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Burn your bridges down

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The little car breaks down a hundred miles south of Leipzig. Steve is jolted awake from a much-needed nap to a sharp bang and the smell of smoke; his first thought is that they’ve been found and are under attack.

Two things calm his defensive reaction -- first, an inventive stream of expletives from Sam in the driver’s seat, which indicates annoyance, not danger. Second, Bucky’s hand touches the corded knots of Steve’s shoulder, warm, fleeting, then gone.

When Steve darts a glance at Bucky behind him, Bucky is staring straight ahead, frowning at the smoke from the sputtering engine.

“Freaking fuck,” says Sam. “Why you chose this bucket of bolts--”

“It’s low-profile,” Steve says for what feels like the thousandth time since they liberated the vehicle.

Is it?” The gesture Sam makes to indicate the comically small space of the interior is more obscene than his language.

Steve can feel Bucky smiling in the back seat. The whole atmosphere changes now when Bucky smiles, and Steve senses it like a shift in barometric pressure.

“Won’t get fixed by talking,” says Bucky, who has remained mostly silent throughout the drive, while Steve and Sam kept up a near-frenetic chatter to distract themselves from the madness of the situation.

“Man has a point,” says Sam, and he gets out of the car with an exaggerated sigh. Steve joins him beside the still-smoking hood. He watches Bucky climb over the divider, watches him indulge in a long stretch. Bucky must be miserable in the cramped backseat, but insists on sitting there when he isn’t taking his turn driving.

Bucky catches Steve staring at him. Steve doesn’t drop his gaze, because Bucky’s staring right back.

Sam raises his eyebrows but says nothing at all, at least until he gets the hood propped open and then it’s another round of inventive cursing.

“We’re grounded,” says Sam. “I don’t suppose either of you remembered to pack a spare timing belt?”

They’re surrounded by farmland as far as the eye can see. They chose a less-trafficked backroad instead of the main thoroughfare, hoping to avoid any checkpoints or surveillance. The road stretches out silent in both directions, their only visible company a distant grazing cow.

“One of these farms,” Steve says, trying for optimism. “They might be able to lend us some tools to--”

“Dude, this thing is both fried and a relic from our past. Maybe that’s why you liked it. I dunno, I don’t get paid to ask questions.” Sam peers deeper under the hood, then coughs and makes a disgruntled sound. “We’re gonna need help. Certified auto-mechanic help. Hopefully from someone who was already fixing cars when the Berlin Wall went up.”

Steve feels the ghost of something like the old panic that used to grip him during an asthma attack. To have come so far, to have survived so much, fought their way through all the odds, to have Bucky back and safe and whole -- in a manner of speaking -- and to be thwarted now by a timing belt --

Bucky is still looking at him. Maybe he can see the shadow that crosses Steve’s face. Maybe he remembers what the old panic looked like.

When Bucky speaks his voice is measured, calm, the same voice that used to say Breathe, Steve. Breathe. That’s it. You’ve got it. Breathe for me. “We passed a sign for a town a while back. Shouldn’t be more than a few miles. Best case scenario, they have Sam’s senior citizen mechanic. Worst case, figure we steal a car and feel real bad about it.”

The sides of Steve’s mouth quirk, and even Sam grins at that. Sam says, “What do you think, Cap?”

“I think it sounds like a plan,” Steve says, hoping that Bucky can read his approval as well as he’d seen Steve’s discomfort. “We go in and out, quick as we can. Limit talking to people much as possible. Keep our heads down.”

“Sunglasses and hat time, got it,” says Sam.

They only have a few pieces of gear, some hastily purchased snacks and supplies. Bucky reaches for the largest bag, and Steve sees him rub his shoulder with his metal hand. Steve remembers the backpack that had become crucial to Bucky, had stored all his new-found memories, then was stripped from him. Steve looks away.

After so long in the car’s cramped carriage, the hours of endless driving while on high alert, it feels good to walk. There’s a bit of a breeze, and the fields around them smell like green growing things, and it’s wonderfully quiet. They set a brisk pace. Sam’s jokes about their predicament carry over more than the first mile.

“If one of you were the Flash, the engine would already be fixed,” Sam is saying. “Now there’s a useful superhero.”

“I'm not,” Bucky says, starts, stops. His brow furrows. Steve is afraid he'll lapse back into silence, but he finishes: “Not a hero.”

“Seems to me, that depends on who you ask,” says Sam, without missing a beat, in what Steve knows is his neutral counselor’s tone. “You do alright. Get you a tune-up, like the car, grease the skids, get you back on track.”

The rush of appreciation Steve feels for Sam is heady and profound. Sam’s approach to Bucky has been expert level. No kid gloves, no fear, no doubt. He's ribbed the Winter Soldier like he's just one of the guys. Like a guy who can take sarcasm dealt out and not snap.

Steve still trusts Bucky Barnes with his life -- will never, ever lose that certainty -- but he hasn't been sure of what to say to him and how to say it. Doesn't know whether to pour out everything that's been on his mind the last few years, or to leave it be, to let Bucky start fresh. To begin again without Steve’s fraught feelings in the mix. Bucky has enough to handle without Steve’s burdens.

But Sam hasn't blinked, just assumed that Bucky was Bucky underneath the stoic mask and could handle some sass. At first Steve was unsure, but after many miles in the minute car, he's seen how much it puts Bucky at ease not to be treated like he's either going to break under pressure or blow up.

For the millionth time since they met, Steve blesses Sam Wilson’s existence. Maybe he’s looking moony-eyed just then, because Sam winks and then rolls his eyes at Steve in sequence.

