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Captain Adorable, a guide to loving Steve Rogers by the Winter Solider (or 5 times Bucky loved skinny!steve and the time he finally realized he loved all of Steve)

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I

The first thing Steve’s aware of is a lightning pain ripping down the back of his neck. It eases up after a minute only to rip through him again, lancing down his back and along his spine and everywhere in between. Steve howls wordlessly, back arching up while his arms scrap against something rough and sharp.

The pain ebbs and Steve takes a moment to breathe, opening one eye and squinting at his unfamiliar surroundings. He’s in some dingy back alley, trash cans overflowing beside him and one big dumpster looming like a mountain of dark in front of him. He sits up slowly, bracing for the lightning pain that doesn’t come.

“Natasha?” His fingers reach for the Stark communicator pinned to his ear, but come up empty. “Crap.”

He forces himself onto his feet, crying out when everything in his body cracks at once. He manages to stumble over to the dumpster, gripping the lid as he rights himself, barely getting his feet steady beneath him.

“Does anybody read me?” He’s fumbling with his suit, hoping he’s got an extra communicator on him somewhere. “Hello? Does anybody –?”

His hands slide down loose folds of material. He squints, running his fingers down the loose red white and blue material.

“What is –?” And that’s when he realizes.

He’s not Captain America anymore.

He’s skinny little Steve Rogers.

Oh. Holy. Fuck.

Two minutes of panicking and five minutes of deep breathing later, Steve Rogers stumbles out of the alleyway he’s found himself in, tripping over the hem of his shirt as he tries to find some kind of bearing. He’s in New York, obviously. It’s still his city and judging by the ruckus coming from all around him, the fight is still going on. He spares a minute to think about Natasha and Sam and all the friends he’d left in the middle of an epic battle with yet another freaky alien creature – Steve is 100 percent done with aliens of the future – and cringes a little on the inside.

He can’t think about them for two long though because he’s less than a block down from the alleyway when he realizes he’s got a shadow. He moves slowly, dimly aware of someone keeping step behind him. Despite the pain in his chest and the heavy fumbling of his feet, Steve thinks he can take whoever’s tailing him. Male, he thinks, listening to the hard steps of the person moving closer as Steve stumbles. Strong. Combat boots, probably, judging by the nice racket they’re making.

It’s almost like the person wants to be heard. He’s making so much noise behind Steve, shuffling his feet and breathing into his hands, that Steve can’t help but hear him. Either he’s just some random guy with a thing for heavy duty combat boots, or he’s got it in for Steve and knows he’s listening. And if he knows he’s listening and he’s still making that much noise well . . . he knows Steve won’t be getting away unless he lets him.

His heart is pumping harder and his lungs are constricting with the early signs of a panic-induced asthma attack, but Steve forces it down; forces it all down and tries to think. He’s still Captain America, even all small and bony and helpless. He’s just got to try a little harder, keep himself safe so he can get back to the Tower and fix whatever went wrong in his whacked up body.

Steve struggles forward a couple more steps, ducking behind a corner and waiting for his shadow to follow. He curses quietly when he realizes he doesn’t have a useful thing on his skinny body. No gun, no knife, no Taser, no shield. As Steve’s stalker moves closer and closer to the corner where he’s crouched, Steve takes a moment to pray because God almighty if he ain’t royally fucked.

The guy comes around the corner and Steve swings a fist up, but he moves too far forward and sways right into the guy’s freaking arms.

“Shit,” he breathes as the arms fold around him, shoving him up against the wall and pinning him there. “Shit, alright, alright, cool it.” It’s been a long time since I’ve fought in this body, he thinks, kicking out weakly with one skinny leg. I’ve forgotten how it goes.

“Easy, dollface.” A smooth voice breathes into his ear and Steve can taste booze on the guy’s breath. “I’m just playing, sugar.”

“What?” Steve tips his chin up and holy fuck, it’s just some guy. The nameless, faceless monster stalking him is just some drunk guy with an easy smile and a mouthful of cheap lines. Steve hates the sigh of relief that goes through him because holy hell if he wasn’t expecting something worse. After all, he’d been fighting two headed aliens not even an hour ago. Some drunk guy is twelve times better than any of those monstrosities.

“What to go somewhere?” The guy breathes into Steve’s neck, moving closer and nudging his lips against Steve’s exposed collarbone. “Just you and me, doll.”

“Hey, knock it off.” Steve struggles uselessly in the arms that hold him, kicking out against the guy’s shins with little result. “I’m a guy alright? I’m not some dame you can knock around.”

“You’re a dude?” The guy pulls back and the look of surprise on his face is one of such horror it almost makes Steve laugh to see it.

“Sure enough, pal. But even if I wasn’t, I still wouldn’t let you rape me.” Steve puffs his skinny chest out, trying to put some space between him and the drunken asshole. “Now, why don’t you go call a cab? You’re looking pretty rough –”

“No way!” The guy frowns and his face shifts from surprised to confused to angry in one smooth movement. “I don’t fucking believe it.”

Steve’s whole body goes cold as the guy moves forward into Steve’s personal space, shoving his nose right back up against Steve’s neck. “Do I sound like a girl to you?” he snaps, voice deep and rough as ever, but apparently the guy’s too drunk to notice even that.

“I want proof!” He says and that’s all the warning he’s got before he shoves his hand down Steve’s pants, groping past his underwear until he’s got his whole hand around –

“Jesus!” Steve doesn’t move. He wants to. He really, really wants to kick this guy’s teeth in but he’s got Steve’s dick in his hand. And holy hell, he’s in big trouble.

“Well, I don’t believe it,” the guy slurs, folding his fingers tightly around Steve’s dick. “You are a dude.”

“Let go.” Two sets of hands have only ever made it that far down him; his own and Bucky’s. It’s hard and painful and unbearably frightening to have a third rubbing him, especially when Steve wants nothing more than to knock the guy’s socks off.

“You’re a fucking dude.” The guy squeezes and it’s this side of painful. “Un-fucking-lieveable.”

“Let go,” Steve says again, but his voice is lost in a pathetic whimper as the guy draws him forward by his dick, holding Steve so their chests are flush.

“I’m gonna fuck a dude,” the guy breathes right up against Steve’s face, alcohol breath pouring between yellowed, stinking teeth. “The guys’ll never believe this.”

“Stop.” Steve starts hitting the guy, shoving his hands against his broad shoulders in a flurry of panicked strikes. “Seriously, stop. Just stop –!”

“Don’t worry, dollface.” The guy starts stroking and Steve’s entire body shivers as a dark, ugly feeling makes a home in the pit of his stomach. “I’ll make it good for you, I promise.”

“Don’t.” Steve stops hitting him, breathing hard and fast and heavy as tears began to gather on his eyelashes. He closes his eyes as the man strokes faster, tasting fear and salt and blood on his tongue as the man leans forward to kiss him. “Please don’t.”

“Step. Back.”

A cold, cold voice pierces the fog of fear in Steve’s mind and he cracks one eye open, watching a flash of silver move down the side of the guy’s face.

“What the hell?” The guy’s hand has stopped moving and Steve’s glad, so fucking glad, until he sees silver take the shape of a knife pressed against the guy’s throat.

“Release him.” The voice is so cold it makes Steve shiver. A soft sob rips its way out of Steve’s throat as the hand around his dick tightens.

“This ain’t your business, jackass.” The guy licks his lips, hand still holding Steve’s dick hostage. “Back off.”

“Release him.” There’s a familiar chord in the cold voice and Steve listens to it carefully, but before he can pin it down completely the guy holding his dick is moving, releasing him slowly and turning toward the cold voice with his teeth bared.

Steve collapses, holding his hand over his crotch and sobbing brokenly into the back of his palm. He looks up and watches the silver moving, flashing through the darkness with grace.

