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Practice Makes Perfect

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Steve Rogers at thirteen is a constant ball of rage, bruises, and delicate wrists that get twisted behind his back far too often for Bucky’s liking. He is permanently ill, determined and game for everything, which accounts for at least half of the scrapes they get into. Steve makes life interesting.

Bucky’s Ma might disagree, but he knows he made the right choice when he decided to side with the little stubborn nothing of a kid defending a cat from bullies twice his age. Steve had looked eerily similar to the disgruntled cat, fit to claw someone’s eyes out - the funniest thing Bucky had ever seen, even as a stupid seven year old that was about to get the shit kicked out of him and lose a baby tooth in the process.

He had spat blood on the ground and then helped Steve to his feet, scraped and with a bloody nose dripping into his mouth. “You’re an idiot, but you’re alright,” he had said, and Steve had said “high praise from a guy missing teeth,” and less than three weeks later they’d been doing blood friendship pacts and sleeping on each other’s couches, and they had never looked back.

So. He’s glad he met Steve. But sometimes, as today when he’s grounded for tearing a shirt beyond salvage, from following Steve up a tree to pick peaches, he rethinks it a bit. He’s just so bored. He’s been banished to his curtained partition of the room he shares with his sisters for three days already, and it’s starting to chafe. It wasn’t even his fault; he just couldn’t let Steve get up that tree on his own, the idiot probably would’ve fallen to his death. He sighs again, as he’s done all afternoon long, half draped over the windowsill.

It’s too hot to be stuck inside. The entire city feels like it’s holding its breath for a little breeze that refuses to come, and through the open curtains of the building opposite his, Bucky can see men down to their undershirts and women smoking with half their bodies out the windows while they fan themselves with old newspapers. There are no kids, because unlike Bucky, they can come and go as they please and they don’t have to suffocate inside a stifling apartment. He goes back to idly flicking through an old comic book, but he soon snaps it shut, having had enough.

With a last wary look around the street to see if anyone that could tattle to his mother is watching, he lowers himself to the fire escape. The burning metal makes him want to hiss through his teeth, but he holds it in until he’s all the way down to the ground, and then he shakes his hands and stomps his feet and curses creatively. Steve’s own fire escape three blocks away is a familiar one, from the countless times he’s climbed it to sneak in for Steve and sneak out with Steve in tow.

Once he climbs through the window, Steve is in the little kitchen, pretending he knows what he’s doing as he tries to make stew. Bucky sighs and crowds him away from the stove with his hip, until Steve stops acting like he’s not glad to leave it alone and goes to sit by the table.

“Hi, by the way. Feel welcome to my house and my kitchen and my goddamn stew,” he says, without any real heat. They’ve been sneaking into each other’s apartments for years now.

“I will, thanks.” There’s not even that much work left to do on the stew. He finishes chopping up the turnips and steadily pretends not to notice just how little meat there is to brown. He’s made the mistake of pointing it out to Steve before, and he can live without the prickly behavior.

“Thought you were grounded.”

Bucky shrugs. “Yeah, and whose fault was that.”

“I said you didn’t have to climb that tree with me. Anyway, normal people get mad, not go around offering to cook for them.”

“Whatever, you’re a shit cook.”

No one says anything, because nothing can be said against that. The kitchen is even more oppressive than Bucky’s room had been, the air stale and heavy and now lightly smelling like meat and rosemary. Bucky hums a bit as he finishes with the stew. There’s not much to do but wait now.

When he turns around to face Steve, he’s drawing on the table, tongue peeking out as he concentrates on a detail. It’s a scene he’s seen a million times, but Bucky has been cooped up for days, and he’s eager to go out.

“So what’cha up to today?”

“Mmm, not much.” Steve keeps drawing, a slight frown on his face.

“What, you’re just gonna sit there are draw all day?”

“I might. Pass me some water, would you?”

Bucky snorts, but does as he’s told. Steve looks good. He’s always at his healthiest in summer. “Here ya go, your highness, sir,” he says with a curtsey, but not even that gets much of a reaction.

“Thanks, Buck.”

Jesus, just what is he drawing, they haven’t seen each other in a few days, you’d think Steve would be glad to see him.

“Hey.” Nothing.

“Hey, Steve.” He just gets a grunt in response.

“Heeeey.”

What,” Steve says moodily. Bucky settles with his elbows on the table to see what he’s drawing.

“Is that Rosie Dougall?”

Steve turns red immediately and holds the paper close to his chest. “No it isn’t.”

“Looks like it.”

“Well it ain’t.”

There’s a brief scuffle as Bucky steals the drawing.

“It is Rosie! I think. I don’t think her left eye’s so big compared to the other one, by the way.”

Steve takes it back forcefully, his ears burning. “Shut up. It’s not Rosie.” Bucky raises his eyebrows at him. “Alright, so maybe it is, what do you care?”

“I don’t. I’m just saying, her eye ain’t that big.”

“Whatever,” Steve mutters, eyes already back on the drawing. And that’s - not on. Bucky went through all that trouble of climbing down a fire escape while he’s grounded, the least Steve could do is pay attention to him.

“Say, you’re sweet on her?” He says with the nastiest smirk he has.

“Leave off, Buck.” He’s starting to get angry, Bucky can always tell by the splotches of red appearing high on his cheeks, by the set of his jaw. Good then. Bucky can deal with that.

“You are, aren’t you? Ohhh, Stevie has a crush!”

“I don’t! And don’t call me that.”

“Whatever, Stevie. Bet you can’t wait until school starts again and you can stare at the back of her neck all day, right?” Bucky does it in a sing-song voice, as annoying as he can, speaking right into Steve’s face.

“Shut your mouth, Bucky, you don’t know shit,” he says, rising from his chair at last. His hands are fisted, the surprisingly big paws that look at odds with the rest of his body, like the rest of him hasn’t caught up with him. Bucky likes those hands. They hit bullies and fix injured birds’ wings and draw the Brooklyn skyline and are perpetually stained and scraped. Bucky’s not really sure why he knows so much about Steve’s goddamn hands, but here he is.

“What, afraid she won’t look at you? Dunno, she might need help reaching the lower shelves,” he says, and immediately regrets it, but can’t exactly take it back. He’s just suddenly so mad - he spent the past few days feeling angry and lonely and bored, and apparently Steve just spent them drawing some girl and daydreaming, not a thought to spare for Bucky.

Steve shoves him, as hard as he can. “Stop it, you ass.”

“Ain’t doing nothing, Steve, I’m just saying, you can just show her your pretty drawing, she’s sure to be charmed,” he says as he makes to take the drawing again, but Steve can tell what he’s about to do, and when Bucky pulls forward he pulls back and the paper rips loudly in the now quiet kitchen. Each is left staring at their piece, startled.