With his bickering best friends flanked around him like an honor guard, Steve has never felt so lucky or grateful in his life. If he could put off thinking about what awaits them further up the road with Tony and the others, he might even be happy.

For now he’ll take gratitude. He hasn’t felt much of that since the Winter Soldier pulled him from the river in Washington and then disappeared.

When they reach civilization, they discover that the town skews heavily towards village. A few scattered houses at the outskirts with well-manicured gardens. Two short, broad streets that intersect at the church.

A bakery, a bar, a grocery store, a doctor’s office. It’s a location caught in amber, unchanged for centuries save for wireless Internet and updated cars. It looks like any number of German enclaves Steve and the Howling Commandos helped destroy. Could be one of those places, painstakingly restored.

A young woman is walking a frolicking brown dog through the tiny town square. In the German fashion, the dog is unleashed and mostly walking itself. She gives them the once-over, curious. It’s quickly apparent that there is no real way to blend in and be unobtrusive here.

Sam is primed for action, but Bucky moves faster. “Let me,” he says, and Steve remembers what Bucky can do, what he was made to learn.

It’s uncanny to watch. Bucky shifts his stance, changes his posture, and suddenly the man who crosses the square is a hybrid. He’s half James Buchanan Barnes, boy wonder from Brooklyn: brilliant, blazing smile, all handsome charm and friendly flirtation. He’s half the Winter Soldier: eyes scanning for signs of trouble, playing a part, duplicitous, a double agent. When he hails the woman, his German is flawless and without any accent.

“Isn’t that a thing,” mutters Sam at Steve’s side.

Steve can’t say anything. He watches. His heart is in his throat. Breathe, Steve. So he does.

Bucky has the girl laughing and the dog nosing at his gloved hand within minutes. He laughs also, which is a sight that Steve tucks into his memory for safe-keeping. Bucky’s so good that it doesn’t sound false or affected at all. It sounds exquisite to Steve’s ears.

But when Bucky lets her go and turns back, his face is creased with frustration. “No mechanic here,” he reports. “She said there’s an auto shop in the next town over. Town’s bigger -- practically a city. Ten miles, give or take. If we run we could reach it before sundown, before the shop closes. Maybe.”

Steve exhales. “Well, then. Don’t see what choice we have. We steal a car here, we make a scene.”

“I see a choice,” says Sam. “My vision’s perfect.” He crosses his arms over his chest, squares off, like he knows they’re about to fight him. “I go alone.”

“Sam--” But neither of them are listening to Steve.

Bucky echoes Sam’s posture, and the air is suddenly pumped full of testosterone. A contest of bold self-sacrifice brews.

“Look,” says Bucky. “If anyone should go--”

“Guys,” says Sam, not budging an inch, “I’m not gonna say I’m not famous. I am. Famed. Internationally so. I sign autographs. A lot. But the whole world’s looking for you two. Your faces are on every newspaper and TV screen. We all roll into a real city together, and it’s hallo, Polizei. Guten morgen, Kommando Spezialkräfte.”

Steve says, “But--”

“I did two tours of Afghanistan and one in Iraq,” says Sam. “You’re gonna tell me I can’t handle a German mechanic without backup? Or is it that you don't think my 10k is up to snuff?”

Bucky says, “You need me to translate--”

“Halt deinen Mund,” says Sam. Shut your mouth. “And bite your tongue, man. I was drinking at Air Force bases in Germany when both of y’all were still on ice.”

“Well,” says Steve, impressed but still worrying his lip.

“Well well well,” continues Sam. “Looks like it’s Sam Wilson who gets to come to the rescue this time. Just deal, okay?”

“Okay,” says Bucky, and Steve aims an astonished look at him. He’d expected an extended argument. But Bucky says, “He’s right. I don’t want to cause any more trouble. The three of us together, we’re like a painted target. Better to split up.”

“But,” Steve tries again, softer this time. It’s his responsibility, ultimately: he’s the lead on this, it’s his actions that have brought them here. His decisions. His choices. If anyone should be at risk of being caught alone --

“Sorry, Cappuccino,” says Sam. “Two votes to one. Democracy in action. Majority rules. We the people--”

“Fine,” says Steve. “Fine. You win, Sam.”

“Such sweet music,” says Sam. “Say that again, I wasn’t quick enough with my phone to record it. That’s gonna be my ringtone. Until I’m dead.”

Bucky almost smiles. “We had better move. We stick out like sore thumbs as is. Guarantee you every open window ‘round here has a person behind it lookin’ at us.”

Steve is too struck by the hints of Bucky’s old inflection creeping back into his tone to respond.

Nearby, Sam is smirking. Then he says to Bucky, “Why don’t you scout out the bar? Seems to me it’s the safest ground. It’s early, and anywhere else here’s going to mean talking to too many people.”

“Good idea,” allows Bucky, like he and Sam have long been in accord. He goes without a backward glance.

“Steve,” says Sam, once Bucky’s out of sight. “You’ve got to breathe, my man.”

“I -- what?”

“You’re holding your breath every time he does something new,” says Sam, his sharpness gentled. It’s the neutral counselor tone, back again and put to use -- this time on Steve.

Steve opens his mouth. Closes it. “I’m--?”

“You boys could really use some time to catch up,” says Sam sagely. “It’s cool. I get it. I’m giving it to you. I’m definitely the best friend you’ve ever had. Because the two of you, you’re something else. So find out what that is.”

