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and from my knees grew flowers

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Bucky watches in silence and seclusion from the ragged edge where forest gives way to gravel as Steve emerges past the rounded bend of service road. He snorts as soon as he sees the new car Steve’s picked up: a black two-door Scion, low enough he’s sure Steve’s scraped over a rock or two on the rutted path.

He’d been doing a preliminary scope of the area, even though they’d just arrived in town. Steve had gone to ditch their old transport that they’d been using for all of a week and find a place where they could stay for the night. When Bucky pulls the passenger door open and Steve holds out a metal key attached to a small wooden panel, Bucky swallows down a groan of disappointment.

“I know,” Steve says. Bucky has to hunch down to climb in, dumping his dusty backpack to the flooring between his legs and pulling the door shut.

“It’s the best I could find here.”

Steve keeps his eyes on the road as he pulls a three-point turn. He curls his arm around the back of Bucky’s seat so he can look out the rear window as his other hand turns the wheel. It opens his body up so Bucky can smell the heat of him, the faint salt-musk of sweat that makes Bucky’s stomach tighten like Steve’s pulling at it with a string. Can he fucking live.

“It’s fine,” Bucky lies. He has to unclench his jaw to say it, and try not to be too much of an asshole. Steve can’t control what temporary accommodations they’ll find in any given dinky town just because Bucky’s gotten a taste for fluffy hotel bathrobes and mints on his pillows. Just two weeks before, they’d stayed at a hotel in Tampa with a full-on suite and a five-star breakfast buffet. They’d had an open bar at night by an Olympic-sized pool. Bucky’d sipped margaritas and they’d tossed bean bags into cornhole boards while kids shrieked in the background and chased each other around the deck.

Most of the time they weren’t that lucky. Most of the time the fact they were trying to infiltrate an abandoned weapons cache, or a possibly still-active cell took precedence over whether they were staying at a place with room service or a sketchy roadside motel where Bucky was sure serial killers paid by the hour to dismember their victims in peace.

Steve’s looking straight ahead as he drives, but Bucky can practically feel him thinking, wanting to solve it.

“Stop thinking so loud,” Bucky grumps. He nudges at the bag between his feet, wishing he could kick it. He feels stupid and surly, and all because he’ll be sleeping on a slightly lesser firm mattress tonight than the last place they’d stayed at. He’s slept in all sorts of impossible places and set-ups. Curled up on tree branches, huddled under bridges, stashed on fire escapes and in the back of more armored vehicles than Bucky could count, as they swayed and knocked him about.

“Is this better?” Steve asks, turning an imaginary dial on the side of his head, mouth quirking in the tiniest of smiles. Bucky kicks at his bag again, folds his arms to his chest, and resolutely stares out the window for the rest of the drive.

*

Bucky takes the bathroom first. Steve doesn’t say a word. The motel ranks instantly in Bucky’s bottom three—not that he’s keeping a list in the notes section of his phone, and not that it soothes him sometimes to scroll through and wistfully stare at his top five. That would be shockingly irresponsible of a trained operative, a perfect cookie crumb trail of his and Steve’s Demolish the Last Vestiges of Hydra: The Domestic Run tour of the fifty states, should his phone ever be captured or hacked.

His stomach had sunk as Steve swung the car into the empty dirt lot behind the low ranch-style building. It has a total of ten units and a front office with bulletproof glass separating the night manager from the rat-cage-sized lobby. He hadn’t even looked at Bucky when he’d asked for floss and gotten a single ply wrapped around a battered piece of cardboard. Two weeks ago in Phoenix the desk clerk at their four-star hotel had complimented Bucky’s eyes and given him a shortlist of nightlife accommodations. The thought of going anywhere loud and dark and crowded when he really just wanted to lie down somewhere he could stretch his legs and flick through Pay-Per-View and have Steve fuck him had made Bucky want to break out in hives. But it was worth it for the way Steve had puffed up next to him and placed a proprietary hand on the small of Bucky’s back. It had made Bucky’s heart pound double time, and the desk clerk back off with a delighted smile, and five minutes later Bucky had dropped to his knees in front of Steve as soon as their suite door shut.

Bucky hears the sound of the television switching on, soundproofing so terrible it sounds like it might be in the bathroom with him. He hangs his bag on the back of the door and switches the fan on, loud enough it sounds like it might lift the bathroom and take off. He looks a damn mess in the mirror, skin greasy as hell and dust in his hair, grit beneath his fingernails where he’d huddled beneath a bluff overlooking the weapons cache and traced equations into the earth. He could do it all in his head, and it wasn’t like he was planning on sniping anything from any damn where these days, but there was comfort in the ritual. Just knowing where the best trajectories were, invisible curved bands in the air like his personal ley lines.

He peels all three shirt layers off first—the two Henleys and the A-shirt underneath, its underarm area and the entire back dark with patches of sweat. If Steve was here with him he’d probably do something gross, like ball the shirt up in his fist and stuff his nose in it or kiss down Bucky’s chest and lick the line of his sweat. Bucky doesn’t know how he feels about that. He hates his own stink, he knows that, but the way Steve loves him all desperate and nasty makes his gut draw up tight.

Bucky pushes the thought stubbornly aside. Steve was so gross about him sometimes. He imagines himself saying it out loud, the way a suburban housewife would over country club brunch and a Bloody Mary, painted fingernails tapping on ice-cold glass. He can’t keep his hands off me. Airy, light, a smug little smile to show he doesn’t actually hate it all and don’t you all wish you had the same thing. It’s awful.

He pushes that thought away too and keeps his eyes down as he folds each item so he won’t accidentally catch his reflection in the mirror. His mood is like a sour storm cloud in his chest, and he knows when he got this way sometimes it was like looking through a layer of blown glass and all he could see was the scar tissue mangling his shoulder and that his eyes looked dead and his shoulders too broad, distorted, the rough scratch of stubble on his chin and hair down his chest. He looked like the kind of guy who deserved run-down motels, or squatting in a foreclosed condo without running water or an apartment building waiting out its days before demolition.

He maybe slams the toilet lid down a little too hard. There’s a blip of silence from the TV beyond the fan’s racket—Steve muting, then unmuting. He feels the ghost of Steve’s voice in the air as if Steve had actually spoken: Bucky?

I’m fine, it’s fine, Bucky thinks. It gives him a perverse sense of calm anyways, just knowing Steve well enough to know he’s probably itching to be in here with Bucky. He’d probably bathe him if Bucky gave him half a chance. Bucky smirks to himself as he indulges the thought and shimmies out of his cargoes, stiff with grit and several days’ wear. Even suggesting it to Steve: watching him try not to pop a boner at the chance to know the whole of Bucky, not just the way he looked in Steve’s arms or the way his body turned to cover Steve’s six in the field or the fall of his lashes as he slept curled up in the passenger seat beside him, jacket bundled between the crook of his arm and the window, the road sweeping away outside to the hum of the highway.

His socks and briefs are last, folded up like the rest and stacked on the closed toilet lid. He turns back to his bag and reaches inside for the Ziploc he keeps to the side of his Camelbak, his battered notebook, and the slim case that holds his pencils and any number of needed artillery. He uses the wet wipes he finds there to clean the entirety of the tub and adjacent tiled wall, the sink, and the tiny formica counter space. Then he turns the water on nice and hot and steps into the shower.

*

The TV doesn’t completely mute as soon as Bucky steps out, steam billowing into the room behind him, but it does hush a few notches. He suppresses a smile as he walks the room stark naked, rubbing at his hair with a towel. It’s thin and scratchy as hell and probably giving him split ends by the nanosecond, but Bucky can’t find it in him to feel too caught up in that, buffeted to looseness by the surprisingly strong water pressure and exhausted from the day and enjoying the way Steve’s eyes flit down the length of his body, then back up, cataloguing and hungry.

Steve’s stretched out on the side of one of the double beds, remote forgotten in hand, one arm curled behind to pillow his head. Bucky reaches for the duffle unceremoniously dumped on the rickety side table by the TV and pulls on a clean pair of briefs. He feels the flutter of excitement in his chest that makes him want to put on a show for Steve, stretch and preen, flop himself down on the bed and show his belly.

Steve’s aired out the covers of the second bed for him already, untucked from the military precision all lodges, from five-star hotels to co-ed hostels, seemed to take as a cardinal rule. The inside corner where he usually likes to sleep is folded down for him, so all he does is slide in and pull it to his chest. Steve knows Bucky hates the way hospital corners make him feel: trapped. He knows Bucky’s absurd paranoia about secondhand sheets that makes him flap them around and air them out every time they stay somewhere new.

It didn’t make any logical sense when he turned it around in his head. He could look at each of his dumb issues like they were crystal balls in his hands, look right through them and roll them around in his palms and inspect every surface like it could tell him why or how or like he could throw them to the ground and shatter them. But knowing was one thing; getting rid of them was another. He just carried them around like a sad fucking modern-day Atlas, neurotic about bedsheets and bathroom counters.

