Steve wakes up on Saturday morning to a quiet apartment. Nothing seems wrong, but… something’s not quite right, either. Steve knows better than to ignore his instincts. After a few uneventful moments, he realizes the smell of coffee wafting in from the kitchen.
Steve had fallen asleep alone. The only people that have access to his apartment (technically his floor ) are the other Avengers, but none of them have ever come in while he was sleeping before. The odds of this being an intruder are slim-to-none. Anyone that would have been able to disable JARVIS (and Tony’s other, equally impressive security measures) would certainly not be hanging out in Steve’s apartment, making coffee.
Steve groans. He had gotten in late last night, and while the serum allows him to operate on little sleep, he generally prefers to get more than… three hours, according to his clock. Christ. The petulant part of Steve wants to burrow into bed and ignore whatever is happening in his kitchen, but he knows that he can’t. Odds are the intruder is Natasha - and, if it is, she won’t hesitate to come into his bedroom and perch somewhere like an unwelcome gargoyle until he gets his ass out of bed.
Resigned to his fate, Steve levers himself out of bed and pulls on a pair of pants. He debates the shirt for a second, but ultimately pulls one on as well. Natasha can’t be here for something time-sensitive or she would have woken him up, but he never knows when she’s going to drag him out of bed for an early morning training session.
Natasha claims that she wants them all to keep constant vigilance. Steve thinks that she’s a secret morning person that also loves to torture her teammates.
Steve leaves his bedroom rumpled and half-ready to fend off a flying attack from Natasha. Instead, he finds her sitting cross-legged on his kitchen counter, drinking a cup of coffee and reading something on her tablet, like this is what she does every morning.
Natasha keeps poking at something on her screen for a few seconds, even though Steve knows that she knows he’s there. Steve is moments away from just asking what the hell is going on, when she finally looks up at him.
Natasha looks at Steve, expressionless. That alone is enough to send alarm bells ringing, klaxons blaring in Steve’s mind. That’s Natasha’s I-can’t-be-honest-because-we’re-in-public face. That’s Natasha’s I-don’t-quite-know-how-to-comfort face. That’s how Natasha looks while she’s processing information for a difficult mission - not how she should look while breaking into Steve’s apartment at 4:30 in the morning on a Saturday, drinking coffee.
“What happened?” Steve asks, already mentally preparing for something big.
Instead of answering, Natasha hops of the counter, grabs Steve’s favorite mug, and pours him a cup of coffee with a hint of sugar. When she turns around to press the mug into his hand, her face is still blank.
“You probably want to sit down.”
Steve sinks down into one of the kitchen chairs, mind whirling. She couldn’t possibly know about last night… could she? Would she care? Steve wouldn’t have guessed that Nat would care about his sexuality, but.
Natasha hands him her tablet silently.
Pulled up is a news article: Captain America, GAY?
Below it, there are photos. None overly damning, but more than enough: A tall blond man in a black shirt in what is obviously a gay bar; a tall blond man, leaning close to a man with brown hair; the brown-haired man, with a suggestive hand on the blond’s bicep; the blond man and the brown-haired man, headed towards the door, holding hands.
These are indistinctive. How can they be sure that they’re me?
Because Steve knows that these pictures are of himself and an attractive stranger that he had met last night. He knows because he was there.
He scrolls past several other photos of progressively more dubious quality, until he find the money shot: Steve, turned around, facing the camera, face completely recognizable, with a protective arm wrapped around his paramour , facing away from the camera. There’s no arguing whether or not Steve is the man in the photo. There’s also no arguing that the person he’s leaving the bar with is another man, or that the purpose isn’t sexual.
Sunday morning, Steve’s phone buzzes with an incoming text message from an unfamiliar number.
(202) 555-6384: Hey there stranger, Tony gave me your # so that we could chat about our great love affair
Steve blinks, frowns, then blinks again. He barely restrains himself from looking around his apartment like he’s being pranked, but he knows that he would have noticed an intruder, and JARVIS has no active video cameras in Steve’s personal space. There’s a lot to unpack in that relatively short text message. Tony gave his phone number to someone? In a romantic context? Why? Steve sighs and gives into the temptation to rub his eyes. What the hell is Tony thinking? Is this a prank? If it is, then why the hell can’t Tony tell when he’s pressing on a fresh bruise?
There’s no way that Tony could have found the guy and given him Steve’s number… is there? Steve had refused to tell Tony or Natasha where the man lives, or even his name. Mark. Not enough for either of them to find the guy, but Steve’s prepared to out-stubborn them both. There’s no need to drag the stranger into this unless he starts making trouble. It’s not the guy’s fault that he unknowingly slept with a superhero.
Tension-headache already forming, Steve unlocks his phone and opens the message. Best try and get information from the source.
Steve: Who is this?
(202) 555-6384: Your boyfriend
Steve waits for a few minutes but the stranger offers no more information. A dozen different possibilities whirl through Steve’s mind, from sex worker to groupie to stalker to prank, all of them landing at Tony’s feet. Steve doesn’t give out this phone number to anyone, and the stranger already implicated Tony. So Steve may not know why but he certainly knows how. Steve could see through Tony’s warped sense of humor that sending a strange man to Steve might be funny. In a future scenario, where things have already settled down and Steve is comfortable with the world knowing his personal business, he might even be able to find something like this amusing.
But right now? Too soon.
Steve takes a deep breath, counts to ten, and lets it out. Getting angry won’t help. All of Steve’s emotions have been close to the surface, to say the least, so he’s trying his best not to get angry. Maybe Tony has a good reason for this, whatever this is. Maybe Tony’s trying to be helpful… somehow. Steve has to give him the benefit of the doubt. Slightly calmed and ready to talk, Steve goes in search of Tony.
Unsurprising, Steve finds Tony in the lab with Bruce, monologuing about something science-y and gesticulating wildly with a screwdriver. Bruce nods, mentions something about carbon, and then they’re both off, talking over each other excitedly. Steve stands off to the side with his arms crossed, waiting. Trying to interrupt them at this point would be useless - he’s tried before, with little success. The moment gives Steve a chance to try and corral something to say to Tony, other than what the actual fuck, Tony? He needs to convey that giving his number out to strangers is not funny, and that Steve hasn’t gotten to a point yet in this saga that it could be funny. Maybe one day, but that day is not today. Maybe in a month, or two, or six.
And hey, part of Steve understands - Tony is a man of action, a guy who likes to fix things, likes to defend his teammates like a tiny growling watchdog with a bazooka. Steve appreciates it. He does. As much as he and Tony clash and argue, he knows that Tony’s intentions are good, even when his actual actions leave something to be desired. But Tony’s ideal scenario is a situation that he can either A: throw money at, or B: blow up. He’s not exactly good at the touchy-feely stuff.
Steve being outed had thrown the whole team for a loop. Aside from the fact that none of them knew about Steve’s sexuality (though he imagines that some of them must have suspected), anything that negatively affects one teammate puts all of the Avengers up in arms. Tony had tried to pry information about the guy out of Steve, talking a mile a minute about suing and NDA’s and hush money; Natasha had offered to make the photographer’s life very difficult; Sam and Bruce both offered support, to talk about it (like Steve was ready to talk about it); Clint had stood somewhat in the shadows, saying nothing, but giving off a very threatening glower. Afterwards, he clapped a hand on Steve’s shoulder, and said, “I’m gay. And if you think I’m good with a bow, you should see what my boyfriend can do with a pen,” then vanished. Steve’s not sure exactly who Clint’s boyfriend is or what the man plans on doing, but plausible deniability is probably Steve’s best bet.
(Steve actually doesn’t want the other Avengers to ruin the photographer’s life, but. He has to pick his battles, and he knows that arguing would be an exercise in futility.)
Steve had ultimately turned down Tony’s offers of lawyers and fiery legal retribution, and so that left them here: Tony doing god-knows-what, giving Steve’s personal cell phone number out to god-knows-who.
Steve’s patience runs out before the science banter does.
"Tony," Steve says, voice harsher than he originally planned.
"It lives! I was wondering if we would get to see your beautiful face sometime today or if you would spend it holing up in your castle again, but -"
"Tony," Steve interrupts, "did you give my phone number to a stalker?"
It’s not that Steve thinks that Tony would do that, per se, but this situation exists so far from the normal realm of their interactions that Steve doesn’t know what to expect.
"A stalker? Cap, I am wounded by the accusation. Would I ever do something like that?"
"I don't know Tony, why is there a stranger messaging me and calling himself my boyfriend?"
"Oh!" Tony’s face lights up, like he had somehow forgotten and just remembered, even though it’s been one day since the photos were published. "I did give your number to Bucky, yes."
Steve stares at Tony, blank-faced and starting to get legitimately angry. Is that supposed to mean something to him?
"Who the hell is Bucky?"
"James Barnes? JB? JB Barnes? Am I ringing any bells here? No? Have you been following yourself in the news at all?"
The honest answer is no, Steve has not. Steve has been more or less pretending that the last 24 hours never happened - not his most mature, brilliant plan, but quite frankly Steve has no interest in hearing what tabloid reporters and talking heads think about his sexuality, or his love life. He knows that Fox News has been frothing at the mouth - that doesn’t mean he needs to subject himself to that. No, Steve spent yesterday (after the meetings, and the threats) reading the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, with his TV, tablet, and phone all off.
"Yeah, okay, I shouldn't be surprised. So do you know the name Winifred Barnes?"
Steve nods slowly. The name is familiar, mixed up in the seventy-year crash course in American and world history that he got after waking up.
"She was the first female president, back in the nineties I think."
"Bingo, though it was actually early aughts. And James Barnes is her son. Her famously gay son. Who kinda sorta fits the same basic physical features as that guy in the photograph."
Steve can feel his eyebrows scrunching up in what Sam calls his ‘heroic look of disapproval.’ Tony has never tried to play matchmaker before. Nat, sure, even Clint a few times, and once, hilariously, Thor, but not Tony. It’s never really seemed like his style, even though Tony probably knows more people than every single other Avenger combined.
"So what," Steve says slowly, still processing, "you think he's my type?"
To Steve’s surprise, Tony rolls his eyes so hard it becomes a whole-head movement.
"No, Capcicle. The paps skipped straight over the 'mystery man' portion of the story and decided you must have been canoodling with JB - he was in New York this past weekend, which makes the story remotely plausible - and have moved on to speculating about how you met and how long you've secretly been together."
Of all of the possibilities, that one hadn’t even pinged Steve’s radar. Those pictures had obviously been taken on a cell phone camera, at night - even Steve is barely recognizable, except in the one photo where he’s facing the camera. And the guy never faced the camera. It’s hard to get more generic than “brunette” and “close-in-height-but-still-shorter than Steve.”
This whole scenario is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Steve doesn’t actually know who James Barnes is, but he almost certainly isn’t the guy Steve went home with on Friday night. Unless, of course, “JB” is a celebrity who thinks it’s quirky to slum it in a run-down area of Queens, in an apartment the size of Steve’s hall closet.
“But there are thousands of men in New York that have brown hair. How could they possibly think that -"
"Because they have a 24-hour news cycle to fill Cap. They don't care if it's right. But 'Captain America seen with random stranger' takes up about five minutes of air time, once you skip over the whole sexuality thing, but 'Captain America is in a secret relationship with another famous person' has secrecy and intrigue,” Tony says, waving his screwdriver around for emphasis. “Also, a lot of people are unwilling or unable to believe that someone as upstanding and righteous as you could ever possibly have a one-night stand, so it makes more sense to invent a whole courtship. Basically all the news channels are running with it at this point.”
Steve’s phone buzzes again, where it’s still clutched tightly in Steve’s hand. He’s lucky he hasn’t accidentally crushed it.
(202) 555-6384: Too soon for jokes?
Steve bites back a string of swear words. As if things weren’t complicated enough already, apparently Steve accidentally dragged this total stranger into this mess with him, knowingly or not. So far Steve has avoided making a statement, partially because he doesn’t quite know what to say, partially because he doesn’t think that he should have to justify what he does in his personal life, since it’s nobody’s fucking business. Apparently, the media found a way to fill the void.
"He probably is your type, though, now that you mention it. JARVIS, pull up a picture of JB for the good captain."
Steve looks down at this phone again. He probably shouldn’t keep ignoring the stranger, now that he knows both who it is and why he’s contacting Steve.
Steve: Sorry, I’m talking to Tony.
Steve looks up from his phone to see a life-sized photo projected mid-air. For the first few seconds he just marvels at the technology in front of him. No matter how much time he spends in Tony’s lab, the technology never fails to impress him. As crazy and futuristic the literal future has been, Tony’s lab is a whole ‘nother ballpark, since his tech is about twenty years more advanced than the outside world’s.
Then, he actually pays attention to the figure in the photo. The man is tall, maybe an inch or two shorter than Steve. Lean, but obviously fit. His long brown hair curls over his shoulder in an overly-perfect wave, like a shampoo commercial, and his bright blue eyes stare knowingly into the camera, as though he’s inviting the viewer in on a secret.
So maybe Steve does have a type.
Steve tears his eyes away from the picture and back to Tony.
"So that's my boyfriend?" Steve says. He has to give credit where credit is due - he absolutely would have gone home with the man from the photo, if given the opportunity.
"Yep, though this photo is a few years old now. He cut his hair, has this 40's style ploof thing on top," Tony gestures in a wave over his head. “It’s a better look for him than the long hair, though let’s be honest, he always looks good. America’s heartthrob, right there. Broke a million teenage girl’s hearts when he came out.”
Steve isn’t entirely sure what to say to that. He feels struck dumb by the man in the photo, but he avoids looking at the picture again - easier said than done, considering it’s projected about a foot away from where Tony’s standing.
Tony will never, ever let Steve live it down if he stands in Tony’s lab and salivates over a photo of a random stranger. Particularly a random stranger that the gossip rags pinged as being a good match for Steve. Wow, embarrassing.
It’s not just that the guy is gorgeous, not really. There’s something tantalizing about the idea that Steve could have this guy, this secret-boyfriend, tucked away somewhere, in some kind of cozy/comfortable relationship that Steve could lean on, rather than just some random hookup when Steve got so lonely that he got desperate, and stupid.
"So do you actually know this guy?" Steve says, "or did you have JARVIS look up his number?"
Steve thinks that Tony must know the guy, or else he wouldn’t have given Steve’s number out so readily.
"Oh yeah, we go way back. Met him while he was a kid in the White House, traveled in the same circles for a little while. He's a good kid.” Tony blinks, then scratches his head with his screwdriver, considering. “Huh, I think he’s almost thirty now. Maybe he is thirty? I’ll have to ask Pep, she’s good at remembering those things. Anyway, not important. As far as fake media boyfriends go, he’s the jackpot.”
“He… is… good looking?” Steve says slowly. How does one measure the quality of a fake secret media boyfriend?
Tony waves the screwdriver dismissively. “I mean yeah, he’s a heartthrob. The important thing is that he’s trustworthy.”
Sometimes, Steve just cannot follow Tony’s line of thought.
“You trust a politician?”
To Steve’s surprise, Tony cackles like he does when Steve asks a particularly stupid question about technology.
“He is not a politician. I’m sure he hates politics worse than you do. No, no, he and I have been work-” Tony cuts himself off midword, like he’s thought better of it, and then waves his hand around dismissively, again. "Ah. Well. That's a story for another time. He tries to stay out of the spotlight, figuratively speaking anyway, but the paps love him."
Steve wants to know what Tony didn’t say about James. Cutting off mid-word like that is unlike him - normally Steve can’t get Tony to shut up about his projects, no matter how classified the project is supposed to be. One time he spent half an hour explaining some kind of heat-exchange system to Steve with some version of “I’m not supposed to be telling you this” and “but you didn’t hear this from me” interspersed every other sentence. Tony knew that Steve had no idea what he was talking about, and Steve knew that Tony was essentially just using him like a human skull to monologue at.
Alas, poor Yorick.
Steve doesn’t need to know everything that Tony does, nor does he need (or want) to know everything that goes on in Tony’s projects for Stark Industries. But if Steve’s fake secret media boyfriend is involved with Tony, somehow, it seems pertinent to talk about that.
The phone in his hand buzzes again.
(202) 555-6384: Sounds dangerous
“Anyway, JB messaged me this morning asking for your number to touch base. He’s generally a pretty good sport, and he’s a pro at navigating the tabloids, so it’ll help you to have him in your corner.”
Steve nods, not sure how else to respond. If Tony doesn’t want to say anything else, it’s probably best for Steve not to push. Maybe the project is something personal. Or maybe, Tony wants to get back to whatever him and Bruce were working on, without distracting himself with explaining a majorly complicated project to modern-science-illiterate Steve.
"Sorry, I should let you guys get back to what you were working on."
Now that Steve’s actually paying attention, rather than laser-focused on Tony, he can see diagrams and readouts strewn all over every available surface of the lab. Steve doesn’t have enough of a scientific background to have any idea what they’re working on, and knowing Tony (and Bruce) it could be absolutely anything, from vaccinating schoolchildren in Ghana to developing complicated weaponry for the Iron Man suit. Either way, it’s likely best to leave them to it. Steve doesn’t need to drag everyone into his ridiculous media situation, especially not if they have other things to be working on.
Steve heads back up to his own floor, debating how to respond to James on the way. Tony seems to think that James is a good ally to have, and he certainly seems to be playful and good-natured about this mess, when he could just as easily been angry or dismissive. Considering the many bad scenarios, James’ messages are actually kind of refreshing. Too many people in this century view Steve as the propaganda persona he wears, and so they generally avoid joking with him. Lot’s of respectful nods and yes-sir-no-sir, not a lot of banter.
Returning to his own space, Steve drops onto his sofa and opens the message string. Regardless of whether he likes it or not, him and James are stuck in this together, so he clicks on the tiny info button and carefully selects the “Create New Contact” option. (When he first got his phone, he accidentally called people he was trying to save as contacts all the time. It was mildly embarrassing, and the other Avengers made fun of him for it, and he definitely doesn’t want to do that right now.)
Steve hesitates over what to actually name the contact. The obvious choice is “James Barnes,” obviously. But this is also he guy who introduced himself as Steve’s boyfriend.
In for a penny, in for a pound.
Or maybe when in Rome with a fake secret media boyfriend…
Steve: I had temporary amnesia and had forgotten our great love affair.
Steve: Forgive me?
Boyfriend: Anything for you, honey bear
What a little shit. If he thinks that Steve won’t play along, he has another thing coming.
Steve: Are we thinking of a spring or fall wedding?
Boyfriend: Fall wedding for sure
Boyfriend: Spring is too floral, too tacky
Boyfriend: And I look way better in autumnal colors
Boyfriend: Though I *can* rock a floral suit
James' texts come rapid-fire, much more quickly than Steve can type.
Steve: Fall is good.
Steve: Gives us a few months to plan at least.
Boyfriend: Oh honey bear no
Boyfriend: You can't plan a wedding in a few MONTHS
Boyfriend: It would have to be NEXT fall
Boyfriend: Year and a half, def
A year and a half? The thought of spending a year and a half planning a wedding makes Steve queasy, fictional or no. That’s just wasteful, on top of being completely unnecessary. And unnecessary wastefulness is one of Steve’s pet peeves of the twenty-first century, borne out of his depression-era sensibilities. Getting married in a quiet ceremony at a church, with your friends and family, makes so much more sense than some kind of circus-like event that costs an ungodly amount of money.
Steve: Can we just elope? The rest of our relationship has been a secret, why not the wedding? Saves us both the trouble.
The little "..." bubble appears then disappears twice. Then, finally:
Boyfriend: ...don't tempt me
Boyfriend: It's all fun and games until you realize that I would 100% elope with you tomorrow
Boyfriend: Name a courthouse and I'm there
Boyfriend: I've seen you shirtless
Boyfriend: I'm ready
Boyfriend: My body is ready
Steve’s face heats up in what is surely a spectacular blush. He knows that James is joking, but all Steve can think about is that devilish little smile from the photo, and the smirk that James is almost certainly sporting on the other side of the phone. The part of Steve that signed up for Project Rebirth and then marched into Nazi Germany with nothing but a wooden shield and an excess of spite and gumption wants to call James on his bluff, or meet him at City Hall in some kind of ridiculous game of media-chicken.
Steve’s getting a little better at ignoring that side of himself.
Steve: Unfortunately, I doubt we could find a courthouse anywhere that wouldn't be swarmed with reporters the instant we showed up. We may have to wait until things die down a little bit.
Boyfriend: Tragic, but true
Boyfriend: This is why you're a tactician and I'm just Out's most eligible bachelor three years running
Steve isn’t sure what “Out” is, but he’s assuming it’s some kind of magazine.
What he wants to do is ask what James is working on with Tony, but he’s not quite sure how to steer the conversation in that direction.
Steve: Tony didn’t tell me that I might be hearing from you, so you surprised me this morning.
Boyfriend: That sounds like Tony
Boyfriend: Brilliant but scatterbrained
Boyfriend: I trust that he set the record straight?
Boyfriend: So to speak
Steve: Yes. He seems to trust you, which says a lot, coming from Tony.
Boyfriend: I've been working with Tony on a project
Boyfriend: Top secret
Boyfriend: Very hush hush
Steve: Tony was being secretive, which isn’t like him. I wasn’t sure what to make of that.
Steve: I don’t know, sweetheart, should I be?
Steve isn’t jealous. Well, not really jealous. Maybe a little. Tony generally takes the stance of distrusing everyone, aside from Pepper, Happy, Rhodey, and the other Avengers - so him immediately declaring James trustworthy came as a bit of a surprise. And maybe part, some small, insignificant part , of Steve has been wondering if James and Tony had a history. Like, a history history . And it would have to be history, because Steve knows that Tony would never screw around on Pepper.
Steve could justify asking because, well, it would be weird to flirt with Tony’s ex, right?
Boyfriend: Aww, baby, no need to be jealous
Boyfriend: Tony's not my type
Steve knows that he probably shouldn’t ask. It’s inappropriate to ask, and he’s presumably going to be stuck in this situation with James for a while, but…
Steve: What is your type?
Impulse control has never really been Steve’s strong suit.
Boyfriend: Tall, blonde
Boyfriend: Strong enough to toss me around ;)
Steve’s knows that if he were to look in a mirror right now he would be bright red. He really, really should not be flirting with his fake secret media boyfriend… right?
Boyfriend: And you?
Boyfriend: What's YOUR type?
Steve tries to respond with the most neutral answer he can, even though he really wants to reply: you.
Steve: I think all of America knows what my type is at this point.
Boyfriend: I wish I knew what that guy said
Boyfriend: To get you to go home with him
Boyfriend: I would be saying it right now
At this point, Steve’s pretty sure that his blush is blushing. He sets the phone down for a second so that he can rub his hands over his face and take a few deep breaths. He needs to bring this conversation back around before he says something that he’ll regret later.
Steve: Where is home? You don't live in New York, right?
Boyfriend: Dupont Circle
Boyfriend: The gayborhood
Boyfriend: Haven't you read my wikipedia page?
Steve licks his lips, unsure about how to respond to that. Reading James’ Wikipedia page would be smart, from a tactical perspective. As of now all he really knows is that James is the son of a former president and that Tony both knows and trusts him. And that he’s gay. In total, not a lot to go on. On the other hand, Steve knows what it’s like, expecting everyone you talk to to have have some base knowledge of your life, and consequently some expectations for who they think you should be. Steve finds that exhausting, and he can imagine that James does too.
Steve: No. I would rather learn about you from you.
James takes a long time to respond. Long enough that Steve starts to worry that maybe he said the wrong thing.
Boyfriend: That might be the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me
Boyfriend: Definitely top five
Boyfriend: But right now I'm meeting my sister for brunch and I've been standing outside the restaurant for five minutes
Boyfriend: And if I don't get inside I'm gonna be late
Steve: Go meet your sister.
Boyfriend: Yeah, yeah
Boyfriend: We should probably chat sometime soon
Boyfriend: About how to handle the boyfriend-thing
Steve’s not entirely sure what else there is to discuss, but he’s certainly not going to say no to talking to James again.
Sure. I'll be home all night, Steve starts to type. No. That sounds... pathetic. He deletes the message and starts again.
Steve: Sure. I plan to stay in tonight, so call me when you're free.
James messages him back a thumbs-up.
Steve isn’t expecting to hear from James again for another couple of hours, so it’s a surprise when his phone buzzes with a new message from “Boyfriend” just twenty minutes later. Opening the message, Steve finds a picture of the biggest Bloody Mary he’s ever seen, with a laughing woman partially cut off in the background.
Boyfriend: Becca wants deets
Boyfriend: Don't worry, I know how to be coy
Steve: You can tell your sister the truth.
Boyfriend: Where's the fun in that?
Forty minutes later, Steve gets a picture of an enormous plate of multi-colored macarons.
Boyfriend: When I die, I want heaven to be nothing but these, as far as the eye can see
Steve laughs - what a goofball - and sends back a picture of the sketch he’s working on: the Brooklyn bridge on a sunny day. He’s continuing on his mission of ignoring the outside world, so he’s avoiding both the television and his tablet. And that’s fine. He has some reading to catch up on, anyway, and he’s been saying that he wants to draw more for months.
Steve isn’t hiding if this is exactly what he wants to be doing right now. The fact that he’s holed up, alone in his apartment, is a complete coincidence.
Boyfriend: That's gorgeous!
Boyfriend: Are you an artist?
Steve: Not really. I mostly draw landscapes or the occasional figure drawing.
Steve had more or less given up drawing during the war, but his therapist has been encouraging him to pick up some productive hobbies. Ones that would give him a sense of accomplishment. Steve’s not entirely sure that that’s going to fix anything, but he’s dutifully drawing and trying to teach himself how to cook, regardless.
