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the hand you want to hold is a weapon (and you're nothing but skin)

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James doesn’t like Avengers Tower.

It’s not for the same reasons as Steve, who likes to complain now and then, usually when Stark has pissed him off, about how the whole thing is an eyesore. James is fine with the aesthetic, or lack thereof, of Tony Stark’s architectural homage to his own dick. It’s being inside the tower that’s an issue.

He lived there, the first few months after Steve brought him ‘home.’ He didn’t have a choice, and neither did Steve, really. No intelligence agency was happy about letting the Winter Soldier run free, and there was only so much Steve and the Avengers’ clout could do. The compromise was life in the fanciest, most comfortable prison possible, with 24/7 surveillance and Captain America himself standing guard.

That’s not how Steve saw it, James knows. He just wanted to be there for his old friend, never mind that the poor sucker was buried under seventy years of high-tech brainwashing. But that’s not how Nicholas Fury or the Black Widow saw it, and even James, who could barely claim that name then, was all too aware of the undercurrents of power.

It’s different now, almost two years later. He still lives with Steve, but their Brooklyn apartment with its mismatched furniture and plants on the balcony is pleasantly different from the tower’s metallic, sharp-edged opulence.

His phone beeps with a series of successive texts. The tone’s Steve’s, but Bucky doesn’t need to check it to know that it’s the Widow who’s on the other end, likely asking what’s taking him so damn long. James takes that as his cue to stop dallying and go inside.

On the long elevator ride upstairs, James admits to himself that it’s not fear of the tower that made him stand in the parking lot for a good ten minutes. It’s fear of what he’ll find inside.

The Widow didn’t tell him much, only that Steve is uninjured but compromised and had to pull out of the mission. The other Avengers are still somewhere in Lithuania, doing whatever it is that they’re doing. James doesn’t try too hard to imagine what other than life-threatening injuries would convince Steve Rogers to turn his back on a mission. His imagination just doesn’t stretch that far.

They still have a floor here, Steve and him. She’s waiting there, leaning against the front door, clearly waiting for the elevator.

“Took your sweet time,” she grouses when James steps out.

“Where is he?” he asks, ignoring the jab. If it were Steve, he’d respond, or at least try. “What happened to him?”

“Got dosed with an alien aphrodisiac.”

James’s brain screeches to a halt.

“He’s inside the shower,” the Widow says, her mouth quirking up, it’s blood-red gleaming like an open wound. “He might be a while.”

“Alien…aphrodisiac.”

James thinks that he’d have accepted that with more grace if it’d been just the one. Aliens, fine, yes, Steve has bimonthly lunches with one of them. Aphrodisiacs that could override the serum’s heightened metabolism—weird but okay, he’s seen worse in just one of Hydra’s chemical labs. The two together is a fucking trip.

The Widow shrugs with equanimity.

“It’s strong enough that the serum can’t fight it. Thor told us where it’s from and how A.I.M likely got hold of it, but they’d already got Steve by then. Better him than the rest of us though. The serum can’t nullify its effects, but it’s letting him resist it. Or maybe that’s just his inhuman virtue. Either way, he didn’t jump on any of us, even me when we were alone in the Quinjet.”

James blinks and takes a few deep breaths, absorbing the information to scratch his head over later. Steve’s the priority now.

“You don’t seem worried,” he notes.

“I’m not,” she says. “He’s okay. Mostly normal, except that he won’t talk beyond grunts and has an erection that won’t quit. Think he’s taking care of that now.”

James shifts uncomfortably. She eyes him up, smile turning into a smirk. He’s seen that expression before. It’s harmless enough.

“Why call me here?” he asks.

“Someone needs to keep an eye on him. I have to meet Hill for a quick debrief and Pepper’s out of the country. No one else we can trust.”

James raises an eyebrow at her. She snorts.

“No, I don’t trust you. But Steve does. Your name was first in the handful of words he managed before he clamped up. Besides, if you wanted to kill him, you could have done it ages ago. It’s not like he hasn’t given you the opportunity.”

That’s true. So true that it pisses James off sometimes, because he likes Steve best in this brave new world, usually more than he likes himself. And the pesky thing about caring is that you get angry when the object of your care acts like an idiot with a death wish.

“At least tell me he didn’t leap into the path of the alien whatever.”

The Widow laughs. It’s half for show, James knows, but he thinks he can see genuine amusement in her cool green eyes. Steve’s better at reading her, but Steve’s apparently busy rubbing one out in the bathroom.

“Not this time,” she says. “It’s not a weapon. One of the scientists grabbed the first thing they could in a panic. Steve was the only one in the room with them and got a faceful of blue dust. The effects took a couple of hours to show.”

“And the scientist who used it?”

“Was trying to fuck a wall, last I saw.”

James grimaces.

“It’s not very dignified,” the Widow adds, noting his expression. “Like I said, either the serum’s handling the worst of it, or Steve’s real superpower is his moral compass.”

“Wouldn’t be surprised,” James mutters.

“No one would be. Alright, I gotta go. Take care of him, Barnes. It’s an unknown chemical in his system. Keep him hydrated. Make him eat, if he can keep it down.”

“Play doctor. Familiar enough.”

That’s a lie. James has flashes of memory—a reed-thin boy sweating, a blonde woman praying, his own hands wrapped around spindly fingers. They’re just images without context. But Steve speaks often enough of the way Bucky Barnes tried to take care of him. James admires the sheer tenacity of the man he no longer remembers being. He’s not that noble, but he likes the stories, likes Steve’s voice, except when it cracks and wavers and Steve starts to cry.

“Good luck then.”

The Widow smiles and sweeps past him. James turns around to watch her go. They maintain uncomfortable eye contact until the elevator doors slide shut. Steve would like it if James got along better with his friends. But at the moment, watering his plants and making small talk with the blind old lady next door is the most he plans to do.

James sighs and gives himself ten seconds to despair over Steve fucking Rogers and his life choices before he opens the door to their floor.

The Widow was right. The shower is still running. It’s an en suite, and even with his enhanced hearing, James can’t hear more than the sound of water from the living room. He heads to the kitchen and isn’t surprised to find the fridge fully stocked. He finds what he’s looking for—cartons of fruit juice. He grabs the pomegranate and casts a cursory glance over the available food before deciding to brave Steve’s bedroom.

The sound of water cuts off just as James reaches the bedroom door. He stops, listening intently, but can’t hear any footsteps. He nudges the door open and steps inside. The room’s empty, and the bathroom door is closed.

That’s when he hears it.

A moan, low and throaty.

James closes the door behind him and leans against it. Another moan follows the first, this one deeper, dirtier, and if James closes his eyes and focuses, he can hear slick, telltale sounds. The image comes, unbidden, of Steve wet and naked, bowed over, hand moving frantically. He opens his eyes and shakes his head, once, as if that will dispel the image.

He should—leave, probably.

Sure, Steve is the only person James has any sort of intimacy with, and he’s reasonably sure that he’s Steve’s favorite person on this dying rock, which is sad and too much of a burden to bear half the time. But it’s there, it’s true. But they’re not on casually-listen-to-each-other-jack-it terms. Steve has never brought someone over for the night, not to the tower and not to their home. And their walls aren’t so thin that James will overhear him masturbate unless he damn well tries to listen in, which he hasn’t, until now, in extenuating circumstances.

He carefully shifts the juice from his left hand to the right, prodding at a thumb-shaped indent in the carton. He could just leave it here and—

A loud groan splits the silence, followed by a sound akin to a sob.

That tugs at something in him. James doesn’t know how long he stands there, head cocked as he listens to any other sound, any sign of distress. And when he shakes himself out of that stupor, it’s already too late.

The bathroom door opens suddenly, and Steve steps out, bare as the day he was born and significantly more impressive. Only thing he’s wearing is a towel slung across his shoulders.

James can’t help it. His eyes drop down.

He winces immediately.

It looks…painful. And goddamn monstrous, jutting out like that, red and flushed and too damn big. There’s a niggling thought in the back of his mind, a certainty without reason or origin, that the serum did this, took all of Steve and blew it up.

James throat clicks when he swallows. He’s tempted to take a swig out of the juice, and he doesn’t even like pomegranate. It’s Steve’s favorite.

Steve makes a sound, faint and throaty, almost like a growl. James snaps his eyes back to his face and stills at the look in them. The thought that rises to James’s mind is that it’s shock, but his body knows better, stilling in response to a predator’s attention.

