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Way Back to You

Chapter Text

The pages of the open book were rustling in the wind, turning this way and that restlessly. Steve didn’t try to catch them. He knew the book almost by heart anyway and could continue reading from any page. It was how his mom used to read to him when he was in the hospital bed again and again, just leaf through the pages till one of the paragraphs would catch her eye and the adventures would come to life in her quiet but cheerful voice. It was how he himself used to read to his mom years later when his own asthma went into complete remission and the heart surgery gave him hope for a long-ish and healthy-ish life but cancer took all the hope away from her instead. Most pages were yellowing from multiple liquids he had spilled on them as a kid – tea, medicine, even chemical experiments for school projects – and the silver letters on the cover were invisible now, with only the shallow indentations spelling ‘Captain Blood’ left behind.

He was sitting on a bench on the waterfront with just the book next to him, watching the sky slowly bloom in vivid lilacs with the sun rolling down towards the calm sea. Maracaibo was called a lake but technically it was just a bay, even if it was almost closed off from the sea by a narrow bottle-neck with a beautiful modern bridge across it. His sketchbook, hidden safely in his hotel room, held several dozens of different points of view of the bridge, the lake and even the countless lightnings that were burning the sky every night over by the Catatumbo river. It was beautiful and surreal in the best possible way. Steve couldn’t care less.

When his phone vibrated insistently in the pocket of his shorts, Steve started but still for a second contemplated just leaving it there to buzz away happily. Sam would bite his head off later for that though, so not worth it in the long run.

“Rogers,” and indeed it was Sam, because who else? It’s not like Peggy… Steve inhaled sharply and tried to concentrate on his best friend’s voice, “tell me at least you are out of your room. But also tell me you are in the SAFE, tourist-y part of that hellhole, God, when I told you to finally have some fun I meant like a normal person, going to California, Hawaii maybe, not fucking Venezuela.”

Steve chuckled fondly, “It is not that bad here, I promise. I went to see the San Carlos de la Barra Fortress today and I even took a taxi instead of cramming into public transport with the locals.”

“I am so proud of you, being all grown up and responsible and shit.” Sam didn’t sound very impressed though, “and when are you going to finally get laid? You are not the only crazy tourist in that place, go to a bar, pick up a girl, or a guy, or both? Just get out of your own head in the same way you got out of the hotel, kudos again for that, by the way.”

“I will, Sam, I promise.” Steve didn’t actually mean it when he had said it. But some minutes after Sam had ended the call he started to think of what to do with his evening anyway. He had to do something. Anything. Getting drunk sounded mildly attractive, in fact. He was so tired of mulling over his memories, maybe some liquid amnesia would do him good. But not in a bar, it was loud enough on the waterfront with all the tourists that the noise was getting to him. He got up, picked up his book and resolutely squared his narrow shoulders. How difficult could it be to get a bottle of bourbon in this place?

Barely an hour later – and it included a quick pop to his hotel room to drop off the book and get some money out of the safe – he was back on the lake shore but this time he went over the edge of the walk down on the sandy beach. It was a little cooler now with the sun dropped over the edge of the horizon, and the bottle in his hands was icy and perspiring and so nice to push against his hot cheeks. The world got a lot friendlier just a couple of chugs in. Another couple of sips and everything seemingly wrapped in cotton wool and after some more of that bourbon – that Steve was responsibly chasing down with wedges of a single orange – finally, finally, nothing hurt. Not his mom leaving him all alone all these years ago, not Peggy choosing a career in England over their dreams of a future together, nothing. God, he loved this bottle. Why did he wait for so long to get this blissfully numb? And the sand was so soft, like the most wonderful featherbed in the world, and he was just so tired, surely no one would mind if he put his head down for just a second?

When he woke up it was still dark. Although it might have already been the next night and he spent the whole day unconscious on the scorching sand, that just might explain how his head felt like a watermelon split open into a thousand pieces and put back together with a single flimsy string. The empty bottle slid from under his palm and down over a tiny sand ripple with a mocking hiss. Steve sat up and had to groan out loud at the sharp pain slicing his skull in all directions at once. Right, this was why he never drank in the first place.

It took some time to find the bottle again – why was it so dark here anyway, were all the fucking street lamps broken? – but eventually he was upright, holding his forehead with one hand and the bottle with the other. He was not about to start leaving trash behind just because he felt like shit.