Before Steve can react or protest, Sam is striding far too fast towards the main road, and running to intercept or shouting will draw attention. Sam doesn’t look back, but Steve watches him go.

Steve stands alone, and he absorbs air. When his pulse is something like steady, he follows Bucky. That’s an old habit, too.

The bar is even older than the reconstructed town. Somehow it withstood the war. The foundational stones look medieval. Inside, the arched wood ceiling has the patina of great age. The main room is small and dark, with windows of thick bubbled glass and close-set scuffed tables. Bucky has taken the corner table with the greatest strategic advantage -- back to the wall, facing the door.

Bless this hard-drinking country: they’re not the only ones in the place. A youthful couple are blushing at each other over a shared bottle of wine, and two old men deep in spirited conversation have worked their way through a tabletop of pints already.

When Steve comes in Bucky is speaking easy, conversational German with the attendant bartender, who’s busy arranging their drinks: a tall stein of pale pilsner for Steve, and a neat glass of clouded caramel whiskey for Bucky.

It’s exactly as they’d once sat drinking together in a fragmented Europe, and exactly nothing like that night at all.

But you’re keeping the costume, right? From Bucky, winking and bright and suggestive. And oh, how Steve had worn it for him later when they were alone --

Steve pulls out his chair with care to stifle the noise. To draw a line across his line of thought.

Bucky’s eyes are on him, and Bucky’s fingers gesture -- quick, furtive, in their old body language born half in Brooklyn, half in the trenches -- Keep quiet -- so Steve does. If Steve tries to speak in his rusty German he’ll give away the illusion that they’re natives, and Bucky’s determined it’s not worth the risk.

Steve sits heavily, like they’ve had a long day and are grateful for the drink -- they have, they are -- and he says nothing, just hefts the glass, clinks it to Bucky’s, and takes a long swallow.

Bucky echoes the gesture. His gaze, now fixed, doesn’t drop, and Steve has nothing to do but study the depth of colors in Bucky’s eyes, the palette that used to torment him when he was young because his charcoals were too cheap to fully capture their range. Sky-blue with hints of the sea and a background of steely silver, a complex blend of shades that comprised Steve’s favorite color.

This should be good. This should feel good. All Steve’s wanted since he found Bucky again was this chance: to spend time with him, examine the composition of Bucky’s face that he knows better than his own and learn its new lines and shaded angles.

Well -- there’s considerably more that Steve wants. But this should be enough. This, having Bucky sitting across a table from him, should be more than enough. An impossible dream made flesh.

They’ve never needed a dialogue. There were countless nights in Brooklyn, and during the war, when they were too exhausted from work shifts or a gruelling march and words weren’t necessary. They’ve sat across from each other, sharing space, sharing air, so many times. They always understood each other perfectly without speech.

But now Steve is on edge, can’t quite keep still. The inability to say anything chafes at him, and all that is now unknown between them feels like an ever-widening gulf he’ll do anything to cross.

He makes himself drink while they sit in silence. Since the serum, alcohol has ceased to have any real effect, but the ritual itself takes off some of the edge.

Only Bucky’s staring so intently. And he won’t look anywhere but at Steve’s face, even though Steve knows he’s also keeping a close watch on the room and the door for the slightest hint of danger.

Steve can’t take it anymore. He jerks his head towards the bathroom sign to indicate where he’s going, pushes up and back from the table, and turns his back on Bucky’s gaze.

It feels like a retreat from battle. Impossibly, his throat feels like it’s closing in the old way, like his body is failing. Down a dark hallway, in the bathroom, he looks at the mirror and tells himself he left asthma behind a long time ago. He splashes cold water on his face, rakes droplets through his disheveled hair.

Steve puts back his shoulders. Girds himself. Get a grip, Rogers. He opens the door and steps out into the ill-lit passageway.

That’s when Bucky ambushes him.

For a half-second -- the blink of an eye -- Steve thinks that something has gone horribly wrong. Bucky was retriggered. Their adversaries found them here, activated him. Or Bucky has lapsed somehow, glitched, become a stranger again. Steve’s fight-hardened hands want to lift in defense, to ward off the force that bears down from the shadows.

But his instinct -- his instinctive, unshakeable trust -- is stronger than his ability to inflict violence. So he stands shocked and still, waiting for a blow that never lands.

Instead, Bucky’s mouth connects with his, Bucky is pushing him back against the wall, his hands making fists on Steve’s collar. Bucky is kissing him with wild desperation.

For half a second -- the blink of an eye -- Steve is so astonished that he would have taken a hit more gracefully. Bucky’s mouth is open and insistent, and the feel of his body tilted into Steve sends a frisson of sparks up Steve’s spine that sets off an entire minefield in his brain.

Steve keeps still, pressed to the wooden paneling, afraid to do anything that could jar this development. But when Bucky starts to step back, Steve doesn’t let him. He lets his hands come up and tangle in Bucky’s hair the way he’s wanted to for seventy-odd years.

Even under the ice, he used to dream about this.

He holds onto Bucky, keeps him there, and then Steve is kissing back. Kissing like he’s never kissed before and never will again. Kissing like coming home, like waking up, like returning from the dead.

It’s the same as it was since the first kiss when they were fifteen, so fucking good that it hurts, and it’s also brand new, mind-blowing, knee-weakening, lip-bloodying.

Steve regains enough brain power to pull back a fraction of an inch. They’re totally without cover here, and they can’t afford to lose their bearings.

“Buck,” Steve manages. His voice sounds low and husky and disbelieving to his ears. “Bucky.