“Bucky.”

James knows, then, that it’s worse than the Widow made it sound. Steve hasn’t called him that for a long time, hasn’t slipped in over a year. He screams the name in his sleep sometimes, but James knows it’s not him Steve’s begging for then, it’s the boy who plummeted off a train and then died on a metal chair.

James says nothing. Steve starts moving—stalking—towards him, eyes feverishly bright and intent on James. He flattens himself against the door, the carton bunching alarmingly in his grip.

He could leave, he has time to just wrench the door open and slide out, and JARVIS might even be willing to confine Steve to the room or the floor when he’s in this state, but even as the thoughts fly through his head, James doesn’t so much as twitch.

He feels Steve’s heat before their bodies even touch.

Steve crowds him against the door, and it’s not intimidation but desperation that drives the hot press of his naked body to James’s clothed one. Wetness seeps into his hoodie, drips on his cheek and collar from Steve’s damp hair. But all he feels is warmth, Steve’s entire body radiating heat.

“Bucky,” Steve groans, pained, and buries his face in James’s neck, hands fisting in his hoodie, hard cock pressing against his thigh.

The carton falls to the floor. Bursts open. Red seeps through, spreading like a pool of blood, the color and texture all wrong.

James watches it numbly, flesh hand trembling.

Steve presses more firmly against him, his whole body trying to mold itself to James, seeking—something with burning need. His mouth opens against the skin of James’s throat, breath falling hot for a single, thrilling second before wet suction follows.

Someone moans, and it takes a long, disorienting moment before James realizes it’s him, and by then, Steve’s already sliding his hands under James’s hoodie to grope bare flesh and his mouth is setting teeth to a fresh patch of skin, and another moan tears free of his chest.

He hasn’t had sex since he shook Hydra off his mind, he doesn’t remember having sex as Bucky Barnes. His cock only knows the touch of his own hands, and the only gentleness his body knows is Steve’s hand clasping his shoulders and his fingers brushing his wrist and his weight bearing down on James, unyielding but gentle, when a nightmare has left him thrashing, and he knows Steve’s scent, knows the warmth of his skin, but not like this, and he doesn’t know the wet heat of his mouth or the bruising clench of his fingers and—

And James can’t think.

He manages to lift his arms and grab Steve’s shoulders, and he tells himself he’s going to push him away, but then Steve’s sucking hard on a spot that makes everything go white-hot, and James finds himself clinging to slick, sculpted muscles, making bruises of his own.

Fingers grip his jaw, and James thinks there’s moment where Steve stops and just—touches, the pads of his fingers rubbing over the stubbled skin there, but it passes too soon for his addled mind to be sure. Steve detaches his face from James’s throat and tilts his face into a kiss, and James registers warm and soft before a tongue swipes at his lips.

“Steve,” he tries to gasp, but it’s muffled by Steve’s tongue sliding into his mouth, and oh, god.

It’s—it’s wet and hot and it should be gross, but there’s something knotting tight in James’s gut, dripping heat down his cock. He doesn’t kiss back, not at first, but Steve doesn’t seem to mind, fucking his tongue in and out of James’s mouth, licking a teasing stripe across the roof of his mouth, and he’s pressing closer the whole time, almost crushing James against the door, pushing at his body like Steve wants to crawl inside of him.

He does, James realizes with a start, hyperaware of the hard cock pressing into his thigh.

Steve bites at his lip, the sting sharp and shockingly pleasant, and James does kiss back then, a little clumsy, mouth both numb and electrified, but it’s all Steve seems to need to lose whatever control he had left. He sucks hard on James’s tongue, and the stars bursting under his tightly closed lids—and fuck, when did he close his eyes? —are a brief distraction from the way Steve starts to rut against his thigh.

James manages, in a sudden flash of rationality, to tighten his grip on Steve’s shoulders and push.

Their mouths part with a slicks sound. Steve stumbles backward, and James knows it’s more than his strength that did it. If Steve wanted, he could have pushed back, resisted, and James is strong, but so’s Steve, and they’re each other’s best match, as they’ve found out time and time again.

That sliver of awareness, the sign that it’s still Steve in there, makes something in James unclench, for better or for worse.

He misses it immediately, the consuming proximity, but he knows it’s for the best. He can’t think straight—straight, Jesus fuck, was he ever—

Were they ever…?

He can’t think when Steve’s close, and it’s tough even now to gather the frayed edges of his mind together to make the damn thing work. The distance helps, but Steve hasn’t gone far, standing barely a foot away from James, flushed and panting.

James traches the pink of his cheeks down to a broad chest and pebbled nipples, then snaps himself out of it before he ends up fucking mesmerized by Steve’s dick again.

“I—”

“Bucky.”

“That’s not my—Steve, what are you doing?”

Steve looks pained at that, and yeah, he’s there alright, the too-noble bastard who took James’s hand in a museum and then never let go. But his gaze is clouded, the summer blue of them of glazed over with something dark and hungry.

Steve steps close again, closing the scant distance James managed to gain, and this time, James doesn’t even pretend he’s grabbing Steve’s shoulder to push him away. Steve goes for his throat again. He doesn’t bite or suck this time. Drags his nose up the line of it instead, a motion that’s and oddly breathtaking, making James’s heart throb in his chest.

“Smell so good, Buck,” Steve says as James curls metal fingers into tufts of drying blond hair. “Need it, need you.”

James goes weak-kneed at that, everything in him trembling. He feels weak the way he never does, the way he thinks he should hate, but Steve’s arms are around him again, holding tight and secure like he’ll never let James fall. And maybe he shouldn’t believe that touch, not with their past and not with the chemical in Steve’s system, but James can’t help the faith that rises up in him.

Still, he can’t just—

“You’re not in your right mind,” James says, the easy baring of his throat for Steve’s mouth in sharp contrast to his words.

“Need you,” Steve repeats, lips catching on James’s skin. “Let me inside you, Buck.”

James shudders. His body’s hot and electric, and he’s never—fuck, his hand doesn’t compare, and Steve hasn’t even touched him there.

Steve crowds closer, his cock pressing into James’s thigh, a line of scorching heat. His own dick aches in sympathy, and it was inevitable from the moment Steve caught hold of him, but James still groans when it twitches to life. He’s wearing jeans, tight enough that the denim will strangle his dick if he gets an erection. He shifts against Steve, but that backfires. Steve starts rutting against him, gnawing at James’s throat, and he doesn’t know how Steve can find all the spots that make James’s nerves light up, but he can and he does and it’s maddening, and James finds himself rutting back, but it’s awkward and uncomfortable, and he needs—god, he needs Steve on his skin.

Maybe Steve reads his mind, maybe his need is more desperate than James’s. It sure feels so, pressing hot against his leg, dripping sticky wetness.

His hoodie’s thick, his jeans sturdy; they tear like tissue in Steve’s hands.

James gasps at the sudden violence of it. He’s left in tatters, one half of the hoodie hanging off his arm and jeans ripped off one thigh. It’s the latter Steve turns his single-minded focus to. James shivers when the denim is peeled off his legs, one hard yank tearing through what’s left of the seams. He steps out of the pool of torn clothes at his feet and into Steve’s arms. His hoodie is pushed off his left shoulder, and just like that, he’s as bare as Steve.

There’s a moment where nothing happens.

Steve just looks at him, eyes so dark that James can read only one thing in them. There’s a voice in his own head, screaming about how fucking stupid he’s being, but the rest of him is narrowed to the throb of blood-hot bruises on his throat and the ache between his legs.

“Steve,” he says, surprising himself with how hoarse he sounds.

The name jolts Steve back to life. James is pushed and pinned to a wall, Steve a mountain of heat against his front. The chill at his back makes him hiss, but the sound is eaten right off his lips. Steve’s tongue swipes at his mouth, and James opens for it, breathless at how good it feels, how easy it is to just give in.

It escalates quickly.

He wraps his legs around Steve at the first suggestive nudge, and then he’s being hoisted up and away, the wall vanishing from his back and leaving him supported only by Steve’s strength. It’s enough, more than. James isn’t a small man, but Steve holds him up like he weighs nothing at all, and not for a second does he stop kissing James like he’s trying to eat him alive.

It drives him out of his mind, body flooded with more sensation than he knows what to do with, mind buzzing with wants he can’t grasp.

