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Cracked Mirror

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They had been chasing down the smugglers for weeks. Between Natasha’s leads and Bucky’s network, they hadn’t stood a chance, but it took time to find the main headquarters, the island compound the boss used as both storage and transportation hub. Infiltration had been the easy part, but they’d encountered fierce resistance as they’d gone, having to clear little by little. Steve had expected it, these people were loyal and had nowhere left to run. Rats in a sinking ship, and the Avengers were the ocean.

All right, that was a bit much, even for Steve. He shook his head, focusing on his partner and the two other spies with him. The goal was to take the compound intact, so Tony was in the jet, running backup. Sam was helping him with air support, and they hadn’t even brought Thor, or Bruce. Safer that way. These guys had been dealing in dangerous technology, Shi’ar, Skrull, the kinds of things S.H.I.E.L.D. locked up and threw away the key. If they found anything, they’d be handing it off to Thor, though. They’d learned that lesson the hard way one too many times.

The main building in the compound, the boss’ home, was ginormous. Steve would have preferred to split up, clear it in teams, but the thing about leading a team consisting of spies was that they kept sticking their noses into every crevice, drawer, and box they could find. There wasn’t a piece of paper they wouldn’t stop to read, or a desk they wouldn’t rifle through. It did mean less chatter on the comm; Clint was chatty only during actual fights. When sneaking around, he was astonishingly quiet. Nat had never been one to natter on, and Sasha - on missions, it was always Sasha - was quiet all the time. It felt a little strange not to have someone complaining in his ear, or babbling; it made Steve worry about where his people were, needing to check in more often than he would otherwise when they were out of sight. Thankfully they indulged him without comment, obediently chirping in their positions even if he could swear he heard ‘mom’ at the end of the comment sometimes.

Finding the vault proved to be trickier than expected. They had hidden it behind an actual, honest-to-god, sliding bookcase. A button beneath the desk - all right, so the spy’s obsessive behavior wasn’t completely useless (the gloating and victory dance had been, though) - had opened it to reveal a staircase heading down. They’d regrouped, slipped downstairs to a white corridor that ended at a steel vault.

Steve had stood back as Nat, Clint, and Bucky conferred on how to get into the thing. There were a lot of skills Steve had picked up over the years, but breaking into a bank-grade vault was not one of them. When they broke up, Nat and Clint headed back up the stairs, and Sasha came back to Steve.

“We’re blowing a wall,” Sasha said, dropping his normally disciplined demeanor to press a kiss to Steve’s lips.

“No fraternizing with your superiors,” Steve scolded, but Sasha just smirked. There was no hiding how Steve had leaned into him, kissed him back, and would likely have kept going as long as Sasha liked. Which probably only would have been until Nat or Clint reached the top of the stairs since that was the only reason Sasha felt safe enough to drop his defenses at all. It was a marked contrast, though, from when they’d first rejoined the Avengers and Steve appreciated that his love trusted his team.

Sure enough, a moment later Sasha was pulling away, pointing his rifle down the hall and taking a defensive stance. Steve followed suit, lifting his shield, holding it up in case they had missed any soldiers willing to kick up a fuss. They stayed like that for nearly fifteen minutes, holding, waiting.

Then Nat chirped, “Fire in the hole,” and the entire floor shook.

Behind Steve, Sasha turned around, pointing his weapon at the vault. Steve held, keeping his eyes on the stairs until he heard someone opening the secure room from the inside. When he looked, it was in time for Clint to push the heavy steel door open and spread his arms in welcome. Rolling his eyes, Steve swept around Sasha, letting his partner cover the rear like he preferred to, and joined the archer and Nat in the vault.

It was much like they expected. Secure crates lined the walls on steel shelves. The floor was sprinkled with concrete and dust from the hole blown in the ceiling. Each box was neatly labeled, meticulously, but their was no sign of the head honcho. Some shelves were broken up though, the boxes from top-most shelves lying on the ground, some cracked open, some still perfectly intact. They cluttered the space, making movement difficult. Some shelves were merely crooked, boxes perched precariously.

“Panic room must be somewhere else,” Steve said. “Nat, Clint…”

Steve trailed off, distracted by the sudden, shimmering glow emanating from one of the crates. The turquoise light appeared to be coming from inside the box itself, somehow permeating the sides and lid. Stepping towards it Steve couldn’t help but think how beautiful it was. It vacillated, green to blue to nearly black at the edges; though Steve couldn’t have explained how light could be black if he tried.

“What, Steve?” Natasha asked.

“What’s doing that?” Steve wondered, pressing his gloved hand to the side of the box.

“Doing...what?” Clint asked warily, stepping closer.

“The light,” Steve answered, shrugging off the hand Sasha placed on his shoulder. “It’s so…beautiful.”

“Steve,” Sasha warned as Steve hauled the crate from the shelf to the floor, crouching beside it, all but hunching over it. He needed to see what was inside. The light grew brighter, sparkling on Steve’s suit, Sasha’s skin, reflecting off the metal of his arm. It was warm somehow, like standing close to a fire. He needed to touch it, to open the box and look inside. He needed.

Ripping off the lid, Steve was momentarily blinded by the sight. A small stone, about the size of his palm, lay in the center of the box. It was emitting the glow, but the center of the stone itself danced with a multitude of colors and shades of green, blue, and black. It was so pretty. Steve smiled down at it, feeling a flush of warmth in his chest at seeing something so beautiful before him.

Someone was pulling at him, trying to get him away. Distantly someone was saying his name, shouting, but none of that mattered. He had to have the stone. Had to touch it, feel it. He needed it. Twisting, Steve shoved the person pulling at him away from him with all his strength. The body went, flung by Steve’s superior strength, and he reached for the stone. Before he could, though, someone slammed into him, jostling him, and a silver hand snatched the dazzling stone up.

Gasping, feeling like he’d been dropped into a cold tub, Steve stared with growing horror at the stone in Sasha’s hand. Then the light erupted, smashing out into all of them, knocking them to the ground.

“Sasha!” Steve shouted, surging back to his feet. The former assassin was pushing himself to his elbows, looking displeased, but none the worse for wear. Not quite satisfied, Steve hurried to his side - ignoring how Sasha immediately pulled his metal fist away from Steve’s reach - and pressed a hand to his throat while he scanned him for injury.

Nothing.

Before Steve could breathe easy, a loud groan came from a corner. “Uh,” came a voice. “What’s goin’ on?”

Steve froze, every muscle in his body locking down as he recognized the voice. Even after decades, a whole lifetime even, he would recognise that voice anywhere. Head swiveling to see what his ears were telling him, he kept his hand on Sasha’s - Bucky’s - throat, but he couldn’t get his body to move more than that. In the corner, his eyes told him there was Bucky, in smart pants, button-up white shirt tucked in neatly, suspenders and old, hand-me-down shoes. That’s what they told him, but that couldn’t be right because when he looked down, there was Bucky - Sasha, his miracle and greatest failure.

Except he was staring at Bucky, too.

Steve wasn’t hallucinating. Like he hadn’t over a year ago when he’d found Sasha again on that balcony; he was seeing Bucky in front of him. Impossibly. A dead man walking, or standing, except this Bucky was exactly as Steve remembered, from his wide eyes, clean shaven, almost painfully handsome face, down to the shoes that had once belonged to a boy in the same tenement as the Barnes’. This was the man Steve had seen on street corners and in crowds so often he hadn’t let himself believe it was true when Sasha stood before him. This was the man who had died for him, the first he’d loved, before the world had tried to break them.

Even before Steve could speak, Natasha and Clint were on their feet, pointing their weapons at Bucky’s heart.

“Who are you?” Natasha snapped, her tone brooking no argument.

“Don’t move,” was Clint’s order as he moved in to pat Bucky down for weapons.

“Whoa, okay,” Bucky said, holding up his hands and backing away from Clint. “Uh, guess I’ve stumbled into somethin’ not on the level. I’ll just…be on my way…”

“Hold still,” Clint barked again, both he and Nat shifting threateningly.

“Stand down,” Steve gasped, his voice as thin as if he were having an asthma attack. “Guys, stand…down.”

Natasha and Clint glanced at each other, skeptical of the uncertain order. Steve didn’t care, because Bucky’s eyes shifted to him too and it took his best friend half a moment to recognize him. Grey gaze went wide, sweeping Steve from head to toe before his mouth dropped open.

“Stevie?” The word was hesitant at first, as if Bucky had had trouble comparing the man Steve was now with the tiny shrimp he had been before. “Steve, is that you?”

“Yeah, Bucky, I…” Steve looked down, at Sasha, at Bucky and scrambled to his feet. As he did, he curled his arm around Sasha’s elbow, pulling him with him. “I don’t have a clue what’s going on.”

When he looked back to Sasha, he wore the strangest expression Steve had ever seen. His eyes were terrifyingly wide, whites clearly visible around the edges, but his face was set into a hard scowl, head lowered enough that his long hair fell into his face, obscuring it from his doppleganger. (Steve had no idea how Sasha kept fighting with all that hair in his face all of the time, but he adamantly refused to cut it.) Now he looked like a cornered animal, tugging at Steve, trying to get him to move, trying to put himself between Steve and…Bucky. As if Bucky was the threat here.

Steve glanced at the younger, frankly defenseless version of his lover and back again. Bucky couldn’t be a threat to anybody here, much less to Sasha, especially unarmed. The fact Sasha was acting as if Bucky was a bomb ready to blow any second was odd, to say the least. A strange thought came to Steve then. Did Sasha even recognize himself in Bucky?

“Hey, hey,” Steve said, pressing his hand to Sasha’s cheek, trying to capture his attention, “he’s not a threat. We know him.”

“Know him?” Clint repeated. “Another geriatric?”

“Steve,” Natasha interrupted warningly, “you don’t know what that is, or who. That stone could have done anything.”

“No,” Steve said firmly, not about to make the same mistake twice. He’d refused to believe his eyes the first time he’d seen Bucky again, told himself it was just another hallucination, just more wishful thinking. This? This wasn’t. He knew his friend. “That’s Bucky.”

Steve tangled both his hands into Sasha’s hair, pushing it briefly away from his face, exposing the angular shape of his jaw, the high cheekbones, and big widely set eyes, making it clear that Bucky was a younger version of Sasha. Let them look, they’d see what Steve saw.

“Okay, that’s fuckin’ weird,” Bucky said, but he was inching toward Steve. “Steve, why’s your pal there look like me?”

Sasha growled low in his throat.

“Why do you look like me?” Sasha snapped immediately, again trying to put himself in front of Steve. This time, Steve let him, but only because as Sasha moved, he was able to push his gun down, forcing it to swing onto his back. He knew Sasha would only have let him because he was a weapon, but Steve wanted fewer itchy fingers on triggers.

“Us arguing about who’s got whose face ain’t gonna go anywhere,” Bucky said, stopping before Sasha. It was clear to Steve that he found Natasha and Clint the bigger threats. “I ain’t a threat to anybody, least of all Steve. If you think you’re me, you should know that. That’s why I don’t think you’re…not me.” Bucky’s hand motioned to Sasha, then Steve. “You’re protecting him. Though, Steve, I’m a little confused why you’re letting him.”

“Some battles aren’t worth fighting,” Steve said wryly, and could feel both of the men turn to look at him. Bucky was alarmed, Sasha’s gaze was intense, as probing as always, trying to see right through him. Steve prepared to defend Bucky further, but Sasha abruptly gave up after a moment, the defensive set of his shoulders easing into something softer, less threatening. Sasha said nothing, but turned to Bucky again, looking at his face, his body, in a different way than before. Not as a threat, but actively looking for something, maybe similarities. It was heartbreaking for Steve that Sasha didn't recognize himself, that he needed time to see what Steve had.

“Fuck,” Sasha murmured, taking a small step back, clearing the way for Steve.

It was all the permission he needed to step forward and pull Bucky into a rough hug. It was brief, as theirs had been before the war and the ice, but hard and tight. When Steve stepped back, he held Bucky at arms length, looking him up and down as Bucky did the same, shaking his head in disbelief.

“You’re fucking taller than me,” Bucky complained.

Steve laughed, squeezing Bucky’s shoulder.

“We’ve got a lot to catch up on and this is not the place.”

“So,” Clint interrupted, “this is also Bucky? I can see it now that Fabio isn’t hiding behind his flowing locks, but…” Lowering his voice, Clint stage whispered to Steve, “He’s not scary when he smiles.”

“Yeah,” Steve said slowly, “this is Bucky before the War.”

“You can tell that?” Natasha demanded, voicing the question Steve could feel behind the look Sasha gave him.

“What war?” Bucky interrupted, looking from one person to the other.

Letting a small smile curve his lips, Steve said, “Case in point, before the War.” To Bucky he said, “That’s one of those long story things we can talk about later.”

“We have a mission to complete,” Natasha reminded almost gently.

Steve licked his lips. They did. They needed to find the boss hiding here, somewhere, but they needed to evacuate Bucky from the premises as fast as possible. Like this he was a civilian with only back-alley brawls and boxing skills to fall back on.

“Go,” Sasha said, pulling his gun back over his shoulder. “Get him out of here. You won’t be any good to us worrying about it.”

Pulling away from Bucky, Steve took a step toward Sasha, but his lover waved him off.

“I’m fine,” he insisted. “We can finish up here. Have Tony evac you and send us another bird. It’s gonna take a while for S.H.I.E.L.D. to mop all this up anyway.”

“Thank you,” Steve said sincerely, before looking back to Bucky. “Come on, stay behind me and stay close.”

“So you’re protecting me, now?” Bucky teased.

Picking up his shield, Steve flashed Bucky a grin.

“Call it repayment for the last century.”

They made it out of the compound without any fuss, meeting Tony and the quinjet on the beach. There were bodies, but Bucky had seen that before. It was hard not to, living where they had all through Prohibition. Though Bucky let out a low whistle at the sight of the jet, he didn’t say much more, taking to heart Steve’s promise that they would talk later.

“What happened to Mr. Freeze?” Tony asked as Steve and Bucky climbed the jet ramp.

“Mr. Freeze?” Bucky questioned.

“Movie reference,” Steve answered shortly. “There’s two of him. This is Bucky. Bucky, Tony Stark. Yes, those Starks. Tony is Howard’s son.”

“His son?” Bucky blurted. “But he’s like fifty!”

“Late thirties, thank you very much,” Tony said with a huff. “Compared to you I’m a spring daisy. You’re fifty years older than me, grandpa.”

Bucky swallowed, but immediately came back with, “And better looking. What’s that say about you?” Steve didn’t even try to hide his grin at Tony’s expression. God, he missed Bucky being a snarky, charming firecracker of a man.

Tony laughed, clapping Steve on the shoulder.

“Okay, I like him. What are we doing with him?”

“Doctors,” Steve said instantly. “We need to find out if there’s anything…”

Steve couldn’t say it. Saying it meant he might lose Bucky again, and that thought made his throat close up. They really had no idea what was happening here, how Bucky had come to be, or why he didn’t remember the last several decades. They didn’t even know how, if he was a regular guy, or a construct that might break down and vanish.

“Wrong,” Tony finished, squeezing Steve’s shoulder comfortingly. “On it, Cap.”

As soon as he was out of earshot, the quinjet ramp closing behind them, Bucky demanded, “The hell, Steve? You look like you did last time I asked about your mom. And that guy? He looks like he went through the Great War, like your dad did on bad days. What happened to me? What happened to you? How are we fifty years older than Howard Stark’s kid? He’s older than the both of us.”

Steve opened his mouth to say explain…and couldn’t. He didn’t even know where to start. This was Bucky, though, and his expression melted into concern a moment later. Grabbing Steve’s arm, he pulled him to the seats lining the wall and made him sit. Like he might faint if he didn’t.

Huffing a laugh, Steve pressed his hand over Bucky’s.

“I ain’t sick any more, Buck.”

“I noticed,” Bucky said wryly, sitting down beside Steve, so close their thighs and shoulders touched. Steve forgot, how close they used to be, forgot how acceptable physical closeness between men had been in his time. Now even a hugging another man was considered unmanly behavior, but Bucky didn’t know that. Bucky didn’t care.

“No, I meant…at all. My heart, my lungs, my hearing. Hell, I can see all the colors now.”

“How?” Bucky asked.

Steve looked down at their hands. They had never really had this conversation, or rather, Steve had never had to justify his choices. There was a war, he was the higher ranking officer, and there had been other things to worry about. Bucky was different by then, too. Only in the heat of the War, the sheer misery of it, Steve hadn’t realised how much, only that he was like the men who had come back from the Great War and had seen too much.

Now here was Bucky, the man he had known since childhood, staring at him with the clear eyes he hadn’t seen since before all that. A man who hadn’t seen what he would of death and battle, and Steve had to tell him he all but threw away his life at one moment in time.

“What year do you think it is?” Steve asked.

“Stark said fifty years later then…” Bucky swallowed. “1994?”

It was clearly a shot in the dark.

“No, I mean, what year do you think it is. Not what you guess, what you’d have written down if you hadn’t talked to Tony.”

“1940,” Bucky said hesitantly.

Steve let out a breath; that would make things a bit easier to explain, then.

“The war in Europe? It comes to America. The Japanese attack us and… It’s bad, Buck. A lot of people were hurt because we hadn’t helped sooner.”

Bucky exhaled loudly. “Damn.”

Nodding, Steve looked up at Bucky again.

“You volunteered. They wouldn’t take me. 4F, but I kept trying, wasn’t gonna be left behind.” Bucky blinked at him. “I found someone who’d give me a shot.

Bucky winced and cast him a nasty look.

“Steve if they let you in, the first day of bootcamp would have killed you.”

“I know, but it didn’t. I made it through all six weeks, by the skin of my teeth, but I did it.”

Bucky was grimacing continuously now, making Steve smile despite himself. Bucky had always been his protector, his knight in shining armor, and while he’d thought Steve could do things no one else could, he’d still never thought he would have made it in the army. These days, Steve could say he was right. He’d have been a hindrance, bringing down the other guys in his unit when he had to push so hard to keep up. “Always were stupid and stubborn as a mule, the worst kind of combination.”

Steve grinned because Bucky had complained about Steve’s stupidity and stubbornness to anybody who would listen since they were six years old. It wasn’t something he’d heard in awhile, though, and hearing it again...

Nudging Bucky’s side, to distract himself as much as his friend, Steve said, “Well, I did. Whole thing, running, shooting, crawling and climbing. Fell off the climbing wall once, got my feet all tangled up and dangled upside down while my drill instructor screamed himself hoarse.”

Shaking his head and laughing, Bucky looked up to the ceiling as if praying for help. Steve had to admit, he probably was. Back before, he’d been a good Catholic boy.

“Who was the idiot that thought that was a good idea?”

“Dr. Erskine,” Steve said fondly. “He died, but before that, he picked me for his experiment, said it had to be a good man and that…he thought I was.”

Bucky nodded.

“Stubborn as a mule, stupid, reckless, but yeah, you are good man, Stevie. Always have been. I wouldn’t have hung out with you if you weren’t.”

Grinning, Steve bumped Bucky’s shoulder again and felt his smile widen as he was shoved back. Bucky had never acted as if Steve was made of glass. He was happy to shove Steve, to wrestle with him, or just generally roughhouse even if he did apologise later for the bruises that used to bloom on Steve’s skin if anybody so much as looked at him crossly. It was Bucky who had taught Steve to box. Bucky never cared he was sickly. He had treated Steve as an equal and he never, ever forgot how much it meant to him.

“So, he did his experiment, and I’m…whole, now. Heart, lungs, ears, all of it. I can’t get sick and… Well there’s a lot of changes.

“You telling me all this,” Bucky made a vague gesture towards Steve’s body, “is because of the experiment? Because...just ‘cause your heart and lungs and shit were healed, it doesn't make you grow. And you’re taller than me now, let’s not forget that, shall we?”

“All of it,” Steve confirmed with a nod.

Bucky fell quiet, looking at Steve.

“If it changed you this much,” Bucky finally said, “it must have been really dangerous, right?” Steve sucked in a breath and Bucky swore at him. “For Christ’s sake, Steve! The fuck were you thinking!?”

“I was dying,” Steve said quietly, and that shut Bucky up faster than anything. “My heart, you know? It wasn’t gonna last much longer. A few years. I thought, what the hell? This guy? He’s giving me a shot. He sees in me what Bucky sees. He sees that I can, even when I couldn’t. So…I said yes. I was gonna give it a shot, I was gonna prove myself.”

“Did you tell me?” Bucky asked tightly. “Did you at least say goodbye to me?”

Steve swallowed.

“You weren’t around to tell, Buck. You said goodbye to me.”

“So if I came back, and you were dead, I would find out from your headstone. If at all? Or would I just sit and wonder what happened to you for years to come?”

“Bucky,” Steve tried, but Bucky had always been able to read him, and he stood, putting physical distance between them.

“You didn’t tell me, did you? Answer me, Steven.”

Steve made a face.

“Jesus, no one calls me that any more.”

Glaring, Bucky swooped back in. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tony come out of the cockpit, but Bucky was on a mission. He caught Steve by his ear, twisting and snapped, “Steven Grant Rogers, you answer my damned question!”

“No!” Steve shouted. “No, okay?! I wasn’t gonna tell you!”

“Well,” Tony said conversationally, “that’s new.”

“The hell’s the matter with you?” Bucky demanded, still holding Steve’s ear and completely ignoring their audience. Steve’s face burned, but Bucky wasn’t done with him, and how in the hell had he forgotten how stubborn Bucky could be? “Risking your life, no thought to anyone else? Did you even think about it? What would happen?”

