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Bucky woke up to the sound of rainfall, and to the too-hot, too-squashed feeling of the nanny-goat, Udder Chaos, laying over his legs again. The small hut that he’d been recovering in didn’t have a door, and at least three of his goats would nose through the beaded curtain whenever it rained.

The rest of them went to the flat shelter, where goats were supposed to be, but Bucky supposed he might as well surrender any sort of authority to Udder Chaos and her two kids, Bastid and Sumbitch. They were just not going to behave.

Murphy’s law, which had not had a fancy title when Bucky’d been in the army during the War, but merely a practical adage, applied to goats especially. Anything that can go wrong will eventually go wrong. Usually at the worst possible time.

Sumbitch was blatting at the door; he didn’t like the rain any more than the rest of them did, but he always seemed to feel the need to complain about it.

“Yeah, yeah,” Bucky said.

He didn’t have a cluster of uninvited Wakandan children around for a change. He was still an oddity to them with his ridiculous, puffy hair and his pale skin and his taciturn ways, and they would often dare each other to sneak into his hut and touch him.

He didn’t mind. Once he’d realized that Princess Shuri had fixed the broken parts of his mind that let him be controlled, and he knew he wouldn’t hurt them, he enjoyed their company, even if he played the hermit-curmudgeon to its fullest.

He was also learning the language from them, although they didn’t know it. Even before Hydra, Bucky had had a knack for languages, and had picked up French and German during the war. Others, he’d learned as part of his training. He didn’t speak it to them, not yet, because he was getting a bit of a laugh out of their belief that he was somehow communicating with the goats, and that was how he knew of their plans.

Anything that could bring a smile to his face was welcome.

“Get out of that, Bastid,” Bucky growled. The spotted goat-twin stuck his face into the kitchen box -- how did he even get it open? -- where Bucky kept his food supplies. Powered by a vibranium battery, the cold box looked simple, and it served multiple functions. Depending on his needs, it served as stove-top, or artificial fire pit, or table. It looked simplistic, a teak-like exterior, and if someone from National Geographic had been allowed to wander around Wakanda and take pictures, they wouldn’t see anything more than a table.

Damn, Bucky loved Wakanda.

“Bucky?” Princess Shuri tapped on the wall outside his hut.

“Get up, get off,” Bucky fussed at the nanny goat and scrambled to his feet. He’d slept later than he’d intended. One handed, he pulled on the outer garments that he’d made do with. Hydra hadn’t let him learn to be one-handed before it attached the prosthetic, and so he was still figuring the whole thing out. Buttons were not his friend, and even when he could get them, he couldn’t get jeans around his hips, much less snapped and zipped with any degree of celerity.

He hated feeling incompetent; Hydra had always punished a lack of perfection with bone-searing agony. Even with the words cleared out of his head, there was not much that Wakandan tech could do for his trauma. He was going to have to suffer through that until it got better, or it didn’t.

But because he hated that feeling of cringing in anticipation of agony every time he failed, he’d also flat out refused the artificial arm that Shuri had offered.

He needed to dull the fear of failure, or his attempts to become an independent man were going to be doomed. He’d already found himself, several times, latching onto a figure of authority and letting them tell him what to do. T’Challa, Princess Shuri, even one of the lab techs.

It was one of the reasons he was outside the palace, dressed in knotted robes and loose fitting drawstring trousers.

He was still scraping his fingers through his hair when he exited the hut. He never invited her inside. His hut was his own, the only place he’d had any privacy at all in the last half-century at least. It might have been rude, but it was the lesser evil. Besides, she had a fancy umbrella, some sort of hard-light rainshield that projected over her head, and Bucky liked being able to stand under it and look up at the sky without getting wet.

“Good morning, your Highness,” Bucky said. He gave her a nod. She’d smacked him with her portable sandtable the first time he’d bowed to her. That it reminded him of his sister, Becca, had only encouraged him to do it again, but on special occasions.

“It may be,” she said. “It is too early to be sure.”

“Time for lessons?”

“Not today,” Shuri said. “We have received word that your friend, the Captain, will be dining with my brother this evening. T’Challa wishes for your presence.”

Which meant that Steve had actually asked to see him. As far as he could tell, T’Challa didn’t dislike Bucky, or Steve, or really, any of the Avengers or rogue Avengers. But he didn’t have much time for them, either. There were many other important matters on the King’s docket, and a couple of renegade super soldiers weren’t worthy of much consideration. Bucky was pretty sure that T’Challa was only taking care of him because he felt guilty about believing Zemo’s web of lies.

They all had. Bucky didn’t hold it against anyone.

But sometimes Steve would come, and he and Bucky would visit together, and then… Steve went off doing whatever it was that he was doing. Getting in trouble, probably, the little punk. Since the Siberian Mission disaster, Steve had been working even harder. Some sense of misplaced guilt, perhaps. Or an inability to just stop trying to fix everything.

Steve was Atlas; the weight of the world on his shoulders.  

