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the irresistible sea is to separate us

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Bucky is angrier at Steve than he’s ever been in his whole life.

Steve has made a lot of damn punk fool decisions before, and Bucky’s tried to head off as many at the pass; but there is no accounting for this Captain America horseshit. None.

Look: any fool with eyes will admit it’s a thrill to look at Steve now. He’s like a living, breathing Statue of Liberty, shining with inspirational vigor and light. And sure, Bucky’s glad that Steve’s free of his childhood maladies, that he has a big body to match his cockamamie ambitions.

But Bucky isn’t happy about it. He leads a round of cheers for Steve just the once. Won’t do it again. He doesn’t like this one bit.

Sure, Steve’s real strong and robust, but that means they’ll never stop throwing him at the front lines. Captain America isn’t invincible, and Steve will go down in a hail of bullets soon enough, same as the rest of them.

If he’d stayed small and waited for Bucky back in Brooklyn, Steve would’ve had a stretch of quiet years at least, a chance at a normal life he’ll never have again.

Bucky knows his life will never be normal either, because he always follows wherever Steve’s headed. Everyone back home used to think it was the other way around -- everyone but Steve, who knew differently. So really, Steve made the decision for them both.

Bucky understands that it’s selfish to be angry, to resent Steve the hero because he has replaced the Steve that Bucky used to know. He knows, but he thinks he’s allowed to be angry. He’s allowed to mourn what was lost.

Sure, Steve saved his life, Steve risked everything for him. If Bucky asks, he’s certain that Steve will say he became Captain America for Bucky as much as anything. And that makes Bucky so furious he can hardly see straight. If he shuts his eyes he sees Steve jumping out of a plane into enemy territory on a suicidal mission to find him, and Bucky seethes with unchecked rage.

By the time he’s out of his third check-up his teeth are rattling they’re so on edge and he’s sure there’s steam pouring from his ears, cartoon-style. Every time a doc shines a light in his eyes and checks his throat and claps his back and makes a comment about how lucky Bucky is, he’s certain he’ll go off. He’s a bomb.

He smiles broadly for them and agrees that yeah he sure is lucky, gee whiz that Captain America really is something for saving him. They give him full marks and let him go.

He goes back to the room where they’re bunked at base. A private room should be an unaccountable luxury -- but since he’s been back, Bucky’s been taciturn, turned-in, speaking only when Steve asks a question or there’s a place they have to be; and now, returning to it, he’s like a kettle that’s been left over the fire, overboiled.

Steve is sorting through papers at a desk that looks tiny underneath him when Bucky shuts the door. He glances up at once, of course, with the flash of excitement and hope he gleams with now, irrepressible. He tamps it down at the expression on Bucky’s face, ducks his head. Rakes papers together and shoves them hastily into a file.

“How’d it go?” Steve tries at first like there’s nothing wrong. That’s a tactic of the new Steve. Old Steve would’ve slung his arm around Bucky’s neck and insist to be told what was the matter. He’d bug Bucky until he let it all out.

Bucky misses him. Even now he can’t quite believe he’s gone, that there’s not also a Steve puttering around in Brooklyn, quietly drawing pictures he’ll send via airmail to Bucky.

“Fit as a fiddle,” Bucky returns. He picks up his pack and empties the contents across his cot, checking over the supplies for the third time that day.

Steve is a huge shape bent over the furniture. His gold eyebrows raise with concern. “Buck--”

“I said I got a clean bill of health,” Bucky assures, sorting through his med kit and adding a serrated blade, “so I’m ready to join up with whatever plan they’ve got to get us killed the soonest.”

Steve frowns, shows worry-lines, and Bucky can see he’s conflicted about whether to get up or not. He’s noticed that the new Steve isn’t quite sure what to do with his glorious limbs, which suggests there’s enough of the old Steve left. But Bucky’s too mad to think much about that.

Especially when Steve says, “Is that what this is about? You think I’m gonna get us killed?”

“I know you are,” says Bucky. “But at least I’m signing up for that with my eyes open.”

Steve shuts his eyes in a prolonged, horrified blink. “But then, what--”

“Listen,” says Bucky. The pack is repacked and he starts folding clean laundry with military precision, tidy squares and triangles that mask the shaking of his hands. “I’m only gonna say this once. You say you’re Steve Rogers and I believe you. I know you’re Steve. I love you for it. But I’ve also never hated anyone so much in my life. You’re also the man who took my Steve and put him in some kind of monster machine, and out comes a person I don’t know the same way. You might be Steve Rogers, but you’re Captain America also, and that guy I don’t know the first thing about.”

