex is fun, but it’s not all there is.” He leaned in, kissing against Bucky’s unscarred shoulder.
Momentarily placated, Bucky bent to capture Steve’s lips, pulling him gently up higher on the bed. “Can’t believe you’re here,” He breathed against Steve’s lips, licking his tongue out to dip shallowly into Steve’s mouth.
Steve hummed sweetly, reaching up to comb through his damp hair, tugging gently.”Missed you so much,” The kiss was just on the edge of bruising, only held at bay by their silent agreement that Steve getting an asthma attack before they even began wasn’t how they wanted to their night to go.
“Help me up on you,” Steve tugged more insistently, only releasing his hold when Bucky hooked his arm against his hip. Between them, they got Steve up and straddling him, reminiscent of the first time they were intimate so many months ago.
Steve rolled his hips, sliding his dick against the ridges of Bucky’s toned stomach.”God...look at you.”
Bucky wanted to squirm. He’d been more fit than this in the army, yet Steve was looking at him like he was made of marble. He’d gotten more sun lately, hit the gym, but more for something to do than for vanity’s sake. Except now that Steve was looking at him like that, Bucky vowed to keep doing what he was doing and then some.
“Would rather be lookin’ at you.” Bucky slid his hand up Steve’s thigh until he could thumb against Steve’s smooth sack, grinning at the low moan that reverberated through Steve’s chest.
“Smooth talker.” Tittering, Steve leaned enough that Bucky held onto his waist to keep him steady. He snagged the bottle of lube from the nightstand before righting himself.
”I’m going to ride you, and you’re going to help me.” Steve uncapped the lube and poured a messy measure into his hand.”Give me your hand.”
Bucky swallowed hard, cock twitching readily behind Steve’s ass.”Y-yeah, I can do that.” He held out his hand, biting back a small note as Steve coated his first two fingers in lube. As if Steve wasn’t being enough of a minx, he reached back to smear the rest of the lube between his cheeks, biting his lower lip between his teeth.
“H..haven’t done this in a while, and you ain’t exactly small, so three fingers, k?” The wet sound of Steve’s fingers slicking his own hole up nearly made him miss the rest of Steve’s instructions.
“Fuck, look at you.” Every time he was near Steve, Steve managed to awe him.
A shy smile tugged at Steve’s lips, and he leaned forward, smearing a wet hand against Bucky’s chest. "Enough lookin’,” He whispered, kissing at Bucky’s jawline while reaching to guide Bucky’s hand back.
Not needing to be told twice (well, thrice), Bucky slid his fingers down the cleft of Steve’s ass. “You’re something else, baby.” Pet names drove Steve up the wall, but Bucky couldn’t help himself while his index finger circled and rubbed against Steve’s tight pucker.
Steve’s expressions transfixed him. Every nudge, press, and shallow probe drew a fresh gasp or groan. Rouge spread steadily over Steve’s cheeks, creeping down his neck. Steve’s hands gripped at his shoulders, one digging his nails in, and the other feather-soft, only using the hold to keep himself steady.
“Buck, oh — yeah, do it,” Steve urged until Bucky finally slipped his first finger inside, and he went momentarily boneless. "G-god, missed...missed feeling so much.”
“Tell me how it feels,” There was still so much Bucky wanted to know about Steve’s body. Inside and out.
Steve rocked gently back into Bucky’s touch, exhaling hot breaths against Bucky’s cheek. "’s…’s intense. Guess...cause the nerves?” Steve’s body quaked as Bucky dragged his fingertip, barely grazing Steve’s prostate.”S-sometimes my dick can...be hit or miss, but god , feels good like this. More — another finger, give it to me.” He hurried like he was about to start clawing into Bucky’s shoulder for real to urge him along.
“Bossy even in bed,” Bucky turned his head to kiss against Steve’s cheek as he started nudging his second finger inside.
Two fingers were a tight fit, so much that Bucky feared there was no way Steve could take three especially when Steve was already acting like two was going to kill him in the best way possible.
Like usual, Steve surprised him. Steve fucked himself back on the third finger, throwing his head back with a bone-deep groan as he sank fully down flush. His cock twitched readily, leaking a shining line of precome down its flushed length.
“Hurryhurryhurry,” He moaned, abruptly tilting again to snatch up the lube from the bed.
Steve was a hellion in everything he did, of course, he’d leave Bucky in his wake. He’d had all these notions on how he was going to be sweet. Lay Steve out, rile him up with his tongue until Steve gasped his name.
He wasn’t even mad. Like always, he was more than glad to let Steve take the reins. Most of the reins.
“Hold on to me,” Bucky didn’t want Steve tipping off him, but he needed to make sure he got things situated down there before Steve ended up hurting himself.
Groaning, Steve dug his fingers back into Bucky’s shoulder and lifted his ass a few more inches off Bucky’s body.
