Sharon Carter comes by when the last leaves of autumn are disappearing from the trees. It’s drizzling and gray out; her hair is plastered in wet tendrils around her forehead and there are muddy splash specks on her calves. She’s carrying a bottle of wine, a large purse, and a tube strapped to her back. “Bahrain,” she says, “or I would’ve come sooner.”
If she’s surprised to see Bucky sitting at the kitchen table, hands laced together, she doesn’t show it. He thinks she’s not though, something about the way her gaze flicks to him immediately when she turns around, commenting on the neighborhood, the wide open floor plan that gives the kitchen clear sights to the front door.
“The neighbors were better at the old place,” says Steve. Bucky watches them smile at each other, wishes he were upstairs, is unable to make himself leave. “We were just going to order some food -- you’re welcome to stay.”
Sharon shakes her head, gestures to the sling. “I just wanted to come by and say hello,” she says. “I’m actually headed to class.”
“Class?” says Bucky, realizing when Steve jumps almost imperceptibly that he hasn’t spoken all afternoon. Sharon looks him in the face for the first time.
"Yoga," she says. She hesitates, gaze darting between Bucky’s folded hands on the table and his face, then seems to settle, a resolute cant to her shoulders. "I go to the 7:45 right around the corner if you’re ever interested."
Steve furrows a brow, but smiles encouragingly. It looks like a mask. "It might help your shoulder," he says and Bucky looks between them, shrugs.
The studio is fifteen minutes from Steve’s place, a plain clapboard rowhouse marked by a stenciled lotus on the door. Sharon has an extra mat and meets him downstairs ten minutes early. She's wearing comfortable, fitted clothes; Bucky's wearing the same sweatshirt he's been wearing for three days. "You might get hot," she says. "It's pretty sweaty. I have a --" she holds up some kind of shirt made of a thin, slinky material.
"I'm fine," he says: short, flat.
The room is warm and dry, smells like old sweat and eucalyptus, a hint of lavender. Sharon seats them in the far back of the room, near a wide set of windows that look over the street.
"I'm Julie," says the instructor, squatting down in front of him. She has a mottled scar on her right forearm and tattoos across her shoulders. "First time?" she asks. Bucky nods, looks beyond her at a wrinkled old man with his legs splayed up over his head like a dead cockroach. “Remember not to push yourself too hard,” she says, looking him in the eye. “A little pain is growth; a lot is bad news.”
"Are you okay with hands-on assists?" she asks. Bucky stays expressionless and she clarifies. "If you need adjustments, do you mind if I touch you?"
Bucky's throat feels dry. "No," he says. "That's fine.”
Sharon's lying flat on her back, palms up. Bucky mirrors her, feeling ridiculous and trying not to be upset about it. He tries to block out the sounds of people moving around, their feet sticking the to the floor in the elevated heat, mats slapping against the hardwood, the low-level chatter that marks daily human life.
"Okay," says Julie, seated on her mat. "Namaste."
"Namaste," echoes the class. Bucky repeats it to himself. Namaste. "Let's flow."
He wakes up after noon the next day and his entire back hurts, an unfamiliar low-level radiating stiffness from his thighs to his neck. It has him rolling his shoulders and arching his back, bending over to relieve the burning, the way he used to when he'd get home from work, an ugly twinge in his back that haunted him from a bad lift with his back in his teens until the war started. When it got bad Steve would sometimes press his fingers into the spot just to the right of his spine -- "You okay?" asks Steve, over dinner.
Bucky nods, swallows.
Sharon doesn't show the next night, but Bucky does, seats himself in the corner near the windows, wearing one of Steve's long sleeved shirts and gloves, a pair of Steve’s sweats that pool around his feet. He closes his eyes, rests his hands, palms up, on his knees.
"Set an intention for your practice," says Julie. "Something to guide you through the next 90 minutes. It any be anything -- something to ground you today. To focus you." It sounds dumb and he feels silly, sneaks a glance around at everyone else breathing in, eyes closed, more dedicated than he could ever be.
Bucky inhales -- one, two, exhale -- and thinks remember.
