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To the Marrow of Our Bones

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Captain America looked like hell.

Bucky held on to that thought. It wasn't exactly the reason he'd gotten himself into this situation, but it would have to do. He wiped his hand on his jeans as he looked up and up.

Fuck, Avengers Tower was daunting, even though he was only going in for another round of tests. It wasn't like anyone expected anything of him, he reminded himself. Probably just some of his blood, and he was pretty good at spilling that.

With one last deep breath, Bucky gathered what courage he had and walked through the automatic doors and into the vast, opulent lobby. Jesus, he'd had half the day to get ready, he should have shaved. Worn the good jeans. Pulled his hair back.

It's just a test, it's just a test, it's --

"Sergeant James Barnes?"

Bucky snapped his attention to the man approaching him.

The first thing he noticed was his hair, sides shaved, the rest of it artfully tousled, jet black with streaks of bright blue that brought out his eyes, even from behind his thick rimmed glasses.

"I'm Grant," the guy said, looking down shyly as he stuck his hand out for Bucky to shake. "I'm Captain America's assistant."

There was no reason in the world for Grant to be nervous here, but Bucky kind of appreciated that he wasn't alone in it, anyway, and he shook his hand as quickly as politeness would allow. "Uh, hi, I'm Bucky. Barnes. I don't usually go by Sergeant anymore, now that I'm out."

He gestured at where his left arm used to be. He usually liked getting that part out of the way as soon as he could. Hopefully Grant wouldn't be one of the ones who would try to hug him and thank him for his service. Not that hugging Grant would be a bad thing. Not at all. Grant seemed very huggable, in a warm cardigan that hung loosely on his slender shoulders. But if he ever got the chance to hug him, Bucky didn't want it to be about what he'd done as a soldier.

"Sure thing, Bucky," Grant said, with a soft smile and a sharp nod.

"Am I supposed to be meeting Captain America today? Because I am not prepared for that," Bucky said. He tried to play it off as a joke, but seriously, he would have found something nicer to wear than his Jubilee concert t-shirt and his scuffed, one-armed leather jacket if he'd known he was going to meet a national icon.

"Uh, it's only me," Grant said, biting his lip a little, just enough to show off the bright gold of his lip ring, and Bucky kinda wanted to help out with the whole biting thing, because Grant's lips were lush and pink and very biteable looking.

Bucky knew exactly what he was doing. He wasn't especially proud of himself for it, either. But a little bit of distraction was what he needed, and Grant, with his meticulously precise tattoos that ran the length of each slender wrist, with his bright blue hearing aid announcing that he had no fucks to give for anyone who didn't accept him as he was ... Well, he was an excellent distraction. He didn't seem to mind, either. For as nervous as he seemed, Grant was also kind of brazen about looking Bucky over once he realized he was being checked out. And if the slow smile and raised eyebrow were anything to go by, he liked what he saw.

"Your first interview is with Natalie Rushman," Grant said with a little shake of his head. "Right this way."

"Wait, interview?" Bucky asked, following along after Grant, down a long corridor, away from the sun drenched lobby and into the fluorescent depths of the building.

"Oh, they didn't tell you?"

"Nobody told me anything."

Grant led Bucky into a small waiting room that only held two chairs, with no windows. There was just the door they'd come through and another blank door opposite it. "Sorry, I didn't realize you'd been kept in the dark. You're here because --"

The blank door opened and a small, auburn haired woman bustled through it. "Grant," she said with a touch of edge in her voice. "Let me do my job, and I'll let you do yours. For as long as you have one, that is."

Grant didn't look at all worried. He even smiled a little as he asked, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Oh, come on," she said with a wicked quirk of her lips. "We all know that as soon as you get the chance you'll be moving on to bigger things."

For whatever reason, Grant gave her an epic eye roll, and he drew a breath for what seemed sure to be a deliciously snarky response, but she flicked her eyes toward Bucky and Grant snapped his mouth shut.

She turned and said, "Sergeant Barnes --"

"It's Bucky," said Grant, and she narrowed her eyes, first at him and then at Bucky.

"Sergeant Barnes," she said again, ignoring Grant's glare. "I'm Natalie Rushman, and I'll be conducting your first interview of the day. Come this way."

Bucky followed her through the blank door, and Grant stayed behind.

