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Far From Below

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"I was only five when my dad told me I’d die
I cried as he said son, was nothing could be done
No all the fists I thrown just tryin' to prove him wrong
After all the blood I spilled just tryin' to get killed

'Cuz I’ve already suffered I want you to know God
I’m ridin on hell’s hot flames comin' up from below."

-'Up From Below' by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes

...

The new guy is hot.

Like holy fucking shit hot.

“Shut your mouth, Barnes. You’ll get drool on your uniform.”

Bucky rolls his eyes as Natasha smirks at him from over her computer. He does, however, shut his mouth, which had not been gaping or anything, but was just a little open. He’s a bit of a mouth breather, okay? It’s nothing out of the ordinary. Don’t judge. 

“Whatever,” Bucky responds, crossing his arms over his chest. “He won’t last long.”

“Why’s that?” Sharon asks as she perches on the edge of Natasha’s desk. She just got back from a several week-long undercover investigation, and her hair is somehow perfect. Whenever Bucky does something undercover, he ends up having long, shaggy hair that gets into his eyes and is definitely not regulation. Or he ends up having to shave his head entirely, looking like some kind of crazed maniac. Once he went bleach blond. It wasn’t a good look. But Sharon’s hair is as gorgeous as ever. Bucky is not entirely sure that she isn’t some kind of a witch, and is secretly glad that she decided to join the NYPD rather than use her skills for greater evil.

Bucky grins. “With Barton out of commission, he’ll end up bein’ my partner.”

“Barton never complained about you,” Natasha says as she types up some report on her laptop. With Sharon—her usual partner—out on her investigation, she’s been handling several smaller cases on her own. Bucky knows that she’s been jumpy without a big project to work on and must be excited for Sharon to be back. But she’s Natasha Romanoff, the number one officer in the 107h precinct, so expressing emotions would be beneath her. “Well, he complained about your complete lack of social skills, but I think that’s more to do with the fact that you never wanted to go to a strip club with him than any actual problem.”

Yeah, Bucky didn’t want to go to a strip club with Clint. Firstly, because Clint likes women—namely, Natasha Romanoff, not that either would ever admit to it—and Bucky is… not so much interested in women. In fact, he’s gay. Very gay. Incredibly homosexual. Which means that the 6’4’’ blond hunk who is walking into Chief Fury’s office is completely devastating Bucky is the only gay cop he’s ever met, and he’s doubtful that God would be kind enough to send another one marching into his precinct. Actually, there was this presentation his precinct had to go to when they hired Bucky, where a lesbian officer from Queens told them all about being inclusive and using appropriate language.

Bucky, who had grown up in Brooklyn and typically beat up anybody who tried to give him shit, had pretty much died of embarrassment each time the woman who ran the talk looked his way sympathetically, and asked him to speak up about his feelings. He pretended to be shy, but he honestly just didn’t know what to say. He should probably see a therapist about it, but who even has time for that?

But whatever Bucky had been expecting when he joined the 107th but the precinct exceeded his expectations, therapy or no.

The one time he had a problem—with an asshole named Rumlow—Chief Fury had pretty much fired Rumlow on the spot. Apparently he had a record from long before Bucky came along, but threatening another cop because they saw them heading into a gay club the night before—for a case, for God’s sake; it’s not like Bucky even has the time to go clubbing nowadays—was the final straw. Rumlow had flipped a desk on the way out. It was pretty impressive. Fury wondered why he ever hired the guy in the first place, something that Bucky had to agree with. He wasn’t even good at his job.

But yeah, more importantly: Bucky’s love life sucks. He thinks the last time he went to a club for pleasure was before he was legal, and it’s hard to meet guys on this job, when most of what you’re doing is arresting people. So he’s thirsty. And the new guy is a tall glass of water.

“Heard anything about him?” Sharon asks.

Natasha shakes her head. “Not much,” she answers, typing something furiously. “His name is Rogers, right? He’s got a very short track record. Nothing online about him at all. Fury was also quiet about him, which gives me the heebie jeebies.”

As if on cue, Fury steps out of his office. “Barnes, in my office.”

“Duty calls,” Bucky mutters to his friends. Sharon gives a mild salute while Natasha chuckles. Bucky hustles over to the office. Chief Fury isn’t the sort of man you want to keep waiting. He climbed his way to the top, sometimes in ways that would make kids not sleep so well. But he never gave up, and when people tried to get him to stop, he’d step right over them. He has an eyepatch—a story that Bucky has yet to hear; apparently it’s a gift you get for your fifth year in the precinct, which means he’s still got three to go—and a cloudy disposition. Not that Bucky hasn’t dealt with those things before, but he’s still trying to get on Fury’s good side.

So Bucky enters the room to see Rogers in one of the chairs. Fury is already in the leather chair behind his oak desk and Bucky… well, he hovers by the door. “Shut the door and sit down, Barnes. We’ve got a lot to talk about.”

Bucky does as he is told. “I’m assumin’ this is my new partner?” he asks.

“In a way,” Fury says. “This is Agent Rogers. He’s with S.H.I.E.L.D..”

Bucky’s eyes must bug out of his head because Rogers is smirking when he holds out his hand. “Pleasure,” he says.

“Uh, same,” Bucky responds, taking his hand and pumping it twice before retreating.

“Barnes, I believe that you have been a part of several cases having to do with Hydra.”

Bucky nods. Hydra is the main gang presence in the area. They have a lot of power and are, surprisingly, quite old. They popped up during the late 1930s and somehow managed to survive seventy years of the NYPD and FBI taking down old mob family groups. The fact of the matter is, they’re almost impossible to track. Whoever it is that is running it has a lot of protection; Bucky has been searching since his first case and hasn’t found a clue. But what Bucky does know is that Hydra has their fingers in every pie: gambling, prostitution, drugs. They’re doing it all. Recently, however, they’ve been stepping up their game, shaking up the scene. They’ve got a group of dealers with some hardcore stuff; mind-altering drugs that they’re selling as ‘Forget-Me-Nots,’ which erase a person’s memory. The stuff is spotty, sometimes not working at all, and sometimes taking too much… And every time the cops catch a dealer, they seem to have a pill handy and forget everything useful before they head to jail.

Bucky isn’t sure how or why the market is so big, but it is. Natasha’s told him to see The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but if he doesn’t have time to date, he definitely doesn’t have time to watch a Jim Carrey movie. He’s seen Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He knows all he needs to know.

Rogers turns to Bucky and says, “We at S.H.I.E.L.D. have been tracking Hydra for years, and we think we’ve finally got some stuff that can pin them down. Senator Pierce has given us his full support in this endeavor; we’re working directly under him. All we need is your cooperation.”

“Cooperation?” Bucky asks, glancing with eyebrow cocked first at Rogers, then to Fury.

“We don’t want to set off any alarms for Hydra. They don’t know that S.H.I.E.L.D. is on the case and we’d like to keep it that way. Safer for everyone if we keep their involvement on the down low. But you’ll be assigned to the case, Barnes. You’ll have S.H.I.E.L.D.’s full cooperation and resources.”

“Anything we could possibly need, we get on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s dime,” Rogers adds.

“Huh.” Bucky pauses. “Why me?”

Rogers snorts, but Fury’s expression doesn’t change. “The investigation may require some undercover investigation. Given your… history, several S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and I made the decision to put you on the case. You can work under extreme circumstances, as it were.”

Ah. They’re putting Bucky on this one because he was a goon. Alright then. Works for him. IF they’ve got the talent they ought to use it.

Rogers shifts, almost like he’s uncomfortable with the fact that Bucky spent some of his teen years running drugs around. And Bucky thought those S.H.I.E.L.D. guys would be up for anything and everything. Then again, he’s heard a lot of whacky stories of S.H.I.E.L.D. shenanigans, but Rogers doesn’t seem the type to take part in them. “It’ll be dangerous,” Rogers adds.

Bucky shrugs. “I’ve done dangerous.” He wishes he were lying.

And then the bastard’s lip quirks, as if to say as if and Bucky is simultaneously torn with hitting it off his lips with his fist (or maybe his own lips). He quickly tells the thirsty voice in the back of his head to shut the hell up.

“How long is this gonna take?” Bucky asks knowing that his cock may not last long enough if this kid keeps smirking like that.

“However long it takes,” Rogers says, this air of divine justice surrounding him.

Already too long.

“So, what’s the deal?” Natasha asks, all smiles and conspiratorial glances because she can be real sweet when she wants to know something. She’s terrible. Bucky loves her.

Bucky also recognizes that she should be on assignment, not him. She’s way more effective at getting intel, even from trained professionals like himself.

But he’s also been sworn to secrecy; no one can know that Steve is a Super Special Secret Agent Man. “He’s my new partner,” Bucky explains. “From podunk Maryland or somethin’. Wasn’t payin’ too much attention, honest. Bet he’ll be booted as soon as Barton’s back.”

Both he and Natasha know that Barton won’t be back anytime soon, but they stay quiet on that point. It’s not worth thinking about right now. “You’re talking real big for someone who was practically writing your wedding vows half an hour ago.” Bucky raises an eyebrow. “You think he’s gorgeous.”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “Objectively, anyone would think he is. And wantin’ to climb someone like a tree is a bit different than swearing eternal devotion and all that. ‘Sides, I got a thing goin’.”

Well, maybe ‘thing’ isn’t too great a description for what Bucky is up to right now. Drunken hook-ups with a guy in midtown Manhattan is more like it. Well, is exactly like it. But Natasha doesn’t need to know that Peter is almost thirty, bar tending to get by and can barely afford the Chinese take-out Bucky gets for the two of them when they get together. It’s not gonna end in marriage, but the sex is pretty okay.

Or, well, it’s the best Bucky can get right now. But it’s hard finding time for a sex life when you’re married to your work. And your work scares most of the guys who Bucky typically likes to sleep with.

Natasha raises an eyebrow. “Is this the guy who answered your phone once, telling me that I should fuck off even thought it was 2 pm?”

“It was our day off,” Bucky explains, rather weakly.

Thankfully, Mr. Handsome Blond Hunky Super Secret Agent Man comes up to Bucky’s desk, sets a few papers onto Barton’s desk and clears his throat. “Steve Rogers,” he says, holding his hand out to Natasha.

“Officer Romanoff,” Natasha replies. “But you can call me Natasha.” She slips him one of those grins that she uses to get into back room poker games. High stakes. She always wins before she arrests everyone.

And Rogers goes bright red. “Pleasure,” he says, trying to keep his composure as she shakes his hand.

Then Natasha smirks at Bucky because they have both just witnessed all of Bucky’s newest sexual fantasies toppling down around them like a poorly-made line of dominos. “Rogers is my new partner,” Bucky explains, trying to find some way to steer the secret body language conversation away from Steve Rogers’s sexual preferences.

“Is he now?” Natasha asks, edging a little closer to Steve. So conversational topic not steered away. Fine Natasha. Cool. He’s gonna take her lunch out of the fridge and throw it in the trash.

(But then she’ll just get one of the guys from HR to take her out for Noodles and Company or something. Bucky wants Noodles and Company. Nobody takes Bucky to Noodles and Company.)

“Oh hey,” Sharon says, not so casually walking over to Natasha’s desk with a mug of coffee in each hand. She sets one down on Natasha’s desk. Downright domestic. Sharon and Natasha are the dream team, and Bucky can’t help but be jealous, when he knows that he’s going to have trouble focusing on anything but Rogers’s pectorals. Because after sneaking a glance at the white button down that’s barely hanging on, Bucky can say with some authority that those pectorals are rippling. “You’re Rogers, right?” 

Steve nods again, shakes Sharon’s hand and her girl-next-door innocent smile…

Makes Rogers blush.

(How the hell did this guy become a super secret agent if he can’t even contain himself when a girl looks at him? Then again, maybe it’s an act. A very good act. Bucky is not sure he’s ever seen someone blush on cue before. Perhaps this Rogers guy is a master of espionage. Perhaps they’re sending Bucky in because they know Rogers is crap at this. Bucky is going to die probably because Hydra will distract Rogers with a pretty smile. This situation is ideal.)

“It’s really a pleasure,” Steve says in the dorkiest way possible and it confirms to Bucky that there’s no possible way that this is an act.

At least Rogers seems to be able to talk to men, which is good because Bucky is biologically, and identifies as, a man. If he were a woman, Rogers would probably have the communication skills of a chipmunk and would get the both of them killed in some really dramatic and terrible way. (Because no one can tell Bucky that he wouldn’t make a damn fine woman.) It’s gonna be hard enough having him in the office as is, what with half the precinct being women and all. At least it’ll throw Natasha off the Super Secret Agent trail; out of all the people in the office, Bucky thinks she’d be the first to sniff Rogers out for the fraud he is. There’s a reason she’s the best officer in the place.

Sharon—perhaps more outwardly demure, but just as terrifying as Natasha when she wants to be—smiles and introduces herself as “Sharon Carter,” with an easy kindness, then turns to Natasha. “We’ve got reports.”

Natasha purses her lips. “You leave me for two months then come back and tell me to do paperwork? Honestly Carter, I’m not sure why I put up with you.”

Sharon just chuckles. “I’m the best you’ve got.”

Natasha sighs, clicks her computer shut. “Well, I’ll be off, boys,” she says, following Sharon out of the area.

“Everyone here seems friendly,” Rogers says, taking a seat at Barton’s empty desk.

Bucky shrugs. “We’re a close-knit group.” The whole precinct has a good vibe to it, not like some of the other areas that he’s heard of, full of competition and corruption, bickering over who gets credit for parking tickets. Fury keeps a close hold on things, but at the end of the day, Bucky’s pretty sure that everyone has his back. And he has theirs. “Don’t worry, you’ll find your place soon enough, Rogers.”

“Uh,” Rogers says brilliantly. “If you wouldn’t mind… I mean, you don’t have to, but could you call me Steve?”

Bucky nods. “No skin off my back.”

Steve pauses, glances down at the desk, then back up at Bucky. “I was in the army.” His lip twitches. “Everyone called me Rogers.”

Ah. Bucky knows a thing or two about post-traumatic stress disorder. “You can call me Bucky, then,” he decides.

“Bucky?” The corner of Steve’s mouth is quirking again, which is really going to need to stop. Like, right now. “Thought your name was James.”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “Middle name: Buchanan.”

“James Buchanan?” Steve’s smile grows, almost glows on his chiseled face.

And Bucky rolls his eyes again. “It’s a long story.” Definitely not one he’s going to get into with this beautiful guy who blushes at one smile from Natasha but has done nothing but think Bucky’s a schmuck since he walked through the door. How come he gets smirked at and Natasha gets smiles and Noodles and Company? It’s a conspiracy. He should call the police.

“You know,” Steve says, all sarcastic smiles now, and Bucky is going to need a punching bag to get rid of his building frustration. “If we’re going to be partners, we should probably get to know each other a little better.”

Jesus Christ, does this guy know what he sounds like? Or is he too much of a Boy Scout to realize that his smirk and suggestive statement are giving Bucky ideas. Trying to keep his breathing in check—no, not for any dirty reasons, but because he wants to laugh his ass off—Bucky responds, “When you’re a hospital drop-off baby, they gotta name you somethin’. Turns out the nurse really liked American history. There’re probably a whole bunch of people walkin’ round Brooklyn with presidential names because of her.”

