Lovers In a Dangerous Time

Author's Note: Pacific Rim AU. Follows the movie plot, although some of it is different because the people are different. (Also, vice versa, some of the people are a bit different because their history is different.) And unlike the movie there's sex. 😉 (Seriously, I don't ship Raleigh/Mako, I love their friendship, but Steve simply couldn't be Chuck. *g*) Fic and chapter titles from Barenaked Ladies' "Lovers in a Dangerous Time".

PART I: kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight
PART II: fragile bodies of touch and taste
PART III: never a breath you can afford to waste
Epilogue

***
PART I: kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight
In which first we meet our heroes, and then our heroes meet each other.

Growing up on military bases, Bucky figured he would have joined up even if the first wave of Kaiju attacks hadn't killed his parents.

Rebecca's motivations, on the other hand, were a mix of wanting to stick close to Bucky and the wish to kick Kaiju butt. The latter Bucky could get completely behind, but it wasn't until the day they found out they were Drift compatible that he reconciled himself with his big sister's need to keep an eye on him. He was a grown-up, dammit, and didn't need a babysitter. Still, it was pretty much impossible to resent the only family he had left, especially since, in the shared consciousness of the Drift, he clearly saw the deep love underlying the incessant mothering and ceaseless ribbing. So the Barnes siblings joined the Jaeger program and became Rangers for SHIELD.

They were good ones, too, piloting American Invader to victory over four Kaiju. The last one was the biggest, a Category IV in Manila, and they only made it with the help of Hawkeye. Bucky quite liked the other pilots, Barney and Clint Barton, and was sad to hear of Barney's death in 2022 - although not enough to reach out, too lost still in his own grief. He'd lost Becca in 2020, to a fucking Category III Kaiju, although admittedly the biggest one to date.

Afterwards, when he wasn't drowning his sorrow in as much cheap liquor as he could afford, that night replayed in his head over and over again. Getting woken by the sirens in Anchorage Shatterdome, the grin on Becca's face on stepping into the Conn-Pod, the familiar surge of adrenaline when they dropped into the ocean and got ready to face Baron Zemo. Bucky had been so confident, so sure they would pull this off, he was the one who pushed to save the little fishing boat. Not that Becca would have done it any differently, but that didn't stop Bucky from blaming himself, full of bitterness and anger, once he regained enough of his senses to do so.

At first, though, all he could feel was unbearable agony, ice cold in place of Becca's warm and familiar presence. It was so bad he didn't even notice the pain of his missing arm until he woke up in hospital. SHIELD tried to debrief him there, but even had he wanted to cooperate and remember those eternal minutes during which he somehow managed to kill Baron Zemo and get American Invader to shore by himself, only the second ever Jaeger pilot to do so, Bucky's mind was a screaming emptiness. He discharged himself from both the hospital and SHIELD as soon as he was able.

There was no way he could face going back to the Shatterdome and watch other Jaegers, maybe even American Invader, go out to fight Kaiju, not when Becca's absence was a permanent ache in his mind and heart. At least SHIELD gave him, the hero of Anchorage, a brand-new prosthetic arm powered by neural connections derived from Jaeger tech. He took it and disappeared into the cold.

***

Steve Rogers wanted nothing more than to become a Jaeger pilot. Not just because the Kaiju had killed his parents but because as far as he was concerned it was the right thing to do, the only thing to do. The moment he was old enough to make himself a fake ID, he tried signing up for the Ranger program over and over, but his health issues, numerous from birth and exacerbated by his exposure to Kaiju Blue, got him rejected every time.

Finally, desperate, he reached out to the man who had rescued him from the attack that cost his parents their lives, and Marshal Fury, no longer a Jaeger pilot but in charge of the entire program, seemed to see something in Steve. He still did not get to set foot inside a real Jaeger, but at least he got to work on them. And then Dr. Erskine, one of the original inventors of the Pons System on which the whole Jaeger tech was based, managed to derive something miraculous from the toxic waste of Kaiju Blue.

It always struck Steve as rather fitting that the stuff that had made him so ill ended up turning him into the picture of health. He was supposed to be the first in a new line of Rangers, bodies and minds optimised to better withstand the strains of piloting a Jaeger. However, the first ever Category IV, codename Red Skull, put an end to that, flattening Manila Shatterdome and killing several hundred people, among them Dr. Erskine.

Thanks to his Kaiju-improved constitution Steve survived and did his best to help free as many victims as possible from the wreckage. Still, it was with bittersweet longing that he watched Hawkeye and American Invader defeat Red Skull, until Peggy found him. Her eyes were red, although Steve wasn't sure whether from crying over Erskine's death or from the dust of destruction still clinging to the air, and she hugged him hard, her small frame dwarfed by his own, still somewhat unfamiliar body. Still, he knew better than to underestimate the British Ranger, knowing how hard she'd had to fight to become one of the first female pilots.

Peggy Carter was who Steve had dreamed of Drifting with almost from the first time he met her, which had been well before Erskine's treatment. Not only was she beautiful, funny and fiercely intelligent, she had also never treated Steve as something less, unlike many of the other Rangers, who in the earlier days of the program often came from hyper-masculine military backgrounds. She listened to his dreams and shared her own, and together they imagined a day when Steve was well enough to join Peggy in a Jaeger.

Now Steve was definitely well enough, but still Fury didn't let him sign up, even as years passed and their fight against the Kaiju became more and more desperate. It didn't matter how good Steve was in the simulations, Fury always pointed to the differences in his brain scans, caused by Erskine's serum. The idea had of course been that there would be more Kaiju-improved Rangers, whose brains would be compatible, but since Steve was the only one, Fury flat out refused. Unfortunately he was backed up by Howard Stark, another pioneer of Jaeger tech and now the head of the Kaiju science division, and since Steve most certainly did not want to hurt anyone he was Drifting with he accepted the decision with a heavy heart.

This was compounded by Peggy finding a co-pilot in the affable Daniel Sousa. They were a good fit and made for a great Jaeger team - right until the moment a massive Category IV Kaiju tore off the digital drive powering their brand-new Mark-4, immobilising and finally destroying it. Peggy and Daniel did not make it to their escape pods, leaving Steve grief-stricken and more lonely than ever. He took to scavenging the closed Shatterdomes, needing desperately to be of more use than just standing on the side-lines while Fury tried to keep the Jaeger program alive.

It was in Anchorage that he discovered that the remnants of American Invader had never been scrapped. Looking at the giant Mark-3 that had impressed him so much back in Manila, Steve thought of the Marshal's desperate need for more Jaegers and made a call. Maybe the time for old-fashioned, analog nuclear power had not yet passed - and maybe Steve would still get his chance to avenge his parents, Peggy and everyone else. Despite the cold Alaskan air, Steve felt warmed by a flicker of hope.

***

"Bucky!"

The first time the name was called, it really didn't register, so unused had Bucky become to the sound of it. He'd been Barnes or Hey you for most of the past five years, trying his best to forget who he'd been before in the hopes that then he'd also be able to forget who he'd lost.

"Bucky Barnes!"

The second time he ignored it on purpose, edging slowly, unobtrusively, towards the back. He'd worked hard to become just another man helping to construct the massive Anti-Kaiju Wall, and he had no intention of going back. But his fellow Wall workers had dropped everything the moment the black chopper prominently displaying the SHIELD logo landed and were now forming a rather inconvenient obstacle.

"James Buchanan Barnes!"

By the third call Bucky had only managed to elbow his way through a few rows of curious onlookers, but he was still holding out hope to disappear. However, right then the Foreman caught sight of him and yelled: "Hey you, you're Barnes, aren't you?"

Sighing, Bucky turned around and made his way to the front of the crowd. It appeared there was no alternative than to face the annoyingly insistent man in Ranger black. However, when he was finally able to see the new arrivals clearly, he stopped short. Just for a moment, then he'd regained his composure and even managed a half-hearted salute: "Marshal Fury, what brings you to the wilds of Alaska?" He nodded to the Ranger next to Fury, the one who'd so enthusiastically called his name, and said in his driest voice: "Barton."

The pilot grinned, undaunted, but remained standing at what passed for attention with Clint Barton. Not that Bucky could blame him, Nick Fury's presence was enough to intimidate even the most mischievous soul into good behavior. The man was a living legend, and Bucky found himself wavering slightly under the unreadable gaze of Fury's one eye. His voice was similarly expressionless: "I'm afraid I've come for you, Ranger."

At this Bucky pulled himself up and replied firmly: "I'm not a Ranger anymore, Marshal, I don't take orders from you or anyone."

Half an hour later he was scowling through a window down at the disappearing coast of Alaska. His dark thoughts were interrupted by Clint, who sat down next to him and said cheerfully: "Don't feel bad, you stood your ground longer than I'd have done in your place." Then warmth infused his voice as he continued more quietly: "I never got a chance to tell you in person, but I'm so sorry about Becca."

Bucky froze and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment before forcing himself to exhale and reply as civilly as he could manage: "And I'm sorry about Barney."

He could feel Clint nod, but he didn't say anything else, and the rest of the flight they shared a surprisingly comfortable silence. Bucky felt himself relax incrementally. He still thought Fury was crazy to think he could get Bucky into another Jaeger, but maybe being back with people who shared some of the same experiences wouldn't be so bad.

When they reached Hong Kong and the last remaining active Shatterdome, it was raining, and Bucky slung the satchel containing all his possessions over his shoulder and stepped out of the plane, feeling mostly ready to face what was left of the Jaeger program.

***

Steve and Natasha stepped outside when the plane landed. Gallantly Steve shielded the red-headed pilot with his umbrella, which earned him a snort and the quirk of an impeccably curved eyebrow. He smiled down at the small woman, taking it as the thanks it was doubtlessly meant to be. Natasha Romanoff had been Clint's co-pilot for two years, but Steve had only really begun to get to know her when they all relocated to Hong Kong.