Natalie waved imperiously at a leather chair as she went around the desk to her own, bigger, more comfortable looking chair, and said, "Have a seat."

He did. It was just as uncomfortable as it looked.

She steepled her fingers. "Your physical tests have all been excellent, and your marrow is a match for Captain America."

Jesus. They really hadn't told him anything, and apparently there'd been plenty to tell. "That's good, though. Right?"

She tilted her head enigmatically. "I guess that depends. What happens now is that I find out exactly how big of a threat you are to Captain America's security."

"Oh. Because he'd be incapacitated for the procedure?"

Shit. Wrong thing to say. She was going to flay him alive. Shit.

"Let's get started."

 


 

Bucky's VA appointed therapist liked to tell him, "Dissociation is not a solution."

But his therapist wasn't here. Nobody was here. Nobody but Natalie, who was slowly working on tearing him apart.

Bucky had to get through this. He reminded himself again that Captain America looked like hell in that infomercial Stark had made. America's golden boy was all washed out, dark circles under his eyes that the make-up couldn't quite cover, still standing tall, but not filling out his suit the way he used to. The first time Bucky had seen it, he'd muttered something about eating more fucking protein and switched the channel.

It wasn't until a few nights later, because a few nights was the most he could ever get between horrifying dreams that made sleep impossible, that he actually watched the thing.

It was vague about the details. Cap was still strong, but he was sick, and only a bone marrow donation "from one of you out there, right now," could cure him. "Be a hero," Stark said into the camera. "Make America big again!" And they cut to the image of the two of them, Stark looking like he always did, Cap looking tired and underfed but otherwise the same as usual.

But then Captain America had his say. He didn't talk about himself at all. He didn't ask anyone to be a hero. He just talked steadily about how bone marrow donation was simple, relatively painless, ("I know, needles aren't my favorite thing, either," he said, "But it's not much different from donating plasma.") and it saved thousands of lives. He didn't even amend it to say innocent lives, or show sad eyed children in hospital beds. He just said it saved lives, as if he believed that sick people deserved treatment, no matter what. Then he looked into the camera and said, "I know you'll do what's right."

Bucky tried to remember that as he listened to his own voice, mechanically answering Natalie's questions about the friends he'd gotten killed, about the explosion that blew him to pieces, about the cell and the chair and the pain.

"You can go now," she said finally, not even looking up from her tablet.

He went. He straight-armed his way through one door after another until he found sunshine and bus fumes and a thousand voices all talking at once. He rounded a corner, stumbled upon a little plaza with a tree growing in a boxy planter, and propped himself between the planter and the building.

He wanted a cigarette.

He wanted a beer.

He wanted his eyes to be dry and his hand to be steady.

As usual, he didn't get what he wanted.

"Hey," a voice huffed beside him. The guy from before, Grant, was there, all out of breath, bent over with his hands on his knees, his skin pale but with bright spots on his cheeks. He looked up through his bangs and gasped, "Can I help?"

"What?" Bucky asked, still not quite back inside himself, but aware enough to figure he should be the one asking that question.

"You kinda ... ran off. I thought ... You okay?"

"Um, I'm fine." Bucky sniffed and wiped his eyes, and gave a wry smile. "Obviously."

Grant wheezed a laugh. "Yeah, me too."

Bucky shoved himself up onto the edge of the planter to sit, and held out his hand in offering. Grant considered it for what felt like a long moment, but finally took it and pulled himself up. His fingers were long and strong, with bruises on the knuckles. Bucky didn't bother trying to understand why he found that particular detail quite as hot as he did.

The look Grant was giving him was kind and compassionate, and Bucky said roughly, "I don't want to talk about it."

"Well, that's good, 'cause I'm a terrible listener," Grant said, shaking his head sadly with a ghost of a smirk on his lips.

Bucky's shoulders came down a little. "Oh yeah?"

"I'm pretty sure I've been told that. Maybe they meant someone else though, I wasn't paying attention." Grant bit his lip, trying to hold back a grin. He really was the best kind of distraction, and once again, Bucky wanted to help with the lip biting.

He settled for smiling and giving him a light shove, instead. "Dork."

"Dweeb," Grant shot back, bumping their shoulders together.

"Doofus."

"I can only think of one other d-word," Grant said, blinking widely.

