Steve wasn't sure which felt more unreal; the fact that he was still alive after single-handedly liberating a factory full of prisoners of war, that all of those liberated solders seemed to be following him, or that he had managed to rescue Bucky after all, and Bucky was here, beside him, more or less in one piece. The two of them together, like they'd always been.
Well, not quite.
Steve jumped as Bucky slipped a hand through the rent in his jacket and poked him in the chest for the third time in the last half hour.
"Bucky, what the fuck?" Steve whispered.
Bucky, unrepentant, turned the poke into a grope, curving his hand around the slope of Steve's pec and squeezing. Christ. Steve willed himself not to react, not to blush or...or anything else. Bucky had no way of knowing how sensitive Steve's reshaped body was. His nipples felt like they could cut glass, just from that touch. Steve blessed the tattered remains of his leather jacket. At least no one would know. Bucky's thumb swept over his nipple and Steve bit back a squeak. Well, no one but Bucky.
"Sorry," Bucky said, not sounding at all sorry, but at least he pulled his hand away. "I'm just trying to take in all this." He waved his hand at Steve's muscled warehouse of a body.
"I know it's weird," Steve said. "Like something out of the pulps."
"Yeah." Bucky looked at him, not taking his eyes off Steve's face even when he stumbled over a root and Steve caught his arm to steady him. Bucky's muscle under Steve's fingers was the same as it had ever been, warm and solid beneath his olive sweater. Only Steve was different. He let go of Bucky's arm.
"My girl caught your show," one of the other guys said. "Saw it in Spokane. Told me all about it in a letter."
Steve felt the heat creeping across his face and knew he was as red as the stripes on his shield.
"His show," Bucky said, disbelieving. "Tell me about your show, Steve."
"Lucille said it was somethin', Sarge," the guy from Spokane said. "All stars and stripes and a bunch of chorus girls, and Cap here lifting a motorcycle with two gals on it. Really inspirational. She and her friends bought a bunch of war bonds."
Steve wished that the ground would open up beneath his feet and swallow him into the merciful release of death. Bucky was going to give him so much shit about the chorus girls. If a USO tour was what he was given to do, he was going to do his best whether it was what he wanted or not, but it was different watching Bucky take in this third-hand account. He braced himself for an epic ribbing, but it seemed Bucky had taken a different detail away.
"A motorcycle with two girls on it," he said disbelievingly. "Was it a prop?"
"No." Steve's cheeks stung, he was blushing so hard. Maybe he didn't need to tell Bucky it was three chorus girls. "It was real."
Bucky face was arranged into a complex expression that Steve couldn't read. He put one hand around Steve's bicep and squeezed, hanging on for a minute, like he was testing the give of the muscle or the strength or--something. "You're gonna have to show me when we get somewhere we can stop."
"All right, Buck," Steve said. "Whatever you want." At that Bucky shot him another look he couldn't interpret, but at least they stopped talking about the show. They didn't talk about much, just kept putting one foot in front of another as they walked away from hell, back toward the camp.
But the whole march, Bucky kept reaching over to touch Steve: his arms, his shoulders, his chest (again), his face. As if he didn't believe the behemoth beside him was his friend.
Steve sighed and let him.
They made camp in the woods when it became obvious the remnants of the 107th had to stop or the risk of further injury in the dark would be too great. Steve was going to sleep next to Bucky because of course he was; there was no question about it. They'd found water in a stream that Steve hoped wouldn't make anyone sick, and scrounged whatever plant life they could identify. Steve bet there were some country boys in here somewhere; maybe tomorrow they could try and hunt...rabbits, or whatever wildlife was around. Steve's knowledge of rural life was vague. Or maybe they could find a village. That was a problem for tomorrow, though.
Bucky was sitting next to Steve, arms wrapped around his knees, staring blankly at nothing and chewing on a stick. Steve didn't like the look of him blank like that, so he curved his fingers around Bucky's calf, over the top of his boot. Steve had always had big hands, outsized for his body, but now they were like shovels. Big meat shovels. No wonder Bucky kept poking him. Sometimes he didn't believe himself either.
Bucky's gaze dropped to Steve's hand on his leg, and light came back into his eyes. "So tell me more about this show of yours."