Look at me, ma, I’m a well-adjusted post-war soldier.
Not that the war has ever really ended, for Steve. There’s always something for Captain America to fight.
Boyfriend: Oooh, figure drawing
Boyfriend: Would you draw me like one of your French girls?
Steve has to assume that that’s some kind of reference, but he’s not sure to what. He has a notebook with probably a thousand movies, TV shows, books, albums, etc. he supposedly “needs” to catch up on, to be part of this century. Right now he’s gotten through less than a tenth of it, and enjoyed less than half of that. Steve has some doubts about his teammates’ tastes, sometimes.
It’s a classic, they say.
You have to see it, they say.
Boyfriend: I maaaay be a little tipsy
Boyfriend: Those bloody marys... dangerous
Steve has a little twenty-first century solution to all of his reference problems: Google. Great invention. An absolute lifesaver for Steve, who can type whatever nonsense people are talking about into that little white box and get both answers and suggestions.
So Steve opens Google and starts typing: draw me like
> draw me like a french girl
> draw me like
> draw me like a french girl titanic
Steve chooses the first option, though he has a feeling that he’ll need to go back to the third. One of Steve’s favorite things about Google is the suggestions - since he often doesn’t actually know what people are talking about, or sometimes how names are spelled, it’s incredibly helpful to be able to look at Google’s suggested hits.
The first result gives some videos that he’s not in the mood to watch, along with a bunch of images of different people and animals reclining on things, sometimes with the words “draw me like one of your french girls” written over the picture in blocky lettering. Those look like memes (and he knows memes thank you very much ), so he goes back and selects the third option, “draw me like a french girl titanic.” The same clip of the movie scene comes up, along with photos of a nude woman reclining suggestively on a sette.
Steve: I haven't done that kind of figure drawing since art school.
Boyfriend: Would you like some practice?
Boyfriend: Sorry, sorry, I'm being thirsty
Boyfriend: Ignore me
Steve thinks long and hard about how to reply to that. Living in the twenty-first century has been… strange. When he went into the ice, he was a soldier and a minor celebrity. Sure, there were the tours and the newsreels, but people back then knew that Captain America was a character, not a person. No one actually cared about Steve’s personal life, or who he was before the serum. They cared that he could lift a motorcycle one-handed and punch Hitler in the face - and then, later, that he was jumping out of aeroplanes and marching into Nazi compounds to free American POW’s.
But twenty-first century technology had made the culture of celebrity into the cult of celebrity. Now, Steve isn’t just a soldier who wears a funny costume - he’s expected to be Captain America, every moment of every day. And Captain America isn’t a man. No. Captain America is a symbol of America itself, and people expect him to act as a paragon of whatever they think America stands for. The vast majority of people neither know nor care about Steve’s real history, or his track record with fighting for socialism, women’s rights, and integration. To them, he’s a living fossil from a “better” time, a time that America should return to, regardless of how shitty that time actually was.
So now, everyone has an opinion on who Captain America should be, and everyone has a cell phone camera to monitor him every time he goes out in public. He can’t even go for a jog without people stopping to ask him for selfies. Though Steve doesn’t readily admit it to his teammates, he hasn’t been adjusting well to the new century, and he knows that they know it. All of the Avengers have baggage, and they all politely pretend that they don’t notice each others’ while also trying to be as supportive as possible. It’s a delicate balancing act.
They all have their own ways of blowing off steam. Nat, Clint, and Bruce are all rarely recognized - Natasha because she can disappear seamlessly into any crowd, and Clint and Bruce because they’re rarely photographed well, so people don’t know what they look like - and so they have a level of freedom to go out and do whatever they want. Thor can escape to Asgard whenever he wants. Tony has cultivated a reputation of behaving badly over the years, so people don’t exactly hold him to high moral standards. Sam is new enough to the group that the average American doesn’t know very much about him.
That leaves Steve. Steve, whose face has been plastered on posters and coffee mugs and action figures for 70 years. Steve, who has been the subject of history books and half a dozen movies about WWII and his life. Steve, who people genuinely feel like they know because they’ve taken an eighth grade history class.
Steve had been able to sneak away with people, back then. He knew where the queer bars were. He knew how not to get arrested, how to escape a raid. And then there was the war, and Peggy, and he knew that no one looked too hard at what the other soldiers were doing in the dark of the trenches. Everyone just wanted to survive.
But here? Now? The women Steve met were all nice enough, but they had expectations, like everybody else. He had been on a few dates. Each had walked in with a complete image of who he was, and what their future “relationship” was going to be like. A few were overly sympathetic, with wide, doe eyes. A few were fierce and independent. A few of them were clearly social climbers. None of them held a candle to Peggy.
(Natasha tries. Steve can’t fault her for the fact that he doesn’t belong in this century.)
And so Steve made a poor choice. He was lonely and fed-up and wanted to have one goddamn night where he could be a random anonymous man living his life in New York City. He found a bar in Queens, far from where anyone would expect him to be, and made sure that he had two days’ worth of stubble, because no one expected Captain America to be a scruffy looking guy at a queer bar. An attractive brunet bought him a drink and invited Steve back to his place. The man gave Steve a blowjob, and Steve returned the favor, and left.
Then, Steve woke up with pictures of him leaving the bar all over the news.
So what Steve should be doing is damage control. He should be responding to the dozens (if not hundreds) of media inquiries he’s received, meeting with his Stark Industries employed publicist, and handling the fallout. Steve’s not sure whether or not America was actually ready for a queer Captain America, but hey, Steve wasn’t exactly ready either.
Instead, Steve’s sitting in his apartment, drawing Brooklyn from memory.
Steve wants to flirt with this absolutely gorgeous, openly gay man, who seems to actually be giving Steve the time of day.
Steve fucking wants, okay? He’s only human. And the cat’s already out of the bag, isn’t it?
So Steve picks up his phone and sends:
Steve: What if I don't want to ignore you? Maybe I'd take you up on your offer.
After a minute, Steve gets another photo, this time of James staring slack-jawed down at his phone. The photo was obviously taken by James’ sister. And he looks good. Really good. His hair is shorter than it was in the picture Steve saw earlier, like Tony said it would be, and he’s wearing a fitted pink button-down shirt that makes him look soft and touchable. The dumbstruck look on his face is adorable, and his open mouth...
The less Steve says about James’ mouth, the better.
Boyfriend: This is me rn
Boyfriend: In related news, Becca is a jerk
Boyfriend: Becca says I'm not allowed to sext at brunch
Boyfriend: So put a pin in that thought
Steve exhales noisily. You deserve to have nice things. That’s what Natasha had said, after.
Steve sends back a thumbs up emoji. James responds with an emoji with wide eyes and blushing cheeks.
By late afternoon, Steve finally settles down with his tablet to do some homework. If James is going to call in a few hours to talk damage control on their fictional relationship, Steve should at least know something about said fictional relationship. Biting the bullet, Steve Googles his own name. Predictably, all of the first hits are current-events/news, but he selects the dedicated “news” tab anyway. The first couple are what Steve expects - mainstream news sources speculating on his sexuality, mixed with thinkpieces. A few seem positive, Captain America is the Gay Icon America Needs, and some of them seem negative, Captain America Deceives and Disappoints America. Further down he finds an article titled “Steve Rogers and James Barnes are the Power Couple We Didn’t Know We Needed Until Now,” which seems like as good a place to start as any.
The reporting in the article is sparse, if you can even really call it reporting. Mostly it consisted of a set of pictures of James out and about in New York City, wearing a white shirt and black skinny jeans. Those were followed by a few of the blurry pictures from the bar, showing Steve with a man of roughly the same height and build as James (also wearing a white shirt and black pants, like that really meant anything), though none of the photos showed a clear shot of the “mystery” man’s face. Steve himself was barely recognizable. Then came the infamous photo, with Steve facing the camera and his paramour facing away.
The evidence isn’t exactly convincing.
The "article" went on to talk about the fact that James Barnes was known to be in New York from Thursday night to Saturday, and had been seen back in Dupont Circle...
Oh, that last photo is from today.
The photo is of James standing in front of a fancy-looking restaurant, wearing the same pink shirt as the photo he sent Steve earlier, along with a pair of charcoal grey slacks. He’s looking at his phone in this photo too, but instead of being struck dumb, he has a soft smile on his face.
“Who could he be texting that would make him smile like that? Could it be the star spangled man with the plan?”
The irony of it all is that, for everything else in that the article got wrong, they’re right about that. James was messaging Steve at that particular moment.
(Steve tried not to linger too long on the soft expression on James’ face.)
When the call finally comes, Steve is elbows-deep in dishes.
Reading about the “evidence” of his and James’ secret relationship had been disorienting because, as it turns out, they have more compelling information that Steve had originally expected. Apparently James visits NYC pretty regularly, and there are dozens of pictures of him entering, exiting, or just generally being around Stark Tower. Presumably that has something to do with the “Top Secret” work he’s doing with Tony.
On top of that, James had also been known as somewhat of a playboy, before settling down all of a sudden a few years ago, which may have been the real inspiration for the whole “secret relationship” theory - apparently tabloid reporters have been trying to find out the identity of James’ secret boyfriend for years, so the moment that someone who kinda sorta looks like James was seen with Captain America, they jumped on the opportunity to fit their own narrative.
So given the circumstances, Steve suspects that it’s going to be more difficult to fix things than he originally thought (though he’s privately relieved that the speculation was caused by James’ behavior as much as his own). But the idea of having to stand up at a press conference or make some kind of written statement setting the record straight about what happened that night makes Steve’s chest tighten in a way it hasn’t in 70 years.
And it’s stupid - Steve knows it’s stupid. Steve doesn’t judge people for who they sleep with, and he doesn’t think that it’s anyone’s business what happens between consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes. But Steve has been held to a different standard ever since he woke up in his new body. He’s a role model, an icon, an upstanding example for everyone to aspire towards, according to the propaganda machine. Based on what he read, plenty of people are struggling with the gay thing - technically bi thing, though Steve isn’t sure it’s worth fighting that battle right now - and so he doesn’t even know how to explain the one-night-stand thing.
Thing is? Steve doesn’t think he should have to explain it.
But that’s one of the burdens of carrying the shield.
So rather than wallowing, Steve had decided to channel his anxiety into cooking. He had never been very good at that, before, because he barely had the money to feed himself, and then he was in the army, where they fed him. Since his therapist had given him ‘goals’ (read: busywork, really, though Steve didn’t fight it), Steve decided that he might as well do something practical with his time, killing two birds with one stone. So Steve had set his tablet down, taken a deep breath, pulled out one of the cookbooks Natasha had given him, found a decently easy looking recipe, and tried his best.
(The noodles were overcooked and the sauce was oddly sour, but he’s trying.)
So of course, he’s trying to scrub the sauce residue off the pot he had used, when his phone starts ringing in the living room. Because apparently Steve-the-tactician hadn’t thought to keep his cell phone within arm’s reach, like a fucking mook.
Steve rinses the suds off his hands, then grabs a towel and tries to dry his hands while sprinting towards the living room. Diving for his phone in a maneuver that surely would have ended with him braining himself on the coffee table if not for his superhuman reflexes, he barely manages to hit the “Accept Call” button before the call goes to voicemail.
"Hi. Catch you at a bad time?"
"No! No, I was just washing dishes. And my phone was in the other room." Steve maneuvers so that he’s sitting up straight on the sofa, like a normal human being. "So... yeah. Anyway. I was just trying to catch the phone before it went to voicemail. How are you?"
Smooth, Rogers. Real smooth.
"Pretty good." James sounds amused. "Becca was ready to smack me all the way through brunch because I wouldn't tell her anything, so that was fun."
"You could have told her the truth," Steve says. It’s not like Steve wants to encourage him to lie to his family.
"And pass up the opportunity to torture my sister? Not a chance. And I wouldn't have had that kind of conversation in public, anyway. You never know who's listening."
"Right. Yeah, that makes sense." Steve shifts around on the sofa, trying to get comfortable and calm his racing heart. "So, what do we want to tell people?"
Steve blinks. What? He can’t have heard that right.
"Nothing. 'No comment' is your new best friend."
"I mean, if you want to go on camera and explain to the world the private details of your personal life, you're welcome to do so. But just know that if you do it once, you're going to be expected to do it again, and again, and again. You'll set a precedent."
"But if I don't say anything, they're going to assume that we've been secretly dating."
James hums. "That doesn't bother me, though your reputation will take more of a hit than mine."
"That's not - you have paparazzi stalking you, because of me." James has to know about the brunch photos by now.
This time, James laughs. "Steve. Honey bear. Light of my life, fire of my loins. The paparazzi have been stalking me for my entire life. When I've been particularly boring they'll lay off for a few months, but I haven't gone more than eight or ten months without a camera in my face since I was sixteen."
Steve’s actually not sure what to say to that.
"I was ten when people realized my mother was planning on running for president, eleven during the campaign, and twelve when she was inaugurated. She was a senator before that. I have spent far more time doing this dance than you have."
"Right." Steve can’t argue with that. "I just don't want to drag you into this any more than you have to be. You could just say that you weren't with me and be done with it."
James hums again, doubtful. "I certainly could say that. And some people would believe me, some wouldn't. But..." James sighs. "I've been there. I was outed when I was sixteen, and it fucking sucked. That was the worst year of my life. Mmmm..." he pauses then, considering. "Second worst. Still. It's not something I would wish on anyone. And if it'll make the process easier on you, I don't see a reason to set the record straight, so to speak."
"That's, um..." Really generous? Kind? Thoughtful? Steve has no idea what to even say to that.
"Unless, of course, you actually are seeing that guy."
"No," Steve says quickly. "It was a one-time thing."
That, Steve wants to be sure James knows. Aside from the fact that Steve would never step out on someone, he needs James to know that he’s completely, totally single.
"Did he know that you're...?"
"No. I mean, I don't think he did, at the time. Now he definitely does, unless he actually lives in a cave."
James laughs again.
"Do you think he'll go to the press?"
That’s a possibility that Steve’s been trying not to think about. There’s money to be made in a tell-all expose, and Steve doesn’t actually know the guy, doesn’t know if he’s that kind of person or not.
Only time would tell.
"Okay, I can work with that. Do you think it's worth the time to try and track him down?"
Steve had considered that, too, but it seemed too gauche. The only real reason to do that would be to beg him not to tell, or to offer him money.
"Not... really, no."
"So that's it? We just say 'no comment' every time someone asks until they stop asking?"
"Sure, we could do that," James says. "Alternatively, we could always play it up. I could mention you in conversations that I know will be overheard, we could be seen together, that kind of thing."
"Yeah," Steve says, "I don't really want to do that. That feels more like a lie than 'no comment' does."
"Yeah, that's fair."
Now this is the place where Steve could let it lie. James seems to be content to follow his lead, even though he had definitely been flirting earlier. Steve isn’t sure if James is just letting Steve take the lead, or if he had been joking, earlier.
"If we were... seen… together. I wouldn't want it to be an act."
"Oh, yeah?" James says. Steve could hear the smile in his voice.
"And what would you want it to be?" This time James’ voice sounds deeper, with a hint of teasing.
"I don't know," Steve says, heart starting to beat faster. "You were the one offering to elope earlier."
"Mmhmm. I stand by my statement. Your old newsreels were very informative to sixteen-year-old me."
Steve’s brain whites out, a little bit.
"Sorry, sorry, I'm not trying to make you uncomfortable."
"You're not. At least, not that kind of uncomfortable."
Steve’s heart is definitely beating faster, but not in a bad way.
“Yeah? Can I ask ‘what are you wearing?’ or is that too forward?”
“Um.” Steve looks down at himself, unsure of where this is going. “Pants and a plaid shirt, why?”
At that, James laughs, and Steve is sure that he’s missing something. Wedging his phone between his ear and his shoulder, he grabs his tablet off the coffee table and types “what are you wearing” into Google.
“Don’t worry about it.”
The first hit is for Urban Dictionary. The internationally recognized phrase meant to initiate phone sex.
“I will have to say,” James says, “you surprised me this afternoon.”
“Do you mean when you offered to model naked and I didn’t turn you down?”
Once his mind is made up, Steve isn’t afraid of marching into no-man’s land.
James laughs. “Honestly, I wasn’t even sure you were gonna understand that reference.”
“I didn’t,” Steve admitted, “I googled it.”
“Resourceful, I like it. Are you gonna google ‘what are you wearing’ later?”
This is the point at which Steve could fake ignorance and let that possibility wither on the vine. Instead, he says: “I already did.”
“Oh really ?”
“I have a tablet!”
“Resourceful and efficient, I like it,” James says, voice warm and welcoming.
“I am the star spangled man with the plan.”
“I can see that. Color me impressed.”
Steve shifts on the couch again. He’s starting to get uncomfortable, but it a very different way than before.
“And yet I told you what I’m wearing, but you haven’t told me what you’re wearing.”
“You already know what I’m wearing.”
The soft pink button-down and charcoal grey slacks.
“I suppose I do. You looked gorgeous today, by the way.”
“Aww shucks, you’ll make me blush.”
“Please, like you haven’t seen a mirror.”
James chuckled, a soft, intimate thing.
“You know, I was in New York on Friday night, but I didn’t go out. When I saw those pictures on Saturday morning, my first thought was that that could have been me, if I were young and careless again.”
There are a few questions Steve wants to ask, like do you not do casual flings anymore? and what changed? but he doesn’t want to derail their conversation. Steve had started getting hard as soon as he read “phone sex” and heard James’ deliberately suggestive tone. This isn’t the time to talk about feelings.
“It could have been,” Steve says in agreement. And it’s true - he never would have gone home with Mark, if James had been an option. “When Tony showed me your picture this morning, I was honestly a little disappointed that you weren’t the one I went home with.”
“You’re home now, yeah?”
“Couch or bed?”
“Couch,” Steve says, “But I could change that.”
Steve has never had phone sex before, but he’s a quick learner, and by god is he ready and willing to try something new.
“Nah, couch is good. I like the idea of crawling into your lap and straddling you.” Steve could feel himself flushing. “Are you hard?”
“Did the serum make you big all over?”
“You askin’ about my dick, Barnes?”
“Maybe I am. I bet it’s as perfect as the rest of you. You gonna take it out for me?”
“Yeah.” Steve unzips his pants, relieving the pressure on his dick, and palms himself a few times. He feels partly foolish, sitting on his couch with his dick out, but also really fucking turned on.
“If I were there, I’d kiss you and grind against you until you were crazy with it. Then I’d unzip your pants and get a hand in there, give you just enough friction to make you beg.”
“Decisions, decisions. Do I stay up there and rub us both until we come? Or do I get on my knees and suck your cock?”
Steve shivers all over.
“Well you’re in luck, because I happen to love sucking cock. Can you picture me there? On my knees, between your legs?”
“God yes, I want that,” Steve says, starting to stroke his cock. He spreads his legs as much as he can with his pants still on, imagining James between them.
“Are you touching yourself?”
“Nah, I’m doing a crossword puzzle. What’s the scientific name for grizzly bear?”
James laughs. “Ursus arctos horribilis. Anything else I can help you with, punk?”
Steve starts laughing too, and then both of them dissolve into giggles. Fuck. His dick throbs a little at the sound of James’ laugh.
Steve would love to kiss the smile off of his face. He can picture it, so easily.
“You’re ridiculous. Get our hand on your dick, Rogers.”
“Umm, fuck.” James starts laughing again. “You threw me off my stride.”
“Is that so?” Steve’s always happy to take charge, and while he doesn’t really know what he’s doing, he knows how to dirty talk. He strokes himself and says, “Well then I changed my mind, I want you in my lap.”
“Yeah, I wanna kiss you.”
James hums encouragingly.
“So what do you like? You like being on top?” Steve asks. It’s easy to picture James, here, perched on his lap. It’s equally easy to imagine James sprawled out on his couch, the picture of debauchery.
“Yeah? And the rest of the time? You like someone strong to throw you around?”
This time, James moans, which makes Steve’s cock throb. Fuck. Steve loves getting physical, loves being able to toss people around, now that he has the strength. He obviously has to make sure that he doesn’t hurt his partner, but.
Steve isn’t even sure what he wants, just that he wants it all.
“Would you like it if I pushed you down and climbed on top of you?”
“I could pin your arms over your head if you ask real nicely.”
“Oh my god , Steve, I didn’t know you had it in you,” James says, sounding too put-together for Steve’s tastes. “Please, pretty please?”
“That not working for you?”
“Nah, I actually love being pinned down, I’m just bein’ a jerk. Forgive me?”
“We’ll see. What are you wearing right now?”
James starts laughing again. “Steve, we’ve already gone over that -“
“No, I mean right now. Are you still fully dressed?”
“Yeah, just my pants are unzipped.”
Now that’s a nice mental picture: James on his couch, pink shirt rumpled, cock standing up from the fly of his slacks.
“Take your clothes off.”
“Yeah, okay. Gimme a sec.”
Steve could hear rustling on the line for a few seconds.
“Okay, I am naked. How do you want me? Like one of your French girls?”
Steve snorts. “If you don’t stop misbehaving I’ll have to put you over my knee.”
“...is that supposed to be a deterrent ?”
Steve has bite his lip and count to ten. God, James is a brat. Steve wants to manhandle him, get his hands all over James until he makes the other man beg.
“Get on your back and put your hand on your dick, Barnes.”
“Ohhhhh, how the turn tables. My hand is on my dick and I am awaiting instruction, Captain.”
“Jesus Christ. I bet you’d be easier to handle if I were actually there.”
“Yeah? And why’s that?”
“I could shut you up.”
“Yeah? Well you took my mouth off your cock…”
“Yeah, I did.” Steve gets inspired. “I could put two fingers in there, if you want something to suck on.”
“You want me to?” James sounds a little breathless, finally.
“Yeah. I want your other hand on your cock, stroking it nice and sweet. How does that feel?”
James lets out a muffled moan. Steve feels bold, daring.
“Go faster. I wanna hear you.”
James keeps going, whimpering and making a series of choked off noises that has Steve gasping himself. His hand is a little too dry for this, but Steve isn’t going to stop to get lube, so he spits in his palm and keeps stroking himself, faster.
“There are so many things I wanna do to you, I can’t even decide. Should I play with your nipples? Your cock? Your ass?”
Steve can barely believe that he’s talking like this.
James groans. “Want you to fuck me.”
“Well your fingers are already nice and wet…”
“No, not…” he gasps, “want you to do it…”
“Sure,” Steve says, slightly confused but willing to roll with it, “when I’m there I’ll finger you until you’re begging me to fuck you. Start off slow and teasing, just to work you up. Find your sweet spot and rub it until you’re crying.”
“Are you gonna come? Are you gonna come thinking about my fingers inside you?”
James comes with a shout - the hottest thing Steve ever heard.
“Oh my god, Steve.” James sounds hoarse, fucked out. “I want you to come. I want you to come all over me, mark me, make me yours.”
Steve can imagine it: James, sprawled out on the couch, legs spread, come all over his abs, his groin, his cock , waiting for Steve…
Steve comes, hard, into his own fist. He keeps stroking himself until it becomes too much, then collapses back on the couch, panting.
“Wow,” James says, after a minute.
Steve makes a noise of agreement, not quite ready to use words again.
“We’re gonna do that sometime in person, yeah?”
They lapse into a comfortable silence for a minute.
“You know,” James says, almost conversationally, “the part of me that’s just a horny guy that wants to masturbate later wants you to take a picture of yourself right now.”
“Don’t. Hacks happen, it’s not worth it. And I would much rather have it in person.”
“You can.” Steve’s surprised by how much he actually wants that to happen. James is gorgeous, and into him, but he’s not just attracted to James - he actually really likes James. There aren’t many people that he can banter with effortlessly, and laugh with during sex. That was fun. And sweet, and hot. The whole thing feels crazy given that they’ve never even met (and only started speaking this morning), but Steve’s not sure that he cares.
“I’ll hold you to that.”
Good news, everyone! Chapter 2 is done and will be posted later this week, and Chapter 3 just needs a few edits and will be posted shortly thereafter.
Light trigger warning for discussion of a car accident.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Monday morning, Steve gives a reluctant press conference, in which he stands in front of a bunch of energetic press people and confirms:
1. Steve is, indeed, the blond in the infamous photo. There’s not much of a point in trying to refute that, though his publicist had given it as an option.
2. Steve was, indeed, with another man. Not much of a point in trying to refute that, either, but he certainly could have tried.
3. Steve identifies as bisexual, not gay. He knows the odds of that tidbit actually making it past the headlines are slim, but he doesn’t want people out there claiming Peggy was some kind of diversion, rather than someone who was (and is) incredibly important to him.
4. When asked about the identity of the other man in the photo, Steve simply answered “no comment.” Surprisingly, the press didn’t press the issue. They probably never expected Steve to divulge that information, anyway.
Afterwards, Natasha pulls him into the gym to spar off his excess energy. She wipes the floor with him a few times, he manages to pin her once - and then she siccs Clint, then Sam on him while laughing from the sidelines. All in all, not a terrible way to spend the day.
“Heads up, Tony wants to hang tonight because he’s secretly a big softy,” Sam says as they’re leaving the gym.
Steve laughs and shakes his head. “Yeah, okay.”
“Seven o’clock sharp, he said.” Sam hits the button for the elevator and then leans against the wall.
“There or may not be a huge cake. But you didn’t hear it from me.”
Steve mimes zipping his lips just as the elevator dings.
“That’s the spirit.”
When Steve gets out of the shower, still dripping with a towel around his waist, he finds a text message from James waiting for him on his phone.
