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I: Bucky

The notes rang out on the clear summer night, slow, sensuous, sweet. He was sweaty from dancing all night, dog-tired from working at the dock in the blistering sun, and half-drunk from the chasers and beer he’d been downing all evening. He just needed a break, something to take the edge off. A pretty blonde with pin-curled ringlets had been trying to catch his eye all night, and so he figured what the hell?

It was a pretty picture, little round bulbs on a string all around the dance area, like fairy lights in a picture book. The school gymnasium was dolled up as a USO club, and couples swayed, danced, groped their way across the big space, spilling out into the black-topped school yard where more couples did the same thing out where a scrap of breeze might cool their skin.

They couldn’t see him as he let her lead him past the teeter-totter into the dark of the trees beyond the school, picking a big old oak to press him against and kiss him like she was going to pull his tonsils out of his throat. He returned the favor with interest, reveling in the little sounds she made as he enthusiastically returned the kiss. He growled as she practically climbed him, dry humping his groin as he gripped her ass cheeks to hold her against him. She whined against his mouth and commanded, “You can’t put that thing in me but you can lick me.”

He spun her around to press her against the tree, rubbing his hardening cock against her groin to give himself a little spark. So what if it wasn’t her sex he was thinking about when he pressed close, dragging his dick across her slowly, deliberately, hungrily. She pressed her hands down on his shoulders and he grinned a lopsided grin and nodded.

He dropped to his knees and lifted her skirt. He could see the creamy white of her thighs by the barely-there light filtering through the trees from the dance. He glanced up at her face and grinned to himself. Her head was already thrown back in anticipation of what he was about to do to her, her lips parted, panting a little. Damn, he just hoped she wasn’t a screamer.

He slid his hand between her legs and sniffed; she smelled of rosewater, soap, and sex. Some girls didn’t know how to stay clean down there, and there was no way he’d want to do anything with them. This girl – Betty something? – she came ready for action. As he massaged her cooch through her panties, he felt the wetness grow and smiled to himself. This was something he was good at

Deftly, he flicked the panties out of the way and pressed his face into her wetness, tongue flicking out, lapping against the hard little knob between the fleshy pussy lips, but it wasn’t hers he imagined as he sucked her little thing into his mouth. It wasn’t her gasps that filled his ears. It wasn’t her slick that he tasted on his tongue. She was breathing hard, pressing down on the crown of his head with the heel of her hand, long fingernails digging into his scalp. He reveled in the pain, letting it heighten his fantasy, and his fantasy drove right toward his hard-on. He wrapped his hands around her thighs as she bucked against his face – fucked his face – and he kept licking as her gasps grew higher and higher pitched. Finally she tensed, shivering all over like she’d been dumped in the deep freeze. Her breath hitched as she panted faster and faster until she held her breath for a long, shuddering moment and then sighed out a satisfied, “Ahhhhhh.”

He let her drown in the sensation for a moment, then stood up, guiding her hand to his crotch and his swollen cock. “My turn,” he breathed, pressing her manicured fingers against his length through his trousers, and massaged her hand to show her what he wanted. He leaned in to kiss her, lips still swollen and damp with her juices. She looked up at him, lids half closed, her face full of a sated, self-satisfied smile, and licked across his lips, tasting herself on his mouth. Her hand started moving on its own, pressing and probing while she continued to look at him with her eyes blown wide, and Bucky found himself grinding into her hand, clasping her free hand and guiding it to his belt buckle.

She was smiling as she took her hand off his dick and undid his buckle, pulled the belt open, and unzipped his fly. He pressed hard against her and she slid her hand down his pants and palmed his cock through his boxers, rubbing up and down as he crushed his mouth against hers.

He slid his hands over her shoulders and pressed downward, whispering, “You know what I need, doll.”