“I’m warning you.” The guy sounds awfully brave for someone with a knife at his jugular. “Leave us alone.”

“You don’t touch him.” The cold voice grows even colder and Steve looks up, familiarity unravelling into a dark painted picture in the back of his mind as the knife comes up. “You touch him, you die.”

“Yeah, righ –” The guy doesn’t even finish his sentence.

The knife moves forward and there’s the dark squishing noise of flesh parting. The guy’s mouth falls open, his words cutting off right in the middle of his sentence. The knife pulls back and Steve sees a flash of red on silver until the knife swerves down, slicing the guy’s pants clean open down the middle.

“Wha –?” He tries to stop, tries to intervene on the dying man’s behalf, but the knife is already gone, hacking and slicing at tender flesh with gross, horrendous noises.

The guy screams as his dick is cut off and thrust back in his face. He falls and Steve scrambles away from him, tears still running quietly down his face. He looks up, horror-struck as the silver flashes towards him, but it’s sheathed before it reaches him and then there’s nothing but darkness.

Steve counts his own breaths in the darkness between them.

“Bucky?” he breathes after one hundred have passed. He receives a quiet grunt in answer.

“Oh my God.” Steve digs his palm into his mouth, biting back the surprise and the horror and the tears that are threatening to fall. “Oh my God.”

“Are you hurt?” There’s a soft sound and then Bucky’s kneeling in front of him, a darker splotch of darkness in the night-time of the alley. His voice is hard, clipped with anger and an accent not at all like his Brooklyn drawl. When Steve doesn’t answer, he reaches forward, shaking Steve’s shoulder gently, but firmly. “Are you hurt?”

“No.” Steve shakes his head, wiping his nose on the inside of his wrist. He sits up slowly, leaning into the strong hand on his shoulder. “No, Buck, I’m fine.” He’s a little worried about how fast he fell apart in that guy’s arms, but other than that, and the fact that his best friend-slash-brainwashed-assassin-slash-fugitive is kneeling in front of him with a dead man’s dick on the ground by his foot, he’s perfectly okay. Peachy. Even.

“Good.” The hand moves and Steve almost falls, but then he’s up on his feet with another strong arm around his waist. “Come with me,” Bucky says and Steve nods, like he has some choice in the matter.

His back is flush with Bucky’s front and he can feel a utility belt pressing into his back, no doubt loaded with all kinds of dangerous and deadly weapons. He can feel the outline of a gun tracing down his spine and there’s the slight prick of a knife against his shoulder blade. He swallows hard as Bucky shoves him forward, out of the alley and into the street without a word.

He’s taken to the Avengers tower and dumped unceremoniously at the doorstep, pinned with a stern Winter Solider look that makes Steve want to melt into nothing.

“Be safe,” is all he says before Bucky vanishes into the night, approximately two seconds before Stark comes storming out of the tower in full Iron Man suit, guns blazing.

It’s a little over a month before Steve sees Bucky again.

 

II

He’s in the hospital, big surprise, hooked up to an IV and moaning to everyone within earshot about how he’s fine and he doesn’t need to be babied like this. No one listens to him, of course, because it’s been close to a month since the Alien Fight That Made Steve Rogers Small and Steve hasn’t changed back and everyone’s getting a little worried. He had an asthma attack yelling at Fury to put him back on the Avengers rotation and passed out. When he woke up, he was in the hospital bed, watching the IV drip slowly into his arm.

Natasha comes by a few times, dragging Clint with her more often than not. Sam drops in with cookies from his mom and tries to get Steve to smile. Fury drops by too, watching Steve with hard, but apologetic eyes.

He doesn’t mention Bucky. No one does actually. It’s been a month since that day Bucky saved him from being raped in an alleyway and he’s still not recovered. He just can’t get over the fact that Bucky was there, right in front of him, real and whole and breathing.

He dreams about him a lot. Usually it’s a nightmare; watching him fall off the train and into the white oblivion that Steve should’ve saved him from; hearing Bucky move silently behind him, pressing a knife to his throat and whispering, “You should’ve saved me,” into his ear; having to kill Bucky or having Bucky kill him and watching as the Winter Solider takes over and there’s no more Bucky, no more James Buchanan Barnes.

Steve takes to drawing to stop the nightmares and even then he’s drawing nothing but Bucky over and over and over again. He throws his sketchpad out the window when he thinks it’s too much, watches the pages fall apart and sail through the air with something close to satisfaction.

But it’s all just too much. Too much sadness, too much pity, too much everything. And just when Steve thinks he can’t take it anymore everything goes to hell and back.

“We’ve got a code nine,” Maria Hill is shouting over the intercom looped through the Avengers tower. “I repeat, code nine. We are at level Red Alpha. Security proceed to the medical bay and await further instruction. Captain Rogers is the priority and he must be protected at all costs.”

Steve hears his name and wants to die. Of course, it’s him, he thinks. Of course whoever’s gone and broke into the Avengers Tower is after him. And when he can’t fight, either! Steve’s thinking about making their job easier for them and offing himself when three men burst into his hospital room, decked in full battle attire with some pretty scary guns pointed right at Steve.

“Don’t move!” they shout and if Steve had enough air to make a snarky reply he would’ve but at the moment he’s trying hard to fight against yet another panic-induced asthma attack.

“I don’t want any trouble,” he says stupidly and one of the soldiers comes close and clobbers him upside the head with the back of his gun.

“Shut up!” he shouts and Steve can see them milling about his hospital room through the stars dancing across his vision, prepping for something bad involving him and a firing squad-style execution.

“We make this quick,” one of the masked men says and Steve has enough presence of mind to peg the voice as one of the HYDRA soldiers he’d fought against on the Day That Shall Live in Infamy above the Potomac.

Steve realizes in one sharp burst of clarity that this is one sticky situation he’s not going to make it through. Steve Rogers, Captain America, has an uncanny ability to find himself both in and out of sticky situations. Steve can’t count the number of times he’s done something stupid, both as Steve Rogers and as Captain America and has somehow made it out alive.

But glaring down the three HYDRA soldiers prepping to fire point-blank into the cavity of his chest, Steve realizes this is one he’s not going to live through.

He has just enough time to register this thought before the panic really sets in and his lungs decide to up and quit working. He’s thrown into oblivion by the lack of oxygen in his brain, scrambling around the infernal whiteness and trying to suck in air through lungs made thin like the tube of a straw.

Something – someone – claps him on the back hard and the air is back, flowing in and out of his lungs as smoothly and calmly as ever (It wasn’t just a clap on the back, really. It was a helluva lot of coaxing and pleading and maybe a mouthful of drugs or two, but Steve doesn’t know that – he’s just been brought back from the brink and he’s still blinking the white away when he sees a face crowd in real close to his).

“Buck?” Steve croaks.

The head disappears and Steve panics, forcing his head up to follow Bucky as he moves restlessly about the room. His eye catches on the tip of a black boot at the end of his bed and he tries to sit up, falling back against the pillows when he loses his breath.

“Blood? Buck, is that –?” The heart monitor beside his bed is screaming, croaking its last dying breaths as Bucky rips the cord out of the wall, silencing the shrill beep registering Steve’s heartbeat. “Buck? What –?”

“Shut up,” Bucky snaps, reaching out with one massive paw to push Steve back against the bedframe. Steve’s whole body shakes, his chest caving inwards as Bucky flattens his metal palm over Steve’s ribcage.

With the hand not pinning Steve to the bed, he begins rummaging in the crash cart by Steve’s bedside, pulling the drawers open with purpose and searching for something in the messy contents. Because Steve is an idiot and he doesn’t how to keep his mouth shut, he grabs Bucky’s palm and tries lifting it, holding two of Bucky’s metal fingers with both his palms. While he struggles, he talks to Bucky, croaking out some soothing words that don’t sound so soothing to a Bucky who does not look at all soothed.

