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Next Time, Champ

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The wet blood gushing down Steve's face tells him that he's gone and broke his nose. Again. The front of his face smarts, and he's probably already swelling up. He's certain that he's quite the looker at the moment, but he's not all that concerned about his appearance. He's too preoccupied with the cold winter air he is greedily taking in. His lungs cramp in protest, and he knows that he'll be wheezing for the rest of the night, but he's winded from the fight, dizzy, and lacking air.

He leans back against the side of the building and slides to the ground, ignoring the burn of the brick scraping down his back as he falls. He sits there for a time, watching people hurry along up and down the street, until he catches his breath. He's not sure if the bleeding's stopped or if it's just frozen. It feels frozen. Then again, all of him feels frozen; he's lost feeling in the seat of his pants. It's not snowed yet, but the ground is cold and damp.

He's just closing his eyes when a voice calls to him from the mouth of the alley. He'd laugh, but the pressure on his sinuses would hurt too much. He smiles instead and cocks his head up and to the side to greet Bucky.

"Jesus!" Bucky winces. "That one's a doozy."

"You should see the other guy," Steve says, still smiling.

Bucky, on the other hand, does not share Steve’s amusement. There's affection in his expression, sure, but Steve has to look for it under the exasperation and behind the mothering. "I did," Bucky tells him. "He's the one who came and got me. Says he's sorry, but that your smart mouth pushed him to do it."

Steve shrugs. "He had it coming."

"They always do, don't they?" Bucky remarks, but he doesn't sound convinced. He offers Steve a handkerchief from his pocket, and Steve immediately sets to wiping up the mess on his face. When he’s finished mottling the cloth with his blood, he rumples it up and shoves it into his own pocket.

"You're gonna tell me to knock it off again, aren't you?"

Bucky shakes his head. "Why bother? You're just gonna do it again anyway."

It's an argument they've had before, many times, and an argument they’ll always have because Steve is never going to stop. He won't let the other guy walk away; once you do that, they walk all over you.

Bucky holds out a hand for Steve to take. "You gave him a good wrinkled shirt this time," he says.

Steve grabs hold and pulls himself up, wincing as his nose begins to throb and starts to bleed again. "I was aiming for his jaw," he confesses. He pulls the soiled handkerchief from his pocket and jams it back under his nose.

Bucky laughs, as if he couldn’t help but, and carefully wraps an arm around Steve’s shoulders. "Try a little higher next time, champ.”