She held his eyes and drew her tongue languorously across her sex-bitten lower lip, a brighter, prettier red than anything out of a tube. He smiled as she slowly dropped lower, her hands in his pants working wonders with his dick. He felt her mouth, all hot and wet, move over his shorts, felt his dick twitch in hello. He could close his eyes and pretend they were someone else’s hands, someone else’s mouth. It didn’t count when it was a girl doing him, he couldn’t be held accountable then. Didn’t have to feel guilty.

“Betty! Betty Philips, where are you?” called out a girl’s voice from back at the dance, high and insistent. “Betty, we gotta get home – your Momma’s gonna be waitin’ up for us!”

Betty popped up, shrugged apologetically, and yelled out, “Be right there!” She planted a quick, sloppy kiss on his lips and was gone, leaving him groaning and cursing with the pain of his hard-on, his dick half hanging out of his pants.

He turned around and sank down against the tree, shoving his hand down his pants and jerked off hard and fast, now that he was by himself trying not to imagine whose hand he really wanted on his cock, whose voice he wanted to whisper encouragement, endearments, entreaties in his ear. He tried, but he couldn’t; his imagination was full of the one he really wanted. He came, but he still had a dull ache in his crotch, his belly, and bigger hole in his heart. He slammed his head back against the tree repeatedly, hoping to knock some sense into himself, or knock himself out, he wasn’t exactly sure. Finally he stopped, wiped off his hand, zipped his fly, and lurched to his feet.

“Fuck,” he swore. “I need a drink.”

***

Two hours in a taproom downing cheap whiskey and the occasional beer – boilermakers if he did ‘em in the right order – and Bucky was barely able to walk, but the ache was still there. And the ache had been joined by longing. Longing to be open about his feelings, longing to say what he felt, love who he loved. But it was 1941, and it was a bigger risk than he was willing to take. Oh, he could handle the bullies and the hard men, but not … not him. As scrappy as they come, he was still no match for the men who hated, the men who hit, the men who would brutalize and kill anyone they saw as different. He couldn’t be different. He wouldn’t let him be seen as different. He was too precious. He was like no one else.

He tapped the bar one more time, signaling the bartender to fill his shot glass again. He peeled off a couple of bills, bills he’d worked long and hard to earn, and tossed them on the bar and then lifted his glass, considering the amber liquid for a long moment. To anyone watching, he probably looked like an alky, but the fact was he was praying. Praying this last glass dulled the need, or better, took it away. No, he didn’t want to lose it entirely, that would make breathing just plain impossible. Bury it, put it to sleep, let him lock it away so that he could choose when to bring it out, like a gift or a treasure. Something to be cherished instead of feared.

He knocked back the whiskey, feeling it sear his throat as it travelled down, warming his belly and making the world just a little fuzzier. A glance at the bartender confirmed his suspicion – that was it, he was cut off. Sketching a sort of salute at the bartender, he smiled tightly and stumbled toward the door. As he fumbled with the latch, he hoped that last drink was on delayed reaction, that he’d be drunker by the time he got home, that his desire would be snuffed out, that all he’d be good for would be falling face first into bed, and nothing more. He needed to be good for nothing. He needed not to need. Goddammit, he was one big fucking bag of need.

He dragged his ass home, praying for oblivion, for dysfunction, for a sudden snowstorm to whisk away the heat and the muggy. Anything to quell the rising tide of desire he felt spreading through his crotch and legs again, spiking up his spine. The delicious anticipation. He wasn’t even aware of how his tongue flicked over his lips, moistening them in preparation for a kiss he was determined he couldn’t have. Shouldn’t have. Couldn’t live another minute without. Would die if he didn’t have it. Was going to hell over. Didn’t care. Welcomed damnation.

His steps took him past the alley where he’d sometimes see, hear mostly, some queer sucking off another guy, muted sounds of lust and desperation. Hurried, fearful. With good reason, too. Beyond even what the coppers would do. More’n once he’d seen or heard of bullies, gangs, going after a faggot, dragging him out of the alley and beating him senseless, putting him in the hospital, nearly leaving him for dead. Bucky’d found old man Stephens that way a coupla months ago, sweet old guy, apparently been with his “roommate” since the Great War, lived in the same block as they did, down the next floor. He’d been afraid to get involved, afraid those bullies might have looked a little too closely at him and … well, him. Couldn’t risk it. Would never risk it. Would rather die himself than risk it.

