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inside me like my pulse

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Here's what Steve remembers:

A freezing forest, and tree roots pressing into his back. Bucky at his side, arms wrapped around his calves while he shakes and shakes.

Steve feels like his chest is constricting. There’s so much he wants to say, but he settles for shuffling closer to Bucky, getting an arm around him.

Bucky makes a small sound of protest before he gives up and burrows into Steve’s shoulder. He feels warm, too warm.

"You okay?" Steve asks, though they both know Bucky isn't.

Bucky doesn't answer. He raises his head and looks at Steve with bright, feverish eyes.

“You came for me, Steve,” Bucky says. He sounds desperate, and a little delirious. “I was gonna die there, and you came for me.”

“Nobody’s dying,” Steve says, voice cracking. He’ll never be able to explain to Bucky the immeasurable relief he feels at having him back.

Bucky’s thumb is stroking down Steve’s cheek, tracing his jaw. Steve breathes out slowly, presses into the touch. His heartbeat is spiking. The space between their mouths is almost non-existent now. Steve can see the puffs of Bucky’s breath in front of his face, wisps of vapour in the cold night air.

He pushes Bucky’s hair off his forehead, and then he’s kissing him. Bucky’s mouth is hot and wet, and his hands are gripping Steve’s shoulders like this is the only thing grounding him.

Steve can’t help himself; he groans, hands moving to the small of Bucky's back to bring him closer.

Finally, Bucky pulls away and Steve watches his mouth turn down.

“Night, Steve.” There's a soft sigh at the end of the words, but Bucky doesn't say anything else; he rests his head on Steve's chest and his body goes slack.

Steve wraps his arms around Bucky and holds him tight, as if this is all Bucky needs to keep himself together.

“Night, Buck,” he chokes out. “I’m always gonna save you.”

Bucky doesn't hear; he's already asleep.

***

The next morning, Bucky acts like he doesn’t remember.

He’s cold and remote.  Steve knows that hasn’t got much to do with him, and everything to do with Zola, but it still hurts.

Back at base, there’s Peggy and a whole host of debriefings to stop Steve from thinking about the kiss.

But he can't forget.

Lying awake in his bedroll, Steve turns it over and over in his mind. He listens to Bucky’s shallow breathing beside him and tries not to think about the taste of his mouth, the soft noises Bucky made in the back of his throat when he kissed him.

***

In London, Steve and Bucky get a rare mission without the other Commandos.

Phillips sends them to check out a suspected HYDRA facility in one of the old bricked-up underground stations, the ones they closed before the war. Two hundred steps later, they find a heavy metal door at the end of a dank hallway.

Steve breaks the lock with his shield and the door swings open, revealing a brightly lit room.

“It’s empty,” Bucky says in disbelief, his eyes scanning the surroundings warily.

The air blowing in through the vents is warm and stale, a reminder that they’re deep beneath the surface.

Steve makes a frustrated noise. “Must’ve been tipped off,” he says. “We’ll still look around, anyway. There might be something the SSR can use.”

But Bucky’s right. Apart from a lot of lab equipment on tables, there’s nothing. The lights are on, and the open file cabinets suggest the previous occupants left in a hurry.

Steve notices a piece of paper at his feet. He drops his shield and bends down to take it: this might be interesting. Among other things, the serum gave him a photographic memory, and it doesn’t take long for him to get the sense out of the strings of German text on the page.

“Human trials of aerosolised aphrodisiacs,” he reads, his voice stuttering on the last word.

Bucky frowns. “Did you just say —”

Steve can feel his face turning pink. “I’m not saying it again, Buck. You heard.”

Bucky barks out a laugh, and Steve turns back to the document in his hands. Glancing at the rest of the words, he sees there’s nothing but statistics and drug calculations, and they don’t mean much to him.

Still, he folds the paper and slips it into the breast pocket of his army uniform.

“You have to hand it to HYDRA,” Bucky remarks, now peering into one of the cabinets. “What were they planning? Defeating the enemy by getting them to fuck each other to death?”

Steve’s laugh comes out strangled. He’s starting to feel uncomfortably hot in this close, small room.