“I’m still him.” Steve looks slapped. His rosy cheek reddens. “They only changed the size of me. They left my head alone -- they said they liked me for it. I’m still -- I’m still your Steve.” The thought that he might not be clearly leaves the mighty body shaken. “Bucky, please.”

“No, you look here,” says Bucky, rounding on him. His voice scales; it’s all coming out. “Those doe eyes might work on everyone else now to get your way, but I ain’t havin’ it. They’re puttin’ the weight of the war on your shoulders, and you don’t know jack. They dress you up in a suit, parade you around. Have you pumped full of this stuff that makes you think you’re some kind of superman. Sure, that’s changed you. You walk ‘round lookin’ like an Adonis, you think that doesn’t do a number on your head? Men an’ dames fall all over you, and the generals too, since they’re butterin’ you up to do their dirty work.” His eyes narrow in a squint. “And I’m the only one who remembers that you don’t know anythin’ about anythin’. Few months ago they wouldn’t have let you join the neighborhood watch.”

Steve has lost his color, gone pale. He works his jaw, thinking hard on his response. Then he says, “I’m sorry I decided without you.”

Bucky’s hands pause mid-fold, and Steve continues: “I was given this chance, this one chance. I believed in the man who gave it to me, and Buck, you would’ve too, if you’d met him. The nature of war’s what it is. Propaganda works as much as conscription does to up recruitment rates, and it’s better for the spirit. The whole country needs to get behind the effort if we’re gonna have a chance. They decide to make me into a billboard, I figure I just might let ‘em. It’s what I’ve always wanted -- to be made useful.” Steve gets up from the desk. A few strides takes him across the cramped room to Bucky’s side. “Not all I want, though. You know that.”

“Everyone needs somethin’ to believe in,” Bucky warily allows. He puts down the laundry, swallows, tries to steady his hands, which want to make fists. He doesn’t want to be persuaded by Steve’s rhetoric, like everyone else, though it’s damned persuasive to have the full directed blast. “But I could beat you bloody for dressin’ yourself up like the first target to be taken out.”

Steve nods, a tuck of his head to his chest. His eyelashes are long and blond. “You should punish me.”

“Say again.” It isn’t a question.

“You should punish me,” says Steve, clearly, not raising his eyes, “for my presumption.”

Something hot and electric surges through Bucky. “It was a damn fool thing to do, Steve.”

“I know.” But he looks up when Bucky says his name.

“Poor kid from Brooklyn thinks he can be Captain America.” Bucky is conscious of his left hand lowering to his waistband, settling over the belt there. The belt is standard-issue military, leather, black.

Steve’s gaze tracks his hand. “I thought I could make a difference.”

“You’ll make us twin graves, side by side.” Steve might think this is a game but Bucky spares him nothing, lets his hurt and his rage seep out and show; he’s sure his eyes are ablaze. He starts to undo the belt, a slow, concerted motion. The leather tongue hisses. He draws it through loops while he speaks: “Maybe I’ll come to terms with what happened, but Jesus, I’m strugglin’. Most days I think I’d rather have died on that Nazi’s table than live to see what’s been done to you.”

“Bucky, I--” Steve flinches all over, and Bucky takes advantage of his confusion to push Steve towards the empty cot. Uncoordinated, like he still hasn’t gotten a handle on his legs, Steve makes his feet work. At the cot, Bucky presses between his shoulderblades, and Steves goes down. He gets onto his hands and knees easy as anything, like he remembers how this works when nothing else does.

Bucky doesn’t think Steve has quite grasped the severity of his dismay. “Take down your pants.”

Steve does, without a word, with only a flushed, furtive glance at him, soon dropped fast as the pants. Christ, it’s been so long, and the last time he saw Steve exposed he was a little skinny thing, not a demigod in the flesh. The round of Steve’s bottom is muscled and firm. Bucky knows with a deepening of his ferocious hunger that Steve can take anything now, that he won’t have to hold back, and that’s important for them both to grasp.

“You have some nerve.” Bucky cracks the belt, letting the sound ripple, ominous, in the air. Then he brings it down across Steve’s buttocks nearly hard as he can. He intends to strike true. He only holds back at the last second, with a flash of consideration that when Steve was small, he was never so brutal, and Steve will be shocked enough. Bucky has never used a belt.