“I’m sorry,” whispers Bucky. This time he bites his own lower lip instead of Steve’s. “Shouldn’t have. I just -- I needed to know. I had to know--”

“What,” says Steve. By necessity alone his tone is quiet. But he gives the word layers of inflection, means it to be interpreted two ways: What is it, tell me, for the love of God, and What, could you possibly doubt that I would want this, you ridiculous jerk.

Bucky’s eyes are wide, are incandescent against the gloom. “That there was something better still left in me than everything else they put in,” he says. He says it all in a rush, and then he says, like he can’t stop himself once started, “That I hadn’t made up what we were. That what I feel is real.”

This -- this is the blow that lands, that knocks the wind out of Steve. His heart skips, squeezes, aches. His chest constricts. Breathe, Steve. You gotta breathe for me. So he does.

He sucks in a deep breath, and then he releases his hold on Bucky’s hair. Takes Bucky’s face between his hands. Leans in and kisses Bucky with all that he is and a lot of tongue. Smiles with his lips on Bucky’s, and his hips flush to Bucky’s, to leave no doubt whatsoever how he’s reacting to Bucky’s proximity.

Steve keeps on kissing him, because he doesn’t know what to say, until he knows suddenly and absolutely. Then he moves a fraction of an inch away from Bucky’s mouth to tell him.

“I love you, Bucky Barnes,” Steve says. “Always have and always will. Should’ve been the first thing I said to you in Romania. Would’ve said it on the helicarrier, but we ran out of time.”

Now it’s Bucky who looks like he’s struggling to take in enough air. “Say -- say it again.”

“I love you,” says Steve. This sequence of words, the most honest truth he knows, the thing most real in a surreal life, has never been difficult for him to declare. “God, Buck. I love you.”

”Steve.” And just as Steve understands now that certain Russian phrases can transform Bucky against his will, can force him into another shape, strip him of his volition, these words do something else.

Steve watches them take effect -- watches Bucky’s eyes brighten, his spine straighten, the side of his mouth curl up into the echo of his old cocky grin.

“You’re not so bad yourself,” says Bucky. Then he shoves Steve back up against the wall and follows after.

Some time later -- a few minutes, or it could be half a century -- Steve manages, “There was a sign in the window when I came in. Freies Zimmer. They have rooms upstairs?”

Bucky nods. “Old tavern. Used to be the way of things. Figure not much changes here.”

“Ask for one,” says Steve, half a command, half a strongly worded suggestion. “Or else we jimmy the bathroom door or risk the side of the road.”

Bucky blinks at him. He cants his head, and his hair, messy from Steve’s eager fingers, falls across his forehead. “You want to--?”

“I want to,” agrees Steve. He tries to tamp down on his own excitement, tries to consider how fast they’re moving and how different this is from anything either of them have experienced in decades. Wouldn’t have brought it up, would’ve moved slow, except there isn’t much time. There might not be any other time after this. He can’t think about that, not now, not when they’ve found each other again. “If you--”

But Bucky has already released him and is headed toward the bar on deathly silent feet.

Steve is alone for four hundred sixty-two seconds that he counts through in abject agony. He considers pacing. He paces. He feels eighteen again, waiting for Bucky to climb up the fire escape and in through the window. How they tiptoed, hearts in their throats, past Steve’s mother’s closed door. Hand in hand.

Their first time. The best day of Steve’s life until a day in the nation’s capital when the Winter Soldier’s mask came off.

Bucky returns. He holds a key, triumphant, like a medal to display. He has their bags hung over his concealed metal shoulder. “C’mon,” he says. “There’s a back staircase. Scouted it out before.”

“Right behind you,” says Steve.

“That’s what I’m aiming for,” says Bucky.

He swings Steve a look as they move down the hall. “Jeez, are you blushing? We took out three teams of German special forces, dodged a king dressed like a panther, who could frankly kick my ass, and escaped half the Avengers, and you’re gonna go red because I want you to fuck me?”

Steve almost trips up the first step. His body is so well-calibrated now that it doesn’t let him complete the movement. His muscles smoothly correct, his posture is perfect, his foot slides into a sure landing. “Some things never change,” he says.

“Maybe they don’t.” Bucky reaches for his hand. Steve laces their fingers together.

The hallway was a tender affirmation, the staircase a sweet stretch. Upstairs it’s different.

They get the door opened, then closed, then deadlocked, and secure the room -- small, cramped, with a low ceiling and two rickety-looking twin beds -- and then they’re all over each other.

There’s not nearly enough of each other. There can never, ever be enough. Not enough time, no way to make up for all that they’ve lost. They grab, wildly, tearing fabric, tugging at torn clothes, crashing into the dresser, knocking over a sparsely populated bookshelf.

Attached at the mouth, lips and teeth and tongues working overtime. No time. No time.

It’s an out-of-body experience it’s so exhilarating. Steve’s adrenaline is soaring, and also it’s the most purely physical activity he’s experienced outside a warzone or under attack.

Somehow he gets Bucky lifted up into his arms. It’s the only way to keep Bucky close enough, and Bucky’s legs are wrapped all the way around him, holding Steve close; and Steve is about to smash into another wall when Bucky breaks away from kissing him and hisses,

“No, idiot, the mirror,” and it’s a fond sort of hiss, but also earnest and urgent, and Steve wheels in the other direction and saves them from destroying the cheap floor-to-ceiling glass at the last second.

“Don’t need any more bad luck,” says Bucky, looking relieved, before he sinks his teeth into the curve of Steve’s neck, “Mmm-hmmrn-gmm.”

