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Where The Heart Is

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When Steve gets home from work there’s someone in his apartment. A tall, foreboding, and goddamned metal armed someone is in his apartment, perched on Steve’s countertop and eating a sandwich like he hasn’t broken into Steve’s apartment.

Steve reaches blindly for the Maglite that sits next to his door and briefly contemplates his chances of beating a man twice his size with nothing but a heavy flashlight. The flashlight, in it’s defense, works miraculously well as a weapon in most cases. He’s just not so sure of it’s efficiency against the scary looking asshole currently occupying Steve’s kitchen.

“Uh, who the fuck are you and what the fuck are you doing in my apartment?”

The man turns to look at Steve, brow wrinkling as he takes him in.

“I thought this place was vacant," The asshole says, and shrugs like he hasn’t broken into Steve’s apartment.

“Yeah, well it’s not. It’s very much occupied. By me.”

“I see that,” The man says, setting down his sandwich casually, on Steve’s countertop, in Steve’s apartment that may Steve remind everyone, he broke into. “I didn’t know someone was already squatting here.” He adds and hops down from Steve’s countertop like he might be about to leave.

Steve breathes a sigh of relief, prepared to chalk this whole thing up as some weird experience or a frankly, insane hallucination. Until, that is, he properly processes what the man had just said.

“I’m not squatting here!” He insists, voice going a little pitchier than he’d like if he’s honest with himself. (He’s not.) “I live here. I pay rent and everything.”

The man blinks slowly, like Steve’s just said something baffling. “You live here? You don’t even have a bed.” He sounds all kinds of incredulous and it makes Steve feel like digging his heels in even harder.

“I have a bed.” Steve insists, crossing his arms over his chest stubbornly, still clutching the flashlight in his hand. Sure, a sleeping bag on the floor doesn’t seem like much of a bed, but it’s still technically a bed, okay? Steve’s pretty sure it still falls into the category of being at the very least bed like.

That,” The man says, jabbing a finger at Steve’s makeshift bed in the corner, “is not a bed.” His expression darkens for a moment, but before Steve has a chance to worry about what the random, crazy guy talking to him is going to do he’s speaking again. “Give me a few hours, I’ll be back.”

Before Steve can get a word in edgewise, the man is turning around and leaping out Steve’s window like it’s no big deal. When Steve crosses the apartment and sticks his head out the window, the man is nowhere to be seen and Steve takes a moment to wonder if this isn’t all some weird hallucination brought on by a lack of sleep and maybe one of his meds. Maybe he should google for side effects, find out if vivid hallucinations are one of the side effects no one thinks to warn people of.

 

Three hours later, the man barges back into Steve’s apartment. He’s carrying a frankly incredible amount of stuff and there’s a redhead with a stack of pizza boxes trailing behind him.

“This is Natalia, Natalia this is… Hey what’s your name? I forgot to ask.”

“Steve.” He’s too flabbergasted to say more than that, absolutely baffled by the way his day is going so far.

“Call me Natasha.” The redhead says, setting the stack of pizzas down on Steve’s countertop. “You have my sincerest apologies for James, he’s still learning how to be a human being.” She shoots the man- James- a pointed look that he entirely ignores in favor of dumping the pile of things he’s carrying on the floor. There’s a lot of parts of things that Steve is assuming can be put together to form actual items, but mostly it just looks like chaos.

“Don’t listen to her, my name’s Bucky.” The man- James- Bucky says before he’s disappearing out the door again, leaving Steve standing there, probably looking like an idiot with his mouth hanging open.

“I think your friend might be a little insane.” Steve tells the redhead. “Maybe a little more than a little.” Who the hell breaks into someone’s house and then brings them furniture and pizza?!

Natasha just shrugs and flips open the lid on one of the pizza boxes. “That’s actually pretty likely. He means well though.”

“So he’s not going to murder me in my sleep or something?” Steve asks, accepting a slice of pizza when Natasha shoves one into his hand with a look that practically dares Steve not to accept it.

“He probably won’t, no.” Natasha doesn’t sound reassuring at all.

Before Steve can question it further Bucky appears again, this time carrying a mattress and looking not at all like it’s difficult. Steve does not spend a moment surreptitiously eying the muscles that allow him to do such a thing, no, not at all. This is still a stranger who broke into his home. Whether or not they’re a kind stranger that is attempting to furnish Steve’s apartment, and whether or not they thought the place was vacant is moot.

Bucky doesn’t say anything to Steve yet, just levels a look at Natasha. “You could help, ya know?”

Natasha fixes him with a flat look and takes a bite of pizza pointedly. “I helped. I brought up the pizza. Now I’m helping eat the pizza.”

Bucky scowls at her, and mutters something under his breath that Steve can’t quite catch before he’s disappearing once more. Steve decides it might be best not to question how this is his life and shoves a bite of pizza into his mouth.

 

Roughly an hour later, Steve is sitting in a brand new chair, (Brand new for him that is. The chair appears to have had at least a few other owners before Steve.) watching Bucky attempt to put together a bed frame. It doesn’t seem to be going well, if the low level muttering is anything to go by.

“I can just sleep on the mattress on the floor, seriously.” Steve says, rolling his eyes when Bucky scowls at him.

“It’s not good for the mattress to have it on the floor.” Bucky’s words are followed by a triumphant noise when he manages to fit two pieces together. “I can put a goddamned mattress frame together, it can’t be that hard.”

“Sure it’s not.” Natasha says, seated on the floor near Bucky. She has somewhere along the line taken out a bag of gummy bears that she’s steadily working her way through while seeming to have a wonderful time watching Bucky get increasingly frustrated.

Steve’s determined that Natasha is fearless, because Steve definitely wouldn’t be that comfortable sitting that close to an increasingly agitated man with a metal arm.

“You should be nicer to me, I’m brain damaged.” Bucky says with an exaggerated wounded expression.

Natasha doesn’t react to that in any other way than to throw a gummy bear with frightening accuracy to hit Bucky square between the eyes.

 

Later, once Bucky’s gotten the furniture all put together and they’ve eaten Chinese (an order that Natasha refused to let anyone else pay for and was big enough that Steve thinks he’ll have leftovers for at least the next two days), Natasha declares that she really needs to be going.

She surprises Steve by drawing him into a hug and promising to drop in again soon before she makes Bucky accompany her out the front door.

Steve has no shame over the fact that he stands on the other side of the paper thin walls and listens in to their parting conversation.

“You should let someone other than me know that you’re okay, James.” Natasha’s speaking low, but Steve can hear her clearly enough to make her words out and Steve gives thanks to his apartment for being so shitty.

“I will. Eventually. There’s still things I need to do, things I have to figure out.”

“And this is how you’re doing that?” Steve doesn’t know Natasha very well, but he can almost picture her raising her eyebrows at Bucky incredulously.

“Yes. The internet says you’re not allowed to judge my coping strategies, Natalia.”

“Far be it for me to judge.”

There’s silence for a long moment, the sounds of shuffling and then Bucky’s voice again.

“I’ll call you soon, okay? Check in, let you know I haven’t gone off the deep end.”

“Good, because I won’t hesitate to hunt you down James.”

There’s another moment of silence and then Bucky is swinging the door back open and descending on Steve’s apartment once more.

“This is still considered breaking and entering.” Steve says and waves a finger at Bucky to emphasize his point.

~☀~

 

After the helicarriers came down.

After he fished Captain America out of the river (Captain America- Peggy Carter, The Mission. The Asset knows she is made of steel and can take down men three times her size without breaking a sweat, but he doesn’t know how he knows.)

After he broke protocol- After protocol cracked and his brain shredded it to pieces and violently threw it away.

After he ran and ran and ran.

After all of that, Bucky Barnes never would have expected that he’d find himself months later attempting to furnish some kid’s shitty apartment. Once he was ready to let Barton know he existed he was going to have to have a chat with the idiot about the state of his apartment building, even if at least half the issues with the place were that Steve (‘Steven Grant Rogers. Grad Student. Barista. Freelance artist. Currently accepting commissions. Threat level: Low.’) had apparently decided to live like a monk with no need for material items

Though to be entirely fair to himself, Bucky hadn’t been thinking about anything right after. He’d been so focused on running, on not going back, that he’d made it to somewhere in The Middle Of Nowhere, Ohio before he finally stopped.

This newest turn of events is a little surprising. He’d started his day with every intention of holing up in what he’d assumed at first glance was an empty apartment, deciding that shacking up in Barton’s (‘Clinton Francis Barton, designation Hawkeye. Born January 7, 1971. Threat level: High. Kill on sight’ says some leftover part of his brain that Bucky has gotten very good at ignoring) building was the equivalent of hiding in plain sight.

Of course the universe hates him and the apartment turns out to not be empty, but rather inhabited by some angry eyed kid who goes for a fucking flashlight the moment he sees Bucky. Of course that’s what happens. And of course Bucky’s reaction to that and realizing this fucking child is living in a veritable shithole is to go track down furniture and get Natalia to help.

Natalia does not help, except for how her very presence helps, and then she leaves, leaves Bucky all alone with this kid (who is not a kid, who told him with a roll of his eyes and the air of someone who’s used to this that he’s 25) and no backup.

Traitor.

“Technically it’s not. Technically the door was unlocked the second time. Therefore only the first time was breaking and entering.” Bucky’s mouth says for him and Bucky is thankful for a brief, shining moment that he managed to get words out.

“Technicalities.” Steve grumbles, not seeming convinced and Bucky grins at him, can feel it spreading across his face, big and toothy.


Three days later, Bucky shows up at Steve’s apartment again. This time he’s dragging a couch behind him.

He can’t possibly explain why, can’t justify it even to himself let alone to Steve if the man asks. He’d just seen the couch amongst a frankly absurd amount of stuff set outside of a just moved out of apartment and something in him had said ‘Steve doesn’t have a couch’ like it was somehow Bucky’s responsibility to make sure he had furniture.   

“You needed a couch.” He says instead of trying to explain, attempting to look like it’s perfectly normal to barge right into someone’s apartment.

“I did not.” Steve insists, and Bucky’s pretty sure that’s a damn lie. Steve needs a couch. Steve needs a coffee table, and bookshelves, and pots and pans, and more food in his cabinets than off brand spaghettios.

Bucky scoffs to show just how much he doesn’t believe Steve and shoves the couch until it’s underneath a window, and then, because he’s the one who just carted it across half the city and got it up ten flights of stairs, he throws his body down onto it.

“Where am I supposed to sit when I come visit if you don’t have a couch, Stevie?” Bucky asks, and well, he hadn’t realized he intended to keep coming back until that very moment but Bucky’s not questioning himself, instead stretching out all his limbs and settling into the couch. It really is comfortable. It’s massive, taking up a good half the living room. It’s also a nearly eye blinding lime green color, and possibly the most comfortable thing Bucky’s laid on since he became a person again. Good job, self.

