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How we rolled up the carpet so we could dance

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It’s already dark by the time Bucky unlocks the front door and stumbles in. He’s bone-deep exhausted and his hair smells like a bonfire, but he can see Steve’s bare feet sticking out from behind the back of the couch, and it makes something warm bloom in his chest.

It’s not rare that Steve’s made it back before him, but Bucky relishes it every single time anyway, knowing how much Steve used to hate the debriefs; meetings where all he used to hear were stats of dead and injured and property damage, never a grateful word for doing the right thing.

Steve’s already showered and changed into sweats and a tank top, his hair still sticking up in cowlicks. When Bucky drags himself to the couch, still in his uniform with soot on his face, Steve takes one look at him in the soft glow of the living room lamp and opens his arms.

Bucky drops the shield on the floor and crawls over Steve’s legs to collapse on top of him, tucks his face under Steve’s chin and exhales. “Jesus fucking Christ.”

“Tell me about it,” Steve says softly, pushing his fingers into Bucky’s hair and working the hair tie off. Bucky’s scalp feels hypersensitive and aching, maybe from the pull of his hair under the helmet, and the relief of losing the hair tie is so palpable that he almost whines.

“How many?” Bucky murmurs. His eyelids feel like lead, and he closes his eyes, inhales the clean smell of Steve’s skin. Sometimes he wishes they could always stay like this: Steve getting to sit back while Bucky goes and makes amends for all the blood on his hands. But Steve’s stubborn to the marrow of his bones, and Bucky knows that Steve would never retire if Bucky kept going out to earn redemption one catastrophe at a time.

“Fifteen,” Steve replies quietly. “Just fifteen this time.”

Steve’s hands slide slowly up Bucky’s back until he can unclasp the shield harness and reach the zipper of Bucky’s suit. Bucky lets himself go boneless, lets Steve manhandle him until the harness is on the floor and Steve’s peeled the upper half of the suit off, leaving Bucky in his damp workout shirt, smelling sharply of sweat. Steve wraps his arms around Bucky’s waist as soon as the suit is pushed down to his hips, and the hug is tight and welcomed.

“Fifteen, huh,” Bucky slurs, feeling off-kilter, half tired and yet half strung up on leftover adrenaline.

Just fifteen thugs dead or incapacitated by operative Captain Rogers on the rooftops and back alleys, clearing the way for the PR nightmare that is Bucky’s team. That’s not much, statistically speaking; Steve can do a lot of damage in a very short time if he’s given the chance.

“You’re getting slow, old man,” Bucky mumbles, and Steve lets out a breathy chuckle, tries to tickle Bucky’s side a little. Bucky very carefully knees him in the groin, just enough to make him let out a weird combination of exasperated groan and laugh.

They lie like that for a while, Steve’s fingers digging absently into the stiff knots around Bucky’s spine.

“Captain America saved the day, huh,” Steve remarks in a carefully nonchalant but dry tone.

“Yeah,” Bucky says in the same tone. “Didn’t you hear? The great American hero. Only seven civilian lives lost.”

Steve huffs out a small, wry laugh and nudges Bucky’s head with his chin until Bucky lifts his heavy head and tilts his face up into a kiss. The angle is awkward, but kissing Steve finally unlocks the last of the rigid stance Bucky’s been holding since he left home that morning in his suit. He kisses Steve again, slow and grateful, before curling up a little to fit better against Steve’s side, half-wedged between Steve and the couch. Steve noses his hair and presses a kiss there, shifting to better accommodate Bucky’s broad shoulders and narrow hips.

“You should shower, doll,” Steve says softly into Bucky’s hair, and Bucky inhales, exhales, inhales again.

“Five more minutes,” he mumbles, head nested on the curve of Steve’s collarbone. “I’m just. I’m just really tired.”

“Yeah,” Steve sighs, and kisses his brow. “I know. You’re a good egg, Buck. Five more minutes.”

Bucky gets almost ten.

**

Sometimes-- sometimes the shield is a burden.

Bucky wasn’t born to be a leader. In the war, he’d been convinced otherwise when he’d been promoted to a Sergeant - but being a leader had quickly gained a bitter, foul taste in the Kreischberg factory. The Nazis called him mockingly Der kleine Führer and liked how efficiently he could organize the factory shifts for the allied POWs. Keeping his men safe meant faking a confident grin and kissing Nazi ass, and that alone had made Bucky want to rip off his insignia and burn it.

In retrospect, it definitely wasn’t a hardship to give up his leadership position for Steve as soon as they were rescued, and not only because Bucky was still a little unsteady on his feet.

Sometimes Bucky still wonders if stepping up to replace Steve as Captain America was a good idea. It gives Steve a chance to do what he wants without the restrictions of the public image, and Bucky a chance to make some amends, but after seventy years of working alone, the duties that come with having a team are suffocating.

Bucky carries on. The guilt is still there, his hands so blood-stained that they won’t get clean, no matter how much he scrubs. The newly-appeared light in Steve’s eyes is a palpable thing; something he holds close to his heart when he lifts up the shield.

He carries on. It doesn’t mean he enjoys it.

**

“You look tired.”