He doesn't, tries not to feel the thickness at his throat and the burn at the corner of his eyes when he stares at the watermark on the ceiling later.
He doesn't remember but he goes back anyway, finds solace in the deliberate clearing of his mind: he can sit on his mat and focus on Julie’s voice, even and smooth, telling him what to do with his body, put deliberate energy into remembering to breathe. It’s a calm, temporary respite when everything else all falls away: constantly afraid or angry or out of place, even with Steve, who he thinks he should feel at home with, when he can see the disappointment on Steve’s face when he doesn’t remember, or when he does but not the way Steve wants him to.
There’s comfort in the feeling of Julie's hands on his back smoothing down his spine, pushing his shoulder down, squaring his hips against the mat. He finds he craves the light but firm pressure at the joint of his waist, pulling him higher into down dog, not comforting, just guiding, because he can't quite find the words to ask please touch me, doesn't even know who he would ask. He flinches once, lost in maintaining a straight line in his reverse warrior and tumbles to the ground when she touches him, ends up crouched against his mat in a fighting stance.
She doesn't recognize it, but he does, and he spends the next ten minutes face down, reaching with his fingertips to the top of his mat, knees spread wide in child's pose, thinking endure this.
At first it's just that: the ability to let his body take over and do what someone else tells him to do. He keeps his face blank when Julie talks about the energy centers of the body or about setting an intention for his practice after that first miserable failure. He thinks these people have no idea what real tragedy is, except he can’t shake the feeling that he’s missing something when he rolls up his mat and sees the stillness on Sharon’s face, the relaxed set of her jaw when she tries to convince him to go for ramen afterward.
“What do you think about?” he asks her one day, when they’re standing outside the studio, sweat cooling on his back. Sharon’s bent over, struggling with the zipper on her boot.
“What?” she glances up at him, face partially obscured by the stuffed hood of her parka, one arm out for balance. He puts his hand on her shoulder to steady her.
“When you set your intention, what do you--?”
“Oh,” she seems surprised for a second and he opens his mouth to apologize. “Anything, I guess. That I have the patience and sanity to get through this shitstorm at work. That I don’t get annoyed at my mom for hounding me about stuff I can’t tell her. Things that will make me better.” She straightens up and he drops his hand from her shoulder, lets it fall to his side.
He starts trying to really believe, even for five minutes, in his intention, even if it's dumb, like not to be mad at Steve for waking him when he leaves the house before sunrise or at himself for not remembering how to use the laundry machine, or hugely encompassing, like letting go of the fear that someone's going to sweep him off the street, that someone's looking for him, that Steve’s going to look at him with that guarded shadow in his eyes forever.
The end of class is a jumble of shoes in the narrow stairs. Bucky tugs on his sneakers, still barely broken in from when Steve gave them to him months ago. He presses himself back against the wall to let damp, sticky people pass by, murmuring muffled apologies. His shirt sticks to his back and strands of his hair hang over his face, wet.
It’s sleeting when he gets downstairs, a wet icy flurry. He grimaces and pauses on stoop, hesitant at the prospect of walking the ten blocks home wet and clammy. He can remember a time when weather didn’t bother him, when gray days were the same as bright sunny ones, when there was no real difference between rain or snow or fog, just a backdrop of colors, of recalibrating. It’s strange to think that something so external, so uncontrollable and omnipresent, is something he thinks about, wishes he’d planned for.
“This weather, right?” says a voice behind him, gentle pressure at his back to push him the last step down. People touch each other, strangers, a lot in the real world. He’d never noticed before. “Excuse me.” She’s buttoning up a raincoat, her curly dark hair escaping where it’s clipped back in a bun. He’s seen her before. She comes to the Tuesday and Thursday classes. “The worst.”
“Uh.” He clears his throat. He hasn’t spoken all day. “Yeah.”
“That all you got?” she nods at him and it takes a second to realize she’s talking about his clothes: a lived-in Mount Washington sweatshirt, cotton pants, baseball cap. “You’re gonna freeze.”
