Bucky breaks his legs in three places on his latest excursion to Armenia where booze is cheap, hookers are plentiful and militants despise the Winter Soldier with fervor unseen since Justin Bieber. Bucky calls mission success once the throbbing dies beneath his left knee. He’s retrieved the package; he’s also rethinking his decision to join SHIELD.
“Why can’t I stay at my apartment?”
Coulson stares sternly down at him.
“Because that place is not wheelchair friendly Sergeant Barnes. Do you really want to add another three weeks to your recovery?”
“Point” Bucky concedes with a grumble. “But I still don’t like it.”
Natasha rolls her eyes.
“You don’t have to like it.”
Agent Phil Coulson accompanies him personally to the car garage where Clint leans against a sweet looking ride like he’s selling something, hips jutting out and long fingers playing across the hood, throwing up an arm in greetings when he sees them.
“I can walk.” He says mulishly and Coulson replies, “Perhaps a demonstration?”
With a quick jerk, Natasha dumps him out of his wheelchair. Luckily, Coulson catches him before his splint legs can turn into an open fracture.
“What the fuck?!”
Natasha shoots him a pointed look. Gently prying his rigid arms from his suit, Coulson explains, “It’s just a precaution. We don’t know what RAID is after but we do know they’re looking for you."
“Jolly.” Bucky manages through gritted teeth, his nerves singing like the Sunday choir. But pain is good, better than terrifying vertigo which came with SHIELD-issue medication. “I can handle them.”
“Security is our top concern.” Coulson reminds him which means that SHIELD is taking this seriously. Disabling his cybernetic arm is one thing, getting past his defenses is quite another. “We need information.”
“Right, I’m the bait.”
Coulson helps him into the passenger seat, flashing him an encouraging smile. The man has never lost his admiration and respect for Captain America and his Commandos, despite his later, Winter Soldier incarnation taking potshots at him after missing Director Fury in his crosshairs. He still has nightmares of that time. Had it been anyone else, he might have already bolted to lick his wounds in peace.
“Rest assured Sergeant Barnes, we’ll catch them.”
Bucky hums in agreement, flipping through the thin, manila folder Clint slid across the dash.
“You’re kidding me.” He says flatly once he’d skimmed through its contents twice.
“It was the best we could come up with on a short notice and under the circumstances, we thought you’d appreciate the privacy.”
“Why can’t I be Nat’s trophy husband?” He whines.
Natasha chuckles throatily with a suggestive look borne from too many ops cutting a dashing couple through a crowd.
“Agent Romanov is needed elsewhere. Agent Barton on the other hand can provide assistance while maintaining his post at the HQ.”
Bucky raises an eyebrow, elbowing Clint in the ribs.
“Detention again Barton?”
“Shut up Barnes.” Clint says cheerily, starting up the engine.
Coulson leans back, rocking on his heels, obviously pleased about something.
“Relax Sergeant, rest, catch up on some bad TV.”
“Hey, if Steve asks...”
The other man mimes a zipping motion across his lips.
Bucky salutes him.
Contrary to popular belief, Bucky isn’t completely helpless. He can still get around using a crutch and liberal use of teeth. Within an hour of arriving at their destination, he has a gun stashed under the couch, the bed which looked like it had been pulled straight out of an IKEA catalogue, in the fridge, beneath a chair and taped under the sink. And in case of emergencies, there is also a panic button embedded in his remote.
While Clint goes out to meet and greet their new neighbors, Bucky decides to take a page out of Coulson’s book and actually rest, leaving an informercial on the background until he wakes up cursing and screaming at two am in the morning following an ad about a steam-pressure egg cooker.
Thankfully, Clint has already taken off for the evening and he is alone. He doesn’t bother trying to sleep again.
His second day in suburbia starts with overcast skies, rudely interrupted by a line of women who springs from his doorsteps like mushrooms after a heavy shower. Unnerved at their uniformity, their perfectly bleached hair and red lipsticks, Bucky opens the door like the god-fearing forties boy he was raised to be, welcoming them with a smile so fake it might as well have been plastered on.
The women surge into the house like a noon tide, overpowering and inexorable, complimenting his taste in everything from the furniture to the wallpaper patterns—not, he’d seen more than one of them regard his Swedish furniture as though it had personally offended her, and titter about his husband’s work. What did he do? What had brought them here?
It’s worse when they discover that he is a veteran.
He is plied with food and drinks and stories of how so-and-so’s son, daughter, niece, nephew has enlisted. Few even shed fake tears. Clint only makes a convenient showing when they’re gone.
On the fifth day of his domestication into suburban New York, Stark shows up in a limo and Bucky gets a headache. He just knew that he is going to regret answering the door.