Steve tosses the remote onto the empty side of his bed, nearest to Bucky, and gets up. He pulls his shirt off right there and discards it, then the rest of his clothes as Bucky watches and moves his aching feet about, the lumps they make under the sheets moving around like lost bunnies.

“Feeling better?” Steve asks. He approaches Bucky’s bed and leans over him, steadying one hand on the nightstand and the other on the bed to Bucky’s side.

“Yeah,” Bucky replies, huffing out a sigh. He tries to relax his grip on the sheets, feeling around the edges of an apology, swinging between lashing out again and the embarrassment of realizing how stupid his temper tantrums were, now in the aftermath of being clean and safe again, and with Steve.

“Good,” Steve says simply, after he’s done soul-searching through Bucky’s eyes, or whatever he did when he stared at him like that, memorizing him. He leans down and hovers for a kiss, Bucky’s feet moving around anxiously as their lips meet. Bucky feels like a layer of dust might detach from Steve and cling to him like a film, forcing him to get up and do the whole damn routine all over again. But it doesn’t make sense. He turns the crystal ball in hand and forces his chin up, tilts his mouth up for Steve. It’s a soft, undemanding kiss. Then another one. Steve nudges at him with his lips and doesn’t touch him anywhere else, aware and trying, meeting Bucky where he needs to be met.

“Just one more,” Steve says lowly, his breath a hot whisper against Bucky’s lips. Bucky opens up when Steve nuzzles at him, the bed dipping as Steve shifts, balancing his weight. Steve makes a low sound like he’s never felt anything better when Bucky’s mouth finally opens for him and their tongues meet. Steve controls the pace, determined and sure and inexorable until Bucky’s panting and his body’s tightening up, his hands grasping at the sheets and ready to pull Steve down.

Just as Bucky’s about to break, Steve pulls off with a satisfied smirk. He watches Bucky lick his lips. They feel wet and unwieldy, swollen with blood and use. Bucky’s face feels warm.

“Can you wait up for me?” Steve asks.

Bucky rolls his eyes.

“No, my bedtime’s at seven, what the fuck do you think?” He kicks up at the sheets sulkily, bunny-feet jumping in fitful hops, and Steve laughs. He pushes away and rounds the end of the bed. Bucky tracks him with his eyes and scowls at the ridiculous toss of Steve’s head.

What the fuck was so funny. Goddamn idiot. The door shuts and the shower sounds out in no time, Steve obviously not bothering with a wipe-down or even the fan. He’d probably leave the damn door open too if he could get away with it.

Bucky thinks about it for all of a second, casting a baleful glance to the mirror bed. Fuck no. Steve’s not getting in there tonight. He casts about for a way to ask for it without asking for it. Get in bed, he could say, with his voice rough and a scowl on his face. Except Steve would probably see right through it and laugh and rub his face all over Bucky’s back as he took him in his arms, dopey on Bucky wanting him so openly.

He could just pull the sheet in invitation when Steve emerges. Also no. Just as bad as saying it out loud. He grunts in annoyance and turns to his side. He wants it to look careless, so he has to make it look that way without making it look like he’s trying to make it look that way. Fuck. Fuck Steve. Bucky’s mad all over again. At himself, because why can’t he just ask. At Steve, for the way Bucky wants him, for the way he feels stupid with it and the way he wants to make himself for Steve: soft and inviting, something Steve will want to tug into his arms so he can bury his nose in Bucky’s hair.

You’re disgusting, Bucky thinks as he launches out of bed. He grabs the duffle from the table and dumps it on Steve’s abandoned bed. Then he pulls the top flap open and peers inside. He takes a single t-shirt, rolled up to save space, and picks it apart until it unfolds, pinched between thumb and forefinger. There. He’d obviously wanted a change of clothes, changed his mind, and then been thoughtless about clearing Steve’s bed.

Bucky slides carefully back into bed and scoots towards the middle. He reaches out and gently tugs down the corner of the sheets near the other end, the way Steve had done for him—but not too far, not blatantly so. Then he turns away and lies down, curling his knees to his chest. He’s drifting when Steve emerges a few minutes later. He feels stupid with anxiety as Steve walks around the room, keeps his eyes shut like he’s sleeping or like he doesn’t give a single shit.

There’s a silence as Steve gets dressed for bed and Bucky strains his ears to follow Steve’s faint steps around the room. Then the bed is dipping behind him and Steve is slipping under the sheets, gathering Bucky in his arms, and Bucky’s chest expands something stupid and full. He tenses up when Steve sighs, like he might say something to make Bucky bolt out of bed and demand his space, but Steve just fits them together and presses his lips softly to the back of Bucky’s neck.

Steve sighs again, a happy little sound. Bucky fits his hands over Steve’s at his chest. There’s a prickle in his throat and his eyes feel hot like he might cry all of a sudden, so Bucky blinks and blinks. Then he pushes back against the steady line of Steve behind him and matches his breath to the fall and rise of Steve’s chest, luxuriating in the shared heat of their bodies.

He falls into the dark deep of sleep, a pebble dropped into a pond.

*

The next morning they’re on the move again, and not a moment too soon for Bucky.

“You look great, Buck,” Steve says, on the third pass Bucky makes in front of the cheap, narrow mirror nailed to the motel wall. They’ve packed the scant items they pulled from the car the night before and Steve’s been standing with the duffle waiting for Bucky to follow behind.

“Yeah. I’m the goddamn Coco Chanel of cyborg assassins,” Bucky grumps. Something in his getup feels ill-fitted and he hates it. He tugs at his jacket again, the one item he doesn’t get to easily launder.

“I tell all my assassin buddies, every time you put your gear on, look at yourself in the mirror and take one piece off.” Bucky mimes plucking off the Glock that he usually keeps strapped between his shoulder blades and dropping it to the ground. He finally turns away and strides towards the door.

“What other assassin buddies are you hanging out with?” Steve asks. He makes his voice all low and growly, a parody of jealousy. It’s corny as hell but still manages to make Bucky’s heart do a little tap dance of pleasant surprise, which he shows nothing of, even though his face splits wide in a smile of its own mind. The betrayal.

He’s saved by the fact Steve’s back is already turned, his arm holding the door open for Bucky. Bucky takes the weight of the door off Steve and kicks at the back of Steve’s heel, like they used to do when they were kids, just to watch the other have to stuff their foot back into their shoe.

“Hey,” Steve says, turning around with a little frown.

“You’d make a terrible assassin,” Bucky says, turning his dumb smile into a jab, laughing at Steve.

“Double hey,” Steve says petulantly. They start down the path to the car, dust kicking up under their heels. Bucky watches the way Steve moves. He’d know him anywhere, with the straight line of his back and the way his hips twist and the power in his stride. Bucky’s light on his feet but it’s from practice, from calculation and forethought. Steve walks with the natural elegance of a predator, and the dumb lug doesn’t even know it, isn’t even aware. Bucky imagines him as a lion, jaw dripping red as he drags a meal home for Bucky.

Now his heart’s doing the goddamn Charleston in his ribcage. Calm the fuck down.

Then lion-Steve is running to the edge of some kind of precipice. No, he’s running towards Bucky and Bucky’s on the ground. Bucky’s been fighting something feral and dangerous, he’s injured, a raw gape in his hind leg of blood and muscle and sinew, and lion-Steve is approaching with claws and teeth and an earth-rattling roar, standing over Bucky’s limp form so all Bucky sees is the downy fur of his underside and the powerful yawn of his jaw, protecting him, Bucky’s attackers scattering with a whimper. He’s nuzzling at Bucky’s lion-neck and licking at his wounds, helping him back to where it’s dark and safe and Steve can hide him away until he’s rested.

“—that Amish fudge place you liked near Tulsa,” Steve’s saying. He’s got the trunk of their car gaping open, stuffing the duffle inside. The back lot is completely empty at this hour, the nearby forest line their only witness.

Bucky blinks.

“What? Yeah,” Then, “what?”

Steve snorts.

“Alright, where did you leave me?”

Bucky doesn’t want to say the part with you being a terrible assassin. So he grunts instead and shrugs a belligerent shoulder. He didn’t leave Steve anywhere. Steve came to him to protect him while his lion-leg healed. He folds his arms at his chest and frowns at Steve; the best defense is a good offense.

Steve shuts the trunk and rounds the side of the car, pauses in front of Bucky.

“Where’d you go?” Steve asks, tilting his head to the side as he surveys Bucky’s face.

Bucky clears his throat. He keeps his squinty-frown on so Steve doesn’t think he’s saying anything in earnest. He’s just as besieged by the situation as Steve.

“I was thinking of you as a lion,” Bucky says. And Steve does the Steve-est thing whenever Bucky tells him any of his weird fantasy shit. He grins in delight.

“Yeah?”

