The tent flap is unlaced; Steve crawls through. Inside the faint light of a tin lantern illuminates the small space. The bedroll is open, turned down, and Bucky is waiting for him.
They fall on each other. They don't say anything for a long time. They say everything they couldn't say when there were men between them.
Steve has never experienced anything like this. This isn't like their old fumblings. This isn't the surge of blood and lust that happens when a guy or a girl is a real head-turner. This isn't even the animalistic urge to screw and rut. This is something else.
They kiss until it hurts. Until it actually hurts, and then they keep kissing.
Steve's lower lip is bleeding from the too-close drag of Bucky's teeth but he doesn't care. Heals quick now. Bucky's arms and legs are locked tight around him and Bucky's hands are tugging at his hair. It's like they can't get close enough.
Steve can't stop kissing him. It's okay, it's more than okay, because he's being kissed back with a fervor that is equal, that anticipates and moves with him. They're both very good at leading and both very good at following and in concert they have always been an excellent team. Better together. They had discovered that when they were very young and it wasn't something to lose.
Bucky has been his friend since he was eight and his lover since he was eighteen and now he has proved himself more than able as Steve's partner, the back-up Captain America needed, that Steve knew he needed when he went to Europe and had shut his eyes praying every night to recover.
Now Bucky like a miracle is alive and breathing underneath him, trying to suck a bloodbruise where Steve's neck dips into shoulder. It doesn't show; Steve is damned near impenetrable now. Dauntless, Bucky redoubles his efforts.
All their lives together they've never been physically or socially equal, and now that the proportions are reversed they remain unbalanced. But in this, in the agreement they had made between them, they are the same. They agree absolutely on it.
“Took your goddamned time,” Bucky whispers, drawing away from Steve's neck. Tents are circled around them and they're trying to be quiet, they have to be quiet, but it's difficult. Steve wants to make a lot of noise. Wants to make Bucky make a lot of noise. Knows that if they could reset their stage there'd be screaming tonight. Both of them have a lot to scream about.
Steve pulls an apologetic face, and recites some of the ideas about the screaming, and exactly what he would do to exact that, and under him Bucky grins and starts tugging at his t-shirt. “I've forgiven you already,” Bucky says. He tugs again. “C'mon. Let's have a look at you.”
Pulling the shirt up and off Steve feels more self-conscious than when he was scrawny skin and bone. He'd lived in that body, been that, and Bucky had never laughed at him; Bucky had been careful and generally kind, ribbing him only a little, making it a roundabout compliment.
Look at you, slim as a dame with no tits or hips, Bucky had said the first time they were naked together, grasping each other's dicks with sweaty nervous palms.
And your cock, Bucky had said, the first time he'd tried to fit all of his mouth around it. It's pretty big, bigger than you'd think given the rest of you. The girls'll go crazy, they'll never expect it.
Steve, Bucky had said, God, Steve, the first time Steve moved in him.
Probably people wouldn't have imagined it -- not that they had ever told, could ever tell -- but Steve had been the one to do Bucky when they came to it. They poured over the sketches Steve had made from old books in the library: heroic men on ancient vases fucking each other without a woman in sight. Men locked together like it was as natural as breathing.
“I'll go first,” Bucky had said, magnanimously volunteering. “Looks like this kinda thing might snap you in half.”
Two chairs had been set against the door to Bucky's bedroom and a booby-trap besides. His guardians were out at the pictures but the safety precautions didn't hurt. They'd nearly been caught kissing in Prospect Park the week before and it'd left them shaken and made the whole thing a far more deliciously dangerous undertaking.
Bucky spread Steve's pictures out across the pillows, studying them, then moved to emulate. Naked on the bed on his hands and knees, he looked over his shoulder at Steve. “Like this, right?”
In the tent, Bucky puts his hands up and trails fingers over Steve's revealed flesh. He whistles, low. “Germans do good work,” he admits begrudgingly, fingernails scratching lines from Steve's collarbone down to his washboard stomach. Steve is carved like a statue in fresh marble and it's strange for them both.
