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twice I have lived forever in a smile

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i.

1943

This is how it happens:

Steve opens the tent flap and ducks inside, Bucky following close at his heels. The tent smells dank and unaired, heavy with the scent of old leather, mud and sweat. Steve wrinkles his nose.

Not that Bucky seems to mind. He looks around and grins, a forced flash of teeth. “Nice digs.”

Steve manages a smile in return, then busies himself with lighting the paraffin lamp while Bucky sets up his bedroll.

Bucky gets comfortable, folding both arms under his head and stretching out in a lazy sprawl. “I can’t believe you, you know,” he says.

Steve looks at him. Bucky’s face is in shadow, a hint of something wild in his eyes.

He drops down onto his own bed. “What?”

“You,” Bucky says, gesturing to Steve. “This. I leave you alone for five minutes and you sign up for a fucking medical experiment?”

Steve’s face feels hot under Bucky’s gaze. He knows how different he looks — a hulking giant, clumsy and restless inside his own skin — but he thought Bucky of all people wouldn’t care.

“I  —” Steve tries. “I just wanted to help,” he says pointlessly; he knows Bucky won’t believe a word of it.

Bucky sits up, and his eyes are keen. “Nah, I’m not buying that,” he says. “Like I said, you got something to prove.”

The heat in Steve’s face fades, replaced by a sudden flare of anger deep in his chest. “If I was proving anything, it was that I could do my part like anyone else. I didn't ask to be this." He scowls.

Leaning forward on his knees, Bucky reaches for Steve’s wrists. “No, you don’t understand, Steve,” he says urgently. “It's not the Captain America stuff; you know that doesn't matter to me. You could have died. Only reason I could stand to fight this war was knowing you were safe back in Brooklyn.”

“Buck,” Steve says on a slow exhale. He looks down at Bucky’s hands. “I’m sorry,” he adds, and his voice is wet, emotion bleeding into the words.

“Good,” Bucky says, still not letting go of Steve. “You better be.” He laughs, a rattling, sharp sound. “Look at you, Steve. New body. New guy.” Perhaps he means it as a joke, but there’s a bitter edge to Bucky’s words.

“I’m still me,” Steve says automatically, shrugging out of Bucky’s grasp.

Bucky sighs. "I know." His shoulders relax. He's smiling, but there’s something dark and possessive in his gaze when he looks at Steve, and Steve feels his face go pink for a reason that’s nothing to do with anger.

He remembers.

Back in Brooklyn, there’d been nights where Steve or Bucky would press hands and mouths together, touch each other furtively under rustling sheets. There was always some excuse — no decent dames at the dance for Bucky that night, or Steve needing something to distract him from the wheezing rattle of his chest — and they'd laugh it off afterwards, like it was nothing.

It doesn’t feel like nothing now. Not to Steve, when Bucky is here in front of him, wearing a bright smile on his face even though they both know he's close to breaking.

Steve takes a deep breath and says, “Do you remember —”

He doesn’t get a chance to finish the sentence before Bucky’s mouth is on his mouth, licking at his tongue, desperate and insistent. They gasp and rut up against each other, and Steve surges forward on his knees so his thighs are bracketing Bucky’s hips as they kiss.

Bucky pulls back to shrug off his shirt, revealing a tapestry of bruises on his skin. Steve reaches out to cover them with his hands, and Bucky winces when he presses at a dark yellow splotch on his ribs.

“Sorry,” Steve mumbles. He traces the line of Bucky’s jaw with large, clumsy hands, strokes fingers over his bony shoulderblades.

“S’okay,” Bucky says thickly, already reaching down to unfasten Steve’s pants.

When they’re both naked, Bucky leans in to kiss Steve again, running callused palms all over his new, strange body. Steve’s already hard, and Bucky’s getting there, his cock beginning to stir with interest.

“God,” Bucky breathes against Steve’s mouth, his voice shaking, “I need you, Steve. I want you in me. Please.”

“Uh — okay,” Steve replies, and a shudder of heat goes through him at the idea.

They’ve never done that before, were always too pressed for time or afraid of being caught. Probably, they both knew it'd mean too much if they did.

(Even their desperate teenage fumbles always meant something to Steve.)

When Bucky lies back on the bedroll, Steve realises with a pang how much weight he lost in the factory. The dip of Bucky's stomach is hollow, sharp ribs visible through translucent skin; Steve aches for him.

Biting down on his lip, Bucky looks at him. “Can you —”

“Oh,” Steve says foolishly, going a little red, but Bucky just smiles. He brings Steve’s fingers up to his mouth and spits on them.

