Actions

Work Header

Uncertainty of the Law

Work Text:

"The power of the lawyer is in the uncertainty of the law."

- Jeremy Bentham

— —

Sarah Rogers liked to say that she knew Steve would be a painter since the first time he stuck his fingers in paint and completely ruined the walls — and security deposit — of their small, Brooklyn apartment. She liked to buy him art supplies when they could afford it, or figure out other ways to make art when they couldn’t. She taught him early on that leftover coffee grounds could make beautiful watercolors and that the coffee stirers she grabbed from the hospital break room could make all sorts of things, for as much as her life revolved around her son, Sarah Rogers’s life also revolved around coffee.

Even when her lungs began to give out, she would have Steve sit next to her bed, drawing her pictures of the hospital, or of what was happening on the outside. She wanted him to bring his paints in, to work on stretched canvas while she sat there, just trying to breathe. He couldn’t, though. The smell of the oil paints turned out to be too much and the nurses asked him to leave them at home. But he would bring her photographs of the paintings he was working on and bring her the small watercolors he painted in the hours that he didn’t spend with her.

She loved them, would force him to hang them up on the small amount wall space she had in her hospital room.

When she died, holding Steve’s hand, the last images she saw before her eyes were the paintings Steve had made, filled with love and worry. Her little artist, breathing life onto canvases that made the world shine. She only hoped that someday he would realize that there was more to life than painting it as it went by.

— —

Steve is halfway through a can of Coke when Natasha elbows his side. “What the—“

“Look at that guy,” she says, nudging her chin over to the person standing in front of Steve’s painting.

They’re hiding out in an office building, full of mucky muck lawyers and businessmen who do things that Steve doesn’t have a clue about, and doesn’t really want to. Steve was an Occupy protestor a few years back, and helped organize the Tax March in 2017. It seems a bit wrong that this building commissioned a huge painting from him, and even worse that Steve did it for them. But as Natasha sternly told him when she relayed the commission, it’s better that they’re spending their money on a piece of art from him than on… whatever it is that venture capitalists even spend all their money on. Blow? All Steve really knows about venture capitalists he learned from The Wolf of Wall Street. Even though Steve didn’t feel great about it, he finished the painting — a large piece that spans a good chunk of the lobby. He had to rent out a warehouse to work on it in, but the end result was honestly pretty stunning.

The painting was installed yesterday, and today Steve and Natasha are sitting in the lobby, watching people look at the painting as a bit of a social experiment.

So far, most people have ignored it. A few have snapped pictures of it on their camera phone before hurrying off to wherever it is that venture capitalists go. A few of those photos have already made their way onto Instagram, which Natasha says is great exposure.

But this guy. He’s just there, looking at the painting like he has nowhere else he needs to be.

“He’s been standing there for a while,” Natasha says, raising an eyebrow.

Steve looks the guy over. He looks around the same age as Steve, in a smart-looking suit with his dark hair slicked back. He’s got some kind of leather, designer briefcase and shined shoes, and he just oozes money while trying to look casual. Normally, Steve would steer clear of this kind of guy. Not that he intrinsically thinks that everyone on Wall Street is bad per se, but he’s run into his fare share of yuppies with big pocketbooks and even bigger mouths. Steve being Steve, it’s in everyone’s best interest if he tries to avoid them. Nobody wants a fist fight in the lobby of this fancy building.

“C’mon Steve,” Natasha says. “Worst thing that happens is that you get a compliment.”

“And the best thing?” Steve asks with a frown.

She smirks. “A date.”

Steve rolls his eyes but stands up. She won’t let him live it down if he doesn’t and, well, Mr. Venture Capitalist has really nice eyes, okay? Blue and clear as he looks at Steve’s painting. So Steve tries to act casual as he slips next to the guy. He pauses for a moment, pretending to look the painting up and down — a big scene, almost abstract in its curvaceous lines, but still recognizably Brooklyn to anyone who would know the difference — but just as he’s about to try to find a way to start a conversation the guy asks, “You like it?”

Steve gives a half-shrug. “It’s okay.”

The guy turns to him, raises an eyebrow. God, his eyes are beautiful. Steve can think of the colors on his palate, how the eyes would be the focal point of his dark face if he were to paint a portrait. “You’re kiddin’ me, right?” he asks.

“Why?” Steve asks, shifting his weight a bit but still ending up with ramrod-straight posture. “You don’t like it?”

The guy rolls his eyes, focuses his attention back to the painting. “I love it,” he says, voice soft and fond.

They’re both quiet for a moment, then Steve asks, “Why?”

The guy glances back, like he thinks that Steve is maybe pranking him or doesn’t really care. But something in Steve’s expression must show his seriousness because he answers. “This guy who painted it? Steve Rogers? All his stuff’s just…” He trails off, quirks the side of his mouth in thought before continuing, “It’s all like goin’ home. At least for me. But it’s warm. Familiar. Sorta feels like I’ve known the guy my whole life and I’ve never met him once.”

Steve could make a joke here, but he doesn’t want to catch him off-guard, so he asks, “You from Brooklyn?”

“Yeah,” he says. “You can dress up a monkey in Armani but he’s still gonna be a monkey.”

“A chimp with a Prada briefcase.”

He rolls his eyes. “It was a company gift. And it’s Coach, not Prada. I’m not in the Prada league yet.” But he’s smiling as he turns back to the painting. “The paintin’ seems kinda outta place here in this soulless place, honestly, but it’s good to see that the guy’s gettin’ paid.” He pauses, then turns to Steve, a little shy and conspiratorial. “Well, I know he’s gettin’ paid well. His stuff’s completely outta my league.”

“You’ve checked?”

He gives a half-shrug. “Looked around. Stopped lookin’ pretty quick. Not in the budget,” he sighs and shrugs, “Well, not until I get a promotion and my sister gets outta school, and the promotion ain’t happenin’ and she just hinted that she wants to get a masters degree.”

“In what?”

He affects his voice, makes it a little higher. “Library and Information Science, Bucky.” He grins. “She wants to be an archivist. I’m still not really sure what an archivist actually does, but she’s excited and I’d pay for her to get six masters degrees if that’s what she wants because there’s nothin’ wrong with gettin’ an education.”

“And you are?”

“A lawyer.”

“Who likes art?”

“Don’t think that’s too unusual, bud. Lots of lawyers like art, like to intimidate people with how worldly and cultured and richer they are than everybody else.” If there’s something a little bitter there, Steve tries to ignore it. “I don’t know much about art, but this guy’s stuff is…” He gives a little snort. “Lemme tell you, if I ever got one of his paintings, which I never will, but it’s okay to dream, I’d put it somewhere real cozy, not like this place or even in my office. And I’d only let people I like look at it, or at least people who I think would understand it. I don’t think everybody does. And that’s not wrong, to not understand somethin’. Hell, I think most art’s trash, which is probably sacrilegious, but I don’t go into museums and start shit talkin’ it.” He doesn’t even seem to notice that he just swore, just keeps going. “But when you get somethin’, you know, really special and it’s yours… and you don’t gotta share it with anybody, that’s magical.”

What he said just barely makes sense, but it makes Steve smile. When he talks, he’s grinning at the painting like they’re communicating with each other, something mischevious and intimate. Steve wonders if he even realizes that he’s still talking to someone.

“You just shared it with me,” Steve says, something strange and warm spreading through his chest when he looks at this guy — Bucky? — who is looking up at his painting.

And he glances back at Steve, head still tilted up a little and he grins. “Yeah,” he says. “Guess I just did.”

Steve wants to paint that expression a million times over.

“James Barnes?” a man in a tailored black suit asks. Bucky’s — or James’s, Steve isn’t sure what his name is and it’s killing him — lip quirks up at Steve before turning around.

“Present,” he says, voice sounding less affected by his Brooklyn accent, his posture a little straighter.

“Please follow me. We’re happy you could make it here today…”

Because Steve is a bit of a sap — he’s an artist for Pete’s sake, what does everyone really expect him to be? — he watches James walk away. And sees James look back for just a moment, smiling at Steve like he hasn’t just shaken him to the core.

James Barnes.

That’s his name.

Steve returns to Natasha in a half-daze, plopping down on the couch next to her.

“How’d that go?” she asks. He’s not looking at her — James Barnes — but can hear the tinge of apology in her usually stoic or sarcastic voice.

He shrugs. “I need to go get some paint.”

— —

There are a lot of James Barneses in the world, but not many results when Steve types ‘James Barnes lawyer New York City’ into Google. In fact, there’s miraculously only one viable candidate for who Steve is looking for.

James Barnes, working at Schmidt, Zola and Pierce LLP, located in Manhattan. Steve jots down the address and returns to his canvas.

He’s painting in blues; blue like James’ eyes.

— —

“You want me to what?” Clint asks.

“Could you possibly be a little quieter?” Steve asks, glancing over his shoulder so that Natasha doesn’t see.

“Fine,” Clint huffs. “But lemme get this straight: the painting you’ve been working on for three weeks, instead of working on one of several commissions you have backed up, you were planning on giving this to some guy who you met for three minutes and who told you that he liked your paintings?”

Steve shifts. “Well, when you say it like that—“

“No, no,” Clint says, waving his hand. “You’re the artist. I just get paid by you.”

“Thanks,” Steve says, handing Clint the sheet with the address. The painting is all packaged up by the door, in cardboard and bubble wrap. He’s hoping it’s not too strange. He’s thought about how weird it is that he’s doing this, but he thought maybe it was not… this societally inappropriate. It seemed like a nice gesture.

He must show his nerves, because Clint is giving him a pat on the shoulder. “Hey,” Clint says, expression softening. “It’s a nice thing, okay?”

Steve nods and watches Clint manhandle the painting out of the room.

And, okay. It’s over. Done. He never has to think of it again.

— —

A few days later Steve is at a bakery with Natasha. Clint’s birthday is coming up and Natasha is trying to find him the perfect eclair. So far, they’ve spent the last four weekends going to various bakeries around the city, trying eclair after eclair, some traditional, some with fruity creams or fancy icings. There was one very memorable jalapeño eclair that Natasha will get Clint for April Fool’s Day, but isn’t worthy of his birthday.

But so far, they haven’t found the perfect eclair.

Either that, or Natasha recognizes that Steve’s social life isn’t exactly hopping, and is taking pity on him by taking him around town and feeding him baked goods. He wouldn’t put it past her. He glances over to the counter where Natasha is ordering them a sampler — this place has four different types of eclairs; they’ll split them between them — when Steve’s phone rings with an unknown number with a Brooklyn area code.

Normally, Steve wouldn’t pick up, but he’s so sick of eclairs that he’ll do just about anything to avoid having to shove another one in his gullet. He used to like eclairs. Now he’s skeptical of all eclairs, donuts and even muffins, at this point. So he makes a quick apology and picks up as he steps out of the shop.

“Steve Rogers,” he says in his low, professional phone answering voice.

“Oh, good,” the voice on the other line says and Steve’s stomach clenches all at once. “Hoped it was. I, uh…” He clears his throat, but thankfully continues. Steve doesn’t know if he could even respond if he knew what he was going to say. “So, I’m James Barnes, if you hadn’t guessed.”

He pauses and shit, Steve has to say anything, despite the fact that nothing’s coming out. “Guessed that,” Steve says, heart hammering.

James laughs, but it’s more of a breath than a real laugh and Steve is wondering where he is, what he’s doing. It’s Saturday. Does he still carry his Coach briefcase around with him when he’s not at work? “You know you’re really hard to track down? I wanted to, uh, thank you.”

“You didn’t—“

“But I do,” James interrupts, like he suspected that Steve wouldn’t accept his thanks. “Look, I don’t know why you did it, but let me do somethin’, pay somethin’. I know how much your work costs, it’s—“

“Do you like it?” Steve asks, wishing his voice were coming out a bit stronger than it is. He had told Clint and Natasha not to give him Steve’s personal number. It was supposed to be just a piece of goodwill; like Steve was a ghost and could just float away. He was never expecting that he’d have to talk to James, to try to explain the kind of madness that came over him when he had heard James speak to him about his work.

There’s a muffled noise on the phone, like James is moving. Is he at home? Is he at his office? Steve hadn’t let himself think about James when he was painting, just the color of his eyes reflected into the Atlantic over his abstracted view of Coney Island. “Like it?” he asks, sounding amused. “Jesus, it’s amazin’. Like…” He sounds flustered now and Steve feels it to his core. “It’s exactly…” His voice is quiet. “I don’t even got words for it. I mean, I’m lookin’ at it right now and I still don’t know what to say.”

“Where did you hang it?” Steve hates himself for asking but he has to know.

There’s a pause, then a hesitant, “In my bedroom.” Then, too rushed, “But if you want me to put it somewhere public, where people can see it, I can—“

“No,” Steve breathes, something loosening in his chest. “Your bedroom is perfect, I mean…” Steve can feel himself blush, which he hasn’t done since he was a goddamn lovesick teenager mooning over Peter Parker from his AP Gov class.

Then James laughs full-out and Steve leans against the wall of the pastry shop, sure that he’s never felt so simultaneously relieved and embarrassed before in their entire life. But it stops all too soon. “Listen, uh—“

“Steve.”

“Steve,” James says. “I can’t keep it.”

“Why not?” Steve asks, straightening up, suddenly worried.

“Because,” James says, frustrated, apparently having none of it. “Because it’s your job. And you should get paid to do it, and I don’t got the kinda cash that this is worth.”

“That is... a very capitalist thing to say.”

“What?” James asks, incredulous.

“Well, James—“

“Bucky.”

“What?”

“Most people call me Bucky.” He pauses. “But keep goin’, tell me all about Marxism or whatever it is you’re gonna get on me about.”

“I just mean that you don’t have to get paid if it’s something that you… It was a gift, alright? You don’t need to, need to stress yourself about it. It’s fine. It’s done. I gave it to you. If you didn’t like it, that would be a different story, but—“

“I love it,” he says, too quick.

“Then just keep it. Okay?”

There’s a pause. “Let me do somethin’ for you, at least.”

“Listen, you don’t have—“

“Dinner?” Bucky asks, sounding hopeful.

“Huh?”

“Lemme take you to dinner.” Steve doesn’t know how to respond, and Bucky adds, “Don’t feel like I’m tryin’ to force your hand but I just wanna thank you. It’s… I dunno how you got my name, but I’m thankful, real thankful for the paintin’.”

“Um.” This isn’t something Steve had planned. But… “Sure,” Steve says. “Yeah. You’re in New York, right?”

“Uh-huh.” He pauses. “You a vegetarian?”

“What? No.”

“Good,” Bucky laughs. “Then how about Antonio’s on 14th Street. 8 pm, tomorrow night?”

“Yes,” Steve says, even though he knows that place is hip, the sort of joint that actual celebrities go to. “Yes, I’ll see you then.”

“That’s great. And—“

“Yeah?”

“Thanks again, Steve.”

He hangs up and it’s all Steve can do not to sink down the wall.

— —

Natasha looks at him judgmentally through a bite of eclair. “You want to what?”

“Suit shopping,” Steve says, looking at a framed picture of a dachshund in a wiener costume hanging on the blue wall of the pastry shop. “I need a suit.”

“For what?” Natasha asks, knowing Steve’s aversion to anything that she doesn’t consider ‘grandpa clothes.’ Steve crosses his arms over his chest. “Don’t tell me you have a date, Rogers?” Steve glances back and she’s smirking.

“It’s not a date,” Steve mumbles, but Natasha’s already dabbing her lips with a napkin and tossing the remaining eclair and a half into the trash. “C’mon Nat, you don’t need to—“

“Nope, we’re leaving. I’ve gotta call Clint. He’s never going to believe you’ve actually got a date…”

It’s no use arguing with her.

— —

She manages to get him a suit he actually sort of likes. It’s dark blue and Natasha works together with the sales associate to pair it with a black shirt and thin black tie. He looks sort of stylish, like an artist maybe should be.

(The kind of guy that Bucky would be caught dead sitting next to, an unhelpful little voice supplies in the back of his mind.)

— —

Steve gets to Antonio’s about five minutes after eight, hopefully on time, but late enough that Bucky will be there before him and Steve won’t drop his drink onto his nice suit before he even sees the guy.

The hostess gives him an approving look as she directs him to “Mr. Barnes,” who is waiting for him at the bar. Well, he’s actually flirting openly with the female bartender, looking put together and grinning rakishly.

And Steve wants to turn away because he painted this guy a painting from the color of his eyes without ever really knowing him. He’s a twenty-something yuppie like the rest of them, he’s—

And then he turns around. His smile drops and his eyes go a bit wide.

“Shit,” he says.

“Um,” Steve says. “Hi there.”

“You’re…”

He’s got this confused expression on his face, lips parted and hair just a little mussed. “Steve Rogers,” Steve says, holding out his hand for Bucky to shake.

He does, but there’s still the awed look in his eyes. But his handshake is firm and his hand is warm. “I hadn’t realized that you were… You know there’re no pictures of you online, right?” He pulls his hand away.

“I try to keep it that way,” Steve says. “Not what you were expecting?”

Bucky just stares at him for a moment, looking confused and a little lost, before saying, “Guess this at least explains where all this came from.” He pauses. “Honestly, I thought you’d be old. Maybe a bit wrinkly. I mean, your Wikipedia page says how old you are, but I never really believe Wikipedia, so…” He trails off. “Want a drink?” he asks.

