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you are a fever i am learning to live with (and everything is happening at the wrong end of a very long tunnel)

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The sniper fire takes him by surprise.

He ducks under his shield on instinct, but there’s no familiar clang of bullet on vibranium. The men around him drop like flies, and when Steve tentatively rises from his defensive crouch, he finds the floor around him littered with masked, black-clad goons. They all start to look the same after a while.

He can’t see the sniper, even when he scans the rafters where the fire came from.

“Thank you?” he tries, shield still in front of him, held at the ready in case the sniper decides he wants a piece of Steve’s ass after all. Still, it doesn’t hurt to be polite, and maybe Steve didn’t really need the assist, but he’s not one to turn down a helping hand.

“I’m in,” Natasha murmurs in his ear. “Complications?”

“Not sure,” Steve says under his breath, just loud enough for the comm to pick up. “Proceed as planned, Widow. Falcon?”

“Back in the jet,” Sam answers. “Firin’ her up.”

“You ruin my Quinjet, and I’m taking it out of your hide, Wilson,” Nat says, voice extremely pleasant and all the more dangerous for it.

Our Quinjet,” Sam retorts, shit-eating grin in his voice. “The Quinjet we raised together, fed and bathed and—"

“Children, quiet,” Steve hisses, still searching for the sniper. “No chatter on the comms.”

They both snort and subside. Steve knows he’ll be paying with interest for the children comment in old man jokes, but he’s used to it by now. He’s more focused on the current situation and his invisible sniper.

He takes a tentative step forward, and when bullets don’t fly at him or even bite into the ground in front of him in a warning, he keeps walking.

It could be just another mercenary. The Accords haven’t magically reduced the number of vigilantes or Enhanced-for-hire. And their target is enough of a scum to have pissed off plenty of people willing to pay good money to see him dead. Natasha’s probably doing him a favor by whisking him away for some friendly interrogation and eventual incarceration.

That still leaves the question of why the merc helped Steve, but maybe the shield answers that. Even painted in shades of grey and white instead of the iconic red-white-blue, it’s still recognizable. And so’s Steve.

“You can come out,” he tries again. “I won’t hurt you.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” yells a very familiar voice.

“Is that Bucky?” Nat asks. Someone yelps, but it’s not her. “Oops, sorry. Gimme a second.”

“Barnes is here?” Sam, this time, voice rising a little. “Man, what the hell.”

“I’m turning comms off for a bit,” Steve says firmly and doesn’t wait for their protests before he does it.

“That’s stupid,” Bucky says, walking out of the shadows at the far end of the warehouse. He’s dressed in black and more black, half his face hidden behind war paint. No wonder Steve didn’t see him.

“Bucky, what are you doing here?”

When Steve last saw him half a year ago, Bucky was happily settled into civilian life in France. Now, he looks like anything but the loose-limbed man who seemed so at home in his loose, threadbare sweaters and offensively comfy décor. Bucky’s not wearing his Avenger suit, with its deep blue jacket that brought out his eyes. This new one looks like someone with a leather fetish designed combat gear, all black with a truly ridiculous number of straps.

It, predictably, goes right to Steve’s dick.

Bucky doesn’t help, stalking forward with his rifle flung across his back, thick thighs flexing with every long stride.

“Take a wild guess,” Bucky says, stopping a few feet away from Steve. “Christ, Steve, what the fuck?”

Steve just shakes his head numbly.

“But France—you were—I—”

He shuts his mouth when Bucky’s expression darkens.

“Guess I’m not built for civilian life after all,” Bucky says gruffly, tone inviting no further questions. “Is there any point in me going after Ziemniak?”

Steve turns his comm back on.

“Widow, status?”

“I got him,” she says, sounding barely out of breath. “Heading to the jet. What’s the situation with Bucky?”

“He’s not a hostile,” Steve says firmly, more to Bucky than to Nat. “I’ll handle it. You two go on ahead.”

“And leave you?” Sam asks, flabbergasted. “Steve, that’s a terrible idea.”

“I’ll be fine,” Steve says. In front of him, Bucky’s eyebrows are steadily climbing to the stratosphere. “Catch up with an old friend, y’know. Take care, both of you.”

“Seriously,” Bucky says flatly once Steve turns off the comm again. “You always this reckless on missions, Cap?”

“It’s Nomad now,” Steve corrects, helpless not to let his mouth twist into a grimace at the old title. “There is no Captain America anymore.”

“Now, you know that ain’t true.”

“Oh, I’d say it is. You gonna invite me back to your safehouse, Buck?”

Bucky’s eyes widen, the whites of his eyes starkly visible between all that black paint.

Steve.”

“I did tell my ride to go on ahead. The mission’s a little time-sensitive.”

“You’re an idiot,” Bucky says, sounding torn between irritation and sheer awe. “I swear you weren’t this much of an idiot before.”

“Shedding the stars and stripes have been very liberating for me. Nat says it’s the beard.”

“Right,” Bucky says, voice an octave higher. “The…beard. Which you have. On your face.”

Steve scratches self-consciously at his beard with the hand not holding the shield. It’s strange to touch it, stranger still to see it in the mirror, but it’s growing on him. Literally, yes, but also otherwise.

“You like it?” he asks, feeling like a teenager, except that when he was an actual teenager, gushing over cute boys or girls was pretty low on his priority list, what between his own body trying to kill him and his mother’s waning health.

“I do,” Bucky says a little dazedly. Then he visible snaps out of it. “Dammit, we got to get out of here.”

“We do,” Steve agrees placidly. Some of Ziemniak’s goons are stirring, and it’s in neither of their best interests to be around for another round of fighting. “Lead the way?”

Bucky shoots him a look that’s pure exasperation but does as asked.

 

-

 

“Home fuckin’ sweet home,” Bucky drawls, dramatically spreading his arms. His current appearance is very suited to drama. “Well, what now?”

Steve looks around the little cabin. It’s a little out of the way, but it wasn’t a very long ride from the warehouse to here. Bucky let Steve drive, directing him from the passenger seat while he liberally applied make-up remover to the mess around his eyes. He still looked like a murder kitten when he was done but a less feral one.

