Things We'd Held in Secret

by Dira Sudis

Written for fluffydeath for the Fandom Trumps Hate auction, with great delight! Thanks for encouraging me to explore something I never would have otherwise, even if it also turned out to be precisely in my wheelhouse in ways I had not expected. :D

Thanks to brighteyedjill and Sevvie for beta and encouragement, and everyone on Tumblr who was intrigued by the description in WIP updates.

Steve tried not to think about the past too much after he came to the future.

He didn't notably succeed at first, but he tried. Once he had work with the Avengers and SHIELD, he was able to keep it to the appropriate times: when he was talking to Peggy, he naturally shared memories with her. When he was jerking off, he couldn't help his mind fixing on Bucky.

Other things cropped up at other times, depending on the situation; he figured anybody would think about their past in the same way. His past just happened to contain a lot of things no one else's did.

Sometimes, at night when he couldn't sleep, when he was at his loneliest, he would run his fingers down the scar on his thigh--the only one that marred the perfection of his big new body. The memory that came to him then shouldn't have been good. It shouldn't have been any kind of comfort.

But he lost himself in it, the way he could sink into the perfect clarity of his post-serum memories, when the nights were darkest and emptiest. He returned to it again and again. It was a memory he couldn't share with anyone--had never shared with anyone. Maybe that made it all right to hoard it like a pirate's cursed treasure, something dark and sick and his alone to cherish, all at once.

When he really focused on it he could smell the iron tang of his own blood, could feel the watery pulp in his hand--his own flesh mashed and mixed with groundwater--as he held it to Bucky's lips. They had been smeared with blood already, disguising their dangerous pallor in the gloom, but Bucky had still turned away from what Steve offered him, making an indistinct noise of protest.

"I know, pal, my cooking's the worst," Steve had whispered, following Bucky's mouth with his cupped palm. "But you gotta eat something and this is all we've got. You can cook next time."

Bucky's lips had parted, allowing Steve to pour that palmful into his mouth; he'd moaned around it, nearly gagged, but he swallowed. The next mouthful went down easier, and the next and the next, until the whole strip of flesh Steve had carved out was gone. Until he knew that Bucky would live, nourished by his flesh and blood.

Nothing before, and nothing after. He didn't follow the memory to any of the things that had happened later, not even to the part where Bucky had recovered enough to speak to him, to kiss him with the rusty taste of blood in both their mouths. Steve dwelled only in that moment, the first time he had fed himself to Bucky, and had believed that Bucky could be saved.

A part of him had been in Bucky forever after that, even if Bucky himself didn't know it. More than just saving Bucky's life, he had believed, right then, that he had saved himself from ever being really alone again. He didn't need to remember that he had turned out to be wrong. What he needed, on those nights, was the fierce joy of his belief, and the feeling of Bucky pressing close to him for warmth and everything else Steve could give him.

Then it turned out that Bucky was alive, which meant that Steve had saved him after all.

He had saved Bucky for a lifetime of torture and cruel use at the hands of their enemies, but still, Steve had saved him.

Now he just had to save him again.

And again.

All the time he was searching for Bucky, it was beating in his brain that he would finally have to confess what he'd done. Even back during the war, he'd known that he should, but he'd put it off. After all, maybe he hadn't really done anything but keep Bucky from starving until they were rescued.

Maybe the serum hadn't transferred; if it could be done that way, surely they would have drawn off more vials of his blood. Surely they would be cutting slices out of him every week, if he could make more soldiers like himself so easily.

But then he thought about what Erskine had said: the formulation of the serum was important, but so was the man. It wasn't the way a scientist like Erskine would have phrased it, but he wondered if his flesh and blood hadn't carried more than chemical residue or altered cells into Bucky's body. Perhaps his sacrifice had also carried his prayer. Let him live. Let me make him strong.

Perhaps it wasn't the science of the future that saved Bucky, but something much, much older.

However it had worked, Steve knew why Bucky was still alive in the twenty-first century. He knew whatever Zola had done to Bucky in that factory at Kreischberg had nothing to do with it, no matter what he'd told Natasha and Sam.

And that meant that when he finally caught up with Bucky he was going to have to come clean about what he'd done during the long dark days and nights. He knew that, even if Bucky remembered everything else, he wouldn't remember that. He never had; he'd been busy nearly dying while Steve struggled to keep him alive.

Steve thought of saying it when Bucky questioned whether he was worth everything Steve was sacrificing to protect him, but he knew it would only sound like another debt Bucky owed him. Bucky wasn't in any state to understand what Steve meant: that Bucky was worth anything to him, everything, no matter what. The last drop of his blood, his dying breath, the last scrap of meat on his bones. What was surrendering his shield and shattering a friendship next to that?

Bucky seemed in slightly better spirits later on, when they were safe in Wakanda and had had a chance to eat and shower and sleep. Steve suspected that it was still too soon, but he wanted to say it. He wanted Bucky to understand.

Plus, it was even odds that if he brought up the cave Bucky would think he meant the kissing part, and they might get sidetracked onto that, which Steve wouldn't mind. Bucky hadn't invited any intimacy so far. Steve was trying to respect that and give him his space, but he ached to touch, to hold, to know Bucky again the way he had before.

When he actually got a minute with Bucky, and started to ask him, Bucky winced and looked away.

Steve faltered into silence, seeing that hunted look come back, Bucky's shoulders tensing. Still too soon, much too soon; he shouldn't have done this yet.

"I can't, Steve. I--I remember, and I... I still..." Bucky's voice choked off into nothing, and he shook his head sharply, refusing to say it. "My head's still full of HYDRA shit. Until I can get rid of that, I can't. I've asked the doctors to put me back into cryo until they can fix it."

Steve's mouth opened and closed. He forced himself to take a deep breath just to remind himself that his lungs were working fine. He only felt like all the air had gone out of the room.

"That's... that's what you need?" Steve managed.

Bucky nodded firmly, and offered him a smile that was hesitant, almost shy. As if he wasn't sure what Steve would say, or that Steve would back him on this. "Yeah. I need to know who I am, that I'm the one in charge here. Until then... better if no one else can use me for anything."

Steve couldn't argue with that, not when Bucky obviously expected to be argued with. And he knew enough to know that this was precisely the wrong time to spring revelations on Bucky about what was really inside him.

"Okay," Steve said, mustering up something like a smile. "Yeah, Buck. Whatever you need."

There were endless things to deal with after Bucky went into cryo. Figuring out how to get the others home, and what they could do to help with Avengers crises while they were based in Wakanda, meant Steve's days sped by.