Steve glared and Bucky dropped him, looking disgusted and crossing his arms.

“You never even thought it was a possibility.”

Rubbing his ear, Steve pulled a face at Bucky.

“I knew it was an inevitability if I didn’t. I do it, I die, you might come back to me dead. I don’t? I die before you do. Much as you liked to think I was gonna make it to forty, I wasn’t gonna last much longer.”

“Convenient,” Bucky snapped, still breathing harshly.

“Oh yeah, my heart trying to give out was just the excuse I always wanted,” Steve shot back.

“No, the fact I that wasn’t there and writing a letter to me was apparently impossible. You didn’t have to look me in the face as you decided that all on your own.”

Steve shot to his feet.

“I didn’t know what to say! Sorry, Buck, you’re not here to stop me so I’m gonna let this guy inject something in me that might make all my problems disappear. Sorry, Buck, I know you’d think it’s stupid, but I’m gonna do it anyways.”

Bucky stepped into Steve, pushing him like he always did.

“You are my family!” he roared, red in the face. “You expect me to just go, ‘Oh, okay, sure! Risk your life! Risk those few years you had for something that could happen.’”

“That’s why I couldn’t tell you!” Steve yelled back. “Because you were the only one who would miss me! You know how many people you said goodbye to, Buck? Dozens. I had you and I knew you’d never forgive me anyway.”

Bucky sat down, the red in his face replaced by paleness.

“You always were ruthless,” Bucky murmured. “Never looked back at the things behind you, eyes always forward, and damn the consequences.” Bucky ran his hand through his hair. “Don’t know why I’m surprised.”

“You ain’t,” Steve sighed, dropping into the seat by Bucky again. “You’re just mad ‘cause I was an ass and I could’ve died and you think I need to be more careful.”

“You know,” Bucky huffed, “you keep arguing my side, but I’m not hearing an apology.”

“And you won’t,” Steve said stubbornly. “If I hadn’t, you would have died. I won’t take it back, or do it different. I got to keep you for a few more years and yeah, pot, meet kettle, but that’s how it is.”

“My ma always said you were bad news,” Bucky said. He didn’t sound much calmer, but maybe more defeated. Steve couldn’t remember ever made Bucky sound like that. In his memories, Bucky had never looked at him with this kind of pain and accusation.

“Yeah, well,” Steve muttered, “she was right.”

Bucky said nothing for a long while, just looked at Steve, his eyes shadowed and clearly pushing whatever he felt down. It was a surprisingly familiar look because Sasha tended to do it often.

“Bucky…” Steve said, when he couldn’t take it any more.

“You said I would have died,” Bucky interrupted, shaking off whatever he had felt like a dog shaking off water. “What did you mean?”

Letting out a long breath, Steve crossed his arms.

“Your regiment gets attacked, half of it gets captured. When I found out, and then found out no one was coming for you? I went after you. Because of what Dr. Erskine did, I didn’t die. I…rescued you, for once.”

Bucky’s lips twisted.

“That’s something you would do. Get a new, perfectly healthy body and immediately try to throw it all away for the next crusade that caught your attention.”

“No,” Steve said quickly, “Bucky, no. I wasn’t like that.”

“Yeah?” Bucky’s lips twisted, the sneer evident now. “What’s it like?”

Steve grabbed him, the back of his neck, and shook gently.

“It was you. You look me in the eye and you tell me you’d do any different for me.”

Bucky looked at Steve, one eyebrow arched so high it all but disappeared in his hairline.

“You mean you were all cautious and shit, considered backups and didn’t take unnecessary risks?”

Smiling, Steve gentled his hold.

“I was, actually. It wasn’t a crusade, it wasn’t a suicide mission. I wanted you back. I had a ride to pick us up and everything. I mean, it didn’t go that way and there were some minor explosions -” Bucky shot him a look and Steve grinned despite the obvious lie, “but I knew if I wasn’t cautious, they’d see me coming a mile off, and, Mr. Know-It-All, the first thing I did was free all the other prisoners so I had back up and a distraction.”

“Dad said it was really well executed,” Tony said, making both Steve and Bucky jump at the reminder of his presence.

“You’re family,” Steve said quietly, choosing to ignore Tony and focus on Bucky. “I couldn't leave you, and I know you wouldn’t leave me because you didn’t.”

“At least you didn’t lose all of your brains to grow all the muscle, no matter how it looks.”

Steve laughed and bumped Bucky again.

“Yeah, well, you’d taken all the stupid with you at the time.”

“One would think that, but look what happened,” Bucky said wryly. Steve had no idea if Bucky forgave him for the scare. Probably not yet. Bucky had always been good at hiding what hurt him, always showing that charming, outgoing facade.

“We’re almost there,” Tony said, interrupting again.

“Already?” Bucky asked in surprise.

“Yep,” Tony nodded. “Wonders of modern technology. Cap, was Frosty okay with all this?”

“Sasha’s fine, Tony,” Steve assured.

“Uh-huh,” Tony said skeptically. “We’re landing in ten.”

“‘Cap’?” Bucky asked.

Steve winced again.

“Captain America,” he said reluctantly, pointing to his own chest.

Bucky stared at him for a long, long moment before he burst out laughing. He was laughing and wheezing, repeating the words Captain America every few moments, only setting himself off again. Finally, Steve gave him a shove hard enough to tip him over, and Bucky yelped as he fell to the floor.

“Thanks, jerk,” Steve grumbled.

“Captain America!” Bucky wheezed, not bothering to get up. “Why not Captain Earth? Or Captain Mars?”

“It wasn’t my idea,” Steve grumbled, feeling his face flush and knew it was likely climbing down his neck and over his ears. “I am an actual Captain, I’ll have you know. Your superior officer, too.”

“Superior punk,” Bucky shot back, and Steve couldn’t help but grin. “I’m not in the Army,” Bucky pointed at his own chest, “which means I can still call your bullshit, Mr. Submariner.” He giggled and snorted, though softer now.

The smile that pulled at Steve’s lips was probably too sappy and fond, but Steve didn’t care despite his continued embarrassment.

“You always did, Buck. Now will ya stop fuckin’ laughing at me?”

Of course, that only served to double Bucky over with laughter again.

“Did he always laugh at you like this?” Tony asked, watching Bucky chortling merrily at Steve’s expense.

Steve smiled, rolling his eyes.

“Unfortunately I was a good source of entertainment for him. Him, and the Commandos. You know how many times they called me ‘chorus girl’? Or told me how my ‘gams looked just like a broad’s’? I still hear it in my sleep, Tony.” Bucky was laughing harder now, holding his stomach. “Your dad was the worst, too.”

“My dad?” Tony blinked. “The guy who worshiped the ground you walked on? That dad? Howard Stark?”

Steve snorted, kicking at Bucky’s leg as he began turning red in the face.

“Steve,” Steve said, mimicking Howard’s drawl, “you know, put you in a dress, those tights, you’d be as pretty as any showgirl. Even got cleavage for that now!” And off Bucky was again, howling, and trying to avoid Steve’s foot as he kicked at him again. “Stop laughing at me!”

“I’m trying!” Bucky gasped out, “but you keep giving me images!”

“Hang on, my dad wanted to put you in a dress?” Tony interrupted.

“Corset, the works,” Steve confirmed. “High heels, nylons. If it wasn’t for Pegs, he’d have gotten away with it, too. I can’t even count the number of missions he started off with suggesting a female, or female-looking asset would be best to go undercover. Bucky,” he kicked at the man in question, “would egg him on, up until Peggy suggested she would be best to just do it herself, and then…”

Steve’s mouth snapped shut, remembering the way Bucky would then instantly propose a different plan, or ask if Steve had one. Keeping Peggy away from Steve. And he’d never noticed.

“Everybody loved making fun of me,” Steve finished a little lamely.

“You’re an easy target,” Bucky said, his laughter finally seeming to have run its course, only a few sparse snickers remaining. Taking the hand Steve offered, he let Steve pull him back into his seat and looked up at Tony. “So, okay now, how is it you still look twenty and he’s...late thirties, but we’re still older?”

Steve took a deep breath.

“It’s 2016, Buck. I was…frozen for a while. I’m about twenty-eight, physically.”

“And I’m twenty-two. I’m…younger than you? That’s. Weird.”

“Aw, you’re the baby now,” Steve teased, and Bucky shoved him hard.

“Hey, punk, I don’t have to be gentle with you any more. Watch yourself.”

Steve smirked.

“Try me.”

“Don’t,” Tony said quickly. “That,” he pointed at Steve, “is a highly trained soldier with serum in his veins that makes him stronger, faster, and more agile than any normal person. He will kick your ass.”

“Yeah?” Bucky asked, looking at Steve speculatively. When Steve tried to just look innocent, he huffed and shook his head. “Right, okay.”

Before Steve could assure Bucky they could still train together - he liked boxing because he used to with Bucky - the quinjet touched down. For the next several hours it was nothing but tests and doctors, nurses and needles. Mostly Steve stayed off to the side, watching Bucky flirt with the women and charm the men. Everyone loved him, just like Steve remembered. And his smile… Steve hadn’t see Sasha smile like that ever. It was beautiful, cocky and smart. Confident. Everything in Bucky’s world had changed, but he looked utterly unphased.

Like he’d always belonged here.

The thought made Steve’s heart ache because the Bucky that had lived, had made it to this millennium, was so different. He had been through so much, suffered through so much. Some days, it was all Steve could do to get him to smile. Sasha just deserved so much better and there was nothing Steve could do to fix it.

-------

Sasha had finished the mission almost by rote, distracted as hell by the sudden appearance of what looked to be his younger self. The unbroken version of him. It hadn’t hit him at first just what the age of the man, the Bucky of Steve’s past, meant. Not until he had the target all trussed up and awaiting S.H.I.E.L.D.’s pickup when he started really worrying about it.

Sasha was possessive of the few things he owned, especially Steve himself, because he had had so little for so long. This younger version of him, that looked at the world with wide, maybe-not trusting, but certainly eyes which were not so bitter was whole. If Steve looked at the young Bucky he would see a friend, a man he had loved for years, grieved over for years, and realise with him there would be no more pain.

Bucky wouldn’t wake up from nightmares with his fists swinging and intent on causing destruction even before he opened his eyes. Wouldn’t have a fifty-fifty chance of freaking out when they were in bed and Steve wanted to fuck him. This young man Steve could introduce to his friends, could introduce to his surviving friends from the Forties without the fear that somebody would connect the dots between the metal arm and an international killer. This Bucky wouldn’t need to wear fake skin on his arm, wouldn’t need to always remain mostly clothed so that the very distinctive scars wouldn’t show.

This Bucky could teach Steve to laugh again the way he had in those old video reels.

There were no scars crisscrossing his body, no demons lurking in his mind waiting for him to close his eyes. Bucky’s hands were clean of innocent blood. Steve had never blamed Sasha, but he was aware of his past and how easy it was for him to kill. This young man, this young version of him - and Sasha still couldn’t even wrap his mind around a younger version of him running around - wouldn’t have his triggers and problems, and he had plenty.

He had issues, some he worked on, and others he didn’t, the ones imperative to his continual and safe functioning. For one, Sasha would never try to unlearn his ability to dissociate from his body. It was useful and had more tactical advantages than drawbacks. For another, Sasha hadn’t regained many more memories of his past with Steve; a few snippets here and there, but that was it. He couldn’t even pretend to be that old Bucky Barnes because he simply didn’t remember enough. Steve seemed to be all right with that, didn’t push for Sasha to remember more or talk about the past he could recall with clarity - the past with Hydra he loathed - but now there was this younger man, handsome and charming - Sasha saw the tiny wrinkles that suggested he smiled a lot, could read the open, friendly body language, and the lack of fear in his counterpart - and it hurt how perfect he seemed.

Steve loved him, Sasha doubted that no longer, but here were so many differences between them they had had to learn to live with through trial and error, causing heartache along the way. They had worked for what they had together, fought for it, forgave and forgot missteps and betrayals, but it was work and sometimes it scraped them raw. All the minefields they had to navigate, the eggshells they had to tread lightly over; Steve with how Sasha would get violent in situations that he perceived as threatening, and Sasha accepting that Steve’s desires were often darker than he was comfortable with. They had found a middle ground, though, a place they could be happy, but had to be aware of it at all times.

Steve smiled at him, laughed with him, but it was never the wide, careless grin from those old, black-and-white reels. Sasha ached for that man in those scenes, a man that had been lost even before Sasha came into the picture. It was a rabbit’s hole, thinking about the young, unbroken, version of him and Steve. How would having that young version around again affect Steve? Would his presence make Steve happy? Or would it make him sad and regretful, mourning the loss of his love all over again? Would the younger him stay here permanently, or was it a temporary thing? How would Steve deal when the guy was gone again? How would Steve deal if the guy stayed?

There were so many questions, and Sasha had no answer to any of them. It made him grumpy, more so than usual, quiet, working around the team rather than with them. Natasha had left him alone for the most part, letting him pace the perimeter and harshly take down any straggling guards he found. They both knew he couldn’t do anything about the situation.

“He loves you,” Natasha said when they were in the quinjet, their prisoner passed into the waiting hands of S.H.I.E.L.D. officers.

“Thing is, he loved him too,” Sasha answered quietly.

Natasha didn’t have an answer for that.

The trip back to the tower wasn’t long, the quinjet setting down quietly and gracefully on the landing pad. Because of his serum, Sasha ignored any requests for medical checkup after a mission as he always did, and went down to the rooms he shared with Steve. He wanted to see his lover, not donate another vial of blood for no apparent reason.

At the door, Sasha took hold of the handle but didn’t press it, arrested by the voices drifting out from within. Laughter, so clear in Steve’s voice as he spoke. Sasha could hear Sai, too, softer, and as such he couldn’t quite make out his question, but he felt the jealousy burn in him at the thought of Steve bringing the other him to spend time with their kid. It only got worse as he realized what they were talking about. Steve and his younger, happy voices trading off effortlessly, recounting a story from their shared past.

“So the cop turns around ‘cause Steve just couldn’t keep his mouth shut,” Bucky was saying, “and I’m sure we’re caught now. Any second Sweeney is gonna come ‘round the corner with his crates and if Steve had just shut up he would have walked away.”

“Hey, you do not know that,” Steve protested. “You had the most suspicious look on your face. He was on to you, not me.”

“Yeah, but you made him turn around.”

“Anyway,” Steve laughed, “the cop turns around and Bucky’s right, Sweeney was unloading his bourbon just around the corner and we can’t let him go down there, or stay here, so I tell him ‘fore he can say anything, that hey, my friend here, he’s not right in the head. He was dropped as a baby, grew up stupid, and he’ll never make it home on his own, but I have to wait here because my dad’s coming and he’ll be real pissed if I’m not where he said.”

“This guy,” Bucky said, “actually falls for it. He actually looks at Steve and thinks he’s some kid, younger ‘n ten, and says, ‘Don’t worry, kiddo, I’ll help your friend home.’”

Steve laughed.

“So Bucky has to pretend to be slow, get lost heading back to his house, and show up at home with a cop in tow.”

“My dad was pissed, mom was worse, and it wasn’t like I could tell them I was running lookout for Sweeney, or that I’d left Steve alone in front of a speakeasy, so I was grounded and got whopped for good measure.”

“Yeah,” Steve said, “but that bottle of bourbon got you into Mary Clearwater’s drawers so you weren’t complaining.”

“No, I definitely was not.”

There was easy laughter in his younger self’s voice, and a thread of pride. He was proud of that little escapade. Sasha swallowed, closing his eyes. None of it was familiar. None of it felt like something that had happened to him.

He pushed the door open, aware that the easy recounting of their story was immediately cut off by his entrance.

“Sasha!”

Steve recovered first, calling the greeting out and walking towards him.

“Hey Steve,” Sasha answered, making a show of shrugging out of his jacket. “I need a quick shower, will be right back,” he continued in the same breath, making for the bathroom before Steve even had the chance to respond. Behind him, he heard ‘Bucky’ snicker, but it took until he tried to close the door to figure out why. Steve’s forearm checked him closing it, sliding it behind Sasha and backing him against the wall.

Sasha winced, expecting a lecture as Steve opened his mouth, but it closed a moment later and Steve pulled him into a kiss. It was an instinct by now, to surge up into the kiss, to lock his hands around Steve’s hips, turn them and hoist Steve up onto the counter. In turn, Steve locked his fantastic, long legs around Bucky’s hips, holding onto him tightly as they kissed hungrily, not even bothering to breathe. He loved this, loved how easily Steve’s body responded to his touch, and how easily Steve’s legs parted under the pressure of his hips, letting him in closer, letting him press their chests together. Steve moaned, just a tiny sound, and it made Bucky’s chest burn with how much he wanted Steve - always, always wanted him.

Finally it was Steve who broke the kiss, panting against Bucky’s mouth.

“Don’t you run from me now,” Steve said, his voice quiet and earnest.

 

“I wasn’t running. Just taking a shower,” Sasha hedged.

Steve huffed.

“Sure you were.” His thumb trailed over Sasha’s throat. “Well, while you’re getting clean, don’t you forget how much I need you, Sashka. Always. All right?”

“You can’t ever talk like that with me,” Sasha said quietly, leaning into the touch. “I don’t remember. Considering how long it’s been, I probably won’t ever remember.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Steve asked quickly. “Think I mind?”

Sasha pulled away from Steve’s touch a little.

“You sounded happy.”

“I was,” Steve admitted, “I am.” The long legs around Sasha’s waist tightened, hauling him close and keeping him there. “Don’t do this to us; I’ve been happy around others before.”

“Not like that,” Sasha insisted.

Steve bit his lip, legs tightening again, the grip almost painful. For once, Steve didn’t meet his gaze, looking down at his chest, and Sasha hated it. Steve had been happy until Sasha had come home. He needed to fix it, make it right, even if he wasn’t sure they could.

“I’m not leaving, Steve,” Sasha said quietly. “I just don’t know how to deal with him.”

“Okay,” Steve said softly, looking up at Bucky again, “but I do need you, Sasha.” He took a deep breath. “Want me to text Nat? I’m sure she wouldn’t mind a sparring session, or finding another reason to get you out of the apartment.”

Sasha shook his head.

“Nah, I’m kinda tired.”

Steve snorted, but didn’t call bullshit. The thing was, Sasha was tired and he knew he shouldn’t be. He had no idea if it was the weather, or the fact his thoughts had been running in circles for hours now, but he wasn’t in the mood for going out, and definitely not for anything too energetic.

“You gonna join us for dinner?”

“Yeah.”

Smiling again, Steve leaned in for a chaste kiss.

“I’ll make you stroganoff, all right?”

“I’m always all right for your cooking,” Sasha promised. To him, anything that he didn’t have to prepare himself was perfect.

The smile grew and Steve kissed him again, sliding off the counter as he did. He backed away, breaking the kiss, gave Sasha a last, worried look, and left him alone in the bathroom. Sasha watched the door shut, then turned mechanically to the shower. Truth be told, he wanted Steve to stay with him, to shower with him, then take him to bed. He knew Steve couldn’t, someone had to introduce his younger self to the future, but it didn’t stop the wanting.

He remembered the scene that Steve had asked for when the doctors had let him start having sex again. At first the proposed scene had seemed a little too harsh for Steve, who had just barely gotten himself put back together, but Steve had a way of talking him around. In the end, they had found a compromise both were happy with, Sasha categorically refusing to make Steve bleed and Steve agreeing to the crop, provided Sasha was merciless with it.

The delivery of pain didn’t do to Sasha the same things it did to Steve, but by god did the sight of the marks affect Sasha. It was like Steve’s body was a canvas for him to paint however he pleased, so, yes, he could live with that compromise. His favorites had been the marks on the insides of Steve’s thighs and ass that had lasted for over a day, healing far slower than rope burns on Steve’s wrists. In a flight of romantic fancy, Sasha thought it was because Steve didn’t want them to heal. Sasha had adored touching Steve after, just pushing down his pants and exposing the marked flesh, the still-reddened hole, the perky cheeks with nice, red lashes bisecting them. He couldn’t let Steve out of his sight, palming those cheeks and sliding his cock into his lover, slow and slick, making Steve moan whenever he could. They had fucked like rabbits for the whole of the following day, until even Steve’s enhanced stamina had started giving way to soreness. Then they just switched.

Exhausted and happy, Sasha had rolled onto his back, pulling Steve with him and asked to be fucked while the marks were still fresh. Steve had, being as careful with Sasha as though Sasha had been the one with bruises on his skin and fresh pink scars on his chest. He had fingered him, and had slid his cock so smoothly into Sasha it was nothing but pleasure. They had fucked for hours more; Steve never completely pulling out between bouts, and Sasha still palming those abused cheeks, massaging the balls he’d tortured just the day before, tracing the marks so Steve shivered and gasped, making Sasha hard over and over again. They had ended up so goddamned sore, they had spent the day after that sleeping it off, unwilling to get out of bed for anything other than food.

Thinking of that weekend, the way Steve had been all his, so pliant to his desires, so completely given over to pleasure, made Sasha’s cock twitch. He briefly palmed himself, considered jerking off to the memory of Steve with his legs spread, pale thighs littered with bright red crop marks, and his cheeks so tight they exposed his tight little hole. After a thoughtful squeeze or two, Sasha rejected the idea. He wasn’t in the mood for the effort it would take to get him worked up to do it fast. He would rather talk Steve into doing all the work, fucking him slow and deep, until they were both satisfied.

