Bucky didn’t need to be an expert in Steve Rogers to know that he wasn’t happy with Bucky’s declaration that he’d asked T’Challa to freeze him again. Steve all but vibrated with barely contained emotions, his fists clenched tightly together at his sides, and Bucky could actually hear his teeth grinding together.
“I think it’s a bad idea,” Steve said, voice low.
“It’s my choice!” Bucky snapped, in no mood to deal with Steve’s attempt to convince him otherwise, something that he knew was coming anyway.
Steve’s hands rose in an appeasing manner in an attempt to appear nonthreatening. “I’m not trying to take that from you. I just don’t understand why you think going back on ice is the best course of action. You’re safe here. HYDRA can’t reach you here.”
Bucky laughed, an ugly choked sound. “You don’t know that, the resources they have. King T’Challa might believe his people are trustworthy and uncorruptable, but I can’t.”
“You used to trust me once.”
That was a low blow, and Steve knew it. You’re the only one I trust, Bucky didn’t say. “It’s not a matter of trust. I’m not the man you think I am. The more I remember, the less I wish I did.” Except for the memories of Steve, few and far between, random glimpses of a smaller man, one always quick with a smile, but also quick to fight against injustice. Bucky horded those, wrote them down, kept them safe lest he forget them again. They were a beacon in the darkness of his mind.
“Bucky…” Steve’s voice is soft, sorrowful.
“You were right. I didn’t have a choice… but I still did it. Each day I remember more of what they did to me… more of what I did.” Bucky shut his eyes against the rush of memories, but that only made it worse. He’d done everything HYDRA told him. They’d made him a weapon, a monster, a dog to call, rarely let off its leash, and he’d excelled in it. He’d killed and tortured and... worse to anyone they set in his path. Howard and his wife, government officials, scientists, doctors, ambassadors, people who were no apparent threat to HYDRA, men, women, even children. There was so much blood on his hands. “I’m drowning in it, Steve.”
Glancing down at the empty space where his metal arm had been, Bucky wondered if it was wrong that he missed it.
Bucky fought the urge to step back when out of his peripheral vision he saw Steve’s arms rise to touch him, wrapping around him as he pulled Bucky’s unwilling body against his. Muscles coiled with tension, Bucky struggled against dueling instincts, one side urging him to break the embrace, put distance between the threat and himself, and the other side urging him to relax and accept what was offered, let Steve take what he needed because it was clear that Steve needed this, had wanted it for some time, but had held off, likely worried how Bucky would react.
Bucky wasn’t sure what to do, what was allowed, what he could have, what he even wanted. The seconds ticked by and Bucky didn’t pull away, but neither did he relax, standing tense and rigid in the circle of Steve’s arms.
“I don’t want to remember anymore.” The words slipped out unbidden, a whispered confession that was barely audible even as close as they were, but the way Steve jerked against him, arms tightening hard enough around Bucky that he clenched his teeth in pain, made it obvious that Steve had heard Bucky’s unintentional admission.
The pain was too much for Bucky’s frazzled nerves, and he couldn’t help but jerk back, pulling against the cage of Steve’s arms, distantly noting the way that Steve instantly let go of him, stepping back and giving Bucky space, though it was clear on Steve’s face that that was the last thing he wanted to do.
Bucky stumbled backwards until his back pressed up against the cool glass separating their accommodations from the untamed wildness beyond, chest suddenly heaving as though he’d been put through his paces and had his limits tested. Closing his eyes, he tried to draw a deep breath, attempted to slow his suddenly racing heart, but found he could do neither as his breath escaped him in panting gasps, the sound familiar yet not.
Sinking to his knees, Bucky wondered if he’d been poisoned somehow. But no, that couldn’t be possible. This was Steve. He would never—
Bucky didn’t see Steve move, didn’t hear him over the blood rushing through his ears, but he was suddenly there, kneeling in front of Bucky, not touching.
That was wrong.
Reaching out, Bucky took Steve’s hand in his, noting that Steve’s mouth was moving, but he couldn’t hear the words, could only feel the warmth of Steve’s skin against his own.
It was nice.
Bucky let his arm be pulled up, until their hands rested on Steve’s neck, and Steve positioned Bucky’s fingers until they framed Steve’s throat, his pulse thrumming strong and steady beneath Bucky’s fingers. His head jerked up in disbelief, eyes meeting Steve’s, and Bucky forced himself to focus on Steve’s mouth, on the words his lips were forming.
“Come on. Need you to breathe for me, Buck. Focus on my breathing and try to match it.”
Bucky tried, struggled, failed, tried again, and failed, tried again, and again, struggled until he got it right, until their chests rose and fell in unison. Dropping his hand from Steve’s neck, Bucky’s breath caught again at the loss of contact. He let his head fall forward to rest on Steve’s shoulder, breathing in the strikingly familiar scent of him.