Saying as much got Steve a kick from a steel-toed boot, but he was too high on adrenaline then— partly from the fight but mostly from seeing Bucky in the middle of one—to do more than grumble half-heartedly.

He’s sobered up now, and it’s not regret that bubbles up in him as he takes in Bucky’s safe house, but it’s not the slightly manic excitement of earlier either.

“I don’t know,” he admits. “I wasn’t thinking very hard.”

“I can see that,” Bucky says, sarcasm dripping. “Your team lets you get away with this shit, Ca—Nomad?”

“Are you allergic to calling me Steve again?” he asks mildly. Bucky has the grace to look sheepish. “And it’s just Nat and Sam today. Think they’d rather I fuck off with a former teammate than jump out of another window with just the shield to break my fall.”

Bucky gives him a long, steady stare, the kind Steve is used to, if not from this particular set of bruised blue eyes.

He takes the time to stare right back. Even with the paint wiped off, the skin around Bucky’s eyes are dark and sunken. He’s paler than he was in France. Thinner too—all that remains of his soft bulk is the right bicep bulging hard enough to match his metal arm. Steve misses it already, aching to strip Bucky bare and press mourning kisses to the swell of a chest that’s noticeably less than before.

Maybe some of it shows on his face. Maybe Bucky’s so used to Steve wanting him that he’s developed a sixth sense for it. Either way, he reacts with a muffled curse and two urgent strides that put him right in Steve’s space.

The kiss is close-mouthed and hard, shaped almost like a punch. Bucky pulls back as swiftly as he came, stepping away from Steve.

“I call first shower,” he says, voice rough. “Clothes in the bedroom. Help yourself.”

And then he’s walking off, just like that, Steve helpless not to watch him go.

But he does as suggested—well, he tries. He’s rooting around Bucky’s closet for something big enough when his fingers catch on a shirt that’s vaguely familiar for a second before realization socks him in the gut.

It’s Steve’s shirt. One of the button-downs he preferred in those first few months in this brave new world. Bucky stole it. Must have. Steve lost track of how many clothes he lost to Bucky’s strangest post-sex habit. A quick search turns up a few more. It’s not nearly the number Bucky took from him, but the fact that they’re here, in a closet small enough to be shoved into a suitcase at short notice, says a lot.

Steve doesn’t put on any of them. What he wears is predictably tight on him, around the shoulders and thighs especially. Bucky’s clothes, and unlike Bucky, Steve put on more muscle in the intervening months and didn’t even notice until his stealth suit started to stretch uncomfortably in places. The new one fits better. He wonders if Bucky noticed.

He lingers in the bedroom, listening to the sound of the shower. The first shirt he found is in his hands. He can’t force himself to put it back. He can’t stare at it either, so he looks around, forcing his mind to focus on details.

It’s a plain room. The bed looks comfortable, but there’s no personality to the plain white sheets on it, not like the deep jewel tones Bucky favored in France. The nightstand is mostly empty, holding only a battered flip phone and a paperback with its spine mostly unbroken. Little bits of Bucky even in this place but unquestionably subdued.

The shower stops.

Steve leaves the bedroom and waits in the hall. Bucky’s slightly wet and clad in a towel, the sight alone enough to make Steve’s heart skip a beat.

Blue eyes narrow in on the shirt Steve’s holding.

“Ah,” Bucky says. “Fuck.”

“You kept them?”

“All of them.” Bucky’s not looking at Steve but at some spot above his shoulder, scowling so fiercely that it’s not convincing at all. “What, you think I threw them away? Burned them?”

“I…well, I tried not to think about it. Any of it. But if I had—yeah, guess I would have.”

Bucky swallows heavily.

“Well, I didn’t.” His tone’s cut, almost angry. Defensive. Familiar. “Kept ‘em with a lot of my stuff in storage. Retrieved a few after—well, after.”

Steve doesn’t know how to respond. After a while, Bucky sighs and stalks towards Steve, taking the shirt from him with a surprisingly gentle touch.

“Go shower,” he says, jerking his head at the bathroom. “Towels inside.”

Steve stumbles into it like a concussed man, reeling more from the effort of not staring creepily at Bucky the whole time. He closes the door behind him and strips out of Bucky’s clothes with every intention of putting them back on after he’s clean.

It’s a small bathroom, but not so small that Steve feels boxed in.

He’s done scrubbing himself and is watching the suds go down the drain when the door opens.

Bucky’s naked when he steps inside, not even bothering with a towel. Steve doesn’t bother to be surprised. He left the door unlocked for a reason, didn’t he?

He lets the shower run until the last of the soap is gone from his skin, all the while looking at Bucky, who meets Steve’s gaze for an instant before drinking in the rest of him. Those dark eyes and parted lips are as clear an indication as any about whether he likes what he sees. Steve flexes a little, almost unconsciously, and grins when Bucky’s expression settles into something that’s halfway between amusement and appreciation.

“Come here,” Steve says, turning the shower off. Bucky’s quick to close the distance between them, shoving himself into Steve’s arms like a pushy cat. “Hey there, pal.”

“Hi, asshole,” Bucky mutters into his neck. “What the fuck, you’re here.”

“I’m here,” Steve murmurs, gently sifting his fingers through Bucky’s hair. “I went back, you know.”

He doesn’t quite mean to say it. This isn’t really the place, with both their bodies already stirring at each other’s proximity, almost Pavlovian by this point. But the words slip out, and they’re too important for Steve to not follow them to their logical conclusion.

“To France?” Bucky asks like he already knows the answer.

“Yeah. After getting them out. I wanted to—I don’t know, really. I couldn’t have stayed. The stunt at the Raft got me branded a fugitive. But I wanted to come say goodbye, I suppose. Properly.”

Bucky raises his head. The smile on his face is sweet but sad.

“You’re something else, Steve Rogers.”

Steve just shrugs. It’s his turn to avoid eye contact.

“You weren’t there.”

Bucky’s quiet for a while. Steve almost just kisses him, a wordless acquiescence to just letting it go, but he can’t quite bring himself to do it, not when the memories of how their first rodeo ended up. He told Bucky history didn’t have to repeat itself, but that means he’s got to do his part too.