There were so few of them left now, only three Jaegers and the men and women needed to maintain them. Well, soon there'd be four Jaegers, and Steve was looking forward to meeting the man Fury had travelled halfway around the world for. If a part of him stubbornly clung to the hope that he might become the other half of the pilot team, Steve did his best not to be too obvious about it, although doubtlessly Natasha could read him easily. Still, when they reached the arrivals, he pulled himself up until he almost stood at attention. In the process his umbrella whipped around, and there was an awkward little dance as he frantically apologized to Natasha and tried not to hit anyone with it.

"So that's your top team, Fury, the ones that are supposed to save the world from the Kaiju?" The voice speaking in Russian was mocking but not mean, and Steve looked up and met a pair of amused blue eyes. A shiver ran down Steve's spine, one he clamped down on immediately. This was most certainly not the time to develop a crush, not even on a man he'd admired since Manila.

He managed to reply calmly in the same language: "I'm not a pilot, Ranger Barnes. And I rather thought you were here to do the saving. Else you've come a long way for nothing."

"I'm sorry, I just assumed - you seem like perfect Ranger material," Barnes said in English, a surprised grin quirking the corners of his mouth as he looked Steve up and down in a way that was just a bit too deliberate to be casual. Since Erskine's treatment Steve had become used to the long glances and usually found them something of a nuisance, but somehow this time it wasn't unwelcome.

Their eyes locked until Fury broke the moment that was threatening to stretch between them: "Glad you gentlemen seem to get along. Barnes, this is Steve Rogers. His assistance has been invaluable in getting your Jaeger back up to scratch. He will also help select your co-pilot."

Steve looked down and stared at his feet, feeling suddenly small and unimportant again, after Fury had made it so clear to Barnes that Steve would never set foot in a cockpit. The warmth in the other man's voice made him raise his eyes again: "Call me Bucky, Steve. I'll be glad to work with you. And now, please introduce me to the lady - and this one's certainly a pilot, right?"

The smile on Steve's face was wide. He tended to judge people on how he thought they would have treated him when he was still the scrawny kid desperate to prove himself, and Barnes, Bucky, struck him as the type who despised bullies. Before he managed to reply, however, Natasha spoke up in her usual firm way: "The lady can introduce herself. Natasha Romanoff. Pleased to meet you, Ranger Barnes."

Fury, ignoring them as well as the rain, started to walk into the Shatterdome. They followed him as a group, Clint doing his usual proud spiel whenever he got to introduce anyone to his co-pilot: "You might have heard of her - I poached her from the Russians."

By which he meant he fished her out of the sea when Black Widow was destroyed by Zola. Her co-pilot had been killed, and since Russia had stopped their Jaeger program, Clint had managed to convince her to join him in Sydney, where they became the most successful team in history, defeating no less than nine Kaiju, including the one that broke through the Anti-Kaiju Wall on the day after Widow Hawk was decommissioned. Steve had heard the story many times before, but it never failed to amuse him, mostly because of the fond look in Natasha's eyes.

Bucky was listening with the appropriate amount of interest, but when Steve caught his eye, he winked conspiratorially and Steve had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. Two minutes later they ran into Tony and Bruce, the Kaiju scientists, and Steve had to swallow another laugh at the look on Bucky's face when he saw Tony's rather impressive tattoo of Baron Zemo. There hadn't been much laughter in recent months, and Steve felt strangely light-headed. It was somewhat reminiscent of when he still had asthma, except not in a bad way at all.

***

The Hong Kong Shatterdome was pretty much like any other Shatterdome Bucky had ever been to - except for the scrap metal everywhere and the air of desperation that hung over everything. Even Fury seemed more serious than ever, if that was even possible. At least the pilots were good, probably the best. He'd heard of Natasha Romanoff, of course, and Clint pointed out the other two teams and their Jaegers, brothers Thor and Loki Odinson in their massive Mark-1 Nordic Hammer and Black Falcon's Sam Wilson and T'Challa.

When they reached the LOCCENT, Fury didn't even need to say anything to get Natasha to drag her co-pilot away. Steve Rogers remained, however, and, looking up into the handsome face still smiling from Sam Wilson's friendly greeting just before, Bucky found he didn't mind at all. There was something incredibly appealing about the big man with the gentle eyes, who held himself as if he wasn't the most impressive specimen Bucky had seen in… ever. He still wondered why Rogers wasn't a pilot but only some kind of engineer. Remembering the naked look of longing he'd caught before Fury shut down any question of Steve being a Ranger, Bucky vowed to find out what the story was here.

His thoughts were interrupted by two familiar voices, and with a smile he greeted Maria Hill, Fury's right-hand woman. Someone was missing, however. Looking around, Bucky asked: "Where's Coulson? Don't tell me he's no longer with the program?"

Fury's face darkened, but it was Maria who replied, voice tight: "I'm afraid he died last year in San Diego when Thanos attacked."

As always when faced with the reality of yet another death, the familiar white-hot pain shot through Bucky's arm, originating in the part of his mind that had been laid waste when Becca had been ripped away. He gritted his teeth and managed to nod and mumble some platitude, but his thoughts were far away, in the cold waters before Anchorage. A gentle hand on his arm brought him back, and he looked up to meet Steve's eyes. There was no pity in them, only understanding, and Bucky could feel himself relax marginally.

"Let me show you something," Steve said quietly, his hand warm even through Bucky's jacket. Without another word he led them to a hangar bay, and Bucky's breath stopped again, this time in amazement. Steve spoke again: "I found her in Anchorage and figured she had at least one more fight in her."

This led to Fury calling the Kaiju scientists they'd met earlier, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, to further explain their desperate plan of dropping a nuclear bomb right into the Rift. Tony did most of the talking, both similar and very different from his legendary father, and Bruce's role seemed to be to reign him in and contribute facts when Tony became too fanciful. But although Bucky was listening, he couldn't stop looking at what had once been American Invader, looking even more beautiful than the last time he'd seen her five years ago.

Glancing at Steve, who was giving Fury his whole attention although he must have heard this speech before, Bucky felt somehow sure that it had been his idea to paint her red, white and blue, with a star gleaming on her chest. It was obviously a labor of love, and when Steve showed him to his room later, he couldn't help but ask: "How come you're not a pilot? You obviously have the heart of one."

Steve blushed, something Bucky found incredibly endearing, and mumbled: "Thank you. That means a lot, coming from you." When Bucky couldn't hide his confusion completely, he added softly: "I always figured doing what you did in Anchorage took more than brute strength, it took a lot of heart."

Bucky stared, his stomach tight, but Steve squared his shoulders and held his gaze. After a long moment, Bucky exhaled a sharp laugh: "Wow, underneath all those muscles you're a great big sap, Rogers!"

It was that or bursting into tears, and miraculously Steve seemed to get this, giving him a grin that was decidedly flirty: "Call me Steve. Jerk."

"Alright, Steve - you punk." They were standing in the hallway between their quarters, smiling widely at each other, and Bucky felt as if he'd known this man his whole life. So he didn't hesitate to repeat his question: "But really, why aren't you a pilot?"

***

Steve normally didn't like to explain the whole Kaiju serum story, but when he and Bucky separated that night, he had told him everything, from his childhood illnesses to the anomalies in his brain scans that led to his exclusion from the Jaeger program despite his excellent results in the simulators. Somehow Bucky's reactions hit exactly the right balance of sympathy and gentle humor, and having finally said good night, Steve stood a moment in the entrance to his room, looking across the hallway to Bucky's open door.

The pilot had pulled his baggy sweater over his head, exposing the gleam of his prosthetic arm, something that hadn't been noticeable before because he was wearing black gloves on both hands. Where the metal stopped thick scars ran down Bucky's left side, and Steve's hand twitched as he imagined tracing the knotted skin, feeling the hard muscles of Bucky's broad back, and twisting in the unkempt black hair. His fantasies were interrupted, when he realized that Bucky was looking straight at him, face unreadable. Blushing furiously at having been caught staring, Steve stepped back and slammed the heavy metal door shut.

The next morning in the mess hall he avoided Bucky, taking his tray up to American Invader. However, since he had been the one vetting the applicants, he had no alternative but to show up in the Kwoon Combat Room. He told himself it didn't matter that he wasn't one of the candidates, that all he wanted was to find the right partner for Bucky. He deserved the best.

The only problem with this was that, although they tried hard, none of the candidates were up to scrutiny. Bucky dispatched one after the other with an ease that left Steve full of admiration and with just a bit of tightness in his pants. If there were differences between how he controlled his real arm and the neural pathways of the prosthetic, Bucky didn't show it, although it was unlikely he had done much fighting while working in construction, unless of the very down-and-dirty kind. Steve itched to go up against him, thinking that for once he might not have to hold back.

As if he could read his mind, Bucky shook his head when the next candidate wanted to step onto the mat: "This is getting us nowhere. Marshal, why don't we give Steve a shot - he's been looking decidedly unimpressed." Steve looked at him pleadingly, but Fury was already shaking his head. Bucky remained undaunted: "Look, I know all about the serum, but I tell you, I'm not letting you match me up with anyone until we've at least tried. You want the best, don't you? And if I'm willing to risk it, and Steve is willing to risk it..."

Fury was watching them both with his one good eye, as always not letting anything slip. But Steve knew him better than most, had seen him step out of his Jaeger alone, on the day that had cost Steve's parents their lives, and he sensed a slight softening. Realizing he was holding his breath, he released it to add quickly: "Yes, Nick, he's right. Do you think Erskine would have wanted me to stand on the sidelines? Just let us try!"