Steve doesn’t drop him on the bed. They collapse together, and Steve’s bulk should be suffocating but it just twists James up inside, something in him trembling to life when he tries, instinctively, to arch up and is kept pinned there, even though Steve’s not even trying, too busy trying to suck James’s soul out through his tongue.

Steve’s mouth moves down his throat, sucks hard over James’s pounding pulse, and his cock jumps.

“Bucky, god, Bucky.”

James doesn’t register the name over the relentless rush of heat and want, but then he does and it shocks him, how the sheer, burning desperation in Steve’s voice spears through his gut despite the pain of that name.

There’s a sudden lack; Steve’s weight and heat vanishes. James reels from the change but isn’t allowed to for long. Long fingers grip his hips and flips him over, and James has the breath knocked out of him as he bounces on the bed, just once, suddenly splayed out on his stomach.

Steve plasters that big, warm body over him, but it’s not the heady weight of it that knocks the breath out of James this time—it’s the hard cock prodding at his ass, slotting between the cheeks and leaving little doubt as to Steve’s intentions.

“Wait!”

Steve stills above him. He doesn’t move away, and his breath falls hot on James’s nape, but he stops grinding his hips down and trying to slide his cock into somewhere that’s in no way equipped to take it, at least not yet.

This is Steve’s bedroom, but the last time he stayed here was three weeks ago, when he slept over after a mission in Bhutan ran late, and even if he stayed here regularly, there’s no guarantee that he’d have anything. And even if James found something, he can’t just—he’s never—god, he doesn’t even know—

“Bucky,” Steve rumbles, rubbing his big, dumb face between James’s shoulder blades. He sounds needy, desperate, like he’ll die without James, without his Bucky, and James got pissed off the last time Steve called him that name on purpose, but he finds it lighting a fire inside him now, and he can’t explain why any more than he can explain why he’s stretching out from under Steve and reaching for the bedside table.

Steve allows the motion, but he’s not idle as he does, sucking wet kisses down James’s spine that sparks through him, sharp and distracting. He flounders with his hand on the tabletop, metal fingers scratching grooves on the wood. The burnished knob of the drawer dents when he manages to yank it open.

Steve’s teeth sink into the flesh under his left shoulder, tongue laving over knotted scar tissue, and James cries out, crushes the knob in his grip. Steve nuzzles at the spot he bit, and James doesn’t know whether that touch is proud or apologetic, but it tugs at his gut, gets him hot with wanting. He reaches blindly into the drawer, fingers grasping at empty space and then—

It's a fancy black tin, and he catches sight of the words male and butter, and fuck, either this is Steve’s or Stark just casually keeps Steve’s floor stocked with lube. He doesn’t give a fuck either way, raising himself onto his elbows to maneuver better and gasping when that makes Steve’s cockhead prod at his hole.

“Wait, wait,” he mutters, feeling a little crazed as he works the tin open with uncharacteristically clumsy fingers. The whole of him is trembling, he realizes, and he doesn’t know how he feels about that, but he likes being under Steve, feeling his breath and his heat.

He gets the tin open. There’s nothing dignified about the way he dips three fingers into the lube to scoop out a generous amount. James reaches back with it, and Steve lifts his body just enough to let him, making a sound that’s soft and approving.

James smears the thing between his cheeks, over his hole. It’s cold on his heated skin and pleasantly thick. The sensation is alien to him, and he doesn’t know what to do with it, except fist the sheets with his free hand and shudder. He should—finger himself, probably, because he’s not sure if Steve’s got the patience for it, but he doesn’t—he just rubs there, sucking in a sharp breath at the not unpleasant slide of slick metal fingers over his rim.

Then there’s a hand gripping his wrist and yanking it away, and James barely has time to make a sound before Steve’s thick fingers replace his own.

They push in without warning, and the slick makes the slide smooth, but the stretch is anything but. It’s just two fingers, just an inch, but it burns, muscles forced to stretch in ways they’ve never known.

Maybe Bucky was queer, as James sure as fuck seems to be, but if he ever took anything up his ass, James doesn’t remember.

He doesn’t remember, but he likes it, even as his insides clench and burn with every inch they give. Time slows to a crawl, even though Steve’s not slow or gentle. It can’t be more than a few seconds later that James is writhing around two fingers buried knuckle-deep, but it feels like an entire eternity.

Steve spreads the fingers, and James screams.

And when his ears stop ringing from the sound of his own voice, he can hear Steve, making soothing sounds that are more noise than word. The hand not tearing into James’s ass is stroking over his back and thighs, squeezing now and then, the touch both possessive and admiring. James buries his suddenly hot face in a pillow and tries to breathe past the way his whole body seems to have turned into a huge, pulsing knot of tension.

Steve pulls his fingers out, infinitely slower than he thrust in. James shudders at the slow drag of it over wet muscle. He manages, somehow, to grab the lube and shove it down the mattress, over to Steve.

“Use that,” he rasps, biting his lips at the sound of his own voice. Steve only needed less than half an hour and his hands and mouth to pull out the kind of desperation that Hydra took months and years to reduce James into. And that should be scary, but it’s Steve, and there’s something about him that makes James go loose with trust. Maybe it’s the last two of years of unwavering devotion, or maybe it’s something that goes deeper, memories etched into the fabric of his soul.

There are slick sounds from behind him. James tenses up and tries to lift himself onto hands and knees, but Steve flattens one hand, tellingly dry, between his shoulder blades and pushes down, and James lets himself just lie there, exposed and vulnerable and somehow liking it.

Hands spread James’s ass, one of them smearing sticky wetness along the skin there. The head of Steve’s cock is dripping wet from lube and more when it prods at his hole.

There’s a moment where Steve’s poised over him, still and solid. James is familiar with that body at its most controlled; Steve passive under him on a burning helicarrier, Steve’s carefully pulled punches when they take to the mats, Steve’s rough but unbruising fingers holding James back from violence he doesn’t want. And he knows there’s none of that control in the body hovering over him now.

This is Steve unbound, and James is not sure if he’s built to survive that, but he wouldn’t mind if it hurt, if Steve consumes him with this unbridled heat.

It’s not gentle or easy.

There’s a violence to Steve’s need that spirals out of control at the first thrust. James screams at the piercing burn of his body being forced wide open, and he screams again when Steve pulls back in a blaze of fire. The aching emptiness is filled in another vicious stroke, and James’s breath is knocked out of him in a high-pitched whine.

Steve’s loud, panting and grunting, the sounds almost animalistic, nothing like Steve’s usual, calm cadence.

And James—James likes it, all of it, the fingers that grip too tight, and the cock that slides too hard in the wrong direction, and the teeth that sink too deep into flesh. His ass hurts, and there are bruises throbbing on his shoulders, and he feels wholly, incandescently alive.

“Bucky,” Steve gasps, harsh and gutted, like he’s in pain, like he’s dying.

He comes like that, that name still trembling in the air. James whimpers at the flood of heat. It stings his insides and makes his cock throb in need, but James’s attention is caught and kept by Steve, whose chest is plastered to James’s back and who’s still hard where he’s buried deep inside James.

Steve makes a sound, faint and wounded, and James finds himself reaching back, groping awkwardly along Steve’s hip, patting the sweat-slick skin in comfort.

“It’s alright,” he says, every syllable scraping his throat raw. “Ssh. I’ve got you.”

It helps. James can feel the change—how Steve’s body loses some of its tension and the shuddering breath that leaves him. He nuzzles James, dragging lips and nose along shoulders flesh and metal, skin scarred and unscarred, peppering close-mouthed, frantic kisses along James’s back and neck. Steve has never displayed any distinction between the parts of James that he was born with and the parts Hydra forced on him, but it’s one thing to know that and another to have Steve map out his back with reverent lips.

James’s heart throbs like the whole of it’s yet another bruise, desire and something rawer wrapping around the pulsing muscle.

“Bucky,” Steve says again, and he sounds so pained, so lost, and all of James aches for him.

“It’s alright,” James repeats. He spreads his legs as best as he can in this position. Come trickles out of him, not much with most of his hole plugged up by Steve’s cock but enough to wet the skin around his hole and trickle down his perineum. James pants into the sheets, his left hand digging helplessly into Steve’s skin.

There’s a sudden wrench, and James yelps, disoriented, as he’s bodily hauled up to hands and knees. Steve’s cock slips out of him and come gushes out, wetting his balls, dripping down his thighs, and James’s whole spine turns liquid and molten.

Steve fucks back into him with a rough, sloppy thrust.

“Steve!”