“Yeah, it’ll be good to see him,” Bucky said. He ran one hand through his matted hair. “Can you send Thabo and Zani to me? I might need some help.”

That was also painful, asking for help, but he was still having trouble with one handed tasks, and he didn’t want Steve to see him unshaven and greasy and dressed in an agbada. Steve worried about stupid shit, and that was all stupid shit that Bucky didn’t want to deal with. Washed, shaved, dressed in Western Europe clothing, Steve wouldn’t ask the stupid questions, and he’d take Bucky at his word.

Probably.

“I will let them know,” Shuri said. She bent then, to pat Sumbitch and tug on the tiny billy goat’s ears. “They prosper, under your care.”

“They take shameless advantage of my good nature,” Bucky corrected.  

“That, as well. I shall see you at dinner, Bucky.”

Bucky waved, and then watched as she straddled her hover-bike. Always incongruous to his American eyes, the mix of technology and what he’d always thought of as tribal, primitive culture. The rest of his goat flock, was bleating and complaining, and he would feed them, check their hooves, and milk the few nanny goats, before breakfast, and then he’d have the rest of the day to get ready for dinner.

“All right, Sumbitch, let’s get you fed, greedy thing.”

The little goat trotted in a circle around him and butted his legs a few times, trying to hurry him along, but Bucky would not be hurried.

Not anymore.

***

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

Sumbitch was standing at the edge of the ravine that led down to the river, blatting uncomfortably. Bucky was already dressed for dinner, in the one set of nice, Western clothing he owned. Zani had done up the shirt buttons for him, and kept the waistband of his slacks closed while Bucky struggled with the zipper.

“What inna hell have you got-- oh.”

Bastid was all the way down the ravine, covered in mud (of course) and stuck (because goat) and was going to need Bucky’s help to get back up (because clothes and dinner and--)

“You two are worthless!” Bucky stomped back into his hut, grabbing the boba wrap. The Wakandan women used them to carry children, or sometimes packages. Bucky’d discovered they did pretty well for carrying baby goats, too. “Lemme guess, you need to come down with me, otherwise you’re just going to try to run down to your brother and you’re both gonna end up filthy and hurt, right?”

Sumbitch answered that with another mournful bleat, echoed pitifully by his brother in the mud below.

Bucky picked up the one baby goat and secured Sumbitch in the wrap. Sumbitch immediately started sucking on Bucky’s earlobe, something the goat did when he was particularly stressed out. “You know I ain’t goan let anything happen to your brother, right? You know that, don’t you, you stupid, flea-bit, half-witted--”

You certainly show great affection toward your charges, Shuri would have said, if she’d been there. Of course, if the Princess had been here, Bucky wouldn’t be climbing down a muddy slope in his good pants, either. She’d have pulled some sort of gadget or gizmo out of her pocket and either teleported the goat back where it belonged or levitated it, or something else that looked like magic, was based in science, and probably have some sort of condescending remark about it if he acted impressed.

Bucky was getting really good at acting unimpressed.

At least on the way down, he could use some of his abilities. Hydra had given him strong muscles and hard bones and a keen, quick mind -- Steve would say they’d only amplified the man that was already there, but Bucky refused to tolerate that platitude, because they’d also given him ice-cold nerves and the ability to murder without remorse, qualities that he didn’t wish to believe were inside him already.

He secured his hold on Sumbitch and took a running leap off the side of the ravine.

Sumbitch uttered a startled maaah! And promptly ducked his head inside the boba. Bucky laughed lightly and patted the goat’s head. Bastid was already trying to climb up Bucky’s leg, getting muddy prints everywhere. “Calm down, y’furry idjit, I’m gettin’ to it.”

He lifted Bastid and hung the goat around his neck like a furry shawl. “Stay put an’ don’t struggle too much,” Bucky scolded the goat. “I on’y got th’ one hand and I need it for climbin’.”

By the time he made it to the top, Udder Chaos and the entire rest of the herd had come out to stand watch as he clambered up the side of the ravine. Or judge him. Bucky was pretty sure the goats were very judgemental. He was soaked to the skin, muddy and sweaty.

His western-style clothes were ruined.

Fuck it. Steve was just going to have to deal with the robes and loose, Wakandan trousers. He had a nice, embroidered shirt in blue, with red detailing that Thabo’s mother had made him, said it brought out the color of his eyes. The Wakandans were all fascinated by his eyes, pale blue-grey and washed out, as a few of them said. There were village elders who wondered that he could see at all, with such weak eyes.

He dropped the baby goats off with their mother. “Do a better job of watchin’ out for ‘em,” Bucky told her. “I swear, this one…” Bastid was trouble, he had been since he was born, practically.

Stupid goat. Bucky loved him.

He peeled out of the filthy clothes and put them in the basket. He had one of the fancy wash tubs that were common with the villagers, very high tech for Europe, or the Americas, but considered a basic appliance in Wakanda. He’d run it after dinner and his clothes would be clean, pressed, and folded by the next morning.

He splashed himself clean; his hair was a bit of a fright, but without help, he patted it back into place as best he could manage. There was no way he could put it up, not with one hand. He was talented, but not that talented.

