Someone sat across from him and put a book down on the rickety cafe table: POW Heroes: The History of the Howling Commandos. The jacket had a photograph on the cover, but only Gabe had noticed the camera. The rest of them were just standing there—doing mission prep, it looked like—but pictures of the Howling Commandos together were so rare that even odd frames of film had become valuable. Steve had never seen this one. He was saying something to Jim, and Dum Dum was fumbling with the straps on his pack, and Bucky was frowning down into that little leather notebook he always carried, pen in hand. You could hardly see Bucky’s face, but Steve knew his every expression. Bucky always took notes, strange little scribbles that were damn near incomprehensible: shorthand thoughts.
Steve stared down at the picture: Bucky's holster wasn't on properly. His jacket was unbuttoned. He—
Steve was going to have to look up now, across the table: face him. He was going to have to look up.
He looked up. The man on the other side of the table was the same and different from the man in the photograph; he was right there and yet far away, magnified, focused: at the end of a rifle scope. He was unshaven and faintly grimy, dark hair pulled back at the nape of his neck. He was wearing a faded green parka, and his face had settled into deep lines of exhaustion; Steve knew that kind of tired from missions: it was from going weeks without sleep in enemy territory. He had been Bucky Barnes, and maybe he still was.
The man shifted slightly. “Steve,” he ventured; it was like he was speaking a foreign language.
Bucky, Steve thought, but stopped himself from saying it. He had no right—he’d learned that during the long and terrible night he’d spent reading the Winter Soldier’s file: every word of it, doggedly looking up and writing down the translations of the Russian phrases he didn’t know, electroshock, biological agents, sleep deprivation, and words that turned out to be names of intravenous drugs. It had been the worst night of his life: worse even than the night after Bucky died, because he’d only cried for himself, then.
Steve tapped the book cover instead and said, a little unsteadily, “I don’t know this one. Any good?”
The man shrugged; it was Bucky's shrug. "I guess," he said, stilted. "It's hard to know. The places and names, maybe. I guess they're right. It's better than the other one, the one with the mural on the cover—"
"Captain America's Howling Commandos," Steve said, grimacing. "Like they were mine, or America's—"
"Yeah, Dernier would have cursed you a blue streak, "Vas te faire mettre – mon Dieu, j'en ai ras le cul, les Americans, nous ne travaillons pas—"
"—pour vous, mais pour la France—eh, je m'en fiche, je m'en fous, va te faire foutre—'" Steve rattled back.
Bucky's mouth twitched. "Yeah, that's right: it was always 'I don't care: go fuck yourself.'"
"Imagine if he did care," Steve replied, and when Bucky's weary face cracked into a grin, Steve went momentarily lightheaded: it could be okay: this could maybe all be okay. It came to him that he was sweating; he could smell his own stink rising up from the neck of his shirt: flopsweat, terror.
"I'm not ready to come in," Bucky said, as if this had been the conversation they'd been having all along.
"Okay," Steve said, straight away.
Bucky's eyes were on him: intense, almost fascinated. Steve tried to stay still and let him look. “I know you've been looking for me."
"Yes," Steve said.
Bucky's face gave nothing away, but Steve could feel him weighing something, deliberating. Finally Bucky swiped his tongue over his lower lip, then sucked at it with his teeth, a low wet sound. "I've been reading a lot," he said finally, roughly; hurt somehow, "but you—you're not in those books. You and me, we're not—Not the way I remember," and Steve felt another wave of dizziness : I remember.
Steve's throat tightened; he could barely get the words out. "No. We're not."
Buck stared for one last second, then let out a breath and sat back, slinging his arm over the back of the chair, his flesh arm. "This isn't a good place to talk," he said, suddenly casual, and Steve looked down and saw a cheap brown key fob on the cover of the book. It had a number on it stamped in flaking foil: 612. A hotel key.
Steve covered the key with his hand and drew it toward himself. "I don't want to talk," he said.
Bucky vanished between one blink and the next, aided by the crowds of hurrying people; Steve supposed Bucky’d chosen to make his approach here for the same reason that he came here: you could be invisible in midtown because nobody ever slowed down to look at you. Inside his pocket, Steve was clutching the key fob so tightly that it was digging into his hand. He debated ducking across to Stark Tower to change, shave, maybe grab some things that might refresh Bucky’s memory, then decided not to; instead he walked straight into the train station and caught the subway going downtown.
