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The Firing Line

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Chapter Track: Blue Jeans – Ladytron

Steve’s taxi pulled up to a house in a state of disrepair. Paint peeled from the shutters and the porch. Grass grew untamed and thick with weeds around the great maple that dominated the front yard. His mother’s rose bushes beneath the kitchen window wilted from neglect. Last time Steve saw this house – just after his high school graduation, and just before beginning his freshman year of college – the rose bushes were his mother’s pride and joy. Sarah Rogers cared for the most beautiful garden in the neighborhood. The entire town knew that.

He stared for several seconds before he remembered that he still had to pay the driver, and slid his credit card through the machine attached to the back of the seat. Despite Steve’s size, the driver insisted upon helping him unload his suitcase from the trunk.

Steve thanked him, and the taxi sped out of the cul-de-sac, leaving him a lone figure in front of his childhood home, on a quiet street in a tiny town.

Though Steve hadn’t been back in ten years to witness it, he knew his mother’s garden remained beautiful – until, well, now. Until three months ago, when Winnie Barnes mentioned that Joe Rogers didn’t look quite right, and were they sure they wanted to stay for the fireworks at the barbeque?

Joe collapsed thirty minutes after the annual Barnes Family July 4th fireworks started, and several hours after that, a doctor in the next town over, the slightly bigger town several miles away, diagnosed Steve’s father with cancer.

Now Joe was dying, and Steve was standing on the sidewalk in front of his childhood home like an idiot, running through all the things he should have done differently in the past ten years as though thumbing through a cartoon flipbook of hindsight and regrets.

As he lingered in front of the house, the front door creaked open. Steve jerked his attention forward just in time to see his mother step out onto the weather-worn porch, looking worse for the wear with her gray-blond hair tied back with a scrunchy and wearing a haphazard ensemble that wouldn’t have been out of place in the nineties.

“Please, honey, come inside,” she said, and she sounded tired. So, so tired.

Steve’s rolling suitcase jostled and complained as he tugged it over the cracked concrete path that led up to the house. Once inside, he shoved the handle down and leaned it against the wall beside the front door. Neither he nor his mother spoke for a long several seconds while Steve took in the sight of his old living room, different and the same all at once. When he was a teenager the walls had been sunshine yellow but now were slate blue. His mom’s framed cross-stitch projects were the same as he recalled though hung in the wrong places.

Steve threw his arms around his mom. He buried his face in her hair and, oh God, she even smelled the same, like whatever strawberry drugstore shampoo was on sale that week.

“I’m so glad you’re home,” she whispered into his neck.

“I’m sorry it took me so long,” he said back.

They stood in each other’s arms for what seemed hours. When Sarah pulled back, she wiped her damp cheeks with the backs of her hands and dried them on her ancient jeans. She smoothed back a lock of Steve’s hair and said, “How do you feel about mac n’ cheese for dinner?”

“Sounds great,” Steve grinned, and if his smile was a little too tight around the edges, that was his business.

They didn’t talk about Joe being alone in the hospital over their bowls of mac n’ cheese that night, and Sarah didn’t bring it up before she showed Steve back to his old bedroom as though giving a guest the nickel tour. He hugged her again and kissed her cheek before he wished her goodnight and hauled his suitcase into the bedroom he grew up in.

Steve collapsed on his old twin bed and held his head in his hands.

He should have been here.

He shouldn’t have left so fast, and he should have come back for holidays.

Sure, he paid to fly his parents to him in more recent years, but had stubbornly spent his college days away from his family for the sake of his own stubbornness.

His feud with Bucky was, in light of his father’s imminent death, a fucking farce and a waste of Steve’s energy.

Exhaustion cascaded over Steve, but when he rolled onto his old mattress and chased sleep, sleep never came. Instead he stared at his ceiling where years and years ago he’d stuck glow-in-the-dark stars in swirls and patterns and wallowed in how stupid he’d been. After over an hour of tossing and turning, he gave up and shoved his sneakers back onto his feet. Steve yanked a hoodie over his head and tucked his phone into the pocket of his sleep pants and walked down from his bedroom and out the front door.

He took the spare key from beneath the third garden gnome to the right and locked the door behind him before he left.

Steve didn’t walk with a purpose. He wandered, foggy and hazy with all the regret and hindsight and sorrow in the world, feelings bleeding together in an ugly, twisted stew that was boiling him alive.