Bucky gasped in mock outrage. "I can't believe you were going to call me a doodlebug."

Grant almost toppled over laughing. Bucky caught him around the shoulders, just in case, and Grant nestled in closer, still chuckling.

They both froze for a moment.

Bucky carefully lifted his arm, and they arranged themselves shoulder to shoulder. To fill the silence, Bucky blurted out, "It turns out I'm a match. For the bone marrow. Guess maybe you knew that, though."

"I would have told you --"

"It's okay. I just ... wasn't expecting the Spanish Inquisition." Bucky grinned.

Grant grinned back. "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

Good listener or not, Grant was damned easy to talk to, and Bucky said quietly, "I'm not sure I'd go through this if it was for anyone else."

"I don't think you'd have to, if it was anyone else." He looked so sad about it, frowning down at his knees. "But I know he really appreciates it."

"Just trying to do my part," Bucky said, pressing a little harder into his shoulder rather than put his arm around him again like he wanted.

Grant's phone buzzed, startling them both. He checked the text and turned to Bucky. "You ready for another meeting? This one is just for paperwork, no thumbscrews or comfy pillows."

"As if paperwork isn't its own form of torture." Bucky hopped down from the planter.

Grant hopped down beside him. "Can't argue with that."

They went back inside, and through the entire endless stack of papers, Grant stayed with him.

There were forms consenting to the peripheral blood stem cell donation, ("Five days of injections is a little more intense than a plasma donation, though.") forms consenting to the traditional bone marrow donation if the stem cell option didn't work out, ("Fun, drilling holes in your hip bone.") forms for his own privacy, ("Oh look, you could win a fiddle of gold.") forms for Stark Industries privacy, ("This one says your second born child is the rightful property of Mr. Rumpelstiltskin.")

Grant kept Bucky laughing, kept him focused, kept him in his own skin.

Damn, Bucky didn't want to be done.

The woman who'd been handling all the paperwork, Maria, had already left the conference room, and Grant was going to say his goodbyes any second now.

"I guess it'd be inappropriate to ask you out?" Bucky said, somehow finding exactly the wrong tone.

A little flash of disappointment, and then resignation, flickered across Grant's face almost too fast to see. "Yeah, I guess so."

"I could do it anyway," Bucky said, keeping his voice low and moving closer, until Grant lifted an eyebrow and gave a ghost of a smile.

"You could."

"Come to dinner with me." Bucky licked his lips, aiming for seductive but maybe landing on nervous. Either way, Grant followed the movement and swallowed.

"Right now?"

"Right now."

"Let's go."

 


 

It was Bucky's favorite restaurant, the one that he'd been to often enough to almost feel comfortable in. He grinned across the table. "So, do you work for all the Captains, or just the one?"

"No, Sam and Sharon don't need the help." Grant smiled, but his eyes flicked to the door as another customer came in.

"And Rogers does?"

"Well, you know. He missed a lot. Doesn't know how to use things like self check outs, doesn't get all the pop culture references," Grant said, scanning the entire area again.

Bucky reached out with his chopsticks and swiped a piece of pork off Grant's plate, trying to draw him back in. "Nobody gets all the references."

"I guess not," Grant smiled and swatted at him, far too late. "But he's got this whole list of things to catch up with."

"Must be kind of fun though, right?"

The look Grant gave him was equal parts confusion and dismay.

Bucky shrugged. "I like new stuff. If we didn't get to show each other new stuff then I might never be able to talk you into going to my place to watch Airbender."

To Bucky's immense relief, Grant looked delighted, his raised eyebrow doing nothing at all to hide his grin as he said, "Oh, is that what we're doing?"

"Maybe. Unless you've already seen everything. In that case I'll have to invite Captain America, instead."

Grant shook his head like that was the weirdest, worst thing he'd ever heard.

"Wow," Bucky said, "is he really that bad?"

"No!" Grant looked down at his napkin, which he was twisting mercilessly. "I don't know. He's an okay guy. But sometimes he seems ... scared and selfish."

Bucky didn't have an answer for that. He planned to spend the rest of the week getting stuck with needles for Captain America, but any loyalty he had for him didn't measure up to the idea of taking Grant home and bringing him off fast, barely inside the door. He wanted strong hands on his shoulders and bitter salt on his tongue. The thought of it was half of what had gotten him through the day, and the other half was the way Grant made him laugh.