The hotel was far downtown and all the way west, a real rat-trap of a place with an old neon sign that had three letters out; BELNORD. The sidewalk outside was cracked, and many of the neighboring buildings were crumbling: there had been a lot of gentrification around the waterfront, the old meat packing districts, but it hadn’t reached here yet. Steve pulled open the grimy glass door and walked straight past the battered registration desk; he had a key after all. The guy on duty was watching a tiny television and paid him no mind. Steve supposed that a lot of things happened here that he wasn’t too keen to see.
He bypassed the tiny elevator and took the stairs to the sixth floor, which was the top floor, then found 612. He knocked and said, quietly, “It’s me,” but when there was no answer, he unlocked the door and stepped inside. The room was small: there was a bed, and some furniture that had seen better days. The bathroom was so small he could barely fit his whole body into it—but there was a black satchel on the desk and an army blanket spread out over the bed, both of them Bucky’s: he knew that immediately.
Steve took off his jacket and sat down on the edge of the bed to wait, fingers laced together; he was trying to keep his thoughts unfocused, trying not to worry too much about what could happen.
It wasn’t long before the door opened and Bucky came in. He closed and locked the door behind him, then pulled out an almost invisible coil of wire and looped it around the doorknob. Steve didn’t stand up.
Bucky took off his parka, never taking his eyes off Steve. He was wearing a lot of layers underneath: a jacket, a long-sleeved shirt, a t-shirt beneath that. “It’s strange seeing you here,” Bucky said finally.
“Yeah,” Steve agreed. “But we’ve been in lots worse places, haven’t we?” and that turned out to be the right thing to say, because Bucky’s eyes flashed with amusement: “Yeah, that’s the goddamned truth.”
“And not just Henry Street,” Steve said—and the room on Henry Street had been so terrible, so cold, so roach-infested that they’d abandoned it before the end of the week and gone running back to Bucky’s house; Bucky’s ma had let them sleep on the floor in the living room for a couple of days until they could raise the next week's rent between them. “But all the places we slept rough during the war,” and something on Bucky’s face was unlocking, softening; he was coming close and murmuring, “Yeah, that’s right. That’s right... We squatted in bombed-out ruins, abandoned houses, barns and haylofts and horse-stalls—“
“—in the backs of trucks, the tail sections of planes—“ Steve rattled off.
“You were there for that,” Bucky said, a little wonderingly, looking at him. “We did that together.”
“We sure did,” Steve said, and now he did stand up, and suddenly there wasn’t much room between them: just a couple of feet and the bed. Bucky hesitantly touched Steve’s arm, and that seemed to make it okay for Steve to let his hands skim Bucky’s waist—and then Bucky jerked back, shuddering.
“It’s—” Bucky stammered, sounding a little breathless. “Hold on—“ and then he was turning and fumbling in the black satchel and—Jesus, that was a lot of pills. Bucky seemed to have a whole pharmacy in there, plastic baggies full of white and orange and gray tablets. He picked out what he wanted and then turned and looked the question at Steve—and Steve knew that look of old; will you trust me, pal? will you come with me on this?—and before he could second-guess himself, Steve held out his palm.
“Buck,” Steve said hesitantly, drawing back; the others had already gone in, and sure, Steve could see the attraction of the place: there was warm light flickering around the edges of the heavy curtains, and he could hear music and female laughter, though he wasn’t sure if it was a piano or a gramophone. It seemed like a little island of warmth and safety in this part of France. “You should go if you want to, but I’ll just—let me—I’ll meet you back at the—“ and normally Bucky was with him, reading his moods and understanding everything he couldn’t say, but tonight Bucky took him by the arm on the threshold of the maison and said, soft but oddly insistent, “Let me give the orders, pal, okay? Just for one night?” and pulled him inside.
It was like a party, really – with a roaring fire and a piano and pretty girls smiling and drinks being passed round, and if some of the girls weren't wearing as many clothes as maybe they ought to be—well, he could try to keep his eyes to himself. Dum Dum was standing near the piano, a be-feathered girl on each arm, singing; Dernier was sitting on a loveseat in the quietest, dimmest corner of the room, whispering into the ear of a pretty brunette; Monty was holding on to Gabe's arm the way Bucky was holding Steve's, keeping him in a conversation with two girls in shimmery dresses that were very nearly see-through. There were other girls, too, sitting alone or in pairs on worn velvet divans around the room. They were smiling invitingly, trying to make eye contact. Steve didn't know where to look. He kept his head down.
