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It always took Steve longer to fall asleep when he was alone. He'd gotten used to the extra warmth of another body in the bed, so in winter when he managed to find an excuse not to go out to whatever dance Bucky had wanted to drag him to, he'd spend time reading or drawing in bed to get warm enough to sleep. Most nights like that, Bucky would come home late at night, a little drunk, and Steve would wake up to be regaled with the stories of the dames he'd danced with, and whichever dumb idea for a double date he'd come up with this time.

Steve loved those stories, because the walls were so thin that Bucky had to whisper them in his ear as he settled into bed. Before they moved out of the orphanage, he’d tried to tell himself that he loved Bucky’s stories because of the dames, but he never really managed to convince himself even then. These days he had made peace with himself, knew what he wanted, and knew what that made him. But wanting didn’t mean getting. Every so often he’d entertain the idea of finding one of those queer bars and think about it for a couple of days, before catching sight of himself in a mirror. He wouldn’t want to screw a guy like him, so why would any other guy? It would just be another place to be ignored—only with the chance of being arrested, or worse, the chance of Bucky finding out where he’d been. So he kept his secrets, holding on to a vague hope that someday some girl would like him enough for a second date, and a stronger hope that Bucky would never, ever find out the way he felt about him.

Tonight, though...

Tonight the door opened, and Steve opened his eyes to see Bucky in the dim streetlight coming through the curtains. He saw Bucky toe his shoes off, but instead of undressing, he sat on the end of the bed. Steve sat up and scooted down to be next to him, leant in and whispered, "Bucky?"

Bucky shot him an odd look, started to open his mouth to say something a couple of times, then stopped. Finally, he whispered, "When the O'Rilley boys used to beat you up, they called you a fairy. Just you. They were right, weren't they?"

Steve went cold, shivers going down his spine. He half-formed a denial but couldn't go through with it, couldn't lie to Bucky even if it meant... well, he knew how well Bucky could fight. He looked away, breathing, "Yeah."

But the blow didn't come. Instead it was a soft touch on his face, and Bucky was kissing him, insistent, tongue parting his lips. Steve hadn't kissed anyone before, but tried to give as good as he got. He almost wondered if he was still asleep, if maybe he was going to wake up with sticky pyjamas and Bucky snoring beside him.

Bucky broke off and moved to whisper into his ear, "Had to piss on the way home. Ducked into an alley, pissed, and was gonna get going again when these two guys walk down, look like they're up to no good, so I get outta sight. Then they start kissing, and, Jesus, Steve, I saw everything. I never wanted anything so bad. Wanted you. Been walking around for hours to get up the courage to do that."

"Bucky, I want—I don't even know—"

Bucky kissed him again, more aggressively this time, and pushed him back onto the bed. The bed's elderly springs gave one of their horrendous squeals, and they both froze. But the softly heard sounds of snoring from either side of them continued. Bucky rolled his eyes, then with one movement picked up both Steve and an armful of bedding and put them on the floor. Steve made a face at this; he hated when Bucky emphasised how much stronger he was. But Bucky was grinning and stripping off his shirt and tie, and looking at Steve like he should be getting naked too. Steve fumbled at the buttons of his pyjama top, just about managing to get them undone before Bucky was kissing him again, pushing him backwards to lie on the floor.

He could feel Bucky's erection pressing into his thigh, and he unconsciously bucked upwards. Bucky pulled back and looked at him for a moment, and Steve had never seen him look at anyone like that— dark and hungry—then leaned in to whisper hotly in his ear, "Steve, I want to. Like I said you could do with a dame if you didn't want to knock her up."

Just the idea of that had Steve pressing up, breathing, "Yes, please, Bucky, yes," into his ear.

"Hands and knees."

Steve sat up to see Bucky reaching for the tub of Vaseline that was usually somewhere around the bed because of the number of scrapes and bruises Steve ended up with. He couldn't help but stop and stare, to just look at Bucky, all the muscles and hair and masculinity that Steve somehow missed out on. Then he realised that Bucky was staring back, his stare almost predatory.

Bucky mouthed 'hands and knees', and Steve obeyed. A warm, Vaselined finger traced down his ass crack, then slid inside. He swallowed his gasp of surprise, tried to relax (Bucky had been quite clear about this: “You gotta get the dame to relax, they can take it, just gotta relax”—something that had coloured his darkest fantasies ever since). He could feel that Bucky was trying to stretch him, and then there was another finger. Suddenly, Bucky's fingers pressed something, so good but so surprising, and Steve couldn't suppress his gasp.

Bucky slapped his other hand over Steve's mouth and paused, not removing his fingers. Then, as there had been no banging on the walls or sounds of neighbors getting up, started again, pushing and stretching, and this time Steve was pushing back, trying to get that spot again. He pulled his fingers out and—oh, that was his dick, and Steve was willing himself to relax as Bucky slowly pushed in. It burned and stretched and Steve felt almost that he should burst with it, but he still pushed back.

Bucky leaned forward and whispered in Steve's ear, "You good?"

Steve nodded fervently, and Bucky began to thrust, still with one hand over Steve's mouth, but now with the other Vaseline-slick hand on his dick. Three or four thrusts and Bucky hit the spot again, and kept hitting it, and Steve was almost overwhelmed, wanting to push back onto Bucky's dick and push forward into his hand at the same time. Too soon Steve was coming so hard he saw blue-black and collapsed onto his elbows. Bucky kept going, faster, and Steve was biting his tongue because it still felt good, but too much after he'd just come, then Bucky thrust with a stuttery-jerk and stopped. Steve barely managed to suppress a whimper as Bucky pulled out, could feel his come dripping out of his ass.

He rolled onto his back, not sure that he could move any further just yet, but Bucky had already stood up and was fishing a handkerchief out of the drawer. He wiped them down, did the best he could with the sheet, and Steve could see that he was considering picking him up to put him back on the bed. As he certainly wasn't incapable, he stood up and helped Bucky get the bed back in order.

Bucky spooned against his back, closer than he ever had before, one arm tight around his waist, both of them still naked.

"Tomorrow night," Bucky whispered in his ear. "We're gonna go out dancing, ‘cos I found us a pair of sisters." Steve's heart sank, but Bucky kept talking. "And as soon as we can, we're gonna ditch them and come back here and you're gonna do that to me, ‘cos I want a piece of what made you come like a damn train."

That went straight to Steve's dick, even though there wasn't a chance of him getting hard again. He couldn't think of what to say other than to wriggle back into Bucky and breathe, "Yeah." He was already falling asleep.

He awoke to kisses on his jaw, the room bright with sunlight not blocked by the thin curtains. "Mornin', sleepy."

Steve smiled, sore but almost elated. "Mornin', darlin'."

Bucky chuckled and kissed his cheek. "Honeybun."

"Babydoll."

Steve rolled onto his back, and Bucky stopped smiling and looked horrified. "Shit, Steve, your face."

Bucky grabbed the tiny mirror that lived on the dresser and passed it to Steve. There, by the side of his mouth, were three neat fingerprint bruises. They couldn't be anything else; they were the sort of bruises that meant questions. Steve put the mirror back and looked at Bucky. "You're going to have to punch me."

"What?"

"Cover the smaller bruise with a larger one."

"I can't-"

"Got a better idea?"

Bucky looked miserable. "No. I just—hitting you—"

"Guess I need to learn to be quiet." Steve stood up. "C'mon."

Bucky manoeuvred Steve until he was standing in the clearest part of the tiny room, so he wasn't pushed back into anything.

"You gotta do it properly, Buck. Hard as you can." Steve barely breathed that.

"Sorry." Then Bucky swung a heavy punch that knocked Steve to the floor. Bucky was next to him in an instant, arms around him, mumbling apologies.

Steve was in quite a bit of pain, but he didn't want Bucky to feel any worse, so he slurred, "What's it look like?"

"Right place. Glad I didn't bust your lip. Gonna take a while to bruise though."

"Think anyone heard?"

"You don't weigh enough to fall noisy."

"Jerk. You need to be getting to work."

Bucky kissed him gently on the undamaged side of his mouth and stood them both up. "Good thing you don't. At least you got timing, Rogers."

Steve couldn't settle all day, so by the time Bucky came home their room was practically sparkling, everything cleaned, sorted, arranged and re-arranged. His new bruise was darkening in nicely, so there was no excuse to stay home from their double date.

The sisters were predictably disappointed with Steve. But Bucky bristled more than usual, coming so close to insulting Steve's date that Steve had to tell him to back off. Their dates dumped them early in the evening, giving both of them a filthy look as they headed off.

As soon as they were safely behind their locked door, Bucky was kissing down Steve's neck, avoiding his swollen face.

"Stop," hissed Steve.

Bucky drew back a little and looked at him.

