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A Working Romance

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“You want to do a documentary about my company?” Howard Stark asks the producer.

The producer, Eddie Statham, shrugs. “Basically.”

“Why?”

“You’ve become a household name for running a paper company. We want to see what makes that possible.”

Howard leans back in his chair, arms crossing over his chest. “And how do you plan on doing that?”

Eddie leans forward, draping himself over the table. “We want to put a camera crew in different stages of your company. We want to see the management, the warehouses, and the sales levels, and how they interact with one another.”

“And you really think this will make a good documentary?”

“It’s really up to your employees. They’re the stars of the show, after all.”

 

---

 

Eddie pulls up behind the equipment van in his Honda. “Alright boys, the goal is to stay out of the way as much as possible. We’re only here to observe and occasionally interview people. Got it?”

The small camera crew mumbles their understandings as they get their gear together.

Eddie turns to the small building on the edge of Brooklyn. It’s nothing special or trendy like most of Brooklyn is these days. The building is only four stories tall with a warehouse in the back. All in all, it’s nothing compared to the expensive, extravagant offices of Stark Paper Inc. in Manhattan.

“Cameras on, boys. It’s showtime.”

 

---

 

The camera pans over the little hallway that leads to Stark Paper Inc.’s Brooklyn office. There’s a frosted glass door with the company’s logo in the center a few feet away from the elevator, with a few other doors near the end. The camera gets closer to the door, pausing on the logo and the distorted bodies moving in the room.

The door swings open to reveal a short man with a goatee dressed in a fabulous suit. “Finally! I was starting to wonder if this was all some sort of joke. Still am, but Dad’s sense of humor is nonexistent so it was highly unlikely, to begin with,” the man says, already walking further into the office.

“The name’s Tony. I run this joint,” he says over his shoulder. Tony walks to the receptionist desk where an older woman is on the phone. “This is Edna, she’s our prized possession.”

Edna glares at Tony, turning away from the camera to focus on her conversation.

Tony, unfazed, continues to a group of four desks. “This is our sales team, the guys who bring in all the dough.” He moves to stand between two desks, a hand on a grungy brunet’s shoulder. “This is Barnes,” he gestures to the man next to him, “and Wilson, two of our best sales reps- when they can decide to get along.”

Wilson, a broad-shouldered and well-dressed man, crosses his arms and glares at Barnes. “We’d get along if Bucky wasn’t such an asshole.”

Barnes, or Bucky, smirks beneath his scruff and looks up, glancing between the camera and Wilson. “I don’t know what you mean, Sammy. I’m a great, responsible coworker who means you no harm.”

“That’s a load of bullshit if I’ve ever heard it,” Tony quips with an eye roll. “Moving on.” He steps back to the other half of the desks and points to a pale, curly-haired gentleman. “This is Dr. Bruce Banner, who’s way too smart to be selling paper, but we let him stay even though he’s a terrible salesman.”

Bruce gives him a disgruntled look. “Thanks for the support, Tony.”

Tony grins and caresses his cheek. “Anything for you Brucey-pie.” He taps his cheek gently and motions to a young redhead. “This is Wanda. She uses her sweet, young personality to bring in the big bucks.”

She smiles at the camera. “Hello, there,” she says in a thick Slavic accent.

“Isn’t she cute?” Tony asks, grabbing her chin.

“Tony,” a man said from the corner of the room, “you can’t do that. It’s inappropriate for an employer to touch an employee like that.”

Tony rolls his eyes and motions to the man. “That’s Rhodey. He’s a buzzkill and our human resources person. Don’t listen to him- I sure as hell don’t.”

Rhodey sighs and turns back to his computer.

 

---

 

Producer: “So what’s it like working for the son of the CEO?”

“He’s not so bad,” Bruce mumbles. “Tony can actually be a really good guy when he wants to be. It’s hard on him, ya know? He shouldn’t have this sort of job, but I don’t think he knows he has the choice to leave.” He looks down at his lap, fiddling with a loose string.

“How long have you known him?”

Bruce looks up and sighs, his face aging almost instantly. “Long enough.”

 

---

 

“Onward,” Tony announces, gliding over to Rhodey’s corner. He stands behind a young wide-eyed boy and grabs both of his shoulders. “These are our miscellaneous people. You’ve got Rhodey, Peter, MJ, and Scott. Peter, he’s our customer service guy, and probably the office’s collective favorite person.”

“Speak for yourself!” Sam calls from his desk.

Tony continues by motioning to the young lady sitting across from Peter. “This is MJ. She’s quiet and kind of scary, but nowhere near as terrifying as Romanoff. She’s our social media and web designer person.”

She merely looks up from her computer with a bored expression, her bangs falling in her face with the motion.

He pushes the camera to show Scott, a middle-aged man playing some video game. “We’re not too sure what Scott does here, but we like him well enough so he gets to stay.”

Scott salutes the camera. “Don’t look me up, please.”

Tony’s brow furrows. “Okay then, moving on to the accountants. We’ve got two, Clint and Romanoff.” He walks to the far corner, on the other side of the receptionist desk and the rows of printers to two secluded desks. A blond man is perched on a stool, spinning slowly while a small redhead looks on with amusement. Tony gasps, “She’s smiling! The ice queen does have a heart!”

The amusement melts into a glare as she turns to Tony. “Watch it, Stark,” she casually warns.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t piss her off. She does your taxes, remember?” The blond laughs.

Tony shrugs. “Clint,” he points to the man, “and Natasha,” he motions to the glaring redhead. “Don’t cross them, they’re super sketchy.”

He turns on his heel and marches back towards his office. The camera pans over the desks before settling on Tony again. “Welcome to our humble little abode. Edna, hold my calls. I’ve got a meeting with Pepper in an hour.” He winks to the camera and disappears into his office.

 

---

 

Producer: “What kind of boss is Tony Stark?”

Peter’s leg is bouncing, causing the young kid to vibrate in his seat. His face is bright as he starts to talk, “Oh, he’s the best! Like one time when the power went out for like half an hour he went and bought an ice cream truck out for us. An entire ice cream truck! I mean, seriously? Who else would do that sort of thing? No one! Only Mr. Stark!”

 

---

 

The camera focuses in on a clock, ticking slowly to five o’clock. It pans out, showing the office inch by inch.

Bucky’s hunched over his desk, deep in concentration. Sam keeps looking over at him and rolling his eyes. The camera shifts to show Bucky’s desk from the side and- more importantly- what has Bucky’s full, undivided attention.

Sitting in front of Bucky, where only he and Sam can see, is a castle made entirely of pencils, pens, and erasers.

The brunet’s steady gloved hand hovers over one of the towers, ready to place the little hand-drawn flag he made out of post-it and a paperclip on the top spire. As if neutralizing a bomb, Bucky carefully pierces the eraser spire with the paperclip. He takes his hand off, the flag drooping to the left just a little before finally steadying.

Bucky lets out a relieved breath. “Done, finally.”

Sam leans back in his seat, smirking. “Seriously? That’s what you’ve done with your day?”

“And I’m pretty f----- proud, too.” Bucky pulls out his phone. “So proud that I’m gonna post this on Instagram, where it’ll go viral for being the most badass castle ever made by humans.”

MJ sends Natasha a smirk as she casually steps from behind her desk with a handful of random papers. “Hey, Edna, could you fax these to corporate for me?” she asks loudly, leaning against the receptionist desk with ease.

Edna, unimpressed, sighs. She holds out her hand for the papers.

“Thanks- wait, I need to sign them.” MJ starts to search around, patting her pockets. She turns to Bucky’s desk and grabs a pen… at the bottom of the castle.

It topples over just as Bucky snaps the picture.

Bucky’s face melts into stunned horror as Sam bursts into laughter. He looks up to MJ, betrayal smeared on his face. “You monster,” he cries.

MJ shrugs, signs the papers, and walks off.

Natasha high-fives her on the way back to her desk.

The camera zooms back to Bucky’s face, still scrunched in disgust.

Tony’s door swings open, the man himself coming to a halt at the rolling writing utensils at his feet. He looks to Bucky, still crouched in front of his desk, then to Sam, who’s now holding his sides as he shakes with barely contained laughter, and finally to Edna, who merely watches her coworkers with disdain. He points to the pencils. “I can’t tell whether or not I’m curious or unbothered by this?” Tony points back at Bucky, “Yeah, I just don’t care.” He walks out of the office with a wave over his shoulder. “See ya losers!”

The rest of the office starts to pack up, stepping over Bucky’s fallen tower as they leave.

Bucky’s still on the floor.

 

---

 

Producer: “Do you enjoy working here?”

Edna, sour-faced as ever, harrumphs as she settles into her seat. “Oh yes, I enjoy answering phones and running all of these brats’ errands,” she drones.

If you hate it so much, then why are you still here?”

She crosses her arms. “I’m only here for the fat check Stark’s gonna give me after I retire. Changed that kid’s diapers, ya know? Least he could do is make sure I don’t die the minute I’m out of this hell hole.”

How long until you retire?”

“Three days.”

Really? How come no one’s mentioned it?”

Edna raises one scrawny eyebrow. “Exactly.”

Chapter Text

The camera focuses on the door. People are trudging in, slow and tired. “Morning, Edna,” Wanda yawns, handing over a coffee mug to the older woman.

Edna’s usual frown vanishes as she takes the plastic cup. “Thank you, dear,” she nearly sings.

Wanda smiles, a little taken aback at Edna’s peppy attitude. “You’re welcome.” She glides to her desk, glancing back in wonder as she sits down.

Everyone else is already starting their work when Tony flies in, his tie flapping behind him. “Bonjour my miserable underlings! Let’s get this over with.”

“Amen!” Edna praises, spinning in her chair to face Tony.

Tony pauses on his way to his office and slowly turns to face Edna. He doesn’t say anything, but his eyebrows are furrowing. The camera pans over the office, all staring between Edna and their boss. He points to her once, glances at the office, and turns back around. Tony stops again at his door and calls over his shoulder, “Barnes, Peter, my office.”

The camera pans to show Bucky mid-sigh and Peter dancing in the distance. Bucky looks into the camera, shoulders deflating as he heaves himself up. “I just sat down,” he grumbles, pushing his way into the office behind him.

Peter dashes in after him, bouncing off the walls.

 

---

 

Producer: “You didn’t seem too happy about Tony calling you into his office. Why is that?”

Bucky runs his hand over his face and shifts in his seat. “It’s not that I don’t like Tony, because I do. He’s a good guy and all that jazz. He just… can be a bit much sometimes. He’s sorta clueless about stuff when it comes to the office.”

Care to explain?”

“He’s got good intentions; like I said, he’s a good guy. Tony just... gets stuck in his head too often. He’s not really here a lot. In a mental sense.” Bucky shrugs. “Makes it easy to work. S’all I care about.”

 

---

 

Tony’s office is littered with spare parts and tools, covering each and every surface like paperweights. His computer, raised on a standing desk, peeks out from behind a pile of scrap metal that hasn’t been cleaned in at least a decade. Tony’s pacing behind his desk, glancing out the window every few steps. His hand covers his goatee while the other flails around in time with his thoughts.

Peter’s shifting from one leg to another in his spot. The swishing of his slacks is causing Bucky’s eye to twitch, but the other man hides it as he leans against the bookshelf.

The angle shifts to show Tony from between Peter and Bucky, their shoulders framing the shot. “Why is she so happy? What has happened to my favorite grumpy old lady?” Tony asks, pointing towards Edna’s desk through the covered windows.

Bucky shrugs, the camera shifting to show his indifferent face. “She’s probably just having a good day. Maybe that neighbor with the chihuahua and those toddlers finally moved out. She’s always complaining about how they only seem to be awake when she’s trying to sleep.”

Peter nods. “Yeah, she may have actually gotten a good night's sleep for once.”

The door swings open and Natasha saunters in, kicking it closed behind her. “Or,” she offers, “it’s her last day.”

The three of them stare at the redhead, eyes bulging. The camera flicks back and forth, capturing Bucky’s slow blink, Peter’s flinch, and Tony’s jaw-dropping.

Natasha blows a pink bubble. It pops and with it the trance she put the three men in.

“The hell do you mean her last day?” Tony demands.

She crosses her arms. “I mean, she’s retiring. We’ve been talking about this for weeks, Tony. Her party’s this afternoon.” Natasha turns to Bucky. “By the look on your face, I’m guessing you didn’t collect any of the money from everyone else.”

Bucky’s eyes grow a little wider, his face flushing. “No,” he admits, shoving his hands into his pockets. “But I will.”

Natasha rolls her eyes and turns to Peter. “And you didn’t order the cake like I asked?”

“I was supposed to order the cake?” Peter gasps.

“No.” Natasha smirks and turns to Tony. “Call Pepper. Tell her you’ve lost the copies of resumes she sent you three weeks ago and that you can’t find the best applicant’s email.”

Tony scoffs. “Like she’d believe that.”

She shrugs. “She won’t, but she won’t be as pissed that you’ve lost the files and haven’t begun interviews.” Natasha points to Peter. “Have MJ post a job search. We need applicants and we needed them yesterday.”

The camera switches focus from one employee to the next. Natasha’s smirk turns into a scowl. “I don’t have all day. The Party Planning Committee and I have a ton of work to do thanks to you.” She glares at Tony. “Get to work.” She storms back out of the office, her perfume lingering in the musty air.

Tony whistles. “I’d hate to piss her off for real.”

“She’d stab you with her high heel without blinking,” Bucky mumbles.

“Or a bobby pin,” Tony adds.

 

---

 

Producer: “Does Tony forget things often?”

Natasha rolls her eyes. “The man can barely breathe without a reminder and you expect him to think of others?” She smooths her skirt. “Tony can think of others when he wants to, but only if he has someone to remind him about certain things.”

 

---

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Wanda Maximoff, Michelle Jones

Subject: Edna’s Retirement

 

Party Planning Committee meeting: conference room in ten.

 

  • Natasha

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff, Wanda Maximoff, Michelle Jones

Subject: RE: Edna’s Retirement

 

Since when am I apart of the Party Planning Committee?

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Wanda Maximoff, Michelle Jones

Subject: RE: Edna’s Retirement

 

Edna can’t plan her own party. We need someone to take her place.

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff, Clint Barton, Wanda Maximoff

Subject: RE: Edna’s Retirement

 

Not entirely sure why I’m here either. Or why you oldies have to email everything. The chat is there for a reason.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Wanda Maximoff, Michelle Jones

Subject: RE: Edna’s Retirement

 

Just meet in the damn conference room.

 

---

 

Producer: “What’s the Party Planning Committee?”

“Oh,” Wanda sighs, “it’s something Pepper put into place a few years back to make sure things got done. Tony used to be in charge of planning the office parties, but after the New Year’s Party of ‘07, Pepper put a stop to that.”

“What happened?”

Wanda shakes her head. “You don’t wanna know.”

 

---

 

Producer: “What happened at the New Year’s party of ‘07?”

Scott’s body shakes with laughter, his hand holding his sternum. He laughs, periodically slapping his knee and shaking his head. Scott slowly starts to calm down, only to look into the camera and go into another fit of laughs.

 

---

 

Bucky’s head is in his hands as he stares at the envelope on his desk. “Edna’s Fund” is scrawled on the front, but the envelope itself is slim. A twenty dollar bill peeks out from the corner.

Sam whistles as he spins in his chair. “Guess Golden Boy messed up.”

Bucky lifts his head up and glares. “You act like I won’t get enough.”

“You won’t. The party’s in three hours and you’ve only got the twenty Bruce gave you. You haven’t even put anything in!”

“That’s because I’m waiting until my lunch break to get cash,” Bucky retorts as he cracks his knuckle. “I bet you I can get money from every person in this office, maybe even double what Nat asked.”

Sam leans forward. “Oh yeah? I’ll take that bet.”

Bucky smirks and sticks out his ungloved hand. “Loser buys lunch for a week.”

“Deal.”

 

---

 

Producer: “How would you describe working with Bucky?

Sam heaves a sigh. “Barnes is a good guy. I don’t hate working with him, he just… Spaces out a lot. He’s been through a lot that makes it a little harder for him to focus on getting his work done, so he tends to goof off. It’s fine some days when I need a break, but he tends to only bother me when I’m just trying to get my stuff done.”

“Do you often play games during the work day? Like bets and dares?”

“We do a lot of bets and the occasional prank, but we keep it pretty tame. Or try to at least.” Sam shrugs. “It keeps the office exciting. I mean, how exciting can paper really be, ya know?”

 

---

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, Clint Barton, Michelle Jones,...

Subject: I NEED YOUR MONEY, FOLKS

 

Look. I completely forgot that Roz’ retirement was coming up. The party’s today and unless you want to explain that we all forgot , then you better cough up some cash. We’ve got three hours, ladies and gents. Let’s do this.

 

  • Bucky

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton,...

Subject: RE: I NEED YOUR MONEY, FOLKS

 

Oh, and don’t tell Sam! We have a bet going. If you do this for me, I’ll get everyone lunch for the week.

 

Wanda Maximoff <wmaximoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton,...

Subject: RE: I NEED YOUR MONEY, FOLKS

 

Wait, who’s Roz?

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton,...

Subject: RE: I NEED YOUR MONEY, FOLKS

 

You need more Pixar in your life kid.  

 

Peter Parker <pparker@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton,...

Subject: RE: I NEED YOUR MONEY, FOLKS

 

Roz is this character that Edna acts like. She’s this office lady person who does all the paperwork for the monsters in Monsters Inc. and she’s kind of terrifying. Like she can be super intimidating, more so than the actual villain, and she’s a good guy!

 

Exhibit A:

Image result for roz monsters inc gif

She’s always frowning and expressionless, much like the character.

 

Exhibit B:

Image result for roz your stunned silence

And when she does talk, it’s only to unload a heap of sass you weren’t expecting from an old lady.

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton,...

Subject: RE: I NEED YOUR MONEY, FOLKS

 

I’m watching you, Parker. Always watching!

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton,...

Subject: RE: I NEED YOUR MONEY, FOLKS

 

Just give me your money. I accept PayPal, Venmo, Google Wallet, and Apple Pay if you don’t have cash. Or are too lazy.

 

Barton, that means you too.

 

---

 

Producer: “Where did the nickname ‘Roz’ come from?”

MJ laughs, lounging in the chair. “Peter and I had a Pixar marathon one day and we couldn’t get over how Roz-like Edna is.”

“Does she know?”

She shrugs. “Probably not, but I doubt she’d care.”

“And if she did?”

Mj just shrugs. “She’s leaving today so I’d only have to deal with her attitude for like an hour?”

 

---

 

Scott’s still laughing, clutching his shirt as he howls. “Like I would tell you about the party,” he laughs, wiping at a stray tear.

The camera pans to show Bruce glaring at him through the window.

 

---

 

Tony shuffles the papers in front of him. He’s in the conference room, trying to distinguish between the good candidates and the duds. Out of the twenty applicants, only a handful could make it to the interviews on such short notice.

He’s already seen three of the five and none of them worked.

There’s a knock on the door. Tony’s studying the resume as he shouts, “Come in.”

The camera focuses in on the door as it opens to reveal a tall, blond, neat businesswoman. She shuts the door softly. Her polished looks stood out against the bland background of the office, but her expression was the real contrast. The anger brewing beneath her skin was evident on her face as she took three calculated steps forward. “Anthony Edward Stark, what have you done?”

Tony’s head pops up, eyes bulging and teeth sinking into his bottom lip. He opens his mouth-

“No, scratch that, what have you not done!” Pepper takes a seat in front of him, arms crossed.

“Darling, what a pleasant surprise,” Tony tries.

Pepper glares.

He sighs. “Okay, I know. I f----- up big time. I was dealing with the quarterly numbers when you sent over these files the first time and…”

“And you lost them.”

Tony nods.

“And now, I assume you’re scrambling to replace Edna. Right?”

He nods again.

Pepper presses the bridge of her nose. “How many have you interviewed so far?”

Tony hands over the completed resumes with all of his notes. “Three. My next one should be here any minute.”

The camera zooms in on the red markings along the margins of the resumes. She throws them onto the table, sighing. “You really didn’t like any of them?”

Tony scoffs. “The first one was high, the second was too old and I didn’t want to go through this process again, and the third was alright, but she had this weird tick where she kept sucking her teeth.” He shivers. “It was awful.”

“Tony, you’re hiring someone to answer your phones. It’s not that difficult.”

“Excuse me, but I’m trying to find my most valued employee’s replace-”

Pepper rolls her eyes. “Your most valued employee is Peter and everyone knows it.”

He pauses and shrugs. “You’re right, but this is still hard!”

“She’s retiring, Tony. Not dead.”

“Yeah, but I’m terrible at actually having relationships with people outside of work and you know that. If Dad hadn't hired her all those years ago, I would have lost track of her the minute she was dismissed.”

The camera looks behind Pepper, through the window, to see a young woman talking to Edna. Pepper turns in her seat and sighs. “Looks like your next appointment is here. Please,” she pleads, “give this one a chance.”

Tony sighs. “No promises.”

 

---

 

Producer: “Are you worried about who will take your job after you leave?”

Edna laughs, stiff and a little crazed. “Absolutely.”

“Why is that?”

“I’m not stupid,” she says, “I know Tony forgot to find someone. He acts like I haven’t been the person to let all of those interview candidates in. Each one he’s sent right back out, two without even talking to them. Kid’s picky and doesn’t like change. He’ll wait to the very last second to find someone to take over.”

 

---

 

Natasha’s on her toes, stretching to hang her side of the banner. Clint’s effortlessly holding up his side, a small smirk on his lips. “Shut up, Barton, or I’ll murder you in your sleep,” Natasha threatens, pointing the roll of tape towards him.

Clint laughs. “You couldn’t murder me.”

The redhead cocks an eyebrow. “I would, want to see?”

“Enough, already,” MJ sighs from the concessions table. The camera zooms in on her exasperated face momentarily. “We don’t have time for your banter, we need to get this party finished.”

Natasha and Clint both turn to her, unimpressed. “You just want to get out of here so you can go home.”

MJ shrugs, smirking.

The three of them had transformed the conference room into a small retirement party with the least tacky decorations Natasha could find on her lunch breaks these past few days. The conference table, covered in baked goods and finger foods from the local stores, was nestled in the corner. Natasha’s banner dangles over the windows above the few pictures and cards they were able to scrounge up.

Clint rubs the back of his neck as he looks around. “Where’s Wanda with that cake?”

MJ checks her phone. “She texted me about five minutes ago saying there was a slight complication with the cake.”

Natasha snatches the phone out of MJ’s hand and hits the call button.

The camera flashes to show Clint’s expressionless face.

“What happened?” Natasha demands.

Wanda’s voice, muffled through the phone, comes off as loud in the quiet room. “They wrote the wrong thing on the cake and they claim they wrote what’s on the order, but I know for a fact we didn’t order this.”

Natasha closes her eyes. “What. Happened.”

“I have no idea. It doesn’t say ‘Happy Retirement, Edna’ like we planned,” she says casually, her accent thick. “Hang on,” she mumbles before a series of angry shouting and curses fly between her and the salesperson.

“Yes, because yelling at them is gonna get the cake right,” Natasha says.

MJ leans against the table. “I could probably go grab a generic retirement cake from the bakery down the street?”

Natasha holds up a finger.

Wanda sighs down the line. “Okay, they won’t return the cake and they refuse to do anything for the wrong word-”

“What does the cake say?”

There’s silence. The camera flickers between their faces, showing Natasha’s agitation, Clint’s amusement, and MJ intrigued.

When Wanda doesn’t answer, Natasha asks again, slower and in a softer voice that sounds even scarier than the first time, “Wanda, what does the cake say?”

The door peels open and Sam peeks his head in. “We’re gonna start the party in half an hour, right?”

“Get out!” Natasha snaps.

 

---

 

Scott drops a twenty on Bucky’s desk as he passes by. Bucky nods at him, tucking the twenty into his envelope.

Sam closes the conference room door, face flushed. “You might have gotten an extension, Barnes.”

Bucky looks up at him, sealing the envelope under his desk. “Why do you say that?”

“Looks like they may have a crisis at the moment.” Sam sits down and lets out a long whistle. “I would not want to be whoever’s on the phone with Romanoff right now.”

Bucky winces. “RIP them.”

Sam nods towards the envelope. “You finish?”

“No,” Bucky whines, “they won’t give me money. I’m still waiting on Barton and…” Bucky looks down at his list, eyes scanning quickly. The camera zooms in as he looks up, eyes squinted towards Sam. “You,” he hisses.

The other man shrugs. “You waited too long. It’s after lunch, I don’t have cash.”

“You’ve got PayPal, send me it.”

“I don’t have your account.”

“You literally paid me yesterday for that coffee using PayPal.”

“I don’t have the money.”

“We got paid today.”

Sam groans and fishes for his wallet. “Fine, here, but you’re only getting fifteen since you waited until the last minute.”

Bucky winks as he plucks the bills from Sam’s outstretched hand. “Thanks, Sammy.”

“Good luck getting money from Barton. Dude’s broke and stingy as hell.”

Bucky smirks. “Don’t worry about him. I’ll get it.”

“We’ll see.”

 

---

 

Wanda walks in, cake box in her hands. Edna beams at the sight. “That wouldn’t happen to be mine, would it?”

The young girl’s eyes widen. “Um, no?”

Edna smirks and waves her away, turning back to the phone. “Margie, I told you I was right...”

Wanda scurries to the conference room, where the Party Planning Committee waits in anxious silence.

Natasha is standing in the middle of the room, arms crossed and scowling. “Did they fix it?”

“No,” Wanda squeaks.

Natasha’s shoulders deflate. “Of course not.”

Clint places a hand on her shoulder. “We can scrape it off?”

“Yeah, if Ross can make a dick look like a bunny on Friends , then we can change a few letters,” MJ adds.

The camera turns to the door opening. Tony saunters into the room and clasps his hands together. “Let’s get this party started!”

“Or not,” MJ mumbles.

 

---

 

Everyone squeezes into the conference room for the last hour of the day. Edna, the guest of honor, sits by the refreshments with a pile of goodies stacked on her plate. The party planning committee is huddled in one corner while the sales team is in another. Tony and the stragglers are mingling about with Peter and Tony in an argument about the newest iPhone.

Bucky takes the envelope out of his shirt pocket. The flap is wrinkled from being opened and closed so much but the envelope itself is in pretty good condition, the crisp white stark against the leather glove covering Bucky’s left hand.

“Didn’t see Barton give you anything, Barnes. Looks like you owe me lunch,” Sam says, sipping at his punch.

“What’s the bet this time?” Bruce asks, smiling.

Sam leans into him. “Barnes forgot to collect the money we’re supposed to give Edna. I didn’t think he’d be able to get enough by the time of the party. He claimed that he’d be able to not only get everyone to contribute but that he’ll get double what he was asked to get.”

Bruce laughs and shakes his head, his salt-and-pepper curls bouncing. “How’d you swindle money from Barton?”

“I haven’t yet,” Bucky admits.

Sam playfully hits Bruce’s shoulder. “Knew I’d win.”

“Just wait,” Bucky says as he slinks away. The camera follows him as he moves over to the Party Planning Committee huddle.

“There’s nothing we can do about it now,” Natasha hisses softly. “We’ll just have to- Barnes, what do you want?”

Bucky slings his arm over Wanda’s shoulder and grins at her. Wanda matches his smile. He turns to Clint. “Hey, do you remember that time you borrowed that fifty from me?”

Clint sighs and drags out his wallet. “How much Barnes?”
“Twenty will work.”

Clint hands over a twenty, which Bucky happily places in the envelope. “Thank you, Barton. Your contributions are appreciated.”

Bucky squeezes Wanda’s shoulder causing the girl to wince slightly and excuses himself from their huddle. He winks at a gobsmacked Sam and slinks over to Tony. “Stark, hey, can we talk real quick?”

Tony lowers his glasses and examines Bucky’s expression. “How much do you still need?”

He rubs the back of his neck with his right hand. “Well, you see, I’ve got enough, but Edna’s daughter’s having a baby soon and I figured we could help send her down there. Give her enough for a plane ticket to go see her. At least one way, ya know?”

Tony takes the envelope out of Bucky’s gloved hand and sifts through the bills. “I’ll keep this and just write her a check.”

“How much did you get?” Peter asks, peering over Tony’s shoulder.

“Almost two hundred,” Bucky tells him.

Tony flips his checkbook open, writes out a check for five hundred and hands it to Bucky. “Give it to Nat, she’s got the card.”

Bucky thanks him and walks back over to Natasha, the camera following his moves. It glances back at Sam’s angry expression momentarily, before zeroing in on Bucky handing Natasha the check. Her shoulders sink with relief as she takes the check from him, slipping it into the pre-signed card. The brunet makes his way back to his fellow salesmen. “If you didn’t catch that,” he tells Sam, “that was me winning.”

“You’re a dick, Barnes.”

 

---

 

Producer: “Did you think Bucky would win?”

Sam huffs. “No.”

“Why’s that?”

“Bucky never wins.”

 

---

 

Producer: “Sam said you never win the bets, is that true?”

Bucky scoffs. “No. I always win.”

 

---

 

“Alright, time for cake!” Rhodey announces, grabbing the box.

“Wait,” Natasha says, “we want to give you this first.” She glides over to Edna’s chair and hands her the card.

Edna thanks her with a grunt and opens the card. She squints to read what the front says, moving the card closer and father. She opens the card, the check slipping out. “What’s this?” She asks, picking up the check.

“That’s from all of us,” Wanda supplies.

“Yeah, we all pitched in,” Sam says.

Bucky clears his throat. “We thought you might want to go meet your new grandbaby, so we all pitched in to get you a plane ticket.”

The hard lines ease out of her face, her expression soft and sincere. “And here I thought you kids forgot about me.”

“Forget about you? Never,” Tony laughs.

Edna rolls her eyes and heaves herself up. “Thank you. It’s very appreciated. I’m sure my daughter will like having me around.” She pulls Scott into a hug, since he’s closest, and moves down the line. Each person gets pulled into the warm embrace of the usually cold Edna before she turns to Tony. “Come here, Anthony,” she says softly.

Tony falls into her arms, whispering something the mics don’t quite pick up on.

“I know,” she tells him.

He pulls away with a kiss to her cheek. “We’re gonna miss you, Edna. No one can replace you.”

“Not like you could find anyone on such short notice,” she remarks. Tony’s face falls, a soft blush rising on his cheeks. Edna turns to Rhodey. “What were you saying about cake?”

Rhodes picks up the box and presents to her the cake.

The camera captures Natasha bracing herself as Rhodey opens it.

Edna squints to read it and then her stout little body is vibrating with laughter.

“What’s so funny?” Bruce asks.

“You kids,” she gasps, grabbing Scott’s shoulder, “always keep me on my toes.”

Rhodey’s brow furrows and he tips the lid back, revealing the cake. In frosted cursive, the words “Happy Retirement, Roz!” are written in a neon pink frosting.

“Holy s---,” Tony gasps. His head whips towards Natasha. “What happened?”

Natasha glares at MJ. “We had a bit of an incident when we ordered it, didn’t we?”

MJ shrugs and hides behind her curly bangs. She looks at Edna, confused. “You’re not mad?”

Edna shakes her head. “I always thought you guys calling me Roz was funny.”

The others gasp, turning to MJ. “You put Roz instead of Edna?” Sam asks.

“It’s Peter’s fault! He’s the one who added that stupid shortcut forever ago!”

Peter’s face falls. “What? No! You could have changed it!”
Edna holds up her hands. “Enough. I love it. Thank you,” she says sincerely. “Now let’s eat it.”

 

---

 

Producer: How’d you find out about the employees calling you Roz behind your back?

Edna laughs. “There’s been a few times where she’s called me Roz in her emails by accident. I had to ask my daughter about it, but once I figured out it’s just a Disney character, I let it go. They’re young, they mean no harm.”

“Have you seen the movie?”

“I have! I quite liked Roz, personally. She seemed like a strong character and someone I’d like to grab a drink with.”

“Would you tell that to the employees?”

She shakes her head. “Maybe Michelle, just so she doesn’t feel so bad. She’s a sweet kid under that facade she puts on.”

 

---

 

Tony hikes the computer bag up his shoulder and locks the door behind him. It’s six o’clock and like always, he’s the last to leave. He still has two hours before he has to meet Pepper and her parents for dinner, two hours to read over the rest of the resumes Pepper sent over last minute.

He walks down the street, hands stuffed in his pockets and his head down. The camera follows him into the Starbucks a few blocks down. There’s a steady crowd, not too busy but not empty either, and Tony’s already next in line.

Tony orders a complicated cappuccino and swipes his card. He thanks the barista and heads over to the tall table by the window. He looks into the camera and sighs. “I really don’t know what to do about this receptionist thing,” he mumbles. “Anybody can answer phones, but I can’t let just anybody into my office. They have to vibe with the rest of us, ya know? Edna’s our backbone, she did all of the s--- we didn’t want to do. How am I supposed to replace her?”

“Tony,” a loud, deep voice calls.

The camera pans over to the barista, a large blond man with sharp features and a trimmed beard. He’s holding Tony’s venti coffee and smiling softly, waiting for the man to take it. Tony shuffles over and retrieves his drink, sipping at it cautiously. The barista goes back to making drinks and Tony hops back onto his stool.

“All those people who came in today weren’t different enough. I need someone who’s strong enough to take all of our problems and fix them,” Tony laments, holding a new resume. “And listen, I may not be a big man, but I can be a bigger man and say that I’m not easy to work with. I get that. S’why I need someone capable of handling so many tasks, like that guy.” Tony nods towards the blond barista, who’s currently adding whip cream to a frappe and scribbling something on the cup at the same time.

He sips at his coffee and looks into the camera. “You sure you can’t get involved? It’d be like ten times easier if someone else would just pick someone.”

The camera pans over to the blond barista again, then to Tony.

“Was that camera speak for ‘why not him?’ because if that was, that’s genius.”

The camera moves up and down, a nod of sorts.

Tony smirks and takes another swig of his coffee. He whimpers. “S---. That’s hot.” He looks down at the coffee and furrows his brow. “Huh,” he grunts as he moves his hand.

“Look at this,” he says, moving to show the camera his cup. The camera zooms in. His name is written on the cup in thick black sharpie, but underneath it is a cartoon version of Tony. He’s smirking behind his glasses, his goatee sharper and his hair a big swoop that extends from his forehead. The camera pans over to the blond again, then again back to Tony.

Tony hops down from his stool and saunters over to the counter, where the big blond is filling what seems to be the last order for now. He’s hunched over the counter, making sure the milk is pouring just right. Blondie glances back at Tony, eyebrows raised. “Hey, Tony, right?”

“That’s me, you got a second?”

Blondie nods, concerned. “Hey, Sharon, can you finish this?” Sharon, the barista who took Tony’s order, takes over for Blondie. The man glides over to Tony, leaning on the counter. “How can I help?”

“You like working here?” Tony asks.

The camera zooms in on his name tag, revealing his name’s Andy. “I like it enough. It pays the bills.”

“What do you do for a living?”

Andy rubs at his neck. “I run a webcomic,” he admits, “but it doesn’t generate funds, so I work here and at another Starbucks as much as I can.”

Tony nods and glances back at the camera. “Alright, Andy-”

Andy blushes. “Oh, my name’s Steve. I couldn’t find my tag earlier, so I borrowed a friend's.”

“Okay, Steve ,” Tony corrects, “you want a job?”

Chapter Text

The camera flickers from room to room, showing empty desks and the eerie silence of the early morning. It pans over the main office area, landing on the receptionist desk, where a the silhouette of a person is hunched over. The camera zooms in to find a sleepy Peter Parker. He’s scribbling on a notepad, mumbling math equations under his breath. There’s a large mug of coffee at his elbow, the steam swirling around him.

 

---

 

Producer: “Are you usually the first to arrive?”

Peter yawns and nods. “I come in to work on homework before the workday starts. My desk at home is kind of gross and my aunt has to go to work early anyway, so it’s nice to have breakfast and walk with her to the train.”

“Homework?”

“I’m trying to get an engineering degree online. It’s the cheapest option I have,” he explains.

“Did you even sleep?”

“I got two hours,” Peter sighs. “The coffee hasn’t kicked in, yet, but it will.”

“Does Tony know this?”

Peter’s brows furrow, the sleep heavier in his eyes. “That the coffee hasn’t kicked in?”

“No, that you’re taking online classes and not getting much sleep.”

Peter shook his head, his eyes widening. “No! Mr. Stark can’t know! He won’t let me work a full day if you do. You gotta promise you won’t tell him. Or Ms. Potts!”

“You have our word.”

The young man sags, exhaustion taking over for a split second. “Thank god.”

 

---

 

The clock above Peter ticks loudly, a constant reminder that time is constantly moving forward in the otherwise still office. Around eight, the door opens to reveal Natasha and Clint.

“Morning, Petey,” Natasha cooes, ruffling his hair as she walks past.

“Morning!” Peter chirps, a little brighter now that the coffee has settled into his veins. “How was the walk over?”

Clint grunts, face hidden behind an even bigger mug of coffee.

Natasha rolls her eyes, taking off her jacket. “It was nice. It’s a little colder out than it has been recently, so Clint’s a bit grumpy.”

“You still have a few before everyone else gets here. You could always sleep? Hell, you could nap at your desk and no one would know cause you’re tucked in your little corner.”

Clint considers this and nods. “You’re a smart kid, Parker. Smart kid.”

Peter beams.

The door opens again, this time bringing in most of the sales team. “Mornin’ everyone!” Sam calls with a wave.

Bucky merely nods, dropping his stuff at his desk as Bruce passes him.

Wanda slips in a moment later, smiling sweetly at them all. She pauses at reception. “Why are you sitting here this morning, Peter?” she asks quietly.

Peter gives her a lopsided smile. “Ms. Potts asked me to take over for a bit until Mr. Stark can find Edna’s replacement.”

“He wasn’t able to find one?” Bruce asks from his desk.

“Pepper wouldn’t have asked him if he had,” Rhodey says as he walks in.

Natasha leans against reception, reaching over to play with Peter’s fluffy hair. “Peter can hold down the fort until Tony finds someone.”

The kid preens under Natasha’s hand, leaning in ever so slightly.

Sam shakes his head and leans back in his chair. “He should have hired someone to fill in until we got a permanent person.”

Tony sashays in, coffee in one hand and his computer bag held in the other. He’s not alone; Steve walks in behind him. He’s dressed in an ill-fit button down and slacks, his hair coiffed with thick, black glasses on his nose and a computer bag slung over his broad shoulders. He’s hiding behind Tony, his tall, bulging frame hunched and shy. Tony sips at his coffee and asks, “Why would I do that?”

“Because it’s not fair to Parker?” Sam starts.

“Parker?” Tony turns to Peter, noticing him at the desk. “Why are you sitting there?”

Peter’s eyes widen comically. “Ms. Potts told me,” he fumbles, “and since I answer phones all day anyway, she figured I could take Edna’s place until you found someone new.”

Tony rolls his eyes and motions for him to get up. “Well Ms. Potts isn’t here and I’m the boss. Go back to your corner.”

“But-” Peter starts, confused.

“Kid, go back to your desk,” Tony says, walking towards his office. “C’mon Rogers.”

Steve gives the office a small smile and slinks into Tony’s office behind him.

 

---

 

Producer: “Do you have any idea who that was with Tony?”

Bucky shakes his head, a little dazed. “No, no I don’t.”

“Are you curious?”

“Everyone’s curious, but for all we know he’s just some corporate guy here to bug Tony. There’s always someone coming to check up on Tony and if it isn’t Fury, Potts, or Stark himself, it’s never the same face twice.” Bucky glances behind him, trying to look towards his desk… and Stark’s office.

“Why do you keep trying to look into Tony’s office?”

Bucky’s flustered as he sits forward again with his fidgeting hands in his lap, scoffing. “I’m not! I’m trying to make sure Sam doesn’t steal my bagel.”

“Is Sam known to steal your food?”

There’s a pause before Bucky says a meek, “No.”

 

---

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes, Clint Barton, Michelle Jones…

Subject: Who’s the guy?

 

Something’s up. Tony and that guy have been in his office for too long. I don’t think this is just a corporate check up. I think there’s something going on. Does anyone know if Tony has any interviews set up?

 

Peter Parker <pparker@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes, Clint Barton, Michelle Jones…

Subject: Re: Who’s the guy?

 

What do you think they’re talking about then?

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes, Clint Barton, Peter Parker…

Subject: Re: Who’s the guy?

 

Probably something boring like ink cartridges. Tony’s always rambling to you about how his printer’s working.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Michelle Jones, Peter Parker…

Subject: Re: Who’s the guy?

 

Please tell me he isn’t going to experiment on the printers again. I can’t take another week of Tony destroying everything we own.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes, Clint Barton, Michelle Jones

Subject: Re: Who’s the guy?

 

If he touches another printer, I’ll personally strangle him with it.

 

---

 

Producer: “Does Tony experiment on things often?”
Wanda sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose. “It’s a trying time when Tony decides our tech isn’t good enough for him. He’s torn apart computers and printers and phones - anything that uses wires really.”

“Why is that?”

“He claims he likes to put his engineering degree to good use, but we all know it’s because he’s bored.”

 

---

 

Tony takes the paperwork from Steve. He looks it over for a moment and nods. “Looks good.”

“Can I ask a question?” Steve asks, pushing up his glasses.

“Sure.”

“How come this is so rushed?” He’s doodling on a post-it, a little Tony appearing out of only a few curved lines.

Tony watches him for a second, seeing a mini version of his desk appear on the blue post-it. “I forgot about our last receptionist retiring. I won’t lie and say I’m the best boss who remembers everything about my employees,” he starts, “but I will say that I got stuck in my head and let it slip by me. I care, but-”

“But it’s hard to stay out of your own head long enough to show it?” Steve offers, glancing up over his glasses.

The brunet nods. “Yeah. Exactly.”

The camera zooms in on Steve’s hands for a moment before going to his face. “How long have you been without one?”

“She retired last Friday.”

Steve’s hand comes to a halt. “So you really waited until the last minute to find someone?”

Tony shrugs. “It’s what I do. I work best under pressure and hey, it led me to you. Don’t knock my methods until you try them.”

The blond shakes his head. “No, if you hire me, we’re getting that under control. You can’t leave something as valuable as a new receptionist to the last second. You need to plan and give people notice. Not everyone’s going to be as desperate as me for a job.”

“Dude, first of all, you’re already hired. I told you that the other night. This is just a formality, to get you to fill out all of our paperwork so you can start,” Tony sighs. “Second, I wouldn’t mind,” his voice is awkward like he’s not used to saying the words, “having someone help keep my head on straight.”

Steve considers this. “You want me to be your receptionist and assistant?”

“Not formally, but yeah. I’ll even let you work on your webcomic stuff while you’re here. Hell, Peter does his homework when he thinks I don’t notice.”

“You’ve got a kid working here?”

“College.”

“Oh, okay,” Steve says with a nod. He caps his pen and leans back. “I’ll take it.”

Tony grins. “Now that’s what I like to hear.”

 

---

 

Producer: “What are your first impressions of Tony Stark?”

Steve blows out a breath of air through the corner of his mouth. “He acts like a lot of people I’d see at work before-”
“At Starbucks?”

He nods. “Yeah, we’d get a lot of uptight business people. They know what they want and how they want it, and Tony seemed no different. When he walked up to the counter after he had gotten his drink, I really thought he was gonna chew me out about something stupid.” He smiles a little and adjusts his glasses. “It was nice having someone stop to ask about me. Don’t get that much.”

“You mentioned you run a webcomic. What’s it about?”

Steve’s pale Irish skin turned beet red. “It’s this superhero comic I made up. It’s stupid.” he hides behind his hands. “It’s called Captain America and basically follows this military captain dressed in the stars and stripes as he tries to fix America. It’s kind of political, kind of humor, kind of social commentary? I don’t know, I just draw what I think is good.”

“Would you be willing to show us any of it?”

He laughs. “Maybe another time.”

 

---

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff

Subject: New theory

 

So the government robot theory was a bust, but I have a new one.

 

What if aliens from like Jupiter or something got in contact with Tony and traded alien tech for oreos? Cause oreos are everything and you know it. Anyways that guy could be an alien in disguise coming to collect Tony’s secret robot.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton

Subject: Re: New Theory

 

Tony has a secret robot in this theory? And oreos are disgusting. Chewy chips ahoy are the only cookie choice.

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: New Theory

 

I won’t lie, the chewy ones are pretty good.

 

And of course he has a secret robot! Have you seen the stuff he’s built? Dude could probably create an entire robot army and no one would bat an eye. I’m telling you that guy Stark is talking to is the alien representative sent down to confiscate the alien tech they traded.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton

Subject: Re: New Theory

 

His bone structure is suspiciously sharp for a human… But is Tony stupid enough to create an evil robot army?

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: New Theory

 

Yes. He may not mean to, but he’d do it.

 

---

 

The office is bustling with semi-nervous energy as the clock slowly ticks closer to noon. The camera pans over each corner, showing the bored, busy people of the branch trying to focus on their work and failing. Natasha and Clint are both typing furiously at their keyboards, glancing back at one another with the occasional laugh. Peter and MJ are tossing a rubber band ball back and forth. Bruce and Wanda are actually working, both on sales calls, while Sam and Bucky are playing paperclip football. Scott and Rhodey are in the break room talking about some movie they had seen the week before. It’s lazy and calm.

Until Tony’s door creaks open.

The camera locks onto the door, showing Tony and Steve chatting as they walk outside. “I’m telling you, my hair doesn’t look like that,” he mumbles.

“But it does, otherwise I wouldn’t have drawn it like that,” Steve laughs.

“Touche.” Tony and Steve make their way to reception, where Tony stops in the middle of the floor to address the office. “Underlings, tis I, your mighty leader! Listen, for I have an announcement to make!”

“I really hate him sometimes,” Bucky whispers to Sam as he puts his hands down from where they made a field goal.

Sam points at him, nodding, before he spins to face Tony as well.

Tony claps a hand onto Steve’s shoulder. “Everyone, this is Steve. Steve, say hi.”

Steve’s blushing as he waves with a meek, “Hi.”

“He’s our new receptionist,” Tony says proudly, bouncing on the balls of his feet. He’s got a smug grin plastered on his face as he watches the realization sink in. “You ready for introductions?” he asks Steve.

“Hang on,” he mumbles, standing up a bit straighter. He leans over the receptionist desk and snags a pen and a pad. “Go on.”

Tony nods and points to sales. “That’s sales. Shaggy Hair is Bucky, Glasses is Bruce, Redhead is Wanda, Muscles is Sam. You good?” Steve nods, his hand moving quickly along the paper. Tony points to the back corner. “Those guys are the random people we only have one job for. Old Guy is Rhodes, Hot Stuff is Scott, the Bored One is MJ, and the Kid’s Peter.” He watches Steve for a moment and points to the last corner. “Accountants are over there. Scary One is Natasha and that’s her sidekick, Clint. D’you get all that?”

Steve’s brow furrows, his hand still moving jaggedly. “I think so.”

“Repeat.”

Steve panics a little, but clears his throat. “Sales team is Bucky, Bruce, Sam, and Wanda, Natasha and Clint are the accountants, and the back corner has Rhodey, Scott, MJ, and Peter,” Steve recites.

The camera catches Sam and Bucky exchanging eye rolls behind their hands.

Tony smirks, the arrogance wafting off of him. “Great. Everyone make Steve welcome and get back to work, paper’s not goin’ to sell itself.”

 

---

 

Producer: “You’ve just met Steve, what are your first impressions of him?”

Peter shrugs. “Seems nice! I mean, I trust Mr. Stark’s judgment. If he likes him enough to hire him, I’m sure he’ll be great.”

 

---

 

Producer: “Does Steve seem like someone who will last in the office?”

Natasha picks at her nails. “Maybe. He seems like a good guy, but someone who lets everyone walk all over them. He could be stubborn enough to hang around for a few months, but I doubt he’ll make it a year.”

“Why’s that?”

“Tony’s a diva and he makes his employees go above and beyond in things they aren’t qualified for. Edna was the only one safe from his random coffee runs and lunch adventures. If Tony has any off the wall requests, they’ll go to Steve and Steve alone now.” She shakes her head, eyes falling closed. “His requests aren’t terrible when they happen randomly and everyone shared the brunt of it, but Steve might go insane with it all. I know I would.”

 

---

 

From twelve to one, work has come to a near halt. The employees mill about, chatting with the coworkers they don’t sit near or stealing their food. Some disappear altogether, running errands and grabbing food from local restaurants.

Sam and Bucky are the only ones eating in the break room today. Sam, with his sandwich, and Bucky with sushi he bought on the way to work. “You know what?” Sam says as he wipes the mustard from the corner of his lip, “I think I’m going to stop using Tinder, even for hookups.”

Bucky hums, staring off into the distance.

“I’m serious! The last girl I had over, the one with the yorkie, I swear she stole my falcon statue. Who the f--- steals a bird statue?”

Bucky shrugs and cocks his head to the side.

The camera follows Bucky’s line of sight, landing on Steve hunched over his computer at reception. He’s squinting, mindlessly popping carrots into his mouth. The camera pans back over to Bucky, oblivious to Sam’s unimpressed expression.

Sam stares into the camera and sighs.

He sits up and continues his rant, “And then she had the nerve to murder my dog! My dog , Buck! So I try to get in touch with her again so I can be like ‘Yo, what’d you do to my dog?’ and it turns out, she’s really a shapeshifting werewolf who slaughters dogs to feed to her children.”

“Wow, that’s cool.”

Sam groans and shoves Bucky’s left shoulder harder than he normally would. “Come back to me, Barnes.”

Bucky jumps, blinking the daze out of his eyes. “What?”

“You’ve been staring at Steve all day. Just go talk to him!”

“I have not!” Bucky gasps, blushing.

Sam rolls his eyes. “Yeah, sure.”

Bucky stands up and gathers his trash. “But you’re right, I should talk to him. He’s new and is probably in need of friends-”

“And a wardrobe upgrade,” Sam quips.

“You’re terrible,” Bucky laughs as he heads for the door. Bucky walks across the office, the camera tracking his every move, and casually leans against the reception desk. He crosses his ankles and leans on his elbows, hunched over to try and meet Steve’s eye. “Steve?” he asks.

The blond jumps, blinking widely. “Hi,” he stammers, “sorry!”

“Hi,” Bucky chuckles, “seemed pretty focused there. Whatcha lookin’ at?”

Steve blushes. “It’s nothing,” he mumbles, leaning back a little. He adjusts his glasses and looks up to Bucky. “Is there something you need?”

Bucky shakes his head. “Nah, noticed you were staring pretty hard at your screen, figured I’d pop over to see what all the fuss was about.”

“Oh, yeah, it’s just… the terms and conditions to this program I’m downloading,” Steve admits, tilting the screen to show Bucky.

“You… read the terms and conditions?”

“No!” Steve winces. “I just… skim them?”

Bucky snickers into his hand. “Seriously?”

Steve glares at him playfully. “Yes, seriously! You should always skim them! It’s a legal document you’re accepting and if you don’t skim over it, you could be okaying to kill off kittens. No one wants to kill off kittens, Bucky.”

“No, you’re right. Most people don’t want to kill off kittens.”

Steve runs a hand through his hair. “So yeah, that's what I was looking at. Your curiosity has been fulfilled.”

Bucky nods. “True, but now I’m wondering something else. What was with the note taking during Tony’s little announcement thing?”

Steve hides behind his hands and groans. He splays them open, peeking out between them. “Promise not to say anything? Or tell anyone?”

“You have my word,” Bucky says.

“I do better with visuals,” Steve says as he grabs the pad hidden under his coat. He shows it to Bucky and covers his face again.

The camera zooms in, hovering over Bucky’s shoulder. Drawn in rows, Steve drew quick cartoons of each person with their name written beneath it. “Wow,” Bucky mumbles.

Steve’s shoulders sag. “They’re not the worst things I’ve ever drawn, but still.”

“No, no, these are really good!” Bucky whispers, leaning in closer. “How’d you do these so quickly?”

“I worked at Starbucks before this,” Steve starts, “and I’d draw quick cartoons of each person while I made their coffee. It’s a practice exercise that people seem to really like so,” he shrugs. “It stuck. Now I do better with names and cartoons.”

Bucky shakes his head and smiles. “Well, you definitely got Sam’s weird head shape down to a tee.” He nods towards the break room. “I mean, look at him! Something just ain’t right.”

Steve shrugs. “His head looks normal to me.”

“That’s because you’ve never had a conversation with the man.”

Steve laughs. “You make a fair argument.”

Bucky’s brow furrows. “In fact, have you only talked to Tony so far?”

“And you.”

Bucky hums. “Yeah, that needs to be remedied. Tony doesn’t represent us fairly, just so you know. We’re anything but boring.”

“Is that so?”

“It is. For instance, Natasha knows pretty much every martial art there is,” Bucky says, leaning in and pointing towards the accountants corner. Their faces are pretty close, but not too close. “And Bruce,” he points to the quiet salesman sitting at his desk, “has like twelve doctorates.”

“Damn.”

“I know. Oh and MJ and Peter are mini geniuses. It might be a Gen Z thing, but they can both figure out any piece of technology you put in front of them. Peter’s the go-to on movie gossip, kid’s like an encyclopedia of movie quotes.” Bucky shakes his head and points to Clint. “And Clint was in the circus. And when I say circus, I mean tigers, lions, and clowns, oh my!”

Steve makes a quiet “huh” sound. “That’s… actually really cool.”

Bucky nods. “I’m telling you, we’re not as boring as Stark makes us seem.”

“What about you? What makes you so unique?” Steve asks.

“That,” Bucky hits the desk a few times as he moves away, “you’ll have to figure out for yourself.”

“Challenge accepted.”

 

---

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: You’re disgusting.

 

When I said to go talk to him, I didn’t mean for you to try and get into the guy’s pants.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: You’re disgusting.

 

I wasn’t trying to get into his pants! I was simply talking to the guy!

 

And I’m not disgusting, you ass. I was being nice.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: You’re disgusting.

 

Seriously? Dude, you guys were all gooey eyes and blushy. If you’re not careful, everyone here’s gonna find out you’re catching for the same team.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: You’re disgusting.

 

Is that a bottom joke? Did you just call me a bottom? I totally am one, but still! We are at work, Wilson, using company emails and company computers and you’re making… sexual innuendos?!

 

And you call me disgusting.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: You’re disgusting.

 

I hate you.

 

---

 

Producer: “What are your thoughts on the new receptionist, Steve?”

Sam shakes his head, smirking. “I think he hit it off really well with Bucky, that’s for sure.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You gotta talk to Bucky about that one. S’not my story to tell.”

 

---

 

Five o’clock hits the office like a wave of relief. It doesn’t take long for the majority of the employees to pack their stuff up and head towards the door.

Natasha shrugs on her jacket. “I’m thinking about stopping for a drink at Kirby-Lee’s, anyone else in?”

Clint and Scott raise their hands, eager smiles on their faces.

“I’m down,” Sam calls.

Bucky shrugs. “Ain’t got nothing better to do.” He turns to Steve, an eyebrow raised. “Steve, why don’t you join us?”

Steve looks up, a bit shocked. “Oh, um, thanks, but I’ve got-”

The clicking of heels coming towards the door attracts everyone’s attention, including the camera. The camera watches the front door as a dainty hand knocks before opening it carefully. A beautiful brunette walks in, dressed in a professional, tight navy dress, a white trench coat, a cute red hat, and stunning red lipstick. Her dangerously sharp gaze softens as she walks toward the reception desk. “I was hoping I’d catch you before you left,” she says to Steve in a soft voice, the mics barely able to make out the words despite her crisp English accent.

“We were just heading out,” he tells her. Steve blushes as he realizes everyone’s eyes are on him. “Um, everyone, this is my girlfriend Peggy.”

The camera swivels to catch Bucky’s face falling, his hopeful shoulders sagging as he pushes in his chair.

Sam grimaces and places a heavy hand on the back of Bucky’s neck. “It’s nice to meet you, Steve, Peggy, but we were just on our way out,” he says, nearly pushing Bucky out the room. “Bye everyone!”

Scott starts towards the door. “If we’re going to Kirby-Lee’s, we should get going. I wanna grab a drink before Cassie comes home.”

The rest of the group said their goodnights and trickled out of the building, leaving Steve and Peggy at his new desk. “How was it? Worse than you thought?”

Steve smiles softly and takes her hand. “No, it was nice. Really nice.”

 

---

 

Producer: “What do you think about Steve?”

Bucky sighs. “He’s cool, real down to earth guy. Pretty talented too.”

“Can I ask a personal question?”

Bucky looks skeptical but nods.

“Do you have feelings for Steve?”

“I literally just met the guy. Is he cute? Sure. Is he sweet? Yeah. Would I date him? Probably. Do I have feelings? Nah.”

“So you are into men?”

Bucky shrugs. “I don’t put a label on it.”

“Who all knows?”

“Sam,” Bucky admits, “and my sister. No one else.”

“Do you plan on coming out to your coworkers?”


“Here’s how I see it,” Bucky sits up, “my sexuality is no one’s business. Who I’m with or who I love has nothing to do with my day-to-day activities. Not until I’m actually in a relationship with someone who doesn’t identify as a woman. Eventually, I’ll come out when I get into a relationship, but I don’t feel like I need to have a big coming out meeting for everyone to find out. It’s just who I am, that’s it. Does that make sense?”

“It does.”

Chapter Text

The camera follows Bucky into the office. Steve is standing in front of his desk, laughing as he hides his face. “Mornin’ Steve,” Bucky calls, spinning towards his desk a few feet away. He stops in his tracks. The camera moves ahead of him, capturing the look of awe he’s taken. It follows his line of sight, spotting his desk…and where Sam’s desk used to be. “Holy s--- this is amazing.”

Steve laughs. “I have no idea who did this! I swear it wasn’t me.”

Bucky waves him off. “Nobody thinks you did this, trust me.”

The blond turns to him, arms crossed loosely over his chest. “Why’s that?”

“Well for one you’re new, you wouldn’t know how to get at Sam like most of us do. Secondly,” Bucky breathes in through his teeth, “you’re too nice.”

Steve’s brow furrows. “Too nice? How is that even a thing?”

“It is and you, Rogers, are the definition of ‘too nice.’” Bucky slings his bag into his chair, smirking.

“So you think I’m too much of a nice guy to prank someone?” Steve asks, moving to take his seat.

Natasha walks in from the break room, a steaming mug of coffee in her hands. “Pretty much,” she quips, sipping at the mug. “You’d be too scared to hurt someone’s feelings.”

Peter’s head pops up from behind his computer. “She’s got a point.”

Steve’s shoulders fall a little, his bottom lip jutting out.

Bucky smiles softly as he settles into his desk.

The camera swivels to the door, where a boisterous Sam and Scott are walking in. Sam’s face becomes the focus as he walks closer. “And see if they had just- the hell? Where’s my desk?” His face falls, angry lines scrunching his forehead.

Bucky laughs unashamedly, head thrown back and everything.

“Where’d you put it, Barnes?” Sam demands, walking over to the empty space where his desk should be.

The man in question gasps, hand over his chest. “You think I did this?”

Sam waves his hands around, motioning to the now full office with wide eyes. “Who else would?”

Bucky stands, brow creased. “I don’t know, but this wasn’t me!”

“Bull.” Sam drops his bag and starts walking around the office, poking his head in different corners. “Seriously man, where is it? I’ve got that sales call in like half an hour!”

“Found it,” MJ says, leaning against the hallway door frame.

The camera quickly pans to where MJ’s pointing, a ringing phone echoing from the women’s restroom. It turns to see Sam looking up towards the heavens.

Sam turns around and pokes Bucky in the chest. “This means war.”

In the back corner behind Bucky’s shoulder, Natasha and Clint fist bump.

 

---

 

Producer: “Why’d you do it?”

Natasha smiles sweetly to the camera. “Sam’s been bragging about his sales numbers this quarter and Clint and I weren’t impressed. We see those numbers. We know the truth. Barnes is right on his heels in terms of numbers so Sam needed to be brought down a peg.

Clint nods, grinning. “That and we haven’t pranked anyone since Steve’s been here.”

“He’s only been here for two weeks.”

He nods, a grave look on his face. “That’s an office record.”

Natasha shrugs. “He’s not wrong.”

“Did you think he’d blame Bucky?”

“Think?” Clint laughs. “Like we’d do anything unintentionally.”

“It’s all a part of the plan.”

“And what exactly is the plan?”

Natasha and Clint exchange a smirk. “You’ll just have to see.”

 

---

 

Producer: “How do you plan on getting Bucky back?”

Sam rubs his hands together like a villain. “Oh I’ve got ideas. Plenty of ideas.”

“Care to share?”

“Nope.”

 

---

 

Bucky and Sam are both on the phones with clients when Sam decides it’s time to make his first move. It’s nearly lunchtime and knowing Bucky, he and Steve will probably head to the break room to eat. Sam grabs his sharpie, scribbling a note on a post-it while he finishes his call.

The camera moves behind Sam’s shoulder, but focuses on Bucky. He hangs up the phone, rolls his neck, and stands. “I’m goin’ to eat,” he announces, looking between Sam and Steve. “Either of you joining?”

Sam shakes his head, motioning to the call. “We can do that, Mr. Walker. Anything for one of our best customers,” he chirps.

“I’ll join,” Steve says, glancing up from his computer. “Gimme a sec.”

Bucky flashes him a thumbs up and grabs his lunch box. He walks away, leaving his desk defenseless.

Sam says goodbye to his client and watches as Steve scurries after Bucky. He turns and rolls his eyes into the camera. Then he’s opening a drawer, pulling out a paper cup, and flipping it over. He glances over his shoulder again and winks.

With the sharpie, Sam writes “DO NOT OPEN UNLESS YOU PLAN ON KILLING IT” and draws an arrow to the bottom of the cup.

The camera pans over to the break room. Steve and Bucky are talking enthusiastically about something, intermittently taking bites out of their respective sandwiches. The camera swivels back to Sam as he holds up the cup. He shows the inside to the camera, making it clear that it’s empty, and places it neatly on Bucky’s desk.

Sam goes back to work, eating a bag of chips as he types. He keeps looking at his watch and then at Bucky’s desk.

Ten minutes later, Sam jumps away from the desks with a scream. He moves the cup and takes a step back.

The camera turns to the break room, where Steve’s watching Sam curiously and Bucky looks bored.

“You alright?” Bruce asks, adjusting his glasses.

Sam nods, wiping his brow as he leans on the back of his chair. “Yeah, I’m good. I just don’t do spiders.”

Bucky rolls his eyes and marches into the room. “Where is it?” he asks with a slow blink.

Sam nods towards the cup with a grimace.

The camera zooms in on Bucky and the cup as the man snags a tissue. He hunches over the cup, his gloved hand slowly grabbing the base of the cup as he brings his other hand to hover nearby.

Sam winks at the camera.

Bucky picks up the cup and slams his hand onto the desk. He wipes it up and throws it away without looking. “There, he’s dead.”

“You didn’t even check to see if he’s really gone!”

“Nice try, Sammy,” Bucky says with a smirk.

 

---

 

Producer: “How’d you know there was nothing in it?”

Bucky laughs. “Sam declared a war on me like two hours before and then pulls this weak prank? I’ve seen Sam when there’s a spider or bug. He doesn’t scream like that, it’s more high-pitched and shrill. And there’s usually a lot of flailing involved.”

“Really?”

“I mean, yeah,” he shrugs, “it doesn’t help that Peter sent us the same ‘Best Office Pranks That Won’t Get You Fired’ article when we were trying to prank Tony a few weeks ago. I believe the fake spider was number twenty-seven on the list.”

 

---

 

“Wilson, come here for a second. I need to ask you a personal question,” Tony calls from his office.

Sam glares at Bucky, who’s playing some video game. “Don’t touch anything,” he warns, jabbing a finger in Bucky’s direction.

The other man raises his hands in defense. “I won’t, I promise.”

Sam cautiously leaves his desk, walking backwards into Tony’s office.

Bucky turns to watch him, motioning for someone to move.

Wanda spins around in her set, takes a small post-it, and places it on the bottom of Sam’s mouse. She grins at Bucky and spins back to her desk.

“Beautiful!” Bucky whispers, grinning as he adjusted the spare mouse in his drawer.

Sam walks back out again, skeptical. “What’d you do?” he asks.

“I did nothing,” Bucky says in ernest. “I’m stuck on this stupid level. I don’t have time for your games, Wilson.” The camera zooms in on Bucky’s hand pouring glue over a spare mouse in his drawer.

“Bull.” Sam sits down anyway and examines his desk. When he feels content that nothing’s been altered, he gets back to work. He jiggles the mouse, brow creasing. “What’d you do, Barnes?” he sighs, turning to the other man.

Bucky snaps. “You got me. I switched your mouse with a broken one,” he explains. He holds up the spare in his drawer. “This is yours.”

Sam glares at him, snatches the mouse by the cord, and quickly switches the wires to his “broken” mouse with the new one. He places his hand on the mouse and jiggles it, awakening the computer. “Is this seriously all you’ve got?” he asks, sparing a glance at an amused Bucky.

“Nope,” he giggles.

Wanda starts giggling from her desk.

Sam looks back at her, the redhead blatantly ignoring him for his work. “Why are you laughing?” he tries to ask.

“Oh, that’s because you totally fell for it.” Bucky reaches over to flip over the “broken” mouse, showing the post-it.

Wow,” Sam says, “that’s really creative.”
Bucky grins. “Yeah, it is. Have fun with that mouse. It’s going home with you.”

Sam’s brow furrows. “What?”

Bucky reaches into his drawer to show the glue.

The camera zooms in as Sam’s face grows ashen. “F---.”

 

---

 

Producer: “How long do these things usually last?”

Wanda shakes her head. “Far too long. They’ll go until someone outdoes the other and that usually means it’s an office-wide prank.”

“Are you worried they’ll get to you?”

“No, I’m stronger than I look. I can take it.”

 

---

 

The minute Sam walks into the office the next morning, he sits down at Bucky’s desk. Peter pops his head over his computer, eyebrow raised. “Whatcha doin’?” He sings.

Sam smirks. “Changing his language settings.”

“How’d you get in?” Peter asks as he wanders over.

“Bucky uses the same password for everything,” Sam laughs, clicking through the settings.

Peter looks over Sam’s shoulder. “You should change his desktop picture to a picture of you.”

Sam looks up at the camera, a mischievous grin on his face. He turns around to Peter. “Genius.” The camera pans around to see Sam pull up a series of pictures from his phone. “What are we thinking? Gym selfie? This one?” he pulls up a picture of himself in a sharp tux.

“Where even is that?”

“Friend of mine’s wedding, I was a groomsman.”

Peter hums an affirmative noise as the camera settles on his face. “Oh, do this one!” Peter says as he points to the computer.

Sam’s grin turns wicked.

 

---

 

Producer: “How do you feel about office pranks?”

“They’re distracting, obnoxious, and childish. I’m surprised Tony doesn’t partake in them more,” Rhodey sighs.

“Who do you think will win the prank war between Bucky and Sam?”

Rhodey shakes his head. “Honestly, they’ll probably just call it a truce. Or Bruce will freak out on them and they’ll just stop.”

 

---

 

Bucky and Steve trudge into the office, matching Starbucks coffees in their hands. “Morning everyone,” Bucky yawns as he settles into his desk.