Steve’s face falls. “Oh, I didn’t mean to—“

“Don’t worry ‘bout it.”

“But really, I—“

“Jesus Christ, Rogers, if I didn’t wanna tell you I’d’ve made somethin’ up.”

There’s a pause. “Steve,” he corrects.

“Steve,” Bucky agrees.

They spend most of the morning doing paperwork.

The two of them meet mostly in a sound-proof conference room, away from the other detectives. “They’ll know you’re up to something, but none of them will find out if you two don’t open your damn mouths,” Fury says and Bucky isn’t sure that him being chosen for this is a compliment. When Steve tells him what exactly they’ll be doing, Bucky is almost positive that it’s a punishment. Or just proves that everyone thinks he’s the most expendable officer on the force, which is just as insulting.

“You think that we’re gonna be able to infiltrate Hydra just the two of us? Shit, you’re nuts.”

Bucky thinks of Officer Coulson, a cop that he never met but who died trying to do just that.

“Well,” Steve corrects. “Not the two of us. Mostly… you.” He gestures lamely to Bucky, whose eyes just go wide.

“And why the hell do you and your big, shady organization think that I can get in with those guys better than the half-dozen other guys on the force who’ve tried?” He swallows. “Or is there somebody in Washington who just wants me dead?”

Steve looks at Bucky in horror. “Bucky no, if there’s anything that goes—“

Bucky waves Steve’s comment aside. “I’ll do it. Shit, takin’ down the guys terrorizing this neighborhood? I’ll do it. Don’t go all moral on me. Don’t think I can take it. Just needed a minute to let it soak in, okay?” He pauses, runs a hand through his hair. “So how’re we gonna do this in a way that doesn’t get me killed?”

Apparently S.H.I.E.L.D. has not yet figured out how to do that quite yet. They’ll get back to Bucky.

Sounds promising.

In the mean time he’s supposed to just go about being a cop with Steve as his partner. Keep up appearances, y’know? Somehow, this all feels very contrived, like some kinda cop TV show written by an amateur. But it can’t be, because if it were, Bucky’s sex life would be a lot better.

Speaking of which, Bucky is in Peter Quill’s dingy Midtown apartment. They’re together on the dingy mattress Peter has on the floor, with sheets that Bucky is sure haven’t been washed since the last time he was here several weeks ago. And they hadn’t been fresh then. It’s kinda gross. Really kind of gross; there’re stains. So between the distressing state of the sheets and Peter snoring loudly into his ear, Bucky isn’t getting much sleep. Especially upsetting since tomorrow—well, technically, today—is Bucky’s one day off this week and he was hoping to catch up on some sleep after some nice missionary-position sex. Because that’s all Peter ever wants, and Bucky’s completely fine with it, even if sometimes Peter falls asleep on top of him without, y’know, pulling out. Or having Bucky come.

But he didn’t do that tonight, so they’re getting somewhere.

That doesn’t mean that Bucky is going to sleep any better. He could, in theory, go back to his apartment. But it’s a long way back to Brooklyn and, well, it’s been a while since he’s been able to sleep next to someone else. Even if that someone else is snoring and Bucky isn’t much sure that he even likes him as a person, let alone loves him as a boyfriend, or hook-up, or whatever the hell they are.

And then, at 4:12, Bucky’s phone goes off.

It’s programmed to be silent during the night, except if it’s a call from work—an emergency. It goes off with the loudest, most annoying car horn ring tone Bucky could find, so it shocks Bucky out of his daze and wakes Peter up almost immediately. Which admittedly, is somewhat of a feat. “What the fuck, Barnes?” Peter asks, shoving Bucky off the mattress as Bucky fumbles to find his jeans, knowing that the phone is in one of the pockets.

“It’s work Peter, Jesus Christ.” Bucky manages to grab the phone, even while distracted by the fact that his regular lay still calls him by his last name. It’s not endearing. It’s a whole load of weird that Bucky doesn’t want to even contemplate, let alone try to dissect; it’d probably lead him way farther into his own psyche than he’d care to venture, thank you very much. Half-distracted by his own tumultuous thoughts and half by Peter shoving him out of bed, Bucky picks up the phone, just moments before it would’ve gone to voice mail. “Bucky Barnes?”

“Thank goodness you’re awake.”

“SHUT UP,” Peter yells, kicking Bucky out of the bed for good. And despite the fact that since the mattress is on the floor, the impact hurts Bucky’s sore ass in new and dramatic sorts of ways.

So Bucky can’t help but swear, yelling at Peter as Peter yells back at Bucky and overall it’s not the greatest situation to be in while pure, wholesome, “probably-never-heard-of-a-gay-what-is-a-gay?” Steve Rogers is on the other end of the phone.

“Get outta my apartment!”

“Your apartment’s a piece of shit, just like—umph.”

Admittedly, Bucky doesn’t put up much of a fight as Peter hauls him up and pushes him out the apartment with only his pants in hand. Bucky is a cop; it wouldn’t be fair to fight back. But that doesn’t stop him from yelling, “Yeah and fuck you, too” to the door as it slams shut.

And then he remembers Steve Rogers on the other line. “Shit,” he mutters, pulling the phone up to his ear and wincing. “Sorry ‘bout that.”

“Are you okay?” Steve’s deep manly voice sounds concerned. How cute.

“Sure,” Bucky says. “Nothin’ that hasn’t happened to me before.” Wow, that sounded a lot less pathetic in his head. He’s surprised Steve hasn’t started cooing or something. Maybe he’ll stage a tender-hearted charity for Bucky’s sex life. Which Bucky admittedly wouldn’t mind if that meant Steve would sleep with him. (It’s four in the morning and he’s dazed; give him a break.) “Anyhow, what’s the emergency?” Thankfully already in his boxer-briefs, Bucky begins pulling on his jeans.

“Are you sure that you’re fine? Was that guy manhandling you? Where are you? I can—“

“Not that I don’t appreciate the motherly concern, but I’d kind’ve like to know the emergency that meant callin’ me in at four in the mornin’. On my day off.” Bitter. Bucky can’t be trusted to speak gently when he is running on an hour and a half of sleep and was literally shoved out of an apartment in his underwear. Hopefully Steve will understand. He is a man. Even if he is a saint, he is still just a man.

Steve clears his throat. “There’s been what appears to be a murder down in Williamsburg. The scene’s been closed off; they’re waiting for us to get there.”

Shit. Bucky is in Manhattan.

“Where are you?” Steve asks, but before Bucky can cut in with something else about mother hens clucking, he adds, “They have me staying on the island, so if you’re anywhere near there, I can drop by and pick you up.”

As much as Bucky doesn’t want to have to deal with Steve’s glorious, beautiful face right now, it’s kind of a godsend. He gives Steve the address. “And if you could, uh, bring me a shirt. And some shoes…”

Steve laughs before hanging up. It’s not cruel, just amused.

Bucky hates to admit that he likes the sound.

“What the fuck?” Bucky asks, arms crossed over his hairy chest as he gapes at Steve Rogers.

Who came to pick him up on a Harley.

And he’s grinning on his Harley, not even wearing a helmet.

“You realize that we in the professional world call motorcycle riders professional organ donors, right?”

“You want the shirt first, or are you just gonna hop on?”

“Shirt please.”

Steve’s back is warm against Bucky’s chest as he holds on tight. This was not something that Bucky ever needed to know, especially not when wearing Steve’s worn-in white button down, washed so many times that’s nearly see-through, big and comfortable on Bucky’s frame.

He also smells good, just the faint scent of lemon. Bucky’s life sucks. He’s gonna steal the shirt even though he is in law enforcement.

The guy is definitely one of Hydra’s dealers.

Bucky knows because he was one that was supposed to be an inside mole.

He was arrested three weeks ago, and after a long discussion with Nick Fury, he decided that wearing a wire was preferable to fifteen years in jail. But Bucky thinks that maybe he regrets his decision as he looks at his splattered blood on the pavement from a non-lethal gunshot to the leg, the wire wrapped around his neck and cutting into the tender white skin.

But the worst part by far is the NYPD that’s been crudely carved into his forehead with a knife.

“Get the diagnostics on the bullet—“ Steve begins, but is interrupted by a S.H.I.E.L.D. guy saying, “They gouged the bullet out.”

Steve swears under his breath and Bucky is impressed. Maybe it’s from being woken-up at 4:00 am, but it’s nice to know that the guy is a Harley-riding, mildly swearing saint. Sorta like John the Baptist or something. (Bucky didn’t pay much attention in Sunday school.)

They do what they can with the crime scene, but at the end of the day, they can’t gather much. Bucky can barely keep his eyes open and has to keep pushing the sleeves of Steve’s shirt up his arms to keep them from dangling around his hands like a four year-old trying on his dad’s clothes. Steve keeps sneaking worried glances at him, but Bucky is too tired to care at this point. Let him judge Bucky—better than him blaming himself for the dead guy on the pavement, like Bucky does. Some guy’s been murdered, it’s his precinct’s fault and Bucky was thrown mostly naked out of the apartment of the one guy in New York City willing to sleep with him. Whatever. Steve Rogers can judge him all he wants.

They finish up by 7, get the area cleared up and the guy to the corner’s office before morning traffic really starts. “Want a ride to your apartment?” Steve asks.

Bucky shakes his head. “Should go back to the office,” he says, stifling a yawn. “Paperwork.”

The corner of Steve’s lip twitches. “Then I should go, too.”

Bucky waves him away. “Go back to bed. You’re not a—“

“You’re my partner,” Steve interrupts. “I’ll go back with you.”

Bucky is too tired to argue. “Whatever,” he says.

“Wanna take my bike?” Steve asks glancing down at the chrome handlebars, almost shy.

Bucky stares at him, waiting for the punchline. Steve looks just a bit crestfallen and it’s almost too much. “Jesus, I thought it was a joke. Of course I wanna take your Harley fucking Davidson, Jesus Christ.”

Steve lights up, like a little golden retriever. A very attractive golden retriever. Whose eyes are bright blue, and a welcome sight after the gruesome scene they’ve just witnessed. Bucky smiles back. It’s actually kind of nice to know that he can still smile after the whole dead body, precinct filled with guilt thing. Sometimes Bucky’s afraid that this job is turning him cold, but Steve Rogers’s smile is keeping him warm.

(Bucky really needs to get some sleep. He’s beginning to feel things. It’s a dire situation, only rectified by a good night’s sleep and the forthcoming realization that he does not, and never will, have any feelings for a coworker, especially a straight one.)

Bucky wakes-up in a daze, the paper he’s been drooling on attached to his face and… And Steve Rogers’ jacket draped over his shoulders.

“He had to leave,” Kate Bishop says, picking at her nails from behind the secretary’s desk. “But he finished all your guys’ paperwork.” She glances up. “Seems like you owe him.”

Bucky should be focusing on murder but is really horribly distracted by the jacket and the realization that it was Steve’s day off, too.

“So.” Steve twitches a little, looking both uncomfortable and very attractive. They were each given the day off on Sunday to make up for their ruined Saturday, something that Fury told Bucky had more to do with S.H.I.E.L.D. policy than his precinct’s. Bucky’s had plenty of days ruined by work, but he still shows up the next day. Not that he’s complaining about this—he slept about fifteen hours, and actually feels like a human being again. Actually, Bucky would’ve slept even more, but Steve called up—at a decent hour—and insisted he take Bucky out for lunch.

So here they are, at Bucky’s favorite Thai place—since Steve doesn’t know the neighborhood too well; he grew up on the other side of Brooklyn, strangely enough—each with a Coke. And Steve is twitching.

“So?” Bucky asks, splitting apart his chopsticks and rubbing them together to get the splintery bits off.

“I’m really sorry. About your boyfriend.”

Steve’s face is red with embarrassment and if Bucky himself weren’t so embarrassed, he’d laugh (or worse, find it endearing). Instead, Bucky sputters, “Wasn’t my boyfriend.”

“He wasn’t?” Steve asks, looking up at Bucky through long lashes.

Bucky shakes his head and wills his pad thai to cook faster. “Just a guy,” he mutters, looking very pointedly at the condensation on his glass, and not at Steve’s probably judgmental face. “Look, if it’s gonna be an issue, you should just—“

“What? Bucky, no!” Bucky looks up at Steve again, even redder than before. He sputters, “No, Bucky, I was just. Am. I mean. Not. I—“And now Bucky lets himself laugh. Steve glares through his embarrassment. “No, shut up, I ain’t laughin’ at you. Just. God.” Bucky lets his head flop back for a moment and to contain himself. “You’re so worried about bein’ seen as some kinda homophobe. Not used to that one, lemme tell ya.”

“Actually,” Steve begins, shifting a little in his seat and looking down. “I’m b—“

“Your food,” their waiter interrupts, setting down a plate of green curry in front of Steve and Bucky’s chicken pad thai.

Both Steve and Bucky thank the waiter, then all conversation is lost to the most delicious food in New York City, Steve’s half-said statement forgotten as Bucky tells him he has to try his food, c’mon, you didn’t ask for my recommendation without at least trying the best thing on the menu!

Even if he is some kind of Secret Badass Super Secret Agent, Steve seems to get along with everyone in the office. Sure, he and Fury have the occasional tiff since he’s not technically in charge of Steve, but even he seems to trust Steve more than he trusts Bucky. And he’s known Bucky for two years and Steve for three months. Bucky is sure that by the time this investigation is over Fury will have started his own Steve Rogers Fan Club. Maybe they’ll have ID cards. Bucky will refuse to join. In fact, he’ll start an I Am Not in the Steve Rogers Fan Club Club. They’ll have better ID cards and t-shirts proclaiming how much they’re not in the Steve Rogers Fan Club.

Even if he really, really likes Steve. Maybe too much.

Steve makes doing paperwork fun. And he always brings good snacks when they’re on a stake-out, not just coffee, like Barton. And not only does he share his snacks, but he packs extra for Bucky. Two weeks ago, Bucky told him that marshmallows are his favorite junk food. The vóila! Last time they had stake-out, not only did Steve bring marshmallows, but he also brought graham crackers, chocolate and a lighter for make-shift car s’mores. Fury wasn’t happy with the mess. Or the burns. But it was a hell of a time. Steve is serious about his job, but never too serious about life and Bucky, he…

Can’t think about it.

“You alright there?” Steve asks one day, putting a hand on Bucky’s shoulder when Bucky is supposed to be doing something—he’s not even sure what—but is just spacing out. He’s been doing more of that lately. There’re so many distractions, what with his sexual fantasy sitting next to him and the impending doom of an undercover investigation into the most successful crime ring of all time.

From the concerned look Steve is giving him, Bucky is pretty sure that he’s been looking at him for a while. He couldn’t have been spacing out for… he glances at the clock. Eighteen minutes.

“Yeah buddy,” Bucky replies, still a moment too late and shaking his head vigorously, trying to get his head into the game. The two of them had been on a late-night stake-out, trying to track a Hydra dealer. It hadn’t worked out. Not much in their investigation has had much work out thus far. It’s been dead end after dead end. Not looking good.