Steve takes a step closer, and Bucky steps back. His ass hits the car and then he can’t go anywhere.

“And what were you?”

“I was a lion too,” Bucky says. He hugs his arms tighter in front of him, shoulders curving down. He thinks about lion-Steve’s roar, shaking the ground beneath Bucky and clattering around in his ribcage. His cheeks flush with heat.

“That’s cute,” Steve says lowly. He takes another step so he’s right up on Bucky, legs wide around him, arms settling on either side to hem him in.

“What was I doing?” Steve murmurs. He keeps trying to make eye contact, which only flusters Bucky further. “Taking down a wildebeest?”

Bucky makes a tiny shrug. Steve steps close enough to press their hips together, leaning his chest against Bucky.

“Steve,” Bucky hisses.

“Tell me what I was doing,” Steve insists.

He likes hearing Bucky’s stories, for some unfathomable reason—and god help them both, they’d play them out together sometimes, like when Bucky told him about the time they were Arctic wolves, and the next night in bed Steve had growled and mounted Bucky from behind and bit down on his neck and Bucky had come so hard he’d seen stars. Then Steve had pulled the covers overhead and kept them both like that because they were safe and warm in their den, Steve had said, and it was so bitter cold outside.

Any sane person would have seen Bucky for the freak that he is, but Steve just matched him step for step, took them both further, indulged Bucky’s every whim like it was his own.

Bucky swallows around his dry throat. He hunches down further and wishes he could come up with anything in the moment other than the truth, but his imagination only seems to be handy at inconvenient times.

“Fighting something off.”

“Something?”

“I don’t know what it was—I didn’t decide. A hyena.”

“Where were you?”

“Um. Injured,” Bucky mutters. He shoves with his torso against Steve as he admits it, but Steve is like a fucking brick wall. A stubborn brick wall with an annoying, self-satisfied grin and strong arms hemming Bucky in. It’s almost like lion-Steve, standing over lion-Bucky.

“Hmm. Sounds like something I’d do,” Steve says simply, like it’s the most rational thing. Bucky’s head jerks up. Steve’s looking somewhere in the middle distance, then back down at Bucky, who just keeps staring at him.

“I’d fight something off here too. All the somethings. Even if you weren’t injured.” And oh, oh, Bucky’s glad Steve’s there pressing up on him because his knees are malfunctioning and his body feels like it might lift and float away if Steve lets go.

“I’ve gotta get my knees checked,” he says to Steve, desperate and quick.

“Okay,” Steve says. Then his mouth twitches in a smile and he leans in to lick a line up the side of Bucky’s face.

Ugh,” Bucky says, shaking his head, while every molecule of his being hums in delight. Steve’s got Bucky’s arms trapped, so he wipes his cheek off on the front of Steve’s jacket while Steve laughs and tries to lick at him again.  

*

Their next hotel more than makes up for the preceding eight-hour road trip. Bucky’s in a relaxed mood once Steve’s unpacking (in their suite, with a living room and a kitchenette and a king-sized bed), wandering around and inspecting their accommodations. He unwraps the mint on his pillow and pops it in his mouth. He hears Steve turn the flatscreen on in the living room while Bucky opens and closes drawers. Empty, empty, empty, King James Bible ugh, empty, em—

Bucky blinks down at the top drawer of the nearly room-length TV stand. There’s a folded pile of clothes tucked in the right-hand corner. Black lace and something cream colored underneath: lady things. His mind draws a big blank for a long moment, then—a tug in his chest like someone’s hooked a lure in him and is winding the line, pulling him in, in, in. He would shut the door but his hand won't move.

She must have left in a hurry, Bucky tries to rationalize, feeling his pulse jump in his throat. And there were a lot of drawers in this room alone: under the TV and on each side of the giant bed and built into a nook between the bathroom and closet. Fancy people had a lot of places to hide all their shit, and it was kind of strange because Bucky had been poor and very un-fancy and didn’t need any drawers to hide all his shit. He could hide an impressive amount of knives just on his body alone, that’s the word Steve had used when Bucky first showed him, after a considerable silence in which he just stared at Bucky in what Bucky could only surmise had been a mixture of admiration and envy: impressive . He’d tried to show Steve how he could do it too, but Steve never quite picked up the habit, which had blown Bucky’s mind at the time because who didn’t carry knives?

It must have been a simple thing to overlook for whoever had to clean the rooms between the last people leaving and Bucky and Steve arriving. Bucky determinedly smothers the urge to check the bathroom and the bed and the little kitchenette, the what if they didn’t clean everything else the way they’d obviously forgotten this drawer.

He reaches inside and trails a hesitant finger down the first bundled layer. It’s some sort of floral lace pattern. He pokes at it like it might bite back. Looks up to check the vacant doorway. Steve’s watching what sounds like a reality TV show reunion. A cheery host poses an inflammatory question, then just as cheerily attempts to control the ensuing ruckus of voices. He can hear Steve humming as he does something with his hands. Bucky frowns and cocks his head; if Steve’s cleaning one of Bucky’s guns again he might shoot him with it.

The thought dissipates in a jangle of nerves as he’s pulled back to himself. His finger’s been running up and down the lace in absentminded strokes. He snatches his hand back, then grits his teeth and picks it up and shakes it out. He frowns at it viciously, so that there can be no question of his enjoyment here. It’s a short black skirt, dips and valleys in the fabric where it pleats out and in, with a fine lace overlay.

Bucky picks at the delicate fabric to reveal a silken black lining underneath. He holds it up in front of him and suddenly it’s like he can see himself looking at it, like he’s in a department store picking out his size, wondering if he should take it to a fitting room. He wants to hold it against his body, low on his hips.

Bucky drops the skirt like it's caught on fire.

“Uh,” he calls out, panicked and wavery.

Then he stops because he doesn’t know what to say now, or even whether he wants to say it.

“What?” Steve calls out. He sounds distracted. I said what I said! someone’s screeching on TV.

Bucky stares down at his find in silence. The audio mutes.

“Bucky?”

“Someone didn’t—” Bucky starts. It feels like his throat and his voice are fighting each other, his skirt-loving throat and his neurotic voice, tussling around near his tonsils. Tell him, his voice is screeching while his throat is grappling it from behind, covering its mouth with both hands. Bucky shoves the drawer shut.

“Nothing,” he says. It comes out softer than he intended. He needs a drink of water.

“Buck?” Steve says from the doorway.

“Nope,” Bucky says, and shoots past him to the bathroom. Then he takes a deep breath. There’s another mirror here. With a single marble countertop right outside of the bathroom door. How many times does a single person need to see themselves in this much square footage?

He clears his throat and steadies himself, rucks a hasty hand through his hair.

“Nothing,” he shouts back. “Forgot what I was gonna say, okay?”

“Alright,” Steve says easily, and Bucky catches him walking back slowly with a shrug of his shoulder.

Once Steve has cleared the threshold Bucky strides after him and shuts the bedroom door, soft as he can. If Steve notices he’ll think Bucky’s showering or taking a nap and not—investigating. Taking inventory. Taking inventory so he can go downstairs with his find neatly folded into a shopping bag and excuse me but I found this in a drawer in our suite. No it’s totally fine, no problem, everyone makes mistakes.

Bucky yanks open the closet door near him and breathes out in relief. There’s nothing inside. If there had really been some major negligence in cleaning, there might be something here too, to complete the outfit; a cardigan on a hook or a pair of shoes on the closet floor.

Bucky doesn’t hold the skirt up this time, just folds it to the side and pulls up the next bundle. It’s a knit crop top, the neck scooped low, with lace-up sides. He holds it up in front of him and squints at the run of thread on each side, tied into two matching bows. It doesn’t serve any practical purpose he can discern, other than to look nice, he guesses. Pretty.

A surge of need flares up inside him like an electric jolt. He drops the crop top too and strides back to the other side of the room. His eyes feel like skating right past his reflection, but he grits his teeth and forces himself to look. This is who he is, the broad face and the strong jaw and layers of Henleys that gather sweat and dirt with every base they hit and every long drive and the jeans that get frayed on the bottoms and holes at the knees from hours spent doing recon in every imaginable place.

Bucky’s going to a take a shower. Then he’s gonna bundle his find up and march it downstairs like an unruly child, pinching its ear the whole way.

When he emerges a half hour later, scrubbed pink and hair wet, wrapped in a fresh bathrobe, he takes the top and skirt with careful fingers and folds them up neat. He pauses for a long moment, then holds his breath like he’s defusing a bomb, carefully rolls them both into a clean spare shirt, and stashes them at the bottom of his bag.

Bucky strides around the room, flushing hot and cold. Then he breathes until he’s under control again, takes his tablet out, and plugs it into the outlet at the base of the bedside lamp.

