Bucky clutches his stomach, feels the warmth of blood spreading, soaking through his undershirt and uniform. Steve is gonna kill me for getting hurt, he thinks, and groans as he tries to shift to better cover. It’s not working so well, on account of how tired he is. And cold. But at least I’ll get to rest now...
“Barnes! Barnes! You still hiding—aw, hell, Sarge.”
“Hey Dum. Just give me a min—ungh. Fuckin’ shrapnel got me.” Bucky closes his eyes and takes a few deep breaths, wincing as pain shoots through his gut. “You know what, Dum? I’m just gonna stay here, I think. Can you—in my things. Back at camp. There’s a letter, f’r Steve. Couldya mail it for me? I been too chicken to send it. Figure it ain’t gonna matter now. Don’ want my Ma to haf’ta deal widdit, though.” There’s no point in pretending that he’s going to survive this. His words are slurring and keeping his eyes open takes far more effort than it seems to be worth.
“Fuck!” Dum-Dum curses, and then Bucky feels a hand on the back of his neck, holding his head steady. “God forgive me, Barnes. But you’re gonna have to send that letter yourself. Maybe I’m being selfish, but I fucking like you. You’re one of the good ones. So I ain’t lettin’ you die, you hear me?”
Bucky tries to answer him, wants to tell him that it’s sweet and all but to cut the bullshit. He doesn’t have the energy.
“Drink, Bucky. Come on. Hang in there for me.”
He wants to ask what it is he’s drinking, because it’s warm, and kind of metallic tasting through all the grime and smoke in the air, but that, too, would require energy. So he drinks whatever it is, to humor his friend, and lets the comforting darkness engulf him as he drifts away to thoughts of eyes the color of the sky and hair like the sun.
The first thing Bucky becomes aware of is smell. It’s a fucking war, everything smells bad, but this is worse. The earth, the smoke, the exhaust from the vehicles, are all more. Yet they’re nothing compared to the absolute stench of human bodies and filth. Makeshift latrines reek where prior they’d only been unpleasant. The salty sweat of dirty clothes, dirty bedding, and general body odor clogs his nose. The pungent stink of decay from festering wounds and rotting limbs makes him retch, and he lurches to his side and heaves, puking up bile and blood from an already empty stomach.
“Shh, it’s okay, Bucky. You’re okay. Breathe through your mouth, it’ll help until you get used to it.”
Dugan is there, with a hand on Bucky’s shoulder, talking quietly, voice hushed, but it still rings loud in Bucky’s head. Bucky lifts a hand to cover his ear as he blinks, trying to clear the fog from his brain and focus. Opening his eyes is a bad idea, however, because everything is too clear, too close. He closes them again as the world spins and he falls onto his back, willing his brain to make sense of everything.
“What the fuck happened?” he rasps out, breathing heavily.
“What do you remember?” Dugan asks, and it’s the hesitation and the caution in his voice that jars Bucky’s brain into gear, and his hand flies to his abdomen as he sits up and looks down at himself.
“Dum... why am I not dead?” Bucky whispers, eyes wide as he looks at the smooth skin beneath the ragged, blood-soaked edges of his shirt. He very clearly remembers the flying metal slicing through his guts, knows that guys out on the front don’t survive that kind of thing. Terrified, he scans the rest of the space, and realizes that they’re not in the medical tent like he’d first thought.
Dugan clears his throat. “I convinced the medical staff to let me bring you to a regular tent. Told them I’d bring you by to check out your noggin when you woke up. Told ‘em you just had your bell rung a bit too hard.”
“But we... we were two days from camp, Dugan. What happened?”
“You lost a lot of blood and I... gave you some.”
“But…” Bucky swallows, runs his hand over his stomach again. “What did you really give me?” He hears the slide of a knife pulling free from its sheath and turns his head to Dum-Dum in time to see the man slice open his own wrist.
