Steve's a late bloomer, and that goes for being interested in girls as much as everything else. By the time they're twelve, Bucky is bragging about kissing girls behind the Five and Dime, and by the time they're fourteen, he's already had his hand up under Maria Gianotte's sweater, and Steve's just figured out what to do with his own hand down his own pants. Bucky's not shy about sharing tips, though, since they already share everything else, and he enjoys making Steve blush with his stories about what he did with Maria or Theresa or Kathleen.
"A gentleman shouldn't kiss and tell," Steve says primly, parroting a line from the movies.
"I ain't no gentleman," Bucky always replies, but he stops, at least until the next time he wants to tease Steve and make him blush.
Steve doesn't tell him that sometimes when he jerks off, he imagines Bucky doing those things with him.
Steve's always been terrible at keeping secrets, though, and in the end, this one's no different.
They're sixteen and renting a room from Mrs. Iavarone on Ditmas Avenue; it always smells like garlic and cat piss, and wet wool and rusty steam heat in the winter, but she lets them do chores around the building to make up for the rent they can't always pay. There's a fire in the neighborhood and Steve's asthma flares up; Bucky shuts the window to keep out the smoke, but the room is stifling and Steve feels like he can't get enough air. Bucky grabs the Vicks and motions for Steve to take his shirt off. This is an all too familiar ritual, and one Steve wishes he could enjoy, because Bucky's hands are callused but warm, and he's always gentle when he rubs the liniment into Steve's chest.
It smells terrible but it helps, or maybe it's just Bucky's hands, but soon Steve's able to breathe without gasping.
"You okay?" Bucky says, forehead creased with worry.
"Yeah," Steve says. He sounds weak and hoarse, but he has enough air to speak, and that's what counts. "I'm just gonna--" He rubs his cheek against the pillow and yawns.
"Not a bad idea," Bucky says, pulling off his belt and kicking off his shoes before he climbs into bed beside Steve. The bed's too narrow for both of them now that Bucky's shot up and filled out a little, but they're too lazy to pull out the trundle bed; Bucky presses himself right up against Steve's back and Steve sighs and relaxes into him.
The room is dim when Steve wakes; they've slept most of the day away. Bucky is still wrapped around him, his breath hot and stale on Steve's cheek and his hand low on Steve's belly. Steve tries to will his erection away, but having someone (Bucky) touching him is like setting a match to dry paper. He's achingly hard, and he thinks if he's quiet and careful, he can take care of it without waking Bucky up.
He licks his palm and eases his hand down into his shorts, holding his breath while Bucky snores behind him. He bites back a sigh when he wraps his hand around himself and strokes, slowly, trying not to elbow Bucky while he does it. Heat crawls up his spine and his breathing starts to get a little ragged, but now it feels good. With Bucky's breath on his cheek and hand on his belly, he can pretend that they're actually doing this together, that Bucky wants it too.
He's so lost inside the fantasy, eyes closed and hand speeding up, that he forgets about being careful, about being quiet.
"You need a hand with that?" Bucky's low, hoarse voice startles him, and he yanks his hand out of his shorts with a yelp.
"Take it easy," Bucky says, still in that same low voice that vibrates through Steve like the sound of his fantasies. Bucky curls his hand around Steve and strokes, hard and sure. "Lemme help."
Steve makes a strangled noise that might be yes or might be please or might be Bucky's name. He doesn't know because his whole body is lit up from the way Bucky's touching him, so much better somehow than his own hand. His hips stutter and jerk as he shoves up into Bucky's tight fist, and he can feel Bucky moving with him in a way that makes his whole body feel like it's on fire. He covers his mouth with his wrist and bites down when he comes so he doesn't shout, and he thinks he feels Bucky's lips against his neck, but he can't hear what he's saying because of how loud his own heartbeat is in his ears.
Bucky wipes his hand on Steve's shorts and says, "You okay?"
"Yeah, I--Yeah." Steve looks down and then forces himself to turn and look at Bucky. "You want me to?" he asks, because he believes in reciprocation, not because he really wants to get his hands on Bucky.
"Nah," Bucky says with a sheepish smile. "I'm good."