“I left a week after you did,” Bucky says in the end. It breaks Steve’s heart a little. “Relocated to Paris. Wasn’t even surprised when they came for me a month later.”

“Fuck.” Steve holds Bucky tighter, as if that can protect him from something that has already happened. “Ross?”

“Probably. Who else, really? No one’s got as much of a hate boner for people like us than that guy.”

“He’s got no right,” Steve hisses, with a familiar swirl of anger in his gut. “You’re not even enhanced.”

“Think they tried to pass off my arm as one, being experimental Shieldra tech and all. I don’t know what they expect me to do about it. Rip it off? It’s not like it’s removable.”

Steve damn near growls. Bucky starts a little at the sound, then laughs, pressing his body closer to Steve. His half-hard cock presses against Steve’s thigh, an appealing flash of heat.

“Easy, tiger. I got away. Went full-on mercenary to prove a fucking point and piss that rat bastard off. I do paid jobs, mostly, but I do take the time now and then to fuck with his so-called containment efforts. Not to the scale you lot do but still.”

“I’m sorry, Buck.”

“What for?”

“You retired.” There’s honest grief in Steve’s voice, and he doesn’t try to bury it. He owes Bucky as much. “You wanted out of this life. And now, you’re…”

Back to being a gun, Steve completes in his head, remembering with piercing clarity the way Bucky looked and sounded when he told Steve he didn’t know who he was without a gun. Pained but resolute—beautiful even as he broke Steve’s heart for the thousandth time.

Bucky looks at him now with a complicated expression. His mouth breaks into a crooked smile a second before he leans up to kiss Steve.

It’s softer this time, almost questioning. Steve’s answer is to part his lips and invite Bucky in, sucking on his tongue and scraping with his teeth to hear him groan. Bucky ruts against him, erratic and unconscious, and Steve slides his wet hands down Bucky’s body to grab his hips and keep him still.

Bucky whines, sweetly petulant.

“Don’t think this place’s big enough for us to do shit,” Steve tells him, laughing a little. “And I’ve been worried sick about you since you up and vanished from France. Lemme take my time, sweetheart. Treat you right.”

“You can treat me right just like this,” Bucky says, but his voice is breathless, eyes bright.

“We can do better than a shoebox bathroom. Come on. Nice, big bed waiting for us down the hall.”

“Should’ve known,” Bucky says, stepping back obediently but tugging Steve with him. “’Course you came here for that.”

“For what?” Steve asks, distracted by Bucky’s peaked nipples and flushed dick.

“The bed. You’re using me for my goddamn bed, Rogers.”

Steve laughs, the sound shocked out of him. Bucky grins at him, almost boyish despite the heat in his gaze.

“That’s right,” Steve says indulgently. “You’ve found me out.”

“Such betrayal.”

“Hey, you should understand, you know what the beds on the Quinjet are like.”

“Those bunks are abominations,” Bucky says, grabbing the dry towel from the rack and motioning for Steve to bend his head. “And it’s inhuman to make anyone live in them.”

“We don’t live in the Quinjet,” Steve protests, a tremble in the words from how fiercely Bucky’s toweling his hair. “Not much. Kinda hoppin’ between safe houses. Nat and Clint have built up a lot between them, and Wanda’s very good at sniffing out unoccupied houses and the like. Sometimes, Vision helps out, though he’s very insistent that we don’t tell—”

He cuts off with a gasp when Bucky abruptly drops to his knees. He starts patting Steve’s legs dry, and Steve would insist he can do this on his own, but Bucky’s looking up at him with a wide, faux-innocent gaze that says he knows exactly what he’s doing to Steve. Not that it would be hard to miss with Steve’s cock swaying an inch from his damn pretty mouth.

“—Tony,” Steve says through gritted teeth, clinging desperately to his line of thought.

“Ouch,” Bucky intones. “Another man’s name when I’m on my knees for you. It’s true, what they say about men like you.”

Steve rolls his eyes, though it's hard to take his eyes off Bucky at all. He’s wrapping the towel around Steve’s thigh now, lingering far more than reasonably necessary.

“You’re a menace, Bucky Barnes.”

“Damn right,” Bucky says, batting his insanely long lashes. His eyes are more blue than grey in his light, and damn if they ain’t the prettiest thing Steve’s ever seen. “You and Tony still not on speaking terms?”

“Huh? Uh, yeah. I mean no, we’re not. He’s pissed at me for breaking up the team.”

Bucky finally rises to his knees, sparing Steve’s dick a speculative glance but very deliberately not touching. Steve still loses a few brain cells when Bucky throws the towel aside and wraps his arms around Steve’s neck.

“And you?”

“What?”

Bucky smiles, wide and wicked.

“What’re you pissed at him for?”

That dampens his arousal a little. But Bucky’s question is genuine despite the accompanying actions so Steve gives him an honest answer.

“The same, in a way, except Tony wouldn’t accept that answer. I wish he’d at least understand that I had reasons to choose what I did, same as him. His heart’s in a good place but—”

“So’s yours,” Bucky says easily. “But good intentions don’t really matter in cases like this.”

“I guess they don’t,” Steve admits quietly. “I wish they did.”

Bucky softens.

“I know. Me too.”

He kisses Steve and starts walking backward again. This time, they don’t stop until they’re in Bucky’s bedroom, kissing lazily the whole time. Steve kicks the door closed behind him and picks Bucky up.

“Hey,” he yelps, winding his legs around Steve’s waist instinctively. He laughs, then, swatting Steve on the shoulder. “Couldn’t have done that earlier?”

“Why, you lazy?” Steve retorts. “Or you just like me carryin’ you?”

“What do you think?” Bucky asks, eyes warm when he leans down to kiss Steve. He breaks the kiss too soon, only to rub his cheek against Steve’s jaw and the massive beard making its home there.

“This fuckin’ thing,” Bucky grits out, acting like he’s trying to break Steve’s face with aggressive affection. “Drives me fucking crazy.”

Steve laughs and starts walking towards the bed, trying not to trip with Bucky still making out with his beard.