And Bucky is going to apologize, he is, but just before he can open his mouth and say the words, Steve lunges at him. It surprises him enough that they both topple backwards in a tangle of limbs. It doesn’t take long for him to react though, and soon they’re just grappling on the floor, Bucky almost defensive because he doesn’t want to hurt Steve, and Steve spitting mad, eyes wide and a bit crazy and big red splotches on his cheeks as he tries hitting every part of Bucky he can reach.

“Apologize!” he shouts.

“No chance!” Bucky takes hold of Steve’s wrists, but Steve fights dirty, always has, and Bucky screams at the bite on his shoulder.

“I said apologize!”

“I won’t!” They roll on the floor, hitting furniture more than they do each other. It’s not a real fight. Bucky has been in enough to know the difference. But Steve is still furious, and Bucky is too and slightly ashamed at himself for being furious, with no real reason behind it, and they both end up scratching and biting and tugging at hair, like they’re children again.

Bucky pins Steve down, and tries to do the same to his arms but before he can manage it a well-placed elbow hits his mouth, and then he’s bleeding all over Steve when his teeth cut into his lower lip.

“Shit!” Steve says, temper suddenly gone cold as he disentangles himself from Bucky and touches his fingers to the little wound.

“Ouch,” Bucky says, and Steve removes his hand like it burns him.

“Sorry. I should get you some ice.” Steve tries getting up, but Bucky pushes him back down to the ground before rolling off of him. He was trying to get a raise out of him, and he got it, and he can’t just let Steve fuss at him after that.

“Leave it. It’s nothing.”

“If you say so.”

They lie sprawled on the floor for a good while, sweaty and breathing hard. This is really not the weather for roughhousing, but Bucky feels lighter already, like something’s clicked back into place. His lip has stopped bleeding, but it feels tender and swollen when he runs his tongue over it.

“Sorry about your drawing.”

“Yeah.”

“It was pretty good, you know.”

“Nah, one eye was bigger than the other one,” Steve says, and Bucky lets out a little giggle. Then Steve follows, until they’re laughing so hard they’re about to cry.

They eventually stop laughing, and then they’re quiet for a while, on their backs in Steve’s tiny kitchen, half of them under the rickety dinner table. Bucky’s mind is empty and calm for the first time in days.

“What d’you think kissing is like?” Steve asks out of nothing, eyes firm on the ceiling. Rosie again, Bucky imagines. He can’t see the big thing about her.

“Dunno. Wet, probably? I wanna say probably not as slimy as it looks, but it really does look slimy, so.” He makes a face, but there’s a tightness in his belly, the same kind of anticipation he gets just before jumping off trees. Mouths and skin and sweat – they’re uncharted waters, and they’re all the boys at school can talk about these days.

“Maybe it’s good slimy?”

“Well, if it wasn’t good, people wouldn’t do it at all, right? And we all saw Frank Fletcher and Dolly Pearson get dragged out from behind the shed by their ears last week, didn’t we?”

“I guess.” When Bucky turns his head a bit to look at him, he has that slight frown on his face, the one that says that nothing good can follow it. Bucky is well familiar with that look.

So it’s Steve who starts it. Because of course it is.

“Wanna try it?” he says, turning his head so he can look right at Bucky.

“Try what?”

“Embroidering. Kissing, you idiot. What else.”

Bucky’s stomach plummets to the ground, and then probably beneath that, all the way to Mrs. Grigoryev’s in the first floor. He breaks out in cold sweat.

“I – seriously?”

“What, are you scared?” And this, this is familiar territory. He puffs up his cheeks and frowns.

“I’m not scared, Rogers.”

“Well then. Just to see what it’s like, yeah? Aren’t you curious?”

“I guess so, yeah.”

“Well.”

“Well.”

Bucky must look alarmed, because Steve’s face falls, just a bit. “Forget it, I’m just being weird.” He turns his head back towards the ceiling, red with more than exertion now.

Bucky’s hand darts out to grab Steve’s bony wrist before he’s fully aware of what he’s doing. “That’s crap talk and you know it, Steve. You ain’t weird.”

Steve is, in fact, a little weird. But it’s just the right amount to make things interesting, and Bucky hardly notices it anymore. He rolls sideways, and drags himself closer to Steve. It feels important, now, that he doesn’t back down. “C’mon, you owe me some kissing practice.”

Steve licks his lips, looking a bit nervous, and Bucky’s eyes are drawn to the movement. His mind is a cacophony of Holy fuck what the hell am I doing, fuck fuck fuck. Sarah Rogers would wash his mouth with soap if she could hear him. But she can’t, because Bucky is alone in the room with her only son, about to take something from him. His breathing goes labored, and he’s reassured to see he’s not the only one.

In one fluid movement, mostly so he can’t take it back, Bucky moves over him and presses his lips to Steve’s, and it’s – it’s okay. Steve’s lips are warm and he smells familiar, like soap and sweat. It’s nice, but it’s not much to talk about. He leans back a little bit, and they squint at each other.

“Huh,” Bucky says after a minute.

“Yeah. Maybe you need to try harder?”

“Are you calling me a bad kisser?”

“I call ‘em like I see ‘em.”

“Fuck off, Rogers, I’ll prove you wrong,” he says, and kisses Steve again, harder this time, eyes shut tight. Steve wriggles closer, and Bucky tilts his head a bit and opens his mouth and oh, that’s different. Suddenly they’re exchanging breaths, and Steve’s mouth has gone wet and slippery, all the easier to move his lips over it. He draws Steve’s lower lip into his mouth, the way he’s seen other people do, and Steve gasps, like he can’t help it, and the shock of Steve’s quiet surprised voice drives a shudder down Bucky’s body. Steve’s tongue touches his, almost shy like he never is, and that’s good, too, and sets his mouth tingling.

It’s overwhelming, hovering almost entirely above Steve now, the wet sounds of their mouths loud in the empty apartment. Bucky’s skin feels tight, like he’s about to burst out of his body, and it only worsens when Steve gets a hand on his shoulder and pulls him in just slightly, before sliding it up the back of his neck. Steve lifts off from the floor to get closer, so sudden that their teeth knock and Bucky’s split lip opens again, sharp copper taste mingling in their mouths. Steve brushes his lips over it once, apologetically, far too soft for two kids playing at grown ups on a kitchen floor, and they part, shaken.

“You’re bleeding,” Steve says after a minute, voice low and unsteady. His hand slides down from Bucky’s neck, all the way down to the floor, where it lays limp.

“Oh. It’s fine.” They’re just blinking owlishly at each other, cheeks red and mouths shiny with spit. “Well?”

“Well what?”

Well, am I still a bad kisser?”

