Bucky had a lot of time to think how things were, as they marched back to camp, and got sorted out and bedded down for the night. Steve had disappeared in a flurry of livid commanding officers - and one uncommonly fine-looking dame - but not after throwing one last glance at Bucky. “I’ll see you later!” he mouthed, and was gone. Bucky took his word for it.
Bucky had been given a meal and a room, and he’d slept for hours, dreamless but not exactly untroubled. He had woken up with a solid gut-punch of a realization that everything had changed. Well, he had realized that when he had had a chance to see Steve — the new Steve — in action. But now that his mind had cleared, everything stood in sharp and painful relief.
Things were different with Steve. Steve was different. (Bucky was different too, but that was less noticeable, and for him, less important.) The thing was, Steve had always been different. It had always amazed Bucky that someone so small could stick out so much. But now, he was built like a stack of bricks, a real Superman, the kind he reads about in comic books.
Steve had a comic book about him, but Bucky hadn’t gotten a chance to read it yet.
(Steve looked vaguely embarrassed about it when he was asked about it.)
Of course, Steve had always been a hero. Bucky knew that, better than anyone.
But suddenly his friend had transformed from a David to a Hercules.
(Or was it a Goliath? A Samson? Bucky had missed a few crucial days at Sunday school. Well, actually, he had missed most of them.)
All of this took some time to get used to.
Steve’s always had what they call inner strength, which is another way of saying that he never knew when to back down, not one single step. It was something that had carried him through hundreds of fights, ones that even Bucky himself wouldn’t have picked, much less fought in, except that it was a peculiar sort of shame that goes with standing aside with this frail little kid going all in — well, then. Why couldn’t he? So, Bucky, heart in his throat, stepped into the fray. He had done it every time, in every fight. For Steve.
And really, wasn’t that why he was in this mess in the first place? He’d even said it aloud, after signing up. Chest puffed up, he had said, “I’ll fight for the both of us.” He had been only half-joking.
Steve had looked at him, eyes bright with a mix of admiration and exasperation, and said dryly, "My hero."
(And it had felt nice to be a hero.)
Well, a couple months into it, the war had lost all of its appeal, and he’d lost that heroic delusion bullshit. He could only concentrate on staying alive, and coming home again. Steve’s letters were one of the brighter spots of the soldiering life — they had never been separated before, and the letters had given Bucky a glimpse at Steve’s life without him. It had been almost like Steve was there himself, full of unexpectedly sly wit and sharply-observed drawings of people around the neighborhood, and all the pretty girls that Steve thought Bucky would appreciate.
(He never drew them without their clothes on, no matter how many times Bucky might have suggested it.)
But later, Steve’s letters began to taper off, and became more and more censored until Bucky was convinced that something fishy had happened to him. Those letters gave nothing away, about how Steve felt, of what Steve thought. (Or how much Steve missed Bucky.)
The only thing Bucky ever got out of those letters was the feeling that Steve had this big secret that he couldn’t tell anyone.
(Not even his best friend.)
With a start, Bucky wondered if he was still Steve’s best friend. The other guys were awfully friendly to Steve, and he had heard that Captain America was pretty tight with that Howard Stark guy, whom Bucky had only seen once, during the exhibition during his last night in New York. Stark was, after all, everything Bucky wasn’t — a genius, more money than God...
(But. Bucky was better-looking. He was pretty sure about that.)
It wasn’t that he was jealous. Bucky frowned, and crumbled the cigarette butt in his hand. That feeling that had been gnawing in his stomach wasn’t — exactly — jealousy.
Bucky wasn’t the best guy possible — unlike Steve, he didn’t even know if he was actually a good man...
(Steve was a good man, Bucky believed this with his whole heart.)
But the one thing Bucky had always had going for him — the best thing about Bucky — was that he’d always been honest with Steve.
He wasn’t jealous.
+ + +
Bucky sat on his cot, thinking furiously about how not-jealous he was. His feet shuffled on their own account, and his body ached more and more for something he couldn’t yet name. He felt like he could keel over at any moment. And just as he decided that that wasn’t such a bad idea, he heard a muffled bump outside the door, and then a quiet apology.
Bucky stilled and waited for Steve to come in.
He waited a long moment. Was Steve going to come in?
Did Bucky want him to?