The walkway to which he managed to climb up from the beach was… not paved. He could swear there had been a proper boardwalk and benches and lampposts there but now only some lonely palms were scattered around. Maybe he just walked somewhere else while barely conscious? If Steve were able to feel anything except for the still crippling headache he would start getting scared by now. Getting lost with barely any cash and his very basic Spanish wasn’t the brightest idea even in broad daylight. The city was… Steve finally looked up over some wooden two-storied buildings further away from the waterfront and blinked. There was no city. Where a couple of hours before he could see modern skyscrapers behind the smaller buildings of the bay area there was just darkness now. And not the darkness of a huge black-out, the moon was out and he would be able to see the dark outlines of concrete rectangles. If they were there at all. But there was nothing. Instead of a comparatively developed and modern city he was looking at a tiny town with some wooden and some stone houses, the tallest of which couldn’t even reach the clearly visible in the distance church bell tower.  

Steve closed his eyes carefully, inhaled, exhaled, wiped off some crust from the corners of his eyes and looked again. Nothing changed. He turned towards the water slowly, dreading the view. The bridge across the lake wasn’t there. A couple of three-master ships with the sails taken in were anchored at a small distance from the shore, rolling gently on the waves. Steve giggled. Of course. He was still asleep, that was the explanation, clear and simple. It was really unfortunate to dream of a terrible hangover – but weirder dreams had happened. He sighed with relief and went away from the shore. He might as well enjoy this dream and take a closer look at this suddenly much more attractive little town.

He had to carry the empty bottle with him all the way which was highly annoying. But there were no trash cans anywhere – they disappeared together with benches and street lamps – and Steve couldn’t make himself just toss the bottle. What if it broke, what if some kid stepped on the shards? Even in his fucking dream he just couldn’t do the wrong thing. His mom’s voice floated in his memory:

Why do you like this book so much, sweetheart? You never put up with any injustice and these characters are pirates, after all. – Mom, they are privateers, there is a difference, you don’t get it!

Raising a shaking hand to his cheek Steve was surprised to find it dry. The hangover in this dream seemed so devastatingly real it left him parched to the point of not even being able to spare any water for the tears. That settled it. Wandering stumbling along the lake, trying to take in the surroundings was all nice and well, but who knew for how long this dream would torture him? He might as well try to find some water if he could.

The dream seemed awfully friendly in that it let Steve go wherever the hell he pleased. The logical way to go was to some sort of a tavern, where the doors were flung wide open to let out clouds of tobacco smoke and loud voices. But before he could reach the stocky building he heard a plaintive cry from the alley behind it. Still not very steady on his feet, Steve went to investigate nonetheless. Sharp focus moved his own aches to the back of his mind. The scene before his eyes, clearly visible in the lights leeching from the tavern windows, wasn’t something Steve hadn’t seen before. A muscular bearded man clad only in wide leather breeches was cornering a girl in a linen blouse and long skirts. Both spoke English which surprised Steve at first but then, yeah, right, still a dream.

“Let me go, you brute, I took the wrong turn on my way home, I am not a tart,” the girl begged. The man just reached out and grabbed her by the blouse neckband.  

“Not a tart but will work for me,” he grumbled carelessly and tugged till the cloth tore, opening the creamy white of the girl’s shoulder.

“Leave her be!” Steve moved forward purposefully, his hangover all but forgotten. The man ignored him and Steve pushed him aside with both hands, the wretched bottle still clutched in one fist. The man stumbled a couple of steps away from the girl, probably more from the sheer surprise than from the actual strength of the push but Steve definitely had his attention now. He managed to duck the first blow that came his way and even landed a satisfyingly heavy punch on the bearded jaw before the man tackled him to the ground. Smashing his loyal bottle over the head of the attacker and trying to shield his face from the flying glass at the same time, Steve heard steps and shouting. In a split second before a bloodied fist smashed into his temple he had a beautiful vision of a couple of huge gorgeous eyes in a pale face above him. Then everything went dark.

Chapter Text

Steve came to with a cold wet cloth moving soothingly over his face and with the eyes still closed wondered if this would finally be the waking up in his own time. Maybe he had been found with a heat stroke on the beach and was now in hospital. The very idea tasted acrid. Steve hated hospitals.

A low rumbling chuckle brought his attention back to whoever was tending to his wounds. Steve snapped his eyes open and immediately squeezed them shut again, as much from the searing pain when the cloth moved over the gash on his temple as from pure disbelief. Men that gorgeous couldn’t possibly exist in real life. So, yeah, back to the dream. What an endless dream, Steve mused, cracking one eye open carefully. What the hell was in that bourbon to make him dream like that?

