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The Twilight Bark (And Other Things Bucky Has To Deal With On A Daily Basis)

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Header image for The Twilight Bark. The work title is on the left of the image in black text with a white border. There is an outline of tree leaves in the top right-hand corner, with two black dog paw-prints on the left side, halfway down the image. The author and artist's names are in black text in the bottom left corner.

The little ping of an alert on his phone catches Bucky’s eye, and he glances over without letting go of the wriggling dog he’s holding.

New Tweet: Steve Rogers – I couldn’t say no to this little guy, so I guess he’s co-

Bucky squints at the screen for a second before a yap catches his attention and he goes back to wrangling the harness onto the overexcited dog in his arms. As soon as it’s on, he clips the lead to it, tucking the loop around his wrist before setting the dog back on the floor. She prances on the spot, knowing what’s coming, and Bucky leads her out of the apartment with a chipper, “C’mon Buttercup,” after scooping his phone back up off the table.

Five minutes later and he’s letting himself into another apartment, surprised to see a haggard-looking woman on the couch, swaddled in blankets.

“Oh, sorry I didn’t realise you were home,” he says after a moment of staring at her, but she gives him a wan smile, tucking the blankets up a little closer to her chin.

“It’s fine, don’t let me get in the way of your routine,” she says, and she sounds as sick as she looks, voice scratchy and stuffed up. “Not like I can walk him like this anyway.”

As she speaks a massive black shadow comes flying out of the spare room, howling his excitement. Bucky crouches to scoop up Buttercup, then holds his hand out, immediately getting it covered in slobber. “Hey buddy,” he says to the dog, more fluff than animal, and the behemoth barks once, before sitting, tail scratching over the floor as it wags. “Alright Bruno, you know the drill.” He sets the smaller dog down now that there was no risk of her being trampled and holds her lead out to the bigger dog.

There’s laughter from the couch as Bruno takes the lead delicately, holding it in his mouth while Bucky crosses to where Bruno’s lead is hanging.

He clicks his tongue and Bruno leads Buttercup over, looking up at Bucky with sad eyes, devastated that he’s not mid-walk already. Bucky clips the leash on as a reward, then takes Buttercup’s lead back. “Hope you feel better soon,” he says with a smile, and Bruno’s owner just waves a hand in his direction.

“Enjoy the walk,” she replies, so Bucky lifts a hand in farewell and heads back out.

After Bruno, it’s Womble, a fuzzy apartment dog who likes sleep more than he likes walking. Then Goldie, the black lab named oh-so-helpfully by his owner’s toddler.

Then back to Buttercup’s to drop the tiring pup off, and it’s only as he’s locking the door behind him after checking the water bowl that he remembers the notification on his phone.

Steve Rogers: I couldn’t say no to this little guy, so I guess he’s coming home with me!

The picture below it is an overexcited looking dog, barely older than six months, shoving its nose through the bars of a shelter gate. The tweet already has twenty thousand retweets, a few thousand more likes, and nearly three thousand comments. Bucky can’t help himself, leads in hand, and he leans a shoulder against the doorjamb and taps the comment field.

bbarnes: if you’re ever in need of a walker I’d be happy to take the lil guy on, nyc based and rescues are my thing!

He doesn’t expect anything. Steve is Captain America, a bonafide literal actual superhero, and probably mutes his notifications as soon as he tweets anything. But there’s so much activity in the comments sections of his tweets that Bucky is fairly sure that he’ll have a few DM’s by the time he gets home.

Shoving his phone back in his pocket, he gets back to work.

 

**

There are twitter alerts on his phone when he gets home as he expected. Likes first, a good hundred of them, and he swipes them closed with a mumbled, “can’t just make one notification,” under his breath.

Then he sees a DM. The name is Steve but honestly, Rogers has enough followers that are fans that he wouldn’t be surprised to find hundreds of accounts with display names set to “Steve Rogers”.

He scrolls through his other notifications, mentally prioritising them, before tapping on the first DM that caught his eye.

Hi there – I saw your comment about dog walking, do you have any qualifications? Do qualifications even exist for this sort of thing? I’m new to this can you tell

Bucky snorts, taps the field to reply when he realises something. The icon is a perfect match to the actual Steve Rogers account, which isn’t a huge thing considering it doesn’t take a genius to work out the snipping tool, but the actual account handle looks a lot more official than he’d first realised.

He warily taps the name at the top of the message thread and nearly drops his phone.

Because it took him back to Steve Rogers’ profile. Steve Rogers. The Superhero.

Oh god.

Bucky stares at his phone, then switches back to the messages, little cursor blinking cheerily at him.

“What do you even say to a real-life superhero?” Bucky says to himself, still staring. He knows he has to reply because he’s opened the message now. He takes a breath, starts to type out a response.

Hey! I have a cert in animal management and CCPDT dog training cert. Qualifications aren’t normal for a dog walker, but it helps when working with rescues :)

He hits send before he can regret any of the message, especially the smiley, and puts his phone down before he can do anything to make it worse.

It isn’t until an hour later that he gets a reply, not that he was counting the minutes or anything. Except that he kind of is, and he scoops his phone up almost immediately, ignoring the other messages in favour of the reply from Rogers.

Sorry, have to say I wasn’t sure what to expect. How do you usually do this?

Bucky takes a breath, the lets it out slowly, turning on his work brain again.

You tell me the details of your dog – breed (or best guess at it), age, size, whether they have any issues, I decide whether I want to meet the dog. I’ll make a call on whether I can handle them after a face to face meeting.

 

**

That’s how Bucky finds himself on a bench in Prospect Park, Bruno sitting calmly at his knee, waiting for...

Jeez. Waiting for Steve Rogers.

“Bucky?”

There’s a voice behind him, still a little bit away, and he could get used to the way his name sounds on those lips. Bruno jumps to his feet and Bucky follows, pasting a smile on his face and bracing himself for… he doesn’t know what. He isn’t sure what he expects more, a catfish or the real thing, but when he turns there’s broad shoulders, a polite smile, and when the man pulls sunglasses off his face, eyes that Bucky’s seen plastered everywhere since the poor guy got woken up.

“Hi,” Bucky says, cringing internally at how chipper and fake he sounds. “Bucky Barnes,” he tries again, and he sounds a little more normal, so he rolls with it. “This is Bruno,” he adds, and Bruno barks from where he’s standing, behaving despite his excited prancing. He offers the hand that isn’t on Bruno’s leash, smiles a little as the man takes it.

“Steve Rogers,” he says before his hand drops to brush the small head poking around his legs. “This little guy is Duke.”

Bucky pulls his eyes away from the dog after a moment, looking up at Steve – and it is up, a rare occurrence for him in his day-to-day. “Is he usually people-shy?”

“At first,” Steve says with a little nod, tucking his hands in his pockets. “He usually loosens up quickly.”

Bucky nods then glances at Bruno, who looks like he’s about to burst with excitement. “I’m gonna sit. Bring him around when he’s ready?” He does so before Steve can answer, turning and sitting back on the bench, scratching behind Bruno’s ear as a reward.

It doesn’t take long for Steve to be sitting next to him, for a cool nose to nudge at his leg. He lets Duke sniff, waits him out as he looks at Steve. “Tell me a little about how you got him?”

Steve’s halfway through his story when Duke barks, tail wagging, every time Steve tries to speak, and the man laughs, nudging Duke’s muzzle with a finger but otherwise ignoring him. Bucky slowly lets go of his death grip on Bruno’s lead, lets him walk around Bucky’s leg to introduce himself properly.

Bruno might be pushy with people, but he’s nothing but a gentle giant when it comes to other dogs, especially new ones. Which, admittedly, is why Bucky brought him along in the first place. Duke seems to accept the compromise, attention turning to the other dog as they sniff at each other.

Steve reaches out, scratches his fingers down Duke’s spine, then pats his rump lightly. Bucky offers his hand, gets a wet lick from Bruno, and a more tentative sniff from the new dog before Duke lets him scratch under his chin.

Grey and black artwork of Steve and Bucky sitting on a park bench. Bucky is on the left side of the image, and Steve is on the right. Bucky has his hair out and it comes down to his shoulders, and is wearing a long-sleeved shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbow. He is turned three-quarters of the way towards Steve. Most of his body is hidden by a large black dog sitting in front of him. The dog, Bruno, has a wide collar with stud detailing on it. Next to Bruno is a smaller dog, Duke, who is sitting between Steve's legs. His head is on Steve's knee, and he is looking at Bucky, who is moving to pet him. Steve is looking down at Duke fondly, and is wearing an open jacket, a compression shirt, and jeans. He has a pair of sunglasses in the collar of his shirt.

“Does he have any issues that would affect a regular walk?” Bucky asks when Steve doesn’t seem like he’s going to pick his tale back up.

Steve’s silent for a moment, which Bucky appreciates. He actually looks like he’s thinking about the question, which is more than Bucky often gets at this stage. He’s often the one stumbling across bad behaviours, or he finds them and goes to tell the owner only to hear yeah, I didn’t think that’d be a problem.

“He doesn’t like bicycles, with or without someone on it. Stationary, moving, doesn’t matter, they really spook him.”

“Motorbikes too? Or just cycles?” Bucky prompts, stroking Duke's side lightly, the dog pressing against Steve’s legs and conveniently leaning into Bucky’s hand at the same time.

Steve shrugs. “Just cycles. Doesn’t have a problem with my bike.”

And, oh. That’s an image Bucky really shouldn’t have at the forefront of his mind when he’s trying to do business. How could he forget that Captain America, absolute dreamboat, rode around on a motorbike like he was driving straight out of Bucky’s well-aged fantasies.

Forcibly yanking his mind out of the gutter, Bucky nods, not knowing exactly how long he’d been quiet for. Steve, for the most part, hasn’t seemed to have noticed Bucky’s distraction, so that was one thing on his side. For now. “How is he with other animals that aren’t dogs?”

Steve shrugs, and Duke puts his front paw on the bench between them, asking. Steve shakes his head, tapping the dog’s nose as he replies, “Haven’t really tested it too much. He doesn’t chase anything we come across when we’re out though.”

“What kind of treats does h-?” Bucky asks next, cutting himself off with a laugh as both Duke and Bruno all but climb into his lap at the word ‘treat.’

“That answers that question,” Steve says with a grin. “He’ll eat anything, so whatever you have for your other dogs will work fine.”

Bucky can’t help but raise an eyebrow at that. “A bit presumptuous,” he says with a smile, and when Steve turns the full power of his grin on him, Bucky struggles to not cave immediately.

“I thought you’d have kicked me to the curb by now if it was a no,” Steve says, and yeah, he’s right, but he doesn’t have to be so smug about it.

Bucky sighs, as overdramatically as he can while shoving dogs off his lap. “Okay, fine, you got me. He’s a sweetheart, and I can fit him on my circuit.”

They talk for a little more, hashing out payment plans and times, and Bucky leaves the park with Bruno’s leash around his wrist and Steve’s personal phone number on his phone.

 

**

The first time he goes to pick Duke up, Bucky’s not sure he has the right apartment building. It’s tall, rustic looking, in one of the richer areas of Brooklyn. The kind of area where property owners didn’t usually take well to pets scuffing up their fancy hardwood floors.

But the address matches the one on his phone, so Bucky starts up the front steps, punches in the door code he’s been given. The security box chirps happily, and he hears a click as the door unlocks. Huh. He quickly grabs the door, pulls it open, and heads in.

Even the foyer is fancy, with a front desk and everything. The attendant looks like he’s ready to sleep, which Bucky can’t really blame him for, but he perks up a little when he realises he’s not alone.

“I’m the new dog walker for number four,” he says, and the attendant makes a noise that’s probably supposed to be a grunt, then goes back to staring into space. Bucky takes that as an okay, heads for the stairs. Then almost immediately regrets the decision, because who in their right mind looks at an elevator and decides to go the hard way.

Steve, probably.

Bucky climbs and climbs, and finally reaches the fourth floor. Which has only one door on it, because of course the area was rich enough to have full-floor apartments. Bucky knocks lightly, and when he hears a bark but no voice he wiggles the key he’d been given into the lock and lets himself in.

There’s no immediate attack-of-the-kisses, so Bucky assumes that either Duke is incredibly polite, or he’s shut in another room. Actually opening the door, the rest of the way proves the latter. The entryway is spacious but cold – hard tiles, cream walls, and a very bare looking table. There’s almost no sign that the place is lived in, which immediately raises red flags for Bucky even though all evidence points to this being the correct place. His key opened the door, of course it’s the right place, he tells himself.

He walks through, steps faintly echoing, and at random picks one of the three doors leading out. Which ends up being a mistake, as he’s left staring at a coat cupboard. At least there are signs that people actually live in the apartment in there, a few pairs of shoes, a couple of coats. Nothing entirely telling, but signs of life all the same.

He closes the door without indulging his curiosity, tries the next one. Bingo, living room.

It’s massive, is the first thing he realises, stepping into the room and closing the door again behind him. It’d probably fit his entire apartment in it, even though that’s not saying much given his apartment is basically a shoe box with running water, but as an average person that’s all he needs.

There’s more going on in this room than in the entryway, thankfully. There’s a couple of books on the coffee table, spines worn down to the point where the cover has started to wear away. A soft-looking blanket on the sofa facing him, books in the bookshelves, a painting or four hanging on the walls. He stops briefly at one as he passes, nudges it straight again, trying to decipher the scribble of the artist’s signature before he goes back to looking for the dog he was sure he’d heard.

He goes through another door, finds a hallway, and finally, he sees Duke up against a baby gate, paws hanging over the top as he tries to see who’s coming. Bucky almost jogs down the hall, just in case Duke’s weight is enough to knock the damned gate over, and he can’t help but laugh as he realises the room Duke is in.

