Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

For Want of a Nail - Part III: Stone

Title: For Want of a Nail
Fandom: Captain America/Avengers
Series: To Rewrite History
Pairings: Steve/Bucky
Warnings: Angst, dystopia, war flashbacks
Word Count: 6834 (15,888 so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned it, the good guys would have lost.
Summary: Hydra wins the war and then the world.  Seventy years later, the Resistance has a plan to win it back.

Part I: Fire
Part II: Ice

Bucky was warm. He hadn't expected death to be so warm and yet there was no way that he was still alive. Because the last thing he remembered was falling from Zola's train in the mountains as Steve watched, the sight of his friend's horrified face burned into his brain. Sure he didn't actually remember the impact, but that was probably a blessing, and even Steve couldn't have defeated gravity.

So he was dead and he was warm, which meant that his father had been right about everything. His dad had always said that queers didn't go to Heaven and even if Bucky had never acted on his feelings, he hadn't tried to fight them very hard. Or maybe it was the blood on his hands that damned him because the sniper had always known that orders didn't make the killing right. He had done it for himself, for his fellow soldiers and for Steve, but his father's God didn't listen to excuses from the likes of him.

Besides, the fact that he regretted nothing made asking for forgiveness rather pointless and he would be happy to burn forever if it meant that Steve survived. Bucky just hoped that his friend hadn't done anything stupid after he fell; Steve was supposed to marry that Carter gal and have lots of gorgeous children and he couldn't do that if he'd thrown away his life.

But as his memories slowly came back to him, Bucky realized that Steve had done exactly that.

“That fucking idiot,” he burst out and it was only when he'd tumbled off the bed that he realized he had opened up his eyes. Because he remembered Steve falling after him, his handholds giving way as he tried to grab Bucky and his friend had done his best to protect him from the impact with the ground. Steve had died for him, which meant that the stupid punk should be around here somewhere, and when Bucky found him, he was going to kick his ass.

“Easy, soldier. You're safe here but you need to relax.” Bucky started when someone spoke, the sniper having been too out of it to realize that someone else was in the room. But now that he was looking, he noticed the unassuming man standing in the corner and he started to wonder if this was really Hell at all.

Even if most of the equipment was unfamiliar, the soldier knew a hospital when he saw one just as he knew the ache of healing injuries. So Bucky staggered to his feet, his body feeling strangely off balance as he pushed himself upright and asked the only question that he really cared about.

“Where's Steve? Is he all right?”

“Steve? Oh, you mean Captain America. He's fine, I promise. You're both fine now. Or at least, you will be with a bit of rest,” the doctor told him, holding up his hands reassuringly. The man was making little motions like he wanted Bucky to lie back down again, but at least he was smart enough to keep his hands to himself. If he hadn't, the sniper probably would have put him through the wall because he had never liked people touching him unexpectedly and he had only gotten twitchier after Zola tortured him.

So Bucky was going to stay on his feet until he was convinced that this doctor was actually an ally since his streak of paranoia kept pointing out every detail that didn’t fit. But even if they had been captured by the enemy, Steve was still the sniper’s first priority and he forced himself to listen as the doctor kept talking about him.

“Your friend is recovering in another room and I’m sure he’ll come to see you as soon as he can walk. You were both pretty beat up when we found you, but you just got out of surgery so would you please lie down before the painkillers wear off. I'm sorry I couldn't save your arm, but to be honest, we weren't actually expecting either of you to be alive.”

“My arm?” Bucky muttered in confusion, following the doctor's gaze down to his left. Then he jerked sideways, nearly falling over again as he slammed back into the bed. His left arm was missing, the whole limb gone just below the shoulder and the soldier nearly started hyperventilating at the sight.

How was he supposed to watch Steve's back if he couldn't even hold a rifle steady? How were they supposed to destroy Hydra now? The fight had been far from over when they fell and Bucky rather doubted that someone else had finished it. Which meant that Captain America would still be needed and the sniper had to help him; he had to help because the idea of being useless had always terrified him more than anything. But Bucky shoved that feeling down where he kept everything else that he didn't want to think about, down with his memories of Zola and the hot curl of jealousy when Steve made Peggy laugh.

The soldier would freak out later once he was sure that Steve was actually okay and no one else was watching him because the last thing he needed was for the higher-ups to find out how broken he was underneath his cocky smile, not when that was sure to get him discharged immediately.

