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These Days

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[act one, scene zero] introduire

 

It’s the kind of hot that makes your brain feel sluggish. Like, those of us who have the misfortune of needing to wear glasses, think of it this way: You go outside and immediately your glasses fog up from the disgustingly sticky heat. It’s that hot out.

 

Steve Rogers has the misfortune to be having hot flashes in this disgusting heat.

 

“Is that the coldest the AC can get?” Steve whines out in the direction of Doctor Erskine from where he’s slumped over the dining room table.

 

“It is, in fact,” Doc answers him.

 

“It feels like a sauna in here,” Steve continues to complain. “No – Like a sauna within Satan’s asscrack.”

 

“How eloquent of you,” Doc replies dryly.

 

Steve opens one eye. His glasses are askew from his face being smushed against the table’s surface, so he can’t see Doc very well. They also need cleaning. Huh. Maybe he should step outside for a second…

 

“This house is a sauna from Hell,” Steve reiterates.

 

“It’s not the house, it’s you,” Doc tells him, turning a page in his newspaper.

 

Steve groans again. He pushes himself off the table, then stands up and winces at the cramping in his gut. He hugs his middle and stumbles into the living room, then falls onto the sofa and curls up into a ball.

 

Doc folds his newspaper in half and looks down at him over the tops of his reading glasses. “Do you need a hot water bottle?”

 

“Ha, ha,” Steve whispers hoarsely. “Could use some Pamprin. Midol. Something.”

 

Doc lifts out of his chair, pushing up from the arms of the armchair and pausing to let his knees and spine pop before heading for the kitchen. Steve mumbles an inaudible thanks when Doc returns with a glass of water and two slim, purple pills. Steve takes them, throws them back, and gulps the water until it’s gone. Doc pats his head, then returns to his armchair.

 

Steve curls back up on the sofa. He tugs off his glasses because they’re dirty and they’re giving him a headache, then rolls over to face the sofa cushions and shut his eyes. He breathes through his mouth, feeling like the sticky June heat is invading his living room.

 

Doc continues to read the newspaper. There’s an old-fashioned radio in the corner playing quiet jazz music. Steve zones out listening to Doc turning the pages of his paper and the occasional commercials in between the sax solos.

 

He’s generally miserable, otherwise. He’s been having hot flashes on and off for the past three weeks, ever since he stopped taking heat suppressants. Now he’s both nesting and having PMS like a bitch and has he mentioned that he’s miserable? He’s been staying home from work since the hot flashes left him reeking like pre-heat pheromones even though he’s still nesting; considering his job is technically hugging PTSD-ridden vets until they’re drooling and napping on his shoulder, he can’t compromise himself or the VA by accidentally sending a roomful of Alphas who are already at risk into rut. So he’s bored and stir-crazy, restless, boiling over every five minutes only to start freezing immediately after, and nesting.

 

“Remember this is for your own good,” Doc says at some point after Steve’s curled up into a tiny ball and tried to slither between the couch cushions like the quivering Jell-O he feels like.

 

“Remind me,” Steve says bitterly.

 

Doc sighs heavily. Steve thinks he sounds like a big, bright yellow balloon filling ever so slowly, only to reveal that instead of a smiley face printed on its surface, there is a big depressing frown.

 

“The suppressants you were taking were driving you into early menopause,” Doc tells him again in an indulging manner. “Which would be ten times worse than what you’re going through now, my boy.”

 

“Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” Steve groans yet again, as he has in reply every time Doc reminds him why he had to stop taking suppressants.

 

“You should feel lucky we caught it when we did,” Doc adds; his newspaper ruffles and Steve pictures him flicking it upright again to continue reading. “Any later, you could have had problems with fertility the rest of your life.”

 

“Ew,” Steve mutters. “Don’t talk to me about fertility, Doc.”

 

“As your doctor and guardian,” Doc answers in another dry tone, “I rather think it’s my duty to keep you informed of your health.”

 

“Maybe I don’t care if I end up infertile,” Steve grumbles.

 

“Steven, you are only nineteen years old,” Doc replies, “You have a good seventy or eighty years ahead of you to wonder about whether or not you want children.”

 

“I don’t!” Steve declares, sticking a limp hand up into the air to punctuate his words. “They’re loud and messy and give me headaches!”

 

“Certainly,” Doc says, shuffling his paper. “But in ten years, you and your spouse might want to revisit that topic.”

 

Steve huffs. “Maybe I don’t want a spouse either.”

 

“I would believe that, but I remember a certain seventeen-year-old telling me how much he was looking forward to ‘playing house,’ as I recall.”

 

Steve rolls over and glares at Doc. “I thought we agreed that we would never speak of anything I may or may not have said while on painkillers.”

 

Doc’s lips split in a laugh and he chuckles at his newspaper. “I never agreed to such a thing,” he says.

 

Steve groans and shoves himself off the couch. “If you need me, I’ll be melting into a puddle in my closet.”

 

“But you came out years ago!” Doc calls after him as Steve starts stomping up the stairs. “I already know you’re bisexual!”

 

“Ha, ha!” Steve yells over his shoulder.

 

He bangs open his bedroom door and kicks it shut again. He stumbles in yanking off his socks, then throws them in the general vicinity of his laundry hamper without looking to see if they hit. He also shucks his gym shorts, since it’s way too fucking hot for pants, reaches into the armholes of his muscle tank to unhook his bandeau, then throws it away, too. He’s left in just the muscle tank, which reaches past his hips anyway, and with a sigh, he throws open the doors of his closet.

 

Inside is a hoard of pillows, blankets, a few stray sweaters, and – somewhere – a stuffed bunny from his childhood that Steve will deny to his deathbed that he still owns. Steve crawls under the hanging clothes to the back of the deep closet, then curls up into a ball in the middle of the nest. He needs to change the lining; it reeks worse than he does. But it’s too hot to do it now. He reaches over and switches on the box fan he’s stashed in the closet, adjusts it so its back is to the doorway and not the wall, then digs around until he finds his bunny. When he’s satisfied, Steve adjusts pillows under his head and shuts his eyes.

 

He lets the sluggish feeling the warmth of the air and his body's internal temperature have filled his brain with take over him. Steve breathes through his mouth, starts drooling like the Alphas over at the VA he cuddles into relaxation, and falls asleep.

 

*

 

The heat is so bad, you can smell it. It smells like a dusty house that hasn’t had air stirring in months. Or worse yet, some old fart that hasn’t left the couch in months. Or worse, Afghanistan.

 

Bucky wipes his forehead with his forearm, then grimaces as he reaches back into the engine he’s working on. The garage is filled with the sounds of power tools and chatter. Bucky is moving slower than he usually does, and he’s already slower than half the other guys in the garage since he’s missing one rather important tool.

 

Bucky blinks sweat from his eyes, then groans and has to yank his right hand back out of the engine to reach for the rag at his belt so he can mop his brow. He only has the one hand, he can’t wipe the sweat off his face and focus on changing the oil on this soccer mom minivan at the same time.

 

“Barnes, finish up there and get outta here!” his boss yells.

 

Bucky lifts his head, barely avoiding hitting it on the hood of the van, then waves to Dum Dum Dugan, the foreman, from the other side of the garage. He wipes his face off one last time, mourning the pointlessness of central air in an open garage, then ducks back into the open hood. He doesn’t have much left to do, so he’s done within ten minutes. He slams the hood, wipes his hand off on his jeans, then heads out of the main garage to the AC-cooled waiting room.

 

“Mrs. Lutz?” Bucky calls.

 

Mrs. Lutz, a short but well-endowed Latina Omega, gets up from her chair and snaps her fingers at her two kids until they stop focusing on their Gameboys and get up with her. Bucky meets her at the front desk, handing over her keys and going over what he’d done and recommended she’d do in the future. Mrs. Lutz is polite but clipped with him; she’s visibly stressed, and Bucky can’t blame her. He’s been hearing all afternoon about how her kids have been driving her insane from the other mechanics. Val did this pretty good impression of the younger kid throwing a tantrum that had actually distracted Bucky from the fact that he was so hot his balls were as soaked in sweat as an Omega in heat would be soaked in slick.

 

“You have a great night,” Bucky tells Mrs. Lutz once he’s reconciled her bill.

 

“Where’s your other arm?” Lutz Child #2 asks.

 

“Sophia!” Mrs. Lutz gasps in horror, then she grabs Bucky’s only hand. “I am so sorry, she just blurts things out sometimes –”

 

“It’s okay,” Bucky answers, shaking her hand before pushing it away. “I ain’t fussed.”

 

Then he leans over the counter to look at Sophia and gives her a smile. “I’m ‘fraid I forgot my left arm over in Afghanistan, kiddo,” he says. “I got all the way home ‘fore I realized, and by the time I went back to look for it, somebody had already gotten rid’a it.”

 

“That sucks,” Sophia replies frankly. “Sometimes I forget my shin guards at home and then I have to sit on the bench for the whole game ‘cause Coach won’t lemme play without ‘em.”

 

“You know how it feels,” Bucky answers her.

 

He reaches out his fist to her and she bumps it with her own, then she says “Bah-dah-la-dah!” instead of mimicking an explosion.

 

“Hey, that’s from Big Hero 6!” Bucky says, giving her a wider grin. “My nephews love that movie.”

 

Sophia grins, showing off her missing canine and lower incisor. Mrs. Lutz clucks her tongue and pats her daughter’s hair.

 

“You’d better learn to think before you speak,” Mrs. Lutz scolds lightly, “not everyone’s as calm about these things as Mr. Barnes is!”

 

Bucky shrugs his shoulders. “I ain’t fussed,” he says again. He slaps the counter, then backs off towards the door to the garage. “Have a nice night!”

 

Then he ducks out of the waiting room and rubs the stump poking out of his sleeveless top with a grimace. His steps slow as he heads towards the break room.

 

“Phantom pains again, Barnes?” the big boss calls.

 

Bucky falters in his step, caught massaging his stump with a deer-in-headlights look. Fury huffs from where he’s got his leg propped up on his desk then he waves Bucky in and swings his leg down with a grimace similar to the one Bucky had had two seconds ago.

 

“Here,” Fury says, opening a lower drawer of his desk and drawing out a bottle of whiskey. “I ain’t got glasses.”

 

“Thanks,” Bucky says, perching on the side of the desk.

 

He sticks the bottle between his knees to unscrew the cap, then lifts it to his lips and takes a long swig. It burns his mouth and throat going down, then leaves his belly unpleasantly warm like the rest of him. He takes a few more swigs anyway, then hands the bottle back and passes over the cap while Fury swigs from it, too.

 

Fury smacks his lips and picks up the cap, putting it back on. “How’s it been lately?”

 

Bucky shrugs. He reaches up and massages the skin, wincing as pain stabs at him from a limb that isn’t there anymore. It’s not as bad as it was when Sophia Lutz pointed out his lack of a left arm, the whiskey already doing him good.

 

“You get your letter from NYU yet?” Fury asks then.

 

Bucky shakes his head. “They don’t mail until July, boss.”

 

Fury huffs. “Send ‘em in April, get your answers back in July. Bureaucracy at its finest.”

 

Bucky laughs. Fury fixes his one eye on Bucky, appraising, and Bucky tries not to squirm under his gaze.

 

“You weren’t at group at the VA the past week,” Fury remarks.

 

Bucky shrugs again. He’s not sure how Fury knows he wasn’t there since Fury never goes to group in the first place, but Bucky wouldn’t put it past any of the other guys at the garage to rat him out. Shield Auto’s ranks are filled with vets, every last one of them. It’s probably the reason Bucky can keep his job when he works at half the pace as a man with two hands can; because Fury only hires vets and never fires them without damn good reasons.

 

“Was at my nephew’s recital,” Bucky says in answer. “Piano. He’s doin’ good.”

 

Fury nods slowly. “You gonna go tonight?”

 

Bucky hesitates, then nods quickly when Fury’s gaze sharpens. “Yeah, yeah,” he grumbles. “Everybody goin’ out for drinks after?”

 

“Far as I know,” Fury replies. “Say, Barnes, you gone into the Hug Room yet?”

 

Bucky colors. Fury squints at him. Bucky knows Fury’s referring to one of the therapy services at the VA. All the soldiers call it the Hug Room, but technically it’s the local branch of Cuddleable. Cuddleable is what it says on the tin; mostly, it’s volunteers, but there’s a couple of massage therapists or meditation experts Bucky knows get paid to cuddle the vets. Bucky also knows it’s mostly Omegas, and Bucky’s been squeamish around the fairer sex lately.

 

“No,” Bucky says eventually. It’s a lie.

 

Fury’s eye narrows at him. “You know there ain’t no shame in asking for a hug, Barnes?”

 

Bucky does squirm. “Yeah, I know, sir –”

 

“Those people are there for that exact reason,” Fury tacks on. “They know what they’re doing.”

 

“I know,” Bucky mutters.

 

Bucky feels a lot like a kid being passed some stern wisdom from his grandfather. Fury sure as hell acts like everybody’s military pappy, and Bucky’s no exception.

 

Fury reaches over and pats Bucky’s knee. “Get on with yourself,” he says, a gentle dismissal. “You’d better be at the meeting tonight.”

 

Bucky slips off the desk. He salutes and leaves the office, heading into the locker rooms. He strips and changes into clean clothes there, taking Wet Wipes to the sweat that’s started to dry to his skin in the AC. Jonesy walks in while he’s buttoning up his jeans but Jonesy’s seen his bare ass a thousand times before so it ain’t like Bucky gives two shits.

 

“Gonna see you at group tonight?” Jonesy asks as Bucky throws the last of his shit into a backpack.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky sighs, “boss gave me The Look until I promised to go.”

 

“You know it’s good for you,” Jonesy reminds him.

 

Bucky nods and claps Jonesy’s shoulder as he leaves. He heads for his truck, ignores the itch to check for IEDs, and just tosses his backpack into the passenger seat to crank the car. He secures the wheel by flicking the lock on it, changes gears with a button, unlocks the steering wheel and pulls out of his parking spot.

 

His apartment is cold when he gets back and Bucky’s suddenly shivering. Bucky walks out of his clothes to get in the shower, taking twice as long as he needs to under the steaming hot water. When he leaves, the apartment is still cold. Bucky’s only been living there a few weeks, he’s sure he’ll get used to it. His ma and older sister said it would be good for him to get his own space, but he knows it was because his nightmares haven’t gotten any better since he got home two years ago. Betty and her kids still live with his parents, ever since his sister and her husband had a nasty divorce that Bucky – surprise, surprise – wasn’t around for. She’s a lot older than him, but he’s always felt the responsibility of an Alpha brother for an Omega sibling. Bucky had agreed to move out on his own without much fight. For the good of his nephews.

 

After his shower, Bucky spends a lot of time staring into his fridge before he grabs his keys and wallet and leaves to go get supper from the diner down the street. So he can work up his courage and force himself to go to group and admit his quiet and freezing cold apartment gives him the spooks. It’s a lot easier to go out for food than it had been when he first got home, a helluva lot easier, but it’s still hard to open up at group.

 

When he gets to the VA, he pauses outside the Hug Room. He chews on his lip, wondering if he ought to go in. He could after group, instead of going out for drinks, just walk in and be given a kind touch with no strings or expectations. He’s been in exactly once before. He had been all skittish and awkward, but the lady working the front desk was nice enough to him. He’d gotten as far as making eye contact with the Omega that would be his cuddling partner and had made his excuses to leave.

 

Once upon a time, Bucky had been the suavest charmer to ever charm. He could’ve charmed the panties off a debutant heiress and rolled out of her bed into her sister’s when he was done. Then there was the whole blown-up-in-Afghanistan thing and all his charm seemed to have been in his left arm, ‘cause Bucky ain’t so hot no more. Rationally, he knows that it’s the job of all the people over at Cuddleable to snuggle up to rattled vets like him, but Bucky got one look at the looker that would’ve been spooning him and he had to flee.

 

For one thing, it was a male Omega who would be cuddling him, and Bucky had been fucking his fist to the thought of a male Omega bouncing on his dick since he even knew male Omegas existed. For another, the Omega had been the ultimate twink, slim features, sharp collarbones, light wrists and long fingers; blonde and blue-eyed and he smelled like cookies. Bucky had a type and that fella ticked every box on his list plus some Bucky hadn’t even been aware of until he laid eyes on the guy.

 

So there Bucky was, standing outside the doors to the unobtrusive Hug Room, worrying his lip between his teeth and thinking about an Omega he had barely spoken four words to. He didn’t even know the guy’s name; Bucky had been thinking of him as The Blonde for the past three months. He’d seen him a few times in his lingering outside Hug Room. Bucky’s sure he’d look like a creep and a half if The Blonde had ever noticed him, but he really doubts that he sticks out. Bucky’s not the only one-armed guy hesitating outside the Hug Room.

 

Eventually, Bucky moves on. He hasn’t seen The Blonde for a few weeks now. He hopes he’s okay.

Chapter Text

[act one, scene one] garçon rencontre garçon


Steve’s cycle resets by August, just in time for him to start his first year at NYU. This means that when he moves into the dorms, he still smells faintly of heat. The looks he gets from Alphas who catch his scent remind him of why he went on suppressants in the first place.

 

Unfortunately, he can’t go back on them. He can’t even have an IUD implanted, Doc says it would be inadvisable because even that could trip up the early menopause he nearly went into thanks to his suppressants. Which sucks because Steve’s favorite pastime is a good fucking and his favorite thing to do is barebacking. Sure, he’s only done it a handful of times, but holy hell, had it been hot.

 

But with no birth control, Steve’s gonna be stuck with condoms the rest of his life. He’s pissed about it. The dizzy spells he gets from his iron deficiency, he can put up with those. The random fits of rapid heartbeat – also his iron deficiency – he can deal with. He can put up with his lungs failing on him when he tries to take the stairs, even. Having to prick his fingers endlessly because of type 1 diabetes and having to give himself shots after every fucking meal, whatever, he’ll live. But his shitty health has now taken away his favorite kink and nobody’s ever gonna eat cum out of his ass every again.

 

Steve would make a depression joke about this but Doc keeps reminding him that the key to a positive mentality is positive speaking and he’s not genuinely depressed by the fact that he’s never going to be felched again without risk of pregnancy, he’s just pouty. After all, who wouldn’t be?

 

Anywayyyyyyyyy, Steve moves into the dorms at NYU at the end of August. He’s cranky and disheartened by the situation with his birth control and there are so many Alphas looking at him. Steve is not in the mood to be eye-fucked by half the campus, so he wants to get into his dorm as fast as he can and promptly locks himself in. He had to pick the older all-Omega dorm on campus because he’s not on suppressants, Finchbury Hall, which means there are stricter rules about curfew but even stricter rules about Alpha guests. This means that there’s relative safety for him because the only Alphas allowed in during the rush and chaos of move-in are family members of residents. This also means that he has to argue with the campus security officer overseeing the move-ins about Doc walking him up to his dorm.

 

“Fathers and brothers only,” Rent-A-Cop insists.

 

“He’s my guardian!” Steve counters exasperatedly. “What about female Alphas, anyway?”

 

“Are you under eighteen?” the Rent-A-Cop asks, ignoring his question.

 

Steve glares.

 

“Sir, may I ask an allowance?” Doc speaks up at last. “Steven has been my charge since his mother’s death two years ago; he is a son to me. As you can clearly see, I am a harmless old man –” Doc waves his cane for emphasis “– couldn’t you make a consideration?”

 

“Fathers and brothers only,” Rent-A-Cop echoes.

 

Steve lets out a hiss of frustration. “Useless!” he groans, stomping back to their car.

 

Doc sighs and hastens to follow him, leaning heavily on his cane as Steve walks only a little bit faster.

 

“I can wait down here,” Doc says, touching Steve’s shoulder gently.

 

“It’s not fair!” Steve snaps.

 

Doc squeezes his shoulder. Steve doesn’t mean the dorm hall’s strict rules and he knows it.

 

“I’m sorry,” Doc tells him.

 

Steve takes a deep breath and steadies himself. He can’t carry all of his stuff up to his dorm himself; another thing he can thank his shitastic health for – A combination of his asthma and iron deficiency means lifting heavy things makes him short of breath and lightheaded. It’s not only upsetting that Doc can’t see him into his dorm, it’s damn inconvenient.

 

“We’ll ask someone for help,” Doc says to Steve.

 

Steve sighs but nods. He pulls out his phone, checking his messages on Facebook for his roommate. She’s got her parents and siblings to help her move in, he knows. He sends her a quick message, explaining that security wouldn’t let Doc in because he wasn’t a blood relation to Steve, and asking if there was some way she could help him get all his shit moved in.

 

Steve starts to put away his phone, but then he hears someone shouting his name. He turns, lifting a hand to shield his face from the sun, and sees his roommate running up to meet him. Steve coughs and splutters when she collides with him in a hug, staggering a little while Becca rocks him back and forth enthusiastically.

 

“It’s so good to see you!” Becca squeals, pulling back.

 

“Hi,” Steve says without much ceremony. “You’re choking me,” he adds, only half meaning it. “Red light, you’re choking me.”

 

Becca snorts and pulls back. “I’m so sorry they won’t let you in,” she says. “I always said they’re too strict.”

 

“They’re strict ‘cause they gotta be,” a man just behind Becca drawls.

 

Steve flicks his gaze to look at Becca’s brother and a smile lifts on his face. His breath catches, too, but Steve can blame his asthma for that. Becca’s brother is cute, tall and buff with tousled dark hair and pale eyes, but it’s his lack of a left arm that leaves Steve feeling like the guy’s familiar.

 

“Oh, this is my brother, Bucky,” Becca says, grabbing her brother’s remaining arm and pulling him forward. “Bucky, this is my roommate, Steve.”

 

Steve sticks out his hand. “Nice to meet you,” he says.

 

Bucky’s ears are red, but he takes Steve’s hand. “You, too,” he says, in a voice with somewhat less confidence than a second earlier. He’s probably noticed that Steve smells fresh out of heat, Steve guesses.

 

“You look familiar,” Steve adds anyway, because Bucky’s got the decency not to eye him like a steak and he appreciates that. “Forgive me for asking, but are you a vet?”

 

Bucky’s ears go darker and he lets go of Steve’s hand to rub the back of his neck. Becca beams, looking like a proud younger sister should.

 

“He’s got a Purple Heart,” she says boldly.

 

“Rebecca!” Bucky hisses.

 

“What?” Becca says, looking at her brother with strong shoulders despite the fact that she is easily a foot shorter than him. “You earned it!”

 

Bucky drops his gaze, looking embarrassed, but Steve jumps in quickly.

 

“I only ask ‘cause I actually work at the VA,” he says. “Uh, at Hug Room.”

 

“I know,” Bucky says.

 

Steve’s eyebrows shoot up. So do Becca’s. Doc looks mildly perplexed or a little amused, Steve can’t tell. Bucky’s face goes blank and his blush spreads down his neck.

 

“I mean –” Bucky starts, “I’ve just seen you around –”

 

“It’s fine,” Steve says, cutting Bucky off. He reaches out and briefly touches Bucky’s shoulder but pulls back quickly when Bucky stiffens. “Don’t worry, I’m pretty noticeable.”

 

“Yeah, kinda,” Bucky mutters.

 

“Kinda,” Becca agrees. She elbows her brother. “So, we gonna take all his shit up or what?”

 

Bucky looks around and nods, then steps around Steve to pull a box out of the back of Doc’s crossover. Steve immediately feels guilty that a one-armed vet is going to be carrying all his heavy boxes inside, until Becca pushes over a cart that Steve hadn’t noticed.

 

Bucky starts loading boxes onto the flat cart with ease. Becca stands back and leans on the handles so Steve does, too, possibly eyeing the way Bucky’s bicep bulges as he lifts Steve’s boxes. He makes a note to ask Becca if her brother’s single later, before reminding himself that he vowed not to date anyone during his first year of college.

 

“I thank you for your help,” Doc speaks up then, joining Bucky in unloading the back of the car. “I wasn’t sure what we would do; Steven has asthma and he’s anemic –”

 

“Gee, give ‘em my whole medical history, why don’t you?” Steve interrupts in a dry tone.

 

Doc shoots him a smile. “You know I only care for your utmost wellness, Steven.”

 

“Don’t you worry about it,” Becca breaks in, slugging Steve lightly in the shoulder. “Bucky here’s got a provider complex a mile wide.”

 

“Rebecca!” Bucky gasps in horror while Steve bursts out laughing.

 

“Swear on my gram’s grave,” Becca adds.

 

“You realize that I know how to make improvised explosives,” Bucky tells her. “And you realize that I can still operate a sniper rifle better than half the Army Rangers even with one hand.”

 

“Bugsy, you kill me and Ma will skin your hide,” Becca answers him easily. “And ain’t no sniper rifle gonna stop her from beatin’ a strip off your ass.”

 

Bucky opens his mouth as though to argue.

 

“Don’t,” Becca adds.

 

Steve tries to contain his giggling. Bucky scowls. “I’mma get you for this,” he says, dropping one of Steve’s boxes onto the stacks with a heavy thump.

 

“Good luck,” Becca snorts.

 

“In my time, it was a good sign to find an Alpha with such complexes,” Doc remarks. He turns and raises his eyebrows at Steve. “A good forecast for playing house?”

 

Steve flushes bright red and for a moment is gripped by the horror that he’s being hit with another hot flash. But the heat remains localized to his face while Bucky turns white and Becca claps a hand over her mouth to muffle her giggles.

 

“Doc!” Steve hisses.

 

Doc chuckles. Steve hits his shoulder, wishing his blush would go away, while Bucky busies himself unloading the car. Steve covers his face with both hands, wondering how this day could get worse.

 

A water droplet strikes the top of his head. Steve looks up, only for his glasses to get splattered by water.

 

“Shit!” Becca gasps as it rapidly starts pouring. “Bucky, quick!”

 

Doc and Bucky both grab the last of Steve’s boxes and lift it onto the car together. Steve grabs the handles with Becca and they start pushing it towards the ramp leading up to the doors.

 

“What about your stuff?” Steve asks Becca as the rain starts pounding.

 

“Already upstairs!” Becca answers.

 

Doc stays with the car but Bucky hastens to follow Becca and Steve to the building. The Rent-A-Cop goes to stop them, but Becca yells: “Brother!” about Bucky and the campus cop backs off. Bucky holds the doors open while Becca lifts the front end of the cart so Steve can shove it over the threshold, and they’re inside.

 

“I’ll help you unload,” Bucky says.

 

“Thanks,” Steve sighs.

 

“Bucky, you gonna head home later or you wanna get dinner?” Becca asks as they approach the elevators.

 

“Uh –” Bucky starts.

 

“Let’s get dinner!” Steve says quickly; Becca and Bucky both look at him. “My treat?” he adds. “For helping me with my stuff.”

 

“Sure,” Becca agrees with a shrug. “Bucky, you’re required to come, too.”

 

“Uh –” Bucky says.

 

“Nope, no arguments,” Steve decides. He lifts a hand to touch Bucky’s arm, then thinks better of it. Still, he gives Bucky a warm smile.

 

Bucky’s gaze slips from his, then he glances back and smiles, too. Steve is encouraged and he beams wider at Bucky.

 

The elevator dings. Becca clears her throat. Steve shakes himself and faces front and center. Becca helps him steer the cart into the elevator, then the back wheels get stuck going in and Steve has to plant his feet and push hard. It unsticks suddenly and Steve stumbles, just to be caught by a firm hand under his arm.

 

Steve looks up and meets Bucky’s eyes. He smiles and says, “Thanks,” a little breathlessly because his asthma has chosen right fucking now to kick in.

 

Bucky says, “No problem,” as Steve goes fumbling in his sweater for his inhaler. He coughs, wheezes as he struggles to inhale, his fingers shake as he tries to get his inhaler out. Bucky adds an “Are you okay?” and Steve shakes his head, he stumbles into the elevator to grab the bars lining it as he shoves the mouthpiece of the inhaler between his lips and depresses the release. He sucks down the medicine, holds his breath, then presses it again. His lungs lighten up and he takes a deep, measured breath.

 

“Yikes?” Becca says. “Does that happen a lot?”

 

Steve shrugs. He’s now dizzy from the few seconds’ lack of oxygen followed by a rush of it and has to hold onto the bars of the elevator walls. Then it jolts and starts rising and Steve winces as his inner ears get pissed by the rising motion of the elevator.

 

“Steve, are you okay?” Bucky asks yet again, getting nearer.

 

Steve gets a faceful of Alpha scent and his barely regulated hormones decide to throw in with his spinning inner ears, oxygen-sick brain, and shallowly inhaling and exhaling lungs. Bucky stands just inches from him and Steve’s dizziness doubles by how intense his scent seems to be so suddenly; he smells like the smoke off applewood chips and Steve starts craving barbecue.

 

“I’m good,” Steve says, finding the corner and dropping his back against it. “Just – Need a second.”

 

“Your old man mentioned asthma?” Bucky questions. “You need anything?”

 

Steve shakes his inhaler, then slips it back into his pocket. He takes another careful breath, then tips his head against the wall. He knows that technically that means he’s baring his throat with an Alpha in cramped quarters and as he’s fresh out of heat, it’s probably a terrible idea, but he needs to get his head back on straight and keeping his throat covered is too much effort.

 

Bucky looks away politely. Steve mentally makes the note that his roommate’s brother is a good dude.

 

“Don’t recommend it,” Steve says eventually. “Asthma. Sucks.”

 

“We can tell,” Becca answers. “Hey, if you collapse or something, do I just shove that thing in your mouth and press the big red button?”

 

“Uh,” Steve starts, “if I collapse, it’ll more likely be my blood sugar than anything else.”

 

“Oh, yeah, you’re diabetic, too” Becca says. She grimaces sympathetically. “Yikes.”

“Yikes,” Steve agrees.

 

Becca kicks her foot out in the direction of her brother. “Look, here’s somebody you can point your provider complex at.”

 

Steve coughs, dropping his chin to cover his throat and Bucky spits out a sharp: “Becca!” but Becca just shrugs.

 

“Just sayin’,” she says.

 

Bucky turns to look at Steve. “She got dropped on her head as a baby,” he explains.

 

“Yeah, and you got blown up in Afghanistan,” Becca counters. “On top of also being dropped on your head as a baby.”

 

“Rude!” Bucky says while Steve blinks at Becca’s blasé attitude concerning Bucky’s time overseas. “I was dropped on my ass!”

 

Steve blinks again. Becca flat out cackles.

 

“I’m suddenly glad I’m an only child,” Steve says.

 

“You should be,” Becca and Bucky say simultaneously.

 

Steve laughs, too. Then the elevator dings and the doors part and he pushes off the wall to take the handles of the cart again. Bucky jumps to beat him to it.

 

“We got it,” Bucky tells him.

 

“Yeah, no worries,” Becca adds, grabbing the other end to push. “Don’t strain your pretty self.”

 

Steve colors and blinks, startled.

 

“That’s my move!” Bucky complains.

 

“You should’a used it first!” Becca answers smugly.

 

“Nobody flirt with me,” Steve says while Bucky opens his mouth. “My heart might give out.”

 

“Geez, kid, you made outta straw or somethin’?” Bucky asks, yanking the cart out of the elevator one-handed.

 

“Somethin’,” Steve agrees, following Becca and Bucky out of the elevator. “I wasn’t dropped on my head as a baby but I was born two months early.”

 

“Yikes,” Becca says yet again. “Bucky, left –”

 

Bucky changes his grip on the handle of the cart to pull left while Becca pushes the opposite corner to the right. They manage to turn the cart and start down the long hallway; it’s crowded, but most people step out of the way for them and their cart.

 

“That’s our room,” Becca says over her shoulder to Steve. “I got my stuff in there already, but I haven’t unpacked. I was gonna bribe Bugsy here with dinner to do it for me but since you’re buying –”

 

“I’ll still help you unpack,” Bucky cuts in.

 

“Aw, you’re a doll,” Becca tells him.

 

“You wanna help me unpack, doll?” Steve calls, grinning.

 

“Hey, you said we couldn’t flirt with you!” Becca complains.

 

“We need to turn,” Bucky says.

 

Steve feels his phone vibrate as they start manoeuvring the cart through the doorway. They’ve clearly done it once already and Steve guesses that they had brought up Becca’s things with the cart. He tugs out his phone and unlocks it, finding a text from Doc asking how they are.

 

He replies, letting him know they’ve just got to the room and they’re going to unload the cart before they head back down. Then he adds that he’s invited Becca and her brother to dinner to thank them for helping with his stuff.

 

“Steve, you too frail to unload your boxes or you gonna help?” Bucky yells.

 

“Frail –!” Steve splutters. He shoves his phone into his pocket and stalks into the room, leveling his middle finger on Bucky. “I’ll show you frail, motherfucker, you wanna take this outside?”

 

“Ooh!” Becca says. “Where’s my popcorn?”

 

“I’m afraid my moral code prevents me from fighting guys half my size,” Bucky answers Steve, standing up and setting his hand on a hip.

 

“Ooh!” Becca gasps.

 

“Fuck your moral code,” Steve answers, raising his fists. “Square up, scrub.”

 

“Ooh!” Becca whispers.

 

“I’ll tell you I served three years overseas,” Bucky tells Steve coolly. “So, if anyone’s a scrub, it’d be you, punk.”

 

“Fight me, ya jerk,” Steve demands, miming punches.

 

“I don’t want your death on my conscience,” Bucky says smoothly.

 

“Ooh!” Becca laughs. “Okay, stop trying to fight each other and get this cart unloaded, I’m hungry.”

 

“Rain check?” Steve asks Bucky, dropping his fists to hold out his hand.

 

Bucky hesitates a second. Steve gives him a little grin and pushes his hand out further. Bucky sighs and takes Steve’s hand, pumping it once. Steve counts it as a win that he got the Alpha to accept unnecessary touch and pulls back with a true grin. He’s worked at Hug Room over at the VA for almost two years now, it’s clear that Bucky’s still touch-shy, and it’s clearer that Steve has a bleeding heart and just wants to help him out. If he can work up to it, maybe he can convince Bucky to actually come into the Hug Room for once.

 

“I still ain’t beating you to a pulp just so you can prove a point,” Bucky says.

 

“I’m scrappy,” Steve replies, cracking his knuckles out. “You might be surprised.”

 

Bucky rolls his eyes. He tugs a box off of the cart and drops it onto the only bed not made already. Steve and Becca join him, and between the three of them, they get the cart emptied in just a few minutes.

 

“I call joyride!” Becca says the second it’s empty and she jumps onto the bed of the cart.

 

“Rebecca, I can’t push you on that thing with one hand,” Bucky replies, “and Stevie here will have a heart attack if he tries.”

 

Steve gawks, not sure if he should be offended by the nickname or the heart attack joke. Becca pouts and gets off.

 

“Fine,” she grumbles, then lights up in a grin and grabs Steve’s arm. “You ride!”

 

“No!” Steve splutters.

 

“C’mon, it’s fun,” Becca insists. “Bucky and I’ll push you.”

 

Bucky shakes his head, but takes the handle of the cart. Becca steers Steve onto the bed of the cart and walks around to join Bucky at the handle. Steve finds himself sitting down, kind of stunned, and Becca and Bucky push the cart out into the hall.

 

“Lock up!” Becca calls behind her.

 

Steve twists back around to see her toss her keys at Bucky, then she grasps the handles of the cart and starts pushing. Steve yelps and grabs the sides of the cart, feeling incredibly unstable as Becca starts jogging through the emptying hallway back towards the elevator.

 

“Hey, wait up!” Steve hears Bucky yelling.

 

“Catch up!” Becca yells back.

 

“Slow down!” Steve hisses.

 

“Nope!” Becca answers, but she does slow for a larger group crossing the hallway.

 

Bucky jogs up to them at the elevator. “Rude,” he pants.

 

Becca shoulder checks him. “You’re fine,” she answers.

 

“I’m getting off,” Steve says, sliding off the cart with shaking ankles.

 

He must sway where he’s standing, because Bucky grasps his shoulder to steady him. Steve flashes him a smile and Bucky copies it, though it’s smaller.

 

Steve gets the urge to lean into him; instead, he stands up straight with his weight canted in the other direction, and bemoans the fact that he had to go off suppressants again.

 

But, maybe if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have been made roommates with Becca Barnes and then he wouldn’t have met her brother. His ma used to say everything happened for a reason, and maybe the reason he nearly got sucked into early menopause was so he could sweet-talk another touch-shy vet into a hug or two.

 

Downstairs, Doc’s waiting outside the car and the rain had stopped. Becca and Bucky break off to get rid of the cart and Steve walks up to his guardian.

 

“All went well?” Doc asks.

 

“Sure,” Steve answers. He shrugs. “Would’a been nice if you could come up.”

 

Doc reaches out and squeezes Steve’s shoulder. “It’ll be alright,” he says. “You’re going to love it here, I promise.”

 

Steve nods. Doc squeezes his shoulder again. Steve looks down, then away towards where Becca and Bucky had left for their car. Honestly, he wishes his mother could have brought him. It’s been two years since the cancer won, but he still misses her like it had been yesterday. It hurts like shit.

 

“It will be splendid,” Doc insists gently.

 

“Yeah,” Steve agrees softly.

 

He sees Becca waving and nudges Doc. Doc lifts off the car and gets his cane under him, then starts following Steve into the parking lot where Becca and Bucky are approaching.

 

“We were promised food,” Becca says, rubbing her hands together.

 

“Yes, I was told,” Doc agrees. “Burgers sound fine?”

Becca turns to Bucky, her eyebrows raised in a silent question. Steve can guess what it is.

 

“Yeah, it’s cool,” Bucky agrees. “There’s a ma and pop diner around the corner from here, Adrianna’s. Ain’t far from my apartment, neither.”

 

“Sounds good,” Steve says.

 

“You can follow me there,” Bucky adds.

 

“Very well,” Doc says.

 

“You wanna ride with us, Steve?” Becca asks.

 

“Nah,” Steve starts to say, but Doc nudges his shoulder.

 

“No, go with them,” Doc insists. “Get to know your roommate. Actually, I think I ought to leave you to bond in peace. I will see you on Saturday, Steve.”

 

“Oh,” Steve says, blinking. “Alright,” he finishes. “Sure.”

 

Doc touches his shoulder and Steve goes in for a hug. Doc pats him on the arm as he pulls back, then turns and heads for his car. Steve holds up a finger to Becca and Bucky, then follows Doc to grab his insulin bag out of the car. Doc wishes him a goodnight and Steve watches him drive away before walking back.

 

Becca sticks out her elbow when he returns. “My lord,” she says in an exaggerated accent, bowing at the waist.

 

“That’s my move, too!” Bucky blurts frustratedly.

 

“You know I learned all my moves from you, fool,” Becca tells him even as Steve laughs and laces his arm through hers. “You ought’a use ‘em before me or I’m gonna get the guy!”

“Nobody’s getting me,” Steve laughs. “No offense, Becca, but I’m not into Omegas.”

 

“Fair enough,” Becca says, then bumps him with her elbow. “But knothead Alphas?”

“Can’t get enough of ‘em,” Steve admits.

 

“He’s a real knothead!” Becca adds, throwing out an accusatory finger to her brother.

 

“Stop trying to set me up with every single Omega you meet!” Bucky groans. “You don’t even know if he’s single!”

 

“Yes, I do,” Becca says, puffing up her chest. “I asked when we met online.”

 

“I’m also not dating at the moment,” Steve adds, then glances at Bucky. “No offense, honey.”

 

Bucky shrugs. “None taken,” he says.

 

“Why not?” Becca whines.

 

“You really want me to date your brother,” Steve says, laughing again.

 

“She just wants me to date, like, in general,” Bucky informs him soberly. “Which, honestly, I don’t do either.”

 

Becca gives Bucky a look from across Steve. Bucky does not look at her. Steve glances between them, feeling kind of like they’re playing Monkey in the Middle and he does not like it.

 

“You should,” Becca says.

 

“Well, I don’t want to,” Bucky answers with a frank shrug. “Ya considered that?”

 

“Maybe you don’t want to ‘cause you’re –” Becca breaks off, then gives Bucky a slightly more empathetic look. “You know.”

 

“Can we not talk about this?” Bucky asks, glancing briefly at her.

 

Becca thins out her lips. Steve looks at her and raises his eyebrows. He’s on Bucky’s side. If Bucky’s not ready to date yet, it’s his choice. It’s good enough that he’s out in public and joking around with an almost total stranger. Becca doesn’t seem to be able to read his mind, but she does drop the subject.

 

“So,” Steve says, changing the subject. “I think I’ve seen you around the VA, Buck. You with the mechanics?”

 

Bucky nods, taking out his keys as he does. “Shield Auto, yeah.”

 

“Fury’s a great guy to work for, I heard,” Steve continues.

 

“Oh, yeah,” Bucky says, suddenly brightening and he shoots Steve a smile. “Fury’s the best. Honestly, there wouldn’t be a garage in the world that would take me on like this –” he waves the remnant of his left arm, cut off just below the shoulder. “But Fury hired me right off the bat, never let anybody complainin’ about how slow I was put a bad mark on my record.”

 

“I know we tell anybody who got the mind for mechanics to check Fury out,” Steve adds. “My boss, Miss Peters, she does lots of career counselling and Fury’s the first place she tells people to go.”

 

“I think Fury’s opening a second location,” Bucky adds, “out in Brooklyn.”

 

“Yeah, I heard the rumor,” Steve says. “You from Brooklyn? You sound like Brooklyn.”

 

Bucky lays his hand over his heart. “Born and raised,” he admits. “You sound like Brooklyn, too.”

 

“Hell yeah,” Steve answers proudly. “Me and my ma lived out near the Navy Yards, she was an ER nurse.”

 

“Becca’s been to Brooklyn ER a few times,” Bucky says, leaning over Steve to snicker towards his sister. “Maybe she knew your ma?”

 

“I haven’t been to the ER in a whole six months!” Becca insists.

 

“Wow, what a record,” Steve quips.

 

“She’s accident-prone,” Bucky laughs. “That and lacrosse.”

 

“What was your ma’s name?” Becca asks Steve.

 

“Sarah,” Steve answers, “Sarah Rogers.”

 

“Blonde like you?” Becca asks, squinting. “Blue eyes, pretty smile, always had Winnie the Pooh scrubs?”

 

“That was her!” Steve says proudly.

 

“Yeah, I met her!” Becca says with a grin. “Okay, don’t think this is weird, but she’s actually the person who made me realize how gay I was.”

 

Steve laughs. “Really?” he says. “My ma would’ve loved that.”

 

“What happened to her?” Becca asks, even as they stop by an old Ford truck. “I hadn’t seen her since I was fifteen, maybe.”

 

“Ovarian cancer,” Steve admits. “She passed away about two and a half years ago.”

 

“Oh, that sucks,” Becca sighs. “Hey, you better keep a close eye on yourself, family history makes you more likely to get it!”

 

“Screenings every year,” Steve sighs. “But I’m at a lower risk since I stopped suppressants.”

 

“I never took ‘em,” Becca admits.

 

“Youse gonna get in the truck or stand there yakkin’?” Bucky calls, already in the driver’s seat.

 

“Whoops,” Becca whispers, pushing Steve towards the passenger door. “Don’t make the Alpha angry, Steve.”

 

Steve rolls his eyes, but opens the passenger door and lifts himself into the cab of the truck. There’s one bench, and no backseat.

 

“Get in!” Becca insists, pushing on Steve’s back as she follows him in. “C’mon, I’m hungry.”

 

Steve slides into the middle of the bench, very close to Bucky, and Becca settles onto the bench next to him, shutting her door sharply.

 

“Hey, hey, watch it!” Bucky calls. “Be gentle with my baby!”

 

“Your baby could use a good oiling,” Becca tells him, “she don’t get wet like she used to.”

 

Bucky’s face flames and Steve sniggers.

 

“Anyway,” Becca says, “I never took suppressants. My family’s Catholic.”

 

“My ma was, too, but she didn’t fuss about that,” Steve admits. “I only went off ‘em a few months ago.”

 

“You mind me asking why?” Becca asks as the engine cranks.

 

“Duck,” Bucky cuts in calmly, twisting in his seat next to Steve.

 

Steve realizes he’s backing out and bends over in his seat. He leans his face on a knee, turned towards Becca. Becca’s quiet as Bucky’s backing up and Steve guesses that it takes Bucky a bit more concentration to reverse the truck out of the parking spot with only one hand. When Bucky stops and the truck shifts gears, Steve sits back up and looks curiously at the steering wheel.

 

He hadn’t even questioned it when Bucky got into the driver’s seat, but it had to be difficult for an amputee. Only, the car’s been modified. The steering wheel has a knob clipped to it that gives Bucky an easier job of turning it. There are a hell of a lot of buttons lining the right half of the steering wheel, all within reach of Bucky’s fingers from the knob. Steve sees turn signals, hazard lights, headlight controls, wipers, and even the gears on the steering wheel. Bucky presses a button and the gearshift moves on its own, putting the car in drive.

 

“That’s amazing,” Steve remarks, distracted from his earlier conversation by the customizations to Bucky’s truck. “Did you put all that in yourself?”

 

“I had help,” Bucky admits.

 

“You should be proud of yourself,” Steve says, looking Bucky in the face. “It’s really impressive.”

 

Bucky shrugs. Steve gently bumps their shoulders together.

 

“Don’t argue with me,” Steve tells him in a light tone. “I always win arguments.”

 

Bucky cracks a smile. “If you say so, punk,” he says.

 

Steve gently bumps their shoulders again. “Jerk,” he answers, sensing a schtick coming on. Maybe Bucky will keep on calling him punk and Steve will be able to reply with jerk every time like people do in the movies. Steve’s always wanted a schtick like that.

 

“Anyway,” Steve says, turning back to Becca. “I went off suppressants ‘cause I was starting menopause.”

 

“What!” Becca laughs. “You’re kidding?”

 

“Nope,” Steve says. “It sucks, by the way. Turns out my system can’t handle anything messing with my hormone levels; I can’t even get an IUD.”

 

“Yikes,” Becca mutters.

 

“So I’m stuck with just condoms in the future,” Steve admits.

 

Becca blinks but otherwise doesn't react. Steve’s glad; he’s very open about sex, and he wouldn’t want to have to learn to tiptoe around her.

 

“I thought you didn’t date?” Becca asks then.

 

“Doesn’t mean I don’t have sex,” Steve says, then hits her in the arm with the back of his hand. “C’mon, the two things ain’t mutually exclusive.”

 

“Fair enough,” Becca agrees. She leans over Steve. “Do you agree, Bugsy?”

“I’m not having this conversation with my sister,” Bucky declares.

 

Becca elbows Steve. “Ask him for me.”

 

Steve gives her a look. She nods encouragingly.

 

“No,” Steve says gently.

 

“Come on!” Becca groans.

 

“I ain’t asking him that!” Steve insists. “He doesn’t wanna talk about it, he doesn’t wanna talk about it! I ain’t prying.”

 

Becca sobers a little. “Alright,” she mutters. “But I’m setting you up with a date one of these days, Bucky Barnes.”

 

“You can try,” Bucky tells her, but he’s smiling.

 

Steve decides not to mess anymore with this family.

 

The diner that Bucky parks his truck in front of is a small, quaint establishment, with a sign advertising hours open 24/7 in the window. Becca and Bucky walk in like they’re there a lot, wave to a waitress wiping down a table, and head straight for a booth in the back. Steve follows behind them, sliding in next to Becca. Bucky takes the bench that puts his front to the room, puts his back in the corner, and swings his legs up onto the bench. Steve pretends that he doesn’t notice by pulling off his glasses to clean them, but Bucky’s boots are tapping to a fast rhythm and Bucky sinks low on the bench to look over the diner at large. Becca also pretends she doesn’t notice, instead taking out her phone.

 

A waitress walks over and Steve hastily shoves his glasses back onto his face.

 

“Hey, kids,” the waitress greets, “and plus one.” She turns to Steve and raises her penciled eyebrows. “Whose date are you, honey?”

 

“I’m nobody’s date,” Steve says, laughing a little; what is it about him that people want him to date one of the Barneses? “I’m Becca’s roommate.”

 

“Oh, y’all got int’a NYU!” the waitress gasps. She turns and grins at Bucky. “You, too?”

 

Bucky gives a short nod. The waitress squeals and claps her hands.

 

“I told ya you’d get it!” she says. “The usual, sugar?”

 

“Yeah, thanks, doll,” Bucky answers her.

 

“Me, too,” Becca adds.

 

“I’ll get you a menu, cutie,” the waitress says to Steve. “You want coffee?”

 

“Decaf?” Steve asks. “I can’t have caffeine, I’ve got AFib.”

 

“I’ll brew some,” the waitress promises. She bends her knees a little and plucks out her name tag to show it to him. “In case these two jokers only call me cute names the rest of the night, I been Glenda the Good-ish Witch.”

 

With that, she walks away. Steve raises his eyebrows.

 

“I like her,” Bucky says with a grin.

 

“He’s gonna marry her one day,” Becca adds to Steve in a sarcastic tone.

 

“Hell, yeah,” Bucky says, laughing. “She’s gonna leave her husband for a guy with one arm.”

 

“I’d leave my husband for you,” Steve tells Bucky.

 

Bucky colors and slouches a little more. “Don’t kid,” he says, but he’s still smiling.

 

“I ain’t!” Steve promises. “I mean, I don’t have a husband, but if I had one, I’d leave ‘im for you.”

 

“Thanks,” Bucky says, but he doesn’t sound convinced. Steve doesn’t push it and Bucky sits up some. “The cobbler’s good here, so’s the Sunnyside Up burger.”

 

“The coffee’s actually good,” Becca adds. “But I’ve never had the decaf.”

 

Steve shrugs. “I’d drink dirt water, I ain’t fussy.”

 

“I’m more inclined to believe you’d leave your metaphorical husband for me if you’d drink dirt water,” Bucky tells Steve. “Your standards ought’a be lower than sea level.”

 

“I got two standards,” Steve answers Bucky, lifting a hand to count them out and everything. “One, my datemate’s gotta accept that I talk to myself and never mock me for it. Two, Doc’s gotta like them.”

 

“Those are some seriously low standards,” Becca says, then frowns. “But somehow, they sound very difficult to attain.”

 

“Oh, they are,” Steve answers, leaning back in his seat. “I talk to myself 24/7.”

 

Becca looks horrified. “I’m buying ear plugs,” she says.

 

Steve laughs.

 

Glenda the Good-ish Witch returns with a tray laden with two pots of coffee, three mugs, and a menu tucked under her arm. She hands the menu to Steve, then passes out the mugs and fills two with coffee from the orange pot, then Steve’s, she fills with the green pot.

 

“I’ll give ya a minute t’a look over that,” Glenda tells Steve before she leaves.

 

Steve picks up his menu and pushes his glasses up his face to look over both sides of the laminated page. He hears a thump and looks up; Bucky’s swung his legs off the bench and has his tongue stuck between his teeth, and a second later, there’s a kick to Steve’s bench and Becca yelps.

 

“Not fair, you know I broke that ankle last year!” Becca snaps.

 

“All’s fair when you’s a lil’ shit,” Bucky tells her.

 

Becca evidently kicks him back because Bucky yelps and yanks his legs onto the bench to glare at her.

 

“That was a low blow,” he says weakly.

 

“Did you kick him in the balls?” Steve asks Becca.

 

Becca starts sniggering. Steve rolls his eyes and fixes his attention on his menu.

 

The burgers do look good, but Steve decides to get the Rueben because it’s what he knows and he’s not looking to be adventurous tonight. He puts down his menu and pulls his bag to the side, unzipping it and pulling out his blood sugar kit.

 

“What’s that?” Becca asks.

 

“I get to stab my finger,” Steve answers her, pulling out his meter and pen. “I gotta check my sugar.”

 

“Bet’cha you’re real sweet,” Becca says.

 

Steve rolls his eyes. “Are you just gonna keep flirting with me?”

 

“Yep,” Becca says. “Unless it bugs you.”

 

Steve shrugs. “Nah, it’s cool. Inflates my ego.”

 

“Maybe I won’t do it, then,” Becca laughs.

 

Steve shrugs as he swabs his finger with an alcohol wipe, then loads his pen with a new needle and sticks a lancet in the meter. He stabs his finger, squeezes it, then turns on the meter and touches the fat bead of blood on his finger to the end of the lancet. While the meter loads, Steve presses his finger to the alcohol swab again and wipes it clean until it stops bleeding.

 

It’s kind of low, a lot closer to ninety than Steve would like, but he is about to eat. He takes out his phone and enters the test into his diabetes app, then puts away all his stuff.

 

“How long have you been like this?” Bucky asks.

 

Steve looks up, then shrugs. “I was diagnosed when I was nine. I actually got tested for designation early because of it, too.”

 

“At least you weren’t surprised,” Becca says.

 

Steve nods. “Yeah, made it easier when I did present, ‘cause I was only fifteen.”

 

Becca’s eyes bug out. “ Fifteen? ” she hisses. “I only presented last year!”

 

“I saw girls overseas who presented at thirteen,” Bucky says abruptly. Steve turns to look at him and he looks sorry. “It was awful. They were way too young.”

 

Steve nods sadly. “Probably so much worse for them. I was in the middle of class when it happened, that was bad enough as it was.”

 

Ouch, ” Becca says, shuddering. “That’s awkward.”

 

“Oh, yeah,” Steve agrees, glancing at Bucky, but he doesn’t seem to want to keep talking about Afghanistan so he lets the subject settle on his first heat. “I sent the entire class rutting and almost got expelled. My ma had to get a lawyer to yell at the principal that expelling me would be illegal.”

 

“Yikes,” Becca says emphatically.

 

“I didn’t have a standard pre-heat state, so it hit really sudden,” Steve continues.

 

“I had, like, a whole day’s warning,” Becca says. “But I guess you really wouldn’t expect it that young.”

 

Steve shakes his head. He glances at Bucky again, but the Alpha is just sitting there, looking speculative.

 

“Anyway,” Steve says, then trails off.

 

Conversation ebbs and flows from there. It’s mostly him talking with Becca, with Bucky speaking up only on occasion. Glenda takes Steve’s order and it’s barely fifteen minutes before their food is brought out. Becca gets a massive cheeseburger with fries while Bucky gets waffles laden with peach compote and bacon on the side. Steve’s Rueben is amazing, his fries are perfectly salted, and Steve’s almost surprised when it’s gone. Glenda drops their check off at the table and tells them to pay at the front whenever they’re ready, but Bucky’s still got peaches and Becca’s still nibbling on her fries.

 

“I’m stuffed,” Becca sighs when they get up finally.

 

“You shouldn’t order a double burger, then,” Bucky answers.

 

Steve stretches, then reaches to pick up the check. Bucky takes it before he can.

 

“I got it,” he says.

 

“I said I’d pay,” Steve protests.

 

Bucky shrugs.

 

“Provider complex,” Becca hisses to Steve.

 

“Will you shuddup about that?” Bucky tells his sister, dragging her away from Steve and tucking her head under his arm; he rubs his forehead into her hair instead of his knuckles, since he can’t while he’s got her in a headlock with his only arm. “Maybe I wanna provide for my baby sister, didja think about that?”

 

“Then stop choking me!” Becca answers, shoving at him.

 

“Brat,” Bucky chuckles, but releases her and pushes her away.

 

“I really can get it,” Steve pipes up again. “I owe you guys –”

 

“Nah, you owe us nothin’,” Bucky declares, but he doesn’t haul Steve into a headlock like he did his sister. “It was no trouble, Steve, really.”

 

“I did promise,” Steve adds.

 

Bucky waves his hand. “I got it,” he says in a firm but gentle tone. “You can pay next time.”

 

“There’s gonna be a next time?” Steve questions, lifting his eyebrows.

 

Bucky shrugs. “I mean, I figure I’m gonna be takin’ my kid sister all over the place since she don’t have a car. You’re welcome to buy me dinner in exchange for rides.”

 

Steve shoves his hands into his pockets and gives a nod. “Alright,” he says. “That’s fair.”

 

Glenda rings Bucky up, then exchanges air kisses with Becca and blows kisses after them as they leave. They get back in Bucky’s truck, Steve in the middle again, and Becca and Steve carry on their discussion of Disney’s new live-action remakes as Bucky drives back onto campus.

 

“Hey, you live off-campus, right?” Steve asks just before he gets out.

 

Bucky blinks, then nods.

 

“Well, anytime you’re on campus and need someplace to crash, you’re welcome to our room,” Steve tells him. “For any reason.”

 

Steve waves to Bucky before he shuts the door. Becca links her arm through Steve’s as they near the building’s entrance, now deserted now that move-in hours have ended.

 

“Thanks,” Becca says.

 

“For what?” Steve asks.

 

Becca looks at him, then nudges his shoulder with hers. “For being so nice to my brother.”

 

“Oh,” Steve says, then shrugs. “I wasn’t making any special effort. He’s nice, I’d always be nice back.”

 

Becca nudges his shoulder again as they enter the elevator. “Thank you for saying he could crash in our room. He was stressing about what to do if he ever had a panic attack on campus earlier and I told him he could use my room, but then he stressed about my roommate. It means a lot that you’d be okay with him in there.”

 

Steve shrugs again. “I actually earn my living helping soldiers chill the fuck out. I’d be happy to help him, too.”

 

Becca nods sagely. She presses the button for their floor, then leans her forehead on his shoulder. Steve tips his head against hers and smiles a little.

 

“I get the feeling that you and I are going to be real good friends,” Becca says.

 

“Y’know?” Steve answers. “Me, too.”

Chapter Text

pencher sur moi


Bucky makes it a whole ass three weeks before the sheer number of people at NYU drives him up the wall with paranoia. He’s just finished his last class of the day, and up until then he’d been mostly keeping a lid on his anxiety, but the second he steps out into the bright daylight of the engineering building and into the crowds trying to get home for the day, he snaps.

 

Bucky makes a beeline for the first single bathroom he can find and locks himself in. He checks the fucking toilet for explosives before he realizes what he’s doing and stoops to splash his face with cold water. He takes a deep breath. He needs to chill the fuck out. He could go home? His parent’s place is all the way out in Brooklyn and he can’t drive that far like this. His apartment is too fucking quiet.

 

So Bucky makes it a whole ass three weeks before he has to go into his sister’s dorm building to hide in her room until his panic attack stops attacking him. He has to show his student ID to a guard on the front desk, who doesn’t comment on Bucky’s shaking hands or sweating brow, just checks their computer before telling him he can go up and going back to their newspaper. Bucky takes the stairs instead of the elevator, all the way to the seventh floor, and he’s grateful for the stillness in the hallway as he approaches his sister’s room.

 

Bucky knocks and knocks hard. He hears movement inside, then knocks again and someone yells: “I’m coming!”

 

It’s not his sister. Steve opens the door and Bucky’s chest tightens with panic twice over again.

 

“Hey,” Steve says quietly. Then he steps back and waves Bucky inside. “You wanna come in?”

 

Bucky hesitates. “Do you know where Becca is?”

 

“On a date with the library,” Steve answers him regretfully. “She’ll be out the rest of the day. But you can come in, I was just watching a movie on my laptop.”

 

Bucky still hesitates.

 

My Neighbor Totoro? ” Steve says. He inclines his head. “C’mon, before you grow roots out there.”

 

Bucky steps inside. Steve shuts the door behind him and Bucky relaxes almost at the sound of the lock turning, but then he’s reminded that now he’s locked in with Steve and his sister isn’t there to distract him. Fuck. What the fuck was he thinking? He should go, before he makes a fool out of himself –

 

“I just started so I can rewind,” Steve says, brushing past Bucky towards the bunk beds. They hadn’t been stacked the last time Bucky had been here. Steve crawls onto the lower bunk and fusses with the pillows, then looks back at Bucky. “You wanna sit in a chair or with me on the bed?”

 

Bucky’s lungs stop working. About a million alarm bells are going off in his head and half of them are concerning how stupid he is for still standing there, alone with Steve – Bucky’s feelings for The Blonde went from childish to a significant crush the second Bucky actually met him. He can’t be alone with Steve. What if he does something moronic, like actually lie down on Steve’s bed with Steve and watch a movie?

 

“You can sit in the chair,” Steve adds.

 

Bucky clears his throat. “I should go,” he says hoarsely.

 

Steve gets up and takes a step closer. Bucky backs up. Steve holds up his hands and gives Bucky a soft smile.

 

“It’s okay,” Steve says, then holds out his hands to Bucky. “I know you’re anxious right now. I just wanna help.”

 

Bucky swallows. Obviously, Steve would be able to smell his panic attack. Bucky shouldn’t have come here in the first place.

 

Steve pulls a rolling chair across the floorboards and parks it next to his bed. “Here,” he says, patting it. “You can sit right here and we can watch Studio Ghibli until you’re feeling better.”

 

“This what you do at Hug Room?” Bucky asks; a lump rises in his throat.

 

Steve smiles at him, genuine and kind and sweet and Bucky is not deserving of a smile that pretty.

 

“A lot, actually,” Steve says. “Studio Ghibli’s really calming, y’know?”

 

Steve sits down on the bed, then pats the chair again. “C’mon,” he says in a gently cajoling voice. “You can take your shoes off.”

 

Bucky looks down at his tightly laced boots. He grips the strap of his backpack, then slips it off his shoulder a little. Steve gives Bucky a nod, still smiling at him, and Bucky drops his backpack onto the floor. He walks over to the chair, sits down, and then bends to unlace his boots. It takes twice as long as it would if Bucky had two hands. He’s got stabbing pains shooting up his left arm, the left arm that isn’t there.

 

“There,” Steve says, pulling his legs up onto the bed.

 

Bucky sits up and exhales, then inhales and tries to pick out Becca’s scent from where he’s sitting so close to Steve. His sister smells like Endust to him, citrusy and clean. Steve smells like cookies. Like gingerbread cookies. Bucky fucking loves gingerbread cookies.

 

“Anytime you wanna make yourself more comfortable, you just go right ahead and do it,” Steve tells Bucky, swiping at the mousepad on his laptop. A video feed comes up, full-screened, but Steve quickly minimizes it and reloads the page. “Have you seen Totoro before?”

 

Bucky shakes his head and Steve turns to him with a bright grin.

 

“You’ll love it,” he promises. “It’s beautiful.”

 

Bucky slumps a little in the rolling chair. Audio plays from Steve’s laptop, but Bucky’s gaze catches on one of the two closets in the room, the one that’s open.

 

The audio pauses. Bucky jerks, then flushes, ashamed to be caught not paying attention.

 

“Hey, you mind getting my lapboard out of my closet?” Steve asks.

 

Bucky’s shame doubles as Steve points to the closet he’d been staring at. But Steve doesn’t mention that Bucky had been watching it suspiciously nor does he ask if Bucky needs to get up and check the perimeter, so Bucky figures there are silver linings. Bucky gets up from the rolling chair, casts a glance over the edges of the room, and opens the closet Steve had been pointing to. He grabs the lapboard propped up against the wall, straightens and checks the lock on the window as he walks back. The window is painted shut, anyway. He hands Steve the laptop, then sits down again.

 

Steve shuffles his laptop onto the board, then plays the movie. Bucky tries to pay attention to it, but Steve starts fussing with the pillows on his bed and Bucky’s distracted again. There are a lot, but this is a dorm hall full of Omegas off suppressants. Bucky guesses that the pillows are from Steve’s nest back home. Then he looks away quickly, figuring he has no right to be thinking about Steve nesting in any form.

 

But his gaze flicks back to Steve after just a few seconds. Steve gets his pillows piled up just right, then grabs a ratty stuffed animal and settles against his piles of pillows with his feet tucked under a quilt. Bucky watches Steve hug the stuffed animal, a faded blue bunny with fringed fur and button eyes, and wonders if he’s warm enough. Bucky switches his gaze to the laptop screen. He can’t think about Steve like that.

 

Steve’s bed smells like freshly baked gingerbread cookies. Steve himself smells like vanilla and allspice and cinnamon and Bucky catches himself carefully tasting the air to see if there’s any trace of nutmeg to go with the other sweet spices in Steve’s scent. It makes him feel ashamed again, even more so when he realizes that he’s still doing it a minute later. Steve once or twice nuzzles his face against his stuffed bunny almost absent-mindedly, like he’d do with a baby or to his Alpha, and Bucky reminds himself to look for Becca’s scent in the room.

 

There are still alarm bells ringing in his head telling him that he should not be there, but despite himself, Bucky finds his chest easing the longer he sits there watching the bright colors of Studio Ghibli and breathing in Steve’s happy scent. He can only guess that this is Steve’s happy scent, because Steve has a soft smile on his face and he’s relaxed where he’s slumped against his pillows and he did mention that he finds Studio Ghibli movies beautiful. Steve’s an art major, Bucky remembers, movies like this must really hit the spot for him.

 

Bucky’s non-existent left arm starts stabbing him again. He reaches over and rubs at his stump, wincing, and Steve shifts.

 

“You wanna sit up here?” Steve offers, scooting back on the bed.

 

Bucky shakes his head. “I’m good,” he mutters.

 

Steve sits up, uncurling from the ball he’d folded himself into. “Hey, can I massage your hand?”

 

Bucky jerks to look at Steve. Steve smiles at him and Bucky blinks.

 

“Massage…?” Bucky repeats. “My hand?”

 

“Yeah,” Steve says, then holds out his hand for Bucky’s. “Maybe it’ll help?”

 

Bucky doesn’t know what Steve thinks is happening, but he’s pretty sure that having his right hand poked and prodded will not help his brain screaming at him to locate his left arm. He’s not sure he wants to touch Steve, either. It’s one thing to touch his family, his friends at the garage, but Steve…

 

Bucky hasn’t been able to stomach getting close with an Omega that wasn’t one of his sisters since he lost his arm. It doesn’t help that he has a major crush on Steve.

 

Steve wiggles his fingers. “Humor me,” he says, still smiling at Bucky.

 

Bucky reluctantly lays his hand into Steve’s palm. A hand massage isn’t anything. Steve’s his sister’s roommate; if he thinks hard enough about it, maybe he can convince himself that Steve’s like his brother or something. He could fit nicely between Becca and Bucky and he’d fit in well with the rest of Bucky’s family. Yeah, he’s going to adopt Steve into the Barnes clan. That should sort out his inappropriate feelings.

 

Steve takes Bucky’s hand and pulls it closer to him. He sits up some more, then presses his palms over and under Bucky’s hand and starts a slow, deep squeeze. Bucky blinks. Steve squeezes his hand flat for a moment, then turns his hand under Bucky’s and laces their fingers together. Bucky jolts but Steve doesn’t react. He spreads Bucky’s fingers wide, then presses them back and a muscle under Bucky’s wrist stretches out. Steve then flips Bucky’s hand and starts digging his thumbs into the meat of Bucky’s palm.

 

“Let me know if I’m pressing too hard,” Steve says softly.

 

“Sure,” Bucky mutters.

 

Steve works his thumbs down Bucky’s palm. He bends Bucky’s fingers back again, then closes his hand into a fist and pushes his knuckles down. Steve’s hands are a lot smaller than Bucky’s; the heel of his palm barely spans the width of Bucky’s knuckles. Steve unfolds Bucky’s hand again and presses their palms together, squeezing Bucky’s wrist carefully just below his scent gland, but Bucky still sucks in a breath. Steve glances up at him and smiles.

 

“It’s okay,” Steve tells him, gently pulling back on Bucky’s wrist without touching his scent gland. “Just relax.”

 

Bucky tries not to think of how Steve could easily start massaging his scent gland, nor how Steve’s getting Bucky’s scent all over his hands with all this twisting and pulling he’s doing. Bucky didn’t even know hand massages involved this much twisting and pulling, but Steve digs his fingers and thumbs into Bucky’s hand still as he stretches out Bucky’s knuckles and wrist. But Steve is getting Bucky’s scent all over his hands, especially with how nervous Bucky is. Hopefully, Steve will think the traces of anxiety in his scent are thanks to his panic attack still and not that Bucky is uncomfortable so close to an Omega.

 

“This is my favorite scene,” Steve says to Bucky, nodding to the laptop and Bucky refocuses his gaze. “The animation is so seamless and fluid.”

 

“You an animation student?” Bucky asks.

 

“No,” Steve laughs. “I can draw comics, not cartoons. I do traditional art mostly.”

 

“Traditional?” Bucky asks. Now he’s genuinely curious. He glances up at Steve’s face, then looks back at his hand in Steve’s grip. “What’s the difference?”

 

“Traditional versus digital,” Steve explains. “Traditional is anything that doesn’t involve a computer, basically.”

 

Bucky nods. He focuses on the laptop screen again, then shifts his chair back and lets his head rest on the bed frame.

 

“You can come lay on the bed,” Steve reminds him.

 

Bucky shakes his head. His hand feels really good by now and – actually, his left arm doesn’t hurt anymore. His phantom pains have fled entirely. His panic attack is pretty much over, too; he’s practically putty in Steve’s hands. He would be feeling better entirely, except he’s still uncomfortable close to any Omega that isn’t one of his siblings.

 

“You’re good at this,” Bucky mumbles.

 

Steve glances up and smiles. “Been doin’ it two somethin’ years,” he says, then looks down again to focus on Bucky’s hand instead of his face. Bucky wonders when he noticed that he doesn’t like making eye contact. “I actually started by holding babies, volunteering at my mom’s hospital. Then I started volunteering at Hug Room, and then they offered to train me as a massage therapist and actually hire me and here I am.”

 

“What do you do more often?” Bucky asks quietly. Steve glances up again and Bucky adds: “Massage or cuddling?”

 

Steve shrugs. “It’s about equal,” he says. “A lot of times, I start off with massage and then they get relaxed enough to want more contact. It helps that I love being spooned.”

 

Bucky smiles and looks down. Don’t think about spooning him, his brain says angrily.

 

“You can come to me anytime you like,” Steve says then. “I’m over at Hug Room Saturday mornings, Monday to Thursday evenings. Or I’m here a lot, considering I live here.”

 

Bucky worries his lower lip between his teeth.

 

“Maybe it would be easier with a friend,” Steve suggests gently, still working his thumbs into the center of Bucky’s palm.

 

Bucky nods. He tugs a little at his hand and Steve lets go of him. Bucky fists it on his thigh and fixes his gaze on the laptop. Steve reaches out and touches the back of his hand, startling him.

 

“Don’t go undoin’ everything I just did,” Steve reminds him, then picks up his hand and pulls Bucky’s fist open with gentle fingers. Bucky doesn’t resist. “You can relax now,” Steve adds.

 

Bucky thinks for a long moment. Then he takes a deep breath and nods.

 

“Thank you,” he mutters.

 

Steve pats his hand once. “Anytime,” he answers. “Really.”

 

Bucky fixes on the screen. Steve picks up the stuffed bunny again, then curls up against all his pillows. Bucky finds himself wondering more than once if he’s warm enough and how it would feel to spoon him against all those pillows.

 

After the movie’s over, Bucky bends to shove his feet in his boots again. He starts lacing them, as tight as he can get them with only one hand.

 

“You can stay if you like,” Steve says.

 

Bucky shakes his head. “I gotta get home,” he answers. “Gotta get supper.”

 

“You gonna eat at that diner again?” Steve asks, sitting up on his bed.

 

Bucky considers it, then shrugs as he stands. “Maybe. Probably.”

 

He is, but he doesn’t want to admit that he hates cooking for one person.

 

“Have a milkshake for me,” Steve tells him with a grin. “And enjoy it.”

 

Bucky pauses. Then he nods. “Yeah, I can do that,” he agrees. It’s against his routine. He can’t do that. But he can. He can have a milkshake and enjoy it for Steve. He could – He’s not inviting Steve to go with him. He needs to get away, needs to hide in his cold, quiet apartment and count the ticking of the clock. He’s gonna go home this weekend.

 

“I’ll see you around?” Steve asks.

 

Bucky nods. He picks up his backpack, then turns the lock on the door. “Say hi to my sister for me,” he says.

 

“I will,” Steve promises.

 

Bucky leaves the room, pulling the door shut behind him. He should remind Steve to lock the door after him. Bucky turns, but then he hears the lock flipping and tension bleeds from his shoulders. Bucky turns to go, taking the stairs again, and waves to the same guard sitting by the doors as he leaves. The campus is not as crowded as it had been when Bucky had left his last class two something hours ago and his walk back to his truck isn’t long.

 

He drives to Adrianna’s and slides into his booth in the very back. Glenda brings him his coffee right away.

 

“Usual, cutie?” she asks him, like she does every time.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says. She nods and turns to go and Bucky’s chest seizes, remembering that he had promised Steve he’d get a milkshake. “Actually –”

 

Glenda turns back. “Yeah, hon?”

 

“Can I get a chocolate milkshake, too?” Bucky asks shyly.

 

Glenda gives him a wide smile. “Of course you can, sweetie,” she answers. “It’s coming right up.”

 

Bucky fidgets in his seat. He drinks his coffee slowly, but he’s finished his first cup by the time Glenda brings him his food. Bucky arranges everything on the table the way it should be, then shuffles his milkshake around while he tries to find a place for it. Then he reasons that it’s like his coffee, he can sip it as he eats without putting it in any particular spot in the order. So he pulls it closer to him, sticks a straw in it, then takes a long gulp.

 

It’s sweet and delicious. Bucky exhales and checks off that box in his head. He digs into his dinner.

Chapter Text

je te dois

 

“I’m not sure this is a good idea,” Steve says frettingly.

 

He shifts from foot to foot, wringing his hands as he watches Becca tape Halloween decorations to the ceiling. She’s standing on her desk chair, which wobbles dangerously under her.

 

“I’m fine,” Becca insists. She leans to one side, taping a paper cleaver above the window. “I’ve done this plenty of times.”

 

“But…” Steve mutters.

 

Becca waves a hand at him. She climbs down, moves the chair, and climbs back up. “It’s fine,” she says again, reaching to another side to tape a paper hockey mask to the ceiling.

 

Steve knew this was a terrible idea. He lunges when Becca’s chair shoots out from under her when she leans too far to one side, but he’s still too late and Becca falls with a scream onto the floor. Steve winces and Becca tries to push herself up, then yelps and falls back.

 

“Aw, fuck,” Becca hisses.

 

“I told you,” Steve says.

 

Becca rolls onto her side, sits up, then cradles her left hand to her chest. “Oh, fuck,” she mutters. “I think I broke my wrist again. Fuck.”

 

Steve washes in panic. “You broke your wrist?” he mutters. “Oh, no.”

 

“Grab my phone, call Bucky,” Becca tells him, then simply lies down on the floor and holds her wrist to her chest. “I made it a whole eight months between trips to the ER.”

 

Steve grabs Becca’s cellphone and types in her code; they’d swapped weeks ago. He opens her address book and scrolls through it, looking for Bucky, but he ends up finding Bugsy instead. Steve knows that means her brother even though he doesn’t know what the nickname refers to and he calls Bucky immediately.

 

Steve kneels down next to Becca, who’s grimacing and holding very still.

 

“It’s ringing,” he says.

 

Becca nods shortly.

 

“Do you want some Tylenol or something?” Steve asks.

 

Becca shrugs. “Yeah,” she mutters. “Please?”

 

Steve gets up again. He’s digging through his backpack for a bottle of painkillers when the line clicks.

 

“Becks, what’s the matter, I’m at –”

 

“It’s Steve,” Steve interrupts. “Becca fell off her desk chair and she thinks she broke her wrist.”

 

There’s silence across the line. Steve yanks out a bottle of Advil, figures that’s better than nothing, then grabs a bottle of water from the mini-fridge.

 

“Fuck,” Bucky says eventually. “Again?”

 

Steve kneels down next to Becca and shakes out three pills from the bottle of Advil. “Again, sure,” he says, then helps Becca sit up so she can swallow the pills. “I don’t actually know why I’m calling you –”

 

“I need a ride!” Becca calls.

 

“Yeah, I’m on my way,” Bucky says. “Tell Becca she owes me six now.”

 

“You owe him six,” Steve repeats to Becca.

 

“I owe him four!” Becca hisses. She falls back onto her back, wincing, and blows out her breath hard. “Remind him that I got him out of going to the family reunion and that paid him back three.”

 

“She says that she got you out of going to the family reunion and that means she only owes you four,” Steve repeats to Bucky.

 

“Well, it’s group night, so she owes me six,” Bucky answers.

 

“Oh,” Steve says. He winces. “Sorry?”

 

“What?” Becca mutters.

 

Steve looks down at her. “It’s group night.”

 

“Oh, shit,” Becca hisses. “I’m sorry, Bucky!”

 

“It’s fine!” Bucky says in Steve’s ear. “Tell her to cool her jets, it’s fine. I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Can you give her some Tylenol or something?”

 

“Yeah, I gave her Advil,” Steve answers.

 

“Which wrist is it?” Bucky asks.

 

“Left,” Steve says.

 

Bucky exhales. “Thank god she’s weird,” he says.

 

“Everybody’s right-handed!” Becca mutters.

 

“She says –” Steve starts.

 

“Everybody else in our family’s left-handed,” Bucky cuts him off.

 

“Oh,” Steve says. “Uh, cool?”

 

“He’s right-handed,” Becca hisses.

 

“He kinda has to be,” Steve reminds her.

 

“Yeah, I’m all right now,” Bucky jokes.

 

Steve laughs. Becca squints at him and Steve repeats Bucky’s joke. She groans.

 

“I owe him five,” she declares, “because that joke was so terrible.”

 

“She says she only owes you five because your joke was terrible,” Steve relays to Bucky.

 

“She should know I only have shitty jokes,” Bucky says. “She learned all her shitty jokes from me.”

 

Steve drops the phone from his ear and puts it on speaker just so he won’t have to keep repeating things, then tells Becca what Bucky said.

 

“Asshole,” Becca mutters.

 

“Bitch,” Bucky answers her. “Fifteen minutes, kiddo.”

 

Becca nods once. Steve doesn’t know what else he should say, so he says nothing.

 

“You’re gonna have to meet me outside,” Bucky says after several minute’s silence ticks by. “Past curfew in your building.”

 

“No,” Becca whines, “I wanted you to carry me out.”

 

“Rebecca, I couldn’t carry you out even if I was allowed inside,” Bucky answers. “I’m outside, come down.”

 

Steve gets up. He grabs his insulin bag, then Becca’s purse and some phone chargers. He grabs his phone, shoves Becca’s phone in the strap of his bralette under his shirt, then helps Becca to her feet. She winces every time her wrist is jostled and Steve grabs a scarf from her closet to fashion into a sling.

 

“Thanks,” Becca mutters as Steve loops it around her neck, then she winces again as she puts her hand in it.

 

“Come on,” Steve tells her, taking her elbow and guiding her out.

 

He barely remembers to turn the lights off and lock the room as they leave. Becca leans on him all the way to the elevator and down to the first floor. The security guard at the front desk looks up as they step out of the elevator, then gets up.

 

“Y’all need out?” they call.

 

“Please,” Steve says. “Her brother’s waiting outside, she broke her wrist.”

 

The security guard gets up and unlocks the doors to the hall. Steve walks Becca outside to where Bucky’s truck is idling on the curb. Steve opens the passenger door and helps Becca inside, then gets in with her.

 

“Hey,” Becca mumbles to Bucky.

 

“Ouch,” Bucky answers, looking at the scarf tied around her neck to support her arm. “What were you doing?” he continues as he puts the truck in gear and pulls away.

 

“Putting up Halloween decorations,” Becca says.

 

“I told her to get a ladder,” Steve adds. “She was on her desk chair and it rolled out from under her.”

 

“Shush,” Becca whines.

 

“Moron,” Bucky remarks simply. “You could’ve broken your neck.”

 

“No, I broke my fall with my hand,” Becca says. “Hence the broken wrist.”

 

Bucky shakes his head. Becca reaches out with her right hand and turns on the stereo, fiddling with the dial until it settles on a pop station. Then she slumps against Bucky’s shoulder and goes quiet. Steve reaches over and loops his arm around her shoulders and starts combing through her hair with his fingers. She still between him and Bucky.

 

The ER is loud and busy when they get there. Becca’s given a wristband and told to take a seat, Steve and Bucky have to get visitor’s stickers, and they sit with her in the waiting room for over an hour before a nurse finally comes to get her.

 

“Only one person can come with her,” the nurse says.

 

“You go,” Bucky tells Steve.

 

Steve hesitates. He looks at Bucky, who looks uncomfortable; Steve looks at Bucky, doesn’t look at what remains of his left arm, and then nods. He doesn’t need to guess and he’s not gonna say it. Steve puts his arm around Becca’s waist and lets her lean on him as the nurse takes them back and puts them in a room. She examines Becca’s wrist, then takes her vitals and medical history before leaving. Steve sits down in the only chair in the room while Becca lies back on the table, her face still white. Steve guesses the Advil didn’t do much for her.

 

“How many times have you broken that wrist?” Steve asks.

 

Becca raises four fingers on her right hand.

 

“Yikes,” Steve says empathetically.

 

She nods. She doesn’t say anything else.

 

Steve squirms in his seat for a while, then takes out his phone and looks at his homescreen for a while before switching to Becca’s. He unlocks it, goes through her address book to text Bucky so he doesn’t look through her texts, and shoots him a quick update on their situation.

 

Belatedly, he adds that it isn’t Becca texting.

 

Then he spots his name farther up in the conversation and he hastily types his number into his next message, telling Bucky that he’s stealing his number from Becca’s phone so he doesn’t have to keep using it to text him.

 

Steve switches to his own phone and is halfway through adding Bucky to his contacts when the number he’s typing in texts him. He abandons copying the number from Becca’s phone, opens the text, and adds it that way. He labels the contact Becca’s Bugsy because it’s funnier and he’s trying to remain calm.

 

Becca’s Bugsy:

How is she?

Okayish. In pain I think

Tell her I’m sorry I couldn’t go back

 

Steve looks up. “Your brother says hi,” he says quietly.

 

“‘Sup,” Becca mumbles.

 

“He’s sorry he didn’t come back,” Steve adds.

 

Becca scoffs. “Tell ‘im that if he apologizes for that again, he owes me.

 

Steve nods and transcribes her words into his texts. Bucky starts typing, stops, starts again, then stops. Steve waits. When he doesn’t get a new text, Steve exits the conversation and opens Facebook. There are posts on the groups for NYU about Halloween and someone from Finchbury tagged him and Becca in a post asking if Becca was okay. Someone had seen them leaving, apparently. Steve replies saying that Becca had just broken her wrist and they’d gotten her brother to drive them to the ER, then leaves again and opens Tumblr instead.

 

Then he gets a new text from Bucky.

 

Becca’s Bugsy:

They’ll probably keep her overnight, you can crash at my apartment tonight if you want.

 

Steve tips his head to one side. He doesn’t know what he should say. He and Bucky aren’t very close, outside of that one time back in September where Bucky had come looking for Becca in the middle of a panic attack, Steve’s only hung out with him through Becca. Bucky’s usually in their room a few times a week, keeping up with his sister, but if Steve was right, Bucky tends to avoid him. Steve’s not sure what Bucky’s deal is; at first, he thought it was because Bucky was uncomfortable because Steve was an Omega and a man. But since Bucky stayed and watched My Neighbor Totoro with him, Steve’s not so sure.

 

Bucky texts him again.

 

It’s only five minutes away from here. I don’t think they’ll let us back on campus by the time she’s admitted.

 

Steve glances up at Becca. She’s still grimacing in pain and he wishes someone would come give her something for it.

 

Steve looks down again to text Bucky back.

 

Becca’s Bugsy:

Do they usually keep people overnight for broken wrists?

Did last time Becca broke it.

Bc she’s broken it so many times before, they have to make sure the old fractures don’t open again.

 

Steve stands up and peeks past the curtain guarding their room. It doesn’t look like anyone’s coming for them. It’s a Friday night, which is either good because Becca doesn’t have class in the morning to miss, or bad because everyone gets in trouble on Friday nights. He sits again, then answers Bucky.

 

If you wouldn’t mind me taking your couch.

 

Again, Bucky starts typing and stops again. Steve switches back to Tumblr, figuring there’s nothing he can do for Becca except remain calm. He can’t give her any more Advil than he already has, after all.

 

Bucky texts him back.

 

I have a spare bedroom.

 

Steve doesn’t question it. He sends Bucky a thumbs up emoji, then draws his legs up on his chair and props his temple up on his fist.

 

It takes another hour for a PA to come see Becca. The woman looks at Becca’s wrist, clucks her tongue, then summons someone to take Becca for an X-ray. Steve waits in the room of curtains for her to come back, but she doesn’t end up returning to the room. Instead, a nurse pops in to tell Steve that they’re admitting Becca for the night. He can come see her in her room but since he’s not a blood relation, he can’t stay the night. Steve nods and follows her to a room with actual walls, but still only a curtain for a door, and Becca’s almost passed out in a bed already.

 

“We gave her something for the pain,” the nurse explains.

 

Steve leans on her bed and smiles at her. Becca smiles absently back.

 

“I’m gonna crash at your brother’s place,” he tells her. “We’ll see you in the morning.”

 

“‘Kay,” Becca mumbles. “Tell Bugsy, call Ma.”

 

“I got it,” Steve promises. “I’m gonna take your phone and purse with me.”

 

Becca hums. Steve kisses her forehead and gets directions from the nurse on how to get out. He gets lost a couple of times, then the batteries on his hearing aids crap out and Steve’s suddenly left with only one working ear that’s barely functional as it is. Steve has to flag someone down and clumsily explain that he can’t hear anything with his hearing aids dead and he doesn’t know where he is. Eventually, a nurse takes pity on him and walks him out to the ER waiting room.

 

Steve walks up to Bucky, who’s slumped over his own lap with his head in his hand. Steve kneels down and says his name.

 

Bucky sits bolt upright and Steve catches his knee quickly, squeezing it.

 

“You okay, honey?” Steve asks, his voice muted.

 

Bucky mumbles something. Steve grimaces and points to his ears.

 

“Can’t hear you,” he says. “Batteries are dead.”

 

Bucky blinks. He mumbles something else, then clears his throat and raises his voice. “Is Becca alright?”

 

Steve can still barely hear him and Bucky sounds like he’s talking from across a wide stone cavern. “She’s on something for pain,” Steve explains. He hates having to talk when he can’t hear himself. “Do you know sign?”

 

Bucky shakes his head. Steve just shrugs. “Can we go?” he asks then.

 

Bucky nods. Steve stands up and Bucky does, too, reaching over and rubbing his left shoulder as they walk out. Outside, Steve is bombarded with heavy and washed out sounds and he gets kind of dizzy. He grabs Bucky’s elbow without thinking.

 

“You okay?” Bucky asks him distantly.

 

Steve grimaces. He shrugs and Bucky holds his elbow out a little further so Steve can curl his arm around it. Steve leans his temple on Bucky’s shoulder as they walk out to the parking lot and Bucky’s good enough not to tell him to fuck off. Steve can hear things on his right side, but they sound like he’s underwater, or submerged in something more viscous. They reach Bucky’s truck and Bucky gives him a hand up, shutting the door and shaking the cab after Steve leans back in the bench.

 

Bucky gets in on the other side. Steve leans against the window, then reaches up and unhooks his hearing aids from his ears. He’ll have to ask Bucky if he has spare chargers that would fit them; Steve has Becca’s charger, which he could use, but he has an Apple phone and his hearing aids take micro USB cords.

 

The drive to Bucky’s apartment is very short. Steve realizes as Bucky walks him in that he and Becca had been about to order pizza before she fell off her chair and his blood sugar is probably fucked.

 

Bucky unlocks his door and flips on lights. Steve walks in behind him and looks around for the kitchen.

 

“I have to eat,” he says, probably too loudly.

 

“It’s … morning,” Bucky answers him, his words getting lost.

 

Steve swings around and squints at him. “What?”

 

“It’s two in the morning,” Bucky repeats, louder and clearer, but Steve’s reading his lips.

 

“Blood sugar,” Steve tells him. “Low.”

 

Bucky winces. He steps past Steve and opens his fridge, but Steve sits down at the kitchen table and pulls out his meter and kit. He checks his sugar, then winces himself at how low his blood sugar is. He ate last around two in the afternoon, and it is almost two thirty in the morning. He doesn’t need to be hospitalized, thank God, but he can’t believe how stupid he was not to remember his sugar levels during the night.

 

“Do you have juice?” Steve asks, looking up.

 

Bucky pulls a jug of iced tea from his fridge. Steve nods and Bucky pours a glass, then sets it down in front of him. Steve gulps half of it down, then leans on his palm and shuts his eyes.

 

Bucky shakes his shoulder. Steve looks up and blinks as Bucky holds up a piece of paper. PBJ? is written on it.

 

Steve thinks, then nods. Bucky nods, too, then just walks off and goes about making a PB&J. Steve leans on his hand again, then picks up his glass and sips the rest of it slower. Bucky puts a plate with a sandwich on it in front of Steve just as he finishes the glass and Bucky takes his empty cup, then picks up the jug again with raised eyebrows. Steve shakes his head, then bites into the sandwich.

 

Bucky sits down at the little square table with Steve and folds his arm onto the table. Steve eats his sandwich without looking at him, the sound of his own chewing rattling in his skull. Steve feels vibrations through the table and realizes that Bucky’s drumming his fingers against its scuffed surface. Steve pushes the last bite into his mouth, chews, swallows, then leans both arms on the table and looks at Bucky.

 

Steve taps Bucky’s arm, then points at him and raises his hand in an OK sign. He raises his eyebrows to make it a question.

 

Bucky shrugs. He leans over and grabs the pad of paper, rips off the top sheet, and picks up the pen to scribble on its surface. Then he pushes it towards Steve.

 

Tired.

 

Steve pulls the paper closer to him, then slips the pen from Bucky’s fingers. He writes Want a hug? and pushes it back at Bucky.

 

Bucky blinks down at the paper. Steve taps Bucky’s hand, then just waits. Bucky continues to blink. Steve sees Bucky’s lips part and his shoulders droop, guesses he blew out his breath, then Bucky shakes his head and gets up from the table.

 

Steve twists to watch him leave. He can’t hear anything in the quiet apartment. He sighs, inaudible to his own ears, then turns back around and checks the time so he knows when he can test his sugar again.

 

He waits ten minutes and his blood sugar’s risen to a much safer level by then. He still has to give himself a shot, because he did just eat and he doesn’t want his sugar to spike during the night. Steve drinks a glass of water, puts the iced tea in the fridge and his plate in the dishwasher, then packs up his things and steps out of the kitchen. There’s a sparse living room that’s mostly dark, then three doors in a short hallway. Two are shut and Steve steps into the open doorway.

 

Bucky doesn’t notice him; he’s standing across the room on the other side of a bed made with military precision. Steve knocks on the door and Bucky twists around. Steve waves.

 

“Do you …?” Bucky says, his voice and lips too far away for Steve to guess what he’s saying.

 

Steve walks closer and waves his hand again. Bucky frowns at him as Steve stops right in front of him.

 

“Do you have chargers?” Steve asks with difficulty. “Micro USB?”

 

Bucky’s lips part in an Oh and he nods. He slips past Steve, then digs around in a nightstand drawer before holding out a cord. Steve takes it and wraps it around his hand, lingering.

 

“Are you okay?” Steve asks Bucky.

 

Bucky exhales again, silent to Steve. He shrugs and says Sure too quietly for Steve to hear.

 

Steve steps closer. He tucks the phone cord into his pocket, then holds out his arms and raises his eyebrows.

 

Bucky hesitates. Steve offers him a smile.

 

“Won’t hurt,” Steve says. “I don’t bite.”

 

Bucky ducks his head, shakes it, but then steps in. His arm wraps around Steve’s shoulders and Steve lifts onto his toes, but he still can’t hook his chin over Bucky’s shoulder. He gives up and lets his cheek rest on Bucky’s chest instead. When he inhales, Bucky’s woodsmoke scent trips up Steve’s lizard brain. Steve tries not to think about how good Bucky smells.

 

He holds on until Bucky pulls back, but it’s barely a few seconds. Steve tries not to feel sorry because he knows only a few seconds of hugging won’t help Bucky much. He also tries not to feel sorry because he wanted to keep hugging Bucky.

 

“Spare room’s across from here,” Bucky says clearly.

 

Steve nods. “See you in the morning,” he says and Bucky just nods. His hand follows Steve’s shoulder as Steve leaves, which is a good sign. Steve shuts Bucky’s bedroom door as he leaves, opens the door across the hall and steps into another sparse bedroom.

 

Steve looks around. He steps back out quietly and looks into the living room, then switches the light off in the kitchen and returns to the spare room, wondering why it looks like Bucky doesn’t even live here at all.

 

Steve plugs in his phone and his hearing aids, then kicks off his shoes and gets into the bed fully clothed. He’s asleep in seconds.

