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Can't Dance Without You

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He looked down at the soldier’s bruised face, and the blue eyes were open, but they didn't look back. The brunet didn't even seem to realise that someone was standing over his body. He kept staring up at the ceiling with a kind of wonder or awe, most likely, hopefully, at something on the saner side of imaginary versus delusional. There was nothing on the ceiling much worth looking at, and there was nothing that screamed shell-shocked like delusions. The more he gazed down at the brunet, the worse it all looked. The large and thick straps were slightly worn at the edges, with slight fraying around the buckle. It was an obvious sign of struggle – of panicked trashing, oh god, what did those bastards do that made him try that hard to escape? – and the straps bound the pale, lifeless body to the chair. Was that even the right word? It looked much more like a table than anything else – pushed flat, rigidly straight and surely hard as rock.

 

He wasn’t dense; he knew that this was very much a prisoner camp, and what he’d seen so far had been appalling but routine, but this before him was… it wasn’t just cruel. This was inhumanely barbaric, as is everything about this war. Torture wasn’t a new concept to war, not in the slightest, but before this particular one those tormentors had always known that they were agonising humans, or if not that, something which had life. The victims could be stripped to something with nothing left to lose but that very thing; only the thing which kept them going. Somehow this here made it seem like even that had been ripped away. The paper on the table – Prisoner #56898, Subject 37 – he was entirely just a project, a task, a toy--

 

Steve drove his newly large hands to the straps and, bypassing the buckles, ripped them each off clean. His mind was white hot, a boiling pot of pure rage rippling out. He felt as though he could tear that doctor who ran out before into two pieces with his bare hands without a hint of guilt. His ears, which should be able to hear sound coming from miles away, could only focus on the fluttering beat of the other heart in the room, much weaker than every other heart has sounded to be. It was frightening, terrible and so unbelievably wrongHow dare they, he thought. How dare they touch him. 

 

“Is that…” Bucky began, and Steve quickly moved to reassure him. He didn’t want Bucky to think whoever had been hurting him was back, that he was about to be subject to more of anything that happened here. He couldn’t have that. He couldn’t let him be scared – he didn’t deserve it.

 

“It’s me. It’s Steve,” he said. He moved and made sure Bucky could see his face. It may be broader, and his features may be sharper, but he’s seen a mirror and he assumed, believed, he’d hoped, that if he could recognise that skinny and weak Brooklyn boy which used to be there, then his best friend would as well. When there was a moment as Bucky turned his head towards him and simply stared, it hurt. He stared right through him, like there was nothing to see. The moment dragged on and Steve’s mind drifted to the worst, that he had been wrong, that Bucky might not recognise him at all… before he smiled.

 

It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen – his Bucky beaming at up at him. Goodness, it was lovely. His Bucky… he rivalled an angel, some days.

 

“Steve?”

 

 

———

 

 

They certainly looked happy; young misters and ma’ams dancing together on the bar floor. There were people of all sorts on the floor; every race, every age – some newly orphaned youth and some soldiers who had been through it all. Even in those draining times, the wood looked polished and reflected the yellowed light around the room. Somehow, it gave a sense of home with its colour alone. He couldn’t be sure what the colour did, but it sure made everyone here feel welcomed. It sounded ridiculous, but for the briefest moment Steve pondered how much better a yellow suit would be. If he had more time and if the government had less shame, he might have asked Stark for a favour.

 

Perhaps it was her rare silk dress or his bushy, long hair, but a couple managed to hold Steve’s attention. The man’s hand was lightly rested on her small waist and their hands were clasped tightly away from their bodies. Their legs stepped as one, in a way that Steve’s had never once been able to do, back and forth and side to side, in perfect time to the tune on the radio. The couple’s smiles were wide and almost dreamy, marking a pure joy which was unheard of around here. The war; it kept taking and taking and taking, and it hadn’t shown any remorse or given anything much back. Steve thought it pure luck that he’d gotten Bucky out – there was no chance that the God he’d been doubting would be kind enough to give him something as valuable like that.

 

Steve found himself dragging his eyes over the many pairs of bodies as they danced, in all their differing ways; some a slow circular sway and others an energetic sweep around the entire bar. His fingers fiddled with the glass on the table, spinning it on the surface as he watched, contemplating the scene. They certainly looked happy, but there was something more, he sensed. A deeper emotion of… vulnerability. Yearning. One so genuine and so obvious… yet he couldn’t find the word.  It was on the tip of tongue, just barely out of reach. It was annoying. Distracting.

 

“Steve?”

 

Bucky’s voice pulled him from his thoughts. Steve flicked his gaze first to his arm, at the hand which had just shaken him lying there. The hand was bruised; the Sergeant had been throwing punches and putting bullets in heads less than twenty-four hours ago. Steve filed away the apparent healing progress, and then looked up to meet his best friend’s eyes. And just like it had been happening rather often lately, Steve was taken aback by Bucky.