The tone Natasha uses is nonchalant, but Bucky’s learnt to never take her nonchalance at face value. He reaches for his towel, wipes sweat from his eyes and turns to look at her, keeping his rhythm on the treadmill. She’s leaning against a spinning bike a few feet away, chewing gum, arms crossed across her chest. Bucky makes a noncommittal sound and takes his speed down a couple of notches.

Natasha is quiet while he slows down, starting the cool-off program. Then she asks, “How’s Steve?”

Bucky swallows. Steve doesn’t hang out in the Tower that much anymore, so Natasha’s question is understandable. Bucky has to, because of the team, but he knows that if it was down to him and Steve, their visits to the Tower would be very limited.

Steve looks so much happier now, released from the public eye; in the fight he’s ruthless and free and so beautiful that sometimes Bucky wishes it were possible to just choke on the surge of emotions and be done with it. Still, it’s clear that soldiering isn’t everything Steve would like to do with his life; that he’s just changed one way to fight for another.

“Better,” he replies, because he doesn’t know what else to say.

Natasha hmms. For a long while the only sound in the gym is Bucky’s trainers beating on the treadmill. Bucky stares resolutely ahead, not willing to watch the cogs turning in Natasha’s head.

“Why did you do this?” Natasha asks finally.

Bucky fakes confusion. “Do what?”

“Don’t play dumb, Barnes, it doesn’t look cute on you.” She cocks an eyebrow at his phone, which is lighting up with messages from Steve. “This.”

Bucky shrugs and brings the treadmill down to a halt. He doesn’t look at Natasha as he chugs some water down and wipes his face. Then he says, “You know why. Steve deserved to step down. Somebody had to take the shield.”

“Yeah,” Natasha says, looking at him closely. “Captain America is an icon. A beacon of hope in the darkness of the world. Anybody could be him.”

Her tone isn’t mocking, but it’s easy enough to detect the sarcasm. Bucky nods anyway, fiddling with the treadmill settings.

“Well then,” Natasha says. “If he could be anybody - why did it have to be you?”

Bucky doesn’t have an answer to that.

**

Bucky doesn’t really like fighting on the front or being on point. He’s never liked it, always been more comfortable up in his nest or having his team’s backs, but now he has to be in the middle of it, because Captain America is always there, the first one to run recklessly towards the danger.

They’re in Ohio, in an old HYDRA facility that’s seemingly abandoned: a messy compound of tunnels and vast, dusty halls filled with broken factory equipment that hasn’t been used for decades. But they’ve had solid intel that a rogue HYDRA group is using the compound as their base, and it’s always better be safe than sorry: get in, get the fuckers, blow the place up.

It’s not a large group due to the cramped, labyrinth-like base: just Natasha, Clint, and Vision with Bucky this time, and a small team of operatives led by Agent Carter. Steve’s in Carter’s team, too, but Bucky hasn’t really seen him since he left their house in the morning - Carter handles the briefings and the communication between her team and Bucky’s. Steve has a direct access to the Avengers’ comm links, but he seldom uses it: mostly he wants to just listen, to make sure Bucky’s alright.

It’s still strange, after almost six months since Steve gave up the shield. He participates in the operations, but they go their own ways, and Bucky often doesn’t see him at all in the field, just feels his presence in the absence of enemy snipers on his back. Bucky’s so used to keeping Steve in his line of vision at all times when they’re under an attack that he sometimes still twists around mid-fight to say something and feels a flash of dread when Steve’s nowhere to be seen.

The compound is eerily silent as they creep through it. Bucky’s paired up with Vision; Clint and Natasha vanished to map their own grid, and he suspects that Carter’s team is split up too to cover them.

Natasha’s voice comes in through Bucky’s earpiece just as Bucky and Vision round another corner to find light and sounds of talking coming from ahead. “The intel about the base seems to be correct,” she says. “There’s two occupied halls on this side, approximately thirty-five people. That means that the occupied area on your side should only have twenty people or so.”

“Good,” Bucky replies. He adjusts the shield on his arm and checks that his weapons are ready. “Vision will join you; I can handle this side by myself.”

“Are you sure, Cap?” Clint asks. “Twenty’s still a solid amount of guys to knock out for one person.”

“Yeah,” Bucky insists, motioning for Vision to leave. Vision inclines his head and floats off through the wall. It’s seriously never gonna stop being weird and a little creepy.

Surprisingly, Steve’s voice crackles down the line. “I’m a little behind Bucky, I’ll help him handle it. Agent Carter and the rest of the team are headed to help with the larger group.”

“Hey, Steve!” Clint says brightly, clearly happily surprised. “Great to hear from you, pal! Go kick some ass.”

Steve laughs, and it makes something warm and content curl in Bucky’s chest. He adjusts his helmet, straightens up and says, “Going in. Good luck.”

“Nearly there,” Steve promises, and the line goes quiet.

Everything turns into a strange blur after the shield leaves Bucky’s hand for the first time: his whole existence narrows down into adapting to the way the shield ricochets from walls and people, and he throws himself into it, still not as graceful with it as Steve was.

He manages to drop several goons, a constant reminder of incapacitate, don’t kill hammering at the back of his brain. The twenty guys don’t seem like professional mercenaries but like normal thugs who just have some fucked-up ideologies, and they don’t fight very well, either. Most of them are almost panicking under the surprise attack, turning to their weapons and clearly not prepared for Bucky’s hand-to-hand combat skills.

