Stepping out of Stark's machine is disorienting to say the least, and not only because Steve's seeing the world from a vantage point a foot higher than he's used to. The voices of the crowd surrounding him make him hide a flinch when they go particularly strident, and the constant, low thrum of the electronics in the room presses in on his ears. Smells have gone incredibly sharp, the clashing mélange of antiseptic, colognes, and heated metal enough to make his head spin.
He doesn't bring it up later, because it just sounds too weird to be true, but the entire time he's hunting Hydra's spy, he might as well be following an unspooling ball of string. All he has to do is chase the man's scent.
He tries not to think about how close he came to biting that sonofabitch when he finally caught up.
He tries very, very hard.
Steve chuckles at a promise he knows the girls won't keep but shakes his head. "Thanks," he says, packing his flimsy costume shield away for the night, "but you know I'm not much of a dancer. Think all the travelling's starting to catch up with me anyway."
"You all right?" Millie asks, straightening with a worried frown as she turns away from the mirror. "I know we've got a lot of stops planned, but if you're coming down with something...."
"I'm sure it's nothing," Steve says quickly, skinning out of his gaudy top to avoid meeting her eyes. He can pretend it's shyness, though the military and his brief stint as a lab rat had cured him of any body modesty he had left after living with Bucky. "Probably just something I ate."
"Mm, yeah," Millie commiserates with a grimace. "Us girls have cast iron stomachs by now, but I've never been so sick as my first few weeks on the road. If it wasn't the trains, it was the slop at those greasy spoons."
"Ugh, don't remind me," Steve groans pitifully. It wins him a guilty laugh. "Anyway, it's fine. You guys have fun; I'm just going to sleep this off at the hotel."
He waits for the Millie to join the rest of the chorus, listens for their laughter and clicking footsteps to fade before leaving the dressing room at the back of the theater. It's already getting dark out, late enough the girls would be dragging tomorrow if their shows didn't start at noon. They're on their second day in Philadelphia with most of the week still to go, but already Steve's feeling the strangest itch to move, far and fast. He wants to run, which he could maybe blame on his restless new body, except he also wants to scratch his own skin right off and leave it behind as well.
He keeps his head down as he hurries back to their hotel by the train station, tries not to meet anyone's eyes and ends up jogging the last few blocks, faster and faster. He almost feels like he's being hunted, but when he glances back on the hotel steps, he sees nothing amiss: just the late evening crowds, a broken, buzzing streetlamp across the way and the newly-full moon just beginning to rise over the city skyline.
He barely makes it into his hotel room before the first full-body cramp doubles him over. He's no stranger to pain, but this is different, and not just because he'd stupidly thought he was done with it. His bones feel molten, and all of a sudden he's suffocating in his clothes. He tears at his shirt, just managing not to pop off all the buttons at once, kicks out of his shoes and scrabbles free of pants, socks, underwear. Only when he's naked does his skin stop screaming at him, but when he shifts onto his hands and knees to push himself up--
Things...shift. As his weight rocks forward, his spine unspools. His head drops in shock as his feet arch and flex, his knees migrate, and as his face tilts towards the floor, his skull slides and reforms. For a moment his skin feels hot, boiling with friction as a thick, plush pelt pushes through, and then--
He nearly drops to his belly as panic sets in, tail clamping down between his legs. He skitters away from the door, bolts for the bathroom and then back out again when he finds it too open despite its tiny size. He's almost too big to fit under the bed, scraping his spine against the flimsy brass frame, but he hunkers down small as tremors wrack him, a soft whine squeezing from his throat.
No. No, it's not possible. People don't just...turn into....
But he is a wolf. Those are his paws he's resting his head on, and his panicked breaths are emerging from a definite muzzle. Somehow...somehow, he's--
But werewolves aren't real.
He whines high in his throat.
Supersoldiers weren't real either, he reminds himself, not until someone made them real. Now he wonders just what was in that serum, where Erskine had gotten the idea in the first place, and if there are other secrets the old scientist may have taken to his grave.
"Well, if it isn't Captain America!" Brandt greets him with an election poster smile, reaching over to grab Steve's hand in an impromptu shake as a flashbulb goes off. Steve just manages not to yelp, eyes watering. "Now listen, kid," he says in a quieter undertone, "I've been trying to contact Phillips for you, but his whole department is top secret, so my hands are tied, here. And Phillips is a busy man--"
"What about Peggy Carter?" Steve interrupts. He doesn't care who Brandt gets in touch with; he just needs to find someone who can tell him what the hell is going on, what was in Erskine's serum, whether there's any way to fix it.
Brandt doesn't even try to control his snicker. "Oh-ho! It's like that, is it? Well, I'm sure if the lady needs you for anything, she'll let you know," Brandt says with a sarcastic wink and a rough clap on the arm. "Now if you'll excuse me--"
"I'll try again, Rogers--you just keep selling those bonds!"
Steve clenches his hands into fists and tells himself he doesn't want to bite this sonofabitch either.
He wonders sometimes if anyone would treat him the same if they knew and then misses Bucky like crazy for days, every time.
He doesn't even think to mention it, because less than five minutes later, he's bolting for Phillips' tent, choking back a horrified--and horrifying--whine in broad daylight.
Bucky can't be dead. He just can't.
Steve thanks God the full moon is still days away. It might have been easier to move through the forest as a wolf, but it turns out shapeshifting with your clothes intact only happens in the movies.
