The comics are the worst.
"They're saying I'm, what, fifteen years old?" Bucky complains to anyone who'll listen. The Commandos have all heard it about a hundred times already, of course, but whenever they're back in London for a debriefing, someone manages to get a hold of the latest issue, and it sets him off all over again. He can't help himself.
"I rather like the outfit," Falsworth says with a wink.
"That ain't the point! I mean, a fuckin' kid trotting along at Cap's heels -- what the hell kinda army do they think we got out here?"
Like some scrawny teenager in tights and a domino mask would last five minutes on the front without pissing himself. Like anyone as wide-eyed and innocent as the Bucky in the comics could be trusted to watch Steve's back. Hell, Bucky didn't think he'd ever been that naive, even when he really was fifteen.
Fifteen in Brooklyn was dropping out of school so's he could pick up the day shift at the docks, 'cause his ma could only take in so much extra stitching and laundry and there were three younger kids at home needing to get fed occasionally. Fifteen was the winter Steve got his third round of pneumonia, the one they all thought would finally do him in, and Mrs. Rogers getting frailer and frailer from the TB herself. Fifteen was necking with red-haired Maggie in the back room of the drugstore her old man owned, letting the outside world and all its troubles melt away for just thirty goddamn minutes only to find it all still waiting to hobble him the moment his brain kicked back in. Fifteen was a growth spurt that left his bones aching and Steve staring up at him like he was someone else entirely. Fifteen was the feel of his knuckles splitting against Frank Hunter's teeth because Bucky almost never started the fights himself but he always, always finished them.
Fifteen was tougher and leaner and uglier than these stupid comics are ever gonna admit, and Bucky's never been the goddamn team mascot, all right?
People have been treating them like a single unit since they were about seven or eight years old, steveandbucky, 'cause where one of 'em went, the other always followed. And mostly that was a good thing. It meant the boys at school were more likely to leave Steve alone, 'cause they knew tussling with him meant taking on Bucky, and Bucky fought dirty. It meant teachers who took a shine to Steve gave Bucky a little more leeway, too. It meant never being alone, not really, because Steve was there and it was like being part of something bigger than himself.
But thinking of them as steveandbucky feels like it's ignoring all the parts of their lives that don't wrap around each other, that never did. Steve went to advanced art classes in the city and painted signs for extra cash, while Bucky knew ten different markets that'd trade him extra meat or milk or bread in exchange for a favor or two. Bucky was the popular one, the one with pals on every street corner and in every bar; Steve's the one who fostered genuine, lifelong friendships with old lady Maloney upstairs and shy Betty Halloran from eighth grade English and that kid Willie who cruised the Navy Yard every Friday night. Steve spent hours at the pictures, whenever he could spare the quarter, while Bucky would rather waste his money riding the train down to Coney Island or up to Harlem or anywhere in between. Bucky's the one who could end a fight with a single knockout punch, and Steve's the one who couldn't tell a goddamned lie to save his life but somehow almost never lost a hand of poker.
Steve, just Steve, all on his own, is a better man than anyone else Bucky has ever known.
And Bucky, just Bucky, all on his own, is--
--hell, he doesn't even know anymore.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Steve is Captain America, and Bucky is Sergeant Barnes, but still, if you wanna find one of 'em, you look for the other. That's just always how it's been. Sometimes, when Bucky's feeling perverse, he deliberately misdirects anyone asking for Steve, just to prove that they're not actually attached at the hip. But when Agent Carter corners him in the barracks shortly after the Commandos' third successful mission, Bucky doesn't even try to bullshit her.
"He's down in Stark's workshop playing with some new toys," Bucky tells her at once, resisting the urge to salute. Agent Carter's a hell of a dame.
Carter actually looks amused, which is new. "I'm not looking for Captain Rogers. I'm here for you, Sergeant. Colonel Phillips would like a word with you."
She escorts him to the Colonel's office, and takes a seat off to one side, clearly including herself in this little chat. Bucky remains standing at attention, wondering what the hell he's gotten himself into this time.
"You know, Barnes," Phillips says, blunt as ever, "when Rogers requested you for his team, I thought he was just being sentimental."