Besides, there were much better topics of conversation.

He moved closer, propping his elbow on the table. "I like your lip ring."

"Uh, thanks." Grant looked up at him and said politely, "Do you have any piercings?"

"Wouldn't you like to know." Bucky tilted his head and gave a sultry smile.

After a moment of surprise, Grant smiled back, slowing looking him over. "Yeah, I would."

"Well I'm not telling. You'd have to find out for yourself."

"I'd like that even more."

They didn't stay for dessert.

 


 

There were a lot of disadvantages to only having one hand, but this was one of the highest on the list. Grant's skin was satin smooth everywhere that Bucky touched, but he couldn't touch nearly enough of it at once. The dip at the small of his back, the slight curve of his waist, the gentle planes of his chest, Bucky wanted all of it under his hands, and instead he ended up tangled in Grant's shirt, a problem Grant solved by pulling the shirt off. It landed on the floor somewhere, just like his cardigan had. The soft thwump of it had neatly coincided with the sound of Bucky hitting the light switch as they got inside, and they hadn't slowed down since.

God he was gorgeous, pale in the soft lamplight, and Bucky kissed at the shadows formed by the sharp angle of his collarbones as Grant clutched at his hips. The way he sighed, not quite a moan but oh so close, was intoxicating, and Bucky bent lower, licking and nibbling and sliding a nipple between spit slick fingers.

Grant pulled at him, slipped his hands around his waist and under his shirt, his fingers a cool spark against his skin.

"Oh sugar, yes." Bucky murmured, and hooked his arm around Grant's shoulder to bring him closer.

He didn't even think about what he was doing, until Grant slowly pulled out of what short grasp Bucky had with his stump, and whispered, "I can't do this."

Fuck.

Bucky backed away, giving him plenty of room and not meeting his eyes. "Yeah, okay. I -- uh -- It happens. It's fine."

"I'm sorry, I didn't --"

"It's fine!" Bucky snapped, proving that it fucking wasn't fine, and he couldn't bring himself to feel sorry that they both knew it now. He scooped Grant's shirt off the floor and threw it at him. "I get it, okay? You can stop trying to make me feel better about it and just fucking go."

"You -- What do you mean you get it?" Grant said. He let the shirt fall right back to the floor and reached out to Bucky as if he hadn't just flinched away from him. "How do you --"

Bucky twisted away, putting his stump behind him, mortified to feel tears coming to his eyes, again, but goddamn he had thought it could be good with Grant, thought he'd understand, somehow, or at least not be disgusted with him. "Just go. Find somebody else to practice being brave on. I'm not -- I can't --"

Grant went from looking confused to looking horrified. "No, Bucky it's not that! Oh fuck, I'm so sorry. It's not about your arm or your injuries or whatever you might think it is."

"Right." Bucky sniffed and scrubbed his palm over his eyes, shaking his head.

"I swear it's not that," Grant said, and touched Bucky's shoulder. "You called me sugar and I wanted you to say my name, I wanted you to be with me, but -- Grant is my middle name. My real name is Steve. Steve Rogers."

"What the fuck difference --" Bucky stopped. "Steve Rogers?"

"Yeah."

That was not possible.

Sure, Captain America had looked thinner than usual, but ...

He had looked a lot thinner than usual, but ...

Grant's hair was all wrong, and he had the incredibly hot lip piercing, the tattoos, but shit, none of that proved anything and he had the same fucking eyes, behind those thick-rimmed glasses. "That Steve Rogers?"

Grant, STEVE, sighed. "Yeah."

"You're Steve Ro--"

"I know, and I hate being so dishonest, but I never thought --"

"Really fucking dishonest, yeah." They hadn't exactly bared their souls or anything, but jesus. "Was any of it true?"

"All of it was true, I --"

"All of it except for the part where you're actually Captain America?"

"Technically, Sharon is, at the moment." When Bucky gave him a flat look, he stuck his chin out and went on, "She is. And so is Sam, he's just on hiatus while --"

"The same way you're on hiatus? Or does he tell people his actual name?"

"I really am sorry." Steve slumped against the wall and blew out a breath. He looked like hell, with his skin even paler than usual and his hands trembling despite how he clenched them tight and tried to hide it.