“Morning sunshine,” Sam cooes mockingly, sipping at his own mug. “You feeling alright?”

Bucky glares at him. “What’d you do?”

“You’ll see.”

The camera swivels around to see Bucky’s screen. He wakes it up, only to find that the words are no longer in English. He groans. “Really?”

Sam laughs. “That’s not even all of it.”

“Oh god,” Bucky says with a wince. He plugs in his password and hits the enter key. The loading screen soon fades into his desktop, where a topless Sam is lounging poolside. “I hate you.”

“The best thing? You can’t even change it.”

Bucky’s eyes widen as he tries to get into his controls. He clicks around, opening new tabs of different settings to try and find the icon that matches.

“Damn you, Wilson,” he hisses playfully as he pulls out his phone. “Does anyone know if Google Translate has an app?” he calls to the office.

 

---

 

Tony sets up this new printer at lunch. He gives this long speech about how advanced it is compared to the last one. He looks to Bucky, who’s barely paying attention. “Where’s your sidekick?”

“Lunch with a client,” Bucky tells him.

“Make sure he knows about the new printer.”

Bucky smirks. “I will, don’t worry.”

 

---

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Printer

 

Help me get back at Sam by printing something for me. Just do the stupid test paper?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Printer

 

I’m on it.

 

---

 

Tony looks at him warily as he returns to his office, only for Sam to walk through the door. “Sammy!” Bucky calls. “We got a new printer.”

Sam groans. “Again? There’s literally nothing wrong with the last one he upgraded.”

“Yeah, but we work for Stark, who’s always looking for new tech to play with.” Bucky stands and shows Sam the new printer. “This one comes with three sets of black and color ink cartridges for minimum replacements, top of the line speed and efficiency, and a built-in stapler. Plus it has Bluetooth speakers so can listen to music and… it’s voice activated.”

“Really?”

Steve nods. “It is. Tony showed us and everything. You can get it to copy, print, and fax by just saying it. It’s pretty cool.”

Sam shrugs. “Okay then.”

“See,” Steve clears his throat. “Print doc: Comic_Illustration478.”

The printer hums to life, the sound of the gears turning and ink meeting paper. Bucky smirks behind Sam’s back as the man oogles the new machine.

“Wow,” Sam mumbles, “I’m actually impressed.” He picks up the freshly printed pages, eyes wide. His brow furrows as he holds the paper up. “What’d you print?”

Steve blushes and takes the page carefully out of Sam’s hands. “It’s, uh, nothing. Just something I’ve been working on.” He places it on his desk, the shadowy image of a man and a tree barely visible over the lip of the desk.

“You drew that?” Sam asked.

“He did,” Bucky interjects.

Steve groans and plops down at his desk. “Don’t you guys have work to do?”

Bucky nods and ushers Sam back to his desk, giving Steve a subtle thumbs up.

It only takes about twenty minutes before Sam needs to print off an invoice. “How do I do it? I just talk, right?” He asks, standing back up.

“Just ask it to print the document and you’re good,” Bucky supplies.

Sam clears his throat and leans over the printer. “Print doc: Caster_Invoice.” The camera zooms on the silent printer before focusing on Sam’s confused face. “Print doc: Caster_Invoice,” he says a little louder.

Bucky covers his face, smirking behind his hand.

“Print doc: Caster_Invoice,” Sam tries again, even louder.

“Try it again. Maybe it’s just not working right? Someone else might be trying to print,” Bucky explains.

Sam nods and says it again, nearly shouting it.

Tony peeks his head out, glaring at the reception corner. “Who’s yelling to print something?”

“Sorry, the printer isn’t responding,” Sam explains, rubbing at the back of his neck.

The boss walks out, hands stuffed in his pocket, and asks, “So you thought you’d just yell at it? It’s a machine, Wilson. It has feelings and needs a little TLC to get it motivated.”

Sam nods. “I’ll try again,” he says. He leans in closer and states, “Print doc: Caster_Invoice.”

Tony looks between the other employees, pointing at Sam. “The hell are you doing?”

“I’m trying to get it to print this invoice!” Sam’s brow is scrunched in frustration, his nostrils flaring slightly.

“It’s not voice activated, Sam. You have to hit the print button, you know that right?”

Sam huffs, crossing his arms. “No, no I didn’t.”

 

---

 

Producer: “What are your thoughts on the printer prank?”

MJ shrugs. “I don’t pay enough attention. Nor do I care.”

 

---

 

Producer: “You mentioned earlier that you had a plan; has it been accomplished?”

Natasha and Clint shook their heads. “Not yet,” Clint said.

“Is it going the way you hope?”

“Not quite,” Natasha answers.

Clint pouts a little. “We thought we’d get our results already, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.”

 

---

 

The next morning, Sam’s late. Bucky’s hanging on Steve’s desk, hunched over the man’s computer. “I think he’s gonna pull something,” Bucky whispers.

“Well you are in a prank war with him, so I imagine he would,” Steve mumbles as he logs into his computer.

Bucky whines a little. “I know, but the anticipation is killing me.”

“Call a truce.”

“Never.”

Steve looks up over his glasses, he glances at the camera and sighs. “If you won’t call a truce, then you can’t complain. You’re doing this to yourself.”

Bucky harrumphs onto his resting elbow. “You’re right, but the look on Sam’s face is so worth it.”

“Is it now?” Sam asks as he walks in, hands full of Krispy Kreme boxes.

Clint gasps, head poking around the wall that separated the accountants with reception. “Are those doughnuts?!”

Sam smiles. “Yeah, they are. My neighbor’s kid was selling them for charity so I bought everyone some. Everyone gets a half dozen.”

Clint muffles a pained, yet excited squeal as he rushes to help Sam. The two of them hand everyone their boxes, setting them on the desks of those who have yet to arrive.

The camera zooms in on Bucky’s skeptical expression. He holds the box up, examining it from every angle. Steve rolls his eyes. “Buck, the box is sealed. I doubt he did something to it. Besides, with that many boxes, there’s no way he can keep up with which one’s yours.”

Bucky glances at Steve’s box. It’s identical, even the seal’s angled the same way. “Open yours first,” Bucky says softly.

“If it makes you feel better,” Steve says as he pops open the seal. He lifts the box and shows Bucky and the camera the six original glazed doughnuts inside.

“They do look good,” Bucky laments.

Steve places a hand on Bucky’s shoulder. “If he was doing this for a kid, he probably ordered them weeks ago. You know how these things work, you order it and two months later you actually get the doughnuts or the gift wrap.”

Bucky hums. “You’re right,” he sighs. “Besides, I’ve earned a cheat day.”

“Exactly!”

He shakes his head and pops open his seal. Bucky closes his eyes as he opens the lid slowly, flinching away when he hears the cardboard lid hit the back of the computer lightly.

Steve slaps a hand over his mouth with a meek, “Oh, god.”

Bucky pries open his eyes and gasps. He spins around and glares at Sam, who’s perched at his desk with a huge grin. “How dare you! You don’t mess with a man’s doughnuts, Wilson.”

“Looks like I did,” Sam says as he shrugs.

The camera swivels around to peer inside the doughnut box. It’s filled with vegetables, from carrots to cherry tomatoes, with a small container of ranch in the middle.

 

---

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Really?

 

Are you responsible for my texts?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Really?

 

I’m not sure what you mean?

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Really?

 

 

Mom text

 

Something tells me that you do.

 

---

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: I’m confused….

 

Steve shot

 

Why did Sam just text me saying he wanted to marry you?

 

---

 

Tony, Bucky, and Natasha are in a meeting when Sam comes back from lunch. He sits at his desk and pulls out a bag of supplies. “Steve,” he whisper shouts, “should I do the cell phone or the work phone?”

Steve cocks an eyebrow.

Sam holds up the box of rubber bands.

“Cell.”

“Stall for me?”

Steve pushes up his glasses and grabs a stack of papers. “You got it.”

He unlocks the phone, sets several alarms, and locks it back. Sam gets to work, putting rubber band after rubber band on Bucky’s iPhone. Steve slips into the office, claiming he just got word with corporate that they need to fill this stuff out pronto. The camera focuses on Sam’s hands quickly covering the phone, the screen no longer visible.

“You’re evil,” Wanda giggles as she watches over his shoulder.

“It’s a war, Maximoff.” Sam pops another one onto the phone. “All’s fair.”

She hums. “Are you sure about that?”

Sam glances over his shoulder as he pops the last of his rubber bands on. “Trust me. He’ll do just as much damage.” He grabs the saran wrap. “Or cave.” Sam covers the phone turned rubber band ball in saran wrap, sealing it.

Wanda shakes her head and turns back to her desk.

The camera zooms in the phone as it slowly morphs in a football shaped brick. Sam switches back to rubber bands as Steve announces that Bucky’s paperwork was messed up and they needed to redo them.

“You better hurry up,” Bruce mumbles over his coffee mug.

Sam nods, moving as fast as he can. He puts the rubber bands down and grabs the aluminum foil, covering the phone with the entire roll. “Someone call Bucky,” Sam asks as he shoves everything under his desk but the phone.

MJ quickly calls Bucky, the phone vibrating as the ringtone echoes from the brick.

“That’s brilliant,” Wanda giggles.

Sam grins and drops the phone in Bucky’s drawer.

The cameras pan over to the conference room, where Tony is opening the door for everyone. “That could have waited, Rogers.”

“Sorry, I thought it was important!” Steve apologizes as he walks over to his desk.

Bucky’s chuckling as he sits down at his own desk.

 

---

 

Producer: “You’ve been helping both Sam and Bucky. Who do you believe will cave first?”

Steve rubs at his neck. “If I’m being honest, Sam.”

“Why’s that?”

“Bucky’s relentless. He hasn’t shown any signs of wavering yet.”

 

---

 

Producer: “Any luck?”

“No,” Clint huffs.

Natasha pats his back. “I think it’s going to work out in the end, but we need a little more time.”

 

---

 

At two o’clock, the alarm on Bucky’s phone goes off. “What the hell?” Bucky asks. “Who’s alarm is that?”

Sam swivels in his chair, grinning. “That, my friend, is your phone.”

“Mine?” Bucky grabs his bag from under the desk. “But I don’t-” He stops and glares at his deskmate. “How’d you even get in?”

“Same way you did.”

Bucky’s head whips around to the back corner. “MJ! I thought we had a deal?”

She lifts her head up, curls falling in her face, and shrugs. “He paid more.”

The alarm is slowly getting louder. Bucky groans and starts opening drawers, sifting through his junk and files for the phone.

The camera peeks over his shoulder to find the loud, vibrating brick that is Bucky’s phone. He grabs it, setting it on his desk and glares daggers at Sam. “What did you do?”

“I just wrapped your phone in aluminum foil,” Sam says, “relax.”

Bucky groans. “This feels like a lot of foil.” He starts to unwrap it, the crinkling of the foil muffling the alarm. “When did you do this?”

“Hey, Buck, did you get that paperwork fixed for me?” Steve asks from his seat, grinning.

“No, I needed Natash- That was fake, wasn’t it?”
Steve grins even more.

Bucky sighs, his shoulders falling. The camera focuses on the brick, where layer after layer of foil slowly peels away. Bucky’s left hand stabilizes the phone while his nimble right hand moves to uncover the phone.

“You have got to be kidding me.” Bucky balls up the aluminum foil trash and throws it away, glaring at the rubber bands. “I thought it was just foil!”

Sam huffs. “You think I’d do something that basic? Please.” He turns to Bucky, flipping a pen in the air. “Just wait till you get to the saran wrap,” he says with a wink.

“I hope you know I’m planning on giving you hell for this.”

“Oh, we’ll see.”

 

---

 

Five o’clock hit and everyone started to pack up for the day. Tony swings his office door open and saunters out, hands stuffed in his slacks. “Go home, people. I’m tired of seeing your faces,” he says as he leans against his doorway.

“Anyone up for drinks?” Scott asks as he slings his bag over his shoulders.

“Can’t. I’ve got plans with my family,” Sam says.

Bucky shrugs. “I’m down.”

Scott turns to Steve, “What about you?”

Steve clears his throat. “Um, I can’t.”

Bucky quirks an eyebrow up. “Where are you going?”

“Peggy’s parents are in town and… We have news.” Steve’s face is beet red as he cleans his glasses with the edge of his shirt.

“Care to share?” Tony asks.

Steve’s all shy and flustered as he says, “We’re engaged.”

Wanda gasps. “Congratulations, Steve!” She cheers as she rushes to tug him into a hug.

The camera pans over the rest of the coworkers, all shouting their own congratulations as they move to shake his hand or hug him. It settles on Bucky’s face, his distraught shock quickly turned to a grimace.

Steve clears this throat, “We’re throwing a party. I’m not sure when it’ll be, but you’re all invited.”

“And by that you mean, ‘please show up so I’m not stuck in a room of Brits and lawyers,’” Bucky quips dryly.

Steve laughs. “Pretty much.”

 

---

 

Peter walks in early the next morning, still sleepy. He rubs at his eyes as he closes the door behind him and walks to the middle of the room.

The camera focuses on the space above Sam’s desk. “Morning,” Bucky says, peeking out from under the desk.

“Why do I feel like I see a hundred Sams?” the younger man asks, blinking the sleep out of his eyes.

Bucky grins. “That’s because you do.”

The camera pans out from Bucky’s face to show Sam’s desk now covered in Sam’s freshman yearbook photo. It’s plastered on everything: the desk, the drawers, the computer, his scissors, his mouse, all of his pens, each of the keys on his keyboard, everything!

Peter just stands there. He shakes his head and heads to his own corner, leaving Bucky to continue applying the photo to Sam’s things.

Bucky spends the next hour applying pictures to Sam’s desk chair and inside the drawers. He barely finishes when Natasha walks in, two coffees in her hands. “Whatcha think, Romanoff?” he asks, standing up finally.

She smirks, hands over his coffee, and sips at her own. “I think he’s going to complain about this for months.”

The man grins, sipping on his drink cautiously. “That’s the best type of prank!”

Natasha rolls her eyes and glides to her desk. Bucky shrugs and settles into his desk.

The camera pans over the office as more people start to filter in, each with their own amused smiles at Sam’s desk. Wanda pauses as she sits down, admiring the adorable yearbook photo of a young, gapped-tooth Sam cheesing at the camera. “He was a cute kid!” she gushes, holding her hair out of her face.

“Who was a cute kid?” Sam asks as he walks in. He stops in his tracks near Steve’s desk, face devoid of emotion.

The camera flickers back and forth between Sam’s face and Bucky’s pleased grin.

Sam just sighs and sits at his desk, the crinkling of paper emphasizing his movements.

 

---

 

After lunch, Sam and Bucky were on a roll with their sales calls. Both were constantly on the phone, smooth talking businesses into buying loads of paper or updating their current subscriptions. If it wasn’t for the hundreds of little Sam’s staring back at them, it almost seemed like they were done with the prank war.

“Mr. Monroe, how are you this afternoon?” Bucky asks, a laugh in his voice. “That’s great! I’m calling to ask about your current order of paper. How’s the high gloss letter pages doing for ya?” He pauses, pen twirling in his right hand. “Oh, well let me see what I can do about that.” Bucky starts to look in his drawers.

Sam finishes his phone call and turns to watch Bucky, hiding his smirk behind his hand.

Bucky pushes his chair back a little, pulling open his bottom right drawer. He riffles through the files for a moment before he closes it and turns to his other drawer.

As he opens it, water splashes onto the floor and his shoes from the force. Bucky gasps, glances up at Sam with shock, and quickly asks if he could call Mr. Monroe back. “The hell did you do, man?”

“I thought you were getting lonely at your desk. Figured you’d like a few friends,” Sam says with a shrug.

The camera pans over the drawer, showing the watery contents. The drawer is filled with water, with aquarium pebbles and plants stuck to the bottom. Fish float through the scene, bobbing back and forth in the rippling water.

Bucky looks into the camera, astonished. “I don’t even know how to react to this.”

 

---

 

Producer: “Was any of that real?”

Sam shakes his head. “The plants and fish are plastic. I originally bought a betta fish to go in the drawer, but I did some research and thought against it. It would have been too dangerous.

“What did you end up doing with the betta fish?”

He pulls out his phone and shows a picture of a Spongebob themed fish bowl. “His name is Betta Fishington. He lives in Board Short Village and I love him.”

 

---

 

“I need Starbucks,” Sam whines. “Anyone need anything?”

“Grab me a latte?” Clint asks.

“Ooh, same!” Peter interjects.

MJ raises her hand. “Strawberry Green tea fusion for me, please!”

“Coffee, black,” Natasha adds as she passes him, heading for the copier.

“Iced coffee,” Scott calls.

Sam points to Steve, a hopeful smile on his face. The blond rolls his eyes and hands him a piece of paper with everyone’s usual orders and their names, including his own. Sam quirks an eyebrow, “You drink Iced Americanos?”

Steve shrugs. “They taste good.”

Bucky nods. “Get me one of those, too!”

“Y’all realize I ain’t rich right? Like I expect a payment from each of you when I get back,” Sam says as he starts to walk out the door. “I charge interest folks. Up ten percent every hour.”

The door clicks shut behind him and Bucky springs to his feet. “Rogers, Barton, Lang, let’s do this.”

Bruce sighs, taking off his glasses and rubbing at his temples. “What are you planning on doing, Bucky?”

Bucky holds up a couple of ropes. “We’re hanging Sam’s desk from the ceiling.”

The four of them got to work, securing the ropes around the desk. Steve and Scott held up the desk while Bucky and Clint stood on the other two to attach it to the ceiling. The desk swayed a bit after Clint hooked the last rope to the ceiling, but it eventually came to a halt.

They backed away slowly, giggling as they returned to their desks.

“You’re all children,” Natasha sighs.

“At least they’re entertaining,” MJ mumbles.

“Barely.”

It only takes about ten minutes for Sam to come back after they get the desk suspended. The camera follows him as he struggles to open the door with all of the coffee he’s carrying. Steve hurries to help hold the door open, taking a drink carrier. “Thanks Sam,” he says as he starts to distribute the drinks.

“No problem. Now where’s my mon- Godd------, Barnes!” Sam hollers, gaping at the suspended desk that’s still plastered with his face.

Bucky grins at him, plucking his drink from the carrier. “Thanks Sam, here’s a nickel for your trouble.” He places a nickel in the man’s pocket and pats his shoulder.

Sam stomps his foot. “Alright, you win!”

“I knew it!” Bucky cheers, fist pumping the air.

 

---

 

Producer: “You two have had an eventful week. Which prank was your favorite?”

Bucky chuckles and points to Sam. “I actually really liked that foil phone prank. I mean, I’ve seen it before, but the way you did it was really interesting.”

“Thanks,” Sam laughs. “I think the yearbook picture was my favorite. Really highlighted how good I look now.”

Bucky shoves him with an eye roll.

“If Sam hadn't caved, would you still continue?”

“Probably?” Bucky shrugs.

Sam shakes his head. “We would have gotten shut down eventually. Bruce can only handle so much.”

Bucky’s eyes widen. “True that.”

 

---

 

The morning after the prank war officially ends, the office is destroyed. Peter’s the first to arrive and quickly calls Tony to let him know what happened. “I don’t think it was Sam and Bucky. Their desks are the worst. You have to get down here, it’s too hard to explain.”

The camera pans over the shocked and amused faces of the office employees as they take in their office. They’re all huddled near reception - all but Steve who was able to get to his desk.

Bucky and Sam walk in, debating last night’s game loudly, when they walk into Clint. “Dude, what the hell?” Bucky asks, eyebrow raised at the entire office being squeezed into the small space. “Why’s everyone- Oh, f---.”

The camera pans over the office. Yards of yarn are strung around the place, all at various levels and angles like tripwire. It spans the entire office, different colors creating a kaleidoscope effect. Not only were there strings of yarn, but on Sam and Bucky’s desk, half-full glasses of water were covering the space around their desks and their desks, making it impossible for them to get to the desks.

“Who did this?” Sam asked, looking to Bucky with wide, angry eyes. “Did you do this? I thought we called a truce! You won!”

Bucky shook his head. “No! Why would I do this?”

The camera pans to Natasha as Sam and Bucky continue to argue. The redhead glances at Steve, making eye contact with the blond. She raises an eyebrow.

Steve gives her a small smile and a shrug.

Natasha and Clint exchange a smirk, fist bumping behind Wanda’s back. She glances back to Steve.

He shoots her a wink.

 

---

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes, Peter Parker, Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Nice Guy

 

Guess I lost the “Nice Guy” label, right?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Peter Parker, Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Nice Guy

 

Not a chance.

Chapter Text

The camera pans over the break room, lingering on the row of vending machines and the handful of chairs. It lands on the table, where Steve, Bucky, and Wanda are eating their lunch. “I just didn’t like it,” Steve explains, covering his mouth as he speaks.

Bucky scoffs. “You just didn’t get it.”

“It was romantic!” Wanda agrees.

Steve shakes his head and puts his sandwich down, wiping at his mouth with his napkin. “No, it’s problematic.”

“That’s because you’re looking at it from an American straight white male perspective from the twenty-first century. It’s set in the seventies in Italy. Totally different rules,” Bucky explains.

“Um, no.” Steve points a finger at Bucky, eyebrow arched and his jaw set. “First of all, you’re looking at the movie from a biased perspective. You wanted to enjoy it, you did, and now you don’t want to admit how wrong it really is. Second, I’m the furthest from straight. I’m bisexual. And third, the seventies aren’t that far away. People knew right from wrong back then and this,” he waves his hand around in the air, “was wrong.”

He shakes his head and stands up, pacing beside the table as he talks. “Any relationship between a child and an adult is disgusting. Even if the participants are okay with it and it’s not a forced relationship, it’s still disgusting. There’s an unspoken power dynamic between people with such large age gaps. Oliver isn’t a teacher or anything to Elio, but he’s still his dad’s coworker, which puts him in a similar power structure. So he’s older, has a little more power and knowledge, and he toys with Elio’s emotions for his own gain.”

Wanda and Bucky exchange a look of astonishment, both of their jaws dropped. They turn to Steve.

The camera follows Steve as he moves to lean against the back of his chair. “That doesn’t even begin to cover the parental issues and sexual context the movie has. I just- What’s wrong?”

“Did you just come out to us?” Bucky asks, his voice a pitch higher.

Steve shrugs. “I was never in the closet. I just don’t flaunt it, and I tell it on a need to know basis.”

“Still would have been nice to know,” Wanda says quietly. “We could have been talking about this weeks ago!”

Bucky nods enthusiastically, eyes a little frantic. The camera zooms in on his face for a moment as he just gapes at Steve.

“Yes, because knowing my sexuality changes the topics of conversations we have?” Steve asks, then he shakes his head and blushes. “Sorry, I can’t switch from debates to normal conversation easily.”

Wanda laughs, covering her mouth. “No, I love it!”

Bucky grins. “So you didn’t enjoy Call Me By Your Name .”

“No, I enjoyed it. I just don’t agree with it,” Steve clarifies, pointing a carrot at Bucky.

The brunet eats the carrot before Steve can take it away.

Wanda packs up her stuff and leans her chin on her palm. “Enough of this debating nonsense. I want to hear about your proposal.”

Bucky’s smile shrinks a little, but he points at Wanda. “I second that notion.”

Steve groans, covering his face with one large hand. “Really?”

“Oh come on,” Wanda whines a little, “I’m single in a world of taken people. Please let me live vicariously through you and enjoy this romantic moment in your life. Please?” She pouts, jutting her bottom lip out.

“Steve, you can’t ignore a face like this,” Bucky says as he presents Wanda’s puppy eyes with a wave of his hand. “You gotta tell us. Or we’ll ask Peggy, and tell her you were too embarrassed to tell us.”

Steve rolls his eyes. “You wouldn’t do that.”

“No, we wouldn’t, but we’d try,” Bucky chuckles.

Steve sighs and packs up his stuff. “It was simple. A nice Italian restaurant, with dim, romantic lighting. A cliche, uninspired speech, complete with the nosey attention of the entire restaurant. It was something you’d see in a bad sitcom, not a swooning rom-com.”

Bucky pushes Steve’s shoulder. “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

“Trust me, I’m not.” Steve gets back up as the phone rings. “Duty calls,” he mumbles, leaving the room. Wanda follows him, a little skip in her step.

The camera pans over to Bucky, who’s still watching Steve with his brows furrowed. He glances to the camera, lips pursed.

 

---

 

Producer: “How did you react to Steve coming out?”

Bucky blushes and puts his head in his hands. “Why do you hate me?” he whines, peeking through his fingers.

“What do you mean?”

“You know damn well how I reacted! You filmed it!” Bucky groans.

“But we’d like to know how you felt.”

“It’s not a big deal. He likes guys and girls. Big whoop,” Bucky says with a goofy grin.

“You seem excited, why is that?”

Bucky flicks off the camera, face red as he stands from his seat. “I hate you guys. You’re worse than Sam.”

 

---

 

Producer: “When you were talking to Bucky and Wanda, you didn’t seem thrilled about the proposal. Why is that?”

“If I say it, you’ll think I’m an ass,” Steve groans.

“This is a judgment-free zone.”

Steve hides his face in his hands and mumbles, “She… proposed to me.”

“And you’re embarrassed by that?”

“No!” he says quickly. “No, not at all. I’m just… not thrilled by the idea of marrying Peggy. I love her, but I don’t think she did this because she wanted to. She… has this timeline that she set for herself, and her parents are pressuring her to make partner by the time she’s thirty. She wants the family thing first, and she’ll do whatever it takes to get it.” Steve rubs at his face and sighs. “I just don’t feel like she’s invested in our relationship, not like she used to be.”

“Then what are you embarrassed by?”

“The fact that I feel… stuck. I want to be with Peggy, but I’m a romantic. I want the sweep-me-off-my-feet moments and the touching intimacy that two people share. We just don’t have that.” Steve shrugs. “Don’t think it’s meant for me.”

 

---

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton...

Subject: The Rogers Engagement

 

Aight, so Steve’s Engagement Party is coming up. We’re all going, right?

 

Peter Parker <pparker@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Re: The Rogers Engagement

 

Yup! Do we have to have dates?

Bruce Banner <bbanner@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes, Clint Barton, Michelle Jones...

Subject: Re: The Rogers Engagement

 

Dates aren’t essential, but you usually bring someone.

 

Scott Lang <slang@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Re: The Rogers Engagement

 

Who are you bringing, big guy?

 

Bruce Banner <bbanner@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes, Clint Barton, Michelle Jones...

Subject: Re: The Rogers Engagement

 

No one.

 

Peter Parker <pparker@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Re: The Rogers Engagement

 

I’ll be your date, Dr. Banner!

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton...

Subject: Re: The Rogers Engagement

 

If we’re done talking about dates… We need an escape plan. I vote that we go to the party, say hello, linger for a bit, then get drinks at the closest bar. Who’s in?

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Michelle Jones…

Subject: Re: The Rogers Engagement

 

Was that even a question?

 

Wanda Maximoff <wmaximoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Re: The Rogers Engagement

 

Isn’t that rude?

 

James Rhodes <jrhodes@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Re: The Rogers Engagement

 

Very. Steve invited us personally. I think he’d notice if we didn’t show.

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Michelle Jones…

Subject: Re: The Rogers Engagement

 

Doubt it. They’re having an engagement party - which means tons of people. Besides, it’s not like we’re not going, we’re just… leaving a little early.

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Re: The Rogers Engagement

 

Exactly. And I know the Carters - they’re rich and well known. He won’t notice us at all, he’ll be too busy schmoozing with Peggy’s clients.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Re: The Rogers Engagement

 

So everyone’s just going to leave? What happens if he notices?

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Re: The Rogers Engagement

 

I believe their plan is to leave one-by-one so it’s not as noticeable.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, Clint Barton, Michelle Jones...

Subject: Re: The Rogers Engagement

 

Well y’all have fun. I’m not doing this. I don’t think Steve would appreciate us ditching. He invited us to celebrate with him… The least we can do is stay.

 

---

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes, Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson

Subject: Shut up, Loverboy

 

You’re only disagreeing with this because you like him. Not because you think it’s wrong.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes, Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Shut up, Loverboy

 

Oh, so I was right? Sam, you owe me twenty.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Shut up, Loverboy

 

Yeah, I like him. But the guy’s obviously shy. I don’t think he has a lot of friends - he doesn’t talk about any at least. He only mentions Peggy and her friends. So yeah, I’m disapproving of their plan and I refuse to participate.

 

Peter Parker <pparker@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Re: The Rogers Engagement

 

I think Bucky’s right. We should just go and enjoy the party. It might even be fun!

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Re: The Rogers Engagement

 

Parker, your optimism makes me sick.

 

---

 

Producer: “You invited the office. Do you think they’ll show?”

Steve shakes his head with a bright grin. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Why’s that?”

“Um,” Steve chuckles, “I may have seen a few email exchanges.”

“And?”

“And... I learned that they don’t want to go. If they show,” he explains, “it’ll be for a moment. Most of them plan on leaving, except for Bucky and Peter.”

“How does that make you feel?”

Steve shakes his head. “I get it. I wouldn’t go if I didn’t have to- Hell, I plan on leaving a little early myself.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah,” he says shyly, “a few of my ROTC friends convinced me to come out with them to celebrate.” Steve grins. “It’ll be fun.”  

 

---

 

The camera pans over the break room. Sam, Steve, and Peter are leaning against the vending machines. Sam’s complaining about his morning ab workout. “Why does it have to ache? If it’s so healthy, why does it hurt?”

“It hurts to remind you you’re doing something right,” Steve adds.

Peter nods towards Steve. “He’s got a point. When you don’t ache, that means you’re not challenging yourself enough.”

Sam glares at the younger man. “Look, kid. I didn’t work out to challenge myself. I work out to keep my physique.”

“Why not improve it?” Steve asks.

“Like yours is any better?” Sam quirks an eyebrow at him.

Steve smirks and glances out the window. He turns his back towards the window and undoes his button down enough to show his toned torso. “I think I’m doing alright.”

Peter snickers, hiding his face.

Sam glares at him. “Alright, Mr. Eight pack put those things away.”

Tony walks in, mug in hand. He points at Steve, who blushes from his ears to his chest. “I had no idea you had any of that,” Tony says as he motions to Steve’s torso. “You should show off your body a bit more, might get us some sales.”

“Right, because I get so many sales opportunities at my desk,” Steve says as he buttons his shirt.

“If he starts getting sales, then I’m out of a job,” Sam explains. “I can’t answer phones all day. Sorry, can’t happen.”
Steve rolls his eyes, pushing Sam gently.

Someone rasps their knuckles on the door out of frame. The camera moves to show a large, bulky man with golden hair pulled in a bun, one strand braided along his right temple. He scratches at his chin, the sound of his fingers scraping against his beard, as he smiles. “Sorry to interrupt,” the man says in an interesting Australian accent, “Tony, I needed you to sign off on this shipment yesterday.” He hands Tony a clipboard as the camera pans out to show all of the break room.

Tony rolls his eyes and clicks his pen. “How else would I get you to visit?”

“Ask?” The man shrugs as he crosses his arms, his biceps stretching against his warehouse uniform sleeves.

Steve rubs at his neck with his left hand, right outstretching to the man. “I’m Steve, the new receptionist. You are?”

The man grins, clasping hands with Steve. “Thor Odinson, I’m the foreman down in the warehouse.” The camera zooms in on their hands, their knuckles nearly white and the veins on their forearms bulging.

They finally dropped their hands, both smirking.

Tony rolls his eyes and hands the clipboard to Thor. “If you two are done trying to see who’s the strongest, we may actually get some work done today.”

Steve scoffs. “We weren’t-”

“Oh, you so were,” Sam laughs.

“No, if we wanted to see who was the strongest, we’d go to a gym.” Steve crosses his arms, his shirt tight around his shoulders.

Thor nods. “He’s right. We’d put ourselves to the test.”

Tony considers this for a moment. “Thor would probably win compared to Steve, but if we compared to the office, we would win.”

“Really? You don’t think my people could beat a bunch of… salesmen?”

“We’d give you a run for your money,” Steve says.

Thor smirks. “Then let's put it to the test.”

Tony gasps, face lighting up. “We’ll hold an Olympics! The Stark Olympics!”

 

---

 

The camera pans over the warehouse, showcasing the rows of shelves, the equipment, the many, many boxes of paper, and the basketball goal. It zooms in on the main floor, where the warehouse workers and the office employees are gathering around Tony.

“Here’s how this is going to work,” Tony announces, standing on a box. “We’re going to do four events: a relay race, a paper airplane tournament, lifting, and a ‘friendly’ game of basketball.” He points to Natasha. “Romanoff’s our announcer, ref, and scorekeeper. What she says goes.”

“Hang on,” Brunnhilde, a warehouse employee, interjects, “why does she get to sit out?”

Tony shrugs. “She scares me.”

Natasha nods, a small smile on her face.

Thor clasps his hands together. “Besides, it should be fun. All of our pressing work for the day is done, so why not?”

Brunnhilde rolls her eyes as Loki, Thor’s younger brother and right-hand man, peeks over Thor’s shoulder. “With all due respect, Thor, don’t you think this is… a bit childish?”

“Oh, it’s very childish,” Sam agrees. “But we’re getting out of work, so shut up.”

Tony claps twice and grins. “It’s time for our first competition: the relay race!”

 

---

 

Producer: “Why didn’t you want to compete in the Office Olympics?”

Natasha blinks slowly, bored. “Because I have respect for myself and my coworkers. I’d humiliate them if I competed and I refuse to handle their whiny complaints. It’s best for me to just sit back and watch.” She sighs. “Besides, they’ll make fools of themselves.”

 

---

 

Tony motions to the aisles. “Here’s how it works. The first person will run a complete lap around the aisles before going down the first one, where they’ll hand off the rolled up newspaper to the next person. That person will do a lap and then go down the second aisle to hand it over to the third person. We keep going until the last person hands the first person the newspaper, who will then race to give it to Natasha.” He looks around, eyes wide. “Does anyone not understand?”

Scott raises his hand.

“Great! Let’s start.”

The angle changes to an overview of the warehouse as everyone gets into their positions. Steve and Thor took to the starting line, with their newspapers in hand. They get into their stances, Steve’s posture impossible straight.

Natasha stands in front of them, watching with calculating eyes. “Is everyone ready?” She asks into her bullhorn that she procured from Thor’s office. A cacophony of cheers echoes throughout the warehouse. Natasha nods and looks to the men before her. “On your mark.”

Thor lowers himself just a hair.

“Get set.”

Steve takes a deep breath, releasing it in a calculated manner.

“Go!”

The two barrel down the aisle, skidding around the corner. Steve quickly takes the lead, back straight as he races ahead and his tie flapping behind him. Thor’s hot on his heels, grunting as Steve disappears around the corner a few feet ahead. Steve makes it to Peter first, sliding to a halt in front of the young man.

“And Sales takes the lead,” Natasha announces.

Peter snatches it out of the blond’s hand and bolts down the rest of the aisle. He’s already around the corner when Thor appears, handing off his to Brunnhilde. Peter’s nearly halfway around the stacks, but Brunnhilde quickly catches up. She sprints ahead of him, sliding into the second aisle and tossing the newspaper to the next employee.

Natasha holds the mic up. “Brunnhilde hands it off to Sif, while Peter’s practically fast walking.”

Sif is gone by the time Peter gets to MJ. She takes the paper out of his hand with a roll of her eyes and dashes along. MJ can’t seem to catch up to Sif, but after she passes off to Bucky, the sales team takes the lead again.

“As Bucky gets ahold of the paper, he steals the lead for Sales.”

He sprints ahead of Heimdall and hands it to Wanda with time to spare. Her heels click as she darts along the path, steadier than most. Loki and Wanda are neck and neck for the most part, handing their paper rolls to the next person within seconds of each other.

Hogun gets a three-second head start and burst around the corner, leaving Sam in his wake. Sam’s not a sprinter, he’s an endurance runner, and he says so as he struggles to catch up to Hogun. The warehouse employee hands it off to his foreman before Sam can come down the aisle.

“It’s a race for first, ladies and gents. Well,” she shrugs, “not really. Looks like Warehouse wins this one.”

Thor snatches it out of Hogun’s hands and barrels towards Natasha’s finish line. She waits, arms crossed, for the winners.

Steve clenches his jaw and rips the paper out of Sam’s hand. He sprints after Thor, going as fast as he can. His feet thunder against the concrete floors, his breathing heavy and a little wheezy, but he’s gaining speed.

Thor’s only a hundred feet from the finish line, but the receptionist sneaks up behind him.

People are cheering, yelling out their respective team member’s name. The noise only grows as Steve shortens the distance between him and Thor.

The camera slows down as they get closer, neck and neck for the finish line. They’re running in slow motion, their faces twisted in concentration and drenched in sweat as they race.

Thor sprints for the finish line, but Steve leaps, jumping over the yellow line. He lands, feet hitting the floor with a sturdy thud, and the camera’s back in live time.

“And Sales wins!” Natasha cheers, holding Steve’s hand up.

 

---

 

The paper airplane tournament is next. Natasha and Tony set up a table near the finish line while Thor and Bucky mark off increments a foot apart.

Everyone else is folding their airplanes or, in a few cases, getting others to make them. Steve and Sam are sitting on a stack of boxes, folding paper airplanes. Steve’s not only folding his own, but planes for Bruce, Bucky, and Thor. Sam’s folding a few for Tony as well. “This is ridiculous,” Sam grumbles.

“Maybe, but it’s better than just answering phone calls,” Steve sighs. He holds up his perfectly folded airplane to inspect it before carefully sitting it in the pile.

Sam rolls his eyes. “Is there anything you can’t do?”

Steve cocks an eyebrow. “What do you mean?” He grabs another piece of paper as the camera zooms in on his hands. Steve starts to fold the paper, his fingers quick and precise along the edges.

“You’re literally folding paper airplanes like it’s your job, you’re built like a f------ truck, can draw like Picasso-”

“Picasso did more abstract work,” Steve interjects, eyes never leaving the paper.

The camera pans over to Sam, who glares daggers into the side of his head. “You’re an asshole.”

Steve grins, glancing up at the other man from beneath his eyelashes. “I know.”

“Don’t Han Solo me,” Sam laughs. “I’m being genuine.”

The blond pauses, confused. “I don’t even know how to respond to that.”

“Me neither.”

Bucky and Thor walk over, duct tape and measuring sticks in hand. “How’s it going?” the salesman asks.

Sam whines a little as he shows Bucky his thumb. “I got a papercut.”

“Does someone need a kiss to make him feel better?” Bucky says in a high-pitched baby voice.

“No. I’m a grown ass man. What I need is a Superman band-aid, you gonna give me one? I know you brought your little stash down.” Sam grins.

Bucky pales a little, eyes jumping to Steve’s amused face and back to Sam’s mischievous one. “I don’t have Superman band-aids. I have Star Trek band-aids, which are superior.”

Thor scoffs. “Please, Star Wars is far better than Star Trek .”

“While Star Wars is great, Star Trek has a more… intellectual feel.” Bucky crosses his arms.

“And Star Wars doesn’t? It’s one of the biggest cinematic franchises in existence. Meanwhile, when was the last Star Trek movie that actually hit theaters?” Thor counters.

Steve rolls his eyes and stands. “If you nerds are done debating, we have paper airplanes to fly.”

“Oh shut up,” Sam says, “like you aren’t the World’s Biggest Comic Book fan.”

Steve shrugs as he walks away with his armful of planes. “Never said I wasn’t.”

 

---

 

Producer: “How does it feel to be the best paper airplane flyer office in the building?”

Clint grins. “Pretty awesome.”

“Did you have a technique?”

“Not really.” He pauses, rubbing at his chin. “I guess my archery skills translated well to paper airplanes.”

“How so?”

He turns his head, showing the camera a hearing aid. “I’ve got pretty crappy hearing, which kinda requires a little more work from my other senses. It’s helped me a lot with archery; my eyes are stronger and can see further than most, which helps with accuracy.” Clint chuckles. “Plus I like to make paper airplanes in my spare time. Scott and I have plane battles like once a week.

“Plane battles?”

Clint’s smile turns playful. “Plane battles.”

 

---

 

Scott and Clint are stood opposite one another, paper airplanes in their hands. Peter and MJ watched from their desk, small whiteboards in front of them.

Peter was bouncing in his seat, expo marker at the ready and his eyes flickered back and forth. “On three,” he announced.

“One,” Clint said, face devoid of emotion.

“Two,” Scott challenged, pulling his hand back.

“Three!” Peter cheered.

They threw the planes at each other, the paper soaring through the sky towards one another. Clint’s plane dove into Scott’s, taking it down and skidding across the floor a few feet away.

Clint fist pumped the air. “Yes! That’s two for me!”

Peter and MJ scribbled something on the board, holding up their scores. Peter gave Clint an eight, while MJ gave a mere six.

The accountant shrugged. “Better than Scott’s score.”

“Hey!” the man laughed. “I’m having an off day!”

Natasha glared at them from her desk, fingers hovering over the keyboard. “Can you not?”

 

---

 

“Alright, what’s next?” Loki sighs, leaning against the doorframe to the office.

Tony points to the stack of boxes near the forklift. “Lifting!”

“Tony, we can’t have a lifting competition,” Rhodey says, shoulders falling.

“Why not?”

“Because half of us aren’t in the proper attire,” Rhodes ticks his reasoning off on his fingers, “some of us can’t lift any more than fifty pounds, and did you forget that we have actual deadlines to make? That the warehouse has deliveries to do?” He puts his hands on his hips, his weight shifting to one leg.

Tony huffs and waves Rhodey off. “We’re fine! And not everyone has to participate.” He looks around at the mix of employees. “Does anyone have work out attire to please Mr. Let’s-Do-Things-By-the-Book?”

Steve, Peter, and Thor raise their hands first. It takes a few seconds, but Sam, Volstagg, Sif, and Brunnhilde raise their hands, too.

Tony nods. “Okay, so that’s three for Sales and four for Warehouse. Anyone else want to join?” He looks around again and points to Bucky. “Barnes, you got any clothes?”

Bucky’s eyes widen. “I, um, can’t.”

Tony’s face twists in confusion. “Why not?”
“Shoulder problems,” Bucky answers quietly.

Steve raises an eyebrow from the corner of the frame, concerned.

Tony shrugs. “Okay, Scott, you in?”

“Sure,” Scott says with a shrug.

Tony clasps his hands together. “You’ve got five minutes to change.”

 

---

 

Producer: “Is your shoulder okay?”

Bucky’s shoulders tense up and his eyes trail to the floor. “Yeah, yeah it’s okay.”

“How’d you hurt it?”

“It’s a long story,” Bucky nodded, rubbing at his knees.

“Would you be willing to give us a short summary?”

Bucky squirms in his seat. “Not real-”

There’s a knock on the conference room door out of frame. The camera pans over to see the door open and Steve popping his head in. He’s dressed in a tight, athletic shirt and basketball shorts. “Sorry to interrupt, but we’re about to start if you want to come down,” he says softly, smiling at Bucky.

The camera pans back to Bucky in time to see his shoulders sag with relief. “Yes, please .” He gets up, nodding to the camera and following Steve out the room.

 

---

 

Heimdall and Fandral pulled over a scale while Hogun grabbed stacks of paper bundles.

Bruce watches them work with a skeptical crease in his brow. “How are you planning on doing this?” he asks Tony quietly.

“We’ll measure the stacks of paper and then we’ll attach them to that metal bar. It’s basically a dumbbell, but not,” Tony explains.

“And you think that’s going to work?”

“Why? You don’t?”

Bruce takes off his glasses to clean them with a handkerchief. “Not really. You’re going to put about a hundred pounds worth of paper on that bar haphazardly and have employees lift it? That sounds like the worst idea you could possibly do.” He points the cloth at Tony as he puts his glasses back on.

Tony scoffs. “It can’t be that bad.”

Rhodey comes up beside them, lips pursed. “It can be that bad. What if someone gets hurt and tries to sue you? Or the company?”

“No one’s going to sue us,” he says confidently. He turns around, facing his employees. “You guys wouldn’t sue me for this, would you?” The camera pans over a few skeptical faces, Peter and Scott’s, in particular, a little paler than normal. “No? Cool.”

“Because that’s an accurate way to find out what would actually happen,” Rhodey mumbles.

Tony shrugs. “Doesn’t matter because they’re ready, and that means it’s showtime!”

 

---

 

“Romanoff, who’s winning right now?” Tony asks as Fandral and Heimdall reset the makeshift dumbbell.

The camera pans over to her table, where her feet are up and she’s lounging in her seat. Clint’s sitting beside her, their legs intertwined on the table. She looks down at her clipboard, bored. “Thor with twenty pounds over Rogers. Then it’s Brunnhilde, Sif, and Sam. Volstagg, Scott, and Peter haven’t gone yet.”

“So, Warehouse?” Tony answers.

Natasha nods. “Yeah, they’re winning.”

“Okay! Parker, you’re up kid,” Tony announces.

Peter stumbles forward, wiping at his hands with a paper towel. He’s bouncing from foot to foot, his sneakers tapping against the floor in a nervous rhythm.

Sam cocks an eyebrow. “Is he gonna be okay to do this?”

“I’m fine!” he insists.

Thor steps forward, placing a hand on his shoulder. “If you feel uncomfortable with this, you do not have to partake in our silly game,” he tells him softly, as softly as he can with his booming voice.

“I’m good,” Peter says with a boyish smile. “I can do this, promise.”

Thor pats his shoulder and beams. “I know you can. Good luck, my friend.”

Peter nods and shakes the nervous energy out of his arms. Fandral and Heimdall help him get ready, adjusting the ten-pound stacks on either side of the bar.

The customer service rep lifts them easily and perfectly.

They add ten more and Peter lifts again. Heimdall and Fandral add on and on and on. Peter keeps lifting, with little grunts and giggles here and there as everyone cheers him on.

They make it to eighty and Peter’s arms start to shake a little.

“Don’t push yourself,” Steve calls.

“I’m good,” Peter insists, waving him off. “I got this. I usually lift about one-ten.”

“Yeah, on gym equipment,” Bucky adds, “not this… whatever it is.”

Peter shrugs and squats down to get the next load. “I’m good, promise.” He steadies himself and takes in a deep breath. Slowly, Peter stands and lifts the bar. As he gets to his full height, his hands slip for a second, causing the bar to tilt for a moment.

The crowd gasps, bracing themselves. “Seriously, Peter, tap-out if you need to,” Rhodey begs.

“I’m fine.” He’s shaking again as he lifts the bar over his head. Peter holds it for a moment. The bar shakes. The camera zooms in on the bar, watching as the left stack of paper starts to slip out of its holster.

Heimdall and Fandral lunge to catch it, to spot Peter, but it’s too late. The stack slips, falling onto Peter’s foot.

Peter’s eyes grow wide and his face red. He lets out a muffled squeal as the bar is taken from him and the paper lifted from his foot.

“Oh god,” Rhodey mumbles, “Peter, you alright?”

“Mhmm,” he squeaks. Peter closes his eyes, a grimace plastered to his face.

Tony hisses, kneeling down beside Peter. “How bad does it hurt?”

“It’s not so bad,” Peter says in a high-pitched voice.

Rhodey raises an eyebrow. “Do you need medical attention?”

Peter shakes his head. “No, I think I’m okay.”

“Come on,” Rhodey loops his arm around Peter’s back and takes some of the weight off his legs. “Let’s take a seat, yeah?”

“Sounds great,” the rep mumbles. They take a step forward, but Peter stops with a pained laugh. “Okay, maybe not so great.”
Rhodey glares at Tony. “I told you this would happen.”

Tony rubs at his neck. “Peter, I’m s-”

“Don’t worry about it, Mr. Stark. I’m fine. I’ll be fine,” Peter assures, trying to smile at his boss. “Just need a bit of time.”

MJ pops up on Peter’s open side. She takes the other half of his weight. “Come on,” she tells him.

“Where are we going?” he asks, hopping along with MJ and Rhodey.

“The hospital.”

 

---

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: Michelle Jones

Subject: Peter

 

Hey, everyone’s worried about Peter. How’s he doing?

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Peter

 

He’s okay. Broke his foot in a few places, but fine.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: Michelle Jones

Subject: Re: Peter

 

Ouch. Tell him we’re thinking about him.

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Peter

 

He says thank you. Oh and he’s getting a cast so he’s hoping for a bunch of signatures. Don’t tell anyone, but he’s really excited to get Natasha’s. He doesn’t think she’ll do it.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: Michelle Jones

Subject: Re: Peter

 

Well, he’ll definitely have mine. Hell, I’ll draw a picture if he wants.

 

And I’m sure Natasha would sign. She likes him more than she lets on. More than she likes the rest of us.

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Peter

 

True.

 

---

 

After Peter left, the staff starts a simple game of basketball. Sam, Steve, Bucky, Wanda, and Clint are playing for the Sales team, while Thor, Sif, Volstagg, Hogun, and Fandral are playing for the Warehouse.

“Ten minutes in and the Warehouse are already in the lead with fifteen to three,” Natasha sighs into the megaphone.

Tony hushes her. “Don’t spoil the fun with your pessimistic views.”

Natasha rolls her eyes. “If you’re worried I would spoil your fun, then why am I your ‘announcer?’”

He shrugs. “It was the only way to get you to participate. If you participate, everyone else will too.”

“That’s fair,” she says with a shrug.

The guys are running down the court, chasing Steve who has the ball. The receptionist jumps, dunking the ball with a successful woosh.

Hogun grabs the ball, taking it back down the court to start all over again.

Natasha’s head tilts as she watches them. “Did you know Steve was this athletic?”

“No,” Tony laughs. He shakes his head, still watching the game in front of them as he speaks, “I just knew he was a good sport about things, not that he actually did sports.”

Natasha hums. “Interesting.”

The camera pans back to the game as Wanda tries to get the ball from Fandral. He twists, passing to Sif quickly. Sif dribbles the ball down the court and scores again for the Warehouse employees.

Steve’s doubled at the waist, watching the game reset. He’s breathing hard and his face is tight. The game starts back up, with Sam dribbling the ball down the court and passing to Bucky, but Steve doesn’t rejoin them. Instead, he sits down, head in his hands.

Bucky passes to Clint, who’s being blocked by Thor. Clint has the ball for two seconds before Thor snatches it, jumping up to score.

The game resets again. Bucky’s panting, drenched in sweat. He walks back down the court, catching Steve in the corner of his eye. Bucky pauses, brow furrowed.

As Thor dribbles the ball, Steve jumps up and walks quickly away from the court without a word. He’s holding his chest, head tilted down and his brow furrowed in concentration. He’s still breathing really hard.

“Steve!” Tony calls, arms raised in confusion.

Steve’s quick, taking the stairs two at a time and disappearing onto the next floor.

Bucky holds up a ‘T’ with his hands and races after him.

 

---

 

Bucky slings the door to the office open to find Steve laying on the floor near his desk. “Hey, what’s wrong?” Bucky asks, kneeling beside him.

Steve winces and wheezes. “I’m having,” he struggles to breathe, “an asthma,” he takes another deep breath.

“Shh, don’t talk. Just breathe,” Bucky hushes him, eyes wide and frantic. “Do you have an inhaler?”

The blond holds out his hand, where an inhaler was being squeezed. “Empty,” Steve whispers. He closes his eyes, trying to focus on his breathing.

“Shit, okay,” Bucky runs a hand through his hair. “First of all, you need to sit up. I read somewhere that sitting up straight is the best way. Besides, who knows when the last time they cleaned this floor was.”

Steve winces as he nods. He holds his arm up weakly.

Bucky helps him sit up, leaning against the desk. “Good. Now take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, then release it slowly. I’ll do it with you, ready?” Steve nods, eyes watery as he looks up at Bucky. The brunet takes Steve’s hand and puts it on his chest. They breathe together, eyes locked on another.

Steve’s breathing is still ragged as he breathes, but it isn’t as frantic.

“Oh!” Bucky gasps, pulling away. He runs across the office and snatches Scott’s desk drawer open. The camera zooms in on him as he rummages through the contents. “Found it!” He holds up an inhaler. Bucky slides to Steve, knees rubbing against the carpet in all the wrong ways. He shakes the inhaler and holds it out to Steve, who eagerly takes a puff.

Steve leans his head back, still doing Bucky’s breathing techniques. “Thanks,” he manages with a small smile. His eyes are closed, but the tension in his body is starting to loosen up.

“Of course,” Bucky says, hand twitching as he nearly reaches out to touch him. “Couldn’t let you die, ya know? Then who would draw me little comics?”

Steve grins. “If you sweet talk Sam, he might,” he says softly.

Bucky laughs. “You must have forgotten who Sam is.” Bucky sits beside Steve, their shoulders pressed together.

“Who’s was this anyway?” Steve asks, holding up the inhaler.

“Cassie’s, Scott’s daughter. She’s grown out of it, but Scott used to keep the inhaler with him at all times. I honestly wasn’t sure if he’d still have one.”

Steve shrugs, his head falling to lay on Bucky’s shoulder. “Well I appreciate it,” he mumbles. “We should probably go back down.”

Bucky shakes his head. “No, you need to take it easy. They’ll be fine.”

 

---

 

Tony and Thor stand in front of all the employees. Natasha and her clipboard move to stand between them. She clears her throat. “My results are in,” she starts. “Sales won the relay and the paper airplane tournament, but Warehouse won the lifting challenge and basketball. Warehouse won the harder of the four competitions, which deserves something.”

The Warehouse employees cheer, clapping and hollering. Thor flexes his biceps, smirking.

Natasha watches them and blinks slowly. “ However ,” she says. The cheer dies down and she’s able to continue. “However, two people on the sales team nearly died today-”

“It was an asthma attack! I’m fine,” Steve chuckles.

“I said nearly,” Natasha retorts. “So, I’ve calculated the winner based on which team endured the most. And the winner is,” she pauses to look around, “me, because I had to deal with Tony all day.”

Tony gasps, hand on his chest. “How dare you, Romanoff! I trusted you with an important task and you-”

She crosses her arms, glaring at him. “No, what’s important is our jobs. Jobs that we couldn’t do today because you decided to throw an Olympics. Now,” she glances at the big clock, “it’s four thirty so let’s get ready to go.”

Natasha walks away, her heels clicking against the concrete. No one moves until she’s out the door.

“And I thought Sif was terrifying,” Thor mumbles as they disperse.

“You have no idea,” Tony says.

 

---

 

Producer: “Everyone’s worried about Peter, have you heard anything?”

Rhodey nods. They’re sitting outside his examination room. Peter and MJ are in the background, blurry and unfocused as they sit on the table. “We’re waiting on the nurse to get his cast on so we can leave.”

“But he’s fine otherwise?”

“Pretty much. He’s not complaining as much as I would have thought. MJ doesn’t let him get away with a lot, though.”

“What exactly happened?”

Rhodey runs a hand over his face. “Basically, Peter broke his foot in three different places, so…” He keeps talking, but the camera is no longer focused on him. Instead, it zooms in on Peter and MJ’s blurry figures. They slowly come in to focus.

They’re sitting close to each other, sides pressed together as they kiss. MJ has a hand on Peter’s face, while he holds her arm. It’s slow and sweet. They pull away, shy and awkward. She says something, but her curls cover her face, blocking her lips as she talks. Peter laughs and kisses her again, a hand cradling her cheek.

“He’ll need crutches,” Rhodey continues, “but he’ll be okay after a few weeks. I’m more worried about the legal complications than the medical ones…”

Chapter Text

Producer: “Tomorrow’s the big party, are you excited at all?”

Tony crosses his arms lazily and rolls his eyes. “Nope. I hate corporate events and that’s all this is, a ploy to get their stuffy clients to like their stuffy faces by inviting them to a ‘family’ party.”

“Do you go to a lot of events like that?”

“Dad’s always making me go to the corporate parties and his own stuff.”

“The company itself is fairly young. You were eleven when he started it, right?”

Tony thinks for a second, rubbing at his chin. “I think I had just turned twelve,” he corrects. “But he was a lawyer before the career switch.”

“So you’ve always been in this sort of lifestyle?”

“Boring parties and boring people,” he sighs. Tony sits up and looks at the camera. “You know what the worst part is? The people. Every single person acts like they’ve got a stick up their ass this big.” Tony holds up his hands at a wide distance apart. “And they all want you to bend over and-”

 

---

 

The camera pans over a hotel lobby until it lands on Natasha, Sam, Clint, and Bucky. Natasha’s the best dressed out of the four, with an elegant black, strapless dress that pools around her ankles and her red hair tied in a perfect ballerina bun. Clint and Sam look nearly identical in matching black blazers and slacks, the only difference being their shirts and ties, with Sam wearing a white shirt and black tie and Clint wearing all black. Bucky is wearing a navy suit with a matching tie and white shirt underneath, and his hair is slicked back, the long strands flicking upwards at the back of his head.

Natasha takes Clint and Bucky by the elbows. “Ready?” she asks, glancing between the three men. Her eyes settle on Bucky as they mumble their agreements. She pulls them across the lobby and down a hallway, sandwiched between them.

Sam takes Bucky’s other arm and starts to skip. “ We’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz !” he sings softly.

Bucky snorts, but he joins in. Their voices slowly grow louder, with Clint joining in eventually.

Natasha rolls her eyes and finishes the verse with them. “ Because of the wonderful things he does! We’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz!

“Does that make Natasha Dorothy?” Clint asks as they round the corner, arms still linked but their pace slow.

Bucky nods. “She’s like a badass Dorothy, though. Like Dorothy when she confronts people, not the meek version.”

“If I’m Dorothy, Clint’s the lion,” Natasha says with a smirk.

Clint scoffs. “Excuse me?”

She grins. “You know why.”

The blond thinks of this for a moment before he nods in defeat. “Yeah, okay.”

Sam looks around Bucky and smiles. “If it makes you feel any better, Bucky’s the Tin Man.”

Bucky’s head whips towards Sam. “Why the Tin Man?”

“Your heart,” Sam says dramatically, “it longs for love!”

“Oh f--- off!” Bucky laughs, dropping Sam’s arms.

Sam laughs and slings an arm over Bucky’s shoulders. “In all seriousness, are you ready for this, loverboy?”

Bucky shrugs softly, a little tense. “Yeah, I am. I’m Steve’s friend, and friends support other friends.”

“Doesn’t make you ready,” Natasha reminded softly.

“I’m here. It’s too late to back out now.” Bucky nods toward the doors.

The ballroom is packed with well-dressed strangers. There’s fabric covering the walls and ceiling, draping down and cascading around the ballroom. The lighting is dim, intimate. People are littered around the ballroom, some mingling and others lingering at the bar. A dance floor is in the middle of the room, but no one’s dancing. The classical band in the corner are playing softly, the violin taking the forefront.

 

---

 

Instead of the usual conference room interviews, the producers are pulling the employees into the lobby on a big sofa. Bucky lounges in the corner, one arm on the armrest and the other slung over the back of the couch.

Producer: “What did you think of the party so far?”

Bucky smiles, a little forced. “I think it’s very elegant, very… clean.”

“Clean?”

“It’s not personal,” Bucky sighs.

“Were you expecting something else?”

Bucky shakes his head, his shoulders falling. “Sadly, no. I had a feeling it’d be very fancy and very… professional.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because this isn’t Steve’s party. This is Peggy’s, and from what I’ve heard, this is her MO.”

 

---

 

The camera pans back to the four stood in the entrance. They’re looking around, already a little miserable. “How long do we have to be here again?” Clint whines.

“Until things start to slow down. Tony will send out the text when we can meet up,” Natasha explains.

Bucky’s looking around, trying to see over the other people. “We need to find Steve and let him know we’re here.”

The other three exchange mischievous grins. “Do we now?” Sam laughs.

“Shut up,” Bucky whines.

“Do you need a chaperone?” Natasha asks.

“Or are you too cool to be seen with us?” Sam counters.

“That was weak,” Bucky grumbles as he moves past the two. “Real mature, you guys.”

Sam shrugs. “Didn’t say we were.”

Natasha pats Sam’s shoulder and leaves it for a moment. “We need to work on your comebacks,” she mumbles as she walks past him.

The taller man gasps. “What do you mean? I have great comebacks!”

“Yeah, for middle school,” Clint adds.

Natasha shrugs and throws a wink over her shoulder. “It’s okay, Sam. Not everyone can be as quick on their feet as I am.”

 

---

 

Sam huffs and crosses his arms. “I’m telling you, if this is gonna happen all night, I’m quitting.”

“What specifically are you talking about?”

“Everything! The party is lame. We all knew it would be. Even Steve told us that everyone here would be boring! Steve! The groom!” Sam whisper-yells. He leans forward, his elbows on his knees and his hand laid out in front of him. “And then, you’ve got Bucky sitting over here being all googly-eyed over Steve for hours! Hours!”

The producer chuckles behind the camera.

Sam scoots forward a little, eyes wide. “And that’s not everything! He whines about literally every little thing!” He shakes his head and huffs. “Honestly, if it wasn’t for Natasha, I wouldn’t be able to handle him.”

 

---

 

Producer: “You and Sam have been pretty close tonight.”

Natasha glares at the camera. “Are you trying to ask me something?”

The producer backpedals. “No, we’re just trying to get some information on the par-”

“No, you’re trying to start rumors about me and Sam. You’re insinuating that Sam and I have something going on. Aren’t you?”

“No, no, we’re not!”

Natasha glares and crosses her arms. She raises one eyebrow.

“I think we have enough.”

“That’s what I thought.” Natasha stands and walks off screen.

 

---

 

Steve and Peggy are squished in the corner with a handful of Peggy’s colleagues. The camera focuses on them, close enough to hear the general conversation but nothing more. Peggy’s in her element. She’s sporting a beautiful gown that’s dripping with diamonds, bright red lips that emphasis her smile, and her bouncing curls frame her face. She’s laughing and enjoying the moment, seemingly at bliss.

Meanwhile, Steve’s shoulders are hunched and standing a little behind his bride-to-be. He’s also sporting a rather nice suit, his hair slicked back and a new pair of glasses resting on the bridge of his nose. He looks a little down like he’s not meant to be there.

He places a timid hand on the small of her back.

She glances back up at him, beaming.

Steve leans down and whispers in her ear. His mic only catching the rumble of his voice rather than his words.

“If you’ll excuse us,” Peggy says sweetly, “we have a song to dance to.” She takes Steve’s hand and glides beside him towards the dance floor.

The camera follows them to the edge of the floor. Steve pulls her into him as they start to sway to the soft melody. He grins down at her. “Hi,” he says softly.

“Hi,” she giggles.

“I feel like I haven’t seen you in years,” Steve sighs.

They sway in silence for a moment before Peggy lays her head on his chest. “Just think, it’ll all be over after the wedding.”

Steve pulls away a little.”I get that, but I want to enjoy our engagement. We haven’t even been engaged for a month and it already feels like it’s been too long.”

Peggy’s eyes widen. “Our engagement is too long?”

He shakes his head. “No. We’ve been so focused on work and this party that we haven’t stopped to enjoy that we’re engaged.” Steve caresses her cheek. “Peggy, we’re getting married! Life goes too quickly and I… I don’t want us to regret rushing into this.”

She drops his hand and steps back. “Rushing into this?”

Steve grimaces. “That’s- Pegs, you know I didn’t mean it like that.”

Peggy gives him a tight smile. “I know,” she says quietly. She glances at the people mingling around them, whispering and giggling about them. Peggy looks back at Steve and gives him a big smile. “We have people to entertain, Steven.” She presses a kiss to his cheek, lingering for a moment. Peggy drifts away, grinning as she greets her family.

Steve stuffs his hands in his pockets, head down as he stands in the center of the dance floor.

The camera pans to see Bucky watching him, his brow furrowed and bottom lip worried between his teeth.

 

---

 

Producer: “Is the party everything you expected?

Peggy grins, her hands delicately folded in her lap. “It’s everything we dreamed of.”

“Is that so?”

She raises an eyebrow. “It is. Steve and I are having a lovely night. We’re surrounded by all of our friends and family and we’re celebrating our engagement. What more is there?”

 

---

 

Steve spins on his heel and walks off the dance floor. He heads towards Bucky, his smile widening with each step forward. “Hey! I’m glad you made it,” Steve says as he shakes hands with Bucky.

Bucky grins. “Yeah, me too. This is a great party,” he responds.

“Oh, totally,” Steve mumbles with a chuckle. “Yeah, it’s great. Real great.”

“Congrats, Rogers!” Sam says, hand outstretched to shake Steve’s. Natasha, Clint, Tony, Rhodey, Peter, and MJ start to walk over.

Steve grins to everyone. “Thanks! Thanks for coming you guys,” he says with a tight smile.

“You look great, Steve,” Natasha comments.

Steve rubs at his neck. “So do you,” he says as he motions to her dress.

“So where’s your bride?” Tony asks.

“She’s,” Steve looks around, “talking to her parents, I think.”

Bucky grabs Steve’s shoulder. “Is everything alright?” he whispers.

Steve nods and pats Bucky’s hand, holding it for a second. “Yeah, everything is great.” He glances over to the door. “I’ve got to go say hello to Dr. Erskine. I’ll check in with you guys in a bit. It’s an open bar, so enjoy it while you can.” Steve gives them a small smile, lingering on Bucky for a moment too long before he walked away. The camera follows him as he greets an older man with a hug.

 

---

 

The camera pans over the party, pausing for a moment on the few groups of employees. Sam, Peter, and Bucky are at the bar, Tony and Pepper are dancing with Natasha and Clint, MJ, Bruce, and Scott are talking at their table, and the hosts of the party are on opposite sides of the room. Peggy’s giggling with a few friends of her own while Steve’s huddled in the corner with a group of men in ill-fitting suits.

Steve’s hand is clasped over his mouth, his body shaking with laughter. A bigger man in a bowler hat laughs beside him, nearly shaking the walls with his booming voice. He says something to the group, but it’s muffled by the noise of the party.

The cameramen move closer, catching Steve’s eyes. The man grins and waves the cameras over. “These are my friends from college,” Steve explains. “This is Dum Dum Dugan,” Steve claps the bowler hat man’s shoulder, “and our friends: Jim Morita, Monty Falsworth, Gabe Jones, and Jacques Dernier.”

Dum Dum tips his hat. “Nice to meet you.”

“So these guys follow you around… everywhere?” Falsworth asks, glancing wearily between Steve and the camera.

Steve rubs his neck. “Basically. They only show up when it’s work-related or a lot of us are in one place. They wanted to document everything about our lives, but we drew the line at coming home with us. This is the compromise they made.”

Gabe’s still chuckling from their previous conversation. “And they thought this would be entertaining?”

“Sadly,” Steve laughs.

Jim looks at the camera. “Dugan was just telling a story from when we were in college. Steve was this skinny punk who would-”

The camera turns to the sound of clicking heels coming closer. Peggy huddles close to Steve’s right arm, her smile bright and her shoulders pulled back. “Are you boys behaving yourselves?”

“Barely,” Dugan chuckles.

“I’d expect nothing less,” she laughs. Peggy pats Steve’s bicep. “Can I steal Steve away for a moment? My mother wishes to show him off to her sisters.”

“He’s yours,” Monty says, motioning to the two.

Steve grimaces at the camera as Peggy drags him away.

 

---

 

Tony knocks back the last of his drink. “I’m over this already,” Tony sighs.