James doesn’t recognize his voice, doesn’t recognize himself, and heaven help him, he doesn’t care.

Steve’s large hand slides around James’s throat, fingers curling up over his jaw. James understands, as his head is tugged to the side, why Steve yanked him into this position.

The kiss is clumsy, too wet with too much teeth, and James pants into it, breathless and desperate. He feels every scrape of teeth and every slick slide of tongue all the way down to his fucking bones.

Steve starts fucking him, doesn’t stop kissing him, and it fucks James up, stalls his breath and his thoughts, leaves him throbbing like a fresh wound, bleeding need into Steve’s mouth and around his cock.

A hand curls around his dick, and James cries out, the sound lost in Steve’s mouth.

Like this, with Steve’s hands on his face and his cock, James is the one taking most of their combined weight. His flesh hand trembles but not from the strain, and the metal is fisted in the sheets, tight enough to poke holes in the fabric. None of it helps, not a damn thing grounds him, and he’s left quivering and desperate under Steve, speared on his cock and muffled by his tongue.

The hand on his cock doesn’t stroke so much as rest there, a tight circle around the base. But every thrust jolts James’s body, makes it sway and shudder, and he can’t help but fuck into Steve’s fist. The pleasure comes in short, electric waves, never enough to push him over the edge but never not maddening, and through it all, Steve kisses him, and that’s what drives James wild—the intimacy of their mouths open and wet and breathing together.

Steve slams in so deep that James can feel a tremor in his gut and comes again, pulse after pulse of searing warmth, filling James up, dripping out around Steve’s softening cock. And that slips out too with a slight shift of Steve’s hips. It stings, a sharp but fleeting pain. It’s the wet mess left behind that makes James shiver, makes him clench up around nothing, hyperaware of how empty he is. He whimpers into Steve’s mouth, a single, quivering note of want.

Maybe it’s addictive, being fucked full and filled up. James wouldn’t mind, wouldn’t care, would spread his legs any time any day if Steve’s willing to fuck him like this, rough and frenzied, reducing their bodies to animal need.

Steve jerks him off, his hand on James’s dick no longer an afterthought but firm and deliberate. It’s good, the strokes slick with precome and unbearably good on his aching cock.

But it’s not enough, no matter how fast Steve snaps his hand, how cleverly he dips blunt fingertips into the slit.

“Please,” James begs into Steve’s open mouth, made shameless by need. “Steve, please, please.”

And it’s not that he doesn’t know what he’s begging for, but he thinks he doesn’t know it as well as Steve, who breaks the kiss and pulls back to shove three fingers deep into James, the intrusion swift and shocking.

The fingers press into a spot that makes James’s whole body go hot and tight, and then he’s coming, clenching hard around Steve’s fingers and spilling messily into his hand. It’s a searing flood of pleasure, and James vision goes white as he shudders breathlessly through each sweeping wave.

Afterward, he slumps down, limbs turning limp, and Steve follows him down. But his weight doesn’t pin James to the bed like before. It’s more careful, and a second later, it’s not there at all. James whines at the loss, but Steve doesn’t go far.

James’s muscles ache with relief as he’s rolled onto his back. Steve’s hard again. James bites his lip, watching that hard cock sway between Steve’s legs as he moves. His fingers twitch, tempted to reach out and take hold of it, stroke him to climax the way Steve did for him, or—or use his mouth, maybe, though he doesn’t know, has never had a cock in his mouth, and Steve’s size doesn’t inspire confidence. But he wants it, is frozen breathless with the wanting.

Steve doesn’t give him a chance to be daring. James is folded in half this time, Steve settling between his legs like he’s made a home there, eyes intent on James’s spent cock and sloppy hole.

They drag up his body, a slow, meandering path that makes James acutely aware of both the scars his serum-laced flesh has stubbornly clung to and the mess cooling on his stomach. Steve’s gaze is hungry, so dark that James can barely see the blue in them. And then they find James’s eyes and don’t stray, not even as Steve starts to push in.

It’s a smooth, wet slide this time, and James barely feels the ache, caught up in Steve’s eyes, drowning in them.

“Kiss me,” he hears himself say.

Steve groans like he’s the one being split on a monster cock.

He fucks deep into James, shoving him roughly up the bed, and leans in, kissing him wet and messy. James moans when Steve’s tongue licks over his parted lips and again when it slides inside. He bites down lightly and shudders all the way down to his toes when that makes Steve’s hips grind in deep. He sucks harshly on Steve’s tongue as he’s fucked with more of those slow, dirty grinds. Steve never pulls out, never lets James be anything but breathtakingly full, and he never stops moving either, cock shifting relentlessly inside, finding new angles, pressing in ways that make James’s whole body sing.

He sinks to it, lets go the way he never has, never can.

 

-

 

Steve comes twice more before he runs out of steam. James grunts when Steve collapses beside him, one tree-trunk arm falling across his middle. It’s not a careless gesture but a possessive hold, gathering James close to Steve’s sweaty, spent body.

James is no better, messy with sweat and worse. He’s soaked inside, ass and thighs wet with Steve’s come. It’s dirty, and he’s not surprised that he likes it, not anymore, but he’s not very keen on staying here until there’s another load of semen sticking to his skin either. He half-expects Steve to just slide back into him. He could; James would let him, even with the alien shit wearing off. He wonders what that would feel like. It would be lazy, he thinks, Steve chasing his pleasure without the frenzied urgency he’s had until now, rocking into James, lulling him into something slow and easy.

It's never going to happen, probably. It’s the alien chemical that has led them here. They’ve been living together for nearly two years, and James has never seen a single indication that Steve wants him like this.

But—

He didn’t jump on any of us, even me when we were alone in the Quinjet, the Widow said. Steve took one look at James and did just that.

Except it’s not James, is it? Bucky, Bucky, Bucky—Steve keeps saying, mouth curving around the name like it’s everything, air and water and life itself. It’s the way he’s always said that name. And it’s not that he has any distaste towards James, the name or the person, but James knows it must be hard to live with a man who wears the face of your favorite ghost.

Maybe Steve was in love with Bucky. Maybe Bucky felt the same. James wouldn’t know. He has flashes of dark alleys and bloodied knuckles and a hand reaching for him as he plummets through white. They tell him what Bucky Barnes lived through, not what he felt. The only feelings James knows are the ones that belong to him, the ones he’s earned the right to feel.

Steve’s arms, which felt so safe until now, suddenly feels suffocating. James rolls away from them—or tries. He doesn’t get far before Steve makes a mournful noise and curls long fingers around his wrist. The metal plates recalibrate in response, but there’s no threat to it.

James turns back, half expecting Steve to be hard again, but no, he’s soft and wet between his legs. The need’s in his eyes, still a shade darker than their usual blue, and they pierce into James, wounding him in places that won’t bleed and can’t be stitched back together.

“What?” he snaps, defensive and furious about it.

Steve doesn’t seem to register the anger. He tugs James forward, and James lets him, cursing himself inside. He ends up with one arm draped over Steve’s barrel of a chest, the other braced over sweat-soaked blond hair.

“Stay,” Steve rasps, voice utterly shot.

“Bathroom,” James mumbles, though he doesn’t pull away. He can’t look away from Steve’s mouth any more than he can stop himself from adding, “I’ll be back.”

Steve curls a hand into James’s hair, fingers sinking into the long, thick strands. His nails scrape scalp, and it feels good, the pleasure of it a simple, buzzing thing. James lets it coax him down into Steve’s waiting mouth.

The kisses are gentler, less frantic and sloppy than before. Steve’s still not all here, James can tell. He doesn’t know how he knows, but it’s enough that he does, without word or thought, the certainty with which he knows this man both a blessing and a curse.

He tries to break the kiss but this time, he can’t blame Steve for why he fails. It’s James who keeps going back for one last taste and then another, breathing Steve’s air, savoring the taste of his mouth. He manages, in the end, to pry himself away. He leaves Steve heavy-lidded and panting, cock still soft, body languid with exhausted pleasure. It’s the sort of sight that can tempt angels, all that golden skin and sculped muscle. James is far less than an angel, but he has a goddamn swamp in his asshole urging him away.

It helps when he hears, having taken barely two steps from the bed, Steve saying that name again, a soft, whispered Bucky.

James stalks to the bathroom, breathing deeply through the knot in his chest.