So Bucky held it together by sheer force of will, straightening up to his full height as best he could and glaring at the doctor until the other man dropped his gaze again.

“Take me to Steve,” he demanded, thankful that his voice didn’t waver on the words. If the sniper had learned anything about army doctors since he’d been drafted, it was that all they really cared about was whether or not a man could fight. You could be completely cock-eyed and ready to snap at the first crack of thunder, but if you could still pull a trigger then the docs would sign your paperwork.

However, this guy just kept waffling on about Bucky’s recovery and the soldier’s paranoia was getting harder to ignore. Because if the doctor was really on his side, then why the hell wasn't he letting Bucky see Steve like he had asked?

No, this man was hiding something, something important, and the sniper was starting to lose control of his more violent impulses. However, just as he was getting ready to do something drastic, another man burst into the room at top speed, his entrance slamming the door back against the wall.

The sharp crack sent Bucky scrambling for cover, the soldier grabbing a syringe from the rack of medical equipment by the bed and holding it out in front of him. It might not have been the best weapon but neither of the other men looked like fighters and it made him feel better to have something sharp in his hand. Only, when his heart finally stopped pounding quite so hard in his chest, fighting was suddenly the last thing on Bucky’s mind.

“Howard?!” he exclaimed in shock, though even as he said it, the soldier knew it wasn't true. For while the resemblance was uncanny, Howard Stark had been at least a few decades younger than this new arrival and the scientist had never spoken with such a strong French accent.

“You're awake. That's fantastic. I'm sorry about the doctor here; he's not really comfortable with soldiers and your situation is rather unique, isn't it? But I promise we're not actually the enemy or whatever else you're thinking in that crazy head of yours. In fact, I'll take you to Steve right now if you're up for walking and if not, I'm sure we've got a wheelchair somewhere in this place. Heck, I can build you one if need be, wouldn't take more than a few minutes with the stuff I have on hand. Oh, and to answer your question, Howard was my father and we have a lot to talk about.”

“I... what?” the soldier muttered, this torrent of words quickly overwhelming his shell-shocked mind. But Bucky was really pretty sure this man had just claimed that Howard Stark was his father and that was definitely impossible.

So he just growled when the stranger tried to take his syringe away, the other man backing off quickly after Bucky bared his teeth.

“All right, you can keep your sharp pointy object if it means that much to you,” Howard's double said, raising his hands in surrender before saying something to the doctor and ushering him from the room. Bucky relaxed a bit now that he only had one person to keep track of, watching the man out of the corner of his eye in case he tried something again. But the guy seemed content to stay on his side of the room without complaining, though he did keep opening his mouth like he was going to and then shutting it again.

This somewhat awkward silence gave Bucky plenty of time to stare and it really was sort of freaky how similar this guy and Howard looked. They weren’t identical twins or anything, but there was definitely a resemblance and if it hadn’t been so crazy, the soldier might have believed the father thing.

However, just when his curiosity was starting to get the better of his suspicion, the door opened again and a gorgeous redhead pushed a wheelchair into the room. She really was a knockout and just because Bucky was stupidly in love with Steve didn’t mean that he couldn’t enjoy a pretty view. Although, when the woman turned to look at him, he had to reconsider his appreciation because there was a distinct feeling of threat in her eyes.

To be honest, it was a little disturbing since he’d never seen a dame look so murderous before and if these people actually were the enemy, Bucky would obviously have to plan his escape very carefully. Particularly given the fact that he could hardly stand without swaying and while the soldier tried to hide his weakness, he was grateful when the redhead motioned for him to sit down.

However, he still kept a tight grip on his weapon as Howard’s double came up behind him, Bucky trying not to flinch at the feeling of someone standing at his back. But the man just grabbed his chair and pushed it forward, the sniper gritting his teeth when the movement jostled the raw stump of his arm. This was only one of the wounds announcing their presence now that the drugs were wearing off, but Bucky refused to ask for more painkillers until he had seen Steve with his own eyes and so he forced himself to focus on his surroundings as the other man wheeled him from the room.

“Your name is James Buchanan Barnes, isn't it?” His host asked as gleaming medical equipment gave way to rough concrete walls. “Best friend to one Steve Rogers, better known as Captain America? My name is Anthony Edward Stark and this is SHIELD's Grenoble headquarters.”

