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The Right Partner

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Steve brushed his finger down the spine of a blue paperback novel surrounded by a dozen of its identical twins. He pulled it out and examined the cover.

La Combinazione Perfetta, it read. The Perfect Match.

Steve put it back. Romance wasn’t exactly his favorite genre; not in English and definitely not in Italian. He glanced out the bookshop window towards the café across the piazza. A middle aged woman sat in the afternoon sunlight with a small cappuccino in one hand and her phone in the other. Steve had never seen the allure of fancy coffee; probably because his enhanced metabolism negated any effects the caffeine would have on him.

He turned back to the bookshelf and perused a little more, occasionally pulling a book out and flipping a few pages before putting it back and glancing out the window again. The woman was still sipping at her coffee. Steve estimated she’d continue drinking for another 12 to 18 minutes before returning to the Embassy at the far end of the piazza. Why Martina Giudici had chosen to ignore the death threats sent her way, Steve didn’t know, but apparently she was essential in finalizing SHIELD’s authorization to eradicate Hydra in Italy. That being the case, Fury insisted on her making it to their meeting that afternoon alive. Giudici was a politician so perhaps she thought the threats were good publicity and that being seen out in public with no bodyguards would make her seem tough. Maybe she was secretly trained in advanced martial arts and could totally take whatever assassins Hydra threw at her. Maybe she was just an idiot. Whatever the case, Steve and his team were forced to keep their distance; protecting her in secret from the Hydra agents aiming to slit her throat as the time of the meeting ticked closer.

“Report,” Steve whispered, keeping an eye on the elderly woman at the bookshop register who was absently reading a thin newspaper and paying Steve absolutely no attention.

“East corner, clear,” Gabe said.

“North corner, clear,” Dernier reported.

“South corner, clear,” Jim whispered.

West corner,” Dugan grunted and Steve heard the sound of someone getting kicked in the stomach, “clear.”

Steve checked his watch, wiping a small smear of blood off it with his thumb. He’d have to remember to get someone from SHIELD to take care of the Hydra corpses on the roof.

“Keep an eye out,” he muttered, glancing out the window again, “Jobs almost over.”

“Copy.”

Giudici was still sipping her coffee. Eleven minutes to finish. Two minutes to pay. One to gather her things. Four to walk across the square. Two to get through security and then it would be over. It would be a piece of cake from here on out anyway. Steve and the Commandos had taken out nearly three dozen guys in the past twenty minutes, proving that their perimeter was impenetrable, as always. After 3 years of covert missions, Steve knew Hydra’s tactics well and he wasn’t worried.

He switched the com in his ear to radio; monitoring the chatter around Giudici as she casually returned her cup to its saucer. Steve was pulling another book off the shelf when the bell above the door to the little shop rang out and a man stepped in.

A quick once over revealed to Steve that he was a civilian. He was wearing jeans, a red henley, and a light olive jacket with no apparent concealed weapons. American, Steve assumed due to the soft, poorly articulated “Ciao" he greeted the owner with— but not a tourist, judging by the lack of backpack, sweat, and sunscreen. Bright blue eyes met his and a small smile twitched on the man's lips. Steve had never really been into guys with long hair but he quickly found himself making an exception. The man was attractive, that was undeniable. He had a square jaw, wavy brown hair that hung half above his shoulders and half pulled up into a little ponytail, and kind eyes that crinkled in the corners. Steve found himself watching as the man approached the small English section of the store along the far wall. He was built. His broad shoulders were accentuated by a narrow waist and defined pecs.

Steve blinked, it was unlike him to get distracted on a mission. He shook his head and glanced out the window again. Guidici was typing something on her phone. Ten minutes.

“Mi scusi.” The man approached Steve with a small paperback in one hand and a shy smile on his lips.

“Hey,” Steve replied, smiling back.

The relief on the man’s face was instantaneous.

“Oh, hey. Thank god,” he sighed, laughing at himself a little, “My Italian is okay but, boy, does make my anxiety go through the roof.”

“I hear you,” Steve agreed easily, glancing over the man’s shoulder at the café. Guidici lay her phone down and picked up her half empty cup again, “What’s up?”

“I was wondering if you happened to know a good place to get a cup of joe around here,” the man said with a wry smile, “American style.”

Steve suddenly wished he knew more about coffee. He immediately tried to remember whatever it was Gabe and Jim had been complaining about that morning.

“You mean something that doesn’t taste like a shot of bitter non-alcoholic ass?”

The man threw his head back and laughed. Steve watched the smile light up his whole face, making his blue eyes sparkle in the early afternoon sunlight. God, he was a vision.

“Yeah, exactly,” the man laughed, “I need sugar, man. With a shot of vanilla and whipped cream on top.”

“I think I saw a Caffe Nero a few blocks over,” Steve suggested, trying not to get too carried away, “It’s technically a British company but they might have something you’d like.”

Steve glanced out the window again. Guidici was still there. Eight minutes.

“Oh, perfect,” the man grinned, his eyes flicking down Steve’s chest and across his shoulders before finding their way back up to his face.

Steve felt himself start to flush involuntarily. He blamed his penchant to blush at the slightest mention of his body on the fact that up until he was 23, he was a 90 pound asthmatic with scoliosis who came up to around 5’4 on a good day and even now any reference to his appearance made him unfathomably shy. It was his Achilles heel when it came to dating; one that his teammates teased him about relentlessly.

“I’m Bucky, by the way,” the man—Bucky— said, holding out his hand.

“Steve.”

Bucky’s hand was warm and firm. Solid and gentle.

“Well, Steve,” Bucky rolled Steve’s name across his tongue like he was savoring the taste, “I should get going.”

Steve nodded with a small smile, stepping out of the way so Bucky could head to the register.

“Maybe I’ll see you around,” Bucky added as he handed a handful of bills to the lady working the counter, who seemed to be resolutely apathetic toward the pair of them. He was buying an old second hand copy of  Mary Shelley's Frankenstein . It might last him trip down to Naples, Steve thought, maybe Florence if he took his time.

“Yeah,” Steve found himself agreeing as Bucky tucked the book under his arm.

It was harmless to flirt, Steve told himself. After all, he’d be on a plane home in less than an hour so the odds of him seeing Bucky again were slim to none.

“I’ll buy you a mocha,” Steve grinned, “heavy on the whipped cream.”

The man laughed again, low and resonant. It made Steve’s skin tingle.

“Throw in a chocolate croissant and you’ve got yourself a date.”

Despite the futility of the offer, Steve felt anticipation flood his chest as Bucky tossed him a wink before pulling the door open and stepping back out into the sunny piazza. Steve watched him cross the square and disappear down a small side street before reluctantly turning his attention back to the task at hand.

Guidici was pulling coins out of her wallet. Steve flipped his com back to the Commando’s channel.

“Update?”

“Since you asked ten minutes ago?” Falsworth replied, “I’ve got nothing.”

“I saw a dog steal a bread roll from the bakery in the east corner,” Dernier said.

“I saw Cap blushing at some long haired dude in the bookshop,” Jim contributed gleefully.

“Oh! Was he hot?” Dernier demanded.

“He looked pretty ripped from here, ” Jim replied, clearly holding back his laughter, “What do you say, Cap? An 8? A 9, tops?”

“I didn’t know you were into long hair, Cap,” Dugan chimed in with a low chuckle, “Always figured you were more of a clean cut kinda guy.”

“Well, who doesn’t love a rebel?” Gabe added, “An Italian rebel, no less.”

“Can we focus, please?” Steve muttered, glaring out the window toward the rooftop he knew Jim was perched on and rolling his eyes, “6 minutes.”

Can you focus, Cap? That’s the real question .”

Steve ignored the snickers that came tumbling through the channel and made his point by focusing on Guidici as she stood and stepped away from the cafe. Steve left the bookshop empty handed and kept to the opposite side of the square, pretending to examine the pastries in the bakery window or the ornate stone sculpture of various gods in the wide fountain at the piazza’s center as he watched Guidici cross the cobblestones until she reached the steps of the embassy.

Steve breathed a sigh of relief as she stepped under the archway, officially relieving the Commandos of duty—

Guidici hit the ground with one foot over the threshold. A scream echoed through the square. By the time Gabe was at her side half of her body’s blood content was dripping down the steps from the severed artery in her neck.

“Package down. Mission: failed,” Gabe reported grimly.

Steve was already hunting for the shooter amidst the chaos of the panicked crowd. There had been no audible gunshot, the angle must have been high, a sniper most likely. He examined the buildings but the only viable vantage point he could find was currently occupied by a stunned looking Jim.

Clean, precise, efficient, and deadly. Too good for Hydra’s usual MO.

Whoever the shooter was, they were something else entirely.

 


 

Steve slammed the locker room door shut, throwing his shield against the bench and ripping his holster off before banging his head against the cold metal of his locker.

“Take it easy there, Cap,” Gabe said, squeezing Steve’s shoulder as he walked past.

“This one’s on me,” Dugan sighed, throwing his own holster down and collapsing onto the bench, “I should have double checked the vents.”

“This is the third time in a row that Hydra’s gotten the better of us,” Falsworth sighed, kicking the bottom of his locker in exasperation, “What the hell is happening?”

“They have someone new,” Steve muttered, aggressively spinning the dial on his locker, “Someone good.”

“You think this is all one person?” Dernier asked, his French accent more pronounced in his frustration as he striped out of his dirty uniform, “One person who is better than the six of us combined?”

“Hydra realized they couldn’t beat us with numbers and brute force,” Steve reasoned, kicking his holster and helmet into the locker and dropping down next to Dugan on the bench, “They found someone. Someone specialized. Someone who could slip through the smallest crack.”

“What, like a crazy evil octopus?” Jim spat, ripping off his tactical vest and throwing it into the industrial sized laundry basket in the corner.

“Like a ghost.”

Natasha Romanoff was watching them from the doorway, her arms crossed over her leather jacket and her short red hair hanging sharply on either side of her face.

“Got something you’d like to share, Widow?” Dugan asked, “because we could use a hand over here.”

Steve raised an eyebrow at her expectantly. He trusted her— to an extent. As a member of the Avengers she was exceptional, but outside of that she was in the business of lying— which had its benefits— but Steve relied on trust to do his job and protect his team. She was in equal parts an asset and a liability as far as Steve was concerned.

“Most of the intelligence community doesn’t believe he exists,” she began, “but the ones that do call him the Winter Soldier. I credit him with over a dozen assassinations in the past six years.”

“How come I’ve never heard of him?” Steve asked, standing up to face Natasha directly.

“Because he’s good,” Natasha replied haughtily, “an assassin you’ve heard of isn’t doing their job properly.”

“So, he’s a ghost story.” Steve crossed his arms, “A conspiracy theory you’ve thrown together.”

Natasha leveled him with a look.

“Two years ago I was escorting a nuclear engineer out of Iran,” she said, “ Somebody shot out my tires near Odessa, we lost control, and went straight over a cliff. I pulled us out but the Winter Soldier was there. I was covering my engineer so he shot him straight through me.”

She lifted the hem of her jacket and top to show them a nasty looking scar just above her right hip bone. Steve heard Gabe hiss sympathetically.

“Going after him is a dead end. I know, I’ve tried,” Natasha sighed, leaning back against the door frame, “But he’s real, and he’s the best assassin I’ve ever seen.”

Steve wanted to push back harder but Natasha’s theory aligned with his own. Strategically, it made sense.

“Why haven’t we run into him before,” Steve asked, “I’ve been running SHIELD missions for three years and this is the first time I’ve come across him.”

“A month ago I would have told you that he only worked the highest profile cases,” Natasha said, a furrow appearing on her brow, “One, maybe two jobs a year, almost impossible to link except for their speed, efficiency, and a complete lack of suspects. Something must have happened in the past few months. The status quo changed. He’s taking on more work for Hydra and he’s not slowing down.”

“Maybe they have something on him,” Steve suggested, “or maybe Hydra’s gearing up for a bigger hit.”

“Well, what do we do about him?” Dernier asked restlessly, “We can’t keep blowing these missions.”

“You need to be smart,” Natasha said, kicking the locker room door open again, “and you need to be as efficient and ruthless as he is.”

She slipped out as silently as a shadow, disappearing down the SHIELD hallway as invisibly as she came.

“God, she’s terrifying,” Gabe muttered as he got back to stripping out of his uniform.

“If she was a sniper and not on our side, my money would be on her as our mystery assassin,” Dugan agreed.

“She’s right.” Steve turned around to face his team, “We need to be better if we’re going to beat this person, whoever they are.”

“Ugh, more training?” Jim groaned.

“We’ve gotten complacent,” Steve continued, “and now that a competent adversary has appeared we’re falling apart.”

“Yeah,” Falsworth admitted with a sigh.

“Tomorrow, 9AM, in the training hall,” Steve ordered, “we’re running scenarios.”

A general displeased but understanding grumble of agreement rose up and one by one, the Commandos hit the showers before heading home.

Steve hung back, taking his time in the shower and opting for a short walk through Manhattan before making his own way home. He always found the bustle of Manhattan rather soothing. The anonymity, the general apathy of New Yorkers, and the constant thrum of movement in the air and beneath the ground kept Steve’s mind moving when it threatened to start obsessing over the tiniest things as he ran through the details of the Commando’s last three missions. What had gone wrong? What had he missed?

Steve wandered aimlessly through the streets, eventually finding himself on the edge of Central Park and following the stream of people through its gates as the late afternoon sun began to sink. He walked the familiar paths through the trees and around the lake, spotting a bench in a more secluded corner and sitting down with a sigh.

Maybe he was getting sloppy. Maybe the serum was wearing off and he’d return to the skinny little nobody he used to be. Maybe he had never been as good as he thought he was.

Always so dramatic, Peggy’s voice teased in the back of his mind.

Steve smiled and rolled his eyes at himself. She was right, of course. He absently hoped for another mission in England soon so he’d have the chance to see her again. She was by far his favorite overseas Agent to work with. She was exceptional and a great friend— not a common combination in their business. She’d been the one to choose him for Project Rebirth and the one to train him as he got used to his new body, but, most importantly, she’d seen his worth before the serum; a detail he would never forget. She’d been reluctant to leave him in the hands of SHIELD when work called her back to Europe, but Steve owed SHIELD for everything they’d done for him and so they went their separate ways. He hadn’t seen her in nearly a year now and even though they spoke every few weeks, he was missing her.

Steve did a quick conversion to see if it was too late to call London. Maybe she’d heard of the Winter Soldier, maybe not. Either way, Peggy always had a suggestion or two and Steve was a little desperate. It was 10:30PM in London. Late, but maybe just early enough. Steve hit speed dial for Peggy’s personal number and listened to the intermittent ringing as three young kids ran past his bench, chasing a duck that had wandered from the pond while their parents meandered behind them with matching smiles on their faces.

Rocky Road or Mint Chip?” Peggy asked as she picked up the phone.

“Uh,” Steve couldn’t help smile at the sound of her voice, “Mint?”

Wrong.

Steve heard the sound of an ice cream tub closing.

There goes my theory that you’re psychic,” she said, “I was just thinking about you.

“Oh, yeah?”

Yeah, I heard you’ve been having some trouble lately.

“You guys hear about that already?” Steve sighed and slumped down on the bench.

Great, his failures had already made it across the Atlantic. That wasn’t exactly encouraging.

It’s not you,” Peggy said consolingly, “We’ve been having our own problems with Hydra on our side too.”

“Really?” Steve sat up again, “What’s been happening?”

Ever hear of the Winter Soldier?

“Natasha might have mentioned him,” Steve said, almost surprised that she’d been telling the truth, “She said he’s a ghost.”

She would be correct,” Peggy sighed, “The guys a mystery. He pops out of nowhere and disappears just as quickly. We have no idea who he is, where he’s from, how they found him, what he wants, or what he’s capable of.

“Natasha said we need to be ruthless to beat him.”

Well, he certainly will be,” Peggy said, “He took down fourteen of our agents in about six minutes last week.

“Jesus, Pegs. Are you okay?”

Fine, fine,” Peggy waved him off, “I have a good second, remember?

“Angela, I remember.”

And I’d feel a lot better if you had one too.”

“I don’t need a second, Peggy.” Steve sighed, this was an old argument.

Everyone works better with a partner.”

“Not me,” Steve insisted, “Besides, the only one here I like enough would be Sam but he’s not full time.”

Still working at the VA on the side?

“Yeah, and I’m not going to ask him to give that up just to share my paperwork.”

Having a second is so much more than that, Steve,” Peggy pushed, “It’s about having someone you trust at your six.

“I trust my guys.”

Yes, but you’d never switch places with them on a mission if you had to.”

“That’s because I’m a super soldier and they're not. They can’t physically handle the things I have to do sometimes.”

Which is why you need a partner,” Peggy argued, “You need someone who can actually pick up the slack if you get hurt. You need someone who can walk through hell with you instead of going by yourself.

“I appreciate the sentiment, Peggy, I really do. But I can get by on my own.”

The thing is, you don’t have to, Steve.

“Well, unless you have another super soldier you’ve been keeping from me, I don’t know how I’m going to find someone to do all the things I can.”

Peggy sighed heavily.

You’re still with SHIELD, then?

“Of course,” Steve replied, deciding to agree to disagree and accept the change of subject, “I owe them my life.”

You don’t owe them anything,” Peggy grumbled, “I wish you’d get your head out of your ass and see that.

“I forgot how much you like to argue when you’re sleepy,” Steve teased.

I’m right and you know it,” Peggy replied, “You’re too good for SHIELD.

“You’re too good for MI6.”

I run MI6. It’s as good as I make it. You’re stuck running missions for Fury.

“Things are good here,” Steve argued, “Sure, Fury keeps more secrets than I’d like but, so far, he’s been fair.”

Hm.

“What?”

Nothing.

“What?”

You were made for more than this, ” Peggy said, “That’s all.

“I do a lot of good here,” Steve sighed, “the world doesn’t need Avenging all the time.”

Yes, but that’s where you do most of your best work,” Steve could hear the smile in her voice now, “I just found a gif of you getting drenched in alien goo from that job in Los Angeles.

“Ugh, that shit went everywhere,” Steve groaned, “We had to burn that uniform too, I liked that one.”

It did make your ass look great.

“Shut up, my ass always looks great.”

Yeah, yeah. Well, think about what I said and call me back when you realize I’m right.

“Don’t hold your breath,” Steve teased, “I still think you’re wrong about Chicago pizza being better than New York’s.”

That’s because you’re beyond biased. It’s just facts, Steven.

“You’re an uncultured Brit, your opinion on this matter means nothing.”

You should have thought of that before you made me try them both. This is your own fault.”

“No, this is a product of you poor upbringing. Your parents should have taught you better.”

I’m hanging up. I can’t talk to you when you’re like this,” Peggy laughed.

“Fine,” Steve chuckled, “I’ll call you later, okay?”

Okay,” Peggy replied, “Don’t get too lost in your own head about this Hydra stuff. You have a tendency to overthink, you know?”

“Yeah, I know. Why do you think I called you?”

Bye, Steve,” Peggy said through her smile, “get some rest.

“You too, Pegs.”

Steve waited until Peggy ended the call and sighed. She was a lot more experienced than him, that was for sure. He’d only received the super soldier serum four years ago and had been running missions for just three. But there really wasn’t anyone Steve could see having his back besides maybe Peggy herself or Sam, but even then, neither of them could keep up with Steve physically. It was the one downside of the Commandos. As good as they were, Steve always had to go slow enough that they could keep up. And then there was the mess that was the Avengers. They always got the job done, but not without a shit load of drama and petty arguments as they tried to make space for each other’s egos. Their problem was that they were all too used to being the strongest, smartest, most skilled person in the room and it showed. As a team they just barely managed to hold together. It was a balancing act that left them all drained for weeks afterwards. But the reason they all kept coming back was because they knew that together they could win the fights that they never could on their own.

Steve leaned forward on his elbows and stared over the still lake. Now left with his own thoughts, Steve prepared himself for an unproductive evening.

“Fancy seeing you here.”

Steve whipped around. Bucky was standing against a tree, dressed in a casual blue suit with his hair pulled back in a ponytail while a few of the shorter locks fell gently against his cheeks. He was too beautiful to be real.

“Sorry,” Bucky chuckled, “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Bucky, hi,” Steve stood, laughing off his surprise, “Wow, you almost gave me a heart attack.”

“My bad,” Bucky said, grinning widely at the sound of his own name and gesturing for Steve to sit back down as he plopped down next to him with one arm thrown over the back of the bench, “A few people have threatened to put a bell on me so it’s not just you.”

“I second that opinion,” Steve said, forcing himself to relax after being startled for the first time in four years, “You from around here?”

“Brooklyn,” Bucky replied, “born and raised.”

“No kidding,” Steve’s smile was more genuine this time, “small world.”

“Now, correct me if I’m wrong,” Bucky said, staring at the canopy of leaves above them and tapping his chin thoughtfully, “but I believe I was promised a mocha.”

When he turned to look at Steve there was laughter in his eyes and a touch of heat in his smile.

Flirting had been one thing but an actual date was a whole other ball park. Besides, dating a civilian was always risky. There was a whole pamphlet about it in the SHIELD initiation packet. Luckily, Bucky seemed like a nice, genuine guy and Steve knew he could gently reject him with the smallest shrug and that Bucky would accept his decision easily. It was the smart thing to do.

“Don’t forget the croissant.”

 


 

Fifteen minutes later they were sitting across from each other at a little café on Fifth Avenue, a white chocolate mocha with extra whipped cream in Bucky’s hand and peach tea for Steve with a chocolate croissant and a blueberry scone between them.

“So, Steve,” Bucky said, licking a dollop of whipped cream off his spoon, “what were you up to in Italy?”

“Working,” Steve said with a shrug, an idea forming in his head.

“Oh, what kind of work?”

“Option one,” Steve grinned cheekily, “I’m a travel writer and I was doing research for the billionth article ever written about Rome because my editor doesn’t believe that anything can be overdone.”

Bucky’s eyes lit up and he leaned forward on his elbows, intently focused on Steve.

“Option two,” Steve continued, “I’m a conservator. I was meeting with a client to discuss water damage on a few oil paintings in their private collection.”

Bucky tilted his head and squinted, his smile never wavering.

“Option three,” Steve grinned, “I’m finishing up my last year as an architecture grad student and my mentor asked me to assist her during the presentation of her design for a new nursing school on the edge of the city.”

Steve sat back with a challenging smirk.

“Guess right and I’ll consider this our first date.”

Bucky’s eyebrows shot up.

“And if I guess wrong?”

“Then it’ll be your turn to ask me out.”

Bucky laughed, his head tipping back like it had in Italy and when his eyes met Steve’s again there was a new determination in them.

“Well, let me think,” Bucky mused, leaning his head on his hand and letting his piercing blue eyes scan Steve like an x-ray, “you can’t be older than 28 so option three is plausible.”

Steve nodded agreeably and popped a chunk of scone into his mouth.

“But when you paid for our drinks I didn’t see a school ID in your wallet and you don’t seem the type to carry a credit card sized item anywhere else,” Bucky reasoned.

Steve hummed thoughtfully.

“A travel writer makes sense since we were in Rome, but not in the most touristy of areas,” Bucky mused, “that could work for a ‘Things Only the Locals Know About’ article.”

“Is that your final answer?” Steve asked, with an innocent smile.

“But,” Bucky continued, “you didn’t have a bag on you so no laptop, no notebook, and no camera besides the one on your phone so you weren’t there to write about the aesthetically rustic book shop we met in.”

Steve laughed.

“That leaves option two.” Bucky squinted adorably, “A perfectly reasonable option since Europe has a lot of old paintings floating around and a lot of rich people to hoard them.”

He scanned Steve’s chest again and Steve could feel his blush rising, right on cue.

“I mean,” Bucky muttered, “if you’d asked me to guess cold I’d have said a MMA fighter or something.”

“You’re just stalling now,” Steve accused with a self-conscious, but pleased eye roll.

“Okay, I’ve decided.” Bucky leaned back, smoothing out his neat jacket, “Option two, final answer!”

He used his index fingers to do a little drum roll on the edge of the table as he grinned expectantly up at Steve. Steve sighed dramatically.

“You’re right.”

“Hell yeah!” Bucky laughed, doing a victorious little fist pump.

“It’s really not that exciting,” Steve added with a self deprecating smile, “Just cleaning old art, doing touch ups, and re-stretching canvases, that sort of thing.”

“Really? That sounds so exciting,” Bucky leaned forward on his elbows, “I can’t imagine the pressure of trying to do touch ups on an old masterpiece.”

The top two buttons of his crisp shirt were undone and Steve could see the soft curve of his collarbone and the thin chain of a necklace disappearing beneath the fabric.

“And if they had you go all the way out to Italy then you must be good.”

Steve shrugged modestly, smiling into his tea.

“I end up traveling a lot for big pieces that can’t be shipped. It’s more of a convenience thing.”

“Hm, somehow I don’t totally believe you.” A sweet, teasing smile curved on Bucky’s lips.

It made Steve’s heart skip a beat.

“What about you? What were you up to?”

“Work as well,” Bucky said with his own shrug, “I’d make you guess too but I’m feeling generous, since this is our first date and all.”

Steve laughed, bright and full.

“I’m a security consultant. Basically, I walk through buildings and tell them whether or not someone could break in.”

“That’s cool,” Steve glanced around the coffee shop, another challenging grin rising on his face, “Think you could break into this place?”

