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How to Pet a Cactus

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It started with an alarm, red flashing lights that immediately pulled Steve and Tony from their conversation.

As par for the course, the change in lighting was not unexpected nor was it unfamiliar. Living in the Tower meant that Steve was always around when duty called, always close by when needed.

And, lately, he’d been needed a lot.

A lot had happened over the last two years. Aliens had attacked the city. Then, more recently, the helicarriers crashed into the water (which, honestly, was a little too similar to crashing into the water 70 some odd years ago). The helicarrier crash happened as a result as SHIELD being infiltrated by Hydra. All these things considered, the Avengers had been busy.

This, of course, didn't even mention Steve’s thawing two years ago (as he’d come to refer to it).

Steve didn’t mind living in the Tower, with the world being so much different than he once knew, there was a certain amount of comfort he could glean from living amongst his friends.

It was nice to be with those who cared about him; though it did make him nostalgic for before when he’d lived with someone who had always cared about him, even before the war and the serum.

Steve liked being Captain America, he liked saving the world, and he liked the people he spent the most time with, his Team who had become his family.

“J?” Tony questioned, jumping up from his seat only a few seconds behind Steve.

“Response is needed in the Tower Lobby -“

Steve didn’t bother to hear the rest of Jarvis’ report. He grabbed his shield from where it rested next to the front door, and rushed out of the Common Room. He threw himself into the stairwell, denting the door as he yanked it open. The elevator would be too slow, so he jumped over the guardrail to skip the first few flights of stairs.

If there was trouble in the lobby…

He shook his head once to clear that idea, he couldn’t think like that.

People worked here, people who expected to be safe and taken care of. Luckily, on a Saturday, fewer Stark employees would be milling around the lobby compared to a traditional work day, but that said nothing for Alex who worked the reception desk, or Kiera, his favorite barista from the Starbucks on the south end of the building.

He frowned as he couldn’t remember if the florist in the lobby was open. He’d never actually set foot in the storefront and cursed himself for not being aware of its hours.

Steve’s heart raced as he mentally reviewed the entrances and exits and considered how to get everyone to safety.

Hoping for as little danger as possible, he raced to get down there to see what he was dealing with. The elevators were controlled by Jarvis and locked down in the event of emergency, but the Avengers (and Pepper, of course) had the ability to override the emergency protocol.

It was hard to make a plan while sailing over a railing in a stairwell with 30 more flights to go, and while having no idea what he was walking into, but Steve did the best he could.

If the south side was safe, he’d clear that first. Get everyone from Starbucks either outside to safety or in the elevator and taken to a secure floor. The quadruple paned, bulletproof glass had one weak spot, specifically sized to the edge of Steve’s shield, in case he had to break a window to get people out. That was another option.

Twenty more flights.

The reception desk was on the west corner, facing the front doors. Since the walls, with the exception of that one pane of glass, were designed to be impenetrable, that meant the threat had to have entered through the front door.

Ten more. So close.

Steve landed with a gracefulness he’d become accustomed to as he took the last ten floors with a single jump. Though his shield had been close at hand, without his uniform, he was without its harness. Unable to attach it to his back, his left arm stayed fitted in the straps, and he held it in front of his body with an ease that only came from years of practice.

Shield up and shoulders squared in less than a second, he pulled open the door to the stairwell and rushed into the lobby.

Steve gritted his teeth as he was met with silence, followed by surprise. Jarvis would never lie about an emergency. He stood up fully, slowly coming out of his crouch as he surveyed the lobby. The gray colored granite was as meticulously maintained as ever, and the bright sun from outside gleamed in stripes across the floor.

He narrowed his eyes as he looked intently at Starbucks, and could see Kiera standing behind the counter. For all intents and purposes, the coffee shop seemed nearly empty. The two patrons inside were drinking coffee and did not register as a threat.

Despite the appearance of normalcy, Steve refused to let his guard down.

Or his shield.

Alex was at the reception desk, comfortably in a chair with a crossword in his lap. The two security guards sitting behind him in the reception area had their eyes trained on the security monitors displayed in front of them.

Just because Steve didn’t immediately see a threat, didn’t mean it wasn’t there.

Alex looked up and clearly saw Steve; he even waved cheerfully which Steve returned with a nod. If Alex wasn’t alarmed, there was a chance the threat hadn’t entered through the front door, and the mere idea of that made Steve feel queasy. It’d been a long time since the War, and he would never like the idea of fighting an enemy you couldn’t see.

Steve held his shield high, and crept slowly around the elevator banks. The back corner of the lobby had been the only area in his blind spot, and he had a bad feeling about it.

Though the lobby of the Tower was a huge, sprawling space, the open floor plan made it easy to see everything: the front doors, reception area, ostentatious fountain in the center, coffee shop and tables littered outside the shop but strategically placed around the lobby.

The stairwell butted up to the elevator banks, of which there were several. The majority were divided to take employees to their work stations, but there was one that went directly to Tony’s office, and a second that gave full Tower access including the living spaces; that one was only available to The Avengers and anyone Tony gave access to, like Pepper and Maria.

The only problem was that the elevator banks were huge blind spots wrapped in brushed granite.

Steve hefted his shield up once more, and creeped around the bank closest to the end.

It was then that the world seemed to tilt slowly and the air seemed to thicken like he was underwater. Steve found himself experiencing a strange mix of symptoms he hadn’t felt in over 70 years.

Aside from the vertigo that made his body feel sideways and his stomach upside down, he had to suck hard to get air into his lungs, feeling breathless in a way he hadn’t since an asthma attack in the 40s. He’d barely remembered that feeling until this moment and now it barely registered.

Bucky.

He opened his mouth to say the word, and even wrapped his lips around it, but no sound escaped him.

On one hand, he knew it couldn’t be. It had been nine months since the helicarrier fell, the better part of a year.

The last time he had seen Bucky, he’d been pulling Steve out of the Potomac and leaving him for dead in the mud of the riverbank. It was more than a bit fuzzy, and Steve could barely make out the form of his old friend as he’d faded in and out of consciousness, but he’d never doubted that Bucky had saved him.

Because Bucky knew him. He’d been sure of it.

Steve sucked in a gasp as he straightened out of his crouch. The noise of surprise he’d made couldn’t have gone unheard but Bucky didn’t move.

Bucky, well…

Frankly, he didn’t look good, and it made Steve’s chest ache.

Bucky was hunched over, his back against the wall, looking through the glass window into the florist shop. It was closed today, and though the doors were locked and the lights were off, Bucky seemed to be staring at the window display.

He was wearing a long-sleeved Henley shirt with frayed cuffs that looked like it may have been red at some point, but was dirty and stained. There was a rip along the left sleeve, and Steve could easily make out the metallic sheen beneath it. There were two straps parallel to his chest, signifying that he had a backpack strapped on to his back which was no doubt sandwiched between his body and the wall behind him.

Bucky’s jeans looked much too big on him. His hair was particularly dirty, stringy and lifeless from where it stuck out from the black baseball cap that Bucky had pulled low over his face. Steve could still see his face though, and he was no longer sure if Bucky was looking at the display. His friend’s eyes were glassy, unfocused, and he looked lost with uncomfortably dark purple smudges under his eyes. He was cradling his left arm closely in front of his chest, his body half folded over it, which made Steve ache at the thought of Bucky being hurt.

Steve was prepared to give anything to see Bucky again after the Helicarrier, but he hadn’t wanted it to be like this, with Bucky looking so awful.

(And also like the best thing he’d ever seen in his life.)

At that moment, Tony approached Steve from the side, surprisingly dressed down.

“Steve,” Tony intoned quietly, placing a hand gently on Steve’s forearm where he’d still been holding up the shield as he’d been too frozen in shock to move. “We never removed emergency protocols for the Winter Soldier, which is why the alarm went off.”

Steve nodded once, his mouth dry. That made sense. Between Fury being shot, chasing after The Soldier, learning it was Bucky, and crashing into the Potomac, they’d been busy. Steve had been in the hospital for a week before he’d returned home, and he was pretty sure editing previous emergency protocols had been the last thing on anyone’s mind.

“After you’d ran out, Jarvis explained,” Tony’s free hand very subtly gestured in Bucky’s direction, “this.”

Steve noticed that the hand on his arm was not only squeezing him reassuringly but also forcing his arm down. Steve shook his head once to clear it and dropped his arm, removing his shield and setting it down so that it rested against the wall.

“You okay?” Tony asked with clear concern and despite everything, despite the worry and the anxiety and the fear, Steve’s heart warmed. The Avengers really were the big family he’d never had.

“Yeah,” He croaked out, himself being the last person he was worrying about.

Tony gave him a small nod and stepped back a foot, giving Steve space but still there to support him if needed.

See, after the ice, Steve had wonderful people in his life, but someone had always been missing.

Until now.

It took him a moment to gather his courage. He’d been hoping for this, for Bucky, for so long, yet now he was completely unprepared as how to handle it. For someone with a reputation of having a plan for anything, the feeling caught him off guard and left him unbalanced.

He just… Steve couldn’t risk losing Bucky again.

“Bucky,” he said, earnest voice cracking, much too loud for the quiet of the lobby, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Bucky finally looked up, as if registering Steve for the first time. His eyes strayed warily to Tony before returning to Steve. Though his gaze still seemed unfocused, Steve didn’t care. Steve sucked in a deep breath because Bucky’s attention on him had always been the only thing he’d needed.

Steve’s heart thumped loudly in his chest, anticipation making his fingers twitch.

“Bucky,” he started again, swallowing down the rush of emotion threatening to overtake him at the feeling of a name so familiar on his lips, his voice gentle and surprisingly breakable. “Welcome home, buddy.”

Bucky straightened his body, now only partially hunched over rather than nearly curled in on himself.

As Bucky settled into a semi-comfortable standing position, pulling himself from the wall, Steve noticed that Bucky hadn’t been cradling an injured arm to his body.

There, against Bucky’s chest, comfortably resting in the crook of his elbow being held up by his left arm was a small cactus, proudly standing tall from where it rested in a nondescript terra-cotta pot.

Chapter Text

Bucky didn’t say anything as he followed Steve into the elevator and up to his floor.