No one was kidding when they said Hydra was impenetrable.

“Why don’t you head home for the night, Buck. You look like you could use a little rest.”

Oh, and that’s another annoying thing about Steve Rogers. He’s started calling Bucky ‘Buck.’ A cute little nickname of his nickname. It’s almost like Steve likes Bucky. Like they’re friends. Which they aren’t; Bucky is almost positive that once all this is over, Steve will never be in touch. Because nothing good stays when you’re Bucky Barnes, even when it’s so close you could reach out and touch it.

“Not leavin’ ’til you do,” Bucky says, drowsy but acknowledging that it’s generally frowned upon to not speak when spoken to. Also, he doesn’t want to leave, not when Steve is here and his apartment is tragically Steve-less.

Steve smiles, doesn’t smirk, but smiles. It’s deadly in a ‘sir you’ve been diagnosed with terminal butterflies in your stomach syndrome’ kind of way. “Then I guess it’s time for me to—“

“Oh come on, that was supposed to get me outta leavin’.”

“No way,” Steve says, grabbing Bucky’s arm and hauling him up. “We can walk back together.”

Soon after the Peter Quill incident—Bucky still hasn’t heard back from Peter, not that he’s had much time to sleep around lately—Steve managed to find a cheap apartment just down the block from Bucky’s. He cited convenience for the move, and the fact that it’d be less money. Even though S.H.I.E.L.D.’s paying for his housing, whatever. Bucky is pretty sure that it’s so Steve’ll never have to be on the hook if Bucky needs shoes and a shirt again. Also Bucky knows all of the best restaurants in the area, and Steve always invites himself along to dinner. Frankly, Bucky doesn’t mind, because it’s gotten Mama Rose from Rose’s Italian to leave him alone. First she’d send her daughter Sheryl to have her dinner with Bucky whenever came in since he looked so lonely and eligible. Then there was an uncomfortable conversation with Mama Rose, and after that her nephew Paolo always seemed to have his dinner break when Bucky was there.

Bucky groans but acquiesces to Steve’s grabbing. Maybe he could use an early night. “Fine. Lemme grab my coat.”

Since they were in civilian clothes, they just waltz out and walk down the street together. It’s about a fifteen minute walk to the apartment and when they make it together, they usually walk in companionable silence or make a little small talk. But tonight, Steve is strangely verbose.

“I really like being back in New York,” he says, dodging a pigeon. It’s fall and the air is brisk; it’s twilight and Bucky likes to think this is when the city looks its best. The street lights flicker on, and people are heading home for the evening. He looks at Steve and wonders for a fleeting second what it would be like if they were really somewhere together, not just walking to separate destinations. “It feels like I’m home. Haven’t had many places feel that way since I enlisted.”

“Really?”

Steve nods. Bucky wants to ask a million questions; Steve rarely opens up about his past, let alone the time he was in the army. All Bucky knows about the guy—except for all of the unimportant things like how he takes his coffee, that he doodles architectural forms on the edges of papers during meetings and the way that his hair bristles in the wind while he rides his bike—is that he is some kind of Super Secret Agent and that he hates being reminded of the time he was in the army. Bucky, well, he’s no open book, but when Steve has a question, Bucky’ll answer it. Bucky is afraid to ask, scared that he’ll brake whatever trust he’s built with this guy by doing so.

“You can take the New Yorker out of the City, but you can’t take the City out of the New Yorker,” Steve says after a long moment, and Bucky sniggers because, well, that sounded fuckin’ dumb. Really dumb. “Really?” Steve asks, playfully exasperated and punches Bucky’s left bicep.

“Hey now, not my fault you’re no poet.”

“Am too,” Steve pouts, punching Bucky’s arm again, but harder.

Bucky shoves him in retaliation. “C’mon now. Don’t want me filin’ some kinduva complaint against ya.”

“Oh, of course not,” Steve says, all Boy Scout, but with a smirk hiding beneath it.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Bucky acts all affronted, but Steve doesn’t buy it.

He gives just the smallest shrug. “Always knew you men on the NYPD couldn’t take any—“

He doesn’t get to finish his thought because Bucky is on him, grabbing and tickling and Steve is laughing and Bucky is swearing and, and, and.

And Bucky is looking up at Steve who is looking down at him, neither moving, neither breathing. Steve is taller than him, Bucky realizes—or maybe just recognizes—and he’s looking down and Bucky is looking up. The pink twilight sky lights up behind Steve’s blond hair, and Bucky can feel Steve’s hand against the small of his back, pushing in closer, pushing Bucky in closer and—

And out of the corner of Bucky’s eye he can see a Hydra dealer—Roscoe? Maybe Robert? No, Roscoe—walking into a bar across the street. The Triskelion. It may be nothing, but the way that the meaty doorman doesn’t bat an eye at him while several very attractive women stand outside, shivering in their dresses and heels makes Bucky stiff and alert. He knows the place—it’s got a reputation, and not a great one. They’re constantly getting calls at the 107th because another fight has broken out at the Triskelion, or there’s been an issue with harassment. Yet, the place manages to stay in business no matter what. Maybe, Bucky thinks, it’s because the right people are going there, and pulling things from the inside.

“Bucky, I’m sorry, I—“

“My four o’clock. You’re good.” Steve glances back, then back down to Bucky, eyes serious. “Hydra goon named Roscoe just walked inside.”

“You think we should follow?” Steve asks, straightening up. His grip on Bucky’s back only gets tighter.

Bucky gives a short nod. “Why not? Maybe we’ll finish the case tonight and you can get yourself back on the road to D.C. Won’t have to fight to write poetry about this dump anymore.” He hopes he doesn’t sound bitter. Because he’s not bitter. Just numb, and feeling hollow and empty on the inside.

Something flickers in Steve’s expression, but Bucky ignores it to try to get a better look at the club. “Laugh really loud, then move your arm around my shoulders. Let’s make it look like we’re already tipsy. Fraternity brothers, reunited because you missed your transferin’ flight, or somethin’. You’re crashin’ at my place, but we ain’t goin’ to bed until we get some… pussy or somethin’,” Bucky orders, trying to be funny, but really being bitter. Very bitter.

Steve struggles down a snort, which is real rich coming from Captain Heterosexual (whatever just happened didn’t just happen, was probably all in Bucky’s mind; get your head in the game, Barnes). “On your count,” Steve says.

Bucky rolls his eyes and drags Steve across the street, laughing. “And then I was like, ‘you can’t get in the back sweetheart, but if you gimme a blow job then maybe…” He pauses, grabs his wallet from his back pocket. He slips the bouncer a twenty and slips inside, dragging Steve with him.

The bouncer doesn’t look at them twice.

The bar itself isn’t anything too special. It’s not quite a dive, but there’s a definite vibe of unease in the place. It seems like most of the guys are regulars, and the girls too young for the men they’re talking to inside. Bucky goes up to the old wooden bar at the side of the room and orders both he and Steve a beer. He tips pretty decently, but not enough to be memorable. One guy gives him a second glance, but Bucky gives him a cheeky, drunken smile and the guy returns to his whisky and conversation partner. Bucky grabs a beer in either hand and heads to a small hightop table that Steve is waiting at in the back. He doesn’t look drunk. He looks uncomfortable. And being the tallest, most handsome fella in the room, he’s getting a fair bit of attention for it, some girls at the bar eyeing him with interest, and some men with worry that he’ll be competing with them.

Bucky swears under his breath, then straightens his face out into a drunken grin. “Got the beers, Paulie boy.” He puts them down and sits next to Steve, trying to ignore the fact that he just called Steve Paulie. It’s a dumb name, as dumb as calling him Stevie would be. Which would be dumb, especially since Steve is not interested in pet names, or Bucky.

At least the table has a good vantage point for looking at the crowd.

Bucky takes a sip of his beer and surveys the room. And there’s Roscoe, talking real quiet with… “Oh shit,” Bucky whispers, turning around as quick as he can, nearly knocking into Steve’s stupidly broad chest.

“What?” Steve asks.

“We gotta get outta here,” Bucky says, a bit desperate. He glances back to the two of them and nearly catches his eye. “Shit, shit, shit.” He lowers his voice. “Brock Rumlow is talkin’ to our man there, and if he recognizes me, we’re fucked. So fucked and not in the good way. So, uh…” Bucky tries to think fast, but the two are standing up and Bucky doesn’t know where they’re headed. “Put your hand on the left side of my face and lean in.”

Steve stutters sort of strangely, but does what he’s told. He looks beautiful in the dim light of the bar, almost shining with his golden hair. Leave it to Stev(i)e Fucking Rogers, Sputtering Secret Agent to look just as nice in the worst dive bar in the burrow as he does in the lovely setting sun. Bucky very acutely feels the fact that he is not actually drunk, just pretending to be when he notices the way that Steve blinks his blue eyes twice, long lashes almost casting shadows on his cheek bones. And he notices the blush that forms along those cheekbones, the way that Steve’s hand presses into the stubbly side of Bucky’s face, finger pads pressing into the skin. Bucky swallows, but his throat feels dry. “Sorry,” Bucky mutters as he leans in and meets Steve’s lips with his own.

It’s close-mouthed and chaste, of course, but just as Bucky notices the back room that Rumlow and Roscoe seem to be heading to, he notices the way that Steve’s eyes flutter shut, how he inches closer, angling his head so that their noses don’t collide. He notices the way that Steve’s hand moves to Bucky’s knee and the way that his own hand has made its way to the back of Steve’s neck, pulling him in closer.

And then Rumlow and Roscoe are in the back room and Bucky should stop, he should really stop, he feels his own eyes flutter close and—

“Faggots,” someone yells from the bar. The room dissolves into rancorous, cruel laughter.

Bucky pulls apart immediately, stares down at his shoes.

“We should go,” Steve says, pulling himself off of his barstool. He offers Bucky a hand with his, which Bucky willfully ignores, choosing instead to glare at the guy who called him out before shoving himself off his stool and marching out of the bar, not stopping until he’s a block away. His hands are shaking. He shoves them in his pockets.

He pauses once he gets outside, hearing yelling from inside the bar. Maybe Saint Steve, Patron Saint of the Gays is in there giving that guy a hard time. He should be grateful, but it just makes him angrier because he doesn’t need Steve getting his face punched in to protect him. Bucky’s been taking care of himself for years.

So he starts walking, hands in his pockets and jaw clenched.

“Bucky!” He hears, rather than sees Steve chasing after him. Steve is running, really running. Bucky stops, but doesn’t look back. There’s a tentative hand on Bucky’s shoulder, and Bucky flinches. Steve drops his hand. “Bucky,” Steve repeats, softer and kinder. “He’s just an asshole. He didn’t—“

“Just some asshole?” Bucky interrupts, turning on his heel to glare at Steve. “Steve the entire world is full of assholes like that.” His voice cracks and Steve looks so pitying and it needs to stop, it needs to stop right now. “Maybe you haven’t seen it because you haven’t been lookin’ for it but I live it every goddamn day.”

It’s Steve’s turn to flinch and something twists in Bucky’s stomach. “Please Bucky, I—“

“You don’t know shit. You may be some kinda flaw-free superstar but don’t try to pretend that you know what this shit’s like. Hidin’ yourself, feelin’ small, feelin’ like shit. Not anythin’ you’ve had to deal with, right?” Steve looks like he’s been kicked, standing silent and frozen. “I’ve worked so goddamn hard for every last scrap I’ve gotten.” Bucky’s will to keep his voice strong is fading; now he’s just trying to keep it from cracking outright. “How could you ever understand that?” It comes out strained, almost a whisper. He hates it.

“Bucky, I do. I—“ Steve reaches out to touch Bucky’s shoulder again, which is a mistake because Bucky is stepping back, wild and feral and knowing it and yelling, “Don’t you fucking touch me!”

It may be the first time that Bucky sees Steve Rogers looking lost.

“You’re not some goddamn super ally for kissin’ me in a dive bar. Thanks for savin’ my hide, but don’t you think that it gives you some kinda credit when it… it meant nothin’.” He’s sounding manic to his own ears now and all Bucky wants is to go home. Or go back into that bar and beat the shit outta whoever said it. Or to drink himself into oblivion, letting himself rot in some alleyway because whatever it is he’s done, Steve looks shattered. Just shattered.

Bucky almost thinks he can hear Steve mutter “Nothing?” but it’s overpowered by the harsh sound of Bucky’s breathing. Then, “Go to hell, Barnes,” Steve says, shaking his head slowly. “I—“

“I’ll see you there,” Bucky shoots back, turning on his heel and walking as fast as he can.

Steve calls after him exasperated and worried, but doesn’t follow.

(Bucky doesn’t deserve to be followed.)

Bucky also doesn’t deserve to eat or bathe, but he does those with a mechanical efficiency.

He takes two Nyquil over the suggested dosage to knock himself out.

Bucky almost doesn’t go to work the next day, but he forces some coffee into himself, makes himself walk out the door and head over to the station. He doesn’t know what he was expecting, but Steve is there, bags under his eyes and looking—for the first time since Bucky met him—worse for wear. He doesn’t seem to be doing anything, just staring blankly at some paper he has in front of him. There’s text on it, but he doesn’t appear to be reading. Bucky, too tired to try to find an excuse not to head over, so he over to his desk. But before he can sit down, Steve says, “Fury is waiting for us.”

“Oh,” Bucky replies, sure that he’s not going to like what this meeting is about. Maybe it’s just because Bucky showed up half an hour late. But he’s assuming it isn’t.

“We should go.” Bucky nods and follows Steve over to Fury’s office. Steve knocks twice on the door, waits for an affirmation from Fury, then walks inside. Bucky follows and closes it behind them. “Sir,” he says. “We have a report to make on our case.”

“Take a seat, Rogers, Barnes.”

Steve nods, sits. Bucky wants to stand, but Fury is looking at him with his usual, indecipherable expression, so he does as he is told. “Brock Rumlow seems to be involved in Hydra’s affairs.” Fury raises an eyebrow, and Steve relays the story—thankfully skipping the kiss and the fall-out—to Fury. Fury glances at Bucky, as if understanding the haggard appearance and Bucky really doesn’t need pity from Nick Fury, the scariest mother fucker on the force. It’s a bit too unnatural for comfort. “We left after that, since we were taken aback by Rumlow’s appearance and found ourselves ill-equipped to deal with the situation, otherwise.”

There’s a pause. Fury rests his elbows on his desk, twiddles his thumbs together. “Alright,” he says. “We’ll have to take this into consideration going forward. Anything else?”

“I should be taken off this case, sir,” Bucky says too quickly.

“What?” Steve squawks, sounding affronted. It’d be funny if it weren’t, y’know, not funny.

Unimpressed, Fury purses his lips. He doesn’t even need to ask Bucky to continue, just gives a little chin tilt.

“I… I think I may be compromised.” If possible, Fury looks even more unimpressed, lips turning downwards into a frown. “I…” Bucky groans. “I don’t think I should be on this case. If you don’t take me off, I’ll—“

“Denied!” Steve shouts, standing up.

“Agent Rogers, you do not have the authority to—“

“If Bucky quits, then I’m out, too.” Steve is standing, shifting between glaring at Bucky, and glaring at Fury, as if he can’t decide whose fault it is.