He shrugs. He once walked days on a broken leg in Nicaragua; with a stab wound in Cambodia; aching and terrified and relieved simultaneously a half a step behind Steve through a forest in Germany. “I’ll be okay.”
“Hold on.” She digs in her bag, through papers and change and what smells like an old apple. “Take this.” It’s a little travel umbrella, dark blue and red with the words Howard University stamped on the outside of the pouch.
Bucky stares at it. “I don’t-- I don’t wanna--”
“It’s not like I’m not gonna see you again.” She smiles, thrusts the umbrella at him. “Just bring it next week. Pretty sure I can track you down.” He starts, tense, realizes she means here, at the studio.
He comes a lot, enough to be a routine, the kind of habit he used to track in marks, how they were fixtures certain places, how he’d surveil for a week and become used to dozens of other faces who went to the same sandwich shop for lunch or took the same route home or ran the same trail every morning. Other people. He used to never be a thing people noticed or tracked down. He used to not be anything.
Bucky nods. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, okay. Thanks.” He takes the umbrella.
When he gets home, he hangs it up on the coat rack to dry, where he’ll see it so he doesn’t forget. He does anyway, is walking up the stairs to class when he remembers. He spends class feeling sick that he can’t be trusted with a tiny act of kindness, but the weather holds and it doesn’t rain again.
He stays late one night, lets Sharon talk him into working on her forearm stand. Inversions are hard for him, but there’s an old spirit of competition that rumbles in his chest when he watches her brace her fingers wide on the mat, hop and then kick her legs over her head and hold steady one-two-three until she tumbles back into a half downward dog.
“Can you spot me?” she asks, twisting her neck to glance at him. “I don’t want to use the wall but I’d also rather not throw a disc.” He steps closer to her, within easy grabbing range if she starts to fall. “Plus, more incentive for control: if I kick you, you’ll probably kick me back.” He starts, then realizes it was a joke, that in the regular world people communicate through jokes.
He was funny once, he thinks, the humor that comes from quick wit, from being the first to speak. Sometimes fragments come to him that are like images in a burned out film: someone laying a hand on his bicep, a curl of hair against his lips, laughter and the swell of pleasure that he was the one who caused it.
She kicks her legs up and he puts his palms flat against the soles of her feet when they’re level, counts his breaths. “You’re not supposed to hold me,” she murmurs. He drops his hands. She doesn’t fall.
When he looks up, Steve is in the door of the studio, arms crossed, watching with a blank expression on his face. It’s a familiar look, one that Bucky sees weekly, when he gets it wrong, when he’s tired, when he can’t sleep, when he doesn’t want to talk. “You weren’t back,” says Steve. “Your phone didn’t ring. I was worried.”
Bucky’s hunches his shoulders in. “It’s dead, I think.”
They say goodbye to Sharon downstairs. Steve smiles at her, falls into step companionably next to Bucky, who can’t shake the feeling he’s done something wrong. It’s in the straight line of Steve’s shoulders, his gaze on the sidewalk, the way he holds his hands stiffly in his pockets.
They’re at a deserted crosswalk on North Cap; the Capitol all lit up in white below them. “Are you--” Steve pauses, takes a breath. “Are you interested in her?”
“No,” says Bucky and abruptly realizes he’s not, even though he’d never considered it.
“It’s fine if you are,” says Steve, as if he never answered, “if that’s what this is.” He rubs his hand against the back of his neck. “Whatever you want, Buck.”
“What this is,” echoes Bucky, feeling like he’s in class again, parroting Julie.
Steve hesitates, visibly steels himself. “You touched her,” he says, like it’s forced out of him, and his then his eyes open wide like he never meant to say that at all.
“You never touch me,” says Bucky, which isn’t a response so much as a plea when his voice nearly cracks. “Jesus Christ, Steve.”
The moon is low and huge in the sky. Men walked up there when he wasn’t paying attention. It seems like the kind of thing that would’ve impressed any caliber of man. The crosswalk turns then and Steve walks stiffly beside him, closer than before, his bicep brushing against Bucky’s.