Before he realized what he was doing, Steve’s feet took him away from the pocket of neighborhoods in his tiny hometown and down the one road that went all the way through it. He veered into the wilderness, through fields of weeds and crusty snow, on a path he didn’t recognize as familiar until he reached his destination.

Steve stopped in an old clearing, far enough away to be out of sight, but close enough for two stupid adolescent boys to find it and build a clubhouse out of branches and dirty plywood.

Though half of the roof was collapsing and mud caked the sides, his and Bucky’s clubhouse still stood. Steve made a soft, sad noise and trekked through the grass to it. Mud squelched beneath his shoes and rogue branches swayed in his path and God, had it always been this small? He reached out to brush his fingers over the side and the structure shivered.

Steve ducked inside anyway.

The years had worn away at this place in a way that made Steve indescribably sad. Somebody had found his and Bucky’s hideaway – new graffiti was spray painted over the paintings that Steve worked tirelessly on during the summer they built this place. They were twelve years old and immortal, and Steve was going to be an artist. Empty beer cans and cigarette butts coated the ground inside the fort in a fine carpet of teenage contraband.

He snorted at the thought and sat on the ground, curling into himself in the corner of the clubhouse. Steve drew his knees up to his chest and rested his forehead on them. Returning to this place felt like dropping into another dimension, a parallel world in which Steve might have once belonged but didn’t fit into anymore. He belonged in New York with Sam and Natasha, far away from the western United States and one sad little town in the Rocky Mountains.

Steve drowned in thought, or maybe he fell a little bit asleep – he didn’t know which, only that a gruff, rumbling voice interrupted with a terse, “Hey, asshole, get your own drinking spot.”

Steve jerked up his head and met the eyes of Bucky Barnes.

X

This had to be another fucking hallucination.

No other reason would explain Steven Grant Rogers sitting in their dilapidated clubhouse in pajamas, looking like some kinda blond Adonis when the Steve burned in Bucky’s brain was a scrappy little string bean. When he closed his eyes, he could still see the way that Steve looked that night, shoulders bare and brows knit and sweat gliding down –

“Aw, hell,” Bucky muttered. He squeezed his eyes shut tighter and patted down his coat for the flask in the inside pocket, holding the thing with his right hand and twisting it open with his teeth and tongue as he’d learned to do.

“Bucky?”

That was Steve’s voice, all right.

“I’m not having another goddamn conversation with a hallucination,” Bucky said tightly.

He opened his eyes in the hope that the vision would evaporate, but there Steve still sat, a dumbfounded look on a familiar-not-familiar face. Not-Steve’s lips parted as Bucky tossed back his flask and tipped whiskey down his throat and he said, “I’m not a hallucination.”

Bucky squinted at Not-Steve and then reached forward to prod his pointer finger into a very real, very firm chest.

“Aw, hell,” Bucky repeated. He didn’t know what to do other than what he usually did. Bucky sat down in the dirt, groped inside his jeans for his half-smoked pack of cigarettes and lit one up. He took a long drag and held it before he exhaled. He rubbed his hand through his greasy hair – how long had it been since he showered? Three days? Four? – cigarette and all, and asked, “When’d you get in?”

“That’s it?” Steve asked, “‘When did you get in?’ Ten years and that’s what you go with?”

“What the fuck do you want me to say, Steve?” Bucky snapped, “Some dumb shit you’re gonna hear a million times before this whole thing is over, like, gee Steve, I’m sorry your dad is dying? Or how about I’m sorry the last time we talked was an argument we had naked?”

“I don’t know!” Steve exclaimed with a flourish, one of those broad, sweep gestures that he’d always made when he got fired up about one thing or another, “Just something. Like, ask me how I am, like a normal person.”

“Too bad I’m not fuckin’ normal,” Bucky spat back. He inhaled from the end of his cigarette and refocused his gaze on his battered work boots. Christ, he was a mess. Here Steve was, looking like sex embodied even in his pajamas, while Bucky sat not a foot away, an unshowered one-armed wonder with shadows deep as the Mississippi beneath his eyes and at least a week’s worth of stubble on his jaw.

“What the hell happened to you?” Steve demanded.