Bucky’s just knocked another one out when there’s a strange whining noise, like a charging weapon, and something slams into his stomach, knocking him back. He crashes onto a steel table on his back, and the shield is thrown from his hand, landing somewhere with an unholy clang.

A power cannon of some sort, Bucky thinks hazily as he struggles to get past the ache in his midsection and to recover his breath. The suit thankfully seems to have protected him from the worst, but he feels a little disoriented and is probably gonna get terrible bruises.

“Bucky!” Steve’s voice yells from somewhere, an edge of panic to it, followed by the unmistakable sound of breaking bones. It almost makes Bucky laugh as he struggles to breathe, because somehow Steve always, always manages to pick the most dramatic moment to do his grand entrance.

Bucky groans and opens his eyes just in time to see one guy charge at him with a knife. If his stomach wasn’t in agony, the wild expression in the guy’s eyes would be almost funny. Bucky manages to kick him back easily and get up from the table, his abs screaming.

Steve’s found the shield, but seems mostly to be using it to bash people’s faces in. Bucky’s seen Steve fight after he stepped down, but not really seen , up close and personal, and now he realizes how much familiarity there is to it. Steve’s brutal, not even near as concerned about Captain America’s mantra about not killing unless absolutely necessary as he was when he still wore the title.

There’s the same sort of economic ruthlessness that Bucky remembers from the war: out of the sight of the propaganda cameras, Steve Rogers got into some nasty shit, if somebody’s life was on the line.

Most of the brutality probably draws from the fact that he’s protecting Bucky - Bucky doesn’t have any illusions about himself not being Steve’s ultimate weak spot, because Steve’s his, too.

It’s fascinating to watch, but there are still two or three guys standing, and despite Bucky still being a little disoriented from the blast, he can’t keep staring at Steve. One of the last goons manages to use Bucky’s gawking for his advantage and surprise him, swinging with a knife. Bucky blocks the stab easily with his left arm, the blade slicing his sleeve but powerless against the vibranium.

Bucky throws the guy off and turns around to see the last man pointing a gun at Steve’s vulnerable back.

Bucky doesn’t stop to think; he seizes the man’s wrist with his left hand, knocking the barrel down, and reaches behind the man’s head with his right hand. Bucky grabs the guy’s chin and snaps his neck with a clean, swift twist. The body crumples to the floor, and Bucky lets go, his breathing shallow.

When he looks up, Steve’s staring at him.

Bucky looks down again, at the body and the gun that never got the chance to be fired. It’s the first time he’s intentionally killed a man since he took the shield.

“Bucky,” Steve says, and he’s suddenly really close, touching Bucky’s shoulders gently. “You alright?”

Bucky looks up again, at Steve’s worried eyes, the pinch of his eyebrows. Steve’s hands on his shoulders are grounding, careful in case Bucky’s hurt, and Bucky loves him like an idiot, ready to throw away Captain America’s no-kill philosophy in an instant to keep him safe.

“Yeah,” Bucky manages, and his voice sounds strangled. “Just sore.”

Steve pulls him in, his arms tight but not squeezing. “Thank fuck,” he murmurs, and puts his hand on the back of Bucky’s neck.

Bucky leans his heavy head against Steve’s chest, and they stand together like that until the rest of their teams arrive to do the cleanup.

**

When they get home, a little dirty, a little banged up, Steve throws their equipment bag on the floor and presses Bucky against the foyer wall. Bucky gets with the program immediately, tangling his hands into Steve’s hair and tilting his chin up to meet Steve’s mouth halfway.

The kiss isn’t frantic like Bucky would’ve expected; instead, Steve kisses him like he’s got all the time in the world, slow and thorough. It’s--nice, if a little surprising. Usually if they get home together after a mission, they’re still so jittery with adrenaline that getting naked and into bed is an urgent priority.

Steve’s hands caress Bucky’s sides, then skitter back up his stomach, following the ridiculous uniform stripes. He unclips the harness, and Bucky worms out of it, letting the shield thunk down onto the floor.

“Jesus, Buck,” Steve says a little breathlessly and reaches for the zipper of Bucky’s suit, pressing a barely-there kiss on the hinge of Bucky’s jaw. “Is it creepy that I watched you wring that guy’s neck and all I wanted was to bend you over the nearest table?”

Bucky barks out a laugh, tipping his head back to give Steve more room. “No,” he says, arching his back as Steve starts to strip the Cap uniform slowly off, hands mapping every revealed inch. “You’ve always been hot for competency.”

He can feel Steve’s grin against the vulnerable skin under his chin.

“Yeah,” Steve murmurs as he peels Bucky out of the suit, one sleeve at the time, so torturously slowly that Bucky has to stop himself from fidgeting. “You’re not wrong.”

Steve dips his fingers under the suit as soon as Bucky’s arms are free and pushes, inching it down. His palms press against Bucky’s sides, the touch burning through the shirt Bucky’s wearing under the uniform.

“I love getting you out of this uniform,” Steve says in a low voice in Bucky’s ear, and Bucky arches up a little more, his shoulders braced against the wall and hips pushed up towards Steve. “It’s like watching you shed someone else’s skin and become you again.”