“Shut up,” Bucky says, getting angry. “You don’t have a say in this.”

“Like hell I don’t,” Steve’s face is getting a little red. “Yeah, we had an argument, but we’re partners. We’re supposed to be able to fix things when they go wrong. If we’re so unprofessional that we can’t even do that, then neither of us should be on this case!”

“If you two don’t shut the hell up then neither of you will be.” Fury’s voice is just barely restraining his annoyance, and Bucky gives him credit for that restraint. He’s been on this force for a long time, and while Bucky is sure that he’s had to play mediator in his administrative job, he’s also sure that it’s probably Fury’s least favorite part of that job.

Steve tears his eyes away from Bucky and sits back down with a small huff, oddly out of place with his huge body. Bucky desperately does not find it endearing. He is angry, and he is going to remain angry.

“Now,” Fury says, leaning back in his chair, and bringing his hands together in front of him. “Care to tell me what your little disagreement was about?”

Bucky purses his lips. Like hell is he gonna let Fury know that his unrequited crush on his partner mixed with some drunk asshole slinging a slur at him made him go off. Too embarrassing. He doesn’t need Sergeant Fury to know anything about his love life; that’s breaking a barrier. Maybe he’ll invite him to the wedding if he ever, y’know, finds someone who wouldn’t find the idea of waking up next to him for the rest of their life repulsive. But that’s probably not going to happen, so he doesn’t need to worry about the guest list right now.

“I broke a boundary with Officer Barnes,” Steve says, breaking Bucky from his admittedly very stupid thoughts. The admission of guilt is such a surprise that Bucky has to stop himself from turning his head around so quick that he becomes the girl from The Exorcist. “It was in the heat of the moment, sir. Trying to find a way out of a bad situation, but I… I took advantage of it.” He looks back at Bucky before saying, plain and sincere, “I’m sorry.”

Bucky’s throat dries out, and can’t really talk, so he just gives Steve one nod.

Steve turns back to Fury. “If you wouldn’t mind, I would like the opportunity to speak one-on-one with Officer Barnes. Hopefully I can convince him to stay on the case. If not, well, it’s not within my authority to make him stay.” There’s a brief pause, then Steve says a little quieter, “Even if I’d like him to.”

“Good news boys, I’m not a kindergarten teacher and this is no playground. Figure out your shit, and if it’s gonna keep you from getting results, come back to me. All I care about is Hydra going down. Whatever problems you two have personally don’t concern me. Now get out of my office.”

They shuffle out of Fury’s office. Bucky feels strange, numb. He should’ve slept more and should’ve done it without the Nyquil. Everything seems a little fuzzy, disjointed. Natasha is looking at him from behind her desk, face neutral but eyes concerned, and it seems like the rest of the office can tell that there’s something off.

And then there’s Steve’s hand resting on the small of Bucky’s back. “C’mon,” he says. “Let’s find a place we can go talk.”

Bucky doesn’t want to talk. But he nods because what else is there to do? Neither can work when this is hanging over their hands, and Bucky readily admits that work is the only thing he has in his life right now. Maybe if he had a cat he wouldn’t have these problems. But he doesn’t have a cat, so he lets Steve guide him into a sound-proof conference room with a rectangular table. It’s not the same one they talked in on their first day, but it’s identical, down to the bad IKEA print of a sailboat hanging on the wall. Bucky takes a seat in the middle as Steve closes the door behind him. Bucky can’t help it: he slumps down, rests his head on his arms on the table. “Didn’t sleep?” Steve asks.

Bucky shakes his head, but isn’t sure that Steve can tell, so he adds, “No. You?”

Steve chuckles, a deep, dark sound. “Me neither.”

There’s a pause; Bucky looks up. Steve is sitting across the table from him. “Sorry,” Bucky says, voice raw. “And you takin’ the blame for it, it’s—“

“Bucky, save your breath. Neither of us should apologize. We shouldn’t have… It was in the moment.” He pauses. “But I don’t want you to stop working on this case.”

“I’m a liability. Rumlow knows—“

“Rumlow didn’t see you and we aren’t even sure if he is affiliated with Hydra. It could just be a coincidence.”

“No coincidences in this line of work.”

Steve shrugs. “Then he’s affiliated with Hydra. That just gives us one more piece of the puzzle, may even help explain how they’ve been evading the NYPD for this long.” Steve pauses. “I heard about your history with Rumlow.”

Of course he did. Sometimes Bucky forgets that he and Steve hasn’t actually been partners for that long, and that there are still so many things Steve doesn’t know about him and his past. Well, at least he knows about Rumlow. It had crossed Bucky’s mind that Steve may’ve thought he was an ex-boyfriend or something.

Bucky doesn’t move, just sighs. “How?”

“Officer Romanoff.”

“She told you to call her Natasha.”

Bucky glances up, and Steve is smiling. Disgusting.

(And Bucky is definitely ignoring the fact that those lips were on his only last night and it didn’t mean a thing.)

“Well, Natasha told me. And I know that he was a right jerk—“ Bucky sniggers, “but that doesn’t mean you should leave this case.” He adds, softer, “I need you, Buck.”

It feels like someone’s taken Bucky’s stomach in his hand and squeezed. Bucky knows it’s unintentional, that Steve doesn’t mean the things that Bucky reads into what he says and does, but Bucky is falling, falling fast. And last night was only proof of that. Bucky is compromised, ridiculously so, and if he were a good policeman, he would take himself off this case. But Bucky has never been the best officer—Natasha is better than him in every way—and Steve is… Well, he’ll be gone once this is over. And no one on the force knows and understands Hydra better than Bucky does; he probably owes it to the city to stick this out.

“Fine,” Bucky groans. “I’ll stick with it, whatever.”

Steve beams and Bucky is so screwed.

In the next few weeks, they begin to figure out a strategy. Bucky will stop coming to the office—official paperwork will say that he’s been fired, guilty of selling evidence out of the storage locker, even though Fury will keep it on the down low. Bad enough that it warrants getting fired, but not bad enough that people will be freaked when he comes back. If he comes back. He and Steve meet around their neighborhood; ostensibly, they are friends. Really, Steve catches him up on what’s going on, and how things will go down.

Sometimes their knees touch underneath a coffee house table. Sometimes Bucky convinces himself that he doesn’t notice it.

Meanwhile, Steve meets with S.H.I.E.L.D. guys about making plans, and getting things ready to go. They’ve got all these maps and contingency plans. One crazy guy named Stark apparently suggested that Bucky eat a tracking device. Steve apparently did not like that idea—or many of Stark’s ideas, if the dark shadow that falls over Steve’s features when he talks about him is any indication.

Slowly but surely things tart to click into place. Bucky will get in touch with one the one inside guy the NYPD has left in Hydra. It’s no use hiding Bucky’s history as a police officer—they’ll know, especially if Rumlow is involved. Everyone decided it’d be better to just go balls out: admit that he’s an officer, and offer up secrets for inclusion in Hydra. If they know that Bucky was part of the NYPD, they’ll probably know that he was once well on his way to becoming a member of AIM, a now defunct group that was once one of Hydra’s biggest competitors. Bucky isn’t a stranger to how this works, and giving up some carefully cherrypicked intel in exchange for learning who Hydra’s boss is, and where they’re located is worth the exchange.

Doesn’t mean he’s not fucking nervous about it.

Three days before his scheduled infiltration—which makes Bucky snort, since Steve seems to think it will be easy for him to get in since he has that list of secrets, when in reality it probably won’t be an open door—there’s a knock on Bucky’s apartment door. He isn’t expecting Steve for another hour, and he hasn’t had many other visitors. He’s persona non grata at the station—no one besides Fury and the S.H.I.E.L.D. people know the truth—and most of his friends are on the force. He hasn’t heard from Peter, and hasn’t tried sleeping with anyone else since he met Steve. 

So it kind of freaks him out to look through the peephole and see a United States Senator standing outside his door.

Fumbling with the knob, he opens it up. “Senator Pierce?” he asks, because wow, he’s shorter than he thought he’d be. Apparently that’s a theme with celebrities, but once Bucky, met Dwayne the Rock Johnson, who was a lot taller than he thought he’d be. So maybe Bucky’s just underwhelmed and confused by this Senator, who is shorter than both Bucky, and Dwayne the Rock Johnson.

“In the flesh,” the senator says with a half-smile that he’s pretty obviously faking, like an uncle forced to see his nephew he has nothing in common with. “May I come in, Officer Barnes?”

“Of course,” Bucky says, ushering him into the room, and shutting the door behind him. There’s a pair of dirty boxers on the table. Just his luck.Bucky’s apartment isn’t anything to write home about. It’s a small, and dingy studio with a kitchenette, and a Murphy Bed that he keeps down, even if it makes the room seem smaller. He could probably afford better with his police salary, but he’s been saving up. Not sure what for, maybe under the silly hope that he’d meet somebody someday and need to move, but until then he doesn’t need a palace. But now that Senator Pierce is standing in the middle of the room, Bucky feels like maybe he should’ve maybe bought a place that doesn’t have the lingering scent of onions in the air.

“Brooklyn is lovely this time of year.”

“Yes, sir,” Bucky says, even though he’s sure his street isn’t lovely any time of the year.

“Been a long time since I’ve been in this part of the city. Used to come around a lot when I was little, to get away from my parents.”

“Um,” Bucky responds, the brilliant linguist that he is.

“Mind if I sit?” Pierce asks, raising an eyebrow and looking pointedly over at the ratty Goodwill couch Bucky frequently sits on naked.

Heart-hammering and embarrassed, Bucky nods. “Yeah, of course, sir. I didn’t mean—“Pierce chuckles lightly. “No worries son, I do admit that it’s a bit out of the ordinary for me to make a house call, especially unannounced.” He sits, back ramrod straight. Bucky leans against the kitchen counter, having trouble meeting Pierce’s eyes. “But I think we both can agree that these are extraordinary circumstances, Officer Barnes.”

“If you say so,” Bucky says after a beat. He glances up, and he can’t read Pierce’s expression at all.

“Agent Rogers has a lot of faith in you, Officer.” He pauses, thoughtful, and Bucky doesn’t know what to say to that. Because on one hand, it’s flattering, and makes Bucky a little emotional. But on the other, he didn’t know that Steve was really in contact with Senator Pierce. Sure, Bucky knew that they had Pierce’s approval and backing for the whole project, but it’s one thing for a politician to say that, and another for one to actually be involved.

Pierce has been in politics since his mid-twenties, when he was elected as a state senator. He rose through the ranks quickly, becoming one of New York’s notable career politicians. Honestly, Bucky has never voted for him. Sure, he hasn’t done anything terrible in his three terms as a senator, but he also hasn’t done… anything. He goes to the right parties, and shows up on C-SPAN, but he also doesn’t introduce anything of consequence into congress, and only seems excited about starting wars and keeping immigrants out of the United States. Or at least depriving people of work permits.

Bucky would be dead if it weren’t for government agencies. Having spent a good chunk of his childhood in foster care and group homes he recognizes the important parts they play in the country. He also knows that he’d’ve probably turned out a lot better if they had some more money. But Bucky doesn’t expect Alexander Pierce, raised in the Upper East Side, and educated at Harvard, to understand what it’s like to depend on the government for anything.

Regardless of politics, it’s still strange for Bucky to have an important man like Senator Pierce in his shitty little Brooklyn apartment.

And then Pierce’s skeezy smile fades. “But Agent Rogers isn’t always forthcoming.”

Bucky tenses. “What do you mean?” he asks.

Pierce gives a small, sad smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. He taps his fingers against the couch’s armrest and looks at Bucky’s unmade Murphy bed on the other side of the room. “He’s a fine Agent, Rogers. But it’s hard to forget his track record. Sometimes I can’t help but think that that whole business left him a changed man.”

Bucky looks out the window at the street below. There’re a few cars moving around, and he sees what he thinks Pierce’s ride is in front of the building. Two tall men in suits stand in front of it. “He hasn’t told me much about his past,” Bucky admits.

“Oh?” Pierce asks, and again, there’s that level of fakeness in his intonation, the way he perks up and then cocks his head to the side as he looks at Bucky. “He hasn’t?” Bucky shakes his head. “I can understand why he doesn’t speak about his record, but I would think that he would open up to you, of all people.” He pauses, looking Bucky up and down, and Bucky can’t help but straighten up a little. “Especially given that your life is really in his hands.”

“Knowing someone’s past isn’t synonymous with trust,” Bucky hears himself saying.

Pierce’s face falls suddenly, and he takes a deep breath through his nose. “You’re right. I’m sure that it’s tough when people find out about your past, Officer. Maybe it’s brought you a lot of trouble.” It’s not a question. The corner of Bucky’s lip twitches, but all at once, Pierce stands up, face neutrally pleasant once again. “Anyhow, I just came back to make sure that you are up to the task ahead of you. Washington is looking forward to getting all of these Hydra matters settled, and as soon as we can.”

“I can handle it. I’m well-trained and prepared.” It’s only sort of a lie, but there’s no rule against lying to politicians. They do it to their constituents all the time, so it’s only fair.

Pierce’s eyes rake his body again, and Bucky’s jaw clenches. There’s something about this that isn’t right, not at all. It’s been apparent since the moment Pierce walked into his apartment without any backup around, but Bucky still can’t put a pin on why it’s strange. 

“That you are, Officer Barnes,” Pierce says before he stands back up. “It was a pleasure meeting you,” he says with a smile, all the tension from a few moments ago seemingly broken. He crosses the apartment and holds his hand out, which Bucky shakes, before he heads out, and closes the door behind him.

It’s all fucking weird.

“Bucky?” Steve calls from outside the door. He’s already knocked a few times, and Bucky was hoping that yelling, “Come in!” would be enough. The door’s unlocked, but apparently Steve can’t hear him. Which sucks, because it means Bucky has to get off of the couch, where he’s been stewing since Pierce left an hour ago. So he picks himself up and shuffles across the room to open the door for Steve. He grunts, lets Steve in, and flops back on the couch.

“Buck?” Steve asks, following him over and kneeling down so that he’s eye to eye. “You don’t look so hot.”

“‘M fine,” Bucky mutters, and then Steve’s got his hand on his forehead. “What the fuck?” Bucky asks, surprised and moving his head back and kind of half-hitting it on the back of the sofa.

“I’m checking for a fever,” he asks, frowning and putting his hand on there again, before moving it down to Bucky’s neck.

Worried that Steve getting so up-close and personal with his neck is gonna make him flush, Bucky swats away Steve’s hand halfheartedly before standing up with a grunt and heading to the fridge. He can feel Steve staring at the back of his head as he grabs a can of beer. “Want one?” he asks, sticking his head out from behind the door and waving the can. Steve has moved up to take a seat on the couch—which is an improvement; the first few times he’d come over he’d just hovered uncomfortably until Bucky told him to sit—and sitting straight and worried. Not for the first time, Bucky is reminded of a golden retriever.

“No I’m good. But I’ll take a glass of water if you don’t mind.”