For a while in the dark they grapple with Steve's new shape. Bucky seems to like it, at least, goes up on his elbows to press a biting kiss into Steve's flexed bicep. “What'd they do with the rest of you?” he says, the upward roll of his hips already seeking the answer. Steve is hard and huge against him. He's never been heavy like this before, pinning Bucky beneath him, looming over him. It's strange for them but they do all right.
Bucky undoes zippers and buttons and pushes at waistbands until they wriggle free of clothing, bared at last in the small space. His hand fits to Steve's ready cock and his wide eyes go even wider
“God in heaven,” says Bucky.
Steve blushes. His cock is enormous now, excessive, really. It had never been small like the rest of him, a singular point of pride, but under the influence of the super serum it had become something out of filthy pin-up pictures.
Bucky says, “Do you think we can get this in me?” and Steve tilts down and kisses him again. Kisses him hard against the thin bedroll, their bodies already slotting together. He doesn't know what to say. His heart is in his throat. He speaks with his tongue instead. This spectacular form is his now but it doesn't mean he knows what to do with it. He still isn't sure how everything works. Steve feels like a passenger sometimes, along for the ride.
Bucky's hand is stroking, his eyes their familiar blue, and his firm grip anchors Steve. His gaze rakes him over: even Steve's hair is different, minted to a solid gold with a wave that never would have stayed in the old days. The span of Steve's shoulders defies biology, tapering down to a trim waist and impossibly strong thighs. All of Steve is strong, cut with prime muscle, and he could hold himself above Bucky like this all night if he wanted to.
His dick is even harder under Bucky's ministrations and it suddenly seems improbable that they can, in fact, get it into Bucky.
“Looks like this kinda thing might snap you in half,” says Steve.
Bucky laughs softly. “Turnabout's fair play, eh? Don't I know it. Still wanna try.” His tongue darts out to wet kiss-stung lips. “Could never live with myself if I didn't try. Christ, though. Your dick's the size of America.” He palms a little tub of vaseline from underneath his pillow. “Stole this from medic for just such a patriotic occasion.”
Now Steve laughs too, and can't stop kissing him, and slicks up his fingers and presses one in while Bucky spreads himself to help and gasps about it against Steve's ear.
Steve's hands are excessive now, even one finger is a lot, but Steve pushes another in almost immediately, knows Bucky can take it, sees how hungry he is for it. Plain hunger they left behind in Brooklyn; they have been famished for each other while separated, pushed past the point of starvation and seeming deprivation. Now they are a moveable feast.
Bucky's hips come off the bedroll and he struggles around the third finger; he's never been stretched so far before but it's hardly even a warm-up for Steve's cock. Bucky is biting his lip and sweating and swallowing his moans, and Steve keeps hitting the spot they'd discovered long ago -- get the angle just right and he could always make Bucky writhe. Tonight's no different except that his fingers together are bigger than anything Bucky's felt before and both of them thought they wouldn't get the chance again.
The first time doing this they'd been scared and stupid and didn't know much of anything beyond what Steve had read in books about myth and art and the dirty stories guys sometimes told each other. They knew that some men screwed men, that it was possible, knew the basic mechanics and had been discovering the delicacies together.
This was the only thing they hadn't tried yet and Bucky had said he would go first in case it hurt as bad as they thought it might. Steve would have argued but Bucky had that look in his eyes and it wasn't like Steve didn't want to be the one to do him. Bucky's long lithe body had been the body that interested him most since he was twelve.
They knew about fingering girls so Steve had tried that to ease his way. Bucky cursed a lot but told him to keep going, his hands white-knuckled on the sheets, and Steve didn't know how he'd ever get his dick inside him if one finger was doing this, but they had kept at it, talking each other through it, and when Steve's finger brushed the hidden spot Bucky had groaned and thrown his head back and pushed himself back on Steve, and Bucky said, “Do that again, right there --” and Steve had, and Steve, small as he was then, had been able to make James Barnes shake with the slightest movement of his hand.
After that it was better, and Bucky stopped cursing a blue streak and said, “C'mon, if you're gonna,” which was to date the most beautiful sentence Steve had ever heard, and he hadn't needed any more encouragement to position himself behind Bucky on the bed.