Steve is trembling when he presses those same fingers into Bucky.

“Now, Steve,” Bucky urges. “C’mon. You're not gonna break me.”

It breaks Steve a little, to hear that, but he doesn’t say a thing. He slips his fingers out, shifts forward onto his elbows and starts to press inside.

When Steve enters Bucky, he’s tight, so tight, shaking and sweating beneath him, but Bucky never makes a sound save for a sharp intake of breath. He twists his head to the right, like he can’t bear to meet Steve’s eyes.

Bending his head, Steve presses his mouth to the sharp line of Bucky’s clavicle, panting. He waits.

“Steve,” Bucky says, the words scraped from his throat like gravel, “you can —”

“Okay,” Steve murmurs, laying a kiss on Bucky’s jaw as he starts to move. At first, he holds back, afraid of hurting Bucky.

Bucky reaches up to tug at Steve’s hair. “No,” he insists, “hard. Please. So I feel it tomorrow.” His voice fades to the point where it’s nothing more than a whisper.

And Steve has never been able to refuse Bucky anything, at least not the important things. He starts to push into him roughly, his fingers tightening on Bucky’s hips.

“S’good,” Bucky says, ragged, face still turned away. His cock has softened a little, but he reaches down for himself and strokes until he comes with a silent shudder, clenching around Steve.

“Bucky,” Steve chokes out. His face is wet where it’s pressed into Bucky’s shoulder. A couple of clumsy thrusts and he’s coming, teeth ground together so he won’t say any of the things he shouldn’t.

With horror, he realises he’s left a bruise on Bucky’s hip, to match the ones spattered all over his chest and back. He slips out of him, tries to blink away the tears clouding his vision before Bucky can see.

Bucky is breathing quick and shallow, and he’s covered his face with his forearm.

A tide of panic rips through Steve, and he’s asking, “Buck, are you okay? Did I hurt you?”

“No,” Bucky says, but he sounds so broken that Steve can’t believe it. “It was good, Steve. Really. You were good.”

Steve grabs a spare t-shirt to clean them both off, trying to ignore the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“I’m tired,” Bucky says in a small voice, turning over. “Let’s go to sleep.”

They don’t speak of what happened the next day, or the day after that. On missions with the Commandos, Bucky is always jovial, smiling and cracking jokes. It’s when he looks away that Steve notices the coldness in Bucky’s eyes, the way his mouth turns down, sad and hollow.

So, they don’t talk about it, but sometimes, Bucky will reach for Steve in the dead of night. Steve kisses Bucky, works him open quick and careful and pushes inside. He whispers soft encouragements into Bucky’s neck while he fucks him, and Bucky trembles, his hands touching Steve all over, but he never meets his eyes if he can help it.

It tears Steve apart, the way Bucky won’t look at him.

Every day, he tells himself he'll say something, that he'll make Bucky admit to needing him the same way he's always needed Bucky.

He doesn't. And one day, it's too late.

***

ii.

2015

This is how it happens:

A few months after leaving Steve on the banks of the Potomac, Bucky comes home.

(Steve never doubted he would.)

The steady pulse of time ticks on. Day by day, Steve watches Bucky heal. He tries not to think about the way Bucky touched him decades ago, the promises they made each other with their bodies that they couldn't make with their hearts.

Five months pass that way, and then one night, around two am, Steve’s door creaks open.

He hauls himself into a sitting position in time to watch the mattress dip, to see Bucky; he's right there, flesh hand reaching for Steve’s face, a warm thumb tracing his cheek, his jaw.

“Bucky,” Steve whispers. He feels light-headed, like all the air has left his lungs.

There’s a crack in the curtains, letting in a hint of the moon’s glow, throwing light on Bucky’s face. His expression is even, but his mouth is taut.

“Do you remember —” Bucky says, halting. He sounds uncertain, almost shy.

And Steve does remember. He’s kept every touch Bucky ever gave him safe inside his fragile heart all these years, even while he slept in ice.

He takes Bucky's chin in his hand, tugs him closer until their lips meet. Bucky lets out a slow breath, and then he's kissing him.

Steve licks into Bucky’s mouth until it opens under his, losing himself in the soft heat of the kiss. Bucky shifts forward so he’s straddling Steve’s lap. His dark hair frames his face, falling into his eyes like a curtain.