"Tonight...we've got to be convincing, Bucky."

"What?"

"You getting at that girl. It was too much. Can't you see?"

"If she can't appreciate you—"

"Then you need to step back and be more interested in your date than in me."

"I was that obvious, huh?"

"Yeah, you were. You got a reputation as a skirt-chaser to keep up. Otherwise people will talk."

"I will. Promise." Bucky leaned in to kiss him again, but Steve stopped him.

"Why me?"

"Huh?"

"I I know how much the girls like you. Sure there'd be guys who'd like you too. I want to know if this is just...convenient."

"Convenient is Ingrid Helmann who don't have the morals her mom taught her. This ain't convenient. This is me wanting you bad enough to do something stupid about it." He threaded his fingers into Steve's hair, their faces so close their noses almost touched. "You think you're nothing, but you're everything." He grinned. "C'mon."

Bucky pulled him towards the bed by his wrist. Again he pulled the top sheets and blankets off the bed onto the floor and started stripping off his clothes. Steve did the same, and soon they were naked in each other's arms again. Steve wanted to kiss Bucky properly, like he had the previous night, but his face was too swollen for anything more than closed-mouth pecks of the lips.

Bucky hissed into his ear. "Fuck me."

Steve didn't need a second invitation, grabbing the Vaseline as Bucky got onto his hands and knees. He slid his slicked fingers in, trying to work out where Bucky had pressed that had felt so good, and was rewarded by a silent shudder from Bucky. He aimed there, sliding another finger in and stretching, feeling Bucky's silent reactions. He slicked up his own dick, but he wasn't as patient as Bucky, sliding home in one motion because it felt too good not to, a tight heat that felt so good that he had to bite his lip and recite baseball scores in his head to stop himself from coming there and then. Bucky tensed beneath him, and he worried that he'd gone too fast, but after a moment Bucky moved and Steve took his cue, trying to angle his thrusts to hit the sweet spot. He slid one hand round to grasp Bucky’s dick, and he wanted to do this forever, but knew that he wasn't going to last. He sped up with his hand, felt the hot spill of Bucky's orgasm, and followed him a couple of thrusts later. He flopped onto Bucky's back for a moment before making an ungainly slide to the floor.

Bucky had turned over and was grinning at him like the cat that had got the cream, then stood up and cleaned them both up. They curled around each other in bed again.

Bucky was whispering in his ear. "You're not gonna get all guilty-looking in church tomorrow, are you?"

Steve turned over to face Bucky. "I'm not going to look guilty because I don't think it's wrong."

Bucky looked genuinely surprised. "Pretty sure the church says different."

"I just...they're not right about everything. It's not wrong. It isn't."

"Remember when we were in third grade, Mrs. Martin said you were the only kid who knew right from wrong?"

"You going to contradict Mrs. Martin?"

"Wouldn't dare."

As he closed his eyes and snuggled closer in to Bucky, Steve made a silent prayer. I think I'm right, Lord, but I know that just about everyone thinks different. A sign would be nice. I want to be sure.

They walked together to church, like they did every week, falling in with everyone else who was heading there. Steve's fan club of middle-aged ladies cooed over his bruised face, suggested twenty different remedies, scolded him for not eating properly to build himself up—the same things they did every time he turned up to church battered and bruised. Bucky looked a little uncomfortable when they scolded him for not looking out for Steve, but not enough to attract attention.

Their minister was a master of fire and brimstone sermons. The middle-aged ladies approved of this, and would often quote bits back at Steve on their way home from church as things that awaited the “terrible sinners” who beat him up. So when the minister stood up and said, "Today's sermon is on Leviticus 19:18, ‘love thy neighbour as thy love thyself,’" Steve had to stop himself from grinning. His eyes flicked to the figure on the crucifix over the altar. He'd asked for a sign, and he had one.

From that point Steve felt like his life had two compartments: one where there was working, failing to avoid getting beaten up, being ignored at dances; the other, the one that only existed behind the closed door of their room, where he was loved, where they made love, where they whispered secrets and promises to each other in the dark of the night. Secrets like: Bucky—the first boy in their grade to kiss a girl, the first to visit a hooker, the first to get a girl to put out for him—had always kinda wanted to be kissing the boys.

They must have been ideal neighbors, he thought. They got so used to having to be quiet that they ended up being quiet all the time, with even everyday conversations being spoken softly.

On Steve’s 21st, after they’d seen the fireworks and the parades, they’d come home and Bucky had produced a bottle of booze (Steve knew not to ask where he’d got it from), toasted him, and then leaned in to whisper, “You were a dame, I’d have walked you up the aisle.”

As usual the alcohol was going straight to Steve’s head. “I was a dame, you’d have knocked me up and I’d have made you walk me up the aisle.”

Bucky laughed, but then smiled with such fondness that Steve could almost physically feel the warmth. “Jerk. I mean, you ain’t getting rid of me. You and me. Always.”

“Always.”

And when he thought that it would be like that forever, it wasn't. There was no question about enlisting; it was the right thing to do. Even though that meant abandoning the only good part of his life, he knew he had to make that sacrifice.

But they took Bucky, not him. And suddenly Steve was aware that while he'd die for his country without pause, the idea of Bucky doing so, of Bucky dying without him, was the sacrifice that he couldn't make. But that didn't matter. There was nothing he could do, except keep trying to enlist, keep trying to follow.

The night before Bucky shipped out, Steve couldn't stand to be part of another double date and watch someone else dance with Bucky—the reason why he slipped away, the reason why he met Dr Erskine. He hid the papers when he got home and didn't tell Bucky anything when he arrived back from his dance. He knew that Bucky wanted to keep him safe, and he wasn't about to break that illusion just before he left. They made love desperately in their heap of sheets on the floor, and Steve had never wanted more to cry out, to let what he was feeling out. Wanted to mark Bucky, scratch his fingers down his sides or bite his shoulder—but he wasn't going to. They ended up lying on their sides, arms and legs tangled together.

"Steve, you gotta promise, if I don't make it—"

"Bucky—"

"It's war, I might not. If I don't, you got my bank book, all my pay's going in there. You go to art school or something, you make yourself the guy I know you can be. You don't mope."

The thought of losing Bucky was too much, and Steve could feel tears gathering. He had to talk about something else. "Well, you're gonna seize the day when you're in Europe without me, ok? So some handsome guy comes on to you, you go with him."

"You telling me to cheat on you?"

"I'm telling you that you can make it up to me later."

Bucky chuckled softly. "Same for you, punk. You get an offer to get laid, you take it. And I will demand that you make it up to me."

Steve kissed him. "Think we should make it up to each other in advance."

Afterwards, Steve tried to stay awake, to keep every moment, but he couldn't, and drifted to sleep with his head on Bucky's chest, Bucky stroking his hair. In the morning they said their goodbyes in the apartment, as Bucky had said, "You come to see me off, I might do something dumb like kiss you in the street".

They kissed for the longest time, neither of them wanting to break it off and make everything final, until eventually Steve took a step back and said, "You gotta go. Leave some Nazis for me, ok?"

Bucky just smiled, darted in for another quick kiss and was out of the door. Steve didn't know how long he stood staring at the closed door.

---

London was distracting enough for the feeling of missing Steve to be if not entirely forgotten, then not at the forefront of Bucky’s mind. They had a few days to themselves before going to the front, and they were damn well going to enjoy them. Especially as the fog had come down, which made seeing more than a few feet difficult, even made breathing difficult, but importantly, meant that the German bombers were grounded too. They had a full night out without any interruptions ahead of them.

He judged himself against the seven other guys he was heading out with, and rated his chances with the dames pretty highly—especially as it seemed half of the girls would drop their panties at the sight of a U.S. Army uniform. Screwing some forgettable dame in an alley wouldn't be his first choice, but he'd take what he could get. Safely get. He was sure there were places to pick up guys in this town, but Bucky didn't have a clue how to find them, and he wasn't about to start taking risks to find out.

They headed out of their quarters, almost immediately got lost in the fog, and after cursing each other's lack of navigation to high heaven for some time, eventually ran into three ATS girls who baited them with increasingly ludicrous directions for a while before leading them to a pub.

The ATS girls were nice enough, but he had the feeling that they were Good Girls, and that was definitely not what he was looking for tonight. So as soon as he was through the door, Bucky scanned the bar—and found himself almost pinned into place by the most blatant checking out he'd ever received from a guy. He couldn't help it; he stared back, checked the guy out. He was British Army, an officer (usually a sign that Bucky was in a more expensive bar than he wanted to be in), good-looking and a little shorter than average, with floppy hair and a cocky smile, obviously with three other officers at the bar. The guy raised an eyebrow and angled his glass towards the bar—an open invitation.

