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As Time Goes By (The Fundamental Things Apply Remix)

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As he recovers his self, Bucky watches the Avengers.

He watches them before fights. The first time he sees their pre-mission "kiss the Cap" thing it's a shock, but it quickly becomes another quirk of the team - one he thinks must have been Stark's idea. He seems like the kind of guy who'd get a kick out of making someone blush. Morita was like that, too - at least, Bucky thinks it was Morita. He hasn't fully recovered his memories of the Commandos yet, but between what he does remember and the history books and museum exhibits he's scoured, Morita seems like the type.

He never quite made Steve blush either, to his eternal disappointment. No, that was a response reserved for Bucky, and good-looking women. But Steve seems to have gotten over that, too, if a kiss from Natasha doesn't brings red to his face.

He watches them fight. They kiss Steve, head out to their positions, work together, and always, always win. If sometimes he has to watch over them - say, introduce an escaping monster to the business end of his rifle - well, no one seems to be the wiser.

He watches them after battles too. They have rituals for that, too - shawarma, when they can get it, diner food if they can't - but after that. When the other Avengers aren't looking at Steve, he wears the hole in his heart on his face. It's an almost entirely foreign expression to Bucky - Steve is angry in his memories, all love and impotent fury and protectiveness until the serum, when the fury becomes righteous but the rest stays the same. He worried, feared for others in the war and out of it, and he felt the loss of strangers more than other men felt the loss of brothers, but he was never really sad. Now, with everything and everyone he's lost, it seems to have become his default state.

It makes Bucky want to weep, to blame himself, to ignore his own decisions and jump back into Steve's life, smiling and saying Hey, you may have lost Peggy and the Commandos and Howard and home, but you didn't lose me. I'm not quite the same, I know I'm not enough, but I'm not gone, so quit looking like that, huh? But however much he'd like to be, he's not ready for that. There are still parts of himself missing: a whole chunk of time spent with the Soviets that's blank, plus the forties in general and 1943 specifically are blurry. Once he's got that back, once he really knows himself, he'll act, one way or another.

He's getting close to feeling ready when his hand is forced.

Natasha gets a good look at one of his kills, pulls out the bullet and recognizes it as the twin to one she pulled out of a client... how many years back was that? It's hard to tell, but she must be older than she looks. She tells Steve, of course she tells Steve, and after that he and Natasha and Wilson and Carter and god knows how many other former S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are relentless in their manhunt. It ends ridiculously, with Steve running across rooftops to cut off his escape and making feverish declarations that boil down to the second F in BFF really and truly meaning forever.

He still has some lost time, gaps he can't account for with cryostasis. But really, at this point, it's stupid to avoid Steve. So he stays. Heals. Relearns how to be Steve's best friend, which is easier than he'd ever hoped it might be. Steve relearns how to be his, which doesn't seem to be something he ever expected to do - but then, what part of their lives has gone as expected?

At some point, the Avengers approach Bucky about adding him to the lineup. Steve is thrilled, makes a big deal out of it, adds pomp and ceremony to the most banal parts of the process. Bucky pretends he's excited about the new design on his shoulder and getting to fight with a team again. Really, he's looking forward to that first mission together, to watching the team stumble through explanations (like he needs to be told why, when he was messing with his first CO a week into Italy, when the Commandos constantly messed with Steve), to seeing if he can still make Steve blush pink at the tips of his ears.

But on that first trip on the quinjet, headed to Taiwan to stop an army of robots no one can identify the origin of, there's... nothing. No mention of a tradition, no confusion or pause before heading off to their positions. They crack jokes over the comms once they're out in the fight, but beforehand it's all very professional.

After, Steve avoids Bucky's eye for no good reason, and he thinks: aha.

So the next time, when a dozen animals in the Philadelphia Zoo are exposed to stolen Pym particles and grow ten times their size, he stops Steve after he's given their marching orders, bends him over backwards, and kisses him like a sailor on V-J Day.

The quinjet goes silent. Even Steve says nothing when Bucky straightens up and releases him. He just stares, eyes wide, not understanding. Then Bucky puts the second part of his plan into effect, and Steve squawks, fittingly, like a goose.

"I think this arm needs all the luck it can get, don't you?" he says with a smirk, pulling his metal hand back.

A flush rises in Steve's face. "You - "

" - watched this team for months before Natasha found that bullet. I know about all the things you do." Bucky relishes his victory as Steve's ears go pink. "Far be it from me to keep you from performing your pre-battle rituals."

This seems to snap the others out of their shock; Thor's laughter booms, and he dives in for a whiskery kiss before flying off. Bruce kisses Steve on the cheek and leaps out the door, getting greener as he falls. Stark's kiss is kind of impeded by his barely restrained laughter. He doesn't seem to care, and stays back for a minute to beam at Bucky. "You know this goes completely against the rules in the Avengers orientation, right," he says. Behind them, Natasha takes her turn. "I'm the only one allowed to harass Steve and make him feel uncomfortable."

Bucky snorts. "I had dibs on that half a century before you were a gleam in your daddy's eye, Stark."

"I can't remember why I ever wanted you back so badly," Steve mutters, drawing their attention back to him. His face is still a dull red, a shade Bucky hasn't seen in far too long, and one he'll be encouraging to come out as often as he can. Natasha has been and gone, and it seems Clint's taken his turn too, which means it's time for all good snipers to be off sniping. "You're terrible, Buck."

"Please, you love me." Bucky jumps, landing in a crouch on a rooftop across the Schuykill, and pulls out the particle-tranqs Pym concocted. His comm turns on, activated by the distance from the quinjet, and the first thing he hears is Stark, stunned, saying, "I think I love him, oh my god, did the rest of you see Cap's face."

Steve, in the middle of tackling a sixty-foot tall bear, groans, but Bucky recognizes the sound. He's hiding a grin behind that moping.

Bucky smiles, then gets back to what he does best: watching the Avengers.