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The Courage of Our Convictions

Chapter Text

Bucky came up alongside Steve where he stood on the ridge above their campsite. He was leaning against a big oak tree, one foot kicked out to get more comfortable. Bucky realized he wasn't watching for Germans like he’d thought, Steve was just watching the sun sink below the horizon. It was nearly gone, leaving a purplish bruise of a sky with one bright streak of molten orange across it.

They were three days in on their first assignment behind enemy lines and Steve just didn’t quite seem himself. That was the best way Bucky could put a finger on it as he stood there beside him wondering what he was thinking. He seemed to like to be away from the other guys, not how he’d been in London, buying them round after round, joking, and shooting the shit. He could almost see why. The way the guys treated him had changed since they all first came together in that stinking Hydra snake pit. Now, the guys laughed a little too hard at Steve’s jokes and folded their cards in poker a little too quick when he was calling. Bucky thought he knew what Steve might be feeling if only he’d admit it. It gnawed at you, that feeling like you didn’t deserve it. Bucky felt the same goddamn way every time anyone said boo about his performance of his duty, because that's what it was—your duty. That said, Steve had been Bucky’s own hero since he was fourteen goddamn years old. If anyone deserved it, Steve did.

He still remembered the triumphant look on Steve's face the first time he popped a bully in the face—broad grin, his teeth all smeared with blood that was running down from his own punched nose. He’d had a split lip for his trouble and his nose all swollen. Steve's ma had torn them both a new one over it, but he'd looked as much the hero then as he did now—at least in Bucky's eyes. He hadn't been scared of anything, shrimp that he was then.

Bucky wasn't technically in charge of their little band of merry men anymore—the Howling Commandos, as they were now called—Steve was. But he wasn't always on point when it came to basic orders like “make camp” or “take a shit break.” Necessities like that seemed to escape his notice oftentimes. Bucky filled in, like he always did. He didn’t like thinking it but he couldn’t help wondering if it was because of how Steve had changed. It was still strange to see him this way, tall and even broader in the shoulders than he was. That was saying nothing of his new red, white, and blue uniform that was doing fuck all as camouflage. 

"Hey," Bucky said as he stared off at the horizon, not daring to take his eyes off the sunset. He already knew that Steve's hair was mussed from his helmet and his face was glistening with sweat from a long day’s hike. The heat was bad but it would be worse when it started to get cold. Steve didn’t know yet. He hadn’t been here for more than a year like Bucky had and he'd never felt the stiffness that infected your bones from the cold or the chilblains that made your hands so sore that he could barely make a fist and his army-issue wool gloves hurt every second of the day as they scraped the raw skin of his hands. But maybe Steve would be spared all that now. He was different.

A small voice in the back of his head whispered that he was different too, but he ignored it like he always did. If he was different, it was because of all the shit he’d seen, nothing more.

He looked to Steve and caught him licking his dry lips. They were dark pink in the dying twilight like he'd been biting them the way he used to when they were kids. Nerves, his ma used to say. Bucky didn't want to remember that but he did anyway.

“Guys got your tent up for you,” he said conversationally, forcing his eyes back to the horizon. “Gabe's on watch, Jacques is making stew for supper, and I think Monty's rousting them all up for a game of poker. You want in?”

Steve looked over like he hadn’t realized Bucky was there, or hadn't expected him to speak. “They didn’t have to do that,” he said. “I can put up my own tent.”

Bucky glanced over, a small smile curving his lips. “They wanted to. You're the boss now.”

Steve sighed and ran a hand over his chin. “Okay,” he said, then turned back to stare. The orange was almost gone and the sky was getting blacker by the second.

“You can do this,” Bucky said matter-of-factly, and Steve looked over at him sharply, like he was shocked by it.

“It was a pin in a map,” Steve said like the words had been pent up inside of him for weeks. Maybe they had been. “We could wander around for months—I could get every one of you killed before we find that Hydra base.”

Bucky’s smile widened. “But you won’t.”

Steve scoffed and looked away, not at the sunset but at the ground, the way he used to. “Why? Because I’m Captain America?” His disdain for the name was suddenly evident to Bucky. He'd thought for a quick minute that Steve was reveling in it. But now he saw how wrong he was.

Bucky grinned, because this time he knew just what to say. “No, because you’re Steve Rogers, the stubbornest son of a bitch I ever met in my life.”

That netted him a small smile in return. Steve straightened from his lean against the tree and reached to put a hand on Bucky’s shoulder, jostling him lightly and then giving a squeeze. “Thanks, Buck.”

“Not sure that’s a compliment, exactly…” Bucky teased, lips quirking.