It’s a bedroom, or, intended to be a bedroom, but there’s nothing in there except for dog things. A plush dog bed is surrounded by half-chewed toys, the removed heads of at least two giraffe plushies taking pride of place. Duke gets himself down, sits as Bucky gets close, but can’t stay still for long, bouncing up as Bucky unlatches the gate. “Hey buddy,” Bucky says, and the dog gives a soft bark, tail wagging like no one’s business. He leaves the gate open for the minute, casts his eyes around until he spots a leash sitting on a small set of shelves. He grabs it and weighs up the neatly packaged treats that are clearly just out of Duke’s reach. When he grabs the bag Duke lights up, but he just tucks it in the pocket of his jacket before telling Duke to sit. He does, thankfully, and Bucky clips his leash on before heading back out into the hall.

They get to the living room without incident, but something catches Bucky’s eye, makes him turn his head, and oh. Damn.

Steve, turns out, is home. The man is sprawled face-first on the sofa that has its back to the entranceway door, which is really the only place Bucky wouldn’t have seen him on his way in. He looks like he’s fast asleep, which explains how quiet Duke is being, and he must have been out on official business because the boots, the pants, they’re all Captain America blue. But, above that is the real reason Bucky’s still standing there staring, and no one could really blame him if they were there with him.

Miles of smooth, unblemished skin, looking so soft to the touch. The top half of the suit is on the floor halfway between the coffee table and the hand hanging off the couch, like there’d been an attempt to get it on the table before exhaustion took over. While Bucky stares Steve takes a deep breath in, the noise loud in the apartment, and lets it out slowly, muscles in his back shifting as he does. Bucky pulls his gaze away before he does something that will get him fired, like cry, and starts walking again, making an effort to keep his steps quiet and his tongue inside his mouth. Steve must be out like a light though, considering Bucky hadn’t exactly been quiet on his way in. He closes the living room door carefully behind him, stares at the wood, then down at Duke who’s waiting patiently for Bucky to get his shit together.

“Right,” he mumbles to himself. “Okay. Walk. Let’s go.”

It still takes a moment for his feet to get with the plan.

An hour later and Bucky’s letting himself back into the apartment building, nodding at the attendant as he does. As he starts back up the stairs he realises that he has to face whatever’s going to be in that apartment, something he’s been trying to push out of his mind considering how public his usual route is. But, walking up the private stairs towards the apartment housing someone who’s all but walked out of one of Bucky’s teenage wet dreams, he’s stuck having to think about it after all.

Duke seems oblivious to his struggle at least, walking at his side in a way that only tends to mean dogs like him are actually tired. Considering how he’d kept the leash pulled pretty tight the whole time, the dog must be ready for a nap.

The thought of which brought Bucky straight back to his six-foot-two-inch problem.

He lets himself back into the apartment quietly, but as he closes the door behind Duke and himself he can hear the faint sound of voices, too quiet to be anything other than a TV or radio. Bucky’s not sure if he’s relieved or disappointed.

He gets Duke to sit, unclips the leash and gives him a treat out of the bag in his pocket before opening the door he now knows is the one to the living room. Duke takes off, sliding around a corner and into another room, and Bucky can hear laughter as he follows at a hopefully more normal-seeming pace.

There’s an open door halfway through the living room, and Bucky can’t help but cast a glance to the couch, but there’s no sign of what he’d stumbled across earlier. Even the pillows have been straightened, like the worst the couch has seen is a slightly enthusiastic bounce. He follows Duke after a second, around a corner and into an open-plan kitchen and dining area. Steve’s awake, crouched in the kitchen to pet the dog currently trying to climb into his lap.

Steve’s obviously been up a while, there’s food on the bench and he’s changed into what Bucky can assume are lazy clothes but look anything but lazy on Steve. A t-shirt that’s at least a half size too small and sweats that are now completely covered in blonde dog fur. Steve opens his mouth, but Bucky speaks first, pulling the treat bag out of his pocket. “He’ll hopefully be tired enough to leave you alone for a bit,” he says, intending to stop there but his mouth has other ideas. “Sorry for barging in earlier, I didn’t think you were home.”

Something odd crosses Steve’s face but he shrugs, nudges Duke back, and stands to his full height again. “It’s fine, you showed up at the time you said you would, it’s my fault I didn’t make it past the couch.”

Bucky tucks his hands in his pockets now that he doesn’t have anything to hang onto, shrugging a little. “You must have only just gotten back.”

“Yeah,” Steve nods, turning back to the things scattered over the bench. “Maybe a few hours before you arrived? It was a long flight back, so I crashed when I got home.”

“Where’d you go?” The question was out of his mouth before he could think, and Bucky scrambled to cover himself. “You don’t have to answer that, forget I asked.”

Steve gave him an odd look over his shoulder, then went back to what he was doing. A loud whir made him jump before he realised Steve was blending something. When the noise subsided, Steve spoke up again. “Europe. Can’t say where though. One of our teams needed backup, so I went.” He shrugged like dropping everything to run to Europe was something he did often – which, given his job, it probably was. There’s some rummaging, then he’s turning, a glass of something blended in his hand. “I appreciate you taking Duke on, though. I’m not home as often as I’d like to be.”

Bucky nods, because what else is he going to do? “If you’re ever home for a few days in a row and want to take him out just let me know and I won’t come over for him those days.”

“Is that a common request?” Steve seems surprised, and Bucky answers while Steve takes a drink.

“At the moment, yeah. A lot of my clients don’t walk their dogs because they can’t, not because they don’t want to. So, whenever they’re home, they take over. Walking is good to bond with dogs, so it’s not really that big a deal for me.”

“Is that why you have fewer dogs over the weekend?”

“Yup, owners want to take their own dogs out.”

Steve stews over that for a moment, looking between Bucky and Duke before he sighs, sags forward a little like he’s deflating. “I’ll let you know when I’ve taken him out,” he says, and there’s a moment, a split second, where Bucky’s heart aches for the man in front of him. Then Steve’s straightening up, and the moment fades.

Bucky tries to reassure him anyway. “He loves you,” he says, nodding at the dog. “He knew you were home and asleep, did his best not to wake you, he’s stuck to you like a bad smell now.” Steve looks down at Duke, smiles a little at the dog sitting at his feet.

There’s a beat of silence where Bucky’s not sure what to say, then Steve sets his empty cup on the bench and that snaps Bucky out of it.

“Right,” he says abruptly, pulling his hands out of his pockets. “I’ll leave you to it. Enjoy the rest of your day.”

Before Steve can say anything, Bucky’s making a tactical retreat, the not-so-subtle clicking of dog claws on wood flooring following behind him.

 

**

When he runs into Steve three weeks down the line, it’s pure accident. He’s been walking Duke almost daily, Steve disappearing for long stints as he gets deployed, and when Steve is home he always seems to be on his way out, or crashing after a mission. Steve’s missions seem endless, and Bucky’s seen enough of war to know why. There’s always going to be another bad guy to take down, and sometimes those bad guys are too much for the regular people to handle.

So it’s surprising when Bucky picks his coffee up from his favourite Starbucks, turns, and almost walks into Steve.

He makes a high-pitched yelp that’d he’d deny came from him if asked, barely keeping his grip on his cup. He trips over his feet, other hand flying out, and it lands on Steve’s chest as Steve catches his arms, holds him steady.

“Woah, you alright?” There’s a smile touching the corners of Steve’s lips and Bucky dies a little inside as he feels his face heat up.

“Jesus, you move quietly,” he gets out and Steve laughs loud enough to turn heads. “I swear I’m gonna put a bell on you.”

It takes Bucky a second to realise he’s still got his hand on Steve’s chest, to realise what he’s said is probably stepping well over the boundaries of what’s polite to say to a capital-N-National capital-I-Icon.

There’s a brush against his arms and Bucky looks down, quickly dropping his arms as Steve lets go of them. “How long are you back for?” Bucky asks, trying to make conversation, and Steve rolls his eyes a little.

“Long enough for a coffee I hope.”

“That bad?” Bucky sips at his drink to hide the downward pull he can feel on his lips.

Steve hums in agreement, and as he steps back a little his hand catches on Bucky’s arm, tugs him back lightly. Bucky follows to let someone pass, pursing his lips around his cup as he tries to work out whether that had been politeness or an interest in speaking longer.

He goes for it as though it’s the latter.

“Is it all saving the world or do you get stuck with paperwork like everyone else?”

Steve laughs, louder this time, then gets out, “So much paperwork,” as he walks back to the counter to collect his drink. He’s back a second later, lip caught between his teeth and Bucky’s struck by the urge to coax it free. He pushes that down quickly. “Did you want to sit?” Steve offers and it only takes him a minute to make up his mind.

“Why not, it’s not like I’ve got anything important to get back to.” He follows Steve towards the internal wall, away from the wide glass windows, then sits when Steve does.

Bucky sets his takeaway cup on the table, grimaces a little at the cup Steve’s got. “Shouldn’t have gotten it to go,” he says and Steve gives a shrug of those big shoulders.

“Yeah, your psychic powers should have kicked in well before you walked into the coffee shop,” Steve replies, and the unexpected tease makes Bucky laugh.

“They should have,” he agrees with a solemn nod, then leans back in his chair and looks at Steve. “So, where were you this time?”

Steve sighs, sips at his coffee, but replies without hesitation once he’s swallowed. “Singapore. Started off undercover, didn’t really stay that way. Everything went south pretty quickly, we had to improvise a lot.”

“Did you-” Bucky cuts himself off, “Sorry, you probably don’t want to talk about work.”

Steve snorts, but he doesn’t look mad at least. “It’s fine, honestly. How’s Duke been with you?”

Bucky leans in a little, setting his cup back on the table, unable to stop himself from gushing a little. “He’s been great! He picks things up really well, especially the commands I normally use with other dogs. He picked up ‘please’ without me really trying.”

Steve looks every bit the proud dad when he hears that. “What have you been teaching him? I’ll give him a test when I get home.”

Bucky launches into a description of the tricks he’d taught Duke, or that the young dog had picked up for himself. Then out comes his phone and he flicks through his photo album before showing Steve the handful of photos he’d taken on the previous day’s excursion. “He’s a good dog,” Bucky said for what was probably the eighth time of their conversation. “He loves people, he’s super attentive, and he’s well behaved as much as I can really expect from a dog his age.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Steve says, teeth flashing in a grin.

Bucky shrugs. “He’s in his ‘teen’ age, rebellious and bull-headed. An absolute wonder on the leash though, so as long as I don’t let him loose I don’t have any problems.”

A snort from across the table. “Bull-headed, that’s a nice way of putting it.”

He realises he’s probably pushing it, but he nods in response and says, as innocent as he can pretend to be, “Like father like son.” Steve’s laugh is surprised, pleased, and Bucky’s nerves settle.

“I have a question,” Steve says, voice low. He looks nervous like he’s not sure he should be asking anything. “If that’s alright?”

“You can ask,” Bucky says as he tries to work out what it could be, instantly wary. “Can’t guarantee I’ll answer.”

Steve nods but doesn’t ask right away. Then, “You favour your left side, like you’ve hurt it.”

“That’s not a question,” Bucky says, not giving Steve what he wants.

“Did you hurt it?”

Bucky takes a breath, then another, turning over the possible answers in his mind. “Yes,” he admits finally. “A few years back. It’s not as strong as it used to be.”

Steve nods once, doesn’t ask anything else. His next comment is about Duke, and Bucky can’t help but sag a little into the back of his chair, relieved.

 

**

It’s strange – being on speaking terms with one of your childhood heroes turned teenage wet dream turned adulthood… whatever. Bucky gets a peek into Steve’s life, and honestly, he’s surprised with what he sees. The stark walls of the entranceway to Steve’s apartment seem more and more fitting as he watches Steve move from work to presentations to work to sleep to work. Whenever Steve looks away, the stark lines of his face become more and more pronounced, and Bucky’s not sure if it’s even something he should be noticing.

He’s Steve’s dog walker, for Christ’s sake. Sure, he’d call himself a friend, but he knows he has a habit of overestimating his importance in other people’s lives. He learned that one the hard way.

“He just looks… sad,” Bucky says with a sigh, leaning back into the sofa. It welcomes him with the softness of use, and the mug in his hands is warm against his skin. “Is that weird for me to notice? I feel like it is.”

“A little,” Nat says, ever-honest. She’s one of the few people who stuck around when his life turned to shit, and even though her job calls her away at weird times, she’s probably the most stable friend Bucky’s ever had. “You’ve always worn your heart on your sleeve though, you care for the people around you. Sometimes too much, but that’s neither here nor there.”

“Ouch,” Bucky mumbles, taking a sip of his coffee as Nat laughs. At him, with him, it doesn’t really matter. “How do I do something about it without making it weird?”

“You’ve kind of already made it weird,” she replies, teeth flashing as she bites into her scone. There’s no way to do that neatly yet she manages, not a single crumb daring to land on her. “But he doesn’t sound like he has a lot of people who give a shit.”

“So, what? Dramatically profess my ability to listen to everything and anything that bothers him?” Nat snorts, which is as close as she gets to a laugh in public, so Bucky counts that as a win.

“Talk to him when you pick his dog up, be friendly. Talk when you drop the dog off at home. I know you can talk without being weird.” Bucky ignores the jab in favour of taking a drink.

“I have been, but it doesn’t seem to be doing anything. It almost looks like whatever’s bothering him is getting worse.” He sighs, not sure what else he can do. Steve’s not likely to trust someone he’s just met, let alone one he’s paying.

“Bucky. I don’t think he’s getting worse. I think he’s letting you see how bad it was in the first place. Possibly without realising he’s doing it, it’s not like you two sit down and talk about feelings.”

Sometimes Nat is kind enough to give him the solution without watching him flounder. “You think?”

She raises an eyebrow, tapping a nail against the ceramic of her mug. “From what you’ve said, what I’ve seen of him, it makes sense. The more he trusts you, the less he’s going to want to put on his be-nice mask.”

“You’re a genius,” Bucky says into his coffee, and Nat just smiles, smug.