God, the guy’s eyes. Even in the dim, reddish lighting of the bar, they take on a slate-like quality. They’re mysterious, full of depth. Steve wants to lose himself in them. But he can’t, especially if Bucky isn’t at all interested in Steve that way. So the only way that Steve is going to be able to get through the night is alcohol. “Whisky,” he tells Bucky, then looks on embarrassed as Bucky relays the message back to the bartender, who gives Steve a look like she may be miffed that he came and took up the handsome Mr. Barnes’s attention.

Some part of Steve — the small, devilish part of himself that he thought he left behind when he shot up a foot and gained some muscle mass, but that never actually left — feels almost a little happy about that.

Then Bucky is looking back at him like he’s something special. “The table’s ready whenever,” he explains.

“Alright,” Steve replies, still struck a little dumb by all this.

The bartender places Steve’s drink down on a little cocktail napkin with Antonio’s spelled out on it in a fancy cursive script. Bucky must have a tab open; he doesn’t even fish out his wallet.

“I just,” Bucky says, then stops.

“Um, you can…” Steve brings the drink up to his lips and takes a small sip. It’s strong, old, good stuff. He winces as he swallows.

Bucky smiles, genuine and amused. “I gotta say, I’m happy that you’re you.” Something in Steve’s stomach clenches and it’s not the whisky. “You’re somethin’ special, Steve. Your art…” He pauses. “And you, I think. Don’t know many people who’d do what you did for me, especially free of charge.”

He’s grateful, that’s all. Steve wills his stomach to calm down and smiles with what he thinks is ease as he says, “Not free. You’re buying the drinks, right?”

“Buddy, I’ll even throw in a dinner for ya if you think you’re up to it.”

“Oh,” Steve says, letting himself lean in just a bit. “I’m up to it.”

— —

Bucky flags down the hostess, who leads them to a secluded booth in the back. When Bucky heads to the bathroom, she leans down to tell Steve that “Mr. Barnes reserved this booth special” and that Steve is “a very lucky man,” which causes a flush to run up the back of Steve’s neck, even if it seems kind of silly.

When Bucky gets back they choose their food and order without much excitement. Both go for more traditional Italian fare, as opposed to the new age sort of options. “Can’t go wrong with lasagna,” Bucky explains, smiling.

“Are you a vegetarian?” Steve asks, having noticed earlier that the lasagna was eggplant.

Bucky snorts. “No.” He raises an eyebrow. “How about you, Mr. Hippie Artist Guy?” Steve rolls his eyes. “Then again,” Bucky says, voice getting a little lower. “Don’t get pecs like yours without protein, right?”

Before Steve’s jaw can drop the server returns with their salads, which Bucky tucks into without fanfare. Steve can’t help but stare at Bucky as he pushes a tomato to the side of the plate. “Never liked tomatoes,” he admits.

“You ordered lasagna,” Steve responds, confused.

Bucky shrugs. “That’s sauce. It’s different.”

“That’s contradictory.”

Bucky grins, and Steve decides that maybe a lot of things about Bucky are.

— —

Bucky’s foot rests against Steve’s halfway through Bucky’s next drink. Steve doesn’t mind, doesn’t mind at all.

— —

Even though Steve is stuffed, he orders dessert. He tells himself it’s because he can’t not say yes to semifreddo, but he knows it’s because he wants this dinner to last as long as possible. Bucky glances at Steve over the rim of his cappuccino, and the corners of his eyes crinkle up with a smile. “What?” he asks.

Not really realizing he’s been staring, Steve glances down, feeling suddenly shy. “Just having a good time.” He stopped drinking a while ago, but Steve still feels a little tipsy. He’s almost positive that it has more to do with Bucky’s blue eyes and jokes than it does with any alcohol in his bloodstream.

“Same,” Bucky says, then takes a quick sip. When he pulls the cup away he groans. “So good,” he says, then pushes the cup towards Steve. “Try it,” he says. “If you wanna.”

God, Steve is remembering middle school and shared water bottles and “indirect kisses!” but he takes the cup anyways. He realizes as he brings it up to his mouth that he doesn’t, in fact, really enjoy coffee or cappuccinos or basically anything with coffee beans, but he tries to be brave. He takes a tiny sip and—

“Ugh,” he says, shoving the cup back at Bucky, who starts laughing.

“Don’t like it?” he asks, taking the cup back.

“Can’t stand it,” Steve says, and then the two of them are just looking at each other.

Then Bucky is grabbing his napkin from his lap and reaching across the table. He dabs at the corner of Steve’s lip. “Got some foam,” he says, before pulling back, resolutely not looking at Steve as he drops his napkin back in his lap.

Steve can barely breathe.

Thankfully, the waitress brings Steve’s tiramisu, and Bucky’s cream cake. “God,” Bucky says, looking at the fluffy white dessert. “I don’t think I can even eat this.”

Feeling similarly, but determined to at least get through half of it, Steve takes a spoonful of his semifreddo before asking a little saucily, “Why’d you order it?”

Bucky takes a moment to poke at the whipped cream on top of the cake before saying softly, “Guess I didn’t want tonight to be over.” He glances up at Steve through thick lashes, and smiles when he notices that Steve is absolutely frozen, his spoon halfway between his plate and his mouth, dessert slipping back down onto his plate. “Beautiful,” Bucky says, then his features smooth over, looking almost tender. “You like your dessert?”

“Yeah,” Steve responds, scooping it back up and shoving it in his mouth before he can say something stupid.

Bucky flags down their waiter and asks for a box for his dessert. “I was thinking,” Bucky says, holding his cappuccino but making no moves to pick it up, instead he twists it around on its saucer. “If you wanted to come see the paintin’, we could go to my place.”

“Yes,” Steve says too eagerly.

Bucky glances up. “Yeah?” he asks.

“Yeah, I mean…” He tries to think of an excuse, any excuse. “I don’t usually, uh, get to see my pieces… Where they’re hung, and stuff.”

“And stuff?” Bucky asks, and God, that smirk is killing Steve, it really is.

“Yeah,” Steve hazards. “I think it must be hung well, if you hung it.” He hopes the innuendo comes across, though he may sound a little too earnest for that. From the look on Bucky’s face, it seems like it does.

Bucky snorts, and the waitress returns with his cake and the check. “Then whenever you’re ready,” Bucky says.

Steve leads the way out.

— —

They take a cab over to Bucky’s apartment — Steve knows the address since he sent the painting there, but it never struck him just what neighborhood he’s in. While it’s not the most impressive building on the block, it’s still nice. “I moved in a couple months ago,” Bucky explains. “When I got a raise,” he adds somewhat sheepishly, and Steve smiles. Bucky pays the driver, then climbs out of the cab first. “After you,” he announces, half-sarcastic as he sticks out a hand for Steve. Even though he’s sobered up entirely since dinner, Steve takes it gratefully.

And truth be told, when Bucky lets go, Steve feels a little emptier from it.

They walk inside the building — a mid-level high-rise with a dark exterior on the Upper West Side — and enter the lobby. Everything is marble and glass, and they have one of those indoor fountains that’s just a slab of black rock with water falling over it. It’s a little cold and impersonal. But the security guard greets Bucky by name. “New friend?” she asks, looking Steve up and down. Steve’s already a little flushed, but he can tell that it’s getting a little worse the longer she’s looking at him. She’s got dark hair and a purple uniform.

“Yeah, Kate. Don’t scare him away.”

“It’s about time,” she says. She looks Steve up and down, appraising. “Been a while since brought anybody home.”

“I’m busy, gimme a break.”

“Too busy,” Kate says, and Steve realizes that this must be an act they go through with some regularity, because they’re both grinning at each other now. “Bucky, your busy makes me want to weep. You need to sleep.” She turns to Steve. “Tell this boy that he needs some rest.”

“C’mon, Steve,” Bucky says, grabbing Steve’s arm and pulling him forward. Kate laughs and Steve blushes, and Bucky jams at the elevator button, whispering “Thank God” when the doors open.

Steve follows him inside the elevator. It’s one of the mirrored ones, and Steve can see Steves and Buckys all around the space. There are sixteen floors, but Bucky presses 4. “Not the penthouse,” Bucky says, a little embarrassed smile like he’s apologizing.

“I live in a row house,” Steve responds, not sure why this is something Bucky is thinking of. It’s not like Steve is expecting him to live like a Rockefeller. “I don’t think I’d want to live anywhere else.”

“In Brooklyn?” Bucky asks.

Steve nods. “Clinton Hill.”

“I miss Brooklyn.”

The elevator dings and opens. Steve follows Bucky through a white hallway, and to an apartment on the end. Bucky fishes his wallet out and holds it against a black box on the door, like a hotel keycard reader. A little light flashes red, and Steve can hear the door unlock. “C’mon in,” Bucky says, opening the door and holding it for Steve. Steve steps inside and takes a look around.

There’s a little vestibule with a rack for shoes. A few pairs are scattered around it, and Bucky follows Steve’s gaze. “Wasn’t expectin’ company,” he says, slipping his shoes off and putting them on the rack. While Steve takes his off, Bucky straightens the other shoes up a little. It makes Steve smile, and if he weren’t sure that it’d embarrass Bucky further, he’d tell him not to bother.

Once he’s in his socks, Steve walks in further. The place — like the rest of the apartment complex — is a modern white. “Two rooms,” Bucky says, moving to Steve’s side. The room they’re in is a kitchen and living room, with a counter between. The kitchen appliances are chrome, with a black stovetop. A basket of brightly-colored fruit on the counter breaks up the monochrome, as does the messy pile of mail next to them. The living room has a black leather couch and a glass coffee table in front of it, both facing a small TV on a stand next to the wall. There’s a heavy coffee table book from a traveling René Magritte exhibit from a few years ago, and between its perfect position on the table and the couch, it seems like Bucky doesn’t spend much time in there.

“The paintin’ is in the bedroom,” Bucky says quietly after he puts his leftover cake in the fridge, and when Steve glances at him, Bucky is looking away, as if he’s suddenly lost his cockiness from the evening, turning suddenly shy. He wonders for a moment if Bucky doesn’t want him there, and if he were just trying to be polite. And then he looks up at Steve with wide blue eyes, and Steve is struck breathless with the thought that he is shy, that he doesn’t typically do this.

That he wants Steve to be here.

“I’ll follow you,” Steve says, smiling. Bucky hesitates for a moment, then wraps his hand around Steve’s wrist and walks towards a door on the far side of the room. He doesn’t look at Steve, but Steve can’t help but stare at Bucky’s fingers on his skin. It feels electric.

Bucky opens the door with his free hand, and Steve is somewhat relieved to see a room that looks, well, lived-in. The room sticks with the white walls, but the carpet is a comfortable grey shag. The middle of the room is taken up by a large bed. The black comforter is mussed and slept-in, and the pillows are strewn across it. The sheets and pillowcases are a light blue, and the alarm clock has a copy of… “Bossypants?” Steve asks, grinning.

“Sometimes you need something kinda light in your life,” Bucky says with a shrug. “‘Sides, my sis sent it to me.”

Steve feels warm in his belly when he looks at Bucky, who is looking at him. And that’s when he notices the painting behind him.

It goes perfectly with the room, the blue sheets on Bucky’s bed and the white walls. The black frame and swirls of blue stand out, but fit in. “It seems like it really belongs here,” Steve says. “It looks perfect.”

“You look perfect,” Bucky says, and Steve turns quickly. Bucky is looking at him with wide but focused eyes. He takes a step forward, then another. He reaches up and wraps his hand around Steve’s face, thumb stroking his cheekbone. “Can I kiss you?” he asks.

Steve’s knees feel wobbly, but he finds himself giving the smallest of nods. Bucky gives a close-mouthed, sweet smile before moving closer, closing his eyes, and—

“Wait,” Steve says, soft, so as not to spook him. Bucky pulls away in an instant, eyes flying open, and dropping his hand.

“Sorry,” Bucky begins, backing away. “I thought you—“

“Wait, Bucky, I do,” Steve says, closing the distance between them again. He puts a hand on Bucky’s hip and gently pulls him forward. “I just don’t want you to feel like you owe me anything, because of the painting. I don’t want you to be—“

He doesn’t finish, because Bucky pops up and pecks him on the lips. “I wanna,” he says, grinning sheepishly as he pulls away. “I really wanna.”

And all at once, Steve is pulling him in closer, bodies flush against one another. Bucky doesn’t waste any time, pressing his tongue to Steve’s lips and wrapping one arm around the back of his neck, the other grabbing at the back of his hair. Steve groans as he opens his mouth, and Bucky’s tongue presses in. It’s searingly hot, and when Bucky pulls away for breath, Steve goes for Bucky’s neck, sucking a hickey there like a teenager while he pulls at Bucky’s suit jacket. Bucky gets the picture, laughing breathily as he shucks the jacket off and leaves it in a pile on the floor. Steve pauses attacking Bucky’s neck to nose at it while he pulls Bucky’s dress shirt from his pants. He slips a hand underneath and presses it against Bucky’s back. Bucky’s breath hitches, and Steve grins. “I wanna,” he says, moving up so his lips are hovering above Bucky’s.

“Let’s,” Bucky responds, reaching up to press his lips to Steve’s again, hands working at the buttons on Steve’s shirt.

They kiss and undress each other. First shirts, then pants. They each do their own socks — Bucky chuckles when Steve nearly falls over in his haste to get them off. Then Bucky falls to his knees, unbuttoning Steve’s pants, then using his teeth to pull the zipper down. Steve is hard, so hard, and the feeling of Bucky’s warm, red mouth so close to his cock makes him swallow hard. And then Bucky’s teeth are on the cloth of his boxers, pulling them down. It’s almost funny, but when Bucky’s warm breath hits Steve’s cock it makes everything in Steve’s brain short-circuit.

Then Bucky’s lips are pressing a kiss to the tip of his erect penis and Steve lets out a breathy, “God Buck.”

“What do you want?” Bucky asks, not moving his lips away.

Steve looks down, and sees that not only is Bucky still half-clothed, but his boxers and pants are pooled around his own feet. “Gotta get out of those clothes,” Steve says, and Bucky grins.

Much to Steve’s dismay, Bucky stands back up, and takes a step back. He makes fierce, unwavering eye contact with Steve as he pulls the zipper of his pants down. Steve’s mouth is dry with want, not sure what the best part of the picture is. Bucky’s pants dropping to the floor, his chapped, red lips saying Steve’s name, or Bucky’s cock, thick and erect in a thatch of dark hair.

Steve wants to worship it. Bucky looks at him like he can tell.

“Now?” Bucky asks, grinning as he reaches down to touch himself. Except Steve can’t have that. He closes the space between them again and pulls Bucky’s hand away from himself.

“I wanna,” Steve says, a continuous echo of the phrase he can’t get out of his head. He runs his index finger up Bucky’s length. Steve wants to feel it in his throat, wants to wrap his lips around it. But he also wants this to last, to make Bucky feel so good that he remembers this for the rest of his life, so that he thinks of Steve every time he’s with anyone else.

He pauses and tenses, wondering why that thought makes him so flustered, and a little angry.

Bucky must notice, because he reaches out and holds onto Steve’s forearm. “You feel uncomfortable, you tell me, alright? We can stop whenever.”

“‘M fine,” Steve says, kissing Bucky soft and slow, not bothering with tongues. He wants to make Bucky ache with it. After a solid minute, Steve grabs Bucky under the ass and carries him to the bed, letting him drop on the mattress. Bucky laughs, and Steve climbs onto the bed and hovers over him, letting his eyes linger on his chest hair and nipples. “You’re beautiful,” Steve says, too honest, before pressing a kiss to one of Bucky’s nipples, feeling it harden underneath his lips.

Steve wants to feel closer.

“You’re not bad yourself,” Bucky responds, which makes Steve smile. He kisses his way down Bucky’s toned stomach, down to his cock. He takes a breath, then wraps his lips around the tip. Tasting the salty precum, Steve pulls in Bucky’s dick deeper. Bucky squirms beneath him, and Steve reaches out to put a steadying hand on Bucky’s hip. Groaning, Bucky scratches at the messy covers, and the sound of it makes Steve’s own neglected dick twitch. Still, Steve’s got a task at hand, and he continues.

Despite everything Steve wants, it doesn’t take too long. Steve swirls and pulls, nips and holds Bucky’s balls in his hand. Bucky’s thick cock is everything Steve thought it would be, filling his mouth, tasting so good. “Steve,” Bucky says, “I’m gonna—“

Steve grabs at Bucky’s hip and squeezes tight, then Bucky is coming thick and creamy down Steve’s throat. Steve swallows it up, stroking Bucky’s hip with his thumb and sucking him through it, not releasing Bucky’s dick until he’s soft and empty. Seeing Bucky floppy and hazy after his orgasm sends a thrill through Steve. He did this. He made Bucky feel so good, smiling and breathing hard. “Sorry,” Bucky says between panting breaths. “Sorry, I’ll—“

“Shh,” Steve says, pressing a kiss to Bucky’s neck. “I can take care of myself.”

Bucky groans and Steve hoists himself up and over Bucky. He gets turned on with his eyes first, he knows this. Dirty talk means so little to him—all he wants is something beautiful, inspiring. Bucky is both, and so much more. He reaches down to his throbbing cock and begins touching himself.