And God help him if a cop got wind of it. Of them. Of him. Throw them in the slammer for public indecency, God knows what else. The very idea of him in prison, with goons with big hands and bigger appetites, with hard men full of hatred for “fairies” and “fags” and “queers” … the bile threatened to overtake him and spew out in the gutter. He wouldn’t survive, it was that simple. He’d be snuffed out of this life without fanfare, and the light would go out of Bucky’s life. Bucky would surely follow him into nothingness. ‘Cause there weren’t no heaven for somebody like him.

But he couldn’t let the guy bleed out in the gutter like that, either, so he’d told Mrs. Carson he’d heard something funny and it’d scared him, so he’d run home for help. She’d been doubtful, but she’d called her son the fireman, and that had saved Mr. Stephens’ life. A few weeks later, he and his roommate had moved out of the neighborhood. He’d never forget the frightened looks on their faces as they’d bundled their meager belongings in the back of an old Nash and drove away, just last week.

So he stepped out with girls, and tried to sate the hunger between their legs, in their mouths, so when he came home, he’d be too spent to want.

And he drank a little too much and stayed out well past his bedtime so maybe he’d be too numb or too bone-tired to want.

And he volunteered for extra shifts at the docks to justify not coming home at all, ‘cause coming home meant he’d be there, and that just made him want all the more. Be easier if he just took off. But he couldn’t feature being anywhere else. Would never leave him. Would rather be dead than leave him.

Maybe he should just go under the trestle and spend the night there, wait ‘til the sun came up and haul ass back to the dock – guys’d think he’d shacked up with some dame overnight, he smelled of sex after all, he probably had pussy-burn on his face, he could pull it off and be congratulated for his pains. But this was Friday and tomorrow was Saturday, and there was no shift to go to, not this weekend. Ever since Roosevelt signed it into law, weekend hours were harder to come by, scooped up by the older guys with seniority. So his steps brought him to the source of all his pain, all his delight, all his terror and all his hope. He was home.

He pressed his forehead against the peeling paint of the front door, gripping the doorknob to keep himself from falling down. Through the alcohol haze, he could feel the heat rising, the blood pooling, and he knew that everything he’d done tonight to keep the beast at bay was for nothing. He was drowning in need, and when Steve opened the door and frowned up at him with concern and consternation, Bucky was beyond all hope.

***

“Aw, Buck, you stink!” Steve complained, getting his slight shoulders in under Bucky’s armpit and guiding him through the small parlor of their apartment to the bedroom they shared. “What’d’ja do, roll around the floor of that bar before you came home? Geeze, you can’t wait ‘til tomorrow night for your bath …”

Bucky let himself be led, let himself drape his arm around Steve’s shoulders, let himself enjoy the feeling of Steve along the line of his torso, Steve’s arm around his waist. Just let a fella enjoy for a second, Chrissakes. In a small recess of his mind, he convinced himself that it was just for now, just until he could get himself under control again, it didn’t mean anything, nothing was going to happen, it would all be okay …

And then Steve shoved him down on his bed, the one nearest the door, and started helping him off with his shoes, ordering him to take off his shirt so he could take a bath, a whole night earlier than his normal weekly schedule.

Didn’t Steve know how dangerous this was? How close they were to catching fire? Bucky felt like he was dry tinder and Steve’s touch was the spark that would set the universe aflame.