This was all wrong, a part of Bucky was screaming, a weakness, a distraction, put space between them and regroup, formulate a plan. He shouldn’t trust this man, shouldn’t trust anyone, but he was so tired of running, trying to stay one step ahead of HYDRA as his programming unravelled and his mind turned into a nightmarish labyrinth where he had difficulties distinguishing programming from memories, memories from reality.
Was the grocer being friendly because that’s just how he was, or was he trying to get under his guard so he could take him in? Had the waitress put something in his coffee? Was the food safe to eat? Was that bulge under the coat a gun or something more innocent? There were days he couldn’t sleep, scared that he’d wake up and have lost everything again.
That was the thing about having nothing. You couldn’t miss what you didn’t have. But with each scrap of memory, Bucky found himself desperately wanting.
This was good, this closeness. It felt safe, something he wasn’t sure he could remember feeling, but definitely recognized now. Was that wrong to want?
Bucky wasn’t sure of much anymore. He knew that HYDRA would never stop chasing him, not until they had him or he was dead. He wasn’t fool enough to think that they could be destroyed. He knew that there would always be another fight, that death would always follow him. He knew firsthand that Steve was stupidly loyal. Loyal to a memory.
A dead man walking.
Bucky’s breath faltered when a hand touched his hair, waiting for the inevitable pain. Instead the hand slid down and cupped the back of his neck.
Mind whiting out, flashes of pain as hands fisted in his hair, holding him down, Bucky’s body moved of its own accord and jerked away from the touch, the need to get away overriding everything. His body twisted as he caught Steve’s wrist and yanked him to the side, floundering for a moment, confused by his missing arm.
Landing on his side, Steve’s hand locked around Bucky’s wrist, using his momentary distraction to roll them.
Bucky curled his legs around Steve’s, trying to gain the edge, and used the momentum of Steve’s motion to continue the roll until he was on top, sprawled on Steve’s chest. He tried to break away, but Steve’s other hand caught tight in the waistband of his pants, effectively removing any sort of leverage he might have, tangled as they were.
Slamming his head down into Steve’s face, Bucky heard the pop of cartilage, felt the hot spurt of blood across his face, and Bucky froze.
Steve didn’t let go, didn’t try to struggle or get away as Bucky stared down at Steve’s swelling nose, the blood sliding down the sides of his face to stain his hair red.
“Fucking self-sacrificing idiot!” Bucky growled and slammed his mouth down over Steve’s. He shouldn’t be doing this, should have put space between them. Instead, he pressed closer.
Steve moaned, likely from the pain of Bucky’s nose sliding along his, or maybe from the way Bucky’s teeth were biting none too gently at Steve’s lips.
With the tang of blood on his tongue, Bucky tried to pour all the rage into the kiss. Hate me. See me for the monster that I really am. You can’t trust me, Steve. I’ll ruin you like I’ve ruined everything I’ve touched. He ground his hips down against Steve’s. Feel that? It’s the blood that does it for me now.
When Steve’s grip on Bucky’s wrist loosened, he broke the hold, hand wrapping around Steve’s throat, thumb compressing his windpipe. Pulling back slightly, Bucky licked the blood from his lips as he watched the way Steve’s eyes snapped open in shocked betrayal—the look cut through him, but Steve needed to see, needed to understand—watched the way that Steve’s fingers wrapped around his wrist. Again. And for a moment the grip was light, and Bucky thought that Steve was going to be the idiot that Bucky named him and just take it.
But finally Steve’s fingers tightened, and he wrenched Bucky’s hand away, shoving Bucky to the side as he coughed and wheezed.
Bucky imagined the damage he could have done with his missing arm. What did it say about him that the thought didn’t horrify him enough that he didn’t miss it? Do you see the monster now, Steve?
“Jesus, Bucky. What the hell are you trying to pull?” Steve finally asked long moments later, his voice rough and thick.
“You can’t trust me.”
“No! I have a bomb in my head, and anyone, anything, could be the match that sets it off. Don’t you get it, Steve? I’m a monster! You can’t imagine how many people I’ve hurt since that day I left you on the river bank.”
Steve pushed himself into a seated position next to Bucky’s kneeling form, his voice rough as he spoke. “Did you want to hurt them?”
Fuck. After everything Bucky had just said, of course that’s what Steve would ask about. Yes, no, sometimes, not usually. It wasn’t a simple answer, and often depended on factors that Bucky rarely understood himself. Sometimes it was accidental, sometimes he found himself acting without conscious thought, and sometimes he wanted it; sometimes they deserved it. And sometimes he killed them. None of it was pleasant, but instead of saying that Bucky gave a sharp grin and said instead, “Yeah, Steve, every one of them.”