 

He’s woken up by a hand shaking his shoulder. Steve sits up, groggy, then is immediately confused by his surroundings. He twists around and Bucky waves at him.

 

“Your alarm,” Bucky says.

 

“Oh,” Steve says, but can’t hear himself.

 

Bucky leaves right away. Steve blinks at nothing. He normally sleeps with one of his hearing aids in while the other charges, and not being able to hear disorients him further. Then he remembers that both his hearing aids are charging and he leans over to turn off his alarm. Then he picks up his hearing aids, unplugs them, then hooks them into his ears.

 

Steve fiddles with them to get them comfortable before he switches them on. He can abruptly hear a microwave spinning, a coffee maker gurgling, the bubbling of a hot frying pan and footsteps. Steve pushes out of the bed, fixes the blankets, then grabs his stuff and exits the room. He finds Bucky standing in the kitchen over the stove.

 

“You check on Becca?” Steve asks.

 

Bucky turns to look at him, then points at his own ear. Steve nods.

 

“My ma’s with her,” Bucky says. “She said to thank you for helping out.”

 

“No problem,” Steve says. He sets his insulin bag on the kitchen table, then sits down and checks his blood sugar. Low again, but Bucky’s already cooking – Eggs and bacon, it looks like. Steve gets up and checks the coffee maker, then looks around for mugs.

 

“Over here,” Bucky says, leaning over and opening a cabinet.

 

Steve walks over and takes the most unassuming mug he can find. Most of them have jokes printed on them, but there’s one that has the John Deere logo on it that Steve guesses can’t be special. He fills it with coffee, leans on the counter and raises it to his lips, then stops.

 

“Is this caffeinated?” he asks.

 

Bucky shakes his head. “You said you couldn’t have it,” he says without looking at Steve.

 

Steve nods and sips it. Then he wonders when he told Bucky he couldn’t have caffeine? He frowns as he thinks back, but the only thing he can think of is either Becca told him or –

 

Bucky couldn’t remember from the night they had dinner after moving in. Surely, Bucky hadn’t remembered that. Steve squints at the back of Bucky’s head.

 

“How’s your blood sugar?” Bucky asks, flipping fried eggs.

 

Steve squints harder.

 

“Fine,” he says eventually. “Kinda low. But not as bad as it would’ve been without that PB and J.”

 

Bucky nods. Are his ears red? , Steve wonders.

 

“Do you wanna go see Becca later?” Bucky asks.

 

“I gotta get to the VA,” Steve answers. “I clock in at ten.”

 

Bucky checks the time on the stove, then nods. “I’ll give you a ride.”

 

“You don’t have to do that,” Steve says, standing up. “I can get an Uber.”

 

“It’s no problem,” Bucky says. He hasn’t looked at Steve since Steve said he could hear again. “It’s not far from here.”

 

“You don’t gotta baby me,” Steve says quickly. “Just ‘cause my health’s shit –”

 

“That’s not –” Bucky starts, finally turning around. Then he sighs and faces forward, shaking his head. “Fine, whatever. Spend twenty bucks to take a ten-minute ride I could give you for free.”

 

Steve glares at Bucky’s back. He normally takes the shuttle out of NYU to the VA, but he doesn’t know the buses around Bucky’s apartment and he doesn’t like taking buses anyway if he can avoid it; too many leery Alphas live and commute in New York. Bucky is right, however, an Uber would be twenty or so dollars.

 

“Fine,” Steve says reluctantly. “You can give me a ride. But I owe you.”

 

Bucky snorts. “Sure, punk,” he replies, “you can owe me.”

 

“Jerk,” Steve answers.

 

Bucky glances over his shoulder and Steve thinks he sees Bucky smiling when he turns back. Steve leans on the counter again and carries on sipping his coffee.

 

“How are your classes going?” Steve asks.

 

Bucky shrugs with his back to Steve. “Alright so far.”

 

“What are you taking again?” Steve presses.

 

Bucky sighs. He looks up, Steve can see his profile squinting, and Steve pushes off the counter to walk closer so he can see Bucky’s face. He leans against the counter next to the stove now, his hands wrapped around his coffee mug. Bucky glances at him and then away.

 

“American History,” Bucky says to his pan full of eggs. Steve looks to the side and wonders how anyone could expect two people to eat that many eggs, but maybe Bucky has a large appetite. “English 101, Intro to Psychology, Intro to Russian, Chem 101, Engineering 101 and Geometry 1.”

 

Steve wrinkles his nose. “Why geometry?”

 

Bucky shrugs. “Lotta angles in snipering,” he mumbles.

 

Steve relaxes and nods. He shifts his weight onto his right foot and kicks his left out to the side to hit Bucky’s leg. Becca does it a lot, so he figures it’s a non-threatening and comforting gesture he can copy. “You like ‘em?”

 

“Psych confuses me,” Bucky answers. “And I hate writing essays.”

 

“That’s a mood,” Steve remarks, sipping his coffee. “I’m not taking any languages yet; I did French in high school, so I’ll probably end up doing that. I’m trying to get my math and science credits out of the way.”

 

“How many do you need?” Bucky asks.

 

“Twelve of each,” Steve says.

 

Bucky grimaces. “Why do you need twelve science credits? You’re an art major.”

 

Steve shrugs. “It’s how it is,” he says. He tips his head down to look at Bucky and raises his eyebrows. “What’s your major? You’ve never said.”

 

Bucky copies Steve’s shrug. He still doesn’t look back at Steve. “I haven’t declared one yet,” he says. “I got time to pick something, right?”

 

“That why you’re taking one of everything?” Steve asks him with a smile.

 

“Pretty much,” Bucky says. He glances towards Steve at last, but his gaze keeps going until it hits a drawer next to Steve. “Can you get out forks and stuff? These are ready.”

 

Steve pushes off the counter and opens the drawer. He takes out a couple of forks while Bucky separates the eggs onto plates, then walks over to the table and sits down. Bucky produces bacon from the microwave and joins Steve at the table, sitting across from him.

 

Steve kicks Bucky lightly under the table. Bucky glances up and Steve just smiles at him.

 

“Thanks for making breakfast,” Steve says. “And for letting me stay over.”

 

Bucky shrugs. “Figured I owed you,” he answers.

 

Steve’s smile slips into a frown. “Why?”

 

“You went back with Becca for me,” Bucky says, sounding uncomfortable.

 

Steve has the urge to reach across the table and touch Bucky’s arm. He kicks Bucky lightly in the shin instead.

 

“Wasn’t an issue,” Steve promises. “Becca understood.”

 

Bucky ducked his head and his jaw tightened for a second. Steve let his gaze drop so Bucky wouldn’t feel pressured by Steve looking at him, then tucked into his food while he waited for Bucky to spit out the words so clearly pressing up against his teeth.

 

“I spent a lotta time in the hospital,” Bucky says. Steve nods without looking up. “Had to do a lot of physical therapy ‘n’ shit, and – Y’know, I got phantom pains.”

 

Steve lifts his gaze a little, finding Bucky still looking at his plate. Steve just nods.

 

“Hospitals freak me out,” Bucky finishes.

 

“It’s okay,” Steve says gently. “I don’t like hospitals, either, I get it.”

 

He sticks his foot out and nudges it against Bucky’s. Bucky glances up and smiles a little, he can’t hold Steve’s gaze for long but his foot sticks out and nudges back against Steve’s. Steve smiles, too, because it’s a good sign. Maybe someday soon Bucky would actually walk into the Hug Room.

Chapter Text

à bientôt


Was he about to do this? No, he wasn’t doing this. But maybe he could? No, this was stupid and he was stupider for thinking it a good idea.

 

“Hi!” the cheerful front desk lady in Hug Room greets him. “I’m Miss Peters, you lookin’ to book a session, honey?”

 

Bucky shifted from foot to foot. “Uh, yeah,” he says, looking at the desk and not at Miss Peters’ bubbly smile. “Um, can I request somebody?”

 

Miss Peters’ eyes narrow. “We don’t typically do requests,” she says gently.

 

“Uh –” Bucky starts. He should leave.

 

“Hey!”

 

Bucky twists around and both relaxes and tenses up as Steve walks in. He grins at Bucky, his hands shoved in his pockets, and walks up to kick lightly at Bucky’s ankle. Bucky doesn’t know when Steve picked up Becca’s tendency to kick him, but it’s endearing. Bucky shouldn’t be here.

 

“I got him, Miss Peters,” Steve tells the front desk lady. “I’m free right now, right?”

 

“Yeah, sure, kiddo,” Miss Peters answers. “Can I see your ID first, honey?”

 

Bucky tugs out his wallet and gives her his military ID. Miss Peters pushes her cornrows past her ear as she looks down to write down his information, then she gives him back his ID with a smile. Steve inclines his head towards the back and Bucky follows him out of the waiting room. Why is he here? He shouldn’t be here, he should go –

 

Steve opens a door and steps inside, but holds it open for Bucky. Bucky’s both too chicken to back out now and too chicken to look Steve in the eye. He steps inside and Steve shuts the door.

 

“I gotta let you know, there’s a security camera in the corner,” Steve tells Bucky, pointing to the ceiling. “How are you, Bucky?”

 

Bucky shrugs. He looks around; there’s a massage table and a plush sofa, throw pillows piled up in a corner to simulate a little nest, a cabinet with massage tools and movies. The walls are a soft buttery yellow, the window dressings are printed with apples, and the floor is covered with a plush creamy white carpet. Steve toes off his shoes and Bucky bends to unlace his boots.

 

“You wanna sit and watch something?” Steve asks him.

 

Bucky shrugs again. “I –” he starts, then clears his throat. “I don’t even know why I’m here.”

 

Steve steps closer and nudges Bucky’s ankle with his toes, a smile lighting up his face. “‘Cause I’m your friend, right? Friends help each other out.”

 

Bucky just shrugs.

 

“What if I gave you a massage?” Steve asks. “You look all kinds’a tensed.”

 

Bucky opens his mouth. That would be a terrible idea.

 

“Sure,” he says.

 

Steve walks over to the massage table, picking up a bottle of Lysol wipes and he starts wiping down the vinyl. “You wanna take your shirt off or leave it on?”

 

Bucky picks the hem of his shirt, frowning. He should leave is what he should do. Instead, he shrugs off his jacket and pulls his shirt over his head.

 

Steve offers Bucky a smile and pats the table. Bucky climbs onto it, then lies down and sets his face in the hole of the headrest.

 

“Can I use lotion?” Steve asks.

 

“Sure,” Bucky mutters.

 

“I got a bunch of scents, or do you want unscented? I got lavender, I got oats and honey, I got Summer Seaside Getaway –”

 

“How is Summer Seaside Getaway a scent?” Bucky asks, propping himself up on the table on his elbow.

 

Steve shrugs. “Smells it, though,” he says.

 

“You got anything else?” Bucky asks, shying away from the floral scents.

 

Steve picks up a bottle of lotion. “I got Christmas cookies, like, gingerbread.”

 

“That one,” Bucky says. Then he drops back against the table before he can say anything else stupid. He’s got to be obvious from a mile away, but Steve doesn’t mention it.

 

“So, tell me about your day,” Steve says, the cap of the lotion bottle clicking.

 

Bucky exhales. “Long,” he says. “I – I had to leave halfway through my last class. Couldn’t stomach the walls anymore.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Steve says. Bucky can hear him massaging the lotion between his palms to warm it up. “Bet you didn’t miss anything, all my classes were just review because of Halloween.”

 

Bucky nods a little. “Was English, anyway. Not that hard.”

 

“Thought you hated essays,” Steve teases. “I’m gonna touch you now.”

 

Bucky still flinches when Steve’s hands press against his shoulders. The lotion isn’t cold and Steve’s hands immediately begin squeezing the muscles in Bucky’s upper back.

 

“I’m gonna keep talking,” Steve adds. “You wanna talk any?”

 

Bucky shakes his head.

 

“I’ll tell you about my day, then,” Steve says. “Sound good?”

 

Bucky nods. Steve’s hands smooth the lotion down Bucky’s upper back between his shoulder blades, then return up his spine and sweep up his neck.

 

“Your sister woke me up before my alarm,” Steve says. Bucky huffs and smiles. “She’s on a yoga kick, did this whole greet the sun thing. She told me to join her and I told her to shove a pinecone up her ass.”

 

Bucky laughs properly. “You’re a real ray’a sunshine in the mornin’, huh?” he mumbles.

 

Steve chuckles, too. “I hate morning,” he says. “Anyway, I got up at the asscrack of dawn because of Becca,” he continues. “She didn’t even have the decency to buy my coffee this morning. Thank God there’s a Starbucks on campus, am I right?”

 

“Sure,” Bucky mumbles.

 

“I finally tried pumpkin spice this morning,” Steve carries on.

 

Bucky likes his voice; it’s rich and warm and reminds Bucky of a campfire, no, a bonfire. Steve’s smiles burn as bright as bonfires, anyway.

 

“Lemme tell you, it was way too fucking sweet. The barista who saw me grimace made me a new one with less syrup, though, and it was better that way. I told them not to waste an entire cup of coffee but they said they’d rather dump it than make me get high blood sugar. I didn’t even realize the baristas actually listened, but I told one of them one time that I have diabetes and apparently, they remembered it. Your sister tried a cinnamon almond milk macchiato and she actually liked it. I think she’s going dairy-free.”

 

“Really?” Bucky asks.

 

“Yup. She told me she was gonna cut back on milk because she needs to lose weight. I told her that being skinny’s not all it’s cracked up to be and she laughed at me.”

 

“Becca doesn’t need to lose weight,” Bucky mutters, scowling. “She’s squishy and nice to hug.”

 

“Exactly!” Steve laughs. “I told her that if she lost weight, her boobs wouldn’t make such good pillows and she laughed at me.”

 

Bucky grimaces. “Ew, don’t talk about my sister’s boobs, punk.”

 

“Oh, shuddup,” Steve says, half-chuckling. “This is what Omegas do, jerk, we get drunk and talk about our girls.”

 

“You don’t have girls,” Bucky says before he can think better of it.

 

Steve laughs. “I mean, you’re right, but rude!”

 

Steve flicks the back of his neck and Bucky laughs despite himself.

 

“You’re a dude!” Bucky insists.

 

“Oh, well, Becca and I still get drunk and talk about her boobs. Last week, we went to a party and it was her turn to be sober, so she let me take a nap on her boobs on the shuttle home and they were very comfortable.”

 

“You’re making me uncomfortable,” Bucky says, squirming for effect. “Stop talking about my baby sister’s boobs.”

 

“Aw, poor baby,” Steve chuckles. “I’ll stop. Okay. So your asshole sister woke me up at the crack of dawn, is on a dairy-free and a yoga kick, I tried pumpkin spice. I had psych first this morning. We just finished up talking about the history of psychology and now we’re learning about the different schools of psychology.”

 

“Did that last week,” Bucky mumbles.

 

“Oh, yeah, you’re taking it, too. How are you liking it so far?”

 

Bucky shrugs. “Alright. Not that interesting.”

 

“I think it’s fascinating. I’m gonna take sexual psychology next semester.”

 

Bucky’s ears flush without permission. He tries to reprimand them, but it’s not very effective. “Sexual psychology?” he repeats.

 

“Yeah, the psychology of sexuality. It sounds interesting. Besides, it fills up my credits.”

 

Bucky hums. Steve’s thumbs dig into the back of his neck one last time, then start working back down his spine.

 

“Can I work on your lower back?” Steve asks.

 

It takes Bucky a second to register the question. He’s, again, gone to putty under Steve’s hands. Bucky wants to think that it’s the fact that Steve is pretty good at his job, which would be relaxing anxious vets, but it’s also equally likely that it’s just Steve. Bucky’s gone from having a major crush on him to in general craving his company. Steve’s nice to talk to.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says, probably much too late. “Just, don’t get handsy with me, Rogers.”

 

“Ha,” Steve says sarcastically. His hands leave Bucky’s back, then the lotion bottle clicks again and Bucky hears Steve smearing the lotion between his palms. “There’s no ass nice enough for me to risk my job. This is strictly platonic, Barnes.”

 

“Duh,” Bucky says, probably too quickly. He’s much more comfortable being strictly platonic with Steve than anything else. “Why else did I pick you?”

 

“Maybe because you enjoy my company?” Steve suggests. His hands touch Bucky’s waist and spread down, the heels of his palms pressing into Bucky’s tight back.

 

“Nah,” Bucky says eventually. “You’re a punk.”

 

“And you’re a jerk,” Steve answers.

 

Bucky grins. He likes Steve, and not just because Steve’s the best looking guy he’s laid eyes on in probably forever. Steve’s an easy kid to like, all laughs and sarcastic jabs and kind affection. Bucky used to have that kind of bromance back in the day with his squad; his coworkers at the garage try to propagate that kind of friendship, but it’s most natural coming from Steve. Bucky’s really grateful that Becca’s roommate ended up being Steve Rogers.

 

“Anyway, what are you doing for Halloween?”

 

“Nothing,” Bucky says.

 

“Oh, boo,” Steve replies. “You’re invited to go out with me and Becca. She lost rock paper scissors so she gets to be sober.”

 

“This means what to me?” Bucky questions.

 

“I don’t know. But you’ll have fun. We’re going to a party at the Art House –”

 

Bucky flat out laughs. “I’m not going to a party at the Art House,” he declares emphatically.

 

“Oh, come on, ” Steve answers. His fingers dig in on either side of Bucky’s spine and work down in a line. “It’ll be fun. They’ll have good booze, you can drink as much or little as you want and we can judge people’s shitty costumes.”

 

“You’re not twenty-one yet,” Bucky complains half-heartedly. “Neither is Becca.”

 

“So?” Steve asks. He moves back up to Bucky’s shoulders. “It’ll be fun. My friend Peggy is doing this massive art project, like that scene from Princess Diaries with the balloons and the darts?”

 

“No idea what you’re talking about,” Bucky says.

 

“Okay, so, Peggy’s filling all these balloons with paint and putting them on this giant canvas and she’s just gonna let people have at it with darts.”

 

Bucky hums. He’s good with darts. That might be fun.

 

“And it’s a closed party, there won’t be a whole lot of people there. At least, not as many as most campus parties.”

 

Bucky exhales. “You really want me to go?” he says.

 

“Yeah,” Steve answers. “I think you’d enjoy it.”

 

Bucky chews on his lip. He’s told himself that he’s over his crush on Steve. But it’s moments like these that his crush laughs in his face. Bucky’s willing to do anything if it’ll make Steve smile at him.

 

“Fine,” he agrees. “Do I have to wear a costume?”

 

“Duh,” Steve says. Bucky fancies that he can hear Steve grinning. “It’s a Halloween party!”

 

“What are you going as?” Bucky asks.

 

“It’s a surprise,” Steve tells him, sounding smug.

 

“What about Becca?” Bucky pushes.

 

“She’s dressing up as a pirate,” Steve says.

 

“Alright,” Bucky says. He’s got an idea. “I can’t go as a soldier, can I?” he asks, joking.

 

“No,” Steve answers him, pinching Bucky’s shoulders. “You gotta dress up as something you aren’t.”

 

“Fine,” Bucky sighs. He’s got a trench coat and a hockey mask somewhere. He’s not spending money on a costume, that’s for sure. “When is this party?”

 

“Halloween night,” Steve says. “You can pick me and Becca up at nine.”

 

“I see what this is,” Bucky replies in a drawl, huffing but he’s smiling. “You just need a ride.”

 

“I don’t know, can Becca drive your truck?” Steve counters. “She’s not gonna be drinking.”

 

Bucky shrugs. “I don’t think she can.”

 

“We can just walk, it won’t be far,” Steve says. “You don’t have to stay sober.”

 

“Won’t I have to get home somehow?” Bucky asks.

 

“I guess,” Steve replies noncommittally. “But if you want to drink, you can. You don’t have to.”

 

Bucky nods against the cushion. “Guess I could catch a shuttle home,” he muses.

 

It would be nice to let loose at a party. And if it were a closed one, like Steve had said, it would be easier to do. His sister would be staying sober, so Bucky wouldn’t have to be worrying about her. He could worry about Steve, but he shouldn’t, it isn’t his job to worry about Steve. Steve’s just a friend.

 

“How do you feel now?” Steve asks him.

 

Bucky nods. “Better,” he says.

 

“You wanna stay here or you wanna sit on the couch?” Steve adds.

 

Bucky shakes his head. He pushes up, his dog tags swinging forward. “I should get going,” he says.

 

Steve steps back and nods. “You going to group?” he asks.

 

Bucky nods. “I’ll see you on Halloween, I guess,” he tells Steve.

 

Steve smiles brightly at him. “See you on Halloween.”

Chapter Text

on va voir


Steve kicks his legs into the air to fasten the buckles on his shoes, his tongue stuck between his teeth as he tries to bend in half while wearing a corset. It isn’t working very well. He can’t quite reach his feet. He strains one more time, then groans and lets his legs and arms go limp.

 

There’s a knock at the door.

 

“Can you get it?” Becca calls from her desk, where she's absorbed with a mirror, perfecting her fake beard.

 

Steve rolls onto his knees and stands up. He shuffles across the room with his unbuckled T-strap heels and pauses to get his breath halfway there. Perhaps the corset isn’t such a good idea with his asthma, but never let it be said that Steve Rogers ever half-assed anything. He gets his breath back and opens the door.

 

Jason Voorhees stands outside, complete with jeans with mysterious stains, a trench coat with too many pockets, and a rusty machete. Steve blinks.

 

“Is that thing real?” he asks, pointing to the machete.

 

Jason pushes up the mask, revealing Bucky’s face. Of course, Steve already knows it’s Bucky by the way that the left sleeve of Jason’s trench coat is cut off and sewed closed just past the shoulder. Bucky shoves his mask up over his head and his mouth is hanging open. Steve just takes Bucky’s machete and eyes it. It’s blunt, but it’s real.

 

“Nice,” he says, handing it back and turning around. “Hey, since your sister’s being a bitch and not helping me, could you buckle my shoes?”

 

“Well, you’re being a bitch and not helping me with my beard,” Becca answers while Steve drops onto his bed and sticks out his feet. “So, ha.”

 

Bucky wanders inside. He’s still gawking at Steve. Steve starts to get self-conscious and glances down at himself.

 

“Is something showing that shouldn’t be?” he asks, looking over his fishnet thigh-highs and his bright red corset.

 

All the beads and laces are in place, the fringe hangs low over his compression booty shorts. The sweetheart neckline of his corset lies flat against his chest properly, there aren’t any clasps undone in the front.

 

“What?” Steve asks, looking up at Bucky.

 

“What…” Bucky mumbles, then shakes himself. “What are you dressed as?”

 

“A burlesque dancer that’s a cat,” Steve says, then stands up and lifts his arms above his head in a pose; his ropes of pearls swing as he gets up and hit him in the stomach, tightening a little around his throat. “I have opera gloves and everything.”

 

Bucky blinks. “A burlesque dancer,” he repeats. “Where’s the cat part?” he mutters, shaking his head.

 

Steve drops his arms. “If you’re gonna be weird about it,” he snaps, “you’re uninvited.”

 

Bucky visibly shakes himself. “I’m just – Aren’t you gonna freeze in that?”

 

“I have a coat,” Steve says, picking up his own trench coat. “Haven’t you heard about the slut rule, Buck?”

 

Bucky blinks. Becca starts cackling.

 

“Halloween,” Steve begins to recite primly, “is the one night a year where girls – and male Omegas such as myself – can dress like total sluts and none of the other sluts can call you out on it.”

 

“Don’t forget your ears,” Becca calls, throwing a headband at him.

 

“Oh, yeah!” Steve says, catching it. He ducks to stand behind Becca and tucks his hair into the right place, then slips on the headband and reaches up to fix the fluffy white kitten ears. “See? Burlesque cat. I have a tail around here, somewhere.”

 

“I’m almost done here and then I can do you,” Becca tells him.

 

“Cool,” Steve says, pulling out his chair and sitting down. He glances at Bucky. “You can sit, too. And fix my shoes?”

 

Steve sticks his legs out and grins at Bucky, fluttering his lashes. Bucky blinks yet again, then kneels and picks at Steve’s buckles.

 

“I just can’t get to them with this on,” Steve tells Bucky, gesturing to his corset. “Thanks.”

 

Bucky gets up, then looks around before sitting on a bean bag chair. “No problem,” he mutters.

 

Steve swivels around and Becca raises her eyebrows at him in her mirror. She caps the fiber mascara she’d been using to manufacture a beard, then rolls sideways and waves him forward. Steve rolls closer, taking his glasses off as he does, and Becca picks up an eyeshadow palette. Steve closes his eyes, raises his eyebrows, and lets his mouth open so she can paint his lids. It doesn’t take her long, she’s just giving him a quick smokey eye, then she makes him look up so she can do his mascara before adding eyeliner.

 

“Whiskers,” Becca mumbles as she paints a fat black dot on the tip of Steve’s nose.

 

Steve tries not to giggle, remembering his days as a Phangirl, but snorts anyway. Becca smiles and paints three lines on his face, then picks up a tube of bright red lipstick. Steve parts his mouth so Becca can paint his lips. Inexplicably, Steve's gaze flicks over to Bucky in the corner just as Bucky glances away. Steve drops his gaze back to Becca.

 

“Done,” Becca declares. “You look like a professional.”

 

Steve replaces his glasses and shifts to look in the mirror, then smiles and winks at himself. “I look like I’m gonna get laid tonight is what I look like,” he says, elbowing Becca and making her laugh.

 

Steve gets up and goes looking for his tail and his gloves, glancing once at Bucky and shooting him a smile. He finds his tail and gloves under his coat while Becca fixes her hat on top of her curly hair; Steve pins his tail to his corset just over his ass, then tugs on his gloves and makes sure they lay flat over his elbows. The tail and gloves are both white to match his ears and fake pearls, contrasting with his black stockings and red corset. He looks good enough to eat and Steve fully intends to see somebody eat him tonight.

 

(Maybe, if he lucks out, it’ll be Bucky, but who’s he kidding?)

 

“Ready?” Becca asks.

 

“My ears on right?” Steve asks, reaching up.

 

“Yep,” Becca says, standing up and stretching. “You good, Bugsy?”

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says. He gets up, too, adjusting the machete in his grip.

 

Steve picks up his coat and shrugs it on while Bucky cracks his neck.

 

“Thought you girls wanted to leave at nine,” Bucky adds, “it’s almost ten.”

 

“I ain’t no girl!” Steve retorts, aiming a kick he intentionally doesn’t land at Bucky. “And the party didn’t start until nine anyway, we’re fashionably late.”

 

Bucky rolls his eyes. He tucks his machete under his arm and pulls his hockey mask down. “Are we going?” he asks, his voice muffled by the mask.

 

“Argh, aye, matey!” Becca answers.

 

“Oh, mygod, never say that ever again,” Steve tells her emphatically, his gay accent coming out thanks to his drag-esque image.

 

Becca laughs at him. Steve sticks his ID and medical cards in his corset, then drops his phone into his insulin bag and hooks it onto his corset conveniently. Becca opens the door for him and Steve exits, his heels muffled by the carpet outside. Bucky follows Becca out and they wait for Becca to lock the door, then head for the elevator.

 

There’s a bunch of people out in costume already, but Steve and Bucky are the only guys in the hallway as they join the queue for the elevators. Steve, however, passes for a girl with a pixie cut when he’s wearing lipstick, so it looks like Bucky’s the only guy there. At any rate, Bucky’s the only Alpha in the hallway and he’s earning a few looks.

 

Steve’s watching the girls watching Bucky, but Bucky’s got his gaze fixed on the ground. It’s obvious that he knows he’s being looked at, and more obvious – to Steve, at least – that he doesn’t appreciate the stares. Steve gets it.

 

“You know how to get there, right?” Bucky asks as they leave the building.

 

“Duh,” Steve says. “I’d be living there if I were still on the pill. C’mon, this way.”

 

Steve keeps his coat tight around him, because it is freezing outside, on the walk to the Art House. The Art House is a large, Southern-style manor with a massive wrap-around porch, currently lined with Jack-o-Lanterns. There are already people hanging around outside, drinking and laughing, but Steve heads straight inside.

 

“Yo,” says the unfortunate freshman guarding the door instead of enjoying the party. “Invite?”

 

“Peggy Carter,” Steve says.

 

The freshman jerks their thumb over their shoulder and Steve opens the door for Becca and Bucky. Bucky takes it from him and Steve decides not to fight him on it.

 

Inside, there’s music playing and laughter everywhere. Steve promptly sheds his coat and hangs it up on a hook labeled Peggy so he knows it won’t get snatched or damaged. As Steve removes his coat, a few people nearby wolf-whistle. Bucky raises his machete.

 

“Down, Alpha,” Steve tells him, waving a hand. “I dressed to be objectified tonight and objectified I shall be.”

 

Steve can’t see Bucky’s expression behind the hockey mask, but Bucky wordlessly lowers his machete. Becca, the busty bearded pirate, giggles.

 

“I’m gonna find Peggy,” Steve tells Becca.

 

“I’m gonna find Matt,” Becca answers. “Text me when you leave without me.”

 

Steve grins back. “Definitely,” he answers.

 

He pauses to exchange air kisses with Becca and slips into the crowd. After a second, he realizes that Bucky’s following him.

 

“Hey,” Steve says, turning back to look at him. “Becca kick you off her tail?”

 

“She said something about not wanting to scare off the boy she’s chasing,” Bucky answers flatly from behind his realistically bloodied hockey mask. “I told her that she shouldn’t have faked a beard and she shoved me off.”

 

“So now you’re stuck with me,” Steve says, laughing. He grabs Bucky’s elbow and pulls him forward, looping his arm through Bucky’s. “Or are you my lost puppy?”

 

Bucky looks at Steve. He blinks behind his mask.

 

“Sure,” Bucky says dryly. “A lost puppy with a big ass knife. I don’t know anybody here, Steve.”

 

Steve pats Bucky’s arm. “Don’t worry about it, Buck, you can scare off the guys I don’t like.”

 

“I make a great wingman,” Bucky answers in a flat tone. He lifts his machete and wiggles it.

 

Steve laughs and pulls Bucky forward. “I’m getting a beer. Want one?”

 

“Why not?” Bucky says.

 

Steve finds a cooler and digs through it; he finds a seasonal beer that he likes that won’t make his sugar spike and pops the cap with a nearby church key. Bucky gets a beer Steve knows he doesn’t like and bangs the bottle cap against the table instead of asking Steve to open it like a civilized person.

 

“Caveman,” Steve remarks.

 

Bucky sets the beer down to push his mask up, then flicks his eyebrows at Steve as he takes a long gulp. Steve shakes his head despite his smile and pushes Bucky on, looking for Peggy still.

 

Steve stops to talk with people he recognizes as he’s searching for Peggy. Darcy Lewis eyes Bucky like candy and asks Steve where she can get one. Thor squeezes Steve’s lungs out almost when he’s subjected to the customary bear-hug. Loki only says a few words, clearly on his way somewhere. Peter Parker gets Steve and Bucky to pose for a picture, Steve kicking one of his heels up and leaning on Bucky, who brandishes his machete menacingly. Sharon, Peggy’s niece despite being the same age as her, tells Steve Peggy was near the balloon-dart set up last she saw. Steve finishes his beer and gets a new one while he’s still looking and a pleasant buzz rises in him. Bucky stays by Steve’s side, a menacing presence just beyond Steve’s shoulder. No one comes up to flirt with Steve, possibly because of Bucky, but the longer Steve drinks, the less he cares. He just flirts with Bucky. (Bucky doesn’t seem to notice, though.)

 

The balloon-dart-paint attraction is in the middle of the first floor, a massive canvas propped up against a wall with drop cloths lining the floor around it. There are already streaks of paint going down it and people throwing darts surround it. Steve pushes his way through the crowd as he spots Peggy’s pin-up curls near the canvas.

 

“Peg!” he calls.

 

She turns. “Steve!” she squeals, then grabs him in a hug. She’s clearly inebriated already, her normally clipped English accent slipping around the vowels. “You look good,” Peggy giggles, pulling back and eyeing him.

 

“And you’re in a committed relationship, sweetheart,” Steve reminds her. “Where’s Angie?”

 

“Around,” Peggy answers, then spots Bucky looming just behind Steve. “Ooh, introduce me to Tall-and-Scary, darling.”

 

“Oh, this is Bucky,” Steve says, turning and letting his arm remain around Peggy’s waist to look at Bucky. “He’s my roommate’s brother, I invited him.”

 

“Hello,” Peggy says, sticking out her hand. “I’m going to forget your name sooner rather than later, so I’m going to keep calling you Tall-and-Scary.”

 

“Funny, that’s what half of Afghanistan called me,” Bucky replies, shaking her hand. “Nice to meet you. Steve talks about you a lot.”

 

“Because I’m his best friend,” Peggy says with pride.

 

She puffs up her chest, emphasized by her corset. Her costume matches Steve’s, only she’s wearing bunny ears. Angie’s got the same costume as well, she’s a mouse. It’s only a little bit a Mean Girls reference. They got together at a party last week to take pictures, it was great.

 

“I’ve known him for years,” Peggy adds. “I’ve known him so long, he was a virgin when I met him!” she finishes with a tipsy giggle.

 

“Ha, ha,” Steve replies wryly, though he smiles.

 

“Cool,” Bucky answers.

 

“Bucky was a sniper in the army,” Steve tells Peggy. “Can he throw darts at your canvas?”

 

“Oh, yes, please!” Peggy gasps. “Have fun!”

 

Steve pulls his arm away from Peggy’s waist and pushes Bucky towards the small crowd throwing darts. There’s actually only one person throwing darts when they walk up; Sam Wilson, Steve’s seen him around the Art House before. Sam’s a sculptor, he knows, and a pretty good one, too.

 

Sam throws a dart and it strikes a yellow balloon dead center. The crowd cheers.

 

“He’s next!” Steve calls, taking Bucky’s beer. Bucky immediately lowers his mask again. “Hey, Sam.”

 

“Steven Grace,” Sam answers, shooting him a smile. Then he stops and does a double take. He grins, his eyebrows lifting. “Ain’t you a dish tonight, baby?” he remarks with a chuckle.

 

Steve preens, but only a little. “Haven’t you heard of the slut rule, Sam?”

 

“Oh, don’t get me started on Mean Girls, ” Sam laughs. “I guess you and Angie and Peggy are the Plastics again?”

 

“How’d you guess?” Steve asks sarcastically.

 

“I’m lost,” Bucky mutters.

 

Steve waves Bucky forward. “Let him throw a few,” he tells Sam, “he’s got a good eye.”

 

“Sure,” Sam says, passing over his handful of darts to Bucky. “What’s your name, man?”

 

“Barnes,” Bucky says.

 

“Lemme write it down,” Sam tells him, then claps Steve on the shoulder and heads for the canvas.

 

Sam collects the darts and gives them to Bucky, then finger paints Barnes in an upper corner of a canvas. He steps off to the side to join Peggy and Bucky steps forward.

 

Steve takes a swallow of his beer. Bucky raises a dart, then throws it almost lazily.

 

A red balloon near the bottom bursts. Bucky throws another in almost immediate succession and hits the blue balloon right above it. The crowd applauds and cheers and Steve clinks his beer against Bucky’s. Bucky goes in a straight line up the canvas, an exact straight line at what looks like exact intervals. Steve cheers with the rest of the crowd and taps their beers together until Bucky runs out of darts.

 

“Smashing!” Peggy calls from the side.

 

Sam comes over and collects the darts. “I think we got a winner!” he yells.

 

“Yeah!” Steve calls with the rest of the crowd.

 

“What do I win?” Bucky asks in a bemused tone.

 

Sam tugs a bottle of champagne out of nowhere and hands it to Bucky, who takes it and shrugs. Steve lifts onto his toes and leans on Bucky’s shoulder.

 

“You gonna share that?” Steve asks.

 

“Sure,” Bucky snorts.

 

“Thanks, guys,” Sam says, clapping Bucky on the right shoulder, then bending and kissing Steve’s cheek.

 

“Sure,” Bucky repeats, slipping away.

 

Steve waves to Sam but then follows Bucky away, draining his beer as he walks. “I didn’t realize they had a prize,” he calls over the chatter.

 

“I would’a been more impressive if I knew I’d win something,” Bucky says. “What do you wanna do with this?”

 

Steve shrugs. “It’s your champagne,” he says, then takes it from Bucky and hands him back his beer.

 

Bucky pushes up his mask and takes a swig of it as Steve squints to read the label. He shoves his glasses farther up his nose and holds the bottle up to the light.

 

“It’s pretty good stuff,” Steve says.

 

“Maybe I’ll save it for a special occasion,” Bucky says.

 

Steve looks up at him. “Or,” he starts with a growing smile, “the kitchen’s down the hall.”

 

Bucky shrugs, then smiles down at Steve and winks. “Tonight’s a special night,” he says.

 

Steve thinks maybe he’s blushing, but alcohol always gets his cheeks flushed. He loops his arm through Bucky’s again and pulls him out of the main house and into the kitchen. It’s quieter there, there’s no one in it, and Steve fishes out wine glasses from a cupboard.

 

“You wanna pop it?” Steve asks Bucky.

 

Bucky shrugs. “Need two hands to do that, honestly.”

Steve nods, then aims for the sink and pops the cork. It shoots off and Steve shoves the bottle over the sink as foam flies out. When it stops frothing, Steve pours it into the glasses. Bucky finishes his beer, then tosses the empty bottle into a recycle bin and takes one of the glasses from Steve.

 

“Cheers,” Steve says, clinking his glass against Bucky’s.

 

“Cheers,” Bucky answers.

 

Steve takes a long sip and smacks his lips satisfactorily. Bucky takes a slower drink, then leans back and sinks to the floor. Steve joins Bucky, folding his legs underneath him because the floor is cold and he’s wearing booty shorts and fishnet thigh-highs. Then Steve gets an idea and grabs the tail of Bucky’s trench coat, pulling it out and settling his ass on it instead.

 

“Should you be drinking champagne?” Bucky asks him, halfway through taking a gulp.

 

Steve shrugs. He drains his glass, then refills it. “I ate earlier," he says. "My sugar’ll be high tomorrow. But, tha’s wha’ I got the insulin pen for.”

 

“Aight,” Bucky mumbles.

 

Steve takes another long sip of his champagne, then flops against Bucky’s side. He glances up at Bucky, suddenly concerned.

 

“Okay?” Steve asks.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says quietly.

 

Steve smiles, then shifts closer and continues sipping the champagne. He’d be kidding himself if he thought he hadn’t suggested Bucky come to the party just so he could see his reaction to Steve’s costume, and he’d be kidding himself if he said he didn’t want Bucky to be the one drilling his ass later tonight. Steve lets his head rest on Bucky’s shoulder and wonders if all Bucky’s avoiding eye contact is less his PTSD and more that he’s interested in Steve. He can hope.

 

Bucky smacks his lips and picks up the bottle. “‘S good stuff,” he says. “I ain’t had champagne before.”

 

“Hella fine,” Steve mumbles into his glass. “Like me.”

 

Bucky laughs. His head tips against Steve’s. “Like you,” he agrees.

 

Steve grins a little. He crosses his fingers a little and hopes Becca won’t be offended if Steve sleeps with her brother. He hopes Bucky will sleep with him. Steve tips his head to the side and breathes in Bucky’s scent, loving its clean quality.

 

Steve’s a horny drunk. Sue him.

 

“I was plannin’ to get laid tonight,” Steve starts. “Can’t do that sitting on the kitchen floor.”

 

Bucky shrugs under Steve. “But we got champagne?”

 

“I like champagne,” Steve says, lifting his glass to the light, then he twists and winks at Bucky. “But I like dick better.”

 

Bucky’s cheeks flush. Steve bites his lip.

 

“You can get laid,” Bucky says, then jerks his head back towards the party. “I ain’t stoppin’ you.”

 

“Maybe I want you to get laid, too,” Steve adds, flicking his gaze down Bucky’s body briefly. He raises his eyebrows at Bucky, then. “Could relax you, y’know.”

 

Bucky squints at Steve. Steve holds his ground. Bucky frowns a little.

 

“Thought you didn’t do that,” Bucky mutters.

 

Steve shrugs a shoulder. He lifts a hand and sets it on Bucky’s chest, on the buttons of his shirt.

 

“Hug Room don’t do that,” Steve starts. “I don’t normally do it. But," he pauses, glances up to meet Bucky's eyes, and Bucky seems rapt with attention. "I could make an exception?” Steve murmurs.

 

Bucky blinks at Steve. Steve lowers his gaze again, then bites the fat of his lower lip.

 

“Doesn’t have to mean anything,” Steve says softly.

 

He doesn’t want to push Bucky too far. Bucky’s not ready to date, Steve knows, and he’s not going to push Bucky out of his comfort zone like that.

 

“Could just be… relaxing,” Steve offers.

 

Bucky picks up the bottle and tops off Steve’s glass. “Relaxing,” he repeats quietly.

 

Steve tips his glass towards Bucky, then takes a long drink. He tips his head back, lets his throat work as he swallows, and drains the glass. He lowers the glass and his gaze, but drops his chin only a little, leaving his throat open to the Alpha in front of him. Bucky’s eyes fix on his throat.

 

“You ever fucked a boy Omega before?” Steve asks Bucky in a low voice.

 

“Nah,” Bucky says softly.

 

“First time for everything,” Steve tells him. He holds out his glass again.

 

Bucky refills it. “You’re drunk,” he notes.

 

“So are you,” Steve says, pushing at Bucky’s shoulder. “But I ain’t so drunk I don’t know what I want.”

 

“And you want me?” Bucky asks, his tone doubtful.

 

Steve flicks his gaze down again, letting it linger over Bucky’s thick thighs and veined hand.

 

“Yeah,” Steve admits. “I want you.”

 

Bucky looks down to fill his glass. He spills some over the floor and Steve reaches out to steady his hand. Bucky isn’t shying from his touch anymore and Steve wants to see him do some touching of his own.

 

Steve shifts onto his knees and curls an arm around Bucky’s neck. Bucky puts down the bottle but doesn’t look up as Steve leans into his side.

 

“Try me,” Steve says.

 

Bucky’s gaze lifts. It drifts over Steve’s revealing costume, wanders up his body, and stops at the strand of pearls around Steve’s neck.

 

Bucky lifts his glass and clinks it against Steve’s. “To shitty ideas,” he says.

 

“‘S only a shitty idea if you’re straight,” Steve replies.

 

“Nah,” Bucky says. “Not straight.”

 

Steve licks his lips. “Then it’s not a shitty idea.”

 

Bucky laughs. “You’re my sister’s roommate,” he says.

 

“So?” Steve counters. “We’re consenting adults. We’re mature. We can fuck and not be weird about it, right?”

 

Bucky seems to consider this, his gaze still on Steve’s throat. A flush is rising up Steve’s neck, like Bucky’s gaze is drawing blood to the surface of his skin.

 

“It’s been a while, right?” Steve asks Bucky bluntly. “Maybe you’re nervous. Maybe you don’t wanna bring anybody you don’t trust home. You trust me, right? I’m your friend.”

 

“Yeah,” Bucky admits.

 

“Then fuck me,” Steve says boldly. “And enjoy it.”

 

Bucky’s gaze flicks up to Steve’s eyes. “Okay,” he says quietly.

 

Steve puts down his glass, somewhere out of the way. Then he swings a leg over Bucky’s lap, straddling him, and kisses him.

 

Bucky tastes like champagne and Steve’s lipstick tastes shitty. Steve pulls back and goes to wipe it on his hand, then remembers he’s wearing gloves. So he strips off his gloves – He wants to get his bare hands on Bucky, anyway – and wipes the lipstick off. Then Bucky’s hand fists in his hair and he pulls Steve back down.

 

Bucky kisses him harshly and Steve can’t help but whimper a little. Bucky’s fist tugs on his hair and Steve grabs Bucky’s shirt collar, fumbling with the buttons. Bucky pulls Steve off him, but immediately goes for his neck and Steve whimpers again as Bucky’s teeth scrape his pulse.

 

Staggering footsteps and giggles jerk Steve’s eyes open. Bucky pushes Steve back and they look up to see a couple of girls in the doorway.

 

“Whoops,” one of them giggles. “We jus’ need ice.”

 

“Ice,” the second repeats. She’s got a Southern accent and it almost sounds like she’s saying ass.

 

“Don’t mind us,” Steve tells them numbly.

 

“No, get up,” Bucky mutters.

 

Steve scrambles to his feet, knocking over his glass of champagne. He pouts and goes looking for something to wipe it up, but Bucky grabs his waist and pulls him away before he can.

 

“C’mon,” Bucky says in his ear, just against Steve’s hearing aid so his voice overtakes everything else Steve can hear. “Le’s get outta here.”

 

Steve shivers. Bucky steers them out of the kitchen, through the main house, to the front doors. Steve grabs his coat and shrugs it on, then Bucky takes his hand and pulls him out.

 

“Wait!” Steve says, stumbling on the steps from the porch.

 

Bucky turns back, frowning. “Wha’?”

 

Steve digs his phone out of his insulin bag and squints as the brightness assaults his eyes. He texts Becca, telling her that he and Bucky are leaving, then shoves his phone away.

 

“Okay,” he says.

 

“What?” Bucky repeats.

 

“Had t’a tell Becca we’re leavin’,” Steve explains.

 

Bucky’s eyebrows shot up. “Did ya tell ‘er why we’re leavin’?”

 

Steve’s ears heat up. “No,” he adds dumbly.

 

Bucky gives a nod. He pulls Steve into his side and wraps his arm around Steve’s shoulders, the open champagne bottle hanging around Steve’s neck as he’s still clutching it.

 

“Can you get a taxi or an Uber?” he asks. “I’ll pay.”

 

“Shush, I can pay,” Steve answers, taking his phone back out.

 

Bucky’s nose presses into Steve’s neck and Steve loses track of what he was doing, tipping his head to the side to let the Alpha nuzzle his neck, scent-marking him. Steve’s not used to being scent-marked like this, but he likes it. Bucky’s breath is hot on his neck.

 

“I’ll pay,” Bucky insists quietly. “And you can owe me.”

 

Steve shivers again. “Okay,” he agrees.

 

Bucky kisses his neck. “That wasn’t so hard,” he whispers. “Was it, kitten?”

 

Steve sucks in a hard breath and Bucky kisses another spot on Steve’s neck.

 

“Pretty kitten,” Bucky purrs into Steve’s neck, sparking all sorts of sensation in Steve’s body and Steve is grateful for the cool air in his hot face. “Gonna relax for me?”

 

Steve nods. Bucky’s mouth trails up Steve’s neck to his ear, then he starts nibbling on the lobe of Steve’s ear.

 

“Call a cab,” Bucky tells him, then lifts off his neck. “I got the hooch.”

 

Steve nods again and fixes his gaze on his phone. He requests an Uber, pins their location and gets Bucky to recite his address. It doesn’t take long for the car to get there. Steve hides the champagne bottle under his coat and Bucky pulls Steve into his side in the backseat.

 

Steve cuddles up to him happily. He can’t believe Bucky never took up his offer to platonically cuddle before, because Bucky is the softest vet Steve has ever cuddled up to. Maybe Steve’s biased.

 

Then the Uber driver is dropping them off and Steve pays with his credit card before he remembers that Bucky insisted on paying. Bucky’s arm slings around Steve’s neck tighter and he bends to nibble on Steve’s ear again, right there in the street.

 

“Y’re gonna take cash for tha’ car,” Bucky tells him, then starts pushing him towards the stoop. “C’mon, kitten.”

 

“You like that name,” Steve remarks, somehow not slurring. He stumbles a few times getting inside and Bucky steadies him with a hand on his shoulder. “‘S not jus’ ‘cause I’m wearin’ ears, is it?”

 

“Nah,” Bucky answers.

 

He pushes Steve into an elevator, slaps the button for his floor, then presses Steve up against the wall. Steve wraps one arm around Bucky’s neck, the other still holding onto the champagne bottle, and Bucky kisses him with force. Steve whines a little, lifting a knee to hook around Bucky’s leg. Bucky’s teeth pull at Steve’s lower lip, then he ducks and starts kissing Steve’s neck. Steve bares his throat immediately.

 

“You whine like a kitten,” Bucky says against his skin. “What’re ya int’a, baby? Wanna make you scream.

 

“Gonna piss off your neighbors,” Steve mumbles.

 

Bucky grinds their hips together and Steve gasps.

 

“Hell yeah,” Bucky tells him, then pulls Steve off the wall as the elevator dings.

 

Steve’s still staggering a little, but Bucky grips his shoulder and keeps him walking a straight line. Granted, Steve had two beers on top of, like, four or five glasses of champagne and Bucky only had the one beer and half the champagne. Plus, Steve’s a lightweight. Plus, Bucky’s really fucking hot and Steve can feel his ass getting wet.

 

Bucky unlocks his door and Steve slips past him inside. Bucky flips the lock behind them and Steve sheds his coat again.

 

Bucky turns to look at Steve again. His gaze drifts over Steve’s costume. Steve tosses his coat onto the couch and he leaves the champagne bottle on the coffee table before turning around to face Bucky.

 

“Like what you see?” Steve asks softly.

 

“Hell yeah, kitten,” Bucky growls deeply.

 

Steve curls a finger and Bucky shrugs his coat, dropping it onto the floor by a coat rack – A muffled clang comes from the machete tucked inside Bucky’s coat, but neither of them care. Steve starts backing up towards Bucky’s bedroom and Bucky tosses aside his hockey mask as he advances on Steve. Steve toes off his shoes, kicking them aside, and keeps backing up. Bucky stands on one foot to unlace a boot, kicks it off, then switches to the other, and still, he’s stalking Steve down. Steve unwraps the fake pearls from around his neck, then pulls his ID cards from inside his corset and unhooks his insulin bag from his side to stow them in it. Bucky’s gaze is burning on his and Steve’s back hits the wall. Bucky stops right in front of him.

 

“So,” Steve whispers. “I heard somethin’ ‘bout making me scream?”

 

Bucky reaches up and brushes a hand against Steve’s face. “Maybe cry, too, if you’re good,” he says.

 

Steve flicks up his eyebrows. “You gonna call me kitten when you’re fuckin’ me?”

 

Bucky licks his lips and looks at Steve’s neck. “Think I am,” he murmurs.

 

Steve lifts his chin. Bucky ducks and starts kissing him, his mouth wet and his kisses bruising. Steve’s eyes flutter shut and he sighs softly.

 

“Wha’d’you wan’ me t’a call you?” Steve asks. “Sir? Master? Daddy?”

 

Bucky pushes him hard against the wall. “My name’ll do for now,” he answers, his breath falling hot on Steve’s neck.

 

“For now?” Steve repeats with a laugh. “There a later you’re thinking of?”

 

Bucky’s lips still on his neck. “Never mind,” he says, then pulls Steve off the wall and pushes him into the bedroom on the right. “How you wanna do this?”

 

Steve sits down on Bucky’s bed and pops the first hook on his corset. “I like lots of things,” he offers. “You?”

 

Bucky comes to stand between his knees and Steve leans back as he unhooks his corset. Bucky just stands there, watching him, and Steve tips his head to the side as he continues undoing the hooks.

 

“D’you want me on my knees?” Steve asks him. He drops his hands to his waist to keep undoing hooks. “Or on top?”

 

Bucky’s eyes darken. Steve grins.

 

“On top,” Steve repeats. He pops the last hook.

 

Steve takes a deep breath and gets a little bit dizzy from it. Or maybe he’s dizzy from Bucky’s scent. It’s gotten stronger since they entered the apartment, thickened when Steve beckoned Bucky closer, sharpened as Steve removed his corset. Steve could easily get dizzy from Bucky’s scent.

 

Steve lets his corset fall away and he tosses it aside. Then he lies back on the bed, looking at Bucky through his lashes, and lifts a leg to brush his knee against Bucky’s elbow. Bucky glances down, then lifts his hand and spreads his palm over Steve’s thigh. Bucky sweeps his hand up, then curls his fingers into the band at the top of Steve’s stocking.

 

“Wanna see me bouncin’ on your dick, Buck?” Steve asks.

 

“Hell yeah,” Bucky murmurs again, tugging.

 

Steve pulls his leg back as Bucky takes off his stocking, then lays it down when his toes are free and lifts his other leg. Bucky pulls off his other stocking and tosses both in the direction of his corset. Steve sits up then and lifts onto his knees on the bed, putting him on eye-level with Bucky, and he starts slipping the buttons of Bucky’s shirt. The shirt is sleeveless, exposing Bucky’s scared left shoulder and his defined musculature on his right arm, and Steve is very grateful. Bucky’s hand rests on Steve’s elbow, his head tipped to the side as Steve deftly frees the buttons. Steve tugs the tails of Bucky’s shirt free, then pushes it off his shoulders and onto the floor. He spreads his palms over Bucky’s chiseled chest.

 

“Oh,” Steve whispers.

 

“Nightstand, bottom drawer,” Bucky says in a low voice to Steve. “Condoms. Lube, too.”

 

Steve slips back from Bucky. “I don’t think you need lube,” he says, twisting around to fall onto the bed and reach the nightstand.

 

Steve opens the bottom drawer and reaches into an already opened box, pulling out a strip of condom packets. He rips one off, then gets back onto his knees and shuffles back across to Bucky. Bucky takes Steve’s waist and looks down at him.

 

“Are you wet, kitten?” Bucky asks Steve softly.

 

Steve clenches the condom packet into his palm and nods.

 

“I gotta admit,” Bucky murmurs, “I ain’t little. I don’t wanna hurt you, honey.”

 

“How not little are you?” Steve asks, his breath a little short in his chest.

 

Bucky holds Steve’s gaze and lets go of his waist. Steve looks down as Bucky pops the button of his jeans and lowers the zipper.

 

“Oh,” Steve says yet again as Bucky pushes his boxers down. “Oh,” he repeats, a grin spreading across his face, “that’s gonna hit the spot.”

 

Bucky’s lip curls up at the corner and Steve reaches down to touch. Bucky grabs his hand, then pushes him back and knocks him off balance. Steve hits the bed and bounces, lifts onto his elbows and watches Bucky kick off his pants before crawling onto the bed with him.

 

“FYI,” Steve says, “my inhaler’s in my insulin bag.”

 

Bucky pauses. He picks Steve’s bag up from the floor, opens it, and takes out Steve’s inhaler. He crawls farther up the bed on his knees, prowling almost, and puts the inhaler on the nightstand.

 

“Noted,” Bucky says, then ducks and kisses him.

 

Steve lifts his knees over Bucky’s hips, then wraps his legs around him and lifts up to press close to him. Bucky braces himself with an elbow over Steve’s head and starts tracing his tongue down Steve’s body. Steve gasps when Bucky sucks one of his nipples into his mouth, arches up into him and tightens his legs around Bucky’s hips.

 

“Tell me somethin’ you like,” Bucky says, laving his tongue over Steve’s nipple.

 

That, ” Steve answers emphatically.

 

“Teeth?” Bucky asks.

 

“Please,” Steve mumbles.

 

Bucky shoots him a wicked grin before biting down on his nipple. Steve cries out, then moans, a sound that trails off into a whimper when Bucky sucks on his nipple when his teeth release it.

 

God, ” Steve whispers.

 

“Told you to call me by my name,” Bucky jokes. His fingers hook into Steve’s booty shorts. “Can I take these off?”

 

“Yeah, hurry up,” Steve replies, lifting his hips to make it easier.

 

Bucky pulls them down, then pauses. “Steve,” he says.

 

“What?” Steve mutters.

 

Bucky tugs Steve’s shorts off all the way, then folds over him and kisses his lips, fucking Steve’s mouth with his tongue languidly. He lifts off and drags his lips down Steve’s neck to his collarbone, biting down and sucking after.

 

“Did you –” Bucky starts, breaking off to keep kissing down Steve’s chest “– go out –” Bucky licks up Steve’s neck and sucks a new mark under his ear “– wearing only those shorts?”

 

Steve grins. “Oh,” he giggles, “that.”

 

“Jesus H. Christ,” Bucky swears breathlessly. “You went out in panties?

 

“Ain’t ya heard of the slut rule?” Steve asks him.

 

Bucky kisses his lips one more time, then sits back and grabs Steve’s hip. “Flip over,” he demands, “get on your knees.”

 

“Thought you wanted me on top?” Steve says, even as he’s obeying.

 

“I wanna stretch ya open myself,” Bucky answers. “Can’t do that way we were. Sorry.”

 

“Nah, don’ be sorry, honey,” Steve replies, then wiggles his ass at Bucky. “‘S better at this angle anyway.”

 

One of Bucky’s legs pushes underneath Steve and the other braces his thigh. Bucky grips Steve’s ass, pulls his cheeks apart, then he just stops.

 

“Lookit’chu, kitten,” Bucky murmurs. “Whatta handsome lil’ bussy.”

 

Steve shivers and feels his hole fluttering as the cold air starts to hit it. Bucky seems to just be looking at him.

 

“Bet’cha gonna be real tight on my dick,” Bucky says. His hand squeezes Steve’s ass, then he lets go and his fingers slip into Steve’s cleft. “Gonna feel so good, kitten.”

 

“Yeah,” Steve agrees faintly as Bucky’s first finger breaches him. “C’mon, Buck –”

 

“Don’ rush me, doll,” Bucky admonishes him. His finger swirls in Steve’s ass, gentle and barely probing. “I ain’t about to just get my dick wet and be done. I’m gonna fuck you right.”

 

Steve groans. He pillows his cheek on his arm, rocking his ass back onto Bucky’s finger. “C’mon, gimme two –”

 

“You loose enough already?” Bucky laughs. “Hey, you gonna tell me you’s a slut, Stevie?”

 

Steve groans again. “Do I gotta tell you?” he asks, opening his legs more.

 

“Maybe the fact that you was goin’ out in your panties should’a made it obvious,” Bucky answers. “Jesus, baby, that thing was sin itself. I near about had a heart attack when you opened the door.”

 

Steve laughs. “Kinda the point,” he says. “Wha’ I say? I dressed t’a get ob–objecta– whatever?”

 

“Sure got my dick twitching,” Bucky says. His finger plunges deeper and Steve’s breath stutters. “You need your inhaler?”

 

“Nah,” Steve says, “c’mon, two fingers, ain’t gonna kill me –”

 

“Sure,” Bucky drawls, but a second finger works its way into Steve’s ass.

 

Steve whimpers. Bucky scissors his fingers, then curls them deeper.

 

“How many you need?” Bucky asks.

 

Steve groans, but now it’s frustrated. “Three,” he admits, even though he wants Bucky’s dick in him now. “Maybe four. Been a while.”

 

Bucky’s fingers squelch in Steve’s ass. “You mind if I just do three? I wanna stick it in you already.”

 

“Fine by me,” Steve answers, but he’s not expecting the third finger so quickly. He gasps, grinds back on Bucky’s fingers, and groans a more pleasant sound. “ God, Buck –”

 

“You’re gonna inflate my ego bigger than my knot,” Bucky says.

 

Steve just whimpers. Bucky’s so close to his –

 

“There,” Bucky says with satisfaction as Steve cries out a loud: “ Fuck! ” “Hell, you gotta be a slut, kitten, I could hit this with a pinhead and you’d scream, wouldn’t you?”

 

“Not a pinhead,” Steve mumbles. “Bucky, c’mon, don’t tease me!”

 

“Alright.”

 

Bucky’s fingers pull out. Steve sags, whining, but then Bucky collapses onto the bed next to him and Steve lifts up. He watches Bucky roll on the condom and his mouth waters.

 

“Your turn,” Bucky says, grinning at Steve.

 

Steve crawls on top of Bucky and kisses him. He gets his ass on Bucky’s lap and grinds down; Bucky’s teeth catch on is lip as Steve sits up and reaches underneath himself to wrap a hand around Bucky’s length.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky mutters, watching Steve tease himself with Bucky’s dick. “C’mon, baby. Get it, Stevie, c’mon –”

 

Yeah, ” Steve sighs as he sinks down slowly. “ Buck…

 

Bucky’s hand grabs Steve’s hip as Steve grinds his hips down. Steve’s eyes shut and his lips fall open, working his hips in circles as he enjoys the stretch.

 

“That’s it,” Bucky encourages, his thighs canting behind Steve. “Show me what a slut you are, kitten.”

 

Steve whimpers and rocks his weight back and forth. Bucky’s hips thrust sharply into him and Steve gasps aloud. He gets a hand on himself, his other hand pinching one of his nipples, and he starts bouncing properly in Bucky’s lap.

 

“Yeah, that’s it,” Bucky says crooningly. “Your ass is so tight, kitten, beautiful –”

 

Steve squeezes his fist, not wanting to finish anytime soon. Bucky thrusts up into him and Steve rocks down on him, twisting his own nipple between a thumb and forefinger. Steve’s out of words by then, dizzy and twice drunk on the champagne and pleasure. Bucky’s dirty talking him, calling him kitten and that’s really all Steve can hear. He’s never gonna be able to hear the word kitten again without thinking of this moment, the stars he’s seeing and the expert way Bucky drills up into him. Steve comes at last with a gasp and Bucky grunts just before his knot swells, sparking Steve’s vision with overstimulation.

 

Steve slumps forward, Bucky’s arm curls around his back, and Steve tucks himself against Bucky’s neck.

 

“Should’a gotten under the sheets earlier,” Steve mutters.

 

“Prolly,” Bucky answers vaguely. Steve hears him yawn. “Can we just fall asleep like this?”

 

Steve sits up and looks at the mess on Bucky’s stomach that’s transferred to his. “We’ll feel gross in the morning,” he says.

 

Bucky grimaces. He reaches over and fumbles with the nightstand, then returns with tissues and wipes up the mess. Bucky tosses the used tissues into a trash can beside the bed, then yanks down the blankets next to them. Steve lifts his weight some when Bucky picks his hips off the bed and moves his knees so Bucky can get them under the blankets. Steve slumps over Bucky’s chest again, folding his elbows to stick his fingers under Bucky’s neck.

 

“G’night,” Steve mumbles.

 

Lips press to his ear. “Good night, Stevie.”

Chapter Text

le matin après



Bucky’s half-conscious brain tells him that his memory of getting his dick in Steve’s ass was obviously a dream because there’s no reality where Steve would have actually consented to Bucky sticking his dick in him and even drunk, Bucky’s not the kind of creep to accept anything but a clear and enthusiastic YES PLEASE. Bucky does know that he’s some kind of creep, obviously, because he’s still fantasizing about Steve whenever he jerks off and at the same time trying to convince himself to treat Steve like a little brother.

 

Bucky’s nose, which doesn’t have any consciousness nor requires any to function, tells him that either he’s that much of a creep or Steve really did say Yes, because it’s being tickled by soft hair that smells sweet and vaguely of gingerbread cookie dough.

 

Bucky cracks on eye open. Steve is currently drooling on Bucky’s chest. His Halloween makeup is smeared and makes him look like a raccoon with fuzzy whiskers. He’s spooning Bucky like a koala. No, a kangaroo. Steve’s more of a kangaroo than a koala. Curious and soft and fuzzy on the outside to turn out incredibly aggressive and easily offended on the inside. Steve is practically lying on top of Bucky and Bucky’s dick is still sheathed by a condom that Bucky can feel oozing after not being removed when Bucky pulled out at some time during the night.

 

Bucky scrambles to get out of the bed but at the same time does it sneakily so he doesn’t wake up Steve. Steve snorts and his fingers clench on nothing so Bucky pushes a pillow under Steve’s chest and Steve accepts it to curl up around instead of Bucky. Bucky makes a hasty exit from his room, goes into the bathroom, shuts and then locks the door.

 

Bucky starts panicking over what to do. Well, first, he works the by-now disgusting condom off himself and throws it out, then gets a washcloth wet and cleans himself up. Then he sits down on the toilet lid and grips his hair at his temples and freaks the fuck out.

 

His memories are hazy. They got to the party, Becca fucked off immediately so Bucky doesn’t understand why she agreed to not drink the whole night. She hadn’t hung around at all. What was the point of being the sober friend when you let your drunk friend wander around with your creepy as fuck older brother following and eye-fucking them the whole time? Wait, no, Steve fucked off immediately and Bucky went to follow Becca because he was making an active effort not to be creepy, but then Becca turned around and told him to go follow Steve anyway because she was going to go chat somebody up and his presence would be counter-productive. And she’d said something about protecting Steve from the slut rule. Bucky didn’t get it. So he had gone to follow Steve and Steve claimed him as his own personal lost puppy and Bucky had taken only mild offense to that. He wasn’t the puppy – He’d rather Steve be the puppy, only Steve was wearing cat ears and whiskers, so that would have made him a lost kitten –  

 

Not the point, shit. They’d gotten drinks and Steve spent ages mingling. Steve had a second beer. They found Steve’s friend, some English chick who had on a burlesque outfit like Steve’s, only with bunny ears. Her tits had been spilling out of her costume and kept bouncing but Bucky had still been stuck on the way Steve’s waist was made miniscule by his corset. Plus his pert ass practically hanging out of the indecently short shorts. And those stockings. Jesus Christ, Bucky had been eying him all night. Not the point! They’d found Steve’s friend and then there were balloons full of paint and Bucky had been given darts and told to pop the balloons, so he’d shown off for Steve’s benefit by throwing all of them in an exact line at exact five-inch intervals up the length of the canvas. Steve had seemed duly impressed and his cheeks were flushed by the alcohol and his lips were bright red and shiny and Bucky had really wanted to push him up against a wall and taste his shiny red lips. Then somebody else Steve knew gave them a bottle of champagne and Steve had taken Bucky into a kitchen out of the way of the crowds. They’d been alone. They’d drunk maybe half the bottle.

 

Steve had gotten in Bucky’s lap. Bucky didn’t remember what had lead to Steve getting in his lap and, God, fuck, did Bucky hope he hadn’t done something fucked up to convince Steve to get in his lap. How drunk had Steve been? He couldn’t remember. Bucky thinks that someone had interrupted them, but then he’d somehow taken Steve home. He doesn’t remember how Steve got back to his apartment and he sure as hell doesn’t remember anything more than Steve’s flushed cheeks and his mouth falling open and –

 

Kitten. Bucky had called him kitten. What the fuck did he fucking do –

 

“Bucky?”

 

Bucky jerks upright as Steve’s voice drifts through the apartment. He’s up and unlocking the bathroom door before he can process what the fuck he’s fucking doing now and stumbling back into his bedroom. Steve’s sitting up in his bed, rubbing at his eyes with a fist and holding the blankets to his chest with the other.

 

“Yeah?” Bucky answers him a little breathlessly.

 

Steve drops the fist rubbing into his eyes and sticks his hand out towards Bucky. Bucky just stands there. Steve wiggles his fingers. Bucky can’t move and Steve starts pouting.

 

“C’mere ‘n’ cuddle me more,” Steve demands, his voice scratchy from sleep and heavy on the Brooklyn from a hangover probably. “You can’t jus’ fuck me like that ‘n’ then not cuddle me in the mornin’.”

 

Bucky blinks. Steve wiggles his fingers some more, then when Bucky still doesn’t move, he frowns and drops his hand. The blanket slips down some and Bucky’s reminded that Steve is just as naked as he is by the faint curve of his flat breasts exposing some areola.

 

Bucky grabs some pants from his laundry hamper and tugs them on. “I’m making coffee,” he says hoarsely, then flees.

 

Bucky’s hands shake as he sets up the coffee maker. He remembers that Steve can’t have caffeine halfway through filling the filter with grounds and has to start over, though he bemoans the fact that he’s gonna miss out on his morning dose. He gets the brewer going, then just stands there, at a loss for what to do.

 

Bucky hears the footsteps, then Steve’s voice tentatively calling out his name. He can’t look Steve in the eye when the Omega comes into the kitchen.

 

“Hey,” Steve says softly.

 

Steve steps into Bucky’s vision, but doesn’t close the distance between them. Bucky stares hopelessly at Steve’s feet. Steve stole a pair of his socks. It’s fair, his apartment is fucking cold. Then he looks up a little and feels a sensation like a punch directly to his aorta because Steve’s now wearing Bucky’s bathrobe.

 

“I, uh, didn’t wanna go digging through your drawers,” Steve says. Then wiggles his toes and looks down. “Well, I found your sock drawer. It’s cold.”

 

Bucky just nods.

 

“Let’s go sit on the couch?” Steve suggests. “Is that okay?”

 

He inclines his head and points with his thumb and Bucky moves jerkily. He nods again. Steve leads the way and they sit on opposite ends of the sofa. Steve pulls his legs up underneath him, visibly shivering, and Bucky realizes that he ought to have blankets out on his sofa. What kind of Alpha doesn’t have blankets stashed everywhere for their Omega?

 

Then he hastily backs out of that line of thinking. One drunken mistake a relationship does not make.

 

“So,” Steve starts.

 

Bucky bites down hard on his lip. He looks down at the ground, leaning on his knees with his only remaining arm. He can’t look Steve in the eye.

 

“Things happened last night,” Steve says.

 

Bucky nods. “Yeah,” he mutters.

 

“I guess you regret it,” Steve adds.

 

Bucky’s mouth falls open and his brows tighten. He regrets it?

 

“We were both drunk,” Bucky says, confused.

 

“Yeah,” Steve echoes, sighing. “I’m sorry, Buck, I shouldn’t have pushed you into it.”

 

Bucky finally looks over at Steve. Steve’s looking down at his lap, his expression honestly apologetic.

 

“It wasn’t fair,” Steve adds while Bucky just gawks. “I was being – me, I guess, and you… Well…”

 

Bucky drops his gaze to the couch between them, ashamed. “I should’ve known better than to take you home,” he tells Steve.

 

Steve shrugs. “I was begging for it. Honestly – I shouldn’t have invited you to come. I knew I’d get horny and come onto you and it wasn’t fair.”

 

Bucky clenches his jaw. He doesn’t know what Steve’s talking about. Is Steve implying that this is what he does when he gets drunk? Climbs into bed with the first hopeless loser he finds? Or is Steve trying to tell Bucky that he knows Bucky’s crushing hard on him and trying to let him down easy after fucking his brains out? Either way, Steve’s not wrong. It’s not fair.

 

“Are you mad at me?” Steve asks quietly.

 

Bucky looks up. “Mad at you?” he repeats. “Why would I be mad at you?”

 

Steve looks hesitant. He shrugs, pulls his knees up to his chest and hugs them, his scent is distant and a little sour –

 

“I’m not mad,” Bucky says quickly when he realizes Steve’s afraid.

 

Steve is afraid of him. Of course he is. Bucky’s this massive Alpha Steve doesn’t know very well, displaying aggressive tells and Steve’s stuck alone with him wearing only Bucky’s clothes. Of course Steve is afraid of him. Every Omega gets afraid of Bucky.

 

“It was a mistake,” Bucky says carefully. He sits up and leans back, hoping that somehow he can make himself look less threatening. “But we were both drunk, like you said. I should’ve known better than to follow you around all night like that –”

 

“Does it have to be a mistake?” Steve asks very, very quietly.

 

Bucky stops. He blinks. “What do you mean?”

 

Steve shrugs again. “Well,” he starts, staring at his toes hidden in Bucky’s woolen Army socks, “maybe we shouldn’t have done it, sure, but we did. And – I don’t know about you but – But I liked it? It only has to be a mistake if we let it ruin our friendship.”

 

“You still want to be friends with me?” Bucky says disbelievingly.

 

Steve shrugs his shoulders again. His glasses slip down his nose and he reaches up to push them back as if not even realizing he’s doing it. He washed his makeup off while Bucky was making the coffee. His face is pale and his eyes are very blue.

 

“Last night was fun,” Steve says. “Despite maybe being a bad idea and awkward morning afters. But unless staying friends would be bad for you –”

 

“Steve, you were actually scared of me a second ago,” Bucky interrupts. “I – I’m a messed up creep, I was leering at you all night and took you home even though you were clearly too drunk to be thinking straight –”

 

“You were too drunk, too,” Steve points. “And I wasn’t scared, I just – I thought you’d be upset.”

 

“I wasn’t as drunk as you,” Bucky insists. “Why do you still want to be friends with me? Why do you want to be my friend at all?”

 

Steve frowns at him. “Why wouldn’t I want to be friends with you?”

 

Bucky blinks. He doesn’t know what to say. Steve seems to wait for him for a few seconds, then repositions himself on the couch and slips a little closer to Bucky. He lays his hand on top of Bucky’s on the back of the sofa and Bucky doesn’t pull away.

 

“You’re not a creep,” Steve says gently. “You weren’t leering. Leering was what Brock Rumlow was doing. You were appreciating the view. And if I didn’t appreciate it, I would’ve told you to cut it out. I said I dressed up to be objectified because I wanted to be, Buck. I wasn’t joking.”

 

Bucky blinks more. “You wanted to be objectified,” he repeats dumbly.

 

“Yeah,” Steve says, shrugging a shoulder. “I like it. It makes me feel powerful. Like, all these guys are tripping over themselves because I’m showing a little skin.” He tips his head to the side, shrugging. “Okay, a lot. But it’s a thrill. I’m an adrenaline junkie.”

 

“Okay,” Bucky mutters.

 

Steve squeezes his hand. “So, point A addressed. You’re not a creep and I didn’t mind the way you looked at me. Point B, I came home with you very willingly, I paid for the car back here. I wasn’t so drunk I didn’t know what I wanted.”

 

Bucky sees in his hazy memory Steve shoving at his shoulder and insisting that very same thing. “Okay,” he says again.

 

“Point C,” Steve continues. “I pushed you to fuck me when you’re barely comfortable with platonic touching. That’s what’s not fair and I’m sorry for that. I totally get it if you want me to leave you alone after this because it’s your mental health and comfort –”

 

“No, that’s not –” Bucky cuts him off, but can’t finish. He sighs sharply and Steve squeezes Bucky’s hand, waiting for him to speak. “You said something about trust,” Bucky remembers. He pulls his hand away from Steve’s and rubs at his temples. His head hurts. “You guessed that it’d been a while ‘cause I didn’t trust anybody to bring ‘em home. You were right. But you were also right that I trust you.”

 

That’s not why Bucky’s upset he took Steve home. He doesn’t regret that he had sex last night. He regrets that it was Steve, because he has feelings that are going to get tangled up in this mess and he doesn’t want to admit that he’s been crushing on Steve since the first time he saw him in Hug Room and bolted. This is a mess.

 

“Okay,” Steve says as Bucky exhales sharply again. “It’s okay, Buck. I’m sorry if I abused that trust.”

 

“You didn’t,” Bucky mutters.

 

“Do you still want to be friends?” Steve asks gently.

 

Bucky exhales. “It’s not –” he starts, then stops. He doesn’t know how to say this. “We’re just friends,” he mutters hopelessly.

 

“We are,” Steve agrees. “Friends have sex sometimes.”

 

Bucky looks up, squinting. Steve shrugs.

 

“Like friends can cuddle without it being romantic,” Steve explains. “Sex doesn’t have to be a big deal.”

 

Bucky squints more. “Isn’t it usually Alphas insisting that sex isn’t a big deal?”

 

Steve gives him a stern look. “Don’t go stereotyping you or me. We’re in the fourth age of feminism, sex is something intimate and beautiful that doesn’t have to be defined by traditional norms.”

 

Bucky shifts on the couch, pulling a knee up and leaning his elbow on it so he can face Steve and squint at him head on. “So, you’re saying that this is like platonic cuddling. Or friends with benefits?”

 

“Friends with benefits implies it’s gonna happen again,” Steve answers. “And – forgive me for assuming, but you don’t seem like you want it to happen again.”

 

Bucky blinks. He sits back. “Would you want it to happen again?”

 

Steve looks at him, hard, and then he shrugs and sits up some.

 

“It was good,” he says easily. “Hell, it was great. And if doing it again would be helpful to you becoming more comfortable with physical intimacy –”

 

Steve abruptly grins, then breaks off to salute. “I’d love to do my duty for my country,” he says.

 

Bucky laughs. He grins and covers his mouth with a hand, falling back against the arm of the couch as he laughs. Steve giggles a little, seeming proud of himself.

 

“So, what?” Bucky says when he’s controlled his laughter. “You’d be willing to be my – My booty call, I guess?”

 

“If it’d help you,” Steve answers, lifting a shoulder. He smiles easily. “Not like it’s any hardship to get my ass drilled.”

 

“What about –” Bucky says, scrambling for an excuse to convince Steve to take this back. He doesn’t have that much self-control, if Steve were to genuinely offer benefits to their friendship, Bucky would take them, he knows he would, and that would just make his whole feelings situation even more tangled and messy. “What about other guys? For you, I mean?”

 

Steve tips his head to the side, considering. “Well,” he says, and Bucky’s stomach swoops with hope or dread – Which is for which outcome, Steve insisting or taking it back, Bucky doesn’t know – “I told myself that I wouldn’t date during my freshman year,” Steve says.

 

Bucky’s stomach twists. Both, hope and dread.

 

“So I wouldn’t be seeing anybody exclusively,” Steve continues. “And if there’s a night you want me to come over and I can’t because I’m with somebody else, I might say no, depending on whether or not I wanna break in a new dick.”

 

Bucky blinks. He laughs again, because this is absurd.

 

“Hey, don’t make light of yourself,” Steve tells Bucky, kicking out in his direction playfully. “Your dick’s amazing, Buck.”

 

“Ohmygod,” Bucky whispers under his breath. He covers his face with his hand. “How? How is this happening?”

 

“You had the misfortune of meeting me,” Steve answers, “and I’m a slut.”

 

Bucky laughs one more time. He lifts his eyes heavenward and shakes his head. “I’m not sure that’s really a misfortune,” he admits. He sits up straighter. “So – So you mean this? On top of trying to get me to hug and cuddle you every time I see you, you want to be my fuckbuddy?”

 

“Sure,” Steve says, lifting a shoulder and smiling softly. “Like I said, it doesn’t have to be a big deal.”

 

Bucky gestures to himself. “Even with how big of a fuck-up I am?”

 

“Ah, ah,” Steve scolds, sitting up and wagging his finger at Bucky, “you’re not a fuck-up. You have been fucked up in the past, past participle and all that shit, but you are not a fuck-up. Be nicer to yourself, jerk.”

 

Bucky blinks. Then he laughs yet again. He can’t believe this. “Punk,” Bucky chuckles.

 

“Thank you,” Steve says primly, smoothing out the front of Bucky’s shirt. “Now, to answer your question – Have you seen your dick lately? Better, did you see me on your dick last night? That was the best sex I’ve had in months.”

 

Bucky cannot believe this. “You’ll just fuck anybody, won’t you?” he mutters.

 

“Not anybody, honey, I have some self-respect,” Steve answers immediately. “I wouldn’t fuck Brock Rumlow.”

 

Bucky snorts. “The bar really is low,” he observes.

 

“For sex?” Steve counters, then shrugs. “Yeah, I guess. Consenting and interesting. That’s about it. I mean, the first time sets the bar for whether or not there’ll be a second time, so, pretty much.”

 

Bucky shakes his head. “Can – Can I think about this?” he asks, not believing that this is actually happening.

 

“Of course,” Steve agrees quickly. “You don’t ever have to put any labels on this, hell, you could never bring this up again and I’d be alright with it. You could leave it and then call me up in ten years and say “Hey, if you’re not in a committed relationship right now, remember that time back in college when you said you’d be my fuckbuddy?” And I’d say, “Oh, yeah, I remember that! I’ll take some dick, please and thank you.” Unless, of course, I am in a committed relationship, in which case I would say “I’m very sorry, I’m not currently available, but if I become available anytime soon, I will let you know” and that would be fine.”

 

Bucky blinks. Steve grins. Bucky bursts into laughter again, falls backward and collapses onto the arm of the sofa as he laughs. Steve starts laughing, too, and Bucky finds himself pooling weakly into a puddle on the floor next to the couch because he’s laughing too hard to stay upright.

 

“When I say I’m a slut, I mean I’m a slut!” Steve laughs.

 

“Ohmygod!” Bucky wheezes. “ I’m not currently available. Like it’s a business meeting.”

 

“I mean, it’s kind of therapy,” Steve points out. “So, it could be a business meeting. We would be working out your issues with intimacy.”

 

Bucky lifts his head off the floor and grins limply at Steve. “So you’re a sex shrink now in addition to being a masseuse, huh?”

 

Steve shrugs. “I could get the license for it.”

 

Bucky drops his head again as he keeps laughing. Steve shoves his legs off the sofa and Bucky lets them hit the ground with a thump, then Steve’s getting up and climbing on top of him. Bucky quits laughing. Steve grins down at him. Bucky hiccups.

 

“Are you gonna cuddle me this morning or no?” Steve asks.

 

Bucky blinks. “This position isn’t very conducive to cuddling,” he admits.

 

Steve shrugs. Then he slips off of Bucky’s hips and lies down on the floor next to him, tucking himself under Bucky’s only arm and setting his head on Bucky’s chest. Bucky hesitates, then lays his hand on Steve’s waist.

 

“Good morning,” Steve murmurs then. “If I didn’t say it earlier.”

 

Bucky laughs softly. “You didn’t. But good morning, sunshine.”

 

“I like that,” Steve declares. “You can call me cute names anytime.”

 

“Noted,” Bucky chuckles.

 

Steve worms closer to Bucky. “Yannow, I try to promote the idea that friends should cuddle wherever I go,” he remarks. “Cuddling is really good for your health. That’s why Hug Room’s at the VA at all; cuddling’s good for anxiety, for depression, for stress, for high blood pressure –”

 

“Blood sugar?” Bucky asks, pinching Steve’s waist.

 

“Oh, shit!” Steve gasps, jerking up.

 

Bucky cranes his neck back to watch Steve scramble to his feet and run into Bucky’s bedroom. Bucky sits up, then sighs and pushes to his feet. He follows Steve at a more sedate pace, stopping at the doorway and leaning against the jam to watch Steve checking his sugar.

 

“Yikes,” Steve says, wincing. “I have to stab myself.”

 

“Stab yourself?” Bucky questions, pushing off the door and walking in.

 

Steve nods, digging through his diabetes bag. “My sugar’s too high. I gotta give myself a shot.”

 

Bucky sits down on the bed. “So, what, you got needles?”

 

Steve takes out what looks like an EpiPen. “I got this thing,” he says, waving it. “It’s a Lantus pen, it’s insulin.”

 

“Oh,” Bucky says.

 

Steve fiddles with the pen for a second, then takes out an alcohol swab and wipes off a spot on his thigh. He presses the tip of the pen against his leg, then presses a button and winces a little. He pulls the pen away, wipes the spot again with alcohol, then fiddles with the pen again. Bucky watches Steve get up and toss away his trash, then pack up his things back into his bag.

 

“You need any Advil or Tylenol?” Bucky asks belatedly. “Hungover?”

 

Steve shrugs. “A little, but I’m alright.”

 

“I’ll get you some Tylenol,” Bucky says, getting up. “You can go raid the fridge.”

 

“You’re not gonna make me breakfast?” Steve calls after him as he leaves.

 

Bucky digs around in his medicine cabinet in the bathroom for some Tylenol. He can’t take it anymore because of his meds for his phantom pains, but he’s still got a bottle tucked in the back of his cabinet. He leaves the bathroom to find Steve in the kitchen, actually raiding his fridge.

 

“Here,” Bucky says. “Do you need to charge your hearing aids at all?”

 

Steve glances over his shoulder. “No, I stuck spares in my insulin bag. These have 72-hour battery lives anyway.”

 

Steve turns back to the fridge, tossing a: “Thanks, though,” over his shoulder. Bucky walks up behind him. He gets the urge to hug Steve and settle his nose in Steve’s neck and goes to get a cup of coffee instead.

 

“I made you decaf,” Bucky says.

 

“Thanks,” Steve repeats. “Bucky, why do you only have eggs and yogurt in your fridge?”

 

Bucky turns around with his cup of coffee and reaches past Steve to get the half-and-half. “I have more than just eggs and yogurt,” he defends himself. Then he wiggles the half-and-half in Steve’s face. “I have this. And ketchup.”

 

“Okay,” Steve laughs. “I’m going to eat some of your yogurt and then we’re going to breakfast.”

 

“We are?” Bucky questions, pouring half-and-half into his coffee.

 

“Yes,” Steve says firmly, turning and smiling at Bucky as he takes a container of Greek yogurt out of Bucky’s fridge. “What was that diner we went to the first day of the year?”

 

“Adrianna’s,” Bucky answers. He puts the half and half back and points to a cupboard. “Bowls are there.”

 

“Thanks,” Steve says again. He gets a spoon and a bowl, then dollops yogurt into his bowl. “Anyway, why do you only have eggs, yogurt, half and half and ketchup in your fridge?”

 

Bucky leans up against the counter. He shrugs and sips his coffee. Steve half-frowns and half-smiles at him as he puts the yogurt away, then Steve hops up onto a counter and picks up his bowl of yogurt. He squints at Bucky and takes a suspicious bite.

 

“Why?” Steve repeats.

 

“I’m a bachelor?” Bucky suggests.

 

“That’s a weak excuse,” Steve says with his mouth full.

 

He wipes his lips off with a hand and Bucky regrets the fact that Steve chose the yogurt over the eggs. Steve licks the strip of white cream off his hand and dips his spoon back into the bowl, filling his mouth with bright white and viscous liquid again. ‘Course, Greek yogurt’s a lot thicker than cum, but still…

 

“You’re staring,” Steve says.

 

Bucky blinks, then shakes himself. “Sorry.”

 

Steve looks down at the yogurt, then back up at Bucky and winks. “Next time,” he says and Bucky flushes.

 

“Jesus,” Bucky mutters, gulping his coffee.

 

Steve raises his eyebrows and crosses himself as he swallows. Then he licks his lips obscenely.

 

“Quit flirting with me,” Bucky tells him firmly, pointing with his coffee cup.

 

“I ain’t doin’ nothin’,” Steve answers, shoving another spoonful of thick white liquid in his mouth.

 

“You know exactly what you’re doing,” Bucky insists.

 

Steve breaks and laughs, lifts a hand to cover his mouth as he swallows and then laughs again. “Okay,” he giggles. “I’m sorry. I’ll stop flirtatiously eating yogurt at you.”

 

“Better,” Bucky says, then takes a long gulp of his coffee.

 

“So, what’s with kitten? ” Steve asks suddenly.

 

Bucky chokes. He puts down his cup and coughs into his fist, then thumps his chest several times. Steve, the fucker, is laughing. Bucky shakes his head and grabs a paper towel to blow his nose, then coughs a few more times for good measure.

 

“You okay?” Steve sniggers.

 

“Swell,” Bucky rasps sarcastically.

 

“I was just curious,” Steve adds. “I mean, I liked it, but you wouldn’t tell me what the other half of your kink was.”

 

Bucky clears his throat. He picks up his coffee cup and drains it, then grabs the coffee pot and refills it without answering. Steve’s still smiling but he’s stopped giggling, thank God, as Bucky adds half-and-half again. He adds sugar this time, too, bunches of it.

 

“So?” Steve asks.

 

Bucky stirs his coffee, then tosses the spoon into the sink. He raises his mug to his lips and drinks from it again.

 

“What do you mean, other half?” Bucky says finally.

 

Steve shrugs. “Y’know. Why kitten? What do you wanna be called in return?”

 

Bucky copies Steve’s shrug. “My name?” he suggests.

 

Steve raises his eyebrows and his smile turns a little coy. “Not sir or daddy or anything?”

 

Bucky blinks uselessly. “Well,” he says, shifting uncomfortably, “it’s not – I guess –”

 

“Is kitten just a cute name or what?” Steve asks, tucking another spoonful of yogurt into his mouth without ceremony. None of it gets on his lips this time, for which Bucky’s not sure if he’s sad or happy about.

 

Bucky looks down, embarrassed, and shrugs. “‘S, y’know –.”

 

“I don’t know,” Steve says. He sets down his bowl and perches an elbow on his knee, propping up his chin. “You don’t have to tell me now if you don’t want to. But if you wanna do it again, you might wanna come clean.”

 

Bucky’s entire body flushes. He squirms a little where he stands, uncomfortable with the level of blood circulating south. He tells himself that this is just him talking with one of his buddies, that he and Steve are friends, and he can admit a kink or two casually.

 

No. No, he can’t. Because this isn’t casual. This is Steve asking so they can act on it next time.

 

“‘S kinda a dom/sub thing,” Bucky mumbles.

 

Steve’s eyebrows lift. “Yeah?”

 

Bucky shrugs.

 

“I could get behind that,” Steve replies.

 

Bucky shrugs and holds it. “Kinda…?”

 

“Kinda what?” Steve asks.

 

“Pet play,” Bucky mumbles, then hides behind his coffee mug by taking a large gulp.

 

“Huh,” Steve says and Bucky looks over the rim of his coffee mug. Steve nods slowly, his expression thoughtful. “We’ll have to do some kink negotiation but I’m down.”

 

Bucky stands upright. “Yeah?”

 

“Yeah,” Steve says, smiling a little. He tips his head to the side and leans his palms on the counters, still smiling at Bucky. “You gotta tell me what you want me to call you, though.”

 

Bucky shrugs. “I don’t know,” he says. “I haven’t really had a – a partner who wanted to try anything like this, so –”

 

“Figure it out as we go,” Steve says.

 

Bucky gives a nod. He can’t believe this is happening. Why does he have no self-control?

 

Steve smiles at him, like a note he’s passing in class, and Bucky’s heart skips. That’s why he has no self-control. He just wants to keep seeing Steve smile.

 

“Well, while we’re exchanging kinks,” Steve adds and Bucky stands up straighter. Steve’s smile turns coy again and he winks at Bucky. “Did I mention I’m a slut?”

 

“Think you might’a said somethin’,” Bucky answers cheekily. He tips his coffee mug at Steve. “You’re gonna have to show me how much of a slut you are sometime.”

 

Steve grins and he gives a large, full-bodied shudder. “I think you said that last night,” he says with a happy ring to his voice.

 

Bucky squints. “I can’t remember,” he admits.

 

“We should be sober next time,” Steve says, picking up the bowl of yogurt again.

 

Bucky nods. He waits for Steve to tuck another spoonful in his mouth before he asks: “So, is it a degradation kink or a humiliation kink?”

 

Steve coughs and half-glares, half-grins at Bucky. “Aren’t those the same thing?”

 

Bucky shrugs. “I think degradation would mean I get to call you a disgusting slut, but humiliation would be me calling you a pretty one.”

 

Steve sweeps his tongue over his teeth behind his lips and considers his options. Bucky drinks his coffee, leaning back on the counter and watching Steve with a more calculating eye now. He’s doing this. He can’t believe he’s doing this.

 

“I think it’s a bit of both,” Steve admits. “Do you wanna put me on a leash?”

 

Bucky manages not to choke on his gulp of coffee. He swallows carefully, smacks his lips, and narrows his eyes at Steve. At his throat. God, he’d look so pretty with a collar around his throat.

 

“Maybe,” Bucky says.

 

Steve smiles. He crosses his legs where he’s sitting and spoons more yogurt into his mouth. “Anything else?” he asks, his mouth full.

 

“I don’t wanna hurt you,” Bucky replies, then shrugs. “Not my thing.”

 

“Sure,” Steve answers. “I like a little bit of pain and I guess a lot could be nice if it’s done right but it’s not a deal breaker.”

 

“Restraints are my thing,” Bucky adds.

 

Steve nods, smiling still. “I like them,” he agrees. “What else?”

 

Bucky thinks. Steve spoons more yogurt into his mouth, politely breaking eye contact as he does, maybe so Bucky won’t accuse him of flirting again.

 

“Risk’a gettin’ my head bit off,” Bucky starts, “but that whole drag thing you had goin’ on last night…”

 

Steve makes eye contact again and grins. “You liked that, huh?” he chuckles. “You got a feminization kink?”

 

Bucky shrugs. “Maybe I wanna tie you up in bows, kitten.”

 

Steve’s grin gets bigger. He nods quickly. “You can do that,” he says.

 

Bucky pushes off the counter. He puts down his coffee mug and crosses the kitchen in measured steps. Steve sets down his bowl and sits up straight, uncrossing his legs, and Bucky stops just in front of him. Steve spreads his knees wide, but Bucky doesn’t move to stand between them. He does reach out and touch Steve’s jaw, lifting his chin, and Steve holds his gaze with a smile on his face.

 

“You tell me one,” Bucky says quietly. “Just one, kitten.”

 

“I have an oral fixation,” Steve whispers.

 

Bucky’s eyes flick to Steve’s lips. Steve nods. Bucky drops his gaze completely, stands there staring at Steve’s lips, then pulls back.

 

“I have to think about this,” Bucky admits.

