A thin rivulet of sweat had carved a path through the shimmer on Bucky’s skin, ending at his left eyebrow; the drop hung delicately in the center of the brow and Steve watched it, mesmerized, waiting for it to shake loose with Bucky’s thrusts. It clung tenaciously, though. Steve smiled up at Bucky—his skin glowed, his eyes were lit like sparklers, the heat of him swept through Steve, fell all around him. “Buck,” Steve whispered, because he was afraid this was only the dream again instead of real life—it happened still from time to time, Steve had always been wary of what seemed too good to be true—and saying anything out loud would break the spell.
But that droplet of sweat—it was the kind of detail they’d rarely conjured up when they lived inside their long sleep, that and the thump thump thump of the headboard against the wall. He closed his eyes to the vista of sensations it evoked: the texture of the hair on Bucky’s thighs against Steve’s ankles and the soles of his feet, the curve of his arm underneath Steve’s shoulders as he pulled Steve close, the thickness of his cock inside Steve. He was here, this was real—this was real and Steve was filled with sunlight, with Bucky, brimming over with it and so must Bucky be too, the ice that had clung to their skin and hair and lashes long since melted in its blaze.
“It’s just a setback,” Natasha said with a squeeze of Steve’s wrist. She yanked his attention away from the empty vault, pointed two fingers at his eyes, then at hers. “Focus on me. You can’t give up hope.”
Sam zip-tied the last of the Hydra personnel who’d survived their entry, and he said calmly over his shoulder, “Listen to her. You’re no good to him if you give up now. We’ll get him back.” What difference would his hope make? It hadn’t helped him find Bucky.
Steve needed a direction, orders, something—“We’ll find him.” If you say so. “Or he’ll find us. You’ve laid the groundwork. But now we have to get Sam’s wings, and then we go get Sitwell.” She was right, there was a job to do and it was a hell of a lot more important than this. There were too many lives at stake to obsess over Bucky right now.
This room had been almost beautiful in the dream, because there’d been no evidence of what they’d done to Bucky, no implements of torture. “We’ll find him, Cap,” and Sam put a comforting hand upon the back of his neck. Maybe nothing Steve had said to Bucky in the dream made a difference. Maybe it was all just worthless mystical hocus-pocus bullshit like Bucky’d said, once upon a time.
“Jesus god, Steve, you’re so—so—”
Tight. Hot. Incredible, Steve waited for him to say, hands coming to Bucky’s body, homing to find the taut curve of his behind, the soft hidden skin he loved to touch. Lightly bit the left nipple and Bucky shivered with pleasure, Steve could feel it all the way into his gut. The drop of sweat quivered, too, but remained stubbornly on Bucky’s brow.
“—fuckin’ heavy,” Bucky groaned and kissed Steve’s shoulder as Steve busted out into laughter, a nova inside him. The two of them shook with it and the droplet fell at last to Steve’s cheek. “My arm’s gonna give out,” and he let the plates reposition themselves to make his point, as if it was simply too much to bear.
“Jerk.” A quick roll of his hips, then hooking his ankles around Bucky’s legs, drawing Bucky tighter to him. A new streak of sweat made its way down the line of Bucky’s sweet nose. Maybe this one Steve would allow himself to kiss away.
Nothing he’d said in the dream made any difference. Bucky fought Steve like a wild animal, met him blow for blow through the streets of D.C., a horrible ballet, and nothing could cut through whatever Hydra’d done to him. He’d had Steve by the throat and looked him in the eyes and there was nothing.
“Who the hell is Bucky?” He raised his gun as Steve countered with, “You have to wake up. Bucky. Remember what I said—remember. I’m with you—” and before Bucky could pull the trigger Natasha fired the grenade launcher behind him.
In a van—they’d be executed, most likely—in shackles, Steve wanted to give up. “He can’t hear the words, can’t wake up. Whatever they did to him...” Stupid to try.
“It’s not your failure if he couldn’t remember what you said in the dream. You can’t give up hope, Steve,” Nat said, the blood that soaked her shoulder a nightmarish contradiction.
He’d found himself clicking around on the Internet after his return, curious about the societal changes they’d briefed him on, and discovered the surprising number of things that two men could do with each other, things he and Bucky couldn’t even have conceived of: now anything goes, indeed.
