Bucky knew, and had known for a while, that he had to be strong for Steve. Sure, Steve thought he could take on the world, but Steve couldn't walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded.
So Bucky had to be around, for the bullies that Steve couldn't quite take on his own - no matter how hard Steve tried - and for the asthma attacks that required someone to be there ... just in case Steve decided to stop breathing all together.
"The way mama did," Steve had muttered into the pillow during a particularly rough bout of coughing, and Bucky had never forgotten that.
So it wasn't just shame ("You'll grow up to be a strong alpha some day," his pop had always said, and the older Barnes had been wrong about a lot of things, but never so much as he'd been wrong about that) that made Bucky try to deny the obvious once it began.
He had to take care of Steve. How the hell was he supposed to do that if he was a weakling himself?
But, just like all the horror stories they always told back in the orphanage about people like Bucky, what Bucky wanted didn't end up mattering much. In fact, because the world really was out to get him, Bucky's first heat showed up not more than a day after Steve finished his most recent round of trying to hack up a lung.
All the symptoms that Bucky had been trying to ignore, so that he could continue taking care of Steve, were immediately summed up and brought to his attention when Steve walked into the small kitchen of their shared apartment, only slightly less pale than he'd been the day before.
"Bucky, you smell...funny," were Steve's first words.
That was how everything began to click - not just that his first heat had actually arrived, but that his best friend, his tiny, 98 pound best friend who Bucky was supposed to look out for, was an alpha.
The world really had it out for him.
"I have to go," Bucky said weakly, because the closer Steve got, the more Bucky wanted to ... well, do everything that a best friend didn't do to someone they were supposed to be taking care of.
"I don't think that's a very good idea," Steve said, and Bucky's body agreed with him, because it refused to move. "It's your time, isn't it?"
There wasn't any shame in his voice, the way there should be. Well, that figured. The only types of people Steve judged were bullies, anyway. He was annoyingly earnest that way. That was why he was Bucky's best friend, after all.
"Yes," was all that Bucky could manage.
"There was a guy, in art class, he ... had it pretty bad. I had to help him," Steve said, and Bucky fought off the entirely inappropriate wave of jealousy that revelation caused him.
"Good for him," Bucky snapped, and oh, he could have sounded far less childish about it. After all, his dance card had never not been full, and it wasn't fair to be jealous, just because Steve wasn't the blushing virgin Bucky had figured him for.
But Bucky wasn't overly worried about being fair, at the present.
Steve paused then, long enough to consider what he was going to say, Bucky supposed. That was Steve - always thoughtful and careful; he was always everything Bucky wasn't.
But now really wasn't really an appropriate moment to take time to consider anything. When Steve bit his bottom lip in mid-thought, it only made the situation even more desperate for Bucky.
Honestly, given the circumstances, nobody could blame him for leaning forward and stealing a kiss from Steve. It wasn't appropriate, of course. Alphas were supposed to set the course during a heat. Everybody knew that.
But again, Steve didn't mind. He was grinning at Bucky when he pulled back, and he laid a hand on Bucky's arm.
It was a possessive hand, to be sure. Steve was making a claim, and even if the heat hadn't been clouding his judgment, Bucky was pretty sure he would never have been able to turn that claim down.
"Come on, Buck," Steve said firmly. "Let me take care of you."
Even though Bucky knew that wasn't the way things were supposed to work between the two of them, he agreed.