He barely makes it to his next appointment on time, sitting in that coffee shop long after Nat’s left but it’s worth it. He thinks he has an idea, something that might actually convince Steve that Bucky’s willing to actually-maybe-possibly be a friend.

God, he hopes it works.

 

**

His action plan is delayed when he gets a text a few hours before Duke’s blocked-in time. Steve, on one of his rare off-days, is going to take over dog-walking duties for the day.

So, a slight change of plan.

Bucky flicks a couple of texts out, then heads to his next appointment as soon as he’s got a confirmation text.

“Sorry to come by so early,” he says once the woman’s opened the door for him. “I had someone cancel on me, so I had to shuffle things around.”

He gets the leash clipped on and heads out into the muggy Brooklyn heat, golden lab all but nipping at his heels to get to the park. He has no idea what route Steve will take, but the dog park feels like a safe bet – it’s near Steve’s apartment, there’s plenty of sections that are relatively quiet, and, most importantly, there are other dogs there.

The last time Bucky actually had a chance to talk to Steve they’d been talking about socialising Duke more, so Bucky hopes that this walk is one where Steve takes that into consideration.

The park is busy when they get there, so Bucky doesn’t take the leash off immediately, following the concrete path even though the lab is attempting to look everywhere at once, and constantly tripping over her own feet in the process. Bucky pulls the tennis ball out of his pocket and she focuses on that like it’s food, immediately slowing down as though she thinks he’s going to throw it straight away.

“C’mon Aya,” he says, sighs, and she perks up a little at her name. He gives in, glancing around to make sure she’s not going to knock someone over before unclipping the leash and tossing the ball as far across the grass as he can.

Aya takes off after it, and it takes her a good few minutes to locate the ball in the grass and get it back to him. He has to fight to get it from her, chasing her around for a minute before getting a hand on her collar, holding her still to pry the wet ball out of her mouth.

He’s just launched the ball into the grass again when he hears a cough behind him like someone’s trying to get his attention. Bucky turns, unable to help the smile immediately widening his mouth when he realises who it is.

“Fancy seeing you here,” Steve says, hands in his pockets like Duke doesn’t have his entire body weight against his leash.

“Aya prefers chasing the ball to walking on pavement,” Bucky says, crossing the few steps to Steve before crouching to greet Duke. “She’s a delicate princess if her ma is to be believed.”

Aya picks that moment to come skidding through the grass, proving her owner wrong by tripping herself up on the way.

Steve laughs, a deep belly laugh that slides over Bucky’s skin like velvet, then he’s dropping to one knee and offering his hand to Aya as she gets her feet under her and trots over. Bucky watches, scratching his fingers under Duke’s collar as Aya sniffs Steve’s fingers delicately, then jumps up and licks Steve’s face, leaving him spluttering.

“Sorry,” Bucky says, knowing he doesn’t sound sorry in the slightest. “She does that.”

“Up my nose,” Steve mumbles, disgruntled, and Bucky can’t help the laugh that bursts out of him. He lets himself fall back onto his ass and Duke shoves forward, sitting between Bucky’s knees and happily tipping his head forward for a scratch.

He tips his head, grins at Steve. “That’ll be something to tell her ma – ‘hey by the way your dog got her tongue up the nose of one of the most famous people in Brooklyn, she’s got good taste’. Somehow I don’t think she’ll be impressed.”

Steve goes very still next to him, hands buried in Aya’s short fur, and Bucky hesitates, not sure what he said. Steve stands abruptly and Duke stands in response, nearly headbutting Bucky in his speed to get back to Steve’s side. Steve stoops to grab his leash and Bucky’s left staring at the back of his head for a second, hoping that it’ll give him more than Steve’s face is giving him, a big fat nothing.

“I should go,” Steve says as Bucky stumbles his way upright, bringing them closer to level.

Bucky doesn’t know what to say, but it doesn’t seem like Steve’s going to wait for him to work it out, so he blurts out, “I’m sorry.” He doesn’t know what for, he doesn’t know what he did, but it’s still the truth – he’s never seen someone recoil that fast and he knows, knows he’s fucked up somehow and he wants to make it right.

Steve’s brow scrunches like he’s not sure what Bucky’s on about, then it smooths, and he says, “Don’t worry about it, it’s nothing,” in the sort of voice that makes it sound like he’s used to telling that lie. “It was good to see you.”

With that Steve’s walking away, hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched in. Duke’s looking back at Bucky, so he blows the dog a kiss before he watches Steve go.

For such a big guy, Steve looks so small as he walks away.

 

**

“I fucked up,” is the first thing Bucky says into the receiver, and the silence at the other end is telling.

It goes on long enough that Bucky would be checking his connection if it were anyone else, but then he hears a soft sigh. “What did you do?”

“I don’t-” he huffs out a breath, running his hand over his face. “I don’t know. But I fucked up.”

Nat waits him out, and eventually, he caves. “He clammed up after I mentioned something about him being famous, just an offhand comment. Didn’t mean anything by it, but he looked like he was going to punch me. Or pass out, one of the two.”

And he hasn’t contacted you since?

That’s the kicker really. There’s a text that’s burning a hole in his phone, heavy with finality if Bucky’s the sort to be dramatic, which he very much is. “He has. He sent me a text an hour later.”

Steve Rogers: I’m home for a few days, so I’ll take care of walking Duke. I’ll let you know when I need you again.

Bucky reads it out to Nat, waits as she picks it over in silence. “He’s not mad,” she says. “Maybe a little upset, but not with you.”

“How the fuck did you get that from that one text?” He asks, incredulous but at the same time completely unsurprised that she could pull this sort of thing off. He throws himself back on his bed, groans a little as a shirt jabs him in the back. “He’s never gonna call back. So much for my great ‘help Steve Rogers’ plan I had to go on there for a bit.” He says it lightly, but the whole situation sits in his gut, twisting him up and making him want to do something entirely irrational. He didn’t think Steve needed help, he had no doubt that the man was perfectly capable of looking after himself.

But Steve looked like he needed something, and the little snippets of his life that he’d let Bucky see had just solidified that. Steve had friends, had good friends, but all of them were because Steve was Captain America. Bucky hoped, hoped, that he could be a friend that Steve had made as Steve.

Maybe that’s what Steve had wanted too.

The realisation hit him just as Nat spoke into the phone, starting to tell him off for being a petulant brat, probably.

“I think,” he said, cutting her off, before pausing.

“Go on,” she says, and it doesn’t sound like the go on she says when she means speak and I’ll cut your dick off, so he keeps talking.

“I think that’s the problem. I… reminded him that he’s still the other guy as well as Steve. I think maybe he just… wanted to be Steve?”

“Given what you’ve told me, it makes sense,” Nat says after a second. “Keep treating him like regular old Steve and he’ll come back.” A pause and Bucky thinks she’s finished before she says, “now as I was saying before you opened your mouth and started talking cryptic bullshit, I’m looking at this artist because I want to commission-”

 

**

It took a few days for another text from Steve to come through. Bucky doesn’t read it immediately, just feels his phone buzz in his pocket, but considering he has his hands full with dog leashes he thinks he gets a pass for forgetting to check it.

He’s taking a quick break, perched on a park bench while his two current dogs play with each other in the grass when he remembers to look at his phone. He unlocks it with a swipe of his finger, frowning a little when he sees Steve’s contact icon, with a message timestamped from half an hour earlier.

Steve Rogers: Something’s come up today, can you fit Duke in? I know it’s late notice, sorry

Bucky stares at it, not sure what to think, before kicking himself into gear, checking the time again before replying.

Yeah, I can fit him in, at his normal time?

Bucky barely has time to worry that he’s too late, because he’s got a message within a few seconds, like Steve’s been holding his phone this whole time, waiting.

Steve Rogers: Yeah

Steve Rogers: Just let yourself in when you get here

Staring at his phone for a second, Bucky can’t quite believe it, then he pockets the device and pushes himself back to his feet, whistling for the dogs to return to him. Now he’s got somewhere to be.

 

**

An hour later he’s letting himself into Steve’s apartment with a knock on the door just in case Steve’s still home. There’s the skittering of claws on wood, and Duke comes bursting out of the mostly-open living room door, which tells Bucky Steve is still in the apartment.

He drops to his knees to be greeted by the excited dog, laughing as he bats away the excited licks Duke is trying to bestow upon him.

“Hey buddy,” he says when he’s not in danger of being French-kissed by an over-excited mutt. “Long time no see, huh?”

It had only been five days, not the longest he’s gone between walks with a client before, but Duke had gotten used to the daily routine, and it made Bucky warm inside to know he’d been missed - by the dog, at least.

Bucky glances up as he heard more human footsteps, then his mouth drops open as Steve comes into view. “Shit,” he says, before floundering a second. The longer he struggles the more Steve’s expression shifts from apologetic to smug. “You look good.”

He’s pretty sure you’re not supposed to say that to a National Icon – capital letters and all, let alone one that’s also a superhero, but it’s a bit late for that. He does though – there must be some black-tie event because he’s in a full suit, dark grey with the jacket draped over one arm. The sleeves are rolled up, and the breadth of him is perfectly accentuated by the matching waistcoat. He looks more than just good, but Bucky can at least keep that contained.

Steve takes it well, rubbing a big hand at the back of his head and smiling. “Charity lunch,” he said in response to Bucky’s unanswered question. “One of the not-for-profits I work with is having their yearly fundraising lunch and I wasn’t about to say no.”

Bucky shifts, plants his ass on the hardwood floor, and keeps scratching behind Duke’s ears. “What’s the charity for?” He asks, curious, and Duke licks his cheek.

“Supporting Vets, especially the ones who come back wounded.” And yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Bucky’s not sure why he asked, really. “I can’t make everything better, but if me showing up means more money for them, I’m not about to turn them down.” He supposes it’s the charity his sister had been sending him messages about, before she changed tactics and bullied him into the VA.

Steve steps forward then, shifts past Bucky towards the closet a little further up, and Bucky can’t help himself, tipping his head up, then craning his neck to watch Steve go. At least he had the excuse of their conversation. “Do they do big fundraisers like this often?” Bucky asks, then mentally slaps himself.

“This one’s a yearly thing,” Steve says, repeats because Bucky clearly hadn’t picked it up the first time he’d said it. He doesn’t seem annoyed though, so there’s that at least. “They do some drives during the year, food and clothing. Volunteer work days at the start of every season to clean up the shelters, gain some visibility. I try to make it to as many as I can, but…” Steve shrugs, and by the way he hunches forward a little, drops his head, he feels guilty about that.

“I’m sure they can forgive you for such an oversight,” Bucky teases, relieved when Steve grins over his shoulder.

“Yeah, I guess,” he says as he gets his shoes on. Bucky has to hook his fingers in Duke’s collar to stop the dog from jumping up and ruining Steve’s probably-very-expensive suit. “Anyway,” Steve says, “I’ve gotta get going, otherwise I’ll be late. Just shut Duke in the spare room when you drop him off, you’ll beat me back here.”

Duke jumps up at his name, and there’s nothing Bucky can do to stop him, but Steve catches his paws like it’s the easiest thing in the world, supports the dog’s weight with one hand and rubs Duke’s chest with the other. “Alright buddy,” Steve says, coos really, to Duke. “Be good and Bucky will take you out.” Duke barks in response, pulling back to sit, looking up at Steve and almost vibrating with his excitement.

“He’s always good,” Bucky says as he finally gets back to his feet, shoving his hands in his pockets.

Steve gives him a winning smile, then he’s out the door, jacket still over his arm, leaving Bucky to stare after him. Duke only allows this for a minute before he’s standing, jumping up at Bucky demandingly.

“Alright, alright, enough lollygagging,” Bucky says to the dog, pushing Duke’s paws free of his stomach before scratching the dog’s head. “Let’s get your leash, huh?”

 

**

They’re halfway through their walk when Bucky notices the usual runners and walkers start to thin out like they’ve all decided to go a different route through the park on the same day. Bucky keeps his eyes ahead, because if there’s one thing the past few years have proven it’s that the impossible is possible. He’s walking the dog of a superhero that died in the 40’s, only to have been found alive as a popsicle a couple of years ago. Anything is possible.

There’s noise up ahead, and Bucky frowns a little as he walks, checks his phone, but there are no alerts about alien invasions or random spawning of killer robots, so he keeps walking. Duke, for his part, seems to be getting more and more excited, but he’s the kind of dog to want to play with a blue monster trying to destroy the Earth so Bucky’s not sure he can trust his judgement.

But Duke proves him wrong as they stumble on an event in the park, tables set out on the grass and people mingling, dressed to the nines. He wonders absently if this is the charity thing Steve’s at, eyes flicking over the crowd for even a glimpse, but he catches himself, keeps his eyes forward as he follows the one path that doesn’t go straight through the middle of the event.

It’s a wedding, most likely, he thinks to himself. The area’s pretty popular for it, especially mid-afternoon when the sun’s casting shadows through the trees.

Then he hears his name from behind him, loud and surprised. Duke is immediately straining at the leash, nearly pulling Bucky back onto his ass, and he turns half in surprise, half in reaction to his name.

Walking towards him is the very man Bucky had been looking for, smile broad and blinding, hands in his pants pockets, looking so good Bucky could cry. Instead, he smiles, lets the leash slide through his fingers as Duke makes another attempt at getting to his owner.

Duke doesn’t go far, prances around Steve as Steve scratches his head, drags fingers along his back, chucks under his chin before grabbing his leash and crossing the rest of the way to Bucky.

“Hi,” Steve says like he’s not sure what to do with himself. Which – ridiculous, that’s what that is. He’s just surprised, is all, Bucky tells himself. Startled, even.

It doesn’t stop Bucky from replying, “Hi, back,” with what’s probably the dumbest smile he’s managed in a while. “What are the odds?” He says as if that’ll distract from what’s probably the most besotted look he’s ever had on his own dumb face.