 

The brunet had always surprised Steve, from the very moment they met, when Bucky had pulled some boys off from him and decided to help him hit the bullies back. Bucky had surprised him because he had looked at him, and instead of seeing a sickly, weak, poor burden of a kid, he’d seen a brave, stupid punk. Steve hadn’t exactly disagreed. Even now, Bucky found ways to make Steve pause in his step, whether it be some ingenious idea while they formulated a plan to infiltrate a heavily secure HYDRA base, or sniping an enemy from two kilometres behind Steve who he hadn’t noticed watching him three hundred meters away. And it wasn’t only Bucky’s brain and skill which surprised him. It was him.

 

Steve could still remember exactly how Bucky had looked, strapped to the table in Austria. He remembered how it sounded; his fella reciting his name and serial number on repeat, as if he was scared that he’d forget them otherwise. He remembered how weak Bucky had felt in his arms, if he thought about it, he could still feel the protruding bones of his ribcage – so wrong, so wrong, it was how Steve’s bones should have felt, not Bucky’s, never Bucky’s – and how the Sergeant had stumbled beside him the entire way through the prisoner camp and had needed to grab onto whatever railings or support he could to drag himself along. He’d been tortured, deprived, close to death, and now… if Steve didn’t know Bucky as well as he did, he’d have never guessed that he’d experienced anything close to as horrible as he did. Sitting here, Bucky was clean and groomed, an easy-going smile plastered on his face, his aura light and boyish as always.

 

But Steve had known Bucky since forever. The older man had dark bags beneath his eyes, which had lost the spark which had always lived there before; the spark which spoke excitement, joy, amazement. Steve hadn’t missed the way his hands sometimes gripped onto tables or wrapped around his gun too hard, until his knuckles were white. Bucky hid everything so well, never slipping up and showing any sort of weakness or distress to the faces, but Steve never forgot that it was only because his fella was silent when he fought… and worse than silent when he was hurt.

 

“Steve,” Bucky called him again, leaning forward as he did. “What is it?”

 

Steve considered him once more and Bucky raised his brows, wordlessly repeating the question.

 

“Come on,” Steve said as he stood up, outstretching his hand for Bucky to take.

 

“Come on where?” Bucky asked, though he took his hand anyway, and Steve suddenly heard an echo of a past conversation. You ready to follow Captain America into the jaws of death? And Bucky had told him, hell no. Bucky wasn’t ready to blindly follow Captain America to whatever end, he wasn’t following that guy. He was following him; Steve Rogers, the little guy from Brooklyn who was too dumb not to run away from a fight, like he had already done for years.

 

Steve,” Bucky said his name once again, and it wasn’t fair. Steve wasn’t paying him enough attention; too occupied with his thoughts. He cleared his throat and met his eyes, leading him away from their table.

 

“Onto the floor. To dance. That is, if you’d like to?” Steve asked even though they were already there within the crowd, both wearing their army uniform, hands linked.

 

“Alright, yeah,” Bucky said. The Sergeant watched him with a clear amusement as Steve fumbled his way through sliding his fingers up Bucky’s arm, head down staring at their feet, his other hand wrapped around the older man’s, lifting it up and away from them. Steve hesitated, shifted on his feet and stepped closer. He could feel Bucky’s eyes on him. He took a slow breath.

 

“You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?” Bucky asked, laughing at him.

 

“No, I do,” Steve countered.

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“Yes. You taught me; remember?” Steve pressed, and he knew Bucky most certainly did, because that wasn’t something either of them could forget.

 

“I recall my toes being stepped on.”

 

Steve laughed and shook his head. “Well, believe it or not, I’m much better at it now than I was seven years ago. And besides,” he added, “I’ve had some practice.”

 

“Really?” Bucky’s voice was flat, his eyes narrowed.

 

You’re the one who said I’d be the last eligible man in New York,” Steve pointed out.

 

“And you said you weren’t interested.”

 

I wasn’t. The girls were. At least, during the shows they were – when we became big and started touring around more. I’m kinda glad that you were always the more attractive one; the way that they touched me sometimes, I swear, they’re skirts were getting shorter and shorter – I dunno how they made ‘em any more revealing but they did it. Those girls, they were so damned persistent, Buck. So driven, it was insane. If I hadn’t given them some attention; I think I’d have been killed or something.” He flicked his eyes up, he hadn’t meant it like that, oh god, did he say the wrong thing? “Don’t worry - it was always just a dance, nothing more.”

 

“I know,” Bucky told him. He said it so earnestly that it almost threw Steve off into his own head again. Bucky had truly just taken his faith and put it all into Steve – hadn’t he? – knowing, trusting, that Steve would not once betray him.