His hand was trembling as he covered his dick with vaseline but it was okay because Bucky was trembling, too. Steve touched his lower back and said, “I'll go slow. Tell me if I--” but he lost the other words because he was pushing himself into Bucky and it was the best thing he'd ever felt and there were no words for it whatsoever. He grabbed Bucky by the hips for purchase and Bucky was hot tight heat all around him, so tight Steve had to keep the pressure on or he wouldn't get far. Bucky was scrabbling at the bedsheets, and he said Steve, God, Steve, but he didn't tell him to stop so they hadn't.
When Steve got all the way in and Bucky had finally said that he could move it didn't last long. It was messy and quick and was all clumsy thrusts and surprised noises and it was perfect. After he came Steve got Bucky off with his mouth and Bucky curled up on the bed and Steve was afraid he'd done everything wrong and he'd never get to do this again now that he knew it was all he wanted to do.
But Bucky had said sleepily, “Hurt some at first but not at the end really. Think it'll get better the more we try.”
Steve had attempted to pose nonchalantly, crossing thin arms across his chest like the world hadn't changed. He wasn't a virgin anymore; he'd done his best friend and sure he hadn't lasted longer than a few minutes but it'd been good, it'd felt so good, it was too good to be anything bad, and Bucky was talking about trying more. “You mean you wanna do it again?”
“Sure.” Bucky shrugged, turned on the bed to face Steve. His dark hair was tousled over the stubborn set of his mouth and big blue eyes and Steve wanted to kiss him. “Don't you? Didn't you like it?”
There was a worried note in his voice like maybe he thought Steve hadn't and Steve had never heard it before. He reached up with one hand and cupped Bucky's cheek, then ran channels into his hair. It was different than how they usually touched but Bucky didn't flinch away, so Steve kept touching him. “Listen to me, Buck,” he said, and sometimes when he tried he could sound commanding, unflappable. “I liked it a whole lot. I'd do it every night with you like that if we could.”
And Bucky had stared back for a long while but then he'd smiled. “Maybe one day we'll be able to,” he said. He'd been full of big ideas about the future then. He moved closer on the bed and he let Steve kiss him, and they kept trying.
Well-practiced as they are now it's impossible to be ready for this because Steve himself is impossible, an improbable creation that can't be replicated and probably shouldn't be.
He can hold Bucky down with one hand and he does that now, because Bucky can't stop moving against Steve's fingers, rocking his hips and trying to open up. Steve's free hand has three fingers twisted deep and then he makes it four fingers. The girth of his cock is thicker but there's nothing else for it. Bucky gnashes his teeth.
“Just...just...” There's a fine sheen of sweat on Bucky's skin and his voice is a rough whisper. “Just do it, okay? I want you to.” Steve knows Bucky's face much better than he knows his own and Bucky's face is earnest. He echoes Steve's thoughts. “There's no way to really make me ready for you. You just have to do it.”
“Yeah,” murmurs Steve against his neck. “Yeah, okay.”
He's slick with lubricant but as he moves into place, pulling out his fingers and pushing in with the head of his cock, their eyes meet and they know it isn't enough. Bucky makes a low, desperate sound before he can stop himself, and there's a rustle in reply from a nearby tent.
“You okay, Barnes?” The call feels sharp in the dark, and they freeze trying to fit together.
“Good,” Bucky calls back, sweating, Steve in the cradle of his thighs. “Weird dream is all.”
The rustling stops and settles back down into silence. Everyone has weird dreams now.
Steve breathes deep, drawing on new reserves, holding himself perfectly still. Only just breaching Bucky, while Bucky squirms and spreads himself impossibly wider. He ducks his head, dark hair made darker with sweat.
“You're gonna--” Bucky grits his teeth; says it over a bit lip. “You're gonna have to gag me, Steve. I'll make too much noise otherwise.”
Steve blinks and wants to protest, but the attendant image slips in, and as soon as Bucky says so they both know they want this and they need it. There's a square of white handkerchief in Steve's pocket, in the pile of rumpled tugged-off clothes, and he fishes it free. Puts his weight on his knees so he can sit up, can twist the length of white cotton between his fingers.