Steve’s smile in return was half-lidded like he was relaxing into their banter. He gave Bucky’s shoulder another small jostle and then let go. Bucky’s chest felt suddenly empty as Steve’s hand left his shoulder.

“I think it was,” Steve said softly, his eyes low, not quite meeting Bucky's.

“Maybe it was,” Bucky agreed, mentally trying to will Steve’s eyes up to his again.

Then, in the very last of the dying light, Steve’s eyes did lift to Bucky’s and he felt like the breath went out of him. It was that look, the one that he always guarded so closely and only gave him when he really deserved it—when he’d really helped. It made Bucky’s stomach drop and his heart shoot into his throat, like he was being stretched in two.

“Thanks, Buck,” Steve said again, his lips tight but grateful.

There was an almost unbearable pause as their eyes locked and Bucky waited for Steve to say more.

But then the moment was broken, Steve’s eyes dropped again and Bucky sucked in a breath since he’d been holding his in without even realizing it.

Then, he shrugged, and said, “It was nothin’.”

Chapter Text

Bucky sat leaning back against somebody else’s pack by the campfire. By the smell, it was Jim’s pack. He liked to rest his stocking feet on it when he was lounging by the fire as they shot the shit or played cards. Bucky didn’t care about the smell. Anyway, all he was smelling at the moment was the dirty gray smoke coming off the smoldering coals of the banked fire. The wind had changed and now it was billowing right by his face. He’d have to move soon. He and the guys had been playing Hearts earlier—which Dum Dum insisted on calling Slippery Bitch, much to their fearless leader's chagrin. It was hard to see in the firelight but Bucky looked for it when Steve blushed. He had to give it to him, Steve still managed to keep it pretty clean—even around the guys, who all swore like motherless bastards.

Bucky knew why, remembered Steve’s ma threatening to wash his mouth out with soap because that wasn’t how a “gentleman” talked. Bucky still missed his own ma sometimes—not that he’d ever tell anyone else that. He wrote her letters but she worked in a factory now and didn't have much time to write back. He missed Steve’s ma, too, who’d never once asked him to leave when he was still hanging around at dinnertime. She’d fed him his fill and let him sleep over on the couch, even though she could hardly afford another mouth with all Steve’s special food, medicines and tonics. But she’d never asked him a single question about why he didn’t want to go home. Maybe she knew, maybe she didn’t, but Bucky thought she just about had to be an angel.

Staring into the fire, he could almost stop thinking for a few minutes if he just drifted into that bright orange glow. He almost felt hypnotized by the lick of the low, blue flames—

Until he heard the crackle of a branch snapping behind him like someone sneaking up on him.

He started to reach for his gun but then Steve said, “Whoa, whoa, it’s just me,” and Bucky’s hand went back to where it had been resting on his thigh just as quick as it had left.

“Sorry,” Steve said as he squatted down to one side of him, the opposite one from where the smoke was hovering, all dark and dirty-looking.

Steve looked at him appraisingly as Bucky’s eyes drifted back to the firelight. “At least you said somethin’ before I shot you,” he said, a lame attempt at a joke.

Steve didn’t laugh, just huffed a small noise of agreement.

“You okay?” he asked, looking Bucky over again. “Monty’s on watch. I just checked on him. Why’re you up?”

They were five days out of camp for their second mission. The first had gone well. They'd eliminated a Hydra base in occupied France. Bucky had felt the wind of a bullet whiz by his ear and had frozen up until Steve grabbed his arm and pulled him along. He'd been okay after that. He was okay.

Bucky had drawn the short straw before they left for round two. There were seven of them, and since Steve was the officer in command now, he got his own tent. Gabe and Jacques were in together; he had heard them talking French in low voices about a half an hour ago. He could hear that Jim was snoring a little himself in his tent—his and Monty’s was closest to the fire, the flap only maybe five feet from Bucky's back. Dugan was in the tent pitched furthest away and he could still hear the bastard snoring from twenty feet away.

It was just as well. He hadn’t had a good night sleep since Steve had gotten them out of the factory in the Alps and he’d been put on that morphine drip in the infirmary. It made him itch something terrible but he’d slept at least.

Bucky didn’t even look away from the fire, just cocked a thumb over his shoulder toward his tent. “Dum Dum snores like a bomb going off and I can’t sleep with all that noise.”

Steve nodded and then stood suddenly. He didn't take his eyes off Bucky as he seemed to ponder a moment and then he leaned over. That got Bucky’s eyes up and his adrenaline pumping. For a second, he thought something completely screwy was about to happen. But Steve just reached down and put a hand on his shoulder, one thumb just below Bucky's collarbone, stroking lightly. That was Steve, all over—always so softhearted, but not too much. He always kept it right under the line, never too little and never too much.