Bucky threw back a glass of whiskey; he was scanning the room methodically, and Steve could feel it the moment he settled; knew it from the way Bucky's hand tightened on his arm. Steve didn’t look at the girl; instead, he planted his feet and said, with soft urgency, “Buck. I can’t, I—“ but he could read Bucky’s face like a book—will you trust me, pal? will you come with me on this?—and so then of course he had to. Bucky’s hand slid down his arm and curled, actually, into his hand, and then Bucky was tugging him toward a petite blonde who was wearing a lace dress that had seen better days. The girl had a wry face, a pointed nose and a clever expression. She stood and smiled coquettishly as Bucky dragged him over; she was obviously trying to keep herself open to both of them at the same time, not sure which of them was the client or whether they both were. “Come on, let’s go,” Bucky said to her, low and rough.
Her smile never faltered; she just turned and led them out of the room. Bucky squeezed his hand and yanked him along, and Steve became aware of grins and approving glances in Bucky’s direction; Barnes is going to make sure the Captain gets laid; well, finally; somebody had to. Steve had heard versions of this his whole life, from guys who thought that it was a man’s duty to make sure his son lost his virginity before his 18th birthday and pitied Steve for being fatherless. But Bucky’d never been one of those guys—or okay, sure, Bucky’d set up dates for him, had introduced him to girls and made encouraging noises when Steve was passed by or passed over—but he’d never been one of those guys who judged you, who equated manliness with sexual experience. But maybe Bucky was one of those guys. It made Steve feel heart-heavy.
They followed the girl up two flights of stairs and down a hall with creaky floorboards to a heavy oak door. Beyond was a dimly lit room that was both lavish and threadbare at the same time. It was swathed in fabric—the floor was carpeted, the walls covered with silks; even the lamps had frilly pink shades on them, not to mention the coverlet spread across the enormous bed—but everything was faded, ripped in places, though someone had clearly tried to brighten the place with new pillows and a vase full of freshly cut flowers.
Bucky closed and locked the door. Steve thought this was maybe his last chance. He said, with soft urgency, “Bucky, please. I—“ but Bucky shot him a sharp look and lifted a finger to his lips. Then he turned to the girl. She reached for him with her slim, white arms, but Bucky gave an irritated shake of his head, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a roll of bills. The girl’s eyes widened as Bucky grabbed her hand, yanked it up, and pressed the money into it. He closed her fingers around the wad of cash and squeezed.
"Your job here is to keep your mouth shut," Bucky told her. "What's that, the WC? You go in there and you stay in there till I tell you. Reste là, s’il vous plait, comprendez-vous?" and Steve flushed with embarrassment as the girl shot him a sharp, impossibly-knowing look before turning back to Bucky and nodding seriously.
“Oui,” she said, and tucked the money into her brassiere. “Tu peux me faire confiance, je ne le dirai à personne. C'est bien d'être pris en charge,” and Bucky showed her his teeth and said, “Smart girl,” as she sauntered past him, went into the tiny room, and shut the door. It locked with a soft click.
Bucky turned to Steve, unknotting his tie. Steve couldn’t breathe; he was frozen in a kind of terror. “What, you think I don’t know?” Bucky asked and there was something accusatory in his voice. He came toward Steve, and the room was suddenly very small: just a couple of feet between them and the bed. “Didja think you were gonna keep this from me? Put one over on me," and Steve gritted his teeth and shook his head.
“No, Bucky, no,” he said, almost pleading. “I just. I didn’t want you to know."
“Yeah, well. But this is it, pal.” Bucky shucked his jacket and threw it onto a nearby chair, then slid his tie out from his collar and coiled it on top. “We could be dead tomorrow, either of us. Both of us.” He touched Steve’s arm, and Steve reached out instinctively, almost helplessly, fingers crooking around Bucky's belt. Bucky nodded slowly, seriously. “So if you want to try this..." and Steve couldn’t help himself: he tugged, and they stumble-bumped into each other and kissed, noses knocking together awkwardly. The whole world narrowed down to Bucky’s mouth—the taste of whiskey and the scrape of beard, his soft lips and the sweet wet slide of his tongue. He impulsively slid his hands into Bucky’s thick hair and sucked and bit at his lips and kissed his stubbled cheeks until his own mouth was tingling and sore, scraped raw with it. Bucky was clumsily unbuttoning Steve's shirt. Steve was breathless, his balls as aching and tight as his lungs. He was rubbing himself against Bucky helplessly, rutting, every nudge a small explosion.