He drew on the loose trousers, pulled the shirt over his head, and stepped into the formal Wakandan shoes. The outfit was ridiculously comfortable and it looked good. Bulletproof, too, as Wakandans wove vibranium into the very cloth they wore every day.

Not that he expected anyone to shoot at him, but… well, it wasn’t paranoia if people actually were out to get you.

There were a lot of people in the world who would be just as happy to see Bucky Barnes dead for the Winter Soldier’s crimes.

He sighed, tucked a lock of hair behind his ears, and set out toward the palace.

“Ya mind your mama, ya hear me, Sumbitch? Bastid? I don’t wanna come back and find more trouble. An’ stay outta my hut.”

***

“King T’Challa,” Bucky said, giving his benefactor a quick nod. T’Challa returned the nod, patted him on the shoulder absently, which was both weirdly uncomfortable -- no one touched the stump of his arm -- and rather nice. No one, after all touched the stump of his arm, and T’Challa made it seem as if it were nothing out of the ordinary.

“You look quite splendid in our country’s regalia,” Shuri told him, with a sly wink.

Bucky made a sweeping bow to her. It was a special occasion, after all. “Your highness.” She rolled her eyes and drew back her hand as if she was going to smack him.

“Shuri!” Queen Mother Ramonda snapped, her chin doing that thing that she did, every time one of her children caused her to wish that she had smelling salts. Bucky found it hilarious. Mothers were mothers, no matter how old their children were, what year it was, or which country they were born into.

“I see you continue to bring out model behavior in my sister. Come, let us go into dinner before she does something we all regret. Mother, if I may?” T’Challa offered Ramonda his arm, and they went into the dining parlor.

For a long moment, Shuri and Bucky considered each other; he with his neatly pinned up sleeve and her, as a younger, unmarried woman, and then she shrugged. “There is no help for it,” she said, and she stood on the other side, offering him her arm. “Walking on my left is only slightly less uncomfortable than a ceremonial corset. We shall bear it for a few minutes.”

“Your sacrifice will not be forgotten,” Bucky murmured, and took Shuri’s arm, letting her walk him in. She leaned on him a little, laughing, and Bucky was warmed all over by her easiness. She did her best to never make him feel less than, even if she delighted in mocking him, her brother, all things formal, and pretty much everything else. When Shuri was being formal, Bucky suspected, that  people should worry.

And then protocol didn’t matter at all, because Steve Rogers didn’t give a damn about it. He broke ranks with the other guests, ignored the collective gasps, and threw his arms around Bucky’s neck. “Hey, pal, you look--”

“Ridiculous?” Bucky suggested, but he didn’t let go. He held on to Steve with all the strength he had in one arm -- which was considerable, although Steve would hardly notice.

“I was going to say good. Healthy. At peace. Happy, even?” Steve drew back a little. Steve didn’t look much of any of those things, like he was worn down to the nub. The beard, too… Bucky still hadn’t gotten used to it. Steve never liked wearing a beard, and whenever his medication had made him shake too much, Bucky had shaved him. Now? Now Steve was sporting longer hair, slicked back, a beard, and a uniform that looked like he’d rubbed it in dirt out of spite.

He did look happy, though. Happy to see Bucky.

“It’s good, here,” Bucky said. “I like it. Come on, sit down, pal, you’re givin’ the Queen palpitations for your rudeness. Like always, no respect.”

“Not at all,” Steve said. “Ma’am. King T’Challa. Forgive me.” He gave a formal, very military sort of nod.

“No, don’t mind me at alllllll,” Shuri said, making huge round eyes at them. “I’m not offended in the slightest.”

“Of course you ain’t, brat,” Bucky said. Well, Bucky wasn’t big on respect either, and Shuri just laughed, so it was fine.

“Sit, make yourselves comfortable in my home,” T’Challa told them.

Steve hovered over the carved wood chairs, nothing like what he thought of as a chair. A simple stool carved of untreated wood -- except all wood in Wakanda was infused with the same vibranium that surrounded everything. Wakandans had the toughest furniture on the planet.

They sat together, even if Steve directed most of his remarks down the table; he and T’Challa had business to discuss, and Bucky wasn’t really interested. The fate of the world wasn’t his concern anymore. He’d had enough of that, being one of the key players in turning the world backward, for the worse. He was retired. But Steve did push his ankle against Bucky’s and the contact was grounding. It shifted his direction again, pointing him true north.

At Steve.

They ate, drank. Steve discussed some of the goings on of the world. T’Challa spoke of how Wankanda was becoming open to the world at large, sharing their technology. Despite some resistance and doubt, it was going oddly well.

Well, except for some companies and countries that seemed to think that Wakandan weapons should be available on the market, and some that had tried to take them. Steve and his crew of renegades had been a part of returning Wakandan property. Sometimes. Other times, T’Challa sent his wardogs -- with UN approval. The Sokovian Accords were the law, and Steve operated well outside it.