Steve could see a basic, easily jimmied lock on the front door as well as a more sturdy bolt and alarm system that would, when engaged, prevent the average thief from getting in undetected. Windows lined the entire front of the café: standard glass, easily broken, and not alarmed. There were three cameras monitoring the small seating area with blind spots the size of jeeps between them. There was a basement, probably just used for storage, that was required to have a ground level entrance by New York law, with a standard padlock. Finally, there was the back door, big enough for shipments to come through and with at least three circulating copies of the key floating between the employees. Given all the options, Steve could think of at least eight ways of breaking in, grabbing one of their extremely expensive coffee machines, and breaking out without leaving a single trace.

Bucky laughed brightly, glancing over his shoulder to get a better look at the place.

“Hm, give me ten minutes, a screwdriver, and a piece of tape and you’ll have yourself a new coffee machine.”

Tape to cover the latch on the back door during business hours. No one would notice since it probably remained open during the day. After closing, the lock wouldn’t engage and Bucky’d be able to walk right in, avoid the cameras, and make it to the main floor of the café without a hitch. He would use the screwdriver to unbolt the most expensive coffee maker— the vintage espresso machine the café bragged about on their menus— from the countertop and then he’d just carry it out the way he came. It was the simplest option but it also involved the most visibility. He’d have to sneak through to the back while the café was still open to tape the latch and then take care to avoid the cameras. It was risky, but a confident thief could pull it off. Turned out, Bucky was the confident type.

Not that Steve was supposed to know anything about that.

“I’ll take your word for it,” he laughed, sipping his tea, “Ever use your powers for evil?”

“Only to steal things from my sister,” Bucky said with a grin, “she’s the spawn of satan, I swear.”

They talked about Bucky’s family, Steve’s non-existent taste in music, the Oceans 8 movie that came out last year—

“Guards in movies are always such bullshit! They couldn’t keep track of one necklace!”

“When are the guards not ridiculously incompetent though?”

“Richard Madden in the Bodyguard. Now, that’s a guy who knows what’s up.”

“What about Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum ?”

“Oh my god, don’t get me fucking started—“

—and everything in between. Steve found that he liked seeing the glint of joy in Bucky’s eyes every time Steve teased him and, more than that, he liked how Bucky managed to counter him back, teasing with equal vigor and matching him at every turn.

It was more fun than Steve had had in a long time and a more than welcome distraction from work and the mythic Winter Soldier. So much fun, in fact, that Steve didn’t notice the café closing around them until a shy looking barista came over and politely asked them to leave. Bucky held the door for him as they walked out and they both paused on the sidewalk outside. They’d created such a perfect bubble of potential for themselves in the last hour and Steve didn’t want it to end.

Steve quickly tallied his options. He wanted to ask for another date, but his schedule was so unpredictable— he could technically be called to work at any moment— so he had no idea when he’d be free again. He could ask Bucky to dinner right now. It was a little late and Bucky had probably already eaten but it would prolong the evening. He could invite Bucky back to his place— too forward maybe— but his bike was back at SHIELD HQ which would blow his cover if they went to get it, and SHIELD would want to know who exactly he was trying to take home— again, not ideal. Bucky seemed equally conflicted. He was biting his bottom lip and rubbing his left arm a little shyly.

“I—uh,” Bucky started.

It was endearing to see him looking so uncertain after all the confidence that had seemed to drip off him in the café. Steve let himself smile and waited for Bucky to continue, leaving the decision in his hands.

“I really like talking to you,” Bucky said quietly, looking up at Steve through his eyelashes, “and I want to do this again, but my schedule is really unpredictable and I work a lot of odd hours. I just don’t know when I’ll be available again.”

Steve was almost relieved.

“I was about to say the same thing,” Steve chuckled.

“Lots of conservation emergencies?” Bucky teased.

“You’d be surprised,” Steve said with mock seriousness, “One time I got a call at 4AM because someone in Canada spilled Windex on a Seurat.”

Bucky laughed, his eyes sparkling once again.

“Well.” Bucky pulled out his phone, “How about you give me your number then? You can text me whenever you’re in town and, if I’m around, maybe we can take a swing at date number two?”

“Sounds good.” Steve took Bucky’s phone and quickly typed in his number, sending himself a text of a smiling emoji so he’d have Bucky’s number as well.

“Rogers, huh?” Bucky said as he took his phone back, looking at the contact Steve had made for himself.

“What should I put you in as?” Steve asked, pulling out his own phone and saving Bucky’s number.

“James,” he said, laughing at Steve’s suspicious look, “James Barnes.”

“Where the hell did ‘Bucky’ come from?” He asked, typing in what was apparently Bucky’s real name.

“Hm,” Bucky thought for a moment with a small glint in his eyes, “that’s really more of a second date sort of question.”

Steve shook his head and chuckled.

“I should probably get going,” Bucky said as Steve put his phone away, sounding just as reluctant as Steve felt, “I have an early morning call.”

“Okay.” Steve wondered if it was too soon to kiss him because he really wanted to, “I’ll be in touch.”

Bucky smiled sadly and nodded.

“See you around, Steve.”

He turned to leave but Steve caught his wrist before he could get more than an arms length away.

Steve had never been shy or secretive about what he wanted. He’d spent the majority of his youth almost dying of various illnesses and now his work with SHIELD and the Avengers threatened to cut his life short even more frequently. Walking away from Bucky without a certain second date on the horizon, Steve wanted to be absolutely sure that his feelings were more than just known. He wanted them to be understood.

Steve took a step closer. He saw the moment Bucky’s breath sped up and a small flush appeared on his cheeks. Steve lifted his free hand and gently tucked a soft lock of the loose hair around Bucky’s face over his ear, dragging his fingertips across his cheekbone and down the curve of his jaw. Bucky looked up at him, his eyes sparkling with anticipation, then down at his lips, then back up. Steve leaned in until he could feel Bucky’s breath against his lips. He paused, just in case, but Bucky didn’t pull back. From barely an inch away, Steve could see the myriad of complexities in his warm blue eyes. Steve tilted his face to the side, turning to press his smiling lips against the soft skin of Bucky’s cheek.

“See you around, Bucky,” he whispered, pulling back just in time to see Bucky’s eyes flutter back open.

“Tease,” Bucky accused breathlessly.

Steve just grinned in response. He stepped back and let Bucky’s fingers fall away from his own.

“You can have a proper one next time.”

Understanding flashed across Bucky’s face.

“I guess we just have to make it happen then,” Bucky replied with a smile.

With one last look and a few reluctant steps, they parted ways and Steve knew that ‘next time’ couldn’t come soon enough.

 


 

4 minutes ,” Jim’s voice said in Steve’s ear.

“Copy.”

The mission was going smoothly so far. The boy, Jiho, was clutching Steve’s arm and Gabe was covering them from behind as they crouched in the stairwell of the apartment complex looking out onto the roof where Jim was going to bring the chopper down. They’d heard of Jiho less than a week ago after he suddenly showed signs of telekinetic abilities and enhanced senses during an elementary school class in South Korea. Hydra had quickly set their sights on him and the Commandos had been brought in to make sure he didn’t fall into their hands. They’d had three days in between missions to train and sharpen themselves and Steve was confident enough in his team to have a good feeling about this one. They wouldn’t let the ghost get the better of them this time.

“아저씨,” (Mister) Jiho whispered, tugging at Steve’s sleeve.

Steve didn’t know Korean— languages were Gabe’s area— but they’d been at this long enough that Steve knew Jiho was talking to him.

“What’s up, buddy?” He whispered back.

“계단에있어요.” (They’re on the stairs)

Gabe’s head whipped around.

“He says they’re coming up the stairs.”

Steve quickly pulled Jiho to the top of the stairwell but kept him far enough away from the door that a sniper couldn’t get him from one of the adjacent roofs. He planted himself in front of the kid and pulled out his shield.

“How many?” He asked urgently.

“얼마나?” (How many?) Gabe translated as Steve heard the first sounds of rattling weapons on the stairs.

“몰라요.” (I don’t know.)

“He doesn’t know.”

We’ve got you covered outside, Cap,” Dernier said through the coms, “I can see Morita approaching.”

“I’m starting my descent.” Jim added, “3 minutes.”

Roof is clear,” Dugan reported.

The first Hydra soldier made the mistake of sticking his head around the bend of the stairs. Gabe shot him in the forehead. Two more appeared and Steve deflected their bullet’s easily. A grenade flew towards them. Steve snatched it out of the air and threw it as hard as he could out the door and up. He heard it go off somewhere in the sky.

I’ve lost visual on the roof, ” Dugan hissed.

“Still good to land, Cap, I’m coming in,” Jim said.

Steve could hear the roar of the helicopter approaching as he slammed the edge of his shield into the face of a Hydra soldier who got too close.

“Move out!”

Steve grabbed Jiho around the waist and picked him up, kicking open the door and bolting toward the center of the roof with Gabe on his heels.

Cap! Abort!”

The warning came too late. There was a flash of metal and Steve was on the ground. Smoke from the grenade blurred Steve’s vision as he hauled himself up and held Jiho’s shaking body to his chest.

“I’m going over the east side,” Steve coughed, “Gabe, get out of here!”

“Roger!”

Steve flipped his shield onto his back and ran for the ledge of the building. As the smoke cleared, he saw a figure standing on the edge. His metal arm gleamed in the moonlight and his face was obscured by a dark mask, goggles, and long black hair.

The Winter Soldier, Steve’s mind supplied as he ran.

The Soldier watched Steve emotionlessly and raised his gun.

Steve braced himself for the hit but Dernier beat the Soldier to it, shooting him in the shoulder before he could aim at Steve or Jiho. Steve ran towards him and saw two fists, one flesh and one metal, raise but Steve barreled past him, planting a foot on the ledge and leaping off, twisting in mid air to put his body and shield between Jiho and whatever he ended up hitting. As he fell, he saw the Soldier’s face appear over the edge. The googles were gone and for a split second their eyes met. Even in the darkness, Steve could feel the chill of the Soldier’s piercing grey eyes. It made his blood run cold.

Steve fell through the open door of the helicopter, hitting the opposite door hard as the chopper turned back to an upright position and began speeding off.

“Report,” Steve gasped as he hit the ground, finally releasing his iron tight grip on Jiho and ripping off his helmet.

Clear.”

Clear.”

Clear.”

Clear.”

Gabe?” Steve asked.

Clear,” Gabe panted, “Just sprinting to safety, don’t mind me.”

Steve sighed in relief, looking down at Jiho’s terrified face.

“Are you hurt?” He asked gently.

Jiho blinked up at him.

“Gabe?” Steve asked.

“다친거야?” (Are you hurt?) Gabe said, a little breathlessly and Steve repeated his words as best he could.

Jiho shook his head, clearly in shock. Steve smiled calmly and lifted him into one of the choppers seats, pulling the harness down to buckle him in.

“Package retrieved. Mission: success.”

 


 

Since their date at the café, Steve and Bucky had been texting pretty regularly. Trading jibes and sharing little details about their days was all well and good but it had been just over three weeks and Steve was impatient for an afternoon off. After Korea there had been a hostage situation in Croatia and then aliens in Chile and about five hundred meetings to go along with it.

The whole time, Steve had been haunted by the cold gaze of the Winter Soldier. It followed him everywhere; when he drifted off in the quinjet, while he spoke with Peggy on the phone, while he dragged gooey alien corpses off the roads. He found himself double checking the locks on his apartment and jumping at harmless shadows in the night. It was an odd feeling, to have an enemy so elusive. Every person Steve passed with dark hair was him, every pair of pale eyes shone with malice, and every metallic gleam was the shine of his deadly metal arm.

Then his phone would ping.

 

Bucky: I just saw the puffiest dog in the universe. 

Bucky: I love New York but these sirens are getting ridiculous. Can someone not be dying for the next fifteen minutes please? I’m trying to watch Say Yes to the Dress.

Bucky: Okay, I’m trying to pick out an outfit that says “Hi, I’m a professional and you should pay me to tell you all the stuff you’re doing wrong” for my meeting tomorrow, but will also help me retain my position as The Best Uncle In The World when I get to my niece’s 6th birthday party afterwards. Thoughts?

 

Steve found himself getting more and more excited every time his phone buzzed, to the extent that even Tony, who was usually to self-absorbed to notice anything, saw how twitchy he was.

“What’s up with you, Rogers?” He asked as they walked out of what was ostensibly their last meeting about the Chile mission, “You got a hot date or something?”

“No,” Steve said quickly, forcing himself to ignore the buzz of a new text in his pocket.

He wasn’t averse to sharing details of his personal life with the Avengers, but the teasing tended to be very thorough and Steve wanted a little longer to bask in the newness of whatever it was he had with Bucky.

“Liar,” Natasha muttered with a grin, following them into the elevator, Clint and Bruce trailing in behind her.

“Ooh, what’s their name, Cap?” Clint teased, “Anyone we know?”

“Want me to run a background check?” Tony asked mockingly as the elevator started to move, “You know you can’t trust everything people put on their Tinder profiles.”

“Come on, Cap,” Natasha nudged his arm playfully, “throw us a bone here.”

“Oh, leave him alone,” Bruce placated as the doors opened up to the Avenger’s Lounge in Stark Tower, “If you keep going on like this and he’ll never introduce us.”

“Hey, if they can’t handle all this then they’re not worth it,” Tony declared, flopping down on one of the plush couches that lined the space.

The rest of the Avengers followed suit, each slipping away to their personal favorite corners of the Lounge. While they were somewhat distracted, Steve pulled out his phone.

 

Bucky: Client cancelled last minute, you free?

Bucky: I hear there’s a new exhibition on the Tale of Genji at the Met if you’re not too tired of looking at art all day :)

 

“Is that all for today?” Steve asked, as professionally as he could, still lingering by the elevator.

“Yeah, Cap, that’s all,” Clint said with a smile, waving Steve away, “go on.”

“Be careful out in public!” Tony called as Steve hit the down button, “Don’t get mobbed by adoring Captain America fans!”

“Some of us have secret identities, Stark,” Natasha said, rolling her eyes, “and Rogers is surprisingly good at the whole Clark Kent thing.”

“Unlike some people,” Clint added snarkily.

“I could be secretive if I wanted to,” Tony protested.

“Your suit covers your entire body, Tony,” Bruce argued, “If you had even one drop of self preservation in you, you’d have let the world guess about your identity for more than three whole seconds.”

“It was longer than that,” Tony yelped, “It was like, an hour!”

“Bye guys!” Steve shouted loudly over his shoulder as the elevator finally arrived.

“Use protection!” Tony shouted back as Steve hit the button for the ground floor.

“Be back by ten!” Natasha added with a grin.

Steve flipped them off as the doors slid shut and quickly shot Bucky a message.

 

Steve: Meet you there in an hour?

 

Bucky: Hell yeah.

 

As the elevator began to move Steve did a mental double take. A background check. That would be smart. He didn’t actively suspect Bucky of anything but someone in his position needed to act with a certain amount of caution. Their first date had been so spontaneous that Steve decided to forgive himself for that one as he hit the button for the Stark Workshop floor, but now that more dates were a possibility it would be stupid not to take a quick peek into Bucky’s background.

He could go to SHIELD, but he didn’t trust them to keep their noses out of his business once the check was over. The idea of giving them Bucky’s name felt like a bad idea. He’d probably end up on some watchlist or something even if there was nothing in his background that would warrant that. Besides, SHIELD already had such a chokehold on Steve’s life that having one thing to himself felt like such a breath of fresh air. Luckily for him, Tony had an array of resources at his disposal that Steve could easily utilize for his own purposes. All he needed was someone flexible enough to help him out.

The Workshop was a chaotic labyrinth of metal and deadly machinery. Steve quietly slipped between racks of sheet metal and the forge hot enough to melt vibranium as he poked around looking for Darcy Lewis. He found her in her usual spot in the tech corner where the engineers ran numbers before pulling out the saws and lasers.

“Well, if it isn’t the star spangled man himself,” Darcy greeted loudly, drawing the attention of the handful of Stark employees crunching numbers and lounging around on the sofas away from the grime of the actual workshop, “step into my office.”

Darcy’s “office” was the corner of a long workbench littered with empty coffee mugs, half scribbled out schematics, and what looked like the disassembled pieces of a prototype of one of Clint’s bows. Darcy kicked out a stool for Steve and he subtly brushed the metal dust and scrapings off it before sitting down.

“Thanks for making time for me,” Steve joked, “your secretary just said to come right in?”

“Ah, yes. Thor is such a dear,” Darcy said as she shoved all the crap on the table away from them and pulled her laptop closer, adjusting her glasses as she examined the screen, “Now, I see here that you’re struggling with erectile dysfunction, is that correct?”

Steve heard someone at the table next to them choke on their coffee and he couldn’t hold back his laughter. One minute with Darcy and the stress of a weeks worth of tedious meetings instantly evaporated.

“As much as I would love to talk to you about that,” Steve said through the last of his giggles, “I’m here to ask a favor.”

“Oof, that’s gonna cost you,” Darcy said, tapping her dark red lips thoughtfully, “Though, I am partial to the idea of Captain America owing me one.”

“Great.” Steve leaned forward so he could talk more quietly, “I need you to run a background check, discreetly.”

“Oh, you should have led with that.” Darcy leaned in too, “Dish.”

“Okay, so there’s this guy—“

“SOLD!” Darcy exclaimed, spinning her laptop around and typing more quickly than Steve could keep up with, “I’ll do it for free, just send me dick pics later.”

“No, gross!” Steve laughed, scrunching his nose as Darcy typed.

“Okay, what’s his name?”

“James Barnes.” Steve leaned over her shoulder to watch as she typed Bucky’s name into whatever mildly illegal database she was using, “And we’re just checking to make sure he doesn’t have sketchy ties or anything, for safety. Nothing too invasive.”

“Fine, fine,” Darcy placated as she began scrolling through documents, “but if you want his social security number or something just hit me up.”

“I will not.”

“Hm,” Darcy shrugged, “Okay. Your boy was born March 10th, 1991 at New York Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital via emergency C-section—“

“Darcy, what did I just say!” Steve hissed, slapping his hands over his own ears.

“Sorry, sorry” Darcy chuckled, not sounding sorry at all, “I forgot you have different standards than me.”

“God, I hope so.”

“Okay, take two,” Darcy began again, “March 10th, blah, blah, high school in Brooklyn, got a scholarship to NYU— nice— took a gap year, works as a security consultant, lives in Bay Ridge at 30 94th St, Brooklyn, blah, blah, blah. Your boy looks clean, Steve. Kind of boring, if I’m being honest. He hasn’t even got any parking tickets.”

“Good,” Steve sighed, relieved but not all that surprised, “Thanks, Darcy.”

“No problemo, Captain,” she replied with a little salute, “I’ll email you the works in case you need to check anything.”

“There’s no need—“

“I already did.”

Steve felt his phone buzz in his pocket.

“Okay, great,” Steve stood, “I gotta go, but thank you, really.”

“Of course, man,” Darcy grinned at Steve as he turned to leave, “and Steve?”

Steve looked back at her.

“I want those dick pics.”

Steve felt his face turn bright red as two people choked and all the heads in the room snapped towards him.

“BYE!” Steve yelled over his shoulder as he made a hasty tactical retreat back to the elevator.

 


 

Steve jogged up the steps out of the Metro and hurried down 5th Avenue, where the Metropolitan Museum of Art stood waiting in the distance. He quickly checked his reflection in the window of a parked car, running his fingers through his short hair and straightening the collar of his casual blue jacket, silently thanking his past self for wearing his nice jeans today instead of the slightly stained, faded ones he sometimes wore when no one with more authority than Fury was attending the Avengers meetings. It was a nice afternoon, but luckily the museum didn’t look too crowded and Steve spotted Bucky sitting halfway up the stone steps, leaning back on his elbows and enjoying the sunshine.

God, he was gorgeous.

Steve thought that every time he saw him and yet it still hit him like a ton of bricks. He hadn’t actually painted in years but his classically trained mind traced the rim of light illuminating Bucky’s profile and begged for a brush. He was wearing an olive green henley and his hair was half tied up, half loose around his neck like it had been in Italy. Steve snuck out his phone and discreetly snapped a picture before walking the rest of the way up the steps and stopping at Bucky’s side.

“Long time no see,” he said, smiling as Bucky squinted up at him.

“Steve!” Bucky stood gracefully.

Now that he wasn’t wearing a jacket or blazer, Steve could really see how muscular his chest and shoulders were. They almost matched each other in breadth, which was saying a lot since Steve was a genetically enhanced super soldier.

“You made it,” Bucky grinned at him, brushing a stray lock of hair out of his face and tucking it behind his ear a little self consciously.

Steve felt like there was something he should do as they stood facing each other. A handshake was too formal, a hug was too friendly, a kiss— even on the cheek— was way too forward considering how long it had been since they’d last seen each other. He met Bucky’s gaze and got lost for a second in the soft intensity of his smile. After a moment, Steve laughed.

“Sorry.” He shook his head, “I just— um, you look really good, Buck.”

“Thanks,” Bucky laughed, “You aren’t too shabby yourself.”

He gave Steve a quick once over, from head to toe, and Steve felt his cheeks heating up.

“You want to head in?” he said quickly as Bucky’s eyes snapped back up to his.

Bucky nodded and when Steve turned to continue up the steps, he hooked his hand in the crook of Steve’s elbow, letting his fingers lay gently against Steve’s bicep. Steve felt every nerve in his body zero in on the warmth he could now feel through his jacket and he tried not to trip over his own feet as he led them inside.

Steve knew the museum well. He told Bucky it was because he’d spent a lot of time there when he was studying art at Cooper Union, which he had, but in reality he knew the halls so well because he’d done a job with the Commandos there once and he’d needed to know the building inside and out. He took them up to the Genji exhibit, explaining the ins and outs of Japanese ukiyo-e prints and the intricacies of calligraphy in answer to Bucky’s questions and tried not to spend more time looking at Bucky than the art.

“What about this one?” Bucky pointed at a print featuring several elaborately dressed women sitting around a small table while a few others played instruments in the corner.

“Hm,” Steve scanned the label quickly, “It says here that this one’s a Japanese National Treasure from Ishiyamadera Temple.”

“Whoa,” Bucky leaned in closer to examine the piece.

Steve saw his eyes flick down, and then up towards the nearest corner. There were motion sensors in the floor and in the frame and there was a small camera watching them from the ceiling.

“Thinking about how you’d steal it?” Steve asked casually.

Bucky’s face snapped up and then he shushed Steve dramatically.

“Shh! There’s a guard like six feet away!” He hissed, giggling a little as he pulled Steve to the next piece, “You’re gonna blow my cover.”

Steve covered his mouth with his hand to keep his laughter from getting too loud.

“You were, weren’t you,” he teased as they pretended to look at some pristine lacquer ware.

“I can’t help it,” Bucky said, scrunching his nose adorably, “besides, this is the Met. They have the best security money can buy.”

“So, you couldn’t take something even if you wanted to?” Steve said as casually as he could, grinning widely as he watched Bucky rise to the bait.

“Well,” he said, rolling his eyes cheekily, “I didn’t say that .”

“Uh huh.” Steve led them to the next item, an exquisite silver kimono with nearly ten layers of different colored fabrics peaking out around the collar and sleeves.

“I’d need a team,” Bucky whispered, leaning in closer so his voice didn’t carry, “four people tops.”

Steve had been thinking five. He let his lips twitch into a grin as he continued leading them from object to object.

“Not eight, like the film?” Steve asked, discreetly trying to get Bucky to continue without letting on that he knew anything about security.

“They needed extra people to accommodate for the specificity of the object,” Bucky reasoned, “A print would be much easier to transport discreetly.”

“You sure about that?” Steve asked, smirking at Bucky’s raised eyebrow, “If you’re thinking you’d roll it up you’ve got another thing coming.”

“Oh?” Bucky asked, pretending to read the label of a long scroll of calligraphy.

“A print of that nature would crack unless kept flat,” Steve told him, “by the time you got out the door you’d have nothing but a handful of worthless paper fragments.”

“So, it needs to be transported within the frame,” Bucky mused, “I can work with that. A small electromagnetic pulse should take out the alarms so I can get it off the wall—”

“Once you do, the temperature control inside the frame will stop working,” Steve countered, “You’ll be on a time crunch after that.”

“Damn, how long?”

“With a piece that old?” Steve thought for a moment, “12 hours before the binding in the ink started to decay. If it’s really hot or humid then the red ink will start to run within the hour.”

“Jesus, these things are finicky,” Bucky grumbled as they passed another print, “Okay, forget the pulse. I’ll add another person to my team who can manually override the alarms, leaving the temperature control active for removal.”

Steve grinned. A five person team. Bucky was on the right track.

“So, that’s me on retrieval, a tech wiz, a scout, a grifter, and an inside man.”

“I bet insiders can be tricky,” Steve said thoughtfully as they examined an elaborate palanquin, “They could flip on you or give you misinformation if they’re not used to running this sort of job. Sure you want to take that risk?”

“Well, what would be my alternative?” Bucky asked indulgently.

Steve grinned and tipped his head to give Bucky a sly look.

“An expert.”

Bucky threw his head back and laughed.

“Oh, I see,” he said through his glee, “You want to be cut in.”

“It’s the least you could do for this free consultation I’m giving you,” Steve replied with fake haughtiness, “After all, you’ll get a nice 8 figure sum for that piece on the black market.”

“Who says I’m going to sell it?” Bucky leaned in closer so Steve could feel his breath against his cheek, “Maybe I’m going to give it to this cute conservator I know.”

Steve’s heart stuttered in his chest.