This last round...it's different. He's restless as hell all the time now, the skin along the back of his neck and down his spine prickling whenever a squid soldier comes too close. Even when he can't see them, he can smell them, patrolling outside or peering in through the heavy steel door. It makes him want to bare his teeth, growl, and once when Zola leaned too close, reaching over him for a syringe, he damn near took a chunk out of the bastard's throat.
Zola ups the tranquilizers after that, but they must be making them piss-poor on this side of the pond, because Bucky burns through them far quicker than he should.
He's still floating from the last dose when Zola rushes in, crams fistfuls of papers into a satchel and hurries right back out again, leaving the door wide open. Bucky doesn't really give a shit where he's gone; he's just happy to see the back of him. Well. Not really see. But he can smell that Zola's gone, the scent of paper and chemicals and aging male musk fading, replaced by a whiff of warehouse grime, machine oil, smoke...and something more familiar.
Old leather shoes polished to a shine. Fresh morning air at the tail-end of spring. Warm skin inhaled on winter nights with his nose just brushing the nape of the sleeper beside him. He'd know that scent anywhere, only it's not one that belongs here. Zola must have given him the good stuff this time.
The scent comes closer, and Bucky shuts his eyes. It may smell like Steve, but it's not going to look like Steve, and he just...pretending's not a crime, right?
Funny thing is, it sounds like Steve, too.
"Oh my God...."
He opens his eyes to a too-large stranger looming over him, tugging hard on the straps keeping Bucky pinned to the table. Bucky's head is swimming from the drugs and he's been lying still too long to have any kind of coordination, but he's pretty sure he can take this imposter. He just needs to bite, dig his teeth into a good, solid grip, and tear--
Except the guy--Steve, sure, right--hauls him up with all the grace of a toddler that hasn't quite mastered their limbs yet, and Bucky practically does a face-plant right in the middle of the guy's broad chest.
All the tension drains out of Bucky at once, because he knows, right down to his bones: he knows home when he smells it.
He's got no clue at all what his eyes and ears are telling him, but his nose is a different story.
Bucky's alive. Bucky's alive, and he's right there, marching at Steve's side. Steve simultaneously wants to hug the stuffing out of him, feed him soup, and lick his ridiculous face.
That...last one is terrifying enough to melt his grin to nothing, leaving steadfast purpose behind.
Bucky doesn't seem to notice anything off about him, at least. He doesn't glance sidelong like Steve's walking too close--he is--or remind him that baths are in short supply in prison camps if he notices Steve's new habit of inhaling deeply whenever he thinks Bucky's not looking.
Bucky smells terrible, of pain and fear and old sweat and chemicals, and also wonderful, like every good memory Steve's ever had.
They take a break at midday, the lot of them so tired that even the guards they post are leaning their watch more than standing it. Bucky plops down with his back to a tree, stolen rifle cradled in his lap, and Steve really wants to blame his weird new instincts for how he wants to go over there and flop down...next to Bucky. Into Bucky?
Fine, onto Bucky, but he'd settle for leaning hard up against his legs and oh dear God, is he whining again?
He swallows it fast and pretends not to notice the way Bucky sits a little taller, imaginary ears pricked up as his expression flickers back and forth between disbelief and self-doubt. Bucky can't have heard anything anyway, not clearly enough to be certain; Steve was quiet, isn't hovering that close.
He slinks away on the pretext of checking on the sentries, just in case.
Turns out it doesn't matter if he's transformed or not. He doesn't even have a tail right now, but he swears he can feel it drooping lower with every step he takes away from Bucky.
Right, except that he can still smell the rest of their party, not in the sense that they all desperately need a shower--though they all pretty desperately do--but in the sense that he knows Morita's twenty feet behind him to the left, and that kid with the Southern accent has started bleeding again under the makeshift bandage, and if Dernier blows them up with whatever he's got stuffed in his pockets, Bucky's going to be very disappointed.
Okay. So. There's definitely something wrong here, and without the tranquilizers muddling his head, it's becoming impossible to ignore. The restlessness that had plagued him in Zola's lab has dissipated, at least, now that he's on the move. Probably he'd just been going stir crazy in there and it's nothing to worry about. The way all his senses seem to have gone off the charts, though...he's got no good explanation for that, or for the way this giant crowd of people just makes him want to pull his own guys from the pack and keep their fucking distance, or the way he keeps getting ambushed by the urge to just bowl Steve over.
And not in the usual way he has to not think about pinning Steve under him, either. Which he is definitely not thinking about. Nope.
He tries to distract himself with putting one foot in front of the other, only to panic a little when Steve calls a break at midday. Steve looks fresh as a daisy, but the rest of the guys are dropping from exhaustion, and God knows Bucky should be too. He feels fine, though, better once he gets his back to a tree. There's a part of him that doesn't like being boxed in even a little, would rather just keep moving if he doesn't feel safe, but--
Bucky sits up straight, staring at Steve. Was that a whine? Did Steve just fucking whine at him, and why the hell does he want to go over there and drop a hand on Steve's nose, maybe chew on his ears while he's at it?
He keeps it together until they get back to camp, but just before he and Steve get split up, Bucky grabs Steve's sleeve and says, "Don't tell them where you found me."
Steve looks confused for a moment, then grim. He nods sharply. "But you're okay? If you need to see a doctor--"
"'M fine. Kept up with you, didn't I?"