Steve glances down at the wet spot spreading across the front of Bucky's trousers and smiles back, too lazy to tease. "Thanks."
Bucky presses their foreheads together. "Anytime."
It isn't anytime, because Steve's afraid Bucky was joking, that if he knew how much Steve wanted it, wanted him, it would ruin everything. And it's not just that without Bucky, he wouldn't have enough money to rent a room or eat, despite working as both a newsboy and, later, a sign painter; Bucky's his best friend, his brother, and those words barely touch the immensity of Steve's feelings. And Steve already gets beat up and called names; he doesn't need any of that taint to get on Bucky.
But it's often enough that summer that Steve starts to hope, because Steve's good at hoping, and Bucky says it's what friends do, they help each other out, and it's their little secret, right? And Steve keeps it close, like he's got the ace of hearts up his sleeve, just waiting for the winning hand to come along, for his growth spurt to come on, for his asthma to go away.
Steve's really good at hoping for the impossible, and he's the best at smiling through the punch to his gut when he doesn't get it, when Bucky starts going with a different girl every other night, and trying to set Steve up with girls, too.
Then it only happens if whatever room they're living in is too cold for them to sleep alone, or if they both have a little too much to drink and they get sloppy and handsy afterwards, or when the girls Bucky meets give him the cold shoulder at the end of the night (they all give Steve the cold shoulder all the time). Bucky breathes half-spoken promises into the skin of Steve's throat or shoulder, his fingers working Steve open so he can push inside, nice and easy, like he's afraid he's going to break Steve apart if he pushes too hard, and Steve wants him to, wants to keep him that close, the two of them bound by heat and need, secrets and love, even if it isn't the kind of love they can ever talk about.
There are still the girls, though, and maybe if they wanted Steve the way they want Bucky, Steve would be okay, would fall in love in the hope that someone would love him back and stop investing everything he has in Bucky, but he doesn't see that happening, not after years of being pitied when he isn't being ignored by everyone but Bucky.
The night before Bucky gets his orders, he lays Steve out on the narrow bed and takes him apart with mouth and hands and cock, until Bucky's name is the only word Steve can remember, maybe the only thing he's ever known. Steve tells himself it's not the last time, that Bucky will come back, but it feels too much like goodbye for him to believe it.
"Shouldn't you be in the hospital?" Steve asks when Bucky flips open the flap of Steve's tent and starts setting up his bedroll.
"I'm fine," Bucky answers, and Steve is so glad to see him that he doesn't push it. Bucky marched at Steve's side the whole way back to camp, and Steve knows better than anyone how irritating it is to constantly be fussed over when there's nothing wrong (or there's nothing to be done for what's wrong).
When Bucky wakes in the middle of the night, shaking and muttering, Steve thinks maybe he should have insisted. He rolls over, pulls Bucky close, presses his chest to Bucky's back.
Bucky's eyes flutter open and he says, "Steve?"
"I'm right here," Steve murmurs into the sweaty mess of his hair.
Bucky's fingers curl around Steve's wrist. "I need you. I need you so much."
"I'm right here," Steve answers again, letting his lips brush the warm, creased skin of Bucky's forehead. Bucky shifts against him, his ass pressing against Steve's dick, which is suddenly half-hard and very interested in where this is going. Bucky drags Steve's hand down and pushes it beneath the waistband of his shorts. Steve curls his fingers around the hot, hard length of Bucky's cock and strokes, letting the thrust of Bucky's hips dictate the pace.
"Need to feel you," Bucky says, tipping his head back and licking Steve's neck. He reaches down and shoves at Steve's boxers and his own, wriggling until they're both bare-assed, so Steve can rub his now fully erect dick against the tight cleft of Bucky's ass. The friction is unbearably good, especially when what Steve wants to concentrate on is the feel of Bucky's dick in his hand, the warm velvety hardness of it, the bit of slick at the tip that he rubs around the slit, enjoying the way Bucky's breath and hips both stutter. He closes his eyes and lets himself feel it all, because he'd thought he'd never get to feel it again--the wiry brush of Bucky's pubes and the firm curve of his ass, the way the jut of his hipbone fits perfectly into Steve's hand now, and the desperate sting of Bucky's teeth against his jaw when he comes, spurting warm and wet over Steve's hand. "Steve. Steve."