“Yeah?” Steve asked, unhooking Bucky’s hand from his arm so he could tangle their fingers together, “what if I wanted the Mary Cassatt hanging downstairs?”

“I’d jack it tonight. Team of three. Electromagnetic pulse and it’d come right off the wall.”

“What about Rothko’s No. 13 ?”

“Team of four. In, out. Might have to stun a guard or two but the paintings big enough to use as a shield that no one here would dare shoot at.”

“What about the Venus Italica by Canova?”

“Sculptures are tough. Team of nine. I’d have someone trip an alarm, maybe spill some non-damaging liquid on it and then snag it while it’s being transported for cleaning downstairs.”

Steve stared at the man next to him. Bucky stared back with a smirk and a raised eyebrow. There was only one thought in Steve’s head:

That’s exactly what I would do.

He grabbed Bucky’s hand more firmly and pulled him from the exhibit, leading them down the hall and through the neighboring gallery showcasing the art of Oceania.

“Steve?” Bucky asked as he hurried along beside him, “Where are we going?”

Steve didn’t answer. He pulled them up a small staircase and through a door into the service hallway that linked the offices upstairs and the galleries— left unlocked for students in the neighboring schools to get to the private art history library upstairs.

He shut the door and shoved Bucky against the wall before fisting his hands in Bucky’s shirt and crashing their lips together. Bucky’s surprised gasp morphed into a moan as Steve bit down on his bottom lip and then roughly licked over the spot. Bucky quickly returned the favor, opening his mouth and letting Steve slide in. Steve tangled his fingers in Bucky’s soft brown hair, tugging until his head was tipped back at the perfect angle and Bucky’s warm hands quickly slid under his shirt, gripping his hips and tugging him closer so they were plastered together from knee to shoulder as he kissed back with equal fervency. Steve got a thigh between Bucky’s legs and pressed up, making Bucky pull back with a gasp, his head hitting the wall behind him with a thud and his eyes fluttering shut as Steve did it again. Steve chased after Bucky’s taste, sealing his lips over the strong muscle of his neck, scraping the skin with his teeth as he sucked.

“Fuck— Stevie,” Bucky hissed as his nails scraped against Steve’s back.

Steve moaned in agreement against the bruise he was biting into Bucky’s skin. A sharp tug on Steve’s hair pulled him back up and Bucky slid his tongue into Steve’s mouth while continuing to grind their hips together. Another roll and Bucky’s cock starting making its presence known against Steve’s thigh.

“God, I wanna blow you,” Steve whispered against Bucky’s lips.

Bucky groaned loudly.

“Larceny really does it for you, huh?”

Steve laughed, burying his face against Bucky’s shoulder and mouthing at the skin just visible above the collar of his shirt. He slid his hands down to cup Bucky’s ass, lifting him a little to grind harder against him.

“You really do it for me,” he replied breathlessly.

It was the truth. Steve hadn’t felt this attracted to someone in years, maybe ever. His heart was racing and he felt like if he didn’t get his hands all over Bucky’s skin immediately, he might explode. He squeezed Bucky’s ass again, feeling him through his jeans while Bucky started riding his thigh, rubbing himself against Steve with quick little thrusts.

“This is such a bad idea,” Bucky moaned, clutching Steve’s shoulders, his hair, anything he could reach.

“Yeah,” Steve agreed, licking his way up Bucky’s neck and sucking another mark just below his jaw.

The click of a latch echoed down the hall.

“—gave me a B-! I swear, I deserved at least a B+.”

Steve and Bucky both froze, staring at each other with wide eyes.

“She’s a super tough teacher though. A B- is like an A in any other class.”

“Abort,” Bucky hissed, quickly detangling himself from Steve while Steve bit back his laughter, “abort, abort, abort.”

“This way,” Steve laughed, grabbing Bucky’s hand again and tugging him back into the galleries.

As they darted around statues and between tour groups, Steve could hear Bucky break into giggles. Steve was sure they both looked a mess— hair wild, cheeks flushed, clothes rumpled— not to mention the fresh hickies dotting Bucky’s neck. He quickly pulled Bucky into the main foyer, down the stairs, and out the front entrance where Bucky doubled over, laughing until there were tears in his eyes.

“I—I feel like a teenager,” Bucky managed to get out between loud, gasping laughs.

Steve felt his own cheeks starting to hurt from smiling and pulled Bucky around one of the pillars by the entrance to give them a semblance of privacy.

“It’s like we’re hiding under the bleachers or something,” Bucky continued, wiping his eyes before dissolving once again into giggles.

Steve wrapped an arm around his waist and pulled them flush together again so they were laughing against each other’s cheeks. Bucky’s hands tugged at the collar of Steve’s jacket, pulling him even closer, as he pressed their foreheads together.

“You are somethin’ else, Steve Rogers.”

Steve felt something wild and pleased settle in his chest.

“I know what I want,” Steve said quietly, pressing his smile into Bucky’s cheek and tipping his head to whisper directly into Bucky’s ear, “and I don’t like waiting.”

He felt Bucky shiver against him and when he pulled back Bucky was biting his lip like he was trying to keep himself together.

“Let’s get out of here,” Bucky murmured, brushing their noses together, “before I turn into an actual teenager and ruin these jeans.”

Steve laughed again and let Bucky pull them down the Met’s wide staircase toward the street. As long as Bucky didn’t want to go to Steve’s place, he had no objections.

“Please tell me your place is nearby?” Bucky asked as he hailed a cab on the curb.

Steve groaned internally. His official place was an apartment at Stark Tower. He generally used it as a decoy apartment since it was general knowledge that Captain America lived there. But Steve Rogers lived in Brooklyn and is place had more security protocols around it than the average nuclear silo. He almost never had guests over because when he did he had to inform SHIELD first, then have a handful of techs come by to sweep the place for evidence of his involvement with SHIELD and the Avengers to make sure his cover wouldn’t be blown. It was annoying, but Steve was willing to put up with it in exchange for not having to worry about getting assassinated in the night.

Steve let his smile slide in favor of an apologetic cringe.

“Damn, well—“ Bucky was cut off by the buzzing of his phone.

He dropped Steve’s hand to get it and as he read the message his face darkened.

“Everything okay?” Steve asked as Bucky scowled.

“Yeah, sorry.” Bucky shoved his phone back into his pocket, “That was my boss. Cancel one meeting and they’ll just find you another.”

He looked up at Steve with a sigh and the darkness seemed to lift a little.

“Looks like I’m gonna have to raincheck,” he said with a soft smile, “Think you can wait a little longer?”

“Of course,” Steve assured him, laughing at Bucky’s raised eyebrow, “I said I don’t like waiting, not that I can’t.”

A cab pulled up in front of them.

“Text me when you’re free again?” Steve asked as he opened the door for Bucky.

“Will do.”

Bucky slid his hand around the back of Steve’s neck and pulled him in for one last deep, lingering kiss.

“See you around, Stevie.”

“Bye, Buck.”

The cab door shut and Steve watched it disappear down Fifth Avenue, too happy to be disappointed.

 


 

“How’s it looking, Falsworth?”

“All clear, Cap. Ready when you are.”

“Copy.”

Dugan, Gabe, Jim, and Dernier stepped to the side of the quinjet to make space as Steve took running leap out the back of the plane. Dressed in his SHIELD uniform and helmet with his shield strapped to his back— covered with a black film to hide the red, white, and blue design— Steve felt almost invincible as the dark ocean below came rushing towards him. He angled his body so he was as streamlined as possible, counting the seconds before ducking his head and pointing his hands to slide into the water with minimal splash.

10/10,” he heard Dugan mutter through the coms as Steve followed the bubbles back to the surface.

“Really? I thought the splash could have been smaller,” Jim remarked as Steve swam towards the ship.

“The angle was a little tilted,” Gabe added.

“Tough crowd,” Steve grumbled as he grabbed on to the chain of the ship’s anchor.

“We’re just trying to keep you sharp, Cap,” Jim said innocently, “Can’t have you getting sloppy, now can we?”

“Yeah, yeah, anyone on deck?”

“You’re clear for now,” Falsworth said from his hidden perch already on the ship, “There are two heading towards your entry point. 2 minutes.”

More than enough time.

Steve scaled the chain quickly, hopping silently over the edge of the vessel, pulling on his night vision goggles, and folding himself into the shadows as the two armed guards walked past. Steve attacked them from behind. A flick of his shield and one was down, he hit the other with a jab to the throat and a kick in the face. He grabbed his shield as it bounced back to him, taking off across the deck, avoiding the sight lines of the control room, and swiftly knocking out every guard he came across. He smashed a head into a metal railing, kicked an agent over the side of the ship, struck one down with a vibranium laced hit to the sternum.

Piece of cake.

“Clear,” he whispered, waiting at the rear of the ship until he could see the parachutes of the rest of the Commandos starting to descend around him in the darkness. They gathered quickly at the entrance to the lower levels and Steve used a few silent gestures to send them all off into the depths of the vessel with their guns raised. They each had a small SHIELD flash drive and the three of them that found the ship’s three information terminals would use them to extract the intelligence buried in its servers. Steve shadowed Dernier until they reached the base of the control room. Dernier continued forward while Steve climbed the narrow ladder up toward the center of the ship. He silently lifted himself into the chamber and found three guards on the ground, each with bullet wounds littered across their torsos.

“Someone else is here,” Steve hissed, “look alive.”

“Fuck.

The sound of gunfire rang through the coms and Jim’s line went dead.

“Gabe.”

“On it.”

Heart suddenly racing as the mission took a sharp turn south, Steve crept between the panels of buttons and levers toward the next room.

Jim’s alive. Two shots, leg and shoulder. His com got blown out.”

Steve sighed in relief and nudged the door open.

Found the first terminal. Accessing data now.”

“I can see terminal two,” Dernier whispered, “Four Hydra agents. Need back up.”

“On it,” Dugan replied.

Steve peeked through the crack of the door and saw three Hydra soldiers rifling through the filing cabinets against the wall. Oddly, they weren’t going for the information terminal next to them.

“Found terminal three,” Steve whispered.

Need backup? ” Falsworth asked.

“Nah, I got it.”

Steve watched them for a moment longer before flinging his shield through the door and jumping over the control panels to catch it after it slammed the first soldier’s head into the cabinet. He blocked the incoming gunfire and ran forward, using his shield like a battering ram to crush the second one against the wall before pulling a knife from his belt and burying it in the third one’s chest.

Through the coms he heard Dernier and Dugan engage the four agents between them and their terminal. He listened to them fight their way through as he stuck his flash drive into the port.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood up.

Steve turned. The dark room looked empty.

“Going offline,” he whispered, switching his com off before anyone could respond and quietly walking between the consoles as the pre-programmed USB did its work extracting information they needed.

The punch came out of nowhere. Steve hit the ground and rolled, using his momentum to get back on his feet with his shield out in front of him.

The Winter Soldier stalked toward him like a panther with murder in his eyes. His black hair hung around his face like blinders, blocking his peripheral vision, and his mask trapped the bottom half of his face like a muzzle. The Soldier’s leather suit covered his entire body from neck to booted feet, only exposing his metal left arm, emblazoned with a red star and gleaming in the softy blinking lights of the control panels. Steve watched the metal twist and clench like real flesh as it made a fist and came rushing toward his face.

It was oddly beautiful.

Steve felt the air blow past the skin of his exposed jaw as he dodged, the Soldier’s cold metal knuckles barely grazed the side of his helmet as he turned just in time. The Soldier followed through with his punch, pulling his fist back to his side, and Steve found them face to face, inches apart, and the eyes that had been haunting him since their last meeting over a month ago stared back at him with cool indifference.

“Soldier,” Steve greeted with feigned serenity.

“Captain.”

His voice was low, barely a whisper. More like a breath than a sound. Steve backed into the open space by the windows, leading the Soldier towards more open ground.

Each of the Soldier’s steps were completely silent, every movement deliberate. Steve stopped in the center of the space and the Soldier came to a halt less than ten feet away, watching him with those piercing eyes.

For a moment, neither of them moved.

Steve dropped to the ground and the Soldier’s knife buried itself in the wall behind him. Steve swept his foot out, but the Soldier jumped to avoid it. Steve blocked the incoming round of bullets with his shield and smashed the edge of it against the Soldier’s metal arm, which didn’t illicit any sort of reaction from the man it was attached to. The Soldier came at him with another knife, flipping it easily into his left hand when Steve trapped his right against the window. He dodged the swipe and threw his shield. It bounced off the wall and hit the Soldier in the back, knocking him forward as the shield ricocheted back to Steve, who whipped it out again as soon as it was back in his hand.

Faster than Steve thought was possible, the Soldier turned around, catching the shield in his metal grasp and stopping it in its tracks.

Steve froze.

No one had ever done that before.

A second later the shield hit him in the stomach, sending him sliding back into the wall with the force of the impact. Steve caught the shield and looked up just in time to twist out of the way of the Soldier’s fist, which hit the wall with a crunch. Steve used the opening to dig the edge of his shield under the plates of the Soldier’s metal arm. He heard something crack and he twisted until he could see sparks flying underneath the smooth metal. He heard a small grunt behind the Soldier’s mask and a moment later Steve was on his back.

Steve found himself grinning as he hit the ground. He pushed back against the floor to leap to his feet. No one had ever grabbed the shield out of mid air before. He blocked the swipe of another knife. No one had ever thrown his own shield at him. Steve got a hand around the Soldier’s wrist and twisted. No one had ever flipped him onto his back like he weighed nothing. Steve doubled down, looking for every opening, every opportunity to land a hit. He clipped the Soldier’s chin. The Soldier left a shallow slice across his thigh. He brought the Soldier to his knees with the flat of his shield. The Soldier got an arm around his neck and squeezed. He twisted out of the Soldier’s grasp and kneed him in the sternum. The Soldier caught him around the ankle and pulled.

It was like a dance.

With every step they moved closer together, then dodged and twisted apart, never going out of arm’s reach of each other. Steve began to feel the rhythm of motion between them. In his mind he could see the fight unfolding, piece by piece. He would go left, the Soldier would go right, he’d let the Soldier land a hit to his shoulder so he could swipe at his exposed ribs, the Soldier would twist and plant a kick against Steve’s hip, Steve would fall with a hand fisted in the Soldier’s suit, and the Soldier would reel back, keeping Steve on his feet. He started thinking seven, eight moves ahead, predicting the Soldier’s movements with more and more accuracy as he got to know the ebb and flow of the his body. But at the same time, the Soldier was learning about him too. Steve kicked out at the Soldier’s chest and found his metal hand already there, catching his ankle and holding it still.

It was unlike anything Steve had ever experienced.

As he kicked his ankle out of the Soldier’s metal grasp he felt that something had shifted. They weren’t even really fighting anymore. They were just feeling each other out, testing their limits, prying for weak spots and finding none. Amidst the noise of the battle, Steve heard the quiet beep of the USB, having finally extracted all information from the terminal.

The fight would keep going until one of them made a mistake, Steve realized. What would happen then was becoming less and less certain as Steve found himself not wanting to defeat his opponent. This was just an introduction. A prelude to something else. Something unique.

Steve dropped from his fighting stance, standing up straight with his hands limp at his sides.

The Soldier froze, the fist coming towards Steve’s chest remained hovering two inches from impact as grey eyes blinked up at him in surprise. As they stared at each other, Steve could swear he saw a new lightness in the Soldier’s eyes. A spark maybe. A hint of something beyond the cold emptiness that had been there before. The Soldier dropped his stance too, mimicking Steve’s relaxed posture.

Steve reached behind him and pulled the flash drive from the terminal. The Soldier, never taking his eyes off Steve, knelt down, pushed aside a piece of broken console from the mess they’d made, and picked up a small cylindrical canister from amidst the contents of the broken filing cabinet.

They stood silently, each with the items they’d been sent to collect, and in unison they took a step away from each other. Then another. And then another. Twenty paces back and Steve was in the doorway he’d come through and the Soldier was at the one on the far side of the room.

Then the Soldier was gone.

Steve backed through the doorway and half collapsed against the adjacent wall with a groan, ripping his helmet and goggles off to let his sweaty skin breathe.

“Captain!”

Someone was calling him.

“Captain!”

Falsworth appeared at the other end of the corridor with his gun raised. He sighed in relief when he saw Steve standing there.

“Found him,” Falsworth said into his com, panting heavily, “he’s fine. What the hell, Cap?”

“Sorry,” Steve breathed, “I turned my com off.”

“Why?”

Falsworth jogged up to him and reeled back when he took in the rips in his uniform and the bruises on his face.

“What the hell happened to you?”

Steve couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled up in his chest as he let his head fall back against the cool metal wall. His knees felt oddly weak.

“I met the Winter Soldier.”

 


 

Thwack!

Thwack!

Thwack!

The punches weren’t relieving his tension like they normally did.

Thwack!

Thwack!

He threw in an upper cut as the punching bag started to swing a little too much.

Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!

The bag hit the ground, it’s filling starting to spill across the padded floor as Steve sighed up at the ceiling. A quick glance at the clock revealed it was nearly 7PM. He’d been going at it for over three hours. He kicked the useless punching bag into the corner where fourteen others lay in a sad heap of stuffing and sand. He picked up a fresh bag and hung it before leaning back into his stance.

Thwack!

Thwack!

A dark figure loomed in the shadows.

Thwack!

Pale eyes flashed through his mind.

Thwack! Thwack!

A metal fist came flying at his face.

THWACK!

The punching bag flew back, hitting the wall and sliding to the floor in a puddle of its own innards. Steve sighed and slid down to the ground, stretching out on his back and staring up at the rows of lights above him. It was no use. No matter what he did, the Winter Soldier kept creeping back into his mind.

Their fight had been exhilarating. It had been the best fight he’d ever had. Steve’s chest filled with giddy anticipation for the next time he and the Soldier would cross paths. Their skirmish had just been the start. It hadn’t been a fight; it was a conversation.

Who are you? What are you capable of?

The answer, it seemed, had intrigued them both.

He’d given a description of the Soldier to SHIELD, who were working to track him down in whatever way they could. Natasha had taken one look at the damage the Soldier had inflicted across Steve’s body and suggested that Steve had come across another enhanced super soldier. No one had ever matched Steve so perfectly before. Even with whatever added strength the metal arm might give him, the Soldier was far too skilled to be human.

It made sense. Four years ago when Steve had received the super soldier serum, SHIELD had been compromised. A Hydra agent had nearly managed to get away with the serum. Luckily, Peggy had stopped him first, but it proved the lengths that Hydra would be willing to go to get their hands on a super soldier. That was part of the reason SHIELD insisted on keeping Steve close. That and the fact that Steve owed SHIELD his life kept him coming back, even though Steve had more than a few issues with the way the organization was run. Now Steve wondered what promises Hydra might have made to the Soldier before they experimented on him. Steve wondered if the metal arm had been a prior condition, or an “upgrade” Hydra had decided he needed.

The metal arm had thrown Natasha off. She swore vehemently that, even though the Soldier had been far away, she would have noticed a metal arm. It had been two years since she’d been shot in Odessa, so the only explanation was that in the interim, something had happened. What exactly that might be, neither of them knew. But whatever it was, it had somehow gotten the better of the Winter Soldier and it proved the ghost was only human.

When the weeks worth of meetings were over and Natasha had gone, Steve ended up at home, staring at his bedroom ceiling, and chasing the rush he’d felt as he and the Soldier fought. It wasn’t just adrenaline or exhilaration or even fear. It was the almost certain knowledge that the Soldier could beat him. One slip up, one wrong foot, one step backwards, and it would all be over. Steve was self aware enough to know that there wasn’t anything he liked more than a fight he might not win but the burning desire to get back out there, to hunt the Soldier down and face off once again was so overwhelming it was almost scary.

Twenty minutes later, he was back at the SHIELD training facilities, hands taped, with punching bags lined up on the floor.

Next time, it wouldn’t be so easy. Next time, they wouldn’t be able to just walk away. Next time, Steve wouldn’t cut the fight short just to revel in the singularity of it all. Next time, he would be fighting to win.

He had to be ready.

Steve pushed himself to his feet and got another punching bag.

Thwack!

He wished Bucky were around.

Thwack!

Steve had texted him a few hours ago but there had been no response.

Thwack!

Bucky would be able to calm the chaos in his mind.

Thwack!

He was distracting like that.

Thwack!

Like when he’d been pressed up against that wall.

Thwack!

His hard length against Steve’s thigh.

Thwack!

His hands in Steve’s hair.

Thwack!

His tongue in Steve’s mouth.

THWACK!

“Ow.” Steve shook his hand out as the punching bag hit the ground.

It was startling how easily Steve was distracted by Bucky despite the intrigue of the Soldier. In fairness, they had similar hair. Steve had never seen Bucky’s hair down but it was probably about the same length, though he couldn’t imagine the Soldier’s hollow eyes on Bucky’s luminous face. It was hard to think that anyone who laughed so brightly would be able to it hide behind a mask.

It was an odd turn his mind had taken to compare Bucky and the Soldier in the first place, seeing as the only relationship between the two was that Steve was obsessed with them at the same time. Besides, Steve definitely would have noticed if Bucky had a metal arm.

Steve shook his head and lifted another punching bag. He steadied the bag to keep it from swinging and had just lifted his fists once again when he heard his phone buzz on the bench behind him.

Maybe it was Bucky.

Steve abandoned his workout to grab his phone.

 

Bucky: I’ll be around tomorrow afternoon. You busy?

 

Steve grinned.

 


 

That weekend, Bucky took him to Coney Island. They rode the ferris wheel and Steve made sure to avoid any of the shooting games at all costs. Three weeks after that, Steve brought Bucky to the farmers market at Washington Square park and they both ate two cartons of strawberries each.

 

Steve saw the Winter Soldier twice more while on missions. He was always too far away to fight and he vanished quickly after he’d been spotted both times, having already completed whatever mission Hydra had sent him to do. Steve tried not to get too obsessed with chasing the Soldier’s shadow.

 

Steve and Bucky still hadn’t had the opportunity to do more than just kiss. Their interest was obvious on both sides and they ended up making out in semi-public places by the end of most of their dates, but they were always called away before the things could lead them anywhere else. Steve wanted desperately to go further but he already knew his apartment would always be out of the question unless he got at least a weeks notice, which, considering the spontaneity of all of their meetings, was never going to happen. The only option was to wait for Bucky to offer his place and he hadn’t yet, much to Steve’s chagrin.

 

SHIELD bumped the Soldier up to a top priority but the man lived up to his reputation. He was a ghost. After two months, the leads were dry and if only to save the SHIELD agents on his case from another month of boredom, they were assigned other targets and the Winter Soldier’s file was left open and unresolved.

 

Steve convinced Bucky that his security job was not at all conducive to him getting a puppy no matter how fluffy it was and in return, Bucky convinced Steve to buy 24 boxes of Girl Scout cookies from his niece. Steve avoided the topic of his own family incessantly and wondered if Bucky had noticed. He could lie easily for a sentence or two but a whole conversation about how he got where he was would be too much. He figured he should go into it soon, just to make sure no suspicions were raised. It was just a hard thing to do without going into his illnesses and how he had somewhat miraculously recovered. He spent way too long thinking over exactly how he would phrase things so he wouldn’t have to lie too obviously.

 

Steve saw the Winter Soldier once again in Croatia. He got away with the intelligence Steve was supposed to recover just in the nick of time. Other SHIELD teams were reporting the Soldier’s interference too. A total of 32 failed missions in five months, all attributed to the Soldier. Someone had to stop him and Steve hoped that the person to do it would be him.

 


 

By the time Steve made it to DUMBO it was nearly 8PM and he had around two minutes left on the clock before he was officially late. The date was short notice, as always, but Steve would have gotten there early if he hadn’t been covered in gunpowder residue from the mission earlier that day. He silently cursed himself for picking up that semi-automatic as he sprinted down Washington Street, only pausing for a moment to admire the arches of the Manhattan Bridge and the Empire State building visible between its pillars in the distance. He turned down Water Street and slowed to a walk on the path that led to the carousel which twinkled softly at the edge of the East River. He ran his fingers through his hair, just to make sure it had dried okay under his motorcycle helmet and straightened the front of his dark blue button down before pushing his sleeves up to his elbows. He scanned the small crowd of milling people and saw Bucky standing tensely by the railing overlooking the water and the glittering Manhattan skyline in the distance.

Steve sighed.

It was like everything else in his life just fell away as every molecule of his being turned its focus on the man in front of him.

“I hope you weren’t waiting long,” Steve said softly as he leaned against the railing.

Bucky’s head snapped up and Steve saw the ghost of worry disappear from his face as it lit up with a smile.

“Steve.”

Bucky’s hands cupped Steve’s face and the small of his back pressed into the railing as Bucky slotted their lips together like it’d been an hour since their last date instead of four weeks. Bucky slid his hands down Steve’s chest and wrapped them around his waist before pulling back and pressing his cheek against Steve’s collarbone. Steve hugged him back with one arm around his shoulders and the other tangled in the hair too short to be tied up into the small bun at the crown of his head.

“Long flight?” Steve asked, as Bucky breathed against his neck.

“Long job,” Bucky sighed, more dejected than Steve had ever heard him, “I hate my boss. Sometimes I just want to walk out and never go back.”

Steve kissed the top of his head and squeezed him a little more tightly.

“I assume quitting isn’t an option for you?”

“I’m stuck in a shitty contract,” Bucky said, pulling back and shaking his head, “I don’t really want to talk about it.”

“Okay.” Steve linked their fingers together and brought their clasped hands up to kiss Bucky’s knuckles, “One distraction coming right up.”