 

Bucky gave him a pointed look, and Steve cleared his throat again. He gently laid his hand on Bucky’s waist, and Bucky put his hand where it belonged on his bicep. Every time they did something like this – show affection, share looks – they knew that people would be watching, staring in disgust or unease. He could already feel eyes turning their way, could hear wary whispers around them. Isn’t that there that Captain America? What do they think they’re doing? But no matter how much everyone disapproved, nobody had the courage to approach them and tell Captain America and Sergeant Barnes to stop acting like they were. Nobody was going to say to their face that they were setting bad examples and were sick in the head. Even if some idiot did… they’d lose the fight, anyway.

 

Their legs began to move, and they danced slowly around the floor for most of the night as everybody else eventually trickled out. They danced and danced and danced until they were alone.  Bucky wrapped his arm around Steve’s neck and rested his head on his shoulder, Steve let his arm wrap around his fella’s back to hug him close, and they let themselves gently sway their weight from one side to the other.

 

There was noise outside. Not much at this late hour; a car, some footsteps, doors and windows opening and closing every so often. There were some things only they could hear, even if they weren’t yet aware that Bucky shouldn’t be able to hear the cat pattering across the street the way that Steve could. Inside it was quiet, except for their movements and the music. This homey feeling when it was just them, and nothing else – it was perfect. No gunshots, no bombs. No need to watch out for anything possibly dangerous and life-threatening. It felt calming, intense, too much and not enough. It didn’t make any sense, yet he understood it all the same.

 

Steve backed his head a little bit, the brunet lifted his own to meet his gaze, a small smile on his lips. Steve inhaled – so beautiful – and he released his grip on their outstretched hands. He moved his fingers to cradle Bucky’s face, caressing the soft skin of his tinged cheek. He felt Bucky’s hand slide up the back of his neck and into his hair.

 

“So lucky,” he breathed, and his fella huffed, and Steve felt his breath on his face, and he was pouring into Steve’s eyes… Steve bumped their noses, and their lips barely ghosted for a moment before they met. It was so gentle, so earnest and sexual, but it wasn’t arousing. No, it was soft and innocent.

 

They pulled away, lips red and breathless, and Steve embraced him again before he took his hand and led them outside. They slung their arms around each other and talked quietly among themselves as they set off at a slow stroll towards their room. Well, technically it was Steve’s room. Bucky hadn’t even looked inside his own room, and he sure didn’t plan to. They always stayed together, attached by the hip. It was rare for them to stay the night separately, and many people knew it by now. Whenever someone was sent to fetch Bucky, they knew to go to Steve’s room.   

 

Once they made it there, they closed the door, changed out of their uniforms and hopped into bed together, snuggling closely to each other. Steve put his hand into the Sergeant’s short hair and let their bodies loosely tangle into one.

 

“I love you,” Bucky whispered, and that’s it; the deep emotion Steve was trying to place earlier, on the faces of the dancing couples. It matched the emotion he had been feeling all night so well. It’s what he felt when he had held Bucky close to his body, he knew it was right. It’s real, intense, genuine adoration and love.

 

“I love you, too,” Steve replied.

 

 

———

 

 

Bucky couldn’t be entirely sure why this particular mission required specifically them three to be sent deep into enemy territory, when surely a squadron of soldiers could have gotten it done perfectly fine. Well, okay – fair enough, this was far more a spy mission than a firepower one, but even so, it wasn’t hard. But of course, they had no say in the matter. For some reason the Colonels debated and decided that they would be the best team for the job.

 

He was wearing his uniform, one of a kind, designed by Steve stupid Rogers himself and tailored by some Stark employee. No hat – for the love of God, don’t you dare think of covering my head with a hat, I don’t give a damn how cold it’s going to be – boots, pockets on belt for storing spare K-rations and cigars, thick jacket with all sorts of symbols embraided on it somewhere.

 

The howling commandos – his shoulder. Sergeant, three curved arrows – his inner right pocket.

 

Bucky had thrown the jacket aside already. It was far too warm to even think of being wrapped in that much heat, even deep into this year’s winter trudge. He’d just run down the mountain to retrieve Steve and himself some more water, and the climb had seemed a lot steeper on the way back up. 

 

Bucky seated himself on a log facing the large town below, where the papers concerning HYDRA’s supply transport were lying in a rusted cabinet, protected by four guards trained in the field, according to their intel. And behind him, pacing the area of dirt and grass in front of their tent, there was Steve in his own specially designed and tailored uniform – his blue, red and white one.

 

All because Bucky had joked about it in public, all because but you’re keeping the outfit, right? And boy, Steve showed him a night and decided to pick up his pencil and be the asshole he was. 

 

The blonde had his shield attached onto his back, but Bucky watched as he took it off and put it inside the tent before turning towards him. Steve plonked down to his right and started to jostle his knee, right on beat to his heart because Bucky could hear it, he could hear it out here like he never had been able to before. Dad had always said to him, war ’ll sharpen your senses, son. Not necessarily a good thing, but it was amazing, Bucky could be with Steve in a way no one else could understand.

 

On your left, pal.