He let his hand drop, searching—and oh, thank God, Bucky was hard too. He could feel the hard length of him through his pants, and traced the shape of him, rubbed him with the heel of his hand—Bucky gasped, and their mouths skittered and parted. They pressed their faces close, skin to skin: nose tracing cheek tracing lips, hot breath in his ear. Steve gripped Bucky through his pants and gently bit his earlobe, wanting to hear that soft, desperate sound again, and oh, there it was. He'd taken Bucky at his word when Bucky said that he knew what Steve'd been keeping from him, but now he wondered if Bucky really did know: if he had any idea as to what Steve had been keeping leashed. He could sense Bucky's uncertainty, the hesitation in his touch. Bucky'd probably thought that he was going to be in charge of this—and so when Bucky leaned in to kiss him, Steve let him; just moaned softly and opened his mouth and let him.
He let Bucky decide when to break the kiss, too. "What," Bucky began, a little breathlessly. “Steve, what do you want?" but Steve had what he wanted: Bucky’s cock in his hand, Bucky's mouth against his. He couldn't stop himself giving little hungry kisses, licking and gently biting. “I want,” Steve gritted out, and then he tightened his fingers around Bucky’s length for emphasis, and Bucky huffed out a nervy laugh.
“Christ, I won’t argue,” he said, and wow, that was a first.
“You’re probably going to throw up,” Bucky told him, and Steve barely had time to blink and say, “Wait, what?” before Bucky grabbed him by the arm, towed him into the tiny bathroom, and flipped the toilet seat up with a bang. “It’s all right,” Bucky said hastily. “It’s good, it’s going to feel good: trust me,” just as the first convulsion took him, and then he was lurching, falling toward the toilet. Bucky's metal arm came around him, steadying him, and that was good, because he might have gone over otherwise: he was throwing up everything in his body, throwing up from his toes. Emptying himself with every heave: not just lunch but what remained of breakfast, and not only that, either—he was throwing up sadness; he was throwing up sickness and horror and despair: his mother's last illness and the massacre at Bydgoszcz, the plane crash, the ice, the endless terrible smell of food gone rotten and unwashed bodies during that terrible June of 1930 before he’d really understood what was happening—and it was like some kind of dream, a miracle, that Bucky was holding him and murmuring in his ear, calm and solid like always, “that’s it, honey—there you go,” and he was heaving Bucky’s death into the toilet, too; purging that, everything.
Then he was reeling upright, dizzy as the blood rushed from his head and stumbling over to the tiny basin to rinse his mouth out with cold water—the coldest, more refreshing water he'd ever tasted. Steve let the cold water run over his wrists, then thirstily drank from his cupped hands, then washed his face with it, then shoved wet fingers through his hair till water dripped from his nose. Beside him, Bucky was bent over and heaving, though he seemed in control of it, hand braced against the tile wall. When Bucky straightened up he looked different, calmer, more himself—and then he showed Steve the smile that Steve still saw in his dreams, sometimes; a smile Steve hadn’t seen for real since, oh, had to be 1943, maybe. Steve smiled back.
Bucky lifted his eyebrows. “You all right?”
“Yeah.” Steve couldn’t stop smiling. “I feel great,” he said honestly.
“Good.” Bucky bent over the basin to scoop water into his mouth and scrub at his teeth, and Steve couldn’t resist the impulse to press up against him, just lie down on him. He folded himself over Bucky’s broad back, put his arms around Bucky’s waist and pressed his cheek between Bucky’s shoulder blades. Bucky was warm and spicy-smelling. The splashing water sounded musical. He could hear Bucky’s heartbeat.
Bucky hummed contentedly and turned off the tap. Then he straightened, turning carefully, not breaking contact; holding on to Steve—which was a good thing; a very very good thing. Steve felt a little wobbly at the knees. Bucky’s hands were on him. Bucky was touching him easily, unselfconsciously—like before.
“You’re high. You know that, don’t you?” Bucky said.
“Oh really, do you think so, tell me more." Steve was fingering the hemmed neckline of Bucky's shirt, and he couldn't seem to stop. The cloth felt amazing. "I just figured I might lick your shirt collar for absolutely no goddamned reason,” Steve said. "What is this stuff?"