Bucky came back to himself, realising that he was with seven other guys from his unit—seven other guys that he was going to be fighting with and who were not going to find out that he was a queer. He hurriedly sat down with the others and started flirting with the blonde ATS girl. She was pretty, and had a wicked sense of humor. Normally he would be enjoying himself, but he found his eyes skittering back to the guy at the bar. Whenever he looked that way, the guy would make eye contact, smile a knowing smile at him, and Bucky would look away again.

The girls slipped off to the ladies’ room together, and as soon as they'd left the table, Murdoch turned to him and said, "Barnes, you bastard, just stop. You don't want it, so let someone else have it."

"What?"

"The girl, Barnes. You and that guy at the bar been eyeing each other up all evening, and you're still stopping anyone else getting near her."

Bucky's heart thumped in his chest, but he kept casual. "Don't know what you're talking about—"

Dugan took his cigar out of his mouth and looked at him levelly. "It ain't fair, is what we're talking about. A queer and still taking the dames." Bucky thought he was going to puke right there in the bar. "You're not some master of disguise, Barnes, we knew. So leave the dames to us."

The other guys were nodding. Bucky opened his mouth to protest, to deny it, but Dugan and Murdoch shared a look and stood up, each of them taking one of his elbows, and virtually dragged him to the bar, shoving him next to the guy he'd been watching all evening. Dugan grinned. "This here is Bucky Barnes, and I think you want to buy him a drink."

They left Bucky at the bar, leaning hard on it to stop himself falling over. The guy smiled widely, put his hand out and Bucky shook it, working on autopilot. "Charles Hall. I like your friends. What are you drinking?"

"Whiskey." His head was spinning and that was probably a bad idea, but he'd said it now. He realised that the guy's—Charles'—friends had moved away. They couldn't be more obvious. This was not going to end well.

"Drink up old chap, there's a war on. Don't want to waste it."

Bucky looked at the drink that had appeared next to his elbow without him realising. He downed it, which was a pity as it was a damn sight better whiskey than he was used to.

"Calm down. If your friends were bothered, they wouldn't have brought you to the bar, would they?"

"Guess not."

Charles leaned in slightly and spoke in a lower voice. "I'm afraid that the exigencies of wartime have rather dulled my appetite for subtle flirtations. So, to cut to the chase - sex?"

Bucky couldn't help but grin. "Ain't screwing you at the bar."

Charles grinned back. "Parents have gone to the country for the duration, leaving a rather empty house. Few stops on the train. Coming?"

"Thought that was the idea."

Charles laughed and drained his drink. Bucky followed him out of the pub, not confident enough to look over to the guys from his unit. It was now completely dark outside, and while Charles had a dimmed flashlight, in the fog it barely penetrated two feet in front of them.

"How d'ya find your way in this?"

"Practice. Count road ends, follow the tram lines, that sort of thing. Besides, I find it has advantages." He pinched Bucky's ass.

Bucky laughed. "Hey, I ain't that kind of girl."

"By the end of the night you will be, ducky."

They flirted their way to the station. Bucky was suddenly worried about being seen there; as there was no good reason for a British officer and a U.S. NCO to be together, just being seen with each other was suspicious. But the station wasn't bright like the ones back home—just a few dim lights to comply with the blackout, and the fog was, if anything, even thicker here. It was an in-between sort of time, too late for people finishing work, too early for people coming home from a night out, so it seemed pretty empty anyway. He relaxed and let Charles buy him a ticket (after thinking for a moment that he shouldn't let himself be bought, then deciding that he really didn't give a damn).

They got on the train, entering an empty compartment, the light strange from the blue-painted bulbs, blackout blinds at the windows. As the train started, Charles said, "I do love trains without corridors, don't you?" and kissed Bucky.

Bucky pulled back automatically, then realised that they really were alone and no one was going to disturb them until the next station, and leaned back to kiss him. It felt like they'd only been kissing for a few moments when Charles pushed him back into his seat and said "Station."

"You've done this before."

"Practice makes perfect."

The train slowed and stopped. No one opened the door to their compartment. They grinned at each other and started kissing as soon as the train started moving again.

They went through a few more stops like that, then, "This is us, come on."

He followed Charles out of the station, still in complete darkness and fog. But the sidewalk here didn't have buildings at its edge; instead there were neat hedges and garden walls, gates so widely spaced that Bucky realised that the houses behind them must be big, detached, rich-guy places. Charles led him into a house, then straight upstairs to a slightly oppressive bedroom, all dark wallpaper and dark carpet. They kissed, then Charles was undoing his tie and turning down the covers on the bed.

"Master bedroom. I find there's a certain frisson to having sex in one's parents' bed, don't you?"

Bucky didn't feel like sharing the fact that by the time sex was on his mind, he didn't have any parents, that he'd had sex in an actual bed maybe twice in his entire life, and had no idea what a frisson was anyway. "Long as they ain't about to turn up."

"Not a chance. Mummy gets the vapours at doors slamming, let alone bombs." They were both mainly undressed by this point, and Charles pulled him to the bed, then bent his head to take Bucky's dick in his mouth. Bucky gripped his shoulders, because yeah, practice did make perfect; Charles was good at this.

Charles drew back. "You're awfully quiet."

"Thin walls back home."

"Ah. Well, don't feel you have to restrain yourself here. Even if you did make enough noise for the neighbours to hear, which would have to be very loud indeed, the most they'd do is harrumph into their egg in the morning. Now, I was rather hoping you'd be amiable to buggering me senseless."

"Ain't promising senseless, but I'll give it my best shot."

"Good man."

Charles was noisy and demanding. It made Bucky ache for Steve, how they could read each other, know what the other wanted, their whispered promises in the night. But as he slid into Charles, damn, it was worth it—this was better than any dame. When he thrust forward, the bed knocked into the wall, and he instinctively stopped. But there was no one on the other side of the wall, no one else in the entire building. They got into a rhythm, counterpointed by the headboard banging into the wall, and he made a silent promise to himself that somehow, one day, he and Steve were going to do this—in a proper bed, without neighbors to worry about. He came still thinking of Steve.

"So who's Steve?"

Bucky hadn't even noticed he'd said anything. "Um—"

"Don't think I mind, I didn't think we were setting up for a grand romance."

Bucky smiled. "He's - I guess he's my sweetheart back home. Didn't pass the physical."

"At least he's safe."

"Yeah, but he don't think of it that way. He'd give anything to join up. Thinks he's shirking his duty, that he's unpatriotic."

"Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori." Charles caught Bucky's expression. "It is both noble and good to die for one's country." He looked sad and distant. "It's not. You're just dead."

"I - sorry."

"Don't be. You've got that straight-off-the-boat shine to you. You haven't lost anyone yet, you haven't seen anything yet. But you're about to. So don't be sorry, because you're going to know what this feels like soon enough."

There was nothing Bucky could say to that. He'd been avoiding thinking of the reality of what he was being paid to do.

But Charles kissed him again, and said, "So it's extra important to remember 'eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die'. Come on, I think this calls for wasting some of Pater's single malt, and then see if you're up for another round in bed."

Bucky didn't make it back to quarters that night, slinking in after breakfast, fear curling in the pit of his stomach. He needn't have worried; Murdoch slapped him on the back, informed him that the blonde ATS girl had been the best lay of his life (which showed how well Bucky could judge Good Girls), and hoped that he'd had a good lay too.

None of the guys cared. None of them. Yeah, they ribbed him, but about as much as they ribbed Petersen for his loathing of corned beef. He wasn't about to stand up in the mess hall and tell the whole 107th that he was a queer, but the guys he was going to be fighting beside—his friends—they knew. One more thing in all the things that he wished he could tell Steve, but wasn't going to risk the censor reading.

---
Steve had eventually been dismissed from his debriefing by Colonel Phillips, who, while less angry than Steve had feared, still needed to be told every last detail about the base. He needed to find Bucky. He was heading to the medical tent when he was intercepted by Dugan, who told him that Bucky had been discharged and was waiting for him in his tent.

Dugan then walked back with him to his tent, which he thought was a little odd; but then, Dugan seemed a little odd. Falsworth was stood outside his tent, half looking like he was on guard—again a little odd—but he smiled at them as they walked past.

Bucky was sitting on the cot, blankly staring into space, and jumped when Steve and Dugan came in, but then smiled at Steve.

"Barnes, me and a couple of the guys might just be waiting around outside for a while. Might just be making sure that you don't get interrupted, or leastways giving a bit of warning." Dugan then ducked out of the tent.

Steve had no idea what that was about, but Bucky was his priority. He thought about sitting on the cot next to him, but didn't think it would take the weight of the two of them, so he sat on the duckboards that raised the cot out of the mud instead. He was about to say something when he found himself with a lap full of Bucky, who leant in and kissed him. Steve kissed him back; he’d missed kissing him so much, except now it was different. Now he could envelop Bucky in his arms. It was after a few moments that he came back to himself, realising that he was kissing Bucky in the middle of an army camp, and drew back suddenly.