“What are you doing, Buck? C’mon, I’m okay. Let me go. Seriously, Buck. Stop.”

But Bucky just pushes his hand harder into Steve’s chest. “Quiet,” he growls and for once Steve listens, growing wary of his frantic searching.

Finally, Bucky pulls away from the crash cart holding a long sharp needle in his flesh-and-blood hand.

“Whoa,” Steve blinks, squirming against the palm that’s holding him down. “Whoa, Buck, let’s not –”

“It’s easier if you don’t struggle.” Bucky’s not looking at him, not really. His gaze is hard, a steely ice-grey. His eyes are on Steve but it’s like his gaze is cutting through him, stripping away all the skin and bones until it’s just his soul, offered up for Bucky to see. His fingers twitch around the handle of the syringe and a little of the clear liquid squirts out the top and holy shit he’s really gonna do it, he’s gonna –

“Buck, no. You can’t do this.” The hand on his chest is so heavy, but there’s a light in Bucky’s eyes; a light that’s peeking through all the Winter Solider bravado, so Steve keeps talking, ignoring the steely glint hardening Bucky’s mouth and forming new lines on his brow. “Bucky, please. You can’t take me from the tower. You can’t.”

He doesn’t know how he knows that’s what Bucky’s going to do, but he does. He does and he knows Bucky can’t, he can’t –

“I can,” Bucky says simply, metal hand fisting in Steve’s shirt.

There’s a pause and for a second, for one shining second Steve thinks he got through to him. But it’s gone when Bucky’s eyes harden and his flesh hand grips the syringe tight until the bones of his knuckles are straining through the skin.

“I’m sorry, Steve,” he says and then his hand is gone, point-tip thrust down into the IV tube stuck in Steve’s wrist.

“No!” he gasps, fingers scraping against the tube plugged into his arm. “Shit!”

“Don’t struggle.” Bucky’s hand closes over the IV feed so Steve’s just scratching at skin, fingers clenching and unclenching as Bucky depresses the plunger. Ice blows through Steve’s veins like a cold winter wind and then he’s falling, eyes slipping shut before he can work to keep them open.

“You’ll hurt yourself,” Bucky continues.

“No.” He blinks sleep from his eyes and fights to stay awake. “Buck . . . no.”

“You’re not safe here.” Bucky’s talking – where’d he go? Steve can’t see him, can’t see anything. Are his eyes closed again? Oh crap, come on, come on, open, open

“Stevie, are you listening?” No. “I’m just trying to protect you.” Bullshit.

“Screw . . . you . . .”

Steve’s angry. Where’d all this anger come from? The ice is his veins is making him cranky, and there’s angry tears in his eyes, spilling down his cheeks with abandon.

In his last stages of consciousness, Steve hears an alarm go off, blaring loud and annoying in his ears.

“Turn it off,” he mumbles. “Turn it off.”

And then he’s gone, falling into the darkness with a vague icy presence lingering at his back. He doesn’t stay there long – five minutes? Ten? Two days? Eleven? – and when he wakes the icy presence is with him, no longer hovering at his back but sitting calmly at his side.

“Buck?” Steve croaks and damn, he sounds like shit. “What –?”

A glass of water is thrust up under his nose and Steve gasps, hands fumbling around its smooth sides.

“Drink.” Bucky sounds like shit too, but Steve’s too busy drinking to pay him much mind.

He gulps greedily from the glass, hands shivering as they try to hold the cup steady. “Let me.” Bucky moves closer, swinging into Steve’s line of sight.

Steve watches him as he drinks, eyes tracing over the fuzzy line of his jaw – he hasn’t shaved in days – and the puffy dark circles under his eyes – hasn’t slept either. He drains the glass and Bucky disappears, refilling it three times before Steve’s thirst is sated.

They pass the next few minutes in silence, eyeing each other uneasily while the world fades in around them. They’re somewhere dark, that much is obvious. It’s a bedroom with no windows, no light switch; just four white walls reflecting the flickering beam of light from a lamp at Bucky’s side. Steve sees some shapes off in the darkness – a bookshelf, maybe? A door, is that a door? – but his eyes are fuzzy and out of focus.

“Why’d you do it, Buck?” It takes Steve five minutes to work up the courage to ask.

Bucky sighs like he wished Steve hadn’t asked.

Steve wishes he didn’t have to ask – wishes he was back in the Tower – but he doesn’t say anything, just stares at Bucky with the last hope of finding the man he once knew and cared for.

“I mean, why? I was fine, Buck. They were taking care of me.” As much as Steve had wanted to see him, as much as Steve had wanted to find Bucky and bring him home, he’s pissed right now. It’s something about this body, he thinks, about this stupid, small, childish frame. He’s always pissed when he’s tiny. Always trying to prove himself. And, of course, Bucky knows this, so he just looks at Steve, cutting through the bravado to the scared man beneath.

“Sorry,” he says, but Steve can’t look at him for long. “Sorry, I didn’t mean –”

Bucky grabs his chin, turns his head to face him. Steve blinks, tries to look away, but Bucky moves even closer until he’s all Steve can see.

“I had to do it,” Bucky says like it’s the truth, thumb ghosting over Steve’s thin cheek. “I have to know that you’re safe.”

“Just seeing me ain’t enough?” Steve barks out a laugh. “You gotta go and kidnap me too?”

But Bucky doesn’t smile. He just moves closer, resting his forehead against Steve’s.

“Steve,” he whispers like a prayer and Steve shut up real quick, eyes crossing from how hard he’s trying to stare at Bucky. He licks his lips and, holy shit, has Bucky’s mouth always been that close?

“You need me,” Bucky says and Steve hates that he’s right. “And I –” He tips closer, mouth falling easily onto Steve’s. “Need you.”

The last part is soft, muted from where their mouths are flush together. But Steve doesn’t care. At least it was said. At least Bucky admitted it. Admitted the truth he’s been scared to see.

“You need me,” he says again and Steve can only agree, fingers taking root in Bucky’s long dark hair.

[He doesn’t notice the way Bucky’s hand clenches when he says it, the way his whole face hardens before softening real quick, too quick for Steve to see. For now the lines around his mouth seem to say. You need me . . . for now. And Bucky realizes he’ll have to find a way to change that.]

 

III

Two months in and Steve’s had enough. He’s explored every inch of the bunker – “What the hell is this place, Buck?” “A, uh, panic bunker. It was a HYDRA safehouse, but I took care of that” hence the bloodstained floor that’s turned a rough rust color – and he’s made as much small talk as he can. But he’s bursting at the seams, ready to explode into action at a moment’s notice.

He’s not one for lazy days and inaction, especially not when there are people looking for him. People who care about him. People who care about him and distrust the man he’s with. People who care about him and distrust the man he’s with – who’s currently keeping him captive in a bunker far, far away from anything resembling modern society.

To be fair to Bucky, the bunker is pretty nice. It was an old man’s mansion during the Cold War that was converted to a HYDRA warehouse not long after the original owner died. Now it’s Steve’s home, and a pretty nice one at that. It may be underground, but it’s the second nicest place he’s ever stayed at, second only to his floor at Stark’s fancy tower in New York.

Bucky made him stay in the medical bay that first night, but had moved him to his own room as the days progressed. It was sparse room, Spartan and stripped clean of everything that had once been HYDRA’s or the old man’s. There’s a few things in the room – an old computer in the corner and a stack of books, a table sitting on spindly wooden legs – and a bed in the middle, but nothing important. Nothing unusual – Steve’s not sure what unusual things he’s looking for, but he’s looking for something, even if he just consciously recognized the thought himself.

“It’s nice, Buck.” Steve tries on a smile, but it fades quickly.

“It’s temporary,” Bucky replies.  