His nights felt longer and darker than ever.

He closed his eyes and thought of Bucky in that cryo chamber, alone in the cold, and he couldn't help remembering the darkness of the cave. He had called Bucky's name, when silence finally fell, running his hands over Bucky's face, carefully over his skull, searching for blood, or some sign of injury to explain why Bucky didn't respond.

There hadn't been blood, but there had been a place where the shape of Bucky's skull felt wrong. Steve hadn't dared to touch it beyond that, hadn't known what to do but hold him there in the darkness. Bucky had been warm, and kept breathing, and Steve didn't know if it had been minutes or hours before he stirred enough to speak.

Even then he had been confused, as if he were in a fever, his words and thoughts obviously wandering. Steve hadn't dared to move, for fear of bringing a worse collapse down on top of both of them. All that night, he had only been able to hold Bucky and wait.

And now Bucky was locked away from him in the cold, and there was no knowing what secret injuries lurked in his head. It was better for him, safer, to be anywhere but Steve's arms, but Steve couldn't help missing Bucky's presence, the reassurance of his breathing and the warmth of his body.

Steve hadn't rushed into what he did. He had been able to mark the days and nights--a little light filtered in during the day, although Bucky couldn't always make it out. But Steve was sure there was some difference, enough to be meaningful. So he had waited a day and a night, drinking the water from a puddle that kept seeping to fullness again, and feeding Bucky as much from it as he could get him to swallow.

Night had come again, and Bucky had had a period of that half-wakefulness--enough to complain of the cold and the pain in his head, enough to try to crawl away from Steve to sit by some fire he swore was just out of reach. Steve had managed to keep him from moving away, but he could hear the empty grumbling of Bucky's belly, and he knew that keeping warm--to say nothing of healing--required nourishment.

He also knew there was a chance that what was wrong with Bucky wouldn't heal. Couldn't, in the ordinary course of things. If it had been him who took that blow to the head, he probably would have shaken it off by the time the sun came up. If only...

It had occurred to him, drinking in the nearly-colorless sight of Bucky's face, deathly pale and motionless, to wonder if he could give Bucky a leg up, share his own advantage. And even if that didn't work, Bucky had to eat something, to keep his strength up until they could be found, or until Steve could see a way to get them loose of the rockfall and get them out.

At the end of another long dark night, he had made up his mind. Bucky had been in no condition to say yes or no to it, to point out some other option.

Steve always did get into worse trouble when Bucky wasn't around to weigh in on his plans. He would be sure to mention that to Bucky, when he finally told him what he had done.

If he would just wake up, and let Steve tell him. If the night would just end, and bring him another day's work to distract him from the waiting.

It felt endless, but it was only months before the time came to wake him. The doctors weren't perfectly sure that their solution would work, but Bucky was needed, and there was no more time to wait.

Steve managed to be there when Bucky woke up, and helped to explain the procedure to him, but there was no time or privacy to talk beyond that. Steve and Sam had to fly out and meet up with Tony and Vision before it was even over.

Steve only knew that it had gone as well as could be expected when Bucky turned up at the rendezvous with Natasha and Wanda. Bucky and Tony exchanged a tense handshake while Vision looked on, frowning thoughtfully in Bucky's direction.

Aside from Bucky nodding and muttering, "I'm fine. I'm me," that was all Steve knew about it.

The next couple of days didn't allow for thinking about anything but saving the world; once or twice it occurred to Steve how good it felt to have Bucky at his side again, guarding his back and watching his blind spots. He never stopped to think about whether he could trust Bucky to be himself while he was there.

For a while there was just the fight, and the pressure of desperate combat made everything else irrelevant. For a while everything was simple.

And then it was over, and everything else rushed back in. Bucky was awake, and staying that way this time, and Steve had to figure out how to tell him the truth.

Not right away, of course--not while they were all still battered and filthy and trying to help with the cleanup. Not before either of them had a chance to sleep.

Steve woke to the news that he and Bucky were both going to be able to go home to New York. He forgot--let himself forget--everything but the elation of going home victorious with his best guy by his side, the way they should have seventy-five years earlier.

Bucky was quiet, seeming bemused by all of it, watching and listening much more than he spoke, but Steve told himself that was only to be expected. Steve didn't push, in the few moments they had alone. When the first furor had died down, he took Bucky upstate to Avengers HQ, where they could both decompress a little, away from the crowds and the constantly jarring almost-familiarity of the city.

"I thought we could share," Steve said, leading Bucky into his own old quarters, which seemed to have been left untouched in his absence, despite everything. "That okay?"

"Might be kind of crowded, with all my stuff and all your stuff," Bucky said, dropping the backpack and duffle that contained everything he owned in the middle of a kitchen bigger than any apartment they'd shared before the war, to say nothing of the tent and bivouacs and hospital rooms since.

"Well, I don't want to crowd you," Steve said solemnly, leaning back against the counter, wrapping his fingers around the edge to keep from grabbing at Bucky. It was very quiet, suddenly, and he wanted so much.

And he still had to tell.

"Back in Wakanda," Steve said. "I asked you about--"

That was as far as he got before Bucky stepped in and kissed him, mismatched hands bracketing Steve's face.

Steve lost all track of what he'd been thinking as his arms went around Bucky, crushing him close for the first time in so long. Bucky kissed him like he'd been starving for it, and Steve couldn't fail to give him what he needed.

It was only a few minutes before clinging to each other turned to hands shoving in under their clothes; Bucky's jeans were loose enough for Steve to get his hand inside without unfastening them, while Bucky made a thwarted noise and then dug in his brand new carbon-fiber fingers and ripped the zipper right out of Steve's pants. The hard touch of his left hand made Steve yelp, his cock jerking and his hand stroking faster against Bucky's.

Bucky said something that might have been an attempted apology, or a joke at Steve's expense. Either way, Steve didn't want to hear it, and another hungry kiss solved that problem, leaving them to fumble and rub against each other for a few more frantic minutes. Steve came first, and by the time he knew what was going on his hand was sticky with Bucky's spend--so that had worked out all right.

"Guess I should show you where the bathroom is," Steve offered.

Bucky laughed a little. "And stay to help me navigate it, I could probably get lost in there."

"It's not that big." That, Steve knew, was an outright lie--unlike the one he told in silence, too happy to break the mood just then.

He meant to tell Bucky the next day, but Bucky spent most of it sleeping. The longest time he was awake was when he spent two hours pacing watchfully around one of the wider green spaces, talking on his phone where he would be able to see any eavesdroppers from a hundred yards off.