He's not fine. He just doesn't realize how not-fine until a gorgeous dame in a red dress walks into a bar, makes a beeline for Steve, and his first impulse is to step in front of her and growl. Like a fucking dog. Because that's his.
He rattles off some dumb lines he forgets even as he's saying them, because his mouth's a better friend to him than he deserves. Even if no one noticed his lapse, he can't stay in this bar another minute. He can't be around Steve with his head so out of whack, or he's going to do something stupid, say something he can't take back.
He waits until the dame--Carter?--sweeps out again, turns back to the bar like he means to sit back down with Steve and calls the bartender over to settle his tab instead.
"Oh," Steve says, startled. He glances over to the table where Bucky's guys--their guys now, he supposes--are laughing and drinking, and turns back to Bucky. "Sure. Just let me tell them we're taking off--"
"Nah, you go ahead and stay," Bucky says, pulling on a convincing grin. "If we're heading back into the jaws of death, I wanna remind myself what a proper bed feels like before we go."
He claps Steve on the shoulder, newly-broad, and doesn't let his hand linger.
Between rowdy soldiers, the piano player, and the locals, it's pretty loud in the bar.
There's no way he hears a soft, confused whine at his back as he walks away from Steve.
Steve ducks his head and turns back to his drink, tossing it back to drown the embarrassing noise that wants to escape. Whine or whimper, he really can't say, like he can't quite figure why this has suddenly become a problem. Outside the transformation he still has the heightened senses, but the instincts have never bled through quite this strongly before. Something about Bucky just seems to bring them out.
He sighs morosely, swirling the whiskey in his glass. It's not doing a thing for him, but it gives him an excuse to stay put, not chase after Bucky the way he wants to. He's not sure why Bucky suddenly wants to be alone--or, well, he knows it's got something to do with Peggy, but he's not sure what. Was Bucky really that upset she hadn't wanted to go dancing with him? The thought twists unpleasantly in the pit of his stomach. He gets it; Peggy's...amazing: strong and smart and confident, and she smells really nice. He understands why Bucky might want her, why getting the brush-off this particular time, after everything Bucky's been through, might sting worse than usual.
He knows he ought to feel flattered by her notice, even smug, but the idea of Bucky hurting just makes Steve want to crawl over to him on his belly and rest his head on Bucky's feet.
In his wolf form, Jesus.
It'd look really suspicious for Captain America to slump over and bang his head a few dozen times on the bar top, but ordering another drink doesn't look suspicious at all.
"So," he says slowly, scratching thoughtfully at his nose. "Was anybody else expecting Steve to be a pipsqueak, or was that just me?"
Falsworth's shrug is decidedly uncomfortable. "Sickly, was what I gathered. Needed someone to look after him. Full-time, as it were."
Dernier turns to Jones with a question that makes Gabe choke on his beer.
Yeah, Barnes' incessant worrying made a lot more sense when it was just some scrawny kid he'd grown up with he was fussing over from afar.
Gabe suddenly sits up straight, face hardening with determination. His eyes spear each of them in turn, and damned if Dugan isn't reminded with a look that Jones isn't a little fella by any means.
"Well, I don't know about the rest of you," Gabe says plainly, "but I wouldn't be sitting at this table if Barnes hadn't just about bitten a few people's heads off." Morita nods sharply in agreement, eyeing the rest of them like he's remembering those prickly first few days in Hydra's cage, all of 'em at each other's throats over the pettiest of excuses. Not their finest moments, and not anything Dugan cares to remember.
"And the rest of us wouldn't be here either if it weren't for Rogers," Falsworth reminds them with a crooked smile. "All things considered...."
Dugan drains the rest of his glass and sets it down with a thump. "Yup," he says pointedly, "it sure is a pity about Rogers' asthma. Luckily I hear you can grow out of it."
Gabe breaks into a grateful grin as Monty murmurs, "Indeed." The other two nod.
Dugan's just glad to have it settled. Queer or not, Jimmy--Barnes, damn it--is a good kid, and anyone he vouches for is fine in Dugan's book.
Despite how much he's been drinking, he doesn't even have a buzz, but he's still moving like an old, old man as he pulls his clothes off and throws himself onto the bed without ever turning on the light.
He hasn't pulled the blackout curtains closed yet, and the nearly-full moon shining in through the window is all the light he needs to see.
The truth is, he probably could have tracked Bucky by scent once he reached that factory if he'd just calmed down enough to try. If the speed and strength and the way he heals are all symptoms of his...his lycanthropy, does it really matter how he came by them? He'd already agreed to risk any outcome before ever stepping into Stark's machine. That he got a bit more than he bargained for might be the price he has to pay.
Squaring his shoulders, he reminds himself of the horrifyingly embarrassing ways his wolf instincts translate to his human brain and forces on a smile. If he can keep the strength and his general state of health without having to worry about sticking his nose anywhere inappropriate--like Bucky's neck, good God--he'll count himself lucky.
"Hi, um...good morning," he says when he finds Peggy at SSR headquarters, his manners winning out over the urge to just blurt out his question.
"Steve," Peggy greets him warmly, hanging back from the small cluster of agents she'd been walking with. "How is everyone settling in?"
"Uh, good. They're all staying," he can't resist saying, feeling again that leap of excitement and pride inside his chest. "But I, um...actually had a question about the serum," he says, dropping his voice, "if you...?"