"Go sit down," Bucky said, not so pissed that he couldn't also be worried. He went to the fridge and pulled out a pair of water bottles, handing one over and sitting on the opposite end of the couch to watch him drink.

"Thanks," Steve said once the bottle was half empty. He'd pulled his cardigan back on, over bare skin that Bucky still wanted to touch, and he rubbed his chest, muttering, "Damn, this sucks."

"Tell me what happened. You're about a foot and half shorter than I'd have expected." It was an exaggeration, but Bucky was feeling petty.

"It's classified." Steve shrugged. "But we were planning to raise your clearance level anyway, since you were supposed to meet everybody tomorrow. If you're still in."

"Who's everybody?"

"The Avengers."

Bucky blinked in horror. "Nobody told me about that."

"Yeah, well, sometimes people try to kill us, especially when we're all together. We try not to announce things, because somebody could steal Ant-Man's suit and ride in on your shoelaces, and you wouldn't even realize until the shooting started. Or they could use a tracker and send in a drone. The fewer people who know where we are, the safer everyone will be," Steve said bitterly.

He was Captain America. Of course there were people who wanted him dead, who wanted worse. Of course he'd had a hunted look in his eyes when they were out in public. Of course he should keep himself safe.

Christ, looking at him like this, miserably hunched in the corner of the couch, trying to do what he thought was right, Bucky wanted nothing more than to keep him safe.

He sighed. "If I'm meeting The Avengers, I guess I'd better wear my good jeans."

Steve tried to smile. "Well, you already met Natasha. She interviewed you. Natalie Rushman."

"That was --" Bucky sucked in a breath. "Fuck, I'd have been a lot less embarrassed if I'd known it was her. How many guys can say the Black Widow made them cry?"

"So many," Steve said, shaking his head, and they both laughed a little.

Jesus, it felt right to laugh with him.

Steve settled back into the cushions. "All right, you asked what happened, and it's a long story, but it started when Sam was part of a secret flight suit program."

Bucky smirked. "Everybody kinda knows about the Falcon suit."

"Yeah, well they didn't at the time, smartass."

"Come over here and say that to my face," Bucky said, playfully narrowing his eyes.

Steve shoved himself out of the corner of the couch and leaned in, so very close. He raised an eyebrow and said, "Smartass."

The space between them melted into a soft sigh and a press of lips and a hand tangling in blue streaked hair.

"Wait," Steve murmured, putting a hand on Bucky's chest but shifting closer. Bucky licked his lips and Steve kissed him again, open mouthed so their tongues caught, the chill of his lip ring a bright counterpoint to all his warmth.

Bucky ran his fingers lightly over Steve's earlobe and brushed their lips together again. "You wanted to wait?"

"Uh, yeah," Steve muttered, barely moving back at all. "Shit, sorry, yeah."

"Don't want you to be sorry about this," Bucky whispered against Steve's temple.

"No." Steve took a deep breath and sat back. "Not sorry about you. Not a bit. But you deserve the truth before -- Before you make any decisions."

"Okay." Bucky nodded and tried to pick up the threads of their conversation. "And it starts with Sam Wilson?"

"Right. Sam got out of the Air Force after he watched his partner get shot down. He came home, made a life for himself, found a way to help people. Then he met me, and a few days later I dragged him back into fighting."

"Against HYDRA, Project Insight," Bucky said.

"Yeah. They sent an assassin after us. The Winter Soldier. During the fighting, the Soldier's mask came off, and ... It was Sam's partner, Riley. We don't know how he survived the fall, just that he got captured by HYDRA, and they used him to test out a version of the serum. It's not exactly like mine, but it made him stronger. Strong enough that he could keep healing when they tortured him, and when they damaged his brain, over and over."

"Fuck," Bucky muttered. "Fuck."

"Yeah." Steve took a deep breath. "They made him into their perfect soldier. He didn't even know his own name anymore. And Sam ... he's stronger than I could ever be, he got through to Riley, he broke the conditioning and almost got himself killed in the process. But the helicarriers crashed, and when Sam woke up, Riley was gone. Word got around, and a lot of powerful people were scared at the idea of a rogue super soldier out there, so they all started trying to find a way to counteract the serum."

"And one of them succeeded." Bucky brushed his knuckles over Steve's knee, and Steve twined their fingers together.