He settles against the pile of pillows at the headboard and tilts the screen up in his lap. His fingers pause over the keypad once he’s pulled up a new browser tab. SHORT BLACK SKIRT LACE, he taps out with his index finger. His cheeks feel hot. He shoves down on the bed and brings his knees up closer, blocking his view of the room, like he can shield the tablet from suddenly coming to life and reading out his search history in a howling voice. STEVE, BUCKY’S IN HERE LOOKING UP SKIR —it would try to scream, before Bucky would have to do something drastic like throw it against the nearest wall or crumble it into pieces in his metal hand.

It wasn’t entirely a ridiculous thought, because technology could do that to you, it had no sense of loyalty. Like, hypothetically, someone could be looking up pad thai recipes on YouTube on Steve’s laptop, only to find themselves clicking through a video to a video to a video and suddenly they’re watching a petite, dark-haired woman dump noodles into a gigantic wok on a hotplate and whisper into a microphone as she eats. And then that same someone would fall into a black hole of all sorts of soft-whispering-weird-sounds videos that would make someone feel like an egg had been dropped over their head and dripped down their body and like ghost fingers were walking up their spine. And Steve would walk in while someone was falling asleep to a woman with a light South African accent running her long acrylic nails against textured glass and rubbing a wooden table with a Kleenex, and someone would have to slap the laptop shut only to have it keep playing for a good mortifying 10 seconds before it finally hibernated.

As it turns out, there are only nearly three million results, so Bucky spends another few minutes trying to narrow down his options from SHORT BLACK SKIRT LACE SYMMETRICAL FASHION to finally SKIRTS. He pauses with his finger hovering over the tablet before tapping out W-O-M-E-N one letter at a time, wiggling further down in the bed, a strange flush crawling up his throat.

He finds it after a bit of browsing, or as close to it as he can find. Floral Lace Pleated Skirt. Bucky stares at the sanguine model, bag thrown over her shoulder, five other panels to the side modeling the skirt in every possible direction. She doesn’t look like someone who thought very hard about what she was wearing that day. She’d just slipped it on and grabbed her bag and left.

But now Bucky knows what he has. A Floral Lace Pleated Skirt.

*

The next cell they bust is a veritable hive of activity. It’s sprawled over a couple of behemoth warehouses covering two blocks, but the total number of service vehicles Steve and Bucky count both on the import and export ends amounts to a measly six: one heavy duty sleeper and five box trucks. There’s no way they can handle this one on their own, Bucky knows immediately, and his stomach sinks.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Scoob,” he whispers. They’re settled on their stomachs a ways off, surveying the area. Bucky jams the binoculars in Steve’s direction. Steve takes them eagerly, mouth parting as he surveys the scene before him. Bucky can nearly hear his brain going into overdrive, can map out any conversation with Steve ten steps ahead. There’s no way Steve’s leaving. And there’s no way Bucky’s fighting again. He scrunches his eyes shut and violently wishes for the scene to transform into an abandoned storage unit. He opens them again and it's still there, Steve’s binocu-eyes sweeping the area.

“They’re not even trying to fake the amount of output a place like this should be pumping out,” Steve says, like he’s excited, the top half of his face masked so that all Bucky sees is the determined set of his jaw. The jaw that says, we’re going to bust down every door here and sweep this place off the map. Bucky sees agents falling like bowling pins, sees the red spray of blood behind them as he shoots and shoots. No. No, no, no. He imagines saying it to Steve the way he might say it to a bullheaded dog, finger wagging. I said no.

He sets his hands before him, palms down in the dirt, and settles his chin on top. He blows at the carcass of a crunchy dead leaf an inch away and watches it flip over in the dirt. Steve is silent next to him.

He hums tunelessly, taps his heel against Steve’s where their boots meet.

Bucky lifts one eyebrow so he can look at Steve sideways without having to turn his head. “You’d be a Jack Russell, if you were a dog,” he pipes up.

Steve moves the binoculars incrementally downwards.

“Hmm?”

“You’d be a Dachshund,” Bucky says. Steve doesn’t indicate that he’s heard. The binoculars move a tick more to the left. “Steve. Did you hear what I said?

“Hm.”

“If you were a dog you’d be a Dachshund.”

Steve pulls the binoculars away from his face and squints down at Bucky.

“What are you talking about?”

Bucky shoots Steve a wide grin.

“Tiny. Stubborn. Cute.”

He tamps down on the urge to correct himself because Steve isn’t tiny and he isn’t cute and Bucky doesn’t want him to be either of those things. He wants him to be gigantic and scary and towering over Bucky, and dangerous except he doesn’t use any of it against Bucky, he uses it against the things that hurt Bucky.

When he thinks about it sometimes it’s like—he’s a little field mouse and maybe he’s wandered too far from home, out in a valley where there’s no protection from trees and shrubs and Steve’s like this—hawk who spots him and wants and comes gliding down with his claws drawn and Bucky’s scampering back to the forest line with his little mouse-heart fit to burst and then—

He doesn’t know where it goes from there except somehow Steve doesn’t eat him, doesn’t swallow him whole like an owl would maybe. Glug, glug, its throat contracting and squeezing Bucky tight and passing him down to somewhere dark and hidden. No, because then he would die and Bucky doesn’t like that ending, he likes the part right before, being squeezed tight. Consumed. He just wishes it didn’t lead to its logical conclusion.

Anyways, when he thinks about it there’s a big gap in the timeline where he’s drawn a huge red question mark and then it’s just mouse-him and hawk-Steve cuddled up together in the hollow of a great oak, or whatever kind of tree hawks live in. Owls? Cuddled up on the top branches of a tree where Steve’s built a nest for them.

He knows interspecies friendships are a thing, so it isn’t completely ridiculous. He’s been on YouTube.

“A Dachshund,” Steve says, drawing Bucky back from his reverie. “A wiener dog, huh? That’s what I remind you of?”

“Yup,” Bucky replies cheerily. He wiggles backwards in the undergrowth, hoping maybe he can lure Steve away and they can forget they’d ever found this place.

He knows it’s true because he looked it up on the internet once, when he wanted to figure out his and Steve’s Patronuses. Well, it’s at least 80% true. He’d started out with DUMB BLONDE DOGS and cackled to himself until he figured that wasn’t getting him where he wanted, so he’d settled for WORLD’S MOST STUBBORN DOG BREEDS. Then, because he’d started to feel a little guilty, and he didn’t know whether the computer would tell Steve later, WORLD’S MOST STUBBORN DOG BREEDS YOU LOVE ANYWAYS.

And he wasn’t lying; a lot of the dogs on the list were tiny, rat-looking things.

Steve’s nostrils flare. Bucky laughs.

“I’m not cute.”

“Cute. Cutie pie,” Bucky says, still wiggling. Steve grunts in annoyance, turning back to survey the scene. When he’s far enough Bucky hops to his feet, dusting the dirt and leaves and sticks from his front. He sighs.

Steve turns back at him.

“Done for the day?” Steve asks.

“Yeah,” Bucky says, mentally crossing out the for the day part. He rifles through his bag for his Camelbak and takes a sip, watching Steve give it up as well and follow, acquiescing because even Steve knows there’s not much they can do at this time of day and without proper backup.

*

They have a new set of coordinates within the hour. They’re both silent with exhaustion by the time they arrive, but Bucky insists, so they scope the surrounding woods out as thoroughly as they can, moving away from each other in an approximate circle around the safehouse.

It doesn’t look like much, but it has a generous living space on the inside, a fully functional kitchen, three smaller bedrooms obviously meant for housing convenience, and a bigger master with an en-suite bath.

They clear the interior together, quick and efficient, then Bucky dumps most of his gear in the living room and wanders into the kitchen. He surveys the dusty countertops, then peers inside the empty fridge.

“We need food,” Bucky says. There’s a fully stocked walk-in pantry, shelves stacked high with non-perishable items. He mentally calculates how long they could both live on just the items he finds and stops about midway through with the conclusion: a long-ass time. He’s turning to close the pantry door when he spots an apron hooked on the back. He stares at it for a moment before shutting the door and turning away.

He’s starting to feel itchier by the second, and he doesn’t want Steve watching the considerable scrub-down he plans on implementing ASAP.

“Alright,” Steve says, wandering in from the living room, where he’s already marking up a set of maps. Maybe Bucky can burn them when Steve leaves.

Steve scrubs at the back of his head lazily and yawns. “What do we need?”

And just like that, Bucky feels like he’s been plucked from the air by a phantom hand and dropped into a vat of honey. He feels like he’s been writing and editing and preparing for this moment, a variation on the myriad scenes he has filed away carefully, that he takes out and plays out in his mind from time to time.

So they’re settled down months and years from now, and it doesn’t matter that they’ll never be safe and settled, but they are—it’s Bucky’s mind, he can do this—and Steve works somewhere or does something, the point is he isn’t home, their home where Bucky is because he doesn’t have to step outside or scrounge for food or work for anyone ever again. Anyway, there’s one of those stupid domestic scenes he’s seen a million times on TV and never done himself so it’s important, where he keeps a magnetic notepad on the fridge and adds onto it every day and tears off the top layer once it’s completed and kisses Steve on the cheek and watches him go off to do the shopping. Then he’d call up—someone—because Steve brought back diced tomatoes instead of tomato paste and laugh because oh what would they do without us, men are hopeless.