Boyfriend: My boss asked about you today
Steve frowns. While he’s never worked a modern job, he’s pretty sure that coworkers, especially bosses, shouldn’t ask about their employee’s sex lives.
Steve: That seems inappropriate.
Boyfriend: Nah, she's not a gossip
Boyfriend: She needs to know for security reasons
Steve sighs at that. As much as James claims the news won’t shake up his life too badly, he definitely isn’t unaffected by what’s going on. The press conference this morning likely hadn’t helped things, either.
Steve: What did you tell her?
Boyfriend: Well, she didn't ask for specifics because she doesn't care
Boyfriend: Said something like 'I'm not going to ask if it's true, just if the story will die out in a day or two or if we should expect it to last'
Boyfriend: I told her that it wasn't gonna die down in a day or two
Steve: It's not going to affect your job too badly, will it?
Steve hopes not. James is really going above and beyond for Steve, and Steve can only hope that he gets a modicum of peace during this mess.
Boyfriend: They'll have to be a little more diligent about security
Boyfriend: But it's not a big deal
Steve: I don't want to get you in trouble at work.
Boyfriend: Not in trouble
Boyfriend: My boss is a pragmatic lady
Boyfriend: As much as she finds the paps annoying, it's free press
Boyfriend: We've already sold out of tickets for the next month
Boyfriend: And most of the available seats at the gala we have coming up
Steve frowns. He hadn’t given a lot of thought to what James does for a living, but clearly it’s something with tickets and galas.
Steve: What do you do?
Boyfriend: I'm a violinist with the National Symphony Orchestra
Steve: That's impressive.
Steve could easily imagine James with a bow in hand.
Boyfriend: Says the actual superhero
Boyfriend: Good press conference this morning, btw
Steve had kept the press conference as short as he could get away with, and hadn’t taken any questions, so he’s not sure it went over well. At the same time, he doesn’t really care. Steve went out there to say his piece and speak his mind. Anyone who doesn’t like what he had to say can go fuck themselves, honestly.
(Steve also makes a mental note - James would take a compliment on his appearance, but a compliment about his accomplishments he brushed off and changed the subject.)
Steve: Was it? I'm not sure that it came across right.
Steve had felt terse and cornered - generally, not a great look.
Boyfriend: You sounded confident and rocked that "I'm not mad I'm disappointed" look
Boyfriend: Like, "I shouldn't have to be up here and I'm disappointed in each and every person that's wondering about my personal life"
Boyfriend: 10/10 would watch again
Steve: To be fair, that was what I was thinking.
Boyfriend: Yeah but you didn't come across as nervous or guilty
Boyfriend: Which is important
Boyfriend: You were up there like, "do we really have to do this?"
Boyfriend: Makes everyone else look bad
Steve: Wait, you said that your orchestra sold out of tickets? Because of this?
Steve has, in all honesty, never been to an orchestra concert - but if his generalized knowledge of how an orchestra works is correct, there should be many members, none of whom spend a lot of time in the spotlight.
Steve: Do you have a solo?
Is that what they call them? Presumably orchestras have solos, right? Something that would put James front and center? Steve makes a mental note to see if Nat would go with him to a concert sometime, just so that he has some kind of knowledge base.
Steve’s trying to figure out to say "then why does it matter?" in a way that doesn’t come across as rude, when James sends another message.
Boyfriend: People are just curious. They probably assume that you'll come down and they might see you at one of my shows, or they just want to see me on stage
The "..." appears and stays for a while, so Steve waits to respond. Clearly James isn’t done.
Boyfriend: Back a few years ago I was in a bad accident and was in recovery for over a year. The orchestra was really great about saving my seat, and at the time I was really grateful, you know? I thought they were being real kind about it. When I got back, our shows were sold out for months. By contrast, we usually DON'T sell out.
Boyfriend: And it's not like I'm front and center. I'm not the lead violinist, I'm just tucked away near the back
Boyfriend: It doesn't really matter whether I'm good or not. I bring in a lot of money
Boyfriend: Anyway, it's whatever
Steve’s heart aches for James. No wonder he brushed off compliments about his career - his orchestra treats him more like a spectacle than a musician.
Steve: Fuck 'em.
Steve: I think you're real swell.
Boyfriend: Aww shucks
Boyfriend: You're just sayin that because you're my...
Boyfriend: What's old-person for boyfriend?
Steve: Best guy.
Boyfriend: I'm your best guy?
Boyfriend: That's hilarious
Boyfriend: Like you have a whole harem of guys, but I rose to the top of the pack
Steve: Of all the guys I know, I like you the best.
Boyfriend: That's just because of the sexual favors ;)
Steve: Just you.
Steve knows that’s a little over-the-top, given that he hasn’t even met James yet. Obviously, he knows guys that he likes better than James, but not like this. Not in a romantic way. Steve hasn’t felt this way since he first met Peggy - and he fell hard and fast then, too.
Boyfriend: You're too nice to me
Boyfriend: Don't you know men are all jerks?
Steve: Sorry, I never got the memo.
Boyfriend: I'm starting to realize that
Boyfriend: You're sexy and sweet
Boyfriend: You're gonna ruin me for other men
Steve: Is that a bad thing?
Boyfriend: I dunno, are you gonna keep me?
Steve: I'd like to. We're eloping, aren't we?
Boyfriend: I may seem charming, but I'm a mess
Boyfriend: I only seem put-together on the surface
Steve: I could say the same about myself.
Steve wants to keep talking to James, but he’s been standing in his bedroom in a towel for fifteen minutes, and he knows that he needs to leave for dinner momentarily.
Steve: I hate to cut things short, but I have to go. Team dinner.
Boyfriend: Have fun!
Boyfriend: Don't be a stranger :)
Steve: Call me tonight?
James sends back a series of emojis: winky face, eggplant, peach, heart, thumbs up.
James calls about fifteen minutes after Steve gets back from dinner.
“Hi,” Steve says, already smiling.
“Hey there stranger. This a good time?”
“Perfect. Just got back from dinner a few minutes ago, actually.”
“Good, good. Good dinner?”
Steve stands in his living room, glancing between the couch and the bedroom. Should he sit where he did last night? Should he get in bed? Would that be presumptuous? It’s not like James would know, either way, but it still seems a little rude.
“Yeah. Tony got a big ‘Happy-Official-Coming-Out-Day’ cake in the colors of the bi flag and we ate a metric ton of shawarma. It was…” Steve tries to come up with an adequate description of dinner - the team laughing (only occasionally at Steve’s expense), the table so laden with food it looked like it was going to break, the five-foot-tall cake in neon pink, purple, and blue. “...well, you know Tony,” Steve says, inadequately.
Steve’s ultimate deciding factor re: bed vs. couch is his bloated stomach, and the generalized desire to be laying down after the literal pounds of food he ate. He heads towards the bedroom, unbuckling his belt and unbuttoning his pants on the way.
“I do know Tony, so I’m having a hard time believing there weren’t strippers. Unless there were strippers.”
“Apparently Bruce talked him out of strippers,” Steve says, closing his bedroom door behind him.
“Shame. Your birthday’s in July, right? Maybe I’ll come up to pop out of your cake.”
“It is in July,” Steve agrees, toing off his shoes. “But I think we would need a bigger cake, for you to be able to fit inside of it.”
“Tony can afford it.”
Steve laughs. “That’s true.”
“Okay, I have a question for you, and I want you to be honest with me. I won’t judge you,” James says. The words would sound ominous, if not for James’ obviously teasing tone.
“Okayyyy…” Steve says. He pins the phone between his ear and his shoulder, so that he can push down and then shimmy out of his pants.
“Is your birthday,” James says, “ reeeeeally the fourth of July?”
“It is.” Steve moves on to unbuttoning his shirt.
“That’s not just a propaganda thing?”
“My birthday really is the fourth of July. Believe it or not.”
Steve debates the easiest way to take off his shirt without putting the phone down, and ultimately decides to put it on speaker for a minute.
“Okay. I mean, that sounds fake, but okay. Now for the ultimate question: is apple pie really your favorite food?”
Steve laughs as he shrugs out of his shirt.
“Go ahead, laugh it up.” James does laugh, at that. “Yes, my favorite food is apple pie, and my favorite ice cream flavor is vanilla.”
“Steve! Vanilla ice cream doesn’t even taste like anything, that’s like the plain base that all ice cream flavors should stack on top of!”
Steve strips off his socks, grabs his phone off the dresser, and flips off the overhead light. He leaves his bedside lamp on as he climbs into bed, clad only in boxers.
“Listen,” Steve says, after turning off speaker phone. “First of all, vanilla ice cream is classic for a reason. If tastes good with other desserts, like, say, apple pie , and it requires the ice cream itself to be actually good,” he says in his best Captain America voice. “All those flavors that are just reeses cups and gummy bears are disguising that the ice cream itself is crap.”
James cracks up on the other end, so Steve rolls with it, talking about cream content and air percentages and mouthfeel and artificial vanilla flavor versus authentic madagascar vanilla, liberally sprinkling in “kids these days” and “back in my day” and something about the ice cream vendors at Coney Island.
All in all, the conversation goes on for way too long before James finally says, “okay, okay, now I know you’re fucking with me.”
“I would never.”
“Do you even like vanilla ice cream?”
“God, you’re such an asshole. How do people not know this?”
“I managed to convince Tony that I thought text messages needed to be worded like telegrams for about six months. He was outraged when he saw my perfectly normal group chat with Sam and Natasha.”
“You’re evil. I love it.”
“I have to get my kicks somehow.”
“E-vil,” James says, voice smoothing out into something more intimate. “So what did you do today, other than dinner and your press conference?”
“Press conference in the morning, then I sparred with Sam, Clint and Natasha for most of the day, showered, talked to you, got dressed, went to dinner, and now I’m talking to you again.”
“Wait,” James says. “Back up. You showered, talked to me, got dressed, then went to dinner?” James sounds outraged, for some reason.
“So you’re saying that you were talking to me, while naked.”
“I was wearing a towel.”
“You were talking to me, while naked and dripping wet, and you didn’t think to mention that?”
“What did you want me to say? ‘By the way I’m not wearing clothes right now,’ or something?”
“Yes! That is exactly what I want!”
“I wasn’t going to start something that I couldn’t finish. Dinner, remember?”
“Next time, take a picture.”
“I thought you said no pictures.”
“And what are you wearing now?”
Steve licks his lips. “Boxers.”
“Are you in bed?”
“Then get your hand on your dick, Rogers. I’m about to blow your fucking mind.”
And he does.
Tuesday, Steve snaps a picture of Natasha holding Clint in a headlock and sends it to James.
Boyfriend: Pissing off the Black Widow
Boyfriend: Rookie move
Steve: I like how you assume it's Clint's fault.
James isn’t wrong - Clint took the last of Natasha’s organic quinoa chia fair-trade something-something granola (or something, Steve lost track after the second descriptor) and then put the empty bag back in the pantry for Natasha to discover while hungry. When she came downstairs for breakfast, and found what Clint had left, she flipped him over the kitchen table in a showy, acrobatic move, and then the two of them wrestled around the common area for fifteen minutes, with her occasionally choking him and demanding an apology, Clint laughing like a maniac all the while. She doesn’t even seem that annoyed - the two of them are tusseling like puppies, not like two internationally-known assassins on one of the world’s deadliest response teams.
Steve’s just impressed that they haven’t broken anything.
Boyfriend: Now, I've never met Miss Romanoff
Boyfriend: But I think she's a classy, level headed lady
Boyfriend: Whereas Hawkeye seems like a wildcard
Boyfriend: So yeah, I put my money on her
Steve: You're right, Clint deserved it.
"So who are you texting that has you all smiles?" Natasha asks, dropping into the stool next to Steve. He hadn't heard her come up behind him, as per usual.
"My boyfriend." Steve says, keeping his tone casual. Nothing to see here, just casually texting, like a casual person. Casually.
"Oh really. I smell a story, Rogers. Spill."
Steve tilts his screen so that she can see the last few messages.
"Nothing to tell."
Boyfriend: I'm an excellent judge of character
Boyfriend: Did you mediate that fight at all or did you just leave them to it?
"Uh huh. And how did you go from not having a boyfriend on Saturday to texting someone pictures of the inside of Stark Tower today?" Natasha's tone seems playful on the surface, but she’s clearly serious. Steve didn’t even think about the potential for a security breach when he sent the picture, just that it would probably make James laugh.
"Ask the tabloids, they were the ones who came up with it."
Natasha raises an eyebrow.
"Stark trusts him?" Steve says, wondering if he’s just made a huge mistake. He can’t very well say I actually really like him and he's the first person I feel like I've connected with romantically in 70 years, so please lay off. If Natasha deems James a security risk, she would shut their communication down.
"Tony said that?"
"Yep." Steve turns back to his phone to reply to James.
Steve: Left them to it. I'm not stupid enough to try and intervene.
Steve can feel Natasha’s stare boring into the side of his skull.
"So you're just having totally friendly, platonic conversations, with JB Barnes."
Steve’s face heats up and he internally curses his fair Irish skin.
"You blush like a schoolgirl, Rogers."
Rather than responding, Steve fiddles with his phone. He’s always been a terrible liar, and while he doesn’t particularly want to lie to Natasha, he doesn’t want to tell the truth, either. It’s been nice, having something for himself.
Natasha sighs. "I'm going to have to vet him. I'll let you know if he passes muster."
With that, she disappears. Steve refuses to feel guilty - he’s felt guilty enough, the past could of days.
Steve: What are you up to?
James sends back a photo of chopped veggies and a carton of eggs on a kitchen counter.
Boyfriend: Trying to make a quiche
Boyfriend: Never tried it before so we'll see how it goes
Steve: You cook?
Steve’s not entirely sure why that surprises him. Aside from the gossip rags, which he knows are a terrible source of real information, he knows very little about what James does in his spare time.
Boyfriend: My nutritionist is leading a one-woman fight against restaurant food
Boyfriend: If I eat out more than once a week I get *the look*
Boyfriend: And I'm not afraid to admit that I'm terrified of her
Boyfriend: Meal programs are terrible
Boyfriend: So I ended up learning how to do it myself
Boyfriend: Took a few classes
Steve: That's great. I'm trying to teach myself how to cook too, though I'm not very good at it yet.
Boyfriend: It takes a while
Boyfriend: I have full faith in you
Boyfriend: Maybe I could teach you a thing or two?
That sounds really nice, actually. Steve would love to have James standing next to him in the kitchen, teaching him something new. But Steve’s conversation with Natasha is still ringing in his head, and he needs to at the very least give James the head’s up about Nat’s impending “vetting.”
Steve: You should probably know that Natasha is going to go poking around in your personal life. I didn't tell her to, but I can't exactly stop her either.
Boyfriend: That's fine
Boyfriend: I'm p sure Stark Industries legally owns all of my secrets at this point
Boyfriend: So she won't have to look very far
Steve: Your top secret program?
Steve wants to ask. Steve really, really wants to ask, but letting James tell him about it seems like a better idea.
Boyfriend: Tony is turning me into a cyborg
Steve frowns. The word cyborg is related, somehow, to robotics - that much Steve knows. What he doesn’t know is the precise difference between a cyborg, a robot, an android, or whatever other terms they use. Steve had read online that scientists are trying to upload human brains into computers - maybe that’s what Tony is trying to do? The other possibility is that James is just joking. Steve’s pretty sure that “brain uploading” technology is still a few decades away from being possible, even for Tony. The cyborg thing could be a flippant non-answer.
In the end, he decides to keep his answer fairly neutral.
Steve: Sounds exciting.
Boyfriend: Oh yeah
Boyfriend: Meal plans and PT's and wheatgrass smoothies
Boyfriend: Thrilling stuff
Steve’s not really sure how wheatgrass smoothies relate to robots.
Steve: I can't relate.
Steve can eat basically anything, the way his metabolism works.
Boyfriend: I wish I had a super-metabolism
Boyfriend: Can you even drink?
Steve: I can, but I can't get drunk. If I do have a drink it's for the flavor.
Steve: What about you?
Boyfriend: I don't drink outside of the occasional glass of wine and I don't do drugs. Clean and sober 4 years.
Steve frowns at his phone. That response sounds… defensive.
Steve: I didn't mean it like that.
Boyfriend: People make a lot of assumptions.
Boyfriend: I'm gonna go finish making this quiche
Steve: Okay. Good luck!
Steve sighs as he sends his message. He really hadn’t been trying to put his foot in his mouth, but he also doesn’t know which conversational topics will turn out to be landmines.
An hour later, Steve's phone buzzes with an incoming text message. He jumps to reply, but it turns out to just be Natasha.
Natasha: Muster: passed
Steve: That was quick.
Natasha: He's apparently one of Tony's guinea pigs. Stark Industries did most of the work for me
Natasha: I just had to verify authenticity
Natasha’s message about Stark Industry reminds Steve to google "cyborg." The immediate results are disappointing - apparently there’s a comic book hero named Cyborg? - and that’s definitely not the kind of answer Steve was looking for, so he instead turns to the dictionary. Classic.
- a person whose physiological functioning is aided by or dependent upon a mechanical or electronic device.
Origin: 1960-65; cyb(ernetic) org(anism)
That definition makes a little more sense. Tony would be a cyborg, technically, with his chest piece. Would pacemakers count? Implantable insulin pumps? Steve tries googling difference between android and cyborg, hoping for more clarity.
Robot is any artificial thing made to do work. Wiki defines it as a "mechanical or virtual intelligent agent that can perform tasks automatically or with guidance, typically by remote control". It's a very generic term.
Anything can be a robot - from an industrial robot used on an assembly line (pretty much just an arm with a CPU) to human-like android to a spaceship with a computer brain - real (e.g. Buran) or artificial (e.g. V'ger). Though in latter case, they are rarely referred to as "robots" despite fitting the definition 100%.
Android (from Late Greek androeidēs - manlike; see andro- , -oid) is a robot resembling a human being (frequently, though not necessarily a very close, ideally undistinguishable resemblance is implied).
Examples include Star Trek's Data, Star Wars' C3PO (to an extent), or Blade Runner androids.
A cyborg, short for "cybernetic organism", is a being with both biological and artificial (e.g. electronic, mechanical or robotic) parts.
That explanation makes things a little bit more clear, but the definition for ‘cyborg’ definitely seems to be more wide than narrow. Steve resolves to forget it until James decides to tell him about it.
Steve's phone starts ringing a few minutes after he goes to bed, startling him out of the beginnings of sleep. He blinks a few times, waking himself up, before checking the screen.
Incoming call from: Boyfriend
Steve’s a little embarrassed by how relieved he is to hear James' voice.
"Hi. I'm glad you called."
Steve stretches his legs out and curls his free arm under his head, getting comfortable.
"Yeah, um. Listen. I'm sorry about this afternoon. I just -"
"Don't worry about it," Steve says, cutting James off. "I really wasn't implying anything, I was just making conversation, so I'm sorry if it came off differently."
"It's not your fault. It's not like any of that stuff is secret, really, just..." James sighs. "You said that the Black Widow was going to go looking for dirt and I just figured she had already said something."
"She didn't. She wasn't even looking for that type of information. As you can probably imagine, she's big into security, and... not overly trusting. She didn't like that I sent you a picture of the inside of the tower."
Talking with James like this feels strangely intimate - in the dark, in bed. It feels a little like James is here with him.
"Yeah, that makes sense."
James falls silent for a few moments, but Steve has a feeling that he’s not done.
"I really don't have a drug problem."
"I believe you."
"I never really did. I mean, recreational stuff occasionally, but. My reputation as a partier is more fiction than fact."
"I believe you. I haven't read your Wikipedia page, remember?"
"Yeah, but the rest of your team has definitely heard about it. Back when I was in my early twenties I was in the news like, every day."
"We live with Tony Stark. No one's going to judge."
"Natasha said that you passed, by the way."
James chuckles at that, but he sounds unsurprised.
"I knew I was going to. I mean, I was worried she would say something to you, but. Like I said, I've already been vetted every which way by Stark's people, so..."
"Because Tony's turning you into a cyborg."
Steve lets the silence stretch out for a few seconds, but James doesn’t elaborate.
“You don’t have to tell me about it. We can talk about something else.”
Steve wants James to tell him, but he also doesn’t want to push. He can be patient.
"So... like I said, it's kind of a long story."
"I've got time. If," Steve hedges, "you want to tell me."
There’s rustling on the other end of the line for a few moments, before James comes back.
“Sorry, I just wanted to get comfortable.”
“Sure. I mean, I’m in bed right now, so I have no room to judge.”
“Tease.” James swallows, then starts talking. "Back four, four and a half years ago, I was seeing this guy. Pretty casual, no big thing. The tabloids had heard about it but they hadn't managed to actually get any photos, and hearsay is only worth so much, you know? So we were leaving this club, and this one pap was trying to get a shot of us together but it was too dark. We jumped in my car, he jumped in his." James’ words come out slow, halting. "Well. It was all very Princess Di, you know? He -" James starts, then stops. Steve doesn’t know who or what Princess Die is, but his tablet is in the other room and he’s not going to interrupt James to ask.
"We were driving fast, so was he. I, uh. I lost control of the car, ended up slamming into... well. Doesn't matter. I survived, obviously. Everyone did. So. That was lucky. The other guy hit us too, I ended up getting pinned. My left arm. It uh, it was basically crushed. So... jaws of life, rushed to the hospital, etcetera etcetera. I ended up there for like... god, I don't even know. Weeks. They did a bunch of surgeries. I'm a fucking violinist, I need my arm, you know? But the bones were basically powder. They tried wires and plates but. Well. Eventually the only thing they could offer was amputation."
"So, I knew through the grapevine that... Well. Maybe I should back up a little. After the whole Iron Man thing, Tony was trying to bring Stark Industries into different markets than just weapons. And one of the things he had looked into was high-tech prosthetic limbs based on the tech he developed for the Iron Man suit. And Tony is an inventor, he's really great at holing up in a basement and making some crazy piece of tech that works way better than it should. He even has experience with implanting and syncing electronics with human bodies. But the regulatory process is... long. And it can take years, sometimes decades before they'll allow human trials. And he wasn't just trying to make a fancy prosthetic - his designs were made to be implanted and read nerve signals and work, like actually work, like a real limb. Which would take god-knows-how-many years to be approved for human trials, since there's nothing out there like it.
"So I'm in the hospital, they're gonna take my fucking arm, and I was like, what do I have to lose, you know? I knew Tony, basically impossible not to in the circles we both travel in. So I called him up and was like, I'm losing my arm, give me one of your prosthetics. There were a lot of lawyers involved and I'm pretty sure it was probably still technically illegal, but I signed a thousand papers since there was a real risk the thing was gonna fry my brain. It had to be as above-board as possible because I'm patient zero and they plan on using the results one day to do actual legal clinical trials. It's a complete secret still, and all of the scientists involved have NDA's out the wazoo. But yeah. So. I have a really fancy prosthetic robot arm from the shoulder down, and I'm up at Stark's once every three months so that they can check up and recalibrate and download data."
"Please don't say 'I'm sorry' or anything."
"Okay." Steve isn’t sure what to say. Of all of the things James could have said, that wasn’t what Steve had been expecting. He thought James might have diabetes. "How have you managed to keep that secret? I mean, does it look exactly like a human hand?"
"Not... exactly. It's metal, but I have a skin-sleeve thing that I can put on to cover it when I go out. It's... not terrible? But it does not look like a real human hand. The good thing is that basically everyone knew that I was in a terrible accident and my hand was basically rebuilt from scratch, so no one questions that I hide it most of the time, and it just kind of looks like it's scarred and fucked up. People tend to know better than to stare."
"Did the photographer go to prison?"
"Yeah, for a little while."
The conversation falls into a natural lull, and Steve just listens to James breathe. It’s scary, to think, that Steve had come so close to never knowing him.
"Bucky. My friends call me Bucky."
"Okay." Steve can hear the smile in his own voice. "Bucky?"
"I'm glad you're alive."
Wednesday, Steve takes a picture of himself fresh out of the shower and sends it to Bucky.
Or, more honestly: Wednesday, Steve spends half an hour trying to take a flattering picture of himself in a towel, feeling ridiculous the whole time. He purposefully dried off poorly, so that his hair dripped fat drops of water onto his shoulders and chest, and then he stood in front of his bedroom mirror and tried to find his most flattering angle.
(It was surprisingly hard.)
Steve’s pretty sure that he now has about 100 nearly-identical photos of himself making stupid faces in the mirror on his phone. Originally, he had tried to crop his face out, but that ended up looking weird, and so came in the camera-face. Either he looked like Captain America, the Star Spangled Man with a Plan, or he looked like Steve, sheepish and a little embarrassed. The former came out astonishingly unsexy, and the latter a completely different kind of unsexy.
Flipping through his options, Steve finally settles on one where he’s doing something stupid with his eyebrows, but he’s hoping that Bucky will be too distracted by his glistening abs to notice.
He opens his messenger app, double-checks that he’s in the correct conversation thread several times (because his luck would end up with him sending it to the Avengers’ group chat, the mocking for which would literally never end), then sends his chosen photo.
Steve lounges in his bed and waits. There’s a good chance that Bucky’s busy, but just in case…
About ten minutes later, he gets a response.
Boyfriend: Thanks for giving me a boner in public, asshole
Steve’s pretty sure that Bucky’s not actually angry - after all, he’s the one that instructed Steve to send the photo in the first place. And he should know better by now than to expect Steve to chicken out.
Boyfriend: You’re unreal
Boyfriend: I want to lick your everything
Boyfriend: And now I’m hiding out in the bathroom trying to will my boner away
Steve fiddles with his phone.