Stripping down, he stepped under the hot spray and let the heat sink into his muscles as the water washed away the dirt and blood from their mission. There wasn’t a lot, most of it ended up on his clothes, but enough that the water ran brown for the first few moments. He let the sound of the shower wash over him, drown out his thoughts along with any noise from the living room, just let himself be, and allowed some of his tension leave. It would have been easier to just disassociate, but Sasha was feeling guilty enough he wouldn’t use that yet, even with Steve not here to see it.

When he had that modicum of relaxation, Sasha quickly scrubbed himself down and stepped out of the shower. He had time to grab a towel, throw it over his head to dry his hair, when the bathroom door slammed open. Crouching, Bucky yanked it back enough to see as he reached for a weapon, any weapon, and realized he was the one standing in the doorway, Steve visible just over his shoulder.

“Did no one teach you knocking?” Sasha growled, pulled the towel off his head and wrapping it about his hips. It wasn’t enough, though, he could see his own eyes widening, shock and horror growing in their depths.

“Steve?” his younger self asked, voice high and thin. “What happened to me?”

Something shifted in Steve’s eyes, and he wordlessly shoved past Bucky, grabbing his own fluffy white robe and wrapping it around Sasha’s shoulders. Sasha let him, sliding into the robe as he watched Steve try to keep his expression blank. It was twitching, though, his lips pressed so hard together they were white.

“The arm…” Bucky said distantly. “I thought it was some kind of armor…”

“There is no arm,” Sasha growled, looking away from Steve to his counterpart. “It was cut off a long time ago.” Completely exposed to Bucky’s gaze for the first time, he waved the metal fingers. “This is only a mechanical replacement.”

“I like it,” Steve said, his voice hardly over a whisper.

Sasha didn’t take his eyes off of Bucky, knowing the guy had seen the scarring on his chest, how extensive it was, how much of Sasha had been cut away in the quest to make him a more powerful killing machine. He might have not have remembered much, but he remembered that after the fall, he had had a lot of his upper arm left. Now there wasn’t even a shoulder joint.

“Cut off?” Bucky repeated faintly, looking green around the gills.

“Yes,” Sasha confirmed, still staring down the young man. Kid, really. “Because the people who had me decided it was better if I had a whole metal arm, so they cut off what was left after my accident. They cut out some of my bones too, replacing them with metal to make sure my body could support the weight of the arm. They never cared if I wanted it or not.”

“Stop it,” Steve said sharply. “Please, just…stop.”

Sasha locked his jaw, his lips twisting as he realised the person his attack hurt the most wasn’t the young, pale-faced man in front of him, but his lover behind him, all but choking on the pain.

How fucking typical of Sasha to hurt the person who he cared for most.

“Sorry,” Sasha said gruffly to Steve, dismissing the younger version of himself and turning around.

Smiling weakly, Steve pressed his palms to Sasha’s chest, smoothing down the fluffy cotton.

“Just slow down a little,” Steve requested again, and Sasha nodded sharply, grateful that Steve wasn’t angry with him. “He doesn’t mean any harm, I just… I told him about us, and he wanted to talk to you.”

“In the bathroom, as I was taking a shower?” Sasha asked, raising his brows.

“The water was off,” Bucky said defensively, “and yeah, I didn’t…” There was a long enough pause Sasha twisted to look at himself in time to see a familiar stubborn set to his jaw. The weird thing was, it was familiar because it reminded him of Steve. “I didn’t think you’d mind. Our body ‘n all. I’m sorry, I should’ve knocked.”

Sasha sighed, letting out all the anger with his breath. The guy clearly wasn’t trying to attack him, it was just his usual paranoia making him see this younger self as a threat.

“Just don’t startle me like that. I tend to have the same response to whatever startles me.”

“Attack,” Steve said fondly.

“More like kill it dead and don’t bother asking questions, but yeah,” Sasha corrected, smiling wryly because one of the things that Steve constantly reminded him of was that it was impossible to interrogate the dead. The remainder usually consisted of shouting as Sasha hated to leave an enemy alive in any circumstance.

“Same things with you,” Steve said ruefully, his hands sliding up and down the fabric again. It had been straight in the first place, was just an excuse to touch Sasha, and he wasn’t about to complain.

“No startling,” Bucky said slowly, looking between them with shuttered eyes. “Got it.”

“Either of us,” Steve interjected.

“Right,” Bucky mumbled, then threw back his shoulders and faced Sasha full on. “I came in here, ‘cause I thought the only reason I wouldn’t want Steve near me is ‘cause I wouldn’t wanna share, and I wanted to tell you I wouldn’t do that to Steve, and you should know that.”

Sasha smiled, but it was a false kind of smile.

“It’s Steve,” he said, looking at Bucky with pity, “I never had any self control when it came to him. You won’t either, now that you know you can have him.”

“Except I can’t,” Bucky said flatly holding Sasha’s gaze even as he asked, “Can I, Steve?”

“No,” Steve said very quietly, “you can’t.”

“And it would hurt him if I asked him to choose,” Bucky went on. “You’re just as unwilling to hurt him as I am.”

“I hurt him plenty without even trying,” Sasha murmured, but the fight left him.

“That’s not the point,” Bucky said, but there was a frown on his face now. “I saw you just then. You’d have hurt me plenty, but the second you knew it wasn’t me you were hurting you stopped.”

Sasha grunted and covered Steve’s hand with his own. He was literally arguing with himself here, and that was foolish even for his admittedly low standards.

“Can we leave the bathroom? And maybe let me get dressed?” Sasha asked, looking at his bare feet that were starting to get cold with the door open, then at Steve and Bucky all crammed into the normally large bathroom, just not with three grown men inside it.

“Yeah,” Steve said, making a shooing motion at Bucky who stepped out of the doorway. “I can go get a start on dinner if you two think you can get along for thirty seconds without me.”

Bucky rubbed his nose, then shrugged and held out a hand toward Sasha.

“Truce? For Steve?”

For a moment Sasha hesitated, but he thought that Steve probably was the one common ground he had with his younger self. He’d do just about anything for his kitten, even when he hadn’t known him. He had freed Sai because the kid had looked like Steve when he couldn’t even remember either of their names.

“Yeah,” Sasha said, taking Bucky’s hand. If he squeezed too hard and Bucky winced, that was probably to be expected.

----

“Why does Steve call you Sasha?” Bucky asked.

He was currently in the closet, searching for a new change in clothes. Well, not him, his other self. The original. Or was he the original? Bucky was trying not to think about that as the other him with a metal arm changed in the closet.

“It’s the name I’ve known the longest,” came the least helpful answer Bucky had ever heard from the scary older version of himself.

“You gonna explain that?” Bucky asked. “‘Cause from the look on Steve’s face, he ain’t gonna tell me what happened to us.”

It wasn’t a look Bucky had seen on Steve’s face before. A horrid mixture of guilt and hurt that told Bucky whatever had happened, Steve was blaming himself. Bucky kind of expected that. He hadn’t expected his other self to lash out, hurting Steve like he had and not even notice until Steve spoke up.

Sasha, because it was easier to think of him as that than anything else, came out of the closet with a long-sleeved red henley in hand and gave Bucky a look from under his long bangs. It still stunned Bucky just how big Sasha was. The same height but damn, the man was thick. Like a juggernaut, built like a tank, and looked prepared to mow down any and all obstacles in his path. It was a look Bucky was sure never had crossed his own face.

“You haven't lived it,” Sasha said slowly, almost hesitantly. “What is the purpose of torturing yourself with horrors that haven’t happened to you?”

“Horrors?”

Sasha nodded, shrugging out of the robe and starting to pull on the clothes he’d already selected and threw onto the large bed. He seemed totally unconcerned with Bucky’s presence now, or rather, unconcerned about his nakedness. Bucky was a little envious of the way the older man could act. When he had startled Sasha in the bathroom it was clear he didn’t like showing his scars, but now he acted as if he had no problem with it at all, but Bucky couldn’t understand why the facade. What made the man behave this way, made him put on masks and shields, walls so thick they obscured his real self completely. Just what had happened to them?

“I dunno,” Bucky shrugged, guessing he wasn’t going to get an answer. “I guess it’s good he doesn’t have to end up calling one of us James.”

There wasn’t even a slight smile at the comment like Bucky had expected.

“At first I didn’t remember who I was. I went by Sasha for years before meeting Steve. Even then it took time for me to start remembering bits and pieces. I never truly did remember my past.” Sasha stopped speaking for a beat. “You. Steve is the only one who remembers you.”

Bucky swallowed, remembering the way Steve had looked at him for the first few hours. Like he was a wonder.

“That explains a lot,” he muttered. “I was trying to figure out how he could act like he missed me with me - you - here.”,

“I’m not you. I’m as far away from you as you can imagine.” Sasha pulled on the last piece of clothing, a red henley, and Bucky admired how the cotton barely contained the muscles. There was so much power in the man, and Bucky couldn’t fathom what it was all for. “When he woke up in this century, he mourned you for years. Mourned everybody who he’d left behind in his time.”

The words took a moment to sink in, but when they did Bucky stiffened.

“Jesus,” he breathed, “he was alone? Steve was never good alone. The last time I left him alone he got himself experimented on! You don’t…let him be alone, right?”

“I try not to let him,” Sasha said digging a hair tie from the pocket of his sweatpants and pulling back his hair. “The man’s not easy to handle.”

“Tell me about it,” Bucky grumbled. “Does he,” it was so weird, realizing he’d had so much time with Steve lost. “Does he still pick fights he can’t win?”

“All the goddamn time,” Sasha growled, looking familiarly exasperated. “He doesn't care how much trouble it lands him in either, the dipshit.”

Bucky laughed, relieved that Steve hadn’t changed that much. That he was still Steve: couldn’t leave him alone, had to pick fights with bigger guys, swore like a sailor, though no one would believe that, and had to prove he was just as good as any other guy. Things had clearly changed, hell Steve couldn’t tell him everything and anything any more, but if he was still Steve things would be fine.

“Well, um, if you want to know anything?” Bucky offered. “Something you don’t remember? I can answer, since I’m here. I dunno, like, something you didn’t want to ask Steve?”

“Were you together?” Sasha asked bluntly.

“Right to the point, huh?” Bucky chuckled. “No. I…” He paused, realizing Sasha didn’t know his feelings for Steve. “I’ve, well, been in love with him for years, but it’s not…” Bucky threw out his hands, trying to express everything that had kept him from confessing to Steve. “In our time, no one would accept it, so I never told him. Never told anyone.”

Sasha stared at him for a long moment, not even blinking, just watching him before suddenly chuckling.

“It seems we’re doomed to fall for this guy.”

“Ain’t much of a hardship.” Bucky sighed. “Gotta admit, I’m pretty jealous.”

“What kind of guy was he, when you knew him?” Sasha asked, obviously choosing not to address Bucky’s admission.

“He’s a punk,” Bucky said fondly. “Can’t keep his mouth shut to save his life. Never backs down, runs his mouth. He’s an amazing artist; in my time, he’s in school now. I hope he’ll get a good job with a paper, or something, but…” Bucky closed his eyes for a moment. “He’s always sick. Got a bad heart. I try not to treat him like he’s broken, ‘cause he hates that, but…he pushes himself so damn hard sometimes.”

Sasha looked sad and, though Bucky didn’t know why, he hated that Steve couldn’t still just be happy.

“He’s much quieter now. Just picked up art about half a year ago. When I met him, he was…very sad. And he might not be sick, but he still does his best to see if his body can be broken after all.”

“Yeah, he’s stupid like that,” Bucky muttered.

“I’m not sure what to feel about the fact that it’s not a new habit for him.”

Bucky grunted.

“I thought maybe it’d be different now, since I wouldn’t have to finish his fights, but I guess I should have known he’d just go looking for bigger ones.”

“Yeah, he just gets into bigger messes now,” Sasha confirmed. “The last one all but killed him.”

Closing his eyes, Bucky felt himself go cold. Thickly, he said, “I’ve found all I can do is patch him up after. He ain’t the kind of soul you can hold back. You remember what our mom said about the canary in the cage?”

“No,” Sasha said gruffly.

“Mom said,” Bucky murmured, trying to ignore how much it hurt to realize he’d forget his own mother, “that when she was a girl, she always wanted a canary. They sang such beautiful songs and she wanted one all to herself. She wanted one so bad, her brother went out and caught one, brought it home and put it in a cage. Only, the bird wouldn’t sing. It wouldn’t eat. It just sat in the cage for days. When she told her father, he went to the cage, opened it, and took the bird in his hands. The second it flew out of his hands and out the window, it started singing again, because some things aren’t meant to be caged. I kinda… I always thought Steve was like the bird. If I ever got him to stop, to hold back, he’d stop singing. That’s the price you pay for loving someone like him.”

“Different when you have to watch doctors put his insides back where they belong for hours on end,” Sasha said darkly. “Nothing seems worth that kind of price.”

“Mother of god,” Bucky whispered, crossing himself. “Put… Christ.”

“Yeah,” Sasha nodded as he headed towards the door. “Nothing to do but survive.”

It took Bucky a moment to realize what Sasha meant, but when he did he knew Sasha was right. There was nothing else to do. They wouldn’t, couldn’t, change who Steve was. All they could do was endure as he threw himself at impossible odds, swallow the fear, and keep going. Because they wouldn’t let Steve do it alone.

Out in the kitchen, Bucky was soon convinced Steve had roped his kid into keeping conversation easy and smooth. Whenever the topic strayed too close to awkward or into uncomfortable territory, one or the other would jump in with something about Sai’s college courses, or his trip a few months back, or Steve’s art, or some new technology. It was so smooth, it had to have been planned. If Bucky’s counterpart, Sasha, noticed, he didn’t say anything, actually spending most of the meal quiet.

All in all, it was nice, the food good and filling, up until Bucky realized Steve had hooked his ankle around Sasha’s under the table. It was one thing to promise not to encroach, another to realise this Steve was very much attracted to Bucky. Maybe even always had been, as Bucky was very much in love with Steve. It was going to be the hardest thing he’d ever done to watch him with someone else, even if that someone was, in away, him.

“Think I’ll head to bed early,” Bucky finally said, when he realized conversation had waned, despite Steve’s best efforts, and it was his fault.

“Okay,” Steve said slowly, searching Bucky’s gaze for what was bothering him, but Bucky wasn’t about to give him an inch. He smiled, and Steve rolled his eyes. “I’ll show you to the guest room.”

“Sasha and I will do dishes,” Sai chirped, drawing an irritated look from Bucky’s older self.

Bucky rose with Steve at the same time, and his best friend led him down the hall, past several closed doors. The home was far nicer than any they’d ever had, but he had known that the second Steve brought him here. When Steve opened a door and showed him a room as big as their apartment, though? That really brought it home.

“We keep a guest room ready in case one of Sai’s friends shows up,” Steve explained. “We keep hoping he’ll have enough friends to actually bring some home.”

“This whole thing is mine?” Bucky questioned, looking up at Steve in surprise. He was having trouble getting used to looking up at Steve in general.

“Yeah,” Steve chuckled. “I know, right? Most places are twice the size of our old apartment these days.”

Bucky shook his head. Somehow technology was easier to get used to than this abundance of space.

“Gonna be weird,” Bucky admitted, wandering into the spacious guest bedroom, “being alone in here.”

The smile Steve gave him was strained.

“You get used to it. The quiet, too. Mattress’ll probably feel too soft, bed too big, but if you sleep at the edge it helps.”

“You had to get used to it alone,” Bucky realized, looking back to find Steve had wandered in after him.

Steve shrugged, brushing Bucky’s observation aside.

“Weird part was not being able to open the windows, really. And the A.C. is nice, heater. Don’t have to deal with weather being too hot or too cold.”

“Well, um, you’re doing a bang-up job of raising your kid,” Bucky said, changing the subject. “Sai’s great. Where’s his ma?”

“Oh, uh,” Steve rubbed his ear between his fingers, “he’s an orphan and he’s…he’s more Sasha’s, than mine.”

Bucky had been aiming to sit on the bed as Steve answered, but missed and fell to the floor entirely. Sasha’s meant his. He had a kid?! He had raised a kid?!

Then he thought about the grump that Sasha was and couldn’t imagine it at all.

“You mean Sasha raised a kid as sweet as Sai?”

Steve smiled.

“I’m not completely certain who raised who in that family.” He chuckled, obviously happy, before continuing. “I only met them a little over a year ago. Sasha had a contract to assassinate a person I was assigned to protect. It was…messy, but… There’s enough of you left in him, we figured it out.”

“What do you mean, enough?” Bucky asked hesitantly, knowing his question would take Steve’s smile.

Sure enough, his best friend looked like he’d watched someone murder a kitten even as he came over and bodily hauled Bucky back to his feet with only one hand.

“I mean,” Steve said, not meeting Bucky’s eye, “that they tried to… Tried to make you into a machine, Buck. Take all that you were, rip it out, and leave nothing behind. Mostly,” Steve swallowed, voice dropping so Bucky had to strain to hear, “Mostly it worked. They tore you out, tried to, then Sasha…found Sai and there was enough of you there to stop them. Not much, but enough.”

“Found? Not adopted him, found? Like...what, a stray dog?”

Steve laughed and Bucky’s heart managed to beat again. The look in Steve’s eyes had been heartbreaking.

“Found is close enough,” Steve said. “They adopted each other. He…helped you be a person again.”

“You know, neither you nor Sasha say any specifics about this mysterious past - future? - of mine, but you only managed to make it sound even more ominous.”

“Whatever you’re thinking?” Steve said, squeezing Bucky’s shoulders and backing him into the bed so he had no choice but to think. “It’s worse. I have chosen not to know most of what happened, but what I do know?” Steve shook his head. “You don’t wanna know, Buck. Just trust me on this one.”

Bucky swallowed. He had a decent imagination, Steve had an incredible imagination, but if even Steve said that whatever he could come up with was nothing compared to what he, Sasha, went through…maybe it really was better not to know.

“Okay,” Bucky conceded. “I trust you, Stevie.”

“Course you do,” Steve huffed, squeezing Bucky’s shoulder again for good measure. The strength in Steve’s hand was astonishing, and the muscles? Bucky was definitely going to need to go to Confession on Sunday. “Good night, Buck.”

“Night, Steve,” Bucky muttered, watching his best friend walk out the door. “Hey,” he called as Steve was closing it, and his friend immediately poked his head back inside. “You and him, share a bed?”

Something very close to pity rose in Steve’s eyes, and Bucky looked away even as he got his answer. “Yeah, Buck.”

“Sleep well, Stevie,” Bucky muttered.

A moment later, the door shut. Slumping backward on the bed, Bucky stared up at the flat ceiling. The future was, apparently, pretty bleak, except for the one bright spot of finally making Steve his. It would be all he could hang on to when they sent him back. If, they sent him back. Now that he was thinking about it, no one had mentioned what was going to happen to him. No one had mentioned how he’d gotten here and Bucky hadn’t thought to ask. There had been just so much to take in, to find out, and Steve being big hadn’t even been the start. Bucky wasn’t even sure if he wanted to stay. It looked like Steve needed him still, Sasha, too, but staying while the guy he’d loved for years was with someone else? Bucky didn’t think he’d be able to fake how much he hated it for long.

Sighing, he made himself get up, strip down, and turn out the lights. The bed was just like Steve had said: too big and too soft. The sheets and blankets were incredible, though, and being at the edge made it seem all the more small. He was drifting off when he heard something squeak. Frowning, he looked up at the ceiling and realized it was the quiet, too. He could hear everything because he couldn’t hear anything. No cars, no voices, no radios, no wind, no creaking building, or slamming shutters.

Closing his eyes, Bucky tried to sleep, but the squeaking grew louder. It was an almost innocent sound, not very loud or intrusive, but it kept pulling his attention towards it because there was nothing else to focus on. It was ridiculous how long it took him to realise just what he was hearing.

Sex.

He was hearing the sounds of sex.

Bucky blushed, ears burning as he realised he was hearing Steve have sex with Sasha, with him. He groaned, rolling onto his side and pulling the pillow over his head, feeling confused. It was both disturbing and strangely exciting to realize the two were making a concentrated effort to keep quiet, no stray moans floating down to him, but the squeaking was impossible to mistake.. Between his legs, his cock was twitching, interested in the thoughts of Steve, and Steve naked, and Steve with a man. This would normally be the time he’d go pick up a dame and take her to bed, but he didn’t know if he even could do that in this new day and age, let alone where he’d try.

About when Bucky decided to pound on the wall, someone knocked on his door. Shooting up, Bucky slipped from the sheets and yanked on his pants before he hurried to the door and opened it. The squeaking hadn’t stopped, so he wasn’t too surprised to find Sai waiting for him on the other side. The strange looking earmuffs in his hands, though, that was unexpected.

“Sorry,” Sai said sincerely, “I thought I’d have time to shower before they started. Wear these,” he pushed the earmuffs into his hands and Bucky realized they were attached by a cord to a small white and green box, “they’ll cut down on any and all sound and this plays music so you won’t have to listen to silence if you don’t want.”

“What is this?” Bucky said turning the earmuffs in his hands curiously. “And,” Bucky was blushing, but Sai wasn’t, “how can you be so calm about, uh…” he made a vague gesture towards the squeaking.

“The sex?” Sai supplied. “They’re at it every damn night. You get used to it. At least they keep it in the bedroom.” Sai grimaced. “Mostly,” he corrected before pointing towards the earmuffs. “Those are headphones. Noise canceling. Put ‘em on and all you’ll hear is the music, or silence. No more sex sounds.”

“Keep it in the bedroom?” Bucky asked faintly, thinking about this kid stumbling onto Steve doing the horizontal mambo.