A smear of red in the street catches his eye on an afternoon walk. It’s a round sparrow with a orange tuft on its chest, fluttering wildly when he kneels down next to it. There’s a bright spot of blood where it collided with something -- a windshield, maybe -- and its neck is broken. He looks at it a long time, at its one eye, bright with suffering, its feeble efforts to get away from him. It’s warm when he cradles it in his hand, and soft. He takes a a breath and closes it between his hands, smothering it between his palms. He feels it struggle against the pressure of his hands, feather and claw thrashing against his skin, desperate to live, before it stops suddenly, dead.
He drops it into one of the wide trash canisters on the sidewalk and spends the rest of the afternoon glowering at Steve until the corners of Steve’s mouth tighten and he stops asking what’s wrong.
They're in camel pose, Bucky on his knees with his palms flat against the soles of his feet, pressing his shoulders back and together, pushing his thighs and chest out. It's uncomfortable; his fingers are beginning to slip where the sweat is pooling in the soft shallows of his Achilles tendon. "Drop your head," says Julie, “and feel your heart open. Make a bow with your body -- the arrow is the vulnerability in your heart-space."
Class is full of things like this, aphorisms that Bucky can’t quite believe but has learned to connect with motions like pulling his shoulders together as he breathes in and pushing his ribs out as he exhales. Suddenly, though, he does feel vulnerable, heart open and struggling to breathe with his throat exposed in this room filled with people whose daily lives are filled with emails and deadlines and the petty banalities of the modern world: nothing on tv, going to the grocery after a long day behind a desk, who have no concept what it means to kill, to have their lives stolen, to die and be reborn, whose greatest fears are being alone in the world, that they're rotten, that he deserved everything that happened to him.
“Hello?” he says when he gets home, toeing off his shoes by the door. There’s mail piled up in the entryway: flyers for cheap take-out, clothing donations, credit card offers. It’s not for him, but he looks through it anyway, runs his fingers over the glossy edges of the weekly circulator.
Steve’s on the couch in jeans and a tshirt, bare feet up on the coffee table and a thick book with a man in glasses on the cover in his lap. He’s watching Bucky like he was waiting for him, gaze soft, mouth turned up at the corner. “How was class?”
Bucky shrugs, then changes his mind. “Good.” Bucky forgets sometimes, lets himself ignore, this quiet part of Steve that’s always waiting up for him, the way he tracks Bucky’s movements like he’s cataloging him, the simple gratitude in his eyes at Bucky settling into the couch in his still-damp clothes, tucking his toes between the cushions, picking out cold pieces of chicken and broccoli from the aluminum container on the coffee table.
He starts getting odd pains, little aches in his shoulder when he falls asleep on the arm of the couch, a low burn in his calves after a particularly grueling run with Steve. He gets up one morning and hisses when he puts his feet on the floor at the twinge in his Achilles tendon. It’s nothing terrible, just stiff until he rolls his foot a few times.
“Is your shoulder okay?” asks Steve one morning. He’s sitting at the kitchen table, doing some number puzzle in the newspaper. He used to do crosswords when they were kids, but now they’re both terrible at them. Bucky was always terrible.
“Yes,” says Bucky immediately. This is a familiar argument: Steve insisting his arm be looked at, Bucky denying any access to SHIELD or Fury or whoever does that kind of thing now. It usually ends with Steve going silent in frustration, jaw twitching at Bucky’s stubbornness, and Bucky retreating to his room to stew over Steve’s disappointment.
“You keep poking it,” says Steve, gaze on his puzzle. Bucky realizes he’s twisted his left hand up over his right shoulder and drops his hand abruptly, crashing against the granite counter and producing a metallic twang.
Bucky stares down at the counter, rubs his left pinkie at the joint where it might’ve bruised if it were a normal hand. “It’s a knot or something.”
“You want me to--” Steve stops, suddenly, and Bucky’s sure he’s abandoned all pretense of his sudoku game.
Bucky shrugs, then nods. “Yeah.”