Steve examined Bucky’s face for a long moment, then shook his head. “No, I don’t believe you. Unless you can tell me that you’re loyal to HYDRA, that you chose what they did to you, agreed with what they made you do, there is nothing you can do or say that will make me believe that. What was done to you was monstrous, but that doesn’t make you a monster, Buck.”
Bucky moved forward and straddled Steve’s lap before grabbing Steve’s hand and shoving it between his legs. Licking a path up the blood on Steve’s cheek, Bucky whispered in Steve’s ear, “This is what the sight of blood does to me.”
Mouth drawn in a stubborn line, Steve said, “You can’t scare me away, Bucky, not now that I’ve found you again.”
“I could make you hate me.” Bucky dropped his mouth to Steve’s neck, biting hard enough to draw blood. The taste of it heated his blood even more.
Steve’s hands went to Bucky’s thighs, fingers digging sharply into the solid muscles there, but he didn’t push Bucky away as he said, “You don’t have to punish yourself.”
Bucky would have recoiled if not for Steve’s grip on his legs. “Why would I…”
“I know you, Buck, I know you’re scared and hurting.”
“You don’t know shit, Steve!”
“I know you.”
“You’re wrong!” Bucky saw red and shoved Steve back hard enough that he heard the crack of his head meeting the concrete floor beneath them. Using Steve’s moment of dazed confusion, Bucky fisted his hand in the collar of Steve’s shirt and yanked, the material rending all the way down the front with a sharp sound.
Bucky struggled one-handed with the buckle of Steve’s belt before Steve’s hands covered his, stopping his motion.
“Don’t do this, Buck.”
Bucky ignored the order, his smile as sharp as his words. “Would your Bucky to this?” Dropping his head, Bucky licked across Steve’s nipple, teeth closing on the hard peak.
Lighting quick, Steve shoved him away and Bucky went sprawling, flying halfway across the room, nearly crashing into the wall of windows.
“Don’t do this, Buck,” Steve repeated as he rose to his feet.
Bucky made the mistake of looking at his face.
Steve’s eyes were sad.
Bucky’s lips curled in disgust as he turned his head and looked at his reflection in the windows. It was a stranger staring back at him. Steve couldn’t see it, didn’t understand that the man Steve thought he was was long dead, had died on a HYDRA operating table a lifetime ago, and all that was left was the reflection from some sort of distorted funhouse mirror that was shattered and missing pieces.
Fingers tightening into a fist, Bucky sprang to his feet, and closing the distance between them, took a swing at Steve. It was sloppy, his movements telegraphed, and Steve dodged it easily.
Bucky swung again but this time Steve caught his fist, twisting Bucky’s arm high behind his back. Bucky welcomed the sharp pain, and curled his leg around Steve’s, sending them both crashing to the ground. They rolled and grappled across the floor. Steve might have had the advantage of having two arms, but Bucky had a lifetime of training and wasn’t beyond fighting dirty.
Slamming his elbow into Steve’s solar plexus as they rolled again, Steve’s breath left him in a whoosh as he went suddenly limp beneath Bucky.
The seconds ticked by, and Bucky wasn’t sure if he hated himself or Steve more in that instant. Steve was holding back, not wanting to hurt Bucky, and not protecting himself.
Bucky didn’t want to do this. This wasn’t who he was anymore, but he didn’t know how else to make Steve understand.
Bucky bared his teeth and curled his fingers into Steve’s shoulder, shaking him, “Fight me, goddammit!”
Steve shook his head. “Should know better than that by now, Bucky. Not going to fight you.”
Steve’s lack of self-preservation was like a knife twisting in Bucky’s gut. Steve could fight, should fight him. Why wouldn’t he fight him? “Stubborn punk,” Bucky growled.
Steve made a sound that might have been a laugh in any other situation. “You know me. Never known how to give up.”
No, Bucky wanted to deny, he didn’t remember much, not really, most of his knowledge coming from books and the internet. Yet despite that, Bucky knew him. Bucky shoved himself between Steve’s thighs, his hard cock pressing against Steve’s soft one through the layers of their clothes. “This feels a lot like giving up to me.”
Reaching up, Steve carefully pulled Bucky down until they were chest to chest, and Steve’s mouth brushed across his, barely a touch, barely a kiss. “No, Buck. If I’ve learned anything since waking up this century, it’s this is living. You have to stop running.”
Teeth scraped across Bucky’s lips followed by a wet tongue that soothed the small ache. When Steve’s mouth pressed harder against his lips, Bucky let his mouth fall open, let Steve deepen it. They kissed open-mouthed and messy, and Steve made a noise that should have heated his blood.