“Is visiting what this is called? I thought this was you breaking into my house to foist possibly stolen furniture off on me.” Steve doesn’t actually sound upset about any of it, and Bucky absolutely doesn’t preen at the amusement he thinks he hears there because it’s not like he even knows this kid, he’s just- he’s happy to feel like he’s helping, he decides. Somewhere deep, deep, deep down there’s a thought that ‘you’re screwed Barnes’ and he tells himself it doesn’t sound like Natasha when she’s laughing at him.

“Hey, none of it’s stolen!” Bucky argues instead, “The couch was free.”

~☀~

 

A little over a week after Bucky brings over the couch and probably not-so-coincidentally starts sleeping on it more often than not, Steve gets the courage to ask about the metal arm. The explanation he gets makes him balk, absolutely and entirely disbelieving until Bucky gets him to break out his computer and run a few google searches.

“You expect me to believe that’s you?” Steve asks, looking up at Bucky from his computer with the picture of Sergeant James Barnes. In it he’s lined up alongside the Howling Commandos, with an arm slung around Captain America’s shoulders and a smile on his face that Steve doesn’t think quite touches his eyes. “You’d be like 90 years old. There’s no way. That’s insane.

Insane, but that’s also obviously Bucky in the picture. There’s no denying that. The picture is old, and Bucky’s hair is shorter but that’s not enough to change the fact that the man in this picture from the 40s is the same man that’s been sleeping on Steve’s couch and slowly but surely furnishing his apartment,

“I know how it sounds, and if you’ve got a better explanation then I’m all ears. But I remember fighting alongside her.” Bucky says, jabbing a finger at Captain America on Steve’s screen. “I remember fighting alongside all of them. I remember being him. I know I’m him.” He adds, pointing at the Sergeant now.

There’s something about the way Bucky says it, like it’s a conclusion he’s fought for, that means if Steve didn’t already believe him he does now.

“Alright. Okay. You’re Sergeant James Barnes of the Howling Commandos, I believe you.” Steve says finally. “That doesn’t make it any less weird though. You’re a hundred years old and two days ago I found you playing Candy Crush on a fucking iphone at 4 in the morning, that’s weird.”

“I’m exercising my brain. It’s a little messed up after the brainwashing.” Bucky says primly and Steve rolls his eyes at him.

“Yeah, well, you’re gonna need to exercise your brain a lot then.” Steve jokes without thinking, and then goes shocked still in horror at himself.

Bucky goes still for one torturous moment before barking out a laugh and dragging Steve into his side to rub his knuckles into Steve’s hair.

Asshole .” Bucky says, sounding more than a little fondly exasperated.


Steve doesn’t sleep that night. Instead, he sits in the glow of his laptop long after Bucky’s left clicking through leaked file after leaked file. The DC incident was months ago and Steve had browsed through the highlights of the SHIELD leak like anybody else. There had been no escaping it, not when even Buzzfeed was putting up things like 10 THINGS WE LEARNED FROM BLACK WIDOW’S LEAK.

So yeah, he’s seen a few of the leaked files but he’s never had a focus for it before, never sat down to search for something specific in the mess that is probably thousands upon thousands upon thousands of files that were never meant for the public eye. And they’d tried, they’d really tried to pull them down in the aftermath but it was too late. Too many people saved and reuploaded and reuploaded again when they got taken down, and then too many powerful people were calling for them to stay just as they were- accessible to the public. Transparent. A symbol of the way the government had failed its people.

It all meant that when Steve wanted to find files on The Winter Soldier, on Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes, he could. It just took some digging, because just because they couldn’t get rid of the files didn’t mean they hadn’t done their damnedest to bury the most damning of them. And what happened to Bucky right under their noses, it was pretty damning. So it took time and effort and he ended up nearly getting a virus to find them, but it was possible.

He shouldn’t have found them, he learned after less than a couple minutes of reading, but he could, and he couldn’t stop himself once he started either.

It was like watching a train crash, clicking through schematics for a chair, detailed reports of experimentations with paralytics- biotoxins- electroshock therapy, instructions on how to feed- how to wash- how to fucking care for the asset and he was always always always the asset or the fucking weapon. Never Bucky, or James, or anything that could make him seem like a person.

And Steve- Steve was sick, Steve was furious in a way he didn’t think he ever had been before, not even when his mom had passed and he’d been furious for months, filled with spite in a desperate attempt to not realize how utterly destroyed he’d been.

He doesn’t realize anyone’s in his apartment until the bed dips as Bucky settles beside him, eyes tracking between Steve’s face and his laptop screen.

“Kinda fucked up huh?” He sounds more like he’s commenting on someone running a red light and not decades upon decades of systematic torture.

Steve wants to hit someone- he wants to hit Hydra until his knuckles are bruised and bloody, and he hasn’t felt so- so- so incapable since he was 16 and stuck in ICU from a lung infection while his mom went through chemo.

“That’s one way of putting it.” Steve says instead of yelling- screaming about the cruelty- about the fucking injustice of it all.

“You get to the ones about what I did?” Bucky asks, and Steve has known him for all of a week and a half but there’s something in his tone that makes Steve think he might care what Steve’s reaction will be.

“You mean the shit you were forced to do?”

Steve stares Bucky down, arms crossed firm across his chest and chin tilted up, prepared to take on the world. Or at the very least prepared to take on Bucky’s apparent guilt complex.

Bucky doesn’t know him well enough to realize that arguing with him like this is, as Steve’s mom used to say, ‘like arguing with a damn brick wall.’

“It was still me that did them. Still my hand that pulled the trigger.”

“What would have happened if you hadn’t?”

“I- What?”

“What would have happened if you didn’t successfully complete a mission they gave you? And also, no less fucking important, did everything they did to you even leave you with the capability to say no?”

Steve knows he’s got him. He’s at the very least made an argument that Bucky doesn’t have a response to just yet.

“Don’t use your weird logic on me Rogers.” Bucky grumbles.

Steve smiles and it feels too sharp to be genuine, too angry at the world. “Then don’t look at me like I should be judging you for shit that’s not actually your fault.”

~☀~

 

When Steve asks about the arm Bucky is so startled by it that he blurts everything out right away.

It’s just-

The thing is-

Bucky walks around expecting everyone to somehow know. To look at him and see the Winter Soldier- Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes- An assassin- a prisoner of war- a ghost . It’s a little ridiculous, or as Natalia tells him, a little self centered. By some ridiculous chance there’s no footage of everything that happened in DC, and what pictures there are are blurry or at awkward angles or too far away to really show that Bucky wasn’t just some random unidentified villain of the week. Add in the fact that the files on him somehow escaped too much notice with all the other fuckery that the leaks had revealed and he’s still essentially what he’s been for the past seventy years- a ghost story.  

Steve doesn’t react how anyone should ever react to finding out the person who keeps showing up in his apartment, half the time when he’s sleeping, is a fucking assassin.

Steve doesn’t react to anything the way Bucky assumes normal people should.

Ever.

Bucky’s decided he likes it.

He found a therapist through Natasha who found it through Wilson and the woman keeps telling him that he deserves nice things and that as long as the things he likes don’t hurt himself or others than he should keep doing them.

So Bucky does.

He keeps showing up at Steve Rogers’ apartment, keeps sleeping on his couch, keeps letting the scrawny shithead look at him without even a trace of fear. Steve argues with him about nearly everything, never lets Bucky help him even when he’s clearly struggling, and handles nearly everything life throws at him including Bucky Barnes with stubborn fearlessness.

It’s a little bit addicting. Just a little.

“Uh-huh, just a little bit.” Natasha says after she’s managed to wheedle it out of Bucky, a mimosa in hand. Bright bright pink lipstick is smudging the glass and Bucky stares at it for a moment dragging his eyes back up to Nat’s face.

“You’re the one who told me I needed to meet people.” He insists, and he is not in any way shape or form pouting even if Natasha’s eyes are glinting like he is.

“I meant you should find friends that aren’t fellow soviet brainwash victims, not shack up with an art student in Bushwick.”

“You shacked up with a Clint in Bushwick,” Bucky says and steals a potato right off of Natasha’s plate, dodging the fork she tries to stab him with, “I’m pretty sure that’s pretty close to the same thing.”

“Clint and I have shared life experiences.”

“You like Steve.” Bucky says instead of diving into the minefield that Nat’s setting up.

She seems to know and grins, stabbing a sausage off of Bucky’s plate and biting the end off in a way that makes a man at the table closest to them wince.

“I do. But-” she pauses, visibly searching for words and Bucky knows it’s on purpose, a move to put the other person at ease and as much as he wants to twitch and tell her not to he knows it’s not easy to switch that kind of behavior off. “He’s a civilian.”

“Technically, so am I. Or at least Noah Koppelman is.”

“Except you’re not Noah Koppelman with him, you’re James fucking Barnes. Despite having a perfectly good cover with Noah.” There’s a note of frustration to her voice that she lets show and if Bucky had to guess, he’d say it’s not because she’s actually upset that Bucky’s shacking up with a civilian art student but because he’s being willfully obtuse.

“Listen,” Bucky starts, stealing a strawberry off of Natasha’s plate, “He’s not exactly a normal person. First thing he did when he saw me was go for a fucking flashlight and I’ve only known him for a few weeks but I can say with absolute certainty the asshole would’ve attempted to beat the shit out of me with it if he thought he needed to.”

He doesn’t try to make his words sound like anything other than the praise they are, and the way Natasha’s lips purse together, the edges twitching upward tells him she can see it easily.

“He’s not afraid of me.” He says, feeling like that’s an especially important part of this all. Sure, Natasha’s not afraid of him, and he’s sure if he let Peggy get within speaking distance she wouldn’t be either, but the last time he saw her, two months after the programming broke, she looked at him like he was a bomb just waiting to go off. So did Natasha.

It’s only recently that they’ve been able to do this, to sit and eat brunch that costs more than Bucky’s rent in the 1941 and needle each other, side stepping each other’s personal landmines and occasionally pushing on bruises for fun.

It makes Steve especially refreshing. He doesn’t push on bruises, but he also doesn’t sidestep Bucky’s landmines. He doesn’t seem to know where they are, or maybe he doesn’t even register that they exist.

It’s nice. It’s really fucking nice.

Still, he doesn’t want to actually explain all of that and thankfully Natasha seems to understand. Instead talk turns to what basically boils down to nonsense- Bucky’s new favorite morning coffee stop, Natasha wanting to plan a shopping trip- all things mundane and easily discussed in a crowded room. Of course then Natasha goes off script and says “If he’s sticking around someone has to teach him to fight.”