“This stuff’s gonna have to be washed or burned,” Steve muttered, wrinkling his nose, like he had no idea Bucky was so raw from wanting him. “Your choice, I am not doin’ your laundry for ya.” The shoes were parked neatly next to the bed, but the shirt that Bucky pulled over his head ended up tossed in a pile. Steve hooked his thumb to indicate Bucky should stand to take off his trousers, but Bucky was reluctant to move, reluctant to expose the hard-on that tented his trousers, straining against the fabric. Steve hadn’t looked south yet, and Bucky felt his breath catching in his chest, held until he felt he was going to burst with the sheer want of breathing, the sheer want of Steve. This wasn’t the first time, by God, no.

The hands that reached out for Steve weren’t Bucky’s hands. They couldn’t be his hands, he was gonna be good. He’d fought all night to be good. He wanted to be good. But as he parted his legs and pulled Steve into the space between them, toward the heat and the hard of him, he knew he’d lost the battle. Knew it as his hand flattened on Steve’s stomach and trailed upward to his cheek, around the back of his neck, pulling Steve closer.

“B-Buck?” Steve asked tentatively, drawing back to peer up at him beneath furrowed brows. “Are you sure about this?”

Steve’s lips were mere inches away, his thighs were cradled against Bucky’s groin. He could feel the heat rising in Steve’s crotch, feel the erection taking hold. As he strained to brush his lips across Steve’s, he reached out to stroke Steve’s cock through his clothes. Steve started, pulling away further, but Bucky slid his other hand around the small of Steve’s back and pulled him back.

“Never surer,” Bucky breathed against Steve’s mouth, pressing his sex-swollen lips over Steve’s. Steve’s lips opened up under the pressure, soft and sweet, his tongue tentatively questing. Bucky heard himself growl and grinned into Steve’s lips working against his. No dame ever kissed like Steve Rogers, that’s for sure.

And then Steve’s lips were gone, and Bucky felt like he was falling from the top of the Chrysler Building. But Steve’s fingers were working at Bucky’s belt, loosening the buckle and undoing the fly, and that was okay. Bucky grinned stupidly.

“Y’gotta get out of those pants, Buck. I dunno what you sat in, but it’s gotta go,” Steve said, face scrunched up in concentration, tip of his tongue trapped between his teeth.

“’m’takin’ my pants off,” he murmured, lurching to his feet to shrug off the trousers and kick them across the room in the general direction of his shirt. “Take off yours,” he demanded, tugging at Steve’s belt loops. Steve followed orders well, and in a moment, stood before Bucky wearing nothing but his t-shirt and shorts. And he was beautiful.

Bucky had to bend down to circle Steve in his arms, and for Steve it was an uncomfortable position reaching up to him. So Bucky nodded toward the bed, reaching over to turn off the light. He laid a wavering finger up to his mouth to shush Steve, grinning stupidly and hungrily at the same time. Steve scooted over on the bed, eyes locked on Bucky’s face, slender body braced for … what, Bucky didn’t know. All he knew was that Steve was here and he wanted him. Wanted him so bad he’d go to hell and burn for all eternity to have him. The door was locked, the shades were drawn, the light was off, and it was quiet. No one need ever know how much James Buchanan Barnes loved Steven Grant Rogers in this moment. In any moment. Til the end of the line. Til the end of time. Goddamned forever.

He reached into the scarred bedside table – liberated from the dump one day, and carefully cleaned and restored as much as Steve was able with not a lot to work with – and grabbed the small jar of Vaseline there and tucked it under the pillow for later. First he needed Steve to be out of his T-shirt and pants. Needed it so badly he reached out and started stripping Steve, surprised when Steve’s hands came up and batted his away.

“I can undress myself, don’t need any help. See to yourself, Buck,” Steve whispered, and Bucky pressed his mouth against Steve’s to quell any further talking.

Bucky could feel Steve’s hand come up to his face, his fingers drawing a line across his jaw, move down to cup his chin and hold it steady while their lips ground against one another with hot, fast kisses.