"Bucky, we can't, not here—"

"You weren't listening to Dugan. We got lookouts. Gotta be quiet though."

"They know?"

"Seems I got 'queer' written across my forehead. They practically threw me at some guy in a bar to stop me chasing the dames they were after. So I guess I've got some making up to do. And Jesus, I can't get over this." He ran his hands from Steve's shoulders down his chest. He looked up at Steve, "You were always beautiful, Steve. I know how you think. You're thinking you were never worth anything ‘til this. And you're an idiot."

"Love you too."

"C'mon, take that off. I wanna see."

Steve pulled off his top. Bucky ran his hands over his new muscles. "Still ain't grown any chest hair." He ran his hands lower, ending resting gently over Steve's groin. "Anything else grown?"

"Bucky, you're pretty beat up—"

Bucky fisted a hand in Steve's hair and kissed him hard, then drew back only far enough to rest their foreheads together. "I don't know what they did to me, 'cept I never hurt that bad in all my life and I didn't expect to come out the other side still breathing, and I'm still wondering if I'm not strapped to that table and you're some big hallucination before I die. So you're gonna fuck me so I can convince myself you're real, got it?"

"Yeah—" Steve didn't get any further than that before Bucky was kissing him again.

It was awkward getting Bucky out of his pants in this position, especially as there didn't seem to be anywhere to hold on to him that wasn't already bruised or burned. Bucky passed him a tub of Vaseline, and Steve slicked his fingers before he pressed one inside Bucky, feeling the difference from the new size of his fingers. Stretched him out, then held Bucky’s hips as Steve gently slid him onto his dick. He paused, and Bucky kissed him, breathing, "Think you might actually be real, Steve."

Then Bucky pushed himself up to start slowly fucking himself on Steve's dick. It had been too long since he'd done this, and he wondered if it felt so good because of the serum or because he wanted Bucky so badly. Steve wrapped a hand round Bucky's dick—now he could hold almost the entire length in one hand—and jerked him off. Soon he could feel Bucky begin to tire, and he couldn't imagine how much his muscles must have ached, so Steve slid his hands under Bucky's thighs and took his weight to keep the rhythm going. Bucky wrapped his own hand around his dick, jerking himself off like the world was ending in the next minute. Bucky came in a hot splatter against both of their stomachs, and the complete abandon of Bucky's expression had Steve following him over the edge.

Bucky collapsed against him and mumbled into his neck, "You're real."

Steve just held him for a few moments, trying not to think of the possibilities of having turned up too late.

Then he was faced with the difficulty of cleaning up and redressing both himself and a three-quarters asleep Bucky. He managed it, eventually, and sat with Bucky sleeping cradled in his arms. Another advantage of the serum—being sat up like this on hard wooden boards with nothing to lean back on should be making him ache, but he was fine. Bucky had relaxed in his sleep, only the cuts and bruises on his face telling of what had happened to him. Steve was going to make Hydra pay.

He wasn't sure how long it was before he heard Dugan's voice from outside, saying too loudly, "Agent Carter! Where might you be going?"

He could hear the suspicion in her voice. "To see Captain Rogers."

Steve knew he should put Bucky onto the cot. Holding him like this after what he'd been through could just about be the action of a concerned friend, but probably not to someone as sharp as Peggy. He should put him down. But he couldn't do it. Couldn't let go. Bucky hadn't even stirred in his sleep.

"Lovely weather we've been having today."

Then Falsworth's voice. "Would have been rotten to walk all that way in the rain."

Steve smiled to himself at this. If he got his way and did form a commando squad, he wanted them on it, but not in any capacity that involved subtlety.

"Yes, and now you're going to get out of my way."

Peggy ducked through the tent flap, and stopped at the sight in front of her. "I was going to talk to you about the other Hydra bases—"

"Go ahead. I don't think a bombing raid would wake him up."

"I take it this is Bucky."

Steve blushed slightly and nodded.

Peggy sat down on the cot and quietly said, "I should have guessed, you know. To be that terrible at talking to women—I mean, surely some maternal type would have taken you in hand by now. But if you were never even trying, well, that explains it."

He couldn't quite meet Peggy's eyes. "Guess I should be denying everything right about now."

"It would be more convincing with less cuddling."

He could hear the amusement in her voice, and that was enough for him to look at her, and find her smiling back at him. "I'm sorry if I ever, er, gave you the wrong impression. You're—you're one of the most impressive people I've ever met. The first time I ever saw you, you laid a guy out. That—that was amazing."

"So you're saying, that if any woman could have turned your head..."

Steve blushed and looked at the ground. "It would be you, yeah."

Peggy gave a small sigh. "I hope he's worth it."

Steve looked down at Bucky, still peacefully asleep. "He thought I was worth it. Even when no one else did."

"You should put him to bed. Your watchmen are terrible, and there are a lot of people here who are less understanding than me." She stood up and pulled the blankets back from the cot. Steve lifted Bucky up and tucked him in. Being the one who was carrying Bucky was still strange, still felt topsy-turvy.

"The Hydra bases can wait until morning." Peggy turned to leave, then paused and turned back. "It would be useful for you to have a cover."

"Sorry?"

She rolled her eyes. "I mean, to cover for this, you need to be seen to be interested in women, which you are singularly atrocious at. So you could try and continue to give the wrong impression regarding me. And I am," Here her eyes darted away from his, "rather fond of you, all told, so it's no great hardship for me."

"What if you find a guy who really is interested?"

She smiled widely at this. "Well, I can tell him that I dumped Captain America for him, which should be rather good for his ego, don't you think?"

"Um. Sorry. Thank you. For everything. If I'd been later I don't know..." He couldn't finish that sentence; it was too raw, too nearly-true.

She gave a half-smile and left.

Back in London, with the commandos recruited, Steve and Bucky had slipped out to the room they'd rented above the pub, making sure that no one saw them as they went up the back stairs. They had quarters at the SSR, but that had military police on the door. Steve wedged a chair under the door handle, while Bucky pressed a hand onto the bed. It made a noise almost as bad as their bed back home, and he growled under his breath, yanked the covers off, and dropped them onto the floor. Steve bit his lip to suppress a laugh at Bucky's almost comic anger with the bed. Bucky gave him a filthy look and stalked over to him.

"Gonna wipe that smirk off your face."

"Oh yeah?"

Bucky grabbed him by the lapels and kissed him, hard and demanding. He pulled back and hissed, "You got any idea how good you look in that uniform? I'd ask you to fuck me with it on, but—"

"But I only have one uniform. Otherwise, Buck, I'd do you any way you asked."

"Across Colonel Phillips' desk?"

"Within reason. And I thought you liked the suit."

"I do. You gotta persuade Stark to fit you up with something you can wipe down, ‘cos you have no idea how much the idea of defiling Captain America turns me on. But hey, suit, uniform, buck naked, skinny, huge, I'll take you any which way."

Bucky had started undoing Steve's tie halfway into this and was working his way onto his jacket buttons. Steve leaned down to kiss him (and he had no idea when leaning down instead of leaning up was going to stop feeling strange). They stripped off the rest of their clothes quickly, knowing that there was a pretty high probability of an air raid, and were soon on the heap of sheets on the floor, Steve's fingers already inside Bucky. Steve pulled his fingers out and slid his dick home, pausing to let Bucky adjust.

Bucky leaned up and whispered, "Good to know you still look like you're solving algebra when you're screwing."

Steve gave him a look and started to thrust; he really wanted to take it slow, but knew that they didn't have the time. He tilted Bucky's hips until he was hitting the sweet spot every time (though Bucky was still completely silent, Steve could tell from the way his body tensed) and lost himself in the sensation, no attempt to distract himself to make it last. It wasn't hard to lose himself when he was with Bucky, couldn't imagine anything could ever feel as good as this.

Then the wail of the air raid sirens started, and Bucky hissed through clenched teeth, "Don't fucking dare stop."

Steve wasn't sure he could stop anyway, so he sped up his thrusts and jerked Bucky off in time with them. They came within moments of each other, but there was no time to really appreciate it, wiping up as much of the mess as possible and quickly dressing, still pausing at the door to make sure they looked decent. Then they were down the stairs and running down the street towards the public shelter, Steve having to slow down to keep pace, with Bucky running at full pelt. There were a few other stragglers heading into the shelter, and they wouldn't have stood out at all if the commandos, every man of them drunk as skunks, hadn't given up a huge whoop as they came through the door.

A woman that Morita had obviously been failing to chat up said loudly, "Not just commandos, bloody howling commandos." She and her friends were looking at Steve and Bucky, and Steve had no idea if that was just general disapproval or something they should be more worried about.