“What?”

“I said,” says Bucky, licking the impression he made, “not now, when my luck’s just gettin’ good again.”

“Think you might get lucky, you mean.”

“I’m a betting man,” says Bucky.

He executes an almost obnoxiously athletic twist that forces Steve to drop him, then just keeps going, down, down onto his knees, all one motion flawlessly executed. Steve has lost his shirt and Bucky his pants, and Bucky sets at once to level the playing field. He makes expert work of Steve’s belt, yanks jeans and boxers to Steve’s knees, and --

“Christ,” Bucky exhales, followed by some creative swearing Sam would appreciate. “Thought I remembered this, but it seemed pretty unlikely.” A faraway look crosses his face, passes like a cloud across the moon. Then he says, in a voice from another era: “That was some serum they gave you, huh, pal?”

Steve turns pink, then red, but it hardly matters. He’s aglow. Bucky’d said the exact same thing upon their reunion in Europe. If there’s been a nagging voice in Steve’s head that wondered how clearly Bucky saw through to their past, it’s banished now. Also he’s painfully hard, and Bucky’s curved lips are close enough to --

Bucky up goes onto his knees, swipes his tongue the length and breadth of Steve’s cock, then swallows him, no hesitation. He does it without pause, as though to prove to both of them that he still can.

Steve rocks on his heels; it’s been so long, it’s been so fucking long, and he never, ever thought he’d have this again. It feels better than he can quantify, given how fast their dynamic has shifted back into the old way. His brain in the twenty-first century doesn’t have the right words.

Bucky saves him by denying the scramble for vocabulary, for century. He drags his mouth free with a wet sound that echoes in the room’s small confines.

“Time enough for that,” Bucky says, seeming to speak directly to Steve’s cock, and Steve laughs, though he catches the message beneath: there might not be time, there’s no time, there’ll never be enough. They’re on borrowed time. Sam could return any moment, or anything could happen, or or or --

-- and Bucky needs --

-- Steve needs --

“Yeah,” Steve says, and reaches to tug Bucky to his feet. “If you’re sure.”

“Remembered about you fucking me about a week into being on my own after D.C.,” Bucky answers. He doesn’t wait for Steve to react, just moves over to the twin beds and starts to push them together. It’s an afterthought of a motion, a habit. Takes a few turns of his metal wrist.

The number of times they did this in Brooklyn, then split the beds apart in the morning in an abundance of caution, can’t be counted.

Bucky says: “Jerked off over it for three days straight. Thought about it every day since.”

Steve is by his side at the bedside before he remembers taking a step. He helps complete the operation with the beds, helps set the mattresses flush, piles up pillows. His heart is hammering hard in his chest, but he’s breathing well, deep, sure breaths that fill his lungs. “Some things never change,” he says again, thinking about Brooklyn.

But Bucky’s attention has shifted, his mood like quicksilver. “Some things do,” he says.

Steve watches as Bucky slowly draws his t-shirt over his head, watches him cast it aside. Bucky stands naked before Steve, all of Bucky’s strong lines and elegant inches.

Bucky like a stolen statue, an ancient masterpiece stashed away for millennia by greedy collectors. Bucky’s body that of a wounded demigod that some God or Goddess gave a gleaming arm to get him back on his quest. Bucky, sacrificed and still whole.

Bucky isn’t self-conscious, but neither does he pose or preen as had come naturally to him in every bedroom Steve shared with him before. He glances at Steve, waits. A muscle jumps in his cheek.

Until now, Steve has been painfully acquainted with what Bucky’s new arm can do in a fight, but never at leisure to observe it at rest.

His first thought is that it is a stunning, shining addition to Bucky’s shoulder. He hates but loves the arm, this thing that saved Bucky for him, that made Bucky possible in their new world. Without the arm Bucky wouldn't be here.

Without it, Steve would have worried even more throughout these last few lonely years of searching for the Winter Soldier. The arm is the worst and best of Bucky, all that’s been done to him and all of the promise he possesses. Steve hates and loves it.

He loves Bucky.

He steps forward, folds Bucky against him, drops his head to Bucky’s shoulder. Kisses shoulder, arm, metal, kisses the seam that seals them together, the pinkred flesh that still looks angry. That looks like it still hurts. Steve won’t stop kissing, and under his hands and lips Bucky shudders in place.

After a while Bucky’s fingers cup Steve’s chin, Bucky’s fingers thread through Steve’s hair. Flesh and blood against Steve’s scalp, metal along his jaw: metal made pliant, Bucky showing how gentle those fingers can be.

“Enough of that,” Bucky says, without conviction. The fingers don’t flex.

“Never,” affirms Steve. But he lets himself be distracted, and he straightens to stand straight-backed, looks Bucky in the eyes. Sky, sea, steel. Bucky’s eyes that no new paints or newfangled computer programs can capture. Some things don’t change. Never do.

Steve’s the one to go first, sits on the bed and then draws Bucky down. Bucky lets himself be pulled. He rolls over Steve and onto the far mattress. Steve kicks free of the last of his clothing -- a boot, his jeans down one leg -- then settles above Bucky. This part was always easy.

Even when he was small and slight. Even then, Bucky trusted him enough, wanted him enough, to ask for this. Their first time was just like this, Steve held in the strong vee of Bucky’s thighs. Steve, made somehow much more powerful than he looked, when Bucky Barnes gasped for his fingers and begged for his cock.