Tony had given him a questioning look, but Steve responded with a tiny smile that was supposed to represent I’ve got this and Tony stood by as Steve beckoned for Bucky to follow him.

Bucky did, finally standing nearly straight up, only a slight hunch to his shoulders. Without curling in so much on himself, he didn’t look as small and the sight was somewhat reassuring, though Steve wasn’t sure why.

Steve had inclined his head toward the far elevator bank, and Bucky silently followed him, cactus in hand.

Steve didn’t mind if Bucky was quiet; he was probably tired, and if Bucky didn’t have anything to say, then Steve wasn’t going to force it.

He was just happy that Bucky was here.

Actually, happy wasn’t an accurate description for what he was feeling. Overwhelmed with emotion was a closer fit as his chest filled with a delicate mix of joy, anticipation, fear, elation, trepidation, nervousness, nostalgia, and above all else a feeling of Home that was growing steadily bigger and threatening to fill his heart completely.

It was a lot to handle, but certainly not too much for Steve.

After the Helicarrier, when Steve woke up in the hospital with Sam, his literal wingman, at his side, he was ready to start tearing out his IV and any other wires attached to him. He was prepared to stumble out of that bed, barely half-healed, in nothing but his hospital gown and search the entire world until he found Bucky.

Bucky who, before that fight with Hydra, he hadn’t seen since the train, but by the stroke of something lucky or unlucky (he wasn’t sure yet) was back in his life.

Thankfully, Sam had talked some sense into him.

Before the Helicarrier fell, Natasha dumped all of SHIELD’s information online for public consumption.

The Avengers took their time, combing through every minute detail, and it was there that Steve had learned about the Winter Soldier and everything Bucky had been through since The Fall.

Bucky’s history… Hell, it was horrible; bad enough to give Steve too vivid nightmares and make him feel sick.

Steve wanted to rush out and find Bucky and bring him home to New York, at the expense of everything else.

Sam was supportive, but much more level-headed. He suggested that they give Bucky time and space, reminded Steve that Bucky knew who he was now. And, in the meantime, the Avengers could burn Hydra to the ground.

It had been a good plan.

Steve had waited, part of him hopeful for Bucky’s return, and the other part of him satisfied to see more and more parts of Hydra fall.

Now, though, now Bucky was here with him, and he exhaled slowly, a weight that had been on his shoulders since The Fall slowly melting away.

“This is where I live now,” Steve’s sweeping arm indicated his floor of the Tower, Bucky standing just inside the threshold while Steve stepped further into the space.

His kept his voice quiet and gentle, but Steve couldn’t keep the thick emotion out of his tone.

“Technically it’s Tony’s, but I think he likes us - my team - living here. You can meet them eventually, if you want.”

Bucky didn’t respond, just stood on the threshold and Steve gave him a reassuring smile.

“I know what you’re thinking, it’s a hell of a lot different than the Brooklyn you remember.”

Steve realized that maybe Bucky didn’t actually remember that and he shrugged, doing his best to ignore the stabbing feeling in his heart and the empty ache it left in his chest cavity. He couldn’t think like that. He needed a plan.

“I’m just happy you’re here.” After a beat, Steve smiled and added onto the sentence because it seemed explicitly important to let Bucky know in no uncertain terms, “With me.”

Steve stepped towards Bucky, reaching around him to close the door. Bucky didn’t react poorly to Steve getting closer to his person, so Steve counted that as a good thing. Technically, Bucky didn’t react at all, but Steve figured that was a positive rather than a negative.

He could practically hear Tony’s voice in his head saying that he needed to be careful, that Bucky might not be Bucky anymore (though Steve wholeheartedly did not believe that), but Tony trusted him, he knew, and he was going to do his best to help his friend.

“To the end of the line, right pal?” Steve questioned as nostalgia gripped his heart and squeezed tightly, his world shifting sideways again for a brief moment.

Bucky stood, unmoving, and stared straight in front of himself, eyes darting around unsurely. Despite the lack of response, Steve liked to think that Bucky appreciated the sentiment.

It was easy to mentally list the obvious things Bucky needed. Firstly, a shower, and then something to eat, and then sleep. That was a short, manageable list. Steve could handle it.

It’s not that Steve thought this Bucky had to be like the old Bucky, who was a little vain and fastidious about his appearance. It’s just that everyone deserved to be clean, and something told Steve that Bucky probably hadn’t had that for a while. He was dirty, and frankly, the smell was a little unpleasant. Though Steve didn’t care what Bucky smelled or looked like, Bucky deserved to be taken care of, and this was the first step.

“I’ll be right back, pal,” Steve offered gently, “make yourself at home.”

Executing his short task list gave Steve something to focus on, rather than hyperventilate that his best friend, his heart, his soulmate was finally back with him, and clearly so desperately lost.

Bucky found Steve, had come home to Steve, and that was the first step, the hardest step. Steve could easily take care of the rest.

Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers had spent the majority of their lives taking care of one another. This was no different.

The bathroom connected to his bedroom was the larger of the two on his floor, and the one currently stocked with his favorite shampoo, so he quickly made a beeline to it. He pulled extra towels out from the vanity and laid them on the bathroom counter before evaluating the pros and cons of his walk in shower or larger soaker tub.

The bathtub easily won out; the way Bucky had been curled in on himself made Steve’s insides hurt and he figured Bucky hadn’t been able to relax at any point in recent memory. That was okay, Steve figured, because he could help with that.

He plugged the drain and immediately turned the taps so that the tub began to fill with water warm enough to steam up the room. Steve let it fill a few inches, before, thinking of Bucky’s weary and tired muscles, he scooped Epsom salts into the water.

The tub being as large as is was, it would take a good few minutes to fill, and Steve left the faucet running as he walked back into his living space.

Bucky was standing exactly where Steve had left him; apparently he hadn’t moved an inch.

That was okay, Steve told himself. Bucky didn’t have to move if he didn’t want to.

“How ‘bout a bath, Buck?” Steve asked kindly, his Brooklyn drawl surprisingly finding its voice whenever he spoke to Bucky. “You can set your stuff down and I’ll lead you to it; already got the hot water going and everything.”

Bucky didn’t respond and Steve had no reason to rush him, he smiled easily as Bucky looked at Steve part questioningly and maybe part suspicious, around the space, and then back to Steve. Bucky blinked, but otherwise his expression was unreadable.

“You oughtta see the size of the tub in this place,” Steve was smiling wide. “It’s pretty great.”

If he had ever imagined the future with Bucky, it would’ve been something similar. In his mind, the easy domesticity of their past would return, the biggest difference being that he’d pictured Bucky as healthy. Still, though, they would get there.

Steve held his breath, but finally exhaled as Bucky stepped further into his living space. With the open concept, it was easy to see into the kitchen and the living room. As Bucky stepped into the space, he paused by the big dining table. Gingerly, he set the potted cactus on the table with his metal hand, and then slowly slid his tattered backpack off his shoulders.

He looked questioningly at Steve, but Steve gave him a little nod, and he carefully placed his backpack on the tabletop. He kept his eyes on his possessions for a good 20 seconds, tapped the top of the cactus lightly twice with a metal finger, but then he turned back to Steve, straightening his body and standing at attention.

Despite the loud thumping if Steve’s heart, he attempted to look easy and relaxed. If he didn’t try and tamper down his excitement, his smile would probably be bigger than the whole building and the last thing he wanted to do was overwhelm Bucky.

It was obvious that his best friend was skittish, but that was okay. After everything Bucky had been through, which Steve had tortured himself by reading and rereading every heinous detail in a twisted way to remain close to his friend while they had been apart, Bucky was entitled to feel and act any way he wanted.

Which is why it was all the more poignant that Bucky chose to return to him.

“C’mon, pal,” His voice was soft as he gestured for Bucky to follow him, “I’ll take care of you.”

Without turning to look behind him, Steve walked back down the hall, through his room, and back into the master bathroom. The tub was two-thirds full, and he turned off the tap, once again testing his fingers under the water to make sure it wasn’t too hot.

Bucky shuffled into the bathroom behind Steve, his expression wary but not fearful. He looked directly at Steve, clearly questioning as to what came next.

It had been 70-some-odd years and though This Bucky was not That Bucky, there was something eerily familiar in his facial expressions and Steve thought that he could read Bucky like a book. Just like Before.

It was sad, Steve thought, that Bucky didn’t seem to know what to do and something about that broke his heart.

He stepped slowly into Bucky’s personal space, and when he wasn’t rebuked, he continued.

Keeping a low, even voice, Steve narrated everything he was going to do before he did it.

“Okay, pal, we’re gonna get you out of those clothes and into the tub. I’ll wash ‘em for you while you wait. I got a washer in my apartment, can you believe it? I almost couldn’t either. A dryer too, mostly because Tony didn’t appreciate me hanging a line through the living room.”

Steve placed his hands on Bucky’s shoulders so his friend could recognize the feeling, though Bucky initially stiffened, he didn’t pull away; and, when he relaxed, Steve gave a nod and then proceeded to undress him.

He started with Bucky’s cap and set it on the bathroom counter, before helping Bucky out of his ripped Henley and the short sleeve shirt beneath it. He was careful not to snag the fabric’s tattered edges and rip them further. Despite the poor condition of the clothing, Steve folded each piece neatly and stacked them on the counter. Bucky barely had anything with him when he showed up, and Steve wanted to express that whatever Bucky had on his person was as important to Steve as it was to him.

He did his best to keep his mind on the task, fighting the torrent of emotions that threatened to pull him in again. He’d let go of anger in return for the joy of having his friend back, but it still simmered on a low heat in the back of his mind.

The things they did to Bucky…

Well, suffice it to say that Steve would not stop until all that was left of Hydra was ashes.

But Bucky was here with him, right now, and that’s what was important.

He gave Bucky’s arm a reassuring squeeze, the right arm as he didn’t know if Bucky would be aware of feeling on his left.

Though, Bucky’s agency would always be Steve’s top concern, Steve didn’t think twice about helping Bucky undress; he announced what he was doing as he did it and gave Bucky ample time to pull away.

