Bucky gets used to looking out at the sky. It seems more alive, somehow, than the streets below, the tired people moving like automatons, sad puppets. The sky has colors, it changes, and the cloud-shapes aren’t human but somehow pull his mind away from the pain in his body.
He looks at his left arm, and his lips twist in a humorless half smile. Pain isn’t the worst thing.
He flexes his fingers, tries to break through the numbness. He closes his eyes so he can’t see the scars, but that doesn’t help. It’s still not …. his. It’s like glass, or ice, separates him from it, makes it something far away. Frozen.
“Nerve damage.” The doctor had been brisk. “You’re lucky you have any use of it at all, Sergeant. You’re left handed, yes? That’s unfortunate.”
Bucky’s throat was tightening, his hand trembling. He was noticing random details: the bleeping of machines in the adjacent ward, the smell of antiseptic, the roughness of the sheets under his right arm. He swallowed the panic, packed it down tight beneath his ribs.
“Can I. Will it get better.”
The doctor’s expression wasn’t unkind. She pursed her lips, raised her eyebrows. “Well. I’ll be honest. Sensation will never entirely return. There’s just too much damage, and nerves don’t grow back like other tissue. But the muscle injuries have healed substantially, and if you continue with the physio and rehab you could learn other ways to do some things. You need to be positive, Sergeant.” Now her tone was reproving. “Look on the bright side! Lots of others didn’t make it at all, you know!”
Bucky’s vision whited out in pure rage. His heart was pounding, and when he finally managed to speak, his voice was rough. “I know that. I was there.” For a moment, he was there, back inside the screaming, the chaos, Dernier crumpled under the rubble and Dugan coughing up blood, kneeling, looking at Bucky. Falling forward.
He looked so surprised, thinks Bucky. We all looked so surprised, and the sun just kept shining.
Now he was in Walter Reed and two of his friends were dead.
The ferocity of his reply seemed to take the doctor by surprise. “Yes. I suppose you were.” She looked impatient. “We’ll discharge you today, and post you the physiotherapy referral.”
Now it’s six weeks later, and Bucky’s curled up by his window in his small Bed Stuy studio apartment, looking out the window like he has for weeks. He’s lucky – he found some work, desk stuff, data entry for a dingy office supplies company down on Atlantic Ave. He has the morning off for his first meeting with his new physio.
The clouds are getting darker, and gray is covering the street like a film. He better go. Be a good patient, go through the moves. Comply.
It’s cold, sitting there on the bed, waiting. The lights are bright and the cubicle small, but the bustle of noise outside somehow gives the illusion of privacy. It’s a busy place, shabby, with a lot of physiotherapists and rehabilitation assistants working flat out. Bucky’s not expecting much. He already knows the treatment isn’t going to change the numbness, the cold, the clumsiness. Pointless, really.
Bucky sits, and breathes, and doesn’t hope.
Then the curtain’s yanked back, and Bucky gapes.
Surprised blue eyes look back at him. The physio is … delicate, is the word. He’s short, with blond hair and, well, Bucky just can’t stop staring.
He’s beautiful, that’s all there is to it. He’s beautiful.
He’s also visibly taken aback. Bucky doesn’t know what’s making him look back at Bucky so wide-eyed, but before he can wonder for long the man coughs, looks away, and becomes visibly professional. “Sergeant Barnes? I’m Steve Rogers, and I’m here to assess you for physical treatment and develop a treatment plan.” He’s moving around the cubicle as he speaks, getting a clipboard and pulling up a chair, and now he’s sitting beside Bucky, and those blue eyes meet his again.
Rogers looks alert, fierce, like he’s kinda ... shining. Intense.
“I’ve read your file. I know what happened. And I’m sorry.”
Bucky’s heart twists, and he looks away for a minute, to hide the way tears are threatening to spill. Such a simple sentence, said so directly. It’s not empathetic exactly, and not gentle. It’s not soothing. It’s direct and candid and the relief at hearing it is more than Bucky can parse.
When he looks back at Rogers that ferocious, attentive expression is still there. “Okay. Can I examine you? If you take your shirt off, that’ll help.”