“I know, do you usually walk this way?” Steve asks, and Bucky nods before he’s really processed the question. Thankfully, the actual answer is also a yes.

“Yeah, most of the time, unless I’m walking a dog that’s dog-shy.”

There’s a loud “hey!” from back in the direction of the party, and Steve shakes his head, expression nothing but fond. Bucky peers over his shoulder as another sharply dressed man breaks away from the party. He’s just as gorgeous as Steve, Bucky realises first, then the rest of his brain kicks into gear and he realises who he’s looking at.

“Sam Wilson,” the man says, all smiles, and Bucky shifts the lead in his hand to shake the offered one. “Steve’s told me a lot about you.”

“Bucky Barnes,” he confirms as Steve turns pink next to him, grinning wider as Duke tries to jump up on Sam only to be fended off with a sweeping arm. “Duke, sit,” he tries, and Duke surprises them all by actually doing what he’s told. There’s a moment of silence, then Duke jumps up again, managing to lick Sam’s chin as Bucky nearly falls over laughing.

“You were doing so well,” Steve says forlornly, making Bucky laugh even harder.

Duke gets the pet he was wanting from Sam before the man straightens, looks at Steve. “Next time you run off, don’t leave me talking to Belinda by myself,” Sam says and it’s Steve’s turn to laugh.

“She’s not bad.”

“When there’s two of us,” Sam retorts, shaking his head. “I need another beer. Bucky,” Sam’s attention switches again, and Bucky tries to tamp down the fond smile on his face. Fails miserably. “You should join us for our next movie night.”

That wasn’t at all what Bucky had been expecting. “When is it?” He asks instead of following his gut and immediately agreeing.

“The next Friday we’re not deployed,” Steve says. He looks neither surprised or resigned at Sam’s invitation. Doesn’t mean he’s happy about it, though. “Probably won’t be for a couple of weeks, Hill’s had a look about her like she’s about to send us off again.”

Sam nods, face serious for a second. “Yeah, the situation in Australia isn’t looking too good. Steve will let you know the details, I’m sure.” Sam turns, grins over his shoulder. “Now, I need that beer. Catch you guys later.”

He heads back to the party, and Bucky has to grip Duke’s leash a little tighter to stop the dog from following him. “He seems fun,” Bucky says with a glance in Steve’s direction.

Steve opens his mouth, freezes, then glances back over his shoulder, face closing off at whatever he sees. “I gotta go,” he says in lieu of whatever he’d been about to say. He stoops, kisses the top of Duke’s head, then smiles at Bucky. “Catch you later,” he says, before directing his next words at the dog. “Be good for Bucky.”

Then he’s striding off, and Bucky’s left staring after him. Which isn’t exactly the worst thing in the world, he admits to himself, before dragging his eyes away and turning back to the path he was following. It takes a whistle, then a soft, “Duke” to get the dog following again, but he keeps turning his head back to watch Steve, and Bucky can’t really blame him.

 

**

Bucky’s lying on his couch contemplating takeout that eveningg when his phone dings with a twitter notification. He looks, because he’s vain like that, and can’t help but laugh.

Twitter: captain-assmerica followed you

He swipes it off his screen, only to immediately get pinged with another, then another. Similar usernames, most of them a play on Steve’s name or title. Bucky can’t help but wonder what bot-group got hold of his twitter handle and clicks on the first one to start blocking them when he freezes.

The top tweet is an image of Steve, which isn’t exactly surprising given the display name. It’s Steve from behind, obviously a paparazzi photo, and it takes Bucky a minute to place it. When he does it’s not because of the setting, not because of the suit Steve’s wearing, it’s because he sees his own smiling, completely besotted face looking at Steve, and his heart drops.

He scrolls a little, dreading it, and sees photo after photo of he and Steve talking, a few with Sam there as well. One of them has a caption that has Bucky quickly closing the app, phone dropping to the couch cushion.

Captain America off the market? Who is the mysterious heartthrob who’s stolen the affections of America’s Golden Boy?

His phone buzzes again, the different pattern indicating a text. Steve’s name flashes across his screen, and Bucky’s not sure if he wants to read the message.

He does anyway because he’s never been that good at self-preservation.

Steve Rogers: Don’t go on twitter

Steve Rogers: We should talk

Bucky lets out a breath, quickly taps out a reply.

A bit late for that. I think we should.

He puts his phone down and stands, unable to keep still. A few steps and he’s at the small window, looking out over the street where life is moving on as it does. Like nothing’s happened, like Bucky’s life hadn’t just got a whole lot weirder. His phone buzzes, and it’s more insistent than his usual text tone, so he turns, heads back to the couch.

Steve’s contact card is on his screen, so Bucky swallows hard, accepts the call. Before he can say anything, Steve’s voice comes through, sharp and more than a little demanding.

“I’m coming to you. What’s your address?”

Bucky has no doubt that that’s Steve’s Captain America voice, and he can’t help but shiver a little. “Uh,” he says helpfully, before rattling off his address.

There’s a moment where Steve says nothing, and as soon as Bucky focuses past the soft sound of Steve’s breathing he realises he can hear the sound of the city streets. “Steve, are you driving?”

“Yes,” is the short answer, then another beat of silence like Steve’s focusing on something else. “Bluetooth helmet. I’ll be there in five. Don’t let anyone else into the building.”

There’s a click and the line goes dead. Bucky pulls his phone away from his ear, stares at it incredulously. He’s pretty sure Steve’s overreacting, but he can’t ignore the way his whole body is tense, like his clothes don’t fit right, or the air is just a little too cold.

He pulls his throw rug, his biggest indulgence in his shitty apartment, off the couch and wraps it around his shoulders as he hears the roar of a motorbike outside his window. It gets louder, louder still then doesn’t go past, cuts off as it gets even with Bucky’s building.

That you?

He can’t help but text, reach out, and his phone buzzes just as his landline rings. He picks it up, knowing who it’ll be, and as soon as he hears Steve’s “It’s me” on the other end he’s hitting the button to let Steve into the building.

“Second floor, third on the left,” he says, then the line goes dead again. Bucky sighs and sets the handset back in its cradle, heads for the front door.

He opens it just as Steve pulls to a stop in front of it, and for a second Steve looks like he’s floundering, like he’s only planned up until this moment and now that he’s here he’s adrift. His helmet is hanging from loose fingers like he hadn’t even thought to take the time to lock it to his bike, his hair is standing on end, and he looks nothing like the man Bucky’s gotten used to seeing. He’s not put-together in the slightest, and all the more gorgeous for it, but Bucky stops that thought as soon as he has it. His stupid crush had gotten him, them, nothing but trouble.

Then he’s nudging Bucky backwards just by walking forward, and Bucky moves out of his way, lets him into the apartment. He still hasn’t said anything, and he closes the door firmly behind himself. Then he’s shifting from foot to foot, apparently not sure of his welcome, and Bucky sighs.

Shifting his grip on his blanket, Bucky reaches out, pulls the helmet out of Steve’s hand, and sets it on the hall table. Then he leads the way to the sofa, painfully aware of how small his apartment is compared to Steve’s - something he’s never thought about until Steve is in his space, taking up so much room with his presence alone.

He sits, and after a minute the cushion next to him dips as Steve joins him. It’s not the largest sofa, and their shoulders brush together with every breath he takes. Bucky berates himself as the silence between them grows awkward, then opens his mouth just as Steve inhales.

“I’m sorry,” he rushes out before Steve can speak. When Steve just makes a confused noise, Bucky looks at his hands. “I’ve put you in a pretty shitty position.”

“You-” Steve starts, then he laughs, and it’s not a pleasant one. Self-depreciating, to say the least. “I’m the one with the most recognisable face in Brooklyn, pal, somehow I think this one’s on me.”

Bucky blinks, then comes to the sudden realisation that Steve has no idea about Bucky’s crush on him, hasn’t worked out the look Bucky had been giving him at the moment the photos had been taken.

In some ways, Bucky’s relieved about that, but he’s also kind of disappointed. It would have gotten the job done, in a blunt sort of way, pulled the Band-Aid and all that.

Steve, oblivious to Bucky’s thoughts, keeps speaking, slowly like he’s not sure how Bucky will react.

“I caught one of the photographers at the lunch - it’s why I left so suddenly. I thought he was the only one that had taken photos. That’s my fault, and I’m sorry you’ve been dragged into this.”

“Steve,” Bucky tries to interject, but Steve steamrolls through like he knows he’s only got one chance at saying what he needs to, wants to get it out before he did anything else.

“I’d never want to place you in danger just by knowing me, so I completely understand if you want to end our arrangement. My life is public in a way a lot of people are uncomfortable with, so I’m not going to hold you to it.”

Bucky baulks at that, twisting slightly to face Steve, putting a hand on his arm. “Steve,” he says again, and this time Steve’s mouth snaps shut. Bucky takes the invitation to speak even though Steve doesn’t look at him. “I’m not gonna ditch you or your dog over this. We’ll just clear up the misunderstanding publicly, somehow, then move on with our lives. I’m not ditching my friend because some asshole with a camera saw something that didn’t exist. I don’t mind being known as your friend, I don’t think we’d ever escape that, but I’m not leaving you or Duke in the lurch.”

Steve looks at him then, fully, and Bucky gives him what he hopes is a comforting smile.

“It’s not just the normal people,” Steve says after the silence stretches between them, taut. He doesn’t seem all that comforted, but he hasn’t pulled out from under Bucky’s hand, so Bucky takes that as a win.

When Steve doesn’t elaborate, Bucky prompts him with a questioning noise, fingers tightening a little on Steve’s arm.

Steve shakes his head slightly. “Just being around me puts a target on your back,” he says, and oh. That explains why he’d rushed over like a bat out of hell. That explains a lot, really.

“I can handle myself, Steve.”

“Bucky,” Steve starts, but Bucky stands up, turns to face Steve once he’s upright. Then he does the one thing he’d told himself he’d never do again, had promised himself he’d never be in a position where he had to do it.

He holds out his hand, looks Steve in the eye, and properly introduces himself. “Sergeant James Barnes of the United States Army. Honourable discharge, don’t make me say it again.” Steve stares at him, then pushes to his feet, takes Bucky’s hand, face a mask of seriousness.

“Captain Steve Rogers,” he says, and there’s an odd echo to the words like Steve is as uncomfortable with his rank as Bucky is. “Thank you for your service.” His eyes flick down to Bucky’s left arm, like he’s starting to put things together, and that’s not a conversation Bucky wants to have right now.

Bucky huffs, pulls his hand back, and sits back down, tucking his arms around himself. “I can handle myself, out or not,” he said, and Steve frowned as he, too, sat again.

“It’s not just regular assholes,” Steve says, frown deepening. “I’ve pissed off my fair share of supervillains.”

“Why doesn’t that surprise me,” Bucky mutters, and that startles a laugh from Steve. “I have your number, I’ll put you on speed dial, call you if I need you.”

Steve looks like he’s about to argue, so Bucky bumps their shoulders together, the contact startling the other man. “Steve. Shut up and let me be your friend.”

Steve sags a little then, shoulder dropping against Bucky’s. “I’ll talk to the PR team, see what they can do to minimise the impact on your life.”

 

**

Steve texts him later the next day, while Bucky’s halfway through his laundry. It takes him a few minutes to notice the blinking light on his phone, another couple to get to a point where he’s happy to stop, fresh load in place while the previous load dries on the drying rack.

Steve Rogers: Are you free? I need to ask you something

Bucky doesn’t bother replying, just hits call as he heads out of his washroom. He drops onto the couch with a groan just as the call connects and feels his cheeks heat as Steve coughs into the receiver.

“Uh,” Bucky says helpfully. “Hi?”

“Hi,” Steve says, still sounding a little off-kilter. “Did I get you at a bad time?”

He asks even though Bucky was the one to call him, and Bucky can’t help but laugh. “No, just sat down for the first time in a while. Laundry,” he adds, and Steve laughs. “What did you need?”

“The PR team came back with a couple of ideas,” Steve says, and Bucky sighs at the reminder. “They’re pretty different from each other, so I thought it’d be easier if I walked you through them?”

“Yeah, okay,” Bucky nods slightly, force of habit, before kicking his feet up onto the other arm of the sofa. “Hit me with ‘em.”

“The first,” Steve sounds almost nervous as he starts, which is off for a man normally so confident. Then again, Bucky’s fairly sure at least part of that confidence is for show. “Is a little weird. We announce we are actually dating, make sure we’re seen at a few events together, then announce we’ve split, better off as friends.”

Oh. Bucky’s not entirely sure he could take that, being that close to Steve for show, then having to step back. Getting a taste of what he wants, knowing it’s temporary. “What’s the second?” He asks after a beat of silence.

“You go underground for a bit until this all blows over.” Bucky frowns a little, opens his mouth to ask when Steve continues. “This would be option one except we don’t know how long that’ll take. Evidence points to months, years even before this is mostly forgotten. You’d have to be off the grid that entire time.”

Neither were great options, really. On the one hand, attending a few events on Steve’s arm wasn’t exactly a hardship, unlike spending months unable to go out and do basic things for himself, unable to work, go for walks, get his shitty overpriced oversweet coffee.

But on the other hand, he’s not sure if his heart would last.

“What’s your preference?” He asks because he has to say something.

“The first. The less disruption to your life the better, honestly, and I don’t exactly mind spending time with you. You’ll still get annoyed a little by people on the streets, but not as much as if we didn’t do anything.”

“Is Captain America even queer?” Bucky asks next, eyebrows up as he realises he’d never heard a single thing to say otherwise. In saying that, he thinks, if it had been written anywhere it would have been sniffed out by now and blasted everywhere by hate groups and pride groups alike.

The silence is tense for a moment, then there’s a gusty sigh, and Bucky can imagine Steve’s shoulders sagging a little. “Captain America is whatever people want him to be. Steve Rogers, on the other hand, has been bisexual since before he knew the word for it.”

