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The Soldier Dreams

Chapter Text

***

the first dream

***

The cherry tree blossoms of Prospect Park were particularly impressive in the early spring of 1935. Steve’s cheeks flushed a matching pink when Bucky told him, seated under a branch as petals fell around them, that he had always thought Steve was one of the most handsome fellas he'd ever seen. “Errol Flynn? Never heard of him. Dames and fellas alike are all sleeping on the beauty of Steve Rogers.”

“Quit it, Buck,” Steve grumbled, pushing the shaggy parts of his blonde bangs across his forehead, pretending to look at something in the distance.

“I’m serious, Steve!” Bucky playfully shoved Steve’s shoulder. “You’re a good lookin’ guy.”

“Yesterday you were yammerin’ on about my giant schnoz.”

“It gives that face of yours some character,” Bucky grinned, poking Steve gently on the nose. “Everybody needs a distinguishing feature. Something to set you apart from the other guy.”

“I said quit it , Bucky!” Steve huffed and crossed his arms over his narrow chest. “You can have any dame or fella in all five boroughs if you wink at ‘em the right way. Don’t treat me like some charity case.”

Bucky’s expression fell. Tightness gripped his chest. Did he need to clean Steve’s apartment mirror? Should he take a casual poll of the passers-by who glanced in his direction? How is it that Steve never believed him?

Steve picked a few fallen blossom petals from the ground and rubbed them between his fingers. He looked thoughtful for a moment, then sprinkled them to the ground like damp confetti. He was turning pink again, this time creeping up his ears. “You’re the handsome one,” he mumbled, only loud enough for their ears. “Always thought so. I can’t compete with that. Every gal, Buck--every gal who’s ever talked to me in Red Hook, in Bushwick, in Brooklyn Heights--asks how I know you. If I could introduce you sometime.”

“Stevie, I highly doubt you’ve met every single dame in all of the neighborhoods, that’s--”

Steve gritted his teeth. “James Buchanan Barnes.”

Bucky knew when to shut up. Generally speaking, when Steve broke out the voice that sounded too much like both of their mothers, that was the time. Bucky stopped talking and flopped backward into the grass. It was still winter-dry with just a hint of green coming through. He gazed up through the pink-tipped branches overhead. He sighed and rolled his eyes.

Steve, still seated, kicked his heels into the grass and slouched. “Why are you bringing this up now, anyway?”

The mid-day sun dappled Steve’s perfect alabaster skin with light through the branches overhead. His eyes shone bluer than the sky. Love flooded through Bucky’s veins, pure and warm. And he knew Steve would only mock him for being a sap. At sixteen, Steve was too proud and too busy putting up a tough facade to even give a second thought to reciprocating any amorous feelings Bucky might have about his best friend.

As Steve blew out a breath through his lips, it lifted only one strand of gold that had dropped onto his eyebrow. Then a few small petals lighted on top of his head. Bucky still hadn’t answered Steve, but he started to giggle. Steve’s sour face paired with a few pretty blossom bits scattered on top of his hair was a funny sight. “What?” asked Steve as he side-eyed Bucky. “What’s so funny?”

Bucky smiled and reached up to brush the debris off Steve’s head. He thought about Steve in a fancy tuxedo, like in the pictures, with a pink carnation in his lapel. He thought about Steve wearing a crown of flowers in various pinks, dressed in not much else, like one of those paintings in one of those art books Steve kept checking out of the library. Bucky still held his tongue and felt his face getting warm from more than just the sunshine. Steve sighed in what was surely exasperation and laid down in the grass beside him.

“Fine,” Steve said. “Don’t tell me.” Steve stopped to sneeze. Too much spring pollen, hopefully not bringing on an asthma attack anytime soon. “You’re a jerk, you know that? Why do I even bother to spend time with you?”

“Because,” Bucky grinned, “you love me.”

“You’re just lucky I put up with you, Barnes,” Steve said, whipping his arm out to knock against Bucky’s. “If you weren’t already my best friend, I’d say the hell with ya.”

 

***

 

Burning, nonstop burning. He didn’t think it was possible to feel fire inside a body like this. He tried to recall any kind of similar pain but came up blank. The ache of a shiner, the sharp sting of a cracked rib, the broken jaw he’d sustained in the boxing match that took him down: it was nothing like this. This was fire, like the molten fire that forged the one ring inside of Mount Doom. How he wished that ring was nearby, that he could slip something on and disappear. That he could run and never be found again. Maybe he could run home to Brooklyn somehow.

He could run if his legs weren’t strapped down and made of fire inside. He could escape quickly if they had disconnected his tubes, if he could break his bonds. Every part of him yearned to move, but moving would likely bring certain death. If he was still alive at all--there were no indications that this wasn’t Hell. He hadn’t even believed in Hell until he came to the war.

He heard voices nearby. The sound of boots, quick steps, coming closer. The sound of a body thudding to the cement floor?

Don’t give anything up, Barnes. Don’t let them break you. Don’t let them. Remember your training. “James Buchanan Barnes, Sargeant, 3255--”

“Bucky!”

A flash of bold color beside him, the first since-- when? What fresh hell was this? “James Buchanan Barnes, Sargeant--”

“Bucky, it’s me. It’s Steve.”

Oh G-d, he must be dead, or close to it. Because suddenly, Bucky was seeing things: red, white, and blue, a shield with a goddamn American target on it. A massive body that sounded like Steve, had a flushed-pink face like Steve after running from an alley scrap. Bucky squinted. Maybe he’d been here, strapped to this table forever. Maybe Steve was an angel, finally come to take him somewhere better. Surely not heaven, but an eternity in purgatory with Steve would be bliss enough. “Steve?”

“Oh my god. Buck,” said the archangel Steve, who touched his face for a fraction of a second before undoing all of the restraints. He helped Bucky sit up. The scent of gunpowder mixed with the familiar smell of Steve’s sweat filled his nostrils. The archangel Steve felt warm and alive. He towered over Bucky. His perfect blue eyes met his gaze. “I thought you were dead.”

Bucky couldn’t open his eyes wide enough to believe what he was seeing. “I thought you were smaller.” He was helped to his feet by this new Steve, this Steve who sounded exactly the same but stood taller, felt broad and solid, and effortlessly supported Bucky’s wounded weight for a change.

“Can you walk, pal?” Steve asked, as casual as anything. Hey, pal, want a bite of my pie? You want me to go buy a paper today, pal? Times or Post ? I know I just pulled you out of a goddamn torture chamber, but can you walk, pal?

“What happened to you?” Bucky gaped. He realized he was feeling solid ground beneath his feet. He wasn’t dreaming, likely wasn’t dead. Somehow the person he loved the most, the scrappy little guy he left stateside, miraculously swept in, clad in a fancy new body, to take him away from here. Steve was successfully playing the hero. Steve’s arm was wrapped around his waist, strong but almost reverent.

Steve’s grin flashed brightly. “I joined the Army.”

 

***

 

Two days later, inside the medical tent, Bucky gingerly touched his cheek. The abrasion there, just below his eye, had finally stopped being painful and was transitioning to being itchy. He gritted his teeth as an involuntary spasm--from what? Fever? Shock? Injury? No one gave him an explanation--rocked through his body.

“Bucky?” came Steve’s voice, approaching his bed as he opened his eyes slowly.

“Hi,” Bucky said, upward into the air. Steve’s face was miles away from the cot. Jesus, what did they do to him?

Steve looked around the tent, which was quiet save for some snores and coughing. He motioned for Bucky to scoot over. Bucky did the best he could, and Steve sat down, shifting one edge of the thin mattress toward the ground.

“So are you going to tell me?” Bucky frowned.

“That you’re here, and alive, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved in my damn life?”

Bucky sighed, put-upon, and pointedly looked Steve up and down. Then he realized what Steve was wearing, and he whistled. His voice was gravelly with disuse, but he put on a performative grin and said, “Okay, lemme guess then. The government,” Bucky reached out and brushed the red-and-white stripes on Steve’s now impressively solid abs, “somehow sponsored you to get big.”

“I took some initiative, Buck. Give me a little credit. Turns out those Charles Atlas programs from the back page of your comics actually work. You shoulda let me try ‘em sooner,” Steve scoffed. “And remember how Ma used to harp on me to take my cod liver oil to get big and strong?”

“Stevie.” Bucky pressed his mouth into a firm line. He winced as the cut at the corner of his lip made itself known with a sting. “You’re bigger than I’ve ever seen you. You got muscles where I don’t even have muscles. And you’re wearing a U-S-of-A union suit and calling yourself Captain. I’ve seen some shit here, Steve.” Bucky dropped his voice to a whisper and leaned closer. “How am I supposed to believe they didn’t just put your pretty little face on some big dumb lunk’s body?” He let his fingers rest against Steve’s thigh, stroking gently.

Steve’s face turned pink and pinker. The color rode high on his cheeks, spread across his nose, and down his neck. He laughed, breathy and uneasy, one hand clenched in the cot’s stiff sheet as the other came up to cover the back of his neck. Steve looked away from Bucky in the bashful way Bucky had seen probably a million times in his life. His handsome guy was in there, all right.

Steve cleared his throat loudly, and when no one in the room stirred, a small smile curved his lips. When no nurses came running, Steve looked both ways, like at a Manhattan crosswalk, then quickly bent down and placed a kiss to Bucky’s forehead. “I promise it’s me, Buck. Swear on Ma and Pa’s graves.” He blinked a few times too many and bit his bottom lip. One of his now-huge paws came up to Bucky’s face in a brief, feathery caress. “They said I was lucky to even find you.”

Bucky, not caring if anyone saw them, grabbed Steve’s hand and pressed his lips gratefully to his graceful, dirt-stained fingers. “Til the end of the line,” he breathed, barely a whisper.

“Til the end of the line,” Steve agreed, equally quiet.

How had Steve even heard him? It didn’t matter now. His insides were no longer burning. The bluest eyes were focused on him one more time.