Bucky swallows. He’d really rather not. He knows his body’s a scarred mess, and he’s ashamed, but he should be used to this now and so he pulls off his shirt. Rogers doesn’t react to the scars at all, though, just rests his hands on Bucky’s upper arm and shoulder, and that’s another surprise – his hands are so big and warm. He has such long fingers, like a pianist. Bucky can’t help blurting out. “Do you play? I mean.” God, his cheeks are burning. “Piano. Sorry.”
Rogers shoots him a curious look from under – wow, such long eyelashes. “No. Why?”
Bucky’s cheeks couldn’t get hotter if they were microwaved. “I just. You have long fingers. Which. Is stupid. I don’t know what I am talking about.” He’s babbling, but now Rogers is grinning.
“I’m an artist, a bit, if that helps?” He still looks very amused. “That’s kinda close, right? Creative? So … psychic skills aren’t listed on your med record, Sergeant, but anything else you want to try and guess about me?” His smile is sharp and ... teasing, thinks Bucky, dazed, but his hands are quick and firm. Bucky realizes he’s being a charming asshole to get him distracted and relaxed enough that he can do his job.
By the end of the session, Bucky’s arm and shoulder are agony. The exam and initial demonstration of exercises have left his muscles screaming and he’s wincing as he gets off the bed, but Rogers doesn’t look in the least merciful.
“You need to do those exercises three times a day, and I’ll know if you haven’t. Do you have any hobby that involves manual dexterity. It’ll be hard, but the more practise the better. You need to move your arm, your fingers. Fine motor skills.” He grins again. “Art, maybe?”
Bucky’s eyes widen a moment, vaguely appalled. “No! I mean, I can’t draw anything.”
“Knitting? Woodcarving? Basket weaving? Papier-maché?”
Basket-weaving?! Bucky’s suspicions are confirmed: his physio is kinda a troll. He snorts. “No. I mean – I guess violin.”
Rogers’ eyebrows shoot up and his smile broadens into a beam. “Perfect!”
“No! I –“ Bucky flails. “I shouldn’t have said that. I haven’t played for years, I just – “ he swallows, but that smiling blue gaze is still pinning him, relentless. “I mean – at school? Only not. I just had one. A violin.” He stops, hot and confused.
Rogers looks triumphant. “Perfect. Sergeant Barnes? Please dig out the violin and practise. I’m putting it on your treatment plan.”
“What? No! I really,” Bucky chokes, “I’m really not any good. I wasn’t any good before, either, I just did it for, like, fun, and now –“ he lifts his useless arm, and Rogers’ gaze narrows.
“I don’t actually care whether you’re any good or not.” God, this beautiful small guy is ... brutal is the word that comes to Bucky. Brutal and shining. “I just want you to exercise your arm, move it.” He enunciates the last two words precisely, his tongue tapping his upper teeth, and Bucky flushes, realizing he’s been watching his mouth.
Bucky looks at the floor. That’s, uh, that’s wildly inappropriate, Barnes. He doesn’t manage to meet his eyes again, and bundles himself to the door.
Later, though, when he’s doing his lonely exercises by his window, the evening drawing in slow and liquid along the street, Bucky remembers those firm hands on him and something eases in his body. Something gentled in him under that strong grip, under that uncompromising care.
The next day, Bucky hesitates at the closet, then pulls down the hard violin case. It’s dusty, and he blows across it, swipes a hand over it, opens the lid. The wood is dark and the silver accents gleam — the strings, the winding on the bow — and the tightness in Bucky’s chest is a surprise. He didn't expect to care so much, to have such a leap of recognition.
He told Rogers the truth. He really wasn’t ever any good at it. He never planned to go to conservatoire or study it at university or anything, and he rarely played for an audience, unless you count duets for his parents with Becca on piano. He just, you know, played it. For himself.
He wasn’t ever brilliant, but that wasn’t the point. It was — it just used to be something he liked — used to like to do, before the Army. Before … everything else.
He gently brushes one of the strings and the sound makes him wince. He laughs. Of course it’ll sound crap. It’s lucky it was stored right or the casing would be warped. He needs to take it to get re-stringed, treat the wood with wax.
He needs to repair it, wake it up.
He needs to not think about how fucking symbolic that is.
