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Quantum

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There's a thing in quantum mechanics that Einstein called "spooky action at a distance." It posits that two particles can be so entangled at the basest level with one another that, even when separated, that anything that happens to one particle will affect the other in an identical fashion. For all intents and purposes, these particles share the same existence. They are one and the same, even when separated.

So it was with them.

 


 

The thing about memories is that they are always subject to an unreliable narrator. There is no such thing as an unbiased memory, there is no such thing as clear truth when one is looking through the lens of one's own experiences. Layers are added upon recollection, dialogue recalled incorrectly, facial expressions or events that didn't quite happen the way it had seemed. The brain embellishes its own experiences, for better, or for worse.

Thus, when we look at a memory through someone else's eyes, it often doesn't quite line up with our own experience. Think about the last time you heard someone tell a story about a shared event - how does it differ from your own retelling of the same tale?

 


 

Vulnerability, for example. If you asked either of them what it was to feel vulnerable, they’d remember very different things. Both would remember each others’ experiences, to be sure, but the weight of their memories - the impact - is distributed equally, though in very different places.

 


 

Here is what Bucky remembers:

 

January, 1944.

In the darkened room, Steve reaches for his hand, and Bucky flinches.

They'd found the abandoned cabin after four days of marching through the Italian Alps in bone-chilling cold, bedding down on the frozen ground, sometimes unable to so much as build a small fire at night in order to keep from being discovered. Coming across it was a stroke of sheer luck and cause for celebration, a chance for everyone to get some well-deserved (and sorely needed) rest.

All of the Howling Commandos split up, two to a room, and naturally, Steve and Bucky slept together - they always did, ever since they were kids. The room they gave the Captain and Sarge had a huge fireplace built into it and an oversize washtub in the corner, which Bucky had made a beeline towards as soon as the door was shut. What they'd done to him in that Hydra facility, he felt like he'd never get clean again.

Steve, though, Steve still shone like the sun, like he'd never be sullied, and this new body, sometimes it hurt Bucky to look at him. If Steve was the sun, Bucky was the moon: reflecting off his light, and possessing a dark side no one would ever see.

He had scrubbed himself in the water till it started to go cold, and finally, reluctantly, he got out of the tub, dried himself off with a sheet that smelled like the cedar chest they'd found it in. Steve sat in front of the blazing fireplace, soaking up its warmth, and Bucky, still wrapped in the half-dampened sheet, had plodded over to sit next to him. The wood crackled and popped, a friendly sound, and Bucky suddenly felt the exhaustion of the past few months wash over him in a wave.

"Could just pass out on the floor here," he mumbles, watching the firelight flicker. "Thought I'd never be warm again."

Steve chuckles, and they both go silent for a moment, listening to each other breathe, easy and comfortable, and that's when Steve reaches for his hand. Bucky doesn't mean to flinch, and immediately is awash in guilt when he does, because Steve's fingers curl away from his as soon as he feels it. "Stevie, I..." Bucky fumbles.

"You haven't called me that since we were kids," he observes mildly.

"'M sorry. I...I ain’t..." Bucky shrugs lamely. I forgot, I forgot, what they did to me in there messed me up and I don't want to tell you how bad it was, what they'd done to me. I always expect that every touch is gonna hurt, and even though I know better, my body don’t.

Steve turns towards him slightly. "You know it's okay, right?" he asks in a low, quiet voice. "I'm not gonna let anything bad happen to you, Buck."

Unexpected rage flutters in Bucky's chest. Something already did happen to me, and where were you? But that wasn't fair, he corrects himself internally, no, he came and got you, same as you'd do for him, every time you had one of those sixth-sense feelings that little Stevie was getting his ass kicked in a back alley somewhere. Again.

Besides, it wasn't Steve’s job to look after him.

 


 

In the dark, after the fire had died down some, their hands do finally find one another’s, and then their lips, hips, and chests. They crash into one another desperately, hands roaming over collarbones and thighs, mouths tasting every inch of sweet skin.

Bucky had to make a conscious effort to ground himself in the moment - it’s Steve, it’s Steve, it’s not some German doctor, not some lab tech to stick needles in him or cut his skin, just Steve, Steve who he trusted with his life, Steve who would never, ever hurt him, not once, not ever, even with this new body that sometimes didn’t know his own strength. Steve, who was so, so warm.

Steve runs hot now, and it's funny. When he was feverish, before, Bucky'd match it in sheer sweating terror, mopping his brow and swabbing his skin with cool cloths. Now his skin runs hot and it's a sign of how healthy he is, his metabolism running at high speed, burning away all the sickness, keeping him healthy.

Now, Steve's skin feels like it's burning him, searing away the chill in his bones as he nips at Bucky's jaw, his hand resting on Bucky's bare chest over his heart. Bucky wonders if he can feel his pulse jackrabbiting away under his fingertips. "You're still cold", Steve murmurs in his ear, "Let's warm you up."

Bucky bursts out laughing, he can’t help himself, and pushes Steve back so he has to raise up on his arms some. “The fuck, Rogers, what is this? You use that line on Carter?” He tries to keep the bitterness out of his voice, barely succeeds, and Steve flinches as if he’s been hit. Bucky can’t stop himself as the words tumble out of his mouth, “That work for her? It sure ain’t workin’ for me.”

“Fine, if you don’t want me to be sweet to you tonight, Buck -” Steve scowls at him, hurt, but Bucky cuts him off.

“You ain’t never been sweet to me, babydoll, not tonight or any other night, what’re you on about?” He shoots him an apologetic smirk, tries to fall back into his usual banter. Bucky knows if he issues up a challenge, the dynamic will fall back into place - Steve beneath him, panting and whimpering, and him on top, fucking into him, coaxing him to fall apart, talking dirty in his ear. It’s how it’s always been, how it should always go, this territory’s unfamiliar ground for the both of them and everything feels off. “You’re usually pricklier than a damn porcupine, ain’tcha? Usually, it’s me who’s sweet to you.”

He leans up, nips at his ear, and goes to roll him over, get on top of him, but Steve pushes him back down gently with one hand. Bucky goes easily, briefly shocked by how strong he is, how big he is. He has to remember he can’t do that anymore, manhandle Steve like he was a sack of dry twigs. He’s exhausted besides, and as much as he hates to admit it, it’s easier to just fall back.

Steve resumes mouthing along the side of his neck with a little huff. “Nuh-uh, no. None of that. This ain’t your show, Buck. I just wanna do for you, okay? This time, just let me do for you.” He settles on top of him again, slotting himself between Bucky’s slightly spread legs.

Bucky lets out a shuddery breath to feel all that heat and hardness pressed up against him again. “Okay, Stevie, okay”, and it’s partly an apology - he hadn’t meant to be so God damned mean, it’d just slipped out of him - and he’s so tired, and he feels so raw inside and out.

“I don’t wanna hear a word out of you, either, not unless it’s my name or the Lord’s, you hear me, Buck? No talking.” Steve reaches a hand between them, gently brushing his the back of his hand down the length of his dick, and Bucky gasps. He twists his wrist to wrap his hand around it, stroking him loosely, as if he were some fragile thing.

“This revenge, Stevie? You tryin’a be me now, that what this is?” he pants.

“I said hush, dammit. Can’t you just let a fella be sweet to you for a change? C’mon, Buck,” he pleads, and looks at him, pleading baby blues through those long dark eyelashes, and Bucky’s lost.

“Yeah, Stevie, all right, sure, baby, okay,” he babbles helplessly as Steve strokes him, sure and slow. Bucky groans, cants his hips into Steve’s hand in a shallow thrust.

“There you go,” Steve murmurs, never taking his hand off Bucky’s dick as he moves slowly down, kissing along his neck, his collarbone, and down his chest. He pauses to suckle gently at one of his nipples, Bucky’s secret weakness he’d never told a soul about. Till Steve, anyhow. He shudders under it, letting out a shaky breath and a curse. “There you go, Buck.” Steve’s lips ghost over the very peak of his nipple, his warm breath teasing his sensitive (and still chilled) skin as he speaks.

Steve slides lower, tracing a path down his body with the tip of his tongue, dipping under the sheets to mouth at Bucky’s hipbone. “You gonna tease me all night, Rogers? You’re killin’ me,” Bucky groans, reaching down to fist a hand in his hair and steer him towards his dick, and Steve’s hand stills. He pulls himself up slightly from underneath the covers, and he’s got a smirk on his face that Bucky’s never seen before.

“I told you. You gotta let me drive. Don’t rush me,” Steve hums, leaning in to kiss at him again. “I just wanna take care of you, Buck.”

Bucky, as a rule, tends to move fast - habit from way back when they were a couple of kids in the orphanage. They usually didn’t have much time, and they didn’t have much opportunity to be alone, so all this tenderness, it’s a new thing and Bucky’s not sure what to make of it. He’s not even sure that he likes it, at first, but then Steve goes back to what he had been doing a moment before.

Exhausted, bruised, cold to the bone, the words awaken something in Bucky. Steve taking care of him, for a change. Sure, it wasn’t the same as filching cough syrup from the drugstore, or working extra hours to make sure they could make rent this month. It wasn’t the same as waking up every hour on the hour to check and see if Steve was still breathing, or the same as ensuring he always had enough to eat, but even so...