“Pants,” Bucky commanded, his voice a harsh whisper against Steve’s mouth. Steve’s sweet mouth. Gonna drown in his mouth. Would die for his mouth …

He nearly whined as Steve broke away, could feel the bed shift as Steve clambered out of his boxers. A thumb under his waistband, an arch to his back, and he had his own shorts down around his knees, and he kicked them off, impatient to be rid of them. He pivoted on his hip and sat up, shucking his t-shirt, tossing it aside. He needed, needed! to feel Steve’s skin on his, he was burning with the need of it, he would burn in hell for it, and he would gladly incinerate for it.

Propped on his elbow, he looked down at Steve, at the pale expanse of his skin, the shock of blond hair resting over one eye, the impossibly blue eyes looking into his, questioning. He reached out and touched Steve’s hair, let his hand drift down the side of his face, register the soft fuzz, spread his palm flat as his hand travelled down to Steve’s concave chest, across the hardening of his nipples, resting it on his heart, feeling the flutter there, letting his hand rise and fall with cadence of Steve’s breaths. A part of his mind counted off the breaths, measured the heartbeats, settled into the rhythm that was Steve. His hand slid off Steve’s chest and trailed down his flat belly, turned so his knuckles grazed through the soft, wiry hair leading to his groin.

All the while, he held Steve’s eyes, as his fingers twitched and tingled and reached and curved and stroked, and Steve’s eyes grew wider, lips parted, tongue flicking out and withdrawing, teeth catching on his lower lip. A little gasp as Bucky’s palm slid up Steve’s cock from the base, along the line of the pulsing vein, and up to the soft, soft tip. His thumb slid back and forth across the slit, smearing the pearly liquid collecting there and he felt a growl of lust bubbling up from his toes, building momentum, threatening to overwhelm him.

His slid his free hand under the pillow and brought out the jar of Vaseline, thumbed the lid to spin it off, growled in frustration when it wouldn’t move. He grimaced and pulled his hand off Steve’s cock, pulled his eyes off Steve’s, earning him a small whimper as he manhandled the jar with both hands. He looked back at Steve, taking in the little crinkle between his eyebrows as he watched Bucky combat the jar. He grinned, put the jar down, and took hold of Steve’s hips, flipping him over on his side, tugging Steve’s hips to rock against his groin, his Steve-hardened cock, and slot against him. He took a moment to breathe Steve in, lick his neck from shoulder to ear, pull him a little closer so there wasn’t a square inch of the front of him that wasn’t covered in Steve.

He flipped the lid off and dug into the jar, slicking up his palm and fingers, then ran his hand along the length of Steve’s cock, earning him a gasp and a shudder as Steve arched against the sensation, rutting against his hand. Bucky surged around him, twisting to cover Steve’s mouth with his, enveloping his small frame with his larger one. Absorbing him, the way they were supposed to be, one flesh, one being. The ache that threatened to overcome him when they were apart eased and uncoiled, letting him breathe for once. He filled his lungs with the scent of Steve, filled his reserves and filled his senses, so he’d always have this, this, tucked deep in his heart. This was the treasure he would carry with him all the days of his life.

Their legs became tangled as Bucky’s left hand slid up underneath Steve and stroked down Steve’s throat, drifting toward his erect nipples, while his right hand dropped to the warm, soft place between Steve’s ass cheeks, grazing them with his knuckles before tracing the ring of muscle with his Vaseline-coated finger. Steve shuddered under the touch and Bucky grinned into the darkness, venturing further. He massaged the muscles until he felt them relax a little, then slid one finger in, two, working them to ease up the tension in Steve’s hole, smooth him out so he could work in a third. Steve shivered and bucked against him, his mouth spewing a wad of gibberish, but he was getting louder, so Bucky’s hand closed over his mouth, and he whispered, “Shhh,” in his ear, then licked it, licked his neck and his shoulder, pressed kisses and nips and lost himself in the taste of Steve.