He becomes sharply aware, like suddenly the world develops a crispness: the squeak of Steve’s chair being pushed back, his hip knocking against the granite, the heat of his body just behind Bucky, the gentle touch of fingers at Bucky’s shoulder. “Left,” murmurs Bucky. “No, my left.”
“It’s the same,” breathes Steve and Bucky almost feels the words against the fine hair at the nape of his neck. He feels hot, feels the urge to jerk away, have his own space. Steve finds purchase just to the side of Bucky’s shoulder blade. Bucky flinches, then relaxes. “Jesus, Buck. This is like goddamn vibranium.” Steve shifts his hands, fingers curling around Bucky’s shoulder to dig his thumbs in. “It’s like a mountain of the stuff. Is it always like this?”
Bucky shrugs, hums instead of answering, because he likes the feeling of Steve’s hands at his shoulder, working the tight muscle until it loosens slightly. Because it’s on the good side of pleasure-pain. Because he’s tired of being in the business of disappointing Steve. Because it’s hurt as long as he can remember and he doesn’t know how to say he never noticed.
Loose-limbed and tired like he always is after class but strangely isn’t after running the monuments with Steve, he comes home to the scent of melted butter and the sight of Sam thrown over the loveseat like he’s trying to take up as much space as possible, a leg over one arm, his shoulders tucked up against the other. “Hey man,” says Sam with a nod. Sam never calls him Bucky or Buck or Barnes or any name at all, maybe because when they met all those months ago, he wasn’t sure himself which name to go by. “Grab a drink and a seat.”
Sam comes over sometimes to “educate” them, which mainly means having Steve order delivery and foisting movies from his childhood on them. “Dude,” he’ll say, “this movie is formative, okay, once you see this, you’ll understand everything about me,” and it’ll turn out to be about an alien wanting to go home or a bunch of dinosaurs on an island or a basketball hustlers. Everyone’s always searching for something, be it the final gold coin or a flux capacitor and Bucky likes the movies because at the end they always find it. It’s difficult because sometimes -- a lot of the time -- the movies are about war or killing or torture or something else that Bucky never wants to think about again. Or Sam will forget about certain scenes and they’ll get in too far and Bucky will shake his head when Sam moves to turn it off, force himself to watch because he wants to see what happens.
Bucky grabs a beer from the coffee table and settles on the couch next to Steve, leans his head back against the cushions centimeters away from where Steve’s hand is resting on the back of the couch. Tonight it’s a movie about a bunch of kids that try to find buried treasure in a cave. It’s silly, but also sweet in a way Bucky vaguely remembers childhood being. Or at least can imagine childhood being when he watches middle school tour groups in garishly colored shirts shuffle past the White House. He misses some of it when Steve touches his hand to Bucky’s scalp, winds his fingers through his damp hair where it’s tied back low, and rubs his thumb against the shallow at the top of his spine.
Steve goes out of town, something to do with rooting out active Hydra cells in north Africa. He does it awkwardly and not with outright lies or even lies of omission, more Bucky nodding along and turning away when details are mentioned. There’s a part of him, a hollow space where his missions used to be, that wants to know, but he also doesn’t care, and more than that, doesn’t want to care.
He gets up in the in the early afternoon, ends up heading down the block to buy coffee after he makes a whole pot the first day and it goes to waste. Bucky sips his expensive drink from a well-fortified corner, watching people duck in and out of the cafe. They’re busy with their computers, heads bent together over their phones to watch a video or video chat with far away friends on some opposite coast or continent. Bucky has a phone, but it’s rarely charged, and he’s just as likely to lose it in his laundry as carry it with him. He has it now though, in case Steve needs him.
Bucky used to never pay attention to people, beyond their use to the mission. Even as a kid he’d leaf through Steve’s sketchbook and discover some old scar or expression he’d never noticed on a friend he saw every day, his own sister. That was Steve’s talent: the ability to render people with tenderness, to uncover the imperfections they kept hidden and put them on paper with grace, even if it was their landlord with the lemon-pucker expression who never let them slide on the rent, or the greengrocer with a mouth like the gash of a knife in his face who tried to sell day-old bread as fresh.