 

He wanted to say it. Instead; “Don’t worry, Steve. She’ll be back. Soon.” She’d been gone an hour now, on a mission which supposed to take no more than forty minutes, but Bucky knew how it worked out here. He was confident everything was completely fine. It tended to turn out like this, anyway. A mission with any singular Howling Commando wasn’t really a Commando mission unless something didn’t turn out as they’d expected.

 

Steve wasn’t sure at all. He licked his lips and stared at a spot on the ground. He was searching for words. “Peggy’s-” he started.

 

“Perfectly capable of taking care of herself,” Bucky interrupted him. “Look, she’s probably got more in her than the two of us combined. I’m sure their men are nothing to her.”

 

Steve nodded, but he didn’t listen. Not really. He kept doing this, hearing the words without listening to what they mean, which meant that his mind was too preoccupied wandering and worrying. Bucky found himself wanting to laugh – that hadn’t been Steve’s thing, it has been his. He’d once worried every week, every goddamned day, wondering whether or not Steve would live through whatever fight or sickness would next come around.

 

Instead of laughing, Bucky sighed and shifted. “Steve, you have to stop doing this to yourself.”

 

“Doing what?”

 

“Doing that thing where you want to do everything for everyone. Where you want to take every burden in the world. You’re not alone, okay? You know that, don’t you?”

 

“Yeah,” Steve nodded, but it was absent.

 

“Do you really?” Bucky asked, and Steve found it in himself to meet his eyes for a moment.

 

“I do, Buck. I know. You and Pegs, the other Commandos, Stark. I know.”

 

“Well, good, because you should and because it’s true. You know,” Bucky clasped his hand, “for the first time in a long time, you’ve got both a man and a woman who want nothing but the best for you.”

 

Steve stared and… he was considering the words. Bucky waited, expecting him to finally say something about it – the situation he’s currently in, the people it involved, what he might and will do… but he didn’t.

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

Bucky waited another minute, for Steve to get it, what he was referring to, but the time passed, and his pal seemed as lost as ever. Bucky groaned. “Oh, come on. You’re so stupid, honestly. What a punk.” Bucky rolled his eyes and gave him a light shove, but Steve continued to frown, his brows burrowing further.

 

“No, really, what do you mean by that?”

 

Bucky looked at him. “She likes you, Steve. Romantically.”

 

Steve stared, blinked. “You mean… you mean Peggy?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I don’t think... no, she doesn’t, she wouldn’t, she-”

 

“I’m quite certain she does, actually,” Bucky butted in and stopped the larger man mid-stutter. Steve looked away a little and his eyes strayed towards the town below, and Bucky saw him consider it.

 

“Look… Carter, -” and Bucky noted the sudden surname use, “-she’s amazing, sure. She’s strong, she’s brave and she inspires me to be a better person, but... but I want you. Yes, she’s a lot of things, good things, but she sure isn’t you.”

 

The Captain took his hand and held it to his chest, and Bucky couldn’t help but shake his head, disbelieving Steve’s utter oblivion. “You told me she was kind to you before the serum. That she believed in you.”

 

“Yes,” Steve admitted.

 

Steve,” at this stage Bucky was finding it exponentially difficult not to sigh, “this is a girl who likes you because of the reasons I love you. She understands - she sees; sees who you really are and not the body you’re in. She remembers you for who you are in there, in your heart and your head, not all this here – this muscle, this body.” It made perfect sense; something that Steve clearly didn’t like. Bucky’s frown deepened – his best friend was deliberately ignoring him. He pressed harder. “Steve, you could get married. Have children.”

 

“But I don’t want to get married to her. I’d much rather be married to you,” Steve said. The blonde looked at him so earnestly, and Bucky had to look down and bite out the truth.

 

It was something he had considered before, in every way he could. Yes, right now every Church would be leaping at the opportunity to marry Captain America or Sergeant Barnes – begging to be the chosen church for a glamourous wedding with a hundred cameras broadcasting the entire thing to the world. But not to each other.

 

“Steve, nobody would wed us,” and he knew it sounded hopeless, completely drowned in defeat. Worse still, it was true, even more so coming from his mouth rather than Steve’s, because Bucky was a realist and Steve just could never be. They were both stubborn, but Steve was blindly so. The younger man threw himself into fights Bucky knew they’d never win, and he hoped for this future Bucky knew they’d never have.

 

“Well, I-” Steve hesitated, “I deny that and will unrepentantly find a way to make it happen.”

 

Bucky finally let out that sigh and continued to gaze at their shoes, and Steve shifted and leaned into him; confused, concerned.

 

“Why? Don’t you want to... get married? One day?” It was both nervous and hopeful.

 

“I’d… well, yes, I would, of course I would, but-” Bucky grunted in frustration. “It won’t happen. It can’t happen, nobody would ever let it happen.”

 

“I can make it happen,” Steve told him with determination, eyes hard, steeled with it. “I will. Or we just won’t do it officially. It doesn’t have to reach the books, or the church, or anything, ever. We can… We just need a witness – and I guess they can be dead. We can make a dead HYDRA goon as we unofficially wed ourselves.”