Much to everyone's surprise, Fury did agree, although he made sure they knew he was only letting them fight and had not agreed to anything more as of yet. Steve didn't care, all he felt was elation as he took off his shoes and joined Bucky on the mat. He did not bother with the staff, and Bucky put aside his as well, acknowledging Steve with a nod and a grin.

They squared off, circling one another slowly, until Bucky lashed out, lightning quick. Steve managed just barely to block him, but used his momentum for a hard kick that had Bucky stumble backwards. However, he caught himself before Steve could take advantage of the opening and countered with a whirlwind of kicks and hits, sometimes using his prosthetic to propel himself. Steve just about managed to avoid the worst hits and realized that he had indeed found an opponent with whom he didn't have to hold back.

Using the whole mat, he backed up only to weave sidewards when Bucky tried to press him, showering him with a quick succession of punches. However, the metal arm made for a great shield, and Bucky held Steve off long enough to find the moment Steve was slightly off-balance from another fast kick and swept his legs out from under him. Recovering just in time Steve bounced back, but Bucky charged him, not losing control for one second, and they tumbled onto the mat. Steve twisted, reversing their positions, but Bucky leveraged himself on his left arm and they rolled over, both uselessly trying to either land a good punch or break the other's hold.

Finally, Fury's clipped voice broke their little bubble, calling a draw, and they collapsed onto their backs. Both men were sweating and breathing hard, and Steve was fighting the urge to laugh. Looking over to Bucky, their gazes locked, and Steve recognized the same delight in those blue eyes. Heat coiled in Steve's stomach, and he couldn't suppress the grin spreading on his face as he asked mock-coyly: "Well, and do I pass muster, Ranger Barnes?"

Bucky pushed himself to his feet and offered Steve a hand up which was gratefully accepted. His grasp was warm and firm, as was his smile, tinged with approval and flirtation: "Oh, do you ever..." He turned towards Fury, who was watching them, face inscrutable, and added: "You must see it, Marshal - Steve is my co-pilot."

It was a statement of fact, but Fury remained unmoved: "You will find that this decision is still up to me, Barnes."

***

At the Marshal's words Steve visibly deflated, the excited light disappearing from his eyes along with his smile, and Bucky felt instantly furious on his behalf. 48 hours ago Bucky would have sworn to never set foot in a Jaeger again, and now he realized he was willing to do whatever it took to be able to go into the Drift with this man. But there was no arguing with Fury, and when Bucky knocked on Steve's door after his confrontation with the Marshal, he knew he'd come very close to be dismissed altogether.

Steve opened, and Bucky could feel an ache starting in his chest when he noticed the dark circles around the tall man's eyes. He forced himself to smile: "I'm sorry. I tried, but…"

"But Fury doesn't change his mind for anyone." Voice flat, Steve shrugged, motioning for him to enter, but the muscles in his neck relaxed almost imperceptibly. Bucky followed the invitation, looking around the room curiously. It was standard issue, not much more than a bunk, a desk and some storage, but there were drawings all over the walls. Many of them were of Jaegers, both complete and in schematics, and Bucky recognized American Invader as well several others, but even more were of people, some posed, some obviously caught unawares. He didn't need to see the tiny 'SR' signature to know who had drawn them.

All of them were beautiful, and Bucky couldn't help but stare in awe: "Wow. Steve, these are amazing!"

"Umm. Thanks." Steve gave a small, embarrassed laugh and actually scuffed his toes like an overgrown schoolboy, charming Bucky thoroughly. The attraction he'd felt pretty much from the start was beginning to feel dangerously like a crush, which normally would have sent him running. Running was all he had done in the last five years, after all. Yet here he was, and the last thing he wanted was to be anywhere else. He became aware that he was staring when Steve caught his eyes: "And thanks for what you did in the Kwoon."

It was Bucky's turn to feel embarrassed: "I did it because if I have to go back out there, I want to have the best co-pilot. And you must have known even before the fight that we're Drift-compatible."

He used to scoff at stories that talked about Drift-compatibility as if it somehow meant two people were soulmates. Most teams consisted of family members, although admittedly couples like husbands and wives were not unheard of, but Bucky had always seen it as a matter of genetics and brain structure formed by similar experiences. Yet there was no doubt in his mind that he could Drift with Steve, that sharing this man's mind would feel as right, maybe even more so, than it had with Becca. She would probably have approved - ribbed him endlessly but approved. Before he could stop himself, he blurted out: "My sister would have liked you."

There was no confusion at the apparent non-sequitur in Steve's light blue eyes, only understanding, and his smile was gentle and pleased: "I'm sure I would have liked her, too." Then his grin turned mischievous as he added: "Not as much as I like her brother, of course."

They were standing close together, anything else was almost impossible in the small room and with Steve's bulk, and Bucky could almost feel the inches separating their bodies. Licking his lips, he stepped even nearer, right into Steve's space: "I gotta say, I'm glad to hear that."

One second passed, another, and then they were kissing. There was none of the usual awkwardness of a new partner, despite Steve being easily the tallest person Bucky had ever kissed. Instead they fit together perfectly, each move one made anticipated by the other, in the same way they had done while fighting in the Kwoon. Steve's arms were around Bucky's waist, holding him tightly, the strength Bucky could feel coiled in those broad shoulders decidedly arousing. He had never been one for power play in bed, but the thought of Steve holding him down made Bucky moan into the kiss. Using his momentary advantage, Steve took Bucky's lower lip between his teeth and tucked gently, and Bucky swore and ground his hips against the strong thigh that was pushing its way between his legs.

They had only been kissing for a few minutes, and he was already well on his way to a full erection. His only comfort was that Steve was in the same state, and he wormed his left hand between their bodies, ruthlessly using its strength to simply rip apart Steve's sweatpants. Now it was Steve who moaned, a low sound starting in the back of his throat that turned into a loud groan the moment Bucky touched metal fingers to hot flesh. Bucky grinned and nipped Steve's exposed throat: "Kinky, Rogers, kinky…"

It probably would have been a more convincing show of prowess if he hadn't been rutting against Steve's thigh like a highschool kid, but since Steve was in no condition to notice he took it as a win. Steve's cock was hard in his hand, and he began jerking him off in earnest, once again almost instinctively knowing how Steve liked to be touched. It wasn't long, however, before he found himself lifted off his feet and deposited on his back on Steve's bunk, his surprised gasp swallowed by an eager mouth.

It was a standard Ranger-issue one-person bunk, and even with Steve straddling Bucky, grinding their hips together while their tongues did a battle-dance that was maddeningly arousing, quarters were tight. Still, Bucky had had sex in more uncomfortable places, and he scooted up until he was half-sitting against the wall, Steve on his lap, their mouths still fused together. Breaking apart for as short an amount of time as possible, he rid first Steve than himself of their shirts, reveling in the expanse of smooth skin under his questing hands.

***

Steve was busy, too, allowing his fingers to trace the seam where flesh turned metal. He must have been doing something right, because Bucky shivered and turned into his touch, making Steve wonder how sensation worked through the neural connections forged by Jaeger tech. Only for a moment, though, because soon he was too caught up in sensation himself. Bucky definitely knew what he was about, his tongue wickedly teasing and his hands trailing all over Steve's bare chest, raising goosebumps in their wake.

Tearing himself away, Steve sat back on his heels, all too aware that this brought their crotches into close contact. For a long moment he simply tried to memorize the way Bucky looked, hoping that maybe later he'd be able to draw him like this, all mussed up in Steve's bed, half-naked and altogether the sexiest thing Steve had ever seen. When Bucky quirked a questioning eyebrow, he swallowed and asked, trying to keep his voice steady despite his increased heart rate and breathing: "How about we get rid of the rest of these clothes, Buck?"

"Now that's an excellent idea!" The pleased grin that transformed Bucky's face was quickly becoming one of Steve's favorite things. He couldn't help himself, he had to lean forward to kiss him again, but Bucky pushed him away before they got carried away again. Steve obeyed and stood up in order to step out of his sweats, torn from Bucky's earlier tease. When he looked up, Bucky hadn't moved but was watching him, appreciation and arousal clear on his features. Resisting the urge to cover his undeniable erection, Steve folded his arms over his chest instead and gave him a long look.

Grinning again, Bucky quickly complied and slid out of his jeans with the innate grace of someone utterly comfortable in his own skin. Then he laid back once more and gestured for Steve to join him, which he did with alacrity and rather less grace, banging his knee in the process and cursing. For a minute the mood was broken as they shared a laugh, but then Bucky hauled Steve close and resumed kissing him, except this time they were both naked, hard bodies sliding against each other deliciously.

Gasping for air and something resembling composure, Steve fumbled for the drawer of his nightstand, finally producing the lube stashed there. He could feel his ears burning when Bucky gave him an altogether dirty grin, but he soon repaid the favor by letting a generous glob of the cool gel hit Bucky's overheated skin, enjoying the flinch this got him. However, a moment later this turned into a sharp hiss of pleasure and the almost-sigh of his name, as Steve wrapped a hand around both their cocks.

Pleasure shot through him, and from the flush of his cheeks and the way his pupils were blown, Bucky didn't fare much better. When a metal hand snaked around his back, impossibly strong fingers digging into his butt, helping to set a fast, rhythmic pace, Steve knew this wouldn't last much longer. Especially since Bucky's right hand now joined the other and slid between Steve's cheeks. A sharp thrill shot through him and he had to break their kiss, bury his face in the crook of Bucky's neck as he clung to the last threads of composure.

Then one of Bucky's fingers breached him, and helplessly Steve bit into corded muscle and came with a shudder and a hoarse shout, coating Bucky's cock and his fist with his come. Bucky held him as he twitched and panted, running a soothing hand up and down his back, and Steve's whole body relaxed into the embrace.