He doesn’t just drop Bucky on the bed. Climbs in with him instead, letting them both fall on the mattress in a tangle of limbs. Bucky mumbles something between biting kisses, but it’s mostly incoherent. Steve holds his face with one hand and licks into his mouth. He doesn’t know if it’s the serum that has preserved the taste and scent of Bucky so perfectly in his memory. Maybe it is, but that stupid, romantic part of Steve insists that he would know Bucky anyway, serum or no serum, that one touch was all he ever needed to be lost.

Steve lets those thoughts filter into his kiss, make it deep and tender. Bucky moans into it, raking his nails down Steve’s back like he can’t get enough.

They’re panting when they break away, and Bucky immediately starts pushing at Steve’s chest, trying very clearly to shove him off. Steve rolls off, bewildered and hurt, but Bucky takes one look at his expression and swoops in with a kiss.

“Lube,” he mutters against Steve’s mouth. “Stashed it somewhere.”

Steve feels a little embarrassed when Bucky pulls away with a reassuring smile, but that’s buried under a wave of need when Bucky gets on all fours to better root through the nightstand drawers. He makes a triumphant noise when he finds it, but it turns into a high-pitched cry when Steve grabs his ass with both hands and squeezes tight.

“Steve!” He sounds scandalized, but there’s laughter underneath. “Always going for my ass, can’t trust you at my back.”

“Can you blame me?” Steve asks, crawling bodily atop Bucky and pinning him to the mattress face-first. “S’the most plump ass I’ve ever sunk my teeth into. And don’t front, Barnes, I know how you melt when you’ve got something in you.”

“God made me to light up like a live wire when I’ve got something pressed up in me,” Bucky says primly, somehow. “I ain’t defying the divine will, Steve.”

Steve still feels a flash of residual guilt for laughing at blasphemy, but he’s used to ignoring a lot of conditioned reflexes by now. It’s fucking hilarious anyway, and he lets his appreciation be known by grinding down, rubbing his hard cock into Bucky’s ass, shifting so it’s nestled between his cheeks. The heat of it against his hole pulls a low, gutted noise out of Bucky. He sticks his ass up as best as he can with Steve on top of him, pressing firmer against his cock.

Steve bites at his back, nipping roughly until he reaches the scars branching out from Bucky’s left side. He slides his tongue over those, emboldened by Bucky’s guttural groan, licking and sucking until he closes his teeth over one thick mark and bites down hard.

Bucky shouts, going boneless under Steve.

Steve leans back, enough so that he won’t crush Bucky under his weight or dig elbows into anything sensitive. He nuzzles at Bucky’s nape, pressing kisses all the way to his hairline and then rubbing his nose against the short, slightly damn strands.

Bucky reaches back with a hand, finding Steve’s hair and clenching his fingers in them. Steve moans a little at the sting on his scalp, hips twitching down to grind on Bucky.

“Fuck me already,” Bucky grits out, tugging at Steve’s hair again.

“Impatient,” he chides, nipping at Bucky’s ear, tugging at the lobe.

“Oh, fuck you.”

Steve bites harder, enough to really sting. Bucky’s moan is pained, but that, as always, just gets him more desperate, his whole body squirming under Steve, mindless with need. It’s one of the things Steve loves about him, how blatantly he loves pain, how he can take everything Steve’s got to give and still ask for more.

“Ask nicely,” Steve tells him, going still.

“Steve!”

Steve fists a hand in Bucky’s hair and yanks it back. He buries his face in Bucky’s bared throat, feeling it vibrate with his shocked shout. He bites at it, harsh and cruel, letting his teeth tug and stretch the skin as he pulls his mouth away.

Bucky whimpers.

“Ask. Nicely. Fuckin’ beg me for it.”

“Please,” Bucky gasps immediately. “Please, please, please, fuck me, Steve, sir, I need it.”

“I can see you do,” Steve says kindly. Delight and disappointment war within him. “Desperate, ain’t ya, Buck? You used to have some fight in you, but I guess you need it too bad now. How long since you’ve had a cock in you, huh? Got yourself some sweet toys, honey? Fuck yourself open and wish it was me?”

Bucky’s gone quiet and still under him. He says nothing, doesn’t move or even breathe. Steve can feel it, the war in him, and knows, before even Bucky does, which side’s going to win.

He’s prepared for the move that throws him off Bucky. He flows with it, rolling onto his side on the bed. He catches Bucky’s fist before it can connect to his jaw and pulls it to get him off-balance. But Bucky’s no pushover, and when he commits to a fight, he’ll make Steve work for it, always has.

The scuffle pulls up the sheets, tears open a pillow, and sends their cotton-covered bodies crashing out of bed. Steve manages to grab the lube before he hits the floor, but he’s got to let it go to try and wrestle Bucky down. He writhes like a madman in Steve’s grasp, limbs flailing and eyes wild, and Steve would think he actually wants to escape if not for the toothy grin on his face and the hard line of his erection.

Steve pins him down, eventually.

Bucky a vision, face-down and ass-up on the floor. His hair’s a nest, nowhere near the mess it made when it was longer but still impressive. There are bits of cotton stuck to it, and Steve’s hopelessly enamored of the sight.

The lube rolled under the bed in the middle of their fight, but it’s within reach. Steve uses one hand to keep Bucky’s hands pinned to the small of his back, wistfully thinking of the adamantium cuffs he left behind in the Tower when Ultron attacked and never went back for. Thought he’d have no use for it with Bucky gone for good—for both their good.

Bucky does make a token effort at freeing himself. Steve drops the lube between Bucky’s calves and focuses on restraining him. He grabs Bucky’s left arm and pushes it up high, tearing a broken yelp out of Bucky.

“You gonna behave?”

“Fuck you,” Bucky says, but it’s weak, trembling.

Steve kicks his thighs open wider with his leg, moving in so Bucky’s got no choice but to feel Steve all pressed up against the most intimate parts of him. He lets go of Bucky’s right hand to grab his cock, squeezing just so, pleasurable and still a threat.

“Behave,” Steve croons. “Make it easy for yourself, huh?”

Bucky moans and the tension goes out of him, just like that. Steve lets go of his metal arm too, and Bucky does nothing but let it fall limp to the floor. He doesn’t even rise from where he’s shoved shoulder-down on the floor.