Bucky tuned it out and concentrated on the task of feeding a supersoldier metabolism with only one working hand. Back at his hut, no one cared if he ate most of his food wrapped in the flat breads, or used his fingers to dig out balls of rice and vegetables. But he did not intend, jokes with Shuri aside, to embarrass T’Challa in front of his audience.

“I would have a word with you, Captain,” T’Challa said as the guests got up from dinner.

“Of course.”

Bucky always watched Steve, as he left. When Bucky had shipped off, on every mission during the war, every single time, Bucky would drink in the sight of the man as he left.

His guiding star.

True north.

Bucky bid goodnight to Shuri and the Queen mother. He didn’t bother to address any of the other guests. Went out to the broad staircase that lead into the village, found a convenient bit of wall to hold up, and waited.

***

He didn’t even have to look around; there was something about Steve Rogers that pushed ahead of him in the air. A psychic scent, a mouth-feel to the suddenness of his appearance, just the way Bucky was so absolutely aware of the man, utter and complete fascination.

It had been that way since they were children, before he’d even known that what he was dreaming about was impossible. Bucky had looked at the scrappy kid that he’d just dragged out of a dumpster. Steve had been furious, hurt, confused, and he’d lashed out at Bucky as much as he had flailed, uselessly, at his tormentors. Bucky took a clip to the chin before he’d managed to convince the kid that he wasn’t the enemy, and they’d been best friends ever since.

The first thing Bucky had thought, seeing that kid, eye swollen shut, stinking from the garbage, his shirt torn open and his nose bleeding:

I’m going to marry that boy.

“You look good, Buck,” Steve said, and he sat down on the stairs next to Bucky. Closer, maybe, than was strictly necessary. Thighs touching, feeling the heat of the man cooking through his clothes. Steve always smelled a little like spices, dried flowers, paper and charcoal, a melange of scents; eau de Steve Rogers.

“Feel good,” Bucky said, and that was mostly true. Steve was sitting on his left, taking up the space where Bucky’s arm was supposed to be. He still hadn’t gotten used to it; felt lopsided and weirdly light. Some nights he woke up, clutching the bed with his one hand, terrified that he was going to float away. The pins and supports that held up the old arm had been removed where they could, remade where they couldn’t, and for the first time since he went to war, Bucky weighed less than two hundred pounds.

It was an odd, off-putting feeling.

But then Steve slung an arm around him; not around his shoulders in a way that might have said pal, or brother, but lower, his hand resting on Bucky’s hip, encouraging Bucky to lean against Steve’s solid, reassuring bulk.

“The Princess tells me that you’re all healed up,” Steve said, “an’ all that junk’s cleared out of your head.”

“Yeah,” Bucky agreed, wondering where this was going.

“You don’t have to stay here, anymore,” Steve said.

“No,” Bucky said. There was too much in the outside world that he wasn't ready to face. Wakanda was peace and quiet, it was cool water on hot skin, it was a balm for his wounds, not the physical ones, not the scars that could be seen on the surface, but the deeper gashes on his heart. He wasn’t even close to healed.

Not enough to face the world.

It always ends in a fight.

It was true, and he was a soldier. There was no way he could ever escape that. Bucky could feel war, on the horizon like a storm. It was inevitable. But for now, he wanted his hut and his goats and his quiet. That wasn’t too much to ask, was it?

He wanted Steve, too. Always had.

But the fight would come.

And Steve would make his decisions.

“What, no?” Steve asked, shoving at him a little and making Bucky rock away, and then back, harder, into Steve’s side. “I didn’t even ask--”

“Don’t bullshit me, Rogers,” Bucky said. “I’m not going. I’m not joining your little band of refugees. That man, the one who followed that little punk from Brooklyn… he’s not here anymore. He died, he fell off a train where he probably should never have been in the first place. An’ maybe he’s only sleeping--”

It always ends in a fight.

“--but I’m not looking for a fight anymore. I’m not gonna wake him up, not for this.”

“You don’t even know what we’re doing out there, it’s--”

“No, Steve,” Bucky said. “I don’t want to know. You don’t need me out there.”

“I will always need you,” Steve said, and that was simple and raw and naked.

Bucky inhaled, a sharp, sudden sound in the blackness. “And I need this,” he said.

Steve turned to him, strong fingers on Bucky’s chin, tugging his face lightly in Steve’s direction. “Okay, Buck,” Steve said. “You deserve it, all the peace and quiet you can get. I just miss you, all the time. Every day.”

“Come on back with me,” Bucky invited. “Stay. For a bit. I know you can’t give it up, I know. But--”

They both knew what Bucky was asking.

“Yeah.”

They both knew what Steve was accepting.

Stay. Stay the night, in my bed. Stay with me. Be with me.

Stay.

***

By the time they reached Bucky’s little hut, Bucky felt almost naked. There were touches, and significant looks, and the way Steve was talking, the lilt in his voice. Like Bucky was the one being seduced, the virginal sacrifice.

Bucky shivered.

The air was cool, a little breeze in the air that carried the scents of the countryside inward. It lifted the edges of his hair and tickled the back of his neck.

