Bucky's never had a problem with fighting--it's one of the few things he's always been good at. He's fought bullies with Steve--for Steve--since the day they met. He's not afraid when he ships out, not for himself, not at that time. He's afraid of whatever trouble Steve's going to get into without Bucky there to get him out. It's easier to focus on Steve, because Steve's been his focus since the moment they met, and it means he doesn't have to think about the rain and the mud and the lice, the smell of blood and piss and death when he finally gets out to the front.
The next time some jackass tries to convince Bucky that war is glorious, Bucky's going to knock his teeth down his throat.
After the mission goes to shit, he concentrates on keeping his men together, right up until they drag him out of the cell and into the lab. The doctor is a small, round man who keeps asking him how he feels. "Go fuck yourself," is the pithiest response he can come up with.
He doesn't know how long he's strapped to that table, doesn't know what they've done to him, doesn't know anything except his name, rank, and serial number. He's vaguely aware that something is happening that probably shouldn't be happening, but since that's basically everything that's happened since they got captured, he doesn't waste energy getting excited. He's got no room to feel anything but fear and pain and exhaustion.
And then he opens his eyes to see someone who looks exactly like Steve ripping off his restraints. Exactly like Steve if he were a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier. Jesus, Bucky thinks. They really did a number on him, because he's hallucinating. He must be.
"I thought you were dead." But that's Steve's voice, his eyes, his smile.
"I thought you were smaller," Bucky answers, stumbling off the table and into Steve's arms. He smells of sweat and smoke and Steve, as familiar as Bucky's own skin, and he's ridiculously solid as he manhandles Bucky out of the lab, so Bucky figures he's not a hallucination and follows him.
He'll pretty much follow Steve anywhere, the way he has since they were kids, when he'd follow him around and bail him out of trouble. This time, though, Bucky's the one in over his head and in need of saving.
It's not until a couple hours after sunrise, when they're finally far enough away from the burning HYDRA base to stop and rest for a while, that Steve explains.
"Holy shit," Bucky says when he's done. "You actually are Captain America."
Steve looks away, pleased and embarrassed at the same time, and Bucky feels the familiar urge to hug him, or at least ruffle his hair, but he's not sure how this new Steve would respond.
"I'm just trying to use what I've been given."
"I'll bet," Bucky answers, giving him another, more lingering once-over and enjoying the way it makes him blush. Bucky ignores the weird little twist in his belly, knows Steve wouldn't have believed it then, and would only think it's true now because of the extra height and muscles. Bucky's good at ignoring those feelings; he's been doing it for years.
It's more difficult later, when they're back at camp, after the medic sends him off with some bandages over his burns and a couple of aspirin--whatever else Zola did to him is still a mystery that'll probably never be solved--and Steve tries to crawl into Bucky's sleeping bag with him.
The zipper is sticky, though, and maybe Steve still doesn't realize his own strength, because when he yanks at it, the whole thing tears. Steve yanks it again, sending Bucky rolling into the dirt.
"What the hell?" Bucky yelps. Steve blushes and ducks his head, his smile the same as it ever was, at least until Bucky sweeps his legs out from under him and he goes sprawling in the dirt, too, half on top of Bucky, knocking the wind out of him.
They lie there for a few seconds in a tangle of cotton and wool, everything silent except for their ragged breathing and the sounds of an army camp at night, and then Steve says, "I guess that didn't work out like I thought it would."
"Gee, you think?" Bucky says, and they start laughing, shaking with it, pressed up against each other, warm and familiar in the chill. Steve still smells the same, and he still laughs the same, it's just the everything else that's different, Bucky thinks, until Steve catches his eye, and that hasn't changed either, that look like Bucky's hung the moon. It always makes Bucky's chest tight, because he's never done anything to deserve it and Steve gives it to him like he's worth it. But Bucky knows Steve's always been the hero between them, even if Steve could never see it.
There are some shouts from outside for them to keep it down, but nobody comes looking, which is good, because Bucky's pretty sure his feelings are written all over his face. But that's another thing Steve's never been able to see. He drops his gaze before Steve figures it out, because this is the worst place for that to happen, where they don't even have the privacy of a dingy old tenement apartment to hide in.