Steve watched him from the windows of their quarters, wondering desperately--and, he knew, hypocritically--what Bucky was hiding from him. At the same time, Bucky was being as public as humanly possible about hiding whatever it was, which had to mean something.

So Steve didn't ask him anything about it when Bucky came back inside, sweating more than the mild summer evening should have justified. Bucky went straight to the bathroom without making any jokes about needing a map or a guide, took a fast shower, and put clean underwear on before he climbed into their bed and fell asleep at one edge.

Well. It was early yet, and for Bucky everything that happened when they met again in Bucharest had happened only days before he'd had the trigger words evicted from his brain so he could join another desperate fight. No wonder if he needed some down time to process it all.

It wouldn't be fair to dump anything else on Bucky's shoulders right now. Steve's guilty need to tell him shouldn't outweigh the fact that Bucky already had more to work out in his own mind than any one man should have to bear. Steve had kept the secret this long. What was another week? Or a month, or...

He dreamed of the cave that night, of Bucky in his arms, blind and feverish and confused.

Bucky hadn't known where they were most of the time, hadn't remembered the war or France or his last mission. He hadn't remembered that Steve led them down the wrong set of tunnels because, to his enhanced vision, they had seemed well-lit and easy to navigate.

But Bucky had known Steve, and trusted him. He had let Steve feed him--not just that first time, but again and again, two or three times each day through the endless time they spent trapped there. He made little complaining noises--even argued in disjointed words that actually tracked to reality, as he began to get better--but he always trusted Steve to be giving him what he needed.

Steve woke up to an empty bed, and the faint distant sound of Bucky's voice carrying on a one-sided conversation.

He would never have wished Bucky to be hurt, or trapped, but just for a moment he let himself miss Bucky needing something that only Steve could give him.

Then he got up, being sure to make plenty of noise about it. By the time he emerged from the bedroom, Bucky had gone out onto the balcony, the door firmly shut behind him to cut off all sound, his back pointedly turned.

Steve rubbed at the scar on his thigh under his sweatpants and decided to make breakfast. He had a mountain of eggs and bacon ready by the time he heard the balcony door open and close behind him, bagels toasting in the oven. He glanced back over his shoulder at Bucky, who was standing just inside, phone in hand, watching Steve.

"Come on, Buck," Steve said, realizing what he was going to say and letting the words come out like they wanted to, easy and coaxing. "You gotta eat something."

Bucky took a wary step closer. "Nothing's on fire."

"Yeah, you caught me in time." Steve took the bacon off the heat and grabbed a towel to pull the tray of bagels out before he could burn them after all. He hissed as he dropped them on the stovetop--he never thought to double the towel enough not to scorch his fingers doing that.

"Run that under water," Bucky said, suddenly right at his side, shutting the oven door and turning it off, as well as the burner Steve had left on that would have scorched the baking tray in another second. "Let the guy with the fireproof hand do that, huh?"

"Come on, it's not even a burn." Steve went over to the sink anyway. The cool water did feel good on his fingertips. Even better, Bucky started dishing up the food while Steve was occupied.

"Just a little scorched, that it?" One corner of Bucky's mouth turned up.

Steve smiled back, remembering the numerous pots of oatmeal and attempts at toast that he'd described that way while trying to convince Bucky to eat them.

"That's my specialty, right," Steve said, not letting himself think. "Burnt on the outside, raw on the inside?"

Bucky made a face, poking dubiously at the eggs. Steve had to look away, remembering that same look on Bucky's face while Steve was trying to feed him something that was definitely entirely raw.

Bucky's shoulder bumped against his. "This looks good, Steve. Thanks."

Steve shut his eyes. Something had to be direly wrong if Bucky was trying to be this purely kind to him. He had to get his head out of his ass, put his own old memories away, and focus. Bucky was troubled; that was a lot more important than Steve waking up lonely from dreams about what should have been the worst week of his life.

He summoned up a smile for Bucky and took the plate Bucky offered him, and they sat down together. Bucky spread a thin scraping of butter on his bagel halves, looking dubiously at Steve's heavy hand with the cream cheese.

Steve figured Bucky would come around to that in his own time. Steve had been the same to begin with, trying not to take more than his share even when he had a kitchen all to himself and more groceries stocked in it than he knew what to do with.

Silence fell for a while as they both dug in, putting away the food with quiet efficiency. Bucky experimented with a tiny dab of cream cheese on his second bagel. Steve hid a smile behind his coffee cup, finishing it off, and stood to get himself a glass of water to wash down the rest of breakfast, pouring one for Bucky as well.

When he pushed it across the table Bucky paused, staring at it like it meant something more than just the offer of a glass of water. There was still food on Bucky's plate, but he set his fork down with a deliberate motion. He took a drink of the water as Steve sat down across from him, and when he lowered the glass he met Steve's eyes.

"I have to go back," Bucky said. "I'm not right."

"What? You're fine, you were fine in the field, you--"

Bucky just shook his head, not engaging as Steve's voice got louder.

Steve cut himself off, taking a sip of water and forcing himself to be quiet a minute and give Bucky a chance to explain.

It took better than two minutes and Steve was about to come out of his skin, but Bucky finally spoke, low-voiced and with his eyes turned down. "They got the trigger words, but it's... I'm still the one who did all those things. I don't know how to be sure I won't again."

"Buck..." Steve modulated his voice better this time. "If you don't want to be in the field, in any kind of combat, you know you don't have to be on the team. If you need some kind of therapy, you don't have to go to Wakanda to get it. I realize this stuff doesn't just stop at the flip of a switch, but..."

Bucky shook his head. "I shouldn't be near you. I'm not... this isn't a good thing, what they did to me. What they made of me--I'm not like you. Zola made me. Nothing good could come from that."

"Zola hurt you," Steve said. "Zola grafted that metal arm onto you, and he hurt you and made you do things. But he didn't make one damn bit of you."

Bucky raised his eyebrows. "Right at the beginning of all of it I survived that fall. Zola experimented on me at Kreischberg, gave me the serum. It all goes back to him, Steve, and I gotta..."

Bucky's expression crumpled, turning pained, and Steve wanted to reach for him but forced himself to keep still, to let Bucky say his piece. "I don't know how, but I gotta get him out of me or it's just no good. I can't be who I was before. And I can't make myself into something other than what they made me without..."

Bucky shook his head again, and Steve knew he was grasping at straws now, looking to fix something that could never be undone.

