Fic: Like Oxygen When I Breathe You In [Steve/Bucky]
Pairing: Steve/Bucky implied, but can be read as gen.
Word Count: 2630
Summary: The first time Steve meets Bucky, he’s bent double on the steps outside of the dorm, unable to get his lungs to work. Roughly a ‘five times Steve had a panic attack’ fic.
Crossposted to wingheads and my personal LJ. Dedicated to bitchinminority, who is the one who nags me until I actually manage to finish things. Title and cut-text from SHINee’s Love Like Oxygen.
The first time Steve meets Bucky, he's bent double on the steps outside of the dorms. He can't breathe. He can't get his lungs to work and he can't even wheeze out a cry for help, and the one person who would normally get him through this is-
"Hey kid, you okay over there?"
Steve looks up through wet eyes to see a boy about his age looking down at him with concern. He manages to shake his head and rasp out a 'no' that sounds painful even to his own ears.
"You got asthma? Charlie's got asthma. Hey, Charlie!"
Steve doesn't have the breath for 'I've got asthma, but this isn't it', so he drops his head down between his legs, hopes for the world to stop swimming and stop feeling so hot.
"Charlie, give me your cigarettes!" he hears, and looks up to see a tall, scraggly kid with dirt-blond hair and big eyebrows frowning at him.
"These are my cigarettes," the kid says stubbornly, and okay, maybe Steve isn't going to get out of this. That's okay, maybe he'll get to see his-
"Gimme those goddamn smokes or I'll make it so you don't need them again, cos you sure won't be breathing," the other boy barks out, and Steve's heard that tone before, and it makes him wince. The boy must notice, because he gives Steve a grin. "You'll be okay, buddy, as long as Charlie... For God’s sake, Charlie!"
There's a swift punch to a forearm, and then Steve's got the business end of an asthma cigarette in his mouth. There's a strike of a match, and he draws in a narrow breath, lets the smoke burn into his lungs. The brunette looks at him nervously, and rubs his shoulders.
Steve's lungs finally ease, and he's able to draw in a deep, shuddering breath that sends him coughing again.
"You can't die on your first day here, it's bad luck," the boy smiles, and throws the packet of cigarettes back carelessly at Charlie, who stares daggers at them both. "I'm James Barnes, but call me Bucky."
"Steve," Steve wheezes out, and shakes the hand Bucky's offering him.
Breathing gets a little easier.
They sneak off for the first time in October. It's already too cold for Steve's thin coat and slacks, and Bucky's given him a scarf from the lost and found.
The ground's hard under their feet as they kick up the golden leaves littering the path.
"You okay, Steve?" Bucky asks as they approach. Steve nods and wipes at his eyes surreptitiously. If his friend asked, he could tell him it was the stinging breeze making them water.
"They never let me go to the funeral," Steve replies, "told me that would make it more difficult.". He shrugs, fiddles with the ends of his scarf. "I'd love to know the lousy, stinking logic behind that," he spits.
They come to a stop at her headstone, one of the only testaments to the life of Sarah Rogers, 1895 - 1931. The plaque says that she was a devoted wife and mother, and Steve feels a detached anger that it doesn’t say more. He grips tightly at the bouquet in his hand; just daisies from the orphanage garden, but daisies always were her favourite. He lays them down at the foot of the stone, and drops his head, sniffing a little. Bucky wraps an arm around Steve's shoulder, his fingers stroking over his forearm.
"M-mom," his voice wavers, he swallows, and Bucky squeezes his arm softly, "Mama, this is Bucky. I reckon you'd have liked him." He pauses, looks up at his friend, whose cheeks have coloured. "I know I do."
They have their first fight when they’re fifteen. Bucky’s met a gal (Bucky always meets a gal), and it’s getting serious.
“Is this because she’s not got a friend for you?” Bucky asks midway through the week, when Steve’s been doing his best to valiantly ignore Ada whenever she’s been hanging off his arm. Steve lets out a weak laugh and then throws his fist into his pillow in frustration, because Bucky just doesn’t get it.
It feels like Bucky never gets it anymore.
“No, Bucky, it’s not that she’s not got a friend for me,” he spits caustically, “it’s that you’re not being a friend to me. It’s okay, Bucky, I get it, I do: I’ve been dumped for better things before, and no doubt it’ll happen again, but damn it, if you can’t see why I’m upset, then maybe I’ve not got reason to be.”
His shoulders hitch, and he realises with slight horror that he wants to cry.
“Steve?” Bucky says uncertainly, and reaches out to touch his shoulder.
He flinches away, and almost feels satisfied until he sees the look of unfiltered hurt that’s stamped over his friend’s striking features.