Finally he regained enough of his wits to become aware of Bucky's unabated erection. Since this wouldn't do at all, Steve pushed himself up and back, looking up at Bucky through his lashes as his breath ghosted over the hard flesh. Bucky was mustering him, teeth digging into his lower lip, and half-whispered his name, voice raw. Steve smiled and leaned down, wrapping his mouth around Bucky's cock. He didn't have a whole lot of experience, but using a hand in addition to lips and tongue soon had Bucky twisting his hands into the sheets. Coming up for air, Steve grinned wickedly and said: "C'mon, Bucky, don't hold back…"

As if he'd been waiting to be given permission, Bucky's hands flew to Steve's head, gripping the back of it and pulling at his hair. It hurt, but Steve found he didn't mind at all, not when Bucky was pushing into his mouth while gasping his name. With Bucky's cock nudging the back of his throat, Steve might have missed the moment when Bucky toppled over the edge, if it hadn't been for the litany of curses that escaped him. He swallowed easily and then languorously lapped the last of Bucky's come up with his tongue as he slowed softened.

Finally Steve was pulled up by insistent hands, into a kiss that was slow and sleepy, Bucky's mouth curving in a satisfied smile underneath his. Steve was full of contentment as well, stretched out on his bunk with Bucky plastered against him, the evidence of his pleasure drying between them. He could feel Bucky's breath evening out, and slipped out of bed only long enough to clean them both up cursorily.

Then he laid back down, pushing back the insistent thoughts trying to crowd into his lazy satisfaction. He'd always been a bit of a worrier, but Kaiju and Jaegers alike would have to wait until tomorrow as he wrapped himself around Bucky, strangely touched by the way the other man barely stirred. The last thing Steve noticed before he, too, slid into a dreamless sleep was Bucky burrowing into his side, as if trying to get even closer. And wasn't that a nice thought.

***

PART II: fragile bodies of touch and taste
In which our heroes have to prove themselves and become a team.

Bucky woke up feeling rather cramped, which was not surprising considering that he was trapped between the wall and the not-inconsiderable bulk of Steve Rogers. These bunks certainly were not meant to be shared. And yet, surrounded by a pair of strong arms, watching Steve's relaxed face, feeling his chest rise and fall where it was pressed against his own, Bucky didn't want to be anywhere else. However, he knew the peace couldn't last, as outside their little bubble of happiness a war was still being waged.

A glance at the clock on Steve's nightstand revealed that there wasn't even time for another round of sex, no matter what Bucky's morning wood wanted. He sighed and wished he was still a civilian, not duty-bound to get strapped into a drivesuit in less than an hour. But then he wouldn't have met Steve, would still be trapped in a dead-end job on the Wall in Alaska, living a sort of half-life, so it seemed he was screwed either way.

Trying not to wake Steve, Bucky attempted to disentangle himself, but before he had clambered halfway over the sleeping man, he was grabbed and pulled into a tight embrace. Bucky oomphed and laughed, coming face to face with Steve's sleepy smile. Unable to resist, he pressed a close-mouthed kiss to those beautifully curved lips and murmured: "Good morning…"

He could feel Steve's erection push into his stomach, but although Steve kissed him back gently, he didn't move to take it further, instead replying regretfully: "Good morning to you, too. Unfortunately it seems we overslept - you have to go."

It was another couple of minutes of slow kisses until Bucky actually made it out of bed and back to his room, where he took a quick shower before grabbing a bite to eat in the mess hall. He kept an eye out, but Steve didn't appear. Instead Clint and Natasha joined him, and he inquired whether they had heard who would be his co-pilot and how good the chances were that Fury would let him and Steve at least try.

This earned him a knowing grin from Clint, who'd been at yesterday's Kwoon try-out, but unfortunately the other pilots were not optimistic about the odds. Natasha tried to explain: "Fury has his reasons. For one, he has been looking out for Steve since before Erskine's treatment, and additionally, with so few pilots left, it's a great risk for anyone to Drift with Steve, considering his changed brain patterns. Not even Stark knows what would happen."

Nodding in acknowledgment, Bucky bid them farewell, trying not to be disappointed. He had given the Marshal his word he'd try piloting a Jaeger again, but only after fighting Steve in the Kwoon had the prospect of Drifting with another person, someone not Becca, stopped filling him with dread. However, knowing his luck Bucky didn't figure Fury would change his mind, so he let his mind turn blank as he let the technicians help him into the drivesuit. It was a new one, sporting a blue, red and white shield and a star, mirroring American Invader's new design and obviously bearing Steve's mark.

The thought warmed Bucky, and he walked into the simulator Conn-Pod with a smile, fully expecting to see one of yesterday's candidates. Then he saw Steve, already strapped in place, smiling widely at him from the other side of the Pod, and couldn't repress the wide grin spreading on his face.

"Fancy seeing you here… Looking good, Rogers!" he quipped and quickly reached out, slapping Steve on the shoulder. The gesture was a replacement, but Steve's whole face glowed as he nodded in response.

A second later, however, when the motion rig locked onto their boots, nerves started to bleed through Steve's excited mood: "Bucky, if I hurt you because of the Kaiju serum…"

Bucky grinned wryly: "I was about to say something similar. I haven't Drifted with anyone since Becca got torn away, I have no idea what my brain's like. Just… let the memories pass through you, alright?"

"I trust you." The way Steve switched from nervous to reassuring warmed something inside of Bucky, and he managed one last smile at Steve before their visors descended.

Then Maria Hill's voice came through their comm system, and Bucky's last words already took on the weird echo of the initiated Drift: "Same here. As you'll see."

***

Memories rushed through them, the normal first step in establishing a Drift connection. Despite their very different backgrounds, it felt familiar, promising.

Growing up an army brat wanting nothing more than to be a soldier like your mom and dad.

Facing down bullies who thought your illnesses made you easy prey.

Losing your parents, Becca's arms around you in comfort, building a new family.

Losing your parents, seeing Nick Fury step out of his Jaeger, larger than life, find a new purpose.

Wanting to fight Kaiju.

Wanting to fight Kaiju.

Becoming a pilot, Becca by your side. Heroes fighting to save the world, living your dream.

Being transformed by Erskine, and still not a Ranger. Trying hard not to let frustration rob you of your dreams.

Another mission, another sure kill - only… BeccaBeccaBECCA.

Their entwined minds whirled into a spiral of paindarknessmissingincomplete, falling into the cold emptiness of the part of Bucky's brain that had been there ever since Baron Zemo tore his sister out of their Neural Handshake. Panic shot through them both, and on the outside power was directed to American Invader's weapons systems. It wasn't normal R.A.B.I.T., it was a black hole both of them threatened to slide into.

Incomplete. Lost. Alone.

Not alone. Found. Complete.

It wasn't a conscious decision by either one of them. A part of Steve's mind reached out, glowing golden in their shared headspace, illuminating the cold blackness, pushing it back, enfolding them both in a cocoon, safe and sound and filled with wonder. There was no need for memories anymore, and no need for weapons.

Relief was evident in Maria's usually unshakable voice: "Neural Handshake at 100%, holding strong. American Invader, you're ready for action."

They finished the simulation as if they'd been Drifting together for their entire lives, communicating effortlessly and facing down a gigantic Kaiju in a simulated South China Sea. Since Steve recognized it as Tony's design, Bucky could also clearly see the extravagant flourishes typical of a Stark creation. Knowledge passed back and forth, sometimes making it hard to pinpoint who it originated with. They defeated their target before it ever came close to the Miracle Mile of Hong Kong.

***

Steve could feel the clamps disengage and felt suddenly bereft, alone in his mind again. Looking across the simulator Conn-Pod, his eyes found Bucky's and saw the same feeling reflected in them, even if it hadn't already been clear through the Ghost Drift. They exchanged a smile, and when they stepped off the platform, Steve noticed they were moving in unison, as if they were still commanding their Jaeger.

Somehow it was comforting rather than discomfiting, and he instinctively reached out, meeting Bucky's outstretched hand halfway for a short clasp. They bumped shoulders until they reached the Drivesuit Room, neither one of them feeling the need for words, preferring the silence in which they could better feel the Ghost Drift still connecting them. The technicians seemed to sense this and left them alone, for which Steve was sincerely grateful.

Fury, however, definitely wanted words and was waiting for them in LOCCENT after they finished changing, along with Maria and Clint. Tony was nowhere to be seen, which struck Steve as unusual, but Fury's words only confirmed what both Steve and Bucky already knew: Apparently Steve's serum-changed mind, which might have overwhelmed a regular pilot, fit perfectly into the damaged areas of Bucky's brain, leading to an extraordinarily strong Bridge.

"You both got very lucky today, gentlemen, but you can consider yourselves the official pilots of American Invader." Steve could have sworn there was pride in Fury's voice, although he seemed preoccupied and dismissed them quickly.

Leaving LOCCENT with Bucky and Clint, a rush of happiness washed through Steve as he realized his dream was coming true, that he would be a Ranger. He knew what this meant, how unlikely it was that they would survive this last ditch effort at defeating the Kaiju threat, but watching from the sidelines as his friends got killed would have been much, much worse. Still, looking at Bucky he wondered whether his new co-pilot might not be happier if he didn't have to go out and fight again - he'd done more than his duty already, after all. However, Bucky was shaking his head as if Steve had said something incredibly stupid and stopped him with a hand on his chest: "As if I'd let you go by yourself."

Steve could feel Bucky's body against his and closed his eyes, resting his forehead against Bucky's as the truth of this statement came through loud and clear. They lost themselves in another moment, Bucky's presence surrounding Steve both physically and mentally, until Clint broke them apart with a loud fake cough: "I hate to interrupt this commercial for Drift Compatibility, but let a fellow pilot congratulate you?"