It still took longer than it should have to make himself say it. Seventy-five years overdue, Steve looked Bucky in the eye and said, "Zola didn't give you the serum that saved you when you fell. I did."

Bucky frowned and then looked away, his expression settling into annoyance. "Sure, because it worked on you and that's how they knew--"

"No!" Steve cut him off sharply, enough to actually make Bucky look at him. "Buck, I mean--whatever Zola gave you, it wouldn't have helped you survive the fall, because it didn't help you when we got trapped in that cave. Do you remember that?"

It was, in its literal sense, a stupid question to ask. Bucky had never remembered most of what happened in that cave, not while it was happening and not in the months afterward.

He frowned at Steve now. "The--what, the cave where we..."

"We kissed, yeah," Steve agreed. "That was the first time we kissed, and I'm glad you remember that part. But do you remember how we got there, or how long we were trapped?"

Bucky's face creased further with tension and concentration, his eyes darting to Steve and away as he struggled to piece together more. "I don't... No. But I... I remember I never did. Remember. Just getting out, and then talking about it, getting checked by the doctors. You--you told them I hit my head."

"Yeah, you did," Steve said firmly. "Or, you know, a rock hit your head, it wasn't really your fault. Do you remember anything else about being there? Or about after, what the others said about it?"

Bucky was frowning, looking a little lost as he struggled to place memories that had never been in good order even before HYDRA got their hands on him again. Steve gave up on restraining himself and moved to Bucky's side of the table, crouching down beside his chair.

Bucky looked down at him. "We kissed. That was when we first... My head hurt like hell, and I... I kept waking up and you were there and it was... sometimes dark, sometimes less. And I was so excited when I opened my eyes and I could see you."

Steve couldn't help smiling, remembering that rush of relief and hope, the incredible elation of seeing Bucky's eyes focus properly on his for the first time in days. "Yeah. Yeah you could."

"You were the prettiest thing I ever saw," Bucky said, giving him a crooked smile. "And I said so, like a goddamn idiot."

Steve shook his head. "Only fella I've ever heard of getting smarter after he got his skull rattled. And I asked you what you were gonna do about it."

"And I kissed you," Bucky said, trying to smile and frown all at once. "Kissed you and--" he licked his lips and then snorted. "Told you it tasted awful."

Steve didn't let himself close his eyes. Not this time. "Yeah. And I told you it was the water, said it must taste like metal because it was leaching through the rocks to get to us, but there was nothing else to drink."

Bucky frowned, and then his eyes went wide, his lips working around the shapes of unspoken words. "You--Steve, you didn't--what--"

Bucky's gaze dropped to Steve's thigh. To the spot where the scar was, the spot where he'd still been visibly injured when they were finally pulled out.

"We were in there for days," Steve said quietly. "Nearly a week. You were mostly unconscious from a head injury, and my foot was trapped."

"But it wasn't your foot," Bucky said, still staring down at Steve's thigh. "You were hurt. Bleeding from your leg. But it'd been a week. You should've healed by then. Steve. Tell me--tell me you didn't do what it sounds like!"

Steve winced and ducked his head, his fingers curling into a fist to keep from tracing that precious scar.

"You were hurt real bad, Buck. You--I could feel a soft spot in your skull, like a baby. You wouldn't wake up, even when there was some light you couldn't see, even when you would talk a little you didn't understand what was going on. I had to do something."

"Steve," Bucky repeated, sounding stricken.

Steve squeezed his eyes shut. "So, I. I did. I fed you my--my flesh, my blood. Even if it was just food, you needed to eat something to keep your strength up. And I thought--I hoped. Maybe it could be more. And you did heal. And I thought maybe that was all it could do, without... without more. But you survived the fall, too. And I... if I go to hell for it, if you never want to see me again, I can't be sorry, Buck. I can't be sorry you're alive because of me."

"You can't..." Bucky's voice was just a hollow whisper, and Steve couldn't make himself look, just stayed there on his knees, waiting for some answer from Bucky. He'd waited more than seventy years to know what Bucky would think of it; he had to give Bucky at least a few minutes to say something before he pushed.


Steve clenched his fist harder, pressing his knuckles against the front of his thigh, away from the scar.

"The cave, the tunnels," Bucky said, his voice rusty and low. "How'd we get there? We were trapped so long because no one knew where to look for us, not for a long time. We were supposed to--to meet the others. Right? I'd been away."

"Yeah." Steve did dare to look up at the oddly mundane turn of the conversation, but he winced at the sight of Bucky's face, bloodless and pale, his gaze directed out the windows and a thousand yards--seven decades--beyond.

Steve went on, trying to guide him through this better than he'd guided them that night. "You'd had one of those solo missions you didn't talk about. I sent the others to find the rendezvous point with the French Resistance, some caves they'd been using, and I walked toward where I thought you'd be coming from to meet you. You were always... I just wanted a little time alone with you."

"I was always," Bucky said, picking up unerringly on what Steve hadn't wanted to say, though he still didn't look in Steve's direction. "Always what?"

"Far away," Steve said quietly, watching Bucky stare out toward the horizon like he was lining up a shot. "After those missions, even after you were back with us, it took you time to come back all the way. And I wanted to be there for you first. Touch your hand, maybe, if you'd let me."

Bucky's eyes closed, and Steve thought he was remembering what it was like in the months before they finally broke down and kissed, finally confessed themselves. After Steve rescued Bucky from Kreischberg it had built up in both of them like pressure in a steam engine. Now and then it was vented in lingering looks and touches of hands and things half-said, but after days apart Steve had been about to blow.

"And you were so busy wishing you could hold my hand," Bucky said. "You led us into the wrong goddamn tunnel and we got trapped."

"It looked to me like there was a light somewhere," Steve said quietly. "Turned out to be just starlight through a few cracks. I wasn't used to how good my vision was yet. I didn't think to ask you if you could see, and you..."

"I trusted you. Because to me it was pitch dark, but I didn't think to say so until we were half a mile in and you were grumbling about it getting narrow."

Steve didn't say anything. He didn't think Bucky could really remember that, but Steve had told him once, after, when Bucky got to wondering this same thing.

"Which means I couldn't see as well as you then. It was months after Kreischberg," Bucky went on quietly. "But before you--what you gave me. And after--we had that mission in August of '44, and by then my night vision was as good as yours."

Steve squeezed his own eyes shut. "Yeah, I thought it was."

"So you knew," Bucky said quietly. "You knew it made a difference. It lasted. You knew that."

