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Steve always waits for Bucky’s tread on the stair before falling into a deep sleep. Bucky’s the one who can take care of himself, but Steve won’t sleep until he knows his friend has made it back from a night at the bars or the pictures.

Bucky will tap three times on the bedroom door, indicating his return; Bucky never goes to sleep at proper bedtimes, and he’ll stay up for another hour or two listening to the radio in the kitchen, reading magazines, teaching himself to count cards -- Steve is never entirely sure what he gets up to. Once Bucky’s back Steve can get some rest, and unconsciousness comes as soon as he shuts his eyes.

The stairs are creaking -- the slam of Bucky’s boots is heavy, which means that he’s as heavily drunk -- and there’s a thud of his body against the front door, as though he’s fallen against it.

Steve pushes back the covers, about to slip out of bed to go help, when Bucky’s voice radiates through the wall.

“Shh!” It’s astonishingly loud for a hush. “We gotta be quiet. Steve’s sleepin’.”

“Who’s Steve?”

In the dark, Steve blinks. Pulls the quilt back up to his chin. Feels his stomach knot into an ache.

Bucky’s brought back a girl. Steve knows it was bound to happen. He’s counted on it happening. They’re getting older, and the girls are getting bolder, and no one’s taking the care they once did with the war looming so close.

Bucky’s been with girls. With lots of girls. Steve knows because he hears about every one. Bucky loves women, the way they walk and dress, the scent of their perfume, their high heels.

Steve thinks that the girls who end up with Bucky are damned lucky, not just because Bucky’s his best friend and a good sort of fella -- Bucky makes it sound like he likes giving pleasure as much as taking it. Bucky prides himself that the girls are going to go on saying he’s a gentleman. Bucky’s no cad.

But he’s never brought anyone back before. Plenty of working girls have flats of their own, and they smell nicer, Bucky reports. Girls have soft beds and pillows, sheets they wash frequently. Steve and Bucky have only the one bed between them, the same old creaky box-stand with the thin mattress they’ve been sleeping on for years.

It’s been an unspoken agreement. On nights when Bucky goes out alone, the flat is Steve’s to work in. Bucky knows he needs quiet time to study for the City College exam (this year, Steve knows he has a chance), and to draw in solitude. Bucky has always understood that the apartment was their separate space, before tonight.

Bucky assumes that he’s asleep. It must be quite late, and from the sounds of bodies jostling furniture in the living room, they’re both intoxicated. What sounds like a chair falls over, with an eruption of giggles trailing it.

Steve has the blanket clutched in both hands. He doesn’t want to listen. He turns over on his side, throws an arm across his ear, tries to muffle the noise. He squeezes his eyes shut and begs for a sleep he knows won’t come.

Another crash, a louder thud. Too close. Then the knob turns and light from the hall streams in from the open door. Bucky is leaning into the doorjamb with his arm slung around the girl. She’s petite, only just reaching his breast, and she has both arms looped around his neck, her stockinged toes sweeping the floor. They’re laughing, and Bucky swings her down like he’s made a game of carrying her.

Steve sees all this through slitted lids. The door is flung open before he can turn the other way, and he can’t help but stare.

Whatever they came in for, they need to get it and go. In the morning he’ll give Bucky a talking-to. The living room is fine, hell, it’s half Bucky’s flat and he can do as he pleases, but Steve would really prefer if he kept his dates from the bedroom, it’s not an unreasonable--

“James! Is that your roommate?” They’re trying to whisper, but drunken whispers are highly pitched.

“Yeah, that’s Steve.”

“Well, won’t he mind?”

“Naw. You never met a better fella. Besides, Stevie’d sleep through an earthquake.”

“Oh, you’re bad!”

“Never said I was good.” Bucky bends to kiss the girl, molding her against him; his hands are huge on her slight curves. His hands circle her waist, cup her breasts, then one hand reaches around with practiced ease to ply the zipper on her dress. “C’mon, I bet you look even prettier without this on.”

While the girl sets to freeing herself from a complicated set of undergarments involving a brassiere, bustier, stockings, and garters, Bucky provides motivation by undressing.

He does it slowly, as though he doesn’t want the girl to startle, and maybe girls have startled at the sight of him before. He keeps his shirt on unbuttoned for a while, lets the girl be the one to tug it from his shoulders. She’s enthusiastic enough, and Steve doesn’t blame her.