The first thought to come to mind was glee, Bucky’s not proud to admit. Because, if Steve’s bi, that means he likes men, which means, a little voice in the back of Bucky’s head pipes up, that there’s a chance he might like Bucky.

His second thought is that Steve was doing this to protect him. That it was nothing to do with them and everything to do with Steve’s protective streak that’s wider than the continental US. Guilt swamps him, and he’s glad to already be sitting because his knees go weak, and not in the way he’d like them to when it comes to Steve.

“Steve,” he says, but he can’t get anything more out, words drying up in his mouth as he can’t even begin to apologise. He knows he’s become another reminder of Captain America, and he resents that more than he probably should. He pauses, gives up, changes what he was trying to say just to get Steve off the phone, to give Bucky a chance to think.

Bucky sighs again, staring at his feet. “Okay,” he says, trusting Steve. “If you’re sure. Option one it is.”

 

**

It doesn’t occur to him until the next day that there was probably a simpler option to this whole thing – tell the truth. Bucky thought about it, about asking Steve why he was complicating things, but in the end, what won out was the fact that Steve had supposedly contacted his team’s PR rep. Surely that person had come to the same conclusion Bucky had, which meant that surely that option had been discarded for a good reason.

So, he doesn’t mention it, keeps his head down and his mouth shut and tries not to think about the fact that he, lowly mortal Bucky Barnes, was going on not one, not two, but at least three dates with Captain America.

Not that they were real dates, sure, but they were dates all the same, and Bucky knew damned well he was going to hold that over his sister for years to come.

He taps his phone, letting it hang a little from his fingers as he looks at his planner. With Bruno off his list for a month while his family went on a road trip his calendar was looking surprisingly empty, and so, unsurprisingly, would his bank account.

He swings his phone back into his hand properly and unlocks it, tapping out a message without even thinking and hitting send.

you don’t happen to know anyone who needs a dog walker for a month

There was no reply immediately, which he hadn’t been expecting, so he stands, wandering over to the window. His current entourage of paparazzi was sprawled on the park bench opposite his apartment building, cameras hanging from cords around their necks.

His phone rings and he answers it without thinking, barely getting out his name before there’s a screech that he really shouldn’t be able to recognise.

“James Buchanan Barnes why am I finding out about this from Marlene Muldoon of all people – my own son is in a relationship and I find out from Marlene and not him!”

Her voice only seems to get louder and more affronted, so Bucky pulls the receiver away from his head just enough to protect his eardrums as he waits for his mother to wrap up.

“Mom,” he says, walking back to the couch and staring at the blank wall like it’ll help him work out what to say. ”It’s… new. We’re new. Nobody would know at all if some creep hadn’t been following him around to take photos of him.”

That had the right effect, Winifred Barnes immediately turning her ire towards the paparazzi that had started the whole thing. “You’re right, if I were able to I’d drive up and knock some heads together, who do they think they are? He’s just a man, he should be able to live his life”

Bucky hummed in encouragement, but it took him a few seconds to respond. “Yeah. I know. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry, you know you would have been the first to know.”

“Oh sweetie, I know,” she replies, and Bucky feels like an absolute tool. He wants to tell her the truth, knows she wouldn’t say anything, but Steve’s scary-ass PR manager had been perfectly clear – no one knows.

“Tell me about him then, what’s he like?” Winnie continues, not party to the mess that is Bucky’s head. At least that’s an easy question to answer, Bucky just needs to let his inner crush take over for a while.

“He’s… Steve’s sweet, he’s got a dog and you should see them together, he dotes on that puppy like it’s his own child.”

“Is that how you met?” his mom asks, perceptive as ever, and he nods before remembering she can’t see it.

“Yeah, I started walking Duke, he’s a rescue but he’s as sweet as his dad. Steve was away a lot at first, so we didn’t really talk much, but then he came off rotation and we’ve been spending a lot more time together. He’s so easy to get along with, we could spend hours talking and not even notice.”

They talk for a little longer, and Bucky’s just settling in for a good long gossip session with one of his favourite people when there’s a knock on his door. He sighs, loudly, which stops his mom’s flow of words.

“Someone’s here,” he says with mild annoyance, and Winnie just laughs – he knows that if he was there with her she’d be patting his hand.

“It’s okay sweetie, you call me later when you’ve got time to talk.”

They say their goodbyes, and Bucky heads for the door. It’s one of three people if they’ve made it past the outer door – a neighbour, Nat, or Steve. Of the three, he knows who he’d prefer, though that’s the least likely option if he’s honest with himself.

He pops open the door just as whoever it is knocks again, finds himself looking up at the one person he was happy to see.

“Steve, hi,” he says as a smile creeps across his face, though he has to tone it down – there’s no excuse for looking besotted right now, it’s just him, Steve, and the empty hallway.

Steve’s got his hands in his pockets, but he doesn’t look tense, a far cry from their last meeting face to face. Bucky steps out of his way and Steve smiles, going through the door far enough that Bucky can close it behind him. “Hey, did I catch you at a bad time?”

Bucky shakes his head as he leads the way inside. “Just getting yelled at by my mother. She’s ready to fight a few paparazzi for you, by the way. Do you want something to drink?”

He’s halfway to the kitchen when Steve starts to respond, and it catches him off guard. “I was actually thinking we could… go out? Find a hole-in-the-wall somewhere and just talk for a bit?”

Bucky turns to face Steve and he’s surprised by the light flush on his cheeks, the way Steve’s shoulders are hunched forward like he’s expecting a reprimand.

“Yeah,” Bucky says immediately, anything to get that look off Steve’s face. “Sure. Did you have somewhere in mind?”

Steve nods immediately, stepping back towards the door. “There’s this place not too far from here, the staff are… discreet.”

“You mean they don’t fall over every time you show up?”

“Yeah, that.” Steve doesn’t look as upset by the reminder as he had the last time, but Bucky still winces a little internally, before looking down at himself and wincing externally too.

When Steve gives him a confused look, Bucky waves down at his sweatpants. “I can’t go out like this, not anymore,” he says, and Steve just laughs. “People actually pay attention to what I wear now,” he adds, before turning, waving a hand at Steve. “Give me a minute.”

He really is only a minute, swapping his sweats for jeans and running his hands through his hair to make it look outside-world-presentable. He’s back out in the living room with Steve quickly, smiling a little as Steve stares at him like he’s grown another head.

“How are we getting there?” He asks, and Steve shakes his head like he’s rattling something loose. “I’d usually suggest walking but I’m sure you noticed we’re not exactly alone anywhere anymore.”

“I have my bike if you’re okay with that,” Steve says as he finally starts to move, heading for the door and pausing as Bucky shoves his feet in his shoes and grabs his shit. As soon as they step out into the hallway Bucky spots two helmets sitting by his door – as if Steve hadn’t wanted to bring them in and assume Bucky’s answer.

Which was sweeter than Bucky would like to admit.

“Yeah,” he says because he wasn’t about to say no when Steve Rogers offers him a ride on his motorcycle. He gets handed a helmet.

“Put it on now, that way we’re less likely to get snapped as we leave.”

Bucky sighs, but does so, glancing over to see Steve doing the same. “They’re linked,” Steve says, and it’s cool as fuck despite the fact that Steve’s voice in his ear is definitely doing things to him that it shouldn’t be. “So, you don’t need to yell to be heard.”

“Thanks for telling me before I started yelling,” Bucky says, and he can’t see anything through Steve’s visor but he has the feeling that Steve’s rolling his eyes.

“C’mon,” Steve says, and he’s about to follow when Steve holds out his hand. Bucky stares at it for a second, then slowly takes it, and Steve’s tugging him down the hall before he can say anything about it. They reach the outer door before Steve slows down, and he looks over his shoulder at Bucky. “We’re going to head left, then left again to get to the parking spaces behind the building. The faster we get out of here the better.”

Bucky nods, agreeing completely, and steps a little closer as Steve swings the door open. Then Steve is moving fast, leaving Bucky struggling to keep up as people start to turn, as cameras start to come up.

Then they’re around the corner of the building, and Bucky breathes a sigh of relief as Steve slows down a little but keeps moving. “Vultures, honestly,” Bucky grumbles, and he hears Steve snort as they turn again. He hears a shout just as they reach Steve’s bike, but by the time anyone gets close they’re pulling away, Bucky’s arms wrapped firmly around Steve’s waist.

He tries to keep his distance, perching back on the seat with his hands on Steve’s hips, but the curve of the seat keeps him sliding forward, and he isn’t about to leave his elbows hanging out so he gives up on that pretty quickly.

The first corner has him yelping, Steve going faster than he – hopefully – would have otherwise to lose the photographers in traffic, and Bucky has to – has to, he tells himself – clamp on with his legs too, thighs tight around the outside of Steve’s legs.

By the time Steve slows down with a quiet apology Bucky’s given up on pretence, head resting against Steve’s back, as close as he can get. If anyone asks he’s hiding from the wind, but no one does ask, not even the one person with every right to.

“Doing okay back there?” Steve asks instead, and it takes Bucky a minute to answer, with anything understandable at least.

“Mm-hm,” he gets out eventually, nodding a little against Steve’s back, and Steve just laughs, quiet and maybe even a little fond.

“We’re almost there,” Steve speaks again, and his voice is a little lower, a little softer. “I’d drive around again but the sooner we’re off the street the better.”

Bucky isn’t sure how to respond to that, or to the implication that Steve would happily just drive around Brooklyn, wasting his gas just because Bucky doesn’t want to move. So, he doesn’t, keeping his head against Steve’s back until he feels them slow, feels Steve’s leg shift as they pull to a stop.

Steve shifts a little in front of him but not enough to dislodge Bucky, and his words are very definitely fond as he says, “Alright sleepyhead, time to wake up.”

Bucky lets out a disgruntled noise he’s not proud of but slowly pulls himself upright, letting his hands slide back to Steve’s hips before realising and dropping his hands like they’re burning. He awkwardly pushes himself up a little, swinging one leg over the back of the bike and standing behind it, steadying himself on Steve’s shoulder. Steve’s hand, warm, catches his elbow as he wobbles a little, but then he’s steady, moving back and losing all contact with the furnace that is Steve Rogers.

He goes to unclip his helmet, but Steve’s voice is velvet in his ear as he says, “Keep it on,” dropping the kickstand and getting off the bike. Bucky shivers and Steve’s immediately at his side, evidently misunderstanding the source of that shiver and nudging Bucky inside with little fussing around.

“What is world,” is the first thing Bucky hears as he enters the tiny hole-in-the-wall café, the thick Russian accent seeming to bounce around the store. There’s only one person he can see, and they’re seated with coffee, and he’s about to ask when an older woman comes out of the back room, wiping her hands on her apron. “When world finds out about new boy-toy before me?”

Steve’s shoulders hunch up like he’s a child that’s been caught stealing cookies, and Bucky can imagine the embarrassed flush that’s probably spreading over his cheeks. “I’m sorry,” he says, probably muffled and tinny because of the helmet, but the woman seems to understand what he’s saying, patting the side of his helmet.

“It wasn’t by choice, I’m know,” the woman continues, leading the way across the tiny shop. Steve follows, catching Bucky’s wrist and tugging him along behind, even though it’s barely ten steps before the woman is gesturing at a table. It’s against the back wall, as far away from the door as possible, and both seats are relatively hidden from view. “Sit, I will be back shortly.”

She pats the side of Steve’s helmet again before setting menus on the table and bustling off to respond to another customer flagging her down. Steve sits, pulling off his helmet, and he looks so dishevelled that Bucky can’t help but pat Steve’s hair down again before sitting for himself. His own helmet comes off, and he can guarantee he doesn’t look anywhere near as cute with his hair fluffed out and knotted, but Steve grins at him anyway, raises an eyebrow and reaches over, tugging on a lock of Bucky’s hair.

Bucky sticks his tongue out even as part of him all but screams at the action, before his brain kicks in and reminds him that of course Steve is playing it up, they’re supposed to be dating. Something inside Bucky dies a little then, just a little.

Steve’s mouth pulls down into a concerned little frown, enough that Bucky realises his mistake and masks his expression by looking up at the woman who Steve was so friendly with as she comes back to them.

“Some people are impatient,” is the first thing she says, and Bucky realises it’s as close to an apology as they’ll get given the familiarity of her interactions with Steve.

“Mrs Vasiliev, this is Bucky, my boyfriend. Bucky, meet Mrs Vasiliev, owner, operator, and maker of the best medovik in New York City.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” Bucky says as politely as he can, privately basking at the words my boyfriend.

“Is good to see Steven making effort,” Mrs Vasiliev says, and Bucky has the great pleasure of watching Steve turn pink. “He is alone too much.”

“I know,” Bucky says softly because it’s true. Steve is alone, a lot. He works with people, he comes home, and he’s alone. “We’re working on it,” he adds with a smile in Steve’s direction.

Steve smiles back, and it’s small, just a little quirk of his lips but then he’s picking up the menu, burying his nose in it.

“Your normal?” Mrs Vasiliev says, sounding amused enough that she’s probably calling him out for hiding. “Or are you finally trying something new?”

There’s mumbling, then Steve says from behind the menu, “The normal is fine,” and keeps the laminated paper in front of his face. Bucky pokes Steve’s foot with his own, then looks at his menu, jumping a little when Steve taps him back.

His eyes are drawn to one item over and over, so he orders the Eggs Benedict and the sweetest coffee on the menu. He gets a pat on his hand for his trouble, then Mrs Vasiliev is heading for the kitchen.

Steve still doesn’t drop the menu so Bucky reaches over, pulls the top down to expose Steve’s face, and he’s surprised to see the grin on it. “She likes you,” Steve says, clearly happy about that.

“She sounds like she’s adopted you.”

“She kind of did,” Steve says, finally setting the menu down and leaning forward over the table. “Not long after they woke me up, I walked past just as she was opening up one morning, and she took one look at me and all but dragged me in by my ear, sat me down, and gave me a cup of coffee. Told me a lot of things to my face that no one else had the courage to, and she didn’t even know me.”