“Good boy,” he praises, his blood burning at Bucky’s answering shudder.

Steve realizes, abruptly and with a start, that he’s missed this.

The sheer, animal violence of the sex he had with Bucky was one of the reasons Steve kept going back to him again and again, addicted in a way to how he could let loose with Bucky and have him thank Steve for it.

And yeah, they fucked up and were fucked up in many ways. Steve knew it then, and the years of not even seeing Bucky only gave him more perspective, but the sex, that was good. He needed that. Bucky did too.

Bucky does still, Steve can see. He does too.

He bends down to press a kiss to one of the dimples above Bucky’s ass. He flicks his tongue against it, tender and teasing, and does the same for the other. Bucky shivers, letting out a harsh, panting breath.

“Pretty thing,” Steve murmurs, pulling back and grabbing the lube. Bucky makes another, sweet noise.

He’s rough and perfunctory, opening Bucky up. Bucky cries out when two fingers are thrust into him and he shoves his hips back into them like he just can’t help it. The third’s added too damn soon. Steve can hear it in the ragged breaths Bucky can’t hold in and in how his fingertips scrabble frantically against the floor.

Steve contemplates adding a fourth, less to stretch Bucky out and more to just watch his hole clench helplessly against the sheer girth. He teases, sliding his slick little finger over the rim, brushing the three already knuckle-deep.

“What do you think, Buck?”

The only answer he gets is a sound more animal than human.

“Oh, I see,” Steve says as if he were talking to a dog. “Well, alright then.”

Bucky screams when Steve pushes the tip of the finger in. It really is a hell of a stretch. Bucky’s hole is red and swollen already, the puckered skin pulled tight around Steve’s greedy fingers.

He remembers, fondly, having his entire fist inside Bucky—remembers how sweet he was after, too blissed-out to just fuck off the way he usually did.

“Look at that,” Steve breathes, wriggling the finger to cram it a little deeper. Bucky keens like a wounded animal. “No? Too much? You poor baby.”

Bucky’s breaths are wet and harsh now. He’ll start crying soon enough, sobbing like Steve’s killing him kindly.

He pulls his fingers out, other hand already slicking up his cock. He guides himself to Bucky’s hole and takes a minute to just watch the violent red of his cockhead press flush against Bucky’s twitching, hungry hole.

Bucky’s breathing takes on a different rhythm, the noises he’s making get louder. It takes Steve a moment to register than he’s begging with every breath, hushed little pleas spilling frantically from his lips.

Well, Steve did tell him to beg.

He bottoms out in one, savage thrust.

Bucky’s scream is the sweetest sound Steve will ever hear. He grabs Bucky’s hips with both hands, to keep him still and to keep Steve grounded, and starts thrusting. He lets himself take, no holding back, no sweet love-making, just the brutal drive of his dick deep into Bucky, ripping out shouts that seem to come from his very soul.

He doesn’t last long, but it doesn’t matter. He knows, even as his climax tears through him, that he won’t go down after. He rides it out with his hips pressed flush to Bucky’s, grinding without really pulling out, wringing the last drop of pleasure out of each shudder that ripples through him.

And when he’s done, he’s sated and warm and still fucking hard.

Bucky curses when Steve pulls out, dragging his cock free of Bucky’s tight clutch just to watch his come trickle down those pretty thighs. It’s a sweet sight, Bucky’s hole clenching on nothing, gaping a little like it’s trying to coax Steve back inside. Come dribbles out gently, sliding down Bucky’s taint and along his tight, swollen balls.

Steve brushes his thumb along a line of it, a thin excuse for closing his hand around Bucky’s balls. He doesn’t do much more than hold them, gripping firmly and thinking, idly, of squeezing till Bucky screams.

He doesn’t, in the end, letting go in favor of sliding back into Bucky whose answering whine is a thing of pure desperation.

Steve pauses once he’s balls-deep in Bucky again and bends over him a little. It pushes their hips even closer together, and Steve can’t get in any deeper, but that doesn’t stop him from wishing he could.

“What’s the matter, Buck?” he asks, soft and only a little mocking. “You wanna come?”

“Please,” Bucky says, the first truly articulate thing he’s said since Steve pushed his fingers into him.

“Please what?”

Bucky whines again, frustrated. Steve smacks his ass and grins when that sound turns into a shout, high and shocked. He does it again, letting loose a moan of his own when Bucky tightens convulsively around him.

“Bucky,” he calls breathlessly. “C’mon, pal. Use your words. Got a hell of a mouth on you, I’d know.”

Bucky sucks in a sobbing breath and says, “Touch me. Please. I need—I need to come, sir, Steve, please.”

“That’s it, good boy.” Steve feels warm all over when Bucky shivers again, reacting as beautifully to praise as he does to violence. “You can come any time you want, sweetheart. But you’re doing it on my cock or not at all.”

Bucky jerks a little at that, ass clenching around Steve again. It’s practically begging him to move, so he does, fucking Bucky more leisurely than before, taking him with slow strokes that give Bucky no choice but to feel thoroughly how his body opens up for every inch of Steve, over and over and over.

Bucky breaks into wet, broken sobs, and the sound just spurs Steve on, gets him fucking Bucky harder but still so torturously slow.

“I can’t, I can’t,” Bucky gasps between his cries. “Touch me, let me touch, anything, something, please.”

Steve slaps Bucky’s ass again, right over the red handprint already there.

“I told you, Bucky. You can come on my cock. You have before. Look at you anyway, writhing from it. This is all you need.”

Bucky thumps his fist against the floor, the metal clanging oddly. It’s not anger, Steve can see that. Just pure, unfettered need.

“I can’t,” Bucky wails. “I can’t, Steve, I can’t.”

“Sure you can. What, I’m not enough for you anymore?”

That trips Bucky up. Steve can feel him shudder and fucks into him roughly, making his legs almost collapse.

“That’s not—it’s not—s’good, you’re good, just please, touch me a little, I just need—”

“You just need my cock,” Steve says firmly, all lit up inside by the perverse pleasure he has always felt when Bucky’s voice turns all high and hurting, pained and pleasing in equal measures.