Steve is lying in bed, minding. Steve minds quite a bit. Steve has never minded so much. He’s furious and and he can’t get away, there’s no escape, no way out.

Bucky’s body bared is finer than anything Steve has in his art books. He’s strongly built, with broad shoulders that taper to a trim waist. He’s vain about the cut of his abdomen, does sit-ups in the corner with his feet tucked under the radiator.

He undoes his belt and steps out of his pants and shorts. He puts a hand on his hip and preens a little, because he knows what he looks like. He looks like a marble statue stepped down on lunchbreak.

The girl has gone skittish, hugging the straps of her brassiere to her body.

“Don’t be shy,” says Bucky, kindly assertive. “I think you’re a real looker. Couldn’t keep my eyes off you all night.”

“Now, James, that’s awful sweet.” She edges down the garment, looks up blushing. She’s slender and nearly flat as a board. Her breasts are tiny mounds with pink nipples hard from the cold and Bucky’s radiating warmth. Her hair is honey-blond, pinned up in a twist, fair between her legs. “My sister’s always teasing me how I look like a boy.”

“She’s only jealous,” Bucky asserts, and Steve watches his eager hands explore her skin. “Some fellas, they’re after those movie-star curves, but tell you the truth, I go in for girls like you.” He ducks his head, takes a nipple into his mouth, and her breathy sigh is such that Steve closes his eyes.

Then their groans and laughter are practically on top of him, and they hit the bed. Steve is paralyzed on his side, hardly daring to breathe; Bucky lays the girl down on the mattress and climbs over her, like Steve isn’t there at all. They speak in conspiratorial whispers.

“Gonna make this so good. We just gotta be quiet. You think you can be quiet for me?”

“Depends on how good you are,” returns the girl, and Steve gives her begrudging credit. He appreciates that Bucky never takes boring dames to bed. This, however, is crossing the line. This crosses every line.

“Oh, it’s gonna be like that?” Bucky flashes her a brilliant smile, sliding down; then he parts her thighs and buries his head between them. The girl and Steve stifle an exclamation.

Bucky stays down a long while, mouth and tongue working enthusiastically, and from the girl’s heightened breathing he’s living up to his promise. Her hands reach to tangle in Bucky’s brown hair, and Steve’s tighten in the bedsheets.

“Oh, James!”

“James, I’m going to -- oh! Oh! Oh.

Eventually, Bucky kisses her thighs, sits back on his haunches. He’s so close Steve can feel the heat from his body.

“Can I have you? I’ve got protection for it. I’d like to think I’m even better at that.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” laughs the girl.

“I want you bad,” says Bucky, in a low, throaty voice Steve recognizes as his most persuasive. “You wanna turn around? That’s the way I like it best.”

“Well, that ain’t boring--” The girl is game, getting onto her hands and knees, trying not to let the bed creak. Bucky watches her, and Steve watches Bucky. He’s surprised to see that Bucky’s soft, his big cock seemingly uninspired despite his assurance of attraction.

He watches Bucky take himself in hand and start to stroke towards readiness. Then Bucky makes the world change, shifts the course of time and history, because he looks over at Steve for inspiration. He catches Steve looking back.

For a terrifically long moment they stare at each other. The jig should be up. It’s already stretching all the bounds of common decency that Bucky should bed a girl with Steve pretending to sleep right next to them.

The situation is wrong from the start. Now it is spiralling entirely out of control. But instead of stopping it, instead of looking away, Bucky keeps his eyes on Steve, and he resumes the motion of his hand on his cock.

“Like this, James?”

“Just like that. Christ, you’re beautiful.” His eyes on Steve. “All I wanna do is be inside you.”

“You can hurry up about it, then.”

Steve’s eyes are open, unblinking. Under the quilt his body is trembling, hardly up to the task of enduring this. Getting hard.

Bucky won’t look away either. It’s like neither of them can look away. Steve is frozen in place, and Bucky is overheating, cock grown enormous in his hand.

Steve licks his lips.

Bucky grunts. “Tell me what you like, darlin’.” His eyes drop to Steve’s mouth, raise again after a few more strokes. “I’ll do whatever you need me to. I want you to know that.”

“If only every fella talked like you,” the girl sighs. “Start off a little slow. It’s been a while for me. I’m not fast, you know.” Her head is pressed contentedly into the pillow, obscuring her face; her hair has come loose, a blonde a shade lighter than Steve’s. In the dark they look identical.