Chapter Text

 

***

 

“Sergeant Barnes.”

“Huh?” he snapped out of the fog in his head.

“What do you think, Sergeant Barnes?”

“About what?” He’d messed up, probably. He’d already messed up a few times since being discharged from the infirmary into these temporary quarters. He cleared his throat and shook his head lightly. “ Ma’am. About what, Ma’am?”

Miss Carter was sharper than the perfect curve of her judgemental eyebrow, which she arched at him now. The universal language of any woman making that face meant bad news. If they had been in Brooklyn, standing outside a bar or a dance hall, Bucky would expect a slap to the cheek.

Instead, Miss Carter leveled him with a stern look, and his mind shouted at him to maintain his composure. “Are you going to join the squad,” she asked, cool and collected, drumming her short nails against the tabletop, “or not?” Miss Carter sighed and scooted up onto the surface of the table, crossing her legs almost casually.

Bucky bit the inside of his lip because, well, what a set of gams, smooth, pale, and strong. He clenched one fist and released it, pointedly not looking up at her slightly unbuttoned green jacket, not wanting to stare at the movement of her ample bosom--but holy hell, it had been a long time since he’d laid eyes on a woman like this one. Then he remembered he still hadn’t answered her question. He inhaled to speak, but was stopped again.

“Honestly, Sergeant, you could go home if you wanted. The SSR wouldn’t fault you at all. The ordeal you’ve been through, the circumstances were just,” she swallowed almost audibly, “harrowing. You could return to New York, be with your family. Ste-- Captain Rogers informs me you have younger siblings and your parents waiting for you.”

Miss Carter leaned forward, dropping her voice conspiratorially. “Between us, Sergeant Barnes, I believe your knowledge and skills would be nothing short of an asset to the team if you stay. I would personally make sure Colonel Phillips makes it worth your while. Double your pension when this is all over.”

Bucky wrung his hands, and words automatically left his mouth. “What did Steve say?”

Miss Carter smirked, shuffling off the top of the table. She walked up to Bucky and slid a soft, cool hand under his chin. He allowed her to tilt his face down so his eyes locked with her golden brown stare. He felt so small under the powerful current of her attention. “I didn’t ask him, Sergeant. He told me to speak with you, to get you in. Said you were his right-hand man. Said you are the only one he’d trust to fight by his side.”

Bucky’s blank face melted into a frown, despite Miss Carter’s sure hand tethering him to the world. “Little bastard,” he muttered. Peggy’s eyebrow shot upward. Bucky realized he’d broken decorum yet again, probably the dozenth time since getting back to camp. “If you only knew all the trouble he’s gotten me into over the years. Uh, Ma’am.”

“So you’ll be joining then?” The corners of Miss Carter’s mouth turned up, not quite yet a smile.

“What choice do I have?” Bucky shook his head gently. “He’s...we’re…” He chose to very un-professionally sit on his hands and not finish his train of thought. He wasn’t about to disclose how he really felt about Steve--he’d have sooner run back to Azzano without a weapon.

Miss Carter leaned in and touched both sides of Bucky’s face. Bucky froze in shock, but the physical contact was enough to elicit a tantalizing shiver up his spine. “I know, darling,” she purred in his ear, her voice syrupy-rich, almost a whisper. “He’s told me everything, James.” Before Bucky could close his suddenly gaping mouth, Agent Carter added, “As I may have mentioned before, you and I have a mutual interest at heart here.”

She stood up straight and took a step away, pulling her cool, authoritative demeanor back on like a comfortable house-dress. She smoothed out the front of her skirt. “It’s ultimately your choice, Barnes, but the Captain and I would both be most pleased if you bring your talents to the SSR.” Both of her eyebrows were raised, awaiting an answer.

“I’ll do it, Ma’am. I’ll join your team. I want to stay,” he conceded as his heart began to leap around like a frightened rabbit. Bucky’s chest began to heave. He felt like he couldn’t breathe in, not enough. He balled his hands at his sides, and his brain registered that Bucky was ready to throw punches, fire a gun, anything for a fight. His voice came out thinly as he declared to Agent Carter, “I want to kill every last one of those HYDRA sons-of-bitches.”

His skin itched, and he clenched his teeth.

He didn’t say: Steve is going to need as many of us as he can get, because I know death doesn’t rank high on the list of things Steve cares to avoid.

He didn’t say: I would pound on the gates of Hell to get Steve Rogers back, just like he would for me. And now I definitely owe him one.

 

***

 

 

“Buck?” Steve’s voice came from outside the flap of the tent.

“Go ‘way, Stevie.”

“I talked to Peggy. She told me you’re not going back to Brooklyn.”

Bucky called out, “Last I checked, there’s still a war on,” then rolled over on his bedroll, putting his back to the tent flap. “I ain’t leaving the job unfinished. Miss Carter knows that.”

“She’s Agent Carter, Bucky. Better make sure you get it right.” Silence for a beat. Two beats. Then, quietly from outside: “Can I come in?”

Bucky breathed a dramatically long sigh, just to bother Steve, then answered, “Yeah. Okay.”

He heard the sound of canvas being displaced, and Steve’s heavy-booted footsteps. Bucky hadn’t planned to leave his bedroll until morning. Something plopped to the ground, softly. “Brought you some new clothes,” Steve said, “for the morning. Standard Sergeant’s uniform. I think it’s your size.”

“Mmph,” Bucky acknowledged to the crook of his elbow, slung over his face.There was a metallic clink of the tent lantern being picked up and extinguished. “What if I wanted a night light, Rogers?”

There was a hint of heartsickness in Steve’s voice when he said, “Didn’t think you got scared of the dark, Buck. That was always me,” and huffed out a humorless laugh.

Bucky didn’t say what came to mind immediately, which was that he didn’t feel scared knowing Steve was close by, even though this giant, sturdy new Steve still looked like a stranger for the most part. He moved differently. He angled his shoulders all wrong--they were always too straight. Steve now looked down to look into Bucky’s eyes. For the first time in who knew how long, Bucky felt small. If he turned around, Bucky felt certain he’d see helplessness coming for him. He made the decision to continue facing forward.

“C’mon, pal,” familiar, nearly unchanged fingers brushed at the small of Bucky’s back. Steve always had hands that seemed too large for the rest of him. Now they were sturdier and warmer. “Make room?”

Bucky scooted begrudgingly. “They’ll find you in here,” he grumbled at Steve.

“The lights are out in the whole camp,” Steve whispered, his breath tickling Bucky’s ear.

Overwarm, solid arms wrapped around Bucky’s body. He breathed in deep, settling himself. After a few moments of quiet, Bucky couldn’t contain himself anymore. “She told me it was my choice to go home. If I wanted.”

There was a pregnant pause between Steve’s inhale and his words. “And you didn’t want to?” Steve’s hand petted absently against Bucky’s filthy, greyed undershirt, then he fisted a handful of the thin fabric. “It’s a hell of an offer, Buck. You could go back, help your Ma, take care of your sisters.”

Bucky flinched. “You know my choice, Rogers. You already brought me the fuckin’ uniform. You want me on your six, just like back home, and I’m damn sure you’ll get yourself killed without me. Me being here drastically increases the odds that we’ll both make it home.” Once the words were out of his mouth, Bucky realized he hadn’t added alive to the end of his sentence.

Steve began to pull away, but Bucky reached behind to tug his body closer. Steve took a hitching breath, like his chest was suddenly tight. Bucky guided Steve’s arm around him again and glanced over his shoulder for any signs of movement outside of the tent. Steve had tied everything down tightly so no one else could see inside. Bucky laced their fingers together. “Stevie,” he whispered, low, knowing Steve’s new miracle body would pick up the faintest sounds he could make, “you remember the night I shipped out?”

Steve hummed affirmatively, his chest vibrating at Bucky’s back. “And I put on your jacket?”

“Heh, yeah.” Bucky managed a smile at the memory. “But you remember what you said? Before we, uh--” he scoffed, cheeks growing warm.

Steve squeezed him. “That they should send me with you, so we could have each other’s backs. That Barnes and Rogers were a force to be reckoned with.”

Bucky squeezed Steve’s hand, hard as he possibly could. “And now you’re here, and I’m not gonna fuckin’ leave you here, alone, charging into whatever burning shitholes you find without any backup.” He chuckled, amused at how familiar this all felt.

“For the record, you jerk, that’s the first shithole I ever charged, and it wasn’t burning when I got there,” Steve defended with a cocky turn to his voice. Bucky tried to elbow him in the ribs, but Steve caught his arm. He pressed his face against the back of Bucky’s neck and inhaled, planting a delicate kiss to his hairline.

Bucky wriggled until he was face-to-face with his best guy. Steve beamed, and Bucky could still make out every detail in the darkened tent. He slid his hands under the collar of Steve’s green uniform jacket, working downward to feel the new strength of Steve’s chest. He pressed forward into Bucky’s touch. “I still don’t think green is your color, Stevie.” Bucky smirked, fond. “Always looked best in blue.”

A quiet rumble of a laugh shook Steve’s body, then he leaned in to capture Bucky’s mouth in a kiss, soft then deep. It stole Bucky’s breath, and he loved it.

 

***

 

The moon had been uncharacteristically bright over Brooklyn that night. It lit the bedroom through the sheer drapes, and Steve’s skin glowed with the soft light around it. Bucky threw his head back against the pillow, biting his own fist to keep from being too noisy. Steve’s lithe little body undulated, all sinew and defined ribs, with Bucky’s cock seated fully inside him. God , he always made this so good , but this was different. Special, maybe too sad if Bucky allowed himself to think too hard on it.

But rational thoughts outside of this moment seemed like distant dreams.

Steve was beautiful like this, wrecked with lust, long-fingered hands gliding over his own torso, playing with his own nipples, palming at his half-hard cock. It wasn’t anything new to Bucky, but it was always one of his favorite things to see.

This night, however, was definitely different from the usual. 