Steve let go of his leg and groaned like they'd just been talking about it, leaning back on the ground and trying to find a place that was comfortable, or at least mostly free of rocks and tree roots. "I dunno. It was what they wanted me to do. It was all pretty cheesy, trying to get people to buy bonds." He put on his stage voice and said, "Not all of us can storm a beach or drive a tank, but there's still a way all of us can fight."
Bucky snorted a laugh. "Sounds like it worked, though. On Rizetti's gal, at least."
"Maybe she was inspired by freedom and justice and all that." Steve shrugged.
Bucky's lips twisted into a grin. "Sure she was. Freedom." He pointed at Steve's left pec. "Justice." He pointed at the right.
Steve punched him in the thigh. Gently; he was still teaching himself not to hit too hard. "God, you're an asshole."
"You came for me anyway," Bucky said. "Dropped your show and tossed yourself out of an airplane." His lashes lowered, shutters on the windows of his eyes.
Steve swallowed. This was getting maybe too close to the thing they'd never talked about, that he didn't know if Bucky had really thought about, not the way he did. He had thought maybe too much about the times he'd noticed Bucky looking at his lips, at his hands. It probably didn't mean anything. And, fuck, if it had, he'd gone and turned himself into this beef tube of a body. "If they wanted me to do the show," he said, instead of any of the other things he might have said, "I was gonna do it, but it wasn't what I wanted."
Bucky collapsed gracelessly on the ground next to him, rolling over so his body was pressed all along the length of Steve's side, a line of warmth in the cold night air. Steve couldn't help it; he leaned toward Bucky. All the soldiers were bundling up around each other anyhow. It was fucking cold out. "Everybody who ever met you knew you wanted to fight. I'm not surprised you found a way."
"Are you--" Steve bit his lip, not sure what he wanted to say. Are you mad or Am I still your friend or What's the right question I can ask you to know things are still okay with us?
Bucky curled into him. He was too skinny, now, skinnier than when he'd left for Basic. Steve had some chocolate bars in his stuff at the camp. He was gonna make Bucky eat them all. Steve wanted to pull him up onto his chest, wrap his too-big arms around him and hold him close. Bucky sighed, a quiet noise in the darkness, then flung one arm over Steve's ribcage and put his head on his chest. "Your heart sounds a lot steadier. How's your breathing?"
"Asthma's gone. The doctors don't think I can get sick anymore." He wondered if Bucky could hear the metronome beat of his eager heart speeding up at the touch. He closed his eyes, but that made it worse. Bucky was stroking along his ribs inside the mess of Steve's jacket, a small movement, absent-minded, maybe, and his mouth was tucked against the swell of Steve's chest. Steve wanted to wear him like a blanket for the rest of their days.
"Well, that part's good, then," Bucky said, and Steve felt each small movement of his mouth. If that part was good, then did that mean the rest of it was bad? "Thanks."
"Thanks?" Steve opened his eyes and looked down. It was dark, but since the serum, he could see pretty well in the dark. Bucky's eyes were closed, and he looked perfectly content to nestle against Steve's pec.
"Yeah." All of Steve's attention was on the tiny square of skin where Bucky's lips were pressed. "You came to get me." Steve bit his lip against the urge to say something too big, too meaningful.
"I always will," he eventually said, and it still felt like too much, but it was all right; Bucky's breath had fallen into the even cadence of sleep.
The next day was more of the same, except everyone was hungrier, and stiff from sleeping on the ground. Bucky walked beside him again, and he was just as handsy as the day before.
It was driving Steve insane.
No one seemed to care--everyone had bigger worries than Sarge groping Captain America--but Steve was slowly losing his mind. Bucky kept looking at him, kept reaching over and stroking or squeezing him, on the shoulder, on the bicep; running his fingers over Steve's ribs, over the ridges of his abdomen; putting his hands in the rip in Steve's jacket that seemed to draw him like a thrown paper ball drew a cat.
And when they were there, they were patting and caressing the curves of Steve's chest, mapping the swell of the muscle, brushing absently over Steve's nipples, which never failed to make him twitch. And god, he was hungry and tired and half-burned, filthy and disgusting, but he was also constantly half-hard from Bucky touching him. And fuck, he wanted to touch him back. He wanted to put his mouth on him. He wanted to lick him.