No.” Bucky’s response is immediate, final, or at least he thinks it’s final because Steve Rogers is a five foot something scrap of stubbornness and justice and he doesn’t need Natalia Romanova batting him around like he’s nothing.

Natasha just looks at him, lips curved into the ghost of an amused smile, something knowing there.

Time ticks by, Bucky holds firm, Natasha keeps giving him that look.

They manage seven whole minutes of absolute silence before Bucky cracks. “Fine!”

Natasha’s smile looks a lot like gloating.

~☀~

 

Steve learns on a Wednesday a couple months into his life turning weird that Natasha Romanoff- the Black Widow! One of the world’s deadliest assassins! - shows absolutely no remorse when she leaves only a half bowl of Lucky Charms in the box and a solitary drink of milk in the carton.

She’s a menace who smiles cheekily around a spoonful of brightly colored marshmallows when Steve discovers this and only offers a cheerful “Rogers.”

“Don’t you have your own cereal to eat?” Steve grumps, rubbing blearily at his eyes as he starts digging through cabinets until he finds Bucky’s ridiculous Count Chocula stash. Apparently Super Soldiers have sweet tooths. Or maybe it’s just a Bucky thing. But either way, it serves Steve well sometimes. “Y’know, in that eyesore of a tower with all the amenities a billionaire can offer?”

“Jealous?” Natasha’s smile is shark sharp and Steve thinks it’s the one she uses when she’s teasing, but he doesn’t think he knows her well enough to tell entirely.

“Of you for getting the last of my cereal? Yes.” Steve says flatly, eating his stolen cereal straight from the box. “So this is my life now, right?” Steve questions around a mouthful of dry chocolate cereal and hard marshmallows, “I somehow got a two for one on superheroes that eat me out of house and home?” Steve’s had more food in his cabinets than he’s ever had since Bucky barged into his life, but he’s not about to say that.

“We’re hardly superheroes. James won’t be suiting up anytime soon. And I’m sure you read my files.” Her tone is flippant, like she doesn’t particularly care about the words she’s saying. It makes Steve think she does.

The thing is, he had read her files. He’d read a lot of what went around when the leak initially happened and the world was getting it shoved in their face every other hour. And then, when Bucky had showed up, he’d ended up diving into it with a single mindedness that Sam had told him was a little much. “You’re like a dog with a fucking bone.” is actually what Sam had told him, but Steve chose to ignore that.  

Natasha hadn’t exactly protected herself when she leaked everything. Her files were there, and while Steve hadn’t understood half of what was in the SHIELD leak even after reading it over again, he still understood enough. So he rolls his eyes like Natasha’s being ridiculous. “Fine, it was a two for one for former assassins turned superheroes.”

Natasha was a goddamn hero, no one could convince him otherwise and Bucky might not have donned tights and a cape yet to go save the world, but Steve had a feeling he wouldn’t be able to resist at least helping the Avengers if they ever needed it.

~☀~

 

When Steve stumbles out of bed one morning it’s to stop with his glasses halfway on to squint at the sight of Bucky sprawled across his couch, asleep. This, in itself, is not actually a horribly rare sight. Bucky’s found his way inside Steve’s apartment in the middle of the night enough times that Steve barely even thinks of it as breaking in anymore. What gets Steve this time, what has him actually remembering to get his glasses on properly so that he can see it clearly, is how goddamned comfortable Bucky looks.

He almost looks, dare Steve say it, normal. He’s not still in last night’s jeans like usual. Not curled into the fetal position, muscles tense in a way that he seems to deliberately will away during his waking hours. He looks soft. In soft lavender sweatpants and chunky knit rainbow socks that stick out from the end of one of Steve’s blankets, his metal arm hanging off the edge of the couch.

Steve has the sudden, horrible urge to keep him there. Safe, and warm, and protected from all the horrible things that have happened to him. From the horrible things that maybe aren’t even in the files, that Bucky has yet to tell him about. That Bucky may never tell him about.

Instead of dwelling on that thought, or even worse than that, giving in to the urge to cross the room and smooth a hand through Bucky’s hair or trace the strong line of his jawbone or something else absolutely terrible, he clears his throat just loud enough that Bucky jerks awake.

“With how often you’re here I think I should start making you help pay rent.” Steve says, no attempts whatsoever to hide the fact that he’s teasing a little.

“Okay.” Bucky agrees easy as anything, already seeming awake and Steve hates him a little for his seeming ability to bypass the groggy state that everyone else in the world has to deal with when they wake up.

“Okay?” Steve asks, watches as Bucky rolls off the couch in a smooth motion and tries not to feel in any way jealous that the same move would have Steve falling over if he attempted it himself.

“Okay, I’ll help pay rent. I practically live here so I probably should anyways.”  

“I wasn’t actually being serious.” Steve can’t deny the urge to protest. He’s doing just fine without Bucky helping with rent, especially once one considers the fact that Bucky keeps filling Steve’s refrigerator with food. Bucky’s worse than Steve’s mother was when it comes to feeding Steve. Steve’s mom had at the very least been too busy and strapped for cash to shove food down his throat on a constant basis.  

“Well, I am, so accept my money Rogers so that I don’t have to feel like I’m being a schmuck and freeloading off your poor generous heart.” Bucky says with feeling because he’s dramatic and ridiculous and Steve’s come to the conclusion that he knows it.

“Where do you even get money from? I get the feeling you don’t exactly have a nine to five.” Not just because of the whole formerly brainwashed murder cyborg turned hobo hipster thing Bucky has going on, but also the fact that most normal jobs don’t work well when you drop off the face of the planet for days or weeks at a time like Bucky occasionally does.

“I have my ways.” Bucky says, cryptic as he breezes past Steve to put on a pot of coffee. Steve’s occasionally overactive imagination dreams of images of him raiding creepy old Hydra bases and leaving with bags full of cash, explosions behind him like in a cheesy action movie.

He decides he really shouldn’t continue this line of questioning just in case his imagination is actually right.

“Okay, fine, you can pay rent then. Why though, if you have money, were you trying to squat in my apartment instead of, oh, I dunno, renting your own place?”

“Paper trails.” Bucky says with a shrug like that makes perfect sense.

“Right. Of course.” Steve mutters and decides it’s still too early to even contemplate this shit.

~☀~

 

Bucky is covered to the elbows in blood and still trying to process how the previous day even happened.

Steve Rogers woke him up. Steve Rogers joked about making him pay rent and Bucky leaped at the chance to. Bucky leaped at the chance to turn this into something he couldn’t claim was anything but what it was- Bucky living somewhere. Bucky living with Steve.

“It’s just, y’know, not that long ago I was a lab rat slash multipurpose weapon for you assholes,” Bucky explains as he shoves a knife into the stomach of a Hydra agent. He ignores the fact that the agent looks like a fucking child, can’t even be old enough to drink because Hydra’s Hydra no matter how old and Natalia had been one of the best there was at killing people by the time she was 12. “And now I’m living in a one bedroom with some shithead in Bushwick.”

Maybe it’s not tactically sound to tell the enemy where the hell he’s living, but he’ll be dead in minutes, anyone in the building will be and Bucky’s found a special kind of therapy in ranting at the people who turned him inside out and ran his brain through a fucking garbage disposal as he kills them. He doesn’t think his real therapist would approve.

“Honestly, Bushwick, I’m like 10 blocks from where I grew up. You assholes never sent me to New York for a reason, and then you got the bright idea to wind me up and send me right at Peggy fucking Carter.” He shakes his head, almost pitying as he shoots twice over his shoulder, hitting both agents behind him right between the eyes. “Now now, going for someone’s back is foul play.” He twists the knife, pulls it out, leaves the kid- agent gasping and bleeding out.

He plugs a flash drive into one of the computers, lets it get to work as he rifles through drawers. It’s all personal shit, nothing of interest, but he grabs a couple weapons off the men on the floor, tucks them away on his person.

“Peggy Carter could break steel if she wanted to, just with a fucking look, not even with her super strength and you expected a little brainwashing to trip her up?” There’s no one left alive in the room, but he knows their frankly terrible security system is picking at least a good bit of this up and to be entirely honest that’s what he’s really saying half this shit for. He knows at some point whoever’s running this shithole operation at the moment will hear it and realize they fucked up.

You don’t torture someone for decades, take their memories, take their humanity, their fucking name and then just let them get away.

They’d created the world’s best weapon, tried to bury the human inside of it so hard they forgot it even existed, and then they’d let it get away.

Bucky grabs the flash drive, hoists the duffel bag of ‘souvenirs’ over his shoulder, and gets the fuck out of there, setting off the bombs as he goes.

Really, it should be no surprise that once he’d gotten out, once he’d dug up that human inside of him- that long silenced, tortured, mutilated person who had once been Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes- that he was a little angry.

Fucking furious, he amends if only to himself, because his therapist keeps saying he shouldn’t downplay his emotions.

 

He tucks the flash drive in a bird house and stashes the duffel in a locker at a gym in Brunswick for Natasha.

He tucks a note in with the duffel, a cheerful yellow post it note shaped like a star with a dozen and a half x’s and o’s scrawled on it- hugs and kisses, Natasha told him after he’d only responded to her texting him them with an emphatic ‘??????’

He buys hot dogs on a street corner when he gets back to New York, flirts in Spanish with the at least seventy year old woman who runs it and feels human.

The Bucky before him, he’d never appreciated just how fucking lucky he was to feel human. He tries to savor it now, tries to wrap himself up in the feeling of it.

He takes hot dogs home to Steve and enjoys his late night tired and slightly confused smiles. They make something he can’t quite describe just yet bubble up in him every time he sees them, and for once he thinks the inability to describe them might be normal, like anyone faced with a half awake Steve Rogers smiling at them like this wouldn’t be able to quantify their feelings quite right. Instead of trying he lets the bubbles of that not-quite-describable-feeling lift him up, jokes until Steve falls asleep again and then commandeers Steve’s laptop.

He spends an hour browsing. Window shopping, his mom used to call it, when they’d stand outside of Macy’s and look at things they’d never be able to afford.

He possibly ruins the whole window shopping aspect of it when he adds a new set of kitchen knives, a bulk box of protein bars, three comfortable looking if a little bit ridiculous sweaters, a record player, too many records to count, two magazine subscriptions, about a dozen books with increasingly strange titles, and a tv to the cart and then clicks “order.”

He decides that impulse shopping while riding high on an adrenaline rush and the smiles of his paint speckled roommate is a very well-adjusted-human thing to do. His therapist should be fucking proud.