 

Bucky knew something was happening when he’d hustled back from the dance hall, and Steve was pacing the floor of the apartment, shirtless, with the lights out. "You waited up for me, punk? I didn't know you cared," Bucky slurred, a little tipsy from his neighborhood buddies buying him bourbon, a little heady from twirling too many girls on the dance floor, just in case he'd never see another woman again. He threw his jacket over Sarah Rogers' old rocking chair.

"Don't ruin this, jerk," said Steve, more quiet and stern than usual. "Been waiting for you for too long already." Bucky poured himself a glass of water from a pitcher Steve had left on the counter all day and smiled at his best guy. Steve very deliberately looked Bucky up and down, licking his lips. Then he very deliberately unbuttoned the top button of his pants. "I thought I'd surprise you," he said, his voice gone reedy. "I got ready for ya and everything. But I think I'm gonna do one more thing."

Steve strutted to the rocking chair where he robed himself in Bucky’s new Army uniform jacket, slight beneath the structured wool shoulders. Steve looked entirely ridiculous if you ignored his face. Bucky figured he could fit three Steves in the uniform jacket alone, maybe two more in the pants. The sleeves flopped past his hands like Dopey from Snow White. Bucky knew not to say anything.

“Don’t get anything on it,” Bucky said. “They’ll have my ass over it.”

Steve smirked, swaying back and forth, a little drunk in the green coat. "I'll have your ass over it first, handsome."  

Steve was a feral creature. When he put his mind to it and set his small jaw, Steve looked downright dangerous . It usually preceded a terrible idea, but that night, Bucky was caught by it. By him . This tiny predatory thing that wasn’t going to let him go until he’d devoured exactly what he desired. Bucky's pulse hammered.

“M’not gonna dirty it, sweetheart,” Steve purred, crowding his small frame up against Bucky next to the bed. “Unless you do it first, but you wouldn’t. You’re such a good boy, after all.” Steve reached up and scratched at the back of Bucky’s neck. “I just thought I’d roll around in it a little. Make sure it smells like me when you get on that boat tomorrow.” Steve somehow shimmied his arms so the sleeves fell down toward his pointy elbows. He reached up on tiptoe, threaded both hands roughly into Bucky’s hair, yanked his head down, and kissed him breathless.

Then, for all the weight Bucky had on his fella, Steve managed to topple Bucky onto the mattress, and roll around they did. Steve didn’t have much to say. He never was a talker in bed when he was determined. Time moved impossibly slowly and too fast at the same time as they slowly peeled each other out of their clothes, hands and mouths and tongues everywhere.

A last night’s act of desperation.

Steve, straddling Bucky’s hips, leapt forward and pinned Bucky’s wrists over his head. “Don’t. Fucking. Move,” he gritted out, concave chest heaving. Steve hopped off the bed, grabbed Bucky’s uniform jacket, and shrugged it back on.

“Stevie, what are you--”

“Shush, you.” Steve bit out, his voice cracking in the middle of the command. “And give me a hand? Already said, I got ready before you came home.” He teased the tip of Bucky’s dick with his fingers, spreading all the pre-cum leaking there down his shaft. Bucky steadied himself at the base so Steve could line his hole up. Steve, clad in only the uniform jacket, let out a small cry as he impatiently sunk down onto Bucky’s cock.

His face contorted at the stretch, but then the floodgates of Steve’s mouth crashed open as he slowly began to move his hips, little-by-little. “Wanna feel this, Buck. Wanna feel you in me for days. Want you sore all the way to Europe, you understand?” The slow, slickened drag of Steve all around him made Bucky moan and grasp at Steve’s thin thighs. Steve echoed his pleasure. “So good inside me like this, Buck. And your face-- unh, unh --God, you should see your pretty face right now. Wanna always remember you like this, sweetheart.” Steve began to pant more desperately and leaned back. The uniform jacket slid down off his shoulders, pooling behind him against Bucky’s knees. He shifted up and down, trying to set a brutal pace, but something seemed off.

Steve slowed his movements and pulled the jacket back up around himself, cocooning his slight frame. Sweat was glistening at his temples, strands of his golden hair plastered to his skin. The hint of a wheeze had made its way into his breathing. Bucky began to worry he was over-exerting himself. Steve hugged the body of the jacket around himself and stilled. His long eyelashes rested atop his sharp cheekbones as he gently closed his eyes. When Steve opened them again, they were watery. He blinked too many times. He sniffled.

Bucky reached up to touch Steve’s cheek, ever-so-gently, and Steve actually let him. None of his usual don’t treat me like a china doll, Buck, I like it like this attitude. A tear slipped down and splashed against Bucky’s hand. “Steve--”

Steve inhaled sharply and yanked the jacket off himself, tossing it to the floor. He spoke almost in a whisper, adjusting so Bucky slipped out of him.

“I know that look, you dumb punk, just fucking talk to me,” Bucky pleaded.

Steve slid up Bucky’s body, straddling his stomach, just sitting. He hunched a little to look Bucky straight in the eye. He wiped at his own eyes ferociously, then landed a solid punch into the pillow next to Bucky’s head. “I got no less of a right than anybody else,” he muttered. “I should be going with you.” Bucky just looked at Steve, not sure what to say or do next.

Steve let out an angry grunt, beat his fists against Bucky’s chest, and shouted, “Why can’t I go with you? I should be going with you! Don’t leave me here alone, Bucky.” Steve began to sob and his entire body shook, his hands now resting, limp and defeated, at Bucky’s shoulders. “Please don’t leave me. You’re all I have.”

Bucky reached up and pulled Steve down against him, wrapping the small man in his arms. He rocked him gently as Steve broke down completely. “You’re all I have left, Buck,” Steve whispered, his voice catching. “If you don’t come back, what the hell am I supposed to do?”

Tears dripped onto Bucky’s collarbone. He kissed the top of Steve’s head, then swallowed hard. For once, Bucky was completely speechless. His lungs were tight, heart squeezing.

Bucky had been trying, all day, all night, through the scrape behind the movie theater, during the failed double date at the Stark Expo, to choke down the fear of going to war. He was going to fight, and he was going to make it back home to Steve, his family, and Brooklyn in one piece--or at least that’s what he’d been repeating in his mind ever since basic training.

If Bucky dwelled on the potential finality of his serving overseas, well--he would simply stop thinking about it. He would be there, fighting for what was right. It was a much grander, deadlier scale than fighting some back-alley hooligan trying to rough up a dame, a Jew, or a little guy, but Bucky’s guiding sense of right and wrong made it easier to join the fight. 

But a battlefront in Europe or the South Pacific was no place for Steve Rogers, because it barely seemed like a place for Bucky Barnes.

After several beats of silence, Bucky loosened his grip on Steve. Steve maneuvered around on the tiny mattress and settled with his head on Bucky’s chest. “Sorry, Buck,” he mumbled. “Don’t know what came over me there.” He began to draw soft, lazy circles on Bucky’s skin with his index finger.

“It’s okay,” Bucky soothed with a small smile. “You shouldn’t worry about me. I’m a tough bastard. Best sharpshooter from training, too. Bet I can shoot Hitler and get home in time for your birthday.”

“Shut up,” said Steve, shoving Bucky’s shoulder.

“You’re gonna miss my golden voice yammering on all day.” Bucky smirked, then pulled Steve over for a kiss that began furtively and turned into something passionately soft. The room and the whole world dissolved away, until all that was left was Steve, sweet and pliant under his touch, and Bucky’s own pulse. Was this what it was meant to feel like when you find a soulmate? They limited their touch to each other’s faces for a long time, until Bucky’s hands slid softly down Steve’s back. Steve arched his body against Bucky’s, silent and needy.

They abandoned the frantic pace Steve had set earlier. Bucky focused on memorizing every movement Steve made, every perfect freckle on his slight frame, the way each individual vertebra of his curved spine felt beneath his wandering fingertips. Eventually, he slid into Steve from behind, holding him as close as he possibly could, entering him with languorous strokes that made his entire body shudder. Steve was not one to be this vulnerable; he hardly ever let Bucky make love to him.

When they exhausted themselves, Steve curled up to Bucky’s side. Bucky thought he heard Steve mutter something as he fell asleep there, his face nearly in Bucky’s sweaty armpit. It didn’t sound quite like the words Bucky hoped for, but it sounded fond all the same.

Around one in the morning, Bucky jolted awake to Steve’s teeth clamped on his neck and Steve’s erection pressing against his hip. “I didn’t get to finish earlier,” he grumbled, digging his blunt little fingernails into Bucky’s pec.

Bucky gasped and tried to hide how giddy he felt. He loved this little firecracker so much. This was the Stevie he usually had in bed with him--clever, tricky, a little sweet, and desperate to be in charge. Bucky heard the tin lid of the Vaseline container hit the floorboards, then felt Steve’s long artists’ fingers sliding down the cleft of his ass, carefully spreading slick over his hole.

“I told you, Buck,” Steve growled, ”want you to feel it all the way to Europe. Gonna ache for me until I can get to you over there.” Without warning, Steve's finger slid inside of Bucky, past the knuckles.

“Oh god, Stevie,” Bucky gritted out through his teeth, “‘M yours, Stevie. All yours. Always have been. Take me. Please.” His breath caught in his throat as he surrendered.

And as the night wore on, Steve emptied into Bucky, Bucky emptied into Steve--they gave each other everything, eventually collapsing, tear-stained and sweaty, into each other’s arms.

 

***


“Captain Rogers, I wanted to have a word, is now a bad--”

Agent Peggy Carter of the SSR stood in the open door in her pressed green uniform, a look of utter shock on her face. Until this moment, Bucky hadn’t thought it was possible for this woman to show any feelings beyond a poised confidence, “Time?”

She visibly swallowed, closing the door behind her as she stepped into the room. A pretty flush bloomed on her cheeks. She pressed her red lips together and straightened her jacket. “Forgive me, gentlemen, I didn’t realize,” Peggy stated, matter-of-fact.