"I can't believe they didn't give Captain America his own sleeping bag," Bucky says, to break the tension.
He can feel Steve's shrug, the movement of his shoulders rocking Bucky a little. "I figured we'd share."
Bucky bites back his sigh and an obvious comment about how Steve takes up a lot more space than he used to, and starts rearranging himself. "Of course you did." He opens the thing as wide as it'll go and spreads it out beneath them, then drapes the liner over the top. He's tired and sore and Steve is like a furnace when he presses up against Bucky's side, and Bucky falls asleep before he can worry any more about what the rest of the world will think about him cuddling up to Captain America.
London is both easier and harder. Easier because everything's regulation, and even Steve follows the rules when he doesn't have a good reason not to; the chip on his shoulder is smaller now that his shoulders are bigger. So Bucky sleeps in the barracks with the enlisted men, and Steve sleeps--well, Bucky's pretty sure he's not sleeping with Agent Carter yet, but it looks like things are heading in that direction, though given that it's Steve, it might still be a while yet. Bucky can deal with that; he's always known it was going to happen, and at least Agent Carter knew him before the serum. Maybe she sees the same Steve Bucky does. Maybe she even deserves him. Bucky knows he never has.
Bucky's always been a city kid, much more comfortable on asphalt and concrete than grass or dirt, with glass and metal buildings scraping the sky overhead instead of trees blocking out the light, and London's one of the greatest cities in the world. It's easy to drink with the commandos and dance with the girls and pretend he's okay with the way everyone wants a piece of Steve now, that he doesn't want to tell them all to get lost because he was here first, and Steve was his before he was anybody's, because Steve's always been meant for better things and Bucky honestly wants him to have them. He just doesn't want to be a thing that gets left behind when Steve moves on.
It's been that way as long as he can remember; the first time they met, Bucky'd been impressed with Steve's courage and ability to take a punch, if not his smarts for getting the shit kicked out of him in the first place. He'd been planning on buying something with the change he'd scrounged up here and there (he never told Steve where his money came from, not even when it was come by honestly, which was almost never in those days), baseball cards maybe, or some gum, but he'd ended up splitting a bottle of Coke with Steve, like some sugary communion ritual he wasn't even aware of until long after it happened and was much too late to get out of.
The drink of choice might have changed, but Bucky's still the one offering toasts to Steve's courage and ability to find a fight wherever he goes, even when he claims he isn't looking for one.
"They started it," he insists to Bucky after he ducks a flying chair and knocks down another jarhead.
"I know they did," Bucky answers with a sigh. He and Steve are standing back to back, which is familiar, and Steve is a few inches taller than him, which isn't. Bucky's not sure it ever will be.
"I couldn't let them say those things about Morita," Steve says after it's all over and they've slipped back to base before the MPs could round them all up.
"I know," Bucky says, leaning back against the door to Steve's small room. "I just wish you'd be more careful."
"Bucky." Steve's voice is chiding.
"Just because you heal fast now doesn't mean you should go around looking to get injured."
"Is that what you think happened?"
"I just know how you are."
Steve snorts but doesn't deny it. "What about you?"
Bucky blinks. "What about me?"
Steve reaches out one long finger and brushes at the blood crusting on Bucky's lip. It stings, but that's nothing compared to the shock of heat Steve's touch sends through him. "You've got a split lip." Bucky sucks in a breath that sounds louder than it should in the quiet of Steve's small room, and Steve flinches away like he's been burned. "Sorry. Let me get you some ice."
"I'll get some on my way back to the barracks."
Steve gives him a stern once-over. "You're not hiding any other injuries, are you?"
"I'm not you, pal." Bucky pushes upright out of his lean, which takes him way too close to Steve, who doesn't step back like he should. "I'm fine."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Bucky just shakes his head and laughs.
Bucky'd be lying if he said that his time with the Commandos wasn't the best time of his life, him and Steve back to back, fighting Nazis and mad scientists like something out of the Saturday morning serials. He knows his contributions to the team are valuable, even if he's not Captain America. The army understands his value, beyond his membership in the Commandos, and they send him on assignments of his own often enough that the others tease him about stepping out on them.