Bucky positions his cock, one hand to the girl’s bony hip. He eases into her carefully. He doesn’t look away from Steve. “Wouldn’t ever hurt you. All I wanna do is make you feel the way you deserve.”

Steve closes his eyes for three whole rounds of breathing.

“Oh -- oh, James -- that’s so good -- but you’re so big --”

“Should I hold back?”

“Lord, no, please, please--”

Steve watches the girl fast dissolve into incoherence, as Bucky’s sure, thorough strokes pick up speed and finesse.

“You want me to fuck you?” Bucky isn’t looking at her. “You need me in you, just like this?”

With the faintest of movements, Steve nods his head.

“Like this is just perfect--”

It’s Bucky’s turn to let his eyelids flutter shut, overcome; he throws back his head and throws himself into screwing the girl good and deep, his clever fingers sliding between her legs to induce further magic. Soon enough she’s moaning softly and arching back against him. Bucky smooths the other hand through her hair, opens his eyes, searches for Steve’s.

It’s like an electric shock between them. It has always been there, but now, acknowledged, the air is charged and also too thick. Bucky is breathing through his nose and Steve can barely get enough air into his lungs. His heart is weak but it’s racing.

“I’ll tell you a secret,” Bucky pants. “You’re the first dame I’ve done this with in a real long time.”

“Like that, like that -- ah, ah. Yes!” The girl’s head swings from side to side. “I don’t believe a word of that.”

“I swear it,” says Bucky, hand to heart. “I like to dance with the prettiest girls, maybe that’s why you think I’ve got a reputation. Maybe I let the others think that.”

“Ain’t you sweet.” She rides back, urges him forward. “And you’re good, but if I don’t call my sister soon, I’m never going to hear the last of it.”

“Now, honey, I was just gettin’ started--”

She leads him on, insistent, picking up the pace. Steve admires their bodies in fluid motion, the lithe arc she makes, the way Bucky’s hands are so admiring, ranging without shame.

Steve looks at them, and he looks at Bucky, and it’s as though he can feel the pressure on his own skin. He’s too hard in his pajamas beneath the quilt. He lets his hips rock in time, in minute circles. The electricity between them has leapt into Steve. He feels like he’s on fire.

Bucky comes silently as he can, and he doesn’t look away when it hits him. He mouths Steve’s name, the unbelievable bastard. His mouth is pert and wet. His lips are red as summer berries.

Steve shudders and wants to follow after him, with nothing more than friction from the blanket and the way Bucky won’t turn away, no matter what. But Steve knows his breath will burst from his chest; he’ll cry out and end this; so he stops his hips.

Jerk, Steve mouths back.

Bucky smiles at him, one of the smiles that reaches his eyes, then returns attention to his lady friend. He helps freshen them up, then helps her collect her strewn undergarments and put them back into place. He chats easily with her, small talk, and they make plans to meet again the next time she’s in town.

Steve yawns and rolls onto his back, figuring it’s unnatural to be asleep so long without moving.

They lower their voices, but he hears Bucky say they should use the phone at the corner deli to call her sister. The sister only lives across the neighborhood and will drive over, begrudging but reliable.

The girl lives with her mother in Connecticut. She won’t be in again for another month at least. Bucky says he wish it wasn’t like that, and she says the same. They leave arm-in-arm.

There’s no telling how long it will take. Anything could happen in-between, and it could be a space of hours before Bucky returns. Maybe Bucky will bolt after he’s had some time and a cool head to think it over. Maybe Bucky won’t come back for a while. Maybe he won’t come back.

Steve lies in the half-dark, with the light from the hallway sifting in the from the open door. He works himself up into an anxious state, imagining all manner of delays, so that he can avoid thinking about what he’s going to do if Bucky does come back.

Decides he can’t know until he sees Bucky, until they can have words between them again. It will depend on the approach, Steve decides.

The tread on the stair is slow on its way up. Not dragging feet, but cautious, considerate of the late hour, and Steve waiting.

The front door opens and closes, the step pauses, then paces the length of the living room. At last Bucky appears in the doorway, vaguely slouching, scratching the back of his neck.

“Can I come in?”

“It’s a free country.”

Bucky slouches inside, for once devoid of his confident swagger. Makes for the bed and throws himself down on it before Steve can change his mind.