"I'm right here," Steve answers again. "I always will be."
"It's really you," Bucky says, reaching back for him, and Steve's not selfless enough to resist. It's been so long since anyone else has touched him (the doctors and scientists don't count) and even though he'd had the opportunity with the USO girls, he'd never taken it.
"It really is." Steve takes his hand and together they stroke until Steve finally climaxes, painting Bucky's ass and the small of his back with come. He rubs it into Bucky's skin, allowing himself the small show of possessiveness no one else will ever know about. Bucky was his first, and if Steve had his way, he always would be, but since that's not a possibility, he'll take what he can and be grateful for it.
He uses his extra t-shirt to clean up as best he can and pulls up their skivvies as Bucky slips into sleep, still pressed up tight against him, the way they used to sleep when it was too cold in the apartment or Steve couldn't breathe, but this time, Steve's the one holding Bucky.
They don't talk about it in the morning. Steve's not sure Bucky even remembers; he doesn't act like he does. That's okay, though, because he's there when Bucky needs him, the way Bucky was always there for him, and that's the important part. He's had a few years to give up the idea that it will ever mean more to Bucky than that. And now there's Peggy to pin all his hopes on, though Steve doesn't know if he'll even ever get to kiss her, let alone anything else. Sometimes he thinks he just likes wanting what he can't have.
It still happens occasionally, him and Bucky helping each other out in the little circle of warmth their bodies make when they push their sleeping bags together. Soldiers take comfort where they can, and none of the Commandos ever say a word, if they know what Steve and Bucky are getting up to in the dark.
And then Bucky falls and Steve will never touch him again.
In the future, Steve lets people believe what they want about his personal life. When Tony makes jokes about him never knowing the touch of a woman, he thinks of the perfect red bow of Peggy's lips, the heat of her mouth that one time they kissed, and covers the pangs of his regret with a shrug and a diffident, "I never was much good with dames." He resolutely does not think about Bucky's hands, his mouth, his cock.
Once he returns from his road trip to help with rebuilding Manhattan, he seeks out the cute waitress from Pershing Square and they go on a handful dates. She can't stop looking at him with awe and gratitude, though, so it fizzles out after a few weeks of handholding and awkward kissing. After that, he dates a SHIELD analyst Natasha introduces him to; he finally has sex with a woman, and it's good, they're good. He thinks maybe he's getting the hang of this whole relationship thing, maybe he's not just going to spend the rest of his life alone. So he's bewildered when, after seven months together, she tells him she wants to see other people.
There are attractive men, too (he will never admit to thinking about Thor sometimes while he jerks off), but he's still not used to this world where it's okay for men to be together openly, and even if he were, he's pretty sure the world's not ready for Captain America to be homosexual (though he's tickled to learn that he's an icon in the gay community; he's pretty sure his wide smile and cheery, "That's swell," is a huge disappointment to Clint and Tony when they tell him).
And then he gets Bucky back. It takes months to track the Winter Soldier, and even longer to break his programming and piece him back together again, make him recognizable as Bucky to himself (Steve never doubted he was in there somewhere). But Steve's always believed they were invincible together (maybe that's why he didn't last long after Bucky fell), and if ice and death and time couldn't stop them, he's not going to let mad scientists stop them either.
He takes Bucky to his apartment in Brooklyn, really makes an effort to turn it into a home now, instead of a place he sometimes sleeps when he's spent too much time with the others and can't stand the shiny modern perfection of his suite at the tower anymore.
He'd gone with Pepper to estate sales, pleaded with Natasha to accompany him to flea markets and secondhand shops, because she had an eye for things that were old but still solid, up to his weight. Everything made now seems to be made of plywood and superglue and it feels like it's going to collapse beneath him.
The bed is modern, though, a wrought iron California king custom-made to his specifications (the price was outrageous but worth every penny), and it's there that he wraps himself around Bucky on the rare occasions Bucky lets him; otherwise, there's space enough for the two of them to sleep with a wall of pillows between them, which is what Bucky prefers when he's feeling guilty over everything he's done, and then for waking Steve up with his nightmares.