“Text me a list?” Steve asks. Bucky blinks at him.

“No, just, I’ll be a second,” Bucky says. He feels every part of his body as he walks away to the bedroom, like a film crew on a dolly is gliding along besides him.

He finds a sheaf of paper in a desk drawer and writes out a list, careful and precise. He feels like he’s seeing his own handwriting for the first time.

“’Kay,” Steve says, taking the list from Bucky and folding it into a rectangle, tucking it into his back pocket. “I won’t be long.”

Bucky’s hand shoots out and grabs at the side of Steve’s jacket, pinches it between two fingers and gives it a little tug, wanting and too desperate to let it slide.

Steve turns back, a question in his expression.

“Kiss me?” Bucky says. He flushes hot at the sound of his own voice.

“I thought you wouldn’t—of course,” Steve says, his face a question, and Bucky can see him figuring it out like all the numbers and equations are falling in the air before him, coalescing into a Bucky-shaped solution. His throat feels tight, his skin flushed. He wants and he doesn’t want. He wants, and he doesn’t want to say it.

Steve reads Bucky just like that, in a second, with a tiny flit of his eyes up and down, scanning him like a barcode. He tucks a hand under Bucky’s chin to tilt his face up, kisses his lips nice and soft, chaste. Bucky nearly loses it, and only by the grace of his hand desperately clutching the countertop maintains a semblance of control. He makes a soft, desperate sound when Steve pulls away. Steve smiles, eyes dark.

“Be good,” he says quietly, a toe dipped into the water, and Bucky melts against him.

When he hears the front door shut Bucky sinks down on weak knees, right there on the kitchen floor, and hides his flushed face in his hands, heart doing a conga line in his chest.

*

Bucky tackles the master bathroom first. He finds a bucket of cleaning supplies under the kitchen sink and a box of nitrile gloves in the pantry. He sprays and scrubs and wipes down counters and uses the handiest invention of the twenty-first century—Clorox wet wipes—to wipe down the toilet, and even more wipes to clean the tile floor in lieu of a broom and mop. He has to get on his hands and knees to do so, the motion of his hand making his whole body rock back and forth, and for a second he imagines himself the way Steve might see him, busy at work and intent about it, dutiful, so focused he doesn’t even know the picture he makes for Steve, ass tilted up in presentation. His whole body feels primed for the thought. His gut draws hot and heavy. But he’s good, and he has chores to finish, has the house to get ready for when Steve comes back because they can’t store food in a dirty fridge, Bucky can’t make them dinner in a dusty kitchen.

The entire house is at most only slightly dusty from disuse, secured and insulated as it is from the outside world, but it’s still the greatest feeling in the world to stand at the doorway afterwards and observe his handiwork.

He does the same thing in the kitchen, pants rolled up to his knees and shirt discarded, and when he’s done he yanks off all his clothing and shuts himself in the bathroom.

*

Bucky showers. He uses a travel size soap and shampoo from the hotel stash in his duffle. While his hair is conditioning he hops out, tracking water to the hamper in the hallway stacked with everything from duvets to hand towels.

He’d been using a special sulfate-free shampoo for a while, even though it was a pain and a half to tape up and bag and pack every time, but they’re here now, Bucky thinks, and he decides they’re gonna stay here for a little while more.

He dries his hands and grabs his phone from the bedroom.

my special shampoo, he texts Steve.

Steve sends a thumbs up emoji back.

Then a string of multicolored hearts.

Bucky’s chest glows. He smiles down at his phone clutched between his hands for a second more before tossing it to the bed and hopping back into the shower. He lays a towel down on the bathroom floor beforehand, wiping up the trail of water he’d left and hops back in to rinse everything off. He wraps his hair up in a towel and another one around his torso, and when he gets back to the bedroom Steve’s texted him 30 min, five minutes before. Bucky’s eyes go instantly to his bag.

*

He throws both towels on the back of a nearby desk chair and surveys himself solemnly in the mirror. It’s a good mirror day today. Maybe it’s the soft afternoon light filtering in from the high windows. Or the fact that he conditioned his hair. Or the way Steve had left, the way he’d kissed Bucky and told him to draw out a grocery list and left him here like a good—left him here to be good, to do things for them while he was gone.

He locks the door as if he wouldn’t hear Steve approaching as soon as he’d bypassed the front keypad and takes the bundle of fabric from the bottom of his bag, unrolling it carefully onto the mattress.

The skirt’s just as he remembered it. It’s supposed to be high-waisted, that’s how he’d seen it on the models he’d found on the Internet, but it’s just a size too small to fit where it’s supposed to go, so the waistline is a good two inches above his belly button, making the hem barely cover his ass. He smoothes the fabric down with both hands, flushing hot at the texture under his palms, the way it barely covers his bottom.

He pulls the crop top on before he loses courage. It’s on the tight end but fits differently than the skirt, the area in the front giving way to stretch across his chest and fit his wide shoulders. Somehow, with it on the completed outfit looks even more—he looks even more provocative, with the stretch of bare skin at his midriff and the plunge at the neckline, the tight stretch of fabric and the way it hugs across his chest and around his arms.

Bucky examines his body in the mirror. It feels good in a weird way, the clinging fabric, the feeling of confinement, the way it highlights parts of his body, look at this , like he’s been placed in a window display. He rolls his shoulders and feels the fabric of the top stretch and rub at his chest. It sets his dick stirring, his nipples going tight.

He sits down on the bed, watching the way his tummy bunches up a little. His bare ass hits the mattress because the skirt’s too short to cover him and fuck—he could just—

He could sit on Steve, sink down on Steve’s dick dressed like this, ready and easy to use. He has to squeeze his thighs tight at the thought, cup a hand over his crotch where his dick is thickening, tenting the delicate fabric. He gives in with a groan and gives himself a steady, slow squeeze, shutting his eyes tight and whining at the pressure. The contrast of the rough texture of lace against his palm and the silken interior only makes him harder, nipples peaked and sensitive under the fabric molded to his chest.

Bucky yanks his hand up, fingers stretched wide in the air and forces both hands back, steadying himself on the mattress behind him. He watches his chest heave as he breathes, the bulge in the front of the skirt where his dick is lifting the fabric, and moving with every breath, desperate little twitches with every pump of blood.

He lets his whole body fall back and lifts his knees so his feet are flat on the bed. He stares at the ceiling, takes his hands and slides them down his chest. Then he wriggles in place so his torso’s twisted a bit to the side, and he can see himself in the mirror, his parted legs, the black stretch of fabric around them. An upskirt shot, he thinks, and his stomach jumps and trembles.

He pushes down with his feet so he can pump his hips up lazily, watching his hardening cock move under the fabric. It feels so good he wants to roll around in it, wants to feel the skirt rubbing all over him and - if Steve were here he’d maybe ruck it up, Bucky thinks. His face is so hot he thinks he might burst into flames but he makes himself do it, watches his hands slide down and push the skirt up, shimmies a little so now he’s bare against the sheets and his skirt is rucked up over his midriff and chest. He pulls his knees up in the air, cups his heavy dick with one hand so it lies back on his stomach. Then he reaches down with both hands and parts his cheeks crudely, watching in the mirror as his hole is exposed.

His top stretches even more as he curls up so he can reach, breathing in little grunts as he reaches between his legs and rubs two fingers lightly at his hole. He presses down harder and feels himself clench and loosen against the pressure, not wet enough to do anything but tap his fingers there and groan, to feel the sure little ache start up inside him. His cock gives a desperate jerk where it’s trapped. Bucky lets out a frustrated groan, lets his head fall back. He cups his heavy balls in one hand and jerks his dick with the other, squeezing tight in long pulls from root to tip. His mouth parts as he strokes himself and soon he feels it coming like it’s a mile off, his groin gone hot and heavy and tight, tight, tight.

His dick drools so the sound of his hand goes wet and filthy and he keeps tugging, rubbing his ass against the fabric of his skirt and it’s so dirty. Steve told him to be good and he’s doing filthy things, in his tight shirt and tiny skirt looking like—oh, oh.

Bucky gasps out loud as he comes, balls drawing up tight, still trying to pull at his dick as it shoots. He cups his free hand over it so he manages to catch most of the mess. Then he lies panting and shaking in the empty room until he trusts his legs enough to get up and clean himself up.

*

When Steve gets home Bucky helps him haul groceries out of the trunk of their car and they both set about fixing dinner. Steve grills tilapia with sliced lemon while Bucky dumps a bag of frozen okra in a pot, adds a couple of diced tomatoes and sliced onions and a tablespoon of olive oil, and loads the whole thing with spices. While it’s simmering he hunts for plates, washes a couple in the sink with a set of utensils for each of them, and sets the counter running the length of where the kitchen meets the living space.