Despite being the one demanding to get the show on the road, Steve mewled his displeasure as Bucky slide his fingers from him, hole tensing up as if Steve could keep him inside from force of will alone.
“I’ve got you, babydoll,” Bucky whispered, fumbling a moment with slick fingers to uncap the lube. Steve took pity on him and poured another fat dollop into his hand and recapped it. The lube disappeared again into the pillowy, pristine white comforter. They’d call the front desk later for another one when they could focus on more than skin on skin.
“ Fuck ,” Bucky moaned as he slid his fist down his dick, slicking himself up with a wet squelch. Only Steve hovering above him kept him from fucking into his fist to chase the too-good sensation of a lubed tunnel around his cock.
Steve leaned his head against Bucky’s scarred shoulder, holding himself up enough for Bucky to get situated. “Yesss, oh — Come on Buck, ‘m ready.” He muttered, pushing back against Bucky’s hand as the rest of the lube transferred from Bucky’s hand to Steve’s stretched rim.
“Okay...okay okay, Let’s — Ugh, slow Steve,” Bucky moaned, grimacing as Steve wiggled a little to help himself lower back into his original position. The cleft of his ass dragged against Bucky’s cockhead, and Bucky saw stars. Fuck, this might actually kill him. Not the bomb, infection, or depression, but Steve’s ass.
He held his dick poised as Steve reluctantly used his arms to control his descent. It took a few tries, the slide of the lube making it surprisingly difficult to stay pushed against Steve’s tight hole. Then —
Twin moans filled the room as Bucky’s cock began to nudge in. Even after the three-finger stretch, it felt too tight. Too much. There was no goddamn way he was going to fit into Steve.
Except he did.
The ridge of his cockhead popped past Steve’s rim, and they shuddered with a renewed groan.”A-at the risk of...sounding like a porn, fuck you’re big.” Steve’s fingers slid against his chest for purchase as he held himself still, ragged breaths fluttering in the cage of his narrow chest.
“A sharpie marker would...would be big in your ass, Steve.” Bucky snarked and grunted as Steve tweaked his only nipple hard with a glower.
“You sure...you wanna get laid?” Steve replied, ass tensing up around the first inch of Bucky’s cock.
He momentarily forgot how to breathe.
“‘S…’s what I thought,” Steve smirked above him, easing himself another two inches down Bucky’s shaft. Inch by careful inch, Steve consumed him until he was sitting flush on his hips.
Seated fully, Steve pushed up, reaching up to grasp at Bucky’s wrist to keep himself upright without tilting back. He sighed, head falling lax against one of his narrow shoulders as he ground torturously slow, feeling every inch rooted within his small frame.
Bucky had never seen anything so beautiful. Steve owned the skin he was in better than a runway model. Every scar, every bruise, every knobby bone. He radiated confidence in a way Bucky couldn’t fathom. He knew Steve enough that most of it was ‘Fake it till you make it’, but Bucky hoped this was just Steve being so comfortable with him he didn’t even think to be self-conscious.
Sweat melded with Steve’s damp hair, plastering it to his forehead. He could see every fiber of Steve’s body working as he wound his hips in a slow slide. Sensuous, transfixing.
Three dangerous words hovered on his tongue and he swallowed them.
“Feel so good,” Bucky said instead, clenching his eyes closed as he focussed on just feeling Steve locked around his cock.
Steve tilted his head forward a little to look down at him, bliss on his lips and blushing to his navel.”Ain’t even started,” He tipped forward, guiding Bucky’s hand to the back of his thigh.
“Lift me when I move up...Yeah, like that, oh fuck.” Steve sighed, rocking himself up while Bucky gripped him to help the motion. With the easy momentum, Steve slid right back down on him, and they quickly found a rhythm.
No matter how controlled Bucky tried to keep it, Steve pushed him for more. Steve groped his hands above him, finding a grip on the headboard. He took a brief moment to reposition them, guiding Bucky to scoot back a little more until he could take over how fast they were going. How hard.
“Ah, fuck fuck , St-steve don’t — “
“If you...if you say ‘don’t hurt your back’, I’ll kill you.” Steve moaned, shuddering as he wiggled over Bucky’s lap like it hurt to be there.”’m close Buck, please — god, touch me .”
How could he refuse when Steve asked that sweetly?
Steve started bouncing on his dick, shivering through gulps of air. As soon as his fist closed around Steve’s dick, lightning-sparked. Steve told him over a more heated phone call that Bucky would need to be a little more vigorous with him than Bucky was with his own dick, and Bucky took the advice to heart.
He closed a tight fist around Steve’s cock and pumped hard. The sensation of Steve’s petite cock forcefully sliding through his grip went right to his own, and the pleasure he’d managed to push to a corner of his mind in favor of viewing Steve’s barreled him over with the force of a tidal wave.