"I didn't think it could've changed you that much," Steve tried. "Bucky I swear, I didn't think I would've survived falling from that train either, or I would--"

Steve was rocked back by a flat impact against his chest--Bucky shoving him with an open hand, his eyes open now and focused sharply on Steve.

"What the hell, Rogers, I'm not saying why didn't you come back for me, we both know the fucking answer to that. I'm saying, why the hell did you never tell me what you did?"

Steve's mouth opened and closed. "I didn't... we were in the middle of a war, I couldn't..."

Bucky snorted, looking away. "And you didn't think maybe it'd bother me to notice I had cat's eyes all of a sudden, and didn't need more than three hours of sleep, and couldn't get fucking drunk, and not know why? Let me think it was him instead of you?"

Steve had never known Bucky was sleeping so little, or that he couldn't get drunk; he'd put on a good show. But he would have, if he didn't know why it was happening, or if he thought it had to be because of Zola, because of Kreischberg.

"I..." Steve struggled for words. "I thought you'd... hate me. Or be disgusted, or..."

Bucky just stared at him for a minute. "You think if it was me, if you were hurt or starved, you think I wouldn't? You thought I wouldn't understand what you did? Jesus fucking--"

Bucky shook his head sharply, looking away, and Steve winced.

It had never really occurred to him to think Bucky might see it that way so easily, imagining himself in Steve's shoes. But Bucky always had understood Steve--even when he got mad about Steve being reckless, running headfirst into danger without Bucky to back him up, he'd never failed to understand why.

"I should've," Steve said quietly. "Should've trusted you, Buck. I'm sorry."

"Show me," Bucky said abruptly, making Steve look up again. Bucky was looking down at him, but not meeting his eyes.

Bucky was looking at his right leg.

"Show you..."

Bucky's eyes did flick up to meet his, then, sharp as a blade. "You were wounded. Still bleeding. Only thing I ever saw really hurt you. I remember you changing the bandages a couple times. So maybe it didn't leave a mark, or it's gone after all this time, but. I want to see where. Show me."

Steve drew in a careful deep breath and nodded. He stood up, turning his right side to Bucky, and dropped his pants. He pressed the heel of his right hand to his forehead, to shield his face and keep it out of the way of the scar that ran down the outside of his thigh.

It was, of course, high enough for his hand to cover.

"Jesus God," Bucky said softly, sounding more reverent than shocked. It wasn't a particularly ugly scar, Steve didn't think, but it was still unmistakable.

Steve squeezed his eyes shut and didn't let himself shrink from the scrutiny in any other way.

"The rockfall didn't do this at all. You weren't hurt there to start with."

Steve shook his head and forced himself to speak. "It was--more than a day before I did it. Before I knew I had to. I was healed up from the rockfall by then."

That had only been bruises, really; even his pinned foot hadn't actually been crushed. The worst of it had been on his back and arms, where he'd tried to take the brunt of the collapse to shield Bucky. He hadn't succeeded quite well enough.

"So you picked your spot. No big arteries, plenty of muscle." Bucky was speaking softly, half to himself.

Steve could feel Bucky's fingertips hovering just over the scar, not quite touching. Steve's right hand curled into a fist as he suppressed the urge to reach down and grab Bucky's hand, though he didn't know what the hell he'd do with it once he had hold of it.

"You stuck your knife in," Bucky said. "And you cut out a slice."

Steve made himself breathe, remembering the force it had required at that awkward angle, the slide of a well-sharpened blade, focusing on controlling his grip on the knife and not the adrenaline rush of oh shit, I've been stabbed.

"How many times?"

Steve sucked in a harsh breath at the gentle touch of Bucky's fingers to the that spot, tracing slowly down the whole length of the scar.

"How many times did you... Fuck, did it heal every time? It must, if you only used one spot, or you wouldn't have had any leg left."

"I didn't keep count." Steve's voice was shaking now.

He was remembering needles in his veins, tissue samples taken by uniformed nurses in sterile labs. They were the furthest thing from his own hand and a combat knife in the dark, with Bucky's quick, shallow breathing in his ear.

It had started to hurt less, toward the end, like the nerves weren't growing back after a while, or he'd just become numb to that specific pain. But it had itched like fire when it was healing, and he'd had to struggle for weeks to keep his hand away from it until he was sure the scar was closed.

"It wasn't an experiment. I didn't want data. It was... more times than I wanted to, fewer than I would have if I had to. Buck--"

Bucky stood up all at once, grabbing Steve's right wrist with his left hand and tugging it down and around, pulling Steve to face him.

Steve was panting as though he was bleeding right then, as though the knife was still in his hand. There were tears on Bucky's eyelashes.

"You should have fucking told me," Bucky whispered. The grip of his left hand was gentle but implacable.

Steve just shook his head, wishing he could look away from Bucky's eyes and everything that burned in his gaze.

"I have to..." Bucky closed his eyes then, swiping his right hand across his eyes. "Fuck, Steve. I have to think about this, I have to... get my head around this, this is... even if it's better this way, it's--everything in my brain just got turned upside down."

Steve nodded. "Buck, if there's anything I can... You know I'll do anything you need."

Bucky snorted. "I do know that."

He dropped Steve's wrist and walked away without another word.

Steve got an automated notification from Building Systems and Security that afternoon: JAMES B BARNES has registered for temporary living quarters. Would you like to revoke access to your quarters for cohabitant JAMES B BARNES? Access can be revoked temporarily or permanently.

Steve jabbed his finger down hard on the NO option and then tossed his phone down, burying his face in his hands.

It was better than Bucky going back to Wakanda, or back into cryo. He needed his own space, but he'd chosen to keep accepting the Avengers' roof over his head--Steve's roof over his head.

Just not this one. Just not where Steve could see him or touch him or ask him whether he'd ruined everything.

Steve didn't sleep that night, so he didn't have a chance to dream of anything at all.

Bucky stayed gone, though, and Steve had work to do. He had to be prepared to respond to a crisis. He slept on the couch instead of their bed, and when he dreamed of blood it was only that. Just blood, spilled to no purpose, for no one.

He woke up alone and showered the scent from his skin, and went through the familiar motions of his duties. He was still Captain America whether his heart was whole or broken--he'd learned that lesson a long time ago.

Steve woke up before dawn, the third night after Bucky left, to Bucky standing over him.

"Come on."

Steve stood up and followed. He would have followed Bucky anywhere right then without a question, but Bucky just walked into the bedroom, to his accustomed side of the bed, and started undressing. Steve went to his own side, still hesitating, though Bucky wouldn't have led him here just to tell him to sleep on the floor again.