“Dunno. You’re alright, I guess,” Steve says, but he’s smirking, and Bucky just swats him lightly over the head before rolling away. The room is still stifling hot, but it feels almost cold now that he doesn’t have Steve’s body underneath his. He swallows, and wills his blood to rush north again.

“So. That’s kissing.”

“Yep,” Bucky says with a nonchalance he doesn’t really feel.

“S’okay.”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, his head on fire and his world in tatters because that was amazing, it was every roller coaster he’s ever ridden, every sunny day in the beach and all the furtive laughter as he and Steve get away with murder, and he wants to roll over back against Steve and do it again and again, until it no longer makes his head swim, if that ever even happens. “Yeah, it was okay.”

---

Three days later, once Bucky has managed to put a stop to the stupid blushing and thinks he can finally look at Steve in the eye again, he is let inside the apartment by a rushing Sarah Rogers, who only manages to ruffle his hair hurriedly before she has to run out the door for the hospital. Steve is sitting sideways on one end of the threadbare couch, gnawing on the end of his pencil and wrinkling his nose at his sketchbook.

Bucky drops down in his usual place, and Steve’s legs automatically come up to rest on his lap. There’s a slow current of heat in his belly, and thinking better of it, he moves to sprawl on the other side of the couch. He’d peeked at the drawing before settling down: Rosie again. She’s not even that nice. She once kept a pencil Steve let her borrow. Bucky had bought him a few extra with his following month’s allowance, and then had kept mum when Steve asked why the rest of his sisters had all bought new comics and he hadn’t.

“Busy, Rogers? Thought we could go see those fireworks Minotti was bragging about.”

“Mmm.” Steve hasn’t even raised his eyes from the pad. “In a bit, maybe?”

Bucky wants Steve to look at him. He’s not sure why, just that he does. He stretches his leg out and pokes Steve on the leg with his toes.

“Don’t be such a spoilsport, Steve. I’m bored. C’mon, let’s do something.”

“S’not my fault you can’t entertain yourself, Buck.”

And then, an idea. “Hey. Draw me. M’nicer to look at than Rosie Dougall, anyway.” Steve finally looks up at him. Bucky sits straighter, smiles bright and then dimmer when he remembers his split lip. He tongues at it, and remembers Steve’s lips against it. He can feel himself go red, but he stubbornly keeps looking straight ahead at Steve.

Steve narrows his eyes at him. “You can’t even sit still.”

“Can too. Here I am, sitting still and all.” If he suddenly gets the urge to move his leg - which, fair enough, he’s sitting on it - he keeps it to himself. He can do this. If it means Steve will look at him and won’t be thinking of Rosie Dougall, she of the pencil stealing ways. Bucky’s much nicer to Steve than she is anyway– he was planning to take him to see illegal fireworks, after all.

Steve still looks suspicious, but he does turn the page on his sketchbook, and squints at Bucky before beginning to draw. Bucky preens a bit, and tilts his head at a jaunty angle, trying out a few poses before he settles on the one he thinks will be the most dashing. His eyes are locked to the way Steve’s lip juts out, chewed on and red. Bucky has touched that with his mouth. He’s not quite sure why he can’t stop thinking about it.

The drawing is never finished, because a milk delivery truck decides to upend itself on the road outside, and half the neighborhood kids, including Steve and Bucky, run out to watch, fascinated. But for the next decade he’s Steve’s favorite drawing subject, and Bucky is awfully, selfishly glad.

----

At fourteen, Bucky wakes up struggling for breath, Steve’s name on his lips and a sticky mess in his shorts. He starts to get an inkling of just why he likes being the focus of Steve’s attention so damn much.

----

Time passes. At fifteen he first gets his hand under a girl’s skirt. It’s exhilarating, but so is watching a shirtless Steve sweat on the fire escape, fanning himself lazily with a sketch that didn’t make the cut.

Steve almost dies four times. Bucky bites his fingernails down to nothing every time, but he smiles and tells horribly lewd stories once Steve is on the mend. He grows and Steve doesn’t, Bucky sleeps with a girl and tells and Steve does too but skips the telling; Bucky only finds out because he runs into them necking in a dancehall alcove. They get hot dogs at Coney Island and treat themselves to baseball game seats near Christmas, cut each other’s hair and complain about it every time. Steve’s Ma dies and he sleeps on couch cushions next to an awkward Bucky that holds him as he sobs.

They share an apartment and they go hungry and cold and exhausted, they laugh and they learn to dance together and get known as a unit by the grandmothers in the neighborhood, Barnes and Rogers, up to no good; and a year after they move in together, Bucky stands in front of a second-hand shop and sees a bed, and finds himself in possession of enough money to buy it. He then bites his lip, and thinks of Steve curled up beside him at nights in their one tiny bed, the way his hair tickles Bucky’s nose when he inevitably wakes up pressed up against him. How Steve is the very first thing he smells and sees and feels and hears in the mornings. They’re adults now; he can’t keep pretending an innocence he doesn’t feel.

He thinks of all that, standing in front of that window, and then he goes and spends the money on pastels and charcoal for Steve and gets scolded for his trouble, but Steve smiles when he thinks Bucky can’t see him, and Bucky keeps that smile to himself, and plays it over and over again while lying on a steel table in Italy, years and years later from that day.

----

The mud in Italy is the exact same color as the mud had been in France, and England, and fucking Prospect Park after a good downpour. He could write a book about mud by now, and about freezing your toes off and being perpetually hungry and hiding bruises and lacerations from your idiotic best friend who just jumped into a war zone to save your sorry ass.

Bucky keeps walking, breathing just a little bit easier with every step away from Zola’s lab. It’s an automatic motion by now, right leg forward, left leg forward, look sideways at Steve to make sure he’s not making him up, marvel at the hulking man holding a shield that took the place of his sickly shithead of a friend, look back down into the mud. Rinse, repeat. It’s been one hell of a walk.

Two days into the march back into allied camp, dirty and exhausted and after weeks of nightmarish imprisonment, everyone seems surprised that the world kept spinning and rain kept falling while they were in that hellhole. And now that they’re miraculously out and being led by a nobody in a flag, they all seem to be waiting for the other shoe to drop, beyond the superficial humor and cheers.

Steve keeps fussing at him, has been since they ran out of the burning base and took a look at each other, assessing, and then grasped each other and hugged like they hadn’t even on Bucky’s last night in New York. “Jesus, Buck,” Steve had said against his hair. “I knew you were taking all the stupid with you, but this takes the cake.” Bucky had laughed, slightly manic, and done nothing but cling. He now asks how Bucky is every few minutes, walks far too close with their arms brushing as they move. It’s maddening, and so are the worried looks he keeps sending Bucky’s way, like he knows there’s more than Bucky’s letting on. Call him a hypocrite, but he can’t take this level of kindness right now, when he’s bursting at the seams with anger and bitterness.