"Some guy at the VA gave it to me." Bucky leaned in, the smile still ghosting across his face, and dragged his nose along Steve's cheek. Steve's heart pounded and he moaned: it felt so good. He turned his face into it. "I had to triple the dosage and add some other things to it to get it to work—but it works, doesn't it?"
“It works,” Steve murmured. “Yeah,” and then Bucky was turning his face and kissing him, but it was like he was feeling it everywhere, in every nerve in his body. He was compulsively dragging his hands down Bucky’s back, smoothing over and over, feeling the shape of him, the warm sculpted muscles. Bucky’s mouth was lush and stubbled around the corners where his beard was growing in, and he was fascinated by the contrast and sort of lay there, licking and kissing Bucky’s mouth at its prickly corner—he was on his back, lying down, the mattress thick against his back. Bucky was half sprawled on top of him, kissing him and rhythmically stroking his hair—and when had that happened? But who cared? He felt great.
Steve said: “Dyarmir,” and then he was laughing up at the cracked ceiling; the crack was shaped like a hippo. He licked his lips and rubbed them together and then tried again; it was strangely hard to speak. “Do you remember,” he managed, making himself shape the words properly. France, he'd been going to say. The brothel—except for the first time in forever, his memories weren't better than where he was now. Oh, that particular memory was still pretty damn good, but he felt emptied out, cleansed; bleached. That was the past. The past was the past, like a fading picture. Because Bucky was here, now. Here and heavy on top of him. It was now, it was finally now—and Steve reached down to tug at the hem of Bucky's shirt, and then they were blindly worming out their clothes piece by piece. His hand was down Bucky's undone pants. Bucky's mouth was wet on his ear. He was mesmerized by the gleaming plates of Bucky's arm, couldn't stop looking at them moving, whirring in patterns—and he only realized he was about to come mere seconds before he did, because his breath caught. Every muscle in his body was tight from whatever Bucky was doing, he couldn't even figure out—everything was—and Steve squeezed his eyes shut and pushed his cock against—into—and something built and built and then exploded deep inside of him and he came in a rush, panting, and it didn't stop, it came in waves, it kept coming. Every time he thought it would stop, it kept coming. He was wild with it: couldn't stop moving his hands, touching everywhere he could reach, kissing everything he could touch—collarbone, elbow, flesh, metal—rubbing, grinding with his hips.
Air was rushing gently past his ear, the wind, breathing, Bucky breathing, panting, "Steve…Steve…" and Steve turned his head, eyes still closed, and found his mouth, and then he lay back on a sea of gently moving water, and Bucky was kissing him, swirling his tongue, and crooking his metal arm under his leg, drawing it up, and Bucky was on top of him, inside him, and the whole world was moving around them.
He tried to keep his mouth on Bucky’s even as they tumbled together in stages down onto the brothel’s enormous bed, the taffeta coverlet vaguely unpleasant against his skin. Bucky seemed to have recovered himself a little – he was cupping Steve’s face and kissing him, worming his solid thigh between Steve’s legs just like Steve’d seen him doing to Mary O’Brien on their beat-up old couch that time that Steve’d come home early on what turned out to be Bucky's day off. "Oops," Steve had said, immediately backing up and pulling the door shut, but it had been too late: fifteen seconds later, Mary’d come flying out the door, fixing the combs in her hair, her pleated skirt smoothed down and her jersey jacket buttoned all the way to the top. Steve had jammed his hands into his pockets and hunched his shoulders, turned to the wall, trying to pretend he didn’t exist. Still, she glared at him, chin raised, as she strode past. “I didn’t see nothing,” Steve blurted anxiously. “I got—you know, astigmatism,” but still she glared as she huffed down the stairs. Steve had wrinkled his nose and gritted his teeth and gone back to the apartment. The door was ajar. “Hey, Buck,” and Bucky had thrown a shoe at him. Stick that in your Captain America comic book.