He does the stuff Steve can't, the stuff he should never have to, that if Bucky had his way, Steve wouldn't even know about. But this is war, and Steve grew up scrapping in the back alleys and streets of Brooklyn and--
"I'm not an idiot, Bucky," he says.
"That's still up for debate," Bucky answers, leaning back against the door because it makes him look nonchalant, not because he's dead on his feet from three days of camping out behind enemy lines in bad weather.
"I don't mind that they send you out on separate missions when we have downtime," Steve says, which is a lie or they wouldn't be having this conversation, but Bucky lets him have it. "But as your commanding officer, I'd like to be informed."
Bucky laughs. He doesn't mean to, but he's exhausted and incredulous. "You're worried about chain of command? Or that Phillips still doesn't take you seriously?"
Steve's face is creased with worry and anger. "I'm worried about you. And how some mornings, I wake up and you're gone and nobody will tell me where you are."
Bucky swallows hard, because that was not what he was expecting Steve to say. "Steve--"
"And I don't understand why they don't send all of us. The Commandos are a stealth fighting force. We can do things no one else can."
He should have known better than to read anything more than friendship and injured pride into Steve's concern. "You know as well as I do that sometimes one man in the right place at the right time can do more to shift the balance of a battle than a whole platoon."
"Then that one man should be me." Steve slams a hand down on the desk, scattering maps and aerial photographs of various HYDRA bases.
Bucky presses his lips together and looks away, trying to keep a lid on his temper. "That's what you're upset about? Trust me, there's no glory attached to lying in the snow for three days before shooting somebody in the head and rifling through his pockets for information."
"Dammit, Bucky, it's not about glory. You're willfully misunderstanding me. I'm the one they built to take those kinds of risks--"
"You're Captain America," Bucky says. "You're the very public face of the United States military. You can't be seen doing the kinds of things they send me to do on these missions."
"Like shooting a guy in the head and picking his pockets." And wow, Bucky hadn't thought Steve could pack that much sarcasm into one sentence.
"Like eliminating targets of high strategic value to the enemy and gathering intel," he snaps back, goaded, and louder than he'd like, the euphemism sour as bile on his tongue. He takes a deep breath and gets himself under control. "I'm not you, Steve. None of us are. But let me protect you in the best way I can. It's what I do."
That takes the wind right out of Steve's sails. He slumps, dipping his head down with a sigh and leaning forward onto the table. "I'm the one with the shield," he says, finally. "I should be protecting you."
"You are," Bucky says. "You do." He grins. "If you really want to look out for me, let me nap here for a while."
"Barracks too noisy for your delicate sensibilities?" Steve asks, and Bucky knows that whatever bee was in Steve's bonnet, it's gone now, and he's not one to hold a grudge.
"You know it." Bucky shrugs off his jacket and settles his gear on the floor. Steve's bed is soft and clean and warm, and it smells like him. Like home. Bucky's asleep before his head hits the pillow. Later, he's pretty sure he dreamt the part where Steve brushed his hair back and pressed a kiss to his forehead.
He picks up the shield because he has to protect Steve.
He falls. The last thing he sees is Steve's hand reaching for him.
He waits for Steve to come for him, but Steve doesn't. He recites his name, rank and serial number for as long as he can, and then everything fades to black.
For a long time, he has no name, no rank, no serial number, and no identifying marks except the red star painted on his left shoulder and the look of fear in people's eyes when he kills them.
He answers to whatever names his masters give him, different every time, and he kills whatever they point him at. Up close, he's a knife in the belly, a garrote around the throat; from afar, he's the scope of a rifle, the bright brevity of a muzzle flash and the spatter of brains and blood against a wall.
He knows that there are things he's missing, that time passes oddly for him; his masters become gray and wrinkled while he still looks like a young man.
That is the only thing he knows for fifty years.