Steve: Does that mean you want me to do it again, or…?
Boyfriend: God yes
Boyfriend: Every fucking day. Every time you shower
Boyfriend: You ever have shower sex?
Steve thinks about it, then adds:
Steve: Not yet.
Boyfriend: Fuck fuck fuck
Boyfriend: I wanna get my hands all over your body
Boyfriend: Soap you up, get you nice and clean
Boyfriend: And then I wanna suck your cock with the water beating down around us
Boyfriend: Bet your moans would sound real pretty echoing in the shower
Boyfriend: My mouth is watering just thinking about it
Steve presses the heel of his hand down against his dick. Fuck. He’s not entirely sure what he was expecting when he sent the photo.
Steve: Fuck yes. I want to see you on your knees.
Boyfriend: I’d suck you off till you’re shaking with it but I wouldn’t let you come
Boyfriend: I want you to fuck me
Steve finally gives in and slips his hand beneath the towel, gets his hand around his dick. Typing one-handed is slow going but worth it.
Steve: My refractory period is extremely short.
Steve: You could make me come and I would be hard enough to fuck you within minutes.
Boyfriend: Oh my god
Boyfriend: You can’t tell me things like that when I’m in a public bathroom
Boyfriend: I’m gonna get arrested
Steve: You started it
Boyfriend: YOU started it, you liar
Boyfriend: Are you jacking off?
Steve: I wanna see you.
The next message that comes through is a selfie. Bucky’s face is flushed, his pupils blown, and his lips are red and puffy, like he’s been biting them. Steve’s cock twitches at the sight and Steve moans out loud. He closes his eyes for a few seconds, revelling in the sensation, before looking at the picture again. Bucky is captivating. Sexy. His hair looks like he’s been running his hands through it, and Steve can see a sink and toilet in the background, which means…
Steve: That looks like a single stall bathroom.
Boyfriend: You are NOT encouraging me to jack off in the bathroom of this fine establishment
The thought of Bucky being so turned on by Steve’s picture, by Steve, that he has to resort to masturbating in a public restroom…. Well, Steve never would have thought that something like that could be sexy, but his dick has another opinion.
Steve: Your mouth…
What Steve really wants is to hear Bucky.
Steve: Can I call you?
Boyfriend: No way
Boyfriend: The bathroom isn’t THAT private
Boyfriend: I’ve already been in here for like 10 minutes, there’s probably someone waiting
Steve: What if I do all the talking?
Steve’s phone starts ringing in his hand. He answers.
“You are a fucking menace,” Bucky says in a harsh whisper.
“Shhh, someone might hear you.” Bucky makes an outraged noise, so Steve moans (somewhat theatrically) in response. “I’m laying in bed, thinking about you in the shower. Thinking about you sucking me off, swallowing me down. Are you touching yourself yet?”
“Yes,” Bucky whispers.
“Well then I guess I should make this quick. Would it be better if I prepped you in the shower? Or should I get you all nice and clean, then take you to the bedroom. Do you like rimming?”
Bucky whimpers, so Steve keeps going.
“Yeah, who doesn’t? I’d get you up on your hands and knees and lick you open ‘till you’re so hard you’re just dripping onto the bedspread. I wouldn’t let you get any friction on your cock, though - I don’t want things ending too soon.” Bucky’s panting audibly over the line. “Wait ‘till you’re begging, then I’ll start with my fingers, nice and slow.”
Steve had never thought of himself as someone with a kink for teasing, before, but the thought of torturing Bucky lights a fire in Steve’s blood - and it always seems to get Bucky riled up, too.
“E-vil,” Bucky whispers.
“You’re the one that said you like being thrown around. You like being bossed around?”
Bucky moans quietly, which Steve takes as a ‘yes.’
“I could keep you like this for hours, just touching you too gently to get you off.”
“Or I could grab your hips and pull you back onto my cock, all at once.”
Bucky’s breath hitches, and then he grunts like he’s been punched.
“Did you just come?” Steve speeds up the strokes on his own cock, focusing back on himself.
The thought of Bucky in that bathroom, doubled up over the toilet, jacking off and coming against all common sense… that’s what gets Steve, in the end. He doesn’t try to keep quiet at all, just gasps and moans as he comes all over his stomach and chest.
“I’m gonna need another shower,” Steve says, panting.
“You. Are. A. Fucking. Menace,” Bucky whispers. “I’ll call you later.”
The call disconnects.
Thursday, Steve decides to make some kind of chicken recipe Natasha sent him.
Tastes complicated, but cooks easy, she said.
Steve honestly has no idea whether or not Natasha cooks, herself. She certainly never seems to. But then again, for all Steve knows, she could cook herself four-course meals every night she doesn't eat with the team. Then again, she may have researched recipes and cooking tips just for Steve, and could eat takeout and pizza with Clint and his dog every night of the week. All Steve knows is that she likes dispensing knowledge. Likes being useful and likes telling other people how to live their lives.
Steve is pretty sure it's a control thing.
That's fine. Steve is used to strong, driven women telling him what to do.
So Steve gets out the food processor that materialized in his cupboard and an enameled cast-iron pan and a liquid measuring cup and a cutting board and a small wok and a... Steve squints at the recipe. A 'hollow ground Santoku.' Sure. And a boning knife.
Next to the 'hollow ground Santoku' and 'boning knife' on the list are 'C4' and 'B2' respectively, which turn out to be numbered labels on Steve's knife block. It should probably bother Steve that clearly, Natasha came in at some point to label his kitchen supplies like he's a brain-damaged toddler, but it doesn't. Steve couldn't have even said that a 'hollow ground Santoku' is a knife, let alone take a stab at which one. And really, Steve doesn't understand how someone could need more than three different kitchen knives, and that's exactly why Natasha snuck in while he was out for his morning run and labeled the enormous knife block sitting on Steve's counter. She probably knows, somehow, that Steve uses the same two knives every time he cooks.
So Steve picks up the boning knife and sets about skinning the chicken thighs. Skin the chicken, then place thighs in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt. Set aside. Discard the skin, STEVE.
The twenty-first century continues to be incredibly wasteful, but Steve follows the instructions and dutifully drops the skins into the kitchen trash can.
Does James - no, Bucky - does Bucky ever do cooking like this? Or is his meal plan all wheatgrass smoothies and steamed chicken? Steve could easily imagine him wielding a knife with a violinist's precision, confidently slicing and dicing. Bucky probably even knows what a Santoku is without someone having to tell him. It occurs to Steve, then, that Bucky's nutritionist and meal plan probably has something to do with the prosthetic arm. While Bucky didn't go into great detail about how the thing works, Steve got the impression that it is a fairly major, invasive part of his life. And if it's anything like getting an organ transplant, any kind of health problem or infection could cause his body to reject it.
Chicken skinned and salted, Steve sets about peeling garlic and skinning fresh ginger and cutting off the tips and roots of the green onion. Maybe Bucky took up cooking because of the arm in a more literal way - after all, cooking takes a lot of hand motions and coordination. Steve's hand nearly slipped while cutting the chicken skin off twice and he's both a super soldier and still has both of his arms. The robotic arm must have incredible fine motor control to successfully play the violin with it. That's all about pressure on strings, right?
Steve isn't embarrassed to admit that he knows very little about music. Like most other hobbies, he didn't have the money and then he didn't have the time.
(Now he seems to have nothing but money and time.)
Steve tosses his pile of fresh... well, he doesn't know what to call them. They're not herbs, but also not vegetables. Steve frowns. Ginger is a root, green onions are technically half a root, and garlic is... whatever garlic is. Doesn't matter. They're all going to be turned into paste by the food processor anyway. The screeching of the food processor echoes strangely in Steve's apartment for the minute it takes to reduce its content to pulp.
Heat wok over medium-high heat. Add the vegetable oil and stir-fry the scallion mixture for one minute.
Bucky had offered to teach Steve how to cook. At the time, Steve had been distracted by Natasha's looming security check, and Steve is pretty sure he never actually responded to that particular conversational gambit. But. That sounds really nice, actually. At first Steve was a little embarrassed by how little he knows, but he doesn't think Bucky would laugh at him. At least, not in a mean way - and Steve likes Bucky's teasing. It would be nice to have another body in the kitchen, stepping around Steve, laughing, maybe listening to music.
Of course, Bucky lives several hours away in another city, and that's unlikely to change any time soon, even if he visits.
If Steve is totally honest with himself, he doesn't really know what he's doing. He knows that he likes Bucky, a lot. But starting up some kind of flirtation where they have phone sex and joke about eloping while living hundreds of miles apart from each other sounds... like maybe not Steve's best plan. Steve wants Bucky here, next to him in the kitchen, explaining the different kinds of knives and laughing at Steve's bewilderment.
Bucky has a life in DC, Steve thinks to himself while pushing the fragrant mush around the pan, and you have a life in New York. Their joking about getting married is a joke. It's supposed to be lighthearted fun, not an invitation to go looking at City Hall's operating hours.
Peggy once told Steve that he doesn't know how to do anything halfway. To this day, after decades and miles and wars and ice, that may still be the truest thing about him.
Steve measures his soy sauce and dumps it in the pan. Bucky seems like he cares a lot about his music - enough to risk frying his brain with experimental technology - yet he doesn't seem to care for his job much. For the son of a former president, Bucky doesn't talk about politics much either. Yet his current job seems to care more about James-the-first-son more than James-the-violinist. Steve knows a thing or two about being underestimated, and he knows a thing or two about people not seeing who you are in favor of who they think you should be. Bucky, Steve can tell, is not a politician. He doesn't play the game and just seems tired that he's expected to do it anyway.
Steve finds himself wondering, idly, whether or not Pepper has any connections at one of the musical institutions in New York. She surely does.
Steve nearly forgets to add his sugar - who puts sugar in a chicken recipe? - dumps a spoonful in at the last second, and then turns the burner off. The sugar should be able to melt in the hot sauce, right? He doesn't want to overcook it. Nat's directions even say: Don't overcook the soy sauce or you'll end up with a salty paste instead of a tasty sauce. He gives the liquid a few vigorous stirs and then adds his sesame oil and stirs some more.
Bucky probably wouldn't want Pepper to find him a job. He certainly wouldn't want Captain America asking Iron Man's girlfriend to find him a job. Steve's getting ahead of himself again. They haven't even met yet, have only been chatting for a few days. Steve ten-thousand-percent Rogers, that's him.
Steve dumps the sauce into the chicken bowl. There. Now all he has to do is let the chicken marinate. He snaps a picture of it, even though it just looks like raw chicken in some brownish sludge, and messages it to Bucky.
Steve wanders back into the living room and snags his book off the end table. People keep recommending history books and these dry, scientific tomes, in an effort to acclimate Steve to the time, but Steve would much rather sit down with the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series than another book about the moon landing.
(The moon landing is fascinating, really. But Steve's whole life feels dry and historical, most days, and the last thing he really wants to do at the end of the day is sit down with a book that's even drier. Technology is amazing and documentaries generally give him just the right amount of information, in far less time.)
Steve is just catching up with Arthur's adventures when his phone buzzes.
Boyfriend: Looks good!
Steve: It certainly looks very brown.
Boyfriend: It's a marinade, they all look like that
Boyfriend: What is it?
Steve: Ginger chicken.
Steve: Probably. There's soy sauce in it.
Boyfriend: There's like 2 pounds of chicken there
Boyfriend: Are you gonna eat all that?
Steve: Probably. I have to eat a lot or else I get cranky.
Boyfriend: Before you google, it's hungry + angry
Steve: ...That's not inaccurate.
Steve: Hopefully it turns out well.
Boyfriend: How does it smell?
Boyfriend: When you're handling raw ingredients that you can't taste, your best clue is smell
Steve: It smells really good, actually.
Boyfriend: (That's a big smiling face)
Steve: I know emoticons.
Boyfriend: "I know emoticons" he says!
Boyfriend: Well excuseeee me =P
Boyfriend: OH MY GOD!!
Boyfriend: WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THAT??
Boyfriend: Also: of course that's the first one you go to
Steve: Clint programmed a few into my phone. I have shortcuts and everything.
Boyfriend: So you just type like fight me and it goes?
Steve: Punchie. Also shruggie.
Steve: I don't use that one as often.
Boyfriend: I bet you don't
Boyfriend: I feel #blessed by this knowledge
Boyfriend: Queen Bey is smiling down on me
Steve: Now you're making fun of me.
Boyfriend: I am absolutely making fun of you
Boyfriend: But I love it, that has made my day
Boyfriend: You're 10 and 100 years old at the same time
Steve: I contain multitudes.
Boyfriend: God you're cute
Boyfriend: Dial it down like 50% or else
Steve: Or else what?
Boyfriend: You're so...
Boyfriend: I'm like a Victorian fainting maiden over here
Boyfriend: My poor gay heart can't take it
Boyfriend: You break it, you buy it
Steve: Do I have to break it first?
Steve: In the immortal words of Queen Bey: if you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it.
Steve: And I've been offering.
Boyfriend: You can't just
Boyfriend: If you're not careful I'm just gonna show up there
Boyfriend: You're gonna wake up one morning and I'll just be in your apartment
Boyfriend: Making coffee
Steve: Is that supposed to be a threat?
Steve fidgets a little on the couch, while trying to decide how to respond. What he wants to do is to literally go out and buy a ring, as impulsive as that is. That's Steve ten-thousand-percent Rodgers for ya. This could be a good opportunity to move forward while dialing it back a hair, though.
Steve: You could come visit sometime soon, if it works with your schedule.
Boyfriend: You're not actually asking me to get married.
Steve: Of course not. Reporters, remember? We have to wait until they've lost our scent.
Boyfriend: And what WOULD this visit entail?
Steve: Well, I thought we could learn how to crochet together. Make some his-and-his tea cozies.
Steve: I have a book of 1001 crossword puzzles that needs finishing.
Steve: I've been meaning to alphabetize my records.
Boyfriend: You're such a punk, my god
Boyfriend: Clothing optional?
Steve has to swallow around the sudden tightness in his throat.
Steve: Yes. Definitely.
Boyfriend: Weekends aren't great for me
Boyfriend: What does your schedule look like?
Steve: Well, my schedule is generally clear until there's an emergency, but those are usually unpredictable.
Steve: With all the press lately I’ve suspended my normal activities so I’m pretty free.
Boyfriend: I could come on Monday?
Steve thinks about Bucky's sudden shyness.
Steve: If you want to. No pressure.
Boyfriend: Oh I want to
Boyfriend: I'm just trying to wrap my head around it
Steve: Is it that hard to believe that I like you?
Boyfriend: I’m starting to realize that.
Friday night, Steve catches Bucky in a melancholy mood. The conversation starts out with Steve asking about Bucky’s coworkers, and then his friends. For a guy who seems, at least, to spend a lot of time out of the house doing things, Steve’s surprised to learn that Bucky doesn’t have many people he actually considers real friends.
It’s late, and Steve’s pretty sure Bucky had another sold-out show tonight. While Bucky hasn’t said anything, Steve has a feeling that someone (either a boss or a coworker or a paparazzo) made a comment about Bucky’s personal life, or Steve, or some combination of the two, that has Bucky’s defenses up.
"I have a really hard time trusting people," Bucky says finally, after dancing around the subject for a few minutes. He sounds tired, stretched thin.
"I can relate to that."
"I guess. You have your team, though. I just have. Fuck, I don't even know. My sister I guess, though she's busy most of the time. I have some friends but." Bucky's pause is longer this time. "I don't trust any of them. I can't trust any of them. It's like every time I actually confide in someone, a few weeks later there's an article with details of my personal life that I've only told one person. So I just kind of… stopped."
“It’s stupid. The whole thing is stupid. Like, why do I even bother with any of these people, you know? I don’t know. I’m tired.”
Steve has always been astonishingly bad at comforting people. He’s much better with an enemy he can fight.
“Should I let you sleep?”
Bucky just laughs, but he doesn't sound happy. “Not that kind of tired.”
Yeah, Steve can relate.
“Would it help if we stopped…” Steve trails off, because not even he knows what he’s trying to say. He doesn’t want to stop talking to Bucky, but maybe if he made a public statement that Bucky wasn't the guy he was photographed with, it would take some of the pressure off of him. Of course, that wouldn’t really fix anything, when Steve has been privately talking himself out of buying a ring.
(Because that would obviously be crazy, right? Joking about getting engaged and wanting to actually get engaged are two totally different things.)
He wants to know Bucky. He wants to go out to dinner with him, go to Coney Island, hold his hand while walking down the beach. He won’t get to do any of that, if his being Captain America ruins it before anything can even happen.
“No. It’s not you. If it wasn’t this, it would just be something else in a few months. I’m just… I’m tired of being alone in every single fucking room I go into, you know?”
“It’s just so fucking alienating. Like, I’ll get to know someone and think things are going well, and then all of a sudden they’re angling for an introduction to my parents, or to Becca, or for some kind of industry connection.”
Rebecca Barnes, Steve knows, is running for Congress, following in her mother’s footsteps. Bucky’s hard to read, but Steve thinks that he’s proud and disappointed at the same time.
"And I'm just… lonely. I'm so fucking lonely, and there's nothing that I can." Bucky stops and takes a deep breath, then lets it out slowly. He sounds like he's on the brink of tears. "I don't know. I don't even really know what I'm saying. I haven't talked like this to anyone in years, probably. And I know that we don't even really know each other. But I trust you."
"I would never - "
"I know. I know you wouldn't. I think that's why there's all the word vomit, like for once I'm talking to someone who has nothing to gain from me."
There are a thousand things Steve could say to that. There are a thousand things Steve wants to say to that, all clambering around in his skull, making it difficult to pick one.
"Are there no other politicians' kids that are in a similar boat?"
"Your House rep has two kids. What are their names?"
"I don't know," Steve admits.
"Exactly. I don't wanna sound egotistical here, but I’m not just gay, I’m really fucking hot. Model-hot. Celebrity-hot. I’ve actually had a dozen brands reach out to me, asking me to model for them. And I think because of that, people forget that I’m actually not a celebrity, that I’m only famous because my mom was the president. And I’m not saying that movie stars deserve the shitty treatment they get, but at least they chose that life, you know? When you go to Hollywood or start a band you know that fame could happen to you. Most of them are hoping for it. I was just an awkward twelve-year-old with braces and buck-teeth, trying to stay out of the public eye.
“Probably the person with the closest experience is Tony, but even still. People think that he drinks and parties or whatever, but his real coping method is science. When he's stressed he just locks himself in a lab somewhere and invents some fantastical new technology. I can't do that, I'm not that smart. I tried to focus on music, but… no one really cares about that, not really. I’m not even sure that I’m making sense.” Bucky sounds tired. Bitter. "It's like the entire narrative of my life spun on without me and there's nothing I can really do about it.”
Their circumstances are wildly different - but even still, Steve hasn’t heard anything quite so relatable since he woke up in the future. Completely different life experiences, completely different backgrounds, but the end result is exactly the same.
“When I went over to the Western Front,” Steve says, trying to gather his words together and hoping that he’s being relatable, and not hijacking Bucky’s story, “I went over as part of the USO show, with the showgirls. We had already traveled to almost all fifty states, and the powers that be decided that we should to overseas to entertain the troops. It was so close to what I wanted, but… not. I signed up to be a soldier, not a dancing monkey, but since I was the only supersoldier they had, they didn’t want to risk me in combat. So instead I went over there in tights, with a wooden shield.”
On the other end of the line, Bucky makes a confused sound.
“I thought that just was a cover for them bringing you over.”
Steve snorts. “Yeah, sure, that’s what they teach now. ” Steve knows that now he sounds bitter, but he forges on. “So we get there, we do the show, and it was just… ridiculous. These weren’t businessmen and housewives who knew nothing about what was happening over there - these were soldiers who just had half of their unit killed or captured. They were pissed and miserable. They did not want to see some jackass in tights prancing around on stage, punching a fake-Hitler in the face. Every single one of those guys would have personally murdered ol’ Adolf with extreme prejudice, and there I was, the Star Spangled Man with a Plan. I was booed off stage.”
And Steve just talks. Talks about disobeying orders, about parachuting behind enemy lines, about endangering Peggy’s career and Howard’s reputation. About how the brass reluctantly let him pull together a team of his own. About how they fought him on Gabe and Morita. About how he fought the brass every step of the way. Doubles back to talk about his life before the war: about the raids and the fairy bars and being a registered socialist. Talks about what it was like being a poor mick in the thirties and forties, poorer than dirt, raised by a single mother before that was socially acceptable.
Steve’s not sure that he’s ever talked about himself so much in one sitting.
He talks about his choice to put the plane down in the ocean.
“And then… I woke up. Whole new world, whole new century, whole new me. Every part of my life had been… sanitized. Cut up and edited and pre-packaged for consumption, like a fucking newsreel. My arrest record? Gone. My disorderly conduct? Gone. Every choice that I made, that I fought for, was erased and turned into something that the higher-ups had decided on. They brought me over to liberate Azzano. They made the Howlies integrated, to set an example for the future. They did it all, and I was just a good little soldier following orders, a perfect patriotic puppet.”
“And now the worst kind of ‘patriots’ use my image for their bullshit, like I would want to be a part of their racist, imperialist nativism, just because I wore the stars and bars on my uniform.”
“Fuck ‘em,” Bucky says, vehement.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is that I get it. What you said, about reputations, stories beyond your control.”
Talking about all of this feels better than Steve would have expected. Steve talks with his therapist about some of these things but… but not really, if he’s honest. They talk about adjusting to the twenty-first century, adjusting to the new team, living with the things he saw in the war. Steve doesn’t talk to her about this - his image, his history, what it really means to be Captain America - because it’s too revealing, too intimate. The thought of talking about it with a medical professional makes Steve’s skin crawl. He already feels naked, seen.
It reminds Steve of something he read, once: If we want the rewards of being loved we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.
When Bucky takes a breath and starts to talk about his childhood, Steve settles in and listens.
By Saturday, Steve’s self-imposed exile starts wearing thin. He hasn’t really left the Tower since his ill-fated bar venture, and while the generalized demands of Avenger’s fame keep Steve from getting out as often and as freely as he might like, he typically isn’t so restricted. He hasn’t even gone for a run since The Photo hit the internet. What originally begin as a sea of photographers has thinned to a handful of stragglers, all hoping to the the one to get the first candid, non-press-conference photo of Captain America, Certified Bisexual™. But what they’ve lost in numbers, they more than make up for in tenacity, and Steve would rather do just about anything other than deal with them.
Steve lies in bed, considering his options. What he would really like to do is go for a run in Central Park, ordinarily one of his regular activities. Maybe go peruse a used bookstore - he’s found some excellent battered paperbacks that way - or get a cup of coffee and enjoy the tentative spring weather. The thought of spending another day inside cooking or reading… eugh.
Bucky, surely, is still asleep.
When Steve can’t lie in bed another second, he gets up, takes a shower, eats breakfast, and drinks a cup of coffee while standing at the window, looking out over the city. Even from this absurdly high floor, he can see the persistent photographers waiting on the street.
(Don't they have anything better to do? There are people dying in Syria, Flint doesn't have clean water, but here they are, bundled up against the brisk spring weather, waiting anxiously to catch a picture of Steve exiting or entering the building. The photo wouldn't even be interesting. It's not like Steve would be running outside with a rainbow cape and pink/blue/purple thigh-high socks - though that would be hilarious, so Steve saves that idea for future use. He just doesn't understand why they even care. Maybe he should go outside dressed like a fool, just to give them something to do. But no, that's Steve's impulsiveness talking again. The last thing he wants to do is reward the damn photographers, after all.)
There's no hectic crush of bodies, on Saturday, so the streets are as quiet as they get in the city that never sleeps. Steve could slip outside, but... no. Even if he makes it past the photographers (which he could easily do), everybody has a camera these days. All it takes is one person posting his whereabouts on Instagram and the stampede would come running.
Impotent frustration wells up, sour and hot. Steve might as well be pickling in the rage he’s been stewing in, and he is so, so, so tired of not being free to walk the streets like an ordinary citizen, all because his damn face is too recognizable.
But -- what if his face were completely covered?
The other Avengers make fun of him - a lot - for riding his motorcycle without a helmet, but Steve does have a helmet. He's not an idiot, he just prefers to ride without his field of vision narrowed, and it's not like he actually needs the thing anyway. But he does have it - sleek, black, and most importantly, anonymous.
Bucky's probably still asleep.
So Steve pulls on his leather jacket and his riding boots, and hits the road.
Steve’s motorcycle screams between his legs as he shoots northbound on the highway, driving too fast, weaving around the other cars - sparse, because most people didn’t wake with the dawn. Steve revels in the exhilaration, the freedom, of being able to go where he wants without reservation, and he waves cheerily at a random passerby on a street corner flipping him off. Sure, Steve probably should try and keep his ride a little quieter, but he’ll be gone in an instant anyway.
Steve heads north out of the city, takes 87 through the Bronx and then hops on the Hutch because he has nothing better to do. He rides the road until it crosses state lines and changes names, and briefly considers exiting south to ride along the coast. But no. The no-longer-the-Hutch road doesn’t allow trucks because of low stone bridges, and picturesque forests and rock walls speckle the side of the road, so he keeps driving eastbound, cold air whipping around him.
Has Bucky ever ridden a motorcycle? Would be be willing to ride a motorcycle?
The most likely scenario is that he hasn’t, and very possibly he wouldn’t. Bucky already lost an arm to a too-fast car accident - odds are that he wouldn’t want to cling to Steve on the back of a Harley.
(And, to be honest, Steve knows he basically always drives his motorcycle too fast.)