When Bucky came back to him, Steve had opened that bag of tricks; they were two new lovers again, experimenting to discover what they liked, or didn’t. But there were other discoveries as well, like the unexpected indignities of sex in the real world—in the dream they weren’t burdened by gravity, or skin dragging uncomfortably against skin, or bodily functions, or simply moods and mental states. Steve liked being fucked more than he had in the dream; the opposite was true for Bucky—which worked out well, since Bucky loved giving head, loved giving Steve anything that left him whimpering with pleasure and completely in Bucky’s thrall.
Steve watched the sweat make its way down Bucky’s perfect little nose, felt the muscles in Bucky’s lower belly tighten with impending climax—exactly where Steve wanted him, where he could see him once more like he had in dreams: soaring over iridescent rainsoaked plains and glittering cobalt oceans, through dark verdant forests and gleaming cities.
“Say my name,” Steve begged against the angle of Bucky’s shoulder, turned his head as Bucky wound fingers through his hair, gripping, pulling, and shuddering with his release.
“Steve,” Bucky whispered, always as though he remembered Steve anew, as if he’d finally come back to him. “Steve.”
The world was blacked out, the sun in his eyes. Bucky wanted him blinded. Wanted not to be seen.
“Are you—” Too much white around his eyes, his lower lip trembling.
“I’m all right. In the hospital. I’ll be fine in no time.” Steve dropped his arm, squinting against the light.
“I tried to kill you.” He could make out the shell of Bucky’s form now, a silhouette, still shadowed as he’d been when he first began showing up in their dreams. Everything around them was charred.
“It wasn’t you. I know that.” Steve pushed into the light and Bucky stepped back, but he could see him now: the tactical gear, the wounds on his face, holding his arm because Steve had broken it. “I’m okay.”
“I tried to kill you.” Bucky shook his head, his voice rough, scraped raw. “All of your friends, too. You said those words I needed to wake up but I...didn’t.”
“You did when it mattered, you pulled me from the river. Please, let me just—”
“I always came back in the dream, you always helped me remember, but I didn’t this time and I almost killed you.”
Well, if they were going to be argumentative about it—“I don’t care. You remembered, that’s all that matters, not when you remembered.”
Steve took his hand and pulled Bucky toward him. “No, Steve, that’s the problem: I knew I was supposed to wake up. I knew what it meant. But I didn’t want to—it—it hurt.” He shoved Steve back and fled once again into the darkness, white tide of frost unfurling behind him as he ran and Steve couldn’t follow, his feet, as they were, encased in ice.
They’d been at it now for hours; it was like being in a fight, sometimes, Steve thought. His body quivering at the edge of failure, falling apart, unable to give him just one more minute of strength, Bucky’s hot wet mouth on Steve’s cock and Steve’s hips arcing off the bed like that would give him the climax at last he desperately sought. Bucky’s hands that shaped him like wet clay.
There were times, like this, when Bucky would spread Steve out on these soft, cool sheets as if he was a banquet, and Steve was reduced to moaning helpless entreaties and endearments. He lost all his vocabulary as Bucky sucked him off, his metal hand—never as cold as Steve expected—teasing into his ass or gripping his cock with that otherworldly sensation.
After he came, Bucky grinned and strolled to the bathroom, swished water around in his mouth and spat in the sink, flopped down on the bed next to him and drew Steve’s arm over his shoulder. “Where to tonight?” he asked, muffled against Steve’s ribs. “You still haven’t shown me Asgard.”
“I didn’t see that much of it. Keep hoping Thor might take us there for real, I guess. I’m afraid you’d be so disappointed by my memories.” Someday they’d revisit all the places they’d gone in their dream world, but for now Bucky was happy to have Steve remember them at night and take him there in dreams. Tinged, as they were, with the golden haze of memory, these new dreamscapes were more beautiful than the real world. Not all their dreams were perfect: they’d frequently pulled each other into their nightmares; sometimes they didn’t dream at all, sleep was simply a dark, icy ocean of silence.
But Steve loved nights like this most of all, where they went to sleep together yet met within their dreams. And he woke up to Bucky’s face here, too: light breaking on water.
“I’ll show you what I saw on the way there.” It was spectacular, but it couldn’t compare to Bucky. Nothing ever did.
“So what’s the plan?” Sam asked, and pushed the carton of lo mein across the table. “Seeing as how we got no idea where he could be this time and he’s not your dream date anymore.”