“Here,” Bucky says, hoisting himself up and sitting against the headboard. He motions for Steve to come closer, and he does, wrapping his legs around Bucky’s lower torso. Bucky reaches with one arm to Steve’s back, pulling him closer. He licks a long stripe down his other hand — a visual that makes Steve’s already hard cock ache — and reaches down while he leans forward, pressing his forehead against Steve’s.

Steve takes a moment to look at Bucky, his pupils wide, sweat on his brow, hair mussed. He realizes that he hopes that this isn’t just a one-off thing.

It feels so good, Bucky’s hand on him, exerting just the right amount of pressure. Steve’s breath catches short, and he can feel Bucky’s warm, labored breathing hot against his own lips. It’s intimate and real, and suddenly Steve is tense, feeling white hot pleasure as he comes into Bucky’s hand. When it’s over, he lets himself flop down, half-pinning Bucky to the headboard.

Bucky laughs before pressing a kiss the top of Steve’s head. It’s slow and sweet, and so intimate that it sends Steve’s heart beating faster. He doesn’t want to leave the moment.

Not ever.

— —

Except after snuggling, Bucky gets up. “My hand,” he explains, heading to a door on the opposite side of the room, opening it up and turning on the light. Steve can see a modern bathroom with black sparkling marble. Bucky turns on the silver sink handles, and the sound of rushing water splashing onto Bucky’s hands sends Steve out of his post-coital daze.

He sits up, watching Bucky’s bare ass at the sink, then glances at the clock. It’s almost 2, and there’s nothing Steve wants to do more than fall asleep in this bed, arm wrapped around Bucky. But he’s not sure what  Bucky wants. Sure, he and Steve have been on the same page for most of the evening, but staying the night is different. Bucky may not want to see Steve’s face or smell his breath in the morning. As Bucky moves on to brush his teeth, Steve settles into the pillows and shuts his eyes, trying to commit every part of this into his memory, just in case it will slip away from him in an instant.

And then all too soon Bucky is plodding back, a wet washcloth in his hand. “Can I?” he asks, and Steve’s brow furrows. Bucky smiles and starts wiping Steve down, dabbing at his face, then moving down his chest and belly with long strokes. “Kind of like washing a car, but a lot more fun,” Bucky says, and Steve grins. But it fades.

“So I’m guessing that’s my cue to hit the road.”

It’s dark, but Steve thinks he sees Bucky deflate a little. “Um,” he says. “It’s late.”

“Yeah,” Steve says.

“You shouldn’t take the subway,” Bucky adds quickly. “Most trains don’t run this late.”

“Best place to get a cab?” he asks, as if he doesn’t have Lyft on his phone.

Bucky fidgets before climbing back into bed. “Um, not sure you’ll find one.”

“Guess I’m swimming back to Brooklyn,” Steve says, turning to face Bucky.

“Or,” Bucky says, reaching out and stroking a line from the corner of Steve’s eye down to his chin. “You could stay the night. If you want.” Steve lets a breath loose, and Bucky tenses, pulling his hand back. “You don’t have to, I mean—“

“No,” Steve says, inching closer and wrapping an arm around Bucky. “I’d really like that.”

Bucky smiles before breaking into a yawn. “I have a new toothbrush in the cabinet,” he says with a wide mouth. “You’re welcome to it.”

After getting up to brush his teeth, Steve sleeps better than he does in weeks, Bucky in his arms.

— —

That is, he sleeps well until Bucky’s alarm starts blaring. “Shit, shit,” Bucky says, wiggling out from under Steve’s arm (and, if he’s being honest, leg) to reach across Steve and tinker with it. Forcing his eyes open to see the clock, they nearly bug out. It’s 4:45. In the morning. On a Saturday. “Buck?” he asks with a rough, sleep-dry voice.

“Shh,” Bucky says, flopping back onto the bed. Steve is almost sure that he’s just going to go back to sleep, that the alarm was a fluke, when Bucky sits up with a groan.

“Bucky—“

“Shh, Steve, it’s okay. Go back to sleep.” Bucky leans over and presses a kiss to Steve’s forehead. Sure that Bucky is just getting up to pee, Steve lets his eyes drift back shut. It’s early, and he wants to enjoy this while he can.

— —

The next time Steve wakes-up, it’s with Bucky sitting on the edge of the bed by Steve’s knees, stroking a hand over his face. Bucky is fully dressed, hair damp from a shower. Steve glances at the clock: 5:15.

“Didn’t wanna leave without sayin’ somethin’,” Bucky says. “Gotta go to work now.”

“Work?” Steve asks in a small, sleepy voice. “It’s Saturday.”

Bucky forces a little laugh, gives a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. “We’re in the middle of a big trial,” he explains. “I’ll have tomorrow afternoon off.”

“’S that legal?” Steve mutters as he adjusts his blankets.

“We’re lawyers, we would know if it weren’t.” He pauses, and his fingers stop stroking Steve’s face, which is an issue that needs to be rectified immediately. “You can stay however long you want,” Bucky says. “I mean it. Use my bathroom; I should have everything you’d need. The door locks automatically, so you don’t need to worry about that. And there’s some food in the fridge — have whatever you like. Wish I could make you breakfast in bed, but I have to go.”

Steve is barely cognizant; he doesn’t remember the last time he was up this early. He didn’t become an artist because he was a morning person. Though, he’s not sure that 4:45 really qualifies as morning. But he does recognize that he does not want to let this man leave. “Stay,” Steve says. “Play hooky and go back to sleep.”

Bucky is smiling that smile-that’s-not-really-a-smile again, and Steve doesn’t like it. “Can’t,” he says. “Wish I could, believe me, but I can’t.” There’s a moment of silence, then, “I know I should be playin’ it cool and try to be suave and aloof, but I wanna see you again, and soon.”

“Tonight?” Steve asks, hopefully. He’s groggy, but knows that tonight is open. He doesn’t care if he sounds desperate at this point. Tonight isn’t soon enough to see this man.

Bucky pauses in his movement, a real smile spreading over his features. “Great,” Bucky says. “Perfect.” He moves across the room to do something, then comes back to the bed. He pauses when he’s standing above Steve, just looking down.

“Gonna kiss me or not?”

“Yeah, I’m gonna,” Bucky says, leaning down and pressing a kiss onto Steve’s forehead, then his nose — which makes him squirm a little — before moving to his lips. He presses a light kiss to his lips before straightening up. It makes Steve shiver.

“Not enough,” Steve whines, and Bucky’s smile is so bright that it’s probably too much for this time of day. Bucky leans back down and kisses him again, pulling a hand through Steve’s hair and letting the kiss linger, though Steve’s sure he has terrible morning breath. Bucky begins pulling away again, and Steve can’t help but whine some more.

“If I stay any longer I’m afraid I’m not gonna be able to leave.” He brushes Steve’s bangs out of Steve’s face. “But stay as long as you wanna. I do gotta go, but tonight.”

“Text me?” Steve asks.

“Will do,” Bucky responds, and in a few moments he’s gone.

— —

Steve doesn’t mean to fall back asleep but he does. He wakes-up around nine, feeling like an actual person. He’s kind of spread out, and realizes that Bucky’s pillows are really really comfortable. And they smell like Bucky’s citrusy cologne, which is wonderful.

Steve bites his lip before looking around at the place. Light filters in from the curtains he hadn’t noticed last night. They hit his painting, and the whole room seems a little brighter. Still, from looking around, Steve can immediately tell Bucky doesn’t spend much time here except when he’s sleeping. Sure, the bed’s slept in, and there’s the book on his alarm clock, but there’s not much else. Similar to the front room, there aren’t many things that make the room particularly… Bucky. No photos, not trinkets. Sure, he could just be someone who doesn’t have much use for knick-knacks, but there’s no mess, no fuss. It’s impersonal, and in a way, deeply sad.

Still, it’s Bucky’s, and Steve can’t help but be a little thrilled that he’s here. He plays the last night in his head: the sex, the plea to stay, and even Bucky’s shy smile when he asked Steve to see him again.

He’s not sure he’s going to be able to make it through the day.

He takes a shower.

— —

James Barnes:

What’re you up to?

Steve Rogers:

At the gym!

James Barnes:

Hope it’s leg day.

Steve Rogers:

Arms, but we could work on legs tonight.

James Barnes:

Surprised you still remember that conversation. You seemed a little out of it.

Steve Rogers:

Have to admit that I don’t typically get woken-up before the sun after hooking up with someone.

James Barnes:

Sorry about that. I’m an early riser.

Steve Rogers:

I could tell. ;)

James Barnes:

I don’t have to go in to work tomorrow.

Steve Rogers:

So you can sleep in?

James Barnes:

If I had the incentive to stay in bed, then possibly.

Steve Rogers:

Incentive can be arranged.

James Barnes:

So what’s the plan?

Steve Rogers:

Do you like food that’s a little less highbrow.

James Barnes:

I’ll eat anything, especially if it’s with  you.

Steve Rogers:

Okay, when can you get off?

James Barnes:

Four, if I stop texting you and focus.

Steve Rogers:

I’d rather see you in person later than text now.

James Barnes:

Then four.

Steve Rogers:

I’ll meet you outside your place?

James Barnes:

See you then.

Steve Rogers:

I can’t wait.

James Barnes:

Neither can I.

Truly.

— —

Steve gets to Bucky’s building at 3:45, breathless with anticipation. He could barely focus during his workout — he kept trying to check his phone to see if Bucky texted again, and must’ve nearly tripped off the treadmill a hundred times. He usually spends his time at the gym laser-focused. Working out and painting are the only times, really, when he’s focused like that. The fact that he was so distracted is telling.

He feels kind of silly huddled in his coat out there, but no one looks at him strangely. Some even look appreciatively, which is something Steve has never really gotten used to. But the time seems to go by so slow, and soon it’s 4:00, then 4:05… 4:10, 4:15…

“Sorry,” Bucky says as he practically jumps out of a still-moving yellow taxi. “Got held up and my phone was dyin’, and I’ve got a million and ten other excuses. Wanna hear them?”

“You’re here now,” Steve says. He doesn’t mind Bucky being late all that much, and it’s only been 20 minutes. He’s been kept waiting longer for people he doesn’t like as much and who didn’t have excuses. “That’s the important thing.”

“Please tell me you haven’t been outside the whole time,” Bucky says, moving forward and putting his hand to Steve’s forehead.

“You think I’m gonna get sick?” Steve asks, unable to help the smile that spreads across his face. Bucky frowns, moving his hand to Steve’s neck. It’s a little brisk, sure, but it’s not like it’s anything unusual for autumn. Steve raises his hand to close in on Bucky’s, then puts his other on the small of Bucky’s back and pulls him closer. Bucky complies, and Steve leans down to give him a lingering kiss.

When Steve pulls back, Bucky exhales gently on his lips. “Been waitin’ for that all day,” he says, grinning, but then the look falls. “I’m sorry for keepin’ you waitin’, though. I really am.”

“It’s not like we’re old enough to eat dinner at 4 o’clock anyways.”

“But 4:30 is still fair game, right?” Bucky asks, seeming a bit eager. Steve wonders if he worked through lunch so he could make it here. He hopes he didn’t—it would be kind of silly to do that just to see Steve. But he’s also glad that they’re here together. It’s moving quick, Steve knows that, but he also knows that seeing Bucky in his polished work suit with disheveled hair is one of the greatest sights of his life.

“You mind walking?” Steve asks.

“Not at all,” Bucky responds.

“We’re heading to Soho.” Bucky raises an eyebrow. “I promise you won’t be disappointed.”

“I’m trustin’ ya,” Bucky says, and Steve realizes just how much he likes Bucky’s little accent. So he says as much.

Bucky sighs. “Yeah, yeah, it’s kinda dumb. I get hell about it at work.”

“Really?” Steve asks, because frankly, that’s such a dumb thing.

“I mean, my boss wants me to keep it because it puts some of our clients at ease. They send me in to wine and dine and talk about the Yankees and the Mets at places where they have cigars and whisky. When I started I felt like I was bein’ thrown into the tiger’s cage with nothin’ but a Brooklyn accent to shield me.”

“Sounds exciting?”

“Exhaustin’,” Bucky says. “I gotta know so many statistics about sports on top of, y’know, doing the law.” Steve snorts. “I have these lists saying what the hobbies of all our potential clients are. Like, I can tell you the favorite Broadway musical of every asshole in this city.”

“What’s yours?” Steve asks.

Bucky nearly stops in his tracks. “Oh,” he says, catching up to Steve. “No one’s, um, asked me before. I gotta think about this one for a sec.”

“Take your time,” Steve says, then asks, “Do you see a lot of musicals?”

“Yeah,” Bucky says. “Go to them for work, mostly. Spend most of the time gaugin’ our client’s reaction.” Then he smiles, “I liked Little Shop of Horrors.”

“Yeah?” Steve asks.

Bucky nods, emphatic. “Yeah, that one was really good. Some of the funny ones end up being too kitschy… This was just weird enough.”

“Have you seen the movie?” They’re walking pretty fast, but it’s New York, and people aren’t getting out of their way. Steve ends up dodging a young man by moving closer to Bucky, and brushing their arms. Bucky reaches up and holding Steve’s arm at his elbow, tucking in close to him. He doesn’t break his stride or the conversation, and the sheer naturalness of the motion and sentiment fills Steve up with something so warm that he’s amazed.

Cabaret.”

“Not Oklahoma?” Steve rolls his eyes. “Why Oklahoma, Buck?”

“You’re just every director’s dream Curly: Tall, sunny, handsome as all hell.”  Steve ducks his head, and Bucky moves in a bit closer. “Anyhow, why’s Cabaret your favorite?”

Steve shrugs. “It’s not… It’s not a happy story. But, it’s a good one.” He pauses, and Bucky is looking at him, probably waiting for him to add more. “And the juxtaposition between the stories and the Emcee’s narration… It’s interesting. It’s a lot. And I like the historical aspect to it, because Dada clubs like that really did exist, and were meeting spaces for people with fringe identities. They’re just not the people who we talk about in history class.”

“But we see it through Cliff’s eyes, and he’s the most… normal, and detached character—“

“That’s the point!” Steve interrupts, then blushes. But Bucky laughs, and looks at him, so Steve adds, a little less vehement, “But when you think about it, he’s also subjective. He’s arguably bisexual, but he does put Sally on a pedestal. He’s also making snap judgments about the people going through terrible situations — about Schneider and how she won’t marry Schultz, about Sally’s abortion, and Ernst’s Nazism. For him, good and evil are easy to see, but it’s more complicated when lives hang on the line. That’s what’s so great about Fraueline Schneider’s song — it’s the meaning of it all. You can recognize that you’re part of something dark, or even just complying with it, but you have to, because otherwise your life won’t be a life at all. She survives, but with so much guilt.”

Bucky is frowning now, and Steve hopes that he hasn’t killed whatever it was that was happening between them. But Bucky’s arm is still linked with his, and after shaking himself physically, he seems to be more composed.

“I like happy endings,” he says, finally.

Steve grins. “Little Shop of Horrors ends with the human race destroyed.”

“But it’s to a great score.”

He’s obviously still a bit shaken — understandably; the Weimar Republic and its aftermath aren’t things everyone is comfortable talking about, especially on a second date — but he’s trying, and Steve is glad for it.

“You like apple cider?” Steve asks, and Bucky nods, emphatic, seemingly happy about the change in topic.

— —

They head to a little hole-in-the-wall burger place in SoHo. It’s attached to a corporate hotel, but it’s a small hipster joint that’s independently run. It’s got an old fashioned cash register — which is actually pretty annoying when you’re in a rush  and need to cash out quickly — and a smooth wooden bar that serves up French pressed coffee in the mornings and craft beers at night. It’s got a reputation for being great, and back when he just graduated from Pratt, Steve had exhibited some of his artwork there. “I actually made a few of my first sales through this place,” Steve tells Bucky as they sit down at a corner table. It’s seat-yourself, and the place is just beginning to buzz. They’ll have a dinner rush, but they’ve beat it.

Steve can tell Bucky is taking it in, looking at the — admittedly bad — art on the wooden walls, at the mismatching chairs. He grabs a menu from where they’re stacked in the middle of the table and opens it up. “Looks good,” he says.

“No pressure, but this place only has the best burgers on the planet.”

“Planet?” Bucky asks, looking over the top of his menu. It’s too cute, and Steve gets the feeling that Bucky knows it.

Steve nods. “Maybe you shouldn’t get it, actually. It’d probably ruin every other burger for you for the rest of your life.”

“Well, with that recommendation,” Bucky says as he shuts his menu, looking at Steve like he’s the only person in the room. Steve, on the other hand, wants to hide behind his menu, because being looked at like that, and by Bucky, it’s, well, a lot.

Thankfully their waiter walks over to the table. “Hey everyone,” he says, and between his thick plastic glasses, midwestern accent and styled mustache, Steve wonders if he came to New York to be an artist or an actor. Probably. When Steve sees people like that, he feels a simultaneous surge of both pride and guilt. Pride, because he managed to make it; guilt, because so many people who are just as deserving won’t. “Welcome, hope you’re doing well.”

“Great, and you?” Bucky asks.

“Dandy,” he says, and it seems unironic. “You guys decided on something to drink?”

“I’ll try the Original Sin Cider,” Bucky says, glancing at Steve with an embarrassed look.