Does he even still drive? Steve can’t remember whether Bucky ever mentioned driving, other than in the story of the accident. But he did say he would be coming up on Monday - would he be in a car? Taking a train? A bus? He lives in a city, so it’s entirely possible that he relies on public transportation to get around.
Steve resolves to ask Bucky about that later.
Eventually, Steve bails northbound onto some smaller, local road, out of the fear that if he continues east, he’ll keep going until he runs out of road and hits the Rhode Island coast. The roads get smaller and smaller, until it’s down to one lane in either direction, road curving through sun-dappled light. The shocking bright green of early spring touches everything, from the tree canopies to the groundcovers, and Steve’s fingers itch for his sketchbook, tucked into his saddle bag.
When Steve ends up sandwiched between a nature preserve on one side and a reservoir on the other, it feels, briefly, like peace. When Steve sees a small turnoff with space to park a single car, it seems like fate. He rolls to a stop with the lake just ahead and takes it all in: evergreen and oak, crisp spring air, clear blue skies. Steve grabs his sketchbook and pencils and then crunches through the treeline to the shore. Fortunately, it’s not far - he should be able to hear if another car stops to investigate.
First thing’s first - Steve takes out his phone and snaps a picture of the scene to send to Bucky. He should be awake by now.
Boyfriend: That's gorgeous!!
Boyfriend: Where are you?
Steve drops down and settles in on the bank of the shore, propping his sketchbook against his legs.
Steve: Hell if I know.
That’s not strictly true - Steve knows this lake is somewhere in western Connecticut, and it would take one click on his map app to tell him precisely where he is. But the whole point of Steve’s trip has been to wander, to get away from home. He doesn’t really want to know where he is. It’s nice to think that he could get lost in the woods, even if that’s just an illusion.
Boyfriend: Are you lost?
Steve: Nah. I'm only lost if I can't find my way home. I just had to get out of the city for a little while.
What Steve doesn't say is: if I didn't get out of that damn tower for five minutes I couldn't be held liable for what might happen. Steve had fantasies of going downstairs and giving those photographers a piece of his mind - this trip was a distraction from that.
Boyfriend: You drawing?
Steve sends Bucky a picture of his sketchbook - currently, only a rough outline of the lake and the opposite shoreline.
Boyfriend: Coffee in your other hand, I hope
Boyfriend: It's early
Steve: Did I wake you?
Boyfriend: Nah, I was already up
Steve: And no, no coffee. I took my bike.
Steve: Caffeine doesn't do anything for me anyway.
Steve only drinks coffee for the flavor, and occasionally for the nostalgia. Back during the war, a real cuppa joe was worth two packs of cigarettes, and Steve had never been a smoker. During the war, every soldier knew that they had to take the small luxuries when they came in order to stay sane, so Steve came to appreciate the bitter taste of camp coffee. Even the fancy coffee Tony buys tastes like camaraderie, and like a break in the chaos. Like five minutes away from the horrors of war.
Steve has never even liked the flavor of tea, but to this day every sip reminds him of Peggy - lipstick and tactics and small, secret smiles.
Boyfriend: Ohhh, the bike!
Boyfriend: Hope you'll take me for a ride one day
Steve: You want to?
Boyfriend: Not only yes but hell yes
Steve: I wasn't sure.
Boyfriend: I wouldn't get on a motorcycle with just anyone
Boyfriend: But you? In a heartbeat
Boyfriend: Not that I really need an excuse to spend a few hours with my arms around you
Steve grins down at his phone, heart two sizes too big.
Steve ends up spending about an hour there by the lake, drawing and occasionally messaging Bucky. He sketches until the piece feels finished and his butt goes numb from the cold ground, then he sends a picture of the final product to Bucky.
Boyfriend: Seriously, Steve, that's gorgeous
Boyfriend: Can I have it? I'd love to hang it on my wall
Boyfriend: A real Steve Rogers original
Steve: If you want it.
The sketch is just that - a sketch, a hasty one at that - but if Bucky wants to act like it's some fine work of art, that's... fine. Steve doesn't see anything special about it, but Bucky's probably just trying to be nice.
Steve listens for any other cars on the road - none, that he can tell - and then takes one last look over the lake.
Steve: Head's up, I'm getting back on the road, so I might be slow to respond.
Boyfriend: Heading back?
Steve: No, moving on.
Steve hops back on his motorcycle and rides. He rides through a small town crammed with old stone churches and used bookstores and an Italian restaurant with a sign proclaiming "Best Pizza!!" in huge, tacky lettering. Throwing caution to the wind, he stops at the third bookstore he sees and loses an hour to wandering through the towering stacks of books and leaning, beleaguered shelves. He bangs his elbow on the doorway to what clearly used to be a kitchen; he sends Bucky a picture of a fat orange tabby in a sun beam, curled up on top of a pile of picture books, dust motes floating in a circlet above its head.
Steve buys a pile of beaten paperbacks and eats an ice cream cone on an uncomfortable stone bench, luxuriating in the sun.
He hops back on his bike before too long - before the other occupants of the Tower will really notice he's missing, before the members of this sleepy community all wander out for lunch and socializing - and heads back west, but on the northern leg this time, zooming in a too-fast zig-zag down a major roadway. Steve refuses to feel bad about his speed - there are still few cars on the road, and the majority of them trundle east - so he gets to be king of the open road.
Also, Steve doesn’t worry about getting a ticket. Any cop that pulled him over would almost certainly be too shocked to see Captain America under the helmet to actually write Steve a ticket (not that Steve would have any trouble paying it, but it's the principle of the thing). Steve has been pulled over exactly one time, and he spent twenty minutes talking to the cop about the alien invasion in Manhattan and took a few selfies, and left without the officer even asking to see his license.
He ends up zipping across the Hudson on the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, then continues south on local highways, hugging close to the river.
Two more days.
Two more days until Bucky comes to New York, and they get to meet in person. Two more days until Steve has the chance to do all of the things they've talked about on the phone, until Steve has a chance to actually hold someone that he has feelings for, for the first time in this century. Two more days until maybe Steve could do this ride again, only this time with a passenger, warm arms wrapped around his waist.
If every dark cloud has a silver lining, then Bucky makes one hell of a silver lining.
(Steve will probably always be angry about the photos, but... would he have ever gotten to know Bucky without them? Would they have run into each other at the tower, or at one of Stark's parties, some day? Or would they have kept on like ships passing in the night, Steve sailing on and Bucky ghosting past, never to collide? Such a thing seems like it should be impossible - that Bucky and Steve could be in the same orbit, day after day, year after year, without ever knowing about the other seems ludicrous - and yet clearly that's exactly what’s happened for years already, and could have gone on indefinitely. Would Steve have met him, sometime after Tony revealed his prosthetic program? Or would Steve have ignored the Stark Industries marketing machine like he usually does and continued on, never knowing what he was missing?)
Steve crosses the George Washington Bridge and rides down the west side highway, back to the Tower.
Two more days.
Sunday, Steve cleans up around his apartment, changes the sheets on both his bed and the guest bed, and agonizes over his grocery order. What Steve would really like to do is go to the grocery store and pick out his damn produce himself, but since he's still on voluntary house-arrest, he instead carefully picks through the options on his tablet, ordering a wide variety of different fresh fruits and vegetables and nice cuts of meat and fresh seafood, just in case Bucky wants to cook with him.
One more day.
This time tomorrow, Bucky will be here, in Steve's apartment.
Steve's phone buzzes.
Boyfriend: One more day!!
Boyfriend: Can you believe that I'll be there tomorrow?
One more day.
“I can’t wait for you to be here,” Steve says that night. “I can’t wait to have you here in my bed.”
"I'm a blanket thief, just so you know. Blanket hog doesn't even begin to cover it, I'll steal every piece of bedding and wrap myself up like a fat sausage."
"I run hot. I don't even use a blanket."
"You're not telling me you don't have blankets on your bed. No, Steve, I will literally not even come to your house."
"I have blankets on my bed! I just don't really use them, so... hog away. And I'm like a furnace, so if you get cold at night..."
"You offering to spoon me, Rodgers?"
Steve glances at the clock on his bedside table.
Fourteen more hours.
The "android vs cyborg" selection taken straight from the first google result, including links.
Bucky leaves DC on Monday morning (driving, as it turns out, since apparently Bucky still drives even after his accident), after rush hour. The trip takes a little under four hours, in decent traffic, which should get Bucky in around 2pm, barring any unforeseen circumstances. According to JARVIS, there have been no major motor vehicle accidents on I-95 or the New Jersey Turnpike so far today. Weather conditions are good: partly cloudy, which means the sun won’t be glaring, but there’s also no risk of rain.
Steve checks his watch again. 1:18. Great.
He wanders around his apartment, checking off things that needed doing: the dishes are clean, the living room is free from random clutter, Steve’s shoes are all corralled in the hall closet, The shield isn’t sitting on the sofa, there are clean sheets on Steve’s bed, there are clean sheets on the guest bed (just in case), the shower is clean, the bathtub is clean, the toilet bowl is clean, the whole bathroom is clean, Steve, get it together.
Steve’s phone buzzes.
Natasha: so when’s your boy getting here?
Steve hadn’t been planning on telling the team about Bucky’s visit. Hadn’t told the team, really, just Natasha, because she took one look at him yesterday and wrestled the truth out of him.
Steve: Should get in around 2.
Natasha: Getting close
Natasha: You nervous?
Steve goes back to the kitchen - he forgot to check that there’s a decent amount of food in the fridge - which there is, of course there is, Steve put in a grocery order last night which was delivered this morning and it’s not like burglars broke in and ate his food in the time since then.
Steve sighs and looks at his phone, still clutched in his hand.
Natasha: Do you have plenty of condoms? Lube?
Steve: Not that it’s any of your business, but yes.
Natasha: Don’t be a fool, wrap your tool
It’s not like Steve doesn’t agree with the sentiment - he does, obviously, and he bought the damn things - but Natasha has a way of getting under his skin and making him argue.
Steve: I’m pretty sure I’m immune to STD’s, and it’s not like either one of us can get pregnant.
Natasha: “Pretty sure” isn’t sure enough, STEVE
Natasha: You should ask Tony, he probably knows whether you are or not
Steve can’t help but shake his head at his phone, even though he knows that Natasha can’t see him.
Steve: I’m not asking TONY about my own sex life. Are you out of your mind? I think I would rather never have sex again.
Natasha: That’s a lie and we both know it
Natasha: And even if you are immune, it’s rude to try and push unprotected sex on a new partner, super soldier or not
Steve: I wasn’t gonna push! I have condoms! I bought them, NAT.
Natasha: I’m just trying to prepare you
Natasha: I don’t want you to scare off your new boo by breaking out the monster dong and no condom
Steve: Please never refer to any part of me as “monster” ever again, particularly that part. Please and thanks.
Natasha: It’s a compliment
Natasha: See, in the twenty first century, men are obsessed with penis size
Natasha: And the bigger the dick the better
Steve: Anyone who actually thinks that hasn’t had sex with that many dicks
Natasha: Oh yeah, STEVE? What kind of sample size are you working with?
Steve: None of your business.
Natasha: You can’t just leave a lady guessing, it’s not polite
Steve: Polite? Are we concerned with politeness now? Who are you and what have you done with Natasha?
Natasha: I’ll have you know that I’m very polite.
Natasha: So how DOES Captain America buy condoms?
Natasha: I can’t imagine you ordered them through JARVIS, and I would have heard about it if you got someone else to buy them for you
Steve: I went to the store, just like everybody else.
Natasha: So can we all be expecting paparazzi photos of a sheepish CA at the pharmacy counter with 37 boxes of condoms?
Steve: I do know how to be discreet you know.
Natasha: You ride around NYC on a motorcycle with no helmet and your shield strapped to your back
Natasha: I didn’t think you knew the meaning of the word “discreet”
Steve: I’ve worked undercover before.
Natasha: Your idea of a disguise is a baseball cap and sunglasses
Steve: It’s effective!
Natasha sends back an eye-roll emoji.
Steve has been so busy messaging Natasha back that he startles at JARVIS’s interruption.
“Your guest has just pulled in to parking level E.”
“Thanks JARVIS, I’ll come down to meet him.”
Steve: Gotta go, Bucky just got in.
Natasha messages him back an eggplant emoji and a peach emoji.
By the time Steve steps out his front door, the elevator is already waiting for him - the convenience of living in a building run by an AI. While waiting for the elevator to take him all the way down to the parking garage, he pulls his phone back out of his pocket.
Natasha: Any time :)
The elevator comes to a gentle stop, and Steve has a split second to brace himself. This will be the first time he sees Bucky, live, in person. He can't imagine that Bucky could possibly not live up to Steve's expectations, but what if they don't click? What if the powerful attraction Steve feels over the phone line turns out to be muted and tacky in person?
The elevator doors open, to... a parking garage. Steve laughs at himself, a little. What was he expecting, to see Bucky waiting for the elevator the instant the doors opened?
Don’t be so dramatic.
Steve steps out of the elevator and glances around the garage, eyes zeroing in on a black Mercedes parked a few spots down from Natasha, with the engine idling. A few seconds later the car turns off, and the door opens, so Steve starts walking in that direction. The lowest level of the garage is reserved for Avengers, high level SHIELD members (like Nick Fury and Maria Hill), Tony's personal friends, and a handful of high-level Stark Industry personnel that Tony trusts enough for extra-special parking, though whatever criteria Tony has for that, Steve doesn't know.
Point is, not many people park on the lowest level.
Bucky's head pops out of the open door, and then he's circling around to the trunk, presumably to grab a bag. A few seconds later the trunk slams shut, and Bucky circles back around to the front of the car, just as Steve walks up.
"Oh!" Bucky says when he catches sight of Steve, smile taking over his face, "Hey! I didn't realize you were coming down."
Steve's eyes flick over Bucky's body, taking him in for the first time. He's wearing a brown leather jacket, aged from wear, along with a worn-looking t-shirt and faded jeans. He looks... soft. Touchable. Comfortable for a car ride. And really, really gorgeous. Bucky has a duffle bag slung over one shoulder, and he's clearly looking Steve up and down just as Steve's looking at him. Steve forewent his so-called 'grandpa clothes' in favor of something 'young' and 'trendy' - which just amounted to a pair of dark blue jeans, boots, and a too-tight white t-shirt.
(Yes, Steve knows that he wears his shirts too tight, even though he plays dumb around the other Avengers. He knows. He has a mirror, that he looks in before he leaves the house. He's not blind. Steve allows himself to be vain, sometimes, and sometimes people are so busy staring at his chest that they don't even notice that it's attached to Captain America. So in a way, Steve's shirts almost count as a disguise. Almost. So there, Natasha. )
After a charged few seconds of undisguised staring, Bucky steps forward and pulls Steve into a hug, which allows Steve to give into the temptation to run his hands over Bucky's shirt. It's even softer than it looks, Steve thinks, running his fingers over the small of Bucky's back and pulling Bucky closer.
They stay clutched together for a few seconds, before Bucky pulls back just enough to look Steve in the eye.
(Steve doesn't give up his grip on Bucky, hands dropping to rest on his waist).
"Hi," Bucky says, face inches from Steve's own. His eyes are very, very blue.
(Turns out, Steve didn’t need to worry about lack of attraction.)
"Hi," Steve parrots back.
Bucky's mouth is very, very close to Steve's own.
"How was your drive?"
Bucky's eyes drop down to Steve's lips, then back up.
"Good," he says, amused, tongue licking over his lips. He leans forward and for a moment Steve thinks he's about to be kissed, but Bucky ducks his head to the side and places a lingering kiss against Steve's cheek, then takes a step back. Steve lets him go, reluctantly. "Quick. Traffic was pretty light, so."
It's strange, seeing Bucky here. He's clearly comfortable, having parked easily and walked up like he owns the place. Bucky’s black Mercedes blends in with all of the other cars on the level. Natasha’s Corvette is parked eight cars down, Steve’s motorcycle is across the way, and four of Tony’s cars are scattered around in various spaces. Sam’s car is just around the corner, parked next to Clint’s crappy old pickup truck that he insists on driving even though Tony has begged to replace it, or upgrade it.
“What?” Bucky asks.
“Nothing,” Steve says, shaking his head. “Just… you’ve been coming here regularly for years, and we’ve never crossed paths before. It’s just weird. I park right over there.” Steve points at his motorcycle.
“Whose car is that?” Bucky says, pointing to a silver BMW.
“I don’t know.”
“How about that one?” This time, he points to a sleek black SUV.
“I don’t know.”
“How about that Porche over there?”
“Yeah, yeah, I get the picture.”
Bucky just grins. “Are you saying that the universe should have brought us together before now? That we should have run into each other in the parking garage, gotten talking about the weather? I could have tripped and fallen into your arms, and you could have saaaaved me,” Bucky leans dramatically into Steve’s side as he speaks, and Steve has to wrap an arm around him to keep him upright. “My hero,” he swoons.
“So are you gonna whisk me away to your castle, prince charming?”
“What’s that I’m hearing?” Steve makes a show of listening intently. “You want to… sleep… in the garage?”
Bucky just laughs. “I’ll behave myself.”
“You don’t want me to behave myself.”
That is, actually, true - Bucky’s sass is one of the most attractive things about him. Rather than conceding, Steve just shakes his head and reaches for Bucky’s bag.
“Here, let me get that,” Steve says.
Bucky hands the duffle over silently, but his face says it all.
“Yeah, yeah, yuk it up. My ma raised me to be a gentleman, unlike some people I could name.”
Steve starts walking towards the elevator, which still sits with its doors open, waiting.
Bucky smirks. “I could be real gentle with you, if you ask nicely.”
“I didn’t think you liked it gentle,” Steve says, leaning against the back wall of the elevator.
“With the right partner,” Bucky says, bumping elbows with Steve as he settles in to a mirrored position, “anything can be good.”
Steve wants to reply with something clever, but instead he knows that he’s just grinning goofily at the thought of being Bucky’s “right partner.”
“So,” Bucky says after Steve’s probably-too-long pause, “does this elevator go straight to your floor? Or do we need to connect?”
“It does, actually. It’s the only one in the building that goes all the way to the top.” The elevator itself is completely plain - there are no buttons, mirrors, windows, anything. Just a metal box, and JARVIS depositing the occupants to whatever floor they belong to. “There’s a connection on the 40th floor, so if you go up one of the front-of-the-house elevators you have to connect.”
The general safety measures in Stark Tower are intense - borne partly out of genuine need, partly out of Tony’s (justified) paranoia that some big bad is going to attack the place (again). The elevators that move between Avengers’ related spaces (their parking area, living areas, common floor, gym, etc.) are designed to interact with the rest of the tower as little as possible.
Steve opens his mouth to say something to that effect, when the absurdity of their elevator conversation becomes apparent all at once. This is Bucky , the guy Steve has been talking to and lusting over for a week. Bucky, the guy Steve hasn't stopped thinking about for a week. Steve finally has him, here, in New York, in the flesh, and they're standing here talking about elevators. Is Steve doing this all wrong? Was Bucky expecting to be swept off of his feet, only instead to get some completely inane conversation about elevators? Steve joked about knitting his-and-his tea cozies, only to engage him in a thrilling conversation about elevators.
Bucky just nods, unaware of Steve's internal conflict.
"The prosthetic labs are on the 41st. I usually take this elevator from the garage, but," he gestures to the smooth metal where a button panel would be, "it's not like you get to know where this thing goes."
Steve nods, a little crazed. "Yeah, you know. Security. They don't want to advertise that it connects to the residential floors. Because that would be... a, uh, security risk," he says inanely. Stop talking about elevators for god's sake.
Then, Steve processes what Bucky actually said. Prosthetic lab. Somehow, Steve hadn't even noticed Bucky's arm, even though he’s been expecting it. To be fair, Steve had been very focused on Bucky - on his eyes, on his hair, on his well-fitted leather jacket, on his tight pants - and less on all the other details. Steve glances over, but he can't see it now, either. The leather jacket Bucky's wearing covers the whole thing, and Bucky's hand is tucked in his pocket - a move that he makes look perfectly natural, but is likely a habit borne of having to keep the prosthetic out of sight, lest it draw scrutiny from curious onlookers.
Bucky stands up from his casual lean against the back of the elevator and turns to face Steve. And, not entirely sure what Bucky is doing but willing to go along with it, Steve stands up straight and turns to mirror Bucky, who has just... oh. Bucky's holding his left hand out, in the space between them.
Steve glances back up at Bucky's face, but Bucky just shrugs. He doesn't seem stressed or uncomfortable with Steve's scrutiny, but even still, Steve doesn't want to be rude.
"You can look."
Steve does. The hand looks scarred, like Bucky said. But looking closely, Steve could see that what appears at first glance to be a series of interlocking scars, is actually a slight transparency in the covering, to the prosthetic below. To the untrained eye, the markings would definitely look like something that could have been slashed by shards of glass, or by his hand getting crushed by something gridded - easily possible from the car accident he was in. And most people wouldn’t stare openly enough to get a better look.
Bucky rotates his hand palm-up an wiggles his fingers.
"That's incredible,” Steve says, impressed. “If you hadn't told me already that it wasn't real, I never would have guessed."
Bucky grins. "I have people I've been working with since the accident that have no idea. Tony's magic at work."
“Have you told any of them?”
“Nah. Can’t be sure none of them will say anything.”
Steve frowns. “Not even your boss?”
Bucky shakes his head.
“How do you explain disappearing up to New York all the time?”
“Special physical therapists, have to come up so that they can work their magic, yadda yadda yadda. As long as I can play, she doesn’t question it.”
At that, the elevator slows to a stop and the doors hiss open.
“Home sweet home.”
Stepping out of the elevator isn’t exactly an impressive sight - just a foyer, and a door to Steve’s apartment, which he didn’t bother locking when he left. Steve opens the door and gestures for Bucky to go ahead.
“Thank you, good sir,” Bucky says, tipping an invisible hat with a teasing grin.
“So,” Bucky says, looking back a the elevator and then at the door. “What is the point of having a door there, if you have the whole floor?”
“No door was Tony’s original plan, but a couple of us rebelled.” Natasha, Clint, Steve, and Bruce all said ‘absolutely not’ to Tony’s original floor plan. “Didn’t want the elevator opening into our living rooms.”
“Yeah, I suppose that would make couch sex a little awkward.” Bucky looks around the room. “Nice place.”
“It’s a little… overly extravagant.” Tall ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, marble countertops, the works - Tony doesn’t know how to do things halfway, either, so all of the Avengers’ floors look like something out of a modern home magazine, if the magazine was reinterpreted by an engineer with a fondness for a sleek industrial aesthetic.
“Yeah, well, I would expect nothing else from Tony. Are you gonna show me around?”
“Yeah! Of course. Here, let me take your coat.”
Bucky bites his lip on a grin. He looks like he’s about to make another crack about Steve’s gentlemanliness, but instead he obediently shrugs his leather jacket off and hands it over, eyes full of mirth. Bucky knows that Steve knows what he’s thinking, so he doesn’t even have to say it.
A frisson of something runs through Steve. Something hot, something possessive. Bucky’s look reminds Steve of their first phone call, of Steve threatening to put Bucky over his knee, of Bucky all-but-saying that he would enjoy it.
Steve hangs Bucky’s jacket on the coat hanger by the door, and then returns to Bucky’s side, energy thrumming under his skin. He hitches the duffle higher on his shoulder and reaches out to put a guiding hand on Bucky’s lower back. “So these rooms over here,” he gestures at two closed doors, “are empty, because I have no idea what to do with this much space.”
“It’s not like you need a home gym, either,” Bucky muses, slotting comfortably to Steve’s side, like they had done this a thousand times.
“No, not with the Avengers’ gym downstairs. This is the guest bedroom.” He gestures at the open doorway, where Bucky pokes his head in with a raised eyebrow. “So, you know, uh. No pressure.”
“I’m just saying! It’s an option. It’s called being polite to your guests, a concept you’re clearly unfamiliar with.”
“You said this visit is clothing optional.”
“It is. But I’m not going to force you to sleep in my bed if you don’t want to, okay?”
Bucky steps into his personal space and presses another kiss against his cheek, only this time he lingers.
“You’re such a gentleman,” he murmurs, “but I don’t think that’ll be necessary.”
“Okay.” Steve swallows, heart beating faster from Bucky’s proximity. He takes the opportunity to wrap his arm fully around Bucky’s waist, and tugs him forward. “Living room, kitchen, there’s the hall bath,” he says, pointing at the closed door, “and here’s the master bedroom.”
Bucky walks into the room, much more interested in the master than he was the guest room. He raises an eyebrow at Steve’s California king bed, runs his fingertips over the linen duvet, briefly peruses the bookshelf on the opposite corner, and then wanders through the door to the ensuite bath.
Meanwhile Steve stands by the doorway, duffle clutched in his hands, unsure of whether or not he should follow.
Steve hears a low whistle from the bathroom, then:
“So is this swimming pool Olympic sized, or…?”
Steve dumps the duffle bag at the foot of his bed and haunts the doorway to the bathroom, instead.
“I can’t even make fun of Tony for that one,” Steve says, crossing his arms, “since it’s great having a bathtub big enough to fit all of me.”
Bucky just bites his lip and looks pointedly at the enormous tub.
“I’m pretty sure you could fit four of you in this thing. And I thought my place was swanky, but I only have two shower heads so….”
Steve’s shower has four.
“Well… you know Tony,” Steve says helplessly.
“Oh, I’m not complaining.” Bucky eyes the bathtub and shower with interest, and then turns a wicked grin on Steve. “I’ve had thoughts about this shower.” He stalks towards Steve, then. “Long, dirty thoughts about this shower.”
