Here’s the thing: Bucky goes with girls, pretty subs with long hair who look at him like he’s everything, and he holds their wrists tight while he kisses them, tells them they’re doing fantastic.
But he brings them home before they’ve begun to bruise proper and rarely goes with the same one twice; and once in a while when he feels like he’s falling apart he’ll get drunk and go down to the bar, where the lights are low and there are men willing to tie him up and fuck his face, until Bucky’s choking with it, and make him say ‘thank you’ after.
Those nights when Bucky comes home Steve looks at him sideways, at his reddened wrists, at his mouth; and despite what everyone thinks Bucky knows Steve’s a dom, but kneeling for Steve would mean something more, something he can’t shake off in the morning.
Here’s the thing: Bucky’s learned to ignore the curl of want in his stomach a long time ago.
Steve’s not the only one who lies on his enlistment form. Bucky scrawls the D on his form and tries not to stare at it as he hands it in.
The difference is: no one looks at Bucky twice before stamping his form.
After Pearl Harbor, they started letting subs into the military. They were confined to subs-only units and couldn’t be promoted higher than corporal; all the same, it was progress.
Bucky doesn’t want progress. He blows through basic with a sniper’s rifle in his hands, and by the time he’s come back to New York he’s made sergeant.
Steve spends their last night trying to enlist. Bucky sends the girls home and goes back to an empty apartment; touches himself slowly, slickly, with one hand grasping the headboard, pretending someone’s holding his hips down.
When you’ve got a barrack full of doms with no sub in sight, things happen. Everyone knew, and looked away because it wasn’t worth making a fuss about.
Bucky gets his fair share of propositions, and sometimes when he turns them down they turn ugly for a minute – “too good to get your knees dirty, Barnes?” – but in the end they let his wrist go, and the only thing that happens is mutters at his back.
Once, someone had said, “Afraid you’d like it too much?” and Bucky had nearly laughed, and then punched him, straight from the hips.
His buddies had had to pick him up out of the mud, and Bucky had to look away because he wanted, at that moment, to be the one with blood between his teeth.
When Hydra captured Bucky’s unit, they locked them up in cages like animals – and then they took them, one by one, and no one ever came back.
When it’s Bucky’s turn, they strap him to a table and stick him full of needles, clear liquid dripping into his blood. It turns his vision hazy and his mouth full of cotton, dry. He recites name-rank-serial number and bites his tongue against anything else that tries to come out. That makes them angry, angry enough to hurt, but he’s endured pain before: it’s nothing new.
They figure out he’s a sub, eventually, and then his world’s burning up.
Someone’s unstrapping him from the table, and he has a body that’s tall and broad, but his voice is all Steve’s. Bucky figures he’s dreaming; figures he’d push his luck and kiss him, the dom with Steve’s face.
But the dom kisses back, his hand a warm, steady point on the back of Bucky’s neck, and he says, “Bucky, it’s me.”
“Steve,” Bucky mutters, and snaps back; and it’s Steve, he’s kissed Steve, and he’s hurting all over and the factory’s on fire.
“C’mon,” Steve says, and Bucky follows him because he’d follow Steve anywhere.
Steve presses him into his tent and makes him sit down on the cot. “So,” he says, flustered, “about what happened—“
And Steve’s about to tell him no, about to bring up all the reasons why this is a bad idea, but Bucky’s hurt and tired and he nearly died, and what he knows is this: Steve kissed him back.
So he slides off the cot and lets his mud-stained knees hit the ground, and puts his arms around Steve’s legs. “Don’t,” he says. “Don’t talk about it.”
Steve brings a careful hand down to the top of Bucky’s head. “You never wanted to sub for me, Buck,” he says, soft.
Bucky presses a small laugh into Steve’s thigh, because that’s not true: he’s wanted to so much he’s burned with it; he can still feel Steve’s kiss on his mouth, Steve’s hands at the back of his neck.
“I want this,” he says, instead of everything else that’s choking him. “Please.”
And Steve sighs, and presses his fingers through Bucky’s hair, and the warmth of it eases the hurt in Bucky’s limbs, makes him breathe easier.
The first time they fuck they’ve got nothing: not even rope, and nothing to tie it to even if they did. Steve pushes Bucky down onto the cot, holding Bucky’s hands above his head with one of his own, and is careful not to leave bite marks where anyone can see.
Bucky’s hard in his pants but it’s not enough, Steve’s cock rubbing against his hip and Steve’s mouth on his skin; and then Steve bring his other hand up to ring Bucky’s throat, squeezing slowly until Bucky’s breaths are small little gasps and he’s coming, he’s coming.
Afterwards Steve wrestles Bucky up so he’s sprawled across Steve’s lap and rubs at Bucky’s throat, expression rueful. “Sorry,” he says. “Didn’t mean to hurt you.”
And Bucky could laugh, but he just clears his throat and says, “It’s fine,” when what he means is this: Do it harder. Next time.
Bucky’s not a good sub. He walks too tall, talks too loud, and he wants too much. He’s not supposed to want: he’s supposed to let his dom – let Steve – take care of him.
He tries, but when he’s with Steve it all rushes up in his chest. He wants to push Steve, tell him, “Hit me,” and watch the blood fall onto the ground. He wants Steve to make him hurt, make him bruise – he wants to fall apart under Steve’s hands.
He doesn’t know how to tell Steve any of that. He doesn’t know how to say, I know you can put me back together.
Gabe says one night, “Hey, Barnes,” while they’re switching sentry shifts. “It’s okay if you and the captain are—“ he nods awkwardly “—you know.”