Bucky scowls, closes the case – but he doesn’t slam it shut, he closes it with care, and he doesn’t put it back on the shelf. There is something light and warm in his chest, something small and clean and hopeful. He puts it by the door, and that night he doesn’t have bad dreams.
He googles a place. There’s a place on Bedford that looks likely, one of those tiny independent stores. There isn’t much info, but it seems to specialise in stringed instrument repair and maintenance. He can get there relatively easily, and he plans to head there next Saturday.
The little store is dark and smells musty, and shafts of sunshine catch the dust motes floating in the air. Bucky closes the door behind him softly, moves inside. It feels full of secrets and old things, like a church.
“Well, hi!” The loud greeting takes Bucky by surprise. He startles, turning.
An elderly man is sitting half hidden behind a table heaped with two dismembered violins, a massive pile of — vinyl records? — and a very large, very solemn orange cat, watching Bucky in a distinctly predatory way.
Bucky stammers, ‘H… hi?” and takes a step back.
The — store owner? — waves an arm magnanimously. “Come in, come in. You got a violin?” He’s wearing an eye patch, but his other eye is keen as he takes in the case under Bucky’s arm.
“Yeah.” Bucky briefly drags his gaze away from the cat. “Uh. It’s old, kinda cracked a bit. Haven’t used it in a long time. Restringing, wax and stuff?” The cat’s still looking at him. “Nice cat,” he manages, weakly.
“Ah, that’s Goose.” The man’s already accepting the case, opening it, evaluating. “I’m Fury, Nick Fury. I run this place.”
“It’s, er, very nice.” Bucky knows he’s sounding feeble. Goose is peering over at the violin too, looking unimpressed. Then he jumps from the desk, with a flick of an orange tail, and stalks off into the recesses of the shop.
“I can do this right now, if you like. It looks like Goose wants to show you something, if you want to browse for a while.”
“Sure. Er.” Bucky blinks. “Wants to show me?”
Fury’s already absorbed in his work, but jerks a thumb over his shoulder. “Sheet music, back there. Old things. You might find something to play.”
When Bucky ducks through into the second room he sees Goose waiting expectantly beside a wall display of old music scores. Bucky goes over obediently, and scans them. Some beautiful stuff, wow, but this is all really hard. Like, I mean, Sibelius? Paganini?
Bucky’s jaw drops and he looks at Goose. “You’re kidding, right.”
Goose looks unamused and waves his tail.
“Okay, okay.” Bucky keeps looking, and then he brightens. There’s a Mozart concerto for violin and … yes, wow, Bucky knows this one! For a moment, he vividly remembers Becca playing piano accompaniment to this. It’s one of the more approachable violin scores, often used in teaching.
“Thanks!” he tells Goose, and he means it.
Goose looks smug.
Thinking of the music is a comfort, a thing he leans on during the day. It stays with him as he huddles in the crowd on the stuffy F train, as he shuffles through the supermarket, as he tries to be a person.
The first time he tries to play, though, it’s a disaster. He fumbles to hold the bow and when he manages to get it to the violin the screech is unbearable. He drops it, twice, and the second time he bends to pick it up he can barely see it through tears of frustration. The necessary calluses are long gone, and his fingers ache for hours afterward.
He’s a mess. He might as well not bother.
Bucky’s monosyllabic and gloomy at his next physio session, and Rogers calls him out on it after ten minutes. “Bad week?” His tone is more laconic than sympathetic, and his hands are as inexorable as ever.
Bucky’s so miserable that he can’t even be tactful. “What, are you going to tell me I should be grateful and I was lucky?” Then he nearly bites his own tongue. Shame’s thick in his throat. That was totally uncalled for. He forces himself to look at Rogers, an apology already rising to his lips, but when he sees his expression he can’t speak.
Rogers is looking straight at him, his hands stilled, and he looks absolutely implacable. “No. I won’t say you were lucky, because you weren’t.”
Bucky flinches, feels his eyes go wide, but Rogers doesn’t even pause. “You’re dealing with lifelong pain, reduced sensation, fear of incapacity, and you saw colleagues, friends, die. There’s nothing lucky about any of that and it’s screwed up to expect you to say so.” His eyes are knowing. “I guess someone did.”
Bucky’s dazed, but something’s warming him right through. He can feel his shoulders dropping down, his chest loosening. “A doctor,” he mutters. “At Walter Reed.”