Bucky just keens, shuddering like he’s dying.

Please,” he whines, like if he begs pretty enough, Steve will see how unreasonable he’s being. He’s not, though. He’s not unreasonable at all. He knows what Bucky needs, what he can take, what he can give.

Steve keeps fucking him in long, claiming thrusts, slowly but steadily building the force behind them until Bucky’s dragged back and forth on every thrust, his body following the tug of Steve’s cock inside him. He can feel the effect it’s having on Bucky—the shrill cries and sweet shivers, his reactions growing more intense by the minute.

When he comes, it’s sudden, a moan stuttering halfway and bursting into a high-pitched shout. His body ripples around Steve like it wants to suck him right in, Bucky’s walls milking his cock almost viciously.

It drives Steve abruptly to the edge, and he fucks into Bucky once, twice, then in shallow rabbit thrusts and spills, filling him up all over again.

He wants nothing more than to collapse on top of Bucky after, but the floor is cold and unforgiving, and Bucky doesn’t have the serum to keep his joints painless. Steve pulls out, infinitely gentler than he was when he thrust in. Bucky whimpers anyway, body flinching when the head tugs at his rim and slides out.

“Ssh,” Steve soothes, petting down Bucky’s flank. He kisses the reddened, heated skin of his ass before coaxing Bucky to lie fully down on the floor and then, ever so gently, turn over.

For a moment, Steve’s arrested by the sight of Bucky’s face. It’s a miserable mess, skin red and splotchy, tear tracks drying on his cheeks, eyes and lips both swollen red. But he’s smiling faintly, lips parted a little, and his expression is one of serenity.

It makes Steve’s heart clench. It’s not an unpleasant sensation.

He manages to make his fuck-drunk muscles work and gather Bucky up into his arms. He makes a shuffling sound and curls into Steve, pressing an absent kiss to Steve’s shoulder. It’s breathtakingly adorable, and Steve feels like something vital in him is breaking apart happily as he settles into bed with Bucky held close to his chest.

He's still afraid. He had years to get used to Bucky shoving him away after sex, rejecting even the slightest hint of kindness, of caring.

And it’s not like he can be sure that has changed. It was okay, last time. The morning after so sweet that Steve floated as if it were a dream, lulled into complacency despite the past that lived, coiled like a wary snake, inside of him. The optimism proved warranted, but then it was Steve’s turn to rush out.

He watches cautiously now, waiting for it all to come crashing down. Bucky has his eyes closed, his cheek smushed to Steve’s chest. He’s not asleep, but he looks at peace, breathing evening out slowly. He gives no indication that being cuddled against Steve is not what he wants, and as the minutes tick by, Steve lets himself relax. He cards his fingers through Bucky’s hair and loves how soft it feels on his skin.

He just lies there petting Bucky until those puffy eyes finally blink open.

“Hey,” Steve prompts gentle. “You okay?”

“Mm. ‘ader.”

“What? I’m sorry, sweetheart, I didn’t catch that.”

Bucky’s mouth opens in a yawn that’s cuter than it has any right to be.

“Water,” he says after, immediately plopping his face back on Steve’s chest like he’ll find any water there.

“Lemme go get it, Buck.”

“No. Don’t leave.”

“But you’re thirsty.”

Bucky raises those insanely pretty eyes to Steve and blinks pitifully at him.

And that’s how Steve finds himself carrying over one-eighty pounds of man and metal over to the kitchen, keeping him cradled in one arm while he fills up a glass with bottled water. Bucky does help, clinging to Steve like a baby koala. He even holds the water bottle when they traipse back to the bedroom.

“You big baby,” Steve sighs, fondness nearly bursting out of his voice, as he lays Bucky on the bed and nudges him up for the drink.

Bucky goes for Steve’s mouth first, pressing a lingering kiss there. He sips at the water, leaning against the headboard, and Steve sits beside him, idly stroking Bucky’s thigh.

“Thank you,” Bucky says once he has finished his glass. Steve gets the sense that he’s not talking about the water.

Steve kisses him this time, warming down to his bones when Bucky sighs sweetly into his mouth.

“Thank you,” he says.

Bucky chuckles. He sounds tired but in a good way. Steve’s the same, but god, he can’t remember the last time he felt like that.

“I needed that. How did you know I needed that?”

Steve turns the question over in his head for some time. There’s a lot he could say; it’s not like he doesn’t know Bucky’s taste as well as he knows his own. And it wouldn’t be dishonest to say he did it just because he knew Bucky would enjoy it. It wouldn’t be the whole truth either.

“I didn’t. But I knew I needed it.”

Whatever reaction Steve was expecting—fearing—it’s not this, Bucky’s eyes crinkling at the corners as he grins wide enough to split his face. It turns into a yawn, funnily enough, and Bucky looks adorably grumpy when his jaw clicks shut.

“Ugh.”

Steve has to kiss him. It’s a physical need.

“This is nice,” Bucky murmurs against his lips. “You gonna rush out to save the world in the morning again?”

“No. You gonna sneak out of bed in the middle of the night?”

“Touché. And no.” Bucky’s eyes soften. “I promise.”

 

-

 

Bucky keeps his promise. So does Steve.

He checks in with Nat and Sam. Both of them have choice words to say about Steve’s decisions, but they also know Bucky. Nat has been friends with him since before Steve met either of them, and during their Hydra-hunting European tour, Sam and Bucky developed the most oddly antagonistic friendship Steve has ever witnessed. Neither of them knows the truth about Steve’s relationship with Bucky, probably. He was a mess after Bucky left, but he’s been a mess since he got out of the ice, so what did it matter. What’s important is that they were Avengers together; of course Steve will latch on to Bucky. They’re probably expecting him to react the same way with Tony, except maybe with more punching first.

By the time they’re done chewing him out, Bucky’s awake and drinking his coffee at the counter, watching the emotions circling through Steve’s face with blatant amusement.

“This is all your fault,” Steve says once it’s over. He’s grinning too brightly to really mean it. He likes this, Bucky ruffled and soft in the morning. He kind of misses the loose sweaters he favored in France, but Bucky shirtless and in low-flung pants is an equally stunning sight.

