“Are you sure about this, Steve?”
Steve sighs. He doesn’t know how many times he can reassure Sam about this. He knows Sam is worried but there are some things he just can’t explain, can’t make Sam see.
This is Bucky, and Steve’s not sure how he can ever explain all that’s contained in that one name, that Steve’s entire world can be summed up in Bucky’s name.
His past, his future, his present. Bucky.
His memories, his sorrows, his joys. Bucky.
The air in his lungs, the blood pumping through his veins, the soul that keeps him alive. Bucky.
He doesn’t know if Sam has a Bucky in his life and it makes him sad, guilty, he should know this about his friend. He should know all the things that make up Sam. He should. But he doesn’t, he’s unaware of whether or not Sam is consumed by unbearable love, although he feels like maybe he’d know, something that intense and all-consuming changes a person in immeasurable ways. Great and small. Steve isn’t Steve without Bucky. He should be able to see the same in Sam.
But then again, Steve is a master at hiding, at sucking down and swallowing all of his pain, at letting people see only what he wants them to see. Only Bucky, and to a slightly lesser extent, Peggy, truly ever knew him. Sam is doing his best getting there, Natasha too, but no one will ever be able to simply look at Steve and read him from top to toe like he’s a goddamn open book like Bucky did.
Bucky always made it look so easy.
And now he’s gone, and Steve needs to find him, no matter what it takes. There isn’t a single fucking doubt in his mind Buck would do the same for him, each willing to break themselves into pieces and devour themselves whole for the other. It’s just how they are, how they’ve always been, and God willing, what they’ll be again.
Nobody knows Steve’s only been hanging by a thread since he woke up, he’s pretty sure people think they have some idea he’s not all here, that parts of him are lost, but they don’t know he’s actually a ghost. Empty and hollow, his insides left behind in a mountain pass in Austria. Going through the motions, fighting because he has to, because it’s right, but only doing so until he can go to sleep in the snow.
He had thought that reward was waiting for him, to sleep beside the bones in the snow where he should always have been, but then a mask fell and his chest split apart and now Steve needs to keep fighting.
Only this time it’s for everything, and he’s a willing soldier.
“Yeah, Sam. I’m sure.”
Steve looks around the small cabin. It’s basic, but clean and well-stocked and in the middle of nowhere. It’s perfect.
Natasha had texted him the directions, but it seems more Clint than Natasha. He’ll have to thank him when he sees him next.
Bucky’s still standing next to the truck Steve’d bought for nine hundred bucks and a prayer it’d get them to the cabin. It’s more rust than truck and Bucky blends into it, more remade into different, more worn elements than the Bucky of Steve’s memories. Before the war, before now, when he was soft and beautiful, such a kind, sweet boy with a boisterous, selfless heart. Steve stares at him and wonders if he wants that Bucky back, the one with the wicked smile and filthy mouth and dancing feet. Compared to the Bucky before him right now that one was obscenely innocent, a baby next to this battered, tortured man.
The thought makes Steve momentarily nauseated, his mouth filling with saliva. How can he ever wish, even for a second, for anything else than Bucky exactly as he is right now? He knows if their positions were reversed Bucky would love his ghost, and would never once wish for something else.
“Wanna see the inside, Buck?”
Dark, blank eyes look over at him and anger courses through him. How dare they? How dare they take away the way Bucky always looked at him, the spark of light mixed with soft fondness? They stole from him, and Steve has never been one to let people take things that were never theirs.
The anger must radiate off of him in waves because a look passes across Bucky’s eyes, a flicker of reaction to his anger, and it’s something. Even if he doesn’t know it Bucky is still attuned to him, it’s in his core, and no matter what they did to him they couldn’t take that away. It makes Steve happy, it’s a small thing, but not insignificant. It’s a place to start. He is still inside of Bucky, and that’s all that matters. Bucky isn’t totally empty, he’s far from a lost cause, although Steve knows even if he was, if everything inside Bucky was gone, it wouldn’t stop him from fighting.
Steve will fight for Bucky until he destroys himself doing it, and he’ll happily go down in the flames.
“Grab your bag, come inside,” Steve says in lieu of an answer from Bucky.
He decides not to look over his shoulder and instead trusts that Bucky will eventually follow. He doesn’t want to hover, he doesn’t want to push.
Once he’s inside Steve starts unpacking the bags of groceries he carried in. Natasha had said there would be the basics already stocked but that Steve should pick up fresh things on their way to the cabin. At the last town they’d pass through on the way Steve’d pulled into the parking lot of a small town market. He’d left Bucky sitting in the passenger seat; silent and staring out the window straight ahead of him.
Walking up and down the aisles of the market Steve picked up all of the things he knew Bucky loved; cherries, ginger snaps, hot chocolate, and strawberry jam. Random things piled up in his shopping cart, each with a memory attached of Steve watching Bucky eat them. Across the table from each other, Bucky licking his fingers clean of the sweet, red strawberry jam and Steve grabbing his hand and pulling Bucky’s fingers into his own mouth instead.
Steve could’ve lived off the sweetness he licked from Bucky’s lips, his fingertips.
It wasn’t until he’d checked out and bagged all of his groceries that Steve thought about whether or not Bucky even liked the same foods he once had. Bucky used to eat with such pleasure when they were young; he’d take enormous bites, moan out his happiness as the flavors burst in his mouth. People loved to feed him, he took such joy in it, was always so appreciative. Old ladies piled him with chocolate cakes and blackberry pies, and the girls who yearned to date him would blush in shock and delight at the sounds he made as he devoured their fried chicken and mashed potatoes, the way he’d look them in their eyes as he licked his fingers clean. He was a filthy flirt about it all and Steve learned to cook just so he could draw out those sounds, those looks.
But Bucky had been denied such simple pleasures for so long that Steve stood there clutching his grocery bags and wondering whether he took any joy in anything anymore.
It took the old man behind him in the checkout line asking him if he was alright to get his feet moving. ‘Are you okay, son?’ and Steve’s pat response of, ‘Fine. I’m fine.’
He was always fine.
And now here he is with bags of groceries that probably don’t have the makings of a single meal between them but he’s still fine.
Bucky’s standing out by a broken down old truck silent and aloof and staring out into nothing and Steve wants to set the world on fire but he’s fine. Fine.
The two of them in the middle of nowhere, out of time, out of their minds, both one small ding away from cracking apart and shattering into millions of tiny pieces, but Steve’s fine.
He’s fine, fine, fucking fine.
Without thinking he slams the cupboard door shut he’d been holding open, the bag of rice still in his hand. He jumps when callused fingers skate over his and take the bag away from him. Bucky leans in and opens the cupboard back up again and places the bag of rice inside. When he turns back to retrieve something else from the grocery bags all Steve can do is stare at his back. He never even heard him come into the cabin. He knows his mind was elsewhere, but Bucky was as silent as the goddamn grave and it’s even more painfully obvious he’s a ghost too.
Both of them haunting a cabin in the woods.
Steve wonders how this horror movie will end.
“Thanks, Buck,” he says quietly as Bucky continues to put the groceries away. He nods and goes about his business. In a couple of minutes the task is done and Bucky drifts away just as quietly as he came. Steve watches him walk away and wishes for just that one moment they could erase all of their lost time and Steve could walk up behind Bucky, wrap his arms around his slim waist, and kiss the back of his neck like he used to do. Press his lips into the soft skin, spread his hands over Bucky’s stomach just to hold him close and feel the ripple of shivers that always worked their way through him whenever Steve kissed him there.
Instead Steve watches him through the window, watches him walk down to the shore of the small lake that’s next to the cabin and hopes he stops at the edge of the water and doesn’t keep walking until he’s gone completely. Not even the ripple of waves evidence that he was ever there at all.
Bucky comes back to the cabin without Steve having to call him when dinner’s ready. He almost wishes Bucky hadn’t just so he could have the pleasure of saying his name, having the sound and taste of it in his mouth once again.
They eat in silence.
They spend the rest of the evening in silence.
They go to bed in silence.
Bucky makes his way to the couch but Steve shakes his head at him and points to the lone bed in the one room cabin. He hesitates and Steve looks at him, about to say something, but Bucky turns without a word and goes to the bed. He doesn’t even bother with pulling down the blanket, he simply lays down on top of the still made bed, his back to the wall and his eyes on Steve.
Steve wants to see something in Bucky’s eyes; a spark of recognition, a plea for Steve to crawl into bed beside him, anything but the wariness in them now.
They stare at each other like some kind of demented staring contest until Steve can no longer take the lack of Bucky in Bucky’s eyes.
“Go to sleep, Buck,” he whispers. He’s not even sure Bucky hears him for a second, but he must because he closes his eyes like it was a command. It makes Steve shiver in repulsion and his eyes burn, but he doesn’t stop watching Bucky. He needs to stay awake to tell Bucky to go to sleep again when he wakes in the night from the nightmares that stalk him.