Saluting in mock-obedience they stepped apart, and Clint gave them both a one-armed hug, his happiness genuine, although that didn't stop him from teasing them mercilessly about newlyweds and Vulcan mind-melds. Steve knew that this was how his friend communicated, so he took it patiently, but he was nonetheless rather grateful when Natasha joined them.

However, the news the Russian brought was disconcerting to say the least. Natasha didn't tell how she'd gotten the information, but Steve knew better than to doubt her. Not that it was truly surprising that Tony had done something as crazy as Drifting with a Kaiju, but Steve shuddered just thinking about it. The other pilots felt the same, and they were still standing in the hallway feeling slightly blind-sided when the alarms went off.

At first Fury ordered Steve and Bucky to stand down, let the more experienced Jaeger teams handle the incident. Steve figured he should have been used to it, but it had never chafed so much, and he could feel his own frustrated energy echo from Bucky through the Ghost Drift they still shared. They stood in LOCCENT and listened helplessly as a double event played out in a way that it never had before, Doctor Doom taking out Black Falcon with an acid attack that melted the cockpit, while the massive Abomination ripped open Nordic Hammer.

In a matter of minutes, they lost not only half the remaining Jaegers but four people Steve genuinely loved and admired, and Steve's nails bit into his palms as he tried to keep his composure. A metal shoulder bumped against his arm, and he exhaled sharply, blinking away the threatening tears as he leaned gratefully into the small point of contact. Over the comms they could hear Clint's colorful curses and Natasha's voice, tight with emotion, asking Fury repeatedly to let Widow Hawk have a go at the two Category IV Kaiju which right then were pulling what remained of two legendary Jaegers under the dark waves of the ocean, along with their pilots.

"There are no escape pods on Nordic Hammer," Steve whispered, half-choked, in response to a question forming in Bucky's mind, and averted his eyes from the screen. Instead he focused on Fury, whose face was unreadable but whose tension was obvious from the set of his shoulders, and entreated, aware he was half-begging: "Please, Nick, let us go out there and help!"

Still Fury refused, but at least he gave Natasha and Clint the go-ahead, and Widow Hawk went on the offensive with the deadly grace Steve admired so much. At first it looked indeed as if the tide of the battle was turning as they wounded Abomination with a well-placed arrow in the chest. However, before they could power up their famous Widow's bite and finish off the Kaiju, Doctor Doom broke through the waters behind the Jaeger - and suddenly the displays went dead.

Steve held his breath until Maria managed to regain sensor readings, which revealed that the Kaiju had discharged some form of electromagnetic pulse, effectively shutting down Widow Hawk's digital systems and leaving her defenseless. Everyone in LOCCENT exchanged shocked glances, except Fury, who stated with deadly calm: "So Stark was right - they're learning."

Before Steve could gather his wits to ask what he meant, Bucky broke the stunned silence, his whole body vibrating with pent-up rage: "Now will you let us go out there, Fury? Widow Hawk is dead in the water, but American Invader is analog, she won't be affected by the pulse."

Fury might not have liked it, but he was above all a realist, so Steve was not surprised that they found themselves being strapped hurriedly into the cockpit. It was a whirlwind of activity, and a part of Steve knew he should be a bundle of nerves. Instead, he found himself strangely calm. Before they dropped and the Drift caught them, Steve looked at Bucky and read the same resolve on his face. They better be ready, for they were going into battle.

***

This time they fell into the Drift easily, their minds locking together perfectly, and Bucky instinctively relaxed into the warm presence that was so uniquely Steve. He was supposed to be the experienced pilot, but there was an intensity and purpose to the younger man that left Bucky with a bone-deep certainty that he'd follow him anywhere. If there had been any doubt before that this was where Bucky was meant to be, who he was meant to be with with, it disappeared entirely, and Bucky would have felt embarrassed by the strength of his emotions if it hadn't been completely obvious in the Drift that Steve felt the same. Drifting together was great, but Bucky almost ached with the need to touch Steve and be touched in return. They ran through the usual checks while being airlifted to where Widow Hawk was stranded, but underneath it all ran the determination to survive this, together.

The moment they landed in the water everything else faded away, even the astonishment at how easy it was to rip into Abomination. The Kaiju, roaring with fury and in obvious pain from a wound caused by a direct hit through the eye, had been about to destroy Widow Hawk, but their arrival forced it to abandon its target. In the periphery of their vision they noted the two figures standing on top of the dead Jaeger, one of whom was carrying a crossbow of all things, the other cradling her arm, but relief that Clint and Natasha were alive took second place to their first battle actions.

American Invader's weaponry included knives as well as guns, and they instantly scored some direct hits. Their movements were smooth, almost elegant in their efficiency, and they grappled with Abomination. Still, the Kaiju was huge and managed to bulldoze through their defenses and throw them onto the docks. Using the momentum, American Invader quickly regained her footing and faced her foe, unsheathing the knives and making quick work of the Kaiju. Not without significant property damage, but no people were harmed, and Bucky felt elated as they cut Abomination to pieces.

Their triumph was short-lived, however, since this still left Doctor Doom unaccounted for. Not for long, though, as the second Kaiju came charging at them from downtown Hong Kong. For a moment Bucky wondered what it had been after there, but then they clashed together and all conscious thought focused on the battle at hand.

They quickly managed to rip off the organ that had emitted the pulse, but instead of either turning to run or attacking the way it had the other Jaegers, Doctor Doom suddenly leapt into the air. They didn't have time to react, strong talons gripping American Invader and dragging her along as giant wings unfurled and the Kaiju took flight. They were held in a way that made cutting through claws or legs with their knives impossible, and discharging their guns only made Doctor Doom speed up.

Soon their oxygen was running low, which had obviously been the plan from the beginning. However, there didn't seem to be an end to his co-pilot's courage and determination, and through the Drift Bucky saw the solution to their problem a second before Steve used their cooling vents to roughly manoeuvre American Invader and simultaneously deployed the one feature they had not yet used during the battle - a giant shield.

This had definitely not been part of American Invader's original set-up, and it was a risky move, twisting them in the air so their enemy was beneath them. It meant the end for Doctor Doom, the sharp edges cutting through Kaiju flesh and bone, even as the Shield served to slow down their fall. Still, they hit the water with a bone-jarring impact, and when they were finally back at the Shatterdome Bucky was aching all over. He didn't really mind, somehow simultaneously too tired and too exhilarated, a state he knew Steve shared.

They were still more than half-way linked as they stumbled rather than walked out of the Conn-Pod, shoulders rubbing, and Bucky wanted nothing more than to hold onto Steve and not let go until they'd been able to wrap their minds around everything that had just happened. But he knew that wasn't going to happen any time soon and could feel Steve straightening even before he noticed the crowd waiting for them.

The roar of applause that washed over them was like balm to the part of Bucky's spirit that still believed, deep down, that he'd failed the Program, failed Becca, all those years ago, and for a moment he allowed himself to bask in it. And then there was the smile on Steve's face, warm and proud, not of himself, but of what they, together, had accomplished, which Bucky could not help but return.

Reality quickly caught up with them, however, in the intimidating form of Fury. The Marshal was accompanied by what was the only other Ranger team they had left - and with a sinking heart Bucky saw that Natasha's arm was in a sling. Steve's renewed burst of grief for Sam, T'Challa, Thor and Loki tasted sharp and bitter over the Ghost Drift, and without thinking Bucky reached out and quickly squeezed his co-pilot's hand, warm fingers wrapping around his in comfort both received and given. Fury raised an eyebrow at this display, but Bucky just scowled and Steve also made no move to put more distance between them.

They remained standing like this for Fury's speech, short and to the point as it was. Everything was pretty much as Bucky had expected, now that American Invader had proved herself. Even with only two remaining Jaegers, Operation Pitfall would go ahead as planned, Fury taking the place of the injured Natasha to co-pilot Widow Hawk with Clint.

Following this revelation Bucky could feel a pang of worry coming from Steve, but Fury was already sweeping away with a twirl of his black leather coat. Natasha was hot on his heels, and so was Steve. Unthinking, Bucky followed and overheard Natasha imploring the Marshal: "You can't do this. Nick, getting into a Jaeger will kill you!"

Then they reached Fury's office, and suddenly Bucky found himself on the other side of the door, Steve only managing an apologetic shrug as he slipped in after Fury and Natasha. Feeling suddenly very tired, Bucky parked himself against a wall and waited, unwilling to leave before Steve re-emerged. He knew he probably should, that whatever was going on with Fury was none of his business, but he could feel Steve's distress through the Ghost Drift and knew he'd willingly stand here for hours if it meant he could somehow lend his support.

This was how Clint found him twenty minutes later, still hovering in front of the Marshal's office. The other pilot quirked an eyebrow towards the door and Bucky shrugged in response: "He's in there with Natasha and Steve. No idea what's going on, but I figure I'd wait and find out."

Clint nodded and joined him in his vigil, but Bucky could feel his eyes and was not surprised when he broke the silence: "So, you and Captain America?"

This brought Bucky up short: "Captain what?"

"Captain America - it's what we call Steve when we want to make him blush. He's such a boy scout, all about honor and fighting the good fight, you have to admit, it fits!" Clint was grinning widely, and Bucky couldn't suppress a smirk of his own as he thought of some of the decidedly un-scout-like things he and Steve had gotten up to the night before. Through the Ghost Drift came a flare of arousal from Steve, and Bucky had to close his eyes for a moment to force himself from chasing that line of thought, tempting as it was.