Bucky managed a little laugh and gave him the smallest twitch of a smile as Steve began leading him down the path along the edge of the water. Steve decided right then that he was going to get a real smile back on Bucky’s face tonight if it killed him.

“Where are we going?” Bucky asked as the lights of the carousel disappeared behind them.

“I’m taking you to my favorite spot in Brooklyn,” Steve replied, “I found it when I was a kid, before this whole place got gentrified. I was really chronically ill when I was young. When I was well enough to go out, I ended up wandering the city by myself. I found this little alcove one day and it sort of became my secret hiding spot.”

“Your parents let you wander the streets alone?” Bucky asked as they turned another corner between the brick buildings.

“Well, my dad died when I was really young,” Steve explained, “and my ma worked a lot to keep us afloat. She always said that I spent so much time in bed that she didn’t have the heart to keep me inside when I could get up.”

“She sounds like a sweet lady.”

“She was.”

Bucky’s hand squeezed his tighter.

“Sorry,” Steve laughed, “I’m supposed to be making you feel better, not going into my tragic backstory.”

“It’s okay,” Bucky assured him, “If you want to tell me then I want to hear it. Are you still sick?”

“No, no, ” Steve replied, “I would have told you sooner if I was. I got put on this experimental medicine and now I’m basically completely healthy, I just don’t like talking about it much.”

“That’s great, Steve. I’m really glad you’re okay.”

“Yeah, those doctors really took a risk on me too since I was kind of at death’s door when they found me. I owe them a lot.”

“I’m really glad they did.” Bucky squeezed his hand again, “I bet little Steve was still a troublemaker though.”

“Oh, for sure,” Steve laughed, “Come on, it’s this way.”

Steve led them to a small back alley.

“Okay, so this is a little creepy,” Bucky muttered as they stepped into the darkness and around a line of garbage cans.

“Don’t worry, I won’t let anyone murder you,” Steve said jokingly as he let go of Bucky’s hand to pull down the ladder of the fire escape, “These muscles aren’t just for painting, you know.”

Bucky snorted.

“You gonna stab them with a palette knife?”

“And then slowly expose them to small quantities of old paint so that in 40 years they die of lead poisoning,” Steve added, “Don’t think I haven’t thought this through, Barnes.”

Steve heard a low chuckle as he led the way up the fire escape toward the roof.

“Are we allowed to be here?” Bucky asked as he followed Steve up the narrow metal stairs.

“Yeah, I know the owner,” Steve said, “She found me here once when I was ten or so. We chatted and she said that as long as I watered the plants every once in a while she’d let me stay.”

“The plants?”

Steve climbed onto the roof of the old building and stepped aside as Bucky followed him over the ledge.

The space was a small jungle of rose bushes, hydrangeas, and ivy that grew up wooden slats that carved the rooftop into cozy compartments framed with blooming flowers. Fairy lights wrapped around the slats, illuminating the space in soft orange light and the ground was dotted with flower petals and tendrils of ivy that twisted and curled around everything in their paths.

“Oh, wow,” Bucky breathed walking between the slats and stepping forward into the glowing evening light.

Steve followed Bucky as his fingers brushed against the silky petals of the peonies and lifted the low curtains of leaves that hung between the walls of foliage. At the far end of the roof, bracketed by two full planters and a small red maple tree was a bench lined with soft cushions overlooking the river and the city beyond.

“Come sit,” Steve said, sipping down onto the cushions, “the sun’s going to be setting soon.”

Bucky sat down next to him, pulling Steve’s arm into his lap and leaning his head against Steve’s shoulder.

“This place is gorgeous, Steve,” he whispered as the light turned from yellow to golden around them.

“It’s our secret now,” Steve whispered back, “if I come up here one day and find a bunch of teenagers or something I’ll know exactly who to blame.”

Bucky jabbed Steve in the side, making him yelp but it was worth it to feel Bucky’s smile against his shoulder.

They passed the time to sunset whispering stories to each other. Steve told Bucky about some of his funnier college shenanigans while Bucky responded with pranks he played on his sisters and the dumb things he’d done while on his high school’s baseball team. Every once in a while Bucky would shuffle closer to him as their limbs got more and more tangled together and as the sun disappeared, Steve wished he could slow the turning of the Earth just so he and Bucky could sit in the golden light a little longer. They kept whispering back and forth as the sun sank lower and lower beyond the horizon. Up on the roof, they could barely hear the never ending bustle of the streets below and in the gentle serenity of dusk Steve wondered if he really would know love when he felt it. His ma had always said that when she met his father she “just knew”.

Steve wondered as his thumb traced patterns against the back of Bucky’s hand. Most of their previous dates had been all teasing and desire; a promise that they’d get their hands on each other soon. Now though, Steve just wanted to sit next to Bucky and learn everything there was to know about him. The desire was still there, but for the moment it was secondary. At the moment, they had time.

He hated how rarely they saw each other. He hated how little time they had when they did. He hated that half the time when Bucky texted him from New York he was on the other side of the world and vice versa. He wanted to be there every time Bucky got back from work exhausted and upset. He wanted Bucky to be there every time aliens attacked and Steve needed someone to help him peel his gross uniform off. He wanted to be able to bring Bucky to his apartment and wake up with their feet tangled together every morning.

He wanted more. He wanted so much more.

Whether or not that was the beginnings of love, Steve couldn’t say. All he knew for sure was that he didn’t want to wait another month to find out.

“I wish we saw each other more often,” Steve whispered against Bucky’s hair.

The sun had long since set and Bucky’s back was pressed against Steve’s chest, their legs tangled together on the bench, while Bucky drew swirls on Steve’s palms with his thumbs.

“Yeah,” Bucky sighed, twisting their fingers together with a gentle squeeze.

“I’m flying to South America tomorrow. Won’t be back for a few days.”

“I’m going to Ghana on Friday. Won’t be back for a week.”

Steve sighed. After Argentina there was Cambodia, then Sweden, then New Zealand.

“This sucks.”

“Yeah.”

For a moment they were silent.

“Look, Steve,” Bucky turned in his arms to look at him with a worried brow, “I don’t want to hold you back. If you meet someone—“

“No, Bucky, stop,” Steve cut him off, pulling Bucky back against him and kissing his shoulder, “I don’t want to meet anyone else. Our schedules are annoying, sure, but I— I really like you, okay? And something like this isn’t enough to put me off, I promise.”

“Okay.” Bucky relaxed in his arms, “Okay.”

“I mean, unless you want to stop—“

“I really like you too,” Bucky interrupted softly, “I want this to work.”

“Yeah,” Steve squeezed him gently.

Steve felt the phone in his back pocket buzz.

“Was that your phone or mine?” Bucky groaned.

“Mine.”

It buzzed again.

“You gonna get that?”

“No.”

It buzzed again.

“Steve.”

“Ugh.”

 

Agent Hill: Situation in Argentina escalating

Agent Hill: We’re moving the timeframe 

Agent Hill: Wings up at 2330

 

Steve tossed his phone into the planter next to them and buried his face in Bucky’s hair.

“What’s the damage?”

“They moved my flight to 11:30,” Steve grumbled, “I have to leave in half an hour.”

“Why?” Bucky whined, reaching up to tug at Steve’s hair until their cheeks were pressed together.

“There’s an excavation happening, a lot of really old stuff is coming out of the ground for the first time in millennia,” Steve lied, “Being exposed to the air and the humidity is making the pigmentation decay at an alarming rate. They need all hands on deck to preserve the artifacts.”

“Ugh, that sounds stupidly urgent.” Bucky slumped against Steve’s chest.

Steve’s mind was already elsewhere.

Half an hour. Half an hour before he needed to get on his bike and head back to SHIELD HQ. He’d had certain hopes for where this evening might lead, as he did on every date they had,  but there wasn’t enough time to get to Bucky’s place in Bay Ridge, not that Steve was supposed to know where Bucky lived anyway. But it had been months since they’d met and, frankly, Steve was getting a little desperate. There wasn’t enough time to properly have sex like Steve had hoped they might anyway, but it was secluded on the roof and just dark enough. Maybe, if Bucky was okay with it…

“Can I ask a favor before I go?” Steve asked, pressing his lips against Bucky’s ear.

“Anything.”

Steve lay his palms against Bucky’s firm abs and slid them down until the tips of his fingers were at the hem of his shirt.

“I wish we had more time,” Steve whispered, “but if you‘re okay with it, I really want to touch you a little bit.”

He felt Bucky inhale sharply and his knees began to spread before he’d even answered.

“You got a thing for public indecency, Rogers?” he asked breathlessly as Steve slipped his fingers under the hem of Bucky’s shirt to feel his abs properly.

“No,” Steve laughed, reveling the warmth under his palms, “If there were somewhere nearby we could go, we’d be there.”

He slid one hand up to feel the curves of Bucky’s chest while the other dipped beneath his waistband. Bucky slid one leg off their seat and planted it on the ground, leaving the other one pressed firmly against the back of the bench to spread his legs as wide as they’d go while Steve plastered himself against Bucky’s back.

“I’m not sure I believe you,” Bucky whispered as Steve rubbed circles against his nipple while his other hand undid the button of his jeans.

“You’re okay with this though?”

“If you stop now I’m going to smack you.”

Steve laughed as his hand slid down Bucky’s pants and Bucky’s head tipped back onto his shoulder. He could feel Bucky’s cock starting to harden under his fingers as he touched him through his boxer briefs. Bucky’s shallow gasps were being breathed right into Steve’s ear and he felt his own dick start to press uncomfortably against his pants.

“I’ve been thinking about this kind of a lot,” Bucky confessed as Steve slid his hand down to feel Bucky’s balls through the fabric.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Me too.”

Steve pushed down Bucky’s jeans with one hand and brought the other up to Bucky’s face. Bucky licked a wet stripe up his palm while Steve tugged the waistband of Bucky’s underwear down and let his dick spring free. He curled his wet fingers around the head.

“Fuck,” Bucky breathed.

Steve gently ran his hand across the warm skin and rubbed the smooth head before wrapping his fingers tight and sliding them down.

Fuck.”

Bucky gasped hot breaths against Steve’s cheek as he slowly pumped him to full hardness. He was wide and warm and full in Steve’s hand. Steve felt his mouth water.

“I changed my mind,” Steve said abruptly, “I want you in my mouth now.”

“Fucking hell, Steve,” Bucky groaned as Steve pushed him up and slid out from behind him, “you’re going to kill me I swear.”

Steve dropped to his knees in front of the bench, pulling Bucky to the edge by his jeans, stretching them tight against his spread thighs. He pulled them down just far enough to be out of the way and stationed himself between Bucky’s legs.

Bucky’s dick was standing straight up against his stomach. Even in the darkness Steve could see the flush of his skin and the thick vein that ran along the underside. It looked wide enough to stretch Steve’s mouth just the way he liked and long enough to touch the back of his throat.

“God,” Steve whispered.

He leaned forward on his knees and flicked his tongue against the head. He looked up at Bucky’s sharp gasp and found big blue eyes watching him from an open mouthed face. Steve grinned and let the flat of his tongue lick over the tip so he could watch Bucky’s eyes dilate. With the knowledge that he had Bucky’s full and complete attention, Steve let his own eyes close as he got his lips on the tip of Bucky’s dick—

“Wait.” Bucky’s hands tugged Steve’s hair and forced his head back up, “Wait, let me just—“

Steve blinked up at him for a second before Bucky’s lips were on his. The kiss was wet and messy and just a hair away from painful, exactly how Steve liked it.

“I like you so much,” Bucky hissed against his lips in between kisses, “so fucking much.”

Steve moaned in response while Bucky licked into his mouth.

“Okay,” Bucky whispered, kissing him again, “okay.”

He sucked Steve’s bottom lip into his mouth.

“Okay.”

He kissed him again.

“Okay.”

He finally pulled back and looked down at Steve with flushed cheeks, lidded eyes, and shiny lips.

“Okay.”

“You good, Buck?”

“Yeah, I’m good.”

He fell back against the bench, breath coming fast and Steve smiled up at him.

“If you want to take a break—“

“Suck my dick, Rogers, or I swear to god I’ll— Ah!”

Steve sucked the head of Bucky’s dick into his mouth. He wrapped one hand around the base and curled the other around his hip. He sucked hard, letting the tip of his tongue flick over Bucky’s slit, before sliding his lips further down. An inch, two inches, three. He pulled back when Bucky’s dick slid in as far as was comfortable, eliciting another moan from Bucky, who tried to tamp it down with the back of his hand against his lips.

Steve slid his knees farther apart and moved both his hands to Bucky’s hips, holding himself up over the tip of Bucky’s cock for a moment before sinking back down. As Bucky entered him, he relaxed his throat. Five inches, six. He stopped counting as his nose pressed against Bucky’s hot skin and his lips met the base of Bucky’s dick. He held himself there for a moment, just to enjoy the tight stretch and the complete fullness in his mouth. Bucky’s hand came to rest on the crown of Steve’s head and a tiny tug on Steve’s hair had him pulling up until he was just kissing the tip again before sliding back down.

“Fuck, Stevie.”

Steve started bobbing his head in earnest, only ever rising a few inches from the base before burying Bucky to the hilt. He wanted his throat to be raw after this. He wanted to board the quinjet later with the feeling of Bucky’s cock still burning at the back of his throat.

Bucky’s hips jerked involuntarily, making Steve choke. He pulled off with a groan to catch his breath.

“Shit, sorry—“

“Do it again,” Steve rasped, letting go of Bucky’s hips and planting his hands on the ground in between his own spread knees.

He repositioned himself with his mouth open just above Bucky’s cock and waited.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Bucky lifted his hips off the bench and fisted Steve’s hair, “pinch me if it’s too much.”

Then he thrust, shallowly at first, until Steve’s little encouraging moans pushed him to go deeper. Steve relaxed, closing his eyes and letting Bucky fuck his mouth, his mind blissfully blank as he started palming himself through his pants. He wrapped his free hand around Bucky’s ankle, sliding his fingers under the hem of his jeans just to touch him a little.

“Fuck, Stevie. I’m gonna come.”

Steve moaned around Bucky’s cock and took back control, sucking him deeper before pulling back so that just the head was wrapped between Steve’s lips. He jerked Bucky roughly with one hand while the other pressed against Bucky’s chest, feeling his stuttering breath as he stumbled towards release with hitching gasps. He pumped his hand faster as Bucky’s moans climbed higher and higher while he sucked at Bucky’s slit until his grip on Steve’s hair went tight and his body went rigid.

Come flooded Steve’s mouth and coated his tongue in bursts of hot liquid. Bucky jerked under him as Steve slid the rest of his cock back into his mouth, feeling the stretch once again as the last of Bucky’s come slid down his throat. Steve swallowed roughly around Bucky’s cock and listened to the sound of Bucky’s breath turn from a gasp to a sigh. After a moment, he pulled off, letting Bucky slide out of his mouth with a wet pop.

“Oh my god,” Bucky breathed, tipping his back against the bench as he sucked in a few more ragged breaths.

Steve silently agreed, resting his forehead against Bucky’s inner thigh as he swallowed roughly.

“Get up here, Stevie.”

Bucky pulled him to his feet and tugged him down until he was straddling him on the bench, his untouched dick unmistakable through his slacks. Bucky quickly undid the button and shoved Steve’s pants down until his cock slapped against his abs, full and ready. Bucky licked his hand and immediately got it around him, jerking him fast and rough. At the first touch, Steve felt the unstoppable wave of his orgasm already building at the base of his spine. He gasped breathlessly, the raggedness of his throat already apparent as he got his hands on either side of Bucky’s face and shoved his come-sticky tongue into Bucky’s open mouth. All it took was another few pumps, the press of Bucky’s thumb just under the head of his dick, and Bucky sighing into his mouth before Steve was coming across Bucky’s chest. He felt Bucky pump him through it, squeezing him just the right amount as Steve panted against his lips, feeling wrung out and utterly satisfied.

“Fuck,” Steve groaned, finally relaxing into Bucky’s arms.

“God, Steve, if you could hear your voice right now.”

Steve chuckled roughly. Bucky’s answering laugh was music to his ears. He pulled back a little to look down at Bucky’s face. All trace of frustration was gone and all that remained was the usual sleepy bliss of someone who just came. Bucky blinked up at him and a slow grin spread pulled at his lips.

“Hiya, Stevie.”

Steve laughed.

“Hey, Buck.”

“You’re full of surprises, you know that?”

“Whatcha mean?”

“Every time I think I’ve figured out how dirty you are you one up yourself.”

Steve hid his smile against Bucky’s neck.

“I didn’t plan that, I swear.”

“Uh huh.”

“I didn’t! I was going to treat you good. Take you home and shit. S’not my fault we got a time limit.”

“Hey, I’m not complaining,” Bucky laughed, pressing a kiss against Steve’s shoulder, “Next time.”

“Next time.”

 


 

Steve tossed his helmet and shield into his locker, unzipping his uniform and tugging it off before collapsing on the bench in just his underwear.

“Whatsa' matter, Cap?” Gabe asked from his locker, “I personally don’t think that mission could have gone any better.”

“Yeah, it was pretty seamless, if you ask me,” Dugan added, tossing his own uniform into the laundry bin, “Guess all that training is paying off.”

“I think he’s mad the Winter Soldier didn’t show up,” Sam said, undoing the straps on his wings and hanging them up.

“Why did we invite Sam again?” Steve grumpily asked the room.

“Because he can fly.”

“Because he can catch you when you forget you can’t fly.”

“Because he can see through your bullshit.”

“Because you wanted the Winter Soldier to be there so you prepared for the possibility of being too distracted by your nemesis to do your job.”

“Nevermind, I hate you all.” Steve kicked aside his uniform, grabbed his phone, and headed for the showers, “And I don’t have a nemesis!”

“That’s exactly what someone with a nemesis would say,” he heard Sam mutter as he stepped into one of the stalls and pulled the curtain closed.

“Why’s he taking his phone into the shower?”

He ignored the laughing and jibing coming from the lockers. In truth he had been hoping for the Soldier to make an appearance. It had been nearly four months since their fight on the ship and Steve was getting restless.

In the empty shower stall, Steve checked his messages, pulled a towel off the rack, and kicked off his underwear as the phone switched back to “personal mode” and texts came flooding in.

There were a few from Tony, something about a new Iron Man maneuver he wanted to try that he needed Steve’s shield for, one from Bruce, who wanted blood samples for some experiment he was doing, and a good handful from Bucky.

Steve felt a smile tug at his lips despite his bad mood and tapped on the notifications from Bucky.

 

Bucky: Queer Eye season 3 has been out for less than a day and I’ve already watched it all. What am I supposed to do with my life now?

Bucky: If I keep buying my niece candy against my sisters explicit instructions does that make me a bad uncle or the best uncle ever?

Bucky: Waffle fries. Thoughts? (There is a correct answer)

Bucky: I thought about you for like three seconds during a meeting and now I have to hold this folder in front of my junk until I can leave. Thanks a lot.

Bucky: I think your mouth is the best thing I’ve ever stuck my dick in.

Bucky: I’m gonna do you so good next time we see each other.

 

Steve felt his cock stir as he reread the most recent messages. The last one had been sent three days ago. Considering their luck, Bucky had probably left for a job since then. Steve wrote out a quick message anyway; one that got straight to the point.

 

Steve: Home for two days, you around?

 

When there was no immediate response, Steve turned back to the earlier texts.

 

Steve: There are some bonus episodes on youtube, have you seen those?

Steve: It makes you a great uncle and a bad brother. Though, considering how often you refer to your sister as “the spawn of satan” I’m guessing you don’t mind this outcome.

Steve: Fry shapes ranked in order: hand cut, waffle, original, home, curly. No, I am not accepting criticism at this time.

 

Steve smiled to himself and tucked his phone onto the safe dry shelf above the shower head before turning the water on.

He stuck his head under the scalding spray and wondered what Bucky was up to now. He imagined him in the casual blue suit he’d been wearing when they met in Central Park. He walked through a Met-esque gallery, surrounded by clients as he pointed out blind spots and easily broken locks. In his mind everything was just right; his hair, his hands, his broad chest, the soft curve of his collarbones visible between the unbuttoned collars of his shirt. He thought back wistfully to that night on the roof. He swallowed and imagined his throat still burned from the thrusting of Bucky’s dick in his mouth.  

Steve felt heat pool at the base of his spine. He tipped his head up to the ceiling and sighed softly. Odds were, he wouldn’t experience anything like that again for a while. He let his hand slide down his chest and wrap around the base of his dick.

He imagined Bucky pressed up against him, his hands tangled in Steve’s hair and his thigh between Steve’s legs.

I’m gonna do you so good next time we see each other.

Steve bit back a moan as he spread his legs a little more, squeezing his cock between the circle of his fingers. He wondered if Bucky liked being fingered. He wondered how much sweeter Bucky’s gasps would sound with his face pressed into a mattress. He wondered if Bucky would rim him if he asked.

Steve let his head fall against the tiles, pumping his dick quickly as water cascaded down his shoulders. He pressed his forearm against the wall and bit down on the side of his palm to keep himself quiet under the spray.

If Bucky were here Steve would hide his moans in the crook of Bucky’s neck. He’d bite down on the warm muscle and grind against Bucky’s wet skin.

With his forehead pressed against the wall, Steve arched his back. In his mind, Bucky dropped to his knees behind him, his hands spread Steve’s cheeks wide, his tongue was warm and soft against his hole. Hot hands ran down his thighs. Steve shivered as another flash of heat ran thought him. He stopped biting his hand to run it down his side and back towards his ass. He rubbed his hole gently and imagined it was Bucky’s tongue as he slipped the tip of his finger inside. He tightened his grip on his cock and felt himself already teetering toward the edge.

His toes curled. Bucky sucked on his rim. He bit back a gasp. Bucky slipped a hand between his legs and squeezed his balls. He pumped himself faster. Metal fingers slid up his inner thigh.

Steve came against the tiles, one finger buried deep in his ass and his other hand stripping his cock as fast as he could. He panted under the hot water and felt his body relax as he pulled his finger out and gently touched himself until he couldn’t anymore. He let the spray of the shower wash way his come and ran his hands across his chest as he came down from his high. His heartbeat slowed and his mind was pleasantly blank.

Still in a small daze, he pumped some shampoo from the shelf onto his hand and began lazily scrubbing his fingers through his hair. Above the shower head, his phone buzzed.

 

Bucky: Okay, we need to have a SERIOUS discussion about your fry preferences because you are INCORRECT my friend.

Bucky: Sorry, I’m in Asia for the next 9 days.

Bucky: Been thinking about you <3

 

Steve grinned, his heart swelling at the thought of being able to have an actual real time conversation with Bucky even if it was just over text. He opened the camera app and held his phone up to capture the spray of the shower hitting his chest but kept the angle high enough to keep the picture just barely decent. He winked as the camera snapped the photo and sent it.

 

Steve: I bet you have

 

Bucky: oh my god

Bucky: Fuck You

Bucky: You’re right but Fuck You I’m in public.

Bucky: thanks for the new background I guess

 

Steve: Anything for you, baby

 

Bucky: <3

Bucky: Did you just come? That expression makes it look like you just came.

 

Steve:… do you want me to answer that? You said you were in public.

 

Bucky: Oh my GOD

 


 

Steve didn’t know how the Winter Soldier fought like this. The mask covering his nose and mouth was stifling. It caught the heat of his breath and the humidity over his skin made the stale tasting air even more unpleasant to breathe. Objectively, he knew the mask was keeping him alive while he snuck through the warehouse pumped full of poisonous gas but as he crept through another doorway, shield at the ready, he wondered, not for the first time, if it was worth it.

A Hydra soldier popped up from behind some medical equipment. Steve threw his knife and got him in the throat. He’d started doing more elaborate knife work since meeting the Winter Soldier. Even during their somewhat brief fight, Steve had been able to tell that the Soldier easily out did him with a blade and Steve was determined match him at everything. He pulled the knife from the agent’s neck and moved on, stepping silently through the rooms.

Two heat signatures. Up the stairwell, two doors down,” Jim reported through the coms.

“Sam and I are not in position,” Natasha added, “15 minutes. Cap, you should wait.”

“I’m going in,” Steve whispered, heading for the stairs.

Of course you are,” Sam grumbled.

“If you die, can I have your shield?”

“Can I have your bike?”

“Dibs on his apartment!”

Steve rolled his eyes and kept moving.

One of the heat signatures was bound to be the SHIELD agent being held hostage by Hydra, the other was probably a guard. Having only one was an odd choice though.

Maybe it was him.

Steve gripped his shield more firmly and kept going with a new sense of urgency. He reached the top of the stairs and stepped through the open door.

The top floor of the warehouse was empty, the windows were lined with newspaper to block visibility, the only things that filled the space were the soft white mist of the poisonous gas, a few pillars, and two people. The SHIELD hostage, bound and fitted with a gas mask, lay unconscious against the far wall, some fifty feet away.

The Winter Soldier stood in the center of the room, rifle at his side and mask securely strapped to his face. Steve froze as their eyes met. He couldn’t help but feel excitement building in his chest as he took in the Soldier’s long black hair and piercing gaze. Those cold eyes followed him as he carefully took a step forward, then another. Steve wondered if the Soldier had been waiting for him. He wondered if he had been anticipating this reunion as much as he had. He wondered if the Soldier had thought about him at all.

He stopped twenty feet away and focused. Steve was here to win, nothing else mattered. He gave the Soldier a quick once over. He had his usual rifle, six knives, two guns at either thigh and at least two more strapped to his back. The easiest way to take him down would be to get his mask off and let the gas do its work.