Steve moved one of his hands from Bucky’s waist and gestured at the door. Bucky thought she would turn and walk out, but Steve then said, “No, no, it’s fine,” with one corner of his mouth turned up in a challenge. Peggy immediately turned, clicked the lock closed, and started toward them.

“Uh, Steve?” Bucky asked, recognizing the now-large Steve’s posture as one bent arm away from a fighting stance. Bucky’s eyes darted between Peggy, Steve (who wasn’t taking his hands off Bucky’s body), and his discarded shirt on the mattress.

“Stay still, Buck,” Steve whispered in response, his voice still sex-soaked, low and ragged. “Wait right there.” Steve nudged Bucky back to sit down on the edge of the bed. Bucky moved to shrug his uniform shirt back onto his shoulders. “Sargeant,” the Captain ordered, “I didn’t say get dressed.”

Bucky looked up at Steve, beginning to mouth “What are you doing?” but Steve’s focus had turned to Agent Carter, who was removing her shoes.

“Captain,” she said, looking Steve up and down. “Do you mind if I…?”

“Of course not,” Steve replied with a confidence Bucky had never heard outside of their apartment before the war, when the shades were drawn, the door was locked, and at least one of them wasn’t fully dressed. His skin heated up as he wondered what Steve was trying to pull here.

Agent Carter crossed between Steve and Bucky, languorously shifting her hips in her fitted uniform skirt. She peeled off her matching jacket, neatly folding it in half. Just as she had the day Bucky arrived at camp, she gripped the bottom of his jaw and turned his face upward. “Sargeant, hold this please.” Unlike that day, Peggy’s thumb came up to stroke Bucky’s lips once, twice. Bucky held out his hands, and she laid the jacket over them. Her voice turned to warm honey. “Now there’s a good lad.” Her sharply angled eyebrows arched at him as he complied.

Steve blushed down his neck, the pink disappearing below his tightly fitted vest. Peggy turned to him with an assessing eye and a lipstick smirk. “Don’t you two make the prettiest picture. You’re as flustered as young boys who just got caught with their hands in the cookie jar.”

Steve straightened and placed a hand on his hip. “Peggy, you know we’re--”

“My darling, of course I do.” She pulled a hairpin out from her curls, tossing some of her near-auburn hair over her shoulder. Bucky couldn’t help but smirk. He’d always picked up on flirtation much faster than Steve. Peggy stood before Steve, reached her hands up to rest on his pecs, and giggled. “Oh, Steve, you know nothing of seduction, do you? You sweet angel boy.”

Bucky’s smirk became a grin as Peggy turned to look at him. Then he laughed aloud.

“You got somethin’ you wanna say, Buck?” Steve was near-crimson at this point.

“Yeah,” Bucky said. “They turned you into some kinda Adonis, and it still can’t fix your capacity for flirtation. I tried, Pegs. I tried teachin’ him since 1932.”

“I haven’t heard any complaints from you about my technique,” Steve fired back at him, playfully but still embarrassed. Just then, Peggy kissed him, which prevented him from saying anything else that was stupid.

Bucky’s fingers curled into Peggy’s jacket, which he was still holding up in the air as if to present an offering. He thought to drop it on the floor, or place it on the desk, but he had been given an order. He licked his lips as a thrill shivered up his spine. He heard Steve hum as Peggy’s hand slid into his hair, their kiss deepening. Bucky had never had the privilege of watching Steve kiss anyone else this way. His cock stirred with interest.

“Oh Lord, but I am rather tired,” Peggy stretched, pushing Steve away and against the edge of the bed. It had been ages since any of them had seen a hotel room, even if part of the hotel had taken some battle damage. “Barnes.”

“Yes, ma’am?” Bucky responded quickly, shifting a little in a poor attempt to hide his growing erection.

“Be a dear and hang up my jacket. I’m going to get more comfortable, and I suggest you do the same.” Those full red lips formed a seductive smile as she looked between Bucky and Steve. She peeled off her skirt, leaving her in her underthings. Bucky hurriedly draped her jacket over a hanger and stripped himself of his remaining clothes. Peggy snapped her fingers. “Oh, really, Steven, you can get undressed too. Don’t just stand there all agog; it’s unbecoming of a Captain.”

Bucky glanced at Steve. Steve wrung his hands and looked at Bucky, his face still flushed.

“Gentlemen?”

“Yes, ma’am,” chorused Bucky and Steve.

Peggy laughed, a sound like music. “Aren’t you both so eager?” She was reclined in the center of the bed, leaning back on her arms. Her incredible legs were on full display, crossed at the ankle and still covered in stockings that ended in a tantalizing line on each milky thigh. Her underthings were plain and practical, but god, it had been so long since Bucky had seen any woman even half as gorgeous as Agent Peggy Carter. “Both of you, just waiting for your instructions.”

“Uhm, well, I--” Steve eloquently attempted.

Peggy laughed again, waving a hand in the air. “Oh goodness, why is it always the most beautiful men who have the least to say at times like these?”

Bucky ate it up. He always had; dishing it out or taking it, a good-natured verbal teasing in the bedroom turned him on. He attempted to fire back. “Blood flow, ma’am. It diverts away from the brain.”

“Hmm, I suppose it does,” Peggy responded, thoughtful. “As I said, I’ve had a long day, and I’m really quite tired. How about you two kiss each other, and then I won’t need to hear you talk about anything at all?”

Bucky blinked and looked at Steve, who was already on the move. And didn’t his Stevie love nothing more than a good challenge? When Steve’s hands clasped together behind Bucky’s neck, Bucky noticed that fire in his eyes. Their mouths crashed together, and they made out for what felt like an eternity.

“Very nice work, lads,” Peggy chimed in. “Really lovely. But I’m a bit cold over here by myself.”

Steve and Bucky pulled apart and grinned at each other. Steve went on Peggy’s right, and Bucky went to the left. They both pressed up close to her soft skin, trailing gentle touches down her arms, across her breasts and hips.

Peggy took a deep breath and spoke candidly. “Steve. James. I already said I’m quite exhausted, so I’m going to say this now--”

“I can leave if you’d like, ma’am, give you and Steve some privacy,” said Bucky, at the same time as Steve said, “Pegs, I’m sorry, but I could’ve swore I told you I wanted to be alone with Buck tonight and--”

Peggy smacked both of their heads simultaneously. “Why do men think they can always talk over women? One of these days, when I’m feeling more frisky, you’re both going to discuss that with me in a much more intimate manner.” Steve and Bucky both turned bright pink. “What I was trying to say,” Peggy rolled her eyes, sighed, and continued, “is that I think your devotion to each other, your love for each other, is beautiful.” She began to pet both soldiers’ hair. “I can only hope that someone will love me that fiercely one day.”

Bucky blinked in surprise as Steve reached for his hand and clasped their fingers together over Peggy’s belly. Peggy covered their hands with one of her own. “I helped Steve get to you. I made it possible for James to stay. And you’re both just--” Peggy yawned and shook out her curls, “--you’re both puzzle pieces that fit. And maybe you’ll find I fit the puzzle too, or maybe I won’t. But I believe that I love you both. I will do everything in my power to protect you.”

Bucky, speechless, leaned in and kissed Peggy on the cheek.

“Peggy, I don’t know what to say,” responded Steve.

“I told you already,” Peggy grinned wolfishly in Bucky’s direction, and he immediately knew where this was headed. “I’m tired of hearing men talking all day. Now hush, Steven, and go back to kissing James so I can enjoy my evening’s rest-and-relaxation!”

Steve looked at Bucky, somewhat stunned, while Bucky simply responded, “Yes, ma’am!”

Steve was awkward at first, kissing for the benefit of an audience, but Bucky acquiesced easily. When he wanted Steve desperately like this, he slipped under so easily. All those taut new muscles and warm skin were already a familiar drug that turned Bucky pliant in Steve’s hands. An involuntary whine escaped from his throat into Steve’s mouth.

An airy little noise, almost a purr, floated up from where Peggy was situated against the pillows, her panties pulled down to her thighs. Her slender, sure fingers petted through the thatch of soft hair between her legs, which were parted slightly. Bucky held Steve back with a hand on his pec and nodded down toward Agent Carter. Steve drew in a breath as a healthy flush bloomed across his chest. When Bucky leaned in to lick the sheen of sweat at Steve’s collarbone, Steve gasped loudly, and a gasp suddenly rose from beneath both of them.

Peggy’s clear, chocolatey brown eyes snapped open, her pupils wide and dark. “James, darling,” she panted, voice seductive as hell. “Steve and I were talking and,” she reached up and pulled the straps of her brassiere down her arms, freeing her breasts to the open air, gliding her hands over their round fullness, “we hoped we’d find time for you to really enjoy yourself.”

“Unf,” was the response Bucky gave, because Steve was palming at Bucky’s cock, which ached and leaked, twitching in Steve’s hand.

“Come here,” Peggy said, moving her hand from her breast to Bucky’s cheek. Bucky didn’t think there was much that would make him blush anymore, but this certainly did. Peggy craned her neck until Bucky kissed her softly. She pulled back, smiling. “Oh yes, that will do nicely,” she approved, then pushed Bucky’s head down to her breasts. Bucky took this as an order and began to mouth at one of her rosy nipples, feeling it tighten under his tongue. Peggy moaned quietly, then continued, “Did you teach Steve how to kiss, darling?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Bucky whispered, breathless, as he moved to suckle Agent Carter’s other breast. Dear god, what a beautiful pair. Hadn’t seen a woman’s tits this nice since Maggie Rourke’s in 1939, that time Steve let him go to her apartment as long as he told Steve everything when he got home.

“Taught me everything I know,” Steve beamed, scratching his blunt nails down Bucky’s back, hard enough to raise red lines.

Peggy threaded her manicured fingers in Bucky’s hair as she snapped, “Well don’t just kneel there preening, Steven. If you want him, there’s plenty left for you, isn’t there?”