“Why don’t you sleep in my tent tonight,” Steve suggested, a faint, uncertain smile on his lips outlined by the orange glow of the firelight. “You look like you could use a good night’s rest, Buck. You got circles under your eyes.”

Bucky pulled in a breath through his nose, pretending to think about it for a couple seconds before he said, “Yeah, okay.”

Steve’s hand dropped from his shoulder and he suddenly felt colder without it, despite the warmth of the fire.

It was just like Steve not to bring up the fact that Bucky being sleep deprived might get someone killed—true as it was. He could’ve even ordered him to do it. But that just wasn’t ever going to be Steve Rogers’ style. Bucky charmed people, pushed them if he had to, but Steve got people to follow him because he was just that fucking good.

“Lemme just get my stuff,” Bucky said, getting up on stiff legs and giving a little stretch to his back before he headed toward the tent he was supposed to share with Dum Dum.

Steve watched him go. Bucky could feel his eyes on him.

When he came out, folding down the flap on the tent while he hoisted his hastily-stuffed pack onto his shoulder, he couldn’t see Steve by the fire anymore. Bucky went to his tent where it was pitched on the opposite end of the camp. Steve was already in bed. Bucky could see his boots on the floor, along with his armor. He’d laid out his gloves, belt, and helmet on the floor where he could reach them if he needed them. His shield was at the head of his sleeping roll behind his pack that he was using as a pillow.

Bucky pulled his own roll off his pack and spread it open on the far side of the tent across from Steve to leave a walkway between them. He sat down on the none-too-soft bedding to take off his boots and then undid his uniform shirt and shrugged it off. He climbed into his bedroll in his undershirt but still wearing his pants like Steve was. If they were ambushed in the night, neither of them wanted to get shot in their skivvies.

His eyes were adjusting to the darkness of the tent by the time he laid down with a sigh. He could see the glitter of Steve’s eyes as he lay across from him in the moonlight that shone through the tent's single ventilation flap.

“You ever wonder what we’d be doin’ if we hadn’t gone to war?” Bucky asked without really thinking about it.

“Not really,” Steve said after a beat. “I think about what we’ll do when we get home.”

“Oh?” Bucky said, doing his best to hide his interest. “What’s that?”

Steve didn’t answer for a moment and it was too dark to read his expression. “You know,” he said, his tone light, like he was trying to play it down. “Get jobs, get married, start families—the usual.”

Bucky felt instantly like a bullet had gone through his jaw just to the side of his chin—then he realized it was because he’d been resting his fingers against his face and he'd suddenly squeezed both flesh and bone in an excruciatingly painful grip between thumb and forefinger. He loosened his fingers the second he realized but the spot throbbed like a boil. Through it all, he'd made no sound other than a sharp inhale. 

His voice was surprisingly level as he said, “I guess you’re gonna ask that Agent Carter for a date, huh?”

“Yeah,” Steve said. “I suppose so. She’s great. Smart, classy, beautiful—”

“Knows how to shoot a Thompson and an M3 better than you do?” Bucky said, aiming for teasing and landing squarely on needling instead.

Even so, Steve chuckled. “Yeah. Definitely that, too,” he agreed.

Bucky knew he should ask about something else, change the subject to anything else, but his mind went blank. He didn’t know what to say to that, and anyway, his chest felt too tight to talk.

“What about you? After the war?” Steve asked after a Bucky didn't say anything. He sounded tired, like he was about to yawn but didn’t—like maybe he was just making conversation to lull Bucky to sleep.

“Dunno,” Bucky said softly. “Back to work at the docks, probably. Get back in school…”

“Find a girl, get married…?” Steve prompted, his tone light again.

“You know I could never settle on just one,” Bucky said, a little of his old roguish, good-natured tone back.

“Believe me,” Steve said, managing to sound both amused and exasperated at the same time, “I remember.”

“Don’t be like that,” Bucky teased, taking Steve's exasperation for jealousy. “I got you plenty of girls. Not my fault if you didn’t know what to do with them after.”

Steve scoffed, sounding like he was deciding whether to take offense or not. “Trust me, Buck. I’m not jealous of you for all the girls you made it with.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Bucky said sarcastically. “You’re lookin’ for the right one. Okay. Sure. Gotcha.”

Steve didn’t say anything to that, just sighed. Then Bucky heard the rough scratch of Steve running a hand over his unshaven chin like he did when he was done taking shit.