He was truly lost, drunk with Steve, and he couldn’t wait any longer. He pulled his fingers out, dug into the jar of Vaseline again and slicked himself up good and proper. Holding the head of his cock in his fingers, he lined himself up, pressed against Steve, eased himself forward, and suddenly, he was in, the the muscles of Steve’s hole opened up for him and his passage closed around him, and he had to bite down hard on his lower lip to keep from crying out. He breathed deep and pushed a little further, feeling Steve tremble and melt against him. Emboldened, he pushed in deeper, and let his fingers drop away from steadying his own cock, tracing a line of fire over Steve’s hips until he grabbed hold of Steve’s dick and started pumping.

From there, he was lost in sensation until he came back to himself, shaking with the force of his orgasm, his right hand sticky-slick with Steve’s cum, and Steve gasping and convulsing in his arms, biting against his left hand, still clasped over Steve’s mouth. He could taste blood in his own mouth where he’d bitten down, bitten back the cries and the shouts and the exultation he felt wrapped up in Steve’s body.

“Got you,” he whispered into Steve’s ear, pulling his hand away from Steve’s mouth and snaking it around to cross Steve’s scrawny chest, resting his hand on Steve’s shoulder, right below where Bucky rested his chin, cheek pressed against Steve’s cheek, and Steve let out a long, shaky breath that trembled through his entire body, and kept rolling like aftershocks. He felt his cock slip out of Steve’s hole, felt Steve’s spent cock lay flaccid in his hand, and he didn’t care, he just pulled Steve’s butt back to nestle in the curve of his groin, satisfied with the sense of Steve’s skin on his skin and drifted to sleep with the thought on his mind but yet unspoken, “Love you.”

***

Sometime in the middle of the night, Bucky came to, wrapped around and entwined with Steve, legs atangle, his face pressed against Steve’s hair. He snuggled closer, smiling against Steve’s shoulder and breathing him in, until he suddenly realized what he was doing. His eyes snapped open and he gasped softly. His body went tense all over and he felt Steve stir, a small whimper in the back of his throat. And he swore he could feel the staticky catch in Steve’s breathing, the liquid sensation of compromised lungs. Christ, he thought, laying very still to listen to Steve breathe. Damn. Cold settled in his gut, wrapped in fear, with a dread chaser.

It took a while, and all his resolve, to slowly unwind himself until he was laying on his back next to Steve, gasping like a dying fish. Inches away, he could feel Steve shivering; damn, they’d crawled onto the bed, not in it, and Steve’s was getting cold without the heat of Bucky’s body surrounding him. As tempting as it was to roll over and take Steve back into his arms, and cradle him in his warmth, he just couldn’t do it. If he did it sober, he’d never let go. Instead, he gingerly righted himself, scooted to the edge of the bed and stood unsteadily, turning around to look down at Steve.

Gonna catch your death, Bucky thought to himself, a small pang of guilt compared to the load bearing down on him from his actions of the night before. Ignoring the wet spot where his cum had dribbled out of Steve’s ass, he picked up the faded quilt and folded it over Steve to keep him warm, in spite of the heat of the night. Maybe not as hot as Bucky’s body heat, but better than nothing. It was all he could do not to linger, not to tuck the quilt just so, not to lay hands and worship the small form beneath the old quilt.

Bucky stood there for a long moment, hunched over, hands drawn in tense fists, silent sobs drawing up from his toes. Watching the one thing, the one person he wanted most, and swearing to himself he’d never have him again because it just wasn’t safe. Never mention this thing between them again. He wouldn’t risk it. Even as he knew that eventually the need would overpower him again. He couldn’t imagine a world in which he couldn’t kiss Steve, couldn’t hold him, couldn’t be with him in ways that were illegal, and some said were immoral, but he knew they couldn’t be, because this was Steve. The only thing he could do was somehow leave, but sure as the moon rose in the evening, Bucky could never leave Steve. Never in a million years. Never. He’d always find his way back to Steve. All roads led to Steve.

And then Bucky lurched across the room to fall face first into his own bed, praying for the blessing of oblivion. His last thought before dropping off was again, “Love you.”