Steve only really means to kiss up on him and maybe grope a little.

Bucky ends up bent over the counter, muffling screams into his first, and Steve can’t quite regret anything, especially after he discovers how the scratch of his beard against the sensitive skin of Bucky’s ass makes him loose his mind.

 

-

 

“When do you have to leave?” Bucky asks later, once they’ve spent hours doing nothing but lounge in bed and lazily kiss.

“I’m not sure. We don’t really have a solid schedule these days. But a couple of days at most. Can’t stay here long.”

“Yesterday, you said the mission was time-sensitive.”

“Natasha’s taking that, was gonna even before I ran into you.” Steve slants Bucky a considering glance, and he thinks about not saying it, but in the end, he can’t hold it in. “You could come with us.”

Bucky startles visibly.

“Huh?”

“You know, safety in numbers,” Steve says, forcing his voice to say nonchalant. “Ross is gunning for all of us. And no matter how the Avengers Initiative ended up, you can’t deny we’re stronger together than apart.”

Bucky just looks at him, expression blank in that studied way he has.

“No.”

Steve schools his face into neutral lines, ruthlessly crushes the way it wants to fall and scream his disappointment for the world to see. Well, just Bucky, but that’s worse, isn’t it?

“Alright,” Steve tells him softly. “Be careful.”

“Always am, Ca—Nomad.”

Steve scowls, and Bucky smiles, reaching out to rub his fingertip between Steve’s eyebrows. It makes his brows smoothen out despite everything.

“There we go. Smile for me with that pretty face. So, two days, huh?”

It’s not history repeating itself. Steve knows that, objectively. But god, it feels like it anyway.

“Yeah. I guess so.”

“I’m sorry I can’t come with you,” Bucky says, and Steve’s surprised to find that he does sound legitimately sorry. “But you could come with me?”

Steve just blinks, taking a beat too long to process that.

“What?”

Bucky leans in, bracing an arm on Steve’s chest. His eyes are bright with excitement.

“Think about it. You’re not on a schedule, right? If the rest can spare you, come with me to Germany.”

“Germany?”

“Yeah, I’ve got a job lined up in Berlin. Nothing too taxing, just light robbery. Of data worth millions but who’s counting? Point is, you can stay with me.”

“Light robbery,” Steve echoes.

Bucky’s wide grin falters. His eyes shutter a little.

Steve feels the loss like a punch to the gut.

“I mean—you don’t have to, it was just an idea—”

“Yes,” Steve blurts out.

“—doesn’t mean it’s—oh. You said yes. Did you say yes?”

“Yes, Bucky. I’ll come.”

“Really?”

It was Bucky’s own idea, and an inspired one at that, but he looks almost shocked now, staring at Steve.

“Really,” Steve repeats softly.

“The paragon of truth and justice gonna stand by and watch while I engage in criminal activity?” Bucky asks, tone doing another one-eighty, now light and teasing. But under that, there’s a strain of something else that prompts Steve into responding honestly instead of grabbing Bucky in a headlock.

“Didn’t you hear? I’m a fugitive now. And I’ve never had that kind of moral high ground, Buck. Whatever you’re doing now, I somehow doubt it’s very different than what S.H.I.E.L.D and then Fury had you do.”

Bucky flushes for some reason.

“You knew about that?”

“Which part?”

“Fury. After S.H.I.E.L.D, uh, fell.”

“We both know that never happened,” Steve says, smile twisting into something not quite pleasant. They were a saving grace at Sokovia, but the lies are still there, and Steve learned his lesson about even trying to trust them. “But yeah, even before Ultron, I knew.”

“And here I thought I had you fooled,” Bucky says, tone wistful for some reason.

It rankles. Steve leans in, grasping the back of Bucky’s head to keep him in place.

“You were on my team, Buck. You were mine to take care of, in some ways at least. I won’t say I succeeded, but I tried.”

“You were more successful than anyone else has ever been,” Bucky retorts, quiet but fierce. “Thank you anyway.”

Steve just shakes his head and makes his body relax into the bed. Bucky wriggles closer, but instead of flopping down on Steve the way he expects, he sits up. Steve meets his eyes, and his gut swoops at the serious, almost somber expression on Bucky’s face.

“You did care, didn’t you?” he says, tone strange and unreadable. “You still do.”

Steve’s throat is too dry for him to speak. But he tries, swallowing convulsively and unsticking his tongue.

“I did. I do.” Then, quietly, defiantly, “I don’t regret it.”

“You really don’t.”

“Bucky—”      

“I keep expecting you to be angry at me.”

That stops Steve in his tracks.

It’s not like he doesn’t what Bucky’s talking about. Their history is a live, vicious thing, and that they have managed not only civility but something like tenderness in their last two encounters is a miracle.

Steve doesn’t want to talk about this, not really. But he figures he has to, now that Bucky’s willing to let him.

“I was. For a long time.”

Bucky just nods, unsurprised. Something about his calm expectation prompts Steve to continue.

“I was furious, Buck. Couldn’t think of you without—well. But there were missions to focus on, the new Avengers to train. I had to take care of Wanda, and form a team out of a group of superpowered people who needed therapy more than they needed to punch buildings.”

“Hope you’re including yourself in that.”

“Do as I say, not as I do,” Steve says, smiling. Bucky smiles too, and he really is so pretty. Steve almost reaches out but curls his hand into a fist instead. “Point is, it took effort. And then the Accords were there. I couldn’t waste away pining for you when I had to be Cap. And I guess I must have processed some of it in all the time I spent punching buildings while thinking of you. Because it didn’t hurt as much after a while.”

Bucky nods again. He looks like he understands. He looks…happy.

The next part is harder. Steve almost swallows it down, but—Sarah Rogers raised no quitter.

“It was easier when I didn’t have to see you.”

He braces himself for anger, hurt, maybe even shock. Bucky gives him none of these.

“I know,” he says instead. “I’m glad, Steve. I’m glad you could move on.”

Steve does reach out this time, taking Bucky’s hand in his own.

“Does this look like I’ve moved on, Buck?”

Bucky laughs, the sound startled out of him.

“You know what I meant, asshole.”