There’d only been the gentle paddle of Bucky’s palm, Steve sprawled across his lap, when he’d required punishment before.

The second stripe lands precisely next to the first, and the third starts a pattern. Steve’s sculpted hips jerk forward, and his head goes back. He shows his throat. God, he’s stunning, and it does nothing good for Bucky’s racing heart.

“Some. Nerve.” Bucky is sweating as he inlays the words, the thwack of leather on flesh obscenely loud, and as satisfying. “What do you have to say for yourself, Rogers?”

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat.” Steve hangs his head but keeps his perfect ass in the air. Steve’s impertinent.

Bucky lays into him, the belt swinging, each hit landing with aching precision. Steve’s pristine skin won’t split, but he’s mottling a fine blue and red and royal purple. The colors fade fast so Bucky recreates them. He anger races through him and to his fingers and out through them:

“You need to learn a lesson.”

“Seems you’ve tried before. Seems I’m thick-headed.” Steve grits his teeth under the onslaught. He’s hard, Bucky can see, long and thick and curved up towards his belly. Part of Steve loves this. This time, Bucky doesn’t hold back at all on the downswing.

“Thick-skinned, too.” Bucky lets the leather tongue trace the raised marks on Steve’s ass, making it a caress, and succeeds in raising goosebumps all over Steve’s body. When he brings down the belt decisively, Steve gasps.

“Put your dick in your hand.”

Steve complies and that’s good to see, but it’s not enough. The belt twitches. Bucky’s fingers twitch.

Bucky decides, “You’re gonna open yourself up for me, Steve, if that’s who you are. Show me that Captain America still wants to take it.”

The scarlet flush covers Steve from neck to knee. “I told you, nothing’s changed.”

“So prove it.” Bucky snaps the belt a final time, spins for his cot and retrieves the med kit. They’ve got a tin of petroleum jelly for burns, and he tosses it on the bed next to Steve.

Steve coats his fingers, and it’s strange to see his big hand tremble. He reaches around behind and slides in a finger without preamble, then another, letting out a grunt that belies the obvious: he hasn’t done this yet in his brand-new body.

Not even fingers, Bucky thinks, and some of his anger banks; Steve is so beautiful now, so impossibly exquisite, and he has resisted every temptation in favor of Bucky. He’s kept this for Bucky alone, and Bucky in his selfishness is cheapening it.

“Whoa,” Bucky murmurs. “Go slow, there’s no hurry. I like to watch you do that.”

Steve’s flush becomes less embarrassed, goes golden. He works the third finger in slowly, as requested, then leans forward with his chest and shoulders to the bed, so that both hands can go behind. He pulls his cheeks apart to bare himself for Bucky.

“Christ.” Bucky sucks in a breath, taking down his pants and stroking his cock: there’s nothing else for it. “It’s like I’m sleepin’ with Apollo.” But before Steve can tense up he says, “You’re so pretty, I expect they’ll make an exception for us at the dancehalls.”

“There’s a time and a place for sweet talk--”

“All right. Then how about you take your fingers out and put me in. I wanna feel you do it.”

“Bucky.”

Steve does it, bracing on his knees and one hand, the other hand curled around the base of Bucky’s cock. Then Steve is fitting Bucky into his spectacular ass, tight as a virgin’s, slicked up so Bucky goes in.

Steve bears down on him, helping, taking Bucky’s inches, and Bucky falls forward across his back with a groan of relief. He’s halfway inside when he remembers that he doesn’t have to be gentle. Not at all. He bottoms out with a firm snap of his hips. Steve’s body is all hard, ready muscle against him, begging for more, not less.

Still needing to be put in his place.

When Steve was slight, Bucky’d had him like this before, but they’d been so careful, so quiet, trying not to let the floorboards squeak. Even with a sound-proof room, Bucky would’ve been gentle. Steve was liable to break, and Bucky wasn’t going to be the one who did it.

Now Steve is more solidly made than marble or metal, and Bucky can pin his broad hips, can grind him into the mattress with battering force. Steve spreads his legs wider to receive the thrusts, and this enrages and excites Bucky, who mouths at Steve’s ear and tells him that despite appearances Steve is still a little slut, a dirty whore for it. Does he need more? And Steve begs for more.

Bucky gets to fuck Steve without holding back, and, okay, yes, he might be able to get behind Captain America after all.

Steve is wild like this. His body is built for maximum productivity, and everything he does is enhanced. He rocks on his hands and knees, primed with energy, taking Bucky’s cock with such enthusiasm that Bucky knows he can’t last for much longer, no mere mortal could.