Is this what it felt like? To be Steve? The words echo in his head, I just wanna take care of you, Buck, and he’s feeling like his heart’s been cracked wide open as Steve kisses at the bruises on his chest so tenderly. He almost wants to sob with it.

“Since you can’t seem to keep quiet,” Steve says in a low, amused voice, “I gotta find a way to shut you up. So I figure,” he trails his hand smoothly up from Bucky’s navel to his cheek, resting his thumb just under his jaw, “we’re gonna do it like this.” He traces two fingers over Bucky’s lips, and Bucky darts his tongue out to lick at them.

“Mmm. You’ve got the right idea.” Steve moves his free hand back down to Bucky’s dick, and rubs his thumb smoothly over the slit, idly smearing precome all over the tip, getting it slick. Bucky groans, and Steve takes the opportunity to push his fingers into his mouth.

“Suck”, Steve whispers as he slides himself back down. “I want you to use your mouth to show me what you want, for a change. ‘N I’ll do it to you.”

Bucky licks, experimentally, at the tips of Steve’s fingers and, in response, Steve does the same to his cock, little kitten licks, gentle and soft. Moaning, Bucky swirls his tongue around them, and obediently, Steve takes him in a little deeper, mirroring everything that Bucky does with his own mouth. Steve licks down the length of him, and Bucky shudders. He’s so damn warm.

Groaning, he exhales and opens his mouth wider, trying to take Steve’s fingers down his own throat. Expertly, Steve swallows him down, his mouth hot and wet around him, and it feels like he’s died and gone to Heaven. He manages to lift up, a little, to watch Steve’s lips stretched wide around his dick. Steve glances up at him and smiles, as much as he’s able, and Bucky moans, falling back onto the bed as Steve’s fingers slip out of his mouth.

He feels Steve’s tongue swirl around his cock and his hips buck up involuntarily, and he reaches down to card his fingers through Steve’s hair, feel his head bobbing up and down over his dick as he sucks him off.

“Steve. Stevie. Stevie, baby, oh god, oh my god, yes, Stevie, fuck, ‘s so good, ‘m so close, Stevie, please, ‘m so close,” Bucky slurs, panting.

Steve lifts off, wrapping a fist around his cock, continuing to stroke him firm but slow. “Yeah?” he pants, and suckles gently on the head for a moment, making Bucky’s dick jump at the sensation. Steve kisses a path up his body till he’s nipping at Bucky’s earlobe, whispering in his ear, “You gonna come for me, Buck?” he breathes. “You gonna come for me like this, babydoll, or you wanna come on my dick?”

Steve never talks in bed aside from the occasional Jesus, Bucky, and yes, and various combinations therein. Talking, now that was all Bucky, running his mouth with a steady stream of narration, punctuated liberally with moans and curses. Hearing him talk that way - and the babydoll, that was a pet name only Bucky ever called him in bed - causes his entire brain to short out and see stars.

“Oh my Jesus God, fuck, Steve -” he hisses, and with that, he’s coming all over Steve’s hand and his own chest, as Steve moans and gentles him through it, kissing him and stroking him till Bucky weakly pushes his hand away. He lies, half-stunned and shaking, as Steve licks him clean, slowly, and then settles himself next to Bucky.

The exhaustion washes over him in a wave, then, but he almost doesn’t care, it feels like he’s floating. “Don’t you want me to -” Bucky slurs out, god, he’s so tired it’s like he’s drunk - but Steve just wraps that big body of his around him, nestles his head into the curve of Bucky’s neck.

“Nah. Told you, I wanted to take care of you, Buck. Get some rest.”

 


 

That is what Bucky remembers of vulnerability. The person who possessed that memory, however, is of course now dead. The memory is that of a ghost’s. The ghost, however, is still very much alive.

 


 

Here is what Steve remembers:


November, 1938.

It seems like it's been cold forever, and it’s probably going to be cold forever after that. He doesn’t remember. All he knows is, winter came early this year and the way it was going already, it’d probably be his last one. He doesn’t say that to Bucky, though. He’d always been so good about fighting everything that the good Lord threw at him, but he’s just so damn tired, this time.

It’d be just so easy to let it happen. Every time he breathes, he can hear the fluid crackling through his lungs, before he coughs it out, alarmingly wet-sounding. His ribs hurt from the coughing - he suspected he’d broken or at least badly bruised some of them, after the coughing spasm last night that had him feeling like he just couldn’t catch his breath. Every inhale would just set off more coughing. Bucky, panicked, hadn’t known what else to do but rub his back in little circles as he hacked and wheezed, less to help him breathe but more so that he had something to do with his own hands.

Pneumonia, the doctor had said. Again.

He shook with chills when he wasn’t sweating gallons onto the sheets, and he was so weak sometimes he could barely lift his head up to read the book he’d gotten from the library last week. Most of the time, he spent a lot of his waking moments staring vaguely at some fixed point across the room, when Bucky wasn’t home, drifting in and out of consciousness, the sound of the radio in the background. When Bucky was home, however, he was always hovering, even more than usual, which is what really tipped Steve off about how serious it must be, how terrible he must look.

Bucky knows Steve doesn’t like him to baby him - hates it, in fact - but when he comes home from work that day, pulls off his coat and kicks off his shoes, crusted with snow and ice, he takes one look at Steve and stills. “Hey, Buck”, Steve manages weakly, trying to sound casual. The effort earns him another coughing fit. It’s a full two minutes before he can catch his breath completely again.

“Christ, Steve, you got the heat on in here? Your lips are blue.” Bucky goes over to the radiator, and yeah, it’s working.

“You eaten anything today?” he asks, and before Steve can open his mouth he adds, “Just shake your head, yes or no. Don’t wanna get you coughing again.”

Steve makes a face. Then he pauses, and shakes his head slowly, for no. He’d sort of forgotten, and besides, he hadn’t felt hungry today. In days, really. He felt no need to eat. He’d had a little water and nothing more.

“God, Steve, you gotta eat something, baby, you look like hell. Lemme make you that chicken soup, okay?” Steve rolls his eyes, but Bucky immediately gets busy in the kitchen.

Steve settles back on the couch and he must drift off for a bit, because when he opens his eyes again, Bucky’s perched next to him with a bowl of hot soup.

“Don’t you dare try to feed me, Barnes,” he protests weakly. The air rattles in his lungs as he talks.

Bucky ignores it. “Sit up,” he commands. Steve clamps his lips shut. Bucky rolls his eyes. “C’mon, you gotta have somethin’ to eat. Your lips are goddamn blue. You’re sweating so bad this blanket is soaked through. At least drink a little of the broth, baby, you gotta.”

All Steve can do is glare at him. “Ain’t your -” he wheezes. “Ain’t your baby. Quit it. Lemme be.” But the truth is, he can’t sit up. He doesn’t even have the strength. He doesn’t want to let Bucky know, he’d panic, take him to the hospital. “Just lemme rest, Buck, c’mon.” He’s already seeing black spots behind his eyes just from talking, and he takes a thick, wavery breath.

He closes his eyes - just for a second, he’s so tired - and everything goes dark for a little bit.

 

 


 

 

When Steve opens his eyes again, it’s dark out, and something is damp on his shoulder. He can hear sniffling, and he checks to make sure it isn’t him. He’s sitting up, part of the way, and he can feel that Bucky’s behind him, he’s propped Steve up in his arms. Something warm and wet drips on his shoulder and just before he looks up to see if the ceiling is leaking again, he hears a stifled sob.

“You gotta stay with me, okay?” says Bucky, his voice cracked and broken, and Steve is startled into remaining still. Bucky is crying. James Buchanan Barnes is crying as if his heart might break. “I don’t know what to do, Steve. I wouldn’t know what to do without you, you gotta stay with me.”

He takes a slow breath and it makes his chest ache, his heartbeat erratic and pounding away under his ribs. He can feel Bucky shaking behind him, trying to keep himself from full broken-down sobs.

“Buck...Bucky,” he creaks out wetly. He tries to cough but he barely has the strength to do it, just ends up trembling and gagging.

He can feel Bucky’s arm snake around him, pulling him closer. “You’re awake,” he says roughly, rubbing briskly at his eyes, covering up his tears.

Steve wants to make a joke, something about how his blubbering woke him the hell up, but he can’t get it out, and coughs instead, for what seems like minutes, as Bucky sits him up and rubs his back worriedly. “I gotta take you to the hospital, Steve. Ain’t got no choice, baby. I’ve been watching you all night, you can barely breathe.”

“Buck. No,” he tries, through the sickness crackling in his lungs. But he’s scared, because Bucky’s right. It’s never been this bad, ever, and he’s starting to feel hot and cold again at once.

“Please, baby. I promised your ma I’d take care of you, and I can’t do more ‘n that. Don’t care about the money, Steve, I just need you...need you to…” Bucky doesn’t finish, swiping at his eyes again before taking a more commanding tone that, Steve can tell, he doesn’t really feel. “Don’t fight me on this. C’mon, let’s get you dressed, I gotta get you to a doctor.”

“No.” Steve tries to be firm, but when he coughs this time, he coughs up blood, tastes iron in his mouth.

“Just lemme take care of you, Stevie, c’mon. Please.”

Steve’s head lolls back on Bucky’s shoulder. It’s a minute or more before he confesses, quietly, “I can’t get up, Buck. Can’t even dress myself -” he coughs again, and Bucky holds him so tight he winces at the pressure across his ribs.