“Yeah,” Sai nodded seriously. “I enforced a rule about no sex in public spaces anywhere near mealtimes. Steve’s very good about following it. You, on the other hand, not so much.”

“Me?” Bucky squeaked, as embarrassed as if it was him Sai had caught in the act.

“Yeah,” Sai nodded. “Steve tells me Sasha gets his libido from you.”

“I, well, I mean, I get - I am not talking about this with you. You’re like, what, fifteen?”

“Almost nineteen,” Sai answered. “Small for my age.” Then he grinned, a quick, shark-like grin. “And I bet I know more about sex than you.”

“That is definitely not a pissing contest I’m getting into with Steve’s kid. My kid. Whoever’s kid you are; not happening.”

Sai laughed.

“I was curious about you, you know,” Sai admitted.

Bucky hesitated, uncertain what Sai meant, but stepped back into the guest room.

“Wanna come in?”

“Yeah.”

The kid went straight past Bucky to the two white sculptures that stood on the chest of drawers to the left. He fiddled with one and suddenly there was music playing, slow and easy, but loud enough to cover the squeaking.

A moment later, over the sound, they distinctly heard a thump and Steve shouting, “Sorry!”

As calmly as he had entered Sai went back to the door, stuck his head out and yelled as loud as he could, “You better be sorry!”

Then he closed the door, cool as a cucumber, and turned to Bucky with an angelically innocent expression.

“They hate me trying to drown them out with music.” Bucky closed his mouth, realising it was hanging open. “Those white things are a speaker and a radio,” Sai went on. ”It’s necessary equipment with those two. I once caught them arguing in the kitchen, and I swear they were sixty seconds from doing it on the kitchen floor, only Steve didn’t realise it. He can be so slow sometimes.” Sai shook his head. “Anyway, you okay? You’re looking…peaky.”

“Yeah, just…you’re not talking about me, but you’re definitely talking about me. I’m…struggling a bit.”

Sai gave him a sympathetic look.

“Yeah, I bet. Can’t help that those two can’t talk about your big life events. We’re pretty much not great at talking in general, but Steve makes us, except when he can’t talk about it either.”

“Yeah, they haven’t told me anything except that I don’t want to know.”

Sai looked at him with eyes calmer and older any kid his age should have had.

“Do you really want to know?” Before Bucky could answer, he continued, taking away any pressure to answer. “I’m glad I got to meet you. When I met Sasha, he was all but chemically castrated. Looking back now, I see it for what it was. Once the drugs were out of his system it was like he realized what sex was for the first time in his life. Ever since then, up until he slept with Steve, it was a kaleidoscope of one night stands and hookers whenever he could get them. I was wondering if you were the same.”

“No!” Bucky protested hotly. “I mean, I like sex, who doesn’t, but…. No, not a kaleidoscope for me. Nope.”

“I don’t like sex,” Sai said, but went on before Bucky could hit that fastball either. “Steve says you had girls every night, sometimes twice.”

“Steve’s got a fanciful imagination,” Bucky grumbled. “On weekends, maybe, but I was too tired after working to go out and find a dame the rest of the time.”

“So, like Steve said,” Sai said, lips twisting up in a teasing smile that looked a lot like Steve’s.

“Oh, shut up,” Bucky huffed and changed the subject. “Why did he…you know, change his ways with Steve? If he didn’t remember, I mean.”

“I’m not sure he changed at all. The way they met wasn’t all that romantic even.” Something flickered in Sai’s eyes. “He picked Steve up at a party, where Steve was pretending to be somebody else, and actively trying to get Sasha to bring him to his hotel room. A trap, you see, for Sasha. He wanted to get information, but things didn’t go as planned. They ended up having sex, or maybe it was planned. I don’t know. They never told me. Anyway, they had sex, and when Sasha went to take a shower, Steve tried to steal that information. It was all electronic, so I noticed and sent Sasha a message to warn him.” Sai stopped speaking for a moment, his Adam's apple bobbing. “A fight broke out. In the confusion, I panicked and stabbed Steve in the kidneys, multiple times.” Bucky opened his mouth, but again the kid didn’t give him a chance to ask a fucking question. “Steve survived, barely. Sasha as well. It was after learning that Steve was still alive that Sasha changed him. He… To me, at the time, it looked like he was risking everything just to get laid. I was so mad at him. I was mad at Steve too, for coming into our lives and disrupting it like that, but Sasha changed, slowly, for the better. With Steve around, he wasn’t as ruthless, started thinking more in terms of living, not pure survival, and that’s only thanks to Steve. I think, if they hadn’t met each other then, neither of them would be alive now.”

“That’s…” Bucky wasn’t sure what it was. “Not romantic was a good way to put it.”

“You were thinking it would be,” Sai said with a grin.

“Well, yeah,” Bucky admitted. “Just… Steve was using himself, using sex, to…what? Be a spy?”

“Not his style, right?” Sai chuckled. “You’d have to ask him. They didn’t tell me more than that. What I do know is that Sasha isn’t worried Steve would need to do it again, and you’re a really jealous guy. Possessive.”

“I think I would be,” Bucky murmured, before focusing on Sai again. “You stabbed Steve?”

“Thought you’d focus on that,” Sai sighed, looking down. “Steve said I wasn’t supposed to apologize for it. That I was protecting my family, and that’s what you do. That was before we were close, when he said that.”

Bucky sighed.

“Well, he’s right. Only, Steve’s my family.”

“He’s my family now,” Sai said, “but I’m glad you’ll be around. Another pair of hands keeping him safe… Let’s just say we can use it.”

Bucky frowned.

“Sasha said you almost lost him.”

“Yeah,” Sai’s expression and tone turned bitter, “and what do they do? Throw themselves back into fighting.”

Frowning harder, Bucky bumped Sai’s shoulder with his own.

“Want me to knock some sense into him?”

Sai looked up at Bucky in surprise, then smiled tentatively.

“If you could.”

“Least I can do for the assistance,” Bucky assured, motioning towards the music system.

“Believe me, they’re trying to be quiet right now,” Sai muttered in the tone of the long suffering. “You’re already a good influence.” Sai stood. “I’ll let you get some rest.”

“Good night, Sai,” Bucky called.

The kid just smiled at him and slipped through the door. Bucky lay back, listening to the music, the headphones still in his hand. It was hard to imagine that his skinny, shy Steve was having regular, loud, annoying sex with, well, him. The thing was, he’d imagined it a lot, but knowing it could happen, and then not having it? It was surreal.

Closing his eyes, Bucky prayed he didn’t dream of Steve. That would just make all this worse.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Bucky was embarrassed to admit he might have overslept. At least a little. Well, maybe he got up after ten, but the bed turned out to be comfortable despite being so much softer than the bed he was used to. The noise cancelling headphones were aces as well. Once he had managed to put the significance of the sounds out of his head, he had enjoyed a deep, dreamless sleep. Honestly, he hadn’t expected to sleep at all, not with the situation at hand and suddenly finding himself in the future. Yet, when he woke up, he was refreshed, far more than he normally would be after having worked the day before.

Bucky stretched, dressed, and wandered into the empty apartment. It was a shock to find everyone already up and about, only a note on the countertop left behind. It was in Steve’s handwriting, telling him to make himself breakfast and that Steve and Sasha were training on the 83rd floor. It told him to ask JARVIS for directions if he needed them.

Over breakfast - toast and eggs, and wow did they taste different. He wasn’t even sure he liked it because the eggs were fairly bland - Bucky decided he would go down to find his double and his friend. What else did he really have to do?

JARVIS, the mind of the tower as Bucky had come to think of him, directed him to where Steve and Sasha were, just like the note had said. The first things he heard after entering the room was the sound of rapid thumps and grunts; sounds that indicated a fight, but more rapid than he had ever heard in the gym Pushing through, he entered and was faced with row of lockers. Turning, he saw a large open sparring room stretching at least a quarter of the floor or more. The ground was padded, no boxing ring in sight, but there were a few punching bags against one wall. Weights lined another, but all of this was merely on Bucky’s periphery. What caught and held his attention were the two men sparring in the middle of it all.

Sasha had on black combat pants, boots, and had stripped out of his shirt once more. The scars were vivid on his skin, dark about the gleaming metal arm, but scattered all over his thick, muscled torso. The difference in Sasha’s body and his was striking. He’d always been fit, broad shouldered and strong arms from boxing, but this was something else. This was power.

The real sight, though, was Steve. Scrawny Stevie was wearing the things called “sweats” that he’d been shown, a tight grey shirt, and soft shoes. The shirt stretched over a torso Adonis would be proud of, his proportions unbelievably perfect. The trim waist and wide shoulders only highlighted the length of his legs. Of the two of them, it was Steve who held a weapon, a shield with bands of white and red with a silver star in the center of a blue background. And, while Bucky would never have thought to use a shield as a weapon, Steve was wielding it as much for offense as defense. Though the resemblance to the target made him uncomfortable.

Both were oblivious to Bucky’s presence, striking at each other hard and fast. The sweat glistening on Sasha’s skin and staining Steve’s shirt suggested they had been at it for some time, but if the blows had gotten weaker, he couldn’t tell. Bucky took a step forward and stopped again, seeing Sasha move faster than should be possible for someone that big. Sasha was turning, sliding to his knees only to grab Steve’s leg when he attempted to kick Sasha. In a feat of strength and agility, he completed his turn, raising and throwing Steve bodily at the nearest wall.

Bucky’s jaw dropped, his heart racing as he watched his best friend about to slam bodily into a solid concrete wall. Except, Steve reacted with inhuman speed, twisting in mid air, somehow managing to curl into the shield, placing it between himself and the wall. He hit with a loud bong, but fell into a roll, coming up in a crouch behind Sasha as if the maneuver had been nothing. He didn’t even hesitate to continue attacking, throwing the shield at Sasha almost in the same movement as he’d gotten back to his feet.

Throwing it at Sasha’s defenseless back.

Impossibly, Sasha turned around fast enough, caught the shield, his metal arm screeching against the edge. It cost him his footing, though, unbalancing him and making him stumble back. Steve didn’t offer any quarter, rushing in behind his shield, using it as a distraction as well as a weapon. Neither was giving way, unconcerned with truly hurting the other. Sasha used the shield against Steve, though instead of finesse, Sasha used it like a blunt weapon, trying to mow Steve down. Steve twisted, agile as a gymnast, and kicked the shield aside while driving a hard blow at Sasha’s belly. The blow connected, hard enough Sasha dropped the shield.

Yet, still they didn’t stop.

Sasha fought like juggernaut, taking several punches to his torso as he set Steve up for a blow from the metal arm. Steve was agile and fast as hell, but Sasha was just as quick. The attack from the arm changed the dynamics again, putting Steve on the defensive as he had to twist and drop to avoid the blow entirely, then roll away as Sasha advanced, kicking at Steve’s chest and head, blows that Bucky was certain would leave lasting, permanent damage if they’d connected. Bucky watched, entranced and faintly sick at the brutality of himself and his friend. Steve got to his feet and Sasha changed the arm he was leading with, fighting two-handed like Bucky himself.

Steve finally rolled back to his feet, catching Sasha’s arm as he swung in again and twisted, using his entire body to throw Sasha across the room at the same wall he’d been thrown against earlier. Instead of waiting for him to him to hit, Steve ran in, a blur, and leapt, slamming his entire weight into Sasha’s torso, knee first. Bucky gasped. The force of the blow cracked the wall around Sasha, making him grunt. Yet, it looked not to phase him at all. He caught Steve by the throat, making Bucky take another step forward, and threw Steve aside like Bucky would bat a fly.

The expression on Steve’s face shifted then as he rolled backwards and climbed to his feet. Instead of rushing back in, he was backing up, snatching up his shield and eyeing Sasha warily. Worriedly. Like he was afraid of what was to come. As if they hadn’t just made an effort to kill each other.

“Bucky?” Steve asked and Bucky jerked, forgetting for a moment that Sasha was Bucky too. “Sasha?” Steve tried again, still backing away.

There was no response other than a growly exhale as Sasha stepped away from the wall. His head was lowered, hair hanging about his face in long strands. He shook himself, like a dog shaking of water, and then crouched low, making that barely audible, growling sound again. There was something extremely disturbing about the change in Sasha’s demeanor.

“Sasha!” Steve said loudly, raising the shield defensively.

If Sasha heard, he didn’t react, his hand dropping to his boot and coming away with a long, serrated knife, matte black from handle to tip.

“Fuck,” Steve swore, “Soldier, stand down.” There was something akin to fear, maybe pain in Steve’s voice, and Bucky wondered at that, wondered what had happened. Wondered why Sasha’s eyes looked like they’d gladly tear Steve apart.

Instead of listening, Sasha charged.

If he thought they were moving fast before, he was wrong. In a heartbeat Bucky closed the distance between them, whaling on Steve with the metal arm, forcing Steve to use the shield to block, and leaving himself open for the knife. Steve had to maneuver in a blink of an eye to stop both of Sasha’s arms, and it was still clear that Steve was holding back from attacking Sasha, was choosing to use mostly defense tactics now, but it was hindering him.

Bucky stepped forward, thinking he could help Steve, when a quiet chime stopped him.

“I would advise against interfering,” JARVIS said from his left. “You will only get in Captain Rogers’ way.”

The admonishment froze Bucky’s feet to the ground. Not because he was afraid, but because he realized JARVIS was right. Though he’d once been Steve’s protector, now he’d be nothing more than a hindrance. Steve would never think it, but it was true. If he got involved now, Steve would just have to protect him from himself. Instead, Bucky had to watch as what he had thought was a brutal fight, devolved into something darker. Yet still Steve held back, dodging the slashes of the knife, parrying punches with his shield. He avoided being boxed into a corner, but Sasha was on him a heartbeat later, twisting the shield from Steve’s grasp and throwing it at his head with such force that, after Steve ducked, it embedded itself into the wall.

Bucky found himself praying, searching his empty pockets for his rosary, staring wide eyed as Sasha crashed into Steve again. The knife plunged down was stopped only by a cross of Steve’s wrists, but Sasha just placed his metal hand over his flesh, somehow made the machine whir, the outer plates shifting in a disconcerting inhuman way, clicking, rearranging before he pushed down. Steve screamed as the blade embedded itself into his shoulder, but Bucky finally saw the fight in his eyes as he headbutted Sasha once, twice, and sent the thicker man stumbling backwards. This time Steve caught Sasha by the throat, lifting him into the air with a shout, then twisting him and slamming him into the ground.

For a moment, Sasha was dazed, but that moment was all Steve needed. Dropping to the ground, he shoved Sasha, grabbing his arm and pulling it up and back, locking it his own. Steve’s legs kept Sasha on the ground, one on his neck, the other in the small of his back. If Sasha tried to pull forward and away, he’d break his own arm. And with how wide his own chest was, Sasha wasn’t about to reach Steve with the metal arm, shouting and flailing, but to no avail.

Something horrible crossed Steve’s face and then there was nothing, just calm.

“Stand down, Soldier,” Steve said again, his voice commanding and deep.

Like a switch had been thrown, Sasha went limp, the fight pulled right out of him. Yet Steve didn’t let go of his arm, didn’t let Sasha up, held him, unmoving, tense and nervous.

Then Sasha let out a rough, “I’m okay, kitten,” and Steve scrambled to release him, pulling Sasha into his embrace with his uninjured arm. Steve tucked Sasha beneath his chin, burying his face in Sasha’s hair. Loosely, Sasha wrapped his arms around Steve in turn, but pulled away, slowly sitting up.

“Are you okay?” Steve quietly questioned.

“Yeah,” Sasha answered roughly. He straightened, and Bucky realised that Steve was alternating watching Sasha’s face and the metal arm. Sasha also caught on, as he followed Steve’s gaze to his own arm. He exhaled loudly and flexed his fingers. The arm didn’t whine, didn’t make that strange sound that must have meant it was powering up, but it clicked. The metal plates rearranged themselves again, the surface appearing more linear, the plates reforming into smaller shapes, giving the arm a more human, more flexible appearance. The click-clacking sounded so alien to Bucky seemed to be exactly what Steve was waiting for as Bucky could see Steve’s shoulders lowering with relief as the arm reshaped itself.

“I’m okay,” Sasha repeated, hand lifting to rest next to the blood spreading from Steve’s shoulder. “You, on the other hand...”

“I’m fine,” Steve insisted and Bucky wasn’t sure why he was surprised. Except, Steve looked at him then, and he had been sure Steve hadn’t even known he was there. “We have company.”

Sasha exhaled loud and slow, not turning to look at Bucky.

“Yeah,” he confirmed. “You were the bigger threat,” he said, as if that explained anything.

“I figured you would think that way,” Steve had the gall to agree, admitting he had made himself the bigger target, used himself to protect Bucky. “What triggered you?”

Sasha’s shoulders tensed minutely before he made himself relax again.

“That head kick dazed me a lot more than I expected. Then you followed up, and the damage I took tripped some of my conditioned responses. You caught on faster than ever before,” Sasha said, the last words sounding like praise.

If Steve hadn’t been bleeding, Bucky would have watched, listened and tried to understand the very weird behavior of both men. As it was, neither seemed about to actually do anything about Steve being stabbed, so he finally let his feet walk closer. Sasha was the one whose head twisted to follow him, eyes narrowed and assessing. Bucky stopped by Steve’s side, placed his hand over the bleeding and pressed down.

“Ow!” Steve complained, trying to pull away, but Bucky just went with. Now he knew if Steve really wanted to get away, he could.

“You need to have this treated,” Bucky snapped. “That thing went in you several inches, at least.”

“He’s right,” Sasha said, his voice surprisingly gentle.

“No,” was all Steve said, his voice hard and cold, his eyes on Sasha’s.

“Steve,” Bucky went to argue, but Sasha held up his hand to stop him.

“I’ll do it,” Sasha told Steve. “We have your kit; it’ll take five minutes and Bucky will be there, too. No doctors.”

Steve scowled and Bucky felt something slither in his stomach. The no had been refusal to see a doctor, which wasn’t like Steve at all. If they had been hurting for money, sure, but when they weren’t? He should have known he needed the help.

“Stevie,” Bucky said quietly and watched Steve cave, grimacing.

“Okay.” He took a deep breath. “Okay.”

Sasha got to his feet in an effortless, smooth move, the same way Steve now moved, as if his body was a perfectly functioning machine, no aches, sore muscles, a pinched vein that would make an ordinary man limp for a moment after sitting the way those two had been, let alone the way they’d fought. Bucky focused on watching Steve, and pressed his wound, slowing the bleeding that was already suspiciously light. Bucky could swear the knife went in deep, Steve’s scream still ringing in his ears, but the way Steve was patiently holding still under the pressure seemed very strange to him. He remembered when he’d seen Danny Johnson get stabbed by the crazy O’Malley brothers and there had been so much blood then, so much writhing and screaming. Steve just sat there, quiet as a mouse, just waiting patiently for them to finish taking care of him.

From a locker, Sasha pulled a large white box with a red square on the side, a modern medkit. He returned with it, kneeling before Steve and opening the lid.

“Shirt,” Sasha commanded.

“Help me,” Steve said, glancing up at Bucky.

“Just cut it off,” Sasha injected, handing Bucky something that looked like a knife but was strangely square and had only had one edge. It was light and seemed flimsy, but Bucky could see the practicality of it, how the blade could be hidden or extended only as far as one needed it.

“I like this shirt,” Steve grumbled, but twisted his head away to let Bucky have access to his collar.

“Yeah, well, the blood’s ruined it already,” Sasha countered.

Bucky carefully cut the shirt open, being extra careful not to nick Steve while he did this. The blade turned out to be extremely sharp, cutting the cotton collar and sleeves with ease as he carefully stretched the material from Steve’s body. He even went as far as to cut the shirt open on Steve’s back, from collar to waist, making Steve squeak strangely. Like he could possibly be modest around Bucky who had seen him in nothing more times than he could count. Well, not this body, but it was the same thing. When he moved his hand away from the wound to let the cotton fall away, Steve was shirtless, but it shouldn’t have been a big deal. Except, as Sasha used fresh gauze and some bottles he didn’t recognize on Steve’s wound, the bigger version of himself was giving Steve a long look, one eyebrow raised.

And Steve was turning red, from his chest, up to his ears.

“Shut up,” Steve mumbled.

“You okay?” Bucky asked, and frowned as Steve nodded too fast to be telling the truth.

“Oh, he’s fine,” Sasha said pointedly, making Steve duck his head.

Sasha worked quickly, cleaning the shoulder from blood and Bucky was right, wasn’t just imagining it, the bleeding was already nearly staunched, nowhere near what he had seen when Danny got stabbed.

“Why isn’t it bleeding more?” Bucky asked worriedly, remembering hearing something about things getting stuck in wounds and stopping the bleeding, but then causing infection.

“The serum gave me an enhanced healing factor,” Steve said as Sasha neatly stuck the rectangular gauze to Steve with some kind of white tape instead of bandaging half of Steve’s upper arm like Bucky was expecting. “This will heal in a day, two at the most. It’s not a big deal,” Steve assured him, and Bucky scoffed. Even if it healed, it hurt now.

In a matter of minutes Sasha was done patching Steve up and was packing up the medkit, gathering all the discarded trash in his metal hand and standing up, Bucky assumed, to dispose of it.

“All done,” Sasha confirmed, making his way towards a trash can.

Bucky looked at Steve, who was now a little pale, but otherwise calm and collected.

“Ready to get up?” he asked, remembering how Danny kept swaying on his feet afterwards.