Steve is suddenly as big and strong and capable as he always wished he could be, with people taking his orders like it’s the natural order of things, like he had been born to lead. All his life, Bucky’s been taking care of Steve. Now, it seems like he’s out of a job, because what is the point of him, if Steve can look after himself and Bucky’s head is too much of a tangle of webs and misery to be of use.

Twenty years doing his best keeping him safe, and the minute he turns his back on him for fucking five minutes, the little idiot manages to sign himself over for dangerous experimental procedures and gets himself to a war. Bucky’s not even sure why he’s surprised at all.

He wants to grab Steve by the shoulders and shake him and then drag him close and bury his face in Steve’s neck and stay there, possibly forever. He wants to be back home in Brooklyn in their shitty apartment with the suspect smells and not to have lost friends and not to have stones in his boots, but it’s not like life ever cared to ask what the hell Bucky Barnes wanted, and it ain’t gonna start now.

Steve finally calls for a rest, and Bucky moves on automatic, going to the far edges of the column to spread the message. “You heard the Cap, people! Four hours rest, half hour watches, anyone with a canteen pass it along to the scouts at the front of the column, you know the drill.”

Steve is at the edge of Bucky’s ragtag group of cell mates when he walks back, frowning at the way Bucky hasn’t stopped gripping the rifle he liberated off some dead German, knuckles going white. Whatever little sleep he’s had, he’s had it holding that rifle. Steve pulls his eyes back to Bucky’s, and then signals towards the far off trees with his chin, as familiar a gesture as anything. He starts walking without looking back to see if Bucky’s following, knowing he doesn’t need to.

They end up in a small clearing, dark and mossy, green as far as the eye can go.

“You can probably put that down, Buck,” Steve says, eyeing the rifle.

“What kind of soldier are you that wants his subordinates unarmed?” he says, but he lets go of the rifle anyway and props it up against a tree, not a little hesitant.

“The worried kind.” Steve looks so earnest. Bucky has pictured this same expression so many times in the past months, chewed at his lips while reading Steve’s letters that, in hindsight, seem awfully vague and misdirecting.

Bucky leans back against a tree, breathing hard and trying not to show it. He’s shaking, but he can’t tell exactly if it’s from hunger, shock or pure adrenaline. He could swear he used to have a large cut on his lower back, surgical straight, but he can’t feel it anymore. Maybe he dreamed it, the way he dreamed Steve a thousand times before the real thing dragged him off that table.

“Okay. Now, what is this joining the army bullshit?”

“First I get to ask if you’re alright.”

“No, you don’t. What the fuck, Steve, you were a foot shorter the last time I saw you.”

Steve is not supposed to be here. He’s supposed to be in Brooklyn, furious and worried but safe. That was what had kept him going, through basic and deployment and that lab.

“I had to be useful.”

“By signing yourself up as a lab rat?” Even to Bucky, his voice sounds too high, frantic.

“If I had to! You don’t understand, Buck, I had to do the right thing. And this gave me the chance to do my part.” Steve’s voice is level, but even as he says it he is looking off to the right, jaw clenched and hands fisted. It sounds rehearsed, like he’s thought of this little speech countless times before.

“You didn’t have to do anything, you bull-headed idiot, it’s not a contest of who can get themselves killed heroically the fastest.”

“Well it doesn’t matter, Buck, because I was just in time, alright?” Steve comes closer, looking awkward bending his head down instead of up to yell into Bucky’s face. “And I’d do it all over again, if it means I don’t have to get a telegram with your name on it.”

They stand like that for a long moment, assessing each other.

Steve looks half a stranger now. Huge and imposing, the take no prisoners stance he adapted out of necessity, as a little righteous asshole that liked to pick fights, looks intimidating on a man twice as big. There was once a time when Bucky could lie over Steve, joking about only being needed as a blanket, and cover him entirely underneath him. It all seems so far away now that he’s still covered in mud and blood, and Captain Fucking America, the stupid publicity stunt his entire unit used to laugh at, is standing right in front of him.

And yet, there are little bits that are purely Steve, beyond the body he might wear now. The hands that were always too big for the rest of his body. His eyes are the same blue, worried now, and the eyelashes might not be as striking now that he’s not all eyes, but they’re there, all right. The mulish angle of his jaw that says he’s not backing down, even if it costs him a black eye and bruised ribs that Bucky has to tend to afterwards. All Steve.

He is coated in a layer of grime, the stupid spangled shirt under his jacket covered in soot, the same as his hands. It’s almost painfully familiar, so alike to charcoal all over Steve’s hands as he used to draw in their shitty apartment. The groove between his eyebrows is familiar too, as he says, “I thought you were dead,” once again, his voice low.

And it’s just. It’s too much. Weeks of pain, and months of missing Steve and his mouth and the stupid shit that comes out of it; years of molding himself to his back at night and pretending there’s nothing else to it apart from sharing warmth; a decade of his stomach twisting with the foolish desire to make Steve laugh.

He pulls Steve closer with an arm around his waist, a harsh tug that only works because Steve is not expecting it. Steve only manages a low sound of surprise before Bucky is sealing his mouth over his, artless and hungry, desperate in a way he can’t quite hide right now. Not with Steve safe and alive under his hands, after all this time.

It just lasts a moment, Steve’s mouth hot and soft. Then Steve is moving away, eyes big and wide as he asks, hesitantly, “Buck?”

“Shut up,” he groans, drags him back and kisses him again before Steve can say anything else, because if this is the only chance he gets to do this, the only kiss before Steve pulls away and goes red and let him down easy, by god, he’s going to take it for all he’s got.

There are countless reasons not to do this, and right now, hurting and scared and so, so glad to see Steve, he can ignore every single one. Especially because Steve is letting out a tiny gasp, like the ground has fallen from under his feet, and he’s moving closer instead of pulling back and Bucky could sob with relief when his mouth opens, when Steve’s dirty hands cup his face and he kisses back.

He paws at Bucky’s face, moves closer until he’s pressing Bucky against the tree, a firm line of heat covering him shoulder to toes, the bark rough against his bruised back. Bucky’s trembling hands work at dragging him closer anyway, whatever little space between them disappearing as their legs intertwine. Steve kisses like he wants to prove something, determined and focused, not holding back as he bites at Bucky’s lip and holds a thumb to the edge of his mouth, the better to hold it open for his tongue. It’s not like Bucky expected sweetness, not from Steve, but it’s still a heady shock.

Steve drags his mouth away to take a deep breath, and Bucky takes the chance to bite his jaw, mouth his way to Steve’s ear. “I thought you didn’t – you never – God, Bucky,” and if that isn’t the best damn thing Bucky’s ever heard, Steve saying his name like he’s been wrecked, like it’s getting torn out of him.

“Go on, keep talking sweet to me,” Bucky says, voice low.