Already, he can hear the neighbors whispering about the dapper stranger he had on his doorstep, at this time of the day, when his husband wasn’t about. The scandal!
They’d charge in once Stark was gone, hot plate of pie or casserole in one hand, pen and napkin in the other to take notes, a predatory gleam in their eyes raking him up and down as though looking for a crease, a smudge, a sign of infidelity.
Department X could seriously learn a thing or two from bored suburban wives.
Stark seems to be startled to have the door swing open right before he knocks. Two points for Hufflepuff. He also has a cat in his hands, in his distinctly metal and repulsor-embedded hands.
“Stark.” Bucky says slowly. “And cat. What do you want?”
“Is that any way to greet a man who gave you back your best friend?”
“I’m right-handed.” Bucky replies. “What’s going on? Is this an extraction? Could you hurry it up? I swear those vultures are going to eat me alive.”
Stark clears his throat.
“It’s about Steve...”
Part of the door frame cracks as he demands, “What. Happened.”
Stark holds the cat up like a shield.
Bucky looks from the cat to Stark then back and something clicks into his mind. “What did you do?”
“Science.” When he sees the look of murder on Bucky’s face, Stark hurriedly adds, “We can fix it.”
Bucky has no words to describe what he is feeling at this moment. But seeing as how it’s Steve, he quickly takes the cat and slams the door in Stark’s face. Stark shouts, his voice muffled through the door, “Give me two weeks!”
It takes more than two weeks.
Steve the cat isn’t very impressive, scrawny with curly yellow hair and an irascible look on his squashed face. It kind of reminds him of a younger Steve, the one before the serum, his heart always ten-sizes too big for his asthmatic frame, indignant at one social injustice or another, bullies especially, helpless in his impotence, his inability to enlist and the one time he found out that Bucky had been slipping him the bigger portion of food.
“Maybe you should learn to cook.” Bucky suggested after Steve’s protests had died in strangled wheezes and his head between his knees. That hadn’t been one of his better ideas. Steve ended up inhaling a lot of smoke and looked so guilty that Bucky hadn’t the heart to point out the burnt supply of food.
Bucky stares into his blue eyes and Steve stares right back.
He cracks a grin.
“Looks like it’s just you and me now pal.”
Steve shoots off like a spring-loaded rocket once Bucky lets him go. He looks for him for an hour before giving up and lying crankily back down on the too comfortable couch. Steve was probably adjusting, he’d come out for dinner.
Steve is completely miserable in their new abode. He bites and tears at the curtains, shredding a cushion with impunity and cheek when Bucky catches him at it.
This new Steve hates being touched, hates the soggy, moist food Stark dropped off in boxes. He howls at the birds outside the window and his favorite past time is now staring at Bucky from his various hiding places like he was about to regress into the Winter Soldier persona and start killing things.
Bucky is starting to think that Stark pulled one over.
So Steve has a reason to be in a snit, not that he’d admit out loud when he has to vacuum the living room on a crutch and two broken legs.
“You’re not being very nice pal.” He tells Steve, shaking his leather gloves out from his teeth. “We have to make the best of things, ain’t that what you always tell me?”
Steve isn’t moved.
It’s only a week after their move that his ‘husband’ bothers showing up for dinner.
“Hi honey.” Clint says, groping his ass.
Bucky squawks and drops the strips of bacon he’d been planning to fry over a pan. Steve quickly snatches them up and swallows them whole, not bothering to chew.
“Is that a cat? Why do we have a cat? Barnes, is there something you’re not telling me?”
Bucky’s always had a smart mouth and has a ready made answer for the archer when he remembers how terrified Steve is still of messing up and making a fool of himself and even though this is all on Stark and Banner, he decides to man up and take one for the team so to speak.
“He was a gift.” Bucky says lamely.
Clint lets out a convincing “...huh.”
“The neighbors thought I might be lonely.”
For that, the other man looks a little more apologetic.
“Ookay, so what’s his name?”
Bucky scowls. He recognizes the expression as one Nat often wore when they argued about the fine points on approaching a target and whose turn it was to play the honey trap.
Steve bites Clint’s finger before darting away.
Bucky already feels so much better.
The next few days pass by in a blur. By this time, Bucky has learned to moderate his doses, not so little that he’d be in chronic pain but not so much that he was drooling on the carpet with Steve batting at his nose. Hydra’s mockup of the Super Serum interacted with drugs in fun and interesting ways. Once he found himself shaking in the tub with no idea as to how he got there. It is not an experience he cares to repeat.