He meets a girl with red hair and a razor sharp grin. He trains her. He fucks her. He loves her, for a brief time, without ever understanding that that's what it is or that she loves him too. He just knows there's something there, where there was nothing before. He doesn't have a name for it, and wouldn't use it if he did. He doesn't remember kindness or friendship; he only remembers the way light made shadows of them both as they moved together in secret. And he remembers the pain his masters inflict on him when they find out, bites his lips till they bleed with the desire not to cry out, not to betray her or himself. Not to break. He breaks anyway. They leave him with her memory, as a warning. They don't know he finds it a solace, despite the pain. She disappears, and he sleeps for a long, long time.
He wakes, and he does not know his name, rank, serial number. He doesn't even know what year it is. He knows only the mission they give him, these new masters he doesn't recognize (but then, would he, even if they were the same men who sent him out in the name of the Motherland for so many years?): to kill Captain America. Their eagerness masks desperation, and they don't take the care with his programming that they should. He knows things about Captain America that they can't have known, things that aren't in any file. He lands in New York, and feels disoriented when things are different from what he remembers, and worse when they are the same.
He doesn't know anymore if he should remember or not, and that frightens him in a way that little has for as long as he can remember (he finds that amusing, but then, he would).
He sets up on a rooftop blocks away from his target, the tower lit up against the night sky like some kind of beacon, the walls made mostly of glass.
He doesn't think it should be this easy, and he's proved right when an arrow comes whizzing at him from another rooftop, and he rolls out of the way and throws up an arm when it explodes on impact, sending up a spray of roofing.
He springs to his feet, and it's only the split-second of shock when the Black Widow recognizes him that allows him to get the first punch in. After that, she doesn't make it easy. She knows his few weak spots as well as he does, and has no compunction about using them against him. It's one of the things he always liked best about her, a high point even among everything about her burnished to high gloss in his memory.
She hits him with a jolt of electricity in the spot where his metal arm joins his body, and he stumbles, slashes at her with a knife that's knocked out of his hand by the arc of Captain America's shield.
He follows the arc, familiar with it on a level that's beyond conscious thought, and vaults over the Black Widow in order to meet his true quarry. Again, he sees surprised recognition on the face of his opponent, but he feels no corresponding shock of knowledge himself.
No, the shock is definitely from the lightning that appears out of nowhere and strikes him down in a halo of shimmering blue-white light before he can carry out his mission.
Bucky wakes up with a hell of a headache. He squints up at the flickering fluorescent light and tries to remember what he was drinking last night, and then he realizes he's in a cell. He sits up, takes a deep breath, and forces himself to examine the room he's in: featureless gray walls , buzzing fluorescent lights overhead, toilet in the corner. The light flickers again, and he remembers lightning. He remembers the roof, the shield, Natasha. Steve.
The memories flood his mind then, a blur of names and faces, bullets and blood. He barely makes it to the toilet in time.
It's all a dream, he thinks. He's still on Zola's table, drugged out of his gourd. He hallucinated Steve rescuing him and everything that's happened since. And then he sees that his left arm has been replaced with metal.
He pukes again.
There's a sink next to the toilet; he sticks his head under the faucet and is trying to rinse his mouth out when the door opens and a tall black man with an eyepatch says, "Sergeant Barnes."
Bucky chokes on a mouthful of water and ends up spraying himself in the eye, and oh, Natasha would laugh if she could see him now, graceless thing that he's become. He clears his throat and asks, "Am I a prisoner?"
Bucky nods once and recites his name, rank, and serial number in a hoarse voice while his brain supplies information he has no way of knowing; his questioner is Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD. He's likely in New York, in SHIELD headquarters in Times Square. He has an incomplete set of plans for the building in his head and he has no idea how out of date they are. He knows he's missing time, remembers seeing a newspaper in the airport on his flight in and being taken aback by the fact that it's 2012. He doesn't know what else he doesn't know; he barely knows what he does know at this point, except his name, rank, and serial number. Repeating them is calming, even if Fury looks like he's ready to spit nails. Bucky's always had that effect on authority figures, and now he doesn't have Steve to run interference for him.
The specifics of this particular mission come back to him, and he heaves again. This time, he doesn't bother to aim for the toilet.