It’s a hell of a thing to compete with a ghost, especially when the ghost is someone you used to be. James should be used to it by now, and he is, in most ways, but this is new, the heat of Steve’s skin and the sweetness of his lips, and they rush back, the old battles.

 

-

 

He takes a hot shower and thinks of nothing while semi-scalding water scrubs the last two hours from his skin. His ass hurts like hell when he slides a finger inside to clean it out. It tugs at him, feeling Steve’s come be washed off his body, like he’s losing the only thing that made everything that just happened real. He still has bruises on his throat and back and hips. His mouth is still swollen. His ass is still sore. But if James knows anything, it’s that his is a body made for forgetting.

He's about to turn the shower off when the bathroom door opens.

James lets his hand fall back to his side.

“Back to your senses?” he asks without turning around. “Spare me the guilt, if that’s what this is.”

Steve’s footsteps are silent on the wet floor, but his breathing is not. And his body is very, very loud when it presses against James’s back. Steve’s hands slide around his waist, his cock prods his thigh, and oh, well then.

“Never mind,” James says, baring his throat for Steve’s teeth.

He manages to turn the shower off without crushing anything. Steve’s hand slides up that arm, fingers trailing over wet skin. There’s something sensual about it, different from the animal sexuality of before. James feels that touch on his whole body, spine sparking, gut clenching. Steve links their fingers and press their joined hands to the wall. It’s not a hard touch, nothing restraining about it, but James feels rooted to the spot, his breathing picking up.

Hot, sucking kisses are trailed along the arch of his throat, and that warms James more than the shower managed.

Steve’s other hand trails down his side, squeezing his hip before sliding over his ass, slow and deliberate. James instinctively widens his stance, pushing back into the groping, possessive touch. Steve’s got a one-track mind in this state, and it’s not that James doesn’t like it, but he can’t hold back a pained hiss when fingers rub over his sore, well-fucked hole.

The pain’s oddly thrilling. James shudders on his next exhale.

This morning, he was practically a virgin, with no memory of sex and no experience except the touch of his own hand, and now he’s fucking gagging for a cock up his ass, muscles tightening around nothing as Steve traces a finger around the swollen rim.

“Buck,” Steve says, and maybe James is mistaken, but he thinks his voice is clearer than before, no longer breaking on boundless desire. “Can I?”

James lets out a broken laugh. He doesn’t know how to tell Steve that he’s willing to beg for it, doesn’t think Steve is present enough to even understand everything those words would imply.

“You can do anything you want, Steve,” he says, and it’s not as harmless as a simple yes, but James finds that he can’t give anything less.

He expects fingers, or even Steve’s cock, expects it to hurt, expects to like it.

But Steve’s hands slide off James, leaving him suspended for a moment in stunned loss, and then Steve’s lowering himself to his knees, right there on the bathroom floor, and James doesn’t understand what’s happening until Steve’s hands grab his cheeks and spread them wide.

Cool air hits his hole. It twitches and James shivers, biting his lips on a shocked moan. He’s acutely aware of how exposed he is like this, with Steve kneeling behind him and staring there. It’s Steve’s own mess, his own cock that got James gaping like this, and he’s cleaner now anyway, come washed off and serum easing some of the hurt, but none of that matters when James is shaking under the weight of Steve’s eyes.

“Steve,” he gasps, and it’s embarrassing, how high his voice has risen, breaking on that single syllable.

Steve makes a deep humming sound and buries his face in James’s ass.

James jolts, gasping, but then Steve’s tongue is licking over his hole, and his left hand breaks a tile with its desperate grip. Steve doesn’t even notice, lapping at James’s ass, hands spreading his cheeks wider for better access, and James just gets used enough to that sensation to start breathing again when Steve seals his mouth over the hole and sucks.

He doesn’t have the air to shout, but his mouth drops open silently and eyes flutter shut as Steve fucking makes out with his asshole, every little motion wet and dirty and so damn good that it makes James want to shudder out of his skin. And it’s soothing too, the slick swipes of Steve’s tongue easing the throbbing ache there. The swollen edges twitch at the touch of his tongue, and the insides clench around the intrusion that’s too much and not enough at the same time. The pleasure of it is a strange, intense thing, overwhelming as it wipes all thought from James’s head, reduces him into a writhing thing of clawed fingers and trembling cries.

His cock fills up, the rush of blood making his head spin. His right arm shakes as it struggles to hold him up, and his legs are no better, torn between spreading even wider and buckling under the consuming assault of pleasure.

James stays upright, somehow, right until Steve does—something with his mouth, tongue twisting inside James and teeth scraping the rim. The dam doesn’t break so much as explode, and James goes supernova.

He blacks out, maybe. He’s not sure. He should be, the sensation itself is familiar, but it’s always been pain of one kind or the other, not pleasure so intense that his mind shuts down. It doesn’t last long. When he pries his eyelids open and blinks the spots from his eyes, he’s pinned to the shower wall with Steve’s bulky biceps under both of his arms and hot breath brushing his left ear. His legs feel like hot soup, muscle and bone all reduced to trembling aftershocks of pleasure.

But he’s not so far gone that he doesn’t notice Steve’s erection digging into his leg.

James gets his feet back under him, but even as he straightens up, he’s grateful for having Steve’s steady body to brace himself on. He reaches behind himself and uses his right hand because James might be used to a metal palm on his dick but Steve wouldn’t be, and James isn’t about to spring that on a guy who’s been blowing his mind for the last few hours.

Steve’s already wet at the tip, smearing precome on James’s fingers. He spreads it over the rest of his cock. The angle’s not the best, but James tries to make it good, keeping the fist in a tight circle and loosening it only to prod at the slick foreskin. There’s something fascinating about it, standing facing a tiled wall and playing with a cock he can’t even see, but Steve grunts, muffling the sound against the sensitive skin under James’s ear, and he remembers that time isn’t a luxury they have. This isn’t a choice they made with eyes wide open. This desire is all desperation. Steve isn’t his, not really, and his body isn’t for James to explore, to love on.

James isn’t resentful about it, just resigned.

He guides Steve’s cock to his hole and folds his left arm against the unbroken part of the wall to rest his forehead on.

There’s no lube, just Steve’s spit, and yeah, James is open from earlier and it’s good, but it hurts, the kind of pain that spreads hot and pulsing through his whole body, reducing him into a shuddering mass of flesh and breath.

Steve bottoms out with a guttural cry. James whines through bitten lips. It’s a struggle to keep his legs under himself, knees weak and thighs trembling. He’s pleasantly boneless from his orgasm but teetering on a wholly different from oversensitivity, and Steve’s the only real thing in that deluge of sensation. James clings to him with heart and hand, panting as he adjusts to being so full again. It doesn’t feel as odd as the first time. There’s something comfortingly familiar about it already, as if his body prefers the choking fullness over the easy emptiness.

Steve’s quick about it this time. He’s rough too, almost brutal, pushing James against the tiled wall with each thrust, jolting his body with every fever-hot drag of the cock inside him.

He bites James’s neck when he comes, teeth sinking in deep, leaving him breathlessly suspended between a pulsing cock and a sharp mouth. Steve doesn’t soften, but he slides out, come gushing out in his wake. His mouth detaches from James’s throat, leaving indents that will bruise before his body erases that too.

James sighs and goes easily when Steve turns him around, parting his lips for the kiss that tastes of soap and—and something that James can’t describe, something that might not even be real, just an expectation colored by perception. He likes it though, likes knowing where Steve’s mouth has been, and his body’s only too eager to remind him, his whole lower half tingling with pleasure and pain.

James slides his hands into Steve’s hair and kisses him back with growing fervor, lips and teeth and tongue trying to say everything he doesn’t have the words for.

“Take me to bed,” he gasps, biting at Steve’s jaw and grinning wildly when that earns him a full-bodied shudder. “Take me to bed and fuck me there.”

Steve’s answer is a rumbling groan that James drinks in, right before strong arms hoist him up into a bridal carry.

 

-

 

James rides him this time, palms braced on Steve’s broad chest, nails biting into flesh, leaving red crescents on the pale skin. His thighs and lungs burn, muscles aching as he struggles to breathe past the violent joining of their bodies. Steve’s not passively letting James fuck down on him, doesn’t seem like he can, and every downward slam of his hips is met with Steve rising up to meet him, ramming his cock into James over and over, both of them grunting and whining with every thrust. It’s too much and not enough, and James doesn’t think he’s coming again for a long time, but god, his cock aches.