“Glad to see one of us is taking this mission seriously,” Steve says, light, but he can pick up on what Bucky isn’t saying. The horrible implications of HYDRA’s experiments are only too clear: whoever they found to test these drugs on, it wasn’t likely to have been willing volunteers.

Bucky grins brightly. “You know me.” His gaze shifts to a spot over Steve’s shoulder, where there’s another door. He gestures to it. “I’m gonna have a look in there.”

“Mmm.” Steve is half-listening; he’s spotted another sheaf of papers high on a dusty shelf. Looks like the HYDRA scientists who ran this place weren't all that careful about keeping their research under lock and key.

Settling into an uncomfortable chair, he starts to read. It’s mostly more dry statistics, but he skims all the text, not wanting to miss any valuable intel.

***

Steve’s not sure how long he’s been reading when he hears a muffled shout of “Fuck!” from the next room.

His heart’s in his throat. “Bucky?” he calls, getting to his feet. There’s no answer.

He grabs his shield, reaches for the gun at his side and moves towards the door Bucky went through, pushing it open.

It’s another lab, slightly larger than the one next door, and looks about the same except for a display case of small capsules against one wall. They're suspended on strings, casting an eerie green glow over the room.

“Don’t come any closer,” Bucky says, fearful.

Steve has already holstered his gun; he can't see any threat here. Then he spots the tiny green capsule next to Bucky’s foot. It's broken into pieces.

“It was on the floor,” Bucky says, answering the unspoken question. "I stepped on it."

“Apparently it takes around two minutes to work,” Steve says, because he’s just read it in the lab notes. He puts down his shield. "It's odourless as well. Disperses right into the air in seconds. So I don't think staying over here's gonna help me."

“Shit,” Bucky breathes, his face starting to flush. He turns away. “Steve, I’m getting hard,” he says urgently. “I don’t think I’m gonna be able to hold out, like this.”

Steve’s throat is tight when he says, “I don’t mind if you need to. You know.”

Bucky wheels around to face him. There’s sweat beading on his forehead.

“Dunno if that’s gonna cut it,” he says, flat. His eyes are wide, the pupils dilating further with every passing second. “You should get out of here. You’ve got maybe a minute until it hits. We shouldn’t be here together.”

His voice slides into a groan, and Steve forces himself to look down at Bucky’s pants, where he’s unmistakably hard against his thigh.

Under the fluorescent light, Bucky looks good. Dangerously good. Two buttons on his uniform shirt are open, and the sight of the bare skin beneath tempts Steve.

And that's when Steve remembers it: Bucky’s mouth on his like a fever dream, in an Austrian forest. Not like he’d ever forgotten. He feels warm just thinking about it; hopefully it isn’t the drugs, yet.

“Bucky,” he says, aware of the way his breathing’s starting to turn heavy. “I remember it — the kiss. Please, before I lose myself, did you want —”

Bucky’s shoulders shake, and something like a laugh escapes him. “Did I want it?” His hands curl into fists at his sides, like he’s afraid of what he might do with them. “Yeah, 'course I did. That, and more besides.”

Steve’s skin is tingling. Whether it’s from Bucky’s words or the chemicals, he doesn’t know.

He shouldn’t ask, but the words slip out anyway: “More? What did you want?”

“I wanted to touch you,” Bucky answers on a slow exhale. “Wanted to get my hand around you and touch you slow, the way you like it. I used to hear you, back in that tiny bedroom of ours. I know you like to draw it out.”

“Jesus, Buck.” Steve is beet-red; he wants to put his face in his hands, but he forces himself to meet Bucky's eyes. “How do I know this is you, and not just the stuff talking?”

Bucky’s smile is sad. “You don’t, Steve.”

Steve shuts his eyes. He can feel it starting; he’s flushing under his uniform, his cock beginning to stir.

“C'mon,” Bucky is saying. He steps closer until he's right up against him, trails a hand through Steve's hair. “Tell me you don’t want this.”

Steve can’t help himself; he moans. “I do,” he admits. “I did.” It’s getting more and more difficult to think clearly with Bucky’s warm body pressed so close to him.