The door swings open again, and Fury turns, probably to demand someone come in and clean up the mess, and then he's shoved out of the way and Steve is there. He goes down to his knees gracefully, easily missing the puddle of yellow bile where anyone else would have probably landed right in it. He puts one hand on Bucky's shoulder, the other on his chest.
"Bucky? You okay?"
Two agents in full tactical gear fill the doorway but Fury waves them off.
"I'm right here, Bucky. You're gonna be okay. I'm not gonna let them hurt you."
Bucky nods and wishes he could believe that.
Things are a bit of a blur for a while after that. They don't let Steve stay with him, despite Steve's protests (and the embarrassing way Bucky clings to him, still not sure he's actually real), and given the parameters of his last mission, he can't really blame them. He has no desire to kill Steve (quite the opposite, actually), but that doesn't mean he won't do it anyway, in some kind of weird fugue state, or out of simple habit, or because his masters (the Red Room, he knows now, and he gives up their names easily enough, only to discover most of them are already dead) left something behind in his head that requires him to finish the mission.
He doesn't think that's true, but he can't say it's not possible, either.
He spends a lot of time with interrogators and deprogrammers and shrinks. Though not, he notices, SHIELD's best interrogator. Which is stupid, because they have to know he'll talk to her. She has to know, even if Fury doesn't.
She comes later, after a long day spent playing word association games with a shrink who doesn't look old enough to have graduated from college yet, but then, Bucky can't really throw stones on that front, because he still looks like he's in his twenties.
"I was wondering when you'd show up," he says as Natasha sits down next to him on his cot.
She shrugs. "I was wondering if you remembered me."
He gives her a scathing look. "I remember everything."
She bumps his shoulder--his good shoulder--with hers. It's the closest thing to a hug either of them is probably capable of under the circumstances. He wonders how much of it is calculated, and who's watching.
"I'm sorry," she says after a long silence.
He shakes his head. "Don't be."
"By the time I was able to get back, you were gone." Her voice is flat, but the look on her face makes his chest hurt in a way it hasn't since they took her away from him.
"I should have insisted."
He snorts. "Like you were in any position to insist on anything."
"You don't think it would have been an even bigger coup for SHIELD, to have both of us?" she asks. "They still brag about turning me."
"I know," he says. "I heard." He takes her hand, twines his fingers through hers. "Is that going to be an option for me?"
She cocks her head and gives him a searching look. "Is that what you want?"
"Steve's here," he answers immediately. He shakes his head, because while that's the true answer, it's probably not the right one. Not for SHIELD, anyway. "And it might give me a chance to make up for what I've done."
"Well, you've got Captain America and Black Widow on your side," she says, untangling their hands and standing. "And we don't like to lose."
He catches her wrist as she turns to go. "Natasha," he says, looking for the words, but there aren't any that will express everything he wants to say. "Thank you."
"Don't be an idiot," she says, leaning down and pressing a kiss to the corner of his mouth. She tastes of Chapstick and smells faintly of soap. "And don't screw this up."
Bucky's down in the gym, where they let him work out under heavy guard (and without the full range of motion or capability for his cybernetic arm), the next time he sees Steve.
"So, you and Natasha," Steve says, as he tapes his hands. His forehead is crinkled like he's trying to put the pieces of a puzzle together, and he doesn't look directly at Bucky.
Bucky grunts in assent. So much of what he remembers is jumbled, but she shines as brightly as Steve does, something good amid all the shit.
Steve's face clears of its confusion and he catches Bucky's eye with a smile. "Now I know she was brainwashed."
"Jerk," Bucky says, laughing and tackling him.
They grapple like kids for a few minutes, and Bucky's glad that with everything else he's--they've lost, they can still have this. He'd never expected to come back alive from the war, and he'll always regret not being able to protect Steve the way he should have, but he can't regret the strange and unbelievable sequence of events that brought them back together here and now.
SHIELD doesn't release him so much as hire him, which, all things considered, is probably the best possible outcome. It's almost exactly like what he used to do, except without the brainwashing or the cryogenics, and oh, yeah, they're supposed to be the good guys. Bucky's not sure what that means anymore, or if it's something that's beyond his reach, but for Steve, he'll make the effort.