“You’ll always be the best thing, Steve,” Bucky says quietly, and when Steve dares to glance up, he sees that Bucky’s eyes are shining too. “There’s nothing to trade up from, not from you. You just... you can’t be the only thing. If you could, I’d...” Bucky tails off, and he looks Steve in the eye for a long moment before reaching out and pulling him into a crushing hug that feels as good as it does sore.
“Bucky?” Steve hears Ada’s voice calling from the courtyard outside, cutting through the silence their heartbeats had occupied before.
“I’ll always love you best, Steve,” Bucky whispers, and his warm lips ghost velvet-soft across Steve’s cheekbone. “I gotta go,” he clears his throat and backs out of Steve’s space. “I’ll see you later,” he says, in a tone that brooks no argument, and Steve nods weakly.
When the door to the dorm slams shut, Steve fights against a wall of panic that strangles around his lungs and heart, leaving him wheezing until he’s sick to his stomach.
“To the 107th,” Bucky suggests, and Steve nods, saluting with the bottle still in his hand. They’re about four beers into their final night together, and they’re slumped on the couch, empty bottles cluttering the sideboard.
“To the 107th,” Steve echoes, and takes a healthy slug from his PBR. “You’d better not find someone else to save,” he adds. His smile is tinged with alcohol and melancholy, and as his eyes focus on Bucky’s lips, he’s not wholly surprised to find they match his.
“No-one else needs saving like you,” Bucky smirks, and they both let out a loose laugh, before lapsing into silence, because nothing’s really funny tonight. “I’m gonna miss you,” Bucky says, and darts a glance at Steve. Their eyes lock, and Steve’s stomach twists. “Gonna miss you a whole lot,” Bucky clarifies, “so you better not leave me for too long, you hear?”
“Couldn’t ever leave you for too long,” Steve shrugs, and it feels like he’s saying less than he means. “Haven’t managed it in the last ten years, don’t plan to make a habit of it now.”
“Good,” Bucky says, and puts his empty bottle next to the others. “Don’t.”
“Don’t-,” Steve starts, and then pauses, the words freezing on his tongue as Bucky looks at him, drunk and honest. He swallows heavily, swears he can feel the blood moving under his skin, veins trying to burst out. “Don’t go,” he says finally, and holds up a hand when Bucky goes to interrupt him. “I mean, go be a hero, go save the world, go grab a pretty English girl and show her what America’s made of, but don’t... don’t go.”
“Steve, you know I can’t-” Bucky shakes his head, and reaches out for Steve, pulls him close until his head is in the crook of Bucky’s neck, listening to his pulse thunder through his skin.
“So lie to me?” Steve’s voice is small, and he’d hate himself for asking if he couldn’t feel Bucky shaking next to him.
“I’ve never lied to you and I’m not gonna start now,” Bucky shakes his head, and Steve presses up closer against his side. “But I’m not... I’m not gonna go without you, okay?” he says, reaching out and encircling Steve’s wrist with unsteady fingers. “You got me right here,” he strokes his fingers over the inside of Steve’s wrist, and the smaller man feels his breath hitch. Bucky brings Steve’s hand up to his chest, and draws a loose x in the air before pressing Steve’s palm flat to his t-shirt. “Cross my heart.”
They fall asleep like that, and Steve’s not sure he’s ever dreaded waking more.
Steve’s never seen someone die before. He’s seen dead bodies, of course: he’s the one that found his mama all those years ago, and they were allowed to say goodbye to Mattie at the orphanage when he couldn’t shake Scarlet Fever, but he’d never seen someone actually die.
Within half-an-hour of the Vita-Rays searing through his skin, he’s seen two men die. It occurs to him that this isn’t the most auspicious start to his new life, and a hysterical little laugh bubbles out of his mouth. He bites down on his lip as he surveys the chaos around him, and it’s only when a flashbulb bursts in his field of vision and he tastes copper that he realises he’s bitten hard enough to draw blood.
When panic hits him - as it inevitably does - he presses his fingers down hard over the pulse in his wrist, and it hurts enough to distract him and keep him breathing. His lungs don’t feel like they’re trying to rip out of his chest now, they just feel like they won’t fill properly. His heart’s beating a mile a minute, but he doesn’t know whether that’s to do with the adrenaline coursing through his veins, or the serum.
He manages to stutter out a couple of answers to the police before the SSR show up on the scene and dispel the crowd with badges, guns and scowls. “Very impressive,” Colonel Rogers grudgingly admits. “Dr. Erskine would have been proud.”
Steve lets out a hum of agreement and digs his fingernails down hard into his wrist to help him keep breathing. He keeps it together for the rest of the ride, focussing on the Colonel’s questions about the HYDRA agent and feeling the thrum of his pulse under his thumb.