"Yeah. They created a situation, and we played right into their hands, Tony and I both. I got arrested, put in a top security prison, along with some of my friends. They made Wanda wear a collar, they treated her like --" Steve scowled and clenched his free hand into a fist.

"Arrested," Bucky said. "So this was our people? Our own fucking government did this to you?"

"Funny thing is, I'd already agreed to be experimented on. I signed all the papers, back in '43, so it wasn't even technically illegal, according to General Ross."

"Oh yeah, that's hilarious. Jesus christ, no wonder you always look like you want to punch somebody."

Steve chuckled, which seemed like a hell of a victory to Bucky, under the circumstances. "Anyway. They tried a lot of things, and even after they found one that seemed to work, they didn't stop experimenting. If Sam hadn't convinced Tony to help break me out, I would've died. Hell, I still might. I can't make enough blood cells now. I'm too weak to get the serum again."

"And that's where the bone marrow comes in," Bucky said.

"Right. It's more than that, though. At least, according to Doctor Erskine."

Bucky blinked in surprise, and Steve said, "What?"

"Nothing, just ... It's a little weird. I only know Doctor Erskine as a character in a movie, with the sparky lights and the goofy hair." He didn't mention that it was a little like talking about Doctor Frankenstein. He wasn't about to imply that Steve was a monster.

"His hair wasn't actually goofy, and the sparky lights were mostly Howard's fault." Steve waved his hand dismissively. "But one thing the movie got right was that he chose me because he believed that I was a good man. He believed that the results of the experiment would be affected by that. Bruce thinks so, too. He's an expert on the serum, he knows more about it than anyone."

"Okay?" Bucky said, because Steve was giving him a significant look that he didn't understand.

"That's why I wanted you to know all this. That's why the rest of The Avengers need to meet you before we move on with the transplant. We have to be sure, because Erskine said it's what's inside that matters, and part of what's inside would be, well, you."

He was looking right into Bucky's eyes, with the kind of unspeakable bravery that Steve Rogers was known for.

"No, that's --" Bucky swallowed desperately. "I'm not like that, I'm not like you, I'm --"

"Scared and selfish?" Steve said with a crooked smile. "Yeah, I know the feeling."

Having one less hand didn't make it any easier to figure out what to do with the one he still had. Bucky settled for running it through his hair and then clenching it at his side. "What happens if it goes wrong?"

"It went fine last time, and that was seventy years ago. We have better tests, better medicine, and a better Stark."

"We do?"

"We do. Howard was a great inventor and a great businessman, but Tony is a hero. And a genius. And an asshole, but nobody's perfect."

Bucky knew he wasn't doing a great job of processing all this. Using his body to help Captain America was one thing. Hoping that his moral compass was strong enough to be trusted with Steve's life was something else entirely. But instead of any of that, he said, "Was the real Howard like the one in the movie?"

"He helped pay for the movie, so no. He was probably the only one who came out looking better than in real life."

"Did you ever get to talk to him, after?"

"No, he was already gone."

"What about the others? Jim Moore, and --"

"Morita," Steve said, practically in a growl. "His name was Jim Morita. His parents got sent to a fucking internment camp while he was out fighting for our country, but the filmmakers made him white instead of Japanese. They spent loads of money on special effects to show Arnie falling off the train, but it was too expensive to show that he was Jewish or that he was gay. And the shit they did to Gabe -- Gabe Jones was a fucking poet, that man never said 'aw shucks' in his life, goddammit."

"Jesus. I didn't know any of that."

"Hardly anyone does," Steve said, opening his water bottle and taking a long drink. "I talk about it, but nobody really listens, not in the press anyway. They just want to hear about who Natasha is dating."

Bucky nodded and tried to pretend he wouldn't want to know the answer to that.

Steve rolled his eyes and said, "It's Sharon. They met while I was getting myself arrested, been together ever since."

Bucky snorted. "Well, at least something good came out of it."

"Oh, it wasn't all bad. Bruce came back to us. Sam found Riley again."

Something about the way Steve shrugged and turned away gave Bucky an idea about what he wasn't saying. "What about you? The tattoos and everything, is that ..."

Steve ran his hand over his wrist, over the crisp clean image of a stylised yellow wing. "It's kinda nice."