 

Bucky managed a small tired smile at that, and Steve rose to his feet.

 

“Stand up,” he commanded. Bucky frowned, but he did, slowly.

 

“Why?” He asked.

 

“Just do it. Okay, yeah, come here-” He beckoned Bucky a few feet away from the log before he grabbed his hand and slid his other one to his waist. He pulled him close, and Bucky heard himself somehow chuckle and groan at the same time, but he put his hands where they belonged anyway.

 

“Why are we dancing? In the middle of nowhere?”

 

“Because we were thinking too much, and dancing doesn’t need any thinking to it,” Steve said.

 

“Sure, it does,” Bucky easily shot out.

 

“Yeah, at first, maybe. But in a few minutes, it’ll feel like it’s just us.”

 

“Which would be bad, because we’re in the middle of enemy territory,” Bucky pointed out. Steve shook his head and the corner of his lip quirked upward.

 

“Peggy’s got it sorted,” and it seemed that Steve wasn’t too worried about her anymore, so somehow and somewhere within that conversation, Bucky had managed to at least alleviate those concerns. They danced together, their feet spinning their bodies in circles. It was lazy dancing, as it always was. Dancing this way made it easier, mindless – just as Steve had said. Minutes passed of blissful unawareness. Bucky barely noticed the way that one of Steve’s hands had moved past his hip to hug his lower back and pull him closer to his chest.

 

“We need music,” Bucky decided, because it didn’t really feel the same otherwise. The scrapes of their feet against the snow, the bustled wind and the skitters of animals; it all sounded far too loud in the absence of the usual songs which would play at a hall or bar.

 

“I can sing?” Steve suggested with raised brows, and Bucky immediately regretted ever opening his mouth.

 

“No, no, no no no-” but it was too late.

 

It only happens-” Steve began, slow and deep and smooth, and Bucky reached to cover his mouth, but Steve sang on right through it, muffled as it was, “-when I dance with you… That trip to heaven 'till the dance is through…”

 

The lyrics and pace and tone completely hit him as he realised which song this was, hard right in the chest, and Bucky lessened his foolish attempts so he could squeeze his eyes shut. He rested his forehead against his hands over the blonde’s lips, and damn Steve for picking this song.

 

With no one else do the heavens seem quite so near… Why does it happen dear…? Only with you?”

 

Bucky exhaled shakily, stuttering, and he felt his eyes begin to tear, and Steve was right; he wasn’t thinking about anything besides them and this song. Not Agent Carter, not that file, not anything related to this pain in the ass war… no. It was just them as they swayed in the middle of nowhere together. Steve was singing to him the most relevant song ever – what they had just discussed; it fit in perfectly. He was telling Bucky, I don’t want to dance with her, I want to dance with you, and he kept pulling him closer until Bucky dropped his hands, letting Steve’s voice out into the air which surrounded them, and he gripped onto his shoulder straps tightly, closing his eyes as he listened to the words. He listened to what Steve had to tell him.

 

Two cheeks together can be so divine… But only when those cheeks are yours and mine… I've danced with dozens of others the whole night through… But the thrill that comes with spring when anything could happen… That only happens with you.”

 

Steve bumped his nose at the last line, and then he kissed Bucky, soft and gentle but needy all the same. Bucky kissed him back, just as passionate, grabbing onto him and pulling their chests flushed tight. Steve quietly whined when they broke away and he surged forward to capture his lips again. He placed a hand to Bucky’s nape to keep him still, and Bucky felt his chest tighten from the sudden burst of devotion to this man; to his Steve.

 

“You romantic asshole,” Bucky managed, breathless.

 

Steve took a deep breath. “Please, Buck. All I’ve ever wanted is you,” Steve said, stroking his thumb along the edge of his jaw, and he wasn’t joking or kidding around, wasn’t leaving any room for any nonsense whatsoever.

 

“I know.” And Bucky meant it.

 

“Then why are you pushing me to her?”

 

Because I love you, you idiot,” Bucky told him, deliberate and harsh, as if he felt the need to hammer those words into the punk’s head; make him remember it, implant those words into the front and back of his mind. And Steve really was an idiot at times, which meant Bucky had to try to not be one, so he could tell Steve what he was forgetting. “I want to give you everything and you can have that if you marry her.”

 

Steve sighed, and he studied him. “Sure. Everything but you. And, Bucky, you are my everything,” he said, all sappy and earnest and just so Steve.

 

Bucky scoffed. “You’re impossible.”

 

“Keep me? Please?” Steve asked – he asked Bucky to keep him, to love him. Steve met his eyes – such a lovely little ocean in there – pouring with emotion. There was a kind of fearful hope, and oh, Steve was worried that Bucky would say no.