***

II: Steve

Steve was babbling, he knew. Word vomit as Bucky’s fingers stroked inside him, curled and found that spot, setting fireworks off behind his eyes. He didn’t have real words to describe how that felt, so enthusiastic gobbletygook spewed from his mouth in appreciation of the sensations Bucky was assaulting him with. One finger up his ass had graduated to two, and then three, and Bucky slid them in and out and around like an artist. Steve just wanted to sing his praises to anyone who’d listen.

So it was a shock when Bucky’s hand clamped down hard on Steve’s face, blocking off his song and to some extent, his airway. Then Bucky licked him from shoulder to ear, scorching the flesh with the heat of his tongue, pausing to tease his ear before whispering, “Shhhh.” Right after that, Buck pulled his so-talented fingers out of Steve’s ass, and Steve stilled, wondering if somehow he’d done something wrong.

And then he felt the pressure of Bucky’s cock at his hole, the head pushing against his ass where Bucky had just loosened him up. Delicious pressure as Buck pushed the head of his dick in, and he could feel more of it each time Bucky drew it back, almost pulling out entirely, and then pushed a little deeper. Then the trail of fire as his lube-slicked hand slipped over Steve’s hip to grasp his dick firmly and with ecstatic purpose.

Steve shuddered with pleasure as Bucky’s hand closed around his slick cock and started to stroke. He fucked up into the hand in rhythm to Bucky’s thrusts into his passage, slow and sure and oh so good. He wanted to tell Buck to do more of that, and oh yes, try that again! But all he could do is make noises into Bucky’s hand across his mouth. He really wanted to bite the soft tissue of Bucky’s hand to get that hand off, but also because he thought Bucky might like something like that, might enjoy a nibble. But when he tried to nip at Bucky’s palm pressed against his face, the hand closed tighter, effectively silencing him and cutting off his airway.

As Bucky fucked up into his ass, deeper and deeper, harder and harder, Steve tried to suck air in through his nose, and found it harder and harder to breathe. Pleasure changed to panic as the crackling filled his lungs, the air pressing out of them. Black dots danced around the edges of his vision, even with his eyes screwed shut. His fingers scrabbled at Bucky’s hand, but it was stuck so fast, he couldn’t budge it. His body betrayed him, his cock still responding to Bucky’s strokes even as his breath failed him. He came in ragged spurts, his orgasm more intense than anything he’d experienced before, more terrifying than anything he’d experienced before as he felt the last vestiges of air leave his lungs. Tears streaked his cheeks as he thought he might die in the arms of the one person he loved above all else.

And suddenly, he felt the warm spread of Bucky’s cum in his passage, felt the sudden tensing along Bucky’s body, followed by the even more sudden release of that tension. And the blessed relief when Bucky whispered, “Got you,” and took his hand away, finally allowing Steve to gulp in air as fast and hard as he was able, praying it would be enough. His body convulsed with the need of it, and a voice in his head wondered if there would ever be enough air. And he wept, great wracking sobs, his voice still silenced.

***

The sound of the apartment door snicking gently shut roused him.

He woke slowly, groggily. For a moment, he burrowed down and reached for the big warm body he expected to snuggle with him, only to find emptiness where his hand reached. Then he was aware of sticky-damp spots that would have to be laundered, wrinkled his nose in distaste. A worn but soft quilt, but no enveloping warmth. A dull ache in his butt and a thickness in his chest. A void where a warm body should be pressed against him, arm loosely curled around his waist, stubbled cheek nuzzled deep in the space between his cheek and his shoulder, breath softly stirring his hair. All that should be there, but wasn’t.

“Buck?”

Silence in the small apartment, and as he shifted slightly to look across the bedroom at the hastily-made bed by the window, the emptiness.

Bucky was gone. The hands on the clock barely reached seven, and Bucky was gone.

It was Saturday morning and Steve knew that Bucky wouldn’t have gone to work at the docks.