Bucky could almost hear the capitals in the man's voice and although his surroundings didn't look particularly impressive, the army could be running low on funds by now. Hell, the Howling Commandos had been lucky to get bullets for a few of their missions even with Howard's money backing them and this thought brought him right back around to his strange host again.

“Anthony Stark... And you're Howard's son...? You do know that's impossible?” Bucky asked skeptically, looking back over his shoulder at the other man. However, even though his expression was definitely a little shifty, Bucky had always been good at sensing liars and this guy seemed sincere.

“Well, everyone calls me Tony, but yes, that's one of the things we need to talk about. Only, I think I better wait until we're with Steve to have that conversation because what I need to tell you is going to be something of a shock. Although, in all honesty, I was pretty shocked myself when we found you in those mountains since I was only expecting Captain America and just his corpse at that. However, once we saw your dog tags everything made sense. I mean, the surviving Howling Commandos always said that both of you had fallen but no one ever put two and two together before now.”

“The others, they're alive?” Bucky asked, temporarily distracted from whatever secrets this Tony was trying to talk around.

Though maybe he could guess at one of them when the answer to his question was an uncomfortable shrug and quickly averted eyes. His friends were dead; they must all be dead to cause that kind of guilty silence and Bucky wasn't sure that he wanted to know what had happened anymore.

“Not exactly,” Tony finally muttered when the silence dragged on too long. “Even though they didn't die the way you're probably thinking now. It's complicated; hell, this whole thing is insane and I wouldn't be surprised if you assume I'm crazy once I finally explain. But first, as promised, I've got an old friend for you to meet.”

The man opened another door with a flourish, revealing a hospital room much like the one that Bucky had woken in. But what had the sniper pushing himself out of his chair and staggering forward was the sight of Steve turning to grin at him.

“Bucky, you’re awake!” the blond exclaimed, holding out a hand to catch the other man as he all but fell against the bed. To be honest, Steve looked awful: fading bruises across his chest and his leg up in a sling, but his smile was still the best thing that Bucky had ever seen. Of course, that smile dropped off his face in an instant when he finally got a good look at his friend.

“Christ, pal. You look like you’ve been through the ringer,” Steve murmured, catching Bucky’s face between his hands, and the blond’s concern threatened to break the soldier’s composure where pain and shock had failed.

So he pushed himself upright with a little shake of his head, mouthing “later” at the question in Steve’s eyes. Then Bucky turned to look back at Tony, leaning against his friend’s shoulder for support as he settled next to him on the bed.

“All right, then. We’re both here so why don’t you explain what the devil is going on?” the soldier demanded, Steve nodding in agreement at his side.

“Right, I let you put me off while we were waiting for Bucky to wake up, but if you want our cooperation you had best spit out those secrets that you’ve been chewing on. Beginning with how Stark has a son that’s twice his age.”

Faced with this united front, Tony just sighed and grabbed a chair from the corner, dragging it over to the foot of the bed before sitting down. “I suppose that’s as good place to start as any. I was born in 1967 to Howard Stark and Peggy Carter, and I just turned 45 this year. The two of you have been asleep, preserved in ice for almost seventy years.”

The man had been right, it sounded crazy, but Bucky still couldn’t see any lie on his face. If anything, his story would explain Tony’s resemblance to both Stark and Carter, though the sniper had trouble believing that Peggy would have gone for it. She had been a gal with standards – heck, her interest in Steve had proved that she knew a good catch when she saw one – and Howard had been rather feckless for her tastes. But if it really had been seventy years, Bucky couldn’t blame Peggy for moving on and maybe the inventor had settled down in his old age.

Still, the soldier wasn’t entirely convinced that this wasn’t just an elaborate deception and he watched Tony’s expression carefully as the man rambled on. But if he really was Howard’s son, Tony had certainly inherited the inventor’s inability to get to the point quickly and despite his best efforts, Bucky soon found his mind drifting off. Though he snapped back to attention immediately when Tony mentioned Hydra and Steve went stiff next to him.

While his friend had never been the type to hold a grudge, the blond had made an exception for Hydra ever since Bucky had finally told Steve what Zola did to him. So it wouldn’t surprise the sniper if the other man was beating himself up over their failure to catch the doctor and indeed, Steve’s voice was tight with anger when he asked, “Hydra’s still around?”

“Captain… Hydra won the war,” was Tony’s answer, this one short sentence knocking Bucky for a loop again.

