A/N: For kink bingo, 'mechanical/technological'. Title from "I and Love and You" by the Avett Brothers. Set movieverse but draws on some very basic details from the comics, in reference to Bucky, Natasha, and the Winter Soldier.
Take Me In
It happens slowly.
When they find him, Bucky isn't the same Bucky Steve knew. He is, but he isn't. Different but the same, sort of like Steve except… not. He still looks like Bucky, except for his arm (Bucky hasn't yet offered an explanation and Steve hasn't been able to ask), but he doesn't seem the same. He doesn't smile like he used to, or laugh and tease. He's full of all these hard edges. Natasha prepared him for this but Steve guesses it's one of those things you can never really be prepared for.
He doesn't know what will happen when they bring Bucky back, how Fury will react. He knows Clint, at least, will be on their side and he hopes Natasha's history will work in their favor. SHIELD had a kill order on her, too, after all, and now she's an Avenger. Steve knows that they did things to Bucky's head but Bucky is the best man he's ever known. He deserves their help.
Steve lost Bucky once. He isn't going to do it again.
And neither is Natasha. Steve doesn't know the details of Bucky and Natasha's past together and that's okay. He knows Bucky had a hand in training Natasha. He knows they were important to each other and that's enough for him.
They sleep in the same bed that first night. Bucky rolls onto his side in a little ball, one of Steve's sweatshirts hiding his robotic arm, and Steve slowly, hesitantly slides in next to him. Bucky tenses when Steve presses close but he stays quiet and he gradually relaxes, Steve relaxing along with him.
He remembers this, remembers lying curled together under the blankets, trying to conserve their body heat because they couldn't really afford actual gas heat. He remembers lying on a cot that was too small for the both of them, the springs creaking while Bucky laughed into Steve's neck.
Natasha slinks silently out of the bathroom and settles on Bucky's other side. Even though no one says anything it feels exactly right.
They sleep in the same bed every night after that, too.
Bucky's arm, the fake, mechanical one, is kind of a thing. It's not a thing for Steve, he honestly doesn't care, except for in the way that he's sorry it ever happened. (And except for in the way that he sometimes wonders how that hand would feel on his skin, how it would feel to have Bucky touch him.)
But it's a thing for Bucky. He doesn't want Steve to even look at his arm, let alone touch it. He'll be sitting with Natasha and Steve will come by and Bucky will flinch and shift away, to try to block Steve from seeing, or sometimes he grabs for a sweatshirt and acts like he's cold, but Steve isn't stupid.
Bucky doesn't mind Natasha seeing his arm and Steve tries not to be hurt by that. He's merely as careful as he can be not to touch the metal when they're lying together and tells himself it will get better.
Bucky is quieter now than he used to be, more withdrawn, and it isn't like Steve doesn't know why, but he also knows that a good deal of that is because they don't quite know how to relate to each other anymore. Steve doesn't know how to make Bucky see how much he means to Steve, how much it means that he's found Bucky again. He doesn't know how to help Bucky and he doesn't know how to make Bucky understand that no matter what happened - or happens - Steve will always feel the same way about him.
They're in a hotel just outside New York when Steve decides they can't keep going on the way they have been, not dealing with anything. He doesn't want to take Bucky to SHIELD, not knowing how everything will turn out, while they still haven't come to terms with each other. If Bucky can't know what his future is going to be like, he should at least be able to know for certain how Steve feels about him.
The TV is on in their room but no one's actually watching it, it just hums in the background like ambient noise. Steve gets up to turn it off.
"Bucky," he says, and the way Bucky is looking at him lets Steve know that his face and his tone must be awfully telling. He had wanted to ease into the conversation, start with something simple, but it figures he'd open his mouth and 'let's have a serious talk about our feelings' would be all over his face. Bucky probably knows him too well, even after so many years.
After all, it hasn't been long for Steve. He can't have changed that much, right?
Natasha looks like she's about to duck out of the room to give them some privacy but Steve casts her a pleading look and she stays, melting into a dim corner and taking a seat on the couch. This is about Steve and Bucky, it's about them remembering how to be Steve and Bucky, but the one thing Steve is sure of is that he wants Tasha there. He has faith that they can figure this out but he wants it to be together, all of them.
Bucky pushes himself up off the bed and turns, a bit defensively, so that his good side - the side with his good arm - is angled more towards Steve. "I'm surprised it's taken you this long to have a heart-to-heart," he says, expression wry.
"Maybe I was just waiting until I was sure you wouldn't run away screaming," Steve says, trying for casual, and knows he's failed miserably.
It takes a while for Bucky to respond and when he does, his tone is serious. "I'm not running."
Steve moves closer, slowly, like Bucky's a scared animal, but maybe he is, in a way. "I'm not running, either." He hopes Bucky understands what he means.
"Maybe you should," Bucky says, voice rough.
"I know what it's like to have something done to you-"
"I didn't just grow a foot and gain a hundred pounds of muscle, Steve! And I sure as hell never asked for it."
Steve winces, thinking that was probably the worst thing he could have said. He knows he can't ever truly understand what Bucky went through, not like Natasha can, but all he wants is to help. He doesn't know what to say, how to convey how he feels and what he means, so he touches.
He reaches out and touches Bucky's arm, lightly running his fingertips over it. He feels the place where the metal meets Bucky's skin and Bucky flinches away.
"Bucky," Steve says and wraps his hand around Bucky's arm, holding still until Bucky gives him a small nod.
Steve caresses the skin first, using only the tips of his fingers, reacquainting himself with the feel of it, while Bucky breathes shallowly. He slowly traces his fingers lower, down to the mechanical arm they gave him. Steve lets his grip grow firmer, stroking the metal with the palm of his hand, too. He learns it by touch and by sight because it's Bucky, it's something they did to him but it's still just Bucky.
(Bucky is Steve's, all of him, every part, doesn't he know that?)
Eventually Bucky makes this hoarse, desperate sort of laugh and says, "You know I can't feel that, right?"
"But I can." Steve looks up and meets Bucky's eyes.
Bucky swallows, Adam's apple bobbing in his throat, and his eyes flicker from Steve to his arm to Steve and finally to Natasha, sitting silently in the background.
She stays where she is, still watching them, so Steve tries to convey, please come over here and help me with his eyes. Her mouth twitches and Steve knows she's laughing at him but he can handle that.
Natasha glides to her feet and she takes Bucky's hand, his robot hand, and rests it against Steve's cheek. Bucky does that convulsive swallowing thing again and his hand is shaking but he doesn't move it. Then Natasha pulls Steve's hand up, too, and Steve automatically rubs his thumb a little over the cool metal of Bucky's.
"There," she says, like it's so easy, so simple, but it kind of is. It feels that way, anyway. It feels like they belong, all three of them, just like this. Tasha's eyes are smiling and Bucky doesn't look scared anymore and all Steve can think is, yes, this, finally.