The number of visitors drops off exponentially after the first week though a few persist in their speculative glance of his legs. Mrs. LaRousse—“Call me Emma, love”—seems particularly determined in her pursuit of his company. He will never have to shop or cook again; his entire fridge is a minefield of recipes she’d been dying to try out.
“Really hun,” Mrs. LaRousse cajoles, pushing up her breasts. “You must be bored stiff. You should come over and keep me company.”
Technically, Bucky is ninety. He should feel flattered that such an attractive, vivacious, plastic dame has her hopes pinned on him but he’s not. He only feels a sense of dull horror climbing the fine hairs up his spine. His savior comes in the form of Steve who zooms past their feet in a yellow streak, causing LaRousse to shriek that there’s a rat, oh my god, kill it.
Steve holds his tail stiff like an exclamation mark, teeth bared and eyes focused with hatred he normally reserves for the pesky birds who like to rest near the windowsill. Mrs. LaRousse seems to be taken aback by this ferocious display and backs off. Bucky happily excuses himself from the scene by scooping Steve up with one arm and closing the door behind them.
A lot of his conversations seem to end like that these days.
“Hey, ‘s the matter with you?” Bucky asks, flicking the cat on the nose. “You kiss your mother with that mouth?”
Steve puffs up to twice his size, indignant.
He sees the birds again by the windows and lopes off like he has a snowflake’s chance in hell of catching them. Bucky shakes his head. “Can’t believe ever caught a dame like Agent Carter.”
That night, Steve shyly clambers onto his lap like he’s crawling through the trenches, kneading his knotted muscles to make sure that there are no funny surprises. He drapes his scraggly tail over one knee and looks up just as Bucky crooks a metal finger under his chin. When he doesn’t immediately start biting, Bucky scritches his jaw, eliciting a purr that rumbled like a well-greased engine to his bones.
“You ain’t so bad like this.” He says fondly, moving to the ragged triangles of his ears. Steve mewed inquiringly. “Hey, it’s going to be okay.”
In the morning, Bucky finds Steve beside his pillow, watching him lazily with his sky blue eyes.
“Steve.” He says drowsily, petting him on the head. “Missed you, you jerk.”
He learns new things about Steve everyday like how Steve likes being carried everywhere.
“Never going to let you live this down.” Bucky promises as he scrambles the eggs and pile it onto a dish for Steve to eat.
He never opens the fridge if he can help it, lives on toast and melted butter even though there are at least thirty different dishes that he needs to return before the week is over.
Steve sprawls like a heated blanket over his knees. With the weather finally clearing up, their favorite pastime is laying in the square of sunlight, soaking up the warmth. They tried it outside in their little garden but often, there are discontented mumblings from behind the fence and more than one audacious plan to relieve him of the many layers covering his body.
Bucky prudently makes his retreat before they can bring out the hose.
With his legs on their way to full recovery, his sex drive returns though dulled by the cocktail of painkillers he has to take if he wants to function like an everyday human being. As the Winter Soldier, such commodities were frivolities, luxuries, to be used only during emergencies or when he was on ice.
Also, because he specializes in long-range assassination, such incidences were far and few in between. Not that he couldn’t get down and dirty with the best of them but the kind of people who received the dubious honor of seeing the Winter Soldier were often just as brutal if not more. There is more than one scar in his bones that he cannot explain, all which ache at the first sign of snow.
He cups himself, teasing his cock out with a firm grip.
Everyone saw Natasha as the femme fatal but in reality, all of Red Room’s inductees were equal opportunity animals. Bucky—the Winter Soldier—had his share in playing the lover as much as he had the killer. He had enjoyed it, found quiet pleasure in the intimacy and the warmth of lying next to another body even as he pinched their nostrils shut, sealing their mouths with a hot kiss.
His breath grows heavier as he strokes himself at a punishing pace. Even before he became a Soviet science experiment, it was always so goddamned cold. He remembers their winter campaigns, past the Maginot Line and freezing their collective balls off beneath Hessian pines.
He doesn’t think he ever recovered from being under Zola’s clutches. It was always Steve who had problem keeping warm. But that winter, it had felt as though frost was creeping through his capillaries in elaborate patterns, suffocating him.
When Steve discovered him, curled up in his sleeping bag, unmoving as though he had passed in the night. He’d immediately stripped them down to their undershirts and held him until color returned to the tips of his fingers.
“Don’t ever do this again Buck. You promised to watch my back.”
Like promises held equal weight in the middle of war. Soldiers lived, soldiers died, it was just a matter of life. But in that moment, just for Steve, Bucky wanted to live; he wanted to hold on, he wanted—
Steve stands in the doorway, eyes wide as though he’d been caught doing something he shouldn’t.