When he comes back from class, the house is still and dark, Steve’s current book sitting on the coffee table. He eats dry cereal and a couple spoonfuls of jam for dinner, standing barefoot in the dark kitchen. Bucky’s used to not sleeping, or at the very least, sleeping badly. There’s something that feels off when he makes his nightly rounds through the dark house, from his bedroom down to the kitchen and then back up again to the narrow back patio that leads from Bucky’s room to a precarious roof deck.
The door to Steve’s room is open, like it always is, a silent invitation or apology or a reminder that Steve’s an open book if Bucky cares to ask. The bed is made, a little uneven at the foot, the navy duvet pulled up higher on one side -- Steve’s side. He turns on the fan and retreats downstairs to monitor the shadows in in the street, the living room intermittently lit up by the headlights of a rare passing car.
When the birds begin to stir, he finds himself back in Steve’s room, sitting on the bed with his legs crossed, feeling the breeze blow his hair out of its tie with each pass of the fan. He wakes up there hours later, mouth dry, and clutching Steve’s blanket in his fist. When he gets up, he strips the bed and remakes it fresh, sets the blanket evenly across the top, tucks the corners of the top sheet in at a forty-five-degree angle, the way his mother taught him.
Standing poses and twists basically just require him to recalibrate training that feels etched into his bones. He’s less good with backbends and hip openers, finds he has to work to keep his breath steady, to fight a rising sense of vague panic. Julie settles them to hold in pigeon pose, a modified version of a split with the front knee bent, foot tucked under the opposite hip; Bucky’s chest is folded over his right leg. It hurts, a burning stretch in his thighs that he breathes into, but also leaves him feeling split strangely open.
Julie’s hands settle at his hip. “Inhale lengthen, exhale release,” she says just above him, voice loud for the class at large. “Keep your hips level,” she says, more quietly, when she applies gentle pressure for him to shift, “like-- yeah, like that,” deeper into the stretch.
Bucky finds his breath stuttering, not because it hurts, although it does, but because of how raw he feels, like an exposed nerve, or a pulsating wound. It’s overwhelming and almost indecent, the way he’s shaking in a room full of people, how loud his gasps sounds to his own ears. It’s a feeling like drowning, like he’s stuck fast, world going dark as he’s strapped in a chair in a dank vault or sitting unguarded in an empty hotel room, rifle like an extension of himself, armed to the teeth with knives and low-level explosives, and not running. He never even considered it.
He pillows his forehead on his arms, closes his suddenly stinging eyes, and thinks about Steve this morning, leaning against the counter in his sweats, the furrow between his brows that means he’s disappointed in Bucky again, and Bucky exhales, lets the image go. Today he will forgive Steve and his disappointment and the low-grade irritants that stick Bucky like grains of sand in an oyster. This is his life. He's responsible for living it, for cultivating that spark of tenderness that Steve lit above the Potomac all those months ago, and for little else.
The minutes after class are always frenzied, people shoving on their loafers, wool coats, and scarves over their sweaty clothes, wiping down their mats with a eucalyptus scented spray, eager to head home to their friends and lovers, take out and television. Bucky finds he has more time in the future. He was always scrambling for cash for the rent, for a drink, for a date. He takes his time, tucks his mat away into a cubby labeled j barnes with masking tape.
When he makes it to the street, he finds Steve loitering near the door, buttoned up into a dark coat and holding a steaming paper cup. He looks handsome under the yellow streetlights and little bit unsure. “They told me it was restorative,” he says, holding out the drink. Bucky holds it up to his nose. It smells like mint.
“Thanks,” he says. “Thanks for coming.” Steve comes sometimes, never to class, but hangs around to walk back with Bucky. Sometimes they take the long way, looping around the neighborhood past the line of trendy restaurants, usually filled with young, clean-cut DC types. Bucky used to worry someone would stop them, recognize Steve, but no one ever pays them any mind.
“Of course.” Steve smiles at him and Bucky smiles back, which is how Julie finds them a few seconds later when she comes down to lock up.
