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like a sparrow stunned with falling

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It’s just the two of them when they go down to sweep a cell in Richmond; Steve always feels guilty about calling Sam in, and Natasha’s still in Europe doing god knows what.

“What do you know about this one?” Steve asks.

Bucky shrugs. "Not much," he says. "Mostly R&D, I think. Something chemical."

Their last mission hadn't been like this. Bucky had been nervous all through the ride, and he'd gone very pale at the door. Steve had wanted to call it off but then Bucky had shouldered his way through and snapped two Hydra agents' necks before Steve could shout, "Stop".

Steve only caught up with Bucky deep in the basement. And then he hadn't needed to say anything, because there was the wreck of a chair sitting there and Bucky on the floor with his head between his knees, and he'd known.

But Bucky's not tense now, sitting still with his hands folded over his knees, so Steve figures there can't be anything too bad waiting for them.

*

They walk into the lobby and find it deserted. It's disappointing, but not a surprise; Hydra's been losing personnel ever since the first of Natasha's files got uploaded to the web.

In the basement they find rows upon rows of cages: empty, and the whole place smells of a mixture of disinfectant and damp fur. “You’re right,” Steve says, frowning. “They must’ve been testing stuff on animals.”

There are several large tanks of something clustered around one corner, and Steve sees Bucky drawing back to examine them. The idea of being separated down here makes Steve anxious. “Bucky,” he says, low. “Stay with me.”

Bucky looks up. “All right, Rogers.”

Bucky’s been calling him that ever since he came to Steve, four months after Project Insight. Steve can’t help the disappointment welling up every time he expects “Steve” and gets “Rogers” instead, a reminder that Bucky only remembers bits and pieces of him.

Maybe that’s why he misses the trap in the next room.

He must have tripped an alarm because a low hissing noise starts coming from the vents. “The door,” Steve says, whirling around.

The door slides shut. Bucky slams his left fist into the doorframe and it only glances off with a screech.

Steve presses his nose into the crook of his elbow, but too late; he can smell something sticky-sweet, can nearly taste it in the back of his throat when he swallows.

“Bucky,” he says anyway, muffled against his uniform. “Cover your mouth.”

“It’s not lethal,” Bucky says. He’s standing still with a puzzled tilt to his head. “It’s — I remember this one —”

Steve’s seen the files; he knows they did experiments on Bucky. But it’s one thing to read about it on paper and another to hear Bucky say it so calmly, like it’s normal, like he’s no better than a lab rat—

Steve tries to take a calming breath and ends up with another lungful of the gas. He’s starting to feel a little warm now, his collar too tight around his neck.

“What does it do,” he says.

Bucky’s lips curl, a little. “Sex,” he says.

Steve says, “What.”

Bucky drops his eyes briefly, and then says, "It gets you hard, Rogers."

And yeah, Steve’s starting to feel it, a warmth in his belly that’s growing by the second. “Okay,” he says, keeping his voice even, “we’ll wait it out.”

Bucky barks out a laugh. “Sure,” he says. “If you want to wait twelve hours.”

“Jesus,” Steve says, looking away. He tries very hard not to think about how Bucky knows that.

The next time he looks at Bucky, he’s slipping his left hand into his pants.

“Bucky!” Steve feels himself flushing; his ears are burning.

“It’s better if you come,” Bucky says, tipping his chin up like he’s daring him to say something. “That’s what it’s for.”

“Bucky,” Steve says, and stupidly, his voice cracks. “Did they make you—”

“It’s just sex,” Bucky says. “It doesn’t mean anything.”

“Okay,” Steve says, “okay,” and he breathes, looks up at ceiling and bites his tongue before he says anything more.

Bucky’s trying to stay quiet, but it’s useless; Steve can still hear the slick sounds of Bucky stroking himself, the way Bucky’s breaths are turning uneven. And he doesn’t know which it is, the gas or the fact that Bucky’s just an arm-length away, that’s making him harder than he’s ever been, his cock stiff and leaking in his underwear.

Steve curls his hands into fists at his sides. He’s not going to do it, he’s not—

A quiet groan. Steve’s uniform is chafing against his skin.

Something touches the back of his hand. Bucky is uncurling his fingers from where they’re digging into his palm.

“You’re going to hurt yourself,” Bucky says, quiet.

“I’m fine,” Steve manages to say. “It’s fine, I don’t need—”

“You’re not,” Bucky says decisively, and starts peeling Steve out of his uniform.

“Bucky,” Steve says, “stop—”

And then Bucky’s hand is on Steve’s cock.

Steve’s eyes slide closed, and he barely swallows down a moan. The hand is still warm from when Bucky had been touching himself, and it’s twisting at the end of every stroke. Bucky’s thumb is rubbing against the head of Steve’s cock, making Steve’s knees buckle. Bucky just grunts, holds him up with his right arm while continuing to stroke him with his left, and Steve has never felt like this, not when he was a teen and furtively thinking about Bucky during quiet nights, not when they slept back to back on rough European ground with Bucky’s body radiating heat against his.

It doesn’t take Steve long to come.

Bucky carefully stands Steve against the wall and wipes off his hand against his thigh. “I don’t know how many more times,” he admits. “Some days it took longer than others.”

“Bucky.” Steve’s voice sounds shaky, thin.

“Don’t.” And Bucky is grasping Steve’s shoulders fiercely, “Don’t think about it. You can’t think about it.