And besides, Bucky doesn’t need to be on the other end; the one telling Steve to go back to sleep when he wakes from his inevitable nightmare. It’s best that Steve just stays awake.
The next day goes exactly like the first.
And the second.
And the third.
Steve suspects there’s an aspect of insanity to what he’s doing; doing the same thing over and over again each day and expecting something different.
Bucky is still silent, and he’s still wary. But he does as he’s told and it makes Steve’s blood boil and acid rise up in the back of this throat.
Bucky had never been as stubborn as Steve, no one was, if Steve were being honest with himself. He took no little pride in being a first-class argumentative asshole and doing the exact opposite of what anyone told him to do. Only his ma and Bucky had any sort of influence over him that wasn’t met with flat out stubbornness or refusal. Bucky was always the calm to Steve’s storm, but there were moments. God were there moments. Moments when Bucky would dig his feet in and damn everyone else to hell who tried to get him to budge. It usually concerned Steve, and what was good for him, or one of Bucky’s sisters, but if he was doing it for the benefit of someone he loved Bucky could out-stubborn even Steven Grant Rogers. And that was a fact.
But this strangely complacent man is now in Bucky’s place and sometimes Steve wants to shout at him, say something he knows will strike a nerve, just to get a reaction out of him. Burning hot shame rushes through him the moment he even thinks those thoughts, but goddamn, he wants something, anything, to come alive in Bucky.
They go through their days eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and reading the rather meager offerings of the cabin. Interspersed with walks down to the lake, separately of course, Bucky avoids Steve’s path at all cost, and long, lost moments of simply staring into space.
Steve stares at Bucky.
Bucky stares at nothing.
Steve wants desperately to know what Bucky sees in the ether. Does he see anything at all? Is he remembering? Or is he shut off completely, powered down like a robot in stasis? In these moments Steve wishes he could curl up behind Bucky, wishes he could press his face against Bucky’s shoulder blade. He remembers so clearly how his face fit into the slope of Bucky’s back.
Made for each other.
That’s what Steve had always believed. Bucky too. There was no other way to describe it; the way they ached and breathed and lived for each other, the way their bodies locked into place. Even when Steve changed and he had locked himself in a room away from everyone else and allowed himself time to cry, to weep for the loss of the body that fit into Bucky’s, terrified things would never be the same, the second they had a moment to themselves again, they found that wasn’t the case. They still fit. In a different way, but they did.
Steve remembers Bucky running his hand along his clavicle, down his chest, dragging the backs of his fingers across his hip, then gripping his thigh and pulling it up until Steve got the picture and wrapped his leg around Bucky. He so clearly remembers Bucky whispering in his ear, “Goddamn, these legs still wrap around me all nice and sweet and just right. Still my sweetheart, aren’t you?” And Steve had been so relieved he’d started to cry as Bucky’d held him and hushed him and told him he’d never ever be so far gone that Bucky couldn’t find him again.
Steve had changed in profound ways and yet Bucky still found him, the very fucking core of him, in about ten seconds flat.
He hates himself that he can’t do the same for Bucky. Can’t touch him and find him and bring him home.
Bucky’s ten feet away from him at any given point in the day and yet Steve still can’t find him.
Steve’s taken to leaving notes around the cabin. Memories he thinks might spark something in Bucky.
You had three sisters. You adored them all, but Becca was always your favorite.
You were a brain. You always got top marks in all your classes, especially science and math. I copied off your math homework all the time.
You kept a stray alley cat even though your mom told you no. You called him Harold because the name made me laugh.
You read to me whenever I was sick. I never cared what book it was, it was all about the sound of your voice for me.
Your next door neighbor, Mrs. Bellagosa, fed you cakes and pies and cookies every day after school. You always made sure to stop by because we were pretty sure you were the only person who ever did.
You were kind. You gave freely of your heart, and everyone who met you fell in love with you.
Me most of all.
He doesn’t know if Bucky thinks he’s being pushy, trying to force memories on him, but it’s not like there’s a guidebook for the fucked up situation they find themselves in. He knows he’s making a thousand mistakes every day they’re here, but he doesn’t know what else he can do. It’s not like he can walk Bucky into a therapist’s appointment, or a hospital, or anywhere there were professionals far better suited to deal with his needs than Steve. He’s at a loss.
He’s drowning and he knows it.
Natasha shows up a week into their stay. She has a box of his things, things from the thirties that he would never have wanted anyone to see. Letters, drawings, one of Bucky’s old shirts he’d kept when he first shipped out.
The entire box is telling, so painfully, wretchedly obvious. It’s his love for Bucky in physical form, and every piece he’d kept hidden under a loose floorboard in the last apartment they’d shared together in Brooklyn.
He has always thought these things were lost forever.
Bucky is out on one of his endless walks and Natasha stands at the window to give him a bit of peace as he looks through the box’s contents.
“Where’d you get this?” he asks as he runs his fingers over the worn cuffs of Bucky’s shirt. It’s full of tiny patches Steve himself had sewn, mismatched buttons, and frayed hems. He’d worn it when Bucky was gone to remind him of the lazy Sunday afternoons he’d spent in Bucky’s shirts; too lazy to get dressed properly in his own clothes, loving the way Bucky’s eyes followed him, heated and hungry, whenever he’d wear one of his shirts. He’d always hated being small because he equated it with being weak and sick, but he’d loved the way Bucky’s clothes engulfed him. He’d loved seeing just the tips of his fingers sneaking past the cuffs, the way the shirttails skimmed his knees and brushed against the backs of his thighs. The faint swish of the light cotton sending shivers all over his body. The neck of the shirt far too large and sliding off his shoulder, showing off his clavicles and making Bucky paw and grab at him as he whispered, ’mine,’ in Steve’s good ear.
Steve looks over at Nat. “Peggy? How’d you —”
“I used to visit her, from time to time. When I first joined SHIELD. I admired her.”
“I think the two of you would’ve gotten along frightening well.” Steve smiles, the first one in weeks. He’s surprised his face doesn’t crack apart.
Nat smiles as well. “I know I would’ve loved teaming up with her against you.”
“Hey now. Rude.”
Nat laughs that soft, deep laugh of hers that Steve loves. She abandons the window and walks over to him. “Do you mind?” she asks as she nods toward the box.
He shakes his head. “Go ahead.”
Nat pulls out a drawing of Bucky laughing, he couldn’t be more than eighteen at the time. “He’s a baby,” she says.
“I couldn’t stop drawing him. My entire life, I couldn’t stop. Even when we were kids, before we ever kissed or figured out the way things were between us.”
“They’re beautiful,” she says as she looks through more drawings.
“She gave me the box right after you came back. You’d been to visit her a few times. In one of her lucid moments she told me how you’d told her about the loose floorboard and how she’d traveled to Brooklyn after the two of you had died just to see, she’d said. I think she was hoping to know you better if she could see where it all began.”
“Bucky’s the one who told her. About us. He never told me that though, Peggy did. She told me how he came up to her and said I was his fella, that I’d been his fella for a long, long time and that he’d never love anyone else the way he loved me but that he could see she was a helluva lady and that she’d make me happy, give me the kind of normal life I deserved. He told her that he hoped she’d be okay knowing he’d always be out there loving me too. She adored him after that.” Steve sighs, rolls his eyes. “I, on the other hand, hated him.”
“Of course you did.”
“First thing I did next time I saw him was punch him in his goddamn face. The fucking cheek of him thinking he could plan out my life for me, arrogant fucking bastard. God.” Steve rubs his hands over his face. “I was so fucking angry.”
“Would it shock you to know I find none of this surprising?” Nat asks. She raises an eyebrow and Steve shoves at her shoulder.
“Fuck you,” he says, with zero heat in his voice. He looks over at her, takes a deep breath. “You don’t even know though. You can’t know how I loved him. How the very thought of living in the world without him could turn my bones into ash. I was so goddamn mad at him for thinking I could walk away from him, that I could do that. Fuck him.”
Steve pushes the box away and collapses into the closest chair. He’s suddenly so fucking exhausted. Nat places the drawings she was still holding back into the box and sits down across from him, silent but obviously listening.
“I know what we are,” he says. “I know the way I love him is unhealthy and codependent and whatever fucking twenty-first century bullshit a therapist could throw at me, but guess what? I don’t give a shit. I never did. I could’ve gotten off that plane. I could’ve. But after he —” He has to stop for a few seconds to catch his breath. “And he thought I could run off and marry Peggy just because he decided it’s what I should do? God we fought over that one.”
Nat doesn’t say anything, just lets the quiet surround them. The silence is different with her, less fraught and more comfortable than it is with Bucky.
“Peggy told me not to give it to you,” Nat says after they’ve been sitting for awhile. “Not right away. She saw how the world was overwhelming you and didn’t want to add to it. Told me to hold onto it until I thought you were strong enough to handle what was inside.”
Steve touches the corner of the box and asks absently, “What was inside?”
“I could never handle that,” Steve laughs. “Not when I was seventeen and definitely not now.”