Rhodey sighs. “We’ve only been here for a bit,” he reminds.

“Yeah and this is a ridiculously boring party,” Sam grumbles.

“What did you two expect from a classy engagement party? Beer pong and strippers?” Rhodey asks, arms crossed.

Tony and Sam shrug. “At least that’d be entertaining,” Tony mumbles.

“You two are ridiculous.”

“No, we’re bored.” Tony sets his glass down with a thud. “We can’t even pester Steve’s family for funny stories about him because I haven’t met a single one!”

Sam’s brow furrows. “Wait, seriously? I thought it was just me?”

Tony shakes his head. “Honestly, I’ve talked to a third of the people here and not one was here for Steve. Not one!”

Rhodey glances around. “No, he’s right. I… I don’t think Steve has a lot of people here.”

Sam’s face falls. “That’s,” he shakes his head.

Tony takes Rhodey’s drink and downs the glass. “Now we can’t leave.”

“Not really,” Rhodey sighs.

 

---

 

The camera pans over the party. Not much has changed except for the groups themselves. Steve and Peggy are still mingling with her family and colleagues, Tony and Rhodey are still sitting at their table, but Sam has joined Natasha, Clint, Peter, MJ, and Bucky at their table. Steve’s college friends are still in their corner.

They zoom in on the corner. Jim Morita isn’t there anymore, but the others are still laughing and talking.

Monty looks around and slips away from the group. He makes his way to the exit slowly, shaking hands with a few people he passes. Monty winks at the camera by the door and leaves the party.

 

---

 

Bucky waves towards the bartender and points to his empty glass. He looks back at the camera and shrugs. “Nothing else to do.”

The bartender trades his empty glass for another beer. “You alright?”

“Why does everyone keep asking me that?” Bucky groans, head slumping against the bar.

“Sorry, man,” the bartender mumbles before he moves on to the next person.

Peter and MJ sit on either side of Bucky. “Hey, Bucky, you okay?” Peter asks softly.

Bucky sits up and sighs. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

MJ raises an eyebrow, her bangs covering brow.

“You don’t really seem fine,” Peter mumbles.

“You look miserable,” MJ comments.

Bucky glares at her. “Thanks.”

“In his defense, everyone’s miserable,” Peter whispers.

“Touché,” MJ says.

Bucky rubs his face. “It’s not that I’m miserable, I just-”

“Feel sorry for Steve? Cause that’s how I’m feeling. I think everyone is a little. I mean, look at him!” Peter nods towards where Steve and Peggy’s boss is having an awkward conversation. “He looks stuck.”

They watch him flinch and squirm through the conversation. “I can’t watch this,” Bucky mumbles.

“I could,” MJ says with a shrug.

“Yeah, but you’re weird. You like to see people suffer,” Peter quips.

She nods. “Good point.”

Bucky sighs and sips at his beer.

 

---

 

Producer: “How’s the party going?”

“It’s exactly how I expected,” Steve sighs. “Just a lot of awkward conversations and not much time to actually enjoy the company of my friends and coworkers.”

“A few of your coworkers have mentioned how they don’t see much of your family represented in the party. Care to comment?”

Steve’s eyes widen a little, his mouth open. He clears his throat and fidgets. “Um, I don’t have any family. My mother passed away a few years ago and I haven’t seen my father in years.” He rubs at his neck. “My mom’s family lives in Ireland and I’ve never met them. Not really sure about my father’s side, but...” he trails off with a shrug.

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

Steve gives a tight smile. “It’s okay. Peggy’s family is great and they’ve welcomed me in with open arms. And I’ve got my chosen family, with the Commandos and stuff.”

“Commandos?”

“College buddies,” Steve explains. His eyes flicker off camera. Steve sits up, ready to stand as he watches something. “Duty calls. Excuse me,” he mumbles as he stands and walks off.

 

---

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton...

Subject: It’s Ditching Time

 

I’m calling it. Time to get going. Roads and I are sneaking out. Give us 10 minutes then Bruce, Wanda, and Scott, you guys can sneak out The test of you heathers are Steeve’s good friends Fight amng yours elves to see who’s next in line.

 

James Rhodes <jrhodes@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton...

Subject: Re: It’s Ditching Time

 

Tony, you can’t use company emails for personal messages like this. Especially not in your current state.

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Re: It’s Ditching Time

 

I can I think. I’m the bosss I ge tt to make the decisions. If I wanna use my personal emali to talk to my employeees and friends, tehn so be it.

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Michelle Jones…

Subject: Re: It’s Ditching Time

 

Oh Tony’s totally hammered.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton

Subject: Re: It’s Ditching Time

 

Why are you surprised? It’s Tony. Besides, once we get over to Hal’s, we’ll all be plastered.

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>
To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton

Subject: Re: It’s Ditching Time

 

Peter and I call the next shift. We’ll leave ten minutes after the other three.

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Michelle Jones

Subject: Re: It’s Ditching Time

 

Then I guess Tasha, Sam, Barnes, and I will get the last shift. If we can convince Barnes to leave.

 

---

 

Natasha and Clint take Peter and MJ’s seats. The redhead runs a hand over Bucky’s back. “Bucky, are you okay?”

Bucky doesn’t lift his head, but he mumbles a weak, “I’m fine.”

“How many have you had?” Natasha asks.

The brunet shrugs and looks up at his empty glass. “Dunno,” he slurs.

Clint takes the glass and steps away to talk to the bartender. Natasha continues to rub Bucky’s back. “Listen, I know you’re not okay. You can’t sit here drinking your problems away and pouting and claim you’re okay. I know you too well, Barnes.”

Bucky leans his head on her shoulder. “He’s just so sad,” he mumbles.

“Who?” Natasha asks, cradling his head close to her.

“Stevie. He’s all sad and he doesn’t like this party and I don’t think he’s happy and I just want to hug him and hide him away from the world,” Bucky whimpers.

Natasha glances at Clint, who’s watching from the other side of the bar. She raises an eyebrow. He responds with a series of hand motions. Natasha uses her free hand to respond. Clint nods and turns towards the bartender again, ordering something.

She runs a hand over Bucky’s hair, smoothing it down calmingly. “You’re such a good guy, James. You care so much about everyone else and-”

“Don’t. Don’t tell me to be careful and s---.” Bucky pulls away, eyes drooping but aware. “I know what I’m doing. Just let me wallow for the night and then I’ll go back to being a good friend to Steve. I just want him to be happy.”

Clint hands Bucky a glass of water. “Drink it,” he says softly.

Bucky rolls his eyes and downs the water. He hands Clint back the empty glass. “Happy?”

“Yup.” Clint takes the glass back over to the bartender.

Natasha cups Bucky’s cheek in her hands and gently lifts his face to look at her. “I know you like him-”

“I think I’m falling for him, Natasha,” Bucky whispers.

She gives him a small, sweet smile and nods. “I can tell.”

“I don’t want to fall for him but he’s just so cute and sweet and talented and adorable and just…” Bucky falls into Natasha’s arms, defeated. “I’m just so lonely, Tasha. Why do I feel this way?” he says weakly.

Natasha wraps her arms around him, glaring down the lens of the camera. It lowers a little, focusing on the stool Bucky’s sitting on. She says, “I don’t know, Bucky. I wish you didn’t, but I don’t know.”

“Hey, it’s almost our time to ditch,” Clint whispers.

She nods and continues to hold Bucky for a long moment. “Bucky, why don’t you come out with us? It’s not healthy to sit here and watch Steve. So why don’t you meet us outside in a minute? Okay?”

Bucky nods and moves away from the two. “Yeah, I’ll meet you guys there.”

 

---

 

Natasha and Clint sit on the couch, waiting for Bucky.

“Are you sure he’s coming?”

“Not really,” Natasha sighs.

“We’re just kinda hoping he will,” Clint says.

“Is he okay?”

Natasha shakes her head. “Not really.”

Clint gives the camera a sad smile. “He’s pretty upset about Steve.”

“He’s got a soft heart and just falls really easily,” Natasha explains. “Trust me, I’ve seen him through a lot of break-ups.”

“How long have you known Bucky?”

Clint points his thumb towards Natasha. “They went to high school and college together. And they went to Russia for a year before they started college. She has a soft spot for the guy.”

Natasha nods and glares at the camera. “But that’s confidential. Right?” The camera moves up and down in a nodding motion. She grins sweetly. “Good.”

“We just need to get him to move on, find a rebound or something,” Clint offers.

“Honestly, half of our problems would be solved if we set everyone in the office up.”

They pause for a second, slowly looking towards one another. Their concerned expressions turn into sinister grins.

 

---

 

Bucky pulls himself away from the bar and starts towards the exit. His head is hung low, hands stuffed in his pockets, and his shoulders hunched. He makes it halfway when Steve spots him.

Steve excuses himself from the conversation and rushes to catch up with Bucky. “Buck, hey!” he calls, jogging over to the salesman.

Bucky looks up with a smile and wide eyes. “Hey, Steve.”

“Are you heading out? I think everyone else has already slipped away?” Steve chuckles, adjusting his glasses.

“Yeah, yeah I am.” Bucky clears his throat. “I hope you’re not offended or anything. This just isn’t our thing and-”

“Whoa, hey, it’s okay,” Steve reassures. He looks around and leans in, whispering, “I’d ditch too if I could.”

Bucky pulls away with an amused and surprised expression. “Seriously?”

Steve nods, brow furrowed with a small smile. “I can’t stand these sort of things. It’s so stuffy,” he confesses.

“Yeah, yeah they are,” Bucky says in disbelief. He straightens a little and motions to the door with his thumb. “We’re hitting up a bar not too far from here, you in?”

Steve rubs at his neck. “I’d love to, but… I’ve got plans to catch up with some buddies of mine after this is over. We’ve been planning it for a while, ‘cause they knew how little we’d actually get to see each other.”

Bucky bites his lip, shoulders sinking. “Oh, that sounds great.”

“Yeah.”

“Um, well, maybe next time?” Bucky offers, running a hand through his hair.

Steve bites his lip. “I’d like that. Maybe sometime next week? After work?”

“Yeah, sounds good.”

Steve smiles at him, eyes bright. “Thanks for sticking it out, Buck.”

Bucky returns his expression. “Anytime, Stevie.”

 

---

 

The camera pans over a dingy bar, where the Stark Paper employees are in the furthest corner. Sam and Tony are comparing college stories, competing over who had the most outrageous story. Everyone else had a bet on who Natasha would punch first.

Bucky sat at the end of the booth, nursing a beer. He glances towards the door and the camera follows. Dugan and Gabe are walking into the bar, laughing loudly as they greet the other Commandos at the bar. Bucky turns to Peter and nods toward the group. “Do they look familiar to you?”

Peter’s brow furrows as he tries to get a good look at the men. “Kind of. Were they at the party?”

“I’m not sure,” Bucky mumbles. “Maybe?”

 

---

 

Steve looks around, biting his lip. “Everyone’s gone,” he whispers to the camera. “I think it’s my turn to sneak out.”

The blond starts toward the door, smiling and nodding at his guests. The camera follows him for a moment before panning over to Peggy. She’s watching him, her eyes squinting slowly. “Excuse me,” she mumbles, already starting to walk towards him. “You aren’t as small as you think you are, Steven. You’ve grown quite a lot since high school,” she says as she catches up to him.

He turns around with a sheepish smile. “It’s hard to remember sometimes.”

Peggy hums. “Where were you headed?”

“I was just,” Steve starts. He glances around at the party, at the guests staring them down. “Can we talk in private?”

Peggy raises an eyebrow and nods.

Steve takes her hand and guides her to a corner, tucking themselves away from the prying eyes. “I was actually,” he whispers, “heading out.”

Peggy blinks. “You were leaving our… engagement party?”

“Yeah, I was.” Steve rubs at his neck. He takes her hands and sighs. “I just don’t feel comfortable here. All of my friends went-”

“All of your friends?” She crosses her arms.

Steve nods. “The Howlies and my coworkers are gone. They all went out for drinks and I-”

“Wanted to go play? You wanted to ditch our party so you could party with your friends?” Peggy laughs bitterly. “I didn’t take you for that kind of person, Steve.”

“We’ve been here for three hours, Pegs! Three hours of sucking up to your family and friends. Besides, we’ve already done all of the official bulls--- that you wanted us to do before the party ended. People are starting to leave. I think it’d be okay if I left.”

“Are you serious? Sucking up? Are you really this miserable that you can’t spend a few hours with my loved ones?” she scoffs.

Steve runs a hand through his hair. “You and I both know that I don’t fit into this scene. I’m just a dancing monkey for these people-”

“These people are my friends and family,” Peggy whisper-cries.

“I know that but they’re also in another-”

“You know what, just stop,” Peggy hisses. “You obviously don’t want to be here so why don’t you just leave. Just go.”

Steve’s jaw clenches. “Fine, I will.” He pushes past her and storms towards the exit.

 

---

 

Bucky sips at his beer and glances back at the Commandos. “I swear they look familiar,” he mumbles.

Peter makes a face. “I don’t know. MJ, do you recognize those guys?”

MJ raises an eyebrow, glances over at them, and shakes her head. “Nope.”

“What about you, Clint? Do you recognize those guys?” Peter asks, sipping at his own drink.

Clint peers over Bucky’s shoulder. “Bowler hat?”

“Yeah, where do I recognize them from?” Bucky asks.

“Steve’s party. I think I saw him talking to them. It was like the only time he was actually enjoying himself.” Clint downs his beer and stands. “I’m hitting the bar, anyone need anything?”
Bucky stands up, too. “I’ll be back,” he calls over his shoulder, already walking towards the men.

Monty and Jim are arm wrestling at the corner of the bar. Jacques announcing the whole thing while Dugan and Gabe are cheering the two on.

Bucky watches them for a moment. He glances at the camera and takes a deep breath. He clears his throat. “Pardon me,” he says, “you guys wouldn’t happen to know Steve Rogers, would you?”

Dugan and Gabe turn around, confused. “Yeah, we do. How do you know Steve?”

“We work together,” Bucky explains.

“Oh, so you must be Barnes!” Jim adds.

Bucky smiles. “He’s told you about us?”

Dugan laughs, grinning. “Yeah, he mentioned all of you guys. Sam, Natasha, Tony, Bruce,” he says, ticking off all of the names on his fingers.

“So you guys were at the party, right?”

Jim snorts. “Yeah, we were, but not for long!”

“Did anyone stay for long?” Gabe laughs.

Bucky shakes his head. “No, I don’t think so. All of our friends left pretty early on.”

Monty shakes his head, too. “It’s a shame, but at least Steve gets it.”

“How do you guys know Steve?” Bucky asks.

“College,” Jacques supplies. “He and Gabe were roommates.”

Bucky hums. “Interesting.”

Sam stands in the corner, out of focus in the shot but still visible. “Hey Barnes, get over here!”

“And that’s my cue. It was nice meeting you guys,” Bucky says with a small smile.

“You too, Barnes.” Dugan shakes his hand. “Don’t be a stranger, yeah?”

 

---

 

Producer: “It’s pretty simple, just tell us how you feel and give us anything you’d like to share. We’ll start asking you questions later. Sound good?”

Gabe nods. He’s leaning against the wall of the bar, the brick the perfect background for an interview. “Okay. Um, I’m Gabe Jones. I went to college with Steve, we were roommates and did ROTC with the rest of the guys.”

“You and Steve were in ROTC? Can you give a brief explanation of what that is?”

“Yeah,” he sips at his beer, “it’s basically a pathway to joining the military. All of us were training for the Army. Steve, he was a hell of a cadet. He was set to join the army and was on the fast track to becoming a captain, but things changed.” Gabe shakes his head. “He relapsed and the Army wouldn’t take him.”

“Relapsed?”

Gabe sips his drink. “Ask Steve.”

 

---

 

“So Gabe said we just talk?” Jim asks.

“Pretty much. We’ll edit everything in post so only your answers are in. The viewers won’t see our prompts.”

Jim nods. “Okay. Well, I think Steve’s making a huge mistake with this whole Peggy thing.”

“Why’s that?”

“They’ve been together since freshman year of high school. That’s nearly ten years already. They’ve never been with anyone else or slept around. And I know it’s because Peggy’s very focused on having the perfect life and career. She wants to get married, make partner, and have a baby by the time she’s thirty and that’s dangerously close.” Jim tips his beer bottle back. “And Steve? He’s only with her because he feels obligated. His mom approved of Peggy,” Jim says softly, “and Steve’s… Steve really needs that.”

“So you think they’ll divorce?”

Jim nods again. “I think the longer they stay together, the messier the break-up will be.”

 

---

 

Producer: “So your friends don’t seem too confident in Steve’s relationship?”

Dugan chuckles, hand resting on his gut. “Steve’s not confident in his relationship.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Cap, he’s-”

“Cap?”

“He was our captain in ROTC. Anyways, he’s always been like this. Especially once he realized he liked men, too. Wanted to go out and explore that side of himself, but Peggy wasn’t cool with having an open relationship and made it clear that if Steve broke up with her, then they’d never be together again. Steve’s lost a lot, he couldn’t afford to lose her too-” Dugan looks to the side, off screen, and cheers - “If it isn’t Captain Rogers!”

The camera pans to show Steve walking into the bar. He’s a little flushed and breathing heavier, his body tense. “Hey Dugan, where’s everyone else?”

“At the bar. C’mon, let’s get something in you, big guy.”

Steve laughs as Dugan slings an arm over his shoulders, pulling the him into his chest a little. “Alright, alright,” the blond laughs.  

Dugan points the camera. “We’ll finish this later.”

“If he doesn’t black out,” Steve quips.

“Oh, someone’s got jokes!”

 

---

 

Dugan and Steve walk into the bar. “Fellas, look who finally made it!”

The other Commandos turn and cheer, beers raised as they greet the man.

Steve blushes and waves at them. “How’s it going?”

“Mighty fine now that you’re here,” Monty says with a grin. “I say this calls for a round of shots.”

“Ditto!” Jacques cheers.

Steve laughs. “Shots it is.”

The cameras switch from Steve to the back corner where the rest of the office is still drinking themselves into the ground. “Is that Steve?” Scott gasps, standing a little and knocking into the table.

They twist in their seats to get a good look at the group on the other side of the bar. “It is!” Tony gasps.

“Is the party over?” Wanda asks.

Rhodes checks his watch and shakes his head. “Still has another half hour according to the invite.”

Wanda peers back at Steve. “Then why is he here?”

“Same reason we are,” Natasha says. “He wanted out of that party, too.”

Bucky stands up and walks towards the Commandos, ignoring the protests from his friends.

“What is he doing?” Tony hisses, pointing to Bucky’s back.

Natasha sighs. “He’s going to say hi, Tony. Leave him be.”

“No! He’s going to blow our cover,” Tony groans and hides behind a drink menu.

Sam rolls his eyes. “Pretty sure he knew we were ditching anyways.”

“Still,” Tony huffs.

The camera hovers over Bucky’s shoulder, watching Steve and the Commandos sling back shots. “Steve, hey!” Bucky calls over the cheers and music.

Steve’s head whips around to Bucky, his shock turning into glee. “Bucky! What are you doing here? I thought you guys were going to a bar blocks away from here?”

“They couldn’t make it that far,” Bucky laughs awkwardly.

“Of course they couldn’t,” Steve laughs. He turns to the Commandos. “Guys, this is Bucky, he’s a good friend of mine from work. Bucky, these are my friends-”

Dugan claps a hand on Steve’s shoulder. “Relax, Rogers. We’ve met Barnes already.”

“At the party?” The blond asks, cocking his head to the side like a confused puppy.

“No,” Bucky clears his throat, “I came over and introduced myself once I recognized them from the party.”

Steve nods. “Cool, cool. Want a shot? I think Jacques was ordering another.”

Bucky grins. “Yeah, yeah. Sounds good.”

The Commandos divvy up the shots and throw them back, cheering as they slammed their shot glasses down. Steve pulls Bucky into a hug. “Thanks for coming, Buck.”

“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” Bucky says softly. He blushes as he catches the camera focusing on them and hides his face momentarily. They pull apart a few seconds later and just smile at one another before Sam interrupts. “Steve!”

“Sam!” Steve copies. “Thanks for coming, man. Really appreciate it.”

Bucky runs his hand through his hair and takes a step back. He’s still a little flustered, a little paler than usual, but he’s got a soft, delicate smile on his face.

Chapter Text

“Thank you for calling Stark Paper, Inc. This is Steve Rogers, how can I help you?” Steve says softly into the phone.

Bucky’s leaning against the reception desk, fiddling with one of Steve’s post it pads.

“Okay, if you could please hold for one moment and I’ll transfer you to accounting.” Steve presses a few buttons on the phone and hangs up with a relieved sigh. “Sorry, you were saying,” he says, turning to Bucky with a bright smile.

“Yeah, so he comes over with this giant red parrot, and I don’t do birds,” Bucky continues.

“You’re scared of birds?” Steve laughs.

Bucky nods, his face set in a serious expression. “Deathly. I don’t do birds.” He leans forward. “So he’s asking me to hold it while he gets a cage or leash or whatever parrots need. And so I ask him if I need one of those bird gloves and he has the gall to laugh at me. Who knows that much about birds if they don’t have one?”

Steve chuckles (read: giggles) and fixes his glasses. “Gloves are for birds of prey, not parrots.”

“Well the thing looked like it wanted to prey on me, so that qualifies,” Bucky scoffs.

“Did you end up holding it?”

Bucky nods. “I did. I held it for three minutes without s------ my pants.” He sighs and hides behind his hand. Bucky says something, but it’s muffled.

Steve leans in with a mischievous grin, his scruffy chin scratching against his palm. “It s--- on you, didn’t it?”

Bucky’s body shakes with laughter as he nods.

“Poor baby,” Steve laughs.

“And it got all over his fancy new Converse,” Sam calls from his desk. The camera pans out from focusing on Steve and Bucky to see the rest of the office. Sam’s leaning back in his chair, watching the two interact. Beside him, a cage with a parrot sits at his desk.

Steve gives Bucky a small, sympathetic smile. “Are you going to be okay with him staring you down all day?”

Bucky pouts. “No,” he mumbles.

“You can share my desk?” Steve starts clearing off some space. “I don’t really need the computer often and I can use my tablet to draw.”  

“You’d let me share your desk because I’m scared of Sam’s bird?” Bucky asks.

Steve shrugs, sheepish. “When you put it that way,” he chuckles awkwardly.

Bucky taps Steve’s desk and grins. “Thanks Stevie. You’re the best.” The brunet turns and cautiously walks back to his desk, eyeing the bird the whole time. He quickly starts to gather his things and sets them onto his rolling chair to push behind reception.

Sam smirks and leans over to the cage, whispering something to the bird when Bucky isn’t looking. “You should probably just take everything,” he suggests.

“Thanks,” Bucky says, digging in his bag.

The parrot squawks loudly, causing Bucky to jump. “Gotta go! Gotta go!” He squawks, pacing on the little platform in the cage. “Get Buck. Gotta go get Buck!”

Bucky freezes, eyes comically wide. He glances at Steve and slowly walks back.

Steve sighs and stands up. “Go sit. I’ll get your stuff.”

Sam’s laughing so hard there are tears pooling in his eyes. He pulls out a bag of treats and feeds one to the bird. “Good boy, Redwing.”

“Good boy. You’re a good boy,” Redwing repeats.

 

---

 

Tony walks into the conference room. “Morning,” he mumbles.

“Why are we here?” Sam sighs, his arms crossed.

“We’re here because we need money.” Tony paces in front of everyone, head tucked down and his hands in his pockets.

“Well, yeah, but why are we in a meeting?” Scott laughs.

“Because we need money,” Tony repeats. “Steve has brought it to my attention that our copier sucks and our chairs are falling apart. Thing is, we don’t have enough money in the budget to get all of the new stuff we need. So we’re here to discuss ways to get more money through a fundraiser.”

Clint raises his hand. “Did corporate say we could do this?”

Tony points at him. “Yes, they did.”

“What kind of fundraiser did you have in mind?” Wanda asks.

“And that’s why we’re here! We need to figure out what we want to do.” Tony rolls the whiteboard over to the front of the conference room. “Shout out ideas, people. We need everything you’ve got.”

“We could do a bake sale,” Wanda suggests.

Tony uncaps the pen and writes bake sale at the top of the board. “Alright, what else?”

“What about a yard sale?” Bruce adds.

“Yard sale,” Tony repeats as he writes the words on the board.

Clint and Natasha exchange a glance. “Two words,” Clint starts, “speed dating.”

Sam sits up. “Yes!”

Peter squirms in his seat. “What is speed dating?”

MJ raises an eyebrow. “Are you serious?”

Tony waves her off. “Relax. He’s like a naive baby.”

“I am not!” Peter scoffs.

“You kind of are,” Natasha adds.

Peter huffs and pouts. “Can someone please explain what the hell speed dating is?”

“Speed dating is where a group of single people come to find someone. Usually, the women are assigned tables and the men are assigned numbers. Each man sits at a table with a woman, they talk for however long the organizers set, and then they rotate. Every man gets to talk to every woman,” Bucky explains.

“It’s super heteronormative unless it’s an LGBT organization,” Steve adds.

Bucky nods toward Steve. “He’s right.”

Rhodey shakes his head. “We can’t have a speed dating event. That’s completely unprofessional.”

“It’s open the public and no one here has to participate unless they want to,” Natasha says.

Tony’s beaming. “I love it. Let’s do this.”

“No, Tony, this is a terrible idea,” Bruce contradicts.

“Let’s take a vote then.” Tony caps his pen. “All in favor for the speed dating event raise your hand.” Natasha, Clint, Wanda, Scott, Sam, Peter, MJ, and Tony raise their hands. “Then it’s settled. Natasha, you and the party planning committee are in charge. Start planning, we need this money by the end of the month.” Tony saunters out the room, hands in his pockets. “I want everyone involved somehow,” he calls over his shoulder before he disappears into his office.

 

---

 

Producer: “Why are you opposed to speed dating?”

“I’m not opposed,” Bruce sighs. “I can recognize when it’s appropriate for businesses to conduct certain events and a paper company should not be holding a speed dating event. It’s unprofessional, doesn’t make sense, and makes Tony look sleazy.”

“Is that all?”

Bruce pinches the bridge of his nose. “No. I’m pretty sure he’s going to make me participate. He always does with these sort of things.”
“And that’s bad because…”

“Because he picks the worst people for me. Unless Pepper has any say, it’s usually some floozy he met at a bar that just wants a fling. Besides, I don’t want to date. I just don’t.” Bruce’s breathing is a little heavier than normal. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a call to make.”

 

---

 

“Why am I here?” Steve asks, tapping his pen to his notepad.

Natasha gives him a sweet, but condescending smile. “Because you’re officially part of the party planning committee now.”

Steve looks around to Wanda, Clint, and MJ. “But why?”

“Because no one likes taking notes and that’s literally your job here,” MJ says. “You’re like the official secretary of the office.”

“Thanks,” Steve deadpans. He sighs and clicks his pen. “Where do we start?”

 

---

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Speed Dating

 

Here’s how this is going to work. A week from now, we’re holding the event in the warehouse. It’s next Friday at 6:30 and ends officially at 8:30.

 

Set Up

Wanda & Scott: Take the flyers Steve printed out and put them around in a five block radius. Maybe ten.

Steve & Bucky: You’re in charge of setting up the warehouse with Thor and helping Clint with decorations.

Clint: You’ve in charge of getting and setting up the decorations. You have Bruce, Steve, and Bucky to help and get others if you need to.

Tony: We need your company credit card to buy the food and decorations. We also need to you help spread the word.

Peter & MJ: You’re in charge of social media. We need a range of people coming in and you two know how to manage the social media accounts and spreading the word.

Sam: You’re in charge of food. I have a menu planned and I need you to find the best caterers and/or buy the best platters.

 

Night of the event

Those of you who are not participating are working the event. Steve and Peggy volunteered to help assign tables to people and monitor the event. Tony and Pepper are being the hosts. Clint and I are doing sign-ins.

 

Anyone else is free to monitor or participate in the event.

 

Any questions?

 

Bruce Banner <bbanner@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes, Clint Barton, Michelle Jones…

Subject: Re: Speed Dating

 

Do I have to be there?

James Rhodes <jrhodes@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Re: Speed Dating

 

No, you don’t.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Re: Speed Dating

 

Yes, you do.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, Clint Barton, Michelle Jones…

Subject: Re: Speed Dating

 

I would personally listen to Natasha, but you do you, Bruce.

 

Peter Parker <pparker@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton...

Subject: Re: Speed Dating

 

Am I participating or…?

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Re: Speed Dating

 

Do you want to?

Peter Parker <pparker@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Re: Speed Dating

 

Not really.

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Re: Speed Dating

 

Then you don’t have to.

 

Peter Parker <pparker@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Re: Speed Dating

 

Then what do we have to do?

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Re: Speed Dating

 

Help monitor it. Bring people? Anything really. As long as you show up and help out, I don’t care.

 

---

 

Producer: “Are you excited about speed dating?”

Steve and Bucky shrug. “I don’t agree with the idea of speed dating. There’s no way to make it inclusive for more than one sexuality to participate at a time,” Steve starts.

“Care to elaborate?”

Steve leans forward and squares his shoulders, his face reddening. “As a bisexual man, if I wanted to participate in speed dating, I would have to go to multiple speed dating events - one for straights and one for gays. It’s not an inherently bad situation, but if the whole point of these events is to offer a one-stop-shop for someone to meet several people that they would want to be involved with, then it just doesn’t work for those of us who have a more fluid sexuality.”

Bucky rubs Steve’s back with a small smile. “Steve, it’s okay.”

“But it’s not! The idea of speed dating is great and all, but once you get into the specifications and start really thinking about how the LGBT community is treated in these situations, it never ends well.” He turns to face Bucky and the camera. “At our event, we’re excluding most of the LGBT community. I highly doubt that a straight man would be okay with having a gay man at a table,” he lowers his voice, “in this situation. We do live in New York, so people are more tolerant, but still.” He turns back to Bucky. “Speed dating is one of those things where you put people at risk if some of the people involved aren’t accepting of others.”

“I get that. We can talk to Natasha, see if she can figure out a way to get more LGBT people involved without making them feel at risk,” Bucky suggests.

Steve adjusts his glasses. “Yeah, we could. But even having people who wanted to find a man at the tables and people wanting to find women rotating, there are still problems with straight men sitting at a gay man’s table and causing problems. Or people who are non-binary or trans, they risk having negative interactions that could be dangerous for their safety.” Steve tugs at his hair, face red.

Bucky nods. “Hey, breathe. I get it. You care a lot and it shows. We’ll figure something out.”

Steve turns to the camera and sighs. “Sorry about that.”

 

---

 

The camera pans over the warehouse. The main floor has numerous small tables arranged in several evenly spaced rows and columns. Each table is draped in a white cloth with a tall vase and single rose. Peter’s running around, setting candles down on each table as nice as he can while MJ goes behind him to light them. Sam and Bucky are setting up the snack table while Steve handles the drinks. Tony’s fiddling with the speaker system while Pepper makes a few final phone calls. Natasha and Clint are peering down from the top of the stairs at their fellow employees.

“It’s times like this that make me feel like I’m just your henchman,” Clint says softly.

Natasha laughs. “Oh, Clint, that’s because you are.”

He rolls his eyes. “Does that make you the evil queen or the evil b----?”

“You and I both know I’m the evil b----.”

Clint grins and glances back down towards the warehouse. “Look at all your minions doing your dirty work.”

Natasha smirks, chin raised as she watches the event comes together. “Did you bring the shirts?”

“The shirts?”

“Minions have uniforms. Why should mine be any different?”

 

---

 

Steve holds up the bright pink, long sleeve shirt to his chest, grimacing. “I don’t think this is going to fit,” he mumbles.

Natasha shrugs. “It’s all we’ve got.”

“How come I’m the only one who doesn’t have the right shirt size?” Steve whines as he motions to the other volunteers.

Bucky pats Steve’s shoulder. “That’s because you’re still the newbie. You haven’t done this sort of thing with us before.” He nods to Natasha and whispers, “You should try it on. Nat’s got an eye for this sort of thing. She used to work for a seamstress and stuff, so now she can tell your size just by looking at you.”
“He’s right,” Clint adds from behind Natasha. He and another man are standing in identical pink shirts. “She picked out Phil’s shirt and she only sees him once a week.”

Phil, the other man, nods and does a little spin. “It fits perfectly,” he tells Steve.

Wanda squints her eyes as she measures the shirt to Steve’s body. “I don’t think this is going to fit,” she says. “I think he’s bigger than you think, Natasha.”

“It's hard to tell when all he wears are ill-fitted polos and button-downs,” Natasha counters.

The camera pans over to the doorway at the sound of clicking heels. Peggy sashays in with her t-shirt tied at the hip and a tight pair of jeans and pumps. “Oh I agree,” she says as she walks over to lean against Steve. “Darling, this is the same size as your work-out shirts.” The camera turns to show the neutral faces of the employees and Bucky’s dejected expression. It pans back over to Steve and Peggy.

Steve blushes. “Yeah, but those are different.”

Peggy cocks an eyebrow. “How so?”

“Those are meant to compress to help your performance.” Steve adjusts his glasses and fiddles with his shirt.

“Just try it, please?” Peggy asks, tapping his cheek with her hand.

Tony walks by. “Put it on, Rogers. We open the doors in fifteen.”

Steve sighs and turns toward the door. “Fine, but if it doesn’t fit I’m not wearing it.”

“You better show proof!” Natasha calls.

 

---

 

Producer: “Were you aware Peggy was attending?”

Bucky groans. “No. I wasn’t.”

“How are you feeling?”

“It sucks, is that what you want to hear?” Bucky glares at the camera. “I’m friends with him. I respect his relationship. I’m not going to do anything that’ll get in the way of him and Peggy, so you can stop trying to stir the pot.”

“But-”

Bucky shakes his head and stands. “Nope.”

 

---

 

“I am not coming out of here,” Steve yells from the bathroom.

The camera pans over the group of employees waiting. Natasha rolls her eyes and holds up a finger. It follows as she barges into the bathroom. A loud shriek echoes from the bathroom as Natasha pulls Steve out by his ear.

He stumbles behind her, arms flailing. Natasha lets him go and moves to stand with the group again. Steve stands in front of everyone, running a hand through his hair. “It doesn’t fit, Natasha,” he insists. The shirt stretches over his chest and abs, clearly showing his toned torso. It strains over his biceps and forearms.

“Looks like it fits to me,” she says.

Phil whistles from his place beside Clint. “I’ll say.”

“Who invited Clark Kent?” Tony laughs.

Steve rolls his eyes and tugs at the hem of the shirt. “Shut up, you guys.”

Peggy steps forward and moves Steve’s hands from blocking the shirt. “It’s a little tighter than you normally wear your t-shirts, but it fits, Steven.” She spins him around and smooths the front of his shirt, her nails catching the lettering that read ‘Stark Paper, Inc Presents Dating in a Flash , for the Barry Allens of New York.’ She hums. “I quite like it, actually.”   

 

---

 

Producer: “Who came up with the name of the event?”

Natasha crosses her arms and raises an eyebrow. “Who do you think?”

Clint waves at the camera, beaming.

 

---

 

Steve huffs. “I don’t like this,” he reminds them.

Pepper walks over, typing away at her phone. “Should I tell Scott to open the doors or do we need a few minutes?” She glances up and gasps. “Steve, wow, um. You look nice. Really nice.”

Steve’s face grows beet red. He mutters a thank you as he adjusts his glasses.

“Are we just going to stand here ogling Steve or are we gonna make money?” Sam asks, resting a hand on his hip.

“I vote on ogling Steve,” Tony quips.

The blond’s face grows redder as he crosses his arms over his chest. A loud rip tears through the air and Steve’s eyes grow wide. His right sleeve starts to slip, the seam busted. He glares at the group. “I told you it didn’t fit,” he says with a pout.

Laughter rumbles through the group, each with varying degrees of amazement.

Bucky stands in shock behind Natasha, eyes glued to Steve’s outlined torso.

 

---

 

Producer: “You spend a lot of time with Steve. Did you know he looked like that?”

Bucky shakes his head. His eyes are still wide, mouth still open, and his skin still pink.

“Anything you’d like to share?”

Bucky shakes his head again.

 

---

 

The event’s in full swing as the camera pans over the busy tables. Wanda’s sitting at one, blushing as she hides behind her hair.

A blond man sits across from her, laughing and talking with his hands.

Natasha walks towards the camera. “That’s Jarvis Vision of Vision Refrigerators. He works in our building. Real nice guy, good accent.” She watches them over her shoulder with a soft smile. “I think they’re going places.”

 

---

 

Producer: “How was tonight?”

Wanda giggles and hides in her hands. She peeks behind her fingers and smiles. “I had a wonderful time,” she admits.

“Hit it off with anyone?”

“I did,” she says slowly. “We have a date tomorrow night.”

“Where are you going?”
She shrugs and smiles. “It’s a surprise.”

“Can you tell us who it is?”

Wanda looks behind the camera and nods toward the blond man from earlier. “His name is Jarvis and he’s from London.” She giggles through a huge smile. “I’m very excited, if you couldn’t tell.

 

---

 

“So, how come you aren’t participating in your little event?” Sam asks, sipping at his drink.

Natasha takes the plastic cup from him and takes a sip. “That’s because I’m in charge. I can’t trust Tony to make sure everything is okay.” She turns back to watch the crowd. “Besides, none of these losers can handle me.”

Sam nods. “Don’t I know it.”

She raises an eyebrow at him. “What’s your excuse?”

“I’m on Bucky watch,” Sam says as he nods towards Bucky, who’s now sitting at Wanda’s table. “I didn’t want to distract myself from the mission with a pretty girl.”
“And that makes me?”

“You’re the Wicked Witch of the West, don’t act like you don’t know it.”

Natasha turns to Sam with a wicked smile. “I may be the Wicked Witch, but on the outside, I’m a Glinda.” She takes another sip of his drink as she walks away.

Sam’s jaw drops. “You really just gonna steal my drink like that?”

She stops, crosses her arm, and puts all of her weight on one leg, emphasizing her hips. “Are you going to take it from me?”

He shakes his head and rubs at his neck. “Nope. No, I’m good. You go ahead. Enjoy it.”

 

---

 

“And that’s it, folks!” Tony says into the microphone. “Feel free to mingle and enjoy some of our refreshments and drinks. We’ve got a DJ coming in shortly, but until then, pretend to actually enjoy yourselves! And thank you for coming out tonight,” he cheers.

Pepper and Tony climb off the podium, grinning. “That went better than I expected,” Pepper says as she takes his arm.

Tony grins. “Didn’t it?” He presses a kiss to her cheek. “I liked having you here tonight,” he tells her softly.

“I know.” Pepper kisses his cheek and walks off, already greeting Wanda with a cheerful shout of her name.

 

---

 

Producer: “Any luck finding someone?”

“What do you think?” Bucky huffs.

 

---

 

It’s around nine-thirty when clean-up starts to pick up. Everyone pitches in somehow, be it picking up trash or tearing down the tables. Peggy and Pepper are counting the money while Steve, Clint, Phil, and Sam are carrying tables over to the platform Thor set up. Wanda and Jarvis had left to get a drink with Scott and his new date, Hope. Bucky, Natasha, and Bruce are throwing away food and trash while Rhodey packages the leftovers. Tony’s fumbling with the sound system again, grumbling under his breath.

He’s covered in wires somehow. Tony looks up at the rest of the warehouse. “Hey, has anyone seen Peter? I need his help with this.”

Bruce glances around, brow furrowed. “I haven’t seen him in a while.”

 

---

 

The camera’s zoomed in on Peter and MJ sharing a slow, passionate kiss, slowly zooming out to see they’re on a roof overlooking the city. The moonlight casts a soft glow over the couple as they slowly lean back on the blanket.

Chapter Text

Tony’s hands fiddle with a controller, one keeping it steady and the other screwing in a few bolts. The frame slowly pans out to see him hunched over a pile of parts and pieces. His face is scrunched in concentration, fingers moving nimbly over the broken controller. A lamp shines over his work, illuminating the desk but keeping his features shadowed.

A knock on the door breaks his concentration. He drops the screwdriver as he straightens up. Tony runs a hand over his face and says, “Come in.”

Steve opens the door and slips inside. He’s holding a bright blue piece of paper, keeping it close to his chest.

“Steve-o, what’s up?” Tony asks, leaning back in his chair.

“What’s this?” Steve flips the paper around to show a flyer. The camera zooms in. It’s an invitation to the Tony Awards, with an image of a poorly photoshopped picture of Tony.

Tony’s face lights up. He stands, flicks the lamp off, and points to the flyer. “That’s an invite to the Tony’s this Friday!”

Steve raises an eyebrow. “I get that,” he says slowly, “but it’s September. The Tonys aired in June.”   

“No, no, no,” Tony steps around his desk and leans against it, a hand in his pocket. “This is my award show. Every year I hold the Tonys as a way to thank everyone in the office and blow off some steam. It’s fun! We drink, we laugh, we make speeches and we get awards,” Tony points to a golden businessman trophy on his bookshelf. “It’s a night you can’t forget!”

The camera pans to Steve cringing.

 

---

 

Producer: “So the Tonys are coming up. Are you excited?”

Sam and Bucky are sitting side-by-side, their arms crossed. “No,” they deadpan simultaneously.

“Why not?”
Sam sighs. “It’s a night of laughing at Tony’s terrible jokes.”

“At least he’s not as offensive anymore,” Bucky adds.

Sam nods. “That’s like the only thing.”

Bucky leans forward. “It’s just super cringy and awkward. We love Tony and all, but it’s just so rough.”

“What all happens at the Tonys?”

“We go to a bar, Tony and Bruce put on an award ceremony where we all get these silly awards that have nothing to do with our jobs, and then we drink and go home,” Sam explains.

“And usually, we get kicked out or yelled at by the other patrons for being too loud or interrupting their evening.”

Sam nods. “It’s not fun.”

“At all.”

 

---

 

The camera pans over Tony’s now clean desk. It’s covered with trophies, each the same golden businessman he showed Steve earlier. Tony’s sitting behind them with a pleased, proud grin. He motions to the awards. “These are my Tonys,” he explains. “One from each year that we’ve done them.”

“What are they for?”

“Different things,” he says. He reaches to the left and plucks one up. “This one’s for best dressed.” Tony sets it down and grabs another. “This one’s for best facial hair.” He grabs another. “This one’s for coolest name.” He grabs another. “This one’s for…”

 

---

 

Bucky hangs up his phone, running a hand over his face.

Steve lets out a soft sigh, smiling. “Rough call?”

“Got rejected,” Bucky harrumphs, holding his head up with his fist.

Steve copies Bucky’s stance. “I’m sorry,” he mimics.

Bucky pushes himself away from the desk and wanders over to reception. “I’m bored now,” he whines.

“You’re bored?” Steve asks with a playful lilt.

“I am,” Bucky says with a nod.

Steve hums and leans a little closer. “What do you want me to do about it?”

Bucky leans on the desk. “Entertain me?”

Steve rolls his chair to the side and pulls a chair from the corner. “Come sit. I’m working on this panel and I could use some advice.”

The camera pans around to show Steve’s computer as Bucky sits beside him. “Wait a second,” Bucky gasps as he looks at the computer screen, “are you finally showing me your infamous comic?”

The back of Steve’s neck and the tips of his ears turn pink. “Yeah, I am,” he mumbles. Steve clicks around on the screen, pulling up photoshop and a piece he’d been working on. It was a panel of a man hiding behind a shield, angry. There wasn’t anything in the background and the man’s face was the only thing drawn in detail, his uniform and shield basic shapes.

“Ooh,” Bucky says, “Who’s this?”

“Bucky, I’d like you to meet Captain America,” Steve says with a smile.

“He looks cool.”

“Thanks.” Steve starts to work on adding details to his suit. He starts with the star on his chest, then a row of red and white strips on his abs, then the straps and line work of the material. He’s working quickly, but neatly. Details pop up out of nowhere as if it were a sped up video of him drawing.

“How do you draw him so quickly?” Bucky asks softly.

“I’ve been drawing him for three years now,” Steve explains. “We’ve gone through a lot, me and Cap. I spend most of my time drawing him in fights and political settings, that I can get a basic Cap drawn to completion in about ten minutes.”

“Whoa.”

“I know,” Steve says.

Bucky watches him work in silence. He looks back over his shoulder at the camera, eyes wide and mouth quirked in a small smile. He points to the computer and raises his eyebrows.

Steve moves onto the background, adding in a dark sky, tanks, and other soldiers. They’re just shapes, very rudimentary designs to show where they’ll go.

“Wow,” Bucky mumbles.

“They aren’t even drawn yet,” Steve chuckles.

“Still. Better than I could do.”

Steve nudges his shoulder. “Shut up.”

 

---

 

Bucky walks into the bar, his hands stuffed in his pockets. The rest of the office is already in the back, laughing and drinking as Tony sets up for the awards. He glances over his shoulder, eyebrows raised. “Welcome to the Tonys,” he says.

He walks back to the corner. “Hey, everyone,” Bucky calls.

“Bucky!” Sam cheers from his table with Steve, Natasha, and Peggy. “We ordered you a beer already,” he says, pointing to the pint in front of an empty stool.

“Thanks. What’d I miss?” Bucky asks, sliding onto his stool.

Steve pointed to Tony. “He refuses to let anyone help him.”

Bucky nods. “Figures.”

“Meanwhile, we’ve been talking about the awards,” Natasha says. “Tony’s going to give himself the best boss award again.”

“Oh definitely,” Bucky laughs.

Sam chugs his beer. “I’m hoping for a good one, this year.”

“Anything’s better than the year you got “Most Carbs Eaten in a Day,’” Natasha comments.

Steve laughs. “That’s seriously one of the awards?”

“Obviously not, Steve,” Peggy snickers. “They’re kidding.”

Sam, Bucky, and Natasha exchange a look as they sip at their drinks.

“I don’t think they’re kidding, Peg,” Steve chuckles.

Peggy gives a scandalized, yet amused look to the other patrons. “Really?”

Bucky nods. “Tony gives out the most ridiculous awards to those of us who don’t qualify for the actual company awards.”

“Like ‘Most Carbs Eaten in a Day,’” Sam quips.

“Or ‘Best Ass in the Office,’” Natasha adds with a smirk.

Sam glares at her. “I’m winning that one this year.”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “Every year Sam makes sure Tony sees how great of an ass he has, but every year Tony gives it to Natasha for obvious reasons.”
Sam hops off his stool and turns around, lifting his jacket to show his ass in his tight slacks. “I mean, look at this! It’s glorious and tight,” he exclaims. His hand hovers over himself. “Look at how lifted it is! You could bounce a quarter of this thing and it’d hit the Empire State Building with how tight my ass is.”

The table’s laughing at this point. “Yeah, but Nat’s ass is bigger and tight in the best ways possible,” Bucky explains. “She’s like a Russian JLo.”

Natasha grins. “Bow down to your queen, Wilson.”

Sam sits back down and glares at her. “Never.”

 

---

 

Producer: “Who should win ‘Best Ass’ this year?”

“Natasha, duh,” Clint says. “Is there even another option?”

“Sam thinks he should win.”

Clint shakes his head. “No. Natasha wins, no contest.”

 

---

 

Producer: “Who do you think should win the coveted ‘Best Ass’ award?”

“Best Ass?” Peter asks, glancing at MJ. “I’m not sure-”

“It’s Natasha,” she answers. “Her body is fantastic.”

Peter’s eyes widen as his face flushes. “Really? I’ve never noticed.”

MJ rolls her eyes. “You’re a terrible liar.”

 

---

 

Tony takes the mic as Bruce starts playing a fun, sweeping song on the keyboard. The office settles in, turning their attention to Tony. He grins and lifts the mic. “Thank you, Bruce. And welcome to the 17th annual Tony awards!”

The office claps, Sam and Clint letting out a few cheers.

“Let's start things off with,” Tony points to Bruce who hits a drum roll button on the keyboard, “the first award!”

Bruce picks up the first award from the box and hands it to Tony.

Tony flips it in his hand and reads it. He grins. “This one’s a fun one.” He starts to walk around in the little space provided for the stage. “This one goes out to the person with the messiest desk! You open one of their drawers and I swear there’s a colony of ants inside, just waiting to take over the office in a moments notice. Which is why, the Ant-King award goes to,” Tony waits as the drum roll starts up again, “our very own, Scott Lang!”

Scott jumps up from his seat and punches the air. “Yeah!”

“Seriously, man, we gotta get your desk under control. It’s disgusting,” Tony says as he hands the award over to Scott.

Scott takes the golden trophy and the mic. He starts to speak dramatically, pretending to be weepy, “I want to thank all of the ants who have become some of my closest friends. I couldn’t do it without you Ant-thony, Ant-tonio Banderas, Ulysses S. Gr-ant.” He wipes a tear. “I’ll miss you guys, I really will. Thank you for making me your king!”

Tony rips the mic from his hand before he can say anything else. “Alright Ant-Man, get out of here.” He starts to go into some anecdote about working for his dad and how demanding he can be, joking that he’s no Pepper.

The camera pans over the crowd, landing on Peggy as she fishes for her vibrating phone. “It’s work,” she tells Steve.

He gives her a tight smile and nods.

Peggy kisses his cheek and answers it. She starts to gather her things. “I’ll be there in ten,” she says in a strong voice. She starts to walk away, moving behind the table to sneak out of the nearest exit.

Steve grabs her arm before she gets too far away. “I’ll see you tomorrow?” Steve asks quietly, his brow furrowed.

“We’ll see. I’ll call you.” She kisses him quickly before darting away, leaving Steve tottering on his stool.

 

---

 

Producer: “Where’d Peggy go?”

Steve sighs, his shoulders hunched. “She had a work emergency.”

“A work emergency? At seven on a Friday night?”

He shrugs. “She’s in high demand, I guess.”

“Are you okay?”

He nods, his face pinched. “I’m fine.” Steve looks back to the group on the other side of the bar. “I should probably get back.”

 

---

 

Steve sits down at the table and downs the rest of his pint. He raises his hand to the bartender, pointing to his glass.

Bucky gives him a small smile. “Everything alright?”

“Perfect. Just perfect.” The bartender hands him another pint, taking the empty one. “Can I get another one?” Steve asks him. The bartender nods slowly, heading back to the bar.

“You ordered another beer yet you haven’t-” Steve chugs the pint, emptying it “-finished that one.” Steve sets the pint down and wipes the foam from his mouth.

Natasha smirks. “You were saying?”

Sam shakes his head, chuckling.

Bucky nudges Steve’s shoulder. “Take it easy, yeah?”

“I will. Don’t worry,” Steve says with a small smile.

The drumroll sound pulls their attention back to Tony. “Clint Barton!”

Clint takes an archery trophy from Tony. “What’d you do, run out?”

“Pretty much. Your award made the most sense to replace.” Tony shrugs and flips the mic in his hand. “Wanna make a speech?”
“Not particularly,” Clint says as he walks back to his table. He rolls his eyes at Natasha, who merely smirks.

“What’d he get?” Steve asks, running a hand through his hair.

“Best shot,” Natasha says, “for his archery skills.”

“And paper basketball,” Bucky adds.

“Don’t forget the airplanes.” Sam points at Clint, eyebrows raised. He raises a glass. “Can’t forget our airplane master!”

Clint raises his glass, too, and together they take a large sip.

Steve downs half of his third pint.

 

---

 

Producer: “How’s everything going so far?”

Bucky shrugs. “It’s alright. Pretty much par for the course right now. Tony makes a few lame jokes, we get a few lame awards, and someone always drinks themselves into oblivion.”

“And who would that be this year?”

“This year,” he sighs, “I think it’s going to be Steve.”

“You don’t seem to like that idea.”

“I think he’s drinking for the wrong reasons,” Bucky mumbles. “I just wish I could help him out, ya know?”

 

---

 

“Who’s ready for the next award?” Tony says into the mic.

Steve cheers, clapping loudly.

Sam and Natasha share a wide-eyed look and start to clap with him.

Tony grins. “That’s what I like to hear! Alright, the next award is,” Bruce hands him a random Tony, “Prettiest Accent!”

Steve cheers again, still clapping.

“In an office full of s*** New York and bland American accents, one truly unique accents stands out in the best of ways. To our favorite Slovakian, the Prettiest Accent goes to… Wanda Maximoff!” Tony offers her the award, clapping against his wrist.

Wanda is blushing as she accepts the award. “Thank you, Tony.”

He grins and hands her the mic. “The mic is yours.”

She tentatively takes the microphone. “Um, thank you?” Wanda looks around awkwardly. “Thank you for making me feel welcome in the office and in the country?” She laughs as her face turns pink.

Steve cups his hands around his mouth and shouts, “Give it up for Wanda!” He starts to clap again, along with the rest of the bar.

Bucky laughs quietly, hiding his face behind his hand.

Tony raises an eyebrow as he takes control of the microphone again. “Looks like Steve finally perked up. Great to see an actual smile on your face. It’s a hell of a lot better than that kicked puppy look you usually sport.”

Steve grins, his cheeks flushed.

Tony rolls his eyes and gives his audience a tight smile. He takes the next one from Bruce, his face scrunching up. “Let’s get this next one over with,” he drones with a smirk. “Most Boring Job goes to my good pal, James Rhodes.”

Rhodey heaves himself off the stool and takes the trophy. “Thanks, Tony,” Rhodey deadpans. “I appreciate it.” He reaches for the mic, but Tony pulls it away. “Really?”

“Hey, I don’t make the rules,” Tony says with a shrug.

Rhodey’s eyes nearly roll to the back of his skull. He takes a deep breath, nods to the audience, and returns to his seat.

 

---

 

Producer: “Are things going the way you hoped?”
Tony dabs at his forehead with a handkerchief. “Better! I haven’t seen this much enthusiasm since Sam won the fantasy football league last year.”

“Why are they so enthusiastic?”

Tony shrugs. “Don’t know, don’t care. As long as they’re having a good time, it’s fine with me.” He looks off screen and grins. “Bruce needs me,” he says, already walking off screen.

 

---

 

Natasha walks back to the table, the “Scariest” Tony clutched tightly in her hands.

“Alright, folks. Let’s keep going. We’re about halfway through!” Tony cheers.

“Go, Tony! You rock man!” Steve yells from his seat, fist pumping the air.

Bucky and Sam are laughing behind their hands.

Tony points to Steve and grins. “Thank you! Somebody tip him!” He laughs and switches the mic to his left hand. Tony takes the next award and nods to Bruce. “Brucey, babe, this one’s for you. I bestow upon you the ‘Most Degrees a Man Can Have and Not Use a Single One’ award!”

Bruce sighs with a small smile. “Thanks, Tony.”

Steve’s clapping loudly from the back. “Let’s hear it for Bruce!”

“Yeah, to Bruce!” Sam echoes, laughter trembling in his voice. He holds up his beer and Steve picks up his.

“To Bruce!” Scott and Clint cheer.

Tony laughs and raises his own glass. “To Bruce!”

Bruce blushes, head ducked. “Thanks, everyone,” he mumbles into his microphone.

Tony claps his shoulder and snags the next award out of the box. “This next award is one I’ve held several times,” Tony says with a smirk. “For having the second best hair in the office, I present to you, Bucky Barnes!”

Bucky covers his face with his hands as he makes his way over to the stage. “Thanks, Tony,” he mumbles as he takes the Tony.

Tony pulls the award back before Bucky could accept it. “Do you promise to display this with the same level of pride as you do your hair?”

He rolls his eyes. “Yes, Tony, I do,” he sighs.

“I don’t believe you. I’m redacting your award. You can sit.” Tony puts the trophy back in the table.

Bucky blinks slowly, turning to the camera with a blank stare. His shoulders drop dramatically as his eyes widen a little.

 

---

 

Bucky’s sitting on a bar stool, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Why do I ever expect anything less than that from Tony?” He shakes his head and looks up at the camera, helpless. “Why do I put myself through this? Can someone please give me a logical explanation for this?”

Producer: “He’s your boss?”

“I don’t get paid enough to deal with Stark’s nonsense.”

 

---

 

“I’m still waiting on my ‘Best Ass’ award,” Natasha says as she sips at her beer.

Producer: “You don’t think there’s a chance someone else could win it?”

She raises an eyebrow. “Unless you know something I don’t?”

“No, we’re just trying to get all of the facts.”

Natasha glares at the camera and downs her beer.

 

---

 

Tony laughs into the mic. “And that was only the beginning!”

Steve’s cackling, a little hysterical, as he downs his seventh beer. There are empty shot glasses stacked in front of him, dangerously close to toppling over if he continues to hit the table with every joke Tony makes. “Why’s he so funny?” Steve asks Bucky, grabbing onto the man.

Bucky laughs with him. “I don’t know,” he giggles.

“I just can’t take it,” Steve wheezes, laughing into Bucky’s shoulder. He’s practically in Bucky’s lap at this point.

Sam and Natasha are watching with cautiously amused gazes. The camera zooms in on their knees, pressed together. Their hands are grazing, pinkies hooked on one another.

It zooms back out as Tony announces the next award. “I think it’s about time we had a bit of a pick me up,” he says, grabbing the next Tony. “This one’s dedicated to the person who I’ve never seen mess up a cup of coffee. In fact, they somehow magically make our s*** coffee taste like unicorn tears. It’s intense.” Tony swings the mic around for a bit as he walks. “So, for his first Tony award, I’d like to present Steven Rogers with Best Coffee!”

Steve pushes off Bucky, his eyes wide as he gasps. “I won?”

“Yeah, buddy, you did,” Bucky says softly, watching the blond with warm eyes.  

Steve’s eyes turn from shock to panic. “What do I do? Bucky, I dunno what to do?” he slurs, grabbing onto Bucky’s jacket again.

Bucky rubs his back. “You go up there, take the award, and thank Tony for your Tony.”

“I can do that,” Steve mumbles, his face scrunching with concentration.

“Yeah, you can.”

Steve hops off the stool and starts toward the made-up stage. He stumbles, arms stretched out a little. He grabs ahold of Tony’s shoulder, shaking with laughter. “Oops,” he giggles.

Tony’s eyes widen and his nose scrunches. He covers the mic and whispers, “Dude, how much have you had to drink?”

The fumbling blond shrugs. “A lot,” he squeaks.

Tony raises an eyebrow and hands over the award. “I think we’re gonna skip your speech, big guy.”

Steve deflates, pouting. “Okay,” he mumbles as he clutches the golden Tony to his chest. He’s a little sturdier as he shuffles back to his stool, his head immediately falling into Bucky’s chest once he’s seated.

 

---

 

Producer: “How does it feel to have a Tony?”

Steve nuzzles the trophy with his nose. “I love it. I shall cherish it for the ever.”

“Are you happy with what you got?”

He nods. “I am. And Bucky and Natasha and Sam got to see me get it. Peggy didn’t but she barely cares about what I do anymore so that’s okay. I’m just glad I got to see Bucky and Natasha and Sam,” he rambles, polishing the trophy with his thumb.

“Do you want a napkin to clean it?”

“No, this is fine,” he insists.

 

---

 

“Let’s hear it for MJ, our best Web designer!” Tony cheers as MJ haphazardly holds up the trophy. She gives the camera a small smile as she walks back to her table she shares with Peter.

Bruce plays a little melody on the keyboard while Tony takes a sip from his water bottle. “We’ve got like four more, Tony.”

Tony sighs. “I feel like we just started,” he says between labored breaths.

“No, we just have Peter, Sam, and you left,” Bruce says as he looks into the box.

“Should we do Peter or Natasha first?”

“Peter. Kid looks like he could vibrate away if he drinks any more coffee,” Bruce mumbles with a soft chuckle.

Tony plucks the right award out of the box and clears his throat. “This next award is a very special one to me and probably everyone here.” He holds up the award and grins. “This award is for the best employee in the office. He’s the only one who can make us all smile and still not get annoying no matter how many memes or gifs he sends you.”

Peter’s head whips around, eyes wide. He glances back to MJ, who simply raises an eyebrow, then to the camera.

“Peter Parker, congratulations. You’re the best employee at Stark Industries!”

The young brunet jumps off his stool and scrambles to get to Tony fast enough. Peter takes the trophy, grin taking up his face. “Thank you, Tony! Thank you, thank you!” he cheers, hugging Tony’s neck.

Tony laughs, patting the animated teen’s back. “You’re welcome, kid. Keep up the good work.”

Peter lets go, bouncing on the balls of his feet. Tony hands him the mic and takes a step back. “Wow, okay, um wow,” Peter breathes. “I, um, don’t know what to say. Thanks to everyone else for making my job so easy and just being great people and supporting me in everything I do. Thanks for helping with everything and just being the best coworkers a kid could ask for. I really love working here and I just can’t express how much you all mean to me,” he rambles.

Bruce plays a little tone on the keyboard, grinning at the brunet.

“Anyway, I just really love this job,” Peter says as he shifts his weight from foot to foot. “And I hope I make everyone proud with what I do and I actually represent you and this award proudly! Thanks again.” He goes to hand Tony the mic, but his foot gets caught on a wire. Peter stumbles, tottering on one shoe for a second before he gets his footing back.

He sags with relief and hands the mic back with a small smile. Peter turns around, knocking into a waiter. The man falls back, grazing Bruce’s keyboard. The keyboard falls, the stand folding upon itself, and nudges the table beside it. One by one, empty tables and stools fall to the floor with a clatter, bumping into the patrons and employees.

The camera pans over the chaos for a moment before zooming in on Peter’s pale, horrified expression.

 

---

 

Tony rubs at his neck. “Well, they kicked us out and banned us from coming back as a group,” he tells the camera.

Producer: “Did it go the way you wanted it to?”

The man shrugs. “Everyone had a good time, some too good. Just sucks that I didn’t get to show off my award.” Tony holds up a golden Tony. The camera zooms in to read the inscription. The plaque reads ‘Best Ass - Tony Stark.’ “I just knew it’d be a big hit with the rest of the group,” he sighs.

Tony turns around and lifts his shirt tail. “I mean, I worked hard on this! It deserves to be recognized!”

 

---

 

A wide-eyed Peter stands outside the bar, still pale and shaking a little. “I can’t believe I did that.”

Producer: “They said there wasn’t any damage done and no one got hurt except for an employee.”

Peter’s eyes grow twice the size they normally are. “I hurt someone?!”

“A glass broke and nicked their leg. It’s nothing major. They’re fine.”

The tension drops from Peter’s shoulders momentarily before they slowly rise. “Oh god, I’ll never be able to show my face here again.” He turns and walks away, his hands covering his face.

 

---

 

Bucky and Sam hold onto Steve as they walk down the sidewalk. The camera watches them walk away, following at a distance. Steve’s leaning pretty heavily on the two of them, staggering along between his friends.

“Dude, you need to lay off the coffee,” Sam grunts, adjusting Steve’s arm around his neck.

Steve’s head sways a bit. “I know. Peggy says I need to lose some of the weight. She doesn’t like that I can fill her bras out more than she can.”

Bucky and Sam look at each other, the whites of their eyes illuminated by the street light.

“I didn’t need to know that, Rogers,” Sam groans.

“Sorry,” the blond slurs. “Sorry.”

Bucky pats his stomach. “It’s alright. C’mon, let’s get you home.”

“To my mom?” Steve asks softly.

“No, to Peggy,” Bucky replies.

Steve’s shoulders sag, his weight distribution leaning towards Bucky. “I miss my mom, Bucky. I really miss her,” he says, sniffling a little.

Bucky stops and pulls the drunk receptionist into his arms. “Hey, Stevie, it’s alright. You’ll see her again one day-”

“No, I won’t,” Steve cries. “It’s my fault she’s gone. She’s gone and I’ll never see her again,” his voice is muffled by Bucky’s shirt.

Sam rubs at his neck and motions for the cameras to go away. “What do you mean?”

“I didn’t see the signs. I should have seen the signs. Why didn’t I see the signs?” Steve’s a mess, crying into Bucky’s shoulder.

Bucky rocks him, humming softly. “It’s alright, Stevie. I got you.”

 

---

 

Producer: “Do you regret allowing Stark Industries to host their award ceremony here?”

The owner of the bar, a burly man by the name Richard, crosses his arms. “No, dude basically bought me new tables. I’m considering letting them host all of their functions here if that means I’ll get new s*** from it.”

“Did you think you’d have to close the bar down though?”

“Nah, not quite. Only thing I was thinking is that the big blond dude with him was gonna drink me out of business. Figured if anyone did something stupid it’d be him, not some punk kid who drank way too much coffee for a normal human to function.”

Chapter Text

Michelle walks into the office alone. Her hair’s pulled back in a bun, messy and falling apart already. She heads toward Steve’s desk, plopping down on the ledge.

Steve pauses in his sketching, looking up at the young girl. “Everything okay?”

“Not really,” she mumbles, head moving with her words.

He sets down his tablet. “What’s the matter?” he asks her softly, his brow furrowing.

She huffs, her bangs flopping with the force of her breath. “Peter isn’t answering. I think he’s sent himself into a stress coma.”

“Stress coma?” Steve adjusts his glasses.

“He has a test tomorrow and he’s been freaking out about it all week. Last night, he ditched me to go study. Wouldn’t let me come over or anything,” MJ mumbles.

Steve’s eyebrows rise a bit. “And he’s not answering anyone's calls?”

MJ shakes her head, chin still in her hands.

Steve turns to his computer. “Let me see if I can get in touch with his emergency contact.”

“It should be his aunt,” MJ mumbles.

Steve types away at the keyboard, opening up new folders and tabs. “So, why’d you come to me?”

MJ hides her face, the tips of her ears growing red. “I, um, didn’t know who else could be discreet.”

“I’m assuming that means being able to hide stuff from Tony?”

She nods, peeking out from behind her hair.

“You do know that Tony knows about Peter going to school still?” Steve says absentmindedly, still going through his files.

“That’s not what I’m talking about.”

Steve looks up, eyes wide. “Oh?”

MJ blushes and covers her face with a hand. “It’s new, shut up.”

He grins. “Your secret’s safe with me.”

“Find it yet?” She asks, leaning over the counter to see his screen.

“I think so,” he sighs, reaching for his phone. He dials the number and waits. “Hi, this is Steve Rogers with Stark Paper, Inc. I work with Peter, and he hasn’t shown up this mo-” Steve stops, listening to the other line. “Thank you. We appreciate it. Have a nice day.” He sets the phone down and takes in a deep breath.

MJ raises an eyebrow.

Steve gives her a soft smile. “He’s on the way. Shoot him a text and tell him to stop at the Starbucks on the corner. I’ll tell Tony he went on a coffee run if he asks.”

“Is that an excuse to get coffee?” Bucky asks, moving to lean against the desk beside MJ.

“Pretty much,” the blond says with a grin.

MJ starts texting something. “Two Iced Americanos, right?”

“Aww, look, Buck, she knows us so well!” Steve coos.

Bucky nudges MJ’s shoulder. “It’s like she cares about us or something.”

She holds her phone up, thumb hovering over the text. “I haven’t hit send yet, you know?”

Steve shrugs. “Eh, we know.”

Bucky pulls out his wallet and hands her a ten. “Better?”

She plucks it out of his hand and wanders over to her desk.

 

---

 

Producer: “You told Steve a pretty big secret today. How do you feel?”

MJ shrugs, looking at her phone. “Fine.”

“Do you plan on talking about it to anyone else?”