 

It would’ve been easy, to press his lips against his skin one last time and have a chat to Carter later about marriage and the future and then slip away at that and never let Steve ruin the life that he could have, the legacy he could leave behind but nothing, not even the end of the world, could have pushed Bucky that far. It was clear that his pause was stretching Steve to distress, and so instead of a lecture of how careful they’d have to be and how hard this would eventually turn out, he surrendered. He didn’t care to put any more stress upon his Steve. He hugged his body and dug his face into the crook of his neck, breathing him in.  

 

“Of course,” he promised.

 

“Forever?”

 

“‘Till the end of the line.”

 

 

———

 

 

Steve sighed once he spotted him. The Sergeant was hunched over the bar, sweating as he drank from his glass, three empty ones scattered on the table before him. Steve walked over and only a few people recognised him outside the trademark uniform. He ignored the few points and whispers, don’t you involve yourself with that fairy, brother, and stood behind Bucky. Bucky had already known he was there – Steve had seen his muscles tense and relax – so he didn’t react when Steve leaned forward, one hand rested on Bucky’s shoulder.

 

“How many drinks have you had already?” He asked, already taking the one in his hand away, drinking it down in one swift move. Bucky scoffed, a less than friendly shark smile on his lips, and the emptied hand made a sharp move. He was clearly bewildered at the idea that someone, even Steve – maybe especially Steve – would have stolen a drink which had clearly belonged to him. Steve waited for an answer and, when more than a few seconds passed, tightened his grip on his shoulder. Bucky tried to shrug him off, but Steve didn’t let go.

 

“I dunno. Probably too many,” the brunet said as he beckoned for a re-fill, which didn’t really answer the question, but Steve looked at the glasses and knew that it was more than enough for the night.

 

“Nope,” he said, shooing away the incoming bartender. “Sorry, Buck, but you’re leaving now.”

 

Bucky let out a scandalised scoff. His eyes hardened, and his body suddenly jerked away from Steve’s touch, hard enough that Steve’s grip came loose.

 

Bucky,” he scolded. Bucky narrowed his eyes, and Steve saw the thought that went through his mind and winced, knowing Bucky was offended – felt betrayed and controlled.

 

“Why the fuck would I listen to you, Rogers?”

 

“Because right now I have the better judgement, and because I’m worried, sitting there in our room thinking about where you’ve gone off to.” Steve tried to grab onto him again, but Bucky batted away his hands.

 

“What does that mean?” Bucky demanded.

 

“It means; let’s go.”

 

“No, it means you don’t trust me.”

 

Steve paused, wondering where exactly that came from. “No, it doesn’t.”

 

“Yes, it does,” the Sergeant was practically hissing. “You don’t trust me alone for a few fucking minutes-

 

“It’s been three hours,” he pointed out, and was not at all ashamed of the hint of anger his voice held. They’d just had dinner when Bucky had said he needed some fresh air, insisting Steve stay and rest, but two hours had come and gone, and he felt like Bucky had been out longer than necessary. Another silent hour fuelled both the fear and agitation that had been building inside of him until he decided to go out and search.

 

“Why don’t you find Carter?” And Steve once again pondered where Bucky was getting all these thoughts from. Peggy hadn’t had a singular part in this conversation. Hell, the last time either of them had seen her was last week.

 

“Why would I do that?” He asked, thinking he already knew the answer. He was right.

 

“She’s better for you-”

 

“But you mean more to me,” he cut Bucky off, and Bucky surprisingly let him. The brunet stared at Steve, and Steve sure hoped that he was considering what that meant and had decided to finally listen. To realise that Steve was not looking for anything else – was not remotely interested in anyone other than Bucky. A pregnant moment passed, and Steve squeezed his shoulder, mumbled, “Come on, pal,” and hooked an arm around his waist, pulling him to his feet and leading him outside.

 

Bucky was surprisingly silent. Steve helped him stumble down the streets, and they took it one step at a time back towards the hotel. Once again, as always, Bucky hadn’t even looked at his own room yet. They would arrive at a town, receive keys to their own rooms, store Bucky’s key in his pocket and close Steve’s door behind themselves. That was an odd luxury, because if a woman and a man closed the hotel door it would be outrageous and disgusting, but Steve and Bucky were already considered that, even if they were yet to be told so.

 

Some people were yet to accept it, denied it, openly, insisted that the Captain and his Sergeant are simply best friends. They had heard some mothers and soldiers say it to each other – it was impossible to try and talk behind their backs without being overheard. And sure, they truly were best friends, but it wasn’t simple. There was so much more going on.

 

“Let’s dance,” Bucky suggested spontaneously, and he pulled Steve to a halt in the middle of the road. His hands moved to clutch the folds at the front of Steve’s jacket, forcing them to face each other.

 

“What?” Steve asked. He was not expecting this from the drunk Bucky he met at the bar ten minutes ago.

 

“Let’s dance. Come on, let’s… c’mon.” Bucky wobbled back dangerously, and Steve managed to catch him before he fell back.

 

“I think it’s pretty late for that,” Steve said. Technically, it was tomorrow already.