When they lived together as teenagers, there had been many times, too many really, when Steve had been too sick to do this for himself.

Even memories tinted with the haze of fever, Steve could remember. He remembered shivering as Bucky apologized for the cold. He remembered Bucky trying to shush him in a low voice as he stripped Steve of his clothing, Steve’s skin uncomfortably clammy with fever. He could remember Bucky heating the kettle over the stovetop to refill the basin next to the bed, since Bucky couldn’t bring himself to bathe Steve with cold water. Bucky would wipe Steve down, clean him the best he could, before wrapping Steve up and hoping like hell Steve’s lungs could survive another bout of flu.

There was a point in Steve’s life that Bucky took care of him without hesitation. Returning the favor was the very least he could do.

Steve did his best not to focus too much on Bucky's naked body as he worked the stiff jeans down Bucky's legs. The last thing he wanted was his best friend think that he was scrutinizing his body. Still, it was easy to notice that Bucky was thinner than he'd been months ago, probably thinner than he should be at all, especially with the heavy weight of the metal arm pulling at his left side.

Steve could sympathize, as an enhanced individual, his caloric intake was obscenely high to keep his body in good shape. General exertion and accelerated healing demanded a mind boggling amount of calories for Steve to maintain his weight.

That's why the second part of his plan was to get Bucky something to eat. First though, they were still on step one.

“You want to get in to tub, Buck?” Steve offered congenially, “I can tell you from experience that all that hot water feels great on tired muscles.”

Though without an initial response, Bucky listened to Steve, slowly stepping over the cast-iron edge of the tub before settling into the hot water comfortably. He had yet to say anything but he did look at Steve while he did so. As he sat down and the tension visibly melted from his shoulders and his body sank low into the warm water of the tub, Steve was sure that he was doing something right.

Steve gave it a moment, watching Bucky intently while he did so. Bucky's body seemed comfortable in the water, but every few seconds his eyes darted apprehensively towards the door of the bathroom.

After the fifth time, Steves brow furrowed in concern, “What is it, pal?”

Unsurprisingly, Bucky didn't respond verbally but his lips twisted down in displeasure, and though Steve didn't want his friend to be unhappy, something inside him jumped at the idea of Bucky providing at least some kind of response.

Steve thought through it, unsure at first, but as he mentally retraced his steps since he encountered Bucky in the lobby, not even a half hour ago, and it suddenly made sense.

“I got you, buddy,” he said softly, kindly, as every part of him fought the urge to lean over and kiss Bucky on the forehead. He loved Bucky, of course he did, he'd loved him his whole life, but right now this wasn't about Steve and any romantic feelings were going to be reserved for far in the future, when Bucky said he was comfortable with them. Instead, he gave Bucky a soft smile, and lightly tapped his knuckled fist on the tub surround.

He returned to the kitchen, Bucky having watched intently as he left the bathroom, and picked up the tiny potted cactus from its spot on the table. Steve was never really a plant guy, despite his green Irish blood, he'd always been desperately cursed with a black thumb, but Bucky had been carrying the plant carefully. Bucky wouldn't have been so delicate with something meaningless; not to mention that the cactus wouldn't have been one of Bucky's very few meager possessions if it meant nothing. If this plant was important to Bucky, then it was going to be important to Steve too.

He quickly ambled his way back to the bathroom, no desire to be away from Bucky now that they had been reunited, and set the terra cotta pot gently on the bathroom counter next to the stack of towels and directly in Bucky’s line of sight.

Bucky, his friend, his soulmate, the light of his life, let out a audible sigh as Steve did so, and even more tension melted away from his shoulders.

“Alright, Bucky,” He shrugged and hesitated, “I'll leave you to it, I guess.”

He turned to step out of the bathroom, semi-reluctantly prepared to give Bucky privacy, but a metal hand reached out lighting fast and closed around his wrist, stopping him from moving forward.

“Okay, Bucky,” hiding the relief in his voice seemed unnecessary so he didn't bother, “whatever you want.”

Bucky watched him, his eyes narrowed and intense, but after a few seconds, he released Steve’s wrist. His eyes didn't leave Steve though, as if daring him to walk away.

Steve reached out and very lightly petted Bucky's matted hair.

“Here's the plan,” Steve continued, voice thick with the emotions he was trying to hold back, “we’re going to wash your hair, wash you, and get you clean and dressed in some fresh clothes. That always helps me feel better. After that, I'm going to get you a couple of the protein smoothies I keep in my fridge. Then you can sleep as long as you need, I'll keep watch.”

Bucky didn't say anything in response, but Steve figured that was fine. If Bucky didn't want to respond, he didn't have to.

Steve would take care of Bucky this time. It was his turn, and he'd been waiting his whole life for this.

 

Chapter Text

There were a lot of things that Bucky Barnes, or James Barnes, or whoever the hell he was that day, was not good at.

He knew there were a lot of things he was not good at because he’d written them down and made a list. He had a tattered leather bound notebook that he kept on his person that housed what little he knew or remembered.

He wasn’t sure if anyone, including himself, would be able to make sense of his sloppy writing, bits and pieces of a dozen different languages interwoven between each other since his brain couldn’t seem to remember which was which.

That was another thing he wasn’t good at.

He could list out everything he wasn’t good at, and though he did that often enough, the top of his list was always consistent: He was not good at being a person.

Being nothing more than a weapon for so many years had obviously damaged Bucky, that was no surprise, but what had surprised him was how difficult it was to be a person again. Maybe it was all the brain damage, or maybe the ability had been permanently burned out of him, but regardless, Bucky had learned that being a person was hard.

That was why he had to find Steve Rogers.

Misfires in his brain and gaps in his memory corroded the reasons why he needed to find Steve, but something, specifically some undefined feeling in the center of his chest, told him that he had to do it.

Steve would help him. Steve would teach him how to be James or Bucky or human.

Or, at the very least, Steve would accept the shell of a person that was all that was left of Bucky.

If he was being perfectly honest, Bucky wasn’t entirely sure who or what Steve was to him now, but despite everything Hydra did, his connection to Steve had never been erased and some strange unfamiliar feeling in his chest told Bucky to trust Steve, so he did.

Bucky Barnes did not know a lot of things, but he damn well knew Steve Rogers and that was enough.

It took him awhile—months—to find Steve, and for good reason. After he pulled his former best friend out of the Potomac, confirmed that the tracker on Steve’s suit was active, and stumbled away with a handful of broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder, Bucky needed to figure things out.

Firstly, he had to figure out who the hell he was. Luckily, the more time he spent out of Cryo, the more he’d been able to remember, and his name came back first. It actually came to him in the shape of a scrawny, bird-boned angry boy shouting, “I don’t need you to fight my battles, Bucky!”

Bucky liked that memory. He held it close to that undefined feeling in his chest.

Bucky knew he’d have to find Steve, knew his former best friend had taken up residence in the garish metal tower that stood tall in the center of Manhattan. He knew this.

But, after beating Steve to hell in the name of finishing his mission, he knew he was broken. Bucky was a broken shell of a man that was barely held together with the threadbare fibers of regret, guilt, and a flickering desire that there must’ve been something more of him at some point.

As much as he wanted his friend, he knew he couldn’t hurt Steve again. He couldn’t - wouldn’t - do it. Steve was the sun and Bucky was darkness and he refused to take the brightness away from his friend again. It wasn’t right. Steve deserved everything, more than Bucky could ever give him. Steve was the light and Bucky was a monster.

He needed Steve though, he knew that, but first he needed a plan.

Step one: Stop killing people.
Step two: Become a person.
End game: Steve Rogers.

Luckily, as far as Bucky figured, if he could be around people (around Steve) without killing them or seriously hurting them, then he’d be enough of a person to return to his best friend. If he did hurt Steve (again), he wasn’t sure he’d be able to live with himself.

He just needed time to get himself together before he approached Steve.

Frustratingly, Bucky did not remember how to take care of himself. He tried, really, but years of cryo and abuse and confusion left him hollow compared to who he once was. He couldn’t remember when to eat or when he should shower, he couldn’t sleep. He frowned to himself as he considered that he was lucky his body remembered to piss at regular intervals.

His inability to take care of himself was disappointing. Firstly, because to be a person, he should probably know how to do so. Secondly, because something inside Bucky, either in his chest or in his head since he couldn’t quite untangle the two; told him that he used to take care of someone.

That’s what he’d been good at. That had been his purpose.

If he’d been good at it Before, then surely he could be good at it again.

It took months before he was able to approach Steve again, but in those few months, Bucky rediscovered a piece of himself that had been missing for a very long time.

There were a dark few weeks where Bucky thought he’d never be able to go back to Steve, but after 70-odd years of misfortune, he’d finally hit a stroke of luck.

Bucky’s apartment, for lack of a better word, was kind of a dump. He had a tiny kitchenette with a stained counter, a mattress on the floor that was barely bigger than the mattress itself, and a tiny bathroom that could barely contain the stall shower with bad water pressure. It wasn’t ideal, but it did have a tiny window in the kitchen that caught great sunlight during the day.

He was also squatting illegally, which was far beyond the point and explained the flickering electricity and water that never warmed up.

He had a place though, which was nearly enough to cross step two off of his list.

The fact that Bucky could barely remember to feed himself was becoming an issue as stomach cramps routinely left him curled on his mattress while his body ached for food. Unfortunately it took three or four months for the gaps in his memory to define the feeling as hunger. Once he figured it out, he snuck into a corner store hours after it closed, not quite ready to interact with people, so that he could procure rations. He found a box of protein bars which he tucked under his arm, ducked under the security camera’s range of view, and proceeded to silently slip out the door.

Unexpectedly catching his eye near the glass doors was a shelf displaying a dozen or so nondescript cactuses in fairly simple terra cotta pots. There was nothing remarkable or special about it, the pots being no more than six inches in diameter, housing plants around five inches tall. They should’ve been nothing.

But something flickered in the back of Bucky’s mind, though too fuzzy to fully discern, and he scooped up the pot closest to him and made his way back to his apartment, completely undetected.

When he returned to his apartment, he placed his tiny cactus near the tiny window. The next morning when the sun rose, the window, as per usual, caught the bright sunlight.