A whimper escapes Bucky and before he even is aware of it, he’s leaning forward, eyes glued to the bloom of red. Dugan holds his arm out and suddenly Bucky’s mouth is there, covering the wound, drinking the blood like it’s the best whisky he’s ever had.
“Enough,” Dum-Dum rasps and pulls his arm away. Bucky watches in a mix of fascination and horror as the wound begins to scab over before his eyes, going from open and leaking to a line of pink in the blink of an eye. He covers his mouth, some part of his brain screaming that he should be terrified, both of Dugan and of what he’d just done, but he’s rooted to the spot. And he’d be lying if he said he didn’t feel better after having drank the blood.
“Like I said, I gave you blood.”
“Listen, I ain’t a doctor, but I know that’s not how it works, pal.”
Dugan gives him a wry smile. “What do you know about the occult and the supernatural?” he asks.
It gets better. He gets used to the enhanced senses, can function past them, and Dugan gives him plenty of help. The help is appreciated, but things are definitely strained between them for a while. Bucky is glad he’s not dead, but he’s still not convinced the alternative is better. He’s hesitant about drinking blood, doesn’t like the idea of hurting people just so he can survive, but the beauty of war is that there’s plenty of dying men who could use a peaceful passage. Bucky tries to ignore the fact that the blood helps him grow stronger, and that he doesn’t need as much food if he’s had a lot to drink. Rations are in short supply anyway, and he’s happy enough to pass on his extras to the other men.
He does what he has to, to get used to it and accept it.
Things get better.
Until they get worse.
They’re fighting at Azzano, and it’s all going to hell in a hurry. They’re retreating, trying to get back to a safer location, and they’re captured.
The weapons facility in Kreischberg is too much for him.
Lack of blood makes him weak, in conjunction with even less food. He doesn’t know how Dugan is doing it. Although the man is a few hundred years old at this point, and has amazing discipline and control of himself. But there’s only so much Bucky can do and that Dugan can offer him while they’re prisoners, and when he’s dragged off ‘to see the doctor,’ he can only stare back at Dugan in fear.
As straps cinch around his limbs, and needles jab into his arms, he tries, desperately, to picture Steve’s face. He can only conjure up a furrowed brow and unruly hair, can’t find the smile he so longs to see again.
It’s a hell of a thing, to one day find yourself staring at your best friend’s face and realize that you are completely in love with them—and not in the platonic sense, not even by any stretch of the imagination. It’s even worse when you know it is wrong to want in such a way, when you’ve been taught that such a love is unnatural. So Bucky had locked his love away, kept it hidden and secret, told himself it was better that way.
But Bucky isn’t natural anymore.
Neither is Steve, really. But that doesn’t stop the wonder, the flood of emotions, elation, joy, and fear, that set his stomach in knots when somehow he’s looking up at a face made impossibly more handsome, when he hears the voice that echoes only in his dreams at night (‘Bucky, it’s me, it’s Steve,’) when he feels the large, strong hands on his body.
He’s sure this time he’s really died, and it’s a hallucination, a fever-dream, a by-product of his brain trying to comfort him as he ceases to exist. That what Dugan did to him didn’t save him this time.
He’s partially right in that; while what Dugan did to him helped him endure, this time it was Steve saving him, just like all those days that Bucky had pulled Steve from a fight.
He sees the relief on Dugan’s face when he sees Bucky, and then, a few days later, the understanding as he watches Bucky with Steve, sees the way he won’t leave Steve’s side.
Except Steve is still his Stevie, still human, at least.
Bucky is unnatural. So he does leave Steve, at night, sneaks away while he sleeps so that he can get what he needs, and clear his head for a while.
Being around Steve is exhausting in terms of self-control.There is nothing in the world that smells as enticing, as delicious, or as heavenly as Steven Grant Rogers and the blood thrumming just under his skin. The first time he’d gotten hurt and Bucky had caught his scent, he’d nearly attacked the man, barely caught himself from sinking his teeth into that massive arm and licking the wound clean.