Maybe no one then would've believed it but that's how it was and that was the best day of his life until the Winter Soldier’s mask came off --

Beneath him the last of Bucky’s masks peel at the edges. It’s not the Winter Soldier in the bed, and it’s not quite James Barnes. The man Steve sees staring back at him is a blend of both, modern, remade.

Steve realizes that they have to leave them both behind, burn their bridges: the skinny, sickly kid from Brooklyn has long ceased to be. The kid’s dashing undaunted best friend is also gone.

They’re both of them different people, but there are some things that go too deep, that are lodged in the bone. They’re different people that still recall how they loved. Nothing else can serve as such an anchor.

Steve wants to say all of this to Bucky, only it’s a jumble in his brain, there’s no eloquent speech to speak. Actions are best, and so with a regretful kiss to Bucky’s deprived right shoulder, Steve leaves the bed to raid their supply bags. He returns with a cube of vaseline mercifully included in the emergency med kit they’d grabbed at a German pharmacy.

Bucky’s thighs part for him.

“Buck,” says Steve, slicking fingers. “Wish you could see what I’m seeing.”

Bucky’s metal arm moves fast, seizes Steve’s wrist, helps guide him. At Bucky’s urging, two of Steve’s fingers move inside together. Bucky is tight, so tight, too tight. Bucky groans at the first pressure but his hips go up to accept Steve, to urge Steve deeper. Bucky’s cock is long and thick and hard with anticipation, and Steve licks his lips involuntarily.

“You think about how we used to do this?” Bucky asks, after a time.

Steve closes his eyes. This way he feels how Bucky responds, can read him in the dark. The slightest shift or shiver against Steve’s palm lights up his skin.

“Sure do,” Steve answers. “No one would say I’m exactly modest about my accomplishments,” and to his relief Bucky laughs. It’s a gorgeous sound, unaffected. He opens his eyes to watch Bucky’s mouth laugh.

Steve wonders: should you say out loud, every minute of every day. Every minute of every day I think about this. About how we used to be. What we were.

No more. Now they're different, they’re something else. Instead he focuses on unlocking Bucky with his fingers, focuses on Bucky spread open underneath him.

Bucky who puts his head back and relaxes the muscles of his thighs, and stares up at Steve with a familiar look on a face that is less familiar.

Bucky’s face is tempered by their time apart, but his expression, one of complete and unyielding trust even as his body yields, is the same as it always was.

Steve wonders: does his own face look like that? He thinks he’s projecting joy and lust and love. That’s what he feels.

But trust? Does Bucky understand that Steve still trusts him absolutely, that Steve would put his life in his hands without a second thought? Does Bucky know that Steve sees him now for everything that he is, not some remembered ideal from the past?

Does Bucky grasp that Steve wants him just the same, but also now in a new way, with a deeply profound respect for all he’s come through and endured?

How can Bucky know unless he tells him?

Steve stills his hand’s motion. Then he eases his fingers free, and Bucky is watching now with too many questions in his eyes.

Bucky hitches an eyebrow. His lips are a flat line. “Change your mind?”

“No, Buck, I--” Steve swallows. Shakes his head. “I was thinking -- how much I want -- how much I need for you to fuck me.”

Now both of Bucky’s eyebrows go up, and he studies Steve’s face unblinking. At last he says, “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” says Steve. Anticipation at the thought of it gathers in a knot in his belly, and he’s certain then it’s the right tack for them to take.

When he was young and wisp-thin, Bucky was afraid of hurting him, so they hadn't done it much like that. When Steve came to Europe as Captain America he’d been blustery and bold, so proud of his new body, never missing a chance to show off its power and agility.

He’d taken Bucky against crumbling walls, made him silently beg for hours in their tent at night, lifted and pressed him into the sodden earth of too many trenches on watch.

And then: a train, a fall, the seeming end of Steve’s world; they’d never had enough time to do more. No time.

Captain America has never been fucked, never since the serum, thinks Steve with some amazement; and he has never been with someone who could match him strength for strength. When he was small and slight, Bucky, who could have easily overpowered him, trusted him enough to be the vulnerable one.

Now it is Steve’s turn to trust Bucky -- all that Bucky has become -- with his heart and his body. It’s what he needs. It’s what they both need: the chance for Steve to surrender and for Bucky to show that he’s in control.

“Please,” says Steve.

“Don’t need to be told twice,” Bucky says, and he sits up and pushes Steve down. There’s a gleam in his eyes, uncertain and electric, like a live current, but he takes the cube of jelly from Steve’s grasp and kneels between his thighs with certainty.

“Use your hand,” Steve says. Bucky knows the one he means.

“And they say I’m the one who’s outta my mind,” says Bucky, shaking his head, but he obliges. His metal fingers are cold and slick when they ease into Steve.

The metal warms quickly on contact with Steve’s overheated skin, and Steve moans at the sensation, foreign and new and achingly good. Bucky works him from the inside out, presses in deep. There is a slight vibration at the point where his arm meets shoulder, as though the limb is unused to being used for anything but violence; its massive strength is barely contained, but it is contained, because Bucky is in command of himself.

Bucky stretches him carefully, watches Steve’s face. With three fingers stroking into Steve, sparking within him, Bucky takes Steve’s cock into his free hand, grips it firmly, and goes up and down, up and down, down and up until Steve is the one who loses control, coming in hot stripes across his belly and Bucky’s fingers.

“Ah, ah,” Steve pants, “God, Bucky.”

“I remembered that, too,” says Bucky. “The look on your face. Sometimes I’d close my eyes, and see your face like that. And it’d blur from skinny to strong, but you always looked the same.”