Squinting at the sight in front of him, Steve decided he didn’t care. If he needed to drink a whole bottle of hard spirit to see a man like this he was swearing off the sobriety forever. The marvellous vision was tall and broad-shouldered. There had been an obvious attempt to haphazardly tie back long dark curls which didn’t impede them from gently framing the most beautiful face Steve had ever seen. Smiling silvery-blue eyes drew him in and made him open the other eye to make sure he was seeing them right. He slid his gaze along the straight nose of the stranger down to his plump pale pink lips and felt the blood rushing through his body to all his… extremities.

The stranger smiled at Steve kindly and the rush of blood turned into torrential rainfall inside his veins.

“You are one tough bastard,” the stranger offered, picking up Steve’s right hand and starting on the caked blood on the knuckles with the wet cloth. Steve tried to keep manfully silent but had to suck air through his teeth sharply to keep himself from whimpering. The stranger chuckled again, and the rough dark sound moved across Steve’s nerves like a blade wrapped in velvet. “That idiot you almost scalped with the broken bottle was from Rumlow’s crew. We only partnered with them for this one job, the Winter alone wouldn’t carry that much cargo. None of my own men would ever try to do something like that to a girl who doesn’t want them to. No, sir, Nat’s establishment is more than enough for them. It’s all about discipline, you see. ”

He sighed, moved to dip the cloth in a basin of water next to the bed. Steve wondered how exactly he got into this tiny room with empty walls, one narrow window with the shutters down and a huge and pretty comfortable bed. Did the handsome stranger carry him here in his arms?

“Wow, you sure can blush,” the stranger laughed, “hope that moron didn’t damage something permanently.” He lifted a thick eyebrow inquiringly, “Like your ability to speak? Say something, pal. What’s your name?”

Steve opened his mouth and croaked. Right, he had been thirsty for all eternity before he even got into a fight. Thankfully, the stranger got the idea pretty quickly. He pulled a small leather flask off his belt, unstopped it and lifted to Steve’s lips. Making slow steady sips Steve took a chance to get a better look at the rest of the stranger. He was dressed in simple black linen breeches and white shirt with laces that were open almost all the way, providing an incredible view of elegantly curved clavicles and a muscular chest covered with sparse dark hair. Steve’s eyes caught on one flat nipple almost visible in the folds of the cloth and he inhaled the water he was attempting to swallow.

“Don’t hurt yourself even more,” the man took the flask away quickly and helped Steve to sit up, his strong large hands propping him up on the bed easily, rubbing lightly across his heaving chest as if helping him to calm his breaths. Steve couldn’t help but imagine the slender fingers sliding lower, onto his own flat belly and down, down… No, no, stop, this man was most probably straight as an arrow, what was he even thinking.

It took him another embarrassing moment to gather his wits enough to scoot back, away from the gentle hands. The stranger moved back to his chair as well, respectful of the distance. Steve took some calming breaths and eventually felt ready to try speaking again.

“It’s Steve,” he mumbled bashfully, “my name is Steve. I am… erm…” think think think, “kind of lost.”

“Thought it was something like that,” the stranger nodded, “I am James Barnes, the Winter’s Captain, but my friends call me Bucky.” Steve smiled widely at that and the stranger, no, Captain, no, Bucky looked as if he didn’t expect himself to divulge that interesting piece of information about himself at all but it somehow slipped out. He shook his head, curling his lips self-deprecatingly, and stood up. “Rest for as long as you need, Steve, then come join us downstairs. Today it’s just my crew down there, Rumlow and his idiots are back on their Hydra.”

Bucky walked to the door, his long legs carrying him in wide easy strides. With his hand on the door handle he paused and looked back at Steve. “Oh and your clothes are all covered in blood – weird clothes by the way, not that I care – so I brought up some of Morita’s spare ones, he seems to be about the same height as you. There’s more water in that jug next to the basin too, if you feel like freshening up.” Bucky winked and disappeared behind the door before Steve could stop spluttering.

Relatively clean and dressed in slightly baggy trousers and a shirt of undyed cotton, Steve spent several minutes in front of the closed door, nervously attempting to straighten his hair. Finally the wish to see Bucky again won over his insecurity and he pushed the door open resolutely.

Downstairs was a giant hall with heavy-set wooden tables and benches, full of men, drinking, talking and laughing. Scantily clad women were flitting around with trays, smiling generously. A breathtakingly beautiful red-head was tending the bar but Steve caught one extremely watchful steely glance from her and felt she had to be more than just a barmaid. Bucky was sitting at a table in the corner closer to the open doors where the air was sweeter. Navigating his way over to his table Steve thanked anyone above who was listening for his asthma not bothering him anymore, otherwise it would have definitely flared up in the hall where the air was more pure smoke than anything else and the very walls were darkened from it.