“Sorry, sorry,” he apologizes quickly. “And, ‘s ok, I got ya. I’ll get you dressed, carry you down the three flights if I gotta. Don't care. 'M gonna take good care of you, sweetheart.”

And so Steve sits, ashamed, and lets Bucky dress him, pulling his shirt on, and worse, exchanging his underpants and pulling on a pair of slacks for him. He hates it. He hates every minute of it. He can’t stand the fact that he’s unable to even put on his own God damned pants right now. What a burden he is, always slowing Bucky down, always so insufferably sickly and weak.

“I ain’t.” Steve huffs out to the ceiling, his chest rattling. “I ain’t weak.”

Bucky finishes up buttoning Steve’s shirt, and lets his hand rest on Steve’s chest gently, just above his heart. He looks straight at him, and there's no pity, no scorn, no disdain in his stormy grey eyes. Nothing but love, and concern. “No, Stevie, you ain’t. You’re the strongest person I’ve ever known. Now c’mon.”

 


 

And this is what Steve remembers of vulnerability, though this particular version of Steve, of course, is also quite dead. Neither of these boys were then what they are now, to say that they are still the same persons would be a wildly inaccurate statement. Non sum qualis eram; I am not as I was. Of course, none of us could claim otherwise, either.

 


 

It is theorized that quantum entanglement begins when two particles are formed at the same moment, and so it was with Steven Grant Rogers and James Buchanan Barnes; in this case, the defining explosive moment being their first day of kindergarten. It is also theorized that love is the driving force behind all Creation (or so they were told on Sundays at St. Michael's) and if this is also true, it might also explain why, from that day forward, the two boys were practically inseparable. Much like those entangled particles, they were a whole unit rather than two distinct human beings, their edges blurred into one another. There could be no Bucky without Steve; no Steve without Bucky. They simply were, as ever, SteveandBucky.

When the world, much later, attempted to separate them, it failed. They were one, had been since the first day of Miss O'Malley's class and blue eyes had met smoky grey. With that, a force greater than either of them forged them together.

Thus, when one was transformed, the other was transformed shortly thereafter; and when one died, the other died as well.

Hydra killed James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes, and as such, they also killed Steven Grant Rogers shortly thereafter. Oh, certainly, their bodies were still alive, but there is so much more than the flesh that can be hurt, broken, and taken from us.

Those boys, the ones who met on a bright September day in a Brooklyn, New York public school, were gone; the young men who continued on in their place were no less entangled, but metamorphosed into greater things. There are so many kinds of death, most of them far worse than the simplest and most base (and thus most popularly understood) kind of death. Death is a spectrum, after all, and the men were reborn; one dark, one light, two halves of the same whole, yin and yang.

Hydra had not counted on such a thing occurring.

 

Chapter Text

Imagine a box. It can look however you want, the outside isn't important. It's not really a box anyways, strictly speaking.

Within the box, there are infinite worlds of possibility. There are an uncountable number of alternate universes contained within it. Everything you've ever read, everything you've ever thought of: all of it did happen, is happening, will happen. Once the box is opened, the fate of the boys from Brooklyn solidifies via observation. Which one will it be this time?

Depends on who opens the box.

Every time, their timeline reboots, they are reborn, and the universe shifts anew, the observer altering the details through their own unique lens of vision. No two people will ever observe them identically.

See how beautiful it is?

All the stories are true.

 


 

In all worlds, the men are separated. There are always vicissitudes of fortune that break them apart, and reunite them. They transform and reconvene, reconfigured, ghosts of their former selves. 

In some universes, there is no happily ever after. James Buchanan Barnes never regains his memories, and though he eventually becomes a close friend to Steve Rogers, he is never Bucky again.

In others: they remain together, survive the war, and are parted in other devastating ways, only to reunite at some point further down the line; changed men still forged explicitly for one another.

Sometimes there is no war, sometimes there's some other explosive event that's a metaphor for a war. Sometimes there are women, babies, dogs twined in their stories along with them. Sometimes they're in a coffeeshop, sometimes a college, sometimes a farm or a bustling city. Sometimes they're lawyers, sometimes they're teachers, sometimes they're porn stars or strippers rather than soldiers.

Sometimes Bucky never loses his left arm, or he does, but he has a plastic prosthetic, or no prosthetic at all. Sometimes it's detachable, sometimes it's wired into his nervous system and grafted onto his bone. Sometimes Steve gets a super-soldier serum, other times he just works out a lot and/or experiences a growth spurt.

The core of the story is the same, repeating over and over and over, a song with infinite variations on the same tune. But at its heart, the melody remains.

 


 

 Here is another part of the story that has infinite variations. You've heard it before, even if you haven't yet. It is already familiar to you.

 


 

It's snowing outside, hard, so hard the only option is to stay holed up in the apartment. "Could be we'd be stuck here for days. They say it's gonna be the worst snowstorm Brooklyn's had in twenty years." Bucky groans, but he's smiling, shaking the snow off his coat and hat and hanging them up on the hook by the door. "I got us some provisions." He sets the grocery sack down with a triumphant thump on their rickety kitchen table.

"Ooh, oatmeal," Steve says sarcastically, peeking in the bag and rolling his eyes.

Bucky swats his hand away. "C'mon now, c'mon, that ain't all that's in there, gimme some credit, Rogers." He reaches in and pulls out some of their usual staples: bread, beans, ham, potatoes. A couple of bananas, some cans of Campbell's soup - chicken noodle.

"Fancy." Steve raises an eyebrow.

"Ah, that ain't even the best part, sugar, that's just to get us by for a bit. Here we go," he grins wide, his eyes lit up bright like they always did when he was up to no good. From the bottle of the bag, he pulls out a fifth of Johnnie Walker Black Label whiskey.

Steve's eyes go wide. "Jesus Roosevelt Christ, Barnes, the hell'd you get that from? We ain't got the cash for that and you know it."

Bucky tips him a wink, "Fell off the back of a truck, Stevie-doll, was the damndest thing. Found 'em sittin' square in the middle of the road, and God knows if I hadn'ta picked 'em up they'd have gotten covered in the snow, somebody mighta run them over. Coulda caused an accident. So I did my civic duty, removed them from the road. Asked all up 'n down the block, who could they possibly belong to? But no one anywhere nearby had lost 'em, so I figured I'd bring 'em home with me, though if you really want we could turn 'em into the police like good citizens -"

"Spare me, Buck." Steve's rolling his eyes again. "Coulda just shortened that tale to 'you don't want to know' instead of trying to sell me on the biggest heap of bullshit I've ever heard. Fell off of a truck, my ass. Fell off of a truck and right underneath your coat, more like."

Bucky straightens in mock indignation, places his right hand over his heart. "I'm wounded, Stevie. That you'd think I'd be capable of such a thing. I swear to ya - Scout's honor, babydoll -"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Tell me another one, Buck." Steve cuts him off and starts putting the groceries away in their tiny kitchen cabinet, sighing loudly in disapproval. He's not nearly as put-upon as he pretends, he just likes riling Bucky up some, and Bucky knows it. He's not big on Bucky nicking the occasional thing here and there - whiskey this time, cough syrup the last time he was sick, oranges for Christmas morning - but he also knows he breaks his back at his job day in, day out, and even then it's not always enough to make ends meet, let alone allow them the occasional luxury or emergency expenditure.

Truth is, it sounds kinda nice. Hot soup and a bit of bread for dinner, and some whiskey to keep them warm while they watch the snowfall and listen to the radio, maybe one of those detective shows they liked so much, or just some music. Didn't matter. They'd bundle up together on the couch, Bucky insisting on piling as many of their worn and threadbare blankets on Steve as he could, curling close to keep him warm. It's a Saturday night, so there's no work in the morning, only Mass if they can make it, weather permitting. The idea of it is both cozy and contagious, Bucky's good mood warming the little flat even more than the beat-up radiator can.

Behind him, Bucky crosses the room, flips on the radio, and Glenn Miller's playing. He hums along and sidles up next to Steve in the kitchen, dancing a bit as he opens up the cans of soup and dumps them in the pot, follows it up with two cans of water. Steve turns around, closing up the cabinet, and Bucky grabs him by the waist, swings him around with a grin.

"Quit it, you jerk. You know I ain't got no business dancin'," Steve fumes, pushing at him, a blush rising on his cheeks.

Bucky smirks, smoothly turning and fishing a wooden spoon out of the drawer next to the stove. "Y' ain't gonna be mad at me all night, are you, dollface? I can't stand it when you look at me like that, mad enough to spit fire." His face says otherwise, his grey eyes dancing with amusement. He lights the stove to heat up the soup, and Steve snatches the spoon out of his hand.

"You get away from that, lemme do it. I didn't think it was possible to burn a pan of water before I met you, but you always manage it somehow." He shoves Bucky aside and swats him on the ass with the spoon for good measure.

With that, Bucky breaks into a full belly-laugh and swats him back. "Christ, you look pretty when you've got your dander up about somethin'."

Steve looks over his shoulder to scowl at him - "I ain't pretty, Barnes, shut up" - but they both know he isn't really angry. It's just part of the game they play. He turns back to the stove as Bucky moves over to the table, opens up one of the bottles of whiskey. "You want some, Stevie?"