Counterpoint to the cool air was the warm hand on the small of his back. He was so attuned to Steve he could practically read the man’s palm through the layers of cloth. Bucky felt he might develop a case of mad nerves, with each leisurely step across the village toward the river. Anxiety and desire raced through his veins, making his heart pound so loud there was no way Steve couldn’t hear it banging inside his chest like a drum.

“Never really saw you as a farmer, Buck,” Steve said. They were finally at the door to Bucky’s hut, and the goats were pressing around, nibbling at the edges of his clothes. He was very late for feeding them, and none of them were all that terribly patient.

“Yeah, no, it’s just,” Bucky said, and he led the whole herd into the shelter, getting down the scoops of oat-mash and letting down a loose roll of grasses, “there’s no memories here, at all. I’ve never done anything like this. There’s nothing to miss, or regret, and to send me down that path, thinkin’ of things I wish I’d never done. The man I wish I couldn’t be.”

“You’ve only been one sort of man to me,” Steve said. He put one hand on Bucky’s shoulder, the edges of his fingertips gripping the stump, feeling the metal socket underneath. “The one I love.”

Bucky closed his eyes; it was too hard to look at that searing blue sincerity. Looking at Steve had always been like facing into the sun. Brilliant and blinding.

“Is this a test?”

And then Steve was kissing him, deep and dark and full of meaning. Kissed him in a way that Bucky had never been kissed before. Stupid, Bucky had always been the one with the girl in every port, a dame on each arm, and Steve was making him shake and shiver like a virgin. Steve had been treating Bucky, for the last several months, like a delicate flower, like some wounded puppy that needed care, but now his hands were hard on Bucky’s back, his mouth crashing down on Bucky’s, his hips moving slow and sensual, rocking up against Bucky’s thigh.

“Don’t stop,” Bucky begged, knowing he was begging, when Steve pulled back, his lips kiss-swollen and shiny.

“I couldn’t, even if I wanted to,” Steve said, and his hands were in Bucky’s hair, grabbing a handful and tugging his head back, driving in like a conqueror and demanding utter surrender. Bucky gave him everything, gave up everything.

He’d always known that his soul and heart belonged to this man, and he gave them over to Steve’s care without hesitation.

“Come inside,” Bucky said, drawing Steve back toward the hut, Bucky’s shelter, his private place. Who better to share it with, to be the first other human eyes to see the things that Bucky was collecting, the first to see the place where Bucky prepared his little meals, the first hands aside from Bucky’s to turn down the blankets, the first mouth to blow out the lights.

“Are you sure?” And now Steve was looking shy, a dusky blush painting his cheeks and he studied Bucky from under lowered lashes. Like Bucky had ever, ever wanted anyone else. Like anything that ever happened before was anything other than Bucky trying to fill the hole in his heart.

“I ain’t never been surer of a thing in m’ life, Stevie,” Bucky said. “This. I want this. I want you. Always have.”

Steve didn’t answer that, just cupped Bucky’s face in his hands, like he was memorizing Bucky’s features, or searching for some sign of hesitation, of deception. Whatever he saw, it was whatever Steve needed. With agonizing tenderness, he closed his mouth over Bucky’s again, sweeter than anything Bucky had ever imagined in hundreds of stolen moments with his left hand, drawing on all the memories he had.

Steve’s hands were like fire on his skin, his touch waking up sizzling nerves. He backed up, slow and steady, leading Steve exactly where Bucky wanted him. In the hut, the lights were a bare glimmer.

The Wakandan clothes had one advantage; they were easy to get off for a one-handed man. Even faster for a man with two working hands. Bucky was barely struggling with Steve’s button-down shirt, when he found himself bared entirely.

Bucky had never exactly been body-shy, and even if he had been, the Army and decades with Hydra would have cured it, but it all felt fresh and new and strange, being naked in front of Steve. They hadn’t been entirely able to avoid it, being in the war together, but Bucky had been too sensitive, not wanting to look when he’d not been invited, so he’d kept his eyes to himself, his thoughts as pure as he could manage.

And now Steve’s hands were on him, and Bucky was still struggling with the buttons, his one hand shaking with nerves and eagerness.

“Here, let me,” Steve said. He flicked his way down the line of buttons, each movement revealing more and more of that lucious skin, and Bucky was torn between wanting Steve to move faster so he could have a full look, and enjoying the temptation of the striptease. A tantalizing glimpse of that broad chest, and Bucky was practically biting through his lip to not grab a handful of cloth and just tear it open.

Steve peeled out of his clothes until he was there in just his drawers. “I… feel like maybe you oughta touch me.”

Bucky reached out, one hand, and stroked down Steve’s chest, fingertips exploring the ridges and hard lines. He remembered the skinny kid from Brooklyn whose back was a curve, whose shoulders were permanently hunched; the two images overlayed themselves, the memory and the reality, like a badly drawn stereoscope card.