Bucky keeps his gaze fixed on a spot on the wall just to the left of the Colonel's ear. "He's always been a terrible sap, sir. It's his only character flaw."
Carter's mouth twitches in what might almost be a smirk. Phillips ignores the remark. "But if the reports on my desk are accurate," he goes on, "you seem to be shaping up to be one of the best damn snipers this army's ever seen." He gives Bucky a good long look. "I could use a man with your particular skill set, Barnes."
"Are you reassigning me away from Captain Rogers's command, sir?"
Phillips snorts. "Son, I try not to make a habit of issuing orders that won't be followed. He already invaded Austria for you once. I'm not gonna risk another harebrained PR nightmare. No, Rogers can keep you on his team; I'm just going to borrow you."
"Solo mission," Phillips says. "Time sensitive, forty-eight hour deadline. You'll be back before Rogers even notices you're gone."
"I very much doubt that," Bucky says. "Sir."
As they got older, they grew both closer and farther apart at the same time -- hard to explain it, but there it was. Bucky knew Steve better'n himself, sometimes, and that went both ways. But the ways in which they were different got harder to ignore, too. Bucky knew Steve, but he didn't always understand him. They had screaming fights sometimes, especially once they got their own place together and couldn't ever get away from each other for long.
"I'm going out," Steve said abruptly one night, too loud, after they'd been seething and sniping at each other for hours.
Bucky rolled his eyes. "Christ, Steve, it's raining cats and dogs out there, where the hell are you gonna go?"
"Doesn't matter, does it?" Steve grabbed his jacket, shrugged it on with stiff, jerky movements. "Just want a quiet drink is all. Don't wait up."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Bucky shot back. He snapped his newspaper up in front of his face, deliberately didn't look up as Steve stomped across the narrow room. The door slammed shut behind him. Outside, rain continued to clatter against the roof and pour in a steady river along the gutters.
Of course Bucky waited up. He'd seen the rejection slip in the trash, Steve's second, the 4F big and bold across the bottom. Knew that if he ever walked into a recruiting station himself, he'd be snatched up and stamped 1A in two minutes flat. Wasn't sure which Steve was so sore about: the fact that Bucky'd be taken when Steve never would, or that Bucky hadn't tried yet. Either way, Steve's disappointment hung heavy in the apartment like bad air, making them both sick with it.
When Steve finally dragged himself home, midnight had come and gone and they'd both be sorry for it in the morning. Bucky didn't say a word, just helped peel Steve out of his sopping jacket and got his boots off when the laces were too water-logged for Steve to manage them with his own shaking fingers. He didn't say, this is why I can't enlist, 'cause who else would get your damn boots off when you've had one too many, and he didn't say, you're gonna catch your death out there and then what'll I do, and he didn't say, fuck the army, anyway, you're worth a hundred of 'em.
Steve looked right at him, eyes always too sharp no matter how much he'd had to drink. Then he pressed his face into Bucky's shoulder with a sigh, and maybe he'd heard all the things Bucky hadn't said after all.
For Bucky's first secret solo mission for Colonel Phillips, he tracks and kills a Nazi informant ostensibly working for the French resistance. One single shot from a rooftop in Reims. He's back in London with the Commandos within two days, as promised.
Steve doesn't ask where he's been, but there's an unhappy tilt to his mouth that Bucky's all too familiar with. Hasn't seen that particular shade of disapproval since Brooklyn. He knows it's not really directed at him, but still, it stings.
They ship out to take down another suspected HYDRA base, this one on the French-German border, and Steve hardly lets Bucky out of his sight for five minutes the whole trip over, right up until the fighting actually starts.
Seems like the word's getting out, because these goons are more prepared for the Commandos than any of the others have been. Bucky doesn't waste a single bullet, but he still runs out of ammo long before Dugan and Dernier have had a chance to set the explosives, and Steve's getting hemmed in on all sides while God only knows where the other fellas have gotten themselves to, so Bucky pulls a knife out of his boot and tackles the guy who's trying to sneak up around Steve's back.
He never used to fight with knives back in Brooklyn. Strange how comfortable it feels in his grip.
Turns out slitting throats is a lot messier than the movies would have you believe. Pretty damn effective, though.