“How did she even know?”

Steve shrugged at that, tapping his fingers against the table in a repetitive pattern. “She’s perceptive. And she watches my interviews,” he tacks on with a smile before his eyes focus on something over Bucky’s shoulder.

Mrs Vasiliev sets two mugs down, and a little jar of what looks like creamer. “Food is cooking,” she says, sliding the mugs to each of them. “It is ready soon.”

“Thank you,” Bucky says as he looks up at her, smiles.

She pats his shoulder as if working out that it was for more than just the coffee. Then she’s gone again, and Steve’s sipping at his drink, relaxed against the bench in a way that Bucky hasn’t really seen him before.

“Did you know her? Before?” Bucky asks suddenly before immediately turning pink. That had not been what he was wanting to say.

Steve just laughs, a quiet little snort into his drink. “No, if I had I’d have never ended up on the front lines. She’d have worked the stupid out of me somehow. I think her family was here though, this restaurant has been here as long as I can remember.”

“Do you…” Bucky stops, chewing on his lip, but Steve sets his mug down, gives him an encouraging look. “Do you like talking about it? The past?”

Steve folds his arms at that, leaning forward a little and letting out a sigh. Bucky curses his ability to put his foot in his mouth at every turn.

“I mind it less than people think. People mean well, trying to keep the focus on the now, but sometimes it’s good to look back, you know?” Steve grins, tapping his fingers against his mug. “Sam - he constantly asks me for family recipes. He thinks I’m lying when I tell him I learned to cook – properly cook – after I woke up.”

“Are you?”

Steve’s grin widens, giving Bucky all the answers he needs.

 

**

Steve sighs, content, and leans back, pushing his plate forward a little. Bucky’s a little daunted at just how much Steve had eaten, but, unfairly, Steve still looks absolutely perfect, except –

“You’ve got something...” Bucky gestures to his own jaw and Steve completely misses the glob of sauce on his chin when he wipes at his face. Bucky can’t help but snort, and Steve tries again, only succeeding in smearing it around more. “You’re a mess.”

He grabs a napkin and leans forward, coming up off the seat in order to keep his shirt out of his own plate. Without thinking, he wipes the sauce off Steve’s chin and drops the napkin on Steve’s plate while Steve stares at him, frozen.

“Sorry, I uh-”

Steve doesn’t let him finish, head shaking, a little jerkily but shaking all the same. “Don’t be,” he says, but there’s a note of something else in his voice, and Bucky looks at the remains of his eggs and puts his knife and fork on his plate.

He’s not sure when it became so easy to touch Steve, not sure what it is other than his stupid crush taking advantage of their agreement. And, frankly, he should know better. He already knows that this whole thing is going to leave him heartbroken, he’s just not sure why he’s digging himself deeper, making it worse for himself in the long run.

“Bucky?”

Bucky shakes his head slightly, then sighs, sags a little. “I don’t know what I’m doing, can you tell?” he says, and Steve’s eyebrows draw down. “I don’t-” He cuts himself off, letting his head fall back against the bench, and can’t help but feel the weight of Steve’s eyes on him.

“Do you want to go home?”

The real answer, the one Bucky is in no way about to give, is no. He wants to keep spending time with Steve, keep doing dumb couple-ey shit with the man he’s half in love with, but he knows, knows, that if they stayed out, where he has an excuse to touch Steve, a reason, he’ll do something that would give him away.

So, he doesn’t trust his traitorous voice, nods a little, and Steve immediately starts looking around. He stands, walks to the front of the small store, and after a few minutes he’s back, tucking his wallet away in his jacket as he does.

“You didn’t-” Bucky starts to protest, but Steve shrugs, grabs his helmet, then holds out his free hand for Bucky.

“Too late,” Steve says, waiting for Bucky to stand. Steve’s hand is warm when Bucky takes it, and all too quickly Steve’s leading him out of the café and onto the street.

Almost immediately there is a flash of light, and Bucky glances over to see someone lowering a professional camera, flicking through the images shamelessly. With a disgusted noise, he pulls his hand out of Steve’s and stuffs his head in his helmet, grumbling under his breath as he walks the few steps to Steve’s bike.

As soon as Steve has followed suit, Bucky says, “How fast can you go with a passenger?”

Steve’s laugh is almost worth the hassle of everything. “Fast enough.”

 

**

By the time their first official “date” rolls around, they’ve been on two more impromptu ones – coffee and a walk with Duke in the park. It’s almost sad to see the way people flock to Steve when he’s not disguised and is a poignant reminder of why Bucky wanted to befriend him in the first place.

Bucky almost, almost manages to keep his heart protected, too.

But now, now they have to pretend in front of a crowd of people for an event Steve’s been invited to, and they’re going to have to put it on more than they have been. He’s not entirely sure how he’s going to cope with that.

He tugs at his sleeves one last time, then brushes his hands down his chest, smoothing the soft fabric of his shirt. It looks expensive, feels expensive, is expensive, the suit Steve had bought him a week ago after letting a tailor loose on Bucky.

Which is another thing that’s tripping Bucky up – Steve’s acting as though this isn’t a ruse in a lot of ways. He’s paying for their ‘dates’, he’s buying Bucky things that catch his eye. He bought a suit that Bucky couldn’t ever dream of owning, and had insisted in the car that day that, after everything, Bucky can keep every single thing Steve’s bought for him.

It’s tilting Bucky’s axis, his perception of how this whole thing should be going, and he’s reached the point where he’s not sure Steve actually knows how to have friends, let alone date someone – fake or not.

Not that Bucky’s planning on saying anything, not yet. He’s not sure that their friendship – if you could call it that – would survive that conversation, and he’s selfish, so goddamned selfish, wanting to hoard every moment with Steve because he knows it’ll never be real.

So, he pats down his shirt, pulls on the waistcoat laid out on his bed. Buttons it, fingers slipping a little on the smooth buttons, then picks up the jacket to match. Checking his phone, Bucky counts off the minutes until the event starts, winces then goes back to the mirror to check his hair.

His phone buzzes in his pocket just as he’s finished separating the strands into chunks, and he sighs, drapes the chunks over his shoulder in a way that’ll hopefully keep them apart. He answers without looking, a soft, “hey,” and Steve’s voice makes him shiver a little.

Hey, I’m just leaving my apartment now. I’ll be at yours in about ten minutes.

“See you then.”

The line disconnects as he hears the sound of a door close, and Bucky quickly tucks his phone away. Within a few minutes, he has a braid he’s happy with, and he ties it off, picks his jacket up again, and heads for the door.

A quick pat-down and he’s happy he has everything, and he heads down the stairs as his phone buzzes, the short pulse of a text. He swings the outer door of his building open to see Steve there, dressed to the nines, hands tucked in his pockets.

Bucky’s staring, he knows he is.

Steve’s shoulders hunch in further, but he’s smiling, if a little hesitant. When Bucky lifts his eyes up, there’s the faintest blush on Steve’s cheeks, but he’s clearly looking Bucky over.

“Do I meet the standard? Pass muster?”

Steve startles a little at the words, but his smile grows even as his ears turn pink. “You’ll do.” It’s an attempt to be an asshole, but there’s something in the way he says it that makes Bucky wonder what’s going on in Steve’s mind.

Before he can ask, or even think about asking, Steve’s stepping back, waving a hand towards the car parked less-than-legally in front of the apartment building.

“Where on earth did you learn to drive?” Bucky asks teasingly, shaking his head.

Steve’s laughter makes him groan. “Nineteen-forties Germany!”

 

**

The car trip is quiet, almost awkward as Steve drives them into the city. More than once it looks like Steve’s about to say something, big chest expanding, mouth opening just a little. But then he freezes like he’s already thought himself out of what he wanted to say and lets that breath out slowly. It’s frustrating more than anything and makes Bucky want to reach out, shake him and tell him to spit the words out before he chokes on them.

It’s almost too soon and not soon enough, when Steve finally pulls into a park, the word Reserved printed on the concrete in bold letters. The car turns off and it’s quiet again, too quiet.

Steve glances at him out of the corner of his eye, then tips his head. “Ready to follow Captain America into the jaws of death?” Steve says, the line tugging at Bucky’s mind for a second until he places it.

“Quoting our own comics now?” He teases, and Steve shoots him a grin, turning a little in his seat until he’s facing Bucky.

“Seriously,” he says, and even though there’s a smile on his face there’s something else lurking there. “Once they work out who we are it’s going to get messy.”

Bucky shrugs. “There’s not much we can do about that. You’ll draw attention no matter what, and now that you’ve apparently been hiding me away somewhere, that’s going to make it a whole lot worse. It’s kind of the point though, isn’t it?”

“Buck-”

“I’m just meaning,” Bucky cuts him off, resting his hand over Steve’s for a second before letting it go. “That I know it’s coming. I’ve been preparing for it for a while. We’ll be fine – I’ll be fine. Stop fussing.”

Steve sighs, loud and ragged, but he doesn’t say anything more on the subject, just nods a little. “Let’s get this over with. Hopefully, they get bored quickly.”

They didn’t.

Within ten minutes Bucky is tired of the constant questions, the constant flashes of cameras, and he grumbles under his breath, puts his head on Steve’s shoulder.

“You alright?” Steve’s arm around his waist tightens, and Bucky goes to answer when he hears another click of a camera. Instead, he grumbles some more, gets a laugh, a kiss on the top of his head. There’s another click, and Bucky lets himself clutch at Steve’s waist a little tighter.

Bucky speaks against Steve’s shoulder, voice muffled. “How do you deal with this all the time?” When Steve makes a questioning noise Bucky snorts, lifts his head a little and repeats himself.

“Sometimes it helps to remember that these people are just people too – those photos can earn them enough money to put food on the table, or keep the lights on. I can’t resent them that.”

“You-” Bucky cuts himself off, makes a noise in the back of his throat. “You’re too good to be true,” he says after a second, and there’s a press on his hair, Steve kissing it again.

“I’ve had to do a lot to keep myself going,” Steve says after a beat of silence. “It would be pretty hypocritical of me to judge.”

Bucky pulls back a little at that, looking up at Steve from where he’s tucked into Steve’s side.

“Is that why you’ve never done anything to chase them off?” he asks eventually, and Steve nods slightly, smiles just as there’s another camera flash.

“The problem isn’t them,” Steve’s voice is quiet. “But society isn’t going to change because one person went on a twitter rant, not when it comes to this.”

Bucky’s heart breaks a little bit for Steve as he says that, and he can’t help himself, resting his hand on Steve’s cheek for a second, holding it there as Steve’s eyes pull up to his, surprised. “I’m sorry,” he says into the quiet between them. It wasn’t like he’d never been part of the problem either, gleefully retweeting images of his favourite people without stopping to think. “I never stopped to think about it.”

“You have now.”

After a few seconds of silence, Steve sighs, and Bucky drops his hand. “There,” Steve says, nodding his head towards one of the portraits hanging in pride of place in the gallery. “That’s the one on the invite, what do you think?”

Bucky lets himself get turned back to the art, the thing they’re supposed to be there celebrating, but the sad little smile Steve had given him rests heavily in his mind for the rest of the evening.

 

**

He should have seen it coming, really. If they were actually dating, he wouldn’t have thought twice, but considering they weren’t, he hadn’t thought of it at all. He’s left staring up at Steve, waiting for something, anything to use as a cue, and Steve gives him a little smile that doesn’t entirely reach his eyes.

“Aw, shy?” The words aren’t meant to sound as condescending as they are, probably, but they have Bucky’s spine snapping straight as he looks over at the photographer.

Steve’s hand in his tightens, and that keeps Bucky from opening his yap and getting them kicked out of the damned event. “We’ve both been through the army,” Steve says with a shrug, hand steady in Bucky’s. “You can probably understand we’re not always comfortable with PDA.”

Bucky sags a little into Steve, grasping onto the excuse with both hands if it’ll mean he doesn’t have to kiss Steve, doesn’t have to pretend he likes it to the photographer while pretending he doesn’t like it to Steve. He’s stuck in that thought, in the stupid loop of deception, that when he looks up Steve’s looking at him expectantly, and he realises he’s missed a chunk of conversation that he probably should have been listening to.

“Uhhh,” he says, and Steve rolls his eyes, somehow looking fond, and leans in to kiss him.

It’s both the best and worst moment of Bucky’s life, which was really saying something.

It’s good. Steve’s lips are soft, his breath is warm, and he’s a good kisser – fantastic, even. Steve’s hand comes up, rests warm against Bucky’s cheek, and he can’t help but lean into it, rises up on his toes a little as he kisses Steve back.

And then - then it’s over. There’s a camera flash, and Steve’s pulling back a little, lips curving into a smile Bucky can feel against his own. Then Steve’s straightening and Bucky’s falling back onto flat feet and trying not to look like he’s just had the entire world pulled out from under him. He gives up pretty quickly and goes to plan b, dropping his head and leaning forward until he’s resting his forehead against Steve’s chest, hiding his face.

An arm snakes around his waist and pulls him in, so he relaxes a little more, lets Steve hold him as Steve makes nice with the photographer. There’s a laugh, Steve’s chest moving a little more than usual, then he’s settling into a slow inhale-exhale that Bucky finds ridiculously calming.

There’s the sound of footsteps, then a light press to the top of Bucky’s head, like Steve’s petting it, or kissing it. Then the rumble of Steve’s voice, breaking the spell with a single word.

“Sorry.”

Bucky lifts his head to find Steve’s right there, and the fact that they’re almost nose-to-nose really shouldn’t be as tempting as Bucky’s finding it.

“I should have asked first,” Steve continues. “Or made excuses or something.”

Bucky finally finds his voice, pressing a finger to Steve’s lips to shut him up, bold in the face of what they’d just done. “It’s fine, I promise.” His voice is not what he expected it to be, quieter, more breath than substance. He clears his throat, but it doesn’t help much. “I should have expected it.”