"You have no idea," he finally said with a dirty grin and met Clint's wide eyes. "But yes, me and Steve. And don't ask me how it happened, I don't know either."

Recovering quickly Clint shook his head, his voice surprisingly earnest: "Who the fuck cares how? These days we snatch happiness where we can get it. What's that saying? Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die…"

Right then the door finally opened, breaking the moment, for which Bucky was grateful. Taking in the look of naked longing on Clint's face as Natasha appeared, he just elbowed his fellow pilot non-too-gently: "Deep, man, real deep. You go and do that - I know what I'd rather be doing. And speaking of which..."

Grinning he pushed himself away from the wall and towards Steve, who met him halfway, eyes glittering as he pulled him into an embrace that was much too intimate for the setting. Usually Bucky would have shied away, but, mixed into a desire that mirrored Bucky's own, he could feel the intense turmoil of emotions from whatever had transpired with Fury. So instead he simply wrapped his arms around Steve and breathed in deeply.

***

Steve could still sense the grief boiling deep inside of him, for his friends, for Nick, for himself, but it somehow felt almost bearable when he had Bucky in his arms, solid and real. Also, smelling slightly funky, the familiar mix of sweat and Relay Gel familiar, reminding Steve that they were both still in their circuitry suits. Forcing himself to take a step backwards, he smiled at Bucky and nodded towards the changing rooms: "How about we wash up, Buck? There's time for some food and rest before they've prepped Widow Hawk with the payload."

"So the mission's a go, then? With Fury taking Natasha's place?" Bucky inquired as he followed Steve down the corridor.

Steve could tell he was curious but holding back, not wanting to pry, still unused to being part of a team. Considering they'd be Drifting again in a little while, his reticence was rather endearing, and Steve gently poked his metal arm with his right elbow, unable to stop himself from smiling a little, despite the bleakness of the facts he stated: "Yeah. It's not like we have a choice, there are no other pilots left, and Nick can Drift with anyone, even Clint. But what hardly anyone knows is that Nick will die, if he sets foot in another Jaeger. You know what shielding was like in the early Jaegers, and he piloted solo."

Bucky nodded, as if Steve's words confirmed what he'd already suspected: "Well, it's not as if our chances of surviving this whole fucking mess are high anyway."

His wry grin was more of a grimace, not that Steve could blame him. He'd been trying very hard not to think of the stats, already bad when there had still been four Jaegers instead of two. Suddenly he very much wanted to have Bucky in his arms again, and from the way his co-pilot's blue eyes darkened, the feeling was mutual, thanks to the last vestiges of Ghost Drift between them. They had reached the locker room, and the moment Bucky had made sure they were alone, he pushed Steve against the door, effectively stopping anyone from entering.

Steve's surprised laugh was swallowed by Bucky's hungry mouth and quickly turned into something a lot more husky when nimble fingers made short work of his circuitry suit. Not to be outdone, Steve opened the zipper, fumbling slightly before slipping a questing hand into the back of his suit. Bucky groaned and ground his hips upwards, into the V of Steve's legs, insinuating a strong thigh between them. The pressure against Steve's rapidly hardening dick was most welcome, and Steve rocked into it, pleased to feel Bucky respond in kind. Daringly, Steve slid a finger slick with Relay Gel between Bucky's cheeks, teasing the opening, dipping inside.

Normally Steve would have hesitated, taken things slower, but in addition to the delicious sensations his external senses delivered there was still the Ghost Drift between them, making it more than obvious that Bucky wholeheartedly approved. It was not a complete feedback loop, but pleasure passed back and forth between them, intensifying everything they felt, and Steve doubted he'd ever been more turned on in his life.

When Bucky pulled away, Steve protested, but the sound died on his lips when he took in the sight of Bucky's kiss-swollen red lips, the hungry gleam in his eyes before he turned away and presented Steve with the possibly even more appetizing sight of his naked back and butt as he wriggled out of the black suit. Steve dug blunt nails into this palms in order to regain enough coordination to follow suite. Then they were both naked, and Steve couldn't get his hands back on Bucky's skin fast enough. He spun them around so this time Bucky was the one pressed against the door, face first, and Steve's hard cock was sliding against the firmness of his ass. Leaning forward, Steve pressed open-mouthed kisses against the back of his neck while carefully sliding two fingers into Bucky, who moaned loud enough Steve suspected it could be heard halfway through the base.

Glancing down, Steve noticed that Bucky was using the enhanced strength of his prosthetic arm to hold himself away from the wall far enough to use his other hand to jerk himself off, the sight making Steve's mouth water. Inserting a third finger and carefully stretching the tight muscles around them, Steve had to squeeze his eyes shut to keep control, resting his forehead against the broad expanse of Bucky's back. Gasping Steve's name, Bucky pushed into his touch, and without thinking Steve sank his teeth into Bucky's shoulder. Bucky cursed and let go of his cock, grabbing hold of the back of Steve's head and pulling him forward into a kiss, a clumsy clash of lips and teeth that almost dislodged Steve's fingers.

"Fuck, Steve, cut the foreplay, I'm ready, so fucking ready." Bucky's voice was hoarse and wrecked, sending shivers all over Steve's body, making it all but impossible to resist the impatient demands. Crooking and scissoring his fingers one more time, he reassured himself once again that Bucky was indeed prepared, but, having done so to his satisfaction, he gripped Bucky's hips and pushed in in one slow push. Now it was Steve's turn to curse as Bucky's body welcomed him, taking him all the way in until he bottomed out.

For a moment they remained still, Steve breathing heavily as he stared down between their joined bodies, the sight alone enough to make his cock twitch. Then Bucky rocked back, making an impatient sound, and Steve pulled back, almost all the way out before sliding back in. The rhythm they found was hard and fast, set to the soundtrack of skin slapping against skin, Bucky's loud moans and Steve's quieter grunts and groans. It couldn't possibly last long, and it didn't, Bucky stroking himself to completion first, and Steve stopped moving until Bucky's orgasm shuddered to a close.

As near as he was to coming himself, Steve would have quite happily watched Bucky fall apart like this forever, his body taut like a bowstring in Steve's arms, his ass tight around Steve's cock. But again Bucky grew impatient and half-turned around, his challenging grin soft around the edges as he came down from his peak: "Forgot what you were doing, Rogers?"

That was an invitation Steve couldn't resist, and with a strangled laugh he began to fuck Bucky again, quickly losing himself in the sensation until he came as well. Gasping Bucky's name, Steve pressed his head against Bucky's shoulder as he emptied himself into Bucky's body. When he regained his senses, he realized he'd bitten down again, and he tongued the abused flesh sheepishly, despite Bucky's assurances that it was alright, more than alright even.

When Steve's softening dick had slipped free, Bucky turned in Steve's arms and pulled him into a deep, slow kiss, his taste already familiar but oh-so sweet. They kissed until Bucky broke away and laughed, the sound full and warm: "As much as I'm enjoying this, I'm starting to feel kind of gross. Let's hit the showers, shall we?"

"I believe that was the original plan. Seems we got just a bit distracted…" Steve knew he was grinning goofily, but he felt too good not to, especially when Bucky sashayed away, smirking saucily at him over his shoulder. Following him quickly, Steve couldn't resist but slap that lovely bare ass, filing away the way Bucky's pupils widened for later use. If there was a later.

***

They managed to clean themselves up without much further delay, although Bucky certainly appreciated the sight of Steve's naked body, water pouring over hard muscles. When he caught Bucky staring, Steve blush crept down to his chest, but he held his gaze almost defiantly, biting his lower lip, and Bucky simply had to step closer and kiss him. Steve trailed wet hands over Bucky's shoulders and down his back, and Bucky almost got hard again as those strong fingers lovingly helped him clean up.

But they knew time was limited, and with the sex-induced endorphins ebbing, Bucky once more felt the ache and exhaustion from their earlier battle in Hong Kong Harbour. Also, his stomach started growling, and Steve pulled away, teasing: "I see, my charms already pale in comparison to the draw of the mess hall."

"Well, the food here is decidedly superior to the slob we got on the Wall, you privileged punk!" Playfully, Bucky stuck out his tongue, again surprising himself with the ease he felt around his co-pilot, and followed Steve to the locker room. Sharing a comfortable silence, they got changed and headed to the mess, where Steve piled his tray at least as high as Bucky did. That's how Clint and Natasha found them, sitting elbow-to-elbow, thighs pressed together companionably, and shoveling down food like it was going out of style.

"Seriously, guys, the locker room?" Clint's smirk was wide and teasing, but Bucky could see the strain behind it and the way he seemed to hover close to Natasha, whose face didn't betray any such thing but who also didn't draw away from the hand resting against her back.

Still, it was obvious Clint wanted to keep up the pretense of good cheer, so Bucky replied with a shrug and a dirty grin: "Jealous, Barton? I thought that's what you meant earlier."

He didn't need to look at Steve to know the big man was blushing, but he couldn't resist needling Clint just a bit more, and with an exaggerated motion he slid his free hand below the table and up Steve's thigh, the other still busy eating. Steve, however, froze, and Bucky would have felt bad, if the look on Clint's face hadn't been totally worth it. It was Natasha who broke the silence, sounding unimpressed: "Leave the poor guy alone, Barnes."

"Thanks, Natasha, but I can look after myself," Steve said, low and fierce, and before Bucky knew what hit him, Steve very deliberately set down his fork and turned on the bench so he was straddling it, scooting so close Bucky could feel his half-hard dick pressed against his thigh. One hand grabbed Bucky's chin, forcing him to look into Steve's stormy eyes, the other slid down his chest and cupped his crotch. But it was Steve's voice that almost did him in, a gravelly edge to as he challenged Bucky: "Don't start anything you can't finish, Bucky."