Too easy, maybe.

He watched the Soldier conduct a similar scan. He knew the Soldier could see his shield, the knife in his thigh holster, and the two guns at his hips. He wondered if the Soldier would go for his mask.

He decided it would be best not to find out.

Steve threw his shield as fast as he could and watched it clip the Soldier, slicing his cheek, as it flew past him and bounced off the wall. While the Soldier was distracted by the shield’s ricochet, Steve pulled a gun and shot. The bullet seemed to have no effect on the Soldier’s metal arm and Steve jumped to catch his shield, folding himself behind it as the Soldier’s gunfire came at him. Steve rolled and ducked behind a pillar before darting out the other side and getting himself close enough to the Soldier to kick at his feet. The Soldier threw down his gun and pulled a knife, twirling it in his fingers before aiming it at just below Steve’s rib cage. Steve managed to block it, digging the edge of his shield into the Soldier’s sternum before taking a metal fist to the stomach.

As Steve twisted away, their faces came within centimeters of each other. He could see the blood on the Soldier’s cheek, the deep crease between his brows, and the long strands of his hair that fluttered in front of his eyes as he moved. For a fleeting moment, Steve wanted to reach out and tuck those long black locks out of the Soldier’s face so he could see better. Then the Soldier pistol whipped him across temple.

Steve stumbled back into the pillar and instinctively ducked, not seeing the fist come towards him but hearing it crunch against the concrete above his head as he tucked and rolled away, snatching up the Soldier’s dropped gun as he passed it.

The fight was even more exhilarating than the last. Where previously they had been exploratory, now they were adamant. There was barely a breath between one hit and the next. Barely a glance before blocking or dodging or redirecting a blow. The rhythm was back: the constant push and pull. But this time it wasn’t a steady beat that flowed between them with the ease of the tides: this was unrelenting. Each impact came a second faster than the last, every breath got shorter, every touch was harder as they tried to get the better of each other.

Steve was almost surprised to find himself out of breath as he trapped the Soldier’s metal hand beneath his boot and tried to crush the elbow joint with the sharp edge of his shield. He could see sweat on the Soldier’s brow and the quiet intensity in his eyes as he twisted out of Steve’s grip and tackled him to the ground.

Steve elbowed the Soldier in the face. The Soldier kneed Steve in the stomach. Steve caught the Soldier’s fist with one hand and the Soldier trapped his wrist with the other. They twisted and kicked in and out of each other’s grip, rolling over each other, each hitting the concrete ground in turn until Steve felt the Soldier’s metal hand close around his mask as Steve kicked him away. He only had a split second to realize what was about to happen. There was nothing he could do to stop the Soldier from ripping the mask off his face and exposing him to the deadly gas that surrounded them.

But the Soldier’s hand slipped away. The Soldier hit the ground, falling out of Steve’s orbit as he let go of what should have been his winning move.

Their eyes met and Steve saw a flash of panic in the Soldier’s eyes.

He’d shown his cards. He wouldn’t kill Steve.

The next hit had more fury in it than the entirety of the rest of their fight combined. Suddenly, the intricate flow of their dance was gone as the fight turned almost completely one sided. Steve blocked hit after hit, taking the ones he couldn’t dodge and only getting a few of his own jabs in as the Soldier’s fists pounded against him. The Soldier had exposed himself. This whole fight they’d been looking for each other’s weaknesses and then he’d accidentally handed Steve one on a silver platter. But it was a weak spot Steve wasn’t sure how to utilize.

He wasn’t sure he wanted to utilize it.

The Soldier clearly wasn’t planning on give Steve the chance to do much of anything now. He may not want Steve dead but he definitely wasn’t above pummeling him into the concrete. Steve saw the flash of his knife on the ground a few feet away. He dodged the Soldier’s kick and rolled.

The Soldier pulled the last gun from his belt and Steve snatched his knife right as the Soldier’s weight trapped him on the ground, his knees neither side of Steve’s waist. Steve swiped with the knife, catching the Soldier’s arm between the metal plates and feeling the blade tear through something as the Soldier’s boot crushed his left hand. The Soldier’s metal arm whined pathetically before hanging limp at his side, sparks shooting out between the broken plates.

Steve froze as he felt the barrel of the Soldier’s gun press against his chest. He saw the Soldier do the same as Steve’s knife scraped against his throat.

For a moment they were still, catching their breaths for the first time since Steve had thrown his shield.

Steve was hyper aware of every molecule of his being. He could feel the rough bottom of the Soldier’s boot against his palm, the heat of his body as he straddled Steve’s waist, and the rise and fall of his breath beneath Steve’s blade.

Maybe it was the adrenaline, maybe it was the gas starting to get to him, but with death one trigger-happy finger away, Steve laughed. He felt the Soldier’s gun press harder into his sternum as his chest shook for a moment and he saw the Soldier’s eyebrow twitch up. He knew the Soldier could see the crinkle of his eyes above his mask as his laugh died down and he saw the furrow of the Soldier’s brow deepen.

“It seems we’re at an impasse,” Steve breathed with another low chuckle, voice muffled to a whisper but still audible.

Steve swore he saw the faintest traces of amusement around the Soldier’s eyes.

“I suppose we are.” His voice was as soft and breathless as it had been the first time.

They’d never been this still and this close to each other before. Steve realized that the Soldier’s hair was lighter than he’d first thought. The Soldier probably couldn’t see much of him with his helmet and mask covering most of his face but he felt oddly exposed all the same. The Soldier took a breath but before he could say anything the window to their left exploded.

Sam flipped neatly onto his feet, his wings closing mechanically behind him as Natasha leapt off her perch on his shoulders, two pistols already aimed at the Soldier.

Faster than Steve could blink, the Soldier was gone. Steve sat up in time to see him on the other side of the room, the unconscious SHIELD agent thrown over his shoulder as both Natasha and Sam fired round after round, easily avoiding the hostage as the Soldier blocked the bullets with his damaged metal arm. He ripped something from his belt and threw it towards them.

“Grenade!” Natasha shouted, diving behind a pillar.

Steve jumped to his feet, grabbed his shield from where it had been wedged into the wall and threw himself in front of Sam. They ended up crushed together as the explosion shook the building and brought the ceiling tumbling down. Steve shielded Sam as best he could and could only hope that Natasha was alright. With a groan, Steve waited until the explosion stopped ringing in his ears before trying to shift the shattered concrete above them.

“Natasha,” Sam gasped into his com, as Steve pulled him from the rubble, “Natasha, you okay?”

Fine.” Her voice was rough but steady, “Gonna need a hand getting out.”

“On it,” Steve said, pushing the last of the debris aside before heading toward where he’d last seen her.

“The Soldier?” Sam asked looking around at the half blown up building and out toward abandoned Greek city around them, now visible through the massive hole in the wall.

We lost sight of the Soldier and the hostage in the blast, Falsworth’s voice told them, “Package lost. Mission: Failed.”

 


 

Steve was in an oddly good mood. He hadn’t beaten the Soldier, but he hadn’t lost either. Something about the Soldier refusing to kill him sat pleasantly in Steve’s chest alongside the crinkle of amusement Steve had seen around the Soldier’s eyes. He was growing strangely fond of the Soldier. It was weird to have such an equal to fight against and Steve was probably enjoying it a little too much. Not for the first time, Steve was grateful for Bucky, who provided more than enough motivation for him to keep his head on his shoulders.

As the team disembarked from the quinjet, in various states of disarray from the blast, Steve pulled out his phone and switched it back to “personal mode” before shooting a text to Bucky.

 

Steve: Home again. Might go for some Korean BBQ tonight if you’re around :)

 

“Who are you texting?” Natasha asked as the eight of them stepped into the elevator.

“A friend,” Steve said, feigning nonchalance.

“I doubt you look that excited when you get texts from me,” Sam said suspiciously.

“I think he’s been seein’ someone,” Dugan replied, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.

“Yeah, I could have told you that,” Gabe added, shaking his head with a laugh.

Steve was about to defend himself when his phone buzzed in his hand.

 

Bucky: Just got in. I bet I can eat more than you, I’m fucking starving.

 

“Yeah, he definitely doesn’t look that excited when I text him,” Sam said, scrunching his nose in disgust at what Steve realized was probably his own dopey grin.

“Let me live,” Steve said, ignoring the snickering around him as he typed out his response.

 

Steve: You’re on. Meet you at 6 outside Penn Station?

 

It was early afternoon now. That would give him enough time to shower, debrief, go home, shake the stress of the mission off, get some nicer clothes, and take the train back to Manhattan for dinner with Bucky.

 

Bucky: Perfect, see you in a few hours <3

 

Steve grinned.

Captain Rogers,” the intercom in the elevator suddenly announced, “please redirect to conference room 12.”

“What?” Gabe asked as the intercom fell silent, “They want you to debrief now?”

“I mean,” Jim said as Sam hit the button that’d take them to Steve’s new destination, “We did fuck that one up a bit.”

“Yeah,” Natasha agreed with a sigh.

As the team's leader, it was Steve’s duty to speak for the group, and as a teammate, it was his responsibility to fess up that this mess was squarely on him. If he’d waited for Natasha and Sam to get into position, they would have been able to overwhelm the Soldier and get the SHIELD agent out. It was Steve’s own rashness and ego that had allowed the Soldier to best them this time.

Steve groaned internally. He was definitely about to get yelled at.

 


 

Director Fury and Agent Hill met him in the conference room. Fury looked as sour as ever and Maria stood neatly at his side. Steve was about to kick off the conversation with an admission of his own poor leadership skills but Fury beat him to the punch.

“We have a new assignment for you,” Fury began.

That wasn’t at all what Steve thought he would say.

“Sir?” He asked, standing straight and steady, with all the confidence he could muster.

“We’ve made contact with Hydra,” Fury continued, sliding a file across the conference table to him, “We’ve agreed to a trade. Our agent, for one of theirs.”

Steve flipped open the file and he saw documents on the agent they’d tried to rescue and behind those, the documents of a Hydra agent SHIELD had arrested nearly a year ago. A scientist by the name of Zola that Steve himself had helped capture.

“I wasn’t aware that SHIELD was open to trades,” Steve mused accusingly, “Zola was Hydra’s top scientist. It took us six months to get him and it’ll take much longer for us to get him again.”

“But the point is, we will get him again,” Fury replied.

“After he takes who knows how many more lives,” Steve argued, “Sending him back out there is going to create a mess we can easily avoid by keeping him here.”

“The SHIELD agent in question is significantly more valuable to us than Zola,” Fury said.

“Why?” Steve asked, flipping another page of the man’s file.

Most of it was redacted.

“Above your clearance, Captain.”

“Of course it is,” Steve grumbled.

“Keep your suit on,” Fury announced, “Wings up in fifteen.”

 


 

The ride in the quinjet was a tense one. Zola sat, wrists and ankles bound, flanked by the eight members of SHIELD’s elite STRIKE team.

Steve didn’t like this at all.

He didn’t like trading Zola away, he didn’t like that he was going into the field with agents he hadn’t personally screened, and he didn’t like that Fury expected him to follow orders without knowing why.

That had been his primary concern about joining SHIELD; a concern that was clearly not unfounded. He’d always had an issue with authority and he’d never been one to simply obey like the average soldier was expected to do. That was half the reason Peggy had chosen him for the serum and it was a trait that had served him well in the four years since then.

Steve had a feeling it would be serving him well again today.

As they approached the drop site, Steve strapped an extra two guns to his thighs and slid another knife into his boot. He pulled his helmet down over his still dirty face, secured the strap, and prepared for the worst.

The jet landed on the far side of the long landing strip outside an abandoned airfield. In the distance, Steve could see three black cars approaching.

“Our mission directive comes directly from Director Fury,” an agent announced to the team, Rumlow, if Steve remembered correctly, “Captain Rogers, Rollins, and Martin will escort the hostage to the rendezvous point and make the exchange. The rest of you, keep an eye out and if the deal goes south, you shoot to kill.”

There were glaring holes in Rumlow’s orders. Steve did the math while leading the way off the jet. On paper, this OP read as a simple, in-and-out, ten minute deal. But the agents around him were armed to the teeth. Martin and Rollins were holding Zola, which left six snipers all watching from various points around the landing strip. It was overkill. Rumlow also didn’t elaborate on who their primary target was with the order “shoot to kill” which meant it could be Zola, it could be whoever was escorting the SHIELD prisoner, it could be anyone. But most importantly, the lack of specificity told Steve that the STRIKE team had orders that Steve hadn’t been privy to. What was his role in all this? If this really was a simple exchange, why couldn’t the STRIKE team handle it themselves? What was Fury keeping from him?

Steve stood in front, shield at the ready and his hand resting on the gun at his hip. Behind him, Rollins and Martin held Zola and silently followed as Steve began the long walk across the open airstrip.  Steve was acutely aware of the rest of the STRIKE team fanning out behind them and he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Across the tarmac, Steve watched the cars come to a halt and the doors begin to open. They all looked like standard Hydra agents, save for the small frame of the still unconscious SHIELD agent in their custody who was dragged forward between two agents. Then a gleam of metal caught Steve’s eye. He faltered for a moment as the Winter Soldier stepped out of the SUV and as both parties came to a halt twenty feet apart, the truth dawned on him.

This wasn’t about hostages. This was an assassination.

And Steve was the bait.

For the first time, Steve felt alone in the middle of a war zone. He couldn’t trust the Hydra soldiers in front of him and he couldn’t trust the STRIKE team behind him. Steve felt dread pooling in his stomach as he and the Soldier closed the remaining distance between them to parlay. Steve deliberately stood as directly in front of the Soldier as he could to block the row of snipers behind him. Absently, Steve noticed the Soldier blocking the Hydra snipers aiming at them too, but, somehow, the only real thought in his head was:

I’m not going to make it to dinner.

“Captain.”

“Soldier.”

Steve had never seen the Soldier in daylight before. His hair was chestnut brown and his eyes were a surprisingly soft blue as the sun began to sink somewhere to their left. He looked as worn out as Steve, his leather suit still beat up from their last encounter.

“It seems we’ve both been set up,” the Soldier whispered, his eyes flicking over Steve’s shoulder.

Steve did the same and saw the row of Hydra snipers using the SUV’s they’d arrived in as protection as their scopes aimed at the two of them.

A double assassination.

“I’ve never been the target and the bait before,” Steve mused quietly, feeling more disappointed than surprised, “I am so going to resign after this.”

Steve was shocked by the snort of laughter that came from behind the Soldier’s mask. When their eyes met again Steve could see a hint of humor amidst the resigned exhaustion in his eyes. Eyes that suddenly looked achingly familiar.

No. That was impossible.

Captain, make the exchange,” Rumlow’s voice hissed through the com in Steve’s ear.

Steve’s heart was suddenly pounding. For all the intensity of the situation, he’d been surprisingly calm until right now.

Bucky is in Brooklyn , he reminded himself as the Soldier looked up at him with those blue eyes, Bucky is a security consultant. Bucky likes fluffy dogs and coffee that’s more sugar than caffeine. Bucky doesn’t have a metal arm.

“If I move, you die,” Steve blurted in a whisper.

“Likewise,” the Soldier replied calmly.

They stared at each other, an all too familiar intensity flowing between them.

Then the Soldier nodded and as Steve lifted his shield, he thought maybe he did have an ally in this battle after all.

Steve blocked the bullet that sailed towards the Soldier’s head as they moved and he saw the Soldier’s metal arm block the ones coming from his side. Steve dropped and rolled, taking out the two Hydra agents on either side of the SHIELD hostage, who dropped limply onto the tarmac, while keeping an ear on the Soldier as he took out the Rollins and Martin just as easily.

“Cap, leave the hostage. Take out the Soldier!” Rumlow shouted.

Steve ripped the com from his ear and covered the hostage as the Hydra snipers fired on them. He felt his back hit the Soldier’s as they both shielded themselves from the gunfire coming from both sides. Simultaneously, they pivoted until Steve was facing the STRIKE team and the Soldier was facing Hydra, and then they both bolted. Steve threw the SHIELD hostage over his shoulder and with each step he wondered if Rumlow would shoot him as he got closer to the jet. He felt a Hydra bullet graze the side of his torso and wondered if the Soldier was safe with Hydra after what he’d just done to protect Steve.

Steve ran into the jet and threw the hostage down on one of the seats as the STRIKE team sprinted in after him. The jet doors closed and the SHIELD pilot quickly took them up into the air.

“What the fuck was that, Captain?” Rumlow spat, charging at Steve with his fists clenched, “You blocked a clean shot of the Winter Sold—“

Steve hit him hard in the cheek and felt the bone snap under his knuckles. For all of SHIELD’s talk of how elite their STRIKE team was, they went down more easily than Steve would have guessed. Although, as the last man fell with at least six broken ribs, Steve wondered if maybe he was just more angry than he’d first thought.

Steve looked up and saw the pilot staring at him with wide eyes from her seat in the cockpit.

“This gonna be a problem?” Steve asked, gesturing to the unconscious bodies around him.

The agent hesitated before shaking her head and turning back around to face out the windshield. Steve turned to collapse into his own seat, almost missing the agent’s response:

“Whatever, those guys were a bunch of assholes.”

Steve snorted and sat down. As the minutes ticked by, Steve contemplated the enormity of what had just happened.

Fury had set him up. Either he’d thought that Steve was too stupid to realize what was happening or he’d thought Steve would accept it and let Rumlow kill the Soldier. Fury must have known that Hydra would use the opportunity to take out Steve, who he’d specifically ordered to accompany the STRIKE team in. Either he trusted Steve to get out alive or he had been willing to sacrifice Steve’s life to get the Soldier.

There were too many variables. Too many secrets.

Peggy had been right, Steve had to break from SHIELD. They’d been willing to sacrifice him, which meant they’d be more than willing to sacrifice someone they’d invested way less time in. But Steve couldn’t just ask to leave, they’d never let him go. Steve owed them his life. Without the serum he would have died four years ago and SHIELD knew that. Maybe he could come up with a compromise; something to keep Fury off his tail while he got himself out. But what comes after that? Steve wondered. Living in hiding? Would be still be part of the Avengers? Would SHIELD be mad enough to really come after him with everything the American government could muster?

Steve ran scenarios while the plane brought him closer and closer to SHIELD HQ. As a plan formed in his head, Steve’s mind wandered back to the Soldier.

Those blue eyes. That crinkle of laughter. It couldn’t be. It couldn’t.

Bucky’s softness. The Soldier’s cold stare. Bucky’s warm hands. The Soldier’s arm. Steve couldn’t reconcile them. It was too much. His enhanced brain stumbled as he tried to fit the pieces together.

No, Steve decided. Bucky was Bucky. The Soldier was the Soldier. He was just paranoid after being betrayed and lied to by the agents should have been his allies.

He wondered if the Soldier would think of leaving Hydra after this. He’d protected Steve from them; that was far from nothing. Though, the Soldier wouldn’t have joined them if he didn’t agree with their ideology on some level. Steve was getting too attached to his enemy. Way too attached.

Steve pushed the thoughts of the Soldier from his mind and, surrounded by the quiet hum of the jet, the exhaustion of the day finally caught up with him.

 


 

Steve woke as the quinjet began its final descent, just in time to hear the pilot make the landing call.

“Quinjet 6 to HQ, this is Agent Kim requesting access to landing zone 3.”

Access granted.

“HQ, be advised,” Agent Kim replied, “nine stretchers are required in landing zone 3. Please alert the on-call med team.”

Agent Kim, which agent remains active?”

Agent Kim looked over her shoulder at Steve, who nodded once.

“Captain Rogers, Ma’am.”

There was a pause.

Please inform Captain Rogers that Director Fury is waiting to debrief him in his office.”

“Noted,” Steve sighed, picking up his shield and stepping over the unconscious STRIKE team towards the jet’s doors as Agent Kim brought them in.

This time, he was definitely about to get yelled at.

 


 

“Do you know what your job is?” Fury said in a deliberately soft manner over his desk while Steve stood at attention in front of him.

“To follow orders without question and to obey for the sake of obeying,” Steve replied sarcastically, eyes fixed on the skyline out the window behind Fury.

“Don’t get smart with me, Rogers,” Fury snapped, “Your job is to eliminate Hydra. That’s why you were made. That’s why we created you.”

Fury stood, putting himself in Steve’s line of sight and scowled. His one piercing eye boring into Steve’s.

“You deliberately shielded Hydra’s top agent. For all your talk of not releasing a man as bad as Zola back into the world, you seem to have a blind spot for the assassin who has sabotaged nearly fifty of our operations in the past few months.”

“The mission you gave me was to make a hostage exchange,” Steve replied as emotionlessly as he could, “and I succeeded. The success of the STRIKE team’s mission is not my concern.”

“Not your concern?” Fury spat, “The destruction of Hydra is not your concern?”

“If the two of us have the same goal then why wasn’t I briefed on their mission before all our lives were put at risk?” Steve demanded, finally braking stance and leveling Fury with a glare, “Why keep me in the dark about your plans to assassinate the Soldier? Why use me as bait without giving me the information I needed to properly protect myself?”

“Because I knew you wouldn’t comply,” Fury replied, “I wasn’t kidding when I said you have a blind spot for that Soldier. So far, you’ve walked away from a fight, you’ve let him escape capture, and now you’ve deliberately sabotaged our one chance to take him out. He’s a Hydra assassin, Rogers. He’s our enemy. Your enemy.”

Fury wasn’t wrong, but Steve wasn’t ready to agree with him either.

“I suggest a different approach,” Steve said.

“You want to negotiate with Hydra?” Fury asked, his eyebrow raising in as close to an approximation of surprise as he could muster.

“Not Hydra, the Soldier,” Steve corrected, “I believe they are two different entities.”

“The Soldier works for Hydra.”

“He didn’t always,” Steve argued, “Just give me a chance to talk to him. I couldn’t beat him in a fair fight, which makes him incredibly valuable. He has a skillset that could be extremely beneficial to us. I don’t think we should let his abilities go to waste without first giving him the opportunity to switch sides.”

“You think he’ll listen to you?” Fury asked flatly, “A SHIELD agent? An Avenger? A man like him can have no loyalty and no allegiance to anything good. He’s in Hydra’s pocket, Rogers. A man like that can’t be saved.”

“He could have killed me.” Steve replied, “He could have let Hydra kill me on that tarmac. I protected him but he also protected me. At the very least, that tells us he’s not the only one with a blind spot.”

Fury fell silent.

“Give me two days,” Steve said, “let me find him. Give him the chance to be redeemed.”

“You’ll have twenty four hours,” Fury decided, “and if he says no, either you take him out or we will.”

“Yes, sir.”

 


 

Steve hurried down the hall to the showers, undoing the zippers and buckles of his suit as he went. Twenty-four hours wasn’t a lot, but it was enough. He kicked open the door to the locker rooms and stripped quickly, shoving the dirty uniform into his bag instead of the laundry bin. He showered and dressed in record time before emptying his locker and high-tailing it out of there. He was on his motorbike and about to kick off when his phone began buzzing frantically in his pocket. He pulled it out and saw two messages from Tony and one a few hours old from Bucky.

 

Bucky: Sorry, something came up. Raincheck on tonight?

 

Tony: winter soldier at stark tower  

Tony: broke into your floor

 

Steve felt his stomach drop. He didn’t have the time or patience to respond to either of them so he just shoved his phone back into his pocket and gunned it out of the SHIELD parking lot. He broke a good two dozen traffic laws as he crossed Manhattan to Stark Tower. As he approached, Steve could see a small plume of dark smoke rising from the building. He hopped off his bike in the courtyard out front and let it fall before running to the Avengers elevator at the far side of the foyer and hitting the button for his floor. The ride up was torturously slow and Steve took a few deep breaths before the doors finally opened and Steve stepped into what used to be his decoy apartment.

The place had clearly been ransacked. Every shelf had been cleaned out, the contents now lying strewn across the floor in pieces, the drawers and been emptied, even the fridge had been searched. Amidst the mess, scorch marks streaked across the walls and the far window had been blown out, allowing the smoke from what Steve suspected had been a grenade explosion, to waft out into the breeze.

“Took you long enough.”

Tony was lying on the upturned sofa, his Iron Man suit half strewn across the torn cushions with blood and ash smeared across his face. Clint was sitting dazedly against the wall, bow in one hand and one broken hearing aid in the other.

“What happened?” Steve asked as he stepped over broken glass and splintered wood.

“Well,” Tony sighed, “by the time JARVIS detected the break in, the guy had already made his way through, oh, say, 98% of the apartment. Clint and I just managed to catch him as he was escaping via the window.”

Tony pointed toward the shattered glass.

“He left us a lovely grenade to find, so that was fun.”

Steve looked out through the frame of broken glass and wondered which of the skyscrapers around them was hiding the Soldier now.

He must have been given his own deadline, Steve thought. If Hydra had a kill order on Steve then the Soldier would have to make sure it was seen through after the scene they’d caused at the airfield.

They were both on the clock now.

Steve had been prepared to gather his things and disappear for a while, maybe contact the Soldier, maybe not, before returning as just an Avenger, free from the bureaucratic lies and political squabbles of SHIELD. But if the Soldier’s life depended on his ability to find and kill Steve, then something had to be done.

“But he didn’t manage to totally outsmart me,” Tony continued from the sofa, “I got a tracker on him.”

He pulled up one of his StarkPads and began tapping around until he found what he was looking for and held it up to Steve, who took it.

A little red dot was moving quickly through Manhattan, turning seemingly random corners, and doubling back occasionally.