“You gotta be sure,” Bucky rasps, and Steve can hear him backing away with a pained sound. “Tell me, Steve. You sure? Because I'm going crazy over here.”

There’s a groan from Bucky. Steve’s eyes flutter open to the sight of him with his pants undone, a hand shoved beneath the waistband. He’s touching himself.

“Sorry,” Bucky murmurs, but he doesn’t seem embarrassed.

Steve’s hand twitches at his side; his cock is aching so much it's starting to hurt. He can't look away from Bucky: hair slicked across his forehead with sweat, panting out stilted, shallow breaths as he strokes himself.

He’s harder than he’s ever been in his life, his entire world narrowing to nothing but the fierce need inside him.

And then Bucky is there, putting two hands on his waist, insistently moving him. Steve hisses when his back hits the cool brick of the wall.

“Bucky.” Steve’s voice is low, wrecked. “Should we —”

He’s burning up. Bucky’s hands are all over him, running down his sides, hot as a brand through the material of the shirt he’s wearing.

A finger is pressed to Steve’s lips. “I don't give a damn whether we should or not,” Bucky says, conviction in his words. He glances at a spot over Steve’s shoulder. “But I do care if you want it. Tell me, Steve. You want it or not?”

And Steve is weaker than he ever thought he could be, because he says, “I do want it. Please. Anything.”

"Okay," Bucky gulps, nodding. His eyes are feral in a way Steve’s never seen before, not even when he watched Bucky with girls, heard how he made them sigh and pant when he kissed them.

He sinks to his knees before him, and Steve has to press a hand into the wall to steady himself, has to close his eyes. If Bucky knew how much he wanted this, all the times he’s dreamt about this —

He’s had years to get used to the idea that Bucky doesn’t want the same things he does. Maybe they’re here, but it doesn’t have to mean anything.

It doesn’t. It doesn’t —

Steve is shaking already when Bucky unbuckles his stiff leather belt, eases his pants and underwear down his hips.

Then Bucky's mouth is on him, warm and soft, tongue licking at the underside of Steve's cock. Steve loses himself in a haze of need, one hand sliding down to rest on Bucky’s head. It doesn't take long for him to come, hips pushing off the wall into Bucky’s waiting mouth, biting his own tongue so hard he tastes blood.

There’s no-one down here to listen, but he’s still self-conscious about the noises Bucky could draw out of him, worried about what he might say.

“Good?” Bucky rasps, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. His lips are red and wet.

Steve answers by grabbing Bucky’s wrist and hauling him up. He settles him against the wall and kneels before him.

“Let’s see how I do,” he says, and then he’s leaning in to mouth at the solid heat of Bucky’s cock.

***

They’re naked on the floor.

Steve’s had Bucky’s mouth on him twice, and reciprocated once with his mouth (he was kind of messy and uncoordinated, but Bucky didn’t seem to mind) and another time with his hand, when he says, “I want you inside me, Buck. Please.”

“God, Steve.” Bucky’s eyes go dark. “You ever even had your fingers in there before?” he says roughly.

Ashamed though he is, Steve nods. “Please.”

So Bucky spits on two of his fingers and slides them into Steve. It’s tight enough to hurt, but Steve breathes, easing himself into the stretch. He fucks himself on Bucky’s fingers, pushing back. It’s too much; it’s not enough.

“You got no idea how much I’ve wanted this,” Bucky says, voice wet. For a moment, Steve can pretend it’s not just the influence of the aphrodisiac. He can imagine Bucky wants this, too, has dreamt about it on lonely, cold nights just like Steve has.

“I know, Buck,” he says, almost too choked-up to get the words out. “I know.”

He lets his head fall back to the floor, pulls Bucky down on top of him.

Bucky spits into his hand again, slicks his cock, and then he’s pressing inside him, face mashed into Steve’s collarbone.

“Oh. Oh,” Steve gasps. “That feels —”

Then Bucky rolls his hips and Steve almost whites out with the pleasure. Bucky feels hot and thick inside him, and he’s panting into Steve’s skin as he moves. It’s awkward at first, the angle slightly off, but Steve shifts underneath him, Bucky props himself on an elbow, and it starts to feel easier. Better.