“He’s there, he is, I can see him. He lets me see him, but he just...” Please don’t look for me, Bucky’d begged. I’m not ready for that. “He’s afraid of what he could do.” The rivers and roads all ran to Bucky, and they would find him if they followed. They had to, Steve had no other choice. He couldn’t live here without him.
“But does he know you’re chasing outside the dream? You’re not exactly a shining example of the poker-face and he’ll just blow as soon as he smells us coming or sees you looking like a wet cat when you show up in the dreams and try to hide that you’ve found him. We just—gotta be prepared.” Sam left unsaid: but you have to be honest with him now more than ever.
The fortune Steve pulled from the cookie on his plate said: Anything is possible with a willing heart.
“Hey,” Bucky said, and pulled Steve to him for a kiss, like he hadn’t had plenty of kisses when they were fucking the night away: his lips were plump with the history.
“Hey, yourself.” Steve put his arms around Bucky, spun them; a vortex, spiraling them into the starry sky. Something out of a fantasy book, or a painting, but it was what he remembered of the journey with Thor—whirling through the galaxies as the Bifrost pulled them along. He’d save his memory of Asgard for later, for tonight he just wanted to dance them through the star-spattered velvet sky, around and around till they were dizzy, Bucky’s laugh like a song. “Showoff,” Bucky said, and threw his head back and a hundred thousand stars sprayed from his hair like quicksilver.
“Right, like I’m the only one.”
There was a song—one of the songs Steve had heard on the radio, he’d played it for Bucky, and now Bucky half whispered, half sang it against his cheek: When we dance you have a way with me / Stay with me / Sway with me. It had taken Steve some time to translate dancing from the dream into this world and not fall over his two left feet, but teaching Steve again was one of the things that helped bring Bucky back to himself. It was all a dance, Bucky insisted: fighting, fucking, flying in the dreams.
“We never got it right, did we—the stars? It’s so much more amazing.” Bucky was fascinated by the things he learned about the modern world, the way Steve had always thought he might be, enraptured by Steve’s memories and experiences—they helped him forget the steady, invisible dark line that ran through his life now. But Bucky was changing all the time, the way silver particles become a photograph with their latent images exposed to light. Negatives to positives.
“I think we did okay,” Steve said, spinning them up, up, till they had no breath left.
They chased him down to Eastern Europe, but Steve had kept his distance. He just wanted to know, that was all, and Sam respected it, as much as he was exasperated. If Bucky knew he was there he didn’t show it in the dreams—sometimes he allowed Steve to talk to him, but mostly he stayed among the lost: the faceless, voiceless ones who’d once been their companions.
But occasionally Steve had to abandon everything for Avengers business, and it surprised him when he was in a dusty South American town and Bucky stepped from the shadows of his dream. Within the span of an eyeblink he’d taken Steve’s hand and they were on their beach in Tahiti.
“I know you’ve been following me.” He was no longer wearing the tactical clothing he’d had for the better part of the year even inside the dream, but his hair was still long and he wasn’t clean-shaven—as soon as he’d become himself again back in their old dream world, Bucky had always been what Steve remembered before the fall.
Until he’d been pulled back to life and given form again, Steve had forgotten what it was to want things; their imaginations gave them whatever they needed, and they’d had each other. The ferocity of wanting something this bad buckled him under and he wobbled, Bucky catching him under the arms and hauling him up. “I just wanted to make sure you were safe.” It was a lie, but that was all right.
Bucky dropped his head. “After you left, I wandered around for weeks, retracing all the places we’d gone. I think it was months before they finally woke me up for a mission. It was just ice, after you were gone, as far as the eye could see. I never really went back until you—”
“Found me,” Steve said at the same time Bucky did. Steve let Bucky run his thumb over the bones of his hand, kiss the span of his neck as he swayed and sighed.
“You’re a big, clumsy, stupid puppy of a man,” Bucky grumbled and laughed against his neck despite the decades of pain coloring his voice. “I’ll let you bring me in. They’ll probably take this away from me, won’t they, out there.” Not even a question, just the resignation of someone whose only respite from orders and death and torment had been a frozen dream world.
“No one will ever take this away from us again. No one.” Steve pressed his mouth to Bucky’s hair—it smelled, inexplicably, like fresh-fallen snow and crisp icy air.
“Steve,” and that was all they really needed to bring Bucky home at last: the saying of his name, like waking up to sunlight on their skin.