“Want me to get SHIELD on it?” Clint asked, tossing his broken hearing aid in the trash and fiddling with the still working one in his other ear, “they can probably handle this.”

“No,” Steve said quickly, pulling the StarkPad out of Clint’s reach, “I’ll do it.”

“Well, at least call for backup, Cap,” Tony said, kicking off the rest of his suit and hauling himself to his feet, “this guy's a tough nut to crack.”

“Will do,” Steve lied, “Thanks for the trace.”

“Sure thing.”

Tony slapped him on the back and Steve could feel Clint’s eyes on the back of his head as he left.

 


 

Back at his apartment, Steve watched the little red dot of the Soldier zig zag its way through New York. The Soldier was clearly paranoid about being followed and Steve felt his own hackles rise as the winding path the Soldier was taking brought him closer and closer to Brooklyn. Steve watched him cross the Brooklyn Bridge and loop his way around Park Slope. He wracked his memory for anything he may have left in Stark Tower that referenced his Brooklyn apartment. Nothing came to mind but the Soldier was resourceful and Steve had always been more worried about his Brooklyn place being broken into than the Tower.

Steve had a packed duffle bag lying next to him on the floor and four guns on his person already. He watched the Soldier dart around Prospect Park and street by street, get closer and closer to Steve.

When he was two streets away, Steve pulled out one of his guns.

He could see exactly how this would play out in his mind. The Soldier had clearly found his apartment from some scrap of information in Stark Tower. He’d come up— through the window if he thought Steve wasn’t home and through the door if he did— and Steve would let him make the first move. If he attacked, Steve would retaliate until he could convince the Soldier to listen, and if he hesitated, there’d be no need for fighting at all. Steve would see how strong of a grasp Hydra had on the Soldier and maybe they could work together to fight their way out of this mess.

He crawled across the floor to sit beneath his window and pulled up the security feeds on his phone, tapping into the camera that covered the street outside his building. On the StarkPad he watched the Soldier turn onto his street. A dark figure appeared on the security feed. The Soldier wore a black hoodie and jeans, his hands were stuffed in his pockets and his hood was pulled up, hiding his face. Steve watched him walk up to the front door and pause. Then he took a step back, then another. The next thing Steve knew, the Soldier was disappearing down the other side of the street. Confused, Steve dropped his phone and pulled the StarkPad closer, watching the Soldier make a straight beeline through Brooklyn.

Steve watched the Soldier’s dot remain perfectly still in a building in Bay Ridge for the next twenty minutes before he got up off the floor and sank into his sofa.

That was the first time the Soldier had really managed to surprise him. He’d been so sure that the Soldier would come up, they’d fight a little, and then maybe they’d talk. But instead, the Soldier had made it all the way to the door and then bolted. Something must have spooked him.

Maybe Steve needed to go to him then. Steve looked again at the Soldier’s dot on Tony’s map. It would take him maybe twenty minutes to get there and—

Bucky lives in Bay Ridge.

Steve froze.

There was no way. No way.

Steve dropped everything and ran to his desk. He yanked open his laptop and scrolled back through his emails to find the background check Darcy had sent him.

 

James Barnes. 30 94th St, Brooklyn NY, 11209.

 

Steve nearly tripped over his coffee table trying to grab the StarkPad again. He held it up and compared addresses.

It was a match.

Bucky was the Winter Soldier.

Steve heard the screen of the StarkPad crack as it hit the ground. It had all been a lie. There was no way a Hydra assassin and Captain America just happened to get together, which meant that it had been planned. Bucky—the Soldier must have known. He knew. Hydra must have uncovered his identity and sent the Soldier to get information from him and Steve had fucking given it. Steve dug his fingers into his scalp. The hundreds of messages he’d sent Bucky came back to him all at once.

 

Steve: Just got back from Asia. Sorry, I missed you!

Steve: Back in NY, you around?

Steve: You ever been to Barcelona? I wish I could go for something that wasn’t work.

 

He’d always kept things vague but a skilled operative like the Soldier could easily piece together his missions from all the information he’d given away. It was all a con and Steve had been the most willing mark in history. The Soldier must think he was such an idiot. He’d let the most elite member of Hydra infiltrate his life. Steve had practically invited him in. He’d made out with— god, he’d blown the Winter Soldier; the man who was now tasked with killing him. He’d protected Steve before but probably only because he was such an easy target for information. He was probably Hydra’s most valuable mole at this point. Steve’s brain told him he should be filled with disgust or horror but all Steve could feel was something eerily similar to heartbreak.

Steve’s back hit the wall and he slid down to the floor.

He’d really liked Bucky.

Absently, he saw the little red light on Tony’s map disappear. The Soldier must have found the tracking device. It had only been a matter of time.

A moment later, Steve’s phone buzzed.

 

Bucky: Hey, did you get my last message? Sorry I had to cancel, maybe I can make it up to you!

Bucky: I’m free tonight, meet me for dinner at the River Café at 7?

 

Steve stared at the message. It was so normal and yet now it was so obviously a trap. The Soldier must have gotten all the way to Steve’s door and then realized there was a much easier way to lure him out. The River Café was an expensive restaurant along the East river. The elite clientele meant it had a lot of privacy and the river was an easy place to hide a body.

Steve sat in a collapsed heap against the wall and contemplated his options through a daze of numb shock. His best option was probably to call SHIELD. Fury had been right, the Soldier was a massive blind spot for him. He was so far beyond compromised that there probably wasn’t even a protocol for it. There’d be no need for him to escape SHIELD with the speed at which they’d kick him out after this. Maybe he should run. Just run and hide and wait for Hydra to find him.

But there was a tiny fragment of his heart that was screaming out in protest. A tiny piece that hadn’t yet shattered. A piece that was still a little bit in love and it whispered it’s own theory:

What if Bucky didn’t know?

If he didn’t know, then he was as big an idiot as Steve. If he didn’t know, then maybe the Soldier’s protection wasn’t about sparing an asset but just about the uniqueness of their situation. If he didn’t know, then maybe Bucky was a little bit in love with him too.

There was really only one way to find out.

 

Steve: Perfect, I’ll be there.

 


 

Steve took his bike to the restaurant. It would be easier to escape on a bike than in a car amidst New York traffic. The restaurant was secluded and surrounded by a rare patch of trees that provided good cover. He parked off the road before rounding the bend to the valet parking on foot so that he’d have easy access to his bike if he needed a quick out.

He had his four guns, two knives, a grenade, and a smoke bomb, along with emergency buttons for both SHIELD and the Avengers in case this went too far south. He left his shield strapped to his bike and straightened the jacket of his suit before walking down the private driveway to the restaurant.

Steve wasn’t sure why he wanted to look so nice for this fake date. Sure, the restaurant was a black-tie sort of place but Steve had gone all out. He’d opted for a white shirt, partially unbuttoned, a blue velvet jacket with black lapels, and he’d even done his hair up and added a dab of cologne. Maybe it was the fact that he’d had a few hours before the “date” and needed something to do with his hands. Maybe he wanted Bucky to at least think he was hot and stupid instead of just stupid. Maybe he wanted every second they’d spent together to have been real.

Steve walked into the restaurant.

“Good evening, sir,” the young man at the counter greeted, “do you have a reservation?”

“Barnes,” Steve replied, his voice surprisingly weak.

“Ah,” the man checked his notepad, “Mr. Barnes is already here. Please, follow me.”

Steve cleared his throat and squared his shoulders, trying to channel what Natasha called his “Captain” face, as he followed the man through the softly lit restaurant and out onto the back patio overlooking the river. The man led him off toward a private seating area shielded from the rest of the restaurant by a row of planters overflowing with pink blossoms and a thin iron railing wrapped in fairy lights. It reminded Steve of the rooftop garden he’d taken Bucky too once. Steve shut down that part of his brain. This wasn’t a date. This was a mission. He wasn’t Bucky. He was the Soldier.

At the far side of the balcony was a short staircase leading up to a higher empty lounge area with a soft looking sofa and a bucket of champagne. Steve wondered what the Soldier had told the restaurant the occasion was.

Seated at a small table, set exquisitely for two, was the Soldier. His long hair was pulled back into a half updo with a few wayward strands fluttering around his beautiful face in the breeze off the river. Steve felt his heart clench at the sight.

“Steve.” The Soldier rose with a smile, “I’m so glad you could make it.”

“Of course,” Steve replied automatically, “you look lovely.”

He did. He’d clearly dressed up for the occasion too. He’d opted for black on black but his suit jacket was made out of a slightly shiny fabric, making it seem almost like leather in the dim glow of the candles on the table and the twinkling lights around them. Steve subtly examined the broad tan hands he’d gotten to know so well over the past few months, no metal in sight. Questions churned in his mind but now that Steve knew the truth, he could see the Bucky’s brow and deep set eyes on the Soldier’s face. It was like seeing two people at once. Steve sat down across from the Winter Soldier and saw Bucky’s eyes staring back at him. He took a breath and forced himself to relax.

Neither said anything as their server poured them both glasses of red wine before quietly excusing himself. Then there was silence. Steve listened to the soft sound of music drifting from the restaurant, the gentle hum of chatter, and the soft crashing of waves on the rocky shore just beyond the edge of their little balcony. Then he heard the click of a gun cocking under the table.

Steve watched the Soldier unfold his napkin with one hand and toss it over his lap, his other hand held the gun aimed at Steve’s stomach underneath the fabric. Steve wasn’t sure how the Soldier had realized Steve knew who he was but he was never one to back down from a fight so he pulled his own gun and tossed his napkin over his lap to hide the weapon from the server who was sure to come back eventually.

“Captain,” the Soldier hissed.

“Soldier.”

They fell silent. Steve didn’t even know where to begin. The Soldier’s face gave nothing away.  He was staring at Steve with the same detached coldness he’d become so familiar with on missions. Steve was sure his own face was an open book— it was half the reason he insisted on wearing a helmet— but as he sat across from the Soldier at the edge of the river on perhaps the most romantic looking date he’d ever been on, he found that he didn’t want to think about Hydra or SHIELD or assassins or agents. He just wanted closure with the man he’d been falling for. The funny, smart, beautiful, intriguing, sweet man he met in Italy and loved in New York. He wanted a moment to say goodbye to that man with the same grace and humor they’d met with.

“I think we should break up,” Steve said, with as teasing a smile as he could muster.

He saw the corner of the Soldier’s lips twitch.

“It’s not you, it’s me?” The Soldier asked, his eyebrow arching as he joined in the familiar banter.

“No, it’s you.”

The Soldier laughed, low and melodic. Steve hated himself a little for adoring the sound.

“I suppose that’s fair.” The Soldier leaned back in his char, his gun still aimed at Steve, “So, what’s the plan? Huh, Captain?”

“We could always shoot it out here and hope for the best,” Steve joked, pretending to consider it.

“That would be a shame because they’d probably ask me to leave once you’re dead,” the Soldier pouted, “And I really like this restaurant.”

Steve hummed thoughtfully. The Soldier hadn’t made a move to kill him before but the status quo had changed. There was no telling what he’d be willing to do now that they were each other’s missions.

“You once told me that you hated your job,” Steve said.

For a split second, the Soldier’s mask slipped. He looked a breath away from human before he returned to stony apathy.

“You said you were stuck in a shitty contract.” Steve leaned forward over the table, “Maybe I can help you with that.”

“You can’t,” the Soldier replied immediately with a cold terseness Steve didn’t know.

“My job is to destroy Hydra—“

“I owe Hydra,” the Soldier interrupted, angry now, “I owe them. Don’t pretend to know anything about that.”

Steve cocked his gun at the Soldier’s tone, just to remind him of their situation. The Soldier took a breath and visibly forced himself to calm down.

“I know more about owing people than you’d think.”

“Is that so,” the Soldier drawled sarcastically, “‘America’s Golden Boy’.”

Steve let his own growing scowl deepen.

“You’d be surprised to learn how much work it took to make that statement true.”

He saw a twitch of confusion on the Soldier’s brow before they fell again into silence. He could see the moment the Soldier connected the dots of Steve’s childhood illnesses and the super soldier that sat across from him. So, he hadn’t known about that, Steve realized. Interesting.

But as it was, the conversation was going nowhere. Steve had to call it before they really did end up shooting it out right here with so many civilians nearby.

“If you won’t leave Hydra, then I have until 2200 to kill you.”

“Perfect,” the Soldier said, his smile more of a sneer now, “so do I.”

Steve nodded. The Soldier seemed determined to see this through and Steve wasn’t planning on ending up a corpse tonight. But before he pulled the trigger, his heart demanded that he ask one more question.

“Before we do this,” he began, allowing himself one moment of vulnerability before the approaching storm, “I’d like to ask one thing.”

The Soldier’s eyebrows raised in apathetic acknowledgement.

“What did you think of me when we first met?”

The Soldier blinked in surprise.

“Why are you asking me this now?”

“I can go first, if you’d like,” Steve said with a shrug.

The Soldier nodded. Steve swallowed.

“I thought you were a vision,” Steve whispered, “I don’t know how else to say it.”

The Soldier stared at him with his stormy blue eyes.

“Well?” Steve asked.

The Soldier took a breath, then hesitated, then breathed in again.

“I thought you were the most beautiful mark I’d ever seen,” he admitted, staring out over the river as he spoke.

“A mark.”

The Soldier nodded.

“I was just a job then. It was all business.”

“All business,” the Soldier agreed cooly.

“Okay,” Steve said, feigning that he was struggling to keep his composure, “I guess that’s all I needed to know.”

The Soldier almost did a double take at his words and moved forward as if to reach out when Steve’s eyes began to flood with tears.

“E—Excuse me,” Steve choked out, abruptly standing and stepping up the stairs to the lounge area. There were no exits up there, but Steve didn’t need any.

4, 3, 2—

He heard the scrape of the Soldier’s chair as the smoke bomb Steve had planted under the table went off with a bang. Steve was already over the railing and leaping the twenty feet onto the roof of the restaurant. Screams came from behind him as he darted across the tiles and landed on his feet on the pavement in front of the building. He flicked off the safety on his gun as panicking people began to run out onto the street. Steve ran towards his bike, turning when he was halfway there to see if the Soldier was out yet and if he had a clear shot. He wasn’t stupid enough to think the bomb had gotten him— the Soldier was too good to for that— but Steve had the element of surprise on his side and you could never underestimate how much power that had.

That being said, the Soldier’s black car coming at him at 40 miles an hour was pretty surprising. Steve automatically took a step back and the panicking crowd very quickly got in his way. Someone slammed into him and Steve heard a shot from his own gun ring out. As everyone around him dropped to the ground with another wave of screams, the car screeched to a halt. Steve looked up in shock. His bullet had pierced straight through the windshield on the driver's side and for a split second, Steve was sure he’d killed Bucky.

Then a head rose from behind the steering wheel and Steve watched the Soldier’s surprise morph into fury as relief flooded him like a wave.

“Whoa,” Steve said cautiously, holding up his empty hand and pointing his gun at the sky, “Bucky, that was an accident.”

The car reeved. The crowd scattered.

“Bucky, accident !” Steve shouted as the car charged towards him.

Steve jumped and twisted, his back hitting the windshield instead of getting his kneecaps smashed and he rolled over the roof and landed a little sloppily on the asphalt as the car gunned it up the road and toward the city.

“Shit,” Steve hissed, running for his bike and hopping on before abandoning the chaos of the restaurant to chase the Soldier south.

It wasn’t long before Steve realized that the Soldier wasn’t even trying to shake him off. He practically led the way through Brooklyn towards Bay Ridge. It made sense. The Soldier would want every advantage in this fight, including being in familiar territory with who knows what kind of traps already laid out for Steve to fall into. Going to the Soldier’s place gave him the upper hand, but Steve was going to prove that he wasn’t as stupid as he had been before. The Soldier may have led him through their whole relationship ten steps ahead, but Steve was going to be the one to finish this.

By the time Steve pulled up in front of the old repurposed brick building, the Soldier’s car was already abandoned out front with its door hanging open and the lights still on. Steve let his bike fall onto the pavement and quickly circled the perimeter. It was a three story building. It might have been an old factory once, judging by the large paned windows and old ironwork. Steve spotted two more exits, a fire escape, and a climbable gutter that could be useful in a pinch. He pulled off his suit jacket and double checked his weapons before hopping up onto the ledge of one of the windows. It looked like an open planned space so the only places to hide were behind narrow pillars or under the metal stairs that led to the upper floors. He broke one of the small panes with his elbow as quietly as he could before sticking his hand in and undoing the latch. He hopped quietly inside and heard nothing but silence as he pulled his gun and stepped through the seemingly deserted bottom floor, grabbing a piece of the broken glass with his free hand as he passed it.

Cautiously, Steve zigzagged through the space with his gun at the ready. He slowly crept up the stairs as silently as he could and paused before poking his head above the landing. He held up the glass, using the reflections to try to get a look at the floor above. He angled the glass around, seeing what looked like a fairly nice living room before spotting the barrel of a rifle pointing right at him. Steve dropped to the ground just as the glass was blown out of his hand by a perfectly aimed bullet. His hand bleeding, Steve half fell down the stairs as bullets ripped through the landing and pierced the wall behind him. Steve rolled back onto his feet at the bottom and stilled as the building fell silent once again.

“You still alive, baby?” the Soldier called from the landing above.

If his life hadn’t been on the line, Steve would have laughed.

Instead he groaned, letting one of his guns hit the concrete floor with a clang before quietly picking it back up. He crouched down and aimed up at the landing just as the Soldier peeked over the edge to see if he was really dying.

Steve’s bullet nicked the Soldier in the shoulder and Steve saw him reel back, allowing Steve to bolt up the stairs and dive behind the sofa. He quickly aimed over the top of it and shot as many rounds as he could before the Soldier ducked, pulled a gun out of the fireplace, and shot back.

The sofa quickly lost all structural integrity and Steve made a break for a doorway and found himself in a kitchen. He swung open the fridge as he passed it and heard the thick metal door clang against the gunfire. Steve hid behind the kitchen island and ripped open the oven. He quickly stripped the inside, broke the gas line, and ripped the pin from his one grenade before running for the next room. The explosion shook the building and Steve watched the flames tear through the kitchen from Bucky’s rather well decorated dining room. Steve only had a moment to admire it before the Soldier burst from the flames and punched him in the sternum. Steve went flying over the table, taking a few chairs with him as he tumbled onto the carpet. The Soldier pulled a knife from the cabinet and Steve dodged swipe after swipe before kicking the Soldier’s legs out from under him and grabbing the knife from his hand. Steve’s retaliating stab hit the floor as the Soldier dodged out of his reach and raised his fists. Steve neatly flipped the knife in his fingers and charged, slicing across the Soldier’s raised arms before barreling into him hard enough to break through the wall behind them.

Amidst the broken drywall and wood splinters, Steve got to his feet and watched the Soldier do the same. As he moved, Steve caught a glimpse of the Soldiers arm where he’d been cut. The skin was broken but instead of blood there was a gleam of bright metal underneath. Of course.

Steve grabbed the Soldier by the wrist and twisted, yanking until he heard a snap and when he released his grip he pulled the fake skin with him. The Soldier stumbled back and, with a growl, he set his broken metal arm and rolled his shoulder, the gleaming plates shuddering as they slipped back into place before getting his fingers around Steve’s throat.

There was no rhythm, Steve realized as he was thrown down on the dining room table, which splintered against his back.  There was no push and pull. No finesse at all. Steve flipped back onto his feet, kicking the Soldier in the face as he went. There was no showing off. No fancy moves. The Soldier whacked him in the head with a ceramic vase. Neither of them were even wearing any armor. Steve stabbed the Soldier in the thigh as he wiped blood away from his eyes. Steve wondered when his ears had started ringing. The Soldier pulled the knife out of his skin and made for the door. Steve chased him, stumbling a little over the remnants of the dining table.

The Soldier bolted up another flight of stairs. Steve grabbed a potted houseplant and threw it. It smashed against the wall in a splatter of terra-cotta and dirt as the Soldier disappeared up the stairs. Steve followed and reached the landing just in time to see the Soldier pull a handgun out from under a desk. Steve quickly knocked it away and punched the Soldier in the face. The Soldier elbowed him in the throat. Steve kneed him in the stomach. The Soldier kicked him in the knee cap. Now on the ground, Steve kicked the Soldier in the balls before straddling him and punching him in the face once, twice. The Soldier flipped them over and wrapped both hands around Steve’s neck. Gasping, Steve tried to pry his fingers off but the metal was too strong. Vision going fuzzy, Steve felt around and grabbed what turned out to be a metal bookend and smacked the Soldier in the head as hard as he could. Steve gasped for breath as the Soldier lost his grip and fell to the side.

He hoisted himself up using the foot of the Soldier’s bed as a crutch and for a second he just breathed. His throat burned, blood was dripping down his face, his chest felt like it had been run over by a freight train, and he was sore absolutely everywhere. Steve looked over his shoulder and saw the Soldier struggling to stand as he used a shelf for support. He looked about as bad as Steve felt with his hair hanging loose and and messy around his face, which was quickly bruising along his cheek and jaw, and, though his clothing was black, Steve could see some wet spots along his torso that would definitely rub off red. Their eyes met and quickly they both forced themselves up.

“You gettin’ tired, Cap?” The Soldier panted as if he wasn’t hunched over in pain.

“I can do this all day,” Steve replied, even though there was blood in his mouth and he wasn’t sure where it had come from.

The Soldier huffed out a laugh and then ran at him, grabbed him around the waist with a yell, and slammed him into the floor. And then they were falling. The floor gave way and they landed in the remnants of the Soldier’s kitchen, the third floor having been severely compromised by Steve’s grenade. Steve dizzily rolled off the pile of rubble and dragged himself to his feet. He could see the Soldier blinking away his own concussion as he stumbled against the counter tops.

Super soldier or not, Steve was getting a little desperate.

He looked around for something— anything— that could end this fight and he spotted it not ten feet away. He saw the Soldier’s gaze follow his to the abandoned rifle sticking out of the rubble of his broken wall and in a split second, Steve’s body compartmentalized all his pain away and he moved faster than he ever had before in his life to grab the Soldier’s gun by the hilt and turn it on it’s owner, who reached into the broken kitchen island and pulled out a pistol and aimed it back not a moment later.

Finally, there was silence.

Steve could feel his own heartbeat in every inch of his bruised body as he stared down the scope of the rifle at the Soldier. Steve blinked away the last of the dizziness as his enhanced body finally worked through the concussion and his vision regained its clarity. The bruises along the Soldier’s cheekbone and jaw were already fading to dark purple and the cuts and scrapes across his skin had stopped bleeding for the most part. The evening shadows stretched long across the shattered remains of the Soldier’s kitchen and Steve knew that both of their deadlines were up.

Either you take him out or we will, Fury had said.

Steve aimed at the Soldier’s heart. His eyes flicked to the Soldier’s. The indifferent mask had long since slipped from his face and Steve found himself looking into those blue eyes and remembering the joy that blossomed there when he talked about his niece or the way they would light up when Steve showed up to a date with an untouched mocha in hand.

Steve clenched his jaw.

It wasn’t real, his mind whispered, it was all lies.

The Soldier’s pistol was aimed at his head.

He doesn’t care about you.

The trigger was cold.

If you don’t do it, he will.

The Soldier bit his lip. Steve knew better than to think those were tears in his eyes.

Finish this.

Steve let his aim falter.

“I can’t do it,” he whispered.

“Come on!” The Soldier’s voice broke as he shouted through clenched teeth, his pistol wavering in his hand, “Come on!”

“You want it, it’s yours.” Steve let the rifle slip from his fingers and it hit the tiled floor with a dull thud, “I can’t.”

The Soldier stared down at the abandoned rifle then aimed again at Steve’s head.

“You’re my mission,” he hissed.

Steve nodded.

“Then finish it.”

The Soldier’s face crumpled and as the first tear slid down his cheek Steve did the most natural thing in the world. He pushed the pistol aside and heard it clatter to the ground as he cradled Bucky’s face in his hands and kissed him.

Bucky’s hands fisted themselves in Steve’s shirt and Steve felt the sting of Bucky’s teeth on his bottom lip as his back slammed into a wall. Bucky’s lips were insistent and he licked into Steve’s mouth like he couldn’t stop. He tasted like blood and metal and Steve wanted more. Cold metallic fingers slid up his neck and Steve twisted his hands in Bucky’s hair and pulled. He pushed back, hastily swiping his arm across the kitchen countertop to rid it of the worst of the broken glass and rubble before lifting Bucky by the thighs and setting him down on it. He ripped Bucky’s shirt open as Bucky scraped his nails across his shoulders.

“I lied before,” Bucky gasped breathlessly as Steve bit into the side of his neck.

Steve flicked his tongue over the red marks his teeth left before sucking the skin as hard as he could.

“I thought you were a civilian until today.”

Steve let out a sigh across Bucky’s skin. His eyes slid shut and he tightened his grip on Bucky’s waist.

“When I first saw you in Italy I thought you were a work of art.”

Steve breathed a shaky laugh into Bucky’s hair.

“Come on,” Bucky whispered.

He shoved Steve back and slid off the counter.

“Come on.”

He pulled Steve’s shirt up and Steve heard the fabric rib as Bucky’s lips latched onto his with renewed desperation. He pinned one of Steve’s wrists to the wall and let his metal hand roam, sending shivers across Steve’s chest. Then Bucky’s thigh slid between his own.

“Fuck,” Steve breathed as Bucky started to grind against him.