Bucky laughed against Peggy’s skin, and she yanked at his curls, stopping his giggle entirely. He got back to work, exploring her torso with his lips and tongue, kneading at her breasts. He pinched a nipple to full hardness then took it between his teeth. All the while, Bucky’s back began to arch toward Steve, whose tongue traced a line from his shoulder blades to the swell of his ass.

Peggy cried out loudly and smirked, “James, you beast.” Steve giggled. Bucky blushed, then moaned as Steve bit one of his ass cheeks. Peggy grasped Bucky by the chin, and he froze in place. Steve popped up from Bucky’s hip to look at both of them reverently. Bucky felt Peggy’s hips arch upward, and she brought up the hand which had been between them. “I believe I’m ready to see what else your tongue is capable of, if you’d like.” She offered an outstretched finger to Bucky. “Hm?”

Bucky opened his mouth, and she fed it to him. He swirled his tongue around her digit--it was slick, sweet, tangy, a little bitter. His cock jumped as he groaned in his throat.

“Don’t worry, love, I didn’t forget you,” Peggy cooed as she pushed another finger past Steve’s lips.

Steve tipped his head back, exposing his beautiful throat as he hummed appreciatively. Then one of his huge paws was on the back of Bucky’s head, gently encouraging him to move lower. “Go on, Buck; she’s been asking me if you would. Heh, I told her you were talented.”

Bucky’s heart pounded and his mouth watered as he slipped between Peggy’s parted thighs. Getting his tongue in a girl had always been one of his favorite acts. Women were so silky and slick inside. Sure, Bucky loved men, especially Steve, but women got softer, wetter, and the way that little bundle of nerves would swell and get oversensitive with each pass of his tongue? Beautiful.

Bucky licked and gently nibbled as Peggy’s thighs twitched uncontrollably around his head. Steve disappeared for a moment, then his weight dipped the mattress and Bucky felt a slick pressure against his hole. Steve had gotten some Vaseline and was beginning to tease Bucky open, the way he went crazy over.

Peggy yanked Bucky up by the hair. “Enough, darling,” she panted.

Bucky didn’t really respond, as Steve gave a breathy chuckle and breached Bucky’s hole, just barely, with his pinkie finger. Bucky’s eyes rolled back--this was the only kind of torture he ever found acceptable. His whole body trembled.

“Steven,” Peggy smiled, “I don’t know what you’re doing to him, but just look at him. He loves that, doesn’t he?”

“Mm-hmm,” Steve nodded, continuing his lazy rhythm. In, and out. In, and out. Just past the first knuckle, timed with Bucky’s breath.

“Poor dear is shaking.” Peggy wrapped both arms around Bucky and stroked his back, his head cradled on her shoulder. She pressed a kiss to the top of his head. “You’re doing so well, James. So well. Sweet boy.”

“My good boy,” agreed Steve. He pulled his hand away, and Bucky whined at the absence. “So good for us both, isn’t he?”

“I’m very good,” Bucky slurred, still shaking.

“Help me out?” Steve smiled at Bucky, all the sunshine gathered on his face, even in the dim light of the hotel. Bucky reached down and tugged at Steve’s cock, spreading the impressive amount of pre-cum he found there, using the amount of pressure that made Steve lose his mind. Peggy surged up and kissed Steve, whispering something Bucky didn’t quite catch in his concentration.

Peggy spread her thighs wider, and Steve slipped a finger inside her opening. She moaned, and Steve added a second. As was Steve’s way, he moved slowly. Bucky kept stroking Steve, tracing circles around the head with his thumb.

“Ah, Steve,” cried Agent Carter. “Like that, oh god.”

Bucky wondered if the serum had made Steve an expert at all kinds of hand jobs. A cursory glance at Steve’s forearm revealed that Steve was in her with his palm toward the ceiling; likely he’d found that sweet spot inside that all women seemed to love. They all stayed like that for a few moments, everyone humming and gasping and wanting.

Peggy was the first to break. “Enough. Enough, Steven. Please.”

They all froze. Looks were exchanged--everyone’s eyes were dark, lips red from overuse.

“Pegs? You okay?” asked Steve.

“You know what I want to do.” Half her mouth curled upward, so wicked--just like Steve. It was a look Bucky enjoyed kissing off anyone who gave it to him. “Tell him.”

Steve looked at Bucky and turned crimson. Putting his hands on Bucky’s waist, he leaned in and whispered, sending a shudder through Bucky’s entire body, “She wants you, Buck. Wants to feel you inside. When was the last time you were in a proper dame?” Bucky shuddered again, involuntary, leaking an embarrassing amount onto Peggy’s milky white thigh. “Told her your dick feels so good.”

Bucky looked down at Peggy, at her mussed hair, her smudged lipstick, her perfect breasts. “I want to,” he said. This was an easy choice. Steve handed him a condom.

“I’m right here, Bucky. You can tell us to stop if it’s too much.” Steve petted Bucky’s flank. “I love you.”

“Love you,” Bucky whispered back. He situated himself between Peggy’s legs. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders as he pushed in, and she arched up to meet him as he sank to the hilt and moaned. “Oh my god. Oh my god, Peggy.”

“James,” she cried softly in his ear. “Oh, darling, yes.”

Bucky felt slicked up fingers over his hole again, tracing steady circles with a little pressure.

“Stevie?”

“Does that feel good, Bucky?”

Bucky actually laughed. “That’s what your askin’? I’m sunk into a beautiful woman, and you’re about to put your fingers in me, and you need to ask if it feels good?”

Peggy jolted her hips up, stealing Bucky’s breath. “Get to work, Captain. If you’re both talking this much, you could easily be doing more.”

“Oh, like this then?” Steve’s tone was light, jovial, but he pushed his entire index finger into Bucky’s hole with one go, and Bucky almost howled. God,these two were evil in the best way . If he didn’t survive this, he would be perfectly happy for this to be the end.

Peggy trailed little kisses along Bucky’s jaw. “Sweet, sweet James. You like that, don’t you? You want to be filled up while you’re inside of me? Think we can both give you more pleasure than you can stand?”

Steve was fucking his slick finger in and out of Bucky’s hole, hooking it forward into the spot that would surely make Bucky come too soon. Bucky made an embarrassing sound and scrunched up his face as Steve pulled out quickly, then was pushing two fingers inside past the ring of muscle.

“Keep moving, Buck. She likes it,” Steve encouraged.

“Not too fast, though,” Peggy said. “We should take our time.”

Bucky moved painfully slow, pushing deep into Peggy, then having Steve’s fingers pushing deep into him as he pulled back. His skin was slick with sweat; his mouth went slack having no more to say.

Suddenly, Steve pulled both fingers out. “Nnn-no!” Bucky stuttered. “Please, no.”

“Are you all right, darling?” Peggy asked with genuine concern.

“We can stop if you need to, sweetheart,” Steve soothed.

“No,” Bucky cried, arching his ass back toward Steve. “Please. Please. ‘M so empty now, Stevie. Please , ma’am, I need him inside me. Want him to fuck me while I’m in you, you hafta--” His chest heaved.

Peggy smiled gently as Steve squeezed one of Bucky’s thighs and sighed in relief. Peggy kissed Bucky hard when Steve’s weight lifted from the mattress. She squeezed his cock from inside, and he relaxed against her. “James, would you be a dear and move for me? Just a little.” He did as he was told, just short little thrusts inside her tight warmth. “Unh, yes. Like that. Oh my sweet boy.”

Steve’s weight dipped the mattress one more time and the blunt, warm touch of Steve’s slicked cock teased at Bucky’s hole. Bucky squeezed his eyes closed. He hadn’t thought it possible to feel this good ever again. Not after everything that had happened. “Easy,” Steve cooed. “Easy, sweetheart. I’ve got you.” Bucky voiced a shaky whine as Steve stretched him open. “Good boy. Good boy ,” Steve praised as he slid inside. “So tight for me, Buck, yeah.”

Bucky pushed into Peggy as Steve pushed into him. It was a slow, undulating dance of pleasure. For a moment, Bucky couldn’t tell where he ended and either of them began. He shook with it, sweat dripping off Steve onto Bucky’s back. Steve kneaded at one of Peggy’s breasts as she pushed up against Bucky, circling her clitoris with her own fingers. She let out a tiny desperate noise as her eyes clenched shut. She threw her head back, and Bucky’s groin became soaked with her as her mouth contorted in a silent scream. “James,” she panted, “oh James , my god, right there. More! Yes!” Steve slammed his hips into Bucky so that they both slammed into Peggy. Peggy turned her head and bit into the other pillow, her hand still rubbing maddening circles between her legs. This time she actually screamed, but it was muffled.

Bucky wanted nothing more than to come inside her as Steve brutally pumped into his hole. He wanted Steve coming inside him as he spilled into his condom, deep inside Peggy. He wanted to walk funny in the morning, damn the remarks of the other Howlies. Bucky’s entire torso shot upward, and Steve grabbed him around the chest, slamming into him as the orgasm overtook them both.

Bucky howled as his cock sputtered for what seemed like an eternity and his vision whited out. Pulled between two forces of nature, his skin tingling, everything hot with bright flames behind his eyelids.

A few minutes later, Steve pulled his softening cock from Bucky, and Bucky relished the feeling of Steve’s spend drooling out of him. Peggy stroked his face and kissed him so softly on the mouth. Peggy and Steve pillowed their heads on each of Bucky’s shoulders.

“...I...love...mmmm I love,” slurred Bucky, sleepy and warm.

“I love you, too, Buck.” Steve kissed his cheek.

“Darling, sweet boy,” Peggy purred. “Sweet love. Both of you.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The thing is, he doesn’t remember.

It’s an empty space where symbols float by occasionally, and if he concentrates, he can almost grasp at what they mean.

He feels like he remembered, once, what it was like to have two arms of flesh and blood, has vague recollections of what it once was to have two warm hands on another body. Two hands squeezing a throat. Two hands supporting a rifle as he takes the cleansing breath needed to still himself for a kill shot. Two hands, covering two significantly smaller hands, clean-but-sticky hands? That is the most vague recollection of all.