He had to keep walking. All of these men were his responsibility, not just Bucky, and he had to get them back to camp, safe and sound. He couldn't let whatever Bucky was doing affect him. And he wasn't going to ask him to stop; not when Bucky still had that lost, distant look in his eyes half the time. If touching Steve helped him out of whatever he was seeing when he looked like that, he could rub Steve's nipples all he liked.
Steve jumped. Or smack his ass, apparently. "Bucky," he hissed, but Bucky just shrugged at him.
It was like that all day, and Steve was more than ready to stop by evening. Even his feet ached, and it had to be worse for the other men, without the serum. The sun was low in the sky, and he'd asked the men with any hunting experience to do their best while a few others scoured the area for edible plants or anything they could safely eat.
Finally, he was more or less as alone as he could be, but only for a second. Bucky appeared next to him and grabbed his wrist.
"Hey, Buck," Steve said.
Bucky just looked at him for a second, uncharacteristically hesitant, his teeth sunk into his lower lip. Then he nodded, and licked his lips, his tongue darting out for just a moment. It was unfair, Steve felt, for Bucky to touch him like he had all day and then have a mouth at him like that. "Come on," Bucky said. "I need you to show me."
Steve followed him as Bucky walked away from their makeshift camp, further into the forest. The sun was just over the horizon, and the light touched the trees with gold. The air was sharp with the scent of pine. The sounds of the men faded away behind them, and as tired as Steve was, it felt right to be here with Bucky, away from everyone else. Bucky finally stopped when they could hear nothing but small animals moving in the leaves around them, and turned to face Steve.
The light bathed the planes of his face and Steve ached to look at him, the familiar face more angular than it had been, scraped by whatever terrible machine had been in the factory, smudged with grime, and still so beautiful to Steve.
"What do you need to see?" Steve asked.
Bucky tugged at his jacket. "You. I just--Steve, I can't make myself believe it. I keep thinking I'm dreaming. Show me."
Steve bit his lip, but he was already shrugging out of his jacket. He'd had a little time to get used to his pork chop of a body, but it was new to Bucky. He dropped his jacket on the forest floor and held his arms wide.
"Shirt too," Bucky said. Steve shot him a look, but his face was unreadable, gaze darting from the breadth of Steve's shoulders to his waist. Steve blew out a breath, surprisingly loud in the stillness, and pulled his garish costume shirt over his head.
The air was cold and his skin pebbled immediately, his nipples drawing into hard points. Bucky looked at him intently, then crossed the few steps between them and put his hands on Steve's chest. Steve shivered under his touch.
"Cold?" Bucky asked. Steve shook his head, afraid of what he would say if he opened his mouth. Bucky drew his hands down slowly over Steve's chest, not lingering over his nipples, but not avoiding them either. Steve tried not to moan, and made a muffled sound instead. Bucky met his eyes for a moment, then went back to scrutinizing him, fingers trailing down over Steve's ribs to his navel and back up again. "This is different," Bucky said, scratching lightly at Steve's chest hair.
Steve had never had much body hair to speak of, but after he'd come out of the tube, his body had started making up for lost time. It had itched at first, coming in, but once it had stopped, he didn't think about it much anymore. Until now, with Bucky's fingers petting him, following the direction of the growth.
"Yeah, I actually have to shave now, too." His voice sounded almost normal, only a faint tremor in it. His dick had been hard since Bucky touched him. Bucky lifted one hand to Steve's face, rubbing over his two days of stubble, and smiled, a tiny uptick of one corner of his mouth. Steve wondered if it was possible to die of wanting someone. "It's all different."
Bucky gripped the muscle of his biceps and spoke to his arm. "I keep thinking this is some crazy dream I'm having on the table, because how can this be real? How can you be this?"
"It's real. I'm real." He reached out and grabbed Bucky's arms in return, which put them in the world's most awkward half-hug, but he couldn't not touch him back after that. "I know I look ridiculous now, but--"
"Ridiculous? Steve, you look like a tank," Bucky said.
"I know," Steve said miserably. He wouldn't fit under Bucky's arm anymore, wasn't the right height for an arm thrown over his shoulder, the two of them curled around each other on Steve's narrow bed on cold nights. And if Bucky had ever wanted him, it had been that former self, not this oversized beef edifice. He knew he was closer to most people's physical ideal than he'd ever been before, but he didn't care if every dame in the whole USO tour wanted him if Bucky didn't.