Bucky watched, filled with an awe he hadn’t felt in 70 years, as his little cactus sat placed on the windowsill directly where a sunbeam hit.

Cactuses needed sun to survive, and he had provided that for his new plant.

He had done something right.

Something near the cavity of his chest ached, then wiggled, then warmed as he realized he was taking care of something. That he was doing a good job.

He gave it a few weeks, maybe months as he wasn’t great with timing, but he watched his cactus stay green and healthy. Each day, he’d stand near the sunbeam as well, watching as his plant was given what it was needed.

Bucky understood it, in a way, the need for sunlight and warmth. Much like his cactus, Bucky did not like the cold.

It took six weeks, but then Bucky had reached out, slowly stretching his hand towards the terra cotta pot. It sat motionless on the windowsill, all while his heart was pounding.

His hand suspended itself in the air, feeling something his brain registered as anxiety or nervousness, but he pushed through the unfamiliar emotion and gingerly stroked a metal finger lightly along the surface of his plant. Bucky’s face twisted into something that he might classify as a smile, provided he didn’t have to see his reflection to confirm it, as he petted his cactus ever so gently with his index finger.

Bucky knew what it was like, being designed to cause harm; being created to be to be dangerous, designed as a vehicle to cause pain.

He knew too much what it was like to be alone, to be a monster, to never experience closeness because of it, to be both horrified of and starved for human contact.

Most people, he figured, wouldn’t be able to touch a cactus like this, with its visible needles.

Most people didn’t have a metal arm.

Once a week, he placed half an ice cube on the surface of the dirt resting in the pot. When Bucky learned that his cactus occasionally got thirsty, he realized the same for himself and made an effort to try and remember to stay hydrated.

He didn’t always remember, as his brain still had plenty of bad days, but every once and a while, he drank his fill multiple times a day and thought again about checking off the second item on his list.

He had to try, his cactus needed someone to take care of it, and Bucky desperately, desperately wanted to be the person to do so.

Without Bucky, who would make sure it sat in the sun and stayed healthy?

Though he wasn’t always sure what language he was speaking, his cactus didn’t seem to mind and he shared plenty: about Steve, about Hydra, about the fact he didn’t want to be a weapon, even more about a tiny blond boy he knew from Brooklyn.

After he’d started talking to the cactus, it only seemed right to give his plant a name. Something told him it was the polite thing to do. Sure, the cactus wasn’t trying to learn to be a person like Bucky was, but he was a good listener and bright green and healthy.

More importantly, he felt like a friend. Friends took care of each other, and that was precisely what Bucky was doing.

Something flickered in Bucky’s brain. It was there and gone too quickly to catch, but it felt right.

“George,” he croaked out, voice still rusty and awkward despite the conversations they’d shared, as he told his little plant its new name.

It took a few more weeks for the gap in his memory to define that feeling: pride.

Chapter Text

He should probably think that approaching the tall, silver building standing in the middle of Manhattan was terrifying, but he didn’t.

Bucky knew terror; terror was the chair.

This? This was something else. He had a hard time defining it and though he knew he was experiencing some fear and anxiousness, it wasn’t the kind that made him sick to his stomach. It was just a feeling. He knew feelings, somewhat, as he’d recently been encountering them multiple times per day.

His awareness of time had gotten better, sharpened by counting the sunrises as he waited for the sun to shine onto George, who was still green and healthy.

Whatever was churning uncomfortably in his gut, there was also a sense of rightness that he couldn’t shake. Ever since he left Steve on the muddy bank of the Potomac, and set out to become New Bucky Barnes, he’d been trying to accomplish his goals. He hadn’t murdered anyone on purpose, he was slightly more person than not (some days), and he needed Steve.

He was also very tired, but as the tiredness never abated, he was struggling to remember if it was normal or if he’d always felt like that. He couldn’t remember clearly, which caused a mixture of frustration and reminder of failure.

He squinted hard as he stepping into the building, the sun reflecting too bright off the white and gray marble of the floor, and he pulled his cap even lower on his face. It hurt his eyes, but he thought George might like it. He shifted his metal arm down, though still keeping the pot tight in the crook of his elbow, so that maybe George could catch some of the too-bright light.

He took small steps, his boots silent on the smooth floor surface. His body typically listened to him most days, or it had been the last few weeks (like a real person), and he hoped that it would do the same today. Today, it was important.

He was in his right mind, and he wanted Steve to see that he was being a person. He didn’t want his broken body or his piecemeal mind to fuck this up.

If Bucky was able to be proud of himself, then hopefully Steve could be proud of him too.

Or, at least, be marginally accepting of the fact Bucky needed him now, as a person, despite the fact that, as a weapon, he’d hurt him, damn near almost killed him, nine months ago.

Aside from the obnoxious bright light, there wasn’t much else to be concerned about. There was a desk, complete with a few employees seated behind it, and a coffee shop with a few bodies inside, but otherwise the lobby was empty and quiet. Bucky liked the quiet.

The employees behind the desk didn’t register as a threat, so Bucky did nothing and moved further into the lobby.

If he had been a full real person, he may have asked the man working if he could contact Steve. That seemed like the most normal course of action. Unfortunately, it seemed like today was a no talking day.

One of those days when he tongue felt too big for his mouth, so big that he couldn’t figure out how to round his lips over the shapes of word sounds or he couldn’t quite remember full words, only forming fragmented pieces in his even-more-fragmented mind. One of those days when he couldn’t remember what language he was supposed to think in, let alone speak in.

He hadn’t realized it before he set foot into the lobby. He hadn’t said anything else today, but that was because George was the only one he talked to and George liked the quiet as much as Bucky did. George didn’t notice, and didn’t mind, if Bucky was having a no talking day.

If he had realized it, maybe he would’ve picked another day to do this. Though, it took him weeks (months) to work up his courage for this moment, and he really didn’t want to turn back.

He was worried that if he’d turned around, he wouldn’t be able to do this again.

He was sure (as sure as he could be about anything) that he had better talking days Before or even as the Asset. The Asset didn’t say much, but he did use words when the mission called for it or when his handlers asked him a question. Neither Before Bucky or Asset seemed to forget like this, and the fear that Bucky’s brain was getting worse instead of better was at the forefront of his thoughts.

Still, he single-handedly (a person would think ‘too soon’ for that joke) got himself here, to this moment and to this place, and he hoped it would be enough.

The whole first floor of this building was surrounded by windows and it made Bucky feel uneasy. Trying to get his bearings and orient himself to the space, he stepped in further, past the ugly fountain and the elevators.

As he moved to put his back to a wall (finally), the small shop nearest to him caught his eye. The lights were off and doors were sealed, but Bucky could still look in the window and it was nice.

He did that thing again, the thing that maybe could’ve been a smile if he remembered how.

It wasn’t often he saw nice things. He liked to look at George on his tiny windowsill, and that was nice, and often made him feel good, but there wasn’t much else; unless you counted the newspaper clippings of Steve’s face that he’d cut out with his knife and tucked into his leather bound notebook.

He didn’t look at the clippings often, though. Bucky saved them for the real bad days, for when he really needed them. Those were days when everything hurt more than usual, when he was unable to move aside from the shallow stuttering breaths in his chest, when his head was too loud, and there was nothing left to remind him what he used to be. Those were the days when he was more of a thing than a person and he was trying hard to pretend that he wasn’t the monster Hydra claimed him to be.

That wasn’t today, though. Today was supposed to be a good day, he reminded himself.

The window display housed many bunches of flowers, in a rainbow of colors, all coordinated into small little bunches and resting in clear glass pots of water. In front of the cut flowers were a handful of pots displaying different green plants. They weren’t the same kind of cactus that he had, but still relatively spiky and prehistoric. Some had flat leaves, and some more pointed. They were interesting, he thought, and the propped-up sign in front of the pots said ‘succulents.’ Bucky wanted to imagine that they could be part of the cactus family, but he didn’t trust his mind to make assumptions.

George didn’t seem to notice, so Bucky held him up a little higher, holding him even closer to his chest, just in case.

See, Bucky wanted to say, See, they’re as bright and green as you. You’re just as healthy as the plants from the plant store. You’ve been taken care of. Someone did something right and took care of you.

He let his body slump against the wall, needing some support. He’d been interested in the window plant display, but now he was tired and a maybe a little fearful of what would happen.

He felt them first, felt eyes on his body, the familiar and unsettling sensation of someone watching him. Bucky didn’t look though, he wanted to stare at the window for a few more minutes, wanted to see the green and the color of the flowers. He wanted to have a moment to himself because he didn’t know what was going to happen. Last time he saw Steve, Bucky tried to kill him. The Before Steve in his brain was never good at forgiveness. That Steve held grudges, and there was a chance that This Steve was like That Steve and wanted nothing to do with Bucky.

Asset Bucky had killed a lot of people, and Now Bucky had learned that Now People often held grudges when it came to murder.

Being a person came with all kinds of complicated emotions, he was learning.<

Bucky could hear them, Steve and the other one, talking about him, but the buzzing in his ears made it too loud to separate the words.

“Bucky,” this Steve’s voice was loud, and even though Bucky liked the quiet, he liked this voice too and the familiar sound of it made something ache and burn near the center of his chest. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

The words were nice, nice like the pretty flowers and nice like George in the sunlight and though Bucky was weary and nervous, he couldn’t remember ever wanting something like this.

See, he wanted to tell George as he fought against the exhaustion in his bones and tried to stand up straight, this is the guy I was telling you about.

Bucky tried to look at the man near Steve, the one with a too familiar face before looking at Steve.

“Bucky,” Steve talked at his direction again. “Welcome home, buddy.”

Bucky may not have had an easy time cataloging his emotions, but he recognized this one, recognized what relief felt like. He recognized that he did not have a home, but that Steve did, and Steve was not turning him away.

Having only been lucky once in his recent memory, and even in his not-so-recent memory, he hadn’t expected it to be this easy. Something in the back of his mind was screaming that it could still be a trap, but he ignored that.

This was Steve. He knew Steve. Bucky took care of Then Steve just like he took care of George. This was where he was supposed to be.