Instead it was like with the handful of women he’d picked up when’d he’d wake up hard and aching from nightmarish dreams, and his own hand offered no relief: he’d learned that it was the blood and pain that gave him rise. Those that he’d picked had been willing to indulge his desires, hadn’t looked at him like he was a monster, but their eyes had been like his, dead and empty inside. He’d paid them all well, but never let any of them stay. HYDRA would claim no more victims by his hands.
It was only when Bucky’s fingers dug deep into the muscles of Steve’s bicep, felt his flinch, the sharp, startled indrawn breath, that Bucky’s hips bucked against Steve’s, their clothed cocks sliding together.
Wrenching himself away, Bucky rolled onto his back and threw his arm over his eyes, blocking out the world, the boundless blue of Steve’s hooded eyes. He couldn’t do this, not with the women, not with Steve. Bucky’s chest heaved, and he ignored the ache of his cock that still lay hard and heavy between his thighs.
Bucky dropped his arm and turned his head, letting his eyes rake over Steve’s half-reclined form, his ripped shirt hanging open, the blood and bruises, his marks on Steve’s body. A part of him liked what he saw. “No, Steve,” Bucky said with a tired sigh. “When I stop running, people get hurt.”
Steve’s mouth went flat, a familiar stubborn line that Bucky was beginning to hate.
“I’m not people, Buck. The only thing you could do to hurt me is leave.”
Scoffing, Bucky raked his eyes over Steve’s form again, wondering if something important had been knocked loose when Steve’s head had hit the floor. Gesturing at him, Bucky asked with disbelief, “And this was what… foreplay?”
Bucky had meant it to be crude, so the way that Steve’s cheeks heated—seriously after everything that had just happened it was now that he blushed?—was not what he expected. Bucky had been trying to make a point, and instead he found out that Steve was a kinky fuck. He could use that. “That’s what you dream about, Stevie? Your best friend beating the shit out of you before fucking you dry? Or do you imagine me in a collar at your beck and call, ready to spread for you like a good little soldier?”
Steve’s mouth opened to protest, then he turned pale as Bucky’s words continued before he finally let out a sad sigh and said, “You want me to be mad, at you, at HYDRA, at the world. Well, I’m mad at HYDRA for what they did to you, angry at the world for fostering the kind of people who ran it, furious at myself for not going back to the godforsaken ravine, for not finding you sooner.” Steve paused and drew a shuddering breath before his voice cracked as he continued, “But never will I ever be mad at you for any of the reasons you want me to be. You want me to hurt you, but I won’t.”
And dammit, there were tears in Steve’s eyes, causing something in Bucky’s chest to go tight and uncomfortable at the sight. He either felt nothing or too much; there was no in between, but this was new. “Enemies, missions... those I understand. But you, Steve?... I don't know what you are.”
“I’m your friend, Bucky.”
Bucky shook his head, looking away. “I don’t even know what that means anymore.” Then the corner of his mouth curled as he asked, “Friends that kiss?”
“It means that I’m here with you through the thick and the thin. You can’t get rid of me, buddy,” Steve said before one of his shoulders rose in a shrug and he gave a crooked smile as his eyes locked with Bucky’s. “We can be, if you want.”
What about what you want? he didn’t ask. “Were we—did we—”
“Fondue?” Steve finished with a soft laugh. “No.”
It was a reference to something that Bucky was clearly missing. “I’m not changing my mind,” Bucky said, changing the subject instead of asking.
Steve seemed confused for a moment before he climbed to his feet and shrugged again. “Okay.”
“Oookay,” Bucky repeated slowly. Now he was the one who was confused.
Steve offered Bucky his hand, but Bucky didn’t take it.
“I don’t want to fight you, Buck. If that’s what you need, I’m not going to stop you.”
Bucky’s brain was screaming at him that this was wrong, a trap, that Steve had given in too easy, that this had been the plan all along, to make him think it was his choice to go back on ice so they could wipe him. But no, Steve wouldn’t do that to him. He had to believe that. “Thank you,” Bucky said softly. “That means a lot.”
“Anything you need, you tell me, and I’ll try my damnedest to make it happen.” Looking between them at the blood and ripped clothes, Steve said, “Think it’s best we got cleaned up. What do you say?”
“I still don’t think that I’m worth all this, Steve.”
“You made your choice, Buck. How about you let me make mine?” Steve’s voice was full of amused censure.
Yeah, okay. That was fair. Bucky could do that, or at least try because he had a feeling he wasn’t going to like all those choices. For a long moment Bucky just stared at the still offered hand as some nameless emotion welled in his chest. No, he knew this, though he could barely remember it.
It was called hope.
Bucky took Steve’s hand.