 

You’re the one always asking to dance. Why can’t we?”

 

“Uh.” They can, Steve supposed. Even though they’d be back on the field tomorrow, their departure won’t be until nightfall. Bucky moved a hand up to clutch his hair.

 

Please, I wanna,” Bucky begged. Steve’s mind stuttered – Bucky was so close; he could feel his breath against his face.

 

“I just… you wanna… out here?

 

Bucky laughed then, loud and joyous, his body shaking with an unfamiliar delight. He was certainly drunk, and it hurt a little that drinking managed to bring insight to just how rare it was now to find Bucky truly happy. “Course not, silly,” Bucky thumped his chest. “You’re a real idiot sometimes, y’know? Take me dancing. Find somewhere.”

 

“I’ll… fine. Okay, sure. I’ll take you dancing.”

 

Bucky gave him a wide grin, giving those blues a joy that had been absent since the night before the Sergeant was shipped out. Bucky had always had other things on his mind, restless clouds which haunted him. Before, it was fear they’d one day be caught and beaten to death on the streets. These days, it was fear they’d die, and lingering horror from whatever Doctor Zola had done to him. His mind had always been busy, but there were times when he’d smile just like this, when everything else would fall away and all that was left was them. Steve had missed those smiles. It was beautiful, he was beautiful, my sweet, precious ghost of an angel. Steve could watch his fella smile forever, and the only thing which made it better was when Bucky leaned forward and kissed him soft on the mouth.

 

If dancing would hold Bucky that kind of joy, Steve would push aside heaven and hell to get them there. He’d find a way to kill death himself if that smile would stay.

 

The place Steve found was small and must had recently experienced a small explosion. There was a hole in one of the walls, and from it, black streaks painted across the walls and roof. It stunk of something awful, and Steve could identify the blood and spilled guts within the mix. He knew from Bucky’s crinkled nose that he could smell it too. It was neither pretty nor pleasant, but there was floorspace, and there was soft music, and that was really all they needed at that moment; a place for Bucky to dance with his best friend.

 

Steve smiled and stepped towards him.

 

 

———

 

 

They received intelligence – the good, promising kind – that Doctor Zola was to be catching a train through the Alps, considerably unprotected. It was the perfect opportunity to take out a big player in HYDRA’s mysterious technology and, perhaps, learn some more intel in the process, if they managed to take him in. And, off the records, of course, for Bucky and Steve to maybe quietly gain some sweet, subtle revenge.

 

When they had all sat down with Phillips and Carter and mapped out the track and terrain, it became clear that they had to use the cliff, and that it was their only shot. The Howling Commandos were sent into the alpine, and together they prepared everything. They set-up and adjusted the line they were to use to land on the train, they set up their equipment and communications system, and they put up their tents – one to share between two. They went over the plan together in thorough, vigorous detail three times, and they finalised any other decisions which needed to be made before deciding to get some sleep.

 

No matter what anyone had said about Steve, no matter how much of an idiot he knew he was, Steve really was smart. He was both a tactician and a strategist, and he knew what could be risked and what could not. He truly was a leader – not just for his rank, but for his personality and his pure ability to lead. Steve could do exactly that; he could organise and direct a group through the unknown and unpredictable. He could make life or death decisions just like that and he could fix it if he had chosen wrongly the first time.

 

Any soldier in the entire world, Bucky was sure, would know it to be an obvious common sense to have at least two soldiers on watch at a time, with hopefully more if possible. Though it was easily possible to have another man awake, Steve – tactician, strategist, Captain Steve – he knew their position and their surroundings and was completely confident that they would not receive any trouble tonight.

 

He was so sure that when it was their turn, they weren’t even really keeping watch. To be frank, they weren’t exactly dancing either – they just held each other close, breathed against each other’s skin – but the intimacy and calm which had so naturally settled upon them… Bucky had only ever felt like this when they danced.

 

“Feeling okay for tomorrow?” Steve asked him as he nudged his cheek with his own.

 

“I think so,” Bucky replied honestly.

 

“I know you don’t really like heights,” Steve said, and Bucky laughed, even though it was true. He wasn’t terrified of them. He felt surprisingly alright, standing up there with Steve, his eyes half closed. But he had felt the fear in the past; once when they were kids, when Rebecca had somehow convinced him to climb onto their roof to watch the stars with her. When they had needed to get down, he had frozen and refused to move. He’d stayed there, staring at how far down the ground had been, until their father had come to fetch him.

 

The most recent scare was only a mere few months ago. He’d been weak. The factory was exploding. The only escape was on the other side, and Steve had helped him across the railing onto the thin metal. He had balanced over fire. Bucky had barely breathed. He had almost died.

 

That one. That one had terrified him.

 

But Steve was worrying about right now. “It’s okay. I’m okay. How are you?” He asked, because he hadn’t checked in a while, and he was waiting for the day Steve sat down and actually told him he was troubled, and Bucky knew he was because everybody in this war was troubled and because it was Steve, and Steve couldn’t lie when he was caught off guard, he was so bad at it.