“You look like a damn baby dolphin,” Bucky said. “Didn’t you never grow any body hair?” There wasn’t even a scrap of it, not on his chest, or under Steve’s arms, not even a little temptation of curls leading down to his drawers. He had pale, barely there nipples, the tiniest indent of a belly button, like some sort of fashion doll.

“You’re one t’ talk,” Steve said. His fingers mapped the territory of Bucky’s chest, slick and hairless -- that wasn’t him, though. Hydra had done something to him. The hair had gotten in the way of maintenance and it just hadn’t grown back. But there were other places where it was dark and curly, like some remnant of his humanity. Bucky wasn’t anyone’s puppet, not anymore. Steve traced down, until index finger rubbed lightly over one brown nipple.

Bucky arched against the touch, entirely reflexively. His hand closed over Steve’s shoulder, trying to bring him near. Steve’s skin shivered, his muscles bunched with Bucky’s every touch. Feeling empowered, Bucky leaned in, took one of those colorless nipples into his mouth, tongued it into a sharp peak. Steve curled his arms around Bucky’s head, as if to hold him right where he was.

“Oh, you like that,” Bucky murmured, a smile touching his lips. He grew bolder, more daring. His hand drifted, even as he used his lips and tongue to torture that one tiny patch of skin. Steve sucked in a breath as Bucky’s fingers ghosted over Steve’s belly. And then even lower.

Steve pushed him over, and they handed in a tangle on Bucky’s bed, Bucky was pinned under Steve’s weight, and it was the most delicious sensation. He was finally, finally there, after all his years of sacrifice, of forgetting and dreaming and remembering and imagining and wishing and wanting.

“I uh… I never actually done this before, Buck,” Steve confessed, and Bucky’s brain froze. How the hell had Steve fucking Rogers not gotten laid before? Seventy years in the ice, yes, but before that, with the USO tour, and after, with the Avengers. Bucky’d seen the press clippings and he just didn’t understand.

“Why th’ fuck not?” Which was probably not the best response to being told that the man he was about to pounce on was a virgin, but Bucky’d never been the most eloquent man.

Steve’s face went beet red. “Because I only… Buck, I was never really my own man. No one wanted me, an’ then I belonged to Project Rebirth, then to Senator Bryant, the army, and then to the whole damn country. I never belonged to myself, an’ I just didn’t want to give the last little bit of myself away to someone I didn’t love. An’ I never loved anyone else. Jus’ you, and Peggy, and both of you left me before I had a chance to change that.”

“Well, don’t I feel like a damn heel,” Bucky muttered, then pushed up on his elbow, rolling Steve over until they were both on their sides, facing each other. “An’ that’s not true, not at all. I hope you don’t believe that. I… didn’t leave you. An’ I always wanted you. Before Erskine ever clapped eyes on you. I’ve wanted you, loved you, since the first time we met.”

Bucky kissed him, trying to drive that dark doubt out of Steve’s eyes. He had to shift again, practically crawling over Steve’s chest, wishing to hell that he had two good arms. But he slid his hand down the front of Steve’s drawers and cupped that hard and heavy cock in his palm. Felt the way Steve jumped under his touch, breath coming faster. His eyes grew wide and dark. “I’ll take care of you,” Bucky promised, because even if Steve was a virgin, Bucky absolutely was not. There was a part of himself that regretted that, felt dirty and shallow for spending his passions with women and men that he didn’t feel anything for, that he didn’t wait for Steve, but he pushed that aside.

They had each other now.

“So, you like this?” Bucky let his palm ghost over Steve’s dick, feeling the way it twitched and bobbed under his hand.

“Uh-huh,” Steve said. He swallowed, hard.

“What about this?” Bucky’s fingers curled and he squeezed, gently, then stroked down to the base -- Jesus, what had the serum done to this man? Bucky risked a glance down and said, “Shuck the shorts, Rogers, wanna take a look at what you got for me.”

There wasn’t any hair there, either, which was just delicious and dirty. Bucky slid down, lipping his way down Steve’s sleek body. “Ain’t you two roarin’ handfuls?” Bucky murmured, and before Steve could say anything, he took as much of that length into his mouth as he could, sucking it back until he nearly gagged on it.

Steve made a strangled sound, his hands going to Bucky’s hair, threading through the wavy locks, pulling and tugging like he didn’t know what he wanted, just that he wanted it. Bucky let his throat relax, let Steve push in, thrusting up and in. Nothing existed in the world except the delirious sounds that Steve was making, the way he was crying Bucky’s name, mixed with utterly filthy swears that would have shocked most of the people who knew him.

When Steve was nice and wet, Bucky flopped into the cradle of Steve’s legs, getting his hand in the mix. It was hell on his neck, but it was also desperate and needy and wonderful all at the same time. His fingers twisted around the base, dandled at Steve’s balls, stroked and teased him into a fever pitch.

“There you go, you beautiful man,” Bucky said, pulling back with an obscene slurp. “There’s… uh--” and he felt his neck heating, “in the drawer, there’s slick. Steve, get it for me.”