 

Steve nods again. “It’s no pressure,” he tells Bucky. “The offer’s there if you want it.”

 

Bucky nods. He runs a hand through his hair, figures it’s time he get a haircut again, then he takes a step towards the living room.

 

“I’m gonna go get dressed,” he says.

 

Steve nods again.

 

“I’ll be back,” Bucky adds.

 

“I’ll be here,” Steve answers, picking up his yogurt again.

 

Bucky flees again. He shuts himself in his bedroom, sits down on his bed, then has to get back up because his bed smells strongly of sex and Steve. He needs to think. He needs to think when his place doesn’t smell like sated Omega and he needs fresh air. Hell, he needs a cigarette. Which, shit. He hasn’t craved a smoke in at least five months. Bucky looks around his room, biting his tongue, then goes digging through his nightstand for Nicorette gum. The bottom drawer is hanging open, the box of condoms Bucky had stuck there when he moved in but never expected to actually get used stands open, and the bottle of synthetic slick he uses on his fleshlight is knocked sideways.

 

Bucky remembers Steve laughing and saying they wouldn’t need lube, then he remembers Steve’s flushed cheeks and wide grin as Bucky asked are you wet, kitten?

 

Bucky shakes himself. He kicks the bottom drawer shut and finds a pack of Nicorette gum in the middle drawer. He pops the last one out and throws it in his mouth. He chews almost absently, then starts getting dressed. He has to sit to put on socks and it takes him five minutes to get his pants on. He can’t wear belts anymore because he can’t get them on without help, which means when he wants the security of a belt, he has to wear suspenders and look like a hipster. So mostly he just wears snug jeans. Bucky pulls a T-shirt over his head, then goes looking for his boots to shove his feet into and lace them up as tightly as he can with one hand.

 

His boots aren’t in his room. Bucky looks around, spots Steve’s corset, stockings, and panties littering his floor, and he gathers them up with flaming cheeks before leaving.

 

And, yeah, his boots are in the living room, one tossed haphazardly by the coffee table and the other just lying on the floor near the doorway to the kitchen. Steve’s heels are on the ground by the hallway. Bucky’s coat is slumped on the floor instead of on the rack. Steve’s gloves and pearls are puddled by the door to the bathroom. Bucky picks them all up, dumps Steve’s stuff into a pile on the coffee table, then picks up his boots and pulls them on.

 

Steve wanders in. Bucky’s focusing on lacing his left shoe. Steve approaches in the corner of his vision, then he drops down in front of Bucky and waves his hands away.

 

Bucky sits upright, confused. Steve shoots him a smile.

 

“You buckled my shoes last night,” he says. “Let me return the favor.”

 

Steve bends his head and starts lacing Bucky’s boots. Bucky swallows.

 

“I should’a mentioned,” Bucky mumbles.

 

“What?” Steve asks, pulling Bucky’s laces tight.

 

“Boot worship,” Bucky blurts out before he can think better of it. “Uh.”

 

Steve looks up and winks at him. Then he bends his head again and kisses the toe of Bucky’s boot. Bucky swallows hard.

 

“Anyway,” Steve says, like it’s nothing, and continues tying Bucky’s shoes.

 

Steve gets his boots laced tighter than Bucky normally does, almost as tight as Bucky used to do back when he had a left hand. Bucky does squeeze the shit out of the front of his jeans while Steve isn’t looking.

 

“There,” Steve says, leaning back on the leg he’s got tucked underneath him. He looks up, this totally innocent expression on his face, and he asks: “Good?”

 

Bucky takes two seconds to remind himself not to do something stupid, like kiss Steve or tell him he’s a good boy, and he just nods. Steve smiles and gets up, then stretches and the flaps of Bucky’s bathrobe gap in the front.

 

“Do you think I could borrow some clothes?” Steve asks. “‘Cause it ain’t Halloween anymore and the slut rule no longer applies.”

 

Bucky blinks. “Yeah,” he says, then stands and nods.

 

He sees Steve snagging the fucking panties he’d been wearing as shorts last night as Bucky heads back into his bedroom before following and Bucky shakes his head. At least now Steve will actually be wearing pants. He checks his closet, then figures his sister won’t mind and goes into the other bedroom. Steve follows him again and Bucky squats to open the bottom drawer of the spare dresser.

 

“Here,” Bucky says, pulling out some jeans and then a T-shirt that’s closer to Steve’s size. “I don’t have a lot that will fit you.”

 

“These look suspiciously like a woman’s,” Steve answers, shaking out the T-shirt. He flips it around, raising his eyebrows at the OneDirection print on it. “Very suspiciously.”

 

“It’s Benny’s,” Bucky explains, “my baby sister, Bennett. I gave her a drawer here ‘cause she’s going through the teenage rebel phase and my parents wanted to encourage her to explore her thirst for anarchy at a safe location. She usually stays over Friday nights, so she left a bunch of her stuff here.”

 

Steve looks considerate, then nods and shrugs. “Fair,” he says. “You wanna step out so I can change or do you care?”

 

“I’ll duck out,” Bucky says quickly. “You can keep wearing those socks, but, uh –”

 

He pulls a pair of flat sneakers from the closet. “I dunno if those’ll fit, but they’re better than your heels?”

 

“Yeah, thanks,” Steve agrees.

 

Bucky steps out of the room, shutting the door. He can hear Steve moving around, then he shakes himself and goes to clean up. He puts his coat on the rack, then pulls his machete from its inside and puts it in the linen closet tucked inside the bathroom. Then he stuffs Steve’s costume into a grocery sack, dropping it onto the couch next to Steve’s coat. Then he fixes the couch cushions, tweaks the angle of the coffee table from where his boot had knocked it out of place last night, and goes into the kitchen to deal with the dishes. Steve had poured a cup of coffee while he’d been gone and drunk almost all of it. Bucky pours the rest out and puts it all in the dishwasher. Then he spits out his gum, because he doesn’t need it anymore, and takes a few swigs of water to wash his mouth clean of the taste.

 

Bucky’s just closing the dishwasher when Steve exits the spare bedroom. He stands up, wipes his hands on a towel, and Steve wanders in.

 

“It’s depressing that your little sister’s clothes are too big for me,” Steve says, pouting.

 

“My little sister is five-ten,” Bucky points out.

 

Steve yanks the waistband of jeans a little higher. He’d rolled up the bottom hem, to keep them from dragging on the ground probably, and the shirt hangs loosely on his skinny frame. His neck looks like a wild animal mauled him.

 

“I ought’a find you a turtleneck,” Bucky mutters.

 

Steve stands tall. “I would like to wear my battle scars proudly, thank you,” he says primly.

 

Bucky blinks, then laughs. “You sure? People are gonna stare.”

 

“What’d I tell you this morning?” Steve asks, then winks at him. “I like it.”

 

Bucky shrugs and figures it’s not his place to want to cover Steve’s neck. “You ready to go?” Bucky asks, moving past Steve and into the living room. He grabs his bomber jacket rather than the trench coat, pulling it on.

 

“Lemme check my sugar again,” Steve calls and Bucky turns back to linger in the doorway.

 

Steve stays standing to prick his finger and feed the drop of blood onto the test strip on his meter. A few seconds pass and Steve presses his finger to an alcohol swab and then the meter beeps.

 

“Better?” Bucky asks, a little worried.

 

“Yeah,” Steve admits. “No waffles for me, though.”

 

“I’ll enjoy it for you,” Bucky tells him.

 

He steps back so Steve can pass him to put on his coat and pick up the grocery sack with his clothes, then Bucky unlocks and opens the front door. He bows at the waist and Steve giggles as he passes. Bucky flips off the light switches, then locks the door behind him as he follows Steve.

Chapter Text

l'ordre naturel des choses



Only after Bucky drops him off at Finchbury Hall does Steve realize that he has a minor problem. He’s practically walking on air, his neck littered with hickeys is on full display, and he’s wearing clothes that are very clearly not his because of how poorly they fit. The security guard purses their lips as Steve passes them, it’s obvious they know Steve didn’t come home last night and is only now returning at two in the afternoon on November 1st. It’s a Sunday and it’s plain Steve wasn’t at Mass.

 

In the elevator, Steve checks his phone to find a text from Bucky asking if he got in alright. He texts back a sarcastic reply, then freezes before he can exit the screen.

 

Bucky’s contact is still labeled Becca’s Bugsy.

 

“Oh, shit,” Steve whispers.

 

He fucked his roommate’s brother.

 

Oh, shit.

 

The elevators ding and Steve steps out, dreading the conversation ahead of him. He doesn’t know what to hope for in Becca’s reaction and honestly, he’d rather just avoid having to tell her at all. Maybe he’s lucky and Becca’s not home. Maybe he can change, stuff the clothes Bucky lent him out of sight, take a shower and scrub himself with scent-neutralizing body wash and hope that he can disguise the fact that it was Bucky who gave him a million different hickeys. Steve’s got anxiety pooling in his belly as he unlocks the door to his and Becca’s room.

 

“Hey, stranger,” Becca calls. “I was about to send out a search party.”

 

Steve mouths Fuck.

 

He steps inside and shuts the door. Becca’s lying on her bed on her stomach, thankfully not facing him. If Steve can get his shower stuff and book it –

 

“Then again, I knew you’d be fine with Bucky,” Becca says, glancing over her shoulder. Steve freezes as she gasps and sits up. “Rogers!” she shouts.

 

“What?” Steve asks, scrambling to get his shower bag out from under his bed.

 

“Your neck’s more purple than white!” Becca laughs. “Who got at it?”

 

“Sam,” Steve lies quickly. “Sam Wilson, from my art therapy class.”

 

He yanks his shower kit out from under his bed, grabs a towel and figures he’ll walk back in his flip flops and that, but he can’t find his shower shoes.

 

“Doesn’t Sam have a girlfriend?” Becca asks then. She gets down from the top bunk, saying: “Maria, or something?”

 

“It was Seven Minutes in Heaven,” Steve says, dropping to look under his bed.

 

“But – Wait, you crashed at Bucky’s place.”

 

Steve mouths Fuck again and gets up. He looks around for his shower shoes, wanting a quick exit and an excuse.

 

“Yeah,” Steve says, hoping he sounds convincing, “we got an Uber back because neither of us wanted to figure out how to do two destinations while we were drunk. I crashed in Benny’s room.”

 

“That explains why you’re wearing her shirt,” Becca says, her tone flat.

 

Steve curses again. Shit.

 

“Anyway, Maria totally said it was fine for me and Sam to make out,” Steve goes ahead and keeps on fibbing. “I actually invited her to come watch. It was great –”

 

“Steve,” Becca interrupts him coolly.

 

Steve turns and sweeps his hair out of his eyes. “Yeah?”

 

Becca turns and crosses her arms over her chest. “If you crashed in Benny’s room, why do you smell so much like my brother?”

 

Steve shrugs. “We watched a movie and cuddled on the couch. I cuddle people for a living, remember?”

 

Becca doesn’t look convinced. “Cuddling on the couch wouldn’t make you smell like that,” she says, gesturing to Steve.

 

“It was a long movie,” Steve tries to insist.

 

“Quit bullshitting me,” Becca snaps. “Did you sleep with Bucky?”

 

Steve works his lip with his teeth.

 

“Did you?” Becca asks sharply.

 

“Yes,” Steve admits, wilting completely. “But we’re still working it out so please don’t be weird about it –”

 

“What the shit, Steve!” Becca gasps, snatching up Steve’s towel and throwing it at him; Steve catches it and winces, because Becca’s furious. “How could you do that?” Becca demands. “Why the fuck did you have to sleep with my brother! What the hell went through your head?!”

 

“We were drunk!” Steve answers. “And it was kinda a two-man effort, Rebecca!”

 

“Don’t Rebecca me,” Becca snarls. “You fucked my brother! That's against the code, Steve!”

 

“Actually, it was your brother fucking me,” Steve retorts. He grabs his flip-flops and his shower kit, then heads for the door. “I’m gonna take a shower. You can yell at me more after.”

 

He yanks open the door and slams it again. One of the girls across from them, Alice, looks up as he does.

 

“Rough night?” she asks.

 

“It’s two in the afternoon,” Steve answers blithely.

 

She checks her phone. “Shit, it is.”

 

Steve walks off without another word.

 

The showers are thankfully deserted and Steve picks the stall in the far right corner, turning on the hot water as far as it can go and adding only a little bit of cold to temper it. He shucks his borrowed clothes, drapes them over the stall door, then shoves his feet into his shower shoes and grabs his kit to step into the shower. He tips his head back under the stream of hot water and hisses a little as a bite on his chest stings. He looks down, rubbing at the bruise and the teeth marks still visible in it, then puts his back to the water and tips his head forward.

 

Steve blows out his breath. He hadn’t even guessed that Becca might react this way. He’d hoped that maybe she’d be pleased, considering she’d been trying to set them up since they first fucking met. But – Shit, what if Becca’s jealous? She never stopped flirting with Steve and Steve has even been jokingly flirting back holy shit what if Becca likes him! And he fucked her brother! What a slap in the face that would be…

 

Steve jerks when the door opens, but nobody calls out to him so he figures it’s not his roommate. He grabs his shampoo and starts washing his hair, thinking back over the past few months rooming with Becca. She hadn’t reacted like this before when he went home with other people, but maybe it was the sting of it being her brother that’s brought it up? God, Steve hopes that that’s not the case. If Becca’s got a crush on him he can’t in good conscience keep fucking her brother. It’s just plain against Omega code. Hell, Steve’s already stepped out of line fucking her brother once. He’s seriously in the doghouse. He ought to go buy Becca chocolates or something.

 

He takes maybe an hour in the shower, turning the water off when he’s run out of things to wash (and he went as far up his ass as he could get). He dries off and wraps up in his towel, collects his shit, then leaves the showers. The walk back to his room is a lot shorter than Steve remembers it, then he’s slipping inside. Becca’s sitting at her desk, glaring at the wall and sticking a pencil under her cast to scratch her arm inside it.

 

“Hey,” Steve says quietly.

 

“I’m not ready to talk to you yet,” Becca snaps.

 

“Fair enough,” Steve answers.

 

He shoves his shower kit back under the bed and gets clothes out of his trunk, then changes somewhere Becca can’t see him. They need to clean up, their room is a pigsty compared to Bucky’s pristine apartment.

 

“Why’d you do it?” Becca asks abruptly.

 

Steve zips up his fly. He steps out from behind the beds and sits down on his, but Becca’s still facing the wall. Steve shrugs even though she can’t see him.

 

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” he confesses. “I wanted it, he wanted it.”

 

Becca makes an angry, hurt noise. Steve winces as she swivels her chair around to glare at him instead of the wall.

 

“Do you know he has a giant ass crush on you?” Becca snaps.

 

Steve’s still wincing, then it turns into a frown. He sits up. “What?”

 

“My brother,” Becca spits, “thinks you hung the moon. He hasn’t liked anybody this much since middle school.

 

Steve blinks. That doesn’t make sense, he thinks. “But –” he says, then stops and shakes his head. Why would Bucky be so upset about the fact that they’d slept together if he liked Steve?

 

“If he does, he doesn’t want to act on it,” Steve decides.

 

“Don’t you think fucking you was kinda acting on it?” Becca asks sharply.

 

Steve shakes his head again. “Look, Becca, I know he’s your brother, but –”

 

“But what?” Becca snaps.

 

“But I know vets!” Steve insists. He holds up a hand when she opens her mouth. “Okay, look, just listen? Your brother’s got issues, he’s got a hard enough time accepting touch from his family, it’s a fucking miracle that he felt comfortable sleeping with me. If he’s got a crush, I’ll bet it’s ‘cause I’m actively trying to offer him physical affection whenever I can ‘cause he’s a vet and that’s what I do.”

 

“Then why the hell did you even remotely think it was a good idea to fuck him?” Becca demands.

 

“It’s not that different from offering to cuddle him,” Steve explains, shrugging. “Look, I can’t tell you all of it ‘cause honestly, do you want to know and it’s his stuff to tell, but it’s not any better for him to be sexually frustrated all the time – And don’t look at me like that!”

 

Becca’s glare doubled. “Do you fuck all of your vets?” she asks coldly.

 

“No!” Steve says quickly. “Bucky – He’s different, he – He has trust issues, but he trusts me ‘cause I’m his friend. We’re still friends, Becca.”

 

“You say all this like you have plans to do it again,” Becca observes.

 

Steve freezes up. Shit.

 

“Because you do,” Becca adds, then scoffs and shakes her head. “Why? Why do you have to do this Steve? You have sex with six new people a week, why do you have to add Bucky to your bedpost?”

 

“It’s not like that!” Steve insists quickly. “Bucky’s –”

 

“Vulnerable!” Becca spits. “Like you just said! Trust issues, Steve!”

 

“We talked about this,” Steve tells her. “I told him he could come to me but it wouldn’t be anything more than sex –”

 

“How did you not notice that he likes you?” Becca asks. She shakes her head. “You’re not blind despite having four eyes.”

 

“These guys always get crushes on me!” Steve says, feeling hopeless as he tries to explain to her. “It happens, they get attached –”

 

“So why would you fuck any one of them?” Becca asks him harshly. “Why’d you fuck my brother?”

 

“Because I like him, too!” Steve blurts out. “Because he’s sweet and charming and an asshole and I have a type! It’s him!”

 

Becca’s angry face freezes and then fades. Steve covers his with his hands and sags.

 

“I like him,” he repeats quietly.

 

Shit.

 

“You like Bucky?” Becca asks in a much kinder tone.

 

“Yeah,” Steve admits. “But – He’s not ready for that kind of commitment.”

 

“How do you know?” Becca pushes.

 

Steve uncovers his face and shrugs. “He told me. He’s told you, he keeps saying it, Becca, he’s not ready for a relationship.”

 

Becca opens her mouth, seems to think better of what she’s about to say, then shakes her head. “But what about you? I mean – if you like him and he likes you, what’s stopping you?”

“The fact that neither of us wants a relationship right now,” Steve says simply. “He’s not ready for one and I’m not going to push it when I promised myself I wouldn’t date exclusively freshman year.”

 

Becca gawks at him. She shakes her head, her eyes bug out and she rubs at them, shoving them back into her skull. Then she gawks at him some more.

 

“You’re telling me,” Becca says slowly, “that you’re aware my brother likes you. And you like him back. And you’re planning to sleep with him again, but you’re not going to ask to be exclusive? You’re not even gonna ask to date at all?

 

“Pretty much,” Steve answers.

 

Becca shakes her head slowly. “You’re the weirdest fucking person I’ve ever met in my life,” she confesses. “And I grew up with Bucky.”

 

Steve leans back on his bed with ease and puts his feet up. “Things will happen as they happen. I’m not one to question the natural order of things.”

Chapter Text

il est dans plus de sa tête

 

Turns out Steve’s not-father’s place wasn’t far from the Barnes Family Home in Park Slope and upon learning this, Becca promptly coordinated with the powers that be to invite Steve and Dr. Erskine to the Barnes Family Christmas. Bucky thinks this was a shitty idea, because now he’ll have to actually give Steve the Christmas present he bought rather than chicken out and send it back to the store. Well, the second gift Bucky bought him. He already got Steve a fancy set of oil paints that practically cost Bucky his other arm, but paints aren’t a very personal gift and he can fib his way out of explaining the expensive price tag somehow.

 

No, it’s the other thing Bucky bought that he’s regretting purchasing. Because he very much wants to give it to Steve and considering that they haven’t even been alone together since Halloween, it’s not a very appropriate gift. Bucky can blame the fact that he had one too many beers after group with the guys when he ordered it (even if he’d been sober when he picked it out).

 

Bucky’s currently sitting on his old bed at home, staring at the wrapped present that he’s very much not putting under the Christmas tree even if he does end up giving it to Steve. He’d thought it was a marvelous idea at the time he’d ordered it, sure, but now that he’s facing giving to Steve –

 

Steve will be arriving any minute. It’s Christmas Eve and Becca’s reasoning was she wanted to have a girls’ night with her sisters and her roommate and Steve gave up reminding her that he wasn’t a girl weeks ago. Dr. Erskine (who celebrated Hanukkah with Steve already) would arrive for Christmas Dinner tomorrow before taking Steve away for a vacation in Montreal until after New Years’, so Bucky will have to find a way to give it to Steve tonight or he’d never do it at all.

 

Bucky hears the doorbell. He is filled with panic and determination in alternating waves. There’s squealing and screaming downstairs and he hears his mother’s smoker’s voice cracking as she welcomes Steve and Vincent and Georgie are barreling down the hallway like sugar-high monkeys to find out what the ruckus is and Bucky really should go greet Steve.

 

He can’t convince himself to stop staring at the wrapped present in front of him and get off his bed. It’s pink. Bucky actually bought pink wrapping paper and ribbons and he’s a real moron. Steve will open it and scoff and tell him that it’s one thing to call him kitten but This is just too much, Bucky, fuck off.

 

“Bucky, Steve’s here!” Becca yells unnecessarily up the stairs.

 

“I know,” Bucky grumbles, pushing himself off his creaky twin bed. That’s one of the nice things of having moved out. He has a brand new bed with a brand new bed that doesn’t feel like a board underneath him and remind him of his bunk out in Afghanistan.

 

He gets off his bed, checks his hair in the mirror above his squat bookcase, then yanks open the bedroom door and makes his way down the stairs.

 

It should be said that Vincent is seven, but Georgie is only three. Betty had been pregnant when she divorced her scum husband, but she hadn’t known it. She says that even if she did, she wouldn’t have stayed. Georgie is three, and he’s an incredibly friendly and tactile three-year-old.

 

Bucky lumbers down the stairs as he tells himself he’s gonna return the gift, walks into the living room, and the first thing he sees is Steve sitting in the corner of the sectional and hugging a squealing Georgie.

 

Bucky blinks. Georgie does a lot of squirming, but Steve ends up blowing a raspberry on his back and Georgie just shrieks with laughter. Bucky blinks again.

 

Becca kicks his ankle. Bucky jolts, his face flames as Steve makes eye contact with him and grins, and Bucky flees into the kitchen. He hears laughter behind him from his sisters and sticks his middle finger back out into the living room.

 

“I saw that!” his ma says.

 

She flicks him between the eyes. Bucky yelps and clutches his face and his ma waves a wooden spoon at him.

 

“We have a guest, James!” Ma scolds him.

 

“And that guest’s a piece’a shit schmuck worse’n me,” Bucky grumbles.

 

His ma flicks him again and Bucky yelps before fleeing back out of the kitchen. He rubs the welt between his eyebrows and makes eye contact with Steve again.

 

“You okay?” Steve laughs.

 

“Shuddup, punk,” Bucky answers.

 

“Make me, jerk,” Steve says.

 

Bucky walks over and cuffs him on the back of the head before dropping down next to him. Steve just laughs at him. Bucky pretends he doesn’t notice Betty and Benny sucking in fresh air and prods Georgie in his chubby stomach.

 

“What’chu doin’, squirt?” Bucky asks. “You botherin’ the nice Omega?”

 

“No!” George squeals, then squirms out of Steve’s lap and onto Bucky’s. “I say hi to Steeb.”

 

“Did you say hi to Steeb or did you just crawl all over him?” Bucky asks, scooping Georgie up and standing up to swing him into the air.

 

Georgie squeals and Betty makes her concerned mother noise, but Bucky has a firm grip on Georgie’s shirt and he’s only swinging him up in the crook of his arm really quickly, it’s not a big deal.

 

“I say hi to Steeb!” Georgie laughs. “Hi, Steeb!”

 

“Hi!” Steve giggles.

 

“Well, I guess you’re alright then,” Bucky says, then puts Georgie on the floor and gives him a push towards his mother. Then he drops back down next to Steve and automatically lets his elbow rest on the back of the sofa between them.

 

“Are you gonna say hi to Steeb?” Becca asks Bucky with raised eyebrows.

 

“I said hi,” Bucky defends himself. He looks at Steve. “Didn’t I say hi?”

 

“No,” Steve chuckles.

 

“I said hi to you yesterday,” Bucky says, waving a hand dismissively. “Don’t that count?”

 

“No!” Steve laughs.

 

Bucky huffs and rolls his eyes. “Punk,” he says fondly.

 

Steve elbows him hard in the ribs and Bucky collapses to the side, wheezing.

 

“Jerk,” Steve says in the same fond tone.

 

“Okay, hold on!” Benny interrupts.

 

Bucky pushes himself up and sits back, shifting a little away from Steve. “What?”

 

Benny waves her hands in their direction.

 

“I concur,” Betty says, putting Georgie on the floor. “Hey, go find Vinny and tell him I told you to share his dinosaurs.”

 

Georgie runs out of the room squealing. Bucky swears that that’s only going to work for five minutes.

 

“What?” he says again, anyway. He knows what, but he’s not going to admit it.

 

Becca looks particularly smug. Bucky shoots her a look and silently reminds her that if she spills the beans that him and Steve fucked on Halloween, he’s gonna quit giving her rides across Manhattan whenever she asks. Becca continues to look smug.

 

“You’re friendly,” Betty says, folding her hands over her knee.

 

“So?” Bucky says. “We’re friends.”

 

“Yeah,” Steve says, pulling his legs up onto the couch and leaning into Bucky’s side.

 

Bucky automatically lifts his arm and drapes it over the back of the couch. Benny’s jaw drops.

 

“Aw, quit lookin’ at me like I grown a second arm,” Bucky tells his sisters. “I got a friend outside the fam, is that a crime?”

 

Benny splutters and gestures to him and Steve. She looks at Becca, who shrugs. Betty squints at Bucky.

 

“Hey, so, what’s with all the B’s?” Steve asks.

 

“There’s a bee!” Becca gasps.

 

“Where!” Steve gasps louder, jolting up from Bucky’s side before falling back and laughing.

 

“What,” Betty says.

 

“Ohmygod,” Bucky mutters, reaching over Steve’s head to cover his face with his hand. Why’s he like Steve? Steve’s a moron. There’s a bee, come on.

 

“Seriously, all the B names,” Steve asks. “Betty, Bucky, Becca, Benny.”

 

“It was once Betty, Bucky, Becky, and Benny,” Benny sighs. “But then someone decided they didn’t like being called Becky.”

 

Becca rolls her eyes.

 

“Do your parents just really like alliteration?” Steve asks.

 

“It was really an accident,” Bucky tells him. “Benny’s the only one whose name actually starts with a B.”

 

Steve frowns. “Really?”

 

“Yeah, it’s really Elizabeth, James, Rebecca, and Bennett,” Bucky admits.

 

Steve sits up and gawks at him. “Since when is your name James? ” he demands.

 

“Since March 10th, ‘93,” Bucky answers.

 

Steve hits him in the ribs again and Bucky laughs instead of falling over. “Then how the hell have you been calling yourself Bucky this whole time!”

 

“It’s my middle name!” Bucky says. “James Buchanan!”

 

“How…?” Steve mutters.

 

“You’re one to talk, Steven Grace,” Becca chimes in.

 

Steve jolts again. “My middle name is Grant!”

 

“Not what they say at the Art House,” Becca says in a sing-song voice.

 

Steve grabs a throw pillow and chucks it at her. Becca laughs and catches it, throwing it back immediately. It hits Bucky, who makes an offended squawk and confiscates it.

 

“Bucky, gimme –!” Steve snaps, tugging on the pillow.

 

Bucky shoves the pillow under his ass. Steve shoves him onto his side and yanks it back, promptly throwing it again.

 

“Bitch!” Becca gasps.

 

“Bitch!” Steve answers, catching the pillow when she throws it back. “Hey!” he protests when Bucky snatches it from him.

 

“Nope, it’s mine now,” Bucky says, sticking it between his legs and hugging it. “Can’t have it.”

 

Steve pouts. Bucky sticks his tongue out.

 

“But, wait!” Betty calls.

 

Steve and Bucky look at her. Becca tries to sneakily steal the pillow and Bucky holds onto it firmly.

 

“When did this happen?” Betty asks.

 

“Well, we were assigned as each other’s roommates at the start of the year,” Steve says dryly, pointing at Becca.

 

“No, this!” Betty says, gesturing to Bucky and Steve.

 

Bucky exhales. He knew he shouldn’t have come down here.

 

“This what?” Steve asks. “Him being a biased referee? He’s always been like that, hasn’t he?”

 

“You two!” Benny insists.

 

Steve glances at Bucky. “Us two what?”

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says, sitting up and putting the throw pillow beside him. Apparently, they’re going for a bald-faced lie. Sure. Whatever. “What?”

 

Betty looks at Becca. Becca shrugs.

 

“I don’t pretend to understand them,” she admits.

 

Bucky throws the pillow at her himself. “Like you’re any better with your friends!”

 

“You two are just friends?” Betty says disbelievingly.

 

“Yeah,” Steve answers easily. “Why?”

 

Bucky thinks he’s kind of laying it on thick, but, whatever.

 

“I’m confused,” Benny mutters.

 

“Can we stop dwelling on this?” Steve asks.

 

Becca sighs. “Yeah, let it go, Beth. Steve’s just like that with everyone.”

 

“Rude,” Steve answers, leaning back and propping his elbow on Bucky’s shoulder. “I’m not like this with Brock Rumlow.”

 

Becca snorts. “Ew, true.”

 

“What is it with you guys and Brock Rumlow?” Bucky asks, looking between them. “What did he ever do to you? Who even is he?”

 

“Oh, no,” Becca says.

 

“Brock Rumlow is the shittiest piece’a shit to ever shit on this shitty planet,” Steve says with an intense passion. “He’s gross and disgusting and I think he’s a Nazi.”

 

“Wait, since when has he been a Nazi?” Becca gasps.

 

“I saw him talking to that white rights guy, Schmidt,” Steve says. “I reported it to campus police but they told me to fuck off ‘cause free speech and whatever. Hate speech isn’t free speech, but sure.”

 

“Now I really want to ask that witch to cast a spell on him,” Becca sighs.

 

“I already asked,” Steve says brightly. “She told me she couldn’t do a lot ‘cause her karma’s in the gray but she promised she’d curse him with erectile dysfunction. But she made me steal some of his hair and lemme tell you, I washed my mouth out with soap for a good fifteen minutes after kissing him to get it.”

 

“That’s incredibly specific,” Bucky says, turning to look at Steve.

 

“I saw him trying to slip something into a girl’s drink once,” Steve explains. “But campus police didn’t believe that, either. Besides, no Nazi should reproduce, like, ever.”

 

“Oh, worm,” Benny agrees.

 

Bucky looks at her, completely baffled. He mouths Oh, worm? and shakes his head. He knows some things, sure, but oh worm?

 

“I just wanna yeet Rumlow off campus,” Steve says.

 

Yeet? ” Betty repeats.

 

“Mood,” Becca sighs.

 

At least Betty looks as confused as Bucky feels.

 

“Dinner!” Bucky’s ma yells just then.

 

Bucky’s parents love Steve. Benny insists that Steve switch places with her at dinner so that he’s next to Bucky and Bucky either wants to smack or kiss his baby sister. Steve’s a complete charmer all through dinner until he’s got Bucky’s whole damn family eating out of his hand.

 

“I know what you’re up to,” Becca accuses Steve at one point. “You can’t fool me, Rogers.”

 

“I’m the picture of innocence,” Steve replies sweetly.

 

Bucky snorts at that. And, fuck, Steve is the picture of innocence. Bucky wants to ruin him.

 

After dinner, Bucky gets sucked into cleaning up while his sisters drag Steve down to the the basement to watch a movie. Bucky thinks its Mean Girls. He’s not sure. There are a lot of dishes to clean and his dad is keeping the boys entertained so it’s just Bucky and his ma.

 

“So,” Ma says, “Steve is nice.”

 

Bucky knows where this is going.

 

“Sorry, work’s calling,” Bucky says, then flees.

 

“JAMES BUCHANAN BARNES, YOU GET BACK HERE AND FINISH THIS KITCHEN!”

 

“Two minutes!” Bucky says.

 

He locks himself in the first-floor bathroom. He spends two minutes practicing excuses in the mirror, then unlocks the door and makes his way back to the kitchen. Yes or no answers only. He can get through this.

 

“Your phone didn’t ring,” his ma accuses.

 

“It was on vibrate,” Bucky tells her, which is true.

 

Ma narrows her eyes. Bucky busies himself with drying a plate.

 

“Steve is nice,” Ma repeats.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky agrees.

 

“And he gets along well with your sisters,” Ma continues.

 

“Sure,” Bucky says.

 

“You seem to like him,” Ma says.

 

“Yeah, he’s a great roommate for Becca,” Bucky answers. “Hey, did you wash this or was it already clean?”

 

“It’s clean and don’t change the subject.”

 

“‘M not changing the subject,” Bucky mutters.

 

“I’ll spray you,” Ma threatens, twitching the wand she’s using to wash dishes. Bucky flinches reflexively and she gives a nod. “That’s better,” she says. “So. Steve.”

 

“Steve,” Bucky says, blinking at his mother.

 

“Do you like him?” Ma asks.

 

Bucky shrugs. “He’s alright. Becca likes him, but that doesn’t say a lot, she likes everybody.”

 

“James Buchanan, stop dancing around the subject,” Ma scolds. “You. Steve. We’re not blind.”

 

Bucky focuses on drying dishes. “What do you mean?”

 

His mother groans. “You like him!” she says.

 

“What makes you say that?” Bucky asks.

 

Ma twitches the wand again and Bucky hides behind the platter he’s holding. “Don’t splash me!”

 

“You don’t mind Steve touching you,” Ma says firmly.

 

Bucky lowers the platter. “Have you considered that I’m just doing better about that?”

 

Ma blinks.

 

“Just because Steve’s an Omega and I’m an Alpha doesn’t mean we have to end up with feelings for each other,” Bucky tells her, lying through his teeth. Which is woefully not the situation, but his point is still valid. “I don’t want to start dating yet. Steve and I are friends.”

 

“But –” Ma starts.

 

“Friends can be tactile!” Bucky says insistently. “Steve works at the Hug Room at the VA, it’s kinda his whole deal. And it’s nice, but no.”

 

Woefully not true. But his ma doesn’t need to know that.

 

His ma blinks. Bucky turns away and keeps drying dishes.

 

Bucky heads for the basement when his ma finally gets sick of him being under her feet. He flops onto the sofa between Steve and Benny and puts his arm around Benny and he would put an arm around Steve if he had the arm to do it with. Steve curls into his side anyway, tucking his toes under Becca’s lap and draping his arm over Bucky’s stomach. It’s dark for the movie, which is, in fact, Mean Girls, so no one notices Steve burrowing into Bucky’s side. No one notices Bucky dropping a kiss onto the top of Steve’s head.

 

When the movie’s over, Bucky’s invited to stay and play Cards Against Humanity. It’s hilarious and Bucky swears Steve’s flirting at him with the cards.

 

“During sex, I like to think about blank,” Bucky reads.

 

“Michael Jackson,” Betty laughs.

 

“Now you can’t use that card,” Becca scolds.

 

“Fuck you,” Betty says.

 

“No, thanks,” Becca replies smugly.

 

Steve is smirking. Bucky collects the cards and shuffles them.

 

“During sex, I like to think about making love to a picture of Michael Jackson,” Bucky reads.

 

“I didn’t actually have that card!” Betty insists quickly.

 

“Sure, Jan,” Becca replies.

 

“During sex, I like to think about not having sex,” Bucky reads. He snorts. “That’s pretty clever. During sex, I like to think about my giant horsecock.”

 

Becca elbows Steve. Steve elbows her back and they get into a mini cat fight.

 

“Break it up!” Betty yells, leaning between the two of them and separating them. “Or Santa won’t leave you any presents.”

 

“Betty, I’m twenty years old,” Becca snaps.

 

“During sex!” Bucky continues loudly. “I like to think about –”

 

He breaks off, staring at the white card. Steve’s lips slowly curl into a smile.

 

“What?” Steve asks. “What do you like to think about during sex, Bucky?”

 

Steve wiggles his eyebrows. Bucky glares at the card.

 

“Kittens,” he reads numbly.

 

“Ew,” Becca snorted.

 

Bucky slaps down the white card. Then he thrusts the black card at Steve with a glower and Steve bursts out laughing, accepting it happily.

 

“Whoa!” Betty calls. “What just happened there!”

 

“No comment,” Bucky says.

 

“What!” Benny yells. “Not having sex should’a won!”

 

“Steve has insider information,” Becca says.

 

Bucky reaches across Steve and gives Becca a hard shove to the shoulder. She falls over, but they’re sitting on the floor and she doesn’t have far to fall. She just laughs, the shit.

 

“What!” Benny gasps.

 

“No comment!” Bucky insists.

 

“That’s a comment in of itself,” Betty argues.

 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Bucky says. “Shuddup. Stop smiling, Steve.”

 

“Sure, Buck,” Steve says without losing his happy grin. He draws a black card. “Describe me, the Card Czar.”

 

Bucky slaps down his white card immediately and Steve grimaces.

 

“I deserve this, don’t I?” he says.

 

“Yes,” Bucky says firmly.

 

“I still wanna know about the kittens,” Betty says.

 

“No, you don’t,” Steve tells her, scoffing. “Let it go.”

 

Becca throws a card down next to Bucky’s. “Yeah, let it go, I shouldn’t have said anything.”

 

“There’s nothing to say!” Bucky insists again.

 

Benny puts down a card with suspiciously squinting eyes. She gestures I’m watching you and draws a new card. Betty sighs and puts down a card.

 

Steve collects and shuffles them. “I am beloved television star, Bill Cosby. Rude. I am a needy bottom. True. Rabies. Rude, again. You can’t describe me as rabies, that doesn’t make se–”

 

“Steve,” Bucky interrupts.

 

Steve sticks his tongue out at him briefly. “Anyway, I’m a –”

 

Bucky raises his eyebrows at Steve. “Yes?”

 

Steve turns and looks Bucky in the eyes. Bucky stares him down, until Steve’s ears go a little pink at the edges.

 

“I’m a slut,” Steve says calmly.

 

Bucky holds out his hand. Steve slaps the black card into it.

 

“What!” Betty and Benny crow together.

 

Pa bangs on the basement door. “You kids quiet down down there!” he shouts.

 

Cards Against Humanity is fun. Betty quits around one in the morning and Steve, Becca and Bucky have to claim they’re tired around two because Benny’s starting to slur her words and sway where she’s sitting. Becca gets Benny up and helps her up the stairs and Bucky catches Steve’s arm before he follows.

 

“I have something for you,” Bucky tells him before he can change his mind again.

 

Steve glances over his shoulder, then nods. Bucky lets him go and watches him go up the stairs, then follows on shaking feet.

 

Steve’s sleeping in the guest room, which isn’t much of a room and more of a long closet on the first floor. It’s a good thing that Becca doesn’t have room for an air mattress in her room, because she’s a light sleeper and if Steve tried to sneak out, she’d know. Bucky paces his room, waiting.

 

The door cracks and Steve sticks his head in. Bucky snatches the pink gift off his bed and holds it out.

 

“Couldn’t this wait until morning?” Steve asks, slipping inside and shutting the door.

 

Bucky shakes his head. Steve nears and takes the gift, looks it over, then examines the big pink bow Bucky had tied on it.

 

“This is pretty,” Steve says.

 

“You don’t have to take it,” Bucky says hastily. “It’s just – It’s whatever, I can return it –”

 

“Can I see what it is first?” Steve asks, chuckling.

 

Bucky shrugs. He picks at a frayed bit of skin around his thumb with his index while Steve pulls the bow free and rips the paper. The paper shows a plain cardboard box, then Steve cracks the lid.

 

“Oh,” Steve whispers.

 

Bucky shifts from foot to foot. “You don’t have to take it,” he repeats as Steve lifts the collar from inside the box. “I just thought – Maybe it would be nice?”

 

Steve pulls the leash out, too, then sets the box down and examines both the leash and the box. He’s not saying anything. He’s smiling, maye that’s a good sign?

 

The collar is a soft, powder pink. It has a pink heart set in its front and a heavy O-ring is mounted at the tail of the heart. There’s a bell and Steve taps it with a finger, making it ring gently.

 

“It doesn’t have to be just for us,” Bucky says. “You can use it – Whenever, I guess. It’s a gift, it’s yours, do what you want with it.”

 

Steve lifts the matching pink leash, then looks up at Bucky with that same smile, like they’re passing notes in class. Do you like me? Check yes or no.

 

“I guess this is you saying you wanna try again sober,” Steve says.

 

Bucky nods.

 

Steve lays the leash on Bucky’s bed, then takes Bucky’s hand and pushes the collar into it. Then Steve kneels down in front of him, his hands clasping together in front of him, and he smiles so prettily up at Bucky, so sweet and innocent. Bucky really wishes he had two hands, because he can’t touch Steve’s face and hold the collar at the same time.

 

“Beautiful kitten,” Bucky says quietly.

 

Steve smiles wider. Bucky loops the collar around Steve’s throat, buckling it slowly and carefully at the back of his neck. He runs two fingers underneath it, sweeping around to tap the bell and let it chime. It sings softly, a gentle trill in the otherwise silent room.

 

“So sweet for me,” Bucky murmurs.

 

Steve butts his cheek into Bucky’s palm as his hand comes back around his neck. Bucky caresses his cheek.

 

“Thank you for accepting this,” Bucky tells him. “It means a lot to me.”

 

“Thank you for giving it,” Steve answers. “It means a lot to me.

 

Bucky reaches to the side and picks up the leash. He clips it to the O-ring on Steve’s collar, then uses it to pull him to his feet. Bucky still has to bend down to kiss him, but Steve’s lips part immediately under his and his kitten just melts for him. Bucky breaks the kiss and bumps their noses together a few times, then touches his hand to Steve’s cheek and sweeps his thumb over his cheekbone.

 

“You’d probably ought’a head back to your room,” Bucky says reluctantly.

 

Steve’s hands touch Bucky’s abdomen and he presses closer. “Just –” he starts, then turns his head and catches Bucky’s thumb in his lips.

 

Bucky takes a deep breath and lets him, remembering that Steve has an oral fixation. God, the things he wants to do to satisfy that desire. Steve sucks on his thumb for a second, then pulls his mouth back and nuzzles into Bucky’s hand.

 

“Can I have a little bit?” Steve asks in a breathy tone. “Please? Can I suck you off, Buck?”

 

Bucky takes an even deeper breath. “Where’s your inhaler?”

 

Steve reaches into the pocket of his pajama pants and produces it. Bucky takes it.

 

“What was your sugar level?” Bucky asks then.

 

“Good,” Steve answers. He looks up at Bucky with big, innocent eyes. “Please?”

 

Bucky’s mind races to work out their options. Steve pulls Bucky’s thumb back into his mouth, otherwise standing still with his hands pressed against Bucky’s torso. He sucks on Bucky’s thumb so sweetly, giving it small, gentle licks and getting his lips all wet.

 

“Can you be silent?” Bucky asks him.

 

Steve nods quickly. Bucky pulls his thumb from Steve’s mouth and touches his face, gently caressing his cheek.

 

“Here’s the thing,” Bucky starts softly. “You can’t get up in the morning and smell all like me. I can’t smell like you, neither. So if you want it, you can’t touch. Alright?”

 

“Can I touch myself?” Steve asks in a hushed voice.

 

Bucky’s gut swoops. Fuck, the things Steve does to him.

 

“You can’t come,” Bucky answers. “You can touch yourself, but you can’t finish. I’ll take care of you after. I’m gonna have to finish in your mouth, do you understand?”

 

“Yes, Master,” Steve murmurs.

 

Bucky brushes back Steve’s hair. “You don’t have to call me that, kitten.”

 

Steve inhales deeply and he nods. Bucky picks up the leash again, then gets a good grip on Steve’s hair with it still in his palm and pushes him down.

 

“One hand behind your back,” Bucky tells Steve. “Your right hand. You can touch yourself with your left.”

 

Bucky knows that since Steve is right-handed, it will be harder for Steve to bring himself to orgasm with the left. Steve nods again and he tucks his right hand behind his back.

 

“Get my dick out,” Bucky says.

 

Steve lifts his left hand and Bucky tugs a little on his hair.

 

“Nuh-uh,” he says gently. “No touching, kitten. Use your teeth.”

 

“Fuck,” Steve whispers.

 

He drops his hand. Steve leans in and his lips brush against the waistband of Bucky’s pajamas. Bucky smooths his thumb through Steve’s hair, biting down on the inside of his lip. Steve lets out a very soft breath.

 

“You understand that you gotta be quiet, kitten,” Bucky reminds him gently. “Don’t want nobody to hear you bein’ a slut.”

 

Steve’s eyes flutter shut and he presses his face fully into the front of Bucky’s pajamas. Bucky gives him a few seconds, then tugs back on his hair and the leash.

 

“Only your lips, kitten,” he says. “And quit playin’ around, I ain’t got all night.”

 

Steve glances up at him through his lashes, his gaze intense, then he grasps the waistband of Bucky’s pants with his teeth and pulls down. Bucky may have been a bit hopeful, because he’s going commando underneath.

 

“There you go,” Bucky whispers as Steve brushes his lips over him. “D’ya like that, kitten? You wanna have a hard cock fucking your throat raw?”

 

Steve nods, his tongue peeking out to lick gently at Bucky. Bucky bites down on his lip to keep in a groan.

 

“Teasing me, are ya, honey?” Bucky asks. “You like playin’ around before you start sucking?”

 

“Yeah,” Steve murmurs.

 

He licks his lips and turns his head to the side to mouth down Bucky’s fattening length. Bucky grips Steve’s hair harder.

 

“You want me to fuck your throat, sweet kitten?” Bucky asks.

 

Steve nods and Bucky shifts his stance to be a little wider, a little closer to Steve.

 

“Here’s what you’re gonna do, kitten,” Bucky starts. “You’re gonna suck me off and swallow everything I give you. You spill a drop and I’ll make you lick it up. If you need a breather you take your right hand from behind your back. Understand?”

 

Steve nods again, his eyes hooded. Bucky tugs hard on his hair.

 

“Tell me you understand, kitten,” Bucky orders. “I need verbal confirmation.”

 

“I understand,” Steve says quickly. “Can I –?”

 

Bucky loosens his grip and nods. “Go ahead, kitten.”

 

Steve makes cocksucking an art. Bucky’s pretty sure it’s the experience, but on the other hand, he’s also pretty sure that Steve’s mouth was just designed with sucking dick in mind. Like, God or something was creating Steve Rogers 21-something years ago and said Y’know what this twink needs? Perfect bow lips and a really pink tongue, hell, a really pink tongue that can get all pointed at the tip so it fits just perfectly in Bucky Barnes’s slit –

 

Bucky manages about twelve minutes before he’s shoving forward and fucking Steve’s jaw slack. It takes about thirty seconds, the bell on Steve’s collar chimes softly with every movement, before Bucky’s hips stutter and he’s coming down Steve’s throat. Steve moans lightly on his dick.

 

“Good kitten,” Bucky exhales a little breathlessly. He relaxes his hold on Steve’s hair and starts to pull back a little, but stops when Steve whines. Bucky sweeps his hand through Steve’s hair, still holding onto the leash, and tweaks a lock of hair a little. “You need a minute, honey?”

 

Steve nods. Bucky lets Steve shuffle closer, pressing against his leg, and rest his forehead on Bucky’s hip. Bucky sweeps through his hair again. Oral fixation. Christ, Steve’s practically nursing on Bucky’s dick. Bucky’s gonna die.

 

“Gentle, kitten,” Bucky tells him. “Just for a minute.”

 

Steve nods vaguely. His eyes are shut heavily, his face flush and slack. Bucky shuffles his leg until his shin is pressed against Steve’s crotch.

 

“That better?” Bucky asks.

 

Steve lets out a very quiet him. He rolls his hips against Bucky’s shin almost lazily, still suckling on Bucky’s soft member in his mouth. Bucky’s wondering if it’s possible to send a bottom into headspace just by making them give a blowjob when Steve pulls off him.

 

“Thanks,” Steve says, like Bucky just did him a little favor.

 

“No problem,” Bucky answers a little dumbly.

 

Steve breaks and giggles. Bucky gives a tug on the leash and Steve gets up, standing up and pressing his lips to Bucky’s. Bucky holds the back of Steve’s neck, the leash still curled around his hand, and drinks up the taste of himself on Steve’s tongue. Steve’s hands wrap around his neck and he presses close, reminding Bucky to reward him.

 

Bucky pushes Steve off of him and then onto his bed, fixing his pants while Steve stumbles backward. “Lie back,” Bucky says, unclipping the leash from Steve’s collar.

 

Steve lies back, obeying without hesitation. Bucky pulls his hands up, then loops the leash around Steve’s wrists and knots it once.

 

“Can I gag you, kitten?” Bucky asks Steve, then kisses his cheek. “I don’t want you making noise.”

 

“Sure,” Steve says. “No smelly socks, ‘kay?”

 

Bucky snorts. “No socks. Somebody do that to you once?”

 

“She tried,” Steve whispers back, chuckling. “I said fuck, no and she gave me her wallet to bite on instead.”

 

Bucky kisses the corner of Steve’s mouth, pulling back when Steve turns his head to the side. “Lemme find something other than a sock,” Bucky says, then gives Steve’s cheek a little pinch and shuffles off his bed.

 

He doesn’t have a lot of stuff in his old bedroom conducive to a gag. He goes through his closet for a tie or a bandana, searches his desk, and looks in his nightstand.

 

Something under his bed catches his eye. Bucky kneels down and pulls out one of Georgie’s pacifiers. He squints at it, wonders how perverted it would be for him to stick it in Steve’s mouth, then figures he might as well ask. Why it was under his bed, Bucky has no clue.

 

Bucky gets up and crawls onto the bed over top of Steve. He holds up the pacifier.

 

“How ‘bout this?” he asks.

 

Steve raises his eyebrows, then shrugs. “Wash it first.”

 

Bucky bends down and kisses Steve hard, then gets off the bed again and creeps to the door. He cracks it open, listens, then slips out and makes sure the door shuts behind him. He fists the pacifier in his hand and makes his way to the bathroom casually. He can hear his ma snoring down the hall and there’s faint music coming from Becca’s room, but the house is still.

 

Bucky shuts the bathroom door behind him, flips on the light, then switches on the hot water in the sink. He rinses the paci first, then gets some soap and washes it off. He lets it run under the hot water for a while after, getting all the soap off, then shakes it off before wiping it and his hand on the towel by the sink.

 

Bucky turns the light off, balls the paci up in his fist, and slips out. He walks directly into Benny.

 

“Sorry,” Benny mumbles, slipping past him into the bathroom.

 

“Whatever,” Bucky says, a little rattled. He shakes himself and heads back to his bedroom. Not the best thing to have happen, running into your baby sister in the middle of what was sort of a scene? Did this count as a scene? But whatever. Bucky slips back into his bedroom.

 

Steve wiggles his fingers, his hands still dangling off the other side of Bucky’s bed. Bucky approaches on that side, then leans down over Steve and holds out the pacifier.

 

“Open up, kitten,” Bucky says.

 

Steve parts his lips eagerly. Bucky pushes the paci into his mouth, then strokes his cheek for a second as Steve’s eyes close and his cheeks hollow a little as he starts to suck on it.

 

“There you go,” Bucky murmurs, then walks around the bed again. “Such a sweet kitten. You did very well for me earlier, you earned a treat.”

 

Bucky pulls the loose sleep pants Steve’s wearing down over his hips, then his underwear, too. He slips Steve’s feet free of his clothes, drops them onto the floor next to him, then runs his hand up Steve’s leg. His skin is warm and soft, nearly invisible blond hairs lying in light layers over his calves and then over his thighs, and Bucky gets his arm behind Steve’s knees to yank his hips closer to the edge of the bed. Steve squeaks behind the pacifier.

 

“Quiet, kitten,” Bucky admonishes. “If you can’t stay quiet, I’ll have to stop, okay?”

 

Steve lifts one of his hands to give Bucky a thumb’s up. Bucky smiles a little, shaking his head as Steve giggles behind the pacifier. Bucky pushes Steve’s knees apart, then hooks one over his shoulders and shifts onto his knees to get a little higher. He meets Steve’s gaze, Steve’s eyes hooded and dark, then swallows Steve down.

 

Steve’s leg jerks behind Bucky’s neck and his hips lift. Bucky steadies him with his hand, petting over his ribs for a second, then he gets his hand between Steve’s legs and pushes his index finger against his wet hole. Steve whimpers a little and Bucky briefly digs his thumbnail into Steve’s perineum before rubbing the hurt away. He relaxes his jaw and throat, taking Steve deeper, and pushes his index finger into Steve’s hole.

 

Bucky steadily works three fingers into Steve as he sucks on Steve’s dick. Steve is clearly doing his level best to stay quiet, both of his legs hooked over Bucky’s shoulders now as he writhes on the bed. Bucky massages Steve’s perineum with his thumb and crooks his fingers until he finds Steve’s prostate, and then Steve’s arching up and spurting off in Bucky’s mouth.

 

Bucky swallows, even though he doesn’t normally like to. He releases Steve’s member from his mouth, but leaves his fingers in him for a minute to bring him down slowly. Steve is breathing hard, but he’s not wheezing or coughing the way he does when his asthma flares up. Bucky takes a second to lick clean Steve’s slick, then pulls his fingers free one by one and nudges the back of his wrist against Steve’s thigh.

 

Steve lets his legs fall away and Bucky gets up. Steve’s gaze latches onto Bucky’s and Bucky deliberately sucks his fingers clean. Steve’s eyes flutter shut and he twitches one more time on the bed.

 

Bucky wipes his hand on his pants, then grabs Steve’s clothes and dresses him again. Bucky walks around the other side of the bed to untie the leash from around Steve’s wrists, then he bends and strokes Steve’s cheek gently.

 

“Do you need that in your mouth still?” he asks quietly.

 

Steve reaches down and pulls it from his lips. He swallows visibly, then rolls onto his front and shifts onto his knees. Bucky takes Steve’s waist and Steve collapses onto his chest.

 

“Hng,” Steve says intelligently.

 

Bucky laughs softly. He hugs Steve against him and they just stand there – Or, well, kneel in Steve’s case. Steve’s cheek presses against Bucky’s shoulder and Bucky’s face hangs near Steve’s neck. He wants to tilt Steve’s head up and nuzzle at his neck, but it’s a bad idea for more than one reason, so he doesn’t.

 

“You gotta head back to your room,” Bucky mumbles.

 

“Ugh,” Steve answers. He burrows a little closer to Bucky. “Don’t wanna.”

 

“Five minutes,” Bucky says. He pushes Steve back, then climbs onto the bed and lays down.

 

Steve grins and lies down next to him, tucking into Bucky’s side happily. Bucky kisses Steve’s hair, then lets his cheek rest against Steve’s head.

 

“Snuggly kitten,” Bucky murmurs.

 

Steve burrows closer.

 

“Sweet and pretty kitten,” Bucky says, curling his arm around Steve tighter. “You did so good for me, baby. Such a good kitten.”

 

“This is me purring,” Steve mumbles and then hums. Bucky chuckles.

 

“Hey,” Bucky says, looking down at Steve.

 

“Hmm?” Steve answers.

 

“Did you get to, y’know,” Bucky starts awkwardly. “Space? Headspace?”

 

Steve lifts his left shoulder. “I dunno, maybe a little. I, uh, I liked the pacifier.”

 

Bucky’s eyebrows lift. “Yeah?”

 

Steve nods, then lifts up onto an elbow and looks down at him. “As more than just a gag,” he says.

 

“Yeah?” Bucky says quietly.

 

“It’s been a while since somebody indulged my oral fixation like that,” Steve admits. “That and letting me keep your dick in my mouth after you finished, that was nice. Keep that in mind.”

 

Bucky nods. Steve bends down and kisses him, then starts to get off the bed.

 

“Hey, Steve?” Bucky calls him back.

 

Steve turns back and leans over him; the bell on his collar chimes softly. Bucky reaches up and pushes his fingers through Steve’s hair.

 

“This thing,” he starts. “You know it works both ways?”

 

Steve blinks, then nods. “Yeah, sure.”

 

“So you can call me if you’re – Y’know,” Bucky says.

 

Steve bites on his lower lip. Then he nods and bends to touch their lips together again. Bucky holds onto Steve’s hair, keeping him there for a second.

 

“I looked up oral fixations, y’know,” Bucky adds. “So, you should know. If you get, like, stressed or whatever, you can come over and –…”

 

“And what?” Steve whispers.

 

Bucky shrugs. “I’ll give you something to suck on,” he says. “And it doesn’t have to be sex. That whole cuddling is good for your health thing, that works both ways, too.”

 

Steve smiles down at him, their faces inches apart. Bucky tugs on Steve’s hair one more time to kiss him, then lets go and lets Steve slip off his bed.

 

“You wanna take that off?” Bucky asks, pointing to Steve’s collar.

 

Steve pouts, reaching up to fiddle with the bell. “I probably should,” he sighs.

 

Bucky tucks his arm under his neck and watches Steve unbuckle the collar. Steve holds it against his chest, then waves a little to Bucky and starts towards the door.

 

“Don’t you want the leash?” Bucky asks.

 

Steve turns back. “You keep it,” he says. “Merry Christmas, Buck.”

 

Bucky offers Steve a warm smile. “Merry Christmas, kitten.”

 

Steve smiles back, then turns to go. The door clicks gently behind him. Bucky sits up and pulls the leash towards him. He lifts it, the metal clasp clattering a little as Bucky picks it up, and he smooths his thumb over the soft pink leather the same as he’d done to Steve’s hair.

 

“Jesus Christ,” Bucky whispers.

 

He’s in over his head.

Chapter Text

il pas mon copain


“What are you getting Bucky for his birthday?” Steve asks Becca.

 

“A cocksock,” Becca, lying on the floor on her stomach with a heavy biology textbook in front of her, answers him in a dry tone. “Because I’m assuming he’ll just put it in your mouth.”

 

“Ew,” Steve says, throwing a pillow at her. “I’m serious.”

 

Becca shrugs, not looking up from her textbook. “Probably a gift card. He’s kinda a hard person to get gifts for.”

 

“That’s useless,” Steve groans, falling backwards on his bed. “You’re useless.”

 

“Get off my dick,” Becca responds automatically. “I don’t like where your ass has been.”

 

“You guys are so gross!” Steve repeats in a shout, then flops sideways to grab his pillow back and toss it onto his bed again. “Seriously," he adds. "Bucky is your brother.

 

Becca shrugs and glances up at him. “So what? I can’t make jokes about you guys?”

 

“For your information, the last dick my ass was on wasn’t Bucky’s,” Steve tells her, raising his eyebrows self-importantly. “So, there.”

 

Becca frowns. “But you were at his place Sunday," she questions. "It’s only Tuesday? Who did you fuck since Sunday?”

 

“Thor,” Steve says, shrugging. “Yesterday.”

 

Becca’s jaw drops. “When did you fuck Thor!” she gasps, scrambling up to gawk at him. “And how were you not limping after?”

 

“While you were in the library,” Steve says, then frowns himself. “Didn’t I tell you?”

 

“No,” Becca insists. Then she frowns. “Wait, was that what that weird text about hammers was about?”

 

“Duh,” Steve answers, waving a hand. “Thor, Thor’s hammer, I was being hammered.”

 

Becca snatches a pillow from Steve’s bed and throws it at him. “Thot!” she accuses. “Again, how were you not limping?”

 

Steve shrugs again, putting the pillow back in its place. “He didn’t do me that hard. He was stoned.”

 

Becca shakes her head at him. “Your sex life is a mess,” she says. “When are you gonna stop sleeping around, anyway?”

 

“When Bucky asks me to,” Steve answers simply. “Back to the point. His birthday. What the hell do I get him?”

 

Becca exhales heavily. “I don’t know, he’s your boyfriend.”

 

“He’s not my boyfriend, but he is your brother!” Steve groans. “Help me!”

 

“I’ve gotten him movie tickets or gift cards the past six or seven years,” Becca says. “Buy lingerie or something.”

 

“I’m not getting him something sexual for his birthday,” Steve answers firmly. “We’re just friends.”

 

Becca snorts. She flops back onto her stomach and picks up her highlighter again. “Sure, Jan,” she replies. “Friends who fuck every weekend.”

 

“Not every weekend,” Steve defends himself.

 

Becca looks over her shoulder at him. “Sure, because you skipped the weekend that you had to go to DC for that art installation means every other weekend since New Year’s doesn’t count.”

 

“We didn’t the weekend before Valentine’s Day,” Steve counters.

 

Becca pushes herself up. “That was the weekend you went to DC,” she reminds him. “Besides, you spent actual Valentine’s Day together!”

 

Steve scowls, trying to reconcile his mental calendar. “Dammit,” he mutters when he realizes she’s right.

 

Becca waves her highlighter at him, turning around again. “Honestly, I wish you guys would either throw in the towel one way or the other already. It’s ridiculous how you two keep insisting you’re just friends.”

 

“We are just friends!” Steve groans. “You’re hopeless.”

 

“Get off my dick,” Becca says, returning to her textbook.

 

Steve pouts at her for a minute. Then his stomach rumbles.

 

“I want gyros,” he complains.

 

“You wanna pay GrubHub to go get it?” Becca asks. “‘Cause I’m broke and there are no gyro places in walking distance.”

 

Steve pouts harder. He’s not broke, but he doesn’t need to be ordering gyros from GrubHub. Then he gets an idea.

 

“Hey, shush a minute,” Steve says to Becca, grabbing his phone and dialing Bucky.

 

Becca twists around to look at him as Steve sits up and waits while it rings. “Who are you calling?” she asks, tapping her highlighter against her lip.

 

“Shh!” Steve hisses.

 

“Whassup, sunshine?” Bucky answers.

 

“Could you bring me and Becca dinner?” Steve asks.

 

There’s silence on the other end of the line. Becca drops her highlighter and her jaw, looking at Steve as though he's grown another limb. Then Bucky chuckles.

 

“Y’know, honey," he drawls, "when I told you that you could call me for anything, I didn’t mean dinner orders.”

 

“Please?” Steve whines, putting as much begging in his voice as he can. “We want gyros.”

 

“You want gyros!” Becca yells.

 

Either Taz or Yvonne bangs on the left wall. Becca winces. “Whoops,” she whispers.

 

On the phone, Bucky sighs. “From the Armenian place, Boyajian’s?”

 

“Please,” Steve says, perking up.

 

“Fine,” Bucky answers and Steve throws a thumb’s up at Becca. “But I’m hanging around for dinner. And you owe me, Rogers.”

 

“I’ll pay you back when you get here,” Steve says quickly, reaching for his wallet. “For mine, at least, deal with your sister yourself.”

 

“Nah, I’ll get it,” Bucky says. “Not the owe me I meant.”

 

Steve blushes but grins. “Uh-huh,” he drawls, propping himself up on his elbows. He lifts his feet into the air and swings them a couple times, smirking at nothing as he tilts the phone against his ear a little better. “What kinda owe you then?”

 

“Seriously, Steve?” Becca interrupts. “Right in front of my salad?”

 

Steve breaks to laugh and falls onto his face. He hears Bucky asking what Becca said but he’s overwhelmed with laughter. Becca twists onto her knees and snatches the phone from him, pressing it to her ear.

 

“You can’t have sex with him in my dorm room,” she says firmly. “You’re both disgusting. I want extra lamb, no tomatoes, extra onions, and onion rings. And lots of tzatziki.”

 

Steve leans over and snatches his phone away from Becca. “Let me be a thot in peace!” he calls, then presses the phone to his ear and rolls away from Becca to face the wall. “Hi.”

 

“Yeah, my boner’s been killed,” Bucky says. “What do you want?”

 

“Souvlaki and fries,” Steve says. “And root beer.” He rolls over. “Hey, Becca, what do you want to drink?”

 

“A bagel,” Becca says.

 

“That’s not a drink order!” Steve laughs.

 

“Two bagels!” Becca snorts. “But Pepsi.”

 

“Becca wants Pepsi,” Steve tells Bucky. “And I can walk you back to your car and blow you when you leave, so park somewhere discreet. Cool?”

 

“Right in front of my salad!” Becca yells.

 

“Sounds good,” Bucky says, sounding like he’s trying not to laugh. “I’ll be there in about an hour, kitten.”

 

“‘Kay,” Steve says. He pulls the phone away from his ear and makes kissy noises at it, then hangs up on Bucky laughing.

 

“You’re both disgusting,” Becca says.

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Steve answers, then his phone pings and he sits up to read the text. “Hey, Peggy’s friend Natasha is throwing a leather party on Easter. You wanna go?”

 

“Nah, I got a paper due then,” Becca says. “You go. Bring your boyf.”

 

“Bucky’s not my boyfriend!” Steve groans.

 

Forty-five minutes later, there’s a knock and Steve jumps up to answer the door. Becca yells: “Needy bottom!” at him, which means Steve’s bright red when he opens the door.

 

Bucky lifts a takeout bag. “Did my sister just call you a needy bottom?”

 

“Should’a seen him run for the door,” Becca says.

 

“Both of you are deleted,” Steve declares, grabbing the takeout bag and carrying it over to his desk. “Tumblr done snapped, bye, Felicia.”

 

“Can I get my BJ before I get deleted?” Bucky asks, stepping over Becca and falling onto Steve’s bed. “Like, a goodbye BJ? Sorry you’re being deleted BJ?”

 

“Disgusting,” Becca says.

 

“Shuddup, you’d want a goodbye blow from me, too,” Steve counters.

 

“You got me there,” Becca snorts.

 

“And the mood’s killed,” Bucky sighs, stretching out on Steve’s bed.

 

“Get your shoes off my pillows!” Steve says, not even looking at Bucky.

 

“Come take my boots off then, sweetheart,” Bucky calls to Steve; Steve looks up in time to see Bucky swinging his heavy military boots back onto the floor.

 

Bucky winks, then curls a finger at him and Steve’s face heats up again.

 

“Ew,” Becca says, standing up. “I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll be back in, like, five minutes, and I’ll be able to smell it if anybody’s dicks get out for Harambe or otherwise.”

 

“Thanks, sis!” Bucky calls after her as she slams the door.

 

“I don’t get you two,” Steve says, but he steps over Becca’s textbook and kneels down in front of Bucky anyway.

 

“Stop talking about my sister,” Bucky tells him, combing Steve’s hair back before fisting his fingers in it. “Take my boots off, kitten.”

 

Steve bends and Bucky’s fingers slip from his hair as Steve lowers himself prostrate in front of him. Steve presses his lips to the top of Bucky’s steel-toed boot, then kisses the other. Bucky leans back on his hand while Steve nuzzles his face against the insides of Bucky’s boots.

 

“Very good, kitten,” Bucky praises him softly. “Go ahead and take them off.”

 

Steve presses two last kisses to the tops of Bucky’s boots each, then releases the laces and loosens them. He helps Bucky slip his feet from inside the boots, then Steve sets them aside neatly next to his bed. He lifts up and pecks Bucky’s lips once.

 

“Hi,” Steve says.

 

Bucky breaks into a smile. “Hey, baby,” he answers and Steve grins, ducking his head down shyly.

 

“Can I get another kiss, kitten?” Bucky asks then, his hand returning to Steve’s hair. “C’mere.”

 

Steve follows Bucky’s hand pulling and opens his mouth for Bucky to invade. It’s short and messy, but only because the door bangs open again and Becca re-enters.

 

“Congrats, you managed not to scar me for life,” Becca declares while Steve sits back and wipes his mouth off on his hand, avoiding looking at her. “Just the next couple of weeks.”

 

“Fuck off, Becky,” Bucky says, sprawling on Steve’s bed again. Steve doesn't mind.

 

“You’re the one who started dating my roommate,” Becca counters.

 

“We’re not dating!” Bucky and Steve insist in chorus.

 

Becca sends them a dry, disbelieving look, then starts sorting through the food. “Ooh, you got Greek salad, too. Steve, you should bribe him to bring us food more often.”

 

Steve gets up and heads to their tiny little kitchenette to get out plates. “You wanna sit on the floor, Becks?”

 

“And have to witness your shmoop?” Becca snorts.

 

“I was gonna watch The Great British Baking Show,” Steve says, carrying the plates over.

 

“Ooh, shmoop away,” Becca answers.

 

“I don’t like cooking shoes,” Bucky whines.

 

“You don’t have to join us,” Steve tells him primly. “You want fries or onion rings? Or salad?”

 

“All’a ‘em,” Bucky says, tucking his arm under his head.

 

He winks at Steve and leans back and Steve elects to ignore the fact that he’s serving Bucky.

 

“Did Steve ask you about his friend’s leather party?” Becca asks.

 

Bucky props himself up on his elbow. “Leather party?”

 

Steve scoops salad onto his plate and Bucky’s as he answers. “Peggy – You met Peggy on Halloween – her friend’s throwing a leather party for Easter.”

 

Bucky snorts. “For Easter,” he repeats, sitting back again. “That sounds appropriate.”

 

Steve walks over with their plates and some napkins. “You wanna go with me?”

 

Bucky shifts onto his side to take the plate Steve hands him. “Am I going as your dom?”

 

“Well, duh,” Steve says, sitting down on the floor and pulling his laptop to him. “Becca, will you bring the drinks?”

 

“Sounds fun,” Bucky answers Steve.

 

“I ain’t your maid,” Becca tells Steve, but she brings the drinks anyway.

 

They watch half of an episode of The Great British Baking Show before Bucky’s whining gets too annoying and they switch to Steven Universe. Around nine, Bucky has to go before security comes to drag him out.

 

“Where’re my boots, Steve?” Bucky asks.

 

“That’s my cue to leave,” Becca says, getting up and climbing the ladder to her bunk. “Have fun blowing his boots, Steve.”

 

“Ha, ha,” Steve answers her, grabbing Bucky’s boots.

 

As promised, Steve walks Bucky to his truck. Bucky winks at him and Steve goes to his knees in the parking lot, and it’s well worth the soreness and bruises his knees end up with when he goes back upstairs.

 

“Ew, you smell like dick,” Becca says the second Steve walks in.

 

“You can’t smell me from up there,” Steve counters, but she’s not even looking at him.

 

“You smell like nut,” Becca insists.

 

“I swallowed,” Steve retorts.

 

“I’m psychic,” Becca replies.

 

Bucky’s birthday is the next weekend; his parents drag the whole family out for dinner the day of and Becca drags Steve along. Steve ends up running out of time and just gives Bucky a card at dinner, but he leaves a wrapped package in Bucky’s truck when he drops him and Becca off on campus. Becca’s in the shower when Bucky calls him.

 

“A French maid outfit?” Bucky laughs over the phone.

 

“I blanked on ideas,” Steve answers.

 

“Come over Monday and wear it for me, then.”

 

Steve has a key to Bucky’s apartment already. He takes a bus off campus to Bucky’s neighborhood after his last class and walks the rest of the way, letting himself in when he gets there. Bucky’s still at work, but that was the plan. Steve changes in Bucky’s bedroom into the skimpy outfit, gets out the kit of cleaning supplies Bucky left him, and sets about dusting.

 

Steve’s in the kitchen when Bucky does get there. Bucky walks in, bends Steve over the counter, and fucks him senseless while he’s still wearing the maid outfit and bright yellow cleaning gloves.

 

“Happy birthday, Buck,” Steve mumbles when he’s a fucked-out puddle on the counter.

 

“Thank you, kitten,” Bucky purrs in his ear.

 

Bucky drives him back to campus in the morning. Becca meets Steve for coffee before they part for classes.

 

“How was birthday sex with your boyfriend?” she asks.

 

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Steve insists.

 

"Sure, Jan," Becca answers dryly.

Chapter Text

colombe morte: ne pas mangez


“So,” Peggy says, “let me get this straight.”

 

Steve calmly sips his coffee while Peggy tries to wrap her mind around what he just told her.

 

“You’re going to Natasha’s party with him,” Peggy says. “And he’s collared you. And you have a key to his apartment and a drawer. You’ve even met his parents. But you’re not dating.”

 

Steve shrugs. “Pretty much.”

 

Peggy makes a face and shakes her hands at him. “This is complicated even for you, Steve.”

 

“Can you put us on the list or not?” Steve asks her.

 

Peggy sighs. “Yes, I’ll put you on the list. It’s not a full kink party, there’s no sex or nudity allowed. It’s mostly Natasha and her friends being degenerate on Easter Sunday to avoid their complicated relationships with religion.”

 

“Are you and Angie going?” Steve asks.

 

“Yes, but we’re not into that stuff,” Peggy answers. “I’m going to do some sketching, Angie’s coming to keep me focused.”

 

Steve snorts. “Right. Have I met Natasha?”

 

“No, but she knows you,” Peggy says, picking up her phone and checking it briefly before putting it down. “She’s weirdly informed about a lot of people. She might even know your not-boyfriend.”

 

“I think I met Natasha once,” Steve mutters, perching his chin on his palm and squinting as he thinks back. “Little taller than me, athletic, nice boobs?”

 

“I assure you, as a committed woman, I don’t know if her tits are nice or not,” Peggy replies blithely.

 

“I think I made out with her at a party,” Steve says.

 

Peggy laughs. “Darling, I think you’ve made time with nearly everyone on this campus once and a few people twice, which is very impressive given that you’re only a freshman. But I thought you weren’t attracted to Omegas?”

 

“Nah, it was a dare,” Steve answers. “It was nice, though, if I had to pick an Omega –”

 

“You’d be a dear and have a ménage a trois with me and Angie,” Peggy cuts in.

 

Steve laughs. “Sure,” he answers. His phone buzzes and he picks it up, then gets up. “I got class. See you later, babe.”

 

Peggy sticks out her cheek and Steve kisses it as he leaves. She stays there in the cafe, drawing random passers-by, and Steve heads out into the chilly spring air. He shivers a little and draws his coat in tighter, heading to his next class.

 

Easter Sunday dawns bright and beautiful. Choirs sing heavenly hymns and doves are released somewhere, probably. Steve stayed over at Bucky’s place Saturday night, so Easter Sunday for him dawns bright and beautiful with Bucky’s morning wood poking him in the back.

 

“Hey,” Bucky mumbles in Steve’s right ear, the ear he’s still got a hearing aid in. “We gotta get up. Gotta go to Mass.”

 

Steve groans and rolls onto his front. “You didn’t say we’d be going to Mass,” he says into the pillow.

 

“Sorry, my ma just reminded me. C’mon, we gotta get going.”

 

“I don’t have church clothes,” Steve whines.

 

“We gotta get Becca, you can get dressed then. C’mon, get up.”

 

Steve groans again. He shifts back onto his side, then wriggles until he can press his ass against Bucky’s crotch and grinds back on him. “D’we got time for morning sex?”

 

“Kitten,” Bucky mutters in Steve’s ear, “I wish.”

 

Steve whines again, pressing tighter. “Why’d you get me wet if you weren’t gonna fuck me?” he complains.

 

“Didn’t mean to,” Bucky tells him. He kisses Steve’s neck, then pats his ribs. “I’m gonna take a shower.”

 

“Can I come?” Steve asks as Bucky gets out of bed.

 

“No, because it’ll turn into shower sex and we got, like, fifteen minutes to get outta here.”

 

Steve pouts. He watches Bucky leave, then rolls onto his back and takes matters into his own hands. He knows Bucky will only take five minutes in the shower. If he hurries, he can get himself off before then.

 

Bucky’s in the shower barely four minutes. He comes back in wearing a towel and Steve groans, frustrated and unsatisfied because now he’s been caught.

 

“Whore,” Bucky says, dropping his towel and crawling onto the bed to kneel above Steve. “You need some help with that, kitten?”

 

“Please,” Steve says.

 

Bucky bends and kisses him hard, then just gets up off the bed. Steve doesn’t take his fingers out of his ass or stop jacking off as Bucky leaves; if Steve hurries –

 

“Jerk!” he does yell after him.

 

Bucky returns with a bag of frozen peas. Steve’s eyes widen.

 

“I ain’t got time to take care of you,” Bucky says, crawling back onto the bed with the frozen peas. “Hands off, kitten, it ain’t yours to play with.”

 

Steve whines. “I’m sorry, I’ll be good –”

 

“No,” Bucky says firmly. “When you’re in my house, you obey my rules, and my rules say you don’t come unless I give it to you. Hands off.”

 

Steve pulls his hands away, lying them above his head. Bucky bends and kisses him again, then Steve hisses against his mouth as the bag of peas presses against his dick.

 

“There you go,” Bucky says softly in his ear. “Isn’t that better, kitten?”

 

Steve nods reluctantly. His erection rapidly wilts.

 

“There,” Bucky says, then kisses Steve’s cheek and takes the peas away. “What do you say, sweetheart?”

 

“Thank you,” Steve mumbles.

 

Bucky gets off the bed. “I’ll be right back,” he says, then leaves with the peas.

 

Steve whimpers a little in the bed, writhing as feeling returns to his numb crotch. He’s still horny, Bucky’s stupid morning wood having excited his sleeping consciousness, but the cold has taken him out of the game for the time being. Bucky returns and bounces onto the bed, crawling on his knees until he can drop down on his forearm above Steve.

 

“I’ll punish you later,” Bucky says, then kisses him hard. Steve lifts into it, wanting contact, and Bucky pushes him back down. “We gotta go. You can go shower.”

 

Bucky rolls off of him and Steve pouts. He gets out of bed at last and makes his way into the bathroom, where he washes his hands and cleans the slick off of his body. He washes his face, too, and combs his hair into something resembling neatness. Steve pouts some more at the mirror, then returns to Bucky’s bedroom.

 

Bucky’s standing in front of his closet, buttoning a dress shirt as his slacks hang open and a belt dangles from only one loop on them. Steve picks up the day clothes he’d brought for the morning, dresses quickly, then walks over to fix Bucky’s belt for him. Bucky presses a kiss to his cheek as Steve finishes buttoning his shirt for him, too, then he hands Steve a pair of dress shoes and grabs a clip-on tie before walking over to the bed.

 

“C’mere,” Bucky says, but Steve is already following with the shoes. “Just put ‘em on, doll, okay?”

 

“Sure, Buck,” Steve says, releasing the laces so he can slip the shoe onto Bucky’s foot.

 

“Hey.”

 

Steve glances up, pushing Bucky’s foot into the shoe as he does. “What?”

 

Bucky touches his cheek, gentle. “You ain’t mad, are you?”

 

“No,” Steve says, then turns and kisses Bucky’s palm. “I agreed to that rule, I chose to try and break it.”

 

Bucky blows out his breath, clearly relieved. Steve kisses his palm again before focusing on tying Bucky’s shoes. It’s not strictly a Boot Worship thing when Steve ties or unties Bucky’s shoes for him, it’s partly that Bucky simply has difficulty doing it and Steve wants to help. Right now, it’s that they’re in a rush and Steve is faster at tying shoes than Bucky.

 

“Thank you,” Bucky says when Steve stands up. He cups Steve’s cheek and pulls him into a kiss, and for a second they just linger there, sharing air.

 

“G’morning,” Steve mumbles against Bucky’s lips.

 

Bucky breaks into a smile. “Morning, sunshine,” he answers.

 

He pecks Steve’s lips one more time, then stands up.

 

“Right, we gotta get Becca,” Bucky continues, now in an all-business tone. “I’ll buy you some breakfast on the way but we’ll all be going to brunch after Mass. Can you check your sugar in the car?”

 

“Yeah, no problem,” Steve says. “Just don’t go over any potholes?”

 

Bucky kisses the tip of his nose. “I’ll do my best,” he says.

 

Steve gathers up his insulin bag, puts in his other hearing aid, grabs his phone and follows Bucky out of the apartment down to the parking lot behind the building. Steve gets in the passenger side while Bucky gets in the driver’s side and he opens up his insulin bag to check his blood sugar.

 

“What is it?” Bucky asks when the meter beeps.

 

“Eighty-eight,” Steve says. “It’s morning, so that’s normal. What are my options for food?”

 

“I was thinking Starbucks, ‘cause their food ain’t so shit,” Bucky answers. “Plus, coffee.”

 

“Fine,” Steve agrees. “I kinda want a bagel.”

 

“You need protein,” Bucky says without missing a beat.

 

“I can get egg bites,” Steve says, hooking his elbow over the bench to look at Bucky.

 

“Fine,” Bucky agrees. “Call Becca an’ see what she wants, will you?”

 

Steve nods, pulling out his phone. He glances up one more time, his gaze settling on Bucky’s profile sharpened in concentration, and his gut jolts as he realizes something.

 

What prompts it is Steve thinking that he should draw Bucky’s driving face, because it’s fascinating, beautiful and hard and unyielding, and that thought leads to thinking that Steve’s drawn Bucky’s dom face a million times and that’s not much different from how Bucky looks now, yet Steve still wants to capture Bucky’s concentrated profile on paper because there are just a few slight differences in his expression that make him look totally different.

 

It feels kind of like being punched in the teeth. Or that time Bucky agreed to backhand him in the face for a scene, only without the satisfaction of Bucky crooning about what a whore he is afterwards. Steve’s in love.

 

Bucky glances at him. “Are you okay?” he asks, his frown growing. “What’s the matter?”

 

“Nothing,” Steve lies hastily.

 

He dials Becca before Bucky can call him on it. Becca doesn’t answer him in any recognizable English, just gives a very long and very frustrated groan into the phone.

 

“We’re coming to pick you up and we’re stopping at Starbucks,” Steve says without much ceremony. He’s still kind of rattled by his epiphany. “What do you want?”

 

“Wha’?” Becca mumbles. “What?”

 

“We’re picking you up,” Steve repeats. “It’s Easter, apparently, we have to go to Mass.”

 

“OH, SHIT!”

 

Steve holds his phone away from his ear as he hears clattering and Becca swearing a blue streak. Bucky pulls into the Starbucks drive-through.

 

“What does she want?” Bucky asks.

 

“I think she’s having a crisis,” Steve says, looking at his phone. “Get her a Cinnamon Dolce latte with almond milk.”

 

“What about food?” Bucky mutters, rolling forward and squinting at a menu. “Whatever, I’ll get her a sausage sandwich.”

 

“No, she’s vegetarian,” Steve says. “Get her the spinach and feta wrap.”

 

Bucky turns to gawk at Steve. “Since when is she vegetarian?

 

“Last week,” Steve answers, shrugging. “It's a cleanse.”

 

Bucky shakes his head. “Fucking…” he mutters, not finishing.

 

By the time Becca remembers that Steve called her, they’ve already gotten through the line and received their order. Steve’s sipping a decaf iced Americano with coconut milk and enjoying his bagel (which, granted, is not as good as the bagels he gets back home in Brooklyn) when Becca yells: “STEVE?” into the phone.

 

“Hey,” he says, tucking his phone back under his ear. “We got you a Cinnamon Dolce with almond milk and a spinach and feta wrap.”

 

“Oh, thanks. Can I use your dry shampoo?”

 

“Sure,” Steve says. “But if you empty the can, Rapunzel, you have to buy me more.”

 

“Bless!” Becca calls, dropping the phone again.

 

“When are you gonna eat?” Steve asks Bucky, dropping his phone into his breast pocket.

 

“While you’re changing,” Bucky answers. “Hey, you sure you’re okay? You kinda spaced out for a minute back there.”

 

“Yeah,” Steve lies.

 

He stuffs his face with bagel to avoid further questioning from Bucky. At least if he’s eating, Bucky will be too distracted with Alpha satisfaction to think about Steve having a visible existential crisis a second ago.

 

Bucky’s got a weird thing about making sure Steve’s fed. Probably because of that one afternoon in November where Steve had forgotten to eat all day because Finals™ and had passed out because of low blood sugar. (Becca had called Bucky in a panic to take them to the ER, Bucky told her to call an ambulance, Steve had woken up with Becca and Bucky glaring down at him with almost identical expressions and before he could even figure out what had happened, he’d offered to write all their essays or blow both of them if they’d just stop looking at him like that.) At least, that’s what Steve figures.

 

After scanning his ID card to get them in the building, Steve lingers while Bucky checks in with the security guard. The guard eyes Bucky and Steve suspiciously, but says nothing and they head upstairs. Steve lets them in and they find Becca frantically doing her makeup.

 

“Hey,” Steve says, dropping Becca’s Starbucks on her desk. “Don’t panic, honey.”

 

“Gee, thanks,” Becca says, applying concealer to a hickey under her jaw.

 

“Who gave you that?” Bucky asks, leaning sideways to get into Becca’s space while Steve climbs over a basket of laundry to get to his closet.

 

“Fuck off,” he hears Becca say, then Bucky’s heavy weight staggering and Steve guesses that Becca shoved him away.

 

Steve digs through his closet, pulls out some nice clothes, and walks back into the middle of the room to drop them next to Bucky, who’s taken his usual place on Steve’s bed and started eating. Steve tugs his shirt over his head and steals some of Becca’s concealer to start covering up the marks Bucky left on his neck.

 

“Sometimes I think how weird it is that I see your Omega naked more often than you do, Bucky,” Becca remarks.

 

“He’s not my Omega,” Bucky answers.

 

Becca snorts. Steve falters; he’s almost hurt, but Bucky’s right. Steve isn’t his Omega.

 

Steve sits down and hogs Becca’s mirror. She’s finished with her foundation and is hastily setting it while Steve dabs concealer onto yet another hickey. There’s a full-on bite mark on Steve’s neck near his shoulder, exactly opposite where Steve’s scent gland is on the other side and Steve falters while he’s dabbing concealer to look at it.

 

He isn’t Bucky’s Omega. Bucky isn’t his Alpha. Steve’s going to be lead around by Bucky on a leash tonight for a leather party, but he’s got a date on Monday and suddenly –

 

He doesn’t want to go.

 

“Hey,” Becca’s voice breaks into his thoughts and she snaps her fingers in his face. “Your not-boyfriend’s been calling your name, sweetie.”

 

“What?” Steve says, twisting around to look at Bucky.

 

“Are you okay?” Bucky asks, getting up from Steve’s bed with a concerned frown on his face. “You’re spacing out a lot this morning.”

 

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Steve lies. “Um, I’m just –” He scrambles for an excuse. “Easter was my ma’s favorite holiday,” he says. “I mean, besides Independence Day, but that’s only ‘cause it’s my birthday.”

 

Bucky walks up to him and combs his fingers through Steve’s hair. “You sure you wanna go out tonight?” he asks quietly.

 

Becca politely stuffs her fingers in her ears.

 

“Yeah, I wanna go,” Steve insists. “Going to Mass, that’s just throwing me off.”

 

Bucky nods. He bends and kisses Steve’s forehead, then turns back around and returns to Steve’s bed.

 

“What did you need?” Steve asks, sitting up in his chair.

 

“Oh, I was just reminding you to check your blood sugar again,” Bucky says, then waves his hand at Steve. “When you’re done.”

 

“Right,” Steve says.

 

He twists back around and starts covering his hickeys again. There’s no need to cover the one opposite his scent gland, it’ll be covered by his shirt. Steve almost wants to. His gut feels tight. He’s in love.

 

“You missed one,” Becca says, taking the concealer from Steve. She dabs at a spot under Steve’s ear, then takes powder and dusts it over Steve’s neck before buffing almost aggressively. She goes over Steve’s face while she’s at it and Steve coughs, startled by it. “You’re good,” Becca tells him, starting to put away her makeup.

 

Steve gets up and starts changing. He’s aware of Bucky watching him and Becca’s presence, but Steve has no shame. Becca does see Steve naked on an almost daily basis given that they room together and Bucky – Well, he’s Bucky.

 

“Question,” Becca says as Steve’s tying a half-Windsor around his throat.

 

“Answer,” Steve replies.

 

“Why are you coming?”

 

Steve stops, then pulls his tie snug against his collar. “What?”

 

“To Mass,” Becca says. “You don’t have to come. Why are you coming?”

 

Steve blinks at his reflection, then turns around to look at Bucky. “Why am I coming?”

 

“Uh,” Bucky says. He surges off Steve’s bed. “I’m gonna go get the car.”

 

“JAMES!” Becca yells as Bucky flees.

 

“Rude,” Steve mutters, getting up to put on his shoes.

 

“Weirdo,” Becca says. She gets up, pushes back her thick black hair, then ties it into a sloppy bun at the back of her head. “I mean, there’s literally no reason you have to come,” she continues. “Ma didn’t say anything to me about inviting you. Easter’s a family thing, the last time somebody outside the family was invited was Betty’s ex while they were still engaged.”

 

Steve ties his Oxfords and figures that it won’t do his mindset any good to puzzle this out right now. “I don’t know, Becca. He woke me up and told me we had fifteen minutes to get out the door this morning, I barely had time to wash my face.”

 

Becca sighs, pushing her phone into her purse. “He’s being weird,” she sighs. “You ready?”

 

“Yeah,” Steve says, grabbing his insulin bag. “C’mon.”

 

They take the elevator back down and Bucky’s truck is idling at the curb by the time they get outside. Steve gets in first and promptly pokes Bucky in the ribs.

 

“Why do I have to come to Mass?” he demands.

 

“Because you’re here and it’s too late to back out now?” Bucky suggests. “I mean, you already did makeup.”

 

“I covered up your bite marks,” Steve corrects, elbowing him. “How come you just didn’t let me stay home and sleep while you went?”

 

Bucky opens his mouth, then stops. Steve realizes what he just said. Becca glances between Bucky and Steve, then sinks low in her seat and stuffs her fingers in her ears.

 

“I’m not listening,” she says. “Not listening one bit. Nope.”

 

Steve looks down at his knees, then glances briefly at Bucky. “You should start driving,” he says.

 

Bucky jerks. He puts the truck in drive and lifts his foot from the brake. Steve leans back against the bench and shoves the knuckles of an index finger between his teeth to bite down. Did he just call Bucky’s apartment home?

 

“I didn’t think about it,” Bucky says a minute later. “Letting you – Letting you sleep. I just –”

 

He doesn’t finish, breaking off to sigh. Steve shoves his knuckles farther into his mouth, closing his lips over his bent finger and sucking a little. It’s better than biting his nails.

 

“So, I’ll say I invited him,” Becca speaks up. She’s unstuffed her ears. “Because you two clearly haven’t gotten your shit together yet.”

 

“There’s no shit to get together,” Steve mutters.

 

Becca rolls her eyes and says nothing. Steve stuffs his knuckles back into his mouth, until Bucky’s elbow taps his ribs at a red light. Steve glances up at him and Bucky tips his head away from Steve, maintaining eye contact. Steve pulls his finger from his mouth and shifts on the bench to lay his head on Bucky’s shoulder. He wipes his wet knuckles on his pant leg, but he only lasts a few minutes before he’s biting on his finger again.

 

Another red light and Bucky lifts off the bench, reaching into his pocket. He takes out a pack of gum and hands it to Steve. Steve takes it without saying anything, punches out a piece, and pops it into his mouth. He knows Bucky carries nicotine gum around a lot, but this isn’t Nicorette. The gum crunches under Steve’s back molars and he holds onto the pack as he starts to chew it, working out his nerves over the awkward situation.

 

The Barnes’s church in Park Slope is a big stone building, nothing like the little hole-in-the-wall church Steve used to go to with his ma. Bucky parks under a wide oak tree in the back of the parking lot and Becca gets out before he’s even switched off the engine.

 

“Hey, did you check your blood sugar again before we left?” Becca asks Steve pointedly, then she walks away before Steve can even answer her.

 

“Better do that,” Bucky says quietly to Steve.

 

Steve nods and unzips his insulin bag. He feels Bucky’s eyes on him as he pricks his finger and feeds the blood into his meter. His levels are a little out of whack from what they usually would be after eating, but Steve figures that it’s because it’s been almost an hour since he ate.

 

“Hey,” Bucky murmurs as Steve packs up his kit.

 

“Yeah?” Steve answers but doesn’t look at him.

 

Bucky reaches over and grasps Steve’s chin, tilting his face up and towards Bucky’s. Steve blinks.

 

“You wanna talk about it now or later?” Bucky asks.

 

“About what?” Steve says, desperately trying to play dumb.

 

“Home,” Bucky says gently. “You called my place home.”

 

Steve sucks in a breath and shrugs. “I spend a lot of time there,” he tries to claim. “I guess – It’s kind of – I mean –”

 

Steve flails, trying to explain it. He can’t read Bucky’s expression otherwise this would be a lot easier. Bucky releases Steve’s chin and cups the back of his neck instead, pulling Steve in. Steve lifts his chin but Bucky kisses his forehead, not his mouth.

 

“It’s fine, punk,” Bucky says. “It doesn’t matter.”

 

Steve exhales. He tries not to feel crushed. He nods and Bucky gets out of the truck, locking the door manually on his way out. Steve zips up his insulin bag, then gets out on the other side.

 

Steve shoves his hands into his pockets, his insulin bag hanging off his wrist, and walks with a foot or two’s distance between him and Bucky. His gaze is on the ground. He’s trying not to feel crushed.