Besides Steve’s room and the medical bay there are a couple other rooms: a bedroom for Bucky, a big kitchen/dining room that was obviously once a HYDRA mess hall, a dark entryway beside the mess hall where the outside wind whistles and its smells like dirt and the great outdoors, and a dark corridor that leads to a huge cavernous room with an old grey tarp spread out over the floor.

“It’s a storage room,” Bucky sniffs and Steve thinks he’s probably right; it smells like dust and grease and old things stacked high, one upon another.

“Hold on.” Bucky’s poking at the boxes pushed against the side of the wall while Steve steps out onto the tarp, tripping over the edge and sailing headlong into the middle. “Hear that?”

“Hear what?” Steve asks, pressing his palms down onto the tarp.

It gives slightly beneath his weight and Steve frowns at it before pushing up onto his knees. Bucky hears him and turns wildly, eyes blown comically wide. He gasps and throws a hand out in Steve’s direction, mouth opening around a hurried rush of words. “It’s –”

Is all he has time to say before Steve’s gone, falling as the tarp rips beneath with a tremendous crack beneath him.

“Shit!” he shouts and then his mouth is full of water and he’s spluttering, coughing, and kicking his way to the surface while someone laughs above him. “Asshole.” He coughs when his head breaks the surface.

Bucky’s there – still laughing, what a dick – hand outstretched, scrambling through the water to grab Steve’s fingers.

“Your face!” Bucky laughs and Steve smacks his arm away, hauling himself up by the tattered remains of the tarp. “Oh my God, Stevie!” He hooks his arm around him, hauling him in by his shoulder and smiling into Steve’s dripping hair.

“Shut up!” Bucky’s laughter is warm and fills a missing spot in his chest.

It’s a bit more exciting when Steve’s out looking over the pool than when he’s drowning down in it.

“Wow,” he breathes, looking out over the vast expanse of water he and Bucky had uncovered. “This guy must’ve been loaded.”

“It’s ain’t helping him now.” Steve can hear the grin in Bucky’s voice even as he stands behind him. He turns, gawking when he sees Bucky’s already out of his shirt, pulling at his pants while Steve watches on in mock-horror. “Looks like it’s just you and me, Stevie.”

Bucky doesn’t wait for him to get out of his clothes, just hauls him in with his hands around Steve’s skinny waist. Steve swats at him, trying to avert the oncoming disaster, but it’s too late. Bucky’s laughing when he drags Steve into the water and he’s laughing when he comes back up, broad arms tight around Steve’s torso.

Slowly, the two of them make the bunker their home.

Bucky doesn’t let Steve leave, but he brings plenty of things in, food and twinkle lights and blankets and art supplies of all kinds. They make blanket forts in the mess hall, string twinkle lights in the hallways where the old lights just won’t come on. Bucky cooks dinner – “What is this?” “Chicken noddle soup.” “Yuck! I may be small, but I’m not sick, Buck! I’ve had enough chicken noodle soup to last a lifetime.” “Humor me, punk.” “Jerk.” (he’s sick with the flu two days later) – and Steve paints and sketches, making up for all the time he lost fighting and being Captain America.

“This is nice.” The words come out of Steve’s mouth with the force of a surprise and Bucky blinks up at him, mouth drawing down in a partial frown.

“What else would it be?” he asks and Steve’s not sure how to answer him.

Of course, it’s not always good.

Bucky has nightmares. Steve has asthma attacks. He comes down with the flu and bronchitis and strep throat that lays him up for days on end.

One sick day, when Bucky’s gone wherever he goes when he’s not at the bunker, Steve is feeling weak and fed up and sick of everything and anything. He stumbles out of bed, eyes watering, nose running, chest burning like liquid fire. He goes straight for the computer in the corner and begins to tap out a frantic message, hacking the security protocols like he’s been practicing at night when Bucky thinks he’s asleep.

Need help, he types out, fingers clacking on the keyboard. His face is lit with a pasty white glow as his fingers search out the keys in the endless dark. Underground. Old HYDRA bunker.

He’s about to send it when the door to his room crashes open and Bucky strides in, face like a living, livid thundercloud. Steve flinches, but doesn’t say anything, watching Bucky move towards him with a stony expression. He rips the computer cord out of the wall with excessive force, pinning Steve with a disappointed wide-eyed glare before punching his metal fist through the screen.

He leaves and Steve ducks his head out the hall after him, cursing silently when he hears Bucky upending every piece of furniture they own.

They have the argument later when Bucky’s temper tantrum has passed.

“You’re not my only friend, Buck!” He feels like shit saying it, but he’s been gone for almost a month now and he’s still a little bite-sized Cap. He knows Sam and the others are worried and if there’s one thing Steve hates more than being tiny it’s having people worry about him.

“They could find you!” Bucky shouts. “I can’t have that!”

“Who?” Steve snaps, propping his hands on his hips. “HYDRA? Or my friends?”

The following pause is just long enough to give Steve his answer even if Bucky tries to deny it, shaking his head and saying, “HYDRA, obviously.”

Other times it’s good. So good it makes Steve wonder if it’s even worth going back.

There’s lots of kissing. Lots of touching.

[Counting down Steve’s ribs, touching lips to the notches of his spine.]

Bucky is starved for touch, starved for love, and he tells Steve. Repeatedly. In between open-mouthed kisses and long lingering caresses.

[Bucky draws his hands up Steven’s body, memorizing each plane and spreading his fingers over the newly claimed territory.]

There’s lazy close-mouthed kisses that steal Steve’s breath away.

[There’s hard aggressive kissing like there’s not enough time to love him, not enough time to –]

Steve finds his place on Bucky’s lap and loops his arms around his neck. He cards his fingers through long brown strands, pulling and tugging as Bucky bites down Steve’s neck. There’s a lot more than kissing too.

[Hips rocking down into hips, fingers scratching at paper-thin skin.]

Steve has an obsession with the small lines that furrow Bucky’s brown when he’s happy.

[Bucky likes sucking a mark on Steve’s prominent collarbone. He stares at it for hours afterward, rubbing his thumb over the deep red mark.]

Steve likes giving into Bucky, surrendering Captain America’s control to a man who’s been so long without it. They both like lying together afterwards, touching lightly, kissing softly. Just basking in each other’s presence.

“I love you.” Bucky says it a lot. “I love you, Steve. Steven. Stevie. I love you, Steve. So much.”

“I love you too.” Sometimes he says it, sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes Bucky won’t let him, stealing his mouth for another kiss before he can speak. Sometimes Bucky will tear the words out of him, kissing and backing away and teasing until Steve’s fit to burst.

Weeks pass like this.

Steve gets restless. Like really, really restless. Like bang his head against the wall, I have to do something, Buck you’ve got to let me out of here right freaking now restless.

He loves Bucky – he does, he really does, please, he really, really does – and it feels good being with him after years and years of self-denial. But Steve can’t stay in the bunker forever. They can stay in the bunker forever, him and Bucky. Steve’s got a job, responsibilities. He’s got a team to lead and this isn’t good for Bucky; this shy, hiding away. It’s not helping him recover. It’s not helping him at all, but Steve can’t say anything because every time he brings it up Bucky’s face closes off and he kisses Steve to distract him, or goes to bed without dinner.

It comes to a head when Bucky comes in from outside one day, dirty and sweaty and covered in grime.

“Jesus.” Steve had been sleeping, but he’d heard him come in and padded softly to the entryway. He watches Bucky key in the code that seals them into the bunker, watches him turn and start at seeing Steve so close.

“What happened?” he asks quietly, but Bucky doesn’t answer.

He moves past him and into his own room, slamming the door shut.

Steve can’t say he’s surprised; he’s used to this. The whirlwind that is Bucky’s mind works and sometimes it doesn’t. He has his moods, same as anyone else. Just . . . his bad moods involve screaming and crying and repressed HYDRA memories.