Steve comes inside him again, leaving James wet and soaked, and it’s still not enough.

James shouts as their positions flip and he’s slammed down on the bed. The sound barely dies down before Steve spreads his legs and shoves in between them and fucks back in, wet and violent.

He thinks he could have kept up with Steve in normal circumstances. They both have the serum and bodies built to keep going for a damn long time. But like this, with the alien substance wreaking havoc on Steve’s libido, it’s all James can do to wrap himself around sweat-slick shoulders and hips and try to survive the ride of a lifetime.

He takes vicious joy in the fact that he’s the only one who can keep up with Steve like this, let him take and take and take the way no normal human ever could.

It’s a possessive pleasure, wholly selfish, but James doesn’t give a flying fuck. Steve’s not his the way he was Bucky’s, but James can have this, and he knows he can’t keep it, but he’ll always have the memories, and so will Steve, for better or for worse.

The fucking is a little less brutal this time. It’s as if there are cycles, Steve desperate and savage with it until an orgasm or two, and then gentling, fucking James deep but slow while his mouth leaves marks of their own along whatever patch of skin it can reach.

As if on cue, Steve’s mouth closes around a nipple, tearing a whimper out of James. James pushes his chest into that scorching suction and strokes his hands down Steve’s arched back, groping gently but clinging for life when it gets too much. Steve laves his tongue over the swollen nubs and licks a wet stripe along his collar too, biting sharply over the bone. James hisses, tightening his legs around Steve, except that just makes him fuck in a little rougher, and James is the one left keening.

Steve buries his face in the hollow of James’s neck and seems to just settle down, mouth open to breathe hotly against James’s pulse as he ruts sweetly into him.

James doesn’t hear the door open, but he does hear the Widow swear under her breath.

Steve doesn’t stop, keeps fucking James with deep, grinding thrusts.

He lets his head fall to the side, pries his eyes open to peer at the intruder. She doesn’t seem surprised so much as furious, mouth a flat line and eyes pools of green fire. Her impotent rage doesn’t touch him, but he does wonder, absently, what it takes to pull that kind of genuine fury from a Black Widow—the level of loyalty it shows, the sort of person who would inspire it.

Then again, James is no different. Look at him now, a willing victim writhing under Steve’s dominating bulk.

But it’s one thing to give in to Steve, another entirely to be watched in his surrender by someone he doesn’t trust any more than she trusts him.

“Get out.”

Her eyes flash at the rasped command, and James sees it, the way her gaze runs snake-swift along the length of their twisted, entwined bodies, sees how he catalogues the bruises on James’s hips and the scratches on Steve’s back. They return to James, boring into his eyes, and it doesn’t matter that he can barely keep his eyes open, barely think past Steve’s cock and hands and mouth, he refuses to lie here and be watched, judged.

James bares his teeth and snaps, “Get out.”

It’s not loud, but it’s angry, and it turns her frown wary, and Steve, he—

He growls.

He growls and he grabs James’s hips and he screws in hard and James—

James screams, nails scoring bloody grooves down Steve’s back. It eggs Steve on, losing his slow, lazy rhythm as he starts snapping his hips, fucking in deep and brutal, fingers carving bruises into James’s skin.

James pants through gritted teeth, not looking away from her. His vision blurs, and he blinks away the tears, just in time to see her back away. She doesn’t close the door and that grates, but then Steve’s speeding up, never pulling out even halfway, like he can’t bear to detach his flesh from James. It’s hard and fast and brutal, leaving James choking on the searing fullness and frantic motion. His nails sink into Steve’s skin again, and the metal is no kinder. Blood mixes with the sweat on Steve’s back; the acrid scent of it burns James’s nose, a perverse shudder bolting down his spine in response. He gentles his grip, but his palms slip and slide on the watery blend of fluids.

It's strange and dirty, and it gets him so hot, makes his insides clench around Steve, makes his cock swell back to life.

“I’m sorry,” he gasps, trying ineffectually to soothe the hurt he’s caused, but Steve doesn’t even seem to notice, fucking James like he wants to break him, claim him, own him, and god, James would let him.

“Steve,” he whimpers, grasping at his hair, his nape, the bleeding scratches on his back. “Steve, Steve, Steve!”

Steve eats his name out of James’s mouth and slams into him, again and again and again, and James dissolves into shuddering sensation.

 

-

 

It takes three more rounds before Steve’s finally done and by then, James has lost count of how many times they’ve come. His ass is drenched in come, sloppy and loose with it, and he’s long since run out of fucks to give.

Steve’s still in him, soft cock nestled inside James as he spoons up behind him, one arm loose and heavy around his middle. He’s sound asleep, breathing deep and even with the occasional snore. James dozed too, drifting off sometime between both of them collapsing in a spent, come-soaked heap and Steve falling asleep. He gets the feeling that not much time has passed, but it’s been long enough that most of the fluids on him have dried.

There’s semen on all sides of him, sweat dried on every inch of skin, and blood caked under his fingernails.

He should probably go to the bathroom and clean up, but his body’s an aching pool of vaguely pleasant exhaustion that seems supremely uninclined to so much as twitch an inch, even to dislodge Steve’s cock from inside him.

Though he has to admit there’s something oddly sweet about it all—the soft warmth of Steve’s soft cock inside him and the sleepy way Steve’s clinging to him. It makes James feels wanted. Treasured, even. It’s not that Steve has ever acted like he doesn’t want James around. He’s been the truest friend, loyal to a fault and maddeningly sincere about it, but James can’t ever shake the awareness that he wouldn’t be Steve’s first choice, not really. It would be Bucky Barnes. It’s a truth James thought he made his peace with, but he’s discovering new things about himself, like the fact that he would happily spend the rest of his life getting fucked through a mattress by this man.

It won’t happen, wasn’t ever going to, but it’s nice to imagine, nice and bittersweet.

In the end, it’s his parched throat that prompts him to untangle himself from Steve and leave the bed. Steve’s cock stings when it slips out of him, and the slush of half-dried come that follows is objectively revolting, but the shiver that grips James for a second isn’t born of disgust.

He aches everywhere, and his ass and thighs are flaming. But as far as physical pain is concerned, James has endured far worse without an ounce of pleasure. This is worth it, and it’s nice, in a strange way, to know how far he can push his body in ways that have nothing to do with violence, with killing.

There’s dried pomegranate juice on the floor by the door, with a single footprint visible on the sticky spill.

James look at it for a long moment, then shuffles over to Steve’s closet. He’s not surprised to find it stocked with clothes that look the sort Steve wears, except five times more expensive. He selects the loosest, softest pair of pants he can find and drags them on, wincing when the movements make him very aware of the various messes and hurts all over him. He forgoes a shirt. He doesn’t want the Widow watching come trickle down his legs, but that’s about the extent of his modesty at the moment.

He knows she’ll be there, waiting, and sure enough, the first thing he sees when he steps out of the room is her perched on the back of the couch. She’s visibly unarmed—if he ignores the telltale signs in her clothes and posture, so well-hidden than he’s sure even he hasn’t spotted everything she’s carrying—but there’s an aura of casual danger in her body language.

James ignores it and makes his way to the kitchen.

She doesn’t follow him there. He downs half a bottle in one gulp, the cool water heavenly on his dry, aching throat. The rest, he sips more slowly, savoring the chill. He does spare a moment of concern for Steve, who hasn’t touched so much as a drop of anything since he started fucking James. Their bodies are designed to withstand a lot and keep going, but James doesn’t think the combination of alien aphrodisiac and a sex marathon left Steve in a particularly pleasant state, physically.

He grabs a couple of other bottles and doesn’t make it even halfway to the bedroom before the Widow speaks.

“When I told you to take care of him, that is not what I meant.”

Her voice is deceptively light, but James is not fooled. There’s more she’s keeping behind tightly pressed lips and not very subtly at that, waiting, maybe, for James to react to the words unsaid. He’s not in the mood to indulge her. His own emotions are all he’s equipped to handle, though he’d make an exception for Steve, if Steve were to want him to.

“Isn’t it?” James tells her, meeting her eyes coolly. “My bad, then.”

This time, she doesn’t hide her anger. She stands, though she doesn’t take a step towards James, maybe noticing the dangerous looseness that ripples through his own, fucked-out body. He’s exhausted and sore in places he didn’t know existed, but he can still put up one hell of a fight. And she wouldn’t want that. Not here, not now, with Steve still in the other room.

“Why, Barnes?”