"Ugh. Fine. God knows we ain't goin' anywhere in this weather," Steve allows grudgingly. "Might as well. I'll need it if I'm gonna be cooped up here with you another minute."

Bucky laughs and pours him a glass as Steve ladles out the soup and slices up the bread, and a few minutes later, dinner is served.

 


 

Bellies full, they move to the couch, where, sure enough, Bucky insists on piling up every blanket in the house on Steve. He gives a token protest, laughing, but Bucky feigns sternness. "Gotta keep you warm, Stevie-doll, God knows we can't have you catching a chill."

He settles in next to him, and edges his feet under one of the blankets. "You know, you can take one of the blankets. I don't need six." Steve shoots him a half-smile.

Bucky tips back his glass and drains the whiskey out of it before shooting him a devilish grin that makes his heart skip a beat. "Stevie-doll, I don't need a blanket, I got my love to keep me warm."

Steve sticks out his tongue, feigning disgust. "I shoulda never taken you to see that musical, you corny jerk."

Stretching, Bucky arches his back over the arm of the couch, extending his hands over his head. His shirt rides up a little, exposing a strip of his stomach, and it makes Steve feel warm suddenly, or maybe it's just the whiskey. He hasn't had enough to get drunk, not yet, but he's riding a pleasant buzz that's got him feeling a little more loose than usual.

The whiskey. Right. "Gimme it", Steve asks suddenly, nodding his head towards the bottle on the table.

Bucky leans forward and grabs it. He turns to Steve, smirking, and slouches back into his end of the ratty old couch. "You want it, come 'n get it, doll." He beckons to him with a crooked finger, and it's a challenge Steve can't resist.

Bucky makes a show of taking a swig out of the bottle, and before he can swallow it Steve's on him, putting his lips on Bucky's. To his credit, he's surprised but he doesn't splutter. Steve can feel his lips twist up in a smile below his own, and he can taste the whiskey on him. Gently, he tilts Bucky's head back, pushes his tongue to the seam where his lips are pressed together, and licks them open, licks the liquor out of his mouth slowly as they kiss.

When he breaks away, Bucky's a little breathless, his grey eyes gone dark. "Christ. That was the single hottest thing you've ever done, baby. Do it again."

Steve laughs and pulls back, untangling the blankets he'd been wrapped in and placing them around the both of them. He looks up at Bucky through thick dark eyelashes, a smile playing across his lips mischeviously. "C'mere. I'll do it again, just c'mere."

Bucky doesn't have to be asked twice, and hauls Steve into his lap. "For warmth," he explains insincerely, and watches as Steve takes a sip from the bottle himself. This time, he’s the one to tilt Steve’s head back, and slowly share the shot. The warm burn of the liquor, heated by Steve's mouth, feels twice as intoxicating as it should.

Outside, snow is falling in thick clumps.

 


 

In some versions, the boys have Southern accents, or they're wearing modern clothes. In others, they are not in a tenement apartment in 1930's Brooklyn, but a flat in London in the 60's. One notable universe has them in a moon colony in the year 3057. Sometimes it's blackberry schnapps or vodka they're drinking out of one anothers' mouths, instead of whiskey. It's not a snowstorm but a hurricane, a heat wave, a dust storm that keeps them indoors.

Sometimes the boys are instead girls. Sometimes only one of them is. Other times, they’re neither, or somewhere in between. Gender is irrelevant here. Time is irrelevant, as is the type of liquor and the setting.

This story always has them laughing and pressed together, tasting from one another's lips and loving each other. That part never changes.

 


 

They spend at least an hour like that, making out under the blankets piled on the couch, taking occasional turns sharing sips of whiskey and drinking it out of one anothers' mouths. It's slow and it's gentle and it's searing hot, and it’s getting them both intoxicated both from the liquor and from the touch of skin on skin.

It gets them sloppy. Steve laughs, reaching for the bottle again, and he manages to take a bigger slug of the whiskey than he intended. It spills out of his mouth, down his chin and all over the front of his undershirt, which makes Bucky grin and seize his opportunity.

He reaches up and, smiling, pulls Steve in by the back of his neck, kissing him briefly before leaning in to lick the whiskey off of him. With his tongue, he begins following the trail of the spilled booze. He starts at his jaw and moves down his neck to the top of his chest, licking him clean with deliberate little flicks of his tongue and tiny, gentle sucks, not hard enough to leave a mark. Steve lets out a shuddering breath, and Bucky pushes him back against the arm of the couch, lying him out and shifting so he’s half on top of him.

“Let’s get you out of these wet clothes,” Bucky murmurs against his skin with a smile, and begins peeling him out of the whiskey-soaked shirt, rucking it up around his chest.

Steve groans. “I swear you got the worst lines in the book,” he says a little breathlessly, arching up so that Bucky can get the shirt off. “You oughta be embarrassed.”

Bucky snorts, tossing the shirt carelessly to the floor, and leans down to lave his tongue around one pink nipple. “That I use ‘em, or that they’re workin’?” He suckles it gently, scraping his teeth lightly over the hardened nub, making Steve squirm and gasp underneath him.

He skims his hand down under the waist of his pants to palm Steve’s cock through his underwear, and hums happily to find he’s already hard for him. “Hmm, we oughta get you out of these wet pants, too,” he rumbles, grinding the heel of his hand expertly over the line of his erection. There's a damp spot where Steve's been steadily leaking precome. Steve hisses and rocks his hips up into Bucky’s hand. Grinning, he kisses a loud wet smack on his stomach before sitting back on his heels to unbuckle Steve's belt and unbutton his fly.

Steve reaches his hands up to the hem of Bucky’s shirt, tugging it upwards, his eyes half-closed. “Whaddya want, Stevie-doll? Use your words, baby,” he purrs as he lifts up and pulls the blond’s pants and undershorts down over his hips, freeing his cock. Steve makes an incoherent, needy sound as a reply, biting his lower lip.

The sight of Steve lying there, wanton and panting, naked and hard is enough to make Bucky’s mouth water. His prick is flushed and red, curving nicely up towards his belly, leaking precome at the tip that's smeared messily all around the head, and he groans. “Oh, sweetheart, you got such a pretty dick. Can you touch yourself for me, sugar?”

Steve whines and tosses his head, his eyes squeezed shut. Bucky laughs, a low chuckle. It’s all he can do not to lean forward and put his mouth on it, savor the weight and the taste of it on his tongue, and Steve knows it. “I know, baby, I know. I got you so worked up, you can’t hardly say a God damned word. But I want you to keep yourself busy while I get outta my own clothes. That's what you want, isn't it? I can't get stripped down if you won't cooperate. Come on, babydoll.” It’s the “babydoll” that does it - Steve loves the nickname, responds to it in bed like nothing else - and, obediently, he sluggishly moves to wrap a fist around his cock.

"Oh, babydoll. Babydoll. That's right. Just like that." He watches as Steve starts to stroke himself, shaky and uncoordinated at first, his grip loose around the base of his cock, while he hastily sheds his own clothing. Reluctantly, he crosses the room to grab some slick from the kitchen. Outside, the wind picks up, blowing snow and howling around the windowpanes, and when he comes back Steve is shuddering half from pleasure and half from the cold draft. He's working his dick hard and fast, his breath catching and hitching in his throat.

Quick as he can, Bucky sets the oil down and covers Steve's body with his own. He tosses the blankets over the both of them hastily, pulling him close and tangling a hand in his hair. Steve tilts his head to kiss him and his tongue parts Bucky's lips insistently. His hand is still working his cock as Bucky gently lowers his weight onto him, trapping his hand between them and stilling it. He moans into Bucky's mouth, undulating his hips against him to chase the friction. Bucky can tell that Steve's already gone.

"Sweetheart, slow down, you're gonna go off before I even get inside you," he chides, gently pulling his hand away from his straining dick, which twitches in interest. "I ain't even hardly started with you yet, don't you worry, babydoll." Steve moans out a complaint about the denial, squirming in his arms restlessly. Bucky waits a few beats, kissing him infuriatingly chastely on his temples, his forehead, and his chin, until Steve's breathing evens out and his pulse slows down before he continues.

When he decides Steve's ready, and that he won't have an asthma attack from how hard he's panting, he reaches down to grab the slick. Bucky slides down under the blankets, gets his fingers wet with slick, and sets about opening him up, slowly and patiently. He watches with satisfaction as Steve's fists clench and unclench in the blankets at the first breach of his index finger. He only pauses on occasion to add more oil, then continues working his hand and scissoring his fingers. By the time he gets three into his tight little hole, Steve is as wet as a good-time girl and grinding down on his palm restlessly, letting out soft little cries with each thrust. Bucky curls his fingers, rubbing over his prostate with every stroke.

"Bucky," he sobs out, his thighs shaking. "Bucky, Bucky, Bucky, please, Jesus, oh my Jesus God, Bucky, please," Steve begs, sounding wrecked.

"Yeah? You ready for it, sweetheart?" he purrs, and all Steve can do is nod and groan as a response. "Uh-uh, baby, no. C'mon, I wanna hear you say it. Wanna hear you tell me what you want." Steve lets out a frustrated whine, and Bucky chuckles at it. He loves getting him like this, all tongue-tied and unable to speak, the polar opposite of what he was like the rest of his waking hours. Words usually came quick to Steve, and he was always a mouthy little punk, until you got him worked up and out of his mind with lust, and then he was overwhelmed and incoherent. "Tell me, babydoll. Say it."