He cannot remember a time when the left side was not heavier than the right. He hears someone say his hips have shifted oddly to compensate for the weight difference.

Someone says if they didn’t have to deal with technology they’d cobbled together from American scrap, if they’d just been able to steal some of that “good Stark shit” , whatever the hell that means, his skeleton would be perfectly aligned. A voice screams in several languages that he will never be perfect--this is why the conditioning is always necessary. Soon, someone will bring chemicals. Soon, the chair.

***

He cannot move either hand, flesh or metal. Wrists bound. Cannot shuffle away. Legs bound, too, then. Something cutting into top and bottom of his face. A blindfold. A muzzle. All the air recirculating to his nostrils is his own--damp, sweaty, chemical and salt.

He recognizes pain. All forms of pain: shooting, throbbing, stabbing, stinging. There is different pain from bleeding out different ways--that’s a slow kind of pain. Sometimes there is no pain, and he doesn’t know he is bleeding until a splash on his boots or the pavement alerts him.

Sometimes the splattering sound of fresh blood on his boots is not even from his own blood. Sometimes the splattering onto his own body is not blood at all. Rarely, it is the rain, pouring down, washing him before he can be taken to Decontamination. The days the scent of death becomes smothered by the scent of summertime.

There is something in the scent of summertime that pulls at his guts. He doesn’t think he’s ever known the feeling of innocence, but somehow the smell of wet pavement and car fumes and passing a food cart on the street stirs something that thrums under his skin, causes his mouth to water just a little, as though someone had offered him a piece of fresh fruit.

He can count on one hand the times he was deemed worthy of such a thing. He can count on the other half of that same hand the times he regretted such a reward.

They--the handlers, the ones keeping him safe from the world that would otherwise kill him--do not reward him often. They cheer when he knocks out a new recruit, then return him to his cell.

The Blonde Man comes to his cell sometimes. He looks like someone who should smell of summer, but he smells of leather, black pepper, expensive cigars.

He is never permitted to smoke but The Blonde Man who should smell of summer blows smoke in his face, then praises the ways his hands have ended lives, the way he shapes the territory.

You are truly a gift, says The Blonde Man who reeks of cigar smoke. A beautiful gift. Just for us. Me, especially. They spent a little more time on you, and my God, it shows. The Blonde Man, both Summertime and Cigar Smoke, has caressed his hair, his cheek.

The Cigar Blonde Man’s hand slides down the bicep of the shining arm that lives where his flesh arm used to be. The Cigar Smoke Blonde Man, dressed neatly in a tweed suit, whispers shhhh son, it’s all right, but the metal arm says it is not all right, braces for impact; this man does not smell like summertime, does not smile to blind the world. This Blonde Man did not undress him in an act of worship.

When the metal arm twists the Cigar Blonde Man’s wrist, there is a pop. The Blonde Man screams in rage, and the metal arm then tries to shield the rest of the body. The rest of the body is naked, cold, burning.

“If you ruin this, you ruin all the work we’ve done. I am the only one who can be good to you. Do you understand? You were going to be good for me. You’d been so good , soldier, and this is the fucking thanks you’re going to give me?” The Blonde Man, still furious in his volume, presses his lit cigar to any exposed skin he can reach as the machine whirrs in fright.

As  he whirrs in fright.

Where is he? What is he doing ? Who is this Blonde Monster who does not belong in a room with him--should not be in this room where he is naked. Where is the smaller blonde man he thinks he’s seen in his dreams, and why is that man sometimes larger, stronger?

Are dreams something he even has? Each time he is brought out of what he’s come to think of as The Capsule, the faces on the other side change. Some are recognizable, but obviously aging. Some are different every time. And he doesn’t remember sleeping. Time seems to pass but he gets no older.

Just flashes of being dragged out of the capsule, into a room, into the world. Flashes of pain. Of medical equipment. More pain. Accented voices he can understand, but he is sure that’s not the language he was born into.

 

***

 

He rolls into consciousness, every part of him cold. A bed, steel and hard. Lights blinding him.

Black lines, red lines, tentacles curl around the edges of the room, the edges of the world.

“The weapon is awake,” says a German accent. “You can speak to him.”

Blue eyes meet his. It is the wrong blue? The skin tone is too tanned, he thinks. But then, freckles. A half-smile.

“Soldier,” says Blue Eyes.

He regards him, says nothing.

“Soldier, would you like a glass of water?”

He regards him. Cannot respond.

“Hm, I figured as much. Has anyone ever told you that you’re perfect? Look at this specimen of a body. These steely eyes, they could kill a man.”

His mouth twitches. Someone did tell him. Blue eyes? In the woods? Green, like this man’s jacket?

Blue Eyes utters a series of words in Russian.

“Ready to comply,” he says.

“Excellent. Come along, Soldier.” Blue Eyes proffers a hand to pull him to standing and smiles, bracing his elbow with one of his large, freckled hands.

He flinches, starts, stops, starts again. “Steve?”

Blue Eyes squints, shakes his head, returns to the half-smile. “If that’s what you want. They tell me that by tomorrow, you won’t remember.”

Chapter Text

 

Nyet! ” the little redhead shouts, kicking and screaming. “ Nyet! ” Her skinny, pale legs kick furiously, but Soldat hefts her over his shoulder. “Put me down!” She erupts into a fit of giggles. “I do not want you for a big brother anymore. You are mean!” She attempts to twist out of his iron-solid grip.

“Natalia,” Soldat responds in a flat voice that is non-threatening. “You are so dramatic."

“I could fight you,” the girl beams. “I might even win.”

“Enough fighting today, little sister,” Soldat replies. “However, you did an excellent job.”

“Where are we going, then?” Natalia goes limp over Soldat’s shoulder. Soldat flips her over so she hangs upside down from his metal arm. She begins to giggle again. She bends her knees and hangs like a gymnast from a bar, swings twice, and sticks the landing when she dismounts.

“Headmistress said you are getting special treats today.” Soldat gently reaches out his flesh-and-blood hand, giving Natalia’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. “A reward for your hard work. For being the head of the class.”

The young girl’s French-braided pigtails bob as she bounces along the dark, musty concrete hallway. “Do you get one too, big brother? A reward?”

Soldat doesn’t respond. He is not a child. He is a weapon. The rewards he receives are nothing like those reserved for the little girls of the Red Room. Sometimes the girls are escorted to the city to take in a ballet. Sometimes, like today, the headmistresses hold a tea for the highest achievers in academics, fighting, dance. The girls are treated kindly and indulge in tea-cakes and pastries.

When Soldat is rewarded, it means he is not punished. He is permitted a supervised shower instead of the hose. He is given food instead of the nutritional slurry they administer through tubing--but it does not usually stay down. He gets a chance to select other recruits to fight each other while he watches; if he’s been very good, his handler will permit him to point to a weak fighter to be eliminated.

But Natalia is special--accompanying her around the Red Room facilities is a reward Soldat feels deep down. He does not recall being a child, or even a younger man, but around the tiny redhead, Soldat silently questions if he was ever this small, and if chasing after rambunctious, strong little girls was something he’d lived through before the Red Room and the Winter Soldier program.

Natalia threads her thin, bony fingers through Soldat’s metal ones. “I hope there are cakes! You should come have cakes with us, big brother. You are the one who taught me that kick yesterday! Katya said I looked just like you when I did it.” Natalia halts. Soldat looks up and down the hallway, flesh hand hovering over the knife at his hip. Natalia squeezes and shakes the metal hand, then looks up at Soldat's face, her eyes pools of green. "Big brother? Are you proud of me?"

Soldat's shoulders relax slightly as he realizes there is no threat, just a curious little girl. "Of course, little sister," he responds, almost automatically.  

"I'll pocket a treat just for you," Natalia bounces. She motions for him to bend down, and he complies. She places the featheriest of kisses on his rough cheek. "Thank you."

 

***

 

“Big brother!” calls Natalia, running to Soldat. She is taller, twice the height he remembers her. Her red hair is up in a tight bun; she is dressed in her pink ballet rehearsal clothes. She gracefully leaps and wraps him in a hug. “Big brother, where have you been? It’s been ages.”

“Little sister?” Soldat asks.

“Yes, it’s me, silly. I missed you so much! They must have sent you on a long, secret mission,” Natalia smiles. “Do you get to take me somewhere today?”

Soldat nods. “Yes. I will take you there now.” There is an odd feeling in the pit of his stomach, though he cannot speak why. He leads Natalia, whose steps are now long and graceful, rather than short and springy, down a darkened hallway at the compound.

“Big brother, we have passed the training rooms. Are you sure this is the right way?”

“Yes,” Soldat replies. They arrive at an armored door. Soldat knocks three times with his metal fist, and the locks are opened. “After you,” he tells Natalia.

She swallows, her expression turning grave. Inside the room are two armored men and one headmistress in training fatigues. “Where have you taken me?” Natalia’s voice breaks, her eyes growing wide with fear as she looks to Soldat for guidance.

“You were warned, Ms. Romanova,” says the headmistress, “that all girls are selected at random for combat simulations. Welcome. It is your day.”

Soldat steps back into the shadows, clenching his flesh hand. He has not been equipped with weapons beyond what is attached to him on this day. He is not here to fight, but he cannot choke down the fierce urge to protect the redheaded girl with the huge green eyes.

Natalia spits, squares her shoulders, and plants her feet, even in her thin, soft dance shoes. She assumes a fighting stance, and her expression is stern and solemn. The two men in body armor lunge for her, and she kicks one aside as she climbs the other’s body, vaulting off his shoulders as the side of her foot cuts into his neck. He makes a choking sound and falls to the floor.

The other man jumps back to his feet and attempts to punch Natalia in the solar plexus, but she blocks his hand with her own, grabbing his arm and twisting it until he screams. She pushes up and his shoulder dislocates. The first man charges at Natalia again. She landes a swift kick to his groin, which he clearly was not expecting as he doubles over, and she squeezes the front of his neck in a chokehold which knocks him out.