“Nope.”

“Is there anything else you want to say?”

“Nope.” MJ stands up and walks out of the conference room.

 

---

 

Steve turns to Bucky, chuckling. “Thanks for that,” Steve says, his smile growing warm.

Bucky leans a little closer, smiling. “You get me next time?”

“Of course.” Steve picks his tablet back up. “Hey, can I pick your brain? This panel’s giving me some trouble.”

“Whatcha need?”

“I just need advice on the color scheme. I’m not sure if I should go muted or vibrant for the transition panel,” Steve explains, showing Bucky the tablet.

Bucky scratches head. “I’m not so good with the advice. Can I interest you in a sarcastic comment?”

Steve pauses, eyebrow raised. “What?” he chuckles, reflexively pulling the tablet away a bit.

“Sorry,” Bucky laughs. “I couldn’t sleep last night so I binged watched Friends ,” he explains, taking the tablet back. “I think muted would be more dramatic and then vibrant accents?”

The blond smirks. “Well, aren’t you becoming quite the art connoisseur.”

Bucky grins. “I try.”

Steve starts coloring in the panel. Bucky watches, humming softly. “You know, I’ve never seen that,” Steve mumbles.

“Seen what?”

Friends ,” Steve comments.

“I’m sorry, what?” Bucky shouts, startling everyone in the office. He turns around, blushing. “Um, sorry everyone! False alarm,” he mumbles.

Steve hides behind his hands.

Bucky gapes at him. “I can’t believe you’ve never seen Friends ,” he whisper-shouts.

“I saw like half an episode in a waiting room, but I didn’t watch tv much growing up,” Steve says.

Bucky opens his mouth. Then closes it. “I-” he starts, shaking his head. Bucky swivels on the balls of his feet and walks back at to his desk.

Steve gasps and turns to the camera. “Was it something I said?”

 

---

 

Bucky looks horrified, eyes wide and mouth open. He shakes his head. “I don’t know what to say to him,” Bucky admits.

He runs a hand through his hair and laughs. “I just can’t believe it!”

 

---

 

Peter rushes in, carrying a stack of books, five coffees teetering on top.

Steve jumps up to help the kid. “There ya go,” he chuckles, taking the coffees and setting them on his desk.

“Thanks,” Peter huffs, his breathing labored. He adjusts the books, peeking over the stack to give Steve a tight smile.

Steve fixes Peter’s hair. “You know it’s just a test, right?”

“MJ told you?” Peter squeaks, eyes frantic.

The blond nods. “Yeah, she did. What’s the test over?”

“Biology. I suck at it,” Peter sighs.

“Have you talk-” Steve stops as Tony walks out of his office.

Tony wanders over, calling, “Petey! Where’ve been?”

“I-um,” Peter scrambles.

“I sent him on a coffee run,” Steve says. He plucks one of the coffees off the tray and hands it to Tony. “Kid had so much energy he had to escape.”

Tony sips at his coffee. “Mmm,” he hums, “Thanks, Parker.”

“Welcome,” Peter squeaks.

Tony turns around and starts to walk back.

Peter lets out a squeal and drops his books, rushing to stop Tony. “I’m so sorry! I spent all night cramming for my exam and I slept in and MJ and Steve tried to help cover for me so that you wouldn’t know that I’m struggling and-”

“Whoa!” Tony grabs Peter’s hands. He glances around, brow furrowed. “You’re fine.”

“No, I lied to you and-”

“Peter!” Tony hollers. “Shut up!”

Peter’s closes his mouth, dangerously pale.

Tony rubs his neck. “Look, I know you’re in school and I know you put a lot on your plate, but kid, you need to take care of yourself.” He nods towards Peter’s desk. “You can study at your desk or in the conference room, your choice.”

“Really? But-” Peter tries.

Steve puts a hand on Peter’s shoulder and directs him towards the back desk, where his books and coffee are waiting. “Go sit.”

“Okay,” Peter mumbles.

 

---

 

Producer: “You seem a bit on edge today. Did you get enough sleep?”

Peter rubs his eyes. “No,” he admits. “I stayed up until four and then I fell asleep at my desk.”

“When was the last time you got a full night’s sleep?”

The brunet shrugs. “I lost track?”

“After your exams, do you plan on taking the weekend to sleep?”

Peter nods, a small, sleepy smile growing on his face. “Yeah, MJ offered to take care of me while I recover so I’m staying at her place.”

“Things between you two seem to be heating up. How’s that going?”

He blushes. “We’re good. Really, really, really good.”

 

---

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: I’m sorry?

 

Hey… You’re not really upset, are you?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Bucky, I’m sorry

 

I’m sorry! I’ll watch the show, just don’t ignore me.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Seriously?

 

Okay! I get it! I need to educate myself!! I’ll watch it tonight! Just talk to me!!

^ Me getting ready to binge Friends tonight.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Seriously?

 

You’re a dork. And you’re not watching this alone. Meet me in the breakroom at lunch. Get all your work done before then.

 

---

 

The camera focuses on the door as Peter slumps into the kitchen, rubbing at his eyes.

Bruce is leaning next to the coffee pot, watching the young boy with a small smile. “Is anything sticking?”

“No,” Peter pouts as he hops onto the counter. “I’ve reread this entire chapter and nothing stays. I just don’t get it.”

The coffee maker beeps. Bruce turns and pours two large mugs of coffee. “What are you studying?”

“Biology.”

“Biology? What are you trying to do?” Bruce looks up as he hands one to Peter, sipping at the other.

“Originally, I was studying to be an engineer. Now, I’m leaning towards biophysics.”

“Tony said you could use the conference room, right?”

Peter’s brow furrows. “Yeah?”

“Well,” Bruce takes another sip, “I could help you out. We can go into the conference room and study.”

The younger boy shakes his head. “No, no, that’s okay. You’ve got your own work to do.”

Bruce puts a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “I’m the worst salesman in the office and I have degrees in both biology and physics. I don’t think Tony would be mad if I helped you out.”

Peter sips at his coffee. “You sure you don’t mind?”

“If it means I don’t have to touch the phone the rest of the day, then no I don’t mind.” Bruce tops off their mugs and guides Peter out of the kitchen. “C’mon, we’ve got work to do.”

 

---

 

Bucky pulls out his laptop and plugs it in. He’s sitting in the back corner of the breakroom, a bowl of popcorn and four sodas on the table.

Steve walks in, pausing in the doorway. “Is that a blanket in your lap?”

Bucky looks up, then down, then back up at Steve. He smiles. “Yup! We’re about to binge the s*** out of this show and to binge, we must binge properly.” Bucky throws the blanket over the back of the empty chair beside him and stands up. “We have two sodas each, popcorn, and a set of headphones. I don’t have the little jack thing that splits it into two, so we have to share, but,” he shrugs, “I’m cool with that.”

“Sounds great,” Steve laughs. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a couple dollars worth of change. “But binging isn’t complete without candy, my friend.” He pushes the coins into the candy vending machine. “What’s your poison, Barnes?”

The brunet hums and sits back in his seat. “Reese’s.”

“Reese’s it is,” Steve says, punching in the correct numbers. He puts in another dollar and grabs a bag of M&Ms. Steve sits beside Bucky and hands the man his Reese’s Pieces.

“Thank you,” Bucky says, setting the bag beside his Coke. He throws the blanket around their shoulders and hands Steve an earbud.

Steve puts it in his left ear, further away from Bucky.

Bucky goes to put his in his left, too but pauses. “You know that’s the right earbud right?”

“Yeah, I know,” Steve mumbles. “I just have a hard time hearing out of my left ear. If you wanted to say something, then I wouldn’t be able to hear you as well over the show.”

“Oh, how’d that happen?” Bucky logs onto Netflix.

Steve sighs. “I was a sick kid. I was in and out of the hospital a lot. The ear thing, that came from a case of mumps that they were able to catch before things got worse. I have about fifty percent of my hearing in my left ear, seventy-five in my right.”

Bucky’s mouth gapes open a little. “Wow… Wait, I thought mumps had a vaccine? Was your mom one of those moms, the ones who don’t believe in vaccines?”

The blond laughs, shaking the blanket. “No, my mom was a nurse. She knew better than to ignore a vaccine. I was just too sick to get them.”

“Oh. That’s not cool.”

“It’s alright. I’m all good now,” Steve says and grabs a handful of popcorn. “So, are we starting from the beginning?”

Bucky hits the play button and makes the screen bigger. “Of course. Steven Rogers, I’d like to introduce you to my six closest friends growing up.” Bucky winks at him. “I’m kidding… kind of.”

Steve rolls his eyes. “Let’s do this.”

 

---

 

The camera pans out on an open textbook to show Bruce and Peter hunched over their own books. “The signal transduction pathway is how cells communicate,” Bruce says. He takes off his reading glasses and looks to Peter. “Their messages are carried between two cells called...”

Peter bounces the end of his pencil on the tip of his nose. “The reception and target cells?”

“Almost,” Bruce says as he cleans his glasses. “It’s the receiving and target cells. Reception is the first stage of communication, where the signaling cell releases the signaling molecule that will bond to the receptor protein on the target cell’s membrane.”

“Oh,” Peter mumbles, “okay.”

“What don’t you understand about it?” Bruce asks softly, turning to face Peter straight on.

“I just-”

The camera pans to find Tony standing in the doorway. “What’s this?” He motions at the table.

Bruce sighs. “I’m helping Peter with his biology test.”

Tony raises an eyebrow. “You asked Bruce to help you study?”

Peter scratches his head. “No, he offered.”

“Tony, I have a degree in biology. I’m more than qualified to help him with an entry-level course,” Bruce says, putting his glasses back on.

“And I’m not?” Tony scoffs.

Bruce pinches the bridge of his nose. “You know I didn’t mean it like that, Tony. I meant-”

Tony crosses his arms. “That all seven of your science-y degrees are more important than my three engineering? That you’re smarter than me? That I’m not smart enough to help my favorite employee with his biology homework?”

“Whoa! Mr. Stark, you can help too! Maybe Bruce can take a break and you can help me with the cell cycle?” Peter asks, flipping through the pages to find the cell division chapter of his notes.

Bruce closes the textbook and stands. He snags his empty coffee mug off the table. “I needed another cup anyway. Peter, do you want something?”

Peter smiles. “Candy? Any kind.”

“You got it.”

Tony claps his hands together as the door closes behind Bruce. “Where do we start?”

 

---

 

Producer: “Are you mad that Tony took over?”

Bruce shakes his head. “No, there’s no telling Tony no. Besides, he’s obsessed with Peter. He’ll jump in front of a bullet for that kid.”

“Do you think he can help Peter?”

“Absolutely, if he can concentrate.” Bruce yawns. “Sorry,” he mumbles.

“Are you tired?”

“Exhausted. If you don’t mind,” he starts to get up, “I have a pot of coffee waiting for me in the kitchen.”

 

---

 

The camera pans back to Steve and Bucky, inching towards them. Bucky hits the spacebar and their heads duck down again. “Why is smoking so attractive?” Steve mumbles, eyes glued to Chandler showing Joey how to smoke.

Bucky rolls his eyes. “It’s gross, trust me.”

Steve shakes his head. “Never tried it.”

“'Cause of the asthma?”

The blond nods, knocking his earbud out. “Always had a thing for it, though. Like Kenickie in Grease .” Steve groans, tugging at his bottom lip. “He was my first crush, ya know?”

Bucky pauses the show again. He turns to Steve, flustered and giggling like a schoolgirl. “Seriously? Danny Zuko was right there .”

Steve’s eyebrows arch up. “Yeah, Danny’s cute and all, but Kenickie had this quality about him. Something that just screamed ‘Yeah, I’ll f*** your daughter, but I’ll make sure no one lays a hand on her.’”

“Even though he was a total douche and player?” Bucky leans away from Steve.

“First of all, that film is disgusting. So if you even enjoy it a little, you’re already committing to liking filth. Therefore, it’s totally okay for me to have a huge crush on a womanizing ass like Kenickie. Second, I was like eight when I watched it for the first time. Let my little confused gay self enjoy his sexual awakening.”

Bucky lets out a loud laugh, snorting. “Kenickie was your sexual awakening?” he guffaws.

Steve pouts. “He was, you jerk. Like your’s was any better.”

Bucky shuts up. “I’ll have you know, Tarzan is a beautiful man who can do no wrong.”

“Tarzan?” Steve laughs.

“Shut up, you punk. At least he treated Jane with respect.” Bucky turns back to the computer. “Let’s see if we can’t get to the Blackout Episode before work is over.”

Steve chuckles. “We could if you’d stop pausing it to talk.”

Bucky glares at Steve, hitting the spacebar and starting the episode again.

 

---

 

Steve’s mouth is wide open as he stares at the camera with big, blue eyes. “Did you hear what I heard?”

Producer: “I’m not sure what you’re referring to.”

“Then nevermind,” Steve mumbles, biting his nail and looking off-screen.

 

---

 

Steve and Bucky are huddled close together when Bruce walks in. He pauses in the doorway, mug held to his lips and steam fogging his glasses. Slowly, he lowers his mug. “Am I interrupting something?”

The two jump, eyes dashing from the screen to Bruce. “No,” Bucky says, his voice cracking. “No, we’re just watching Friends . Steve’s never seen it.”

“I haven’t,” Steve says, blushing.

Bruce nods slowly as he walks to the vending machines. “Enjoy it. The first season’s my favorite.” He grabs a thing of Sour Patch Kids and leaves the room.

The camera follows him out, through the annex and into the kitchen. Natasha is washing the dishes when he walks in, Clint perched on the kitchen counter beside her, drying. They nod in his direction.

“Don’t go in the breakroom,” Bruce says with a sigh.

“Why?” Clint cocks his head to this side, hitting the top of the fridge. He curses under his breath, rubbing at his temple.

Natasha rolls her eyes but turns to Bruce. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah,” the salesman says, “but I’m pretty sure Steve and Bucky are two seconds from making out.”

Natasha and Clint’s faces light up as they slowly turn to one another. “Really?” Natasha purrs.

Bruce shakes his head. “They’re curled up, nearly in each other’s laps, and watching Friends on Netflix.”

“Sounds like someone’s trying to Netflix and Chill,” Clint says, winking at Natasha.

MJ walks out of the women’s restrooms, a bored look on her face. “You do know that’s barely a thing anymore, right? I’m pretty sure the only people who still say that are,” she looked Clint up and down, “old people.”

Clint lets out a horrified gasp, nearly dropping the mug in his hands. Natasha plucks it out of his grasp, setting in on the drying rack as Clint hops down. “Did you just call me old? I am not old. I’m only thirty. That’s not old. That’s hardly old.”

MJ rolls her eyes and starts out the door.

“Don’t walk away from me, young lady!” Clint calls, following the web designer out of the kitchen.

Bruce laughs into his mug. “God, it’s nice to actually enjoy the office.”

“Better than being stuck behind a computer all day?” Natasha laughs softly.

“Way better.”

 

---

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Sam Wilson

Subject: Neighborhood Watch

 

Steve and Bucky are getting really close. I don’t think Steve would do anything stupid, but Bucky isn’t a homewrecker. We need to keep an eye on them.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Neighborhood Watch

 

Looks like the Neighborhood Watch is a go.

 

---

 

“Tony, that isn’t the next step,” Bruce sighs from the corner of the room.

Tony scoffs. “Bruce, I know what I’m talking about.”

Peter rubs at his head. “He’s right, though, Mr. Stark. The S phase is in between the G1 and G2 phases.”

Tony’s brow furrows. He flips over the page, looking over the diagram. “Oh.”

“It’s okay. Biology’s difficult,” Peter tries to reassure. “Just wait until I have my physics class next quarter. I’ll need all the help trying to keep up.”

“You don’t have to make me feel better, kid,” Tony says. “But I appreciate it.” He stands up and pats Peter on the shoulder. “Have at it, Banner. Make sure he gets an A.”

Bruce smiles. “Will do.”

 

---

 

Tony shakes his head. “That kid is too pure for this world,” he tells the camera. “Too pure.”

 

---

 

The clock is ticking, already at a quarter after seven. The camera zooms out to show Steve and Bucky still bundled up together. “I think I gotta call it,” Bucky says with a yawn.

Steve yanks his earbud out and stretches, his right arm grazing Bucky’s shoulder. “Yeah, me too.” He grunts, shoulders rolling back. “What episode did we get to?”

Bucky checks. “We’re about to start sixteen, which is a two-parter.”

“I’ll watch it when I get home. Peggy’s staying late at work,” Steve mumbles.

“Want to head to my place? We can get take out and watch it in my living room on an actual TV,” Bucky suggests as they start to gather their things.

Steve grins. “Yeah, yeah I’d like that.”

They make their way out of the break room and into the main part of the office. It’s empty. Everyone left an hour ago, leaving a note on Steve’s desk with the keys.

Bucky laughs softly. “Guess we overstayed our welcome.”

“Guess so,” Steve sighs. He picks up his jacket, making a face. “Would it be weird if I changed before we left?”

“No?” Bucky says, cocking his head to the side.

Steve grabs his gym bag and heads back toward the kitchen. “I’ll only be a minute. I promise.”

Bucky waves him off and starts packing his bag. He slings it over his right shoulder, his right hand holding the handle casually. The brunet makes a face at the camera, pacing softly in front of the door and Steve’s desk.

The camera flicks towards the kitchen door as Steve reenters the office. He’s wearing a pair of dark wash jeans a tight t-shirt with a Comic Convention logo in the center of his chest.

A high-pitched squeak slips from Bucky’s lips, his eyes widening ever so slightly. “Is that a sleeve I see?”

Steve’s brow furrows, then relaxes. “Oh. I haven’t shown it to you?” He holds up his right arm, holding out the tattooed appendage for Bucky to see.

“No! Holy s***, Steve! This looks sick!” Bucky says, scrambling to get a closer look. “Is that Cap?”

“Yeah,” Steve chuckles as he rubs his neck with his free hand. “For a minute, Cap was my best friend - still feels like it sometimes. Thought I’d be nice to give him a proper place in my life other than a hobby.”

Bucky traces over the portrait of Captain America holding his shield in front of him, his head dipped down and his brow shadowing his face. “You drew it, right?”

Steve laughs. “Of course. No one touches Cap without my permission. No one can treat him as well as I can.”

“I bet I could.”

The blond shakes his head. “I’m not surprised. Oh, you’ll appreciate this one Tarzan boy,” Steve says as he turns his arm over to show a small castle below his elbow, similar to the opening of a Disney movie.

Bucky grins. “I do like that one.” He runs his fingers over Steve’s bicep, turning the arm to show the inside of his arm. “I like all the paint splatters. Bet those look cool when you actually paint.”

“Yeah, they do when I have time.”

His fingers pause at a small quote in delicate, feminine handwriting. It was surrounded by a ring of daisies and tulips. “What’s this?”

Steve gives Bucky a small smile. “My mother used to say it all the time.” Steve’s fingers join Bucky’s. “She’d sit beside me, when I was sick, and sing Irish lullabies all day. And when I asked her if she wanted to stop or if she needed to go to work, she’d hush me with these words.”

In a soft voice, Bucky says, “‘I can do this all day because I’m with you till the end of the line.’” Bucky lets Steve’s arm fall gently out of his grasp. “She sounds wonderful.”

“She was.”

Bucky slings his left arm over Steve’s shoulder with a thud. “C’mon, we’ve got a season to finish.”

Steve laughs, letting Bucky guide him to the door. He snags his back and coat of his chair before putting Bucky’s arm back on his shoulders. “Onward, my good friend.”

The camera watches them leave, lingering as their shadows disappear.

Chapter Text

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Doodle

 

I’m bored. Can you send a doodle?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Doodle

 

…. You want me to send you a doodle cause you’re bored?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Doodle

 

Yeah we can make a game out of it. I’ll give you something to draw, you’ll have ten minutes to draw it, and then you send it to me. Sound good?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Doodle

 

Alright. Bring it on, but if the phone rings I get an extra two minutes.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Doodle

 

Deal. Draw… Bruce and Tony as mad scientist. Your time starts at the ten after mark.

 

---

 

“Well, you know what?” Tony’s voice echoes from inside his office. “I don’t give a crap!”

Bucky looks into the camera pulling his lower lip down. “That doesn’t sound good,” he whispers to Sam.

Sam shakes his head. “Not at all.”

“Ten bucks he’s talking to his dad,” Clint says from his corner.

“Nah, he doesn’t have the balls to talk to his dad like that without a few drinks in his system,” Rhodey comments.

Sam turns in his seat to point to the man. “You’re not wrong.”

Natasha balls up piece of paper and throws it at the back of Sam’s head, getting him to turn around. “Enough with the speculation. Leave Tony’s business alone. If he wants to-”

“WELL F*** YOU, TOO!” Tony bellows.

“-talk about his private life,” she continues, “then he will. Tony’s not shy by any means. You’ll know if he wants you to.”

A muffled scream comes from the office.

Steve raises an eyebrow, peering over the wall at Natasha. “I don’t think that’s normal.”

“With Tony, is anything normal?” she counters.

“Good point.”

 

---

 

Producer: “Do you have any idea who Tony’s speaking with?”

Rhodey crosses his arms. “Not a clue. Could be anyone. Hell, for all we know he’s talking to Dum-E, his malfunctioning robot.”

“Has he done that before?”

“More than he’d like you to know.”

 

---

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Mad Scientists

 

Boom.

 

<Image Attached: Science_Bros>

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Mad Scientists

 

Oh my god! You dork!

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Mad Scientists

 

What? Is this not what you wanted?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Mad Scientists

 

You just drew Tony and Bruce!

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Mad Scientists

 

Wait… Are you telling me that they aren’t mad scientists?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Mad Scientists

 

I can’t even with you right now….


…. Draw Bird Brain and Clint

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Mad Scientists

 

You got it.

 

---

 

Tony opens the door to his office, but doesn’t enter the office. “Rogers, Barnes, get in here,” he calls.

Steve’s eyes turn to the ceiling as he sets his stylus down.

Bucky stands up and pushes his chair in. “C’mon, big guy.”

“I was so close, though, so close!” Steve whispers as they walk into Tony’s office.

The brunet pats Steve’s shoulder as he shuts the door behind him.

“Sit down, please,” Tony says in a monotone voice.

Steve and Bucky exchange a worried look, the camera flickering back and forth.

“Is everything okay?” Steve asks.

Tony shakes his head. “No. No everything is not okay. In fact, everything’s turned to s*** since I’ve been here!”

There’s silence. Bucky glances at Steve before mumbling, “How?”

The older man rubs at his chin, spinning in his chair. “Pepper and I broke up again.”

Bucky groans, falling back in his own chair. “Seriously? Over what this time?”

“I didn’t go to a dinner thing because I was working on one of my robots,” Tony says, swiveling back around.

Steve winces. “Do you guys break up often?”
“No-” Tony says, covering his eyes as Bucky nods widely.

He makes an ‘o’ with his lips before he bites down on his bottom lip. “So what’s your usual protocol for this kind of thing?”

Tony peeks at Steve between his fingers. “Go out, drink myself into a blackout, hook up with random strangers, and sleep for a week.”

Steve raises an eyebrow. “Yeah, that’s not happening this time.”

Bucky smirks. “What’s up your sleeve, Rogers?”

The camera turns to focus on Steve as he pulls out his phone. “We’re putting you on a dating app and you’ll find a healthy rebound or fling. It’s better than going out and drinking so much.”

“He’s got a point,” Bucky says, coming back into the frame.

Tony sits up and takes Steve’s phone. “Aren’t dating sites really just hook-up sites?”

“Pretty much,” Bucky mumbles.

The phone rings in the background. Steve sighs as he gets up, jogging out of the room to answer it. The camera lingers on the doorway as Steve says, “Thank you for calling Stark Paper, this is Steve speaking. How can I help?” off screen.  

“I’ll think about it,” Tony says.

 

---

 

Producer: “Are you going to create a Tinder profile?

Tony scratches his chin, his fingers rough against his goatee. “I might. We’ll see.”

 

---

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Bird Brains

 

How’s it going?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Bird Brains

 

Oh, I just finished. I think you’re gonna like this one. Two bird brains at your service.

 

<Image attached: Bird_Brains>

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Bird Brains

 

Oh. My. God. I love it. I want this. Can you put this on a t-shirt? And a phone case? And a mouse pad?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Bird Brains

 

Jesus, Buck. It’s a cartoon! Not the Mona Lisa.

 

… But yes, yes I can.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Bird Brains

 

No, this isn’t the Mona Lisa. IT’S SO MUCH BETTER. Where else would I find Toucan Sam and Tweety Barton? Better yet, where can I find a little version of me as a zookeeper!

 

(I don’t really make that face do I?)

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Bird Brains

 

Oh, your murder face? All the time.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Bird Brains

 

Shut up and draw Peter Pupker and MJ Catson.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Bird Brains

 

<Image Attached: Cap_Salute>

 

---

 

Tony waltzes out of his office, cool and composed. “Thanks for the advice, boys. I’ve got myself a date.”

Steve pauses, phone held to his ear. “Have a good day,” he mumbles before hanging it up. “Did you say date? Tony, when I said I wanted you to go through this in a healthier manner, I didn’t mean to hook up with someone two hours after you broke up.”

“You and Pepper broke up again?” Scott gasps.

Tony rolls his eyes. “Yes, we did.” He leans against the receptionist desk. “And I’m not hooking up with her. We’re just grabbing lunch. She happens to be close by and we hit it off. I’ll be back in an hour.” He hits the desk and twirls around. Tony saunters off, putting on a pair of colored glasses.

“At least he isn’t drinking himself into a stupor?” Bucky says with a shrug, turning his chair to face Steve.

Steve sighs and downs the last of his coffee, setting the mug on the top of the desk. “I’m gonna need more coffee to get through this mess.”

Bucky jumps up, grabbing his own mug. “On it.”

The camera pans to Sam, watching Bucky carry the empty mugs into the kitchen. He swivels in his chair, eyes glued to his deskmate and his brow furrowed. Sam waits for the door to fully shut before he swivels back around.

Steve is already working again, not paying him any mind.

Sam turns to Natasha, eyebrow raised.

Natasha raises one back, her lips pursed.

 

---

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Neighborhood Watch

 

Told you so.

 

---

 

Producer: “How’d your date go?”

Tony smirks. “Great! We’re seeing each other tonight for dinner. I’m picking her up at her place in Queens.” He glances down at his watch. “In fact, I’m heading out early to get ready.”

 

---

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Cats and Dogs

 

Took me forever, but here you go:

 

<Image Attached: PeterPupker_and_MJCatson>

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Cats and Dogs

 

Dude. Did you really draw Peter and MJ playing as pets and Tony and Natasha fighting as their owners? Because I love it. I really really love it. This is more than I could have hoped for!

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Cats and Dogs

 

We should do this tomorrow. I had fun today.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Cats and Dogs

 

If that means I get more cute cartoons for free, then yes! We can play again tomorrow (even if you cheat and go over the time limit).

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Cats and Dogs

 

Well excuse me, some of us actually want to do our jobs. And next time, read the small print, Buck-o. You owe me like twelve cups of coffee now. I run on commissions.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Cats and Dogs

 

Lunch instead?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Cats and Dogs

 

Deal.

 

---

 

Steve and Bucky walk in the next morning, Starbucks in hand. Sam, Natasha, and Clint trail in after them, their own white cups cradled in their hands. They nod to the camera crew, spreading to their seats.

The camera turns to show the corner, where MJ and another boy are waiting at Peter’s desk.

Natasha pauses, Clint beside her. “Who’s the kid?” she asks, setting her stuff down.

The boy looks up, eyes wide and face pale. His face relaxes into a smile as he waves at her. “Hi, I’m Ned. I’m Peter’s friend.”

MJ leans forward in her seat. “Peter called us freaking out. Then he sent us a nine-one-one text this morning about coming into work early. That was like an hour ago and he still hasn’t shown up.”

The camera pans to show the office pausing in their movements.

Steve’s the first to move, walking closer to their cluster. “What do you mean he hasn’t shown? Is this a real nine-one-one or is he freaking out over something little?”

Clint inches closer. “Am I gonna have to shoot someone? If so, I need to know. I haven’t had enough coffee to handle that much blood.”

Ned shakes his head. “Nah, we’re pretty sure it’s something with his aunt. He seemed pretty flustered.”

“Probably embarrassed himself,” MJ says with a smirk.

The door swings open with a thud. The camera pans around in time to show Peter slamming the door. He marches over to his desk, pushing through the people. Peter drops his things on his desk and stands behind his chair, holding onto the back.

“Everything oka-” Sam starts as the door swings back open.

Tony walks in, arms spread. “Seriously kid? You’re really gonna slam the door in my face like that? I sign your paychecks, bud. Not the smartest move.”

The rest of the employees slowly inch backward, giving Tony a clear path to Peter. They linger, however.

Peter rolls his eyes and turns to face Tony. “Oh, please! After this morning, I should sue for-for,” he struggles to find the right word.

“Will you relax? It happened, but now we’re moving on. And it won’t happen again-” Tony tries, hands raised in defense.

“And why not? Was it not good enough?” Peter’s hands are balled into fists by his side.

Tony’s brow furrows. “Are you mad at me or..?”

Peter lets out a frustrated scream, turning around for a second. Ned and MJ exchange a worried glance, but they don’t move. “I’m mad! What you did crossed a line, Mr. Stark. Crossed it!”

MJ slaps a hand over Ned’s mouth as he starts to snicker.

“Someone want to catch us up?” Rhodey asks, standing in between the two.

Peter crosses his arms, glaring at Tony. He’s red in the face.

Tony sighs and motions towards Peter with his hand, very relaxed. “He may have seen more of me than he’d like this morning.”

“How?” Steve, Sam, and Bucky asks, each with scrunched faces.

“Oh, tell them Mr. Stark. Tell them how I saw you. Or more like, where I saw you,” Peter demands.

Tony raises his eyebrow and takes off his colored glasses.

“Well?” Bruce asks.

“I may have been at his house-”

“He’s screwing my Aunt May!” Peter bellows, finger jabbing the air in Tony’s direction. “I wake up this morning, go downstairs to make breakfast and hear a thud. Naturally, I think my poor aunt must have fallen. So I go and check up on her, because I’m her good, loving, innocent nephew.” He shakes his head, eyes wide with horror. “But no. I walk in to find Mr. Stark in bed with Aunt May having-” Peter shudders, turning around.

MJ pulls him into her arms. “When will you learn?” She says to Tony, her tone neutral. “When will you learn that your actions have consequences?”

Peter pushes her off with a frowning smirk. “Now is not the time,” he mumbles.

“Dude,” Sam sighs, shaking his head. “That’s messed up.”

Tony rolls his eyes. “Oh please. May and I are two grown adults. We can have a mature relationship if we please.”

Steve hums, biting his lip. “Doesn’t mean you should.”

The smaller man turns to his receptionist. “You don’t have room to talk. This is your-”

“No, it’s not,” Steve and Bucky answer quickly.

Bucky clears his throat. “Steve only suggested you finding someone on Tinder rather than getting drunk and sleeping with random people at a club. He just wanted you to be safer and smarter about dealing with your break-up. Just because you want to date Pete’s sweet aunt doesn’t make it Steve’s fault.”

Tony shakes his head. “I don’t want to date her. She was just a rebound.”

Peter lets out a strangled scream, hiding in MJ’s neck.

Natasha steps in between Tony and Peter. “I think you need to go into your office and think about what you did to Peter,” she says, crossing her arms.

Tony rolls his eyes and huffs, “Fine.”

As Tony heads to his office, the rest of the employees start to disperse from the corner of the office. Peter, MJ, Ned, and Natasha stay.

MJ rubs Peter’s back as he struggles to compose himself.

Ned points to the door. “I’m just gonna go. Text me later, Peter!”

Peter’s response is muffled by MJ’s shirt.

 

---

 

Producer: “Do you have any thoughts on what happened?

“Other than keeping my aunts away from Tony?” Sam says. “Then nah, not really.”

“Why is that?”
Sam leans forward. “Peter’s his favorite. If he’d do that to him, then there’s no telling what would happen to the rest of us.”

 

---

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Spider Boy

 

You know that Spider Boy character in your comic? You should make something like that for Peter. Make him smile.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Spider Boy

 

Hmm.. Good idea.

 

---

 

Producer: “Are you shocked by Peter’s reaction?”

Tony nods. “I didn’t think it’d be that big of a deal.”

“Why is that?”

“It’s not like I had sex with his mom-”

“Isn’t she like his parent, though?”

Tony pauses. “Well, yeah. But she’s still his aunt. And it’s not like I meant for him to walk in on us. And I won’t see her again!” He crosses his legs. “I plan on telling him this this afternoon, by the way.”

“Do you think he’ll accept your apology?”

Tony shakes his head. “I’m not apologizing. I didn’t use his aunt. I didn’t even know they were related until this morning. I’ll tell him all of that. I’ll apologize for how I reacted to him finding out, but I won’t apologize for being with May.”

 

---

 

“Peter.”

“Hmm?”

“You’re drooling.”

“Don’t care.”

“Well I do. It’s disgusting,” MJ sighs and hands him a tissue.

Peter sits up and wipes his mouth and desk. “Sorry,” he mumbles. He looks to his computer, lazily typing something.

MJ watches him for a second. “Peter?”

“Hmm?” He doesn’t look away.

“You okay?” she asks softly.

“Yeah,” he mumbles.

The camera zooms in as she hits a button. A familiar beat crackles out of her awful speakers. “ Why the f*** you lyin’? Why you always lying? Mmmmm oh my god, stop your f****** lying!

Peter snorts and looks up.

MJ keeps a blank stare, her nostrils flaring with the effort to hold her laughter.

He shakes his head and turns to his computer, a soft smile lingering.

She deflates a little and glances around her desk. It’s cluttered, filled with random sketches and frankensteined reference photos for the site. The flamingo tape holder stares her down, a mischievous gleam growing in MJ’s eyes. She plucks a piece of tape off, pulls her hair out of her face, and tapes her nose down.

“Psst,” she hisses, kicking Peter.

“Hmm?”

“Hello, I’m Squidward,” she says, her voice nasally. She wheezes as she starts laughing, her hair falling in front of her face.

Peter gasps, head popping up. “Oh my god,” he wheezes. “Say it again!”

She composes herself, her lips twitching to stay still. “Hello, I’m Squidward.”

He throws his head back as laughter bubbles out of his chest. “Oh god.”

 

---

 

The camera rests over Steve’s shoulder. He’s on his computer, pulling up Tony’s schedule and his IMs with Bucky. It zooms in as Steve types, When I’m off this call, come over. Gotta show you the Spider-Man thing.

Bucky replies, Spider-Man?

Explain later . Steve adjusts the phone as he exits the chat. “He has Thursday at two free, does that work for you?”

The camera pans over to Bucky. The salesman is watching Steve out the corner of his eye.

Sam’s watching Bucky, barely visible in the frame. “Are you serious?” He whispers to Bucky.

Bucky turns to Sam, eyebrows raised. “What?”

“You’re just sitting there waiting for him to call you? Barnes, he’s engaged for crying out loud,” Sam hisses quietly, his own brow furrowed.

“You don’t think I know that?” Bucky snaps, voice just as quiet. “I’m well aware that I can’t be with him. We’re friends and nothing more.”

Sam glares at him. “For some reason, I doubt that.”

Bucky glances at Steve, who’s ending his call. “Doubt it all you want, but that doesn’t change the truth,” Bucky says as he stands from his seat. “I’ll be back,” he grumbles, shoving his chair under the desk.

Steve raises an eyebrow. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah,” he says, “What’s up?”

Steve watches him for a moment, before he scoots back and tilts his screen for Bucky to see. “What do you think? It’s not much, but it’s enough to cheer him up hopefully.”

Bucky cranes his neck to see the image on Steve’s screen. “Rogers, this is awesome!”

Steve adjusts his glasses. “Thanks. Think he’ll like it?”

“He’ll love it.”

The camera pans back to Sam, who’s watching them with squinted eyes.

 

---

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: Peter Parker

Subject: quit pouting

 

you need to stop pouting peter.

 

Peter Parker <pparker@starkpaper.com>

To: Michelle Jones

Subject: Re: quit pouting

 

I’m not pouting. I’m upset. My innocent mind will never be the same.

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: Peter Parker

Subject: Re: quit pouting

 

oh shut up. I get you’re upset and as cute as you are being all sad, it’s not cool. I don’t want to see Stark stark naked ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) or anything either but you need to try and ignore it

 

Peter Parker <pparker@starkpaper.com>

To: Michelle Jones

Subject: Re: quit pouting

 

I’m fine.

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: Peter Parker

Subject: Re: quit pouting

 

Then I need to pull out the big guns.

 

80bc8294c5573725bbd007d9cb694e44

Peter Parker <pparker@starkpaper.com>

To: Michelle Jones

Subject: Re: quit pouting

 

Oh my god MJ

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: Peter Parker

Subject: Re: quit pouting

 

This is happening. Say the word and I’ll stop.

 

This is about to be you:

 

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: Peter Parker

Subject: Re: quit pouting

 

7f0c2200f45a3d01f77388e663913347--tumblr-stuff-social-anxiety

 

Peter Parker <pparker@starkpaper.com>

To: Michelle Jones

Subject: Re: quit pouting

 

You’re killing me!

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: Peter Parker

Subject: Re: quit pouting

 

Me thinking of all the ways I don’t care:

 

Spongebob

 

Peter Parker <pparker@starkpaper.com>

To: Michelle Jones

Subject: Re: quit pouting

 

Alright! You win! I’ll say it. You, MJ, are the Meme Lord.

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: Peter Parker

Subject: Re: quit pouting

 

Thank you.

 

---

 

Producer: “What was with the Spongebob pictures?”

MJ smirks. “We binge watched Spongebob this weekend and sent each other memes . It was a great weekend, really.”

“So it’s just something you two do?”

She nods. “Pretty much.”

 

---

 

MJ’s usual blank expression is clouded with concern. She’s staring at Peter over her computer. He’s trying to focus on his work, but it’s not working. He checks his phone every few minutes.

“Parker,” she calls softly.

He glances up at her, his head on his desk.

“Things are going to be okay, you know that right? I doubt Stark and May will stay together. He and Pepper are perfect for each other, even if they’re all hot and cold,” she says.

Peter shrugs and lays back down. “Doesn’t take away from the fact I saw everything .”

She gives him a half smile. “Yeah, but at least you didn’t see any of May?”

“Thankfully,” he grumbles.

MJ gets up and sits on his desk. He puts his head on her thigh, his fluffy brown hair spilling onto her slacks. She runs her fingers through it. “I once saw my dad in the shower. We were at a hotel and there was this glass door that wasn’t frosted or anything. I go in to grab a hairbrush thinking it was my mom in the shower, a young, innocent thirteen year old, and there he was.” She shudders as Peter looks up at her.

“Gross,” he whispers.

She grimaces. “It was a very awkward vacation after that.”

He shakes his head and lays back on her lap. “How is this helping?”

“It doesn’t, but now you know you’re going to be haunted by that image forever. Hell, it’s probably worse since you worship Stark and all.”

Peter gasps, sitting up. “I do not!”

MJ raises an eyebrow. “You so do. You’d do anything for him.”

“That’s because I’m his employee, not because I worship him.”

“You don’t see the rest of us falling over our feet to please him,” she says, tilting her head.

Peter pouts, his bottom lip jutting out and his big brown eyes more puppy than human. “You’re the worst.”

MJ glances around before she pecks his lips. “Maybe so, but you like me,” she whispers. She hops off his desk before he can say anything and returns to her seat.

The camera zooms in on Peter’s blushing face where a small smile starts to grow.

 

---

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: Peter Parker

Subject: Sorry?

 

I feel what happened this morning is partially my fault. I should have gotten in front of Tony before he did all that.

 

Anyway, I drew up this poster thing for you? Hope you like it.

 

<Image_a

 

Peter Parker <pparker@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Sorry?

 

Oh. My. God. That is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!! And that’s me??? Ahhhh Thanks Steve!! Thank you so much!!

 

---

 

The camera watches as Tony and Peter talk in Tony’s office, peeking through the blinds They’re sitting at his desk. Tony’s leaning forward, talking with his hands. Peter’s fidgeting, not meeting Tony’s gaze.

Tony talks for a moment, almost lecturing the young boy.

Peter’s shoulders deflate as he sits up. He says something, hands moving fast and his head bobbing.

The older man stands, walking around the desk to kneel in front of Peter. He pulls Peter into his arms, the younger boy shaking.

Something obscures the screen. It’s now black. It moves to show a pink hue around the edges and a hand moves away from the lens to show Steve and Sam’s disappointed glares. “Whatever’s going on in there is private,” Steve says.

“And something that doesn’t concern your documentary,” Sam comments.

The two men watch the camera as it starts to backup, heading out the door. They share a high-five before the camera fades to black.

Chapter Text

Bucky huffs as he plops into his seat. His brow is furrowed and his arms are crossed, he’s not looking at the camera’s lens.

Producer: “Everything okay?

“No.”

“Care to share?”

“Tony blew up his office.”

“What happened?”

Bucky rolls his eyes and glares into the lens. “I know you know. Play the reel.”

 

---

 

Tony was hunched over his desk. His goggles were sitting askew on his nose, his brow was furrowed, and his hands moving quickly over the parts and tools. A computer motherboard sits in front of him, wires and screws pointing in every direction.

“Tomorrow night, are we going to that gala Dad’s hosting?” he asked, glanced at his phone.

The speaker crackled as Pepper started to talk, “I thought we would. We were invited as employees and as his family. I don’t really see us having a choice.”

Tony made a face as he screwed in a plate onto the motherboard. “We do. We always have a choice, Potts.”

“Not in this situation. We’re going, Tony. Your mother would want us to go,” she said softly.

The screwdriver fell to the floor as Tony swiveled to pick up the phone, taking it off speaker. The camera zoomed in for a moment on the forgotten screwdriver. “Don’t pull the mom card,” he gasped.

Pepper’s voice carried in the quiet room, despite being pressed to Tony’s ear.

“That doesn’t mean we have to go,” he bellowed, voice rattling the windows. Tony slung an arm over his desk, knocking into his glass of coke and Bacardi. The camera followed the glass as it tips over, ice and liquid sprayed the desk as it collided with the motherboard like a carbonated tsunami.

Tony’s eyes grew wide. “S***.”

The motherboard crackled and popped as wires sparked.

“What? What happened? Tony?” Pepper’s voice called from the dropped phone.

The man scrambled to grab a roll of paper towels, but it was already too late. A fire combusted on his desk in mere seconds.

Tony barreled into the empty office and snatched Bucky’s phone off his desk. He punched in a few numbers and waited. “Hi, yes, this is Tony Stark with Stark Paper, Inc-” he started. “Yeah, it happened again.” He waited, tapping his foot. “Not this time. No, it was a motherboard.”

 

---

 

“Now do you see why I’m mad?” Bucky huffs.

“No, not particularly.”

Bucky rolls his eyes. He turns in his seat, pulls the blinds up on the window, and points to his desk.

The camera moves closer, peeking through the blinds. Tony sits at Bucky’s desk, playing a video game on his phone. The blinds snap closed and the camera pulls away.

“Now do you get it?” Bucky huffs.

“What exactly happened?”

Bucky pinches the bridge of his nose. “He basically burnt his office to the ground. This is the third time he’s done this this year. And every single time, he takes my desk.” He shakes his head, pouting. “It’s not fair. Sam should have to suffer just as much as I do.”

“Is the damage bad?”

He shrugs. “They’re remodeling his office, but there’s not lasting damage done to the building. No harm, no foul. He’s not allowed to play with his machines anymore in the office,” Bucky scoffs. “They act like he’s gonna listen to them.”



---

 

Sam glares at his computer screen as a piece of paper hits his cheek. He glances down, his head not moving, at the folded triangle. Slowly, he picks up the paper and flicks it back at the source: Tony Stark. “I’ve got too much stuff to do, Stark. I’m not playing paper football with you.”

“Why not? I’m your boss and I’m asking for you to entertain me. In fact, I’m paying you to spend valuable selling hours to play paper football with me,” Tony insists, flicking the paper back at Sam.

“I’m trying to make the most of my commission, thank you very much.” Sam takes the football and throws it in the garbage. “Go bug Banner or something.”

Tony whines, spinning in his chair. “Bruce is boring. He stayed up all night and now he won’t look at me.”

Sam turns around, glaring at Bruce.

The curly-haired scientist has his face hidden as he talks to a customer on the phone, his head ducked down.

He turns back around and glares at Steve.

“Hey, Tony,” Steve calls, “can I ask you a question?”

Tony hops up and saunters over to reception.

Sam spins back around. “We need to fix this,” he whispers hisses to Wanda and Bruce.

Wanda turns around to face him. “I thought you hated sitting by Bucky?”

“Yeah, but Bucky at least gives me time to do some work,” Sam groans.

Bruce shakes his head. “Don’t look at me. I can only tolerate him under certain circumstances.”

Sam glares at him. “Then what do we do?”

“I vote that you try to get my seat back,” Bucky hisses as he crouches between Wanda and Sam’s desks. “I can’t sit back there with Rhodey! It’s cold and musty.”

“Shut up, Barnes, you just miss Steve,” Sam snaps. “Rhodey is ten times better than Stark.”

Bucky flails his hands in the air. “So why can’t I switch with Tony?!”

Wanda points at Bucky. “He makes a good point.”

Sam rolls his eyes. “Because you,” he jabs Bucky in the forehead, making the man fall to his butt, “need to ease off Rogers. You two are way too close and you’re gonna get yourself hurt. Besides, Rhodes would kill me if I sent him Stark.”

The camera focuses on Bucky, still on the floor, with the office chairs framing the shot. Bucky slaps Sam’s hand away and glares at him. “Why do you get to call the shots?”

Someone clears their throat and the camera turns to show a pair of Italian dress shoes. It pans over the legs, slowly revealing Tony’s graphic tee and blazer and eventually his confused face. “Barnes, would you like a seat? Just because I own it doesn’t mean you can’t use them.”

Bucky glares at him as he struggles to get up. He dusts off his slacks. “I’m fine, thank you. If you’ll excuse me, Sam ,” Bucky raises his eyebrows at his former deskmate, “I have work to do.”

Sam shoots daggers into Bucky’s back as the man walks to the back corner.

Tony claps his hands. “Alright! Let’s get back to work!”

 

---

 

Bucky is fuming. “I hate him sometimes.”

Producer: “Tony?”

“Sam.”

“Why?”

“He can be such an a******.”

“Aren’t you friends?”

Bucky huffs, arms crossed as he glares at the wall. “Best friends, but still.”

 

---

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Bored

 

How’s the corner? Rhodey isn’t talking your ear off is he?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Oh, of course he is. He’s worse than Sam. Just talks and talks and talks.

 

How’s babysitting the boss-child?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Bored

 

He’s worse than Peggy’s nephew and that kid’s two.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Yikes. Didn’t know you were an uncle.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Bored

 

I’m not his uncle yet. I’m his godfather, though.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Seriously? Who’s kid is it?

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Peggy’s sister Sharon. They have a weird rule about not picking family and it just happened to be me and their friend Angie.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Let me get this straight. You and Sharon’s friend Angie are her son’s godparents? But not you and Peggy?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Basically. I grew up with them in a way and Ang, Peg, and Sharon are basically the Schuyler sisters. Peggy being Angelica of course.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Of course she’d be Angelica. I couldn’t imagine anyone else as Angelica, tbh.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Yeah, me neither.

 

Are you as bored as I am?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Basically. What happened to the comic?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Bored

 

I’m like three months ahead of schedule so I don’t have to work on it. It makes me nervous making stuff so far in advance, too.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Why’s that? Afraid you’ll lose it?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Bored

 

I have a natural fear of technology, thank you very much.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Oh come on, you grandpa! What do you save it on? A flash drive?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Bored

 

No, I use a cloud, thank you very much. And I backup everything onto a flash drive just in case. I just… don’t trust the Internet. Too many bad things happen on the Internet. I mean, there are good things and stuff, but for the most part it sucks.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Well I can’t argue with that.

 

If you’re not drawing, then what are you up to?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Bored

 

I’m rearranging my desk

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Ew.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Bored

 

I know. You?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Paperwork. I’ve finished all of my leads and now I have to tally up a bunch of numbers and stuff for the accountants.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Bored

 

And you said my stuff was gross?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Shut up, punk.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Coffee break?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Will you make me a latte?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Pumpkin spice or mocha?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Both?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Bored

 

Sure. Meet you there in three minutes.

 

---

 

Steve’s leaning against the counter, stirring two mugs of coffee when Bucky walks in. “Took you long enough,” the blond quips. He offers Bucky a mug.

Bucky rolls his eyes and takes the hot beverage. “Had to slip past Rhodey. He’s been making comments about how I’m wasting valuable work time.”

“Oh, you better be careful Barnes. Rhodes might discipline you,” Steve says against the lip of his mug.

“And Tony will fire me. What’s next in your world of make-believe?”

Steve laughs, wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand.

Bucky winks at him as he takes a sip. A quiet moan rumbles through his chest. “Damn, Stevie. It’ll never not be shocking when you make our s*** coffee taste like unicorn blood.”

“Flattery won’t get you anywhere, Barnes,” Steve says as he walks towards the annex and break room.

“Why’re you going in there?” Bucky asks, following after him like a lost puppy. The camera trails them both, a cameraman’s hand grabbing the door in the corner of the shot.

Steve shrugs, glancing over his shoulder. “I think Nat, Clint, and Sam are hiding out from Tony’s wrath.”

Bucky snickers into his mug. “Serves them right for shoving me into the corner,” he mumbles.

The breakroom chatter grows louder as Steve opens the door. “I just think it’s too sketchy for them not to be apart of the Illuminati,” Clint says from his seat on top of the corner table.

Natasha smirks, leaning back in her seat. She’s sitting in the table adjacent to Clint’s, her legs propped on the table. “Hiya boys,” she purrs.

Sam glances over his shoulder, not bothering to turn away from Natasha and Clint. He’s straddling a chair, arms resting on the back of it. He nods to the chairs surrounding Nat’s table. “Have a seat.”

“Don’t let us interrupt,” Steve says as the two of them take their seats.

“Oh, we were just talking about these robbery things,” Clint said, waving it off.

Steve’s brow furrows. He glances between the four of them. “Robberies?”

Bucky chuckles, an eyebrow raised. “You seriously haven’t heard about the Brooklyn Bludgeoners?”

The blond shakes his head.

“Basically there’s been a string of robberies, right,” Sam starts. He shakes his head. “These a******* are ridiculous. They steal the stupidest s*** and wear these funky lookin’ masks that make them look like B list comic book villains rather than the menacing robbers they try to be.”

Natasha pulls her phone out.

Clint leans forward and continues, “They’ve hit a total of ten places in the past two weeks. Every place has either been a rich, white, hetero family or a successful business. Any place that’s actually gonna make bank and really won’t be affected. And it’s all over Brooklyn.”

“So far,” Sam cuts, “it’s only been on the edge of Brooklyn. They haven’t hit the middle of it.”

“It’s almost like they’ve got a plan and a target cause it’s a perfect line on the edge of Brooklyn,” Clint says, eyes wide and eyebrows raised. “Almost like it a conspiracy.”

Natasha rolls her eyes. “Or they’re just doing a sweep of the city.” She hands Steve the phone. “Those are the perps, supposedly. They’ve had a total of three witnesses, all with varying degrees of stories. The number changes and the people change, so the police think it’s a gang that’s trying to be systematic with their hits. Keep a rotation going, ya know?”

Steve scrolls through the article. “Is that supposed to be a giant grape with a glove?”

“Yeah,” Bucky says over Steve’s shoulder, “that’s Thanos.”

“What kind of name is ‘Thanos?’” Steve asks, brow furrowed as he looks up from the phone. He glances around at his coworkers, eyebrow raised in response.

Clint shrugs. “His name?”

Bucky reaches over and scrolls down to the next picture. “This guy supposedly runs around on a hoverboard and pickpockets people. He wears this goblin mask. Guess what they call him?”

Steve hums. “Charles?”

Bucky breathes a laugh through his nose. “Green Goblin,” he says, sarcasm dripping from his voice.

“You don’t say?” Steve scrolls down to a man in a mask. His chin and nose are exposed, but his hair and eyes are covered, or shadowed by the mask. A white target sits on his forehead. “And this one? Lemme guess, it’s not Target is it?”

“Bullseye.”

“I was right?” Steve laughs.

Bucky hits the back of Steve’s head, laughing. “No, you idiot. That’s Bullseye.”

Steve’s brow furrows as he looks to the rest of the group for reassurance.

Natasha nods.

“Sadly, Barnes is right,” Sam sighs.

“Who named these people?” Steve gasps.

Clint shoves his phone in Steve’s face, a picture of a brick wall tagged with graffiti barely visible. “They did.”

Steve takes the phone and rolls his eyes. “I’d hate to be them when they get arrested.”

Bucky rests his head on Steve’s shoulder, his mug forgotten on the table. “What makes you think they’ll get caught?”

“They’ve set a pattern by trying to not have a pattern! Trust me on this, they’ll get caught,” Steve says, his knee bouncing lightly.

“Let’s hope so,” Sam groans. “I don’t like the idea of my sister’s house gettin’ hit.”

“She lives on the edge of Brooklyn?” Natasha asks, eyebrow raised.

Sam nods. “Close enough.”

Natasha looks to Clint. “Maybe Coulson can swing by her house, make sure she’s safe?”

Sam’s eyebrows shoot up to his hairline. “Barton, you pull that off and I’ll buy you the best bow I can afford.”

Clint salutes him. “Already on it.”

Steve sips at his coffee, shaking his head. “How much have they stolen?”

“Thousands,” Bucky mumbles.

“That’s disgusting. How can they get away with that?” Steve scoffs. “Have they hurt anyone yet?” His knee starts bouncing a little harder.

Natasha watches Steve’s leg and shakes her head. “Just B&E and vandalism, no assault charges yet.”

Sam stands. “Doesn’t mean they won’t do something,” he mumbles. “I can’t talk about this anymore. Someone pray for me.”

Bucky lifts his head away from Steve’s shoulder in time for the man to stand up. “I’m right behind you,” Steve says, tucking in his chair. “Enjoy your break,” he calls over his shoulder, fumbling a little to follow Sam out of the room.

“He seem okay to you?” Bucky asks, brow furrowed as he watches the door.

Clint shrugs, too busy texting something on his phone. “Seems fine.”

Natasha shakes her head. “I think he’s a little unnerved by this whole robbery thing. He and Peggy aren’t exactly poor, you know.”

Bucky hums, head dropping. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m… I’m gonna go. I’ll talk to you guys later,” he mumbles as he scrambles out of his seat.

“Barnes,” Nat calls, sitting up.

Bucky stops. He turns around, one hand on the door. “Yeah?”

She gives him a small smile. “You might want to pull your parachute.”

Bucky’s head tilts to one side.

“You’re falling fast and hard and if you don’t pull away now, it’s going to get ugly.”

“Brain explosion ugly,” Clint quips.

Bucky gives them a small smile. “Thanks. I appreciate it, but I know what I’m doing.” He taps the doorframe and slips out of the breakroom.

 

---

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: 20 q’s?

 

Wanna play a game?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Sure, Jigsaw. What’d you have in mind?

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Funny. Read the subject line, nitwit.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

I’m down. You start.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Where’d you grow up?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

I’m Brooklyn born and raised, baby. Did you go to prom?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

I did! I went with Taylor Markstein. She wore a pretty purple gown and I wore an ill fitting tux. Did you?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Yeah I did. Went with Peggy, actually. We only stayed for like a song or two, enough for her to win Prom Queen. Then we found the greasiest burger place and sang awful karaoke songs. Speaking of which, what’s your go to?

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen. Where do you see yourself in twenty years?

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Easy. Three kids, two dogs, and a successful comic book line. Maybe a graphic novel or two. Or even an actual novel. What was your dream job as a kid?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

It’s so corny and cheesy, but I really wanted to be an astronaut. Just couldn’t wrap my head around the science stuff. Favorite school subject? Academically speaking.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

History. I love learning about the past. My Ma used to joke about how I should’ve been born a hundred years ago. Always said I was an old soul.

 

Go-to take out?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Same! WWII was my thing!

 

That Chinese place on my block that we went to the other week. Have any scars?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Have you ever been to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans? It’s pretty cool.

 

Where do I begin? I’ve got a small scar on the side of my nose from getting hit with a frisbee. Scars in the creases of my arms (mostly under the tattoo) from my time in the hospital and they could never get a vein to stick. I’ve got scars all up and down my legs from scraping them on the street. There’s one on my temple from where I hit my head on the railing of some stairs and another under my hairline when I jumped off a car. I’ve got a few on my back from some nasty falls. There’s a few on my torso and thighs from my appendectomy, a skin graft, and where they had to go in to put a few screws in my femur cause I broke it.

 

I think that’s all of them?

 

How deep can I go with my questions? If you’re just wanting easy stuff, then what’s your superhero name? If not, what’s your biggest regret in life?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Damn son! How are you alive?

 

We can go as deep as we want, but if we say Red Light then we stop. Deal?

 

Superhero Name: Winter Soldier, but he’s more anti-hero than a typical hero.

 

Biggest Regret: Not telling my dad that I loved him before he passed.

 

Do you ever regret not being in the military?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Dunno, honestly. Even the doctors are shocked. National Geographic tried to capture me for experimentation to see what mutation I grew to stick around. It’s called Stubborntits.

 

Deal.

 

The Winter Soldier sounds so badass! I can picture him now, all mysterious and dressed in black and silver. His hair would be longer though, cloaking his face in shadows at all times. And he’d wear guyliner cause guyliner is hot af.

 

I’m sorry, Buck. That’s rough. How long has it been?

 

I do, but I don’t. The military life isn’t easy by any means, but it’s something my dad did. I wanted to be like him, ya know? Grow up and fight for our country (even if it’s filled with nazis and a*******) and do the right thing. Wasn’t meant to be, so I have Cap.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Oh. My. God.

 

Your new name is Stubborntits I’m changing it in my phone. Oh my god.

 

I will pay if you draw that for me. Just tell me the price.

 

It was high school. I’m over it now, kind of. You never really get over your grief and all, I’m sure you know that.

 

You’d be a good soldier, but I’m glad you didn’t go that route. Then we wouldn’t know each other.

 

Are you keeping track of questions?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

-__-

 

That’s not what I meant and you know it!

 

Already got it sketched out. Let me use it in the comic and I’ll draw you a free print?

 

You got me there, pal.

 

Cheesy much?

 

Not at all. We’re bored, stuck in an office, and on opposite sides of the room. May as well keep going.

 

---

 

Natasha sulks over to Bucky’s temporary desk. She hops onto the clear space, crossing her legs.

Bucky pushes away from the desk, grabbing at his chest. “Jesus christ, Romanoff!”

“You okay, Barnes?”

“Other than a heart attack? Yeah, I’m fine.” Bucky rolls himself back to his desk, turning to face her. He taps his mouse, hiding his emails. “What brings you to my humble abode?”

She gives him a small smile and caresses his cheek. She taps it a few times, her smile growing sickly. Natasha pops him on the cheek with a solid slap.

Bucky gasps, his right arm shooting up to hold his cheek. “The hell are you up to?”

“I can see you drooling from my desk. You’ve been giving your desktop googly eyes all day,” she says, crossing her arms. “You’ve been talking to Steve, haven’t you?”

“So? We’re friends!” Bucky rubs at his cheek.

“Friends?” Rhodey scoffs from his side of the desk cube. “Tony and I are friends. You and Sam are friends. You and Steve? Yeah, that’s not being casual friends.”

Natasha raises an eyebrow, her head tilting towards Rhodey. “Even he sees it. Hell, everyone in this office can see that you’ve got eyes for Rogers except Rogers.” She shakes her head and covers Bucky’s mouth before he can speak. “Don’t. There’s nothing you can say that’ll change the situation. He’s engaged , Barnes. He’s going to get married . It’s time to either move on or tell him how you feel.”

Bucky splutters, sitting up in his seat. The camera zooms in on his face. “I can’t do that,” he whisper hisses, eyes frantically searching the room as he ducks his head. “If I told Steve that I liked him, it’d ruin everything between us.”

“Then you need to back the hell off before something happens that you’ll both regret,” Natasha says. She kicks herself off the desk and sashays back to her desk, leaving Bucky to pout in his spinning office chair.

Rhodey shakes his head. “Wouldn’t want to be you, that’s for sure.”

Bucky glares at him. “Thanks for that.”

 

---

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

I’m losing track of where we’re at conversation wise. Maybe we should slow down?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Agreed.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

I think it’s your turn to ask a question.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Okay… Worst date?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Oh, easy. Nat set me up with her friend and it was awful. She had an allergic reaction to the pasta dish we shared at this weird, family style Italian restaurant Nat suggested. Poor girl had to be taken to the hospital and have her stomach pumped.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

That’s awful. Did you guys go on a second date?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Nah, she said the sight of me reminded her of spewing chunks all over the table. She didn’t want to throw up every time we got together. It’s all good, though.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Gross… She puked on the table?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

And the poor Chinese man across from her. He went off on us for a good twenty minutes until his daughter translated the situation to him. It was a mess.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

That’s… wow.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Yeah… Your turn, what’s your worst break-up been?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Um. I’ve only been in one relationship.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Seriously? Peggy’s the only person you’ve been with?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Pretty much. We got together at the end of high school and we’ve been together ever since.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Why? You’re a catch! I mean, look at you!

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

You didn’t see me when I was younger. It was ugly.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

First of all, you’re a saint. You’re literally one of the most talented and lovable people I have ever met. And second, if someone can’t be with you because of your personality, then they don’t deserve your looks.

 

*Mic drop*

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

That was hardly a mic drop moment, Barnes. But you didn’t see what I looked like when I was younger. I was thin and small and weak and always sick. It wasn’t until college that I actually had the time and health to grow.

 

But it’s nice to know you don’t like me cause of this ugly mug.

 

Image attached <img_0237>

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Steven Rogers, did you just send me a work selfie? Did you just send me a selfie?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

I did.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

I’m impressed a grandpa like you knows how to do that.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Hardy har har

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

Seriously, though, do you ever wonder about what it’d be like to date other people? If you’ve been with Peggy, how do you know if she’s right for you?

 

You can say red light if that’s too much.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

No, no that’s fine…

 

I didn’t throughout college. Thought Pegs was the girl of my dreams, and maybe she is. It was until we both graduated and tried to do our own thing that things got uneasy. She’s not around as often and I’m spending more and more time by myself. It’s hard not to feel lonely and think about the if’s and could be’s ya know?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

I get that. But she’s building her career for the two of you. One day it’ll all be worth it, especially when you’re wanting to start a family. She’s just looking out for the two of you and your future.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

There might not be a future if things keep going this way.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

What do you mean?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

She just… isn’t the girl I fell in love with. She’s incredible and I’ll always love her, but… our love’s changed and not for the better, ya know?

 

I don’t want to talk about this over an email, Buck.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: 20 q’s?

 

I’ll be there in three.

 

---

 

“So,” Bucky says as he gets close to Steve’s desk. He leans on the counter, voice low as he asks, “You still wanna talk about it?”

Steve smiles softly and puts down the fax he was holding. “I’m lost,” he admits.

“Lost ain’t so bad,” Bucky says. “Lost can open up new doors and invite new possibilities into your life. It’s not all negative stuff, ya know?”

Steve nods. “Maybe, but it’s not fun.”

“Never said it was. I just said it wasn’t negative. Quit puttin’ words in my mouth, punk,” Bucky chuckles, winking at the blond.

“I don’t know what to do,” Steve laments, eyes wide and lip jutting out. His shoulders fell as he leans on his fist.

Bucky mimics his posture, his body shifting to one side. “You love her, right?”

Steve nods, adjusting his glasses. “Yeah, I do,” he mumbles. He opens his mouth and shakes his head. “No, that’s… That’s not true,” he sighs. “I love her, but not like I did.”

“What do you mean?” Bucky’s brow furrows.

The blond fiddles with a pencil. “Like I said, things aren’t like it used to be. I don’t know if we grew apart or if we just went in different directions without telling anyone? I’m not sure what’s going on, if I’m quite honest.”

Bucky nods, his teeth tugging at his lip. “Well,” he takes in a deep breath, “have you talked to her?”

Steve shakes his head, eyes focused on the tip of the eraser. “That’s just it,” he says with frustrated sigh. He tugs at his hair, the creases in his forehead growing deeper.

Bucky glances up, catching the camera lens. He moves to stand in between Steve and the camera, blocking the view of Steve from the camera’s view. “Hey, Stevie,” Bucky says softly, “it’s gonna be okay.” He reaches his hand out, running it along Steve’s back. “You should talk to her. Sit her down and have an honest conversation about how you feel.”

Steve’s mic picks up a bitter laugh from the man. “I can’t do that, Bucky. She’d hate me. She’ll get mad that I ruined everything. We’re getting married and all I can think about is how I’m… I’m not sure if I want to do this anymore.”

“Why not? Why do you think you feel this way?” Bucky’s head dips lower, his shoulders hunched.

“Red. I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Not here.”

Bucky’s back straightens. “Got it. You think they’ll finish Tony’s office soon?” He moves to reveal a watery eyed Steve, still tucked into himself.

Steve laughs softly. “I hope so. Miss seeing your ugly mug.”

“Yeah? Or are you just tired of babysitting Stark?”

Steve sags with relief, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Oh god, he never stops!”
Bucky taps on the counter, already pulling away from the desk. “Cut the caffeine supply. And the booze.” Bucky nods towards the kitchen. “Or give him some of Bruce’s tea. That helps calm him down.”

“You’re a genius,” Steve says, standing. “A pure genius.”

Bucky tips his imaginary hat as he starts to walk back towards his desk.

Steve watches him, smile taking up most of his face. He shakes his head and starts for the kitchen.

 

---

 

Nick Fury <nfury@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Transfer

 

Barnes,

 

I’m surprised to hear from you. I figured with how well your numbers have been for this quarter that you’d want to stick around.

 

Either way, there is a position open at the Rochester branch. It’d be a sales lead and you’d get a 8% raise, we’ll cover your moving cost, and I can get you two weeks worth at a bed and breakfast while you find a place.

 

I’ll give you a few days to think about it. Until then, it’ll stay between you and I.

 

  • Fury

 

---

 

Producer: “So, Bucky…”

Bucky sighs and rubs at his face. “Just ask.”

“We got word that you might be transferring to Rochester?”

Might ,” Bucky stresses. He scratches at his scruffy jaw. “I think,” he sighs. “I think it’s for the best.”

“Is this because of your feelings for Steve?”

Bucky nods, his knee bouncing. “Yeah,” he admits softly. “I-” Bucky’s head drops, his hair falling out of his neat coif and onto his forehead. “I don’t think this is healthy for either of us.”

“And moving is?”

He shrugs. “I can’t be here,” Bucky says. “I can’t watch him love someone else to the point he’s miserable because he doesn’t want to ruin everything.”

“But you’ve been so supportive so far?”

Bucky laughs bitterly, looking off frame. He wipes at his eyes with his right hand. “I can’t sit here and watch the man I’m in love with-” Bucky freezes. He closes his eyes and sighs, shoulders sagging. “I’m in love with him,” he whispers, “and I’m not sure if he’d ever love me. So, until I can figure out another way to get over him, then… I’ll leave.”