"I don't know," Bucky said without looking over at him. He sounded tired. "I don't know if I... but I missed you. I miss you. Too much to think of anything else, sometimes. So staying gone was no good."

Steve knew it wasn't exactly a happy occasion, but he couldn't help smiling. He got into bed, and flipped the covers back on the other side. Bucky joined him, wrapping himself around Steve's body and holding tight. Steve pressed his face into the crook of Bucky's neck. Bucky's hair fell down over his face, and Steve inhaled the familiar scent of him.

After a while Bucky shifted his left hand down, finding the scar on Steve's thigh and tracing over it.

"I asked the doctors," Bucky said quietly. "Had them test, scan, to see if there's anything left. Anything that shows where my dose of serum came from. But they said after all this time, after everything--there's no way. Even if I had your cells inside me, by now they're all just... me."

Steve swallowed, nodding against Bucky's shoulder.

"And I tried to remember," Bucky went on. "Or even just imagine it, so I could pretend that's what I remember. So I could believe it. But there's nothing, I can't... I can't make it real in my head. Not like the other stuff is real."

Steve choked back words with an effort, didn't let himself beg Bucky to believe him, to trust him. Bucky had come back to him; he couldn't ask for more than that.

"It's not that I don't believe you," Bucky murmured, his finger still stroking up and down that scar.

"I'm not saying you lied or you're wrong, I just... I can't feel it. And I want to, Steve. I want to know I got you inside me, that you kept me alive, that you gave me something good so maybe I can be something good too. I want to. I just don't know how to make it real."

There was a tension that crept into Bucky's body as he stumbled to the end of those words, giving the lie to them. It didn't take Steve more than a few breaths to know what Bucky was lying about, and why.

He did know what he needed, and it was something he couldn't name, because to name it would be to ask for it--and he knew Steve would give him anything he asked for right now.

What Bucky wanted was something he didn't want to extort from Steve. It was something that couldn't be stolen.

It could only be given. Steve wanted nothing more than to give Bucky what he needed, and Bucky had come back to give him the chance to do it.

"I can think of a way," Steve said softly. "So you could know for sure that I'm in you. With you."

Bucky gripped him tighter, shivering with tension now, and Steve knew he was on the right track.

"I know you're good already, Buck," Steve said softly. "Because of who you are, not just because of what I gave you. You always have been. And I know that you're worth caring for and healing and feeding. And if you need me to know it for you, and show it to you, I can do that."

Bucky drew in a breath, bracing himself to argue or at least demur, and Steve cut him off.

"I want to. I want to give you that. If you'll have it from me, if you'll let me--" he had to catch his breath before he could say it out loud, the sheer enormity of the idea tightening his throat.

"Let me feed you again. Please. We can do it right this time, both of us knowing. I want to, I'm offering it. You didn't ask, you're not making me do anything. All you have to do is let me."

Bucky's breath went out of him in a shuddering rush that was almost a sob. "Steve."

"Please," Steve repeated. He didn't know how to put it into words, how much he wanted to be able to do this, how eager he was for his body, or some little piece of it he wouldn't miss, to be what Bucky needed.

"Please, Buck. Let me give you this."

Bucky was stiff in his arms for another moment, breathing rough and fast. When he nodded against Steve's shoulder it was a stiff, effortful movement. Steve squeezed him tighter, kissing his hair, his jaw, anything he could reach.

Bucky breathed out again and went limp. He turned his face and Steve kissed his cheeks, his closed eyes. His lips, just barely parted.

Bucky's hands caught his shoulders then. "Not--not yet. Not tonight--today."

Steve shook his head, meeting Bucky's eyes in the slowly-brightening light of the coming morning. "No. We'll do it right this time. All on purpose. We'll set aside a day, and we'll do this in sunlight so we can both see."

Bucky shook his head a little, his mouth twisted into something like a smile, and he pulled Steve down into another softly hungry kiss. "Are you sure it's--Stevie, are you sure--"

"Anything I've got I'll give you." Steve punctuated the promise with another brush of lips, and kept on holding Bucky close, pressing them together so Bucky could feel the truth in him from head to toe. "It won't hurt either of us, and I want to. And you need it. So that's all there is to it."

Bucky laughed a little against his mouth and kissed him until they fell asleep like that, tangled together with the sun coming up.

Everything felt suspended, as if they were both holding their breath, until the chosen day arrived. For three days every time their eyes met, every time they spoke about anything, the anticipation was palpable. They were waiting for that day, for that new start. Until it arrived nothing was quite real; everything they said to each other was, Not yet, not yet, but soon.

They slept in the same bed, exchanged kisses and touches in passing, but no more. Not yet, but soon.

The night before they ate an early dinner, before the sun set. When they finished, Bucky cleared his throat and said, "I... I think I need to... I'll see you in the morning, okay?"

Steve nodded. It felt different this time, not like any other way Bucky had ever left him. This was... ritual, even if they were inventing it, mostly unspoken, as they went along. Bucky had to be apart from him tonight, so that they could come back together in the morning. So they could do it right.

"First thing," Steve said softly. "Soon as it's light."

Bucky's smile was quick and sharp. Hungry. "I won't be dawdling, I promise."

Steve smiled back, longing for it just as much. "I won't be going anywhere without you, pal."

Bucky looked away, but his smile lingered, and all that night Steve could still see that smile in his mind's eye. Not only hungry, not only eager; Bucky's smile had been confident of getting what he hungered for. Soon. Soon.

Steve was up before the sun preparing.

He made the bed with fresh sheets, set out a couple of clean cloths and first aid supplies along with a bottle of water. He sterilized the combat knife that Bucky had left where Steve was bound to find it, tucked under his pillow. Then he took a very long, very thorough shower and shaved like he was about to face inspection.

He wrapped a clean towel around his hips, but didn't bother to dress beyond that. When he came out of the bathroom, the first light of dawn was spilling into the bedroom, and Bucky stood in the doorway.

He was freshly showered too, the ends of his hair still wet, his face shaved perfectly smooth. He was wearing jeans but nothing else, his feet bare and all his scars on display, his new arm gleaming softly in the early light.

Steve's whole body was stirring, eager, adrenaline singing through him. He was half-hard under the towel, all his skin sensitized. He could just about taste Bucky on the air and feel him breathing despite the width of the room between them.

No more anticipation. This was the day and the hour now.

Steve went and sat on the end of the bed, beside the things he had prepared. He set his feet wide apart and said quietly, "Come on."