Bucky wasn’t alone at his table but his companions looked at Steve without any open hostility, they seemed curious and friendly. A burly man with an exuberant ginger moustache and a ridiculous bowler hat even went as far as to stand up, slap him on the back and roar, “Well done, you! Hey, guys, that’s the kid who gave good old Rollins a piece of his mind.” The others cheered enthusiastically and raised their mugs. The bowler hat owner dragged another chair to the table for Steve, dropped him onto it and returned to his own seat. Bucky pushed a spare mug with ale into Steve’s hands and looked at him askance, both brows raised, clearly inviting him to drink with them. The hangover that was biding its time in a tiny corner of Steve’s head reared up happily. “Hair of the dog,” Steve muttered and took a tiny sip. The ale was surprisingly tasty and not too strong.

“Natasha brews it herself,” Bucky’s voice sounded so close to Steve’s ear that he almost felt the lips on his skin. Goosebumps flooded his upper arms and his hair made a valiant attempt to literally stand on end. He met Bucky’s eyes, the Captain was looking at him but pointing at the red-head behind the bar. “We keep asking her to move the establishment to Tortuga but she is in love with the fucking Maracaybo.”

“Well and the fact that the local governor is under her heel doesn’t hurt,” a refined gentleman with a pencil moustache added from Bucky’s other side. Captain chuckled, “That too.” He gestured at the left side of the table where the pencil-moustache, the ginger and another tall man with a wide sincere smile were sitting, “That’s Monty, Dum-Dum and Gabe, my officers.”  His hand moved to the right side of the table, “And that’s Morita, our medic, and Dernier, our gunner.”

“It’s not just cannons, mind, it’s anything that goes ‘boom’,” Gabe smacked Dernier, who was raising his eyes to the sky and for all intents and purposes looked like a God's own angel, on the shoulder and grinned even wider. Morita snickered and immediately asked if he could check the gash on Steve’s temple.

Steve felt incredibly warm and comfortable, sitting there and listening to the guys bickering on. Bucky kept murmuring funny and wicked comments directly into his ear and with the tipsiness spreading inadvertently through his very bones, no matter how slowly he sipped his ale, Steve felt absolutely, thoroughly happy. This was the best dream ever. He wished he would never wake up ever again.

“Hey fellas,” the most charming bartender in the world brought them the next round herself. Steve suddenly worried if she would like him, as if that was some sort of final acceptance test. But she looked him in the eye and obviously found something that satisfied her enough to put one mug in front of him as well. “Drink up,” she smiled, “a knight in shining armour like you needs to replenish his strength.”

Steve watched her go dumbly while the guys chortled and sniggered. Bucky threw an arm over his shoulders easily, “That’s just how Natasha is, but hey, she likes you!”

There was a strange forced note in Bucky’s chuckle after that and Steve looked up at him with clear worry. The Captain only shook his head. “Don’t mind me. Just thinking about this slight pickle we’re in, see.”

The guys groaned. Morita said quietly, “We still have time, Cap, we will think of something.”

Bucky pressed his lips into a sombre line, “Yeah, we have time till Rumlow does something stupid.”

A skinny teenager ran into the tavern at that and skidded to a halt, looking for someone desperately. He noticed Bucky and shouted, “Captain, it’s Rumlow! He’s at the town square with his men!”

Bucky dropped his face into his hands, “Jinxed it, didn’t I?”

Steve watched with fascination as relaxed, slightly drunk men transformed into disciplined well-armed soldiers who got up readily and followed their Captain outside. And even though Bucky whispered at him to stay with Natasha, Steve was not going to stay behind when something serious was about to happen. It was his dream, after all. He could do as he damn well pleased.

The fact that Natasha followed him and eventually directed him to the town square herself just proved Steve right. She also tugged him up onto the steps of the church with her; if not for that Steve might have been lost in the sea of men with no clear view of what was happening. Waves of testosterone were clashing in the air. There were a couple of hundred men on both sides with Bucky and Rumlow with their respective officers in the middle of the square, standing toe to toe.

Steve couldn’t help but enjoy the view. Rough and bristling Rumlow, with the face that looked as if it was cut from stone but almost foaming at the mouth with anger was a perfect counterpoint for deadly calm, perfectly composed Bucky. At some point when Steve wasn’t looking Captain Barnes threw an elegant waistcoat over his shirt and buttoned it all the way up, essentially wrapping his broad chest in expensive thick black fabric, while his slim hips were hugged by a leather belt with a sinister-looking rapier hanging from it. He looked bored. Steve expected him to start polishing his nails at any moment now.