Steve unfolds his arms as soon as Bucky comes into grabbing distance and pulls him close, one arm around Bucky’s waist, one cradling the back of his head. Bucky steps forward into the embrace willingly, then stands on his toes to rest his forehead against Steve’s.
“This okay?” Steve asks. His fingers spread around Bucky’s skull - fragile, so damn fragile - and Bucky’s whole body presses against his.
“More than okay,” Bucky whispers into the space between them, and then presses his lips against Steve’s, warm and soft.
Steve’s eyes flutter closed as he commits the moment to memory: their first kiss, standing in his damn bathroom, while getting made fun of for his super-sized bathtub. Society may say that candlelight and roses should be more romantic, but Steve can’t think of anything more perfect than this moment.
Bucky kisses him, again and again, keeping each press of his lips chaste, until Steve tilts Bucky’s head and deepens the kiss himself. Steve wants to press Bucky back against something, slide a thigh between his legs and get handsy, but the bathroom isn’t really the place for that. So he takes a step backwards, then another, pulling Bucky along with him, until they’re back in the bedroom.
They end up on the bed, fully clothed, making out like teenagers. Steve knows they should pause to undress, but he’s too busy biting a line of kisses down Bucky’s neck and listening to him moan. Steve’s too busy scraping his teeth over Bucky’s collarbone, slotting a knee between Bucky’s thighs and grinding down.
A pair of hands appear at his waist, tugging at his shirt, so Steve sits up and pulls it off. When he goes to drop back down, Bucky stops him, hand on his chest, eyes appreciative.
“God bless America,” Bucky says on an exhale.
The hand on his chest trails down - Bucky’s right, Steve notes, warm and human - fingertips tracing over Steve’s abs. Steve lets Bucky have his moment, and stares right back. Bucky’s lips are puffy and red, his pupils wide, and his hair is a mess from Steve’s grasping hands.
Bucky looks incredible in Steve’s bed.
(Just as incredible as Steve thought he would. More incredible.)
The hand on Steve’s abs trails over to his side and then pushes, a clear instruction, so Steve rolls and Bucky rolls with him.
“You are unreal. Pictures don’t do you justice,” Bucky says, looking down at Steve’s body.
“Thank Uncle Sam.”
“Oh, I am. Trust me. Tax dollars well spent.”
Bucky ducks his head and bites at Steve’s nipple, cutting off Steve’s reply. He sucks and licks and bites until Steve can’t do anything but moan and shift his hips, searching for some friction, and then moves to the other side.
Bucky pops off and licks his lips, eyes dark.
“Did you mean what you said before?”
Bucky presses a kiss to his sternum, then one a few inches lower, and lower, and lower, while Steve tries to corral enough brain power to answer the question. Before? Before when? He could be asking about just about anything, and all of Steve’s blood is in his dick.
“Uhh… probably,” he pants.
Bucky licks up along the groove in the middle of Steve’s abs.
“One day,” he says, “not today, but one day, I’m gonna rub my cock right here until I come all over you.”
“Yeah, fuck, anything you want.”
Bucky pops the button on Steve’s jeans and eases the zipper over the bulge of Steve’s dick.
“Before,” he says, palming Steve’s erection, “you said that I could suck you off…” he cups Steve and pulls him out of his underwear, elastic pressing up under his balls, “...and you would be hard enough to fuck me a few minutes later.”
Steve’s breath catches in his throat.
Then Bucky leans down and licks a line up Steve’s cock, base to tip, and maintains eye contact the whole time.
Steve feels like he’s on fire.
“Did’ya mean it?”
Steve can’t do anything but nod.
Bucky sucks Steve down, all the way down, until his nose presses against the base of Steve’s cock. Steve ends up with one hand fisted in the sheets, the other petting over Bucky’s hair. All he can really focus on is not coming within two minutes.
That is, until Bucky grabs Steve’s hand and presses it against the back of his head, while tugging Steve’s hip up with the other, encouraging him to thrust. Steve grips a handful of hair and then thrusts once, tentatively, unsure if that’s what Bucky wants - but Bucky moans around Steve’s cock and swallows him down, so yeah, this is happening. Steve tugs experimentally at Bucky’s hair and he moans again, louder and more desperate, and it’s too much, too much.
“Bucky, I’m gonna…”
Bucky makes eye contact, winks, and then pulls off - and then Steve’s coming all over his own stomach, gasping. Then Bucky crawls back up the bed and kisses Steve while he comes down, long drugging kisses that Steve’s quickly becoming addicted to.
“You are the hottest thing I’ve ever fucking seen,” Bucky says, painting his fingers through the mess on Steve’s abs. Bucky may have a fixation.
As great as the orgasm was, energy still thrums beneath Steve’s skin - he’s not satisfied. Bucky is still fully dressed, for God’s sake, just his shoes kicked off in the heat of the moment. So Steve sits up and grabs his discarded shirt to wipe himself off, then turns back to Bucky.
Steve could wipe Bucky’s hand off with the shirt. He could.
Instead, he grabs Bucky’s hand and sucks his fingers into his mouth, reveling in Bucky’s gasp. Steve gives them one long suck, and then releases them, scraping his teeth over Bucky’s knuckles. As much fun as it would be to keep that up, Steve wants Bucky’s clothes off yesterday.
But when he tries to tug Buck’s shirt off, Bucky shrinks back.
“Before I take any of my clothes off,” Bucky says, “we should probably talk about this.” He wiggles the fingers of his left hand.
“Okay.” Steve shifts, hyper-aware of his softening cock just hanging out of his pants. After a moment of consideration, he tucks himself back into his underwear, since it seems like they’re about to have a serious conversation.
Bucky had already touched Steve with his metal arm a few times - he used the prosthetic to direct Steve’s hand and grabbed his ass with it. It hadn’t seemed much different than his other, normal hand.
“So, there are scars,” Bucky says, matter-of-fact and surprisingly composed, given what they had just been doing, “both from the accident, and from the attachment surgeries.”
“I had assumed,” Steve says, nodding. “What else?”
“You have to be gentle on the arm. The prosthetic isn’t fragile, but the silicone sleeve covering it is. Think of it like a condom: it’s just kinda slipped on over the thing, and if you grab it roughly or twist it, it can tear. And I don’t exactly want to explain that to Tony.”
“Okay,” Steve says. Bucky looks nervous, toying with the hem of his shirt absentmindedly. Steve weighs his words carefully before speaking. “The scars aren’t gonna bother me, and neither is the prosthetic. But if you would feel more comfortable with your shirt on, I won’t push.”
Bucky just shakes his head.
“What do you normally do?” Steve asks, curious.
“I don’t. Normally.” Bucky swallows. “Since the accident I haven’t really… you know, just a few hookups, clothes-still-on kinda thing.”
Bucky bites his lip and looks away.
The only thing Steve can think to do is to hook a hand behind Bucky’s neck and reel him into a soft kiss, and then rest their foreheads together, breathing the same air.
Steve wants to say I’m sorry. He wants to say that must have been lonely. He wants to say you didn’t deserve that. But he doesn’t think that Bucky wants to hear any of those things.
Instead, he says: “Trust me?”
That seems to be the right thing, because Bucky lets out a breath and leans into Steve, nuzzling his neck.
“I do,” he murmurs into Steve’s ear, “god help me, but I do.”
Steve skates his hands over the hem of Bucky’s shirt, but doesn’t lift or pull. He waits until Bucky sits up straight and nods before gently gripping the fabric and pulling it up over Bucky’s chest, over Bucky’s head, and then off.
There are scars.
Most noticeable is the shoulder, where jagged slashes radiating out towards his heart clash with orderly rows of surgical scars. There are a few others, too: a puncture wound on his lower right side, a small burn mark on his right bicep, speckling from what may have been gravel or road rash over his ribs.
“Do any of them hurt?” Steve asks. He wants to touch, taste, soothe - but it’s more important that he doesn’t inadvertently hurt Bucky in the process.
“The shoulder area, sometimes. Mostly it’s numb, but on bad days a couple of them get really sensitive.”
Steve runs his fingertips gently over the scars on Bucky’s left pectoral. “This okay?”
“And this?” Steve says, brushing his fingers up towards the worst of the scarring, but avoiding the attachment point.
“That’s fine too.”
“Fine? Or good?”
Bucky shrugs. “It’s not doing anything for me, if that’s what you’re asking.”
Steve’s not entirely sure what he’s asking, but makes note of Bucky’s response.
“I…” Bucky starts and stops, licking his lips. “I think. I would prefer… that you avoid them?”
“Okay.” Steve looks at the prosthetic, but doesn’t touch. He’s honestly a little afraid of it - the odds of him grabbing for Bucky’s hands or arms in the heat of the moment are high, and the realism of the prosthetic means that he’s more likely to forget that it isn’t flesh and blood.
Steve doesn’t want to break anything.
He really, really doesn’t want to break anything.
“The sleeve - do you have to wear it?” Steve had gotten the impression that Bucky normally doesn’t have the sleeve on unless he leaves the house, but maybe he was wrong about that.
“Uh, I guess not. As long as -” Bucky stops mid-sentence, shakes his head, and laughs.
“This sucks! Come here.” Bucky pulls Steve into a kiss and topples them over. Steve, following Bucky’s lead, ends up sprawled on top of him, their bodies pressed together. One kiss quickly spirals into more, until they’re once again making out on the bed.
“Feels like we just reset the clock to thirty minutes ago,” Steve murmurs against Bucky’s lips.
“Yeah,” Bucky says, rubbing up against Steve’s body, “that’s because thirty-minutes-ago-us knew how to have a good time.”
“We still need to -” Bucky interrupts him with another kiss, which Steve can’t deny. “We do still need to -” another kiss, then another.
Finally, Bucky breaks the kiss and rests their foreheads together. “Let’s talk like this, okay?” Bucky says.
“Uhh…” Steve says, eloquent as ever. His dick has returned interest in the proceedings and so has Bucky’s. Being pressed together as they are isn’t exactly conducive to a coherent conversation. “If that’s what you want?”
“I want to have normal sex like a normal person,” Bucky says.
Steve respects that, but he really does need to know more about the prosthetic before they both wind up sheepish and embarrassed in Tony’s lab.
Actions may be easier than just words, though. Steve wraps his hand around Bucky’s left wrist and directs it next to Bucky’s head, then squeezes and presses down.
“Is that going to damage it?” he asks.
Bucky swallows. “Not sure,” he says, breathy.
“How much can you feel?”
“Pressure. It’s very sensitive to pressure. Temperature, sometimes, when the sleeve is off.”
“Is it the sleeve that’s in danger of being damaged? Or the arm?”
Giving in to what he really wants, Steve shifts his weight and gathers up Bucky’s other arm, pins it to the other side. The shift in weight distribution pushes them together in a delicious slide.
Bucky groans and tips his head back against the pillow.
“Fuck! Umm. It’s the sleeve,” he gasps, “that’s a problem.”
“So take it off?”
Steve bites at Bucky’s lower lip.
“Sure, as long as you don’t mind me looking like a robot.”
“I don’t care about how it looks. I just don’t wanna break it.”
Bucky nods, and the moment draws out for a few seconds.
“All right, get off.”
Steve releases Bucky’s wrists and rolls off of him. Bucky sits up, does something to the sleeve that Steve can’t quite see, and then the “flesh” peels away and reveals gleaming chrome underneath.
Seeing the prosthetic like this is easier - or at least Steve thinks it’ll be easier - since there’s no way to mistake the bare prosthetic with flesh-and-blood.
Bucky opens his mouth to say something, but Steve doesn’t give him the chance to express any more doubt, about himself or his arm or Steve. Instead, Steve pushes him back in a surge of motion, slotting himself between Bucky’s legs in the process and kissing Bucky until he loses his train of thought.
And to think, Steve’s supposed to be some kind of tactician.
Steve pushes himself up, off of Bucky, and then sits up - back, once again, to where they were a few minutes ago. This time he doesn’t allow himself to be distracted by the pretty picture Bucky makes - he pops the button on Bucky’s jeans, rendered obscene by the bulge in front, and then lowers the zipper. Between Steve’s tugging and Bucky’s wiggling, they manage to get Bucky’s pants and underwear off and onto the floor.
Steve manages to kick off his own jeans, and then they’re back together.
As they rock together, Bucky’s right hand scratches over Steve’s back, grabs his ass, tugs his hair - but his left stays stationary on the pillow next to his head, like Bucky’s forgotten it. Or, like he’s trying to get Steve to forget about it.
So Steve reaches out and runs a feather-light fingertip from palm to elbow. To his surprise, Bucky gasps, and then the arm makes a whirring noise and the plates ripple up and down the arm. Steve props himself up and can’t help the amused grin tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“Was that the robot equivalent of a shiver?”
“I think so?” Bucky looks a little pink.
“How would you hide that in public?”
“That wouldn’t happen in public. The sleeve dulls sensation too much. And umm, I don’t know that it would. It doesn’t. Like. Around the house…”
The implied it’s maybe a sex thing remains unsaid.
Steve wraps his hand around Bucky’s wrist and brings the hand up to his mouth, presses a kiss against the palm. The ripple doesn’t happen again, but Bucky’s eyes darken. Steve licks a teasing line up Bucky’s middle finger, not entirely sure where he’s going with this but totally ready to follow where his instincts lead him, when Bucky says: “careful.”
Steve just raises an eyebrow.
“The plates can pinch.”
Steve presses a kiss against Bucky’s metal fingertip.
“It’s not terrible but. Uh. Not something you want in sensitive places?”
“Hmmm.” Steve presses a kiss to the palm, then the wrist, and then directs Bucky’s hand to Steve’s own asscheek. “Squeeze?”
Bucky follows the instruction dutifully, but laughs and shakes his head.
“Not like that,” Bucky says. “ More sensitive places.”
Steve shrugs. “So you won’t finger me with it, that’s fine. I think basically anything else is fair game.”
“Don’t think you want a handy either.”
Steve rolls his eyes. “Okay, anything else is fair game. So stop leaving it out. You have two hands.”
That reminds Steve of the very first time they talked on the phone - when Bucky didn’t want to finger himself and jack off at the same time. Suddenly, his I want you to do it makes a lot more sense.
“All right, all right. Are you gonna fuck me, or are we gonna lay around talking about my arm all day?”
“I’ve been trying.”
“Not trying very hard, punk.”
Steve bites Bucky’s nipple in retaliation, but grabs the lube and a condom from where he (optimistically) stashed them under the pillow. When he sits back on his heels, lube in hand, Bucky outright laughs.
“‘You can sleep in the guest room,’ he says. ‘I’m not expecting anything,’ he says.”
“I wasn’t! You’re the one that -”
“Were you a boy scout, Steve?” Bucky tucks his flesh arm behind his head and looks at Steve, appraising. “Wait, did the boy scouts even exist back then?”
“Okay, wanting something to happen and expecting something to happen are two different things, and you said -”
“Because I’m just saying…” Bucky trails off. The curl of Bucky’s lips falls somewhere between a grin and a smirk, and he looks pleased-as-punch, cat-that-got-the-canary. He looks like he could keep teasing Steve all night, even though the erection laying against his stomach hasn’t waned at all, and should by all measures be begging for attention.
Rather than fighting a losing battle, Steve slips his left arm under Bucky’s knee, spreads his legs, and rubs his finger over Bucky’s hole.
That, finally, seems to shut him up.
For a moment.
“You don’t need to be gentle,” Bucky says, tilting his hips to give Steve better access.
Sure enough, when Steve pushes his first finger in, he meets little resistance.
“I couldn’t stop fucking myself open, thinking about you.”
Steve pulls out, pushes back in with two fingers. They glide in smoothly, easily, and as much as Steve wanted to prep Bucky properly, the idea of Bucky opening himself up with his fingers or a toy, imagining Steve…
Steve crooks his fingers, and within a few thrusts, Bucky arches and gasps.
Steve adds a third finger and rubs over that spot until Bucky’s whimpering on every breath and his cock is leaking all over his stomach.
“Nnnghh, Steve, come on…”
“I’m sorry,” Steve says, trying to keep his voice level, “did you want something?”
“Fuck me! Please, Steve… please… I need it.”
Steve thrusts a few more times, not quite done with having Bucky at his mercy, before pulling his fingers out. He’ll have another chance.
Then it’s just a matter of slipping the condom on, picking up both of Bucky’s legs this time, and pressing in.
Steve tries to take a few moments to let Bucky get used to the feeling, but almost immediately Bucky starts pushing for more. Well, wriggling, really. In this position Bucky has virtually no leverage - Steve on his knees, with Bucky on his back, his weight completely supported by Steve’s arms - which means that all Bucky can really do is wiggle his hips from side to side, and take what Steve gives him.
And Steve? Steve has always been a giver.
“Touch yourself,” Steve says finally. Bucky has been moaning and writhing, grasping at the blankets and pulling his own hair, but otherwise letting Steve do all the work.
Bucky obediently starts pinching both of his nipples. Steve just raises an eyebrow and looks down at Bucky’s red, swollen cock.
“Fuck you,” Bucky pants. “This is like, every one of my sexual fantasies rolled into one, I’m reciting baseball stats over here or I woulda’ been done 10 minutes ago.”
Steve just raises his eyebrow again and pulls out.
“Not… really what I was getting at there,” Bucky says with a groan, but before he complains too much Steve flips him over, pulls him up onto his hands and knees, and pushes back in.
The angle is different - Steve isn’t quite hitting Bucky’s prostate and doubts he’ll last long enough to find it - but he can grab a fistful of Bucky’s hair, angle Bucky’s head back, and bite a line up the back of his neck.
“Fuck, Steve! Harder.”
Steve snaps his hips, but Bucky tilts his head back further into Steve’s grip, so instead he pulls at the hair in his hand, a little mean.
“Love how vocal you are,” Steve growls into Bucky’s ear. “Have I said that yet? Love how I can always tell exactly what I’m doing to you.”
All of a sudden they teeter precariously, and it takes Steve a second to realize why: most of his weight is balanced on Bucky, and Bucky just tried to reach for his own cock. So Steve shifts around until he’s reasonably sure he won’t faceplant onto Bucky’s back as soon as he lets go of Bucky’s hip, and then reaches around and grabs Bucky himself.
Bucky practically sobs at Steve’s touch, and Steve doesn’t give him any time to get used to it. He jacks Bucky hard and fast, periodically rubbing a thumb over the head, until Bucky’s arms are shaking with the effort of keeping them upright and he’s moaning on every exhale.
“I’m gonna come…”
And then Bucky’s breath hitches and his ass clenches around Steve’s cock, pulling Steve into his orgasm along with him.
And then they really do faceplant into the bed.
“‘M never moving again,” Bucky slurs into the pillow. “I live here now.”
“Okay,” Steve agrees, pulling out as gently as he can, and tying the condom off.
“I want my tombstone to read ‘fucked to death by Captain America.’”
Steve pads over to the trash can, gets rid of the condom, and then climbs back onto the bed. Bucky really is beautiful like this: spread out, legs akimbo, hole stretched out and puffy.
“So are you living here, or are you dying here?”
Steve gives in to the temptation to gently rub a finger over the sore flesh between Bucky’s legs. Bucky groans but spreads his legs further, giving Steve better access, so Steve gives into temptation again, leans in, and licks, gently.
“Steveeee,” Bucky whines.
Steve presses a kiss against his rim, and delicately laves the area with his tongue. He’s hyper aware of the fact that Bucky must be incredibly sensitive, and he doesn’t want the sensations to tip over into overstimulating or unpleasant.
“Not all of us have super-stamina, you know.” Bucky’s voice comes out muffled from where his face is buried in the pillow.
“Tell me to stop and I will.” Steve presses a chaste kiss against Bucky’s ass cheek and waits for Bucky’s response, but nothing comes. Five seconds of silence become ten, and then fifteen, and then Bucky shifts and cants his hips backwards.
Bucky says nothing, but he nods against the pillow.
Steve starts out slow - long licks from Bucky’s perineum, over his hole, to the top of his crack - until Bucky starts squirming against the bed. Then Steve gets a hand around Bucky’s cock and lets him set the pace: rock forward into Steve’s grip, and then back onto Steve’s tongue.
Bucky whimpers and whines and shakes, but Steve can tell he’s building back up to a peak with every shuddering thrust. Steve just curls his tongue to the best of his ability and tightens his grip - and then Bucky’s fucking forward desperately, groaning into the pillow, hole spasming around Steve’s tongue.
Steve milks him through it until Bucky stills.
Then Steve takes his come-covered hand and gives himself the attention he’s been lacking, the wet sounds in the quiet room particularly obscene. Bucky cranes his neck enough to look over his shoulder, giving Steve a tired-but-lascivious grin.
“You gonna come all over me, Steve?” Bucky’s voice sounds like gravel.
Steve jacks himself harder, looking at Bucky’s ass, his back, the purpling marks on the back of his neck.
“Want me to?”
“Fuck yeah. ‘M pretty gross already, go for it.”
Steve can tell that he’s getting close - he’s been close, ever since Bucky let Steve put his tongue in his ass.
“Next time,” Bucky murmurs, “I want you to come on my face.”
Steve groans like he’s been gut-punched, thick ropes of come splattering onto Bucky’s back.
“Gross,” Bucky says, but he sounds delighted. “Get me a towel, you creten.”
Steve manages to stagger off the bed and into the bathroom without breaking anything. He carefully wipes down Bucky’s back, prods him into rolling over so that Steve can wipe the excess come off of his soft cock.
“Such a gentleman.”
Bucky blinks slowly, already half asleep, so Steve prods him into getting under the covers and then climbs under himself.
“Dibs on little spoon.”
Steve just huffs out a laugh, and curls around Bucky’s back, nuzzles behind Bucky’s ear.
“Nice to meet you, Bucky.”
Bucky snickers. “Oh my god, who let you run the Avengers? People think you’re a role model. ”
“Go to sleep.”
Eventually their rumbling stomachs wake them from their nap, so Bucky rolls out of bed, pulls on a pair of sweatpants, and goes in search of food.
"We could order something," Steve says, pulling on a pair of boxers, "or we could cook. I have, uh...." How does he explain the truly unnecessary amount of groceries he ordered, without sounding like a weirdo? "...plenty of stuff, if you want to cook."
"I'll take a look at what you have," Bucky says, heading for the kitchen.
Steve knows precisely when Bucky opens the refrigerator because Bucky's laugh carries from the other room.
"Jesus, Steve, are you trying to feed an army?"
"Well," Steve says, walking up behind Bucky, "I have to eat a lot to keep my body going, and I have been burning a lot of calories, thanks to someone."
Now that he's standing over Bucky's shoulder, yeah, okay, he maybe went a little overboard. The refrigerator looks like a farmer's market exploded: produce of every color, leafy greens overflowing from the top shelf, stacks of meat wrapped in brown paper. Steve refuses to be embarrassed about it - there were years and years where Steve survived on cabbage and boiled potatoes, times when he would have killed for half of the things that he can get today with the click of a button.
"Are these fresh clams?" Bucky points to a plastic bag in one of the bottom drawers.
Bucky looks back at Steve, over his shoulder. "How fresh?"
"Delivered this morning."
"Well then we should definitely make those, since they won't stay good for long. Is there parsley somewhere in here?"
"Yeah, uh, it's..." Steve squints, but clearly the parsley hid itself amongst the other greenery.
Bucky snort and grabs the bag of clams.
"You deal with that." He leaves Steve to the tender mercies of the over-stocked refrigerator, and pokes around in the bowl of non-refrigerated produce on the counter, grabbing a bulb of garlic and an onion.
"What are we making?"
How on earth did Steve manage to cram all of this in here in the first place? He got parsley, he knows he bought parsley.
"Linguini and clam sauce. It's both tasty and easy to make."
Aha! Success. Steve carefully liberates the parsley from underneath the kale and the watercress, trying not to knock the whole pile to the ground.
"I have the parsley. What's next?"
"I need a pot, a cutting board, a knife, and a bottle of white wine. Oh, and stick the parsley in a glass of water, it's looking a little droopy."
Steve gets Bucky the necessary items, and then sets about chopping the onion while Bucky minces the garlic and berates Steve for lacking in kitchen equipment - something which Steve wouldn't have thought was possible, since he owns a thousand kitchen tools and hasn't even used half of them.
"I can't believe you own a cherry pitter and not a garlic zoom," Bucky says darkly, working his way through what looks like the entire bulb of garlic.
"I don't even know what that is."
"It's a little car that cuts your garlic for you." Steve opens his mouth to reply, but Bucky cuts him off. "Shh, don't question it. It's amazing and everyone should own one, end of story."
The garlic goes into the pot with some olive oil and butter, followed by the onion. Steve trails kisses up Bucky's neck while he stirs and pokes at the fragrant pot, and to be honest, Steve doesn't really pay much attention to what Bucky's doing - he just knows that Bucky is warm and soft, and the food smells amazing. Finally, Bucky judges the onions cooked enough, and dumps in the white wine and the clams, then puts the lid on the pot and spins around in the circle of Steve's arms.
"Now we let that cook while we go make out on the couch. But no funny business!" he says, poking Steve in the chest, "I refuse to get too distracted and let this burn."
"Are we not adding the parsley?"
"That goes in towards the end. I'll add it when I put water on for the pasta."
And that's exactly what they do - they make out lazily, languid and slow, without any rush to move on to more heated territory. And okay, yes, Steve can't help but think about their first phone call while they're laying on the couch, tangled together, but he can wait. They have hours and hours, days and nights ahead of them.
They eat dinner tucked close together at Steve's table, knees knocking against each other, sipping on the left over wine. The food is absolutely delicious, not that Steve expected anything else. And then they head back to bed, taking a detour to brush their teeth - "there's so much garlic in that recipe, Steve."