Steve is liquid motion surrounding him, and Steve doesn’t mind -- he likes it -- when Bucky speeds their pace, slams into Steve rough and possessively. It’s possessive, the way he keeps his hand curled around Steve’s hip, and the other around Steve’s cock. It’s possessive when he reminds Steve that Steve was his first and that Steve belongs to him.

Used to have to be so, so careful. Steve could fall apart from a cold breeze or a wrong look. Now Bucky can bring his palm down hard on the blue-red-purple skin of Steve’s ass while he rides him, and Steve hisses like it hardly stings and he spreads his legs to angle Bucky deeper.

Steve turns to show his dazzling face which is still the same and comes so hard the momentum rocks the rickety cot. He arches back into Bucky with all his wonderful muscles and pulls Bucky along with him. Bucky rides out the quake but doesn’t let himself get dragged under yet. It’s so good to be back in Steve like this, to be in Steve like this for the first time.

How anyone could think this is wrong Bucky’s never understood. It’s only wrong when they’re apart.

He tells Steve he intends to keep him, Captain America or not. Steve needs him, Bucky knows. Steve has needed him from the first moment of their friendship right on through. He’s as rudderless as Captain America as he was as Steve Rogers, bandied about by other forces. Steve’s bigger now, but he was right -- they didn’t take any of his naivete away.

Bucky yanks down Steve’s shirt collar -- it’s filthier that they’re still in half in uniform -- and suctions his mouth over the pulse-point at Steve’s neck. This is where animals bite down to hold their mate in place, but Bucky prefers to suck. He keeps moving inside Steve and doesn’t come until Steve begs him for it.

Bucky’s proud of his own fortitude. Won’t give in until Steve says, in the same breath, that it’s too much and that he’ll never get enough of Bucky. That’s when Bucky thrusts in for the last and holds deep and says “Steve, Steve,” because it really is him, and they’re different but still the same.

It’s been as long for Bucky is the thing. He’s as pent-up as Steve, maybe worse, kept alone in the dark when Steve was looking for him. No, he doesn’t want to talk about it. Now’s the first time he’s felt the fear and rage ebb, his center refound. He drives home and comes, marks Steve’s neck with his mouth, lays every claim. Underneath him Steve hums and moves in echoing compliment.

Bucky keeps himself in long as he can, then takes a while pulling out. On his hands and knees Steve gleams with a fine sheen of sweat. The stripes have mostly faded on his ass, with only a hint of blue or red to show where the belt struck. The marks Bucky made on Steve’s neck faded almost as soon as they were made.

Bucky frowns. “Your lesson didn’t stick.”

Steve swings his head around. His eyes are bright. “Didn’t it?”

Bucky thinks about reaching for the belt again. That’s one instinct. But instead he snorts, slaps Steve’s ass with the flat of his hand, makes it playful instead of painful. That was their usual dynamic, before. The urge to test and push Captain America to his limits is something new for Bucky. A lot of what he’s felt since Steve found him strapped to Zola’s table has felt new, as though Bucky underwent his own sort of transformation. I don’t want to talk about it, thanks.

Steve is still staring at him, motionless on his hands and knees. Bucky realizes Steve’s waiting for permission to move, and with a smirk he doesn’t give it.

He climbs off the cot and snags a towel from his neat pile of provisions and uses it to clean them off. Once begun, it’s difficult to stop rubbing the fabric over Steve’s glistening skin, smoothing in small circles as though Steve is made of marble and might be polished. Bucky works him over, and Steve keeps still and lets him.

“You gotta tell me you like me like this,” says Steve, suddenly sounding small. “Don’t know what I’ll do if I hear you say that I’m not me again, that I’m not yours.”

Bucky flinches. “I shouldn’t have said it like that.” He tosses the towel away and sits down heavily next to Steve, indicates with a gesture that Steve can drop the pose, so he does, swings his legs around. They sit side-by-side, not touching, but close enough. Bucky says, “‘Course you’re mine. You’re Steven Grant Rogers, ain’t you?”

“I am,” says Steve, looking up fast.

“And you’re Captain America too. Him I don’t know so well. But suppose I’ll get used to him,” says Bucky, working through it in his head and out loud. With his anger drained and pleasure suffusing his system, it’s easier to look at the choices Steve made and not come away so mad.