Is that how Bucky had managed?

But before Steve can ask, Bucky is touching him again. He presses his hip up against Steve’s, their cocks sliding past each other, and Bucky’s breaths are wet against Steve’s neck.

Steve’s cock is leaking again, drops of precome slicking the way, and Bucky grasps it easily, like it doesn’t mean anything. Steve bites the inside of his cheek and drops his head against Bucky’s shoulder. His nose is pressed against the hairs at the back of Bucky’s neck, and Steve could press his mouth to that skin, press kisses there like he’s wanted to for years.

He doesn’t. He shuts his eyes and lets Bucky stroke him to completion, muffles his groan against Bucky’s shoulder when he comes.

When he catches his breath, he realizes that Bucky’s still hard against his thigh.

“Bucky,” he says. Bucky’s pants have slid down to mid-thigh, and he strokes the skin stretched across his hipbone. “Can I—”

Bucky laughs, a brittle sound. “You have me, Rogers,” he says. “Take it.”

So Steve drops to his knees and carefully licks at the head of Bucky’s cock, takes him slowly into his mouth. Bucky makes a small noise, and Steve sucks harder, trying to get that sound out of him again. Then he brushes a hand up Bucky’s thigh and cups his balls, pressing his knuckles to the hot skin behind them, and Bucky lets his breath out in a hiss through his teeth and he’s coming in Steve’s mouth.

For a moment, Bucky goes boneless, sliding down to the floor to lean against Steve’s shoulder; and for a moment, Steve can pretend that all of this is something real.

Then Bucky’s pressing Steve down onto the floor, and Steve is getting hard again.

Things get a little fuzzy after that.

*

Steve’s propped up on his elbows and Bucky’s got two fingers inside of him — he crooks his fingers and mouths at the inside of Steve’s thigh, and Steve chokes out “Bucky” as he comes, tips his head up towards the ceiling because Bucky can’t see, can’t know—

*

Steve presses a kiss onto Bucky’s forehead and murmurs, “I love you,” and Bucky only gives him a stiff smile and says, “Don’t say things you’ll regret, Rogers,” which doesn’t make any sense — why would he regret saying something that’s true?

*

When Steve wakes up he is stiff and cold and Bucky is sitting next to him with his arms wrapped around his knees.

“I can finish the mission,” Bucky says. “But you should go home.”

Steve’s head spins when he pushes himself up. He closes his eyes and breathes through his nose and remembers—

He remembers—

“You’re not staying here,” Steve says in a croak. “We need to leave.”

“All right,” Bucky says. He’s somehow managed to get the door open; he waits for Steve to pull his uniform back on, and then starts towards the exit without a word.

Steve concentrates very hard on not throwing up.

*

Steve had hated his body when it was small and frail and broken.

He looks at it now, perfect and whole, and hates it so much more for being so weak.

*

Bucky keeps looking at him, and then turning away. Steve doesn’t blame him.

*

Steve takes to leaving Bucky breakfast in front of his door, in case he wants to eat in his room instead of—

Instead of with Steve.

The plate’s always clean when Steve comes back in from his run.

*

Steve’s in the living room when he hears Bucky’s door open.

“Hi,” Bucky says. His voice sounds uncertain. Rusty.

“Hi,” Steve says through the lump in his throat. And then he’s run out of things to say, and he wants to say sorry but that’s not enough, not even close—

“It was my fault,” Bucky says. “When.”

“What, no,” Steve says immediately. “Bucky, no.”

But Bucky isn’t listening. “I’ll go, if you—” He straightens his shoulders. “If you want me to. I’ll leave and you never have to look at me again.”

“I’m supposed to be responsible for you,” Steve says. “I took you in, and I knew you didn’t remember everything, and I still—” His mouth twists. “It never should have ended like that.”

“You think I—” Bucky looks at him. “I’m not a child, Rogers. I don’t need you to be responsible,” he snarls out the last word, “I’ve had enough people making decisions for me, I don’t need you to do it, too.”

Steve feels like he’s been punched. “But you didn’t want—”

“I did!” Bucky shouts. “With you. I wanted it with you.”

“How can you,” Steve says, voice cracking. “You don’t even remember me.”

“You wanna know what I remember?” Bucky says. “I remember that old apartment, and how the bedroom was so small but we got two beds anyway. I remember how it got so hot in the summer we’d strip down to our skivvies to sleep, and sometimes I could hear you, jerking off — I bet you bit your tongue to stop from making any noises but they came out anyway, and I’d breathe real slow so I could hear better and pretend that you were thinking of me. That’s what I remember, Steve Rogers, so don’t tell me I don’t know any better.”

Bucky’s breathing hard when he’s finished speaking, and Steve looks at him — really looks, at the way he’s flushed and looking at him, the hard look in his eyes Bucky always got when he was determined to point out that Steve was being an idiot.

And Steve has been an idiot.

“You meant it, didn’t you,” Bucky says, more softly. “When you said—”

“Yes,” Steve says. He’s determined to get it right this time. “Bucky—”

“Good,” Bucky says, and then he’s stepping forward, pulling Steve close so he can press his mouth to Steve’s. It’s deep and hard and Steve breathes in the scent of Bucky and closes his eyes, feels a warm glow spread from his chest, outward, all the way to his fingertips. “Because I’d hate to be the only one.”