Bucky's gaze snapped up from his hand on Steve's bicep to Steve's face. "Oh, Steve. No," he said. "Whatever's going through your head, stop it."
Steve just shook his head again. Bucky's gaze sharpened, and he pulled Steve closer, into a real hug. Steve wrapped his ham-hock arms around him, and felt Bucky's hands trace a line over the slope of his back. "See," Bucky said in his ear, "we still fit together, even if it's different."
Of course, the disadvantage of relaxing into the hug, Steve realized, was that there was really no way to hide his erection when it bumped up against Bucky's hip. He closed his eyes in abject mortification and let his forehead clunk against Bucky's shoulder.
"Steve," Bucky said, and there was something in his voice Steve couldn't identify.
"Sorry, Buck," he said to Bucky's collar. "It's just--you touching me."
"Yeah?" Bucky said. He had not stopped touching Steve. His hands slid from Steve's back to his sides. Steve tried to resist pushing harder up against him. "Look at me, pal."
Steve opened his eyes and raised his head. Bucky licked his lips again, and his fingers tightened on Steve's hips. "Would that be anyone touching you like this?"
"That's not what I said." Steve took a breath and told himself if he could jump out of airplanes, he could say a few words. "It's you. It's always been you. Everything else might have changed, but not that."
"Good." Bucky took Steve's hand and pressed it to his own crotch. Steve was shocked to feel that Bucky was hard too, the line of his dick a hot ridge beneath Steve's fingers. "Cause it hasn't changed for me either."
"Bucky," Steve breathed. "You never said."
"Neither did you." Bucky pushed into Steve's hand, his breath hitching. "But I thought I was dead, and then you showed up, and well, I already almost died without touching you how I want."
Steve brought his other hand around and fumbled with Bucky's fly until he got it open and his fingers wrapped around his dick.
"Christ," Bucky hissed, his forehead pressed to Steve's. Then Bucky's fingers were at Steve's khakis, reaching in to touch his cock, and Steve moaned without meaning to.
"You're so fucking warm," Bucky said into his neck, and both their lips were chapped, Bucky's fingers were a little cold against his dick, but it was still the best single moment of Steve's life.
"I missed you," he said, moving his hand a little faster. Bucky bit off a soft fuck and licked from the corner of his jaw up to his ear. Steve dragged his thumb through the pre-come at the tip of Bucky's cock and watched his eyelashes flutter against his cheek. Steve jacked him slowly, feeling the slide of his foreskin, tightening his grip a little over the head of his dick.
"Fuck, Steve, fuck, I'm coming." Bucky shuddered against him and bit the meat of Steve's chest, right beside his armpit. The contrast of the pain to the pleasure of Bucky's hand on his cock sent him over the edge a second later, shuddering against Bucky, his breath catching as pleasure radiated through him, so much brighter and warmer than the dark and cold of the evening around them.
He wiped his right hand clean on the closest tree, and with his left hand captured Bucky's jaw and tilted his head so he could kiss him. They'd kissed when they were kids, open-mouthed and innocent, but somewhere along the line they'd stopped, with the knowledge that bodies interacted differently as one aged.
What idiots they were, Steve thought distantly, as Bucky nipped at his bottom lip, as their tongues licked along each other, but at least they got there in the end.
"Sarge?" someone called, off in the distance, and both of them drew back, Bucky letting his head rest against Steve's chest just for a second, his breath hot and so welcome against Steve's skin.
"Get your shirt back on." Bucky gave one last mournful pat to Steve's chest. "Let's get back and take care of all these other idiots."
"Yeah, Buck." Steve pulled his shirt over his head, then pulled his jacket back on. The leather had gone cold on the forest floor, and Steve regretted the loss of Bucky's warmth against him.
"Hey." Bucky held his thumb to the corner of Steve's lips and Steve leaned into it, wanting. "We get back to friendly territory, let's take a night, take a weekend maybe, just for us. How does that sound?"
Steve let himself imagine it: the two of them, full, and warm, and clean, and all the time in the world. His voice was rough when he said, "That sounds real good, now you mention it." He cleared his throat. "But until that, pal, you keep touching me as much as you want."
Bucky pressed his thumb to Steve's mouth like he was sealing a kiss and by unspoken agreement they started walking back to camp. Bucky leaned over and slipped a hand through the tear in Steve's jacket.
"Since you mention it," Bucky said, "I think I will."