If Bucky takes a fortifying breath, the foremost emotion he feels is proud of Steve. Sure, it was a damnfool thing to do to become Captain America, the absolute dumbest; but Steve is a tough sonnovabitch, always has been, and he’s come through it.

Steve’s reward is to be made big and strong and star-spangled, and Bucky still resents how he’s being used. But it’s incredible to see Steve shaped as vibrantly as his ambitions, Steve bursting at his fine seams with energy and vigor and rippling muscles.

“Besides,” says Bucky, bumping Steve’s shoulder, “Cap’s no slouch in the sack.”

Steve’s grin makes his marquee face even more gorgeous. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. Don’t let it go to your head. I’ll deny saying so.” But Bucky reaches for Steve’s hand, and they sit a while in silence. Then--

“You’re a goddamned force of nature, pal,” Bucky assures, because he’s seen the truth. Steve’s changed, he’s different, yeah, but he’s still vulnerable. Still too trusting and hopeful. That’s why they chose him -- Steve said as much. You can train a man to be a soldier, you can make him look the part, but Bucky knows the score after all they’ve been through. It’s him who’s more suited to the war, who understands what it requires and is willing to do what’s necessary. Steve is trying to end the war, and Bucky is fighting it. Steve needs him to make it through.

“Thanks, Buck.” Steve squeezes his hand, looks at their hands. Steve always had long fingers, graceful on a pencil, and now they are huge and imposing, with rounded pink-white nails. His hand is bigger than Bucky’s, so he makes it smaller, folds their fingers together.

“We gotta talk about what you did for me,” says Bucky. He looks at Steve directly, quite clear. “No more of that. When we were kids we could take those kinds of risks for each other. It’s different now. It’s gotta be. I’m one man, Steve, and we’ve got so many here. Somethin’ happens to me, you can’t go runnin’ off and riskin’ lives, especially yours. They need you more than I do.”

That part’s not true, but it needs saying. The rest is true. Captain America can’t abandon his post for one reckless old buddy.

Bucky is nervous enough about going into battle alongside Steve. Part of him thrills at the concept, an instinctual rush of adrenaline that whispers this is what your were made for in his ear. He looks at Steve and thinks about the damage they’ll be able to inflict together, and there is a wild, widening chasm in Bucky that is all too ready for chaos and retribution.

Another part of Bucky is terrified, as any man would be of battle, and he’s never been in the thick of it with Steve since he was rescued. That had been like a fever-dream; an angelic vision of Steve freed him from hell and they passed through fire and clung together amid the brimstone and escaped; but the episode also proved Bucky’s worst fears. Steve is entirely too attached to him, and won’t think twice about a sacrifice in Bucky’s name. When Bucky closes his eyes, he sees a thousand ways Steve could die in the next few days or weeks, protecting him, so he keeps his eyes open.

“What about what I need?” asks Steve, and Bucky blinks.

“What about me?” says Steve. He turns to face Bucky on the cot, their hands in his lap. Steve doesn’t use his towering height; his shoulders are slumped, like he used to sit over his sketchpad. He says, “No one’s asked me that in a long while. Everyone thinks, ‘cause I look like this, that I couldn’t possibly require anything anymore. Like I should suddenly be the sort of man who takes all those dames, and the money, and the clothes and the picture deals and the magazine covers. Who wouldn’t? Maybe I’m crazy. Probably I am. Because I don’t want any of that, Bucky. I want to be able to help. And to do that -- to stay in the game, to be at my best -- I need you. Two things. That’s it.”

Bucky breathes in. Steve gets it. He understands the score. So long as they’re on the same page, Bucky will do what needs doing, will give Steve what he needs. He nods. “All right, Rogers. Guess you’ve got yourself a partner.”

Bucky changes the clasp of their hands into a vigorous shake, and Steve beams, showing bright white teeth. Bucky lets go. “First time I see you do somethin’ stupid for me, I put in for a transfer.”

“Aw, gimme three strikes, at least,” says Steve, his smile growing. “You get up to enough stupid all on your own, I’m bound to be involved.”

“Three strikes,” Bucky agrees, begrudging. “For the Dodgers. Now let’s see what Captain America can really do.”

He means it both literally and figuratively. In the coming days they’ll become an elite commando squad capable of wreaking havoc across innumerable countrysides. That night, Bucky puts him through his paces, has Steve twice more before morning.

The new body is a wonder, and Bucky learns every bit of it, its few weaknesses and massive strengths; and if every once in a while he dreams that the shape is smaller, that Steve fits tucked under his chin, he keeps it to himself.