She nods once, eyes scanning the hall as she says, "Certainly. Walk with me?"
She takes him to a small, unoccupied office, waiting until he shuts the door behind himself as she searches his face with a worried frown. "Is everything all right? You haven't been feeling...?"
"I'm fine!" is his knee-jerk reaction, which maybe isn't what he'd meant to say, but he can't exactly come clean, either. The one outcome he does not want from all this is to end up in a lab anyway. "Just--I was wondering if they've had any luck duplicating the serum from my blood...?"
Peggy's concerned look fades to regret, possibly with an edge of frustration. "I'm afraid not. From what I've heard, our scientists have come close numerous times, only to have the serum...change on them just when they think they're getting somewhere."
"Oh. So they still don't really know how it works?"
Peggy snorts ruefully. "I don't think they aspire that high. The only one who could claim to understand it was Erskine; our people would be happy merely to replicate it."
That's definitely not the answer he was hoping to hear, though with the full moon tomorrow and a close enough moon tonight, it probably would've been too late for him this month anyway. "Okay," he says, hoping that if his disappointment bleeds through it'll pass for solidarity. "Can you keep me posted if they do learn anything? I mean, it's just kind of strange to be like this without really understanding how."
Peggy looks surprised, then thoughtful. "Of course," she promises. "It is your body. I'd say you have more of a right than anyone to know how it was changed."
"Thanks," he says with the first sincere smile he's managed all morning.
Peggy smiles back, quick and bright. "So? Do you have plans for the rest of your leave? If you're free tonight--"
"Oh," he says a little too quickly, every nerve suddenly alight with panic. "I, um...I sort of already made plans. With, uh...with Bucky," he adds, even though he knows it's going to come back to bite him in the ass. Steve may be stuck in his room for the next three nights, but Bucky's sure to be out painting the town every possible shade of red. He nearly cringes when he realizes it's going to look like Bucky stood him up, and Peggy doesn't seem like the kind of person who'd take very kindly to that in anyone.
Before he can backtrack to save Bucky's reputation, Peggy shakes her head. A flash of embarrassment heats her cheeks and fades so quickly he almost thinks he imagined it, except that he can smell the change in her scent. "Of course," she says again. "I imagine you two still have a lot to catch up on. Give them all my regards; they seem an interesting bunch."
"Oh, they are," he says with a quiet laugh, already backing towards the door. "And thanks."
It's a weird sort of relief to be out of that room. On the one hand, he can't help mourning missed opportunities, but on the other, he's half afraid that if Peggy had pushed, he'd have caved. And maybe she'd have been fine with trading 'tonight' for 'this afternoon', but if not, then he'd have been the one standing her up.
Steve sighs. Everything's a mess, and part of him just wants to head straight for Bucky's hotel room, flop down onto his bed, and refuse to budge. It would smell really nice, he thinks wistfully, and if Bucky happened to already be there, he probably wouldn't give Steve any grief about it, either. And if Steve just happened to stick around past moonrise....
It's a tempting thought, but Bucky's already had enough dumped on his shoulders, surely. Steve's not honestly worried about Bucky wanting to stick him in a cage or ratting him out to the scientists to be studied. It's just that he's human to Bucky right now, and he doesn't want that to change.
When he heads back to the hotel that evening, he makes sure he goes straight to his own room, even though Bucky's is just a few doors down. It's too far away, and still too close; after Steve changes, he rests his head on his paws and breathes deeply, teased by hints of the most wonderful scent of all. It's different in his wolf form; Bucky's scent gets tangled up with his own, lending it a deeper note of rich, animal musk.
Steve whines faintly, but for the first time since his first transformation, he wants to howl instead. I'm here, he wants to announce. I'm right here, come find me.
Where are you? beats through him as he forces himself silent, listening for the sound of Bucky's door to open, for his footsteps to pass Steve's door and head down the wooden stairs and out into the streets. If he comes back at all, it probably won't be alone.
He refuses to examine the relief he feels when Bucky's door stays stubbornly closed all night long.
Ignoring the part of him that wants to crash through the window and go running off into the night, never looking back, he sits down in a heap and tries to consider his options through the fog of gibbering terror. It's not like he can back out of staying on in the war now, not without delivering a crushing blow to Steve's confidence, and the idea of leaving Steve here without Bucky to watch his back is just...no. He...he can do this, he's pretty sure, if he's careful. If he takes all the night watches when the moon is full, and if they're in town, who's going to blame him if he doesn't want to hang around a bunch of smelly soldiers?
God, he can smell Steve right through the door.
Don't think about it, he tells himself, but if he didn't look like this, he'd march over there right now, knock on the door and spill his guts about what Zola did, how weird he's been feeling, all of it. He's pretty sure Steve wouldn't turn him away, but God, the guilt Bucky'd be leaving him with--it just isn't worth it. He knows how Steve thinks, and there's no possible way Steve's going to assign blame where it's deserved, not while there's still room for it on his own no-longer-skinny shoulders.
So. He needs to be smart. Careful. Lucky above all else, because he knows Steve's going to notice eventually, but he hopes it won't be for a good, long while. Until the end of the war, even, or at least until Bucky finds out if there's some way to fix this.
Suddenly going after Hydra again right after getting out of their clutches sounds like the smartest idea he's had in a while.