The second man pulls out a knife, and Natalia startles. “Headmistress! We were not told these tests involved weapons.”

“Fights in the real world are not fair, my dear,” the headmistress states as she scribbles notes onto a clipboard.

Natalia crows loudly and jumps toward the man with the knife. It is a battle of reflexes as he stabs at her, and she rapidly bends away each time. The man loses as she high-kicks at his elbow and his knife goes flying. Natalia performs and acrobatic spin and kicks him in the throat. He doubles over, sputtering.

“Very good, Miss Romanova,” praises the headmistress.

Natalia’s chest is heaving. “Thank you.” She looks to Soldat. “Big brother! Perhaps I am finally as good as you are!” Soldat stares, dead-eyed. “Big brother?”

“Soldat,” says the headmistress. She spouts what seems to be a list of words, nonsense in Natalia’s ears.

“Ready to comply,” states Soldat.

“Fight her.”

“What?” says Natalia, her eyes filling with tears. “No, headmistress, this must be a mistake.”

Fight her! Fight back, Natalia! This is the final exam!”

Soldat silently stalks up behind the redhead, who screams and throws a punch to his nose. She runs to the other side of the room. “Brother, please. It’s me, your little sister! Natalia!”

He struts across the space between them, Natalia bracing for impact. Soldat throws a punch with the weapon, creating a hole in the wall beside her head. His flesh hand circles her throat, but does not squeeze. He leans in and whispers, “It is not your day to die, little one.”

He turns to the headmistress. “She passes,” says Soldat, voice low and flat. “She is clearly a worthy adversary. I will not kill her. She is a rare breed. Keep her. And never let me see her again.”

Natalia slides down the wall to the floor, in tears. “Brother,” she sniffs.

Soldat leaves the room, prowling silently back to his cell.

 

***

 

Through the scope, the Soldier sees his target. Mission: kill the engineer.

But the engineer has an escort. Red hair flashes in the sun as she attempts to shield the engineer with her body. The Soldier looks at her face--wild green eyes with a deadly focus. A bowed mouth and a determined sneer. Her gaze widens as she is looking right at him.

“Brother,” she mouths. “Brother, what have they done to you?”

The Cigar Smoke Blonde Man yells into the Soldier’s earpiece. “Take the shot.” So he does.

The escort and the engineer both fall to the ground, blood beginning to pool as the Soldier quickly disassembles his rifle into a bag.

Red hair, he thinks. Green eyes. This is no place for you, Natalia. Return to the Red Room. Teach them. Stay alive.

Chapter Text

 

“You’re sure about this?” Steve Rogers asks Princess Shuri for the third time that morning.

“Captain Rogers, we have conducted every test that is scientifically possible, and yes, we are sure. Myself, my brother, the top neuroscientists in Wakanda--we are nearly 100% sure the triggers are gone. The fraction of a percentage of uncertainty can be proved or disproved once Sergeant Barnes is awake again,” Shuri says. “And before you ask, yes, we have a process ready if the triggers have not completely been wiped away.”

Steve grabs her in a wordless hug, his huge body trembling.

Shuri smiles and takes his hand as he pulls back. “Come along, Captain. You’ll be the first to greet your friend. Surely he will be happy to see you.”

 

***

 

The chamber hums to life. There is a soft hiss as the air is depressurized. He remembers this part, from before, but somehow the gnawing fear has disappeared. The light within the chamber brightens slowly, gently, like a sunrise.

He knows his name: Bucky Barnes. He sees his reflection in the glass cover and recognizes his own face. He’s been in cryostasis in a country called Wakanda, where medical professionals and scientists were caring for him, working to remove the trigger words from his mind.

He wonders why they are waking him today and feels sick. There can only be two reasons; either his triggers have been erased, and he can begin building a life, or they remain, and he will be forced to determine what comes next after undergoing more treatment. Two options, terrifying in vastly different ways. For the first time he can recall, a phantom pain shoots through his left arm, which has been detached for months now.

Bucky raises his right hand to press against the glass, to let the Wakandan scientists know he is conscious. He’s met with a series of gentle taps, then a hand, with long, graceful fingers, mirroring his on the outside. And then the bluest eyes he’s ever seen are fixed on his own. Steve.

Steve’s eyes have always been blue, evening sky blue, ocean-on-a-clear-day blue. Bucky feels something in his heart pulling because he can remember drowning there, more than once. He can remember Steve’s hands, first too big for the rest of him, then a perfect matching size.

Steve is blinking up at Bucky, his eyes red, his cheeks pink. Pink like Prospect Park cherry blossoms. Pink that blushes all the way down when he’s undressed. Are his eyes red from lack of sleep? From fighting?

A calm voice pipes into the cryo chamber. Princess Shuri , Bucky recalls. “Sergeant Barnes, please sit back, we are going to open the glass now.”

Bucky can hear the timbre of Steve’s voice through the glass as his hand moves away. He doesn’t know what Steve says, but the syllabic pattern suggests something like, “Almost there, Bucky.” The chamber tips gently forward, and Bucky feels his weight resettling to his feet. A quiet hum surrounds him as the glass cover of the chamber shifts off to the side, leaving Bucky breathing fresh air.

He’s standing in front of him, shoulders back, the position somewhat like parade rest--Bucky thinks it’s both a little sad and a little arousing that you can’t quite bleed all the soldier out of Steve Rogers at any given time. The air of power around Steve has always made Bucky the tiniest bit wobbly in the knees.

Bucky’s head is full of shifty, blurred memories of the past seventy-plus years, but memories with Steve are often the clearest. Steve, even when he was small and sickly, could stare him down from across a room, and Bucky would feel powerless. Bucky loved that feeling, used to crave it more than anything. A warmth gathers in his chest as Steve looks at him now.

Bucky attempts to step out of the chamber, and his legs falter. He wobbles and realizes he doesn’t have his left arm to catch himself. Steve lunges forward to steady him. “Easy, Buck,” he says softly, a smile playing at one corner of his mouth.

“Do not exit the chamber without assistance, Sergeant Barnes!” calls Princess Shuri from somewhere in the lab. “It will take approximately 45 minutes for your body to warm completely. And we must complete our scans as well.”

“I’ve got him,” Steve calls out. Bucky studies his face, feeling something like a smile forming on his own. Blue, blue eyes framed by the prettiest fringe of eyelashes. Pale, smooth skin dusted with freckles. A genuine smile like a sunrise. One big hand reaches up and grabs onto Bucky’s right hand, while the other lands at his waist with a steadying grip. “C’mon, pal. It’s okay to step down now.”

Bucky goes, feeling unsteady at first, and then Steve is gathering him in an embrace. He speaks, his voice rough from months [years? How long has he been under?] of sleep. “Steve. Stevie . Hi.” Bucky blinks multiple times, recognizing the tightness in his throat and the tears trailing down his cheeks. “You’re here.”

Steve nuzzles against his neck and bows his head into Bucky’s shoulder. His rock-solid arms continue to hold him upright. “Bucky,” he says, then whispers so only Bucky can hear, “I missed you so much.”

Steve smells like summertime. He smells like a perfect day on Coney Island, 1939.  

He smells like warmth, salt, Ivory soap, like safety. Like home.

Bucky allows himself to melt into the touch, but it doesn’t last because Princess Shuri hurries to their side. “Welcome back, Sergeant Barnes!” she beams. “You both should come this way, we need to run a few tests before we let you go free for the evening.”

“You can call me Bucky,” Bucky says, wincing slightly at the remaining gravel in his throat. Something deep in his mind tells him he has the capacity to sound softer, to sometimes be a charming man. Somewhere in time, Bucky Barnes exuded an air of smooth trustworthiness.

Mind your manners, James , an older woman’s voice echoes somewhere where he’s wearing short pants and staring down at scuffed shoes on his small feet. A gentleman is always kind to his hosts. Bucky thinks that must be his mother.

Steve and Shuri guide Bucky toward a bed and instruct him to lie down. Bucky must be making a less-than-thrilled face, because Shuri pipes up suddenly, and a little too cheerfully. “Feel free to wiggle your fingers and toes, get your circulation moving. My team is preparing a few things to check you out, but it will not be painful. Hopefully they will not take long.”

Steve begins to massage Bucky’s hand and forearm. His gaze roams everywhere over Bucky’s body. Bucky sees him absently chewing on his bottom lip.

He laughs, but it comes out as a huff of breath. “You like what you see, Rogers?”

“Hm? What?” Steve shakes his head as though he was daydreaming.

Bucky smirks. “I might not be fully defrosted yet, but I’m not stupid.”

Steve smiles that warm smile and then threads their fingers together. “Of course I like it. It’s you.” Three Wakandan scientists round the bedside, and Steve brushes a stray hair off of Bucky’s forehead. “I’ll be right here.” The scientists step in close. They pull a few instruments out, but they don’t touch him. Their hands are  hovering above his skin, passing some sort of wand-like device over his left shoulder.

“I am going to place something on your head now, Sergeant Barnes. Do not be alarmed,” one woman soothes. It is a circular object, like a halo, that weighs practically nothing. Bucky’s breathing hitches up but when the device is turned on, it continues to sit gently atop his hair, and an almost musical pitch sounds from it. No terrifying noises, no pain, no scent of ozone crackling through the air. Just like that, the woman removes it, and her eyes light up. She hurries away to show a holographic display to her associates, and they all make pleased, congratulatory-sounding exclamations to each other in Xhosa.

Princess Shuri squeals audibly. She bounces on the tips of her toes as she approaches the side of the bed, placing a hand on Bucky’s shoulder, then the other hand on Steve’s. Her knees bend and she springs up into the air. “Incredible! You are remarkable, Bucky Barnes! Our neuro-scanner reveals no residual reactions to the triggers. Oh, I am so happy for you!”

Steve sniffles loudly and wraps her in a bear hug. Shuri grunts from the squish of Steve’s arms, “Do you like cake? We should celebrate! What kind is your favorite? We could--”

Bucky cuts her a look as Steve releases his pleased grip.