“Good stuff, and it’s local.”

“One for me too, then,” Steve says. “And can we get an order of the Mini Italian Meatballs?”

“Sure thing, buddy,” he says, scribbling a few notes on a little white pad before heading to the bar.

“You were reading my mind with those meatballs,” Bucky says, maybe glancing a bit downwards as he speaks.

“Too bad, you should’ve gotten some for yourself.” Bucky cocks his head to the side as Steve yawns a little behind his hand. “I’m a hungry boy,” he explains, smiling. “And these balls are all for me.”

Bucky groans, and not like he did last night. “That was bad, Steve. Real bad.”

“Doesn’t mean you’re getting any balls tonight.”

“We’ll see about that,” Bucky says, moving his foot underneath the table to link up his ankle with Steve’s. If it were happening to anyone else, Steve is sure he’d roll his eyes or ignore them for being so silly. But it’s him, and it’s Bucky, and it feels so right.

— —

“So why’d you have to go to work today anyway?” Steve asks as he picks a fry off Bucky’s plate. He’s done with his food, but Bucky is still eating his burger, laughing at how Steve devoured his. Steve can’t help it — ever since his giant high school growth spurt, he’s been hungry. It hasn’t slowed down, even as he’s gotten older. He’s sure it’ll bite him in the ass someday, but he’s fine with eating like a garbage can until then.

“Go in every Saturday,” Bucky says between bites. “Sometimes Sundays, too. Depends on how heavy the caseload is.”

“Now, I do create my own schedule, but I thought most white collar workers just went in Monday through Friday.”

Bucky pauses, grabbing his glass of water and taking a swig. Steve’s noticed that he had the first drink with the appetizer — which, okay, Steve let him share — but hasn’t ordered a refill. Which is fine, but just a bit of a change from last night. “We’re in the middle of a big case right now. The one that has to do with the people in the building your paintin’ is in.”

“So this is unusual?” Steve asks.

Bucky frowns. “Not really,” he responds, quiet. He glances up at Steve, looking a little miserable, a little worried, mouth a thin line. “I’m one of the youngest guys in the firm. I have to prove myself.”

Steve moves his foot underneath the table, resting his ankle next to Bucky’s. He wants to let him know that it’s okay — that Steve doesn’t mind. Steve’s schedule is flexible; if it means seeing Bucky more, Steve is fine with changing his schedule up a little, maybe making the effort to conform to Bucky’s a little. Waking up early wouldn’t be too hard, and would be worth it if it meant more time with him.

Then again, it’s a lot to be thinking of on their second date. Maybe he should slow down.

He doesn’t want to slow down.

“How long have you been working there?” Steve asks.

“A little over three years,” Bucky says. “And don’t get me wrong — it’s a good job, and it’s a lot more than most guys my age get, especially right outta school.”

“I’m sure,” Steve says.

“I’m really lucky,” Bucky says, a little adamant, and Steve wonders who he’s trying to convince. “They’ve given me a lot of good opportunities. I’m makin’ good connections, workin’ on high-profile cases. It’s all… they’re great opportunities.”

Steve tries smiling. “We wouldn’t have met if you didn’t have this job.”

Bucky seems to settle back a bit, shoulders relaxing. “Yeah,” he says, before eating a fry. “And believe me, I’m glad that happened.” Steve smiles as something bubbles up in him, looking down at the corner of the table.

“Hey,” Steve asks, “You wanna come back to my place after this? Maybe pop a movie in?” It’s more forward than Steve is used to being, but what he feels when he looks at Bucky isn’t typical.

“What kind of movie?” Bucky asks, eyebrows lifting.

Steve could take the bait, but he’s not sure he wants to spring his ‘I-Don’t-Watch-Porn-And-When-I’m-Forced-I-Only-Watch-Feminist-Porn’ talk on him, so he just says. “A musical, maybe.”

“Sounds great,” Bucky says, rubbing his foot against Steve’s. “Just great.”

— —

They take a Lyft back to Steve’s place. Steve offered to use his metro card, but Bucky insisted. Steve lives in a little Brooklyn brownstone that has an absurd rent, but is worth it. It’s two stories: he uses the bottom floor as his studio, and he lives up top. He explains this to Bucky, who glances at him. “Will you show me your studio sometime?” he asks.

“‘Course,” Steve says. “If you want to, we could—“

“Nah,” Bucky says. “I’m thinkin’ Chicago?”

“Perfect,” Steve says, as they climb up the staircase to the second floor. The second floor is laid out into three rooms and a bathroom. It’s honestly not dissimilar to Bucky’s, except he has a full wall between his kitchen and living room. Except while everything about Bucky’s place is cold and impersonal, Steve’s is lived-in. It’s full of knick-knacks and gifts from his artistic friends. He has a bunch of little popsicle sculptures on the coffee table drying from the class he teaches at the YMCA on Wednesdays. He has a full bookshelf on the far wall that’s chock full of titles about art and history, some modern fiction shoved in, too. There’s even a plate on the couch leftover from his lunch which, frankly, is a little embarrassing. He hadn’t known what tonight was going to be like — he hadn’t really planned.

Steve thinks of Bucky’s embarrassed look as he neatened up his shoes when Steve walked in. He wonders what Bucky must think of his place, which is an actual mess.

“If you give me a minute, I can—“

“Clean-up?” Bucky is grinning. “Don’t worry ‘bout it unless you got some other guy’s clothes layin’ around, or somethin’ like that.”

“I don’t!” Steve insists, which just makes Bucky laugh, a loud and clear sound.

Steve frowns and Bucky closes the space between them. He goes up on his tiptoes and presses a smiling peck onto Steve’s lips. “Let’s get a couple drinks, okay?” Steve nods, a little dumb and giddy from that kiss. “Lead on MacDuff.”

Steve walks them into the kitchen through an opening in the wall. When he looks at the fridge he grins. “Hey Buck, want a root beer float?”

“Hell yeah,” Bucky says, pulling himself onto the kitchen counter and dangling his legs, feet clanking against the wooden cabinets beneath.

Steve grins, opening up the fridge and pulling two frosty bottles of IBC root beer. “That’s fancy,” Bucky says. “Don’t think I’ve had root beer from a bottle since I was a kid.”

“I think it’s better than the canned stuff,” Steve says, reaching over to a cupboard on Bucky’s left and grabbing two glasses from it.

“You should tap a keg. Keep it in the corner to impress all your second dates.”

Steve doesn’t want to say that he’s kind of hoping that there won’t be any more second dates, but that is definitely the sort of brand of crazy that you shouldn’t say on a second date. “Would it impress you?”

“I wouldn’t be unimpressed,” Bucky hazards, and Steve can feel his eyes on his ass when he bends down to open the freezer and retrieve the vanilla ice cream. “I think there’re things about you that I’m more impressed by, though.”

“Like what?” Steve asks, straightening up. He sets the carton of ice cream down on the counter. He has to get to one of the drawers Bucky’s leg is in front of, but rather than letting Bucky know, he reaches between his legs and pushes them to the side by his thighs. Bucky gets the picture pretty quick and moves, but it doesn’t stop Steve from resting a hand on Bucky’s thigh when he opens the drawer up and fishes through it to find the ice cream scooper. Once he grabs it, he gives the meat of Bucky’s thigh a quick squeeze as he closes the drawer.

“Oh, there’re a few things,” Bucky says, a little breathy. Steve doesn’t know how tonight is going to end — how he wants it to end, either — but he decides that the best course of action for the moment is to keep focused on the task at hand: root beer floats. “I like your cute ears,” Bucky says while Steve scoops two generous scoops into either glass. He unscrews the caps off the bottles and begins pouring them in. “And your lips.” Steve goes a little red, and maybe he should’ve expected Bucky to add, “And your blush” but somehow he doesn’t, and it just makes him blush more as he focuses on not letting the foam of the root beer float bubble over the edge of the glass.

“Quite a list,” Steve says.

“You’re quite a guy. And that’s only looks. There’re a whole lot of other things, too.” He glances down for a moment and Steve swallows hard. Then, he looks up. “Spoons?” he asks.

“Drawer to your left,” Steve says. Bucky hops off the counter and rustles through Steve’s unorganized silverware drawer before he emerges victoriously with two spoons.

“You should get an organizer,” Bucky says.

Steve shrugs. “Never bothered me all that much.” He pauses. “You grab the bottles, and I’ll get the glasses?” Bucky nods, grabbing the bottles—each has about 1/3rd of the soda left—and following Steve into the living room. He’s got an old ratty couch, a hand me down from his mother, but a pretty nice TV; which, admittedly, he mostly uses for watching Project Runway and Netflix documentaries about food. But he boots it up and finds Chicago on demand.

“I’m honestly glad you weren’t kiddin’ about watchin’ the movie,” Bucky says, scooting over and resting his side on Steve’s. “I’m pooped.”

“Pooped?” Steve asks as a saxophone begins to play onscreen.

Bucky nods before spooning out a foamy chunk of vanilla ice cream. “Long fuckin’ day.” He pauses, glancing up and smiling. “At least until I went out with this guy. Top-notch. Total stud muffin. Bet he looks even better on leg day.”

Steve can’t help but look over at Bucky, who is attacking his root beer float with vigor. Steve usually has root beer on hand — it’s one of his pick-me-ups after a long day — but he had guessed Bucky would like the float idea, so he stocked up on ice cream that afternoon at the grocery store. He feels happy that he was right; it seems like a little sign that he knows Bucky well enough to guess that he’d like this little gesture.

“You’re not so bad yourself.”

“Yeah?” Bucky asks as All That Jazz starts playing.

Steve shrugs. “For a lawyer.”

Bucky snorts. “Y’know, that’s part of why my boss hired me.” Steve leans back a little. “Yeah, he said I was halfway between good-ol’-boy, because of the accent, and sexy. Enough to sway the jury with charm and looks.” He purses his mouth before adding, “Nothin’ about how I handle the law, though. Honestly, I still don’t know if he actually thinks I’m a good lawyer,” he adds, attention focused on his float.

Steve shifts, a little uncomfortable. “Is it even legal to hire someone because of their looks?”

“Discriminating against someone else because of it, yes. But I also had a 3.9 from Columbia Law and had interned in their office for a summer. They’re the best, and I was the best, so that’s how I got the job.” He looks to the TV. “Sorry,” he says, a minute later. “I don’t want to come off like I’m braggin’.”

Actually, Steve thanks, it sort of sounds like the opposite. But he doesn’t say that. Instead he just says, “It’s alright. I want to know more about you.” From the way that Bucky looks back at him, he thinks he may’ve said the right thing.

But it also breaks his heart, the surprise in Bucky’s expression.

“Not used to people wantin’ to know much more than the size of my dick.”

Steve knows he says it just for effect, to break the tension of the moment, but it makes Steve snort root beer from his nose anyway. And that makes Bucky laugh, and Steve’s laughing with him, and God, everything about this feels so, so good.

— —

Steve wakes-up with the On-Demand screen replaying advertisements for mediocre TV shows on repeat and Bucky’s head in his lap. Their discarded root beer floats sit on the floor, and Bucky’s got a hand beneath his shirt, resting on his stomach. Through his just-awake haze, Steve recognizes just how beautiful Bucky is, how nice his long lashes look when his eyes are shut. He falls in love with the way that Bucky shucked one sock off in his sleep, but has the other still on. His second toe is bigger than his big toe.

And Steve really, really likes him, he thinks as he drifts back to sleep.

— —

They awaken to the sound of an annoying car horn ring tone. It’s the same as Bucky’s alarm was the other day, but when it blares, Bucky swears. Loudly. “Turn it off and come back,” Steve mumbles, already missing Bucky’s solid warmth.

“Not my alarm,” Bucky says. “Didn’t set an alarm.”

Steve groans, it’s childish but he wants his Bucky back—

Oh. When’d Bucky become his Bucky?

Bucky fumbles with his phone and answers it. “Becca, you alright?” He starts pacing, running a hand through his already mussed hair. “Well, you’re callin’ me early on a Sunday, forgive me if I assumed it was an emergency.” He pauses, glancing at Steve. “Yeah, well, I had somethin’ goin’ on.” He groans. “Jesus, Becs, I was busy.” Bucky turns away quick, says quietly, “I’m to gonna give you the credit by tellin’ you you’re right, but you ain’t wrong.” Exhaling, he says, “I’ll call you this afternoon, yeah? … Love you, too.”

“Your sister?” Steve asks as Bucky hangs up and shoves the phone back in his pocket. He hovers at the edge of the couch, glancing down to Steve. Steve grins and pats the space between his legs.

Smiling, Bucky sits back down again, curling up against Steve’s chest. “Yeah. Most college kids’d be sleepin’ off a hangover right now, but she’s up and at ‘em.”

“What time is it anyway?” Steve asks. This whole night has felt a little surreal, and frankly, he’s a bit disappointed that it’s daytime.

“A little after nine,” Bucky says. “Don’t remember the last time I slept this late.”

“Is it a problem?” Steve asks, and his worry must show through his voice, because Bucky laughs.

“Not one bit.” He rests a hand on Steve’s thigh. “Best sleep I’ve had in a long time.”

“I think my back disagrees with you,” Steve says, and Bucky starts lifting himself off, apologizing, but Steve’s not having any of that. He grabs Bucky around the waist and pulls him back. “Nuh-uh,” Steve says, resting his face against Bucky’s neck. “Need my Bucky Bear to fall back asleep.”

Steve winces a little; it sounds so stupid and childish. But Bucky relaxes and says, “Bucky Bear?” and Steve can hear the smile in his voice. And it’s not cruel, just amused.

“If you don’t say anything now, then it’s gonna stick.” There’s a moment of hesitation. “Duly noted,” Steve says, somber. He liked the nickname.

“No!” Bucky says, quick. “No, it ain’t the nickname. It’s just…” He takes a deep breath, and Steve can feel his stomach expand beneath his arms. “Sorry, I just don’t have many relationships that last until mornin’ cuddlin’, let alone cute nicknames.” Steve doesn’t quite know what to make of that, so he just holds on a little tighter. “Well, frankly, I don’t have many relationships.” He pauses. “Sometimes I think I’m married to my job.”

Maybe it’s the cute morning hair, or the way he subtly told his sister he was hooking up, but Steve wonders for a brief moment what it would like to be married to Bucky. Stressful, maybe, with how hard he works, but he likes the idea of waking up with a big pile of Bucky Barnes on him a lot more than he should admit to.

“Me neither,” Steve admits. “But I could get used to this if you could.”

“So,” Bucky starts. “Are we, um?”

“Um what, Bucky?” Steve asks, because he’s kind of a dick, and he wants to hear it from Bucky’s mouth.

“Exclusive,” Bucky decides on, which is a tricky, and lawyerish way of asking the question Steve has been wondering about himself.

“If you want to be, then I’m more than game,” Steve says. “But we don’t need to rush into anything if you don’t want to.”

Bucky pulls away, and while Steve is sad for a moment, he’s more than happy with Bucky turning to straddle his hips. He bites down a little on his plush, red bottom lip before saying, “I wanna.”

For a moment, Steve wants the whole situation to turn sexual—because Jesus, the sight of Bucky with his hair tousled and red lips chapped is enough to make the strongest man weak—but he decides that there’s something he’d much rather do. “Pancakes?” Steve asks.

Bucky furrows his brows, a strange little smile on his lips. “Pancakes?” he echoes back.

“I’ll make them,” he says. “If you want some.”

“‘Course I do,” Bucky says. “I’m not an idiot.”

They pause, staring at each other, before Steve clears his throat. “You’ll have to, y’know, move that caboose if you want this to happen.”

Bucky snorts, plopping himself down on the other side of the couch. “Caboose? Don’t tell me I’m dating a ninety-year old man.”

“With the caboose of the Statue of David,” Steve responds, hoisting himself off and walking—maybe a bit showy—off to the kitchen. Bucky whistles, appreciative, and Steve maybe blushes just a little.

— —

“I’m comin’,” Bucky says, a little breathless on the other end of the phone. “Just gimme a few more minutes.”

It’s a common enough phrase for Bucky; Steve’s lost count of the number of times he’s heard it in the past three months.

“Where are you?” Steve asks, glancing at the tickets in his hand. The movie starts in ten.

“Um, just leavin’ the office. Gonna try to—“ He cuts off, swearing at something or someone, and Steve can’t help but chuckle. “Tryin’ to get a cab,” he says. “And failin’.” He sighs. “No Lyfts within ten minutes. When does it start again?”

Steve glances up at the marquee. There’s a showing of the movie at 8:45; that’d give Bucky an extra half hour to get here. “I can trade the tickets in for 8:45.”

Bucky sighs. “Sorry,” he says.

“It’s alright,” Steve responds, smile a little thin. “Have you eaten?”

“Uh, a Twix Bar.”

And Steve lets himself grin as he rolls his eyes. “I’ll trade in the tickets and go across the street to grab sandwiches to sneak in.”

“Bless you,” Bucky says, before making a little noise of triumph. “Got a cab! I’ll see you soon.”

“Yeah,” Steve says, moving into line. “Soon.”

He hears the rustle as Bucky slides into the cab and gives the address to the driver. “Just fifteen minutes.”

“Okay,” Steve says, but Bucky doesn’t hang up. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Just said that.”

“You’re not saying much else.”