From the look on his face, his narrowed eyes, Bucky’s own brain is going a mile a minute, and he opens his mouth on a running stream of thought: “Look, Steve, I know it was an unfair thing to do. Unfair to you, and to the dame. I don’t expect to be forgiven for it, not yet, even if I wasn’t thinkin’ straight. All I could think was I had to look at you, and she was willin’--”

Steve has intended to hold onto righteous anger for a longer, but it’s difficult to maintain in the face of Bucky’s earnest monologue, which shows no signs of stopping.

Instead, Steve props his head on his hand and looks on magnanimously, enjoying the shift in their usual dynamic. Isn’t often he feels powerful over Bucky, but Bucky is pleading his case as though Steve is judge, jury, and executioner.

“--it wasn’t happenin’ for me anymore, Steve, is what you’ve gotta understand. I’d be with a dame and she’d bring me home, we’d get all worked up, then -- nothin’. I’d apologize, swear her to secrecy, go home with my hat in my hands. Lie down here next to you and think about how you’re all that brings me off these days. Ain’t nothin’ else. I’ve tried, Steve, swear I have. You don’t want me here, I’ll go, but I tried. Tried all kinds of girls, and even some other fellas to see if that was the case. No luck. It’s you, you schmuck, but you won’t look at me. Always rollin’ the other way when I jerk off, when all I want is to see you.”

Steve, awash in a dazzling barrage of words, blinks in quick succession. He wants to say something, anything, in response to the most incredible revelation since Saint John’s. But Bucky isn’t finished talking; Steve can tell by the determined set of his mouth. Steve’s not about to put a stop to this. He listens. Doesn’t deny it, doesn’t encourage, doesn’t discourage. Bucky can see the truth in Steve’s eyes anyway and that’s why he continues.

“I’ve tried to show you. You’re always starin’ off somewhere else, makin’ plans for some big future that’s not here. Well, I like us here, right now, and God knows I tried. I’ve taken out every blond girl from here to Greenpoint, and you don’t see. I tell you all about them. I say how I like them small and slim with hair like honey, and you ask me if I remembered to buy the milk.”

Bucky is much closer than Steve recalls him being a few breaths before; he is easing across the bed, claiming the territory.

“You act like it’s nothing,” says Bucky. “Like it’s nothing that I come back early all those nights. You brush it off, and I lie next to you, like this. Lie alongside you, and--”

They both made too many mistakes. Steve interjects, tries to move them past the past. “Show me. You’re a lot of talk about coulda, shoulda.” He dips his chin. “What do you do, then?”

Bucky stops talking, for once. He looks at Steve, gives him the once-over before speaking again. “I look at your dumb face and I jerk off, under the covers.”

“Show me,” Steve repeats, stubborn as anything.

As commanded, Bucky shucks free of his shirt and pants and shorts, as he often sleeps on hot evenings. Only this time he doesn’t slip under the covers. He takes his hard, thick cock in hand, as commanded. As promised, he looks at Steve, drinking in his all his angles and his shadows.

“Like this,” says Bucky.

Steve’s hand slips between them. When he touches Bucky the first time, it’s hesitant, like his hand can’t quite believe what it’s doing. His fingers touch, retract, return, then rest atop Bucky’s, as though it is more decent for Steve to have his hand on Bucky’s hand than directly on his cock. Bucky moves their hands on him together, and both of them watch the motion. Then Bucky eases out of the affair and leaves Steve gripping his cock.

“Please,” whispers Bucky.

It’s strange to have Bucky plead, and it breaks Steve’s brain a little that he could be pleading for this. In all of his day-dreams he’s imagined Bucky skeptical and skittish to his touch. It’s why Steve stayed away. But now, after everything that has passed between them, it feels as natural as breathing to touch Bucky like this.

Steve thinks he knows already what Bucky will like, and he nods and curls his hand firmly on Bucky’s cock and sets out to see if he’s right. He was awake many of the nights when Bucky brought himself off next to Steve in bed, and Steve is human -- he’s listened, stolen glances. Bucky likes it fast, quick turns of wrist, a sure, tight hold.

Bucky’s eyes are going wide and he’s getting even harder, grown impressively full. His cock is gorgeous, and Steve bites his lip, aches all over to take Bucky inside him. Wants to swallow him down and lower himself down the whole proud length. He speeds his hand.

“Steve.” Bucky tries to stay still for him, like he needs to show Steve he’s taking it seriously. His hips move only in minute circles, and his hands are full of bunched bedsheet. His wide eyes are frank and open and desperate. “Can I. I wanna touch you. I wanna look at you.”