“That explains all of this.”
“I know all of you doubt my sanity,” Steve says as he gets up and walks over to the sink. The window above looks down on the path to the lake and he hopes if he stands there it’ll make Bucky materialize somehow. “But this is me with Bucky. This is my true self. All any of you have ever seen is the image of me, only the manufactured parts of me I wanted you to see.”
“That’s all any of us are, Steve.”
“Not with Bucky. Not with him, I —” Steve has to stop to take a breath. “I need to find him, Nat. I need to.”
Suddenly Nat is at his side. She doesn’t touch him, but he can feel the heat of her, her solidity.
“What if you don’t?”
He keeps his eyes on the window, on the lake path.
“Then I’m lost.”
Bucky doesn’t return until Nat leaves, Steve’s not surprised.
“What did she want?”
“She dropped off some of my old things. Peg had them,” Steve answers as he gets up and walks over to the box. He starts pulling things out of it to lay them out on the table in front of Bucky.
“Yeah, Peg...Peggy, she was —”
Warmth fills Steve’s chest. Bucky always did have a soft spot for Peggy, and she for him.
“That’s right, Buck.”
“Curves like an hourglass.”
“Yeah,” Steve laughs. “She was quite the dish.”
“And a firecracker.” There’s a fond look in Bucky’s eyes. “She didn’t let you get away with shit.”
“You neither. Led us both around by our balls.”
Bucky walks over to Steve’s side and looks in the box. “She kept these things?”
“She did,” Steve says. “I told her about them, how I hid them away.”
“That damn loose floorboard.”
“Yeah, Buck.” Steve blinks away the tears burning in his eyes. “She went to Brooklyn, to our old apartment.”
Bucky pulls out a drawing, one Steve had done of him after he’d come back from basic and before he shipped out. He’s standing naked with his back to Steve, his dog tags hanging down his spine. God, Steve was obsessed with those dog tags; the way they hung from Bucky’s neck, the way they brushed against his chest when Bucky fucked him. He’d held onto them once, twisted them up in his fingers, almost choking Bucky with them, as he told him he belonged to him, that he’d better come home to him. Bucky had promised him he would, but there was a far away look in his eyes Steve had never seen before and instantly hated because he knew, for the first time in their lives, Bucky had lied to him.
Bucky sets the drawing down on the table, traces the curve of his shoulder with his finger, trails it down his spine.
“Not a single scar,” he says. “Not a flaw. Pure.”
“I could never stop touching you,” Steve says. He might as well say it all now, it’s not like he can tell Bucky he was drawing him naked as a friend. He has to know now there was more to them than that.
“Who was he?” Bucky asks. Steve wonders if Bucky didn’t hear him, or if he’s chosen to ignore his words.
“You. That’s you.”
Bucky shakes his head as if he doesn’t believe Steve.
“It’s you, Bucky. You’re so goddamn beautiful I always wanted to draw you, and you always let me. I thought maybe one day you’d get sick of it, tell me no, but you never did. You were so patient with me. I drove you up the fucking wall sometimes, but you let me know it, and you were always patient when it mattered.”
“Are they all me?” Bucky asks as he digs through the drawings in the box.
“Every last one of them.”
“Why? Didn’t you draw anyone else?”
“Course I did. I drew my ma all the time, your sisters, Harold, Brooklyn. God we used to wander around Brooklyn endlessly just so I could find something new to draw. We found a girlie bar one time,” Steve laughs at the memory. “I think we were eleven and we made it our mission in life to figure out how to sneak inside and see those hoochie coochie girls.”
“Did we?” There’s a spark of interest in Bucky’s eyes and Steve wants to grab onto it for all he’s worth.
“Of course we did, we were both stubborn as hell.”
“You were always a sneaky little shit besides,” Bucky says, seemingly off-handed as he continues to look through the box.
Steve doesn’t say anything, just watches Bucky as he pulls out drawings of himself one by one. Compared to the Bucky before him the one in the drawings looks like a baby, innocent and unblemished, tall and lean as hell, always scraping around for money and food and a good time, but my god, innocent and sweet as a baby. He knew every single goddamn inch of that body, could draw it in his sleep, the body next to him is as foreign as the moon to him. He can see the arm of course, plain as day, but the changes and the scars he’s not seeing? He can’t bear to think there’s any part of Bucky unknown to him, unfamiliar.
“I want to draw you again,” he says suddenly, without thought. “Could I draw you?”
Bucky looks up at him, the absence in his eyes back again.
“I’m not him, not anymore. I’m broken.”
Steve wants to tell him he is too, they both are, how could they not be? After everything.
“Why was Becca my favorite?”
Bucky looks up from his book and Steve smiles at him.
“You read the notes.”
“I liked them. Thank you.”
“I didn’t know if I should, if I was being pushy.”
“I want to know,” Bucky says.
“Should I start leaving them again?”
“I’d like that, yeah.”
“Good,” Steve says. “Good. I’ll start again. I have list of things, pages of stuff I could tell you about Becks. I have so many other things I want to say too. So many things I want to tell you —”
Steve stops, he knows his voice is too eager, too loud. Too much. He can’t help it, he wants to remember everything, every single thing he and Bucky ever were, and he wants to tell him it all, so he remembers, so Steve’s not the only one anymore.
He can’t stand being the only one anymore.
Bucky looks at him when he stops talking, his eyes search Steve’s. “I want to know. You can tell me anything you want.”
“I don’t want to overwhelm you,” Steve says. “I feel like I’m too much.”
“Steve.” Oh god, his name in Bucky’s mouth. It’s everything. “I’ve had people telling me nothing but lies for years and years until they were all I had. I don’t want lies anymore. I want the truth, and I want it to overwhelm me. I’d rather be lost in our truths than in their lies.”
Steve nods okay. He can do that, he can help with that. He wants to go over to Bucky, curl himself around him and never let him go, instead he looks at the book in Bucky’s hands and risks asking, “Would you read to me? While I draw?”
Bucky doesn’t move, doesn’t say anything for a minute, and Steve thinks he’s just going to ignore him, but then suddenly he starts to read. His voice washes over Steve, soft and clear. Every muscle in his body relaxes at the sound, just like it used to do. All of his tensions and anxiety and aches had always released themselves at the sound of Bucky’s voice.
’All the crew respected and even obeyed Long John Silver. He had a way of talking to each and doing everybody some particular service. To me he was unweariedly kind, and always glad to see me in the galley…’
Steve lets his eyes fall closed and feel more relaxed than he’s been in a long, long time.
They start talking more after that.
There are still long stretches of silence between them, but now Bucky stands in the doorway before leaving on his walk, looking at Steve to see if he’ll come with him. Steve drops whatever he’s doing every single time.
Sometimes they walk, sometimes they sit at the end of the dock, feet in the lake, until the sun goes down and their stomachs rumble from emptiness. They’ve gone through their food and Steve makes another grocery run. He tries not to let on to Bucky that he’s terrified he’ll be gone when he comes back, but he keep his worries to himself and Bucky is exactly where he left when he returns with the groceries.
Steve finds Bucky looks at him more now, too. He’s forever looking up and finding Bucky staring at him, watchful and quiet. Sometimes there’s nothing beyond curiosity, as if he’s looking at a strange animal at the zoo, but sometimes, god, sometimes there’s a softness in Bucky’s eyes that’s so familiar it makes Steve’s stomach drop. The soft, fond look that used to always make it impossible for Steve not to walk over to him and kiss him, or run his fingers through his hair, or over his cheek. The look that meant, ‘goddammit, I’m so in love with you right now even if you’re the most impossible, ridiculous person in the whole fucking world.’
When he finds that look in Bucky’s eyes he makes sure he holds his gaze, looks back with the same softness, hoping beyond hope Bucky realizes one day that it’s Steve’s way of saying, yes, I’m here, I’m right here with you through all of this.
Something makes Steve wake up in the middle of the night, and for once it’s not a nightmare. He automatically looks over at the bed, searching out Bucky. For a moment it’s like how it used to be; the moment he woke up, became aware, he would reach out for Bucky, like touching him, seeing him, was what brought the world into clarity. Bucky making everything real again.
Bucky is sitting in the middle of the bed and Steve can see the drawings from the box Natasha brought, they’re scattered around him and he’s holding one in his hand. He hasn’t moved since he opened his eyes but Bucky must sense he’s awake.
“I loved you, didn’t I? Before.”
Steve freezes. He’s not sure he’s heard correctly, Bucky’s not looking at him so he can’t even try to read his face in the moonlight coming in through the window to see if he’s heard what he thinks he has.
He opens his mouth to answer but only a pained sound comes out, a kind of choked off sob, and Bucky hears it, turns his head to look over at him.
“I loved you,” he repeats.
There’s no inflection in his voice, just a flatness that sounds like complete disinterest and Steve can’t handle it. He can’t. He can’t lie here and have Bucky remember something like that but seemingly not feel a goddamn thing.