They send him on a few milk runs with Natasha, and except for that time they're recognized in Lahore by some former colleagues, it all goes well. Watching Natasha's back is as familiar as watching Steve's, without the same complicated flood of feelings. He loved her--loves her still--but those days are gone, and neither of them is interested in going back.
He moves into the Tower with the rest of them, into the guest room in Steve's suite, and starts to remember what it's like to be around people again, what it's like to have friends.
Steve wants him on the team, but neither Bucky nor SHIELD is ready to take that step.
"So they're just gonna use you, like the Russians did?" Steve asks, his chin stuck out belligerently and his hands clenching into fists.
Bucky eyes him with fondness. It's nice to know some things never change. "I've only ever been good at two things," he says, "being your friend and killing people. Well, and dancing. Don't take this away from me, Steve. Please." He doesn't want to beg but he will if he has to. He's learned that he'll do a lot of things to get what he wants, and not all of them are things he's proud of.
"That's three things," Steve answers with a shaky laugh, the anger drained out of him by Bucky's words.
"I never said math was one of them."
"I hate to break it to you, Buck, but you weren't that good a dancer, either."
Bucky snorts. "How would you know?" He'd tried to teach Steve to dance, back in the old days, but it had been weird and awkward; Bucky knows Steve blamed himself for that, but he also knows it was his own fault, his feelings making everything fraught and strange. He'd thrown himself into dames, drinking, and dancing to hide, and everyone, even Steve, had bought his charade, but no matter what he did, those feelings didn't go away. Not under the threat of dishonorable discharge, and not after seventy years without a memory. Apparently, even the best brainwashing in the world can't erase them. He smiles, then. "Have you seen what passes for dancing in this century?"
"Kids today." Steve shakes his head in mock sorrow and Bucky laughs.
Steve drops the argument for now, but Bucky's sure he's just biding his time.
Bucky's in Santiago when he gets the all hands on deck signal from SHIELD. He doesn't know if it's aliens or Doombots or HYDRA, but he grabs his bag and heads to his extraction point without completing the mission. The gunrunner he's tracking will still be there, as long as the world doesn't end.
They drop him on a rooftop in Manhattan two hours later, and even though he feels like his stomach is still in Chile, he's able to locate and slip into that quiet spot in his brain where everything but the target recedes. In the background, he can hear the others on comms, and, from further away, roars that he hopes are the Hulk. He concentrates on taking out the troops advancing on Black Widow and Captain America, with slow, deep breaths and the smooth squeeze of the trigger.
Natasha tosses off a quick, grateful salute and then he hears Steve's voice, low and warm, in his ear. "Welcome back."
"Glad to be here," Bucky says, and he means it. It's good to be fighting HYDRA with Steve again. (He chooses not to examine how screwed up that is; he has bad guys to shoot.)
Tony's voice breaks in with, "That's enough, you lovebirds. You're making me blush."
"Fuck off, Stark." But there's laughter in his voice when he says it.
"Tony, Bucky," Steve chides, "play nice," even as he takes out another two soldiers.
"Oh, yeah, I'm totally feeling the love," Tony says before he gets distracted by the fight again.
Hawkeye stays up top to give the play-by-play, but after a while--time moves funny during a firefight and Bucky has no idea how long it's been--Tony flies him down to the street to fight side-by-side with Steve and Natasha, where he belongs.
He flashes a grin at Steve as they move together the way they always have, his gun and fists and Steve's shield and brain; the weapons might have improved, but they've been knocking out bullies together since 1930.
They're congratulating themselves and each other on winning--Tony is already running diagnostics on Bucky's arm and trying to wheedle Bucky into letting him put a repulsor in the palm--when another guy in a HYDRA uniform leaps down out of nowhere and tackles Steve from behind, yelling, "Hail HYDRA."