Rogers nods, expression opaque. “Well, I won’t be saying it.” His quick, strong hands are working over Bucky’s arm now, pressing into the muscle, and it hurts, but with such relief, loosening knots in the shoulder, soothing Bucky’s whole body. “I’m going to push you to do stuff, you know,” Now his tone is conversational, as he bends Bucky’s arm up over his head, seems to be checking range of motion, “but I’m never,” and now his gaze pins Bucky again, “never going to expect you to be happy about your injury.”
The warmth in Bucky’s chest is spreading, and he wants to say something back. He’s not sure what it would be, but something gentle is unfurling in him, and it feels like thank you.
“And I am,” Rogers’ voice has lightened, “going to be increasing your exercise challenge levels.”
Bucky groans. “More?” but Rogers is grinning, and when Bucky leaves he’s smiling too.
The bow touches the violin so gentle, so careful, and it still screeches. Bucky grits his teeth, but this time, he’s not panicking.
Instead, he’s noticing his body. The numbness is there, the ice – yes, still there, but so is something else – the feeling of the wood, the sharp metal of the bow, the snug weight of the violin’s curve tucked into his neck, the arch of his own arms.
He started off hunched over the violin, cold and scared, clumsily holding a bow he can’t manage to use. He still can’t, he’s still clumsy, dropping it, the sound is all wrong, but as the seconds and then minutes tick by, something changes.
The room is dark, but somehow the sound and feeling make it luminous. He’s bent over the instrument, moving the bow across it, and it’s the movement, more than anything else, that seizes his awareness. He still can’t make it sound quite – right, but he can – he can move, and the violin is here, with him, they’re doing a thing together.
He’s forgotten how when you play an instrument you kinda ... join with it.
The violin’s pretty beaten up, and so is he. Maybe they can be a team.
Bucky’s snort of laughter takes himself by surprise.
“So this is our last session.” Steve’s folding away his clipboard, and Bucky feels there’s something distant about him. He’s as beautiful as ever, golden hair gleaming over sharp features, but he’s not just gorgeous. He’s also sarcastic and stubborn and absolutely unyielding. Bucky knows all this because he’s been seeing Steve for physio care weekly for six months. Bucky isn’t quite sure when he stopped being Rogers and became Steve, but he has. Today, though, he’s less … Steve than usual. It’s as if he has the brakes on.
“From here on, you will not be under my professional care.” There’s something stilted about that sentence, but Bucky can’t think about that – all he can notice is the twist of regret that shoots through him. Then Steve looks at him, straight on, those blue eyes piercing. “So we’ll have no further professional contact after this.”
Steve’s said that twice now. Bucky knows what he hopes that means, and swallows. “If I, I mean. Hypothetically. Do physios .. sometimes hang out.” Is he actually doing this? Apparently he is, what the fuck, but Bucky doesn’t stop. “With. Ex-patients. Is that. Allowed.”
Steve’s grinning properly now, like the asshole he is. “Hang out, huh? Well that’s an idea.” There’s something hot about his gaze and Bucky feels desire twist, his cheeks warming helplessly.
Steve, being Steve, doesn’t have any mercy, lets Bucky cringe under his amused regard for a second. Then, “Yeah. Physios can ‘hang out’ with ex-patients. So, a hypothetical ex-client would need to get in touch independently of their own volition, say, a month or so after they entered on a new care relationship with another provider, before contacting any hypothetical physio’s secretary to pass on a personal invitation to ... ‘hang out’.”
Bucky’s grinning now too. “You’re a jerk.” It’s heartfelt.
Steve’s smirking as he moves to the door. “Oh, I could do this all day.”
Six weeks later, and Bucky’s waiting. He chose a place over on Fulton, not a chain but one of the nice combined bakery/coffee shops with tin ceilings, stone floors, and tables of dark, heavy wood. It’s cosy. Outside, it’s just started to snow, but Bucky’s blood is thrumming under his skin. He knows he was taking a chance, getting in touch, asking Steve out. He’s surprised he had the nerve – he hasn’t dated since he got back, and as he sits here, pushing a cup of coffee round and round, he wonders why he hasn’t.