Bucky freezes. “If we are,” he says.
“Hey, we’ve all been there.” Gabe lifts his rifle onto his shoulder. “Not like there are subs around – I get it.”
“It’s—“ Bucky forces himself to breathe slowly, through his nose. “It’s not like that.”
“Sure,” Gabe says easily, before he’s disappearing towards the camp. Bucky stays still by the tree, looking outward and rubbing at his wrists.
Getting on his knees for Steve is easy. It’s everything else that’s confusing.
Steve gets shot while they’re raiding a Hydra base. Bucky knows about the serum but that doesn’t make it any easier to look at Steve on the ground, pale and bleeding. He’s recovered by the evening, the scar faded to a patch of pinkish skin, but Bucky’s still trembling.
“Hey,” Steve says, “are you okay?”
Bucky’s sitting on the ground, and he nudges his way between Steve’s legs. “Let me,” he says, blinking when his words come out raspy. He slides his hands onto Steve’s thighs and looks up.
Steve puts his hands over Bucky’s and looks at him. “Bucky,” he says. “You don’t have to—“
Bucky rocks back. “Yeah, okay,” he says, looking away. “Sorry. I just thought—“
“No,” Steve says quickly, “I didn’t mean – I don’t—“ He sighs. “I just want to know that you want to.”
“Yes,” Bucky says thickly, pressing his face to Steve’s groin. He can feel Steve’s cock stirring, underneath his cheek.
And Steve says, quiet, “Okay.”
Bucky’s quickly unbuckling Steve’s belt, and then he has Steve’s cock in his mouth. He licks at the head and works his way down, breathing through his nose. Steve’s hand comes down to curl in his hair, and Bucky grins a little, leans back into the hand as he sucks.
Steve’s other hand is gripping the edge of his cot, like he’s trying to keep his hips from moving forward. Bucky makes an encouraging sound, and that makes Steve buck upward, at last.
When Steve comes Bucky swallows it down, licking his lips against the bitter taste of it, and then tucks Steve back into his pants.
“Bucky,” Steve says, hoarse, as he reaches for him. “Yeah, that’s good.” And then he kisses him, kisses the mouth that has just been on his cock; he kisses Bucky like it matters, like he wants him.
They’re on a train, and Steve says, “Hold on.”
Bucky tries, but that’s not good enough.
The soldier exists to follow orders. This he knows.
When he does well, his dom brings him to his knees and runs a hand in his hair, a warm grasp at the back of his neck. When he does well, his dom tells him to touch himself, his hand thrust into his pants, and doesn’t let him come until he’s panting and shaky on his legs, until his dom slaps him and tells him, “Now.”
When he’s failed, his dom doesn’t touch him. They put him on ice and no one touches him at all.
The man on the bridge calls him Bucky and it makes him want to sink down onto the ground, to touch the man with trembling fingers and be touched in return.
They fight, instead; the man throws punches and the soldier lets them land, lets the bruises spread across his ribs. The man hits hard, like he knows the soldier’s body and its limits, and he pushes the soldier right to the edge, where the soldier could nearly float with the sensation of it.
It’s nearly, nearly good enough.
The man tells him, “You’re my friend.”
The man tells him, “I’m not gonna fight you.”
The man doesn’t give him any orders, and that’s the worst part of it: because if he asked, he’d follow this man anywhere.
He pulls the man out of the river. Water drips off the both of them. He thinks about putting his mouth on the man’s mouth, breathing air into his lungs, but the man coughs and his chest moves and the soldier knows it’ll be all right. He lays the man on the bank of the river, drops to his knees in the mud and waits for a word, a hand on his, anything.
Nothing comes. When he gets up eventually his clothes are sticking stiffly to him and he thinks there’s something he has to do, first.
His dom tells him, “Stop,” but he doesn’t, he can’t. He snaps the man’s neck and his hands don’t shake when he does.
(His dom looks like the man, but he’d never looked as vulnerable as the man had been.)
The Smithsonian tells him the man’s name is Steve. It tells him that people had thought Steve a sub until the serum, too small and too skinny to pass for a dom — but that can’t be true, because he remembers looking at Steve’s hands, delicate but steady, and wanting those hands on him so much it seemed to settle in his lungs and make his breaths come hot and short.
He’d wanted Steve to touch him like he needed to be touched, but they couldn’t; men weren’t supposed to feel like that, weren’t supposed to kneel for other men. And maybe he’d been born wrong, but at least he could try to keep his wrongness away from Steve.
He had, until Captain America, who was tall and beautiful and couldn’t be wrong at all.
The Smithsonian tells him that subs were integrated into regular units by the start of the Vietnam War, and that they’ve stopped asking recruits their orientation now. He breathes, and presses his forehead to the picture of Steve on the wall. No one stops him.
He goes to Steve. He knocks on Steve’s door and when Steve sees him, he drops to his knees and wraps his arms around Steve’s legs. He presses his face to the muscle of Steve’s thigh, and waits.
“Bucky,” Steve says, voice shaking. “I know what they did to you. You don’t have to do this.”
He looks up. “I know,” he says. He doesn’t move.
“I can’t be Captain America for you,” Steve says, tired. “I tried.”
“I want—” and Bucky clears his throat, and says it again. “I want you. Just you.”
Then Steve’s hands are in his hair and he’s murmuring in wonder, “Bucky,” over and over again, like it means something.
(Steve’s hands are warm, and steady, and Bucky thinks maybe he can be put back together.)