“Mmm,” Bucky responds. “Can’t think of anythin’ appropriate for a public conversation.” Steve blushes a little, and then harder when Bucky adds, softer, “You blushin’ now baby?”

  “Bucky,” Steve says, false scandalized.

“See you soon,” Bucky says through his laughter before hanging up.

Steve clutches the tickets in one hand, his phone in the other, and reminds himself that some people are worth the half hour wait.

— —

“Can’t believe you know my favorite sandwich,” Bucky says, looping his fingers through Steve’s belt loops and dragging him into his apartment.

“Panera doesn’t have that many things on the menu,” Steve responds, letting Bucky guide him towards the wall. He’s careful as he pushes Steve against it, biting down on his bottom lip as he looks Steve up and down.

“Nobody’s ever known my favorite sandwich before,” Bucky says, quiet. Bucky leans in, and Steve expects a kiss, but instead Bucky rests his head against the crook of Steve’s neck. Steve reaches up and threads his fingers through Bucky’s hair. He doesn’t know what to say. Well, he does, but he’s not sure saying ‘I want to be the only one who ever knows that about you’ isn’t the appropriate response. Thankfully, Bucky continues, “I don’t know yours.”

“That’s because I’m the one who does all the ordering,” Steve tries. Bucky wraps his arms around Steve’s lower back and pulls him in.

“Sorry,” he says.

“Really Buck, the sandwich thing isn’t a big deal.”

“’S not the sandwich,” Bucky says, voice muffled by Steve’s neck. “It’s the havin’ to order them part.”

“I’m happy to,” Steve says.

“That’s not the—“ Steve pulls away, and Bucky’s eyes are a little red when Steve looks into them.

“I love you,” Steve says.

He’s meant to say it for a while, but the phrase surprises even him, though he keeps his expressions serious. He needs to Bucky to believe him; he needs him to know that he’s in this, that he wants this, and no amount of waiting for Bucky to get off of work will have any effect on his intentions.

“Never had anybody say that to me, either,” Bucky says. He takes a shallow breath, then grabs Steve’s hip and pulls him in. “And I’ve never said it to anybody else.” Steve bites back a ‘No time like the present,’ trying to keep his own insecurity in check. “But I love you, Steve.” He swallows hard, and Steve grins. “I love you, and I love you, and I lo—“

He’s cut off by Steve’s kiss, ecstatic and sloppy. He’s kissing Bucky’s lips and his cheeks, his forehead and his chin. He wants to cover Bucky with kisses, his head and his hair and his torso and ass, because they love each other, and there’s no feeling better in this world than loving someone and having that person loving you in return.

Bucky’s laughing underneath Steve’s adamant kisses. “Steve,” he says. “C’mon, we’re not even in the bedroom.”

“So we’ll go there,” Steve says, scooping Bucky up under his ass. Bucky gives a little yelp, but twists his legs around Steve’s waist, laughing loud until Steve dumps him on the bed. He bounces a few times, then settles, spreading his legs up with a wicked little grin. “Kiss me,” Bucky says, and Steve loves him, and wants to kiss him until his lips turn blue.

Steve hops onto the bed, landing on his hands and knees beneath Bucky’s open legs. He closes the space between them with a little crawl, grabbing Bucky’s head on either side and pulling him in for a hard kiss, all tongue. Bucky buckles up beneath him, and Steve moves one hand down to the small of Bucky’s back, pressing him forward into Steve. Bucky groans, maneuvering them down, so Bucky is on his back. He wraps his legs around Steve’s lower torso, and Steve can’t help the little desperate noise that escapes his lips.

“Say it again,” Bucky says, breathless.

“I love you,” Steve obliges. Bucky wriggles beneath him, grinning so hard, and Steve can’t help but reciprocate. “I love you, James Barnes.” He says it again, pressing kisses to Bucky’s face between each word.

“Jesus Christ, Steve,” Bucky says. “Now that we’ve got that settled, maybe we should take off our clothes before I cream my pants.”

“May wanna see that,” he says, then leans down to whisper, “Would love you anyway,” into Bucky’s ear. Bucky shudders.

“Jesus,” he says.

“Nope,” Steve responds, starting on his shirt. “Just Steve.”

Bucky rolls his eyes as Steve gets his shirt off. He flicks Steve’s nipple. “Not funny.”

“But you love me,” Steve says, a little tentative.

Then Bucky’s grinning. “Yeah asshole, still love you.”

They quickly dispose of each other’s clothing, letting it fall wherever in the haste of wanting to be naked as quickly as possible. Somehow Bucky’s undershirt will land on the doorknob, something that Steve will quietly think about and chuckle for days after.

But now they’re focused on each other, slowing down from their earlier haste. Steve strokes Bucky with one hand, prepping him with the other. Bucky is so tight around his fingers, but egging Steve on, telling him he wants more, he wants more, and so Steve obliges, slipping in a third finger, and Bucky clenches around him, wriggling, losing control in a way that he never does outside of the bedroom. “Please,” he says, voice cracking, and Steve wants to tease and taunt, and make Bucky beg, but when Bucky’s looking so wrecked beneath him, pecs and abs glistening, hair mussed from Steve’s hands…

Steve grunts, letting go of Bucky and reaching over the nightstand where a condom and small bottle of lube are waiting for him. He fumbles with the condom wrapper, pulling his fingers out from Bucky to get the damn thing open. Bucky sucks in a shallow breath, and Steve makes the mistake of looking over at him, head thrown back and breathing hard. God, he could come just from looking.

But he wants to make Bucky feel good, feel happy, to fill him up with the love that Steve’s been holding on to this whole time, and has only just expressed. So he gets the damn condom on, rubs lube over his painfully hard dick, spreads Bucky’s legs apart with a gentle hand, then lines himself up. “Ready?” Steve asks, always wanting to be sure.

“Get in there,” Bucky huffs, so Steve goes ahead, pushing in suddenly. He grins as Bucky’s eyes flutter shut, pushes in slowly just to see Bucky’s nipples harden, to watch the curve of Bucky’s throat as he throws his head back. He pushes in and pulls out slow, relishing the feeling of Bucky’s legs as Bucky wraps them around his waist, the slippery feel of precome on Bucky’s dick as he feels it between their warm bodies.

It’s like time moves differently, and the only thing Steve can even think of is how warm Bucky is, how good it feels.

“Faster,” Bucky grunts, when both of them know what’s coming. Steve obliges, moving quicker, grabbing Bucky in his hand and pumping him in rhythm with his thrusts, or at least the best he can do as he can barely string a sentence together.

And then Bucky shudders beneath him, clenching around Steve, spilling onto Steve’s hand. Steve fucks him through it, barely able to hold on until Bucky whispers, “Love you,” and then he’s coming, breathing heavy and yelling something, he doesn’t know what, before flopping onto Bucky, still seeing stars.

— —

Steve comes back to reality with Bucky’s fingers in his hair, pressing sweet kisses to his temple. Steve takes a shuddering breath, kisses Bucky’s neck, then uses all his strength to pull himself up, and out of Bucky. Bucky gives a little whimper, and Steve flops to his side. He pulls the used condom off, ties it up and tosses it into the little garbage can Bucky put next to his bed a month into their relationship.

“’S your turn to clean-up,” Bucky says, curling into Steve’s side. His eyes are shut, his eyelashes long.

“Don’t wanna,” Steve responds, knowing that he will… Eventually. Instead, he’d rather just luxuriate with Bucky’s come on his stomach, sticky and wonderful between his fingers.

Bucky scrunches up his nose. “Gross,” he says, and it sounds so petulant that Steve has to laugh.

He wonders how many people get to see this side of Bucky. He wonders if anyone but he does. It would be sad—a shame to keep this Bucky, his Bucky away from the world, isolated. But on the other hand, Steve feels lucky, being chosen to see this side of the scary lawyer that most people are used to.

Sometimes he wonders how Bucky can stand it, being two people who’re so different. He seems so tired. Maybe that’s why.

“I love you,” Steve says softly, because he can. Bucky snuffles, pushing closer to Steve’s bare side.

“I’d love you more if you’d go get a washcloth,” Bucky says. “Some of us gotta go to work in the mornin’.”

Steve sighs, but smiles as he presses a kiss to Bucky’s forehead. “Fine,” he says, standing up and heading to the bathroom.

“I love your ass,” Bucky calls from the bed.

Steve turns around, dissolving into laughter, and Bucky joins him.

And it’s good.

— —

“Ham and cheese,” Steve says, running his fingers through Bucky’s hair as Bucky drifts off against his chest.

“Huh?” Bucky mumbles.

“Ham and cheese sandwich. Swiss cheese is my favorite, but cheddar works. Pickles, lettuce, no tomato, and I actually like horseradish sauce on it.”

Bucky makes a little contented noise. “I’ll remember,” he says. “I’ll remember.”

— —

And things stay good, at least until Bucky’s trial starts heating up.

And it’s not that it’s bad, per se, it’s just that Bucky’s practically non-existent.

“Everything seemed to be going great,” Steve complains to Natasha one evening over Manhattans. “But now it’s radio silence, except for emails.” Steve sighs.

“Sexy emails?” Natasha asks.

“Is ‘everything he does is sexy’ a bad answer?” Steve lets himself crack a smile as Natasha rolls her eyes.

“So no dick pics?” she asks.

Steve raises an eyebrow. “He’s a lawyer,” he says. “Probably the profession least likely to send dick pics.”

“Disappointing,” Natasha responds, before taking a long sip of her drink. “When’s the trial?”

“Next week.” Stirring his drink with the little straw that came in it, he adds, “He told me I could come, if I wanted to.”

“That’s something,” Natasha says, then adds, “Does this place have mozzarella sticks?”

“Too fancy, but maybe bruschetta?”

She makes a face. “Tomatoes,” she says, and Steve sighs. “Hey.” She puts a hand on Steve’s arm. “He’s been in touch, right?”

“He emails me at least once a day, usually not until pretty late.”

“Because he’s working?” Steve nods. “Think maybe he’d want some mozzarella sticks?”

Steve grins.

— —

“I shouldn’t be pickin’ up, but Jesus, do you know how long it’s been since I’ve heard your voice?”

“Two weeks, four days.” He pauses. “Maybe seven hours.”

“Six hours if I count your snoring,” Bucky adds, a little quieter. Steve wonders if he’s alone in the office, or not. He and Natasha only got enough food for Bucky. He didn’t count on having to feed the entire firm. “But baby, it’s late.” Steve glances at his watch; it’s almost 2.

“I have something for you,” Steve says, clutching the plastic take-out bag hard in his hand. Natasha gives him a little encouraging smile. “I’m actually outside your building.”

“Steve?”

“Sorry, it’s stupid, I—““No Steve, what, I’m just…” He pauses, chuckling a little. “It’s unexpected, but I’m happy. Can I come down?”

“Yeah,” Steve says. “I’ll be in the lobby.”

Steve hangs up, and Natasha bumps her shoulder against his. “You forgot the most important part,” she says, and Steve furrows his brows, trying to think, to remember. “It’s me, you dumbass,” she says, and Steve lets out a little breath.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t worry too much,” she says. “You do tend to get a little lost when you’re thinking about this guy. I’m actually kind of excited to meet him.”

And of course, that makes nerves tingle in the pit of Steve’s stomach. It’s a few minutes of tense silence, Steve holding the bag tight. And then the elevator dings, and Bucky steps out. Steve’s got a tight smile, worried because, well, Bucky looks like crap. His suit jacket is undone, white shirt rumpled beneath. His tie seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way, and there are huge bags underneath his eyes. Even his hair is askew. But after looking to the security guard and across the lobby, his eyes meet Steve’s and his face spreads wide into a huge grin.

Steve grins back.

“Gimme the bag,” Natasha says.

“What?” Steve asks. She raises her eyebrows, and he complies.

Good thing, because Bucky barrels across the lobby and over to Steve, enveloping him in a bone crushing hug. For a moment, Steve is stunned, but then he hugs Bucky back. “Steve,” Bucky says, quiet and reverent, and then he pulls away. “You not some kind of desert mirage? Not a trick of my sad, tired eyes?”

“Pretty sure I’m real,” Steve says, chuckling.

And then Bucky is pulling away for real this time, but grabbing Steve’s hand and dragging him to a little nook near the closed newsstand in the lobby. “Glad you’re here,” he says before kissing Steve, open-mouthed and hot. His hand slips down to Steve’s ass, and he gives it a possessive squeeze. “Missed you,” he says against Steve’s lips. “Missed you so much.”

Knowing he should pull away, and introduce him to Natasha, Steve lets himself follow Bucky’s lead, opening his mouth and giving Bucky’s hips a squeeze. He slides a knee between Bucky’s legs and nips at his bottom lip. Bucky makes a little desperate noise from the back of his throat and God, how does Steve go a day, let alone three weeks without this man?

About to ask Bucky if he wants to take this to the lobby restroom, Bucky pulls away suddenly, going rigid, hand still on Steve’s ass. Because he’s a dumbass, Steve ignores it and kisses at Bucky’s jaw, sliding his arms to the small of Bucky’s back, trying to pull him back in. “Steve,” Bucky says, half-elbowing Steve in the side. “This is your friend Natasha, isn’t it?”

Shit.

Natasha is standing in front of them, plastic take-out bag in one hand, the other on her cocked hip. “And this is Bucky?” she asks. “Or I’ve gotten some very wrong information.”

Bucky clears his throat, pulling away from Steve — regrettably moving his hand from Steve’s ass — and tries to straighten his jacket. “James Barnes,” he says, using the not-ass-hand to reach out towards Natasha. She’s smirking, but shakes it.

“Natasha Romanoff.” She dangles the bag in front of her. “I think this is for you.”

Bucky looks back at Steve, “This wasn’t some ploy to get into my pants?” he asks, looking near-concerned.

“No?” Steve says, probably more concerned than Bucky.

Bucky takes a step back, laughing a little uncontrollably. “God, you’re…” He shakes his head, glancing at Steve with a little smile, then he looks back at Natasha. “What’s in the bag?” he asks.

“Mozzarella sticks,” Steve starts.

“They may be a bit cold by now,” Natasha interrupts, the ‘because you two were being horny bastards’ implied.

“Some veggie spring rolls, a peach, and a bottle of root beer.”

“Enough for two?” Bucky asks, then lets out a little sigh. “Or three?”

“Nice save,” Natasha says. “But we’ve got to get going. It is past two in the morning.”

“Is it?” Bucky asks, moving back to Steve and grabbing his hand. He interlaces his fingers with Steve’s, and presses their sides together. “Time has no meanin’ to me now.”

“How long’ve you been working?” Steve asks.

“I caught three hours of sleep at my desk this afternoon,” he says, then adds, “I smell, Steve. I smell real bad.”

Steve laughs as Natasha rolls her eyes. “One more week, right?” Steve asks.

Bucky’s smile falters for a second. “On this one,” he says, and Steve can see how tight his smile is.

Steve squeezes his hand. “You’ll be great,” Steve says.

Bucky sighs. “But,” he begins, “I should probably get back up there.” Natasha holds out the bag again, and Bucky takes it. “Thank you,” he says to her, grave and sincere. “I hope we meet again under… less embarrassing circumstances.” The mannerly effect is somewhat ruined by his squack as Steve pinches his ass.

But Natasha just laughs. “I’m sure we will,” she says, then glances at Steve, and that smirk means one thing: she’s about to embarrass him. And there’s nothing he can do. “Since Steve can barely shut up about you; he’s like a kid with a crush.”

Steve cringes, but Bucky looks at him all happiness in his grin. “It’s mutual.” And Steve wants to melt.

— —

“He’s cute,” Natasha begins, once they’re in a cab back to Steve’s place. It’s late enough that they don’t want to take the subway, and Natasha knows that if she barges into her apartment at this hour, Clint will probably fuss, so she’d rather just spend the night at Steve’s. Steve doesn’t mind; he’s felt lonely since Bucky got so busy.

Not that he has much of a right to get lonely; they’ve only been together four and a half months. Still, it’s hard not to feel an absence when he’s been there.

“I love him,” Steve says, and feels warm with the words. It’s the first time he’s said it to anyone but Bucky, and something about him feels free.

“I think he’s in love with your ass,” Natasha says, and Steve nearly chokes. “But,” Natasha adds, on Steve’s calmed a little, “Who wouldn’t be?”

“Jeez Nat,” he says. She chuckles, and he asks, a little softer. “Did you like him?”

“You know that all I’ve ever wanted you to be is happy, and maybe a little less impulsive.” She takes a deep breath, leaning back in her seat. “I’m worried, because of his work. He looks frazzled and undone right now. But, I also saw the way he lit up when he saw you, and it’s hard to argue with that kind of sincerity.”

“So you liked him?”

“We need to do lunch, the three of us. Then I’ll decide. But my first impression was positive.”

Steve smiles; that counts as a win for him.

— —

The doorbell at his studio rings promptly at noon. Steve looks up from the painting he’s working on — blues, so many blues; one gallery owner he likes to work with mentioned that he’s in his own blue period, but it seems happy — setting his palate down, confused. He doesn’t have any meetings today, and most of his friends know better than to visit him in the studio; they always get roped into sitting for a portrait, or end up covered in specks of paint. Sam’s best suit got ruined that way; not even a somewhat astronomical dry cleaning bill could save it from its painted ruin.