But instead of the immediate shutdown Bucky had been expecting, Steve said, “You’ll meet the right one, too, someday, Buck. I know you will.” He sounded almost sad about it.

Bucky didn’t know what to say about that. Was he sad for him that he hadn’t met his soulmate or something? Why? Because Steve thought that Agent Carter was his? Fuck that. She was just another pretty face—albeit one who could probably kick their asses into the dirt if she got the drop on them, but she still wasn’t anything that special. She wasn’t what Steve was to him or—he hoped—what he meant to Steve. She wasn’t part of their club, didn’t belong. It should just be the two of them, really. Who else did they need? Marriage and family seemed a long way off to Bucky. They could have ten years without all that, a nagging wife and rugrats. But maybe it wasn’t about what Steve needed? He wanted someone else. Bucky guessed he should want that, too. He didn't know how to make himself, though.

“If I don't, I’ll have a lot more fun than you will in the meantime,” Bucky said. And this time Steve did chuckle. Bucky did, too.

Neither one of them said anything as their chuckles died down. It got quiet between. It went on so long that Bucky almost thought Steve had fallen asleep.

Then, from out of the dark, not even the glimmer of Steve’s eyes to break the monotony of blackness, came: “Goodnight, Buck. Get some sleep, okay? Don’t make me knock you over the head to get you some rest.” His voice was starting to slur with how close to sleep he was. In another minute, he’d be there, in dreamland—as Bucky’s ma used to call it.

“Yes, sir, Captain, sir,” he murmured. He heard Steve huff a breathy laugh and then he turned over.

Bucky inhaled a long breath through his nose, though his throat felt too tight. “G’night,” he whispered softly. 

Chapter Text

As soon as Steve opened the door to his little apartment, Bucky was through it and leaning down to wrap an arm around Steve’s shoulders as he said, “You missed a great night out, buddy. You should’a seen this dame. She had body that wouldn’t quit. Len says hi, by the way.”

Steve chuckled and smiled like he always did while trying to wrest Bucky’s arm from around his neck. “You smell like you drank the whole brewery,” he said, holding his nose playfully.

“I had to drink your share,” Bucky said, cackling at his own good joke.

“I just figured I didn’t need to go since I knew you’d show up here to tell me all about it,” Steve said, smart aleck that he was.

Bucky loosened his tie and then pulled it off with a zip of silk-on-silk before stuffing it into his pocket.

Steve shook his head disapprovingly as Bucky took a staggering step, but there was still an amused smile on his lips. “Want some aspirin, maybe some water or a cup of coffee?”

Bucky brayed laughter and shook his head. “Why would I want coffee after I paid all that money to get drunk?”

“You make a good point,” Steve said musingly, a faint smile curving his lips.

“You should’a come,” Bucky said again. “Next time, right?”

“Sure, Buck,” Steve said and it was even obvious to Bucky he was placating him. But he wasn’t thinking a goddamn thing except how sweet and funny Steve was. He was such a straight arrow and just so fucking good. It used to annoy him but now it just made him happy that someone like Steve was in the world and that he got to have him as his best friend.

“You’re my best friend in the world,” Bucky said with a wide, dopey grin.

Steve had obviously recently taken a bath, he was still pink from the hot water. He smelled like soap except his damp hair that just smelled clean and like Steve when Bucky leaned in close to him. He stank like the bar he’d just come from like Steve said but it was better when he slid his jacket off and left it over the back of a chair. He could even tell that Steve hadn’t shaved, but then, he didn’t really need to. He could go three days with hardly a hair on his chin while Bucky had a five o’clock shadow at noon.

“Uh-huh,” Steve said drolly. “You might’ve mentioned it once or twice before when you were drunk.” His arm wrapped around Bucky’s waist to help him to the bed.

He let him, feeling even shakier on his feet than he had walking up the stairs. Usually he’d protest, tell Steve he was fine to make it home to his own bed. It was just two flights of stairs down anyhow. But once, he’d stumbled on the last couple of stairs, fallen, and passed out on the landing only for Steve to find him in the morning half frozen. Steve hadn’t let him walk down the stairs drunk since.

Steve helped him across the apartment into the little alcove where his bed was. He urged him down on the bed and he went willingly enough, watching Steve as he sat down beside him. He was only wearing a clean undershirt and his striped boxers. They hung on his bony frame, his boxers looking for all the world like they were in danger of sliding right off. Bucky had seen him in his skivvies a hundred times, more, but suddenly it seemed…exciting—naughty, even.