Steve feels a flush spread from his cheeks on down but he kicks free of the covers anyway. The pajama pants are too large and slide easily from his hips. Bucky reaches for him at once, zero hesitation, wrapping his whole hand around Steve’s cock.

“So this is what you’ve been hidin’,” says Bucky, delighted and arch. “This is where you’ve been doin’ all your growin’, huh?”

“Aw, shove off.”

“I won’t. Not ever again.” Bucky is looking at him unblinking. Steve is biting his lip hard enough to bleed because the feel of Bucky’s hand on his cock is almost too much, is all that Steve has wanted contained in a circle of flesh. When Bucky starts moving and gripping and trying to figure out what Steve likes best, Steve thinks that this is the best idea they’ve ever had, and forgets whose idea it was first.

“Buck--”

“Tell me you like this, Steve. Tell me you like it like I do. Tell me I’ll get to do this again.”

“Finish what you started. I still haven’t forgiven you for earlier.” But Steve knows he’s grinning, then groaning when Bucky’s fist closes even tighter. Steve doesn’t let him have the upper hand, though. He matches Bucky stroke for stroke until they’re going at the same speed, synced up and goading each other. Sweat starts to trickle down brows and both of them are breathing fast.

“Maybe I like it a little bit,” gasps Steve.

Bucky laughs, as breathless. “Don’t lie. You look happier than Christmas mornin’.”

Steve can’t open his mouth because he isn’t sure what will emerge if he does. Instead he comes without sound, comes all over Bucky’s hand and far enough to splash against Bucky’s bare abdomen. Steve shakes apart in Bucky’s grasp as Bucky urges the last of it from him, drains every drop, and Steve turns to liquid heat all over.

“Christ,” says Bucky, “your face--”

and he reaches with his free hand to run his thumb along Steve’s cheekbone. Steve turns into the caress. When he is bold enough to press a kiss to Bucky’s palm, Bucky comes also, his low, helpless moan when he gives over Steve’s favorite sound, and a sound he needs to hear repeated. Mornings, afternoons and evenings. Middle-of-the-nights.

It’s their first kiss, lips to palm.

They lay breathing in a sticky mess. It takes Steve longer to regain his breath and Bucky pretends like he isn’t struggling, Bucky digs his fingers into the muscles of Steve’s shoulder and rubs there for relief, like he’s done a thousand times before.

Bucky uses the sheet to clean them off, and Steve’s too far-gone to protest. He feels like he drank a gallon of whiskey without the ill effects, and his body is buzzing all over. If this is the result of his hand on Bucky, and Bucky’s hand on him, Steve can’t quite encompass what it’ll feel like to do more. To let Bucky do him, like he said he wanted when he was with the girl.

Steve had nodded. Steve wants to do everything that Bucky named, and thinks he has a few ideas even Bucky hasn’t thought of yet. He gets his breath back.

“You’re half-forgiven,” says Steve.

Bucky grins like a satiated shark. He looks pleased and triumphant, a dangerously good look on him. “What’ll it take? I’ve never gone three times, but I’m willin’ to try.”

“Let’s try a good night’s rest,” suggests Steve. “In the morning, if you haven’t stolen all the blankets, I’ll think about letting you do me. Or -- something like.”

“Now, what’s that supposed to mean?”

“There’s your part of the covers. I’m going to sleep. You like to have me up against you like this?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I do.” Bucky’s arms come around Steve and pull him closer, until their bodies are flush, turned sideways, aligned at the knee and shoulder. Bucky’s arm is big where it curves over Steve’s body, but he takes care not to let it be heavy. “Aw, Steve, how’m I supposed to sleep, after you went and said that?”

“Imagine your discomfort,” says Steve.

“I may have deserved it,” says Bucky into the back of Steve’s neck, and then he kisses the back of Steve’s neck. The kisses are slow and deliberate, each delivered in succession, and then they trail down Steve’s shoulder and spill over onto his back.

Soon Bucky is kissing every inch of Steve that he can, like he has an edict to do it; and Steve laughs and laughs when it tickles and sometimes he kicks at him and often he gasps and he heats up everywhere Bucky’s lips touch.

When Steve has been kissed all over, Bucky settles down, wrapping Steve in his arms and forgoing blankets. “It’s practically morning,” says Bucky.

“Sleep tight,” says Steve, and they do, fit together like a lock and key.