Bucky rolls his eyes, but shuts the fridge door, and grabs a glass from the cupboard. He fills it from the sink’s faucet before walking over to Steve. He doesn’t think Steve’s stopped looking at him since he got in here. “I’ve got tuberculosis,” Bucky says as he hands him the glass. 

Steve’s eyes bug out and Bucky snorts. It takes a beat, but then Steve is rolling his eyes. “Not funny,” he says.

Very funny,” Bucky argues before muttering, “Just had a bad afternoon.”

Steve takes the glass, fingers brushing against Bucky’s as he does so. So much touching this afternoon. It needs to stop right now. “What happened?”

Bucky heads to the other side of couch and flops on it before opening his can of beer with a hiss. “Had a weird visitor.”

“Yeah?” Steve is still perching on the other end of the couch, sitting close to the end of the seat, back straight and rigid.

“Senator Pierce.” Steve’s brow furrows. “Yeah, I know. Weird.”

“What’d he want?” Steve asks, voice measured and looking away from Bucky for the first time since he came into the damn apartment.

“To see…” He pauses, scratches at the stubble on his chin with his free hand. “Honestly, I’m not sure. Just got a weird vibe from him.” He takes a sip of beer just to give himself a moment. “We didn’t talk about much. Mostly he just wanted to know what I thought about you, whether we trusted each other.”

Steve looks down, jaw tight. “Why?” he asks. His grip on the glass has his knuckles going a bit white.

“Said somethin’ about your track record,” Bucky says, slow and careful.

Steve glances over, quick, face angrier than he’s seen it before, but looks back down again after just a beat. “Yeah?” he asks. Bucky wants to soothe out the creases in his brow, to make sure that he never looks that way again. Angry, and frustrated, and… broken. If there is one thing that Steve shouldn’t be, it’s broken, trying desperately to pull himself together as Bucky watches. Bucky had just thought Steve was quiet about his past. Besides that first day, he never talked about his military work, and hasn’t brought up much about his past. Before today, Bucky just thought that he was shy. Maybe it’s something more. But he also doesn’t want to push. Everyone’s past is their own, and Bucky will never be the guy to push where he doesn’t belong. And it seems like he was right not to do so—Steve looks like there’re a million thoughts in his mind right now, and none of them are good.

So Bucky does what he does best: make light of the situation. “Yeah, don’t know what put a stick up his ass, but I wouldn’t give it too much thought.”

Steve looks up, expression harsh. “Shut up,” he says, burning. His thick brows are pulled together, and he’s barely moving with tension. Bucky feels his stomach drop. There’s a moment of sizzling silence before Steve’s face falls, tension released. “You don’t know? Really don’t know?” he asks, voice small. He stares at his knees.

“Steve?”

“Operation Howling Commando,” he says. Bucky takes a deep breath and exhales in a huff; Steve glances up before looking back down, face looking like its crumpling. “That was me; those were my men.”

No one needs to tell Bucky what Operation Howling Commando was. A group of American Special Ops went into an orphanage. There were supposed to be bombs; there weren’t. But Operation Howling Commando went forward, and the casualty list was long. The media found out soon after that they were given faulty information, that it wasn’t the soldiers’ faults. But looking at Steve’s hunched soldiers, he can see that Steve still carries the weight of those decisions with him.

“Shit,” Bucky says. “Steve.” His voice cracks. “Steve, you were under orders.”

Steve shuts his eyes, wincing. “I’ve heard that. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t—“

Steve,” Bucky interrupts, adamant, moving from the couch to kneel at Steve’s side. He rests a hand on Steve’s knee, gripping tight. “Steve, Steve.” He doesn’t know what to say, how to let this man know that he isn’t what this is, that he’s so much more. So he says that, “You aren’t that, you ain’t one mission.”

“Buck,” Steve says, voice shaking.

“Listen, you know all the shit that I’ve done, the years I fucked around, you never once held that against me, right?”

“That’s different, Buck, that’s—“

“No it ain’t. It’s worse, ‘cuz I just fucked around because I was an angry kid. You wanted to help people. Right?” It looks like it pains him, lips drawn and brow furrowed, but Steve nods. “Steve, buddy, you’re so much, you’re the most…” He’s rambling, he sounds like an idiot, but Steve’s gotta know, he’s gotta know how good he is. He tightens his grip for a moment, trying to think, to articulate. “You’re a good man, Steve Rogers. You’re not your mistakes, and you’re not anybody else’s. You’re you.” He feels a little breathless, and it seems like Steve may not breathing, either. He’s just looking down at Bucky, stiff. “Nobody should make you think you’re less than who you are,” he adds, quieter, not sure if he’s even making sense, but knowing each word is true. 

Bucky moves his hand away slowly, looking into space, over to the window. The outside street is quiet, the streetlights flickering on in the twilight. Bucky exhales, “Sorry,” he says, flopping back from his knees to his butt, farther away now. “Didn’t mean for it to get weird.”

He’s expecting Steve to have a sarcastic quip, to roll his eyes, or do anything besides stare at Bucky, looking quietly devastated. Bucky swallows hard. “Want a beer? I could—“

“Bucky,” Steve says, quiet, low, serious. Bucky bites his bottom lip briefly; Steve’s eyes follow the movement. “Bucky,” he repeats, calm broken by his cracking voice on the last syllable. “You know, right?” Bucky shakes his head slightly. “Idiot,” Steve says small, and fond, lips twisting a little. Bucky isn’t sure if it’s a happy or a sad look, but he can’t bring himself to look away. “I, uh, I have feelings.” When Steve notices Bucky’s raised eyebrow, he rolls his eyes a little before adding, “For you. Feelings for you, Bucky,” while not meeting Bucky’s eyes.

Bucky must take a moment too long to process—because Jesus Christ, Steve Rogers has feelings for him?—because Steve’s face crumples as he starts to stand. “Sorry, Buck, I’ll go, I’ll—“

“What the fuck, no don’t do that,” Bucky says, grabbing Steve’s shin to keep him there, then scrambling to his feet. Because there’s no God—or at least Bucky pissed Him/Her off a long time ago—Bucky looses his balance, falling onto Steve. Which normally wouldn’t be so bad, but because Bucky’s life is one continual joke, he doesn’t fall into Steve’s waiting arms, but sort of flops against his back, clinging like a pathetic starfish, cheek mashing into Steve’s sharp shoulder blade.

“Bucky?” Steve asks, unsure—and frankly a little concerned—and Bucky can’t have that. 

He wraps his arms around Steve’s torso and presses his face to Steve’s neck. “Me too,” he says, feeling his cheeks heat up. “Stupid asshole, me too.”

Steve stops moving—finally—and tries to crane his neck around to look at Bucky. Embarrassed as all hell, Bucky buries his face deeper into Steve’s neck. “C’mon Buck,” he says, soft. “Look at me.” Bucky looks up, and Steve is grinning, even as he’s practically contorting his neck to see him. There’s not a word for the high voltage of the man’s smile, his sparkling blue eyes, and rosy cheeks. Rolling his eyes, Bucky detaches himself from Steve’s back. Steve turns around to face him, and Bucky takes the opportunity to reach up and muss his hair. “Wh-what?” Steve asks, taking a step back and looking at him with wide, confused eyes.

And then Bucky grins. “You looked too perfect,” he says, realizing what a sap he sounds like about .45 seconds after it comes out of his mouth. But then it seems okay, because Steve is wrapping him in his strong arms and pulling him closer.

“You’re wonderful, Bucky,” Steve says. Bucky’s lungs seize up, and he wants to respond, but instead he reaches up on his tip toes and presses his lips to Steve’s. He pulls back after a moment, opening his eyes—when did he even close them?—to see Steve’s shocked expression, his long eyelashes moving as he blinks a few times.

“I’m hopin’ you meant feelings in the kissin’ kinda way,” Bucky hazards, because he was hoping for a bit of a more enthusiastic response than silent staring.

Then Steve nods twice, quickly, mussed hair sort of flopping around with the movement, and moves his hands to Bucky’s face, one thumb resting on his cheekbone, the other on his chin. He pulls Bucky forward and kisses him again. It’s… a lot. Steve’s fingers on his face, Bucky’s hands moving to Steve’s hips and pulling him closer until they’re pressed against each other. Steve is an enthusiastic kisser, a little sloppy but utterly endearing as he presses his tongue against Bucky’s lips. Bucky opens up and Steve groans against his mouth.

“I’ve liked you for so long,” Steve admits as he pulls away a minute later. Bucky moves to nip at Steve’s earlobe. “I’ve liked you…” He pauses, voice turning to a breathy sigh as Bucky kisses down his neck. “Since you were waiting on that street with no shoes on.”

Bucky pulls away, and Steve makes a little unhappy noise from the back of his throat. “Are you kiddin’ me, Steve?” Bucky asks. Steve’s face falls, and Bucky gently pushes at his shoulder. “That was, like, the third most embarrassin’ moment of my life.”

“It was endearing,” Steve says, “And it confirmed that you were interested in, you know…”

“Men?” Bucky prompts before he starts grinning. “I think you can say that.”

Mock sighing, but unable to contain the smile breaking through, Steve grabs Bucky by the belt loops and pulls him close. “I like you,” Steve repeats, and Bucky just kind of wants to melt into him.

So he lets himself fall against Steve’s chest. “Same,” he murmurs. “I like you, too.”

It’s cheesy and romantic, and everything that Bucky’s not, but when Steve kisses him again, Bucky shuts his eyes and lets himself fall into the sensation of Steve’s lips against his, then his head on the pillow of his murphy bed. Steve’s hands are gentle as they pull off his shirt, then his pants, and finally his boxers. Steve shakes a little as he pulls them down Bucky’s chest and stomach and reach lower. “You’re beautiful,” he says softly.

Bucky responds, “I’ve never met anybody like you before.”

And they grin at each other before Steve spreads Bucky’s legs apart, runs a finger along the inside of Bucky’s thigh. “Can I?” he asks.

“Yes,” Bucky responds, breathless, head falling back against his pillow.

“How can I let you go now?” Steve asks softly when it’s all over, the air cooling between them. Bucky is laying across Steve’s chest—his gigantic, sexy chest—and kissing the pale skin when the mood strikes him. The mood is striking him a lot. Steve’s got a hand running through Bucky’s hair, and while Bucky knows that they should clean up, he’s not going to move as long as Steve wants to stay.

Though he wishes Steve would just not remind him of the fact that he has to go undercover into the most infamous ring of drug lords in Brooklyn. It’s kind of killing the just-been-fucked buzz he’s got going on.

So instead of thinking about it, Bucky kisses Steve’s nipple. Steve almost purrs, so Bucky nips at it playfully. “God Buck,” Steve says, shutting his eyes. “I’m so happy I met you.”

“Just ‘cuz I’m a good fuck?” Bucky asks, half-joking.

Steve’s eyes fly open and he seems to try to sit up—though he can’t with the big pile of Bucky Barnes laying on his chest. Instead he flops back, giving Bucky a Very Serious Look. “Because you’re amazing.”

It’s simple, but it’s so perfect. Tears prickle at the corners of Bucky’s eyes. He moves up Steve’s body to kiss his mouth, slow and sweet. When he needs to breathe, Bucky pulls back and rests his forehead against Steve’s. “At least we have this,” he says, soft, the full importance of what he’s going to get into in the next few days really falling on him. “No matter what happens—“

“Don’t talk like that,” Steve says, his harsh tone making Bucky flinch. Steve reaches up and runs a hand through his hair again, a silent apology. “You’ll get through,” he says, then repeats. “You’ll get through, and you’ll come back, and then we’ll go on a date, a real date.”

Bucky grins.

It’s been a long time since Bucky was a kid working for the wrong people. He doesn’t even think he realized what he was doing at the time. He was just unenthused with school, part of a foster system that seemed to keep fucking him over, and generally hated the world. He was angry; a lot of kids are. It started when he befriended some guys who smoked outside of school. He’d cut class with them, sometimes hang out. Then they started inviting him to go with them to bars, to drink a bit, smoke some dope. All of it seemed benign, and it wasn’t like he was going to get into any real trouble. He wasn’t a senator’s kid—no one would care if he did some stuff to make himself feel a bit better.

And then he started running drugs. Nothing too intense, just making deliveries, picking stuff up. He got some cash, bought himself a nice phone and a leather jacket.

When they gave him a gun, he got out.

When Bucky gets to the bar he’s meeting up with his contact at, the bouncer muscles him into a back room. He wants to thrash, to kick whoever it is who has him in the groin and get outta there, but he tries to remain calm, to let them handle him. It’s his job to go into the dark pit. And he’ll get out this time, he’s got someone to go back to this time.

Someone clunks him in the back of his head, and he doesn’t struggle when everything goes dark.

Bucky comes to in a dark room. Well, maybe not a dark room. It seems dark, but that’s because he’s got some kind of bag over his head. He groans and tries to stretch, but realizes his hands are tied behind what is probably the chair he’s sitting on.

And then he hears a gun cock, and feels it being pressed against his temple. Great. Awesome.

“Enough,” says a male voice with a heavy German accent. “Who is this?”

“James Buchanan Barnes.” This voice is female, from the far side of the room. Slight Eastern European accent. “Two years in the NYPD, one in Norfolk, Virginia. Degree in Criminal Justice from Roanoke College after completing a GED. Spent childhood bouncing from foster homes in Brooklyn—nearly completed initiation into AIM ten years ago.” She pauses. “A noted homosexual.” Of course she had to mention that. Is there no privacy anymore, even in criminal organizations? Disgusting and homophobic. He should file some kind of paperwork about it. “Should we get Rumlow?”

There we go, just exactly what Bucky absolutely did not want at all. How to make a bad day worse? Invite Brock Rumlow into the room. Even the part of him that’s trying to stay calm, stay alright dries up at the thought of Rumlow. The guy was muscular and mean. He’s sure that he’s stayed that way.

“No,” says the male voice, and Bucky can’t help but sag a little bit with relief. It’s not like these people aren’t gonna bully him, but if he’s gonna get the shit beat out of him, he’d rather it be done by not Brock Fucking Rumlow. “No, I’d like to have a conversation with Officer Barnes.”

This sounds bad.

Now, Bucky had practiced the whole being captured and tortured for information bit before. With Steve. It was slightly easier, because Steve is actually a terrible actor, and he was distracted by the way his adam’s apple bobbed as he tried to interrogate Bucky; Steve hadn’t even thought to put a burlap bag over his head, which was apparently a mistake. He probably should stop thinking about those sessions though, because popping a boner in the middle of being interrogated by an evil drug lord is probably a bad move.

Unless the German guy is into it. That may make a lot of Bucky’s job easier, but simultaneously worse.

“Leave us,” he says, and Bucky thinks for a bright shining moment that maybe he is into it. Then he thinks of how disapproving Steve would look if he heard Bucky’s thoughts, and he smiles underneath his hood.

There’s the sound of footsteps on concrete. He had no idea how many people were in the room with him, but if the footsteps are any indication, it was probably about four. He must be some kind of persona non grata. It’d be flattering if he weren’t so positive that torture may be involved here. There’s usually torture. It’s not his favorite thing, to be sure. He’s left with the dawning sensation that this… isn’t how things were supposed to happen. At all. It was supposed to be less intense. Their contact would get him in, they’d have a meeting, and Bucky would commit some low-level crimes to get into their good graces. Sure, burlap bags were a possibility, but it seemed like such a faint one. Something has gone wrong, and Bucky feels powerless to fix it.