Steve's hands are spread out on Bucky's back, bunching up the fabric of his t-shirt. He can feel Bucky pressed up against him, all hard heat and coiled muscle, and he wants, he wants —

But —

“Wait,” Steve says, voice choked. “I don’t know what you want.” His chest is heaving, fear rising up inside him like a wave. He doesn't know what he's expecting.

Bucky goes very still. He reaches for Steve's face, rests their foreheads together. “You do. You always did.”

The soft, honest words cut through Steve like a blade. “Please, Buck,” he says weakly. “Please tell me this means something to you. Because I can’t do this if it doesn’t.”

Bucky draws back, his gaze intent. “It does, Steve” he admits. “It did. It meant enough that it was the last thing I thought about before they made me forget you.”

“You got a gutter mind, Barnes,” Steve says, trying to sound light while his throat’s closing up with affection and love for Bucky. Love for the person Bucky once was, before war and horror changed him. For who he is now, all seams and scars — offering himself up like this, with trusting eyes and a cracked-open heart.

“Takes one to know one,” is Bucky’s smart reply, but then he looks at Steve, really looks at him, and it’s like a mask has lifted.

They take their time undressing, inching fabric up skin and drawing garments away from bodies carefully, kissing and touching each part of bare skin revealed. It was never like this, before. Whether it was Brooklyn or in the war, slow and indulgent had never been an option for them.

Steve drinks it all in; his hands map the knots of Bucky’s spine, trace the scars circling his metal shoulder. He touches the curve of Bucky's hipbone, the dimples just above Bucky’s ass he can’t help but press his thumbs into.

And then Bucky is pressing Steve back into the pillows with slow, lazy kisses, covering him with the full length of his body.

The hot slide of Bucky’s cock against his own makes Steve arch into him, groaning.

“I —," Steve says, “I want you to fuck me. Please.”

Bucky is nodding, and Steve rolls over to rummage through his drawer for the lube he bought on a whim some time ago (wishful thinking, probably). He parts his thighs, whining as Bucky starts to work him open with two slick fingers.

“Please. Please.” Steve is begging now, flushed all the way down his chest.

Bucky presses a soft kiss to Steve’s mouth, murmurs, “Okay.” He slicks up his cock and shifts closer so they’re pressed together, flesh hand on Steve's hip and the metal one braced against the mattress.

Steve can’t bite back his unashamed moan when Bucky starts to push inside.

Bucky is panting quietly against his lips. “Feels right, Steve,” he rasps when he’s deep inside, as deep as he can go. “You. Me. This.”

“Uhuh,” Steve agrees, eyes wide. He feels split and full and trembling, but he breathes and breathes until he’s adjusted to the stretching heat of Bucky inside him.

“You okay?” Bucky is stroking Steve's hair, his brow set in tense lines from the effort of keeping still.

Steve hooks a leg around Bucky’s thigh, grins at him. “Gonna put your money where your mouth is?”

“You’ll be sorry you said that,” Bucky mutters, and he starts to move, looking at Steve all the while. The pleasure is blinding as Bucky rocks inside him, restrained at first, then harder.

Steve gets a hand on the nape of Bucky’s neck, pulls him in so he can whisper in his ear: “I want you to come inside me. You feel so good, so good, so good, fucking me like this, come on Bucky, come on, come just like this, for me —” And Steve is chanting now, a string of nonsense words and expletives. It might be ridiculous if he even cared.

He wants Bucky to fall apart and come, has maybe never wanted anything so much in his life —

Bucky seizes in Steve's arms, slams forward one more time, and he’s coming inside him with a quiet groan.

When Steve starts to touch himself, Bucky knocks his hand away and wraps the metal fist around Steve's cock, stroking roughly. The shocking coolness is like ice on the burning heat under Steve's skin, and it drags him over the edge. He comes and comes, shaking.

It’s slick and wet between their bodies when Bucky pulls out.

Steve is still trembling when Bucky’s mouth meets his in a wet, open kiss. His lips are tingling and bruised but he kisses back, greedy for anything of Bucky he can get.

“God, Steve.” Bucky’s voice catches, and he has to bury his face in Steve’s neck.

Steve can feel dampness on his shoulder. He pats at Bucky’s hair, lets him muffle his faint sobs in his skin. Eventually Bucky raises his head and rubs at his eyes.

“Hey,” Steve says. His heart is fluttering under his ribcage, and all the words he wants to say seem trapped in his throat. Instead, he looks at Bucky, hoping that everything he isn’t saying is written on his face.

“It’s okay, Steve.” Bucky’s tear-stained face splits into a grin. “Everything’s okay.”

And — yeah, Steve thinks.