It was easy to follow Steve, the small space of the elevator not inducing any fear due to Steve’s large presence.

It was easy to listen, to follow Steve’s directions when they were simply supplied as suggestions and not direct orders.

He followed Steve into his living space, his eyes drawn to the big floor to ceiling window that let in plenty of bright light, he waited, and then he followed Steve deeper into the living space and into Steve bathroom.

Bucky liked Steve quietly announcing what was happening; it meant there were no surprises and Bucky hated surprises.

He liked the way Steve removed his clothing. Steve did it carefully and slowly, the same way Bucky petted George. Steve might not know that Bucky was trying not to be prickly anymore, but that was okay. Steve wouldn’t hurt Bucky, he reminded himself, and that caused the dark place in his chest to feel warm.

The bath was wonderful. It was hot and clean and it felt like nothing he’d ever experienced. He’d forgotten that the default for personal hygiene was warm to hot water, and it was easy to relax into the comfort knowing that Steve had provided it for him.

He was worried, of course, about leaving George alone in the kitchen. It was a new place for both of them and Bucky figured that Steve’s space was safe, but nothing was really ever safe.

Things got even better when Steve moved George to the bathroom counter, and Bucky could keep an eye on his plant and on This Steve, who hadn’t said anything about him not being That Bucky.

It appeared, he thought curiously with only a thread of apprehension, that he had made the right choice.

He liked Steve bathing him, it felt nice. He let his body slouch under Steve’s touch, and pushed his head into Steve’s hand when Steve rubbed soap into his hair.

Bucky couldn’t remember what it was like to be touched, and though he avoided getting physically close to people, Steve was the outlier. Bucky knew Steve, and that made it okay.

It felt nice to be so close to someone else, and he let his eyes close and shoulders sag as Steve rinsed out the soap and proceeded to repeat the process twice more.

Steve’s voice was quiet but familiar, and he babbled on as he worked, Bucky finding comfort in the low cadence that resonated with something in the back of mind. He couldn’t hear everything Steve said, not with the water rushing over his ears, but he knew Steve was there, and that was enough.

Steve drained the water and helped him out of the tub, patting his body down with soft, warm towels and smiling brightly at Bucky like Bucky had done something right.

It made Bucky think that maybe Steve thought he’d made the right choice, in coming here, and that dark, wet spot inside his chest felt altogether warm and unfamiliar.

Steve put thick pants on his legs that were as soft on the outside as they were on the inside. His human hand smoothed itself out along his thigh and rubbed back and forth. Wasn’t that something? He could feel the softness on both his legs and his hand and he decided right there that he didn’t want to change back into his old pants, ever.

Steve pulled a shirt over his head, working both arms into the sleeves, treating them both the same, even the heavy left one. He ruffled Bucky’s hair with his big hand, his face still smiling as bright as the sun that greeted George every morning.

Bucky would like to return that smile, maybe one day he could use Steve’s mirror and practice and learn how to do it right.

“Come on, Pal,” This Steve’s voice sounded exactly like That Steve’s voice, “let's get something in your stomach, huh?”

Steve lead him into the living room, and settled Bucky onto the couch, laying a blue blanket over him which was just as soft as the pants.

Bucky could see him, as he stepped away and towards the kitchen, and Bucky could hear Steve’s voice as he chattered on. Steve placed two cups on the coffee table in front of him, both complete with a lid and a straw and filled with something green.

“The taste isn’t the best, but it’s not too bad,” Steve shrugged, “but those smoothies always help me out when I need them. Drink up, Buck.”

Seeing as Steve walked back down the hall, and returned with George, the little pot also getting placed on the coffee table, he listened.

Bucky sucked down the strange texture and even stranger flavor as Steve smiled encouragingly at him. It felt weird on his insides, but since it seemed to make Steve happy, he didn’t mind doing it.

He finished the first cup, and when Steve seemed overjoyed, he moved on to the second one.

Then, Steve placed yet another blanket over his lap, this one yellow like the sun, and Steve smiled. Steve reached over, placing his hand on top of Bucky’s hand, but over the blanket, and squeezed.

“I’ve got this watch, Buck; you take it easy.”

The words were so intimately familiar, that Bucky could feel his fuzzy brain try to find the puzzle piece where it fit.

Before he could find it though, his insides and his eyelids started to feel heavy, and for the first time in a long time, his body decided to sleep.

Chapter Text

As Steve finished scrambling half a dozen eggs for himself, he took the pan off the heat and turned off the electric stove. It would keep for a few minutes until Bucky came and joined him at the table for breakfast.

In the month that Bucky had been back in his life, and in his living space, they developed a routine.

The first day, after Bucky had napped on Steve’s couch, Steve reluctantly woke Bucky up so that they could have dinner. Despite making Bucky his own plate, Bucky showed no interest and proceeded to suck down another smoothie when Steve had placed it in front of him.

Since then, Bucky still hadn’t eaten from his own plate, but would occasionally steal bites from Steve’s. Naturally, Steve didn’t mind at all, and chose to forgo giving Bucky anything besides a smoothie, assuming Bucky would just take what he wanted from Steve.

Despite it only being a month, their routine felt comfortable and Steve thought that maybe Bucky liked it as much as he did.

The first night, Steve had shown Bucky the guest room, and Bucky had looked around the interior room curiously before turning around and promptly following Steve into Steve’s own bedroom. Steve didn’t mind, and with a squeeze on his flesh shoulder, Steve readied Bucky for bed and tucked him into the left side, closest to the door.

Since then, Bucky had slept in Steve’s bed, on the left side, every night. The bed was a king, and big enough that Steve didn’t encroach on Bucky’s space. Bucky made an effort for touch during the day, and Steve respected that by not crossing boundaries at night.

Steve’s alarm would go off in the morning, and he’d hop into the shower. While he towel dried and got dressed, Bucky would wait for him in the bathroom, typically watching the tub fill with wide, hopeful eyes. Steve would gently scrub Bucky down and wash his hair while Bucky pushed his head into Steve’s hands.

Same as his youth, Steve didn’t think twice about the nakedness shared between them. Though, he did appreciate the opportunity it afforded him to keep an eye on Bucky’s body. A month wasn’t nearly long enough, but Steve could already see Bucky’s body finally fighting the months (years?) of malnutrition as his best pal gained a few pounds. Bucky’s body had not filled out as much as Steve would like, not yet, but Bucky looked less emaciated than a month prior, and it was a win in Steve’s book.

Bucky would get dressed in the clothes that Steve had purchased for him (all soft and cozy with no hard edges, zippers, or seams) and then they’d sit at the kitchen table eating their respective breakfast.

Steve watched the clock carefully, and made sure that Bucky had a smoothie four times a day at regular intervals (sometimes two per meal if he indicated that he wanted it). Steve was glad for it. His fridge had been stocked with the bottles scrupulously developed by Bruce to have the highest possible caloric intake and protein levels.

Bruce’s ‘recovery smoothies’ were designed for a super soldier metabolism and Steve kept them on hand for the times he returned from missions and his energy reserves were maxed out or when he was injured and his body was healing itself. His healing capabilities devoured any energy he had and he’d learned from experience that trying to provide his body with enough calories to heal and stay awake was near impossible, hence why the smoothies were created in the first place.

Granted, Steve wasn’t fond of the taste or chalky texture which is why he preferred actual food, but he was happy to share them with Bucky, who clearly didn’t mind them.

They were obviously working though, and everyday after breakfast, Bucky would go lie down and take a nap for an hour or two.

Steve wasn’t worried, the smoothies were dense with calories and a full stomach always made him drowsy; not to mention that it was so obvious that Bucky’s body was trying its best to heal physical and mentally, and Steve knew rest would only accelerate the process.

While Bucky napped, Steve would go for a run. He loved Bucky, and as easy as it would be to sit by Bucky’s side every moment of every day, Steve’s mental and physical health were important too, and he knew not to forget that. He modified his daily routine around Bucky’s new presence in his life, but Steve didn’t give up on the things that were important to him.

Steve hung a wipe off board in the kitchen and each day he’d list out his daily schedule. With Bucky showing no interest in leaving Steve’s floor, he did not want Bucky home alone without any knowledge as to where he was.

After his run, Steve would come home a few hours later and inevitably find Bucky sitting in the sun in front of the big window in the living room. Steve had pushed an end table against the glass, and after Bucky nodded in approval, he’d placed Bucky’s potted cactus there, in easy view of the sunlight.

Steve would come in, kiss Bucky’s hair, and then shower and change out of his exercise clothes before setting out lunch.

After lunch, Bucky would read a book, write in the notebook he’d brought with him, or they’d work on one of the dozen puzzles Steve had picked up from the library. Hours later, they’d eat dinner, then watch a movie or nature documentary before getting ready for bed. Sleep came easily for Steve now, and he hoped it was the same for Bucky. Either way, Steve would close his eyes, fall asleep, and then they’d repeat the process the next morning.

The routine felt as far from monotonous as it could get because each day with Bucky still seemed so new, and Steve found a sort of thrill in the daily domesticity.

Of course, it had been a month, meaning Steve had been called away for work; though nothing overnight yet. Those three or four days it had happened, Steve added it to the wipe off board; then filled and labeled four smoothie cups, placing them at the front of the fridge.

The smoothies were consumed by the time Steve returned at the end of the day, and Bucky had been sitting contentedly on the living room rug, with a book or looking out the window.

Things were, Steve thought for the first time in 70 years, as good as they could get and his chest warmed at the very thought of it.

Bucky stepped into the kitchen, skin still warm and pink from the bath and hair slightly damp. He sat down at the table, patiently waiting for Steve to take the seat across from him.

Steve pushed a cup in front of Bucky before lifting his own fork.

“Just a reminder that I’m going running with Sam this morning,” Steve started and he watched as Bucky glanced over at the wipe board schedule, a non flattering sketch of Falcon added to the side in Expo marker. “Then he and I will go grab some food, so I’ll be back later than usual.”

Bucky simply quirked an eyebrow in acknowledgment and wrapped his lips around the straw in front of him. His right hand reached out and pinched a tiny bit of egg from Steve’s plate, and Steve smiled.

