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His whole life, Steve hated being a disappointment. Hated that he could stand up to bullies, but that it didn’t mean anything other than another beating for him.

When he stepped out of the machine, every part of his body aching, the expressions on the faces of the politicians and scientists told him that he was a disappointment again.

---

“D’ya ever wish you were him? That you were Captain America?”

“Nope. Captain America’s a performing monkey as much as he’s a soldier.” He pulled Bucky close by his tie and kissed him deeply. “And they’d never let Captain America do that.”

---

Of course it was Peggy who noticed that he had changed, although at first glance he looked exactly the same. Howard threw him a metal bar jokingly, told him to bend it.

He bent it in half.

The politicians had already left, disappointed, but the scientists were suddenly enthralled.

Erskine had smiled broadly, happy and relieved. “Of course! Does it matter what the outside looks like? Is that what is important in a man? We have changed what you can do, what you can become. It has worked!”

---

Four of them were in a mountain hut in the Scottish Highlands before starting training with the SOE in the art of “ungentlemanly warfare”. Matthieu introduced himself as an “unrepentant sodomite, Thijs here can steal you anything, and Marie is a confidence artist. What do you bring to our little group?”

“I—I think I’m here to learn.”

Matthieu grinned. “How much, pretty boy?”

Steve blushed deeply. Matthieu was tall and dark and handsome and just similar enough to Steve’s unattainable fantasies to make his stomach twist.

The four of them talked into the night, repeating every wild rumour and speculation about training, about the war.

Matthieu stretched and said, “I need some air.” He winked at Steve.

Steve was standing to follow him before he even knew what he was doing. Thijs and Marie’s laughter followed them out of the hut.

Steve was going to count it as part of his training, the pretending that it wasn’t his first time, pretending that he had any idea what to do. He let Matthieu pull him down into the heather, let him roll him over, ignored the cold and the damp and the discomfort. Matthieu was gentle, and Steve thought that he’d guessed how inexperienced Steve was.

When they were done, Matthieu started to stand up, but Steve pulled him down again. The quick recovery time was an effect of the serum, though not one the scientists talked about. Steve didn’t know when he was going to have another chance at this, and he wanted to know what it was like both ways. Matthieu seemed surprised, but didn’t object.

He still hadn’t fully got used to his new strength, and gripped Matthieu’s hips so hard that he knew there would be bruises in the morning.

Back in the hut, Mattheiu winced theatrically as he sat down, lit a cigarette, and said, “Do not underestimate the pretty boy.”

---

Steve slit his first throat just outside a small town in Normandy.

It was easier than he thought it would be.

---

Bucky flirted just as prettily in German as in English, and the curvy fraulein fell for it just as surely as the girls in Brooklyn.

Fell for it a little too well, in fact. If Bucky didn’t follow through and screw her, she might suspect.

Steve could see Bucky thinking the same thing. Bucky made momentary eye contact across the bar, and Steve gave a barely perceptible nod.

He followed them. Part of that was duty—if Bucky slipped up and said something in English while they were screwing, then he’d need a distraction.

In the alleyway behind the bar, Bucky pulled her panties down as he kissed her, unbuttoned his fly with one hand as he fingered her with the other, paused to roll the condom on, then picked her up like she weighed nothing and slid his dick inside her. She pressed her face into Bucky’s shoulder as he began to thrust, and Bucky turned to where Steve was standing, looked at him, not breaking eye contact until his eyes fluttered shut with his orgasm. Steve was hard, but he wasn’t going to deal with it. One of them, at least, had to keep their pants on. He melted back into the shadows as Bucky’s girl lifted her head again, flushed and giggling. She was looking at Bucky like the whole world revolved around him. That key was as good as theirs.

The shipment was due the next day, so he and Bucky went back to the boarding house and were charming and engaging with the sour-faced frau who ran it.

As soon as the door to their room was shut, Bucky pressed Steve against it, whispering in his ear, “Sorry—“

“We’ve done a whole lot worse.” He’d stopped counting the number of people they’d killed a long time ago. He could only hope that the ends justified the means.

“Lemme make it up to you.”