Steve has nightmares of his own, though, fewer than they used to be, but still powerful enough to keep him from closing his eyes again after he has them. He dreams of being unable to breathe, of watching Bucky fall, just beyond the reach of his fingertips, because his body is suddenly small and weak the way it used to be.
He's staring at the ceiling when he hears Bucky's guttural mumbles and then a shout in Russian (the part of Steve's mind not totally in the moment makes a note to ask Natasha what it means) as Bucky flails, trying to get loose of the sheets. The metal hand tears through a pillow and the top sheet and then Bucky's blinking up at Steve, who knows better than to touch him yet.
"Bad dream?" Steve asks.
"You've got a way of stating the obvious," Bucky answers, his voice still rough and thick with sleep.
"All part of my charm." Steve rearranges the pillows so he can scoot closer and wrap his arms around Bucky, who lets him. He breathes in the scent of his skin--sweat, soap, and sleep--and his body responds the way it always has. He shifts his hips, but Bucky doesn't let him get away with it, fits himself snug against Steve's body.
Bucky huffs a ragged laugh. "Like that, is it?"
Always. But Steve doesn't say it. He splays his fingers across the warm skin of Bucky's belly--he never wears a shirt in the apartment if he doesn't have to--and says, "If you think it'll help. It's what friends do, right? Help each other out?" His voice trembles a little on that last bit, but he gets it out and feels all of sixteen again, desperate for the touch of Bucky's hands and mouth on the body he'd started to hate.
Bucky's fingers curl tight around Steve's wrist. "Is that what this is to you?"
Steve freezes. "You said--"
"Jesus Christ, Rogers, I was sixteen and scared shitless because I was in love with my best friend." Bucky rolls over and sits up, pushing a hand through his hair. "I was an idiot."
"No argument there." Steve raises himself up on his elbows and forces himself to ask. "So, you were in love with your best friend, but that was a long time ago. What about--"
Bucky doesn't let him get the words out, muffles them with a messy, open-mouthed kiss that's hungrier, more desperate than anything in Steve's memories. He lets himself be pressed back against his pillows and thoroughly kissed. Bucky slings a leg over so he's straddling Steve's hips and Steve can feel his erection now, hot and hard beneath his boxer shorts.
"Are you--Is this okay?" Bucky murmurs against his ear. "I'm not exactly a catch."
"I think we've already established that you're an idiot," Steve says, laughing against his jaw. "And that I'm okay with that. No more backchat."
"Sir, yes, sir. Takes one to know one, I guess."
Steve bites him for that, gently, against the hinge of his jaw. Bucky's hips jerk and he lets out a soft moan, so Steve does it again. He wants to take it slow, wants to savor being with Bucky in a way he couldn't when they were jerking each other off in a tent or rolling around like teenage idiots, but Bucky is voracious, his mouth hot and demanding as he sucks kisses into Steve's skin, his hands everywhere at once, pushing off their boxers, trailing down over the ridged muscles of Steve's belly, lining their dicks up so they can thrust against each other, and send sparks of bliss shooting up Steve's spine. Here, where Steve wants him to go fast, Bucky slows down, circling his hips languidly, teasing both of them with just enough friction to make Steve growl low, a sound he's not sure he's ever made before.
"You like that?" Bucky asks, grinning like it's not driving him crazy too.
"I like you," Steve says. He palms the nape of Bucky's neck and draws him in for another wet, messy kiss. He breathes into Bucky's mouth, and Bucky breathes into him, the two of them laughing soundlessly.
Steve wraps his other hand around their dicks and Bucky twines his fingers with Steve's and together they stroke and thrust until they're both satisfied, warm and sticky and covered in come.
Steve rubs the mess into Bucky's skin and Bucky watches him with an amused half-grin, squirming when Steve hits a ticklish spot, and then he licks Steve's fingers clean when he's done.
Steve's already hard again as he kisses his way down Bucky's body, and for once, he's going to take his time.