So it’s with a healthy bout of confusion that Steve opens the door to see a kid in an outfit from one of those overpriced websites that you can order food delivery from. “Steve Rogers?” he asks.

Steve nods, slow, eyebrows furrowed. “Sorry, but I didn’t—“

“It’s all paid for,” the kid says, frankly looking a bit bored. “One sandwich: ham, swiss cheese, pickles, lettuce and… horseradish sauce?” he says, glancing up at Steve for confirmation. Blushing a little, Steve nods. “Alright,” the kid continues. “Bag of chips, peach, an extra pickle, and a bottle of root beer.”

“Whose it from?” Steve asks, though he’s pretty sure he already knows.

“Uh,” the kid says, fumbling for the receipt that’s stapled to the paper bag the food is in, then reading, “James Buchanan Barnes?” off of it.

Steve can’t help but smile. “Sounds right.” He pauses. “Did he add a tip?” Steve asks, because he remembers being a pizza delivery boy in high school, and the assholes who didn’t think tipping was necessary.

The kid snorts. “Yeah he did,” he says. “Enough that I waited five minutes so I’d be here exactly at noon, just like he wanted.”

Steve laughs and thanks the delivery boy. His phone buzzes almost as soon as he shuts the door.

Love you, the text from Bucky says. Then another, But horseradish sauce? With ham? Really?

In response, Steve sends Bucky a selfie of him enjoying the sandwich. Shirtless. A portrait of Bucky behind him in blues.

Best sandwich ever.

— —

Bucky’s trial is expected to last at least a week, but maybe more. “Hopefully a week,” Bucky says on the phone. “We may get fucked, and it’ll be over in a day.” He pauses. “It’d suck for me, but that may be better for humanity.”

Steve laughs, but it’s hollow. He knows it’s true.

Bucky’s firm is high-powered. They tend to handle cases where rich white men are getting charged for something they absolutely did, and getting them out through arcane loopholes. They’ve cost the taxpayers and nice guys a lot of money, and saved a lot of assholes from prison. “It’s not good stuff, what I’m doing,” Bucky explained a few weeks ago. “But it pays the bills. It’ll get my career goin’ where I need it to go.”

Which is true, in a way. But for the countless hours he spends at the office, even Steve thinks he’s getting underpaid, especially compared to the seven-figure salaries his employers get. Bucky assures him that it’s only temporary, that things will get better, but Steve isn’t so sure. But Bucky doesn’t complain, so Steve doesn’t either. He just wants this trial to be over so Bucky can get some sleep. Preferably in Steve’s bed. With Steve next to him. Forever.

The trial ends up taking most of the week, and on what Bucky expects to be the last day, Steve comes to watch. Bucky invited him, a little unsure, but Steve decided why the hell not? If his boyfriend is a hot shot lawyer, he may as well see what all the fuss is about. If nothing else, it’ll give him a better idea of what it is Bucky actually does every day.

The courtroom is packed. They’re at the state court, and there are people milling all over, waiting for things to begin. Most are men wearing suits; the room is disproportionately male, and white, a little overweight. It’s a far cry from the artistic circles that Steve tends to hang about in, even if in his heart he knows that most of his work hangs on the walls of people like these men. (He attempts to take solace in the fact that he donates at least 1/4th of the money he makes on every painting to the Boys and Girls Clubs. Somehow that doesn’t make up for it when he sees these guys in the flesh. The knowledge that they purchase his work for investment purposes makes him cringe. It’s not what he wanted when he started all of this.)

There’s a lot of rambunctious laughter; according to Bucky, they’re going to win, and there’s a jovial atmosphere on his side of the court room. There are some stressed-looking lawyers on the opposing attorney’s side, a slight man in a baggy suit, a woman with long, braided hair, staring daggers at Bucky and his associates. A few other people sit quietly, tapping on their phones or staring at the floor.

Steve takes a seat in the back just as the baliff asks everyone to stand for the judge.

Frankly, a lot of what they’re talking about is over Steve’s head. He doesn’t know a lot of the details of the case, but the basic gist is that Bucky’s client fucked over a lot of people, buying their apartments below market value when they couldn’t pay the rent, taking the buildings and bulldozing them to create high-rise apartment buildings that those people can’t afford to live in. They want some acknowledgement and financial restitution. The guy doesn’t want to pay. This isn’t the first time he’s done this, but this is the most brazen attempt.

Bucky’s not doing much of the arguing, just sitting at the bench withs one of the head honchos of the firm. Red-faced Johann Schmidt is taking the lead, grabbing at the legal pad Bucky takes notes on every so often and tensely whispering something in Bucky’s ear. Bucky once told him that his breath always smells of sauerkraut. Getting a look at him in person, Steve can’t say it surprises him. He wants to laugh at Bucky’s self-control as Schmidt talks into his face, but it would be… inappropriate.

And not much about this trial is funny.

A woman in the front row, sitting directly behind the opposing counsel begins crying quietly halfway through the morning. Another person — her husband, it looks like — storms out. The opposing counsel are trying their best, but Bucky’s side has all sorts of tricks up their sleeve: defendants they’ve chosen at the last moment, new arcane laws to quote. They have something slippery ready for every remark the opposing council makes. By the time that the closing statements are over, it seems hopeless. Steve doesn’t know the law well enough to know who is right and wrong in the eyes of the Constitution, but he does get a chill knowing that it’s even a question, and that Bucky is obviously on the wrong side of it.

“Some show,” the man next to Steve says, stretching his legs out a bit. He’s an older man, with greyish red hair. His suit is well-tailored and he wears a watch that probably cost more than Steve’s frankly astronomical rent.

Steve nods. “Yeah,” he responds, not really wanting to talk to the man. Steve wants quiet. He wants to think. There are too many things going on in his head right now, and he needs to sort them out.

“You’re a friend of James’,” he says, not really a question.

A bit startled, Steve nods. “Yes,” he says. He hadn’t realized that the man works with Bucky.

The man smiles, leans back just a bit in his chair. “Maybe a bit closer than friends?” he asks, and Steve can’t help but balk. There’s a practiced causalness to the way he’s looking at Steve, but Steve can tell that the man is watching him closely.

“Um,” he says, brilliantly. “We’re, um.”

“It’s alright,” the man says, patting Steve’s shoulder as he shifts in his chair. “I’m Alexander Pierce,” he says, reaching his other hand out for Steve to shake. “I’m one of the partners at Jimmy’s firm.”

“Steve Rogers,” Steve responds. The man is Bucky’s boss, a founder of the firm, and the first name on the law firm’s title. He’s a big shot, one of those guys who you pay millions of dollars to in order to keep your life from going to total hell when you’ve broken the law. His words have built corporations, crumbled government agencies. He’s gotten companies off for dumping nuclear waste, but Steve would’ve never guessed, just sitting next to him. Just sitting next to him he had seen rich but benign.

“The artist?” Pierce asks, and Steve nods. Pierce smiles a little. “I actually have one of your early pieces in my summer house on the Cape.” Steve grinds his teeth a little. “A really beautiful piece, sort of a view from the Brooklyn Bridge in orange but abstracted. Stellar work.” Steve remembers that piece. He liked that piece. “I’d love to commission a piece from you, if you’ve got the time. I’m building a new home near Park City that could use something special. My kids love to ski.”

Steve purses his lips. “Thank you, but I’m actually not taking any commissions at the moment.”

Pierce gets a little twinkle in his eye. “Things that serious with our boy?”

Despite his discomfort, Steve feels himself start to blush. “Um,” he responds. Brilliant. He hopes his lack of eloquence doesn’t somehow rub off on Bucky and get him fired.

“I think we can all tell that Jimmy’s been a bit distracted as of late. He’s still doing good work, of course, but maybe a bit less than he used to. Some of his work on this case was… well…” He shrugs. “It’s a good thing we’re going to win.”

“I…” Steve starts, but isn’t sure how to respond.

Thankfully, Steve is spared answering Bucky’s boss by Bucky himself, bounding up to Steve with a grin on his face. “Steve,” he says. “You’re here.”

“Hey James,” Steve responds, glancing back at Pierce, who is just watching them with this bemused little smirk. Bucky’s face falls, and then he straightens up.

“Mr. Pierce,” Bucky says. “Good to see you. Didn’t realize you were comin’ to the trial.”

“I’d heard how well you’ve been doing from Johann, and wanted to see for myself.”

Steve looks over at Pierce after he says that, brow furrowing.

“I appreciate that, sir.” Bucky’s accent is a little less thick, his posture so straight. Steve looks back at Bucky. When he does, his face falls. He’s not sure why. But then Bucky turns his attention back to Steve. “Apparently the jury is reaching a conclusion; it should be over pretty soon. Wanna grab dinner tonight?”

“‘Course,” Steve responds.

“James,” Pierce says, and both turn to him. “If you wouldn’t mind stopping by the office after the verdict comes out, I would appreciate it. Johann and I have a few things we’d like to discuss with you.” He looks over at Steve and smiles. “All good things, I promise.”

“Of course,” Bucky says.

“After is fine,” Steve responds, giving Bucky a little smile. “I’ll meet you at the little Italian place by your apartment.”

“Nino’s?” Bucky asks.

“Yeah,” Steve says.

“Alright,” Bucky says, smiling at Steve. Then Schmidt starts calling Bucky from across the room. “I should—“

“Of course,” Pierce says. “I’ll see you when all this is over.”

Bucky walks away, and Pierce turns back to him. “It’s hard, sometimes, seeing people you care about choosing a path that can lead to difficulties for them.” He pauses, looking Steve over. “You have to think to yourself, whether or not what you’re doing will be the best for them in the long run, and whether the decisions you make affect their quality of life.”

“I don’t follow,” Steve says, watching Schmidt speak to Bucky, one hand on his shoulder and leaning in close.

“James has a lot of potential. That’s why we hired him, and why he’s done so well. If he keeps going the way things have been, he’ll end up being our youngest partner. It’s something that he’s wanted for quite some time now. His ambition has always been one of his best characteristics.” Pierce’s facade of a smile drops. “It’d be a shame if something in his career trajectory changed.”

Moments later, the bailiff is asking everyone to rise, and Steve is distracted by the hustle and bustle around him. When he looks back at where Pierce was sitting, he’s gone.

— —

It’s over five hours later when Bucky slides into the seat across from him at Nino’s. Steve’s ordered three rounds of appetizers — calamari, fried ravioli, and a caprese salad — and had two glasses of wine. “I’m sorry,” Bucky says, looking impossibly small as he stares at the checkered tablecloth.

“I was worried,” Steve says, usually forgiving, but five hours with no word at all.“You didn’t call or text—“

“Pierce kept me there, just yappin’ and yappin’, and any time I made any move to leave, he had something else to add. I…” He reaches across the table and touches Steve’s hand gently, an offering. Steve intertwines his fingers with Bucky’s, because even after waiting and waiting, this is what he was waiting for. “I know I should’ve told him that I needed to go, but he’s.” He stops, swallows hard. “It’s hard to tell him no.”

“I gathered that,” Steve says.

Bucky sighs, head dipping down again. “He wants me to take head on our next big trial.”

“Congratulations,” Steve says, trying to sound happy for him.

The corner of Bucky’s lip quirks up, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Thanks,” he says, lifeless. “That’s what he wanted to talk to me about, give me details and a schedule and a timeline and all that shit.” He sighs, pulling his hand away to drink the glass of water at his place, ice long-since melted and liquid turned tepid. “You eat?”

“Sort of,” Steve says, then adds, “But I can always eat more.” He tries smiling, and is rewarded by the look in Bucky’s eye, warm in the soft candlelight of the little restaurant. For the first time since he sat down, he looks happy.

“Thanks,” Bucky says, quiet. “For waitin’.”

“I’m fine waiting, as long as you make it here sometime,” Steve replies, too honest.

“I wanna be here,” Bucky says. “This is where I wanna be.”

“I know,” Steve says.

— —

Bucky gets veal parmigiana, Steve orders gnocchi with vodka sauce, and they get a small cheese pizza to share. It’s too much for Steve, but it’s still a celebration. Bucky did just win his case, even if neither of them feel good about it. “So,” Bucky says after uncharacteristcally stuffing his mouth with pizza. He’s usually a slow, methodical eater, a stark comparison to Steve’s vacuum-like tendencies. Steve worries that he hasn’t eaten today. “Just to add to my fuckin’ list, my lease is up for my apartment.”

“You wanna stay there?” Steve asks, pulling off a gooey slice of cheese and letting it slide onto his plate.

“Dunno,” Bucky says. “It’s convenient, but I never liked it much.” He sighs. “But to add apartment hunting to the list… It’s way too fuckin’ much. I just wanna nap.” But he’s smiling at Steve, who smiles back at him.

“You’ll figure it out,” Steve says.

“Always do.”

— —

“I was thinkin’,” Bucky says on their way back. Nino’s is only a block from Bucky’s place, and since it’s past 11, Steve decided to spend the night. “That maybe I could play hooky tomorrow.”

“Hooky?” Steve asks, perking up a little. Bucky nods.

“I mean, the big guys, they never come in after a big case. They take time off, go golfin’ at some resort up on Martha’s Vineyard.” For a moment, Steve wonders if Bucky attending said retreat was part of the evening’s agenda with Pierce. “So I was thinkin’… Maybe I could play hooky the entire weekend. Not like they’ll be around to see me slackin’ off.”

It’s almost Pavlovian, the way that Steve’s heart is racing, face threatening to break out in a grin. “Oh?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Bucky says. “Tomorrow’s Friday, then Saturday and Sunday…” A beat. “I understand that I’m springin’ this on you, and that you may have other plans. But, if you wanted to, we could have a little staycation. Go to a movie, maybe head to a museum or somethin’. Y’know, pretend that we’re a normal couple with normal schedules. Maybe I could even take you on a nice date. Make you wear a suit again.”

“Yes,” Steve says, quick. “Let’s.” Bucky’s grinning in the streetlight. “But,” Steve adds, and Bucky’s smile falters for just a moment. “You have to promise me one thing.”

“What?” Bucky asks. “Anythin’.”

“No alarms.”

Bucky bites down on his lip and nods. “Think I can do that.”

— —

By the time they get back to the apartment, there’s no worries about the alarm. Even if they initially had other plans, Steve gets back to the bedroom from brushing his teeth to see Bucky stark naked and fast asleep in his bed. It makes sense — he’s been running on empty for weeks now. So Steve just changes into his pajamas — he keeps a few spare pieces of clothes in Bucky’s place, and vice versa — and spoons up behind him, sighing deeply and holding tight.

He’s excited about the weekend. He’s excited to have some real time with Bucky, just the two of them, uninterrupted. He’s excited that Bucky thought of him, and wanted to spend this time together in the first place.

There will be another case, and more after that, but for now, he can just have Bucky. And that’s enough.

— —

For the first time in their relationship, Steve wakes up before Bucky. It’s nine in the morning, and Bucky is still drooling into his pillow. Steve presses a kiss to Bucky’s head, but Bucky doesn’t even stir. Steve smiles — he should sleep; he needs to sleep — and heads out of the room as quietly as he can.

He’d try to make breakfast, but Bucky has no food in the kitchen. Not that Steve is Top Chef-worthy, but he usually manages to keep some eggs around. Instead, he gets dressed and heads over to the bagel place at the end of the street, getting fresh bagels, lox and cream cheese, as well as some salami sticks to snack on. He gets through a bagel and a half before Bucky emerges, naked and groggy, rubbing at his eyes with hair askew. “You weren’t in bed,” he says, slurring his words a little. Steve tries, and fails, not to find it adorable. “I wanted you to be in bed.”

“Sorry,” Steve says, standing up and crossing the room in a few long strides. He grabs Bucky’s hips and pulls him in. “‘M here now,” he says, lifting his intonation at the end, trying to be playful. But Bucky jerks away, making a face. “What?” Steve asks.

“Lox breath,” Bucky says. “Not fun when it’s the first thing you smell in the mornin’.”

Naturally, Steve leans in and blows a big breath right in Bucky’s nose. His face scrunches up, and Steve laughs, and laughs. “‘M gonna go put some pants on,” Bucky mutters, rubbing his sleepy eyes and leaning in to give Steve a peck. “Toast me an egg bagel, okay?”

“Sure thing.”So Bucky gets dressed, and Steve gets his bagel with lox, cream cheese, cucumber and no tomato ready for him, feeling cozy and happy. When Bucky is back with his bagel and wearing a pair of Steve’s pajama pants, Steve asks the thing that’s been on his mind since he woke-up.

“So,” he begins. “You remember me mentioning my friend Maria, right?”

Bucky nods, a little slow. Steve pours him a cup of coffee. “She’s your friend from Pratt?”

Steve nods, pleased. “Yeah,” he says. “She’s having an opening at a gallery in Queens tonight. It’s a big group of artists; I know a few of them. Some are better than others.” Bucky takes a bit of his bagel. “I know you wanted to have a staycation, and that sounds amazing Buck, it really does. But, the thing is I hadn’t anticipated you being done yesterday, and I had told her I’d go, and—“

“Jesus Steve,” Bucky interrupts. “I’ll go.”

Perking up, Steve asks, “Really?”

“Yeah,” Bucky says. “I mean, I gotta meet your friends at some point, right?”

“They’ll love you,” Steve says. “And I really appreciate it, Buck. I really do.”

Bucky sighs, rubbing a hand through his still-mussed morning hair. “Do I gotta wear a suit?”