 

Okay, Steve knew way back in November when he offered this to Bucky that maybe some emotions could get caught up in the mix. And, okay, Steve knew way back in November that maybe there already were emotions caught up in the mix. And he knew way back in November that Bucky had a crush on him but didn’t want to fully act on it.

 

But Steve kind of… Expected Bucky to act on it by now. It’s April. April 1st. Steve should’ve claimed April Fools when he made the Freudian slip in calling Bucky’s apartment home, as cruel as that would have been.

 

Except it’s kind of cruel of the universe to give Steve what feels like a backwards relationship. He and Bucky had sex. They agreed to keep having sex. They kept having sex, then they started randomly going out to dinner and hanging out more than they did before and Steve started to fall in love while Bucky got over his crush.

 

“Ah, hello, Steve,” Mrs. Barnes says happily when he and Bucky walk up to the family group outside the church. “Lovely of you to want to come today, we’re glad you decided to join us.”

 

Steve smiles weakly. Becca glances at him and mouths Told them about your mother at an angle that Mrs. Barnes can’t see and Steve figures that that’s as good an excuse as any. It’ll explain why Steve seems out of it. He remembers Becca mentioning that the last person to accompany the Barnes family Easter was Betty’s ex-husband and he doesn’t feel any better about it.

 

Mass is long and the only thing that keeps Steve awake is the continuing internal crisis he’s having over his relationship, or lack thereof, with Bucky. It’s like a newsreel in his head, continually scrolling across his mind’s eye. LOCAL TWINK SUGGESTS BENEFITS TO FRIENDSHIP, ACCIDENTALLY FALLS IN LOVE. WHEN INTERVIEWED, THE CONSCIENCE OF THE SELF-PROCLAIMED SLUT ONLY HAD ONE THING TO SAY. “Whoops?”

 

Steve does feel a lot like whoops. He feels a little bit offended by his own emotions. All he is is Bucky’s long-term booty call, emotions really have no business squirming their way into the situation. Who invited you, emotions? Nobody, that’s who. Steve is a lot offended by this turn of events. Emotions have gone and gatecrashed his and Bucky’s perfectly good unlabeled relationship and now he has to figure out what the hell he’s going to do about this.

 

You could tell him, a voice that sounds remarkably like Peggy’s whispers in the back of his mind. Steve mentally scoffs; he won’t even consider telling Bucky. He can’t tell Bucky. Is Steve’s Imaginary Peggy insane? If he tells Bucky, he could properly ruin their perfectly good unlabeled relationship and then who would call him kitten while sweetly fucking his brains out?

 

If he were to tell Bucky, Bucky would likely turn into the blinking man gif and then tell Steve that he’s cute and all but Bucky’s crush was just transference from back when he was still having serious issues with affectionate touch and Bucky’s over that now. Steve saw Bucky almost-flirting with somebody else in the cafeteria last week. (Come to think of it, that somebody might have been Natasha Romanoff. Steve’s memory of kissing her around the start of October is very hazy.) Bucky doesn’t need Steve to help him relearn kind touch anymore, nor does he need Steve to help him relearn intimate touch. And Bucky quit fumbling whenever Steve stuck his knuckles in his mouth back in January, he quit falling into random silences just staring at Steve, he quit blushing whenever Steve glanced at him and caught him staring. Steve’s pretty sure Bucky’s only keeping him around at this point because it takes a lot to break in a new ass and Bucky’s capable of capturing 110% of Steve’s attention by snapping his fingers at this point.

 

Worse yet, if Steve actually tells Bucky… Bucky might go all kind and tell Steve gently that there had never been any crush in the first place and he only took Steve up on his offer in the first place because Steve had seemed so desperate for it. Steve’s promiscuous, yes, and he enjoys it when Bucky fondly calls him a whore, but he’s not actually desperate and the last thing he’d want is to be a pity fuck.

 

So, no, Steve can’t tell Bucky. He spends the hour and a half that Mass takes up coming to the conclusion that there’s a very simple resolution to his problem. As a wise man once said, Steve will keep all his emotions right here (a small, mental box inside his brain) and then, one day, he’ll die. He’s Irish and everything, so the quote completely applies to him.

 

Steve feels better about himself by the time he takes Communion, so thankfully he doesn’t fuck up by stumbling or dropping things like a whore in church. Which, to be fair, he is a whore in church. Not the point. When Mass finally ends, he’s successfully stuffed the whole mess this morning had been into a box in his head and labeled it Existential Crisis, 2018: Do Not Eat with a subtitle of Concerning feelings, Bucky Barnes, and advice from John Mulaney. He feels better after coming to this conclusion.

 

The Barneses go to brunch that really qualifies as lunch at that point and Steve is able to act like a completely normal Omega who is not in love with Bucky Barnes. He cracks jokes and speaks in vine references and memes that in general confuse everyone but Becca and Benny. By the time he, Becca, and Bucky leave, Steve feels quite proud of himself. Amazing how little things change when you realize you’re in love with someone.

 

Bucky stops in front of Finchbury Hall and Steve makes to get out with Becca, only Bucky grabs the back of his shirt.

 

“Where are you going?” he asks with a laugh, tugging Steve bodily back into the car. “We gotta head back home to get ready for that party, kitten.”

 

Steve swallows. Fuck.

 

“Doh!” he says, hitting himself in the forehead lightly. “Right. Sorry.”

 

Bucky chuckles and pulls away from the curb. Steve sticks his knuckle in his mouth.

 

“Gum’s in my pocket,” Bucky says casually.

 

“Right,” Steve says, pulling his finger out and pulling the packet of gum out of Bucky’s pocket. Steve has gum, the fruity kind with tons of sugar that he eats in emergencies, but the kind Bucky has is crunchy and that satisfies Steve’s oral fixation so much better. He pops a piece into his mouth, puts the packet back in Bucky’s pocket, then leans against Bucky’s shoulder.

 

They go home. They’re going home. Steve only just dumped all his accidental feelings into a box and slapped it with a Dead Dove: Do Not Eat tag but here they are, escaping through the bars of their cage easily despite being the most dangerous animals in the world and Oh my God!

 

Steve thinks in vine references when he’s stressed. It’s a coping mechanism.

 

“So, I figure we could take a siesta?” Bucky suggests as they walk into the apartment. “And I guess I ought’a punish you for this morning still, if you’re up for it.”

 

“Sure,” Steve says.

 

Bucky hangs up his keys, then cups Steve’s chin. “Hey,” he says, surprisingly gentle. “It’s negotiable, honey, I don’t hafta do it unless you want it.”

 

Steve jerks back, then shakes his head quickly. “No, that’s not – I’m not – Siesta first?”

 

Bucky looks at him for a while, then he nods. “Yeah,” he agrees, “it’s no problem, sweetheart. Did you wanna get a shower?”

 

“Later,” Steve says, moving past Bucky and heading towards the bathroom anyway. He wants to wash off the concealer. “I’m tired right now.”

 

Bucky follows him into the bathroom, taking Steve’s shirt and tie from Steve when he takes them off to wash off his neck. Bucky doesn’t say anything so Steve largely ignores him. The water runs yellow for a minute, while Steve uses a washcloth to clean off his neck and face and he dries himself off with a towel when he’s done. He turns and exits the bathroom, Bucky following him, and heads into the bedroom.

 

Steve opens the bottom drawer of Bucky’s dresser, takes out some pajamas, then changes before the fact that he has a drawer and a key and a fucking toothbrush at Bucky’s apartment can open up the box labeled Ultimate Existential Crisis of 2018: Do Not Eat. He doesn’t have his own shampoo or anything and Steve chooses to see that as a count against Bucky’s place being his home rather than think about the fact that he just uses Bucky’s and then goes all sad face when he goes back to his dorm and has to use his own.

 

When Steve turns around, Bucky’s sitting at the edge of the bed, untying his shoelaces. Steve’s getting slapped in the face by all kinds of things, because even not letting Steve untie his shoes feels like a rejection. Steve just gets into the bed and curls up facing away from Bucky. When Bucky gets in with him, he pulls Steve against his chest and Steve pretends he’s already asleep.

 

Steve, in fact, doesn’t sleep at all. And he doesn’t think Bucky sleeps, either. They just lay there in the silence, the schoolhouse clock mounted in the living room ticking steadily. Steve jolts when it chimes three o’clock.

 

“You awake?” Bucky whispers.

 

Steve considers pretending he isn’t. Then he sighs and nods.

 

Bucky rolls on top of him, holding himself up by his forearm blocking Steve’s face from seeing the room, and he nudges at the underside of Steve’s jaw with his nose. Steve tips his chin up and Bucky kisses a line down his neck. Steve shuts his eyes again and just relaxes into the feeling of Bucky covering him. If he focuses on the slight scratch of Bucky’s stubble, Steve can forget how he’s been on edge all morning.

 

“We gotta leave by eight,” Bucky says with his mouth still touching Steve’s neck. “We’re gonna get dinner on the way there. You’re gonna check your blood sugar ‘cause you didn’t do that after lunch and then you’re gonna go into the bathroom and wait for me.”

 

Steve nods once. Bucky kisses his cheek and Steve turns his head to the side so Bucky can kiss his lips, then Bucky pushes up from the bed and gets up.

 

“Go,” Bucky says, leaving the room.

 

Steve lies there for just a second, then he sits up and swings his legs out from under the blankets. He picks up his insulin bag from the floor by the bed and checks his blood sugar, records it in his phone, then heads into the bathroom. Bucky’s in the kitchen, Steve doesn’t know what he’s doing. Steve goes into the bathroom and lays the memory foam bath mat onto the floor in front of the tub before kneeling down on it. He leans his forearms on the wide edge of the tub and rests his forehead on them. He closes his eyes and lets tension escape his body with an exhale.

 

Following orders clears his head. Steve has always craved clear-cut instructions, with blunt and no-nonsense rules. It makes him feel like there’s no room for doubt or uncertainty. He just obeys and he’s good.

 

Bucky comes in a minute later. He kneels down behind Steve and kisses the back of his neck, then pulls him upright by his shoulder. Steve relaxes into Bucky’s grip, slowly letting himself go limp.

 

“Good kitten,” Bucky murmurs.

 

Steve smiles softly.

 

Bucky ducks into his neck and kisses him a few times, going up his jaw to his face before pressing their lips together.

 

“I’m gonna give you a bath, kitten,” Bucky says. “And you’re gonna be quiet until that clock chimes four, ‘cause you stepped outta line this morning, remember?”

 

Steve nods. Silence isn’t difficult; normally, Bucky spanks him when he breaks a rule. Steve quite likes being spanked.

 

“What’s your color?” Bucky asks.

 

“Green,” Steve says.

 

Bucky kisses his cheek now. “Can you be quiet that long, kitten?”

 

“Sure,” Steve replies. “Why aren’t you spanking me?”

 

“‘Cause I don’t feel like it,” Bucky answers. He pushes back on Steve’s shoulder and Steve sits up. “Quiet-time starts now. Stand up, kitten.”

 

Steve does, then lifts his arms when Bucky pulls on the hem of his t-shirt. Bucky undresses him and Steve steps into the bathtub. Bucky gets in behind him a second later, then turns on the water.

 

The tub fills steadily and Steve leans against Bucky’s chest. Since he’s not allowed to make noise, all he can do is lie there as Bucky starts washing him.

 

“Sweet kitten,” Bucky murmurs in his ear over and over. “So pretty and so sweet, kitten.”

 

It’s easy to relax in the hot water with Bucky cooing praises in his ear. Steve eventually turns into a useless lump of happy Omega, puddled against Bucky’s shoulder. He’s sucking on his lip, apparently, because Bucky pushes a pacifier – an adult-sized one – past his lips and Steve settles a little further with something to bite on.

 

“Good kitten,” Bucky says gently to Steve. “Are you ready to get out?”

 

Steve nods. Bucky pushes him into a sitting position and climbs out of the tub first, taking Steve’s upper arm and helping him stand up after. Steve goes to take out the pacifier and Bucky catches his wrist.

 

“I ain’t done with you,” Bucky tells him. “And your punishment ain’t over, neither. Leave it in.”

 

Steve nods.

 

“Color?” Bucky asks.

 

Steve signs Green; finger-spelling the letter G and shaking it back and forth a few times.

 

“Good kitten,” Bucky answers, then lets go of Steve’s wrist and grabs a towel.

 

Steve folds his hands in front of him as he waits, sleepy again as he sucks on the pacifier in his mouth and watches Bucky dry himself off. When Bucky’s wrapped a towel around his own waist, he takes a new one and dries Steve off.

 

“We’re gonna watch a movie,” Bucky tells him, then bundles him up in an overlarge, fuzzy bathrobe. Steve nods a little, still quiet. Bucky pulls him out of the bathroom, into the living room, and parks him on the sofa.

 

Steve curls up on his side and fiddles with the pacifier until he can bite on it. Bucky returns with a couple of pillows and makes Steve sit up so he can flatten the back of the couch into futon mode. Then Bucky piles the pillows around the back and sides of it and crawls in behind Steve. Steve pulls his arms and legs under his fuzzy bathrobe and scoots until his back is pressed to Bucky’s chest, then Bucky drapes a blanket over both of them and curls his arm around Steve’s stomach. Bucky switches on the TV and opens Amazon while Steve cuddles into Bucky’s chest and shuts his eyes.

 

The clock chimes four o’clock. Bucky prods Steve in the arm.

 

“You can talk now,” he says.

 

“Mmm,” Steve answers.

 

“And you can take out the paci,” Bucky adds.

 

“Mm-mm,” Steve replies, pulling the collar of his bathrobe up his neck. He does pull the pacifier out of his mouth briefly to say: “Fuck off, I like it.”

 

Bucky laughs. Steve starts chewing absently on the silicone teat and pillows his head on Bucky’s arm.

 

Bucky watches an action flick and Steve takes out his hearing aids because now he wants to actually take a nap. It occurs to his sleep-muddled brain that he could bring some of the things from his nest in his dorm room to Bucky’s apartment and confiscate the futon during his upcoming nesting period. He files that away while the voice that sounds remarkably like Peggy’s pipes up with If you nest at his apartment, then you’ll want to nest at his apartment every time and you’re still not dating.

 

Steve ignores this. He also ignores the fact that technically he started getting fussy with his pillows two weeks ago and it doesn’t take much for a few pillows, a warm blanket, and the scent of an Alpha to make a nest.

 

Bucky prods him awake some indeterminate amount of time later. He signs Wake up a little clumsily and Steve holds up a finger while he hooks his hearing aids back in.

 

“Movie’s over,” Bucky says. “It’s about six thirty.”

 

As though to confirm this, the schoolhouse clock chimes once.

 

“It is six thirty,” Bucky says, laughing. “We gotta leave in a bit more’n an hour.”

 

Steve pulls the pacifier from his mouth. “‘Kay,” he mumbles, then pushes it back in and rolls back onto his side.

 

Bucky’s weight swings over top of him and he noses at Steve’s face. “Wake uuuuuup,” he whines. “C’mon, I wanna make you look pretty.”

 

“I am pretty,” Steve mutters, plucking out his pacifier. “You seen my lips? I got cocksuckin’ lips.”

 

Bucky laughs again. “Maybe I wanna enhance your prettiness, kitten,” he says. “C’mon, I didn’t watch six hours’a makeup tutorials for nothin’.”

 

Steve opens one eye and squints at Bucky. “You’re gonna do my makeup? With what?”

 

Bucky grins a little. “I might’ve asked Becca to go shopping for us.”

 

Steve snorts. He shifts onto his back under Bucky and gets a hand on the back of his neck, pulling him down. Bucky smiles into the kiss for a minute, then pulls back with a wet smack and sits up.

 

“C’mon,” he repeats. “Let’s go.”

 

Steve shuffles off the flattened sofa behind Bucky and follows him into the bathroom. Bucky takes his pacifier and hooks it back on the shower stand in the bathtub for next time and Steve hops up onto the counter.

 

“So, what’cha gonna do to me?” Steve asks, kicking his feet where he sits.

 

“Gonna paint your face,” Bucky says. “And your nails. Wait there.”

 

Bucky drags a chair in from the kitchen and sits down in front of Steve. He pulls a bottle of pale pink nail polish from a drawer under the vanity, then tugs one of Steve’s feet into his lap.

 

“Before you start, where’s my phone?” Steve interrupts.

 

“In the bedroom,” Bucky says, looking up. “Why?”

 

Steve hops down. He pats Bucky on the head and slips out to go get his phone; Bucky laughs him out. Steve returns and gets back up on the counter, then puts his heel back on Bucky’s leg.

 

“G’head,” Steve tells him, pulling up YouTube on his phone.

 

“Brat,” Bucky chuckles, pulling Steve’s foot into position.

 

Steve scrolls through his YouTube feed while Bucky starts painstakingly painting his toes. Steve is careful to hold very still, since Bucky can’t steady his foot while he’s painting his nails with his only hand.

 

“So I’m sitting there,” Steve remarks as he selects a vine compilation, “barbeque sauce on my tiddies.”

 

Bucky looks up with a half-scandalized, half-delighted expression and he barks out a laugh. Steve is very pleased with himself and sets the phone on Bucky’s other thigh so they both can see.

 

“Wait, is that why you always yell A knife whenever somebody asks you what you’re holding?” Bucky says.

 

Steve laughs at him. Amazing how little things change when you realize you’re in love.

 

Bucky paints all of Steve’s nails powder pink. After that, he does some subtle pink eyeshadow both above and below Steve’s eyes, making them look bigger than they are, and puts false eyelashes and miniscule winged eyeliner on him. He tops it off with bright pink lipstick and Steve’s kind of impressed at how much pink there is.

 

“I kinda look like Barbie,” Steve remarks after he’s put his glasses back on.

 

“That was the plan,” Bucky says with pride. “C’mon, we gotta get dressed.”

 

Steve slips out of the bathroom, followed by Bucky, and sits down on the bed. Bucky pulls some shopping bags from his closet and sets them on the bed.

 

“Do you trust me, Stevie?” Bucky asks.

 

“‘Course,” Steve answers.

 

Bucky pulls him to his feet. “Close your eyes.”

 

Steve obeys without hesitation.

 

Bucky slips the bathrobe off him. He makes Steve lift his feet and pulls underwear up his legs. Bucky has Steve lift his arms and brings a snug bralette down over Steve’s chest. He lifts Steve’s feet again, putting him in high-waisted stockings, then Bucky dresses him in shorts. Steve feels Bucky putting a belt around his waist and feels around for the buckle, but Bucky bats his hands away.

 

“I got it, kitten,” Bucky tells him. “Arms up again.”

 

Bucky pulls a shirt over his head, something soft and light with short sleeves, then makes him sit down. He pulls something else over Steve’s legs, socks that reach past his knees, then shoes that feel like Mary Janes. Bucky combs his hair and pushes a headband onto his head, slips wide cuff bracelets onto his wrists, and clips fake earrings to his ears even. Steve’s eyes are still closed as Bucky finishes by putting his collar on him and clipping the leash to it.

 

“Stand up, kitten,” Bucky says, tugging gently on the leash. “Follow me.”

 

Steve gets up, eyes still shut. The shoes he’s wearing have some weight to them, feeling like they’ve got platforms despite not having heels he can detect, and he shuffles along on Bucky’s lead. The leash pulls on his collar every other step. Steve loves it.

 

“We’re turning into the bathroom,” Bucky says. “Here you go.”

 

Bucky stops him with a hand on his shoulder, then turns him. Steve bites on the inside of his lip so he doesn’t mess up his lipstick as Bucky positions him.

 

“Alright,” Bucky says, “open your eyes.”

 

Steve opens his eyes. They shoot wide open and his mouth falls open. He makes an unintelligible noise.

 

“What do you think?” Bucky asks him, his face close to Steve’s as he looks down at him.

 

“Uh,” Steve says dumbly.

 

Starting at his head, the headband Bucky put in his hair is the one Steve wore on Halloween, the one with the fluffy white cat ears. The earrings Bucky clipped onto his lobes are reminiscent of eighties style; metallic pink hearts with larger, fat, heart-shaped rings dangling from them, both with an iridescent sheen. The shirt he’s wearing is a loose white polo, but it’s sheer and cut at Steve’s ribs, showing the pink bralette and the waistband of his hose underneath it. The cuffs on Steve’s wrists are wide and clear with gold rings on the insides, like there’s a chain that should be attaching them. Steve’s shorts are high-waisted and holographic pink in a shiny vinyl finish, the rivets and button gold and the hem tastefully rolled, with a white vinyl belt through the loops that has a gold, heart-shaped clasp. He has on wide, white fishnets under the shorts that poke above the waistband and the thigh-high socks are pale pink with white bows in the front. Steve looks down to see that his shoes are Mary Jane-esque, but they’re Creepers, the same pale pink with a patent finish. There are two buckles, both with gold heart-shaped rings in the centers.

 

When he looks back up, Steve fixes his eyes on the collar hanging around his throat and realizes that Bucky’s Barbie-like makeup was all to do with color coordination.

 

“Wow,” Steve mutters.

 

“Good wow or bad wow?” Bucky asks.

 

“Good wow,” Steve decides. He tips his head to one side, then the other, reaches up and fiddles with his earrings. “Y’know, calling me kitten is one thing, but I was waiting for you to break out the real kawaii pet play stuff. This is good.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Bucky says, ducking and kissing Steve’s cheek, then he unclips the leash from Steve’s collar. “Go sit on the sofa while I get dressed.”

 

Steve turns and lifts onto his toes to catch a kiss, then scoots. Bucky slaps him on the ass as he leaves and Steve does not squeak, thank you. (He squeaks, Bucky laughs at him.) Steve fixes the futon into sofa mode and sits down. He slouches initially, but then gets inspired by his outfit coordination and sits up straight, pressing his knees together and resting his palms on them like a patient kitten.

 

Steve bites down on the inside of his lip. His cheeks are flushed, he’s thinking, I’m Bucky’s good kitten.

 

A few minutes pass while Steve sits patiently, then Bucky calls his name. He gets up and walks back into the bedroom, then his eyes bug out yet again and Steve stammers a second.

 

Bucky smirks, then curls a finger at him.

 

“C’mere, kitten,” he says, “you gotta put on my boots.”

 

Steve walks up to Bucky slowly, taking in his appearance as he sits languidly on the edge of the bed. Bucky has dug out his fatigues, it seems, because he’s wearing black camo cargo pants that sit snugly on his thighs, then a thin and sleeveless cotton top in olive drab that’s stretched over his pecs and is cut low enough to expose a bit of chest hair. Black suspenders frame said pecs and Bucky’s actual dog tags, which Steve hardly ever sees him wearing, hang around his neck. His boots, the usual black leather combat boots, sit neatly next to his socked feet, the ends of his pants tucked into his socks.

 

“Kitten,” Bucky says, snapping his fingers and Steve stands upright, at attention suddenly. “Come here.”

 

Steve swallows and walks up to him. Bucky spreads his knees and pats one, leaning back a little. Steve perches himself on Bucky’s knee and can’t stop looking at the way Bucky’s muscles are outlined in his tank top.

 

“What’s the matter, sunshine?” Bucky asks, still smirking. “Cat got your tongue?”

 

“Shuddup,” Steve says, flushing.

 

He presses a hand to Bucky’s chest, cupping his hand over a muscle and feeling a hard nipple under his palm, then a faint but steady beat. He shifts his palm, until it’s laying over Bucky’s heart. Bucky reaches up and gently grips Steve’s wrist. Steve’s hand looks childishly small and pale next to Bucky’s.

 

Steve looks up and meets Bucky’s eye. Bucky smiles at him and squeezes his wrist. Steve swallows hard, a lump rising in his throat. His heart skips a couple of beats and Steve can’t blame that on his AFib.

 

“You gonna put my boots on or not, kitten?” Bucky asks him, his voice quiet. “I don’t gotta actually spank you, do I, doll?”

 

Steve shakes his head. He lifts off Bucky’s knee and pulls his hand away from Bucky’s chest; Bucky’s hand stays on his wrist and Steve pause before he slips his hand through Bucky’s fist. He’s fascinated by the contrast of his Irish pale skin and Bucky’s tanned and nearly Mediterranean color.

 

“Go on,” Bucky tells Steve, dropping his elbow onto his knee and slumping forward. “On your knees.”

 

Steve slips a foot behind him, then lowers himself onto his knees. He picks up the first of Bucky’s boots, then pushes it onto Bucky’s foot. He does the same with the other, but before he does up the laces, he bows his posture and kisses the toe of each boot. His matte lipstick doesn’t transfer onto the leather, fortunately. He doesn’t look up as he kisses up Bucky’s left boot, but he knows Bucky is watching him with hungry eyes. Steve rubs his cheeks carefully against the insides of Bucky’s boots, but he’s not wearing foundation or anything so the only makeup he could mess up is his eyes or lips. Finally, he starts tightening the laces. He ties a double knot on one boot and kisses the bow, then moves to the other and does the same. Before he lifts his head, Steve kisses the steel-toes again.

 

When he does lift his weight onto the heels of his palms to look up, Bucky hooks a finger into the ring on Steve’s collar. He tugs and Steve stands up on his knees. Bucky kisses him and Steve, again, turns into a puddle of purring, happy Omega, just for knowing that he’s pleased his master.

 

“You know you’re amazing?” Bucky mutters against Steve’s lips. “D’you know how perfect you are, Steve Rogers?”

 

Steve pulls back from Bucky with a little laugh. “I dunno about perfect, but I’ll take amazing.”

 

Bucky pulls him back in and kisses him again. “I said perfect,” he says. Then reaches back and tugs on a hair at the back of Steve’s neck. “Remember, when you’re in my house, my rules, and my rules say anything I say’s law. So you’re perfect.”

 

Steve grins and ducks his gaze, his cheeks flushing again. Bucky stands up and pulls Steve to his feet by the hand, then picks up Steve’s leash and tucks it into his pocket.

 

“Get your insulin bag,” Bucky tells him. “Meet me by the door.”

 

Steve nods and moves past Bucky as Bucky goes to leave the room. Steve checks that his insulin bag is packed properly, sticks a phone charger and his spare hearing aids into it, then zips it up and leaves. Bucky is pulling on his custom motorcycle jacket, the one with just a pocket for what remains of his left arm, and the loop of Steve’s leash pokes out of his pocket.

 

“Am I going out with my collar?” Steve ask.

 

Bucky fixes his jacket, then shrugs. “Only if you want to. You can take it off and put it back on when we get there.”

 

“I want to leave it on,” Steve decides quickly.

 

Bucky nods, then takes a smaller jacket off the coat rack and holds it out to him. Steve rolls his eyes, because it’s a holographic varsity jacket that’s brand new like the rest of what he’s wearing, but he puts it on and zips it up, hiding his sheer top and everything visible under it.

 

“C’mon,” Bucky says, opening the door.

 

The party is at a club in Hell’s Kitchen. They stop at a pizza joint on the way up and Steve’s proud to say that both of them earn looks, particularly the collar around Steve’s throat and his cat ears. It doesn’t help them blend in that Bucky keeps reaching out and chucking Steve under the chin or tugging on the ring on his collar. Still, Steve’s pleased by the attention; since it’s pretty obvious what their deal is, most people who do look at them look impressed. One lady even pauses by their table to congratulate Bucky on his well-behaved pet and Steve preens.

 

“You’re the best little kitten, Stevie,” Bucky tells him after and Steve preens even more.

 

(Granted, one set of parents hustle their kids right back out of the restaurant when the mom spies Bucky scratching a grinning, blushing Steve behind his kitten ears, but nobody gives them shit for being subtly kinky in public. And the teenage daughter of the horrified parents loudly proclaims as they leave that she knows what furries are and it’s worth the judgy looks the mom sent Steve and Bucky to hear the parents demanding how she knows that.)

 

Arriving, Bucky parks a few blocks away under a street lamp and sticks a steering wheel lock in the wheel before they get out of the car. Steve keeps his insulin bag in between the two of them as they walk to the club, just in case anybody thinks its a purse and tries to relieve him of it. There’s a bouncer outside the club that checks a list for their names before letting them in. Inside, an employee takes their coats and makes them sign NDAs and waivers before waving them through a curtained doorway, where heavy dance music is playing and pulsing lights dance over the floor under the curtain. Bucky clips Steve’s leash to his collar before letting him through.

 

They step through the curtain. The party is in full swing already; the distant bar is crowded, as is the dancefloor. There’s a DJ making the lights pulse to the tempo of the music and in the center of the floor is a raised stage, where a muscular – visibly so, as he’s shirtless – man is being whipped by a petite woman.

 

“Fun,” Steve says over the music to Bucky.

 

“C’mon,” Bucky says, tugging on his leash.

 

They find Peggy and Angie in a corner, set up with several lamps and a velvet fainting couch. A woman in a full latex catsuit lies across the couch, idly petting the girl sitting on the ground in front of her. Peggy is drawing furiously, Angie is chatting with the girl in latex while the girl on the floor sucks on her thumb.

 

“Hey,” Steve says, dropping into a chair next to Peggy.

 

“Oh – Hello!” Peggy answers, looking up at him and gawking. She catches sight of Bucky and she grins, elbowing Steve. “Don’t you two look a picture, darling. I’ll draw you when I’m done with these two.”

 

Steve opens his mouth and Bucky says: “Sure.”

 

Steve glances up at him. Bucky raises his eyebrows. Steve shrugs, smiling bashfully, and shifts his weight to lean on Bucky.

 

“Are you technically allowed to talk to me?” Peggy asks Steve, leaning towards him but resuming drawing.

 

“I dunno –” Steve starts, having not even thought of that. He turns and tugs on Bucky’s suspenders. “Am I allowed to talk to people, Buck?”

 

Bucky shrugs, like he hadn’t thought of that either. “Tell you what,” he adds quickly, “no talking to strangers, kitten.”

 

He tweaks the leash. Steve smiles and butts his head towards him, making Bucky bring his hand into Steve’s hair to start petting him.

 

“A lot of the subs here have no-talking rules,” Peggy tells Steve. “Which is making me wish that Angie was into this sort of thing; I’d love to make her shut up.”

 

“Hey!” Angie complains, breaking off her conversation with the woman in latex to pout in Peggy’s direction. “Rude, English, why you mad at me?”

 

“Bitch, why you mad?” Steve echoes, poking Peggy. “Is it because my pussy pops severely and yours don’t?”

 

Peggy laughs and shakes her head at both of them. “Incorrigible,” she says.

 

“Was that a vine reference?” Bucky asks, leaning down to talk in Steve’s ear.

 

“Duh,” Steve answers.

 

“Well, I was gonna say that your pussy does pop severely,” Bucky tells him, then pecks his cheek while Steve blushes. “Pretty kitten,” Bucky adds in a purr.

 

Steve elbows him in the thigh half-heartedly, his blush worsening. “Shuddup,” he says embarrassedly.

 

Bucky laughs at him. “You are pretty, kitten,” he insists. “An’ you ain’t allowed t’a argue with me, is you, sweetheart?”

 

Steve flicks his gaze up to Bucky’s, then shakes his head and looks down. Bucky chuckles and scratches behind Steve’s cat ears. “Good kitten,” he murmurs in Steve’s ear.

 

“Are you going to sit down, Bucky?” Peggy asks then.

 

“Only seat’s taken,” Bucky remarks.

 

“Here –” Steve says, getting up. “You sit.”

 

Bucky raises his eyebrows, but sits down. Steve promptly inserts himself onto Bucky’s lap, facing Peggy, and curls up under Bucky’s chin.

 

“Thank you, kitten,” Bucky chuckles. “Can I get a kiss, sunshine?”

 

Steve lifts up and quickly pecks Bucky’s lips. Bucky grins at him and Steve, his cheeks flaming, hides under Bucky’s chin again.

 

“They’re adorable,” the woman in latex remarks to Bucky. “Is it a boy or a girl, pal?”

 

“A boy,” Bucky answers, reaching up and petting Steve’s cat ears like he can feel it. “He just looks best in pink.”

 

“Pink has no gender,” the woman answers, then reaches down and tugs on her sub’s ear. “Isn’t that right, little bean?”

 

Her sub nods, not taking her thumb out of her mouth or looking up. Steve reminds himself that he doesn’t know this sub and mentally corrects their pronouns to they/them just in case; he hates it when people assume his gender, he wouldn’t want to do the same thing.

 

“Hey, question, why’d you ask is it a boy or a girl?” Angie asks the woman in latex.

 

“He’s a pet,” the woman answers, gesturing to Steve with her free hand. “It’s what you ask pet owners when you meet their kittens or puppies.”

 

Angie leans over Peggy to look at Steve. Steve waves at her, suddenly shy because of the woman referring to Bucky as his pet owner. She’s not wrong. Steve likes it.

 

“Ohh,” Angie says slowly. Then she winks at Steve. “I get it. Cat ears, not a fashion statement.”

 

Steve rolls his eyes. “Why else would I wear them to a kink party?”

 

Angie considers this, then she gives a sage nod. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I thought you were going for a Lollita thing.”

 

“That was kinda my inspiration,” Bucky tells her. “I picked out his outfit.”

 

“Ohhh,” Angie repeats. She gives Bucky an OK sign with her hand. “Top notch fashion slash kink choices, I guess.”

 

“There!” Peggy declares then. She carefully rips the page out of her sketchbook, then reaches to the side of her chair and takes out a plastic sleeve to slide the drawing into. “Here you are, Trish.”

 

The woman in latex, Trish apparently, gets up and pats her sub’s head as she does. She takes the drawing from Peggy and grins, nodding, then lays it down on the fainting sofa and pulls a credit card from between her boobs. Peggy plugs a card reader into her phone, does a few things, then takes Trish’s card. Peggy swipes it, hands her phone to Trish as she says something about receipts, then takes back her phone and puts it away. She sharpens her pencil as Trish and her sub leave, then she looks over at Steve and Bucky and waves to the couch.

 

“On you go,” she says. “This one’s on the house.”

 

“No, lemme pay you,” Bucky answers.

 

“It’s a gift,” Peggy tries to insist.

 

“Nah, I’ll pay,” Bucky says while Steve glances back and forth between his dom (his pet owner, his mind reminds him) and his friend. “I’d feel bad about takin’ up all your time and you not gettin’ compensated.”

 

“You sure?” Peggy asks.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says, then pats Steve’s hip. “C’mon, get up, kitten.”

 

Steve stands. He leaves his insulin bag with Peggy and Bucky gets a better grip on his leash and walks him over to the fainting couch, sitting down and spreading his knees.

 

“By my feet, kitten,” Bucky says, tugging on Steve’s leash. “You know where pets belong.”

 

Steve lowers himself to his knees, then slips back to sit on his rump between Bucky’s feet and leans his head on Bucky’s knee. He curls his arms around Bucky’s boot and hugs his leg almost as he makes himself comfortable. Bucky reaches down, the leash looped around his wrist, and scratches Steve behind his kitten ears.

 

“Good kitten,” Bucky tells him softly. “Are you comfortable?”

 

“Mhmm,” Steve answers. He looks up at Bucky, then. “Can I have some gum?”

 

“Of course,” Bucky says, leaning to one side to reach into his pocket. He takes out a packet of gum, pops one out, then holds it in front of Steve’s lips. “Open up, baby.”

 

Steve parts his lips and Bucky presses the piece of gum onto his tongue. Bucky taps the underside of his chin as Steve starts to chew it and Steve leans his head back on Bucky’s knee, closing his eyes.

 

“This really is adorable,” he hears Peggy say. “Steve, I didn’t know you could be so cute.”

 

“I’m fuckin’ cute,” Steve answers petulantly. “You seen my ass? I got the world’s cutest ass. It’s in the Guinness Book’a Records.”

 

“Damn straight,” Bucky agrees, laughing.

 

“Personally, I think Angie has the world’s cutest ass,” Peggy says and Steve lifts his eyelids to watch her begin sketching. “But I’m biased.”

 

Angie sits upright, visibly preening. Peggy shakes her head and smiles to herself.

 

“Go on, talk to them,” Peggy adds to her girlfriend. “Do your bit.”

 

“Oh, right,” Angie says. She clears her throat and mimes putting something on her head. “I got my Freud hat on now. How’d you guys get into this?”

 

“Uh,” Bucky says. He scratches Steve’s scalp. “How’d you get into this, Stevie?”

 

“We had drunk sex and you called me kitten,” Steve says contentedly, enjoying his head scritches.

 

“That’s not all of it,” Bucky laughs. “You did stuff like this before?”

 

Steve shrugs. “Sure, but it wasn’t play like this. I just sub’ed before.”

 

“So you weren’t a pet until you started dating Bucky?” Angie asks.

 

“We’re not dating,” Steve replies.

 

“Ri-iii-ight,” Angie drawls. “And I actually like Freud.”

 

“No, we’re not dating,” Steve says. He wants to sit up and look at Angie properly, but he can’t move too much or he’ll mess up Peggy’s reference. Instead, he just looks at her firmly out of the corner of his eye. “We’re just friends.”

 

Angie squints at him, then looks up at Bucky. “And how does that make you feel?” she asks in a mock-serious tone.

 

Bucky laughs lightly. “It works for us,” he says.

 

Steve nods a little. It works, he insists to himself.

 

“That sounds fake but okay,” Angie says.

 

“She’s had a bit of wine, ignore her,” Peggy chimes in.

 

Angie holds up her thumb and index a few inches apart. She mouths Little bit and grins.

 

“It’s fine,” Bucky says.

 

“Yeah,” Steve agrees. He shuts his eyes and lets his head rest more fully on Bucky’s knee, chewing his gum. “I’m nonverbal now,” he announces.

 

“Okay,” Bucky replies, scratching his nails against Steve’s scalp again. “Have fun, kitten.”

 

Steve gives him a quick thumbs up and resumes his position.

 

“What does that mean?” Angie asks.

 

“He gets tired of talking when he’s in headspace,” Bucky answers. “Or he’s close to headspace and talking is keeping him out of it. Like how when you’re trying to fall asleep but you have to carry on a conversation?”

 

“He’s going into subspace?” Angie questions.

 

“Nah, pet space,” Bucky says. His nails scratch against Steve’s scalp one more time, then he starts stroking Steve’s hair. Steve butts his cheek against Bucky’s knee once and Bucky starts combing his hair instead. “You goin’ into pet space, kitten?”

 

Steve nods a little, even though it’s still a long ways off. It was the point of Bucky dressing him up in all shades of pink and putting him in ears, after all. Steve doesn’t go fully into pet space often, not unless there’s a Saturday when neither of them have any homework or work to do, but they both have Monday off tomorrow and it would be kind of against the point of going to a leather party to not be kinky.

 

“So, what is pet space?” Angie asks.

 

“It’s kinda like little space?” Bucky answers. “Y’know, when subs that age regress get into the younger mindset.”

 

“Does he age regress at all?” Angie asks. “Sorry, is that too personal, Steve?”

 

Steve waves a hand. Bucky tugs on a lock of hair lightly.

 

“Color?” he asks.

 

Steve lifts a hand and signs Green. Bucky scratches his scalp lightly in answer.

 

“He doesn’t regress, not technically. When he’s in headspace, he’s more like a puddle of shmoop.”

 

Steve grins and butts his cheek against Bucky’s knee. Bucky chuckles and scratches his scalp.

 

“He’s a cuddly kitten,” Bucky says. He leans down and coos in his gravelly voice to Steve: “Aren’t you, baby?”

 

Steve rubs his cheek against Bucky’s knee, humming softly. Bucky scratches just behind the cat ears and combs through his bangs, his fingers dropping down to rub and scratch down Steve’s jaw.

 

“Steve’s a cuddly person,” Angie chuckles. “So I guess he’s not that much different when he’s like this.”

 

“Well, a bit,” Bucky replies. “His oral fixation gets more intense when he’s in pet space, for one thing. That’s what the gum was for.”

 

“That makes sense,” Angie says. “What else do you do, Stevie?”

 

“You wanna show the nice lady, kitten?” Bucky asks Steve, his fingers rubbing lightly along Steve’s jaw.

 

Steve turns his head to the side a little and rubs his face and lips over Bucky’s fingers, then Bucky pushes his index finger into his mouth and Steve bites down on it lightly before starting to suck on it. The salty taste of his skin mixes with the sharp peppermint of his gum and soothes his mind a little further towards headspace.

 

“Did he bite you?” Angie asks, laughing.

 

“Yeah, kitties do that,” Bucky answers her, but his voice is close to Steve’s ear.

 

“Hold that pose!” Peggy says hastily. “Just stay still!”

“You’d better listen to the lady,” Angie agrees. “She’ll stab you with her pencil if you mess up her drawing.”

 

Steve absently lifts his hands and signs She will. Angie laughs.

 

“I don’t know that one, kitten,” Bucky says. “Do it again slower?”

 

Steve picks his hand back off Bucky’s boot and signs She will, but slower. Then he finger spells it and repeats the two words. Bucky started learning ASL sometime in January, but he still doesn’t know a lot. He does know the alphabet, which makes it easier because Steve can just fingerspell whatever he’s trying to say to ensure Bucky understands him.

 

“Thank you, kitten,” Bucky says and his lips press briefly to Steve’s hair. “You’re so helpful, baby.”

 

“Okay, okay, so Steve is cuddly, what about you?” Angie prompts. “Are you a gentle dom or a stone top or what?”

 

Steve feels Bucky shrug, his finger pulling a little from Steve’s mouth. Steve promptly nips at him and Bucky pushes his finger back into his mouth; Steve settles immediately and nurses lightly on his fingertip.

 

“Depends on the day, really,” Bucky answers Angie. “I mean, I wouldn’t say that I’m ever really a stone top, but Stevie likes it when I’m mean to him and I do gotta discipline him now and then.”

 

His fingers pinch Steve’s lip. “Like this morning,” he says, fond and scolding at once.

 

Steve flushes and butts his cheek against Bucky’s knee, embarrassed but not unhappy about it.

 

“What’d he do?” Angie chuckles.

 

“Broke one of his rules,” Bucky says simply. “He’s normally a well-behaved pet, but now and then he gets impatient and misbehaves.”

 

“What, is he not allowed on the furniture?” Angie asks, laughing.

 

“Oh, sure he is,” Bucky says. “You ever tried to keep a cat off the sofa? C’mon.”

 

Steve giggles a little, Bucky’s finger slipping from his mouth while he laughs. Bucky scratches under his jaw, then pushes at his lips again and Steve takes two fingers into his mouth then.

 

“Does he eat, like, in bowls on the floor or anything?”

 

“Y’know, we haven’t tried that.”

 

Bucky tugs on the inside of Steve’s cheek. “How ‘bout it, kitten? You want me to get you food and water bowls?”

 

Steve shrugs. He pushes at Bucky’s fingers with his tongue and Bucky pulls them free for a second.

 

“We should talk about it later,” Steve says. “Logistics and shit. I’m not against it.”

 

“Alright,” Bucky answers, then pushes his fingers back into Steve’s mouth.

 

Steve gnaws on Bucky’s index for a little bit, then gets bored and just nurses on his fingertips. Bucky keeps talking with Angie, discussing Steve’s care and nurturing, and the way they discuss Steve as though he really is a kitten gets him fully into headspace.

 

“Done,” Steve hears Peggy announce. “If you’d like to get it framed, I know someone who carves wood frames.”

 

“Thanks, Peggy,” Bucky answers. He bends over Steve. “I gotta take my fingers back, kitten. Do you want something else to chew on?”

 

Steve nods. Bucky kisses his cheek. “Gimme your gum, sweetheart.”

 

Steve actually forgot he was chewing gum. He pulls it out of the back of his mouth with his tongue and spits it into Bucky’s hand; he assumes Bucky wraps it up in something to throw it away later, anything else would be gross. Then Bucky straightens up and returns a second later with something cold and smooth pressing against Steve’s lips. Steve opens his eyes and blinks hazily at the pacifier before taking it into his mouth and starting to gnaw on it.

 

“Thought he wasn’t a little?” Steve hears Angie ask.

 

“Nah, that’s just ‘cause he’ll start chewing on his nails or on his clothes if I don’t give him something. Paci’s are easy fixes, y’know? Stand up, kitten.”

 

Steve rubs his face against Bucky’s knee one last time, then pushes to his feet and stretches. Angie waves at him and Steve waves back. Bucky tucks the end of Steve’s lead into his pocket to pay Peggy for the drawing.

 

“I can hold onto it if you’d like,” Peggy offers. “I’ll give it to Steve later.”

 

“Yeah, that’d be great,” Bucky says. “Thanks, doll.”

 

He takes Steve’s leash from his pocket and loops it around his wrist. “You wanna hang out with your friend or you wanna go for a walk, kitten?”

 

Steve thinks, then finger spells Walk, come back because he’s not sure Bucky knows the hand gestures for those words. Bucky pulls him in by his leash, then takes the pacifier from his lips and kisses him instead.

 

“Do you wanna keep this?” Bucky asks, holding up the pacifier.

 

Steve nods and opens his mouth. Bucky pushes the pacifier back into his mouth and Steve happily bites on it. The teat needs replacing, it’s starting to get worn out from all Steve’s biting, but Bucky would know that already so Steve doesn’t mention it.

 

“Thanks, Peggy,” Bucky says as he takes Steve’s insulin bag from Peggy. “We’ll see you in a bit.”

 

Steve looks around with a fresh curiosity as Bucky leads him away. Somebody else takes their place on the fainting sofa and Peggy starts up a new drawing. Steve eyes the person for a minute, then gets distracted by a group of people on the dance floor wearing glow sticks. He watches them dance for a while until Bucky tugs on his leash to get his attention.

 

“Do you wanna crawl, kitten?” Bucky asks, then points out a couple nearby; a woman in a corset and leather pants and a man in a muzzle crawling on his hands and knees.

 

Steve watches them, then presses closer to Bucky and butts at his shoulder with his forehead. Bucky wraps his arm around him and reaches up to pet his hair.

 

“You don’t have to crawl,” Bucky says, “I was just wondering, honey.”

 

Steve lifts his head, then grimaces and points to the floor before signing Dirty. He doesn’t want to mess up the nice clothes his master gave him by crawling around.

 

“I get it,” Bucky agrees, looking down and nodding. “Fair.”

 

Steve nods, too, then leans into Bucky and rubs his face against Bucky’s collarbone. Bucky pets down his hair, then grips the back of his neck and squeezes gently. Steve relaxes, humming happily.

 

“Good kitten,” Bucky murmurs, making Steve purr more, then pulls Steve back by his leash. “I wanna find a friend’a mine, okay?”

 

Steve nods again. Bucky chucks him gently under the chin, then shortens the slack on his leash and starts walking them towards the bar. Steve follows just behind Bucky, chewing on his pacifier contentedly.

 

They stop by the bar and Bucky gets a glass of water and makes Steve drink it. Steve ends up chewing on the ice, too, which makes Bucky smile fondly at him and tweak a lock of his hair.

 

“Did ya know that chewing ice is linked to iron deficiency?” Steve asks Bucky verbally, munching on his ice.

 

“I did not know that, kitten,” Bucky answers. “But now I’ll make sure there’s always ice in my freezer instead of just freezable fruit shapes.”

 

Steve laughs and ducks his head. Bucky steals the last of his water when Steve gets tired of drinking it and resorts to just eating the ice.

 

“C’mon,” Bucky says, pushing the glass towards the far side of the bar. He tugs on Steve’s leash to get him to hop off his barstool and pulls him away. “I think I spotted my friend.”

 

Steve tugs on Bucky’s sleeve and quickly finger spells paci. Bucky takes it out of his pocket, pulls the dust guard from it carefully, then hands the pacifier to Steve while he drops the cover back into his pocket. Steve sticks the pacifier in his mouth, then hustles closer to Bucky while they’re walking and hugs his arm, nuzzling his shoulder. Bucky leans to the side and kisses his hair, letting the leash go slack and hang between them. Steve rests his cheek on Bucky’s shoulder and shuts his eyes, walking on Bucky’s guidance alone.

 

“Hey!” Bucky calls to someone ahead of them. Steve peeks out to see who he’s talking to, then they stop by a round booth.

 

“Hey, Barnes,” the redhead in the booth answers. Natasha? Steve’s 58% sure that’s Natasha. “You can sit, nobody’s sitting here.”

 

“Get in first, Stevie,” Bucky says, pulling a little on Steve’s leash.

 

Steve climbs into the booth, then turns, waiting. Bucky climbs in next to him and Steve crawls forward again to tuck against his side. Bucky swings his arm over Steve’s shoulders and Steve happily rubs his cheek against Bucky’s arm a few times.

 

“Good show you did earlier,” Bucky says to the redhead who Steve suspects is Natasha Romanoff. “How’s Clint?”

 

Probably-Natasha looks down into her lap and Steve leans toward her, curious, to see the very same man from the stage earlier drooling onto her leather pant leg. He looks very tired.

 

“He’s worn out, poor thing,” Probably-Natasha says. “He did very well, now didn’t you, драгоценный?”

 

Clint smiles a little, but doesn’t stop drooling. Then Bucky tugs on Steve’s leash.

 

“It’s not polite to stare, kitten,” he scolds and Steve ducks to hide his face in Bucky’s armpit quickly.

 

“Introduce your pet, Barnes,” Probably-Natasha says then. “Stevie, is it?”

 

“Yep,” Bucky says. “He’s friends with Peggy, that’s how we heard about the party since you didn’t seem to think to invite me, Romanoff.”

 

Steve peeks out and Definitely-Natasha shrugs.

 

“I thought you wouldn’t want to come because you’d get sad about not having a sub of your own,” she says, “but apparently you’ve been hiding things from me, too.”

 

Natasha waves to Steve, then holds out her fingers to him. “Hello, котенок.”

 

Steve doesn’t know what kotenok means but he assumes she means him. He lifts away from Bucky’s side and sniffs her fingers before he can get too self-conscious about it. Her hand doesn’t smell like anything, just soap, and he can’t pick up her scent from her wrist either. It’s weird, then he figures she’s probably on scent-blockers for some reason. Natasha clicks her fingers at him and Steve sniffs her one more time, then he butts his cheek against her hand and she reaches up to scratch his scalp.

 

“Aren’t you friendly, kotenok,” Natasha chuckles. “How long have you had him, Barnes?”

 

“A while,” Bucky says. “C’mere, kitten.”

 

Steve presses back into Bucky’s side, hiding his face against Bucky’s shoulder. Bucky tugs on his leash and Steve turns, looking to see Bucky’s hand dropping down to touch his face. Steve shifts to put his back against Bucky’s side and nuzzles his hand, then Bucky takes out his pacifier.

 

“Just a second,” Bucky says when Steve whines. “Patience, kitten.”

 

Bucky pulls his arm away and Steve twists to watch him put the dust cover back on the pacifier, then Bucky sets it on the table and drapes his arm back over Steve’s shoulders to press his fingers against Steve’s mouth. Steve brightens, happy at the turn of events, and pulls Bucky’s index finger into his mouth. He bites affectionately and settles against Bucky’s side.

 

“So,” Natasha says when they’re done, “how long is a while?”

 

Bucky shrugs. “A few months.”

 

“And you never said,” Natasha remarks, sounding offended.

 

“We’re not exclusive,” Bucky explains. “He’s mine on the weekends.”

 

Steve smiles a little and nips at Bucky’s finger. He likes it when Bucky calls him his.

 

“You still could have told me,” Natasha answers. “How long have we been friends, Barnes?”

 

“I would’ve told you eventually,” Bucky says, audibly rolling his eyes. (Or Steve assumes he does and assumes that he’s correct.)

 

“I feel betrayed,” Natasha says dryly.

 

Steve chuckles. Bucky pinches his lip.

 

“Shush, you,” Bucky says.

 

Steve retaliates by biting his finger harder than normal. Bucky yelps and grabs his jaw to hold him still. Natasha chuckles.

 

“You’ve got a temper, haven’t you, kotenok?” Natasha says to him.

 

Steve nods, but automatically raises a hand and signs Yes, too.

 

“You know sign?” Natasha says. “Aren’t you a smart one. Do you know much?”

 

Steve turns his head to the side and points to his hearing aid, then signs Yes again.

 

“Clint has hearing aids, too,” Natasha tells him. “He’s almost totally deaf without them.”

 

Steve pokes Bucky, explaining his hearing too much effort for him just then.

 

“Steve’s about 40% deaf in his right ear and about 80% percent deaf in his left,” Bucky says.

 

“Oh, poor thing,” Natasha coos. “Does Barnes treat you well, Stevie? Are you enjoying yourself?”

 

Steve signs Yes and grins around Bucky’s finger. He works his way closer to Bucky and reaches up to grab Bucky’s wrist with both hands, kneading his fingers into the meat of Bucky’s arm gently.

 

“So you like him despite liking to bite him,” Natasha chuckles. “That’s good.”

 

“He usually bites a lot gentler,” Bucky drawls. He pinches Steve’s lip again. “He likes to chew on things, don’t you, kitten?”

 

“Are you teething, little one?” Natasha asks.

 

Steve shakes his head and pulls Bucky’s finger a little deeper into his mouth, sucking on it.

 

“He’s got an oral fixation, is all,” Bucky explains. “I’d much rather he chew on his paci or my finger than on his shirt or anything else, y’know?”

 

“I understand,” Natasha replies, looking down at her lap and at Clint. “It’s not good for our darlings to put things that don’t belong in their mouths in their mouths, isn’t that right, dragotsennyy?”

 

Steve leans to the side, but Clint doesn’t respond much. Steve looks a little further and sees that Clint is bundled up in a fuzzy blanket that makes Steve want a blanket. He burrows sideways into Bucky’s armpit instead.

 

“Are you enjoying the party, Barnes?” Natasha asks then.

 

“Yeah, it’s great.”

 

“You saw Peggy Carter? She’s doing portraits around here somewhere.”

 

“Yeah, we got our portrait done. She’s holding onto it for now, she’ll give to Steve next time she sees him.”

 

“Your Steve is Steve Rogers, right?”

 

“Yeah, that’s him.”

 

“Peggy’s mentioned him. I didn’t know you two knew each other.”

 

“He’s my sister’s roommate.”

 

“I see.”

 

Steve inevitably gets sleepy while he’s in pet space, now’s no exception. He curls his legs up on the bench and pillows his head against Bucky’s upper arm, reducing his nursing on Bucky’s finger. He’s content and happy; as a wise man once said, this is the height of luxury.

 

“Who else is here?” Bucky asks Natasha.

 

“Wanda and Pietro are around here somewhere, they’re both looking for new partners. I was going to suggest to Wanda that she might want to speak with you, but I won’t now that I know you already have a pet.”

 

Steve signs Yes instantly and Natasha laughs.

 

“Wanda’s not my type, Natashka,” Bucky answers.

 

“Don’t call me that, Barnes.”

 

“Sure, whatever.”

 

“And I think Jones and Dernier are here, keep an eye out for them, Dernier’s got Jones in a very eye-catching harness.”

 

“Seeing as I work with them,” Bucky sighs, “I’d rather not run int’a ‘em here.”

 

“Hey, they signed the same paperwork you two did on your way in.”

 

“Still, it’d make work awkward, wouldn’t it?”

 

“Maybe, maybe it wouldn’t.”

 

Steve starts to tune them out. He pulls another one of Bucky’s fingers into his mouth and brings them to the back of his throat, suckling absently while Bucky and Natasha continue chatting.

 

“Barnes, I need to go get some food from the bar, will you babysit for a minute?”

 

“Yeah, sure.”

 

Steve opens his eyes as Natasha climbs out of the booth carefully. Bucky’s fingers pull from his mouth and he makes an offended sound.

 

“Just a second, kitten. Scoot that way?”

 

Steve goes onto his hands and knees to move further into the booth. Bucky follows him, prompting him to keep moving, until Steve’s kneeling right next to Clint.

 

“Climb over to my other side, Stevie,” Bucky tells him, tweaking his leash.

 

Steve does it without thinking about it. Halfway, he decides he’d be much more comfortable on Bucky’s knee than on his side and stops on Bucky’s left knee, pressing against his chest.

 

“Alright, fine,” Bucky chuckles. “Open your mouth, sweetheart.”

 

Steve turns his head in and obeys. Bucky pushes his pacifier into his mouth. Steve makes another offended sound and jerks back, then tries to get at Bucky’s fingers instead.

 

“No, you gotta have the paci,” Bucky says. “C’mon, I gotta have my hand free, doll. Take it.”

 

Steve whines and presses his face into Bucky’s neck. Bucky sighs.

 

“Fine,” he says. “Lemme know when you want it, kitten.”

 

Steve huffs and peeks out from Bucky’s neck. Bucky puts the dust cover back on the pacifier and leaves it on the table, then reaches away from Steve and starts petting Clint next to them. Clint makes a quiet noise and curls up tighter under his blanket and Steve wrinkles his nose.

 

“There,” Bucky murmurs. “Your madam will be back in a minute, kiddo.”

 

Clint whimpers. Bucky scratches his nails against Clint’s scalp. Steve pouts harder and butts his nose against Bucky’s neck.

 

“What’s up, Stevie?” Bucky asks, turning his head to look at him.

 

Steve bumps his forehead against Bucky’s neck. Bucky doesn’t stop petting Clint. Steve turns his head in and bites Bucky’s neck, digging his nails into Bucky’s chest at the same time. Bucky yelps and grabs his wrist, yanking his hand away and Steve whines, Bucky’s grip on his wrist almost too tight.

 

“What was that for?” Bucky asks him sharply.

 

Steve whimpers a little and tries to tug his hand out of Bucky’s grip, shrinking against Bucky’s neck. He hears Clint making a similar noise and Bucky lets go of Steve to pet Clint again.

 

Steve growls.

 

“Stevie, cut it out,” Bucky says. “We’re doing Natasha a favor, alright?”

 

Steve bites Bucky again. Bucky flinches and stops petting Clint, grabbing Steve’s pacifier off the table.

 

“Open your mouth,” Bucky tells him, pushing the pacifier against Steve’s cheek. “Open your mouth, kitten.”

 

Steve presses his face into Bucky’s neck, still growling. Bucky pulls on his leash and Steve shakes his head, hard.

 

“You may not keep biting me,” Bucky says. “What happened to you, Stevie, you were all sweet a second ago?”

 

Steve turns his head out a little to glare at Clint, who’s still a drooling, whipped puddle on the bench, and Steve rubs his face against Bucky’s neck. He growls again, then turns his head and tries to get Bucky’s fingers in his mouth.

 

“No, you get the pacifier,” Bucky insists. “Or I’ll make you bite on my dog tags. Those’ll hurt your teeth, Stevie, you wanna bite on ‘em or your paci?”

 

Steve shakes his head. He loops his arms around Bucky’s neck and hides his face from the pacifier, then bites Bucky’s ear.

 

“Ow – Quit it!”

 

Steve clamps his teeth onto Bucky’s ear, growling still. Bucky pushes his face back and shoves Steve’s pacifier into his mouth before Steve can dodge it again.

 

“If you bite me again, I’m gonna spank you,” Bucky snaps.

 

Steve ducks his head, a little mollified, but then Bucky reaches over to pet Clint again. Steve spits out his pacifier, horrified, and shoves his face into Bucky’s neck to bite him hard again.

 

“Dammit, Steve!” Bucky gasps, shoving him back. “What did I just say?”

 

Steve snaps at Bucky’s fingers with his teeth. Bucky grabs his hair and holds onto him tightly. Steve goes still.

 

“What’s the matter with you?” Bucky demands.

 

Steve screws up his face, then looks down at Clint and sticks his tongue out. Clint blinks at him, lifting his head a little.

 

“Wha–aaa –’?” Clint mumbles, the first intelligent thing he’s said at all.

 

“Go away,” Steve snaps at him.

 

“Ah, fuck,” Bucky sighs. “Dammit. C’mere, Stevie.”

 

Bucky pulls Steve into his chest and grabs the back of his neck instead of his hair. Bucky squeezes hard and Steve’s limbs go noodly.

 

“Where’s miss?” Steve hears Clint mumbling.

 

“She went to go get you food, buddy,” Bucky says. “She asked me to keep you company but my sub’s turned grumpy.”

 

Steve pouts; he’s not grumpy. He bites Bucky again, but not as hard. Bucky still flinches.

 

“Stevie,” Bucky sighs, sounding like he’s trying very hard not to get frustrated, “cut it out or I really am gonna spank you.”

 

Steve growls. He’s not grumpy. He doesn’t like sharing his master, is all. He’s not grumpy.

 

“Hi, Mr. Barnes,” Steve hears Clint saying.

 

Steve would look around but Bucky’s practically keeping his face smashed against his neck. Steve hears the bench creaking and Clint’s blanket rustling and assumes Clint is sitting up.

 

“Hi, Clint,” Bucky says in reply. “How old are you tonight, buddy?”

 

“Four,” Clint answers, in a voice much too deep for the headspace he’s apparently in. “Where’s miss?”

 

“She went to go get you something to eat,” Bucky tells Clint again.

 

“‘Kay,” Clint says. “Who’s that?”

 

Steve feels something poke him in the back and yelps, stiffening and scrambling to hug Bucky tighter.

 

“Aw, hey, Stevie,” Bucky says hastily, “hey, you’re okay –”

 

“I didn’t hurt him!”

 

“You startled him, pal, that’s all,” Bucky assures Clint. “Sweetheart, you’re okay,” Bucky then coos to Steve, “you’re okay, baby.”

 

Steve, who is most definitely not okay about being touched by someone not his master (without permission, even!), twists off Bucky’s lap to kneel next to him instead. He hides behind Bucky’s shoulder and glares at Clint.

 

“You okay, kitten?” Bucky asks, petting Steve’s hair now.

 

Steve just continues to glare, but feels a little smug about it; he gets Bucky’s head pats, not Clint.

 

“Grumpy kitty,” Clint chuckles. “Hi, Grumpy!”

 

Steve bares his teeth at Clint and hisses. Bucky shoves his pacifier back into his mouth.

 

“Bad kitten,” Bucky snaps. “Clint is your friend, Stevie.”

 

Steve signs No he’s not and hides behind Bucky more.

 

Clint tugs his blanket around himself and waves cheerfully at Steve before signing My name is Clint what’s your name?

 

Steve still glares at Clint, who signs almost too quickly for Steve to make out the words. Steve signs I know your name and Bucky said my name, at a much more sophisticated pace.

 

Clint frowns at Bucky. “What’s his name?”

 

“Stevie,” Bucky says, reaching over and tugging on Steve’s leash. “Normally he’s not such a brat.”

 

Steve bites Bucky’s shoulder. Bucky snatches Steve’s pacifier and pushes it back into his mouth.

 

“You spit that out one more time and I’m gonna take you home!” Bucky scolds him. “You bite me one more time and I’m gonna take ya over my knee right here an’ now!”

 

Steve glares at him. He curls up on the bench and tucks himself between Bucky’s shoulder and the bench, flicking his suspicious gaze to Clint.

 

Clint signs Why don’t you like me?

 

Steve points at Bucky, still practically hiding behind him, and signs Mine.

 

Clint laughs. He kicks out at Bucky’s thigh. “Kitty’s jealous, Mr. Barnes,” he says. “‘Cause you was petting me.”

 

“What?” Bucky splutters, then twists to look at Steve. “That’s what’s got you hissin’?”

 

Steve butts his cheek against Bucky’s shoulder. Bucky pulls on his leash until Steve reluctantly climbs out from behind him and into his lap.

 

“Pissy kitten,” Bucky murmurs in his ear. “Why didn’t you just say somethin’?”

 

Steve huffs, pulls out his pacifier and nips at Bucky’s collarbone.

 

“Stop biting me!” Bucky groans. “Seriously, Steve.”

 

Steve twists on Bucky’s lap and tries to catch Bucky’s fingers in his mouth. Bucky sighs and plucks his pacifier from his hands, putting the cover back on it and laying it on the table. Then he pushes two fingers into Steve’s mouth and Steve settles in his lap, curling his hands over Bucky’s wrist.

 

“You understand that I still gotta spank you,” Bucky says. “You should’a just told me you were jealous instead’a all this biting and hissing you were doing.”

 

Steve looks up at Bucky with big eyes; he sucks on Bucky’s fingers and flutters his lashes.

 

“Don’t you give me that innocent look,” Bucky answers. “You were being a brat and you know it.”

 

Steve whines. He ducks his gaze and tucks his head under Bucky’s chin.

 

“How you gonna learn t’a use your words if I don’t discipline you?” Bucky asks Steve, pinching his lip. “And you know you could’a just signed. You deliberately acted like a brat to get attention.”

 

Clint giggles. Bucky jerks his elbow towards him.

 

“Don’t you start actin’ like a brat, neither,” he says. “You know I’ll tell your madam.”

 

Clint pulls his blanket up over his body, his eyes widening. Steve plucks Bucky’s fingers from his mouth and sticks his tongue out at Clint, but then Bucky grabs his tongue and pinches it hard. Steve whimpers, contrite.

 

“That’s three spanks you’ve earned now,” Bucky tells him. “You want any more? You keep acting bratty.”

 

Steve whines. Bucky lets go of his tongue and pushes his fingers into Steve’s mouth instead. Steve pouts as he nurses on Bucky’s fingers.

 

“Hello,” Natasha’s voice interrupts; she slides into the booth with a massive plate of nacho fries and Steve perks up. “How are you feeling, dragotsennyy?”

 

Clint worms his way into Natasha’s arms and nuzzles her neck. Natasha laughs and kisses his hair.

 

“Did you have a nice time with Mr. Barnes?” Natasha asks.

 

“Yeah!” Clint answers excitedly. “And Grumpy Cat!”

 

Steve spits Bucky’s fingers out again and hisses. Bucky snatches his lower lip and pinches it.

 

“That’s five spanks,” Bucky says. “And I’ll drag you back home if you don’t fix your attitude.”

 

Natasha looks around, frowning. “What happened?”

 

“Steve’s being a brat,” Bucky explains while Steve burrows against his chest and glares at Clint and Natasha. “He took offense to me watching over Clint.”

 

“Mr. Barnes petted me and Grumpy Cat got mad,” Clint says in a loud whisper to Natasha.

 

Steve bares his teeth but holds back his hiss at the last second as Bucky grabs his jaw. He pouts instead and tucks his head under Bucky’s chin.

 

“I don’t think Stevie likes being called Grumpy Cat,” Natasha tells Clint.

 

Clint leans away from her and blinks owlishly at Steve. “Grumpy Kitten?”

 

Steve bares his teeth. Clint, the moron, giggles.

 

“Can we get a cat, miss?” Clint asks Natasha.

 

“We’ll see,” Natasha chuckles. “Are you going to eat these, dragotsennyy?”

 

She nudges the plate of fries and Clint brightens. Natasha pulls a bib out of her pocket and ties it around Clint’s neck and Clint starts stuffing his face.

 

“D’you wan’ some, Grumpy?” Clint asks, shoving a fry towards Steve.

 

Steve, startled, snaps his teeth at Clint’s hand as a reflex and Clint yelps, recoiling.

 

“That’s it,” Bucky says, grabbing Steve’s leash and yanking on it. “Lay down on my lap, Steve. Now.”

 

“Uh-oh,” Clint says.

 

Steve, ignoring Clint, whines and tries to make himself very small in Bucky’s lap. He rubs his face against Bucky’s collarbone and whines contritely.

 

“No, I told you what would happen if you kept biting,” Bucky answers Steve’s whine sharply. “Turn around.”

 

Steve hangs his head and shuffles around on Bucky’s lap. He gets his knees over the other side of Bucky’s legs and lays down across Bucky’s thighs, folding his arms over the cold vinyl of the bench and hiding his face in them.

 

“Do you understand why I have to punish you?” Bucky asks.

 

Steve nods.

 

“I need verbal confirmation, kitten.”

 

“Yes, Master,” Steve mumbles.

 

“Do you understand that I’m not mad at you, I’m disappointed?”

 

“Yes, Master,” Steve answers sorrily.

 

Steve hates disappointing Bucky, it makes everything sad and Bucky sighs a lot and that makes it all sadder. He likes being spanked, but he hates being a bad kitten and he hates being spanked because he disappointed his master. Steve is sorry he acted like a brat now.

 

“What’s your color?” Bucky asks.

 

“Green,” Steve says.

 

Bucky’s hand lands sharply on Steve’s rump. Steve yelps and buries his face in his arms, feeling shame erupt in a blush down his face and ears. Bucky brings his hand down four more times, alternating asscheeks, until he stops by gently caressing Steve’s ass. Steve goes limp.

 

“What do you say?” Bucky prompts.

 

“Thank you, Master,” Steve mutters.

 

“Good kitten,” Bucky says gently. “You’re forgiven now. But I want you to apologize to Clint,” he adds. “Can you sit up?”

 

Steve pushes up, winces as his bottom pulses with a deep ache, and twists around in Bucky’s lap until he’s facing Natasha and Clint again. Then he gives up on moving and curls up with his head on Bucky’s lap and his legs folded underneath him on the bench.

 

Bucky tugs gently on a lock of his hair. Steve lifts his hands and signs Sorry in Clint’s direction.

 

“Better,” Bucky tells him. “Are you going to behave now, kitten?”

 

Steve nods against Bucky’s thigh. Bucky touches his cheek and Steve turns his head out to the side to accept Bucky’s little finger into his mouth. He nips at it much more gently, then starts to suck on it tiredly.

 

“Kitty?” Clint speaks up.

 

Steve opens his eyes. Clint holds a fry out to him, slower and not as near to his face this time.

 

“See, Clint wants to be friends,” Bucky tells Steve. He pulls his finger from Steve’s mouth to take the fry from Clint, then holds it up to Steve himself.

 

Steve shifts until he’s leaning on his elbows on Bucky’s thigh and reaches out to take the fry. Clint claps his hands and grins as Steve pops the cheese-covered fry into his mouth. Steve crawls forward and sits on Bucky’s lap, despite his rump still aching, and reaches for another fry.

 

“Hey, if you’re gonna eat, honey,” Bucky interrupts, “can I test your sugar?”

 

Steve stops, hand halfway to the plate of fries. Bucky bumps his forehead against Steve’s temple. “It’s okay, kitten,” he reminds Steve and Steve nods, leaning back against Bucky’s chest.

 

“Sugar?” Clint pipes up.

 

“His blood sugar,” Bucky explains, unzipping Steve’s insulin bag to take out his blood sugar testing kit. “Steve’s diabetic.”

 

“Diabetic,” Clint repeats slowly. He frowns. “Kitty’s not fat?”

 

Natasha flicks Clint between the eyebrows; he yelps and grabs his forehead with this shocked expression on his face that makes Steve giggle.

 

“Being diabetic doesn’t make you fat,” she scolds. “Steve probably has type 1, dragotsennyy.”

 

Clint looks bewildered. “Huh?” he says.

 

“My pancreas doesn’t work,” Steve says aloud.

 

Clint jolts. “You speak, Kitty!”

 

Steve almost sticks his tongue out and Bucky catches his eye, raising his eyebrows. Steve cancels the action and settles in his lap instead. Bucky gives him a nod and swabs Steve’s pinky finger on his left hand, the next to be pricked, with an alcohol wipe.

 

“Kitty speak!” Clint points out to Natasha. “Kitty can speak!”

 

“You heard him talking to Mr. Barnes just a minute ago,” Natasha chuckles.

 

“Oh, yeah,” Clint says.

 

“This is gonna sting,” Bucky says to Steve just before he pricks his finger.

 

Steve still hisses and manages not to jerk away at the bite of pain. He pouts and holds his finger while Bucky squeezes a drop of blood from it to put on the lancet. When Bucky’s done with his finger, Steve immediately sticks it in his mouth.

 

“Hey, no!” Bucky calls, grabbing his wrist and pulling his hand away from his mouth; Steve whines. “I know it hurts, kitten, but you can’t suck on it, it's not good for you. I’ve got band-aids?”

 

Steve pouts some more but nods. Bucky wipes his finger again with the alcohol swab and Steve hisses again, but Bucky tapes a brightly colored Hello Kitty band-aid to his finger before Steve can yank his hand back. Steve blinks at the band-aid, then chuckles and curls against Bucky’s shoulder.

 

“Hundred thirty-four,” Bucky reads from the meter. “Lemme have your phone so I can write it down.”

 

Steve points to the insulin bag and Bucky packs up the test kit, swapping it for his phone. Steve reaches over as Bucky records his sugar level and he takes a fry from the plate.

 

“Is his sugar good?” Natasha asks.

 

“Yeah, we ate before coming here so it’s still dropping. Steve’s really good at managing his diabetes on his own, but type 1, y’know. Honey, you’re gonna need a shot tonight.”

 

Steve, munching on a fry, makes an upset noise. Bucky gives him a sympathetic grimace and kisses his cheek.

 

“Those fries are gonna make it go back up and if I don’t give you a shot before bed, it’ll be really high in the morning,” Bucky reminds him. “Remember, it’s just a little prick, sweetheart. I’ll give you another bandaid and everything.”

 

Steve looks at the fries, scowling. Bucky kisses his cheek again.

 

“You can enjoy the fries,” Bucky tells him. “Don’t worry about it, kitten. Worrying’s my job.”

 

“I can share!” Clint says, pushing the plate closer to Steve. “Miss says I should share more.”

 

Steve takes another fry, this one with bits of bacon stuck to it, and he eats it a little less enthusiastically.

 

“I like fries,” Clint announces.

 

Steve nods, then curls into Bucky’s collar as he chews. He might as well eat more, seeing as the few he’d already had would mess up his sugar levels. Clint settles into a steady babble that Steve doesn’t bother trying to listen to, eating one fry for Clint’s every three at least. Clint eats a lot.

 

As the plate starts to get to the last few, Steve decides he’s had enough and leans back against Bucky’s chest to suck the cheese off his fingers. Bucky picks up a napkin and wipes his hand clean, then kisses his forehead and offers his thumb to Steve. Steve happily takes it into his mouth and shuts his eyes, lightly nursing on his thumb.

 

“Is Kitty sleepy?” Clint calls.

 

“Yeah, he is,” Bucky answers. “I think I’m gonna take him home.”

 

“Can Kitty come back later?” Clint asks.

 

“I’ll see if Mr. Barnes and I can arrange a playdate,” Natasha tells Clint.

 

Bucky pulls his thumb from Steve’s mouth. “You ready to go home, kitten?”

 

Steve nods. Bucky cups his jaw and kisses his temple, then picks up his leash and clicks his tongue. Steve crawls out of the booth, stands and stretches, and Bucky takes Steve’s insulin bag and pacifier off the table.

 

“Great seeing you guys,” Bucky tells Natasha and Clint.

 

“Have a good night,” Natasha answers.

 

“Bye, Grumpy Kitty!” Clint calls, waving.

 

Steve wrinkles his nose again. He signs Bye, brat and Clint laughs. Bucky rolls his eyes and tugs on Steve’s leash.

 

“Let’s go say goodbye to Peggy and Angie,” Bucky tells him.

 

Steve nods and picks up his shirt collar to stick in his mouth. Bucky catches his hands and gives him his pacifier instead.

 

“C’mon, kitten,” Bucky chuckles.

 

Peggy is still drawing when Steve and Bucky return. Angie is marginally more drunk than when they’d last saw her.

 

“He–ay, guys!” Angie calls as they approach. “Whassup?”

 

“We’re heading out,” Bucky says. “Stevie, you wanna say goodbye?”

 

Steve sits on the arm of Angie’s chair and hugs her. Angie laughs and pats his arm.

 

“You are a cuddly kitten,” she remarks. “Bye, Rogers.”

 

Steve lifts off her chair and moves around to Peggy. Peggy pauses her drawing to hug him and she pecks his cheek as he pulls back.

 

“Do you think you could text me that you got home safe?” Peggy asks.

 

Steve looks at Bucky.

 

“I’ll text you,” Bucky tells her, “I’ve got his phone.”

 

Peggy gives them a thumbs up. “Thanks, Bucky. Good night, Steve, darling.”

 

Steve waves and Bucky leads him away. Steve ducks under Bucky’s arm and hugs his middle as they head out. Bucky kisses his hair between his cat ears.

 

Getting back to Bucky’s apartment, Steve’s simply a puddle of shmoop. One minute, Bucky’s helping him back into his coat, then Bucky’s helping him take it off again and they’re standing in Bucky’s living room. In between is a blur.

 

“Here, kitten,” Bucky says, pulling Steve’s pacifier from his mouth. “I’ve got something else for you to suck on.”

 

Steve follows Bucky back into their bedroom. Bucky pushes him down on the bed, then undresses him efficiently until Steve’s lying back naked on the bed. He takes wipes to Steve’s face, removing his false lashes and makeup gently. Bucky even checks his blood sugar again and gives him a single unit of insulin so Steve’s sugar won’t spike during the night. Bucky pulls on the leash and Steve sits up, blinking at Bucky.

 

“Get on the floor, kitten,” Bucky tells him.

 

Steve slips off the bed and onto his knees. Bucky sits down instead and wraps Steve’s leash around his hand a few times, then presses his palm to the front of his pants and spreads his knees.

 

“You’ve been a good kitten, Stevie,” Bucky says. Steve’s slowly starting to get what’s happening as Bucky grins down at him. “Now it’s time for you to thank me for showing you a good time tonight. What’s your color?”

 

“Green,” Steve says quickly; he’s very down with the program.

 

Bucky pushes his boots forward. “Take my boots off. No hands, kitten.”

 

Steve kneels to kiss Bucky’s boots. His collar spins on his neck as Bucky maintains the slack of the leash and Steve feels it bite into his throat a little. Steve whines some at the tension around his throat but kisses the toe of one boot and then the other. He kisses up Bucky’s laces, then pulls one of the strings into his mouth and sucks on it. He rubs his cheek against the well-treated leather, pushes his tongue under the crosses of the laces, licks up in a stripe and finally pulls the knot of the strings free with his teeth. Bucky keeps the leash taught as Steve loosens the laces of the first boot with his teeth, then does the second boot. He ends by kissing the toes and finally reaches forward with his hands to help Bucky slip his feet out.

 

Bucky pulls up on his leash abruptly, the second Steve sets his boots aside. Steve gasps and Bucky grabs his hair, tugging him into a hard kiss. Steve hangs limply, happily, in his grip.

 

“Good little fuck kitten,” Bucky growls against his lips. Steve shivers. “You got two options. I can come on your face or between your legs. Which is it?”

 

Steve whimpers. He scrabbles to grip Bucky’s shirt, digging his nails into the fabric to steady himself. “My – my legs,” he says. “Please –”

 

Bucky stands up and Steve hastens to follow. Bucky spins them around and shoves Steve back against the bed, then slips his suspenders off his shoulders. Steve scrambles further up the bed and lies back, spreading his legs.

 

“Good fuck kitten,” Bucky praises him. “Tell you what, babydoll, if I’m not tired when I’m done using you, I’ll get you off, too.”

 

Steve whimpers, nodding quickly.

 

“Color?” Bucky asks as he shucks his pants.

 

“Green,” Steve answers. “Green, very green, please, Master –”

 

Bucky crawls over him and pulls Steve’s leash up above his head. He ties Steve’s wrists together with it, then to the headboard, and the tightness of it pulls Steve’s collar flush against his jaw, forcing him to look up. This was probably Bucky’s intention, because he licks a stripe from the dip of his clavicle up to his collar before biting hard on Steve’s neck.

 

“Not so nice, huh?” Bucky growls when Steve gasps. “You want me to kiss it an’ make it better, honey?”

 

“Yes,” Steve whispers. “Please, please, Master –”

 

“I love it when you beg, kitten,” Bucky purrs, then starts sucking on the place he’d bitten.

 

Steve squirms as Bucky’s thighs straddle his, pushing his legs back together. Bucky sucks another mark into his neck, then leans to the side and digs around in the nightstand. He comes back with a condom, a bottle of lube, and a towel.

 

“Pick up your ass, kitten,” Bucky tells him, putting on the condom calmly.

 

Steve lifts his hips up off the bed and Bucky rolls the towel out underneath him. Then Bucky pushes his legs back down, picks up the bottle of lube, and pours it over the press of Steve’s thighs. Steve jolts at the coldness, then Bucky leans back over him and kisses him hard.

 

“Pretty little fuck kitten,” Bucky says, kissing down his jaw to nibble on his ear. “My favorite toy to fuck.”

 

Steve whimpers. He feels Bucky pushing between his thighs, the lube dripping down his skin onto the towel, and his own body reacting to Bucky’s weight on top of him and between his legs.

 

“Oh, that’s it,” Bucky groans in Steve’s ear. He starts lazily rolling his hips, his knees bracketing Steve’s thighs keep Steve’s legs tight together. “God,” Bucky sighs, “I love fucking you, you lie back and take it so well, kitten, you give me everything I need. Yeah, sweetheart, you feel so good on my dick.”

 

Steve squeezes his thighs together and clenches his ass, whimpering as Bucky starts pistoning his hips.

 

“Such a good kitten,” Bucky groans. “Doin’ everything I tell you and letting me get off on your body whenever I want.”

 

“Can I come?” Steve begs. “Master, please, cum on me, I wanna come!”

 

“I’m gonna cum on you,” Bucky growls. “Fuck you ‘til I come, kitten, then I’ll think about jerking you off. You was a bad kitten earlier, you think you earned it, baby?”

 

“Please,” Steve gasps, “I was good, I was good, Master!”

 

“After I took my hand to your pretty ass,” Bucky answers, panting as he punches his hips between Steve’s thighs. “Fuck, pretty kitten, I’m gonna come on you, you’re so good, baby, so good on my dick –”

 

Bucky breaks off to groan and he stops thrusting between Steve’s thighs. Steve whimpers and squirms, wishing Bucky had fucked his ass but loving how Bucky treated him anyway, like he’s a toy just for Bucky to use. Steve adores the feeling of being used like that, of being something irresistibly attractive, something Bucky can’t help but sexualize and seek pleasure from. Steve loves making Bucky come.

 

“You’re such a slut,” Bucky whispers into Steve’s ear. “You wanna come, too, sweet kitten?”

 

“Please,” Steve whines.

 

Bucky lifts off him and sits up, straddling Steve’s thighs. He rolls off the condom and goes to tie it off, but stops when Steve whines.

 

“What?” Bucky asks, grinning at him as he holds the filled condom for Steve to see. “You want it, kitten? You need a drink’a cream before you can go to bed, honey?”

 

Steve whines again. Bucky laughs, shaking his head and, dumps the contents of the condom onto Steve’s face. Steve gasps, tries to drink as much of it as he can, but most of it gets over his face and he struggles to start licking it up.

 

“You look like you done got bukkake’d,” Bucky chuckles, shaking the condom a few times. Steve hums, sweeping his tongue over his face. “You wanna try that sometime, sweetheart? Have me call up my buddies an’ tell ‘em I got a whore we can pass around? How’s that sound, kitten?”

 

Steve shakes his head quickly, feeling his chest tighten. “Yellow,” he says.

 

“No sharing, then,” Bucky answers. He tosses the condom away and wipes cum off Steve’s cheek, then pushes his sticky fingers into Steve’s mouth. “Was that it? You don’t wanna be shared any more’n you wanna share me?”

 

Steve nods. Bucky wipes more cum off his cheek, then flicks Steve’s glasses back and starts massaging the sticky fluid into Steve’s skin.

 

“I gotta admit, I don’t like the idea’a sharing you neither,” Bucky tells him. “‘S bad enough – But whatever. No sharing. Got it?”

 

Steve nods.

 

(In the middle of headspace, Steve misses what Bucky had started to say and fails to connect It’s bad enough with what they had just been talking about.)

 

“You enjoyin’ your facial, kitten?” Bucky asks, wiping up Steve’s face and pushing his fingers back into Steve’s mouth. “Was a real cute move you pulled just there, Stevie, I think I’m gonna be nice to you, even though you were a brat earlier.”

 

“Please,” Steve mumbles around Bucky’s fingers.

 

Bucky tugs his hand out of Steve’s mouth and swipes up some of the lube still on Steve’s thighs before wrapping his hand around Steve’s neglected dick. Steve shuts his eyes and gets lost in the feeling of Bucky jerking him off. He comes hard, then settles into floating away.

 

He wakes up on Easter Monday with Bucky’s morning wood poking him in the back. Steve gets a condom out of the nightstand drawer, pushes it onto Bucky’s dick, and opens himself up while biting his lip to keep quiet as Bucky continues snoring. Then he pushes Bucky onto his back and straddles his hips, sinking down on him with a sigh. Bucky snorts and blinks his eyes open while Steve’s still teasing himself and half-chokes on an inhale.

 

“This is for not fucking me yesterday morning,” Steve says a little breathlessly, then starts fully bouncing on Bucky’s dick.

 

Bucky flips them over. “Good morning, kitten,” he growls into Steve’s ear.

 

“G’morning,” Steve answers with a delighted grin.

 

Bucky drills Steve’s ass hard and Steve’s limping when he gets out of bed. The satisfaction Steve feels deep in his gut is worth the soreness, that and the proud smirk on Bucky’s face when he sees Steve limping his way into the bathroom.

 

Steve has to wash his face six times and use a healthy amount of astringent to get his skin to stop smelling like cum. Bucky is unapologetic and Steve doesn’t really mind. They go to breakfast at Adriana’s. Glenda asks Steve when he and Bucky are going to start dating while Bucky’s in the bathroom. Steve just shrugs at her.

 

“You wanna stay again tonight, doll?” Bucky asks as they leave the diner. “Classes don’t start again until Wednesday.”

 

Steve bites down on his lip. “I have a date tonight,” he admits.

 

“Oh,” Bucky answers. “Sure. No problem.”

 

“We can hang out tomorrow, though,” Steve adds quickly.

 

“I got work,” Bucky tells him. “Don’t sweat it, Steve.”

 

Steve sweats it. He goes on his date, a guy he met at a party two weeks ago who has apparently heard that Steve has a reputation for putting out on the first date. A wise man once said, Y’know there are days when you’re like, this might as well happen? and Steve thinks this is one of those days. They have sex in the guy’s car and Steve compares his partner to Bucky every damn second. He gets off, but it’s not even remotely satisfying.

 

There’s a nasty feeling in the back of his mind, from the second Steve starts kissing his date to when the two of them are putting their clothes back on, it feels like he’s betraying his master. Steve ignores it.

 

“We should do this again sometime,” the guy says as he drops Steve off.

 

“Sure,” Steve answers, not meaning it.

 

He ignores the guy’s texts after that. By Friday, the guy stops texting. Bucky’s busy over the weekend and then in the middle of the next week, Steve wakes up with his scent gland and dick throbbing and groans as he won’t even have time to attend today’s classes.

 

“I’ll bring you food,” Becca tells him. “Check your blood sugar.”

 

She starts to leave. Steve calls her back.

 

“Will you take my phone?” he asks.

 

Becca frowns. “Why?”

 

“So I can’t –” Steve starts, then covers his face and just holds out his phone to her. “So I can’t call Bucky. Please?”

 

Becca’s expression is soft as she walks back to his bed. “I got you, boo,” she answers gently, taking his phone from him. “Do you want me to bring you anything? I’ll go buy you a fake knot if you give me the money for it.”

 

Steve shakes his head. “I’ve got one already,” he admits. “Thanks. You’re too good to me.”

 

Becca ruffles his hair. “I hope you’re not too miserable,” she tells him. “I’ll be back in a few minutes with some food for you and I’ll check up on you at lunch. Okay?”

 

“Yeah,” Steve says, curling into his piles of pillows and blankets and tugging out his bunny. “Thanks.”

 

Within a day, he’s biting his lip to keep him from asking Becca to call Bucky to come get him. His heat is ten times worse than it’s ever been before and his scent gland throbs throughout it all like it’s angrily reminding Steve that he should be home with his Alpha and not alone in his dorm room.

Chapter Text

Steve Rogers et le terrible, horrible, pas bon, très mauvais jour



Bucky flushes the toilet and goes to zip himself up just as he hears his front door open. Bucky frowns as there’s no reason why Benny would open the door, zips himself up a little quicker, and goes to wash his hands just as:

 

“Everything hurts and I’m dying!” Steve yells out.

 

“Oh, shit, ” Bucky hisses, scrambling to wash his hands.

 

“Steve?” he hears Benny say as he drops a bar of soap; Bucky swears loudly as he tries to capture it.

 

“Benny?” Steve answers.

 

Bucky gets a grip on the soap, only to squeeze it too hard and make it slip from his hand; he cusses under his breath.

 

“What are you doing here?” he hears Steve’s voice again.

 

“Practicing teenage rebellion in a safe environment. What are you doing here?”

 

Bucky gives up on the soap. He sticks his hand under the water, dries and hits the faucet off, then bursts out of the bathroom. Benny and Steve look at him, Benny looks confused and Steve looks pale and Bucky looks between the both of them with no clue as to what to do. Something’s wrong with Steve, clearly, but Bucky’s little sister is there?

 

“I’ll just go,” Steve says into the awkward silence. He backs up, shaking his keys again to lock Bucky’s door behind him. “Sorry, I should’ve called first –”

 

“No, no, it’s fine,” Bucky cuts him off, hurrying forward to grab Steve’s arm and physically stop him from leaving. “What’s wrong?”

 

Steve’s gaze flicks to Benny. Bucky glances at his little sister, too, Benny gives him a look of What the fuck? Bucky tugs on Steve’s arm.

 

“C’mere,” he says, pulling Steve back towards his bedroom so they can talk where she can’t hear.

 

“No, I can go,” Steve tries to say.

 

“Nope, you’re here and now you’re staying,” Bucky tells him, pushing him into his room and shutting the door. “What’s the matter, Steve?”

 

Steve covers his face with both hands, then groans and flops back onto Bucky’s bed. “Everything hurts and I’m dying,” he whimpers pitifully from behind his hands.

 

“Sweetheart,” Bucky sighs, crossing the room and sitting down behind Steve’s prone form. “What happened?”

 

“My period,” Steve mumbled. “Is so awful. I’ve had cramps all day and I ran out of Pamprin and I’ve had a fucking migraine since, like, eleven AM but I couldn’t any more class ‘cause I’d already told my professors that my heat had ended –”

 

“Slow down,” Bucky interrupts.

 

When were you in heat? he wants to ask, because he’s immediately hurt that Steve didn’t come to him to take care of him through it.

 

“When did you eat last?” he asks instead, because of course Steve didn’t want his help through his heat. That’s way out of the realms of the things they do, Bucky isn’t Steve’s Alpha.

 

Steve sniffs. “Lunch,” he mumbles. “‘Round one.”

 

Bucky glances at his alarm clock behind him and groans. “Ste–eee–ve, that was nearly eight hours ago!”

 

“Been nauseous all day,” Steve mutters.

 

Bucky sighs. He rolls shifts to throw a leg onto the bed so he can pull Steve onto his lap, then does that, settling Steve's head on his thigh. “Okay," he says. "When was the last time you took something for your headache?”

 

Steve waves a hand. “One.”

 

Bucky bends down and kisses Steve’s cheek. “I’m gonna get you some pain killers and a bowl of yogurt. Will you check your blood sugar now, please? You can lie down after you’ve eaten the yogurt and if you’re feeling better you can have something more solid, if not, you can have more yogurt with some crackers or something. Does that sound okay?”

 

Steve nods, then makes a sharp sound and sits up. “I can’t,” he says, “I can’t stay while your sister’s here –”

 

“Yes, you can,” Bucky insists, catching Steve’s wrist and pulling him back onto the bed when Steve tries to stand. “You can and you will."

 

Steve drops his gaze, worry etched across his face and coloring his scent. Bucky lets go of his wrist to instead touch his cheek, gentle.

 

"I’ll take you back to campus in the morning," he offers. "How did you get here?”

 

“Bummed a ride,” Steve mutters. “Walked a few blocks.”

 

Bucky sweeps his thumb across Steve’s cheekbone, tracing the ghosts of freckles in his skin, then drops it to take Steve's chin. “Why didn’t you just call me?” he asks quietly.

 

Steve shrugs and looks down. His scent smells like vanilla extract that’s been left out to the elements, spoiled and sickly sweet. His face is gaunt and there are faint bags under his eyes that Bucky couldn’t remember seeing the last time he had seen Steve. It’d been a few weeks; Bucky had had a back load of work at the garage from travelers getting in accidents and then Becca had said Steve was sick – Bucky guesses then, that really, Steve had been in heat, not down with the flu. Steve hadn’t even been the one to lie about it. Bucky tries not to feel hurt.

 

“I don’t know,” Steve says quietly. “I just – I forgot that you’d have Benny over, I just wanted –”

 

He doesn’t finish. Bucky brushes his thumb over Steve’s cheek again and Steve presses forward to hug him. Bucky wraps his only arm around Steve’s neck and shoulders, holding Steve against his neck, and Steve shakes a few times as he inhales and exhales.