Steve had the gall to roll his eyes at him.

“Quit mothering me, I had worse when I lived with you,” he muttered and extended his healthy arm. “Just help me up.”

Bucky chuckled even as he did as he was asked.

“You were such a goddamned terror Steve, l --” Bucky stopped talking, tongue suddenly too big for his mouth, sticking between his teeth as his eyes fell to Steve’s chest. It was even more impressive naked, but that wasn’t what had silenced Bucky. It was the scars, thick and deep, carved into Steve’s chest and disappearing into his sweats. It was a large Y, the arms branching over Steve’s collarbones.

“Bucky?” Steve asked carefully.

“I thought you said you healed fast,” Bucky made his mouth say, but it came out barely a whisper.

Steve looked down, following Bucky’s gaze, and went stiff all over.

“I,” Steve started, halting abruptly. “It. Bucky…”

“When he said,” Bucky said, voice shaking, “that he had to watch them put your insides back in, this is what he meant.”

“Bucky,” Steve said again, his tone more frantic.

“When Sai said you both just went back to fighting, this was what he meant by after.” Bucky’s voice was rising, his body gone cold. What the hell had happened to Steve? “Stevie, Jesus, what are you doing that made this happen?”

Steve grabbed his hands, slick with blood, and held on so tight Bucky’s bones ached.

“I’m okay,” Steve said quickly, too quickly. “I survived. Sasha found me; you found me. Kept killing the bad guys so relentlessly they had to give me back just to get rid of you.” Steve said, fierce pride in his voice. “I survived. They didn’t break me. I’m okay,” Steve kept assuring him.

“They should never have had you!” Bucky shouted, and Steve winced. Turning on Sasha he demanded, “Tell me you paid the fucker who did this back in kind.”

“Natasha did,” Steve said before Sasha could open his mouth. The satisfaction was clear on his face, and the same feeling welled within Bucky. It wasn’t good enough, though. Not when Bucky knew he could never have rescued Steve, never have ‘kept killing the bad guys relentlessly’. He couldn’t do what Sasha could.

“You can’t… I can’t even hope to protect you now,” Bucky blurted. “Jesus, what’re you doin’...?”

Bucky felt his knees wobble, but he wasn’t going to fall. He held tighter to Steve, closing his eyes as hard as he could. Never before had he felt so useless, so inconsequential. While Sasha could somehow hope to keep Steve safe, Bucky couldn’t. He could pray, but he always had, and it wasn’t always enough. More than ever, Steve was all he had, and he was, like Sasha said, not as unbreakable as he liked to believe.

“What has to be done,” Steve said roughly. “What’s right. What I always tried to do Bucky, and I’m not doing it alone. You don’t… You don’t have to keep me safe any more. I don’t have to be your burden.”

Bucky laughed unpleasantly, but it was that or cry.

“Idiot, you were never my burden. You were my…my…” everything. Bucky couldn’t say it, couldn’t get the word out because he was struck by a simple, horrible thought. “God, you don’t need me any more.”

Steve opened his mouth, but he couldn’t argue because it was true. The one thing Steve had always wanted - his independence - he had. And Bucky? What’d that leave him with?

“No,” Sasha spoke up, startling Bucky who had forgotten him entirely. Now, though, he thought he should have known the whole time. Nothing Steve had said had been just for him. It had been for Sasha, too. “He needs you.”

“No,” Bucky argued, feeling inadequate and glaring at himself, at the man who had taken Steve from him and didn't even manage to protect him right. “He needs you.”

“He’s useless alone,” Sasha said roughly, looking at Bucky and ignoring Steve. “Gets lost in his own head. And I can’t… I don’t know how to make him laugh.”

“What?” Bucky said, staring at his doppelganger in no little confusion.

“Sasha,” Steve said, admonishing, but so sadly it wasn’t worth anything.

“I’ve seen you two, and the videos. I can’t… I mean, I have, once or twice, but you just…know how. He needs you. To keep him happy, grounded, out of his head.”

“Sasha, don’t,” Steve started, but trailed off. Even Bucky wasn’t dim enough not to notice that to reassure Sasha, Steve would have to dismiss him, and Steve wouldn’t do that. Ever.
Bucky had wanted to know, needed to know what happened to change both Steve and him so much. The thing was, now that he knew, it didn’t help anything. He had a dozen more questions now, each worse than before, and no way to help the heartache he had caused by asking.

“Steve, I…”

“No,” Steve stopped his lover sharply. “I need you, Sasha. You make me want to live, want me to make sure I will always survive the mission, always come back. You make me happy.” Steve said the last part like a challenge, almost daring Sasha to challenge his claim. Then he turned to Bucky as vehemently. “And you.”

“Me?” Bucky squeaked at the way Steve all but snapped at him.

“If it hadn’t been for you, I wouldn’t have survived as long as I did, wouldn’t ever have lived long enough to meet Erskine and get the serum. What’s more, you made my life bearable when I thought it wouldn’t be. So both of you, stop thinking I don’t need you when I do. Did. Always will. You’re family.”

Bucky didn’t know what to say to Steve, or to Sasha. That both still wanted him, that Sasha thought Steve needed Bucky, was choking him up. He was saved, in a way, from having to think too much of it when Sasha abruptly slumped with a half-choked grunt, likely would have fallen if Steve hadn’t caught him about the waist.

“Whoa,” Steve gasped, holding Sasha tightly, watching him with no little concern. “You all right?”

“Yeah,” Sasha coughed out, “Must have hit me harder than I thought. Was dizzy.”

Bucky looked to Steve, only to see him press his lips together in a displeased frown that meant he felt guilty again.

“You sure?” Steve pressed. “You seemed a little off even before we started training.”

Sasha didn’t answer immediately, shaking his head a little as if trying to dislodge something.

“I’m not sure,” Sasha admitted grudgingly. “I slept badly. Maybe I’m just tired.”

Pressing his lips harder together, Steve didn’t argue. Instead, he shifted his grip on Sasha, helping him stand while letting him take some of his own weight.

“Then let’s get you home. Let me make you something to eat and you can sit on the couch? I can take care of you tonight.”

“Guess the idea to train today was a bad one after all,” Sasha murmured as he regained his footing and pulled away from Steve’s hold. He didn’t look steady on his feet, but not as bad as before.

“There’s never a good time to try and desensitize you to your triggers,” Steve said in a tone that suggested this was a long-standing argument, “since you like holding onto them so damn much.”

“I’m not the only one who’s stubborn as a mule in this relationship,” Sasha answered with surprising humor in his voice.

“You’re worse and you know it,” Steve huffed.

“No, Stevie,” Bucky laughed. “You’re the worst.”

“You shut up,” Steve grumbled. “Taking your own side. S’cheating.”

“We need any advantage we can get when it comes to you,” Bucky needled, following the two to the door of the gym.

“Captain Rogers, Sergeant Barnes, Mr. Barnes - Dr. Banner is asking you to join him and Sir in the infirmary.”

JARVIS’s voice was as polite as ever, but the timing seemed ominous to Bucky.

“All of us?” Steve questioned, frowning again as he glanced Bucky’s way.

“Yes, Captain,” JARVIS answered. “It is of the utmost urgency.”

“We’re on our way,” Sasha said, motioning Steve and Bucky forward. “Five minutes at most.”

Bucky looked to Steve, letting his friend lead the way.

“You think my test results came back?”

“I don’t know,” Steve answered. “Don’t know why they’d need Sasha for that.”

“Because me and the kid are essentially the same person?” Sasha said wryly. Bucky bristled at being called a kid, even by an older version of himself.

“Less arguing, more walking,” Steve chastised, and none-too-gently herded them towards the elevator.

“Yes, Mom!” he and Sasha chorused, which caused them to look at each other and snicker, especially at the irritated huff that left Steve.

“Figures that you only agree on things that piss me off,” Steve grumbled as they made their way towards the brightly lit elevator already open and waiting for them.

----

Sasha had never liked labs. After what happened to Steve he liked them even less. The scent of disinfectant and scrupulously clean surfaces were making him twitchy. It was nothing compared to the extreme stillness that Steve adopted. His whole body seemed on the verge of shattering from tension alone. Having Steve uncomfortable wasn’t helping Sasha’s nerves at all. Half of the man’s stress was probably coming from the fact he was half-naked, his chest along with his very distinctive scars on display for all to see.

“The hell happened to you?” Tony asked the same moment his eyes landed on Steve’s bandaged shoulder.

“Training accident.” Steve brushed it off, turning expectantly towards Banner, clearly indicating he didn’t want to talk about his injury. Tony looked sour about that, but didn’t say anything more. Dr. Banner looked at Steve, then at Sasha, and briefly to his own hands.

“You need me to look at it?” he wasn’t looking at Steve as he asked, making the question sound almost offhand. The man had an astounding gift for being unobtrusive. Steve’s shoulders sagged a little and he shook his head minutely, uncomfortable both with being in the lab and being the center of attention while half-naked.

Thankfully, the Avengers knew of both Sasha’s and Steve’s aversion to settings such as this one. Neither Dr. Banner, or Tony - for once - wasted any time getting to the point.

“The stone you retrieved from the smugglers has apparently been well documented in its use as a weapon. Whoever touches it,” Banner pointed at Sasha, “gets a copy of themselves. A younger, ‘original’ version. Here’s the bad news: a few days later, the person who touched the stone dies of exhaustion.”

“Dies?” Steve choked out, and Sasha caught him about the waist, pulling him close. “Tony, what the hell?”

“It’s a lot of folklore,” Stark answered, so serious and focused on Steve that Sasha knew it was true, “but the documentation we’ve verified says it’s true. The stone creates an ‘original’ that then siphons off the soul of the person who touched it. That person dies, then the copy touches the stone and both vanish. From reports, there is no stopping the copy. Like some kind of mind control.”

Steve looked up at Sasha, desperate and terrified. Oddly enough, Sasha felt cold, more worried for Steve and Sai than for himself. It wasn’t that he wanted to die, it just felt remote. Besides it was such a ridiculous thing to believe. He was perfectly okay yesterday, today he had had only one dizzy spell. It was hard to believe he was to die in a day or two.

“There’s gotta be something we can do,” Steve insisted, looking to Stark and Banner again.

Banner and Stark exchanged glances.

“The notes say the only way to stop the process would be for Bucky to touch the stone again. It would reabsorb him, and Sasha would live.”

Sasha didn’t look at Steve then, knowing the kind of terrible expression that would be painted on his face. He looked to Bucky, his younger version, who was apparently killing him. The kid was pale, wide-eyed, but blank, as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. In a remote way, Sasha could identify with him. That he, as a person, had never existed. That he was created, made, a tool for something nefarious; a way to kill the unsuspecting. Bucky was hearing that not only was he nothing, he was an instrument for destruction. That, Sasha knew, hurt like hell.

“No,” Steve said harshly. “There’s gotta be something else. Some other way.”

“Steve,” Stark said, “we’ve looked. Maybe there is, but the time limit is three days. Sasha will be dead by tomorrow evening if Bucky doesn’t touch the stone. Then he will be dead as well. So,” Stark’s jaw flexed, “Either the kid touches the stone, or I’ll make him do it. No offense,” Stark said to Bucky, “but you’re dying either way.”

“Tony,” Steve growled, taking a menacing step forward, but Sasha held him back. For once, he thought he understood where Stark was coming from and was grateful to him.

“He’s doing it for you,” Sasha said softly.

“For me? How is… How is killing Bucky for me?”

“Steve,” Sasha said, keeping his tone gentle, “what happened the last time you lost him?”

Steve snapped his mouth closed, but whipped his head to glare at Sasha with betrayed anger.

“Shouldn’t someone ask my opinion?” came Bucky’s voice, weak, but firm. “Just a suggestion.”

When Steve refused to ask, clenching his teeth and staring at the floor, Banner asked gently, “What do you want to do, Bucky?”

“I have a little time, right? Give me until tonight. I’ll touch it.”

“Bucky, no,” Steve pleaded.

Sasha stared at the man, oddly torn between his need to deal with any and all threats to his safety, and the fact that this Bucky, this version of him was tolerable as a friend. If It had been a straightforward choice between Sasha’s life for Bucky’s, just one of them surviving, things would have been different. As it stood now, it seemed that they merely had a choice between losing both of them or losing Bucky. If it had been a stranger, Sasha would have dragged them physically to the stone right now. This was Bucky though, the younger version of himself, a person who didn’t have a choice in what happened to him. Sasha would give him the benefit of doubt for a little while, if only because he knew that watching Bucky die again would shatter Steve.

“Steve,” Bucky said, “it ain’t a difficult choice to make. Either I do this, or I’m responsible for killing someone. I won’t do that.”

“We won’t stop searching,” Stark said, “but this is the best course of action so far.”

Pulling away from Sasha, Steve grabbed Bucky and yanked him into a rough, tight hug. Bucky went without any prompting, melting into Steve in a way that suggested he wasn’t nearly as all right with his choice as he had suggested. Whispering, Steve spoke right into Bucky’s ear, quiet enough Sasha knew he wasn’t meant to hear, but he did.

“How many times I gotta find the end of the line with you?”

Sasha swallowed hard, placing his hand on Steve’s back.

“Come on, let’s get out of here.”

Keeping his arm around Bucky’s neck, Steve let Sasha guide him out of the lab. Neither Steve nor Bucky said anything. They leaned on each other, Steve not straying from Sasha’s side all the way back to their floor. Only when the door shut did Steve pull away, walking to the couch where he yanked at the cushions, then grabbed Bucky again who toppled on top of him.

Sasha stood, staring at the two and feeling lost. Usually he would feel unbearably jealous of anybody who touched Steve so freely, who Steve touched in turn. This was a version of himself, though and it was confusing the hell out of his instincts.

“At least one of us remembers,” Bucky mumbled. Twisting in Steve’s grip, he looked up at Sasha. “He tell you about this?”

“About what?”

Bucky shoved at Steve, who in turn grabbed a hold of him tighter.

“Come ‘ere,” Bucky said to Sasha.

Sasha looked down at the two men on the floor. He wasn’t feeling murderous towards his counterpart, but this seemed strange. He understood why Steve needed the closeness, but why invite Sasha? It was in his interest, after all, that Bucky died as soon as possible.

“When we were little,” Bucky said, “Steve’s mom would let me stay over all the time. Our dad wasn’t the nicest,” Steve snorted, “and besides Steve didn’t have many other friends. So we’d spend most our nights on the floor, on the couch cushions, talking. It was our thing. When Sarah died, or if things were real bad, we’d do it as adults too.”

Carefully Sasha settled himself on the floor beside the two men, sitting with his legs folded.

“That seems nice,” he admitted, vaguely jealous he didn’t have that memory. It maybe explained a little why Steve was so attached to this version of him. Sasha never quite understood just what was it about the man that made Steve long for him even years later. Never knew that he wasn’t just a lover, or a might-have-been lover. He was a friend.

“It was - is,” Bucky looked at him expectantly, then rolled his eyes. “So get down here and hold him. It’s your thing, too.”

Blinking in surprise, Sasha carefully laid down behind Steve. The three of them barely fit on the cushions, but as soon as he was there, Steve was leaning back into him, pulling Bucky with him. As Sasha settled his hand on Steve’s hip, he realized what Bucky had wanted. To give him, if not the memory, then the knowledge that he no longer had. Sasha was grateful for that, wanted to understand the memories that Steve cherished so much, but in the end, it wouldn't matter because those memories would never be his. Would forever be just something he had learned.

Being there, with Steve is this awkward huddle, drove home how differently Steve treated him in comparison to Bucky. While he talked about his past at times, he never acted as if Sasha ought to know it. Even the ways he talked to and touched him were different. Steve touched Bucky a lot, hugged him, reached out to pat his arm, or merely direct him all the time. The way he touched Sasha was more deliberate. Sasha didn’t like casual touches, and Steve seemed to understand that Sasha liked a more focused approach. Steve still touched him a lot, but it just wasn’t the same. Maybe this was because they were lovers and Steve had never actually had sex with Bucky, but Sasha suspected it was because he saw Sasha differently. In the way they had met as strangers, Steve had been unable to let himself believe what his eyes saw, a blessing for them. Sasha was a different entity to the man currently curled into Steve’s other side.

Just when Sasha was going to ask how long they were planning on lying here, Steve’s entire body shuddered. Then his shoulders shook as he buried his face in Bucky’s chest. Bucky closed his eyes, looking as pained as Sasha felt at the sight and sound of Steve crying, sobbing into Bucky’s chest. It was only the second time he’d ever seen this, and it was clear that Bucky had been waiting for it. Had wanted Sasha there when it happened.

He hated it when Steve cried. He hated feeling so helpless, knowing that Steve was in pain and he could do nothing about it. Sasha spread his hand on Steve’s hip and shifted it a little higher so that he could touch the hot skin of Steve’s side. His lover had spent more time shirtless with other people today than he had done since the day of his rescue.

“Steve,” Sasha called to him gently, but then closed his mouth. He realised there was nothing he could say to make things better, make this hurt less. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, pressing his forehead to Steve’s shaking back. That Steve could never find his happy ever after seemed so unfair, that whenever they seemed to have hit their stride, something would come to hurt the man. Sasha would gladly take on the pain to spare him, but the universe appeared to have it in for Steve. Out of them all, Steve was the one who most deserved to be happy.

“It’s gonna be okay,” Bucky promised as Steve just kept shaking. “Stevie, it’ll be okay.”

“How?” Steve choked out.

“I’m with you, literally behind you, idiot,” Bucky huffed. “This was just…a visit.”

Sasha turned his head, pressing the side of his face against Steve’s back. He felt the way Steve shook, and clenched his teeth against his own uselessness.

“I just got you back,” Steve gasped. “I can’t just watch you die again.”

“No one’s gonna make you,” Bucky said, “I’d really rather you didn’t anyway, and I’m…you know, I’m glad I got to see you like this. Even if it’s just been a couple of days, and this time… Well, this time we can say goodbye.”

Steve sniffed, his shaking easing as his sobbing slowed.

“Guess there’s no point in me sayin’ I don’t want to?”

“None,” Bucky affirmed. “And I gotta say, it’s selfish, but I’d like to spend our last evening without you crying. Think we can manage that?”

Steve laughed weakly.

“Too late.”

“Damn, got me there.” Bucky laughed as well. “Well, something else. Make me a memory, Stevie.”

Huffing, Steve sat up enough to wipe at his face. Looking back at Sasha, eyes red, he asked helplessly, “What do we even do for fun?”

“Well, what do you usually do for fun?” Bucky asked, and Sasha snorted even as he felt Steve’s blush spreading rapidly down his neck and his back.

“Uh,” Steve stuttered, his mind probably travelling right into the gutter. Ever since Steve had realised they could explore their kinks together, could just play and have fun, could do things simply with the goal of feeling good - that’s what they had been doing. Not surprising then that Steve’s mind immediately turned to sex when faced with a question phrased this way.

“Seriously?” Bucky asked, awed and laughing all at once. “That’s all you do for fun?”

“Together,” Steve said defensively. “I paint and draw and fix houses and Sasha…terrorizes the neighborhood.”

“It’s not terrorism,” Sasha argued, pushing himself up on his elbow to look over Steve at Bucky. “I’m merely exercising the local kids.” Besides, once he had scared the shit out of them and chased them around the place for a few hours until they were too tired to cause any mischief, nobody ever touched Steve’s plants twice.

“You live in Manhattan,” Bucky argued.

“Well, that was before,” Steve huffed. “Sasha wanted us to move here. It’s safer.”

“Apparently for the neighborhood,” Bucky said with a laugh. “Well, I’d like to see you draw some. And… Wait.” Bucky frowned at Steve. “You fix houses for fun?”

Steve huffed yet again.

“It’s…not relaxing, but I like it.”

“That’s a job, Steve,” Bucky argued.

“I like it,” Steve said again. “Now lemme go take a shower and we can do that drawing thing?”

Sasha rubbed his face against Steve’s back, thinking about Steve’s body under the shower. He liked joining Steve under the warm spray and just touching him, washing him, enjoying Steve’s hands on him. There were a few times where he had asked to just watch, and damn, Steve had put on a show. He had blushed a little at first, putting himself so deliberately on display, but that never stopped him from making it an experience for Sasha, lathering those expanses of powerful muscles slowly and thoroughly. Sasha had loved watching him wash his chest, bend down to wash his legs, his ass, his cock, everything. It was sweet to him that Steve gave put on such a performance simply because Sasha enjoyed it. This time Steve would be more careful, his shoulder probably hurting. The water would wash away the last remnants of blood Sasha hadn’t got to when patching Steve up.

Running his hand over Steve’s hip to his belly and rubbing slow circles there Sasha wondered how it would look if it wasn’t just Steve under the shower, but Bucky too. His younger self was much leaner than him, had the shape of a runner, or a dancer, not someone used to being a human tank. Steve would be bigger. Taller and broader in the shoulders, making Bucky look even slimmer in contrast. He wondered how Steve would touch Bucky. Would it be...

“Oh my god, seriously?” Steve hissed. “I just said the word ‘shower’.”

Sasha grumbled wordlessly, pressing his face harder to Steve’s back and unwilling to lose that image. He wondered if Steve would push Bucky against the wall, just pin him there and touch him like he obviously wanted. Or would he be soft and submissive with him, overwhelmed by the feelings he had never expressed? Would they find the way into each others bodies on instinct, or would it take time and direction? Sasha was distantly aware he was getting interested and shifted to press tighter against Steve’s body.

“What?” Bucky asked in confusion.