It's the best day Steve has had in a long, long time.
This is not the end!!
A couple of notes:
Thank you to everyone who has left kudos and comments! I was out of the country immediately after posting last chapter (I posted it about an hour before leaving for the airport, and in my rush forgot to mention that I was going to be away for 2.5 weeks) and I haven’t had time to reply, but each comment has been read and cherished.
I originally posted this fic as 3 chapters, but as you could probably tell, this is not the end. Chapter 3 ballooned into an almost 20k word monster, and so to keep it in balance I decided to cut it roughly in half and post 4 chapters, instead of 3. Chapter 4 will be coming soon. I only have a few transitional scenes and minor edits to make, so this fic will be done sooner rather than later.
And thanks for being patient with me! If you follow me on Tumblr you may have seen my post saying that this chapter would be published last week, but I deeply overestimated how functional I would be after sleep deprivation and jet lag.
On Tuesday morning, Steve startles awake to the ringing of his phone.
Who the hell...
Steve gropes around on the bedside table, trying to get the horrid noise to stop. They may have gone to bed early last night, but they certainly didn't get a lot of sleep. Steve squints at the name flashing across the screen, but it takes longer than it probably should to process: Boyfriend. Steve looks, and sure enough, the other side of the bed is empty. Did Bucky leave? What?
"Hey Steve." The tension that had begun winding its way through Steve's muscles dissipates in an instant - Steve could hear the buzz of Bucky's voice coming through the closed door, from the living room. Whatever reasoning lead to this phone call, it's not because Bucky went far. "Did I wake you?"
"Yeah," Steve says, stretching, "some jerk kept me up all night, so I didn't get a lot of sleep. What are you -" Steve yawns mid-sentence. "Sorry, what are you up to?"
"Well, I hooked up with an amazing guy last night, and now I'm hanging out in his apartment, starving to death."
"Is that so?" Steve rolls onto his back and smiles up at the ceiling. "Is there no food at this guy's house?"
"There is, but... sometimes you want a man to cook you breakfast, you know?"
"Did you try asking this guy to cook you breakfast?"
"Mmm, didn't wanna be rude. This guy sleeps like the dead."
Steve laughs but takes his cue to get out of bed. "That's very thoughtful of you. What are you doing now, as you waste away to nothing?" Steve pulls on a pair of boxers and then wanders out into the main room. Sure enough, there's Bucky, lying stretched out on the couch like a wet dream, flesh arm tucked behind his head, phone in his other hand. He glances over at Steve.
"Hanging out. Conserving energy."
It's weird, hearing Bucky in person and also over the phone line.
"Smart," he says, padding over to the couch. "Who knows if you'll ever eat again." He climbs onto the couch half next-to Bucky, half on-top, and presses a kiss against his lips.
"Food is looking less and less likely as we speak," Bucky says, eyes glinting mischievously.
"I wouldn't say that," Steve says, feeling ridiculous about the fact that they're still talking on the phone while pressed together, "if this guy really likes you, he should be making you food momentarily."
With that, Steve hangs up the phone, and Bucky gives in to the giggles he had clearly been holding back.
"What do you want for breakfast?"
"What can you make for breakfast?"
"Sounds perfect. I'll stay here, give you incentive to hurry back."
"Okay." Steve presses another kiss against Bucky's lips. "Conserve your energy, lest you starve in the time it takes to cook."
After breakfast they retreated back into the bedroom, and they’re lazing in Steve’s bed, sprawled out and sweaty, when Steve hears the nearly-inaudible click of JARVIS’s intercom turning on.
"Apologies for the interruptions, Captain, but Mister Stark has a rather urgent matter that requires your immediate attention."
Steve has to physically bite his tongue to contain his sigh. Steve wiped Bucky’s come off his stomach less than five minutes ago, and he’s been enjoying the chance to stare at Bucky moonily, like a sap.
"Thank you, JARVIS. Can it wait?"
"Unfortunately not. A delay of more than thirty minutes will most likely end with Mister Stark coming to you."
Steve looks at Bucky, who shrugs.
"Great. Uh, tell Stark that I'll be up in twenty, then."
"Thank you, Captain."
Steve waits until he hears the soft click of JARVIS's intercom turning off, before he groans and buries his face in his hands.
"Whyyyyy," Steve whines theatrically. He's allowed to be dramatic - he's had Bucky here, in his bed, for less than 24 hours, and he has Tony bugging him already. Is it too much to ask for a few days of peace and quiet? Where was this 'urgent matter' when Steve was bored out of his skull a few days ago?
"No, JARVIS would have said so. And there's an alarm for that. I swear to god, if Tony wants to complain about his latest project, I'm gonna kill him."
"Does he do that often?" Bucky props himself up on his metal hand, fist smooshing his face ridiculously.
Steve makes a wiggly hand gesture. "But when he does, he usually doesn't call it urgent."
Bucky nods, which is really more of a rocking motion against his fist. "Which means that whatever this is, it's probably important."
Steve flops onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. "Probably."
"Should I stay here? Give you incentive to make it quick?"
It's a tempting offer. Tony doesn't actually know that Bucky came up (unless JARVIS told him), and Steve's almost guaranteed to get some teasing. But at the same time, Tony trusts Bucky, and Steve doesn't want to keep Bucky holed away like a dirty little secret. Just because his visit has been private doesn't mean that Steve wants to be secretive. A narrow distinction, but one that Steve would like to keep nonetheless.
"If you want to stay down here, then by all means. But... if you would like to come up with me, that's good too?" Bucky raises an eyebrow. "If it's not really important, you being there will probably make it go faster."
"That, or Tony will spend the next three hours making progressively worse innuendos."
"Or that," Steve concedes. "Still." He reaches out to run his fingers through Bucky's hair. "Come with me?"
"Yeah, okay. I guess that means I need to put some pants on, huh?"
"I consider this a breach of our contract, but I'll allow it."
They both roll out of bed and take fast - separate - showers. By the time Steve has pulled some clothes on, he finds Bucky standing in the living room, scowling at his phone.
"Uhhhh. Well." Bucky glances up at Steve, then back down at his phone. "I think I figured out what Tony wants, unfortunately."
Dread begins to pool in Steve's stomach.
Bucky holds up his phone. At first glance, it just looks like Bucky has a dozen notifications on his lock screen.
"I have a google alert set up for your name."
Steve closes his eyes and counts to ten. Someone must have seen Bucky on his way to New York, or seen him in New York, or seen him entering the Tower. Steve would have liked one day, just one goddamn day with Bucky, without the media weighing in on their relationship.
Which they may have just unintentionally confirmed.
"Do I even want to know."
The words come out flat.
"I haven't read any of them? But yeah, we should probably go check in with Stark. I'm sure JARVIS has already compiled a summary."
Great. Perfect. Wonderful. Just what Steve wants - to spend his day doing public relations clean-up, instead of spending his day doing Bucky. Those fuckinging parasites.
"Unless... you would rather I stayed here?"
Steve stalks forward until he reaches Bucky, standing unsure in the middle of the room, and gently (but firmly) corrals him backwards until his back hits the wall.
"No," Steve says in the hair's breadth of space between them, "I don't want you to stay here."
Steve kisses Bucky, again and again and again, slow but heated, pressing him up against the wall with his whole body. He bites at Bucky’s lower lip and then chases the sting with his tongue, gives in to his own impulses and slides a knee between Bucky’s thighs. Bucky gasps and knocks his head back against the wall and Steve… Steve loves having him like this. He bites at Bucky’s earlobe and then plants a trail of stinging kisses down his neck, grinds forward into the hardness pressed against his thigh.
"Steve," Bucky whimpers. "Steve, come on, don't start something you can't finish."
Steve pulls back for one last kiss. He means for it to be a peck, but instead it turns long and heated again. He finally pulls away to lean his forehead against Bucky's.
"We should probably go."
Steve takes a moment to gather himself, then steps back, releasing Bucky from where he's been more or less pinned against the wall. Steve grabs Bucky's hand, before he can go far, and laces their fingers together.
Time to face the music.
"Finally! Took you lo-" Tony stops mid-word when he rounds the corner. He looks at Steve, then Bucky, then down to their clasped hands, then back to Steve, then back to Bucky. "Hey there, TJ Maxx. Didn't realize you were here."
Tony stares at them expectantly, but neither of them jump to explain. Odd - Steve had assumed that the ‘emergency’ was about Bucky’s presence in the Tower, but maybe not?
Bucky shrugs. "Had the day off."
"Okayyyy. Come on in."
Tony wanders off, further into his lab, and hops up to sit on a table.
"Did JARVIS tell you why I called you here?"
Steve leads them over to the table across from Tony and leans back against it. He releases Bucky's hand, only to wrap his arm around Bucky's shoulder and tug him closer.
"No," Bucky answers, wedged against Steve's side, "but I'm guessing it has something to do with the three hundred google alerts I just got for Steve."
"Bingo." Tony takes a breath like he's about to start in on a rant, but instead says to Steve: "okay, I'm sorry, I have to know - were you with my good ‘ol pal Buckaroonie in that picture? Because if so... wow. I didn't know you had it in you."
Steve knows what Tony's trying to say immediately - Steve's a notoriously bad liar, so the scene he made in Tony's lab after Bucky's first text message would have been - should have been - well out of Steve's acting abilities, if he had known Bucky all along.
"No. We've, uh, been talking. Since last Sunday."
"Right. Talking, banging," Tony shrugs. "We've all been there, I guess. Anyway. Jacob Hannover."
Steve stares blankly.
"Jacob Hannover?" Tony tries again.
Steve glances over at Bucky, who shrugs.
A photo of an attractive, twenty-something brunette appears mid-air next to Tony. The man is generically attractive in a forgettable way. But Steve has an incredible visual memory, and he knows immediately that he's never seen this guy before.
"Don't know him," Steve says, getting a bad feeling about what’s coming.
"Okie dokie. J, you can take it from here," Tony says, hopping off the table.
"Who is he?" Bucky asks, looking at the picture. The guy looks like a less-attractive version of Bucky, if you squint.
"Well, he just gave a tell-all interview about the two of you playing hide-the-sausage last Friday."
Steve's jaw clenches in anger immediately. He had started to suspect something along those lines, but to hear it said aloud was something else entirely. Hadn't his privacy already been violated enough? Hadn't the vultures gotten their damn fill already? That they dug up some random guy willing to claim that he had slept with Steve...
Steve gets pulled out of his thoughts by a hand cupping his jaw.
"Hey, you okay?"
Steve realizes, then, that his entire body has tensed up, and that Bucky looks worried. Steve forces himself to relax.
"Yeah," he says on an exhale. "Fuck. This is just--" he shakes his head, as though he could physically dislodge the discomfort if he tries hard enough. He can't get distracted by dwelling. It is what it is, and it's already happened. Now they're on clean up. "Whatever. What next?" The last part he directs at Tony.
"Well, JARVIS will liaise with our lawyers, and we'll start the process of a libel case. Not too much we can do in the meanwhile. I just wanted to make sure you got the news from a friendly face and not... you know." Tony pauses, for a moment. "Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. If I had known I was interrupting your little love-fest I might have tried to catch you later today. I was trying to get to you before you heard it on your own."
"It's fine, Tony. Thanks. Should I make a statement?"
"No. Stick inside for the next few days, don't be seen by any photographers. We'll handle this. Trust me, Cap, I've been in way worse public relations' tangos than this. You'll be fine."
Yeah, but you're Tony Stark and I'm Captain America. We live by different sets of rules.
It's fine. Steve got himself into this mess, and now he has to live with the consequences.
By the time they make it back to Steve’s floor, he’s mentally railed against the media and Jacob Hannover and all of the people out there so obsessed with his personal life that make it profitable for the media to publish lies and for Jacob Hannover to tell them, and has circled back around to the real source of the blame: himself.
Jesus Christ, it’s not like Steve didn’t know better.
“Hey, you okay?”
Bucky looks worried - looks like he doesn’t quite know how to approach Steve, like Steve is a spooked animal.
Steve just shakes his head.
“I’m -- angry. And I’m tired. Of this.” He means both this particular issue, and this in general. He’s tired.
Bucky bridges the space between them and puts a comforting hand on Steve’s arm.
“It’s gonna be all right. The speculation will die down in a few days, and…”
“But what about next time?” Steve asks, agitated. It’s not that simple. “What about the next person who comes forward and says that Jacob Hannover is a liar, I’m the real person that Captain America slept with? What about the time after that?”
“Then we say that it was me.”
“No.” Steve isn’t even willing to consider the possibility. “I’m not lying about it. The worst thing I could do is get caught in a lie.”
“They’ll get tired of the story eventually, Steve. I know right now it seems like this will last forever, but it won’t. Trust me, I’ve been there.”
Steve just shakes his head, even though he knows Bucky is probably right.
“It’s my fault. All of this is my fault.”
“Steve, this is not your fault.”
“I knew better than to just… be seen with a guy like that. If I hadn’t -”
“No. Fuck that. Steve? This is not. Your. Fault.”
“When I was sixteen I got caught kissing a republican senator’s son,” Bucky interrupts, eyes blazing. “It was during an election year. That republican senator said that I had two options: come out of the closet and create waves for my mother, or else he would say that I was a gay rapist that sexually assaulted his son.”
Steve is stunned into silence.
“Was that my fault?”
“No! Who the fuck -”
“It doesn’t matter anymore. It’s over.” Bucky herds Steve over to the couch, pushes him down, and then climbs into Steve’s lap, straddling him. He looks Steve straight in the eye. “If a girl is walking down the street in a short skirt, is she asking for it?”
“No! Fuck no.”
“And if a gay kid is wearing a rainbow shirt, is he asking to get beat up?”
“And if a transwoman dares to wear a dress in public, is anything bad that happens to her her fault?”
“You’re a person, Steve. And if people hurt you or take advantage of you, that’s not your fault, either. You should be able to go to a bar. You should be able to hook up with some guy. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. The fact that someone took pictures is the photographer’s fault. And the fact that newspapers decided to print it is the editors’ fault. And the fact that some fuckwad decided to lie for a quick buck is his fault. You may regret it, and that’s fine. But I don’t want to hear you blame yourself again. Got that?”
Steve nods. His throat feels tight enough that he’s not sure he can speak. Bucky tips their foreheads together and they sit in silence, until Steve has naturally matched his breathing to Bucky’s - slow, deliberate, relaxed, and not geared up for a fight.
Bucky kisses him softly, then.
“I know this past week and a half has been miserable,” he murmurs. “And I know being hounded by the paparazzi and shut up in the house is hell on your mental health. But next week some homophobic politician will get caught cheating on his wife with an underage boy and your sexuality will become a curiosity piece. The photographers will move on to the next celebrity they think is pregnant and your life will be exactly like it was six months ago, only now people know you’re not straight.”
“I hope it’s not exactly how it was six months ago,” Steve says, squeezing his hands lightly where they rest on Bucky’s hips. “Not all of this has been miserable.”
Bucky kisses him again, but this time Steve can feel him smiling into the kiss.
“C’mon.” Bucky climbs off of Steve’s lap and grabs Steve’s hand. “What you need is a massage and then a nap.”
Steve follows, helplessly smitten.
"TJ Maxx?" Steve asks later, dozing in bed. He often can’t follow Tony’s logic behind his random nicknames he bestows on people, but Steve is pretty sure TJ Maxx is a store, and one that has no particular relation to Bucky.
Bucky just shakes his head. "It's from a TV show that's loosely - loosely - based on my mother's life. Highly dramatized. The main character's gay son is named TJ, which Tony calls me sometimes, or bastardizes to TJ Maxx."
“Naturally. The show any good?”
“It’s all right. It weird, having a fictionalized version of my life floating around out there, even if it’s supposed to be completely fictitious.”
“Tell me about it,” Steve deadpans.
Steve has about a two-to-one ratio of movies that are about Captain America, the Star Spangled soldier from WWII, versus movies that are totally-definitely-not-about-Steve, just about a fictional hypothetical person who receives a magical serum, or about a soldier from various times in history that gets frozen in ice and then wakes out of time. It’s weird.
“My character… well, things don’t really work out well for him.”
“Well then” Steve says, running a hand through Bucky’s hair, “it’s a good thing that it’s fiction, isn’t it?”
Steve wakes in the late afternoon to the sound of his phone buzzing. Sighing, Steve snatches it off the nightstand before it has the chance to make too much noise, then glances over at Bucky - still asleep, face buried in the pillow.
When Steve sees that the message is from Tony Stark, he has to resist the impulse to throw his phone across the room. In fact, he has to take a few moments to calm his suddenly-racing heart out of fight-or-flight mode. He could wait - ignore the message, go back to sleep - but that won’t actually fix whatever the problem is now. If the “story” has evolved since earlier, Steve should probably know about it.
Steve braces himself and then opens the message.
Tony: Hey Cap, not trying to break up your love nest but I was thinking about pulling together a movie night tonight if the two of you can pry yourselves away from each other long enough to be around polite company
Steve sighs. Bucky leaves early Friday morning, which means they only have three and a half days together - not nearly enough time, and some of that has already been dedicated to media fallout - and Steve doesn't want to waste a minute of that bringing Bucky to make awkward small-talk with the other Avengers. But he can't exactly tell Tony that he just wants to keep Bucky all to himself, and that the rest of the team can fuck off.
Steve: I'm not sure Tony.
Steve: He's only here until Friday morning, so we're trying to make the most of his visit.
Tony: Sure, yeah, of course, love nest, I get it
The "..." appears and disappears several times, while Steve waits for Tony's response. Odd, that it's taking him so long - Steve would have guessed that Tony never gives more than a fleeting thought to the things he says before he says them.
Tony: Listen. If he's only here for a few days, then you really SHOULD bring him around. Meet the rest of the team, mingle, etc etc. You don't want him to feel like you're just using him for sex or that you don't want him to meet your family. I said it before, and I'll say it again: Bucky is one of the few people that I know and actually trust. And I'm all about hookups and keeping things casual, but if that's what you're doing it's important that you keep all parties on the same page and that you don't lead anyone on. Hookups 101.
Tony's answer is definitely not what Steve was expecting, and Steve doesn’t quite know how to respond to that.
Steve: Is this a shovel talk?
Tony: That little canoodling display you two did in my lab was the opposite of casual
That’s not a no.
Steve: I never said that this was casual.
Tony: Does he know that?
Steve and Bucky haven't talked about precisely what they're doing since Bucky arrived. To be honest, they've never talked about precisely what their relationship means, or where it's going. Unbelievable, that the first person to bring it up would be Tony, of all people
Bucky must know, right? How helpless Steve is, how much Steve wants to bundle him up and keep him in the tower forever, even though Bucky’s life is somewhere else?
Tony: Then bring him around.
Tony: Katniss and the Red Menace are in the tower for sure, but I’ll have to check on Tweety and Bruce.
Thor, Steve knows, is off-planet.
Steve: Okay fine. 8:00?
Steve waits another second to make sure that Tony’s done. When no more messages come, he puts the phone back on his bedside table. How the hell is he going to talk Bucky into a movie night?
The man in question makes a gentle mrrr sound and blinks his eyes open.
“So what’s happening now?” he asks, voice still thick with sleep.
Steve just raises an eyebrow in question.
“On the phone.”
“Oh.” Steve glances over at his phone, half expecting it to be lit up again. “Nothing important.”
“Mmm, so no half-super-soldier lovechild? No secret harem? No… I dunno… clone of yourself running around the Bronx, or whatever?”
Steve laughs. “Not yet. Please don’t tempt fate.”
Bucky grins wickedly. “Oh no,” he says loudly, as though talking to someone in another room, “please don’t let there be a couple of clones of Captain America out there, all sexy and ready to bang. That would be terrible. Not sexy at all. I would just hate for something like that to happen to me.”
“Do you really think you could keep up with four of me?” Steve asks, laughing.
Bucky shrugs. “I could try. And you could certainly keep up with yourself,” he says with a leer.
“Just watch, I’m going to end up with an evil twin and it’s going to be all your fault.”
“...Would your evil twin be sexy and ready to bang?”
Steve kisses Bucky, instead of answering.
“You,” he says, “are ridiculous. No clones, no evil twins -”
“- yet -”
“- Just you and me. And… uh, maybe a movie night with the other Avengers?”
Bucky blinks. “Just so you know, in the context of this conversation, it sounds like you’re inviting me to an orgy with all your friends. Just so you know .”
Steve sighs and sits up. “Yeah, that didn’t come out right. But that’s what I was messaging Tony about - he wants to have a movie night tonight. If you want?”
Steve has already braced himself for a frown or an eye roll or another quip about banging clones. The only thing he isn’t expecting is the slow smile spreading across Bucky’s face, almost shy.
“You want me to meet your friends?”
Okay, Tony may have had a point.
(Steve’s not about to admit to anyone else that Tony, of all people, beat him to the emotional punch.)
“‘Kay.” Bucky sits up, still smiling, sheet pooling around his waist. “What time?”
“Eight. It’s a little before five, now.”
“Cool. I need to shower, and then you’re gonna need to tell me everything I need to know to not piss your friends off.”
Steve just shrugs, a little helpless.
“Don’t worry about it. They’re gonna love you.”
How could they not?
Bucky just raises an eyebrow.
“Yeah, try the other one. I’ve already had the Black Widow all up in my business just because I talked to you, so… I’m more or less expecting the third degree.”
“They won’t -”
“- Oh, they absolutely will.”
Steve stops to consider. They won’t , not like Bucky’s expecting. But Bruce will pretend to be politely disinterested and Clint will probably spend the night throwing stuff at Bucky’s head to see how he reacts and Sam will be affable and friendly, regardless of how he personally feels.
Natasha, he knows, has already made up her mind.
“Okay, so, Clint will definitely try to get a rise out of you…”
Later, after pizza and movies and tumbling straight into bed because they got back after 2am and Bucky’s too tired for sex, Steve can’t sleep. He’s tried all his normal things - counting, breathing patterns, closing his eyes and hoping really hard that it’ll suddenly be morning - and he still can’t sleep.
Steve had a great night, with his friends and with his best guy. They all got along, as far as Steve can tell.
The fact that Bucky gets along with his team should make Steve happy.
Sitting on the sofa, arm around Bucky's shoulder while he laughed into Steve's chest at one of Clint's jokes, should leave Steve feeling content, but instead just left a searing reminder like a brand: as quickly as they've fallen into each others' orbit, as much as Steve likes Bucky and enjoys his company, Bucky will go back to DC and Steve will stay with his team in New York.
Nothing has changed.
And Steve? Steve is in way too fucking deep.
He hasn’t even known Bucky for two weeks. The Thursday before last, Steve was trying to decide whether or not going to a gay club was worth the risk.
Now, the entire world knows that he’s not straight.
Now, there’s at least one man out there lying about Steve’s sexual history.
Now, there’s Bucky.
It would be ridiculous for Steve to move to DC, right?
His team is in New York. His life is in New York. Probably the most important, the Avengers assemble from New York.
Steve doesn’t know if he would be able to forgive himself, if something happened to one of his friends because he was too busy playing house a couple hundred miles away.
People do long-distance all the time, right? Washington DC and New York aren’t that far away from each other. If Steve can get over the ache in his chest when he thinks about Bucky being gone, if he can learn to be content with text messages and phone calls, they can make this work, right?
And really, who cares if a bunch of guys out there all claim that Steve boned them six ways from Sunday? Steve knows it’s not true, Bucky knows it’s not true, and his teammates know it’s not true.
And it’s not like it would matter, even if it were true. People can have sex with as many or as few people as they want, and it’s nobody’s business except the people having sex.
And most people think that Steve was with Bucky that night, anyway. Steve hasn’t said anything about it publicly, and Bucky hasn’t said anything about it publicly, but Steve knows that one of Bucky’s friends sent him a message, asking him if he’s up in NYC right now boning Captain America, and Bucky replied with a winky face. About an hour later, Bucky sighed and showed Steve his phone, an article pulled up about how Bucky is supposedly up visiting his BF in NYC.
When the dawn’s rays creep across the ceiling and Steve is still awake, the only thing he can think of is how badly he wants to go for a run.
Bucky, he can tell, is still asleep. Probably will be for another couple of hours.
Bucky would probably, probably, be upset with Steve if Steve were to wake him up for a ride on his motorcycle, right? When he said that we wanted to go for a ride sometime, he probably meant some time other than the crack of dawn. Just because Steve’s an early riser (just because Steve didn't sleep) doesn't mean that he won't get smacked for rousing Bucky less than five hours after they went to bed.
Steve groans and rolls over onto his back. It would be great if the paparazzi weren't nuking Steve’s normal coping mechanisms from orbit. Restlessness has always been one of Steve’s downfalls - idle hands are the devil's workshop, and all - and Steve has a terrible habit of signing up for experimental medical procedures or marching into occupied territory, when left without anything productive to do. Too many examples to mention lost to time: that short-lived and ill-advised time working at the docks; Mr. Everly's questionable illustrations; that time he accidentally almost became an errand boy for the mob; Mrs. McGillicuddy's cat.
Learn from your mistakes, old man.
The issue, when it comes down to it, is this:
Before, Steve was angry at himself. He went out and picked someone up, he was reckless, he did something stupid. Bucky disagrees about blame, and that's fine - but in a twisted way Steve likes having the blame, because then the situation is something he can control. If he created it, he can prevent it.
But this ? This so-called "article" that was published? Bullshit. Bull shit.
Before, Steve was hiding in the tower with his tail between his legs. Now? Catch these hands, as Sam would say. Steve wants to go for a run, and why shouldn’t he? It’s not like he did anything wrong.