Tomorrow . Tomorrow we shall discuss cake options. Tonight we have a room reserved for you and Captain Rogers. And also my brother has assured me a repast will be served in your quarters. No interruptions until you alert us.”

“I love cake,” Bucky recalls. “But not as much as Steve loves pie.”

“We’ll have both,” Steve grins. “We’ll call you tomorrow, Princess.”

“Of course, Captain,” says Shuri with a knowing wink. “Now get out of here!” Steve pulls Bucky to a sitting position, and Shuri makes a shoo-ing gesture at them.

Bucky sits quietly, looking around at the lab. He breathes in and out slowly. He rubs his palm over his thigh, feeling the soft linen pants he’d been given before going under. Steve waits, inches away, his big hands stuffed in his pockets.

“I’ve been here,” Steve speaks up. “To see you.”

“You were the first thing I saw besides my own reflection today.”

“No, I mean,” Steve huffs a dry laugh, “I’ve been here before. Multiple times. T’challa has become a really great friend, and I’ve definitely needed some places to hide from the rest of the world. But I’ve been in this room. With you.” He turns to Bucky and pulls him up from the mattress.

The first thing in Bucky’s mind is a joke. He feels the corner of his mouth pull up, a sly gesture. “So you were lookin’ at me under glass, pining away because I was Snow White and you didn’t think you were the handsome prince?” Bucky wraps his arm around Steve’s waist. It’s warm and solid--everything he remembers.

Steve genuinely laughs. “Be serious for a minute, Buck! I just got you back.”

“Never even tried asking if kissing me would break the spell. Bet you sat there brooding, weepy-eyed, reading me poems or some sappy shit.”

“That was only one time, and--” Steve’s eyebrows shoot upward as a crinkle forms between them.

Bucky barks out a loud laugh, followed by a cough. It’s been a long time since he laughed like that. Steve hugs him close, and Bucky nuzzles into Steve’s clavicle. “I guess it’s what a sappy hundred-year-old-man does for the love of his life.”

Steve noses into Bucky’s hair and sniffs, humming out a small, pleased noise. “The first two times I came to see you, Shuri told me to get out. The third time, she brought me a folding chair and asked how long I would be ‘mucking about’, something about how she wasn’t ‘opening a broken white boy daycare’. Fourth time she ordered me some roti and put a code in my kimoyo beads so I could come in anytime.”

Bucky finally allows himself to relax into Steve’s touch completely. He’s a little awestruck that Steve still thinks he’s worth it. Bucky still looks behind himself and sees years of darkness and bloodshed. He doesn’t understand how Steve can be so good as to look in the same places and see nothing but Bucky--broken, scared, lost, but still human. He’s not HYDRA’s weapon. He’s James Buchanan Barnes, minus a left arm.

Steve tips Bucky’s chin upward with his index finger and brushes a gentle, chaste kiss against his lips. He smiles again. Bucky feels something in the pit of his stomach he thinks he hasn’t felt since 1944. “C’mon, Buck,” says Steve, “we should get outta here. You hungry?”

“I could eat,” Bucky replies, not actually sure if he wants food. He knows if he follows Steve to their room, there will be comfort and softness there, and that sounds perfect. Steve attempts to lead them out of the lab, but halts when Bucky grabs him by the elbow. Steve blushes, and Bucky clasps Steve’s hand. “Walk together,” he whispers, bumping up against Steve’s side. “Barnes and Rogers.”

“Against the world,” Steve speaks quietly, a fond vow.

In their private suite, Bucky looks out the window, which has a view out into the royal gardens. A bright flowering tree is in bloom just outside the glass, its blossoms pink and orange. He’s never seen a tree that looks like this one before, but something about it feels so familiar--looking past pretty blooms at blue sky, a hopeful feeling in his chest. A flustered chattering in his mind that makes him bite his lip.

Steve pads over, munching on an oatmeal cookie with bits of red fruit in it. “Have you ever had these? Dried cranberries are one of the best cooking ingredients of the new century.” He breaks off a morsel and holds it out toward Bucky. Bucky’s heart flutters a little as he opens his mouth, then lets the tip of his tongue linger on the tips of Steve’s fingers as he feeds Bucky the bite of cookie.

“‘S good,” Bucky manages as he chews the small bite. He doesn’t tell Steve it makes his stomach ache because he cannot recall the last time he was able to eat real food. Steve looks pleased, then casually reaches up to brush a strand of errant blonde off of his forehead. The gesture, the lighting, and the scenery shake something loose in Bucky’s mind. He blinks a few times, feeling his face screw up, looking for the right expression. “Stevie?”

“You okay, Buck?” The midday sun at this angle makes Steve’s eyes sparkle, a perfect blue.

Bucky feels the grin spread over his entire face before he registers it’s a face he can still make. This is what I’m supposed to feel , he thinks, this is what it feels like when there are blossoms on the trees and summer is coming and you love someone. You love Steve. “Yeah, pal,” Bucky blurts out, easy. “Did I ever tell you,” he asks, crowding up against Steve’s chest, resting his palm over Steve’s heart, “how handsome you are? Don’t know why you couldn’t get dates, then or now. The whole world is sleeping on the good looks of Steven Grant Rogers.”

Steve’s left arm slides possessively around Bucky’s waist, then he raises his right hand to cup Bucky’s cheek. “You’ve been telling me ever since we were kids.” He lightly strokes Bucky’s bearded cheek with his thumb. “I believed you. Never said it, though.” Steve’s eyes are watery again, his smile small and tight. “You were the only one I believed for a long time. You were the only one who mattered, anyway. Heh, it was a day a lot like this one when you told me the first time.”

Bucky gasps because it’s suddenly clear as day to him as well. “Prospect Park. God, you were what, fifteen? Sixteen? Your cheeks were the same color as the cherry blossoms, and I couldn’t shut up about it.” Bucky lets out a dry laugh as Steve continues to pet his beard. “Did I ever shut up about it?”

“Not really. I didn’t mind.” Steve gathers Bucky into a tight embrace. “I missed you, Bucky. So much. You got no idea how hard it was--how long I looked when I knew--how much it hurt to see you, frozen and not here with me and I--”

“Stop.” Bucky freezes, tension locking up his muscles. “Steve, just don’t. Don’t--I don’t--it isn’t as though I had a choice and--” He flusters, throwing his hand up in the air, turning on his heel, and collapsing noisily into the corner of the giant couch in the midst of the guest suite. Bucky realizes that it’s a credit to modern science and Princess Shuri that even though his anxiety is running through the roof, he has neither the urge to destroy nor the urge to run and never return. Instead, he’s a sad, sniffling ball of supersoldier, curled in on himself in the corner of the nicest sofa he’s ever sat upon.

Steve is frozen, back too straight, hands in his pockets because obviously he doesn’t know what to do with them. This look is a flashback for Bucky too:

“I can get by on my own,” Steve says, adam’s apple working hard as he swallows, teeth almost clenched because he can’t find his apartment key, and it’s the day of his ma’s burial. He’s small, and not helpless, but he’s so lost and sad. Bucky remembers his hand on Steve’s bony shoulder. Remembers he and Steve stepping inside the door, how Stevie collapsed against him the moment the latch clicked closed, a right mess. He’d carried Steve to the bedroom, undressed him, wrapped him in the softest blanket, and held him, kissing the top of his head, rubbing his back until he cried himself to sleep.  

Bucky tilts his head up from his knees. Steve stands in front of him, holds both hands out. “Please,” he almost squeaks, voice too small for this mountain of a punk. “Bucky, I didn’t mean to--”

Bucky reaches up, allowing Steve to haul him up on his feet. He suddenly grabs Steve around the back of the neck and presses their foreheads together. “Listen here, Rogers, and you listen good. I don’t remember everything perfectly all the time,” Bucky closes his eyes because it makes the voices of the past more vivid, “but we promised each other everything, pal. And I swore over Sarah’s deathbed that I’d always take care of you. And I promised Peggy I’d always have your six.” Steve is wordless, faintly trembling under Bucky’s hold. “You’re my little punk. My handsome fella. My Stevie . That’s what I remember the clearest.”

“Buck,” Steve starts.

“I don’t know if I’m your Bucky or some acid electric scrambled mess of him. I don’t want to disappoint you, Steve.”

“I love you, Bucky.” Steve stands, paralyzed. Like he’s a trip-wire away from death. His hands are still shaking. His breathing is shallow.

It’s reflexive, what happens next: Bucky kisses Steve with everything he has, tingling working through his spine down to his toes. His fingers work up into Steve’s silky hair, tugging gently one moment, stroking lovingly the next. His breathing goes ragged. “Stevie,” he groans, much more than just his heart throbbing. He presses his face against Steve’s neck, nipping the skin there until Steve gasps.

Steve picks up Bucky and carries him to the bed. Bucky doesn’t even protest--he wants to be still, be good, be touched. “Stevie, it’s been so long,” and he whines as Steve pulls his shirt off.

“I haven’t touched you like this since--”

“--since--?”

Steven groans as he draws his hands down Bucky’s sides. “I don’t know. Don’t remember when. It’s been a hell of a long time for me too.”

While this doesn’t slow Bucky’s racing pulse, it does send his focus lower into his belly. “You lock the door?” He licks his lips.

“Only jerks forget to lock the door,” Steve giggles. “Like that time Becca came to pick you up for church--”

“And we told her we were wrestling. She thought it was weird we’d be wrestling on the couch after we got dressed up, but she never asked about it.” Bucky finally blushes and looks up at Steve through dark eyelashes. “I’ve always loved you, Steve.”

Steve is panting, looking down at Bucky like he hung the moon and the stars over Wakanda just for them to enjoy. He taps something onto his kimoyo beads and an electronic voice declares the suite “secured, do not disturb mode activated”. Steve shucks off his own shirt, presses Bucky into the bed, and they kiss until neither of them can remember how to talk at all.