“Yes. You did.” He manages to get out past the thickness of his throat. “You loved me, Buck. You loved me.”
“And you loved me,” Bucky says.
Steve can’t stop the broken sob from escaping this time. It’s loud and sudden in the absolute silence of the cabin. He has to bite his bottom lip to the point of pain to keep from crying out again. Bucky leans forward, makes a move as if he’s about to reach out to Steve, but he stops and Steve bites down on his lip harder.
Bucky keeps looking at him, expecting an answer so Steve nods.
“Yes,” he says. “I do. I love you.”
No past tense, not left behind, his love for Bucky is just as fierce now as it ever was, and he’s not going to lie about it. He can’t, not to Bucky, even though it means nothing to him anymore.
“We had to hide,” Bucky says, and Steve nods again.
The silence stretches between them again and Steve doesn’t know what to do. All he wants is to crawl into Bucky’s lap.
“I wanted to tell everyone I met,” Bucky says. “That you were my guy. I was so proud.”
Steve has to look away from him. He can’t stand looking at that familiar, precious face, can’t stand hearing what it’s saying to him. He doesn’t hear Bucky get up from the bed, not that he would’ve at any other less fraught time, Bucky is always silent when he moves. The touch of Bucky’s fingers to his jaw is a shock. It’s the first time they’ve touched so intimately outside of fighting.
Bucky’s fingers only brush along his skin, the touch fleeting, but Steve’s skin burns. By the time he can make his hands work, can make them reach out to grab onto Bucky’s fingers, he’s not there anymore.
Bucky doesn’t come back that night, or the next day.
It’s getting darker by the minute, a storm is coming, the rain is just starting, and Steve wants to vomit. There’s no use going after Bucky, if he doesn’t want to be found Steve’s not going to find him, but the agony of waiting is churning his guts.
Did he let go of too much last night? But Bucky had said to him he wanted to know, he’d asked for more notes, more memories, and for him loving Steve was a memory.
Flashes of lightning illuminate the cabin making Steve realize he’s been sitting in the dark. He goes to light the fireplace, to turn on a few lights, anything to make the cabin seem welcoming. He hopes Bucky is nearby, can see the light and feel it calling him home.
He keeps telling himself Bucky is close, that’s he’s somewhere out in the woods and not already a thousand miles away.
Steve tries reading, tries playing stupid games on his phone, but all he can do is pace between bouts of staring out the windows. It’s on what is probably his seventeenth time through the pacing and trips to the window that he finally spots Bucky. He’s standing at the end of the dock, Steve only saw him in the light of a lightning strike.
Not bothering with shoes Steve runs out of the cabin, down the path to the lake. He runs down the length of the dock but stops short of being within touching distance of Bucky. The rain is really coming down now and he’s already soaked.
Bucky doesn’t turn or acknowledge his presence but Steve knows he’s aware of him.
Not a flinch.
“Come inside. Please. With me.”
Steve takes a couple of tentative steps closer, dares to reach out. He lays his palm flat against the center of Bucky’s back, he’s still giving off heat but there’s a cold, claminess to it. Without warning Bucky drops down into a crouch and lets out a scream. It cuts through the beating of the storm; a loud, screeching anguish. The force of it ripples through Steve’s body like it’s sending out seismic waves. He’s never heard anything like it. It sounds bloody, raw, and it pierces into him with so much pain he can hardly stand it.
He’s been beaten, shot, torn apart, again and again and again, and he’s never felt pain like this. Never.
Steve’s legs give out on him and he drops down behind Bucky, knees hitting the dock. He’s completely unaware his own cry has joined Bucky’s until the rain starts running down his throat. He’s choking on it, drowning on dry land as he grabs at Bucky, fights with him to just let him hold him, but Bucky keeps pushing at him, struggling to get away as Steve drapes his body over him.
He won’t let go of him, not this time. He won’t.
Bucky’s raging like an animal and Steve’s locked down around him. Bucky’ll have to tear him apart to get him to let go. Bucky’s screams keep going, radiating out into the night as Steve presses his mouth to the curve of Bucky’s shoulder and screams into the wet cotton of his t-shirt, muffled and gasping.
He doesn’t know how long they struggle and scream; a writhing pile of agony at the end of the dock. They must look like some horrifying monster straight out of a nightmare, but Steve couldn’t care less, all he wants to do is scream until he’s spitting up blood, purged of all the pain and guilt and loss inside of him.
They rage, then they dim and settle until there’s not a sound but the rain and thunder and their heavy, broken breaths. Bucky is on his hands and knees, Steve still draped over him. He can feel Bucky’s heart beating against his own chest, and his own heart pounding to match it.
“They took you away from me.”
Bucky’s voice is shattered, raspy, and Steve can barely understand him.
“And I can’t find you. You’re here but I can’t find you.”
Even though Steve’s cheeks are wet from the rain he can feel the hot tears run down them as he starts to cry.
“You will, Buck. You’ll find me, I’ll help you.”
“They took everything. My life, my family, you. I can’t. You’re all there, hovering. I can’t reach you.”
“I’ve got you.” Steve presses his lips into Bucky’s shoulder. “I’m never letting go.”
“They took you away.”
Bucky’s voice is so broken Steve only starts to cry harder. “I know, sweetheart. My love.”
“And filled me with nothing. I’m empty.”
Steve keeps pressing kisses to Bucky’s shoulder as he rocks them both. They need to get up, get back inside. He wants to get Bucky into the shower and dry clothes, tuck him into bed, but right now all he wants is to keep holding him.
Bucky lets Steve help him peel his wet clothes off of his body, he’s long since gone quiet. Steve had to almost drag him back to the cabin, they’re both wrung out, exhausted. He watches silently as Steve peels his own clothes off.
The shower is running, getting as hot as they both can stand it.
Steve kicks their clothes into a wet pile then steps as close to Bucky as he can without actually touching him. He does reach out though to brush strands of hair off of his face. Bucky keeps his eyes on him, but instead of the haunted look they’ve held for most of their time here, they seem more calm, more aware. Steve shivers under their scrutiny.
“You’re cold,” Bucky says, his fingers reaching out to brush along Steve’s bare chest.
Yes, he’s cold, but he doesn’t tell Bucky that’s not what made him shiver.
Steve gripes Bucky’s hand, holds it to his chest. “Let’s get you in the shower,” he says quietly.
Bucky doesn’t protest, just walks into the shower and Steve follows. It’s not large so they’re forced to press together, Bucky’s side against Steve’s chest and it’s the warmest, calmest he’s felt since he woke up here in the future.
Steve starts on Bucky’s hair first, turns him into the spray of the shower so his hair is evenly wet. Bucky watches as Steve reaches for the shampoo and squeezes some into his hand, and keeps his eyes on him as he works it into his hair. Steve takes his time, massages the shampoo into Bucky’s hair, and keeps his eyes trained on Bucky to hold his stare. From time to time Bucky’s eyes briefly drop shut from pleasure when Steve’s fingers press into just the right spot, but otherwise his eyes never leave Steve’s. He doesn’t know he’s crying again until Bucky reaches up and wipes the tears away with his fingers.
“I’m sorry,” Bucky says.
“For hurting you. All I do is cause you pain. I see it everyday.”
Steve sighs, god, is that what Bucky’s been thinking this whole time? That all his presence is doing is causing Steve pain? He’s failing him yet again if that’s the case.
“I am in pain,” Steve admits. “But you’re not the cause.”
“Liar.” Bucky smiles faintly and Steve lets out a quiet, small laugh.
“You are, but you’re not,” Steve says as he runs his hands through the strands of Bucky’s hair.
“That’s clear as mud.”
Steve chuckles softly again, but doesn’t say anything right away, just gently pushes Bucky back until he’s under the shower spray again and can rinse out the shampoo. Once that’s done he tips Bucky’s head back down so he’s looking into Steve’s eyes.
“What they did to you causes me pain, not you,” he says. “You are the only happiness I know, the only thing that makes me feel alive since I woke up from the ice. You, Buck.”
Bucky reaches up and wraps his fingers around Steve’s wrists, draws his hands down and holds them to his lips.
“Who has been taking care of you, Stevie?”
Steve shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter. What matters is you right now.”
“You know I can’t be okay if you’re not okay too,” Bucky says. “Isn’t that how it goes with us?”
“Yeah.” Steve feels himself getting choked up again and he leans in to press his cheek against Bucky’s. “That’s exactly how it goes with us.”
“I hate to break it to you pal, but we’re both walking disasters.”
“But at least we’re walking.” Steve jokes.
Bucky lets out a tired laugh, it’s nothing like his real laugh, but it’s fucking beautiful to Steve’s ears.
“Lame. Really fucking lame,” Bucky says as he brings his hands up and runs them over Steve’s head and down the back of his neck. He gives it a light squeeze then wraps his arms around him in a hug. “Still haven’t learned you’re the least funny person in the entire world, huh?”
“Excuse me, I’ve always been fucking hilarious. You just have a super shitty sense of humor,” Steve says with a teary laugh as he sinks into Bucky’s arms.