"Anymore," Barnes growls accusingly. He's not quite up in Cap's face--yet--but they've all learned the hard way that Barnes is only a pragmatist until Cap's safety is involved, and that's the one subject on which he won't be moved.
Dugan's usually content to just leave them to it, but sometimes....
"Exactly, not anymore!" Cap insists, like Barnes just proved his point for him. "I can stand a watch without keeling over and dying. You can take the one after me."
Barnes narrows his eyes, but Rogers is a stubborn sonofabitch too, and they can all read the look on his face. Don't make me make this an order.
Barnes clenches his jaw but says nothing as Rogers heads out of camp to walk the perimeter. He doesn't even last five minutes before he cracks, stalking after Cap with his head down, shoulders bunched, the very picture of a man spoiling for a fight.
Dugan shakes his head. "Do they actually think they're being subtle?"
"Should we just tell them we know?" Morita blurts out, staring after Barnes with a mortified grimace. Those two might be downright creative in finding ways to sneak time alone, and the three or four days they manage to spend back at headquarters every month means they've usually got their heads in the game when they're in the field, but they're godawful actors asking even worse actors to pretend they're oblivious, and it's starting to get ridiculous.
Not that that's any reason to get crazy.
"Hell, no," Dugan huffs with a scowl. "I've got twenty on Cap telling us himself. For any number of reasons," he adds, shooting a glare at Monty. So what if he'd been drunk when that bet was made? Maybe Cap actually will declare his undying love before God and the Howlies because he can no longer live a lie, but either way, if Cap's the one who speaks up first, Dugan's calling it a victory.
Monty shrugs. "And I believe Barnes will quietly take us aside and make certain we don't intend any trouble for Rogers on the off-chance we have noticed." He says 'off-chance' with a straight face. Maybe they do have one decent actor amongst them after all.
Morita opens his mouth and snaps it closed again. "Huh," he says after a moment. "That's a tough call."
Frenchie just grins, talking animatedly at Gabe, whose eyes go wide, then wider.
"What?" Dugan asks with a frown.
"Uh...he wants to put twenty down on Sarge giving us the shovel talk for not giving him the shovel talk."
Monty curses under his breath, but Dugan doesn't bother keeping it quiet.
He has to hand it to Dernier, though. In hindsight, that was obvious.
The farmhouse in which they're spending the night is one their friends in the Resistance steered them towards, a sprawling affair added onto over generations that now boasts two stories and five bedrooms including the master. That leaves four for them, and Steve's left trying not to assume while simultaneously trying not to panic. On the one hand, he's too self-conscious about how he got his rank to ever be comfortable claiming the so-called perks that go along with it, but on the other hand, it's the night before the full moon, and he needs that private room.
Though he's trying desperately not to show it, Bucky looks just as panicked as Steve feels, his eyes skittering nervously around the sitting room, hanging only briefly on photographs of the boys who'll never return to fill the empty rooms they're being loaned. His show of nerves threatens to set off Steve's, and he desperately wants to ask what's wrong, only there isn't any time. It's already getting dark outside, and he doesn't have nearly enough time to get everyone settled away for the night as it is.
He jumps a little when Dum Dum clears his throat loudly, embarrassingly aware that he's been staring at Bucky too long. "So, Cap. Why don't you take one of the rooms, and I'll double up with Monty, here."
"I'm with these two, then," Morita says, jerking his head at Gabe and Dernier, who tend to be thick as thieves. "At least they don't snore."
Bucky looks startled, staring at the others in confusion before turning to Steve, eyes questioning. Steve's just as puzzled. "Uh...that--"
"You heard the man," Dum Dum says cheerfully, reaching out to clap Bucky's shoulder. "Sorry, Barnes; looks like you're on your own."
The five of them start for the stairs, grinning secretively at each other. Steve stares after them for a moment, but when he turns back, Bucky gives him a strained, sickly grimace and practically bolts for the stairs in chase of them.
Steve gapes at Bucky's departing back, completely gob-smacked. Had Bucky been afraid they'd be bunking together?
Steve immediately wants to crawl under a rock and die. Bucky had noticed, hadn't he? The sniffing, the staring, the way Steve keeps finding excuses to lean up against him. He honestly hadn't thought Bucky would take it this badly--Bucky's never had a problem with any of the fellas in their neighborhood--but maybe it's different, knowing someone's queer and knowing someone's queer for him.
Feet still nailed to the floor, he chokes back a half-hysterical laugh as he realizes the lycanthropy might actually be a good thing. He can still smooth things out, lie for all he's worth. He's not in love with his best friend; he's just at the mercy of the instincts of a wolf that thinks it’s a dog, that Bucky is its person.
That's a problem for tomorrow if he doesn't get up those stairs in the next five minutes, and since he doesn't have a clue where to even begin explaining, it's probably best not to even try. Sighing heavily, he steps out of the sitting room and into the hall, head down as he heads past the door to the master bedroom to hide away in the last room at the end of the corridor.
He gets about halfway there when the front door comes open at his back.
The exhausted man who freezes on the threshold is dressed as a civilian, but the way his gaze sharpens on Steve--the way he notices him first off--screams soldier. He might be in his late thirties, has a perfectly average face that neither draws nor repels attention, and the very wholesomeness of his careworn expression makes Steve think 'spy'. Steve nearly reaches for the shield, but Madame Gallois pokes her head out of the kitchen and calls out to the man in rapid-fire French. Wiping her hands on a dish towel, she bustles over to the newcomer like he's an old friend, and slowly the man relaxes.