“Please, Buck--”

Bucky nods, draws out his fingers and uses the last of the vaseline along the considerable length of his cock. He balances over Steve on one arm, the metal giving off a faint hum as it takes his weight, so that Bucky’s other hand can take up position at the base of his cock. He teases Steve with the head flush to Steve’s entrance, then pushes into him halfway.

Steve wants to gasp, but he’s biting his lip, trying not to make any noise that will startle Bucky or give him pause. He’s holding his breath.

And Bucky says, “Steve, you gotta breathe for me--”

So that Steve exhales and pulls air in all at once, and pulls Bucky in, and then Bucky’s sliding inside him. There’s a lot of Bucky to take. Steve spreads his legs and then lifts them to wrap around Bucky’s waist, securing him there; and for a bright, brilliant moment Steve thinks that maybe they can just stay like this forever, joined together, he won’t ever have to let go.

Maybe Bucky’s having a similar thought, because he keeps himself buried in Steve unmoving, puts his head down, presses his forehead to Steve’s, and just -- just breathes, breathes in the air that Steve lets out.

Then he kisses Steve, fierce and with a determined edge that tastes like Brooklyn, like the nights when Steve was in a bad way and Bucky used to hold him close and they weren’t sure if Steve would still be there in the morning.

They have changed bodies now, the both of them, but even these bodies have limits, and after a long time Steve rolls his hips, and Bucky pulls back and sinks in again, and then again. Then Bucky gathers speed, thrusts into Steve with a stroke that feels centered and sure, and another, and another.

“Okay?” Bucky mouths it against Steve’s mouth.

“Perfect,” Steve manages. “You’re perfect.”

“You’re crazy,” Bucky says, but, reassured, he starts to move more quickly within Steve. “You make me crazy. The way you feel, it’s--”

“Harder, Buck. Go harder. You know I can take it.”

Bucky quirks a little smile above him, slows his thrust in a pointed tease. “Used to say the same thing when you weighed a hundred pounds wet.”

“It was true then, too.” Steve chases after sensation, lifting his hips to guide Bucky farther, clenching tight on Bucky’s cock to see the way Bucky bites back an exclamation. “Want everything you can give me.” He palms Bucky’s cheek with his hand -- one of his more sincere gestures, so Bucky’s sure to look into Steve’s eyes. He does. “I mean it.”

“You really do, don’t you.” Bucky watches his expression for an answer; then he pulls back, and his next thrust is snapped into Steve, just shy of being hard enough to hurt. Because Bucky -- only Bucky -- would still be able to make Steve feel this in a bad way if he wanted to. And it’s not just the superstrength in Bucky’s enhanced form.

Bucky could hurt him if he looked indifferent, or distant, or even dazed -- if Steve thought that there was a part of Bucky that didn’t want to be here, that didn’t still want him.

But Bucky is staring at Steve’s face as though it is the circumference of the world. Then Bucky nods, and he starts to fuck Steve so deep and so right that the beds creak perilously underneath them. Everything is threatening to give.

Steve’s head digs into the cheap pillow as he arches up, greedily trying to make contact with all of Bucky’s body that he can, and then he -- he holds on. Holds on with his hands to Bucky’s biceps, metal and muscle, he holds on for dear life. He won't let go, he won't. Bucky ducks his head and comes down to kiss Steve while he works on slamming him through the mattress, and his eyes don’t leave Steve’s.

Sex was important to them before, and good -- so good -- so good that even when they wanted to deny how good it was in the beginning they couldn’t, the attraction had always been there, giving off enough energy to power a reactor. But sex was never all that they were; there was a meeting of wills, a merging of minds, an innate understanding of one another that went deeper than skin, and Steve remembers --

The first time he convinced Bucky to do it like this, to try it the other way. Before Bucky left. They’d argued and hollered about it, until at last Steve had won (Steve almost always won) and gotten what he wanted.

Bucky was so hung up on the idea of hurting him. He spent what felt like a year slowly opening Steve with gentle fingers, asking about everything until Steve told him to hurry up, he was aging here, and then Bucky used about a jar of vaseline slicking his cock.

But when Bucky was finally, finally in all the way, and Steve showed that he could take it, that he was fine, that he needed more, Buck, more, please, God, more, Bucky still wouldn’t go too hard but he wasn’t too slow either.

He made love to Steve, letting the cautious tension leave his bunched-up muscles, lavishing every place he could reach with kisses, making sure that his cock struck the place inside Steve that drove him wild. He put his hands in Steve’s hair to hold him closer and to angle Steve’s face up so that their mouths met, and moved inside him like he never meant to leave again. Like he didn’t want to leave.

Afterward Steve had asked, a little hesitant because Bucky was so quiet, “Did you like it like that?” -- because Steve had, quite a lot -- but after saying Steve’s name while he came Bucky rolled off of him unspeaking, and he was lying looking at the ceiling as though there was something to find up there.

And then Bucky said, “I want you to know that there won’t be anyone else for me. You don’t have to say the same back. But I thought you should know,” just like that.

And Steve’s breath felt frozen and too hot all at once in his lungs, and his heart started beating fit to burst. It was hard to breathe but he couldn’t just leave them like that, so he said like the mouthy kid that Bucky was first drawn to: “I’m that good a lay, huh?”

Bucky turned to look at him, serious at first, then quizzical, and finally smiling; and he’d said, “So what if you are?”