“Oh my god” Bucky squeaks and hastily covers himself with a pillow. He isn’t shy about his body, quite the opposite but he has a metal arm and this was Steve, Steve who was a cat and couldn’t yell or punch him in the face or something.
Steve runs off, having had enough.
He hobbles after him; hampered by the towel he’s tied around his waist and the fact that his legs are numb. But he can’t bring himself to care at this moment.
Steve sits unmoved, high above the bookshelf at an angle even Clint would surely appreciate, blue eyes like laser points that lashed out at him disapprovingly.
“So we’re not going to talk about this, that it?” Bucky asks wry, more hurt than he has any right to be. How would he feel if he’d walked in on Steve writhing on the bed with his dick in one hand and his fingers—Bucky flushes at the thought.
Steve deigns to grace him with his presence when he hears the telltale snick of a can being opened. Bucky pats him on his fuzzy, yellow head and says fondly,
“You’re so easy.”
Clint leaves on an extended leave in week three, nothing too serious, he just needed to help bring back some Very Important Persons.
“Still trying to get into Fury’s good graces?”
Clint gives him the finger.
After much fussing, Bucky sends him off wondering when their sham of a marriage became official and who had Natasha as their best man.
“You gonna be alright because Nat’ll kill me if you’re not.”
“You mean she won’t have sex with you.”
Clint grins easily, “Isn’t that what I said?”
Bucky wakes up in the morning with Steve limp across his chest, rising and falling in time with his breath as though the other man has forgiven him for everything. He’s still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Steve opens a disinterested eye before curling himself into a tighter ball. Bucky laughs and rubs him behind his ears with his human fingers. Steve takes a lazy swipe before stretching; deciding that now was time for breakfast. Bucky wholeheartedly agrees.
Bucky puts a slice of ham-and-cheese quiche on his plate. Steve deliberately picks out all the vegetables with his teeth. They watch a lot of daytime TV. Some channels even have porn. Strangely, Steve doesn’t seem bothered by it though he had reacted strongly to Bucky jerking off.
“This isn’t like the time when Rebecca and her girlfriend wanted to share me is it?”
Steve pins him with a droll look as though saying, 'of course not'.
“I’m going to miss you like this.” Bucky laughs and pets him on his belly, dropping a kiss on the swirl of fur. “But I’m looking forward to seein’ you all normal again.”
He’s gone soft. That’s the only reason he can think of when two men jump him from behind.
They catch him around the waist when he gets up to grab a cup of water. One pistol whips him and suddenly, he’s seeing stars and stripes that has nothing to do with Steve’s tights. The other one splashes him with the water, pours it in through his mouth and nostrils until he sputters and gags, turning his head to grant them perfect access to the throbbing arteries.
They pierce his neck with a needle and push down on the plunger, flushing his system with something that paints the pads of his fingers with branches of snow. His eyelids flutter, knee jerking once before straightening out.
His assailants, assured by his compliance, let him go. It is the last mistake they’ll ever make.
Bucky punches one in the face, pushing his nasal cartilage up his brain. The man falls over, dead or close to it, and the second one fumbles for his knife, intent on slitting his throat.
Steve screeches and darts past the man's legs. It distracts him long enough for Bucky to tap him twice, one to the head and the other to the stomach. His aim is off; he pukes over to the side and wipes his mouth.
Once he’s made certain that the two are dead, he slumps against the couch, his hair matted in cold sweat.
“You’re late.” He growls.
“Only two?” Clint sounds disappointed. “Uh Barnes? Are your lips supposed to be this dazzling shade of blue?”
Bucky closes his eyes.
“Is Steve okay?”
“Who, the cat?”
He passes out.
When he wakes up, it’s to Steve’s very human face and he says “ohthankgod” or some variation before dragging him down for a kiss. What he hadn’t counted on was the nine-pound ball of fur and claws on his chest, waking up with a squall and sticking all four of his claws into his bipedal counterpart.
Steve shouts and lunges backwards, Bucky shouts because what the hell and Steve the cat is furious, stalking behind the monitors and clawing all attempts at retrieving him.
At the end of it, all Bucky can say is, “You’re not a cat.”
Steve looks genuinely concerned by this statement.
“Um, no? Should I call the doctors? Are you seeing things?”
Bucky counts backwards from ten like Sister Mary taught him back at the orphanage. When he’s done, he declares “I’m going to kill him.”
“Kill who?” Steve asks, bewildered more than anything else. He wrings his hands, bags under his eyes despite the Super Serum and his hair looking like it’s recently divorced its dearly beloved comb. “Is that Ms. Potts’ cat? You thought I was the cat?”