It took him longer than it should've, but Bucky did enlist eventually, if only so he wouldn't have to lie to Steve about it when his number came up. Well, no, that wasn't entirely fair. He really did want to join up -- wanted to do the right thing, anyway, which was close enough. He wasn't a conscientious objector, and he wasn't a coward. He believed it was a just war. He was proud to wear the uniform. In another life, he'd probably have been first in line at the recruitment station the day after Pearl Harbor.
But with him gone, what would happen to Steve?
(steveandbucky, like the kids on their block and the shopkeepers and the barman at their local all still called them. 'Cause why wouldn't they? Wherever Steve turned up, Bucky always followed after, and vice versa.)
After years of working at the docks, Bucky boarded a ship himself for the first time in June 1943. He was packed in tight with hundreds of other soldiers, jostling for space at the deck so's he could see the Statue of Liberty one last time, and he'd never been so alone.
Later, on a battlefield in Italy, crawling on his belly through mud and shit while bullets zipped through the air like angry wasps, he sent up a quick prayer of thanks to God or whoever the hell was listening that Steve wasn't here with him. Steve was home, where the worst he had to deal with was scrounging up rent money and bullies in alleys and that ugly cold that settled into his lungs every goddamn winter. Seemed like it'd been pretty damn bad at the time, but from this side of things, hell, that was nothing. Steve was safe.
In the end, that was all Bucky ever really wanted.
The longest of Bucky's solo assignments lasts a little over a week. When he finally gets back to the Commandos' current base camp in Belgium, exhausted and filthy and limping a bit from a still-healing wound to his thigh, the first person he sees is Jim Morita.
"Oh, thank God you're back," Morita says fervently. "Ain't been no living with the Cap the past few days."
"Swell," Bucky says, because that's definitely a headache he needs on top of everything else. "Guess I'd better go make my mission report, huh?"
That's not exactly true, of course. The only people who get to debrief Bucky on his special assignments are Colonel Phillips and Agent Carter.
(He likes Carter in spite of himself. She's smart as a whip, all sharp eyes and bright red lipstick, and if they sometimes catch each other staring too long at Steve, well. Seems petty to begrudge her that.)
Point is, Steve might be his commanding officer, but Captain America doesn't have the clearance to know precisely what Sergeant Barnes gets up to all on his lonesome. And Steve begrudges the hell out of that.
Bucky finds Steve in his tent, staring blankly down at a map of Belgium as though he doesn't have the damn thing memorized already. When he sees Bucky, the naked relief on his face is wiped over a second later with studied nonchalance, like Bucky hasn't been able to see right through him since they were eight years old.
(Bucky's the only person Steve can't bluff at poker, though he's always willing to play along in order to fleece some new sucker out of a carton of cigarettes.)
(Christ, Bucky's head's all over the place. This little solo jaunt really took it out of him.)
"Good," Steve says, with no other preamble. "We're hitting a potential HYDRA camp outside of Verviers tomorrow morning. I want you as advance scout."
Bucky sketches a salute, doing his damnedest to keep upright. "Sure thing, Cap."
Steve scowls like he always does when Bucky calls him by his rank instead of his name. "Where've you been, Buck? I expected you back two days ago."
Bucky hobbles over to Steve's cot and all but collapses onto it, formality be damned. It's just him and Steve, anyway, who's gonna care? "Got held up. You have any idea how tricky it is to hitch a ride out of Eindhoven these days?" He likes his contacts in the Dutch resistance, but they don't exactly have it easy at the moment. And, fuck, that's already more intel than Steve's allowed, isn't it?
"I really don't," Steve says, but he's frowning now, looking Bucky over more carefully. "You okay?"
"Eh," Bucky says with a shrug. "Took a hit to the thigh, but I'll be--"
"Jesus, Bucky!" Steve's at his side in an instant, not quite pawing at Bucky's trousers. "Did you even--"
"Field medic patched me up just fine, Rogers, calm down," Bucky sighs, leaning into him. "Just still kinda stiff."
Should've been worse. Bullet nearly nicked his femoral artery, and Bucky knows how that story would've ended, but he ain't gonna tell Steve that. It's a war, is all. They've all had a near miss or twelve at this point. Steve's hardly one to talk, what with his penchant for jumping through explosions. And anyway, Bucky heals up pretty quick.