It's a full two minutes before he can collect himself enough to speak, during which Bucky doesn't let up for even a moment. He keeps sliding his fingers in and out of his asshole as easy as you please, mouthing at the sharp planes of his hips, lazily licking a stripe up the side of Steve's cock a couple of times, when the mood struck him. "C'mon, sugar. I could do this all night, otherwise."

Finally, Steve hisses out, "Please, Buck," he whines, "need...'m ready, I need...you gotta get in me."

Bucky's hand stills, his lips curl in a smile against Steve's cock. "That's what you wanted?" His lips brush against the head wickedly as he whispers. "Well. I think I could do that for you, baby boy. Whatever you want, dollface. Whatever you want."

He moves them to the floor, positioning the blankets so that they're underneath them. It's hardly a cushion, they're so threadbare, but it's better than staying on the couch. More room to move, and less worry about the creaking of bedsprings or the one leg of the couch that's shorter than the others pounding away on the floor, alerting the neighbors. He shifts so that he's on his back, pulling Steve on top of him - it's easier for him this way, less pressure on his crooked spine - and lines himself up with the rim of his hole.

As he breaches the tight ring of muscle, he lets Steve sink down on his cock at his own pace, praising him through it. "I got you, sweetheart. You take my cock so good, unh, Christ, Steve, you feel so amazing. Such a good boy, so good for me." Steve huffs out little grunts, stopping and starting again real slow, sinking down until he bottoms out and Bucky's all the way inside him.

It's all he can do not to thrust up, the slick tightness and the heat all around his cock is the most divine thing he's ever felt, always is when he gets inside of Steve. Bucky already thinks he might not last long, tonight. Feels like he could shoot off at any moment, and he's grateful that Steve has stilled, trying to adjust to the fullness and the stretch around the prick buried inside of him. He exhales a breath, trying to get himself under control. "You let me know when I can move."

Steve leans forward, hungry for a kiss, and Bucky pulls him close to his chest, trying to keep him warm and relaxed. Given his own way, Steve'd bounce on his dick right into an asthma attack, fast and fierce and hungry for it. For his part, Bucky preferred to move slow and deliberate, and once Steve lets out a hoarse "please" as his cue to start moving, he places his hands on Steve's hips, guiding him and keeping his pace slow and even. Sometimes, Steve'd try to fight it, try to buck his hips faster and ride him harder, but most of the time, Bucky wouldn't let him.

"Unh, god, you like riding my dick, don't you. Gets you so hot, you need it so bad, you can't even think straight while I'm inside you. I know, baby, I know. I'm gonna make you come just like this," he whispers, tightening his grip, forcing him to slow down so he can feel every inch of Bucky sliding in and out of him at a maddening pace. "Just like this, and you're gonna take it. We ain't gotta rush, doll, we got all night."

He's good to his word, moving him up and down on his dick, steady and relentless, pushing in as deep as he can get. By the time he finally moves to wrap one hand around Steve's prick, he's leaking so steadily that there's a little puddle of precome on Bucky's stomach. Steve sobs brokenly when he starts stroking him, matching the pace with his thrusts, and Bucky smiles. He moves his other hand to the small of his back, rubbing in little circles, encouraging him. He can feel his orgasm starting to coil at the base of his spine, knows he's already aching to come, and Steve can't be faring much better, judging with how absolutely wrecked he looks. "You're close, aint'cha. I can tell. Go ahead, babydoll, go ahead and ride it. Get yourself off on my dick. Come for me, sweetheart."

Steve picks up the pace, fucking himself on Bucky's cock with singleminded intensity. After only a minute more, he gasps, his hips stuttering and then stilling, and then spills himself in Bucky's hand with a broken cry. He shudders and clenches up as Bucky rides him through it, tightening and fluttering all around the length of him, making him moan.

"Bucky," he breathes. "Want you to. Want you to come in me, Buck. Wanna feel it, please, God, yeah," Steve whispers, leaning down to kiss him hungrily. 

"God. Steve. Oh, ngh, fuck, baby, I'm gonna, babydoll, fuck, 'm gonna," he groans as Steve tongues behind his ear, and seconds later spills inside of him, his eyes rolling back in his head as he comes. Steve feels it and lets out a whimper, kissing him through the aftershocks.

 


 

The snow falls all through that night and long into the next day. The city practically shuts down. Outside, it's more peaceful and still than Brooklyn has any right to be.

They make their own little self-contained world inside this city, as precious and fragile as being trapped inside a snowglobe, and for two blessed days and nights they do little more than eat, sleep, and make love to one another. On the third day, when they awaken, the streets are clear, Bucky's called back in to work, and the illusion is shattered. Reality creeps in at the edges, and for a little while, they return to their routine.

 


 

Of course, you know what comes next. You've heard this tale before.

There's a draft notice, or maybe there's an enlistment. There's an external circumstance that tries, futilely, to separate these two and succeeds only briefly. Regardless: there are hundreds of thousands of pages devoted to varied and beautiful iterations of it.

Everything that they have ever done they will continue to do, over and over and over again. Stolen moments, lovemaking, unusual circumstances creating a memory. It happens, in some form or another, at some point, in all of the stories. The lovemaking isn't as important as the soul-deep love that's present in it, the love that pulls them together irresistibly, stronger than any and all physical sensation, stronger even then death.

That's the important part.

 

Chapter Text

Memories are funny things.

Transactive memory theory posits that groups who share a relationship of some kind collectively encode, store, and remember things better than individuals. Initially, this phenomenon was studied amongst partners and families, but expanded out to include larger groups.

We're part of one, you and I.

If you're reading this, you're here because you're part of a collective who has created these stories out of whole cloth, through their own words, and through shared memory. It's like making a quilt. No two cuts and no two stitches are the same, and yet the story is always recognizable in some way. We add in parts and subtract others, move them around to create a different design.

These systems work on an exchange - I may remember something that will trigger a memory in you, you may spin a phrase that creates a whole universe in me. We link our memories together to create a collection, we know best how to remind one another to recall them. The time that Bucky was literally a ghost. The one where the boys were secret lovers on a farm. What about the one where Steve and Bucky make a checklist and try out all kinds of sex toys? The one where they're teenagers in high school, navigating the awkwardness of young love? Oh, and the one where Bucky breaks into the wrong apartment, drunk, and falls in love with the apartment owner - Steve. And so on, ad infinitum.

Remember what I said about opening the box? We never run out of ways to tell our tale, weave our stories. We repeat them over and over, with multifaceted variations. 

 


 

You may remember this story. We've told it before to one another, you and I, so many times.

 


 

It wasn't so much that Bucky didn't remember Steve, as much as it was that the memories were not necessarily completely congruent with what he knew of the present day. Used to be he'd wrap himself around Steve like a blanket, keep him warm, shield him with his entire body as if that could stave off illness or a bruising back alley brawl. Now he was tall and huge and he wouldn't fit where he used to, nestled back to chest with Bucky, while he wrapped both his arms comfortably around him. Or chest to chest, his head tucked into the space between Bucky's shoulder and neck, his breath against his bare skin giving him goosebumps and making him shiver.

Not that they'd tried. Ever since he'd returned, Steve hadn't touched him. He had, however, insisted that Bucky stay in the apartment with him - it'd help, he said, to have someone familiar nearby. They'd been standing in the common room on the 8th floor of Avengers Tower when he'd made that call. All gleaming metal and smooth edges everywhere, white walls and white carpet and floor to ceiling glass windows. Bucky hated it.

"Someone with shared life experience?" Nat had asked him pointedly, her mouth twitching up in the subtlest of smiles. Steve had pressed his lips together, an emotion crossing his face too fleeting for Bucky to pick up on. He almost looked...flustered, for a second, before regaining his composure. Bucky kept his face impassive, having no idea what she was talking about. He sensed it was a part of a larger conversation he wasn't privy to.

"You could say that, yeah," Steve had allowed with a slight, tense smile of his own, and then he had turned and handed Bucky a set of keys.

 


 

Steve's living space was far more comfortable and far less flashy than the common area of the Tower. Modest hardwood floors, solid yet comfortable couches and chairs, utilitarian without being sparse and sterile. Books on tall shelves in the living area, a big-screen TV and entertainment center that didn't detract from the warmth of the room.

He suspected that the artwork on the walls in the place were Steve's, but didn't ask. Cityscapes in charcoal and watercolour, still life renderings (one of the Brooklyn Bridge, and another almost certainly of Central Park), and other places that were unfamiliar to Bucky. The color scheme was muted and tasteful: dark blues and pale greys, warm browns and deep cranberry reds. It felt altogether rather...homey, though Bucky couldn't put his finger on why that was. Maybe this was what their place had looked like before, but he doubted it.

The apartment had two bedrooms, and Steve had graciously set him up in the spare. He'd hovered near the doorway awkwardly at first, as Bucky put down the small gym bag that held all his earthly possessions so far on the navy blue sheets of the bed. Mostly weapons, wrapped in a few pairs of underwear and two t-shirts. "There's some clothes in the. In the dresser." He clears his throat. "I had to guess at your size and I figured - we were about the same size? So. If stuff doesn't fit, let me know?"