They stand there holding each other, only moving when Bucky turns them until Steve is under the hot spray of water.
“Someone ought to have been taking care of you,” Bucky says quietly.
“It’s not their fault, they didn’t know.”
“Still holding everything inside, huh, Stevie? Same old bullshit.”
“Of course you remember that.” Steve can feel Bucky’s smile against his cheek.
“The important things have started flooding back, I remember more than you know.”
Steve pulls back to look at Bucky. “Tell me the things you remember. I want to hear your voice, this silence has been killing me.”
“What if I’m wrong? I don’t want —”
“I’ll tell you. I’ll help,” Steve interrupts.
“But I don’t want to get things wrong. I don’t want to misremember you. I can’t fail you.”
“Goddammit,” Steve says as he crushes Bucky to him. “I don’t care about that. You’re here, alive, and in my arms, nothing else matters.”
“Steve,” Bucky sighs. “I just want us back. All of us, I don’t want only pieces.”
“You’re the one who said it, sweetheart, we’re a mess. A great big fat broken mess. But we’ll be okay. We have to be. I can’t be here without you anymore.”
Bucky kisses Steve’s forehead. “I know, baby.”
The water’s starting to cool so they take turns gently washing each other, running the washcloth over arms, legs, the curve of an ass. When Steve wraps the soapy cloth around Bucky’s cock it’s not sexual, just careful tending to his needs. Their bodies are still attuned to one another, alight with the familiarity of touch, but that’s all. Anything else would be too raw right now, they’re all sparking nerve-endings and have to be careful with one another.
Bucky’s so gentle with him when he helps him to dry off Steve can’t stop himself from letting a few tears slide down his face.
“Do you remember doing this for me when we were young?” he asks. Bucky shakes his head, no. “You always took such good care of me when I was sick. You and Ma.”
Bucky looks at Steve expectantly, like he wants to hear more, all of it, every single thing Steve can possibly tell him.
“Of course Ma took good care of me, but you. God. Your hands.” Steve has to stop at the memory, just a short pause to catch his breath again. The intensity of them make him breathless, just as he used to be when asthma plagued him and constricted his lungs. “They were rough from work, but you had the softest touch. And they were always cool against my skin when I had a fever, they were like a dream sometimes.”
Steve reaches out for Bucky’s hands and draws them up to his mouth so he can kiss the palms before holding them against his chest.
“They were the first hands to touch me, like a lover. The first time you touched me like that.” Steve stops and smiles to himself as he lets out a laugh. “You were washing me, just like I washed you in the shower. You touched my dick and I went right off like a goddamn rocket.”
Steve laughs again, and for a moment, Bucky joins him. It’s a gorgeous sound. But just as soon as he starts, he stops.
“I wanted to lick the taste of you from my hand,” he says suddenly.
“Oh god, Buck,” Steve says as he leans into Bucky and presses a kiss to his temple. “I’m sure as hell glad I didn’t know that back then or I’da shot off again a second later and embarrassed myself all over again.”
“But it was mostly in the water, not on my hand,” Bucky says like Steve hadn’t even spoken. “I watched it disappear and got so goddamn hard.”
“I was so embarrassed, and terrified. I was fucking terrified you’d be disgusted by me, that you’d hate me, but you just laughed. You made everything okay, just like you always did.”
“I had to laugh,” Bucky says. “Otherwise I’d have kissed you. I wanted you so damn bad.”
Steve sighs and pulls Bucky into his arms. “I love you, Buck. I’ve loved you all my life, and I’ll love you at the end.”
“What if this is the end?” Bucky asks. “What if now’s the time you give up on me?”
“It’s not the end,” Steve says. “It’s not the end until everything falls and the world breaks apart around us, and the moment I give up on you is when my body fucking disintegrates along with it. Goddammit, Buck, you gotta know that.”
“But what if I never remember? How can I hold you back, I can’t —”
“I don’t care,” Steve interrupts. “I don’t.”
Steve presses his lips to Bucky’s ear. “If you never remember all of us, all of our pieces, then we’ll start all over again and we’ll fall in love just like we did when we were young.” Bucky leans into him and suddenly Steve hears a soft chuckle. “What?”
“But you already love me, that’s cheating,” Bucky says. “You always were a sneaky little cheat.”
“I am not!” Steve says, pretending to be affronted. “How dare you. I’m a fucking paragon of virtue and honesty.”
“Who’s also a sneaky little fucking cheat.”
Steve laughs as he rocks them both side to side. “Lies. All lies.”
Steve gets Bucky into bed and starts to head toward the couch when Bucky reaches out and wraps his hand around his wrist.
“Are you sure? You’ve gotta be sure.”
It’s all Steve can do not to fling himself into bed beside Bucky. He’s been so desperate for him, to be close to him again, now that the opportunity is here he’s shaking with it. He stands next to the bed though and lets Bucky hold back the blankets before crawling in next to him. He gets close to Bucky’s side and starts to wrap his arm around him when Bucky stops him.
“I’m sorry,” Steve says, “We don’t have to touch, I didn’t mean to pu—”
“Steve. Steve, shhh.” Bucky smooths his hand over Steve’s face. “I don’t mean it like that. Let me hold you.”
“You don’t have to, Buck. I’m okay —”
“Liar,” Bucky whispers.
“But you need —” Steve’s voice cracks. “I’m fine.”
“Liar,” Bucky repeats.
“But I need to help you. It’s my turn to help you. All those years it was the other way around and now I need to do this.”
Bucky wraps his arms around Steve and pulls him to his chest. “You don’t need to do everything, Stevie. You don’t need to carry it all.”
“I let you go, Buck. All you went through, it’s my fault. Mine.”
“Who’s been holding you, sweetheart?” Bucky asks, ignoring Steve’s words.
“But I don’t need anything. I’m fine,” Steve says. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine, sweetheart. You’re holding on by a thread, I can see it plain as day, why has no one else seen it and helped you?”
“I told you, I don’t —”
“Shh, don’t do that. Don’t lie to me,” Bucky says. “Answer me, who’s been holding you?”
Steve shakes his head, unable to answer.
So Bucky just repeats himself.
“Who’s been holding you, sweetheart? Who’s been taking care of you?”
“Bucky.” Steve’s voice breaks at the end of Bucky’s name.
“Goddammit,” Bucky says as he cradles Steve’s head in his hand. “How has no one seen you? You’re so fucking brittle. Who’s helping you, baby?”
Steve starts to quietly cry. “It’s not their fault, Buck. They didn’t know.”
“They should’ve,” Bucky says as he holds Steve’s face against the curve of his neck. “I know you told me in the shower it wasn’t their fault, but I still don’t understand how they didn’t see. If they have eyes they should’ve.”
“They’re not you, I can lie to them. I can pretend.”
“I’ve got you. I’ve got you now.”
Steve lets go, finally lets go. He’s never been able to before, not without Bucky watching over him. Bucky’s right, of course he is, all he’s been doing since he’s woken up is pretend. He’s nodded and smiled and done as he was told, what was expected of him without a single person knowing he was nothing but a shell. A ghost.
“Just go to sleep, Steve,” Bucky says. “You’re far too tired.”
Steve wants to say, you too, to Bucky, but he’s exhausted, he can’t move his limbs much less turn thoughts into words. So he closes his eyes instead and lets Bucky hold him.
Steve wakes up to the smell of bacon and eggs. When he opens his eyes he sees Bucky at the stove, he’s wearing an old t-shirt of Steve’s and plaid pajama pants. If he were standing in an old undershirt with his suspenders hanging at his hips it might have been 1938. Bucky had always been the cook, even though Steve had learned so he could feed Bucky and make him moan, it was always Bucky trying to stuff Steve full of food like that’d make him grow somehow.
“Didn’t know we had any bacon.”
Bucky glances over. “Went to the store.”
“Jesus, how hard was I sleeping? You didn’t even wake me up.”
“I’ve got skills,” Bucky says so drily that a burst of laughter escapes Steve’s mouth. The sound is so loud, so starling after the tense silence the cabin had been under the last couple of weeks that it makes Bucky laugh too. “Plus you still sleep like the dead.”
That’s definitely an accurate memory and it makes Steve smile. Bucky’s remembering more and more and Steve hopes that it’s a sign of healing. He know there’s no way they’ll ever be one hundred percent again, either one of them, but he’s going to get them as close to it as he can.
He gets up out of bed and goes to sit down at the table. Bucky plops a plate down in front of them and one for himself. They eat quietly for a couple of minutes, but Steve can’t stop himself from spending most of the time staring at Bucky.
“Those days,” Bucky says into the quiet. “Before you found me the second time —”
“Before you came back to me again,” Steve interrupts.
After pulling Steve from the Potomac Bucky had disappeared for nearly three weeks. The days had seemed endless to Steve, he had driven himself into the ground trying to find him, and then, one day, there he was at Steve’s door. Silent and wary, but there.