Swallowing hard, Bucky could feel all his blood rushing downwards, the rest of the world fading until it was just the two of them, almost as if they were Drifting. Still, not one to be outdone, Bucky met Steve's level gaze with a look that was sheer bravado: "Who said anything about not finishing? There's plenty of time before we have to suit up."

"Well, Fury is still hoping for intel from Stark - he went into the city before the attack. So I suggest you guys move this little show to your bunk." Clint's voice, a mix of shock and delight, broke into their little bubble. "Shoo, some of us have work to do."

Bucky flipped Clint the bird but let himself be pulled to his feet by Steve. They left the mess hall somewhat abruptly, ignoring the curious glances and catcalls they garnered. Once outside, Steve led them straight to his room, and the door clanked shut with a very satisfying thud. The next moment Bucky was literally swept off his feet and deposited on his back on Steve's narrow bunk, Steve's bulk covering him like a blanket.

However, instead of continuing along the sexual line they'd begun in the mess, he simply hid his face against Bucky's neck, fisting his hands loosely in Bucky's hair and breathing in deeply. It should have been strange, or at least claustrophobic, but instead it was comforting on a bone-deep level, and Bucky could feel himself relax into the embrace, his hands coming up to trail over Steve's back. He'd been alone and cold for so long, but now Steve surrounded him, his arms, his scent, the soft gusts of his breath, and before he knew it, Bucky drifted off to sleep.

It wasn't long, though, before Darcy, one of American Invader's technicians, came to get them. She was adorable in a geeky British kind of way, and babbled all the way to the locker room, where she departed with a leer that made it obvious she'd heard of their earlier exploits. Bucky didn't mind, not with Steve walking so close he could feel his body heat. They suited up silently, but before leaving the empty room, Steve caught Bucky's hand and pulled him in for a hug that was painfully tight, his voice a half-whisper: "I'm so glad I got to know you, Bucky Barnes."

The words melted something deep in Bucky's gut, a warm glow like the Drift they'd shared, and he tightened his own hold on Steve, ignoring the uncomfortable layers of expensive polymer between them. He probably sounded unbearably fond, but he figured this was the time for it: "Well, who else would be stupid enough to have you as their co-pilot? With you 'til the end of the line, you great big sap!"

The last was said with a teasing grin that Steve returned, and they let go of one another with at least a semblance of manly dignity restored. They left the locker room, but suddenly Steve stopped short, his face the picture of mock outrage: "Hey, who's the co-pilot here!"

They were still bickering companionably when they entered the hangar, but there all amusement left them as if someone had put a pin to a balloon. Every single person working in the Shatterdome was there, arranged around two male figures in drivesuits. Natasha and Maria were standing next to Clint and Fury, their faces reflecting the tense atmosphere. The Marshal seemed completely at ease in pilot gear, somehow making even his eye patch seem part of the uniform. The crowd had shifted slightly towards Bucky and Steve when they entered, but Fury quickly commanded the attention of everyone in the room by stepping onto a raised platform and raising his arm.

Although he didn't particularly like the Marshal, Bucky could not help but be impressed, even more so when Fury's inspirational speech was short and to the point: "The Kaiju's masters sent them to Earth, thinking we'd roll over and hand them our planet - instead we've been fighting them every step of the way. Taught them to take us seriously. Until now we've been on the defensive - but I say, it's enough! Time to head out there and bring the fight to them, make them pay for our fallen friends and families. Time to avenge Earth!"

The whole Shatterdome seemed to shake with the roar of approval that greeted this announcement, uttered with a certainty Bucky could not share. It wouldn't keep him from giving it his best shot, from killing as many Kaiju as American Invader could, but he figured Operation Pitfall was a Hail Mary pass at best. Just then, however, he felt strong fingers wrap around his wrist and glanced over at Steve. His co-pilot's eyes were fixed on Fury, but his grip was warm and firm. Bucky breathed in deeply and allowed himself to believe.

****

PART III: never a breath you can afford to waste
In which our heroes save the world. At which cost remains to be seen.

They dropped near the Rift, Widow Hawk carrying the precious Payload. Almost immediately things started to go wrong, two Category IVs, codenames Mandarin and Galactus, separating American Invader from Fury and Clint. Even worse, a third kaiju appeared, making a beeline towards Widow Hawk, and they didn't need Maria's confirmation to know that Ultron was a Category V. Obviously the Kaiju had known they were coming and were prepared to defend the breach.

"Guys, guys!" Tony Stark's frantic voice over the comms threw them, and they could hear Maria Hill in the background, obviously trying to rein him in. The scientist ignored her, however, and quickly it became clear that his information was absolutely vital: "We found out why no one ever managed to nuke the Rift - you need to have Kaiju DNA to open the portal!"

Fury sounded as stunned as Steve felt when he inquired how the hell they had arrived at this discovery, but it was Bruce who replied: "Sorry, Marshall, I know you said not to, but Tony and I Drifted with a Kaiju. There's no doubt - Kaiju are clones and are scanned when entering the breach."

"Ride piggyback, or Kaiju-back, so to speak", Tony added, much too cheerfully, reminding Steve why it had taken so long for him to warm to him.

Bucky's colorful curses echoed in the Drift, and Steve almost had to smile, even as they lashed out, effectively disabling the attacking Mandarin. Before they had a chance to finish the job, however, Galactus attacked them from the rear, and pain coursed through them both, their left arm torn out at the socket. For a moment Invader wavered, almost giving Mandarin a fatal opening, but Bucky managed to disable to pain sensors in his metal arm, and they managed to recover faster than Steve would have thought possible.

Without further hesitation, they grabbed a hold of the Kaiju and held its ugly head over a nearby underwater volcano. Just then Galactus suddenly broke away, swimming fast towards where Widow Hawk was holding its own against Ultron. Exchanging a quick glance, Steve and Bucky quickly used one of their knives to cut off Mandarin's head, then turned and headed to aid their friends. Widow Hawk, now outnumbered, was rapidly losing ground, its Widow bite apparently useless against the gigantic Category V.

It was created specifically to beat Widow Hawk.

The horrifying thought flitted through the Drift, making Steve's blood run cold. They'd known that Kaiju were adapting, but it was different to see it done so effectively. They needed to get there fast, before they lost their last hope of defeating the Kaiju!

Fury's voice over the comms stopped them short, however: "Stand down, American Invader! We'll handle them. You just get your ass to the Rift - you're nuclear, you can detonate your reactor."

"Nick, NO!" It was shock rather than a conscious decision that stopped them from ignoring the order. With ice-cold clarity Steve knew what would happen next, but he was frozen in place, and it was Bucky who forced Invader to its knees.

Steve! The shield!

Bucky's voice in the Drift was urgent, penetrating to Steve's core, shaking him out of his inertia. They managed to get the shield off their back just in time, pushing its edge into the ocean floor so they could take cover behind it. The sonic wave of the explosion hit them first, the waters receding as Widow Hawk detonated its payload, and it was all they could do to stand their ground.

Did they get out?

No time, no time, gotta get to the portal.

Then the ocean came rushing back, tons of water pummeling Invader overloading their systems. Steve grit his teeth, feeling Bucky do the same, and it was only sheer stubbornness that enabled them to get back to their feet. Grabbing what was left of Mandarin, they stumbled towards their goal, not only missing one arm but also with all internal systems severely damaged. They were running out of time, and they both knew it.

They had almost reached their goal, and the sudden attack from Ultron, gravely wounded from the nuclear blast, came as a surprise, but hot anger boiled in the Drift between them, and they tackled the Category V head-on. A rough cry echoed out loud, and Steve honestly couldn't say who had uttered it, and who drove their one remaining knife deep into the Kaiju.

Not that it mattered, they were locked with Ultron, whose violent death throes were pushing American Invader's systems closer and closer to total failure, as Maria's urgent voice kept telling them, as if they didn't already know. Already oxygen levels were running low, and with a start Steve could feel Bucky fading, his tank damaged and his body lacking Steve's enhancements. His heart clenched with a pain that had nothing to do with his efforts to keep breathing.

It's alright, Steve. I died before, remember, and everything after was a bonus - you were a bonus!

"Oh no, you don't, Bucky Barnes!" Steve simply couldn't agree with the wry acceptance in Bucky's mental voice, and he stepped out of the anchoring footholds, dragging his oxygen line to his co-pilot, who was almost gone, almost, almost… Oxygen flowed through Bucky's lungs, and relief washed through Steve. He was almost done. Holding his breath, he quickly armed the reactor to detonate once American Invader had passed through the portal. Then he moved to put Bucky into his escape pod, feeling increasingly light-headed.

With a shuddering breath Bucky came back to life, just as Steve collapsed to the ground, now out of oxygen himself, the world going dark. Too late, he'd been too damn late.

***

Opening his eyes, Bucky knew immediately what had happened, but there was no time to get furious with Steve's self-sacrifice. They were halfway down the Rift, American Invader still latched onto a now-dead Ultron, and he had to get Steve out before they went nuclear on the Kaiju homeworld.

More grateful than ever for the superior strength of his arm he lifted Steve's limp body into the escape pod, slapping it closed and ejecting it just before Ultron's corpse opened the portal. They would explode any minute, and Bucky had no idea whether he'd make it into his own pod in time or if he'd be able to pass back through the portal. Still, he felt nothing but relief, even as he initiated his own ejection. Lying in the confined space, he spared one last thought for American Invader, then a violent shock wave caught him and he blacked out.

He came to feeling cramped and fighting for breath. His first thought was hot joy that he was alive, the fierceness of the emotions surprising him. He'd really thought he was ready for death, just as long as Steve was alive.