“Yes,” Steve says. “But,” he adds, solemn. “I’ll take it off of you just as soon as the party’s over.”

Bucky grins.

— —

He’s not grinning that evening, when they’re getting ready for the opening.

They spent most of the day not doing much, making a few plans for the two days ahead. Bucky is still pretty exhausted from the trial — in fact, he took an extra nap in the afternoon — and real days off for him are few, and far between. They watched some bad TV and ended up packing a suitcase for Bucky since they’re going to head to Brooklyn for the rest of the weekend.

But then Bucky put on his suit for the opening, and his hands started shaking.

“Talk to me Buck,” Steve says, resting a hand on his knee in the back of their Lyft. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothin’,” Bucky says, closed off in a way that he almost never is with Steve.

“You can tell me,” Steve adds, quiet. “I don’t care what it is.”

Bucky sighs, then digs his phone out of his pocket. “Here,” he says, unlocking it and shoving it towards Steve.

Confused, Steve takes the phone and looks down at the open article. “New York’s Most Eligible Bachelors?” he reads aloud. Bucky grinds his teeth together, and Steve looks down and keeps reading.

It’s hard to find love in a city like New York, let alone find a love that lasts with someone great enough to be worth your while. That’s why each year we compile a list of the hottest, best bachelors in NYC, to give everyone a guide for who they should be looking for when they want to fall in love. Steve can’t help but roll his eyes a bit, but he scrolls through a few B-list actors, start-up owners, and entrepreneurs until he sees…

Steve snorts. Bucky glares.

It’s a picture of Bucky, obviously candid. He’s walking down the street in a dark peacoat, wearing sunglasses. The photo is black and white, and Bucky looks dazzling; fashionable and mysterious. Steve can see why they picked it. “James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes,” Steve reads. “Twenty-eight. Junior Associate at Pierce, Zola and Schmidt LLP. This Brooklyn boy grew up and moved to Manhattan, where he’s flourished. With a law degree from Columbia University, this up-and-comer young lawyer is set to take the legal world by storm. He’s already been linked to the winning side in last year’s highly publicized Obadiah Stane case, and will continue working on more high-profile cases as his great career continues.” He glances down, and sees what is probably his favorite part. “Ideal date: The Opera.”

Bucky has physically slumped.

Steve looks up from the phone and passes it back to Bucky. “The opera? You’ve never mentioned opera to me,” he says.

“That’s because I’ve been to one opera in my stupid life and I fell asleep.”

Steve snorts. “It’s like they don’t know you at all.”

“No,” Bucky says. “They don’t.” Steve’s smile fades. “I had no idea this was comin’ out. They never got in touch with me or asked for my permission.”

“Buck, it’s just a silly article, it’s harmless.”

“I’m in a relationship,” Bucky says, soft. Steve gives his knee a little squeeze, and waits for him to continue. “Not only do they not acknowledge that fact, but they also don’t mention that hey, I’m not interested in women. Or how there’s anythin’ more to my life than work, which there’s… y’know, not actually. But I… want a relationship to be more than the name of the law firm I work for, especially since that law firm is…” He trails off, sighing deep and shutting his eyes. Five long seconds pass before he continues. “And I don’t want your friends — or anyone else — seein’ this bullshit and thinkin’ that I’m draggin’ you along, or that I don’t want to be with you. Because this is…” She swallows. “I haven’t been in a lot of steady relationships. You know that.” Steve nods; they’ve talked about it before. “But this is… I like you, I wanna be with…” He makes a small frustrated noise, and Steve moves his hand from his knee to around Bucky’s shoulders, pulling him in and resting his head on Bucky’s. “I’m in this for the long haul.”

“Same, Buck. You know that.”

“Nobody else does, though.” He sounds dejected. “Everybody thinks that I’m some kinda lothario who just wants to fuck people over all the time. Doesn’t matter if it’s work or if it’s my personal life.” He pauses, swallows. “I’m not gonna fuck you over.”

“Well,” Steve says, noticing that the Lyft is slowing down and that they’re in the neighborhood. “Tonight’s the night you can show everyone. We can show everyone just how amazing you are.”

“I’m scared,” Bucky admits. “I don’t wanna fuck up, don’t want your friends to think I’m not good enough for you.”

Steve turns, pressing a soft kiss to Bucky’s temple. “They’d never,” Steve says. “They know I love you. They know you love me. We’ve both got great judgment.” Bucky snorts, and Steve smiles against Bucky’s hair. “It’ll be fine.”

They stay like that until they reach their destination. Steve thanks their driver, and steps out of the cab onto the curve, holding a hand out for Bucky, which he takes to help haul himself out. Steve interlaces their fingers and smiles. Bucky still looks nervous, but quirks the side of his mouth up. “Let’s go in,” he says, so Steve leads the way.

The gallery is full of people. It’s a little disorienting at first; Steve is used to empty galleries with white walls and pretentious salesmen hanging around. Instead, this place has each wall painted a different color, showcasing the work of one of the artists honored tonight. There are all sorts of different things showcased here. The front has the usual paintings and photographs, a few sculptures mixed in. But as you travel back things get more conceptual, more avant garde. Steve sticks with relatively old fashioned techniques — though he’s been working a bit more with screen printing and stencils, recently — but this place has a wide range of mediums and topics, from traditional oil paintings to experimental films where people dump feces on clowns. As an artist, Steve sticks with his own style, and his own beliefs about what art should mean. But he also knows that sometimes people who do shocking things are really doing something special. He just told himself long ago that he’d keep his own judgments quiet and let the canon of art history decide whose work would be meaningful in the long term.

Even though Steve goes to great pains to keep his identity separated from his art, he is part of this social scene. People say hello to him as they walk in, and he can feel Bucky tense up at his side each time they do. Steve introduces them and Bucky smiles, but there’s something stilted about his conversation as they walk through the room.

It seems strange, that schmoozing lawyer Bucky, who has been specifically trained to appeal to strangers and charm them, would feel so out of sorts in a room of people.

“Steve!” He knows that voice well.

He whispers, “That’s Peggy,” to Bucky moments before Peggy walks up to the two of them. She has a glass of champagne in either hand, and passes them to him and Bucky. “Didn’t think you were going to show, Steve,” she says, smiling.

“Well, here I am,” Steve says. “And this is Bucky Barnes.” He gestures to Bucky, who reaches out for Peggy’s hand.

“Peggy Carter,” she responds, returning with what Steve knows is a firm handshake.

“Thanks for the champagne,” Bucky says, dropping his hand.

“Thought you could use some social lubricant,” she says, serious, though Steve’s face warms up a little at the word lubricant. He’s still more than a bit immature. “This world can be a little intimidating — I was once in your position, you know.”

Steve has told Bucky about him and Peggy, but not as much as he probably should have. It’s just, there’ll always be a piece of him that loves her. They met while they were in school; though, Steve was at Pratt and she was a London girl going to Columbia. Things got serious quickly — she was his first great love, and he likes to think it was the same for her. But when she graduated she decided to take a job in Washington DC. It was probably espionage, knowing her, but she never could tell him. Steve’s art was already getting some buzz, and he needed to stay in New York. Further, each of them needed to focus on their careers. Peggy’s long hours at the office and Steve’s long hours in his studio weren’t going to be compatible for long. And sometimes the best thing to do in a situation like that is to let the other person go. They were able to grow more apart than they would have stuck together, growing to resent one another for their missed opportunities.

They’re still friends though. And Steve knows they always will be.

“This is your first one of these?” Peggy asks Bucky.

“Yeah,” Bucky says. “It’s a bit uh, a lot.” Bucky struggles to smile. “A lot of colors.”

“And characters,” Peggy adds.

Steve chuckles. “Glad we found you first.” He wraps his free arm around Bucky’s waist, and pulls him close. Bucky takes a long gulp of champagne, and Steve can’t blame him. “Is Angie around?”

“Yes she is,” says an an enthusiastic voice and low and behold, Angie pops out from behind Peggy.

“There you are,” Peggy says, pressing a soft kiss to Angie’s cheek. “Did you see Daniel?”

“Couldn’t find him,” she responds. “Jack probably tracked him down and has him caught in a corner talking about his latest award.” Peggy rolls her eyes and Angie moves her attention to Steve. “Hey big guy,” she says, brown eyes then trailing to Bucky. “Who’d you bring with you tonight?”

She’s smirking. It’s not a good sign.

“This is Bucky,” Steve says. “My boyfriend.”

“I’m Angie Martinelli,” she says, pressing close to Peggy and reaching out her hand. Unlike Peggy, who has been trained by terrifying people in how to intimidate someone with a shake of the hand, she pumps Bucky’s twice before letting it drop. “Peggy’s fiancee.”

Peggy met Angie soon after moving back to New York two years ago. Steve still isn’t sure what Peggy’s job really is, but Angie is a B-list TV actor that she met when she was a waitress finishing up her degree at NYU. They started dating about six hours after they met, and got engaged three months ago. They’re planning for their wedding in the summer: a nice little ceremony with about fifty people that Steve is excited to go to. They’ve had to shift around their plans quite a bit, since Angie’s just recently gotten cast in a sitcom on Fox. Steve’s watched it a few times — it’s funny, albeit a bit predictable — and Angie is the show’s breakout star. She’s even gotten some Emmys buzz, which she shrugs off except for the twinkle in her eye. Both she and Peggy are hoping that the show will last just long enough to really launch her career.

“Nice to meet you,” Bucky says.

“Heard quite a bit about you,” Angie says, round eyes looking to Steve, smirking. “And about your big—“

Oh god, Steve’s never going to live that one night he got drunk with Peggy, Angie and Howard down.

“Lawfirm,” Angie finishes, and Steve takes a breath of relief.

“Uh, yeah,” Bucky says. “I work for Pierce, Schmidt and Zola.”

“Bunch of crooks,” says a voice behind them, and oh good, Tony’s here. Steve glances at Bucky, whose mouth is pressed into a line.

“Cut it out,” Steve says.

“I’m just saying,” Tony says, shuffling himself into their circle. “That when you think about The Man, your firm personifies the trope.”

“I…” Bucky begins, but trails off.

“You’re being a dick,” Angie says, elbowing Tony in the side. Tony shuffles, and his whiskey spills onto his hand. Ignoring his protests, Angie turns back to Bucky. “Don’t listen to him; he’s nuts.”

“I’m brilliant,” Tony corrects. “And it doesn’t make it less true.”

“I know,” Bucky says. Steve glances at him; he seems a little pale. “I, uh.” Bucky’s eyebrows are furrowed.  “I need to go to the restroom, excuse me,” Bucky says, handing Steve his empty glass of champagne and hurrying out of the area as soon as he can, leaving Steve staring in his wake.

“Touchy,” Tony says as Steve turns to glare. “Touchier,” he adds, seeing Steve’s face.

“Was that necessary?” Steve asks.

“Just because you’re very suddenly in love doesn’t mean that he’s a good guy,” Tony responds before taking a sip of his drink.

“Bucky is a good guy; he’s great,” Steve says. “Better than other people in my company.”

Tony raises an eyebrow. “Keep telling yourself that. But when you stop thinking New York’s Number One Bachelor is the bee’s knees—“

Steve doesn’t hear the rest of what Tony has to say. Instead he says a curt goodbye to Peggy and Angie — he’ll text Peggy later, let her know that it wasn’t her or Angie that caused him to leave — and heads off into the crowded room to try to find Bucky. Of course, he’s stopped every two minutes. A few people want to know if he has work up tonight; someone asks about his upcoming exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. He politely answers questions and greets his acquaintences, but he’s spending the whole time trying to find that head of bushy black hair.

After politely telling an older gentleman that he’s not taking commissions right now, and perhaps he should think of looking at the art on the walls and the many artists who would be happy to work wiht him, Steve finally catches sight of Bucky. He’s talking animatedly with Maria, of all people. She throws back her head and laughs at something he says, and he his his own smile behind another sip of champagne. Steve grins — happy to see that Bucky is okay, that he’s found Steve’s friend, and that he doesn’t seem to have taken what Tony said to heart.

“If you’d excuse me,” Steve says to the person he’s talking to, and heads to where Bucky is. “There you are,” he says. Bucky’s eyes are a little glassy, but he’s smiling as Steve wraps an arm around his waist. Bucky reaches up and pecks Steve’s cheek, and Steve feels like he can breathe again.

“Bucky was just telling me about your plans for the weekend,” Maria says. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of you taking a vacation before, Steve. Think this guy is going to be good for you.”

“It’s a staycation,” Steve says. “And it’s all for this guy.” He gives Bucky’s side a little squeeze and smiles down at him. He’s so lucky, so unbelievably lucky.

“You make it sound nice,” Maria says. “Sam keeps threatening to take me to Martha’s Vineyard one of these summers, but I always have a hundred excuses for why I can’t go. Mainly, I just can’t stomach the thought of going to Martha’s Vineyard like all of the other boring couples on the East Coast.”

“Sam here tonight?” Steve asks.

“He’s in here somewhere,” Maria says. “Probably trying and failing to get an appetizer. He came here straight from the VA so he’s starving.”

“Good luck,” Bucky says, snorting. “It’s so packed in here I can barely see the art.”

“Yeah, the art isn’t always the point of these things,” Maria says. “Something about networking and exposure and blah blah blah. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about these things. My paintings never sell, and I always have some sweaty old guy trying to pinch my ass. But here I am, again and again.”

Steve laughs, Bucky laughs, and things seem like they’re okay.

— —

That is, they’re okay until the two of them duck out of the party an hour or so later. Bucky was fine, if a little tense, but as soon as they’re in the Lyft on the way to Steve’s place, he’s quiet, maybe a bit sullen. “Are you still thinking about what Tony said?” Steve asks a few minutes into the ride. Bucky is turned away from him, facing out the window. Steve tries putting a hand on his knee. Bucky doesn’t react, so he leaves it there, rubbing small circles with his thumb.

“Yes,” Bucky says, then, “No.” He sighs, turning to Steve. “I have a lot goin’ through my head right now.”

“What?” Steve asks, soft. “What’s happening?”

He gives a little smile, but it seems hopeless, unhappy. “I don’t like being the bad guy.”

“You’re not a bad guy,” Steve says, frowning.

“Aren’t I?” he asks, smile still there, eyes wide. “You saw the closing arguments, Steve.”

That, Steve can’t deny. He had the feeling while he was watching the trial that Bucky wasn’t on the side that he would sympathize with if he had the option of taking sides. Steve also knows that the law is often unfollowed or, frankly, unjust. Just because something is written into the country’s supposed moral code does not make it moral.

Bucky notices Steve’s hesitation and reaches over to him, rubbing the back of his neck with his thumb, hand in his hair. Steve leans into the touch, and Bucky leans over and kisses his temple. “Let’s talk later,” he says. “I don’t want to think right now.”

— —

Later, when both Steve and Bucky are in Steve’s bed, thoroughly fucked and feeling a little misty, Bucky says, “I hate my job.”

“You do?” Steve asks, keeping his voice level. He can’t say he didn’t expect Bucky to say something like this at some point, but he wasn’t sure Bucky had been able to admit it to himself. Honestly, he feels relief hearing Bucky say it; though, he’ll feel more relieved when Bucky is able to leave the firm entirely.

“I…” Bucky says, pulling himself up so he can curl against Steve’s side. Steve lets him press his face into his chest, puts a hand in his soft hair. “I mean, it didn’t matter that I hated it for a while, because it’s good money and I need to keep Becca in school. But, I mean, I can never make it to a date on time. I barely have any friends, and I keep criminals from being arrested just because they’re loaded.” Steve quietly rubs his fingers in Bucky’s hair, not sure what else he can do. “I hate it,” Bucky says, with a startling vehemence — Steve’s never heard him sound this way before, so broken and angry.

“Buck,” he begins, soft, hoping he isn’t crossing a line. “You can quit.”

Bucky snorts out a laugh. “Sure,” he says. “Because I have such huge savings.” His voice cracks on the last word. Steve knows what money means to Bucky. How much he and his sister struggled as kids, how much Bucky needs to keep him and his sister afloat. “And everyone will want to hire someone who quit one of the most high-powered jobs on the market at twenty-eight. I’ll be branded as a loser for the rest of my career.”

“There’s a reason you got that job in the first place, Buck. It’s because you’re good at what you do. You’ll be able to get another job, one that won’t make you feel like this.”

There’s a pause, then, “I’m so tired, Steve.”

They’re quiet for a moment, then Steve says, “Move in with me, Buck.”

“Steve—“

“If you want,” Steve interrupts, because he’s still thinking this through, and he doesn’t want to lose his train of thought. “You said your contract is up soon, so you can move in here, or… We could find someplace else, if you wanted to. Somewhere that works for both of us. I don’t care. I can pay rent for a bit, and you can keep paying Rebecca’s tuition. I can help with that, too.”

“Steve,” Bucky says. “I can’t ask you to.”

“You’re not asking,” Steve says. “I’m offering. You can take some time off, think about what you want to do. You deserve a break.” He pushes a hand through Bucky’s hair. “You’re tired.”

“I’m exhausted,” Bucky says, soft and small.

“I have more money than I know what to do with,” Steve says. “And I love you.”

Bucky’s quiet. He’s quiet for so long that Steve is worried that he’s offended him, that he’s broken the gentle balance they’ve had, and done something to ruin what they’ve cultivated. But then Bucky says, “Anything you use for Becca, that’s a loan,” in a small voice. “I’ll pay you back, I swear.”