Bucky dropped to his knees, unbuttoned Steve’s pants, and took his dick into his mouth. In Nazi territory, one slip, one mistaken word, and they were dead. Looked at like that, sex wasn’t much of an extra risk.

---

Some regular soldiers were shocked when they found out the methods SSR covert units used.

Bucky wasn’t. He nodded, listened, learned. Steve saw the cold fire behind his eyes the first time they went out in the field together and thought about the best ways to use that anger.

---

Hodge was the next to undergo the process, after a week of testing Steve (pushing him to extremes, until he blinked back tears and choked back cries from the pain). The politicians came back, although he’d guess Colonel Phillips had had to do some serious sweet-talking for that to happen.

The thing was, the process looked better on Hodge. The transition from muscular to very muscular was more impressive than Steve’s acquisition of wiry strength.

But they didn’t have much time to think about it, when the Hydra agent shot Erskine.

Steve, Peggy, and Hodge chased after him.

The papers only caught pictures of Hodge, and Hodge was the only one who made the news.

There would be no more like them, no regiments of super-soldiers. The rest of the scientists tested the two of them for the next day, while the brass and the politicians argued about what to do with them. Steve was stronger and faster than Hodge, though they were both impressive.

Steve was sent to be trained as an officer, then sent for training with SOE for covert missions in Europe. Hodge was sent to become Captain America.

---

Steve had seen the beam of the Hydra energy weapon slice across Bucky’s left arm, but there hadn’t been time to do anything more than a quick bandage over his jacket. They had to keep fighting, then keep moving, so it was a day later when Steve could peel off the bandage and see how bad the wound was.

He stared. The wound looked like it had been made a couple of weeks ago, not the previous day, already healing up nicely.

He looked up at Bucky, whose jaw was clenched. “Hydra…?”

There was a tremor in Bucky’s voice as he said, “You can’t tell, please Steve, I can’t—I can’t—“

The idea of Bucky going through the same testing he had, after what had happened to him with Hydra (and Steve still didn’t know quite what that was, but if the SSR was prepared to hurt Steve so badly he wanted to scream, he could only guess what Hydra had done)—no. Never. He wouldn’t let that happen.

He kissed Bucky’s arm just above the wound. “No one’s gonna know, Buck.”

---

He walked back into the camp at the rear of the column of released prisoners. Flashy rescue missions were the opposite of what he was supposed to do—he was meant to blend into the background. Steve had talked this over with the men on the walk back and had the beginnings of a cover story about a mass uprising.

Bucky walked next to him, kept staring at him like he wasn’t sure he was really there.

As soon as they got back into camp the Colonel called him into his tent, gave him a dressing-down about not following orders, then congratulated him.

“But your story about a prisoner uprising is not gonna wash. They’re already talking about who rescued them. People need heroes, Lieutenant. Fortunately, we have a ready-made one in this base. As of now, Captain America rescued those prisoners.”

Steve had no love for the limelight and was quite happy for Hodge to take the glory. But there was one problem with that. “If you say that, they’ll want him on the front line.”

“Lieutenant, he’s got what you’ve got, and we’ve got him working as a chorus girl. I want him on the front line yesterday. But something a little more suitable for the newsreels. No reasons not to have both the inspiration and the soldier.”

---

It was on his second mission for the SSR that Steve learnt that the screams of a man on fire were different to the screams of a man who had been shot.

---

Withstanding whatever Hydra had done to him in that lab, then standing up and walking the miles back to friendly territory without help—no question about it, he wanted Bucky with him in the field. He had skills that Steve didn’t—Steve wasn’t bad at sniping, but had no natural talent for it, and it was clear that Bucky did—and more importantly, he trusted him completely.

But trust went both ways. Bucky deserved to know the truth about Steve. About what Steve felt about him.

By the time he got Bucky alone, in London in a rented room above the pub, he had gone through ten different ways of telling him, none of which seemed better than the other. But before he had a chance to pick even one of them, Bucky had rounded on him.

“What the hell kind of idiot are you, Steve? I know you’re a helluva lot stronger than you look, but Jesus, you don’t go on dumb rescue missions on your own.”