He manages to make it to the observation room of the laboratory before his vision starts to grey at the edges and he feels like his heart may beat clean through his ribs. “Can I just get a second?” he asks apologetically as the nurse comes towards him with a tray full of syringes. He drops his head down to his knees and brings his hand up to his heart, tries to press it back into his chest.
“Steven? Steven, are you alright?” Agent Carter’s worried voice draws his attention, but the hand that falls on his shoulders is distinctly male.
“He’ll be okay.” Howard Stark’s voice is more soothing than Steve expected, and has lost the slightly cocky tone he had heard earlier in the day. “You gonna be okay, Rogers?” he asks, and rubs his hand warm and slow between Steve’s shoulder-blades.
“Yeah,” Steve gasps out, and tries not to hate Howard too much for not being Bucky.
There’s no time to let panic reach the surface as Steve storms down the corridors of the HYDRA base. He feels it under his skin, sure, but it’s mixed with anger and fear and determination.
He hears a frenzied shout and Germanic consonants, and throws his shield blind to his left. There’s a dull thud that lets him know he’s hit his target. The fingers on his right hand aren’t as steady on the trigger of his gun as he’d like, but if he needs to use it, it’s a comfort to know it’s there.
He kicks his way through the steel double doors at the end of the corridor, and throws his head back, smashing hard into the nose of the guard behind him. He slams his elbow into the soldier’s stomach and sets his jaw as he squints into the dark maze of corridors laid out in front of him.
A flickering lightbulb to the left makes the decision for him, and he picks up the pace. He’s not allowing himself to feel anything until he finds Bucky. If he doesn’t find Bucky, he figures he’s better off never feeling again.
A round-faced man is sprinting, arms full of blueprints, and Steve’s determined to go after him.
“325575, Barnes, Sergeant.”
Steve stops dead in his tracks, almost too scared to hope. He turns on his heel, skidding into the abandoned room. The round-faced man can wait.
“Bucky,” Steve breathes, grimacing as he sees dried blood splashed up the tiles. “Oh Christ, Bucky.”
““325575, Barnes, Sergeant,” Bucky repeats, and his voice sounds wooly, like his tongue’s too thick for his mouth. Steve swallows heavily. He’s never seen Bucky like this: his skin’s pale, and his hair’s matted with sweat and blood and god-knows-what. There are needle-marks up the inside of his arm, and his eyes are shot wide with fear. He tries to cower away as Steve approaches him, but is held firm in place by rough-looking leather straps.
Steve doesn’t focus on that. None of that matters right now, because Bucky’s alive.
“Bucky,” Steve says again, crouching down, ripping systematically through the straps, “Bucky, it’s me.” He raises his fingers and draws them softly along the hunger-sharpened lines of his friend’s face. “It’s Steve.”
“Steve?” Bucky asks, and he looks up at him, blind faith in his eyes quickly replaced with confusion. “No,” Bucky murmurs, and Steve’s heart sinks. “Not my Steve.”
“Your Steve,” Steve affirms. “Promise, Bucky, I promise. C’mon, you promised you wouldn’t die. You don’t lie to me, and you know damn well I don’t lie to you.” He runs a hand along the exposed strip of Bucky’s torso, and pulls back when Bucky winces as his leather-covered fingertips traces over bruises and welts. “I don’t lie to you cos I’ll always love you best, Buck,” he murmurs, his eyes locking with his friend’s.
“St-Steve,” Bucky gasps out, and there’s a smile tugging at the ragged edges of his mouth.
“I thought you were dead,” Steve says softly, and pulls Bucky close, gathering him close to his chest and pressing a kiss against his temple. It feels different, but not strange, to be the one holding Bucky close, hands stroking over sharp shoulderblades.
“I thought you were smaller,” Bucky wheezes, and then buries his head against Steve’s collarbone. “Oh God, Steve,” he manages, and his chest heaves against Steve’s, breath rattling out of his lungs as Bucky lets out a wounded sob.
“S’okay, Bucky, I gotcha, you’re gonna be fine,” Steve soothes, fingers stroking warm circles over the brunette’s back. He holds Bucky close until the older man’s breathing stabilises.
“You okay?” he asks as he pulls away, and Bucky nods, his eyes still wary. Steve looks at him askance, and Bucky raises trembling fingers to Steve’s wrist. It’s a bit more of a stretch, but they still close around his wrist, and Bucky uses Steve’s hand to draw an x over his chest.
“Cross my heart,” Bucky croaks, and he smiles up at Steve, a flicker of his old charm showing through his worried eyes.
Steve hefts Bucky up onto his shoulder, and wraps an arm firmly around his friend’s waist. “C’mon, then, we need to get out of here: some wiseguy once told me that dying was bad luck.”