"Americans?" the stranger asks, looking directly at Steve. His accent is faint enough to pass for any number of nationalities.
"Yes," Steve replies warily. There's no point in denying it when he's wearing his national colors strapped across his back.
The man nods absently and heaves a quiet sigh. "Didn't realize anyone else was here. I'll help myself to a corner of the sitting room, then--"
"No, wait," Steve says quickly, stomach clenching in sympathy. He knows the difference sleeping on a real bed can make, even with the serum. "Take my room. I'll bunk with one of the others."
The stranger's brows arch. "Are you certain? You were here first--"
"Positive," Steve says with a quick smile. "I'd better get up there, though, before I end up sleeping in the bathtub."
He takes the stairs two at a time, panic crawling in his gut even as his shoulders stiffen in determination. Now that he's committed himself to a course of action, he knows he'll see it through, even though he's a lot less certain now that Bucky won't yell the whole house down once he sees Steve transform.
God. Bucky's going to see it, and if that doesn't scare him off, then maybe...maybe the other thing will just get forgotten. Steve can dream, anyway.
He's got his nose to tell him which door is Bucky's, and he raps on it quietly, ignoring the incredulous groans he hears from the rooms at his back. "Uh...yeah?" Bucky asks without coming to answer the door; something in his wary tone tells Steve Bucky knows it's him.
"Buck? Can I come in?"
"Um." The panic in Bucky's voice actually spikes a notch. Steve resists the urge to bang his head against the door a few times. His skin is already on fire, and if Bucky doesn't let him in, he's going to be faced with the choice of forcing his way in or stripping down right there in the hall and making a break for the nearest window.
"For fuck's sake, let him in, Barnes!" Dugan calls from his own room, exasperated,
"Man, these walls are thin," Gabe mutters.
Steve doesn't hear Bucky approach, but wood scrapes against wood as something is dragged out from behind the door, which opens a crack a moment later.
Steve practically dives inside as Bucky backs away, leaving a straight-backed chair behind. Steve notices there's no lock on the door when he shuts it behind himself, and he's a little too busy trying to claw off his shield harness to wedge the chair back under the knob.
"I'm sorry," Steve breathes out as quietly as he can, fingers flying over buckles and straps. "I know this is weird, and uncomfortable, and it's about to get weirder, and I'm really sorry I didn't tell you before, but...please. Please just bear with me, and I'll explain in the morning."
Bucky's already pale even before Steve lets the shield drop to the ground, but he takes a step back, eyes huge, when Steve starts pulling off his uniform. Steve flushes hotly, wondering what Bucky thinks of him, what he must think Steve is doing, only there's no time left to explain.
"I'm sorry," he says again. "Just--I'm still your friend, no matter what happens. You gotta believe that, Buck."
Bucky just stares, hands fisted at his sides and jaw clenched as a deep shudder wracks him. He'd been half-undressed himself, Steve notices belatedly, or maybe he'd only pulled his pants back on to answer the door. They barely cling to his hips, belt missing, dipping low enough to prove there's nothing but skin beneath. He looks like he's barely clinging to his stoic face by his fingernails, and it guts Steve to see him like that, but he's completely out of options.
He's barely stripped off the last of his clothes when the change takes him, rearranging him from the inside out. He can't look at Bucky for this, doesn't want to see the disgust looking back as Bucky's best friend changes into an animal, but his nose, his ears, won't let him hide.
Bucky's breathing has picked up, panted out in sharp gasps of--panic? Effort? Steve jerks his head up and finds Bucky standing hunched over with his eyes winched tightly shut, teeth bared in a silent snarl. The cords of his neck stand out sharply, every muscle bunched tight as his body tries to shake itself apart.
Steve's tail clamps tightly to his leg as his ears pull back, uncertain. He can still smell the sharp tang of Bucky's panic, but that doesn't look like fear. There's...there's something wrong, and there's not a damn thing Steve can do.
Bucky's quiet when he breaks, but the ragged cry that bursts from him is full of sharp edges, barely human. Steve can only watch, dumbfounded, as Bucky rips clumsily at his pants, losing a button as he shoves them down and off and--
Changes. Right in front of Steve. Like but not like Steve at all.
Bucky had always seemed huge to him before he got the serum, and now Bucky suddenly is again. Shoulders broaden before Steve's eyes, the sturdy muscles of a soldier and dock worker bulking beneath a thick, black pelt. Bucky's skull reshapes itself on a ripping growl as teeth sharpen, jaw becomes muzzle, and his fisted hands unclench into trembling claws as his nails lengthen and turn deadly. How he stays upright as his legs reconfigure themselves and his spine lengthens into a tail, Steve can't begin to imagine, but at the end of his transformation, Bucky's left a perfect mix of wolf and man.
Steve gets approximately five seconds to process this before the Howlies come charging through the door, nearly knocking Steve over and sending him skittering over to Bucky to take cover.
"Holy fuck!" Dugan yelps, reaching for his sidearm.
Steve doesn't even think. Flinging himself between the Howlies and Bucky, he plants himself with a savage snarl and promptly finds himself swept behind a massive wall of black fur intent on protecting him. Huffing in outrage, Steve evades the shovel-like hand trying to keep him back and bounds to the forefront again, only to be pulled firmly back by the scruff. His nails scramble for purchase on the hardwood floors, thankfully already scarred by years of use.