And then the bag is off his head, and Bucky is face-to-face with a short man with piggish features, a pair of round glasses perched on the tip of his nose. “Officer Barnes, I think it is time you and I speak frankly. You have been brought to us for a reason, and I am here to help you through the career change.”

Bucky swallows hard.

“It’s been six days with no word,” Steve says, pressing a hand to his forehead. He’s sitting at his temporary desk in SHEILD’s Manhattan skyscraper. Sam is sitting on the edge of it, coming in for a break once he was done with his work for the day.

Sam puts a hand on Steve’s shoulder. “Steve, you know how these things are. Nothing comes easily, and he’s not gonna wanna make waves.”

“You’re right,” he says, shutting his eyes tight for a moment. He’s been working from Precinct 107 while Bucky was still around, but Sergeant Fury found an excuse to keep Steve out of the office. After the first day he declared Steve was, “moping” and “generally a nuisance.” Which… was startlingly accurate. But now that he’s back at S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ in Manhattan, his sole focus is the Hydra scheme, and Bucky. He feels Bucky’s absence acutely—he hadn’t realized just how much he’d become part of his life in the months they’ve spent together working on the case, and it aches even more since what happened between them a few days ago. Normally, Steve would try to separate his relationship drama from his work life. Or he would if he had much relationship drama. But because Bucky is his work life, his entire work life, it’s almost impossible not to spend all of his time thinking on it.

At least he’s got Sam here, and he doesn’t have to hide who he is. He was almost sure that Natasha knew what was going on, and who he is, but just refused to say anything out of professional respect. She’s got a sharp mind and is a skilled officer, and if Bucky wouldn’t kill him for even mentioning it, he’d like to see what she’d think about a career at S.H.I.E.L.D..

He wonders whether Bucky would consider a career at S.H.I.E.L.D., but that, he knows, is selfish. The irony is that Bucky is more than qualified to apply, especially given the experience he’ll be getting on the Hydra assignment. Assuming he’s going to live through it. Which he is. Definitely.

(Steve can’t keep thinking about the NYPD carving in that man’s head. Bucky has such a nice forehead.)

“Steve, you with me buddy?”

Sam’s still got his hand on Steve’s shoulder, but is looking down at him with a furrowed brow. “Yeah Sam.” He shakes his head a little, trying to keep those negative thoughts out of there. “I’m just worried.” Six days with no contact seems like too long, and he’s gotten in touch with his superiors about getting some better intel, but has been met with stony silence, and the curt response that an undercover mission can be compromised from too much contact. Steve isn’t sure he agrees, but wants Bucky to come home safe, even if Steve is a wreck until he does.

Sam purses his lips. Sam is smart, and he knows Steve well, probably better than anyone. Steve is sure that Sam’s seen through Steve’s worry and has figured out what’s going on. “We’re gonna go grab a beer” he decides.

“But—“

“Steve, you’ll have your cell, right?” Steve nods. “Then he’ll be able to get in touch.” Steve sighs. “And we’ll go someplace with wifi.”

Steve agrees.

Steve is halfway through his medium-rare burger with white cheddar cheese when his phone buzzes on the table. He drops the sandwich onto the table while he scrambles to pick it up with greasy fingers, nearly dropping it in his haste.

And it’s a selfie of Tony with some new mechanical limb he’s been working on. Steve drops the phone and slumps in his seat, looking at the sprawled out remains of his burger where it lies in a mess on the wood table.

“Steve,” Sam says, low and serious above the background noise of the restaurant. “What is going on?”

“I don’t know what—“

“Cut the crap, Rogers. You haven’t been the same since you started this assignment, and if we’re going to get through this, you need to tell me what has you so on edge.” Steve stares at the burger, breathing heavy through his nose. “It could make a difference,” he adds, low and serious.

“Why am I on edge?” Steve asks, smiling a little as he puts the phone back on the table, then picks up the burger and drops it back onto the plate. “Bucky is there alone, and he hasn’t been in touch, and—“ Steve takes a shuddering breath, and pulls at his hair a little with his greasy hands.

“Steve, what kind of relationship do you have with him?”

Steve swallows, staring down at his uneaten fries as he drops his hands back down to his lap. “I think I’m compromised.”

“Think?” Sam asks, and Steve snaps up to glare. “C’mon Steve, just trying to add a little humor to the situation.” Steve frowns. “But I can see now that it was inappropriate, sorry man.”

Steve shakes his head in small motions. “No, it’s fine. I’ve just been…”

“On edge.”

“Yeah,” Steve agrees. “It’s mutual, if it makes any difference.”

“How long?” Sam asks, gentle.

Steve shrugs. “I… He was really great from the beginning. But I didn’t think…” he mumbles, then adds, “But I didn’t know that he felt the same until a few days before he left. And now he’s—”

“Steve, I hate to ruin the moment, but your phone is ringing.”

Heart rate accelerating, Steve grabs at his phone and heaves a heavy breath when he sees the name on the screen. He swipes across and puts it to his ear, “Hello? Buck? Is that you?”

“Steve Rogers?” a voice asks from the other line. It definitely isn’t Bucky’s.

Steve’s stomach drops.

“Yes?” he answers, cold and mechanic, standing up to go outside where it’s quieter. He weaves through the crowd, ignoring Sam calling his name behind him until he’s out the doors of the restaurant. The person on the other side is suspiciously quiet, so once he’s standing outside he asks, “Who is this?”

“A new associate of your former partner.” Steve’s jaw clenches as he tries to identify the man’s accent. “He is fine, but told us that the one to call is you.”

“What have you—“

“Please, Agent Rogers.” Steve can hear the smirk in the man’s voice, and if Steve has the chance to meet this man face-to-face he’ll punch it off of him. “Would you like to hear your friend’s voice?” he asks, as if placating a child.

“Yes,” Steve croaks, sounding pathetic to even his own ears.

“Very well.” There’s a shuffle, and some muffled talking before…

Before Steve hears Bucky’s voice. “Hello?” he asks, sounding somewhat confused.

“Bucky, it’s me, it’s Steve.” Even though he knows Bucky is in danger, and that this call is highly irregular, he feels so unbelievably relieved to hear Bucky’s voice, especially sounding like he may be alright. Steve falls back against the brick wall of the building, and it’s all he can do to keep his knees from going out.

“Who is Steve?” Bucky asks, probably to whoever it was who gave him the phone.

Steve’s lungs feel tight as he tries to take a shallow breath.

The memory drug. It’s the memory drug. Forget-Me-Nots.

The Forget-Me-Nots were the whole stupid reason that neither S.H.I.E.L.D. nor the NYPD could ever pin Hydra down. It was always the drug. And now they’ve given it to Bucky, Steve’s Bucky, so charming and funny, kind and tender under his sarcastic exterior. And he doesn’t remember who Steve is.

Steve wants to scream.

But he can’t, because Bucky is still on the other line, and there’s no way Steve will give up on him just because he doesn’t remember Steve. They can always be reintroduced if Bucky is still alive. “Bucky,” he says, low. “Bucky, can you tell me who you are?”

There’s a pause, then, “Who the hell is Bucky?” It’s both scared and firm, and Steve isn’t sure if it’s addressed to him or to whoever it is that has Bucky and did this to him. Steve closes his eyes and tries to stay calm.

It doesn’t work.

Biting back a scream, Steve turns around and slams his fist into the brick. “What did they give you?” he asks, trying to at least project some kind of calmness in his voice, if not his demeanor. “Bucky, what did they—“

There’s some muffled noise and a sharp groan from the other line. Steve’s breathing is heavy. “That’s enough chit-chat for now, Agent Rogers,” the voice says.

“I’ll kill you,” Steve responds through gritted teeth, banging his fist into the wall again for good measure.

“He is still alive, Agent Rogers. Would you like to keep it that way?”

“Yes,” Steve responds instantly. He wants it more than anything; he doesn’t care what he has to do. He’ll walk through fire if it means Bucky can come back to Brooklyn after this.

“We will give him to you.” Steve straightens up, and from the corner of his eye he can see Sam walking out the doors and towards him, fast and worried. “But you will need to do something for us in return.”

Steve’s can feel the burger churn in his stomach. “What do you want?” he asks. Sam settles in next to him, knowing not to interrupt. Steve glances at him, and he’s sure his wide, panicked eyes tell Sam all he needs to know, because Sam reaches into his back pocket for his own phone.

“It’s not what, Agent Rogers, but who. Names, Mr. Rogers. We want names.”

“Tom, Dick, Harry—“

“You jest, Agent Rogers, but I have a gun in my hand.”

“Whose names?” Steve asks.

The man cackles. “Everyone’s.”

“Just got a text back from Stark,” Sam says after Steve’s thrown-up his burger and beer. “They traced the call. We’ve got a location.” He leans down and puts a hand on Steve’s slumped shoulder. He’s still gagging a little, and Sam rubs his back. “We’re gonna get him Steve, we’re gonna go get your boy.”

PART II

Eight hours later, Sam makes Steve sleep. “Steve, we’re completely set to infiltrate tomorrow evening. You need some shuteye, or you’re not gonna be any use at all.” Steve wants to argue, but knows Sam is right. He’s been up for over twenty-four hours now, and the sleep he had before that was fraught and worried. He’s compromised. He’s so compromised, and he should’ve reported it when it happened, but it had seemed so small and private, yet so monumentally huge. Selfishly, he wanted to keep those feelings to himself, to keep those events between him and Bucky.

He likes Bucky, he really likes him.

Something clenches in him as he walks to the S.H.I.E.L.D. bunk that serves as temporary housing for agents on duty. He can’t help but replay the confused, helpless sound of Bucky’s voice, and to relive the feeling of knowing that someone you thought you could see a future with not even knowing who you are. Steve already knows he won’t be able to get much sleep, not with these thoughts on repeat in his mind. 

But he brushes his teeth and strips down to his boxers before settling into bed. He’ll shower when he wakes up, he thinks dimly as he tries to fluff up the rock hard pillow, and slinks under a thin, linty blanket. The room is small, with a sink and toilet on one side, and two sets of bunks on the other. It’d be like a cell, were it not for the TV in the corner and the door that, y’know, opens. It’s not meant to be pretty, just livable for a night or two during situations like this.

He shuts his eyes and tries to clear his head. It doesn’t work. He’s not surprised.

So the thing is, Steve had pretty much sworn off relationships when he met Bucky Barnes. When Peggy moved to London, he’d been on a series of bad dates, and a spiral of self-pity that not even Sam could get him out of. He had jumped on the Hydra mission not because he felt any special pull towards the work itself, but because New York—Brooklyn, no less—had seemed like an escape from his funk. Returning to brass tacks, where he came from, it sounded like the perfect idea, a way to shake up his life while returning to something familiar and beloved.

And then he met Bucky.

Bucky, who smirked, and gawked at him on arrival, who was never left speechless. Bucky felt things in a way Steve could only admire—he wore his emotions on his sleeve, his face giving away everything Steve needed to know. He knew what he was feeling at all times, and could communicate it, never left things unsaid. The complete opposite of Steve, who could bottle it all in until he felt like he could explode. Except Bucky made him want to talk. And Bucky seemed like he really cared about what he had to say. Only it was such a struggle, because Steve wanted to listen to him, could hear Bucky talk all day without getting tired of it.

He felt the tug from the very start, this magnetic need to be near this man. Sure, it didn’t seem like Bucky liked him all that much at the beginning, but it didn’t take long before Steve was sure that he knew what he was feeling.

And despite that, Steve sent Bucky in there to die.

“Romanoff?” Steve asks as he walks into the meeting room. The tactical team he’s assembled is there: Sam, Thor, Tony, Rhodey, and Maria. But the room is stuffed full with NYPD additions, including Romanoff, Carter, a man he’s never seen before with blond hair, and Sergeant Fury himself. There’re also a few others there in blue uniforms that he recognizes, but doesn’t know personally.

“You think we’d miss out on the fun?” Natasha responds, then pauses. “And I thought we went through this: I’m Natasha.”

Normally, Steve would smile, but today he’s a bit preoccupied. “Why are you all here?” he asks, genuinely bewildered as he looks around at all of their familiar faces.

“When we heard what happened with one of our own, we thought we’d volunteer our help,” Fury says. He’s sitting by Hill, who looks at him with an aura of respect that she doesn’t give most people. “We all want to see Barnes come home safe.”

Steve swallows hard. “Thank you,” he says, before taking the one empty seat in the room, next to Sam. They must’ve saved it for him, given that they’ve dragged several chairs from other conference rooms in for the extra people. Steve feels…

Well, he feels like there’s hope for the first time since he got that phone call.

“So, Agent Rogers,” Fury begins. “What’s the plan?”

Steve kicks down the door with his steel-toed boot, shooting tranquilizer darts at the goons waiting for them. Subtlety has never been Steve’s style. Tony hacked into their security system beforehand, and Steve is glad to see that they’ve maintained the element of surprise, despite the dramatic entrance. Thanks to Tony, they’ve also gotten a good idea of where they’re headed from the maps he stole from their databases. “Sam, Romanoff, come with me. The rest of you know your assignments.”

With a curt nod, the group splits up. Again, thanks to Tony—who will probably never let Steve live this down—they have a good idea of where the prisoner cells would be. Steve and his party are headed that way, with the rest of them splitting up to arrest everyone they can find on the premises, and to get intel on the organization from within. But Steve is going to find Bucky, and his heart races with the thought that he could be near.

They make it down a few narrow corridors, Romanoff usually shooting whoever gets in their way with a tranq dart before there’s any real trouble. It’s fast-acting stuff developed by Doctor Banner, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s other resident genius, and partner-in-crime with Tony. They’re carrying real ammunition, but are hoping to incapacitate and arrest as many Hydra goons as they can uninjured, and to remove any sort of the memory drug they have on their person before they come to. Barton—Bucky’s former partner, newly reinstated to the NYPD following some hearing damage that’s given him a new set of hearing aids—is following the rest of the group and rounding up the Hydra members to remove any false teeth or packages of Forget-Me-Nots they may have on them. Someone will have to talk.

“Don’t shoot the next one,” Steve says quietly.

“Go for it,” Romanoff says, and her grin is apparent in her tone. She understands what’s going to happen next.

And low and behold, around the next turn is a Hydra goon. Before the guy can even get his gun up, Steve kicks him hard in the stomach. The man doubles over, dropping his gun. Steve spins around, grabbing the goon and putting him in a chokehold. “The NYPD prisoner?” he asks, using his free arm to shove his gun to his temple. The man whimpers, and Steve squeezes harder.

“Downstairs,” he wheezes. “He’s downstairs.” Steve drops him and while the goon takes in a shuddering breath, Natasha shoots him with a tranq. Steve feels no pity as he steps over his unconscious body, one step closer to Bucky.