There’s a coffee table in the living room, but he hadn’t gotten the chance to wipe it down yet, so they sit on bar stools at the counter. Bucky plates the fish and stirs the pot of okra. When that’s ready he scoops generous portions for them both, evenly dividing it between them.

They eat in relative silence, Bucky summoning courage the whole way.

“I’m not taking down that cell,” he blurts out finally, as they’re taking their last bites. Steve blinks at him in surprise.

“Okay,” he says slowly. Then, “why?”

“I never said I’d take down active cells, only find them,” Bucky replies. He shoves a few okra seeds around his plate with his spoon, trying to keep the mulish tone out of his voice, like he’s just throwing a tantrum.

“Between Wakanda and the burner phone—”

“I don’t want you using the damn phone,” Bucky interrupts. He lets his spoon go with a clatter. Steadies it with his hand. Huffs out a tired sigh. When he speaks again his voice is softer. “I don’t wanna take anyone down, I don’t want to—kill anyone.”

“We won’t kill anyone,” Steve says, in that endlessly patient tone, “we’ll take them all in alive—”

“I want to be something else other than what they made me,” Bucky says, his voice loud then softer as Steve suddenly silences. He watches a muscle tick in Steve’s jaw, the quick way he blinks.

“Have you been—this whole time?”

“No. Jesus. I’m okay with the non-people shit. I just don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t want to fight them, just clean ‘em up off the map. And T’challa has resources. He can do it. He can pull those strings.”

“We can too,” Steve says. A frown mars his forehead, like he’s concerned Bucky thinks he’s incapable, like he wants to bolster Bucky’s self-esteem. Bucky snorts. He reaches out and takes Steve’s hand, pulls it up to his chest and tucks his chin down. He rubs his lips against Steve’s knuckles. If he could keep Steve here with him forever he’d try it but Steve has to make that decision for himself too.

“I know,” Bucky says softly. He lets Steve’s arm drop but doesn’t let go of his hand. “But I don’t want to. That’s what I get to do now, right? Make that choice.”

Steve stares at Bucky for a long moment.

“Okay,” he says, simply.

*

Steve makes a call in the kitchen. Bucky retreats to the bedroom, wanting to pretend he isn’t worrying in private.

When he gets back Steve has his phone in his hand.

“We’ve got the place to ourselves as long as we want,” he says. Bucky clutches at the tablet he’s been not-reading in bed for the past 20 minutes, staring firmly down at the screen as his ears strained to hear the soft murmur of Steve’s voice two rooms away. He’d stripped down to the nude like he usually sleeps and pulled the covers up to his chest. Now he has to bite down hard against the biggest grin his face has ever made, but Steve sees it anyway and snorts out a laugh.

He pecks Bucky on the lips and leaves for the bathroom. Bucky launches off the bed. He’s been pushing the thought away since Steve did his grocery run but now in his excitement it’s swelling up inside him like a balloon, like it might float out if he opens his mouth.

He can hear the water still running as Steve showers. He finds the skirt where he’d left it, in the chest of drawers near the window, covered by a pile of socks. He’d emptied out most of his duffle there, like he was making a statement, I live here now. This is a space where I can leave my things and not have to remove them for a very long time. Then, defiantly, maybe ever. He hadn’t bothered fully unpacking for six months now, because there’d never been a point when the most they stayed anywhere was more than a handful of days.

Bucky sits down on the edge of the bed to slip into the skirt, mindful of his big, dumb feet. He stands and surveys himself in the mirror like he did earlier, quickly, turning to check the back. Blushes at his own damn self, twisting in place, the fabric swishing slightly and moving against his bare ass and thighs. He makes fists at his sides as he tamps down the urge to do something stupid, like twirl in place and feel it move all around him, light and airy.

When the shower shuts off Bucky’s back in bed, sheet and duvet pulled back up. He has a few seconds to calm his breathing before Steve is walking into the room. He’s naked except for a towel draped around his neck, hair stuck up in places from the way he’d rubbed at it. Bucky watches the muscle of his body stretch and ripple as he strides lazily towards the end of the room, the muscle of his thighs and the sway of his thick cock. Bucky’s eyes get stuck there, and he swallows hard, fidgeting in place. He gets hard just sucking on it. He’s sure the other part is probably normal, just wanting it inside him, loving the way it fills him up, the slick plunge of it up in him. God or evolution or the flying spaghetti monster or whatever had made sure it would feel good to have something pressing up in there, but there was nothing like that down his throat. He just liked getting to put himself there, down in front of Steve, putting his mouth on it and worshipping it with his tongue. The whole of him dedicated to Steve’s cock.

He traces light fingers against the sides of his skirt, the line where the hem meets his naked thighs. If he gets any more worked up, Steve might hear the beat of his frantic heart from right across the room. He entertains the idea of getting up as Steve’s back is turned and slipping it off, calling the whole thing off. But if Steve—if Steve doesn’t want him this way he’s fine with it. If he laughs Bucky’s gonna laugh right with him. Just kidding!  

Steve slips on a pair of briefs and lets out a tired groan as he slides into bed. He’s careful not to disrupt the duvet, the way he knows Bucky’s warned him about, and Bucky feels his heart squeeze so tight he might cry.

He curls over Bucky and kisses him, reaches over to turn off the bedside lamp.

“Don’t,” Bucky says. He tries to put a hand to Steve’s chest but it’s trapped under the covers. He feels himself flush as Steve pauses.

“Want it on?”

“Yeah.”

Steve smiles and kisses at Bucky again, the side of his jaw, his lips.

“Want me to see you?” Steve asks, his voice low and teasing. His hand slides down to rub at Bucky’s chest, then lower. Bucky’s sure his heart is going to beat a mold against his ribs.

Steve’s hand slides lower still.

“Steve,” Bucky lets out, strangled and weak. He sees the moment Steve’s hand touches the fabric of the skirt reflected in his face, a strange blankness that suddenly flares to life, sparks heated and wildly intense. Bucky’s arms go stiff and his hands go into fists at his side. He screws his eyes shut as Steve moves away, as Steve pulls the covers off.

Bucky,” Steve says.

Bucky covers his face with both hands. His heart is racing and his body’s as stiff as a board, the cold air meeting his skin making him shiver. He opens his eyes to the dark of his cupped hands. They’re wet at the corners.

“Bucky,” Steve says again. His hand slides up Bucky’s thigh. There’s a light tug at the bottom of his skirt, then Steve’s fingers sliding underneath, pausing. “Jesus.”

Bucky’s stomach jumps at the sound. He blinks and blinks.

“It’s not mine I’m just wearing it for a friend,” he says quickly.

“Jesus,” Steve says, like he can’t believe what he’s seeing. “Bucky, show me your face.”

He doesn’t touch Bucky anywhere except for the single hand on Bucky’s thigh, under his skirt. He doesn’t tug Bucky’s arms down and he isn’t laughing and he isn’t telling him to take it off.

“Buck,” Steve says again, brooking no argument.

Bucky slowly lowers his arms.

“Baby,” Steve says gently, “You wanted to wear this for me?”

Bucky blinks hard at the ceiling. He gives a stiff nod.

“I’ve only got one problem,” Steve says. Bucky’s stomach squeezes up tight. “I can’t see it that well with you lying down, can I?”

Bucky looks down to meet Steve’s gaze. He’s staring right at Bucky, eyes dark, something sharp in his face like he might swallow Bucky whole. Bucky gives a tiny shake of his head.

“Get up,” Steve says, his voice like steel, making Bucky shiver all over. He doesn’t move an inch, so Bucky has to curl up and slide off right where he is, with no opportunity to keep Steve from seeing the way the skirt rides up, so he can pull it down in private.

He stands by the side of the bed and looks hesitantly back at Steve. He feels ready to bolt like a spooked horse and about just as nervous, smoothing the sides down, checking Steve’s expression for any sign of disgust, any sign this is just a big joke to him.

But he’s looking at Bucky with no indication of either, hungry and intent.

“Get over here,” Steve says, holding his hand out. Bucky takes a hesitant step closer, then another one, stepping into the open vee of Steve’s thighs. He fits his palm into Steve’s, and stares down at the open splay of Steve’s legs.

“This why you’ve been so good for me today?” Steve asks, a low murmur. He pulls Bucky closer, then curls both hands around Bucky’s waist, where the skirt meets his skin.

Bucky nods.

“A little,” he says, voice small and hoarse.

Steve’s hands slides up slowly.

“You think I can go to sleep now with a sweet girl like you all dressed up for me?”

Oh. Bucky swallows. He can’t seem to look up for the life of him. He gives another shake of his head.