Steve lets out a surprised bark of a laugh, while Bucky grins, giddy. All the anxiousness he ever felt in the very few times he allowed himself to wonder what if disappears. They are still them, doing this as they do everything together - head first and not looking back.

Steve knocks their heads together gently, nose digging into Bucky’s temple. It feels familiar, and brand new. "You’re such an asshole, why do I even bother with you?”

“Bothered enough to chase me behind enemy lines, pal," he says, maybe too honest. Steve’s face softens, and he presses a small kiss to Bucky’s upper lip.

“Yeah. Yeah, I am.” Steve kisses him again, a hand moving to Bucky’s hair and getting tangled there, the better to tilt Bucky’s head to his liking, and Bucky sighs with the new angle, feeling it down to his toes.

“Jesus, Stevie.”

“I missed you, you asshole.” They’re both breathing too hard, Bucky’s hands clenched hard at the back of Steve’s leather jacket. He has wanted this for over a decade, wanted Steve and his smiles and his stubbornness for so long that this is feels almost unreal, deep in a forest with Steve under his hands, his familiar scent all he can smell. He’s thirteen again, skin too tight and weak knees when Steve brushes his tongue against his mouth.

Steve’s leg moves closer in between Bucky’s, and he gasps when it brushes lightly against his cock. Steve pulls back a little, just enough to look at him through heavy lidded eyes, just a ring of blue around the blown-out pupils. He moves his leg again, on purpose this time, and Bucky groans, shifts so their hips can slot together.

“Oh God,” Steve lets out, eyes closing. He presses his forehead against Bucky’s, his hands going to his hips to urge Bucky on.

“Yeah,” Bucky whispers, feeling drunk and dazed, his blood rushing in his ears.

“Hey, Cap, your watch is up!” comes Gabe Jones’ voice from beyond the clearing, and they tear away from each other with big gulps of air, hearts still racing in surprise. Bucky turns his back to Steve and the narrow path they’d taken, a hand rubbing at his face. It’s too far away, the trees leading to the clearing are too thick. Jones can’t have seen anything.

Steve swallows hard, before yelling “Be there in a second!” voice sounding as shaken as Bucky feels.

“Buck,” Steve says, urging him to turn back around to face him. Bucky does, after adjusting himself, and gives Steve a tight smile.

“What timing, huh?”

Steve looks dazed, blinking rapidly, and he’s looking for something in Bucky’s face. If he finds it, Bucky doesn’t know. “Yeah. I– About, uh, earlier.”

Bucky starts combing through his hair with his fingers trying to get it back into place, though it’s probably a lost cause. He’s not sure if he should give Steve an out, a flippant line to forget all about the last few minutes and continue like nothing had happened, of if he should cling for dear life and never let go. He licks his lips, suddenly nervous, and when Steve’s eyes fall to them and he licks his own, he already knows, with a sudden whoop of joy, what will happen, no question about it. No going back.

He can see the same revelation going through Steve’s face. He stands tall, and straightens his shoulders before nodding gravely. “We’ll continue from where we left off,” he says, so serious that Bucky can feel a smile growing on his face, until it becomes a giggle, and then Steve is smiling back, giddy and light.

“Yeah. Yeah, ok, let’s,” he says, before Steve moves in and catches him by the waist, drawing him close for a hard, fast kiss on the mouth before he walks away.

“I’ll hold you to it, Barnes!” He shouts as he goes, leaving Bucky standing there in the little clearing, with only a rifle and the taste of Steve in his mouth for company.

----

Its another day to camp, and then two of debriefing, tests and wary looks, all of which he'd rather just forget it ever happened. Steve does not get either the court martial or the dressing down he was expecting, to everyone's complete lack of surprise. Bucky gets the interrogation he’s been dreading for days, until Steve goes completely against protocol and chain of command and gets him out of there, claiming some new nonexistent tests the medics have to perform.

Then there is Peggy Carter, so damn smart and sharp that Bucky always feels transparent when she looks at him. She’s got his number, all right. No matter how much he may respect her, Steve’s face goes all soft when looking at her, and it makes Bucky stupid and jealous, making up excuses to join them whenever she and Steve have a minute alone. It’s petty and horrible, and he’s not proud of it, but social niceties just don’t seem all that important, after everything.

It’s torture, when they don’t get a single moment by themselves over the next few days, watching Steve go in and out of meetings in the dress greens someone scrounged up for him, and getting lightly teased by a flock of chorus girls that all seem to treat Steve as their long-lost baby brother. They had stayed in camp waiting for their missing main act, only to find out to both their distress and pride that he’s hanging up the tights.

He looks good, Bucky has to admit. He’s not wheezing for breath and he’s constantly smiling, head big with being of use and listened to. And the worst, and best part; he keeps staring at Bucky, eyes dark across camp, constantly biting his lips with his hands in his pockets like he risks putting them on Bucky if he so much as gets them out. It’s intoxicating, after so long, having Steve purposefully brush their fingers together when he passes him cups of watery chicory coffee, finding excuses to brush their shoulders together, and knowing, with no doubt, that Steve wants him as well.

By the time four days have passed since that clearing, Bucky feels ready to burst. Steve must be too, because he drags Bucky into his fancy individual officer tent the minute Falsworth and two other men from the 107th wander off for a piss during a game of poker.

They’re already kissing by the time they go through the flap, so foolish and so, so good, Steve’s big hand on the back of Bucky’s neck, near proprietary, the other one helping Bucky to get his shirt untucked.

“Fuck, Steve,” Bucky says as Steve bites at his neck. He does it lightly, because even now they have some sense, if not enough to keep their hands off each other when there’s only a thin nothing of fabric between them and a dishonorable discharge.

“You still taste the same. I always wondered,” Steve says dreamily, unbuttoning Bucky’s peacoat. The air is cold, and his nipples pebble as soon as Steve takes both coat and shirt off of him. He then rubs his hands over Bucky’s chest, frowning when he first gets a look at the bruises. He’s seen them before, that and the lacerations on his back and arms, but not up close. It makes Bucky want to cover himself up and run away, and it must show, because Steve finally slides his hands back to his neck to drag him in for another kiss.

“How long?” Steve whispers against his lips, the N shaping into a kiss, his breath warm.

Bucky doesn’t even try to pretend he doesn’t know what he’s asking. “Ages. Years,” he says, because always sounds a bit much even in his own head. Steve groans, pulls him closer.

Bucky starts pushing him towards the tiny cot, then shoves him down hard onto it. The aging springs screech when Steve bounces on it, and they both freeze, Bucky half kneeling over him, a leg still on the ground. They wait in alert silence for a few moments, and when nothing happens, Bucky moves fully into Steve’s lap, knees bracketing his hips. He’s taller than Steve again like this, a familiar angle even in an unfamiliar setting, and he hums lightly as he drags his lips over Steve’s before opening them with his tongue.