“C’mon,” Steve orders. Some part of his mind tells him he should be asking more questions, caring about more than one man’s safety when there are things to find out, but he tells himself that Barton will collect them, and they’ll have answers to their questions soon enough. But every moment he hesitates is another moment where the man on the other line could be hurting Bucky, or making him forget even more. Bucky is his mission, and everything else can wait.

They make it down the stairs with little fanfare, Sam and Natasha backing Steve up as they end up confronting two other agents. Then they make it to the basement, where Steve pauses. The basement is made up of a concrete corridor, with several doors lining it. He waits and listens; there’s a voice speaking from behind the first door, a voice he thinks he knows. Steve moves close to it and puts his ear on it to listen in.

“They will be coming for you,” the voice says. The rest of the group falls back behind Steve, while Steve struggles to hear what’s going on behind the closed door. “But you will not leave with them. You trust me, no?” There’s a pause, and the man chuckles. “You vill protect me.”

“Who’s comin’?”

Steve knows that voice.

He nods to his team, who nod back. And then he breaks down the fucking door.

A piggish man is standing next to Bucky, who is strapped to a wooden chair with leather bands across his hands, chest, and feet. Steve freezes. He registers that the man is speaking, but he can’t take his eyes off Bucky. He looks at Steve with a completely blank expression. He gives away nothing, and Steve can barely breathe. Meanwhile, he man is still yapping, so Steve lifts his gun, briefly aims, and shoots him in the shoulder. He goes down without a hitch.

“Let’s grab him and get out of here,” Natasha says.

“Give… give me a second.” Steve takes a step closer, then another. Bucky is just looking at him, eyebrows furrowing a little. He doesn’t seem startled, so Steve closes the distance between them. He kneels down and looks into Bucky’s eyes. “I’m going to undo the straps now. Is that alright?”

Bucky gives a slight nod, and Steve sets to work, undoing the leg straps first, then moving up to his hands. He’s careful not to touch Bucky’s skin in case it startles him, but Bucky is just quietly watching him remove each strap. Steve can feel his stare on him. As he moves up Bucky’s body, Steve notices that, while his clothes are dirty and smell, there don’t seem to be any wounds on him. He’s not bleeding, there’re no strange smells besides the normal stench of sweat. There are bruises at his wrists where the straps held him, but that seems like the worst of it. There’s nothing that makes Steve think that he won’t walk away from this with anything but psychological hurt. That is, if the trauma he’s been through lets him trust Steve enough to come with him. There’s no telling what will happen.

“I’m going to undo the one on your chest now,” Steve explains, reaching for the buckle.

He tries to focus, but then Bucky says soft, “Steve?” in a tone of confusion and wonder, brows furrowing deeper, plush lips turned downwards in a pout.

Steve tries to keep a straight face as his heart races. He could just remember him from the phone call. The German man said his name, after all. “That’s me, Buck,” he responds. They don’t have unlimited time; he needs to focus on unbuckling the strap on his chest and setting Bucky free. Once they’re out of there, they can talk all that they need to. Once he undoes the clasp, Steve asks, “Can you walk?”

Bucky nods.

“Will you come with us?”

“I…” He glances at the group gathered behind Steve. “I don’t know them.”

“You can trust them,” he says. “We came here to save you, to get you out of here.”

He breathes in deep. “I don’t know them,” he repeats, “but I think I…” He reaches out with a tentative hand and runs his index finger down the side of Steve’s face.

“You know me,” Steve says, earnest and heartsick, but hopeful as Bucky’s finger makes its way down his chin and drops back to his lap. “Buck, you know me.”

“I do,” Bucky says, lips curling into a small smile.

That smile feels better than every good feeling Steve has had in his life. It’s twenty-six birthdays and Christmases, the taste of his mother’s pot roast, and a trip Disney World. It’s better than kissing Bucky that first time, and the happy surprise when he had kissed him back. He never wants it to end, and Steve has to resist the urge to wrap his arms around Bucky and squeeze him, and keep him safe. But he can’t. “We need to go. We can talk more once we’re someplace safe. I’m not going to let anything happen to you. I promise I won’t let anything else happen to you.”

Bucky looks contemplative, biting on his lower lip. “Steve?” he asks after a beat.

“Yes Buck?”

“I believe you.”

Steve can’t help but smile as Bucky stands up with shaky legs. He wraps an arm around Bucky’s waist once he’s up. It’s obvious that he hasn’t been upright in a few days, and Steve is happy to give him a hand. He’s even happier when Bucky leans up and says, “Thank you,” softly into Steve’s ear. He wants to kiss, he wants to touch, to confirm that Bucky is here, and real, and safe, but most of all, he wants to take Bucky home.

“C’mon everyone,” he says, pulling Bucky’s weight onto him. “Let’s get out of here.”

Natasha leads the way out of the room. While Steve’s instinct is to head back up the staircase, they hear a shout from another room—male, older—and a grunt. Presumably, they use the other rooms as cells, like they did for Bucky’s…

But something doesn’t feel right about it. If there were other Hydra operatives down here, why haven’t they attacked or run?

“We should check it out,” Sam says, edging in front of Natasha, then Steve and Bucky. He puts his ear to the door, similar to what Steve did at Bucky’s cell. “Can hear something,” he says softly. On my count.” Steve glances at Bucky. Despite doing alright, he looks around himself warily, as if he isn’t sure what to make of where he is, or the situation he’s in. Steve gives him a little reassuring squeeze before Sam tries the door. It’s unlocked. Sam enters first, gun ready with Natasha close behind. Steve and Bucky hang towards the rear, but Steve’s got his gun in the hand he’s not holding Bucky with. They enter another room similar to the one Bucky had been in, though Steve admittedly didn’t register many details of the first room, what with needing to get Bucky out of it. Barren walls and a small window high on the wall. There’s a door in the back, which is the only difference. Well, that and that instead of Bucky strapped down, Senator Alexander Pierce is standing at the corner of the room, leaning against the wall with one arm raised. “My God,” Pierce says, turning to look at the group of agents and officers. “You’re here.”

“Senator Pierce?” Sam asks, lowering his gun. “What are you—“

“They took me last night. I don’t know what happened. I was in my home, and then I was here.” He glances to Bucky, and he frowns. “Officer Barnes, are you alright?”

Bucky tenses and pulls in closer to Steve. He’s shaking. “Senator, are you injured?” Natasha asks, before glancing back at Steve. So she’s suspicious, too.

“I’m wonderful, now that you all are here,” he says. “Now, if you wouldn’t mind escorting me out.” He moves away from the wall, and takes a step towards them. Steve can hear Bucky’s heavy breathing.

“Senator,” Steve begins. “Why would Hydra kidnap you?”

The Senator sighs, shakes his head. “Once they found Officer Barnes, they must’ve gone snooping into why he started this investigation. Since I was backing it, I’m sure I made for an important target.” His posture is straight, no signs of injury. Then why had he been shouting back when they were in the hallway?

“And your security detail?” Sam asks.

“Must have Hydra sympathies.” He heaves a sigh. “I’ll fire them first thing when we get back, make sure they’re arrested to boot.”

“Senator—“ Steve begins, but Pierce interrupts him.

“Excuse me Agent, do we really have time to stand here and question an innocent man?”

“You were there,” Bucky says, and Steve looks down. Bucky’s really shaking now, one hand clutching at Steve’s uniform. His pupils look dilated as he stares at Pierce.

For just a moment, something like fear flashes across Pierce’s features. It smoothes over soon enough, and he wears a political poker face that Steve can recognize from C-SPAN and the news. “Yes Officer Barnes,” he begins, slow, as if Bucky were an overwhelmed child. “I visited your apartment when—“

“No,” Bucky says, shaking his head, long hair swaying with the movement. “No, I saw you when I was—“

“I must’ve been—“

“YOU WERE THERE,” Bucky yells, wrenching his arm away from Steve’s uniform, and trying to pull away from Steve’s grasp. Steve lets go, and Bucky takes a shuddering breath as he straightens. “You watched them from the corner,” Bucky says before whipping around, turning to Steve. “I promise Steve, he was there. He was—“

“The memory drugs must be affecting Officer Barnes’ perceptions.” He shakes his head, features forced down into a frown. He’s not an actor. “It’s such a shame to see a young man cut down and hurt like that.”

And suddenly, Steve understands.

“What drugs?” Steve asks. “We never said anything about drugs.”

Pierce’s face falls. “Well then,” he says. “I’m sorry, I’m truly sorry.”

“Senator Pierce, I’m going to need you to put your hands above your head. You’re—“

“Rumlow,” Pierce orders, voice steady as he pulls his hands up, eyes never leaving Steve’s.

The back door slams open, and six goons come pouring out, Brock Rumlow at the head. Natasha and Sam begin shooting, but Steve is distracted by Bucky. He’s running on shaky legs towards Pierce, who is heading towards that back door. Bucky jumps, and tackles Pierce, who falls to the concrete underneath him. But it’s obvious that Bucky isn’t at his full fighting potential as the two wrestle; regularly, Bucky would have him pinned in an instance. Now, Pierce is fighting back as hard as he can, pulling Bucky’s hair and scratching at his eyes. It’s all Bucky can do to keep him below him. “Bucky!” Steve shouts, dodging a bullet from one of the goons.

“We’ve got this!” Natasha says, knocking the gun from one of the goon’s hands before kneeing him in the stomach. With a punch to the face, he’s out cold.

Steve takes that as permission to push through the crowd over to where Bucky and Pierce are wrestling. He’s nearly there when Rumlow pops up in front of him. “Not so fast,” he says, grinning. “Heard you’re Barnes’ boyfriend.”

“Jealous?” Steve asks, giving a small, unamused smile.

“Just gonna make fucking up that pretty face even sweeter.

Rumlow grins.

Steve takes a deep breath through his nostrils, looking the smiling asshole up and down. He gives a small grunt before throwing the hardest punch of his life straight into Rumlow’s nose. Rumlow’s eyes turn up into the back of his head as he falls to the ground. It’s almost funny. He looks back, trying to see if Bucky saw it, when his heart drops.

Pierce and Bucky have disappeared.

“The door,” Natasha yells as she knocks out another goon.

“Thank you,” Steve says, pulling out his loaded gun—the one with the real ammunition—and heading into the room.

It’s dark, but beneath a singular, flickering bulb, Steve can see that Pierce has Bucky, yanking his hair with a tight grip. Bucky’s left arm hangs limp at his side, twisted in a way that Steve knows can’t be good. “Careful Agent Rogers,” Pierce says in a calm voice, showing a small, rectangular box in his free hand. “One press of this, and this building goes down. All these people inside flattened, your friends and your lover.” He tightens his grip on Bucky, who whimpers. “You don’t want to be responsible for that kind of destruction, not when you’ve taken such pains to keep everyone in here alive.”

“Drop it,” Steve commands. “And let go of him.”

“You’re not in any position to make demands,” Pierce says, thin lips smiling with a cruel tightness. “I hold the power here.”

“You don’t have to do this, Senator,” Steve tries. “These are your associates you’d be killing.”

Pierce looks unimpressed. “Do you think I care for the likes of them? There are always more.” Steve feels sick to his stomach. “Besides, these are all new recruits, excepting a precious few. Why else do you think you made it in here with such ease? Hydra is impenetrable; that’s how Hydra has always been, and I’ve made it even stronger.”

“You planned it all,” Steve says, voice breathy, as if he were punched in the gut. 

“Finally,” Pierce acknowledges, “You’ve gotten something right. First time for everything, Agent Rogers.”

“So you’re in charge.”

“Of course I am.”

It’s all Steve needs to hear. He runs towards Pierce, bracing for impact. Pierce grunts as they hit the floor. Pierce looses his grip on Bucky, who stumbles away, clutching his left arm. “Run,” Steve yells as Pierce struggles beneath him. 

“No,” Bucky says, “Not while you’re—“

“Get off,” Pierce roars, clawing at Steve’s eyes, trying desperately to find some way to incapacitate Steve. Thankfully, Steve is a rather large S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, while Pierce is a somewhat in-shape Senator. Steve pins both of his hands, and uses his knees to get Pierce’s down. Pierce is still struggling, but now the primary goal is to remove the device from his hand without having either of them press it. He tries to pry it out of Pierce’s grasp, but Pierce won’t budge, and tries spitting in his face. Steve shudders a little, and Pierce barks out a laugh. “I’ll press it, Rogers. See if I don’t. I’ll—“

“No.” Steve looks up and Bucky is there, reaching down and grabbing it from Pierce’s grip with his good arm. “No you won’t,” he repeats, sounding a little triumphant as he glances at Steve. Steve can’t help but smile wide. 

Beneath him, Pierce groans. “You don’t understand. This isn’t some poorly run organization of hooligans. This is—“

No longer worried about the device, Steve punches Pierce in the face. When he goes slack, he reaches to his holster for his tranq gun, then shoots him in the arm for good measure. “We’ll need him for questioning,” he explains as he stands up, looking up at Bucky. He’s just about the best thing Steve’s ever seen, even terrified and in pain. Bucky nods slowly, then holds the device out to Steve. “It’s alright. You hold onto it until we can figure out if he was bluffing or not.”

Bucky nods. “Is it over then?” he asks, glancing at Pierce’s unconscious body with furrowed brows.

“I think so. I think—“

He’s cut off by a lumbering figure running through the open doorway, making his way towards Steve. Even through the dried blood crusted down the front of his face, Steve can tell it’s Rumlow, looking wild and feral as he dives onto Steve. Steve braces himself for impact, spreading feet wide and pulling himself in. Except, when he’s preparing for forward force, he’s been shoved from his left side. He stumbles, and it’s Bucky that Rumlow is pouncing on. Steve swerves around in time to hear a sickening crack as Bucky’s head connects with the ground, and to see Rumlow’s mouth as it forms a snarl. The device slips from Bucky’s grip and skids across the floor. Rumlow’s greedy eyes follow its trajectory, and he stumbles over Bucky’s unconscious body for it.

Steve’s body itches to give chase, to pound Rumlow into a pulp, but instead he reaches once again for his gun and pops two darts into Rumlow’s back. His movements start slagging, his half-crawl towards the remote slowing down. But he hasn’t stopped. A few feet away from the remote, Rumlow reaches out with shaking fingers, pulling himself towards the remote.

But he doesn’t make it. 

He flops to the ground, jaw slack and hand only inches away from the remote. Steve makes it over and grabs the remote before returning to Bucky.

He’s not moving.

“Bucky?” he asks, kneeling down next to him. “Buck?” his voice cracks and he doesn’t care. He moves a hand in front of Bucky’s mouth and slumps when he feels breath against it. He’s breathing. He’s alive.

“Steve!” Natasha runs through the door, a bleeding scratch on her cheek, and gun ready. “Sorry about that, how’s…” she trails off, looking at the scene in front of her. “Is he?” she asks with wide eyes.

“He’s alive, but he needs medical attention now.”

She nods, then presses the piece in her ear, ordering a stretcher downstairs.

Steve grabs Bucky’s right hand and presses hard. “Hang in there, Buck. Hang in there, please.”

They don’t let him ride with Bucky in the ambulance. He’s not related, he’s not his husband, he’s not even in the same agency, for Pete’s sake. “Besides,” Hill adds. “We need you to tell us what the hell happened down there.”