But then there was a huge crash, and the whole shelter shook. The night's raid had started, and the first bombs were dropping almost on top of the shelter. Everyone knew the shelters couldn't take direct hits. But after a couple more earth-shaking, deafening explosions, the action moved away. That was enough to distract everyone from the two of them, and Steve and Bucky moved to join the commandos. Steve's hearing was back to normal, but obviously no one else's was, as they were all still yelling at each other.

"You know, I like the sound of Howling Commandos. And we do need a name," said Falsworth.

"Sounds good. Like we are howling mad," said Dernier.

Jones looked at Steve. "What do you say, Captain? Howling Commandos?"

"Sure, why not."

"Speak up!"

Steve yelled, "Yes, you can be the Howling Commandos!"

That earned another whoop, and a lot of tutting and dirty looks from the people around them.

---
Bucky was having to deal with a lot of unbelievable things. First, that he was still alive. If he hadn't hurt so damn much after Steve had rescued him, he could have thought he was in some weird afterlife. But then, an afterlife should have had all the guys he'd seen killed in it too. Of the eight of them who'd set out for that night out (it seemed like years ago when it was really just a few months), only he and Dugan were still breathing. He did understand now. No nobility, just death. But his mind skated round it, avoided the reality of all those deaths, the same way it skated when he tried to remember what had actually been done to him by Hydra.

Steve was the second thing that was unbelievable. He looked so different, and everyone treated him differently, but it was still unmistakably his Steve. Someone really had found a way to make him the guy Bucky always believed he could be. Perhaps “miraculous” was better than “unbelievable” for that one. And he realised now what Charles had meant about a “straight-off-the-boat shine”. Steve still had it, a little tarnished from what he'd seen, but he hadn't lost anyone yet. Around here, that stood out. But of course Steve had volunteered to go back (and he couldn't do anything other than follow him, that was what he did, follow Steve into fights he couldn't win and try and save his ass). Steve was going to lose someone, even if he hadn't yet.

The third unbelievable thing was, however, the one that he kept dwelling on (perhaps it was the one that his mind let him dwell on): Steve, looking like the model of muscular perfection you got on the front of magazines, being Captain America, had not got laid while Bucky was away. How was that even possible? There must have been women and men throwing themselves at him after every show. Did he have to have someone's mouth around his dick before he'd realise they were interested?

It was only after he'd turned up for a briefing at the SSR and overheard the girls giggling about Steve getting kissed and Agent Carter shooting at him that he really worked it out. Steve's brain hadn't caught up with Steve's body. Course, he thought that Steve had always been beautiful, but there'd been something delicate about it, and most people didn't go for delicate in guys. Now he was handsome (and still beautiful, always beautiful to him) and attracting attention, but in his head he was still the guy that got overlooked.

These days it was Bucky who got overlooked. He flirted with the girl on the front desk (keep his hand in, keep his cover up), but she knew he was friends with Steve, and Steve was all she was interested in talking about. Even though he had no interest in her at all, it still wounded his pride. He was starting to realise why Steve had hated those double dates so much.

The rest of the commandos arrived, valiantly covering their hangovers. The commandos’ acceptance of him and Steve sneaking off to screw meant that he'd always left before the drinking got really competitive. When the drinking continued in the air raid shelter, well, it wouldn't be fair for him to join in with a sobriety advantage, would it?

They all trooped down to wait for Steve outside Stark's lab. Going into the lab without invitation was risking getting blown up, or even more terrifyingly, Stark borrowing you for some experiment.

Agent Carter came out of the lab. She was grinning widely, which Bucky took as a bad sign. She caught his eye and winked. Very bad sign.

Then Steve came out of the lab, in full new Captain America regalia, and Bucky suddenly had a dry mouth and tight pants. The new suit wasn't as tight as the stage costume—that was kind of a pity, but everything else, oh, everything else was good. There was leather and buckles and he'd swear that Stark had fitted out Steve with damn hand-holds. He knew he needed to not be obvious about this, but his brain wasn't cooperating, instead giving him full-color movie reels of bending Steve over the nearest desk.

Stark was standing next to Steve, babbling something about body armor.

He knew he needed to get back some semblance of control, so he focussed on the practicalities, on the negatives. "Ain't exactly camouflage, is it?" Damn, he sounded a lot huskier than he was happy with. Steve wasn't catching his eye, which probably meant that Steve was having at least one or two impure thoughts of his own. Agent Carter, on the other hand, looked at him, looked at Steve, looked back at him, and seemed on the verge of giggling.

"It was camouflage or patriotism, can't have both. Captain Rogers chose patriotism."

"You got any of that armor for us then?"

Stark looked surprised. Bucky snorted. "'Course, we don't need it, do we. It's only officers who ain't naturally bullet resistant."

"Captain Rogers is worth a lot more to the army than you, Sergeant."

"I'm not. They're all worth just as much as me."

"Nice leadership talk, Captain, but that just isn't true."

"If it wasn't true then why did you help me risk my life to save them?"

"They had you working as a showgirl and that was a waste. Your rescue mission showed them what you could do."

Bucky caught the little glance Stark gave to Agent Carter. He'd bet that the only reason he'd helped out was because she had asked.

"I still think that if there is body armor, they should have it too."

"I only have the authorisation and materials for your equipment, Captain." But Stark was being stared down by all of them, and he threw his hands up and said, "Fine, I'll see what I can do. No promises, and it isn't going to be as fancy as this. That's one of a kind field kit, Rogers, and you're going to look after it. Starting by not wearing it until you're in the field, no beer stains on it."

Morita said, "It's going to be stained a lot worse than that in the field." Bucky had a horrible half-second of wondering what Morita was going to say next before he continued. "Nazis don't die cleanly just because you've got a new suit." Bucky relaxed. He could do with remembering that other people didn't have a one-track mind regarding Steve.

"You can at least try. Get your uniform back on, Captain."

And there went any chance Bucky had of debauching Steve in the suit. A pity, but he'd live with it.

The rest of the day was spent in briefings and planning and organising. Boring, but necessary, so he couldn't even tune out. They were finally walking out (the rest of the commandos had left about an hour earlier, but he was too loyal to let Steve face down a meeting on his own) when he saw Agent Carter trying to shake off Stark's attempts at conversation.

"–so I was thinking that if you didn't have anything else on tonight, you could show me round."

Agent Carter caught sight of them, and smiled the smile of a man in a lifeboat who's just seen a ship. "Steve! Howard was just talking about how interested he was in the architecture of my apartment block, and I recalled that you were rather keen on art and architecture."

"Um, yeah."

Yep, still the same Steve, smooth as ever. Time for Bucky to do the talking. "What's so interesting about your apartment then?"

Stark snapped an answer back at him that was stuffed with as much off-putting architectural jargon as possible. Bucky just smiled, knowing that while he didn't have a clue, Steve probably knew what he was talking about. Steve didn't disappoint; now that there was something concrete to talk about, he asked a bunch of questions that showed he understood everything Stark had thrown at him. Bucky could see Stark's surprise, feeling a bloom of pride in Steve. He wasn't just what had come out of their injections and machines.

"I think it's still something that's best appreciated by actually seeing it, don't you think?" said Stark. He gave a pointed look at Steve. "And I'm sure we don't want to take the Captain away from the commandos, the last few nights they can get him to pay the tab on friendly soil."

It wasn't just girls who didn't think he existed when he was next to Steve; seemed it was everyone. Though part of that was just what you got being an NCO around bigshots. "I think the commandos can drink the bar dry just fine without him."

"So that's settled then. You're all coming over for drinks this evening. Shall we say eight?" Agent Carter smiled brightly.

Stark gave Steve a harsh look, then said, "Sure, eight." Then one of his lab assistants appeared and called him away.

Agent Carter visibly relaxed. "Thank you. And could you make it half past seven? I think it would rub it in that bit more if you were both nicely settled before he arrived. I'll just write down my address for you."

Bucky grinned. "Fine tactical mind you got there, Agent Carter."

"Please, call me Peggy."

Steve looked slightly concerned. "Doesn't this mean that he knows where you live now?"

"If you think a little thing like a 'confidential' stamp on a personnel file is going to stop Howard, you are sadly mistaken. And if he ever did step beyond annoying to inappropriate, I can look after myself, thank you."

"Just tell us if you need help hiding the body, ok?"

"Bucky!"

As they walked back to the pub to kill some time before going to Peggy's, Bucky thought about her. She and Steve could be great together, he could see it. He actually liked her, even though she had designs on Steve. He wondered about Steve. He'd never asked, not since he'd pulled him out of the Hydra base, if he still wanted this. People changed, and hell, Steve had changed more than anyone. Was he keeping him in some invert relationship when Steve could have something real with Peggy? Steve was all loyalty; he'd probably stick with Bucky even if he was in love with someone else. The idea of doing that to Steve made him feel almost nauseous.