Steve reached for his laces, loosening them so Bucky could kick his boots off. He felt his cock stir as he looked down at the back of Steve’s blonde head at his knee. He put a hand on his back, running it upward between his shoulder blades. It was bony along his spine, each knob protruding beneath his fingers. Steve shrugged backward, trapping Bucky’s hand between his shoulder blades for a second and then giving Bucky a playful look like he was telling him to knock it off. That teasing glint in his eye only made Bucky’s cock take even more notice. He slid his hand back down to the small of Steve’s back then, not stroking, just letting it rest there.

Then, as they sat there on the edge of the bed, Steve straightening up to look up at him and meet his eyes, Bucky grinned and Steve smiled that little crooked half-smile that he gave him sometimes. It seemed to go on a long time before Bucky decided that he should do…something.

He didn’t think about it, he just leaned in and sealed his mouth over Steve’s and brought his free hand up to cup his jaw lightly. His big old paw seemed to cover most of the side of Steve’s face.

For a second, he thought Steve might just ease into it. His lips twitched under his own, moved tentatively—and then, with a sudden hard shove, Bucky found himself laying on his back as Steve leapt up, backing away a step like he was ready to fight him or something.

“I’m not one of your goddamn girls!” he shouted. He looked mad, maybe as mad as Bucky had ever seen him with his face all red and tears standing in his eyes. “What’re you doing, Buck?”

Bucky felt like he couldn’t breathe. What the fuck was he doing? He wasn’t even close to drunk enough to think Steve was a fucking girl. And even in his haze of shame, Bucky hadn’t missed how sickened Steve had sounded when he said the word. Like he thought the girls Bucky went with were disgusting somehow or like he was.

Bucky was too shocked and ashamed to do more than lay there, half sitting and half laying down, afraid to make a move because he didn’t want Steve to try and punch him, because that wasn’t going to end well for anyone.

He didn’t do more than swallow thickly and lay there in silence. He kept expecting Steve to say more, to tell him to get the hell out. But he just stared down at him, cheeks flushed red, tears glimmering in his eyes, and his fists tight at his sides like he was ready to defend himself.

“I–I’m drunk,” Bucky finally said. “’M Sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

Except he was pretty sure he had. He’d known it was Steve all along, hadn’t he? He knew Steve had never screwed any of the girls he sent his way. He said he liked dames but Bucky had wondered if that was true more than once. Maybe he didn’t like the idea of fucking anybody?

Steve didn’t relax, exactly, but his shoulders did slump down again, his fists loosening as he took a deep breath that was sort of like a sigh but not quite. He was relieved, Bucky guessed. Glad his best friend wasn’t a queer.

Bucky suddenly felt sick.

Steve took in another breath and then shook his head, like he was clearing a bad idea out of it. Or maybe a bad memory.

“Sorry,” Bucky said again. “You…want me to go home?”

Steve looked surprised by the question but he didn’t answer right away.

Bucky sat up, thinking maybe he should get out before he made it worse somehow—except he wasn’t sure he wasn’t about to puke.

Finally, Steve blinked and he suddenly looked normal again, not all shaken like Bucky had just backhanded him across the face instead of kissing him.

“No,” he said. “You don’t have to. I’ll…” He paused and looked through the narrow archway that separated his bed from the living room. Even drunk as he was, Bucky could see Steve meant to say he’d sleep on the sofa.

“I jus’ got confused,” Bucky said, his tone suddenly pleading even as he slurred his words. He wasn’t sure if the slurring was the whiskey or the fact that he felt like he was about to start blubbering. He didn’t want Steve to be scared of him. He didn’t want things between them to fucking change. It was a mistake, nothing more. “I’d never do a goddamn thing to hurt you. You know that don’tcha, Steve?”

Steve didn’t even look like he thought about it at all, he just said, “I know, Buck. I know.” Then he sat down on the bed and slung an arm around him again.

Bucky was so happy he could’ve cried anyway. “I’m sorry,” he murmured again, dropping his head down so his hair hung limply in his face. “I don’t know what I was thinking. It was an accident.”

A mistake.

It was all a lie, but it was best for both of them. He really didn’t know what he’d been trying to do. Steve was his best friend. He wasn’t—they weren’t—it was just the whiskey. It had to be.

 

Even though the booze had made him sleepy, Bucky didn’t sleep much. He’d drift and then wake with a start to look over and see if Steve had left or gone into the living room to sleep on the sofa. They’d slept like this a hundred times, more, but never once had Bucky worried what would happen in the morning or whether he’d finally screwed things up so bad that Steve wouldn’t want him around anymore. He wasn’t sure if Steve slept either, though his breathing was deep and even, except for a couple of coughs now and then.

Bucky drifted off around first light and woke up to the smell of coffee and eggs cooking.

They never talked about it again after that.