“N-nothing,” Steve mumbled, embarrassment lacing his tone.

“Nothing my ass,” Bucky argued, “you’re as red as a tomato.”

“Sasha,” Steve whined, “I’m all bloody, and we’re both gross from sparing.”

Sasha inhaled the scent of Steve, blood and sweat…and just put his tongue out and licked a long, wet stripe over Steve’s back. Steve choked on a squeak. For some reason he didn’t always enjoy the filthy, dirty things Sasha did to him. Besides, it’s not like Sasha minded some sweat or grime, not on Steve anyways.

“Oh,” Bucky said weakly.

“And Bucky’s here,” Steve finished, not sounding nearly as firm as he had a moment before. That, apparently, wasn’t much of an objection to Steve. From what Steve had said about his memories of Bucky, Sasha always gleaned a sense of regret. Not only loss, but of missed opportunities, things left unsaid. Steve had never gotten to express his love for Bucky the way he’d always wanted, never got to feel it physically, to have sex with the object of his youngest fantasies. And Sasha was struck by the thought that this could be fixed. That Sasha could give it to him, could give him, give them both, that goodbye.

Right, it was time to get to work because Steve was obviously not going to be the one to take the first step. He shifted, hooking his chin over Steve’s shoulder, mindful of his wound. He wormed his flesh hand around Steve, splaying it over Steve’s chest while the metal one slid from Steve’s belly to rest lower, just above the bulge of his cock, which was on the verge of becoming visible through his clothes.

“As I see it,” Sasha rumbled low and dangerous as he locked his eyes with Bucky’s wide ones. “You want each other,” he said, tightening his arms as he felt Steve jerk at the blunt statement.

“Sasha!” Steve protested, probably worried Sasha was jealous. He was, somewhat, but not the way he would be if it were someone else, some stranger who’d be touching Steve. He used his hold on Steve to keep him close, to stop his squirming.

“I don’t,” Bucky cleared his throat. “Don’t see what that has to do with anything.”

“Steve’s held a torch for you for years, grieved all the harder for the might-have-beens that never were.” Sasha continued, feeling Steve tensing even more. “And you look at him like a hungry dog looks at a bone.”

“Sasha, stop it.”

Steve was angry now, the embarrassment giving way to something akin to hurt. Sasha moved his metal hand to cup Steve’s cock, feeling it twitch under his grip, and stopping Steve’s growing tirade in its tracks. Instead of struggling harder, Steve went limp, proving to Sasha he wasn’t arguing because he didn’t want it. Sasha knew if he didn’t, really didn’t, Steve would have had no qualms about punching Sasha, pushing his way free. It wasn’t like Sasha was trying to hold him down that hard.

“You can give him that closure, you know,” Sasha continued, relentlessly staring at Bucky. “You have a choice. You can spend today moping around, watching TV, or talking shit, pretending you’re not dying to touch Steve, to hear him moan, see him squirm in pleasure.” Sasha was deliberately making his voice as low as possible, the palm on Steve’s cock pressing down tight enough to make Steve exhale sharply. “Or you can learn what it’s like to have Steve, to touch him and kiss him, and finally know what it would be like to make love to him.”

Still and tense, Steve was waiting for Bucky’s response more intently than Sasha. If it hadn’t been so damned important to hear what Bucky had to say, Sasha would have scolded him for misunderstanding his actions.

“It’s your choice how you decide to spend this day,” Sasha said when Bucky hesitated, “but before you answer, see what you would be missing. Look,” Sasha leaned back a little, pulling Steve’s upper body with him, making him arch just a little. He parted his metal fingers over the now much more noticeable bulge he was touching, framing it between his fingers, showing off its size and dimensions for Bucky. Steve didn’t moan, didn't move a single muscle, but the way he was so quiet was telling in itself. Steve wanted, he just rarely took what he wanted, or even asked for it from anyone but Sasha.

“Steve?” Bucky asked hesitantly. He reached up a hand, tilting Steve’s chin so Steve couldn’t avoid his gaze. “Is that something you’d wanna do?”

“I…” Steve still hesitated, so Sasha squeezed him again. Shuddering out a breath, Steve nodded. “Yeah, Buck. Still wonder what’d be like, if we’d ever gotten our heads out of our asses.”

“And you?” Bucky asked, his voice hoarse as he looked to Sasha again. “Steve treats you like you’re a pretty jealous guy. You want me to believe you’re okay with me and Steve just getting...on with things?”

Sasha smirked, reasserting a good grip on Steve’s cock through his pants and massaging it, making Steve’s breath stutter again.

“Oh,” Sasha murmured over the sound of Steve’s breathing, “I’m going to be there for all of it.” He wished he could get a good hold on Steve’s nipples, twist them, make Steve do that breathy little moan of want that always turned Sasha’s blood to fire.

“Oh, Jesus,” Steve breathed out, and Bucky’s gaze flicked to him in a heartbeat.

“You like that, Stevie?” Bucky asked, shifting closer. “Like the thought of him watching? Joining in?” Steve shuddered, breathing hard, and Bucky slowly grinned. “Yeah, you do. Both our hands on you, our mouths…” Bucky looked to Sasha curiously. “Do you… You know, fuck him, or…?”

Sasha grinned.

“Steve here,” Sasha squeezed his lover’s cock through his pants, making Steve’s breath even more uneven, “likes it all. Likes to fuck me, but he also loves his hole to be stuffed full, stretched the the edge of endurance and then past it. He likes a little bit of pain with his pleasure.”

Bucky looked transfixed, his eyes dark and lips parted. He reached out but checked his movement halfway, his eyes skittering from Steve to Sasha and back, as if he couldn’t stand to look away from Steve’s face for longer than a heartbeat. Sasha said nothing and Bucky reached out again, this time connecting with Steve’s body, gently putting the palm of his hand against Steve’s neck.

“Steve,” he said so tenderly Sasha was sure he had never managed to sound like that. “I want to touch you,” he whispered. “I want to do so many things to you. I’ve thought about what it would be like if we ever ended up in bed together, as unlikely as it seemed. I...” he licked his lips again, the way Sasha did when nervous or excited. Bucky wasn’t betraying any signs of distress or fear, it was just that he was overwhelmed. Wanted too much. “It’s been so long, I have so many fantasies about you I don’t even know where to start.”

Sasha couldn't see it, but could almost feel the way Steve was staring at Bucky, the intensity of it scorching the air between them.

“What would you like the most?” Steve asked just as softly, leaning into the hand Bucky had on his throat.

“I want to get inside you, I want to have you, make you moan because you are taking me so deep.”

Steve made a little sound in the back of his throat and shifted, rubbing the side of his face against Sasha’s scruffy cheek, so clearly including him in this that Sasha’s heart swelled with how much he loved Steve. He caught Bucky’s eyes, quick and shrewd, catching onto Steve’s dilemma.

“Steve,” Bucky called, pulling Steve’s focus to him again. “Would you like if...we both had you at the same time? If we both pushed into you? Possessed you? Made you ours? At the same time?” Bucky’s voice was dropping now, becoming slightly hoarse and wheedling. “I bet we could make it good Steve, so very good. Just put you between us and drive you out of your mind with how good we made you feel? Huh, Stevie, would you like it?”

“You’re gonna kill me,” Steve groaned. “Please, both of you; yes, please.”

“When you ask so nice, how can we say no?” Sasha purred into Steve’s ear. “Shower first, get you nice and clean,” Sasha looked at Bucky, catching his eye again. “So that I can watch as you make sure Steve is ready for us both.”

“Sasha, you…” Steve started, but Sasha cut him off.

“I know what I’m doing and I bet Bucky knows his way around a body, too.”

Bucky laughed hoarsely.

“A dame’s, sure. This is gonna be…better.”

“Steve’s better than any woman,” Sasha agreed, rubbing his scruff over Steve’s jaw. “You’ll see.”

“Of course, now you agree with each other,” Steve teased, wiggling his arm free of Sasha’s hold and reaching for Bucky. Twisting his hand in the younger man’s shirt, he pulled him in for a kiss.

“I take it the shower is a go, then?” Sasha murmured as he watched Bucky melt into Steve, eyes closing as he moaned into Steve’s assault. He gave as good as he got, but it was clear to Sasha’s eyes he was dazed by this, by having Steve’s lips on his, and probably knowing he got to have all of him soon.

“Yes,” Steve declared firmly when he broke away, still breathing hard. He rolled his hips into Sasha’s hand, then sat up, grabbing both Sasha and Bucky by an arm and pulling them to their feet. “Hell, yes.”

----

Bucky was pretty sure he was dreaming as Steve dragged them both down the hall, past the hall bathroom, and into the bedroom. They went through that, too, into the master bath attached to the room. It was huge, bigger than Bucky had ever imagined a private bathroom to be, tiled and spacious. There was a separate shower and tub, the latter big enough he thought the three of them could fit in a squeeze. The shower was glassed in, the glass crystal clear, had several different spray nozzles, and even a seat in the corner.

As Sasha turned on the water, Steve switched his grip on Bucky’s wrist for one on his belt. He pulled Bucky in, kissing him again, and Bucky jumped as his hands went straight for his buckle. Steve laughed against his mouth, but didn’t stop, undoing the clasp and then yanking his shirt over his head. When it was off, Bucky expected Steve to immediately resume kissing him, but he didn’t. He hesitated, eyes on Bucky’s chest, and then carefully, as if Bucky might break, laying his hand over his left shoulder.

Where they would eventually cut away his arm, whether he liked it or not.

Bending down, Steve kissed along the joint and Bucky shuddered, his stomach flipping oddly. It lasted a moment, and then Steve’s lips were on his again, kissing him harder, bending him backward with the ferocity of it. It was all Bucky could do to hold on, clinging to Steve’s shoulders as he was devoured, and frantic hands tore at his pants, eager to have him naked. Instead of just letting them fall, though, Steve knelt, pulling them off Bucky’s legs and then looking up at him. It wasn’t the first time they’d been naked together, but this was so much different.

Then Steve looked to Sasha, smiling mischievously.

“You want a show, Sashka?”

Sasha leaned on the wall opposite the shower, his legs spread and lips turned up in a small, wicked smirk.

“I want,” he confirmed.

Smiling, Steve turned back to Bucky. He laid his head on Bucky’s thigh, so very close to his hard, straining cock, and let out a long breath that brushed the heated shaft. Dropping his hand to Steve’s hair, Bucky gasped, swaying before he gathered his balance again.

“He can come more than once,” Sasha offered unexpectedly, but Bucky wasn’t sure who he was talking to at first. “The healing factor makes sure of that. You can make him come now if you want, and he’ll still be ready to blow when we get to fuck him.”

“Really?” Bucky asked, awed as he threaded his fingers through Steve’s hair. “Wow, that’s… No wonder it’s all you two do.”

No longer mortified by Bucky’s hearing them, or discussing their sex life, Steve laughed.

“Pretty much.”

Leaning forward, he lapped at Bucky’s tip, making his cock twitch. Just quick, tiny licks whenever it came in range. Then he took it in his hands and started rubbing the head all over his face, dragging it over his lips, his closed eyes, his smoothly-shaved cheeks. There was something primal about this, about the clear enjoyment on Steve’s face, in his voice as he made small sounds of pleasure. The sounds were affecting Bucky even more than the pleasure was.

“I ain’t got that healing factor thing, Steve,” Bucky breathed. “Go easy on me, yeah?”

“Mm,” Steve hummed, looking up at him from beneath his long lashes, “Only if you don’t go easy on me.”

This time Bucky laughed.

“Jesus, when did you get so.... Filthy?”

Steve grinned, eyes going to Sasha as he gracefully got off his knees.

“You taught me.”

Now it was Bucky’s turn to watch as Steve pressed himself to Sasha, placing himself between the man’s thick legs, hands against his chest. Catching a fistful of Steve’s hair, Sasha held him as he controlled this kiss, the other dropping to tear at Steve’s pants the same way Steve had at Bucky’s. Steve folded easily into Sasha, giving in in a way the little Steve that Bucky had known never would have. The chip on his shoulder was too big to give him the space, the calmness enough to do it.

Bucky watched, his heart pounding as Sasha pushed Steve’s clothes out of the way, watched Steve step out of them, revealing acres of pale skin and lush muscles. Steve was so gorgeous now, so beautiful, and so centered in his own body. Bucky had never dreamed he would ever see Steve like this, so sure of how attractive he was. He watched as Sasha’s hands slid to Steve’s ass, grabbed two handfuls in a way only a long-time lover would be allowed and squeezed, spreading it. Showing Bucky Steve’s hole, he realised, mouth going dry.

Sasha was the one who ended the kiss, drawing Steve away by his hair, and Bucky wondered where he could ever get the confidence to just control Steve that way. Wasn’t sure he wanted to. He’d liked the way Steve had kissed him, with confidence and passion.

“You promised to get him properly clean,” Sasha said, his voice low and raspy, even as he gently pushed Steve away. Bucky realised the man was talking to him and snapped to attention.

“I did,” he confirmed reaching for Steve and reeling him in, letting his feet guide them both into the shower even as he pulled Steve into a kiss. Steve just came, suddenly loose and pliant, and Bucky found he was wrong. He did like Steve like this, melting beneath him, practically whimpering for his touch beneath the water’s spray. He knew without having to ask he could touch anywhere, everywhere, and that Steve wanted it.

“God, you’re so damn sexy, Steve,” Bucky panted as he fumbled for the bar of soap. Quickly lathering his hands, he pressed them to the expanse of Steve’s torso, shivered as Steve moaned, and then jumped as equally soapy hands pressed to his skin. The quiescence was gone as Steve backed Bucky against the tiled wall, but this was still yet different from that first kiss. They spent long, luxurious moments just kissing and running soap-slick hands over each other, just feeling, enjoying each other’s touch. They were pressed chest to chest, and Bucky could feel Steve’s cock drag over his belly, fully hard and so hot. Bucky couldn’t resist wrapping a soapy hand around him and stroking Steve, making him moan into his mouth.

“Want me to make you come, Steve?” Bucky asked, changing to quick, hard kisses between words. “Want to come on my stomach?”

“Yes,” Steve moaned, “gonna jerk me off, Buck?”

Steve’s hands were eager on him, touching, washing, but minding his request not to work him up too much. Now they slid down his back, grabbing Bucky’s ass a lot like Sasha had Steve’s, but he wasn’t showing Bucky off. A moment later, his fingers brushed Bucky’s hole and he gasped, squeezing Steve’s cock as his mind tripped over the thought of Steve inside him.

“He’ll come harder if you finger him through it,” came the dark, low voice just beside him, making Bucky jump. He had completely forgotten Sasha was there. When he looked over his shoulder he saw Sasha, naked, at the shower’s door. His body was littered with scars. His chest, his legs, were so very much unlike Steve’s golden, perfect body with only the one, horrible mark on his chest.

“Show me?” Bucky, asked and Steve moaned so loud he knew it was the right thing to ask.

Stepping behind Steve, Sasha pulled him from Bucky and turned him around. Holding him tight against his chest, he roughly caught hold of Steve’s thigh and pulled it up, making Steve hook his knee over Sasha’s hip.

“Fuck,” he heard Steve gently curse as he caught hold of Sasha’s shoulders to stabilize himself. “Love it when you do this.”

Sasha chuckled.

“Wait till you see what I plan to do with you.”

Bucky couldn’t just stay back and watch, he had to touch. He stepped in close and spread his hands on Steve’s wet back, just enjoying the freedom to be able to do this. Steve arched towards him, making an encouraging sound as Sasha’s hands closed over Steve’s buttocks and spread them roughly, pulling the firm muscles apart and showing off Steve’s hole again. He then slid one of his hands lower, between Steve’s cheeks and over Steve’s hole before pushing one digit in as deep as it could go. Bucky not only felt, but saw the way Steve reacted, how he all but rose to his tiptoes at the penetration.

“There’s lube in that blue bottle on the shelf,” Sasha instructed, looking from Steve’s face to Bucky.

Understanding the statement to be a request, Bucky got the small plastic bottle and went back to the pair. Though he offered it to Sasha, the man only shook his head. When Bucky looked down he saw that he was slowly fucking his finger into Steve, each push in raising Steve to his toes with a tiny gasp.

“Slick your fingers,” Sasha murmured, rubbing his scruffy cheek over Steve’s naked shoulder, making it redden. “I’ll show you how to do it right.”

Bucky wanted to argue that he knew how to finger someone, but his throat was too dry. The way he stood blocked most of the water, creating an intimate space between them. Silently, he slicked his fingers with the clear, surprisingly slick liquid, and then put them just above Steve’s hole where Sasha’s finger was stretching the little muscle already.

“Push in alongside my finger,” Sasha said and Steve made a strangled sound, pushing his ass at Bucky, making it so clear he wanted it that Bucky didn't even hesitate to do as asked. He knew it was possible, knew the tiny hole could stretch, but it still looked impossible when he pressed at it beside Sasha’s finger. Steve let out a long, low groan at the increased pressure. Suddenly the ring of muscle gave, and his finger was sliding inside silky, furnace-hot walls. He could feel Steve clenching down on them and how soft he was inside.

Instinctively, Bucky followed the way Sasha’s finger was crooked, pressing in small pulsing movements against nothing that Bucky could easily detect. He could feel how Steve was reacting, though, tensing and fluttering his muscles at every small press.

“It’s his prostate,” Sasha said, still massaging that spot, making Steve breathe faster and harsher. “It feels really good to press against it.” Sasha dragged his teeth over Steve’s shoulder. “Try it.”

Sasha pulled his finger out and Bucky didn't need to be told twice to push in a second finger and crook them, the way Sasha had. The first two attempts didn’t cause the cute tiptoe reaction from Steve, but as he adjusted, shifted, and tried again, he struck gold. It felt mighty good to cause the sharp gasp, full body jerk.

Chuckling, Sasha pulled Steve’s leg from over his hip and turned him. Bucky had to pull his fingers free, but was gratified as Steve whined at the loss of contact. Then Steve was facing him, eyes dark and huge, and Sasha was lifting his leg. Instinctively, Steve hooked it over Bucky’s hip and Bucky gasped, taking the weight of his much larger friend. He couldn't do anything else but kiss him, push his tongue inside Steve’s mouth, and take everything he had ever wanted while Steve gave willingly, enthusiastically.

When Bucky reached for the cleft of Steve’s ass, he found Steve’s hole still slick and loose, taking two of Bucky’s fingers easily. It took some searching again, to adjust to the different position, but it wasn’t long before he had Steve moaning quietly into his mouth, hips snapping between pushing his cock into Bucky’s belly and back onto his fingers. When he felt another finger circle Steve’s hole, cool and slick he moaned at the thought, just before Sasha pushed in two fingers along his own, stuffing Steve full, making Steve gasp and writhe, his hips snapping harder between the two points of stimulation.

Steve was getting closer to orgasm, Bucky could tell from the way he was breathing rapidly, panting breaths and thee way his kisses turned sloppier, barely more than licking back at Bucky and sucking at his tongue. His cock was drawing hot, slick trails all over his belly as Steve rubbed it frantically over him. Bucky wanted to jerk Steve off, but he didn't want to give up a single moment of this, Steve out of breath, filling the small bathroom with his sounds of pleasure, so full of fingers he could hardly gasp and moan.

With sudden movement, he clenched down on all those fingers and his cock swelled, then shot all over Bucky’s belly, again and again, come painting Bucky’s skin. Bucky locked his lips over Steve’s, catching every last noise, pulling Steve’s knee even higher over his hip, pressing them closer together, as tight as they could be. He kept fingering Steve, kept massaging his prostate, hoping to extend his orgasm, make it better, wanting to milk every drop out of Steve.

When Steve was done, his shuddering, and heated cries stopped, Bucky paused and went to pull his fingers free.

“Just keep fingering him,” Sasha said. “Don’t stop. Watch.”

“Sashka,” Steve whined, burying his face into the crook of Bucky’s shoulder, hands clenching with bruising force wherever he could catch a handhold, fingers scratching at Bucky’s back where the grip slipped on wet skin. He didn’t struggle, though, whining and twitching as they hardly slowed down, filling Steve up and fucking him with their joined fingers.

Slowly, though, the whines tapered off, as did the twitching. Steve began to moan, rocking, the points of his fingers digging into Bucky’s shoulder once more. Then Bucky felt Steve’s cock pressing against his groin, growing harder by the moment, as if he hadn’t just spilled between them. As if he really could go again right now.

“Jesus,” Bucky gasped, awed, “Jesus, Stevie. With you like this, I could just finger you for hours. Just stuff you up and make you come again and again until ya just couldn’t any more. Leave ya a writhing mess in the bed, not sure if you were begging for more or for it to stop; so ya couldn’t even think.”

“Bucky,” Steve whimpered, saying his name for the first time. It went through him like lightning, making him want to pin Steve to the wall right then and there.

“Patience,” Sasha scolded, sensing his train of thought. “He’s gonna be even better split wide open on the both of us. The sounds he’ll make then.”

“Yes, please,” Steve murmured between kisses, dropping small bites onto Bucky’s jaw, his neck, his shoulder, marking him up like a wild thing.

The thing was, he could finger Steve like this for hours. Bucky loved the sounds he made, the way he moved like he was almost trying to get away from the penetration, but not really, always managing to stay, keep his legs spread, and himself accessible. Yeah, Steve loved this, and oh, how Bucky wanted to give it to him however he wanted.