A small smile curls up Bucky’s mouth. “Before I came back to you.”
Warmth travels through every inch of Steve’s body at Bucky’s words and soft smile.
“I tried to remember. I went back to Brooklyn because that was the only place that felt right, but it’s so different now.”
“Nothing’s the same,” Steve says. “Everything we knew is gone.”
“I couldn’t find us anywhere. There were flashes, but nothing I could hold onto. So I went back to DC, I went to the Smithsonian.”
“Yeah, I was embarrassed for you,” Bucky teases and Steve laughs.
“Fuck you,” he says as he shoves at Bucky’s shoulder.
Bucky smiles. “Even though the entire thing is ridiculous, and you’re definitely not that impressive, it helped. It helped more than going to Brooklyn.”
“But they only got such a small part of what it was like, what we did, what we went through over there. And if they’d told the whole story that entire exhibit would’ve been all about you. You’re Steve Rogers’ heart, and you made Captain America. It should’ve been about you, Buck.”
Bucky reaches over to take Steve’s hand. He laces their fingers together. “I think you had a small part in it all too.”
Steve laughs and covers their hands with his free one. He looks down at them, both sets aged and callused like they never used to be, Bucky’s with nicks and scars Steve doesn’t know the story behind. Not knowing would’ve broken his heart before because he had known Bucky’s body as well as his own, better, because he’d studied every inch of it; worshipped and kissed and tasted it. To have any part of it be unfamiliar to him would’ve made him feel unmoored. Now those nicks and scars are just proof Bucky’s alive, that he’s fought, and fought hard, but Steve never wants to know their story. He knows he can’t handle them, whatever they are, and he thinks he’s maybe finally learned that some things are better left unknown.
“Goddamn I’m so wrapped up in you,” he says. “We’ve always been twisted up. There were times when I thought maybe we shouldn’t be, that I should learn how to be without you, but I’m no good without you. My fucking roots are in you, Buck.”
Bucky shakes his head then lays it down on top of their joined hands. “I’m what you’d call a barren wasteland now, those roots are gonna get sick and die.”
Steve leans over Bucky, kisses his temple. “Those old gnarled things? Not a fucking chance, they’re like those vines you hack and hack and hack away but always come back.”
“So you’re basically an infestation,” Bucky says, his voice warm and amused.
“Fuck yeah, I am,” Steve says as he lifts up Bucky’s head. “Now eat your stupidly delicious breakfast.”
Bucky smiles at him and goes back to his breakfast. “Apparently I didn’t forget how to cook.”
“Thank god, I was getting really sick of doing all the heavy lifting around here.”
Bucky laughs and it’s like the goddamn sun came out.
They talk more, touch more, after that night and morning. Bucky seems more willing to ask Steve questions, to ask for help remembering, and Steve hopes, more willing to be okay with not ever remembering everything. There’s too much between them for that. The two of them are too much, there’s no possible way Bucky will ever get every piece of them back.
It makes the rage inside of Steve boil that even one single thing was taken from Bucky, much less an entire life, but he has Bucky here with him and that makes the rage settle. Seeing the curve of his neck, smelling him on their sheets - they’ve slept in each other’s arms ever since, they can’t seem to hold on tightly enough anymore - hearing his voice, and knowing he can reach out and touch him whenever he wants, it all calms the things inside of him he thought would rage on forever.
He still wants to burn Hydra to the ground, and he will, someday, but he wants to leave it up to Bucky what they’ll do, and when. He’s not going to think about it now, he’s just going to breathe, everyday, beside the love of his goddamn life. The love he gets to have back.
He’s going to stay in this cabin for as long as he can hoarding that love.
Everyday Steve asks if he can draw Bucky, and everyday Bucky says no. He’s noticed Bucky has a hard time looking in mirrors, even catching himself in the reflection in the cabin’s windows can make him look away. He knows Bucky only sees ugliness, and the things that he’s done, and Steve wishes he could change that. It’s why he asks everyday. He feels like it might make a difference if Bucky could see himself through Steve’s eyes; the sheer fucking beauty of him, in every scar, every corded muscles, in every curve of metal.
He keeps saying no, but Steve can wait. They have all the time in the world.
One day Steve decides to go for a swim. He doesn’t bother with a bathing suit, it’s just him and Bucky and the fucking woodland creatures, so he strips down and wades into the water. He finally stops after an hour or so and lets himself float on his back.
He keeps his ears underwater so everything has that strange muted echoey sound. He can hear his heart beating away in his chest and he purposely thinks of Bucky and what a filthy mouth he used to have just to hear the beating speed up. He’s looking up at the clear blue sky when he hears Bucky swimming towards him. He stops next to him and grabs his hand, pulls him closer until he can loom over him.
At least that’s what Steve thinks he hears in the echo of underwater.
“What?” he asks as he flails a bit before he gets his feet under him and can stand up, can wipe the water from his face.
Bucky looks down at him and Steve can almost hear the, ‘are you for fucking real right now?’ that’s going through his head.
“Have I ever had to work this hard for you to kiss me?” Bucky asks.
Steve has to laugh, because, no, he absolutely has not. He was always horny as fuck and would jump Bucky every chance he got, but just the notion that Bucky thinks having to ask twice is actual hard work is enough to bring out the happy laughter.
“You mean asking a whole two times?”
“Fuck you, Rogers.”
“I thought you wanted to kiss me.”
Bucky gives him a death glare that would make a lesser man shit himself but it only makes Steve laugh again.
“Nevermind. I’m leaving,” Bucky says as he turns to swim away.
Still laughing, Steve reaches out to stop him, to pull him back into a kiss. It’s caught on the tail end of Steve’s laughter, but that only makes it sweeter, and more familiar. Bucky jerks back a little at first, at the shock of it, but takes a breath and presses in again. His lips are wet with lake water, but they’re the same. Oh god, they’re the fucking same, and Steve gasps into the kiss as he wraps his arms around Bucky, digs his fingers into his long hair.
His heart is thumping out of his chest and he never wants to stop.
He can’t stop himself from wrapping his legs around Bucky’s waist, he’s getting hard and he knows Bucky can feel it against his stomach, and it’s only then he realizes Bucky is completely dressed. He tears his lips away from Bucky’s to laugh about it, but he realizes then too that he’s been crying, so it’s all a ridiculous mess of crying and laughing and Bucky saying, ‘oh my god, Rogers,’ under his breath.
“Why the fuck are you fully clothed?” Steve finally gets out.
“Because I had a question and I needed to ask it.”
“That makes no sense.”
“Yes, it does. I was reading and it was describing a kiss, talking about the way the other person tasted, and just for a second I remembered the taste of you. I needed to find you and make sure I remembered correctly.”
Steve’s suddenly breathless. “And did you?” He touches the smile that crosses Bucky’s face.
“Yes, I did.”
“Well, I guess I stand corrected. It does make sense.”
Bucky laughs. “No, it doesn’t. I could’ve taken thirty fucking seconds to take my clothes off instead of flopping into a lake fully clothed, but I saw you floating out here naked in the sun and I couldn’t fucking wait.”
Steve tightens his hold on Bucky and presses kisses to his temple, the curve of his ear, before he whispers, “I love you so goddamn much.” Bucky opens his mouth to say something but Steve stops him. “You don’t have to say it back, you don’t ever have to say it, and it’ll be fine with me as long as it’s okay I say it to you. I have to be able to say it to you because you need to know it. Every fucking day you need to know it.”
“Sweetheart, I think that’s the only thing I’ve ever known through all this.”
Steve pushes Bucky’s hair back from his face and kisses him again. Now that Bucky’s asked he’s going to keep doing it until he tells him to stop.
“It’s sunshine, in case you’re wondering,” Bucky says between kisses.
“You,” Bucky answers. “You taste like sunshine.”
Steve doesn’t know how it’s possible to be happier than he is right now, or how it’s fucking possible to taste like sunshine, but he believes it. Because he knows, to him, Bucky tastes like love, and warmth, and home. He’s always tasted like home.
And he still does.
They must float and lazily make out for hours because when Steve’s stomach rumbles and breaks the spell they’re both under the sun is in a completely different place in the sky and Steve can feel the burn on his shoulders and back. It’ll disappear before he can even rub aloe onto it, but he likes that it’s there. It’s all so normal - spend your day kissing your boyfriend in the sun, you get sunburned. Steve smiles at the thought.
“What’s this about?” Bucky asks as he touches the corner of Steve’s mouth.
“I got sunburned.”
“Okay. Well. Yay, then?”
Steve laughs and hugs Bucky. “Nevermind, it was something stupid I was thinking. I’m just happy, you know?”
They’re slowly wading towards shore and Bucky stops suddenly. He looks a bit dumbfounded as he turns to Steve and says, “Yeah, I think I do know. I haven’t. In a really long time, I haven’t. But I think I do now.”
Steve doesn’t say anything, he simply cups Bucky’s cheek and looks at him. He hopes Bucky can see it all in his eyes.