 

“Well...” Steve began, and Bucky could tell from his face that tonight would not be that time, “you’re here. In my arms. So, I’m quite perfect.”

 

Bucky managed to smile. “Well, in that case I’m perfect, too.”

 

An hour later they were relieved. They slipped into their tent, which was the furthest away from the rest of the group. Bucky clambering inside after Steve’s large body did. As he closed the flap behind him Bucky shivered, his fingertips feeling numb. He hurried to join the Captain and shuffled underneath their small blanket, moving as close to him as he could so he could steal some of Steve’s body heat; the man was a furnace nowadays, and right now Bucky felt it was a hell of a blessing.

 

Steve seemed to agree to the closeness. He put a strong arm around his back to hug him close against his chest, and Bucky felt a kiss on his lips. “Goodnight,” Steve said.

 

“Goodnight,” Bucky replied, but instead of drifting off Steve kissed him again, and again, and a few minutes later he found they were kissing desperately, clutching onto the other to try and hold them still. The kiss deepened... deepened... Bucky let his jaw relax and felt a tongue lick past his lips to meet his own. He heard himself make a small and embarrassing sound, but he quickly forgot it as Steve propped himself up and attempted to position himself atop Bucky. He seemed to be trying to keep the blanket over him as he did, while also trying to maintain as much skin to skin contact as possible. It was a little dizzying – all this emotion and sensations, but it was wildly intoxicating. Addictive. Bucky needed this and he needed more.

 

Steve succeeded in his quest, positioning himself over Bucky with their bodies flush and the blanket over most of themselves. The blonde aligned their hips, and Bucky tried to be as silent as he could as they went on and on and on. He breathed some keening curses as Steve dug his hips downward, and he muffled his moans as Steve did it again, and again...

 

A large hand slid from his hair down around his neck, flitting down his chest and abdomen to his hipbone. Bucky felt a thumb gently rub over the small, bony bump before venturing downward. He hugged Steve’s shoulders as the hand spread his thighs apart and fumbled with both of their pants, pushing them down no more than halfway to preserve at least some inkling of the warmth they’d produced between them so far.

 

 

———

 

 

Steve cried, and he drank to no use, and he pulled at his hair and screamed to the sky.

 

Bucky... his beautiful angel.

 

He was everything, he was Steve’s everything.

 

And he was gone.

 

Because Steve had chosen him for the mission. Steve chose him; he could have picked anybody – but of course it would always have been Bucky, Steve never knew how to not choose Bucky… and Bucky had been the one to pay the price, hadn’t he? Of course he had. How long had Bucky been looking out for him? How was it that the one time Bucky had really needed him, Steve had failed? Bucky was better. Bucky had always been better.

 

Should’ve left him on the cliff, should’ve left him on the cliff, should’ve left him on the cliff. Should’ve sent him home, should’ve sent him home, should have sent him back fucking home.

 

He tried to write; just something short. A quick paragraph. Just enough to contain his grief and his sorrow and his regards to the people who needed to hear it. He truly did try, but his hands hadn’t stopped shaking, marking awful blotches and smears in the lines, and his too strong grip had snapped four pens before he gave up. Black ink dripped down his hands and across the paper, covering the page cluttered in all the same words; I’m so sorry, it’s my fault, I failed you and I failed him.

 

He dropped the cracked plastic onto the table and tore apart the pathetic letter, and as he screamed, he tried not to imagine the look on the Barnes’s faces when they’d receive the yellow telegraph.

 

 

———

 

 

I’m coming, Buck, he thought to himself as he plunged into the Arctic.

 

The impact was jarringly violent. He launched forward, and right after he felt a tremendous pain on the top of his head as he fiercely smashed into the glass. He knew he was bleeding as he laid barely conscious against the remaining panes. Steve couldn’t feel his limbs, couldn’t even lift his own head, but he could hear the water splashing; distantly surging, though it must have been right there, mere meters from him.

 

He wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but sometime later he felt the coldest wetness hit his legs. He didn’t even have the energy to shiver.

 

The Valkyrie jolted. The water engulfed him, piercing into every pore of his skin, freezing him with thousands of needles of jolting pain. It hurt so much that it numbed. Fluid invaded his lungs and it burned but it didn’t. He sunk with the plane, coughing into the ocean. It burned but it didn’t. Surely his lungs were on fire? That would happen if water that was almost ice flooded them, wouldn’t it? His new immune system must be going crazy.

 

It didn’t. Nothing hurt much down here. Not his body or his mind. After the first pain, drowning was quite calming, really. The water swashed and turned Steve onto his back. It was dark, lonely, cold. He could barely see anyway, so he closed his eyes and silently apologised to the Barnes’s for letting them lose two sons to this war.

 

I’m coming, he thought. I’m almost there, just a few moments now, I promise.

 

But he failed at that, too.