They were walking across the park now, and Bucky stopped at an empty bench. There were people walking by, but a quiet conversation shouldn't attract attention. Steve sat down next to him and softly said, "What's wrong?"

"You and Peggy would make a great couple."

"Except for—" Steve made a vague gesture.

"Do you still want that? Or is it just that you don't want to hurt me?"

Steve let out a long breath, looked ahead and licked his lips. It took a moment for Bucky to realise that he was waiting for a gap in the flow of people on the path before saying anything. "I want you so bad I can't even—I'd do anything for you. I—"

Steve stopped as a pair of couples walked past arm in arm, and Bucky felt a sudden jolt of anger and envy that they couldn't do that.

Another gap and Steve said, "I love you. Body and soul."

"Love you too. Whichever body you've got."

A gaggle of Waafs was approaching, and Bucky saw them looking over in their direction, knew he had to respond. He put his flirtatious grin on for them, looked them up and down as they went past. They were more interested in Steve, of course, but it was keeping up appearances that was important. Steve was looking down at the path, much to the annoyance of the Waafs. But they weren't forward enough to do anything more than slow down a little as they passed, much to Bucky's relief.

He let them get a good way away before saying, "Getting too sappy. C'mon, before I get any ideas about doing indecent things to you in those bushes." Bucky would never, ever, take that sort of risk, but he liked saying things like that to Steve for the blush and look of consternation it got him.

They were indeed nicely settled in at Peggy's very stylish apartment before Stark turned up. Stark had brought his own alcohol, and plied Bucky and Steve freely with it. Bucky guessed his game: get him drunk so Steve would be forced to take him home, leaving Stark with Peggy. So he savoured his drinks, pacing himself for a long evening.

The conversation rambled around various things for a while.

"Seems like in this country they've so run out of people to fight they'll take anyone. Conscription for women, any man will do. Last night, I was in a bar and a couple of British officers tried to come on to me. That's what they'll take for their officers?"

Bucky stayed carefully blank. He could see out of the corner of his eye that Steve had flushed a little, but Steve broadcast such innocence that it could easily be put down to embarrassment at the subject matter.

Peggy picked up on the other part of the statement. "What's wrong with conscripting women? They're not in combat, and it frees up men to fight."

Stark obviously belatedly realised his insult. "It's the conscription that sits wrong, nothing wrong with women who want to volunteer to serve their country. But having to serve under an openly queer officer, that's got to be wrong."

Sometimes, you had to just roll with it. Bucky said, “Reckon there's many of them? Army queers, I mean."

"Who knows? But you know, the second officer, I told him to back off or I'd inform his CO. He laughed in my face, told me that his CO knew, and as long as he could fight, it didn't matter."

Peggy said, "Does it matter, though?"

Stark looked taken aback. "Of course it matters. You're out on the front line, you want to know that the guy next to you has his mind on the job, not on your ass."

"So when we flew through that flak, the whole time with you talking about taking me out for dinner in Switzerland, you had your mind entirely on the job."

"That's different—"

"How?"

"I mean, you're a woman, it's what you expect—"

"So something you consider intolerable, I should expect to happen."

"I—" Stark huffed. "Fine. I get it. I'll back off."

Bucky was enjoying this. Stark deserved being taken down a peg or two, and Peggy had done it beautifully.

But then Stark continued. "Still doesn't make queers in the army a good idea though. I'm pretty broad-minded. Hell, I'm pretty sure some of my R&D guys are queers, but to have to rely on someone like that in combat? Someone who can't even control themselves?"

Bucky decided not to let that one slide. "Don't expect you to know this, being a civilian and all," and he put as much contempt in the word “civilian” as he could, "but you can't tell who you can rely on until the shooting starts. Some guys you think would be ok go to pieces, others step up to the mark better than you'd ever guess."

Steve had been very quiet, but he now said firmly, "I'll fight alongside any man who is prepared to risk his life for his country. That's what matters. Not anything else. If the army said it was taking women who volunteered for the front line, well, I guess I don't think that's quite right, but I'd still be proud to stand next to a woman who was prepared to do that."

Bucky recognised that tone of voice, it meant that Steve was squaring up for a fight. He hoped that Stark would back down before he had to stop Steve saying anything stupid.

Thankfully Stark just laughed. "Hope you win this damn war before we have to send battalions of queers and women against the Nazis."

Bucky finished up the evening with a feeling that the world owed him one for it. The world, unusually, apparently agreed with him. A few days later they'd been taken out to an airfield in the flattest, most godforsaken part of England Bucky had yet seen, expecting to fly out that day. Then the storm hit. After spending hours in the mess with a bunch of similarly bored and irritated flyboys, someone decided that the storm wasn't going anywhere and billeted the commandos in an isolated farmhouse. The family who lived there had accents thick enough to be entirely incomprehensible to Bucky, and he was apparently incomprehensible to them. Falsworth swore blind they were speaking English but even he was having problems communicating. They were friendly though; he didn't need to understand what was being said to see that the lady of the house was clucking over them like a mother hen.

But here was where the world paid him back for an evening with Stark. A tiny bedroom just for the two of them, in the eaves of the house, and though the storm was still howling outside it was dry and warm from the heat of the kitchen below. The farm had no electricity, the only light from a candle in its holder on the rickety nightstand. The room had an elderly iron-framed double bed, but most importantly, there was a bolt on the door and, god, Steve in his new suit.

They were kissing as soon as the door was bolted, Bucky feeling all the new buckles and buttons on Steve's suit, unbuttoning his fly and slipping his hands inside. Bucky whispered into his ear, "Touch yourself."

Then he took two paces backwards. Steve, in the candlelight, suited up as Captain damn America, one hand around his erection, eyes dark with lust, was the most magnificent thing he'd ever seen in his life.

Then Steve mouthed, “Take your clothes off,” and as Bucky couldn't disobey an order from a senior officer, he was stripping down, never taking his eyes off Steve.

He was so turned on that he shuddered when he brushed his own erection as he took his pants off. He just watched for a while longer, but didn't want Steve getting off like this; he'd promised himself he was going to debauch Captain America. So he knelt down in front of him, took his dick in his mouth, sucked deep and slow. Steve's hands were in his hair, and he could feel the tension that told him that Steve was restraining himself from doing anything that might leave bruises. He kept his own hands on Steve's hips, not trusting himself to touch his own dick.

Steve pulled him back, stood Bucky up and got down on his knees himself. Bucky closed his eyes as he felt the wet warmth of Steve's mouth on his dick, knowing that if he looked down he'd be coming. He could die like this, felt that he was drowning in the sensation, could feel the pressure of pleasure building until—Steve released his dick and leant back, grinning.

Bucky bit back a groan at his denied orgasm, and mouthed, “Bastard,” at him.

Steve got the both of them onto the floor, Bucky on top of him, kissing all the time. Bucky pressed down, pushing and sliding his dick along Steve's, the near-painful press of the buckles of Steve's uniform into his torso just turning him on more. Then Steve wrapped his hand around both their dicks and it was too much; he was coming, biting down on Steve's lip as he did so, which seemed to be the trigger that pushed Steve over the edge.

He took a moment to catch his breath, then knelt up. Jesus, it was a beautiful sight: Steve flushed, hair mussed, half-undressed, streaks of come across the front of his top. Just a trace of blood at his lip from where Bucky bit him, which he didn't feel bad about at all given how fast Steve healed. Bucky trailed two fingers lazily through the come on Steve's top, then licked his fingers. Steve sat up and kissed him hungrily, then hissed in his ear, "Do you know what you do to me, Buck?"

"Just about anything, sweetheart."

There was a jug of water and a washcloth on the nightstand, and Bucky carefully cleaned Steve up, to the point of running the edge of the cloth down each seam of his top, leaving nothing that could ever raise suspicion.

They curled up in bed together, wearing enough clothes for propriety. Bucky cozied up and whispered in Steve's ear, "Did we just break the flag code?"

Steve chuckled softly, "If it was a flag, I couldn't walk on the ground, could I?"

"We'd have to carry you to the enemy, and put you inside in rough weather, right? Sounds good to me."

Steve chuckled again and kissed him on the cheek. "Go to sleep, jerk."

Bucky smiled into his neck. He was just kidding around; he knew how seriously Steve took things like that, knew that if they really were disrespecting the flag he'd have stopped him in short order. He shuffled a little to try and really appreciate what was likely to be his last night's sleep in a real bed for quite some time.