“You want me to make you some eggs next time, you let me know.” He added, though the small furrow in Bucky’s brow told Steve that Bucky wasn’t too keen on that idea.

That was fine with Steve. If Bucky wanted to eat off of Steve’s plate for the rest of his long life, then Steve was more than okay with that.

Steve finished and put his plate in the sink, washed his hands, and moved to pull on his running shoes.

Before he could even get his shoes tied, a metal hand reached out, clamped around his wrist, and tugged.

Steve smiled and his heart skipped a beat when Bucky frowned at him, looking decidedly grumpy.

“Aww Buck,” he cooed, voice playful and light and so obviously in love, “I didn’t forget.”

Steve leaned forward and pressed a kiss the side of Bucky’s head, over his damp hair, and only then did Bucky release his hold as Steve pulled back.

“I’d never forget to kiss you goodbye,” He added readily, his insides feeling soft and sweet every time Bucky silently demanded affection from him.

Bucky seemed satisfied, his lips only slightly pursed and consternation fading from his expression, so Steve tied his shoes, zipped his phone and wallet into his pockets, and headed out the door, waving to Bucky as he shut the door behind him.

Steve immediately made his way to the park to meet up with Sam.

He and Sam did their usual route, Steve playfully knocking his shoulder into Sam’s as he lapped him. Steve was grinning and laughing, and the sun was shining. He felt light as air.

Since he’d only had a small pre-breakfast that morning, Steve was famished as he and Sam settled into their usual booth in their favored diner. Steve ordered himself five breakfast plates, and Sam one before the serve brought their coffee.

Steve was smiling easily, and Sam returned the happy look before they finally got a chance to really talk.

“So,” Sam opened, taking a pull from his coffee mug, “been a few weeks since I’ve seen you, man. How you been?”

“Good, Sam,” he answered honestly, the bright smile still on his lips, “really damn good. I’m happy.”

Sam sat back, relaxing into the booth, “And your boy?”

Steve thought about it. He pressed his lips together as he thought of the right way to describe Bucky. He wanted to articulate it perfectly and accurately.

“Bucky is...” he paused, a rueful smile on his lips, “prickly.”

Sam huffed, something akin to a laugh tumbling out from the back of his throat as he questioned back incredulously, “Prickly?”

“Yeah,” Steve agreed with a shrug, but grinning wide because the thought of it made him joyful, inside and out. “He’s a little rough around the edges, but he seems happy enough, seems to like the soft clothes and warm blankets he drags around the floor.”

Sam seemed pleased by that and took another sip. “So he’s prickly.”

“Like I said,” Steve responded, and continued, “But not all the time; I don’t think he actually wants to be that way. In fact, I think he’s actively trying not to be. I think he wants to be touched. He seeks out affection, will tilt his head to the side and puff out his cheek, almost obnoxiously, when he’s looking for a kiss, he’ll will sit next to me on the couch and angle his body over mine.”

“And what do you do?”

“Encourage it, of course,” Steve responded without thinking, happiness coloring his words. “If Bucky wants to drape his body over mine while we watch a movie, then I’m all the more for it. He pushes his head into my hands when I wash or brush his hair, he’ll hold his hand out in front of me until I hold it in my own.”

Plates were set in front of them, and Steve dug into his with gusto. The eggs he had this morning had long been digested and his stomach had been rumbling at the mere thought of his second breakfast.

“He’s a demanding little shit,” Steve concluded, entirely fond and affectionate, as he shoveled country fried potatoes into his mouth.

Sam frowned, no doubt because Steve was talking with his mouth full, but took a bite of his own food rather than reprimand Steve’s bad manners.

“Is he still non-verbal?”

That was probably an important question, but Steve didn’t really mind one way or the other. Bucky never had to talk again if he didn’t feel like it.

“Yeah,” Steve answered, “But it’s fine; I can read him enough without verbal communication. It helps that his facial expressions haven’t changed much since we were kids.”

Sam paused, and Steve watched as he was clearly considering his words. That was Sam, probably the most considerate person he’d ever know.

“Steve,” Sam said seriously, setting his mug onto the table, “I’m happy for you; I really am. But I want you to remember that Bucky is recovering from a hell of a lot of trauma. It’s been what—4 weeks?—it’s going to take a long time.”

“I know,” Steve answered easily, because he did. He had no assumptions that Bucky would wake up one morning and be magically healed. Bucky was actually in much better shape mentally than he would’ve anticipated. Steve wasn’t an idiot, he could be a realist, and he knew that Bucky would be fighting an uphill battle for a long time.

“But that’s fine with me, Sam. I’m with Bucky til the end of the line.”

Sam smiled, obviously pleased and not at all surprised with Steve’s reaction. He reached over to snag a piece of bacon off of Steve’s plate, and Steve grumbled loudly in response to that.

Sam was grinning, looking all smug, and chomping loud on his stolen breakfast, no doubt aiming to annoy Steve.

“There is this thing, though.” Steve added hesitatingly, in between sips of coffee.

Sam waved his hand in an indication for Steve to continue.

“He’s got a plant.”

Sam lifted an eyebrow, “...A plant?”

“Yeah, y’know,” Steve held out his hands, attempting to represent the pot and it’s greenery, “a cactus.”

Sam actually laughed, “He’s got a cactus. So what?”

“I don’t know.” Steve shrugged, “He showed up with next to no possessions, but he brought a cactus with him. He seems pretty attached to it.”

“Steve,” not only could Steve see Sam roll his eyes, he could almost hear it as well. “Gardening is a pretty relaxing hobby. Bucky found something to enjoy, you should encourage it.”

“I mean, I try to. I was just concerned.”

“You’re concerned about your boyfriend bringing something green into your apartment? Was the color too much for your gray walls?”

Steve gave Sam his best Cap Disapproves face. He didn’t even touch the word ‘boyfriend’, though it didn’t even begin to come close to what Bucky was to him. He supposed using ‘soulmate’ would’ve felt out of turn for Sam.

“He spends four hours a day staring out the window, sitting next to a potted plant. It seems worrisome.”

“Steve,” Sam sighed and set down his fork, directing his full attention across the table. “I’ll level with you. I don’t know Bucky like you do, I don’t know where he’s coming from or what he’s dealing with.”

“But?” Steve supplied.

“But c’mon, Steve. Think about it. Cactuses are hardy plants, they’re hard to kill. It doesn’t take a genius to make the connection. Bucky is growing something, building something, creating something, rather than destroying it.”

“Oh,” Steve replied dumbly.

“Yeah, oh,” Sam rolled his eyes again. “I swear, if I didn’t know you as well as I did, I would be shocked. I get that Bucky is your emotional blind spot, but just stop and think through things every once and awhile.”

Steve flushed, but ultimately didn’t care because Sam was smiling at him.

“Maybe he likes gardening, maybe he likes being able to keep something alive, or, hell, maybe he just likes the color green but that’s probably something you don’t have to worry about, man.”

“Yeah,” Steve acquiesced, “you’re probably right.”

“I know that you’re worried about him, Steve,” Sam reached out, covering Steve’s hand with his own and giving it a squeeze, “and that will probably never change. But you just gotta keep doing what you’re doing: supporting him, loving him, being there for him.”

Steve smiled, his insides warm and happy, “I’ll never stop.”

Sam rolled his eyes a third time, but unlike the first two, this time was full of fondness. “That’s my boy.”

Chapter Text

Steve stepped out of the elevator and onto his floor, feeling buoyed from his morning out, time spent with Sam, and the quick stop he’d made at a street vendor on his return route.

He’d passed the vendor on a busy street corner, and actually doubled back after he’d crossed the street. The vendor was standing next to a card table, which was littered with tiny potted succulents and cactuses. They were small, smaller than the plant Bucky had brought into his home, and Steve immediately picked one of the flat, curved cactuses. Five dollars later, the tiny pot was in his hand as he jogged home. The pot wasn’t even ceramic, just simple, cheap plastic but Steve figured that he could worry about that later. He was much too busy being excited about bringing a surprise back for Bucky.

He opened the door to his quarters, unlocking the door with his right hand as he held the cactus in his left.

He was happy, truly happy, he hadn’t lied to Sam about that. Having Bucky back in his life was fantastic, and was what he had been missing ever since he came out of the ice.

Obviously he wanted Bucky to be healthy, but it was clear that his best friend was healing, and importantly, was safe.

Steve had offered to take Bucky out of the tower, but Bucky seemed perfectly amenable to staying within Steve’s quarters. If Bucky didn’t want to leave, then he wasn’t going to. Steve would gladly share his space for an infinite amount of time.

Being with Steve was, after all, where Bucky belonged.

He looked around his open floor plan to see Bucky exactly where he’d expected: sprawled out on the living room floor, his body projecting an easy laziness even if Steve doubted that’s how Bucky felt.

The shades were drawn open on the big floor to ceiling windows, and Bucky lay in the sunshine, absorbing the vitamin D and possibly photosynthesizing as much as the cactus next to him, the terra-cotta pot nestled in the thick shag of Steve’s area rug.

“Hey Sweetheart,” he called out, voice warm, waiting for Bucky to blink up at him, “got you something.”

Steve had no doubt that Bucky heard him even before he stepped through the door, but he liked the illusion of their past, the old greetings they’d shared as soon as one would enter their old, rickety apartment.

The pet names had started falling from his lips shortly after Bucky showed up at the Tower. Steve tried to temper them, tried to hold back in an effort not to pressure Bucky or project expectations on him. Inevitably, the word slipped, and Steve had worried, but Bucky had looked at him incredulously, and then bumped their shoulders together, initiating a soft touch between them.

If Bucky wanted to hear Steve voice his affections for him, then Steve would do so until his lungs went raw.

Steve approached the couch, toeing off his sneakers before stepping onto the rug as Bucky pulled himself upwards and sat cross-legged, looking at Steve expectantly.

Steve held up his right hand, the tiny pot dwarfed by the size of him. The actual pot couldn’t have been more than two inches in diameter, and the small cactus within it no more than three inches tall, but Bucky seemed delighted.