Steve swallows hard, nods his head, and lets himself be dragged to debrief after debrief, and no one will tell him where Bucky is, or how he’s doing.

“The dosage was too high, too concentrated,” Banner says, pointing to a series of chemical equations on the projector screen. “It worked like a vaccine. It went into his system, made him forget, but burned through quick. His mind’s been powering through it.” Doctor Banner pauses. “Some of his older memories may not come back, or be a bit fuzzy, but his memories of the past five, ten years should remain somewhat untouched, excepting the traumatic incidents surrounding the initial memory loss. He’s lucky. His brain is young, strong, and its plasticity is in good shape. Someone else may not have been so lucky. He should sleep as much as he can—that is the best thing he can do to heal.”

Steve slumps. “So he’ll be alright.”

“His arm won’t be,” Stark adds.

Steve whips around, looking at the S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist. “What?” he asks.

“That break wasn’t just a break. I’m no medical doctor, but it’s gonna take a lot of physical therapy to get that fixed. Even that may not work. Along with, y’know, therapy therapy.”

“Thank you for that contribution,” Fury says. “And Pierce?” he asks.

“Planned the whole thing from the start,” Hill responds. “Got in touch with us, got us to give him everything. He’s been running the organization for about fifteen years, and has been involved since he was a teenager.” She sighs, and he can hear how tight Hill’s voice is. She was a huge part of the operation—it’ll be on her head when the public finds out that Senator Pierce hoodwinked them, and tricked S.H.I.E.L.D. into thinking that he was going to save everyone from S.H.I.E.L.D. when he was the one who was running it. “He kept it all under wraps, but several of his lackies broke. We’ve also got his confession to Steve recorded, thanks to that earpiece and its video feed.”

A new feature Steve had forgotten about—a micro camera in there to keep agents acting responsibly.

“So long story short: he’s gonna rot in jail for a long time,” Hill adds decisively.“What about this plan?” Natasha asks, leaning back in her chair. “It seems so convoluted.”

“That was the weird thing,” Sam agrees. “Why pretend to get himself captured? And compared to most of Hydra’s plans, it all seems a bit weak.”

“Unorganized,” Natasha agrees.

“That’s the thing we had trouble with,” Hill explains. “Until we heard from this man—“

The equations disappear, and replacing it is a picture of Jim Morita, Pierce’s rumored opposition in the upcoming election. He’s made sweeping promises about reducing corruption within the government, as well as getting crime out of the city. “Morita caught wind of Pierce’s Hydra affiliation,” Hill says. “I talked to him last night—says he didn’t know that he was in charge, but was pretty sure that he was involved. He was just trying to find a way to break the news.”

“So time was running out,” Sam says.

“Hence the disorganization.”

“Hydra’s dissipating as we speak,” Fury says. “Some members moving onto other organizations, but the whole system of operation is trashed. Pierce was the one keeping things running, and was essential to their plans. Without him, they have no system for keeping themselves out of trouble with the law.”

Natasha asks, “Pierce the one who got Rumlow into the NYPD when he had no experience, right?”

Fury shrugs. “When a Senator drops an officer off at your door, you can’t say no.”

“And he must’ve had Bucky picked from the start,” Natasha adds, frowning.

Steve’s lip twitches. “Why?” he asks.

“He’s a good target: bad past, gay, young… Vibrant sex life,” Maria says calmly as Steve blushes and glances down. “Pierce wanted to make himself look like he was being targeted by Hydra along with Bucky. If Bucky had died and become a martyr, think of the impassioned speeches he could make in front of the press. It would give him a liberal bent that may not only get him out of trouble and off Morita’s radar, but give him an edge in the upcoming election. ‘Barnes was an ideal cop, Barnes died for what he believed—‘“

“Stop,” Steve says, staring at the table and clenching his fists beneath it. “Please, stop.”

They’re all looking at him; he can tell. But Steve won’t apologize for being emotional. Bucky’s hurt, he’s traumatized, and it’s Steve’s fault. Despite being a professional S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, he was unable to see the signs around him: he didn’t see that any of this was coming, and was completely blindsided by it all. Steve should’ve looked into Rumlow’s background when they saw him in that bar. He should’ve noticed that Pierce’s visit to Bucky’s apartment was weird, and should have focused on that rather than the sheen of Bucky’s skin after sex. There were so many signs, but he was distracted, he was compromised. And Bucky is the one who paid for him.

He let the person he thinks he may care about the most down, and he’ll live with that for the rest of his life.

“Steve,” Sam says. “C’mon buddy, let’s take a walk.”

Bucky is half-asleep when he hears voices from the open doorway of his room. “It’s fine, Sam. You don’t need to…” Bucky straightens up, almost embarrassed at the way he’s perking up excited like a puppy at hearing Steve’s voice. “Wait, Sam, are we—“

“Go talk to your boy, Steve.”

“Sam, I… Does he even want to see me?”

Bucky snorts. Steve’s such a dork. A dork who needs to get his perky ass in here before Bucky yells that at him.

“You know the answer to that, Steve.” Bucky’s heart is beating a little fast, and the monitors at his bedside beep embarrassingly along with it. “Get in there, Rogers,” the man says, and Bucky doesn’t know whoever else it is outside, but he’s glad that he seems to have at least some of the common sense that Steve lacks, because of course Bucky wants to see him. Right now.

Careful of all the various wiring they’ve got him hooked into, Bucky tries to right himself at least a bit. He knows he looks like hell—his hair is all grown out and greasy, he’s got stubble on his chin and bags under his eyes. But when Steve walks in looking perfect and a little nervous, Bucky’s chapped lips spread into a smile. “Steve,” he says, hearing the hope in his own voice.

Steve looks up with wide, blue eyes. “Buck,” he says, voice cracking. “Buck, I…” he trails off, shoving his hands into his pockets and looking down. “I’m sorry.”

“For what, you bozo?” Bucky asks, and Steve looks up sharply.

“Everything,” he says. “All of this. If it weren’t for—“

“Steve,” Bucky says, as clear as he can. “Steve, this wasn’t your fault.”

“No, I—“

“I need you to listen to me,” Bucky says, then grunts a little as he sits up. In a second Steve is at his side, shifting a pillow behind his back. He hovers there when he’s done, looking at Bucky with puppy dog blue eyes. Bucky tries smiling, a little hurt and a little sad. “Steve, this wasn’t you. If it was you, then it was me too, and I don’t want it to be either of us.”

“You’re hurt,” Steve says. Bucky restrains the, ‘duh’ that’s threatening to come out.

Instead, he just rolls his eyes a little. “Yeah, I’m hurt, so stop actin’ like you’re the one who’s lyin’ here.”

That makes Steve crack a smile, then it falters. “Wish you weren’t.”

“Me neither,” Bucky admits. “But here I am.” He wants Steve to reach out and touch him, but he looks like he wants to keep his distance. It breaks Bucky’s heart, and honestly kind of pisses him off a little. “I’ll probably be here for a while. My arm…” It’s in a cast now, but the doctors aren’t sure about how it’s going to heal. “It’s not gonna be the same, they don’t think. They may even have to…” He swallows, and tries not to think about it.

“But you’ll figure it out,” Steve says with the saddest, most heartbreaking smile Bucky has ever seen in his life. Steve is a master at sad smiles. It’s amazing; he should give lessons, or go on those commercials with the dogs in shelters. He’d earn them a ton of money with the look he’s giving Bucky right now. “I know that you will.”

“Wish it was gonna be that simple.” And Bucky lets his previously hopeful demeanor slide for a moment. He hasn’t quite let himself think of what’s going to happen after he leaves this hospital. He was just trying to see if Steve would get off his perky ass and visit him. That felt like Step One. He’s not even sure what Step Two is yet.

And then Steve moves closer. “Can I…?” he asks, hand hovering above Bucky’s shoulder.

“‘Course,” Bucky says.

Steve lets his hand rest on Bucky’s shoulder, and while Bucky could think of a million ways that the situation could be better, it seems like at least now a little of that weight is lifted with each moment of contact. “I remember everythin’,” Bucky says. “‘Bout us. If you were wonderin’ at all…”

“I was,” Steve admits. He glances around the room, eyes resting on a chair on the other side. “Just gimme a sec.” He lifts his hand and walks over to it. Bucky watches him drag it back to the other side. It all seems so futile, and a little silly, and Bucky feels his heart swelling. Steve sets the chair down back where he was standing, close to the bed. Then he reaches out and takes Bucky’s right hand gently in his. His thumb makes small circles against his knuckles.

“It’s not, um.” Bucky says. “I wake-up in the night.”

“Nightmares?” Bucky nods. Steve smiles, and it’s a little less sad. Just heavy. Bucky thinks he understands it a little more now than he did a few weeks ago. “I get them, too.”

“And I can’t really do anythin’ right now.” Steve looks good in hospital fluorescent lighting. How is that even possible? Bucky looks like he was run over with a car. “Can barely shit on my own.”

“Must be hard since you’re so full of it.”

Bucky lets out a heavy laugh, which may also be a bit of a sob. Thankfully, Steve ignores it, just keeps stroking his hand. “If you want out,” Bucky says after a moment. “It was only for three days, and now I’m—“

“Hey now,” Steve says, reaching over and running a hand through Bucky’s greasy, disgusting hair, and even acts like he likes it. “Don’t you realize how gone I am on you?”

Bucky lets himself smile. “Yeah?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Steve responds, leaning down and pressing a kiss to Bucky’s mouth.

He feels like Sleeping Beauty, waking up with a kiss.

Three Years Later

Bucky is running late, which is not all that unusual, but is kind of an issue tonight. The problem was that he had gotten the suit to the tailor’s later than he meant to, and then they had his old measurements—not the Tony Stark Patented Robot Arm—“cybernetic limb” Tony admonishes in Bucky’s mind, which ew, creepy— measurements, and they had to do a rush job in the afternoon to get it fixed.

But he does look pretty good, if he does say so himself.

Today had been a good day. It’s his 5th anniversary in the 107th—including the time he had off after the Hydra incident—and while the cookie cake was subpar and Barton ribbed him about having to leave early, Fury had invited him into his office to hear the eye patch story. It was better than Bucky could have ever imagined. Hilarious and heart-breaking, and it put Fury into an entirely new light for him.

Of course, he’s not allowed to tell anyone on pain of death. “I know what you’re thinking Barnes, and if Rogers hears one syllable of that story, you’ll be out of a job.” He understands that look in Fury’s eye, and even though it’ll be tough keeping this secret from Steve, he’s going to have to.

Speaking of Steve, Bucky glances at his phone. It’s already 7:13. He had taken a cab to save time, but now it seems like the rain has slowed traffic enough that he’s going to be later than ever. He’s surprised Steve hasn’t sent him a text yet—either worried or snooty, and given all of the drama of the day, he’s sure that Steve is probably the former—but refrains from sending one himself. It’ll be five minutes, he tells himself. Only five minutes.

Twelve minutes later, he’s entering the steamy little restaurant Steve picked out for tonight, shaking the water from his hair. “Mr. Barnes?” the host asks. Bucky nods, slow and a little confused. Maybe he saw him on the news three years ago when the Hydra story broke out. It was cool being recognizable for about three seconds, until it was actually so irritating that he almost never wanted to leave the house. The worst were the days after his surgery, when he was hurting and getting used to the whirr of his new arm, and people wanted to shove cameras in his face and ask about Alexander Fucking Pierce.

But if there’s any sort of hero worship or Hydra-sympathizer hate, Bucky’s no feeling it. The guy just leads him back into the dark, quiet fondue restaurant to a booth where Steve is waiting for him. Steve has a blue balloon on the table. It’s adorable. “Steve,” Bucky says, closing the space between them and leaning in for a quick kiss. “Sorry I was late, got caught up at the tailor’s, then the roads were a mess.”

“Buck, it’s okay, I get it,” Steve says. Bucky looks at the table. They’re at one of those tiny two-person corner booths that Steve takes up, like, 90% of with just his pectorals alone. Not that Bucky minds—snuggling up against Steve on cold nights has yet to lose its appeal, even after that rough year where neither of them could sleep through the night. It’s kind of great, actually, since they seemed to get the really rough part of their relationship done with. Nothing could be uglier than those months where Bucky was… really recovering. Not that he’s 100% now, or ever will be, but things are better now.

“Can I sit on the outside?” Bucky asks. “Just ‘cuz you know I’m gonna go piss, like, eight times during dinner because this place takes so long, and Steve?” Bucky asks, because Steve slid out of the booth, but not to stand or anything. In fact, he’s sliding lower. “Are you havin’ a stroke?” Bucky asks, a little panicked as he looks around.

“What? Bucky, I’m fine,” he says before reaching into his back pocket. Maybe he dropped his credit card from his wallet, or wants to steal a napkin? Bucky is really confused until—

Until Steve is reaching up to Bucky with a little black velvet box.

Bucky’s throat goes dry.

“See, you got here late,” Steve explains. “And I just don’t think I can wait any longer.”

“Steve?” Bucky asks, voice breaking.

“I love you,” Steve starts, which admittedly is a great way to begin. “And I want us to have happy things together, and to think of, and to look forward to. I want to share my life with you, and I want to be a part of yours.” Bucky feels something warm bubbling up in his stomach, and his arm whirrs to life at his side. “We’re good together, better, even. And even though putting a ring on our fingers won’t change anything about how much we care about and love each other, I just really… I really want to marry you.”

“Jesus Steve,” Bucky says, and for a moment, Steve’s look of concentration falters. “Yeah I’m gonna marry you.”

Steve’s grin is huge and white, and he pops up to wrap his arms around Bucky and squeeze him tight. Bucky presses his face into Steve’s neck and breathes in, his fiancée—his future husband—warm and solid and real, whispering sweet things into Bucky’s ear.

And Bucky realizes he’s grinning too, pulling away from Steve. “Okay, let’s see that ring,” he says, grabbing the box from Steve’s fingers. “And if it’s a Ring Pop, I’m gonna be seriously pissed.”

“Only the best for my husband,” Steve says, resting his hands on Bucky’s hips and pulling him closer while Bucky fiddles with the box.

“It’s round,” Bucky says, pulling the silver ring out of the box and putting it on his left hand. “Very nice.”

Steve grabs at his hand, and raises it to his lips, kissing the ring, lips lingering before he pulls back and looks down at it, smiling, but quieter now. “It’s perfect.” He looks up. “And so are you.”

“Not quite,” Bucky says, moving in to peck Steve’s lips. “But we do okay.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

They look at each other, grinning like lunatics before Bucky’s stomach growls. “So,” he begins, trying not to ruin the moment, but totally ruining the moment.

“I already ordered,” Steve says, sitting down and scooting into the inside part of the booth before Bucky sits down. “And the waiter said the food’ll be out ten minutes after the acceptance or rejection.”

“Different menus for different outcomes?”

Steve smiles, resting a hand on Bucky’s knee. “Thanks for saying yes, Buck. Otherwise our dinner would’ve been only bitter herbs.”

Bucky laughs, and Steve does too, and somehow all the shit seems worth it, to be here in this booth after five years in the NYPD, three years with the love of his life, and a whole future ahead of them.

END