Steve wasn’t in any better shape beside him, the two men only able to gape as Stark elaborated on Hydra’s victory. “No one's quite sure what happened exactly, but as far as we've been able to piece the story together, it goes something like this: A few days after you fell, the Red Skull bombed half the planet and then his army conquered what was left. That’s why my parents started SHIELD – they wanted to keep fighting against Hydra and there was no one else to do the job.”

“So you’re like a resistance group or something? Why did you bother with us?” the soldier asked, eyeing Tony suspiciously again. Sure Steve was Captain America – and given Tony’s earlier words Bucky was ninety-nine percent positive that he had been an afterthought – but the fight must be going really badly if a supersoldier from the forties was SHIELD’s best shot. A presumed dead supersoldier at that.

Indeed, Bucky’s question seemed to knock the wind out of Tony’s sails, the slightly manic air disappearing to reveal the tired old soldier underneath. “Because we’re losing. It’s been seventy years since the Day of Fire and Hydra is as powerful as ever. So we need you; we need you to end this before there’s nothing left to save.”

“I don’t know how much help we’d be. It sounds like you’re fighting a different kind of war than the one that we’re used to,” Steve said quietly and Bucky could tell that he had decided to believe in this lunacy. Then again, the sniper was leaning that way himself because Tony’s despair was all but palpable.

“You’re Captain America, I’m pretty sure you’d learn if you put your mind to it. But even if you choose not to fight, your blood could give us the edge we need. I mean, I went looking for a corpse and I found a pair of supersoldiers so Erskine’s serum has more than proved its worth as far as I’m concerned.”

“What are you talking about? I’m not any kind of supersoldier,” Bucky said with a frown, the idea of comparing him to Captain America laughable at best. “I was already on the Continent by the time Steve here got zapped and let me tell you, seeing him was a surprise.”

“I – are you sure?” Tony asked. “Because Banner said that your blood definitely had traces of the serum – not as much as Steve's, but enough to keep you from freezing or bleeding out before we sewed you up. Even if they didn’t tell you what it was, the change should have been pretty obvious since you would have been healing a lot faster than you used to.”

“I was a sniper, it’s not like I got shot as often as this pun-” Bucky’s words cut off as he was struck by a sudden memory. It was Zola, the scientist staring down at his pet project with the horrible little smile that still haunted the soldier’s dreams. 'You're a survivor, Barnes, I admire that. None of my other subjects lasted through so many experiments. So I am going to give you a gift that many men have dreamed of and perhaps you will be the success that I have been searching for. Or you will burn just like all the others and I will have to choose another lab rat from that pathetic whining mass of prisoners.'

“Can you give us a minute?” the soldier heard distantly, Steve's voice recognizable even through the horror of memory. But all Bucky could see was the syringe coming toward him – the injection that had burned within his veins for days as it scorched them from the inside out.

He had been certain that his death was coming for him and by the end the sniper had begged for it, his voice gone hoarse from screaming with the pain. Bucky’s only relief had been the knowledge that Steve was safe back in Brooklyn, his friend kept far away from the ugly realities of battle by the weakness in his lungs.

No matter how much Steve had always hated his body's endless failures, Bucky had been glad for them after the war began. He had been glad that his friend would not be drafted and could not volunteer because the other man was the one constant in Bucky’s life, the one good thing that Bucky could call his own, and Steve was far too willing to sacrifice everything in order to prove himself. Of course, if the sniper had known what his friend was actually doing while he was there on Zola's table, he might have given up far sooner so perhaps ignorance truly was bliss after all.

“Hey, now, buddy, you're okay. Wherever you've gone, it's not real so just come back to me.” The soldier lashed out when a hand touched his arm, his fist nearly socking Steve in the jaw. But Bucky managed to adjust his aim before he added to Steve's bruises, even if the effort made him gasp with pain again.

The sharp stab of agony sent him crumpling forward, his friend's arm the only thing that kept him from smacking face first into the bed, and for a moment, Bucky allowed himself to take comfort in Steve's warmth against his side.

But even now the soldier was supposed to be the strong one, the one that Captain America could trust with his life without a second thought. So he used his one good arm to push himself back upright, giving Steve a weak smile and a whispered, “I'm all right.”

“You sure? You were pretty out of it there,” the blond asked, hands twitching like he wanted to wrap Bucky in a hug again.