Bucky moved as smoothly as if they'd practiced it, three steps bringing him to Steve before he knelt. Steve's knees bracketed his hips, and Bucky's left hand slid up under the clean white towel, finding the scar on Steve's right thigh.

Steve leaned down to kiss Bucky's lips, and then his forehead.

Then he sat back, spine and shoulders straight. He met Bucky's eyes, fixed on his. "Watch, okay? I want you to see."

Bucky nodded, dropping his gaze to Steve's hands as Steve reached for the knife. It was very sharp, as well as clean, and Steve knew he wouldn't have any trouble making the cut. He had already chosen the spot, worked out the angles; the motion of his hands was slow and steady, and felt practiced already.

He pressed his left hand to his chest, drawing the skin taut, and inserted the tip of the knife into the underside of his pectoral muscle on the left side. Over his heart, though safely outside his ribs.

Steve glanced up from his hands to see that Bucky was watching. His eyes were wide, looking very blue in the morning light, his cheeks flushed, teeth digging into his lip as his fingers dug into the scar on Steve's thigh.

Steve returned his attention to what he was doing. The pain, the uncomfortable feeling of something inside his body where it shouldn't be, were both muted by the adrenaline rushing through him, but blood had already run down the blade and over his knuckles. Time to get on with it.

With a dizzyingly familiar motion, one he had learned in that dark cave, at a very different angle--he twisted the blade to cut a slice of muscle free, drawing it out and pushing it back into the incision at a slightly different angle.

He felt the flesh come free, and brought his left hand down to catch it. Warm and jewel-bright with blood, a thin slice the width of the knife blade; when his fingers pulled it free it stopped being muscle and became meat. Food. He pressed the heel of his left hand to the cut, set the knife down and wiped his fingers clean.

Bucky was still staring, eyes wide, and now his lips were parted.

"Open," Steve said softly, taking the slice of flesh into his right hand.

Bucky opened his mouth wide for Steve to lay his sacrifice on Bucky's tongue.

Bucky didn't move a muscle, his eyes fixed on Steve's now. Steve pressed on Bucky's chin with the palm of his hand, pressing his bloodied fingers across Bucky's lips, and Bucky made a soft sound, wounded and ecstatic all at once.

Steve watched the little motions of his mouth--he didn't really have to chew, but it was obvious Bucky didn't want this to be over as quickly as that, either. He was savoring this. His eyes were closed. His face tensed with effort as he finally swallowed.

When Bucky's eyes opened again, Steve couldn't hold back anymore. He cradled the nape of Bucky's neck with his bloodied hand and bent to kiss his mouth again. Steve's breath caught at the familiarity of that iron tang between their lips, and Bucky's right hand joined Steve's left, pressing against the cut on his chest, over his thundering heart.

"Steve," Bucky whispered, "Steve, God, you--let me clean you up, huh?"

Steve nodded and leaned back, allowing Bucky to push him all the way down to lie on the bed. Bucky moved closer, pressed in as far between Steve's thighs as he could. He tugged Steve's hand aside to press a cloth to the incision, and Steve gasped a little, abruptly aware of the pain of the wound as well as the promising closeness of Bucky's body. Aside from that quick fumble in the kitchen the day they'd arrived here, it was the first time since 1945.

"Steve," Bucky repeated, shaking his head. He laid his left hand on Steve's belly, drawing Steve's attention to the lines of blood trailing down from the wound to the top of the towel.

Bucky bowed his head, pressing his already-bloodstained lips to Steve's skin. Steve couldn't tear his eyes away--it was his turn to watch now, to see the part of this that was Bucky's gift to him, here in the light. He watched Bucky clean the blood from his skin in deliberate swipes of his tongue, greedy for all he could have or solicitous of Steve in the aftermath, or both. Either way, the touch of his tongue was winding Steve's whole body tighter with every stroke.

Bucky had to raise himself up off his knees to reach the blood closest to the wound. He stayed close, braced just above Steve on his left arm. And then Bucky carefully lifted the cloth he'd been pressing down, revealing the dark red line of the incision, already scabbed over. He licked carefully, delicately, right up to that line and pressed his mouth tenderly over the wound.

"Take it," Steve whispered, suddenly dizzily desperate to give more, for Bucky to bite down on that raw flesh, to tear and take from that place where Steve had opened himself to this. "All you want, Buck. Take it."

Bucky exhaled against Steve's skin and looked up at him with a crooked red smile. "No, Stevie. That was plenty."

Steve opened his mouth to beg for more, and Bucky moved up over him, giving him another bloody kiss, deeper and slower than before. Steve moaned into it, wrapping his legs around Bucky's, but Bucky pulled back.

"Let me get a bandage on this." Bucky was trying to be stern, but there was red trailing from the corner of his mouth and his eyes were bright and wild.

Steve already felt breathless, at an utter loss for words. He only nodded, and Bucky twisted away, picking up the first aid supplies Steve had left out. Steve closed his eyes and let Bucky handle it, securing a bandage in place and getting everything properly cleaned up, including his own face.

Bucky rested his hand over that spot, which was aching and already itching with the start of healing, when he was done. Right over Steve's racing heart.

"Why there?" Bucky asked softly. "Why'd you pick this spot?"

Steve bit his lip, forcing his eyes open to meet Bucky's, but Bucky was looking down at his hand, at Steve's chest.

"Don't say something corny about your heart, either," Bucky added, giving him a sharp look before dropping his gaze again.

Steve smiled a little. "Could've been why."

"Your leg worked just fine before, Steve." Bucky shook his head and didn't look up this time. "Tell me. Why."

Steve sighed and closed his own eyes. He wanted to raise his arm, cover his face, but he knew that wasn't a good idea just yet.

"Because I don't have to hide it this time," Steve admitted. "Doesn't matter if it's sore for a while, or if it bleeds from me moving wrong and I have to change the bandages. Because you know, this time, what it is and what it means. So it can be right there, front and center. No hiding."

Bucky's hand moved, one finger tracing the outline of a star over Steve's chest--the incision was right between the two lower points on the left side.

Bucky leaned down and kissed his mouth again, tasting less like blood and more like himself. He was being gentle, demanding nothing, but Steve knew they weren't finished here.

He just needed to push a little. "Also because it's over my--"

Bucky cut him off with a harder kiss, almost laughing into it, and that was more like it. Steve raised his right hand to Bucky's hip, his thumb on skin and fingers resting on rough denim.