He pushes the suit past Bucky’s hips and lets it fall down on the floor, then undoes the jockstrap Bucky’s wearing between the suit and the underlayer. Bucky’s just about to toe off his boots when Steve drops down onto one knee and starts working at their heavy-duty lacing. He glances up as he eases the first one off and sets it aside, carefully lifting Bucky’s leg through the pant leg, and Bucky’s mouth goes dry.

Steve’s hair is mussed up and there’s a little smug grin in the corner of his mouth, but his eyes are honest and fond when he looks up to Bucky’s eyes; he helps him out of the suit until Bucky’s standing there in his long-sleeved compression shirt and leggings, vulnerable like a snail without its shell.

Steve stares for a long time, still crouching in front of Bucky, until Bucky swallows and looks away, the raw emotion in Steve’s eyes suddenly almost unbearable. “Steve,” he says, uncertainly, but doesn’t know how to continue. The air in the foyer feels thick, heavy.

“The things you do to me, sweetheart,” Steve says then, softly, and looks down, slides his hands up from Bucky’s ankles so that he can rest one palm on Bucky’s calf and one on his knee.

Bucky swallows again. “I love you,” he says, and his voice sounds oddly small, like he’s afraid of something, even though Steve has been the only thing he’s been sure of for a long time.

Steve looks up and quirks a smile. “Love you too, Buck,” he says before his smile turns mischievous. Before Bucky can question it, Steve grabs his legs and gets up, throwing Bucky over his shoulder.

Bucky yelps, mostly because his stomach did take some serious bruising in the fight, but Steve just pats the back of his thighs consolingly as he carries Bucky to the bedroom and sets him down.

“Cool it, Tarzan,” Bucky mutters, a little embarrassed, and tries to push the hair out of his face. “What am I, Jane?”

Steve grabs his wrists and swoops down to kiss him, soft and lingering. “Nah,” he says. “Just beautiful.”

“You fucking sweet talker,” Bucky says, but his voice sounds oddly thick.

Steve smiles and pushes Bucky backwards by the hips until Bucky sits down on their bed like a sack of potatoes. His knees feel a little weak: it’s not physical like the ache in his muscles and around the seam of flesh and metal in his shoulder, but more like one look from Steve could yank his feet out from under him.

Steve kicks off his own boots and pulls off his gloves before kneeling again on the floor and putting his warm hands on Bucky’s bony knees. “You did well today,” he says softly, dragging his fingertips lightly down Bucky’s shins until he can roll down his socks. Steve’s fingers are cool against the thin skin on Bucky’s feet.

Bucky averts his eyes. Taking praise from Steve has always been hard, but even more after--everything.

“You did,” Steve insists, and without a warning, digs his thumbs into the sore spots in the arches of Bucky’s feet.

Bucky sucks in a sharp, surprised breath and tilts his head back, closing his eyes. Steve rubs the tiny aching muscles with steady, careful movements, pressing harder and then easing off, and Bucky leans back on his hands and sighs. Steve’s hands are slowly but surely pulling the tension from Bucky’s body, like unspooling a thread of wariness and anxiety.

From his feet Steve moves up, gently massaging Bucky’s calves through the leggings, making Bucky groan. His legs feel tense, muscles hard and strung up, but Steve’s pressing just in the right spots, with the perfect pressure, like Bucky’s body is a well-loved book and he remembers every single page.

He zones out a little, the buzzing in his head growing fainter and fainter with every knot Steve coaxes loose, until his brain is blissfully quiet, the rest of the world falling away. It used to happen a lot in the early days: him getting so deep in his own head that everything around him ceased to exist, a willed dissociation to escape situations where everything was too overwhelming.

Nowadays it’s less to do with escape, and more to do with trust: he’s so comfortable around Steve that he can let go of the real world for a bit and just sink, trusting Steve to take care of him.

Bucky drifts back when Steve slides his fingers beneath his shirt and leans in to kiss the corner of Bucky’s mouth. When Bucky opens his eyes, Steve’s face is close, with his ridiculous eyelashes and sparkling, fond eyes.

“You with me, Buck?” Steve asks, smiling a little.

Bucky manages a nod, and Steve’s smile broadens as he starts rucking Bucky’s shirt up slowly. The soft touch of his fingertips makes Bucky squirm, ticklish, and Steve chuckles, carefully avoiding the bruising around his midsection. Bucky sits up and helpfully raises his arms so that Steve can peel the shirt off and throw it towards the hamper. The movement pulls on the bruised skin, and he winces, annoyed at the asshole who got the best of him.

Steve gets up and wiggles his hands under Bucky’s ass so that he can manhandle Bucky to the middle of the bed. Most days he would deck Steve for trying to baby him, but then there are days like this, when even thinking is so exhausting that he’s grateful to let Steve take the wheel.

When Bucky’s lying comfortably on the unmade bed, Steve crawls closer and sits down on Bucky’s legs. The pressure is grounding, and Bucky’s glad for it, a physical reminder that he’s safe and protected even in his vulnerable, half-naked state.