“Yeah, I just... It was Zola. He injected me with something when I was a prisoner,” Bucky muttered a little bitterly, fingers digging into the blankets on Steve's bed. “And I guess I might have been healing faster after you rescued me, but I never really thought about it 'cause I was too busy worrying about your punk ass. So maybe Stark Jr. there is right and I am some kind of second rate Captain America knockoff.”

“Hey, now. You've never been second rate in your life, Bucky,” Steve protested, finally giving in to the urge to pull the other man back against his chest. “And I never thought I'd thank Zola for anything, but I don't know how I would have managed if I'd woken up to this without you here.”

“You do seem to get stupider when I'm not around, don't you?” Bucky said with a half-smile, trying not to melt when his friend started stroking a hand across his hair. “I mean, I go off to Europe for a few months and you volunteer for some weird experiment that could have turned you into a bug or worse. And don't even get me started on the tights.”

“I already told you, that outfit was in no way my idea, and you have to admit the new version wasn't all that bad,” Steve replied with a long suffering sigh, though the quirk of his lips said that he was secretly amused by the sniper's needling.

No one had ever believed Bucky when he told them that Captain America was a cantankerous son of a bitch beneath his goofy smile, not even the other Howling Commandos until they saw the truth first hand. But there was something comforting about the familiar banter now that their world had been turned upside down so completely, everyone that they had ever known swallowed up by history. He and Steve were alone now, just the two of them against the world again.

Only the sniper couldn't watch his friend's back anymore; with his arm gone, he would be useless in a firefight and a faint cry of distress escaped Bucky's throat before he could silence it. Because he knew Steve; he knew that the other man would be leading the charge against Hydra and the soldier couldn't lose him after everything.

“Bucky, what's wrong? Are you still in pain? I should call Tony back in so he can get the doctor,” Steve asked, the concern in his voice making Bucky curl deeper into his chest.

He didn't want to talk about it; he didn't want to admit how weak he was feeling so he just shook his head when his friend asked again, grabbing Steve's arm when the other man made to pull away. “I'm fine. It's nothing.”

“Don't lie to me!” Steve burst out, Bucky jerking back in surprise at the blond's vehemence. “Bucky, you're not fine. You're so far from fine that it's not even funny, we both are, so will you just stop trying to pretend. You always do this; you laugh off your pain like it doesn't even matter and I'm sick to death of it.”

For a second, all Bucky could do was gape because Steve had never yelled at him like that before. He'd been angry, sure, and sometimes bitter back when his body always failed him, but now his eyes were blazing and the soldier could hardly believe that his friend cared this much about his injuries.

Bucky wasn't worth it; he'd never been worth everything that the other man did for him. Because he was just a two bit dock worker with a knack for the piano and sweet talking dames, his skill with rifles the only thing that made him valuable to his government. He was just a soldier, a queer who didn't even have the courage to admit it to the man he was in love with, and Steve was finally going to see the coward beneath his skin.

Steve was finally going to leave him now that Bucky was too damaged to follow in his footsteps anymore. But maybe he should have seen this coming; he had seen this coming ever since Captain America was born so Bucky just squared his shoulders and tried to smiled as he whispered, “I'm not- It doesn't- You don't need me anymore.”

“God, you're an idiot sometimes,” the blond told him, his anger disappearing as suddenly as it had come. “I infiltrated a Hydra base for you back when I still had tights and go-go boots; you really think I'm going to abandon you if you admit you're freaking out?”

Bucky couldn't answer him, not when he knew that the truth would disappoint Steve, Steve who had always had too much faith in him. So he stayed silent even as his friend read the answer off his face, the other man leaning back with a tired sigh.

“You don't have to be strong for me all the time; you never did,” Steve said and Bucky wanted so desperately to believe that could be true. “You're my best friend. You're everything and I wish you'd let me help you when you're in pain. I want to help; I want to be there for you like you've always been for me so will you just tell me what's eating you?”

“I just... Look at me,” Bucky bit out, an awkward shrug drawing attention to the space where his left arm had been. “I can't hold a gun like this; I can't even work a fucking radio so how the hell am I supposed to fight anymore? Hydra would laugh me off the battlefield.”

Bucky,” his friend replied, the soldier ducking his head at the pain in Steve's eyes. “Bucky, you don't have to fight. Sure the world is different now, messed up even, but you've more than earned the right to sit this battle out. Hell, I should have sent you home after I pulled you off Zola's table; I was just too selfish to let you go again.”