The arm, sure, he’s self-conscious about that, but that wasn’t the main thing. Really, it was just … the gray, that cloud of what-is-the-point-of-anything, underpinned by a kind of guilt or shame that he can’t examine too closely but has something to do with the way he came back and the other two didn’t. The sheer, well, emptiness, of everything, until somehow all that gray went gold, thanks to Steve and his strong hands and smart mouth and his absolute lack of pity.
Those firm hands that make Bucky feel soft.
Then Steve walks in and all Bucky’s thoughts derail.
He’s even more gorgeous than Bucky remembered. He’s in a thick black coat and a blue scarf which makes his eyes even brighter. His hair’s more tousled, and he has three ear piercings Bucky hasn’t seen before, when Steve was in scrubs. Bucky’s mouth goes dry and Steve slides into the seat opposite and smiles. “Hi, Bucky.”
“Hi,” manages Bucky. “You look different.” He’s smiling, he can’t help it, there is still this spark between them, this delight.
Steve tilts his head, “Well, you look the same, and,” his smile deepens, “I’m glad.”
They talk. Astonishingly, it’s easy. They’re there for at least three hours, and by then Bucky knows about Steve’s family (single mom, dad was a veteran, died in Iraq, no siblings), and knows the reason why he took up physio (“I like solving things and driving people hard” – “I remember”, Bucky, fervent, and Steve laughing, unexpectedly deep).
Steve’s asked Bucky probing, interested questions and Bucky’s opened up, too, talked about why he joined up after high school to get money for college and just kinda stayed.
All the while, something warm keeps bubbling in Bucky’s chest. His skin feels electric, and Steve’s gaze is hungry. This isn’t stopping at coffee. Something about Steve makes Bucky brave.
“I live close by?”
Steve doesn’t pretend not to understand, nods. “Yeah.”
They leave together.
When they get inside, Bucky’s feeling self-conscious again. Steve looks around quickly, and Bucky sees it through his eyes – it must look so shabby, so empty, the bed shoved in the corner, the other things in boxes. Bucky hasn’t even bothered to get most of his stuff out of storage. Living was in limbo, a cold suspense, but with Steve here and all his sparking, restless energy the ice is starting to thaw.
Steve’s spotted the photographs on the mantelpiece, the ones Bucky doesn’t ever look at, but is always aware of, like a bruise. Steve walks over and looks at them, and Bucky braces himself.
“Your team?” Steve’s characteristically direct.
Bucky instinctively turns his head away, curls his shoulders up, but avoiding it all hasn’t been a fantastic coping strategy so far and something about Steve’s ruthless sincerity feels like it could be a solace. “Two members of my squad.” He takes a deep breath. “Dernier and Dugan.”
Steve’s quiet a moment, scrutinizing the pictures. Then he looks back at Bucky. “Tell me about them.”
Bucky smiles, involuntarily. “Oh. Well. Dugan was – he was a big guy, you know? He’d re-upped twice, had been out there for years. He was…” Bucky’s smile turns rueful. “Strong. Kind but hid it. Didn’t put up with crap. Dernier,” and Bucky can’t help it, his smile broadens again. “He was amazing. Explosives and munitions was his thing. He kinda liked the adrenaline, I think. But mainly he was just a really funny guy. French originally. Used to tease us about not having as much culture.”
Steve nods. Hs eyes haven’t left Bucky’s face. “And the rest of the team?”
Bucky shifts uncomfortably. “Well. I mean. Gabe and Morita are still out there. Monty went back to England. He came from there, to start with. We’re not – look.” He licks his lips nervously. “I kinda lost touch with them.” Bucky’s not sure how to explain it, the feeling of needing to curl up and retreat, the feeling of failure, the fact that he was in command and Dernier and Dugan didn’t make it. The guilt.
It’s easier not to reply to texts, to email. Even if, sometimes, he lies at night and he remembers them, curled alone in the dark, his face wet.
Steve doesn’t look surprised. He sits in the spare chair, the uncomfortable one opposite Bucky’s favorite chair by the window. Leans backward, and says abruptly, ‘Play for me.”
“What?” Startled out of his pensiveness, Bucky flushes. “I can’t. I told you, I’m not any good.”
“I don’t care.” Steve sounds friendly, but his eyes still pin Bucky, not giving him a fraction of an escape. God he truly is merciless, but something about that makes warmth spark up in Bucky’s belly, tender lust flowering under sharpness.