“I think we missed lunch,” Bucky says as he looks up at the sun. “I’ll make us something.”
Steve stays standing on the pebbly beach and watches Bucky as he walks back to the cabin, stripping away his wet clothes as he does. Steve’s been agonizingly, deliciously, almost fully hard the entire time they were kissing, and when Bucky stops to shimmy out of his wet jeans all Steve wants to do is run up to him and press himself against Bucky’s back, rub up against that beautiful curve of ass until his cock slips between the cheeks, all snug and warm. He gives his cock a couple of lazy strokes and tries to will it down before he follows Bucky to the cabin.
He doesn’t want to push anything on Bucky he isn’t ready for, but the want doesn’t lessen, and everyday it’s a struggle to keep from reaching out.
They’ve been at the cabin for over a month and Steve wonders when the outside world will encroach again. Having Nat there those few weeks back had been a nice surprise, and he knows he won’t be able to properly thank her for bringing back all of those things to him, those missing pieces of his other life, but she was still an intrusion.
In Steve’s perfect world it’s Bucky and him. The end.
Reality will crash in around them at some point, but for now Steve revels in the thought that he no longer counts Bucky’s small smiles and laughs, because sometimes when they get to talking there’s too many and he loses track. When he goes to bed at night he looks over at Bucky, because they’re still sleeping wrapped up in each other on the bed, and thinks everything is so blessedly normal. He’s never believed in God or Jesus or the heavenly saints, even though his ma tried with all of her might to drag him to church every Sunday and make his faith grow, it just never did. He always believed his choices were his own and that they led him down the path he was supposed to travel. No divine intervention needed.
But now? Having even one second of normal with Bucky again was enough to get him at least thinking in the power of a higher being. There were times when Bucky was still lost to him that the only choices he could make were the ones he made for the team, the ones he was forced to make. If he had no one relying on him, and it was only him in his lonely DC apartment, there were days when he couldn’t even make the choice to get out of bed in the morning, or when to brush his teeth, or what to wear. The choices all felt exhausting. There was no power inside of him, no path to travel.
If he couldn’t even decide whether or not to put brown sugar in his oatmeal there was little doubt in his mind that he was without purpose, without the very thing he’d always put all of his belief and faith in.
Bucky’s restored his belief, his faith. He has a path now. Every step is a step taken with Bucky, and it’s all there stretching out before him.
Of course they’re in a continual state of one step forward, twelve steps back, but now Bucky will reach out for him and he doesn’t hesitate to reach out for Bucky. Just to feel Bucky’s beating heart under his palm is enough for Steve. The world can fall apart around them and he’ll be fine, which is a far cry from where he used to be when he was so far gone, so checked out he’d wished for the world to crumble down around him just so he could stop. Just stop.
When Steve starts to think about what is coming next, what Bucky will have to go through, what they both will, it makes their time in the cabin even more dear. They’re living in a bubble Steve doesn’t want to burst.
Steve’s dreaming, he knows he is, but he’s stuck in it. There’s just noise and people coming at him from every angle but he can’t move, he can’t stop them from taking Bucky away. When he tries to scream all that comes out is a croak. He keeps fighting against the paralysis holding him in place but nothing works and Bucky just keeps getting further and further away.
A frightened, desperate scream finally breaks free from his throat. He can hear his name being repeated over and over again, can feel hands trying to hold him down so he tries to move again, swinging his arms out wildly hoping to hit whatever’s holding him back.
“Steve!” A voice calls out. “Steve, stop.”
He keeps fighting against the man holding him down, he has to get to Bucky.
“Goddammit, Steve stop. It’s Bucky.”
Steve struggles for another moment until the sound of Bucky repeating, ‘it’s me, it’s Bucky,’ over and over in his ear finally gets through. When he opens his eyes Bucky’s looking down at him and stroking his hair.
“You’re okay, I’m here. It’s just us.”
“Oh god,” Steve struggles for breath, tries to calm his pounding heart. “I couldn’t get you. They took you.”
“I’m here, I’m fine.”
“Fuck,” Steve says as he runs his hands through his hair. He’s shaking like a fucking leaf and can’t seem to stop. The fear is still coursing through him.
Suddenly Bucky gets up so he can straddle Steve’s hips. He claps his thighs against Steve’s hips and lays his hands on his chest. “Breathe,” he whispers as he starts to slowly stroke his hands down Steve’s chest, then up again. “One breath at a time, sweetheart.”
It’s exactly what he used to do and he did it without thought or any reminders. Steve closes his eyes and lets Bucky’s hands and voice calm him just like they did when he was small. After a few minutes Steve finds his voice again.
“I can’t lose you again, Buck.” Bucky shushes him and wipes away the tears that are leaking out of the corner of Steve’s eyes with his thumbs. “They took you.”
“I’m here,” Bucky repeats. “And for right now we’re fine, we’re okay. That’s all that matters.”
“I’m sorry. God. You shouldn’t have to do this —”
Bucky grabs Steve’s face in his hands and holds him still so the only place he can look is in Bucky’s eyes. “Haven’t we always been in this together?” he asks.
Steve nods. “Yes.”
“Then this is the way it is. I take care of you, you take care of me.”
“So basically you’re saying I should shut the hell up.”
Bucky swings his right leg off of Steve so he can lie back down next to him. He wraps his arms around Steve and pulls him back snug to his chest. Steve grabs Bucky’s right hand and brings it up to his lips to kiss the palm as he tangles his feet up with Bucky’s.
Every once in awhile a shiver works its way through Steve’s body and Bucky only holds him closer. He keeps telling himself he’s warm, and safe, but he knows that fear will always remain in him, especially when none of them have any idea what will come out of the mess that was once SHIELD. He knows Bucky needs more than just him in the long run, but who the fuck can he trust with the most important thing in his whole goddamn world?
Bucky’s breath is warm on his neck and when he shifts against him Steve feels the brush of his cock against his ass. It’s not completely hard, but it’s showing interest and it makes Steve’s own cock start to grow heavy in response. He pushes slightly back against Bucky, just to see, and Bucky’s breath hitches. He grips Bucky’s hand more tightly and pushes back again, with very clear intent.
Bucky’s voice is breathless and Steve asks, “What do you need, baby?”
“Fucking tease.” Bucky’s lips press against the back of Steve’s neck and he shivers again, only this time in delicious anticipation.
Steve reaches back to rub his hand along Bucky’s hip. “We used to just rub each other off, suck each other off, when we were younger. Fifteen, sixteen.” He starts to move his hips in a way that puts Bucky’s cock in constant contact with his ass. “We didn’t fuck though. Not at first. We didn’t do that for years and years.”
“Steve. Goddammit.” Bucky’s hips start moving with Steve’s.
“You said you weren’t, but you were so scared. You thought you’d hurt me. I know you did, but you always lied about it because you knew how much I hated being treated different, like I couldn’t handle things like every other regular guy.”
“I must’ve wanted you so bad, sweetheart. God I must’ve been aching with it.”
“I know I was,” Steve says. “All I wanted was you inside me. Fucking into me, filling me up. Some nights I’d want ya so bad I’d cry and beg. God, Buck, I loved you so hard, so much. It made me goddamn crazy.”
Their hips are moving in sync now, Bucky’s cock is fully hard and pushing between Steve’s ass cheeks, only the thin soft cotton of their pajama bottoms between them. Steve’s trying to push back against Bucky and at the same time get some friction between his own hard cock and the bed. He wants to put Bucky’s hand on him, wrap his fingers around his cock and urge him to stroke him off, but he’s not about to force anything on Bucky. Whatever moves he makes are going to be of his own choice.
“Then one night,” Steve continues, although he can barely get the words out, they’re jagged and breathless. “I was begging you, driving you nuts, and you were swearing up a blue streak until you reached between us and pulled down the back of my pajamas.”
Suddenly Bucky’s hand is between them, doing exactly what Steve is describing. He can feel Bucky brush against his ass when he tugs down his pajamas. Steve doesn’t say anything more, just lets Bucky decide and move on his own.
“I slipped in, right here,” Bucky whispers as he slips his cock between Steve’s thighs. It’s leaking precome and he can feel the wetness on the inside of his thighs.
“Yeah, you did,” Steve says. “Just like that. You fucked me just like that the first time.”
Bucky starts moving his hips, stroking in and out of Steve’s thighs. Every time his cock slips in it nudges at Steve’s balls, moves along the underside of his cock. He squeezes his thighs together and moves with Bucky. It’s just heat and wetness, their heavy breaths, and it’s everything Steve remembers it being. He’d come almost instantly that first time, and he could do the same right now, but he doesn’t want it to end. Fuck. Not so soon.
When Bucky’s hand wraps around Steve’s cock he cries out, it’s too much and not enough all at once. He reaches back to tangle his fingers in Bucky’s hair and urge him on, to keep kissing and mouthing at his neck, he’s shaking with the sensory overload. And then, just like that, Bucky’s voice catches on Steve’s name and he comes, hot and wet between his thighs, and he arches his back, clamps down around him and comes too.