Steve’s heart begins beating faster. “So it’s a yes?”

A beat, then, “I don’t want to be a burden. And I don’t want you to feel like I’m only here because I want your money, or your home. I’ll get another job as soon as I can, I’ll…”

Steve is grinning. He sits up, one arm around Bucky and moving him up with him. When Bucky keeps his eyes trained down, Steve reaches over and tilts his chin up to look at him. “Let’s go on vacation,” he says. “Let’s go to New Orleans, or on a cruise, or—“

He’s cut off by Bucky closing the space between them, kissing Steve hard. Bucky wraps his arms around Steve’s neck and pulls him on top of him, both down on the mattress again. Steve laughs against Bucky’s mouth, and Bucky grins under Steve’s. Steve pulls back, trying to train his face into a serious expression. “Hawaii?” he suggests, and Bucky is smiling beneath him, wide, full lips looking happy, so happy, and Steve never wants it to end.

— —

They spend Saturday planning out their lives together. Bucky will quit on Monday, first thing. Steve will wait in the lobby, and be ready to whisk Bucky out of there as soon as possible. Apparently the wrath of his employers can be intense — Bucky needs to get himself out of there before anything too terrible happens between them. He doesn’t want to be sued.

Then they’ll go to Bucky’s place, clean up and start packing. Bucky can get moved in during the rest of the week, and then they’ll spend a week settled at Steve’s place together. Then they’ll head to New Orleans for a week. Steve’s still figuring out the details of that part, but he’s going to make it as great as he possibly can. Bucky hasn’t been on a real vacation since he was a kid, and Steve fully intends on making this one the best one of his life.

After that, Bucky can have as much time as he needs to get a new job. Bucky insists that he’ll start sending in applications and talking to recruiters the day after they get back. The fact of the matter is that Steve couldn’t care less. Of course he wants Bucky to feel fulfilled — and he knows that Bucky won’t be satisfied sitting around the house, even if Steve would kind of like to come home to him every night — but he wants to make sure he can get it right. He wants Bucky to be happy, and to work somewhere that he likes the work and he feels like he’s doing good things for other people. He can stop ruining lives and in the act make his own.

Steve is so proud of him, and so excited about the life they’re going to have together. It’s incredible how his own visions of the future have shifted, and how all of these pieces are coming together now. He hadn’t realized how lonely his vision had been: his work on a Christie’s auction block, opening gallery spaces with his name on them, creating art that will last. He still wants those things. That hasn’t changed. But somehow, the timeline has gotten longer. While he still spends more time than he should creating, he makes time for Bucky. He makes time for his other friends. He’s making time to see movies, go to shows, to eat good food, to go on a vacation. His art has improved because of it; he knows that, looking at his newer work.

He really feels like he’s living. It’s an incredible feeling.

— —

Steve comes with Bucky to clean out his office. They go first thing on Monday morning, with the hope that most of Bucky’s coworkers will be gone. Of course, that’s not the case. Steve is helping Bucky assemble another cardboard box for his diplomas when Bucky’s boss, Alexander Pierce, arrives at the door. Steve’s blood runs cold.

“Knock knock,” he says.

Bucky looks up, then turns around. His posture goes ramrod straight. He paints on a smile. “Mr. Pierce, good morning.”

“Zola told me you’d quit, but I didn’t think you were serious about leaving,” Pierce says, looking around the half-emptied office. He frowns. “I guess you were.”

“Unfortunately,” Bucky says. He looks to Steve, still struggling with the box. He’s never been good at patching those things together. “You remember my partner, Steve,” he says.

Pierce nods, but doesn’t acknowledge Steve. “You know, I remember when I hired you,” Pierce says.

“So do I,” Bucky replies.

Pierce raises his eyebrows. “Do you?” he asks. “Do you remember what it is I told you?”

“That this place is the best,” Bucky says.

“And…” Pierce continues, like Bucky’s a disappointing student and he’s his teacher.

Bucky swallows hard, shrugs. “I’m not sure what else,” he says; though, Steve’s not sure that he’s telling the truth.

Pierce shakes his head, takes another step in the room. He sighs. “I told you that we only accept the best in people, and we only expect the best in people.” He pauses. “You were the best. Young but great. I hate to see you throw that away, especially everything we’ve invested in you.”

“I’m not throwin’ anythin’ away,” Bucky says. “I’m findin’ a different direction.” Steve can’t help but smile at Bucky.

“Did someone buy you out?” Pierce asks. “Something you think will be better? Because I can find a more competitive package for you, if that would make the difference.”

Bucky shakes his head. “I don’t have anythin’ lined up at the moment,” he says.

Pierce raises his eyebrows. “You’re seriously telling me that you, James Barnes, top of your class at Princeton, are going to sit around at home? Play house husband to an artist while you waste your talent? I thought you would at least have ambition. Maybe I was wrong about you all along.”

“I won’t be doin’ that, and even if I were, there’s nothin’ wrong with that. But I’m not wastin’ anythin’.” Bucky says, looking down at his feet, brow furrowed. Steve wishes he could walk over to Bucky, straighten his head out, and make him look Pierce in the eye. But he can’t. His hand shakes where it clutches the cardboard.

“It’s such a disappointment,” Pierce says. He pauses, the corner of his mouth turning upwards into a smirk. “You’re such a disappointment, James.”

“That’s enough,” Steve says, straightening up.

Pierce quirks an eyebrow. “Mr. Rogers, I do not think this is your place to comment. I know how you artists like to give yourself the last word on everything, from health care to animal rights, but for once, perhaps, you could leave yourself out of this. I have known James far longer than you have, and have given him much more than you ever will. I need to see him own up to his own mistakes.”

“I won’t let you—” Steve starts.

“Steve,” Bucky interrupts, looking over his shoulder at Steve. “It’s okay. Let him say what he needs to say.”

Steve shuts his mouth, grinds his teeth together. Bucky looks back at Pierce, shoulders slumped. He almost seems defeated.

“This isn’t what I’m supposed to be doin’,” he says. “There’s more to law than this.”

“And what exactly are you supposed to be doing, James? Saving the world?” he asks, almost amused. “Finding kitty cats stuck in trees and bringing them down through the power of the Constitution? You’re a lawyer, damn it,” he says, losing his calm for the first time. “Do your work, know your place, and be grateful for everything we’ve given you!”

“Are you done?” Bucky asks.

“I found you; I cultivated you. I shaped you into the man you are today. You were going to be my protoge. I took a chance on you, someone with no connections at all, just gumption. What the hell happened, Jimmy? Why are you betraying me?”

There’s a long pause. Bucky winces, shakes his head. “It’s… I’m…” He starts. Steve waits, wanting nothing more than to throw a punch. “I’m sick of bein’ the bad guy,” Bucky says finally, voice cracking. “It’s not what I wanted to be. I may not ever be a good guy, but I can at least stop myself from doin’ this. You defend bad people. You defend bad law. I don’t want to do that anymore.”

Pierce’s eyes narrow. “So you’re telling me that I’m the bad guy? After all I’ve done for you, I’m the bad guy,” he says, sneering.

There’s a pause. “Don’t make me answer that,” Bucky says.

“No, James. Tell me what you think of me. After all this time, just tell me.”

“You’re not playin’ for the right side,” he says. “That’s all.”

“And my family should starve because of your morals?” Pierce asks.

“I didn’t say that,” Bucky says.

“Fine, James. Enjoy your morals. Enjoy your artist. You will never be welcome back here, or in any other firm of our caliber. I’ll see to that.”

Bucky looks down again. “I don’t want to end things on this note,” he says. “I really am grateful for the opportunities you’ve given me.”

“Nor do I,” Pierce says. Bucky looks up, hopeful. “I want this to end with you ruined.”

Pierce turns and walks out of the office.

Bucky slumps, and Steve rushes over, putting a steadying hand on Bucky’s back. “Buck?” he asks.

“I’m never gonna work again,” he says, then looks up at Steve with wide, horrified eyes. “I’m gonna have to move to Dallas and do property law.”

“I’ll go with you,” Steve says.

“You’d hate Dallas,” Bucky says.

“I’ll go with you,” Steve repeats, wrapping his arms around Bucky and holding him tight. “Anywhere. I’m so proud that you’re doing this, that you stood up to him. You’re amazing.”

“Stop praisin’ me for nothin’,” Bucky says. “It’s just…”

“Doing the right thing,” Steve says, grinning into Bucky’s hair. “It’s hard to do, whether it’s for yourself or for anyone else. I’m so proud of you, Buck. I’m so proud.”

— —

They go to New Orleans, and have a festive week full of good food and great music. But there’s something lingering. Whenever Bucky thinks Steve isn’t looking, he’s withdrawn and worried, the frown lines around his mouth more pronounced than usual. Steve does his best to bring him out, to make him laugh and smile and dance, and to tell him how much he loves him with his body each night.

Still, Bucky’s lingering anxiety seems to increase with every day, and by the time they get back to New York, it’s in hyperdrive. He’s shaky and nervous, spends the day on his laptop softly swearing.

“I haven’t heard back from any recruiters,” Bucky admits on that first night back when Steve asks him about it. “I sent them my stuff, but haven’t heard anythin’. That’s not how this is supposed to work. They’re supposed to be happy to work with me; I have a killer resume and have pretty good references outside of the firm.”

“Is it Pierce?” Steve asks, almost not wanting to hear the answer.

“Probably,” Bucky says, voice cracking. “It’s amazin’ how fast he can work. I just… I’ll keep tryin’, try to publish some articles, see where that takes me.” He flops into the shared bed of their new apartment. “God, sorry you gotta deal with me like this. I’m a fuckin’ mess. It ain’t fair to you.”

Steve plops into bed next to him, kisses the back of his neck. “I love you,” he says, instead of the hundred other wrong things he can think of to say. He hopes it’s enough, that Bucky knows that he’s not a bother or a burden, and that Steve will help him through a hundred situations like this to make sure that they can come out the other side happier and stronger than they were before.

Bucky takes a shuddering breath, then flips himself over. Steve hovers over him and smiles. “Hi,” Steve says, looking down at Bucky’s long lashes, the five o’clock shadow on his chin.

“Hey,” Bucky responds. “Wanna continue that kissin’ thing you were doin’ just a minute ago?”

“Mmhmm,” Steve hums, leaning down and kissing Bucky, slowly and gently. Bucky reaches up and tangles a hand in Steve’s hair. They stay like that for a while, just kissing. Bucky relaxes underneath Steve’s mouth, his touch, going from tense to pliable in his hands. Steve can feel Bucky’s relief. “You wanna?” Steve asks.

Bucky grins. “I wanna,” he says, sitting up as Steve scoots back. He reaches over and pulls Steve’s shirt up over his head. He immediately leans down and starts sucking on Steve’s nipple. Steve’s breath hitches.

“Buck,” he sighs, reaching over and stroking Bucky’s hair.

“You’re beautiful,” Bucky says, peppering kisses along Steve’s stomach. “I can’t believe I get to be with you,” he says as he reaches for Steve’s flannel pants. Bucky pulls them off, releasing Steve’s hard cock, already aching from just a few moments of Bucky’s touch. “I can’t believe we get to have this,” Bucky says as he leans down and presses a kiss to the very tip of it. He looks up with a tender smile. “I love you,” he says.

“I love you, too,” Steve says.

Then Bucky takes him into his mouth, and Steve stops talking, lost to sensation.

— —

It takes two more weeks before Bucky hears anything from anyone.

“They’re icin’ me out,” he says one morning in their kitchen. Their new apartment is a mess of boxes and stuff laying about. They've been spending the past few weeks buying furniture and getting the place together, but it's still a work in progress. Steve's had to focus his attention on the studio space in the basement, since their trip made him push back a few deadlines, which he now has to catch up on, so Bucky's been left alone to figure out the rest of the space. “I dunno what Pierce said or did, but not hearin’ anythin’ from anyone? That’s not right.”

“So we’ll move,” Steve says.

Bucky glares at him. They’ve had this conversation before, and often. Honestly, Steve wouldn’t mind leaving New York. It would increase shipping costs for his work, for sure, but other than that, there wouldn’t be much downside. In fact, it may be nice to spend some time elsewhere. He’s never really lived outside of Brooklyn, and may find some inspiration on the road. Of course, he loves New York, but he also loves Bucky, and he knows that Bucky needs to work. It’s only a matter of time before Bucky starts going stir crazy in their new half-unpacked apartment. But Bucky is also the one who refuses to even consider reaching out to firms outside of the city until he knows that all of his other options are exhausted. Sometimes Steve thinks that Bucky would rather work at Kohl’s than leave New York.

“Or you’ll find something,” Steve amends as Bucky’s phone starts to vibrate where it sits on the kitchen island.

Steve looks at the phone, then up at Bucky. Bucky looks at Steve, then down to the phone.

“It’s probably just a telemarketer,” Bucky mutters as he grabs the phone.

It’s an unfamiliar number with a New York area code. Bucky accepts the call and puts it on speaker.

“This is James Barnes,” he says.

“Bucky Barnes, Bucky Barnes,” says a voice on the other side.

“Yes,” Bucky says.

“This is Nick Fury, from Fury, Banner, and Valkyrie. Got a minute?”

“For you, I’ve got two,” Bucky says, sitting down and looking shell-shocked. Steve, who isn’t sure who this guy is, pulls out his phone and Googles his name. And apparently, Nick Fury and his firm are a big deal, working on all sorts of high-profile progressive cases. He quickly scrolls through their Wikipedia page and sees photos of Fury himself arguing cases in front of the Supreme Court.

“Heard you left your firm. That right?” Fury asks.

“Yes,” Bucky says, quieter than before.

“You know, I used to work with Pierce, before Schmidt and Zola came on. It was Sitwell, Pierce and Zemo back then.”

“I hadn’t, actually,” Bucky says.

Nick Fury laughs. “Yeah, well, they probably try to keep that under wraps, given my current occupation. Anyway, I got a call from one of Pierce’s interns earlier this week, advising me to steer clear of a certain young lawyer on the job market. He said that they’re letting every major firm in town know so that no one makes the mistake of hiring you. Seems like Pierce is pulling every favor he’s got to get you out of the city.”

Steve’s stomach drops. Bucky was right — he’s being frozen out. Pierce is trying to ruin him.

“Oh,” Bucky says, quietly. “Thanks for letting me know. I’d had my suspicions, but… You always hope the best.” He slumps, and Steve abandons his Google search and moves behind him. He puts a hand on Bucky’s shoulder and gives it a squeeze. Bucky reaches up and puts his hand over Steve’s.

“But here’s the thing,” Fury says. “I don’t give a shit about what Alexander Pierce wants from people. I don’t him anything. If he wants to keep you from practicing law, it means that you should be practicing law, and I’d be the dumbest man on earth if I didn’t give you a shot. You start on Monday, if you’re interested. Can’t offer you the same kind of pay you were getting with those guys, but we’ve got a good team doing real work. It’s a better lifestyle than working for the other guys.”

“What?” Bucky asks.

“I’ve seen your work, been following your career since you were at Princeton. Had my own suspicions about a guy who spent all of law school publishing radical papers on gay rights and housing equality ending up with Pierce and his cronies. Seems like you had good enough sense to get out of there. Now I’m offering you a place here if you want it.”

“Yes,” Bucky breaths out. “Yes.”

“We’ll have the paperwork drafted up and ready for you to look at when you get here,” Fury says. “Congratulations. You’re now our newest associate. Welcome to the team,” he adds before hanging up.

Bucky just looks at the phone. Then up to Steve. “Holy shit,” he says. He looks back down at the phone again. “I can’t believe it.”

Steve grins. “Time to start being a good guy,” he says.

“It’s nice to be here,” Bucky replies.

— —

Steve finally gets his painting hung up in their bedroom during Bucky’s first day at Fury, Banner and Valkyrie LLP. Their new place is a mix of the two of them — homey and warm, but with modern touches. As soon as Steve walked in, it felt like home. A real place for them to start their lives together. It didn’t take much time for them to apartment shop. They both just knew it when they saw it.

It feels strange to look at the painting in its new location. When Steve sent it to Bucky, he hadn’t expected anything from it, not even a thank you note. He’d sent it out of goodwill, out of gratitude for their one conversation. It had been a reminder of why he painted in the first place, and he had appreciated it so much.

He hadn’t realized that this painting would bring him Bucky, and a new direction in life.

Steve remembers what it was like to hang painting after painting in his mother’s hospital room, the simultaneous feelings of despair and purpose that came from trying to make beautiful things for his beloved, dying mother. After that, he’d been laser-focused on his career, thinking that nothing meant anything if he didn’t become the greatest artist in the world.

But now… Now he realizes what his mother knew all along. Love fuels him, fills him up. His love for his mother, for his friends, and now for Bucky, makes him the artist he is. Living with and loving Bucky is making him a better artist. Finding a different path for Bucky is, too. His life is a better life, and his art is better art, now that he has Bucky with him.

He hears the front door open and Steve smiles, wiping away a stray tear that had fallen as he looked at the painting. He puts a hand in his pocket and feels the small velvet box that rests in there.

Steve feels a new series of paintings coming on now that his blue period is over.

Maybe he’ll call the series Engagement.

— —

Fin