Steve kisses Bucky’s knuckles just to prove a point, and joke’s on him because the pink returns to Bucky’s cheeks, and the sight hits Steve like a punch to the gut. No, he didn’t move on, not when Bucky left and not when Steve spent nights at the gym pummeling bags until they were dust, and not when he bowed over Peggy’s headstone and apologized for something he couldn’t put a name to.

“Did it help you?” Steve blurts out, something desperate in his voice. “Getting away from me. Did it help?”

Bucky’s expression softens, but he doesn’t hide the sorrow there.

“Sweetheart, it was never just about getting away from you. But yes. It did. I always lost my head more when I was with you.”

“What do you mean?”

Bucky bites his lip. Steve holds his hand a little tighter, gratified when Bucky clings back just as hard. He’s got a bad feeling about what Bucky’s going to say, but he’s equally certain that it’s something he needs to hear.

“It’s like the eye of the hurricane,” Bucky finally says. He’s not looking at Steve but down at their joined hands, forehead furrowed delicately. “It’s peaceful there, at the center. But all around, devastation reins. That’s what you were for me. The eye. My head went so quiet with your hands on me. And I—I craved that. I can’t tell you how much I—But that peace was an illusion, Steve. The damage didn’t stop. I just didn’t see it for a while. But it was never gonna last.” He meets Steve’s eyes and smiles. It’s heartbreaking. “Does that make sense?”

“It does,” Steve says, the words dragged up along a dry, scratchy throat. “I understand.”

“It’s not your fault,” Bucky says like he can read Steve’s mind. “I always do this. And I knew it, knew what I was doing when I made a move you that day at the gym. I knew I had to stop. I just—couldn’t. I didn’t.”

“Until you did.”

“Until I did,” Bucky agrees, and he sounds proud.

Steve’s proud of him too, but his heart hurts.

“What changed?” he has to ask. Bucky let Nat drop Steve at his place in France. He made the choice to meet Steve again. And when they inevitably ended up in bed, he chose that as much as Steve did, and that slow, simmering intimacy they were floundering in before that was also mutual.

Something has changed. Steve can feel it in himself, but he needs to hear Bucky’s answer.

“Guess I found myself,” Bucky says, grinning a little. “I’ve been a killer or in training to be one ever since I was eighteen. That’s almost two decades to have violence for a lover. Those two years before you came to France, I didn’t shoot a single bullet, didn’t stick a knife in anyone. I just went places, tried to see more than sightlines and sniper nests. Ate good food. Weird food too. An extended vacation. It did me good.”

It really has. It’s what Steve noticed first in France. Hints of it are here even now, though Bucky’s back in the game.

“You’ve lost weight,” Steve says. “Looked all soft and cuddly in France. A little teddy bear. Eat some more, kid.”

“Fuck you, you just want to grope my tits.”

Steve snorts but doesn’t deny it.

“Among other things.”

Bucky huffs but he looks pleased, grinning almost shyly.

“Kinda miss it, honestly. But I missed this too, and I can never hold on to fat when I’m working out and, well, working. Tends to go all lean.”

“Born twink,” Steve teases, not even bothering to look repentant when Bucky squawks and flicks his nipple. “But really, you missed this? Thought you were tired of violence.”

“I was,” Bucky corrects. “Still am, in a way. And if the Accords didn’t fuck shit up, I may have stayed retired. But they have, and I’m not going to sit back and let Ross run the show, even if he didn’t try and come for me.”

“I can understand that.” Steve sighs and kisses Bucky’s hand again, mouthing at the center of his palm. Bucky shivers. “You’re a good man, Buck.”

“Wasn’t good for you,” Bucky says quietly.

Steve swallows thickly and confesses, “I wasn’t good for you either.”

“Yeah. I know.”

“You said…” Steve trails off uncertainly, but Bucky looks at him patiently. “That it wasn’t me. That you always do this. What do you mean?”

Bucky opens his mouth but shuts it without a word, lips pursed tight.

“It doesn’t matter,” he says gruffly, not looking at Steve. “Just that I’m an idiot when it comes to my dick. But Steve, it was never like it was with you. Not just the sex. Everything. I couldn’t—I missed you, even though I knew I had to stay away. I’ll be better. I’m trying so hard. I promise I won’t—I won’t do that again, I swear.”

“Hey. Hey, I know. It wasn’t just you. It was me too. I’ll be better too. I want to be, I don’t want to—I don’t want to fuck this up, Buck. I can’t.”

Bucky nods jerkily.

“I know.” It’s a fervent whisper, full of faith and desperation. “Me too, Steve.”

Whatever Steve might have said to that is lost in the clumsy clash of Bucky’s mouth against his. It’s almost a relief when Bucky swings a leg over his hips to straddle him, pressing the hard heat of his body down into Steve’s.

“It’ll be fine,” Bucky whispers in between rough, consuming kisses that make Steve’s chest feel three sizes too small. “We’ll be fine.”

And Steve—Steve believes him.

 

-

 

“You sure about this?” Steve asks him the next day as they wait for Nat to come pick them up. They’re outside the cabin, all of Bucky’s belongings condensed into one small duffel bag, all of Steve’s shirts among them. The sight made his throat dry.

Most of the weapons are left behind. Bucky promised he’s got more stashed in Berlin. Steve just shook his head, used to that kind of thing already, thanks to Natasha and Clint.

Now, dressed in offensively bland civilian clothing, the kind that will make eyes just slide off him, Bucky shrugs.

“You’re so determined to get me into that Quinjet you lot are abusing. Who am I to deny you your fun? Plus, it’s an easier ride to Berlin that way. Faking passports for you on such short notice would be a bitch anyway. People know that face for some reason.”

“Such a mystery,” Steve deadpans. “I’ve got those synthetic face meshes. Apparently, Nat liberated a whole lot of them from a Hydra base we busted.”

“Bless that woman,” Bucky says reverently, just as a black, slightly dusty Fabia turns the corner.

It comes to a stop in front of them. The driver’s window rolls down. It’s a stranger’s face that stares at them front under a fringe of shockingly blue hair, but her voice is as familiar to Steve as his own.

“Hello, boys. Going my way?”