Bucky couldn’t help it – he laughed. He laughed so hard his ribs hurt, and then smoked a little more, and then finally found the wherewithal to answer such a stupid goddamn question. He said, “I got blown to kingdom come in Iraq; what the fuck do you think happened to me?”

They quieted on that note – not that that came as a surprise to Bucky. Folks always got quiet when he brought up his arm, the empty sleeve he pinned up on his left side and the prosthetic he refused to wear because it made his shoulder ache and had him crying in frustration every time the thing didn’t work like he wanted it to. Sometimes his ma still got watery-eyed when she looked at him too long and Bucky’d lock himself in his bedroom and drink until he forgot the heartbreak on his mom’s face.

“I’m sorry,” Steve said, “I’m sorry that happened to you.”

“Yeah? Me too,” Bucky bit out, “but sorry don’t take that shit back.”

Silence fell between them again, and Bucky didn’t bother to try filling it. He finished his cigarette and stubbed it out on the cold ground, then pulled out his flask for another sip. He uncapped it with his teeth, but offered it to Steve first. To his surprise, Steve took the flask and drank. Only a little swirled around at the bottom when he handed the flask back. Bucky finished the rest.

“So what the hell happened to you?” Bucky asked.

Steve tipped his head back and clunked it against the unsound wall of their old clubhouse. The thing was far too small for two grown men. A couple of dumb, skinny kids could move around inside with relative freedom, but with the roof collapsed in a rotting heap on one side and the other side being tiny and dirty, their bodies sat crunched close enough together that he could feel Steve’s body heat and smell his masculine shampoo.

Steve shook his head before he spoke and shrugged one shoulder. He answered, “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” echoed Bucky.

Steve shook his head a second time.

“Shit,” Bucky said.

“Yeah,” agreed Steve.

“All right, now, you can hit me for this if you want, ‘cause I’ve been drinking since like noon,” Bucky’s mouth went on before his brain could catch up, “but no offense, you seem like you need to blow off steam. And me, I’m real tense these days. I got a laundry list of things wrong with my head and I got no way to fix it. I think we should fuck.”

What?”

“I think we should fuck,” Bucky said.

“Oh, because that went real smooth last time,” Steve snarked.

“Last time we were eighteen and we were idiots,” Bucky said, “I’m still an idiot but I got way more experience under my belt and I’m telling you that we should fuck. You’re angry and I’m crazy; maybe if we work off some energy together we’ll feel better.”

“You’re insane,” said Steve.

“I told you; that’s the point,” Bucky replied, “Listen, if you don’t wanna all you gotta do is say so. Far be it from me to try and get in the pants of someone who doesn’t want their pants gotten into, but if you’re up for it, then I say it’s a world-class idea.”

Steve frowned.

“Steve?” Bucky prodded.

“I’m thinkin’ about it,” Steve said.

Bucky huffed a soft laugh. Ten years and he could still tell when Steve made up his mind but thought he hadn’t. He pulled out a second cigarette and waited for Steve to come to the same conclusion. Steve’s brows knit in concentration and he worries his lip between his teeth.

“That sounds…” Steve said, “good. That sounds good. We should do that. Yeah.”

“Cool,” said Bucky, “You staying at the Walnut?”

The only place to stay in town – a B&B called the Walnut Inn.

“No,” Steve said, and scratched at the back of his neck, “I’m with my folks. Or, I’m with my mom, I mean. In my old bedroom.”

Bucky barked out a short, humorless laugh. He tapped the ash from the end of his cigarette into the dirt and said, “Yeah, me too.”

The night almost felt like old times when Steve said, “Yours is easier to sneak into.”

Bucky nudged Steve’s foot with his boot and said, “Let’s get going, punk.”

X

The surrealistic quality of the evening increased tenfold the moment that Steve jumped down from the storm window that opened into Bucky’s basement bedroom. Most of the bedroom looked exactly as Steve recalled, from the dusty, colored string lights to the crumpled Pokémon blanket on top of ugly flannel sheets. None of the furniture had changed since 2007, all mismatched garage sale pieces and hand-me-downs from his parents.

But some things – some things looked just a little different, same as Steve’s childhood home. Bucky’s bed used to rest against the wall in the center of the room, just beneath the storm window for comfortable access to sneak in and out. Now, he shoved his bed back in the corner of the room. Where a middle school science fair medal once hung, dog tags dangled, and the frame on Bucky’s bedside table that used to hold a picture of him arm in arm with Becca the summer the Barnes family took a trip to Disneyland now held a photo of Bucky with his arms slung around a couple guys on a dusty landscape. All in uniform, all mid-laugh like the photographer had said something hysterical.