(Quicker than he should, lately. He tries not to think about it.)
Steve doesn't push it further, but he sits close to Bucky on the cot, hand coming to rest carefully on Bucky's knee. "You should have one of our guys check it out, just in case. And tomorrow--"
Bucky glares up at him, though he can't help but shift closer into Steve's warmth at the same time. "Don't you dare bench me on this one. No way in hell I'm letting you go after HYDRA without me."
"I'll still have the rest of the Commandos backing me up," Steve points out with a wry smile. He slips his arm across Bucky's shoulders to accommodate him. "It's not like I'm barging in alone."
"You're right, you're not," Bucky says firmly. "'Cause I'm going with you."
And it's a good thing Steve caves at that point, because Bucky's running out of steam real fast, and falling asleep in Steve's lap probably wouldn't be the best way to win that particular argument.
So much for being home and safe. Bucky really should've remembered: anywhere he went, Steve was sure to follow.
The Captain America thing, though -- that was a new and exciting twist.
"Joined the army, huh?" Bucky said quietly, while he and the other four hundred goddamn POWs that Steve had just singlehandedly rescued continued their slow trek back out of Austria.
Steve glanced down -- down at him, Jesus, that would take some getting used to -- and shrugged. "Couldn't let you win the war without me, could I?"
"Should've," Bucky muttered, but he let it drop for the moment. Didn't have the energy to pick a fight just then. Could barely concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, and anyway, he was half convinced that he was still strapped to Zola's operating table, that this was all one big hallucination.
Later, when they'd all made it back to the rest of the 107th on the other side of the front lines, Bucky started up a rousing cheer for Captain America and then slipped away in the ensuing chaos. A handful of medics were already working their way through the crowd, seeking out the worst of the wounded, but he gave the makeshift hospital tents a wide berth. Last thing he wanted was anyone else poking and prodding at him. He'd heal up fine on his own.
Just needed some space to himself, was all.
He finally found a good spot to hole up behind the stage they'd set up for USO tours. There was a makeshift dressing room backstage, barely more than a couple of benches and a cracked mirror leaning up against a wall, but it was quiet and enclosed and empty, and it'd take a while for anyone to find him here. Assuming anyone went looking in the first place. Four hundred exhausted ex-POWs to account for -- nobody would notice one missing in all the hubbub. And it wasn't like he was going AWOL or anything. Just needed to sort through the mess in his head. He stretched out on one of the benches and stared up at the tin roof without really seeing anything at all, thinking about Steve Rogers and Captain America and what it meant when the guy you'd spent your whole goddamn life looking after suddenly turned up looking like Superman -- and it wasn't like Bucky hadn't already known Steve had a hero's heart, but now everyone else would, too, and what use was Bucky then? And the Red Skull peeling his face off like that, and all of Zola's injections and experiments, and was that what they'd done to Steve, too?
Did Steve think he was immortal now? Would a bullet still take him down like anyone else? Would a tank? One thing Bucky knew for sure, those HYDRA energy blasts would vaporize Captain America just as quick as they'd done half the fucking 107th at Azzano, and Steve wouldn't think twice before jumping right in front of one, he never did, and what would just get him a black eye and broken ribs back home would get him killed here and Bucky couldn't protect him anymore and--
He lost track of time -- might've been an hour, maybe more -- but eventually, Steve found him. Of course he did. Bucky never could shake him for long.
"Buck?" The relief was thick in Steve's voice. Bucky tried to feel guilty for worrying him, but couldn't manage it around his slow-burning anger. "I've been looking everywhere for you."
"You're not supposed to be here," Bucky said, still staring up at nothing.
He could hear Steve come closer, the heavy tread unfamiliar. Thought he'd've known Steve's footsteps anywhere. Not anymore. "Actually, since I'm the one who's actually performed on this stage--"
"I mean here. In Europe. In the goddamn war." Bucky swung his legs over the side of the bench, sat up properly. Had to look a lot further up to glare at Steve now, which just added fuel to the fire. "What the hell are you doing here, Steve?"
Steve stiffened. "Like I said, I--"
"Joined the army?" Bucky said mockingly. "Bullshit. What did you let them do to you?"