Bucky felt Sasha’s fingers pull out and didn’t hesitate to push one more of his fingers in to fill Steve’s hole in their absence. Steve’s entrance was soft now, giving easily under the push of his three fingers. Curious, remembering that there was something much bigger to come, Bucky teased his smallest finger at the edge of the slick hole. Steve shuddered and gasped, biting into Bucky’s shoulder, but pushing his ass onto Bucky's hand. The little finger sank in with some effort, but nowhere near as much as he expected, driving another breathy moan out of Steve. He had all four fingers inside him now and that tiny pink hole was taking it. Steve was moaning and gasping as Bucky carefully, so carefully fucked him with those fingers, experimenting with stretching them, scissoring, just trying to make Steve loose enough to take what was coming.

When the cold air from the open door reached him, raising goosebumps on his skin, Bucky became aware that the shower spray had been shut off. When he broke off another messy kiss with Steve to look over his shoulder, he was met with the sight of Sasha, one towel already wrapped around his waist and two more in his arms.

“Gonna pull out now, Stevie,” Bucky whispered into the flushed shell of Steve’s ear, and did as he’d warned, slowly removing his fingers from the slick tight clutch of Steve’s body. They both moaned at the sensation and Steve slid his leg from Bucky’s hip in order to regain his balance. But didn’t let go of Bucky.

“Hands against the wall, legs spread,” came Sasha’s demanding tone.

Bucky opened his mouth to snap at him for ordering Steve about like that, but Steve’s eyes just glazed over even more, his shoulders sagging in something that wasn’t defeat, wasn’t even real submission…just a kind of relaxation. As if he preferred Sasha telling him what to do, liked that he didn’t have to make the decision himself. Bucky watched, both aroused and mesmerised, as Steve obeyed, languidly turning toward the wall, placing his palms on it and spreading his legs wide. The position made his tight, completely bare balls all the more visible and Bucky suddenly regretted not having touched them yet.

Reaching back, Bucky took one of the proffered towels, wrapped it around his waist, then grabbed the second. He knelt down behind Steve and started slowly, carefully drying his legs, starting at the knobby ankles, then trailing the soft cotton over the powerful calves, up over ridiculously handsome knees, then the thick, hard thighs. He dried the skin there carefully, lovingly, not rushing, but enjoying the little exhales of pleasure Steve let out at the contact. This close, Bucky could see how soft Steve’s balls were, how defenseless in their nakedness.

They had to have been shaved.

Just to tease Steve a little, Bucky reached between his legs, pulled his erect cock down between the thighs he kept so obligingly spread, and proceeded to carefully dry it with the towel. Steve squirmed and wriggled, as if he wanted to turn, but Sasha’s voice ordering him to stay still made him stop with nothing more than a whine of frustration. It was so strange, so unlike the Steve Rogers Bucky knew, yet so incredibly arousing.

Bucky let go of Steve’s cock and turned his attention to the balls hanging in his face. He took them in hand, feeling how tight they were, how lifted already. For a moment he just touched them, weighing them in his palm, running the tips of his fingers over the smooth skin.

“You are so smooth here, Steve,” he couldn’t resist saying. “It’s so damn sexy I can barely stand it.”

Stretching up a little on his knees, Bucky took as much of the sac as he could into his mouth, sucking at it, making Steve curse and shout, shaking with the effort to stay still.

“Oh, god, Bucky,” Steve was moaning, hips twitching.

Bucky pulled back, letting Steve’s balls hang free again and turned his attention to the mostly-dry ass. The cheeks were so firm, so perky, and the way Steve stood was exposing his swollen, pink hole. Unable to resist, and not wanting to, Bucky just took hold of those cheeks, pulled them apart, exposing Steve even more, and kissed the puckered ring. Steve shouted, knees trembling, and Bucky smiled.

At first he just kissed around it, enjoying the silky smooth skin against his lips, before sealing his lips around it and pushing his tongue in as deep as he could. Steve let out a cry like a sob and Sasha was there, arms around Steve’s waist, holding him up. Bucky took this as encouragement, shoving his tongue in further, then pulling out and thrusting in again. Shouting, Steve’s legs gave out completely and Bucky felt a heady rush knowing he was the reason for it. He was doing that to Steve. He didn’t care about the taste of lube, just the sounds Steve was making, breaking so prettily under his hands. Bucky thought he’d never let him out of bed if he could, would love to see just in how many ways he could shatter Steve with pleasure. He pulled back, looking at the tiny pink hole he just spent the last few minutes fingering and licking.

“Jeez, Steve,” Bucky said, “you are gettin’ all loose like a girl here,” he teased, touching his fingertips to the loosened ring of muscle and pushing two fingers back in. They went in easy, so easy he leaned in and pushed his tongue alongside them too.

Steve shouted again, curling forward against Sasha’s arms.

“D-damn it, Buck,” Steve stammered. “Should’ve known you’d be as much of a tease.”

“As?” Sasha teased, his voice low.

Crooking his fingers, Bucky kept Steve from answering, pressing against his prostate like Sasha had taught him. Instead of being annoyed, Sasha chuckled.

“Ah, I see.”

Bucky chuckled as well when Steve groaned in outrage. Even though it was awkward, Bucky managed to wrap his hand around Steve’s cock and pull it down between Steve’s legs again. Twisting his neck, Bucky gave the tip a few licks, enjoying the bitter taste of Steve’s precome on his tongue. Again Steve tried to fold in on himself, crying out, feet not even touching the floor as Sasha took all his weight. He wasn’t pulling away from Bucky, though. It was like he was trying to curl about him, but the wall was getting in the way.

When Bucky sat back, wrapping his hand around Steve’s cock and jerking him off as much as the awkward position allowed, he saw Sasha nipping along Steve’s neck, teeth and tongue leaving dark red marks that faded almost as quickly as he made them.

“You like this,” Bucky murmured. “You love us both lavishing you with touches, with pleasure. You would love it if we made you come over and over again, just like this, right? Me jerking you off, my fingers stuffed into your hole, maybe Sasha’s fingers too?”

“Yes,” Steve moaned, “yes, yes, yes.”

Sasha stopped mouthing at Steve’s neck and pulled back then, making that low, growly sound that Bucky had had no idea his throat had been capable of producing.

“So greedy, kitten,” Sasha said. He slid his palm to Steve’s side, then his belly, then lower to Steve’s cock, grabbing hold, and squeezing tight enough Steve went back on his tiptoes, hands scrabbling at Sasha and the wall, making high pitched, breathy sounds. “But no,” Sasha chuckled again. “No coming ‘til you have both of us inside. Right, kitten?”

“You bastard,” Steve gasped, but there was no anger in his voice.

“Yes?” Sasha repeated, a small smile tugging at his lips.

“Yeah okay, yes,” Steve all but snarled in his impatience and frustration. “Just get on with it already.”

Bucky chuckled, pushing himself away and up, off his knees.

“I think you got the whole submissive thing wrong, Stevie,” he teased, watching how Steve’s powerful chest heaved as he tried to come down from the high of nearly coming again.

Steve turned around to face them both, leaning on the wall for support and glared at them. The look wasn’t really effective with his flushed face, the color so dark as it travelled down his neck and chest. His cock was bobbing invitingly in front of him, his belly was moving with his heavy breaths, the muscles delineating with every inhalation. He was like a fantasy made flesh, masculinity in every line of him, so beautiful it made Bucky dizzy.

“God, you are beautiful,” Bucky blurted, unable to contain the thought.

Reaching for Steve, Bucky kissed him helplessly, licking his lips, into his mouth, trying to take his fill of Steve. Steve moaned into the kiss, his cock trailing wet lines over Bucky’s stomach as he leaned into him. Bucky was just as hard as Steve, and he thrust his hips helplessly against Steve’s for a moment before he remembered that there were other, better things to come, and pulled away. Steve followed him before letting go with a soft whine.

“Common, Stevie,” Bucky cajoled. “Let’s get to bed.”

“Okay,” Steve murmured all sweet and pliant, as if he hadn’t been snarling at them moments before. If he’d known a kiss could do that to Steve, he’d have tried it ages ago.

Between Sasha and Bucky, they led Steve to the bedroom and sat him on the bed. Sasha motioned to Bucky. “Sit in the middle. We’ll have him ride you first, then I’ll join in.”

Bucky flushed, mouth going dry again. Before he could move, however, Steve caught his hand, pulling him in and kissing him again. Moaning, Bucky lost himself in the kiss, in the taste of Steve’s mouth. He let Steve pull him onto the bed, roll them both over, and then lean over him. He stared up at Steve’s face, reaching up and laying his hands on either side, blocking out everything else. It was such a relief to be able to see the smaller Steve in this bigger body, in his nose and the shape of his eyes, the lips and hair, but mostly the eyes themselves. Clear, blue, like no one else’s Bucky’d ever known.

Steve was so warm. His hands, his skin was all but radiating heat like a furnace. Gone were the cold, skinny appendages that Steve used to sneak under his blankets to warm up, replaced by firm, warm muscles and god, but he felt so big above Bucky. Though he hadn’t noticed, Sasha must have handed Steve more of that lube, because when Steve wrapped his hand around Bucky’s cock it was slick with it. Groaning, he thrust up into the grip and watched Steve’s smile, slow, and full of sunshine, spread over his lips. Steve’s hand was so big and so warm around him, it felt wonderful.

“Gonna make you feel so good, Bucky,” Steve promised.

Laughing, Bucky moved one hand to the back of Steve’s neck to pull him down. Before their lips touched, he said, “Already do.” When their lips met, Steve whimpered, squeezing Bucky’s cock so the same sound left his mouth. Then Steve was moving, not breaking the kiss, but moving into position so Bucky’s cockhead was pressed to the tiny hole they’d paid so much attention to in the shower.

Without any hesitation, Steve sat down on him, taking Bucky into his heated, velvet-smooth passage. Bucky gasped, breaking the kiss to press their foreheads together. Inch by inch, Steve took him in, biting his lip, eyes closed, as he savored the moment. Steve was so tight, squeezing him, even though he’d taken four fingers easily in the shower. Steve was like a tight, hot, silky smooth glove that oh-so-slowly slid over his shaft.

“Fuck, Steve,” Bucky blurted, shocked to find Sasha was right. Maybe it was because his heart was swelling right along with his dick, but Bucky had never been with a dame that felt this good, and Steve had hardly begun. Bucky’s hips snapped up on instinct, not able to just keep still while he was inside Steve, inside him and goddamn it, he needed more, needed it. Unlike Steve, he hadn’t gotten to come even once already.

Steve shouted, and shuddered, sinking even lower and taking Bucky in all at once. Eyes widening, Bucky grabbed Steve’s hips as he realized he was inside to the fucking base. Every inch of him was being squeezed by Steve’s unbearable heat.

“Fuck,” Bucky cursed, shivering, feeling like he was about to come out of his skin with how good it felt. How right. Steve’s forehead was beaded with sweat, his cock hard and covered in precome, resting on Bucky. Steve was shivering lightly, just staring down at Bucky with dark, shining eyes.

“I love you,” Bucky blurted out, helplessly. “I always did. No matter who I was seeing at the time, I would have thrown them aside for you in a heartbeat if only we could -”

With a gasp Bucky’s words were cut off as Steve clenched down on him, hard, and he started circling his hips, just moving enough to make them both feel how deeply they were joined.

“We were so stupid,” Steve said, breathless. “All the times I was jealous, and I could’ve… We could’ve…”

Bucky wanted to roll them over, wanted to take control and end the slow, teasing pace Steve had set. Instead, he tightened his grip on Steve’s hips, rolling his own in time with the small circles and was gratified when Steve fell forward, shuddering, both arms braced against the bed above Bucky’s head. The sight of Steve now, stretching his flushed, sweat-damp chest right in front of Bucky’s face was slowly breaking Bucky’s mind. He wanted to touch, to lick, to bite, to mark him in all the ways he knew. He dragged his hands up those sculpted sides and then to Steve’s back, curling his fingers into claws and just scratching downwards, marking him, making him gasp and shudder, clenching down on Bucky’s cock again, even harder than before. It felt so good Bucky was sure he was going to go blind from it.

“Loved you my whole damned life,” Steve panted. “Before and after and then,” Steve gasped, throwing his head back and finally lifting himself up, then slamming himself down. “Fuck. Then you came back to me.”

As Steve lifted himself again, large, calloused, scarred hands closed over Bucky’s. They tightened, controlling Steve’s movements, easing him down slowly, teasing both Bucky and Steve. The bed dipped and Bucky could see Sasha then, licking his way up the back of Steve’s neck. No matter what Sai or Steve said, Bucky couldn’t help but believe what Steve said was true. He’d found his way back.

“Relax, kitten,” Sasha murmured.

Bucky gasped as he felt cold, wet fingers where he and Steve were connected, ghosting over the rim before two of them fitted themselves along Bucky’s shaft as Steve rose up. Steve made a loud, helpless noise as he sank down and met the new obstacle. There was so much lube smeared there that, after a bit of a try, Steve managed to sink down fully, taking in both Bucky’s cock and Sasha's fingers.

“Oh my god,” Steve groaned, slumping forward so drastically, Bucky lifted his hands to Steve’s shoulders in case he lost his hold of the headboard.

“You are doing well, kitten, stretching that hole of yours for us,” Sasha praised, and even Bucky had to admit the man had a dirty mouth on him. “Tell us how much you want this? Tell us exactly what you want,” Sasha encouraged, his fingers moving, twisting, and rubbing against Bucky’s cock and Steve’s walls, making both of them gasp and groan.

“I want,” Steve licked his lips, “I want; god, Sasha. I want you both in me. I want you both to fuck me, come in me, stretch me ‘til I can take any more. I want your come leaking out of me for hours afterwards, running down my legs. I want… I need…” Steve’s blue eyes opened, fixing on Bucky as he begged, “Please.”

Bucky nearly came, shuddering, closing his eyes tightly and clamping his hands on Steve so hard he worried about bruises before remembering Steve couldn’t bruise badly any more.

“Easy,” Sasha’s low voice warned. His fingers stopped twisting, focusing on stretching Steve. “Just relax there. Little bit more.”

Nodding frantically, Bucky kept his eyes closed, tried to breathe. He was taken by surprise, then, when Steve cupped his head and kissed him gently. So damned gently, as if it was Bucky about to be split open here. Carefully, Bucky opened his eyes and found he couldn’t breathe. Steve’s soul was right there in his eyes, giving Bucky everything he ever wanted, and some he’d never known he needed.

Steve kept kissing him, sweet and tender, until Sasha pulled his fingers free again. By then, Bucky had calmed enough he circled his hips in Steve, making him groan.

“Hold still,” Sasha chided, and then there was pressure, so much pressure around the base of his cock. Steve whined, falling forward, tucking his face in Bucky’s neck. Bucky held him, or maybe just onto him as he made a high, whiny sound himself. Over his shoulder, Bucky could see Sasha’s determined, focused expression. He didn’t waver as the whimpers, cries, and moans leaving Steve made him sound as if he were dying, actually being split open as he pressed against Steve’s tiny hole.

Bucky could hardly think. Where his cock was, where he was buried in Steve, was so tight already, and with the added pressure, it was too tight, pleasure mixing with pain, taking his breath away again, making spots dance in front of his eyes. Because this was impossible, this couldn’t happen, nobody could stand this.

Then Steve shouted, curling and shuddering, come painting Bucky’s chest even as Sasha was pushing in alongside his own cock, slick and hard. The sudden friction, the added pressure and tightness around his shaft, had Bucky cursing, holding onto Steve as tight as his arms would allow.

“He came,” Bucky said, awed, looking up at Sasha.

His counterpart grunted, shifting to get more comfortable between both Bucky’s and Steve’s legs.

“Then let’s make him come again,” he said simply.

Though he whimpered, Steve wasn’t objecting, and Bucky huffed out a disbelieving laugh because this couldn’t be real. This couldn’t be happening. He wasn’t lucky enough to get to make love to his best friend and fulfill every dirty, wicked fantasy he had at the same time. It was impossible, just like Steve was impossible, out-of-this-world beauty and a mix of utter stubbornness, pride, and heart.

Still twitching on Bucky’s chest, Steve moaned because Sasha was still there, not giving any quarter, not backing away, relentlessly grinding his hips, merciless in his drive to shatter Steve and yes. This was what Bucky wanted, to see Steve utterly undone by pleasure, so wrecked by it there was nothing else. No more worries, pain, or sadness; just carnal, physical pleasure for all the years he had had to suffer in one form or another.

“It’s not the time to rest, kitten,” Sasha murmured, still grinding in slow movements into Steve, against Bucky. “You have to move now, fuck yourself on us, make us come, yeah?”

Steve was still whining, gasping on Bucky’s chest. It was hard to let go of his death grip on Steve, but Bucky forced his fingers to unclench, forced himself to help Steve sit up when he felt him try to move. This time all three of them moaned as Steve slowly, shakily straightened. The change in position forced Steve to sink a little more onto their cocks and clench down. The strength of his inner muscles squeezed Sasha’s and Bucky’s cocks together, making Sasha curse and Bucky groan.

God he was so close, so hard, Bucky just needed a little bit more friction and he would come. He looked at Steve, flushed, lips swollen from kissing and being chewed on, legs spread wide where he straddled Bucky’s, arms trembling as he did his best to brace himself on Bucky’s chest. He was breathing deeply, shuddering on each exhale, his cock only half hard. Even as Bucky watched, Steve gathered himself, braced himself, then began to move. Just a little, up and down, and all but broke Bucky. He yelled, hands flying to Steve’s hips again, panting as he tried to understand what he was feeling. The pressure of Steve’s walls around him, the pressure of Sasha’s cock alongside his, was too much. He gritted his teeth and resisted the urge to come. He wanted to see Steve come again first, watch him struggle to fuck himself on both cocks inside him.

Bucky wanted to make this last.

“Oh god,” Steve sobbed, lifting himself a little further before dropping down, “It’s… It’s too much. I can’t… Sasha, I can’t…”

“You can,” Sasha growled, reaching around Steve’s chest to pull at his nipples. His fingers twisted them, tugging them harshly out from his body. Though Bucky thought it had to hurt, Steve’s head fell back onto Sasha’s shoulder and he lifted himself again, higher, then slammed back down.

“Good, kitten,” Sasha praised. “That’s it. Keep fucking yourself on us.”

“Holy Christ,” Bucky swore.

Steve’s mouth had fallen open, face flushed with pleasure, and he was moaning as if he was on the verge of coming already. His cock had never completely softened, so Bucky reached for it, wrapped both his hands over it, feeling the way it filled his grip, the way the firmness was clearly returning to the exhausted flesh. It was still slick from Steve’s previous releases, making the strokes come easy. The first time Bucky dragged his fist from root to tip, Steve shouted, squirming and tensing even more around them. His cock was probably oversensitive after coming twice already, but Bucky didn’t let go.

“There’s no escape, kitten,” Sasha was murmuring, voice wrecked. “You can only take it, take everything we want to give you. There’s nothing else you can do, just take it,” and still he was tormenting Steve’s nipples, his fingers rough, pulling tiny gasps from Steve every time.

That encouragement was shockingly effective. Steve was pulling himself halfway off them each time now. He had no finesse as he sat back down, letting gravity do the work. It jolted them every time, pushed them hard against Steve’s walls so he cried out, clenching down even more. It was so tight it hurt, but Bucky didn’t care. He was so close, and Steve was close, too, he thought.

“Just a little more, Stevie,” Bucky promised. “God, doll, you’re so fuckin’ good. Can’t believe you’re so good. Don’t stop now. Come on, Stevie.”

Bucky kept jerking Steve, one fist after the other pulling at Steve’s cock, not giving him a second of respite. The sounds Steve was making now, the cries and moans and groans, were neverending, hardly even stopping for breath. His nipples were red and swollen, standing out on his chest as Sasha tormented them.

Bucking, movements suddenly sharp and jerky, Bucky realized they’d pushed Steve over the edge already. He looked divine, face scrunched up in a mix of pleasure and pain, long eyelashes clumped together with sweat or tears, mouth slack and obscenely open, making Bucky wish Steve had something in it, too. He reached up and pushed three of his fingers into Steve’s open mouth, on his slick, hot tongue. Steve moaned around his fingers and sucked clumsily, the wetness and heat pushing Bucky over the edge at long last.

“Oh, god, Steve,” he cried. “I’m gonna…”

Moaning even louder, Steve somehow found it in him to move faster, hands digging into Bucky’s chest, fingertips scratching. Bucky came with a final cry, only dimly aware as Sasha grabbed Steve’s hips, holding him still, and began to really pound away. Whether this was before, during, or after Steve had come again, Bucky couldn’t have said. The pleasure was so intense, so all-encompassing, he couldn’t hardly think, let alone pay attention to the details.

When he regained his composure, he found Steve slumped atop him and Sasha pulling out. Gently, he rolled Steve onto his side, but didn’t pull him away. Bucky met his gaze, trying to express his gratitude for that, but Sasha just looked away and slipped from the bed. Bucky was dozing when he came back with a warm, damp cloth and wiped them all down, drawing soft, mewling sounds of pleasure from Steve, who appeared barely conscious.

“Rest,” Sasha encouraged, lying down on Steve’s other side and wrapping an arm around his waist.

It was so warm in the room. Steve was radiating heat and he was so relaxed, not a sliver of tension anywhere in his body. When Bucky pulled at him to encourage him to cuddle up closer, Steve went easily, his face tucking into Bucky’s neck as if they had done this a million times before. Honestly, Bucky tried to stay conscious, tried to enjoy this for as long as it lasted, but his eyes were slipping closed.