Bucky drops his jaw to make space, makes the taut bow of his mouth into an open-mouthed grin, and Steve ties the handkerchief tight, knots it securely at the back of Bucky's head, in his sweat-damp hair. Bucky tests its tension, biting down, setting his teeth into the fabric; then he smiles again, lips split wide and silenced.
The sight of Bucky like this is too much. Bucky, gagged, settles down, hooking his ankles around Steve's lower back, drawing him close. He nods, and Steve runs his hands along Bucky's body like he's been wanting to since Bucky shipped off and also all his life. His hands are big and steady and powerful now and he can use the advantages he's been given in love as much as war. Erskine would have liked that.
Steve makes skillful use of mouth and teeth and tongue and very large hands while Bucky tosses his head back and forth and moves his hips up and down and Steve's cock goes a little deeper. Bucky can't quite groan. When it's too much to stand and Bucky is rocking back up insistently underneath him, Steve starts to thrust.
He puts his forehead against Bucky's as he does it and then Bucky's taking half of him, hands tugging his knees to his chest, pulling himself open for Steve. They look at each other while it happens. Bucky's gaze is black instead of blue, his pupils blown, and they speak the volumes Bucky can't say. They tell him to keep going, so Steve does, rides the wave of Bucky's willing body letting him in by increments.
It's slow going but they talk about it with their eyes and Steve whispers things like “You are so--” and “Oh” and “Bucky” and “Careful” and “Whoa, wow,” until somehow he's fully seated, their bodies interlocked. Now Bucky is wide-eyed and white-lipped, showing teeth around the gag.
Steve watches Bucky's face and rolls his hips delicately, rocking back and forth a little to let him adjust. It's a considerable undertaking, and neither can truly be silent about it. Their bodies have a fluid dialogue. When Bucky nods Steve pulls back, hating the loss of hot gripping warmth at once. He reburies himself and this time the motion is smooth. In to the hilt, Steve keeps one hand on Bucky's hipbone and one at the back of his neck and starts to fuck him in earnest.
They'd gotten a lot better at doing this together and now Steve is a lot better at everything he tries and as they strive as one they watch each other and they've never needed to speak to know how the other feels but Steve wants to talk. What's rare is Bucky in a position not to snark back with his smart mouth. His pert mouth silenced by Steve's handkerchief.
Steve says, “They told me I'd never see you again.” He proves how wrong they were by finding just the right rhythm as his long, sure thrusts make Bucky push back and lock tighter around him. Bucky's nails find purchase on Steve's back and buttocks and he starts scraping deep marks. Steve's hard to wound now but the pressure is relentless.
“I didn't believe it,” Steve says, whisper-low. “But there were times when I let it get to me and I thought we might never get this again.” His cock hits just right and Bucky's eyes go wide, his throat swallowing heavily, his lips around cotton, sound escaping despite the gag. “A lot of Nazis got hurt when I was in that sorta mood.”
Steve's never been so turned-on nor felt himself held in such achingly tight heat. He watches the proud length of his dick sliding in again and again, sparking at the spot inside Bucky that makes him arch his spine and grip at Steve's ass encouragingly. Once they find the best pattern they keep to it together in easy unison. Now Steve has to hold back his moans, without any gag; he buries his face in the crook where Bucky's neck meets shoulder and keeps himself centered there.
They move and and thrust and grip and pull at each other for a long time. Steve finally understands the word fucking: this is fucking: fast and hard and animalistic and amazing, shields down, naked want and need and sympathy, no second-guessing. Here between them there are no games, no posturing, nothing rank and file. In bed they have always been almost equal, had come to it and come at it together.
Steve's body is the larger now and that's different and he is and isn't, and Bucky is and isn't, everyone's been made different than how they were before the war. Bucky's transformation has been less outwardly physical, but there are shadows under his eyes from not sleeping, and new scars on his smooth skin that had not been there before. Steve presses kisses against the signs of injury as he drives himself deep.
Bucky is all clasped around Steve now and they're where they're supposed to be. They've made a warm cocoon of the tent with their body heat. Hell, they could power Eastern Europe with their body heat.
Steve shows off a little with a one-armed push-up but makes it worth it by fisting his hand around Bucky's cock, hard and thick in his grip. He knows exactly how Bucky likes to get off, knows the perfect pressure and the preferred short upward jerks of motion. He starts to pull at Bucky's dick while he slows his hips and draws out his thrusts.