Steve caresses the livid purple marks blooming on Bucky’s stomach with careful fingers, hunched over Bucky’s body like a human shield. His left hand is on Bucky’s hip, thumb pressing into the hollow of it, dipped under the waistband of the leggings; another grounding touch, skin on skin.

“I wish I could tear apart the guy who did this,” Steve says softly, mapping the edges of the injury which will be gone by the morning. “I wish I could tear apart everything that’s ever hurt you.”

Bucky shivers under his touch and closes his eyes again, lifts his right hand so that he can reach up and cup the back of Steve’s head, push his fingers into Steve’s wild hair. “That would require a lot of tearing,” he says, because he doesn’t know what else to say. Thank you, maybe. I’m not worth it, maybe. Maybe Just hold me, please.

Steve laughs, but there’s a sad undertone to it. He tilts his face into Bucky’s touch for a brief moment. “I’d do it if you wanted me to,” Steve says, and Bucky thinks that maybe he heard all the unsaid words anyway.

Steve leans down and kisses Bucky on the mouth, sweet and chaste, before starting to work his way down, peppering kisses on Bucky’s neck, his collarbones, down his chest. He kneads the sore area around Bucky’s metal shoulder carefully, by now an expert at handling the damaged nerves and the hard-working muscles without hurting Bucky.

Bucky draws in a shaky breath and scritches Steve’s head a little, his right arm trembling with the need to pull Steve’s maddening mouth closer but not daring to. He caresses the short hair at the back of Steve’s head, pressing his fingers in just slightly.

Steve mouths down Bucky’s torso in a slow, feather-light pattern, clearly determined to drive Bucky crazy. His tongue drags torturously close one nipple, then the other, and Bucky hears a low, needy sound rising from his own throat, unbidden.

“Steve,” he pleads, helplessly, opening his eyes and moving his hand from Steve’s neck towards the zipper of Steve’s suit. Steve stops him with a hand on his wrist, following it up with a kiss.

“Don’t worry about me,” Steve says gently, guiding Bucky’s hand back where it was. “Let me take care of you.”

Bucky swallows and closes his eyes again, tilting his head back into the sheets. “Okay.”

“You’re so gorgeous,” Steve murmurs as he gets back to his grid of kisses, tongue circling Bucky’s nipple. Bucky moans, squirms a little as Steve’s tongue drags lightly over the nipple, leaving a wet trail. Steve blows slightly on the wet, and Bucky shivers, his cock starting to harden.

The slow, tantalizing movement of Steve’s tongue and lips works like magic, and soon Bucky’s breathing is heavy and picking up, flush spreading down from his cheeks to his chest. Steve sneaks his hand between them to press his palm against the line of Bucky’s half-hard cock, and his touch feels like it’s burning through the sturdy leggings.

Bucky inhales sharply, but Steve just kisses him on the sternum and gets up on his knees, his touch withdrawing.

“Turn around, baby,” Steve says in a low voice, and Bucky obeys mutely, his heart so high up in his throat that it’s impossible to talk. His chest feels like it’s bursting, and he’s glad to roll over and press his flaming cheek against the cool cotton.

Steve shifts closer, his thighs bracketing Bucky’s, and leans down to gently stroke some loose hair out of the way so that he can brush his nose against the nape of Bucky’s neck. It makes a shiver run down Bucky’s spine, and he squeezes his eyes closed, overwhelmed by emotion. It’s intimate, fuck, it’s so intimate, nothing even remotely sexual about it; and yet--

Bucky’s breath hitches and he has to bite his lip to stop himself from whining when Steve noses his hairline and blows some air against the funny sweet spot Bucky has behind his right ear. It makes his thigh spasm on its own accord, and Steve laughs a little, fondly. He leans closer so that Bucky can feel the brush of Steve’s suit against his bare back as Steve puts his hands carefully on top of Bucky’s, laces their fingers together.

“You make me crazy, doll,” Steve murmurs, his lips tickling the shell of Bucky’s ear. “In every way. I look at you wielding the shield and know that I have to share that with the whole goddamn world.” He squeezes Bucky’s hands gently. “But then I remember that I’m the only one who gets to see you .”

Bucky draws a shuddering breath, and Steve smiles against his ear. Bucky’s cock is pressing almost uncomfortably against the front of his pants, and he cants his hips slightly against the mattress.

Steve starts to work his way down Bucky’s back, massaging the tenseness out, mouthing open-mouthed kisses on Bucky’s spine, making him squirm.

“I get your good days and your bad days,” Steve says against Bucky’s skin, between his shoulder blades. “You give me so much, Buck. I don’t know how on Earth you think I’m worth it, but I’m gonna make you proud.”

“You’re doing a good job so far,” Bucky manages to murmur back, a little choked up, his fingers clenching the sheets as Steve’s mouth travels downwards.

Steve’s fingers dip under the waistline of Bucky’s leggings and underwear and start to push them down, inch by maddening inch, past Bucky’s hips and the swell of his ass. Bucky lifts his hips helpfully, and the easing of the confining pressure on his dick feels so good that he can’t help but moan with relief.

Steve moves back so that he can peel the fabric off, kissing the exposed skin as he goes, until the clothes are off and Bucky’s lying there in all his naked glory, shivering with anticipation.