This time Bucky wraps both arms around him, trying to shield him with his body from the guns slowly dropping to point at the floor. Steve wiggles free with an effort, feet momentarily paddling air before he drops to the ground with an insulted snort. Bucky curls his upper lip just before he pounces, flattening Steve to the floor under a ton of solid muscle.
"Uh...that's them, isn't it?" Morita mutters like he can't believe what he's saying. "Barnes." Bucky glances up at the sound of his name, briefly distracted from Steve's attempts to squirm out from under him. "And Cap."
Dum Dum heaves a disgruntled sigh, shaking his head. "What other idiots do we know who'd be acting like this when someone tries to shoot one of them?"
"Point," Falsworth says, shakily holstering his gun. "I suppose we'll have to wait for morning to hear an explanation, unless...can either of you talk?"
Bucky looks at Steve, who looks at Bucky. They both shake their heads in unison.
"Right. Well then. Ah...try to keep it down, gentlemen."
"Please," Gabe adds feelingly.
Bucky narrows his eyes, lips skinning back from his teeth, but he doesn't growl; the snarl is just a warning.
A warning the others are quick to heed, backing out and shutting the door behind them.
Once they're gone, Bucky turns back to Steve with a bewildered look, ears perking up curiously as he crouches down to touch his nose to Steve's own. Steve almost sneezes as their whiskers brush ticklishly, his tail starting up a slow, hesitant wag. Bucky seems to take that as an invitation, reaching gingerly out for Steve until he notices his own long nails. He drops his hand instantly, cringing away with an unhappy whine.
Steve wastes no time in bouncing up, planting his forepaws on Bucky's broad shoulders and pushing to bowl the idiot over. Bucky goes with a bitten-back yip, blue eyes huge as Steve piles onto him and starts licking his face all over, like he's been wanting to do for months. Bucky huffs at him--amused, not irritated--and leans up to bite Steve's muzzle, massive jaws trapping him entirely with gentle pressure.
Steve's tongue sneaks out again and again despite himself, but otherwise he waits meekly in Bucky's hold, relaxing when Bucky lets him go with a swipe of the tongue across the place he'd just bitten. A restless shiver trembles down Steve's spine; he wants to dart in, nip, and dash away, gallop down the stairs and out the door with Bucky in chase. Wants to hunt, maybe, now that he has the kind of pack that can run with him.
He's pretty sure Bucky feels it too, but they know they have to be quiet. They're lucky neither Madame Gallois nor the newcomer came up to investigate the commotion. It's enough to know that this is what Bucky was worried about, not Steve, and he's desperately grateful he didn't say too much, because if Bucky still hasn't noticed Steve's a little bit gone on him--
Bucky stays right where Steve put him, his huge body a gentle curl, stomach bared, like he's afraid he'll scare Steve even with them both changed. Maybe it's because Steve looks normal, if oversized, if you don't know he's human. Standing over him, Steve shuffles his forepaws and whines hopefully.
Neither of their muzzles are built for smiling, but Bucky's eyes crinkle at the corners as he reaches out again, slow and careful, and drags Steve close to his chest.
Settling in with a contented wriggle, Steve buries his nose in Bucky's fur, his tail thumping like a metronome against Bucky's drawn-up knees.
Dugan snorts. Rather than splitting up to their assigned rooms, everyone's retreated to the one he's sharing with Monty, like the burliest slumber party ever. If that just happens to put them directly across the hall from Barnes and Cap, at least they'll be ready if any new bit of strangeness comes along.
"Think we noticed that, thanks," Dugan drawls, amused.
"No, I mean...all the secrecy and sneaking around. Right around the full moon."
Oh. Right. So maybe all that being a werewolf entails is only just now hitting him. And if they haven't been sneaking off to scratch the itch....
"When do you suppose they'll figure it out?" Monty asks on Dugan's right.
"Tomorrow," they all chorus back in unison. Dugan's determined on that score, even if he has to knock their precious heads together.
Monty grins. "Then the bet still stands?"
"What kind of question is that?" Dugan grumbles.
After the ridiculous display of protectiveness he just witnessed, Cap's heartfelt declaration of true love doesn't even seem all that far-fetched.
He stills, eyelashes dragging against something that jerks, ticklish, as his eyes pop open.
All Steve can see from this close is bare skin, a stubbled neck and the sharp wings of clavicles, but even mostly-asleep, he knows Bucky's scent.
"Hey," Bucky says quietly, voice deliberately casual. He doesn't move his arm, and Steve slowly lets himself relax. "You okay?"
"Sure," he says, leaning back just far enough to look Bucky in the eye. Bucky's wearing the cagey look he gets when his own mind's already made up but he wants Steve's opinion anyway, and it's a little bit terrifying seeing it now. "What about you? I mean, that looked...painful. When you changed." That's a little bit terrifying as well, except maybe it makes sense, if it's something Zola did to Bucky. Which maybe means he's got his answer about his own situation; if Zola's attempt at the serum was based on what Schmidt stole from Erskine, then the werewolf thing was probably intentional. He just wonders why Erskine didn't warn him beforehand.
Bucky hunches the shoulder he's not lying on, mouth twisting ruefully. "Only because I was fighting it. Didn't even realize you were changing too."