Steve elbows him off and Bucky puts two rounds in his head before he hits the ground. Bucky grabs frantically at Steve, even though he knows he's all right, and once he's on his feet again, Bucky cups his face and pulls him down into a rough, hard kiss. Steve's mouth is hot and slick and Bucky can taste the copper-salt tang of blood, but more importantly, Steve's breathing into his mouth and he's sure they're both here and both alive.
He pulls back at the sound of applause. His face goes hot and he mutters, "Can't leave you alone for a second, Rogers." Then he stalks off before he remembers that he has to travel back to the tower with the rest of them. He glares them all off from speaking, though Natasha's smile is as wide as he's ever seen it, and Tony gives him a surreptitious thumbs-up before he disappears into the air to find Banner.
Bucky's forgotten about the letdown after a hard fight, the sudden exhaustion as he sits having the cuts and bruises on his face and hands taken care of. He slumps next to Steve in the back of the car on the ride home, and pretends that he didn't just kiss his best friend--Captain America--in front of the Avengers and god and the rest of the goddamn world (he's pretty sure there's video up on YouTube already and makes a mental note to ask Jarvis for the link later).
He tries not to fall asleep face first in his spaghetti when they eat what Thor calls their victory dinner. He's not used to company after a fight anymore, either. Natasha catches his gaze and smiles tiredly, then snags half a meatball off Clint's plate while he's talking to Pepper.
Clint glances back and his mouth quirks when he realizes Natasha's eating his food, and then he looks over at Bucky, and that quirk widens into a grin. "Hey, Cap, why don't you take your boyfriend to bed?"
Steve chokes on his water but Bucky nudges his arm and stands. "Yeah, Cap, why don't you take me to bed?" He puts a hand on Steve's shoulder, which tenses under the touch, and Bucky wonders if he's made a huge mistake. He takes his hand away, about to walk it back, laugh it off as the joke Steve clearly thinks it is, when Steve pushes his chair back and gets up.
"Yeah," he says. "Why don't we do that?" He puts a hand on Bucky's elbow and steers him to the elevator.
They stand next to each other like strangers on the short ride. Bucky's heart is beating so loudly he's sure Steve must be able to hear it, and all his exhaustion has fled in the face of his excitement and trepidation.
The doors slide open silently and as Steve keys in the code for their suite, Jarvis says, "Congratulations and good luck."
"Thanks," they both mumble and then Steve's got the door open and he's pushing Bucky in ahead of him, which is fine by Bucky, because it means he can turn around and shove Steve against it as it swings shut behind him.
"Hey," Steve says, into Bucky's mouth.
The kiss this time is softer, sweeter, slower. Bucky licks the taste of spaghetti sauce off Steve's tongue, and Steve's hands settle on his hips and push up under Bucky's shirt, his fingers warm against the skin of Bucky's belly. He pulls away and Bucky chases after him, and his fingers tighten on Bucky's hips. He tips his head back against the door and bangs it lightly. Bucky wants to bite at the long, strong column of his neck, run his tongue along the stubble on his jaw.
"This better not be a joke," Steve says, his voice low and rough.
"Don't be an idiot," Bucky answers. "Wait, what am I saying? Look who I'm talking to."
"You're an idiot," Steve says, his mouth falling into a pout.
Bucky can't stop staring at his mouth, the way his lips are red and wet and just a little swollen. "Takes one to know one," he manages, and Steve huffs and smiles. Bucky hooks his fingers in the belt loops of Steve's khakis and pulls him close. "I've wanted to do this for years."
"Yeah?" Steve asks, chin rising a little in challenge, in disbelief.
Bucky crowds him back against the door and puts his mouth right up against Steve's ear. "You remember when I taught you to dance? Or the night you broke my sleeping bag?"
"Yeah?" It's barely an exhalation.
Bucky licks his lips. "Yeah."
This time, Steve kisses him. "I think we found another thing you're good at," he murmurs, and Bucky laughs into his mouth.
Here, when I say I never want to be without you,
somewhere else I am saying
I never want to be without you again. And when I touch you
in each of the places we meet,
in all of the lives we are, it's with hands that are dying
When I don't touch you it's a mistake in any life,
in each place and forever.
~"Other Lives and Dimensions and Finally a Love Poem" by Bob Hicok