Bucky’s lips find Steve’s, kissing him hungrily in between shaky breaths. “So good, Steve. I didn’t know. I never knew —” His words segue into a moan that Steve swallows back with a kiss.

The rhythm of Bucky’s hips stutters, and there’s sudden warmth inside Steve as he comes. Bucky’s mouth is open, his brow furrowed, and maybe it’s just the chemicals acting on him, but Steve has never seen a more stunning sight.

“Sorry,” Bucky murmurs, and there’s a slick sound as he slips out of him.

Steve is hard and leaking against his stomach. He reaches down to take care of it, but Bucky is there already, one hand on him, head bowed forward.

When Bucky takes him into his mouth, it’s all wet heat and suction. It takes everything in Steve not to grab at Bucky’s hair, not to thrust his hips into the touch. A second or two later, he’s spurting hot into Bucky’s mouth. Bucky licks him through it, only pulling off when Steve’s hands come down to push his head away.

Bucky moves so his cheek is resting on Steve’s belly, looks up at him from beneath long lashes. “Fuck,” he says, hoarse. He drags his lips down to the inside of Steve’s thigh, and Steve trembles. “You kill me, you know. Always have.”

Maybe it’s the softness of Bucky’s words, or the calmness in his blue eyes—less wild than before—but this time, Steve believes him.

"You're not the only one, kid," Steve says breathlessly, trying to keep it light. He pulls Bucky up to kiss the bitter taste from his mouth.

Against his thigh, Bucky’s already getting hard again. Steve gets a hand around him and strokes slowly until Bucky comes, a whisper of “Steve” slipping from between clenched teeth.

Steve runs his fingers over Bucky’s face, touches the throb of his pulse at his neck. Memorises him like he'll never get to have this again.

***

Steve isn’t sure how many more times they go; it happens in a rush, hands and mouths and slick bodies moving together in a blur of sensation.

But one thing he’ll remember forever is Bucky’s quiet, taut “I love you”, whispered into his shoulder as he pushed up into him.

Steve wants to say it back; he does. He can’t recall a time when the crushing want in his chest wasn’t directed at Bucky, when every desire he ever had wasn’t about Bucky.

Still, he doesn't say it. It wouldn't be right, not now when his brain’s a mess of chemically-induced desire.

There’ll be another time.

***

They wake, exhausted and sticky, curled around each other like they used to as kids. A lot more naked than they were back then, but Bucky’s weight on Steve is familiar. Welcome, even.

Bucky stirs and stretches. Steve winces at seeing the bruises he left on Bucky's hips, the marks on his chest and collarbone, but Bucky just shrugs, reaching for his clothes.

Steve’s body is unmarked; his healing factor’s already wicked any injuries away. Still, he imagines he can still feel Bucky inside him, around him, a phantom pulse of heat that remains when everything else has gone.

He coughs wetly, clearing his throat. “That stuff was something else,” he says, and it comes out raspy. “Hope I didn’t hurt you.”

Bucky shakes his head emphatically. “No. It’s fine, Steve,” he says as he buttons his shirt.

Steve tries not to let the confusion show on his face as he gets dressed. It doesn’t seem fine to him, not at all, but Bucky is smiling in a way he hasn’t since Zola: that honest, devastating smile that lights up his face. In the end, he doesn’t have the heart to say anything that would make the light fade from Bucky’s eyes.

He makes a grab for Bucky’s hands, laces their fingers together. “What are we gonna do now?”

Bucky sighs. “Look,” he says evenly, stroking the pads of his thumbs over Steve’s knuckles, “we’ve got time to figure it out. We’ll talk about it, I promise.”

He pulls Steve into a quick kiss. Maybe it isn’t meant to be calming, but the soft heat of Bucky’s mouth quiets the roaring panic inside Steve.

It was real after all.

Getting to his feet, he offers Bucky a hand. “Let’s go.”

***

They don’t have time to talk about it. The next day, the Howling Commandos are sent to the Alps.

A week after that, Gabe Jones picks up a coded radio signal from Zola's train.

Steve watches Bucky fall, and all he can think is: I should have said it back.