Bucky keeps his eyes fixed on Steve, doesn’t look away, as he sits, opens the case, takes up the violin. Steve’s not looking away either. He’s watching Bucky, silent, and his eyes are burning.
Bucky swallows, raises his bow.
The room’s quiet, unusually so. Usually he can hear his neighbors, music, talking, but right now it might just be him and Steve alone in the building. The traffic outside seems muffled, too. Maybe it’s the snow. More flakes are starting to drift down past the window.
Bucky steadies himself and looks at the sheet music – it’s the score he got from Nick and Goose – and he starts to play.
He can hear his own mistakes, and there are a lot. The bow doesn’t always sing, sometimes it whines, or scrapes, when his wrist fumbles and the ice gets thick, but Bucky doesn’t stop. He’s not looking at Steve. He’s playing for himself, too – aware of his body, flawed and in pain, and he’s aware of the violin, battered but here, and the music is from both of them, it’s in both of them, and he’s warm.
Then his left arm seizes up and he drops the bow.
Bucky’s eyes fly open and he gasps, the cramp is so cruel, and he can’t bend to pick up the bow, the pain is overwhelming, but now Steve’s here, crouched right by him, and his sure, strong hands are pressing Bucky’s shoulder, somehow soothing it, holding Bucky together. He’s so close.
Steve’s eyes are wide, and for a moment they don’t move. Even the snow seems to pause in the air.
Steve licks his own lips, quick, nervous.
Very slowly, like a question, he slides his hand down Bucky’s arm. He’s telegraphing every move, asking, and Bucky’s answering, his whole body softening, leaning closer.
Steve slides his hand down Bucky’s wrist, sliding his thumb into his palm, and the touch is so intimate, so gentle, that desire blooms at the base of Bucky’s spine. He can hardly breathe.
And oh, after all that effort and strain, it’s easy to bend, to meet Steve’s lips with his own. It’s easy to slide one arm around Steve’s slender waist, to pull him close. Bucky’s eyes are wet behind their closed lids. This is easier than breathing.
“Please don’t stop.” Bucky mutters it against Steve’s lips. Steve’s hands are on his arms, on his chest, and he’s holding Steve, finally touching him back.
“I won’t, but –“ Steve’s palms are gentle on Bucky’s chest in turn, pushing him back enough that Steve can see him. Steve’s smiling, and his expression is as close to tender as Bucky’s ever seen on Steve “No Mercy” Rogers. “Easier if you’re not in a chair, you need to stretch out, get the blood back to your arm. Uh—“ he glances over at the bed in the corner of the apartment.
It makes sense, though Bucky goes hot with awkwardness again — there’s something so deliberate about it, walking over to the bed, and he wishes fiercely, for a moment, that they could have just — fallen into each other, started touching in the chair, but Steve is right, and the truth is, it’s sexy, the pause, the embarrassment. The expectation.
It doesn’t get any more graceful. Bucky feels like a beetle stuck on his back. He can’t lie on his left side because of the pain right now, and he can’t lie on his right because he wants to use it. He’s so tangled up in how the fuck to even do this logistically that he’s not even that turned on yet, but he desperately doesn’t want to stop.
Steve’s straddling him, so light, and Bucky’s lying back and has to look up at him and it feels so, so right. Steve’s golden, light catching in his hair, utterly confident, and he’s regal, is the word. Bucky’s aching for Steve to touch him, play him, make his body sing.
Steve’s unbuttoned his shirt and he’s so beautiful, spiky and delicate and sharp edges. Bucky can see the curve of his ribs, the sharp bite of his pelvic bones.
“Can I touch you.” Bucky’s mumbling, unsure. “I’ll —” and he holds up his right hand, but before he can even finish the sentence Steve’s grabbed his other hand, the scarred left.
He’s smiling. “Thought you were left-handed?” and he presses Bucky’s palm to his own chest.
Bucky’s chokes. He’s flayed. Touching Steve at all feels so intimate, so emotional, but this, when he feels deeply that that arm can’t be ... part of things, or ... or wantable. Bucky can’t speak.