~☀~

 

A TV mysteriously appeared in the apartment about a week ago. Steve has long learned that it’s pointless to ask questions. Playing on his new tv is a news program that Bucky’s clearly not paying attention to, his nose shoved in a shiny new paperback as he sprawls across the couch. On the tv, Captain America is speaking at some sort of press conference that the Avengers are holding about the incredibly weird lizard things that had attacked, of all places, Jersey recently. He’d feel bad for Jersey, especially considering the lizards had apparently had some sort of corrosive spit, but well, it was New Jersey.  

Steve shoves at Bucky’s feet until he moves them just long enough for Steve to sit down before shoving his toes underneath Steve’s thigh. Steve glares at Bucky for it, but Bucky just smiles at Steve unrepentantly before turning the page of his book.

“You ever wanna help them out?” Steve asks, his gaze on the tv as they replay footage of Black Widow strangling a spitting lizard with her thighs. The footage flips to Captain America bursting up with her shield as five of the creatures converge on her, shield slamming into the head of one as she comes back down. Steve tries incredibly hard not to imagine the sound it probably made as metal crunched into bone.  

“Not in fucking Jersey.” Bucky doesn’t even look up from his book, and Steve struggles not to snort at the way he says ‘Jersey’ like it’s a bad word.

“You got something against the garden state?” Steve asks, his expression perfect innocent curiosity and Bucky’s ‘no shit’ look- the pure outraged offense that lines his face is enough to make Steve’s shoulders shake with the laughter he’s holding in.

“Tasha’s got my number if they ever need me.” He tucks a scrap of paper into his book, the familiar lines of Steve’s doodling peeking out from where it’s pressed between the pages and Steve isn’t even close to feeling like examining the way that makes him feel. “And I’m sure Carter could reach me if she wanted to, it’s not like I’m even really hiding.”

Bucky’s right, Steve knows that. He might not be entirely up on the technology that the superhero world apparently has at its disposal, but Steve knows facial recognition software is a thing and he’s watched Bucky walk right past the security cameras outside. Hell, the man has a fucking facebook. It’s purely so that Bucky can pester random people for Candy Crush and Words With Friends, and it’s under the name Noah, but it’s not exactly impossible to figure out it’s him.

Bucky’s past- Captain Peggy Carter, she’s giving Bucky space and letting him pretend to hide. Steve’s not sure that if the positions were reversed, if Steve was a part of Bucky’s past, that he’d be able to do the same.

~☀~

 

When Natasha finally starts teaching Steve how to fight Bucky watches from the sidelines until Widow gets sick of him looming and orders him to leave. Then he sneaks into the air ducts and watches from there and Natasha very kindly doesn’t acknowledge that she knows exactly where Bucky is. It’s an act of mercy honestly.

Even in the ducts it’s hard to watch. He wants to drop down between them and- and- and fucking growl at Natasha, keep her from touching Steve. (His Steve, his! His brain is shrieking because there’s apparently a part of it that doesn’t realize Bucky’s pining doesn’t actually give Bucky ownership over one Steve Rogers.) His arm is whirring, plates shifting more than they’ve done since Bucky was a week out from broken programming and coming off of however many drugs HYDRA had been pumping into his system.

The worst part of it all is that it’s entirely fucking irrational to be feeling like this because Steve is actually half decent. He’s only got a few inches on Natasha and maybe 15 pounds at the most, but he’s strong. He might have lungs that Bucky swears he can hear wheezing from a mile away, but Bucky’s watched him heft a stack of canvases as big as he is up ten flights of stairs with only a break to hit his inhaler.

Steve tries to fight like he isn’t a scrap of a person though. He fights like Peggy, like he’s the biggest shit on the block and like he can just barge through it with force. It’s effective for Peggy, the supersoldier serum left her able to lift a goddamn tank, but Steve’s unenhanced and needs to fight smarter. Bucky smashes his lips together so that he doesn’t yell just that from the air ducts and get himself made.

Thankfully Natasha seems to have some sort of telepathic abilities that she’s never told Bucky about. Or, Bucky tells himself a little bit viciously, she’s just not a dumbass and can realize when someone’s fighting style isn’t suited to them without Bucky having to tell her.

She ends their fight, starts running Steve through practice drills, showing him how to move his body, how to use his opponents size to his advantage and Bucky lets himself settle in and watch.

Natasha runs at Steve and Steve flips her over his shoulder like he’s being taught and Bucky doesn’t have the sudden urge to have Steve flip him over his shoulder like that. He doesn’t. Except the muscles in Steve’s arms tense and shift and his whole face lights up with satisfaction- with pride after and Bucky wants to be a lot closer to it.

And really, Steve should practice these things with a bigger opponent. It’s just practical- logical. How can he be expected to go into a combat situation without all variables accounted for and prepared for-

Except Steve will never see a combat situation, a stubborn, vicious part of his brain says. A stubborn vicious part of him that really, when it comes to this situation is all of him. Steve will not have to fight. Steve will be safe, because Bucky’s not about to let who he is and who Steve has decided to make friends with drag Steve into the middle of hell. The Avengers are superheroes, Bucky’s a fucking assassin, and Steve is a 110% human art student who comes home from his shitty job smelling like burnt coffee.

Out of those three, Bucky knows who should be protecting who.

 

He loses time somewhere. Blinks from one moment to the next and hears Natasha’s voice ringing out clear and amused, “You can come down now Barnes.”

Bucky drops down from a duct looking adequately shamefaced at being caught out. At least he doesn’t feel too bad about losing time, because he’s pretty sure it’s less a brain malfunction and more of a Steve caused malfunction. Steve had started sweating at some point and his hair is damp and clinging to his forehead, his whole face flushed and looking delighted.

Bucky wants to touch his cheeks where they’re pink and lick his smile.

It’s a problem.

“You did really good.” Bucky says instead of ‘please flip me over your shoulder and then pin me.’ or ‘you look awfully good in those sweaty clothes, maybe we should get you out of them’ or ‘you smell disgusting can I lick you?’

Natasha’s looking at him like she knows exactly what he’s thinking and wants to laugh so hard she cries. The expression isn’t all that different from her normal one, but Bucky can tell.

“I- Thank you.” Steve’s staring right back at him, and Bucky’s a goddamn assassin. He’s been trained to analyze people, even if half that knowledge is lost to the wipes, but he still can’t quite identify what’s going on on Steve’s face.

“Right, I have to go… somewhere. Not here. Rogers, lets do this again sometime. You have my number, use it and abuse it. James, I’ll see you Sunday.” And then she’s turning on her heel, phone already pressed to her ear before she’s out the door. “Barton, you have to hear about this…”

~☀~

 

There’s a strange man in Steve’s apartment. This wouldn’t be surprising if Bucky were around because Bucky is quite often the strange man inhabiting Steve’s apartment, but he’s been off somewhere probably doing weird former assassin things for the past few days. Steve reminds himself quite a lot that it’s a normal occurrence- the disappearing, not the strange man.

Steve realizes with a start that he’d be a lot less freaked out by the weird dude sitting at his kitchen table if Bucky was around. Somewhere along the line Bucky’s started feeling like a protective force in his life.

“What the fuck?” Steve snaps, and the man at his table jerks his head up and jumps, sending the bowl of cereal he’d been holding flying into the air and milk and cereal bits raining down on him.

“Aw, cereal, no.” The man says sadly, looking at the bowl like it’s betrayed him when it lands on the floor.

What the fuck ?” Steve repeats, this time definitely more confused than angry.

“I’m Clint.” The man says like that’s some sort of answer to Steve’s what the fuck.

Steve squints, cocks his head, cocks it the other way as recognition washes over him. “Shit, you’re Hawkguy or whatever.”

“Hawkeye.” Clint corrects with the long suffering air of someone who deals with this a lot.

“Right, cause that’s different.”

“Nat’s right, you are kind of an asshole.” Clint sounds entirely unbothered by it as he pours himself another bowl of cereal and tops it off with the last of Steve’s milk.

Steve decides that Avengers coming into his kitchen and drinking all his milk is just his lot in life. He’s not sure why or even how but it is.

He’s a lot less bothered by it than he should be.  

 

“One day I’m gonna ditch this gig and retire.” Clint’s words roughly 15 minutes into the conversation later are garbled around a mouthful of cereal, “Maybe go live on a farm or something.”

“You don’t look like a farm boy.” Steve says not at all gently as he eyes Clint. He doesn’t. He’s got at least six band aids, his hearing aids are a shade of purple that’s frankly a little blinding, and Steve has just realized he’s not wearing any shoes. This is not the picture of someone who can run a farm.

“I could be.”

“Yeah, sure, and I could be the next Captain America.”

~☀~

 

Steve wakes up to the sound of screaming. He’s out of his bed in a flash, and his whole body screams at him for moving so fast but he ignores it in favor of Bucky, who’s thrashing about on the couch, making small whimpering noises and screams that seem to get half caught in his throat.

“Bucky.” He says, hushed and stopped at the coffee table. Far enough away that he’s pretty sure if Bucky comes up out of his nightmare swinging, he won’t bash Steve’s face in with his metal arm. God, he hopes he won’t. Steve knows his face isn’t exactly much to look at, but he likes it enough to not want to see it pummeled. “Buck. Hey, c’mon man, wake up. It’s just a nightmare, Buck.”

Steve’s starting to worry that he’s going to have to venture closer when from one second to the next, Bucky’s awake. He looks terrified, eyes flitting around wildly before they finally land on Steve. “Steve. Stevie.” His voice cracks a little around Steve’s name and Steve decides then and there that Bucky Barnes should never have to sound that way.

He’s a goddamned American hero, he shouldn’t be on Steve’s couch, in his shithole apartment, sounding like someone who’s broken. Steve’s suddenly, fiercely angry at everyone who had any sort of hand in bringing this about.

“Yeah Buck, ’s me, good ol’ Stevie.” Steve says, finally moving forward and carefully reaching out to brush a hand through Bucky’s hair like his Ma used to do when he was sick.

Bucky goes perfectly still at the touch and panic flares in Steve’s chest, worry that he’s done the wrong thing and is hurting more than he’s helping there. Then, Bucky seems to relax, drooping forward like all his strings have been cut. His face gets smashed into Steve’s stomach, and Steve does the only thing he can think to- he wraps Bucky up in his arms and pets a hand gently through his hair, doing his best to make soft soothing noises.

“It’s okay... You’re okay, I’ve got you… You’re in my apartment and you’re home and you’re safe.” Steve’s not sure exactly what he’s saying to be honest, is just trying to keep up a stream of gentle, soothing words because Bucky’s arms have wrapped around his waist in a vice grip, but Steve can feel them shaking slightly. And Steve? Steve is still so angry.