Bucky pulls Dugan aside after that event, frantic about his near-slip. “I need help. I don’t know what to do. I can barely stand it. All I can think about is biting him…”
Dum-Dum eyed him, took a deep breath, chose his words carefully when he finally spoke. “I haven’t said anything, because you seemed like you really didn’t want to talk about what happened. And you’ve done a hell of a job keeping yourself under control. But since they took you, inside that facility, you’re different. You smell different. You carry yourself different. Hell, you look mean half the time, which just ain’t you. Whatever they did to you, it changed you somehow.”
Bucky stares at Dugan. He breathes deep, takes a moment to collect himself. He’d felt different, sure. But he’d written it off to Steve being here and dealing with that—dealing with the changes in Steve, and his own reactions to that, and sure, maybe there was a bit of jealousy thrown in the mix. And, really, he was still new to being a vampire. For all he knew, the feelings and changes were normal as his body continued to adjust.
“Okay,” he says finally. “So, what do I do?”
“Well, I assume you ain’t gonna leave his side, not with the way you look at ‘im, so there’s only one thing I can think of, if you ain’t gonna tell him, either.”
Bucky cocks an eyebrow at him.
“You gotta feed more.”
Things get better. It’s easier to be around Steve when he’s full, even if he’s going out nearly every night to feed.
Maybe he was meant to be this way all along. Maybe it was some sick twist of fate that made him want, so that he’d know how to lock part of himself away, how to hide, how to fool the world into thinking he was okay.
Things get better. He gets used to the smell of Steve, is able to fight it easier, and on the rare occasions they’re in a village, he lets Steve think the red tinge to his lips and the flush in his cheeks is from making time with a woman, not because he’s coming back from feeding.
Things get better, until they get worse.
As he’s falling through the frigid air, Steve’s face the last thing he sees, he’s happy he at least got the image right this time around. Third time’s the charm, after all, and he knows, as he lays in the snow, body broken, bleeding out, that there’s only so much vampirism can cure him of.
Things get worse.
He stares down at the unconscious face of his best friend.
(He’s not dead.)
Steve is barely alive.
(He was supposed to die when he fell from the train.)
Something is wrong, something happened, because one arm is definitely not his, not real, though it responds when he moves.
Steve is hurt.
He knows it was his fault, because he couldn’t control himself, he wasn’t himself, he hasn’t been in a long time (“Who the hell is Bucky?”) he thinks, as flashes of memories skitter through his brain like a movie on high speed. (Fuck wait that’s me, what the hell happened to me?)
He stares down at the unconscious face of his best friend.
He still loves.
He still wants.
He has to keep Steve safe.
Those are the four truths of his life.
The only four truths that ever mattered.
Steve draws in a ragged breath, coughs up water.
Even swollen and beaten (by his own hands, how could he have done this to Steve, he loves him), Steve is beautiful to him. He allows himself a moment of weakness. Gives in to the unnatural desires within him.
Bucky leans down, brushes his lips over Steve’s split ones (how often he had wanted to do this when they were young; every fight Bucky saved him from, every cut he bandaged, how he’d longed to press a kiss to the hurt, to promise it would be better…) with a soft sigh. Even now, hurt and broken, the smell of Steve calls to him. He lets the tip of his tongue flick out to taste the salty-sweet copper tang of the blood staining those full lips. He whimpers, fighting the urge before he takes more blood than Steve has to give as electricity tingles through him. He’s not sure when the last time he fed was, but he needs to do so soon, especially since he’s injured. Just that little hint of blood has set him on fire, and he moves his mouth to Steve’s forehead and presses a kiss there.
“I love you, Steve. I’m sorry,” he whispers against the damp skin, cool from the river and the blood loss and the shock of injuries, before he rises and walks away, leaving the only good thing in his life behind.
It’s the only way he knows how to make things better.