“You led us into a trap,” Rumlow shouted, “you made us wait till your friend the governor was gathering the ransom! We could have gutted the town and be long gone with the spoils!”

“Do I have to remind you,” Bucky countered lazily, “that it was you who ran your ship, the Shield, aground on the shoal in the middle of the lake? You wouldn’t take any help with the navigation, no, you’re the smartest of them all. Results? We spent three days getting your men and gear off the ship in canoes. We would have had plenty of time to leave the lake before the Spanish ships arrived and closed off the bottle-neck if we didn’t have to save your stupid asses.”

Rumlow tried to growl but it sounded more like a wheeze. His crew looked suddenly as if they weren’t really with him, rather on an unrelated walk to take the fresh air. He wouldn’t give up so quickly though, “You know those Spaniards are here primarily because of you. Admiral Pierce hates your guts ever since you killed his younger brother.”

Steve gasped quietly. Natasha bent her neck gracefully to speak to him in a low whisper without having to take her eyes off the scene in front of them, “Bucky was sold into slavery to Pierce’s brother. He escaped and took his officers, who used to be his fellow slaves, with him. Months later they captured Pierce Junior’s ship but then were surrounded by the Spaniards. Bucky told Dernier to tie Pierce's brother to a cannon and used that as leverage to make their way out of the trap. He fully intended to let the man go, as he had promised, later but he couldn’t.”

Natasha turned suddenly to look at Steve, grim satisfaction in her eyes, “Pierce Junior literally died of fear hanging on the ropes off a cannon. If you ever see Bucky’s scars you will understand how I can’t quite manage to be sad about it.” Steve gulped, not sure what to say, and she turned away from him again.

Bucky nodded at Rumlow, “Admiral Pierce agreed to let out to sea anyone who surrenders their part of the bounty we have taken here. If you are so scared you are welcome to take nothing but your sorry ass and get the hell out. We will provide a sloop for you and anyone else who might wish to join you. ”

Rumlow might have been a coward but his greed was even stronger than his fear. He looked at his officers, saw they were thinking along the same lines and snarled, “Fine, we are staying. But you better come up with a good plan and soon, you know there are already three ships outside the bay, and two more are on their way. If they arrive there is definitely no way for us to fight through.”

Bucky smiled coldly, “How fortunate for us to indeed have a plan. I will work out the tasks for each crew and we shall reconvene in the ‘Red Room’ tavern at the sunset to discuss.”

Steve looked at the sky and realized it was about noon. He must have been unconscious almost the whole night then, since when he came down to the tavern it was light outside already. He never even noticed. But that was natural in dreams, not to notice the passage of time, right?

Natasha led Steve back to the tavern in time for them to see Bucky and his officers around a huge table in what Natasha claimed to be her office but looked like just another tiny room upstairs. The door was open and they lingered at the threshold.

“It is a desperate plan,” Monty shook his head slowly, looking at the map on the table where between two long narrow islands lay the only passage out to sea from the bottle-neck of the lake. A huge fort on the eastern part of one of the islands was guarding the only part of the passage that was deep enough for ships. It had been abandoned when they entered the lake. Only the Spanish ships were standing in the way, anchored across the passage.

“Indeed it is,” Bucky said, “but I’ve done things even more desperate.” He looked grim but determined. Steve wanted to hug him and never let go. He watched the man dreamily and listened to his plan with barely half a mind. Then something jolted him to full attention. This was the wrong plan.

Bucky wanted to build an improvised fire-ship out of the larger sloop of the two they had. It would be stripped down to its bare shell and packed with explosives, then a small crew of reckless daredevils with Dernier at the helm would lead it to the passage. The Winter, Bucky’s flagship, and the Hydra will follow, and the smaller sloop with most of the bounty will go last. They will go at dawn, Dernier and his men will light up the fire-ship and jump off it into the water where a longboat from the Winter will pick them up. The explosions and fire will take at least one ship and then it will be a more or less equal fight, two on two. Or it would be if not for the fact that the Spanish ships had more men and more cannons than the Winter and the Hydra put together. And also a tiny little fact that the fort wasn’t abandoned anymore.