The thought cut through the fog in his brain, and with a start he realized that most of his discomfort stemmed from the fact that he was held in a crushing embrace, cradled in his arms and being rocked back and forth in a motion that, combined with the waves rocking his pod, left him slightly nauseous.Coughing, he non-too-gently thumped Steve on the back with the arm not currently trapped against Steve's broad chest: "Shit, Steve, I need to breathe!"

"Fuck, sorry, sorry! But Bucky, you're alive!" He was immediately released, but only for a moment, then Steve gripped both of his shoulders tightly, fingers digging painfully into Bucky's shoulders. Not that he minded, not when Steve was beaming, his smile so bright it rivalled the sun high in the sky above them. Steve's eyes were greedily drinking him in like a man dying of thirst, and his voice sounded choked: "God, I was so scared! I really thought I'd fucked it all up, blacking out before I finished the mission, before I made sure you got out… But you did it, you saved us all!"

Squirming under Steve's regard, Bucky could feel his cheeks heat up. No one had ever looked at him like this. Still, underneath the embarrassment the joy he'd felt upon waking up still burned hotly, and the fist he'd made to cuff Steve round the head fell open, turned into a caress. His voice was hoarse, but Bucky pretended it was from the strain and had nothing to do with the warmth building between them: "I wasn't alone in that Jaeger, Rogers. You did your part and I did mine, and somehow we both got out alive."

A thought occurred to him and he narrowed his eyes, fixing Steve with a glare that made him blush and glance away, if only for a moment: "And don't think I've forgotten that you were about to sacrifice yourself! I'm in your head, I know for a fact that you weren't thinking of using that second escape pod."

Steve lifted his head and returned Bucky's gaze stubbornly: "I knew there wouldn't be time - I'd just hoped I'd get you out. Oh, and I haven't forgotten that, before I gave you my oxygen, you said your goodbyes. Bonus, my ass!"

For a moment they just glared at each other, then, simultaneously, they started to laugh. Once they started they couldn't stop, caught in a feedback loop intensified by the Ghost Drift, until finally, Steve shook his head in exasperation and mashed his lips against Bucky's. At first the kiss was more than awkward because they were still laughing semi-hysterically, but then the mood shifted just as abruptly as before, and suddenly Bucky couldn't get close enough to Steve, and Steve seemed to want to climb inside Bucky.

Their drivesuits were in the way, but they kissed and touched every inch of skin they could reach, causing the pod to rock against the soft swell of the waves, and Bucky had never felt so alive. After what seemed to be an eternity, passion turned gentle, and finally they were simply embracing, holding on to each other as if their lives depended on it. Bucky buried his face against Steve's neck, smelling what should be, but wasn't, a disgusting mix of sweat and salt and Relay Gel, but most of all feeling the steady drum of his heartbeat under his lips.

"Can you hear that?" Steve asked after what felt both like a small eternity and not long enough by far, and they both looked up towards the horizon, where the black shapes of SHIELD choppers appeared. Reality began to set in again, and they shared a look of apprehension, remembering suddenly all the sacrifices that had been made to get them to this place.

It was with an incredible sense of relief that they saw a familiar figure clinging to the side of the first helicopter to reach them, the grin on Steve's face so wide it threatened to split it in half as Clint shouted down: "Were you two just making out? What the fuck is this, a Bond movie?"

The Jaeger pilot was still in his circuitry suit, and deep lines etched his face that Bucky was pretty sure hadn't been there before, but taking his cue from his demeanor, Bucky just flipped him the bird and yelled back: "Your preoccupation with our sex life is sad, Barton - you really should see about getting one of your own!"

Steve shot him a sideways glance that was supposed to be quelling but only succeeded in being almost unbearably fond. Bucky couldn't suppress a smug grin, and the look on Clint's face indicated he would have happily continued in this vein, but the noise of the rotor blades was deafening, so they subsided for the time being. In any case, Bucky was too genuinely happy to the other pilot in one piece not to cut him some slack. For a few minutes at least.

When they had been lifted into the hovering chopper, Bucky surprised himself by almost collapsing onto the floor, his whole body aching all over, as if it suddenly remembered the battle it been through only a short while ago. Steve immediately dropped to his knees next to him, and Bucky gratefully leaned against him, just breathing for a moment. Strange how natural it already felt to accept support as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

He only noticed Natasha sitting next to Clint when Steve reached across him to clasp her hand: "Nat, it's real good to see you both. Nick?"

"Only had time to eject Clint." The Russian pilot, usually so unflappable, appeared to be on the verge of tears, her whole face crumpling, and wordlessly Clint wrapped his arms around her. For once Natasha didn't shy away, just sighed and turned her face into his chest, and Bucky recognized with a small smile that their posture mirrored his and Steve's. Through the Ghost Drift he felt Steve's exhausted sadness, but it eased a bit when Bucky began to soothingly stroke the arm that was wrapped around his middle, and with a deep exhale Steve relaxed against him.

They flew back to the Shatterdome in silence, caught between grief over their losses and relief at this outcome that was so much better than anyone would have expected. It was a respite before the inevitable whirlwind of celebration and clean-up that awaited them in Hong Kong, and Bucky for one was grateful for it, especially when three hours later there still seemed to be no end in sight.

Bucky was barely holding it together by that point, and he knew Steve wasn't faring much better, but there always was another question to answer, another check-up to complete, another picture to take. Finally, Bucky just snapped: "Oh, for fuck's sake, enough! We fought some hard battles, lost good people, fell through a portal to a different fucking universe, detonated a nuclear reactor and made it back to the surface, mostly in one piece - is it too much to ask that we get a chance to sleep sometime today?"

The doctors, techs and journalists surrounding them stopped what they were doing and stared, but Bucky was too exhausted to care. Also, he could feel a mix of amusement and gratitude coming from Steve, which was the only opinion that mattered to him at this point. It was Maria Hill who finally nodded, giving the signal for everyone to step away: "Sure. We can continue this tomorrow - Barnes and Rogers, you get some rest. Someone will bring you some food."

Bucky shot her a grateful look. She'd stepped up big time since Fury's death, wrangling everyone from SHIELD personnel and the media to world governments, and not even Tony Stark dared to seriously oppose her, although he clearly would have liked to continue quizzing Steve and Bucky on every little detail about the anteverse. He settled for a lewd grin, which completely failed to get a rise from either one of its targets: "Well, which bunk shall we humble servants deliver your meals to? And do we need a special knock?"

Obviously the locker room incident was still being gossipped about - probably more so, now that they were the heroes of the hour. However, Bucky found he didn't give a flying fuck who knew about him and Steve, especially when it meant that they could simply stumble into Steve's quarters, which happened to be closest, and collapse onto the bunk in a tangle of limbs. They were already half-asleep by the time Darcy brought them a tray of food, and Bucky grinned sleepily when Steve couldn't suppress a huge yawn as he thanked her, having heaved himself to his feet with a groan.

They exchanged a look that said it all, and Steve simply put down the tray to eat later and rejoined Bucky in bed. They had to lie halfway on top of one another, one of Steve's legs between Bucky's thighs, his head on Bucky's non-metal shoulder, but Bucky only sighed in contentment and wrapped an arm around Steve, holding him ever closer even as he fell asleep.

He dreamed of the day he lost Becca, yet this time, when he was about to allow himself to be taken by the cold that had claimed her, a warm hand grabbed him and pulled him up, and a voice said fiercely: "I'm with you 'til the end of the line, Bucky Barnes."

***

Epilogue

They were the heroes of the hour, their names and the name of their Jaeger headlines in every news outlet on the planet. It didn't matter how often Steve insisted that all they'd done was blow something up, which was after all their job, that the real work had all been done by others, by scientists, technicians, engineers, other pilots, the media insisted on focusing almost exclusively on the pilot team that had closed the Rift once and for all. It didn't help, of course, that everyone knew how their partnership had started, and when faced with yet another question regarding his "romantic backstory" Bucky sometimes wished he were back on the Wall.

Neither one of them handled their new-found fame very well, and their were both immensely grateful when Maria and Natasha stepped up and redirected at least some of the focus to the Jaeger program. Tony's endless monologues about all they had learned about the Kaiju also helped, as did the way Clint kept ribbing them about everything from Bucky's tendency to scowl at reporters who asked about their love lives to Steve's furious blushes when yet another Jaeger fly managed to sneak up on him.

However, one morning Bucky's patience finally snapped, and he slipped out of Steve's bed and across the hall into his own, largely unused room. With quick movements he repacked his duffle with the same possessions he'd arrived with only a few weeks earlier, only adding a couple of sketches he'd borrowed from Steve, carefully stashing them between the covers of an unread book.

When he was done, he looked up and met Steve's inquisitive gaze. His lover was holding up the doorframe rather attractively, and Bucky couldn't help but cross the distance between them, twist his hands in Steve's sweater and give him a rather sloppy kiss. Steve chuckled into his mouth and gently pushed him back before they could get carried away: "First you tell me what's going on. Planning on going somewhere?"

Bucky mock-pouted but replied readily enough: "I was rather hoping to, yes. I'm going stir-crazy here, Steve!"

"Oh, I noticed. I think everyone in a 20 mile radius noticed," Steve grinned, eyes dancing with amusement. "So, where're we going?"

A knot he hadn't even been aware of loosened deep inside Bucky, and he leaned in for another kiss in order to hide the goofy grin he could feel spreading on his face. Not that this would hide it from Steve, whose mouth opened hungrily under the onslaught, hands already worming their way under Bucky's clothes, strong and sure like nothing since Becca died, the day the cold had taken him.

They might not be Drifting, but there was a Steve-shaped fire in Bucky's mind, and it was burning brightly, warming him all the way through.

***
One minute you're waiting for the sky to fall
The next you're dazzled by the beauty of it all
Lovers in a dangerous time

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