He pulls Steve’s shirt up, bit by bit, dragging his hands up over his arms as it finally comes off, and then he pushes Steve down on the bed with a hard shove that makes Steve’s eyes go dark with lust.

He goes to put his hands on Steve’s chest – and then he stops, palms cushioned by hard muscle when he was expecting thin skin and sinew and the beloved raised notches of bone he’s memorised over the years.

Steve chews on his lip. “Is this – is it too strange?”

It is, but it isn’t at the same time. “Still you, Stevie,” he says with a kiss. “Don’t know anyone else stupid enough to storm an enemy base on their own.”

“You know yourself, idiot,” Steve says, breathless, but finally smiling again. It’s the same smile Bucky has done stupid, reckless things to see; the same crooked nose and big ears and hair that is perpetually falling into his eyes. The same long, dark eyelashes he sometimes wishes he could draw. Who cares if this Steve could be one of the sculptures he was always copying from library books, when he still says Bucky’s name in the exact same way.

When he kisses him again, Steve bites his lower lip, hard, and then soothes the ache with his tongue while Bucky moans. He drops his head back onto the cot, staring up at Bucky.

“The last time we did this, you had a cut – right here.” He presses a fingertip to Bucky’s lower lip, the one he just bit, then dips it slightly inside Bucky’s mouth, perfect and right in place for Bucky to nibble on. “It opened when I pressed my tongue to it.”

“You remember?” he says, sounding dazed, kissing the very tip of Steve’s finger.

“Of course I do. Thought of it often enough.” The words slide out easy like anything, and then he frowns a bit, like he didn’t intend to say that much.

And that, oh, that just makes Bucky dizzy. “God, you – c’mere.”

It’s fast and urgent, too turned on to care about finesse as Steve pulls Bucky’s hips down to meet his own, both gasping as their cocks rub together through pants and underwear. Steve is hard and warm against him, every teenage fantasy he ever had. Bucky scrunches up his eyes, and grinds harder into Steve. His hands are clenched on the threadbare sheet on both sides of Steve’s head, down to his elbows with his head hanging, sharing breaths because they can’t quite kiss anymore, not when they’re panting so hard.

“Jesus. Steve, oh God, you complete bastard, you’ve been holding out on me,” he says in between gulps of air, and then Steve smirks and rolls them, still playing dirty in bed as in one of his endless fights. Steve is heavy and hot, slippery with sweat, and to Bucky’s surprise, he likes it, being covered by Steve’s new bulk, pinned down so completely.

Steve kisses him, messy and dirty, and when he goes to unbutton Bucky’s pants, he swallows Bucky’s moan at the first brush of Steve’s hand against his cock.

“Fuck,” he says, as he bites on Steve’s shoulder to keep quiet.

He opens Steve’s fly as well, with a little help from Steve when he finds his hands are shaking, like they’ve never done in fights and through nursing Steve and firing a sniper rifle. It’s just– intense, and not a little overwhelming, feeling Steve’s leaking cock in his hand. He keeps brushing Steve’s hand moving on his own, as he mouths at Steve’s neck and Steve mutters his name, over and over again.

“I missed you. Oh God, Bucky–I missed you so much, I kept thinking I should’ve kissed you that night before you left, because what if – and it was running through my mind in that base, that I never told you–”

Bucky barely manages a quiet “Oh, fuck,” and he tightens his hold on Steve, moves faster and frenetic while Steve tenses above him, his mouth opening in a silent scream as he comes all over Bucky’s fist, flushed and gorgeous, the best damn thing Bucky has ever seen.

Steve loses a bit of rhythm, and starts nosing lazily at Bucky’s jaw, but Bucky aches, so he puts his own sticky hand over Steve’s and starts moving it again, and his toes curl with how shattering it is, Steve’s come slicking the way, Steve’s weight pressing him down into the mattress, Steve’s voice in his ear as he goads him on, telling him how good he looks, how long he waited to see this. When he finally comes, it’s with Steve’s mouth pressed tightly against his to keep him from shouting.

They lie there for a long while in silence, messy and sweaty, a total wreck, stroking fingers down each other’s backs.

“I don’t know what I would’ve done if I hadn’t found you,” Steve says, low, after a while. Bucky makes a face, and starts maneuvering so they fit somewhat comfortably on the tiny cot. He was once asked by the guys what he missed more from home, his turn after a long talk of sweethearts and mothers’ stews, and he caught himself just in time before saying ‘sharing a bed’ while thinking of Steve. Instead, he said, “The Dodgers, of course.”

“Survive, you idiot,” he says now, wrapping himself around Steve even though it’s awkward now, when he’s so much bigger than Bucky is. “What else.”

He falls asleep with his nose pressed to Steve’s nape, like he’s done most nights for the past six years, not counting the months apart. Best night’s sleep he’s had in ages.

He wakes up early the next morning, by sheer dumb luck. He has to go soon, but Steve turned to press his face into Bucky’s neck sometime during the night, and he gets sidetracked by the sight of Steve’s puffy red lips, his soft cock nestled into Bucky’s hip. He wants this, every day. Steve sleepy warm in their bed, getting closer unconsciously, and being able to kiss him awake and have each other before breakfast, and then kissing goodbye at the door. It’s all he’s ever wanted, if he’s honest with himself.

But it’s almost dawn, and the camp is about to wake up. He disentangles himself and gets dressed, before grabbing one of Steve’s hands and biting down, edging into hard.

“Ow, you dick. What the fuck.” Steve always wakes up in parts, mouth first and then everything else, and he says it with his eyes still closed, face digging further into the thin, musty smelling pillow that is probably a relic from the last war.

“Up you go, Stevie, time to be Captain America again.” Steve sighs deeply, and Bucky presses a fast kiss to the hand he’s still holding, rises and looks around before going out the tent. He doesn’t look back, because he’s sure then he would never want to leave.

----

“You absolute idiot,” Bucky says before ripping an old curtain with his teeth to serve as extra bandages now that they’ve already used all they had on Steve’s belly.

“You’ve said that already, Buck.” Steve is sweating with effort, looking feverish, and he’s been coughing blood, but for someone that just got shot in the gut, he looks remarkably alert. He’s still bleeding though, the old floral couch he’s lying on getting darker by the minute. Bucky has seen Steve near death enough damn times over their lives, and this is not it. It’s not. He repeats it in his mind, like a prayer, but Bucky was never one for prayer anyway.

“I've been saying that since I met you,” Bucky says resignedly with raised eyebrows, wrapping the fruit-stamped fabric around Steve’s middle. “Now stop moving and let me do this.”