Bucky took another cigarette out of its pack and considered it. The war had taught him how to really smoke, to enjoy it in the rare moments he could do it without attracting too much attention, and when there were smokes to be had.
Back home, he couldn’t afford it — and a person could only bum a smoke off the fellows only so many times before developing a reputation as a mooch, after all. Besides, smoke used to make Steve cough like crazy, huge hacking coughs that would leave both of them rattled and shaken. And the thing was... Steve could cough until he was blue in the face, but he would never complain. The least Bucky could do was not smoke around him — or bring the smell of it back home.
Now, he smoked almost without thinking, through boredom, fear, and something between the two.
Captain America, now, he didn’t need that kind of consideration. Bucky had seen him charge through great columns of smoke like it was nothing. Never a scratch on him, not him.
There was more nervous throat-clearing, more bumps, outside Bucky’s door.
Shit, Bucky realized, he’s nervous. He’s nervous about me!
And that was so stupid, so misguided — and so Steve that Bucky wanted to bang on the floor and shout. So he did.
“Stop hovering, Steve! I know you’re out there.”
The noises stopped. Steve walked in, straight-spined and alert.
Bucky had an unlit cigarette on the corner of his lips, and started to gnaw on the damn thing as soon as Steve came in. He was now too graceful to blunder in like he would have done, before. He gave Bucky a shy smile that was too tentative for that amount of trouble they’d been through.
It was false to the history between them.
Bucky felt a tightness in in his gut that hadn’t been there before.
“I’m not hovering,” said Steve.
Bucky narrowed his eyes. The tightness had reached the pit of Bucky’s stomach. He had the oddest impulse to kick up his heels and laugh, really, and break the tension. It must’ve shown on his face, because Steve was eying him nervously.
Steve yanked at the collar of his t-shirt, and his new muscles shifted smoothly underneath the cotton cloth.
Anyway, he was lying. Bucky knew him too well to be fooled.
He swallowed a laugh, a deep and buzzing joy within him, and said, “I know you, you’re hovering.”
And Bucky did laugh then, and Steve closed his eyes, as if in relief.
+ + +
"... Now get out of here. Reveille comes early." Steve hot footed out of there quickly enough, just as soon as Bucky showed him the door.
Bucky breathed a sigh of relief as soon as the door closed. He could finally have that cigarette. He lit one up and thought, well shit. To begin with, Steve kissed like a straight amateur, with absolutely no finesse, and with just so much eagerness and mad desire to please. He would have to be taught how to do it better, and … Well, wasn’t Bucky the best person for the job?
(He was, he really was.)
Truth be told, Bucky really hadn’t meant to kiss Steve. But that look on his face — stupefied! stunned! staggered! — had made it all so worth it.
But still, Bucky now felt a tinge of regret, if not exactly remorse for his actions. Alone now, he curled up in his rickety old cot, and took a vehement puff of his cigarette. He wished Steve was there, and curled up even tighter at the thought.
He remembered the curve of Steve’s lips.
And bit down on his own lips.
He remembered that look of pure joy of Steve’s face, just as he pulled away.
Bucky crushed the half-smoked cigarette into a tin cup, pilfered from the kitchens for that exact purpose. The last thing he needed was to be caught smoking in bed.
Instead, Bucky buried his face in his pillow.
(He knew would fuck things up with Steve, somehow, he knew it. But...)
With an unsatisfied hiss, Bucky loosed up, stretched out until his legs hit the edge of the cot. He shifted his position until he was lying on his back. His fingers snaked under his waistband. He took himself in hand and thought again of Steve.
He felt only a little guilty about it.
As his breathing became more and more uneven, he could at last admit to himself — the truth was that he was jealous. Incredibly, awfully jealous. He always had been, but he could only see it now. For the longest time, he had been the only person in Steve’s life, the only constant. At least, that’s what he had always felt about it. Steve didn’t really have many friends, and Bucky hadn’t... Well, he hadn’t always encouraged Steve to look elsewhere, when it came to other people.
(Disastrous double dates notwithstanding.)
They had been everything to each other.
Yes, Bucky had kissed him.
He had wanted to —
(Hadn’t he, now?)
He sucked in his breath, tasting smoke and, yes, Steve.
Morning couldn’t come soon enough.