“Shit, Steve . Fuckfuck fuck , I’m going to — “ The force of his orgasm robbed the wind from his lungs and nearly unseated Steve in the process.
Somewhere during his flight into the stratosphere, his grip must have waned. Steve eagerly brushed his hand away and began fisting his cock, lips parted in a shocked ‘O’ as hard spasms of pleasure tore through him. He came seconds later with a loud shout, hole clenching up so tight around Bucky’s flagging erection that it was all he could do to keep his brain online to watch Steve come undone.
Steve collapsed on top of him, heedless of the mess smeared between their bodies or the obscene amount of lube coating their lower halves.
It was a damn good thing Steve was so light. Tucking his arm around Steve’s waist, Bucky dragged one side of the comforter up over their bodies to keep Steve warm.
He’d never expected to be a cuddler, not after everything that had happened, but Steve being tucked against him never failed to anchor him to the here and now. He’d missed this. Even without the sex, he was content to have Steve’s perpetually cool body against his. Small, but powerful.
He reached up to comb his finger throughs Steve’s damp hair, lips quirking as Steve mumbled something under his breath.
Steve tipped his head up to settle his chin against Bucky’s sternum.”I said, you goin’ to tell me that surprise or what?” He mumbled sedately, hands sliding up Bucky’s upper body until he could cross his arms under his chin. Good thing, Steve’s angular jaw could really dig into a guy.
Thank god he’d just gotten off or else his nerves would have shot through the roof.
“I...went to the doc’s recently. The uh, the head-doc’s, the literal and metaphorical.” He snorted lightly at his own bad joke, "I got a few more scans and the shitty bits in my brain are starting to look...less shitty,” He wasn’t a goddamn doctor and he barely understood what they were on about when they talked about the head trauma he’d suffered as a result of being blown up.
“But, the medicine cocktail is working and I’m not — ...I don’t get those really bad episodes as much.” Bucky knew Steve would know what he was talking about. "I don’t want to die on my bad days anymore, and I’ve been doing the bullshit they’ve been telling me to do.” Steve listened patiently to his rambling and it made Bucky love him that much more.
“What I’m gettin’ at is I’ve been given the relative clear and I was thinking about getting an apartment nearby.” Bucky had talked with Becca about it until his throat was sore. She was understandably sad he’d be out of the house but understood the importance of him getting his own space. For more reason than one.
Steve’s expression that had gone dozy post-coitus instantly brightened, "Bucky that’s awesome!” He gushed, excited even though Bucky hadn’t even told him the full surprise yet.
“Yeah. It’s — it’ll be good. I’m looking forward to it, but that’s not exactly all.” Bucky continued, pushing on before he lost his nerve. "I looked around and there’s some places around here with bottom-floor spaces open...that are outfitted for, you know, disabled people and stuff.” He’d stopped referring to himself and people like Steve with derogatory names over the past couple of months. It wasn’t doing him any good to keep putting himself and everyone down like that. Steve was the one who’d taught him they weren’t broken, just a little scuffed up. People came in varieties, he just occupied a different one than what he was used to now.
“Yeah?” Steve’s expression grew a little more perplexed, "I’ve seen you clear three steps at once,” He added.
Exhaling, Bucky’s arm settled on Steve’s back, tracing the faintly raised scar there. "I was thinkin’, if you want to, you could...come up here? With me? Becca's already planning on taking some classes meant for people with disabled family members even though I told her to hold her horses,” Bucky was growing to accept his sister’s earnest desire to support him and Steve but he still felt vaguely embarrassed she had to be so enthusiastic about it. “I was...going to take them too?” There were still things about Steve’s conditions he was fuzzy on, and he could use some actual knowledge on the numerous amounts of things gone wrong in his body after his signals had been jumbled up.
Silence reigned, and only Steve blinking through his open stare told him that Steve was even all there right now.
Shit. Shitshitshit, he shouldn’t have asked so soon. Yeah, they might have known each other longer than the time they were dating, but they’d still only largely been ‘dating’ via Skype-calls and fuck what was he thinking —
Steve sniffed, and Bucky’s panic quadrupled, "Shit, Steve, I’m — “
“Shut up,” Steve mumbled, ducking his head against Bucky’s chest again.
Bucky froze, waiting on Steve to start yelling. To do anything but stay rooted against him, breathing like he was fending off an asthma attack.
Letting some of the tension bleed out of him, his hand returned to Steve’s hair. "Is that a yes…?” He took a gamble. Steve hadn’t punched him, so he was taking it as a good sign.
Another handful of seconds eased by with only the sound of Steve’s careful breathing. Then, finally, Steve nodded.
Bucky’s head flopped back against his pillow, glad that Steve was too occupied to see him grin like a loon.
After Steve got his breathing under control they got to flare it right back up with a tender, but heated kiss.
And then, they made plans.