“Hey,” she says to Steve, in a friendly way, like she recognizes him. “Good job today,” she says to Bucky. “You looked little fragile in crow, so remind me to work on that with you.” She turns to lock the door, tests it, then rechecks the lock.
Bucky nods, then says, “I’ve got a bum shoulder. From the army.” For a second he feels exposed, the instantaneous flash of pressure-pain when the bandage is ripped off, all the air rushing out like a leaky balloon, but then it’s okay. He’s aware of Steve’s eyes on his face.
“My dad was navy.” For a minute he’s confused, then remembers: this is what people do. They trade little parts of themselves, little packets of humanity, but it doesn’t make them any less whole. Julie tests the door again, then nods, seemingly satisfied. “I tore my rotator cuff in college. We can work out some modifications for you.” She smiles at him, revealing a slightly crooked front tooth. “There’s no one way.” She glances at Steve. “Have a good night.”
“Night,” says Steve.
Bucky wraps his hands around his tea and inhales the fading steam once they’re walking, snow crunching into the sidewalk beneath their feet. He waits for Steve for bring up his shoulder, but he doesn’t, just loops his arm around Bucky’s neck, pulls him flush against Steve’s side. It brings back a strange sense memory, kids and then not, pulling Steve’s bony shoulder into the warm socket under his arm and then Steve unable to fit, like a flipbook with a bunch of pages torn out.
Bucky wakes from a dream where he’s standing in the reedy shallows of a vast lake next to a sun-bleached grinning skeleton half-buried in the sandy bank. He’s slumped over the kitchen table with his head pillowed in his arms. There’s a crick in his neck and a mug of coffee near his elbow, still warm to the touch. The kitchen is gray with the stillness of early morning and stripes of watery sunlight are beginning to creep through the front bay window. He takes a sip of coffee, makes a face. Steve likes his coffee hopelessly weak, always has, used to water it down when they were kids, which is how Bucky thinks of their life in the last century when it comes to him in jumbled snatches.
He rolls his shoulders when he stands, feeling skittish, uneasy at the lingering shadows of sleep: vague shadows, cold, the perfect reflection of the sky in the mirrored surface of the water. The tension that coils in his stomach has him assessing the dark spaces where the streetlamp doesn’t reach; the back of his neck alight with the oppressive uncertainty of paranoia.
Bucky closes his eyes, puts his hands together at his sternum, and breathes in. The kitchen is spacious enough that he clears the counter when he exhales, breathes through a full sun salutation. The familiar sequence is easy to focus on, the way he once focused on a serial number, purposefully blanking his mind to keep his breath timed with his movements until the awful pressure between his shoulder blades releases its grip. He hears the front door open, the low timbre of Steve’s voice in greeting, keeps going until the small of his back is damp with sweat.
When he opens his eyes, Steve’s watching him, hands balanced on the counter. His cheeks are wind-burned from the cold, eyes bright. The kitchen is lighter, the colors more vibrant as dawn gives firmly way to day. “Hey,” he says when Bucky’s gaze settles on his face.
“Hey.” Bucky pushes some errand strands of hair back behind his ear. “Good run?” he asks. Some days he and Steve will spend long days in silence, orbiting around each other, but today he finds he wants to listen. Neither of them talk much, although Bucky thinks he used to, and the sound of Steve’s voice is centering.
“Yeah,” says Steve. He continues, describing something he saw in the tidal basin, a helicopter flying low over the cherry trees, rotors rippling the water. He should take up drawing again. Bucky feels full, brimming over with feeling at the catch of light on Steve’s eyelashes, which are lighter at the tips, more delicate. Bucky finds himself running his eyes over the familiar lines of Steve’s nose, his jaw, the furrow of his brow that was enough to bring the Winter Soldier to his knees. His breath falters.
He puts his hands flat on the counter to steady himself.
“Buck?” says Steve, moving around the counter. “Okay?” He puts a hand on Bucky’s shoulder, tentatively, settling with more purpose. His eyes are clear and blue and his hand is very warm where his thumb presses against Bucky’s collarbone.
“Okay,” says Bucky.