“It worked—“

“You could have died, fuck, you should have died—“

“And if I hadn’t, you would be dead.”

“You think I don’t know that? But I just wanted to see you safe and you go and do the dumbest thing anyone, anywhere has done this whole war—“

“Because I couldn’t let you die. Because I want to see you safe. Because I love you. Because I’m in love with you.”

“What?”

“You heard me.” Steve had already decided that if Bucky hit him after his little confession, he’d just let him. He knew he could take a beating. But Bucky didn’t look angry or shocked; he looked…confused?

“You can’t.”

“Can’t what? Be a queer? Be in love with you? Sorry, Buck, but I am.” Steve sighed. “You want to walk out that door and never talk to me again, you go right ahead. I just—I can’t lie to you.”

“You can’t, ‘cause you’re the good one, Steve. The one with morals. Not like me.”

Steve reached out and took Bucky’s hand in his. Bucky didn’t resist. He stepped into Bucky’s space, slid his other arm around Bucky’s waist, and tipped his head up. “I got morals, Buck. I love you, and that’s not wrong.”

His certainty broke through Bucky’s confusion, and Bucky bent his head to kiss him, the sweetest kiss of Steve’s life.

---

Steve and Bucky never took prisoners. With just the two of them, it wouldn’t have been possible to safely bring them back to Allied lines.

That was the justification, anyway.

---

Bucky and Kowalski were talking sniping. Bucky had given up his telescopic sight and gone to relying on iron sights soon after he’d gone into the field with Steve, in order to not reveal his position. Kowalski was arguing that the ability to pick targets better at range was reason enough for keeping the sight.

Steve was looking at the map and thinking. The extra men were useful, but a full commando unit demanded different tactics from a team of two men.

“I hope you haven’t forgotten who is the senior officer, Lieutenant.”

Steve smiled up at Hodge. “No, sir.”

Hodge wasn’t a bad man. He was a reasonable officer, did his duty, and looked after his men. He certainly wore the Captain America outfit well in the newsreels. But he didn’t have a tactical spark, all his strategies textbook-perfect enough to be obvious to the enemy. Steve thought that was why, for this mission, he and Bucky had been attached to the Howling Commandos, with the orders that Steve was taking on the planning for the operation. It was understandable that this was making Hodge sore. Steve just hoped that it wouldn’t compromise them in the field.

“Don’t take it personal, Lieutenant, but I don’t think there should be a place for queers in this man’s army.”

Bucky had already laid their bedrolls out next to each other. Whenever it was safe enough for them both to be asleep at the same time, they slept spooned together, Bucky warm and solid against Steve’s back. Usually, no one commented. The SSR was much like the SOE in that regard—didn’t care about your crimes, didn’t care who you had sex with, as long as you could usefully kill Nazis or Hydra. Not that this was said out loud. Nor did they need to say, “We may not care, but don’t let the regulars find out.”

“That’s probably why we spend most of our time out in the field alone, sir.”

“You fucking or fighting in that field?”

Dum Dum said, “Amount of Hydra they’ve killed, doesn’t leave them much time for fucking, does it?”

“And if they’re doing both simultaneously, that’s impressive in itself,” said Falsworth. “I suppose it’s technically possible from a sniper position—“

“I’m good, but I ain’t that good,” said Bucky.

“I wouldn’t say no to Mae West as a sniper position,” said Kowalski, “nice and warm and comfortable. But I’d still have to tell her to keep her hands to herself ‘till we’re done with shooting Hydra—“

“Yeah, sure, you could lie on top of Mae West and not get distracted—“ said Jones.

“Sure I could! She ain’t going anywhere if I’m lying on her, is she? Still be there when I’m done keeping your asses alive. You guys have to walk back, and I just unbutton and—“

“Shut up Kowalski, no one wants to think of your ugly skinny ass fucking Mae West,” said Morita.

Steve suppressed his smile, because that would just make Hodge even more irritated.

---

It was while he was working with a group of Communist partisans in Italy that Steve heard about the Hydra research and production facility in the north. It was an ideal target, but the partisans refused. They seemed almost spooked by it. These were men and women whom he’d seen face down German units who outnumbered them, who’d faced down German armored divisions with not much more than rifles, but something about Hydra had them holding back.