They’re in an abandoned house in France, in the actual sunshine for a change, surrounded by months old dust on every surface. More than a decade of habit makes Bucky worry about asthma attacks every few minutes, until he remembers that that is well and truly over with. No more asthma or heart condition or constant pneumonia to worry about – bring on the gunshot wounds.

“I found a tablecloth!” says Morita, coming back from raiding the rest of the house for suitable bandage-like material. Falsworth is standing sentry outside, and Gabe and Dum Dum are going through the neighboring houses, looking for both supplies and more desperate soldiers waiting behind doorways, like the one that had caused this mess.

Bucky gestures to pass it on, and then starts tearing at the tablecloth as well. “You do the cut on his arm, last thing we need is for him to die of infection from a fucking scratch,” he says to Morita, and tosses him the antiseptic cream they managed to find buried deep in Falsworth’s duffel bag. Steve’s nose scrunches up when Morita starts spreading the cream, even though it can’t hurt remotely as much as the through-and-through bullet wound low in his abdomen. He had only even got cut because he was disoriented from being shot, suddenly clumsy at hand to hand. There hadn’t been a second shot, because Bucky had finally been able to get the man in his crosshairs.

Worst part is, it hadn’t even been a HYDRA agent. Just your average Nazi scum, hopefully on his own, and probably trying to flee France now that Paris has been liberated.

“Suck it up, Rogers, that’s what happens to assholes that try to play the hero.”

“Fuck off, Barnes, he was about to shoot Dum Dum.”

“Yeah and he shot you instead, didn’t he, bit of a flaw with your plan there.”

Steve tries for a shrug, but his eyes get clenched shut with pain and he leaves it. “Better me than him.” That’s pure Steve, the life-long philosophy that has gotten him kicked, punched, bitten on one memorable occasion, slapped, and now, shot. This is the kind of bullshit Bucky has to deal with, and also what has him so stupid over Steve.

When Morita leaves the room to see what else he can find, Bucky double checks to make sure he’s gone before bending down and pressing his mouth to Steve’s, hard. When he pulls back, Steve drags fingers across Bucky’s lips, a lot more weakly than Bucky would like, and they come off red with Steve’s own blood. It feels a bit like they’ve come full circle, bleeding into each other’s mouths, but damn it if Bucky will let it end here.

“C’mon you big baby, lift up a bit so I can wrap this better.” Steve rests his sweaty forehead on Bucky’s shoulder as he wraps the wound with the torn pieces of tablecloth, breathing hard with the effort. Somehow, this is not the worst wound he’s got since he hijacked the war effort – that had been a shot to the neck that had Bucky bloody to his elbows and scared out of his mind – and not even the worst he’s ever looked, a privilege belonging to rheumatic fever at seventeen. He tells Steve this, hushed as he ties a knot on the makeshift bandage.

“And they said I wouldn’t see thirty,” he says with a small laugh.

“You’re twenty-six, you shithead, don’t tempt fate.”

Morita stares at him when he comes back, which probably means he still has blood around his mouth, but he’s beyond caring right now.

“You’re damn lucky you’re so hard to kill, Cap,” he says, showing them what he’s found. Nothing interesting, until he reaches a few obviously homemade rifle slugs. Bucky mostly uses rifles, but Dum Dum likes shotguns, and anyway you never look down your nose at ammo.

“You know me, too stubborn to die,” Steve wheezes.

“You better be, you complete dickhead. You ain’t allowed.”

“You heard Mama Barnes there, Rogers, you’re not allowed.” Bucky shoves at Morita good-naturedly on the arm, as he has every time one of the Commandos has called him that for the last few years.

“Oh well. In that case.”

“Wait, you gotta see this, Cap, I saved the best for last.” He procures a can of tinned peaches from his duffle, complete with big magician gestures, and both Steve and Bucky let out twin sounds of excitement.

“The day has been saved,” Bucky says as he takes the can from him and tries making out what the writing say. It’s not even in French, but the multiple accents and crossed out Ls make him think it might be Polish.

“You see that, Steve, you can’t say we don’t do right by your princely ass.”

“Thanks, Buck. You’ve no idea how much I appreciate old stolen peaches and flowery bandages.”

“Damn right,” Bucky says with a smirk as he flicks him on the nose, probably the place hurting the least in all of Steve.

They can’t very well move with Steve on the mend, so they camp in the little living room, once the boys come back and report the area safe. They make a small fire in the old wood stove that’s been languishing in the kitchen, and pass the tin of peaches in a circle after they’re done with their rations, warm for once. If Bucky insists on Steve eating a larger portion than the rest of them, no one mentions it.

Bucky gets up in the middle of the night to check Steve’s wound, under candlelight that makes him look feverish and tired, highlighting the bags under his eyes.

“How are you feeling?”

“Better.” Bucky wouldn’t usually believe a single word, but even he can see that it’s improving at an incredible rate. When any other man would probably be dead already, Steve has stopped bleeding, and he can already see bright new pink tissue where a few hours earlier had only been torn flesh. He bandages the wound again, and then rests his forehead against Steve’s hip.

“Will you ever quit doing dumb things, Stevie?”

“I dunno, I plan on doing you lots,” Steve says, startling Bucky into laughing, and then he covers his mouth with his hand and looks around to check everyone’s still sleeping.

“Smart-ass.” Steve starts carding his fingers through Bucky’s hair, a comfort to them both.

“Hey,” he says after a while, so low Bucky almost misses it. “It goes for you too, you know. Not allowed to die.”

Bucky grabs his hand, nibbles lightly on his fingertips, slightly at a loss. He finally puts Steve’s fingers down, and then covers him with an extra blanket. “Go to sleep, Steve.”

Three days later the wound is completely closed and Steve is on his feet again, foul-tempered and annoyed at getting forced to rest a few more days. Five days after getting shot they get to the rendezvous location, and then to London, back to base and furlough and an actual bed in a rough part of town, small and creaky, where Bucky kisses the raised skin of Steve’s new scar, already fading into nothingness.

----

Not even two months later and Bucky falls off a train, the wind and his own heartbeat in his ears. He doesn’t really remember hitting the ground.

----

Seventy years later, Bucky sits on Clint Barton’s filthy living room floor, holding a slice of pizza on a paper napkin. Natasha is trying to match Steve drink by drink, a recipe for disaster, and Sam and Clint are already drunk, egging them on. Bucky is sitting slightly apart, on the spot with the best visibility of exits and windows, perpetually alert, but he hasn’t felt like killing any of the people in this room for almost a year, which he counts as a personal victory.

It’s been a hard year. Its been a hard seventy years, in fact, and Bucky won’t ever be the soft, careless man that once dragged Steve to go dancing, or even the one that would patch Steve up during wartime with steady hands, but he is his own again, and free to become whoever he chooses, whatever that might be.