---
In all honesty, Steve had been a little worried about his own motivations about bringing Bucky along as one of the commandos. As much as he justified it to himself given Bucky's toughness in standing up to Hydra experiments and what he'd read in his records about his ability as a sniper, he still wondered if he'd made an emotional choice. He couldn't send Bucky home, couldn't guarantee his safety, so he wanted him somewhere where he could at least do his best to look out for him. If he hadn't felt the way he did about Bucky, would he have chosen someone else? Should he have chosen someone else?

Then they hit their first Hydra base and all that evaporated. Bucky wasn't just a good sniper; he was an excellent one. Hydra soldiers just dropped around him as he made his way in, and it made him feel almost invincible. His own guardian angel—but hadn't Bucky always been that? When they got up close he fought like a demon (and Steve still hadn't dared ask him what Hydra had done to him, didn't think he'd ever dare, but could guess enough from the cold hardness in his face when he stood over another dead Hydra soldier). On top of that he was a born sergeant, could get anything done and organised, didn't have to be told twice, could magic up supplies, everything.

Bucky had been very clear before they had left: it was ok that the commandos knew about them, but no rubbing their noses in it out in the field. They'd got lucky so far, no sense in pushing it. Steve didn't need telling, he was so grateful for the fact that the guys he was with wouldn't do any more than snigger if he made some verbal slip or was a bit too concerned about Bucky. It was only sensible to keep their hands off each other, not worth risking everything they had.

That lasted as far as their next mission when they had to bivouac in the open. He fell asleep with Bucky next to him, and awoke with Bucky in his arms. He recognised the position; he'd slept like that in Bucky's arms so often in their room in Brooklyn, curled in to get as warm as possible. Bucky was still asleep, and Steve wasn't going to let go for anything. He looked up, saw Dernier on watch leaning against a tree, grinning at him. He gave him a stern look and a gesture that he hoped communicated “on watch involves watching more than your CO hugging his sergeant.” Dernier didn't stop grinning, but he did move off to patrol the perimeter. The rest of the commandos were getting up, smiling at the two of them, by the time Bucky woke up.

Bucky came up combative. "You bastards say one damn thing and I will put you on report. Ain't my fault Cap's warm."

The commandos collectively gave the least convincing innocent looks that Steve had ever seen. But it genuinely seemed that beyond a little amusement, they didn't care. Steve's hearing was pretty acute these days, and he often heard things that he knew would be pitched quietly enough for any regular officer not to hear. The commandos were grumbling, but grumbling about Hydra's choice of location, the weather, the food, their boots, and a hundred other things that didn't mention him or Bucky.

The next night they bivouacked in a half-ruined barn, a little warmer than out in the open. Bucky was on first watch, so Steve went to sleep with an empty space next to him. He awoke again with Bucky curled in his arms. It took a moment of disorientation for him to realise it, but there was someone else pressed up against his back as well. He turned over, not letting go of Bucky who made a little disgruntled noise at being woken up. It had been Jones who had been pressed against his back, also now awake. And Steve realised that the rest of the commandos were snuggled up against each other in a line, just missing Falsworth, out on watch.

Bucky had his chin resting on Steve's chest as he said, "We're a helluva lot less scary if people find out we're the cuddling commandos."

"Warmer though," said Jones. "You weren't kidding about Cap being warm. You're like a damn stove, sir."

And somehow, without any further discussion, that was how there ended up being some sort of rota for the commandos to sleep cuddled up against Steve's back when they were bivouacked out in the cold (no question who got to cuddle up on the other side). He wondered if other commando units were like this. He suspected that the answer was no, so he wasn't about to start asking.

For all the time they spent living in each other's pockets, saving each other's lives, and sleeping in each other's arms, there was almost no time when he and Bucky were alone together. And it wasn't affecting his focus (when he had his mind on the mission, there wasn't room for anything else), but when they were waiting on their next transport, or hanging around before their next briefing or debriefing, it was starting to be that all he could think about was screwing Bucky. It was more distracting than when they'd been apart, because Bucky was right there, a constant temptation.

Even when they ended up back in some town, they didn't dare rent a room together again. What had been acceptable as a one-off in London, especially as Bucky had just been rescued from Hydra's experiments, would get suspicious if it became something regular. Often as not he'd be billeted away from the commandos altogether, because he was an officer, and officers got better quarters than the men (relatively better, of course).

So. It had been two months, one week, and four days since they'd last screwed. Not that he was counting.

They'd stopped for the night in a half-bombed farmhouse. He was sat next to Bucky at the kitchen table, looking over a map while Bucky cleaned his guns. The compass with the picture of Peggy pasted inside weighed down one corner of the map. It had been a joint present from both Peggy and Bucky, and he still wasn't sure whose idea it had been. A perfect romantic keepsake from his sweetheart, just that the woman whose picture was in it wasn't his sweetheart (though she was rapidly shaping up to be his best friend in the whole world aside from Bucky). He still felt occasional pangs of guilt about Peggy, wondered if there was anything he could have done to make it better, made it clearer from the start that he could never think of her in that way.

Looking at the map was force of habit; there was nothing else he needed to prepare, and he found his eyes kept sliding from the map to watch Bucky's hands. Far too easy to think of him with something else in his hands.

Falsworth, seated at the other side of the table, gave an exaggerated sigh and said, "Self-discipline is all well and good, but this is getting frankly silly."

Dugan took a drag on his cigar, looked at them and said, "It's not like we didn't know what you were doing back in London."

They must have looked pretty blankly at the commandos, because Jones filled in with, "Doing each other, we mean."

Steve felt himself blush, and looked down at the table in front of him. He could feel that Bucky had gone still, but didn't dare look at him.

"So we are pointing out that this farm has a cellar. And we do not care," said Dernier.

"Well, actually, I do care. I would rather our sniper was a little less distracted than he currently is. Which is easily dealt with by our Captain, don't you think?" said Falsworth.

One of his men had just advised him to go and screw his sergeant in the interests of combat efficiency. This hadn't technically been covered in training, but a good officer took the suggestions of his men seriously, didn't he?

He cleared his throat and said, "Sergeant Barnes?"

"Sir?"

"Cellar."

"Yes, sir!"

Bucky stood up so fast that he cracked his knee on the table, but didn't slow down, just limped swearing to the cellar door. Steve followed, picking up a lamp from the dresser. The cellar was slightly damp and musty smelling, but Bucky was wrapped round him and kissing him before he had a chance to register much more. They were both already hard, pressed up against each other. He broke the kiss for long enough to put the lamp down on an empty shelf, then pushed Bucky against the wall.

He went to kneel down when Bucky pulled him up. "Officers do not blow NCOs." Steve smiled, but Bucky was serious. "I mean it. They might have to come find us, and if they do, your dick is inside me and not the other way round. You know everyone sees it as when there's two guys together one of them's gotta be the girl. And Captain America ain't a girl, so that leaves me."

"That's bullshit." Steve rarely swore, but this justified it.

"You and me, we know that. But since we ain't going to explain it to them, this is how it works." Bucky kissed him again, then said, "Next time we got a room with a lock, I promise, I will fuck you so hard you won't even remember your own name."

Steve hoisted Bucky up with one arm and started undoing his fly with his other hand while he said, "Gonna hold you to that."

They kissed as they half-undressed each other, just enough to get their pants and shirts out of the way to push against each other. It had been too long for this to last, and it seemed like they'd barely touched before they were coming all over each other.

"We are staying here at least another twenty minutes. I ain't getting a reputation for going off like a rocket."

"Twenty minutes and we could go again."

Bucky groaned into Steve's neck. "Make it worth me damn near breaking my kneecap on that table."

They were there a lot longer than twenty minutes. Even though a damp cellar wasn't the best place for taking things slowly, they had a lot of practice in making the best of whatever they had. Steve loved that not only could he hold Bucky against the wall, but also keep holding him there, screw him slow and deliberately for as long as they could without any muscle aches.

When they finally re-emerged into the kitchen, Steve said in his best officer-voice, "Sergeant, I think you'll agree, that is definitely a cellar."

The rest of the commandos collapsed into heaps of laughter.

Steve still agreed with Bucky about not rubbing the commandos’ noses in it, but now with a slightly different emphasis; if his men weren't getting laid, then he wasn't either. If he knew that the last town they were in his men had visited the whorehouse (and it made him smile to think of the people who thought he didn't know such things existed just because Captain America should be innocent about things like that), then the next opportunity there was for some time alone with Bucky, he'd take it. But if they'd been out in the field for weeks, then it felt disloyal to have what they couldn't.

Bucky had smiled when he'd explained all this to him (seated in a forest just far enough away from the commandos for a whispered conversation to be private, but not too far away, all still in line of sight and defensible if anything happened), and said, "Bet most officers in this army ain't as fair as you are. They get what they can, don't care to find out if their men are getting any."

Steve half-smiled. "Thought we were all supposed to be concerned about morale."