Steve’s hand tightens on his hip, arm a little firmer around Bucky’s waist, and Bucky knows that Steve’s noticed, of course he has. “Sorry,” he says instead, again. “I’ll try to get us out of it next time it comes up.” He’s speaking against Bucky’s finger as if it isn’t there, and Bucky drops his hand before he can do something that’ll give him away.

Bucky sighs, shakes his head a little bit but gives up on trying to make Steve feel any better about it. He can’t exactly admit that he’d wanted it, because it’d blow his cover if he did, so he stays quiet, but doesn’t pull away.

It takes a minute, but Steve eventually pulls back, hand sliding warm across Bucky’s back to rest on his hip. Bucky lets out a quiet breath, looks down. His eyes catch on a crooked button on Steve’s shirt, something so simple and human and it’s easy for him to focus on that, let his body work out what it needs to in its own time.

After what feels like an eternity Bucky taps that crooked button, smiles a little, wry. “Sorry for being a mess,” he says on a breath that’s supposed to be a laugh. Steve shakes his head, but before he can speak Bucky pulls back a little further, Steve’s arm around him ending up loose around his waist.

There’s no one looking, no more than usual at least, which makes Bucky laugh in a strangled sort of way. Steve shoots him a look but he shakes his head again. “C’mon,” he says finally, pushing it back, pushing it all back, smoothing his expression out into a smile that feels brittle but must look convincing enough for Steve to relax beside him in slow increments. “There’s still art to see.”

 

**

Three hours later, and Bucky’s leaning against his front door, slowly sliding down it as his shirt catches on the wood grain. As soon as his ass hits the wood-panel floor he’s dropping his head to his knees, pulling them up against his chest as he forces himself to breathe, damnit.

As air rattles in and out of his lungs, he becomes more aware of his surroundings – the sorry state of his couch, the way his only plant, a mere metre away, lists to the right like it’s trying to keep away from the hot mess that is its person.

“It’s not fair,” Bucky says aloud into the quiet, finally letting it out where there’s no one to hear it. “How do I get myself into this shit?”

The question, predictably, goes unanswered. Not even the plant dares to twitch.

Bucky makes a disgusted noise, directed more inwards than anywhere else, and drags himself to his feet again. A few steps forward before he’s nudging his shoes off his feet, loosening his tie with one hand. Once he’s free of his shoes he’s pulling his suit jacket off, something in him stopping him from throwing it on the couch. Probably the memory of the price tag, if he’s honest.

He hangs the jacket on the hangar that’s sitting on the table, hooks it over the door handle on his way to the bedroom. After fighting with his belt – stupid leather not the right size for the belt loops – it only takes a few minutes for him to be flopping down onto his bed in his underwear, staring at the ceiling. Flapping his hand in the general direction of his nightstand, he finds his phone by knocking it onto the floor and groans.

Rolling to his side, he fetches it, glancing at the screen and, after hovering over the notification of a text from Steve, he swipes it off his screen and opens his message thread with Nat.

Bucky starts half a dozen messages, deletes all of them, and is about to give up when his phone buzzes in his hands. He jerks in surprise but manages to keep hold of it, making sure it’s not the person he’s avoiding before swiping to answer.

“Spit it out.” Nat’s words are harsh, but her voice is kind – at least for her. “Watching that typing bubble is giving me a headache.”

“You know how there’s that thing I can’t tell you about,” Bucky starts, cryptic, but Nat follows like always, humming to keep him talking. “I’ve come to the unsurprising conclusion that I’m an idiot and I shouldn’t have done it. I’m so, so out of my depth here.”

There’s silence on the other end, but Bucky keeps his yap shut, resisting the urge to ramble until his friend shuts him up.

“This have anything to do with the fact that you’re pretending to date Captain America?”

Bucky goes very still at that, and Nat waits only a few seconds before saying, “I knew it.”

“What? Nat – no,” Bucky tries, but it’s too late, was probably too late from the minute he answered the phone.

Nat cackles, there’s only one word for it, she cackles and Bucky whines into the phone like the child he is. “Nat” he tries, and she finally speaks, between bursts of laughter.

“Are you home yet, lover boy?”

He’s never going to live this down. “Yeah,” he says, biting back his reaction because he knows it’ll annoy his friend.

“Ice cream?”

“Bring chunky monkey.” If he was going to feel sorry for himself, he was going to do it properly.

“Oh, this is worse than I thought. Be there in ten.” There’s a click as she hangs up, and Bucky drops his phone on his chest, stares at the ceiling. It’s only been ten minutes but he’s already craving Steve’s company again, and he’s fighting the urge to at least read through their text history, like the sorry excuse for a person that he is.

It takes Nat ten minutes to get to his building, and he crawls off the bed when the phone rings. He doesn’t bother answering it, just presses the button that releases the front door and goes to find pants.

A minute later and there’s a thump against the wood, and he opens it to find Nat pulling her foot back to kick it again. She takes one look at him and hands him one of the grocery bags she’s carrying. “You look like shit.” It’s fond, at least, but Bucky’s not about to argue. It’s the truth.

“Thanks,” he says instead, not sure if it’s in response to the comment or the ice cream he’s pulling out of the fabric bag. “Are we sharing?”

“Like I’d eat that,” Nat retorts on her way to the kitchen to grab spoons. “Phish Food is clearly superior.”

Bucky snorts but takes the spoon when she returns, dumping the empty bag on the coffee table and cracking the lid to his ice cream pot. He half expects Nat to try to get him talking first, but she seems content to eat her way through the clearly sub-par flavour of ice cream as he tries to hold it in. She’s waiting him out.

It only takes seventy-three seconds for Bucky to make a disgusted noise, spoon wobbling a little in his hand before he tightens his grip.

“So,” Nat says.

“Ugh,” Bucky replies and shoves more ice cream in his mouth. By the time he’s finished that mouthful the words are fighting to be the first out, jumbling themselves on his tongue and bursting out in the wrong order. “I can’t – I don’t – He – Art show and there was – he kissed me-

Nat stares at him, waits until he’s silent again, glowering at his pint, before she says, “He kissed you?”

Bucky pouts, lower lip sticking out, but he nods because he can’t lie to Natasha. “There was a photographer, asked why we hadn’t, basically… goaded Steve into doing something.”

“And it worked, clearly,” Nat cuts in, licking the back of her spoon. She stretches her lets out, tucks her toes under Bucky’s legs. “Any other world and you’d be happy you got to mack on Captain America, why aren’t you jumping for joy right now? Why are we eating chunky monkey instead of half-baked?”

Because it’s not real,” Bucky bites out, before shoving his spoon in his mouth to shut himself up. It doesn’t work the way he’d hoped, eyes twitching from the sudden brain freeze.

Nat’s eyes widen, and the way she says, “Oh, Buck,” makes him wince.

“Shut up,” he mumbles, muffled around the ice cream.

“You’re in love with him?”

Bucky finishes his mouthful, lets out a heavy sigh. “No,” he says, and it’s the truth, the honest truth. “But I could be. Easily, soon. I told myself I could do this without getting too deep but I think I was already too deep before this even started.”

When Nat just stares at him, Bucky shrugs, tips his head back against the couch as he cradles the pint of chunky monkey like it’s a precious thing. Because it is.

“Only you, Bucky,” she says with a sigh. “Only you could end up in this sort of situation.”

Bucky protests because he feels like he should, even though he’s convinced no one else is dumb enough to end up fake dating their crush and freaking out when said crush kisses him. “I think in this situation it’s important to remember,” Bucky starts, “that I have never made a decent decision in my life, ever.”

Nat snorts, but she waves her spoon and Bucky takes that as a sign to keep going. “This whole thing has been a mess from start to finish. I should have kept my mouth shut and my tweets to myself.”

“You’d never have done that,” Nat says, and he hates that it’s true. “A rescue dog, and one owned by the person who made you realise you weren’t straight? There’s no universe in which you let that one go.”

Bucky scowls at her, but only because she’s right. “Ugh,” he says again. “He kissed me, Nat. How am I supposed to look him the eye when all I want to do is do it again?”

“You could always y’know… talk to him?”

Bucky scoffed. “Like hell I’m going to do anything of the sort.”

 

**

There’s a text waiting for him when he gets home, Steve’s name on his screen making him smile.

Steve: Sam’s back – movie night tonight?

Bucky opens the message, attempts to type ‘I’m in’ six times and fails every time before giving up and hitting call.

“My phone’s being stupid,” he says instead of greeting Steve when he answers. “I’m in, when and where?”

Steve snorts instead of answering immediately. “You need a new phone, clearly,” he starts, and Bucky rolls his eyes even though Steve can’t see it. “My place, whenever you’re ready. Sam’s got pizza ordered and I’ve got beer so don’t worry about that.

It only takes a few moments for Bucky to glance around his room, then come to an easy decision. “I’m on my way.”

 

Bucky evades his followers just long enough to lose them in the subway network, then switches lines and heads back towards Steve’s place. He stops by a supermarket on the way, grabs a few bags of chips and some candy bags before walking the block to Steve’s place. He keeps his head down, hat tipped forward so the brim shadows his face, but he’s distinctly aware of eyes on him as he gets closer to Steve’s building.

It’s a relief when he lets himself in and he calls the elevator with a little smile to the desk attendant. A minute later he’s knocking on Steve’s door. There’s a bark from Duke, then cursing in a voice that’s definitely not Steve’s and laughter that’s very definitely Steve’s. When the door opens Steve’s got a smile on his face, easy and carefree for the first time since Bucky met him.

“What happened?” Bucky asks as Steve moves out of the way, and he drops his bag on the hall table before crouching to pull at his shoelaces.

“Duke was in his lap when you knocked,” Steve said, eyes dancing. He’s beautiful, and it hits Bucky like a two-by-four to the face, leaving him stunned and blinking.

“He used my dick as a springboard,” Sam yells from the other room and Duke barks again, clearly proud of himself. Bucky covers his mouth with a hand, startled out of his staring, and only just manages to hold back a laugh. He kicks his shoes off, sticks them by Sam’s, and heads into the living room with Steve trailing behind him.

 

It’s a good night, even if Sam catches him staring at Steve more than once. The last time he’d been spotted Sam had just smiled, winked at him, and gone back to throwing popcorn at the TV to protest the on-screen idiocy. Steve had remained delightfully oblivious, and incredibly relaxed, giving Sam as much shit as he got but otherwise happy to sit next to Bucky on the sofa and steal his peanuts.

He, wants to stay longer but ultimately he knows he has to be up early to get to his first client, and bumps his shoulder against Steve’s on his way to the door. They stand in the doorway, Bucky absently scratching at Duke’s ears, before Steve gives him a smile that’s different from the others that night. It’s soft, sweet, and Bucky wants to see it every day. Wants to be the one to put it on Steve’s face.

“I’m glad you came,” Steve says quietly, and Bucky can’t help but smile back.

 

**

“Steve,” he says, voice quiet. The box in his hands is heavier than it looks, though most of that weight is Bucky’s reluctance to have this conversation, now of all times. But the longer he waits, the harder it is to give in, and he’s already waited to get back into the privacy of the car Steve’s brought with him today.

“Steve, as your friend I can’t accept this.”

Steve looks over at him in surprise, hands loose on the wheel as they sit in traffic. “You’ve been complaining about your phone for weeks. As my boyfriend-

“Steve,” Bucky says, sharp, cutting him off. Steve’s words hurt like sand in a hurricane, doing far more damage than they should. Steve goes quiet next to him, hands flexing on the wheel now. “Steve listen to me. This isn’t real. It’s not real, and I’m not your boyfriend, and it’s what we agreed on, it’s fine, but you can’t keep doing this-”

“Do you… want it? To be real?”

Bucky freezes as he realises what he’s said, what he’s given away. He looks ahead, avoiding the eyes he can feel on him now.

He takes a breath, tries to find the words to answer him without answering that. “What I want is beyond the point right now, the point is you’re taking this too far – even if this was real and I was your boyfriend, this would be too much. We’ve known each other four months, Steve, take a step back for a second and use your brain!”

“Are you- Is this-”

“Steve. I’m not walking away, either from you as your friend or from our arrangement, but please, just- This isn’t okay, you’re not okay, and I honestly think you need to talk to someone about this because what you’re doing right now? Bottling it up and hiding it under bluster and joking and giving? It’s just making it worse.”

Steve goes very quiet next to him, and the car starts to move again, flowing along with the traffic.

“I’m sorry,” Bucky says after it gets too be too much, too heavy. “That was too far.” He stares at his hands, finally hears Steve take a deep breath in, let it out slowly. Measured, like he’s counting out the seconds.

Bucky hates that he’s reduced Steve to that, brought out a reaction that Steve has to fight to control. It’s the opposite of what he’d wanted at the start, yet somehow fitting.

“Okay,” Steve says, finally, repeats, “Okay. I.” He stutters to a halt there, like he hasn’t thought of what to say, just spoken on instinct. He takes another breath, lets it out, and Bucky sneaks a look at him.

He’s drawn, face impassive like he’s pulled the shutters down and closed the doors that he’d been slowly, slowly opening to Bucky. His hands are tight on the wheel, white-knuckled, and his breathing is still too calm, too regular to be natural.

“No,” he says like he’s finally pulled everything back in line. “You’re right, I…” He trails off again. “I’m not. I’m not okay, haven’t been for a while. But I was better with you, and I thought – it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it ain’t right, ain’t fair on you to have to deal with it.”

There’s a little more Brooklyn in his words, and that’s how Bucky can tell he’s hit a nerve. Captain America is some perfect American Cliché, accent toned down until there isn’t one. Steve Rogers is Brooklynite through and through, but it doesn’t actually come out in his voice often. Not unless… well.

“Steve-”

He gets cut off before he can say anything else, but this time when he looks over there’s a slight turn to Steve’s lips, a wry smile. “You remind me of someone, you know? Two people, actually.”