Steve can’t stop telling Bucky he loves him, there’s nothing else to say just then. Even if their life from here on out is full of missing pieces, full of nightmares and lost time, at least they’ll have this. Their bodies fitting like they always did, remembering how to move with one another through years and years of separation.
They’ll still have this.
The next morning Bucky has that lazy, well-fucked look about him that’s so familiar to Steve he can’t stop looking at him. He’s not sure Bucky even knows he looks the way he does, and that makes it even better. He’s just so goddamn beautiful.
After breakfast Bucky heads out to the small porch that wraps around the cabin, there’s a bench out there that’s loaded with pillows and Steve finds him there. He lifts up Bucky’s feet so he can sit down then places them back on his lap.
“So. Last night.”
Bucky looks up from his book and raises an eyebrow at Steve. “Yeah. Last night.”
Steve laughs. “Asshole.” Bucky digs his toes into Steve’s leg but doesn’t say anything. “Yeah, last night,” Steve continues. “Was that okay? Are you okay with it?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Well we haven’t done that in a long time, I wasn’t sure you’d even want to.”
Bucky rests his open book against his chest and looks at Steve. “I don’t think there’s any world where I wouldn’t want to do that.”
“But I don’t ever want to push you to do something you’re not ready for, I want you to know that.”
“Steve.” Bucky smiles as he leans forward and brushes his fingers along the curve of Steve’s jaw. “I already knew that, without you ever having to tell me. All you do is look out for me. I know you’d never hurt me, you’re the reason I feel safe for the first time in seventy years. And I know I’ll feel that way as long as you’re beside me, no matter what happens after we leave this place.”
Steve leans into Bucky’s touch. “How about we never leave here?”
“I could live with that.” Bucky’s laugh is quiet, warm.
“I think about it every day,” Steve says. “Then I think about what they did to you and I know I’ll never be able to stay here as long as they’re still out there. The anger in me, Buck, goddamn the anger —”
“I know, I know,” Bucky says. “This is a momentary peace, I know that. There’s so much I need to do to make amends.”
“That wasn’t you, you’re not responsible —”
“I still did it all, Steve. It was my face they saw, and I need to make that right for me.”
“Let me help you,” Steve says.
“You don’t have a horse in this race, Stevie.”
“Well when has that ever stopped me before?”
Bucky looks at him for a second before he lets out a loud laugh. “True,” he says through his laughter. “Trust your stubborn ass to get into every trouble it doesn’t need to be in.”
“My stubborn ass loves you, and it’s just the three of us from here on out. There’s nothing you can do to change that.”
“Three? You’re seriously counting your ass in all of this?”
“Well in case you don’t remember, you were always a big fan of my ass.”
Bucky just smiles at him and shakes his head. Steve laughs and leans in to kiss him. They continue to kiss lazily for a few more minutes until Bucky pulls back and asks him a question.
“Do you still want to draw me?”
Steve drags his thumb over Bucky’s bottom lip. “Of course I do. Always.”
“I won’t look like I did, in those other ones.”
“Good,” Steve says succinctly, his voice firm and clear. “I want you, as you are, right now.”
Bucky holds his left hand between them, flexes his fingers, and Steve reaches out to thread his own through them.
“This is what I want, Buck,” he says. “You don’t know how beautiful you are to me.
“I can’t help seeing a monster,” Bucky says as he moves his fingers against Steve’s.
“I know.” Steve sighs, hearing it breaks his fucking heart. “One day I hope that changes, that maybe one day you can see yourself the way I see you.”
“Maybe.” Bucky’s voice is quiet, sad, but he gives Steve a small smile and he’ll take it. For now.
They stay on the bench, holding hands, until Bucky is ready. Steve’s content to just sit there and gently stroke his thumb over Bucky’s metal fingers. There’s such a cruel beauty in them. He hates the brutality Bucky suffered to have them, but seeing them lie so still and gentle in his hand makes Steve ache with love for every part of Bucky.
“How do you want me?” Bucky’s voice breaks the silence.
“Whatever’s comfortable for you.”
Bucky gets up from the bench and stretches, Steve joins him.
“The light on the other side of the cabin might be best.”
Bucky nods and starts to walk around the corner of the cabin. When Steve points to a good place Bucky moves to it then looks at Steve like, ‘what next?’ Steve walks up to him and runs his hand from his shoulder and down over his chest. He stops to tug at Bucky’s t-shirt before slipping his hand up under it. The smooth skin of Bucky’s stomach is warm and Steve scritches his fingers across it.
“I want to see all of you,” he says. “Is that okay?”
Insteading of responding Bucky simply steps back and pulls his t-shirt over his head, then steps out of the pajama pants he was still in, and there he is, gloriously naked in front of him. Steve hasn’t had a chance to see him like this, in full light, and his eyes gorge on the sight. He’s not sure he’ll be able to stop long enough to draw Bucky. All he wants to do is look.
He reaches out and runs his fingers over corded muscles that weren’t there the last time he’d seen Bucky like this. He touches scars that are unfamiliar, and curves that are. The combination of familiarity and newness is overwhelming.
Steve takes his time looking, touching. He looks up at Bucky every once in awhile to make sure it’s still okay and Bucky only smiles. He realizes he’s been treating Bucky like some sort of exhibit and suddenly stops. He takes a step back and Bucky gives him a confused look until Steve starts stripping himself and Bucky laughs.
“It’s only fair.” Steve shrugs.
“You’ve always been a stickler for fairness.” Once Steve’s completely naked too Bucky asks, “Did I ever tell you that I missed you, back then?”
“Missed little you, missed the way I’d pick you up, the way my hands could span your waist.”
“I was always scared of that, I worried you wouldn’t love me the same way.”
“Steve, have you seen the way you look now? It’s not exactly a hardship to look at you.”
“But you just said you missed the old me.”
“I did, I do, but this you is mine too. Every version of you is mine.”
“Then you know how I feel about you,” Steve says. “So when you question me, and think I can’t love you anymore the way you are, that you’re somehow flawed, think about if it were me. Would it change anything for you?”
“Let me draw you then, let me show you what I see when I look at you.”
At first Bucky just sits and Steve draws him, page after page with what was left of an old drawing tablet and box of pencils he’d found in the bottom of the box Natasha brought for him. His fingers remember all the beloved angles of Bucky, and learn all of the new ones. As the day progresses Steve starts to move Bucky into positions to bring out the corded muscles and fierce leanness he now has.
In all of those old drawings there was a softness, a roundness to Bucky’s features. Steve doesn’t want to call it baby fat, because Bucky was never fat, but there’s such an innocence and gentleness to him that every drawing seems so soft and far away. Bucky’s beauty now is hard and lean and strong, its intensity makes Steve breathless and feel a wild ache in the center of himself, in his gut.
When he’s done there are drawings scattered all across the porch and he feels like he’s coming out of a daze.
“I forgot what watching you in the middle of a drawing frenzy does to me.” Bucky’s voice cuts through the quiet and Steve looks up at him. He’s stretching out, all lean corded muscle, and he’s hard. His cock juts out from his body and Steve gets up on his knees to crawl over to him. He doesn’t say anything as he kneels at Bucky’s feet, he just wraps one arm around his waist and uses his other hand to hold Bucky’s cock as he takes it in his mouth. Bucky lets out a gasp of air as he hunches over Steve.
He tastes the same, that sweet musky taste that had always made Steve want him so desperately, that made his mouth water. Soon Bucky’s fingers are in his hair, tangling through the strands and gripping him tightly.
Steve wants to tell him to fuck his mouth, choke him with his cock, but Bucky’s making the noises he used to make when he’s just about to come and Steve can only dig his fingers into Bucky’s hip and swallow him down as deep as he can. He wants his come, wants it warm and salty in the back of this throat. He’s stroking himself and by the time Bucky cries out he’s so close that he’s spilling into his own hand and onto the floor as Bucky spills down his throat.
Bucky drops down to his knees and kisses him while he’s still got come on his lips and he moans into the kiss. Bucky drags him into his lap and keeps kissing him. Steve’s dizzy with it and he’s so happy, he’s so deliriously, painfully happy.
When they can finally tear themselves apart Steve gets up to go inside and get a washcloth to wash up. He makes his way back to Bucky to find him sitting in the middle of all of Steve’s abandoned drawings. He touches each one with such care it brings a smile to Steve’s face.
He wants to ask if Bucky can see. Can he see what he looks like to Steve? But before he can Bucky looks up at him and Steve knows he does, he doesn’t need to ask a thing.
“Sweetheart,” Bucky says. He reaches out his hand and Steve takes it. He sits down next to him, they’re both still naked, and there they are in the middle of a scattered mess of Bucky’s beauty.
“We’re going to be okay, aren’t we?” Bucky asks.
Steve smiles and brushes the hair back from Bucky’s temple.
“Yeah, Buck. I think we will.”