Bucky has been silent for a while behind the cotton gag so Steve takes his hand away a moment to unknot it, sliding it loose. Bucky works his jaw and his throat and his tongue darts out to wet dry lips. His full lips are very red with the blood rushing back. Steve pushes all of his hard length in as far as Bucky can take him and presses his mouth against Bucky's.
He liked the sight of him gagged and made quiet but kissing Bucky is better. When he moves away, Bucky's lower lip caught between his teeth, Bucky has learned to be better at keeping silent and he swallows the moans his body signals. Then Steve's fist refits on his cock he nearly forgets himself, surging up against Steve, his eyes enormous. He doesn't moan, though. “Steve,” he murmurs. “God, Steve.” Like he had the first time.
Steve drives himself forward again and again, his eyes on Bucky's eyes, driving himself to an explosive end. He tugs Bucky with the same rhythm, and they go off together nearly in the same breath, two shuddering bodies coming apart in the dark. Steve sets his teeth hard into Bucky's shoulder because now he's the one who almost shouts about it, catching himself just in time. His throat contracts around the sound he wants to make. No way they'd be able to pass that off as a dream.
They're given over to each other in a way they couldn't explain to anyone else. This was theirs alone, they'd found it out together and been able to reaffirm it spectacularly. Steve is panting even with his fine new lungs, and Bucky is still moving lazily against him, his hands sliding down the slope of Steve's back, his head up so that he can kiss along the line of Steve's collarbone. His gaze is brilliant now, sex-muddled and satisfied.
“Guy could get used to a thing like that,” says Bucky. His voice is rough and low and though Steve knows his body is thoroughly overused Bucky is grinning like the cat who caught the canary. Steve is still buried in him and could stay like that now if he wanted and really, really wants to, but eventually he pulls out, a slow, unhurried movement, watching the play of reaction across Bucky's flushed face as he does it.
“That was--” Steve starts, then stops, at a loss for words. Feels like he should say something but can't explain how much it was. Luckily Bucky always understands him, finishes sentences for him.
“Unbelievable,” Bucky says. “You're unbelievable, Steve. The way you--”
“The way you,” Steve insists at the same time. They look at each other and laugh, mostly with expression in place of sound. Steve settles down on the bedroll with a quarter of his naked body weight resting against Bucky and they talk with their heads bowed together and their lips close enough to touch and sometimes they touch.
It occurs to Steve in a sudden rush as these things do that he's in love. Of course he loves Bucky, Bucky has been his best friend since the first bully Bucky fended off for him in the schoolyard when he was small. But this is a different thing, the way his stomach clenches deliciously and his heart speeds up, the feeling of protectiveness and pride and desire so deep it scares him. It's love, honest-to-god love. When they said that Bucky was gone he knew he needed him back above all things but he hadn't understood what that meant until now. He doesn't want anything other than this. He touches Bucky's wet red mouth because he doesn't know what to do.
Bucky's eyes are electric and they read the way Steve's face changes, how it goes wondering and worrying. “Hey,” says Bucky. “Hey. Don't worry. You look worried. What're you worried for? You're a regular superman now, and we're gonna win the war, you and me, and then we're gonna go back to Brooklyn, and they're gonna throw us a parade.”
Steve smiles at the thought despite the knot in his stomach. “A parade for you and me, huh. Then what?”
Bucky purses his lips, considering. “The apartment should be in Bay Ridge, or Red Hook, or maybe Flatbush,” he says. “Somewhere different. Probably the Army will pay your bit for a while, you should take 'em up on it while you can. We'll get a place in a neighborhood where no one cares that we're there, a place with big windows. And an elevator.” Steve knows his face must look frozen because Bucky adds, sounding defensive, “Not too odd for two fellas to split the rent, you know. I thought maybe you could go back to your drawing and I could take shifts at the base and we could--”
He stops because Steve kisses him hard, pinning him back against the bedroll, his tongue more effective than any gag. Bucky responds in kind, slipping his long fingers into Steve's hair and mussing its perfect curl. He yanks Steve in closer and they kiss open-mouthed and trading touches of tongue.