 

“You wanted what?” Bucky asks Steve. Hope flares wildly in him. “What?”

 

“I wanted a good night’s sleep,” Steve mutters.

 

Bucky digs his fingers in as his heart skips a beat. Is this it?, he asks himself. Are we doing this?

 

“The – The dorms are always so loud, y’know?” Steve says. “It’s quieter out here.”

 

Bucky’s heart drops. “Yeah,” he says numbly. “Of course. That’s okay, Steve.”

 

Steve pulls back and wipes his nose on his sleeve. “‘M sorry, I should’a called first.”

 

“It’s okay,” Bucky promises him quickly. “You can still stay over.”

 

Steve shakes his head. “I – I don’t wanna sleep on the couch, Buck –”

 

“You don’t have to sleep on the couch!” Bucky interrupts him quickly. He catches Steve by the back of his neck and pulls him back in. “Why would you be on the couch? Don’t be stupid, punk.”

 

“Benny’s here,” Steve insists, pushing Bucky off him. “I can’t just sleep with you with Benny here! She’ll know!”

 

Bucky sighs heavily. “So what?” he asks. “She can keep a secret. She’s not a child, she knows adults do this sometimes. It’s fine, Steve.”

 

Steve sniffs again. He presses his hands to his eyes and Bucky moves his hand to his jaw to pull him in and kiss his forehead. He gets up and turns on a lamp on his nightstand, then turns off the overhead light and Steve audibly sighs.

 

“Test your blood sugar,” Bucky tells him. “I’m gonna bring you some yogurt.”

 

Steve nods. “Can I take a shower later?” he asks. “I just – I feel really gross, I bled through my pad earlier, this headache has me sweating, I just feel gross.”

 

“Yeah, no problem,” Bucky answers. He nears again, touching Steve’s cheek gently. “I’ll give you a bath, okay, kitten?”

 

Steve slumps. He looks past Bucky towards the door.

 

“It’s okay,” Bucky reminds him. “It doesn’t matter if Benny knows, I’d rather take care of you, okay?”

 

Steve doesn’t answer for a second, then he nods. Bucky waits for him to pull out his blood sugar kit before he slips out of his room.

 

“Hey!” Benny hisses to him from the couch as Bucky makes a beeline for the fridge. “What the hell’s going on? Becca won’t tell me anything!”

 

Bucky stops, hand on the fridge door. “What do you mean, Becca won’t tell you anything?”

 

Benny lifts her phone and waves it. “I texted her about why her roommate just let himself into your apartment. How come you gave Becca a key and not me?”

 

Bucky makes a face, confused, because Becca doesn’t have a key to his apartment, Steve does –

 

“I gave it to her for emergencies,” Bucky says when his brain processes it.

 

Becca’s covering for them. Bucky makes a mental note to buy her flowers or a Steam gift card later. Benny raises her eyebrows at him, completely disbelieving, and Bucky flounders for a second.

 

“In case – Y’know, emergencies.”

 

“I want a key,” Benny says, pouting.

 

“You don’t need a key,” Bucky replies, opening the fridge.

 

“This is biphobia,” Benny complains. “Ageism. Favoritism.”

 

“Whatever,” Bucky says, pulling out a container of Greek yogurt and going to grab a bowl.

 

“Why is Steve here, anyway?” Benny asks. “What are you doing?”

 

Bucky struggles to scoop yogurt from the container while it’s unsteadied, then he sighs and just goes slower. “I’ll tell you in a minute, Ben, okay?”

 

“What’s going on?” Benny asks again anyway.

 

“In a minute,” Bucky tells her, filling the bowl.

 

He puts the lid back on the container, sticks the spoon in the bowl, and shoves the container back into the fridge, which is much fuller than it had been November 1st and Steve had complained about the lack of food in it.

 

“Just wait, okay?” Bucky adds, picking up the bowl and leaving.

 

Bucky has to balance the bowl between his forearm and his stomach to open the door, then kicks it shut with his foot to go inside. Steve’s now curled up in the middle of the bed, hugging one of Bucky’s pillows. Bucky walks over and sets the yogurt on Steve’s nightstand.

 

“C’mere, kitten,” Bucky says gently, touching Steve’s shoulder. “Do you want me to feed you?”

 

Steve sits up, then grimaces and turns back over, hugging his stomach. Bucky hovers over him, worried as he curls his hand over Steve’s arm.

 

“You okay?” he asks.

 

“Cramps,” Steve says through his teeth.

 

“I’ll get you some meds,” Bucky remembers.

 

He bend and kisses Steve’s cheek, then turns and heads for the door. He stops halfway there, turns back, and rumages between the bed and nightstand on his side to pull out the heating pad that he uses sometimes for his left arm. He plugs it in, turns it on, and pushes it towards Steve.

 

“Here,” he says.

 

Steve grasps it weakly and pulls it toward him. He drapes it over his stomach, still grimacing, and nods to Bucky. Bucky hovers again, worried and not wanting to leave, then forces himself to go. He ducks into the bathroom, digs through his medicine cabinet until he finds a bottle of Midol (left at one point by Becca), then hustles back into the kitchen to get a glass of water. He didn’t ask what Steve’s sugar was. He turns back and grabs a banana before going back to his bedroom. He can feel Benny’s eyes on him, but Bucky doesn’t stop to address her confusion.

 

Steve’s managed to sit up and is eating the yogurt when Bucky gets back. Bucky puts the water, the banana, and the Midol on the nightstand and Steve scrambles to grab the Midol. Bucky watches him shake two pills out of the bottle, throw them back, and swallow half the water.

 

Bucky sits down on the bed in front of him and reaches forward to touch his ankle, squeezing it lightly.

 

“You could’a called me when you ran outta Pamprin at lunch,” he says. “Y’know I’d do anything for you, right?”

 

Steve smiles at him but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Thanks,” he says softly, his spoon stirring the yogurt. “But I can get by on my own, y’know?”

 

Bucky squeezes Steve’s ankle again. “You don’t have to,” he reminds him. “Hey,” Bucky adds, reaching up to grip Steve’s knee when Steve shrugs and smiles sadly, “I’m with you ‘til the end of the line, pal.”

 

Steve looks down at the bowl in his lap, then lifts his gaze and smiles at Bucky. His expression is touched, his eyebrows lifting in the centers and the right corner of his lip picking up a little higher than the left. His eyes are soft as they meet Bucky’s gaze. Bucky’s struck just by how beautiful Steve is, even tired and worn out like this.

 

Bucky squeezes Steve’s knee again. “I’m gonna go talk to Benny,” he says. “You eat that. You want your bath after that?”

 

Steve drops his gaze and nods a little. Bucky lifts forward and cups Steve’s cheek, pressing a gentle kiss to his forehead. Then he walks out, heading into the living room.

 

The movie he and Benny were watching earlier is still paused, Ryan Reynolds making a really stupid face on Bucky’s TV. Bucky sits down on the coffee table in front of Benny.

 

“So,” he starts.

 

“I would like to start that you don’t let me even look in your bedroom,” Benny says, very, very fast. “Steve is allowed in there? What the hell? What the hell’s going on?”

 

“He had a rough day,” Bucky explains, shrugging. “His period’s beatin’ the shit outta him and he couldn’t take more time off after his heat, so he was in class all day. You’ll get it once you present.”

 

Benny looks at Bucky like he’s stupid. “Why did he come to you? ” she demands. “Why didn’t he go home?”

 

Bucky looks down at his socks, then shrugs. “He did come home?” he says hesitantly.

 

Benny blinks. “What.”

 

“Steve’s here most weekends,” Bucky explains. “Fridays you ain’t here, Saturdays and Sundays. We’re, uh –”

 

“I knew you were dating!” Benny gasps triumphantly, punching Bucky in the arm.

 

“No, we’re not dating,” Bucky says quickly. Benny’s face falls. “We’re not,” Bucky insists, feeling his gut twist like he’s lying even as he tells Benny the truth. “We’re just friends.”

 

“Oh,” Benny says, then frowns. “But… Why is he here weekends, then? Does Becca come, too?”

 

“No,” Bucky says. He sighs and runs his hand through his hair; he needs to get it cut. “Look, now’s an opportunity to practice teenage rebellion. Don’t tell Ma and Pop.”

 

“I don’t get it,” Benny tells him. “You’re not dating, Steve borrows Becca’s key and shows up randomly, he’s here every weekend?”

 

“Most weekends,” Bucky replies quickly.

 

Benny looks at him with extreme confusion as she shakes her head, then abruptly her eyes get big and she sits up straight.

 

“You’re –” she says.

 

Bucky grimaces almost.

 

“You’re not dating but you are sleeping together?” Benny hisses.

 

Bucky shrugs. “Happens sometimes,” he says.

 

Benny splutters, gesturing wildly between Bucky and Bucky’s closed bedroom door with a bewildered look on her face.

 

“Benny, it’s not a big deal,” Bucky tells her, catching one of her hands and forcing her to stop her wild gesticulating. “We’re friends, we fuck sometimes, whatever. But he’s had a really shitty day and he came over here ‘cause he’s got a migraine and his dorms are really loud, so could you please just forget this happened?”

 

Bucky hopes she doesn’t remember that Steve’s pretty much deaf without his hearing aids. In fact, it only just occurs to him that Steve’s excuse to come see him is flimsy. He doesn’t have time to think about why Steve would’ve lied about that just then.

Benny blinks at him. “Forget?” she says.

 

“Or don’t tell anyone,” Bucky restates.

 

“Does Becca know?” Benny asks sharply.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says, shrugging. “She’s always known.”

 

Benny’s eyes widen again. “Did Steve really use Becca’s key or does he have his own? ” she gasps.

 

“His own,” Bucky mutters.

 

Benny slaps him on the arm. Bucky winces and rubs the sore spot.

 

“It’s not a big deal,” Bucky repeats.

 

“Yeah, sure,” Benny scoffs. “Your friend who you sleep with most weekends has a key to your apartment and comes to you for comfort. And don’t give me that his dorm is stressful bullcrap, I ain’t twelve!”

 

“You’re fifteen,” Bucky tells her, raising his eyebrows. He doesn’t consider that Steve came for him for comfort, he doesn’t have time to freak out about that now. “Watch your language.”

 

Benny sticks her tongue out. Bucky rolls his eyes, then sits back and lightly taps her toe with one of his feet. “Do you want me to take you home?”

 

Benny shrugs. “Are you and him gonna do it?”

 

“No,” Bucky answers quickly. “C’mon, sis, he’s got a migraine, he came here to sleep. Git’cha mind outta the gutter.”

 

“I ain’t in the gutter,” Benny retorts, wrinkling her nose. “Are we gonna finish the movie?”

 

Bucky glances over his shoulder. “You finish it,” he says, getting up. “I’m gonna go cuddle him.”

 

“And you’re not dating,” Benny reiterates disbelievingly.

 

“We’re not,” Bucky insists, because they aren’t. “Friends cuddle. It’s this new thing called platonic affection, squirt.”

 

Benny rolls her eyes. Bucky shakes his head and ducks back into his bedroom.

 

Steve waves to him, slumped on the bed again. Bucky checks the bowl on the nightstand and finds it empty but for the banana peel.

 

“Hey,” Bucky says, touching Steve’s shoulder. “What was your sugar when you checked it?”

 

Steve doesn’t answer him. Bucky squeezes his shoulder and Steve sighs heavily.

 

“Fifty-five,” he mutters.

 

Bucky’s gut drops out. “Steve!” he hisses, dropping to his knees by the bed.

 

“Adam!” Steve mutters determinedly.

 

Bucky ignores this, used to Steve making obscure references that Bucky doesn’t pay attention to internet things enough to get.

 

“You could’a passed out!” he says. “We might’a had to take you to the ER again!”

 

“I know,” Steve snaps. “It’s kinda my shitty pancreas we’re talkin’ ‘bout here, I’ve been diabetic for nearly twelve years, I know!”

 

Bucky exhales heavily. He drops his forehead against the mattress and grips Steve’s arm harder.

 

“I’ll give you a bath after you take your shot,” he says, quieter. “You’re gonna have to have a shot, sweetheart.”

 

“I know,” Steve mutters.

 

Bucky stands up. “I’m gonna make you a PB and J, okay? I’ll be right back.”

 

Steve nods as Bucky leaves. Outside, Benny pauses the movie again.

 

“You hungry?” Bucky asks her as he opens the fridge. “I gotta make Steve a sandwich, his sugar’s real low.”

 

“Is that why you got that weird sugar-free ice cream?” Benny asks. “The Sola, whatever? ‘Cause your friend who you sleep with most weekends but still aren’t dating is diabetic?”

 

Bucky grits his teeth, then takes a deep breath. “Yes,” he says. “I’d appreciate it if you’d stop being difficult about this, Benny, Becca’s been on us for the past six months –”

 

“Six months!” Benny repeats loudly.

 

“Keep your voice down,” Bucky snaps at her, slamming his fridge shut. “My neighbor’s an old lady and she went to bed an hour ago, I don’t need you waking her up.”

 

Benny pulls her legs up onto the couch, scowling. No, she’s pouting. She’s pouting like a fifteen-year-old not getting their way. Bucky ignores her and makes Steve’s PB&J.

 

He re-enters the bedroom and Steve sits up, hugging the heating pad against his stomach. Bucky climbs onto the bed with him and hands him the plate, then drapes his arm over Steve’s shoulders as Steve starts to eat the sandwich. He leans his forehead against Steve’s hair, inhaling to check that Steve doesn’t smell distressed anymore. There’s still an undercurrent of spoiled vanilla to his scent and there’s no warm cinnamon and allspice to indicate that Steve’s happy or at least a little pleased, but otherwise, he smells neutral, like sugar.

 

“You remember when you passed out in November?” Bucky asks Steve quietly.

 

Steve looks down, then nods.

 

“D’you realize how terrified Becca was when she called me?” Bucky continues. “Do you know how terrified I was? I had to call Doc with your phone ‘cause Becca was too hysterical to do it. The EMT’s wouldn’t let her go in the ambulance with you and the hospital wouldn’t tell us anything until Doc showed up and used his primary care doctor card to get the information. They wouldn’t tell Doc anything until he pulled that ‘cause you were emancipated when your ma died instead’a him adopting you.”

 

“I know that,” Steve snaps.

 

“Then how come you do this to yourself?” Bucky asks Steve sharply. He wants to shake Steve but can’t because of Steve’s headache. “You can’t just skip meals like that!”

 

“I know,” Steve insists.

 

“But you did it!” Bucky cuts him off. He presses his forehead against Steve’s hair harder, until Steve hisses and pulls away from him. “I’m sorry,” Bucky says quickly. “You – Steve, you scare me sometimes. You gotta take better care’a yourself.”

 

Steve looks down at his plate and half-finished PB&J. Bucky squeezes his shoulders.

 

“Eat it,” Bucky tells him gently.

 

Steve lifts it and takes another bite. They sit in silence for a second as Bucky watches Steve finish the sandwich.

 

“Maybe I could –” Bucky starts, then stops, wondering what the hell he’s thinking.

 

Steve puts the plate on the nightstand, pulls the heating pad higher up his stomach, and lies down. He curls his arm over Bucky’s legs and hides his face against Bucky’s hip. Bucky sighs and wriggles down until he can pull Steve against his chest, spooning him gently.

 

“Maybe I could help you,” Bucky says softly.

 

“With what?” Steve mutters.

 

“Your eating,” Bucky tells him. “Check on you during the day to make sure you’re eating enough and regularly.”

 

Steve’s quiet. Bucky waits for him to answer.

 

“I have an app to remind me,” Steve does say eventually.

 

“Not like –” Bucky says, then stops and presses his face against Steve’s hair. “Like, your pet owner, kitten. Make sure you’re fed and watered right like that.”

 

Steve’s quiet again. Bucky waits again.

 

“I’ll think about it,” Steve murmurs.

 

Bucky kisses his hair. “Let me know,” he says gently. “Okay, kitten?”

 

Steve nods. Bucky turns over and turns the light off, then pulls Steve into his chest again.

 

Bucky can still hear Benny watching her movie in the living room. He keeps time with the LED alarm clock on Steve’s nightstand. He waits about twenty minutes, then jostles Steve lightly.

 

“Check your sugar again,” he says.

 

Bucky turns the bedside light back on and Steve sits up. Bucky watches him prick his finger and touch the blood to the test strip, leaning over his shoulder while the meter does its thing. It beeps; 87.

 

“Do you want me to give you your shot, kitten?” Bucky asks Steve.

 

Steve just shakes his head, already pulling out his stuff. He stands up to shuck his jeans so he can inject himself in the thigh and Bucky sits back to watch him.

 

“If it’s still below a hundred by midnight, I’m taking you to the hospital,” Bucky says.

 

“I’ll be fine,” Steve snaps.

 

“If it’s still below a hundred by the time you go to sleep, it’ll drop and you’ll wake up just as low as you were when you got here,” Bucky answers, trying not to get mad at Steve.

 

“I’ll just take another shot,” Steve tells him sharply. “It’s my diabetes, I know how to treat it.”

 

Bucky exhales. Steve gets up, kicks his jeans towards Bucky’s laundry hamper and pulls his shirt off. He pulls his bathrobe off the back of the door and puts it on, then opens the door. Bucky gets off the bed hastily and follows Steve out. Steve goes into the bathroom and Bucky does not look at Benny as he follows him in.

 

“I’m fine, Bucky,” Steve says tiredly. “I’m just gonna take a shower.”

 

“Can you let me be fussy?” Bucky asks Steve. “Please? You’re miserable and I want to help.”

 

“I’m fine,” Steve insists.

 

“You walked in and announced that you were dying,” Bucky counters. “C’mon, you said you understood this thing was a two-way street when we started, let me help you.”

 

Steve’s shoulders drop. He pushes back his hair, then nods. “Fine,” he says. He tugs off his bathrobe, hands it to Bucky, then flips up the toilet lid and drops onto it, dropping his briefs as he does.

 

Bucky does his best not to balk at the bloody pad in Steve’s underwear. Steve rips it out, grabs some toilet paper, and rolls it up before dropping it into the trash can. He moves jerkily, kicking off his underwear and wiping himself a few times before standing up. Bucky steps back as Steve flushes the toilet, sending several blood-soaked wads of toilet paper down the bowl, then moves to the sink and washes his hands.

 

“Can we take a shower?” Steve asks. “I don’t wanna get blood in the water.”

 

Bucky glances at the removable shower head. “Compromise,” he says. “You sit down and I’ll help you wash, okay?”

 

Steve turns around and shrugs. Bucky hangs Steve’s bathrobe up behind the door, then walks with Steve to the bathtub. Steve climbs in and sits down, immediately curling into an almost fetal position, and Bucky unhooks the shower head before he turns on the water, angling it towards the drain.

 

“Do you want something to chew on, kitten?” Bucky asks him.

 

Steve shakes his head. Bucky raises his eyebrows at him while he tests the temperature of the water. Steve sighs heavily, then he reluctantly nods.

 

Bucky lets the shower head dangle, the temperature not too hot, and goes into the drawers in the sink cabinets for Steve’s pacifier; he puts it away when Benny visits, not wanting her to see it hanging in his shower. He rinses it at the sink out of habit, then leans a knee on the edge of the bathtub and holds the pacifier in front of Steve’s mouth.

 

Steve takes it with his hand and pushes it between his lips, pushing it far back and visibly beginning to gnaw on it. He still smells a little like sour vanilla.

 

Bucky checks the temperature of the water again. He kneels beside the bathtub and pulls the shower head over Steve’s body. Steve sinks down a little further in the tub, sighing quietly, as Bucky begins rinsing him. He gets Steve’s hair, watching the water run down his face and past his ears. Steve’s hearing aids are water-resistant enough for the shower, so there’s no worry about him needing to take them out and not being able to hear Bucky. Bucky gets him soaked, then lets the shower head dangle again and pours shampoo into Steve’s hair. Steve leans forward and Bucky works the shampoo through his hair one-handed. When Bucky picks up the shower head and starts rinsing Steve’s hair, the water comes out pink from underneath him.

 

“You just bleed all day, huh?” Bucky remarks.

 

Steve takes out his pacifier and laughs. “Guess they didn’t talk about Omegas in your sex ed, did they?”

 

“Nah,” Bucky says. “I mean, I didn’t learn a whole lot ‘bout periods in sex ed at all, all I know comes from my older sister. Benny’s not gotten hers yet, y’know, and Becca didn’t present until summer before last; she ain’t gonna share much with me.”

 

“Right,” Steve mumbles.

 

“So, do you ever get –” Bucky starts, then grimaces. “Y’know, crap on your pad, too?”

 

Steve shakes his head. “Different part of the same hole,” he says. “You know you ain’t stickin’ your dick up my colon, right?”

 

“Well, yeah,” Bucky says, his ears heating. “But, I dunno –”

 

“Nah,” Steve says. “Talk to Doc sometime, he’ll give you a lecture.”

 

“Right,” Bucky says. “Sorry.”

 

Steve shrugs. “It’s whatever,” he says.

 

Bucky lets the shower head hang again and stands up to get body wash. He squirts it onto Steve’s loofah, puts down the bottle and picks up the loofah instead, and kneels again to wash Steve’s back.

 

“Lay back, kitten,” Bucky says.

 

Steve leans back in the tub, wincing. Bucky’s gentle with washing his front, getting under and down his arms before moving to his legs. Bucky washes down to his feet, Steve helpfully lifting his legs so he can reach under his knees, then he gets up and puts the loofah down to grab the bottle of baby shampoo he keeps stashed in the shower for Steve’s anal hygiene. He holds the bottle under his chin to squeeze some into his palm, then cups his hand and carefully puts the bottle down on the edge of the bathtub. He reaches between Steve’s legs.

 

Steve makes a strangled sound and snaps his legs together before yanking his pacifier out. “What’re you doing?!” he demands.

 

“What?” Bucky asks, then shrugs. “It’s just blood, Steve.”

 

Steve gawks at him. “I can do it!” he insists.

 

“What’s your color?” Bucky asks him instead, resting his cupped hand against Steve’s thighs.

 

Steve’s eyes search his face. Slowly, he unclenches his legs.

 

“Yellow,” he mutters. “Green if it wasn’t so gross.”

 

“It’s just blood, kitten,” Bucky repeats, letting the soap drip down his fingers so he can get the coarse blonde hairs around Steve’s crotch.

 

Steve shoves his pacifier back into his mouth, rolling his eyes.

 

“I already got soap on my hand,” Bucky adds, “what’s the big deal?”

 

Steve’s face flames as Bucky gently washes his soft penis lying against his thigh. Bucky does nothing more than wash it, having not asked for anything more than that, and moves down the curve of Steve’s body to get between his asscheeks. Bucky doesn’t probe into Steve’s hole, just washes outside his body, then pulls his hand back and rinses it with the shower head before picking it up and bringing it over Steve’s body to rinse him.

 

“Sit up,” Bucky says.

 

He pulls the shower head around to rinse Steve’s back when Steve obeys him. He aims the water at Steve’s ass to get under him, then asks Steve to lean back and pushes his knees apart. Bucky rinses his crotch and Steve slips down in the tub, facing away from Bucky. The water runs clear eventually.

 

“You wanna stay in here for a while?” Bucky asks him.

 

Steve shakes his head. Bucky lets the showerhead hang and turns off the water before standing up. He puts away the baby shampoo and washes his hand in the sink for good measure before he helps Steve get up. Steve shivers as he steps out and Bucky rubs him down quickly.

 

“You feel better, kitten?” Bucky asks when Steve’s dry, wrapping around him and nuzzling the side of his head.

 

Steve nods. Bucky kisses his cheek, then helps Steve into his bathrobe and picks up his discarded underwear. Steve brushes his teeth, then slips out of the bathroom and goes straight into Bucky’s bedroom. Benny waves her hands at Bucky, her jaw stretched open, and Bucky gives her a stern look before following Steve into his room.

 

Bucky drops Steve’s old underwear onto the pile of Steve’s clothes by his hamper. Steve opens his drawer in Bucky’s dresser and gets out a long t-shirt to sleep in. Then he grabs his backpack and pulls out a clean pair of underwear and a packaged pad. He stands to put the pad in his underwear, then steps into it and sheds his bathrobe right after. He goes to put on his nightshirt and Bucky takes it from him.

 

“Arms up, kitten,” Bucky says.

 

Steve blinks at the floor, then his lips curl a little at last and he lifts his arms over his head. Bucky helps him into the nightshirt, then he pulls Steve into a hug and they stand there for a second.

 

“Check your sugar again,” Bucky mumbles.

 

Steve nods. He pulls away from Bucky and sits down on the bed, his insulin bag still open on the bed, and Bucky changes into pajamas while Steve checks his sugar.

 

“One seventeen,” Steve reads even though Bucky’s looking over his shoulder. “Will you write it down for me?”

 

Bucky picks up Steve’s phone from the bed and unlocks it; Steve gave him his passcode in February and Bucky’s still not used to having access to Steve’s phone. He goes straight to Steve’s diabetes tracking app, records his blood sugar, and gets a checkmark from the app telling him that Steve’s sugar is safe for sleep. Bucky locks Steve’s phone again, then sits up and packs up Steve’s insulin bag.

 

“Go ahead and go to sleep, Stevie,” Bucky tells Steve, leaning down and kissing him. “I’ll be in in a minute.”

 

Steve nods, pulling back the blankets and crawling underneath them. Bucky collects the dishes from the nightstand and slips out of his room, heading into the kitchen.

 

“Is he okay?” Benny asks.

 

“I think,” Bucky answers. “You good for the night? You need anything?”

 

Benny shakes her head. “I’m sorry I was being rude about you and Steve,” she says. “It’s just – It looks weird?”

 

She squints at Bucky, who shrugs at her.

 

“It works,” he says. “We’re good the way we are.”

 

Benny sighs. Bucky walks over to her and ruffles her hair, making her squeak in protest, and then goes back into his room.

 

Steve waves to him, then points to his ears before pointing at the nightstand. Bucky walks over and sees Steve’s both of hearing aids plugged in and he bends to kiss Steve’s cheek. He plugs Steve’s phone in, too, then walks around the other side of the bed and gets in. He switches off his lamp and pulls Steve into his chest. His hand touches the heating pad still wrapped around Steve’s stomach and Bucky shifts his palm to lay it over Steve’s heart instead.

 

Steve can’t hear him. Whatever his reasons were for wanting to be with Bucky, they aren’t because his dorms are loud and Bucky’s not going to ask.

 

Since Steve can’t hear, Bucky presses his forehead to the back of Steve’s head and whispers: “I love you.”

Chapter Text

jusqu'à la fin de la ligne


The end of the year comes in a rush of finals and term papers and putting everything back into the boxes they’d entered the dorms in. On the last day of the year, Steve stands in the middle of his and Becca’s dorm room and looks around with a slack jaw.

 

“I don’t think it’s been this spotless since we moved in,” Steve says.

 

“Fuck, no, it hasn’t,” Bucky laughs helpfully from Steve’s bed. He’s sprawled on the bare mattress, his boots kicked up on the footboard and his arm tucked under his head as he watches Steve with a smirk.

 

“We kept it clean enough!” Becca insists, swinging down off the top bunk and kicking Bucky in the hip before she hits the floor. “Are you gonna help us get these boxes out or not?”

 

“I don’t know,” Bucky drawls, then winks at Steve. “I think I’m gonna need some kinda incentive.”

 

Becca spins around and kicks Steve instead. “For once, you can fuck him in our dorm room. Get him up!”

 

“I’m not gonna do it on a bare mattress!” Steve splutters, offended while Bucky just bursts into laughter. “How do you know he was even talking about that? Maybe he meant he wanted dinner or somethin’!”

“When do I ever want to be paid in food?” Bucky laughs. “C’mon, Steve!”

 

“Shuddup,” Steve tells him, pushing past Becca and dropping onto the mattress next to Bucky. “What do you want?”

 

Bucky tugs his arm out from under his neck and grabs Steve’s waist, flipping them. “What do I always want?”

 

“Not while I’m still in the room!” Becca screeches. “I meant after we got our stuff out!”

 

“Fuck off,” Steve tells Bucky, giggling.

 

“Mmm,” Bucky hums, nibbling on Steve’s ear. “I think not, kitten.”

 

“Bucky!” Becca whines.

 

“I don’t work for free!” Bucky calls to her, then starts kissing down Steve’s neck. “What’ll it be, honey?”

 

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll go home with you,” Steve says, then shoves at his shoulder. “Get off and help us.”

 

Bucky swings off of him and the bed with a triumphant smile. He opens the door to their room and drags a flatbed cart into the room.

 

“You jerk!” Steve gasps, jumping up. “You could’a brought that in right away!”

 

“But it was more fun to mess wit’ youse,” Bucky answers smugly. He parks the cart, then starts shifting boxes onto it.

 

“I hate you,” Becca tells him, grabbing boxes to help him. “I hope you can’t get it up tonight.”

 

“Hey!” Steve calls.

 

Becca sticks her tongue out at him. Steve responds in kind, shoving his thumbs in his ears and everything. Bucky rolls his eyes.

 

“We goin’ or what?” Bucky asks them.

 

Steve gets up to help, too. They load the cart, getting all of his and Becca’s boxes piled onto it with a few things left to carry. Steve swings his backpack onto his back and picks up his suitcase as Becca and Bucky start maneuvering the cart out of the room.

 

“Beep, beep, motherfuckers!” Becca yells as they head for the elevators.

 

“She was dropped on her head as a baby!” Bucky yells, too.

 

“You got blown up in the desert!” Becca counters.

 

“And I got a whole ass medal for it, what did you get?” Bucky asks her, raising his eyebrows.

 

“I hate this family,” Steve sighs.

 

“You love us,” both Becca and Bucky say at once.

 

“No, I hate both of you,” Steve insists as they pile in the elevator. “I can’t wait to be rid’a you.”

 

“You don’t mean that,” Becca chuckles.

 

Bucky looks at Steve and grins abruptly. Steve raises a hand and says, “Oh, no, you don’t –” and Bucky pounces on him. He tosses Steve into the air while Steve yelps and pins him against the wall, his feet dangling far off the ground.

 

“Ya sure ya hate me, Rogers?” Bucky asks in a purr.

 

“To my dying breath,” Steve says, gasping just a little.

 

“Oh, I can’t watch,” Becca says behind them, covering her eyes with her hands. “I’m gonna puke. I can’t watch!”

Bucky pushes his face into Steve’s neck, forcing his chin up, and licks up his neck from the hollow of his throat to his jaw. Steve drops his head against the wall as he bites his lip to keep in a groan, squeezes his eyes shut and ends up whimpering a little as Bucky bites the edge of his jaw.

 

“Ya real sure you hate me, kitten?” Bucky whispers in his ear.

 

“With a passion,” Steve forces out, breathless.

 

The elevator dings before Bucky can do anything else and he drops Steve. Steve gasps and sways, but Bucky just swings an arm around his shoulders and shakes him gently with a content grin on his face.

 

“I don’t believe you,” he says happily.

 

“Fuck you,” Steve wheezes.

 

“Nah, but I’ll fuck you,” Bucky answers, laughing, and he shoves Steve out of the elevator. “Oversized load coming through!” he adds, now being serious and talking about the cart.

 

Steve stumbles and leans on his suitcase as Becca and Bucky get the cart out of the elevator. The hustle and bustle of students vacating the hall parts for the Barneses and Steve trails along behind them a bit rattled still. They get outside and Steve blinks until his glasses transition to compensate for the bright light. Parked near the front in a handicap spot, Doc waves to them as he leans on his cane.

 

“Afternoon, Barneses,” Doc greets. He holds out his arm to Steve and Steve steps in for a hug. “Are you alright, my boy? You look flushed.”

 

Becca starts sniggering. Steve glares at Bucky.

 

“What?” Bucky says, looking totally innocent. “I didn’t do nothin’ to you, punk, get that look off ya face.”

 

Steve just jabs a finger into Bucky’s chest. Doc looks confused.

 

“I am missing something?” Doc asks.

 

“They’re being stupid,” Becca informs him.

 

He’s stupid!” Steve insists.

 

Bucky laughs and pauses to whisper in Steve’s ear. “That’s not what you said last night.”

 

Steve shoves him off of him and Bucky laughs all the way to the back of the car. Doc gives Steve a confused look.

 

“What’s so funny?”

 

“Nothing,” Steve says, feeling his face heat up and hoping that it’s not as obvious as it feels. “Hey, I’m gonna hang out with them for a while today, but I’ll be home tonight.”

 

Doc nods and grips Steve’s shoulder. “I’ll drop you off at the airport in the morning but I have to get into my office early. Do you mind?”

 

“It’s fine,” Steve says, shrugging. “My flight’s at eleven, I’d better be there by eight, anyway.”

 

Doc nods again, squeezing Steve’s shoulder. “Go help your friends,” he says.

 

Steve slips away from him and walks around to the boot to join Bucky and Becca in unloading his things from the cart.

 

“You’re invited to dinner at my parents’ place tonight,” Becca tells him. “Bucky can bring you.”

 

“Sure,” Steve says. “Buck, would you mind dropping me off at my house after?”

 

Bucky pauses, halfway through picking up a box. “I thought you were gonna stay at my place tonight?”

 

Steve avoids his gaze. He hasn’t told Bucky about his plans for the summer yet. Becca gives Steve a pointed look, but says nothing.

 

“It’s been a while, y’know?” Steve tells him. “I just wanna sleep in my own bed for once.”

 

“Right,” Bucky says. He looks away. “Yeah, sure, no problem, I’ll take you home.”

 

Becca glares at Steve. Steve makes a half-panicked, half-attempt at a reassuring face as he shrugs hopelessly and she rolls her eyes, shaking her head as she turns away.

 

Steve shoves the last of his boxes into Doc’s car, then steps out of the way so Bucky can shut the lid of the trunk. Bucky dusts his hand off on his jeans, then winks at Steve and helps Becca push the cart away. Steve turns and walks up to Doc.

 

“Is there something I’m missing?” Doc asks him.

 

Steve frowns. “Missing? Did I forget something?”

 

“No, between you and Bucky,” Doc says.

 

Steve automatically flushes down the back of his neck, the spot Bucky had nipped at not even ten minutes ago tingling almost. “Uh,” he says. “What do you mean?”

 

Doc raises his eyebrows. Steve shifts uncomfortably.

 

“I’ll see you later,” Steve says quickly, giving Doc a fast hug before gearing to flee. “The Barneses invited me for dinner so Bucky’ll drop me off after.”

 

“Alright,” Doc says, his tone mildly suspicious. “Enjoy yourself!”

 

Steve waves and jogs away towards Bucky’s truck, parked across the lot. Steve eyes the tree lending Bucky’s car shade and he’s pretty sure that he’s blown Bucky in this parking spot a few times. He shakes himself, hooks his insulin bag a little higher on his wrist and slows to a walk as he approaches Bucky and Becca.

 

“Hey,” he says.

 

“‘Sup,” Becca answers, shoving a box into Bucky’s truck. “I told Bucky youse should just hang around after you drop me off at home but he insisted that he wanted to take you back to his apartment to fuck you.”

 

Steve feels his ears flame and glares at Becca. Bucky rolls his eyes.

 

“I said, I had plans,” Bucky tells her. “Doesn’t mean those plans include fucking him.”

 

“Don’t they always?” Becca questions, pausing to frown as she lifts a box into her arms.

 

Bucky rolls his eyes pointedly. “No,” he says. “Sometimes I just jerk off on his face.”

 

Becca drops her box into the bed of Bucky’s truck and gags. Bucky laughs at her and Steve rolls his eyes with a little more exasperation than Bucky had done a second ago before approaching to help them unload.

 

“Out of curiosity,” Steve asks dryly, “do your plans include fucking me?”

 

Bucky winks at him again. “Guess you’ll just hafta wait ‘n’ see, doll.”

 

“I’m gagging,” Becca says.

 

“So will Steve,” Bucky tells her.

 

Becca lets out a horrified gasp as Steve turns bright red and drops his face against one of Becca’s boxes with a long groan. Bucky, the fucker, laughs at them both.

 

“You walked int’a that!” Bucky tells Becca.

 

“I hate you!” Becca says, with feeling.

 

“I hate you,” Steve agrees. “Why do I keep letting you stick your dick in me? You’re awful.

 

“It’s ‘cause ma dick’s –” Bucky starts smugly.

 

“No!” Becca yells, shoving a box into Bucky’s chest. “No more talk about your dick, James Buchanan Barnes, or I’ll bribe Steve to cut it off!”

 

“There’s no money Steve would take to cut my dick off,” Bucky laughs. “He likes it too much.”

 

“I don’t know,” Steve drawls, dropping a box into Bucky’s truck. “I would take coverage for the tuition not paid by my scholarships.”

 

Becca points at Steve. Bucky rolls his eyes.

 

“Sure,” he says. “You can regret it after.”

 

“There are other cocks in the world,” Steve answers dryly.

 

Bucky bats his eyelashes at Steve. “Not like mine, kitten.”

 

Becca fakes vomiting, then shoves the last of her boxes into the back of the truck and grabs the handles of the cart. “Can we get outta here so I don’t have to listen to you two hate-flirting anymore? I’m getting acid reflux from all this puking.”

 

Bucky chuckles, but helps her load the cart into the truck. Steve and Becca back up so Bucky can toss ratchet straps over the bed of his truck and tie everything down, then they walk around and Steve gets into the passenger side of the cab first, Becca following him.

 

“Steve, you stay in the truck,” Bucky says when they get to the Barnes family home.

 

“Yeah, otherwise Ma and Pop will wanna know why you’re not staying,” Becca agrees as she gets down.

 

“You sure you don’t need help?” Steve calls.

 

“We got it!” Becca answers.

 

Steve sighs and slumps on the bench, laying down with his head in the driver’s seat. He pulls out his phone and opens Tumblr, setting to scrolling.

 

His phone vibrates in his hand and Steve flicks his gaze up to the notification popping up on his screen.

 

Pegs:

Are you ready for vacation?

 

Steve opens the conversation, then ends up just staring at it for a long time.

 

He’d agreed to go on vacation with Peggy to her father’s beach house in the south of France way back in September, before he and Bucky started whatever it is they are.

 

They still aren’t dating. The last date Steve went on was in April and it’s the end of June now, but Bucky hasn’t realized or said anything. Steve, if he’s honest, doesn’t know how he feels about his vacation anymore.

 

On the one hand, he’s going to miss Bucky like crazy. Hell, he’s going to miss Doc, his friends, everyone, but he’s going to miss Bucky especially.

 

On the other hand, it’s been nine months since Steve started sleeping with Bucky. He’d thought Bucky would have asked him for more a long time ago. Steve’s almost relieved that he’s going to be able to get away and clear his head someplace far away from Bucky Barnes.

 

On his foot, Steve’s going to miss Bucky anyway and it’s going to be hard to get over him.

 

Steve texts Peggy back, promising that he is. He switches back to Tumblr, but doesn’t end up paying attention to it. He’s stuck on the conversation he’s going to have with Bucky when they get back home.

 

God, home. Obviously, Steve lied about wanting to sleep in his own bed at home in Brooklyn earlier. His plane is in the morning and he’s going to be spending the entire summer in France. It’s been nine months since Steve started sleeping with Bucky and Bucky’s not only gotten over his crush on Steve from the beginning of their friendship, he’s never once made suggestions that there could be something more between them than just sex. Steve’s planning to pack up his drawer and take his toothbrush and just go home in a cab after he and Bucky get back to Manhattan, because he’s not sure he can take any more of Bucky’s meaningless flirting.

 

The car door behind Steve’s head opens and Steve sits up to let Bucky in. Bucky shoots him a smile and shuts his door, getting the engine going and changing gears. Steve leans back against the bench and focuses on his phone for a whole two minutes before his resolve crumples and he leans on Bucky’s shoulder.

 

“I’ve got a surprise for you at home,” Bucky says.

 

Home. Steve’s already missing it.

 

“Yeah?” Steve asks, bumping his cheek against Bucky’s shoulder. “What?”

 

“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise,” Bucky replies, then twists and kisses his hair quickly. “Patience, kitten.”

 

Steve nods, his cheek rubbing against Bucky’s shoulder. He’s already missing being Bucky’s kitten.

 

They get back and Steve slides out the driver’s side instead of the passenger. Bucky walks him up to the apartment and lets him in first, hanging up his keys and stepping past Steve into the kitchen. Steve sets his insulin bag on the kitchen table, then leans on it as Bucky opens the fridge.

 

“So,” Bucky says, pulling a large metal bowl out of the fridge. “I made your favorite food.”

 

Bucky puts the bowl on the table and takes off the dinner plate covering it. Steve looks inside.

 

“Yogurt?” he questions, reaching over to stick a finger in it.

 

“Ah-ah!” Bucky scolds, slapping his hand. “Get a spoon, Rogers.”

 

Steve looks down into the bowl. “You made yogurt?”

 

Bucky puffs up his chest, grinning. “Yep! Had to badger my nana about temperatures and boiling time, but I did it.”

 

“Why did you make yogurt?” Steve asks, completely baffled.

 

Bucky steps around the table and opens a cabinet. He takes out a low, flat bowl with straight sides and sets it on the table next to the homemade yogurt. Steve blinks at it.

 

The bowl is perhaps an inch deep, creamy white ceramic with dark blue pawprints, and written on the inside of the dish is the word KITTEN.

 

“Here’s what I’m thinkin’,” Bucky says, curling his arm around Steve’s shoulders. “You need your bedtime cream and I’m tired’a workin’ it outta the rubber to give it to ya.”

 

Steve’s face flames as he imagines kneeling on the floor while Bucky jerks off into a bowl so he can set it on the floor and pat Steve’s head as Steve licks the bowl clean.

 

“But we gotta do a trial first,” Bucky adds, “‘cause ain’t no point in givin’ you your cream on the floor if you don’t like eatin’ on the floor. So, I got’cha some fancy yogurt. To test it first.”

 

“Ohmygod,” Steve mutters.

 

Bucky tweaks Steve’s ear. “Wha’d’ya say, kitten?”

 

Steve lifts a hand and bites on his knuckles. He stares at the bowl, at the yogurt, and he doesn’t know what to say.

 

“I wanted to ask you one other thing,” Bucky adds.

 

“What?” Steve says softly.

 

Bucky nudges his shoulder. “What if – for the summer – you stayed with me?”

 

Steve blinks.

 

“Y’know, might be fun,” Bucky says. “We could try out some new things, have some laughs. Maybe you could wear that French maid get up again, or try something new. You could get your cream every day, kitten.”

 

Steve blinks again. He exhales.

 

“I’m spending the summer in France,” he tells Bucky bluntly.

 

“Oh,” Bucky says.

 

Steve shrugs. “I guess we could have phone sex if you’re –” he starts, but breaks off, shaking his head. “But I don’ know, I’ll be pretty busy over the summer.”

 

“That’s not –” Bucky starts; he stops and sighs. “Never mind. Don’t worry about it.”

 

Steve shakes his head again. He turns away from the homemade yogurt and the Kitten feeding bowl clearly not meant for a cat and leaves the kitchen. He goes into Bucky’s bedroom, grabs the duffle bag he’d had stashed in Bucky’s closet for the past three weeks, and starts emptying his drawer.

 

“Guess you need all that, huh?” he hears Bucky behind him.

 

Steve glances over his shoulder; Bucky’s leaning against the doorway, looking at the floor. Steve thins his lips and looks away, again, shaking his head. Bucky’s pouting.

 

“It’s not like you really need me anymore,” Steve points out, shoving his things into his bag. “You’re fine with touch and all now. You could get an actual boyfriend or girlfriend.”

 

Bucky’s quiet. Steve stands up and kicks his drawer shut, then heads to the nightstand.

 

“I mean, did you expect this to last more than the year?” Steve asks him, starting to get angry now. “It’s not like me and Becca are gonna be roommates again next year, she’s finally starting suppressants. We can do the whole Oh I’ll call thing but summer always kills connections.”

 

“Only if you let it,” Bucky finally speaks.

 

Steve dumps the last of his things from his nightstand into his bag. He sighs and reaches to rub at his eyes under his glasses.

 

“You’re right,” he says. He drops his hands and shrugs. “We can – We can try to stay connected.”

 

“How long are you gonna be in France?” Bucky asks.

 

“I come back the tenth of August,” Steve says.

 

Jesus, ” Bucky hisses.

 

“What?” Steve asks, looking up sharply. “What’s your problem? I arranged this with my best friend almost a year ago, you can’t expect me to cancel my plans for a fuckbuddy –”

 

“No, no, you’re right,” Bucky cuts him off, tone harsh, “I couldn’t ask you to do that. But, y’know, some warning would’a been nice!”

 

“I forgot,” Steve says blandly.

 

Bucky shakes his head. He pushes off the doorway, mutters “ Jesus, ” again and walks away. Steve exhales quickly and stares down at his duffle. He swings it onto his shoulder and leaves the bedroom.

 

“Where’re you going?” Bucky calls as Steve grabs his insulin bag off the kitchen table.

 

“Home,” Steve says tiredly. He turns around to look at Bucky, standing in the living room with his hand on his hip. “I’ll cancel with Becca, I’ll tell her I got sick.”

 

“You gotta leave now?” Bucky asks, not looking at Steve.

 

Steve shrugs. “I mean, not much point in staying anymore, is there?”

 

Bucky drops his hand off his hip and drags his hand over his face. He starts towards Steve, then stops, sighing.

 

“Do you have to?” Bucky asks again.

 

Steve slumps a little. He looks around, not knowing what to say. It feels like he’s breaking up with Bucky, only there was never anything to break, just friends messing around. They’re only friends.

 

“I mean, you’re going away for the summer and suddenly we can’t be friends anymore?” Bucky asks him, gesticulating and scowling at the floor. “C’mon, Rogers. I thought you liked me.”

 

Steve exhales again and looks down at his feet, then shrugs a bit hopelessly. “I do like you,” he says. “You’re – You’re probably my best friend other than Peggy. Easily.”

 

“So stay,” Bucky asks. “Come to dinner at my parent’s place, anyway. I’ll drive you home and hey, when you get back, call me up and we’ll get together. What’s two months?”

 

Steve bites his lip. Bucky moves closer and abruptly a finger is being knocked under Steve’s chin. Steve sucks in a breath and looks up at Bucky, now standing right in front of him.

 

“I mean,” Bucky says, sounding tired, “you ‘n’ me don’t have to end ‘less one of us starts goin’ steady with anybody. You ‘n’ me don’t even have to end there, I guess. I mean, sex would –”

 

Steve drops his bag and cuts Bucky off by slamming their mouths together. Bucky grabs him by the waist and lifts him off his feet, kissing him unforgivingly and passionately. Steve scrabbles to get his toes under him, then jumps and wraps his legs around Bucky’s waist. Bucky grabs his ass to hold him up, his fingers dig in, then he starts moving his way quickly away from the front door. Their teeth bang together, Steve bites hard on Bucky’s lip, Bucky growls and his fingernails bite into Steve’s ass through his jeans.

 

Bucky drops him onto the bed. Steve lifts his hips and gets his jeans off and Bucky rips off his shirt as he’s walking to get a condom from the nightstand. Steve squirms out of his own shirt and kicks his shoes off with his jeans and underwear, then Bucky plants a boot onto the bed next to Steve’s face.

 

“You wanna take my boots off, kitten?” Bucky asks him.

 

Steve rolls onto his stomach and cups Bucky’s boot with both hands. He gets his knees up under him, spreading his legs and letting himself go on display, and he licks up the side of Bucky’s boot. Steve starts kissing his laces, then he jolts and groans as Bucky presses a finger against his quickly dampening hole.

 

“C’mon,” Bucky growls. “Give my boot a blowjob, whore.”

 

Steve groans again, rocking his hips back against Bucky’s finger but he starts doing what he’s told; he tongue-fucks Bucky’s laces, sucks on the leather and leaves Bucky’s boot wet and sloppy with his spit. He pulls the laces with his teeth and rubs his cheek against the leather and crosses of the laces, leaving marks in his own face. Bucky pulls his foot away, kicks the boot away, then drops the other onto the bed. Steve turns and does the exact same thing to the other one while Bucky stretches him out.

 

“Good kitten,” Bucky says as soon as Steve has undone his laces.

 

Bucky shifts his boot, leaves it on the bed and Steve glances over his shoulder to watch Bucky lift his weight onto the bed fully; he pops the button of his jeans, drops the zipper, and shoves his pants barely halfway down his thighs. Steve watches Bucky roll on the condom and licks his lips, his face hot. Bucky grabs Steve’s hip, pulls him up farther and leans over him, one knee on the bed and the other foot planted in front of Steve’s face.

 

“You mind limpin’ on your way out, kitten?” Bucky asks, then shoves roughly in and Steve gasps aloud. “If this is the last time I get to stick it in ya –” Bucky immediately sets a brutal pace, making the headboard bang against the wall and driving into Steve so hard he feels it in his teeth “– then I wanna make it memorable, y’know?”

 

Uhh! ” is all Steve can say. That and: “ Bucky!

 

“I’m gonna fuck you so hard I get my dick all the way up your uterus,” Bucky growls in his ear. “You’re gonna come, kitten, gonna make me knot you, and then I’m gonna fuck you again. Sound good?”

 

All Steve can do is whine helplessly. Bucky bites a mark into the back of his shoulder and grinds his hips in a hard circle into Steve’s ass. Then he starts slamming into him again, making Steve drool and see stars, sucks a mark into his neck, moves down his back and bites and sucks down Steve’s spine.

 

“Let me come!” he begs in a howl. “Please, please, Bucky!”

 

“Not yet,” Bucky growls.

 

Bucky reaches around Steve’s hips and gets a firm hand on his dick. Steve howls again as Bucky squeezes him hard and stops the orgasm Steve was about to be thrown into.

 

“Not yet, kitten,” Bucky growls. “Not done with you yet.”

 

They’re being incredibly loud. Steve’s flat-out screaming and the headboard might leave dents in the wall at this point, but Bucky doesn’t let up. Steve is quickly a babbling, sobbing mess, begging and crying for it, but Bucky just growls Not yet, kitten and fucks him harder. The pleasure is so intense it hurts and Steve just needs more.

 

“Ple–eee–ease,” Steve sobs. “ Bu–uuu–ucky, please!”

 

Come, ” Bucky commands him.

 

Alpha voice commands him and Steve comes on the spot with a scream. He sobs again, but then Bucky doesn’t stop.

 

“Perfect little kitten,” Bucky growls, still going just as hard and Steve is sobbing still. “That’s my perfect little kitten –”

 

Bucky abruptly stills but Steve still jolts as the condom fills and Bucky’s knot pops. Steve lets out his breath, shaking, and Bucky nuzzles his face against the joining of Steve’s neck and shoulder. Steve pants for breath.

 

“Kitten,” Bucky rasps. “I still ain’t done with ya.”

 

Steve takes a rattling breath. Bucky kisses the back of his neck and smooths his palm over Steve’s chest and ribs. “Shh,” he murmurs. “Get your breath, baby. You get a minute.”

 

“Sixty seconds,” Steve says.

 

“Sixty seconds,” Bucky confirms. “Starting now. What’s your color?”

 

“Green,” Steve answers. He sniffs, wipes his nose on his hand and takes another long, rattling breath. “Green, Buck. Green, I –”

 

He stops himself from saying I love you or I don’t wanna go and chokes up again. Bucky shushes him again and stretches over him to kiss his cheek. Steve turns his head back, pushing up on his elbows, and Bucky kisses his lips.

 

“You promise me, kitten?” Bucky asks. His hips roll and Steve chokes again. “Swear to me?”

 

“I swear,” Steve says hastily, “I’m green, please, Bucky –”

 

“Perfect kitten,” Bucky whispers in his ear. “Sweet and pretty, perfect kitten.”

 

Steve sucks in a breath and lets it out wetly, nodding as best he can. Bucky kisses his slack lips again, shoving his tongue into Steve’s mouth, then he rolls his hips again and Steve hiccups on Bucky’s tongue.

 

“Sixty,” Bucky says. “You ready?”

 

Steve nods. Bucky lifts off him, then starts grinding his knot deep in Steve’s ass.

 

“You’re gonna come like this, kitten,” Bucky tells him. “Got a wet mess in your cunt and a fat knot on your sweet spot, you’re gonna come again on it. You wanna be good for me, kitten?”

 

“Yes!” Steve says hoarsely. “Yes, Bucky, I – I’m your good kitten, Buck.”

 

“Damn right you are,” Bucky growls.

 

Steve sobs again. He’s so overstimulated, he can’t tell the difference between what hurts and what feels good anymore. Bucky’s knot drags over his prostate as he thrusts into Steve without pulling out at all, making it feel like a deep thud in his body. Steve’s a wrecked mess and Bucky’s talking in a low, cooing voice in his ear, saying things like Lookit’chu, pretty kitten, look how well-fucked you look and Cry for me, kitten, lemme see you crying and Whatta mess, you’re such a good kitten.  Steve doesn’t even realize that he’s coming the second time until Bucky coos about how good he is for coming like that and can he take more?

 

“No,” Steve sobs, “no, I can’t –”

 

“Yes, you can,” Bucky says. “What’s your color, kitten?”

 

Steve chokes. “Guh–gree–green.”

 

“You can come one more time,” Bucky says. He grinds harder into Steve’s ass and Steve just sobs, he can’t – “You can, kitten. One more time for me, you’re so good, sweetheart, my perfect little kitten, come one more time for me –”

 

Steve whines. Bucky works his fist over Steve’s dick and keeps telling him he can come, he can do it.

 

“I can’t,” Steve sobs. “Buck, I c–can’t, I can’t –”

 

“Yes, you can,” Bucky says again. “Show me how big’a slut you are, kitten –”

 

Steve gasps as he comes a third time. He keens and wails, scrabbling to both pull away from Bucky and press flush against his hips as it hurts so much and Bucky drapes over his back again, kissing his wet cheeks over and over.

 

“You’re so good,” he praises, “you did just what I told you, you’re so good, kitten, so beautiful, I –”

 

Bucky stops and kisses Steve. Steve can’t even kiss him back, just lets his mouth hang slack under Bucky’s lips and takes what Bucky gives him.

 

“Perfect,” Bucky whispers, kissing his cheek again. His arm loops around Steve’s stomach and he picks Steve up, dropping both of their bodies against the mattress before Steve can even cry out at the tug of Bucky’s knot at his hole. “Perfect,” Bucky says again, nuzzling against Steve’s neck.

 

“B – Bucky,” Steve mutters, his teeth chattering. He’s shivering. Bucky pets his ribs, then worms the blanket out from under them and pulls it over their bodies.

 

“Sweet kitten,” Bucky says into his neck. “Thank you so much, sweetheart. You’re so amazing, you’re my good kitten, my perfect kitten.”

 

Steve, shivering, presses his body as close to Bucky’s as possible. Bucky pulls Steve’s leg up and hooks it over his hip, then starts petting down his side from his ribs to his hip, over and over.

 

“Sweet, sweet baby,” Bucky coos. “Precious sweetheart, thank you so much, kitten.”

 

Steve’s heavy eyes fall shut. His breath comes and goes hard. Bucky keeps talking, praising, his hand keeps petting over Steve’s torso, and Steve starts to slowly come down from his high as the tears dry on his face.

 

“My perfect, sweet kitten,” Bucky says in Steve’s ear.

 

Steve sucks in a hard breath. He scrabbles to find Bucky’s hand and laces their fingers together, pulling Bucky’s hand to his heart and holding it there. He’s only ever going to be Bucky’s kitten. Steve decides that then and there. He’s never going to let or ask anyone to call him kitten but Bucky.

 

Steve squeezes Bucky’s hand. “Hey,” he whispers in a raspy voice.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“‘M with you ‘til the end of the line, pal,” Steve says.

 

Bucky presses a long kiss to the divot of Steve’s neck and shoulder. Very near his scent gland.

 

“‘Til the end of the line,” he agrees quietly.

Chapter Text

L'été ruine toujours les choses



For dramatic gay energy effect, Steve tips his sunglasses down to ogle the lifeguard. It does absolutely nothing for his benefit, because now the lifeguard is a large, blurry blob of vague tan squidges and one speck of red that is his speedo, but it makes Steve look like a thirsty divorcee and he feels a hell of a lot like a divorcee ever since he said goodbye to Bucky in June.

 

“I wish you’d stop eyeing all these boys and just go after them,” Peggy says in a bored tone.

 

“You’re not even looking at me,” Steve says, pushing his glasses back up.

 

Peggy scoffs. She lifts her sunglasses and looks at him, her eyebrows hidden behind her sunglasses but no doubt lifting. “Darling,” she drawls, “I know you.”

 

“You got me there,” Steve sighs.

 

He drops his glasses back onto his nose and picks up his Piña Colada to sip at it. He moans happily and unnecessarily at the taste of real rum that he’s finally legally allowed to enjoy and puts it back down with a sigh. Then he lays his head back against the boards of his lounge chair and closes his eyes behind his sunglasses. His throat is pulled taut by his laziness, unlike Peggy or Angie or Sharon, who are all carefully slumped to keep their throats covered. Steve expects someone will come and hit on him sooner or later. He looks available and at the private beach community Peggy’s family vacation home is in, gossip gets around quickly.

 

It’s the middle of July and Steve’s managed to develop freckles instead of a tan. Steve’s legs, arms, stomach, and shoulders are scattered with faint freckles that grow darker every day that they come to the beach and given that they’re vacationing in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat for the sole purpose of using the fifteen by fifteen square yards of sand Peggy’s family owns in Paloma Beach, they’re out there every day. Peggy and Sharon are still blindingly pale no matter how much they lie in the sun, but Angie’s skin has turned a lovely golden brown that inevitably peels and becomes a tad paler by the end of each day.

 

“Steve!” Sharon hisses next to him.

 

Steve jolts as Sharon hits him directly in the tit with the back of her hand.

 

“Bitch!” he snaps back, smacking her in the boob.

 

“Ow!” Sharon gasps, then glares at him. “I was telling you that that lifeguard was looking at you.”

 

“Well don’t hit me in the nipple again and I won’t hit you back,” Steve retorts, lying back again. Then he sits up. “Wait, what?”

 

Peggy snorts on his other side and Steve lifts his hand to shade his eyes as he spots the lifeguard standing by the Tiki bar, talking to the bartender and glancing over his shoulder more than once. In Steve’s direction.

 

Steve relaxes, faking like he didn’t notice, and hisses to Sharon: “Can you do your super spy thing and go eavesdrop?”

 

“No, you just punched me in the boob,” Sharon says.

 

Steve turns his head and sticks out his bottom lip. Sharon points at him.

 

“Do not,” she says.

 

Steve lifts his glasses and makes his eyes all big, blinking at her. In her direction, at least, now he can’t see anything.

 

“No, that face does not work on me,” the pink-and-white blob that is Sharon tells him firmly.

 

“Ple–eee–ease,” Steve whines.

 

“Nuh-uh, I’m not your top,” Sharon insists, “you can’t fool me with that angelic look, Steven Grace Rogers!”

 

“My middle name is Grant!” Steve retorts, breaking character to drop his glasses back onto his nose and wave his middle finger at her. “Sharon Phyllis!”

 

Sharon gasps. Peggy sits up and Angie down the line says: “Oooh!”

“Now I’m really not going to go spy on the hot guy for you,” Sharon tells him, lying back and pulling her hat over her face.

 

Steve curses. Peggy laughs.

 

“Go get new drinks, would you?” Peggy asks him. “That way you can spy on your hot guy yourself.”

 

Steve sits up. He tugs his swim bandeau higher up his chest and gets up, showing Peggy his middle finger as he leaves, too.

 

He knows what his friends like, so he walks straight to the bar. He doesn’t do anything fancy to catch an Alpha’s eye, he just walks. He holds his head straight and his shoulders back, hands hanging at his side. His tinted glasses do disguise the fact that he checks out the lifeguard on his way to the bar. The bartender gently hits the lifeguard on the shoulder and says something that Steve can’t hear, but can see perfectly well.

 

He’s coming this way, look cool.

 

Amazing what one learns when one has been deaf most of their life. Steve might be a little bit pleased. He’s trying to be, at least. The lifeguard is tall, dark-haired, tanned, and nicely muscled. But his abs or pecs aren’t as sharp as Bucky’s are and Steve can tell that this guy wouldn’t be able to do one-handed pushups or pull-ups the way Steve had watched (and drooled over) Bucky doing many times.

 

Steve stops at the bar and the employee behind it walks over.

 

“Hey,” Steve greets. “Can I get two frozen strawberry Daiquiris and a mint julep?”

 

“Do you know, I think that I forgot whether or not you are of age,” the bartender says, flashing Steve a smile. “May I see your ID?”

Steve raises his eyebrows. “You’ve seen my ID twice today alone.”

 

“I am playing with you, as they say in America,” the bartender answers, smiling again; their teeth stand out against their tanned face. “Anything else?”

 

“Uh, yeah, a bottle of water?” Steve asks, reaching up and brushing his bangs back.

 

“Pas problème,” the bartender replies.

 

Steve glances once towards the lifeguard, then takes a few steps in the other direction. He hops onto a stool and perches his chin on the back of his hand, watching the bartender starting the blender to make Angie and Sharon’s Daiquiris. Down the bar, the lifeguard lifts a beer bottle and drains it, then leans forward and pitches the empty bottle into a recycling can behind the bar. Steve rolls his eyes. The lifeguard wipes his mouth, brushes off his hands, then runs a hand through his hair and walks up to Steve. Steve stays facing the bartender, as though he doesn’t notice.

 

“Bonjour,” the lifeguard greets in a very British accent. “Comment ça va?”

 

Steve turns to face him, then glances up and down him. “Je vais bien,” he answers, in his very New York accent. “Et toi?”

 

The lifeguard laughs, smooths a hand over his hair again and smiles at Steve. “I’m good,” he says. “Little embarrassed not to catch you weren’t French, but you got the look of a French Omega, y’know?”

 

Steve raises his eyebrows. “I’m Irish,” he says. “I’m kinda offended.”

 

The lifeguard laughs again. He sticks out his hand. “I’m Colin,” he says.

 

Steve takes his hand. “Steve,” he answers.

 

Colin pulls a slick move and kisses Steve’s hand. Steve raises his eyebrows. He’s not very impressed.

 

“I, uh, I’ve seen you around here a bit,” Colin says, releasing Steve’s hand. “I was wondering if maybe you’d like to go out sometime? I work from late morning to evening, you see, but we could get breakfast?”

 

Steve inhales before he answers just to make sure he doesn’t seem too eager.  “Okay,” he agrees.

 

“Wonderful!” Colin says, beaming. (His teeth are way too white, does he use white strips daily?) “Tomorrow, perhaps?”

 

Steve looks over towards where his friends are sitting and sees all three of them frantically waving thumbs’ up in his direction. Steve privately judges them and returns to Colin.

 

“Yeah, sure,” he says. “I’m a few minutes from here, you can pick me up any time after eight.”

 

“Uh, yes, of course,” Colin says, a little startled. “Do you have a preference for where we go?”

 

“No,” Steve says.

 

He pulls out his phone, to check the address, and shows Colin where Peggy’s beach house is on the map. They chat directions, then the bartender returns with a tray of drinks.

 

“Shall I put it on your tab, Monsieur Rogers?” they ask.

 

“Yes, thank you,” Steve says, pulling the tray towards him and standing.

 

“Does eight work?” Colin asks Steve.

 

“Yeah, that’s fine,” Steve replies. He nods to the lifeguard. “Nice to meet you.”

 

Steve walks away, heading back to where his friends are waiting. Angie applauds and squeals as he nears, Peggy claps at a more sedate pace and Sharon gives him an OK sign.

 

“Well?” Peggy asks.

 

“He’s picking me up for breakfast tomorrow at eight,” Steve says calmly, setting Angie and Peggy’s drinks down on their table.

 

“Hallelujah!” Angie crows. “Promise you’ll get yourself dicked and stop moping?”

 

“I don’t put out on the first date,” Steve insists, walking away with Sharon’s drink and his water.

 

“Uh, bitch,” Angie laughs.

 

“The fuck you do,” Sharon says. “Thanks.”

 

“I’m not putting out on this first date,” Steve declares, dropping into his chair.

 

“C’mon,” Angie says, leaning forward to look at him with pity in her eyes. “You’ve been sad eyes since we got here, which is frankly inappropriate. This is French country, Steve!”

 

“He’s permitted to pine,” Peggy tells Angie as she waves her hand until it lands on her drink. She picks it up and sips it, then sighs. “He’s not hurting anyone.”

 

“I’m not pining,” Steve tells them.

 

Peggy flicks her sunglasses up and raises an eyebrow at him.

 

“I’m not!” Steve insists.

 

“You’re pining,” Sharon pipes up. “You miss Bucky.”

 

“I am not pining and I am especially not pining over Bucky Barnes,” Steve says with finality. He picks up his Piña Colada and takes a long sip, hoping they’ll let it go.

 

“You are pining,” Peggy says.

 

Steve waves his middle finger at the three of them.

 

“Every time you get a text, you jump to see if it’s from Bucky,” Sharon says.

 

“Every time you get a call, you jump to see if it’s from Bucky,” Peggy adds. “You even have a specific ringtone for Bucky and you still jump at the generic ringtones.”

 

“He might be calling from work,” Steve mumbles into his drink.

 

“You’re pining,” Peggy says.

 

Steve sighs and puts down his drink. He slumps in his chair, glaring at his sandy toes sitting several inches from the end of his chair. He’s pining. It’s pathetic.

 

“But now you’re going out!” Angie insists. “With a hot French guy!”

 

“He’s English,” Steve mutters.

 

“Even better,” Angie answers.

 

Peggy looks over her shoulder at her girlfriend with pursed lips. Angie grins and makes kissy noises at her. Peggy rolls her eyes and looks back at Steve.

 

“You should be excited,” she says.

 

“I am,” Steve tells them. “I’m gonna have a good time with Colin, I’m just not going to sleep with him right away.”

 

“Steve, you are the most sexually liberal person I know,” Sharon tells him, “and I have Peggy for an aunt.”

 

Steve scoffs. Peggy rolls her eyes.

 

“If you don’t want to sleep with somebody, then there’s something wrong with them for you,” Sharon continues.

 

“I didn’t say I wasn’t going to sleep with him at all, ” Steve points out. “Just not right away.”

 

Sharon leans on the arm of her chair. “Steve,” she says in her I am going to teach you voice and Steve groans in a Pavlovian response. “You have a type. Your type is Alphas that can crush skulls with their thighs. That Alpha fits your type to a T. If you’re hesitant to sleep with a specimen like that, there’s something wrong.”

 

“I’m not hesitant!” Steve snaps. “Is it so hard to believe that maybe I’m less of a ho than I was at the start of the year?”

 

“When we know that you’re pining over Bucky Barnes,” Peggy says, “yes. Yes, it is.”

 

Steve glares at her, then at Sharon, then at Angie for good measure. “Fuck all’a youse,” he grumbles. “You want me to sleep with him, fine, I’ll fuck ‘im. I am not pining over Bucky!”

 

“That’s not what we’re –” Sharon starts.

 

“No, I’m doing it,” Steve cuts her off. He sits up and grabs his stuff, throwing it into his canvas beach bag. “Excuse me, I’m going to go home.”

 

Sharon sighs. Peggy shakes her head as she lies back. Angie gives him a sympathetic look.

 

“Use protection?” she advises.

 

“Yeah, I know,” Steve answers, leaving.

 

As he’s unlocking the house, his phone pings. Steve scrambles to check it and finds a text from Steam telling him one of his wishlisted games is on sale. Steve’s shoulders slump. He sighs heavily and puts his phone away, kicking the door shut behind him.

 

He’s not pining. So he hasn’t gotten a text from Bucky in a day or two and they haven’t talked over the phone in a few weeks. Steve’s not pining.

 

The next morning, Angie, Sharon, and Peggy stumble downstairs a little after seven. Steve’s sprawled on a sofa, his feet kicked up and his phone plugged in in his hands.

 

“Thought you were going on a date?” Angie asks. “You’re not ready?”

 

“I showered,” Steve says, not looking up from his phone. “I washed the things that needed washing. I shaved. I’m good.”

 

“You’re not dressed,” Peggy says.

 

Steve looks down at himself. He’s wearing a pair of tan high-waisted shorts cut far up his thighs, a loose white button up with the top two buttons released and the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and a smart belt around his waist. It’s very appropriate for a breakfast date in French territory.

 

“What’s wrong with this?” Steve asks, looking up.

 

Sharon makes a face. “You don’t look like a needy bottom, for one thing.”

 

“Maybe because I don’t want to project needy bottom on the first date,” Steve snaps, returning to his phone.

 

“At least wear a bracelet or something,” Sharon says, sitting down on the ottoman next to the couch. “You know your wrists look good with bracelets.”

 

Steve shrugs. “I’m not leaving until eight, I have time.”

 

“You have time to watch me make the rest of us breakfast,” Angie declares. “I’m cooking. Steve, check your blood sugar, Peggy, come be my lovely assistant.”

 

Steve sighs and sits up to grab his insulin bag. Sharon watches him check his blood sugar in silence and Steve sucks absently on his pricked finger while the meter thinks. He doesn’t think about how if Bucky were here, he’d snatch Steve’s finger out of his mouth and give him something else to occupy his oral fixation. Instead, he thinks evaluatingly about the bulge in Colin’s speedo and whether or not he wants to have his ass or mouth fucked today. The meter beeps and Steve records his sugar, packs up his things and gets up to head into the kitchen. Angie’s just starting, while Peggy’s skipping through music to find something she wants to listen to.

 

“Sugar?” Peggy asks Steve without looking up.

 

Steve leans in and surprises her with a kiss to the mouth. Peggy shoves him off and says: “Blood sugar!”

 

“Oh, my bad,” Steve answers, smirking. “It was fine.”

 

“Make sure you tell what’s-his-name that you’re diabetic,” Angie says over her shoulder.

 

“Yeah, I know,” Steve says.

 

Angie makes herself, Peggy, and Sharon breakfast and Steve just hangs around as he waits for Colin. His friends bully him into putting on a nice watch and a braided leather bracelet in time for a knock to sound at the door.

 

“Okay, text us when you get where you’re going!” Angie says, kissing Steve’s cheek.

 

“Text us where you are when you get there,” Peggy adds.

 

“Have fun,” Sharon reminds him.

 

Steve waves them off and opens the door. Colin smiles at him and holds out a bundle of daisies.

 

“For you, dear,” Colin says.

 

Steve lifts his eyebrows and tries not to grimace at dear. He forces a smile and smells the flowers, taking in their fragrance. At least they’re not roses.

 

“I’ll just stick these in water,” Steve tells him, stepping back. “Well, I’ll give them to my friends to stick in water.”

 

“Okay,” Colin laughs.

 

Steve ducks back inside. He holds out the flowers and Sharon takes them while Angie says: “Awww!”

 

Steve points at her, silently scolding. He slips back outside and shuts the door, hooking his insulin bag higher up his wrist.

 

“Shall we go?” Colin asks him, holding out his elbow to Steve.

 

Steve smiles and takes it. “Where are we going?”

 

“There’s a nice pub not far from here that the tourists haven’t discovered yet,” Colin tells him. “They have a splendid selection of wines and the best crepes I’ve had in a long time.”

 

The bar is not overrun by tourists as promised. There’s a pleasant buzz of conversation as regulars and locals speak the native French of the island and Steve more than once finds himself just drifting off from his conversation with Colin to eavesdrop and improve his conversational French. It’s not that Colin is boring, he’s intelligent, thoughtful, and a complete gentleman as the date progresses.

 

He pulls out Steve’s chair and holds doors and insists on getting the tab and though normally Steve’s fine with letting some of those things slide, the sheer multitude of Colin’s gentlemanliness has Steve suspicious that he’s going to turn out a serial killer or something. Steve keeps his friends up to date through a group chat, most recently titled DRAW ME LIKE ONE OF YOUR FRENCH GIRLS MARGARET, texting occasionally when Colin isn’t looking.

 

Steve really does try to pay attention. He learns that Colin’s been living in France for the past six years, ever since he dropped out of university to take a gap year and never left Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. He was once a language student, specializing in classical literature, and his favorite book is still Wuthering Heights. Steve gives him tentative points on the feminist agenda, but he’s still waiting for Colin to drop a bomb like he’s into vore or secretly a homicidal Satanist.

 

Real points on Colin’s side is that he seems genuinely interested in getting to know Steve, and with the number of people that have just been interested in him for sex lately, Steve finds that refreshing. They’re at the breakfast for nearly two hours, and when Steve switches to plain orange juice after one mimosa Colin doesn’t even mention it; more points on his defense.

 

“I’ll walk you home,” Colin tells him as they leave.

 

“Sure,” Steve says.

 

“I had a good time,” Colin tells him as his house nears. “I hope you did, too.”

 

“I did,” Steve answers, looking at Colin and giving him a light smile. “I had a really good time.”

 

Colin smiles and ducks his head. A second later, his hand brushes Steve’s and it’s such a cliche gesture Steve almost laughs.

 

But he turns his hand over and Colin laces their fingers together. It’s sweet.

 

(It’s stupid.)

 

“Would you like to go out again?” Colin asks him as they mount the steps to the front door.

 

“Yeah,” Steve says. “Sure.”

 

They stop by the door. Colin squeezes Steve’s hand.

 

“Could I get your number?” he asks.

 

Steve nods and pulls out his phone. He opens his address book, creates a new contact, and goes straight to the number before handing it to Colin to enter his number.

 

“There,” Colin says, adding his name and saving the contact.

 

Steve’s phone starts buzzing in his hand. Bucky’s contact, no longer labeled Becca’s Bugsy and Jerk instead , takes up the screen; a picture of Bucky squeezing the life out of Steve and kissing his cheek. Steve snatches the phone from Colin hastily. Then he immediately hesitates, not knowing what to do.

 

Then the phone starts ringing.

 

“Hey how you doin’ lil’ mama let me whisper in ya ear.”

 

“Shit,” Steve hisses, swiping frantically at his phone to dismiss the call.

 

It chooses that moment to freeze up and stop responding, as Wait (The Whisper Song) continues with “Tell ya somethin’ that ya might like to hear. Got a sexy ass body and ya ass look soft. Mind if I touch it to see if it’s soft?”

 

Steve manages to get rid of the call. Colin raises his eyebrows.

 

“Sorry,” Steve says, glancing up at Colin with a grimace. “I thought I had Do Not Disturb on.”

 

Colin smiles tightly. “Boyfriend back home?”

 

Steve shakes his head.

 

“Ex?” Colin asks.

 

“Nah,” Steve sighs. “He’s just my friend, uh –”

 

Colin raises his eyebrows. “Right,” he says, like he doesn’t believe Steve.

 

Steve’s phone starts ringing again, the same How ya doin’ lil mama and Steve dismisses the call right away before putting his phone on vibrate and in his pocket.

 

“My roommate’s brother,” Steve says, lifting a shoulder. “It’s a joke.”

 

“No need to explain to me,” Colin tells him with a nod. “We’ve all had friends like that.”

 

Steve nods, looking down. He feels his back pocket start buzzing again and Steve’s about ready to reach through the phone and wring Bucky’s neck. No calls for weeks but a five-minute conversation on his birthday and now Bucky won’t stop calling? What time is it in New York, even, why is Bucky calling him now?

 

“I’ll text you,” Steve tells Colin, stepping towards the door so he can rush inside and tell Bucky what awful timing he has. “Maybe we could see a movie sometime?”

 

Colin smiles at him, his teeth way too white for this time of day. “I’d like that,” he says.

 

Steve smiles with his mouth closed, nods, and ducks inside the house. He yanks his phone out of his pocket just as it stops buzzing and he gets a notification that he missed a call from Jerk.

 

“No shit,” Steve hisses at his phone, turning it back off vibrate.

 

“Steve?” Peggy’s voice calls.

 

Steve shoves his phone into his pocket again and walks into the kitchen, where his friends are all gathered around the table with mugs of cocoa.

 

“On the stove,” Angie says, pointing.

 

“Bless,” Steve sighs, making a beeline for it.

 

“Did it not go well?” Peggy asks.

 

Steve lifts a hand as he grabs a mug and pours cocoa into it. He takes it over to the table and drops his phone onto the glass tabletop before sitting down.

 

“It went great,” he says miserably.

 

“You didn’t get dicked,” Sharon remarks.

 

“No,” Steve answers her, without the energy to be witty about it. He slumps in his chair and rests his face in his hands, the steam curling off his cocoa fogging up his glasses. “He was a complete gentleman.”

 

“Did he hold the door for you?” Angie asks, wrinkling her nose. “Pull out your chair, the whole shebang?”

 

“Yep,” Steve says, lifting his cocoa and sipping it.

 

“Hey how you doin' lil' mama let me whisper in ya ear. Tell ya somethin' that ya might like to hear,” comes from his phone again as Bucky’s contact photo lights up the screen and Steve just looks at it pitifully. “Got a sexy ass body and ya ass look soft. Mind if I touch it to see if it's soft. Nah, I'm just playin' let's just say I can,” it goes on and his friends exchange worried glances. Steve sips his cocoa again and watches it ring. “And I'm known to be a real nasty man. And they say a closed mouth don't get fed. So I don't mind askin' fo' head.”

 

It stops ringing. Bucky’s contact photo stays on the screen for a second, then it vanishes and instead, he gets a notification telling him that he’s missed two calls from Jerk.

 

“Is there a reason you didn’t answer that?” Sharon asks Steve, pointing to his phone with a grimace.

 

Steve takes another long drink of his cocoa. “I gave Colin my phone to enter his number,” he starts. “He puts in his number, saves it, and then Bucky just out of nowhere calls. And I haven’t fucking changed his ringtone.”

 

“So, you’re not calling him back because…” Sharon continues.

 

Steve’s phone lights up again and Hey lil mama starts up again. Steve points to it with a flat expression.

 

“Fifth time,” Steve says as the song progresses into its fully, pervy glory.

 

Sharon and Peggy exchange glances. Angie winces at Steve sympathetically.

 

“Why is his ringtone even Hey lil mama? ” she asks.

 

Steve shrugs. “‘Cause I thought it was funny. And he likes to touch my ass a lot.”

 

“Ya heard what I said,” his phone keeps ringing. “We need to make our way to the bed. You can start usin' ya head.”

 

Steve sips his cocoa and just looks at his phone slowly vibrating itself in a circle on the table.

 

“Ya like to fuck, have ya legs open all in the back. Do it up, slappin' ass, gurl the sex get rough. Switch position and let the dick get down to business. So you can see what you been missin'. You might had some, but you never had none like this. Just wait til' you see my dick. Oooh!”

 

Voicemail finally picks up the call. Steve would’ve thought Bucky would have hung up before that already.

 

“This is sad,” Angie sighs.

 

“Yep,” Steve agrees bitterly.

 

“Are you going to call him back?” Peggy asks.

 

Steve shrugs. “Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t know what he wants, he hasn’t called me in weeks. If it was something serious he’d text me by now.”

 

His phone pings, letting him know he has a voicemail. Steve takes another long sip of his cocoa.

 

“Well,” Peggy sighs, “how was your date?”

 

“Good,” Steve says, nodding. “It was great. Like I said, Colin was a gentleman.”

 

“Why do you sound disappointed?” Sharon asks suspiciously.

 

Steve sighs. His phone lights up and Hey lil’ mama starts playing again.

 

“I have a type,” Steve says tiredly.

 

“I'm known to be a real nasty man,” Bucky’s ringtone states, then cuts off and he gets a notification reminding him that he’s now missed several calls from Jerk.

 

“And it’s assholes,” Steve snaps, snatching up his phone at last.

 

He strides out of the room, unlocking his phone and calling Bucky back. He presses the phone to his ear and snaps: “What?” as soon as the line opens.

 

“Heyyyy!” Bucky says loudly across the phone. Steve jolts and pulls it away as his hearing aid squeals. “Ya picked up!” Bucky says.

 

Steve frowns and touches the phone to his ear. “Are you drunk?”

 

*

 

“Barnes,” Jonesy says in a firm but slurred voice, “d’you know tha’ you’ve never once been more depressing in your life than you are now?”

 

“Fuck off,” Bucky replies. “I’m not depressing. I’m the life’a the party! I bought the last round’a beers!”

 

“Only ‘cause we tol’ you we’d kick you out if you di’n’t quit your sighin’,” Morita snorts.

 

“An’ you be sighin’ still,” Jonesy says.

 

“‘Alo, ‘alo, ‘alo,” Dernier interrupts, waving his hands in the faces of everyone at once somehow, “let ze man ‘ave ‘is depression! He ‘as lost ‘is kitty!”

 

Bucky groans and drops his forehead onto the table as the table bursts into laughter again.

 

“Shuddup!” Bucky yells. “I’m never tellin’ you nothin’ never again!”

 

“Wha’ you done lost is da pussy,” Happy Sam says loudly. “Boy, go find you a new one! You never dated wha’s-his-name in da firs’ place, go get’chu a rebound!”

 

“Can’t be a rebound if he weren’t never bound in the first place,” Dum Dum points out.

 

“Ah, but ‘is kitty waz bound!” Dernier cries. “You get it! Is joke!”

 

“I hate youse,” Bucky says with feeling.

 

“Barnes, Barnes, Barnes,” Happy Sam sighs. Sam grabs his shoulders and shakes him hard, making Bucky lift his head and be overrun by the room spinning. “Look. Ya broke up wit’ch’ur boy. Ya broke up in June! Go get’chu sum new pussy and be over ‘im!”

 

“No,” Bucky groans, waving Happy Sam off of him and slumping back on the table. “You don’ get it! Stevie’s special!”

 

“He can’t ‘uve broke up with ‘im!” Dum Dum insists. “They was never datin’ to begin with!”

 

Bucky sniffs. “No,” he agrees, maudlin. “We never was datin’.”

 

“Cheer up, Sarge,” Morita says. “Sam’s right, go find somethin’ to take home an’ you’ll feel better’n the mornin’.”

 

“No,” Bucky whines. “‘S not the same!”

 

“Is not ze same because ‘is kitty waz well-trained,” Dernier insists. “Why none of you laugh? I am very funny!”

 

“Yeah, but ya don’ make sense, babe,” Jonesy answers him.

 

“I make sense!” Dernier gasps. He throws his arms over Jonesy’s shoulders and shakes him. “You do not make sense! Barnes ‘ad a pet, mon amor! Steve waz ‘is pet!”

 

“Fuck you for knowin’ what I mean by kitten,” Bucky grumbles.

 

“Whoa, whoa, what?” Dum Dum yells. He reaches over the table and shakes Bucky’s shoulders. “Are we talkin’ ‘bout a person or a cat, Barnes?”

 

“An ‘uman pet,” Dernier says. “You were ‘is sir or master, Barnes?”

 

“He called me Master sometimes,” Bucky mumbles miserably.

 

“What!” Dum Dum shouts.

 

“Is Bee Dee Ess Em!” Dernier says emphatically.

 

Bucky clamps his arms over his head as Morita, Dum Dum, Happy Sam, Pinkie, and Junior all start shouting. Falsworth snores through it. Jonesy collapses onto the table laughing and Dernier looks very proud of himself.

 

“Is ‘is pet!” he insists. “Barnes – il perdu son petite chaton!”

 

“Kinky mothafucka!” Happy Sam laughs, collapsing onto Bucky’s slumped form heavily; Bucky almost gets the wind knocked out of him and wonders if that’s how Steve feels when Bucky collapses on top of him after sex.

 

“Tha’s disgusting!” Dum Dum shrieks as he laughs. “Ohmygawd!”

 

“No kinkshaming!” Dernier declares. “Il ñ'y aura pas de kink shaming dans cette maison!”

 

“Tes kink blagues étaient affreuses,” Jonesy tells him. “Mal, très mal!”

 

“Mais tu m'aimes,” Dernier shoots back.

 

“Stop with the Frenchie babble!” Dum Dum calls. “Barnes, Barnes, stop hidin’ an’ tell us Dernier’s fuckin’ wit’ us, your boy wadn’t really your cat?”

 

“He wasn’t a cat,” Bucky grumbles. “Was a human pet, I jus’ called ‘im kitten.”

 

“Ohmygawd!” Dum Dum gasps again.

 

“Kinky mothafucka,” Happy Sam laughs.

 

Falsworth suddenly wakes up with a snort. “I once ate whipped cream out of my wife’s vagina,” he says, then falls back on the table and starts snoring again.

 

The table falls thankfully silent. Dum Dum and Morita blink at Falsworth. Dernier looks pained, like he wants to ask about yeast infections. Bucky kind of wants to ask about yeast infections. Pinkie’s face is a mix of horror and revulsion; he has a loudly professed distaste for whipped cream and vaginas. Junior looks curious, Happy Sam looks like he did not want to hear those words come out of anyone’s mouth, let alone Falsworth’s, and Jonesy is tapping his chin with a speculative expression on his face. He elbows Dernier.

 

“Tu veux manger de la crème fouettée de mon trou du cul?” he asks.

 

“Yeast infection!” Dernier bursts out. “Falzwort, wake up! Comment votre femme n'a-t-elle pas non contracté une infection à levures? How!”

 

Pinkie shakes Falsworth shoulder. “Mate, how did your wife not get a yeast infection? That’s really unhygienic!”

 

Falsworth slides off the table and onto the floor.

 

“Nose goes!” Jonesy yells.

 

Bucky slaps his hand to his face underneath Happy Sam’s weight as fast as he can. He shoves Sam off of him and sits up, looking around to see Pinkie waving the back of a peace sign at the table.

 

“I always get stuck taking him home!” Pinkie says angrily.

 

“You don’ touch ya nose,” Morita answers in a nasally voice.

 

Happy Sam nods sagely. Pinkie shows them all his middle finger for emphasis, then hauls Falsworth off the floor and slings him across his shoulders.

 

“I want to hear all the disgusting details of Barnes’s sex life with this boy he never even dated on Monday,” Pinkie declares. “And I want you all to go to hell.”

 

“Oh,” Jonesy starts laughing heartily. “We are, honey.”

 

Pinkie shows them the back of a peace sign again, rapidly switching it to his middle finger. “Yank bastards,” he says, hauling Falsworth off.

 

“I am French!” Dernier yells, offended.

 

Pinkie waves a hand. Morita kicks Bucky hard under the table.

 

“Ow!” Bucky gasps, hauling his legs up onto the high rungs of his chair.

 

“Disgusting details,” Morita demands, then props his chin up on both hands like a kid begging for a bedtime story. “Go.”

 

Bucky glares at them all. “I ain’t sayin’ a word.”

 

“Junior, go get another round,” Dum Dum says, snapping his fingers. “Go get a bottle’a Jack and get a full one!”

 

“It’s going on your tab,” Junior says, getting up.

 

“I ain’t talkin’,” Bucky insists. He pushes back his chair. “Fact, I’m goin’ home.”

 

“Sam!” Dum Dum yells.

 

Happy Sam shoves Bucky back into his chair and puts his weight on Bucky’s shoulders. Bucky feels his shoulders creak. Happy Sam is not a little man.

 

“Ow,” Bucky whimpers.

 

“Take it like a man an’ tell us ‘bout your kinky sex life,” Dum Dum demands.

 

“You don’t wanna hear ‘bout my kinky sex life!” Bucky insists. “You’re grossed out by it!”

 

“Exactly,” Dum Dum says firmly as Junior returns to the table with a full bottle of Jack Daniels. “We want to suffer so you can get closure.”

 

“You’re just gonna kinkshame me,” Bucky says.

 

“Kinkshaming is my kink!” Junior yells.

 

The table stops and looks at him. Bucky squints, trying to remember why that line sounds familiar.

 

“What?” Junior asks, hopping onto his chair. “It’s from a vine.”

 

“Oh!” Bucky gasps. He points at Junior. “I remember!”

 

“Calling people daddy is gross!” Junior yells at him.

 

“Stop kinkshamin’ me!” Bucky answers with a laugh.

 

“Kinkshaming is my kink!” Junior says again with finality. Then he bursts into laughter and falls onto the table.

 

“What just happened?” Dum Dum asks.

 

“De quoi parlent-ils?” Dernier says.

 

“I’m too old to understand,” Jonesy sighs.

 

“You’re too old!” Morita gasps, then clutches his face. “I’m turning 35 next week!”

 

“No, no, we talkin’ about Barnes’s nasty sex!” Dum Dum insists. He grabs the bottle, fills a glass, and shoves it towards Bucky. “Drink! Talk!”

 

Bucky glares at him, but takes the whiskey because he’s not wasting perfectly good Jack. He drains it and lets Dum Dum refill it two more times.

 

“Talk!” Dum Dum repeats.

 

Bucky raises a finger. He opens his mouth, breathes, and says: “Nah.”

 

“Tell us!” Jonesy insists, slapping the table several times. “C’mon, were y’all into S and M? Did he have a collar? Did he call you daddy?”

 

“No,” Bucky says, then raises a hand and ticks it off on his fingers. “Yes. No.”

 

“What did he call you?” Jonesy asks.

 

Bucky shrugs. “Master if he wan’ed it bad. My name mostly.”

 

Dernier raises a hand, shuts his eyes and makes an OK sign, and nods several times with his lips pursed up.

 

“But you collared him?” Jonesy asks. “What kinda collar?”

 

Bucky sweeps his hand through his hair and sighs. “It was pink,” he mumbles.

 

“Pink!” Dernier squeaks, clapping his hands.

 

“Di’n’t give ‘im a tag,” Bucky keeps talking. “‘Cause he never were really mine. I still got all our stuff.”

 

“But you broke up,” Junior says.

 

“Ehhh,” Bucky sighs. “There was nothin’ to break up? We – We still talk, we still friends, but when he gets back, I guess…”

 

“You broke up,” Junior insists.

 

Bucky shrugs. “We didn’t really talk about it. Had goodbye sex and then he flew to the south’a fuckin’ France.”

 

“Is very lovely zis time of year,” Dernier says.

 

Jonesy slaps a hand over his mouth. “Not helpful, babe.”

 

“Hold on,” Morita calls. “Hold on, hold on! You didn’t talk? How do you know you’re done?”

 

Bucky opens his mouth. He sits up. He shuts his mouth, then groans and drops his forehead back onto the table.

 

“You been mopin’ for nothin’!” Morita shouts.

 

“It was goodbye sex!” Bucky shouts into the table.

 

“Goodbye ‘cause I be goin’ to da south’a fuckin’ France still be goodbye!” Sam shouts in his ear. “Ya moron!”

 

Bucky struggles to get Sam off of him. “I gotta –” he starts, scrambling to get his phone out. “I gotta –”

 

“You’re drunk,” Jonesy interrupts, stopping him.

 

Bucky stares at his phone. He’d gotten as far as Steve’s number and now he was just staring at Steve’s picture, his face screwed up in a glare and both of his middle fingers lifted to the camera. Bucky had labeled his number as Punk and he knew his number is – or was? Would Steve have changed it by now? – labeled as Jerk in Steve’s phone.

 

“No drunk calls,” Sam sings aloud, stepping back and stumbling over his chair.

 

“Nose goes!” Jonesy yells as Happy Sam pitches onto the floor.

 

Bucky slaps his face but misses his nose. Morita laughs and Bucky hastily grabs his nose.

 

“You lost!” Junior yells. “You gotta get ‘im in a cab!”

 

“Fuck youse,” Bucky says, pushing out of his chair. He trips over his own feet just as much as Sam did in getting out from behind the chair, but manages to stay upright. “Fuck youse,” he says again emphatically.

 

“No drunk calling!” Jonesy yells after him as Bucky pulls Happy Sam off the floor and towards the door.

 

Bucky waves a hand over his shoulder at them. He and Happy Sam weave through the bar, or Bucky weaves through the bar and Happy Sam leans slumped on his shoulder as he starts singing What To Do With a Drunken Sailor.

 

“Way hay an’ up she rises, way hay an’ up she rises, way hay an’ up she rises, early in thuh morn–nin!” Happy Sam sings loudly.

 

“What the hell,” Bucky sighs. “Shave his belly with a rusty razor!”

 

Happy Sam whoops and they sing themselves out. Bucky forgoes a cab and they sing their way all the way to his apartment a few blocks and an hour’s drunken stumbling walk away. Happy Sam does a jig as Bucky squints at his keys outside his front door.

 

“Put ‘im in bed wit’ the cap’an’s daughter,” Sam sings loudly, “put ‘im in bed wit’ thuh cap’an’s daughter, put ‘im in bed wit’ thuh cap’an’s daughter, early in tha morn–nin!”

 

Bucky’s neighbor’s door yanks open and Mrs. Jeeves sticks her head out.

