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They forgive each other every day for things they could not control. Steve forgives everything Bucky doesn’t remember that he’s done and everything he wishes he could forget.

Bucky forgives Steve for the years in the ice.

Bucky’s always struggled to be the man Steve believes he is, but it’s a struggle that’s saved his life over and over again. It’s the thing he clung to, every time, as they pulled him away from himself and back into the Soldier. Even when he thought Steve was dead. Even more then, clinging to the idea, to the memory, to the need to be the things Steve wasn’t anymore. Deep in the machine they had made of him, the ember remained. Burning, even when he didn’t know his own name.

“Don’t take it all,” Bucky said, when they thought they had the solution. “Just. Just make me safe for him.”

He didn’t have a choice about the things he had done, but he had done them regardless, and he can’t forget. He’s already forgotten so much. They’ve stolen so much, the scientists and devils on both sides of every war. He sees Steve before him now and he drags up memories as offerings, precious and few, and interlaced with the dark time in between.

Each day they choose each other. They’re the only ones who know what it’s like, to be both young and old, to be so strong and so tired, they’re the only ones who know who they used to be, back in Brooklyn, before.

They’ve loved each other longer than most people they know have been alive.

::

They just made sense together from the beginning, though sometimes when Steve’s holding him tight Bucky still finds it so unexpected, when he’s the one being protected.

Bucky’s loved Steve since before either of them knew that was a thing they could want.

Steve’s the best person he knows. It’s always been that way, even when they were children, and Bucky tries to forgive himself for everything he’s done to bruise him. A memory he hides away is the day he pulled Steve out of the river. “I know why,” Steve had said, and kissed him fiercely, but he didn’t know, not all of it. He hadn’t seen the darkness in himself, his own willingness to drown. The ember glows in Bucky. This is a thing he can protect Steve from, from his own power to self-destruct.

::

The first time is so fast they’re laughing like the teenagers they barely got to be. “We’re too old for that,” Steve says, and Bucky’s smile fades a little as he feels the tightness growing in his chest. Steve sees it though, like he sees so much that Bucky tries to hide. He puts his hand over Bucky’s heart, kindling, and watches, daring Bucky to look away.

They don’t talk about what might have happened if there hadn’t been a war. There was, and they are here now despite all that war threw at them. But if Bucky knows anything he knows he’s never been ashamed of loving Steve. It would have worked then. It’s working now.

He brushes his thumb across the soft skin of Steve’s cheek, tracing, curling fingers in his hair, kissing him with all the power of the years he’d not understood he was waiting. So fast, and Steve’s pulled him up and he’s straddling him, his right hand splayed across Steve’s chest, and Steve is holding him safe and tender, both of them moving together as if they had all the time in the world.

He looks into Steve’s eyes and sees the ember there too, keeping him alive.

::

Each day they save each other. They forgive. They choose. They're saved.