The bed dips as Steve sits back down, and then there are hands sliding up from Bucky’s ankles, up his calves, the backs of his thighs. Steve’s thumbs dig into the dips between Bucky’s ass and his thighs, framing Bucky’s ass with his big, warm hands. He spreads the cheeks a little, and Bucky can imagine the look on his face all too well: heated and a little adoring, gazing down at Bucky laid out on the bed like an offering.

Steve looks silently for so long that Bucky starts to feel a little unsure, starts to turn his head to look back at Steve. But then, suddenly, there’s the wet tip of Steve’s tongue dragging down from the small of his back to the crack of his ass, skirting teasingly around Bucky’s hole.

Bucky sucks in a surprised breath and automatically pushes his ass back. Steve’s tongue circles the rim, then moves down to draw patterns on the thin, sensitive skin behind Bucky’s balls. Bucky moans, his fingers clenching when Steve licks a broad, flat stripe over his hole, following up with tiny kitten licks, coaxing it open.

Bucky squirms, his whole body suddenly unbearably hot, not knowing whether to push back to Steve’s mouth or rub his dick against the bed. Steve’s hands are kneading Bucky’s cheeks with slow, steady movements as he licks into Bucky, dipping the tip of his tongue in and out, laving on the rim. It feels incredible , the wet, hot pressure making Bucky pant and writhe, squeeze the sheets in his fists. His whole body feels like it’s turning into jelly, his nipples aching and his cock almost torturously hard, and he groans, biting his lip.

Steve presses an open-mouthed kiss on Bucky’s hole, tongue flat against it, and hums, low and vibrating, and Bucky fucking keens, shoving his ass up, chasing the touch. Steve just squeezes his cheeks tighter and does it again, and again, curls his tongue and pushes it slowly into Bucky, retreating and pushing back in, going a little deeper with every dip.

Bucky loses track of time, his brain shut down, and concentrates just on Steve’s sinful, talented mouth and the obscene sounds of him eating Bucky out. Steve drags his thumb over the spit-slick hole and presses shallowly in and out, laps with his tongue and presses his thumb in again, making Bucky sob. He’s a squirming, wired-up, desperate mess and loving every second, his hole wet and loosening up under Steve’s relentless teasing.

“Steve,” he pleads, his voice embarrassingly high and a little broken.

Steve just kisses his back, and then his hands are sliding to Bucky’s hips so that he can gently pull Bucky up to his knees so that his ass is lewdly in the air. Steve’s tongue returns, pushing in so suddenly that it makes Bucky cry out, scrabbling to stay upright.

He doesn’t hear the click of the lube cap, but the next time Steve’s tongue retreats, there’s a slick, thick finger replacing it. Bucky’s so far gone that he almost cries in relief, desperate to be filled. Steve’s mouth dips lower, sucking on Bucky’s heavy balls, and Bucky feels like he’s gonna spontaneously combust any minute now, jolts of pleasure shooting through his body.

It doesn’t take long until Steve’s adding a second finger, his tongue still circling Bucky’s stretched hole as he works Bucky open. It feels amazing and so filthy, Steve opening him up with his tongue and fingers and watching Bucky’s greedy, wet hole get readier and readier for his cock. Bucky’s panting for it like a dog, so turned on that it’s almost painful.

Steve scissors his fingers and works his tongue in, and Bucky’s knees turn into jelly. He thinks he’s going to fucking die , a broken, high whine rising from his throat. Steve licks into him while still stretching him with his fingers, and his free hand moves between Bucky’s legs.

Steve’s left hand cups Bucky’s leaking cock, his tongue still up Bucky’s ass as his fingertips graze Bucky’s prostate, and that’s what makes Bucky trip over the edge. He comes with a strangled moan, clenching around Steve’s fingers and dirtying up Steve’s hand. He collapses onto the bed, spent and panting, Steve’s fingers never leaving him.

Steve wipes his hand in the sheets and leans over until he’s covering Bucky’s body with his own, coarse suit against hypersensitive skin. He kisses Bucky’s ear and waits patiently while Bucky comes down from his orgasm, the line of his hard dick against the small of Bucky’s back.

“That’s it,” Steve murmurs, kissing Bucky’s flushed cheek. “There you go.”

Bucky lets his breathing calm down, and they stay like that for a couple of minutes; Steve a steady, safe pressure on top of him. Then Steve crooks his fingers in Bucky’s ass a little, testing, and Bucky moans anew, his body responding to stimulation again.

Steve grinds against Bucky a little, twisting his fingers and adding a third one easily. Bucky’s never been as glad for his short refractory period as now, because his cock’s already gaining interest.

“How do you want it?” Steve asks, his breath hot against Bucky’s ear, and Bucky whines, pushing his ass back to meet Steve’s fingers stretching him open.

“Top,” Bucky pants. “Let me see you, fuck.”

Steve kisses his hair and rolls off, his fingers withdrawing, and Bucky forces his jelly-like muscles to work as he hears the sound of the zipper. When he manages to push himself up onto his knees, he nearly falls back again, because the sight is exceptional: Steve’s reclining on the bed, his hair mussed and his cheeks flushed, eyes dark as he looks up at Bucky from beneath his eyelashes. Steve’s still fully clothed in that ridiculous suit, but he’s pulled his cock out and is lazily fisting it, his hand slick with spit and lube, watching Bucky’s wrecked state.