“That sounds like a great idea,” says Steve when he breaks away for air. “Where do I sign up?”
Bucky smirks like he's won a contest. “Red Hook, then. I like being near the water.”
“Okay,” says Steve. “We'll live in Red Hook.” In the tiny confines of the military-issued tent they can almost see it, a flat with rooms of their own and Steve's art on the wall. They'd buy books and old lamps at stoop sales and get nice plates and a big couch and a modern TV set. If they had one bedroom instead of two, who would be the wiser? There would were men and women all around them in the city doing the same.
They kiss some more and think about Brooklyn.
It's everything he's ever wanted and Steve tries not to tremble with it. Captain America isn't afraid of the future, he safeguards it, Steve thinks. He and Bucky have a different path than some but it is the right one and they are on it together. It's his role to ensure that people can live freely in his country and Steve thinks it isn't a poor idea to start with himself.
He puts his arms around Bucky and holds onto him, notching them tight. The sweat from their exertions has cooled and Steve tugs up the blanket, sealing them in. They have a couple of hours before sunrise and he intends to spend them awake with his hands on Bucky as the light leaks in the reveal him. Bucky tucks just so underneath his chin and he presses the side of his head against Steve's chest, listening to the way Steve's heart is doing backflips.
“Bucky,” Steve says then, because there isn't going to be a better time to say it, and it's important to say aloud in a way he can't quite quantify. “I love--”
“Yeah,” says Bucky, breaking in gently, bright eyes brighter as he looks up. The stubble on his cheek tickles Steve's skin. “Me too, man,” and it sounds so good that Steve rethinks his declarative urge. Maybe it's better if they don't say it. Too much is lost when things are named, especially these unknowable days. They know the score and it is decided between them and that is what matters most.
“Did I ever thank you for saving me?” Bucky asks. “It's downright rude if I didn't. I'll have to make it up to you.”
“You were busy saving me back,” Steve says seriously, but relents at once to Bucky's raised eyebrows and naughty grin. They move against each other until the sun comes up, full of promises.
* * *
* * *
The evening is bitingly cold. Seems like it's always cold now but tonight none of the mercury in Steve's thermometer rises. He's one of the lucky ones with a room at base camp, no more tents in a frozen field. The cold is everywhere though, seeping in under the door and through cracks in the thin glass of the window. It's always cold.
Howard snores next to him in a sideways sprawl. It's a comforting noise and Steve holds onto it as much as he holds to Howard's obliging body whenever he slips in after dinner. Howard started staying since they discovered it helped Steve get through the nights of nameless terrors.
He wakes up shouting less if Howard is there. So Howard's there, one pale arm cast over his eyes, partially obscuring his fine, pointed features. When he sleeps like that, with his face covered and only short brown hair and the bow of his lips showing, Steve could squint and look just a little and pretend. Usually he doesn't, because that isn't fair to any of them.
In the morning Howard will be gone and Steve doesn't blame him. It's good enough that he stays the night. Waking Steve's a duty now assigned to a changing roster of fresh-faced privates sworn to secrecy. Waking Steve generally involves prodding him gently with a broom handle so designated from ten to fifteen feet's distance. Most days Steve comes awake lethally punching or lunging at nothing. His dreams are full of fire and blood and falling. He's broken a lot of broom handles.
He doesn't get to dream often enough of Bucky. He regrets that every morning, though the dreams of Bucky are the hardest. After the first time with Howard he felt guilty and restless, tossing for hours against his pillow, afraid for the first time of facing Bucky if he closed his eyes. What would Bucky say? They were supposed to live in Red Hook together.
The act itself had been perfectly satisfactory and had served its purpose: for the stretch of time that he was with Howard, discovering his body, letting Howard examine and discover him, Steve had been distracted, been in another place, allowed himself a different sort of focus for the first time in a long time.
Howard was very different than Bucky. He was vastly, confidently experienced, and he took Steve in hand. He was in it because he was Steve's friend and for the science. He said as much while dropping to his knees. “I'm in it for the science, mostly,” he said, prim mouth primed to take Steve's cock. “You're really quite a piece of extraordinary engineering, Rogers. Let's see what you can do.”