"So we're good?" Steve can't help asking, needing to hear it after all his crazy assumptions to be sure.
Bucky's smile comes swift as reflex, but his eyes are a little sad. "Yeah, Stevie. We're good."
The hell with it.
Steve leans up, holding Bucky's eyes until the instant their lips brush, savoring the startled hope reflected there. He's got next to no idea what he's doing, but Bucky takes over the second he falters, running his hand up Steve's spine to settle lightly at the back of Steve's neck. Bucky angles his head just slightly different, and suddenly they fit together perfectly, mouths caressing then opening as Bucky nudges at Steve's lips with the soft tip of his tongue.
The habit of clamping down on all the embarrassing noises that have been escaping him recently stands Steve in good stead. He swallows most of a groan of contentment, but the tiny sound he can't hold back is enough to make Bucky's breath catch. Bucky pulls away, eyes still closed, only to rest his brow against Steve's as he masters himself.
Steve half expects him to say they can't do this, that it's too dangerous, but all Bucky says as he opens his eyes is, "We gotta be careful."
It's worth a grin, because while Steve may not be experienced, he's not blind, either--not entirely. "You mean because of the guys? Because I think they already think we're together."
Bucky's eyes go wide with panic, but it's gone almost immediately, replaced by a puzzled frown. "Why would you think that? I mean...no way."
"Well, no one's given me the shovel talk, for one thing," Bucky says earnestly. His face screws up in thought, like he's honestly going back over previous conversations to make sure he didn't miss any obvious hints, and Steve sees the instant the penny drops. "Those sonsofbitches," he growls, halfway to rolling to his feet before Steve drags him back down.
"Oh my God, Buck, come on," he protests, laughing. "At least we know our friends aren't going to treat us like monsters."
"Not over the queer thing, anyway," Bucky mutters, staring hard at Steve's right shoulder to avoid meeting his eyes.
"Hey," Steve says softly, hooking his hand around Bucky's nape and squeezing gently. "Don't talk like that. You're amazing, you know that? And anyway, a monster wouldn't have done something as stupid as protecting me when I didn't need it."
Bucky narrows his eyes, jaw firming pugnaciously. "Well, you might have needed it."
"But I didn't."
"But you might have," Bucky insists.
So Steve bites him, right on his dumb, stubbornly-jutting chin.
Steve yips helplessly a moment later as Bucky rolls him onto his back with a growl, teeth glancing lightly along his throat before settling in the meat of his trapezius. It doesn't even come close to breaking the skin, but seconds later Bucky jerks back, startled horror replacing his determined glare. Steve can definitely sympathize; their new instincts can be a lot to take in. On the other hand, this new position is putting a lot of naked skin in contact in new and interesting ways, and he's not feeling particularly inclined to move.
"Shit," Bucky breathes with a worried, hangdog look. "I didn't mean...you know I wouldn't--"
"Buck," Steve interrupts with a lopsided smile, cheeks prickling with heat. "Get back here."
He's reasonably certain he could take Bucky in a tussle if that was all this was about: determining top dog, so to speak. It's just that Bucky's displays of dominance have always centered around aggressively bundling people into layers and badgering them until they eat enough, and occasionally popping some idiot in the face for picking on a scrawny kid or one of Bucky's sisters. Bucky's had the same instincts Steve has for months now, and it's never stopped Bucky from following his lead or forced Steve to order where he could ask.
And besides...Steve likes it, and that's what puts the flush on his face.
Bucky can probably smell it on him now that Steve's broken him out of his self-flagellation. His face goes soft with surprise, but his eyes sharpen on Steve intently, watching for every flicker of reaction as he eases closer. The leg he'd planted between Steve's thighs rocks up, pressing against growing interest, and Steve feels an answering twitch against his lower belly as Bucky leans down, hands bracketing Steve's shoulders, and--
"Cap!" Dugan practically bellows from right outside, banging a fist on the door. "Barnes! You boys up?"
"Damn it, Dugan," Steve groans as Bucky jerks away again. "We're not the only people in this house, you know!"
"If you wake that old lady, I'm gonna murder you," Bucky agrees with a scowl.
Dugan laughs guiltily. "Oops."
Steve sighs. "We're up. Be right down."
Bucky's still hovering over him, amusement glinting in his eyes. "I owe my parents so many apologies," he says solemnly, startling a laugh out of Steve.
"It really is like having children, isn't it?"
"It's exactly like having children, and I got three younger sisters. I know," Bucky agrees.
Just before he surges to his feet, he swoops in fast to drop a tiny kiss on the tip of Steve's nose. He's up a heartbeat later, head ducked shyly now as he hunts around industriously for his clothes and the missing button from his pants. Steve sort of desperately wants to tackle him to the bed they ignored the night before, but he settles for plastering himself against Bucky's back, nuzzling behind his ear and wrapping him up in a warm, solid hug. They've got two more nights of their change to get through, but after that....
"You know," Steve says conversationally as Bucky relaxes back into him, "I think I've got headquarters trained."
"Mm-hmm. They're probably expecting us back at least once before the end of the month." Only this time they won't be hiding from the Howlies and each other, stuck in strange new bodies. They'll just be themselves. "We're getting a room with a lock."
"You sweet-talker, you," Bucky says with a grin, tipping his head back to nudge Steve's cheek with his own.