Bucky slammed the frame face down and glared at Steve, but before Steve could get out an apology, Bucky shed his coat and wiggled from his shirt.

Steve winced at his own sharp intake of breath.

All that remained of Bucky’s left arm was angry, red skin stretched over a short stump. The scar tissue extended over most of Bucky’s left side in furious streaks and God, Steve couldn’t imagine the pain of an injury so grave.

“You got something to fucking say about it?” Bucky asked, “Change your mind ‘cause I ain’t pretty enough to look at?”

“No!” Steve said.

“Then get on with it,” Bucky said, “You’re wearing too many clothes.” As though to punctuate his statement, he let his jeans fall to the floor and bounced back on his bed in nothing but a pair of black boxer briefs. He tucked his only hand behind his head and spread his legs with a dirty grin.

Steve unzipped his sweatshirt and cast it aside. He crawled over Bucky once he discarded his shirt. He leaned down for a kiss, and Bucky leaned up to meet him. The kiss wasn’t a gentle, pretty kiss. It was nothing like the wine cooler flavored kisses of that summer night, kisses so kind that Steve thought his chest would burst from the love building beneath his ribs.

This kiss was vicious. It was a fight. Teeth cut and clacked against each other. Bucky reached up with his one hand and yanked on Steve’s short hair hard enough to pull a groan from Steve’s throat.

“Fuck, yeah,” Bucky muttered, and dove back in to latch his mouth onto Steve’s neck, sucking hard and bruising the tender skin.

They were in too deep to climb out now. He wanted to see what Bucky Barnes looked like coming apart at twenty-eight, instead of the barely-out-of-high-school clean-cut guy that he remembered. That Bucky took pride in his appearance – he gelled his hair every morning, shaved every evening, and dressed like somebody out of a fashion magazine. His strong but slender limbs had wrapped around Steve in a way he’d never forget while he pressed his lips to Bucky’s and murmured in his ear about how long he’d wanted him.

Bucky now…

Bucky was solid – a wall of muscle, from thick thighs to impressive arms. He hadn’t shaved in some time, and his hair grew wild and unkempt like a guy out of Lord of the Rings. And God help him, Bucky wasn’t any less attractive than he was to Steve a decade ago, even if now he looked like he hadn’t slept in months.

The hand tangled in Steve’s hair let go, and Steve whined.

“I’m trying to get your pants off, you baby,” Bucky said.

Steve did his best to assist in divesting himself of pajamas. Bucky yanked both sleep pants and underwear down in one, hard movement, and Steve kicked the twisted bundle of clothing away. His cock bounced up, red and desperate for attention.

“Forgot how big you are,” Bucky said.

“Yeah, you say something about it every damn time my dick is out,” Steve replied, as though this had happened more recently than ten years ago at sleepover slip-ups, locker room glimpses and That One Time.

Steve smoothed his palms over Bucky’s muscled thighs before hooking his fingers in the elastic waistband of his boxer briefs. He pulled them down with far more finesse than Bucky, and in the same motion, sucked the head of Bucky’s cock into his mouth. He tasted right, musky and perfect, and God, how could Steve have forgotten how good this was?

“Jesus,” Bucky breathed. He lifted his hips and Steve obliged him, lowering his mouth further down the length of Bucky’s dick. He hummed and worked his head up and down until below him, Bucky gasped and salty come splashed in Steve’s throat. He yanked himself back and coughed, sputtering come.

Steve wiped his chin with the back of his hand and said, “What the shit, Buck? A warning would be nice!”

Bucky chuckled and replied with an insincere, “Sorry. My bad.”

Steve scowled. He grabbed Bucky’s trashcan to spit in, surprised that he remembered where Bucky kept the damn thing, and that it hadn’t moved when Bucky rearranged his bedroom. Steve flung the plastic can back into place and said, “I don’t suppose you happen to keep lube around here, do you?”

“As luck would have it,” Bucky said, and twisted to reach between his mattress and bedframe. He extracted a half-used and slightly slippery bottle of lubricant. The cap made a slick noise when Steve popped it open, and only then did their final argument resurface in his mind. He paused.