James sighs, a single explosive exhale.

“You ever tried to stop a sex-crazed supersoldier intent on fucking you, Romanoff? Because I can tell you it’s not easy.”

“Barnes.” Her eyes sharpen with something that unsettles James. “Did he rape you?”

There’s a second—no, less than that, a fast, flashing moment—where James can’t say anything at all. When he finds his voice, it comes out tight with anger.

No. What the fuck? Steve wouldn’t—fuck you, it’s Steve.”

She blinks, and that earlier sharpness vanishes, replaced by a look that’s no less piercing.

“Then you consented.”

James lifts his chin and relaxes his grip around the crinkled plastic of the bottles. He nods once, curt but firm.

“He didn’t. Steve’s mind was—is—addled. Yours wasn’t. He was in no state for consent. It was your responsibility to stop him.”

It’s not that she’s wrong. It’s not even like she’s saying anything that hasn’t already crossed James’s mind. But he thinks about the last few hours, thinks about how it all began, and asks himself, just once, whether he’d have done anything differently, whether he’d have looked at Steve’s dark, pleading eyes and heard the naked need in his voice, felt the answering burn in his own gut—and said no, we can’t, please stop.

He knows he wouldn’t have.

“So I didn’t,” he says, very softly. He doesn’t look away from her glare. “Why are you surprised? I’m not the paragon of morality, am I, Widow? You don’t trust me with your cat. Why would you trust me with your captain?”

She falters for the first time. Not much, not very visibly. But it’s there, in the slight widening of her eyes and the long breath that’s not as steady as she tries to make it. She doesn’t seem to know what to say, and she never stops staring James down. When she speaks again, her voice is as quiet as a knife in the dark.

“I thought you cared about him.”

He does.

That’s the problem, half the time, and not one he wants to change. It’s not so bad, hurting because you love someone. He could get used to it. Live a life with it.

He doesn’t tell her that. There’s no point, really. What she wants to hear, James won’t be able to give her. She waits though, her expectation heavy in the air, and it would work on most, but not on James. It would, if it were Steve on the other wide. That particular blade goes both ways.

She shakes her head after a while, resignation settling on her expression like a cloud.

Still, James is surprised when she starts heading for the door. He half expected her to stay until Steve woke, to try and protect him from James. As if reading his mind, she stops with her hand on the handle and says, “It would only make it worse, my being here. He’ll think it’s his fault, Barnes. He’ll think he did force you. Don’t fucking let him.”

“I won’t,” James says, and that, at least, is something he can give her easily. “Like you said, it’s on me.”

“He won’t believe that.”

“He will. He’ll remember he didn’t do anything I didn’t damn well beg for.”

James can’t tell whether it’s surprise or shock that tightens the slight slope of her shoulders. And she’s gone before he can look too closely, with a muttered wish of luck that sounds like it slid out through gritted teeth.

 

-

 

Steve doesn’t sleep for as long as James both fears and hopes. He’s out cold when James returns to bed after a good fifteen minutes staring at the door in the Widow’s wake and thinking of everything and nothing. He stirs a little when James slides into bed, not opening his eyes, just reaching out blindly with a trembling hand. James curls into it, helpless not to, and lets himself sinks into Steve’s pleasant warmth.

Steve clings in his sleep, but it’s not a suffocating hold. James likes being held like this. He worms closer, burying his face in Steve’s chest and wishing, idly, that he could just sink through skin and flesh and bone, crawl deep inside Steve and stay there, preserved in this moment.

When Steve wakes, maybe an hour later, it’s with a stuttered breath and a little groan. James lets himself linger for a few more seconds, just until Steve shakes off the last dregs of sleep and becomes aware of just what has transpired. He finally pulls away from a body that has become stiff with tension and pushes himself into a sitting position, looking down into Steve’s wide, horrified eyes.

“Don’t,” James sighs. “How much do you remember?”

“Everything,” Steve says quietly, numbly. “James, James, I—”

It’s the name—the right name—that prompts the madness. James leans in and, before Steve can finish whatever misguided apology he was about to make, kisses him.

The lips under his are as soft and warm as they first time they touched James’s, but they’re still this time. James closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to see the expression on Steve’s face and lets himself imagine, for just another second, that this is something he can have.

It's a short-lived illusion.

Steve doesn’t push him away, seems frozen in place, but there’s only so long James can fool himself.

He straightens up, tucks his hair back behind his ear, letting his finger trail down the end, thinking of how the tips touched Steve’s skin, how it looked to have his face framed by James’s hair. Another point of oddity, he imagines. Bucky never had hair past his shoulders.

“Was it always him?” James asks, still not opening his eyes.

“Wh—what?”

“Who you wanted. Was it always Bucky?”

Only silence answers him, and James knows he should open his eyes and look, but he can’t bring himself to.

Fingers touch his left wrist, soft and tentative, utterly unlike the way Steve touched him when he wanted to fuck him. The contrast makes James suck in a harsh breath, and the fingers withdraw, only to return again, firmer this time, Steve’s whole hand covering James’s.

“James,” Steve says quietly. “Could you look at me?”

James feels his mouth twitch into tight grimace, almost out of his control. What’s the point, he wants to ask. But he doesn’t. He opens his eyes, and it takes him a second to drag them to Steve’s face, but he does it, willing himself not to flinch no matter what he sees there.

That’s easy, at least. There’s none of that terrible guilt on Steve’s face, that particular expression he sports whenever he expects things from James, things he can’t give because he’s not the person Steve remembers, the one he lost. To be fair, it was more frequent in their lives in that first year. Steve got better, he understood, and despite everything, James is glad that what happened today hasn’t ruined that, at least. He can handle rejection, but he doesn’t think he can survive Steve going back to looking at James and seeing a ghost.

“The Widow said you’d blame yourself,” James murmurs. “Don’t. You didn’t do anything I didn’t want.”

Steve’s lips thin, a sure sign as any that he’s going to argue. James upturns the hand Steve’s is covering, linking metal fingers with Steve’s warmer ones. It must be startling enough to distract Steve. He looks at their joined hands, and James is all too aware that he’s giving himself away, bleeding feelings, but then, he already did that with that one-sided kiss.

“What did you mean?” Steve asks.

“Exactly what I said. I’m fully capable of breaking your dick if I didn’t want it in me. I’m one of the few people who could.”

Steve lets out a shaky breath and meets James’s eyes again. There’s a terrible vulnerability in them that James cannot comprehend, but it reassures him anyway, knowing he’s not the only one being stripped skin-to-bone by this.

“I—thank you, James, but—earlier. What you said earlier.”

Would have been too convenient if Steve just forgot that, huh?

James bristles a little, but he tries to keep it contained to a smile that’s too sharp at the edges and the tightening of his hand on Steve’s.

“It’s a simple question. The Widow, she told me you were perfectly controlled with the others. One look at me and you lost it. Called me his name. Figured you fucked me because I look like him, am him in a way. Just wanted to know if it was always there. All this time.”

Steve’s eyes are wide, the white prominent, by the time James shuts himself up.

“Is that—James, I didn’t—I don’t want you because you look like him.”

“You called me his name,’ James hisses, and he does try to pull away, but this time, Steve doesn’t let him, sitting up in a swift, lurching motion.

It’s a mistake. James can see the last few hours of dehydration and exhaustion hit him. And he’s a fool for this man, because the thought of using this moment to flee is only a brief flicker that dies as soon as it’s born. He leans forward, takes Steve’s weight, and gently manhandles him to lean on the headboard. James leans on him for a few seconds longer, both hands on Steve’s chest to make sure he stays there.

He pulls back to grab the water and unscrews the cap before handing it to Steve. He can’t not stare at the gleaming arch of Steve’s throat when he throws his head back to gulp it down, but he figures there’s no harm in just looking.

Steve finishes the bottle without choking. James offers him the next one, and Steve takes it but doesn’t drink, just holds on, idly picking at the cap while staring at James.

“I wasn’t in my right mind,” Steve says in the end. “I saw your face and—persistence of memory, I guess. I don’t know. But you’re you. I know you, James.”

James raises a skeptical eyebrow, keeping the hope flickers to life well away from his face.

“Persistence of memory, huh? So you did fuck him.”

He doesn’t expect Steve to laugh. But he does, and the sound is raw and ragged, not hysteric so much as broken. It’s worrying, the whole spectacle, and James reaches for him without thinking, grasping Steve’s shoulder like he wants to shake him back into sanity, except that all he does it hold on, a little desperate.