"Being someone else?" Bucky asked doubtfully.

Steve shook his head. "Bein' me."

Bucky nodded, only vaguely understanding. He reached over and ran his thumb over the image of a compass on Steve's arm. "You figure the ink will stay, if you get the serum again?"

"Last time, all my scars went away, so I doubt it. But the serum's not an if. I'll get it eventually. There's other donor candidates, if you decide not to go through with it, and if none of them work out then I'll take my chances without it."

Bucky had no doubt that he would, with the way he was looking steadily back at him, his unnaturally black hair falling over his eyes and his lips set in a firm line, determined and infinitely kissable. Bucky shook his head. "That sounds really stupidly dangerous, but I don't suppose that's ever stopped you before."

Steve huffed a laugh. "Yeah, well, Arnie always told me not to do anything stupid without him, but it never seemed to take."

"Were you and him ..." Bucky waved his hand between them.

"Nah. He had a boyfriend, Michael. He died in the war, too. After I crashed the Valkyrie, the rest of the Howlies went back for Arnie's remains and made sure they were buried next to each other."

Maybe it was inappropriate to want to hug a national icon, but what the hell, it was probably more inappropriate to want to slip his hands under the national icon's sweater, trace each one of his ribs, nuzzle along the line of hair that disappeared so tantalizingly under the band of his jeans. Bucky bit his lip, trying to sort out whether he wanted to comfort Steve or slowly coax him into blissful oblivion.

Steve, who had no reason to know where Bucky's mind had been, shrugged and said, "It's good to talk about them."

Right. Focus. "What about you and Carter? Did she really talk to you on the radio as you took down the Valkyrie?"

"Yeah." He smiled a little. "She cussed a lot more than what they showed, though. That dame had a mouth like a sailor."

Bucky waggled his eyebrows. "Oh really?"

Steve snorted. "Not like that! I mean, I was gonna ask her, but the Red Skull had other plans. The timing never worked out."

Well fuck, maybe blissful oblivion would be a comfort.

Bucky looked Steve up and down, making sure that he noticed this time, and gave him a slow, dirty smile. "Anybody have other plans for you now?"

"Nope," Steve said, and he swallowed like he was nervous, but he looked Bucky right in the eyes.

The couch wasn't where he wanted to do this, so Bucky got up and offered Steve his hand. They walked to the bedroom in silence, Steve's long cool fingers entwined with his own, and once they got inside, Steve closed the door behind them. As if he wasn't interested in keeping an escape route open. As if maybe he wasn't so nervous after all. As if he belonged here.

Bucky started to fold down the covers, and Steve moved to the other side of the bed to do the same. It felt like an oddly meaningful gesture, maybe because he didn't remember it ever happening before, but he was a little too distracted to bother working it through. They each undressed, on their opposite sides, openly watching each other, Steve's sharp collarbones and slim waist coming into view again, just as tempting as before, and then the gorgeous angles of his hip bones, and dark curls, his hardening cock, his pale, slender legs.

They met in the middle of the bed, and Steve curled a hand into the back of Bucky's hair and pulled him into a fierce kiss, all tongue and teeth, and Bucky gave as good as he got, until he was breathless with it, hand slipping over the lush curve of Steve's ass, squeezing there before trailing to the back of his knee, wanting him wrapped tight around his thighs, wanting --

"Wait," Steve whispered, pulling away to lie on his back. "Sorry, gotta ... hang on a sec."

He pressed his fist against his chest and breathed in deep, then covered his eyes with his other hand, his face crumpling into a frown.

"Steve?" Bucky sat up, not even sure if he was allowed to touch him.

"Goddammit," Steve said, rough and low, as if to himself. "Heart was already fucked up. Then the anemia, too. I get dizzy. Pass out. Die, if I don't rest." He moved his hand so one eye peeked out, and gave a wry smile. "Might be worth it."

Bucky shook his head. "I appreciate the vote of confidence, but I'm pretty sure nobody is that good."

Steve shoved himself up and sat ruler straight with his back to Bucky. "I really wanted to find out for myself."

"What if ..." Oh christ, he really shouldn't make any suggestions, should just watch Steve go, maybe text him when this was all over, and definitely not put his health at risk. But the look Steve shot him was so hopeful, and Bucky wanted him. "What do you do when you're by yourself?"