Bucky snorts. "I dunno if I can trust you with buying anyone clothes that fit, pal. I don't think you own a single shirt that fits," he says, glancing pointedly at the tight cranberry-coloured t-shirt that Steve was currently sporting.

Steve chuckled, then, reaching up to rub a hand behind his neck. That was his tell, Bucky had noticed, for when he was feeling self-conscious or nervous. "Would you believe I'm still not used to it? All...this," he says quietly, gesturing at himself, his height, his muscle, his big body a bare reflection of the skinny little spitfire he'd met on a rowhouse stoop another lifetime ago. 

Bucky lets himself look pointedly at him for a few seconds longer, and then shrugs. "Yeah. Me either, buddy." He turns to his bag and starts unpacking his few meager things.

Steve watches him for a moment, saying nothing, and then turns and walks away.

 


 

He remembers things, yeah, but it's in bits and pieces. Natasha takes his hand, and just like that, he remembers the freezing feeling of snow pooling on the back of his neck where the collar of his jacket met his skin, he remembers pushing his hands up her skirt slow and easy, remembers how she sounded when she came with his dick buried in her. She pulls him in for a hug and Bucky remembers her red hair spilled over a pillow, laughter spilled over her white teeth and red lips, the red of her blood spilling on the snow, a spilled red drink at a dirty dive bar, the hot red feeling of spilling himself into her. Red, red, always red, were his memories of Natasha.

Steve's a little different. Sometimes Bucky can't separate what actually happened from what he felt like had happened, and Steve wouldn't touch him, anyways, so what did it matter? He only wanted Bucky as he remembered him, not as he was now, a bruised and damaged thing, inconsistent and hesitant. He couldn't walk back into Steve's life as if the Bucky he knew had only been gone twenty minutes, which was what Steve clearly wanted him to do. Needed him to do.

Bucky couldn't do that for him. And Steve knew it, which is why, Bucky suspected, he didn't touch him.

 


 

Late one night, after waking up from a nightmare that left him sweating and panting, Steve is there.

"Bucky. Bucky. Buck!" His eyes snap open, and there's the most disorienting sensation: someone who looks like a very large, very healthy version of Steve is standing and looking down at him. I heard you and I. Uh. Are you okay?" And that's Steve's voice, saying that, that's the look Steve gets on his face when he's worried, that's not Steve, but it is Steve, standing there, shirtless, rubbing the back of his neck like he's nervous. Like he wants to reach out, but can't. Or won't.

He sits up abruptly, shakes himself like a dog. Shakes off the dream, tries to reacclimate to his surroundings. It's not 1938, Steve's skinny chest wheezing in and out breaths. And it's not 1944, freezing together in the Italian Alps during the war. It's 2015, and Steve is healthy and alive and huge and...hovering over his bed.

"Stevie?" he asks stupidly, not fully awake yet.

He cracks a smile at him. "Yeah. 'S me, Buck. You okay?" he repeats.

Bucky scrubs at his eyes with his right hand, rubbing the sleep from them. "Nightmare," he mumbles unneccesarily. "Sorry. Didn't mean to wake you."

Steve sits down near the foot of the bed. He can't quite make out his face, but he can hear the warm smile in his voice. "You didn't. I wasn't asleep."

He glances over at the clock, the soft blue digital numbers providing the only real light in the room. Bucky notes with confusion, "It's 3:02 am."

There's a pause. He can make out the vague outline of Steve's body in the dark as he shrugs his shoulders lightly. "You're not the only one who has nightmares." The admission, quiet as it is, makes Bucky's heart lurch in his chest. He doesn't know if that's true. He can't remember Steve ever having nightmares, but..."You gonna be all right?"

Bucky bites his lip, and then sighs deeply, slouching a little with it. The sheets slide down, pooling at his waist. He's not wearing a shirt, in fact, he's not wearing anything at all, he remembers somewhat belatedly. He never does. Did he sleep that way before? With Steve...? No. Surely he hadn't. Surely he had. Maybe both. He shakes it off, tries to focus. Tucking the sheets around him subtly, he tries to shoot Steve a halfhearted grin. "Well, 'm wide awake, now. Go back to bed. You should sleep."

He chuckles. "I should, but I won't. I'm just as awake as you." There's a pause, and it stretches out between them, fragile as spun sugar. It's not the comfortable kind that they'd had lifetimes ago, when they could - and did - sit companionably in silence with one another for hours at a time. Effortless. No, this is the wild, unpredictable kind, laced with tension and uncertainty. Bucky wonders if Steve thinks he's going to get up and start attacking him or something. Wouldn't blame him if he did, he thinks with a rush of shame. Steve stands up, and he's ready for him to bolt out of the room, but instead, he says, "Let's go get ice cream." 

"What?"

"I'm awake. You're awake. We're not going back to sleep. Let's get some ice cream." He moves over to the light and flips it on. Bucky blinks at the brightness for a moment, and tilts his head like a confused dog. "You still like ice cream, right? C'mon." Steve stands up and beckons him towards the door. 

Bucky goes to stand up and, just as the sheet starts to slip from him, realizes he's still fully nude. "I, uh -" he starts at the same time Steve blurts out, "Oh, you -" and drops his eyes to the floor.

There's a beat, and then, miraculously, they both start laughing. It's nervous, at first, and then he starts laughing harder because Steve's laughing harder, and in minutes they're rolling with hysterical giggles. He catches Steve's eyes and gets the first genuine smile, completely unguarded, that he's seen on him since he came back. It feels like old times, cracking each other up until - until...he's not sure how that thought ends. Until something happens. Until the sun comes up? Until they forget why they were laughing in the first place? Until Steve falls into his arms, unable to keep from laughing even when he's plastering his face and neck with sloppy kisses? Until...?

How long had it been since Steve had laughed like that? Since Bucky had?

There's a blank space there, a gap in his head where the memory should be. This time, it's not unnerving like it usually was, a nagging feeling that he was missing something or that there was a word right on the tip of his tongue. It's a simple point of fact. It'd still be there. It'd be there waiting, until he was ready to retrieve it. Doesn't matter. All that mattered was Steve's eyes squeezed shut, standing there halfway to doubled-over clutching his stomach, and the giddy feeling of shared laughter after being without it for so long.

He kept laughing, more at the wonder of Steve Rogers than at anything else before it. His friend.

 


 

Of course, it could also be said that a large theme in and of itself within these stories often involves the meta of these transactive memory systems helping Bucky to recover from the trauma that caused all or most of his memories to be stolen from him. 

One of the most evocative triggers for memory is scent, followed by touch and taste. Some also involve sound or visual prompts. But once a memory is unleashed, it's hard to stop it from snowballing, dragging other memories out with it.

 


 

When they catch their breath, Steve wheezes out, "Okay, wait, there's. Hahaha. There's ice cream in the freezer. Common area. C'mon. Just wrap the sheet around you."

Still laughing, Bucky rips the sheet from the bed, fashioning it around him toga-style. "I swear to Jesus, Rogers, if Stark catches me, 'm gonna pretend I'm sleepwalking."

"Yeah, okay, all right, I'll just say I was...following you."

Rolling his eyes, Bucky, leads the way out of the room, the sheet dragging behind him. "You can't lie for shit. He ain't gonna believe that, and you know it."

"Yeah, he'll believe worse," Steve snorts. "Much worse. So much worse. Me following after you when you're only wearing a bedsheet, what else's he gonna think?" 

Bucky's heart clutches in his chest a little at that - he knew what he'd imagined, and it didn't have anything at all to do with raiding the freezer - but he chooses to ignore it. Steve didn't want him, not like that, not anymore. Wrote it off as kid stuff, no big deal. Put it right out of his mind. He'd probably forgotten all about it.  And wasn't that funny? He was supposed to be the one with all the missing memories.

He wraps the sheet around himself a little more tightly as he opens the door to the apartment and steps out into the hall. "Hush, Rogers, you're gonna blow this covert operation all to hell if you don't shut your trap."

 


 

Steve steps on the sheet at least seven times on their way back through the darkened common area. "Sorry, sorry," he hisses at him, this time nearly causing the whole thing to get pulled off Bucky's body.

"What's gotten into you tonight? You're more clumsy than the time we found a five-spot on the ground and we went out drinkin' till sunup," he complains in a low whisper. "Y'know, if your whole goal was to see me buck naked, you probably could have come up with a far less elaborate scheme, Stevie-doll," Bucky adds without thinking. From behind him, he hears Steve inhale sharply, and suddenly his mouth goes dry.

He'd spoken without thinking, forgetting it wasn't 1939 anymore, that the banter between them wasn't as easy as it used to be. Sometimes a memory would surface out of nowhere, like it'd been there from the beginning. His doctors had said this wasn't going to be an uncommon occurrence. They used a lot of fancy terms to explain it to him, something about reconnecting neural networks and pathways in the brain. The gist was that thanks to the serum he'd received, as his Swiss-cheese brain repaired itself from the years of wiping and suppressant drugs, things would gradually come back.

"You remember that?" Steve asks quietly.