"What does it matter?" Steve demanded. "It worked, didn't it?"
"You were supposed to be safe!" Bucky was shouting now, right in Steve's face. He didn't even know when he'd gotten to his feet. He forced himself to take a step back, clenched his hands into fists at his sides to keep from taking a swing at him. "Steve, I've seen the guy standing right next to me drop with a bullet straight through his helmet. Seen wounds fester and go black 'cause our medic didn't have the supplies to treat 'em. Those HYDRA bastards have weapons that hit you with this blue-white energy and you're just gone, you're nothing, not even a body to bury -- and then you turn up all huge and impossible and think you can take on the whole lot of 'em, and I'm telling you, buddy, I wish to God you'd stayed at home."
Steve didn't back down, because he never backed down, and that, at least, hadn't changed. "You can yell at me all you want, but I ain't gonna apologize for a damn thing," he snapped. "Because if I hadn't gotten over here, you'd still be stuck in that HYDRA hell. No one else was coming for you, Buck! If I hadn't been here -- Bucky, they told me you were dead." His voice cracked on the last word, and Bucky realized that Steve's whole body was trembling, actually shaking, and not with anger.
That was when it hit Bucky, really hit him, that this new Steve with his big hands and bigger body and ability to leap impossible distances across exploding factories -- this Steve was just as human as the scrawny fella he'd left behind.
"They said you were dead," Steve repeated. He wasn't crying, because Steve never cried -- he'd learned young that bullies would see tears as a sign of weakness; learned quick never to let it show when he was hurting. But turned out Bucky could still see right through him, new body and all. His anger fizzled right out, all the air leaving his lungs in a rush.
"Christ, Steve," Bucky sighed, reaching out to him. "C'mere."
Steve pulled him into a crushing hug, held him so tight that Bucky's bones ached with it. He didn't care. Steve smelled like sweat and soot and mud and himself, and maybe for the first time since blinking up at him in that damn factory, Bucky believed that all this was real.
He didn't know how long they stood there clinging to each other. Eventually Steve stopped shaking and loosened his hold some, letting Bucky breathe. Somewhere outside, Bucky could hear other soldiers talking, a jeep bumping along the dirt, the sound of raindrops slowly starting to ping against the tin roof. But that all felt very far away. He reached up with both hands to frame Steve's face, tugging him down gently to press a kiss against his forehead like he used to do back home when Steve got hurt or sick. Felt right, somehow; familiar, even though Steve was the taller one now. (Not by much, Bucky realized -- he only had a couple of inches on Bucky at most, wasn't actually a giant. Just seemed so much bigger in contrast to what he'd been before.)
Steve sighed and let his arms slip down around Bucky's waist. He lifted his head again, looked Bucky right in the eyes. "It was an experimental serum. They wanted to make me into the perfect supersoldier."
"I guess it worked," Bucky said. He grazed his knuckles lightly against Steve's cheek. "Thanks for saving me, by the way. I don't think I mentioned."
And Steve's slow-blooming smile was just the same as it'd ever been. "Yeah, well, after all those fights you finished for me over the years -- I guess I owed you one."
Bucky's not the only Howling Commando who occasionally flies solo. They're all specialists, in different ways, and every one of them has been loaned out to other units on special assignment at least once. Dernier's always in high demand -- they lose him for almost a full month in the summer of '44, and word has it he got to experience the liberation of Paris firsthand -- and Gabe Jones gets real chummy with Stark and vanishes for days at a time doing God only knows what. And there are plenty of missions that only Steve can tackle, though they give him as much backup as they can get away with.
But sniping is an especially solitary art, and even when he's working with the full team, Bucky sometimes feels more alone than ever.
And Steve only ever seems to take it personal when Bucky's the one out on assignment.
"Lay off, Steve, it's only for a couple of days," Bucky finally says, when Steve's rant has gone on so long that he's started repeating himself. "And you know I don't have a say in it, anyway. If you're this sore about it, you can take it up with Colonel Phillips."