“Leverage for the future,” said Steve, grinning too, and they’d just grinned and grinned at each other. Then Steve said, “What if I want to say the same back?”

“It’s still a free country, far as I know,” Bucky said, but his eyes were glinting.

“As though I could ever want anyone else, after having you,” said Steve, so madly in love that he nearly screamed about it then and there. “You’re nuts if you think otherwise.”

“Things change, Steve,” Bucky said, serious again. “People do. The world does.”

“This won’t,” Steve told him, and he’d reached for Bucky’s hand. “I promise--”

He’s jolted from memory by Bucky’s cock thrusting just exactly right, by Bucky repeating and repeating the thrust when Steve moans for him. One of Steve’s hands has moved into Bucky’s hair and made a fist there; hard enough to hurt anyone else, but Bucky doesn’t flinch.

Steve realizes he’d gone somewhere else, realizes that it was an important place for him to go, because this feels just like it had then -- like bliss embodied, like good sex, like fucking past the edge of desperation. And also different -- like an act committed by the people that they are now with altered bodies and memories that diverge. But the heart of them is unchanged. They’d sworn a long time ago, and here they are, in a present that shouldn’t be possible, fit back together with new pieces but fitting all the same.

“Keep looking at me like that,” Bucky pants above him, “and I won’t be able to last much longer.”

Steve widens his eyes. “Like this?”

Bucky grins, always a wondrous sight, now like a gift to see on his lips. “Still a smartass in bed, huh?”

“Aw, you love it.” Steve works his hips, takes Bucky deeper, deeper.

“Yeah,” Bucky says, slowly but unhaltingly. “I do.”

Steve wants to hold his breath like he had before, like he’d held it back when Bucky said I thought you should know, but he doesn’t. Instead he says, like a mouthy kid from Brooklyn, “What was that, Barnes? You wanna put all those words in order?”

“And still with the schmaltz,” says Bucky, griping, then groaning in a way that tells Steve how close he is. “You really want me to tell you I love you when I’m balls-deep and coming, like those books you used to pick up at the dimestore?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be better at multitasking now? That shouldn’t be so difficult to time,” Steve says, squeezing Bucky’s metal shoulder, and Bucky just looks at him for a long moment before he breaks out laughing.

Then he drives himself hard into Steve and puts his mouth to Steve’s ear, and he says, “I love you, Steve. There won’t ever be anyone else,” and he’s spilling into Steve, he’s giving himself over, it’s everything Steve’s memory remembers and more, and more, and more. Bucky’s face is gorgeous as he rides through it; then he flips back his messy hair with his metal hand and mutters, “Guess you’re just that good of a lay.”

Steve’s heart leaps, but he also laughs, then; and it occurs to him that he’s never laughed so much while having sex with Bucky, even in the old days, even when things were light and easy. But right then his heart feels better about being alive than it ever has. He has Bucky back; he has Bucky, evolved; he can hold onto both of them.

Dimly Steve feels Bucky’s hand on his cock, coaxing Steve to join him and come again: Steve will allow it. But when he drifts back from those dizzy heights, he finds Bucky looking at him with both eyebrows raised.

“What?” Steve wants to know.

Bucky doesn’t say anything, just glances down, to where Steve’s legs are locked around his waist in a vise-grip it would take an explosion to dislodge. “Not complaining,” Bucky says, “I could do this all day, to quote a reckless moron I once knew. But next time I want you to fuck me.”

Steve gets hard again almost immediately, which is a pretty neat trick. Becoming Captain America came with a few advantages Erskine never mentioned. He uncinches his legs, and Bucky pulls free, lands on his back next to Steve on the pushed-together beds. “Right now, you mean?”

“No, next week, when we’re all dead.” Bucky rolls his eyes. “Actually, if we’re still alive in a week I’ll be impressed.”

Steve stops smiling. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”

“Didn’t say you would,” says Bucky. “Just facing facts. Got real good at threat-level evaluation.”

“Bucky--”

“Let’s not do this, okay? I don’t want you to make promises you shouldn’t have to keep. You’ve done enough for me as it is.” Bucky presses a finger to Steve’s mouth when he opens it to speak. “Give me tonight and let's leave it at that. It’s already more than I thought I’d have again. More than I deserve. So just--”

“But, Buck--” Steve’s protest is somewhat garbled behind Bucky’s finger, which presses harder.

“Just be here with me now,” Bucky finishes. “Don’t talk about tomorrow, or seventy years ago. Just now.”

“Well--”

Cautiously, Bucky takes back his hand. Steve says, “Well, what happens when Sam comes back?”

“Seems to me he can take care of himself, and he knows the score,” Bucky says. “Anyway, he’ll thank us if he makes it back in time for a drink. Lady downstairs seemed like his type. If I were to guess.”

Steve works his jaw, taken aback. “She was on a date!”

Bucky shakes his head. “Just drinking with a friend,” he says. “Now, those older German gentlemen -- they’ve been together thirty years.” Steve blinks at him, and he shrugs. “Bartenders tell me things. Got a real trustworthy air about me.”

“You’re kidding,” says Steve.

“Do I look like I’m still good at jokes?” Bucky is so blank-faced that Steve knows that he’s not joking about the men downstairs. He’s not joking until now, at least, when he cracks a tiny smile. “You surprised that two old men can fancy each other so long?”

“No,” Steve says. “I’m not surprised.” In a move that’s pretty damned smooth if he says so himself, he slides over and on top of Bucky -- easy as breathing. “Some things won’t ever change, huh?”

“Guess they won’t,” says Bucky.