“No, God, please, no!” Steve heard himself cry out. There was a moment of unbearable embarrassment when everyone looked at him with similar expressions of what-the-hell-is-the-kid-doing-here and Bucky was already opening his mouth to – probably – definitely – tell him off for intruding but he still kept going, “please, I know, you barely know me, you don’t have to trust me, but I just know this plan isn’t going to work.” Now Bucky looked betrayed and oh boy, did it hurt. Still he barrelled on, “Just let me explain, please, literally five minutes, I will explain, there is a better plan, I swear.”

Bucky’s face was frozen over, his officers looked exasperated and Steve felt like he was drowning, they wouldn’t listen, they would go and get a lot of their crewmates killed and the ships damaged, and then later Bucky would have a better idea himself but so many people would have died already, and if only they would let him tell them what he had read in his favourite book time and time again, year after year, it would be so easy to avoid all this mess.

A light hand landed on his shoulder, red curls swayed smoothly. “James,” she said, “give Steve a chance to explain.” The layer of ice on Bucky’s face seemed to only deepen at that and Steve sank his head into his shoulders in despair. Then something cracked wide open in Bucky’s eyes and he inclined his head. “I am listening.”

Chapter Text

Steve’s plan was accepted unanimously and relayed to Rumlow and officers from the Hydra with great flourish. Rumlow, who was not a complete asshole after all, was quick to apologize and rush off to prepare but they had been getting ready for days by then so there wasn’t that much to do. They were to sail tomorrow. Steve was passed along from one table to another like a tipsy little mascot, everyone wanted to drink his health or shake his hand or just chat for a bit. He smiled, nodded and after a while started to drink water from an ale mug. He kept breaking into cold sweat thinking he might have made a mistake somewhere, somehow, but then Gabe returned from a little reconnaissance and confirmed Steve’s words. It made him feel a bit better.

What didn’t feel good at all, however, was that Bucky was busy the whole rest of the day and even now, with all the preparations for tomorrow completed, when the crews were carefully celebrating, taking care not to overindulge, Captain Barnes was nowhere to be seen.

Natasha took pity on Steve eventually, noticing, like she noticed everything, him desperately looking for someone in the joyous crowd and beckoned him to the stairs. “He is still working on the plan,” she said, “or rather working himself into a pointless frenzy going over it again and again. That’s what he always does. He could use a distraction. Go.” Steve went pale then blushed deeply but dragged his feet upstairs. It was still his dream, right? So nothing bad could happen? And tomorrow Bucky would be gone, so it was now or never, right?

He paused in front of the door and listened to his own heart, really listened. It’s been more than a year since Peggy but he had to be absolutely sure. Be it a dream or reality, neither Bucky nor he himself deserved the shallowness of a rebound fuck. Steve listened to his heart and he got his answer, loud and clear.

He knocked too many times at once because his hand was shaking but there was no answer. He knocked again, then plucked up his courage and pushed the door open. Bucky was sitting at the table, his head in his hands. He didn’t look asleep and he didn’t ask Steve to leave. So Steve closed the door behind him, then looked at it carefully and pushed the bolt closed too. Metal screeched across metal loudly and Bucky raised his head.

“What are you doing?” he asked bleakly when Steve came closer and pushed at his shoulder insistently, making him move away from the table together with the chair. The legs of the chair scraped the floor heavily as Bucky obeyed, but he was still looking dazed, uncomprehending.

“You can’t go on like that, you will get yourself killed,” Steve blurted, “you need to relax. Just let me…”

He dropped on his knees so fast he winced from the impact. His hands were sliding up Bucky’s muscular thighs with intent, his eyes pleading. Bucky sat still, a perfect marble statue of an ancient god and worshipping at his feet Steve felt inadequate and insecure. So he hedged, “You can close your eyes if you don’t want me but you need the release, just let me, please let me make you feel good.”

The silvery blue of Bucky’s eyes flooded with black. “Why would you say I don’t want you?” he asked hoarsely, “How could I not want you?” He bent forward and his lips met Steve’s, hot and insistent. When Steve felt Bucky’s wet tongue inch its way inside his mouth for the first time he almost came on the spot. Their lips moved together, crashing and meeting like waves, scalding like branding irons. This was when Steve knew, dream or not, he belonged to Bucky. This night was all they were going to have but Steve would make his damn best to make it count. He made himself move from Bucky’s lips down over his sharp jaw to the long column of his neck but he couldn’t stay away from his lips that long and had to go back. Bucky moaned, one hand deep in Steve’s tousled strands, the other wandering across his skinny back, unmoored, searching. He found what he was looking for by grabbing the hem of Steve’s borrowed shirt and tugging it off. They had to stop kissing for the shirt to go off and both groaned in dismay, a discordant duet, it was unacceptable, they should never have their lips apart, not even for a second, not anymore.

