Steve knows he shouldn't. He's got asthma, and high blood pressure, and palpitations and heart trouble and who knows what else wrong with him. Any kind of smoke makes him wheeze - even the asthma cigarette he tried once, that his ma took from the clinic one winter when everything was freezing and he could barely breathe. Those are supposed to be full of things that make it easier to breathe, but one puff of it and he was coughing the rest of the night.
Steve doesn't smoke because he knows he shouldn't, but it doesn't stop him wanting. And he wants terribly. Everyone smokes in the movies, and they all look so classy, so smooth - and as if to contradict the hope that they only look so classy and smooth because they're in the movies, there's Bucky. Not that Bucky isn't normally smooth with the ladies, but put a cigarette in his hand or his mouth and suddenly he's completely irresistible.
Steve wonders, sometimes, if it works for everyone. Once he takes an unlit cigarette from Bucky's stash, sticks it in his mouth and stands in front of his sorry excuse for a mirror. He poses, pretends to smoke it, but if there's something special or attractive to him while he's holding it, he can't see it.
Bucky stops smoking after they move in together, since it turns out that even the scent that clings to clothes and cushions is too much for Steve on an icy cold day. He doesn't seem to care one way or another about it, and for a minute it makes Steve mad, stupid mad, blind stupid mad, that Bucky had something he's wanted so desperately and he just dropped it like it was nothing.
And ain't that the story of Steve's life.
Until the serum, anyway.
There's a war on, then, and even though Steve could smoke now, he never accepts any offers. Cigarettes are being rationed, sent off to the troops as rewards for their hard work. What's Steve done to deserve a smoke? Nothing, as far as he can tell.
Once he's actually in the war, getting delivered cigarette rations of his own, he has no reason to hold back, but still finds his hand hesitating. It's foolish, he tells himself: there's no harm to it now, he's earned his cigarettes, what more is he waiting for? So one afternoon when he's got nothing planned he goes off on his own, not sure why his hand is trembling, lights one up, sticks it between his lips, and breathes in.
He must do something wrong, because what he ends up with is a mouth full of hot, ashy burning. He chokes on it, ends up coughing for a minute to clear his throat and lungs of the awful, acrid feel of it.
It's the most terrifying minute of his life. Everything that he's gotten past feels like it's returned with a vengeance - the wheezing, the tightness in his chest, the pounding in his ears, all of it. The tightness easing and his breath coming back to him is like Erskine picking him for the serum's first test, like the approving smile on Agent Carter's face, like finding Bucky alive. It's beyond words.
He grinds the still burning cigarette to dust under his shoe, and resolves then and there: never again. Nothing is worth that awful breathlessness.
After that, Steve develops a habit of doling his ration of cigarettes out to the Commandos, who all smoke - except for Bucky, but he likes wagering cigarettes in card games and trading them for chocolate and socks. They credit his generosity, laughingly declare it nothing less than his job as captain to make sure they're provided for, sometimes suggest that like alcohol, cigarettes have no affect on him. He never corrects them.
Bucky, who must remember the longing looks Steve used to cast at the packs of cigarettes lined up in the corner store, doesn't say anything.
Steve is quietly grateful for that.