Chapter Text

Steve’s pacing in front of his desk, his phone inches away from his face.

Sam’s sitting at his desk, fist covering his face as he watches the blond slowly start to panic.

Tony walks in, humming the theme song to Animaniacs . He pauses in front of Steve, who’s still pacing. He raises an eyebrow and points to the man. “What’s his deal?

“Don’t ask,” Sam sighs.

Steve spins towards Sam, his face pale and frozen in his shock. “You act like this isn’t a big deal!” He waves his phone in Sam’s direction.

The camera swings to focus on Sam’s face, still watching Steve with dull eyes. “It’s not, Rogers. They’re ten blocks away. That’s not that close.”

“Not that close?” Steve bellows. “I live seven blocks away!”

“In the opposite direction,” Sam reminds him, sitting up.

Tony blinks and shakes his head. “Too early,” he mumbles, “too f****** early.”

Steve rolls his eyes. “That doesn’t matter anymore, Sam. They’ve stopped using their pattern. There is no pattern anymore. How can you track these guys if they don’t use a pattern anymore?”

“You should always be prepared,” Sam says, “and you can’t plan for those sort of things.”

“But you can, if you have a pattern to guide you,” Steve huffs, burying himself back in his phone.

Bucky walks in, eyeing Steve with furrowed brows. “What’s with you this morning? Peggy put speed in your Starbucks?”

Steve shoves the phone in Bucky’s face, shifting from foot to foot as he waits.

“Oh,” Bucky mumbles. “Yeah, I passed that.”

Steve gasps, body tensing.

“Passed what?” Wanda asks, slipping past Bucky.

“The Brooklyn Bludgeoners standoff,” Steve explains. “It’s been going on for like an hour.” Steve turns to Bucky, glaring at him. “Why did you even leave the house? It’s on your block!”

Bucky shrugs. “I didn’t know it was happening and it’s on the opposite side of my block. I was fine,” he says, grabbing Steve’s shoulders. “You, Cap, need to relax.”

Steve bites his bottom lip, foot tapping. “Yeah, yeah, I do.”

Bucky turns him around, steering him towards his desk. “Why don’t you sit down and sketch for a bit. I’ll keep an eye on the situation and give you updates. Okay?”

“Okay,” Steve mumbles, plopping down into his office chair.

“Take a deep breath and sketch me something pretty.” Bucky pats Steve’s shoulders and starts towards his desk, pulling his bag off. He sighs and takes a seat.

Sam shakes his head. “You’re in real deep, Barnes.”

Bucky runs a hand through his hair, sending the loose strands in every direction. “Tell me about it.”

 

---

 

Producer: “You’re really concerned about the Brooklyn Bludgeoners, why is that?”

Steve’s chewing at the side of his thumb. “Makes me nervous.”

“Why?”

He runs a hand through his hair. “I don’t like bullies and I don’t like criminals. Not the ones who hurt others for their own good.”

“Does that mean you like some criminals?”

“We live in America,” his voice is solid as he straightens up, “and I’m not blind. I don’t hate criminals with non-violent charges or drug related issues. I just can’t do the people who just hate to hate or harm others to get what they want.” Steve’s jaw twitches as his hand moves to the arm rest. “I cannot stand the way our justice system works. It’s just-”

 

---

 

Peter sits at MJ’s desk, legs dangling as he sips at his coffee. He’s watching her work.

“It looks good,” he mumbles into his mug.

MJ glances up at him from under her bangs. “I’m just playing around.”

“Doesn’t mean it doesn’t look good,” Peter says, nudging her left arm with his knee.

She shrugs. “I guess.” MJ saves her work and grabs her mug, leaning back in her chair. “Don’t you have work to do?”

He shakes his head. “I’m caught up on all the customer complaints. I’m just waiting on another batch to give me something to do.”

MJ tilts her head, squints her eyes, and smirks up at him. “So you’re waiting for someone to mess up so a customer will complain about them?”

Peter shrugs. “Basically.”

She turns back to her computer, mumbling, “Why can’t I have that job?”

Peter laughs and takes a sip of his mug. “You see where the newest Cap was posted? It has a new villain and everything!”

MJ set her mug down and closes the tab on Illustrator. “I was too busy binge watching Buffy to check,” she says as she types in the site. Her browser is soon filled with a sleek site titled, Captain America, America’s Favorite Avenger.

“You’re going to like this one,” Peter says as he hops off the desk to crouch beside her.

“His art is just so good,” MJ sighs, pulling up the latest comic. “Has he announced when the kickstarter goes live?”

Peter shakes his head. “His Twitter pretty much said the kickstarter can’t happen until he hits a certain number of regular visitors or it’d just be for nothing.”

MJ scoffs. “We should just start it for him,” she mumbles. “Now hush so I can pay attention.”

 

---

 

Producer: “Everything okay?”

Tony pinches the bridge of his nose. “No, I just found out something terrible. Something awful!”

“Would you like to share?”

“One of my own,” Tony laments, “is thinking of leaving me.”

“Who?”

“Barnes!”

“Are you close with Bucky?”

“Kind of,” he starts. Tony shakes his head. “No, not really.” He raises his hand and points to the camera. “But think of how close we could be if he didn’t leave!”

“Have you spoken with him?”

Tony shakes his head. “I’ll talk to him when he gets the balls to tell me he’s leaving.”

“Are you sure he’s leaving?”

“That’s what Fury said,” Tony says. He furrows his brow. “Which is another thing! That a****** went over my head!” Tony crosses his arms. “No, he wants to leave so bad then he’s gotta go through me.”

 

---

 

MJ gasps. “I didn’t see that coming!”

Peter nods, grinning. “Right? I sat there for like an hour just shocked! May had to drag me away from my computer!”

She shakes her head, curls bouncing. “I can’t believe Zola and Baron Zemo turned out to be working for-!”

“I know! Not to mention Strucker and Crossbones!”

“This whole time,” she says, breathless, “my whole life has been a lie.”

Peter bounces to his feet. “I don’t see how he’ll get out of this one alive.”

MJ rolls her eyes. “Oh please. He’s Captain America, he always makes it out alive. He’s too stubborn to die.”

They look to each other, smiles growing mischievous as they say, “You get killed, walk it off!” Their laughter echoes throughout the office, causing the bored, tired employees to glance their way.

Peter giggles into his hands, glancing to the screen. “God, he really made him ugly.”

“I didn’t think you could get uglier than Crossbones.”

“That’s what you get for expecting something.”

“Let’s hope Cap kicks Hydra’s butt by killing the Red Skull in the next one,” MJ says as she clicks back to her Illustrator tab.

Peter nods, hopping back onto the desk. “I hope it’s the end of Hydra.”

MJ shakes her head. “You can’t kill Hydra that easy, Parker.”

“Yeah, I know,” he mumbles. “‘Cut off one head and two more appear.’ Yeah, I know the saying. That doesn’t mean Cap can’t do it.”

“Guess we’ll just have to wait till next week.”

 

---

 

Steve shifts in the chair. “And that’s not even counting talking about the way the LGBT community is treated within the justice system. Most notably, the trans community gets no respect from the courts. They get denied their hormones, sent to the wrong facility, dead-named, they’re more susceptible to violence and rape, and more likely to commit suicide. It’s disgusting how we treat these people in and out of the justice system. It’s not fair that because they found themselves on a difficult path that we just no longer treat them like humans, and that goes for everyone. I can’t stress enough how-”

 

---

 

Sam sighs, rubbing at his temples. “Rogers, man, you gotta chill out.”

“I can’t!” Steve cries, tugging at his hair. “These guys are serious business and they’re in our neighborhood , Sam. Any one of us could be next.”

Bucky rubs Steve’s back. “Realistically, Steve, nothing’s going to happen to us. The odds are in our favor.”

Steve shrugs off Bucky’s hand and paces toward Tony’s office. “Don’t quote Hunger Games to me, Barnes. Not right now.” Steve bites at his thumb as he walks. His chin is tucked close to his chest, eyes watching the floor.

“They’re just a bunch of kids in masks. You could probably take them by yourself,” Bucky says.

Sam nods. “They haven’t caused anyone any serious damage.”

Steve spins around on his heel, eyes wide and face red. “They’re in the middle of a standoff with the police ! They held an elderly lady at gunpoint three days ago because she walked in on them robbing her house. We can’t take these guys lightly.”

“You act like they’re personally targeting you,” Sam groans.

The door opens and shuts. Steve freezes, watching the archway. Peggy’s shadow leads her into the office, her red pumps clicking together as she assesses the situation. She puts her hands on her hips, raising an eyebrow as she watches Steve. “Are you still on about that?”

Steve sags with relief. “I’m just-”

She shushes him, her heels tapping against the carpet as she moves to pull his hulking shoulders down to her petite frame. “Relax, my love,” she whispers, running her nails down his back. “We’ll be alright.”

“You don’t know that,” he mumbles into her shoulder.

“I do,” she soothes. “Come. Sit down. I’ll get you a glass of tea and we’ll talk this out. Yeah?”

Steve nods as he drags himself up.

Peggy spins him around and gently pushes him towards the kitchen. She glances over her shoulder, sending Sam and Bucky a warm smile. “I’ve got it from here, boys. You can go back to working.”

Sam nods as he kicks himself off the reception desk.

Bucky’s face falls as he watches the engaged couple slip into the kitchen. His shoulders droop as his chin hits chest. Bucky stuffs his hands in his pockets and shuffles towards his desk.

 

---

 

“I don’t know how much longer I can take Bucky moping,” Sam sighs.

Producer: “Does he complain to you about it?”

Sam shakes his head. He’s leaning back in his chair, legs spread and arms crossed. “Nope. He’s been pretty silent on his feelings, but he reeks of puppy love and sadness.”

“How do you think he can stop feeling that way?”

“I’m not sure he can at this point.”

 

---



“Now Steven,” Peggy says, “I don’t see why you’re still freaking out about these Brooklyn Bashers.”

Steve runs a hand over his face. “It can’t be a coincidence, Peg. It just can’t.”

“Or it can and you’re being paranoid.”

“Oh, right, because you’ve seen so many colored skulls?”

She smirks, sipping at her tea. “You’d be surprised how many glittery rainbow skulls Target sells.”
Steve rolls his eyes, taking a step away. “You know what I meant, Peg.”

Peggy sighs and sets her mug down. She takes Steve’s nearly full mug away and cups his chin in her hand. “Steve, you can’t let this affect you.”

“I can if I want to,” he grumbles.

“That’s not healthy and you know it,” she chides. Peggy sets his mug down with a gentle thud. She wraps her arms around his neck, pushing their bodies together.

Steve sighs, bottom lip jutting out. “Yeah, I know. I just… I don’t want to be the person who influences behavior like this. Cap isn’t one of the Pauls or Trump.”

Peggy places a kiss on the corner of Steve’s mouth. “No, he’s so much more than that. He’s the perfect man, just like you.” She kisses him slowly, soft and sweet.

Cautious hands find her waist, holding but not gripping or pulling. He leans into the kiss for a moment before he pulls away. “Peg, I’m at work,” he says softly.

“I know,” she mumbles as she pulls back.

Steve clears his throat. “Speaking of which, what are you doing here?”

Peggy takes a step back and smooths her dress. “We had a leak at the office and they sent us home.” She picks their mugs back up and hands Steve his. “I feel like we haven’t seen each other in years and, well, I knew Tony wouldn’t mind if I popped in. Now with you anxious about this standoff, I think I may stay here for the day.”

His brow furrows. “Wait, you assumed Tony would be okay with this? But not me? Peg, this is my place of work-”

“You answer phones and send emails, Steve. I highly doubt I’ll be more distracting than your drawings,” Peggy says with a smile, already moving towards the door.

“The hell does that mean?” Steve mumbles, nostrils flaring.

“Relax, Steven, we’re in public,” she reminds as she pushes the door open. Peggy waits for him to follow, pressed against the door and smiling sweetly.

Steve’s jaw twitches. He takes a deep breath and moves forward, avoiding the camera’s lens.

 

---

 

“Speaking of human rights, what the hell is wrong with our society where we’d rather deny those in need of basic human rights because of some book written by a group of men claiming to be able to speak to a deity? Now, I was raised Catholic. I attend mass and I’m a good Christian man, but even I can see that there’s something f***** about the way the government uses religion and politics to dictate how we run our country.” Steve shakes his head, clenching his jaw.

He leans forward. “Take marriage equality. How someone can sit there and say that two people in a loving relationship can’t get married because their God told them so, is beyond me. I don’t remember s*** from the bible that states explicitly that homosexuality is a sin. And even then, so what? Just because one person believes in one thing doesn’t mean we all have to-”

 

---

 

Bucky watches as Peggy sets up camp beside Steve. She’s humming, gliding around reception as she cleans and fiddles with everything. Every time she passes Steve, she touches him. Sometimes it’s just a hand on his back to let him know she’s moving behind him. Sometimes it’s fixing his messy bangs or massaging his shoulders.

Steve’s been quiet, focusing on whatever he’s got pulled up on his screen. His hand covers his mouth, eyes moving back and forth as he reads. He’s holding tension in his shoulders and he’s breathing heavier.

His desk moves steadily, vibrating against his chair. Bucky glances down, noticing his leg bouncing, his knee hitting the top of his desk.

Sam raises an eyebrow. He’s leaning away from Bucky, phone held to his face.

Bucky closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “I’ll be back,” he mumbles to Sam as he pushes away from the desk. He stands, smooths out his shirt and tie, and pushes in his chair.

“Where are you going?” Sam mouths.

“Talk to Tony,” Bucky whispers.

Sam cocks his head, eyes shifting toward reception.

Bucky shakes his head. “Something else,” he says.

Sam covers the phone and whispers, “Good luck.”

“Thanks,” Bucky says, already walking backwards. He turns around, facing Tony’s office. Bucky spares one last glance at reception.

Peggy’s hanging over Steve, hugging him. She’s whispering something in his ear. He’s growing red in the face, his chest heaving.

Bucky turns away, eyes squeezed shut and face pale. His right fist knocks on the door.

 

---

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Neighborhood Watch v. 2

 

Something is going down and I don’t know what it is. Bucky’s upset by Peggy being here. She’s all of a sudden interested in Steve. Steve’s as anxious as a newborn chihuahua. I’m not sure what’s about to go down, but I don’t think it’s good.

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Neighborhood Watch v. 2

 

Why do you assume something's happening?

 

Natasha Romanof f <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Neighborhood Watch v. 2

 

Have you seen Peggy this affectionate?

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Neighborhood Watch v. 2

 

No…

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Clin4 Barton, Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Neighborhood Watch v. 2

 

Exactly. Plus, Barnes just went into Tony’s office. Wouldn’t tell me what’s going on but I think it has to do with Lady England

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Neighborhood Watch v. 2

 

We know he’s not asking to kick her out. Maybe asking to move desks?

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Neighborhood Watch v. 2

 

I wouldn’t be surprised.

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Neighborhood Watch v. 2

 

We need to take him out for drinks tonight.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Neighborhood Watch v. 2

 

Agreed. You in Nat?

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Neighborhood Watch v. 2

 

Sure. Why not.

 

---

 

Tony’s elbows rest on his desk, mouth covered by his fists. “Is there something you needed to talk to me about, Bucky?”

Bucky lowers himself into the seat across from Tony. He presses his lips together. “I… Did you know Rochester’s sales lead quit?”

“Hodge? Yeah, I heard. He quit like a month ago,” Tony says, leaning back in his seat. He scratches at his chin. “Doesn’t really concern us, though, does it?”

Bucky deflates. “Fury told you, didn’t he.”

Tony leans forward, face shadowed with anger. “Yeah, Barnes he did,” Tony snaps. “Why you didn’t come to me first? I have no idea! And to be quite honest, I’m pissed.”

“I wasn’t even-” Bucky sighs and runs a hand through his hair. “I just wanted to know if the position was filled or not. I wasn’t asking if I could have it or if he’d consider me. It was a spur of the moment thing.”

“And you didn’t shoot me an email with a heads up?” Tony shakes his head. “I had a meeting this morning with Fury and my father . Do you know how much of an idiot I looked like when one of my employees went over my head about a promotion?”

Bucky winces. “Tony-”

“No! No, you don’t get to talk right now. I’m talking,” Tony shushes. “You humiliated me, Barnes. You caught me off guard with this bulls***. You could have sent me a text, an email, called me. Anything would have been better than having to bulls*** my way through a meeting about how my employee wants to quit my operation for another.”

Tony gets up and turns to the window, leaning against the wall. “Why do you even want to leave?” He glances back at Bucky, eyebrow raised. “I pay you well. I give you leads when I get them. I know Sam’s the sales lead, but if you really need the money, I can give you a raise. I can help you out, Barnes. You just need to come to me.”

Bucky’s fist covers his mouth as he watches the older man.

“You can talk now,” Tony sighs.

“This has nothing to do with this branch,” Bucky says into his fist. He shakes his head and sits up, leaning forward. “I need to get out of the city. Brooklyn’s been my home for almost twenty years now and as much as I love it, I need something different. I need something that’s not… not Brooklyn.”

Tony stuffs his hands in the pockets of his slacks. “So you’ve made a decision?”

Bucky nods. “I was about to email Fury to let him know I accept the job offer. I just… wanted to talk it over with you, first. It’s what I should have done in the first place,” he says softly.

“So you’re leaving?”

He nods.

Tony takes a deep breath, nodding as he watches the traffic out of the window. He turns back around and nods to his computer. “Send the email from my office. It’s more private. I’ll step out to give you some space. I need more coffee anyway.”

Bucky’s jaw goes slack. He clears his throat and stands. “Thank you, Tony.”

“Don’t thank me yet, Barnes. I doubt you’ll like Rochester. It’s too slow for guys like us.” Tony pats Bucky’s shoulder as he passes.

“I think I need slow,” Bucky admits.

“Then,” Tony grabs the door handle, “I hope it goes well for you.”

The camera swivels back to Bucky as he settles into Tony’s chair. He shifts in the seat, his gloved hand fumbling with a wrench left on the desk. Bucky clears some of the tools out of the way to get to the keyboard.

He takes a deep breath and glances up at the camera. “This is it,” he whispers. “I send this and I’m out of here.”

Bucky starts to type. The camera zooms in on his nimble right hand and his slow left, the sound of his off balance typing filling the audio.

 

---

 

Steve jumps from his seat. “I can’t do this,” he groans, pushing away from the desk.

Peggy watches with wide eyes. “Steve?” she calls as he storms out the office.

The camera moves quickly, following the man into the hallway. Steve pushes open the door to the stairwell and hurries down the first flight of steps. He paces on the landing, hands in his hair and his breathing labored. The camera turns toward the door, moving to leave.

The stairwell door bangs open as Peggy pushes herself in. The tapping of stilettos on metal bounce off the walls and the camera settles on the two of them at the landing. “Steven,” Peggy hisses, “what has gotten into you?”

“You have, Peggy!” Steve snaps. “I’m so sick and tired of being treated like this.”

“Excuse me?”

Steve turns around and hits the wall with a rattling punch, hard enough to create a tiny dent in the wall. He spins back around, glaring at her. “Ever since you started at that practice, all you’ve thought about is your career. You barely give me a passing thought most days.”

Peggy shakes her head. “That’s not true, Steve, and it’s not fair for you to say that.”

He motions towards the top of the stairwell. “You barged in here and made yourself at home without even thinking about how I felt! You didn’t even consider what I would want in this situation,” he bellows.

“That’s because there is no situation!” Peggy pulls back her shoulders. “I came to my fiancé’s place of work to visit him and spend time with him-”

“You can’t even talk about me to me! I’m right here, Peggy. See me, dammit!” Steve hits his chest, face red as he paces like a caged animal.

Peggy shakes her head. “No, this is not you, Steve. This is some new man that I don’t care to see.” She holds her hands up, backing away. “I don’t want to deal with you when you’re like this, because I don’t like what I see and I will not stand to be treated this way.”

Steve splutters. “Then leave! Leave me!”

“I will,” she says, lips pursed.

Peggy walks past him, pushing her way past the camera and back through the doors.

The camera swivels back to Steve in time to see him fall to his knees. Steve screams into his hands as he scoots himself into the corner, shaking and sobbing into his palms.

 

---

 

Bucky walks out of Tony’s office, hands stuffed into his pockets. He glances towards reception, noting the empty seats.

“Steve finally cracked about this whole Brooklyn Bludgeoners thing,” Bruce tells him.

“Oh?” Bucky runs a hand through his hair. “Where’d he go?”

Wanda turns to him. “He left the room saying he couldn’t take it anymore and Peggy followed. Haven’t seen them since.”

Bucky shakes his head. “Huh. Okay, then.”

“Come on,” Sam says as he stands, “let’s go eat.” The salesman slings an arm over Bucky’s shoulder and pulls into along. “I don’t think you should be here when they get back inside. No one should have to witness that love fest.”

“Thanks, Sam,” Bucky says.

The two make their way into the break room with their salads. They sit in the center table, the TV set on the news. An anchor’s talking about the standoff, going over the highlights and details that they’ve released already.

Sam shakes his head. “This better not be on all day. I have to go that way to visit my brother.”

“Monthly babysitting?” Bucky asks as he sips at his coke.

“Taking my nephew to see that new Lego movie or whatever cartoon they’ve got playing that he hasn’t seen yet,” Sam explains.

Bucky nods. “Cartoons are hit or miss nowadays.”

Sam chews aggressively for a moment before saying, “Right? You’ve got some cartoons that seem to be these progressive, profound creations and others that are literally just fart jokes and nothing else. It’s like they take all the brains and story from all of the cartoons and divide it up among half of them, with the rest getting whatevers leftover.”

Bucky snickers as he picks at his food. “Have you seen that new one on-”

Sam’s phone vibrates against the table. “Hang on,” he mumbles. Sam picks it up, reads it, and tilts it to show Bucky.

“She left?” Bucky gasps.

“Guess so,” Sam sighs. “Wonder what happe-”

Bucky drops his fork, eyes glued to the tv. “Oh f***.”

Sam raises an eyebrow. “What?” He glances at the screen, where a clip of the Bludgeoners are on screen.

“That’s the Red Skull,” Bucky gasps.

“Huh?”

Bucky shakes his head and points to the tv. “That guy in the red skeleton mask! He ripped off the Red Skull!”

“What’s the Red Skull?” Sam asks.

Bucky quickly packs up his stuff. “The Red Skull is a character in a web comic. A character that was just introduced yesterday. A character created by Steve .”

Sam’s face grows pale. “What?”

“The Brooklyn Bludgeoners are using Steve’s character to rob a f****** bank and hold people hostage!” Bucky hisses, motioning to the tv. “That’s why he’s freaking out!”

“Oh my god,” Sam stands up, covering his mouth. “I made a dig about them targeting him. Oh s***.”

Bucky shakes his head. “You know nothing. He doesn’t want people to know or else he’d tell us.”

Sam nods, turning to watch the tv.

Bucky hovers near the door.

“Oh, just go!” Sam shoos him away.

Bucky darts out of the breakroom. The camera follows Bucky through the office, trying to keep up with him as he sprints away. He guides them into the stairwell.

He pauses at the top.

Steve’s still in the corner of the landing, crying into his arms. He’s quieter, silently shaking with his sobs.

“Oh, Stevie,” Bucky says as he hurries down the steps.

The blond looks up. His face is red and splotchy, covered in tears and snot. He’s a wreck.

Bucky drops to his knees beside him and tugs the man into his arms. “I saw the standoff. They showed him, Steve. God, Rogers, you stupid punk. Next time, tell me for cryin’ out loud. No, don’t. God, I hope there’s not a next time,” Bucky rambles as he rocks Steve.

Steve lets out an ugly sob and clutches to Bucky for dear life.

“Shh, buddy, let it out. I’ve got you. I’ve got you,” Bucky whispers, rubbing his back. He closes his eyes and sighs. “I’m not going to let anyone hurt you.”

 

---

 

Producer: “You and Steve shared a pretty emotional moment last Friday. Are you still leaving?”

Bucky nods. “I leave this Friday, actually.”

“So soon?”

“Fury wants me out there as soon as possible. Guess he doesn’t like how long they’ve been without a sales lead.” Bucky picks at a loose string on his slacks. “That’s fine. I need to… need to get out of here before something happens anyway.”

 

Chapter Text

“Thank you for calling Stark Paper. My name is Steve, how can I help you?” Steve says softly into the phone.

Sam watches him from his own desk, a pen tapping against the surface. They keep glancing off screen towards a central location.

Steve transfers his call and turns to face the desks. He looks off frame and sighs, his brow furrowing and his bottom lip jutting out.

The camera zooms out to reveal Bucky’s empty desk. It’s clean, clear of his little trinkets and keepsakes. The camera pans to show Sam staring at it, nose scrunched.

“Think he’s okay?” Steve asks quietly.

“He’s not answering my texts, so I hope so,” Sam sighs.

“What do you think happened?” Steve says softly, moving away from his desk. He walks over to Sam, sitting on the edge of the empty desk.

Sam runs a hand over his goatee. “Can I be honest with you?”

Steve nods as he crosses his arms, shoulders hunched. “Please do.”

“I think he may have moved into the annex.”

“The annex? Why would he do that? There’s no one back there.”

Sam sighs and shrugs. “I don’t know? Maybe he wanted away from Tony?”

Steve’s teeth dig into his bottom lip. “Maybe.” He runs a hand through his hair. “Doesn’t explain where he is or why his stuff isn’t here.”

Wanda turns to face them. “I bet he moved his things last Friday after work. He was staying after if I remember correctly.”

Bruce nods into his mug. “She’s right. He was packing stuff up when I left here.”

The creases on Steve’s forehead grow deeper. “That doesn’t explain why he’s not answering or texts. Or where he is now?”

“Maybe he’s sick?” Wanda suggests.

“Maybe he lost his phone? Or couldn’t pay his bill?” Scott says from his desk.

Natasha hums and shakes her head. “No, I’ve seen his check. He can pay his phone bill.”

Steve stands, tugging at his hair.

Sam stands up and grabs Steve by the shoulders. “Hey, relax,” he tells him. “Bucky will be back tomorrow. He’ll turn up and say he’s sorry and buy us all lunch. S’what he always does.”

“Yeah,” Steve sighs with a small pout. “You’re right. He’ll turn up.”

 

---

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Where are you?

 

I doubt you’ll see this since you aren’t responding to my texts, but where the hell are you? You’ve been ignoring me all weekend. Your stuff isn’t here anymore. Where’d you go?

 

---

 

Bruce sets his phone down and sips at his coffee. He glances towards reception, where Steve’s watching the door with worried eyes. “I’m getting worried about him,” he mumbles to Wanda.

Wanda turns around, her eyebrows raised. Her shoulders fall as she watches Steve for a moment. “Me too. He really cares for Bucky,” she whispers.

“I think it’s more than care,” Sam chimes in, leaning back in his seat.

Wanda nods. “Friendship is a powerful force.”

Sam turns with a small smile. “That’s not what I meant, Wand.”

Her eyes widen. “Oh?”

“I think there’s something more going on,” Sam tells her. “I don’t think he realizes it yet.”

Wanda turns in her seat, painted lips parted. “Really?”

Sam nods.

“I don’t see it,” Bruce comments.

Wanda tilts her head. “I can see it, somewhat. They’re really close.”

“No, Bucky and I are close. Steve and Bucky are inseparable.” Sam shakes his head.

Bruce sighs, glaring at his mug. “I’m out of coffee,” he grumbles.

“Going to make your special Hawaiian coffee?” Wanda lilts, smirking.

Bruce rolls his eyes, but he smiles gently at her. “I am.”

Sam raises an eyebrow. “Hawaiian coffee?”

Wanda turns in her seat as Bruce walks off. “He buys this special coffee from Hawaii and has it shipped. He claims it helps with his anger and frustration.”

“What kind of bull is that?” Sam mumbles.

“It’s how he c-”

The kitchen door slams open. Bruce is in the doorway, his head is lowered and his chest is heaving.

The camera pans over the room, the employees frozen in their seats as they watch their usually mild coworker.

Bruce slowly looks up, eyes dark. “Someone dumped my bag of coffee in the cabinet. Someone dumped my coffee .” He hits his chest. “In the cabinet.”

Tony peeks out of his office. “What’s going-”

“Who did it?” Bruce demands, stepping out of the doorway. He walks a few paces towards Tony. “Was it you Stark?”

Tony looks to Sam, eyes wide. “What did I do?”

“Someone dumped my special, expensive, Hawaiian coffee in the f****** cabinet!” Bruce bellows, pointing towards the kitchen. “And they didn’t even clean it up! No note! No effort to brush the beans away! Nothing!

Steve stands at his desk as Bruce gets closer to Tony.

Bruce rips off his glasses and glares at his boss and friend. “Was it you? Did you do this? Is this some sick revenge because I don’t share it with you?”

“Bruce,” Tony says carefully with his hands held up in defense, “it wasn’t me. I don’t even touch that cabinet. I’m not stupid enough to mess with it.”

“I’m not convinced,” Bruce growls. He paces back towards his desk and the kitchen. He’s still holding his glasses in one fist, the other his empty mug. “Someone ruined my week and I will find out who did it.”

“Just use Steve’s Starbucks blend, it’s better than the stuff Tony buys,” Scott tells him.

Bruce screams, “I don’t want that disgusting blend of trash and acid! I want my beautiful, Hawaiian blend, with it’s notes of hazelnut and cinnamon and a dash of cocoa. That’s all I want.” He slams his coffee mug onto the ground, sending shards of ceramic everywhere.

The salesman huffs and storms back into the kitchen, the door rattling behind him.

 

---

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Where are you?

 

Oh my god, Buck. Bruce just lost it! Someone spilled his special coffee all in the cabinet and no one’s confessing to it. He threw a mug and everything! Oh my god, where are you??

 

---

 

The camera focuses in on a pair of hands typing, off rhythm. The left is gloved, the right is moving at the speed of light. It zooms out, slowly revealing Bucky Barnes.

Bucky runs a hand through his hair and glances up at the camera. He gives a small smile, raising his eyebrows. Bucky straightens up and motions to his new surroundings.

The camera pans around to get a look at the new office. The bland white has been replaced with a cool brown, the desks aren’t gathered in pods but rather staggered to face away from the manager’s office, and the people are busy at work. There’s hardly any talking other than the few sales people on the phone.

Bucky stands and motions the camera to follow him. He guides them through the office and into a small conference room. He takes a seat near the wall.

The camera settles in front of him.

Producer: “I’m surprised you still want to do this.”

Bucky shrugs. “It’s nice to have something familiar around among all this change,” he says quietly.

“How are you adjusting?”

“It’s,” he sighs, “it’s a process.”

“Care to explain?”

Bucky runs a hand through his hair. “I just- I moved to get away from Steve and that situation and yet, all I can think about is how I didn’t tell Steve what happened.”

“Why didn’t you?”

He shakes his head. “It was too hard. I couldn’t bear to hurt him,” he admits.

“Have you been checking your emails?”

Bucky nods slowly. “I’ve seen the emails and texts. I just can’t bring myself to reply.”

“What do you think Steve will do when he finds out?”

Bucky shrugs. “I’m not sure, but,” he takes a deep breath, “he’s not in my life anymore. He’s got Peggy and he’ll move forward.”

“Is that fair to Steve?”

“Probably not, but it’s not fair to myself to keep contact with him when I feel like this.” Bucky glances at his watch. “I’ve got to get back to work. The new boss doesn’t appreciate these interviews.”

“We’ll keep them short and spaced out, then.”

Bucky smiles. “Thank you.”

 

---

 

Bruce walks back into the office, still tense. “Anyone ready to fess up?”

The camera pans over the room. No one replies.

“Listen,” he says in a firm voice, “that coffee is all I have. It’s the only thing that gets me through the day.” He takes a deep breath as he shifts from foot to foot. “I-” Bruce sighs as he cleans his glasses. “I’m an alcoholic,” he admits quietly. “I need that coffee. It’s the only thing that keeps me away from the bottle. So if someone would please just tell me who did it.”

Bruce put his glasses back on and walks back into the break room.

The camera pans over the still silent room.

Peter’s the first to move. He stands from his desk and scrambles to follow the man. The camera trails after him, bouncing with each step.

“Dr. Banner!” Peter calls as he bursts through the door. “I- I don’t know who did it,” he says as he stands before Bruce, “but I’ll help you find them. And I’ll buy you another pack! Or run and get you a really good coffee!”

Bruce smiles softly at the young man. “Thank you, Peter, but that’s unnecessary.”

Peter fishes his wallet out of his pocket. “No, please, Dr. Banner. I insist.” He hands Bruce a twenty.

“Peter, really,” Bruce says as he pushes the bill away. “It’s okay. You’re very kind, but that’s unnecessary.”

“But-” Peter’s hand falls a little. “But I want to help.”

“And you can,” Bruce puts his hands on Peter’s shoulers. “You can go with me down to meet Happy. He’s pulling up the tapes for me.”

Peter’s eyes widened. “Really?”

Bruce nods, smiling. “Yeah, come on.”

 

---

 

Producer: “That’s a pretty big confession you made there. How do you feel?”

Bruce sighs. “I’m fine,” he says with a small smile. He rubs at his neck and leans forward. “I, ugh, may have fibbed a bit though.”

“How so?”

“I’ve been sober for fifteen years,” Bruce admits. “I haven’t had the urge to drink at work in ten. I just really like that coffee.”

“You got pretty mad, though. Why is that?”

Bruce sits back, blushing. “That would be my anger management classes failing miserably. I’m still very new to the techniques they’re asking us to do. It’s a work in progress.”

“How long have you been going to anger management?”

He furrows his brow as he starts to think about it. “A year? Maybe a year and a half?”

 

---

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Where are you?

 

Bruce just told us something huge. I’ll tell you if you come back?

 

---

 

“So when do you think this happened?” Happy asks, hands hovering over a keyboard.

Bruce’s lips are pursed as he thinks, watching the live camera feeds. “Probably sometime this morning,” he says.

Peter leans in over Happy’s shoulder. “Could it be last night?”

“No, I made a cup this morning when I got in at eight-forty,” Bruce explains. “It was fine then.”

Happy and Peter exchange a glance. “Could you have done it by accident?” Peter asks quietly, looking at Bruce with wide eyes.

“No, I put a clip on the top of the bag and it was off when I went in for another cup.” Bruce leans back in his chair. “Someone messed with my coffee and it wasn’t me.”

Peter nods, squinting up at the cameras. “Happy,” He pulls out a pair of sunglasses and slowly puts them on, “roll the clips.”

Happy turns to the kid, unimpressed. He snatches the sunglasses from his face, grumbling, “Damn kid wants to make jokes. Not like I’m trying to do my job or anything.”

Bruce rolls his eyes and motions for Happy to continue.

The screen flickers to the camera showing the kitchen. They rewind, going back in time to find the culprit. People go in and out, gravitating towards the coffee maker. No one touches Bruce’s cabinet. Everyone’s grabbing the tub of coffee off the counter, filling the machine, and taking from the mugs near the sink. From the time Bruce closes the cabinet that morning to opening it again, no one touches it.  

“No, that can’t be,” Bruce mumbles, adjusting his glasses.

Peter scratches his head. “Maybe someone hit something and that’s what caused the bag to spill?”

Happy rolls his eyes and goes back to the live feeds. “Get out of my office,” he sighs.

Peter salutes him as he stands. “Right, come on Dr. Banner. We’ll figure it out.”

Bruce huffs, but follows Peter out.

 

---

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Where are you?

 

I don’t get why you won’t answer me.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Where are you?

 

Bucky? Please?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Where are you?

 

Come on Buck. This is worse than when I told you I didn’t watch Friends. Tell me what I did wrong and I’ll fix it.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Where are you?

 

Bucky?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Where are you?

 

Okay. I can take a hint. Ignore me all you want.

 

---

 

Steve stabs his salad with his fork, huffing out a sigh.

Natasha raises an eyebrow from her seat across from him. “You alright, big guy?”

Steve shakes his head. “Bucky won’t reply to me.”

“He won’t?” Clint asks.

Sam shakes his head. “Nah, Buck’s been ignoring everyone all weekend. Hasn’t responded to emails, texts, missed calls, nothing. I’m tempted to send a pigeon over there to see what’s going on.”

Scott walks into the room with his lunch and sits at the table beside the group.

Natasha sips at her water. “I’m sure he’s fine.”

“Who knows,” Clint says with a shrug. “Maybe he was kidnapped by Nazi’s?”

Steve and Sam glare at him.

Clint shrugs. “Hey, dude isn’t exactly the straightest man I’ve met.”

Natasha elbows him in the ribs. “Barton,” she warns.

He holds his hands up in defense. “I’m kidding,” he says. “Sort of.”

Sam pinches the bridge of his nose. “He wasn’t kidnapped by Nazi’s, Barton.”

“Then what happened to him?”

“He was… I don’t know.” Sam huffs.

“But bisexuals don’t get targeted like that?” Scott says from the other table.

Steve clears his throat. “Actually, studies show that the majority of LGBT community is bisexual, even if we’re not all out, and we’re more likely to experience violence in comparison to gays and lesbians.”

“We?” Sam asks, blinking slowly.

“Yup,” Steve says, shoving a bite of salad into his mouth. “We.”

Sam shakes his head. “What is with you and Barnes? We’re friends, you know. You can tell me this sort of thing.”

Steve shrugs. “It’s really not that big of a deal. What is, is the fact I may not have known Bucky was bisexual. You can’t just go around sharing that information, Sam,” Steve says quietly. “And really, Scott, you can’t out people.”

Natasha turns to Scott. “How did you know about Bucky?”

Scott wipes his mouth. “I ran into him and a date a gay bar like a year and half ago. He was basically sucking the guy’s face off. Kind of hard to dispute that.”

Steve shakes his head. “Either way, you can’t disclose that information with other people who you don’t know knows It’s outing.”

Clint smirks. “I don’t think he’d mind.”

Steve raises an eyebrow, but the sound of the phone ringing cuts him off. He lets out a deep breath and gathers his things. “I’ll see you guys around.”

 

---

 

Producer: “Did you have any idea about Bucky’s sexuality?”

Steve nods. “We’ve had discussions about sexuality and stuff. He came out to me very casually not too long ago when we were grabbing coffee.”

“How did he come out?”

“He was flirting with the barista,” Steve chuckles.

“And you knew he was bisexual?”

“Well, between you and me, I don’t know many straight men who are comfortable enough to flirt with other men. Especially not bears,” Steve says, crossing his arms.

“Bears?”

Steve shakes his head. “Surprised me too. Buck says he has a thing for bigger guys.”

“Bigger as in heavier or more like your build?”

Steve’s brow furrows. “I’m not sure.”

 

---

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Where are you?

 

Okay, so I can’t take a hint. Come back. I miss you.

 

<Image attached: Sad_Steve>

 

---

 

Bruce huffs as he stirs his tea.

Wanda gives him a small smile. “S’not so bad,” she says softly, her accent thick. “It’ll only be a few days before it comes in.”

“A few days too many,” Bruce grumbles.

Wanda takes his hand and squeezes. “I’ll get you through it, Bruce.”

Bruce gives her a small, tight smile. “Thank you, Wanda. I appreciate that.” He takes a sip of the tea and winces, setting the mug down.

She takes it from him, sipping from the opposite end. Her nose wrinkles as she pulls the mug away. “No, this won’t do.” Wanda stands and walks around her desk. She pauses at Bruce’s chair. “I’ll be back. I’ll make you a real cup of tea.”

“No, you-”

Wanda turns her nose up. “None of that,” she calls as she drifts away. “Sit tight.” The red head slips into the kitchen, closing the door behind her with a soft click.

Bruce settles back into his chair, fidgeting with the supplies on his desk.

Glass shattering echoes from the kitchen, followed by a sharp screech. Wanda rips the door open, face pale and shaking. “ Potkan ! Potkan !” She yells, pointing in the cabinets.

The office comes alive as everyone scrambles to squeeze into the kitchen.

“Oh hell no,” Sam says as he quickly walks back to his desk. “I don’t do rats.”

“Rat?” Peter gasps. He looks to Bruce, eyes wide. “Dr. Banner, it’s a rat!”

Bruce’s brow furrows. “And?”

Peter rushes over to him, grabbing his arm. “There’s a rat in the kitchen! The rat dumped over your coffee!”

The scientist scratches his head, pursing his lips. “I suppose that makes sense.”

Wanda cries, “ Zabite krysa! "

“Nobody knows what you’re saying!” Scott yells, hiding behind her.

Natasha rolls her eyes and stands from her desk. She quietly walks through the office, pushing the employees out of her way as she walks into the kitchen.

There’s a pause before Wanda and Scott let out a shrill scream.

The crowd parts as Natasha walks back through the office, brown bag in hand. She quietly takes the bag out of the office, closing the door behind her with a soft thud.

 

---

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Where are you?

 

Dude, you missed it! We found out who spilled Bruce’s coffee: a rat! And you’ll never believe what happened. I’ll tell you when you respond.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Where are you?

Or not. Natasha killed it. That’s the story.

 

I’m over this, Buck. It’s been three days. Why won’t you answer?

 

---

 

After the rat, everyone’s a little preoccupied. Tony sent Wanda home, the poor thing too traumatized to continue working. The rest of the employees were watching the clock, waiting for their release.

Tony walks out of his office and looks around. His eyes fall on Bucky’s empty chair. He sighs, shaking his head as he sips from his mug.

“You good, Stark?” Sam asks, pausing his typing.

“Yeah,” Tony says with a sigh. “Just thinkin’ it’s a real shame about Barnes.”

Steve freezes, phone hovering over the cradle. He clears his throat, sets the phone down, and turns to Tony. “What do you mean?”

Tony shakes his head. “Kid left.” He motions to the desk. “Got promoted to sales lead of the Rochester branch.”

The office stills, all eyes on Tony. The camera flickers to show Steve. His face has gone pale, jaw slack, and his shoulders tight. Steve’s head slowly tips down as the news settles into his bones.

Natasha stands. “What?”

Tony nods, crossing his ankles as he leans against his doorframe. “Fury promoted him. Barnes wanted to keep things quiet, not make a big deal about it. Friday was his last day.”

“Why didn’t he say anything?” Sam asks, glancing at Natasha.

She looks to Steve, who doesn’t seem to be listening.

Sam nods, pencil bouncing.

“His email the same?” Steve asks, voice deeper than usual.

Tony nods. “Should be.”

Steve nods and turns to his tablet, back to the office.

Tony raises an eyebrow and spares a look to Sam. He points to Steve, raises an eyebrow, and sips his coffee.

Sam waves him off. “He say anything else about moving?”

“No,” Tony says, “just that he was tired of the city. Kid’s been here forever. It’s good for him. ‘Sides, Dad seems to think Pierce is a better fit for a boss.” Tony’s phone dings. He straightens up, pulls out the phone, and hums. “Five o’clock on the dot. You guys are free to go. I’ll see you tomorrow,” he says as he walks toward the kitchen.

Everyone else starts to move, but Steve stays still. One of his hands is in his hair, holding up his head. The other is moving on the tablet.

Sam gathers his things and moves to lean against the reception desk. “Hey,” he says softly, “you okay?”

Steve nods, sitting up. “Yeah, I’m fine. Are you? You guys were closer than Bucky and I.”

“Just because we’ve known each other for forever, doesn’t mean we were all that close, Steve,” Sam says. “And it doesn’t take away from whatever you’re feeling.”

“Sam, thanks for your concern and all, but I’m okay. Really.” Steve gives him a small smile as he moves to stand.

Sam nods, not meeting Steve’s eyes. “Okay. Well, you know where I’m at if you need me. Night, Steve.”

“Night, Sam,” Steve calls. He slowly begins packing his things, stopping to say goodnight to each of his coworkers. Once the office is clear, he sits back down, sniffling. Steve takes his tablet and starts to sketch something, hand moving in fluid motions over the screen. He starts to type after about twenty minutes.

Then he just sits there.

Steve stares at his desk, sniffling and wiping angrily at his eyes. “Stupid,” he curses, “so f****** stupid.”

The camera turns around to show Tony in the kitchen, watching the receptionist through the window. His brow is furrowed, eyes sad. He bangs the door open, letting out a loud sigh. “I’ll be in my office, Steve. Have a good night,” Tony calls flippantly. He walks into his office, head down as he looks at something on his phone.

“Oh,” Steve mumbles. He looks up, eyes red and face blotchy. Steve clears his throat. “Um, night, Tony.”

 

---

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Promotion?

 

Tony told us where you are. It’s a good thing he did because I was two seconds from barging into your apartment and filing a missing persons report. He told us about the promotion and how you didn’t really want to make a big deal about of it, so I won’t.

 

Just… Know you’ll be missed, Bucky. We’ll all miss you. I’ll miss you.

 

<Image attached: Office_Waving>

 

Take your time to get settled into your new place and stuff, but then I want updates. I want to hear all about this Pierce guy Tony says is your boss and who your deskmates are. Do you have cubicles? Are they nice? How’s Rochester?

 

You can take as long as you want to acclimate to the new place, but don't forget about me, Bucky. Please?

 

Love, Steve

 

Chapter Text

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Promotion?

 

Steve, I could never forget you. I feel like a total ass for not tell you about my transfer. But I hope you’ll understand

 

I needed to get out of that city. It was just too much for me. Too toxic. I don’t really want to talk about it right now, but one day I will.

 

Thank you for the doodle. I love it! I cried a little when it loaded. I’m printing it out and framing it.

 

As for the Rochester, things here are.. God, Steve, it sucks. This place is so boring. Pierce is a total… I hate him. He hates me. It sucks. Everyone else is pretty cool, except Rumlow. He’s up there with Pierce. Keeps asking about my glove and I swear I’m two seconds from punching him in the face.

 

The only thing that’s somewhat okay is this girl Connie. She’s pretty cool.

 

Miss you, Rogers.

 

Love, Bucky

 

---

 

Howard Stark <hstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Michelle Jones

Subject: Web Designer

 

Ms Jones,

 

We’re looking for a new marketing team. We think your web designs and creative skills could be useful to help bring in new clients and businesses. I’ve personally been impressed with your work managing my son’s branch. You do a fine job creating the illusion that your branch is efficient and friendly.

 

I’d love if you could join us at our corporate offices for a session with our new marketing team. We want people in our branches on the team so that our ideas on how to represent the company come from the people actually working it.

 

You, Ms. Jones, would be perfect.

 

Please get back to me if you’d be able to make the meeting. It’s Wednesday at noon at our headquarters. Bring your ideas and portfolio, we’d love to see them.

 

Sincerely,

 

Howard Stark

 

---

 

MJ’s mouth is open as she stares at her computer screen.

Peter peeks over their computers, eyebrow raised. “You okay?”

She shakes her head slowly, still looking at the screen.

“Want to fill me in?” he asks slowly. Peter moves to stand beside her desk.

MJ points at the screen, eyes moving along the lines of the email.

Peter shuffles behind her, wrapping his arms around her shoulders as he looks at her screen. It takes him a second to read through it, before he’s laughing. Peter squeezes her shoulders, rocking them back and forth. “MJ, that’s awesome! This is crazy! I’m so proud of you!”

“I don’t know how,” she starts, looking back at Peter with wide eyes. She shakes her head and stands. MJ turns to him, her office chair in between them. “I don’t know how he’s…”

“He’s the CEO, he probably had people keeping tabs on us. But does it really matter? You basically just got promoted to a corporate marketing team. Corporate!” Peter laughs, pushing the chair away so he could hug her tight.

Scott gasps. “You got a promotion?”

MJ nods, arms slowly wrapping around Peter’s trimmed torso. “Yeah,” she squeaks, “I guess.”

Scott cheers loudly, jumping up from his chair. He starts dancing, singing, “MJ got an upgrade! MJ got an upgrade!”

Sam and Steve turn towards the corner of the office, Nat and Clint standing.

“Congrats, MJ,” Steve calls, smiling.

Natasha saunters over and pulls the young girl into a quick hug. “When do you start?” she asks, fixing MJ’s bangs.

MJ shrugs. “I don’t-”

“Wednesday!” Peter cheers as he sits at MJ’s desk, the email still pulled up.

“Does it say how long?” Natasha asks Peter, moving to lean over his shoulder.

“Nope,” he says, glancing back at her. “Just that they want to give her a shot and that she should come in Wednesday at noon with her ideas!”

MJ’s blushing, scratching at her neck. “I’m not sure if I-”

Natasha shushes her. “Take it. See how it goes. Okay?” Her smile is as gentle as her voice. “You can always come back if you need to.”

Tony’s door creaks open and the man himself steps into the office. “What’s going on?”

Sam nods toward the group. “Widow’s comforting one of her Spiderlings.”

Steve pauses, raising an eyebrow. “Widow?”

“Tell you later,” Sam whispers.

The blond nods and sits forward. “MJ got a promotion. Corporate wants her on a project,” he tells Tony.

Tony walks over to the group of desks. “What’s going on?” he asks again.

MJ turns to him, eyes wide. “Um-”

“She got a promotion, Mr. Stark!” Peter announces cheerfully, bouncing at MJ’s desk.

Tony nods. “So I’ve heard. What’s the promotion?”

“Mr. Stark wants her to join a new marketing team!” Peter says.

MJ kicks him, glaring at her boyfriend over her shoulder.

Tony raises an eyebrow. “Mr. Stark? You mean my father?”

Peter nods, hiding behind MJ.

“Well,” he looks to MJ, “are you taking it?”

MJ’s expression turns blank. “Um.”

Natasha wraps an arm around the taller girl’s waist. “She is,” Nat challenges. “She’ll try it at least.”

Tony nods. “Congratulations then. Let me know how it goes,” he says as he walks back into his office.

MJ turns to Natasha, eyes wide. “What do I do?”

Natasha smiles. “You take the opportunity and you make the most of it.”

 

---

 

Steve and Sam lean against the kitchen counter as the coffee percolates. “How you holdin’ up?” Sam asks quietly.

“I’m alright.” Steve shrugs.

“I know it’s hard without Buc-”

Steve raises an eyebrow. “No, no, I’m fine with that. We talked, cleared the air. We’re good. I thought you meant with the whole wedding disaster.”

Sam crosses his arms. “There’s a wedding disaster?”

“Peggy’s pissed I don’t like the colors she wants for the wedding.” Steve rolls his eyes.

“Oh, so the important, world-ending disaster.” Sam smirks.

Steve laughs. “Exactly. She’s real mad about it though. Hasn’t said a word to me since last Thursday.”

Sam’s eyes widen. “Because that’s healthy.”

“Right?” Steve rubs his neck, grimacing. “But we’ll figure it out. She’s just stressed, s’all.”

“She’s got a lot on her plate.”

Steve nods. He perks up. “Hey, why’d you call Nat ‘Widow’ earlier?”

Sam clears his throat. “Oh, um, because she is one.”

“Oh,” Steve mumbles. He adjusts his glasses and rolls his shoulders, shifting on his feet.

“Dude, chill. She’s okay. She’s even got a tattoo of a Black Widow behind her ear. It’s cute. Look for it next time she has her hair up.” Sam turns to the coffeemaker and pours their coffees.

Steve starts adding in all of the creams, sugars, and spices, stirring his ingredients into the mugs. “How long has it been?”

Sam looks up for a moment. “Six years? They married young. He was some Russian pilot she met in her neighborhood.” He shrugs.

“How’d you find all of this out?”

Sam smiles. “She told me.”

“She told you?”

“We had lunch,” Sam says.

Steve raises an eyebrow. “Lunch?”

“Just lunch.” Sam winks at him and takes his mug out into the office. “Thanks again, Rogers.”

“Sure thing, Wilson.” Steve shakes his head and pushes away from the counter. “Lunch my ass,” he mumbles as he pushes the door open.

 

---

 

Producer: “Sam mentioned the two of you had lunch?”

Natasha crosses her arms. “Did he?”

“He did.”

“We ate a meal in the middle of the day together,” she says with a shrug.

“Was it a weekend?”

She flips her red, loose curls back over her shoulder. “Maybe.”

“Did you spend any time together afterwards?”

“No, he went home and I went to a bridal shower,” she deadpans.

“But-”

Natasha glares down the camera. “How many times do I have to warn you people from starting something you can’t finish?” She stands and walks out of the conference room, slamming the door behind her.

 

---

 

Bucky’s smiling, a soft blush on his cheeks. The camera pans out to show he’s in the office, leaning on a desk. He laughs, “You'd be surprised at what happened at my old place.”

“I would?” a young woman asks.  She sits in her office chair, looking up at Bucky with big brown eyes.

“Trust me, even I cannot imagine what happened there and I was in the thick of it,” Bucky says.

“Tell me about it,” she says, leaning forward.

“Well, this one time,” Bucky starts, “my boss held an office Olympics against our warehouse.  Created this huge relay race thing, makeshift weights, and-”

“Barnes, is there something that you would like to share with the rest of us? Or do you plan on wasting all of your time speaking with Connie? Time you could be spending on your new leads -- leads I provided you.” An older man stands in the doorway of an office, arms crossed glaring at Bucky.

Bucky turns around, glancing over shoulder at the older man. He stands up and moves towards his desk. “Sorry, sir.”

“Sorry? You really think sorry is going to get me those hours back? Sorry isn't going to sell paper or find new people and businesses to sell to. No, sorry is just going to delay you from the repercussions of your actions. You're on thin ice, Barnes. Thin ice.” He turns and walks back into his office slamming the door behind him.

Bucky looks to Connie eyes wide and mouth pulled into a frown. “That could have gone better,” he says quietly.

Connie rolls her eyes. “You keep testing him like that, Barnes, and you won’t like the outcome.”

“What would that be?” He leans forward, cocky smile dancing on his lips.

She turns around and leans her elbows on his desk. Connie grins mischievously. “You’ll have to leave me.”

Bucky whistles, long and low. “Oh, what a shame that’d be.”

“Truly,” she giggles.

The camera lingers on them for a moment before zooming in on the picture frame beside Bucky’s computer. It was Steve’s picture of the Brooklyn office employee’s waving to Bucky. They zoom back out, Bucky and Connie dangerously close.

Connie bites her lip. “You know, I bet it’s awfully lonely in that apartment of yours.”

“Yeah, it is,” Bucky says softly. “You got any tips?”

She hums, nails clicking against the desk. “You could always go to dinner with someone.”

“Someone like a colleague or a pretty young lady?” Bucky’s voice drops an octave as he whispers that last fragment.

“Why not both?” She smiles.

“Pick a day and time,” Bucky says with a wink.

 

---

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Pepper Potts

Subject: (no subject)

 

Why was Jones promoted and I wasn’t?

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Tony Stark

Subject: Re: (no subject)

 

That would probably be because this is for advertising and you’re more R&D driven.

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: (no subject)

 

So it has nothing to do with the fact I’m dating the COO and my father’s the CEO?

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Tony Stark

Subject: Re: (no subject)

 

I don’t believe it does, but this is Mr. Stark’s project, not mine. You know I wouldn’t have it without you, Tony.

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: (no subject)

 

What’s it over?

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Tony Stark

Subject: Re: (no subject)

 

It’s for the website. They wanted someone who could connect with different groups via the Internet.

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: (no subject)

 

Are you saying I’m too old for the Internet?

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Tony Stark

Subject: Re: (no subject)

 

No, I’m saying that a 22 year-old is a much better choice than a 49 year-old like yourself.

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: (no subject)


I’m hurt, Pep. Absolutely destroyed. Thank you for that.

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Tony Stark

Subject: Re: (no subject)

 

Tony. You know what I meant. He just wanted someone to offer new, young ideas that you and I couldn’t.

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: (no subject)

 

But that’s not the only reason is it?

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Tony Stark

Subject: Re: (no subject)

 

No… He also wanted someone in the branches, but that doesn’t mean management level employees. This has nothing to do with you, Tony. It’s not a personal dig at you or your merit. Okay?

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: (no subject)

 

Can you promise that?

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Tony Stark

Subject: Re: (no subject)

 

No.

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: (no subject)

 

….

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Tony Stark

Subject: Re: (no subject)

 

I can’t lie to you, Tony. I don’t know anything about your father’s motives. I just focus on my stuff and the website marketing team is not mine.

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: (no subject)

 

Alright fine. But this isn’t the end of it.

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Tony Stark

Subject: Re: (no subject)

 

It never is. I’ll see you tonight at dinner. I love you.

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: (no subject)

 

Okay. I love you, too.

 

---

 

Tony bursts out of his office and pauses in front of his door. He scans the office through squinted eyes. “Rogers, Wilson, Romanoff, Parker, Bruce, Maximoff, and Barton, conference room.”

Steve and Sam exchange weary looks as they stand from their desks.

Tony waits by the conference room door, tapping his foot.

The employees pile into the room and take a seat in the rows of chairs facing the east wall. “What’s going on?” Peter asks, knee bouncing.

“Relax kid,” Tony says as he shuts the door, “I need your help.”
Sam and Natasha glare at him, arms crossed. “What exactly do you need us for?” Sam asks.

“And why us specifically?” she adds.

Tony paces in front of them, hands held behind his back. “You all know about MJ’s promotion.”

Peter grins, jumping in his seat a little.

Tony stops in front of him, eyebrow raised. “You okay?”

“Just excited,” Peter squeaks as his face turns red.

Steve rolls his eyes. “Leave ‘im alone, Tony. He’s excited for MJ. It’s cute,” he says from the back row.

Tony shrugs. “Sure, it is. Anyway, MJ got promoted to a website marketing thingy that I was originally considered for.”

“You were?” Natasha challenges.

Tony glares at her. “Yes, yes I was.”

“And what’s the project for?” Nat crosses her legs.  

The camera swings back to catch Tony scoffing, “Website marketing, duh?”

“And what were they looking for?” she asks again.

“Innovative, unique ideas from the perspective of those within the company,” Tony says, crossing his own arms.

Steve raises an eyebrow. “How long did it take you to memorize that?”

“Twenty minutes,” Tony states. He spreads his arms. “I need all of you to help me come up with an advertising campaign that would blow that project out of the water!”

Bruce groans. “Why am I here?”

“Cause I like seeing your face. You can leave whenever,” Tony says with a shrug.

The scientist’s shoulders sag with relief. “Thank you, Tony,” he says as he scrambles to leave the room.

Sam glares at his head through the windows. He turns to Tony, scowling. “What are you looking for, Stark?”

“Simple: innovative and unique ideas from the perspective of those within the company.” Tony shrugs as he gets the whiteboard out and a marker. “Come on! Gimme your best ideas!”

Silence filled the conference room for a moment.

“We could just do a simple sale? We don’t really do that now so it’d be a nice surprise,” Wanda says.

Clint shakes his head. “No, it has to be something fun. Something that people would appreciate from all demographics and age groups.”

Steve points to Clint. “He’s right.”

Peter sits up. “We can do a Terminator thingy, where clients shoot a box or target thing to win a discount?”

Tony nods, scribbling it down. “I like it, Parker, but keep thinking.”

“If you want movie things, you can do a Back to the Future callback. Bring prices back to what they were when we started for a month?” Sam offers.

“And then we can just give our money away! Nice one, Wilson.” Tony writes it down anyway.

Sam glares at the back of his boss’ head. Steve and Natasha pat his shoulders, smiling.

Tony looks at the board and adds ‘Free Shipping’ to the list. “I like the movie themes. Keep those up.”

Steve clears his throat as he sits up. “I could create a superhero and comic, print it in our paper, and use that as a way to show off our different qualities and products?”

Natasha grins at him. “That’s a good one, Rogers.”

The artist blushes. “Thank you,” he mumbles.

Tony shrugs as he writes it down. “Eh, not feelin’ it, but oh well.”

Peter raises his hand.

“Does this look like a classroom?” Tony asks, crossing his arms.

“Um,” Peter starts.

Tony rolls his eyes. “Don’t finish that sentence,” he sighs.

“Okay, um, can I say my idea now?”

“Go ahead.”

Peter looks back at his fellow employees. “Do you remember that old movie with the candy place?”

Clint glares at him. “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?” he deadpans.

Peter nods, grinning. “Yeah, that one!”

“What ab-” Tony gasps. “Yes, that’s perfect!”

“What’s happening?” Wanda whispers to Sam.

Sam sighs. “Pretty sure we’re going with the Golden Ticket scheme from a movie about a chocolate factory.”

“It’s a really good book, too,” Steve interjects softly.

Tony wipes off the board. “You guys are dismissed. Peter, you and I have some planning to do!”

Peter jumps up, fist pumping the air.

 

---

 

MJ walks down the sidewalk, dressed in a white pencil skirt and navy blouse. The camera follows her from a distance. Her hair’s pulled back in a bun, but her bangs still cover her forehead, flopping about with every footstep. She looks both ways as she crosses the street, slipping into a random building.

The camera enters the office building, a generic lobby the background for the shoot. MJ’s at the front desk, hugging a couple of folders to her chest. She’s speaking with the woman, voice low and quiet.

She looks back and nods toward the elevator.

They enter the metal box together, the camera focusing on the young woman.

Producer: “Scared?”

“No,” she mumbles with a soft blush. “I’m not nervous at all. Being nervous is for losers.”

The camera looks at her reflection in the silver doors. She glares at the lens. “Shut up,” she hisses as the doors open.

A sign with ‘Stark Paper, Inc’ greats them. MJ walks forward, shaky steps to the office’s reception.

They’re guided to a sleek conference room, with large floor-to-ceiling glass windows and a long, oak table. MJ pauses a few feet into the room.

The camera pans over the table, almost every seat filled.

Each one a man.

MJ glances back at the table, eyes a little wide. She pulls her shoulders back, lifts her chin, and takes one of the remaining seats.

The camera sets up in the corner, able to see MJ’s face and the rest of the office.

The other men talk, making small talk with one another. MJ smiles at them as softly as she can. She introduces herself to one, but her conversation is cut off by the two on either side of her discussing this week’s numbers.

MJ looks to the camera, eyebrows creased under her bangs.

The door swings open and Howard Stark waltzes in with the same arrogance and power his son has. “Let’s get started, shall we?”

 

---

 

Bucky winks at the camera as it gets closer to his desk. “Have I introduced you guys to my new coworkers yet?”

The camera shakes left to right in a non-verbal ‘no.’

Bucky smiles. He stands up, looks into Pierce’s office, and turns back to the camera. “You’ve seen Alexander Pierce, he’s my atrocious new boss, and if he asks me to get him a doughnut again I’ll sock his teeth in,” Bucky says through his smile.

He turns around and motions to Connie’s desk, the woman on the phone speaking with a client. “This is Connie, she’s a fellow salesperson.” Bucky winks at her as he passes her desk, moving onto another. He motions to a large man on the phone. “And that’s Luke, he’s customer service.”

Bucky turns and points to a small office. “That’s Murdock, the lawyer. He’s actually from Hell’s Kitchen, but somehow he got transferred here too.” Bucky’s eyes flick over to Pierce’s office.

“That’s Rumlow,” he grumbles, motioning to an Italian man with rough skin.
“And that’s Danny, our accountant,” Bucky points to a curly haired man with loose fitting pants and a robe on. He’s barefoot. Bucky holds up his gloved hand to his face, “He went missing for like ten years or something. I’m not sure but it’s sketchy as hell .”

Bucky stuffs his hands in his pockets and keeps walking. “Rollins is there. Strucker there. Ward over here.” He points to each desk with a half-hearted wave of his hand. “We even have our own MJ. Her name is Jessica Jones. Real strong gal,” he motions to a sleeping woman on one of the office chairs. “Real drunk, too.”

He guides the camera into the conference room and sighs. “It’s not so bad here,” he tells the camera.

Producer: “Do you miss anything or anyone?”

Bucky’s eyes turn from bright and open to squinted and dark. “You know damn well the answer to that question.” He shifts in his seat. “No, I miss everyone. It’s hard transitioning from one place to another, but-”

A soft knock on the door stops him. It opens to reveal Connie. “Oh,” she gasps. “Sorry to interrupt, but I made reservations for seven. Is that okay?”

Bucky grins. “Perfect.”

She smiles at him and nods. “Okay! Okay, great!”

“And then I’ll take you dancing,” he says.

“Sounds wonderful,” she giggles. Connie smiles at the camera and ducks her head. “I’ll let you get back to it.”

“You don’t seem too upset.”

Bucky glares at them again, a blush forming on the apples of his cheeks. “I’m trying to get over Steve. Let me.”

“Do you want to get over Steve?”

“No, but your questions certainly don’t help.”

 

---

 

“So now,” Howard says as he takes a seat, “I’m opening the floor to you all.”

MJ glances around before tentatively raising her hand.

The older man sitting adjacent to Howard starts talking, “What if we created a meme generator on the site? It’d all be paper related but it’d get the younger crowd involved.”

MJ’s shoulders are pulled back, but her eyes dart to the camera, widening a little. Her lips twitch.

“You really think kids would use it?” Howard asks.

“Yes sir,” the man says as another younger man nods. ”Kids’ll do anything that involves memes.”

MJ closes her eyes, just barely shaking her head. “With all due respect-”

“We could also add a social media widget,” another man says, sitting towards the end of the table. “That way all of our social networking is in one place.”

Howard scratches his chin. “I like that one,” he says, leaning back in his seat.

The man sits up. “We could also have another widget for them to have their social media on the site while they browse.”

Howard points at him. “That’s even better. Someone write that down.”

The camera pans over the table as they all look to MJ. She looks around, face turning red. “I’m sorry. I don’t have a pen with me,” she deadpans.

The man sitting across from her raises an eyebrow. “What kind of secretary doesn’t carry a pen with her?”

MJ blinks at him. “The kind that isn’t a secretary.” She turns to Howard. “I actually have a few ideas for the site. I was thinking-”

Howard shakes his head, holding up a hand. “Oh no, dear. That’s quite alright. I just wanted you to come and listen, see where you could be in a few years.”

The camera zooms in on MJ’s face, her brows furrowed and nostrils starting to flare. “I’m sorry?”

The man sitting beside Howard speaks up, “It’s okay. It’s an easy mistake to make, sweethear-”

MJ stands up and slams both hands on the desk. “I’m no one’s sweetheart ,” she spats. “Even my boyfriend doesn’t call me that, so I don’t see where you got the idea that you could.” She glares at Howard Stark. “And Mr. Stark, thank you for the opportunity to listen to a bunch of out-of-touch old guys try and connect with the youth of America when they haven’t been in their twenties in twenty years. It’s always a good time when old guys try to be hip.”

She glares at the rest of the people, straightening up. “And just so you know, Mr. Stark, you can’t mass produce meme culture, so go ahead and take that off your list. Oh wait,” she cocks her hip to the side, “you don’t have one. Should have made sure someone was going to be here for that. I’m surprised none of these kiss-asses weren’t tripping over themselves to get it written down.”

She huffs out a breath, her bangs flopping as she does. “And people already have their social media on their sites. That’s not something new. In fact, my branch has had it for years. And if you paid any attention to your branches’ sites and data, then you would know that the Brooklyn branch has the most traffic on social media and the base site. We may not be the best in sales, but we’re sure as hell the best site in the company.”

MJ hums, cocking her head. “Huh. I wonder what genius designed that?” She purses her lips before gasping. “Oh, I know! Me.” She slides over her folder of ideas to Howard. “You want to talk business man-to-man and have a genuine brainstorming session, then you can schedule a meeting with me, sir.” MJ grabs her things and saunters out the room, slamming the door behind her.