"Uhh, usually I just ... in the shower ..."

"And that's been, you know, safe?"

"So far," Steve said, with the slightest smirk.

"C'mere." Bucky slid his arm around Steve's waist and pulled him into the v of his legs, savoring the shift of Steve's shoulder blades against his chest. He tucked his chin against the crook of his neck, making sure he was on the side with Steve's good ear. "Show me," he whispered. He slid his hand under Steve's and trailed their fingers up the inside of his thigh. "Show me how to touch you. Soft and easy. Show me."

"What about you?" Steve sighed, "You aren't getting anything from --"

Bucky shifted closer, his cock riding right along Steve's tailbone. Steve moaned softly and arched back.

"Getting plenty, Steve. Touchin' you. Christ, so gorgeous."

Finally, Steve moved both their hands, Bucky's fingertips brushing over the delicate skin at the crease of his thigh, trailing through dark hair, and wrapping gently around the hard length of him. They set up a slow pace, soft and easy just like Bucky had said, and Steve leaned back, pressing them together as they stroked him. Skin on skin, from shoulders to ankles, Steve's wiry body stretched out against him, warm and open.

It was nothing like the quick and dirty fuck he'd been hoping for when he asked out 'Grant'. This was devastatingly intimate, honest in a way he wasn't at all used to, and Bucky found himself saying, "If I had my other hand, god the things I'd do to you."

Steve turned his head, giving Bucky a long, measured look before licking his lips. He reached up and caught Bucky's stump, still carefully gauging his reaction as he pressed it just above his elbow and murmured, "Show me."

He would never have mistaken it for his own arm, covered in Steve's meticulously planned tattoos, the knuckles bruised, because Steve fights for what he believes in and damn all the consequences. It wasn't like his own arm at all, but damn if it wasn't erotic, the way he responded to Bucky's movements, as if -- As if Steve was completing him, even just for this moment.

Bucky guided that beautiful hand up to his lips, brushing kisses over each of the fingers before licking between them and guiding him back down, to slide over and around Steve's nipple, exactly the way Bucky would have done with his own hand.

"Yeah, just like that," Bucky breathed. "You feel it? Nice and hard and tight for me?"

"Yes," Steve sighed, his toes curling and uncurling.

Bucky led his hand down, along his ribs, across his stomach, "Skin there is damn near like velvet. So soft."

Steve huffed a laugh. "Guess so."

Keeping up the same steady rhythm with his own hand, almost agonizingly slow, up and down Steve's gorgeous cock at a pace that was safe for his heart, both of them rocking their hips to give Bucky the barest friction on his own erection, he moved Steve's hand lower again, over his hipbone, to slide along his thigh. "Feel the muscles there, the way they flex and shift for me."

"What muscles?" Steve scoffed.

It caught Bucky by surprise, until he thought about how strange it would be to wake up with his left arm in place again. He probably wouldn't feel quite at home in either version of his body anymore. It had to be even more profound for Steve, since his two bodies barely had anything in common. "There are muscles," he said against Steve's shoulder. "Your legs are plenty strong. You're flesh and blood and bone, Steve. You're right here with me, every bit of you gorgeous and fuckable and real."

Steve turned to him, cheeks flushed, eyes wide, lips parted, and he caught Bucky in a harsh, feral kiss. Bucky savored the clash of it for a long moment then pulled back, turning it into something soft, something tender. Again and again, achingly delicate, pausing to suck at his bottom lip and pulling away again, dipping in to brush their tongues together before slipping away again, catching gently on his lip ring and moving away again. It was like nothing he'd ever done before, breathing together, their hands slowly stroking Steve's cock, Steve's ass pressing back over and over, and Bucky was looking right into Steve's eyes, feeling like something in his chest had cracked open and left him exposed, when he came, sudden but soft, and Steve arched back into it and moaned and came right after him.

Steve leaned his head back against Bucky's shoulder, and Bucky kissed along his collarbone and up to his pulsepoint, resting his lips there long enough to check that Steve's heart wasn't racing.

"Can you stay?" Bucky whispered against his jaw. "Spend the night with me?"

"Yeah, if --" Steve moved back a little and looked over Bucky's face, then slowly smiled. "Yeah. I'll stay."

Bucky brushed another soft kiss against Steve's lips and said, "Good."