But then Steve’s hand, doing some wandering of its own, found the scorching hot hard line of Bucky’s cock and Bucky gasped and Steve had to move. Apparently the only thing better than kissing Bucky was having Bucky in his mouth, right now, this very minute. He pushed Bucky up into his chair and crawled closer, slotting himself between his knees, unlacing his breeches with shaking hands, impatient, hungry. When the swollen dusky pink cock was finally in his palm Steve moaned just from feeling the voluptuous heavy length slide through the loose circle of his fingers. Bucky looked wild above him, hair blown in all directions from where he dragged his own shirt off, muscles straining under his skin as he tried to keep his palms on his thighs, just letting himself feel, visibly drinking in the sight of Steve on his knees with his wet lips opening to swallow down the already slick flared head of his cock. Steve felt wanton and unbearably hot under that intense gaze, with the most intimate taste of Bucky’s precome rich and salty on his tongue. He couldn’t get enough, licking under the ridge, dipping the end of his tongue into the slit, rolling his lips over the head again and again.  Bucky lost his control completely when Steve’s mouth slid down his shaft almost to the base, he jerked and buried his hands deep in Steve’s hair but managed not to grab hard, just cupped his head gently. Steve moaned at the feeling and could tell by the muscles in front of him getting taut like strings that the sound reverberated in the deepest core of Bucky’s body, dragging him to the very edge of bliss.

“Wait,” Bucky panted, guiding Steve’s head off his cock, “I have to feel you. All of you.” Steve looked up, his lips feeling swollen and wet, and Bucky moved to kiss him again, but the determination on his face let Steve know he was on a mission now and he wouldn’t let them stall. Moreover in order to move he didn’t have to stop kissing Steve, it seemed. Steve went easily, first up, off his knees, then to the farther end of the room where he hadn’t noticed a discreet screen from a thick fabric hiding a doorway to another, even smaller room, more of a converted closet, which was basically just walls around a giant bed.

“Is it…” Steve mumbled without letting go of Bucky’s lips, “should we really…”

“Yes, it’s Nat’s room,” Bucky rasped, trying to pull off Steve’s breeches all the way while still kissing him. With a growl he had to let go and pushed Steve down, then in a fluid movement managed to pull the rest of Steve’s clothes off and get rid of his own breeches likewise. He paused for a second then, glorious, lean and strong, with thick white ropes of scars all over his left shoulder, but standing unashamed in front of Steve and looking at him with the hunger that to Steve looked like an exact mirror image of his own. “But if she didn’t want us to use the bed she wouldn’t have sent you up here.”

“Oh,” was all that Steve managed before his whole body was covered with scorching pure joy that was the naked Bucky. He spread his thighs apart, wrapping his legs around the chiselled waist and arching up to make sure there was not an inch of him that was not touching Bucky. He wanted to absorb Bucky through his pores and overflow with him. Bucky moved his hips carefully until their cocks aligned, and both gasped happily into each other’s mouths. Steve searched blindly for Bucky’s hand and brought it up to his mouth. When it was thoroughly wet with his spit, he pushed it down and guided it till it was wrapped tightly around both their lengths. And then there were just slow overwhelming thrusts for as long as they could stand it, and kisses that were more gusts of shared air mixed with moans floating between their lips, the lips that wandered to necks and shoulders but always, always came back to press together again.

“Buck,” Steve groaned when the sweetest torture of slow was too much and not enough finally, “Bucky, I have to…”

“I’ve got you, Stevie,” Bucky whispered, his hand and hips both starting to move faster, bringing them both closer to the edge, “let go.”

And they both fell, and they flew, and Steve maybe sobbed a little but Bucky’s lips made sure his eyelashes ended up dry, and it lasted forever and one single moment, until all that was left were just the two of them, pressed close together, under a cool sheet.

“That’s why I went to sea, you know,” Bucky’s voice was so low Steve could barely catch the words. “What was that, Buck?”

“This,” Bucky gestured wearily between them and Steve suddenly understood. Bucky sighed, “My dad is very rich and I was the sole male heir. He said he didn’t care who I loved as long as I married and produced a new heir in due time. But I didn’t want to make some poor girl unhappy.” He moved his fingertips across Steve’s cheekbone, barely there, like a dandelion seed tossed at his skin by the wind.

“So I ran away, the ship got captured, I was sold into slavery, then ran away again, this time with my guys. And the Brotherhood of the Seas is where I found the freedom I was looking for. Because they say, you love who you love; and the sea loves all its children. We helped each other out sometimes, me and Monty, sometimes Morita too. But it was never like it is with you, Stevie. With you it feels like this is where I belong.”