The camera pans over the stunned faces of the male employees.

 

---

 

Producer: “That was pretty impressive. How’d you do it?”

MJ shrugs, watching the traffic. “I just channeled Natasha.”

“You stunned us, that’s for sure. Are you worried about your job?”

She shakes her head. “Not really. I sent Tony a text. I think he’ll have my back.”

“Are you going home or back to the office?”

MJ starts to walk down the street, with the camera. “Let’s go see if Peter wants to go to Coney Island.”

 

---

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Cap

 

I saw your newest post! Cap looked great in that shot!

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Cap

 

Thanks! It’s getting great reviews.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Cap

 

It should!

 

How are things?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Cap

 

Things are good. We miss you, but things are good.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Cap


That’s good. I miss you guys too. They take things too seriously here. And I’m pretty sure this Jessica lady is gonna kill me if Pierce and Rumlow don’t.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Cap

 

I wonder why….

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Cap

 

Shut up, Rogers.

 

I gotta go, taking Connie out to dinner tonight.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Cap

 

Oh? Have fun! Treat her right, Barnes.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Cap

 

I always do, you punk. You’d be surprised at how good of a date I can be.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Cap

 

I highly doubt that. See you around, ya jerk.

 

---

 

MJ waits by the door of the office. She’s changed into sweatpants and an MIT sweatshirt, her hair pulled into a loose bun.

Peter closes the office door behind him as quietly as he can. “How’d it go?” he whispers, bouncing in place.

She shrugs. “Lame.” MJ pockets her phone and starts toward the elevator.

“Lame? Are you doing that thing where you really enjoyed it but don’t want to seem over-excited about it so you pretend you hated it?” Peter asks as he follows her, hands fidgeting with his bag.

“No, it really was lame,” she says. The elevator doors open and the two climb inside with the camera. MJ watches the door shut before she sags against the wall. “It was a front.”

Peter cocks his head to the side.

She flips the hood up and crosses her arms. “They only wanted me to show up and say they had me there.”

“What do you mean?” Peter asks quietly.

“I mean,” she looks at him with watery eyes, “they only wanted me because I’m a girl. I was the only one and they all assumed I was his secretary . And they wouldn’t let me talk or anything. It was humiliating.”

Peter opens his arms, reaching out to touch her but he pauses. He leaves his arms open, close enough for her to accept, but not pressure her into anything.

MJ sniffles as she folds herself into his arms. “I yelled at Howard Stark.”

“You yelled at Howard Stark?” he gasps.

She nods against his shoulder.

Peter kisses her head. “I knew you were a badass, but I didn’t know you were that much of a badass.”

The camera moves to see MJ’s smile peeking out from under her hood. “We’re going to Coney Island. I need junk food and adrenaline.”

Peter smiles, pressing his cheek against her head.

Chapter Text

Tony yawns as he wipes his desk down. “I f****** hate coffee stains,” he grumbles. “I never feel like I clean it well enough and all of my projects end up smelling like coffee. Not that I’m complaining, it’s better than oil and gas stinking up the office, but still. I’m a man, I should be able to scrub this coffee off of my desk without any residue left behind.”

He sits back in his chair, head slung back. Tony groans, the coffee soaked rag clutched in his hand. “Why must I have such a small desk?”

“Well, if you actually used your work room that we have at home,” Pepper says from the doorway, “then you wouldn’t have this problem.” She crosses her arms and smiles at him.

“Touché.”

“Come on, Tony. I’m ready to go home,” she sighs. Pepper takes a few steps into the office. “Please?’

Tony opens his eyes and gives her a soft smile. “Let me clean this up and-” he stops as Pepper places both hands on his desk and leans down, top button of her blouse undone. “Or we could go home now.”

Pepper grins, stands up, and turns to the camera. She nods toward the door. The camera starts to back away, maneuvering it’s way out the office without taking it’s lens off the pair. Pepper shuts the door on the camera, her mic still picking up her words. “Or we could have some fun here?”

“I ever tell you how much I love you?”

“Not as much as you should,” she says softly.

The sounds of people kissing echo crackle over the mics. “I’ll never stop telling you, ya know that?”

“Shut up and kiss me.”

 

---

 

The camera waits at the front stoop for the first person to arrive. People pass by, wrapped up in their own world despite it only being seven in the morning.

Steve walks on the other side of the street, Starbucks in hand and his bag in the other. He nods to the camera as he looks toward the building. Steve quickly crosses the street and and smiles. “Morning. You guys been here long?”

The camera shakes left and right.

Steve pulls out the keys and grabs the door handle. He puts in a key, but the force pushes open the door. Steve pauses. “Is someone already here?”

Producer: “No, Happy and Peter are usually the only ones who come in before you if anyone. The other offices open at nine.”

Steve pushes up his glasses and straightens his shoulders. He opens the door and cautiously steps inside. The camera slides in behind him.

The receptionist looks around the room, checking closests and the security office. He glances around the room and opens the elevator doors. They’re empty. Steve turns to the staircase and opens the door softly. “Don’t let it bang,” he whispers to the crew.

He takes the stairs two at a time, his footsteps nearly silent as he jogs up to the floor. Steve’s looking up and around each flight of stairs as he goes up to the right floor.

Steve glances over his shoulder as he gets to the door leading to their floor. He opens it slowly, looks both ways, and steps out of the hall. He pauses, blocking the camera from entering. The color drains from his face.

He turns around and looks past the camera. “Call 911.” Steve turns back around and walks towards the office.

The camera moves into the hallway and faces the office. The glass door that leads into the office is shattered, pieces of glass splayed over the carpet on either side.

Steve takes a picture of it before he opens the door, stepping over the glass.

They walk into the office, standing in the entryway. The camera pans over the ransacked office; computers were missing, paper was everywhere, desks were broken, chairs flipped. It was a mess.

Steve gasps as he points to the far wall where the kitchen and Rhodey’s desk were.

In black spray paint, the Brooklyn Bludgeoners symbol was sprayed on the largest span of wall. Smaller symbols covered the doors and bookshelves. There was a red skull, crossbones, a green pumpkin, an octopus, a black target, and a golden fist.

“Oh god,” Steve breathes. “Oh my god.”

 

---

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, Clint Barton, Michelle Jones…

Subject: OFFICE EMERGENCY!!!

 

I don’t know how else to get in touch with you guys, so whoever sees this make sure you tell everyone. I’m on the phone with the police right now.

 

I came in to find the Brooklyn Bludgeoners hit our office. They destroyed the place. They stole our computers and other tech and ransacked the place. I’m not sure if it’s safe to go back in but I didn’t want to risk anything.

 

I’m waiting for the cops now. We’re stuck in the lobby until the police can investigate.

 

Tell everyone!!

 

  • Steve

 

---

 

Steve’s sitting on the stoop, head in his hands.

Natasha and Clint are running towards the office, their coats flapping behind them. “Is everything okay?” Natasha asks as they come to a halt in front of him.

“Police should be here shortly.” He slides his hands to cover the lower half of his face. Steve shakes his head. “It’s a mess up there.”

“What happened?” Clint asks, crossing his arms.

“I’m not sure. I don’t know how to look at the tapes. All I know is that the door was open when I got here and when the crew and I went up to the office, the glass door was shattered.” Steve stands and opens the door to the lobby.

Natasha slides in first, taking off her coat. “What did the police say?”

Steve sighs as he leans against Happy’s desk. “Just that-”

The door opens to reveal Peter, MJ, and Happy. Peter scrambles to Steve’s side, eyes wide. “Oh my god, are you okay? Were they here? What happened?”

“Peter,” Steve says, grabbing the boy by the shoulders. “I’m fine. They weren’t here when we got here. Just the aftermath.”

Peter sags in relief and throws himself in Steve’s arms. “Good. I was worried.”

Steve smiles as he hugs the boy back.

Natasha fills MJ and Happy in before they all turn to Steve. “What were you saying about the police?”

“They’re sending over a few officers to do the initial crime scene stuff, but they mentioned the FBI might come by to get more information.”

Natasha and Clint look to one another with relieved sighs. “Coulson.”

Steve raises an eyebrow. “Coulson?”

“He’s the agent in charge of the Brooklyn Bludgeoners case. They’ll send him over to investigate,” Clint says.

“Oh, okay,” Steve says, still holding Peter. He looks down. “You okay, kid?”

Peter shrugs. “Yes.”

“If you’re so okay, let go of Steve,” MJ challenges.

Peter lets him go, scratching at his head. “I was, uh, comforting Steve.”

Steve smiles. “Sure, you were.”

 

---

 

Producer: “How do you guys know Coulson?”

Natasha looks to Clint with a smirk.

Clint shrugs. “We met him at a bar.”

“Are you close?”

“We hang out a lot,” Clint says.

Natasha nods. “They’re inseparable.”

“What’s he like?”

Clint rolls his eyes. “He’s a nerd. Between his obsession with Hamilton and this Captain America comic, all he ever does is talk about history and politics. Phil would easily be the nerdiest guy I know if I didn’t know Bruce and Tony.”

“Natasha, what do you think of Phil?”

Clint shifts to face her, eyebrow arched.

She smiles. “He’s a great guy, bit tame but great.”

Clint grins and squirms in his seat.

 

---

 

Tony and Pepper walk up the stairs of the subway, hand-in-hand. “I had fun last night,” Pepper says softly, kissing Tony’s cheek.

He smiles. “I did, too.”

As they reach the sidewalk, they both pull out their phones. “What’s on your agenda for the day?” Pepper asks, thumb scrolling through a news app.

Tony shrugs, pulling up his email. “Gotta get the numbers out and start this new project Peter and I-” He cuts himself off with a gasp. “Oh my god, the office was robbed.”

Pepper gasps. “What?”

He shows her the email. “The Brooklyn Bludgeoners robbed the office!”

“How?” Pepper nearly yells. They move out of the sidewalks traffic, huddled over the phone.

Tony shakes his head. “I don’t know! Let me call Steve, see what he says.” He pulls up his phone app and hits Steve’s name, bringing the phone to his ear. “Steve, what’s going on?” Tony listens with a furrowed brow until his eyes slowly start to widen. The color drains from his face as he looks up at Pepper. “I’m on my way, Rogers. Be there shortly.” Tony hits the red button on his screen and pockets the phone.

Pepper waves her hands in front of her. “Well?”

“We did it,” he hisses.

“What?” she gasps.

“We left the door unlocked when we left last night!” Tony puts both of his hands on top of his head, pacing a little.

Pepper shakes her head. “No, there’s no way! I saw you lock the door.”

It’s Tony’s turn to shake his head. “I must not have closed it all the way. Oh my god, we’re f*****.”

“We’re not f*****,” Pepper sighs. “We’ll fix this. Let’s just get to the office, yeah?” She pulls out her phone and dials Howard. “We’re going to fix this, Tony.”

He sighs, “If you say so.”

 

---

 

The police officer walks away from Steve and steps back inside.

“I’m exhausted and it’s not even nine o’clock,” he mumbles, pulling out his phone.

The camera pans over the building and the small space in front of it. Another officer was speaking with Bruce on the other side of the steps and two others were with the rest of the employees and Happy.

Steve shakes his head as he hits Peggy’s contact. It rings once. Steve hits the end call button and goes back to his contacts. He hits another button and raises the phone to his ear. Steve turns to rest his shoulder against the building. “Hey,” he says softly after a moment.

There’s a pause.

“Um, things are… It’s not good. We got hit.”

Steve glances around. “Yeah, they got the office sometime between locking up for the night and me coming into work. I’m just glad Peter didn’t get here first this morning.”

He waits again, toeing at the ground. “I’m f****** terrified,” he admits softly.

The camera switches over to Bucky at the Rochester Branch, who’s sitting at his office on the phone. “Steve, they aren’t targeting you specifically.”

It flicks back to Steve. “It sure as hell feels like it. First, they use my brand new villain as a part of their little game, where I had to then explain what happened. I’m surprised I wasn’t asked to take Red Skull down!” He huffs, pacing a little. “And now, they robbed our office. My office, Buck!”

Bucky runs a hand through his hair. “I wish I could be there for you, Rogers, but-”

A hand comes into the frame and hangs up the phone from the receiver. The camera zooms out to show Alexander Pierce glaring down at Bucky. “That sounded awfully close to a personal call, Barnes.”

Bucky lowers his heated gaze to his desk and takes in a deep breath. “I was speaking with the Brooklyn Branch, sir. They were robbed this morning-”

“And that’s our problem, why?” Pierce counters, crossing his arms.

The salesman stands, glaring at the man. “It’s our problem because if they tank, then we tank. We’re the same company, smart ass.” Bucky checks his watch. “If you’ll excuse me, I still have fifteen minutes before the official start of the day. I’d like to make a call back to the Brooklyn Branch, see if I can’t do something to help.”

Pierce glares at Bucky. “Go on. Take your time, even. You won’t be here much longer for me to care.”

Bucky watches the man retreat to his office before he scrambles to call Steve back. “Steve?”

The camera flickers back to Steve. “Hey, what happened?”

“Nothing, think we just lost connection,” Bucky sighs as he sits back down. “You were saying?”

 

---

 

Steve walks back into the lobby, hands in his pockets. He walks over to where Natasha, Tony, and Clint are speaking with an FBI agent. “What’s the verdict?” Steve asks as he steps beside Tony.

The agent pauses and looks to Steve. “Are you the one who called this in?”

“I am,” Steve says.

“I’m Agent Coulson, the agent on this case.” Coulson holds his hand out to Steve. Steve takes it as the man starts to speak. “Thank you for calling this in. We’re close to stopping these guys and this only helped give us more information.”

Steve nods. “Have you been able to figure out what happened?”

Natasha touches Steve’s arm. “Coulson said they just walked in. They’re waiting for confirmation from the tapes from the cameras across the street.”

“She’s right. We did find that they also hit Vision Refrigerators and broke into a few of the empty office spaces. They cleaned out the Vision offices, much like your own, but they didn’t get to the warehouses in time,” Coulson explains.

Tony rubs his hands together. “Well, can we go on up or-”

“No, we need to take a few more pictures and samples. We think that the tags and the placement of them are going to help us identify the suspects as well as their hideouts.” Coulson is called over by another agent. He gives the group a small smile, lingering on Clint. “I’ll be back. Excuse me,” he says before he walks to the other side of the lobby.

Natasha looks to Steve and Clint. “Who would have left the door open?”

Clint shrugs. “We were gone pretty early last night.”

Steve nods. “I didn’t leave long after you guys did and most of the office was still there.”

She looks to Tony, who shakes his head. He holds up his hands. “Don’t look at me, I’m pretty sure someone was at Vision’s place when I left.”

Natasha stares him down for a moment before she nods. “Come on, Clint. We have business to attend to.” She loops their arms together and the pair walk to the huddled group of employees.

 

---

 

Producer: “You seem a bit nervous, why is that?”

Tony glances around the street, his collar hiding his face from the cold. “How much do you know?”

“How much do we know?”

Tony nods.

“Oh, we know that you and Pepper were the last to leave and you were so focused on making it home as quickly as possible that you didn’t shut the door properly. Why?”

Tony curses under his breath, glancing toward the office. He looks down the barrel. “You cannot tell anyone.”

“We won’t, but can we ask why you don’t want us to?”

“Because,” he sighs. Tony fidgets a little, shifting from foot to foot. “I need to be the one to tell them.”

“That’s understandable. When do you plan on telling them?”

Tony shrugs. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

 

---

 

Howard Stark <hstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Pepper Potts

Subject: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

Have you two heard about this? What do we know about the incident and who is responsible?

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

I was there when Tony got the call. The Brooklyn Bludgeoners, a gang of masked individuals who have been terrorizing Brooklyn for the past few months, broke into the office. Took all of the moveable tech and some of the supplies, but they haven’t been let in to do a full inventory yet. The FBI is there now.

 

Nick Fury <nfury@starkpaper.com>

To: Pepper Potts, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

I believe the copier is the only thing left tech wise if Natasha’s call is anything to go by.

 

Howard Stark <hstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

Has anyone spoken to the police from our offices yet or are we just getting all of our information from Natasha and Tony?

 

Nick Fury <nfury@starkpaper.com>

To: Pepper Potts, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

Tony and Natasha are the best sources to get our information from, Stark. They’re on the scene, they know the situation, and they’re both aware of what needs to be done. Are we dwelling on that or moving on to the more important things, like how are we going to find the money to replace all of the stolen merchandise. We don’t exactly have much wiggle room in the budget right now.

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

He has a point, sir.

 

Howard Stark <hstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

Fury, get your daughter on the phone. We need to know what their office budget looks like.

 

Nick Fury <nfury@starkpaper.com>

To: Pepper Potts, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

Yes sir. I’ll get her on the phone.

 

Howard Stark <hstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

Pepper, do we know who did this?

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

We’re waiting on confirmation. They haven’t identified who did it yet, but I believe Tony has an idea as to who it could be.

 

Howard Stark <hstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

Who was the last one out of the office last night?

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

He and I were the last out of our office, but we’re not sure if we were the last ones out of the office building. We locked the door behind us, either way.

 

Howard Stark <hstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

So the two of you could have cost us thousands of dollars in property damage?

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

There is a possibility, sir. Again, we can’t be sure. We didn’t check to see if Jarvis Vision’s offices were clear or if any of the janitors were coming in that night. I know the Brooklyn Branch has their cleaners coming in every three nights, but the Vision schedule could be more frequent.

 

Nick Fury <nfury@starkpaper.com>

To: Pepper Potts, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

Natasha says they have enough to get the sales, reception, and accounting new computers, but not the smaller departments

 

Howard Stark <hstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

Pepper, as the Chief Operating Officer, I expect you to figure out whether or not my son’s reckless behavior is behind all of this.

 

Nick, you’re the CFO. How much can we help them?

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

Yes sir.

 

Nick Fury <nfury@starkpaper.com>

To: Pepper Potts, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

I think we can spare enough to finish furnishing the tech they lost and the damages done to the building itself, but not the other supplies.

 

Howard Stark <hstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

If Tony’s to blame, then he can fess up the rest.

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

Sir, I’m not sure it was just Tony to blame. Security isn’t supposed to leave until we’re all out. There wasn’t anyone in the lobby or in the security office.

 

Howard Stark <hstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

That may be true, but Tony is responsible for everyone and everything in that office. I thought we had gotten through his erratic behavior. Isn’t that why we hired Colonel Rhodes and Dr. Banner? To tame him?

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

That’s not the only reason we hired them, but yes, we did suggest them because of their relationships with Tony.

 

Howard Stark <hstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

Then why is he still acting this way?

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

There’s been a lot on his plate, Mr. Stark. He just lost one of his best salesmen to the Rochester Branch and you tried to hire one of his employees to be in your marketing program, rather than his. He’s been a bit stressed lately.

 

Howard Stark <hstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

Are you defending his behavior? We’ve lost thousands because of him!

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

And knowing Tony, he’ll gain it back just as quick.

 

Howard Stark <hstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

We need someone who can put him in his place. I can’t afford to have Tony hurting my business like this. Either we find a way to stop him or he’s out of here.

 

Nick Fury <nfury@starkpaper.com>

To: Pepper Potts, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

Are you suggesting firing your own son?

 

Howard Stark <hstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

If that’s what it takes. He wouldn’t be here if he had his way, anyway. Kid could barely graduate high school, let alone college, and he sure as hell can’t run a business. The evidence is all here.

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

There’s hardly a way to prevent crime like this. It was random. This would have happened whether or not you thought Tony was competent enough to run the branch. Tony is more than capable of handling himself.

 

Howard Stark <hstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

Then how do you suggest we fix him, Ms. Potts?

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

We put his office back together, give him that security back.

 

Howard Stark <hstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

And what does that mean?

 

Nick Fury <nfury@starkpaper.com>

To: Pepper Potts, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

She means rehiring Barnes. But he’s not going to come back for nothing.

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

No, we promote him to Assistant Manager of the branch. He can handle the simple, day-to-day tasks and Tony can have the big stuff.

 

Howard Stark <hstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

And this saves me money?

 

Pepper Potts <ppotts@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Howard Stark

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

In the long run, yes.

 

Howard Stark <hstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury, Pepper Potts

Subject: Re: Brooklyn Branch Break-In

 

Send Pierce an email. I want Barnes back in Brooklyn by tomorrow morning.

 

---

 

Natasha sits beside Bruce on the lobby couch, legs crossed and curls draped across her face. She pushes them away, smiling softly. “How have you been, Bruce?”

He sighs into his mug. “It wasn’t me, Romanoff. You can drop the act.”

She glares at him. “How do I know it wasn’t you?”

“Because I left right after you.”

“Who else was there when you left?”

“Sam, Rhodes, Wanda, Tony, and Scott,” Bruce says, cradling his mug to his chest.

Natasha stands back up with a sigh and marches back to Clint and Coulson. “Wasn’t Bruce,” she huffs, crossing her arms.

Clint nods. “Rhodes and Sam?”

She motions for him to go on.

Clint wanders over to the two. “So-”

“It wasn’t us,” they say in unison.

Sam explains, “We went out for drinks after we got off work and we met Pepper outside the office. She went in after us, so Pepper, Tony, Scott, and Wanda were still there when we left.”

Rhodes nods. “And Scott met up with us afterwards. Think he said Wanda was waiting on that Jarvis guy or something.”

Clint cocks his head to the side. “Are they still together?”

Sam nods. “Yeah, they’re really cute, too.”

“Nice. Remind me to ask her about that when all this is over with.” Clint stuffs his hands in his pockets.

“On it,” Sam chuckles.

Clint turns back around and shakes his head.

Natasha huffs. “If it’s not them, then it’s Wand-”

“Wanda and Scott are clear, too.”

“No,” Nat says slowly, “Scott is clear. Wanda was waiting for Jarvis. They could have locked the door without shutting it when they left.”

Clint nods, eyes squinting. “To Happy?”

“To Happy.”

 

---

 

Nick Fury <nfury@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Transfer

 

Barnes,

 

I know you’ve just got settled in Rochester, but we need you back in Brooklyn. Howard seems to think Tony can’t handle the branch by himself and Pepper suggested bringing you back in. We’ll be giving you a new title and a pay raise.

 

You’ll be the new assistant manager. Your sales lead commission will stay the same even though you’re now back to a regular sales position, but your salary will be 4% raised on the new salary we just gave you.

 

We need an answer pronto. I’ve already got the hotel room booked for you and your transportation, if you say yes.

 

Just let me know.

 

  • Fury

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Nick Fury

Subject: Re: Transfer

 

Oh please, thank you! I’ll do anything to get out of this place.

 

When’s my flight?

 

Nick Fury <nfury@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Transfer

 

You leave in three hours.

 

---

 

Natasha leans on the back of Happy’s chair, watching the screens.

Coulson and Clint stand beside her, their shoulders brushing.

“I already showed you the footage of the door. A man and a woman can be seen leaving the building, it’s just a matter of which couple left,” Happy explains as he fast forwards the footage of the Stark Paper, Inc office.

“Start there,” Clint says, pointing at the door to the office. Happy pauses it as Natasha and Clint freeze on screen. “This is when Nat and I were leaving. Slow it down so we can see.”

The office moves at a heightened pace. Bruce is the next to go, waving at Tony through his office windows. Sam and Rhodey aren’t long after. The door opens again to show Pepper, texting on her phone as she makes her way to Tony’s office. She lingers in the doorway, typing away. Wanda says something as she gathers her things.

Pepper and Wanda talk for a long moment, their expressions and hand motions almost animated at the speed in which the footage runs. Tony walks from his office to the kitchen, then back. He pauses in his doorway to make a few comments before he retreats to his desk.

“Now it’s just a game to see who leaves first,” Clint mumbles.

Jarvis pops in and the three talk for another moment.

Wanda picks up her phone, talking to the person on the other line as Jarvis and Pepper continue to speak. She slides her device back into her purse and takes Jarvis’ hand. She hugs Pepper goodbye and the couple retreats out the door.

Pepper returns to the doorway. She stands there for a long moment, head moving like she’s speaking. She pushes herself off the doorway and steps into the office, her form barely visible by the doorframe.

She pushes the camera crew out of Tony’s office and closes the door and blinds.

“Remind me to ask the clean-up crew to bleach his office,” Natasha mumbles.

“And my eyes,” Clint groans.

Happy winces as he speeds through the lapse in time. They reappear, slightly disheveled, and the couple leave.

Natasha stands, her hands going on her hips. “That the confirmation you needed, Phil?”

“Not quite, but it’s close,” the agent says.

The door creaks open and Tony pops his head in. He glances around the room, eyes landing on his frozen image. Screen Tony has his hand on Pepper’s ass as they walk out of the office. “S***.”

 

---

 

Steve, Peter, and MJ walk into the office, dressed in jeans, tees, and hoodies. Steve takes their coats from his arm and slings them over the back of the armchair adjacent to his desk. “We may as well get started before Tony gets here,” he tells the younger employees.

“Otherwise, we’ll get nothing done,” MJ sighs.

Peter’s brow furrows. “You guys act like Mr. Stark does nothing?”

“No, he’s just distracting,” Steve says as he turns his phone towards him. He starts pressing buttons.

MJ hops on the only clear spot on Steve’s desk. “Are we getting paid for today?”

Steve nods, holding the phone up to his ear.

Peter’s nose crinkles as he kicks a trashcan across the room. “I’d be mad if we didn’t.”

“It wouldn’t be fair, otherwise,” Bruce says as he walks in the room.

“Morning Dr. Banner,” Peter sings. “You look very comfortable.”

Bruce looks down at his Harvard sweatshirt and jeans. He shrugs. “I am.”

Steve starts talking in his receptionist voice, talking about how the office is closed for the day due to an unfortunate accident.

MJ watches him, lips pursed. “Is Tony coming in today?”

“Yup,” Steve says as he hangs the phone up. “Said he was bringing us something, too.”

Peter and MJ grin at each other.

Bruce laughs as he goes to his desk, steps crinkling as he crushes paper and pencils with his sneakers. “We should get to work. We still have to scrub the spray paint off the walls.”

Steve shakes his head. “Tony wants me to paint it. Said I can paint anything over it if I paint the actual wall and get those symbols off.”

MJ hops down. “That why you have a suitcase with you?”

The camera drops down to the suitcase beside Steve’s feet. It goes back to Steve’s small smile. “Pretty much.”

Natasha, Clint, and Wanda walk in next. “Morning everyone,” Wanda chirps.

“Morning,” Peter says, kicking up paper and watching it fall.

Clint’s eyes widen, growing mischievous. He runs and slides, paper raining around him. Peter and MJ laugh, kicking up paper and stuff as they walk around.

Steve winces. “Watch out, you guys. There’s no telling what’s under all that.”

Natasha pats his bicep. “You can’t tell them anything.”

“I see that.”

The employees start sifting through the paper. They fill trash bag after trash bag with the junk and paper they can’t use anymore, and stack the ones they were able to salvage in the conference room. The rest of the employees jumped in, bringing brooms and extra trash bags.

Steve was scrubbing at the bookshelves, trying to get the spray paint off without damaging the metal. His sleeves were rolled up, showing off his tattoos. His back was to the door.

The camera zoomed in on the cardboard covered door. Tony steps in, carrying a basket full of solo cups, napkins, and cookies. He holds the door open for another man, carrying enough pizza boxes to hide his face. “Greetings my wonderful, amazing employees!” Tony calls, drawing everyone’s attention to him.

“Took you long enough,” Sam grumbles as he walks out of the conference room.

Tony waves him off. “Pizza took forever,” he says, nodding to the man behind him. “Where can he set these?”

Steve sets his rags down and wipes at his forehead. “We can clear off Bucky’s desk. I don’t want to mess with Nat and Sam’s filing system.”

“Damn right, you don’t.” Sam winks at him, carrying a stack of papers back into the conference room.

Steve rolls his eyes as he clears off the trash and paper from Bucky’s desk. “Here you go,” he says as he steps out of the way of the man.

The man lowers himself to set the pizzas down onto the desk. He stands, revealing himself to the group.

“Bucky?” Steve gasps.

Bucky runs a gloved hand through his hair. “The one and only,” he says, blushing.

Steve nearly tackles the salesman, hugging him close.

Bucky wraps his arms around Steve, patting the man’s back. “Good to see you, Stevie.”

Steve pulls away, grinning.

“So, are you back or do I still get to use your desk as a footrest?” Sam asks, digging into the pizza boxes.

Bucky wipes his hands on his jeans and gives the man a tight smile. “I’m back for good. Even got myself a new title.”

Tony rolls his eyes, but smiles. “Barnes is the new assistant manager. You can now bother him with your bulls*** problems and signing stuff. Now let’s get this place back to normal. The quicker we clean, the quicker we leave.”

Steve and Bucky smile at each other, the their cheeks straining against the pressure of their ever growing grins.

Chapter Text

The camera pans over the office. Everything is back in order, the employees are mindlessly working, and the office is clean. The only difference is the Valentine’s Day decorations littering the walls and desks. Reception has the most, the large desk covered in heart stickers and rom-com movie quotes. The person sitting at the desk, however, does not match the warm appearance of the room. Most importantly, the person at reception is not Steve.

Bucky pouts as he answers another phone call with a fake cheery voice.

Sam snickers from his own desk, watching as Bucky struggles to transfer the phone to Clint. “You good there, Barnes?”

“No,” the other man huffs, “where the hell is Steve?”

Sam shrugs. “You’re the one who’s practically attached to him. Shouldn’t you be the one to know?”

Bucky shakes his head. “He just said that he’s running late and asked me to watch the phones.”

“So he’ll be here soon. Relax.” Sam throws up a paper ball, catching it in one hand. “He’s probably having Valentine’s Day brunch with Peggy or something. She seems like the type to have brunch often.”

Wanda snickers from behind Sam. “You’re right,” she laughs. “She does seem like she’d suggest brunch on a regular basis.”

“I can confirm that Peggy and Pepper have had many a brunch together. I actually can’t stand it,” Tony says as he walks into the main office. “Just eat breakfast for lunch, don’t make up a whole BS meal so that you and your friends can day drink.”

Bucky runs a hand through his hair, fixing it in the screen of Steve’s new computer.

The door opens and the camera pans to see a panting Steve bustling through the entryway. “Morning,” he breathes. His hair is a mess, unlike the usual gelled down look he wears, and his shirt and pants are wrinkled and off-kilter. Steve adjusts his glasses as he shrugs off his coat. “Thanks for taking the phones, Buck.”

“Yeah, no problem,” Bucky says quietly. “You okay?”

Steve looks up, glasses still crooked. “I’m fine, why do you ask?”

Bucky raises an eyebrow. “You’re late and you look like s***.”

“I-” Steve shakes his head, not meeting Bucky’s gaze. “Can we talk about this later?”

“Course,” Bucky says, moving out of Steve’s seat. “You know where to find me.”

 

---

 

Producer: “How’s Connie?”

Bucky’s eyebrows go up. “Oh. We didn’t work out. Just wasn’t right.”

“So do you have plans for Valentine’s Day?”

He shakes his head. “Not at the moment. Might go get drinks or see if my sister’s doing anything.”

 

---

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes, Steve Rogers
Subject: Half Day

 

I’m staying till twelve, then I’m leaving to take Pepper out for a long lunch. You two can handle things, right?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes, Tony Stark

Subject: Re: Half Day

 

Of course, not like there’s much we don’t already do.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers, Tony Stark

Subject: Re: Half Day

 

I don’t think there’s much to handle anyways. Most everyone is leaving early for their dates and stuff. I think the only two people who don’t have any place to be is Steve and I.

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes, Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Half Day

 

You expect me to believe that Bruce, Scott, and Rhodey have dates?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes, Tony Stark

Subject: Re: Half Day

 

Scott’s going on a Daddy-Daughter date with Cassie.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers, Tony Stark

Subject: Re: Half Day

 

And Bruce is seeing that scientist, Betty. Rhodey is seeing Carol again.

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes, Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Half Day

 

Carol?

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes, Tony Stark

Subject: Re: Half Day


Carol Danvers from the Air Force

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes, Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Half Day


Huh. Well don’t let the office burn down while everyone’s away.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes, Tony Stark

Subject: Re: Half Day

 

Don’t worry, your job will still be here tomorrow. And then you can destroy the office as many times as you want.

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes, Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Half Day

 

Cute, Rogers.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers, Tony Stark

Subject: Re: Half Day

 

I thought so.

 

---

 

Sam starts gathering his things at eleven.

Bucky glares at him. “Where are you going?”

“On a date,” Sam says. “It’s Valentine’s Day.”

“But you don’t date.” Bucky leans forward at his desk, still glaring.

Sam rolls his eyes. “I date. I just don’t tell you.”

Bucky shakes his head. “I don’t believe you.”

Sam puts his coat on and pockets his phone. “Doesn’t matter. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Have fun on your ‘date.’” Bucky turns in his chair, moving with Sam as he makes his way to the door. “Use protection!”

Sam flips him off.

 

---

 

Producer: “What are you doing for Valentine’s Day?”

Peter grins. “I’m taking MJ to a Star Wars marathon with Ned and his girlfriend Gwen. Then we’re grabbing pizza and staying at her place.”

“Does she know about it?”

“Probably, even though she’s not supposed to. Ned can’t keep his mouth shut when it comes to secrets and MJ.”

 

---

 

Producer: “What are your Valentine’s Day plans?”

MJ smirks. “Peter tell you about the secret Star Wars marathon?”

“He did. He also said you’re not supposed to know.”

MJ squints at the camera. “Then why are you even asking if you already know?”

“We wanted to see if you did know.”

She nods, shrugging one shoulder. “He and Ned planned it. Ned’s easy to crack.”

 

---

 

The office is nearly empty. Steve, Bucky, Clint, and Wanda are all that remain.

Bucky’s slumped in his chair, eyes rolling from his screen to Steve. “Were you aware of this secret plan to ditch today?”

Steve looks up with droopy eyes. “I mean, yeah? They’ve been talking about it for a week now.”

“Why can’t we leave again?”

“I can’t leave because someone needs to watch the phones. You can leave if you want,” Steve says, turning to his tablet.

Bucky shakes his head as he stands, shuffling over to reception. “Nah, I’ll stay and keep you company.”

Steve gives him a small smile. “Thanks, Buck. I appreciate it.”

Wanda stands with her coffee and heads toward the door. “I’ll see you boys in a little bit.”

“Where are you going?” Bucky asks, eyebrow raised.

She blushes, her bangs falling in her face as she ducks her head. “Jarvis and I are having lunch in the warehouse.”

Steve and Bucky exchange side glances. “The warehouse?” Steve asks.

“He wants to have a picnic where we first met,” she clarifies.

Clint comes to stand beside Bucky. “Seriously?”

Steve scoffs at him. “Shush, that’s romantic. At least there’s a sentimental reason behind them eating in the warehouse and he’s not being a cheapskate.”

Bucky nods. “He has a point. It’s better than being stuck here.”

Clint smirks. “It does suck being here instead of out on a date, doesn’t it?”

Bucky glares at him. “You’re leaving, aren’t you.”

Clint smiles. “Waiting to be picked up, actually.” The camera pans out to see Clint has all of his stuff and his coat draped over his arm.

Bucky turns to Steve. “How are we the only two stuck here?”

Steve shrugs, sipping his coffee. “Maybe we’re just that lucky.” He looks to Clint. “I didn’t know you had an S.O.”

“S.O?” Wanda asks.

“Significant other,” Steve explains.

Clint nods and holds up his left hand, where a small band rests on his ring finger. “I’m married.”

Bucky gasps. “You’re married? Since when?”

Clint counts on his fingers, mumbling as he does. “Eight years?”

“You’ve been married the entire time I’ve known you?” Bucky says, turning to the accountant.

Clint shrugs. “Yeah? It’s not like you’ve noticed or asked.”

Bucky shakes his head, flustered. “Who asks people if they’re taken or single in a platonic way?”

Steve shakes his head. “People who want to get to know their friends and coworkers.”

“Shut up, Rogers.”

The camera moves to show the door opening. Agent Coulson steps in, dressed in a suit and his FBI jacket. “Afternoon,” he greets.

Steve smiles as he turns to the man. “Hey, Agent Coulson. How can I help you?”

Coulson smiles at Clint. “Just came to pick up the husband.”

Bucky and Steve gasp, staring at each other wide wide eyes and big smiles. “This is your secret husband?” Bucky asks Clint, attention bouncing from one man to the other.

Wanda awes at the couple. “I can see it! You two make a cute couple,” she coos as Clint takes Coulson’s hand.

Clint rolls his eyes. “This is why I said you should stay in the car.”

Coulson shrugs. “Then I wouldn’t be able to show off the new pin you gave me.” Coulson tugs on his lapel, where a familiar round shield rested in pin form.

Bucky smirks, glancing at a blushing Steve. “Is that a Captain America pin?”

Coulson’s face lights up. “It is! Are you a fan?”

Clint groans as he walks towards the door. “Phil, I’m leaving with or without you,” he calls over his shoulder.

Wanda giggles, calling after Clint that’d she’d walk him out.

Bucky nods. “I love the good Captain. You know,” he leans closer to Phil and grins, “I’ve met the artist.”

Coulson’s face turns ghostly pale. “No! How do you know?”

“I’ve seen him work. Live. In person. Even saw him queue up the post.” Bucky leans back and crosses his arms.

Steve’s slowly sinking in his chair, face as red as Bucky’s tie.

“What’s he like? Is he a soldier? A history professor? A comic fan? Is he as nice as he seems in his Q&A’s?” Coulson rambles, eyes bright.

Bucky nods. “He’s just an average guy. Real nice, but a little on the obnoxious side. Can’t take a compliment to save his life. And don’t get me started on the guy’s nose. It’s huge. Like real huge. It’d take someone longer to climb it than Mount Everest. I mea-”

“Bucky, I think Clint really is going to leave Phil if you don’t shut up ,” Steve hisses the last line, the corners of his mouth turned up.

“Right,” Phil coughs. “It was a pleasure seeing you all again.”

Bucky shakes Phil’s hand. “You too, Coulson. Have a nice time with your hubby.”

Phil blushes as he leaves.

Bucky turns to Steve with a huge grin and barely contained laughter.

Steve glares up at him, mouth twisted in a half smile. “Was that payback for drawing your nose so big?”

“Why would I do that?” Bucky laughs, hitting the desk. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got paper to sell.”

Steve rolls his eyes. “Yeah, sure. Like you’re going to do any work.”

Bucky plops down in his chair and spins. “Nope.”

 

---

 

The camera pans over a nice, dimly lit restaurant. It settles on a small table, big enough for four adults, but set for two. Sam sits on one side, texting someone. He’s changed since he left the office. Gone are his typical shirt and tie combo, the salesman is now sporting a white shirt, navy sports jacket, and matching slacks.

Sam looks up from his phone and smiles.

Natasha walks into the frame, dressed in a red cocktail dress.

“You look lovely,” he says as he stands to greet her.

She smiles as she leans in. “You don’t look too bad yourself.”

Sam places a gentle kiss to her cheek and moves to pull her chair out.

She sits down, her back to the camera. “This is nice,” Natasha says, glancing around.

“Nice place for a nice girl,” Sam quips with a wink as he takes his seat.

“I’ve told you, I’m not nice.”

“Could have fooled me.” Sam takes her hand. He opens his jacket and pulls out a small, long box. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

Natasha huffs. “I told you no gifts.”

“And yet here we are. What a turn of events.” Sam shakes his head.

Natasha opens the box. “I-”

“Don’t say anything. I know that face. You’re panicking,” he says softly. “Don’t. It’s just a bracelet I saw that I thought you might like.”

“Where did you find this?”

Sam shrugs. “No where.”

“The VA?”

He smiles, toying with his fork. “Maybe.”

She takes his hand. “You didn’t…”  

He looks up, his face growing red. “I did.”

“Sam,” she sighs, her shoulders sagging. “You-”

Sam closes his eyes and raises one of his hands. “Natasha, please. It helped me and I think it’ll help you. That’s all it is. There’s nothing significant about it.”

“Oh, yes. All of my friends take me out on Valentine’s Day and give me handmade jewelry.”

Sam looks up at her with a coy smile. “I bet you’ve got all sorts of dates planned once you leave, don’t you, Romanoff?”

“You bet.”

He lifts her hand and presses a kiss to her knuckles. “Then I’m glad you chose me first.”

“It seems to be a pattern lately.”

 

---

 

“So, Rogers,” Bucky says from his spot on the floor. He’s laying down, sprawled on the floor without a care in the world.

“Barnes,” Steve says from his desk, peering over the edge at the man.

Bucky grins at him. “How’s it going?”

“It’s been ten minutes. Are you really that bored?”

“Yes?”

Steve rolls his eyes and steps away from his desk. He moves to lay opposite Bucky, their heads even with one another.

Bucky’s head lolls to face Steve, smiling. “Hi.”

“Hi.”

“Nice to see you join me.”

Steve shrugs. “This looks more comfortable than it is.”

“You just have to succumb to your old age and exhaustion. Then anything is comfortable,” Bucky says.

“Good point.” Steve looks up at the ceiling. “Are we napping or just laying here to lay here?”

Bucky hums. “Both.”

They laid there for a moment, the silence of the office growing tense around them.

“Steve?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you okay?” Bucky looks to him, eyebrows furrowed.

Steve sighs and closes his eyes. “Yeah, why?”

“You didn’t seem it this morning.”

“Had bit of a rough morning.”

Bucky nods. “Woke up on the wrong side of the bed trouble or earth-shattering trouble?”

Steve raises an eyebrow. “Those are my only options?”

“Basically.”

“Earth-shattering trouble on a day I woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” Steve says with a sigh.

Bucky whistles. “Damn.”

“Yeah,” Steve mumbles.

“Wanna talk about it?”

Steve rubs at his face, groaning.

Bucky raises both of his eyebrows. “You don’t have to, Stevie. Just don’t want you to suffer, s’all.”

“No,” Steve says, “I want to talk about it. It’s just a s*** show.”

“What is?”

“My relationship.”

“Hang on.” Bucky sits up and grabs his phone off of his desk. “If we’re getting that heavy, we need Japanese food.”

Steve sits up too. “Hibach-”

“Hibachi shrimp and steak, extra vegetables and extra rice. You also want an order of spicy tuna, California rolls, salmon sashimi, and red dragon rolls.” Bucky winks at him. “I got it, Stevie.”

The receptionist watches as Bucky orders their lunch, receiting both their orders with an expert tongue. He’s still gobsmacked when Bucky settles back on the floor beside him. “You remembered?”

Bucky shrugs. “Steve, we’ve been eating at the same Japanese restaurant for months now. You order the same thing every time. I was bound to remember it.”

Steve scoffs, “Unbelievable.”

Bucky tenses. “What?”

Steve stands, growing red in the face. “I’ve known you for almost nine months and you already have my orders memorized. Nine months! That’s nothing!” He’s pacing, taking long strides across the office.

The brunet watches with wide eyes, lips pressed together. “Did… Did I do something wrong?”

“Oh no,” Steve says with a wave of his hands. “You did nothing wrong. Nothing.” He groans. Steve puts his head in his hands and kneels down beside Bucky again. “Oh god, this is a mess. A big, atrocious mess.”

Bucky runs his gloved hand along Steve’s back. “Hey, it’s gonna be alright. We’re gonna get you through this. Once we get food, you’re going to tell me everything I need to know and we’ll figure this out. Okay?”

“Okay.”

 

---

 

Producer: “How was your lunch date?”

Natasha shrugs with a small smile.

The camera zooms in on her hands, neatly folded in her lap. There’s a chunky golden bracelet on one wrist. It zooms out.

“I’ve never noticed that bracelet before. Where’d you get it?”

Natasha rolls her eyes and holds up her wrist. The camera zooms in again to inspect it. It’s small, but thick. The bracelet is small bullets pressed together, the tips pointing towards her hand. There’s a small hourglass charm clasp separating two of the bullets.

“It’s very unique.”

“My date made it for me.”

“What does it mean?”

Natasha's smile diminishes as she runs a finger over her bracelet. “My husband Alexei was murdered in a drive by. We were walking down the street and got caught in the crossfire. And my date was a soldier. Bullets…” She sighs and looks into the barrel of the camera with tired eyes. “I’m about to say something that if it ever gets repeated, I will rip your camera apart with my bare hands.”

“It’ll stay here. I promise.”

She nods. “Remember that The Fault in Our Stars book?”

“What about it?”

“There’s a character who says ‘You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don't give it the power to do it’s killing.’” She holds up her arm, eyes locked on the charm. “This is the same thing.”

 

---

 

Bucky shoves a spicy-tuna roll into his mouth and spins his chopsticks on his fingers. “So, want to fill me in?”

Steve pushes his rice around and sighs. “I’m breaking up with Peggy.”

Bucky starts coughing, his eyes bulging. He snatches his coke and takes a sip, still sputtering a little.

“You okay?” Steve asks, reaching over to rub Bucky’s back.

“Yup, totally fine.” Bucky takes a deep breath and looks to Steve. “You’re calling off the wedding?”

Steve shakes his head. “No, I’m breaking off the engagement. We haven’t started planning a wedding for me to even call it off.”

Bucky nods slowly, picking at his chicken. “So, this is it?”

“Yup.” Steve shoves a California roll into his mouth, angrily chewing.

“Want to elaborate on why or you just going to take it out on your food?” Bucky asks, glancing at the demolished rice bowl.

Steve shrugs. “Not much to talk about. Peggy-” He shakes his head. “You don’t want to hear about this.”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “No, trust me, I do. I don’t want to hear about my boss’ sexcapades. I don’t mind listening to my best friend complain about his love life. Seriously, spill.”

Steve looks up, jaw slack and showing too much. “Best friend?”

Bucky’s nose scrunches in disgust. “Yeah. Best friend. Close your mouth.”

“But it’s see food, Buck,” Steve teases, pointing to his sushi.

“Funny,” Bucky deadpans.

Steve wipes his mouth and trades his chopsticks for his water bottle. “You really want the details?”

“If you want me to have them,” Bucky says softly. “Don’t overshare because you think I want it.”

“I think,” he starts, “things have been falling apart for a while now. I’m… I’m not sure I really wanted to propose to her in the first place.” Steve tosses his bottle cap in the air. It lands a few feet away. He sighs.

Bucky watches the cap roll away before he turns to Steve. “Then why did you?”

“I didn’t. She proposed to me,” Steve says.

“She..?”

Steve nods.

“But you said-”

Steve shakes his head. “I never said I proposed to her. I called it my proposal, I didn’t detail any specific actions, and I never said she proposed. It’s not something I like to talk about.”

“Why not?”

“Because… She wasn’t acting like she wanted to marry me to marry me. It was all some plan of hers. Get married, have babies, succeed in her career, be rich, blah, blah, blah.” The blond shrugs his shoulders. “I mean… I think on some level I felt like I had to? Like the world would end if I didn’t. I would end if I wasn’t with her. We’ve been together for so long. She knew me when I was nothing-”

“Whoa, when you were nothing? The only time you were nothing is before you were conceived, Rogers. You’ve never been nothing . Now continue,” Bucky says firmly.

Steve gives him a sheepish smile. “When I was smaller and sick,” he corrects.

Bucky nods, motioning for him to keep going.

“She was there when… when my mom died and when I graduated. She was there throughout college and when I was rejected from the army-”

“You were rejected from the army?” Bucky asks.

Steve glares at him. “You knew this.”

Bucky presses his lips together. “Sorry, I didn’t know you were rejected . Just thought you decided against it.”

Steve shakes his head. “No, I wanted to, but my medical records were too risky.”

“Oh. Things were that bad?”

Steve nods.

“One day, I’d like to know more if you’re willing to share. But right now, tell me more about the Peggy situation. I promise I won’t interrupt again.”

“Unlikely,” Steve grumbles. “Anyway, I think because of the time we spent investing our energy to this relationship that I wanted nothing more than for it to work. But Peggy just puts so much time into her work that she doesn’t care about us. She used to be so loving and caring and now…” He picks at his rice. “Now she’s barely around.”

He shifts in his place and looks to Bucky with wide eyes. “Do you know what my plans were today? What I was going to do for her?”

Bucky shakes his head.

“Dinner at the planetarium and a carriage ride through the city. With horses and everything!” Steve shakes his head. “Do you know what she’s doing?”

“What?” Bucky asks, mouth full.

Steve huffs. “She’s in London on a business trip, where she’ll be for a month. A month! Our ten year anniversary is two weeks from now and she’s missing it for work.”

“Ten years?” Bucky gasps.

“We’ve been together since we were fifteen, Buck.”

Bucky’s brow furrows. “You’re only twenty-five?”

Steve rolls his eyes. “That’s what you focus on?”

“Sorry! I just assumed you were twenty-seven like me.”

“Why?”

Bucky shrugs. “Cause I’m obviously not observant.”

Steve shakes his head. “I’ve noticed.”

“Continue?”

Steve runs a hand through his hair. “I just… I feel like she’s putting me on the back burner over everything. It doesn’t help that she belittles Cap now.”

Bucky gasps. “Cap?”

He nods. “She calls him my hobby and stuff. Like that day she came in? Kept making comments about how I’m not really important and how my being here is just to give me a place to work.”

Bucky takes a slow, deep breath. “Steve, that’s not fair to you.”

“I know. That’s why when she gets back, I’m ending it. As soon as I see her, it’s over.” Steve switches his sushi plate for his sides of extra veggies.

The brunet plays with his food, twirling a chicken through his rice slowly. “Guessing you don’t have plans for tonight then?”

Steve sighs. “No, sadly.”

Bucky nods. “Yeah, you do. You can come to mine. We can watch some World War II documentary and shovel pizza into our mouths. Give you some more history lessons for Cap.”

Steve grins, chin tucked into his chest. “I’d like that.”

 

---

 

“I can give you a ten percent discount for a purchase of ten reams,” Bucky says quietly into the phone. “It’s a one-time offer, Mr. Guatalopez.”

Steve looks up at Bucky, hand moving effortlessly across a sketchpad. He glances at the camera, blushing. “It’s for reference. I’m writing the Winter Soldier’s debut,” he whispers to the lens.

The camera zooms in as Wanda opens the door, the small Slovakian woman wrapped in a thick coat and gloves. “It’s so cold today,” she murmurs to Steve, rubbing her arms.

Steve chuckles and holds up his coffee. “Take your gloves off and hold this. It’s scalding.”

Wanda sighs with relief. “Thank you! My hands have been so much colder with this new rock,” she says, displaying her left hand where a decent sized diamond ring rest on her ring finger.

“Is that a..?” Steve gasps.

Wanda nods, grinning.

Steve stands and moves around the desk, wrapping her in a bear hug. “Congratulations, Wanda,” he says.

“Thank you!” she giggles.

“How’d he do it?” Steve asks.

Wanda blushes. “He proposed to me in my native tongue. Had a whole speech prepared and everything! It was beautiful.”

Steve grins. “I’m happy for you, Wanda.”

Wanda steps away, admiring her ring. She squeals and shoves it into the lens. “I just love it,”  she says as the camera focuses on the glittering jewel. “I couldn’t be happier.”

Bucky gives Wanda a quick hug before the redhead is off to shove her happiness into Sam’s face. He moves to sling an arm around Steve’s shoulders, grinning at the man. “You’ll get that one day, Steve,” he whispers.

Steve sighs. “I thought I did.”

Chapter Text

Steve slumps into the office, shoulders hunched and head down. He’s cradling his things, his coat gliding behind him at every step.

Bucky watches him as he drops his things onto his desk and slides into his seat.

Steve’s sluggish throughout his morning routine of setting up his phone and computer.

“I can’t watch this anymore,” he grumbles. Bucky stands from his desk and gathers his things. “Sam, if Tony asks, I’m on a sales trip and Steve has a doctor’s appointment,” Bucky whispers to his deskmate.

Sam raises an eyebrow. “Okay?”

Bucky nods and turns to Steve. “Pack your stuff up and hide it. We’re leaving.”

“What?” Steve asks, brow furrowed.

Bucky leans in, glancing over his shoulder. “We’re going on an adventure. Ditching. Skipping. Doing everything but working. Get it?”

Steve shakes his head.

Bucky rolls his eyes. “Just get your stuff together and let’s go.

 

---

 

“Where are we going?” Steve asks as they step out onto the street.

Bucky sighs. “It’s been a week since Peggy left and every day you come in sadder than the last. I can’t take it anymore. I get it. You’re mourning your relationship and all, but at some point, you can’t let it ruin your life.”

Steve rolls his eyes. “It’s been a week.”

“Yeah, plus the last few months.” Bucky glances at Steve.

“Well-”

“No, shush. We’re going on an adventure whether you like it or not.” Bucky loops his arm through Steve’s.

Steve huffs, but lets Bucky drag him along. “How long do you plan on skipping work?”

Bucky raises an eyebrow. “You think we’re going back there today? Please, you don’t ditch work just to go back.”

“Buck-”

“Relax, you have a key. We can end the night there so you can get your stuff if you want.”

Steve nods. “Okay. Then where are you taking me?”

Bucky points to the Starbucks on the corner. “Coffee and then we’re going to take a cab to our first location.”

“First?”

Bucky grins. “First.”

Steve drops Bucky’s arm to open the door to the cafe. “And how many locations do you plan taking me to?”

“As many as I need to get you to smile.”

Steve’s shoulders shake as he presses his lips together. “How expensive is this going to be?”

Bucky waves him off as he gets in line. “Don’t worry about it. I’ve got you covered.”

“All day?”

“All day.”

Steve smirks. “So you’re paying for all my coffee for the day? And whatever I need throughout the day?”

Bucky hesitates, but nods. “Yes, yes I am.”

“Really?”

“Really. Now order your iced Americano, Rogers.”

Steve laughs. “Thank you,” he whispers as he turns to the barista.

 

---

 

The camera focuses on the pair from the front seat of a cab. They’re sitting on either side of the back seat, facing the center with their knees touching. “What made you decide to take me out on an adventure today?”

Bucky shrugs. “Got tired of watching you pout every day.”

Steve huffs. “I don’t pout.”

“No, you’re right. ‘Pout’ isn’t the right word. You don’t pout, you sulk.”

“I don’t sulk!”

Bucky rolls his eyes and turns to the cab driver. He waits until they pull up to a red light to poke him. “Excuse me sir, but how do you describe this,” he flops back into his seat with a sigh. He straightens back up. “Would you describe that as sulking?”

The driver nods. “I’d say so. Or just being a p****.”

Steve’s brow furrows as he presses his lips together. “Excuse me?”

Bucky’s eyes widen as he settles back into the seat. “Steve, relax,” Bucky hisses. “It’s fine.”

“No, it isn’t. It’s-”

The cab pulls up to the curb. Bucky shoves his cash into the man’s hand and drags Steve out of the backseat before Steve can finish.

“It’s bulls***,” Steve finishes. “Language like that only establishes a deep sense of misogynistic attitude within the society-”

Bucky slaps a hand on Steve’s mouth. “Dude, he’s gone. I get it. Shake it off, we’ve got places to be. I’ll move my hand when you calm down.”

Steve glares at him.

Bucky cocks his hip out, his gloved hand landing on his own waist.

“Okay?”

Steve’s head tilts, eyes glittering with mischief.

Bucky squeals, hand slapping against his thigh. “You’re disgusting and childish.”

“You basically asked me to.”

The brunet glares back. “I don’t see where stopping you from snapping at a cab driver means you can lick my hand.

Steve shrugs, hands sliding into his pockets. “Get what you asked for.”

Bucky huffs, crossing his arms. “And to think I brought you-”

“To the museum?” Steve glances at the building behind them.

“Yes, the museum.” Bucky turns and starts up the stairs. “Are you coming, Rogers?”

Steve laughs, jogging behind him.

 

---

 

Steve and Bucky walk around the Akeley Hall of African Mammals. “Why the history museum?” Steve asks quietly.

Bucky pauses, brow furrowed. “Do you not like it?”

The blond shakes his head. “No, no, that’s not what I meant. I’m enjoying it. Just… curious.”

“Oh,” Bucky mumbles. “I’ve just never been. And it’s history, but not like history .”

Steve chuckles. “That’s true.”

“And the dioramas are my thing. I love them,” Bucky says as they stop in front of the waterhole diorama.

Steve looks to Bucky, eyebrow raised. “Really?”

Bucky nods. “Oh yeah, I was a real nerd back in the day. Before my arm thing, I used to make these dioramas of my neighborhood and my house. Was gonna be an architect just so I could make mock-ups of buildings and little figurines.”

“Do you have any still?” Steve asks, glancing at the wildlife depicted before them.

“No,” Bucky sighs. “I tossed ‘em.”

Steve tilts his head, still looking ahead. “Why?”

Bucky shrugged. “Couldn’t look at ‘em. C’mon, I think the space show is about to start,” he says as he walks away.

 

---

 

“Part of me wanted to sleep, not going to lie,” Steve whispers.

Bucky gasps. “Me too!”

Steve laughs as they walk out of the planetarium. “It’s just so peaceful .”

“And the narration was basically asking for us to sleep,” Bucky mumbles.

Steve bumps their shoulders. “You’re not wrong.”

Bucky nods toward the map. “Wanna take another lap before our next stop?”

“Lead the way,” Steve says, looping their arms together.

 

---

 

Tony walks out of his office, glaring at Peter. “Why are you at Steve’s desk? Where is Steve? And where is Bucky?” He glances around, brow furrowing with each question.

Sam sighs and spins his chair to face the manager. “Steve’s at a doctors appointment and Bucky’s on a sales trip.”

“And they expect me to believe that bulls***?” Tony huffs, crossing his arms.

The salesman shrugs. “I’m just the messenger, man.”

Tony looks to the office. “Bucky never goes on sales trips and I highly doubt Pierce forced him to. And what sort of doctors appointment did Steve go to when Bucky just happens to be out?”

Rhodey sighs and stands from his desk. “You can’t ask that, Tony.”

“I can if I’m suspicious of my employees.”

“No, you can’t. Medical information is private,” Rhodey says.

Tony rolls his eyes. “Does anyone know what type of doctor he went to see? Dentist? Orthodontist? Knee specialist?”

“Um,” Peter starts, “I think he went to see an oncologist.”

The office stops.

Sam shakes his head, eyes wide.

Tony glances wearily at the boy. “He went to see an oncologist?”

Peter nods, eyes darting to a glaring Sam. “Yeah, said something about setting up a date for surgery?”

Sam throws his hands up in the air, spinning away from both Peter and Tony.

“Let me know when he comes back in. I want to talk to him face-to-face about that,” Tony says as he backs into his office.

The door clicks closed.

“Oh my god, Parker,” Sam groans.

“What?” he asks.

Sam stands. “What’s an oncologist?”

Peter’s brow crinkles. “They do like knee surgeries and stuff.”

Bruce shakes his head. “No, that’s an orthopedic surgeon. An oncologist deals with cancer.”

Peter’s eyes grow large. “Oh god.”

“Yeah. We know.” Sam shakes his head as he sits back down. “Steve’s going to blow a gasket.”

 

---

 

Steve wipes at his mouth with the napkin. “This was a great idea.”

Bucky nods. “I know. I’m known for my great ideas.”

“No, you’re really not,” Steve laughs. He takes another bite of his Belgian waffle.

Bucky shrugs. “Shut up.”

Steve nudges his shoulder. “This really was a good idea, though.”

“Waffles out of a truck are always a good idea,” Bucky says around a mouthful.

“Waffles for lunch is an even better idea,” Steve laughs.

Bucky winks at him, licking whipped cream off his lip.

Steve rolls his eyes. “You still have some on your chin.” He touches his own chin where the cream is on Bucky.

“Where?” Bucky asks, tongue flickering back and forth.

A blush starts to tint Steve’s cheeks. He takes a napkin and wipes Bucky’s chin, clearing the whipped cream away. “There you go.”

Bucky beams at him. “Thanks, Stevie. What would I do without you?”

“You’d be a mess, that’s what.”

Bucky shrugs. “You’re not wrong.”

Steve stands from the bench, stretching, his untucked button-down pulling up.

The camera zooms in on Bucky’s face as a tiny sliver of Steve’s stomach shows. The brunet’s face grows pale, his eyes darting to a flock of pigeons a few feet away.

“Where to next?” Steve asks, hands sliding into his pockets.

Bucky clears his throat as he stands. “Well, this is up to you. We can stay here at Central Park or go back to Brooklyn.”

Steve bounces on his heels. “Where in Brooklyn?”

“Prospect Park. Either way, we’re going to a park,” Bucky says.

Steve shrugs. “Let’s just stay here. We can walk to Belvedere Castle.”

Bucky smiles. “Sounds great.”

 

---

 

The camera watches as Steve and Bucky talk. They’re leaning over the bridge, arms resting on the ledge and their ankles crossed. Their shoulders brush as they talk, their heads dipped close together.

The noise of the city muffles their quiet voices.

Steve points towards the water, smiling as he speaks.

Bucky leans closer for a moment before he pulls away again.

They watch the water ripple below, talking amongst themselves. They’re in their own little world, ignorant of the cameras and bystanders. It’s just them.

The camera moves in, their conversation slowly growing louder.

“As much as he frustrates me,” Steve sighs, “I really enjoy working for Tony.”

Bucky laughs. “Spoken like a true Stark Paper employee.”

Steve shakes his head, smiling softening. “Can I ask you a question?”

The brunet nods, brow furrowed and lips slightly pursed.

Steve turns to him, face drooping with emotion. “Why’d you leave?”

Bucky’s head falls, his bangs brushing against his forehead. “Right. I was wondering when you’d ask about that.”

“It’s not like I’m mad you left or anything. It just,” Steve bites at his lip, “hurts that you left without saying anything. It’s almost like you didn’t want me to know.”

“I didn’t,” Bucky admits.

Steve’s jaw goes slack as he takes a half step back. “What?”

Bucky runs a hand over his face. “I didn’t want to say goodbye. I couldn’t. You-”

“Did you tell anyone or was I just the last one out of the loop?” Steve asks, voice cold.

“I didn’t tell anyone,” Bucky says quickly. “Goodbyes aren’t my thing. I just couldn’t say goodbye to any of the others, but it seemed impossible to say goodbye to you. God, Steve, you have no idea how hard it was to keep my distance from you that weekend.” He shakes his head.

Steve nods, a soft blush on his cheeks. “Okay. Makes sense,” he admits. “I’m not mad, not anymore at least.”

Bucky rubs at his neck. “You sure?”

“It’s in the past. I’m just glad you’re back.”

“I am, too.”

 

---

 

Bucky guides a blindfolded Steve out of the train. “Ready?”

“Oh, I get to see now?”

Bucky rolls his eyes and steps behind Steve. He tugs on the blindfold, loosening the knot. “Ta-da!” he announces, pulling the blindfold off.

Steve blinks his eyes open.

The brunet moves to stand in front of Steve, grinning.

“You’re somethin’ else, Barnes,” Steve laughs.

Bucky winks at him.

Steve shakes his head. “I haven’t been here since middle school.”

“I know.”

Steve raises an eyebrow.

Bucky shrugs. “You mentioned it one day. I just have a good memory when it comes to Steve trivia.”

“I see that,” Steve laughs. “C’mon, we have a lot to do before the park closes.”

The camera zooms out to see ‘Coney Island’ written in neon orange letters.

 

---

 

“Today was great,” Steve whispers as they walk back to the office. The camera’s focused on their backs a few feet away.

Bucky nods. “It was. I’m glad you had a good time.”

Steve bumps shoulders. “You always know how to surprise me, Barnes.”

“That’s just because we’re still learning about one another,” Bucky says softly.

Steve nods. “That’s true.” His shoulders relax, his hands sliding into his pockets. “It’s weird when I really stop to think about it. I’ve only known you for a few months, not even a year yet. And yet,” he sighs, “it feels-”

“If you say ‘it feels like I’ve always known you,’ Rogers, then I’m socking you in the teeth,” Bucky laughs.

“Well excuse me,” Steve scoffs. “I was going to say that it feels nice being able to be so open and easy with someone else. We’ve gotten to know each other pretty quickly, and we’re still learning, but it’s just so easy.”

Steve shakes his head after a moment. “Maybe I’m just not used to making friends so easily.”

“No, no,” Bucky says quickly, “I get it.”

“You do?” Steve asks, his head tilting to glance at the man to his right.

Bucky nods. “Yeah, it’s… it’s not normal for people to get along this well. It’s special, like it’s meant to be.”

Steve’s cheeks pull back as he smiles.

Bucky slings his left arm over Steve’s shoulder, pulling him close.

Steve stumbles, laughing. “Damn Bucky,” he says, adjusting Bucky’s arm on his shoulder. “Easy there.”

“Oh my god,” Bucky gasps, pulling his arm away. “Did I hurt you? Are you okay?”

They stop, standing in the middle of the sidewalk.

“No,” Steve says, brow furrowed. “No, I’m okay. Just surprised me is all. Everything okay?”

Bucky backs away, breathing a little heavier. “Sorry, yeah,” he breathes. “I just get a little nervous with… with my arm.” Bucky turns around, hands on his hips.

Steve watches him, giving him some space. “That’s okay. I get it.”

“You do?” Bucky asks

The blond nods. “Yeah, I get it. I’ve got issues with my, well, everything.”

Bucky shakes his head. “This isn’t me being insecure about it. I mean, that has a little to do with it, but it’s not why I’m nervous about it with other people.”

“Are you scared you’ll hurt someone?” Steve asks. “Cause I get like that. I wasn’t always so… large? I grew up real scrawny and sick, so when I started to beef up,” he shakes his head. Steve takes a deep breath and continues, “It scared me. Still does. I break stuff a lot, mostly pencils and pens, but sometimes it was bigger stuff.”

Bucky watches Steve as he kicks at the ground.

“Once I left a bruise on my Ma, right? Wouldn’t touch anyone for three weeks until I had a health scare. Ma was real mad at me for that, but she was too nice to chew me out in a hospital room.” Steve gives Bucky a small smile.

“You were in the hospital?”

“All the time.”

Bucky bites his lip. “Can I ask why?”

Steve nods. “That time, I had an allergic reaction to chamomile tea.”

“Just chamomile tea or chamomile in general?”

“Chamomile in general,” Steve says.

Bucky whistles. “Wow. You must not be able to touch Bruce then.”

Steve rolls his eyes. “Shush.”

The brunet steps closer, his hands fiddling in front of him. “I was in an accident,” he admits softly. “It killed my dad and…”

Bucky takes off his glove and rolls up his left sleeve up to his elbow. The camera zooms in on his limb. There’s scar tissue running down his forearm and hand, bright, red scar marks that twist and tangle on the arm.

Steve’s eyebrows rise, but his face holds that soft, attentive expression.

“My arm,” Bucky sighs, “was trapped between the door and the seat. F***** my nerve endings, but I can still use it.” He closes his fist, the movement slow and stilted. “I just can’t feel things as much as I can with my right.”

“Which is why panic about touching someone with it,” Steve says softly.

Bucky nods, pushing his sleeve back down.

Steve carefully takes Bucky’s hand, squeezing it tight. “I-”

“Don’t,” Bucky sighs, taking his hand away.

“No, listen,” Steve says. “I love that you felt comfortable enough with me to share that.”

Bucky’s shoulders fall as he tackles Steve in a hug.

Steve holds him, squeezing him as tight as possible.

They pull away and start walking again. “So why the glove? Doesn’t that make it even harder to feel things?” Steve asks.