Steve’s hands are all over him then, soothing and smoothing and sliding up his naked skin. He tugs at the ends of the skirt and watches it flutter back in place, playing with it, teasing him. Fits his hands up the back of Bucky’s thighs and slides them under the skirt in the back, cups Bucky’s ass and grips at him, molding the flesh to his hands so Bucky lets out a soft sound and has to steady his hands on Steve’s broad shoulders. Steve watches Bucky’s face the whole time.

“You see where you’ve got me hurting?” he asks. Bucky grips tight at Steve’s shoulder, he looks down to where Steve’s cock is bulging out the front of his briefs. He aches for it instantly, wants to feel it sinking in him.

“You know what you’ve gotta do?”

Bucky grips at Steve and bites down at his bottom lip.

“You’ve gotta show it how good you can be with that sweet mouth,” Steve says, his hand still rubbing and gripping at Bucky’s ass, almost mindlessly. Bucky feels like his throat might be closing up. He nods.

“Okay,” Bucky says softly.

“Get on your knees,” Steve says. Bucky folds slowly to the floor. Steve spreads his thighs to accommodate him. Bucky traces the line of Steve’s cock, inching forward on his knees in anticipation, looking up to catch Steve watching him. He cups a hand under Bucky’s jaw.

“That’s a good girl,” Steve says, low, rough, and Bucky nearly sinks straight through the floor to the molten core of the earth. He feels his whole body thrum like Steve’s reached down and plucked a string that runs through him, head to toe.

“Go ahead, take it out now,” Steve says, coaxingly, withdrawing his hand.

Bucky reaches forward and slips his fingers into the front slit of fabric, feeling dumb and slow, dazed. He pulls Steve out through the opening, flushed thick in Bucky’s hand. He gives it a gentle squeeze and watches it fill out further.

“Put your mouth on it, baby,” Steve says. “Give it a kiss.”

Bucky leans forward so he can do it, steadying Steve in his hand and kissing gently at the wet head. He moans as soon as he does it, helplessly, feeling his heavy groin start to pull up tight, his own dick filling as soon as he has his mouth on Steve.

Steve reaches out and taps at Bucky’s cheek.

“Give it a better one,” he says. Then he cups the back of Bucky’s head loosely, pushing up slightly with his hips. “Show it some tongue, sweetheart.”

Bucky kisses the tip again like he’s—he’s making out with Steve’s dick, and the thought makes his cheeks flame hot as he opens his mouth and laves at it with his tongue.

“Look at me,” Steve says, and Bucky has to do that too. He tilts his head to the side so he can look up at Steve as he kisses it, moaning around it like a slut. Steve’s eyes are intent on him, sitting still as a statue, the eerie calm of a predator about to devour its prey.

“Open up,” Steve says, giving Bucky’s head a little pressure. Bucky opens around Steve’s dick and lets him push him down, lets him feed it into his mouth.

Steve’s hand comes down and around, so he’s cupping Bucky’s throat, like he’s waiting so he can feel as his dick pushes all the way in. Bucky whines, a shivery feeling between fear and excitement.

“Swallow, baby. You’ve gotta do a real good job of getting it ready. Can you do that?”

Bucky can’t say yes, so he jerks his head up in the tiniest of nods and lets his eyelids flutter shut in acknowledgement, sinking down on Steve’s dick, his mouth going impossibly wide and his throat swallowing fitfully to compensate.

“Oh. Oh, that’s a good girl,” Steve groans out, voice deep. He pets up Bucky’s throat as it convulses. Bucky pauses and breathes hard as Steve hits the back of his throat, his eyes and nose going wet. He holds and holds and holds, struggling to take Steve down even half an inch more, to breathe, every faculty focusing on taking Steve in. Then Bucky’s throat makes an ugly, wet sound that he can’t hide and he wants to dissipate on the spot.

But Steve only rocks into it and pets at Bucky’s hair, his hand a hard counterpoint, keeping him there until Steve decides to let him up.

“There you go, there’s a sweet girl,” Steve says, rocking his hips up so his dick slides in and out of Bucky’s gaping mouth. Then he’s pulling out, Bucky coughing and catching his breath to the side.

“Clean your mess up,” Steve says. He leans back on both hands to watch Bucky curl back down on him and lick up the wet sides of his dick. Bucky doesn’t have the chance to wipe at his eyes so he just blinks while he does it, tears gathering in his lashes, saliva all down his chin. His mouth makes filthy, wet sounds as he sucks at Steve and strokes him, still gasping to catch his breath.

Steve watches intently, then grabs Bucky’s arm and pulls him up. Bucky’s knees feel wobbly as he stands but Steve’s there for him, grip gentling, helping him keep his footing.

“Steady,” Steve says, gentle and firm, as if he doesn’t know that Bucky could hold a handstand on one hand and still keep balance, like Bucky’s something easily drained, something Steve has to be careful with.

Bucky tugs down his skirt with his free hand, the front tented out tellingly. Steve gives it a single raised eyebrow that jolts through Bucky to his core. He’s gotten hard like he always does, just sucking Steve.

Steve turns and pushes him so his back’s against the headboard. He pulls his briefs off, then splays his legs wide, stroking lazily at himself while he watches Bucky.

“Come here,” he says, patting at the bed before him, so Bucky has to climb onto the bed and knee his way into the space between Steve’s thighs. He can’t help trying to cover his obvious erection with his hand. He’s ruining the lines of his skirt; it’s obscene and hard and obvious, nothing like the stretch of delicate fabric hanging off his hips.

Steve catches Bucky’s hand before he can do it and pulls it to the side.

“Show me what you’re hiding under your skirt, baby,” he says. He taps the inside of Bucky’s thigh so he widens his stance, forcing him to put his hard dick out before him in display. Bucky’s cheeks flame hot. He pulls his skirt up with stiff hands, mortified, shoulders hunching. He’s hard and flushed red, wet leaking at the head and dripping down his length, jutting out in the air before him. Steve doesn’t stop looking at Bucky’s face as he reaches out to take Bucky in hand. He gives Bucky a slow stroke, root to tip, a small smile playing on his lips.

“Uh-oh.” Bucky breathes out a weak sound, eyes scrunching shut. His gut tightens as Steve pulls at him again, then lets him go so his cock jerks and waves desperately in the air, jerking uselessly in a parody of fucking.

“Open your eyes,” Steve says firmly, reaching below Bucky. He tugs at Bucky’s heavy sac and  jolts of pleasure rush straight to Bucky’s dick. Bucky opens his eyes and looks down in time to see the slit at the tip spasm open around a wad of precome, watches it drool down in a line of wet.

“What are you so worried about?”

Bucky finds his face screwing up again, looking down at Steve’s intent gaze is impossible. He blows out a breath and stares at the headboard somewhere to Steve’s left.

“I’m making a mess—I wasn’t supposed to—”

Steve cuts him off.

“Well, you’re wrong there. That’s what happens when I let you do all the thinking, huh?”

Bucky stares down at him in surprise, heart jolting in his chest.

“I want my girl to show me how good she feels when I let her put her mouth on me. Look down. You couldn’t help it, could you?”

Bucky shakes his head.

“That’s right,” Steve says soothingly, and his hands are sliding up Bucky’s thighs, cupping his ass. “I’m not gonna blame you for that. Your body just knows what it’s meant to be, and when you’ve got your mouth on your man you can’t help it, can you?”

“No,” Bucky replies, his voice small. He’s still clutching his skirt up, shivering under Steve’s soothing touch. Steve reaches with his free hand and tugs Bucky’s arm down gently so they can kiss, Bucky trembling as he tries to keep exactly where Steve’s left him, wanting to sink right against him, twine his arms around Steve’s neck. Steve pulls back so they can breathe and Bucky’s eyes flit down to where Steve’s softened a bit but still hard, thick cock resting against his thigh.

“You want that in you?” Steve asks, a soft murmur against Bucky’s lips.

“Yeah.”

“You know how a good girl takes it?”

Bucky bites at his bottom lip. Nods. Steve pats at his thigh in acknowledgement, almost thoughtless as he moves away and off the bed, reaching for Bucky’s duffle near the nightstand.

Bucky lies down in the space Steve’s left, putting his legs together primly. He smooths his skirt back down with shaking hands, heart thumping as Steve crawls back into bed, packet of lube in one hand. He leaves it on the bed to Bucky’s side and leans down to kiss him, sliding a hand up Bucky’s thigh ever so slowly, pausing, sliding it up further, playing into it like they’re two teenagers in the back of Steve’s car and he’s trying not to go too fast, trying to be gentle and smooth about it so Bucky won’t bolt, won’t slap his hand away.

Bucky wants to cover his face just thinking about it but Steve’s still there, still kissing him slow and deep, delving in with his tongue and sucking on his bottom lip, nudging at him with his mouth. All Bucky can do is grip helplessly at Steve’s arms, and embarrass himself with the soft, weak sounds escaping his mouth.