He sighed again and moved Steve closer, wrapping around him like an overly hot blanket. “I’ve got to get my guys out, you know that, Stevie, don’t you? And it's just not safe for you to come with us now, when it all still might end up in a bloodbath.”

“I know, Buck,” Steve murmured, somehow managing to squeeze the words out despite the lump in his throat, “I know. But you have to know, I feel like I belong with you too. If I could I would stay with you till the end of the line.”

“Till the end of the line,” Bucky pressed his lips to Steve’s nape and stayed there, slow breaths soaking into his skin, waking up the butterflies in Steve’s belly and sending the flocks of goosebumps careening down his limbs. Steve’s eyes were shut carefully but the pillow got wet anyway. He felt so tired all of a sudden, the past two days catching up with his mind and his body all at once, and sleep claimed him effortlessly there, in the secure circle of Bucky’s arms. And maybe, since it was his own dream, after all, he let himself believe he did really hear Bucky add very quietly, “I will find a way back to you.”

***

Steve woke up alone the next morning, when the sun was already high. He dressed himself somehow, dragged his fingers through his hair, managed not to cry and not to fall over on the way downstairs. Natasha greeted him with a cup of strong coffee and an almost sympathetic look which made everything so much worse.

“They are right in the middle of it,” was all she said, and Steve dragged himself to the waterfront to look at the tiny set of shining white sails being taken in farther away, where the islands crossed the way out to the sea. He didn’t need binoculars to know what was going on. He knew both ships and both sloops went out to the passage, each ship with three large canoes towed astern. They cast anchor close enough that the Spaniards could see them, but just out of the range of their cannons. And then the canoes went to the shore one by one, full of armed men, reaching the island at a carefully selected bay that curved inwards in a way to hide the landing site from the eyes of the people in the fort. The canoes left the bay and went back empty. They went to the shore again, full of men. The Spaniards laughed, they knew the pirates had fewer men and weapons so the attack on the fort from the side of the island didn’t scare them. At first.

As time went on, more and more people went to the island. And yet more. The Spaniards started worrying, then they started arguing. Then they were terrified. There were at least twice as many pirates on the island than they though Captain Barnes even had under his command.

So in the last hours before the sunset, the Spaniards did exactly what Steve had told Bucky they would do – they started to move their people and cannons from the side of the fort facing the passage to the open sea to the other side, facing the land. They cursed and sweated and managed to move all the cannons and people just as the darkness fell on Maracaybo.

Steve went and stole a bottle of rum from a shelf behind Natasha’s bar. He was pretty sure she noticed but he didn’t have any strength left to care. His dream was ending, he was absolutely sure of it. There were absolutely no pirates or weapons on the island, in fact. Zero. When the canoes went to the island people were sitting and standing in them. When the canoes went back, the same people were lying down on the bottoms of the boats.

So as Steve was drinking his rum on the sandy beach in the darkness, Captain Barnes’s fleet weighed anchor. The sails spread were the bare minimum to allow them to steer, and even those were painted black. Steve could hear the horrible explosion of defeated fury as the Spaniards realized the pirates were sailing past the fort. The Winter, as the ebb tide carried her past the fort, emptied her guns into it, like a nasty farewell. They got away. Steve was happy for them. Very happy.

As he finished the bottle nothing hurt anymore. The cool sand looked very attractive. He would just lie down for a moment there. And tomorrow he would wake up from his amazing but sadly not everlasting dream and tell Sam all about it on the phone.

***

Steve woke up to the blinding sun and gentle hands cradling his head.

“Natasha told me you were on the beach,” Bucky put a wet cloth across Steve’s forehead and let some drops of water fall between his hot cracked lips. Steve coughed a little, then grabbed the flask and poured water down his parched throat. Then he realized the sand below him was moving. Then he realized it wasn’t sand. A blond guy paddling the canoe waved at Steve cheerfully.

“A friend of Nat’s, knows how to go through the shallow straits between the islands at the mouth of the lake so that the canoe can not be seen from the fort. The ships are waiting for us in a safe place, should get there in a couple of hours,” Bucky explained, taking the empty flask from Steve and pushing another, full one, into his hands. “You should consider drinking a bit less, pal.”

“How?” Steve croaked, staring up at Bucky with pure adoration he didn’t even bother hiding. Bucky shrugged and looked down with the exact same expression, “Told you I would find a way back to you.”