It stops as abruptly as it began, cut off by a shuddering breath that borders on a sob. Steve’s eyes are dry when he raises his head, but his face is flushed. The smile he gives James is crooked and humorless.

“Yeah, I fucked him. Few times. We were kids, first. He said that it was fine even though we were both boys, because it didn’t mean anything. We were just figuring things out. I don’t think, now, that he believed it, but—not like I knew better then.”

James feels cold all over, like someone buried him in ice. The sensation is familiar enough, as is the horror accompanying it. He asked, he knows, but he doesn’t want the tremble in Steve’s voice, the pain in his eyes.

“Don’t—” he starts, but Steve’s talking, not even hearing James.

“We fucked in the war too. We never talked about it. Bucky always said I’d settle down with Peggy after the war, that he’d—he’d find a girl and we’d fucking live next door to each other and—yes, James, I wanted him. I don’t remember ever not wanting him. And I don’t know how he saw me, and it was too late to ask the moment he fell. I thought I’d get to, when I found you in that museum. But I know, James. I know you don’t remember, that you never will. I know who you are.”

James, reeling from the confession that seems dragged out of Steve’s soul, can’t do anything but choke out a docile “Oh.”

Steve just breathes for a while, calming himself down. His shoulders heave under James’s hand, until they don’t, until the breaths are deeper but steady, and then calm, normal. James almost takes his hand away but finds that his fingers refuse to pry themselves off Steve’s skin.

“I’m sorry I called you that,” Steve says. “I know you hate it. But he was the only one I ever—that I’ve ever been with. Sexually. I was confused. I don’t think you’re him. I’ve—I’ve made my peace with his death, James. I did it twice over. I won’t forget again.”

James doesn’t know what to say to that, but he knows silence isn’t an option. In the end, he settles on an apology.

“I’m sorry too. Didn’t mean to accuse—well, I did. I don’t have an excuse.” James laughs a little, and this seems the hour for empty laughter, a far cry from the rushing heat of earlier. “I was just jealous.”

“Why would you be jealous?”

“It’s not nice to compete with a ghost, Steve.”

“There’s no competition. Bucky was Bucky. You’re you. I’m not saying you two are entirely different. If there’s something like a soul, I guess it shows. But I know you.”

“So you keep saying,” James says, smiling now, more or less genuine. “Is it going to be awkward?”

“What?”

Steve looks confused, with a little furrow between his brows that James finds far too adorable for his own good. The self-awareness doesn’t stop him from reaching out to poke at it, doesn’t stop the tug at his heart when Steve’s frown smoothens into a pleasantly surprised little smile.

“Me wanting you. Will it be a problem? I can move out, if you’d like.”

This time, it’s shock that whitens Steve’s skin.

“What—no, why would you—James, no. And it’s not—you want me?”

James doesn’t know what his face does in response to that question, but whatever it is makes Steve wince.

“I kissed you,” James points out, then adds like an afterthought, “And let you fuck me for literal hours.”

It’s pretty, the way Steve blushes. It spreads from his cheeks, pink creeping along his ears and down his neck. It makes everything about him look brighter, the eyes especially. James wants to trace the flush with his fingers and his mouth, but he keeps his body parts to himself, smile turning tight as thwarted desire knots in his belly.

Maybe he should move out, for his own sake. He didn’t know, until now, that he wanted Steve this bad. He knew he loved him, knew he was jealous, but not like this. And now that he’s had a taste for it, it feels impossible to go back. Steve doesn’t owe him jackshit, but James owes himself some kindness too.

“That’s not—that’s not a problem,” Steve says.

James fights not to sigh and loses that battle, mostly.

“What then? We just ignore the elephant in the room?”

Steve looks confused again. The expression makes James want to tear out his hair. And then, suddenly, Steve’s expression clears, understanding breaking across its handsome lines. And funnily enough, that doesn’t make James feel any better.

“You think I don’t want you,” Steve says, his tone an odd blend of wonder and shock that James doesn’t even know what to do with.

“You made it very clear,” James snaps defensively.

Steve reaches for him, and his grip isn’t as strong as it can be, but James puts up no resistance to its coaxing tug.

The kiss still catches him off-guard, even though he’s aware in a distant sort of way what Steve is going to do. It’s chaste, closed lips moving gently, but Steve seems in no hurry to pull away. He angles his face to better slot their mouths together. James melts into it, reservations eaten away by the consuming reality of Steve’s hands cradling his face and his lips catching tenderly on James’s.

They pull back, a quiet, gentle parting. Steve doesn’t let go of his face and James doesn’t feel any urge to pull away. There’s something bubbling up inside him that he’s hesitant to name.

“I was shocked when you kissed me,” Steve says. James can feel each word as a puff of air. “Froze up. Ain’t that I didn’t want to kiss you, sweetheart.”

“Oh,” James breathes, squeezing his eyes shut, startled at the wetness on his lashes. “I thought…”

Steve hums, tilting his face and nuzzling into James, the gesture so sweet that James hurts with it.

“Said it yourself, James. One look at you, and I lost it. There’s a reason for that.”

“It’s not that I look like him?” James asks, just to be sure.

Steve makes a soft, wounded noise.

“Wanted him. Want you too. That so bad?”

James laughs and opens his eyes, leaning in to rest his forehead on Steve’s.

“Nah. Can’t judge, can I?”

“Why’s that?”

“You were his first. I don’t remember that. I don’t remember having sex at all, until today. So you’re my first too.”

Steve jolts, hard enough that their foreheads knock together. James backs off a little, blinking. Steve looks stricken.

“I—oh god, James, I didn’t think… Fuck, I’m sorry.”

“Huh? What for?”

Steve waves a hand between them but fails to telepathically convey what the hell he’s talking about. James shakes his head, half-amused and half-confused.

“You deserve better than me cocked up on—on—”

“Alien aphrodisiacs?” James suggests delicately when Steve seems at a loss for words.

“Yes!”

“I wasn’t complaining. You were a goddamn machine. Ride of my fuckin’ life. Well, not that I remember any other rides but pretty sure it’d still be true.”

Again, that blush, accompanied this time by an expression that says Steve can’t decide whether he should be flattered or offended. James has to kiss him then, and there’s a part of him that expects to be gently pushed away or quietly rejected, but Steve sighs against his mouth and kisses back, one hand sliding into James’s hair, sinking comfortably into the strands like they’ve been doing this for years.

“It was good for me,” James whispers against Steve’s mouth. “Only person it was unfair to was you.”

Steve shakes his head without letting go of James, kisses the edge of his jaw, dragging his mouth along the curve of it.

“I remember all of it. A bit hazy, but s’all there,” he says, the words sinking into James’s skin like benediction. “If you don’t regret it, I don’t. It was—Christ, I physically can’t get it up again but if I could, the memory would do it. Was gonna spent some long nights beating it and feeling guilty if you didn’t want me back, James.”

James shivers, torn between laughing and kissing Steve again. He does both, though the smiles die and the kiss turns wet and dirty, something like intent behind it. James sucks on Steve’s tongue and hisses at the fingers that grasp his hair and tugs. A frisson of heat slithers down his spine, but it’s like Steve said. He physically can’t get it up.

“You can spend the long nights with me instead,” he says, prying his mouth away. “For now, how about we eat something? Get some strength back for when Romanoff comes back and tries to kill us.”

“Nat wouldn’t,” Steve says, but it’s not very convincing, though that may be because he’s more focused on kissing James, sweet little pecks broken up by clever flicks of his tongue. They’re very distracting. James doesn’t manage to surface again until his stomach growls in demand, as sharp a reminder of his body’s remaining limitations as the parched throat of earlier.

Steve blinks down at James’s stomach, eyes darkening at the dried come all over it.

“We’re about to find out,” James says absently, a flush of his own creeping over his skin at Steve’s unwavering stare. “We, uh, we should clean up first.”

Steve drags his eyes back to James’s, and then they light up.

“Together?”

James’s face burns hotter, but his voice is steady when he says, “You just said you can’t get it up anymore.”

Steve doesn’t even have the grace to look sheepish.

“A guy can look. And it’ll be nice. Come on. I’ll wash your back. Take care of you.”

And apparently, that sort of awkward, utterly sincere sweettalk is what gets James’s heart beating double-time.

“Yeah,” he says, choked up, throat full with things he can’t touch. “Yeah, I’d like that.”