“Oh, Buck.” Steve half-smiles, knowing, but he doesn’t let up – this is Steve, after all – just keeps holding Bucky’s hand there, his hands warm on him, and lets Bucky feel.
Hesitant, Bucky slides the hand against Steve’s skin. He slides his palm more firmly, feels Steve’s nipple harden, hears him gasp, and this hand can feel and it can make Steve want and Bucky wants him too.
He swallows, jerking both hands away, “Let me—“ and he struggles, half sits up, pulls off his t shirt, lies back again, suddenly painfully conscious of his soft stomach, the slight flab at his hips. There’s nothing chiseled about him now, not after months of skipping the gym and lurking hunched indoors, and right now his dick’s as limp as the rest of him. He’s soft and scarred and not at all sexy.
Bucky glances up at Steve’s face. What he sees there makes his self-consciousness start to ebb. Steve’s eyes are so dark, his cheeks flushed, and lips red red red, swollen and biteable, and Bucky needs to kiss him, needs to know him, needs their bodies to twist and tangle in blissful friction.
Steve lifts his other hand and smiles, wicked. “Want this on you?”
Heat floods Bucky, he’s red all over, and Steve outright snickers. “Thought you’d like that,” smug, and his hand’s winding into Bucky’s pants, working them open enough to take hold of him, and Bucky jolts like his touch is electric.
“Easy,” but Steve’s voice isn’t gentle, he’s not stopping, he’s stroking and Bucky’s just lost. All those months of being touched by Steve and now to be touched like this, he’s embarrassingly close already. “Wait,” he gasps, has to try and reciprocate, at least that will slow it down enough to maybe make him not come all over Steve’s beautiful hands in the first five fucking seconds, and Steve seems happy with that too, lets Bucky unzip him, pull him out, and he’s hard already, small and perfect, uncut, wet. The last shreds of Bucky’s hesitation vanish at the sight of him.
They don’t wait. Why should they? It’s sudden by some measures, but it’s been months, and he feels he knows Steve, and god the hunger to hold him, to be held in turn, it’s burning away his pain. They both want this, hands on each other, working each other up, moving in the dim light.
Steve nips his earlobe, whispers, “Violin clearly makes for good wrist action and precise fingering. I’m so glad I prescribed it.”
“Jerk,” it’s all Bucky can manage, and there’s no heat to it. He’s so close and can’t hold it back.
“Oh,” Bucky can feel Steve smile against his cheek “I can do this all day too.”
Bucky tries to say something about he’s not going to have to, but he can’t find words. Steve’s kissing him hard now, like he’s fighting, one hand jerking him and the other gripping the nape of Bucky’s neck, pulling Bucky up against him in a kiss that won’t stop. Steve’s movements stutter and Bucky gasps and Steve’s soft sounds send Bucky over too.
The snow’s falling faster now. Steve’s curled close around his back, his bony hips and elbows digging in, and Bucky thinks he’s never been more comfortable in his life. "You okay?" Steve whispers it into Bucky’s neck, his lips tender, and it’s like honey’s golden right through Bucky’s blood. He feels warm everywhere.
Well. Almost everywhere. Bucky’s lying on his right side, and he can look at his left arm. He frowns, brings that hand up to his face, brushes his own lips, his cheeks. It’s still numb, but – maybe that’s okay.
Then Steve’s hand’s sliding up, stroking the scars so lightly, entwining their fingers, and something about the gesture makes that gentle thing in Bucky’s chest spill over, liquid.
A few months later, they’re walking hand in hand through Bedford Ave, and Bucky stops. “Look!”
Steve squints at the storefront. “Shield Music?”
“Yeah!” Bucky’s enthusiastic. “Come inside. This guy repaired my violin,” and it’s a happy thing, Nick chatting to Bucky, Steve in a face-off with Goose, both small and yellowish and fierce. In the end, Steve drops to one knee and offers the cat his palm, “Truce?” and Goose deigns to butt his head against Steve’s wrist.
Nick’s looking at Bucky speculatively. “You’re looking more cheerful. How’s the violin?”
Bucky grins, and Steve stands up and smiles too, tangles their fingers together. Bucky’s left hand is still numb, still under glass or ice, but it’s his, and Steve’s love sparks through his skin.
“It’s good,” says Bucky. “The tune’s changed.”
F I N