Hours pass and Steve’s still standing at the entryway, staring longingly at the vault door Bucky shut and locked. He doesn’t want to leave, just wants to explore; he wants a few minutes to himself, a few hours above ground to curb his vagrant restlessness. It’s not an outrageous request, but he knows Bucky would never grant it – his mind’s too fragile, too undone to allow him to let Steve out of his sight – so Steve thinks he’ll just go for it. Better to ask forgiveness than permission, after all.

Five more minutes and Steve’s worked up the courage, dropping the blanket and standing near the door until he can ease his panicked breathing to a whisper. Steve tiptoes over to Bucky’s door and presses his ear against it. He hears nothing but breathing, deep and heavy with a grunt-like snore.

Steve smiles and slips away, deeming it safe enough to try.

He makes his way to the door, padding on soft feet. He keys in the code he saw Bucky punch in - he gets it wrong three times before he finally guesses the last number correctly - and then the door is opening and Steve is cursing cause its so fucking loud Bucky’s gonna wake up for sure and -

It’s open. There’s some stairs that Steve clambers up, but then he’s out. He’s out and it’s -

He squints in the light a few minutes, raising a hand to shield his face. When his eyes adjust, finally, Steve looks around, grinning at the sight that rises up to meet him. It’s a field – nothing special – but after weeks of nothing but dim white walls it looks like heaven. The grass is green and the sky is so freaking blue, like the whole world has been dipped in charming pastel colors that rise up and swirl in Steve’s unblinking eyes.

His knees buckle and Steve collapses into the grass, rolling in the waist-high reeds until he’s nice and dirty. He stands back up, grinning like a maniac, and runs into the field, twirling around like some dame in a musical number. He doesn’t feel the cold – he will –and he doesn’t acknowledge the burn in his chest – he’ll have to soon – and he doesn’t think about Bucky waking up in the bunker and panicking when he can’t find Steve anywhere – he resolutely does not think about it and tries really, really hard to squash the seed of guilt that threatens to rise whenever his thoughts stray.

The bunker is set in a hill, a glorified mound of dirt with some sparse weeds and grass growing over-top. The field around it is alive, the grass swaying gently in the breeze, vibrant yellow flower heads opening up to the sun. A thick clump of woods surrounds the open field and there’s a sharp rise over on the horizon, stretching above the trees and into the blue, blue sky.

Turning his head, Steve catches a glimpse of a shoddy old barn and he can see even from this distance that it’s falling apart. He picks his way across the field towards it, stopping when he has to cross a shallow stream running through a valley of cut grass. He steps into the water, smiling when frigid water encases his toes, and moves on, reaching the barn and gingerly pressing a hand to its wide orange door. He pulls his hand away and a clump of paint comes off with it, chipped and peeling from the worn wood.

With a little effort, he’s able to get the door open and with a little more he’s able to shove his way inside, tumbling onto the floor as his momentum carries him forward. He stands shakily, rubbing dirt from his palms and blood from his freshly skinned knee when he hears a sound; a soft creaking that has his nerves jangling and his sense on high-alert.

He hopes its not Bucky – prays to Jesus it’s not him – but before he can do so much as turn around, a small shadow runs out at him from the darkness. Steve braces himself for the punch that doesn’t come, cringing needlessly when a small black cat attaches himself to his ankle.

“Cats,” Steve breathes, bending to pet the small creature behind its ear. It strains into his hand, butting his head up against Steve’s leg when he doesn’t pet him hard enough. He scoops the little thing up into his arms, thanking God and whoever else is upstairs that cats are not one of the many, many things he’s allergic too.

“Hi, sweetheart,” he whispers, rubbing his face into the cat’s fur and listening to it purr like a small engine in his ear. “Hi.”

Captain America, he thinks to himself, setting the little kitten down and watching it paw at the ground around his feet. Brought to his knees by a small black kitten. If only Tony could see me now.

He roams the small barn with the kitten at his feet, fingers itching for a sketchpad and pencil. The interior is beautifully creepy and Steve is dying to draw it. He settles for running his hands along the walls instead, committing the place to memory so he might be able to recreate it later.

Structurally, it’s an architectural nightmare. The roof is caving in, there’s a blown out window shedding glass into a horse stall that has fallen in on itself, the second floor is barely being held up by rot and termite-eaten wooden beams, and there are holes in the floorboards so big Steve can see whole clouds as they spin past the sky.

There’s some old tack hanging in the corner; the black whips and chords falling in a line and Steve itches to capture them and the dangerous way they fall. To the left of the tack, there’s a staircase leading to the second floor and a new view of the old barn. He takes them carefully, scooping up the little kitten in his arms and testing his weight carefully on each board before he steps.

He makes it to the top – definitely not out of breath – and pauses, one hand resting on the banister. The kitten in his arm licks at his jaw with his pink lip and Steve laughs softly, taking his hand away from the sturdy wood banister.

He’s looking at the boards – worse up here than Steve had thought from downstairs – and thinks about heading back down the way he came. But before he can, the air splits in two. Steve covers his ears against the sound, drops the little cat wriggling in his arms, and then he’s falling, screaming as he hits the ground hard enough to make his eyes water.

The fall itself wasn’t that far. It would’ve hurt like hell, but it would have been otherwise survivable if not for a sharp piece of iron sticking up from the ground directly beneath him. He’s staring up at the sky, visible from the floorboards that buckled beneath him when his side starts screaming, shrieking too loud for him to ignore.

He tries shifting up to look at what’s hurting him, but he screams aloud, the cry ripping from his throat before he can clench his teeth around it. Shaky hands reach towards his side, scratching around the thing burning his hip from the inside out. He tips his head up and there’s a fucking rod sticking out of his hip. It’s covered in blood – Steve’s blood – and its sticking up from his hip, ripped skin sticking around it.

“FUCK!”

His head slams back to the ground and he arches his back, screaming when the movement stirs the rod embedded in his side.

“JESUS!”

He reaches down, wraps his hands around the rod. He pulls – FUCK – and pulls – FUCK – and his hands come away red and sticky. It’s obviously anchored into the ground cause it’s not moving no matter how much Steve tugs on it.

He pants for a few minutes, trying to work up the courage to yank his body off it. He finally does and –

“SHIT!”

No dice.

“Jesus.” His hands are shaking. The air is cooling rapidly around him and everything is red with blood. The barn floor is at a slant so the blood is running up his arms, dying the skin.

Steve hears a sound and turns his head, blinking at a pair of yellow eyes as the blink at him from inside the barn’s darkness. It’s the cat from earlier and Steve wants to send it away, but the thing only moves closer, padding through the growing pool of his blood to lick at his face.

He wills a panic-induced asthma attack away with the sheer force of his will because not now, not right fucking now, I’ve got bigger things to worry about, fuck you lungs. He runs shaky fingers through the cat’s dark fur, muffling another pained scream against the back of his knuckles.

When the attack subsides, Steve starts screaming, shouting himself hoarse in the barn’s darkness.

“Help! Somebody! Help!”

Frustrated tears run down his face and the cat licks at them, sandpaper tongue scratching against his cheeks.

“BUCKY!”

He doesn’t know when his cries for help turn to cries for Bucky, but they do and suddenly Steve screaming, shouting louder and louder and squirming up and off the iron rod, trying to dig it out his side.

“Bucky, help! Bucky! BUCKY!”

He starts shivering – shock or cold, he can’t really tell – and the little cat crowds in closer around him, rubbing his head up under Steve’s jaw.

“Jesus,” he shivers.

He must fall asleep because the next thing he’s aware of is somebody breathing over him, cussing softly then louder, louder, louder.