It’s a long while before Bucky pulls back, cutting off Steve’s gentle babbling and looking at Steve with an expression he can’t quite read. “Thank you.” The words are soft enough that Steve leans in without thinking and Bucky’s fingertips brush over Steve’s cheek before he drops his hand and the moment’s gone.

“I should-”

“Watch a movie with me.” Bucky says at the same time, dragging Steve up and onto the couch with him.

And Steve, he really can’t deny Bucky anything he asks for. He’s self aware enough to acknowledge at least that. He doesn’t even attempt to deny it, instead tips to the side until his head meets Bucky’s shoulder and makes an impatient gesture for Bucky to start a movie.

He falls asleep just like that, the beginnings of a movie he doesn’t even bother trying to watch playing softly and Bucky’s hand moving almost absently through Steve’s hair.

~☀~

 

Bucky is sprawled across Steve’s bed in a glorious patch of sunlight watching Steve emote at a half finished painting. His face is set with grim determination and ...rage? Yeah, Bucky’s going with it’s rage, especially judging by the mutters of ‘shitfucking asshole fucking a’ that are coming from his corner.

A couple months ago Bucky might have gotten bristly at that, tried to weasel out who the hell the asshole was so that he could go Have Words with them. With his fists. Or at the very least contemplate Having Words with them before he reminded himself that he couldn’t beat up civilians for his roommate. Now he’s well aware the shitfucking asshole isn’t a person but is actually Steve’s painting and maybe even Steve himself and he can’t exactly Have Words with a painting. Or Steve. Well. He can Have Words with Steve, he’s just pretty sure they wouldn’t actually do anything.

It’s a lot more productive to just watch and enjoy the show, honestly. Especially since Steve’s bed is even more comfortable than the couch. Bucky lets himself applaud himself for finding good furniture because his therapist tells him that acknowledging the good things he does is a good thing. She has some spiel about building Bucky’s self worth but Bucky never pays much attention to that part.

Bucky fishes out his cell phone from the mass of blankets and takes a picture, gets the tips of his toes where they’re painted neon orange from Natasha’s boredom, and Steve in front of his easel, the glow of sun lighting him up, his shoulders tense and jaw firm and hand clasped tight around his paintbrush. There’s paint in the cowlick on the back of his head, on the back of his neck, on his elbow and Bucky’s always baffled as to how that even happens.

He runs the picture through about seven different filters, captions it “Lazy Sundays” and “#mornings #sundays #blessed” and posts it to Noah’s instagram.

Noah Koppelman @ nononoah89 has 1743 followers, posts pictures of Brooklyn, food, and himself, uses ironic hashtags, has a gaggle of people obsessed with his hair, and occasionally gets into comment wars with @ inarushman who somehow has a truly obscene amount of followers despite being a page run by Natasha and therefore weird as hell. Natasha insists that social media is a necessary tool for building a cover, but Bucky’s still not sure how 9 posts in a row dedicated to cheese plates and captions with puns like ‘I’ll brie back’ and ‘the gouda things in life are free’ creates a cover.

His followers keep asking if Steve’s his boyfriend and Bucky thinks he shows a lot of restraint by not responding to each and every one of them with ‘I fucking wish.’

He thinks, maybe, that Steve wouldn’t exactly be opposed to doing something with Bucky. Showing interest in the 21st century isn’t exactly different than the 30s, even if they can be a lot more blatant about it these days, and Steve does. Show interest that is. It’s just. Bucky doesn’t think he’s had a crush since before the war, since sometime before 19fucking43. It’s been almost a goddamn century since he looked at someone and thought maybe, thought yes, thought I want to curl up in your space like a neglected alley cat and never leave. And maybe, just maybe he’s getting a little enjoyment out of exploring that feeling all over again.

The pining isn’t. Optimal. But if he does something about it and Steve looks at him and says ‘Buddy, pal, sorry’ then all the good parts of it will disappear and Bucky fucking values his good feelings these days. They are hard won and he’s not about to give them up easily.

He watches as his phone lights up with notifications of likes and comments, then rolls to the other side where it’s fresh and warm from the sun and takes a moment to be grateful to his past self for deciding to move Steve’s bed into his bedroom instead of leaving it in the corner of the living room where Steve’d had his damn sleeping bag before. It’d turned out the asshole had been keeping like 95% of his things in this room before Bucky’d moved in, which was sad when Bucky thought about it because everything had turned out to be a metric fuckton of art stuff and a few boxes with SARAH ROGERS in marker across the side.

Bucky had moved the bed, bought some metal shelves from IKEA and rearranged things. He’d even put up curtains, because this isn’t a fucking prison Steve, curtains are a necessity.

Now when Steve paints, Bucky gets to be overly nosy and overly comfortable all at the same time. It’s a win win situation.

“You should paint me like one of your French girls.” He’s too content, too loose limbed and easy from the sun to keep the warmth out of his voice or the smile off his face when Steve scoffs and mutters something about needing to finish the piece of garbage in front of him.

“C’mon, it’ll be fun. I used to pose for the art school for extra cash, so it won’t be anything new. The fact that I’ll get to keep my clothes on’ll be a benefit.” He hadn’t known he was going to say it until it comes out, and he hadn’t known it was true until he heard it. It’s one of those memories, the ones that aren’t overly important so his brain’s apparently decided not to share it with him until today.

It always throws him for a loop, and it must show, because suddenly Steve’s barging over to join Bucky on the bed, a soft frown curling across his face.

“Roll over.” He says, and then firm when Bucky doesn’t listen, “Roll over.”

Bucky does, because Bucky is learning that saying no to Steve Rogers is an impossible task. Sure, he can try, but it never really works. Steve’s a fucking hurricane in human form, and there’s no protection from an act of God.

Something soft and wet moves in a short stroke across Bucky’s back and he startles, locking up and preparing to spring before Steve’s voice is in his ear, soothing, “It’s okay, it’s just paint.” He says and Bucky doesn’t relax, still confused as hell until he processes that and what he’s feeling and oh.

Well.

Bucky had said to paint him. He just hadn’t meant it so literally.

He thinks he’s okay with how Steve decided to interpret it. Possibly more than okay with.

He closes his eyes, rests his cheek against his arm and focuses on the feeling, the cool paint at war with the warm sun on his back. It’s relaxing. Like the world’s gentlest massage, short strokes followed by long, just the barest hints of pressure as the soft brush moves over his skin.

He dozes, or maybe he floats on the sensations and Steve over him, Steve’s focus on only him, and he’s not sure how much time has passed when he becomes aware of Steve straightening up behind him. The cracking of joints. The yawn above and behind him.

“Wanna see?” He asks when Bucky tries to twist himself around in an effort to sneak a peek at whatever Steve’s created on his back. There’s a soft clicking noise and then Bucky’s own phone is being pushed into his hands, a picture already on the screen.

Flowers. It’s all flowers. Big bright daisy and lilies and what feels like a hundred more that Bucky hasn’t got a name for cover his back, vivid and beautiful against his skin. They cover his whole back and spill onto his shoulders, down his metal arm and onto the top of his hand.

He feels…

A lot.

He might be what feels like an eternity away from when he broke protocol with months and months of therapy under his belt but certain emotions still aren’t quite describable.

Somehow he has a feeling that’s less of a HYDRA brainwashing thing and more of a Bucky Barnes thing.

“What do you think?” Steve breaks through Bucky’s thoughts, sounding uncertain and proud and cautious all at once.

“It’s beautiful. Seriously. You’re incredible at this shit, you know that.” Bucky doesn’t keep the admiration out of his tone, doesn’t want to, and he’s sure it shows even more by the way he can’t stop staring at his arm, rotating it in the setting sun. The star is covered by a bright pink blooming rose and Bucky is careful not to think too hard about how it feels to have Steve’s mark there instead.

He has memory upon memory of his mother telling him he can be a little intense, and he’s starting to think she was right.

~☀~

 

When Steve gets home from class, Bucky’s patching a hole that’s been in Steve’s wall since he moved in, there’s a pile of clean dishes next to the sink, and there’s something that smells delicious bubbling away on the stove in a pot that Steve knows he didn’t have before Bucky came crashing into his life. Steve doesn’t dwell on the way that thought makes him feel vaguely warm all over. Getting overly attached to brainwash victims with a metal limb from World War II isn’t a smart thing, because Steve’s pretty sure they eventually go and join the Avengers. (Even if Bucky joining the Avengers might not affect things that much. Steve’s woken up way too many times now to Hawkeye drinking all his milk or Black Widow curled up in one of his chairs like some sort of overgrown cat.)

“Why are we stress home renovating?” Steve asks, because he thinks it’s important to ask these sort of questions to the highly trained assassin that decided for no good reason to move into his home. Bucky could have had a flashback, could have fallen into the memories that seemed to lurk just under the surface of what the man normally remembered. Or it’s possible that the bakery a few blocks away was out of the right kind of doughnuts. The possibilities are endless.

“There’s soup on the stove.” Bucky says, instead of answering Steve’s question, because he’s a jerk.

“Did they not have any maple bars today?” Steve asks as he leans over the pot on the stove, stealing a spoonful to taste, ignoring the look Bucky shot him as he did.

“Dunno, didn’t go.”

Steve's sure his shock shows on his face. "You didn't go?" He doesn't intend to sound quite so bewildered, but Wednesdays are donut day. It’s been months of this now and Steve has learned that Bucky has certain routines and getting donuts from Lou’s on the corner on and Wednesday that he’s not off doing whatever else it is he does is one of those routines dammit, so something must be off.

It must be.

Bucky doesn’t answer.

Steve doesn’t stop staring at him.  

The moment drags on.

Finally, Bucky sighs as though Steve’s been pulling his arm to get him to tell and Steve tries not to smile in victory.

“I didn’t go out at all. Decided I deserved the day off what with it being my birthday and all.”

“I didn’t know it was your birthday.” Except there’s a distant part of Steve, the part that grew up reading the biographies of Captain America and her Howling Commandos that did, the part that wrote at least 6 reports on them and their impact in the outcome of World War II knew even if he hadn’t remembered.

“Neither did I. Or at least I didn’t until I woke up?” There’s a certain lack of surety to Bucky’s voice that always makes Steve want to hit someone, or multiple someones. “I still don’t remember everything I’m supposed to, probably won’t ever remember it all, but I woke up and knew, and then I googled myself and there it was.”

Yeah, Steve definitely wants to punch at least a few people. Instead he says “If I’da known I’d of baked you a cake.” And then at Bucky’s disbelieving look says “Bought you a cake. I would have bought you a cake.”

Steve has barely cooked since Bucky showed up, something that Bucky highly endorses because “You either burn it or boil it Rogers,” and “I lived through the Great Depression, fought in a war, lost my arm! I deserve good food that hasn’t been boiled to death Stevie, I deserve it.” and Steve can’t ever really argue with that.