“Want you,” Bucky replied, ripping at Steve’s belt and pulling it away from his hips.

“Yes.”

Steve heard the button of Bucky’s pants ping as it flew off and hit something when he tugged them open with too much force. He pushed Bucky back toward the countertop and spun him around. He heard the scrape of his metal fingers against the raw chunks of drywall and dropped to his knees, pulling Bucky’s pants down with him, before digging his teeth into the flesh of Bucky’s ass. Bucky sighed above him and slid down to his elbows as Steve bit and kissed his way across Bucky’s skin, spreading his ass with both hands and letting his nails dig into the warm flesh.

“Steve— ah!

Steve pressed his tongue against Bucky’s rim, licking and sucking until he could press the tip inside. Bucky’s elbows gave out and he shoved more debris away to lie across the countertop as Steve pressed a finger against his hole.

“You have anything?” Steve asked, his voice rough and soft.

“Uh.” Bucky looked around, “I think my nightstand is in pieces over there.”

Steve looked and saw a shattered lamp, a partially on fire book, and the remnants of a small set of drawers. He laughed softly, pressing his smile into Bucky’s lower back.

“My bad,” Steve whispered, kissing the dimples just above his ass.

He felt Bucky chuckle beneath him and pulled his fingers away.

“Next time.”

Bucky practically whined as Steve stood.

“We say that every time,” he groaned, reaching back and grabbing Steve’s wrists, pulling them flush together, “Come on, give me something here.”

“Alright, just—“

Steve pulled Bucky’s legs together and pushed him back down onto the countertop with a hand on the back of his neck. Bucky sighed as Steve shoved his own pants down and quickly pressed his cock between Bucky’s thighs. Still wet from Steve’s mouth, there was just enough give that Steve could slide between his cheeks and down behind his balls.

It wasn’t what either of them really wanted, but for now it was close enough.

Steve held Bucky still by the hip and thrust hard. Bucky shoved a hand down and started jacking himself off as Steve bent down to press kisses against his spine.

“Faster,” Bucky breathed, tipping his head back so Steve could kiss the side of his jaw.

Steve got an arm around Bucky’s chest and pulled him up a little and then wrapped his free hand around Bucky’s where he was clutching the edge of the counter. The metal was smooth and cool under his palm and Steve tangled their fingers together as he fucked Bucky’s thighs as hard as he could.

“Harder,” Bucky hissed.

Steve laughed. He planted his feet further apart and shoved Bucky back down with a hand between his shoulder blades.

“Bossy,” he chided through a grin.

He twisted Bucky’s metal hand around so it rested against the small of his back and held him down by pressing their palms together before gripping his hip hard enough to leave bruises and thrusting.

A content sigh fell from Bucky’s lips as he started to slide up the counter from the force of Steve’s thrusts and Steve saw the hand Bucky had around himself start to speed up.

“God, I want you to fuck me,” Bucky gasped.

Steve could only moan in agreement as Bucky squeezed his thighs tighter together.

“Wanted it since I met you.”

Steve squeezed Bucky’s hand harder.

“I can’t even count how many times I jacked off to that shower photo you sent me.”

Steve groaned and felt heat pooling at the base of his spine.

“Yes, Stevie. Come on, come on, come on.”

“Oh, fuck.”

Steve gasped and felt Bucky’s thighs turn slick as come smeared across his skin.

“Yes,” Bucky whispered, his hand working faster and faster.

Steve, still riding his high, reached around and replaced Bucky’s hand with his own, pumping him fast and hard until the counter was streaked with white and Bucky was a trembling, sticky mess beneath him.

Steve breathed against Bucky’s sweaty skin. He ran his hands gently up and down Bucky’s back, letting his fingers drift across the bruises, cuts, and bite marks that littered his body like constellations.

“They’re going to kill us both, you know,” Bucky sighed, not moving from his position bent over the counter.

“Yeah,” Steve replied, pressing a kiss against the curve of Bucky’s ribs, “They’re probably on their way here now, waiting to see which one of us is still standing.”

Bucky sighed and pushed himself up. Steve got out of his way as he found a kitchen towel that wasn’t covered in shrapnel to clean them both up.

“Come on.”

Bucky took Steve’s hand and led him through the carnage of his apartment back up to his bedroom, which had a huge hole through the floor.

“Thanks for not blowing up my wardrobe, I guess,” Bucky deadpanned as he walked around the hole to get to the dresser.

“You’re the one that wanted to do this here,” Steve said without heat, catching the black t-shirt Bucky threw at him.

“Yeah,” Bucky sighed, pulling a large first aid kit out of a drawer “thought it’d give me the upper hand. I was really thrown when I realized it was you.”

Steve pulled off his torn, bloody button down and felt Bucky’s eyes on his shoulders as he stretched, checking for any serious injuries. A fractured rib, maybe.

“How did you find out?” Steve asked.

“I did a background check on you after our first date,” Bucky said, pulling out bandages and gauze, “I found your address and when I found the same address in Avengers Tower I sort of knew. I didn’t want to believe it though, not until I saw your name on the buzzer.”

Steve picked a piece of glass off his pants and deemed them okay enough to keep wearing.

“How about you?” Bucky asked.

Steve wiped the blood off his face with a piece of gauze dipped in rubbing alcohol.

“On the landing strip,” Steve said, “You laughed at something I said and for a second I thought I was going insane.”

“Is that why you protected me?” Bucky asked, his hand pausing over a pack of bandaids as he looked up at Steve.

“No,” Steve replied, “I told myself that it was impossible. It wasn’t until the tracker on you led back here that I accepted it. I’d done my own background check and the addresses matched.”

“I thought you might have already known,” Bucky muttered, wrapping the stab wound on his thigh, “Thought you might have been stringing me along.”

“So did I.”

They fell silent as they patched themselves up. Bucky pulled a dark grey t-shirt over his head and watched Steve wipe his face with the back of his hand only to startle a little when it smeared more blood across his forehead.

“Here, let me.”

Bucky pushed Steve to sit on the dresser and poured some more alcohol on a wad of gauze. He tilted Steve’s face back and wiped the blood from his brow, carefully dabbing the cut across his temple and the one through his cheek. Looking up at Bucky, Steve his first clear view of his face since they sat down for dinner over an hour ago. His hair was still a mess, his eyes were intently focused on Steve’s cuts, and the little furrow between his brows had hardly vanished since they’d met that day. He was gorgeous, as always. Steve wondered if he’d ever stop thinking that. He almost couldn’t help it. But the more Steve thought about it, the more he knew that a pretty face and some sweet words only went so far.

“Bucky?”

“Hm?”

“Why do you work for Hydra?”

Bucky’s fingers froze against Steve’s skin. He had one against Steve’s jaw and the other pressed against his cheek. Their eyes met and Steve watched Bucky’s shoulders slump and darkness descend over his eyes.

“It’s a long story.”

“I’m not hypocritical enough not to acknowledge that my own company might not always be the good guys,” Steve said, “but at least I have the benefit of not realizing how bad it was until now.”

Bucky refused to look at him.

“Bucky, I don’t think I can stay if I don’t know,” Steve whispered.

Steve saw his jaw clench and felt the warm fingers fall away from his cheeks. Then, with a sigh, all the tension drained out of Bucky’s body. He half collapsed onto his bed, falling onto his back and staring up at the ceiling with his arms stretched out.

“They scouted me straight out of high school,” Bucky began quietly, “they wanted me for some program, the Red Room, but I said no.”

Steve felt his stomach drop. Natasha had been part of the Red Room. She never talked about it but from what Steve gathered, they weren’t in the business of letting people just walk away.

“They left the offer open, they said I could change my mind at any time, and then my life started falling apart around me,” Bucky whispered, “My mom lost her job, then my sister got sick, then my college scholarship got taken away. I wasn’t dumb enough not to realize what was happening. I knew it was them, but they’re good at what they do. Eventually, I ran out of options.”

Steve left his spot on the dresser and gently lay down next to Bucky, leaning his head against his shoulder and pressing a comforting hand against his ribs.

“I agreed to a one year of training in exchange for enough money to set my family up for years,” Bucky continued, still staring up at the grey ceiling, “I went. I trained. I excelled. And then I came home. I went back to college, I graduated, I got my mom a house, my sister got married, and then Hydra called.”

Understanding, anger, and helpless rage churned together in Steve’s chest as the pieces of Bucky’s story fell together.

“I said no,” he whispered, “I was confident in myself and my abilities. I figured that whatever they threw at me, I could handle. The next day my sister called. Her six month old was missing.”

“Jesus,” Steve breathed.

He knew how much Bucky loved his niece. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to protect her.

“I said yes and she was back within the hour,” Bucky said, “that’s when I realized that there was nothing I could do to fend off the inevitable.”

Steve rubbed his forehead against Bucky’s shoulder and hoped Bucky could feel the comfort in the gesture.

“It went on like that. Once, maybe twice a year, they’d call and I’d go do whatever it was they needed from me. I was their secret weapon. I was off the records, no paper trail, untraceable, hiding in plain sight, and the best sniper they’d ever found.”

“Then something changed,” Steve said, remembering what Natasha had told him months ago, “you started doing more work for them.”

“They were always a little angry that I had one foot out the door from the beginning,” Bucky explained, “Most of their recruits are honored to be hand picked from the crowd. The fact that I turned them down more than once never sat well with them and they were just waiting for the opportunity to make me a full time asset. And they got their chance.”

Bucky fell silent. He held his metal hand up between them and they both watched the light from the windows send a shimmering gleam across the sleek surface.

“As far as I can tell they weren’t involved in the accident,” he said, “it was just a crazy drunk driver heading home on a Friday night. But when I woke up, Alexander Pierce, head of Hydra, was in my hospital room. All I knew was that I was in more pain than I’d ever felt in my life, my arm was hanging off by a scrap of muscle, and that my sister and niece had been in the car with me when we were hit. Pierce made himself clear: no morphine, no doctor, no family. Not until I’d heard what he had to say. I said yes before he’d even finished talking.”

“It wasn’t until later that I really understood what I’d agreed to. They gave me this arm and some other… modifications, they paid my family’s medical bills, and got the drunk driver sent to jail for life. In exchange, they got me.”

Bucky let his hand fall.

“Later,” he whispered, “when I wasn’t being tortured by Pierce, I thought about it and I realized that under different circumstances I still would have made the same call.”

“That’s because it was the right call to make.”

Bucky swallowed thickly.

“You were protecting your family,” Steve said resolutely, “you made the right call.”

“I traded lives, Steve,” Bucky sighed, “The lives of everyone I’ve killed in exchange for my family.”

“You did.”

“And that’s wrong,” Bucky argued, pushing himself up and glaring at him, “you wouldn’t do that, Captain America wouldn’t do that.”

“You’re right,” Steve said, sitting up to face Bucky, “Captain America wouldn’t do that because Captain America doesn’t have a family. He’s an idea, not a person. He’s got nothing and no one so every civilian and soldier he meets has equal worth in his eyes. But I’m not Captain America.”

Steve leaned forward so he could squeeze the fingers of Bucky’s metal hand in his own.

“My name is Steve Rogers and I would do whatever it takes to protect the people I care about.” He kissed Bucky’s cool knuckles, “And that includes you.”

“I don’t deserve—“

“You do.”

“I don’t.”

Steve shoved Bucky hard until his back hit the mattress before throwing his arms around his waist and settling on top of him.

“You do.”

For a moment, Bucky was still. Then Steve felt hesitant hands slide up his shoulders and around his neck.

“How did you end up with SHIELD?”

Steve knew Bucky was trying to change the subject, but fair was fair.

“Well, everything I told you about my past is true,” Steve said, voice muffled by Bucky’s chest, “I only lied by omission.”

He felt Bucky’s metal fingers slide through his hair and he burrowed his face against Bucky’s collarbone.

“I was really sick as a kid. Dying sick. Four years ago, I was terminal. I couldn’t afford the best doctors or the best treatments— I was barely scraping by even without the medical bills— and then SHIELD approached me with an offer. An experimental program called Project Rebirth. The only catch was that if I survived I’d have to help them take out Hydra. It didn’t take much convincing, I knew Hydra was bad news and I was already on death row. It was kind of a shock to everyone when I didn’t die though. Their plan had been just to put me on intelligence gathering or something because the main purpose of the serum was just supposed to be advanced healing and cognitive function but then I grew a foot and put on an extra hundred pounds of muscle. At the time, Fury, head of SHIELD, was putting together the Avengers Initiative. He figured I’d make a good addition so they turned my life into my secret identity, trained me up, and here I am.”

“Your friends didn’t notice when you spontaneously got jacked?” Bucky asked, still carding his fingers through Steve’s hair.

“I didn’t really have any friends,” Steve shrugged, “I was in and out of school too much to meet people and after school I was pretty much bedridden until SHIELD found me. If anyone I knew tried to find out what happened to me they’d probably think I died or that I didn’t know how to use the internet.”

Steve propped himself up, his elbows on either side of Bucky’s torso so he could look down at him.

“I’ve been suspicious of SHIELD’s methods since the beginning,” he said, “but I stayed because I owe them my life. That allegiance ended the second I realized they were using me to assassinate you.”

Steve ran a finger across the Bucky’s bruised cheekbone.

“Their decision to kill you was wrong,” Steve whispered, “their tactics were wrong, their intel was nonexistent, and I don’t like being used as bait unless it’s on my terms.”

“So what do we do now?” Bucky asked quietly.

Steve thought for a moment before leaning down and pressing his lips gently against’ Bucky’s. He held the kiss for a breath, just long enough to really feel the warmth and the sweet softness of Bucky’s skin, before sitting up.

“We take Hydra head on. We make it clear that neither of us are pawns.”

“You want to go to war with Hydra,” Bucky deadpanned, blinking up at him in disbelief, “Do you have a death wish?”

“Nah, just an exhaustingly rigid moral compass,” Steve joked, “Come on, we can take ‘em.”

“No, we can’t.” Bucky sat up with a deep crease between his brows.

“We can.”

“I mean, maybe with SHIELD’s resources—“

“Fury won’t go to war for one man,” Steve told him resolutely, “he’d rather take them down piece by piece for however long that takes.”

“So, what exactly is your master plan, then?

“We go for the head.”

Bucky paused.

“Pierce.”

“Exactly.”

“Steve, cut off one head and two more will grow in its place.”

“Not if you burn the stump.”

“Great, either you’ve read The Twelve Labors of Heracles or you’ve watched the Disney movie—“

“I watched the movie.”

“—either way, unless you have a practical application for this metaphor, there’s no way you can weed out all the roots Hydra has. The organization is too big, there’s too many pieces.”

“But there’s always one guy who knows all the secrets,” Steve argued, “we’ll use Pierce and his intel to find every single one of them. We can bring the whole thing down.”

“With just the two of us?”

“Well,” Steve smiled, “not just us.”

The distant sound of a helicopter made them both freeze.

“Looks like our time is up,” Bucky whispered as they both slid off the bed and onto the floor just before a light shone through the third floor windows.

“You got a secret backdoor exit?”

“Of course, what am I? An amateur?”

“Come on, then,” Steve chuckled, “I know where we can go.”

 


 

“Well, this is awkward.”

Tony stared at Steve and Bucky with one hand still in the bag of chips he’d been going for when they’d stepped out of the elevator into the Avenger’s Lounge. Clint already had his bow out and a razor sharp arrow aimed at Bucky’s head. Natasha hadn’t been far behind, her bullet would hit Bucky right in the heart. Steve stepped cautiously in front of Bucky and held up his hands to Bruce, who was looking a little green, and tried to calm everyone with a gentle expression.

“I said, ‘don’t freak out’.” Steve repeated, looking pointedly at Clint and Natasha.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Natasha replied sarcastically, not lowering her weapon, “I didn’t realize the Winter Soldier appearing in our secure facility no longer counted as a ‘freak out worthy’ event.”

“Steve,” Sam said, holding up his own empty hands in a show of trust, “You wanna explain what’s going on?”

“Uh, well,” Steve looked over his shoulder at Bucky, who shrugged, and then back at the Avengers, “you guys wanted to meet my boyfriend.”

Steve heard what could only be the sound of Bucky hitting himself in the face as Clint nearly dropped his bow in surprise and Tony choked on a potato chip. Natasha lowered her gun and stared up at the ceiling with a sigh.

“Only you, Steve,” Sam grumbled, squeezing the bridge of his nose.

“Christ, Rogers,” Tony coughed, “And I thought I made questionable life choices.”

“How long has this been going on?” Natasha asked with an exasperated shrug, gesturing at the two of them with her gun.

“We’ve known each other for about seven months,” Bucky said, “but we only realized who the other was yesterday.”

“And why do you both look like you’ve been run over by a truck?” Bruce asked, sounding more exhausted than anything else.

“We tried to kill each other a little bit,” Steve said with a shrug.

Sam started massaging his temples.

“Look,” Bucky said, stepping forward. Steve saw Natasha’s gun twitch, “I know you guys have no reason to like me but right now we have a common enemy.”

“And who’s that?” Clint asked, fingers still on the string of his bow.

“Hydra.”

“You work for Hydra,” Natasha accused.

“No,” Bucky replied, “I’m owned by Hydra.”

Steve saw understanding flicker across her face.

“Are you…” Sam began incredulously, “Are you asking for our help?”

Bucky looked around the room at the Avengers.

“Well, yeah,” he said with a shrug, “isn’t that what you guys do?”

Steve watched the team exchange looks. He stepped up to Bucky’s side and placed a hand on his shoulder to show his support. He could feel Natasha’s eyes tracking the movement.

“The man’s got a point,” Bruce acquiesced, flopping down on the sofa next to Tony, “This falls pretty squarely in our domain.”

“Fine,” Tony sighed, “Jarvis! Alert SHIELD—“

“No, Jarvis don’t!” Steve interrupted, “No SHIELD.”

“Why not?” Tony asked, “No one knows Hydra better than SHIELD.”

“SHIELD has orders to kill Bucky on sight,” Steve explained.

“Why can’t you just explain the situation to them?” Sam asked.

“Your name is Bucky?” Clint interjected, “That’s not intimidating at all.”

“I didn’t pick it,” Bucky sighed, “my sister used to call me that and it stuck.”

“What’s your real name?”

“James.”

“Wow, who knew the Winter Soldier was so basic.”

“Steve?” Sam asked, waving to get Steve’s attention again, “SHIELD?”

“There’s no point. SHIELD won’t agree to the plan I’m proposing,” Steve explained.

“Which is?”

“War.”

“Agent Carter was right,” Bruce muttered from the couch, “You are dramatic.”

“That’s not all though,” Natasha said, her eyes narrowing at Steve, “You want to leave SHIELD.”

“I don’t trust them anymore,” Steve admitted, “I can’t do my job when everyone around me has a secret agenda or information Fury decided that I didn’t need to know. I’m done being their weapon.”

“They won’t like that,” Natasha replied.

“Yeah, well,” Steve shrugged, “That’s their problem.”

“What about your team?” Sam asked, “The Howling Commandos?”

“I’m sorry,” Bucky turned to Steve, “You called your team what?

“I didn’t pick it,” Steve replied with a grin, “It just stuck.”

Bucky rolled his eyes with a smile of his own.

“I already contacted them,” Steve said to Sam, “They’re joining us.”

“I assume you have an actual plan, Cap?” Tony asked, tipping the last of his chips into his mouth.

“Of course,” Steve said, “With Bucky’s intel, the seven of us, and the Commandos it’ll be a piece of cake.”

 


 

A piece of cake, he said,” Clint’s voice groaned in Steve’s ear.

Famous last words,” Jim agreed.

So, maybe they were a little outnumbered, Steve conceded as Tony and Natasha furiously searched Pierce’s hard drive for data. The Hydra agents outside had called for backup and their massive, battering ram of a laser was minutes away from breaking through the door.

“Stay on mission,” he said, “we’re almost there.”

“‘Almost’ being the operative word,” Tony grumbled behind him.

There was a smear of blood across Tony’s cheek and Natasha was looking a little worn from their fight in too. Clint, Falsworth, and Jim were all outside, taking out agents one by one from various perches across the compound while Gabe, Dernier, Dugan, Hulk, and Sam kept the bulk of the agents distracted two floors down. Every once in a while, one of Hulk’s roars would shake the building and Tony would start typing a little faster.

Bucky stood still as a statue at Steve’s side. He had donned his usual Winter Soldier get up, mask and all, and his eyes were fixed on the shadows of the agents just barely visible through the crack under the door of Pierce’s office.

“You alright?” Steve asked quietly.

Bucky shifted, readjusting his grip on his rifle, before nodding once.

Somewhere downstairs a grenade went off.

“I don’t know if I’m worth all this, Steve,” Bucky whispered.

“You are to me.”

There was another bang outside the office. Bucky adjusted his grip again and didn’t respond.

“Hey,” Steve nudged Bucky with his elbow, and nodded up towards the vent above one of Pierce’s bookcases, “Let’s get the drop on them?”

Bucky looked at him and the softness in his eyes sent butterflies through Steve’s stomach.

“We’ll be back in a bit,” Steve called over his shoulder to Natasha and Tony as he gave Bucky a boost up into the vent.

“Be quick,” Tony replied, “Pierce is bound to show up soon.”

“Got it.”

Steve hauled himself up and followed Bucky through the metal vent and silently dropped down beside him at the far end of the hall. At Pierce’s door, some 20 heavily armed Hydra agents stood around a machine with a huge cylindrical laser attempting to melt the thick metal so they could get through. Steve and Bucky looked at each other and Steve saw a hint of amusement around Bucky’s eyes.

“Piece of cake,” Bucky whispered.

Steve grinned.

If fighting Bucky had been exhilarating, then fighting with him was indescribable. He knew Bucky and Bucky knew him. He knew how Bucky fought, how he moved, how he thought. He knew that if he tossed Bucky his shield he’d toss back his knife. He knew that if he sent an agent stumbling backwards with a punch in the sternum, Bucky would finish him off with a kick to the head. He knew that if he held out his hand, Bucky would make sure his shield would fly to him like Thor’s hammer.

Steve had never been the type to share a fight. Even when he fought with the Commandos, Steve had thought of himself as separate from them. He was the super soldier, the one who could take the most heat and the most danger. Exposing the others to too much was unnecessary. Even amongst the Avengers, they had to juggle their egos to spare themselves from tedious arguments. But at the end of the day, it was about trust. The Commandos were a great team but none of them could handle the things Steve could and the Avengers were flaky. Thor was known to pop in and out on a whim, Tony could be petty on a good day, Clint tended to sleep through briefings, no one knew what Natasha was doing most of the time, Sam had a day job and wasn’t always available, and Bruce tended to keep his distance unless forced to act. In consequence, Steve was used to carrying out his responsibilities on his own. He didn’t have a second because he didn’t need one.

But when Steve watched his shield ricochet off the side of a Hydra agent’s head and fly neatly into Bucky’s firm metal grasp, he wondered for the first time if it wasn’t about whether or not he needed a second. Maybe it was just about finding the right partner.

Steve took down the last agent with a knife to the chest while Bucky brought the edge of the shield down on the laser, splitting it through the middle and toppling it to the ground with a crash.

Steve knew he had a stupid grin on his face, but he couldn’t help it as he stepped over the bodies to stand by Bucky’s side.

“What?” Bucky asked, staring at Steve’s smile suspiciously.

“Nothin’,” Steve said, before leaning in a pressing a kiss to Bucky’s cheek, “You punch good.”

Ugh, kill me now,” Sam groaned through the coms.

Ooh, someone’s jealous,” Dernier singsonged.

“I’m not jealous, I’m disgusted,” Sam snapped.

Yeah, I’m with Wilson on this one,” Clint said, “I don’t need to hear this terrible flirting while I shoot people.

Hey, Hawkeye? Can you shoot them faster? ” Dugan panted, “They just keep coming.”

“Come on,” Steve tugged Bucky’s arm, “let’s go—”

“Cap, we’ve got it,” Natasha interrupted.

Fuck yeah!” Tony exclaimed.

“Really?” Steve pressed his com further into his hear to make sure he was hearing properly, “You found it?”

All of Hydra’s bases,” Natasha confirmed, “And all their agents.”

“You and me, Romanoff. We could rule the world,” Tony sighed, sounding slightly enamored.

I’d rather die than be responsible for this shit hole.

“Good work, guys,” Steve said, trying to hold the sense of victory at bay until they all evacuated safely, “Now get out of there.”

“Congratulations, Captain.”

Steve spun around. Alexander Pierce stood at the far end of the hallway with a pair of Hydra agents on either side of him. Steve felt Bucky stiffen at his side.

“You’ve found my office,” Pierce said with an air of uncaring superiority, “Солдат, подальше от врага.” (Soldier, away from the enemy.)

“Да, сэр.” (Yes, sir.) Bucky replied, stepping away from Steve and toward Pierce.

“Bucky?” Steve asked.

Bucky didn’t turn around. Steve felt his blood turn to ice.

“Щит.” (The shield.) Pierce said, holding out his hand.

Bucky handed him Steve’s shield. Pierce spun it over in his hands, examining in the white star at its center and the blood smeared across it.

“Bucky?” Steve hated how desperate he sounded.

Bucky finally turned, but the eyes that met his weren’t the warm blue that he loved. They were the cold grey of the Winter Soldier.

“You didn’t really think my top asset would get involved with Captain America without my permission?” Pierce asked with a hollow smile, “Are you really so naive?”

“No,” Steve replied, finding his voice again, “I’m not naive.”

Steve pulled the two guns from his thigh holsters.

“I have faith,” he said with all the conviction he could muster.