He’s startled out of his thoughts by laughter, loud and long until there are tears on Sam’s face. "Well how could I have known?" Clint says with a grimace. Bucky has, once again, missed most of the conversation.

"You’re such a mess, man," Sam says, now sprawled on Natasha’s lap after falling over while laughing. “Well, my first kiss was reassuredly normal and adorable after a date at McDonalds, in retrospect not the best first date locale, and I managed not to set any circuses on fire, Barton. Why are we doing this, anyway?”

Natasha says, “Because I like secrets, now–”

“That isn’t even a secret, what are you talking about,” Sam interrupts.

“Embarrassing moments, then. Now,” she says, turning at Steve and pointing with her shot glass. "What about you Rogers," she says, eyebrows up and mischief in her eyes. "Who was your first kiss? Little Suzie from Sunday school? The priest’s straight-laced niece, maybe?"

Steve laughs, and is just about to speak when Bucky says, after an evening of silence, "That’d be me."

The room goes silent, everyone’s eyes on him, but Bucky only sees Steve, mouth open and eyes wide, hopeful like they always are when Bucky speaks of the good old days. Bucky hates that look. It’s– it’s too much. It makes him feel like he’s just constantly disappointing both Steve and the man he once was.

“Seriously?” Sam says. “That’s disgustingly cute, you should be ashamed of yourselves.”

There’s another moment of silence, and then Bucky says, “Your pizza is dripping on you,” before Steve can say something horrifyingly heartfelt. Steve starts fussing with his grease-spotted shirt as Bucky stands up. “Going for a smoke.”

Pretty much the only reason he’s started smoking again is that it’s socially acceptable to remove yourself from company while doing it, and he does feel more settled out on the tiny balcony, watching the smoke drift up. Clint’s rundown Stuyvesant brownstone looks into Midtown, a skyline far more familiar than Lower Manhattan is, comfortable to look at.

He doesn’t like it as much as he used to, when he would sneak out into their fire escape, desperate for a drag, but unwilling to smoke around Steve. The first few years after the war, newly broken, the Winter Soldier couldn’t figure out why he craved to rip cigarettes from his handler’s hands and keep them for himself. Eventually, the habit left him, like everything else.

He hadn’t intended to share that. That first awkward kiss with Steve was a source of strange comfort during the war, and even in those first few moments after cryo sleep, where it was always at the front of his mind, hazy and blurred and with no real recollection of who the figures who moved together in a stifling hot kitchen were. When asked what he remembered, the Asset always said, Nothing, and it wasn’t a lie.

He’s not exactly surprised when Steve comes out to join him, settling down with his elbows on the railing next to Bucky.

"Hey."

Instead of answering, he offers the cigarette. Steve takes a drag and then stares at it.

"Huh. Asthma cigarettes tasted better."

Bucky moves closer unsubtly, the way he’s been doing for months now, until they're touching shoulder to knee, arms pressed together. He remembers he used to do the same before the war, in a much more conspicuous way - an arm around him when Steve got rejected by a girl, hair ruffling when he got home, and the constant excuse of cold to sleep pressed tight together, which he should’ve probably seen for what it was a lot earlier. His life’s constant has been wanting to be near Steve.

“Out with it, Rogers.”

"I didn't know you remembered that," Steve says, looking stubbornly away.

“There are plenty of things I remember I don’t tell you about, Steve.”

Steve looks away. "Yeah, but that’s–good. That’s a good memory to have.”

“I wasn't sure it was real for the longest time.”

They’re not looking at each other, but Bucky can guess exactly what Steve’s face is doing, has become familiar with that brand of furious heartbreak he wears whenever the last seventy years are mentioned, like all he wants is to go and break the bones of every last person that ever hurt Bucky. It’s tiring, if somewhat flattering.

“It was real.”

“I know that now, Steve.”

“No, I mean, it was all real. We, us, we were real, and it was, it was the best damn thing that happened to me, Bucky.”

Bucky finally turns to him, and Steve glances at him as well before looking away again, cheeks and ears going red, blush crawling down his shirt. Bucky had spent a good amount of their downtime during the war chasing after that same blush, knows from experience it goes all the way down. He may not remember everything, but Steve, and the thousands of moments shared, that came back first. He takes a last drag of his cigarette before putting it out on an ugly pot that’s holding a weird dog-shaped ceramic thing instead of plants. It’s Clint’s place, it could very well be either a priceless ancient artifact or something he found in the trash.

“So I’m just saying,” Steve continues, standing straight. “My feelings are the same. I can understand if you don’t want to start again from where we left off right now though, or if ever, and it’s up to you, and I won’t pressure you. I’m your friend above all.”

Bucky groans, and puts his head on his hands. “Fuck’s sake, Steve, do you ever stop giving impromptu rousing speeches?”

Steve lets out a laugh, posture relaxing slightly.

“I know. It’s a failing, I can’t stop it.”

“Yeah, I know, I’ve been listening to your pompous statements since I was a dumb kid.”

“You’re still a dumb kid.”

“And don’t I know it.” Bucky licks his lips, and takes a deep breath before turning round, back against the railing and head bent close to Steve’s. It’s been a year. He hunted Steve while Steve hunted him, was mystified by him even when he didn’t remember him beyond dreamy impressions. Maybe this isn’t such a big step. He tilts his chin up in challenge. “So. I think I might be out of practice.”

Steve stares for a moment until he gets it, and then his smile grows and grows, eyes alight, and Bucky’ stomach is in knots with expectation and fear.

“I can help with that,” Steve says, moving closer until their breaths mingle, and Bucky can feel his heart racing. His eyes fall shut, his mind full with Steve’s scent from so close, and then Steve is pressing their lips together, yielding and so, so soft. He moans at the contact, after so long without, and Steve presses a bit harder, his mouth hot as a furnace when it opens against Bucky’s tongue.

Bucky leans back a bit, overwhelmed, and they look at each other, bodies angled to opposite directions, pressed together but not touching anywhere else. “Maybe you need to try harder, Stevie,” Bucky says, an echo of times long past, and Steve is still laughing when he kisses him again, both of them moving until they’re holding each other up, Steve’s big paw of a hand buried in Bucky’s long hair, tugging slightly to angle his face up.

They kiss for a long time, up in that cramped little balcony, surrounded by knick knacks and moldy half-empty purple coffee mugs, until the light in the kitchen inside goes out and the three drunks in the apartment go to sleep; until the night gets darker with the imminent dawn. Their lips go swollen, raw with use, and Bucky couldn’t give less of a damn, when somehow, after everything, they keep managing to find each other again and again, and Steve still tastes the same and his hands fit just so on Bucky’s hips, decades away from that kitchen in August.

It still feels like jumping off of trees, like going headfirst into cold water, frightening but exhilarating, and Bucky hopes it never stops.