"We are. So I'm going to make it my mission to get the commandos laid. Which also is gonna prove to you that if you'd ever had half an interest in the dames I could have got you a girl back home too, for all you talked yourself down."

"You got me laid though. All ended well."

"Sure did."

A few months later, they were going to Paris. Paris. He could barely believe it. They'd been ordered to the city as some symbolic gesture, the success of an international commando group supposed to show how everyone was one big happy family fighting Nazis. Which Steve knew was bullshit, as their respective armies had tried to remove Falsworth and Dernier from the commandos, and his own army had tried to put Jones and Morita into segregated units. He was very grateful for how straightforward Colonel Phillips was ("Rogers, you keep kicking Hydra's butt and you can take whoever you damn well want into the field with you."), and how he protected the commandos from their own side.

Of course, no one thought to provide them with transport, but another good thing about the suit was that Captain America didn't have any trouble hitching lifts. They rode into Paris perched on top of a dangerously swerving tank, driven by a jubilantly drunk French crew who were catching up with the rest of their unit. The tank crew managed (along with destroying four trees and three signposts) to get all the commandos word-perfect on the Marseillaise before they even reached the suburbs. This was the stuff that didn't make the newsreels: all of the commandos half out of their uniforms from the late August heat, hollering a song in a language most of them didn't understand (it was far more hollering than singing), all the while hanging on to the tank for dear life as they slewed around another corner, the tracks screaming against the tarmac.

As they got into the city he realised Dernier had gone quiet. He looked over at him, and saw that he was crying. He gently put a hand on his shoulder and Dernier looked up at him and smiled weakly. Steve realised the rest of the commandos had stopped talking, could feel the concern radiating off them.

"I hope none of you have to see your city occupied by the enemy. I cannot explain it truly. It hurts here." He tapped his chest. "To see it free again, it is like seeing someone brought back from the dead. I cannot—" Dernier broke down completely.

Steve gave a look to the rest of the commandos, who formed up around Dernier in a solid wall of affection and concern. Two of the tank crew popped up out of the hatch to ply Dernier with more alcohol. Steve was glad they'd hitched a lift with a French unit (even with the drunk driving), because as much as they tried, the rest of the commandos couldn't understand what it was like to have their country occupied. He tried to picture German troops marching through Brooklyn, and couldn't do it; his mind just rejected it completely.

They made it to Paris headquarters without incident, though not for lack of trying. They trooped into the building, reported to the desk sergeant, then broke out the decks of cards in expectation of a long time hanging around the lobby.

It was only a few minutes later when he heard, "Dear god, is that them?"

He looked up. A party of well-dressed officers and men were staring at them.

The senior officer, a major, said, "Jesus, it is. They are not being filmed like that."

Steve looked at himself and the commandos. He hadn't registered it, he was used to accepting his men as they were in the field, but they all (himself included) looked terrible, covered in a thick layer of dust from their ride in. He tried to recall the last time any of them had bathed, failed, and realised they probably smelled terrible too.

"We were inside a Hydra base just over 24 hours ago, sir, came directly here as ordered."

"Let me guess, none of you have proper uniforms with you either?" Steve shook his head. "Shit, they tell me, film Captain America and the Howling Commandos looking heroic and victorious in Paris, I think, how hard can that be? And you turn up looking like a pack of dustbowl vagrants. Right, let's get you all turned into newsreel heroes before we lose the daylight."

With that, they were packed off to wash, change, and, at his demand, get something to eat. It was the first time he'd seen Bucky in proper uniform since Brooklyn; at first he'd been in whatever clothes they could find, then the rag-tag of bits of uniform and Stark's armor. He had to stop himself staring, not helped by Bucky giving him a very hungry look from top to toe. But all of the commandos together, smartly turned out—they were quite something. Proper newsreel heroes.

The idea was simple enough: pack them into the back of a truck and drive them round all the recognisable landmarks of Paris, show them all relaxed in the city, safe and free. It was harder than it looked to seem like a relaxed tourist when someone was pointing a camera at them. They were genuinely happy, having had food, a bath, and the possibility of a real bed and alcohol in the future, but that apparently was not coming across on camera. At the point that an increasingly irritated army director yelled "Can you not act natural?!" at them, they all froze in place, looking at each other, then dissolved into hysterics.

"Look, guys, this is costing the army time and money. Just, just do what you'd normally do."

"Pal, what we normally do is," Bucky counted things off on his fingers, "shoot Nazis, blow up Nazis, get drunk, chase skirts. You ain't giving us the opportunity to act normal."

The director rolled his eyes. "Fine, all of you, stand there, look impressed at the scenery. Jesus, don't all point at it, it looks like a fucking Nazi salute."

They started laughing again, and that was really it for the rest of the afternoon. The moment that one of them made eye contact with any other of them, they couldn't stop laughing. They giggled their way round Paris with all the dignity of a feral group of twelve-year-old schoolgirls. It was one of the most fun afternoons of Steve's life, even though he felt a little bad for the film crew who were close to tearing their hair out with frustration.

That night he had to go to a formal dinner, leaving the commandos without anyone sober to lead them home after the inevitable bar crawl. He wasn't worried; they'd get back to quarters eventually—but the key word was “eventually”. He, on the other hand, was having to make small talk with generals. Including a certain French general who made it crystal clear that the very existence of a “Captain America” was a personal affront, an affront made worse by his having “kidnapped” a French soldier to be part of his team. Steve did what he normally did, which was to smile blandly, look dumb, and say something friendly. Being nice and friendly always made guys like that even more angry. He was rumbled by one of Eisenhower's aides de camp, who took him to one side and said "Son, quit playing the innocent, and try not to start World War Three before finishing World War Two."

Then they had 24 hours to themselves in Paris, a luxury so rare that they barely knew what to do with it. In the morning he found Bucky waiting for him outside the building the officers were billeted in, leaning heavily on a lamppost and looking like hell.

"Hungover?"

"Jesus, no. The puking, shivering, crying bastards I left behind, they're hungover. I'm," he put on a terrible impersonation of Falsworth's accent, "mildly inconvenienced."

"But coffee would help, right?"

"Tell you recently that I love you?" And it was light enough that anyone would take it for the joke it was, but Steve knew Bucky meant it as well.

They ended up spending the day drifting from cafe to cafe, drinking coffee (or whatever brown bitter stuff was currently passing for coffee), talking about nothing, enjoying the weather. It was wonderful. They bumped shoulders as they walked down the street, and his fingers itched to take Bucky's hand in his.

Bucky spoke softly, "Never thought I'd get you to the city of lovers."

"Me neither." He couldn't help but grin. "Jeez, Bucky, look at us. Summer in Paris."

Bucky was grinning too. "And if you ignore all the time being shot at, sleeping in the snow, being so cold you were scared to piss in case your dick froze off, it was worth it."

Steve laughed.

Bucky continued, even quieter. "After this is all over, we could save up, come back, book ourselves into one of those snooty hotels that don't give a damn what you do as long as you got money, huge bed with silk sheets—"

"Stop, you don't get to talk like that if there's nowhere you can carry your promises through."

"I always make good on my promises. Eventually."

The urge to kiss Bucky right there was so strong that Steve ended up taking a step away from him just to be sure. They kept walking late into the evening, just wanting to spend time together.

The next morning it was back to normal, leaving Paris and heading to the next place they thought Hydra was trying to regroup.

He lost count of the strange places he and Bucky screwed—barns, hay lofts, pantries, anywhere they could put a door between them and the outside world, anywhere where the only people who might disturb them were the commandos. Lost count of the times when he and Bucky had returned the favor, acted as lookouts while one of the commandos was getting friendly with some girl somewhere that was really far too public. Lost count of the Hydra bases destroyed, lost count of the men he'd killed, hoped that somewhere in all that killing he was still the good man Dr Erskine had believed in.

And when he thought that it would be like that forever, it wasn't.

Bucky was gone, and there was a gaping hole in his chest, and he could barely breathe, barely move. He was vaguely aware of the commandos around him, bringing him back from the train, taking turns sitting with him, making him eat and drink even though everything stuck in his throat, getting them all back to London somehow. He didn't know how he ended up back at the pub where he'd recruited the commandos, the one he and Bucky had rented a room above so long ago. Told the commandos to leave him alone, but he guessed they wouldn't be far away. It took Peggy to bring him round, to realise that he had to keep going. It took Peggy's words for him to remember a lifetime ago, when Bucky had told him not to mope if he didn't make it home. Told him to become the man Bucky knew he could be.

The man Bucky knew he could be would take down Hydra. Would avenge Bucky, whatever it took.

He hadn't looked for death. The man Bucky knew he could be wouldn't be suicidal. But now that it stared at him, the ice coming up to meet him, he wasn't afraid. He was going home.