“What’s the hold up, big guy?” Bucky asked.

“I just – do I need to be careful? Like, how long –”

Bucky rolled his eyes. He said, “Fuck, why are you always so earnest? I’ve done other guys and I have fucking toys. I’m not a virgin princess. Just rail me like I asked.”

“Christ, fine,” Steve said. Neither of them mentioned how Steve was the first guy Bucky ever slept with, but Steve didn’t doubt that they were both thinking it. Steve poured lube onto his fingers and then hitched Bucky’s legs up. Despite Bucky’s request to be railed, Steve still took the initial fingering slow. He slid one finger in and out of Bucky’s body and watched his face carefully.

Bucky’s eyes shuttered closed and nose scrunched up and hell, he was so handsome. When Steve didn’t pick up the pace, though, Bucky opened his eyes to glare and complained, “What part of ‘not a virgin princess’ was unclear? Get a move on, asshole.”

Steve shoved two fingers into Bucky’s ass with gusto, and punched a gasp right out of Bucky’s throat.

“Shut up,” Bucky said when Steve laughed, and rode back on Steve’s fingers.

They didn’t talk after that. The noise in the room devolved from bickering to breathy, helpless noises and the slick noise of lube and sweaty skin.

When Steve spoke again, all he could manage was a terse, “Condom?”

“Shit,” Bucky said, “Anything I got’s expired by like a decade. Just do me raw, Steve, I know you don’t got anything.”

Steve eyed Bucky. He knew little about this older version of his long-ago best friend and one-time lover, but he doubted that this Bucky was so far from his old self that he’d lie about condoms and STDs. So, Steve squeezed lube into his palm and slicked it over his cock. He tried to pull Bucky’s legs up onto his shoulders, but Bucky locked his thighs around Steve’s waist and stared him down as though daring him to complain about the position of their naked bodies.

When Steve pressed into Bucky, Bucky dug the nails of his hand into the meat of Steve’s shoulder and clawed down. Maybe Steve should have taken things slow, but hell, he figured that they’d gotten this far. He braced his hands on either side of Bucky’s head, smashed their lips together in a violent kiss, and fucked into Bucky’s body as hard as he could.

Fuck yes,” Bucky hissed against Steve’s mouth, “Fuckin’ – do me.”

The slap of skin on skin echoed in Bucky’s basement room, hard and loud like the crack of thunder. Sweat dripped from Steve’s brow as he pounded into Bucky, while Bucky’s hand raked over Steve’s shoulder blade with enough force to draw blood to the surface.

Bucky was right: Steve needed this. He channeled all his anger, all his grief – every miserable fucking feeling he’d been striving to keep a tight lid on – and screwed Bucky into his mattress, wrenching moans and frantic whines from him.

“C’mon,” Bucky ordered through gritted teeth, “Come in me. You know you want to.”

Steve pumped his cock faster into Bucky. His rhythm stuttered as pleasure soared and he came like a crash of cymbals: quick and loud and all at once.

Steve slumped onto Bucky, limp, and tried to catch his breath.

“Told you it was a good idea,” Bucky said into Steve’s shoulder, where it lay smashed against Bucky’s face.

“Ngh,” Steve answered.

With a pat to Steve’s back, Bucky said, “As much as I enjoy your company, you gotta go.”

“Are you fucking serious?” Steve groaned into the pillows above Bucky’s head, “You’re kicking me out of bed?”

“Yup,” Bucky said.

“Cold, Buck,” said Steve, but he peeled his body off Bucky’s and stood, jelly-legged, to search for his clothes in the mess of discarded clothing and trash already piled on Bucky’s bedroom floor.

Bucky pushed the sweaty hair back from his forehead and said, “But hey, you ever wanna do that again, you got an open invitation.”

“Go fuck yourself,” Steve said.

“I’m tired of doing that,” replied Bucky, “Kinda why I asked you to do it for me.”

Steve pinched the bridge of his nose and bent to collect his t-shirt. He dressed with precision and, as he’d done so many times before in his life, climbed out of the storm window and onto the empty street outside of the Barnes family home. Only, the last time Steve did this, he’d been at least half the size he was now.

The last thing Steve heard before he wriggled out onto the Barnes’ side yard was Bucky’s coarse laughter behind him.