He scooted closer to Steve, an inquisitive but hopeful expression on his face, as Steve knelt down and met him halfway. Bucky’s eyes were wide and bright, filled with a curiosity that made Steve’s heart ache.

Bucky held up his left arm for a moment, and looked questionly at Steve. When Steve gave him a nod and an encouraging smile, though the cactus was too small and needles too soft to cause any damage, Bucky stroked the little plant with his metal fingertip.

The smile on Bucky’s face just about damn near stopped Steve’s heart.

After a quiet moment, Bucky lifted the tiny pot from Steve’s hand and set it on the small end table that had been pressed against the big window for Bucky’s original plant. He snagged that cactus from the carpet and arranged them so they were aligned neatly and in the bright sun.

Bucky seemed satisfied, maybe even happy, and that’s really all Steve could ever ask for.

He checked his watch, and since it was nearing noon, he turned to the kitchen to get a smoothie for Bucky out of the fridge.

He stopped midstep, every movement in his body freezing, when he heard a voice that was both all together familiar and completely new.

“Steve,” Bucky rasped, his voice all hard edges and roughness but quite possibly the best thing Steve had ever heard.

Steve turned around slowly, heart hammering in his ribcage, thundering in his chest. Bucky was still sitting cross-legged on the rug, staring intently at the two plants in front of him.

“Yeah, Buck?” Steve’s voice cracked as he spoke, and he swallowed dryly in an attempt to sound normal. He was not going to cry, he told himself, though it seemed almost inevitable as he blinked back tears, hearing Bucky’s voice reached a spot in his heart that hadn’t been warm since before The Ice.

Bucky shuffled, turning around, his back no longer to Steve and he huffed out a noisy breath through his nose. The look of annoyance and warmth on Bucky’s face was like a punch to the chest as it had Steve feeling like it was 1940 all over again.

He shook his head and looked at Steve for a response.

“No?” Steve questioned, confused and not upset about it. Hearing his name in Bucky’s raspy and different, but still recognizable voice was enough for him. He grinned at Bucky, not even caring if his smile displayed more happiness than confusion.

Steve moved closer to Bucky, kneeling down next to him.

“No,” Bucky agreed with Steve’s statement, his voice quiet and soft around its jagged edges.

He pointed confidently at the tiny cactus Steve had given to him with one finger and repeated, “Steve.”

Steve looked at the cactus, the tiny cactus before his head turned slowly back to his side. Looking back at Bucky, he laughed.

Steve would’ve loved any iteration of Bucky that returned home to him, but any doubts he had about the Bucky from has past being completely gone vanished.

Laughing felt good, made his chest feel light, Bucky leaned toward Steve, and Steve, as per usual, met the touch. Bucky headbutted Steve in the shoulder before letting his head relax, pressed against Steve’s shoulder, against Steve’s body. That wonderful, though small and new, smile was back on Bucky’s face, and it encouraged Steve to smile in tandem.

His arm automatically wrapped around Bucky’s shoulder, and Bucky leaned heavily into Steve’s touch.

“So you’re telling me,” his laughter tapered off, but he couldn’t hide the wry amused happiness from his voice, “that I give you the tiniest cactus I can find, and you name it after me?”

Bucky’s smile settled more comfortably onto his face, and he pressed himself tighter into Steve’s embrace. He nodded.

“Don’t know if you noticed, Pal,” Steve’s fingers drew little circles on the surface of Bucky’s shoulder, “but I’m bigger than you now.”

“No.” Bucky disagreed stubbornly, with a resolve that had Steve’s heart beating double time. “Steve, small.”

“Ha, ha,” Steve over-enunciated, trying to sound exasperated but the happiness in his voice easily clouding it, “that was a long time ago, Buck.”

Bucky nodded again, and scooted out from under Steve’s arm. Steve let him go, not at all hurt by Bucky taking some more space, and watched curiously as Bucky sat close to the end table, leaning in towards his new plant.

“Long time,” Bucky repeated, the words a little quiet and garbled.

Bucky still had that smile on his face though, and his metal finger was gently touching the flat body of the cactus while his flesh hand appeared to be feeling the soil.

Steve wasn’t an idiot, he knew desert plants liked to be dry, but it was then, watching Bucky and thinking over Sam’s words that something inside Steve clicked.

Something inside him settled firmly into place, and his heart could probably burst. He swallowed, trying to collect himself even if it didn’t seem to do much good.

“Bucky,” he started cautiously because his voice cracked and Bucky’s swiveled around to look at him questioningly. “You named the little cactus Steve and now you’re taking care of him.”

Bucky nodded once decisively as Steve struggled, too overcome with emotion, to take a deep breath.

Steve tried to fight it, but ultimately conceded when his eyes were wet and there were tears on his cheeks.

Bucky looked alarmed and quickly moved closer to Steve, his hands in the air and worry etched across his face.

Steve tried to tell him, but instead of forming words, just managed to exhale noisily as a frown pulled the edges on Bucky’s lips downward.

Steve tried to tell Bucky, but didn’t know how.

Bucky’s hands hovered in front of his body, between him and Steve, as if he didn’t know what to do with them. His brow creased deeper and he looked upset, concentrating on the tears slowly trailing down Steve’s face.

Bucky being upset was the last thing Steve wanted. Rather than wait for Bucky to initiate contact, Steve skipped that step and took Bucky into his arms, quickly wrapping his arms around Bucky’s healing body and effortlessly pulling Bucky against his broad chest.

Bucky went willingly, pressed himself harder against Steve even, but wiggled until his flesh hand was free of the embrace. In a move that unsurprisingly had Steve crying even harder, Bucky pressed it against Steve’s cheek, no doubt leaving a smudge of dirt in between Bucky’s fingers and his skin, but Steve didn’t care.

Steve needed to tell Bucky that he wasn’t crying because it hurt; he was crying because something that had been gone for too long was finally back where it belonged.

He didn’t want to call them happy tears, as that seemed too simple. Steve’s feelings were layered and intense, and though Bucky would always bring him the utmost happiness, it was so much more than that. Steve was crying tears of relief and catharsis and disbelief.

Steve held Bucky close, taking in the feeling of having that moment. It took him a minute, but he was able to collect himself, and he loosened his hold on Bucky as his breathing evened out.

“Thanks Buck,” he said thickly as he pulled back. He wasn’t going to apologize for what he felt, but he hated that alarmed look on Bucky’s face. “I’m sorry if I worried you.”

Bucky didn’t look convinced but nodded once, slowly, as Steve pulled away to stand up.

“My emotions just caught me by surprise, you know?”

Though Steve didn’t expect an answer, Bucky looked serious when he nodded in response to that statement.

He shook his head once, reminding himself that this was fine. Having Bucky back in his life was inevitably going to bring back memories for Steve, he just hadn’t anticipated how deeply he would feel them.

Still, though, there was something so satisfying fulfilling to see Bucky and his pride at that tiny plant.

Exhaling slowly, Steve moved toward the kitchen so he could grab a smoothie out of the fridge for Bucky. He was pouring the bottle into one of the plastic cups with screw tops lids and straws that Bucky seemed to favor when he looked back towards the living room.

Bucky was sitting cross-legged, facing the window, next to the end table that held his two plants. The line of his shoulders seemed relaxed, and seeing that loosened the knot in Steve’s chest.

“Snack time, Sweetheart,” He announced as he poured himself a glass of orange juice, stomach still comfortably full from his breakfasts.

Bucky ambled over to the kitchen, a small curious smile on his face, clearly no longer worried about Steve, as Steve was grinning right at him.

Bucky settled himself on the kitchen stool, reaching for the cup as Steve pushed it towards him, lips already pursing before he even got the straw between them.

This was easy, Steve thought, spending the afternoon with his best guy, making sure that he was warm and safe and fed and maybe happy.

This was the way things should be.

Chapter Text

It the six months since Bucky had arrived at the Tower, things had been good.

And were getting better.

It wasn’t perfect, of course. There were bad days. The kinds of days where he could barely get out of bed, barely talk, or barely remember himself. The kinds of days when he closely resembled the lost version of himself that he’d been when he’d pulled Steve from the River.

But he had good days too. Many of them. The good days were better than he could’ve imagined when he made the plan for him and George to leave his crappy apartment and seek out Steve.

The longer Bucky spent at the Tower, the less exhausted he was; the rest and regular meals made a big difference.

The more he ate and the more he rested, the more he remembered. It was a cycle that he hadn’t put together back when he’d still felt so lost.

He’d been at the Tower for a month, Steve endlessly supporting his every move, before Steve suggested that Bucky might need more.

Steve had doctors - doctors for his body, though it was perfect, and a therapist to help him with everything else. According to Steve, the therapist had been recommended by Tony, Steve’s friend who occasionally visited, and Tony offered to recommend some for Bucky as well.

As soon as Bucky could remember which of the languages in his head was English, he’d become verbal with Steve; his tiny cactus somehow the catalyst for that. Bucky wasn’t sure what it was about the tiny Steve Cactus that sparked the dormant connection in his brain, but he was thankful for it. That was when Steve carefully, but seriously, mentioned the doctor.

Apparently, Steve had been waiting to bring it up, but had been hesitant to do so until Bucky could verbally consent to seeing any type of doctor.

Bucky was very aware that the more memories came back to him, the more he had to process, and he’d agreed.

Believe it or not, the doctor was something akin to wonderful. Bucky asked Steve if most people saw their therapists four times a week, but Steve assured Bucky that recovery was different for everyone.

Apparently, Steve had spent a lot of time learning to take care of himself before Bucky came along.

Therapy wasn’t easy, but Bucky had survived much worse and he wasn’t one to give up.

After starting therapy, his body no longer feeling so heavy and tired in the bones, Bucky was ready to go outside. It took him time to work through and articulate his feelings, but he was finally able to tell Steve the reason he hadn’t wanted to leave was that he didn’t know if he’d be able to return.

It took a hell of a lot for him to show up at the Tower in the first place, and he wasn’t sure that he could go through that again.

Steve was steadfast as always, and clearly the support Bucky needed in his life, as he explained, in no uncertain terms, that Bucky would always be welcome in his space, welcome and free to come and go as he pleased.