Francesco said, “The Germans are just men. Hydra are devils.”

“Superstition has no place in the socialist future, Francesco,” said Carmela. “But Hydra have weapons that no one has ever seen the likes of before. There is something…inhuman about their soldiers. If you want to take them on, you should bomb them until there is nothing above ground, then take every tank you can find, and every division of men. And I still think they would spring up from the ground and make you fight for every inch.”

He found out everything he could about the facility and then crossed the front line to report back to the SSR. He nodded to Hodge as he walked past him, remembering that he’d seen a poster saying that the Captain America tour was coming to Europe, but just got a grumpy sneer in return.

He asked Peggy, “Why’s Captain America look so sore?”

“They booed him offstage. Hydra’s force killed or captured all except of fifty of the 107th—“

“The 107th?”

“Yes—“

Steve’s blood ran cold and he ran out of the tent.

---

Steve watched Bucky slit his first throat just outside a small town in Greece.

He noted the ways his technique could be improved.

---

Bucky asked for permission for extra test-firings of the Hydra energy weapons the prisoners had brought back with them, “in case I get to use them in the field.”

Steve watched him, leaning against the wall of the range. He wanted to get a handle on the weapons as well, but more to gauge any difference in threat from a gun. It was evening, and only the ops room would have people working, but Howard and Peggy had come down to the range as well. Both of them asked questions, and, in the case of Howard, went off on tangents.

“Agent Wilson has her eye on you, Sergeant.”

“Huh? Well, er, I ain’t looking.” Bucky’s eyes darted unconsciously to Steve as he said it. Tells were something else Steve would have to work with him on. Steve looked at Peggy, who raised an eyebrow. He knew not much got past her.

“Some girl back home? Or have you been using your nylons—“

As soon as Howard had started talking, Steve had pushed himself off the wall and walked over to Bucky and pulled him down into a kiss. He knew the latitude that the SSR would give him, and he was going to exploit every inch of it. Agents doing the sort of work they were going to do had a life expectancy of eight months. He wasn’t going to miss touching or kissing Bucky just to avoid offending someone’s delicate sensibilities.

“That,” said Howard, “explains a lot.”

“Really?” said Peggy, “I think Lieutenant Rogers would have done something as…reckless as that for a friend as much as a lover.”

“I would,” Steve answered.

“He is genuinely that much of an idiot,” said Bucky.

Peggy was smiling as she replied, “That’s no way to speak about a senior officer, Sergeant. Even if he does let you kiss him.”

“Sorry, ma’am. The lieutenant is genuinely that much of an idiot, ma’am.”

---

Hodge was dead, and Hydra were a ticking clock. With such a constraint, the plan necessarily had to be simple—frontal assault on the gate, while the best covert and commando units went for the mountain side.

The Howling Commandos would be with him and Bucky in the vanguard of the mountain side assault. Hodge had looked after them, even if he could be an ass on occasion, and they wanted some old-fashioned revenge.

They fought their way through the base, and he and Bucky made the leap from the car onto the plane. Between the two of them they made short work of the Hydra goons, although the Red Skull was more of a challenge, and for a heart-stopping moment, Steve thought Bucky was going to be sucked out of the plane with him.

They got to the controls, looked at the readouts and came to the same sinking realisation. The only way the plane wasn’t going to destroy New York was if they crashed it.

“Steve, take one of those planes in the back, it only takes one of us to do this—“

“Like you said, it only takes one of us. I’ll do it, you can get out—“

“Not without you.”

“I’m not leaving without you.”

They stared at each other for a few moments before Bucky grinned, and said, “So that’s what’s going on our tombstone, ‘Here lies a pair of stupid, stubborn assholes’.”

Steve grinned back. “Yeah, it is.”

Bucky sat in the pilot’s seat, and pulled Steve to sit in his lap. They took the controls with one hand each, and together dipped the plane’s nose towards the ice. They squeezed each other close, kissed, and didn’t look at the ice coming up to meet them.