Steve sighs, signalling the barkeep for another refill. Not that the liquor has the slightest goddamn effect on him these days, but he always buys Bucky's drinks when they're in a city with a functioning bar, claiming to be repaying all the times Bucky had to cover his tab back in Brooklyn. The booze is way better here in Paris, though Bucky'll never admit that in front of Dernier.
"Can you even tell me where you're going, this time?" Bucky just gives him an apologetic shrug, and Steve grimaces. "Great."
"I don't like it any more'n you do," Bucky says. "No telling what sort of trouble you'll get into without me around to watch your back."
"No more than you'll get up to without me," Steve shoots back, but his heart's not in it. "Buck…"
Bucky shifts his stool closer to Steve's, bumps their shoulders together. "I'd tell you if I could, you know that. But you wouldn't like it any better if you knew."
They're different, these private missions. They leave him feeling hollowed out, blank and empty. It's one thing sniping at anonymous HYDRA mooks. It's another thing entirely when the target in his rifle scope has a face, a name, a history. Doesn't take more'n a twitch on the trigger either way, and that feels wrong, too. It should be harder to kill them. It should mean something.
And when he has to get up close and personal, with a pistol, with a knife -- that shouldn't come so easy to him, either. But it does. It's too goddamn easy.
Steve scrubs a hand across his face, looking far older than he should. "I know. It's war, Bucky, and I'm not stupid. I'm the icon, I wear the flag -- there's things Captain America can't do. I just don't get why you're the one who has to do them instead."
"Says the guy who volunteered to be a science experiment," Bucky says, trying on a smile. "Don't worry about it so much."
"Who's worried?" Steve kicks him lightly under the counter. "Just wish I could go with you. You know, in the comics, Bucky never leaves Cap's side. Well, except when he's being kidnapped."
Bucky groans and punches him in the arm, hard, and Steve laughs for real.
It's all right, though. If all anyone knows of Bucky is that idiot kid in tights from the comics, well, it just means they'll never see him coming.
"I could use a man with your particular skill set, Barnes," Colonel Phillips told him, and he wasn't just talking about Bucky's marksmanship.
That was the first thing they'd noticed about Bucky, in Basic -- his instinctive ease with a rifle. He'd never so much as touched a gun in his life before boot camp, but apparently he had a knack for it. Still, there were plenty of good shots in the army. So that didn't explain why he found himself fast-tracked for promotion before ever shipping out, selected for NCO training he'd never volunteered for or expected, already a Sergeant by the time he got his orders. No one suggested he try for OCS -- he wasn't ever gonna be a real commander -- but still. Maybe it was the years of looking after Steve, scrounging for whatever they needed to get through another week, another month, another winter. Maybe it was how he never started fights when he didn't have to but always, always knew exactly how to finish 'em. Maybe a lifetime of tracking every penny, every favor, every shopkeeper and local mob runner and beat cop and knowing instinctively how to navigate through all of 'em and still come out all right -- maybe those were the cool-headed calculations any good non-com needed, and some drill sergeant in Basic looked at him and just plain recognized him for what he was.
Someone who'd do whatever it took to get his people through, no matter how hard, no matter how ugly.
Maybe this was who Bucky was, just Bucky, all on his own, with Steve or without him.
He accepted Colonel Phillips's offer.
Winter settles into Europe sharply, meanly, like it's got a grudge against everybody. It makes Bucky remember long winters with heating bills they couldn't afford and drafty floorboards, the breath rattling in Steve's chest, Bucky curling around him at night in an endless battle against the cold. Now Steve's got a big body like a furnace, and when they're out in the field, the whole damn team tends to sleep huddled together as close as possible.
The solo assignments drop off for everyone as 1944 peters out. The war in Europe hones itself into one massive, concentrated effort, pushing back against Germany. A solitary sniper's no real use at Bastogne; the Commandos are sent on different sorts of missions, exclusively aimed at HYDRA splinter cells rather than the German army as a whole, and none of the brass want to split up the SSR's first and best strike unit into its component parts anymore.
While the rest of the army gets tangled up in the Ardennes, the Commandos destroy a HYDRA outpost in northern Poland. It's not their usual territory, and until the weather clears up a bit, no one's gonna be able to airlift them out of there. But they find an abandoned farmhouse a couple of klicks away from the former HYDRA base, and that's miles better than digging foxholes in the frozen earth, so they set up camp there. At least there's no lack of firewood. With a fire blazing in the stone hearth, it's almost homey.