It's just fucking with Howard but it's a lot better than a cold bed and Steve is grateful whenever he comes through the door. Howard is brazen about it, unsubtle, even, and everyone seems to look the other way. Maybe because Howard is in everyone's beds. He hops around with smooth alacrity and tells Steve tales of the upper brass that make him turn beet-red. Steve is learning a lot more about the nature of people these days and it hurts all the more to think how innocent he and Bucky had been in their aspirations.
At the top of the food-chain, the people in charge screwed around like it was their job. Wartime did strange things to folks, Howard said, shrugging, riding Steve's dick, when Steve asked him whether he thought it appropriate for a general to host a legion of French prostitutes at his card-party.
You gotta relax, Rogers, you're way too tight-wound, said Howard, doing his best to make Steve relax; and Steve had wondered for the first time whether some higher-up hadn't suggested that Howard take him on. Maybe even Peggy had suggested it, seeing the way Steve looked and stared. Better that the resident genius casanova soothe the savage supersoldier than word get out that Steve was on the verge of losing control. Captain America couldn't be shell-shocked. Could he.
Every other day he fluctuates between numb and raging, and when it's the latter he's like a flaming sword in battle and he leads the Army in glorious, sweeping victories for America. When it's the former Steve is in his bed or a sleeping bag or a bedroll or the ground somewhere and he's curled up into himself and he can't move and he doesn't want to ever move. He thinks about Bucky and Bucky never being there again and it hurts more than anything else can hurt him now. It's ugly when he cries, bent over double, his too-big arms reaching out.
The night after the first time with Howard he was tossing back and forth wondering if this meant betrayal because Steve had never planned to share his bed with anyone else. He told himself that Howard was a necessary indulgence, that they were mutually beneficial. Still, when he finally gave in to sleep and Bucky was waiting, Steve was afraid of his reprimand.
It didn't come. “What're you gonna be, celibate?” Bucky demanded, in the dream, and Steve blinked at him sheepishly. Bucky put his hands in his pockets. He was in the uniform he was wearing when he fell. “I mean, that Stark guy's a little bit of a dick, sure, but he's real smart at least. Not a bad guy. You could do worse for bed-warming.”
Steve tried to reach out for him but Bucky in dreams was like vapor, like a mirage. “I miss you,” he said, like he always tried to say. Sometimes his mouth felt frozen and he couldn't say it.
“I know,” said Bucky. “Feeling's mutual. But moping never won a war. The boys need you, Steve, and so do I.”
Steve woke up sweating but not shouting, and Howard was naked and warm, asleep beside him; and when he closed his eyes again Bucky was still there, and he was smiling.
But usually it isn't good like that. Usually it's Steve's subconscious exploding in his head and all he sees is snow and ice and he feels the furious wind whipping at his hair and blinding his eyes. Nearby but too far away Bucky is reaching out and Steve will have him in his grip if he can just move his hand a little bit more but the wind takes Bucky first and Bucky screams for him as he falls. Now when he dreams about it Steve lets go and drops after him. Maybe he can catch Bucky on the way down.
Tonight it's too cold to sleep, despite Howard's best efforts, and Steve lies counting cracks on the ceiling a long while. When his eyelids grow heavy at last he dreams like he does on airplanes, half-awake and hazy. It's cold in the dream, too.
He's in a cavernous place of white snow and Bucky is close beside him. He knows it's Bucky from the set of his shoulders, but his face is shrouded in shadow, and his hair is wild from the wind. His hair looks longer, as though grown in the months since he's been gone. His eyes are like the ice around them.
“Cap,” says Bucky, with a taunting note. “You found me once. Think you can do it again?” He lifts his arm and puts his hand to Steve's cheek and his hand is so cold that Steve cries out. He can feel it, frozen and burning on his skin, dream-Bucky solid for once to the touch, and agonizing. He's vaguely aware of Howard stirring beside him a world away.
“I'll always find you,” Steve promises.
Bucky nods, arctic fingers lingering at Steve's throat before they slide into his hair. “Be careful what you wish for,” he says, “you just might get it,” and he draws Steve down into a kiss that leaves Steve feeling like he's wrapped under layers of unbreakable ice.