His chest aches with the recollection. He wants to say, Stevie, how could I forget. We took turns steering each other and propping each other up, walking home that night. It was summertime, and you fell into a square of grass in the park we'd cut through to get back to our place, and you were laughing so hard you almost couldn't stand back up. You'd spilled some of that bourbon on your shirt at the first bar we'd gone to and when I pulled you up I thought that on you it smelled almost like a cologne, gone spicy and warm on your skin. After that it was all I could smell, the bourbon and the grass stains and the clean sweat of your skin. You were beautiful, those long dark eyelashes framing those baby blues, your lips wet, your hair sticking up every which way because you kept running your hand through it and ruining the set of the pomade. It was everything in me not to lean down under the lamplight and inhale it off you, grab you by the shoulders and kiss you right there on the street corner in front of God and everyone else.

Bucky is glad that in the dark, Steve can't see his face. After a few steps, he whispers quietly, "You'd be surprised. I remember lots of things."

They make their way back to the elevator in darkness, the silence between them now uneasy. 

 


 

Back up on the fifteenth floor, they stop in the kitchen for spoons and examine their stolen bounty. Steve had chosen a pint of something that looked like chocolate, and Bucky'd apparently grabbed something called "salted caramel". He stands there in the kitchen for a beat, not knowing where to pick up again. They'd been doing so well and then he had gone and wrecked it all somehow, bringing up their shared past that Steve obviously didn't want to think about. Reminding him of what he'd lost, and the ghost that had returned in his place.

It's so quiet that the whir of his metal arm sounds deafening when he peels the lid off of his pint. "Think I'll just go. Eat this in my room. Thanks," he mumbles, and turns to walk away. 

"Wait, I -" Steve starts, quickly. "Uh. You don't. You don't have to. I mean...I was hoping...we could share?" he finishes, and there's a genuine earnestness in his voice that makes Bucky look over his shoulder. Steve's looking at him with an apologetic half-smile, and Bucky's helpless against that face, always was.

He gives in easily, his lips twitching up at the corners. "Yeah, okay, sure. Ice cream in bed. Why not."

 


 

It turns out that whatever "salted caramel" is, it's amazing. "Oh my god this is so good," he groans in between mouthfuls. They'd propped themselves against the headboard, sitting up next to each other, Bucky still tangled in the blue bedsheet. "Why didn't you tell me about this sooner? The future is amazing. Everything I ever wanted, right here." He taps the side of the now-empty container with the spoon for emphasis.

Steve chuckles. "Buck, you got no idea. Try this one." He scoops some out and hands him the spoon.

The minute it touches Bucky's tongue his eyes go wide. "Wha's that, cinnamon?" he asks with his mouth full. "Okay, yeah. Chocolate and cinnamon? 'S great." 

"Just wait for it," Steve grins at him wickedly as he watches Bucky swallow.

His eyes go even wider. "Steve. It's spicy. What the hell - what is this, what, how is ice cream hot? Oh my Jesus god, my mouth," he gasps, shocked.

"Chocolate, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper. It's styled after Mexican hot cocoa. Isn't it the best damned thing?" He steals the spoon back and dips it into the container, preparing for another bite, but Bucky steals it back from him.

"Best solution for this is more ice cream. Ice cream's cold. Takes away the heat." He takes the spoon out of Steve's hands and jams it into his mouth. 

Steve tries to snatch it back, but it's too late. "Eat your own!" he laughs, wresting the utensil back.

Bucky grins. "Can't. 'S gone already. And my mouth's on fire. Need more ice cream." He reaches for Steve's pint and he pulls his arm back, holding it on the far side of his body just out of reach. 

Smiling, Steve shakes his head. "It isn't gonna solve anything eating more of mine, mine is the one that has the cayenne pepper in it in the first place, jerk."

"Gimme," Bucky narrows his eyes. "C'mon. Gimme it, Steve." He reaches for it with his left arm, the motors whirring softly, plates recalibrating.

Steve smirks. "Nah." He leans over the edge of the bed, trying to scoop out more while holding it away from Bucky, but Bucky has other ideas, laser-focused on the last bit of the ice cream left in the pint. He grabs him by the shoulder, spinning Steve to face him roughly and pinning him with the metal arm while reaching for the pint with the right, and he's half on top of him, trying to get ahold of it. Steve is laughing, trying to push him away ineffectually, and Bucky's laughing, and they had done this, before, hadn't they? They'd done this before, and they'd ended up nose-to-nose, and then...

The ice cream container drops to the ground.

"Stevie", Bucky breathes, and it's 2016 and it's 1939, and either this had already happened or it's happening now for the first time. It doesn't matter much, he realizes, because either way it feels correct. Both of them go still, staring into each other's eyes. His right hand is wrapped around Steve's wrist, holding it, but Steve's not moving.

This is the first time their skin had touched, Bucky realizes, in over seventy years.

Just like that, the memories wash over him like a flood.

 


 

Consuming capsaicin (the active chemical in chili peppers, such as the aforementioned cayenne in the ice cream) mirrors symptoms in the body similar to sexual arousal - flushed and tingling skin, rapid heart rate, and sweating. It also releases endorphins in the brain as a response to the burning sensation created via contact, creating a sort of pleasurable high.

As a result, in many cultures, spicy foods are thought to be aphrodisiacs, as people tend to associate these sympathetic arousal responses with their dates rather than their hot sauce.

Fortunately, in this case it's not just the capsaicin.

 


 

"Stevie," he repeats, his voice awed. "Stevie. Stevie-doll." There's barely a split-second of hesitation before he's leaning down and kissing him. Steve makes a surprised sound and then, just as Bucky's about to pull back, parts his lips and licks, gently, into his mouth, tasting him. The sensation is both utterly foreign and completely familiar. Bucky can't help but moan into it and respond in kind, wrapping his hand around the back of Steve's head to draw him in closer. The kiss is chocolate and caramel mixing together, spice and salt, sugar and even-sweeter Steve

When he pulls back, just for a moment, he can see Steve's pupils are blown. "Are you - is this - I don't wanna do this if you're not," he stammers. "If you don't...want me, anymore."

Steve's brows knit together, a pained expression crossing his face. "Buck. No. It's not that, I just thought - I didn't want to push anything, I didn't know what you...what you remembered..."

Leaning in towards him, Bucky rests his forehead against Steve's, breathing him in. He closes his eyes and speaks, his voice going rough at the edges. "Babydoll. You were the first thing I remembered, and the last thing I fought to forget."

Beneath him, Steve makes a soft, hurt sound, and wraps his arms around him, crushing Bucky to his chest. He tilts his head up and kisses him desperately, running a hand up through his hair, tangling in the strands. Bucky can feel wet warmth on his cheeks and he's not sure which one of them is crying. Maybe both.

"Say it again," Steve whispers against his lips. "Tell me that again. Call me 'babydoll' again, you always used to, I didn't think I'd ever hear you tell me that again," he hiccups.

"I ain't forgot a thing, babydoll," Bucky murmurs, dipping down to kiss his neck, the sensitive spot right underneath his ear. "Not a God damned thing." Every sticky-sweet ice-cream flavoured kiss, every touch of his hands against his skin brings another thing back, and another, and another.

Sharing cotton candy on the Coney Island boardwalk. Telling stories around a campfire during the war, trying to outdo one another. Stolen kisses in the middle of the night. Hiding under his bed, holding hands, when his ma and pa were having one of their blowouts. "Everything, everything, want it, gimme it," he babbles, talking both to himself and to Steve, his hands roaming over his body. He doesn't know about Steve, but he's already hard, the friction of the sheet brushing against his cock both too much and not nearly enough.

"Take this off," he orders, rucking up Steve's t-shirt. Steve complies, only breaking contact for the second required to pull it over his head. Bucky's pleased to see that Steve was still a blusher, the reddish flush creeping down his neck and onto his broadly muscled chest. Bucky was pleased that he remembered, effortlessly, precisely how far down that blush would go.

"Oh, babydoll. Babydoll," he groans, and yeah, it's obvious that Steve's just as hard as he is, judging by the tent of his jeans. Steve throws his shirt to the bedroom floor, and he tears his gaze upwards, taking in his flushed and tearstained face. "Goddamn, look at you. My pretty baby."

He reaches for Bucky, pulling him back on top of him, roaming his hands over his back, his shoulders, diving down below where he's still tangled in the bedsheet to cup at the swell of his ass. He chuckles and pulls away, resettling himself so that he's lying on his side. Steve actually whines at the loss of contact, until he realizes Bucky's shifted that way so he can pop the button and start unzipping the fly of his jeans. "Ain't fair that I started out at such a disadvantage. Just evening the score, sweetheart."

Steve swats his hand away and Bucky laughs again at how quickly he peels himself out of his jeans. He does raise an eyebrow, however, at the revelation that Steve wasn't wearing anything underneath. "Reeeeeeeeeally? You think you were gettin' lucky tonight, Rogers?" he teases, reaching down to put a hand on Steve's flushed cock, stroking loosely. 

He didn't think it was possible for Steve to blush any redder, but he does. "Shut up," he hisses out, "I heard you callin' out and I just...ah...threw on my pants. Couldn't just...unh...walk in your room with my dick waving in the breeze, now, could I?"

Bucky tightens his grip slightly, grinning as he runs his thumb over the slit. Steve's back arches up over the bed. "Well. I think it's pretty obvious now that yeah, you coulda done."

He keeps working Steve's dick, unhurried, watching him as his eyes flutter shut, the rise and fall of his chest as he pants lightly. "Oh sweetheart. I could do this all night, just watchin' you, pretty baby."

"Ain't your...ain't your baby, Barnes," Steve manages to gasp out.