Steve rubbed his face against Bucky’s cheek and then tipped Bucky’s chin up and kissed the stubbled underside of his jaw. “I think you’re so beautiful, Buck,” he murmured. “I always knew why the girls liked you—and why they didn’t like me, because they knew that I wanted you for myself, that I was just wishing them gone the whole time,” and he could feel the lopsided grin tugging at Bucky's face. Steve sucked gently against the line of his jaw and added, softly, “I would have been a girl for you, if you wanted—"
“You’re no girl,” Bucky said, and Steve sucked in air through his teeth, because Bucky was groping and fondling his cock. "You'd never have fooled anybody, even when you were small. But I like you more than any girl I ever knew," Bucky said with rough, unexpected honesty, and Steve ached, he wanted him so much. "And it's now or never, pal, so come here, I'm going to—"
"No, let me," Steve scraped out, and then he was sliding down Bucky's body, kissing his collarbone, the flat hard plane of his breastbone, pressing his face into the hard muscle, the bones, the packed strength of his chest. Bucky's ribcage was rising, falling—Bucky was panting, realizing what Steve was going to do; most girls wouldn't do this, not even the fast girls that Bucky sometimes ran with.
"Oh God," Bucky breathed, as Steve scraped his fingers through Bucky's pubic hair and tipped the velvety tip of Bucky's cock into his mouth. "You dirty little punk," but his hand was gentling over Steve's head, thumb stroking his cheek and cupping the back of his neck and coaxing him into the right rhythm—and Steve moaned softly and gave himself over to it, losing himself in the long-desired intimacy of it. Mouth, cock, hand, the musky smell and the scratch of hair and the soft, soft skin below Bucky's belly-button, and he was lost in it until suddenly Bucky was gasping raggedly and pushing at him, shoving him away and then roughly dragging him up and over, face-down and slicking between his thighs.
Steve groaned and held his legs together as Bucky pushed between them, hands clenching his shoulders, and then he was driving forward, holding Steve down and fucking between his thighs, and god, Steve tried so hard to make not make noise, because Jesus, it felt good: warm drag of skin and flexed muscles and Bucky's rough thrusts sending little electrical flashes up into him, warmth pooling low in his belly. Bucky was kissing and biting the back of Steve's neck, and then he was muttering, low and rough, “Shit, fuck, Steve—“ and Steve was right there with him and gritted out, “Yeah, do it,” and Bucky was dragging him up and forcefully spreading his thighs and pushing into him. Steve heard himself whining, high-pitched and embarrassing, and tried to muffle it against his braced arm but he couldn’t, just fucking couldn’t—but Bucky was panting and cursing softly in his ear, hips pumping helplessly, and then his hand was gripping Steve’s dick and Steve came blindly, choking, sputtering, throat working, and he couldn’t hold himself up anymore, and Bucky tumbled down heavy on top of him, still fucking, before he shuddered and came too.
Bucky’s fingers closed hard on Steve’s arm; his voice, in Steve’s ear, was hard, too. “You’re mine, now,” he said. “You belong to me now,” and Steve, sweaty and exhausted and happier than he could ever remember being, said, almost irritably: “I always was, you idiot. Just you kept leaving me places, like lost luggage,” and then, with as much threat as he could put into it: “Don’t you goddamn leave me, Barnes.”
“Christ, I’ll do my fucking best,” Bucky said.
Steve woke up sweaty and sticky and thirsty and with Bucky sprawled on top of him. He closed his eyes and snugged down in the worn sheets, intensely happy: that had been a good drug, whatever it was. In his arms, Bucky was unmoving, breathing deep—and awake, though Steve didn't know how he knew that.
"Is this," Steve murmured gently, "us the way you remember?" and Bucky rolled off to the side and peered down at him, propped on his metal arm. His brow was furrowed. He was taking it as a serious question.
"Yeah," Bucky said finally. "Or..." He shrugged. "You, maybe. Me…?" He shook a long lock of hair out of his eyes and shot a sardonic glance at his metal arm. "I don't know. What about you?" he asked with a fast, hard smile, and that was a dare: the Winter Soldier daring him to say he hadn't changed. But what was funny was that it was near about the most Buckyish thing he could have done: Bucky Barnes all over.
"I don't know," Steve said, and smiled again—he couldn't remember ever smiling so much. "I mean, you look like I remember you looking—it's not like I didn't recognize you," and Bucky jerked a nod: that was true. "You look like you and you sound like you. And you feel like you. And…" Steve licked his lower lip then sucked it in with his teeth, and what was left of the Winter Soldier dissolved into Bucky's familiar grin. "But nothing smells the way I remember," Steve concluded, sighing and tucking one arm behind his head. "Mostly things smell better—they changed the gasoline or something, and I feel like there was a lot more rotting fish and chemical smell at the waterfront—but I find that I miss the smell of your cheap eau de cologne, Barnes," and Bucky barked out a laugh, and so Steve pressed on, "—and whatever rotgut you used to drink, plus there was always some girl rubbing herself all over you," and Bucky, now grinning like a loon, bent, naked, to grab something—his jacket—off the floor and fish something out of the pocket.