Steve wanted Bucky around, but that in no way superseded Bucky’s agency and meant that Bucky was not able to go where he wanted.

Bucky’s therapist assured him that this was true, and reminded him that if he ever felt like he didn’t have a choice, all he needed to do was voice that concern.

Steve had always been helpful, but Bucky was learning that his doctor was just about worth Steve’s weight in gold.

Mostly because Bucky felt like a person again, not necessarily That Bucky but still A Bucky and that was something he held close to his ever-growing and ever-feeling heart.

Comfortable with the idea of leaving Steve’s floor and the Tower that he’d fought so hard to walk into a month and a half prior, Bucky asked Steve to join him, and unsurprisingly, Steve was happy to hold Bucky’s hand and show him all around Manhattan.

From then on, Steve excitedly tried to get Bucky to go outside at least once a day, though unnecessary since Bucky was more than ready to do so.

Even the days where Steve was gone for work or when the weather was especially gloomy and wet, Bucky made sure to get fresh air and at least walk around the Tower’s courtyard.

Hand in hand, Steve and Bucky went to the park, and to the library, and bought ice cream sandwiches on a street corner when Bucky felt like eating solid food, which was happening more often as his body adjusted to not being malnourished.

Steve had a favorite for everything, and as more of Bucky’s memories returned, it did not surprise him at all.

Steve took Bucky to his favorite deli, favorite flower shop, favorite coffee shop, and favorite book store.

Everywhere Steve went, Bucky was sure to follow; that much hadn’t changed in the last 70 years.

Unlike Steve, Bucky only had one favorite place, which was the spare bedroom on Steve’s floor.

Eventually, once Bucky had remembered how to be verbal again, he was able to articulate to Steve that he hadn’t wanted to sleep in the guest bedroom because it was an interior room, meaning there was no window for George to get sunlight.

He didn’t tell Steve that he’d been taking care of George for months before the Tower and the thought of taking the sunlight away from his friend made his insides hurt in an indescribable way.

Steve, because he was dependable and understanding, hadn’t judged Bucky at all. In fact, he’d smiled at Bucky, kissed him on the side of the head and told him, “I’ll take care of it, Sweetheart.”

At the time, Bucky hadn’t known what Steve was saying, but since he’d gotten a kiss out of it, it hadn’t bothered him.

He liked when Steve kissed him; there was something intimately familiar about the gesture. Not to mention that having Steve so close to Bucky’s body felt nice, and it made him feel safe and secure.

Bucky liked when he felt safe.

Something in him could trust that Steve would never hurt him, so he continued to enjoy the thrill of being so close to another person.

Once, Steve kissed Bucky on his metal knuckles and though Bucky couldn’t feel it, he was pretty sure it was something.

Feeling close to Steve was such a wonderfully fantastic part of his life that he’d wondered how he was able to forget about it for so long. Of course, those thoughts typically led to nightmares, which led to bad days so he did his best to avoid getting caught in that negative spiral.

“Hey Buck?” Bucky heard the door open and close, and Steve’s voice call out along with it. “You home?”

Bucky could hear the clunky sounds of Steve kicking off his shoes and pulling the fridge door open.

“Back here, Stevie.” He responded loud enough for Steve to hear as he hoisted up a large planter to move it to the empty spot in the corner.

He looked around the room and smiled to himself. It had really come together.

When Bucky told Steve his feelings about the interior bedroom, Steve was quick to point out that there was a third bedroom he wasn’t using, complete with a window, but he hadn’t offered it because it wasn’t furnished.

Much like Steve’s bedroom, where Bucky preferred to keep sleeping, it was complete with a large window that faced the sun and let in plenty of light.

Bucky loved it instantly.

As Bucky spent more time with Steve, he inevitably met Steve’s friends. It started with Sam Wilson, a wonderful person, who’d brought Bucky a large potted fern and book on indoor gardening.

Tony, who had already stopped by a few times after Bucky moved in, gifted Bucky a ficus which has seen better days. Apparently the lab which Tony worked in didn’t get much sunlight.

Natasha, who triggered something like a memory in Bucky, but he couldn't really see it yet, brought him a large cactus in a honey colored pot that fit in quite well with his other two.

Bucky named them all after places or things that felt significant. It felt like a safe way to think about all the names that flashed through his thoughts, and his therapist didn’t seem opposed to it. The fern was Carter, the ficus Rebecca, and the large cactus was Dugan.

Though he didn’t mention it to Steve’s face, something in him filled with glee at the thought of the smallest cactus being named Steve.

It appeared that Sam Wilson felt the same way, which was another reason Bucky liked him.

It seemed only natural that eventually, the spare room Bucky had claimed as his own was nearly bursting with greenery.

Tony, who Bucky sometimes struggled to talk to but was making progress, had showed up one day with new furniture and Steve was not nearly as surprised as Bucky.

Steve had shrugged with a simple, “Eh, he does that, Buck.”

Tony provided shelves lined with cork, which made it easy for Bucky to line up his ever growing plant collection and keep them watered and healthy.

He had an countertop with built-in containers for soil so that Bucky could pot plants right in his own space rather than spread dirt all over Steve’s kitchen.

He tried to thank Tony, unaccustomed to so much generosity outside of Steve, and Tony had brushed it off.

Though, Tony had seemed absolutely overjoyed when Bucky named his Aloe Vera plant Stark, and labeled the section of his potting bench full of supplies as “Pepper Potts.” Bucky had only met Pepper twice, but she was instantly likeable.

Bucky’s life was, shockingly, pretty wonderful.

“Got you something!” Steve called again, which, honestly, wasn’t a surprise.

As many plants as Bucky had picked up from the local nursery every time they walked over to visit, Steve had done the same when he was out and about with Sam.

Between his gifted plants and the ones he’d purchased himself, it was no surprise why he needed a whole room dedicated to it.

His ‘green room’ being his happy place was just a coincidence.

There was something unconditionally beautiful about creating something and growing something, rather than tearing it down.

Not to mention that repotting cactuses was a breeze thanks to his metal arm.

“What’s up?” He called, still listening to Steve puttering around the kitchen.

While waiting for Steve, Bucky finished rearranging his greenery collection. Though he’d amassed quite a few plants in the last six months, he didn’t think it was too many. He wanted to fill the green room with as many plants as would fit, and adding hanging planters had just maximized his space.

Surrounding himself with life fulfilled Bucky in ways he’d never anticipated.

“Hey,” Steve breathed, leaning against the doorframe, with half his body out of sight, and smiling at Bucky like Bucky was the best thing he’d ever seen.

“You already said that,” Bucky responded dismissively, though he sounded so fond, it ruined the effect.

“Yeah,” Steve agreed, smiling wide and goofy, and Bucky rolled his eyes in response.

Bucky really had a lot of good in his life.

Steve stepped fully into the doorframe, the breadth of his shoulders filling nearly the whole space.

He held his hands out in front of his body, holding a small pot proudly in front of him.

“Huh,” Bucky grunted as he leaned in for a closer look. It appeared that Steve had brought home a cactus, which excited Bucky to no end because despite all the plants he’d come to care for, he had a particular soft spot for cactuses.

Though it was clearly a cactus, it was certainly unlike any cactus he’d ever seen.

Steve was watching, soft smile firmly on his face, obviously giving Bucky all the time he wanted to inspect the plant.

Bucky reached out with his left hand, letting a metal fingertip skim down the lower body of the plant, tall and lanky with light colored needles.

He pulled back to look at the top, some bright yellow chunk of plant that looked unlike any of his other cactuses. He poked at the bulbous form, but it was as solid and prickly as the rest of the body.

The bright color was interesting and Bucky immediately liked it, but it was a strange plant.

“What is it?” He asked simply, fingers still skimming the top of the plant.

Steve exhaled slowly and Bucky’s gaze followed the movement as Steve’s shoulders went up and down. Steve was still smiling, but it was something different now; it was soft and gentle in a way Bucky could recognize.

“It’s a moon cactus.” Steve’s lips quirked upwards even more, though Bucky didn’t know why.

“Doesn’t look like a moon,” he responded wryly.

Steve huffed out a laugh, his eyes shining with mirth.

“Shut up, Jerk,” Steve muttered, reaching out and giving Bucky a playful shove.

“Well it doesn’t.”

“It reminded me of you.” Steve free hand rubbed at the back of his neck and Bucky watched, interested, as he waited for Steve to continue.

“Moon cactuses… Well, they’re two separate plants that are grafted together. That one on the top, it can’t photosynthesize, so it gets combined with the root cactus on the bottom. Then you get a functional, really good looking and strong plant.”

“Really good looking and strong, huh?” Despite the fact that Bucky automatically teased Steve, he knew exactly what his best friend was getting at.

It was considerate and thoughtful in the way that Steve Rogers always was, and Bucky found himself suddenly thankful for the last six months he’d spent here.

Thankful for the doctors and the therapists and the big windows and good meals. Thankful for Steve and Steve’s friends and for people that never judged him or never pressured his steps of recovery. He was thankful for having a room to fill with life, and for the ability to take care of something, maybe not exactly like That Bucky but like This Bucky in a way that made him happy. Thankful for all that he had, and though it wasn’t easy, wouldn’t always be easy, he was thankful for what he had and always would be.

“Yeah,” Steve agreed, the word falling quietly from his lips on the tail end of a deep exhale.

Bucky smiled at Steve, something soft and still not altogether familiar, but he did it anyway. He leaned forward to place a firm kiss on Steve’s cheek as he took the potted plant from Steve’s hands.

“I know just where to put him,” He added as he walked to the other side of the room, where George was standing tall in the sunlight, as green and healthy as he had been when Bucky had lifted him from corner store and brought him to the old, tiny apartment.

He looked back over his shoulder to see Steve standing in the door frame, sweet, gentle affection written all over his face.

“Do you know what you’re going to name him?” Steve asked curiously as Bucky rotated the pot 80 degrees until it looked like it was in the perfectly right spot.

“Yeah,” he answered quietly, his throat dry as he swallowed once.

The moon cactus was healthy, was thriving, and though it was two pieces, one unnatural, grafted together, it was full of life.

“Think I’m gonna call this one James.”