Bucky was gone, and hadn’t woken him, hadn’t said good morning or I’m goin’ out or I’ll see you later. Not “I love you,” or “Punk.” Just gone.

Tears slid down his face as he lifted himself over the wet spot and dragged himself to the edge of the bed. He looked around the room – the dirty clothes had been collected from where they’d been tossed as they’d stripped last night, and Steve’s clothes had been loosely folded and left on the floor by his bed. Bucky’s clothes were nowhere to be seen. Maybe Bucky’d gone to the laundromat, but no, they didn’t open this early. Maybe he was out burning those stinky clothes, but something in Steve doubted it.

Bucky was gone.

As Steve took a shuddering, painful breath, he realized that something had irrevocably changed, something he didn’t understand, and it filled him with longing and sadness. Staring at the empty spaces where Bucky should have been, in bed with him, holding him tight, or in his own bed, curled toward the sun, Steve wondered what he could have said or done differently. Because it had to be him, right? It had to be his fault Bucky wasn’t here. He wasn’t good enough for him, or didn’t make him feel good enough.

He knew what they did in the dark in this bed was something that other people said wasn’t right. He knew there were risks. But until recently, it had always seemed worth the risk, and then something changed, but Steve didn’t know what. Less frequent. Only when Bucky’d been drinking and obviously hadn’t gotten off with some dame he’d picked up somewhere. The last couple of times, well, they had been hurried, frenzied, intense, and Bucky would simply not talk about it the next day. Instead he’d say something prosaic like, “Quit your yammerin’, Rogers, and pass me the oleo,” like nothing had happened in the dark, in this bed. Like he was ashamed to admit to it.

But there had been something different last night, hurried yes. Frenzied, yes. Intense, oh my God, he’d never felt anything quite like that before, coming at the same time he thought he was going to die. But there had been a new desperation about it, an edge. And Steve wondered if that edge was finality.

Bucky was gone. And Steve felt like there was no air again, felt his heart hammer in his chest, felt it hitch and fail. Felt the universe twist and spin, and nothing would ever be right again.

***

Epilogue

This early, the street was pretty empty, mostly delivery trucks and poor skivvies making their way home after a night in the factories. Newsboys hawked the latest headlines to sell more worthless rags; their voices would be reduced to whispers by dusk. The sun was weak and watered down, the air was still cool from the night, and the day had yet to go to hell. He’d finally given up on sleeping, and dragged his ass out of bed, did a quick straighten up to keep his hands busy as he moved so, so quietly. When he’d found himself standing at Steve’s bed just staring down, he knew he needed to get out of the apartment. Knew he needed to do something. Knew if he didn’t, they’d both regret it. How could he regret how he felt about Steve?

It was becoming too much. He couldn’t keep doing this to Steve, to himself. The best thing he could do was go. It’d break his heart, and maybe he’d suffer like he was supposed to. Burn in a hell of his own making and leave Steve to soar with the angels like he was supposed to. Steve’d have to learn to turn away from a fight if Bucky wasn’t there to wade in and save him, so maybe that was a good thing. Maybe he’d been holding Steve back all this time. Maybe leaving would finally set him free. Maybe. So many maybes. He shoved his fists into his pockets, rolled his shoulders, and just kept walking, sunk in his own well of misery.

When he found himself looking up from his feet at an Army recruitment office, he thought it might be a sign. He’d registered, just like everyone else over 21. And his number might be coming up soon for all he knew. The recruitment office wasn’t open yet, but as he stood there, staring at the posters and notices, exhortations to buy war bonds and war stamps, he wondered. Maybe this would be his salvation. Maybe this would finally save Steve. Maybe it would save them both. No way could they ever take Steve, not with his list of ailments as long as his ever-lovin’ arm. So it would be safer for Steve if maybe he enlisted.

Shoving his hands deeper into his pockets, Bucky nodded to himself and went back to hoofing the pavement, burning off energy. There were plenty of recruitment offices these days.

He knew he could easily find one if he had the need.