Actually, it's a little too close to home for comfort, as far as Bucky's concerned. With the wind rattling the windows and a draft coming up through the floorboards, he may as well be back in that crappy little apartment in Brooklyn. The other guys all drift off in their bivvies around the hearth, exhausted by the day's fighting, but Bucky's brain whirrs away, making sleep impossible. He stares into the fire instead, trying to settle his thoughts.
"Hey," Steve says quietly, right beside him, and Bucky nearly jumps out of his skin. How long has Steve been awake, watching him? "Can't sleep?"
Bucky shakes his head. "Too cold," he says, though that's not true. It's not so bad in here now, with the fire going. He's slept in far worse conditions than this.
"Just like home, huh?" Steve says with a wry smile, voice low so as not to disturb the others. He sits up, leaning against Bucky, and the flush of warmth all along Bucky's side is welcome. He's just about gotten used to the role reversal by now. It's been more'n a year since Steve sprung him from Zola's factory, after all.
They sit together in silence for a good long while. At some point the fire's gonna burn down, and one of them should probably get some more wood to keep it going, but it's hard to think about practicalities right now. He's tired without being sleepy, and Steve is very warm, and it's...nice, almost, just listening to him breathe in and out.
"It's good, you know," Bucky says abruptly. "The serum. What it did to you. Not the -- muscles, and the super strength, and all that, though that's fine, too. But that you're healthy now. I'm real glad for that, Steve. I don't think I ever said."
Steve blinks at him, bemused. "Buck, it's been a year and a half since...all this. You haven't yelled at me about it in at least six months. Why--"
Bucky shrugs, strangely unembarrassed. "Because it's cold. And you're not. I dunno, just thought I should say it."
"Okay," Steve says with a small smile. "Glad you approve."
"You're still an idiot for enlisting, though."
"Well, that's a given."
The flames dance in the hearth, mesmerizing. The whole world feels like it's holding its breath. For what, Bucky's not sure.
"I missed you like hell, you know," Bucky says quietly. "Hated leaving you behind. Still do."
Steve nudges him with his elbow. "I think they're done giving you solo missions now."
"I missed you, too," Steve says. Bucky can see the firelight reflected in his clear blue eyes. "Just so you know."
Bucky nods. "I know."
It's the most natural thing in the world to lean in and kiss him, then. Like this is something they've always done. Steve's lips part against his easily, without hesitation. His hand comes up to cup Bucky's face, holding him in place, and Bucky wraps an arm around Steve's waist. They kiss slowly, unhurriedly, and the warmth seeps through Bucky's skin, a steady, unwavering flame. His mind goes blessedly still, empty of anything except for the taste of Steve's mouth, the heat of his skin, the stray thought that maybe there's a reason they've always been steveandbucky, a single unit, after all.
Eventually awareness of the rest of the world trickles back in -- the crackling fire, Dugan's soft snoring, Falsworth's sigh as he rolls over in his sleep. Bucky doesn't pull away from Steve, but he does allow for a breath between each kiss, then another, until they slowly drift apart. Steve presses his forehead against Bucky's, their noses bumping gently.
"When we get back to London," Steve says, voice low but determined, "my quarters have an actual bed. And a door that locks."
Bucky grins and kisses him again, because he can't help it. "Guess there might be a reason they made you an officer after all."
Bucky knows there was a time in his life before Steve was in it. He just chooses not to remember it.
He knows that now he'll only ever be a footnote in the story of Captain America. No one will bother remembering who Bucky Barnes was as separate from Steve Rogers. Hell, if the comics stay popular, no one's gonna ever know who Bucky really is at all.
Sometimes it bothers him. Mostly, though, it doesn't. He never set out to be anybody special. Being remembered as Steve Rogers's best friend -- well, Steve's always been the best part of Bucky, anyway. He's okay with that.
Here's what Bucky doesn't consider, clinging to the side of that fucking train: they're still steveandbucky, in the end. Wherever one goes, the other follows. Sometimes it just takes Steve a little while to catch up, is all.
Sometimes it takes seventy years. But they'll get there eventually.