“Don't you fucking say that,” Bucky snarled and this time it was Steve's turn to stare in shock as the soldier jabbed his finger into the blond's chest. “You think I didn't know exactly what I was doing? You think I wasn't terrified to head back into the war after everything I'd seen? But there was no way in hell that I was going to let you fight without someone there to watch your back, someone who cared more about Steve Rogers than Captain fucking America. I made my decision and I made it freely so don't you dare trivialize my choice like that. Not when you're going to jump back into battle like it's still 1945 and I'm the one who's going to be left behind.”

“Bucky, I'm not... I'm not going to leave you. Why would you think that?” Steve asked and if Bucky hadn't been so pissed, he would have crumpled at the pleading in his voice. “But I can't just sit back and do nothing while Hydra hurts innocents.”

“Why the hell not? That's exactly what you expect me to do and you've earned a break as much as I have. Just give Stark a pint of your blood, let SHIELD make its own damn supersoldiers and sit this one out with me.” Even as he said it, Bucky knew that Steve would never agree since his bleeding heart had only gotten worse after Captain America was born. Maybe it was because the other man finally had the strength to do something and while this selflessness was part of Steve's charm, Bucky hated it right now.

So the soldier's tone was almost despairing when he asked, “Why can't you be selfish just this once?” and he could not be too surprised when, “Because this is all my fault!” was the reply.

Of course Steve was feeling guilty about what Tony had told them; he probably blamed himself for Bucky's arm as well and the soldier found his anger fading at the thought. Instead it was replaced with a fond sort of exasperation and the familiar urge to put the light back in his friend's eyes

“Damn it, Steve,” Bucky sighed, laying his hand on Steve's shoulder until the other man looked up at him. “You are not responsible for what the Red Skull did, you hear me? Sure you would have tried to stop him and maybe you would have succeeded, but maybe you would have failed and died for nothing anyway. There's no way to know what would have happened and it's not your fault that you fell.”

“But that's just it, Bucky. I didn't fall; I jumped.”

“You what?” For a second Bucky was sure that he must have been hallucinating, pain and stress making him hear things that weren't there. But Steve's guilty expression was the same one he always wore when he did something reckless and knew that Bucky would be angry, so all the sniper could do was shake his head in disbelief. “Why would you do that, you moron?”

“Because you fell,” Steve said, looking at Bucky like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “You fell and I couldn't let you die like that. So I jumped because then at least we'd go together if we had to go at all.”

“Christ, Stevie. I wasn't worth that,” Bucky said, running his hand through his hair uncomfortably. “I've never been worth that so you gotta stop risking your life for me.”

“Not until you stop throwing yourself between me and danger like I'm still five feet tall, because I refuse to live in a world without you in it and you're not bulletproof,” the other man retorted fiercely. “Seriously, I don't know how you can be so good at reading people but never have realized that I'm head over heels in love with you. I love you, okay? I love you and I need you to survive.”

He sounded so earnest even though it was impossible and for once Bucky found himself without anything to say. Steve couldn't be in love with him; he was supposed to find a nice girl and live happily ever after no matter how much Bucky hated to see his friend smile at anyone but him.

So he stayed silent until the hope in Steve's eyes began to dim, the blond letting his shoulders slump with a defeated sigh. “You don't have to say anything; I know you don't feel the same way about me. But I just wish you would take better care of yourself sometimes. You're my best friend and you matter to me more than anyone.”

Holy shit, he's serious, Bucky realized and in that instant all his hesitation disappeared. Because if this were actually real, if he could actually have this, then none of his doubts meant a damn.

So he lurched forward awkwardly, fingers tangling in Steve's short hair and pulling the blond's head down. Bucky missed his first try since he wasn't used to leaning up for kisses, their noses knocking together awkwardly before the sniper managed to get things tilted right. But then their lips met and the other man's mouth was as sweet as Bucky had always imagined it would be

At first Steve was tense against him, the blond's eyes going wide with surprise when the soldier reeled him in. However, Bucky could be patient for this and he just waited with their mouths barely pressed together until his friend finally gave in.

Steve response was enthusiastic if not particularly practiced and he followed Bucky's lead as the kiss deepened gradually. Because the sniper wanted to savor this in case his friend came to his senses; he wanted to remember the soft slide of Steve's lips under his and the way that the other man moaned against his mouth. But the long years of denial were eroding his self control and eventually they left sweetness far behind. Instead the two men pressed close together, the ache of Bucky's wounds nothing compared to the feel of Steve's skin beneath his hand.