“You’ve still got time to lavish me with birthday treats.” Bucky says all charming grin and bright eyes, and Steve suspects sometimes that half the time this is Bucky, the God’s honest truth of who he is, but the other half he thinks it’s just Bucky trying to capture who- how he was before he fell, trying to be the person the documentaries and history books claim he was. Right now, Steve suspects it’s the latter.

“Buddy, you got the wrong person if you think I can lavish anyone.”

“You're lavishing me with your personality” Bucky says, grin finally seeming genuine.

“One Steve Rogers, just what everyone wants for their birthday.”

“Damn right it is.”

~☀~

 

Peggy looks at Steve like she wants to eat him.

Bucky decides immediately that he hates it. He decides immediately that he wants to scream at Peggy not to touch his toys, but he has to remind himself that Steve isn’t a toy, nor is he Bucky’s. Beyond that, Peggy Carter has kicked Bucky’s ass into Timbuktu before and he has faith she can do it again.

It doesn’t help whatsoever that Steve has been looking at Peggy like she hung the moon and all of the stars and then was also the first person to fly a damn rocket into them.

It’s stupid. It’s stupid and Bucky is incredibly irritated with himself for letting Peggy corner him on the street and then follow him up into his apartment.

Peggy Carter is a menace. Peggy Carter is trouble.

Peggy Carter is standing in his kitchen fixing Bucky with a look like she knows exactly what’s in his head.

Bucky is ignoring her and chopping vegetables for his dinner like a rational, sane, adult human being.

Peggy Carter looks on the verge of laughing right in Bucky’s battuto.  

“Oh Darling, you’ve gone and fallen for him.” She says because she’s a fucking mind reader and Bucky hates her. Captain America or not, someone needs to lock her up for the good of humanity. For the good of Bucky’s brain and secrets.

God, he missed her.

“It’s just- imprinting. Like a duck. He’s the first person I’ve spent this much time with since everything.”

It’s lies, all lies. Steve might be the first person Bucky’s gotten close to since HYDRA but the rest is lies and Peggy’s pursed lips and laughing eyes say she knows that and that she also finds it hilarious.

“I hadn’t realized the brainwashing made you delusional James.”

Bucky thinks he might be offended by that from anyone else, but Peggy operates in an incredibly different but still somewhat adjacent spot to Steve or even Natasha. It’s the spot for people who are allowed to give him hell because Bucky can’t or won’t stop them, and because they receive it just as easily as they give it.

“I hadn’t realized being frozen in the arctic made you omnipotent Peg.”

Peggy snorts, unladylike, and swings open Bucky’s cabinets, peering at the food inside. “No, but it means my memories of you and how you get are still fairly fresh.” She says, moving onto another cabinet, “You fell, I crashed, I woke up and it was suddenly the future. People ask quite often how it felt to be in the ice for 70 years. All it felt like was a nap.”

“I don’t think I was ever off ice very long.” The words come out slow, halting, and Bucky wants to roll his eyes at his own self. “If they hadn’t scrambled my brain like it was a coupla eggs maybe my memories would be just as good. Unfortunately I’m a little bit like swiss cheese- I’m here and delicious, but there’s some fucking holes.”

“I never much liked cheese.” Peggy says, nodding approvingly when she comes across the cabinet that Bucky’s squirreled quite a few guns into.

“You were never much of a comedian either.” Bucky says, fighting his grin.

“No, I always left the funny business to you and the Howlies.” She agrees, abandoning her search of Bucky’s cabinet to lean against the counter next to Bucky, looking up at him. Bucky tries not to twitch under her gaze, feeling inexplicably like she’s looking right through him to his soul, to every little thing that makes him up. She’s terrifying that way. “I’m not after Steve.”

“I didn’t-”

“Let me finish Sergeant. I’m not after Steve. I came here to see you, and the objective still remains the same. So you don’t have to look at me like I’m about to steal your favorite toy every time I talk to him.”

“I don’t-”

“You do, but I don’t mind. I can see why you like him, he really is something.”

“Yeah- Yeah, he is.”

There’s a pause. Bucky attempts to remember what exactly he was doing with his cooking, tries to find his center again, and then Peggy’s voice cuts right through it again.

“I haven’t gotten a chance to say it yet, but I’m glad you’re here James. I’ve always- It’s always been. A regret. That I didn’t look for you after.”

Bucky tries not to be caught by the stops and stalls in Peggy’s words, but she’s like Natasha in the way they’re discomfort shows when they’re at their most honest. The world forgets sometimes that Peggy was intelligence ops before the man meant to become Captain America was killed in his bed and Peggy threw a giant middle finger up at the world and subjected herself to the procedure instead.

“Being in this century,” Peggy says, open and so honest it hurts, “is very lonely sometimes. It feels like a gift to have someone from home.”

Bucky doesn’t know quite how to respond to that, feeling like he just witnessed something he wasn’t supposed to. It feels good in a way, like Peggy’s letting him in on some secret, even as it feels fucking awful because the secret is that Peggy gets hurt and lonely just like any other human.

He brings a hand up to cup the back of Peggy’s head and uses it to pull her in so that he can wrap his arms around her tight. They’re relationship through the war had never been demonstrative. They were friends, allies, people slogging their way through the same hell that was war but none of the Howlies had ever been particularly touchy feely. Now though, he’s pretty sure Peggy deserves a damn hug and by the way she goes stiff before melting into it he wonders if anyone’s given her one since she was defrosted.

“I’m glad you’re here too Peg, I’m glad you’re here.”

~☀~

Steve has known Sam since about a week after the man came home from Afghanistan, bitching about sand still in places sand should never be and seeming to carefully skirt around why he’d been honorably discharged, what exactly he’d lost.

Steve has known Sam long enough that the second he saw his ass on tv flying around like a goddamn lunatic, he’d called and yelled into the phone for a solid fifteen minutes about not warning a guy first before going out and becoming a card carrying superhero.

“I hate you.” Steve had said into the phone when Sam had called him back and said “ I met Captain America” like it was the best moment of his life.

“I hate you.” He says again, a year and some change later, leaning heavy against Sam with his drink clutched in his hand.

“No you don’t.” Sam says with a shit eating grin and Steve sighs a sigh of the truly suffering.

“No, no I don’t. You’re way too likable, it’s kind of annoying sometimes.”

“You looooove me.” Sam singsongs and tips his head against Steve’s, sounding really very smug about it.

Steve squints, shakes his head, says accusingly “You’re drunk.”

Sam looks utterly unrepentant, “That I am Stevie, that I am.”

“Shit, I’m drunk.”

“That you are Stevie, that you are.”

 

Twenty minutes later Sam says “I miss him.” and they get to the real reason that Steve was called to sit in a dive bar halfway between Brooklyn and DC and get shitfaced on a Tuesday.

“I know,” is all Steve can really say

“It’s his birthday,” Sam says and he sounds small and old and like the weight of the world is pressing down on him, “He should be here.”

“I know.” Steve says again and cups a hand around the back of Sam’s neck, squeezes as he brings him down and wraps his other arm around Sam until the other man goes boneless and curls into him.

“He woulda liked you.” Sam says after what feels like forever of them hugging it out, “You woulda got along like a house on fire, it woulda been horrifying.”

“I wish I coulda met him,” Steve says like he says every time Sam gets like this and he means it every time.

 

Two hours later a body settles into the space on the other side of Steve and Steve blinks repeatedly up at Bucky Barnes and his stupid man bun.

“You’re supposed to be in Brooklyn.” He says and wags his finger at Bucky, not slurring at all thank you very much no matter what Bucky says later.

“Sam texted me and said you two were three sheets to the wind and gonna need a ride.”

Steve turns his accusing finger on Sam, “Sam-Samuel Wilson you traitor!”

“Yeah yeah, I called your boy, Rogers. You really think either of us is sober enough to get home?”

“The drunk zone is a no logic zone Sam.” Steve insists and registers Bucky’s snort beside him, lets it fill him up with a sense of smug satisfaction.

“Your whole life is a no logic zone.” Sam says and he sounds way too put upon for the amount of alcohol he’s managed to imbibe.

Steve lets himself slump over and into Bucky, tips his head back to look up at him and ends up crossing his eyes in the attempt. “He’s so rude to me.” He says seriously, because this is a serious matter.

Bucky pats at Steve’s head and Steve doesn’t lean into it like a cat, no, not at all. “I’ve been tellin ya he’s rude.”

Sam lets out an indignant squak. “Me? Rude? I’m the rude one? Sure, sure, destroy my car and almost kill me and I’m the rude one.”

“That wasn’t Bucky.” Steve says solemnly and pats at Bucky’s chest.

“Sure as hell looked like him.”

“Nah, he was brainwashed, doesn’t count.”

“It’s true. I was a victim .” Bucky says dramatically, eyes wide and very clearly having fun with the fact that Sam suddenly looks incredibly awkward.

“I’m starting to be convinced you escaped it by your ability to guilt trip, man.” Sam says, clearly having shaken off whatever awkwardness had been there before.

“That’s the secret. Peg never had to recalibrate me, I just cried and they let me go.”

“You know what man? I can’t do this, I’mma end up feeling bad for you and that’s not fun for either of us. Take my ass home Barnes.”

 

They stumble, the three of them, up to Steve and Bucky’s apartment. Well, Bucky stumbles. He’s got a snoring Sam slung over his shoulder, face pressed into Bucky’s back and definitely drooling, and Steve’s more or less just sort of hanging from Bucky’s neck.

It’s a nice neck, he decides, probably very kissable.

Bucky props Steve up against the door before he can act on that thought and Steve wobbles there for a moment, watching as he dumps Sam onto the couch and tosses a blanket from the basket under the end table on top of Sam. It’s one of the soft ones, Steve can tell, snuggly and lavender and Natasha is almost always bundled up in it on the mornings Steve finds her and Bucky curled up there, chatting over coffee and bagels.

His apartment feels so full, he thinks, the conclusion rushing up to hit him but slow all at the same time. He’s blaming that on the alcohol, because he can, and because it’s probably valid considering the only thing keeping him from swaying and capsizing like some sort of boat is the door at his back.

It’s just that there’s so much there now. He even has a Christmas tree that Bucky had dragged in a week ago, lights twinkling on branches that are weighed down with more ornaments than is strictly necessary.

They’ve even got a Lost and Found box, because Steve had gotten sick of finding random objects that didn’t belong to him around the apartment and had decided something had to be done.