Bucky nods. “Yeah, it does. But without it, people ask so many questions. And I hate it. I really, really hate how they look.”

Steve’s silent for a moment, lost in thought. “Why don’t you change that?”

“You can’t just change the way they look, Steve.”

Steve lifts his arm and rolls up his sleeve to show his inner elbow. He points to a series of navy paint splatters above the crease of his elbow. “These are super dark because it’s covering up a lifetime of IV mishaps. Each blue spot is a different scar.”

Bucky’s eyes widen, mouth forming a small ‘o’ as he looks at the arm. “Did it hurt?”

“It was a little more sensitive than the rest of my arm, but nothing too terrible.” Steve pulls his sleeve back down.

They start to walk again, brushing shoulders.

Bucky starts to hum, face twisted in concentration.

“Whatcha thinking about?” Steve asks after a while, watching his feet.

“I think,” Bucky takes a deep breath, “I may want a tattoo.”

 

---

 

Steve and Bucky are back to work the next morning, as if they didn’t spend the day galavanting around New York.

Tony walks in, about an hour late, with an armful of flowers. He marches over to Steve’s desk, plopping the bouquet on his desk.

Steve looks up, eyebrows raised. “Are those for Pepper?”

“No,” Tony says softly, “they’re for you.”

The office froze, all attention turned to the reception desk.

“Why?” Steve asks slowly, straightening up.

Tony leans in, face stone cold. “I heard about your doctor’s appointment. I want to know the results when you get a chance. Pepper and I, we’re here for you and Peggy while you go through this, Steve.”

Steve’s skin pales. “Excuse me?”

“We know about your cancer scare.”

“My what?” Steve asks, voice harsh and cold.

Tony backs away, glancing at a shaking Peter… who’s hiding behind MJ. “Your… not sick are you?”

Steve takes a deep breath. “No, I’m not.” He stands and turns to the office. He says in a far too still voice, “I wasn’t at the doctors. I don’t have cancer. Again. I don’t have cancer. And I while I appreciate the concern, I would appreciate even more if everyone could get that thought out of their heads. I’m not sick.”

The receptionist walks out of the office in a quiet fury, slamming the kitchen door behind him.

Tony turns to Bucky. “If he wasn’t at the doctor, then where was he?”

Bucky presses his lips together. “Um,” he starts as he slowly gets up. Bucky makes a mad dash for the kitchen before Tony can say anything.  

Chapter Text

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Michelle Jones, Wanda Maximoff…

Subject: Bucky’s Birthday

 

Hey guys, Bucky’s birthday is this Thursday. We need to start talking party plans.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Michelle Jones, Wanda Maximoff…

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

For someone who didn’t want to be on the PPC, you sure are taking charge.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Michelle Jones, Wanda Maximoff…

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

Welp. Gotta do what you gotta do.

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Michelle Jones, Wanda Maximoff, Steve Rogers...

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

Can we just go to the conference room and get this over with?

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Wanda Maximoff, Steve Rogers…

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

Do we have to? I’m comfortable where I am

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Michelle Jones, Wanda Maximoff…

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

If you guys hate this so much why are you apart of the committee??

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Michelle Jones, Wanda Maximoff, Steve Rogers...

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

Bold of you to think we had a choice.

 

Wanda Maximoff <wmaximoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Michelle Jones, Steve Rogers…

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

Hush. You act like Natasha’s forcing you.

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Michelle Jones, Wanda Maximoff, Steve Rogers...

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

I never said Natasha’s name.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Michelle Jones, Wanda Maximoff…

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

You act like we didn’t already know that I forced you all to join this thing.

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Wanda Maximoff, Steve Rogers…

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

She does have a point.

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Michelle Jones, Wanda Maximoff, Steve Rogers...

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

Now that you have Steve, do I even have to be here?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Michelle Jones, Wanda Maximoff…

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

Are we just ignoring the fact that we actually have something to do? Or am I gonna plan this party by myself?

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Michelle Jones, Wanda Maximoff…

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

Steve, you have the taste of an blind elderly man. You are not planning this party alone.

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Michelle Jones, Wanda Maximoff, Steve Rogers...

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday


Seriously can I get out of this or?

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Wanda Maximoff, Steve Rogers…

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

If Clint gets to leave, can I?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Michelle Jones, Wanda Maximoff…

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

Nat, just dismiss them already so we can get this done.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Michelle Jones, Wanda Maximoff…

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

Relax Rogers. We’ll get it done.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Michelle Jones, Wanda Maximoff…

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

And yeah, Clint and MJ you guys can leave the PPC.

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Michelle Jones, Wanda Maximoff, Steve Rogers...

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday


Finally!

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Michelle Jones, Wanda Maximoff…

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

But you have to name your child after me, Barton.

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Michelle Jones, Wanda Maximoff, Steve Rogers...

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

Jokes on you, we already planned on it. So ha!

 

Michelle Jones <mjones@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Wanda Maximoff, Steve Rogers…

Subject: Re: Bucky’s Birthday

 

You two are gross. I’m leaving.

 

---

 

Producer: “You’re really adamant about getting Bucky’s birthday party planned. Why is that?”

Steve picks at his jeans. “Bucky’s been a godsend these past few weeks with Peggy being gone. He deserves to have a good birthday party.”

“Is this all you’re doing for him?”

He shakes his head. “No, I’ve got a couple of surprises in the works.” Steve smiles, looking into the camera from under his eyelashes.

“Care to share?”

“No,” Steve smirks. “I think you can find out with him.”

 

---

 

Producer: “What’s this about naming your first born after Natasha?”

Clint rolls his eyes as Natasha smirks, crossing her arms. “I’m his favorite person in the entire world. And if he wasn’t gay, we’d be married with three children of our own and he knows it.”

“That’s not true. You’d kill me if I knocked you up a third time,” he says.

Natasha puckers her lips, thinking. “You’re right. I would.”
Clint sits up. “Phil and I are talking about adopting, and we’re thinking of Russia or a country that speaks Russian since we’re both familiar with the language.”

“Which is my home country,” Nat quips.

Clint nudges her shoulder. “And she’s had a real impact on both of our lives. I wouldn’t be here without her and, frankly, she wouldn’t be here without me.”

Natasha’s cocky smile softens. “That may be somewhat true,” she mumbles.

“There’s not enough money or words to express my gratitude,” Clint says quietly, “so we’re talking about naming our hypothetical child after her.”

“What if it’s a boy? Or are you specifying that it must be a girl?”

“Natasha or Natalia for a girl, Nathaniel for a boy,” Clint says.

The redhead crosses her arms. “And either way, I’ll be their fairy godmother and will spoil them senseless.”

 

---

 

Steve angrily erases the pencil marks on his paper.

“You good?” Bucky asks, spinning to face him.

“Yeah,” Steve sighs. “Just an off day.”

Bucky stands, moving to lean against the reception desk. “Whatcha working on?”

Steve holds up his paper, where Captain America’s love interest, Golden Girl, fades away on the page. “It’s just not working for me.”

“What are you trying to make?” Bucky asks.

Steve’s face lights up, his eyes gaining a mischievous glint. “Oh, I don’t know if you want to know,” he says.

Bucky raises an eyebrow. “I’m not afraid of a few spoilers.” He leans in, grinning. “Spill, you evil mastermind.”

“Okay, so how much do you know?”

“I’ve stayed up to date, thank you,” Bucky preens.

Steve’s face turns red. “The last post you saw was Cap traveling to London, right?”

Bucky nods.

Steve leans forward, hands moving excitedly. “Well, in London, he starts a mission for the Queen of England with the help of Golden Girl. It’s literally a ‘save the princess’ quest and it’s fantastic. I’m really excited for you to read it this weekend,” he says quickly. “But Cap and Golden Girl’s relationship hits a snag. Golden Girl reveals her identity and Cap, who thought she was just another FBI agent, realizes she’s actually the sister of a man who hates Cap. Remember Ross?”

Bucky gasps. “General Ross?”

The blond nods.

“The man who forced him into exile? And she thinks he’ll be cool with joining their family?”

Steve laughs. “Exactly! They get into this huge fight and,” Steve bites his lip. “We find out Cap’s identity.”

Bucky’s jaw drops. “Seriously?”

Steve nods quickly, bouncing in his seat a little. “Yes! He gets so mad at Betsy - that’s Golden Girl - that he throws his cowl down and reveals his face. And then she says his name!”

“Which is?”

Steve flips through his sketchbook and holds up the panel. Golden Girl stands in the distance, her helmet in the middle of falling to the ground.

She’s staring Cap down, the captain’s back to the viewer. His profile is barely visible, the outline of his dark blond hair and uniform taking up the right corner of the panel.

With her beautiful gold curls pulled back and a little messy from their fight and her plump red lips forming a delicate circle, she says “Arnie?”

Bucky looks up, eyes wide. “His name is Arnie?”

Steve nods. “Arnold Roth,” he says.

Arnie? ” Bucky whispers. “The same Arnie that she mentioned a few panels back? The guy she thought was gay?”

Steve gasps. “You caught that?”

Bucky nods, gripping the desk. “Of course I did! You’ve turned me into your mindless follower. I catch everything now.”

“Yeah, yeah that’s him!” Steve says, biting his lip. “I’m introducing a few new plot lines.”

“Is that why he’s so adamant about LGBT rights?” Bucky asks.

Steve shakes his head. “No, that’s just because he knows what’s right. Same thing with basically every major rights movement.”

Bucky holds up a finger. “Wait, so is Arnie gay or..?”

“Bisexual,” Steve says. “If you didn’t notice, he’s pretty heavily based on me so it’s kind of obvious.”

“Damn,” Bucky sighs. “Your gonna kill with views these next few weeks.”

Steve nods. “There’s something else, too. I’m introducing a new character. He’s got a really rough past and he’s actually going to help Cap defeat Hydra once and for all.”

Bucky raises an eyebrow. “Do I get an exclusive?”

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

“You’ll just have to wait.”

Bucky huffs. “Fine. When does the big reveal happen?”

Steve pulls up his queue. “This week we have the London mission, ending on Arnie’s reveal. Then next week, Cap goes on his own to Germany, where he crosses paths with our mysterious new character.”

“And I don’t get an exclusive?” Bucky tries again.

“Not for this one,” Steve says, grabbing his pencil.

Bucky shakes his head. “Damn. Okay. What’s the profile for?”

Steve sighs. “Golden Girl dies trying to save Cap.”

“So they reveal their identities and then she dies?”

Steve shakes his head. “No, this is like a month and a half in advance. I told you, I’m further along than you think. This is for her funeral picture.”

Bucky takes the profile portrait and hums. It’s barely visible, but the resemblance to a certain woman is uncanny. “Are you aware that you’re drawing Peggy?”

“Yeah. Betsy’s based on Peggy.”

“You named her Betsy? Seriously?” Bucky laughs, handing the page back to Steve.

Steve rolls his eyes. “Shut up. It’s a nickname. Her real name is Elizabeth.”

Bucky scoffs. “Her name is literally Betsy Ross, Steve.”

“And Captain America’s birthday is the Fourth of July. I’m aware,” Steve chuckles.

“I can’t take you, right now,” Bucky laughs, moving away.

 

---

 

Producer: “What’s in store for Captain America now that you’re revealing he isn’t straight?”

Steve blushes, head ducking down. “Um, well, eventually he’ll get a boyfriend or something. I’m not sure. I guess it depends on what happens after Golden Girl dies. I’ll give her a week or so and then we’ll go from there.”

“You mentioned this is based on your life a little, or at least Cap is. You plan on breaking things off with Peggy when she returns, does that have anything to do with Golden Girl’s death?”

Steve nods. “Yeah. It does.”

“So in theory, would what happens to Cap next depend on what happens to you next?”

His face grows darker. “In theory.”

 

---

 

“Did Wanda grab the cake?” Steve asks as he slips into the conference room.

Natasha nods, glancing over her shoulder at him. She’s on her tiptoes, standing on a ladder. Somehow, she makes her precarious position seem elegant and easy.

Steve moves to steady her, hands hovering over her hips. “She on her way back?”

“Yes, Steve. She’s on her way.” Natasha shakes her head as she pins the banner to the wall.

“Sorry,” he sighs, “guess I’m getting a little worked up.”

Natasha lets her heels touch the rung. She turns to Steve, back pressing against the wall. “You’re really trying to make this perfect.”

Steve nods. “Bucky’s important and he’s done a lot for me, so I want to make sure his birthday is perfect.”

She presses her lips together, watching Steve intensely.

He fidgets under her stare.

“What’s going on between you two?”

Steve takes a half step back, rubbing at his neck. “We’re friends. He’s probably my best friend. We just get along really well and it’s really nice.”

She crosses her arms. “You do realize you’re engaged, right?”

His eyes widen as his shoulders tense. “I do, albeit not for long. I don’t see how that has anything to do with Bucky, though.”

“What do you mean not for long?” Natasha asks, climbing down the ladder. She stands in front of him, chin held high and fire in her eyes.

Steve crosses his arms. “I mean, that I’m breaking off my engagement with Peggy. Things just aren’t working between us and it’s becoming toxic, not that you need to know any of that.”

Natasha shakes her head. “No, I do, because this sounds like Juliet blowing off Paris for Romeo.”

“Are you calling me Juliet?” Steve gasps.

She raises an eyebrow. “Am I wrong?”

“Yes, you are. And I should remind you, that Paris was Juliet’s suitor. Her parents were practically forcing her to marry him, while she loved Romeo,” Steve counters.

“That play covers four days, Steve. You’re telling me she really loved Romeo after two days?”

“Maybe not, but being able to make your own choice is always better than being forced into a situation,” Steve says firmly. “If you seriously think I’m doing this because of Bucky, then you’re wrong. I’m doing this for my well being. Peggy and I haven’t been in love for months , way before I even proposed. This is me getting out of a terrible relationship before there’s legal issues involved, before there’s other people involved.” Steve’s brow creases, his nostrils flaring.

“So this has nothing to do with Bucky giving you bedroom eyes every chance he gets?”

Steve’s face bursts red, his body tensing as he takes a step forward. “Bucky doesn’t give me bedroom eyes, Natasha.”

She breathes a laugh, her smile menacing. “Oh, no he doesn’t give them to you on purpose. The poor kid can barely control his emotions, much less hide his ever growing feelings for you. It doesn’t help when you give him the eyes right back,” she says, her voice cold.

“I do not!” Steve snaps.

Natasha takes a step forward. “Rogers, I don’t give a damn what you do with your own life, but don’t drag Bucky into it. He doesn’t need you f****** up his life.”

Steve glares down at her. “I’m not dragging Bucky into anything. It’s not like I’m forcing him into liking me, if he even does. Did you even take a second to consider how I feel, Natasha? Or is it all about Bucky with you.”

She puts her hand on her hips. “Frankly, it’s about Bucky. I care about him. You,” she sighs, “are still new in my eyes. Bucky’s the kid I’ve seen go through ups and downs for years. Just because you’re some hot shot artist receptionist doesn’t mean you’ll stick around. In fact, I hope you don’t. This isn’t the life for you, Steve.

“That being said, I cannot see him get hurt again. I can’t see Bucky fall for someone who only wants to toy with his heart. You seem like a nice enough guy, Steve, but you’ve got issues. You’re in a relationship, engaged, mind you. Your girl leaves for a week and you turn into a whiny, pathetic boy who turns to the first person who gives you the time of day and beg for their attention. You don’t actually like him, you’re just-”

“Just what?” he seethes.

She glares up at him. “Just a f***boy.”

Steve snarls down at her. “For your information, I’m tired of being manipulated and treated like s*** by the person who I’m meant to share my life with. I’m tired of being stuck in this damn relationship when there’s nothing going for me. She doesn’t support me. She doesn’t make me feel warm anymore. All Peggy does is belittle me and my passions. I’ve barely made it to this point in my life-”

“Oh shut up, Rogers. Don’t act like you had a hard life,” Natasha scoffs.

Steve clenches his fists and looks away, shaking with anger. “You know what, Natasha. You can tell me not to drag Bucky into my life all day long. You can tell me I shouldn’t toy with his emotions. You can tell me all about how Bucky’s too good for me. And you’re right, he is too good for me.” He stares her down, voice even and calm. “But it’s already too late.”

Steve turns around and walks toward the door. “I’ll go grab the food,” he says as he opens the door.

It slams behind him, rattling the windows and decorations.

 

---

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Sam Wilson

Subject: Romeo & Juliet

 

We have a situation. Rogers is calling off his wedding for Barnes.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet

 

I’m sorry what?

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet

 

Steve is calling off his wedding so he can be with Bucky. It’s really simple, Sam. Keep up.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet

 

Oh no. I read it right, Barton. I’m just trying to figure out how Dumb & Dumber got themselves in this situation. How do you know this?

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Sam Wilson

Subject: Romeo & Juliet

 

Steve and I had an intense conversation in the conference room while we were decorating.

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet

 

Is that where you’ve been?

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Sam Wilson

Subject: Romeo & Juliet

 

Yes, Clint. I’m still decorating. Have been all day.

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet


It takes you all day to throw together a basic office birthday party?

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Sam Wilson

Subject: Romeo & Juliet

 

It’s hard work being in charge.

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet

 

Isn’t Steve taking over?

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet

 

Can we focus? What did you and Steve talk about Nat?

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Sam Wilson

Subject: Romeo & Juliet

 

I told him to be careful with Bucky.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet

 

Did you tell him Bucky had feelings for him? Because Steve’s an oblivious idiot. He most definitely didn’t know and I think giving him that info could be detrimental to the state of this office.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Sam Wilson

Subject: Romeo & Juliet

 

Too late, he knows. I tried to explain that Bucky’s past relationships have been really rough and the poor guy can’t take another heartbreak. He started to get defensive about how he’s not breaking up with Peggy because of Bucky, but because of a lot of BS. Anyway, he was really defensive the entire conversation. Tried to make me feel sorry for him and his privileged life.

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet

 

Oh god, you’re right. We really can’t handle another Bucky break up. Zola was by far the worst we’ve seen and they only dated for like two months.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Sam Wilson

Subject: Romeo & Juliet

 

Don’t forget Johann’s six months.

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet

 

I’ll never get that time back… Too much alcohol, too much ice cream. And that’s coming from me.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet

 

Now hang on a second. I get you two are close to Bucky, especially you Nat, but you’re also giving Steve a sucky hand. Just because he’s not a Russian orphan like you and Barnes, doesn’t mean he’s had a happy-go-lucky life. You and I went to the same engagement party and we ALL noticed the lack of Rogers family there. We don’t know Steve well enough to judge his past, but we do know him enough to give him the benefit of the doubt.

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet

 

I always forget that you and Bucky went to the same Russian primary school together.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet

 

Are you seriously focusing on that?

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet

 

It’s an important part of our friends lives, Sam. It’s important to acknowledge their hardships, not just wave them away.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet

 

But this isn’t about them.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Sam Wilson

Subject: Romeo & Juliet

 

Sam’s right.

 

But yes, Bucky and I went to the same after school program that taught us how to speak English. We weren’t in primary school, Clint.

 

Clint Barton <cbarton@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet

 

Right, cause Fury didn’t adopt you till you were eight right?

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Sam Wilson

Subject: Romeo & Juliet

 

Right

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet

 

Natasha, please.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Sam Wilson

Subject: Romeo & Juliet

 

Fine. You’re right. I was quick to defend Bucky and demonize Steve. But just because he may or may not have had a rough life, doesn’t mean he gets a pass to mess with Bucky’s emotions.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet

 

I really don’t think he’s messing with Bucky’s emotions. I really do think Steve is oblivious to Bucky’s emotions. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he felt the same way. I’ve caught him drawing Bucky more than once. You don’t just draw anyone over and over again if you don’t have feelings for someone.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Sam Wilson

Subject: Romeo & Juliet

 

That may be the case, but Steve’s in a relationship. He has Peggy. He needs to leave Bucky alone.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet

 

But does he really have Peggy? She’s not exactly the perfect girlfriend to him. Every time I see him with her, he’s moping around or in some weird, fake trance. It’s sickening and pathetic.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Sam Wilson

Subject: Romeo & Juliet

 

He’s still toying with Bucky’s heart while also basically cheating on Peggy. He doesn’t deserve either of them.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Romeo & Juliet

 

Well, I’m starting to think it wouldn’t be so bad if Steve did break up with Peggy to be with Bucky.

 

---

 

Producer: “You’ve been pretty honest about your feelings about Steve and Bucky’s relationship. How do you feel about them spending so much time together?”

Sam shrugs. “I’ve realized that it’s not my place or anyone’s place to say this or that on their private relationship. I love both of them like my brothers and I want them to be happy. If that means them being together, then so be it. I’ll even plan the damn wedding.”

 

---

 

The camera follows Bucky as he thanks everyone for his card filled with cash. It lingers on Steve in the corner, picking at his piece of cake and staring at the floor before it returns to Bucky and Scott.

Bucky eventually makes his way over to Steve, taking the empty seat next to him. “Cake good?”

“Yeah,” Steve says with a heavy sigh. “Yeah, it is. Wanda did a good job picking it out.”

“Little birdy told me you did most of the planning for this thing,” Bucky mumbles.
Steve shakes his head, small smile on his face. “Sam?”

“Maybe.”

The blond sits up and sets his cake on the food table. “C’mon,” he says as he stands, walking towards the door.

Bucky follows, hands in his pockets. “Where you taking me, punk?”

“My desk,” Steve says over his shoulder. He opens the door, holding it open for Bucky.

The brunet mumbles his thanks and walks to reception.

Steve guides him to sit down at his computer. “Now close your eyes,” Steve says quietly.

Bucky does.

The receptionist leans over him, fiddling with the computer. It takes him a moment before he grins. “I wanted to do something special for your birthday. Kind of a way to say thank you and all that jazz. So I got you two presents.”

Bucky’s brow furrows. “Steve, you didn-”

“Relax, Barnes. One’s making me money, so shut up and open your eyes.”

Bucky’s eyes flutter open, confused. “Is this the Cap comics?”

“This is this week’s and next week’s. Give it a read,” Steve says, hopping onto the desk beside the computer.

The salesman grins and leans forward, taking over the mouse. He reads, eyes flickering across the screen. “G--damn, Steve. This is good,” Bucky says. He fidgets in his seat, glancing up at the smirking artist.

“Keep reading,” Steve encourages.

Bucky does. He scrolls through the first week and into the next.

He gasps, eyes growing wide and his jaw slack. He blinks heavily, eyes flittering between Steve and the screen. “Is that?”

Steve nods, hand in front of his face to stop himself from grinning too wide.

Bucky shakes his head. “No. No, you didn’t.”

“Oh, but I did.” He nods toward the screen. “It gets posted next week.”

“Steve!” Bucky cries, blinking fast.

Steve laughs, rubbing at his neck. “You’re not mad, right?”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “Yes, Steve. I’m pissed that you created a character in your comic for me.”

He shrugs. “You never know! You may not like your likeness on the Internet.”

Bucky taps Steve’s knee as he stands. He pulls Steve into a hug, squeezing him tight. “Thanks, Steve. This means a lot to me,” he says quietly.

Steve holds him back just as tight, eyes falling closed. “Anything for you, Bucky.”

They stand there for a second, just holding one another.

Bucky pulls away first, wiping at his eyes. “Ah, I gotta finish this. Is that okay?” he asks, sitting back down.

“Please do!” Steve laughs. “You’ll get your other present when we leave.”

 

---

 

Producer: “What’s the Party Planning Committee like now that you no longer have Clint or MJ?”

Wanda shrugs. “They didn’t do all that much anyways. Steve does all of their stuff now. Plus, he actually wants to help, which is nice.”

“Did you feel like there was any issues between Natasha and Steve this week?”

She nods. “A little, but I think they’re both stubborn, good-hearted people who don’t really like giving up control.” She shrugs, smiling. “They’re still great party planners. I’m even considering having them plan my wedding.”

“Really?”

Wanda grins, picking at her engagement ring. “I think it’d be fun.”

 

---

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Sam Wilson

Subject: Bucky and Steve

 

You know they’re basically on a date right now?

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>
To: Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Bucky and Steve

 

Good.

 

---

 

Bucky moans around the pizza in his mouth. “Oh my god,” he says, “this is f****** amazing.”

Steve laughs, covering his own full mouth. “Right?”

“Where’d you find this place?”

He shakes his head. “Lots of lonely nights. Had to find something to make it worthwhile.”

Bucky wipes his mouth. “I’m never eating anything else. Just this.”

Steve rolls his eyes. “You’ll clog your arteries if you eat at this place too much.”

“I don’t care! It’s the greasiest, sloppiest, cheesiest pizza I’ve ever had and I love it. I’ll marry it. We’ll take over Wanda’s wedding and have the best damn honeymoon anyone’s ever been on,” Bucky says, staring at the pizza in his hands with big doe eyes.

Steve’s nose wrinkles. “Thank you for the grossest image in existence.”

“Shut up, you love it.” Bucky holds the pizza up beside his face. “We make a great couple, don’t we?”

“The best.”

Bucky laughs and sets his pizza down, wiping his hands with a napkin. “So, my second present,” he says slyly, grinning.

Steve chuckles, reaching into his bag. He pulls out his sketchbook and flips to a page. “You’re not touching it with your greasy-ass hands, Barnes,” Steve warns.

“Yeah, yeah,” Bucky says, waving him off. “Just show me.”

Steve takes a deep breath and turns the book around.

On both sides of the page is an arm, one page the front and the other the back. It’s covered in metal plates, curved horizontal lines of varying sizes and depths cover it. The fingers have the thinnest lines, as if each ring was made specifically for that finger. As the lines go up the arm, they grow thicker and curve with the muscles and definition of the arm, as if to highlight the power the arm holds. The shoulder has the thickest lines, with large gold rectangles hanging off the lines. The gaps are shaded a dark gray, with a light shine across the shoulder and forearm.

“Is that… the Winter Soldier arm?” Bucky asks, leaning forward.

Steve nods. “Yeah, it is.”

Bucky’s brow is furrowed. “How did you even come up with this?”

He shrugs. “It was… a process.”

“Steve, this is awesome!” Bucky laughs. “Can I frame it?”

Steve nods. “Yeah, but it’s not just a sketch.”

Bucky pauses. “It’s not?”

The blond clears his throat. “It’s, um, a tattoo design. For you. If you want it.”

Bucky’s jaw drops as he straightens up.

Steve’s eyes grow wide. He shuts the book and drops it in his bag. “Oh god, Buck. You don’t have to take it. It was just some silly idea. I thought it would be cool, but it’s not and I see that now-”

“Stop, Steve,” Bucky says softly. He’s grinning, misty eyed once again. “C’mon,” he grabs his pizza slice and bottle of coke as he slides out of the booth.

Steve’s brow furrows. “Where we going?”

Bucky grins. “I have a tattoo to get.”

 

---

 

The camera pans in on a dainty young lady with electric blue hair. She’s wielding a tattoo gun, preparing it for a fresh tattoo. “So is this your first one?” she asks the person in the chair. The camera pans over to find Bucky, laid back in the chair in just his undershirt. A large stencil covers his scarred arm, purple lines going up his arm.

Steve stands beside him, biting at his thumb. He’s watching Bucky, eyes flickering over his face.

Bucky nods with a shaky breath. “Yeah, yeah it is.”

“Seriously, Buck,” Steve says, “you didn’t have to get it done today.”

The brunet rolls his eyes. “Shut up, punk. I’m doing this. It’s about damn time.”

The artist laughs, rolling her stool over to Bucky’s arm. “Like I said, if you need a break, let me know. It’s going to take a few hours to get the details right. I’ll get as much as I can done before you tap out.”

“How long did you say this would take?” Steve asks.

She looks up at him. “The lines should only take about two, maybe three hours. The shading,” she whistles, “that’s going to be an extra four to six hours. I suggest waiting for another session to get that done. But you said you wanted to get as much done as possible, right, Bucky?”

Bucky nods. “What time is it, Steve?”

Steve checks his watch. “It’s seven. You won’t even be done with the lines until about ten, Bucky. Do you really want to spend six to nine hours getting tattooed?”

He shrugs. “I guess it depends on you two. You’re the one who won’t let me be alone and she’s the one doing all the work.”

The artist bites her lip. “I’ve done longer tattoos. You’re my first tattoo of the day and I’m open all night. It’s really up to you. You’re the one who will be in pain.”

Bucky looks up at Steve, who just stares back with anxious eyes. “Can we take a break in between the lines and shading?”

She nods.

“And I can take a break at any point if I need to?”

“Absolutely.”

Bucky hums. “I don’t think I’ll be in that much pain,” he says softly. Bucky moves his hand, the movements jagged and forced. “I don’t feel that much with this arm anyway. I think I’ll be fine.” He looks up at Steve. “And you can go home at any point.”

“And leave you here?” Steve shakes his head and sits down. “Not happening.”

The artist holds up the gun. “Are we doing this?”

Bucky grins. “Hell yeah.”

 

---

 

A clock on the tattoo shop wall becomes the frame. It’s a time lapse, starting at 7:06, and fast forwarding to 10:21. The camera zooms out and over to Bucky’s arm. It’s now covered in thick black and gold lines, almost covering his entire arm.

The artist sits up, cracking her back. “How do you feel?” she asks, setting down her gun.

The camera turns to Bucky, who’s laying on Steve. The blond is tucked close to Bucky’s right arm, his head resting on his shoulder. Bucky’s head is resting on Steve’s, eyes drooping. It pans down, zooming in on their clasped hands. Bucky lifts his head, waking up a little. “Oh, I feel fine. It hurts a little, bit more of an annoyance than anything, though. I’m good to keep going.”

“Great! I, however, need to visit the little girl’s room and grab a quick snack. You boys want anything?” she asks, standing up.

Steve lifts his head off of Bucky’s other shoulder. “No, no thanks. Do you want anything, Buck?”

The brunet shakes his head, looking down at his arm in wonder. “No, I’m good.”

The artist grins. “You like it so far?”

Bucky nods, turning his arm every way he can. “It’s remarkable.”

She nods. “It really is. Your boyfriend has a real eye for this sort of thing,” she says as she heads out of the booth. “Be right back!”

Steve blushes, grinning as he lays his head back on Bucky’s shoulder.

 

---

 

“You can let them in,” Bucky calls. Steve looks to the camera and steps aside, letting the crew into Bucky’s home.

Steve closes the front door behind himself. Bucky’s standing in front of the floor length mirror, marveling at his arm. “Buck, cover it back up,” Steve mumbles.

“I can’t believe I did it!” Bucky laughs. “I have a tattoo! I have a sleeve!”

The blond smiles, swaying where he stands. “You did, and it only took eight and a half hours.”

Bucky laughs, voice thicker than usual. “Thanks for helping design for it, but you really didn’t have to help pay for it.”

“Bucky, I wasn’t going to let you pay that much money for something I suggested you do.” Steve toes off his shoes, moving to sit on the couch.
The brunet tosses his socks at Steve’s back. “No couch,” Bucky says. “We can just sleep in my bed. It’s too late to even pretend like we’re going to be able to sit and watch TV.”

Steve chuckles. “Damn right.”

They make their way to the bedroom, Bucky making a quick stop in the kitchen to grab a pint of Moose Tracks ice cream. They climb into bed, Bucky on the right and Steve on the left.

“Here,” Bucky says, handing Steve the other spoon.

Steve hums. “Thank you,” he whispers.

Bucky puts a rerun of Friends on and they eat their ice cream in comfortable silence.

The camera watches from the doorway.

As the episode transitions into the next, the boys are quickly losing steam. Steve’s sliding down in the bed. Bucky’s eyes are struggling to stay open, ice cream dangerously close to dripping onto his comforter.

Steve looks up at Bucky, eyes warm and loving. “Bucky?”

“Yeah?” Bucky asks, head lolling to look down at Steve. Their noses are nearly brushing, their ice cream breath mingling in the small space between them.

“How are you real?”

Bucky laughs. “I could ask you the same.”

“I don’t know what I’d do without you. I,” Steve sighs, “I don’t deserve you.”

Bucky’s brow furrows. “Of course you do, Steve. You deserve everything.”

There’s a pause as if their words were no longer needed.

The camera zooms in as their lips brush, slowly and hesitantly molding into one another. It zooms out as Steve cradles Bucky’s cheek and Bucky runs his plastic covered hand through Steve’s hair.

The crew closes the door.

It fades to black.

Chapter Text

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Last week

 

Hey, Buck. I know I’ve kind of been keeping my distance from you, and there’s a reason for that and it has nothing to do with you, but I’m sorry.

 

I don’t regret what happened and I do want it to happen again (so much more, Buck, so much). But it shouldn’t have happened then . Just because I know Peggy and I are over, doesn’t mean we technically are. She’s expecting me to be faithful to her and... I’m not anymore. Not mentally or emotionally, which is just as bad as physically in my opinion.

 

I feel awful about it, Buck. On one hand, I just want to be with you, but on the other hand, I’m not a cheater. And I can’t continue to act in a way that I would otherwise condemn. It’s not fair to anyone.

 

Peggy comes home this week. I’ve already moved all of my stuff into a new apartment and everything is done. I just need to actually break up with her.

 

I hope you understand.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Last Week

 

Steve, it’s okay. I get it.


I’ll back off a bit until you’ve done it.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Last Week

 

I don’t deserve you.

 

---

 

Steve’s writing an email to Tony when the door opens.

A FedEx employee walks in, two boxes in hand. “Delivery for a Parker and Jones?”

Across the office, Peter jumps at his name. “Oh my god,” he gasps. The young man darts around the desks and materializes in front of the man. “Hi, I’m Peter Parker.”

The FedEx employee hand over a tablet, a weary look in his eye.

Steve takes the tablet from Peter after he signs for his package. “I’ll sign for Ms. Jones,” Steve says.

“Thank you,” the employee says, handing one big box to Peter and the other to Steve. He takes his tablet and lets himself out.

Peter plops down on the ground, sitting criss cross in front of the big box. “MJ! It’s here!” he calls, tearing into his box.

MJ looks up, stare blank. “What is?”

“The stuff we ordered!”

Her eyes brighten, perking up. She saunters over, taking her own box from Steve and settles in next to Peter.

Steve and Bucky exchange a look as the two young employees open their boxes, animatedly talking about their goodies.

Tony steps out of his office and pauses. “Do I want to know?” he asks Steve, pointing at the pair.

The receptionist shrugs. “I’m not sure I know what’s going on.”

Peter hops up, bouncing in front of Steve’s desk with a new mug in hand. He bounds over to Tony and shows the man the mug. “It’s this stuff we found online of our favorite comic. It was really cheap and we found a ton of stuff for our desks.”

Clint perks up. “Which comic?” he calls as he strolls over, his own company mug in his hands.

MJ stands, holding up a t-shirt to herself. The camera zooms in on the shirt, where a shadowed figure holds up a shield with the comic logo below him. “Captain America,” she says.

Steve stands so fast that his chair falls back and the desk rattles. “I’m sorry, what ?” he gasps.

Peter turns to him. “Captain America! It’s this cool, edgy comic about this military captain with superpowers from the forties. He’s basically a spy and it’s just a cool story with good lessons that you don’t even realize until you’ve read it a couple times. And the art-”

“The art’s the best part,” Clint says. “Phil’s obsessed with that comic and he’s got a picture of it as his wallpaper on his phone and laptop. I’ve caught myself staring at it for hours.”

Bucky bursts into laughter, walking away from his desk and holding his stomach.

Steve just stands there, face pale and jaw slack.

“Oh my god, this is great,” Bucky cries, running a hand through his hair.

Peter, MJ, and Clint look at him weird, weary of his reaction.

Steve shakes his head. “You guys read Cap?”

Peter turns to Steve with a grin. “Every week! I’m a big fan, personally. I’ll binge read and just spend hours scrolling through the site. It’s just so well done .”

The color slowly returns to Steve’s face when he sees all of the merchandise Peter and MJ bought. “Where did you even find all of this?”

“Some site,” MJ shrugs.

“No, where ? I need to know,” Steve demands, cheeks red.

Bucky’s laughter dies down as he joins the group. “It came from the official site, right?” Bucky asks them, still grinning.

Steve shakes his head, eyes hard. “There is no official site, Buck.”

Bucky’s smile evaporates.

MJ looks between the two. “No, it was a third party site where artists can make their own stuff.”

Steve shakes his head and starts to pace behind his desk. “Unbelievable!”

“Steve, they didn’t know,” Bucky starts quietly, leaning against his desk.

“No, I get that,” Steve says. “It’s the fact that someone’s taking my art and selling it. They’re profiting off of my work! I don’t spend hours drawing Cap every week for some ass**** to steal my art and sell it. It’s bad enough when people repost it without my watermarks,” Steve huffs. He’s pacing, red in the face and nostrils flaring.

The teens freeze. “What do you mean your art?” MJ asks slowly.

Steve turns to him, expression stern but controlled. “I draw Cap. It’s what I do other than being the receptionist.”

“It’s what he’s always doing,” Bucky adds. “Any time you come up here and he’s not typing or talking on the phone, he’s working on Cap.”

Clint scratches his head. “So Barnes, when you said you met the artist you meant Steve?”

Bucky chuckles. “Yeah, I did.”

“His nose isn’t that big,” Clint says, staring at Steve’s face.

Steve shakes his head. “You should see it when it’s swollen.”

Bucky mimics his nose expanding, sound effects included.

Steve glares at him. “Shut it, Barnes, or the Winter Soldier dies.”

“You just introduced me! You can’t kill me off,” Bucky says.

Peter gasps. “Bucky’s the Winter Soldier?”

Bucky winks at him. “Came up with the name and everything.”

“That’s so cool!”

Steve pinches the bridge of his nose. “Really though, where did you guys get the stuff from? I need to take that down.”

Peter hands over the receipt. “How come you never said anything?”

Steve shrugs, typing away. “It’s never come up in conversation.”

“But you should see the tattoo he has of Cap. It’s pretty cool.” Bucky nods towards Steve’s arms. He starts to roll up his own sleeve. “He even designed this bad boy for me,” Bucky says, showing off his metal arm.

MJ gasps. “That’s the Winter Soldier arm. You have the Winter Soldier arm tattooed on you,” she squeaks, eyes wide.

Steve holds up his own arm, where Cap stands proudly.

Peter squeals, jumping up and down. “Oh my god, I can’t believe this is happening!”

“We can talk about it later, yeah?” Steve says as the phone starts to ring.

Peter and MJ high five, carrying their goodies to their desks.

 

---

 

“I’m not sure how that happened, Mrs. Connaway, but I’ll see what I can do,” Bucky says, as his right-hand dances across the arrow keys.

The camera turns to show his screen. He’s playing 2048 .

Bucky continues talking to her, droning on about paper and sales.

Sam rolls his eyes as he stands from his desk. He reaches over, clicks off the monitor, and saunters toward reception.

Bucky flips him off.

Sam leans against reception with a deep sigh.

Steve looks up from his tablet. “Everything okay?”

“No,” Sam says quietly. “Why are you and Barnes avoiding each other?”

Steve pauses, setting down his tablet. “What do you mean?”

Sam raises his eyebrow. “On any other day, you two would be sending each other googly eyes and messing around all damn day. Now,” he leans forward, “you’ve barely said a word to him.”

The blond blushes, fiddling with his stylus. He looks past Sam, not meeting his gaze. “Yeah, I know.”

“What’s with you two?” Sam asks quietly.

Bucky glances over to them, catching Steve’s eye. He smiles, waving his gloved hand.

Sam glances back and rolls his eyes, stepping in between them. “Steve, speak.”

Steve sighs. “Peggy comes back this week and I’m just trying to give everyone space so that I can think this through.”

Sam glares at him. “You did something didn’t you?”

“No-”

“Barnes,” Sam calls, “you need a coffee?” He turns around, back against the desk.

Bucky freezes, spinning to face Sam. He glances to his nearly empty coffee. “I mean, yeah?”

Sam nods. “Steve and I are going on a coffee run. Care to join?”

Bucky’s brow furrows. “Can’t you just-”

“No, I can’t. You still haven’t paid me back for the last three coffee runs.”

Steve sighs and stands up, grabbing his phone. “Just do what he says, Bucky. Sam’s in a whiny mood today.”

Sam glares at the bigger man. “Shut up, you giant.”

“Make me, Birdman,” Steve says, already at the door.

Bucky heaves himself out of the chair and shrugs on his coat.

 

 

***

 

The three of them walk back to the office, Starbucks cups in hand. Sam’s in between Steve and Bucky. The camera’s in front of them, moving backward to capture all three of them.

Sam sips at his coffee. “Fill me in,” he says.

Steve sighs. “There’s no-”

“We kissed,” Bucky says, biting his lip.

Sam freezes, cup held to his lips. “I’m sorry?”

Steve rubs at his neck. “We, um, kissed the other night.”

“Did you not hear what Natasha said the other day, Steve?” Sam whisper-hisses, glaring at him.

Bucky’s brow furrows. “What’d Nat say?”

Steve groans, pacing for a second. “She basically told me not to toy with your heart. Which I’m not! I genuinely like you and I told you that, Buck. God, you know that right?”

Bucky nods, still lost.

“And really, I don’t see myself with Peggy anymore. As soon as she left a month ago, we were done. It may not have been official, but it’s what it felt like. I just haven’t made it official, which is wrong, I know,” Steve rambles, tugging at his hair. “And that’s why,” he looks at Sam with big, sad, blue eyes, “I told Bucky that we should give ourselves some space until I made it official. ‘Cause it is wrong and I don’t want to hurt either of them. It’s not fair to Bucky to be pushed and pulled along while I try and deal with Peggy. It’s not fair to Peggy for me to continue our relationship when I don’t feel anything.”

*The camera tracks Steve’s movements as the blond paces. His head is tucked down, he’s rambling. His eyes are focused on the ground as he keeps talking. “And I don’t! Which is really pathetic because it’s only just dawning on me that I haven’t for months. I haven’t loved her for months and I’ve been stuck in this relationship because I felt that’s what I thought was expected of me,” Steve says. He’s starting to get teary-eyed, but he refuses to look up. “I thought I needed to snag Peggy because no one would be as good to me as she was. No one would get my ma’s approval after Peggy. And I realize now that staying with her because of that is bulls***. Ma would have loved Bucky. She would have loved anyone who made me feel as good as Bucky does.”

Sam looks to Bucky with a crease in his brow.

Bucky just blushes and sips at his hot tea.

Steve tugs at his hair. He’s talking fast, still pacing. “Ma would have wanted me to be with someone supportive and kind and beautiful and loving. And Peggy was all of that, but now she’s not. She’s changed, which is okay, but I haven’t. I still want to have a family and settle down, but I need to focus on my own career. I just want to do things when I think is right, not because of some timeline-” Steve stops, gasping for breath.

Bucky shoves his tea in Sam’s hands and catches Steve before the bigger man can fall to his knees. “Whoa, big guy,” he says quietly. Bucky fishes around in Steve’s jacket for his inhaler and shakes it. “Breath for me, Stevie,” he says as he pops off the cap.

Sam helps him get Steve seated on the curb. He kneels in front of him. “Hey, Steve, look at me,” he says gently.

Steve’s out of it, hyperventilating and eyes drooping.

Bucky rubs his back, holding the inhaler to his mouth. “On the count of three, Steve, I’m gonna press down, okay?”

The bigger man nods.

Sam and Bucky count together, voices calm and even.

Steve takes a deep breath, breathing starting to become evener. He takes control of the inhaler and drops his head between his knees. Sam and Bucky both rub his back, talking him through his breathing.*

 

***

 

Producer: “Steve admitted a lot. What are your thoughts?”

Bucky bites his lip, face bursting with color.

“Don’t want to share?”

The brunet laughs as he sits up. “No, it’s okay. I, um,” he runs a hand through his hair. “I’m just happy I’m not the only one feeling this way.”

 

---

 

The three exit the elevator, Steve looking worse for wear. “We’ll grab a couple of beers tonight,” Sam says as he guides them down the hall.

Bucky nods, eyes on Steve.

The blond’s not at his best yet, still a little light headed. He sways a little with each step, eyes focused on his feet.

“Sounds good,” Bucky says, one hand out to catch Steve just in case.

“We can go to my new place, if you want. I think there’s a game on tonight,” Steve says quietly, voice rough.

Sam nods. “Sure. I’ll bring the beer.”

“And I’ll get the snacks,” Bucky says.

Sam pushes open the door to the office. “We gotta discuss your game plan Steve,” he says over his shoulder. Sam stops in his tracks, hand stopping the person behind him.

“Trust me,” Steve sighs, “I know.” He pauses and lets Bucky go in first.

Bucky gasps, stopping in the door. His eyes are glued ahead of him, widening as his skin turns ghostly pale.

Steve walks into Bucky’s back, nearly pushing them all to the floor. “The hell?” he says, glancing between the two.

The camera pans to reception, where Tony Stark is talking to a well-dressed Peggy Carter. They turn towards the door, mid-conversation.

“Peggy?” Steve gasps, his pale face nearly as white as a sheet of paper.

She smiles, turning to Steve. “Hello, Steven.”

Steve stumbles forward, a crease in his brow. “What are you doing here? I thought you were coming in tomorrow. I took the day off and everything.”

Peggy laughs. “I figured I’d surprise you! We can spend the day together. I was thinking lunch at that bistro we were talking about trying before I left.” She looks around, smiling. “Besides, it’s not like you’re crucial to running this place seeing as you have time to for coffee runs,” she says, pointedly staring at the cup in Steve’s hand.

The office grows still.

Steve takes a deep breath, pushing his shoulders back. “Peggy, I can’t just leave work like this.”

“Didn’t you-” Clint starts.

Peter and MJ slap their hands over his mouth.

Peggy smiles, her perfect eyebrows scrunched. “Why not?”

“Because I have to work? I’m needed here, Peggy,” he says quietly as he moves around his desk. He sets his coffee and coat down, standing behind his chair.

She turns to him, setting her purse on his desk. “Then I’ll stay with you. It’s been a month, Steve. We need to reconnect.” Peggy walks around and takes ahold of Steve’s chair.

Steve closes his eyes, jaw twitching.

The office slowly starts to return to their work, everyone’s attention still on Steve and Peggy.

Steve opens his eyes, catching Bucky’s as the brunet sits at his desk. They pause.

Bucky looks at him with soft eyes and a small smile.

Steve’s angry expression grows determined. With his eyes still locked on Bucky’s, Steve says, “Peggy, we need to talk.”

Peggy looks up at him, eyebrow arched. “About?”

He turns to her. “Can we go somewhere private? This isn’t a conversation I want to have in my workplace.”

She crosses her arms. “No, no we cannot. What is it?”

Steve takes a deep breath and says, “I’m breaking up with you.”

 

---

 

Producer: “Did you expect Steve to just say it?”

Sam shakes his head. “No! Is he crazy?” He rubs at his face, eyes wide. “I mean, I get that he wants to be done with her, but I think Bucky would understand if he waited until the end of the day.”

 

---

 

Producer: “You weren’t happy with Steve and Bucky’s relationship before. What are your thoughts on this?”

Natasha huffs, crossing her arms.

Clint wraps an arm around her shoulders. “She’s a little worried.”

“Why is that?”

“Because I don’t think Steve is being fair. He’s just-” Natasha cuts herself off with the shake of her head.

“She doesn’t think it’s fair for him to do this to Bucky,” Clint answers.

Natasha crosses her legs and looks down the barrel of the camera. “Steve’s an okay guy, but he’s using Bucky as a rebound for Peggy. I think he should get out of that relationship, but he’s doing this for Bucky. He’s not doing it for himself.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I’ve met that type of man plenty of times.”

 

---

 

The camera’s focused on the window of the conference room, the blinds drawn. Two figures could be seen between the slates, their bodies rigid and hostile. It pans away and over the office.

Most of the employees are watching, listening to the voices from the other room. Some - Rhodey and Bruce - are trying to work, trying to be respectful of Steve’s privacy. The rest are blatantly listening, sitting at their desk and commenting like the peanut gallery.

“You’re being ridiculous, Steven!” Peggy yells, pacing away. “I can’t handle you when you’re like this.”

“I’ve always been like this!” He counters. “When the hell did you change?”

“You’ve never been this confrontational.”

Sam shakes his head. "This isn't right," he mumbles.

"Shh," Tony hisses. "I want to hear what's going on."

Bucky tugs at his hair. "It's not fair to them, though. We shouldn't be listening-"

"They shouldn't be talking about this here," Wanda says.

Bucky turns to her. "No, they shouldn't, but just because they are doesn't give us the right to listen in on their conversations."

"Aren't you even a little interested in what Steve's going through? You two are basically best friends. I would think you'd be trying to hear everything to help him out in the long run," Tony says.

Bucky shakes his head. "If he wants me to know, then he'll tell me later. I don't need to hear it live." He reaches into his bag and pulls out a pair of headphones. "You guys are sick," he says as he plugs them into his phone.

Sam nods. "He's right. We shouldn't be listening to this. We should be trying to work and give them their privacy."

Tony shrugs, settling in atop Bruce's desk. "Well, until they go somewhere else, then there's nothing wrong with listening to the ambiance of my office. If that includes listening to Carter and Rogers fight, then so be it."

 

---

 

The camera in the corner of the conference room looks down on the couple. Steve's standing at the end of the table, hands placed on either side of him. He's leaning on it, steadying himself. His usually bright blue eyes alight with anger and pain. "I've always been like this, Peggy," Steve says again, calmer.

Peggy shakes her head, pacing at the opposite end of the table. Her hands planted on her hips, heels clicking with each rigid step she takes. Peggy's gaze is cold and steady when she glances at Steve, looking like the lawyer she is. "No, Steve, you haven't. The boy I fell in love with was sweet and warm. The boy I fell in love with wouldn't hurt a fly," she says, just as even.

"The boy you fell in love with was too weak to hurt anyone, but I've always been a fighter. I don't confront people just to be confrontational, Peggy. I don't like fighting, but I sure as hell won't back down from one. You of all people should know better than that."

Peggy shakes her head. "What are you trying to say?"

Steve's brow creases. "How many times have you had to step in from me knocking someone's teeth in for talking s*** to you? How many times have you had to stop me from getting into a fight for someone catcalling young girls or making advances? How many times have you had to stop me from getting myself arrested because I can't just sit and watch people hurt the weak?" He stands up, squaring his shoulders and putting both hands on his belt. "I don't let anyone get away with pushing others around. You know that. Any other time you would be commending me for it but the one time I do it for myself, you're appalled."

She gasps, turning to face him. "You think I'm pushing you around? That I'm taking advantage of you? Because let me tell you, Steven, that's far from what's happening. If anything, it's you who's taking advantage of me. I am your only support. Without me, you wouldn't be able to live. You'd be stuck in a shelter somewhere panhandling with a box of crayons. I give you everything, Rogers, because I want you to have a life of luxury. I want us to be comfortable. I want us to have everything and anything we could possibly want-"

"I don't want that anymore," Steve snaps. "I told you, I'm done, Peggy. We're done. Ever since we graduated, you've been gunning for a job and promotions. And that's fantastic, Pegs. I really am proud of you for all the hard work you've done. You're going for your dream and that's a commendable feat. My issue is that you’re no longer focused on us," Steve says, pointing between them. "You care about us only when it's feasible for you when your work is done and you can focus on being human again."

Peggy purses her lips. "How long have you felt like this?"

Steve sighs. "I only realized that I felt like this two months ago, but it's been building for a while."

"What do you mean, Steven?" She asks, voice thick with unshed tears.

"I should never have proposed to you," he tells her in a soft voice. "I should never have pretended to be happy and in love when I wasn't. I made myself believe that I felt this way for months that it wasn't until I started to get mad that I realized I wasn't in this relationship anymore. I haven't been, really, since we left college."

Peggy turns, hand held over her mouth and eyes turned up towards the ceiling. She stayed like that for a moment, shoulders shaking.

Steve watches her from under his own wet eyelashes. "Margaret, I'll always love you. You were the first person to look at me and something more than a sick kid without a future. You were the first person to really see who Steve Rogers was. I really wish this could have worked out. I think it could have, it should have, but-" he sighs. Steve runs a hand through his hair and shakes his head. "It wasn’t meant to be. We don't work anymore. We're not the couple we used to be and that's both of our faults. I let you plan and decide and take charge of our lives because I thought that's what was best. And you did just that, but instead of growing with you, I drifted away."

"Why?" she asks. "Why did you think that was best? Why did you let me plan our lives together? You gave me the reins and now you're upset with the direction I took us?"

He bites his lip.

Peggy laughs, bitter and hurt. "Why Steve? Why?"

He shakes his head, turning away from her.

"Steven Grant Rogers, you answer me. If you're so hell-bent on us being done, then you need to give me a solid answer."

"Because I didn't have a future," he bellows, spinning back around to glare at her. He takes a deep breath and stares her down. "I didn't spend my childhood planning my life, Peggy. I didn't have time. Ma and I were so focused on getting me through the day, that I didn't plan! I didn't think I would make it to high school or college and I sure as hell never thought of graduating. I never considered life out of school and where I would be. That's why I was going into the military. That's why I followed you to St. John's. That's why I went into Fine Arts because that's all I know. That's all I've ever known." Steve's crying now, openly and without pause.

Peggy rolls her eyes. "You know that's not true-"

"You don't get to speak for me, Carter," Steve snaps. "I know damn well how I feel and how I felt about my life. I was lost. I was just some kid with-"

"Don't you dare finish that sentence, Steven," she snaps. "You don't get to think of yourself like that, especially not you from another time. A time where you were physically weak and vulnerable."

Steve shakes his head, breathing labored. "You don't get to talk about my experiences and emotions like they're yours. Peggy, can't you see that all you've done these past few months is drag me down? You belittle me every chance you get."

She shakes her head. "That's not true."

His eyebrows jump. "It's not? So you saying those comments about my comic or my job wasn't belittling me? You talking down to me about what I do for a living and my passions, is you think how healthy people handle relationships? Peggy, all you do is bring me down. It's degrading. It's vile. Hell," he laughs, bitter and sharp, "it's borderline abusive."

"Don't be ridiculous, Steve."

"There you go again!" Steve laughs. "You really don't see it, do you? All you do lately is treat me like s***, Peggy! Telling me how I feel, not caring about my job or my life, and pushing me away when you don't want to deal with me. You left on our g**damn anniversary. You left me for a month. A month! You surprise me at my job and demand that I either leave or let you stay. That's not okay!"

Peggy rolls her eyes. "You say the most terrible things when you're upset, Steven."

Steve groans, tugging at his hair and pacing towards the back wall. "I can't do this anymore. I just- You don't get it and that's whatever. I can't change that." He turns back around and looks Peggy in the eye. "We're done. I've already moved out. The place is yours. It's in your name. You and your parents paid for it. It's yours."

"And where are you going to stay? You barely make enough to buy your pathetic coffees." She crosses her arms.

Steve crosses his as well, pushing his shoulders back once more. "You'd be surprised how well I do on my own. I've been living there for nearly a month now. It's a nice little studio. Guess the comic pays better than you think."

Peggy shakes her head and starts for the door. “I can’t believe you’re doing this, Steve. Do you know how disappointed your mother would be in you?”

Steve’s face turns dark, shadows covering her face. “You don’t know how Ma would act. If she knew how you treated me, she’d want you out of the picture. She would have called you on Valentine’s Day, and called the wedding off for me.”

“Your mother adored me. She wouldn’t do such a thing.”

“No, you’re right.” Steve takes a calculated step forward. “She would never have let me propose to you.”

Peggy’s face falls before it tightens with defiance. “Good luck finding someone to deal with your petty, stubborn behavior, Steven.”

Steve stares her down with a bitter smile. “I already have and he’s pretty f******* awesome.”

Peggy turns and walks out of the room.

 

---

 

Tony’s steady watching the door, hand stuffed in a bag of chips. His eyes flicker from window to window as he narrates their movements.

“Steve is getting really close. He’s talking quietly,” he says. “Peggy’s facing him off. Bet you she’s cussing him out in her British accent. Probably makes it sounds real fancy.”

Bruce groans, taking Tony’s chips.

“Hey!” Tony gasps.

“Want the chips?” Bruce says. “Then you leave them alone.”

Tony huffs, jumping off the desk. “Fine, but-”

The door bangs open and Peggy marches out of the conference room. Her face is red and splotchy, tears pool in her eyes, and her dark hair is pulled back, the loose ends curling and poking in every direction. She storms over to the reception desk and snatches her purse off the counter.

Steve leans against the doorway of the conference room, his own face wet and splotchy but hidden as he looks down. He's breathing heavy still. The camera follows a tear as it runs down his nose and falls onto the carpet.

Peggy turns to him, shaking her head. She takes a deep breath and walks up to him, her back to the camera. Quietly, she says, "You'll never be anything in this life, Steven. The boy I fell in love with, he was meant to be a hero. Whoever you are... you don't deserve a damn thing." She hikes her purse up her shoulder with her left hand, her right squeezed into a fist.

"Can you repeat that?" Steve asks, glaring down at her. "I couldn't hear you around that silver spoon you've got shoved down your throat."

Peggy’s arm draws back and her fist strikes Steve in the face.

The office freezes, looking to the pair.

Steve, who had stumbled back from the impact, looks at Peggy with a blank expression. His nose is curved, already starting to swell. There’s blood spilling from the gash on his nose and his nostrils. He’s wincing, breathing even heavier from the pain.

“Have a nice life, Steven.”

“You too, Margaret,” Steve says, holding his face delicately.

The camera follows Peggy out the door.

 

---

 

Sam kicks Bucky’s desk, nodding toward the conference room.

Bucky rolls his eyes and tugs the earbuds out of his ears. “What?’

Sam covers his eyes, shaking his head. “Your boy just got his teeth punched in. Might want to go save him.”

Bucky’s eyes nearly pop out of his head as he turns to see Steve holding his nose, blood spilling out of his hand. Tony’s trying to hand him tissues, but there’s too much blood. He turns back to Sam. “The hell did I miss?” he asks as he stands.

“One hell of a punch,” Sam says with a sigh.

Bucky nearly pushes Tony out the way. “Move it, Stark. Let me handle this.”

Tony huffs, holding out the box of tissues. “Probably for the best. I’m too pretty to deal with this sort of thing.”

Steve rolls his eyes and gives Bucky a small smile. “Hi,” he whispers.

“Don’t ‘hi’ me, Steve. Move the hand. Let me see what we’re working with,” Bucky grumbles. He takes a tissue and raises his right hand. “Can’t believe she did this,” he hisses.  

Steve moves his hand away to show the bloodied, swollen, crooked nose.

Bucky winces. “You’re gonna need to get that set, pal.” He dabs at the excess blood pooling at his mouth, fingers lightly tracing Steve’s lips.

“Walk with me? I’m not exactly at my best,” he whispers.

“Yeah,” Bucky says, a bittersweet smile twitching at his lips despite the situation, “I’ll walk with you.”

Chapter Text

Producer: “Last week was pretty intense. Is everything back to normal?”

Sam sighs. “Pretty much. Steve and Bucky still aren’t as close as they once were. I think they’re trying to give like a grace period before they do anything. Which makes sense seeing as he’s been with her for ten years.” He tugs on his pants legs. “Things have been a bit off in general though.”

“How’s that?”

“Instead of following Tony around like a puppy, Peter’s attached to Steve. He spends all of his free time at Steve’s desk, just watching him work. MJ, too. Hell, Coulson randomly shows up and just talks to Steve. It’s weird.” Sam crosses his arms.

 

---

 

The employees and camera crew enter the conference room, filing into the rows of seats. The camera settles in at an angle, able to see everyone. It zooms in on a table covered in black cloth. There’s different shapes poking at the cloth, creating a lumpy landscape.

Tony waltzes in and pins a few spreadsheets onto the board. He turns to the whiteboard and holds up his marker. "Alright, kiddos. We've got to talk about these," Tony points to the spreadsheets.

"You act like we can read those papers," Bucky says.

"We're old, Stark. We need bigger fonts," Steve quips.

Tony scoffs. "You’re both still in your twenties. Talk to me about being old when you’re at least forty."

Sam nods. "Yeah, Tony. You tell them whippersnappers who’s boss. Me on the other hand? I'm old. Either move it closer or give me a magnifying glass."

Tony rolls his eyes and pulls out a pair of magnifying glasses, handing them to Sam.

"Who even are you?" Bucky asks, a crease in his brow.

"I'm Tony Stark, a man of many wonders and talents." Tony turns back to the board and in big letters, he writes the word 'productivity.' "What does this mean?" He asks, pointing to the word.

Wanda's the first to say anything, with a quiet, "Isn't that vegetables?"

Sam turns to her with a small smile. "That's 'produce.' This word is productivity, which is when you get a lot done in a certain period of time." He turns back to Tony, lips pressed together. "What exactly does productivity mean to us?”

“Productivity is what we need to boost,” Tony says. “Our numbers dropped last quarter. We need to fix that before Pepper castrates me.”

The employees grown, faces twisted with discomfort. “Really, Tony?” Bruce groans.

Tony rolls his eyes. “Starting tomorrow, we’re doing a new program. You do your job better, you get points. You get points, you get rewards.” He reaches behind him and rips the sheet off the table.

The camera pans over the table, showing the mismatch of prizes. There’s a stuffed teddy bear, a stapler, mouse pads, a mouse, a vibrator, drink koozies, a blanket, and robe, all with the company logo. There’s a stack of envelopes at one end, with Tony’s small, jagged handwriting scrawled in the center.

Clint points to the table. “Isn’t that the robe from Christmas? The one corporate gave everyone?”

“And the blanket from two years ago,” Natasha adds.

“And the bears from three years ago,” Clint comments.

“And a vibrator?” Natasha questions, tilting her head to the side.

Tony holds his hands up. “Maybe, but these are just the entry level prizes. These,” he grabs the envelopes, “are the real prizes.”

Steve tilts his head. “Then why even have the lame prizes if no one's gonna use them?”

“Because you can’t just get the big prizes!” Tony says.

MJ arches a brow. “Says who?”

“You’re the boss. Don’t you get to make the choices?” Peter says.

Tony rolls his eyes and shakes the envelopes. “Do you want to know what these are?”

“I mean, you’re gonna tell us anyway so,” Bucky mumbles.

Steve snickers, nudging his shoulder.

Tony glares at them. “Oh shut up, Rudolph.” He fans out the envelopes. “These are the top prizes. You save up one hundred points, you can pick between a day at the spa or a two tickets to a Yankees’ game. There’s Broadway tickets for one hundred fifteen points, an extra vacation day for one fifty, and for one seventy-five you’ll get two round-tickets to anywhere in the US.” Tony tosses the envelopes on the table and stuffs his hands in his pockets. He’s got a smirk on his face, eyes flickering across the room.

“What happens at two hundred?” Bucky asks.

“At two hundred?” Tony asks, expression faltering.

Bucky nods. “Yeah, what if we save our points up and reach two hundred.”

“At two hundred, you’ll… get another vacation day,” Tony says.

“Just another vacation day?” Steve asks.

Tony raises an eyebrow. “Is that not enough for you, Rogers?”

Steve shakes his head. “If we spent the time and energy earning those points, I feel like we should get something better than just a vacation day.”

“Like?”

Steve glances at Bucky. "What about a week off?"

"A week off," Tony says, crossing his arms.

Bucky licks his lips and smirks. "Can we pool our points together?"

"Pool your points?" Tony arches a brow.

Bucky nods. "What if we both wanted to go to the baseball game and pooled our points so that we could get it?"

Tony shrugs. "That'd be fine," he says.

"Well, if we can pool our points together, it's easier to reach those higher prizes. So what happens if we reach five hundred?" Sam asks, crossing his arms.

"Nothing, you can spend it on the lower prizes," Tony says.

Steve, Bucky, and Sam start to groan at the same time, their words jumbling.

"But we worked so hard!" Bucky says.

"That's not cool!" Sam calls.

Steve huffs, "Real cheap, Stark."

Tony holds up both hands and turns to the table. "Alright, fine! You get to five hundred points and I'll pay for a night at the Four Seasons."

The employees start to clap, nodding and grinning.

The edges of Tony's lips perk up. "You like that?" He nods, rubbing his hands together. "Okay then, what about for seven hundred fifty points, I'll... give you a bonus!"

Steve, Sam, and Bucky start to cheer louder. Steve asks, "What about a thousand?"

"You get to a thousand, I'll dye my hair any color and wear it for as long as it sticks!" Tony announces, crossing his arms.

"And you said we can pool our points together, right?" Sam asks, leaning forward, his hands on his knees.

Tony nods. "Absolutely!"

Bucky jumps up from his seat. "Then we better get to work!"

The employees cheer as they start to get out of the room.

Tony rolls his eyes. "It starts tomorrow."

Steve pauses. "Are you saying we shouldn't get to work today?"

"Um," Tony mumbles. "No?"

Steve laughs as he guides Sam to the door. "Oh, he's gonna hate having his hair bleached."

"I'll pick up the dye on my way home," Sam mumbles.

"And I'll bring the supplies," Steve counters.

Bucky shakes his head. "I'm not touching his head."

Steve rolls his eyes. "I don't mind getting my hands a little dirty."

"That right?" Bucky asks.

Sam covers his ears. "Oh god, you two are disgusting. Is this my life now?"

Bucky claps Sam on the shoulder. "Get used to it, Wilson."

 

---

 

“So how come Cap has a shield?” Peter asks from where he’s sitting behind Steve.

Steve breathes out a laugh. He’s coloring in Cap’s shield, hand moving quickly along the tablet. "It started as a joke between me and my buddies. I wasn't afraid of a gun or using weapons, but I didn't want to reach for the gun first. I was always on the defense. So we're hanging out at the park, throwing around a frisbee, and somehow they got on the topic of my fighting skills." Steve shakes his head. "Ended up calling me Captain Frisbee, so I designed the shield as a joke. Painted a frisbee and everything," he says.

Peter fidgets. "Cool! Is there a story behind everything?"

"Not really," Steve says. "Some of it is just... stuff I find cool or interesting."

"Like?"

"Like how Cap rocks the red, white, and blue,” Steve says.

“That doesn’t have a story?”

“Nah, I just liked the symbolism,” he says.

Peter leans over Steve’s shoulder as he zooms out on the panel. Captain America’s ducking behind his shield, dodging a rain of bullets. “God, this is cool,” Peter whispers.

Steve grins. “Thanks.”

“How do you decide the colors?” Peter asks, pointing at the dark blue and grey scheme of the panel.

The blond shrugs. “It’s all about the scene. This one, Cap’s in the middle of a dangerous, eerie fight against Hydra. So the mood has to be dark and ominous. The reader doesn’t know what’s going to happen and you want them scared for Cap.”

Peter’s eyes are wide, face alight with wonder. “Whoa. So what happens if you made it red and orange?”

“Depends on the shades I use,” Steve explains. “If I go for a dark red and orange, it’s a more intense, obvious danger.”

“Like fire?” Peter asks.

Steve nods. “Yeah. It’s all about using symbolism within the world to establish emotion and context to the piece. You think red and orange means fire, both of those colors also mean danger and warning. It foreshadows something in the comic without me saying a word.”

Peter lays his chin on Steve’s shoulder. “Wow,” he says, breathlessly.

“You like this? You should read the graphic novel V for Vendetta . It’s a beautiful piece, both the art and writing is extremely thought out.” Steve moves onto the next panel. “I can bring my copy to you tomorrow, if you want.”

Peter nods. “Yes, please!”