“Wha –?” His eyes open briefly before drifting shut again. He slurs his words, mouth barely opening to let them pass through his bloodless lips. “Hey? Hey. Help me. Help –”

A searing pain erupts along the line of his hip and he screams, waking abruptly with every nerve shrieking. He screams, feeling himself jerked and lifted into a strong pair of arms. He screams again, trying to bat the hands away but he has no energy, no –

“Stevie.” That’s Bucky’s voice. It has to be. It sure does sound like him. But Steve left him in the bunker. Steve left him all alone and that can’t be Bucky. No, it can’t be. “Jesus Christ, Steve.”

“Buck –?” His question is lost in a rush of nausea. He turns his head to be sick but nothing comes out and he curls into Bucky’s arms, shivering and crying and feeling pain trace along ever line of his body.

“Steve. Hey, stay with me.” Bucky brushes his hair back from his forehead, slipping into angry Russian when Steve doesn’t respond.

Steve rolls his head; he doesn’t have the strength to speak. He reaches down with blind fingers, tapping his fingers along the edge of a quarter-sized gash in his hip, the source of all his misery. He taps it again and the pain flares brightly. He moans and Bucky snatches his hand away, pulling him tighter in his arms and starting to move forward.

“You idiot,” he growls in English, angrily mouthing the words along Steve’s hairline. “You fucking, fucking idiot.”

“Owwwww.” The jostling of Bucky’s walk is hurting his hip and he says so, reaching his hands up to try and stop the sway of Bucky’s shoulders. “Stop. Stop! ‘S hurts.”

“Course it does,” Bucky snarls. “Goddammit, Steve. Godfucking –”

He passes out quietly waking with his head on a pillow and a soft beeping tracking the pulse of his heart. He turns his head, sees Bucky sitting in a chair beside him. It’s a mirror image of Steve’s first night in the bunker and he has to look away, something in him shying away from the comparison.

Steve must make some noise, some groan of protest, because Bucky – who was sleeping with his head falling forward almost into his lap – jerks awake, scooting forward with a hand already wrapped around Steve’s wrist.

“Steve? Oh God, Steve.” He brushes his metal fingers along Steve’s brow, catching his hand and bringing it to his mouth.

“Hi,” he says stupidly and Bucky laughs, ducking his head to kiss his foreheads, his collarbones, his nose.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Steve.” He mutters intelligibly, something about tetanus and stitches that Steve doesn’t understand and doesn’t care about and then he’s up, mouth kissing along Steve’s skinny wrist.

Something shiny catches Steve’s eye and he turns his head, watching a machine drip blood and some cold, clear liquid into his arm intermitted.

“You drugging me?” he asks. Slurs his words.

Bucky nods and he's too comfortable with it. Too easy in his response. Steve passes out again, something dark and dangerous playing around the back of his mind as he realizes it might not be the first time. 

 

IV

It's not. 

Three weeks later and Steve's sick as a dog, snuffling and groaning and running a fever. Bucky leaves his side for one minute and Steve gets antsy, getting up to follow him into the kitchen. 

“Buck? What’s –?” But Steve can’t even get the word out. Because as soon as he opens his mouth Bucky whirls around, elbow knocking the silvery vial off the table.

It sails through the air, landing perfectly at Steve’s feet and Bucky just stands there looking horrified, holding Steve’s tray of food like he wants to hurl it across the room after the vial. Steve watches the vial tumble towards him, sides spinning like a top before slowly coming to rest at his foot. Steve blinks through watery eyes, unable to see anything but the logo emblazoned on the vial’s side, cut out in sharp black letters.

HYDRA, it reads and Steve’s whole world drops.

“What’s this?” He just stares at it, staggering back a little as Bucky moves towards him, scooping the vial up off the ground and tucking it out of sight before Steve can register the movement. “What was that?”

“It’s nothing, Steve,” Bucky murmurs, reaching out to tuck the blanket tighter around Steve’s shoulders. “Nothing. Go back to sleep. You’re sick. You need your rest.”

“But –?” Bucky’s voice is oh so soft and oh so soothing and Steve is tired and sore and ultra-cranky, but that black logo is sharp in his mind, printed on the side of a silver vial Bucky was holding over Steve’s food.

“What was that?” Steve shakes off the stupor induced by Bucky’s voice, dropping the blanket and turning to face Bucky with his hands propped on his skinny little hips. “Buck? I saw your face when you dropped it. It was definitely something.”

And it was. Another flash of horror drops through Bucky’s expression, but he masks it, although not quite so thoroughly as he would like to believe.

“It wasn’t –”

“It said HYDRA,” Steve shrugs off Bucky’s reaching grip, backing up as a knot of panic forms deep in his gut. “Was it . . . poison?” He inhales quickly and the panic grows sharply, knotting up his insides and making each breath more painful than the last. “Are you poisoning me, Buck?”

Holy shit, Steve thinks, watching that horror swing through Bucky’s face, shuttering the familiar light behind his eyes and dropping new lines around the crease of his mouth and the fold of his brow. Holy shit he’s poisoning me. But no . . . that’s Bucky . . .  But – Holy shit.

“Steve.” Bucky’s voice is pleading and that’s when the panic really sets in. “Steve. Stop. I can explain.”

“What?” Steve isn’t hearing this. He isn’t hearing his best friend admit to trying to poison Steve while in his semi-right state of mind. “Buck . . . what?”

“It’s not poison, okay.” Bucky draws the vial from somewhere and waves it in front of Steve’s face. “Yes, I got it from HYDRA, but I only stole it because I wanted to make sure they didn’t use it on you.”

“But you’re using it on me.” Steve glares at Bucky to deny him.

He doesn’t and Steve wants to melt into the floor in a puddle of misery.

“It wasn’t made to kill you,” Bucky says like that makes it better. “They developed it to make you smaller.”

“Smaller?” And then Steve’s breath whooshes out of his lungs and everything makes since.

Bucky, he thinks. Bucky’s been keeping me small.

It wasn’t any lingering effects of the alien attack. It wasn’t Erskine’s failing serum. Hell, it wasn’t even Nazi bastards.

It was Bucky.

Bucky must see something of the horror on Steve’s face because he moves forward like he’s going to comfort him, but Steve jerks back, knocking into the wall with enough force to knock his teeth together.

“Don’t,” he gasps and Bucky eases back, worry creased into the lines of his brow. “Just don’t.”

Steve leans against the wall, taking a moment to breathe and will himself back together because goddamn it all is this really what has happened to his life?

“I can’t.” Steve gasps, closing his eyes and turning his face away from Bucky’s. “I can’t believe you’d do that.”

He should’ve known. He should’ve fucking known, but he was just so damn happy to get Bucky back.

“Steve –”

“If the next words out of your mouth are I can explain, I’m gonna kick your goddamn teeth in.” There’s not enough air, or maybe there’s too much and Steve can’t breathe, he can’t fucking breathe through the panic and the misery and all the nastiness taking root in his addled mind.

Two steps in. Three. Bucky’s close to him before Steve can register his thoughts, before he can bring his arms up to ward against him.

“Steve.” His metal hand lands on the crown of Steve’s head and Steve panics. He flinches and Bucky rips his hand away, face low and mournful.

“Buck –” Steve feels bad. He feels guilty. Should he? Bucky was – is – poisoning him. But he flinched. Steve made him flinch.

It’s all so confusing and Steve’s head hurts and he wants to go lie down but he can’t because Bucky’s in his face, crowding closer like he can erase the past five minutes from Steve’s mind with the force of his will. From the way Steve’s head is spinning, throbbing, there’s a good chance he might, but before he gets the chance the vault door explodes open and there are shouts coming from the hallway.

Bucky’s whole body goes rigid, every line of it pressed right there against Steve’s, but he doesn’t have time to avoid the tranq dart jammed into his neck and the Taser stuck into his side. Steve shouts his name, falls to his knees as Bucky does, and reaches wildly for something, anything, he can use to defend himself.