That something had been a basket on the counter with a bright pink post-it note that said LOST AND FOUND in bubble letters and a little doodle of a cardboard box overflowing with stuff. Steve and Bucky chuck whatever they find around the house that doesn’t belong to them, everything from Clint’s hearing aids (Steve has no idea how he loses them so often), to Natasha’s garrote, to Peggy’s lipstick, to random Stark Tech (Steve doesn’t know how it keeps popping up in his home. Tony Stark has never even been in his apartment.)

There’s bookshelves, filled to the brim with books and knick knacks, and stacks of records on the coffee table, and everywhere there is stuff. Not like Steve and Bucky are a couple of hoarders, but like people live there, people who have lives and accumulate stuff and friends that leave more stuff and Steve doesn’t think he’s lived somewhere that felt this lived in and warm since he and his ma had a place in Flatbush.

It’s nice.

It’s just. Really nice.

 

~☀~

Steve is drunk, his head heavy against Bucky’s shoulder and his breath damp against his neck as Bucky leads him to the bed. It’s distracting as hell, and then a loss and a relief all at once when Bucky dumps him into the bed. Steve’s complacent, for once in his damn life, and lets Bucky get his shoes off and follows directions when Bucky foists advil and a glass of water on him.

“To help with the hangover you’re gonna have after being an idiot and getting drunk with Sam.” He says, trying not to feel like he’s hovering over Steve in the bed. He is, a little, but he can’t really help it and either Steve doesn’t notice or he’s too drunk to care.

“‘S Riley’s birthday.” Steve mumbles and Bucky’s insides twist with something that feels an awful lot like empathy for Sam Wilson, “Gotta get drunk then. ‘S the law.”

“Is that so?” Bucky says instead of going out and maybe replacing the car Sam keeps griping about him destroying just to cheer him up.

“Yep. It’s the ways of the modern world Buck. I’m sure a lot’s changed since 1945 and you’re very confused, but that’s one of the rules.” Steve somehow looks ridiculously serious and also wasted two ways to Sunday.

It’s ridiculous. Bucky needs to put a stop to it before he tries to stare at Steve for the next four hours. Steve might be drunk, but he’s pretty sure the guy would notice.

“Hey, wait.” Steve’s voice stops him in his tracks and Bucky stays there, hovering over the bed somewhere between standing and sitting. “Stay. Sam’s in your bed-couch, stay here tonight. Please.”

“Okay.” Bucky agrees, because how is he supposed to say no to that? He should, he thinks, because Steve’s drunk and probably not thinking about the fact that he’ll be vulnerable in his sleep with Bucky. He should backtrack, should say no and go sleep on the floor in the living room.

He doesn’t, let’s Steve’s hands drag him down into the bed fully clothed and lets Steve wrap all his limbs around Bucky like he’s some sort of particularly stubborn octopus.

This is fine. It’s fine. It’ll be fine. He’ll just stay until Steve’s passed out then wiggle his way out so that none of the horrible visions currently flashing through his head actually come true. (Bucky waking up from a nightmare, stuck in the Soldier’s mode and lashing out, hurting Steve is the one that seems to be repeating himself.)

He’s drifting before he means to, comfortable and warm with Steve wrapped around him.   

 

Bucky wakes up to Steve draped across him like a human blanket. A Steve who groans when Bucky tries to extricate himself from his grip, who shoves his face right into Bucky’s chest and says “You’re a former assassin, go murder the sun for me.” and then goes right back to sleep.

Bucky stays there for a long time, trying not to smile so much he looks like a lunatic.

Judging by Sam Wilson’s laughing ass when he stumbles into Steve’s room and sees them, he doesn’t succeed.

~☀~

 

When Steve finally realizes he’s at least half in love with Bucky it’s as easy as breathing. When it comes down to it, how could he not be? Bucky might be James Buchanan Barnes, the Winter Soldier, a formerly brainwashed 100 year old murderbot but jesus christ, he’s so much more than that. He’s someone who when faced with the ire of Captain America in all her righteous glory seems to quake in his boots, not because it’s Captain America’s wrath he’s facing but rather because it’s Peggy’s and he respects her too much to piss her off . He’s someone who lets himself be corralled onto a couch by Natasha where they eat stupid, horrible foods that Steve doesn’t know the name of but that invariably make Steve wrinkle his nose and the two of them make horrible fucking jokes about Mother Russia despite, or maybe because of, whatever shared trauma they have there.

He watches stupid space documentaries. Steve’s sat through at least a dozen of them with him.

He keeps cereal in the cabinet that he knows only Clint eats.

He’s thoughtful, and weird, and damaged beyond belief, and stronger than Steve thinks anyone has the right to be and Steve thinks falling for him is about as inevitable as having an asthma attack after attempting a dozen flights of stairs.

It makes it easy to knock the battered paperback out of Bucky’s hand as he turns towards Bucky, to telegraph his intentions as blatantly as possible as he brings a hand up to cup a ridiculous jawline, and when he leans in Bucky doesn’t waste in any time in meeting him halfway and when they’re lips crash together it’s like…

Fireworks on his birthday.

The first drop on a rollercoaster.

The rush of Times Square when he was still a kid, before he’d grown old enough to be a jaded New Yorker about it.

It’s as easy as falling, really.


Nothing really changes after.

Life goes on as it has since Bucky came crashing into Steve’s life. He goes to class, goes to work. Bucky lurks around the apartment putting together his newest furniture find or cooking, sometimes he disappears for days at a time and comes home looking haunted. Sometimes Bucky disappears for days at a time and Steve turns on the news and the Avengers are fighting and Steve knows without a shadow of a doubt that Bucky’s hidden away in a tall building somewhere with at least three of the guns that’s taken up residence in an old armoire that Bucky had dragged into the house one Tuesday and painted a horrifying shade of orange.

They watch shitty sci-fi movies from decades ago, and cult classic b-movies, and Bucky feeds Steve stove popped popcorn and shoves his feet in Steve’s lap. Avengers pop up randomly in his home and eat all Steve’s cereal and Bucky acts like it’s perfectly normal.

It’s all exactly the same as it’s been for months, except now Bucky starfishes across Steve’s bed at night taking up all the room one would expect, or he curls around Steve’s back and Steve wakes up to the feeling of kisses being brushed against the nape of his neck, to a hand sprawled wide across his chest, rising and falling with every breath and Steve is struck by it, by the way Bucky’s brow is furrowed when Steve twists around, his focus on measuring Steve’s breaths. Steve doesn’t always realize it, because Bucky doesn’t coddle like Steve’s used to- like Steve bristles at and runs away from, but sometimes he can see the worry etched into every line on Bucky’s face, for Steve with his bad lungs and heart that beats the wrong rhythm, with his wonky spine and immune system that tries to fight his body instead of viruses.

His face always smooths out the moment Steve sees it, and Steve knows it’s because Bucky knows he hates it, hates the worry and the fear and when Steve is hurting and bitter and not nearly at his best he bites back at the worry and rails against Bucky. He shoots across the kitchen or the living room or the space between them in the bed that he doesn’t need to be coddled, doesn’t need to be taken care of, isn’t some part of Bucky’s recovery- a pet human that he has to take care of. Bucky usually ignores him, shuts him up with his mouth on Steve’s and a bruising grip and when they surface on the bed- the couch- the dining room table- or one memorable time with Steve held up against the front door, he bites a kiss into Steve’s jaw and says “You’re not a fucking pet Rogers, God knows no idiot would pick your barking ass out at the pound” or sometimes “Let me take care of you, you ever think maybe you deserve nice things.”

Sometimes he runs his hands over Steve, touch reverent and slow and he looks at Steve like he’s searching for approval and Steve is struck by the amount of power he holds over this man who shares his home.

So. Nothing really changes, except for how it does.

~☀~

 

Steve is kind of sort of ridiculously easy for Bucky, which is fitting, considering Bucky is equally as easy for Steve.

Bucky knows he’d probably bend over and take anything Steve had for him, would even say thank you after.

(This is only half true, because there are times- frequent enough to be normal- that neither of them can be any sort of easy for the other. Steve’s body and Bucky’s brain means there are times when Bucky can’t feel anything, let alone want, and others when Steve can’t make his body work how he wants it to, how he seems determined to make it. “Jesus fucking christ Rogers, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but having sex with my partner when he has to force himself to get it up isn’t high on my list of kinks.” Bucky will say as he shoves Steve onto the couch, curls himself around Steve and queues up netflix, says “If this was all we ever did, if this was it I’d still be happy as hell Steve.”)

“Fuckin pretty as a fuckin picture. A vision, sweetheart. Fuckin perfect. Best thing in all of New York, all the world.” Bucky says as he tries to remap the lines of Steve’s body with his mouth and Steve shudders and gasps because like Bucky said, he’s fucking easy.

“They teach you to talk like that in the 30s, old man?” Steve asks, curling fingers through Bucky’s hair and twisting until Bucky’s leaning with it, arching his throat so that Steve can bite a mark into it, sharp and a little vicious just like Bucky likes.

“That and a lot of other things.”

“Oh yeah? Maybe we can try some of those other things.” Steve’s grinning, bright and pleased and flushed all over and Bucky can’t help but crane up to taste it.

“Anything you want. Anything.” He says, serious and desperate, and Steve kisses him hard.

Steve rolls them over and Bucky lets him, follows easily and without question and thinks that HYDRA wouldn’t have had to work half as hard if they’d had Steve Rogers. Fuck the chair, the trigger words, the fucking handlers- they wouldn’t have needed any of it if they’d had Steve Rogers. Steve could turn him around, aim him and say shoot and Bucky wouldn’t hesitate, not even for a moment. It’s as terrifying as it is exhilarating to know that Steve never would.

He thinks, every inch of him vehement with it, that if he had to go through the last almost-century of hell, if he had to go to war, be tortured, have his brain torn apart over and over and fucking over, his hands used as unwilling weapons. If he had to go through all of that, each and every bit of it, at least he got this out of it. At least he gets this tiny slice of happiness, more than 70 years from where he started. At least he gets Steve Rogers, who is sunlight- starlight- everything good in this world and who looks at Bucky like he just might be the same.

~☀~

 

It happens out of nowhere.

Steve’s exhausted, making the trek back home from work. He’s already trying to muster up the willpower to hunker down and study when he gets back to his apartment instead of crawling on top of Bucky and sleeping for a solid twelve hours. He’s tired and honestly wants nothing more than to go home, curl up into a ball and listen to Bucky bitch about whatever he’s found on tv.

He’s just decided he can spare enough money to make a pit stop for coffee and maybe even get Bucky one of the overly sweet, overpriced drinks that are more milkshake than coffee when it happens.

A bright flash of pain to the back of his head.

And then nothing.