The camera pans towards the sales desks, where Bucky’s watching Steve and Peter interact with a soft smile. The brunet’s eyes catch the camera. He blushes and ducks away, turning to his work.

 

---

 

The camera walks into the office. It lands on Steve, who’s frantically writing something as he talks on the phone. He glances up and waves a hand over the office, smirking as he talks.

They move forward, the focus panning out to show all of the office. It’s bustling, with various employees moving a mile a minute. MJ is running around, collecting little slips of paper from the employees. She makes a round around the office and ducks into Tony’s private office. The camera watches as she returns, the scraps now a stack of even, uniformed paper. She hands them over to Rhodey in the conference room.

Rhodey’s standing at the whiteboard, tallying up the points. He takes the stack from MJ, who returns to the madness. Rhodey separates the stack into piles labeled with the employee’s names. He looks up at the lens and grins. “I’m the point keeper,” he tells the camera.

He motions to the table. “These are the point receipts all of the employees get in exchange for their good work. They give MJ the papers, who exchanges them for receipts from Tony, and then I total it all together. Very efficient,” he says.

The camera looks to the whiteboard where a thermometer was drawn. It was labeled from zero to one thousand, with each hundred mark clearly identified. Red marker was scribbled up to just past the five hundred mark, a little over half way.

It pans over to the clock on the wall. It’s only a quarter past twelve.

The focus returns to Rhodey, who’s just smirking at the camera. “Pretty impressive right?”

 

---

 

Producer: “You’re incentive program seems to be working. How does that make you feel?”

Tony breathes out a sigh, rubbing his hands together. “It’s great. I don’t think our daily sales have ever looked this good,” he says.

“Are you surprised?”

“Um yeah? I didn’t think it’d this big of a jump from our normal day-to-day numbers.”

“Does that make you nervous? That the jump will be so different that it’ll skew your data?”

Tony rubs his hands together a little harder. “A little, but I think the overall quarterly numbers will look fantastic.”

“Do you plan on doing this again?”

“If this goes well, we’ll do this once a month.”

“Why do you think they’re so motivated with this idea?”

Tony glares at the camera. “I think Captain Goldilocks, Bird for Brains, and T-3000 are only doing this to make me look stupid.”

“Does that bother you?”

Tony smirks. “Not at all. I’m the one who’s winning from their hard work. More sales, more money. More money, more profits. More sales also means more attention from corporate. More attention, more praise.” Tony shrugs. “I may have to dye my hair, but at least I’ll show the company I’m not some punk kid anymore.”

 

---

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: Tony Stark

Subject: Points

 

Not sure you know this, but we’re at 750 points already.

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Points

 

I’m well aware.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: Tony Stark

Subject: Re: Points

 

I’m not putting in my points towards the pool anymore. I want something else.

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Points

 

Something else?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: Tony Stark

Subject: Re: Points

 

Yup. My next 100 points are just mine.

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Points

 

What are you trying to do, Rogers? Don’t you want to see my hair different colors?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: Tony Stark

Subject: Re: Points

 

Tony, it’s almost 1:15 and they’re already at 750. I already have twenty points saved up from the day and 15 since I started to email you fifteen minutes ago. And I can probably get the next 60 within the hour with how much this phone is ringing. I think I can get my own prize and still see you with rainbow hair.

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Points

 

Rainbow???

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: Tony Stark

Subject: Re: Points

 

Just in time for Pride.

 

Tony Stark <tstark@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Points

 

It’s April.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: Tony Stark

Subject: Re: Points

 

So you celebrate a little early. No harm, no foul.

 

---

 

Bucky and Sam walk Tony out of his office. “Alright, Stark,” Sam starts. He turns Tony to face the office and the whiteboard, where Rhodey proudly stands in front of it. “It’s time to cash in our points.”

Tony rolls his eyes. “Just show me.”

Rhodey steps out of the way, revealing the thermometer, now filled to the brim with red scribbles.

“So Tony,” Bucky says as he slings an arm over the shorter man’s shoulders, “shall we do this tonight or tomorrow? We’re giving you the choice.”

Tony sighs. “Tomorrow?”

Bucky nods. “Here that Stevie? Might want to bring your smock,” he calls over his shoulder.

Steve gives him a half-hearted salute, grinning.

“Do I get a say in the color?” Tony asks, glancing at the eager employees.

“Not a chance,” Rhodey says.

Steve leans against his own desk. “Don’t worry, Tony. You won’t be the first head I’ve dyed.”

Tony looks at him, brow furrowed and teeth worrying into his bottom lip. “That doesn’t mean you did a good job.”

Steve shrugs. “You’d never know. She’s bald now.”

Tony gasps, a whimper stuck in his throat.

 

---

 

Producer: “Have you dyed hair before?”

Steve nods and turns his phone around to show a blonde woman with shoulder-length, wavy, thick hair. The ends are dyed a dark navy with red underneath, peeking out beneath the navy. It’s well done, without any obvious mistakes and marks on the girl’s neck. “I dyed Carol’s hair before she cut it. Wanted to send her hair off with a proper goodbye fit for a Vet.”

“How short did she cut it?”

“She wanted a cute pixie, said the longer hair was too much to deal with the Air Force,” he said, pocketing his phone.

“It looked like a professional did it. Do you think Tony will like what you do to his hair?”

Steve rubs at his chin. “I’m not sure. I’ll have to bleach his hair, which he won’t like, and then I’ve got a few colors in mind. I’m trying to do him right.”

 

---

 

Steve’s hard at work clearing off Tony’s desk. Tony’s watching from the doorway. “You’ve dyed hair before, right?” he asks.

“Yes, I have,” Steve says as he starts to put a torn trash bag over the desk. “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”

Tony huffs, crossing his arms.

Steve puts on his apron and looks to Tony with a small smile. “If I f*** up, I’ll pay for you to get it fixed professionally. Deal?”

“Deal,” Tony says, taking off his suit jacket.

“You got something under that?” Steve nods to Tony’s shirt.

Tony nods.

“Strip the shirt, too, then.”

“Why?”

Steve rolls his eyes. “Do you want to ruin the shirt?”

Tony glares at him. “You better not ruin my skin, Rogers.”

“I’ll do my best.” Steve guides Tony to sit in the office chair, also covered in protective trash bags. “Would it help if I talked you through this?”

“I’m a big boy, Steve. I think I’ll be fine,” Tony scoffs, glaring at his computer, where a Fast and Furious movie played on screen.

Steve spins him around, leveling the older man with his signature Brows of Disappointment.

Tony gives a meek nod, spinning back around.

Steve winks at the camera and grabs a tub of Vaseline. “I’m gonna start by coating your neck and hairline with this stuff. It’ll keep anything from staining your skin.” He pops open the cap, slabs a chunk onto his fingers and starts to coat Tony’s skin with the stuff.

 

---

 

Bucky paces in front of the door to Tony’s office. The blinds are drawn, hiding the office from curious eyes. “I hear the hair dryer,” he calls to the office.

“That could mean anything,” Sam says, leg bouncing. “We just have to-”

The door opens and Steve appears in the doorway. He’s covered in dye, his apron coated in bleach, blood red, and a dark color that looks nearly black.

“How is he?” Rhodey asks, walking towards the center of the office.

“Is he going to make it?” Peter asks, popping up beside Bucky.

Steve nods. “It took some time, but I think I got it right.”

“How’d he take it?” Wanda asks.

“He hasn’t seen it yet,” Steve says. He glances behind him as Tony walks towards the door. “Are you ready?”

“Move it, Rogers.” Tony pushes past Steve and into the center of the circle of employees. His hair is crimson red, with a dark purple undertone. “How’s it look?”

Natasha grins, taking a picture. “Nicely done, Rogers.”

Tony runs his hand through his hair, showing the darker roots of purple. “It feels nice,” he mumbles.

Steve shrugs. “I did my best.”

“Someone get the man a mirror,” Sam calls.

Wanda passes Tony a mirror, upside down.

He takes it, closing his eyes. Tony takes a deep breath and holds up the mirror. He opens his eyes.

“Well?” Rhodey asks.

Tony grins and turns to Steve, hand outstretched. “I love it.”

Steve beams, taking Tony’s hand in his for a quick, firm shake.

Tony preens in the mirror, running his hands through his hair. “Next time we do this, I’ll have to do something even bigger for even more points.”

“I vote tattoo,” Clint quips.

“Seconded!” MJ calls.

Tony pouts, glaring at himself in the mirror. “Why do I hate myself?”

 

---

 

Bucky sits on the kitchen counter, watching as Steve scrubs the bowls and supplies he used for Tony’s hair. They’re the only ones left, the office eerily empty without their coworkers.

Steve scrubs at the bowl.

“You did a great job with Tony’s hair,” Bucky says softly, leaning against the cabinets.

“Thanks,” Steve says just as soft. He looks up at Bucky from beneath his eyelashes and smiles.

Bucky reaches forward and cards his fingers through Steve’s hair. “Bet you’d look nice with blue hair.”

Steve raises an eyebrow, licking at the corner of his mouth. “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah,” Bucky whispers.

“What kind of blue?” Steve rinses off the bowl and sets it on the opposite counter.

Bucky hums, fingers still in Steve’s hair. “A pale blue or a neon, something that would match your eyes and make them that more vibrant than they already are.”

Steve blushes. “You think my eyes are vibrant?”

“I do,” Bucky whispers. He goes quiet, face falling as he watches Steve work. “I think a lot of things about you.”

The blond puts the last of his supplies in the rack and dries his hands. “Like?”

Bucky bites his lip.

Steve moves to stand between Bucky’s legs, palms laying flat beside his thighs.

Bucky’s knees knock into the other man’s hips. His right hand is still tucked in Steve’s hair, still playing with the soft strands as if it had a mind of its own.

“C’mon,” Steve whispers, “talk to me. What sort of things about me are you thinking about?”

The brunet shakes his head, blushing.

Steve hums, letting his body pull him closer to Bucky. “If you won’t go, I guess I will.”

Bucky’s eyes go wide.

Steve looks down, his hand hesitantly taking Bucky’s gloved hand. He glances up as his fingers slip at the edge of the glove.

He nods his head, the movement timid and small.

Steve takes off the glove, revealing Bucky’s tattooed hand. It’s a dark silver now, with gold rings and a metallic shine covering hand. Steve moves Bucky’s hand so his metallic palm is up. He traces the rings on Bucky’s palm with his fingers.

“I like how your eyes are this cold gray-blue color and yet, whenever you look at me I get these warm, cozy feelings in my chest,” Steve starts, voice at a whisper. “I like your smiles. All of them.”

Bucky bites his lip. “I have multiple smiles?”

Steve nods. “You do. There’s the polite and professional smile, the shy smile, the I’m-trying-not-to-smile smile, the excited smile, and there's this one,” Steve says, his hands moving to cradle Bucky’s chin. His thumb runs along Bucky’s bottom lip, still tucked between his teeth with the corners turned upwards. “This one is your sweet smile. I only get to see it every now and then and most of the time it’s when we’re alone. It’s my favorite smile,” Steve admits.

“Why’s that?”

“Because it’s the smile you use when you don’t know you’re smiling. It’s the one that I get to see when we’re by ourselves and I’m the reason it’s there. It makes me feel butterflies and it takes everything in me not to kiss you stupid,” Steve whispers.

Bucky pauses. His lip slides out from between his teeth and his gaze turns soft. “You really think that?” he asks, breathless.

Steve nods. “I think about it a lot. I’ve had to start carrying my inhaler around a lot more,” he admits.

“Why?” Bucky asks, giggles threatening to spill into his voice. “Do I knock the wind out of you?”

“Yeah,” Steve chuckles. “You do.”

Bucky tugs Steve closer, his hand moving to toy with the strands at the nape of Steve’s neck. Bucky’s voice is soft when he says, “I like how you always give everything your all. I like how talented you are. I like how you’re so sincere and genuine that every smile you give me makes my knees weak. I like how you get so invested in what I have to say that you don’t notice your pencil or stylus slip from you hand.” Bucky pulls him in close, eyes fluttering shut.

Steve’s breath hitches as their lips brush.

“And I like how you treat me. Always considerate. Always soft,” Bucky says, practically mouthing the words.

He tips his chin forward, capturing Steve’s lips between his.

Steve’s shoulders fall as they kiss. It’s slow and timid, but still purposeful. The hand on Bucky’s chin moves to his cheek as the other wraps around his back.

Bucky’s hands find their way around Steve’s neck, his knees tightening against the other man’s hips.

They stay there for a moment, just kissing the minutes away.

Steve pulls away, nudging their foreheads together. He’s breathing hard and the hand on his cheek moves to hold the back of Bucky’s head close to him. His other reaches into his pocket, snagging his inhaler.

Bucky’s eyes pop open at the sound of Steve shaking his inhaler. He pulls away, the crease in his brow prominent. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Steve says, grinning. “Just need a little help,” he admits. He takes a puff from his inhaler and drops it back in his pocket. His hand returns with an envelope.

“Is that?”

“One of Tony’s prize envelopes? Yeah, it is.”

“Which one?”

Steve hands it to Bucky. “Open it up.”

Bucky peels open the envelope and pulls out two tickets. He grins. “Nice, front row on the third base line. Should be a sick view.”

“Yeah, I’m hoping so. Just gotta find someone to go with,” Steve says.

“I wonder which sorry soul you’ll have to trick to going with you.”

“I know. It’s pure torture. Three hours stuck sitting beside me? Truly awful.”

“Gross. They’ll probably touch shoulders with you, too, since you’re too big to fit in those small seats.”

“Ugh, you’re right. Now I have to find someone who’s willing to spend three hours with me, let alone willing to be pressed up against me for that period of time, and who likes baseball. Where ever will I find them?”

Bucky laughs. “Got no clue, pal. But if you can’t find someone, I’m game.”

Steve grins. “Yeah? You’d go?”

“Be less embarrassing if I went. Don’t want you to get with stuck sitting by yourself when that chump decides it’s too much to be seen with you.”

“What a shame that’d be.”

Bucky nudges Steve’s hip. “What do ya say, big guy? You gonna take me to the ball game?”

Steve presses a kiss to Bucky’s cheek and whispers, “It’s a date.”

Chapter Text

 

“I thought you finished filming this forever ago?” Howard says around an uncapped pen stuck between his teeth.

Producer: “Technically it was only six months ago, sir. We’ve gotten enough footage for the documentary, but we’re invested in the employee’s lives. So we thought we’d see them through and check back in on them.”

Howard nods, eyebrows raised. “Very well. What do you need from me?”

“Um, well, we wanted to know your thoughts about the documentary? Like what are you expecting to see when it premieres?”

The old man laughs and takes the pen out of his mouth, holding it as if it were a cigarette. “I expect to see enough proof that the Brooklyn Branch doesn’t deserve to stay open, much less under my son’s watch.” He ducks his head, looking to the camera over his reading glasses. “There anything else you need?”

“No, sir, I think we have enough.”

Howard nods. “Then you’re dismissed.”

 

---

 

Producer: “So it’s been a minute since we’ve been around, can you fill us in on what we missed?”

Sam sighs. “First of all, the bozos finally got together.”

“Steve and Bucky?”

He nods. “Yup. Right after you guys left, they were outed. By me. It was an accident, but then again they upstaged my surprise party so I don’t feel too bad.” Sam pauses, lips pursed. “To clarify, I didn’t announce they were gay or anything. Everyone already knew they weren’t straight. But they made it very clear themselves when Steve freaked out about being commissioned by Shangela and Alyssa Edwards-”

“They are?”

Sam’s eyebrows perk up a bit at the question. “Oh, right. Two famous drag queens. Anyway, they were freaking out and Steve announced to the office that his, and I quote, ‘little bisexual heart can’t handle it.’ And then Bucky, in a more casual way, shared that he was gay to everyone too.”  

“Care to share what happened at the party?”

Sam laughs softly. “They spent all day ignoring my birthday and it happened to be the day of Clint and Coulson’s annual charity marathon they put up for the local shelter. These two idiots were basically attached at the hip, even ran in sync - and I’m talking boy band level in sync,” Sam points to the camera, shaking his head. “Bucky wins first place, Steve second, and me in third, right? So they suggest getting drinks to celebrate, but we’re all sweaty and gross so Steve takes us back to his apartment. Walk inside and the a******* invited everyone I know to Rogers’ place.”

“Were you surprised?”

“On some level, yeah, but I knew they weren’t jerks so I had a feeling they were up to something. Anyway, at the party, I used Steve’s master bathroom to freshen up and lo and behold, those two were basically living together.” Sam leans forward, eyes squinted as he grins. “So I confronted them. I tried to be respectful, pulled them to the side and everything, but you can’t whisper about anything around Stark. Man doesn’t know about boundaries and secrets.

Sam leans back. “Since then, they’ve been making us all sick with their puppy love.”

“Was everyone comfortable with their relationship?”

He nods. “It wasn’t exactly a huge shock to find out those two are dating. They aren’t the most subtle people in the office. Even Peter’s better at keeping secrets than they were with all the heart eyes they were giving each other. So really, we were just relieved that we could finally stop pretending to not see all of the hickies and shared clothing. As for the actual day, Tony kept asking for details on everything, and I mean everything, and the rest of us just tallied up who won our betting pool. All in all, Wanda won.

“Anything else happen that’s non-Steve and Bucky related?”

“Um, Wanda got married. We went upstate and they had a lovely wedding, real fancy.”

“She married Jarvis, correct?”

Sam nods. “That’s the one.”

“Now what about you? Last we left, you were dealing with Steve and Bucky’s drama, but you were also pining after someone yourself.”

Sam raises an eyebrow. “What’d you know about that?”

“We may have footage of your little Valentine’s date with a certain someone.”

Sam’s face grows red. “For the record, we’re taking it slow.” He moves to stand and glares down the lens. “But you know nothing.”

“We’re just the camera crew. We only observe.”

“Right,” Sam says as he slips out the room.

 

---

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Hi

 

Hi

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Hi

 

Hi. Is someone bored?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Hi

 

Maybe…

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Hi

 

Do you have any leads to call?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Hi

 

Already done.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Hi

 

Um… Invoices to follow up on? Quotes?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Hi

 

Done and done.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Hi

 

Hmm…

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Hi

 

Any other ideas?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Hi

 

Not really. Guess you’ll just have to talk to me then

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Hi

 

What a bummer

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Hi

 

I know. Whatever will you do?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Hi

 

You’re such a loser.

 

Have I told you how nice you look today?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Hi

 

You may have mentioned something when we left the house.

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Hi

 

I don’t think you’ll ever understand how great it is to hear you say “the house” instead of “your house”

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Hi

 

Lol what?   

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Hi

 

It sounds like you’re talking about your own house when you say “the house,” like that’s where you live and all, but really you’re talking about my house .

 

Ugh, just let me feel things punk

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Hi

 

Don’t be such a jerk, Buck. You know I love you

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Hi

 

I love you, too, Stevie.

 

But seriously, I’m bored.

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Hi

 

Hey, guess what?

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Hi

 

What?

 

Steve Rogers <srogers@starkpaper.com>

To: James Barnes

Subject: Re: Hi

 

Someone’s interested in buying Cap!

 

James Barnes <jbarnes@starkpaper.com>

To: Steve Rogers

Subject: Re: Hi

 

Wait what? Hang on, I’m coming over there.

 

---

 

Bucky leans against the desk, his mouth opened just a touch. “What do you mean someone wants to buy Cap?” he asks, plucking a Hershey kiss from one of the three candy bowls.

Steve laughs, setting down the phone and leaning into Bucky’s presence. “Yeah, a comic company wants to publish it. They want to publish it from the start and I’ll start writing for them. It’s kind of awesome,” Steve says.

“Babydoll, that’s incredible,” Bucky gushes softly, ducking his head closer.

“Isn’t it?” Steve blushes. He picks up a pencil and starts twirling it around.

“I’m real proud of you, Rogers,” he says. Bucky stares at him for a moment, gnawing at his bottom lip. “So this week’s sort of a big deal for us.”

Steve raises an eyebrow. “Is it?”

Bucky nods. “Well, it’s the start of the holidays and our first major holiday-”

“We were together for the Fourth-” Steve wheezes. His brow furrows as he closes his eyes to catch his breath.

Bucky reaches over the counter and snags Steve’s inhaler. He gives it a quick shake and uncaps it, handing it over to Steve. “The Fourth doesn’t count,” Bucky says after Steve’s taken a deep breath from his inhaler.

Steve gives him a playful glare. “Why doesn’t it count? It’s a national holiday!”

Bucky raises an eyebrow. “And your birthday, which is all we celebrated. So, therefore, it’s disqualified. Besides a holiday and the holidays are two different things.”

“I get whatcha mean,” Steve says softly. “What were you gonna say?”

Bucky clears his throat a little. “I was going to say, that this is a big step for us.”

“And you’d be right,” Steve mumbles.

“So got any Halloween plans?”

Steve grins. “Not at the moment. Why?”

“Sam’s having a party,” Bucky says, “and I thought we could go together, ya know?”

“You act like we haven’t been dating for six months,” Steve laughs. He takes Bucky’s hand and smiles softly up at him.

Bucky bites at his bottom lip. “Which is another thing. Do you realize our six month anniversary is this weekend?”

Steve’s eyes widen a little. “We should do something.”

“Barnes,” Tony calls from his doorway.

Bucky sighs as he straightens up. He turns around, one elbow on the desk and the other on his hip. “What’s up, Tony?”

Tony smirks. “If you two are done flirting, I could really use you in my office to go over these numbers, Barnes.”

Bucky turns back to Steve, wiggles his brows and makes a face as he walks backward to Tony’s office.

Steve rolls his eyes and watches Bucky disappear into Tony’s office. He turns back to his computer, the camera panning to show the screen.

There’s an email on screen, the words too small on the screen. There’s a blue logo in the corner. Steve’s shoulders slump, revealing a bold, large name in the opposing corner: Dr. Abraham Erskine, oncologist.

---

 

Producer: “How are things with you, Peter?”

Peter grins, bouncing in his seat. “It’s great! I’m on track to graduate early and hopefully Mr. Stark will let me do both this and an internship in the spring. Then I’ll really be on track to an early graduation.”

“That’s fantastic. Congratulations!”

“Thanks,” Peter says, blushing.

“How’s MJ? We heard she doesn’t work here anymore.”

Peter nods, face a dark red. “Yeah, she started this website consulting firm. She pops in every now and then, but she’s doing well.”

“How often do you see her outside of work?”

“Well, we live together so,” Peter says, rubbing at his neck.

 

---

 

The break room is filled to capacity by lunchtime, with almost everyone huddled around the tables. Tony, Scott, and Rhodey are the only ones absent.

“When’s the party again, Wilson?” Clint asks.

“Saturday at eight,” Sam says from behind a napkin.

Bucky nudges Steve’s shoulder. “We gotta come up with costumes, Stevie.”

Steve groans and rubs at his temple, looking at Bucky with a pout. “Do we really have to dress up?”

“It’s Halloween, Rogers,” Sam interjects. “No one is allowed through that door without a costume. Wilson house rules.”

“Okay, fine,” Steve says as he sits up. He glances around the room. “What is everyone else doing?”

“My friends Ned and Miles and I are going as Luke, Leia, and Han Solo,” Peter says.

“Who’s Leia?” Natasha asks with a smirk.

“You’ll just have to see,” Peter quips.

Clint laughs, sipping at his water bottle. “Coulson and I are going as Robin Hood and Little John.”

Peter turns around to look at him, eyebrow raised. “The rapper?”

Clint rolls his eyes. “Yes, Coulson, my bland white husband is going to be Lil Jon, the rapper,” he deadpans.

Bucky leans over to Steve and mumbles, “I hope we never get to the point where you call me ‘bland.’”

Steve chuckles and pats Bucky’s hand. “Don’t worry, I think we’re safe.” He winks at him before turning his attention to Wanda. “Wanda, what are you planning on doing?”

Wanda smiles as she cradles her microwaved dinner close, the paper dish teetering on her knees. “Vis and I are going as characters from a video game.”

“Which one?” Bucky asks.

She shrugs. “I don’t know. He says they’re pretty popular though,” she says softly.

Natasha looks to Bruce. “What are you going as, Doc?”

“I’m going as the Fourth Doctor and Betty is going as Sarah Jane,” Bruce says.

“From Doctor Who, right?” Peter asks.

Bruce nods. “That’s the one.”

Clint’s brow furrows. “Four is the one with the multiple colors on his suit, right?”

“Nope, that’s six. Four is the one with the scarf,” Bruce says. He pulls up a picture on his phone and passes it to Clint.

Steve turns to Sam. “What about you, Sam?”

Sam fidgets. “Um, a friend of mine and I are going as Men In Black agents,” he says.

Bucky raises his eyebrows. “Friend of yours?”

Sam glares at him. “Shut it, Bucket.”

“Oh, this should be good,” Steve mumbles.

“Oh no. We’re not doing this,” Sam warns, a finger pointing between the couple. “You two need to figure out a costume idea.”

Bucky sighs, “He’s right.”

Steve pulls up his phone and starts scrolling through a list of costume ideas. “Batman and Robin?”

“Nope,” Bucky says.

“Um, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum?”

“Stark would have a field day,” Bucky laughs.

Steve nods. “Right about that,” he mumbles. “Okay, um, Dr. Benson and Beaker?”

“From the Muppets?”

“Yup.”

“Nope.”

“Saturday’s in what? Three days?” Steve asks as he scrolls.

Bucky nods, mouth full. “That’s sort of how the week works.”

“I think I may have an idea-” Steve’s phone vibrates in his hand. His eyes flicker over the screen as he stands up. “I gotta go,” he says quietly as he gathers his things. Steve kisses Bucky’s cheek. “Be back in a few.” Steve throws away his trash and leaves the room, phone clutched in his hand.

Bucky glances to the camera, brow furrowed and frowning.

Sam nudges Bucky’s foot. “What was that about?”

“Have no idea,” he says, now watching the door.

 

---

 

Steve walks briskly down the street. His hands are stuffed in his coat, scarf loose around his neck. The camera follows behind him, angled to barely see his face.

He stops at the corner, staring straight ahead. Steve pulls out his phone from his coat pocket, glances at the screen, and pockets it again. The light changes, the crosswalk before him now bustling with people. Steve stands there, staring ahead. He pulls out his phone again.

The camera pans around to capture Steve’s profile.

He brings the phone to his ear, his foot tapping. “Hey, um,” he starts. His squeezes his eyes shut, teeth gnawing at his bottom lip. “Can you meet me at the Starbucks at the corner? I need you.”

Steve takes a deep breath and slides his phone back into his coat pocket. He walks away from the corner and into the Starbucks.

The camera watches as Steve orders two coffees and settles in at a table near the window. He sits with his head down, foot tapping beneath the table.

Panning over to the door, the camera captures Bucky walking into the cafe. “Hey,” he says softly, putting on hand on Steve’s shoulder. “What’s going on?”

Steve looks up at him, eyes wide and teary. “I-”

Bucky runs a hand over Steve’s forehead, caressing his cheek. “Steve, you’re scaring me.”

He motions for Bucky to sit, handing Bucky his coffee. “We need to talk.”

Bucky freezes, mid-sip.

Steve shakes his head. “Not that talk. Or at least, I don’t think it is.”

“Steve,” Bucky says, “the hell is going on?”

“You know how I missed work last week?” Steve asks, eyes trained on his coffee.

Bucky nods, brow furrowed. “You said you went to the doctor for a check-up.”

Steve squeezes his eyes shut and nods. “I did, but it wasn’t a normal check-up. I mean, it was. It’s my normal, at least. Just-”

The camera zooms in on the table as Bucky takes Steve’s hands in his. “Steve, talk to me.”

“I had cancer,” Steve blurts out.

Bucky’s hands tighten their hold on Steve’s. “I’m sorry, what?”

Steve glances up at him from beneath his eyelashes. “I had cancer. I’ve had cancer a couple of times, actually. I’m in remission,” he mumbles the last part.

“What- I-”

“I know it’s a lot and I should have told you. I just- It’s not- I can’t-”

Bucky kisses Steve’s knuckles, almost nuzzling Steve’s hands. “Oh, Stevie,” he mumbles. Bucky looks up at him with tears in his eyes. “Don’t beat yourself up about it. You’re telling me now and that’s all I care about. Fill me in.”

Steve’s bottom lip trembles, but he’s trying to smile. “I don’t want to go into the details about it, but I first got it when I was seven. Took about two years, but then I was deemed cancer-free and started my first remission treatment. Then I got another bout at eleven and that took three years to deal with. That was my worst bout, but not my last. Had a year cancer-free before I got it again. I’ve been cancer free for four years now. It’s not exactly common, but it happens.”

“Steve,” Bucky breathes. “I... I had no idea.”

“I know. I don’t expect you too,” Steve says.

Bucky kisses Steve’s hand again. “How come this is coming up now?”

The tears in Steve’s eyes threaten to spill over. “I think it’s back.”

“What?” Bucky asks, breathless.

“Dr. Erskine asked me to come in today. Said we had to talk. He normally just tells me my results over the phone and we catch up, but-” Steve takes a deep breath.

“He didn’t,” Bucky supplies.

Steve nods.

Bucky stands, still holding Steve’s hands, and walks around the table to face Steve. He pulls Steve up and into his arms, squeezing the bigger man tight. “It’s gonna be okay, Stevie. We’ll get through this.”

Steve burrows his face in the crook of Bucky’s neck, sniffling. The microphone he’s wearing just barely picks up a meek, “Will you go with me?”

“I’d follow you to the edge of the world, Steve.”

 

---

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Halloween Office Party

 

Is this happening? Like are you and the PPC planning a Halloween party? Just need to know if we need to find different costume ideas.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Halloween Office Party

 

Wasn’t planning on it since your party is everyone’s focus (and kind of an office party since you have no other friends), but we have money set aside for one.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Halloween Office Party

 

Wow, someone’s feeling catty today. But you can’t really talk. All you ever do is hang around my place and occasionally hang out with Clint and Phil.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Halloween Office Party

 

We’re both losers, that’s why we work so well.

 

Should I ask Stark he wants to hold a Halloween party in the office?

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Halloween Office Party

 

We work so well because we have insane chemistry.

 

But yeah? I mean, I’m not spending money on a new costume, but we’ll see.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Halloween Office Party

 

Because you spent so much on a costume that literally consists of a suit and sunglasses… that you already had.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Halloween Office Party

 

Hey! Those are both very expensive and I don’t really feel like spending more money this weekend. Parties are expensive. You should know.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Halloween Office Party

 

Oh, sure. Blame it on the party.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Halloween Office Party

 

Just go ask Stark about the party.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Halloween Office Party

 

;)

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Halloween Office Party

 

…. I hate when you send those. Freaks me out.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Halloween Office Party

 

I know.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Halloween Office Party

 

Why are we together again?

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Halloween Office Party

 

Because of our insane chemistry.

 

Sam Wilson <swilson@starkpaper.com>

To: Natasha Romanoff

Subject: Re: Halloween Office Party

 

And we’re both extremely attractive. Everyone else is too intimidated by our high cheekbones and fantastic glutes to even look at us.

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Sam Wilson

Subject: Re: Halloween Office Party

 

That too.

 

---

 

Producer: “Taking it slow, huh?”

Sam rolls his eyes. “Shut up.”

“How long have you and Natasha been dating?”

Sam crosses his arms. “Officially? Four months. Unofficially? Since Valentine’s Day.”

“Does anyone know?”

“Just Clint and Phil,” Sam says.

“Is she the-”

Sam raises an eyebrow. “Do you really think Natasha wants me talking to you about our relationship?”

“No, no she would not.”

Sam nods. “There you have it. You know nothing, remember.”

 

---

 

The camera pans over the room. It’s unfamiliar and sterile. Steve and Bucky are sitting in front of a large, dark oak desk. There’s a laptop in the center of the desk and a few picture frames facing the chair. The walls are lined with large cabinets and paintings of landscapes.

Steve’s knee bounces a mile a minute.

Bucky’s hand is on his knee, his thumb rubbing circles into the side of his lower thigh.

“If it’s back,” Steve starts, “I don’t want you to go through this. It’s not exactly the best experience for anyone involved.”

“Steve, you and me, we’re in it till the end of the line,” Bucky says.

Steve pecks a kiss on Bucky’s cheek. “You’re too good to me,” he whispers.

Bucky smiles, it’s tight but a smile nonetheless.

“I love you,” Steve breathes.

He leans forward, capturing Steve’s lips in his.

Steve’s hand moves to caress Bucky’s chin.

The camera turns as the door opens. An older man in a lab coat and glasses steps in holding a folder close to his chest. He pauses, hand on the door. “Steven,” he says with a thick German accent.

Steve jumps up and turns to the window. His face is red and his hand covering his mouth.

Bucky presses his lips together and looks down to his lap.

“I’m assuming things are going well?” the doctor asks.

Steve turns to face him, eyes wide and face pale. “Dr. Erskine,” he squeaks.

Dr. Erskine smiles as he shuts the door and walks behind the desk. “Relax, Steven. I’m happy to see you’re with someone who seems comfortable with you.”

Bucky snickers. “Damn, Steve, does everyone in your life hate Peggy?”

Steve glares at him. “Shut up, Barnes,” he sighs as he sits back down. “Dr. Erskine, this is my boyfriend Bucky. Bucky, meet my grandfather Abraham.”

“Grandfather?” Bucky asks, raising an eyebrow.

Abraham chuckles. “I met Steven at a young age and we’ve been through some harrowing battles together.”

Steve leans into Bucky a little, taking his hand. “When I was younger, Abraham helped my mom out a lot. They worked together here at the hospital and I, the sickly kid I was, needed more than just a babysitter. So when Abraham picked me up from school, it was easier to tell other kids that he was my grandfather instead of my doctor.”

“That,” Bucky starts, “is kind of sad, Steve.”

Steve laughs. “I know, it is.”

Abraham smiles. “As sad as it is, Steve and I do not have your typical doctor and patient relationship. I don’t know many doctors who would care for a patient as their sole provider, babysit them on their off days in and out of the hospital, and hang pictures of them and their artwork in their homes and offices,” the man says as he turns a frame around to show Steve in a cap and gown with Abraham and a small, blonde woman who was a mirror image of Steve.

Bucky looks up behind him the man at the large mountain painting centered on the wall. “I thought that style was familiar.”

Steve blushes. “You recognize my art style?”

“Well, yeah,” Bucky shrugs.

Abraham clears his throat. “As cute as you two are, we have somewhat serious topics to discuss, Steven.”

Steve sighs and squeezes Bucky’s hand tight.

Bucky matches him, to the point that their white knuckles are indistinguishable.

“Relax, it’s not as bad as you’re thinking,” Abraham says, flipping through the folder.

Steve’s shoulders fall. “So I’m cancer free still?”

Abraham glances up. “Oh, no. You have cancer again, but we’ve caught it early enough that you should be fine.”

“Should?” Bucky asks.

“We’ll start off with a PET scan, then you’ll go through a couple of rounds of chemotherapy. Nothing too extreme,” Abraham says, scribbling something in the folder.

“Oh yes, because getting chemicals injected into my body isn’t extreme,” Steve mumbles, but his tone falls flat.

Abraham chuckles. “I know you’re scared, Steven, but we’re ahead of this. You only have two infected lymph nodes and neither of them is very large. It’s early enough that if we go head first into treatment, that you’ll be back in remission soon.”

Steve sighs. “When do we start?”

 

---

 

Natasha slips into Tony’s office, closing the door softly behind her.

Tony looks up, hands hovering over the keyboard. “Yes?”

“Office halloween party: yes or no?” she asks, leaning against the wall.

“Is it expensive?”

“It doesn’t have to be.”

Tony glares at her. “All of your parties are expensive,” he says cautiously.

Natasha shrugs. “I’ve got an idea and we have money set aside for a halloween party. I’ll take what I need for food and leave the rest for Christmas.”

Tony shrugs. “Do what you think is best and let me know.”

She glares at her. “You’re not taking credit.”

“Why would I do that?” Tony laughs.

Natasha rolls her eyes and slips out of the room.

 

---

 

Natasha Romanoff <nromanoff@starkpaper.com>

To: Bruce Banner, James Barnes, Clint Barton…

Subject: Halloween Office Party

 

We’re doing an office Halloween party. The theme is Brain on a Budget.

 

We’ve got Sam’s party on Saturday and we all have costumes that we’ve spent way too much money on. For this party, the cheapest costume that takes the least amount of energy to create is the best costume. We’re talking writing “book” on your face with sharpie cheap.

 

It’s tacky. It’s cheap. It’s Brain on a Budget.

 

---

 

The camera pans over the conference room. It’s decorated in plastic Halloween decorations complete with cartoon spiders and googly eyes. The only transformation is the table, that’s now filled with food. It’s covered in a plastic tablecloth decked with cats dressed like witches.

Natasha is arranging the food when Steve walks in, hands in his pockets. He’s wearing a nice white button-down and dark slacks. “This is,” he pauses.

She glances over his shoulder. “Tacky?”

Steve nods, adjusting his glasses. “You could say that.”

“Good,” Natasha says. She straightens up and spins on her heels. Natasha’s wearing a dark, sinfully tight long sleeve shirt and skinny jeans, the tallest pair of pumps to enter New York, and fuzzy black cat ears on her head. Her hair is curled and her nose and cheeks are painted with a cat whiskers and nose. “What are you supposed to be?”

Steve grins and pops open his shirt, revealing the Superman symbol beneath his white shirt. “Clark Kent,” he chuckles.

“Cause he’s a superhero,” Bucky says, leaning against the doorway. He’s wearing his usual white button down and three black circles on the right side of his tie.

Natasha rolls her eyes. “And you?”

Steve nods towards his boyfriend. “He’s a three-hole punched version of himself.”

She shakes her head and turns towards the food. “Does everything look good?”

“I like the view just fine,” Bucky says, eyes cast downward.

“You’re disgusting,” Sam scoffs as he slips beside Bucky into the conference room.

Bucky grimaces. “The hell are you supposed to be?”

Sam smirks. “I’m fifty shades of gray,” he says, fiddling with the paint swatches attached to his shirt.

Steve’s eyes widen as his face flushes.

 

---

 

Producer: “Who all knows?”

Steve sighs, his head falling to Bucky’s shoulder. “No one does,” he says.

“Why not?”

Bucky runs his fingers over Steve’s head. “It’s not the right time.”

Steve’s eyes flutter close. His breathing is shallow and his voice soft when he says, “I’m telling Tony later today. He needs time to find someone to bring in a receptionist and prepare for-” He takes a deep breath. “To prepare for everything.”

“How are you feeling, Steve?”

“He’s been having trouble breathing and been a bit tired lately,” Bucky explains softly. “Ain’t that right, sugar?”

Steve makes a noise of affirmation.

“And you, Bucky?”

Bucky bites at his lip. “It’s been a lot, but I’ll do anything for this man,” he mumbles.

Steve smiles softly and leans up to kiss beneath Bucky’s jaw. The mic just barely captures his “I love you.”

 

---

 

The conference room is once again filled with the employees, but this time they’re all wearing costumes. Wanda is wearing a Rosie the Riveter costume, Peter is wearing a bunch of name tags and a ski mask and MJ is wearing a white shirt with the Game of Life logo and carrying a basket of lemons. Scott is wearing a bright yellow shirt with black zigzag in the middle and a bald cap and Clint has a cardboard sign with “Nudist on Strike” sloppily written. Tony and Rhodes are wearing matching suits; Tony’s is St. Patrick’s Day green and Rhodes’ white with a red name tag that reads “Envy” below his lapel.

Natasha stands on a chair and clears her throat. The camera zooms in on her face. “Like every year, we’re doing a costume contest. Voting is on Bucky’s desk. We’ll announce the winners at a quarter till and with that, the prizes.” She holds onto Sam’s shoulder as she steps down, her hand lingering as she stabilizes herself on the floor.

Sam smiles at her, his eyes bright and his face red. “I have a feeling you’ll win,” he says.

“You’re just saying that because you like what you see,” Natasha purrs.

“Isn’t that the point?” Sam crosses his arms, bending a swatch in the process.

Natasha rolls her eyes and slinks away, hips swaying.

The camera zooms in on Sam’s face. His gap-toothed smile widens with every step she takes.

It pans over to Steve, Bucky, and Wanda. They’re all watching the pair with knowing smiles.

“Oh, I’m gonna nag him about that so hard,” Bucky quips.

Steve nudges his shoulder. “Let him be. He went to battle for us and he deserves to be happy,” Steve mumbles.

Wanda giggles. “But only after he spent weeks ragging on you two.”

Steve purses his lips. “True.”

Bucky raises an eyebrow. “Do I have your permission, Rogers?”

“I don’t know,” Steve chuckles. “Should we really stoop onto his level?”

“Why wouldn’t we?”

Wanda nods. “I say do it, but not Natasha. Don’t touch Natasha.”

“Truer words have not been spoken,” Steve says. The camera zooms in as his nose starts to bleed.

“S***, Steve, your nose,” Bucky curses. He fumbles to set his drink down and grab a napkin.

Steve touches the blood with his finger. “How bad is it?”

Bucky rolls his eyes as he presses the napkin to Steve’s nose and tilts his head down. “It just started. How am I supposed to know if this is bad?” Bucky grumbles, but his brow is furrowed.

“Does this happen often?” Wanda asks.

“No,” Steve sighs.

Bucky guides him out of the conference room, his hands on Steve’s shoulders. “C’mon big guy. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

The camera follows them into the bathroom. Bucky grabs more napkins as Steve jumps onto the counter. “So what’s your plan for our costumes?”

Steve grins underneath the napkin. “I’ve been making them. They’re almost done. I just have to paint a few more things.”

Bucky glances up at him. “And I don’t get to know?”

“Not until Saturday.” Steve winks at him. He watches Bucky for a moment. “You sure you’re up for this, baby?”

“For cleaning your bloody nose or going through-”

Tony saunters in, solo cup clutched in his hand. “What happened to you, Rogers?”

“Bloody nose,” Steve says with a shrug.

Tony raises an eyebrow.

Bucky moves Steve’s hand to replace the bloodied napkin with a wet one.

“Is this normal?” Tony asks, sipping at his drink.

“It will be,” Steve says, watching Bucky clean his hands.

“Why?”

Bucky sighs. “Lean forward.”

Steve rests his chin on his hand, elbow on his knee.

“Why is it normal?”

“He has cancer,” Bucky says, drying his hands.

Tony drops his drink, spilling the red punch all over his shoes and the tiled floor. “Are you serious this time or are you two f******* with me?”

Steve moves to spit into the sink beside him, blood dripping from his lip. “Serious.”

“What does this mean? You’re quitting?”

“I’m going part-time while I’m in chemo and going on hiatus with Cap,” Steve explains.

Bucky moves to rub his back. “And then he might have to do radiation once chemo is done.”

Tony runs a hand through his hair. “That’s-” He shakes his head. “How can I help make this easier?”

 

---

 

Producer: “Who won the costume contest?”

Tony crosses his legs. “Wanda, actually. We all thought her costume was ironic and well done.”

“Is that shocking?”

“Not really,” Tony says. “Wanda’s sweet and actually tries with these things so it makes more sense.”

 

---

 

Sam’s apartment was filled with people. The host himself lingers near the door. He’s dressed in a nice black suit with sunglasses and a red solo cup in his hand.

Natasha’s standing beside him, wearing a matching suit with her sunglasses. “Why are we standing around the door?”

“Tony wants me to announce him when he gets here,” Sam says.

“Announce him?”

Sam shrugs.

Natasha’s lips purse as she glares skeptically up at Sam. “What is he?”

“Wouldn’t tell me,” he sighs. They look over the party in sync, their sunglasses casting a menacing look over the party. “Favorite costume on three?”

“Sure.”

Sam counts down and the pair of them say “Scott” at the same time.

“Really?” He laughs.

Natasha shrugs. “He really took his Tony award to heart. It’s cute!”

The camera pans over the bustling party to find Scott, wearing an ant costume with a crown, cape, and crumb septer. “It’s ridiculous,” Sam says.

She crosses her arms. “And yet you love it too?”

Sam nods, gap-toothed smile on full display. “I really do.”

Natasha leans into Sam. “Steve and Bucky look,” she trails off.

“It’s Steve’s comic book characters. Guess they’re based on them, so he made them costumes or something. It’s cheesy, but kind of cute.” Sam shrugs.

“I mean, you’re not wrong.”

Sam’s phone dings. He pulls it out of his pocket and groans. “Tony’s here, hang on.” The camera moves to watch the door. Sam cups his hands around his mouth. “Can I get everyone’s attention?”

He waits for everyone to turn towards him. Sam pulls up the texts and takes a deep breath. “It’s with great honor,” he starts in a mostly monotone voice, “that I present to you, the one and only, Tonirella and Pepper Charming!”

The door swings open and Tony waltzes in. He’s wearing a large, hopped ball gown, his hair is swept up with a crown, his goatee is trimmed and painted with light blue glitter, and his face is plastered in makeup.

Pepper walks in behind him, wearing an all white suit with gold designs. Her hair is pulled up in a ballerina bun and small tiara, her makeup is painted to perfection and her gold, strappy heels glitter beneath the hem of her pants.

Tony twirls, the dress spinning around him. “Hello my loyal, royal subjects.”

 

---

 

Producer: “Who had the best costume?”

MJ crosses her arms. “As great as Tony’s costume is, Steve and Bucky are the best.”

“And second best?”

She looks to Peter. “I think ours is good.”

Peter grins, adjusting his wig. “I’m very pleased with it.”

“Han Solo and Leia, correct?”

“Absolutely,” Peter says, motioning to his dress.

 

---

 

“What’s up with Barnes?” Sam asks, drink in one hand.

Steve sets the shield by his feet and sighs. “He’s a superhero.”

“I know what his costume is, Rogers. I’m talking about his longing looks over here,” Sam says.

“No, I know,” Steve says.

He glances at Bucky. He’s sitting by the window, nursing a beer. “We’re going through something.”

Sam’s brow furrows. “What’s wrong?”

Natasha siddles up beside Sam. “What’s with the soap opera boys?” she asks, flirty smile dancing across her face.

Sam nods to Bucky. “Buck’s brooding tonight and Steve’s telling me why, because ‘we’re going through something’ isn’t a valid excuse.”

They look to Steve expect.

Steve shakes his head. “This really isn’t the place.”

Nat crosses her arms. “Spill.”

Steve runs a hand through his hair. “My cancer is back.”

Sam and Nat pause, glancing at each other behind their sunglasses.

“Damn,” Sam says, face slack.

“You asked,” Steve defends.

Natasha takes off her sunglasses. “What kind?” she asks, softly.

“Acute Myeloid Leukemia.”

Sam crosses his arms. “How are you handling it?”

Steve shrugs. “Scared, but this is the eighth time it’s happened. And we caught it in time, so by next year it should be gone, in theory.”

“And Buck?”

The camera pans over to the man talking with Scott. His smile is tight and body folded in on itself.

Steve’s smile turn dopey. “He’s my hero.”

“You two disgust me,” Natasha says softly.

Steve blushes. “He’s been so supportive and I- I love him, I really do.”

“It shows,” Sam chuckles. He takes a deep breath and rubs at his neck. “What’s your plan of action?”

Steve takes a sip of his beer. “Start chemo in bout a week and a half,” Steve explains. He watches Bucky for a moment. “If we’re still together when I’m cancer-free again, I’m marrying him.”

Sam slips down his glasses and peers over the rim of his glasses. “Come again?”

Steve clears his throat. “I love him and he’s already proving he’s everything I could ever want. I- I really thought I was going to be alone in all of this and here’s Bucky, asking if he could come along. He asks questions, he’s making plans for the next few months, he’s researching AML and my treatment options. It’s- Peggy only checked in on me every now and then. She never went with me to an appointment, consultation or chemo. So after Ma died, it was just me and Erskine. Peggy was supportive, but she didn’t make me feel loved, not like Bucky.”

He shifts in his place, toying at the ground with his boots. “I’m going to get sappy if I continue.”

“You’re already there,” Natasha says. She wraps her arms around his middle and looks up at him, her small frame only reaching the middle of his chest. “But you can keep going. It’s kind of cute.”

Steve smiles. “He, um, makes me feel warm. Bucky, gives me unconditional love and makes me feel special. I haven’t felt like this before, not really. And I don’t want to stop feeling like this. So yeah, if we can get through cancer, then we can get through anything. And if he’ll have me, then I’d marry him in a heartbeat.”

Sam shakes his head. “If your proposal is anything like that speech, I don’t think he’ll be able to say no. Hell, I’m close to saying yes to you.”

Natasha moves to press a kiss to Steve’s cheek. “You two are going to be great together. And you’ll have a beautiful wedding that I’m planning, or at least helping plan. And whenever you’re ready for kids, I’m a great aunt.”

Steve rolls his eyes and hugs her tight. “Thanks, I appreciate it.” He raises an eyebrow at the two of them. “Now what’s your deal? Matching costumes? Cuddling? Secret Smiles?”

Sam blushes, shrugging.

Natasha lets Steve go and pulls Sam’s head closer to her, kissing him softly. “We’re a kind of a thing,” she says, glancing over her shoulder.

“Congratulations,” Steve says, grabbing his shield from the floor. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a soldier to dance with.”

The camera follows Steve through the mass of people towards Bucky.

Bucky’s face lights up when Steve wraps an arm around his shoulder. “Hey there, Captain. What brings you to this side of the party?”

“Scott, you wouldn’t mind if I steal Buck away, would you?”

Scott shrugs. “Not really.”

Bucky nods at him, turning towards Steve with a raised eyebrow.

Steve presses a kiss to his temple. “Dance with me?”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “You can’t dance, Rogers.”

“Do you really care about that?” Steve asks. “C’mon, Sarge, dance with me.” He offers his hand, smiling at him.

“Lead the way, Rogers,” Bucky says breathlessly as he takes Steve’s hand.

Steve guides Bucky to the dance floor just as a slow song starts to play. “I love you,” Steve whispers, holding the man tight against him.

Bucky giggles and wraps his arms around Steve’s neck. “Are you going to keep the costume?”

“Why? Do you like it?” Steve hums.

“Somehow you make the stars and stripes look sexy,” he whispers, holding Steve tight.

Steve laughs and spins Bucky around, dipping him. “Anything for you.”

Chapter Text

The camera pans over the conference room. It’s rearranged so all of the chairs are facing a projector on the far wall. There’s a popcorn machine in the corner, a table covered in snacks and drinks, and a stack of blankets near the door.

A red-headed man in a plaid shirt and jeans paces in the front of the room. “Are you sure everything’s ready?” he asks.

“Eddie, we can’t do much more,” a deep voice says from behind the camera.

Eddie turns to the camera, gnawing at his bottom lip. “I know, but these people are about to see the final product and I have no idea what they’ll think.”

“Does it really matter?”

He glares at the camera. “Does it really matter if the people who I based a year of my life around enjoy the way I portrayed them? Does it really matter if my life’s work is-”

The camera twirls around to the door, where Sam is standing with his arms crossed. “I’m no therapist or expert, but you’re basing your self-esteem on how we react to this documentary and that’s not healthy. Just be proud of the fact that you were able to stick it through it. You spent a year of your life following around people in one of the most boring professions there is and you survived. Be proud of what you created and the fact that you no longer have to deal with us.”

Eddie smiles. “Tony really should pay you more for being the sane one of the office.”

Sam throws his hands up. “I’ve been saying that for years but do you really think he’s going to listen to me?”

 

---

 

“What do you think it’s about?” Peter asks, bouncing in place.

“Us,” Tony deadpans.

Peter rolls his eyes. “No, Mr. Stark, I meant what do you think his angle is?”

MJ leans against Peter, stopping Peter from moving. “Or Is he trying to prove that Stark Paper is unstable? That we’re working in a dying market?”

“It’s not dying,” Peter gasps.

MJ raises an eyebrow.

Peter sighs. “Okay, it’s dying, but that doesn’t mean we are.”

Tony waves his hands in front of him. “Stop. Just stop. Eddie said it’s about our day-to-day life. I doubt he has an angle.”

“There’s always an angle,” MJ mumbles.

Tony pinches the bridge of his nose. “I need a drink,” He sighs, walking away.

 

---

 

Sam whistles. “We’re showing the documentary in approximately five minutes. You’re either in here or not.”

Bucky leans over the reception desk. “You ready for this?”

Steve runs a hand over his buzzed hair. “No, I have to finish this.”

“Stevie, it’s seven. You’ve been working on this all day,” Bucky whines.

The blond sighs. “I know, but I just need to get this panel right.”

Bucky nods, brow furrowed. “Does this have anything to do with your results?”

Steve freezes, stylus in hand. “No?”

Bucky raises an eyebrow. “It is, isn’t it.”

“I should have gotten the email by now,” Steve mumbles, lazily shading Cap’s shield.

Bucky leans in closer, wearing a dopey smile. “Hey,” he whispers, “everything’s going to be okay, right? That’s what you kept telling me before all of this.”

Steve nods and stands up. “You’re right.”

“What was that?” Bucky smirks.

Steve rolls his eyes as he falls into Bucky’s chest, tucking his head in Bucky’s neck. He grumbles something under his breath.

Bucky chuckles as he wraps his arms around Steve’s broad shoulders. “Are you ready to watch the documentary now?”

The bigger man shrugs. “I don’t know if I’m going to like what we see.”

“Me neither, but we can sit in the back and share a blanket and popcorn if you’re up for it,” Bucky says softly, running his tattooed hand over Steve’s back.

Steve pulls away, his lips pursed and face pink. “I might be able to suffer through a documentary for that. Will there be commentary?”

Bucky winks at him. “You best believe it.”

 

---

 

Eddie walks in front of the projector and the rows of employees. “Good evening, everyone,” he says, clasping his hands together. “I know we’re all excited to see the finished product of the documentary, but I wanted to say a few things before.”

He clears his throat. “This past year has been incredible and I thank every single one of you for helping make this documentary. When we first started, I had every intention to focus on the paper sales and distribution. However, down the line, I realized that there’s so much more to how an office works. It’s not just about the paper or the sales. It’s not about the relationship between the manager and the salesmen. It’s about the employees, each and every employee who helps move the paper along. This documentary wouldn’t have been a success without you. It’s been a pleasure following your lives through this job and I want nothing but the best for each of you.” He claps his hands and steps out of the way. The lights flicker off and the projector screen turns on. “Without further ado, here’s A Look into the American Workplace .”

On the screen, the Stark Paper Inc. Brooklyn Branch office comes to life, the title card fading in. It flickers over to the little hallway that leads to the office itself. There’s a frosted glass door with the company’s logo in the center a few feet away from the elevator, with a few other doors near the end. The camera gets closer to the door, pausing on the logo and the distorted bodies moving in the room.

The door swings open to reveal Tony dressed in a fabulous suit. “ Finally! I was starting to wonder if this was all some sort of joke. Still am, but Dad’s sense of humor is nonexistent so it was highly unlikely, to begin with, ” on-screen Tony says, already walking further into the office. “ The name’s Tony. I run this joint ,” he says over his shoulder.

 

---

 

The camera zooms in on Steve and Bucky, with the latter curled into Steve’s chest. They’re sharing a bowl of popcorn, lazily popping the pieces into their mouths.

“You know what?” on-screen Sam says, “I think I’m going to stop using Tinder, even for hookups.”

“Oh god,” Bucky groans softly. “I remember this day.”

Steve raises an eyebrow. “You do?”

Sam continues, “I’m serious! The last girl I had over, the one with the yorkie, I swear she stole my falcon statue. Who the f--- steals a bird statue?”

Bucky nods, hiding his face in Steve’s chest. “Don’t judge me.”

The camera follows Bucky’s line of sight, landing on Steve hunched over his computer at reception. He’s squinting, mindlessly popping carrots into his mouth. The camera pans back over to Bucky, oblivious to Sam’s unimpressed expression.

Steve’s face lights up. “No,” he mumbles.

Bucky whines, covering his face with the blanket.

Sam gives a long look to the camera, sits up, and continues his one-sided conversation. “And then she had the nerve to murder my dog! My dog, Buck! So I try to get in touch with her again so I can be like ‘Yo, what’d you do to my dog?’ and it turns out, she’s really a shapeshifting werewolf who slaughters dogs to feed to her children.”

“Wow, that’s cool.”

“When was this?” Steve asks, playing with Bucky’s hair.

Bucky says something into his chest.

“My first day? Seriously?”

He sits up, glaring at Steve. “You promised you wouldn’t judge.”

“First of all, I didn’t. And second, you liked me from the get-go?”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “It was purely physical, Rogers. Don’t get cocky. Besides, you were the mysterious hot new receptionist and I was a single gay man who hadn't exactly excelled in the dating department. So sue me.”

Steve kisses Bucky’s cheek. “You’re real cute when you’re flustered, ya know that?”

 

---

 

On-Screen Rhodey runs a hand over his face. “Basically, Peter broke his foot in three different places, so…” He keeps talking, but the camera is no longer focused on him. Instead, it zooms in on Peter and MJ’s blurry figures. They slowly come in to focus.

“Oh s***,” MJ whispers to Peter.

Peter blushes under the soft light of the projector.

Tony sits up. “What am I watching?”

They’re sitting close to each other, sides pressed together as they kiss. MJ has a hand on Peter’s face, while he holds her arm. It’s slow and sweet.

 

“What the f***?” Tony gasps, glancing over his shoulder to Peter and MJ, face scrunched in horror.

They pull away, shy and awkward. She says something, but her curls cover her face, blocking her lips as she talks. Peter laughs and kisses her again, a hand cradling her cheek.

“He’ll need crutches,” Rhodey continues, “but he’ll be okay after a few weeks. I’m more worried about the legal complications than the medical ones…”

“Pause it,” Tony demands.

Eddie hits the pause button and flicks the light on.

Everyone turns to Peter and MJ.

“Explain,” Tony says.

Peter rubs at the back of his neck. “Um,” he starts.

“We’re together,” MJ says with a shrug. She quickly moves to straddle Peter’s lap and plants a passionate, sloppy kiss on the boy’s lips.

Peter’s eyes flutter shut as his shoulders drop.

MJ pulls away and kisses Peter’s nose before she slinks back into her own seat.

Tony turns back around, face pale and frozen in horror.

Natasha leans over and fist bumps MJ.

 

---

 

“Where is this at?” Sam asks, arm wrapped around Natasha.

Bucky tilts his head. “Hang on, is this my birthday?” He looks up at Steve. “I don’t remember…”

Steve’s brow furrows. “This is after the tattoo right?” he whispers.

Sam glares “Are you two eating ice cream in bed?”

“Yes, we are,” Steve says.

“Here,” Bucky says, handing Steve the other spoon.

Steve hums. “Thank you,” he whispers.

Bucky puts a rerun of Friends on and they eat their ice cream in comfortable silence.

The camera watches from the doorway.

As the episode transitions into the next, the boys are quickly losing steam. Steve’s sliding down in the bed. Bucky’s eyes are struggling to stay open, ice cream dangerously close to dripping onto his comforter.

“Gay,” Clint calls with a smirk.

Bucky kicks his chair.

Steve looks up at Bucky, eyes warm and loving. “Bucky?”

“Yeah?” Bucky asks, head lolling to look down at Steve. Their noses are nearly brushing, their ice cream breath mingling in the small space between them.

“How are you real?”

Bucky laughs. “I could ask you the same.”

“I don’t know what I’d do without you. I,” Steve sighs, “I don’t deserve you.”

Bucky’s brow furrows. “Of course you do, Steve. You deserve everything.”

There’s a pause.

Steve’s phone vibrates. He pulls the phone out and glances at the screen. He sits up.

Bucky raises an eyebrow.

Steve shows him the phone. It’s Erskine.

“Go,” Bucky whispers.

Steve shakes his head and nods to the screen. “I like this moment.”  

The camera zooms in as their lips brush, slowly and hesitantly molding into one another. It zooms out as Steve cradles Bucky’s cheek and Bucky runs his plastic covered hand through Steve’s hair.

The crew closes the door.

“Wait, this was Bucky’s birthday?” Sam gasps. “Weren’t you still engaged, Steve?”

Steve’s eyes widen as he stands up. “Yes, yes I was. I need to take this,” he says showing his phone to his coworkers.

“Convenient, Rogers,” Sam calls after him.

 

---

 

Steve sits at Bucky’s desk and calls Erskine back. “Hey, Doc, you caught me at a bad time, sorry.”

He pauses, hand covering his eyes. “Hit me with it. I can’t wait any longer.”

Steve rubs at his buzzed head, shoulders hunched as he holds the phone to his ear.

“Thanks, Dr. Erskine,” Steve sighs, his shoulders falling. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Thanks for calling me.” He stands up. “Have a good night.”

 

---

 

Steve slinks back into the conference room.

Bucky sits up, expectantly.

Steve waves him off as he takes his seat. “We’ll talk after,” he whispers.

“You sure?” Bucky asks, leaning into Steve’s embrace.

The blond presses a kiss to Bucky’s temple. “I’m okay,” he whispers.

“Rogers, if you're lying to me, I swear,” Bucky grumbles. He wiggles against Steve’s chest, watching as Peter and Scott build a fort out of paper reams.

 

---

 

As the credits start to roll, the employees give Eddie a round of applause.

He stands up and scratches his head. “Thank you,” he chuckles.

The applause dies down as Eddie sways in front of the projector.

“Director’s cut,” Scott calls out.

Eddie laughs, shaking his head. “No, no. I just want your reactions to the documentary.”

“It was really well made!” Peter announces, bouncing in his seat.

Tony crosses his legs. “It was better than I thought.”

“I learned way too much about you people,” Bruce sighs.

Rhodey nods. “You can say that again.”

Eddie grimaces. “Nothing bad you’d like to point out? No critiques?”

Bucky’s the first to stand up. “It was by the far the best documentary I’ve ever seen. You should be proud.”

The camera zooms in on Eddie’s smiling face.

 

---

 

“See you guys later,” Sam calls as he slips out the door.

Bucky beats against Steve’s desk. “You still working?”

Steve adjusts his glasses and nods. “I’m just about done. Give me five minutes?”

“Anything for you, sugar,” Bucky says. He pats the desk as he drifts over to the lounge area. He plops down in the chair and pulls out his phone. The office is dark around them, save for the emergency lights and the light coming from Steve’s computer.

The camera moves around to see what Steve was doing. It’s a Winter Soldier profile. His eyes, covered in a black mask, are wide and his brow raised. His skin is flushed and his mouth a perfect ‘o’ as he looks at something out of frame.

Steve clicks through, each panel a single image surrounded by black. He stops on a panel with Captain America and the Winter Soldier walking in a park.

He pushes himself away from the desk, takes off his glasses, and rubs at his face.

“You alright, soldier?” Bucky asks, glancing up from his phone.

Steve peeks out from his fingers. “Yeah, yeah,” he says, voice shaky. He stands up, scratching at his beard. Steve glances at the screen, biting at his lip. “Actually, can I get your opinion on this new comic?”

Bucky stands up and sets his bag on the seat. “Yeah, of course. Is this a sneak peek or a full plot?”

“Both?” Steve shrugs.

Bucky grins, wiggling his eyebrows. “I love where this is going.”

Steve rolls his eyes and takes a step back, motioning to his seat.

The salesman steps around, dropping into the seat and shuffling forward. “You need a new chair, Rogers,” he says while rolling his shoulders.

“Tell that to Stark.”

Bucky glances over his shoulder, smiling. “Trust me, I will.” He turns back around, rests his chin on his fists, and starts to click through.

Steve watches, shifting from foot to foot, as Bucky reads through the panels.

“God, every time I see the Winter Soldier, I can’t help but smile,” Bucky says, clicking to the next panel.

“That’s what he’s there for, to make you smile,” Steve says. He fumbles with his pockets, patting them down as quietly as he can. Steve mouths something, his teeth scraping against his bottom lip. He falls to his knees and slowly riffles through his bag.

Bucky snickers. “I really like this so far, Stevie. It’s so light and, dare I say, domestic,” he says absentmindedly.

Steve glances up. “Really? I feel like it’s a bit out of the blue.”

“A little, but you set it up really nicely.”

Steve pulls his hand out of his bag and waits. He’s watching Bucky read again, sitting on his feet with his knees scraping the rough carpet.

The camera zooms in on his hand shaking, rubbing against his slacks.

Bucky clicks through the panels. He clicks over to a panel of Cap looking at the Soldier, his blue eyes bright and big. The Soldier is leaning against a bridge railing, looking off in the distance. The next panel, Cap takes off his helmet and turns to the man, calling him by name.

Then there’s a panel of the Winter Soldier glancing back to the Captain. He clicks over to the last panel, with the Soldier looking shocked at the side of the frame.

“What happened?” Bucky asks. He spins in his chair and freezes.

Steve is kneeling before him, ring box in one hand and his other shaking against his thigh.

“Steve,” Bucky whispers, eyes wide and a little misty.

“I’ve been through this before,” Steve starts, “but I’ve never been this nervous.” He shifts and clears his throat. “We’ve been together for a over a year now and I can safely say that I’ve never been happier. Watching the final product of the documentary and seeing just how much we cared about one another before we were even together, makes me believe that this isn’t just chance.”

Steve pauses, looking up at Bucky as if he hung the moon. “I’ve never met someone who was so beautiful, so charismatic, so dashing, and vulnerable. Even if we can’t agree on who the hotter T-Bird is-”

Bucky laughs. “It’s definitely Zuko and you know it,” he says in a thick voice.

Steve shakes his head, eyes watery. “It’s Kenickie and I don’t plan on backing down, Barnes.”

“You wouldn’t be you if you did.”

“It baffles me with how supportive and strong you are. It’s not easy dealing with cancer and iffy pasts and yet you handled all of my baggage like a pro. But what’s really something, is that you didn’t try to help fix me or solve anything. You let me handle my issues and offered your unconditional love and support, and my God, Buck. But most importantly, you make me feel safe and warm and special . I’ll never be able to express just how much that means to me.” Steve sniffles and wipes at his eyes.

Bucky covers his mouth, smiling wide under his hand.

Steve takes a shaky breath. “I’ve never experienced anything as strong as the relationship we have. There’s something about you, Bucky Barnes, that I can’t imagine living without. It scares me to think about not waking up beside you. It scares me to think about not hearing your laugh anymore. It scares me to think that I won’t get to see you smile. It scares me to think about not being able to hold you while we fall asleep. It f****** scares me, Bucky.”

They’re both crying at this point. Bucky shuffles forward, still smiling and covering his mouth.

Steve runs a hand over his hair. “When I told Sam and Natasha about my cancer diagnosis, I remember talking to them about my plans. I told them that if we could get through cancer, we can get through anything. I told them that I don’t want to lose this feeling that I have whenever you look at me, this feeling of pure unconditional love and warmth. I told them that as soon as I was cancer-free, that I planned on marrying you. I remember specifically saying that if you’d have me, I’d marry you in a heartbeat. It’s been a hell of a year, Barnes. We’ve made it through so much and we’re only getting started. If we can get through this past year, we can do anything together.”

Bucky looks to the ceiling, grinning and blinking as fast as he can. His head starts to move minutely, chin barely bobbing up and down.

He opens the ring box to reveal a silver band with a single diamond in the center. Steve takes a deep breath and says in a thick voice, “So, James Buchanan Barnes - my love, my muse, my best friend, my soldier, my hero - will you marry me?”