Bucky huffs a little laugh, speeds up his hand minutely. "Now where've I heard that one before." Steve's cock is practically drooling with precome, and he smears it with his thumb, slickening up his movements. "Always been my baby, always gonna be my baby. I don't give a good God damn what you look like, whether you're a bit o' nothin' or a mile of curves and muscle." He leans close and kisses Steve's temple chastely, damp where he's broken into a fine sweat.

Steve shudders, his hips canting up to try to thrust into Bucky's fist. "God. You musta needed it bad, huh, babydoll. Look at you. You're practically comin' apart already. You gonna make a mess for me, Stevie?"

Tossing his head, Steve says, "No. Don't wanna...not yet, don't wanna. Want you to come with me, want you to come in me, Buck. Wanna come in you. Want everything, all you wanna give me. Fuck me."

He inhales sharply, the words going straight to his dick. "Christ, Steve," Bucky moans, "where'd you learn to talk like that?"

One blue eye opens, looking directly at him. Bucky laughs. "Okay, fair."

Before he can finish talking, Steve moves. Quickly, he pushes Bucky down onto his back, moving the sheet down and pulling it off and away from his body. Bucky only has a second to register what he's up to when he feels Steve lapping at one of his nipples, and then starts suckling gently while teasing the other into a stiff peak with his fingers. It takes him by surprise, and he lets himself fall into it. "Baby," Bucky groans. "Goddamn, baby, Stevie baby, baby, yeah." 

It's been ages. It's been weeks. It's been days. Hours. Minutes. Lifetimes. It's the first time, it's the millionth time. Steve moves his hand down to Bucky's aching cock, wrapping a fist around it and stroking, while he continues mouthing at Bucky's nipples, dragging his tongue between both of them. He reaches down, pressing a finger to his perineum, and Bucky hisses.

"Hang on. 'M gonna go get the slick." He stands up from the bed, cock heavy and full between his thighs, and leaves the room, returning a moment later with a bottle in his hand. Bucky's spread out across the bed, lazily stroking himself, and he shoots Steve a wicked grin. 

Steve's back on top of him in a hurry, popping the top of the bottle with his thumb. "Me first," he demands, and pours some of the lube on his fingers. 

"Always gotta rush - ah!" he gasps out, as Steve presses a digit to his asshole, circling gently. "Stevie. Christ."

Steve hums happily, sliding down to kiss over his chest, mouthing at his hipbones as he pushes in to the first knuckle, slowly. It stings, at first, and he tries to remember how to relax into it, how to accommodate his body to the intrusion. We've done this before, he reminds himself, suddenly certain of it. We've done this. 

 


 

They have done this before. He's not wrong. They have, but it was rare, Bucky preferring to take charge and top. The last time he had Steve inside of him, it was 1944, in a cramped and chilly tent only five klicks away from the front lines. It was quick and it was desperate and he wanted to let Steve in his new, big body take the wheel and drive for a change, or at least that's what he'd told him with a cocky grin.

But that wasn't really why, and they both knew it.

 


 

Smoothly, Steve sucks the head of his cock into his mouth, and it's so hot and wet Bucky thinks he's going to die. 

He laves his tongue around the head, sucking him almost lazily, as he works one finger in, then two, only stopping to drizzle more slick over his fingers before pushing in three. He moves carefully, but with purposeful determination, scissoring his fingers and curling them. Bucky lifts up, resting on his elbows to watch his cock disappear into that perfect, plush mouth.

"So good, dollface, you're so good to me. Love seeing you like this, your lips stretched around my dick like that, so amazing, baby boy." He tips his head back, moaning as Steve takes that opportunity to rub gently at his prostate. It feels like every nerve ending in his body is on fire, his skin's lighting up from the inside out. 

Steve looks up at him through his eyelashes, those blue eyes steady and holding his gaze, flirting, almost. That's when he notices Steve's got his other hand behind him, pushing into his own hole, opening himself up at the same time. It's too much to take, that visual, dirty and divine. His cock jerks, and he exhales like he's been punched.

"God, god, baby, when the hell'd you get so filthy, sweetheart, look at you, you can't get enough, can you?" he slurs. "Unh, please, fuck me, 'm ready, c'mon."

Steve pulls off his dick reluctantly, with a wet pop. "Yeah? You sure?"

Bucky clutches at his shoulders, practically dragging him up the bed. "God, baby, please, I want it, gimme it."

"Now who's rushing who," Steve complains, but he's grinning as he does, looking at Bucky like he hung the moon. He squeezes out more of the lube and strokes himself with it, coating his dick until it's slicked up nicely. He lines himself up, the head of his dick pressed against Bucky's hole, and kisses him sweetly on the mouth. Slowly, slowly, slowly he slides in, and Bucky's not sure he can take the stretch at first. He's thick and huge and far bigger than Bucky realized or remembered. He screws his eyes shut, tries to breathe and let his body adjust to it.

Steve rolls his hips achingly slow, pulling back a little and gradually pushing back in until he bottoms out, hips pressed flush to Bucky's ass. He stills, waiting patiently, peppering his face and neck with kisses. Finally, Bucky breathes out, "Move, Stevie," and he obliges.

He opens his eyes just to watch Steve fucking into him, careful and restrained. He's damp with sweat and so turned on he's shaking. As if he can read Bucky's thoughts, he slurs into his skin, "Bucky. Bucky, Bucky, Bucky, Buck, god, ah, 'm not, 'm not gonna last long, I don't think -"

Bucky reaches up, running his metal hand through his hair, soothing him. "Babydoll, 's all right, you go on and come when you need to, unh, god, there, Jesus, Mary 'n Joseph, right there -" he cries out as Steve shifts his angle so that he's hitting his prostate. He reaches down to wrap his hand his own neglected dick, and his eyes roll up into his head, it's so good. He has to tighten his fingers around the base of it after just a few strokes to keep from coming right then and there.

"Buck. 'M so close," Steve groans, his hips pumping helplessly. "I can't, I'm gonna, ooh, oh, Bucky, Bucky, ah," he cries out, stilling, and within him Bucky can feel his cock twitching, spilling into him, warm and wet.

Panting, Steve thrusts shallowly a few more times before letting out a shaky, shuddery breath and pulling out, falling back onto the bed.

 


 

Bucky gives him all of about ten seconds to recover. At this rate he isn't going to last long either, but what did that matter? They had the whole rest of their lives to take their time, do this over and over again, make each other come in any and every way possible.

"I ain't done with you yet, doll," he purrs into the shell of his ear, and gives Steve only the most cursory of goings-over before sliding into him, resting his knees on Bucky's elbows so he has better access. Steve's lax and pliant beneath him, dazed with his own pleasure, and once he's fully enveloped by all that tight heat he has to take a few deep breaths and get control of himself. 

Steve looks at him, his pupils blown, and whispers, "Kiss me, Buck." And how can Bucky resist that? He can't, no question. He wraps Steve's legs around him, and then lies flush, chest to chest, pulling him as close as he can get him. Steve's darting his tongue in and out of his mouth as Bucky thrusts in and out of him, and it's so good, it's so good. It's like coming home.

He can feel Steve's cock, still thick and hard between them. "You still want some, pretty baby?" he asks, pressing his lips to the corner of his mouth. "You think you can come for me again?"

"Bucky," Steve groans, and yeah, he remembers this part, too, how he gets so lost in his own pleasure that he can't remember any other words than his name and the Lord's. Grinning, Bucky fucks him harder, Steve's heels pressing together at the small of his back, urging him on, and the sounds coming out of Steve's mouth now are incoherent and golden. 

"You feel so God damned good, Stevie-doll, so hot and so goddamn tight around me, ngh, Christ, sweetheart, you need it bad, don't you?" He reaches between then and wraps his hand around Steve's cock, making him arch up almost off the bed, driving Bucky in deeper. His mouth has gone slack, lips red and bitten, tongue practically hanging out of his mouth, little needy sounds escaping with every thrust home.

Bucky remembers that, above all else, he loves it when Steve gets like this, just gone, out of his mind with it. "Oh, pretty baby, you don't even know how good you look right now, pretty as a picture, sweet as sugar. Wanna make you come on my dick, wanna feel it, c'mon, babydoll," he moans, and that's all it takes to push him over the edge. Steve's spurting between them, coming with a wordless shout, tightening up and fluttering all along the length of Bucky's prick. It's more than Bucky can handle, and he pumps his own release into him with a long, low groan.

When he opens his eyes again, Steve's looking right into them, and it's the first time, and it's the millionth time, and either way, he remembers everything.

 


 

It's always a love story, at its core.

Storge, philia, eros, agape. Brotherly love, the love between friends, romantic love, unconditional love. Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes' story often a gradual progression through all four, in many dimensions and many universes. We tell each other these stories, uncover these tales, share our own canons, because at the heart of all things it is always love that brings us all together. It's why we're here. Everybody loves a good love story.

This one was mine, and now it's yours, too. It goes into our shared memory, our little collective. Somewhere down the line it will be reimagined, repurposed, used as inspiration.

Maybe you'll bookmark it first, leave a kudos or a comment. Maybe you'll find it in a fic rec post or in a tag. Maybe you'll reblog it on Tumblr or share the link with a friend - "look at this, this one's good, I liked how..." 

And the story will repeat itself, over and over and over again, but we will never tire of them, because they're different every time.

Beautiful, isn't it?