 

“James Barnes!” she hisses. “What is the meaning of this noise?”

 

“Uh-oh,” Happy Sam says, pausing his jig mid-step.

 

“Oops?” Bucky says to Mrs. Jeeves with a shrug.

 

Mrs. Jeeves waves her cane at him. “It is early in the morning, sailor!” she says. “And I will shave your belly with a rusty razor if you don’t keep it down!”

 

She ducks back into her apartment and shuts the door gently. Bucky turns to Happy Sam. Happy Sam sloppily presses a finger to his own lips and hisses: “Shh!”

 

“Shh!” Bucky hisses back.

 

“Shh!” Happy Sam hisses louder.

 

Bucky punches him in the arm, then finds his key. He opens his front door and flicks on the lights, then turns around and drags a still shushing Happy Sam inside.

 

“Couch,” Bucky says, pointing with a flourish. “Makes a damn grand bed.”

 

Happy Sam pats Bucky’s cheek. “Bless you,” he mumbles, then stumbles forward and falls onto Bucky’s futon. He immediately begins snoring.

 

Bucky lifts his feet onto the arm of the sofa and pats Sam on the leg. Sam carries on snoring. Bucky stumbles into his bathroom, intent on brushing his teeth, but the tube won’t squirt and he digs through the drawers to find a new one.

 

He finds a Tupperware with a handful of adult pacifiers in it instead. Bucky pulls it out, sits down heavily on the toilet, pops the lid and takes out the pale pink one that Bucky liked to give Steve the most. He kept the blue one in the shower, the pink one in his pocket, the purple one was always stashed in the bedroom and the yellow one was the spare in case any of them were lost.

 

Steve never was fussed about the color, he only ever wanted something to fill his mouth with, but Bucky liked seeing the pink one in Steve’s mouth best.

 

Bucky sighs forlornly. He looks at the pacifiers sadly, then puts them away in the drawer again and forgets to brush his teeth. He turns off the lights in the apartment and sits down at the edge of his bed to take his boots off. His hand is uncoordinated and the laces get knotted up; with one hand, Buck spends ten minutes struggling to get one boot off. He kicks it off his foot eventually, looks at his other boot, then sighs and tackles it, too, even though he doesn’t want to bother. Steve wouldn’t be happy with him if he got in bed with his boots on, there’s all kinds’a dirt and nasty shit in the bottom of your boots, Bucky, c’mon.

 

Which is true, Bucky keeps the tops of his boots in pristine condition, but the treads are subject to New York streets and Bucky’s positive he stepped on a used condom on his way home tonight. So he struggles to get his second boot off, then crawls into his blankets fully clothed.

 

Bucky tries to sleep. Really, he does. But he can’t stop thinking about Morita’s point that Bucky hadn’t really asked Steve if they were a thing anymore or not. Whatever that thing was. Bucky hadn’t asked if Steve would still be his kitten on the weekends when Steve got back from France, he’d just assumed that Steve was done with him and wanted to move on.

 

Bucky tugs out his phone and opens his gallery. He can’t sleep, so he goes and finds every photo of Steve he has on his phone and copies them all into their own special, secret folder. He thinks about adding a code but just puts his fingerprint on it because he knows he won’t remember the code in the morning. Then he scrolls through the photos, stopping eventually on a picture of him and Steve. In it, he was hugging Steve from the back and kissing Steve’s cheek, a big grin on his face that rivaled the brightness of the smile on Steve’s face. Steve’s eyes were screwed up shut behind his glasses and his hair was a curly mop on the top of his head and he was holding onto Bucky’s forearm around his neck with both hands as he laughed. Becca had taken the photo and sent it to him after; Bucky still remembers her all-caps text asking why he hadn’t just asked Steve to marry him yet or whatever.

 

Bucky opens his contacts without thinking. Steve’s number is favorited and Bucky only has two taps to press before the call connects and starts ringing. Bucky rolls onto his back, pressing the phone to his ear, and waits.

 

It rings three times and cuts off. Bucky frowns, then pulls the phone away from his ear to squint at it. It flashes Call Ended at him and the screen returns to his contacts. Bucky shakes his head, then dials again and presses the phone to his ear, making sure to lock the screen this time. It connects, rings –

 

And ends. Bucky pulls the phone away from his ear, his mouth falling open, as his phone flashes Call Ended. Steve is hanging up on him.

 

Bucky scrambles to sit up on the bed and dials again. He presses the phone to his ear and rocks back and forth as the phone rings. It rings for longer this time, giving Bucky hope, but it keeps ringing and Steve still isn’t picking up. Bucky lowers the phone and stares at it for a second before hanging up.

 

He drops the phone onto his bedspread and grabs his hair. Steve isn’t answering him for some reason. Bucky takes several too-short breaths, then tells himself to calm down and grabs his phone to try again. It rings. And rings. And still rings. Bucky drops it, hangs up, then switches to text and his thumb hovers over the screen for a minute. Then he gives up and just calls again.

 

It rings. Bucky groans and falls back against his pillows as it keeps ringing and ringing, then finally the line clicks.

 

“Steve!” Bucky calls.

 

“Hey, you’ve reached Steve Rogers, leave me a message.”

 

Bucky stares blankly at the wall. His phone beeps.

 

“Hey,” Bucky says, speechless. “You’re – Why ain’t you answerin’? You’re gettin’ me worried, sweetheart, c’mon, pick up the phone.”

 

He remembers that cell phones don’t play voicemails aloud as they’re recorded and he sighs heavily, then drops the phone and hangs up. He sits there in silence for a second, his thumb hovering over Steve’s number. He blinks several times. His thumb brushes the screen almost by accident and a call to Punk connects. Bucky sits there for about ten seconds, then shakes his head and hangs up again.

 

Bucky lies down. He stares at his phone, at the last texts he sent to Steve. Past-him’s an idiot. Past-him was giving Steve short answers and not prompting any further conversation, no wonder Steve’s given up on him. Maybe Steve thinks Bucky doesn’t care anymore. Bucky cares! Bucky would give up his other arm for Steve, doesn’t Steve know that?

 

Bucky sits up and starts drafting a message explaining exactly how much he cares about Steve when the keyboard stops working. He scowls and shakes his phone, then a call picks up and Steve’s angry face shows up on his screen. Bucky’s so startled, he just stares it for a second.

 

“I don't think you're ready for this jelly, I don't think you're ready for this jelly, I don't think you're ready for this, Cause my body's too bootylicious for ya babe.”

 

Bucky finally gets his wits together and answers the call.

 

“What?” Steve’s voice comes across the phone.

 

“Hey!” Bucky says, delighted. “Ya picked up!”

 

Steve’s quiet for a second. Bucky glances at his phone, in case Steve hung up on him again.

 

“Are you drunk?” Steve asks.

 

“Pfft,” Bucky replies. “Nah.”

 

“Oh, my God,” Steve mutters. “You were fucking drunk dialing me!”

“I’m nah drunk!” Bucky insists. He sits up. “Listen, honey, I gotta –”

 

“You don’t gotta nothin’,” Steve snaps at him. “You can jerk yourself off and leave me out of it!”

 

Bucky blinks. “Wha’?” he says dumbly.

 

“Look up porn!” Steve yells. “You can’t just ghost me for weeks like that and then call me out of nowhere because you’re drunk and horny !”

 

“Whoa!” Bucky splutters. “Whoa, whoa, sweetheart –”

 

“No,” Steve cuts him off. “Do me a favor and don’t call me when you’re sober.”

 

Bucky’s breath hitches. The phone beeps in his ear, telling him that the call had ended.

 

Slowly, Bucky lowers the phone. He stares at it. Steve’s face glares at him and Bucky abruptly regrets picking the photo he took of comparing Steve to a chihuahua as his contact photo because it feels very on the nose for what just happened.

 

Fuck, ” Bucky says with feeling. The phone slips from his hand and he uses it to cover his mouth instead. “ Fuck!

 

His door creaks open. Bucky panics and swings for the gun taped under his bedframe but luckily he hits his head on the nightstand and Happy Sam avoids being shot as he pokes his head in.

 

“You okay, buddy?” Sam asks.

 

Bucky rubs his forehead. “No,” he spits out. “I fucked up.”

 

“You did?” Happy Sam asks further. He shuffles his large frame through the cracked door and squints at Bucky. “You been unsupervised, like, two hours. What’chu do?”

 

Bucky laughs. “No,” he says. “That’s not when I fucked up.”

 

Happy Sam shrugs. “You still be fucked in da mornin’. Get some sleep.”

 

Bucky exhales sharply. Happy Sam shuts the door and Bucky picks up his phone again. He unlocks it, determined to call Steve back now and tell him everything – Everything, he swears – and his phone dies in his hand.

 

“Fuck,” Bucky whispers again.

 

He barely gets it plugged in before he crashes, too. When he wakes up, his head is pounding and he has no memory of what happened in the small hours of the morning.

 

Steve just doesn’t answer his texts. Bucky tries to ask what’s wrong and his messages float uselessly in the ether. Bucky wishes he had an iPhone so he’d be able to know if Steve had even read his texts. Bucky asks Becca to ask Steve and Becca tells him Steve doesn’t want to talk to him. She sounds pissed, too. Bucky fucked up, but he has no idea what he fucked up.

 

Bucky tries again to text Steve. He gets a message in return letting him know that the number he’s trying to reach has blocked him.

 

His therapist tells him to let it go. He can’t force Steve to talk to him again. Bucky sobs like a fucked up mess because he doesn’t know what he did, but he’s really lost his kitten now.

 

July ends. Bucky takes a deep breath. He lets it go. At least, he’s trying.

Chapter Text

il a mal



Steve looks out the window, tapping a nail against his ceramic mug. He’s got an itch to bite his nails, but he’s wearing the kind of nail polish that discourages nail-biting (it’s fucking disgusting). There’s a spoon resting against his saucer and Steve had kept putting it in his mouth only that ended up making him self-conscious before long and he had to put it down. His oral fixation was never this bad before. Steve blames Bucky.

 

Autumn has arrived early in New York and the pedestrians are bundled up appropriately to reflect that. That’s probably why Steve doesn’t notice Becca, her typically giant floof of hair tucked under a knit cap, walking up to him until she’s dropped into the seat opposite him.

 

“Hi,” Becca says, sounding a little out of breath as she tugs off her hat and releases a small explosion of curls. “Sorry, I had to run from the bus station to not be late –”

 

“No, hey, don’t worry about it,” Steve insists. “I was early anyway, you know me.”

 

Becca nods, brushing a strand of curls out of her face. She unwinds her scarf, her face pink from running, then shrugs off her coat and wipes her nose with her sleeve.

 

“So,” Steve starts, sitting up. “How are you?”

 

Becca shrugs. “Kinda fucked,” she says. “I have homework due and the semester hasn’t even started yet.”

 

Steve smiles at her weakly. “That’s what happens when you pick a law degree,” he tells her.

 

Becca scoffs. “And I’m gonna be rolling in money in ten years, while you are still gonna be starving and cuddling people for money as your only job.”

 

“I like my job,” Steve defends.

 

“I know,” Becca says. “I was joking. How are you?”

 

Steve shrugs. “Good,” he says unenthusiastically.

 

“How was France?” Becca asks. “You got back, what, three weeks ago?”

 

“Yeah,” Steve says. He sits up straighter and picks up his phone. “I had a summer boyfriend, you wanna see pictures?”

 

“Please,” Becca sighs, “regale me with a romantic relationship that for once isn’t –”

 

She breaks off. Steve glances at her and she looks guilty.

 

“It’s fine,” Steve says. He smiles at her, raising his eyebrows. “I never had a romantic relationship with your brother, anyway.”

 

Becca winces. “I still can’t believe that he would do that to you,” she says quietly. “I mean, I know you two were happy with the way you were, but –”

 

She breaks off and sighs. “I think I’m gonna suggest he get help,” she says, leaning forward. “Like, maybe it’s an addiction?”

 

Steve laughs softly and shakes his head. “I don’t think you can get addicted to sex,” he reminds her. "At the very least, Bucky isn't."

 

Becca shrugs. Steve sighs, his smile fading, then opens a photo and hands it over to her.

 

“That’s Colin," he tells her. "He’s British but he lives on the island we were vacationing on.”

 

“He’s fine,” Becca says, grinning for a second before handing the phone back. “You picked a good one, Rogers.”

 

Steve smiles, kind of bitter, and shrugs. He doesn’t mention the unsaid for once and looks at Colin’s photo for a minute before putting it away.

 

“It was just a summer romance,” he says. “I promised to call him if I ever go back, but we parted on friendly terms.”

 

“Thank god,” Becca sighs. “You don’t need any more bad breakups.”

 

Steve shakes his head. “Let’s stop talking about that?” he asks. “I’m honestly trying to forget about it.”

 

Becca droops. She nods. "Sure,” she says. “Sorry, it’s just – He’s my brother, y’know?”

 

“Then you forget it, too,” Steve tells her. Without even noticing, he picks up his napkin and starts twisting it between his fingers. “It doesn’t matter.”

 

Becca shakes her head. “No, see–” she sighs again. “He’s got a girlfriend now.”

 

Steve leans back. “Oh,” he says.

 

Becca nods slowly. “They met maybe four weeks ago?” she says. “And, honestly, with what happened with you, I kinda wanna warn her off?”

 

“Don’t do that,” Steve says quickly. “C’mon, me and Bucky was never gonna work anyway and we never should’ve started to begin with. If he’s got a girlfriend, then that’s different. I wasn’t his boyfriend.”

 

Becca sighs again. “I know,” she says. “But, still. I don’t like her.”

 

Steve rolls his eyes. “Would you like any of your brother’s partners?” he asks dryly.

 

“I liked you,” Becca points out. She shakes her head again and pushes back her hair. “Whatever. It’s not even my deal, it’s yours, I’ll stop bugging you about it.”

 

Steve drops his gaze. “So,” he says.

 

There’s silence.

 

“So,” Becca says.

 

“You moved into your dorm yet?” Steve asks.

 

“Yeah,” Becca agrees. “Honestly, I wished they would’a let me stay in Finchbury so I could be your roommate, but –”

 

“Don’t regret going on the pill,” Steve tells her firmly. “It is a blessing and I wish I could go back on it.”

 

“I know,” Becca laughs. “My new roommate’s just kinda scary, y’know?”

 

“Who is it?” Steve asks.

 

“Natasha Romanoff?” Becca says. “Do you know her?”

 

Steve blinks. Then he laughs. “Natasha,” he says, covering his mouth with his hand. He smiles, shaking his head. “Uh, yeah,” he admits. “So does – So does Bucky. She was the girl that threw the leather party we went to on Easter.”

 

“Oh,” Becca says slowly. She nods thoughtfully. “That makes sense.”

 

Steve doesn’t think about Easter. “She’s nice,” he says. “I think. She was nice to me, anyway. I only met her that one time.”

 

“I wonder why she didn’t ask about my brother?” Becca mutters.

 

“Peggy knows her, she says she’s kinda secretive,” Steve tells her. “Maybe that’s it?”

 

“Maybe,” Becca mutters. “Whatever. Have you met your roommate?”

 

Steve shakes his head. “We’ve talked on Facebook and stuff, but he’s not in New York right now. Get this –” He leans forward on the table and holds out his hands to Becca. “My roommate? Got expelled from MIT.”

 

Becca’s jaw drops. Steve quickly holds out a hand.



“I ain’t done!” he says. “My roommate got expelled from MIT for blowing up an entire lab facility!”

 

“What!” Becca gasps. “Why did they let her come to NYU?”

 

Steve shakes his head. “My roommate’s another Omega boy,” he says. “He’s not even off suppressants, they stuck him in Finchbury Hall to pair him with me because apparently, I’m the only other male Omega living on campus.”

 

“You’re shitting me!” Becca says.

 

“I’m not,” Steve insists.

 

“What’s his name?” Becca asks.

 

Steve holds up his hands again. “Guess,” he says.

 

Becca frowns. “Guess?” she repeats. “I don’t –”

 

Steve doesn’t even let her finish. “Howard Stark’s son,” he says. “Howard fucking Stark’s son is my roommate.”

 

Becca’s jaw stretches open impressively. Steve nods several times. Becca shakes her head, Steve keeps nodding.

 

“You’re shitting me!” she says again.

 

“I am not,” Steve swears, crossing himself. “My roommate is Howard Stark’s kid.”

 

“I didn’t even know his son was an Omega?” Becca mutters. “Wait, isn’t his son, like seventeen?”

 

“Eighteen last May,” Steve answers. “He told me he presented right before his seventeenth birthday.”

 

“And he’s already been expelled from MIT!” Becca gasps. “What the fuck!”

 

Steve leans back in his chair. “It’s gonna be a miracle if I survive the year,” he says.

 

Becca shakes her head. “I have to pick up an art class for an elective,” she says then. “Can I join one of yours?”

 

Steve blinks. “Yeah,” he says, then pulls out his phone to get his schedule. “There’s some that aren’t that technical with seats left.”

 

They stay in the cafe for another hour, talking back and forth about their summers. Around noon, Steve leaves to go to the VA and Becca heads home. It isn’t far to the VA and the air’s not so cold yet that it’s dry, so Steve walks. He takes his time, too, knowing he has time before he has to clock in. New York at the start of autumn is a lot more beautiful than any other season, Steve thinks privately, as he looks at all the colors lighting up the city. He has a drawing due for his digital art class within the first two weeks of class, Steve thinks he’s going to do New York in autumn.

 

He gets to the VA and like the past two weeks, he’s running a little anxious that Bucky will come in. He has to work hard to keep it down because if he’s anxious, the Alphas that he can still help will be anxious and that would negate the point of Steve’s job. But Bucky doesn’t come in.

 

Steve hasn’t seen him since he left for France. He hasn’t spoken to him directly since the middle of July when he told Bucky not to call him again. Steve had fun with Colin but it wasn’t anywhere near as good as not even dating Bucky had been.

 

If he’s honest, Steve’s still hurting. All summer, he’d been trying to ignore the thought that Bucky was only even friends with him anymore because he knew Steve would put out no matter what, but that drunken phone call left him unable to deny anything anymore. He’s still hurting, but he’s pretty sure that if Bucky walked into Hug Room and asked to talk to him, he wouldn’t be able to refuse.

 

He still loves Bucky.

Chapter Text

Ces jours-ci, ces jours-ci


Bucky grits his teeth, his arm trembling as he completes another rep of pushups.

 

“You got this,” Benny says casually, audibly turning a page in her book.

 

She’s sitting on his back, cross-legged and nose buried in her book. As a total beanpole, she only weighs about a hundred thirty pounds, not posing much of an obstacle to him. It’s just that he’s been doing pushups for more than ten minutes now. In the past few months, Bucky had been brutalizing his workouts; asking Benny to sit on his back while he does his pushups had been the natural progression of finding that he could do a hundred in a row, no sweat.

 

Bucky can’t answer her, too focused on his breathing. He’s got one rep left –

 

“Ouch,” Benny hisses as Bucky’s arm gives out from underneath him. “Maybe you should take a break?”

 

“I just need a second,” Bucky mutters, his face smushed against the floor.

 

Benny leans down to peer at his face. “Or a shower,” she suggests.

 

“Not done,” Bucky pants.

 

“It’s been two hours,” Benny whines. “Can we go home?”

 

Bucky lifts himself onto his elbow. Benny gets off his back and goes to sit on a weight machine nearby. “Please?” she asks.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky sighs. He pushes himself to his feet, then cracks his neck. “Lemme do cool-downs, okay?”

 

“Fine,” Benny sighs, turning back to her book. “I hope those cool-downs include cold water. Buckets of it.”

 

“I’ll shower at home,” Bucky tells her, starting to do his post-workout stretches. “I can’t leave you unattended.”

 

“I’m a whole ass fifteen years old!” Benny groans, looking up from her book to roll her eyes.

 

Bucky gives her a look, stretching his hamstrings. “Wow, you’re practically an adult,” he drawls. “When you gonna get a job?”

 

Benny gives him a dry look. “Don’t mock me,” she says.

 

Bucky rolls his eyes back. “I ain’t leaving you unattended,” he insists.

 

“Whatever,” Benny sighs, returning to her book.

 

Bucky rolls his eyes again. He goes through his stretches religiously, knowing he’s already going to be sorer than shit in the morning, anyway. He always is. He can’t go into the locker room to change or anything since he actually can’t let Benny out of his sight or risk losing his gym membership, but he does wipe himself down with a towel when he’s done stretching before he puts his track jacket on. He walks back over to Benny and cuffs her gently on the shoulder to get her attention, but she just stands up with her nose still in her book and follows behind him like a duckling. Bucky shakes his head, brushing hair out of his eyes and back towards the bun falling apart at the back of his neck.

 

“See ya, Barnes,” Jack Murdock says as Bucky and Benny pass the front of the gym.

 

“See ya,” Bucky agrees, opening the door for Benny.

 

Benny waves a hand under her nose as he lifts his arm. Bucky rolls his eyes. She’s not a very cooperative gym partner; it makes him wish Steve hadn’t decided to cut him out of his life. Steve is the same weight as Benny and he’d have the decency not to pinch his nose when they got in the car.

 

Bucky redirects his thoughts and cranks the engine. Benny slumps against his shoulder despite his sweaty smell, yawning.

 

“You wanna go back to Ma and Pops’ or my place?” Bucky asks her, watching traffic to pull into the street.

 

“I have a soccer game tomorrow,” Benny says. “Ma’s making lasagna.”

 

“Ma and Pops’ it is,” Bucky says.

 

Benny chuckles. “Ma keeps saying you only come home for food.”

 

“Why else would I come home?” Bucky asks. He pulls into traffic and stops at a red light. “I got my own laundry machines.”

 

Benny laughs. “I’m telling Ma you said that,” she says, pulling out her phone.

 

“Sure,” Bucky sighs.

 

Battlin’ Jack’s Boxing and Gym is in Hell’s Kitchen, so it takes over an hour to get back to his parent’s place in Park Slope. Benny jumps down from the truck right away and runs up to the house, but Bucky gets out and follows at a more sedate pace. He’s already sore. He sees Becca’s Volkswagen Beetle in the driveway, brand new from a used car lot, and takes a second to check that her vehicle is still in the same condition that it had been when his parents bought it. He checks the oil while he’s at it, out of habit, but everything’s fine and he heads inside.

 

“Bucky!” Benny shrieks loudly the second he walks in the door; she comes barrelling out of the living room and grabs his arm, hauling him forward. “Guess who’s here!”

 

“Careful!” Bucky tells her as he nearly trips over her in the doorway to the living room. He looks up.

 

Steve’s eyes are big and his mouth hangs open, his face starkly white against the freckles scattering his nose and cheeks. Bucky can’t feel his heart beating. Becca’s hands are pressed over her mouth. Benny’s excited looks between Bucky and Steve slowly fade. Bucky is fixated on Steve’s freckles; his Irish complexion’s best attempt at a tan, even though it’s already October. Somehow, Steve looks so very different just because of the freckles.

 

“Ew, Bugsy, you smell,” Betty remarks as she steps into the doorway. She frowns, looking around. “Uh, okay, let’s address the tension in here.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Bucky says, breaking his lungs out of the abrupt ice they had been encased in. “I’ll go –”

 

“It’s your home,” Steve counters, getting up. “I’ll go.”

 

“No, no, I don’t live here anymore,” Bucky says dumbly.

 

Steve blinks at him. “I’m aware of that,” he says flatly.

 

Bucky swallows. He doesn’t know what to say, so he just says: “I’ll leave,” again.

 

“Nobody’s leaving,” Betty cuts in. She looks between Bucky and Steve, eyebrows furrowed. “What happened to you two? Does Bucky owe you money, Steve? Because you’re never gonna see it back –”

 

“No, he doesn’t owe me money,” Steve says. He won’t look at Bucky, he starts gathering his stuff. “Thanks for inviting me, Becca, I’ll call a cab.”

 

“I can drive you,” Bucky says quickly. “Don’t waste your money.”

 

Steve looks up at him. “I would rather spend the money,” he answers earnestly.

 

“What did I do to you?” Bucky blurts out. “What the hell happened?!

 

“What did you do? ” Steve snaps. He scoffs, glancing at Becca, then shakes his head and pulls his backpack up his shoulder. “I hope you didn’t invite me here to make me talk to him, Becca –”

 

“I swear, I didn’t know he’d be here!” Becca speaks up. She jumps up and gets between Steve and the door. “He wasn’t supposed to be here, I told Benny to keep him away –”

 

“No, you didn’t!” Benny says.

 

“Would somebody explain why I don’t get to know what the fuck even happened? ” Bucky spits out.

 

Becca trie to move between Steve and Bucky. Bucky hastily pushes past Benny and closer to Steve, determined to get an answer this time. Steve straightens up, like he’s preparing to square up against Bucky.

 

“Out of nowhere,” Bucky says, holding back on sudden anger, “you quit talking to me, you ignored my calls, you blocked my number!”

 

“Of course I did!” Steve snaps. “I told you last time we talked! I told you not to call me back when you got sober! And then you didn’t fucking listen!”

 

“We talked last on your birthday!” Bucky insists, spluttering and gesticulating.

 

“We talked last when you fucking drunk dialed me because your right hand wasn’t cutting it!” Steve snarls.

 

Bucky reels. “When – What?

 

Steve shoves him aside. “I’ll see you, Becca,” he says.

 

Bucky whips around and grabs Steve’s arm. Steve stops, turns back and looks at Bucky’s hand on his arm, then looks Bucky in the eye with fury in his gaze and rips his arm free.

 

“Don’t fucking touch me,” Steve hisses.

 

“I swear to god,” Bucky growls, advancing on Steve again, “will you quit acting pissy and listen for once!”

 

Steve slaps him. Bucky recoils, pressing a hand to his cheek. He takes a step back.

 

“How about you try listening, asshole?” Steve snarls coldly, then he just storms out.

 

Bucky blinks. The front door slams. Bucky blinks. Benny’s eyes are big and full of unshed tears. Betty looks pale. Bucky’s parents hover near the doorway, their faces shocked. Bucky blinks. Becca steps forward, then turns around and –

 

“God dammit! ” Bucky yells as she slaps him, too. “What the fuck!"

 

“You’re the fuck!” Becca screams. “Thanks so fucking much for stringing my best friend along for a year and then getting angry at him when he got sick of it!”

 

“Stringing –” Bucky starts, feeling lost. He straightens up, having staggered when Becca had slapped him almost as hard as Steve, and shakes himself. “What the fuck do you mean stringing? ” he snaps. “I wasn’t the one hopping beds every night and flaunting the fact that he was doing it in my face!” Bucky ends in a shout.

 

“You never once told him that you wanted him to stop!” Becca yells in his face. “You were the one to keep insisting that you weren’t dating and you were just friends and you only cared for him like a brother even as you gave him a goddamn key and asked him to move in with you for the summer!”

 

“He went to France!” Bucky shouts.

 

“And if you hadn’t waited until the last fucking second to ask, he would’ve stayed with you!” Becca screams. “If you hadn’t treated him like he meant nothing more to you than a booty call you kept making, he wouldn’t have left!”

 

Bucky’s jaw falls open. Becca turns on her heel. Her keys clatter in the hallway, and then the front door slams.

 

Outside, Becca’s car starts. Inside, Bucky covers the stinging mark on his cheek with a hand and mutters: “ Shit.

 

Ma strides forward. “James Buchanan Barnes,” she says very quietly and very dangerously. “What the hell did you do to that boy?”

 

Bucky shrugs hopelessly. “I – I don’t know –”

 

Then his mother slaps him. Bucky spits out a “Jesus fucking Christ!” and staggers backward, his face on fire from three different people hitting him in the space of five minutes. \Ma advances on him with a finger held level.

 

“Don’t give me bullshit,” she hisses. “I did not raise you to walk over an Omega like that! I did not raise you to disrespect an Omega like that! I did not raise you to take advantage –!”

 

She swells as Bucky deflates.

 

“Get out,” Ma snaps.

 

Bucky opens his mouth.

 

“Get out!” Ma yells, throwing a hand to point towards the door. “Get out and go grovel and don’t you come back until you’ve done your penance!”

 

“Ma –” Bucky croaks.

 

“Out!” Ma screams.

 

Benny’s eyes are big and full of tears. Bucky pushes past his mother and heads for the front door; he hears running footsteps and Benny collides with his middle, hugging him tightly.

 

“You didn’t –” Benny says in a high-pitched voice. “Bucky, you didn’t –!”

 

Bucky lifts a hand and pats her shoulder gently, belatedly touching her hair in a tender gesture. “I don’t know what I did,” he says numbly.

 

He pushes Benny away from him. He opens the front door and walks out, his hand in his pocket and his head low.

 

He drives home in a daze. He lets himself in in a daze. He stands in the middle of his apartment in a daze, looking around. At the big fuzzy blanket draped over the couch and the vase of fake flowers on the coffee table and the frankly excessive amount of throw pillows all piled in the armchair because Bucky only ever used them when he built Steve a little nest on the futon to cuddle him in pet or subspace.

 

Bucky screams and hits the vase off the coffee table. It hits the floor and smashes into a thousand tiny pieces that glitter in the overhead light.

 

Bucky steps on the pieces and walks into the bathroom, ripping open the drawers to grab the Tupperware of adult pacifiers he still has; he takes them to the nearest window and throws them as hard as he can one by one.

 

He stops at the pink one, panting, then throws it out, too. He throws out the Tupperware for good measure, then runs to the kitchen and yanks open a cabinet. He grabs the kitten food bowl and smashes it on the ground. He grabs Steve’s coffee mug and throws it against a cupboard, the cookie jar Bucky had bought for the sole purpose of keeping crackers in for when Steve’s sugar dropped too low, the glass Steve used to use for paint water, the water bowl that matched the shards of the food bowl on the ground, anything that had been Steve’s that Bucky could break, anything that Steve had even touched –

 

There’s a knock at his door. Bucky comes to himself in the middle of a war-zone, broken ceramic and glass everywhere, and tries to catch his breath.

 

“Hello?” the person outside his door calls.

 

Bucky walks through the shards out of the kitchen. He opens the front door to face a concerned looking Alpha, who promptly peers over Bucky’s shoulder.

 

“Are you alright?” the man asks.

 

“Great,” Bucky says flatly. He’s still panting a little. “Never felt better,” he remarks. “Why?”

 

The man points. “Well, kinda sounded like someone was dying in there. Uh, I was about to call the police but Mrs. Jeeves said you live alone?”

 

Bucky blinks. Then laughs without humor.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says bitterly. “I live alone, pal.”

 

And isn’t that the sore truth of the matter? Bucky lives alone.

 

“You can come in and make sure there’s no Omega cowering in a corner,” he adds, “might as well, everybody seems to think I’m abusing Omegas today.”

 

The man’s concern intensifies. Bucky steps back and gestures to let him in, sniffing to get the snot dribbling from his nose back where it belongs.

 

“G’head,” Bucky says insistently, gesturing again. “I fucking live alone. Always have, always will.”

 

The man moves forward cautiously, looking around. He gets a few feet in, then turns back and faces Bucky.

 

“My name’s Bruce,” he says, sticking out his hand. “You seem like you could use a friend right now. I just moved in next door.”

 

Bucky blink at Bruce’s hand. He glances at his own and sees that he’s bleeding. Bruce seems to notice at the same time because he says: “Oh, dear,” exactly like Bucky envisions Mr. Rogers would and thinking of that just leads him back to Steve and he’s –

 

“Here, come sit down,” Bruce says; he guides an abruptly sobbing Bucky away from the door and onto the couch. “I’ll get you something for those cuts, okay?”

 

Bucky folds himself over his own lap and weeps. He barely registers Bruce leaving, he’s trapped in his own body shaking and the miserable quiet of his apartment underneath the sounds of his pathetic blubbering. He can’t break pillows or blankets or a bathrobe and he can’t tear apart from the seams them with only one hand –

 

“I’m back,” Bruce’s voice cuts into his misery. “May I see your hand?”

 

Bucky lifts his head, but only to swing his hand outward and into his neighbor’s grip. He wipes his nose on his pants and lifts his gaze a second later, though. Bruce has brought one of the chairs from the kitchen and holds a flashlight under his ear, a pair of reading glasses perched on his nose. He’s plucking bits of glass and ceramic from Bucky’s hand with a pair of tweezers. Bucky fixes on the glasses and chokes a little, swallowing phlegm. They look like Steve’s glasses.

 

“Do you wanna talk?” Bruce asks then.

 

“What about?” Bucky says hoarsely.

 

Bruce flicks his gaze up. He gestures around them with the tweezers. “The tornado that went through here?”

 

Bucky looks down. He shrugs. He can barely feel Bruce digging around in his palm with the tweezers, but his left fucking arm hurts like a motherfucker and it’s somewhere in Afghanistan under a pile of sand. Or maybe it's been eaten by some wild animal already. Lucky it.

 

“You live alone,” Bruce says.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky repeats. He sniffs. “I live alone.”

 

Bruce doesn’t look up from Bucky’s palm, just continues with his work. “Is it fair to guess that you didn’t live alone until just recently?”

 

Bucky shook his head. Then he laughs. “That’s the funny thing,” he says. “I’ve lived alone the whole time I’ve been here.”

 

Bruce flicks his gaze up. He looks around, twists to look behind him at the bundle of fake flowers among the pieces of the shattered vase, then he twists back and raises his eyebrows at Bucky.

 

“You lived alone, but someone – an Omega was here on occasion?” he guesses.

 

Bucky nods, sucking snot back up his nose. “Bingo,” he mutters.

 

Bruce looks down again. “So, you wanna talk about that?”

 

Bucky stares at his hand lying in Bruce’s palm. “This is one helluva first impression,” he says.

 

Bruce shrugs. “I’ve seen worse, kid. I work in a psychiatric ward.”

 

“Really?” Bucky mutters. “Guess you’re real good at figurin’ out people, then?”

 

“Guess so,” Bruce answers. “Why don’t you try me?”

 

Bucky laughs again without humar. “Hi, my name is Bucky Barnes and I fucked up the best thing to ever happen to me since I sacrificed my left arm for the good ol’ U.S. of A and I don’t even know how the fuck I managed to do it.”

 

Bruce gives a gentle nod. “What was her name?”

 

Bucky lifts his eyebrows. “Bold of you to assume it was a her,” he mutters, quoting Steve quoting something on the Internet – Bucky doesn’t know.

 

“I’m sorry,” Bruce says quickly, looking up and flashing Bucky a smile. “What was their name?”

 

Better, Bucky thinks absently. “Steve,” he says. “He/him.”

 

“So, Steve,” Bruce begins, “he left?”

 

Bucky exhales, figuring that he’s already started, he might as well. “Wasn’t ever really here to begin with,” he says. “But apparently, that was my fault.”

 

“What happened?” Bruce asks. “From the beginning?”

 

Bucky laughs again, still without humor. “How long ya got, pal?”

 

“Until you’ve finished the story,” Bruce says easily. “It’s kind of what I do.”

 

Bucky smiles a little, looking down and remembering Steve saying those words.

 

So he starts at the beginning.

 

“Steve works at this therapy service over at the VA. They give platonic affectionate touch to poor, PTSD-ridden vets like me in a safe environment or some bullshit. I tried to go in this one time, I make eye contact with Steve, and then I high-tail it outta there ‘cause he’s gorgeous and I can’t handle how damn attractive he is. And then I spend a few months loitering outside telling myself that next time I’ll have the courage to go in and then never do. Then! Luck’a all luck, my sister’s roommate at NYU turns out to be him! I probably just made a fool outta myself the first few times I talked to him. But then, a little into the semester, I had a panic attack on campus and went to my sister’s room to hide out until I was safe to drive, only she wasn’t there. Steve was. So he makes me sit down and take off my shoes and he gives me a hand massage while we watch a movie and there I am, head over heels already and he’s just being nice. He invites me to go to a Halloween party with him and Becca, I figure, why the hell not. I show up, we have a good time, Steve ‘n’ me, we get drunk and come back here and we fuck. Morning comes, I freak out, but Steve tells me that sex doesn’t have to be that big of a deal and hey, we could even do it again if I wanted.”

 

Bruce looks up at him at this and he looks just so sympathetic that Bucky starts feeling twice as miserable.

 

“Yeah, it was a bad idea,” Bucky mutters. “But, there I am, woefully in like, and there he is, a class A slut who’ll sleep with anybody.”

 

“Is that true?” Bruce breaks in gently, the first time he had spoken since Bucky started.

 

Bucky sighs. “No,” he mumbles. “He wouldn’t fuck Brock Rumlow.”

 

“I assume that’s an inside joke,” Bruce says.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky answers. It’s a joke but he can’t smile about it. “But… He did sleep with a lotta people. We did it on Halloween and I told him I’d have to think about doing it again because obviously, it was a terrible idea and I should’a said no. But I said yes. That was over Christmas break, and after that –”

 

Bucky looks around the apartment. It’s a disaster.

 

“He was here pretty much every weekend after that,” Bucky says. “I got to thinkin’ ‘round February, okay, it’s not so bad, we hang out during the week and he sleeps over on the weekends and we have a lotta fun. And yeah, he’s seeing other people that whole damn time and I don’t say a damn word about it ‘cause we wasn’t dating, and we weren’t! He was mine on the weekends and that was as much as I thought he’d ever give me and I was okay with that, I was. Then, summer came around, I thought maybe we could try more than just weekends, y’know? I invited him to stay with me over the summer and he tells me he’d had this trip to France planned with his friends for a whole damn year and never told me until right then that he’d be leaving in the morning. And I get upset, ‘cause I’m fucking in love with him and I’m trying to take as much as I can get from him while he sleeps with half the people he meets, I get upset. And then he gets mad at me and he goes to storm out, and I manage to get him to stay a while longer, ‘cause it’s gonna fuckin’ hurt when he leaves and I wanna put it off. We fucked one last time, I take him back to his house and I go home alone, like always. And then he’s gone and we don’t talk while he’s gone and then in the middle of July he stops talking to me and nobody will tell me why.”

 

“What happened before he stopped talking to you?” Bruce asks when Bucky pauses for breath.

 

Bucky just shrugs hopelessly.

 

“Apparently I called him when I was drunk? And – and asked for phone sex or something, I don’t know and I don’t remember doing it. That’s the thing,” Bucky says, near shaking with how angry he is, “he fucking blocked my number in July so I tried to move on, right, my shrink tells me, move ya life on, Barnes. So I try, I got a girlfriend I don’t really care about and she only wants me to flaunt to her ex, I try to forget about Steve ‘cause I figure he’s forgotten about me, then I go back to my parents’ place tonight and my sister, the one he was roommates with, brought him over for dinner. And then he yells at me and my sister yells at me and my mom yells at me and my mom kicks me out.”

 

Bucky stops abruptly, his chest heaving. Bruce pulls a particularly tough shard of glass from Bucky’s palm and he winces.

 

“What did they yell at you about?” Bruce asks.

 

“My mom yelled that she raised me better than to walk all over an Omega,” Bucky says. “My sister yelled at me for fucking her best friend and not giving a damn about it. Steve yelled at me about this one phone call that I don’t remember making and I sure as hell don’t feel like I would’a made ‘cause why the fuck would’ve I wanted phone sex with the guy who casually walked out on me in the first place?”

“Have you mentioned to Steve how you feel?”

 

“No,” Bucky says coldly. “I was too busy being slapped in the face by Steve, my sister, and my mom to get two words out. I mean literally, all three’a ‘em slapped me.”

 

Bruce nods slowly. He wipes the tweezers on a tissue and lifts Bucky’s hand to the light, examining it. “Do you feel anything else in there?”

 

Bucky shakes his head. “Honest, I can’t feel nothin’ at all right now. My other arm’s throwing a fit over the fact that it ain’t attached to my shoulder no more.”

 

Bruce looks at him over his glasses with sympathy in his eyes. “Do you have medication for it?”

 

Bucky nods. “I’ll get it later,” he says.

 

“Why don’t you get it now?” Bruce suggests. “Take a break. Get a glass of water. Point me to a broom and I’ll sweep up this mess for you.”

 

“No, you don’t’ have to do that,” Bucky starts.

 

“I’d like to,” Bruce offers, rising. “Why don’t you wash your hand and if you feel anything else in it, I’ll go back over it with the tweezers.”

 

Bucky stands up and looks down at his hand. He sighs, then says: “Between the fridge and the wall.”

 

While Bruce takes out the broom, Bucky makes his way into the bathroom, then carefully starts curling his fingers and palms to see if there’s any bites of pain from shards of ceramic or glass embedded in is skin. There aren’t any and he dry swallows a couple of his pain meds for his arm before walking into the kitchen. Bruce has swept up most of the broken glass into a large pile in the middle of the floor and Bucky wonders just how much shit he’d broken in his rage. He spots the remains of the John Deere mug in the pile and exhales quietly. He'd liked that mug.

 

“Happens to the best of us,” Bruce says, looking up at him. “How’s your hand?”

 

Bucky shrugs. “I’ll live,” he says.

 

“Why don’t you get yourself a glass of water?” Bruce suggests to him. “And you can finish telling me your story.”

 

Bucky nods. He takes a glass out of the cabinet and fills it at the sink, then gulps half of it standing there. He had no idea how thirsty he’d been until he’d drunk it, he’d had no idea how raw his throat felt until he drunk it. Bruce gets the broken glassware into the trash can, then puts away the broom.

 

“I can bandage your hand if you’d like,” he offers.

 

Bucky glances down at his hand. “I can take care of it,” he says. “It’s just cut up. I’ve had worse.”

 

Bruce nods, then pulls out a chair at the table before sitting down in another. He points to the chair and Bucky joins him at the table.

 

“So, you say that this relationship with Steve was a mistake from the beginning,” Bruce starts. He folds his hands, leaning on the table as he looks at Bucky. “Why do you say that?”

 

Bucky gives a shrug. “Did’ja get a look at my kitchen?” he asks, gesturing.

 

“No, why was it a mistake at the beginning? ” Bruce questions, stressing it.

 

Bucky exhales and shrugs again. “‘Cause I knew I wanted more and I knew Steve wasn’t willing to do that. And I knew that if we did it, I’d end up wanting more than I did already and it wouldn’t be fair to Steve. And I guess it never was fair, just not in the way I thought it’d be.”

 

“What do you think had your family upset?” Bruce asks.

 

“They think I was just using Steve for sex,” Bucky answers flatly.

 

“And isn’t that how you feel in the reverse?” Bruce points out. “Steve was the one using you?”

 

Bucky blinks. “Yeah,” he says slowly. “Yeah, this whole time –!” He can’t finish the sentence. “And I never blocked his number over it!” he spits out. “I kept inviting him back over!”

 

Bucky doesn’t feel as angry anymore. No, now, he feels tired. And more hurt than he’d been at any point since Steve blocked his number.

 

“You said you didn’t have a chance to give your side of the story to your family or to Steve tonight,” Bruce says. “They were too busy slapping you?”

 

Bucky nods wearily. “Yelled in my face and didn’t bother to listen to me. None of ‘em listened to me, least of all Steve. I just wanted to know what I’d done, I grabbed his arm and – okay, I snapped, but slapping me felt a little excessive.”

 

Bruce shrugs. “I’ll be honest,” he says. “If you grabbed his arm, slapping you was probably self-defense. So he might’ve had the right. Your mother and your sister, maybe not so much.”

 

Bucky scowls. He hates it, but Bruce is probably right.

 

“What did Steve say tonight, exactly?”

 

Bucky thinks back, squinting at the table. “Not a lot,” he confesses. “The first thing he tried to do was leave. And – And I held him back, asking why he’d cut me off, and then he brought up that phone call that I don’t remember making.”

 

“When did you make this phone call?” Bruce asks.

 

Bucky blows out his breath, then pulls out his phone and opens his call lists. He scrolls all the way back to July, looking for the last time he called Steve and gotten an answer. He gets to about the middle of July and finds that the last call he’d had with Steve that actually lasted, Steve was the one to call him. And Bucky had called five or six times before that in the space of ten minutes. It had been about four in the morning his time.

 

Bucky blinks at the dates.

 

“Do you think you could try to remember?” Bruce asks him. “Anything at all?”

 

“No,” Bucky mumbles, then switches to his contacts and starts scrolling. “But my buddy from work might.”

 

He dials and presses the phone under his ear before laying his hand flat on the table; it’s hurting from all the cuts. The phone rings a few times before Happy Sam answers.

 

“Yo,” he says. “Whassup, Barnes?”

 

“Remember that night in July when we all went out, got drunk, and then you crashed at my place?” Bucky says without preamble. “Do you remember me making a call in the middle of the night?”

 

Happy Sam is quiet. “Kinda?” he says. “The night you were moping prematurely about your thing with your kitten?”

 

Bucky winces a little. “Yeah. That.”

 

“Yeah,” Happy Sam says. “You called him, I think. Why?”

 

“Did you happen to hear anything?” Bucky asks.

 

“Nah, man,” Sam tells him. “I heard you talking, but not what you were saying. Was a real short call, too. You said you’d fucked up when I came to check on you.”

 

Bucky laughs dryly. “Pal, I’m still fuckin’ up. Did I say anything else?”

 

Happy Sam huffs and Bucky imagines him scratching his head.

 

“I asked how you’d fucked up in the coupl’a hours you’d been alone and you said that wasn’t when you’d done it,” Sam says. “That’s all I ‘member, anyway.”

 

Bucky nods, sighing. “Thanks,” he says. “I appreciate you trying.”

 

“What’d you do?” Sam asks. “I dunno if you said or not.”

 

“I don’t know,” Bucky repeats. He shrugs. “I don’t know.”

 

“Well, good luck, man. I gotta go.”

 

Bucky hangs up, then lays his phone on the table and stares at it, like it’ll reveal the content of his blacked out memory.

 

“Do you really not know?” Bruce asks him then.

 

Bucky looks up. He shrugs.

 

“It sounds a lot like Steve’s upset because he feels the same as you,” Bruce points out.

 

Bucky blinks. “I –” he starts. He shakes his head. “I don’t think Steve’s in love with me, buddy.”

 

“No, not that,” Bruce says. “It sounds like Steve’s upset because he feels like you were using him for sex.”

 

Bucky squints. He looks down, thinking back, then shrugs.

 

“I admit,” Bucky exhales heavily, “I tried my damnedest not to let anybody how gone I am on ‘im. Maybe –” he breaks off, then shakes his head. “Steve’s not that blind. He would’a known that I cared for him, I told him that I cared about him outside sex, even without mentioning that I was in love.”

Bruce shrugs. “You did say you two didn’t talk a lot over the summer. Perhaps when you called, perhaps it wasn’t your intention, but Steve interpreted the call as something other than it was.”

 

Bucky looks down at his phone. He opens his texts with Steve, then scrolls backward pages to get to the last thing Steve sent him and the first thing Bucky sent after Steve started ignoring him.

 

Punk:

Did we talk last night?

 

Bucky scrolls down again. The last half of his messages hadn’t been received.

 

“Have you thought about telling Steve how you feel?” Bruce asks gently.

 

Bucky shakes his head. “He blocked my number. I’m pretty sure my sister’s gonna block my number, ‘cause apparently it’s hos before bros now.”

 

Bruce tips his head to the side. “Is that any fair way to talk about the person you love?”

 

Bucky exhales sharply and puts away his phone. “No,” he says, “but it sure as hell don’t feel fair on my end, neither.”

 

Bruce nods to him. They sit quietly for a second, then Bruce touches the table in front of Bucky.

 

“My professional advice would be to find a way to tell Steve how you feel,” he says. “All of it, from the hurt to the good, so you can get some closure. Personally? I would advise you try to patch things with your current girlfriend and with your family and let Steve go.”

 

Bucky sighs again. Bruce shrugs.

 

“Sometimes these things aren’t meant to work out.”

 

Bucky nods. He nods miserably. Bruce pushes up from the table and raps his knuckles against the wood.

 

“I’ll let Mrs. Jeeves know you’re alright,” he says. “Would you like a doctor’s note for work?”

 

Bucky looks down at his hand, then shakes his head. “I work at a veteran run garage, if I tell them I can’t come in, they won’t question it.”

 

“Shield Auto?” Bruce questions and Bucky nods. “I know the place, I’ve been there a time or two. Always great service.”

 

Then Bruce bows his head a little as he steps back towards the door. “And thank you for your service, Bucky.”

 

Bucky blinks. Bruce lets himself out. Bucky sits there, among the ceramic dust, and he blinks.

 

Some closure would be nice, he thinks. On the table, his phone lights up with his girlfriend’s photo and a generic ringtone and Bucky lets it ring to voicemail without meaning to. He gets up, he walks into his bedroom, and he sits down on Steve’s side of the bed. There’s no scent left anymore, not after four months, but Bucky lays down there instead.

 

He cries again. He feels pathetic. He hasn’t been able to show his face at the VA since he heard Steve was back from France for fear of seeing him. Fury’s been on his case about it, since it’s been two whole damn months, and Bucky’s just run out of excuses. He’ll call in tomorrow if his hand is still hurting and on Monday Fury will ask him what’s going on and Bucky will have to explain the whole damn thing.

 

In the meantime, Bucky cries into Steve’s pillow.

Chapter Text

les misérables


Steve sits on a bench at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, hands folded on his lap and his insulin bag at his side. In front of him, absorbing all of his attention, is John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Madame X. He sits there, just basking in the glory of being in front of the same canvas that John Singer Sargent once stood in front of. He sits there, his watch slowly ticking on his wrist.

 

Outside, snow falls slowly, gentle as it kisses the blacktop and concrete of the New York jungle; it falls slowly like the tear slipping down Steve’s cheek.

 

Madame X, or Madame Pierre Gautreau, stands defiant. Her head is turned to show her profile and her throat stretches obscenely on full display. Her gown shows her arms and her shoulders and her clavicle, where the double-edged mark of a mating bite that had been broken stands red against her pale skin.

 

Steve has lived in New York his whole life, but he’s never been to the Met before today. It was always too expensive or there wasn’t enough time. John Singer Sargent used the classical style of the Romantics and the realists, but his bold choices in setting Madame X’s neck in so clear display let alone the evidence of her broken bond was revolutionary. Steve wishes he could paint as well and as influentially as Sargent.

 

Footsteps, loud but not particularly heavy – they echo in the high-ceiling room –, approach behind him. Becca sits down on the bench next to him and tucks her ankles together, looking up at Madame X, too.

 

“Wow,” she says softly.

 

Steve reaches up and wipes his cheeks with his sleeve. “Wow,” he agrees.

 

Becca glances at him. “You look like shit,” she says in a kind tone.

 

Steve laughs. He finally drops his gaze from Madame X’s double-edged mating bite and he nods. “Had the flu last week,” he says.

 

“You looked like shit before that,” Becca tells him. “Are you doing okay?”

 

Steve shrugs. “How’s Bucky?”

 

Becca sighs. She reaches over and slips her fingers into Steve’s clasped hands, then squeezes.

 

“Still kinda mad about the last time he saw you,” she says softly. “But I said I was sorry for slapping him; Ma kinda made me. But,” she adds, sighing, “he still looks like shit, too.”

 

Steve gives a nod, then inhales deeply. “Well,” he says, sniffs again and nods a second time. “Does he look more like shit than me?”

 

Becca shrugs. “Before the flu? Yes. After.” She smiles dryly. “Sorry.”

 

“I’ll blame the flu,” Steve mumbles.

 

Becca nods carefully. Steve lifts his gaze again, sweeping carefully over the full-length portrait of Madame X, but his eyes catch again on her neck and the scent gland bitten twice.

 

He wonders what it felt like. Not to be bonded, but to have it broken. Had Madame Gautreau lost her mate to war or illness? Or was her mate just a fool and she took action to save herself before her mate could drag her down with them? Steve knows that it would have hurt, but who would Madame Gautreau have asked to break the bond? A brother? Her father? Had she cried? Had she stood tall as she does in her portrait, her head held high and her neck on full display? Had a lover bitten her out of jealousy? Or someone else, the same jealousy, ripping her from her lover’s devotion?

 

Had it felt like an open wound for days and months after, like Steve’s trampled heart feels now?

 

“You wanna tell me the story behind this chick?” Becca asks.

 

Steve exhales all the air in his lungs. He brings it back in, then tips his head towards Becca.

 

“It was painted around 1883,” he starts. “The woman’s name is Madame Pierre Gautreau, born Virginie Amélie Avegno. She was the wife of a Parisian banker; an influential figure in society during her time. She was known to be very daring. Sargent requested to create her portrait, he wasn’t commissioned for it. When he first painted her, he painted the strap on her right shoulder off her shoulder, but when he received criticism, he modified it to put the strap back on her shoulder. See, he presented the painting at the Salon of 1884 – the Salon was this gathering of artists to showcase their work and gain popularity – and people said it was offensive. Her manner, her pose, the fact that her dress was in disarray. Most importantly her neck.”

 

“I see why it would be considered crass,” Becca murmurs.

 

“Madame Gautreau was initially unnamed,” Steve continues, “but because she was so well-known, she was recognized and she was embarrassed by the notoriety, so Sargent re-painted the strap, but he left her scars. It was the new fashion to not mate right after marriage in Paris, so Madame Gautreau wasn’t alone in not being mated to her husband, but the revelation that she had been mated once before and it had been broken caused a huge scandal.”

 

“Why did she let him paint her scars like that?” Becca asks.

 

Steve shrugs. “Nobody ever said. Sargent took the secret to the grave.”

 

Becca nods slowly. Steve stays focused on Madame X’s broken mating bite. He wonders if she did it on purpose. If she insisted that Sargent paint her scars so whoever had first bitten her would see it and – maybe – be reminded of what they had lost. If Madame Gautreau had felt spiteful.

 

Steve wonders why he doesn’t feel spiteful. He doesn’t. He just feels sad. He and Becca have class together twice a week, they get together on the weekends and Steve always asks her how Bucky’s doing. She always sighs and tells him Bucky’s okay, or doing passably, or visibly miserable, and Steve never does feel pleased when she says Bucky’s hurting. It only makes him hurt more. He doubts himself, the decision he made to cut Bucky off, because if Bucky is hurting, then he must have really cared for Steve after all, right? Knowing that Bucky misses him back only makes his missing worse.

 

“He has a new girlfriend,” Becca says abruptly. “Second one since Halloween. We don’t like her; Bucky’s not that into her, either, but he hasn’t really been into any of his girlfriends. We – my parents and my sisters – bet how long this one would last.”

 

Steve laughs; it’s so mean, but it’s something the Barneses would do, had done in the past, too. He remembers stories about Becca's relationships with guys before she realized that she was gay. Her parents knew she wasn't really into her boyfriends, but they let her figure things out for herself and instead bet amongst themselves how long it would take. Betty and Bucky have both been the subject of lighthearted, teasing bets before, the Barneses have bet on Benny's flitting between different sports, they bet about a lot of things. They had even bet about Steve in the past. This isn't something out of character for them.

 

“How long do you think she’ll last?” Steve asks.

 

“Ma bet they’d break up by January 20th,” Becca reports. “Pa says they’ll break up the week of Valentine’s Day. Betty says they’ll break up January 10th. Benny says they’ll last until February 1st.”

 

“Not a lot of confidence,” Steve says quietly.

 

“Well, it’s the second girl since Halloween,” Becca reminds him. “The first girlfriend lasted barely two months, the second was only three weeks, the last one – They only broke up last week. I mean, Bucky’s not really calling them his girlfriends, but they’re dating.”

 

“How long do you think this one will last?” Steve asks again.

 

“New Years’,” Becca says. She turns to Steve and nudges him with her elbow. “You wanna get in on the pool? It’s up to a hundred twenty dollars now.”

 

Steve exhales, blinking at Madame X’s portrait. He still wonders why he doesn't feel spiteful. He looks down and pulls his wallet out of his pocket, counts out fifteen dollars, and holds it out to Becca.

 

“Christmas,” he says. “They’ll break up by Christmas.”

 

Becca raises her eyebrows. “That’s only two weeks away.”

 

Steve nods. “I know.”

 

After finals, Steve heads home to Brooklyn. He and Doc couldn’t be together for Hanukkah, but they got to have Christmas at home, with cocoa and the Home Alone movies; all three of them. Boxing Day, Becca drives over with gifts for the two of them from the Barnes family.

 

“And you were right,” she tells him, pulling an envelope from her pocket. “They broke up Christmas Eve.”

 

Steve takes the envelope and peers inside at the stacks of crinkled bills. He feels guilty now.

 

“How’d you know?” Becca asks.

 

“Christmas Eve was the closest thing we had to an anniversary,” Steve says quietly.

 

Becca sighs. Steve shuts the envelope and tries to give it back to her, but she pushes it back.

 

“Nah, you earned it,” she says. “Maybe insider information was unfair, but I won’t take it back. I’ll let you know if we bet on the next one.”

 

Steve shakes his head. “Thanks, but no thanks.”

 

Becca nods. “You doing okay?”

 

Steve shrugs. He hugs her, then slips the envelope into his insulin bag and tells himself he’s not going to ask.

 

The words “How’s Bucky?” slip from his mouth anyway.

 

“Drinking,” Becca sighs. “Which is a new low.”

 

Steve looks down at the ground. “Did he at least spend Christmas with you guys?”

 

“Oh, yeah,” Becca says. “He was actually okay over Christmas. But he went home this morning and Natasha called me to tell me that he was at a bar by this afternoon. I don’t even know how she knows, I swear, she’s KGB or something.”

 

Steve nods slowly. His gaze slips towards his phone, where he has Natasha’s number. He could ask what bar. He could… He doesn’t know what he could do. He doesn’t know what he wants to do.

 

(That’s a lie. He knows.)

 

“You still haven’t seen him at the VA?” Becca asks, her voice hushed.

 

Steve shakes his head. “I’m thinking of getting a different job,” he admits. “So he can go back.”

 

Becca grimaces and reaches up to squeeze his shoulder. “He’s still seeing his shrink,” she reminds him. “He’s still doing good with his PTSD.”

 

“Yeah,” Steve mutters, “but group’s different. The VA was supposed to be safe for him.”

 

Becca nods. She sighs and pulls him into another hug. “Take care of yourself, Rogers. I’ll see you when the semester starts back up?”

 

“See you,” Steve agrees.

 

He walks her out and watches her drive away. Doc is making cookies in the kitchen and the scent of gingerbread wafts through the house. Steve can only think about how it has felt like he’s missing a bit of his heart since June. No, not his heart, his lungs. He can’t quite take a full breath and hasn’t since he left Bucky’s apartment the last time. He’s been doubting himself for a while now. He isn’t sure he should until he does.

 

He picks up his phone, then he dials Natasha and presses it to his ear and waits while it rings.

 

“Natasha Romanoff speaking.”

 

“Hey,” Steve says. “Do you know what bar Bucky’s at?”

Chapter Text

je suis désolé



Bucky props his cheek on his hand and stares into the last half-inch of bourbon in his glass. There are Christmas carols coming from the radio behind the bar and the TV at the other end of the pub is playing A Charlie Brown Christmas. Bucky stares into his bourbon.

 

“You need a top-off, pal?” Vincent asks him.

 

Bucky lifts his head to pick up his glass. He drains it, then sets it back onto the counter and pushes it towards Vincent. Vincent unscrews the bottle and fills his glass, pushes it back, and walks away again. Bucky’s told him to never leave the bottle more than once but currently, Bucky regrets asking for that reassurance. He’d really rather be a hell of a lot more drunk than he is.

 

Last Christmas starts up on the radio. Bucky covers his eyes with his hand, groaning.

 

“Could ya change the radio?” he calls.

 

“Dial’s busted,” Vincent answers. “Can’t get it fixed ‘til New Years. Sorry, pal.”

 

Bucky drops his forehead onto the bar, groaning again. He hates Taylor Swift.

 

Somebody knocks on the bar next to him. Bucky ignores the knuckles rapping, then the somebody talks to him.

 

“Is this seat taken?”

Bucky blinks at the wood two inches from his eyes. Then he sits up and blinks at Steve instead. Steve smiles but it looks like a grimace.

 

“You can sit there,” Bucky says sharply, pushing up off his stool. “G’head. Vince –”

 

“Bucky, wait!” Steve cuts him off, grabbing his arm. “Can we talk?”

 

Bucky looks at Steve’s hands on his arm. “Y’know, last time I did that, I got m’self slapped for it.”

Steve makes a face, almost apologetic.

 

“You should count yourself lucky I only got one arm,” Bucky snaps, then wrenches his wrist from Steve’s loose grip.

 

“You wouldn’t hit me,” Steve answers softly, still smile-grimacing.

 

Bucky works his jaw. He grabs his glass, downs it, then picks up his coat and shrugs it on. “You’re right,” he agrees finally and he hates admitting it. “I wouldn’t.”

 

“Stay,” Steve says, touching Bucky’s arm instead of grabbing it. “Please?”

 

Bucky looks straight ahead. Vincent hangs in the corner of his vision, concern evident on his face. Down the bar, Stan, the only other patron in the pub, raises his eyebrows at his paper. Bucky just stands there, working his jaw.

 

“I wanted to –” Steve starts, then lets go of him and sets his insulin bag on the counter.

 

Bucky glances at him, automatically worried what his blood sugar is, then Steve pulls a white envelope from the bag and holds it out to Bucky.

 

“I wanted to give you this.”

 

Bucky looks at it. “What is it?”

 

“Bet money,” Steve says, looking shamefully at the ground. “From how long your last girlfriend would last.”

 

Bucky blinks. “Who the fuck did you bet with?” he snaps, snatching the envelope from Steve’s hand and opening it. “Holy shit –”

 

“Your family,” Steve says. “I’m sorry.”

 

Bucky drops back onto the stool. He rifles through the bills, counting at least four tens, too many fives to count, several ones, even a twenty. “How much is this?”

 

“Hundred thirty-five,” Steve admits.

 

“Holy shit,” Bucky mutters.

 

He clenches the envelope in his hand. He’s honestly not that mad; he’s bet on Becca’s girl/boyfriends in the past. He’s not mad about his family, at least.

 

“You guys are fucking betting on my love life now?” he grumbles forcefully.

 

He’s not mad about his family doing it.

Steve has the decency to look guilty. “I don’t know who made the first bet, I made the last.”

 

Bucky sinks back against the bar. He knew his family didn’t like Veronica.

 

“What the fuck,” he mumbles.

 

“I won,” Steve says then. “And I felt guilty about it, so I wanted to give it to you.”

 

“When’d you bet?” Bucky asks bitterly.

 

He hears Steve sigh.

 

“Christmas.”

 

Bucky turns away from him with his nose wrinkled in disgust. He spins around on the stool and grabs his glass, but it’s empty.

 

“Vince!” he yells.

 

Vincent walks over. He takes Bucky’s glass, fills it under the counter, and puts it back. Full of not bourbon.

 

“What the hell is this?” Bucky spits out, grabbing it; water sloshes over the sides and trickles down his fingers.

 

“This is me cutting you off so you can talk to your pal sober,” Vincent answers. “Hey, buddy. You want anything?”

 

“Sure,” Steve says. “Orange juice?”

 

Vincent nods and walks away. Bucky sets his glass down with a thunk.

 

“What’s your blood sugar?” he asks bitterly.

 

“Good,” Steve says. “Thank you for asking.”

 

Vincent returns with orange juice and a napkin, then turns up the volume on the radio to give them a little bit more privacy and walks away. Bucky wrinkles his nose at the tune of Last Christmas and shakes his head.

 

“Are you here for any other reason than to rub my failing love life in my face?” he asks Steve without looking.

 

“I wanted to apologize.”

 

Bucky turns his head just a little bit towards Steve. Then he sits upright and faces Steve fully.

 

What?

 

“I wanted to apologize,” Steve repeats. He won’t look at Bucky. “I acted rashly.”

 

Bucky blinks. “What –” he repeats, deflating completely. “What are you apologizing for?”

 

Steve winces. “Blocking your number,” he says. “And slapping you.”

 

Bucky blinks again. “I deserved it,” he mutters. “I shouldn’t’ve grabbed ya.”

 

“I could’a just pulled away,” Steve reminds him. “I’m sorry.”

 

“Why?” Bucky asks. “Why now?”

 

Steve sighs again and turns his glass on the countertop. “I miss you,” he says.

 

Bucky’s mouth slips open. Steve won’t look at him. Bucky ends up looking away, too, shaking his head because he can’t believe it.

 

“Can we talk about it?” Steve asks him.

 

“About –?” Bucky starts. “About what?”

 

“Everything,” Steve says, shrugging with a sad air. “I mean, it’s been months, but – I can’t stop thinking about it. It still hurts just as bad as it did in the beginning. An– an’ if I’m hurting, then you gotta be, too.”

 

He sounds almost hopeful. Bucky glances at him, then shakes his head and looks down at the glass of water in front of him. He picks it up, drains it, then reaches over the bar and picks up the bottle of orange juice Vincent left behind. He fills his glass with it and shifts on his stool to face Steve.

 

“You wanna go first or should I?” he asks.

 

Steve fidgets. He bites his lip and shrugs, turning his glass instead of drinking from it. Bucky turns on his stool completely and lightly kicks Steve’s ankle.

 

“C’mon,” he says. “You wanna go first?”

 

“I guess,” Steve sighs.

 

He picks up his glass finally and drinks from it, sets it down and swallows visibly. Bucky doesn’t watch his throat moving. Steve stares at the countertop for a second longer.

 

“I should probably start with the beginning?” he asks.

 

“Probably,” Bucky agrees.

 

Steve nods slowly. He looks farther down and shrugs, then lifts his gaze to look in the mirror behind the bar. He glances over his shoulder at Bucky, then looks down at the counter again.

 

“You didn’t call,” Steve starts. “Or text me much, either. I left for the summer and you kinda just faded.”

 

Bucky slumps. He wishes bitterly that he had had the nerve to call all those times he thought about it but didn’t. He understands now.

 

“When you drunk-called me, I jumped to conclusions,” Steve mumbles. “It hurt.”

 

“I don’t remember making that call,” Bucky explains quietly. “But I don’t think that I was calling for sex, Steve. I thought we were done with that. I thought you were done with me..”

 

Steve twists to frown at him. “Why would – I didn’t –”

 

“You packed up your stuff,” Bucky says. “You vacated my life. I thought you didn’t wanna be friends no more.”

 

“Aw, fuck, Bucky,” Steve sighs.

 

He turns on his stool and reaches out to grab his shoulder and it’s almost a shock how hard it hits Bucky just then, how much he’s missed Steve’s touch.

 

“I packed up my stuff ‘cause I needed some of it and ‘cause I thought you wouldn’t want it taking up space in your apartment for the whole summer.”

 

“You was all geared up to storm out,” Bucky insists weakly.

 

He wants to tell Steve that he’d rather have Steve’s stuff cluttering his apartment all the time, that he still has all the stuff that he bought for Steve that couldn’t be shattered and it’s still cluttering his apartment.

 

He flails for a moment, then eventually sighs and doesn’t admit the truth. It’s a habit.

 

“But I didn’t go,” Steve says. He shakes Bucky’s shoulder gently. “I stayed, didn’t I?”

 

Bucky looks down. He shrugs, then nods. “I – I thought it was goodbye,” he admits.

 

“Bucky,” Steve sighs. His hand retracts from Bucky’s shoulder and Bucky looks up to see him covering his face with his hands. “We’re a real mess, ain’t we?” Steve asks from behind his hands.

 

Bucky hesitates, then nods. “I guess,” he says.

 

Steve drops his hands onto the counter. “I thought you were ghosting me because you weren’t interested in me when I wasn’t available to fuck,” he whispers.

 

“Steve,” Bucky sighs much like Steve had done a second ago. “No, Steve, that’s – That’s the farthest thing from the truth.”

 

Steve shrugs a shoulder. “It felt like it,” he says.

 

“I thought you were only interested in me for sex,” Bucky admits.

 

Steve looks up slowly. “No,” he says quietly. “No, Buck. I – No, that’s not why I liked you.”

 

Bucky stares down at the counter. They lapse into silence, heavy and pregnant with the hurt.

 

“I unblocked your number,” Steve speaks up in a hesitant voice.

 

Bucky glances once at him. Steve’s staring into his juice; he looks like shit. He honestly looks like the past six months had been as rough on him as it’d been for Bucky.

 

“Is it too late to say sorry?” Bucky asks carefully.

 

Steve abruptly laughs. “I know you know that’s a song,” he says.

 

Bucky shrugs. “It fits?”

 

Steve shakes his head but he starts to smile. He sits up and folds his hands, looking in Bucky’s direction even if not at him directly.

 

“What are you missing other than my body?” Steve asks in a soft voice.

 

“How shit you are at Mario Kart,” Bucky blurts.

 

Steve laughs. He covers his mouth with a hand, his eye crinkling at the corners as he smiles behind his hand. Bucky kicks his foot off the rungs of his chair and makes contact with Steve’s ankle. Steve looks down at their feet and his smile grows a little stronger. Bucky nudges their legs a little closer together.

 

“How funny as shit it was whenever Becca started gagging ‘cause we’d be flirting,” Bucky continues. “The fact that you loved to watch cartoons with me, that we got to curl up under the same blanket for movies. How you’d call me out of the blue and ask if I’d bring you guys food so I’d come hang out with you.”

 

“We were genuinely hungry all those times,” Steve says, lowering his hand.

 

“Still,” Bucky says, soft and weak. He glances down at the envelope, then pushes it back towards Steve. “You won that, fair and square. You need it now that I ain’t buyin’ you dinner four times a week.”

 

Steve touches the envelope, then slowly pushes it towards Bucky again. “What if,” he says softly, “you keep it?”

 

Bucky glances down at it, then fixes his eyes on Steve. Steve watches the paper; his tongue pokes out from his mouth and he bites down on his lower lip. He pushes the envelope closer.

 

“And you start buying me dinner again?” Steve suggests in almost a whisper. His voice has a trace of a wild thing that might be hope in it.

 

Bucky looks down at the envelope, then at Steve, finally meeting Steve’s gaze. Finally looking Steve in the face, finally seeing how pale he is and how the dark circles under his eyes have grown in the past few months.

 

Bucky pulls the envelope towards him. “You wanna go get a pie?”

 

“Apple or pepperoni?” Steve asks, a smile slowly curling his lips.

 

“Both,” Bucky decides. He slips off the stool, shoves the envelope into his pocket, then holds out his hand to Steve. “Friends?”

 

Steve’s smile grows and stops. He looks at Bucky’s hand, then his smile brightens again and he takes Bucky’s hand.

 

“Friends,” he agrees.

Chapter Text

cigarettes dans le cendrier



Steve’s woken up by a loud crash. He sits bolt upright and gasps as he looks around in the darkness. Then the light switches on and he spots his roommate standing in the doorway looking at the desk chair he’d knocked over.

 

“Whoops?” Tony says.

 

Steve groans and flops back onto his pillows. “Do you even know what time it is?” he calls.

 

“Almost five.”

 

“Why the fuck are you coming in at almost five!” Steve says angrily to the wall.

 

“I got held up at an experiment! It’s a Friday, what does it matter?”

 

Steve rolls over. “I’m taking out my hearing aids,” he announces.

 

He grabs his phone and switches off his alarm. He instead texts Bucky to call him at seven and shoves his phone into his pillowcase so he’ll be able to feel it vibrating when Bucky calls. He takes out his hearing aids, switches them off, and drops against his pillow to pull his blanket over his head.

 

“Sorry!” Tony calls loudly near his bunk, likely loud enough to wake up their neighbors if Steve can still hear it.

 

Steve cracks his eyes and glares at Tony until he moves out of sight. Then he sighs and shuts his eyes again, trying to get back to sleep.

 

He wakes up again to his pillow vibrating. Steve sits up, blinks then pulls out his phone and looks at it. Bucky’s picture takes up the screen, his phone notifying him that Jerk is calling, and Steve hastens to put his hearing aids back in.

 

“Hey, how ya doin’ lil’ mama lemme whisper in ya ear –”

 

Steve swipes to answer the call before the song can continue. “Hi,” he mumbles pathetically.

 

“Good morning, sunshine,” Bucky says.

 

Steve grins despite himself. Something as dumb as Bucky mocking how not-put together Steve is in the morning shouldn’t delight him as much as it does, but oh well. Who’s gonna know?

 

“Did you need something?” Bucky asks.

 

“I took out my hearing aids to sleep and needed a wake-up call,” Steve tells him, throwing back his blankets. He gets out of bed, yawns as he stretches, and spots Tony crashed on the top bunk, fully dressed with his shoes dangling off the edge of the frame.

 

“Sure,” Bucky laughs in his ear. “Why did that happen at five in the morning?”

 

“My roommate woke me up being clumsy,” Steve says, stepping on the first few rungs of the ladder to look at Tony; Tony continues snoring. “Are you busy today?”

 

“Gotta be in the garage until noon,” Bucky answers. “Why?”

 

“Could I come over and do laundry?” Steve asks.

 

Bucky’s quiet. Steve steps off the ladder and starts getting dressed.

 

“Don’t they have washing machines on campus?”

 

“I ran out of quarters,” Steve lies.

 

It’s a flimsy excuse. Steve hasn’t been back to Bucky’s apartment since June; it’s the nearly March, now. He misses it, misses it viscerally. His nesting hormones still think of it at as home.

 

“Alright,” Bucky agrees and Steve privately whoops. “Uh, you gonna be at the VA?”

 

“Yeah,” Steve says. “I can take the bus to your place.”

 

“Nah, I’ll pick you up, I gotta be there anyway for group. You wanna order takeout?”

 

“That would be great,” Steve sighs, sick of cafeteria food. “Whatever you want’s good with me.”

 

“You say that but then you always whine when I get KFC.”

 

“Fried chicken’s gross!” Steve defends himself. He stands upright, putting a hand on his hip and scowling at the room at large. “It’s so bad for you!”

Bucky laughs across the phone. “I’ll get Indian,” he promises. “Hey, think you could work some magic on my back? It’s been killing me lately.”

 

“Yeah, no problem,” Steve agrees, putting the thought of a shirtless Bucky far, far out of his mind. “What’d you do to it?”

 

Bucky coughs. “Might’ve, uh, tackled some weights that weren’t friendly,” he says.

 

Steve curls his lip in an exasperated manner. “Are you torturing yourself for manly beauty, Bucky?”

 

“No!” Bucky insists. “I just – I only got one arm, I gotta keep in shape or I’m gonna end up lopsided –”

 

“Were these weights nearly sixteen years old and easily distracted?” Steve continues, starting to gather up his laundry in its hamper.

 

“Might’a been a combination,” Bucky mutters.

 

Steve throws a sweatshirt into his hamper. “James Bu–fucking–chanan Barnes, stop combining your little sister with barbels. You’re going to kill one of the two of you one day.”

 

“I only made her hang off my arm while –”

 

“Stop it!” Steve insists. “Masseuse’s orders!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Bucky says. “Hey, I’ll give ya a ride to the VA if you want.”

 

Steve glances at his watch. “You sure?”

 

“Yeah, no problemo, mi amigo. What’s your blood sugar?”

 

“Haven’t checked it yet,” Steve says. “There’s a moron who likes to bring his little sister with him to the gym so she’ll sit on his back while he does push-ups on the phone.”

 

“Well, you tell that moron that he’d better leave ya alone or he’s gonna have to face the wrath of the Alpha best friend,” Bucky says.

 

“Have fun punching yourself in the face, jerk,” Steve says.

 

“See ya, punk!” Bucky laughs.

 

Steve drops the phone and hangs up. Tony gives a particularly loud snort and Steve jumps. Then he shakes himself and sits down to check his blood sugar.

 

His levels good, he puts it away and looks under his bed for any more dirty laundry. He spots what looks like some sort of bomb made out of Tinker Toys and rolls his eyes at Tony Stark in general. Loveable, but insufferable. He takes a minute to check their fridge to make sure that there’s food of substance in it, then writes a sticky note to remind Tony to eat something when he gets up and sticks it to the ladder where he knows Tony will see it. 

 

Looking at Tony's shoes, though, Steve shakes his head and carefully tugs them off. Then he pushes Tony's socked feet into the bed, climbing up the ladder a step to grab his blanket and pull it over him, tucking him in. Steve tries not to feel like a mother hen, telling his nesting hormones to stop treating Tony like his own baby.

 

Bucky texts him about twenty minutes later that he’s outside. Steve grabs his stuff, then starts dragging his laundry bag out of the dorm. He locks the door behind him and starts heading for the lobby.

 

Steve waves to the security guard at the door and heads outside. Bucky’s truck is idling at the curb. Steve opens the passenger door and leans in.

 

“Should I put this in the back or…?” he asks, hefting his laundry bag.

 

Bucky glances over his shoulder, then points with his thumb. “You can stick it behind the bench.”

 

Steve hops into the truck, then hauls his laundry bag inside and drops it behind the bench in the back of the cab next to a fleece blanket and an umbrella. Then he shuts his door and slumps in the seat.

 

“You eat yet?” Bucky asks, putting the truck in drive and pulling forward.

 

“No,” Steve says. “You mind stopping somewhere?”

 

“I gotcha,” Bucky promises. “What time do you wanna be picked up?”

 

Steve slumps sideways then and lets his head collide with Bucky’s shoulder. “One,” he says. “Is when I get to clock out.”

 

“Awesome, group ends at 12:30,” Bucky says. “You gonna fuss about getting Starbucks?”

 

“You and Starbucks,” Steve mutters, sitting up. “It’s cool with me.”

 

They get there and Bucky orders himself a coffee in addition to Steve’s breakfast. They pull up to the window and instead of taking the money Steve tries to hand him, Bucky passes his debit card to the barista.

 

“I could’a paid!” Steve insists, waving his money under Bucky’s nose.

 

“I said I’d get it!” Bucky counters, shoving Steve’s money away from him. “C’mon, what good is bein’ in the friendzone for if I can’t buy you food like I’m overcompensating?”

 

“The friendzone was invented by incels,” Steve tells him stubbornly, waving his money one more time before shoving it back in his wallet.

 

Bucky rolls his eyes. He takes the two coffees and the bagged sandwich the barista hands him, passes them to Steve, then starts moving the car again.

 

“Punk,” he chuckles.

 

“Jerk,” Steve answers, taking out his breakfast sandwich.

 

It’s days like these that Steve wishes he could have caffeine from more than just herbal tea. He’s yawning throughout his sessions at Hug Room and he actually falls asleep while spooning one of his regulars. Charlie promises not to mention it and offers to get him a coffee, but Steve tells him no thanks and sends him on at the end of the session. The morning passes slowly and once twelve hits, Steve starts to wonder if Bucky’s going to come in and be his last session of the day or something. But he doesn’t and Steve clocks out at one without seeing him.

 

He calls Bucky from the back room, it rings twice and clicks.

 

“I forgot to put my phone on silent,” Bucky greets.

 

Steve snorts. “Where are you?”

 

“I’m in the waiting room. Your boss just got treated to Bootylicious. Why haven’t I changed your ringtone?”

 

“I haven’t changed yours,” Steve admits, standing up and grabbing his insulin bag. “When you called me last week while I was hanging out with Sam, he spent about ten minutes wheezing because your ringtone’s Hey lil’ mama.

 

“What the hell, Steve?” Bucky chuckles.

 

Steve makes his way down the hallway laughing softly. He slips out into the waiting room and hangs up as Bucky stands up.

 

Miss Peters looks at Steve from over her glasses. “Uh-huh,” she says, then flicks her magazine and returns to it. “Ya ain’t got no boy.”

 

Steve grimaces at Bucky and Bucky rolls his eyes. He takes Steve by the arm and mock-frog marches him out to the truck while Steve rolls his eyes.

 

“C’mon, let’s go do your laundry,” Bucky says, opening the passenger door on his way around to the driver’s side. “Lord knows that’s the only reason you friends with me.”

 

“No, it ain’t!” Steve insists, climbing into the truck and shutting his door. Bucky gets in, too, and Steve says: “You buy me food all the time, too.”

 

Bucky rolls his eyes, cranking the engine. “Lucky I can’t say no to that face.”

 

Steve laughs. He leans on Bucky’s shoulder comfortably, feeling exhausted from hours on his feet working his massage table despite the few vets who felt safe enough to sit on the couch with him. Steve hasn’t had a good night’s sleep since he got Tony Stark for a roommate and it’s piling up.

 

They get to Bucky’s apartment and Bucky takes Steve’s laundry instead of letting him do it. They go straight for the laundry room at the end of Bucky’s floor so Steve can start the first load, then Steve walks behind Bucky to his apartment. Bucky tosses his keys onto their hook and drops onto the couch.

 

Steve looks around. It’s been almost a year since he was here last, but it looks just the same. It looks the same, but there’s a faint odor of smoke about the furniture that has Steve wrinkling his nose. The only other difference is that the vase that used to sit on the coffee table is gone, replaced by an ashtray.

 

It’s full.

 

Steve looks down into it, then at Bucky and puts his hands on his hips. Bucky winces and shrugs. Steve flicks up an eyebrow and purses his lips.

 

“When’d you fall off the wagon?” he asks.

 

Bucky scowls and slumps on the futon. “July,” he mutters.

 

Steve drops his shoulders. He walks over to the couch and sits down next to Bucky, looking at the ashtray on the coffee table. It’s not his fault, he knows rationally. Bucky chose to start smoking again regardless of what Steve may have done to him. His heart doesn’t agree.

 

“You plannin’ to quit again?” Steve asks.

 

Bucky shrugs. “Always plannin’ to quit, Steve, just… never do.”

 

Steve looks over at him, then sits up and holds out his palm. “Well, quit. Gimme.”

 

Bucky looks at him, then at his hand, then blinks a few times. Steve wiggles his fingers. Bucky laughs then, smiling, and pulls a crumpled pack of cigarettes from his pocket. Steve stands up and goes over to the living room window, opens it, then dumps the pack out onto the fire escape. The smokes roll and slip through the grating, falling to the ground below. He grabs the ashtray off the coffee table and dumps it, too, then turns back.

 

“You got any more?” Steve asks.

 

“No, I was gonna go pick up more tomorrow,” Bucky admits.

 

Steve nods; he leaves the window open to get some fresh air in the apartment. “You got nicotine gum?”

Bucky shakes his head. Steve grabs his insulin bag off the coffee table.

 

“Come on,” he says. “Let’s hit the corner bodega. We can get pastrami while we’re there.”

 

Bucky sighs. He pushes to his feet, walks around Steve to grab his keys, and they leave again.

 

They walk to the bodega a few blocks from Bucky’s building. Steve has his hands in his pockets and Bucky does, too. Steve walks on Bucky’s right side and their elbows brush on occasion. He remembers walking down the streets of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat with his summer boyfriend and they’d walk hand in hand. Colin’s palms would get sweaty and Steve would always wash his hands after touching him.

 

It’s cold in New York anyway, better to keep his hands in his pockets. Steve doesn’t want to hold Bucky’s hand. He and Bucky are just friends again.

 

It’s better that way.

 

“Alright, punk,” Bucky says, throwing his elbow around Steve’s neck, “what you want on your sammich?”

 

“I got it, you go get your gum,” Steve tells Bucky, but he doesn’t push Bucky off of him.

 

Sure, he doesn’t want to hold Bucky’s hand. Holding hands is so cliche. Bucky shakes Steve’s shoulder by his arm around Steve’s neck, then pulls back and ruffles his hair as he walks away. Steve walks up to the counter to order himself and Bucky sandwiches with a smile.

 

Nah, he doesn’t wanna hold Bucky’s hand.

 

“I’m paying this time,” Steve declares when Bucky walks over to him with a plastic bag dangling from his fingers.

 

“Fine,” Bucky agrees. “But I’m getting dinner.”

 

Steve rolls his eyes. “Damn Alphas,” he remarks to the Beta behind the counter.

 

Bucky splutters and Steve laughs. He pays for the sandwiches and hooks the bag on his wrist with his insulin bag. As they leave, Bucky hooks his elbow around Steve’s neck again.

 

“You’re a whole ass pain in my ass,” Bucky tells him.

 

“You’re a pain in my ass,” Steve counters.

 

“You mean I been the pain in ya ass,” Bucky says, grinning lopsidedly at Steve.

 

Steve shoves him off. Bucky laughs, triumphant, and throws his arm back over Steve’s shoulder again. His arm stays there all the way back to Bucky’s apartment building and Steve doesn’t muscle up the resolve to protest.

 

Bucky holds the sandwiches hostage until Steve checks his blood sugar, they eat on the couch and watch Rick & Morty until Steve remembers to go change over his laundry.

 

When he gets back, Bucky’s sprawled on the futon on his stomach and Steve just climbs on his back.

 

“Yo,” Bucky mumbles, “you wanna come wi’ me t’a the gym?”

 

“I don’t do gyms,” Steve says, grabbing the large fleece blanket stashed on the back of the sofa and spreading it out over him and Bucky before lying down. “My heart and blood pressure don’t agree with anything other than light exercise.”

“Nah,” Bucky says, “so you can sit on my back while I do push-ups ‘cause Benny can only come on Fridays and Saturdays.”

“Oh,” Steve says. “Maybe. I’m heavier than Benny.”

 

“Don’t I know it,” Bucky mutters.

 

“Hey!” Steve complains, hitting him on the arm.

 

Bucky just grunt-laughs. Steve pillows his head on his arms, resting them on Bucky’s massive shoulders, and faces the TV.

 

“Wha’ counts as light exercise?” Bucky asks then.

 

“Walking and shake-weights,” Steve says.

 

Bucky snorts.

 

“And rolling in the hay,” Steve adds.

 

Bucky laughs properly, then twists and jostles Steve around until he’s lying on his side instead. He curls his arm over Steve’s waist, now lying in front of him, and fixes the blanket before going still. Steve, warm and full, starts to drift to sleep.

 

“Hey,” Bucky says in his ear sometime later. “Go change over your laundry.”

 

“No,” Steve answers petulantly. He bundles up further in the blanket, pressing tighter against Bucky’s chest. “You do it.”

 

“It’s your laundry,” Bucky chuckles.

 

“But it’s your machine,” Steve says.

 

“But it’s your laundry,” Bucky repeats, laughing in earnest.

 

“But you love me,” Steve mutters then, purely on impulse.

 

Half-asleep, he doesn’t think about the implications.

 

“Please?” he mumbles.

 

Bucky’s quiet, then he sighs gently. With the gentle silence, Steve’s falling asleep again.

 

“Fine,” Bucky sighs, then clambers off the couch from behind Steve. “Lucky you’re cute, punk.”

 

Steve smiles and settles back into the warm place where Bucky’s body had been. It feels like a hug and despite the lingering scent of cigarettes on the cushions, it smells mostly of Bucky and it satisfies Steve’s lizard brain that still associates Alpha with comfort. He hears the door open and shut and pulls the blanket up over his ears. A few minutes later, the door reopens and Steve lifts off the sofa to blink at Bucky as he enters.

 

“Load one,” Bucky says, dropping a basket onto the floor by the coffee table. “I’m gonna order supper.”

 

“‘Kay,” Steve says, lying back on the sofa.

 

Rick & Morty has changed to something else but Steve’s not paying attention. He vaguely listens to Bucky talking on the phone in the kitchen, until he drops back into his nap.

 

Bucky shakes him awake what feels like only a minute or two later. “Food’s here,” he says. “And you promised to do your magic on my poor back, punk.”

 

Steve yawns as he sits up, then nods.

 

“You enjoy your catnap?” Bucky asks.

 

Steve blinks slowly. He flicks his gaze up to Bucky and holds it, until Bucky looks away with a flush to his cheeks and walks into the kitchen. Steve drops his gaze to the blanket covering him, remembering Bucky bundling him in it while in headspace more than once.

 

Steve gets up. He joins Bucky in the kitchen, where there’s fragrant rice and naan bread and four different kinds of curry. Steve checks his blood sugar before loading up a plate. While he’s getting a glass out of the cupboard, he sees that there are coffee mugs missing. The large teacup with paw prints that Bucky had gifted Steve most prominently. Steve pulls his hand back, then glances at the open dishwasher. They aren’t there.

 

“What happened to my mug?” Steve asks, turning around.

 

Bucky, his back to Steve, stiffens. Steve blinks, confused, then Bucky sighs and relaxes.

 

“It got broken,” he says, picking up his plate and walking into the living room.

 

Steve glances back at the cupboard, searching it almost. Had the John Deere mug broken at some point since he’d last been here, too? He lifts onto his toes and counts two or three other mugs missing, all ones Steve had been fond of. He takes down a glass, walks over to the fridge, and notices the absence of the cracker jar, too. There’s no sign of the vase that had been on the coffee table, either.

 

Steve pours iced tea into his glass, then takes his plate out into the living room. “Where’s the cookie jar?”

 

“Got broken,” Bucky says simply.

 

Steve sits down, frowning at Bucky. Bucky picks up the TV remote and turns up the volume, then starts flipping through the channels for something good to watch. Steve looks back at the coffee table, then shakes his head and pulls his plate to him.

 

Bucky settles the TV on Law and Order: SVU and kicks his feet up on the coffee table. Steve tries to do it, too, but his legs are too short.

 

“Bucky,” he whines.

 

“Wha’?” Bucky asks through a mouthful of rice and tikka masala.

 

Steve sticks his legs out and kicks his feet up and down. He looks at Bucky and sticks out his lower lip.

 

“Ugh,” Bucky says emphatically and sits up. He puts his plate down, plants his boots, and drags the coffee table closer. Steve sets his heels on its surface and shoots Bucky a smile. “Better?” Bucky asks, raising his eyebrows.

 

“Much,” Steve tells him.

 

Bucky kicks his feet onto the table and slumps back on the couch. His boots nearly reach the other side of the table. Steve looks at his heels just sitting on the edge, then at Bucky slouching, and he snorts.

 

“Wha’?” Bucky repeats, mouth still full.

 

Steve slouches as much as he can but his feet still don’t stretch nearly as far as Bucky’s. He pulls them back and kicks off his sneakers, then stretches his toes. Bucky glances down his legs, then points his toes, too. His boots flex a whole inch. Steve laughs again.

 

“Shuddup,” Bucky says, swinging his legs back off and putting down his plate. His boots hit the ground heavily.

 

Steve reacts immediately. Bucky’s boots hit the floor with muffled thuds, Steve’s brain goes Ring-a-ding, kiss his boots, kitten, and he habitually slips off the sofa onto his knees.

 

“Uh,” Bucky says.

 

Steve’s hands stop halfway to Bucky’s boots. He blinks at himself, then shrugs and looks up. “What?” he says, then starts tugging Bucky’s laces loose briskly. “Get’cha mind outta the gutter,” he adds.

 

He yanks one of Bucky’s boots off and tosses it to the side, under the coffee table. Then he moves to the next one, taking it off without ceremony or even a smidgen of the honorific respect he would have had if he were still Bucky’s pet. The thud of the empty boots hitting the floor leaves him a little unsettled. He ignores the feeling.

 

Steve shuffles back on his knees, then swings himself onto the sofa again.

 

Bucky clears his throat. Steve picks his plate back up and puts his feet on the coffee table. His ears are red. Glancing at Bucky, Steve sees that the back of his neck, exposed by the way Bucky has his hair pulled into a knot at the back of his head, is flushed down his shirt. Steve looks away again.

 

“Did I ever tell you your hair looks hipster-ish now?” Steve asks Bucky.

 

“No, but thanks for sharing,” Bucky says, then huffs a strand of long hair from his eyes.

 

“You make it work,” Steve adds.

 

Bucky glances at him. Then away and clears his throat. He picks up the TV remote and adjusts the volume again, making it a little louder. Steve looks down at his plate, then starts eating.

 

When Steve’s cleaned his plate, he puts it on the coffee table and pulls his legs onto the sofa. He curls up on his hip, props his head on his fist, and stretches out his legs onto Bucky’s lap. Bucky simply lifts his plate and then rests it again on Steve’s legs.

 

Steve slides down the arm of the futon until his knees are in Bucky’s lap. Bucky props his elbow on Steve’s shin. Steve wriggles until he’s flat on his back, his arms above his head, and focuses on the TV.

 

Bucky puts down his plate, then twists on the couch and abruptly winces. Steve glances at him.

 

“You okay?” he asks.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says, stretching to one side. His spine audibly pops.

 

“Oh, gross,” Steve says, wrinkling his nose. He squirms to sit up and kicks at Bucky’s thigh. “You want me to work on your back now?”

 

Bucky grimaces and stretches in the other direction; his spine pops again.

 

“Okay, on the floor,” Steve announces, swinging his legs off the couch. “On your stomach.” He shoves the coffee table out of the way, then grabs the futon cushion and tugs on it. “C’mon, get off.”

 

“I don’t wanna move,” Bucky groans.