“I thought you were the cat who clearly understood our unresolved sexual tension.” Bucky informs him before lying back down on the bed. He says peaceably, “I was wrong.”
Steve beats a hasty retreat after that.
Bucky sits out on the veranda, holding the cat in his lap. With the rooftop being too obvious, he’d requisitioned the Dean’s office by sneaking in while she was out making rounds and eventually signing off on the ridiculous piles of paperwork Coulson provided for his anonymity. Steve the cat yawned and gnawed on his metal thumb. Bucky stroked his back, watching the sunlight ripple across the yellow curls.
“How’d you know it was me?”
It’s hard to explain how when people walk, he hears the displacement of air rather than actual footsteps, the way Natasha leans a harder on her right foot as though she is constantly about to take flight. The little ways they knew each other and learned to let the other know of their presence.
“Tasha’s quieter.” Bucky decides.
Clint staggers, clenching a hand over his heart.
“James Buchanan Barnes, are you calling me fat?”
He smirks. “I call ‘em as I see ‘em.”
Clint obviously notices that something is wrong. He nudges him on one shoulder.
“Hey, what’s the matter with you?”
Bucky pets Steve, who, as it turns out, isn’t Steve at all but a stray cat adopted by Ms. Potts, later dumped at their house by Stark who was convinced that the cat was possessed or was some kind of demonic familiar. And while Bucky had been relieving all his complicated feelings about Steve, the cold, but mostly Steve, Steve had been off undercover, completely clueless to Bucky’s seventy-year epiphany.
After his reiteration, Clint says “Man, that’s rough. Want me to beat up Stark for you?”
“Later maybe,” Bucky allows, “Not now.”
Clint leans over his chair.
“Hey cheer up, there’s plenty of fish left in the sea.”
Bucky doesn’t say—but not Steve.
“Trying to start a harem now?”
“C’mon, it’d be hot and you know it. I’m especially curious about that trick Nat explained to me. The one where you have to have a cock to...”
Clint straightens up immediately as though he hadn’t been all but draped over Bucky’s shoulders the moment before.
“I’ll leave you two to it shall I?”
Blushing, Steve mumbles “Thanks Clint.”
Bucky wiggles his eyebrows.
“You want tips too Steve?”
Steve the cat spits angrily upon seeing the human Steve.
“Hey now.” He flicks him in the ears and the cat lets out a puzzled meow. “Where are your manners? We talked about this.”
“You talk to the cat?” Steve asks weakly.
Bucky shrugs. “I was alone most of the time except when my fake-husband dropped by, so yeah.”
Steve’s eyes softened. “You thought he was me.”
“I swear I’m going to beat Stark until he looks like the Iron Patriot.”
“Bucky, he didn’t know.”
“And that’s why he only gets to look like the Iron Patriot.” He sighs and gestures towards the door. “We don’t, you know, have to talk about this.”
“I think we do Buck.” Steve says gently, clearing a corner of the desk. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
Bucky looks away. The doctors had given him too much drugs or two little, he couldn’t tell. But there was an odd clench inside of him like what he’d imagine a heart attack might feel like. “What’s there to tell? You like the dames and I...”
“So all that time when you were going out with girls, you...”
“I like them just fine Steve.” Bucky explains aggrieved. “They just weren’t you.”
A long minute later, Steve admits “I never thought about it” and his heart sinks, like the Titanic, or something equally disastrous. “I love you Bucky.” The other man says, all earnest and respectable-like, like they were kids again, relearning the rules and boundaries of each other post-orphanage. “And that was enough for me.”
Steve abandons reorganizing the Dean’s desk. It’s probably a good idea.
“We could... if you want...”
“Dammit Steve.” He says irritably, eyes stinging. “You shouldn’t have to settle, not for me, not because you think it’ll hurt my feelings or—”
“This isn’t settling.” Steve says firmly and kneels down; hands dangerously close in range to Cat-Steve who lowers his ears and hiss like a hooded cobra. Undeterred, Steve tentatively presses their lips together, slipping in a bit of tongue, tasting like mint, cheap coffee, hot and wet, what might have happened had they been awake to see the end of the war.
Steve pulls away, his smile a little lopsided and shy, color high on his cheeks and his blue eyes glittering with suppressed mirth.
“Why’d you stop?”
Steve bites his knuckles around a smile.
“But Bucky, you’re married, what will your husband think—“
Bucky growls and pulls him back, all teeth and no finesse, his lips bruised like an overripe fruit.
“Next time,” he pants, “you can be my husband yeah?”
Something dark like desire stirs in Steve’s blue eyes as he breathes,