But he doesn’t need to. Hands peel his away from Bucky’s limp form and they’re dark and scarred and familiar and –

“Sam?”

“Hey, man.” Everything in his face is smiling, so hard it hurts Steve to look at it, it hurts Steve’s cheeks to watch. “Good to see you.”

“Sam.”

Steve falls forward into his chest. He doesn’t remember crying – Sam doesn’t mention it – and he doesn’t remember yelling at Bucky’s prone form as they drag him out of the room – Natasha had to hold him down. He doesn’t remember stepping into an iron man suit Stark had sent over specially for him and zooming off towards the Tower from God-knows-where Bucky had stashed him.

What he does remember is the vial Bucky held poised over his food. Funny thing, how that’s actually the one thing Steve wants more than anything to forget.

 

V

It takes Steve several weeks to work up the courage to see him. He’s still tiny – Goddammit Bucky – but Bruce and Tony are working on whatever compound they found in the vial, so there’s hope for Captain America yet.

Natasha gives him updates every day.

“Four words today.”

“Yeah? What were they?”

“‘Tell him I’m sorry’.”

“That’s three more than last week.”

“You can’t ignore him forever, Steve.”

“I know. But I can damn well try.”

He’s mad – he’s so fucking pissed, he’s so pissed he doesn’t know how to handle it sometimes because he trusted him, he fucking trusted Bucky with his life, his life – but he pretends his okay. That his whole word hasn’t come crashing down around his ears. That the one person he loves and misses the most was purposefully turning him into the one person he hates, more than HYDRA, more than Schmidt, more than anything in the whole fucking world.

Sam drags him into therapy while he’s small, forces him to talk about all the hatred welling up inside him, all the anger.

“Captain America has low self-esteem. Did not see that coming.”

Outside the therapist office, he can hear them talking about him.

“No,” Sam says, voice even and low. “Not Captain America. Steve Rogers.”

It’s a little easier to face Bucky after that

He watches him pace around his comfortable cell, eating the food the guards give him, but otherwise looking cagy as anxious as hell.

“I want to see Steve,” He says to Natasha, sitting on the edge of his bed and dropping his head into his hands. “Please.”

“It’s not my decision,” she says, but there’s a frown around her mouth like she wishes it was.

“I fucked up. Tell him I fucked up. Please, just.” He jerks, throwing himself at Natasha’s feet.

To her credit, she doesn’t flinch, just rests her hand on the top of his head as he cries out Steve’s name, begging her to get him.

He needs a haircut, Steve thinks and then his eyes are welling up.

His feet carry him into the room independent of his brain and he stands behind Natasha for a moment, sniffling into his sleeve and thinking about how goddamn badly Bucky needs a pair of scissors. His sniffling gets a little louder and Bucky’s head jerks up. His eyes get real big and he moves towards Steve, hooking his arms around him and yanking him down into Bucky’s chest.

“Sorry. I’m sorry. Sorry. I’m sorry,” He murmurs and Steve reaches down, pets his long ass hair with the hand not pinned to his side.

Natasha shoots him a meaningful look like finally, Rogers and then she’s out of the room and its just the two of them. There may be people behind the interrogation screen and there may not. Steve doesn’t care and he knows Bucky doesn’t. So he just lifts him up by his hand, drags him over the comfy bed and sits him down.

But Bucky doesn’t let go of him. His hands cover Steve’s skinny hips and his fingers tickle up his side, thumbs pointing up towards his ribs, pointer fingers stuck around his side.

“Steve.” Bucky breathes his name into the crook of his neck, wiping a tear-wet face against the cool skin. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

It’s alright.

Steve doesn’t say it because he’s still not happy with Bucky for drugging him. And for dragging him out of the Tower and for keeping him locked in a vault away from all his real responsibilities. But he’s willing to forgive him, to forgive the part of him that was still the Winter Solider when he’d dragged him out of the Tower and the part of him that was all Bucky when he kept him close and refused to share.

“You always were a possessive bastard.” Is what he says instead and there’s a sound like a laugh or a sob from beneath him and then Bucky’s face is up, searching for Steve’s with eyes and nose and mouth.

“Jerk.” Steve breathes into the warm cavern of his mouth.

“Punk,” Bucky replies, slotting his mouth over Steve’s and letting his hands – both metal and flesh – fist Steve’s t-shirt, swiftly yanking it off his head.

 

+ I

 The next time it happens, it’s not actually Bucky’s fault. Some terrible awful occurred and Steve was zapped back to bite-size, only this time it wasn’t just cute wittle Captain America Stevie. It was baby I’m-going-to-kill-you-with-my-cuteness Steve Rogers. Yeah, Bucky had a hard time believing it at first too.

“Hey?” A soft vaguely Steveish voice whispers into his ear. “Hey, Mister! Wake up!”

“Unnh,” Bucky grunts and thrusts his arm out, pushing Steve off his back.

“Whoa!” There’s a surprised noise and then half the covers are gone, torn from Bucky’s back as Steve grabs at them, falling sideways off the bed. He hits the ground with a light thump and Bucky thinks for a moment he pushed too hard, but then Steve’s up and Bucky listens to the sound of light feet pattering across the floor.

“Go back to sleep,” he groans, barely conscious himself. “It’s too early.”

He’s thisclose to lapsing back into precious sleep when a light weight jumps onto his chest and his ears start ringing with an explosive crash.

“WAKE UP!” Steve yells, crashing a big tin pan against a metal spoon right above Bucky’s ear. “WAKE UP, WAKE UP, WAKE UP!”

“What the fuck!” Bucky snarls, shoving Steve off his chest.

He listens to Steve’s laughter, a high giggle flush with the sweetness of a child’s warble.

“What?” Bucky sits up warily, blinking and looking around for the source of the giggle. “Steve?”

The giggle sounds again, closer to Bucky’s ear and he reaches out for it blindly, arm folding around a narrow waist and two skinny, skinny arms.

“Hey!” he says on the end of a giggle. “Let go of me!”

And there’s a bottomless empty feeling in Bucky’s stomach because he knows that giggle, he fucking knows it better than he knows his own name. He’s always known it. Always. Even when HYDRA tried to drain his brain out through his nose, that giggle and the kid that accompanied it remained, the only bright spot in Bucky’s world of darkness.

And that kid and Steve can’t be . . . he left that kid behind a while ago . . . he became this harder, cynical thing that started picking fights and refusing to let Bucky take care of him. And holy fucking shit this is impossible . . .

Bucky turns with equal parts excitement and dread to see a little baby Steve held tight in his arm. Okay, he’s a kid, really, probably about five or six, but he’s too cute to be a kid, he practically radiates cute in a way reserved for super fluffy puppies and newborn babies. His eyes are the same fearsome baby blue, burning like chips of pure righteousness in the shallow dip of his face. There are some bags under his eyes and a flush burning through his cheeks, but he’s the picture of cute and staring at Bucky with an expression of complete adoration he hasn’t seen in a long, long time . . .

“Hey,” Steve says and Bucky releases him, pulling his hands away from Steve’s skin like they burn.

“Jesus,” he breathes, but the words don’t come out. His mouth is a soundless O, drawn in shock and curved at the corners like he’s not sure if it’s okay to smile or not.

“You were sleeping a lot.” Steve says, crawling on hands and knees toward Bucky on the comforter. “I thought you were dead.”

He finishes his sentence and giggles again, plopping down so his butt’s on the mattress by Bucky’s knees. Then he kicks his legs out, one touching Bucky’s upper thigh, the other flung across the bed in a wide V. He smooshes his hands into the comforter between his legs and starts wiggling his toes, shaking his whole foot back and forth to the beat of some imaginary tune.

“Jesus,” Bucky says again because what else is there to say.

*

Tony thinks it’s hilarious.