 

“Move anyway,” Steve tells him. “C’mon, or I’ll get a belt outta your closet and whip you with it. Some jerk I know taught me how to do it right, too.”

 

Bucky snorts. He lifts off the couch and Steve tugs the cushion off, spreading it on the floor. Bucky lays down on it, starting on his knees and shifting to his elbow with a tight expression. With a grunt, he flops onto his stomach.

 

“That’s real helpful, pal,” Steve starts, “but you need to take your shirt off.”

 

Bucky groans face-first into the cushion. He pushes himself up onto his knees again, sits back and tugs his shirt off from the back of the neck. Steve’s seen his naked torso many times, obviously, but it’s been a while. Somehow, Bucky has managed to get more buff since the last time Steve had seen him naked.

 

(That, and it’d been a while. The last time he had sex was the few times he’d done it with Colin in France, and that had been pretty underwhelming. Mostly because it wasn’t Bucky. So, suffice it to say, Steve hasn’t felt like having sex lately.)

 

Bucky looks up to Steve and then he’s smirking.

 

“You just gonna stand there and drool or you gonna get to work?” he asks in a drawl, letting his shirt slip from his fingers onto the floor.

 

Steve jolts and sucks in a breath; then he hardens and glares at Bucky.

 

“Don’t play games with me,” he snaps. “You’ve got a girlfriend.”

 

Bucky drops his gaze. “Sorry,” he mutters, lowering himself back onto his stomach.

 

Steve exhales. He steps around and kneels down next to Bucky’s waist. He gets a look at the state Bucky’s back is in, then gets up and goes into the bathroom looking for lotion. He knows he left a bottle of cocoa butter in there –

 

There’s no cocoa butter, but there is a bottle of Victoria’s Secret lotion. Steve raises an eyebrow as he picks it up, then squirts a little into his palm and rubs it into his hands, lifting his hands into his nose to smell it. It’s incredibly floral, but not offensive. Steve looks back at the bottle, glances over his shoulder before sneaking up on the shower. He pulls back the curtain carefully, trying not to make noise, and snoops around.

 

There’s a bottle of color safe shampoo and matching conditioner set next to Bucky’s 2-in-1 shampoo on the built-in shower shelf. Beneath it is Bucky’s body wash and a deep moisturizing shower gel. The bottles are full size.

 

Steve stares at Bucky’s girlfriend’s things for a moment, then he turns around. He opens the cabinets under the sink and finally finds his cocoa butter lotion in a drawer. He shamelessly puts the Victoria’s Secret lotion in the trash, then rips off a few pieces of toilet paper to scatter over top of it to disguise it. Bucky hates floral scents anyway, Steve knows; they give him headaches. He refuses to feel guilty about this moment of pettiness.

 

Steve shuts the door behind him when he leaves the bathroom. Bucky picks his head up and squints at him as he leaves.

 

“You take a shit or somethin’?” Bucky asks.

 

“I had to dig around to find this,” Steve counters, waving the cocoa butter. “You had it hidden.”

 

Bucky shrugs. “Put it away,” he says, flopping back onto his stomach.

 

Steve walks around behind him, throws a leg over Bucky’s body, then sits down carefully on his ass.

 

“What –” Bucky starts, jerking up and around.

 

“Lay down,” Steve scolds, popping the cap on the lotion to squirt some into his palms. He’ll need to sit like this, otherwise, he’ll mess up his own back leaning over. It’s definitely a little weird, though. “You want me to work on your back or not?” he says, maintaining professionalism.

 

Bucky huffs and lays flat again. He grumbles under his breath and Steve considers plopping the cold lotion onto his skin. But he knows better than that and works it between his palms to warm it before he puts his hands to the tense muscles in Bucky’s lower back.

 

“Yikes, you are tight, ” Steve observes. “What did you do to your back?”

 

“Told you,” Bucky grumbles. “Benny was hanging on my arm, I was lifting weights.”

 

“Like, barbells or –-”

 

“Nah, it was a machine,” Bucky cuts him off in answer. He pushes his arm above his head and pumps his arm up and down in a gesture that reminds Steve of a train conductor pulling a whistle. “But Benny fell and the bar slipped.”

 

Bucky shoves his fist up, contorting his back. Steve winces.

 

“You’re gonna break yourself if you ain’t more careful,” Steve tells him. “How’s that gym even let your lil’ sister do stuff like that?”

“Murdock’s good people,” Bucky mumbles. “He gets it.”

 

Steve sighs. “You’re still wrecking your body. You’re overworking yourself. You keep this up –”

He puts pressure on a massive knot of muscle in Bucky’s lower back. Bucky hisses and tenses and Steve reels in the pressure.

 

“That’ll keep happening,” he says.

 

“Ow,” Bucky mutters.

 

“Do you do stretches?”

 

“‘Course I stretch,” Bucky says. “The fuck I look like? A moron?”

 

“Every day,” Steve adds on. “Do you stretch every day?”

 

“Oh,” Bucky says. “Uh.”

 

Steve rolls his eyes. “You look a lot like a moron, jerk.”

 

“You look like a, uh –” Bucky starts.

 

“Uh-huh,” Steve says, working out the knot now. “I look like a what?”

 

“Uhhh,” Bucky groans. “Oh, yeah. That's good.”

 

Steve snorts. “I look good?” he chuckles.

 

“Nah, you look like shi – Right there! Oh, right there, right there…”

 

Steve can’t help laughing under his breath as he massages out the knot in Bucky’s back and Bucky groans more under him, going noodly limp. Steve starts working his way from Bucky’s lower back up. Steve fixes his weight on the small of Bucky’s back, presses his palms to Bucky’s shoulder blades, and pushes down slowly. Bucky groans again as his spine stretches but Steve lets up after just a second. He waits a few more seconds, then does it again.

 

“‘S good,” Bucky mumbles. “‘S almost like you do this regularly.”

 

Steve chuckles. “Almost like I got certifications or somethin’,” he says.

 

Bucky chuckles too, deep and quiet, and Steve stops pushing on his shoulders in favor of easing the tension in his obliques. The TV gets ignored and Bucky continues sighing and moaning while Steve works out the knots and kinks and tightness of his back.

 

“I might fall asleep,” Bucky mumbles.

 

“You’ll wake up with a crick in your neck,” Steve answers. “‘Sides, how am I gonna get home?”

 

Bucky falls quiet and Steve keeps focusing on what he’s doing. He’s moved up to between Bucky’s shoulder blades by then and is slowly working out a knot just under his right scapula. Bucky carries all of his tension in his right side, Steve knows; particularly in his back. Back when they were still sleeping together, Steve gave him massages maybe once or twice a week, just because he could just see the tension in Bucky’s muscles and sympathetically tensed for him.

 

“I was gonna take you home in the morning,” Bucky says abruptly.

 

Steve slows, then stops. He sits up.

 

“I mean,” Bucky adds, twisting his head around to look at Steve from the corner of his eye. “I changed the sheets on Benny’s bed, not –”

 

He pauses, taking a breath. Steve looks away, his lashes lowering.

 

“I thought,” Bucky continues without finishing, “you’d like to maybe get outta your dorm for a while?”

 

“I didn’t bring a toothbrush,” Steve says quietly.

 

“I got new ones last week,” Bucky replies. “Still got one in the package. You can have it.”

 

“Stop straining your neck,” Steve says and returns to what he’s doing.

 

Bucky shifts his head back to rest on his cheek. Then he turns his head to the other direction, resting on his other cheek, and stays quiet. Steve works out the knot at last and moves up a little more.

 

“What about your girlfriend?” Steve asks then. “Won’t she mind?”

 

“If you sleep in the spare room?” Bucky questions, then scoffs. “She cares about that, then I don’t really think I want her to hang around. C’mon, we’re friends, Steve.”

 

“Yeah,” Steve agrees cautiously.

 

“It doesn’t matter,” Bucky insists. “I know you’re exhausted and – and you always slept better over here than at the dorms, you said so yourself.”

 

Steve hates the fact that he’s right. Well, partially right. Steve always slept better in Bucky’s bed, not just his apartment.

 

In fact, it wasn’t ever the location that made the difference.

 

“Good thing I got clothes,” Steve says at last. “Wouldn’t wanna give anybody the wrong impression doin’ the walk’a shame in the morning.”

 

Bucky snorts. Steve smiles softly and moves up to Bucky’s shoulder.

 

The buzzer rings. Bucky pushes himself up and Steve looks over his shoulder, then the buzzer rings again and Steve glances down at Bucky.

 

“You expecting someone?”

 

Bucky shakes his head, sliding back onto his chest. “Let ‘em in, would you? Probably not for us, somebody just leanin’ on the buzzer.”

 

Steve lifts off Bucky’s back and heads for the door. He answers the buzzer, not the intercom. Steve stands there for a second, then shrugs and walks back over to Bucky. He settles himself on the floor in front of Bucky to work on Bucky’s shoulders, then there’s an abrupt knock at the door.

 

Bucky twists around to squint and frown at the door. Steve gets back up again and goes to answer it, shaking his head at the situation. He pulls open the door.

 

“Hey, I left –”

 

The woman on the stoop stops mid-sentence, her face now blank. Steve raises his eyebrows.

 

“Who are you?” the woman says bluntly.

 

“Can I help you?” Steve says instead of answering.

 

“Who is it?” Bucky calls.

 

Steve glances over his shoulder and shrugs. Bucky groans, pushes to his feet and walks over. Steve looks back at the woman and her eyes have gotten huge. She looks between Steve and Bucky with her mouth slightly open.

 

“Hey,” Bucky says, frowning at the woman. “What’s up?”

 

“I left my stuff in your shower,” the woman says.

 

Steve jerks his gaze back to her and his mouth drops open. She points at Steve, looking at Bucky now with a terse expression.

 

“Who’s this?”

 

Steve’s eyebrows shoot up, too. Bucky glances at him, his face goes dark, and Steve lifts his hands in surrender.

 

“This is above my paygrade,” he says, and ducks past Bucky to go into the kitchen.

 

He grabs his insulin bag, unzips it, and sets about testing his blood sugar while he listens in on Bucky and his girlfriend talking at the door.

 

“He’s a friend, Dot –”

 

“Why are you shirtless?” Dot demands.

 

“He was working on my back, he’s a massage therapist.”

 

“It’s nine o’clock! Almost ten!”

“So?”

 

“Uh, so! Why’s he here at this time of night?”

 

“He’s been here all day.”

 

Steve shakes his head as he pricks his finger. It sounds like Bucky’s not even trying to make the situation sound better than it is.

 

“What the fuck, James?”

 

Steve snorts and covers his mouth with a hand; she calls him James?

 

“What? I’m not allowed to have friends?”

 

“You’re – That’s not what I’m saying. Don’t you think this is a little inappropriate?”

 

Steve wrinkles his nose as he shakes his head. His meter beeps, telling him his blood sugar’s at a good level, and he puts his things away. He glances out of the kitchen, then thinks fuck it and walks out to grab his and Bucky’s dishes from the coffee table.

 

“Can we talk someplace private?” Dot snaps to Bucky.

 

Bucky just shrugs as he crosses his arms over his chest. “Anything you got to say to me you can say in front of Steve.”

 

Steve mouths Yikes at Dot. Her features go stony. Steve decides he doesn’t like her.

 

“Do you mind?” Dot says.

 

Steve shrugs. “Nah,” he answers, walking into the kitchen. “Buck, you want to run the dishwasher now or later?”

 

“Later,” Bucky answers calmly.

 

Steve puts the dishes in the dishwasher and kicks it shut. He wipes his hands on a towel and walks back into the living room. He drops into the armchair and takes out his phone. He can feel Dot glaring at him and looks up at her, raising his eyebrows.

 

“Okay,” Dot exhales, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Fine. Anything I have to say? Here’s my anything! I’m breaking up with you.”

Steve jerks up his head. Bucky raises his eyebrows in Dot’s direction but doesn’t look at her exactly. Dot glares at Bucky.

 

“That escalated quickly,” Steve mutters, then he adds, louder, “I hope you’re not breaking up because he has friends.”

 

“No, it’s because he’s an asshole,” Dot snaps. She shoves past Bucky and storms into the bathroom. “He’s inattentive and obtuse and unfeeling! And I’m sick of it!”

 

“He’s attentive,” Steve insists. “Of course, there is the fact that you two have only been together for a few weeks, that might be it. If it makes you feel better, you lasted longer than most of his other girls.”

 

Bucky exhales slowly and covers his face with his hand. Steve shrugs at him.

 

“Where’s my lotion!” Dot yells.

 

“I have no idea,” Bucky answers her.

 

Dot bangs the bathroom door open and glares at Bucky. “I hope you’re better to the next girl,” she snaps, then storms out.

 

Bucky shuts the door behind her. Steve gives him a grimace and steps nearer.

 

“You okay?” he asks.

 

“Surprisingly,” Bucky says, nodding. “I’ve been waiting for her to do that for a week.”

 

“Why didn’t you just break up with her?” Steve asks, frowning.

 

Bucky shrugs. “She said her last four boyfriends dumped her suddenly. I figured it would be nice if she got to do the dumping this time.”

 

Steve just looks at him for a second, then he snorts. “And you’re obtuse,” he echoes Dot’s words as he shakes his head. He steps towards the kitchen. “You want ice cream? Beer?”

 

“What’s your blood sugar?” Bucky asks, following Steve into the kitchen.

 

“One forty-two,” Steve answers, opening the freezer. “Hey,” he says, startled. “You got my sugar free ice cream.” He glances over his shoulder. “It’s not the same ice cream as a year ago, is it?” he adds worriedly.

 

Bucky snorts. “No,” he says. “I – I bought it a coupl’a weeks ago.”

Steve turns back around and smiles into the freezer. He grabs the bright red carton from the top shelf and shuts the freezer again, slipping past Bucky who goes to open the fridge, and takes a spoon from the silverware drawer before hopping onto the counter. Steve pops off the lid and pulls the plastic sleeve, then digs his spoon into the edge and presses the spoon into his mouth while Bucky pulls a can of beer from the fridge and pops the can open.

 

Steve meets Bucky’s gaze and smiles. Bucky breaks and grins, shaking his head, he leans against the counter and tips his beer towards Steve.

 

“That escalated quickly,” Bucky chuckles. “You’re just full’a one-liners, punk.”

 

“It’s Short Person Syndrome,” Steve explains. “See, all our smart attitude gets condensed into tiny wallops.”

 

Bucky laughs, shaking his head. “Guess so.”

 

“How’s your back?” Steve asks.

 

“Feels like angels started singing,” Bucky tells him. He tips his beer again. “Which wouldn’t be much of a stretch.”

 

Steve rolls his eyes as his ears flash hot. “Surprisingly, you’re just as flirtatious single as you were a committed man.”

 

Bucky just shrugs, smiling a little. Steve grins to himself and carries on carving his sugar-free ice cream from its carton.

 

Amazing how little things really change in a year’s time. Steve and Bucky brush their teeth side-by-side, Steve opens the mirror cabinet to find that his face wash is still there and while he washes his face, Bucky combs his hair in front of the mirror and ties it back in a bun. Well, that’s new. Steve likes Bucky’s new hair, though. One good thing that came out of their Blue Periods.

 

(Steve does, in fact, have sketchbooks full of blue watercolor focusing on the single subject that was his heartbreak. Those sketchbooks are hidden in his bedroom at Doc’s house in Park Slope and will probably never see the light of day again.)

 

Steve leaves the bathroom after Bucky and flips the light off. Then for just a second, the two of them stand there by the open doors to the two bedrooms.

 

“Goodnight,” Bucky says almost stiffly.

 

“Night,” Steve answers a little quietly.

 

Bucky looks down. Steve forces himself to turn around and walk into the spare bedroom. He shuts the door. He breathes.

 

He turns down the blankets, plugs in his phone and one of his hearing aids. There’s an iPhone cord and an Android charger by the nightstand already.

 

Steve lies in the dark, wondering for how long Bucky had been hoping Steve would come home.

 

Steve tosses and turns. The bed is too cold. He pulls the blankets over his shoulders up to his ears and sleeps fitfully.

 

He sleeps fitfully until the acrid smell of fear reaches through the walls and stirs him. Steve lifts his head, blinking. Then he leaps out of bed, throws open his door, runs into Bucky’s room.

 

Bucky is twisting violently in the sheets, whimpering in his sleep. Steve jumps onto the bed and tries to grab Bucky’s hand and shoulder, trying to soothe and still him, but Bucky lashes out and throws him off. Steve hits the edge of the bed, his hands fail to catch on the mattress and he loses his balance. He falls onto the ground hard, causing a loud thud and making the room rattle.

 

Steve winces

 

Bucky sits bolt upright, gasping as he wakes. Steve scrambles to his feet and climbs back onto the bed, grabbing Bucky’s face and making his eyes turn on Steve.

 

The blue-white light from the window casts a sick wash over Bucky’s face, making him look hollow, ill, undead. The bags under his eyes are emphasized and the sweat covering his body shines like powdered glass covering his skin. He pants for breath. His eyes don’t meet Steve’s. They don’t seem to be focusing on anything.

 

“Hey,” Steve says quietly. “You’re okay, soldier. You’re home.”

 

Bucky just pants for breath. Steve shifts onto his knees and pulls Bucky into a tight hug, pressing his face into his neck; Steve concentrates on keeping his mind and body calm, so his scent produces a sweet and happy sugar smell that will reach Bucky’s frantic mind and sedate him. He’s been trained to do this. It’s no different than what he does at the VA.

 

Bucky pants against Steve’s neck, then his arm surges around Steve’s waist and his fingers dig into Steve’s ribs. Steve clings back, despite his training telling him to be more gentle. He knows his scent will have relief in it, too.

 

(It’s different.)

 

“It’s February 21st, 2019,” Steve murmurs into Bucky’s sweat soaked hair, escaping from his bun which is lopsided and limp now. “You’re in your own home in Manhattan. War’s over, soldier. You’re home.”

Bucky’s harsh breathing slows. Steve pulls Bucky’s hair tie out and starts finger-combing his hair.

 

“It’s okay, Bucky,” he says.

 

Bucky chokes on an inhale. Steve holds onto him tighter just as Bucky’s arm cinches down on his waist and pulls him fully onto Bucky’s lap. Bucky’s breathing picks up that choking quality again and again and Steve realizes with a jolt that Bucky is sobbing.

 

“You’re safe,” Steve tells him again softly.

 

He kisses Bucky’s hair once, twice, then nuzzles against the top of his head and rubs a hand up and down Bucky’s back, bare from sleeping. Bucky shudders in Steve’s arms.

 

“You’re home, Bucky,” Steve murmurs. “Everyone’s home, everyone’s safe. Benny’s at home with your ma and pop, she’s fast asleep and dreaming about the soccer game she had this morning. Becca’s at NYU in her dorm with our friend Natasha, fast asleep, too. Betty’s at home with your parents, Georgie and Vinny are with her, your parents are home.”

 

Steve strokes down Bucky’s back, pressing his cheek against Bucky’s sweat-tinged hair. “They’re all safe and they’re all okay,” he says.

 

Bucky’s breath stutters as he inhales. He rubs his face into Steve’s neck, getting tears and snot over his skin but Steve doesn’t give a shit. He combs through Bucky’s hair with one hand and rubs his back with the other as Bucky starts to sob.

 

“I’m here,” he says gently. “I’ve got you, Buck. It’s okay.”

 

Slowly, Bucky’s breathing becomes healthy again. Steve’s cheek stays smashed against his head and he keeps rubbing Bucky’s back until he stops sobbing. Bucky’s arm starts to go slack around him, but Steve holds on.

 

Eventually, Bucky lifts his head. Steve holds onto his hair as Bucky sits back and sniffs hard.

 

“Sorry,” Bucky says hoarsely.

 

“It’s okay, don’t apologize,” Steve answers. “There’s nothing to be sorry for.”

 

Bucky drops his hand from Steve’s waist, exhaling heavily, and Steve reaches up to brush Bucky’s hair from his face.

 

“When did you start getting nightmares again?” he asks gently.

 

Bucky abruptly laughs. It sounds foreign and unsettling in the tense darkness that reeks like fear.

 

“Start again implies that they stopped at one point,” he murmurs.

 

Steve’s mouth slips open. Bucky shakes his head. He reaches up and catches Steve’s wrist, pulling his hand from his hair, and Steve doesn’t fight him.

 

“You should go back to bed,” Bucky says. He swallows and takes another shaking breath, then pushes Steve back a little. “I’m sorry I woke you up.”

 

“Bucky,” Steve whispers carefully. He pulls his wrist from Bucky’s grip and cups his face with both hands. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be right now.”

 

Bucky shakes his head. Steve just nods at him.

 

“You should –” Bucky starts, stops and shakes as he exhales.

 

“You never got nightmares when I was sleeping with you,” Steve says. “Is – Were you having nightmares every night you slept alone?”

 

Bucky’s lips part. Steve brushes his hair back again.

 

“Tell me,” he asks. “Please, Buck, please tell me?”

 

Bucky’s gaze drops. His mouth moves without sound, moves without words intelligible on them, and he’s still shaking.

 

“Not –” he says, his voice hushed. Ashamed. “Not every night.”

 

Steve makes a soft oh sound and cups Bucky’s cheeks, pulling him down to rest their foreheads together. Bucky’s hand lifts, trembling, then he touches Steve’s face and his thumb sweeps across his cheek.

 

“Most nights?” Steve asks quietly.

 

Bucky nods.

 

Steve wipes at the cold sweat on Bucky’s brow. “Let me change your sheets,” he whispers. “You could take a quick shower?”

 

Bucky exhales sharply. He starts to shake his head and Steve catches his cheeks so he can’t.

 

“C’mon,” he says. “You don’t have to sleep in this smell. Let me take care of it, you take care of you.”

 

Bucky shuts his mouth, clenches his jaw, he swallows and finally nods. Steve wants to kiss him. He wants to kiss him, wants to join Bucky in the shower and tenderly wash his hair the way Bucky had done for Steve so many times, he wants to help and to touch with more significance than kindness.

 

But he can’t. He can’t do that to himself again.

 

Steve gets up and helps Bucky shuffle off the bed. Bucky hangs lopsided and slanted to the right for a second, then straightens himself and leaves the room. Steve starts stripping the bed.

 

He takes the sweat-soaked sheets all the way out of the room. He opens the window to get the smell of Bucky’s nightmare out. Steve gets clean sheets out of the closet, makes the bed again with a new quilt, puts fresh cases on the pillows. He turns down the blankets on both sides.

 

Bucky walks back in, his hair dripping and a towel clutched around his hips. He clenches his jaw as he sees Steve still there, but goes to his dresser and pulls out clean boxers.

 

Steve stands by the bed, hugging himself, as Bucky tosses away his towel with his back to him and puts on fresh underwear. Bucky’s physique doesn’t look exquisite in the sickly light from the window. It looks cruel and unrepentant.

 

Bucky turns around and Steve walks up to him, touching his arm and sweeping his thumb across Bucky’s skin.

 

“Do you wanna talk about it?” he asks.

 

Bucky shakes his head.

 

“Then let’s go back to bed,” Steve suggests. “Okay?”

 

Bucky exhales and nods. He pulls away from Steve, heading for his side of the bed, and Steve goes to his own. He gets in and Bucky freezes.

 

“Steve,” he says.

 

“C’mere,” Steve says, lying down.

 

Bucky sighs again. “Steve,” he says more gently.

 

“You think I’m just gonna abandon you?” Steve asks him. “What kinda friend would I be?”

 

Bucky’s gaze slips down. He gets in the bed and lies down on his back. Steve conforms to his side, lying his head on Bucky’s chest.

 

Outside, engines roll and rain patters the window. Inside, Steve tries to hold back his own heart while he offers comfort to his friend.

 

“When’s the last time somebody just touched you just kindly?” he asks.

 

“Last night,” Bucky answers.

 

“Other than me,” Steve insists.

 

Bucky’s quiet. Steve curls his arm over Bucky’s waist, then Bucky’s hand lays over top of Steve’s and squeezes.

 

“My ma hugs me every time I see her,” Bucky says. “‘Bout it.”

 

Steve does his best to squirm closer. He hooks a leg over Bucky’s knee, rubs his face against Bucky’s shoulder, and lifts his hand to lace his fingers with Bucky’s.

 

“You know,” he starts, “I’m still a cuddly person.”

 

Bucky’s quiet.

 

“And I hate the idea of you waking up from a nightmare alone,” Steve adds.

 

“I done fine on my own,” Bucky mumbles.

 

Steve squeezes his hand. “Thing is, you don’t hafta.”

Bucky inhales.

 

“I’m still with you ‘til the end of the line,” Steve tells Bucky.

 

Instead of saying I still love you.

 

Bucky squeezes Steve’s hand back. “Me, too,” he says. Then, softer, “Thank you.”

 

“Anytime,” Steve promises.

 

They succumb to sleep. The next morning dawns bright and beautiful and somewhere there are choirs singing on this insignificant Sunday, but in their little world, Steve wakes up to Bucky’s snoring and his morning wood poking him in the back.

 

Steve lies there for a long time. Amazing, he thinks, how little things change while nothing’s the same. A year ago, Steve would have started a steady grind against Bucky’s erection until Bucky woke up or he would’ve taken care of both of them himself. This morning?

 

Steve slips from the bed and Bucky’s nose tucked against his neck. Bucky doesn’t wake up. Steve pushes the door to the bedroom shut to steal Bucky’s bathrobe –

 

His still hangs right next to Bucky’s. Steve blinks at it, then looks over his shoulder at Bucky’s sleeping form. Steve takes his bathrobe and pulls it on, then heads into the kitchen to check his blood sugar and get breakfast started.

 

He’s still wondering; how long has Bucky been hoping Steve would come home?

Chapter Text

pas cher sensations fortes



Bucky puts the truck in park on the curb, locks the steering wheel, and picks up his phone. Once it’s dialing, he presses it to his ear and looks up at the building.

 

It rings a few times. The line clicks and Bucky hears Steve give a very long, very irritated groan.

 

“Morning, sunshine,” Bucky greets. “You wanna go to Coney Island?”

 

“Wha’?” Steve mutters.

 

“Coney Island,” Bucky repeats. “You ‘n’ me, today. Like, right now.”

 

“It’s seven on a Sunday,” Steve grumbles. “Go back to sleep and call me again when it’s a fucking reasonable hour.”

 

“I’m outside,” Bucky adds.

 

Bucky looks up towards where he knows Steve’s window is as he hears the shaking of blankets and creaking floorboards over the phone. The curtains in Steve’s window part and Bucky waves.

 

“You’re outside,” Steve mutters.

 

“Yep,” Bucky says.

 

“Alright,” Steve sighs. “Go park the truck and come inside, I’ll come down and get the guard to let you in.”

 

“Okay?” Bucky agrees, pinning the phone against his shoulder and getting the truck moving again. “Why aren’t you just coming downstairs?”

 

“Because I said so,” Steve says. “Five minutes.”

 

Bucky parks. He locks his truck and heads inside, stopping at the security desk and pulling to his ID.

 

“Who are you here to see?” the guard asks.

 

“Steve Rogers,” Bucky answers.

 

The guard types on their keyboard. “He’s gonna have to come down and vouch for you since you’re not family.”

 

“Yeah, I know, he’s coming,” Bucky agrees.

 

An elevator chimes and a rumpled and squinting Steve exits it. He’s still in pajamas; he’s wearing slippers, even. He walks over and holds out his ID to the guard.

 

“This one’s mine,” Steve says simply in greeting.

 

Bucky tries not to blush. He knows he fails.

 

“You’re good,” the guard says, handing both of them their IDs back.

 

Steve grabs Bucky’s elbow and drags him back into the elevator. Inside, he yawns and Bucky nudges him with his hip.

 

“What are we doing?” he asks. “Why aren’t you dressed?”

 

“Shhh,” Steve says, reaching up and covering Bucky’s hand with his mouth. “Patience, grasshopper.”

 

Bucky snorts. The elevator stops again and Steve drags Bucky out. They walk to Steve’s room, Steve unlocks it, and Bucky looks around curiously because he hadn’t seen Steve’s dorm room yet this year.

 

Steve pushes him onto the empty bottom bunk. Then he crouches down and starts unlacing Bucky’s boots.

 

“Uh,” Bucky says.

 

“It’s seven on a Sunday, ” Steve says emphatically. “We’re going back to sleep.”

 

Bucky laughs. Steve shushes him and tugs his boots off for him, then he kicks off his own slippers and crawls past Bucky to curl up in the divot of pillows and blankets near the wall. He puts his glasses on the desk reachable through the frame of the bunk beds and curls up in a ball. Bucky glances towards the upper bunk, then tugs off his socks and his shirt before crawling in behind Steve. (Why his shirt, well, if he’s gonna sleep, he’s gonna sleep and he can’t sleep wearing a shirt; he’s tried.) He worms his way into the hollow of Steve’s bed and Steve shifts to make room for him.

 

“Sleep,” Steve mumbles, already wearing a black eye mask with some kind of red embroidery.

 

Bucky peers over Steve’s shoulder to read the writing on it, then sniggers; it says Fuck Off in elegant cursive.

 

Bucky pulls Steve against his chest and curls his arm under his shoulders to cradle him. Steve hums softly, happily, and Bucky shuts his eyes as he breathes deeply the smell of fresh gingerbread cookies.

 

Surprisingly, Bucky does fall back asleep. Or maybe it’s not that surprising, because Steve’s bed smells to Bucky like what the personal pride of having made cookies from scratch and made them well feels like, complete with the tiredness of having slaved away in the kitchen in order to make them. Or like a sugar coma. Either way, Bucky has a sweet tooth. It’s warm and he’s got Steve tucked against his body and snoozing. Bucky gets lured back to sleep by the pleasant smell of his content Omega.

 

Something sharp poking him in the back startles Bucky awake. He jerks around, blinking, and spots a teenager holding a long metal pointer, hanging off the ladder to the top bunk.

 

Bucky knows that Steve’s roommate is another male Omega, that he’s only 18, his name is Tony and he has a talent for causing explosions. That’s all Bucky knows. But he’s really kinda offended as Tony pokes him with the pointer again.

 

“The fuck are you doin’?” Bucky grumbles.

 

“Who are you and why are you in Steve’s bed?” Tony asks.

 

“Go away, Tony,” Steve says then.

 

“There’s an interloper in your bed!” Tony insists. He pokes Bucky again with the pointer, flicking away the blanket covering Bucky’s torso. “A naked interloper!”

 

Steve gropes blindly behind him until his hand lands on Bucky’s chest. Bucky flushes, but Steve hums, feels around some more, and cups Bucky’s left pec with his palm. Then he squeezes.

 

“I think he’s wearing jeans,” Steve says while Bucky yelps. “‘Cause he’s on top’a me and they’re stiff.”

 

“Sorry, pal,” Bucky tells him, “I didn’t think you’d appreciate it if I took my pants off.”

 

Steve grumbles something and shifts back onto his side away from Bucky. Bucky glances back at Tony.

 

“What time is it?”

 

Tony looks at his watch. “Like, noon.”

 

Bucky rolls back over and gets his hand on Steve’s stomach, then shakes him. “Hey, we should get going.”

 

“Five more minutes,” Steve mumbles.

 

“Can we address the unknown variable in your bed, Steve?”

 

Steve waves a hand over Bucky’s shoulder. “Tony, meet Bucky. Bucky, meet Tony. Now fuck off an’ lemme sleep.”

 

“Why is he in your nest!” Tony hisses.

 

“‘Cause I made ‘im go back to sleep!” Steve sighs, ripping off his eye mask. “Why would he be in here if I didn’t want him in here?”

 

Tony looks like he’s considering this, then he shrugs and climbs back up the ladder. Bucky’s slapped in the face by the realization that Steve’s bed is piled high with blankets and pillows because it’s a nest.

 

Steve’s nesting. Bucky is currently in Steve’s nest. He doesn’t know what to do with this information. He’s been in a whole one Omega’s nest before a whole one time and that was Becca’s when she was having mood swings after she presented. (She’d wanted their dad, but he was out of town and Bucky was the closest substitute) Bucky has no clue if Steve invited Bucky to get in his nest simply because he wanted both of them to sleep and that was the easiest way to go about it or –

 

Or…

 

“Coney Island?” Bucky asks Steve.

 

Steve sighs. He sits up and grabs his glasses from the desk, slipping them on his face and blinking a few times.

 

“Lemme take a shower,” he says.

 

Bucky makes to get out. Steve grabs his arm. His cheeks are pink.

 

“Stay here,” he mumbles.

 

Bucky‘s lips part. Steve climbs past him and starts getting things for a shower. Bucky looks at the hollow of Steve’s nest, then carefully lies down again, on his back this time. Steve leaves the room a minute later and Bucky tucks his arm under his head, looking up at the slats of the top bunk above him.

 

There are a few reasons why Steve would ask Bucky to get in his nest. The obvious one, sure. But Bucky doubts it, because if Steve wanted him, something would have happened by now.

 

Then the logical one, that Bucky is a safe and familiar Alpha to Steve and his nesting hormones are making him crave an Alpha’s presence; Bucky’s inclined to believe that one, because he knows Steve trusts him and feels happy in his company. After all, Steve’s incredibly independent, he wouldn’t go seeking an Alpha to care for him even if his hormones were driving him towards wanting it.

 

Bucky’s his friend, a neutral Alpha. Steve must just be wanting to fool his hormones into thinking that an Alpha is there to care for him. Bucky thinks that’s much more likely.

 

Regardless of why Steve wants Bucky in his nest, the result is going to be his nest will smell like Bucky for a few days after just from Bucky lying there the past few hours. Alpha-scent is particularly stubborn, difficult to get it out of things. For whatever reason lead Steve to ask Bucky to lie in his nest, he must want Bucky’s scent all over it.

 

Right?

 

Tony’s head pops down from the top bunk abruptly. “You don’t have a left arm,” he says.

 

Bucky blinks. He turns his head to face Tony and looks at him flatly.

 

“I don’t?” he says blandly. “Aw, gee, when did that happen!”

 

“Can I build you an arm?” Tony asks perfunctorily.

 

Bucky stops with his mouth open. Then he frowns. “ Build me an arm?”

 

“Yeah!” Tony says, grinning. “A cool robot arm! You could be a cyborg!”

 

Bucky blinks at him. “You – What?”

 

“I’m an engineer,” Tony says. “Also a hacker. Also an IT specialist. Also a genius. Mostly an engineer. I’ve always wanted to make somebody into a cyborg.”

 

The door opens again just as Tony says that. Tony swings up and Bucky blinks at the space he’d been. Steve, wrapped in a towel, looks at Tony and at Bucky with bewildered disbelief.

 

“You want to what now?” Steve asks.

 

“I could make him a cyborg!” Tony insists. He swings back down. “How about an attached flame thrower?”

 

“I’ll think about it,” Bucky says carefully.

 

Tony claps his hands together. “I’ll send you specs later. Soon. Thanks, man!”

 

He jumps down from the top bunk, grabs a couple of things, then runs out. Steve looks over his shoulder, then shuts the door with raised eyebrows.

 

“What just happened?” Bucky asks him.

 

“I was about to ask you, ” Steve counters. “You’re gonna turn into a cyborg?”

 

Bucky huffs. “Hell if I know, doll.”

 

Steve glances his way, then shrugs. He walks over to a chest of drawers and squats, tugging out clothes. Bucky looks in the other direction politely.

 

“Don’t look,” Steve calls.

 

“I ain’t,” Bucky answers.

 

Bucky hears the wet thump of the towel and his ears start to burn. He squirms to get a little more comfortable, flicks his eyes over to the side, then away hastily with guilt. He hears Steve shaking out his clothes, his feet lifting and setting down again, a short zipper. Bucky works his jaw and sucks on the inside of his cheek for a second. His jeans get a little tight and Bucky starts thinking about carburetors.

 

“Shit,” Steve mutters.

 

“What?” Bucky asks, jerking to glance over his shoulder.

 

“I – Hey!”

 

Steve flips around, clutching his shirt to his chest, and Bucky claps his hand over his eyes as he swings back around. “Sorry!” he says.

 

“Eyes front, soldier,” Steve says firmly behind him.

 

“Sorry!” Bucky repeats. “I didn’t – Sorry.”

 

Bucky hears Steve exhale. Fabric rustles again and Bucky lets his hand fall off his eyes.

 

He feels stupid. He misses the days when he could watch and look his fill and bring a healthy flush to Steve’s cheeks doing it. He misses the way they’d been unrestrained around each other and comfortable in any state of dress or undress. It doesn’t seem to matter how close they get again, Bucky misses the way it was.

 

A year ago, he wouldn’t’ve hesitated to undress before lying down with Steve. He would have been allowed to practically lie on top of Steve instead of just spooning him lightly. Bucky misses coaxing Steve into pet space and getting to care for his sweet, cuddly kitten after. He misses turning him into a whiny, spoiled little slut and the way he would almost vibrate out of his skin for need of Bucky's touch. Whatever he’s earned from Steve again, he still misses Steve’s body.

 

“You can look now,” Steve says quietly.

 

Bucky looks over his shoulder again, but Steve’s walking into his vision anyway. “What was the matter?” he asks.

 

“I just dropped my shirt,” Steve replies, laughing. “Nothing to save me from, Alpha, but good work.”

 

Bucky looks away, his jaw jutting out and his brow furrowing. He doesn’t answer Steve.

 

“So, Coney Island?”

 

Bucky blinks, then looks up. Steve raises his eyebrows.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says, then sits up. “Coney Island.”

 

Steve nods, then pulls off his glasses and picks up a corner of one of his blankets to start cleaning them. “Any reason why?” he asks Bucky, squinting heavily.

 

Bucky shrugs. “I’m practicing spontaneity?”

 

Steve’s lips thin and he looks down. “Did you break up with your new girl?”

 

“Yeah,” Bucky admits. “For once, it wasn’t my fault – She had a boyfriend already.”

 

It isn’t that big of a deal. Bucky wasn’t that attached to her anyway. He never is.

 

“Silver lining,” Steve says, then laughs and shakes his head. He slips his glasses back onto his face and blinks a couple of times before looking at Bucky. “Now?”

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says, swinging out of Steve’s nest. He gets to the edge of the bed, then picks up his shirt and tugs it back on. He reaches for his boots and Steve kneels down.

 

Bucky puts his hand on his thigh. Steve starts tugging his laces as tight as they can go, tying Bucky’s boots without deference. Bucky misses the days that Steve made removing or replacing his boots a labor of love.

 

Well, not love. Bucky shakes himself mentally and reminds himself that he’s over it, he’s over Steve. Steve ties Bucky’s laces in a bow; while Bucky gives himself a short, mental lecture, he misses the way that Steve’s hands linger for a second before he stands up.

 

“I’ll check my blood sugar in the car,” Steve says, picking up his insulin bag.

 

Bucky stands; he stretches then pats his pocket for keys. Steve heads for the door, pulls it open and waits for Bucky to leave before shutting and locking the door behind them.

 

Bucky walks with Steve on his left to his truck. He unlocks the passenger door and opens it before crossing to the driver’s side. Steve gets in next to him and spreads out his insulin bag to check his blood sugar while Bucky gets off campus.

 

“What is it?” Bucky asks.

 

“Eighty,” Steve answers. “Probably should’a gotten up earlier, but oh well.”

 

“Starbucks?” Bucky suggests.

 

Steve smiles and rolls his eyes. “You and Starbucks.”

 

“It’s ‘cause their food ain’t so full’a shit like McDonald’s!” Bucky insists.

 

“You realize it’s still full’a preservatives and the like?” Steve asks him.

 

“But not as much as McDonald’s,” Bucky repeats.

 

Steve rolls his eyes. “Sure, Jan,” he answers.

 

Bucky rolls his eyes right back. Steve packs up his insulin bag, drops it onto the floor, then pulls his legs up onto the bench to sit sideways. He leans against Bucky’s shoulder, his head falling against the back of the bench by Bucky’s neck.

 

A year ago, Bucky would have been prompted to drop a kiss onto the top of Steve’s head and it would’ve brought a soft, pleased smile to Steve’s lips. Now, Bucky just keeps his eyes on the road.

 

Steve’s right there, Bucky can reach out and touch whenever he wants, but he’s still missing him.

 

“You should know, I do not have available funds to blow on carney games,” Steve says.

 

“Technically, neither do I,” Bucky says with a grin.

 

Steve snorts. “We love cheap thrills.”

 

Bucky pays for Starbucks. Steve complains, but only after Bucky’s handed over his debit card and gotten it back, which is their usual routine. Steve turns on the radio and it’s already on his favorite station, tuned there because Bucky won’t let anybody change it. They drive to Coney Island listening to a mix of old and new R&B and soul music because Steve’s secretly a hipster. They have to walk a while after Bucky parks, then they’re there.

 

“I haven’t been here since I was, like, eight,” Steve confesses.

 

“Last time I was here, I had five limbs,” Bucky agrees.

 

Steve snorts. He grabs Bucky’s elbow and tugs him towards the ticket booth. There’s a line, because there’s always a line, but they have a whole day ahead of them so it doesn’t matter.

 

“I’m buying my tickets,” Steve says as they near the top of the line.

 

“Nope,” Bucky announces. “I invited you, punk, I’m buyin’.”

 

“You bought breakfast!” Steve retorts. “I can buy my own tickets!”

 

“I earn more money,” Bucky tells him.

 

Steve gives his shoulder a shove. “Fuck you, I don’t need your money!” he says, but he’s laughing.

 

“It’s a gift!” Bucky insists. Steve makes as though to punch him again and Bucky quickly throws his arm over Steve’s shoulders to haul him into a headlock. “If you don’t let me buy your tickets, I’ll make you walk home.”

 

“No, you won’t,” Steve answers, laughing. “You know I’d just spend more money getting an Uber.”

 

“I won’t let you use my washing machine anymore,” Bucky says quickly.

 

“I can buy my own tickets,” Steve laughs.

 

“Pal, just let your boyfriend buy your tickets,” the person behind them says.

 

Bucky jerks back and Steve stands upright. For a second, Bucky is too shocked to say a thing.

 

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Steve insists while Bucky flounders.

 

“We’re just friends,” Bucky says, getting his tongue back.

 

The person behind them raises their hands. “Whatever, man.”

 

Bucky glances at Steve, still shook up. Steve blushes.

 

“Next!” the ticket booth operator calls.

 

Bucky hustles forward, pulling out his credit card. “Two all-access wristbands, please.”

 

“No, I’m buying my ticket!” Steve gasps, running forward.

 

Bucky drops his card onto the counter and grabs Steve by the middle, lifting him off his feet and holding him away from the ticket booth bodily. Steve blinks at him. The ticket booth operators laugh.

 

Bucky smugly plops Steve down a good few feet away from the ticket booth. “I said,” he tells Steve, smirking, “I got it.”

 

“That was cheating!” Steve shouts.

 

Bucky just laughs.

 

“Here you go, honey,” the lady helping Bucky says, handing back over his card and two wristbands. “Enjoy yourselves, kids.”

 

Bucky puts Steve down to take his card and the wristbands. Steve crosses his arms and glares at Bucky. Bucky pulls him out of the line, then holds out the wristbands to Steve.

 

“You love me?” Bucky says teasingly, quoting something Steve said a few weeks back.

 

He doesn’t mean it, obviously; he knows Steve doesn’t really love him. Well, not any more than a friend would.

 

Steve flushes red, but snatches the wristbands from his hands. “I’m buying dinner!” he says stubbornly, then puts a band on each of their wrists. Bucky tosses his arm over Steve’s shoulder with a grin on his face and pulls him into the park.

 

“Jerk,” Steve grumbles.

 

“Punk,” Bucky answers fondly.

 

They go on all the roller coasters. Steve’s barely tall enough for half of them and punches Bucky for laughing about it. They buy hot dogs and wander around looking at the games while they wait for the food in their stomachs to settle so they can ride more coasters. There’s a dunk tank with a perfectly dry clown shouting rude things at people passing by so they’ll get angry enough to pay to dunk him and they stand around laughing at the things the clown says for a while.

 

Or until the clown spots Bucky.

 

“Hey, One-Arm Wonder!” the clown yells.

 

Bucky blinks, like, Who, me?

 

“Betcha can’t shoot straight without the left half’a ya to keep ya balance!” the clown shouts at him.

 

“I haven’t shot straight a day in my life, I’m gay!” Bucky yells back.

 

Well, pan, but he’s not straight, thank fucking you. Steve laughs softly. A few people clap. Bucky’s proud of himself.

 

“Betcha can’t win ya cute boyfriend nothing!” the clown calls. “Come try your luck, gimp!”

 

Bucky shakes his head and slings his arm over Steve’s shoulder to pull him along. Steve ducks under his arm and walks straight up to the dunk tank.

 

“Hey, he lost his arm defending your right to mock disabled people!” Steve yells.

 

“Yeah?” the clown answers. “You wanna protect your man’s honor, cutie?”

 

“This is gonna end badly,” Bucky mutters.

 

“You wanna go for a swim, ugly?” Steve shouts.

 

Bucky pinches the bridge of his nose, pushing his way through the crowd to stand behind Steve. Steve pays to get a probably rigged rifle and takes center stage in front of the range.

 

“Do your worst, sweetheart!” the clown yells.

 

Bucky forces himself not to correct Steve’s stance or tell him he’s holding the rifle with his hands too far apart. Steve fires once and gets pretty close, then he adjusts his stance himself and shoots again.

 

“Oh, fu –!” the clown screams, but his sentence is cut off by the loud splash he makes dropping into the tank.

 

Steve lowers the gun and smiles, clearly proud of himself. Bucky whoops and slaps his own hip since he can’t clap as the crowd starts cheering and applauding.

 

Steve hands over the rifle. Bucky high fives him and ruffles his hair.

 

“You can pick anything in the yellow or blue section,” the attendant says to Steve. “Good shot.”

 

“Gimme the dragon,” Steve answers, pointing.

 

The attendant takes it down from the ceiling and hands it over. Steve tucks the fearsome stuffed animal under his arm with a grin.

 

“We have rubber balls if you wanna try it, soldier,” the attendant tells Bucky.

 

Bucky shrugs. “Why not?”

 

Bucky gets five weighted rubber balls that fit nicely in his palm. He gets an eye for the target while the clown climbs back onto the bench, waits until the clown’s gotten his breath, then throws.

 

“No!” the clown shrieks as he pitches again into the water.

 

Steve, grinning, high fives Bucky again. The crowd cheers again and Bucky tosses his arm around Steve’s neck to shake him as he laughs.

 

“Take your pick!” the attendant says to Bucky, gesturing to the whole stand of prizes.

 

Bucky nudges Steve. “Wha’d’ya want?”

 

“I got my own thing!” Steve insists, elbowing him back.

 

“What am I gonna do with a stuffed animal?” Bucky asks. “What do you want, punk?”

 

Steve sticks his tongue out at Bucky, then turns back and points to a large fuzzy panda bear. The attendant takes it down and Steve takes it, too, hugging it and his dragon. Bucky ruffles Steve’s hair again, proud of himself.

 

“By the way,” the attendant says as they turn to go and Bucky glances over his shoulder. “Thank you for your service, pal.”

 

Bucky smiles and salutes. Steve bumps Bucky with his panda and flashes him a grin.

 

“That’ll teach that fucker to mock vets,” Bucky tells Steve proudly.

 

Steve grins, standing tall, and Bucky gets the urge to plant a fat kiss on his lips. He doesn’t.

 

They ride roller coasters, do bumper cars, eat more funnel cake than they should and Steve has to duck into a Port-A-Potty to give himself an insulin shot. They stop by one of the actual restaurants on the boardwalk to eat dinner as the sun starts to go down and Bucky distracts Steve long enough to pay the bill before he can notice. Needless to say, Steve is outraged. Bucky just laughs.

 

“I’m getting it next time!” Steve tells him while Bucky laughs. “I’ll beat you, Barnes!”

 

“Usually the other way around, innit?” Bucky says without even thinking about it.

 

Steve’s cheeks flame red. He breaks and laughs, too. Bucky smiles to himself, a little giddy.

 

They leave the restaurant and wander around for a little while longer. Bucky doesn’t want to go home yet and he thinks Steve feels the same.

 

“Park’s closing soon,” Steve says.

 

Bucky looks at Steve, then follows his gaze up at the only ride they hadn’t been on yet.

 

“You wanna go on the Ferris Wheel?” Steve asks.

 

“Sure,” Bucky answers.

 

They join the line, but there aren’t a lot of people left wandering the park by then. Steve and Bucky sit side-by-side in the same cart as the Ferris Wheel turns. They get to the top and the ride stops for longer than before. It’s so cliche, Bucky tells himself that he can’t look at Steve or he might do something dumb.

 

“I know it’s a tourist thing to say,” Steve says, “but I’ve always loved the New York skyline. It’s beautiful from up here.”

 

Bucky looks at him. “Yeah,” he agrees.

 

Steve turns his head a little, then lifts his gaze to Bucky’s. Bucky’s breath catches in his throat. Steve’s eyes are wide looking at him, then his gaze drops a little. He licks his lips.

 

“Steve –” Bucky starts, about to do something dumb.

 

The ride jolts and starts to turn again. Steve breaks Bucky’s gaze to look down and Bucky lets out his breath hard, looking in the other direction. The Ferris Wheel brings them back down and Bucky gets out on shaky legs. Steve tucks his stuffed animals under his arms again and they start back to the gates.

 

“You wanna crash at my place tonight?” Bucky asks Steve. “I can drive you to class in the morning.”

 

He glances to his right when Steve doesn’t answer right away. Steve’s gaze is on the ground, he’s biting his lip.

 

“Sure,” Steve says at last.

 

It’s nearly midnight when Bucky hangs up his keys in his apartment. Steve walks into the middle of the room and sets the panda in the armchair, then puts the dragon on the futon.

 

“You still have a toothbrush here,” Bucky tells Steve. “I’ll, uh – I’ll lend you a shirt.”

 

“Thanks,” Steve says.


Bucky splashes his face with hot water to get the grime of Coney Island off his face and puts his hair in a new bun with Steve on his left. They exit the bathroom and Bucky pauses in the hallway, glancing at Steve.

 

Steve looks to the spare room on the right. Then he flicks his gaze up to Bucky and tips his head to the side. Bucky shrugs and goes into his bedroom.

 

Steve follows him. Bucky tells his heart to quit its nightclub EDM beat in his chest. He gets a shirt out of his drawer and gives it to Steve, then Steve leaves the room again.

 

Bucky shakes himself and strips down to his boxers, thinking, duh, Steve just followed him to get pajamas. And then Steve comes back in wearing Bucky’s shirt. Bucky stops.

 

“I had fun today,” Steve says, walking up to Bucky’s bed.

 

“Me, too,” Bucky answers. He glances away briefly, then gives Steve a tight smile. “Thanks for coming with me, pal.”

 

Steve looks at him for a moment, blinking slowly as he chews on his lower lip, then he nods. He walks around to the other side of the bed and he and Bucky get in together.

 

Bucky lays his right arm out to the side. Steve turns onto his back and puts his back to Bucky’s side. Bucky’s arm lies under his neck, pillowing his shoulders, and Bucky shifts onto his side to lean into his back.

 

“Goodnight,” Bucky says softly.

 

“Night,” Steve mumbles.

 

A beat passes and Bucky thinks Steve has started to fall asleep. But then Steve squirms a little and prods the crook of Bucky’s elbow.

 

“Hey,” he says.

 

“What?” Bucky answers, turning his head to the side.

 

“Yannow you can call me cute names still,” Steve whispers. “Not just punk.”

 

Bucky doesn’t answer for a minute. He wonders when Steve noticed that Bucky refrained from the pet names he used to drop liberally a year ago.

 

“Okay,” Bucky whispers back. He turns onto his side and tugs Steve a little closer, then doesn’t nuzzle his face into Steve’s hair the way he wants to. “Go to sleep, sweetheart.”

 

Bucky thinks he hears Steve sigh softly. Silence picks up in the room, broken by the sounds of the city out the window.

 

Steve’s breathing slows and evens out. Bucky lies awake for a while. Steve’s right there, but Bucky still misses him.

Chapter Text

portrait d'un soldat inconnu



“What’re you doing over the summer?”

 

Steve glances down at Tony, lying on his back in the middle of the floor and frowning at the ceiling. He’s holding a PlayStation controller and when Steve glances up, he sees a projected screen on the ceiling and Tony is playing Team Fortress 2. Steve squints at the ceiling, then down at Tony.

 

“How did you –?”

 

Tony points with his foot at his desk. “What did you think that was?”

 

Steve looks at the monstrosity of a computer on Tony’s desk and shrugs. “Spare parts?”

 

Tony sighs heavily. “This is what I get for rooming with an art student.”

 

Steve rolls his eyes and returns to his lapboard, adding a few more details to the final piece of his term project. It’s due Friday and is the last of his final projects besides his French exam in the morning.

 

It’s five 16 by 24 drawings utilizing chiaroscuro, five pieces of a single nude portrait. Mostly, he’s adding definition to the scar tissue on Bucky’s left shoulder. The other four sections of the full-length portrait are tacked to the wall, the graphite fixative spray drying so they won’t get smudged in his portfolio. He had to draw Bucky mostly from memory (because he didn’t dare ask Bucky to sit for him) but his memory is pretty good and it’s not like Steve hasn’t had the image of Bucky’s body in the back of his mind every day from the first time he saw it. He has references, too. He never deleted any of the pictures he’d taken of Bucky while Steve had still been his pet on the weekends.

 

“But what are you doing for the summer?” Tony asks him again.

 

“I’m going on vacation with my friend Peggy,” Steve says flatly.

 

“Where are you going?”

 

Steve pushes his glasses up by the end of his pencil and moves up to Bucky’s bowed face, adjusting the shadows of his hair tucked behind his ear.

 

“France,” he says.

 

Steve sees Tony’s blurry form glance at him from the corner of his eye.

 

“You don’t sound that excited,” Tony remarks.

 

Steve shrugs. “I am,” he says.

 

“That sounds fake, but okay,” Tony says, turning away again.

 

Steve carefully smudges a shadow on Bucky’s jaw with his pinky, emphasizing his clenched masseter, then dots the stubble back into its place.

 

“I’m excited,” Steve says. “I’m just tired from my last heat, still.”

 

“That was three weeks ago,” Tony says. “Hey, how come you didn’t go to your Alpha’s place for it?”

 

“I don’t have an Alpha,” Steve answers him without looking.

 

“That sounds fake –”

 

“I don’t,” Steve interrupts. He still doesn’t look. “Bucky and I are just friends.”

 

“You say that,” Tony replies, “but I gotta see his bits every time I look to the right.”

 

“His hand’s covering his bits,” Steve answers absently.

 

“Yeah, like Batman’s dick was in shadows that one time DC showed his naked booty from the front,” Tony snorts. “You wanna reminder? I got that issue here somewhere; you can compare the amount of dong neck between Batsy and your not-Alpha.”

 

“I saw Batman’s dick,” Steve responds. He picks his pencil up and looks down at the drawing. He thinks it’s done. Is it done?

 

“My point is if you’re just friends, why are you drawing him naked?”

 

“I’m an artist,” Steve replies. He gets up from his bed and stretches, his back popping. “I draw naked people all the time. I draw my friends all the time, too.”

 

Tony looks at Steve, his eyebrows lifted. “Two things, have you drawn me naked and do you draw all your French girls in life-size black and white?”

 

“I haven’t drawn you naked,” Steve replies exasperatedly.

 

“But do you do all your nudes in life size?”

 

Steve huffs and chooses not to answer that. He picks up his artboard and walks over to the window, then throws it open for ventilation and puts on a paper mask. He tosses one to Tony, who sighs as he puts it on, then picks up his can of fixative and starts carefully coating the drawing. The graphite intensifies as the glue wets it. Steve goes slow, covering every inch thoroughly.

 

When he’s done, he unclips it from his artboard and walks around the beds to pin it above the other four pieces; he has to stand on a chair, in total, the five pieces are six feet and eight inches tall.

 

Tony wasn’t kidding, Steve made the drawings life size. That wasn’t a requirement for the project, his professor only assigned them to demonstrate synecdoche by making several drawings into one, but Steve’s an over-achiever.

 

Steve takes a step back and bites his knuckle. Bucky stands before him in two dimensions and black and white; his lean body is on display, his stance wide and his muscles sharpened by shadows. There’s a cone of light around him and a white reflective halo in his hair like he’s standing with a light shining down on him, but otherwise, everything that isn’t him is black. Steve had used charcoal to do it, it and Bucky’s body hair to give it the coarser look graphite wouldn’t achieve. Bucky stands with his shoulders held back, his only hand held over his crotch just enough to cover his modesty but expose some of the dark curls at his groin, his head tilted down as though looking at something at his feet.

 

Or someone. His expression is one of intense concentration, yet the corner of his lip is turned up. Steve bites harder on the second knuckle of his index finger. Bucky’s hair hangs to his jaw, but otherwise, the portrait is a perfect rendition of anytime Bucky had stood over him and called him a good kitten .

 

“It’s a picture, Rogers, you done good,” Tony calls.

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Steve mutters.

 

“You wanna take a turn?” Tony asks.

 

Steve shakes his head. “I’m gonna take a shower and pass out,” he says.

 

“Not literally?” Tony asks. “I was genuinely afraid for your life when you passed out at the start of finals in December.”

 

Steve waves a hand at him and gets his stuff to shower. He casts a glance at Bucky’s portrait one more time, then opens the door and heads to the showers. He scrubs his hands at the sinks to get the graphite off, showers rapidly, heads back in a fast walk. Tony’s still playing Overwatch on the ceiling when he gets back. Steve puts his art stuff away, collapses into his bed, and pulls the large stuffed panda Bucky gave him back in April into a hug as he falls asleep.

 

The week ends in a rush. Steve feels relieved as he leaves his last final, but it doesn’t last long as he brings in his project for his life drawing class.

 

Monday, Steve’s packing his things when his drawing professor calls him.

 

“Steven, you remember that NYU student exhibition the Green Room gallery in Midtown’s hosting?”

 

Steve’s heart lurches.

 

“Your project has been accepted! The exhibition opens this Friday, I wanted to ask, what frames do you want the pieces in?”

 

He tries to argue. It’s weak and his professor won’t take his stumbling attempts to withdraw his project from the exhibition as serious. Steve only has to hope that Bucky won’t suddenly get the urge to browse art galleries downtown. As long as Steve keeps the drawing’s existence a secret from everyone he knows. Tony’s the only one who’s seen it, after all.

 

Steve leaves for France the following Monday. He’s already talked to Colin and they’ve agreed to meet up when Steve’s gotten over the jet lag. Steve is given two tickets to the exhibition opening. He takes Tony.

 

“You realize I’ve seen enough of your not-boyfriend’s thighs?” Tony asks him.

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Steve answers.

 

“Why didn’t you bring Bucky?” Tony asks.

 

Steve shrugs.

 

Bucky has no clue Steve’s ever drawn him.

 

*

 

Steve goes back to France the first week of June. He gave Bucky more warning this time, but Bucky still feels jaded about it. It’s whatever. It doesn’t matter. He’s over Steve. He’s dating this chick Connie, they’ve been going out for almost a month, Bucky really likes her.

 

Sure, she’s no Steve giving head and she kinda has an annoying laugh and she’s a picky eater and she hates all Bucky’s favorite cartoons and she wrinkles her nose when Bucky talks about his time in the Army, but he likes her. Enough to not sabotage himself.

 

“We should go out tonight,” Connie says the third Saturday of June.

 

They’re on the couch, Connie sitting against his chest, watching a cliche spy movie and Bucky’s not paying attention; Connie’s talking over it, anyway, ranking the spies with their daddy material despite the fact that she’s a self-proclaimed vanilla lover and mentioning backstories to characters Bucky doesn’t care about. He’s texting Steve, who’s telling him about how his first week in France has gone.

 

“Sure,” Bucky answers, as unbothered as he is by the movie. “You pick something.”

She doesn’t like any of his date ideas. He’s given up suggesting things. He keeps texting Steve, until Connie complains one more time that he’s not paying attention and Steve mentions that he’s going to bed anyway.

 

“How do you feel about art galleries?” Connie asks him.

 

“Cool,” Bucky answers. “Whatever you want.”

 

They leave around four. Bucky has to circle the blocks around the gallery Connie’s picked some six or seven times until he finds a place to park; they should’ve taken a cab or even walked. Except Connie hates walking places, he reminds himself. She’s not from New York.

 

Connie wraps her arm around his waist on his left side as they walk and Bucky sticks his hand in his pocket, letting his left stump hang behind her shoulder. They have to separate many times as they pass through the crowded streets, but Connie just wraps her arm around him again when they come back together.

 

“NYU students get a discount, right?” Connie asks as they enter the gallery.

 

“That was only for the first week of the exhibition,” the receptionist answers.

 

Bucky pulls out his wallet. “Military discount?”

 

The receptionist takes his ID and credit card and thanks him for his service as they enter the exhibit. Bucky picks up a pamphlet detailing the exhibition as they enter the gallery.

 

“All the artists are from NYU,” Connie tells him.

 

Bucky reads descriptions of the exhibition as Connie stands in front of each piece for ten minutes at a time. Bucky feels out of place; art is Steve’s thing, not his. There are sculptures in the middle of the long room, video art taking up white space on the walls at the front of the hall. Bucky actually really likes the Radiohead sculpture as they go along. There are paintings past the digital art, then a selection of black and white drawings on the very back wall from – according to the pamphlet – a project about synecdoche.

 

Bucky’s reading the description of what the hell synecdoche is when Connie grabs his arm and tugs him forward almost violently. He trips over his feet and swears loud enough to echo in the quiet room and a few people look sharply in their direction. Connie doesn’t seem to care.

 

She points at one of the synecdoche pieces, taking up the center of the back wall. “You didn’t tell me you modeled for anyone!”

 

“I didn’t –” Bucky starts, following her pointing finger.

 

The words die on his tongue. Bucky shuffles forward, his jaw slack and his eyes huge.

 

“I didn’t sit for this,” he mumbles.

 

It’s him, his body, all his scars on display. There are five individual drawings, matted in white and framed in glossy black, and the drawings alone have to be at least six foot two because they look life size. The way the frames are spread, Bucky’s own face looks down at him with hooded eyes and a curled lip. Bucky looks down himself, his eyes getting stuck on the detailed scars rendered with perfect detail on his left shoulder. He jerks and holds his hand up to the drawing of his hand, covering his dick, and it’s almost the same size.

 

“You didn’t model for it?” Connie asks behind him, confused.

 

Another visitor walks up to them. “Are you the model for this portrait?” they ask.

 

Bucky jolts away. He glances at it, then he shrugs. He doesn’t know how to feel. He doesn’t know which makes him more uncomfortable, his left arm or the bit of dong neck that’s showing since his hand can’t cover his whole dick.

 

“I didn’t sit for it, but it’s me,” he says. He looks back at it. He can’t understand.

 

Connie walks up to the plaque next to the five frames. “ Portrait of an unknown soldier,” she reads aloud. “The artist’s –”

 

Bucky doesn’t need her to read Steve’s name out, because no one else could have drawn Bucky in this exact detail. Bucky hasn’t had sex with anyone with the lights on since last June. With anyone at all, let alone someone who would have had the skill to draw all this.

 

Bucky gets closer again, looking for a signature, and spots small scribbles in white in the corners of each drawing, SGR. Bucky looks back at the scars on his left arm. His right hand raises to touch his shoulder. Why would Steve do this? Why wouldn’t Steve tell him?

 

“Steve Rogers is your friend, right?” Connie asks. Her tone is abruptly sharp. “If you didn’t sit for this, how is it here? How is it this accurate?

 

Bucky lifts his eyebrows. “Maybe he did it from memory?”

 

Connie breaks his gaze. Her expression is stony. “You told me you two were just friends.”

 

“We are!” Bucky insists, breaking. “We’re friends, nothing more!”

 

“Then how does he know what you look like?” Connie demands, throwing a hand over her shoulder to point at the drawings. “How is that accurate at all?”

 

Bucky shrugs. “‘Cause he’s seen me naked before?”

 

“Once before doesn’t result in art that looks like the real thing!” Connie snaps. Her voice is rising. “Regularly results in that! Frequently results in that! You’re not just friends with him!”

 

“Calm down,” Bucky tells her quietly. “You’re making a scene.”

 

Connie glares at him. She flicks her gaze from side to side, then grabs his arm and hauls him out. Bucky casts one last glance over his shoulder at Steve’s rendition of him, then Connie’s tugging him out onto the street and she starts towards where Bucky parked. She doesn’t say a word to him and Bucky doesn’t know what to do. He lets her into the truck, they drive back to his apartment, and Connie immediately starts gathering her things.

 

Well, Bucky thinks. A month and two week’s pretty good.

 

“Uh,” he says.

 

“Tell me the truth about you and him,” Connie demands. She throws her bag onto the couch and sets her hands on her hips. “The whole truth.”

 

Bucky exhales. He shrugs. “We’re close.”

 

“The whole truth!” Connie repeats angrily.

 

“We were never dating,” Bucky says, “but, yeah, we did it a few times.”

 

“A few times,” Connie echoes him quietly, “does not end in a life-size and exact nude portrait!”

 

“Fine, a lot!” Bucky snaps back at her. “But we’re just friends!”

 

Connie slowly shakes her head. Her expression almost softens.

 

“I thought it was weird how close you are to him,” she says. “Then I thought you’d lied to me about the two of you. But now I know – You’re not lying to me.”

 

Connie shakes her head again, her expression now shifting from anger to pity.

 

“You’re lying to yourself,” she says. “Nobody would put that much effort into a drawing like that of someone they’re just friends with.”

 

Bucky opens his mouth. Connie holds up her hand and picks up her bag, swinging it onto her shoulder.

 

“I’m not interested in being what’s distracting you from the person you really wanna be with,” Connie tells him. She opens the door again. “Seriously, Bucky.”

 

She pulls the door shut behind him. Bucky deflates and looks at his feet.

 

He pulls out his phone, walks over to the couch and sits down. He calls Steve and holds his phone against his ear. It rings for a long time.

 

“Buck, ‘s one in the morning,” Steve mumbles when he answers.

 

Bucky blinks. “Shit,” he says.

 

“What?” Steve asks sleepily.

 

Bucky tugs the pamphlet out of his back pocket and flips to the page with Steve’s project on it. He looks at his portrait, then shakes his head and gets up.

 

“Nothing,” he says, tossing the pamphlet into his recycle bin. “Sorry I woke you up.”

 

“Nuh-huh,” Steve answers. Bucky hears blankets moving and a mattress groaning. “What is it?”

 

Bucky stares at the recycling bin. “Call me back in the morning, Steve,” he says.

 

“No, I got a date in the morning. Tell me now?”

 

Bucky exhales and looks down. “I – I broke up with Connie.”

 

Steve’s quiet. Bucky kicks his recycle bin under the counter and walks back into his living room.

 

“I’m sorry,” Steve says quietly.

 

“It’s whatever,” Bucky says. “Go back to sleep, Steve. I’ll talk to you later.”

 

“Okay,” Steve mumbles. “You okay, honey?”

 

Bucky thins his lips. Steve hasn’t called him that in a year. He lets out his breath hard.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky tells him. “‘Course I am, punk. I’ll call you around one AM my time to badmouth her when I’m drunk.”

 

“Okay,” Steve repeats softly. “Bring a friend, Buck.”

 

“Yessir,” Bucky answers weakly. “Have fun on your date tomorrow.”

 

“Thanks, Buck,”   Steve sighs, sounding really tired now, probably because he was asleep a minute ago. Bucky glances back towards his recycle bin. “Goodnight.”

 

“Night, doll,” Bucky mumbles.

 

When he hangs up with Steve, Bucky calls Natasha. “You wanna go for drinks? And take away my phone?”

 

“What did you do?” Natasha asks flatly.

 

“Broke up with my girlfriend because she figured out that I’m in love with my best friend,” Bucky answers sharply. “And failed to tell said best friend that I love him again. He’s got this nude portrait at an art gallery in Midtown, did you know?”

 

“It’s of you,” Natasha says. “Did you say you saw it?”

 

“No,” Bucky replies. “Get this, Connie said that she doesn’t think anybody would put that much effort into a drawing if they were just friends with the subject.”

 

Natasha’s quiet.

 

“But Steve’s an over-achiever,” Bucky tells her, looking down at his feet. “Big time. He puts too much effort into drawing stick figures.”

 

Natasha sighs then. “I don’t know, Barnes. The usual place?”

 

Bucky grabs his keys. “Yeah. Do not give back my phone. Last time I drunk-dialed Steve, we didn’t talk to each other for months after.”

Chapter Text

petit monde



“Hey, Steve,” Tony greets when Steve opens the door to their dorm room. “How was your summer?”

 

“Great,” Steve replies automatically.

 

He holds the door open so Bucky can push the cart laden with Steve’s boxes inside. Security is no longer as tight for moving day as it had been when Steve first moved in, and Doc follows behind Bucky.

 

“How was yours?” Steve adds.

 

Tony shrugs. “My dad only threatened to disown me once, so I count it as a win.”

 

Steve winces sympathetically. “Your dad’s a dick, Tony.”

 

“You’re not wrong!” Tony agrees with a grin.

 

“Tell you what,” Steve says, walking up and throwing an arm around Tony’s shoulders. “I’m your dad now. Your bedtime is never and we’re having lasagna for dinner.”

 

Tony laughs.

 

“No, literally, we’re going out for Italian after this,” Steve says, then squeezes Tony’s shoulders. “You wanna come?”

 

Tony shrugs. “Why not?”

 

“Steven, are you going to help your friend?” Doc asks.

 

Steve lets go of Tony’s shoulders and walks to start unloading the cart with Bucky. But he says: “Bucky would move the Empire State Building to New Jersey with no complaints for me if I asked him.”

 

“Ha, ha,” Bucky says dryly. “I’d make you beat the knots outta my back when I was done, though.”

 

Steve gives him a grin and bats his lashes. Bucky rolls his eyes. Doc looks pleased and Steve hastily ignores him.

 

“And I’d complain about having to go to Jersey,” Bucky adds.

 

“Minor complaints,” Steve amends.

 

They unload the cart. Doc and Bucky steer it out and Steve swings his arm over Tony’s shoulders as they leave.

 

“You looking forward to your next year?” Steve asks him.

 

Tony nods slowly. “I think so,” he agrees. “But not the next time you do a life-size drawing of your not-boyfriend.”

 

Steve squeaks in fear and throws a hand over Tony’s mouth; he looks ahead, but Bucky doesn’t turn around. Bucky and Doc are a lot farther down the hallway than they are, thankfully.

 

“He doesn’t know!” Steve hisses to Tony.

 

Tony rips Steve’s hand off his mouth. “He doesn’t know? ” he demands. “How the fuck not!”

 

“I didn’t tell him,” Steve mutters, his face flaming.

 

Tony gawks at him. “You mean – You drew that whole thing from memory!” he gasps accusingly. “You had his whole dick on there before you covered it with his hand! You drew that from memory?

 

“Shh!” Steve hisses again, covering Tony’s mouth again. “Don’t bring it up, okay? I felt bad enough that it got put in that exhibition and I didn’t tell him, okay?”

 

Tony pulls Steve’s hand down again. “Okay,” he mumbles. “But – Why didn’t you tell him?”

 

Steve looks away, then shrugs. “I just didn’t,” he says.

 

“Yikes,” Tony mutters. “You two are complicated.”

 

Steve shrugs again. They reach the elevators, Doc and Bucky are holding one open.

 

“What’re youse doin’?” Bucky calls. “C’mon!”

 

Steve says goodbye to Doc and he and Tony follow Bucky to his truck. They get the cart into the bed of the truck, then climb into the truck and Steve sits between Tony and Bucky.

 

“You’re lucky Becca’s getting a ride from Clint and Natasha,” Bucky says to Steve. “Otherwise, somebody would’a had to sit in the back.”

 

Steve rolls his eyes.

 

They head to a ma and pop Italian joint just off campus. Their friends are already there, all crammed into one huge corner booth. Clint has his arms around Natasha and Sam, who has his arm around Maria. Thor’s squished between Darcy and Jane. Becca, Peggy, Angie, and Sharon take up one section of the booth with T’Challa and Erik in the middle of all of them. Wade, Peter, Shuri, Wanda, and Pietro sit in the far back.

 

“Hey, hey, hey!” Sam yells as Steve, Bucky, and Tony walk up. “Who’s the new meat?”

 

“This is my roommate,” Steve says. “Tony, you met Peggy and Angie and Sharon before, the rest of these guys – I’ll point in order ‘cause there’s too many’a these fuckers.”

 

He introduces all his friends and Tony slides into the booth without hesitation. “The resemblance to Howard Stark is purely coincidental,” he announces.

 

“I do not think anyone was going to mention it?” Thor says.

 

“I was gonna say, Howard Stark’s got a kid your age named Tony,” Darcy says.

 

“If I play my cards right, I’ll be disowned by the time I’m twenty-five and then it won’t matter,” Tony answers.

 

They catch up about their summers. Sam demands new photos of Steve’s summer boyfriend and Peggy has to share because Steve didn’t take a lot of pictures over the summer; all of them were on his Instagram, anyway. Wanda and Maria coo over the cute pictures of Steve riding piggy-back on Colin’s back and Bucky points out that Colin looks a little bit like a muppet. Steve sort of agrees.

 

Their friends did stuff, too; it isn’t all about Steve’s summer boyfriend. Darcy tells stories about her disastrous family reunion in August where she was the gay cousin and managed to say Burn! every time one of her nice cousins or aunts/uncles said something rude to her conservative aunts or uncles. Shuri and T’Challa took Erik to their father’s place in Kenya and Erik shows off a new tattoo of a panther. Pietro and Wanda spent the holiday in Sokovia with their mother’s family. Peter stayed in Queens and tried to become a photographer for Humans of New York. Wade went to Vegas and spent a month as a hooker. Steve’s not sure whether or not they should believe that; Wade tells extravagant stories often. Jane and Thor broke up but they’d managed to stay good friends despite it and the atmosphere isn’t even remotely awkward because of it.

 

“I approve of his new mans,” Jane even says. “He’s a doctor.”

 

“His name is Bruce,” Thor adds, smiling widely. “I have pictures.”

 

“Hey, that’s my neighbor!” Bucky says just as Tony gasps “No way, that’s my shrink!”

 

“Small world,” Natasha remarks calmly.

 

They drink beers (except Tony who didn’t bring his fake ID and Peter who didn’t care enough to have a fake ID) and laugh throughout the evening.

 

“Barnes, have you gotten a new cat?” Natasha asks.

 

Steve manages to laugh at Bucky’s beet red blush despite his own twinge of feeling in his chest. He squashes the feeling of smug pride when Bucky mumbles: “No.”

 

“Wait, but you’re allergic to cats?” Becca says.

 

“It’s a euphemism,” Clint tells her.

 

“Hey, thanks!” Bucky speaks up loudly. “Stop there!”

 

It’s a great night out.

 

“Oh, Steve!” Darcy gasps. “I saw that portrait you did for that exhibition in Midtown –”

 

Steve almost drops his beer but she still says: “I didn’t know Bucky looked that good naked.”

 

Steve’s chest tightens and he can’t look at Bucky. Then his lungs freeze up and he gasps breathlessly as he scrambles to find his inhaler. Bucky yanks it out of his pocket for him and shoves it into his hand and Steve gets it into his mouth. He sucks down the medicine and his lungs start to function again.

 

The table’s quiet. Steve looks at Bucky with wide eyes.

 

“This is awkward,” Angie whispers.

 

“I –” Steve says.

 

Bucky tosses his arm over Steve’s shoulders and shakes him. “I only look that good ‘cause the artist was exaggerating,” he says.

 

Steve blinks. Bucky catches his gaze and shrugs and Steve looks away quickly, horrified. How is Bucky not angry at him?

 

“This is still awkward,” Angie hisses.

 

Peggy elbows her hard and she gasps.

 

“Did I tell you about the night we slept on the beach?” Peggy begins in a brisk manner. “It was so cold…”

 

They leave when the restaurant closes and Bucky leads the way back to his truck. Steve’s in a daze. Tony busies himself with his phone, but Bucky doesn’t bring it up on the drive back to campus. Bucky parks in front of the building and Tony scrams immediately.

 

Steve lingers.

 

“I already knew about it,” Bucky says before he can speak. “Don’t worry about it, Steve.”

 

Steve blinks. He’s a whole new kind of shook now.

 

“You knew?”

 

Bucky shrugs. “I saw it a couple weeks after the exhibition opened. I, uh, I was really flattered. And glad you didn’t mention my name, I got enough people throwin’ themselves at me, y’know?”

 

Bucky winks at him and Steve nods numbly.

 

“I should’ve told you,” Steve mutters. “But – I couldn’t pull it from the exhibition, technically I consented to be entered before I turned in my project and I couldn’t take it back after.”

 

Bucky shrugs again. “Don’t worry about it,” he repeats.

 

Steve looks down. His hand is on the door but he’s not leaving.

 

“Why’d you pick me?” Bucky asks.

 

“I –” Steve starts. He swallows. “Um. Because – Because I wanted to draw your, uh, your arm.”

 

Bucky nods slowly. Steve winces.

 

“That’s awful, isn’t it?” he mutters.

 

“Nah,” Bucky says. He reaches over and punches Steve lightly in the arm. “I thought it looked badass. Plus, you made my dick bigger and that just inflated my ego.”

 

Steve’s face heats up. “I didn’t…” he mumbles. He slips out of the truck, his sneakers hitting the pavement. “I’ll see you later?”

 

“Yeah, I’m picking you up Friday,” Bucky says. “We’ll hit up the Blockbuster, yeah?”

 

Steve laughs weakly and nods to him. He turns and shuts the door, then heads inside. Tony’s sitting on his bunk when Steve gets in.

 

“Ya good?” Tony asks.

 

“He already knew about it,” Steve mutters.

 

Tony shrugs and lays back. “Told you you didn’t have to worry,” he says. “Night.”

 

The first week is a rush of syllabi and textbook skimming. Steve’s only got two classes left to finish for his non-course credits and he’s relieved to have nothing but art classes filling his schedule. Even still, by the weekend comes, he’s exhausted.

 

“You’re spending the weekend at his place,” Tony repeats flatly when Steve tells him what he’s doing when he packs up his bag. “You guys are so complicated.”

 

Steve just shrugs and lets it go. Tony’s not wrong. Bucky picks him up around six and they grab dinner before heading back to his place.

 

“Y’know, I’d thought you’d have a new girl by now,” Steve says as they enter. “And I’d have to fight with her for your attention.

 

Bucky shrugs. “I got tired of making the effort to find new ones,” he explains. “You, uh, you want the spare bed or…?”

 

Steve walks into Bucky’s bedroom. “Bottom drawer still empty?”

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says. Steve glances over his shoulder and sees him smiling as he leans against the doorway. “G’head, insert yourself.”

 

“Shuddup, my bathrobe’s still here,” Steve answers him, emptying his bag of the clothes he’d packed specifically to leave here.

 

They watch cartoons on Adult Swim until Bucky starts yawning every five minutes. Steve detangles himself from the pile of limbs and blankets they’d been and stands, stretching.

 

“C’mon,” Steve says, picking up the remote and turning off the TV. “Before you fall asleep on the couch.”

 

Bucky groans as he gets up. Steve heads into the bathroom to brush his teeth and Bucky stumbles along behind him. Steve squirts toothpaste on his toothbrush, lifts it to his mouth, and Bucky plasters himself to Steve’s back.

 

Steve lowers his toothbrush as Bucky rubs his face against Steve’s hair. His eyes are shut and he only makes the motion a few times, stopping to leave his cheek smushed against Steve’s crown. The gesture is soft and tender. Steve almost presses back into him.

 

Steve blinks a couple of times, then elbows Bucky.

 

Bucky jolts up, blinks, then pulls back. “Sorry,” he mumbles, reaching for his toothbrush.

 

“‘S fine,” Steve answers quietly.

 

Steve changes into his pajamas in the bathroom. Bucky’s already in bed when Steve walks in, sprawled on his side with his arm flung out. Steve plugs in his phone and one of his hearing aids, then gets into the bed and turns onto his side facing away from Bucky. He lies down just in front of Bucky, then thinks fuck it and scoots back until his back is to Bucky’s chest.

 

Bucky curls around him and Steve fixes the pillow under their heads before he shuts his eyes. He slips toward sleep and only vaguely notices Bucky’s knee hooking over his hip.

 

His dreams are fuzzy and involve dance club strobe lights and his body being surrounded by a heavy Alpha. Steve wakes up to Bucky panting on his neck, his morning wood lazily moving against his ass, and Steve’s struck by anxiety when he realizes he’s wet and hard.

 

Steve bites down on his lip, squeezing his eyes shut, but a second later he forces himself out of the bed. Bucky doesn’t wake up. Steve goes into the bathroom and uses toilet paper to clean up his ass, but he’s still hard. He strangles the base of his dick for a second, then goes into the kitchen and gets out the peas.

 

Steve winces at the cold touch. It doesn’t take long for the frozen peas to do their job and he stands in the kitchen for a second, breathing hard.

 

He can’t keep doing this. He shouldn’t keep doing this. It’s the middle of the night and Steve gets back in bed with Bucky, who presses to Steve’s back in his sleep and starts snoring quietly instead of panting, and Steve bites on a knuckle as he squeezes his eyes closed again and his heart hurts. He still loves Bucky. He shouldn’t keep doing this.

 

The next weekend, Steve wakes up both Saturday and Sunday with Bucky’s morning wood poking him in the back. The same story the weekend after. Steve shouldn’t keep going back, he’s just putting a chisel to his barely mended heart, but he can’t stop going. He can’t stop curling up against Bucky’s chest whenever he can, he can’t stop letting Bucky overcompensate by buying him food all the time, he can’t stop leaning into Bucky when he throws his arm around Steve’s neck. He should stop, but he can’t.

Chapter Text

déjà vu


“Are you going to Natasha’s Halloween party?” Steve asks.

 

“‘Course,” Bucky says. He glances over his shoulder. “You?”

 

Steve nods, swinging his legs against the cabinets. “What are you dressing up as?”

 

Bucky shrugs. “Probably do Jason again, ‘cause I’m lazy. You?”

 

Steve shrugs. “I dunno. Peggy wants to do the Plastics again, but –”



He doesn’t finish. Bucky scrapes the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, then lifts it and tastes the broth.

 

“Hey, this is actually good.”

 

Steve hops off the counter and nears. Bucky lifts the spoon from the heavy saucepan and holds it out for Steve. Steve cups his hand under it to catch drippings and he sips the broth from it.

 

“Smells like lobster bisque,” Steve says, then sips it again. “Kinda tastes like lobster bisque.”

 

Bucky sticks the spoon back in the pot and gives the seafood stew they’d tackled making from scratch (mostly, Bucky bought a broth base) a stir. “You wanna get bowls? A ladle, too?”

 

Steve moves to get them and Bucky puts the wooden spoon in the dishwasher before switching off the fire under the stew. Steve dunks a ladle into the stew, then portions it out into two bowls and hands one to Bucky. Bucky heads for the table and Steve sits down next to him, handing him a spoon.

 

“Cheers,” Steve says, tucking in.

 

They eat in silence for a minute, the only sound the radio playing quietly behind them.

 

“What are the plastics?” Bucky asks. “How’s it a costume?”

 

Steve blinks. He puts his elbows on the table. “The Plastics,” he repeats. “The girls from Mean Girls. Regina, Karen, Gretchen.”

 

Bucky blinks, then nods slowly. “Okay.”

 

Steve looks down and Bucky’s still confused. “We do the Plastics every year,” he says. “Since senior year of high school.”

 

Bucky keeps nodding, then his eyes widen and he understands why Steve’s being evasive.

 

“That’s the getup you were wearing Halloween two years ago!” he gasps.

 

Steve grimaces. “Yeah.”

 

Bucky opens his mouth but nothing comes out. Steve shrugs and keeps eating his stew. Bucky looks down at his bowl.

 

“Y’know,” Bucky says, “you should do it if you want to.”

 

Steve flicks his gaze up for a second. He shrugs again.

 

“Seriously,” Bucky says. He kicks Steve lightly under the table. “Don’t – Don’t not do it because of – of reasons.”

 

Steve smiles wryly at his bowl. “You can say it aloud, Buck,” he drawls.

 

Bucky exhales. “You know what I mean.”

 

“I know,” Steve murmurs.

 

Bucky turns his gaze back on his stew. “You should do that costume,” he says. “And get a better wingman.”

 

Steve laughs softly. “I don’t – I don’t think I’ll be looking to go home with anyone,” he says.

 

Bucky jerks his gaze up, almost choking. He swallows quickly. “Why not?” he asks, sounding a little raspy.

 

Steve flicks up an eyebrow and tips his head, pursing his lips briefly. “Just don’t wanna,” he admits. “I kinda grew outta it. Lost its appeal.”

 

Bucky blinks. Steve keeps eating and Bucky slaps himself mentally to get himself to do the same. It doesn’t mean anything if Steve isn’t having sex as much anymore, it doesn’t mean anything if Steve doesn’t want to go home with anyone on Halloween, and it doesn’t mean anything if Steve feels like he’s grown out of having hookups all the time. Steve’s twenty-two, he’s allowed to slow down on dating. It doesn’t mean anything.

 

Halloween comes rapidly. Bucky dresses up like Jason Voorhees again because he doesn’t want to go looking for a new costume. He didn’t go out last year and he hadn’t really gone out before his first year of college anyway. He takes a bus to Natasha and Clint’s new duplex in Hell’s Kitchen and the party’s in full swing when he gets there.

 

“Very impressive,” Natasha tells Bucky about his costume, sipping straight vodka. “I like the machete, it’s a nice touch.”

 

“Thanks,” Bucky answers.

 

Natasha points across the room. “Your kitten’s over there,” she says, her face flat while Bucky’s goes red and he glares at her.

 

“He’s not my anything other than my friend,” he snaps.

 

Natasha rolls her eyes. “Go, why don’t you?”

 

She leaves and Bucky makes his way across the living room. It’s crowded, way too many people crammed into the rowhouse than there should be. Bucky spots Peggy and her bunny ears in a corner and makes his way there.

 

His mouth goes dry as he spots Steve. Steve must’ve taken his advice, because he’s dressed the same as he’d been Halloween two years ago. Right down to the thigh-high fishnets and the panty-shorts. Right down to the fluffy white cat ears in his hair and the tail curled around his elbow.

 

Bucky walks up. Steve must have already started drinking, because he’s already rosy-cheeked. He beams as he spots Bucky and waves him over.

 

“Hi, Jason,” Steve giggles, prodding Bucky in the bicep. “When’d you get here?”

 

“Name’s Bucky,” Bucky counters teasingly, dropping his elbow onto Steve’s shoulder.

 

Steve rolls his eyes. “I ain’t that drunk,” he says. “C’mon, when’d ya get here?”

 

“Ten minutes ago,” Bucky answers. He pushes his hockey mask up, then pulls the beer out of Steve’s hand and swigs from it while Steve protests and Peggy and Angie laugh. “How long you been here?”

 

Steve snatches his drink back. “That’s my third beer,” he says. “Go getcha own!”

 

“Alright, alright,” Bucky agrees, lifting off Steve’s shoulder. “Be back in a minute.”

 

He’s perfectly happy to get a can of Budweiser and drink the whole damn thing while he’s still standing by the cooler. He needs to not be sober to keep his mind off the last time he saw Steve in his kitten ears and two Halloweens ago when Steve had claimed he knew what he wanted and Bucky needs another one already. He pops the tab as he heads back to the corner his friends are in and keeps drinking. The alcohol hits his system fast.

 

The alcohol hits his system fast and hard. All of them drink too much for a Thursday night when All Saint’s Day doesn’t let out classes. Bucky forgets how many drinks he has. He doesn’t remember half the night. He wakes up November 1st and the night is a blur of laughter and teasing and – and Steve smiling at him. And kissing him. And pulling Steve into Natasha and Clint’s spare bedroom, because Bucky doesn’t wake up at home or alone.

 

Steve shivers as Bucky sits up and the blankets pull off his bare back. Bucky slips from the bed and covers Steve again, then goes looking for his clothes. Half-dressed, he leaves the room and locks himself in the bathroom down the hall.

 

It’s déjà vu. Bucky grabs his hair and freaks out sitting on the toilet. He tries to remember the night before, all he gets are flashes of wanting and eye contact in between waves of his splitting headache.

 

Steve had kissed him. Steve had initiated the kiss and Bucky had been the one to find a room and a bed. He can't remember which of them had said it, but the words "It doesn't matter, hungover-us can freak out about this later." Steve had cried so beautifully for him and he’d begged Bucky to call him kitten again and Bucky could remember the name falling from his lips like the drool coming out of Steve’s mouth as Bucky fucked into him hard.

 

“Fuck,” Bucky hisses.

 

Drunk-them had been right; sober-Bucky is definitely freaking out.

 

He forces himself up. Steve’s gonna wake up soon and Bucky doesn’t want him to be alone and panic. He goes back into the spare bedroom, then walks around to face Steve and shakes him awake.

 

“Wha –” Steve starts, waking up suddenly.

 

He looks around, his eyes land on Bucky, then he looks around and down at himself and his face pales.

 

“Oh, no,” Steve mutters.

 

“You wanna go someplace else to talk or you wanna do it here?” Bucky asks.

 

Steve pulls the blanket up to his chest and looks around the room again. He doesn’t answer Bucky and Bucky sits down on the edge of the bed.

 

“Did we –” Steve starts.

 

Bucky nods. He looks down at his feet, shameful.

 

“Shit,” Steve hisses. Bucky glances up and Steve presses the heels of his hands into his eyes. “ Shit! ” he hisses.

 

“I –” Bucky starts. “I’m sorry?”

 

Steve lets out a short, angry, and hurt sound. Bucky winces and looks away.

 

“We’re still at Natasha’s?” Steve asks in a small voice. “Can you ask her if she can lend me some clothes?”

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says, standing up. “I – I’ll be right back.”

 

He leaves and heads downstairs. The first floor’s pretty much trashed, but Bucky finds Clint and Natasha in the kitchen.

 

“You owe me,” Natasha announces when he walks in. She looks from the eggs she’s cooking only after and immediately frowns. “What’s wrong?”

 

“Can you lend Steve some clothes?” Bucky asks quietly.

 

Natasha blinks. She glances at Clint, who shrugs. Then Natasha looks back at Bucky and she nods. She leaves the kitchen and Bucky sits down at the table.

 

Clint gets up, opens the fridge, and pulls out a bottle of Powerade. He puts it in front of Bucky and Bucky mutters a thanks as he cracks it open and gulps half in one go.

 

“So,” Clint starts.

 

Bucky lets his forehead thunk against the table and regrets it immediately as his headache pulses.

 

“I fucked up,” Bucky says woefully.

 

Clint sighs heavily. Bucky hears a pill bottle shaking and looks up to see Clint shaking a bottle of Excedrin. Bucky takes it and swallows two, then drinks more.

 

“You fucked up?” Clint questions.

 

Bucky nods pathetically. “I fucked up,” he mumbles. “An’ I don’ know if he’ll forgive me again.”

 

“Well, it takes two to tango,” Clint quotes.

 

Bucky just shakes his head.

 

“You were both drunk?” Clint tries again.

 

“How come youse didn’t stop us?” Bucky demands, sitting up and glaring at Clint. “Why’d you let us go? Why’d you let us stay all night?”

 

Clint shrugs. “I was hammered, ask Nat.”

 

Bucky puts his head back on the table gently. “I don’ know if I can lose ‘im again,” he says under his breath.

 

“I only got one hearing aid in, buddy, what’d you say?”

 

Bucky shakes his head. He picks it up and drinks more, draining the bottle, and puts his face in his hand when he’s done.

 

“Things were going great,” he says. “We – We had all the good stuff back. Now –”

 

“Now you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Clint tells him.

 

Bucky shakes his head. “He’s angry,” he mutters. “He’s angry at me.”

 

Clint sighs. “Maybe ask him?”

 

Bucky looks over his shoulder as he hears footsteps. Natasha re-enters, opens the fridge, takes out a second bottle of Powerade and the Excedrin from the table, then just leaves again. Bucky groans and recovers his face.

 

Clint reaches across the table. “It’ll be okay, Barnes. You two got a special connection. You’ll get through this.”

 

Bucky shakes his head. “It was so fucking hard the first time,” he says. “I can’t do it again.”

 

Clint doesn’t say anything else. Bucky leans on the table, hiding his face, until Natasha comes back into the kitchen again.