“Can you spread your legs for me?” Steve asks, gently. Bucky obeys, his skirt riding up completely as his thighs part, Steve moving between them. “There you go. Up, up.” Steve pushes at the back of Bucky’s thigh with one big hand, so his knees go up closer to his chest and his ass tilts up. Steve’s quick about it, tearing the lube packet with his teeth and coating two fingers. He keeps a hand gripping at Bucky’s thigh to keep him curled up like that and rubs his wet fingers at Bucky’s exposed hole.

“Oh,” Bucky lets out, dick jerking as Steve rubs at him.

“There’s my girl’s sweet cunt,” Steve says. Bucky’s chest flushes hot and this time he really does cover his face with both hands.

“Steve,” he squeaks out.

“Hold your legs up,” Steve says in his firm voice, so Bucky has no choice but to fit his hands behind his knees and pull them up further. He watches helplessly between his legs as Steve wets his fingers and slicks up his cock, then sinks two fingers slowly into Bucky, turning and rubbing to wet up his insides. He has to steel himself from rocking into it, the slow pass of Steve’s fingers barely satisfying that ache inside him, the barest glance of pressure. He watches his hole clutch around Steve’s thick fingers as he plunges them in and out.

“Look at that hungry cunt,” Steve says, low and dirty. Bucky feels a hot, shameful jolt shoot straight down to his groin.

Steve ,” Bucky lets out, watching Steve finger-fuck him, mortified and so turned on as his hole does exactly what Steve says, clutching around Steve’s fingers, trying to pull them in, eager and shameless.

Then Steve’s leaning over him, steadying his hands on either side of Bucky, reaching down to line himself up. Bucky gapes down at where Steve’s dick is pushing at him, in slow teasing thrusts. His ass pushes out and pulls back in, pulsing in wait for Steve to feed it.

“Steve,” Bucky says, desperate in the moment. He wants to hear it again, wants to hear Steve say it while he fucks inside. “Tell me what I am.”

“Sweet girl,” Steve says, capturing Bucky’s mouth for a kiss, then he pushes in, ever so slowly, letting Bucky feel the slick slide of him opening him up, the way Bucky can’t help but give in to him. “My sweet girl letting me stick it up in her, huh?”

“Yeah,” Bucky breathes out. “Yeah.” He wraps his legs around Steve, crosses his ankles at the small of Steve’s back. Steve bottoms out, a rough groan escaping him. He’s so big inside, deep in Bucky’s gut, the pressure against that spot inside him making Bucky gasp and his head fall back. Steve pulls out, then back in, thrusting Bucky in jolts against the bed.

“Yeah. Oh,” Bucky says, clutching at Steve’s shoulders. Steve picks the pace up, cock plunging in and out. “Steve. Do it. Fuck me, oh god, oh.”

Then Steve’s really fucking him, hitting up against that spot inside him, pleasure throbbing deep.

“There’s a good girl, there’s my sweet girl. Come on, baby,” Steve keeps saying as he slams his hips down. Then Bucky’s clutching hard at him and moaning, head thrashing back as his body goes tight and his dick shoots. He clamps down tight on Steve’s dick so Steve just grinds at him, moving his cock inside, hard and heavy, grinding it all out of Bucky as he comes and comes.

Steve kisses at Bucky’s throat as he winds down, murmuring endearments against his skin that Bucky only half-hears. He ruts against him slower than before, rocking Bucky gently as he fucks him. Bucky lets his hands wander, sliding up Steve’s arms, his sides, feeling the muscle of his back bunch and strain. When he comes back to himself he rocks down on Steve’s dick, encouraging, clenching down to milk him as best as he can, and feels Steve’s body go tight.

“Come in me,” Bucky says in a fervent whisper. “Steve. Wet me up.”

Steve groans. “Yeah, yeah,” Bucky keeps whispering until Steve curls down on him and comes, feeling Steve’s dick shoot off inside him. It coats his insides and makes Bucky’s ass sloppy wet, come sliding out of him as Steve curls down and gives a few more lazy thrusts.

Steve breathes against Bucky, face stuffed into the space next to Bucky’s neck. In the long, silent gap where they both breathe Bucky’s exhaustion moves over him in a wave, overwhelming. A hot rush floods up his chest and throat. He sniffs, and it jolts Steve into motion.

“Unh,” Steve grunts questioningly. He slips out of Bucky and flops down to his side. Bucky’s chest jumps. His eyes are wet. He wipes at them angrily.

“What’s wrong?” Steve slurs out. He pushes up to his side, blinking down at Bucky in earnest.

“Nothing.”

“You’re crying.”

“My eyes are leaking.”

“Uh huh,” Steve says. Then he drops down to his side, exhausted, and as Bucky continues wiping at his eyes Steve reaches out with one strong arm and pulls Bucky to him, spooning him from behind.

“No,” Bucky says wetly, crying in earnest now. His fucking eyes won’t stop. What’s wrong with him.

But he doesn’t pull away and Steve just fits him closer, soothing a hand down Bucky’s chest and tugging down his skirt. He’s ruined it now for real, splatters of come on the black lace like a crime scene.

“That was a lot wasn’t it,” Steve says gently. Bucky can feel Steve’s voice reverberating against his back and Steve doesn’t stop touching Bucky, rubbing at his chest and fitting him closer and closer to him until he’s tucked up tight into the curve of Steve’s body.

“No it wasn’t,” Bucky says stubbornly, clinging on to some childish impulse to show how he can take it, that it wasn’t anything at all, they were just playing, Steve. It was just a dumb fucking skirt, a stretch of fabric, and nothing Steve had said meant anything, Bucky was just being Bucky, adventurous and weird and silly.

But his body won’t stop shaking. He’s made Steve do all sorts of shit to him before and this is where his dumb feelings draw the line.

“It was a lot,” Steve repeats, so overwhelmingly stubborn in his gentleness that it only makes Bucky cry harder.

It’s intense but short and soon Bucky’s just sniffling around his stuffed nose and fighting the losing battle of sleep against his drooping eyelids, dog-tired and slack in Steve’s hold. He keeps nodding off until suddenly he’s asleep, a long dark blank that ends what feels like a moment or an eternity later, when he’s pulled out of it by nothing he can immediately determine. Steve’s arms are still clasped around him, his body a line of heat warming Bucky from behind. Steve’s drawn up the covers over them, and Bucky wrinkles his nose immediately because now the mess is probably everywhere.

He makes a small sound like a chirp with his mouth closed, meep, and stirs in Steve’s arms.

“Hey,” Steve says, voice rough. Bucky turns so he can look at him, and they just stare solemnly at each other for a time.

“I love you,” Bucky says sleepily. Steve grins.

“Love you too.” He pecks Bucky softly on the lips, then they’re kissing again for longer. Bucky pulls back after a second and nudges Steve with his elbow, a tiny remindful jab.

“I love you,” Bucky repeats, in his small voice, gazing intently at Steve.

Steve seems confused for all of a second, then his frown smooths over as he smiles.

“Still my girl?”

Bucky meeps, getting the response he wanted, and turns fully in Steve’s hold. He hauls an arm up around Steve in a half-hug. He nods against Steve’s chest, rubbing his cheek against their shared pillow.

“Prettiest girl,” Steve murmurs, leaning down to kiss Bucky again. Bucky’s heart flutters ridiculously in his chest. He closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to see the red numbers hovering in the air, ticking down to when it’ll be too much and he’ll have to get them both cleaned up. Maybe he’ll let Steve do it, since they’re both a mess, and Steve must be thinking the same thing because when Bucky pulls away and prods him he grabs Bucky up in his arms and hauls him off the bed, bridal-style. And he carried me the whole way, would you believe, oaf of a man. And took me to the bath and then … you know.

Steve plops him on the side of the tub as he turns the water on, testing the temperature and dumping every travel-sized soap-like container they have on hand into the rushing faucet. Bucky keeps his legs together, held before him in the air.

“If you stick me in the water I’m gonna grow a tail,” he says at Steve, in a loud voice so he can hear him over the water.

“A tail?” Steve asks, glancing back from where he’s curled over the tub.

“Yup,” Bucky says, and he points to his legs, stuck together, waves them in the air like a mermaid.

“Then you wouldn’t be able to walk would you?”

“Nope.”

“Any old pervert wandering around here could just throw a net around you and reel you in, couldn’t he?”

Bucky makes his eyes go wide in shock and woe.

“Oh no,” he says.

Steve turns the water off. Bucky gives a little shriek when Steve stands back up and swoops down, scooping Bucky into his arms again.

“Steve catches a wild Bucky,” Steve says, in a fake announcer voice. Bucky pushes at Steve’s chest and wriggles around only a medium amount as Steve plants kisses all over his face. Then Steve growls in a low pirate voice all mine, look at my pretty find and Bucky’s wriggling loses all momentum as butterflies wreak havoc against his sternum and he happily winds his arms around Steve’s neck, clinging to him as he captures Bucky’s mouth again and again.

 

*