Steve flapped one hand helplessly around, his hips moving in time to some beat or chasing some sensation that Bucky couldn’t quite reach, and then floundered and found the little jar. Bucky’d picked it up a few months back, when his sex drive started coming back to him and trying to figure out how to jerk it with the wrong damn hand was getting annoying. The slick helped ease his way for that, and would certainly work for what he wanted to do to Steve.

He went heavy on the lube, teasing and circling that little hole. Steve pushed and arched and squirmed, making soft, urgent noises and then letting his legs open before twitching away again, uncertain and jittery.

“Don’t fight it, Stevie,” Bucky crooned. “It gets better.”

“Says you,” Steve said, arching away from the intrusion, the burn and stretch of Bucky’s finger.

“I say because I know,” Bucky told him. “It’s just a bit weird, first time. Promise you, I ain’t gonna hurt you.”

“I know you won’t,” Steve said, and he ran one hand down Bucky’s cheek. Bucky slid up to claim a kiss, and licked his way into Steve’s mouth.

“There you go, baby, open up for me, just relax,” Bucky said, breaching Steve’s tight opening with one finger. He pushed in to one knuckle, then waited as Steve’s body fought him, trying to expel him. When the muscle let go, just a little, Bucky glanced up, studying Steve’s face. “How’s that feel?’ Bucky’s throat was tight, his voice rough velvet from swallowing Steve’s dick, and he was trembling inside, holding onto his impatience with mental hands. All he wanted was to raise up and push himself inside Steve’s tight, slick heat. But he couldn’t, wouldn’t do anything to Steve that he didn’t want.

“Ain’t gonna lie,” Steve said, passion and fear, desire and alarm bringing back the Brooklyn to his voice, “it’s very strange. Not… terrible.” Steve said it like it was some great concession. “But it’s… oh!” Bucky twisted his wrist, letting the rough pad of his finger drag over Steve’s rim. Steve sucked in a breath and let it go with a greedy sort of whine.

“It’s a bit strange, first time,” Bucky told him, pulling out and allowing himself a small smile when Steve whimpered at that, too. He added more lube, and this time, Steve’s body didn’t fight him so much. He was two knuckles deep before Steve even started to clench down again. He dotted Steve’s thighs and belly with soft, teasing kisses.

He knew he was making progress when Steve was rocking with him, as he slowly fucked his finger in and out of Steve’s ass. “There you are, so gorgeous,” Bucky encouraged.

Steve was moaning, twisting his hands in the blankets, sweat beading along that perfect chest, his dick thick and purple and beading precome into a sticky little pool against his belly. “‘Mon, Buck,” Steve pleaded. “Do somethin’, need somethin’.”

“Yeah, you need it, baby, I know,” Bucky told him. He pulled out again, feeling the opening flutter against him. Bucky hooked his thumb in there, tugging the rim, coaxing the muscle to let go, then came back with two fingers. “Hold on.”

“Hold on to--- Whaaaaaaaaaa-ut?” Steve’s voice spiraled up as Bucky turned his hand, found the little gland deep inside Steve’s body and rubbed it. Steve’s back was a perfect arch, hands flailing until he grabbed the blankets, yanking like he was afraid he was going to float away.

Steve’s knees came up, his thighs spread again, and his mouth opened and closed as he moaned, head tossing from side to side, unable to stay still as Bucky assaulted him with pleasure, teasing strokes and prods, drawing his hand back, and then thrusting it in until the heel of his hand was flush against Steve’s body.

“That good, honey?” Bucky asked him, and smiled against Steve’s thigh when Steve let loose a torrent of swears and affirmations, babbling mindlessly, lost to the sensation. “Think you’re ready for me, or will it hurt?”

“You won’t hurt me,” Steve said. “Nothin’ you ever do will hurt me.”

Well, that was a lie, and Bucky knew it, but he was also eager to get into Steve, to bring them both to pitch, and so he ignored it. “Steve, I,” Bucky said, “Need ya to… lube me up, honey, I can’t…” Damn it, having only one arm made this so goddamn difficult. He almost wished he’d taken up that offer on a new one, but then Steve’s hand was on him, slick with lube and Bucky couldn’t want anything else. He had to bite his cheek until he tasted blood to not come right that second as Steve stroked him over, hard and warm and slippery. “God, Steve,” Bucky exclaimed. “I can’t, I can’t… I can’t wait anymore, honey, need ya.”

“Come on, then,” Steve said.

“Guide me home,” Bucky told him, and Steve lined them up, his lip curling a little with the effort and then Bucky lurched forward, graceless, but the job was done. He was only just in, but already it was the best, perfect, heat and slick and--

Bucky’s body moved without his consent, pushing forward another inch or so, and he chewed his lip, studying Steve’s face. “This okay, honey? God, you feel so good, I… oh, Stevie.”