 

“Alright,” she announces; she hits the table with a fist and Bucky jerks upright, groaning. “You can sleep your hangover off on the couch. I’m gonna take Steve home for the weekend.”

 

Bucky blinks. “But –”

 

“His dad’s place,” Natasha clarifies.

 

Bucky deflates; he’d hoped for a second that Steve wanted to go home, as in Bucky’s apartment. Clearly, he’d been stupid to think that.

 

“He asked me to tell you that he needs space, but he promises that he’s not going to block your number again,” Natasha continues as Bucky deflates even further. “He asked me not to tell you that I’ll cut you into tiny little pieces if you don’t give him that space,” she adds, “but I’m nice like that.”

 

Bucky blinks at her. “How – how much space?”

 

Natasha shrugs. “Don’t talk to him until he talks to you. I didn’t ask how long, he didn’t say.”

 

Bucky crumples into a puddle on the table again. Natasha pats him on the shoulder, then leaves the kitchen again.

 

“He promised not to block your number,” Clint reminds him. “Silver lining?”

 

Bucky shakes his head. He listens to the front door opening and shutting and Natasha’s car leaving. He didn’t even remind Steve to check his blood sugar. Would Natasha know to tell him? Steve would forget if he was so upset he couldn’t talk to Bucky himself.

 

“Can you text Natasha and ask her to remind Steve about his sugar?” Bucky mumbles to Clint.

 

He peeks out to watch Clint pull out his phone, then cradles his face again. Clint’s chair pushes back and his hands lift Bucky up by the shoulders.

 

“Come on,” he says. “To the couch with you, buddy.”

 

Bucky spills onto the couch and Clint throws a blanket over him.

 

“It’ll be alright,” Clint promises.

 

Bucky can’t lose Steve again. He can’t go through that again.

 

(Upstairs, a condom package sits under the bed, lost there amongst frantic movements and a certain desperate hunger. It’s opened, but the latex is still inside.)

Chapter Text

tout ira bien


Steve curls up on his bunk, his head aching and his gut rolling with nausea. It’s halfway into November, almost Thanksgiving, and Steve’s had a bad bout of flu for the past week or so.

 

“Maybe you should go to the health center?” Tony suggests.

 

Steve groans. “‘M too nauseous to move.”

 

“When was the last time you ate?”

 

Steve just groans again. Tony sighs and gets up from his desk chair.

 

Steve hears him rummaging in the mini fridge, then Tony rolls his chair closer and touches Steves’ arm gently. Steve opens his eyes, blinking, and Tony holds out an opened package of boiled eggs.

 

“Here,” he says. “So you don’t die of hypoglycemia.”

 

Steve takes them and sits up just enough to nibble on them. Tony hands him a bottle of Gatorade, too, and Steve sips it gratefully. His stomach rolls, but Steve eats in small bites and he manages to get down both eggs. He finishes the Gatorade and lies down again.

 

“You should go to the health center,” Tony repeats. “At the very least, to get something for the stomach problems. If I wake up to the sound of you vomiting in the bathroom again, I’m gonna get sick.”

 

Steve slumps, wrinkling his nose. “‘M tired,” he mutters.

 

“You wanna call your not-boyfriend and ask him to take you?” Tony asks. “I have a paper due in the morning I haven’t written yet otherwise I’d drag you there.”

 

Steve shakes his head slowly, but only to not aggravate his headache. He hasn’t spoken to Bucky in person yet, not since Halloween; they've texted, not much, just enough for Steve to make sure Bucky was okay and to promise him that they would talk again. He’s been too much of a coward to start the conversation that they need to have.

 

Tony sighs. “You could call Peggy? Or Angie? Or Becca?”

 

Steve exhales heavily. He pulls his phones from his blankets and unlocks it. He opens the group chat with his high school friends and sends a quick text asking if any of them were free. He texts Becca and Natasha, too, to be safe. Tony gives Steve’s shoulder a squeeze and rolls away to his desk, opening his laptop and switching on his complicated computer setup to project a screen onto the wall. Steve swipes out of his conversation with Natasha and stares blankly at Jerk down the page, then he exits to his homescreen and locks his phone, lying back again.

 

A minute passes, then it buzzes on his chest. Steve lifts it and checks; Angie’s responded to the group chat, which is still called The Plastics ™ from Halloween. He pushes his glasses back up his nose and squints at his screen to read her text.

 

The Plastics™

(ANGEL)

ywah whassup

 

Steve replies asking if she would mind going with him to the health center and Angie agrees, promising to meet him at his dorm room in twenty minutes. By then, Natasha’s responded and Steve has to send her a never mind. He tacks the same onto his last message to Becca, goes back to his texts, and just stares at Bucky’s number.

 

Steve locks his phone and lies down, shutting his eyes. His nausea abates some and the Excedrin he took half an hour before eating finally kicks in by the time Angie knocks on his door.

 

Steve gets up and answers it, just opening the door and turning back to grab his things.

 

“You look like you got eaten by a T-Rex and then shat back out,” Angie remarks.

 

“Thanks,” Steve mumbles, grabbing his insulin bag and a coat. “I feel like that, too.”

“See you when you get back,” Tony calls.

 

Angie throws her arm over Steve’s shoulders as they leave. Steve puts up his hood outside and they walk the ten minutes from Finchbury Hall to the student health center. Angie sits down in the waiting room while Steve checks in, then he leans on her shoulder until a nurse calls his name.

 

“You want me to go back with you?” Angie asks.

 

Steve shakes his head. Angie squeezes his arm as he gets up and the nurse holds the door for Steve.

 

“My name is Darla,” his nurse tells him. “Can you step over here and I’ll take your vitals?”

 

Steve follows her and goes through the motions of getting his vitals taken. She checks his temperature, his blood pressure, then has him check his blood sugar so she can see it and asks him to step onto the scale.

 

“What was the start date of your last heat?” Darla asks, clicking her pen again.

 

Steve opens his mouth. He blinks sightlessly at the wall in front of him as he thinks.

 

“May fourteenth,” he says. He frowns. “I – My next one’s due – soon, I think.”

 

It should have come already, actually. Maybe his flu delayed it? Steve frowns at the ground, but Darla just scribbles it down. She glances at his weight, mutters it aloud, and writes it down, too. Steve’s startled and looks at the digital display of the scale, because he only weighed one thirty last time he checked. Somehow he’s gained ten pounds since Halloween despite his appetite plummeting.

 

“This way, Steve,” Darla tells him, walking out of the alcove she’d taken his vitals in.

 

Steve shakes himself and follows her. She takes him into a room and he sits down on the examination table while Darla spins a Lazy Susan to bring a computer monitor and keyboard to face her. She writes down what she’d recorded and asks him about his symptoms.

 

“When did they start?”

 

“A week or so ago,” Steve says, shifting on the seat.

 

“Anything other than nausea and headaches?”

 

“Uh,” Steve thinks aloud. “Dizziness, maybe? But I’m iron deficient, so that’s normal.”

 

“Has your dizziness changed any since your symptoms began?”

 

“I think?” Steve says. “I get lightheaded when I stand up more often.”

 

“What medications are you currently taking?” Darla asks.

 

Steve rattles off his asthma and diabetes meds, but they’re on an as needed basis only.

 

“And you’re not on any kind of birth control or suppressant?”

 

“No,” Steve says.

 

Darla spins the computer again. She hooks her pen back in her scrubs and gives Steve a smile. “The doctor will be in to see you in just a minute,” she says, pulling the curtain shut behind her.

 

Steve shifts on the examination table. He feels nervous, but if he’s honest, he’s been nervous for 22 years. He ends up lying down again and covering his eyes with his arm, because the lights are making his headache pound. He sits up when the curtain rattles again and a woman in a white coat enters, pumping hand sanitizer into her palm.

 

“Hi, Steve, my name’s Doctor Raymond,” she greets, walking over and shaking his hand. “Why don’t you tell me about what you’ve been feeling?”

 

Steve starts over again, describing how a week or so ago he woke up and immediately had to vomit, that the nausea was persistent throughout the day, he was tired and shaky all the time and he’d had a headache the past two days.

 

Dr. Raymond nods gently with a thoughtful expression as he explains and when he’s done, she asks if he had a flu shot that season.

 

“I –” Steve starts. He frowns. “Yeah, I did, back in October.”

 

Dr. Raymond nods slowly. She takes her stethoscope off her neck and listens to her lungs, nods speculatively as she does it and Steve’s starting to get worried.

 

“Your lungs sound fine,” Dr. Raymond says as she hangs up her stethoscope again. “Are you sexually active, Steve?”

 

Steve swallows a growing lump in his throat. “Yeah, I guess.”

 

“When was the last time you had intercourse?” Dr. Raymond asks.

 

Steve looks down at his lap, his hands shaking. “Halloween,” he reports.

 

“You aren’t pale or clammy at all,” Dr. Raymond tells him. “No fever, no congestion. Your only flu-like symptom is nausea.”

 

She pauses. Steve glances up to meet her eyes, then looks down again. She isn't going to say what Steve is suddenly panicking about. No, that's stupid.

 

“You aren’t on any birth control,” Dr. Raymond says quietly.

 

Steve inhales shallowly. No, he thinks. It’s not –

 

“Is it possible you might be pregnant?” Dr. Raymond asks.

 

Steve’s breath rattles in his chest. He shakes his head hard and Dr. Raymond touches his arm gently while Steve starts to panic and his lungs seize up. He fumbles for his inhaler and Dr. Raymond shifts as though to help him, but Steve’s already got it in his mouth and is sucking down the medicine.

 

He breathes carefully. He’s still panicking.

 

“Did you and your partner use a contraceptive on Halloween?” Dr. Raymond presses gently.

 

“I –” Steve starts, his voice trembling. “I don’t know – We – we were drunk, I thought – We must’ve –”

 

“We can run a urine test now,” Dr. Raymond suggests.

 

Steve stares sightlessly. He nods.

 

Dr. Raymond moves away from the table and leaves the room. Steve wishes he’d asked Angie to come back with him and at the same time is so glad she’s not there to witness him like this. Dr. Raymond returns, ripping open a sealed plastic bag, and she puts a small plastic cup with a sealed antiseptic wipe stuck inside in his hand.

 

“I’ll show you to the bathroom,” she says, taking his elbow and gently pulling him off the table.

 

Steve goes with her, feeling numb, and they stop outside a unisex bathroom.

 

“You’ll need to wipe around the urethra with the antiseptic,” Dr. Raymond says. “Expel a small amount of urine, then collect a sample up to the line here and put it in the cabinet over the commode.”

 

Steve goes inside and locks the door. He stands in front of the toilet, looking at the cup in his hand, then shakily starts obeying the instructions. He pees into the cup, spins a rotating cabinet and sets the cup on a metal tray lined with paper, then spins the cabinet again and goes to wash his hands. He leaves and Dr. Raymond is gone, so he goes straight back to his room and gets on the table. He puts his head in his hands and tries to breathe properly.

 

A while later – five or thirty minutes, Steve can’t tell – Dr. Raymond enters again. Her face is sympathetic and kind.

 

“I don’t have the flu, do I?” Steve asks in a terrified whisper.

 

Dr. Raymond shakes her head. Steve sucks in a hard breath and covers his mouth with both hands, his eyes and nose stinging.

 

“There’s a pregnancy health clinic just off campus,” Dr. Raymond tells him, walking over to the computer. “I’ll write you a referral and we can even schedule an appointment for you if you’d like. I strongly recommend that you go; they can help you figure out what you’re going to do now and in the future.”

 

She pauses, as though to let Steve take it in. He just stares into nothing.

 

“In the meantime, you can take vitamin B-6 over the counter for your morning sickness and I want you to start taking iron supplements once a day.”

 

“They make me sick,” Steve mumbles.

 

Dr. Raymond nods. “The vitamin B-6 will help with that. You can get either of those at any grocery or drug store. I’d like to do some blood tests to make sure you don’t have any STIs, is that okay?”

 

Steve nods. Dr. Raymond walks over and perches on a stool, still looking at him kindly.

 

“Do you have somewhere safe to go home to?” she asks.

 

“I live in the dorms,” Steve mutters.

 

“What about the Alpha or Beta parent?” Dr. Raymond asks him. “Do you need help with them?”

 

Steve shakes his head. “No, he’s – He’s okay. I’ll…”

 

He shrugs hopelessly. Dr. Raymond reaches up and squeezes his arm.

 

“Would you like us to set up the appointment at the pregnancy center?” she asks.

 

“Please,” Steve mutters. He doesn’t know what to do. A counselor would do him a world of good.

 

Somebody comes in and draws his blood. Steve complies with their questions and instructions in a daze; they fill five vials with his blood and leave again. Dr. Raymond gives him a smile and a pat on the shoulder, then she walks over to the computer and Steve stares at the ground while the keyboard clacks and a small printer hums to life. Dr. Raymond walks over and hands him some paperwork, detailing his visit and her advice.

 

“Your appointment is on December 2nd,” Dr. Raymond tells him. “We’ll have the lab results for your blood tests back before Thanksgiving. Can we call the number you gave us to give you your results?”

 

Steve nods. Dr. Raymond reminds him about the vitamin B-6 and iron pills, then sends him out. He pauses by check-out and the receptionist waves him on. Steve walks into the waiting room and stops in front of Angie.

 

“How’d it go?” Angie asks, looking up. Her face drops and she stands up, grabbing his elbows. “Steve? What’s wrong?”

 

Steve opens his mouth. No words come out.

 

“C’mon,” Angie says, pulling him out of the clinic carefully.

 

She walks him to the cafeteria, pushes him into a chair, then walks away and returns with a tray, two cups of steaming tea and a bowl of chicken noodle soup. She sets the soup and one of the teas in front of Steve, then sits down opposite him and looks at him with worry in her eyes.

 

“What did they tell you?” she asks quietly.

 

Steve shakes his head. “I – I don’t have the flu.”

 

Angie nods for him to go on. Steve shakes his head again. He picks up the spoon, stirs the soup, but can’t bring himself to eat it.

 

“What is it?” Angie prompts gently.

 

“Promise you won’t tell anyone?” Steve asks quickly.

 

“I promise,” Angie answers.

 

“Not even Peggy?” Steve asks, looking up at her with wide eyes.

 

“Not even Peggy,” Angie swears. She reaches across the table and grabs his hand. “What is it?”

 

“I’m pregnant,” Steve whispers.

 

Like saying it louder will make it real. Like acknowledging it will make the abrupt new life in him wake up and start making its presence known. Like saying it will summon Bucky out of nowhere when Steve hasn’t even talked to him since Halloween.

 

“Oh, Steve,” Angie murmurs.

 

She gets up and walks around the table, sitting down next to him instead and hugging him. Steve drops his spoon and leans into her, gripping the back of her sweater with hard knuckles. Angie strokes his hair gently, her cheek resting against his hair.

 

“It’ll be okay,” Angie promises.

 

Steve inhales and exhales shakily. He can’t believe in it. He doesn’t believe in the spark in his gut. He doesn’t believe that this is real.

 

“Was it…?” Angie starts, pulling back.

 

Steve reaches up and wipes his nose with his sleeve. He nods. Angie clucks her tongue and brushes his hair out of his eyes.

 

“Do you want me to go beat him up?” Angie asks. “I can even tell Peggy to go do her judo thing and she won’t question it.”

 

Steve shakes his head. “I don’t know how to tell him,” he admits.

 

“Do you want one of us to go with you?” Angie suggests, her eyes wide and kind and pitying as she looks at him. “Again, Peggy, judo.”

 

“No,” Steve mumbles. “He won’t – Judo isn’t necessary. I’ll – I’ll –”

 

Steve covers his mouth with his hand and leans on the table. He can’t believe this. Angie rubs his shoulders with a kind hand.

 

“It’ll be okay,” Angie whispers.

 

Steve doesn’t know how it will.

Chapter Text

conséquences



“Yo, Barnes!” Dum Dum yells. “You got a visitor!”

 

Bucky pulls himself out from under the car he’s nearly finished with. “Can they wait a minute?”

 

Dum Dum walks right up to him and raises his eyebrows. “I don’t think so,” he says in a surprisingly serious tone. “It’s Steve.”

 

Bucky jumps to his feet. He pushes past Dum Dum and power walks across the garage, to where he can see Steve, shifting from foot to foot, by the door to the waiting room. Bucky tries for a smile, but he’s filled with a sudden panic. He hasn’t seen Steve in almost a month.

 

“Hi,” Bucky says dumbly.

 

“We need to talk,” Steve mumbles, his words almost too quiet to hear over the sounds in the garage.

 

He won’t look Bucky in the eye. He looks exhausted and worn. Bucky glances away, then points over his shoulder to the break room.

 

“In there?” he suggests.

 

Steve looks around and nods jerkily. Bucky almost reaches out to take Steve’s shoulder, doesn’t, and just leads him into the break room.

 

“You should sit down,” Steve tells him soberly.

 

Bucky pulls out a chair at the kitchen table and sits. Steve does, too, folding his hands in his lap continually.

 

“So,” Bucky says.

 

Steve takes a deep breath.

 

“I – I’m sorry about Halloween,” Bucky tells him.

 

He’s had this speech planned for a month, but now that Steve’s here, he has no clue how to deliver it.

 

“I don’t have any excuses,” Bucky adds. “I understand if –”

 

“I’m pregnant,” Steve interrupts.

 

Bucky stops, his mouth open and a breath halfway down his throat. Steve isn’t looking at him still. His face is lined with a frown that ages him. Bucky just blinks. Of all the things, he hadn't been expecting that.

 

“Are you going to say anything?” Steve asks quietly.

 

“I –” Bucky starts. He blinks uselessly. “Is – is it mine?”

 

Steve’s lips part, then he finally looks up at Bucky and he gives him this look that has Bucky feeling abruptly like an insect; small and insignificant and stupid.

 

“No,” Steve exhales sarcastically, “it’s your boss’s – Of course it’s yours!” he cuts himself off to snap, sounding angry with Bucky.

 

Bucky winces. Of course it’s his.

 

“Why the hell else would I be here telling you like this?!” Steve demands.

 

Bucky opens and closes his mouth hopelessly. He shrugs. “Because I’m your friend and I’d help, I don’t know?”

 

Steve’s posture slumps and he lets out his breath as he looks down at his hands in his lap. He inhales, then just lets it back out and nods a little. Bucky blinks at the space between their knees.

 

“Then –” Bucky starts. “Are you – Are you gonna keep it?”

 

Steve drops his gaze. Bucky crosses the fingers on his left hand left in Afghanistan, his heart skipping every other beat in his chest.

 

“I haven’t decided yet,” Steve mutters. “I wanted to… To ask you.”

 

Bucky opens his mouth and ends up inhaling deeply. “I mean,” he starts, “it’s your body. I wouldn’t hafta be the one carrying it and I don’t wanna be one them guys that – that makes demands when they got no room to stand on.”

 

Steve bites his lip. Bucky hesitates, then reaches into his pocket and takes out a packet of gum. Not his nicotine gum. Steve’s gum, that he never broke the habit of carrying. He holds it out to Steve and Steve lifts his gaze just enough to look at it. Then he takes it and the packet trembles in his fingers as he punches out a piece of gum and pops it into his mouth. He holds the packet back out and Bucky puts it back in his pocket.

 

“What do you wanna do?” Bucky asks quietly.

 

Steve shrugs. He chews his gum, looking at the table and not at Bucky. “I’ve got an appointment at a, um –” he gestures vaguely, his expression lost “– a pregnancy clinic. With a counselor.”

 

“I can –” Bucky starts. He clears his throat. “Can I –” he asks instead of just insisting “– take you?”

 

Steve hugs his stomach, hunching forward in his chair, and he shrugs again. “I think we should talk about what we’re gonna do before I answer that.”

 

“Right,” Bucky says.

 

He swallows and glances down, then tugs his Nicorette out and throws a piece into his mouth. He chews on it for a second, his tongue going a little numb from the nicotine, then nods as he stares at the ground between his and Steve’s knees.

 

“You – I’ll support you, whatever happens. I’ll take responsibility.”

 

Steve winces and lifts his hands to cover his face. Bucky reaches out, then pulls his hand back and holds it against his knee, clenching his fist until his knuckles stand out white.

 

“This is a baby we’re talking about,” Steve mumbles behind his hands. “Not – not a – a car accident or – or – or an STD –”

 

“Sorry,” Bucky says.

 

“Stop apologizing,” Steve groans. He shakes his head, his face still covered by his hands. “Look,” he sighs. He drops one hand and just holds his forehead in his palm, leaning over his knees with his shoulders rounded. “You can’t take all the blame, Buck, I was there, too. And it’s not like I wasn’t okay with it happening in the moment.”

 

“I –” Bucky starts.

 

“No,” Steve cuts him off. He drops his other hand and looks over Bucky’s shoulder, not at his face. “We got drunk. We chose to do what we did. We fucked up. Okay? It was both of us.”

 

Bucky looks down, deflating. “Okay,” he mumbles.

 

Steve sighs and Bucky glances up at him; Steve scrubs at his face with a hand, then slumps in his chair again and stares down at the ground between their knees.

 

“Have you had dinner yet?” Bucky asks him.

 

Steve shakes his head. Bucky gets up, reaches out, hesitates, then touches Steve’s shoulder and squeezes it.

 

“I’m gonna go clock out, okay?” he says gently. “We’ll go get something to eat. Just wait here.”

 

Steve nods. He won’t look at Bucky. Bucky leaves him there and searches the garage for Dum Dum. When he finds him, he pulls him aside and explains quietly that his friend’s in trouble and needs help, so he has to leave early. Dum Dum looks suspicious.

 

“Trouble?” he repeats.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky claims, shifting from foot to foot.

 

“Trouble,” Dum Dum says again, then makes a hand motion like following the curve of a swollen belly.

 

Bucky grimaces, looking down. Dum Dum sighs and claps him on the shoulder.

 

“Take the weekend,” he says. “See you Monday.”

 

“Thanks,” Bucky answers.

 

Dum Dum takes his hand and they bro-hug, then Bucky makes his way back into the break room. Steve glances in his direction but only so far as his knees, then away again. Bucky walks up to him and sets his hand lightly on Steve’s shoulder. For a second, Steve visibly goes lax under his hand, like he’s about to lean into him, then he stiffens up again. Bucky pulls his hand back.

 

“C’mon,” he says softly.

 

They go out the back and Bucky lets Steve into his truck. Steve slumps in his seat, sitting on the far side of the bench. Bucky starts the engine and starts away from the garage.

 

“Adrianna’s?” Bucky suggests.

 

Steve just nods.

 

Bucky drives the short distance to the diner. He parks and goes around to offer a hand to Steve getting out, but Steve ignores his hand and hops down from the truck on his own. Bucky shoves his hand in his pocket instead. Steve leads the way and he heads straight for their booth in the back. He gets in on the close side and Bucky slides into the bench against the wall; like they always do.

 

“Hey, cuties,” Glenda greets, walking up with two coffees. “One regular, one decaf.”

 

“Can I tea instead?” Steve asks her. “Sorry.”

 

“No problem,” Glenda answers, only putting down Bucky’s coffee. She lingers, frowning at Steve. “You okay, sweetie?”

 

“Touch’a flu,” Steve tells her, grimacing. “Thanks.”

 

Glenda bumps his shoulder with her fist. “You feel better soon, honey,” she says and heads off again. Bucky pulls his coffee towards him, fiddling with the handle.

 

“Makes me nauseous,” Steve says to the tabletop. “Coffee.”

 

“Do you want me to –?” Bucky starts, lifting his cup.

 

“No, it’s fine,” Steve says. He sighs and shifts into the corner, pulling his legs up onto the bench. “So.”

 

Bucky looks down into his coffee. He adds cream and sugar, stirs it, but doesn’t take a drink. “So,” he repeats.

 

“I don’t know if I’m gonna keep it but we gotta talk about – about Halloween,” Steve says in a very fast voice.

 

Bucky nods, not knowing what to say.

 

“I mean,” Steve starts.

 

He stops and runs a hand through his hair, sighing heavily. Bucky can almost smell sour vanilla and he wishes he was sitting on the other side of the table to pull Steve into his arms. Steve shakes his head and hugs himself, looking at the floor.

 

“I don’t know what to do,” he says.

 

Bucky opens his mouth to apologize again. “I don’t know what to say,” he admits instead.

 

They fall into silence. Steve hugs his knees up to his chest and rests his cheek on his knee. Bucky fiddles with the spoon sitting on his saucer. Glenda brings Steve’s cup of tea and tells them their usual orders – Bucky’s waffles and bacon and Steve’s Reuben with fries – are in the kitchen and Cook would have them out in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. It’s obvious she knows there’s something wrong, yet she doesn’t linger by the table. Bucky can see her and the other servers glancing their way on occasion.

 

“Buck?” Steve mumbles.

 

“Yeah?” Bucky answers.

 

Steve looks toward him, his eyes near Bucky’s but not meeting them. “I can’t do that again,” he says in a small voice.

 

Bucky ducks his head and nods. “I – I don’t think it would be a good idea, either.”

 

“It’s not the same thing as – as it used to be,” Steve tells him. His gaze drops again and Bucky stares at the same spot on the table as him. “Things are different. I – I just can’t keep doing this.”

 

Bucky’s chest tightens with panic. “Doing what?” he asks, hoping he doesn’t sound desperate.

 

Steve’s jaw clenches. “You know – You mean a lot to me?”

 

“You mean a lot to me, too,” Bucky says, looking down. He waits for the blow.

 

“I don’t think we should share a bed anymore,” Steve says softly.

 

Bucky exhales, then he nods slowly. “That’s fair,” he agrees. It’s not as bad as he thought it would be.

 

“It’s not ‘cause I don’t –” Steve says and doesn’t finish. He turns his face away and hides it from Bucky. “I'm sorry, I just can’t keep waking up next to you. I can’t do that anymore.”

 

“I get it,” Bucky says. “It’s okay.”

 

Steve exhales. Bucky fiddles with his spoon.

 

“Do you still wanna be friends?” Bucky asks cautiously.

 

“Yeah,” Steve answers immediately. He looks up and smiles a little sadly. “Of course. I’ll always be your friend, Buck.”

 

Bucky deflates, relieved. He nods. Steve releases his wrists clasped around his knees, then sets a hand on the table and pushes it towards Bucky. His sleeve covers his knuckles and his fingers are folded. For a second, Bucky just stares at it. Steve pushes it a little closer and lays his fingers out on the table. Bucky deflates some more, then reaches over and picks up Steve’s hand, squeezing it.

 

“Can I take you to your appointment?” he asks.

 

Steve nods, smiling a little. Bucky squeezes his hand again.

 

Glenda comes back with their plates. “You kids doin’ okay?” she asks.

 

“Yeah,” Steve tells her. “We’re good.”

 

He squeezes Bucky’s hand. Bucky squeezes it back and Steve shoots a brief smile in his direction before taking his hand away and sitting upright.

 

“Ya holler if ya need anything,” Glenda tells them as she leaves.

 

“Your blood sugar,” Bucky blurts out when Steve picks up a fry.

 

Steve sets it down and smiles at his plate. He nods, then pulls his insulin bag onto the table and takes out his meter and needle and checks his sugar.

 

“One oh nine,” Steve says when the meter beeps.

 

“Good,” Bucky says. He picks up his fork. “Good.”

 

Steve eats a fry and Bucky picks at the peach compote on his waffles for a second.

 

“Will it hurt the baby?” Bucky asks then. “Your diabetes?”

 

Steve blinks.

 

“If you keep it,” Bucky adds reluctantly.

 

Steve shrugs. “I guess we’ll have to ask.”

 

Bucky nods and looks down again. He wants to ask which way Steve’s leaning, to keeping it or ending it, he wants to know when Steve had found out and how long it had taken for him to tell Bucky, how he had reacted, if he’d had someone with him to comfort him if he’d been scared. If he had been scared, or excited, or was dreading the months ahead. Bucky wants to know, so he might have a way of gauging how he should react. Because he doesn't know what he feels.

 

Bucky drives Steve back to campus after they leave the diner. Steve casts him a glance and says a soft goodnight before he leaves and Bucky drives home in a daze.

 

He gets home. He sits down on the couch. He covers his mouth with his hand and blinks at the dust particles floating through the rays of the overhead light as the ceiling fan squeaks quietly while it spins.

 

Bucky glances at the clock, then gets up again. He goes next door and knocks on Bruce’s door. Bruce opens it, dressed in pajamas, and he blinks at Bucky.

 

“Are you okay?” he asks.

 

“I don’t know,” Bucky admits. “Are – Are you busy?”

 

Bruce glances over his shoulder, then steps back and lets Bucky in. “We were just watching TV,” Bruce tells him as Bucky walks in.

 

Thor’s sitting on the sofa. Bucky’s startled until he remembers that Thor and Bruce are dating. Then he’s confused again because he doesn’t know how to feel or explain what the mess inside his head is to Bruce while Thor’s there.

 

“Are you alright, Bucky?” Thor asks.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says. He starts to back up. “Y’know what, never mind, it’s nothing, I’ll – I’ll come back later.”

 

“What is it?” Bruce asks.

 

Bucky glances at Thor again. Bruce follows his gaze, then touches Bucky’s shoulder. “Would you like to talk in your place?”

 

“Do you mind?” Bucky asks the carpet.

 

“Of course not,” Bruce says. “Thor, we’ll be right back.”

 

Thor waves. Bucky leaves again and Bruce follows him into his apartment.

 

“So, what is it?” Bruce asks.

 

Bucky gets a beer out of the fridge. He pops the top, takes a gulp, then just goes out and says it.

 

“I got Steve pregnant.”

 

Bruce lifts his eyebrows. His arms cross over his chest and he nods slowly. “That’s something,” he says.

 

Bucky nods, too. “He – He just told me. He doesn’t know if he wants to keep it or not yet. I’m taking him to a – a pregnancy center next week. Don’t tell Thor.”

 

“No, of course not,” Bruce agrees. He gestures to the table and Bucky pushes off the counter to sit down. “What are your feelings on the situation?” Bruce asks him, joining him at the table.

 

Bucky shrugs. “It hasn’t sunk in, not yet.”

 

“That’s understandable,” Bruce says. “What’s going through your head right now?”

 

Bucky shrugs again. “I’m – I’m scared? I don’t know what to do? Steve’s – Steve’s upset about it. I think he’s upset more by the fact that we slept together again than by the fact that I knocked him up doin’ it.”

 

He stops and looks down. “I don’t think he wants to keep it,” he finishes quietly.

 

Bucky grips his beer tighter and Bruce inclines his head. Bucky shrugs once, not knowing what to say or do.

 

“Do you want him to keep it?” Bruce asks.

 

Bucky looks down at his beer, feeling hopeless. “Doesn’t matter what I want,” he says firmly. “It’s his choice.”

 

“That’s a respectable attitude to have, but it does matter to you what you want,” Bruce points out. “Whether you tell Steve or not. Do you wish the two of you could keep it?”

 

Bucky starts to open his mouth. He stares at the table. Does he wish Steve would keep it?

 

Bruce taps the table with a finger. “Do you wish that both of could keep it?” he presses.

 

Bucky blinks, his mouth slightly open. “Like… like a family?”

 

Bruce nods.

 

Bucky looks away and clenches his jaw. He fiddles with his can of beer, then shrugs.

 

“Yeah,” he says. “‘Course I wish we could be a family. I – I love Steve, ‘course I’d wanna have a family with him.”

 

“Then maybe you do know what you want,” Bruce tells him. He drums his fingers on the table a little. “Maybe you should tell that to Steve.”

 

Bucky lets out a laugh that sounds cold even to his ears and he shakes his head. “I’m not telling Steve,” he says. “He doesn’t want the same thing, I’m not making him feel guilty about his choice.”

 

“How do you know he doesn’t want the same thing?” Bruce questions. “Did you ask?”

 

Bucky shakes his head again. “No. But I don’t need to ask.”

 

Bruce thins his lips and looks down at the table. He taps a finger again. “How do you know he doesn’t want the same thing?”

 

“‘Cause he practically told me,” Bucky says. “He flat out told me he didn’t want to share a bed anymore. He’s always slept in my room whenever he comes over here, didn’t matter if we were having sex or if I was even dating someone, we slept in my bed.”

 

Again, Bucky pauses. He glances down and takes a breath.

 

“but he said he doesn’t want to do that anymore,” he says. “Because he doesn’t want to wake up next to me anymore. It’s not hard to figure out.”

 

Bruce sighs and Bucky shakes his head again, picking up his beer and drinking from it.

 

“I haven’t met Steve,” Bruce starts. “But from what I’ve heard from you, from Thor, from Tony, he’s not the kind of person to be blunt with sensitive topics.”

 

Bucky shrugs. “He wasn’t blunt. He was kind about it.”

 

Bruce sighs again. “Do you think he knows how you feel?”

 

Bucky looks down and shrugs. “Probably. I’m not subtle, am I?”

 

“Then do you know how he feels?” Bruce asks.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says. “He cares about me. He’s said. He means a lot to me, I’ve told him, and he’s told me that I mean a lot to him. But he doesn’t love me, not the way I love him. If he did –”

 

Bucky scoffs softly.  “It’s goin’ on three years we’ve known each other. He would’a said something by now.”

 

Bruce is quiet. Bucky finishes his beer.

 

“Do you need a doctor’s note for work?” Bruce asks.

 

Bucky shakes his head. “Boss gave me the weekend. I’m gonna… I’m gonna go home? I’m gonna go see my family. Steve’ll talk to me when he’s ready.”

 

“Have you talked much?” Bruce asks.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky answers shortly. He stands up. “I’m gonna – I’m gonna go home now.”

 

“You should ask Steve if it’s okay if you tell anyone,” Bruce tells him as he starts to go.

 

Bucky stops and turns back. “Shit,” he says. “I didn’t even think about that?”

 

Bruce stands and touches Bucky’s shoulder. “I don’t count, I’m a shrink,” he says with a smile.

 

Bucky breaks and laughs quietly. Bruce squeezes his shoulder and slips past him towards the door.

 

“Keep in mind,” Bruce adds, his hand on the door, “sometimes we don’t see things the way they are. Our minds perceive reality differently than it really is; our biases make us blind to things that would normally be obvious.”

Bucky glances down at his feet, then shakes his head. “Well, it’s obvious Steve’s not happy about what happened or the –” He flounders for a second. “The baby,” he says quietly.

 

Bruce shrugs. “Are you still friends?”

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says, shrugging. “But I don’t know what having a kid’s gonna do to our friendship.”

 

Bruce looks at him, lets his breath out hard through his nose, and shrugs. “Just don’t go making a mountain out of a molehill,” he advises, then leaves.

 

Bucky stands there for a second, then he heads into his bedroom. He throws a couple of things into a bag, clothes, his laptop, some homework, turns off all the lights, then leaves. He accidentally turns on the radio as he’s leaving his complex’s parking lot and one of Steve’s favorite songs comes on.

 

“I don't know who's gonna kiss you when I'm gone. So I'm gonna love you now, like it's all I have.”

 

Bucky doesn’t turn it off. It’s too real but he doesn’t turn it off.

 

He lets the radio play all the way to Brooklyn. He parks in front of his parent’s house, grabs his backpack and gets out. He walks up to the house and lets himself in.

 

“Hello?” he calls.

 

Benny pops out of the living room. “Bucky!” she yells, running for him. Bucky drops his bag so he can catch her when she jumps to hug him and he grunts like she’d knocked the wind out of him.

 

“Hey, squirt,” Bucky mutters, holding her off her feet.

 

His ma comes out of the living room, too, followed by Betty and his dad. Bucky lets go of Benny so he can hug Ma and Pop and Betty can ruffle his hair.

 

“What brings you home?” Ma asks.

 

Bucky shrugs. “Just felt like it,” he says.

 

“How’s Becca?” Pop asks.

 

“She’s good, she’s swamped in homework,” Bucky tells them.

 

“What about Steve?” Benny asks, rocking back and forth on her toes.

 

Bucky hesitates for a fraction of a second. His ma starts to look stern.

 

“Good,” Bucky says quickly. “Everything’s good. Everyone’s great.”

 

His mother’s stern expression becomes suspicious and Bucky picks up his backpack again.

 

“We got anything to eat?” he asks. “I’m kinda hungry.”

 

Ma’s squinting look drops and she grabs his arm to pull him into the kitchen. “I made blackberry cobbler, here, come taste.”

 

He spends the evening hanging out with his family. His ma demands that she get to cuddle her baby boy and he winds up sprawled on the couch with his head in her lap. He’s twenty-six years old, he starts to complain, then his thoughts cough up Steve and their baby and he stops protesting.

 

By the time everyone goes to bed, Bucky knows his parents suspect something’s wrong. Betty, too. Benny doesn’t seem to realize, but she’s too young to get that the pauses between his sentences aren’t his usual shit. Bucky lies in his childhood bedroom looking up at the ceiling and it’s finally sunk in.

 

Steve’s pregnant. With his child. Bucky could be a father if Steve decides to keep it.

 

God, does Bucky want desperately to make a family out of this fucked up situation.

Chapter Text

enfant d'été



“I invited Steve and Tony for Christmas,” Becca says. “But the guest room’s gonna have Nana and Aunt Muriel and Uncle Jack are in the living room.”

 

“They should share with you,” Bucky answers her, shoving the last of his things into his gym bag. He’s getting ready to go pick up Becca, and Steve and Tony now, too, apparently. He keeps his phone tucked under his ear as he talks to his sister while he finishes packing.

 

“I’m stuck with the cousins,” Becca tells him, meaning their aunt and uncle’s two daughters, Courtney and Janice. “Ma said Tony can sleep in Benny’s room but –”

“No,” Bucky starts, standing up straight. “Don’t tell Steve he has to share with me.”

 

“He already said it would be fine!” Becca insists. “C’mon, you’ve shared with him a thousand times –”

 

Bucky sits down and sighs sharply. “It’s – It’s complicated, Becca. Steve can have my room, I’ll just commute.”

 

“What?” Becca says. “No, there’s a blizzard coming, we’ll get snowed in and you’ll be stuck in Manhattan. What’s the big deal?”

Bucky clenches his jaw. He takes his phone from under his ear and stares at the ground. “It’s complicated,” he says.

 

Steve’s appointment at the pregnancy center went fine. The counselor went over all of Steve's options, adoption or abortion or keeping it and how to take care of a baby while staying in school. Financial aid he would be entitled as a single mother. The medical care he would need, who to see about managing his diabetes while pregnant, what prenatal vitamins to take. There had been so much information, Bucky had asked for his own copy of all the paperwork Steve was given. There hadn’t been a lot of information for Bucky specifically, and most of it had felt like an afterthought.

 

At the end of it, Steve said he still didn’t know if he wanted to have an abortion or not. Bucky wasn’t going to push him.

 

“Is this about Halloween?” Becca asks sharply. “Because, lemme tell ya, bub, get fucking over it. You can keep your dick in your pants for a week –”

 

“That’s not it!” Bucky interrupts her harshly. “You don’t get it, Rebecca, I’m not just a lusty creep wishing I could have Steve back, it’s fucking complicated, don’t make him share with me!”

 

“Hang on,” Becca sighs.

 

Bucky pauses. He hears background noise and muttering, then someone clears their throat into the phone.

 

“Bucky?” Steve says.

 

Bucky sits up. “Hey.”

 

“We can share your room,” Steve tells him. “It’s okay, really. Your ma’s giving me an air mattress, so we don’t have to – yannow. It’s okay.”

 

“Okay,” Bucky mutters, deflating. “I – Okay. If you’re fine with it.”

 

“I am,” Steve says. “It’s fine.”

 

Bucky nods. He pins the phone under his ear and scrubs at his face with his hand. He should’ve shaved this morning, but it’s too late now. “Tell Becca I’m heading your way. Youse in your building or hers?”

 

“Mine,” Steve answers. “Hey,” Steve adds, his voice lowering, “do you think you could bring the blanket from the couch?”

 

Bucky blinks. He stands up and steps out of his bedroom, looking at the mottled gray blanket draped over the back of his futon. It’s really Steve’s blanket, the blanket Bucky used to wrap Steve up in while he was in headspace.

 

“Yeah,” he says. “No problem.”

“Thanks,” Steve answers. “See you soon.”

 

Bucky drops his phone and hangs up. He glances back at his gym bag, then goes to his closet and gets out a suitcase. He dumps out his gym bag, repacks the contents into his suitcase, then heads into his living room and grabs the large fuzzy blanket from the couch. He folds it up and stuffs it into the suitcase, then zips the bag and swings it off his bed. He grabs his backpack with his homework, turns the lights off, and locks the apartment behind him.

 

Bucky stops in front of Finchbury Hall and calls Becca to let her know that he’s there. A minute later, she emerges with Steve and Tony behind her, all carrying bags and bundled in coats to combat the snow falling from the sky. Bucky gets out of the truck to help them get their stuff under the tarp in the bed of his truck, then gets back in and waits while they argue about who’s sitting where in the truck.

 

“You’re letting snow in!” Bucky calls.

 

Steve rolls his eyes at Becca and Tony still bickering and gets in. “Scoot,” he tells Bucky, climbing in next to him. He smushes right up against Bucky and turns back to yell out the door for Becca and Tony to just get in.

 

Bucky’s mildly uncomfortable right next to Steve. Mostly because he knows that under Steve’s layers, there’s a little tiny blob of cells the size of a blueberry that’s got half his genes and will likely soon cease to exist.

 

“At least we can share body heat,” Tony remarks from where he’s squished between Becca and Steve.

 

Becca snorts. Steve rolls his eyes. Bucky looks away from Steve’s stomach and gets the car moving.

 

“Okay,” Becca announces, then turns on the radio. “Bucky, I know you hate anyone changing the station, but I wanna listen to Christmas music.”

 

“Fine,” Bucky grumbles while Steve glances at him. “But put it back when you’re done.”

 

“I didn’t peg you for an R and B guy,” Tony says.

 

Bucky shrugs. Then Steve lays his head against his shoulder and Bucky goes still. He glances down at Steve at a red light and Steve peeks up at him from behind one eye.

 

“What?” he mutters. “I’m tired. Been a long week.”

 

“It’s Monday,” Becca laughs.

 

Steve waves a hand in her direction. Bucky doesn’t say anything. From what he’s read, fatigue is normal during the first trimester. Steve’s only seven weeks pregnant.

 

Bucky keeps glancing at Steve as Tony and Becca maintain a conversation on the other side of the truck. By the time they pass over the Manhattan Bridge, Steve’s asleep.

 

“Don’t wake Steve up,” Bucky warns his sister and Tony.

 

“ – and – Steve’s asleep?” Becca cuts herself off. She leans forward to look past Tony. “Aw, doesn’t he look cute.”

 

Bucky glances down at him and looks back at the road, smiling a little. She’s not wrong.

 

“He’s drooling,” Tony says.

 

“Shh,” Bucky scolds. “He’s adorable.”

 

“Yeah, and we can only say it when he can’t hear,” Becca adds. “Otherwise, he gets all pissy and tries to argue.”

 

“He’s like a chihuahua,” Bucky says fondly, a smile growing on his face. “Adorable and angry.”

 

Steve stirs a little and Bucky glances down, but Steve only curls his arm against Bucky’s side and rubs his cheek on Bucky’s shoulder. Bucky looks at the road again with an even softer smile.

 

“Aww,” Becca murmurs again. “I’m taking a picture. Tony, lean back?”

 

Bucky doesn’t move as Becca holds out her phone. Tony does lean in some and flashes a peace sign as Becca snaps a selfie, capturing her, Tony, Steve’s sleeping face, and Bucky’s right shoulder. She pulls back with a grin and Bucky’s phone buzzes in his pocket.

 

“I sent it to you,” Becca says.

 

“Thanks,” Bucky answers.

 

Bucky’s loathe to wake Steve up when they get to his parents’ house, but Tony’s gets there first. He elbows Steve and shouts: “We’re here!” before running after Becca, as she jumped out before Bucky even got the engine off.

 

Steve sits up with a jolt and blinks heavily. He reaches up to rub his eyes and Bucky wants to take another picture, because Steve is fucking adorable.

 

“We’re here?” he mumbles.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says. He cuts the engine, then pops open his door. “You head on in, I’ll bring in your stuff.”

 

“I can get it,” Steve says.

 

“I got it,” Bucky replies.

 

Steve drops his hands and levels a finger on Bucky, glaring at him. “Do not treat me like an invalid just ‘cause you knocked me up,” he threatens.

 

Bucky raises his hand in surrender. “Alright, damn,” he mutters. “Get your own stuff, then.”

 

Steve gives a firm nod and slips out of the truck. Bucky follows him, walking to the back and joining Becca and Tony in pulling their bags out from under the tarp. Bucky puts his stuff on the ground and while everyone else heads inside, he fixes the tarp over the bed of his truck to keep the snow out.

 

Then he heads inside, putting his bags down by the door and stomping a little on the front mat to get the snow off his boots.

 

“Jamesy!” he hears a weak voice yelling.

 

Bucky straightens up and grimaces. Steve, the only one still in the vestibule with him, makes eye contact with him and starts laughing silently.

 

“Shuddup,” Bucky snaps immediately.

 

“I’m calling your kid Jamesy,” Steve says, wheezing, then just walks out and leaves Bucky standing there dumbstruck.

 

“Jamesy!” his nana calls again, hobbling into the doorway of the vestibule with her four-pronged cane. “Come and gimme a kiss, champ!”

 

“Hi, Nana,” Bucky says, shrugging off his coat. Nana raises a frail arm and Bucky walks up to give her a careful hug and a kiss on the cheek. “How are you?”

 

“Wonderful!” Nana answers, grabbing his cheek and pinching it with surprising strength for a ninety-three-year-old woman. “Now that I’ve seen my favorite grandson!”

 

Bucky sighs. “I’m your only grandson, Nana.”

 

“I know,” Nana chuckles.

 

“Ma, don’t you be hoggin’ my child!” Bucky’s mother calls from inside the house. “An’ get in here ‘fore you catch a cold!”

 

Nana nods and mumbles under her breath as she starts shuffling to turn around. Bucky grabs his bags and waits for her to hobble out of the doorway before following. He spots Steve’s stuff by the stairs and snags it on his way up to his room. Shouldering his way in, he sees that there’s already a blow-up mattress stashed on the floor, made and everything. Bucky puts the bags down, glances around the room, then tugs the gray blanket from his suitcase and he puts it on his bed. He’ll take the air mattress, obviously.

 

“Bucky, come say hello!” his ma yells then and Bucky flips off the light as he leaves.

 

He makes his way down the stairs and wanders into the kitchen, where his family is gathered around the massive, rough wooden table his dad built when his ma was pregnant with Betty. Aunt Muriel’s sitting at the head of the table with Georgie on her knee, Courtney and Janice cooing over Georgie clumsily reading a recipe aloud. Uncle Jack’s standing by the stove with Bucky’s dad and the both of them are sipping hot buttered rum. Betty’s helping Vinny with a puzzle that, as Bucky walks in, his nana sits down to join in the building. Tony’s already doing his engineer thing to the puzzle and Becca’s smugly sipping a cup of hot buttered rum standing next to Benny, who looks mad about being left out.

 

“You sure you don’t want any rum, Steve?” Bucky’s ma asks just as he walks in.

 

“Nah,” Steve answers with a shrug; he’s between Betty and Janice, helping out with the puzzle. “Thank you, though.”

 

Bucky makes eye contact with him, then breaks it almost immediately and sits down at the table. “Hey, Aunt Muriel.”

 

“Hey, James,” Aunt Muriel answers. “You wanna say hi to your uncle, Georgie? Say hi!”

 

“Hi, Unca Bugsy!” Georgie giggles, waving both of his hands at Bucky.

 

“Hey, kiddo,” Bucky replies, reaching over and ruffling Georgie’s hair. “You reading something there?”

 

“Yeah!” Georgie says proudly.

 

“Good for you, buddy,” Bucky tells him.

 

“Bucky, you want rum?” Ma asks him.

 

Bucky glances at Steve. Steve makes a Don’t look at me! face and Bucky hastily doesn’t look at him.

 

“Sure,” he says.

 

His ma squints at him as she hands him a mug of buttered rum. Bucky hastily slides down the bench to join the puzzle making.

 

“It’s presents, see?” Betty says to Vinny.

 

“Presents!” Vinny yells. “Can I open a present now?”

 

“No, you have to wait until Christmas,” Betty reminds him.

 

“When’s Christmas gonna get here?” Vinny asks dejectedly.

 

Bucky snorts. Steve catches his eye, smiles a little, then looks away. Bucky fixes his gaze on the puzzle and tries not to feel hopeful.

 

“Christmas is two days away,” Betty says to Vinny. “Today’s Monday. Do you remember what the days of the week are?”

 

“Monday, Tuesday, Wed-nes-day,” Vinny recites. “Christmas is on Wed-nes-day!”

 

“Wednesday,” Betty corrects.

 

“But it’s not spelled like that,” Vinny says, frowning.

 

“No, it’s not,” Betty laughs.

 

“Isn’t he adorable?” Nana coos, reaching over and pinching Vinny’s cheek; Vinny squeaks and tries to duck, but Nana pinches his cheek anyway. “I’m so lucky to have great-grandchildren.”

 

Bucky props his chin up on his fist, his gaze slipping back to Steve.

 

“Steve, when are you due?” Nana asks.

 

Bucky’s chin falls off his fist as his elbow slips from the table. The chatter in the room dies down. Steve’s lips part and he blinks several times while Bucky’s grandmother continues to smile sweetly at him.

 

“Pardon?” Steve says hastily.

 

“Your baby,” Nana says simply. “When is it due?”

 

“I –” Steve says, his face white and his voice stammering. “I’m not pregnant, Mrs. Barnes,” he claims in a very unsure voice.

 

“Nonsense,” Nana answers. “I may be old, but my nose is still sharp as it was when I was your age.”

 

Bucky sees everyone else in the room looking at Steve curiously, everyone but Becca, who’s looking at Bucky. Bucky glances between Steve and his grandmother, until Steve glances in his direction and he gets stuck looking at Steve. Steve’s gaze drops to the table, though Bucky’s still stuck looking at him.

 

“Beginning of August,” Steve says quietly.

 

“A summer babe,” Nana sighs. “How sweet.”

 

“You don’t look surprised, Bucky,” Becca says loudly.

 

Bucky hastily blanks his expression. “What do you mean?” he asks, flailing to not be obvious.

 

Becca raises her eyebrows. “I think you know exactly what I mean.”

 

Bucky clenches his jaw and looks away from his sister. Ma steps closer to the table, her expression stony as it fixes on Bucky. Courtney and Janice exchange glances with their mother. Benny’s staring at Steve with an open mouth. Tony looks like someone just hit him on the head with a frying pan as he blinks at Steve.

 

“Do you have something to tell us, boys?” Bucky’s mother asks carefully.

 

Bucky looks back at Steve. Steve exhales, then he just shrugs.

 

“Merry Christmas?” he tries.

 

“Congratulations,” Aunt Muriel says numbly down the table.

 

“Are you two going to get married?” Nana asks, suddenly stern.

 

“No,” Steve says quickly. He sits up straighter, his demeanor hardening, and he faces Bucky’s grandmother levelly. “We’re just friends. It was an accident.”

 

“There’s no such thing as accidents,” Nana answers.

 

Steve shrugs. “There is for him and me.”

 

Bucky looks down at the table. He feels eyes on him, glances up to see his parents giving him looks that remind him of the only time he snuck out during the night in high school, and he avoids their gazes.

 

Bucky’s grandmother hums. “I suppose this is some new trend,” she says, but Thank God, she only sounds amused. “Friends having children. I wish you luck.”

 

Steve smiles tightly.

 

“Well,” Ma says, drawing herself together. She walks up to Steve and lays her hands on his shoulders. “I certainly won’t offer you any more rum. And I won’t have you calling me Mrs. Winifred any more if you’re making me a grandmother for the third time, Steve, it’s Ma to you.”

 

Steve looks up at her and smiles more loosely. He reaches up and touches her hand on his shoulder, squeezing it. “Thanks, Ma,” he says softly.

 

Ma squeezes Steve’s shoulders. She looks up at Bucky and raises her eyebrows at him, like she’s telling him that they’re going to have words later, but then she returns to the stove. Bucky lowers his gaze, feeling almost ashamed. And sorry for Steve. He doubts Steve wanted anyone to know, not if his plan is to get rid of it quietly.

 

Then Becca claps her hands together. “Alright, now that I’m over my oh so very crippling shock,” she announces in a sarcastic tone, “I have one thing to say to youse.”

 

She jumps into a wide stance, pointing one hand at Steve and the other at Bucky. “When will you learn!” she says in a very high-pitched shriek. “When will you learn! That your actions! Have! Consequences!

 

Steve bursts into laughter and falls onto the table; Benny and Tony, do too, while everyone else just looks confused. Becca straightens and pushes her hair back, seeming pleased with herself.

 

“I’ve been waiting to say that for two whole years,” she says.

 

“We weren’t even doing it for two whole years!” Bucky blurts out.

 

“Halloween, 2017,” Becca accuses. “It’s almost 2020 now.”

 

Bucky opens his mouth and finds he can’t argue with her. Becca nods triumphantly.

 

“At least there’s no worries about having those two room together anymore,” Uncle Jack speaks up. He winks at Bucky and tips his mug of rum at him. “Worst’s already happened.”

 

“Jack!” Aunt Muriel gasps, reaching out and smacking him in the stomach with the back of her hand.

 

“He’s not wrong,” Steve admits honestly.

 

Becca is still staring at Bucky as Aunt Muriel starts to defend the miracle of life and Uncle Jack moves behind her to start miming her hand gestures as she speaks. Bucky shrugs at Becca, unsmiling, and her expression softens. She tugs out her phone, then Bucky’s pocket buzzes.

 

He takes out his phone, unlocking it and opening Becca’s text. There’s the picture from the car, then a message below it.

 

How long have you known?

 

Bucky glances up at his sister, who nods at him. He exhales through his nose, then shakes his head and turns his gaze back on his phone, typing out a reply.

 

Becky with the Shit Hair:

Just after Thanksgiving

 

He starts to put his phone away when she texts again.

 

Have you told him you love him?

 

Bucky looks up again, his mouth slightly opened. Becca shrugs. Bucky looks down at his phone, then locks it and puts it away, avoiding her now stern gaze. He doesn’t want to answer her. He isn’t going to answer her. Though, that’s answer enough.

 

“Okay, time to put the puzzle away, it’s dinner time!” Ma calls, elbowing Jack to get him to quit miming behind Muriel.

 

Betty gets up and she and Vinny carry the tray with the puzzle from the kitchen while Janice and Becca start helping Bucky’s mother set the table.

 

“Blood sugar,” Bucky says, looking up at Steve.

 

Steve rolls his eyes and sticks his tongue out at Bucky. “Why you gotta be on my case 24/7, jerk?”

 

“Maybe it’s ‘cause you’re the mother of his child,” Benny tells Steve, hugging him around the neck before dropping onto the bench next to him.

 

“Pssh,” Steve retorts, but he’s pulling out his insulin bag anyway. “He was like this before he knocked me up.”

 

“Because you almost died one time!” Bucky insists, waving emphatically at Steve. “Remember, passing out ‘cause of low blood sugar back in our first year?”

 

“That would be two times,” Tony reports.

 

Bucky jerks to gawk at him, then swivels to stare open-mouthed at Steve instead.

 

“Thanks, Obama,” Steve says dryly to Tony.

 

Tony bows at the waist.

 

“Punk,” Bucky says, standing to reach over the table and ruffle Steve’s hair.

 

“Hey, hey, hands off!” Steve laughs, waving him away. “I have needles, I’ll stab you.”

 

“Who’s gonna drive you around if you stab me?” Bucky counters.

 

“I’ll stab you someplace non-fatal,” Steve counters. “And then you’ll only ever have one kid.”

 

Bucky balks, sinking down and protecting his balls, then stops as Steve calmly returns to checking his blood sugar. He almost blurts out right there Does that mean you’re keeping it? and stops himself at the last second. Instead, he gets up and helps his mother with getting dinner on the table.

 

Christmas Eve Eve dinner is loud and full of laughs. For the most part, Steve and Bucky stay quiet and no one questions them. After dinner, they all move into the living room to watch Polar Express until Georgie and Vinny and Nana start falling asleep. Ma takes Nana to the downstairs guest room, Betty takes her kids upstairs, and Becca jumps to her feet.

 

“Cards Against Humanity in the basement!” she announces. “People who are over thirty are not invited excepting Betty.”

 

“Well, we’re going to have a rousing game of Dominos and you’re not invited,” Pop tells her.

 

“Whatever,” Becca answers, leading Courtney and Janice into the basement.

 

“C’mon!” Benny says happily to Tony, running for the basement.

 

Bucky offers a hand to Steve in getting up. Steve rolls his eyes and takes it. “Oh, thank you, kind sir,” he says sarcastically.

 

Bucky sticks his tongue out, then lifts Steve by his hand off his feet. Steve shrieks and grabs Bucky’s arm with his other hand, his legs kicking out to reach the ground.

 

“Who’s laughing now?” Bucky says smugly.

 

“I can’t believe you’re going to be parents,” Pop says with a sad grimace. “You’re barely adults yourselves.”

 

Bucky sets Steve on his feet. Steve fixes his shirt and sticks his tongue out at Bucky, then heads for the basement. Bucky glances over his shoulder at Steve, then just shrugs at his dad before heading to the basement.

 

“We play until we get too tired to keep going,” Becca says as he joins steps off the stairs. “And if you come across a custom white card that says Beloved Nipple Star Bill Cosby, don’t question it.”

 

“I’m questioning it,” Tony says quickly.

 

“Nobody but Barneses are allowed to know the secret,” Becca declares.

 

Steve sticks his hand up. “I have a Barnes in me, does that count?”

 

Becca considers it while Bucky tries not to smile or ask if Steve’s keeping it. Becca leans in and whispers with Benny, who shakes her head. Becca straightens up again.

 

“Nope,” she says.

 

“Dammit,” Steve sighs.

 

Bucky reaches over and covers Steve’s stomach with his hand. “Careful, honey, little ears!”

 

“Oh, fuck off,” Steve laughs, slapping his hand away.

 

“You guys really are just friends?” Janice asks.

 

“Yep,” Bucky answers. He leans back on his hand, tipped towards Steve.

 

Janice squints at them.

 

“What?” Bucky asks.

 

“Nothing,” Janice says suspiciously.

 

“Leave them alone,” Courtney says. “But, hey, Steve, if you’re single –”

 

She bats her eyelashes at him. Steve laughs while Bucky scowls, resisting the urge to rise to the challenge of another Alpha flirting with his Omega. Steve’s not his Omega, after all.

 

“I’m benching myself from the dating game for right now,” Steve says. “But, I appreciate the offer?”

 

Courtney shrugs. “I tried,” she says.

 

“I’m here!” Betty calls, her footsteps thudding down the stairs. She plops down next to Steve and blows out her breath. “Oh, hey,” she says, looking at Steve, “scared baby mama, I have wisdom.”

 

Steve blinks. “Why am I a scared baby mama?”

 

Betty looks at him frankly. “Are you not?”

 

Steve squirms. “I mean,” he mumbles. “A little?”

 

Betty throws her arm over his shoulders and gives him a squeeze. “I got you, baby mama. I’ll give you my number later and you can ask me questions whenever.”

 

“Okay,” Steve says.

 

Bucky looks into his lap, trying not to feel hopeful. He can’t stop himself from smiling, though.

 

“Okay, the attention is back on me!” Becca says. She starts dealing white cards. “But, Steve, since you’re playing for two, you can read first.”

 

“Thanks,” Steve laughs, reaching forward and taking a black card. “Lemme know when you’re ready.”

 

They play for a few hours. Benny actually gives up first, but she’s followed quickly by Betty and then Janice. Steve’s starting to slip, too, and Bucky’s going to suggest that they go to bed soon.

 

Steve takes another black card. “During sex, I like to think about blank.”

 

Bucky’s struck by déjà vu again; not only by the black card, but his hand. He looks at his cards and wonders – It would be mean, wouldn’t it?

 

Steve did beg for it, though. On Halloween. Bucky puts the card down, thinking, fuck it.

 

Steve collects the white cards. “During sex, I like to think about kale. Ew. I like to think about my collection of high tech sex toys; I wish. I like to think about geriatric super soldiers – They wish. I like to think about –”

 

Bucky opens his mouth to apologize, feeling like an asshole, and then Steve laughs. He puts down the white card face up and drops onto the table, cradling his face in his elbow, and he laughs. Courtney flips the card over.

 

“Kittens?” she reads aloud.

 

Steve pushes the black card towards Bucky, still laughing. Bucky takes it sheepishly.

 

“I really hope this is just some inside joke like Beloved Nipple Star Bill Cosby, ” Tony says. “Otherwise, I’m going to have to bleach my brain.”

 

“Bleach your brain,” Steve chuckles. He sits up and grins at Bucky. “You asshole.”

 

Bucky shrugs. “All’s fair in love and war?”

 

Steve rolls his eyes. He looks down at himself, hunching over, and he says, “Ya hear that? Pop’s an asshole.”

 

Bucky starts to smile even as his ears heat up.

 

“How are you still making me gag?” Becca demands, then throws down her cards. “I give up, I’m going to bed.”

 

“Ditto,” Courtney agrees, standing up. “Y’all are gross, Bucker.”

 

Steve straightens up and laughs again. “Bucker!” he wheezes.

 

“Shuddup, Steeb,” Bucky retorts, punching him in the arm.

 

“I’m bailing,” Tony says quickly, “you two be gross on your own time,” he calls as he leaves.

 

Steve shakes his head, then pushes to his feet. “Are you coming?”

 

He holds out his hand. Bucky takes it and Steve squeezes it before he lets go. Bucky walks up the stairs behind Steve, following him to the second floor. They wait in line to brush their teeth, Steve changes in the bathroom, and back in Bucky’s bedroom, Steve takes out a pill sorter and shakes it.

 

“I’m gonna go get some water,” he says.

 

Bucky nods as Steve leaves. He turns back the blankets on the air mattress and settles down, tucking his arm behind his head. Steve returns a minute later, puts his glass of water on the nightstand, takes his pills, then notices that Bucky’s on the air mattress.

 

“You’re in my bed,” Steve says.

 

“I’m in my bed,” Bucky replies. He points at the actual bed. “You’re in that bed.”

 

Steve puts his hands on his hips and glares at Bucky. “I’m not kicking you out of your bed,” he says stubbornly.

 

“Then think of it this way, I kicked you out of your bed,” Bucky replies. “C’mon, your blanket’s on that one and everything.”

 

Steve glances over his shoulder. He looks down at Bucky, then sighs and climbs into the actual bed. He shakes out the large gray blanket, then lies down facing away from Bucky.

 

“Hey, Steve?” Bucky says softly a minute later.

 

“Yeah?” Steve mumbles in answer.

 

Bucky shifts onto his side, watching Steve carefully. “Are you keeping it?”

 

Steve’s quiet. Then he rolls over to look at Bucky.

 

“Yeah,” he repeats in a gentle tone. “I’m gonna keep it.”

 

Bucky beams and Steve rolls his eyes.

 

“Don’t look too bummed out,” he tells Bucky. “We’re gonna have shared custody and I expect child support.”

 

“Of course,” Bucky says immediately. “Hey, you didn’t think I’d actually abandon my kid, did you?”

 

Steve rolls his eyes and rolls back over. “Go to sleep, jerk.”

 

“Night, punk,” Bucky tells him, smiling as he rolls over.

 

He's gonna be a dad.

Chapter Text

sucer cul



Christmas at Bucky’s parents' house never has a dull moment. And now that the truth is out, Steve feels relieved, honestly. Not just that he’s pregnant at all, but telling Bucky that he’s keeping the baby. The grin on Bucky’s face any time the kid is brought up makes Steve think that all these aches and pains are worth it.

 

Aches and pains, including but not limited to his morning sickness that isn’t as bad as it was before he started taking vitamin B-6 morning and night but still makes it hard to keep his breakfast down, the dizziness he’s still getting, the fatigue, how hungry he gets at random moments, and the fact that he’s having this kid with Bucky at all.

 

Because Bucky will grin and look proud of himself like a dumb Alpha and Steve will roll his eyes and feel the space between them like an open wound. There’s a bitter voice in the back of his head that says five times an hour that he wouldn’t have this heartache anymore if he got rid of the pregnancy without ever telling Bucky or if he just left Bucky cut off last Christmas or if he never met Bucky in the first place. Then a voice that sounds a hell of a lot like Steve’s ma will slap it down and insist that nothing beautiful was ever made without a little bit of hurt and love’s no different. Steve’s gonna have Bucky’s kid and stay friends with Bucky that’s gonna be enough for him.

 

“Can we put Rebecca in the naming pool?” Becca asks him on Christmas Eve.

 

“Y’know what’s a better name?” Tony pipes up.

 

“Tony?” Steve guesses, smiling.

 

“Exactly!” Tony insists, pointing at Steve with both hands. “It’s gender-neutral, you can do Anthony or Anthonia and either way call them Tony!”

 

“I have a say in this, right?” Bucky asks. “Because I don’t want to name my kid Tony.”

 

Steve hums, then he kicks his feet into Bucky’s lap and pokes him in the gut with his toes. “You have a thirty percent share,” he decides.

 

“Last I checked, genes were split 50/50,” Bucky replies.

 

“Yes, but I’m the one waking up needing to vomit,” Steve says. He pokes Bucky with his toes again. “Invent some kinda machine to get sympathy morning sickness and then we’ll talk.”

 

Bucky looks at Tony. Tony snaps his fingers.

 

“I can do that,” he says.

 

“Ohmygod,” Steve mutters, covering his face with both hands.

 

“I always thought Flora was a lovely name,” Mrs. Winifred says, her knitting needles clacking as she speaks. “I was going to name Benny that, but somebody insisted that it would make us sound like hippies.”

 

“We would’a sounded like hippies,” Mr. George says firmly.

 

“Ew,” Benny says, wrinkling her nose. “I would’a hated being called Flora.”

“It’s a nice name,” Steve says.

 

“I’m on my dad’s side,” Bucky tells him.

 

Steve kicks him lightly in the stomach. “Shuddup, you only get thirty percent of the vote.”

 

“Then I put all thirty percent into saying Anything But Flora, ” Bucky answers.

 

“What if I want to call it James?” Steve asks teasingly.

 

“Anything but Flora or James,” Bucky says firmly.

 

Steve laughs. He slumps on the sofa and pushes his feet further into Bucky’s lap. Bucky sets a hand on one of his ankles and starts massaging it gently.

 

“Oh, hey,” Tony says then, tugging out his phone. “Buckaroo, buddy, pal, you might want two hands to deal with Steve’s bouncing bundle of joy.”

 

Bucky looks over at him and frowns, but Tony stands up before anyone can say anything to question his statement. Tony abruptly flips the living room light off, then aims his phone at the wall and a large projection takes up the white space. The image of a metal arm, humanoid and proportionate down to the shape of the bicep and the length of the fingers, rotates slowly on the wall. Steve lifts his eyebrows, though he’s not sure he should be surprised by Tony’s fancy tech anymore.

 

“I’m working with a med student to work out nerve integration,” Tony says. “And I talked with my advisor and he said that this can count for, like, fifty percent of my degree if I build it and it works. I’m looking at patents and everything. All I need is a candidate.”

 

“Uh,” Bucky says.

 

“I should have it ready by the end of this school year,” Tony adds.

 

“You make prosthetics?” Mr. George asks, sounding awed.

 

“As of last May,” Tony answers. “More specifically, I’m making cyborgs.”

 

“That’s –” Bucky starts. “I –”

 

“I’m building it already,” Tony tells him. “Like, if you don’t want it, it’s still being built and I have to find a new one-armed person to turn into a cyborg, but hey, c’est la vie.”

 

“How much would it cost?” Mrs. Winifred asks.

 

“Nada,” Tony says with a shrug. “Once I get the nerve integration dealt with, I’m getting investors. Plus, I have a giant trust fund.”

 

He gives a firm nod, as though to emphasize how giant his trust fund is. Steve’s pretty sure it’s a few billion dollars.

 

“What do you mean, nerve integration?” Bucky asks quickly.

 

“Like –” Tony starts, then makes vague gestures with his free hand. “Nerve integration. So you can think and move it.”

 

Bucky looks at the projection with wide eyes. Steve lifts his eyebrows further. Tony dismisses the projection then and flips the light back on, sitting down again.

 

“I’m chatting with this student doctor, Stephen Strange, about that,” Tony adds. “He’s almost as much of a genius as I am despite being, like, super old. He’s almost thirty.”

 

“Hey!” Courtney complains. “I’m almost thirty!”

 

“I am thirty,” Betty adds.

 

“You’re almost forty, Beth,” Becca reminds her.

 

“Rude!” Betty says, smacking her on the arm.

 

“Most student doctors are over thirty,” Steve says.

 

Tony shrugs. “What do I know, I’m only a level two adult.”

 

“I’ll think about it,” Bucky voices.

 

Steve looks back at Bucky and nudges him with his toe. Bucky starts and glances at him, then looks down and squeezes his ankle.

 

“I’m gonna head to bed,” he says, standing up. “Goodnight everyone.”

 

“Night,” Steve says.

 

Bucky ruffles Steve’s hair as he leaves. Steve watches him go and pulls his legs up from the other end of the couch. He hugs himself, feeling cold.

 

“You should go to bed, too,” Mrs. Winifred says then, leaning in closer to Steve from the next cushion on the sectional sofa. “You’re nesting, sweetie.”

 

She tips her head towards the stairs. “Best to follow Alpha,” she adds quietly.

 

Steve hugs himself tighter and frowns at his knees. “He’s not my Alpha,” he mumbles.

 

Mrs. Winifred reaches over and pats his arm. “For the next eight months? He may as well be, dear.”

 

Steve blinks at his knees, then looks up at her. “Really?” he asks hesitantly.

 

Mrs. Winifred nods sagely. “As far as your body’s concerned, at least.” She tips her head again. “Go on,” she says.

 

Steve sighs and sits up. Becca gives him a smile as he stands and wishes the living room a good night. They echo the sentiment as Steve leaves, getting a glass of water from the kitchen before heading up the stairs.

 

Mrs. Winifred’s probably right. Then again, Steve’s positive his body has concerned Bucky to be his Alpha for a while now.

 

Steve knocks on Bucky’s door. “Ya decent in there?”

 

“Yeah,” Bucky answers. “Come in.”

 

Steve pushes open the door and slips inside. Bucky’s refilling the air mattress, kneeling on the ground in pajamas more conservative than Steve’s used to, though still lacking a shirt. Steve grabs his pajamas, then pauses before going to the bathroom.

 

“I want the air mattress tonight,” he says.

 

Bucky glances up and opens his mouth.

 

“Don’t argue with me,” Steve says before he can speak, “I’m having your kid.”

 

Bucky blinks. Steve nods at Bucky with raised eyebrows, then leaves to go brush his teeth and change. He comes back and finds Bucky still kneeling on the floor, filling the air mattress.

 

The second Bucky’s filled it, Steve gets in it. Bucky shakes his head, but doesn’t argue.

 

“Smart man,” Steve says, pulling the blankets up. “Gimme the blanket, will you?”

 

Bucky pulls it off the proper bed and tosses it to Steve. Steve spreads it out over top of the other blankets while Bucky turns off the light and gets in his bed.

 

The house slowly goes quiet. There’s an alarm clock on Bucky’s nightstand that Steve checks compulsively as the sounds of action outside Bucky’s bedroom slow and stop. He can’t stop thinking about what Mrs. Winifred had told him. He hadn’t been able to sleep evenly through the night in weeks.

 

Steve checks the clock again and sees that it’s two A.M. He sighs, giving up, and reluctantly slips off the air mattress and to his feet. He picks up the gray blanket and wraps it around himself to tip-toe over to Bucky’s bed.

 

“Bucky,” Steve hisses, prodding his shoulder. “Bucky.”

 

Bucky jerks awake, looking around. His eyes land on Steve and he frowns.

 

“I can’t sleep,” Steve admits. “Scoot over.”

 

Bucky sits up, rubs at his eyes, then goes to get out of the bed. Steve grabs his shoulder.

 

“I said scoot over, not get out,” he says, climbing under the covers with Bucky.

 

Bucky blinks at him. “But –” he starts.

 

Steve spreads the gray blanket on top of the rest of the covers. “We can talk about it in the morning,” he says. “I just wanna sleep.”

 

Steve lays down, then reaches back and tugs on Bucky’s arm. Bucky shuffles until he’s lying on his left side and curls his arm around Steve’s waist. Steve leans back against his chest, pulls the blankets up to his chin, and takes a long, measured breath.

 

He can feel Bucky’s heartbeat, his breath. His scent fully surrounds him and the arm around his waist grounds him. Steve’s asleep in minutes.

 

Somehow during the night, Steve turns on his other side and hugs Bucky in his sleep. This results in the blankets being pulled up behind his head but not over and his face being smushed against Bucky’s chest so he can feel his heartbeat against his cheek. This also results in Steve not being immediately visible when one approaches the bed.

 

The door bursts open and Steve wakes up as Georgie and Vinny run in, yelling: “Unca Bugsy, it’s Christmas!” Steve doesn’t even have time to rub his eyes before the two kids are crawling onto Bucky’s bed, still yelling, and start jumping up and down on it.

 

“Careful!” Steve gasps, rolling into Bucky to shield his stomach as Georgie nearly steps on his bean-sized cousin.

 

“Betty!” Bucky yells.

 

“Steeb?” Georgie says, leaning over to peer into the piles of blankets. “Why are you in Bugsy’s bed?”

 

“Uh,” Steve says.

 

“I told you, you couldn’t jump on his bed!” Betty calls, saving Steve from answering that question. She swoops in and lifts Georgie off the bed, then tugs Vinny down, too. “Where’s Steve?” she asks, looking at the air mattress.

 

Steve pokes out from the blankets. Bucky looks around, groans, and Steve gets a glimpse of Becca walking in with her phone held up like she’s taking a video before Bucky pulls the blankets over both of them.

 

“Nuh-uh, you gotta face the music!” Becca calls.

 

“No!” Bucky groans. “The baby needs sleep!”

 

Steve starts laughing. Hands tug on the blankets and despite Bucky’s best efforts to keep them pinned down and both of them are exposed.

 

“This is going in the album,” Becca says.

 

Bucky groans again and shoves his hand in Becca’s phone camera; she tries to dodge and he follows her. “The baby needs sleep!” he repeats while Steve just laughs.

 

“What baby?” Vinny questions.

 

“Steve’s baby,” Bucky says, giving up on blocking Becca’s camera and abruptly hugging Steve to his chest tightly. He pushes his face into Steve’s hair and mumbles something else.

 

“I think what he means is Pop wants to sleep,” Steve sniggers.

 

Bucky rubs his face into Steve’s hair, starting to chuckle.

 

“Too bad!” Betty declares. “Pa and Uncle Jack will forcibly remove you from bed, c’mon.”

 

“No,” Bucky whines, nuzzling Steve’s hair.

 

Steve exhales. “Okay, get up, buddy,” he says, then twists to get out of Bucky’s grip.

 

“No!” Bucky whines again, scrambling to get a hold on Steve again as Steve slides out of the bed and stands up. Bucky squints and makes grabby hands at Steve. “Baby,” he complains.

 

“Your baby and its host are going downstairs,” Steve says firmly. “You wanna keep cuddling the kid, come downstairs.”

 

“This is cruel and unusual punishment,” Bucky insists, crawling out of bed; he lunges for Steve, who jumps backward out of reach. “C’mere!” Bucky growls.

 

“Nope!” Steve says, running for the door.

 

“Get back here, punk!” Bucky yells, making chase.

 

“Go, Steve!” Betty cheers.

 

Steve laughs as he runs down the stairs. Vinny and Georgie start whooping and chase Bucky, and while Steve takes the stairs hastily, Bucky runs into the walls and stumbles a few times. Steve sticks his tongue out at Bucky and runs for the living room; he runs straight into Uncle Jack.

 

“Whoa, there,” Jack says, grabbing Steve’s shoulders and steadying him. “Where’s the fire, kid?”

 

Steve, panting, glances over his shoulder. Bucky comes careening through the foyer and Steve yelps before running and hiding behind Jack.

 

“Punk!” Bucky yells, sliding on the hardwood in his sock feet as he tries to stop in front of the living room.

 

“You gotta catch me, jerk!” Steve retorts.

 

“I am Switzerland!” Jack claims, ducking out from between Steve and Bucky.

 

Steve yelps again and tries to run, but Bucky lunges again and catches him by the waist, lifting him off his feet and bracing him against this chest. Steve bursts into laughter and Bucky aggressively hugs him, nuzzling the side of Steve’s face. Vinny and Georgie run in, then, chased by their mom and Becca, who’s still recording everything.

 

“Aw, you caught him,” Vinny says despondently. “I wanted to catch ‘im!”

 

“Too bad, he’s mine,” Bucky tells his nephew.

 

Steve laughs and fights to be put down, ignoring the stab of hurt when he knows that Bucky doesn’t really mean that and it’s only the kidney bean in Steve’s stomach that’s his, but Bucky lifts him higher off the ground and collapses onto the sectional sofa with him. He nuzzles Steve’s hair and pins him against the cushions.

 

“Don’t go back to sleep, Bucky!” Mrs. Winifred calls.

 

“Ugh,” Bucky says emphatically.

 

Steve giggles and tries to twist around to sit up but Bucky cinches his arm down on Steve’s waist. “Mine,” he repeats. “I caught you, I get to keep you.”

 

“I don’t think that’s how that works,” Steve chuckles (and ouch, that hurts his heartbreak).

 

“No, that’s how that works,” Bucky insists. “The kid agrees with me.”

 

Steve balks. “The kid’s in my gut, how do you know it agrees with you?”

 

Bucky squirms down and presses his ear to Steve’s stomach. “You in there? You agree, finders, keepers? You’re so smart, kid.”

 

Bucky pulls himself back up and smirks at Steve. “Kid agrees with me.”

 

Steve rolls his eyes and shoves Bucky’s face away from him to get up from the couch. “Becca, quit recording.”

 

“You’re still recording!” Bucky gasps. “Becca!”

 

Becca cackles and falls onto the sofa, clutching her phone to her chest. “That’s for when the kid grows up!” she wheezes. “So I can show it to them and see who they agree with!”

 

Steve jerks his fist up towards her and flops down next to her. “Bitch,” he mumbles.

 

“Thot,” she giggles back.

 

Georgie crawls onto the couch then and smashes his face against Steve’s stomach, startling Steve. “Baby!” he yells.

 

“Whoa, slow down, kid,” Steve laughs, pushing him back. “What are you doing?”

 

Georgie blinks at him owlishly. “Unca Bugsy was talking to your tummy?”

 

“Okay,” Steve laughs, “let’s just say only Bucky can rub his face on my tummy, okay?”

 

“Remember we talked about personal space?” Betty says, sitting down and pulling Georgie into her lap.

 

“Okay,” Georgie agrees. “But is the baby gonna come out for presents?”

 

“Not yet,” Steve says, chuckling still. “Baby’s shy right now. Maybe next Christmas.”

 

“Oh,” Georgie says. He leans down and gets close to Steve’s stomach but doesn’t shove his face against Steve. “Come out soon, baby!”

 

“How did the baby get in your stomach?” Vinny asks, frowning at Steve.

 

Steve looks at him frankly, then looks at Betty and raises his eyebrows. She rubs her chin and grimaces.

 

“Yeah!” Georgie asks, sitting upright. “Why baby in Steeb’s stomach?”

 

“Did you eat a seed?” Vinny asks in a hushed voice and Steve hastily tries not to laugh. “Mama says if I eat apple seeds, a tree’s gonna grow in my stomach!”

 

“Yes,” Betty says immediately. “Steeb ate a special seed and it turned into a baby in his tummy.”

 

“Where’s the seed come from?” Vinny asks then.

 

“Uh,” Betty starts.

 

“Bucky gave it to me?” Steve suggests, glancing at Betty.

 

“Yes,” Betty agrees, nodding quickly, “Bucky made this special seed and he gave it to Steeb to eat so they could have a baby.”

 

“Okay,” Vinny agrees. He crawls onto the couch next to Bucky, then. “Why’d you give it to Steeb if you’re not married?”

 

Bucky opens his mouth. Steve covers his with a hand and starts giggling.

 

“He and Steeb are friends,” Betty claims. “And sometimes when an Omega thinks they want to have a baby but they don’t want to get married, they ask special Alpha friends to make them a seed so they can have a baby.”

 

“Yes,” Steve agrees, nodding to Georgie and Vinny. “It was Bucky’s Christmas gift to me.”

 

Becca snorts on his right. “At least it wasn’t Santa,” she mutters.

 

Steve glances at her, then grabs at her phone. “Why are you recording again?!”

 

Becca laughs and jumps to her feet to run around to the other end of the couch. Bucky gets up and swoops in to steal her spot, promptly shoving a leg behind Steve on the sofa and vertically spooning him. Steve laughs again and elbows him but Bucky only rubs his face into his ear.

 

“C’mon, Buck,” Steve says.

 

“Finders, keepers,” Bucky answers.

 

Steve rolls his eyes. Courtney and Janice walk into the room, holding cups of probably coffee, with Muriel behind them helping Nana Barnes in.

 

“Now we just need Benny and Tony,” Mrs. Winifred says.

 

“I got it,” Mr. George tells her, pushing up from his armchair. He kisses Nana Barnes as he leaves, footsteps echoing up the stairs.

 

Bucky rests his cheek on Steve’s shoulder and hooks his arm around Steve’s waist a little tighter. A voice like Peggy’s tells Steve that he should tell Bucky off and he’s only tapping the chisel harder against his fragile heart, but the voice like his mother’s reminds him that the chisel’s going to be tapping his heart whether Bucky cuddles him or not. And right now, Steve feels happy with Bucky cuddling him.

 

“You guys are cute,” Janice remarks.

 

“It’s me,” Steve says. “I make even the ugliest fella look sweet.”

 

“Hey!” Bucky protests.

 

“You realize that you just called yourself ugly,” Courtney tells him.

 

Bucky opens his mouth and freezes. He scowls at Steve and butts his forehead against Steve’s temple. “Punk,” he growls.

 

Steve shrugs. “You walked into it.”

 

Christmas morning is wonderful. Steve decides right away that Becca’s an angel for inviting Tony, because it doesn’t look like he’s ever had a big family Christmas like this before. Vinny and Georgie show everyone their new toys and Mrs. Winifred bemoans the fact that Steve and Bucky hadn’t mentioned the baby until after all the gifts were bought and wrapped because she didn’t buy anything for the baby.

 

“Don’t worry, I’m already planning a baby shower,” Becca announces.

 

“Thank God,” Winifred sighs while Steve squeaks: “What!”

The day is spent in pajamas, eating pies and roast beef and rich pumpkin soup. That night, Steve tries sleeping on the air mattress again, but he’s in Bucky’s bed again by midnight. They don’t talk about it in the morning anymore than they’d done Christmas morning.

 

The snow is still too heavy on the ground to go anywhere even past Boxing Day. They all pile in the living room while the snow melts to watch Christmas movies and whenever Bucky makes grabby gestures at Steve, he’s not strong enough to say no. He sleeps next to Bucky still. It’s cramped in Bucky’s twin bed so they switch to the air mattress, but Steve always wakes up pressed close enough to Bucky’s chest to feel his heartbeat against his cheek.

 

And after they move to the air mattress, Steve wakes up to Bucky’s morning wood. After the third day, Steve thinks about reevaluating the situation again, but as soon as he considers moving from Bucky’s side, his chest tightens with discomfort.

 

Bucky’s mother was right. Steve’s nesting and as far as his body’s concerned, Bucky is his Alpha.

 

Steve hasn’t done a lot of reading about pregnancy, but he knows that the nesting instinct he gets before his heat isn’t anywhere near the kind of need that he’ll experience over the next eight months. He knows that his past few nesting periods since meeting Bucky were shitty enough. Steve can’t face the idea of having to cope with nesting hormones while holding Bucky at arms’ length.

 

So he doesn’t, not while Bucky’s right there. After the snow melts and the semester starts again, Steve tells himself that if he just steals the gray blanket and makes Bucky sleep with it now and then, he’ll be fine at the dorms. It’s not like he can move in with Bucky.

 

Right?

 

January comes, Steve moves back into the dorms, and his morning sickness gets worse than it had been before he started taking ginger. He’s anxious all the time. He can’t hold still, he can’t focus, he can’t do anything. Steve asks Bucky if he can stay over the weekend and his symptoms abate immediately once Steve’s slept next to him. They still don’t talk about it. Then after Steve goes back Monday, he wakes up Tuesday a shaking mess.

 

“I can’t do this,” Steve mutters to himself.

 

“What’s the matter?” Tony asks.

 

Steve just shakes his head. He gets out his phone and calls Bucky, shrinking into the deepest corner of his inadequate nest while it rings. Bucky doesn’t have classes on Tuesdays, he knows, but he can’t do this.

 

“Morning, sunshine,” Bucky answers him.

 

Steve skips a greeting altogether. “Can you come get me?” he mumbles.

 

“You – Shit, yeah, of course," Bucky answers in a rushed and startled voice.  "I’m coming, I'm coming. What’s wrong?”

 

Steve rubs at his eyes, feeling small and pathetic and like a can of soda shaken up. “I just – I need you.” He realizes what he’s said and panics further. “To talk to you, I mean,” he adds hastily. “I have to talk to you.”

 

“Okay,” Bucky says, sounding even more worried. “Okay, I’m coming, sweetheart, I’ll be there in twenty minutes, okay?”

 

“Okay,” Steve mutters. “I’m gonna – I’m gonna get some stuff.”

 

“Okay,” Bucky repeats. “I’ll be there soon, doll. Bye.”

 

Steve echoes the goodbye quietly and drops his phone onto his bed. The call ends on its own and Steve curls up in his nest, holding his knees up to his chest.

 

“Are you okay?” Tony asks.

 

“No,” Steve says. He takes a shuddering breath and covers his eyes with a hand. “I’m blaming the kid. It’s making me freak out.”

 

“Oh,” Tony says.

 

“I can’t –” Steve starts. He exhales and tries to steady his rapidly beating heart. “Tony, I can’t sleep here anymore.”

 

“Oh,” Tony repeats. “Uh. Is it something –”

 

“It’s Bucky,” Steve says. “Or these stupid hormones making me need him 24/7. I don’t think weekends are gonna cut it.”

 

“So,” Tony says. He blinks at Steve. “So you’re gonna go live with him?”

 

Steve shrugs. “I – I’m gonna ask. And hope he’ll say yes.”

 

“‘Course he’ll say yes,” Tony tells him. He sits down on the edge of Steve’s bed and reaches out to pat his knee. “You’re carrying his kid, why would he say no?”

 

Steve shrugs again. He takes another breath and gets up. He’s going to miss his classes today and he hasn’t told his professors that he’s pregnant yet but right then he doesn’t care. He tugs out his big suitcase and starts shoving the parts of his nest into it. He crams some clothes into it, too, then makes sure his backpack is filled with all his books and takes some time to pack up as much of anything else he can. He gets all his art stuff packed and his phone starts playing the Whisper Song. Steve picks up on the second line.

 

“I’m in the lobby,” Bucky says.

 

“Tony, can you go down and let him in?” Steve asks.

 

“Yeah,” Tony says. He claps Steve on the shoulder on his way out and Steve focuses on the phone again.

 

“Tony’s gonna bring you up,” Steve says.

 

“Okay,” Bucky answers. “Steve, are you okay?”

 

Steve covers his face with a hand. “I’ll tell you when you get up here,” he mutters. “I’ll see you in a minute.”

 

He hangs up. Steve shoves his phone into his pocket and zips his suitcase shut. He sits down on his bed, hugging his stomach, and waits for Tony to return with his Alpha.

 

The door swings open and Steve jolts, but doesn’t get up. Tony walks in and Bucky shuts the door behind them, then makes a beeline for Steve.

 

“Sweetheart,” Bucky exhales, kneeling down in front of him and grabbing his arm, “are you okay? Is the baby okay? What’s the matter –?”

 

“I can’t stay here,” Steve blurts out. “Can I come stay with you? Please?”

 

Bucky blinks. “Like – Move in with me?”

 

“Please?” Steve mumbles pitifully.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says. “Yeah, sure, of course, doll. Why –?”

 

“Hormones,” Steve says, breaking eye contact. “I can’t – I can’t sleep alone, Buck –”

 

“No, that’s okay,” Bucky says quickly. “I was gonna suggest it anyway.”

 

“You were?” Steve asks, startled.

 

Bucky shrugs. “I mean, yeah. My ma said your nesting would get awful if you didn’t.”

 

Steve glances down, then nods. “It’s – It’s already awful. Your kid’s clingy,” he adds, trying for a smile and a joke. It comes out flat.

 

“It’s okay,” Bucky promises. “You got your stuff packed?”

 

Steve glances at his suitcase and other bags. “Some of it,” he says. “I can come back and get the rest later. I just needed…”

 

“It’s okay, sweetheart,” Bucky promises him. “Let’s get you home, okay?”

 

Steve’s eyes sting at the final acknowledgment that Bucky’s place is his home and he nods. Tony lingers near them as Steve gets up and Bucky picks up Steve’s backpack.

 

“Jeez, you got rocks in here or somethin’?” Bucky asks.

 

“Close,” Steve jokes weakly, “textbooks.”

 

Bucky laughs and grabs Steve’s suitcase. Steve swings his art bags onto his shoulders and his insulin bag onto his wrist, then turns back and pulls Tony into a hug.

 

“We’ll figure something out, okay?” Steve tells him. He ruffles Tony’s hair despite the fact that Tony’s taller than him and gives him a smile. “Love you, kid.”

 

Tony smiles at his feet and shoves his hands into his pockets. Steve pats his shoulder and follows Bucky out.

 

“I told my boss I was gonna be late,” Bucky says as he puts Steve’s backpack and suitcase into the bed of the truck. “But I can ask for the day off?”

 

Steve shakes his head. “I just – I just need to be in your space, I think.”

 

Bucky nods. He pulls the tarp over Steve’s bags and pins down the edges with weights, then opens Steve’s door for him. Steve climbs in and Bucky shuts the door again, walking around to the other side of the cab.

 

Steve leans on his shoulder as soon as Bucky gets in. He shuts his eyes and curls a hand over Bucky’s bicep, pretending that he can feel a pulse.

 

Bucky lets Steve into the apartment and once he’s got his coat off, Steve goes straight to the futon with his suitcase. He pushes the back down, then lays his suitcase on the coffee table and starts pulling out the pieces of his nest from it. Bucky hovers nearby as Steve builds his nest again on the futon, then he moves and Steve gets distracted; he looks over his shoulder to watch Bucky duck into the bedroom.

 

“Buck?” he calls. “What’re you doing?”

 

Bucky slips back out and walks over, unfolding a pale teal blanket that turns out to only be a few feet square.

 

“Uh,” Bucky says, then shoves it towards Steve. “Here.”

 

Steve straightens up and takes it. It looks like the baby blanket he’d seen Mrs. Winifred starting over Christmas, only paler, older. There’s a white ribbon making a border out of the outer inch of hand-knitted fabric, the yarn fuzzy from years of use and wear.

 

“It was mine,” Bucky says. “So – You could –”

 

Steve holds it against his chest. “Thank you,” he mumbles.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says, shrugging and shoving his hand in a pocket, “‘course. No problem.”

 

Steve turns back to his half-built nest. He lifts the blanket to his cheek and rubs his face against it for a second; it proves to still be very soft and not scratchy at all, so he adjusts the pillows he’d set out to spread it out over where he intends to lay his head.

 

“I gotta go soon,” Bucky says, “but I can – I could cuddle you for a little while? If you need it?”

 

Steve nods. He pulls out the gray blanket and drapes it over the side, then toes off his shoes and climbs into his nest. He pulls the gray blanket over him and hugs the panda Bucky won him at Coney Island to his chest. Bucky sits down on the coffee table to take off his boots. Steve almost gets up to do it for him, but doesn’t want to move from the safety of his nest. Bucky gets up and climbs over him and then behind him, getting under the gray blanket.

 

Steve hides his face in the panda and Bucky’s arm curves over his stomach. Steve closes his eyes and focuses on his breathing.

 

He can do this. He’ll have to do this. He can live and lie next to Bucky and keep his heartbreak in its box, filed away as another Dead Dove: Do Not Eat thought next to the things that went through his head in Easter of 2018 and the day Bucky called him drunk his first summer in France and the serious considerations he made towards never talking to Bucky ever again. He can do this.

 

Oh, but it’s gonna suck ass.