Steve will go for a run with his head held high, and if the paparazzi try and stop him? Well, then he'll just have to give them a piece of his mind.
So he goes.
Steve slips silently out of bed on cat’s feet and pulls on a t-shirt and running pants, careful not to wake Bucky, snuffling into his pillow.
He slips out the back door of the tower and focuses on putting one foot in front of the other. Today's not a day for headphones - Steve needs to keep and ear out for the click of camera shutters - so instead his soundtrack is the bustle of the city morning. Trash trucks, honking cars, shuffling pedestrians, the sound of the subway cars crawling beneath his feet. Steve weaves expertly through the crush of commuters, a task that takes up the majority of his brain power. A perfect distraction.
Steve's not sure if any of the people he passes recognize him. Steve's not sure that he cares.
Steve runs until the sun has properly risen from behind the buildings, until his heart beats a little faster, until he has a few drops of sweat dripping down his hairline. Judging from the sun, it's probably still before nine, but Steve heads back to the tower nonetheless. (He likes the idea of being able to crawl back into bed with Bucky. If he waits too long, Bucky will wake up on his own.)
When Steve rounds the corner, the fact that he cannot sneak back in the way he snuck out becomes immediately apparent. Whereas there were a few sleepy, overnight photographers when he left, it looks like the morning shift has arrived: twenty or thirty photographers, milling around the front. And if there are this many in the front, there are definitely more by the private entrance in back. Steve has about a split second to make a decision - double back and aim for the secret-secret entrance, or continue on - before they see him.
(Because of course Tony has a secret-secret entrance. There's a "parking garage" two blocks away, that as far as Steve can tell is a genuine parking garage that rents spaces to the office building above it. But there's also a long driveway that tunnels straight to the lowest, most secure level of the Stark Tower parking garage. The security measures on both are severe.)
But Steve is feeling mulish.
He keeps jogging, devil-may-care, butter-wouldn't-melt-in-this mouth. Who, me?
Catch these hands.
It takes another twenty seconds for the first photographer to catch sight of him.
Click, click, click.
Then the rest of them notice, and all hell breaks loose.
By the time Steve comes to a stop, there are photographers on all sides, shouting over each other so much that their words become an indistinguishable roar. Steve stands like a lighthouse in the waves: hands on his hips, disapproving Captain America frown on his face. Some of them are shouting rude remarks, looking for a reaction; some of them are asking questions, but questions themselves are lost to the clamor.
Click, click, click.
The photographer at Steve's left elbow shouts: "Do you have anything to say about yesterday's article?"
"I do, actually."
That shuts them up quick. Clearly, they weren't expecting Steve to actually say anything. Rookie mistake - they would never have even seen Steve if he didn't have something to say. Some of them are still photographing, clicks growing more frantic, but some have clearly switched over to video mode.
Steve waits until every single one of them has stopped fiddling with their electronics and has shut the hell up.
"Every word of yesterday's tell-all is unequivocally false. I have never met that man in my life, and to say that I'm disappointed in the fact that someone made up a fake encounter with me, for money, would be an understatement." Click, click, click. "I would like to take a moment to remind everyone that I am not a celebrity, I am a soldier. And what I do in my private life is no one's concern but mine and my partner's. I understand that people are curious." Steve could see Stark Industry security guards circling around the crowd, but they seemed hesitant to intervene without Steve's signal. Good. "But that should remain an idle curiosity. I don't owe anyone information about my partner." The second use of my partner send the crowd into a flurry of questions. "And no, I am not going to answer questions about my partner at this time."
"Do you have anything to say to LGBT teens?" someone shouts from the back.
"We have always been here. Even in the forties. Even when it was illegal. Even when you could be arrested. The community has come so far in the last seventy years, and while there is undoubtedly a long way to go, I can guarantee that each and every one of them will grow up in a decade that's better than the one that came before it. I am humbled by the work of activists all around the world, and I'm proud to be a part of this community."
A few more people shout out questions that Steve is willing to answer, and so he does. He's not ashamed. He's not going to hide out in Stark Tower like he's done something wrong - not anymore.
"Do you have anything to say to Jacob Hannover?"
This question makes Steve pause. He can think of a dozen unkind things to say, but the desire comes from a negative place, not a positive one, and there’s just been too goddamn much negativity in Steve’s life, in the past few weeks. While he may be furious over the article, he ultimately doesn't know the man's story. Maybe he was desperate for money. Maybe the lie was his only hope. Hell, maybe he slept with a random blond-haired man on Friday night, and the next morning genuinely did think that he had slept with Captain America. Steve doesn’t know, and he’s not going to give anyone the satisfaction of getting an answer he isn’t ready to give.
The photographers start shouting again, and it takes Steve a moment to realize that the attention has slid off of himself.
"Okay, okay, show's over."
Behind him, Bucky wades through the crowd. Well. Better put, the crowd parts for him like the Red Sea, cameras flashing all the while. Bucky looks like he just rolled out of bed - hair a mess, sweatshirt pulled crookedly over his clothes, left hand crammed into his pocket. He looks gorgeous. Steve blinks stupidly as Bucky hooks his right hand around Steve's elbow.
"I believe what Steve was trying to say is no comment. " Bucky delivers the words with a wry smile on his face, inviting the photographers in on the joke (and viewers, because if even this isn’t being live-streamed, there will be two dozen videos on YouTube within the hour). Bucky’s face says: Captain America doesn’t know how to listen to his publicist. Bucky’s face says: Captain America doesn’t know how to back down from a fight. Bucky’s face says: who put this guy in charge of the Avengers, am I right?
Well, there’s certainly no plausible deniability after this.
Bucky tugs Steve's arm, and Steve dutifully follows as Bucky guides him through the throng. The photographers are going nuts, screaming and snapping pictures. At this point, the Stark Industries security guards have started clearing a path back to the building, so Bucky walks Steve and himself along like this is an ordinary Wednesday morning, not a care in the world. Who, me and Steve? We were just out for a casual morning stroll among our fifty favorite photographers, and maybe a hundred more gawkers. Normal. Nothing to see here.
(Steve is maybe, maybe, a little bit turned on by the whole thing, and he’s maybe, maybe, a little bit jealous of Bucky’s poise, right now. Steve’s general vibe is just angry-national-icon. Bucky’s is I-can’t-take-him-anywhere.)
Well. His grip around Steve's arm is the only thing giving him away, but Bucky seems to be an expert at keeping his cool in front of the cameras.
They march into the Stark Tower lobby, through the bustle of the staff arriving (and all pretending valiantly that they’re above watching the spectacle, though the majority of them seem to be idling, checking phones, and looking intently busy while standing around, the fakers ) and straight into the elevator. When the doors close, Steve tries to talk, but Bucky just puts a hand over his mouth. Okay.
Steve’s not really sure of Bucky’s general mood. He seems relaxed, but the elevators are glass , so, they’re not exactly in a private space.
They ride silently to the highest floor the elevator reaches, then transfer to one of the elevators that connects to the residential floors.
By the time they reach Steve's floor, he's shaking with leftover adrenaline.
Bucky spins around and throws his hands up in the air.
"What. The hell. Were you thinking?"
Thankfully, Bucky doesn't seem angry, just exasperated.
"I wanted to set the record straight."
"Steve, you can't -" Bucky shakes his head. "You can't set the record straight. 'No comment' is your best friend, remember?"
"It wasn't true -"
"Of course it wasn't true! It's almost never true! But you can't dispute every false account."
"If I don't, then anyone can come forward and say -"
"Steve," Bucky interrupts, "you can't say 'no' four times, and then 'no comment' on the fifth, because then 'no comment' really means 'yes.' 'No comment' only works if you actually don't comment!"
"I..." Steve couldn't really dispute that, could he? "Ok, yeah, you're right."
"It's like you've never met a publicist before!"
Steve just grins sheepishly. Bucky shakes his head before grabbing Steve and pulling him into a tight hug.
"For someone that I know is smart, you are so fucking stupid."
Steve hugs back so tightly he pulls Bucky onto his tip-toes.
"At least I'm cute?" he murmurs into Bucky's hair.
"Yeah, yeah, you're lucky you're pretty."
When Bucky releases him, Steve steps back and clears his throat.
"So, uhh. This cat is well and truly out of the bag." Steve gestures to Bucky's… everything. His bedhead, his sweatshirt that's really Steve's sweatshirt, his... oh, god. Visible hickeys. Steve steps forward and puts a thumb against one the the smudges on the base of Bucky's throat, and Bucky's eyes flutter closed. Steve doesn't remember putting them there, but, well… he didn’t really try to resist biting, did he? And Steve’s not exactly the best judge of how easily people will bruise, anymore.
"That's a hickey, isn't it?" Bucky's says, tone resigned.
"Mmhmm.” Steve rubs his thumb over the mark, possessive. “Did you even look in a mirror before going outside?"
"Nope." Bucky's eyes blink open. "Someone had to rush out there and save you from yourself."
"Well then it's a good thing my best guy is here. He's real swell, always looking out for me, even when I don't deserve it." Steve steps forward, into Bucky’s personal space, and tilts his face up for a kiss. He presses his lips against Bucky’s once, twice. “Forgive me?”
“I could be persuaded,” Bucky says, winding his arms around Steve’s neck.
“You think so? Because I can be very persuasive.” Steve slides his hands down Bucky’s body, over his pert ass, and tugs, an invitation that seemed sexier in his mind before he actually tried it in real life. Thankfully, Bucky snorts, then hops up and wraps his legs around Steve’s waist.
“God you’re strong.”
Steve grins. “Supersoldier.”
“I know, but…” Bucky tightens his legs, rubbing his half-hard dick against Steve’s abs. “I think you’re gonna need to fuck me like… hmmmm….” Bucky tilts his head back, making a show of thinking, like Steve’s a waiter taking Bucky’s drink order. “Maybe a hundred, two hundred more times, before I get used to it.”
“You seem to be up for it.”
Steve captures Bucky’s mouth in a kiss, hot and wet. Bucky’s ridiculous - they’re both ridiculous - but Steve wouldn’t have it any other way. He starts walking them towards his bedroom, still kissing Bucky, but only makes it about ten feet before bumping into a wall.
“Hard to see around your big head.”
Not that it would have made a difference - Steve’s eyes had been closed. It’s hard to carry, walk and kiss at the same time.
Bucky bites at his jaw in retaliation, then kisses up to his ear, thoroughly distracting Steve from his task. Bucky nips at his ear lobe, then whispers, “mush, Fido.”
Steve snorts, but complies. In the meanwhile, Bucky sets about getting his revenge for the hickies, biting and sucking down Steve’s neck - even though he has to know that the marks will disappear within the hour. It’s - distracting, but still easier to navigate than when they were kissing. Bucky’s teeth at his throat means that Steve’s field of vision is clear.
Steve makes it to the bedroom without further incident.
Steve hears his phone buzz from the other room and finally decides to be a big boy and actually look at it. He heard it buzzing a few hours ago and made the very mature executive decision to ignore it.
(In his defense, every time he's been contacted by one of his teammates in the past 48 hours it's been because of public relations. By this point, everyone knows that Bucky is in New York, so anyone that's contacting him would only do so because they have something important.
Only Steve doesn't want to hear about anything important.
Unless the world is ending, he wants to be left alone.)
Steve (grudgingly) picks up his phone from where its been abandoned on an end table, and looks at his notifications.
All from Natasha.
Natasha: So I don't wanna interrupt you doing the do, but text me back when you get this
Natasha: There's been an... interesting development
Natasha: Not bad, just very weird
Natasha: Me and Tony are coordinating
Those are the messages from two hours ago. The most recent ones say:
Natasha: If you're ignoring me: stop ignoring me
Natasha: If you're not ignoring me: ;) ;) ;) remember our talk
Steve rolls his eyes at the reminder. He does feel a little bad that the rest of the Avengers have been working on cleaning up his mess while he’s been otherwise occupied. They're happy to do it, he knows - and, they're way more qualified in public relations. But he doesn't like feeling like they need to tidy up after him.
At this point, Steve doesn't really care what the media is saying about him, but he knows he needs to respond.
Steve: I don't really want to know what's going on, Nat
Steve: Bucky is leaving tomorrow, can it wait until then?
At least that way they can enjoy the rest of their time together.
Natasha: It can, if you want it to
Natasha: But I'm not summoning you anywhere and I can make this quick
Natasha: So there are about 60 new... idk how to word this... "articles" about you, with new ones appearing every couple of minutes
Natasha: They're all incredibly obviously false
Natasha: I just forwarded you a selection of links to peruse at your leisure, and the origin point
Natasha: Just wanted to keep you informed
Natasha: And also entertain you a little, because they are h i l a r i o u s and I'm sure you could use a good laugh at this point
"Do I even wanna know what it is this time?" Bucky asks, appearing at his shoulder.
Rather than trying to interpret Natasha's rapid-fire messages, Steve just hands the phone over so that Bucky can read them for himself, while he grabs his tablet. He has a new email from Natasha, as promised. He opens it and stares dumbly at the message.
What the fuck?
Right at the top there's a link that says Origin , which would probably be the most prudent to click on, but Steve is completely distracted by the list below it.
My Big Sexy Night with Captain America
The Star-Spangled Man with GREAT Hands
one glorious night
Pounded In The Butt By The Surprisingly-Progressive Personification of American Imperialism
clubbin with the OG avenger
Bare Assed in Brooklyn
"What the fuck," Bucky says, peering over Steve's shoulder.
"I have," Steve says slowly, " no idea. It looks like a bunch of people are trying to capitalize on the news that Jacob Hannover was a faker." Steve would be angry - probably should be angry - but it's hard to take anything seriously while looking at “P ounded In The Butt By The Surprisingly-Progressive Personification of American Imperialism " on an official-looking email.
"No," Bucky says slowly, "I don't think so. This is not how you write when you're trying to get people to believe you." He grabs the tablet out of Steve's hand and then clicks on the first story, My Big Sexy Night with Captain America .
Friday night. A time when anything can happen. Dreams... can come true. The stars twinkled like a million little fireflies above Queens, the place where I was, and I walked down the street looking for the hottest club I could find. I was trying to be understated, since my friend talked me out of wearing the glittery lycra bodysuit I wanted to wear: I was in black pants and a white shirt. Classic. It showed off my sculpted arms that I wanted people to see, because I spend lots of time at the gym working on them. I spent an hour in front of the mirror trying to make my brown hair look like I didn't spend any time on it at all.
"What the fuck?"
Bucky scrolls past the long-winded intro and stops at a random point.
"Can I buy you a drink?" he said, arms rippling enticingly, like the ocean. I've always loved the ocean. How could I say no to arms like that? He looks like he spends many hours at the gym, probably more than me.
"Of course you can, sugar," I said. I've been trying out different endearments, and I liked sugar. It makes me sound like a southern debutante. "Do you have a name?" I purred.
"Steve," he said, bashful, like he wasn't the beefiest guy in the place.
"Well then, Steve," I said, putting my hand on his big strong arm, "you can get me a sex on the beach." I winked.
He blushed again, and I had to wonder how far down that blush went... if you know what I mean!
"What the fuck am I even reading?"
"I'm not sure," Steve says, scrolling down to a later part of the story.
Steve danced like a dream. Like a man who spends all of his time knowing what to do with his body, lythe but big. He dances like someone who has a big dick and knows it. I wanted to grind onto him, but he was surprisingly gentlemanlike. I didn’t want to push him, even though I desperately wanted to bring him home with me.
“Do you want to come home with me?” I shouted over the music.
“Okay” he said, blushing again.
He wrapped an arm around my waist and we walked through the writing bodies, and out the door. The air was cool on my warm skin and I shivered.
“Are you cold?”
“No,” I purred, “but I can’t wait for you to warm me up.”
We started walking, but then Steve stopped and turned around.
“What is it sugar?” I asked.
“Nothing…” he said, looking pensive. “I thought I heard something.”
"I don't know what I'm looking at," Steve says finally. The story is bizarre. It's badly-written and riddled with errors, but it's clearly attempting to be the 'true story' of that night.
"I think," Bucky says slowly, like he's thinking through each word as he says it, "they're covering for you."
Steve frowns. "How?"
"Look." Bucky pages back to the original email, then gestures to the list of other stories. "These are all patently ridiculous. No writes something titled " Pounded In The Butt By The Surprisingly-Progressive Personification of American Imperialism " because they expect people to take them seriously . It sounds like they're trying to fill the story with nonsense, you know? Natasha said that there are already 60 and counting. So if you're a newspaper, why bother paying someone to tell your story when there's already this whole... thing."
"I guess," Steve says dubiously.
"Here, let's see." Bucky clicks on the top link, Origin, and it brings them to some social media website that Steve isn't familiar with.
hey, white gays in new york? after this bs “””article””” that came out about the “‘“true story””” of captain america’s big night out in nyc, i’m gonna need all ya’ll to agree NOT to go the fuck out there and try to sell your shitty story of how sr blew you behind a dumpster in willamsburg or what the fuck ever. just --- don’t do it. it’s not that hard. don’t be an asshole. cap was outed which is shitty as hell and then ya’ll out there trying to profit off it. let’s all collectively agree to Do Not. whether he did or did not blow you behind the dumpster is irrelevant. keep that shit to yourself.
There are a few other comments under that in varying forms of agreement (and in varying styles of grammar). Then, another comment:
Ok but like, hear me out here. WHAT IF instead, there were a dozen stories of My Sexy Night With Captain America, Actual Superhero? What if there were a hundred? The demand is high so the value is high, but what if we absolutely flood the supply chain? What if everyone in the notes wrote their own shitty fanfic version of that night (best to keep it low-quality, even from the good authors so that no one takes it seriously). Then when you google you just find hundreds of trash stories and any “real” ones get lost in the noise.
OH MY GOD I LOVE IT. We need to keep it obvious though. Everyone that writes one needs to keep it specifically That Night™ or else Fox News is gonna do some shitty piece on how Captain America’s a slut.
small brain: nobody should say they had sex with steve rogers
normal brain: somebody should say they had sex with steve rogers
galaxy brain: everybody should say they had sex with steve rogers
There were a dozen or so other comments along the lines of “I’m in” and “me too.”
What if we’re not white gay men? Can we participate?
WE’RE ALL 6FT TALL WHITE MLM NOW SHARON, NOW GET TYPING!!
"Holy shit," Steve says. "You were right."
"Of course I'm right, I'm always right." Bucky says, before kissing him. "Aside from the entertainment value, this is actually really awesome. Even if the real guy comes forward..."
"Even if Mark tries to capitalize on the story, no one will believe him. Too much of a good thing!" Bucky crows. "It'll all be indistinguishable from this bullshit.”
Steve doesn’t even know how to react. On the one hand, he doesn’t exactly love the idea of there being dozens or hundreds of fictionalized stories about his sex life floating around the internet, but on the other hand, getting away from the dark cloud of Mark’s potential tell-all is a relief.
“So unless someone has something super incriminating, like a sex tape… then you’re probably in the clear.”
“No sex tape.”
“You sure? Mark could have had a nanny cam in a teddy bear, you never know.”
Steve just shakes his head. “Unless he has high-level spy equipment, I would have been able to hear it.”
“Really? Huh. Handy.”
“Yeah. Real handy.”
“So,” Bucky says, “take a really deep breath, and let it out, all at once.”
Steve does, humoring him.
“You’re done. This? This is the media microscope officially off of you.”
“I don’t know about that…”
“These dumb stories are definitely going to distract the media for a couple of days. Mark has no incentive to come forward. And, like I said, someone is bound to do something stupid before you do. Ergo, in the clear. For now. So long as you don’t do anything stupid.”
It’s hard for Steve to imagine that the huge, crushing weight of the last week and a half could vanish, just like that.
“Now come on. We have less than 24 hours before I have to go home and I want us to make the most of it.”
"I don't really wanna go back tomorrow," Bucky says, idly tracing over Steve's abs. From where Steve lies lazing in bed, Bucky looks like an angel: sitting up, sheets pooled around his waist, with the late-afternoon sun blazing behind him, his brown hair looks like a halo of fire. Steve mentally draws over the slope of his nose, the curve of his lips - though no amount of skill with a pencil or paints could possibly capture this moment, in all of its honey-soaked glory. Pastels, maybe, but Steve has always been terrible with pastels. Steve could fill an entire notebook, an entire gallery, to the understated elegance of Bucky Barnes.
"Don't have to if you don't want to," Steve murmurs, basking in the afterglow. He doesn't want to think about Bucky leaving, even though that time is rapidly approaching. No, in Steve's little world, these last few days and next few hours will stretch on forever, golden-hued and precious. If he lies here with his eyes closed, the rest of the world falls away. He doesn't want to think about this coming to an end. Who knows when - or if - it'll happen again.
Steve could roll over, get on top of Bucky. He could quiet Bucky's melancholy with his mouth, with his hands. But that would just be a band-aid on the problem, and Steve doesn't want to actually stop Bucky from talking, if he wants to talk about it.
As much as Steve doesn't want to talk about it.
"Some of us have real-person jobs." Bucky's fingers continue tracing over Steve's skin, but his tone is hard to parse.
Steve blinks his eyes open, sleep tugging at the edge of his consciousness.
"Do you even like your job?"
Bucky shrugs. Looking down, his eyelashes fan across his cheeks like a Botticelli painting.
"I have to do something. I'm not going to just... be unemployed."
Steve stretches his leg out, knocking against Bucky's knee.
"You could be my kept man," he says, tucking an arm behind his head to elongate the lines of his body shamelessly. "Live here, lounge around in your underwear all day eating bon bons."
They could turn one of Steve's spare rooms into a music studio for Bucky. Steve blinks, drowsy, thoughts coalescing from a dreamy haze into on obvious reality. The other should be an art studio, Steve's art studio, obviously. He should have done that a long time ago, rather than leaving those rooms closed up and dark. Unless maybe Bucky doesn't need too much room for his music things, and they could share a studio, Steve maybe sketching or painting while Bucky plays. Art and music, music and art.
"You trying to wife me, Rogers?" The ghost of a smile teases around Bucky's lips, but it's clear that he's not taking Steve seriously.
Steve halfheartedly swats at Bucky's chest. "Don't be heteronormative."
"You're the one that wants me to be a housewife."
"Don't want you to be anything other than you. Whoever you want to be."
Bucky snorts and crawls forward, tucking himself up against Steve's chest.
With Bucky's lips whispering against his throat, and Bucky's metal hand resting casually on Steve's chest, Steve feels like he could live forever.
"It's true." Steve strokes a hand up and down Bucky's back, considering. "I mean it, though. You don't have to leave if you don't want to." Steve knows it's too much, too fast, but he's too punch-drunk to care right now. This is what Steve knows: Bucky is here, and doesn't want to leave. Bucky is here, and Steve doesn't want him to leave. Easy as that.
"And then what?"
"Whatever you want. You could take a hiatus, or quit your job. There are orchestras in New York. Or you could..." Steve gropes around for at least the sentiment of what he means, even if he doesn't know how the modern music industry works. "...I don't know, join a band. Do... movie soundtracks, or music for... video games, or something."
Bucky snorts. Yeah, Steve's being a little ridiculous.
"You could become a mime," Steve continues, committed, "hand out balloon animals to kids in Central Park." Bucky shakes with silent laughter against Steve's chest. "Do inspirational speeches about the power of music. Become Tony's full-time Stark Industries mascot. Hell, become a hot dog vendor at Coney Island. Start a food truck. Model. Open a shelter for homeless LGBT youth."
"I don't know anything about running a homeless shelter."
"Don't have to. You hire someone to do all the hard stuff. 'S what Tony does."
"You could write children's books and I'll illustrate 'em."
"Not a writer."
"How hard could kids' books be?"
"Probably harder than it looks." Bucky cranes his neck to look up at Steve, without having to move from his perch on Steve's chest. "You always been this impulsive?"
Steve shrugs, jostling Bucky where he lies against Steve's pectoral.
Steve ten-thousand-percent Rogers.
"It's a privilege, isn't it? Couldn't be, before. Too sick, and I couldn't afford it. If I lost my job I could end up homeless, which I never would have survived, back then. Not with my lungs. But once I wasn't? Yeah." Steve burst out of the lab, chasing after Dr. Erskine's assassin, and in some ways he hasn't stopped running since. "Not trying to trivialize any of it," it being Bucky's struggles with his family, the media, expectations, his life, "but you're not working to live.You have the money, and so do I. If you loved your job that would be one thing, but would a change really be so bad?"
Bucky props himself up on Steve's chest, pointy elbow digging into Steve's muscles, so that he can look at Steve incredulously.
"You really wanna elope?"
Steve thinks about it. He had mostly been talking about living in the same city together, maybe living together, here, in the tower, if Bucky's open to it. But he can see a different future, unfolding with quiet certainty: riding through the spring-kissed forests on Steve's Harley, nothing but Bucky's arms around him for miles; stopping in some sleepy town clustered around Main Street, where every building is older than Steve, to pick up some rings from an antique store or local jeweler; riding on, maybe into the forest, maybe the mountains, finding a different town, a tiny quiet slice of nowhere, to stop at City Hall and sign the papers. He thinks about Bucky's blue, blue eyes, about saying "I do" in front of some random witness they've sweet-talked into the favor.
He thinks about feeling like this, every day.
"We could get on my motorcycle, go somewhere upstate where they won't be expecting us," Steve says.
The moment stretches on, and on, and on.
"Yeah," Bucky says, snuggling back up against Steve's chest. "Let's do it."
And that's that.
It's finally done!
Thanks to everyone who read, left kudos, or commented. This fic was 100% a self-indulgent journey into the dumb fic that I wanted to read, so I'm glad you all came along for the ride.
Until next time, folks!