Steve didn’t answer, just wrapped one leg around Bucky’s hip and pulled him in. There was no going back then; it would have killed him to stop if Steve had protested. Although Bucky would willingly have died, right then, if Steve demanded it. Steve was so perfectly responsive. Bucky had never felt desire like this, immediate and overpowering. He wanted to cherish Steve and wanted to eat him up in the same moment, to ravage him and to treat him with the utmost care. He wanted to kiss and love and surround and penetrate, to thrust and trust all at the same time. To take everything that Steve was, to give over everything that he had ever been.

He could hear Steve’s moans and feel the way his inner walls clenched with the same desperation and need.

“Buck, I--”

“I know, reach for it, honey,” Bucky told him. “I cain’t do it, I don’t--” He didn’t have a hand to help, and he was so bad for Steve, he couldn’t be good, he couldn’t… Steve took himself in hand and stroked, tugging ruthlessly, faster and harder, and he was quaking like a leaf, and even if Bucky was useless, Steve was so damn good, so sweet. Steve shouted, dark and loud, crying out Bucky’s name.

He shuddered, balls drew up and he spilled himself into Steve, a white ball of pure pleasure so great that he almost passed out.

After some time, he realized that he was sprawled over Steve’s chest, sticky and sweaty, cooling come between them, over Steve’s belly and between his thighs. Bucky went to roll over, but Steve’s arms closed around his waist. “Jus’ stay a bit, Buck,” Steve murmured in his hair. “Stay.”

 

***

 Steve didn’t stay long. He never did.

Whatever compulsion kept driving him out into the world kept him from settling. The man didn’t have a home, and didn’t seem to want one.

He certainly wasn’t going to make one with Bucky as a goat herder.

Bucky always watched, as Steve went away. Leaned on the arch of his hut until Steve was out of sight, and then started counting the days until he’d come back.

But he never really came home.

Bucky tended his goats.

He ignored the state of the world. Ate dinner with the royal family sometimes. Let Princess Shuri teach him everything she was willing to share.

Steve came and went. His beard grew thick and full, his hair long and slicked back. The worry lines around his eyes and mouth grew deeper.

And one day, the King came out to visit. T’Challa had never done that before. If he wanted Bucky for some reason, he sent for him, or Shuri came to bring him up to the palace.

Bucky’s heart squeezed in dread.

When T’Challa exited the vehicle and placed a crate on the hood of the car, Bucky already knew. He didn’t have to look, although he did anyway.

Disembodied, sleek and black and touched with gold, the arm lay in the case, cradled in custom foam. It was beautiful. Elegant and deadly. And there was no other reason than T’Challa would bring this to him. It wasn’t a request. Or a gift. It was an obligation. Pick up this burden, soldier.

“Where’s the fight?”

Because it always ended in a fight.

***

There was a long moment when they thought they might have won. The aliens were finally thinning out. The leaders were dead or dying. Bucky’d made friends with a talking tree (even if it didn’t say anything comprehensible, aside from its name) and a sentient racoon, and that wasn’t even the weirdest thing that had happened all day.

Dr. Banner was in the thick of the fray, operating one of the Iron Man armors, and Bucky couldn’t help but wince every time those repulsors fired up, choking on the things he hadn’t been able to say. He would have wanted to say sorry to Stark, if he could have. But Stark was gone, he’d ended up in one of the spaceships and not come back. No one knew if he was alive or dead.

The renegades were all on the field alongside the Dora Milaje and all the various tribes of Wakanda.

The witch had landed on the field, and she, Natasha and the general had driven a huge gash through the enemy.

For a moment, they thought they might have won.

Bucky and Steve were drawn together again, as the tide of battle turned.

“Just like the old days,” Bucky said, as they ended up back to back, a dozen or more of the outriders around them, all eyeless monsters with huge mouths. They didn’t scare Bucky; he still knew who the real monsters were.

“You ain’t wrong,” Steve said.

It always ends in a fight, Bucky thought. But the fight was dying down, and he and Steve were together. And that was all that mattered. They let the outriders close in, and then wiped them out in a series of moves so ingrained, so practiced, so fluid, that the creatures were dead before they even realized it.

Bucky and Steve faced each other. Heated and sweaty, battle-weary.

“God, I love you,” Bucky said, and Steve’s face lit up, like a morning sunrise. He was so damn brilliant, so bright.

“Love you, too.” Their mouths crashed together, sweet and tender, but turning fierce. More teeth than tongue, more demanding, taking and conquering.

“Cap? He’s here,” someone said.

“Everyone on my position, we have incoming.”

“Cap, that’s him,” Bruce reported.

Steve nodded sharp. “With me, Buck.”

***

There was a deep silence.

“Where-- where did he go?” Steve was yelling, angry, fierce, and Bucky was pushing through, trying to reach him. “Where is he?”

Did you do it? A soft voice, a child, speaking, and Bucky heard it with his heart, rather than his ears.

Yes, daughter.

And what did it cost?

Everything.

Bucky didn’t know what was happening. He felt… unmoored, somehow, untethered. He burst out of the underbrush, saw Steve there, and--

“Steve?”

Everything was unwinding inside him. Like he was being called home, to some far away, unimaginable place. He felt…

Bucky always looked at Steve, when he went away.

And it always ended--