“Come here, baby,” Steve says in a low voice, and Bucky swallows, crawls closer on all fours. Steve draws Bucky in by his metal bicep until he’s close enough to kiss: open-mouthed and filthy, crouched on top of Steve on his hands and knees, his spine curved like a cat and his ass in the air. Kissing should be gross, considering where Steve’s mouth was just minutes ago, but Bucky’s way past caring: all he wants is to keep kissing Steve and get a dick in him, and he can’t do that if Steve goes to brush his teeth.

Steve reaches back and spreads Bucky’s cheeks with both hands, and Bucky moans into the kiss as both of Steve’s fore- and middle fingers circle his hole and slide slowly in. He’s loose and well-slicked, so he takes the four fingers easily, panting into Steve’s mouth, his sweaty hair sticking to his forehead.

Steve finger-fucks him lazily, trailing kisses on Bucky’s jaw, licking off the sweat on his neck, and Bucky writhes, his right arm trembling where it’s keeping him up.

When Steve finally pulls his fingers out, Bucky almost sobs at the loss, his hole clenching. But Steve sneaks one hand between them to grab his dick, spreading Bucky’s ass with his other hand, and then Bucky’s canting his hips down and sitting on Steve’s cock, all blunt pressure and stretch and the maddening, delicious slick slide of it.

“Yeah,” Steve says breathlessly, a little strained, and bites a kiss on the underside of Bucky’s jaw, hands gripping Bucky’s trembling thighs. “Get it, sweetheart.”

Bucky swallows and slowly sits up fully, placing his hands on Steve’s chest, on both sides of the white star on the suit. He stares down at the star and suddenly feels almost like crying, because Steve is ready to do this for him, take care of him, give Bucky anything he needs, and still -- still Bucky looks at the stealth version of the Captain America suit and knows that he’s not happy.

He’s happy with Steve, fuck, he’s never been as happy as when he’s with Steve, but there’s still his suit somewhere on the foyer floor, the shield for him to carry; thousands of pounds’ worth of responsibility he never wanted to shoulder. It could be anyone, he thinks. So why did it have to be me?

Then Steve rolls his hips, just slightly, and Bucky snaps back out of his head, responding to the movement with a slow circle of his own hips, concentrating on the feeling of Steve’s cock in him, the raw honesty of it. He adjusts his hands on Steve’s chest and curves his spine, rising up until the head of Steve’s dick is catching on his rim, then slowly, slowly sinks back down.

Steve groans when Bucky bottoms out, his hands migrating from Bucky’s thighs to his ass, encouraging Bucky to start riding him at an almost lazy pace. Bucky tips his head back, pleasure making him squirm, and Steve makes an appreciative sound low in his throat.

“Feeling good, Buck?” Steve murmurs, moaning when Bucky shifts a little and finds a new angle, clenches around his dick.

Bucky nods wordlessly and glances down at Steve, at the heated, worshipping expression, and the familiar, lovely face, the dark blue of his suit. Suddenly Bucky can’t stand to look at the star and stripes anymore, and scrambles to find the hidden zipper to get rid of it.

Steve frowns a little at the urgency with which Bucky pulls the zipper down and pushes the suit to the side, pressing his palms flat against Steve’s undershirt.

Steve’s hips still, and he touches Bucky’s right wrist, circles it gently. “Hey, you okay?”

Bucky doesn’t know what to tell him, but nods and looks at his mismatched hands on Steve’s pecs, visible through the tight shirt. “I just--want you,” he manages, and swallows. “Just you.”

For a fleeting second, Steve’s expression turns melancholy and yet grateful, and then he presses his own hand on top of Bucky’s and says just, “Yeah. You got me, doll.”

He sits up a little, his cock still deep in Bucky, and twists out of the upper half of the suit, peeling the dark undershirt off and leaning in to kiss Bucky briefly. Then he’s lying back against the pillows again, inch after inch of familiar pale skin, and Bucky could cry because Steve knows, Steve knows.

“Thank you,” Bucky says, and his voice breaks, a little embarrassingly, but Steve quirks a soft smile and reaches out for him.

“Come here,” Steve says, and Bucky does, pressing his face against Steve’s neck. Steve kisses his ear and rolls his hips again, fucking shallowly into Bucky, caressing the rim of Bucky’s hole with his fingertips.

Bucky pants, running his hands down Steve’s sides to push at the lower half of Steve’s suit. “Off,” he pleads.

Steve rolls them over and sits back on his haunches, his dick sliding out; Bucky bites his lip to stop the needy, disappointed sound escaping his mouth. Bucky sits up, too, his hole aching and a little sore against the sheets, and together they peel the rest of the stealth suit off. Steve worms out of Kevlar and hard-duty fabric, stripping off his underwear until he’s just him again, kicking the suit to the floor.

Bucky swallows, touching Steve’s jaw with his fingertips, grateful and full of feelings he can’t put into words.

Steve seems to get it though: he frames Bucky’s face with both hands and draws him in for a long kiss. Steve’s skin is smooth and hot under Bucky’s hand when he runs his fingers down from Steve’s jaw to his nipples, brushing one and causing Steve to gasp into his mouth. Bucky’s hand moves lower, skimming over Steve’s ridiculous abs until he can wrap his fingers around Steve’s hard, heavy cock and give it an experimental tug.