 

His head hurts. His everything hurts, and his brain feels slow and fuzzy and it takes several moments for him to remember why. That something had hit him in the head, had knocked him out, and now that he’s aware of that little fact it feels easier to figure things out.

Things like why his shoulders and arms hurt so damn badly.

It’s probably because they’re wrenched backwards behind his back and his wrists are tied together. Yeah, that would probably make sense. Fuck, why are his hands tied together? Why is he in some creepy room that seems furnished entirely in creepy metal? What the hell? Oh god, he’s probably going to die here, in this creepy room. What the hell?

What’s Bucky going to do when Steve doesn’t come home because he’s been kidnapped by some assholes? Shit, this is not good.

He firmly tells himself that he needs to get his shit together. He’s pretty sure that staying calm in a crisis is the most important thing, and it’s not going to help anything if he sits here having a panic attack. Hell, it could actually make things worse if it ends up bad enough and he gives himself an asthma attack. He is not going to accidentally kill himself before whoever has him gets the chance.

He’s distracted from his possible oncoming panic attack by the three absolutely ridiculously dressed men that stroll into the room. Seriously, who the hell comes up with the outfits for villains? Or are they henchmen? These feel a lot more henchmen-y than villain-y.

One of them huffs and flops into a chair, tossing his gun into the air and catching it again casually like a fucking idiot who’s apparently never heard of such a thing as gun safety, says “I don’t see why we have to watch the asset’s pet.” and confirms that yes, they are definitely just henchmen.

“Because someone,” Another one starts and glares at the first and Steve decides to call them Henchman #1, #2, and #3 for ease of use, “was a fucking idiot in our last op and let the mark get away so we’re all getting punished fuckface.”

“You know you probably wouldn’t be having to watch me if you’d gone another path instead of the whole henchman for a shady nazi organization thing.” Steve says and tries not to regret it when they all whip around to stare at him, Henchman #2 with his gun aimed right at Steve’s face.

“Who the fuck said you could talk?” Henchman #2 seems to be the leader here, considering he’s the one talking to Steve with a gun still aimed at him. Henchman #1 doesn’t seem to be the brightest bulb in the box and is scratching his temple with the barrel of his gun while Henchman #3 looks like he wants to be absolutely anywhere but here.

“Hey, just sayin, you could be doing better than watching the boyfriend of the world’s best assassin. I mean judging by his track record shouldn’t it be obvious that there’s no chance you’re getting out of this alive when he finds me?”

Crack! Steve’s head whips back with the force of the blow, the butt of the gun striking hard across Steve’s jaw. Fuck, he thinks he heard a snap. Fuck, that really fucking hurts.

Henchman #1 laughs like he finds this some sort of hilarious spectacle. “Hydra’s got ways of taming that basketcase. A few minutes with our boys and his brain’ll be sizzling like bacon again.”

Steve tries to lunge and gets tripped up on the restraints, tipping sideways at the same time Henchman #2 snaps “Shut the fuck up Dawson.”

Henchman #3 is edging towards the door and Steve can’t really blame him. He wants the fuck out of here too.

Henchman #2 seems to decide that the very best way to take his apparent frustration on Henchman #1 out is by kicking the shit out of Steve. Steve does not agree, Steve does not agree at all, but Steve also whites out from the pain when he gets a boot into the ribs so he’s not exactly arguing.

When he comes back Bucky’s in the hallway that Steve can see just out the door, surrounded by more agents in shitty black gear with shitty octopus patches on them.

Way to not be obvious about being an evil world dominating cult, Steve thinks before all hell breaks loose.


Henchman #2 shot Bucky. They fucking shot Bucky and are stalking closer to him, rambling like a goddamn lunatic about being ‘rewarded for their service, for their everlasting loyalty ’ or some bullshit and Steve doesn’t think, doesn’t even register that every inch of him is in pain and that his ribs go white hot with every movement,

There’s a distinct crunching noise as the metal table leg makes impact with Henchman #2’s head and it takes Steve at least a solid two seconds to realize what he’d just done and just why his ribs are screaming so loudly at him.

He thinks he should feel a little more guilty about possibly killing somebody, but it’s hard to feel guilty when the dude was a member of an organization that seemed pretty Pro Genocide and Destroying The World. It’s even harder to focus on the guilt when he’s distracted by Bucky still on the ground bleeding sluggishly from gunshot wounds.

“Jesus christ, you asshole.” He mutters as he drops to his knees next to Bucky, shoving him back down when the asshole attempts to sit up. “We don’t try to move with multiple bullet holes. You idiot. Coming in here half cocked, on your fucking own with no backup. Couldn’t even call Natasha, or I don’t know, Captain America. I know you two are about a 100 years old but you’ve got cell phones. Hell, Peggy’s even given me hers! It’s not that ha-”

Steve’s rambling. Steve’s definitely rambling and then suddenly his words are halting because Bucky’s ignoring the previous shove down and sitting up straight suddenly, eyes narrowed. “She gave you her number?”

Yes, you weirdly jealous asshole, because we’re friends and friends have each other’s phone numbers.” He resigns himself to the fact that Bucky’s not going to just stay and wait for backup to help with his multiple bullet wounds and instead loops an arm around the man’s waist as they both get to their feet and stumble in the direction of the door.

“She looks at you like she wants to eat you alive.” Bucky mutters like he’s not sure he wants Steve to hear which is too bad for him considering Steve’s good ear is all of six inches from Bucky’s mouth.

“She did for all of five minutes before she realized what was going on and apparently decided having your brain shoved in a blender for 70 years gives you the right to dibs.”

“Good to know getting brainwashed was good for something.” Bucky joked, looping an arm tight around Steve’s waist when Steve stumbled and very smartly not pointing out the fact that he was a super soldier designed to take a beating and Steve was the scrawny chronically ill human who very possibly had some broken ribs.

“So how’d you find me?”

“Assholes left a fucking note, the idiots.”

“Mmh, shady underground organizations bent on world domination sure are going to shit lately. No quality.”

“They can’t keep their shit together without me, it’s a fuckin travesty honestly.”

“Oh yeah, it’s definitely just the lack of you that’s the problem, not the being exposed thing or the leak or whatever it is you do when you disappear for a week.”

“Nope none of that, just the lack of me.”


Bucky smashes in the window of the car that he’s assuming belongs to one of the lackey’s, deposits Steve in the passenger seat and starts them in a direction that Steve can only classify as ‘away.’

Just before they turn down another road the building caves in on itself with a terrible groaning, shrieking noise as smoke and dust billow from it.

“So this is what you do when you leave me, huh?” Steve should probably be a little more bothered by the fact that his boyfriend is off exploding buildings and decimating a not-so-secret underground organization but to be honest the whole ‘Hydra’s evil and tortured the man he’s maybe possibly just a little bit in love with’ thing means he’s pretty pro them being wiped off the face of the earth entirely. All the better if Bucky gets to find a little bit of catharsis by reigning down hellfire on them.

“Something like that.” Bucky says and Steve parrots it back at him, questioning and causes Bucky’s face to crinkle up into a smile as he rolls his eyes and answers, “Normally I don’t have a stubborn punk with me for backup.”

“Tonight should prove that you should always have backup.” Steve says and tries not to glower as he remembers the lackey somehow getting the better of Bucky, gun aimed at his head. Things could have gone worse, but they didn’t, Steve reminds himself.

“Like hell I do.” Bucky says, brushes careful fingers over Steve’s jaw, gaze full of something- concern, longing, pride, more.

He looks away from Bucky, pretends it’s because the touch hurts (which it does) and not because if he keeps looking at Bucky he’s going to blurt out exactly how the way Bucky’s looking at him makes Steve feel. His attention shifts to outside the window and “Are we in fucking Jersey? Did they haul my ass all the way out to fucking Jersey.”

Bucky nods, says “They did” and Steve can hear the absolute dismay in his voice, like beyond kidnapping and beating Steve, being forced to make the trek all the way into fucking Hoboken was its own kind of torture.

And Steve, well Steve can’t seem to help himself because instead of continuing what he’s learned is a truly enjoyable pastime of getting Bucky all worked up about how much he hates Jersey he ends up blurting “Holy hell, I love you.” He can’t help it, not when he’s watching Bucky scowl at a group of pedestrians that have darted into the road, a truly disgruntled look etched into the lines of his face and especially not when that expression turns soft and a little amused and still a whole lot concerned when he turns to look at Steve. There’s no not saying it when faced with that.

Bucky’s smile makes Steve feel like he can fly. “In case it’s not real fucking obvious by now, I love you too.” He says and closes the distance, his lips on Steve’s soft and demanding all at once.

Steve despite the fact that there’s not much he loves more than making out with Bucky Barnes flinches back. “Jesus fucking christ that hurts.”

“Hope you like the hospital.” Bucky says and Steve groans with the full force of his soul but doesn’t argue.

Instead, he slides a hand into Bucky’s and settles in for the ride, enjoys the sound of Bucky griping about pedestrians and the way his thumb absently rubs over Steve’s wrist.

 

Later they will make the track back to Brooklyn, to their apartment in Bushwick where Bucky will try to insist on carrying Steve up eight flights of stairs because “you’re more cast than person right now Rogers.” and Steve will refuse and Bucky will insist he has all the sense of a cactus.

(He will give in a minute amount and let himself use Bucky for support for the last few flights but Bucky very wisely doesn’t acknowledge this)

He will relax for the first time in hours once they’re inside, surrounded by walls painted with warm shades of orange and yellow when Bucky had gotten sick of looking at white peeling walls, Steve’s paintings hung on them by Bucky with pride. A banner made up of gold letters proclaiming HAPPY BIRTHDAY hangs from the ceiling, put up by Tony Stark three weeks ago and not yet taken down, and Steve will not think about how strange his life is that Tony Stark knows him well enough to hang up happy birthday banners for nearly-100 year old men in Steve’s living room. It won’t occur to him because somehow in the time since he came home to find Bucky standing in his kitchen it’s all stopped seeming like some weird fever dream and become what he thinks of when he thinks of his life.

Bucky will take him past the banner, past the bookshelves stuffed to the brim and lined with knick knacks, will deposit him into their bed that’s piled high with pillows because Bucky has a fierce love of comfortable things and that apparently means Steve needs to wake up every morning suffocating under pillows.

And Steve, Steve will drag Bucky down into the bed and need not one bit of strength to make the man come to him, he will kiss Bucky and Bucky will meet him in the middle, will kiss him so carefully, so mindful of Steve’s pain that Steve will be left breathless with it.

Sometime, minutes or hours later, he will settle into Bucky’s side in the space that always seems to be made perfect for him. He will press his lips to a spot over Bucky’s heart and will mumble, tired and fuzzy around the edges from painkillers, “God, it’s good to be home.”