Somewhere underneath the haze of desire, Bucky knew that he should stop; he should step back and make them talk about this before it went too far. But even though this was hardly the time or place for romance, he couldn't seem to stop kissing Steve long enough to speak.

So he was almost grateful for the interruption when Tony slammed back through the door with an, “Are you all right? Your biometrics are going haywire in he-,” the sound of his voice sending the two men scrambling apart again. Bucky would have been grateful except for the sudden flash of panic at the knowledge that he had finally managed to drag Steve down with him.

Because there was no way that Tony hadn't been able to see what they were doing and they had definitely worn out their welcome now. Bucky would probably be thrown out on the streets for Hydra to take care of, while SHIELD tried to recreate Captain America until he ran out of blood to give.

The sniper was going to lose Steve, lose everything because of this, but he would die before he allowed Hydra to touch him again. So Bucky grabbed for the syringe that he had brought in with him, the needle lying on the sheets where he had forgotten it. He honestly wasn't sure whether he planned to use it on himself or his attackers; all he knew was that he needed to be ready when that moment came.

But when Bucky finally looked up at Tony, the man seemed more embarrassed then disgusted, and the soldier didn't know what to make of that. Tony should be shouting for the guards not grinning sheepishly and when he finally did speak, his words might as well have been Italian for all the sense they made.

“Sorry about that, I guess I should have knocked. Though you probably shouldn't be getting into to anything too acrobatic with your injuries so try to tone it down a notch, will you?” Tony asked. The man seemed sincere about his worry even if SHIELD only needed Steve for his abilities and once the pair gave him confused nods of agreement, he broke out in a grin. “Good on you. Now, if you promise to keep it in your pants, I'll see about getting another bed shoved in here and once the Doc clears you for exercise, you can go make with the hanky panky to your hearts' content. I'll find you a nice room away from everyone else where you won't have to worry about the screams.”

“Are you serious? Because if you're mocking us, I promise you I will cusdkfjnbrvfdkvn.” Steve's hand muffled the rest of Bucky's threat before he could completely alienate their host, though the soldier did his best to get the point across with eyes alone.

“Sorry about him. We're just a little surprised that you're taking this so well,” the blond said, ever the reasonable one in the face of things that made no sense. While Bucky tended to come out swinging, Steve usually at least tried to reason with people before the inevitable fist fight and that was one thing being Captain America hadn't changed.

But if anything, Tony seemed just as confused as they were by this whole conversation, staring at Steve with an odd look on his face. It was the expression Howard used to make when confronted with a particularly troublesome conundrum and it took a minute for his face to clear.

“Oh, right. You guys were totally illegal back in the day, weren't you?” Tony asked in the same tone of voice that people used to talk about cavemen or dinosaurs. “Well, you don't have to worry about that anymore. Sure Hydra still hates you, but it kind of hated you anyway, and most of the Resistance doesn't care. SHIELD needs people who can fight and your private life is none of my business as far as I'm concerned. Though I suppose this does explain a few things about my mother's policies.”

While the explanation made a sort of practical sense given the world they'd woken up in, it seemed far too easy after all the years of hiding and knowing that the way he felt might get him killed someday. People didn't change that fast, they simply didn't, and Bucky hadn't survived the war and Hydra and Zola's fucking table to get jumped by some bigot like the ones he'd grown up with.

So he ignored the little thread of hope that Tony's words had lit within him, the hope that he could finally love Steve without fear. Maybe it was true, maybe seventy years and Armageddon had wiped out old prejudices, but the expression on the blond's face still terrified Bucky more than anything. Because his friend was obviously all too ready to trust in Tony's promises given the way that he was smiling and Bucky could practically see the visions of white picket fences running through his mind.

Steve was picturing their happy ending when the story had barely even started and they had all of Hydra to wade through before the tale was done. Even if Tony spoke the truth and men like them were no longer treated as abominations, they would have no peace as long as Hydra reigned.

The war had gone on without them and despite the words that Bucky had spoken in his anger, he would never ask Steve to sit it out. Instead the sniper would do what he always did, he would protect his friend from anyone who wished to harm him and even if he could no longer follow Captain America into battle, Bucky would damn well be there to welcome him back home again.

Part IV: Flesh