Between one heartbeat and the next, he drifted off. He dreamed of turquoise gemstones, Steve and him dancing, laughing, being together in their own apartment. The gem was everywhere, though, haunting them like Steve’s fevers and asthma once had. When he woke, it was with a start, the gem having tried to swallow him whole. The room was colder, but the reason was obvious. Steve was no longer tucked into his side. He sat at the foot of the bed, cross legged, still naked, but with a sketch book braced against his shins. The pencil in his hands scratched across the paper, paused, and Steve looked up and met his eyes.

“Hey,” Bucky said, throat rough with sleep, the pleasurable lassitude in his body only deepening the gravel in his voice.

“Hey,” Steve said quietly.

“Need me to hold still?”

“A little longer?” Steve asked, gaze pleading.

Nodding, Bucky settled back onto the sheets. From where he lay, he could study Steve as easily as Steve could study him. It was one of the upshots of being the subject of Steve’s drawings, and he’d always taken advantage of it. Steve had such a perfect face, so focused, but utterly in his element with a pencil or charcoal in hand. The dark smudges on his hands and - often - face had been what Bucky first fell in love with. Marks that showed Steve had been at work, perfecting his art, his skill, and soon to come to Bucky with the finished product for him to critique. Not because Bucky knew anything about art, but because Steve wanted his opinion.

More than that perfect, focused expression, Steve looked mussed. His hair pointed every which way, but was more put together than anyone who had just been fucked by two men should be. It was dawning on Bucky that Steve really was a super-soldier now. It was remarkable he could even manage to sit the way he was without wincing. Neither Bucky nor Sasha had gone easy on him. His chest was on display, proof of how hard Sasha had tormented his nipples only evident in the faint flush still surrounding the nubs.

Bucky wanted to lick them hello.

“It’s a good thing I already knew you are a horndog,” Steve teased, not raising his eyes from the paper he was drawing on.

“Can you blame me?” Bucky asked mildly. “I just had my greatest desire handed to me on a silver platter.”

Steve flushed, then surprisingly set down his sketchpad and pencil. He crawled back between Bucky and Sasha, curling back into Bucky’s arms like he’d always been there. Like they’d always belonged together. With a glance at Sasha, Bucky thought maybe they had. It felt so good to feel Steve just curl into his body as though it was the most natural thing to do, even better to put his own arms around him and have that touch be welcome. They cuddled in close, Steve’s breath ghosting over his chest, head resting on Bucky’s shoulder.

More than anything else, Bucky wanted to stay just like this with Steve in his arms. It was so utterly unfair that he had finally gotten everything he wanted and had to give it up again. He would, though. Somehow. Where he’d find that strength, he wasn’t sure, but he knew he didn’t want Steve to be there. Didn’t want him to know he was going at all, if he could help it. Things would be easier for both of them if Steve didn’t have to watch, or linger like he had with his mother. Yet Bucky didn’t know how to get him to leave, or back to sleep. Bucky was fairly sure Steve was awake for the same reasons Bucky hadn’t meant to sleep at all. There was so little time left.

On the other side of Steve, Sasha grumbled and rolled over, wrapping his metal arm around Steve’s waist. Sighing contently, Steve leaned back into him and Bucky met Sasha’s steel gaze. It should have been so much like his own, but it wasn’t. Older, harder, always calculating, Sasha’s eyes spoke of the pain they had somehow endured to find Steve again, and they knew what Bucky was planning.

“You need to sleep,” Sasha rumbled.

“Roll over,” Bucky insisted, nudging at Steve. “Let me rub you down. It’ll help.”

“Mmph,” Steve grunted. “Don’t like you two siding against me.”

Despite his argument, Steve rolled over, burrowing into Sasha’s broad chest. As Bucky’s hands worked at the muscles of Steve’s back, the metal arm began to move, shifting plates with tiny, click-clacking sounds to form a solid, impenetrable surface, then back to something like snakeskin. The reason was clear in moments as Steve relaxed far faster than Bucky had ever seen, melting into Sasha’s embrace beneath his hands. The sound, for whatever reason, was a comfort.

Bucky ran his hands in long, smooth strokes over Steve’s back, spreading his fingers to get a good feel of the width of it and the power contained in that long body. Steve was so elegant, so wonderfully graceful. Looking at them together, Sasha was more barrel-chested, had wide shoulders, and a thick waist, and very little cut before the hips, giving him a more rectangular shape. Steve was the coveted triangle shape with broad shoulders, small waist, and admittedly tiny ass. Bucky dragged his hands down Steve’s back to the rise of his buttocks, just to feel how they fit into his palms, and then back to the expanse of the back that still held some tension even on the verge of sleep.

Leaning forward, Bucky brushed his lips over Steve’s shoulders. The sleepy noise Steve let out, content and involuntary, tugged at Bucky’s heart. At one it filled to bursting, and cracked in two. He had to leave this, leave the man he loved, because if he didn’t, he’d be taking Steve’s love from him. Bucky couldn’t do that, loved him too much for that, and was terrified what it would do to Steve to be left alone. If he had to die for Steve, to be sure he’d have a future, would be happy, Bucky gladly would. It wasn’t even a choice.

That didn’t make it easier.

As he lay there, Steve’s warmth coursing through him, his hands began to tremble at what lay before him. The uncertainty, whether his soul would find its way to Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory; whether he had a soul at all if he was only a creation of some mystical stone. If he didn’t, Bucky would never see Steve again. This would be it. The end; his story over. Bucky didn’t want it to be over. He wanted to stay here with Steve, in this crazy new world with its strange technology and great food, and rooms that were too big. He wanted to grow old with Steve by his side, having lived and loved and spent his life making every moment count. There had been so little time, he felt, so many things he’d yet to do. For all that it was for Steve, it was so goddamned terrifying to just get up and go to his death.

A hand covered his shoulder and, for a moment, Bucky thought he’d woken Steve. When he looked up, though, Steve was breathing easy, and Sasha was watching him with his strange, too-old eyes. Part of Bucky expected him to say something, but he didn’t. He just kept his hand there, watching him. It took Bucky a moment to understand. There was nothing to say. Sasha didn’t want to kill him, but he didn’t want to die either. A feeling Bucky understood all too well now.

“He’s asleep,” Sasha said softly.

Nodding, Bucky at once resented and appreciated the push. Placing one last kiss on Steve’s head, he slid from the bed. In the bathroom, he numbly reached for his own clothes and then froze, hand outstretched. Without questioning why, he let his hand pick up Steve’s sweats, sliding into them instead of his own trousers. The pants were a little too long, covering his feet, and he spent a moment looking down, just staring at his bare toes peeking out from under the light cloth. Steve’s shirt had been cut off, so Bucky had to return to the bedroom for another, Sasha’s unfathomable eyes following him as he dove into the laundry bin, finding and pulling on one of Steve’s shirts. He didn’t bother with shoes at all. What was the point, really, when he’d be dead so soon. The dead didn’t need to protect their feet.

Dressed, Bucky turned to the bed, thinking maybe he could leave Steve a message through Sasha or…something. Except he didn’t want to. He’d said what needed to be said, anything else would just be a reminder that Steve had had to let him go. That, and he was stalling. The panic and building despair in his chest was all but overwhelming him.

“Do you want me to go with you?” Sasha asked quietly. There was no pity in his voice, no challenge either. Bucky couldn’t fathom what made the guy even ask.

“No,” Bucky said, hating how his voice cracked on the word. “Stay with him.”

“Always,” Sasha said, and Bucky felt calmer by the promise inherent in that single word. That was the one silver lining in all this: Bucky wasn’t leaving Steve alone. There was someone here to take care of him, to make sure he wasn’t getting in over his head, or over-thinking things. Someone who would patch him up, put him on his feet, and love him as much as Bucky would. Maybe more, he thought, as he could see the fierce dedication Sasha had to Steve. More, perhaps, than even Bucky.

Steve probably wouldn’t see it that way for a time. Sasha would take the brunt of Steve’s grief this time, but he’d heal. No one was stronger than Steve; he’d survive.

Though he knew he was still stalling, Bucky picked up the sketchbook Steve had left at the foot of the bed. The last sketch was what he wanted, though he knew Steve would be pissed off Bucky was looking at something unfinished. Considering the circumstances, he thought Steve would understand and make an exception this once.

The picture on the page took Bucky’s breath away. When it was done, it would be one of Steve’s best. Bucky and Sasha lay on their sides, bodies curled inward, almost in the shape of a heart. The space between them lacked the shape of another body - Steve’s space left behind when he’d moved. Both Bucky and Sasha looked surprisingly similar, yet completely different. No one, Bucky thought, would ever see them quite the way Steve did, and he’d captured who they were, and who they weren’t, with his pencil.

This time Sasha didn’t interrupt him, let Bucky stare at the drawing until the lump in his throat grew too big and he had to put down the book for fear of breaking down. If he did, Bucky knew he would never be able to go through with this. He had to keep himself together just a little while longer.

When Bucky turned away this time, he made sure not to look back at Steve’s sleeping form. Yes, Steve would be angry when he woke and found out what they’d done, but Bucky couldn’t do this with Steve watching. Couldn’t look back, either, knowing he was leaving without saying goodbye. Only there were never any goodbyes between them, just until next time, even if Bucky knew that there would be no next time.

The walk through the apartment to the hallway outside, and the elevator was a blur. He stood before it, finger hovering over the button, staring at how his hand shook. Abruptly the machine dinged and Bucky jumped, yet when the doors slide open no one was there. The carriage was empty.

“JARVIS?” Bucky asked tentatively, voice cracking once more.

“I’m here, Sergeant Barnes,” JARVIS answered, British accent oddly soothing. “I will be here until you ask me to leave.”

The lump in Bucky’s throat grew suddenly larger and he closed his eyes as tears threatened to fall. Swallowing them down, he managed, “Thank you,” and stepped into the elevator. Behind him, the doors shut and the machinery took him somewhere, up or down, he wasn’t sure.

Once again, when the doors opened there was no one beyond. Just a corridor, the same they’d been in earlier, Bucky thought. JARVIS quietly gave him directions, leading him through what he thought were labs to a large, steel door. It swung open as he approached, showing shelves and boxes beyond.

“The stone is on the center shelf on the left, Sergeant Barnes.”

Sergeant, Bucky thought, he wasn’t ever going to earn that title. He wondered if Sasha appreciated it, or if it reminded him of who he wasn’t. Bucky hadn’t been able to tell. The man who he’d become was so very strange, so very other, Bucky couldn’t get a straight read on him, seeming at once resentful and grateful for his presence.

“You can go, JARVIS,” Bucky said, abruptly, wanting to be alone in this last moments. He didn’t want anyone to see what was going to happen to him; if he’d fade, or disintegrate, or whatever it was. No witnesses meant no one to accidentally report back to Steve.

“If I may say so first,” JARVIS’ disembodied voice said, “you are very brave.”

Bucky laughed, wild and nervous.

“Thanks, JARVIS, but I ain’t. Just a kid from Brooklyn, doin’ his best.”

“I believe that’s what makes it exceptional.”

Shaking his head, Bucky stepped into the room. The stone was easy to find and he stopped before it, staring at the thing that had created him. It was resting on a metal stand, held immobile by two metal prongs welded to the surface. Bucky’s heart began beating like mad in his chest, his hands were sweaty, and he was so afraid he felt sick. He knew this was the only choice. He had made the choice himself, the price more than worth the sacrifice, but he was scared. He had always had so many plans, so many things he wanted to do, to see, to live through. Some small, selfish part of him screamed at him to turn around, to run, to see if he could out distance this thing that was the means of his doom.

Trembling as he approchaed the stone, Bucky felt the chill of the floor seep into his feet so deep it hurt to move. He loved Steve so much. The day they had spent together, the chance to see Steve healthy and happy, was such a beautiful thing. Bucky had never thought he would ever see it, but not only had he, but he got to touch Steve and got to feel his touch in return. Even now, the scratches on his back stung where his borrowed shirt rubbed over them. It was the most beautiful pain Bucky had ever experienced. He never wanted it to end, never wanted the marks to fade. Again, he wanted to go back, wake Steve up, and see if they could do it again, could spend a little more time together…but that was stalling. That was his fear talking. Even though he knew it was irrational, that he knew what he had come here to do, but taking those last few steps towards the stone hurt so much.

Yet, he reminded himself again, Steve was worth more to him than his own life, or his happiness. Steve’s easy smile when Sasha and Sai teased him was everything he’d ever wanted to see. When he had been lying in Bucky’s arms, sated and soft and so open, Bucky had never been happier. To keep Steve that way, to give him a chance to keep what he had with Sai and Sasha - with him - Bucky could - would - give it all up.

To Bucky, Steve was worth more than any pain, any life he could have ever had.

Bucky reached out and touched the stone.

----

Steve wasn’t sure how long he slept, but he knew something was wrong the moment he woke, though how, he couldn’t say. Maybe the lack of a second body beside him, or just the way Sasha was holding him like he might shatter made things more clear. Maybe not everything, but one thing was sure.

Bucky was gone.

And if Bucky was gone…

Steve sat up, shoving Sasha from him. The line between him and Bucky was as clear in his mind as it had been the first days they’d met. It was unfair, untrue, but Steve didn’t much care just then. Sasha had let Bucky walk right out of here, walk to his death, and he hadn’t woken Steve. He hadn’t let Steve say goodbye. He had let Bucky die alone.

“Tell me I still have time,” Steve said, voice surprisingly calm even to his own ears. He didn’t get out of bed, though; he already knew the answer.

“Steve…” Sasha began, but Steve couldn’t listen to him. Not when his voice sounded like Bucky’s, when his eyes looked like Bucky’s, and when he was so completely not Bucky.

“Don’t,” Steve interrupted, his voice thick as a lump built. “Sasha…don’t.”

Rolling away, Steve blindly searched out clothes, anything to just not be so damned naked any more. Behind him he could hear Sasha getting out of bed, meaning to follow, but Steve ignored him. His chest was painfully tight, mind buzzing with thoughts of the pain Bucky could have gone through, would go through. It was so terrifying to march to one’s death. So much moreso when one had to do it alone. Steve knew it, dreamt of it in his nightmares. Those minutes in the Valkyrie when the cold got to him, were some of the most terrifying in his life, and he already hadn’t had anything to left loose. Bucky had had everything, had his whole life ahead of him, was young and healthy and whole, and they were taking that away from him.

And he’d had to do it alone, not a single kind soul to ease the way. No comfort. Nothing.

Sasha reached out for him and Steve shrugged him off, dodging further out of his reach. Where he was going, he wasn’t sure, but he needed to be away. Needed to go. Be anywhere but here with Sasha and Bucky’s ghost.

The hallway was as far as he made it. The suffocating, crushing sensation in his chest overwhelmed him. Breathing harshly, like he was having an asthma attack of old, Steve stumbled and crashed into the wall. Sasha dove for him, wrapping his arms around his waist, and Steve didn’t have the strength to shove him away. That didn’t keep him from trying, sight blurring as tears filled Steve’s eyes and he gulped for breath. He was only peripherally aware of the high-pitched sounds of distress he was making, of the way his fingers were scratching at Sasha in his panic to get away.

Sasha gripped his shoulders hard enough to hurt, and shook him once sharply.

“Steve!” Sasha’s voice was more of a drill sergeant’s bark, cutting momentarily through Steve’s panic. But it wasn’t only panic that was breaking Steve, it was grief too. He gulped in a breath, and let it out as a sob as he looked up into the eyes that so resembled Bucky’s, but weren’t. They vanished again, blurring as tears welled and fell in rivers from Steve’s eyes.

“You let him leave alone,” Steve choked out brokenly, the words so hard to force past his throat. “He’s gone, again, and I didn’t even get to say goodbye.” Sobbing in earnest, Steve could barely get the words out coherently. “You should have… I should’ve…”

Not listening or not caring, Sasha shook him again harder.

“Steve!” Sasha shouted. “I remember!”

The words didn’t make sense to Steve, but they broke through his crushing grief. Gasping for air,Steve sniffled as he tried to hold onto the one thing that was going to keep him from crying right now. No matter what the circumstance, Steve hated to cry, hated anyone to see him that vulnerable. His tears didn’t immediately dry up, his chest heaving, but he managed to hold it back, dam the tide, even as his anger and confusion rose.

“Wha-at?” Steve demanded, his breath hitching and breaking the word in two. “Remember what?” Irritated, Steve tried to shove Sasha away from him again and demanded, “The fuck does it matter right now?”

Instead of relenting, Sasha held onto him tighter, hands like vices on his biceps.

“All of it. Stevie, I remember all of it.”

Steve went still again, trying to understand what that meant. It was important, he could see it now, the burning light in Sasha’s eyes. A fire that Steve couldn’t remember seeing before, an intensity the likes of which threatened to burn everything else away.

Except, he could. That was the look Bucky had given him in ‘39 when the pneumonia had taken him for a second time that winter, and he had said he didn’t think he could fight it off twice. That was the look Bucky had given him, like there was nothing in the world more important than what he was saying, that the world would be the way he said, and there was no arguing about it.

“What…?” Steve’s voice broke. “What do you mean? How?”

Sasha’s mouth twisted, something like regret in his eyes.

“It just came,” he said quietly, as though speaking too loudly would shatter something vital and take the memories away. “All of a sudden, all at once. One moment I was myself, with just those few memories I had told you about, and the next it was all just there.”

Steve stared at him, feeling the painful knot in his chest again.

“When he…”

Sasha nodded, once, sharply.

“I think so.”

“Do you…?” Steve swallowed hard, blinking back more tears. “The last couple days? The War?”

“No,” Sasha said, that same horribly gentle tone to his voice, “but before that? Your mom, and moving in with me after she passed, Becca, my mom…”

Steve stared at him, thoughts whirling in his head. If Sasha had Bucky’s memories, could remember their childhood and growing up together, living together, he wasn’t… He wasn’t really gone. That had been the hardest for Steve to come to terms with, when Sasha’s memories had just stopped coming back. When the line between Bucky and Sasha had become clear again, Steve had had to let go his hopes of having his best friend back. It hadn’t been that bad, he’d simply told Sasha those things he most wanted remembered. But he wasn’t...him. But now?

Licking his lips, Steve sat forward and bracketed Sasha with his hands, blocking out everything else but Sasha’s face. The softness in Sasha’s eyes was always there, that soft spot just for Steve, but for once Steve didn’t have to search for it.

“Bucky?”

Though his lips twitched, Sasha said flatly, “I finally understand why you keep calling me a jerk.”

Laughter bubbled in Steve’s chest, wild and hysterical, so he shoved it down before it could pass his lips.

“Besides the fact that you are a jerk?”

“Yeah,” Bucky laughed, “besides that.”

Leaning back, Steve let his head hit the wall as the relief washed through him. He hadn’t lost Bucky this time. This time, he’d gotten him back.

“So you don’t remember the War?” Steve asked again, just to be sure.

Bucky shook his head and Steve slumped down.

“Good,” he sighed.

“Good?” Bucky asked, puzzled.

Steve shifted so that he could wrap his arms around Bucky’s broad shoulders and rest his forehead on the metal one.

“If you have to forget something, I’m glad it’s the pain. Bad things happened to you in the War, remembering them probably wouldn’t have… I’m just glad if it’s something, it’s that.”

Tightening his hold on Steve, Bucky gathered him closer and buried his nose in Steve’s hair.

“I’m sorry I was taking out my pain on you,” Steve murmured, holding on to Bucky.

The embrace of Bucky’s arms grew tighter before he picked Steve up with a grunt and turned to go back into the bedroom.

“You never express what you think, you always bottle it all up to deal with it...never,” Bucky chided. “I’m glad you trust me enough that you can take it out on me. It’s probably the only way you’ll let it out, punk.”

Smiling against Bucky’s throat, Steve murmured fondly, “Jerk.”

Bucky threw Steve onto the bed Steve had just abandoned minutes before.

“You want to have sex?” Steve asked in surprise, as he looked around himself at the mussed bed like he had never seen it before. It was, admittedly, hard to think right now. Bucky had died, but wasn’t dead. He was back, Sasha remembered, and Steve was so goddamned tired from crying and panicking.

Bucky snorted, shaking his head.

“You are completely out of it.”

He crawled onto the bed and tugged at Steve until Steve understood his intentions, and molded himself to Bucky’s side. He pushed his face into Bucky’s neck, inhaling the familiar scent, feeling the warmth of his skin.

“Thank you,” Steve whispered, “for being here. For surviving.”

Bucky didn’t answer, falling quiet for so long Steve wasn’t sure he even would.

“I fell for you twice, you know that, right?” Bucky asked quietly, tugging Steve closer. “Back when you were a shrimp of a guy with a chip on his shoulder larger than he was. And now, when I didn’t know who you were at all, I still fell for you. I guess that means I’m doomed to always love you.”

“Doomed?” Steve repeated, snuggling

“Yeah,” Bucky agreed, a thread of humor in his voice. “As in: abandon all hope, ye who enter here. There is no escape.”

“So romantic,” Steve huffed, but his eyes were closing already, body sagging without the adrenaline and grief threatening to drown him, and a smile was turning up his lips.

“I’m the very soul of romance,” Bucky agreed, “because you fell for me twice, too, Rogers.”

“Like I’d ever forget,” Steve teased.

Bucky just chuckled and kissed Steve on top of his head. It might not have been perfect, the other, innocent version of Bucky was gone now, but the world didn’t look so bad. Sasha had regained such a large part of his life. Maybe there was purpose to all that had happened. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but whatever it was, however much it had hurt, Steve was fiercely glad it had happened. He had Bucky in his arms, had Sai in his life, and the Avengers as his family.

Steve wasn’t alone anymore.