A crumpled pack of Luckies, and Bucky bent his head and cupped his hands. There was the sulphuric whiff of the match, and then Bucky was sitting back against the bed's gray-white pillows with the lit cigarette dangling from his lips—and Steve thought he had been joking about missing the scent of Bucky's cologne and the smell of fish and all that, but the drifting curl of smoke made the world around him spin and the years fall away—and he closed his eyes and was home, really home, right here in this rat-trap of a hotel.
"Oh, you bastard," Steve said, under his breath, and then he lifted his hand. "Gimme that," and Bucky immediately plucked the cigarette from his mouth and handed it over. Steve took it, the tip still wet from Bucky's mouth, and inhaled deeply—and immediately broke out coughing, laughing. Christ, it turned out that there was more than one way to go home, and he saw from the longing on Bucky's face that he was feeling it, too: the rightness of them. This could be any of the places they'd bunked together: Henry Street, Grace Street, Alameda Avenue, or the fire escape at Bucky's house where they’d crawled out the window to share cigarettes before bed. Bedrolls, barracks, safehouses. During the war, after their night in the brothel, they'd smoked in bed together, just like this. Steve got his lungs under control and took a shallower drag. The smoke was thick and heavy on his tongue. He let it escape slowly and handed the cigarette back.
"You know what these cost now?" Steve asked. "More than we used to earn in a week," but Bucky just made a face and shrugged that off as irrelevant. Steve remembered the way cigarettes could keep you going when you were tired and hungry, and hadn't they all been, back then? He wondered if the crushed packet of cigarettes in Bucky's pocket meant that he was still tired and hungry: still living from hand to mouth.
"You want to eat something? I could eat a horse. I mean, we don't have to go out," Steve added quickly, not sure how much Bucky knew about this part of the modern world, "they'll bring it here to us: anything we want. Chop suey or—spaghetti," but something flickered across Bucky's face, something uncomfortable. "I've got cash," Steve added abruptly, wondering if that was it, but Bucky's face creased into a grin, so no.
"I've got cash too," Bucky said, taking a deep drag of the cigarette. "So yeah, let's get chop suey, but then—" His lips were still curved but the smile was gone from his eyes. "I've got to go," he said. "I can't—I mean, I'm not ready to come in, so I've got to keep moving. I can't stay in any one place for too long."
"Sure, okay," Steve said; and of course: he should have thought of that. "I'll come with you."
Bucky visibly started. "What?"
"I'll come with you," Steve said, and then more forcefully, "I'm coming with you."
Bucky's mouth was working. "Steve," he began, and this time Steve recognized the thing flickering across Bucky's face; it was pain. "The way I'm living now, I—it ain't living. It's not a life. I got nothing to offer y—"
Steve shook that off. "Just let me be the judge of that."
"I came up for air because I wanted to see you. I had to see you. But I'm not just underground," Bucky gritted out, "I'm below ground."
"That’s all right," Steve told him. "Bucky, I—"
"It's not all right." Bucky sounded agonized. "You don't know what the hell you're—"
"I do," Steve insisted. "I do know," and he could see it in the dirt under Bucky's fingernails, in his uncut hair and the deep creases of exhaustion in his skin; the thin film of grime over everything. The pack of crumpled cigarettes. The fact that Bucky had been wearing so many clothes, all the clothes he owned, and how all his other things (cash, pills, guns) fit into a single black satchel. Bucky had been living rough.
"I don't care what you say. I don't care where we go. If you're a hobo, I'll be a hobo with you—don't argue with me," Steve said, pointing a finger at him when he opened his mouth, and Bucky whuffed out a laugh and sank back on his pillows again, regarding Steve with a baleful expression as he lay there, smoking.
"Some of the things I do are illegal," he told Steve, and Steve, staring at him, slowly let one eye cross over the other; a trick he could do since he was a kid. The hotel room blurred, doubled: Bucky's smirking face.
"Do tell," Steve said, and Bucky blew out a cloud of smoke, unwinding, and said, "fuck, I missed you."