"Uh-uh." Bucky caught his hand and pushed it down to the bed. "You've done enough, Stevie. My turn. You're just gonna lie real still and let me give you something back."

Steve grinned, feeling giddy, and like Bucky's hold might be the only thing tethering him to the earth. No more secrets, and he'd finally done this right, given Bucky something that was only good for him. Something that made him happy.

"Is it breakfast, or--"

Bucky growled a little and tugged Steve's towel free. His dick and the cut on his chest throbbed together in time to his racing pulse, and he didn't know which he wanted Bucky's hand on more.

"How about this," Bucky muttered, his voice rasping in Steve's ear while his hand dropped down between Steve's thighs, ignoring his dick entirely. Steve spread his legs instinctively, hips tilting to invite the touch as Bucky's fingers brushed over his hole. "How about I give you this, huh?"

Steve's head went back, baring his throat, arching his chest up. He'd been waiting so long, and now that they were getting to it he didn't know how he'd survived so long without. "Yeah, Buck. That's it."

Bucky's fingers went away and came back, spit-slick, circling and pushing. Steve felt himself yielding to the lightest pressure, letting Bucky in. Buck's fingers sunk all the way into him, joining them again in a different way--two shall become one flesh. If there was a little ache to it, well, of course it hurt, making a space inside yourself to give to someone else.

The pleasure quickly erased everything else; Bucky's fingers worked inside him, knowing just where to touch. Steve tried to writhe against the sensation, pleasure lighting up his whole body, and Bucky's left hand pressed down firmly on the center of his chest.

"Be still, Stevie, just let me."

"I'll let you do anything, Buck, just do it." Steve needed it more than he could ever remember needing--not just for more pleasure, not just to satisfy the ache of his dick. He needed Bucky inside him, Bucky's body over his, connected to his. He needed Bucky all the way back with him, all the way home inside him, where they both belonged.

That was why, after all. He could give pieces of himself away to Bucky because he wasn't really giving them away at all. They were part of each other, body and soul, and there was nothing at all they couldn't exchange between them as long as that bond held between them. Nothing was lost, only shared.

"Just don't want to hurt you," Bucky muttered, but Steve could hear the strain, the need, in his voice, and he knew that Bucky felt it too. The urge to be together, to be one.

"Don't care if it hurts," Steve managed. "It hurts not having you. Come on."

Bucky huffed but didn't argue.

Steve whined at the feeling of his fingers slipping out, but then Bucky was moving up over him, kissing around the edge of the bandage as the head of his cock pressed between Steve's legs. Steve curled a leg around Bucky's waist, tipping his hips up in the familiar maneuver, and Bucky pushed inside with a long groan that Steve could only echo.

It did hurt--he was as tight as the first time, with almost no prep and nothing but spit slicking the way--but it was right. His body adjusted to it almost before Bucky was fully inside him, muscles relaxing and making way. The burn faded into heat, the sense of being filled, being closer to Bucky than he could be in--almost--any other way.

Bucky kissed his way up Steve's chest, up his throat, moving them both inch by inch until he couldn't be any deeper inside, until Steve was curled just enough under him for Bucky's mouth to reach his.

"Okay?" Bucky's lips brushed his, and the word didn't mean anything, or it meant everything.

Steve nodded, catching Bucky's mouth in a wet, open kiss. Bucky barely moved over him, just the faintest little rocking motion, slower than their breaths, slower than their hearts. For a moment it was enough to be here again after all this time, to be together in this feeling, in each other.

Only for a moment. Just when Steve realized that he wasn't going to be able to bear the stillness much longer, Bucky bit down on his bottom lip and then pushed up, bracing himself over Steve so that he could really move. He kept the first few thrusts slow, not teasing but testing, his eyes on Steve's.

Steve couldn't look away and couldn't speak, but he nodded again. Bucky flashed a feral grin and thrust in hard. Steve's breath went out of him, his head tipping back as the pleasure-pain jolted through him, hot and shocking and familiar all at once. Yes.

This was Bucky; this was them. Bucky kept going, harder, faster, and the rhythm was as familiar as the shared cadence of their footsteps on a boardwalk, their racing hearts and panting breaths. They both knew where they were going, and they were going there together--higher and higher as the sensation built. It wasn't just friction and fullness, wasn't just pleasure, it was...

"Bucky," Steve gasped, because there wasn't another word for it and he couldn't hold it back. "Bucky."

Bucky's mouth opened, his teeth parting like he would devour this, too, Steve's words and his pleasure and his love. Steve had to close his eyes, but it wasn't any less overwhelming that way, and Bucky started calling his name, breathless and rough, in time to the thrusts that were driving Steve straight out of his mind.

When he came it felt like something more than that, not just the completion of pleasure but some revelation, a moment of utter wordless perfection. He lay stunned for a moment under Bucky's weight; it took him the space of several breaths to recognize from the heavy slump of him that Bucky must have come too at some point while Steve was too lost in ecstasy to notice.

A second later he also realized that Bucky was carefully tilting to one side, not letting himself rest on the left side of Steve's chest. Steve tightened his legs around Bucky's hips, then ventured to raise his right hand to brush against Bucky's arm.

Bucky nuzzled against his collarbone and then said, "M'gonna move."

Just like that they were themselves again, not strange to each other anymore and not exalted, either. Just Steve and Bucky, in the sticky aftermath of sex. Steve smiled dopily at the ceiling, because that was also a hell of a thing to be. "Okay."

It took another second, and then Bucky did move, disengaging carefully and giving Steve's thigh a gentle shove to make him let go. He cleaned them both up with an unbloodied corner of the cloth he'd used to stanch the wound on Steve's chest, and then pushed Steve over onto his right side. Bucky spooned up behind him, rubbing his smooth-shaved cheek against the back of Steve's neck.

It was still early, Steve realized; the sun was still slanting through the windows all low and golden, and they had a whole day ahead of them.

"You're staying in bed all day," Bucky murmured in his ear. "I don't care if you're not hurt that bad, you're going to let me take care of you properly for once. Without arguing."

"Tall order," Steve observed, grinning and nestling back against the familiar warmth of Bucky's body. Bucky's left arm rested gently over him, his left hand on Steve's chest right beside the bandage.

"I'll think of some way to hold you to it." Steve could hear the smile in his voice, could feel it in every inch of Bucky's body pressed against his. There was a little hesitation--a wriggle, a shiver--and then Bucky added, "I don't know if I said before, but... thank you."

Steve shook his head and pressed his right hand over Bucky's left. "Don't thank me, pal. I didn't give you anything that wasn't already yours."