Steve exhales sharply, curling his tongue in Bucky’s mouth, and Bucky shivers with the sensation, moaning. He jerks Steve off slowly, savoring the sounds it pulls from him, until Steve pushes his hand gently away, touches Bucky’s hips.

Bucky takes the hint and falls back, sprawling on the sheets. Steve runs his fingertips up Bucky’s legs, making him shiver; Bucky’s still hard despite the minor meltdown he had, and the teasing touch makes him squirm, desperate to get it on his cock or in his hole.

But the touch skims just past his cock, leaking and flushed against his stomach, and then Steve’s suddenly thumbing both of Bucky’s nipples, making him gasp.

“Shh,” Steve murmurs, leaning down to briefly tease a nipple with his tongue. “I’ve got you, Buck.”

Steve pushes at Bucky’s knees a little, and Bucky spreads his legs willingly, giving Steve more room to move between them. Calloused fingertips brush his loose hole, dipping in, and Bucky sucks in a breath, tips his head back. Then Steve’s leaning over him and slowly sliding in, his cock fat and blood-hot and so, so good, and Bucky almost wails, because the angle is perfect.

Bucky wraps his legs around Steve’s hips and his arms around Steve’s back: a full-body cling to bring him closer, as much skin on skin as possible. Steve rocks into him, his cock dragging against Bucky’s prostate on every slow thrust, Bucky’s leaking dick trapped between their bodies, rubbing against Steve’s stomach. It’s maddening and amazing, and it doesn’t take long until Bucky’s coming again, the orgasm almost punched out of him, a strange sob wrenching out of his throat.

Steve keeps fucking him through it, groaning as Bucky clenches around his dick. Bucky’s getting sensitive but he hangs on, squeezing Steve with his arms and his legs and his ass, relishing Steve’s heavy breathing, until Steve makes a funny, winded sound and comes, warm and wet inside Bucky.

Oddly, that’s the final dip in the emotional rollercoaster the day has been; the realness of how lucky he and Steve are to be still alive and miraculously together, and Bucky’s breath hitches, his limbs trembling. He feels scraped raw, every nerve ending exposed, and he doesn’t really know why he’s weeping until he already is.

Steve lifts his head from the sheets when he hears the hitch, concerned and alarmed. “Hey,” he says, worry written all over his face. “Hey, baby, what’s wrong?”

“No more,” Bucky says, his voice breaking, clinging to Steve with everything he has. “No fucking more. Please, Steve. Please.

Steve’s face softens, and he kisses the corner of Bucky’s eye, where the tear track is fresh and final. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, Buck. No more.”

**

Sula's artwork

The world will always need saving again, and again, and then once more. That’s been their routine for a long time: get up, get suited, get fucked up and hope for the best, hopefully get back home in one piece. Do it again the next week.

Fifteen minutes before the transport to their last end of the world is scheduled to arrive, Bucky sits down on the couch, watching the early morning sunshine falling through the window and the half-closed blinds. The uniform feels heavy on him; the shield catches the light where it’s resting against the back of the couch, and Bucky wants to look away, but the sunlight is captivating, creeping slowly across the wall.

Steve appears from the bedroom. The stealth suit makes him look broader, slimmer at the waist, and he looks like Bucky feels: world-weary, heavy like a stone, ready to pull off the suit and stand there in his underwear, open and vulnerable; pleading for a gentler touch, a lighter world.

Bucky reaches out a hand, and Steve takes it, lets himself be pulled down on the couch, his blond head pushed against the star on Bucky’s chest like he’s trying to hear Bucky’s heart beating under it.

Bucky brushes his fingers slowly through the short hair at the nape of Steve’s neck, concentrating on the sensory feedback from his left hand; trying to make his touch feather-light, comforting. Steve’s eyes are closed and his hands are tucked behind Bucky’s back; Bucky watches the sunbeams stretched over the wall, reflecting on the shield and painting stripes on Steve’s suit. Steve’s hair looks like spun gold when framed by the vibrant light.

Maybe we let this go on for too long, Bucky thinks as he lies there holding Steve like it’s 1944 again and they’re knee-deep in mud somewhere in Schwartzwald, lying on their bedrolls on top of a makeshift pallet. Maybe we both have indeed paid our penance. The war’s lasted a lot longer than either of us signed up for.

“Time to go, sweetheart,” Bucky says quietly, when the clock has ticked dangerously close to their pick-up time. He cups Steve’s jaw with his right hand and strokes the strong curve with his thumb, feeling the slightest scrape of stubble under his fingertips. The shell of Steve’s ear is golden and vulnerable compared to the squareness of his jaw. “Once more unto the breach.”

Steve groans and rubs his cheek against Bucky’s suit. “Five more minutes,” he murmurs. “Please, doll?”

Bucky leans forward, kisses the crown of his head. The sunbeams have almost reached the nape of Steve’s neck, and when Bucky closes his eyes, the darkness is filled with harvest fields and hot slices of sunshine; with burning villages; with endless, endless light.

“Yeah,” he says softly. “Five more minutes.”

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