“Faith?” Pierce threw his head back and laughed, “Your faith led you into a trap set by the Winter Soldier. You won’t make it out of this compound live.”

Cap? Cap, we’re all on our way out! ” Sam’s tinny voice shouted in Steve’s ear, “Where are you? We’re just waiting for you and your boy!”

“Just go,” Steve hissed into his com, “We’ll catch up.”

“No, Captain,” Pierce said with a victorious smirk, “I don’t think you will. Солдат, делай то, для чего ты был создан.” (Soldier, do what you were made for)

Steve lifted his guns.

“With pleasure,” Bucky hissed.

Steve’s bullets hit the agents on either side of Pierce and as they fell, Steve watched the blade of Bucky’s knife slide up through the skin under Pierce’s jaw. He heard the head of Hydra gag as Bucky forced the blade through the roof of his mouth and up into his skull. Blood poured down Bucky’s hand as Pierce’s eyes darted frantically around and his hands scrabbled uselessly at Bucky’s chest. Bucky just held him there, his eyes fixed on Pierce’s face as his movements became more and more limp until, finally, he went still.

Bucky pulled his knife out and let Pierce’s body collapse at his feet.

Steve watched Bucky’s entire posture relax. Bucky ripped the Soldier’s mask off his face and let his head fall back as he sighed with relief. Steve slid his guns back into their holsters and squeezed Bucky’s shoulder. Bucky tilted his head towards Steve and cracked one eye open, grinning at him in that rakish way of his that never failed to send shivers down Steve’s spine.

“Faith, huh?”

Steve smiled.

 


 

On your left.”

Steve ducked as Falcon burst through the window behind him and kicked the slimy grey alien creature in what Steve assumed was its face.

“Thanks,” Steve sighed, wiping blood and goo from his cheek, “I fucking hate aliens, man.”

Hey,” Thor complained.

Steve could hear him pouting through the coms.

“Sorry, not you Thor.”

Cap, Flacon, you have six more heading your way,” Clint told them.

“Gross,” Sam groaned, “you good, Cap?”

Steve waved him off and jogged for the door while Sam jumped back out the window, twisting in mid air and extending his mechanical wings. Steve lowered to a crouch by the doorframe and sighed.

He was exhausted. Four months of hunting down every last person on the list of Hydra agents and what happens on their day of victory? Aliens, that’s what. Four months of darting across the globe, chasing leads, destroying compounds, interrogating agents, and separating those who really believed in Hydra from those who were forced to join. Four months of paperwork and meetings and empty promises that SHIELD would do better. Four months of stolen kisses, shitty hotel rooms, and falling asleep fully clothed after yet another day of combat. It had been four months since “the Soldier” had become “Bucky” but Steve still couldn’t say he knew him inside and out. That thought used to send sparks of desire through his body, but now it was just annoying.

“Actually, can the world not be ending for like, two days?” Steve sighed, leaning his forehead against the cool brick of the half destroyed building.

We’ve almost got them, Cap,” Tony said encouragingly, “Don’t keel over on us yet.

Stark’s right,” Natasha agreed from somewhere on the street below, “Give it twenty more minutes, Cap.

Ten minutes.

Bucky’s voice spurred Steve to his feet.

It had been two weeks since Bucky had officially joined the Avengers. Two weeks of that beautiful low voice in his ear. Two weeks of a red ‘A’ on Bucky’s arm instead of a star.

An explosion went off two streets over as Steve ran towards the center of the battle, taking out every alien he came across as he went.

The Queen is down. Hulk, aim for the nest,” Bucky ordered, “Cap, back me up.

“On it.”

Steve turned the corner just in time to see the worst of the swarm descend on Bucky, the corpse of their Queen still twitching under the rubble of a collapsed building.

Steve dove into the fray, his fists flying as he fought his way to Bucky. The second he caught a glimpse of that gleaming arm through the wild mess of grey skinned bodies, he threw his shield and watched metal fingers curl around it.

Ten minutes later, they stood amongst the wreckage while Banner informed them that he’d smashed the hive, forcing the aliens to retreat before the toxic Earth atmosphere killed them all. Steve sank down onto a half melted bus stop bench and let exhaustion overtake the adrenaline in his veins.

“Please, tell me it’s over,” Bucky sighed, sliding down next to Steve and letting his gun fall from his hand.

They’re retreating,” Tony said, “Yay, go team!”

Thank fuck,” Clint groaned.

You boys need a lift or are you taking the bus? ” Natasha asked.

Steve opened his eyes and looked up at the quinjet hovering some 200 feet above them.

“Lift, please.”

 


 

Steve woke from a dreamless sleep. He remembered being flown back to his apartment. He remembered stripping, showering, and collapsing into bed. He remembered hands, one warm and one cool, wrapping around his waist as sleep took him.

He looked down at the long brown hair spilling across his chest and smiled. He’d gotten so used to Bucky’s weight on him that he couldn’t imagine sleeping alone anymore. Steve gave Bucky a little squeeze, then kissed his hair apologetically before rolling them a little so he could get out. Bucky’s disgruntled groan of protest and bleary blink got a small chuckle out of Steve, who pulled the duvet back over Bucky’s chest and kissed his bare shoulder. Bucky grumbled something else, which Steve didn’t even bother trying to decipher. He’d learned that sleepy Bucky was an incomprehensible Bucky.

Despite his shower the night before, Steve still felt like he had alien residue all over him so he showered again before making his way to the kitchen in his boxer briefs and flopping down on his sofa. He’d missed his apartment, he realized. He’d missed New York. Four months was a long time to be away from home, even with all the distractions he’d had to keep him occupied. Steve wondered if the cat that always sat in the bodega on the corner was still there. He wondered if the lady who sold churros in Washington Park would recognize him. He wondered if the man who ran the market four blocks over would ask him where he’d been.

Then he remembered, with a little guilt, that Bucky didn’t have an apartment to go home to anymore. The place had barely been livable when they’d left it and four months of neglect probably hadn’t done the building any favors. Steve wondered if it would be too much to ask Bucky to move in with him. They hadn’t really been together that long and Bucky might want some space after everything. Or maybe, if Bucky did want to live with him, they should start look for a bigger place for them to get together. Steve remembered a few old brownstones a few towns west being up for sale, he wondered what the chances were that one of them was still available.

“You okay, Stevie?”

Steve looked up. Bucky was leaning casually against the wall, his damp hair dripping down his bare chest while he ran a small towel across his arms. He was wearing Steve’s grey sweatpants and a thousand watt smile.

“God, you’re gorgeous.”

Bucky threw his head back and laughed.

“You always say that.”

“It’s always true.”

Bucky laughed again and lowered himself onto the sofa next to Steve.

“You didn’t answer my question,” Bucky said, leaning over to kiss the curve of Steve’s jaw, “you looked like you were a thousand miles away.”

“I was about two towns over, actually,” Steve replied, tilting his head so Bucky would keep kissing him.

Bucky hummed questioningly against Steve’s skin.

“How would you feel about going for a walk?”

Bucky paused and then pulled away, his lips leaving Steve’s skin with a slick noise.

“You want to go for a walk?”

“Yeah? There are some things I want to show you around town.”

“Let me rephrase that,” Bucky said, a smile tugging at his lips, “we’re finally together somewhere private with no one trying to kill us with all the time in the world for the first time in four months and you want to go for a walk?”

Steve opened his mouth and then closed it again.

“Well, you’re the boss,” Bucky teased, standing up and looking around ostentatiously, “Now, where did I put my shoes— ah!”

Steve grabbed him around the waist and lifted him up, laughing as Bucky yelped indignantly and swatted whatever parts of Steve he could reach. Steve threw Bucky over his shoulder with one hand on his firm ass and carried him back to the bedroom while Bucky broke down into giggles that he smothered against the skin of Steve’s back.

Steve threw him down on the center of the mattress and admired the scrunch of his nose and the dark halo of hair that fanned out around him as he bounced. Bucky’s laughter turned to a pleased sigh as Steve quickly lowered himself down and immediately dragged his teeth across the skin just above his waistband. Bucky hummed contentedly and ran his fingers through Steve’s hair as he kissed his way across Bucky’s hip bones.

“I never thought I’d be so happy.”

Steve looked up at Bucky. He was up on his elbows, looking down at Steve with a softness that made Steve’s heart race.

“I’d be happy too if I was about to get a blowjob.”

Bucky fell back as he laughed again, his head hitting Steve’s pillow and his hands curling into the fabric on either side of his face. Steve crawled up the bed to hover over him and brushed his nose against Bucky’s smiling cheek.

“I just—“ Bucky started, “I just…”

Bucky’s face turned serious and he swallowed roughly. Steve closed his eyes and let his lips drag across Bucky’s jaw, waiting for him to say whatever it was he needed to say.

“You saved my life,” Bucky whispered, “more than once.”

“And you saved mine.”

“No, you don’t get it,” Bucky cupped Steve’s face in his hands and held him still, “I tried not to show it, but when I met you I… I didn’t have much hope. I never thought I’d be free of Hydra. But then I saw you in Central Park on the other side of the lake. You were on the phone and you were laughing and I thought to myself ‘maybe, just this once, I can have something good. Even if it’s just one mediocre date, I can have this.’”

Steve opened his mouth to speak but Bucky’s fingers pressed against his lips before he could take a breath.

“And then,” he continued, “And then we talked and you were just so beautiful, in everything that you did. The way you broke your scone into little pieces, the way you blushed when I complimented you, the way your eyes lit up when you teased me, and the way they shone when I teased back. I never could have imagined that nearly a year later we’d be here.”

Bucky’s metal hand stroked the side of Steve’s face.

“I never could have imagined how much I love you,” Bucky whispered.

Steve’s breath caught in his throat.

“I love the way you talk,” Bucky breathed, quickly now, as if the words were just spilling out of him, “I love the way you fight. I love the way you push your hair back when it gets sweaty. I love the way you clench your jaw when you’re trying not to smile. I love the little sounds your bare feet make when you walk around in the morning and you’re trying not to wake me up. I love the way you touch me after a fight like you can erase the bruises with your fingers. I love all the dumb shit you say. I love the way you call me ‘Buck’. I love—“

Steve kissed the words out of his mouth. There were tears prickling at the corners of his eyes and he squeezed them shut. A weight he didn’t even realized he’d been carrying suddenly lifted off his shoulders. He tangled his fingers in Bucky’s soft hair and kissed him as deeply as he knew how, turning them over so he could feel Bucky’s weight anchoring him while his heart tried to beat its way out of his chest.

“I love you,” Steve replied between kisses, “I— god, I love you so much.”

Bucky whimpered against his lips and pressed him down into the pillows. Steve wrapped his arms around Bucky’s waist and held him there, heavy and real on top of him.

“This is a dream,” Steve whispered, “This is a dream. You’re too good to be true.”

“I’m real,” Bucky replied, his breath ghosting across Steve’s lips, “I’m here. I love you.”

Steve laughed shakily.

“I never thought—,” Steve started breathlessly, “I never—“

He kissed Bucky again and drew whatever strength he could from the taste of Bucky’s lips.

“I was supposed to die when I was 23.”

Steve felt Bucky still against him and he pressed his face into the crook of Bucky’s neck.

“I had no friends, no family,” he whispered, “there was no one to sit by my hospital bed when I had a procedure. There was no one sending me flowers or visiting me in the mornings. There was no one to tell me everything was going to be alright or that I’d be missed or remembered.”

Bucky’s arms wrapped around his shoulders and held him tight.

“After my mother died,” Steve breathed, “I never thought I’d hear those words again.”

Steve hadn’t realized the truth of his own words until they were halfway out of his mouth. He’d been so alone. He’d remained so alone. He’d kept people, even Peggy and Sam at a distance. He’d refuted the very notion that he needed someone watching his back because maybe, deep down, he thought that in the end he’d always be alone.

But not anymore.

“I’m yours,” Steve whispered against Bucky’s skin, “I’m pretty sure I’ve been yours since the first time you punched me.”

“Sap,” Bucky accused, pressing his smile into Steve’s hair, “I’m yours too.”

For a moment, they just breathed. A moment turned into a minute, turned into ten. Steve let the tips of his fingers run lightly across Bucky’s back. He brushed across his shoulder blades and across the scars on his left side. Bucky’s own fingers were drawing soft circles just under Steve’s clavicle. Pressed chest to chest with their legs tangled together and fingers dancing across each other’s skin, Steve had never felt so at peace.

“Oh, I see how it is,” Bucky said suddenly, pushing himself up to look down at Steve, “You were good to blow me on a rooftop but now that we’re in private you just want to cuddle.”

Steve gaped up at him, a smile already tugging at his lips.

“That’s fine, I can work with that,” Bucky mused teasingly, “Do you need to be outside to get it up or would doing it near an open window work—“

Steve rolled them over and trapped Bucky between his thighs before digging his fingers into Bucky’s bare sides, tickling him aggressively while Bucky squirmed under him.

“You’re the one who got all serious on me!” Steve half yelled through his laughter, fending off Bucky’s swipes with one hand and continuing to tickle him across the ribs with the other, “I was being romantic!”

“You can be romantic and also fuck me, Rogers!” Bucky laughed, finally trapping Steve’s hands with his own, “I have never waited this long to properly put out before and I have to say: 0/10, would not recommend.”

“Well, I didn’t see you offering up your apartment as a potential place for us to go. This is hardly my fault.”

“Oh, sure, blame the victim,” Bucky grinned, “you’re the one who sends inappropriate shower pics and then leaves me hanging for like six months!”

“The victim?” Steve echoed incredulously, tangling his fingers with Bucky’s and pressing them down onto the mattress on either side of his head, “Audacious, that’s what you are.”

Steve leaned down and bit the side of Bucky’s neck.

“Punk,” Bucky breathed, tipping his head to the side in encouragement.

“Jerk.”

Steve licked the fresh bite mark and kissed his way up Bucky’s jaw.

“You’re lucky you’re cute,” Steve grumbled against Bucky’s cheek before sealing their lips together.

“I’m adorable,” Bucky corrected petulantly before yielding to Steve’s hot mouth.

The kiss sent a renewed sizzle of desire down Steve’s spine. He slid his hands down Bucky’s arms, across his ribcage, and past his hips to tug at his loose sweatpants. His skin thrummed with the incessant thought: finally, finally, finally. He was finally going to see Bucky’ naked. He was finally going to taste that skin again. He was finally going to be able to take his time.

Steve slid his hands beneath the fabric and cupped Bucky’s ass, lifting him off the mattress just to feel the size of him in his palms. Bucky let out a little moan when Steve spread his cheeks apart.

“Come on,” Bucky hissed, “hurry up.”

“Why?” Steve asked gently, “we’ve got time.”

“I don’t,” Bucky complained, “I’ve been half hard since I saw you lying on the couch in your underwear.”

Steve felt the automatic blush starting to rise on his cheeks. He tried to distract Bucky by squeezing his ass harder. It didn’t work.

“Did you know you blush when I compliment you?”

“Uh huh.”

Steve licked Bucky’s abs.

“If I told you your shoulders are the perfect size for me to throw my thighs over, would you blush harder?”

Steve glared at Bucky while his face heated up.

“Oh, I guess that’s a yes,” Bucky said, laughing a little as he trailed his fingers across Steve’s hot cheek.

“Shudup,” Steve grumbled.

“Why? It’s cute.”

“Turn over.”

“You’re just saying that so I can’t look at you.”

“You want me to rim you or not?”

Bucky faltered and Steve saw his dick twitch under the fabric of his sweatpants.

“Do it from this position.”

Steve felt the front of his boxer briefs stretch as his own cock stiffened.

“Okay.”

Steve shoved Bucky’s pants down and off, tossing them somewhere behind him before watching Bucky’s legs spread across his duvet.

He was a vision.

His thighs were soft and wide, the gentle slope of his hips curved beautifully up towards his firm abs, and his hard length lay waiting against his stomach. Steve trailed his fingers up Bucky’s thighs, wondering if it would be irreverent to mark them with his kisses as he took it all in. Bucky’s breath was coming faster now, his chest rising and falling dramatically as Steve’s gaze raked across him.

Steve pressed a final kiss against the inside of Bucky’s knee before hoisting him up and hooking both thighs over his shoulders.

“Fuck,” Bucky breathed as Steve sank down onto the sheets with his head between Bucky’s legs.

Steve felt fingers grip his hair and he spread Bucky’s cheeks again before pressing a hot, open mouthed kiss to Bucky’s hole. Bucky’s moan was loud and unrestrained as Steve’s tongue traced circles around his rim and gave just enough pressure to suggest what was to come before pulling back. Steve let his nose trail a path down behind Bucky’s balls just to feel his thighs clench and unclench around his head before pushing the tip of his tongue inside. Bucky shuddered around him as he licked and sucked him loose enough to slip a single, spit-slick finger in to the last knuckle.

Steve admired his finger buried deep in Bucky’s ass, surrounded by his reddening rim, before looking up and taking in the sight that was Bucky’s face. There was a blush high on his cheeks, his mouth hung open, and his eyes were squeezed shut as his chest heaved. Both his fists were tangled in the sheets, holding him in place while Steve experimentally wiggled his finger.

Bucky’s breath hitched and Steve pressed his smile against the inside of Bucky’s thigh before sliding them off his shoulders and reaching for his bedside table with his free hand. Bucky’s eyes peeked open at the sound of the bottle opening and he bit his lip as Steve gently slid his finger out to squirt a small dollop of lube on the tip.

“You okay?” Steve asked as he smeared the cool lube across Bucky’s rim.

“Yeah,” Bucky breathed a little shakily, “C’mon.”

Steve chuckled at Bucky’s breathless impatience and watched his own slick finger disappear into Bucky’s body again. He was so hot inside and when Steve crooked his finger Bucky gasped and clenched around him.

“Christ,” Steve whispered, quickly shoving his free hand down his underwear to squeeze the base of his dick.

“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon,” Bucky hissed, planting his feet on either side of Steve’s waist and giving his hips a little roll, “C’mon, gimme another.”

Steve leaned forward and sucked Bucky’s balls into his mouth as his middle finger joined his first, prodding and pressing around his rim until the tight muscle yielded and Steve was two fingers deep. He kept it slow, sliding his fingers in and out at a pace that made it more a caress than a thrust, until Bucky’s little impatient sounds spurred him to add a third finger. It was an impossibly tight fit so Steve fell still, kissing Bucky’s soft thighs until the tips of all three fingers slipped slowly past his rim.

“Steve?” Bucky asked softly.

Steve quickly moved up Bucky’s body so they were face to face. Bucky wrapped his arms around Steve’s neck and leaned his sweaty forehead against Steve’s. Steve began moving his fingers again, just little tiny thrusts as Bucky relaxed beneath him. Bucky panted against Steve’s cheek as his fingers slid in knuckle by knuckle until there was nowhere left to go. Steve pumped his fingers a few more times, feeling the last resistance disappear and transform into a smooth slide.

“M’ready,” Bucky whispered against Steve’s lips.

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

Steve pulled out and let the pads of his fingers rest against Bucky’s warm hole, rubbing it soothingly as he flicked open the lube again with his free hand. He slicked himself up quickly, squeezing the base of his dick again when the stimulation made him groan. He wanted this to last. Steve replaced his fingers with the head of his dick and just let it rest for a moment against Bucky’s entrance. He lowered himself onto his elbows and Bucky pulled him in by the back of the neck, kissing him hard as his ankles hooked around each other against Steve’s lower back.

Steve broke the kiss with one last flick of his tongue and his eyes met Bucky’s. They shone up at him through dark eyelashes, already half lidded and eager. With one last slow breath, Steve pressed his hips forward.

He watched Bucky’s eyes close as the head of his cock stretched him open. Bucky was tight and warm and soft and Steve almost had to pull out just to get a grip on himself as Bucky’s body accepted him. Bucky’s mouth fell open and a small, high gasp escaped him as Steve sank deeper. When Steve’s hips finally pressed against Bucky’s ass he fell still. Steve let out the breath he’d been holding and gently kissed Bucky’s cheek. He ran his hands up and down Bucky’s sides as he breathed against Steve’s neck, clenching and unclenching until the burn faded.

Then Bucky rocked his hips.

Steve gasped sharply and they locked eyes. Bucky nodded once. Steve curled his hands in Bucky’s hair and thrust.

Again and again and again. Bucky’s moans filled Steve’s ears and he breathed his own gasps against Bucky’s lips. Steve could feel Bucky’s dick sliding against his abs with every thrust and he squeezed them tighter together to give him more friction. Bucky’s head fell back and Steve got a hand around the back of his neck to hold him up so he could keep staring into those blue eyes as sweat dripped down his spine.

Steve had never used so much of his strength in bed before. He’d always controlled himself, kept his grip gentle and his thrusts just shy of fast, out of worry that it’d be too much for his partner. But now…

“Harder, Stevie,” Bucky whined.

Steve spread his knees further apart and started thrusting hard enough to send Bucky an inch further up the mattress with every stroke. The bed frame banged against the wall but Steve couldn’t bring himself to care.

“Yeah,” Bucky panted when Steve dug his fingers into his hips to keep him in place, “Yeah, harder. Harder, I can take it.”

“Yeah?”

Bucky grinned up at him. His flushed face, his tangled hair, the bright glint in his eyes— it was almost too much. Steve kissed him sloppily, all tongue and teeth, before adjusting his angle and fucking into Bucky as hard as he dared. Bucky’s hands scrabbled at Steve’s shoulders, his arms, his chest, whatever they could reach. His moans shot up an octave and his thighs squeezed around Steve’s waist as he picked up the pace.

“Finally,” Bucky moaned, his smile faltering as Steve’s hand closed around his dick.

“Come on, Buck,” Steve whispered before digging his teeth into Bucky’s neck just below his ear.

The sounds falling from Bucky’s lips turned frantic as Steve began jacking him in time with his thrusts. Steve could feel his own climax building and he wanted more than anything for the taste of Bucky’s come to be the thing that set him off.

“Stevie,” Bucky hissed, “Stevie, I’m so close.”

“Yes.” Steve kissed him roughly before pulling back to watch his face, “Come for me, Bucky.”

Bucky’s mouth fell open, his ass clenched around Steve’s dick, and his back arched beautifully as a long sweet sigh fell from his lips and a spurt of white splashed against his chest.

Yes.

Steve ducked down and licked the mess off Bucky’s skin, the second spurt hit him in the jaw and he kept pumping, kept thrusting as warmth coated his tongue and pleasure crested through him. Hot come flooded the tight space around his dick, making his thrusts even more slick as he fucked himself through his orgasm and sucked Bucky’s nipple into his mouth. Bucky’s shaking hands buried themselves in Steve’s hair and Steve let his pace falter. He brought his hands and hips to a gentle stop as his cock twitched a final time and he sighed against Bucky’s heaving chest. Steve hadn’t thought much about how loud they were being until the only sound in the room was of the two of them catching their breath. In the silence, he carefully released Bucky’s softening dick and lifted his head. Bucky’s eyes were closed, his head was tipped back against the pillows, and shiny sweat was cooling across his skin.

He was glowing like the evening star.

Steve kissed his sternum and pulled out as slowly as he could, allowing the sticky mess he’d made to drip out onto the sheets. He collapsed on his stomach next to Bucky and blinked lazily at him with heavy eyes. He reached out and stroked Bucky’s cheek until he turned and their eyes met again.

“Hey,” Steve whispered.

“Heya, Stevie,” Bucky replied with a small, satisfied smile.

“Lets move in together.”

“Hm, on one condition.”

“What?”

“You’re getting me a dog.”

Steve let out a startled laugh.

“I don’t work for Hydra anymore, Steve. My schedule is almost totally free!”

Steve laughed harder.

“And you’re not with SHIELD anymore so I know you’re not exactly pressed for time either!”

That’s what you’re thinking about right now?” Steve laughed, tears of joy already prickling at the corners of his eyes as he pulled Bucky to his chest, “We just had what might have been the best sex of my life and you’re busy thinking about getting a dog?”

“What the fuck do you mean ‘might have been’? That’s bullshit, Rogers, and you know it!”

Steve kept laughing as Bucky’ wrestled out of his grasp and sat on his stomach.

“You clearly don’t appreciate me or my ass. I want a refund!”

“You’re getting lube on my abs!”

“Good! That's what you get for being a bad top and not cleaning us up.”

“I was basking in the afterglow!”

“Oh, sure. That’s the kind of laziness that’s going to make our dog love me more than you.”

“Is that a challenge, Barnes?”

“No, of course not. I wouldn’t set you up for failure like that.”

“Oh my god, it’s ON, you jerk!”

“Shut up, you love me and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“Yeah, that’s old news, dumbass. Get off me before I stab you again.”

“I should have shot you when I had the chance.”

“As if you could.”

“Please, your shield is the size of a dinner plate.”

“And yet the best sniper in the world never landed a hit. Hm, maybe you’re not as good as you thought you were.”

“You wanna go, Rogers? I’ll kick your ass right now!”

“I mean, you can try.”

“Fine!”

“Fine— Mm!

Bucky’s strong hands held him down while his mouth cut him off with a wet kiss. Their matching smiles made kissing difficult but Steve didn’t pull away until the sensation of metal fingers skimming up the inside of his thigh made him shiver.

“Whaddya say? Huh, Stevie?” Bucky murmured as his fingers pushed Steve’s thighs apart, “You ready to get your ass handed to you?”

“Are you?”

Bucky grinned.

“Love you, you cocky asshole.”

“Love you too, jerk.”

“Punk.”

“So, are you gonna keep stalling or— Ah!