“He’s soooooo cuttteeeeeeeee,” he cries when Bucky walks into the common room, cradling a squirmy little Steve in the cage of his arms. “Oh my God I just want to eat him up!”

Bucky walks in a wide arc around the billionaire, eyeing him warily. “Please don’t.”

“Come here, munchkin.” Pepper approaches cautiously, looking to Bucky for approval. Since Pepper is the only one in the whole Tower who is somewhat sane, he gives Steve to her, hands lingering on Steve’s little-boy body.

“You have pretty hair,” he says, smiling at Pepper and promptly burying his face in it.

“I want to die.” Someone, probably Tony, mutters and Bucky snorts with laughter.

Bucky heads to the fridge as the other team members fawn over baby Steve, rubbing sleep out of his eyes with a metal fist.

“Mister?” Steve squirms out of Pepper’s arms, landing on the floor and taking off towards Bucky at full speed. He slams into Bucky’s leg, wrapping his little arms around it and holding on with his chin resting on the cloth of Bucky’s pajama pants. “Hey, Mister?” he says, blinking watery blue eyes that are too cute to be real. “Don’t leave me.”

Something in Bucky’s throat closes, but he manages to open it back up, reaching down and pulling Steve up into his arms. “Okay, Steve. Okay.”

“Is that my name?” he whispers, awed, into Bucky’s neck.

Bucky says a word that is totally not appropriate for Steve’s tiny ears.

*

“I don’t get it. What’s the problem here?” Tony says when Bucky drags him and Bruce down to the lab to figure out what the fuck is going on.

Bucky contemplates taking off his head, but rationalizes that since he’s useful, he might as well stay alive.

“Can’t believe this is really our Steve.” Bruce pokes a little finger in Steve’s direction and he latches onto it, giggling and pulling Bruce forward into the table.

Bruce laughs and stumbles back, turning to Bucky when he gives him a look. “What? I’m usually no good with children.”

“I thought you’d be on my side with this,” he groans, scooping Steve back up into his arms. Steve, ever the curious little beasty, giggles and squirms in his arms, crawling until his up on Bucky’s shoulder, hands fisted in his long hair.

Bruce’s eyes widen and he spreads his palms out in a placating gesture. “I am. No. I totally am, I just.” His eyes land on Little Steve again and they soften almost imperceptibly. “He really is adorable.”

Bucky can hear Tony’s cries of “I know right!” as he leaves the lab with Steve in his arms.

*

That night HYDRA comes for Steve.  

Bucky’s asleep, Steve’s little hands wrapped around his finger, when it happens. The alarm blares through the Tower, tearing into the night air and startling both him and Steve from sleep. Steve starts wailing and the hand around Bucky’s fingers tugs and jerks until Bucky pulls Steve into his arms, looping his little arms around his neck.

“What’s going on?” he shouts up at the ceiling, hoping whatever computer fairy – Jarvis – Tony installed can hear him over the siren’s screeching.

“HYDRA is attacking the Tower, sir. Crossbones is at the helm. They seem to be coming right for you.”

“Crossbones?” Bucky’s asks but he doesn’t really care he’s already moving, reaching under the bed with Steve in his arms to grab the weapon case he has under there for safekeeping.

“Brock Rumlow, sir.”

Bucky’s teeth clack together and his whole body burns with anger, but he shuts it down, trying to keep it together for the tow-headed child that was once – still is – his precious Steve.

“Up and at ‘em, Barnes.” Tony’s voice comes over the intercom. “We’ve got trouble.”

“I heard,” Bucky growls through clenched teeth, flipping Steve so he’s hanging off Bucky’s back, thick chest between him and any bullets HYDRA may aim his way. He goes for his Winter Solider suit, strapping on the Kevlar and sticking guns into holsters at his sides.

“Rumlow’s with them.”

“I’ll be dead and buried before he gets a hold of Steve.” He leaves off the my off because he doesn’t want to clue Stark in to how dangerously close he is to Winter Solider mode. But it sits at the end of the sentence, an invisible presence hanging off his last word.

“Be careful what you wish for,” he says and then his voice is gone and Bucky’s arming himself for a fight over a little blue-eyed kid who didn’t even know his own name a few hours ago.

 Simply put, the battle is awful.

Without Steve there to guide the rest of the Avengers, they all sort of flop around until Bucky steps in to fill the power vacuum Steve left behind. He alternates between Russian and clipped English, sealing himself in the Hulk-proof section of the lab with Steve. The other Avengers spread out through the Tower, trying to stem the flow of HYDRA soldiers infiltrating the building and keeping Bucky and Steve protected in their makeshift bunker.

 Apparently, HYDRA’s been planning this little stunt for ages because they’ve thrown everything they have into snatching baby Steve from Bucky’s arms. A few soldiers make it to the lab and Bucky checks the little oxygen feed Tony gave him before sucking all the air out of the lab and funneling it back into the bunker. He watches the men suffocate with a vicious pleasure, his other eye on Steve and the pile of blocks he has before him.

The only one to only get close is Rumlow. Bucky sucks the air out of the room and then eases his finger off the trigger, waiting for Jarvis and the system to reboot before he preps to do it again. In the interval, Rumlow makes a break for the bunker, wielding something like a big welding gun and sawing off the side with fiery red fury.

Steve screams as the door comes off, a big chunk of molten metal that breaks off to reveal Rumlow’s ugly face.

“Solider,” he greets Bucky with a feral grin. “Nice to see you again.”

“I have a name, fucker.” Anger spills out from every pore, every cell, every atom of Bucky’s body. He can’t see past it, past the anger; past the bloodshot-red of Rumlow’s eyes and the pink thready burns across his face and the deep maroon of the blood that Bucky is soon going to pull from his veins. “Use it.”

Rumlow launches himself at Steve and Bucky launches himself at Rumlow and somehow he manages to crush his skull beneath his hand, pinning him to the floor and beating him senseless in a way he almost had to Steve that day on the hellicarrier.

It’s not until after that he realizes Steve is crying, clinging to his Kevlar and tugging on anything he can reach.

“STOP!” he screeches, childish voice high and frightened. “BUCK BUCK, STOP!”

He does stop and he’s got blood on his face and on his hands, but the kid throws himself at him, hugging his arms around his neck.

“Stop,” he whispers into Bucky’s bloodied skin. “Stop. Stop. Stop.”

The Avengers find him like that; curled around Steve with both arms hooked solidly around him. Rumlow lies at his feet, bloodied mouth open and gaping while Bucky kneels, body is bent and folded humbly around the little boy that made him.

Steve Rogers wakes up 24 hours later, regular sized and oh-so-happy to be that way.

“I love you no matter what size you are,” Bucky whispers into his skin, kissing anything and everything he can reach. “I love you. I love you. I made you small because I love you. I took care of you because I love you. I made you big because I love you. I just really, really love you.”

“Sap.” Steve presses a kiss into his hair. His tone is joking, but he’s grateful for the apology and he makes sure Bucky knows, pressing him into the mattress and kissing him senseless.

Bucky groans beneath and Steve sits up abruptly, hands spreading over his chest.

“What?” He blinks, fingers cataloguing new scars and bruises. “What are these?” He sits back on his heels, concerned kicked-puppy frown clouding his face. “Where did you get these, Buck? What did I miss?”

And Bucky throws back his head and laughs, a great belly laugh that brings tears to his eyes and shakes the whole Tower, steel foundation to tip-top tower.

“Nothing,” he grins, burying his face in Steve’s neck. “A whole lot of nothing, buddy. So quit worrying.”

[Bucky tells him later and enjoys the expression on his face when he describes the story of Baby Shteeb waking Bucky up because he thought he was dead.]

It’s a good life they have together and Bucky decides to love his Steve Rogers, both as the skinny kid from Brooklyn and the shining icon of American patriotism.

And so he does.

And so they do.

 

~fin~