Bucky raises his eyebrows at that, not entirely sure how to respond, not entirely following the shift in conversation. Steve explains after a moment though, just long enough to get them through an intersection. “Not afraid to tell me what they really think. You’d like them.”

Bucky opens his mouth, goes to try again, but Steve keeps talking, and he’s starting to get it, starting to understand what’s happening. He’s deflecting again, talking in circles so he doesn’t have to think about what’s in the middle.

“You should uh. Keep it,” Steve’s saying, nodding at the box. “Use it or sell it or give it away, I don’t mind. I’ve already bought it, doesn’t really make a difference.”

“Steve I’m not giving away something you’ve bought for me,” Bucky says, sharp, and that’s when he knows he’s been neatly manoeuvred into keeping the damned phone, whether it was intentional or not. “Just… no more of this. Alright? It’s not what this,” he waves a hand between them, sees Steve tilt his head to look before frowning at the road ahead of them again, “is about. I’m the guy who walks your dog, I’m your friend, and neither of those things involves thousand dollar phones, Steve.”

Steve at least has the good sense to look repentant, even if it is just for show. When the car slows to a stop less than a minute later, Bucky looks up in confusion, only to sigh when he sees his apartment building. The car turns off, the silence hanging between them, until Steve says, “Sorry, Buck,” and he actually sounds genuine this time.

Bucky lets out a sigh, lets his head rock back against the headrest. “I meant what I said, Steve,” he says eventually. “This isn’t healthy.” He sees a shift out of the corner of his eye, turns his head to see Steve facing him fully. He doesn’t look contrite, but he looks serious, eyebrows drawn in tight and frown touching the corners of his mouth. He speaks again, looking Steve in the eye as he does. “I respect you too much to keep saying nothing.”

He slides out of the car at that, takes the stupid little box with him and just as he closes the door behind him he hears a quiet, “Thanks, Buck.”

He can’t tell if Steve means it or not.

 

**

On day two after their fight, Bucky finally gives in, pulling open the box Steve had given him. The sleek phone sits in there, quiet and unassuming, and Bucky strokes his finger over the glass before getting to work setting it up. Once he’s got it all sorted he turns it over in his hand, smiling a little at the silver lettering on the back. Of course, Steve had actually paid attention when Bucky had ranted about phone companies, buying him the one that Bucky had grudgingly admitted was actually alright.

He turns it on, and the first thing he does once it’s set up is open his messages and type something out. He hits send before he can regret it.

The simple thank you for the phone gets a response almost instantly, as if it had already been typed up and ready to go.

Steve: thank you for being honest with me

Of course I was, what are friends for?

He sets the phone down again, doesn’t watch it for replies, except he does, and sags a little when he doesn’t get one.

 

**

Day four. Bucky’s moping, as much as one can mope when surrounded by dogs for most of the day. Natasha had hugged him once, then started calling him a mother hen, but she’d dutifully ooh-ed and ahh-ed over Bucky’s new phone, then left him to it.

His phone buzzes in his pocket, and he doesn’t bother checking it until he had Bruno settled back at home, pulling it out on the way down the stairs. He nearly drops it when he sees Steve’s icon, but manages to unlock it without damaging the damned thing.

Steve:  Hey, I have to go out of town for a while. Can you keep an eye on Duke, walk him, make sure he doesn’t knock over the feeder and eat until he pops?

Bucky juggles his phone and the last leash in his hand, that of a strangely calm golden retriever named Lucas, and manages to tap out a reply.

Yeah, absolutely, when do you leave?

Steve:  I’m on my way out the door now. Don’t know when I’ll be back.

Steve: You’re welcome to just hang out with him too, he misses you.

Bucky’s heart sinks a little at that, but he shifts to the side, tucking himself in the shadow of a parking meter to reply without stopping traffic. He writes it once, deletes it, changes it, and eventually sends the fifth message he types out, even though they’d all said basically the same thing.

I will. Stay safe.

 

**

The next day Bucky’s letting himself into Steve’s apartment, listening to the excited scrabble of claws on tile. He gets the door open to see Duke bouncing in the entryway, and as soon as the door is locked behind him Bucky’s dropping to one knee and the dog is rushing forward to jump all over him.

He’s started to fill out a bit, fluff still patchy in places, but he’s healthy, and Bucky can’t help but smile and let the dog cover his face in kisses. Eventually, though, he stands, running his hand down Duke’s back one last time. “C’mon pup, where’s your leash?”

Duke goes bounding off, and Bucky makes sure the door is locked before following him.

Steve’s apartment is almost as stark as it was the first time Bucky was allowed in, but there are a few things that weren’t there even when Bucky was last there. There’s a picture frame on the mantle of the fireplace, and Bucky can’t help but go over to look. As soon as he picks it up he knows Steve will realise, but he does it anyway, something tugging in his chest when he realises who it is.

Steve’s in the photo, but so is Bucky, and they’re smiling at the camera. It takes him a minute to place it, but Bucky realises it’s from the art gallery, their first official ‘date’. Biting his lip, he sets the frame back, lets his fingers drag along the edge of the wood before he follows the impatient bark down the hall.

There are other things too, a new painting, a couple of ornaments Bucky remembers pointing out to Steve one day. But the photo is what’s on his mind as he goes into Duke’s room, finds the leash curled around a box of treats, and finds Duke sitting patiently in front of the dresser.

He grabs both, clips the leash onto Duke's collar, then slips him a treat before leading the way out.

 

**

It only takes three days for him to be curled up on Steve’s couch, fingers stroking through Duke’s fur as he flicks through Steve’s Netflix account. While Steve hadn’t exactly said he could, Bucky knows him well enough to realise Steve had wanted him to, under the guise of keeping the frankly-incredibly-well-behaved dog company.

Once he’s settled though, movie playing on the screen across the room, Bucky’s hand drifts to his phone, and he unlocks it, opens messaging like he’d planned it all along.

He takes a picture of Duke, cooing at the dog to convince him to look, then sends it to Steve with a caption he can’t find it in him to regret.

He’s not the only one missing you.

He tucks his phone away after that, settles in to watch the movie, and tries not to feel like he’s been kicked in the gut when Steve doesn’t reply.

The only thing that helps is the reminder that Steve is on a mission – Bucky had google-searched the Avengers only the day before, found nothing specific other than that they’d been deployed. Steve hadn’t mentioned anything about going dark on communications, but their text history has been sparse since Bucky had snapped at him in the car over a week ago.

He falls asleep on Steve’s couch, the movie still playing in the background and wakes up with the sun in his eyes, a crick in his neck, and a dog whining to be taken out. Netflix’s Are you still watching? looks down at him from the television, mocking him. Groaning, he rolls onto his side, falls off the couch, and groans even louder. His situation isn’t helped by Duke putting his cold nose against Bucky’s neck, but it wakes him up pretty effectively.

He shoves his way up, grumbling under his breath, and grabs the leash off the table where he left it. It gets clipped to Duke’s leash and then he’s heading out of the apartment, stopping only to grab his keys and phone.

While the dog does his business in the park across the road Bucky tries to flatten his hair down, knowing damned well he looks like he slept on a sofa, but it doesn’t go well at all so he gives up. A few twists of his wrist and it’s up, presentable if not neat, then Duke comes back over and Bucky resigns himself to cleanup duty.

It’s early enough that there’s no one around, even on their trip back to Steve’s building, but Bucky’s skin crawls like he’s being watched and honestly, he knows it’s probably not paranoia.

His phone chimes when he’s halfway up the stairs, and he checks it once he’s inside, groaning as he realises it’s from the Google alert he’d set up months back. He opens the notification, sighs when he sees his own sleep-groggy face, and can’t help but roll his eyes at all of the comments underneath it that range from suggestive to outright lewd.

He sits on the couch, gets his feet on the table, and whistles for Duke, waiting until the dog is sitting at his feet before taking a picture. He knows he doesn’t look great, tips his head a little as he snaps it so the world doesn’t get to see the lines from the sofa pillow, and tweets it with the caption Dog-sitting [dog emoji]. Because he doesn’t know how to quit while he’s ahead he also tags a few gossip rag agencies, the ones posting the pictures just a few minutes earlier, then mutes his tweet and gets on with his day.

His day, as it stands, is more moping on the couch until his alarm goes off at nine. He looks at his phone, looks at the window, and seriously considers tossing it but the sheer cost of the device stays his hand. So he gets up, collects his things, makes sure Duke hasn’t knocked over the automatic feeder in his excitement and heads home to change.

It’s a regular day, none of his clients causing a fuss and none of their parents saying anything about who Bucky chooses to spend his time with. When he gets home again he looks around the quiet apartment, frowning, then gives in to the urge and grabs a backpack. He’s packed in ten minutes, then swings his bag over his shoulder and heads back out.

Duke is ecstatic to see him for the second time that day and jumps all over him as soon as Bucky’s settled on the couch. The movie he was watching only takes a little bit of rewinding to find the last bit he remembers, and he settles in, Duke’s head on his knee, to finish it.

His phone buzzes about halfway through the second act, and he sighs, pausing the movie to check it. He nearly drops his phone when he sees that it’s a picture message, from Steve of all people.

Bucky quickly opens it, can’t help but laugh, because whatever he was expecting, it wasn’t this.

There’s a pair of heavy boots, crossed at the ankle on a rail. The rail is separating whatever the owner of those boots – Steve, it has to be Steve, Bucky’d recognise that shade of blue anywhere – is sitting on, and a sharp drop-off into a ravine. It looks cold, wherever he is, and if Bucky squints he can see blackened marks on the railing, on the cliff on the other side of the ravine.

Steve: There’s somewhere I’d rather be

Bucky’s still trying to work out what the hell that means when another message comes through, another photo. He taps it, waits for it to load, and snorts. It’s clearly from the same spot, the light winter-bright, but it’s facing the other way. Over Steve’s shoulder – there’s the edge of an ear at the side of the image, a few strands of hair fighting their way into the frame. There’s a burnt-out-shell of a building behind him, though building isn’t really the right word. Compound is closer, the one building Steve’s in front of spreading out to the side, the area clearly bigger than what Bucky can see.

Steve:  The couch is a hell of a lot comfier, too.

Bucky flounders for something to say, settles on a picture of Duke, muzzle resting delicately on Bucky’s knee.

Soon you’ll be home to confirm that

Steve: You’d think

Steve: But I’m stuck here until the brains are done with their work. Few more days, probably.

Bucky’s not sure what to say to that, so he just sends Steve a sad face before sending another picture of Duke, the one from that morning in fact. They exchange a few more texts, Steve close-mouthed about the mission but fairly open about other parts of his trip, then there’s an abrupt message, just as Bucky’s halfway through a reply.

Steve: Got to go, rotating back in. Talk to you later

Be safe

 

**

Because Bucky’s good, he’s not in Steve’s apartment when the other man gets home. He only finds out Steve’s home when he goes to collect Duke for his walk, finds a pair of boots – the same from the photo a few days before - sitting in the entryway.

The house is quiet, too quiet, so Bucky toes his shoes off and moves into the living room in socked feet. It proves to be a good decision when he sees the curtains drawn, and feet sticking over the arm of the couch. He moves closer, peers over the back of the sofa just to be sure, finds Steve face first in a cushion, face slack, breathing slow and deep.

Biting his lip, Bucky crosses to the other couch, grabs the throw blanket off it and sneaks back to the couch Steve’s on. Carefully he spreads it out over the crashed-out man, freezing every time Steve moves. Steve sleeps through the whole thing and Bucky isn’t going to push his luck by lingering, grabbing the jacket of Steve’s suit – holy shit, he’s holding part of the Captain America suit – and hangs it over the back of one of the dining chairs to air before making his way down the hall.

Duke’s on his bed when Bucky sticks his head through the door, but he’s on his feet in a second, tail wagging but completely silent which is a rare state of being for Duke, unless Steve’s asleep evidently. He grabs the leash, clips it onto Duke’s collar, and heads for the door with one last glance at the couch Steve’s stretched out on.

His next stop is to pick up a poodle, and the woman in the doorway freezes as she looks at Duke, then back up at Bucky.

“Oh,” she says, and Bucky tenses up because God he doesn’t want to be doing this now. “You’re him.”

“It’s just me, Hannah,” Bucky says, hand tightening on Duke’s leash. “Here to walk Dakota, like normal.”

“But you’re him,” she says even as she moves back, lets him in. The poodle comes trotting over, the epitome of elegance, and sniffs Duke before looking at Bucky expectantly. Like normal. Bucky reaches for the leash, pulls it off its hook by the door and clips it to Dakota’s collar. He’s on his way out the door when he sees movement out of the corner of his eye, looks at the young woman as she pulls out her phone, not even subtle about it.

“Please don’t,” he says, hands tight on the leashes. “I get enough of that when I’m out there.”

She goes pink, but the phone lowers, and he’s out the door before she can say anything, apology or not. He shifts both leashes to one hand once he’s out on the street, flicks a text to Steve before he can think.

One of my own customers just tried to take a photo of me

As if I haven’t been walking her dog for a year and a half now

He remembers too late that Steve’s asleep, hopes like hell that he’s got his phone on silent, and when he doesn’t get a response he sighs a little in relief.

He picks up one more client, a bulldog that only needs a short walk and thankfully his family isn’t home when Bucky shows up or when he drops the tired dog back half an hour later. Bucky makes sure the water bowl is full before leaving Chester to his well-earned nap, reluctantly heading back to Dakota’s owner, and the high likelihood of an incredibly awkward conversation.

The luck of the gods must be with him, however, because when he lets himself in he finds a note on the counter and Hannah nowhere to be seen, so he gets Dakota her water bowl and skims the note as he puts the leash away.

Sorry about earlier it says, scrawled in a hurry. I wasn’t thinking. I’m happy for you!

Bucky takes a breath, balls up the note and shoves it in his pocket, locking up on the way out.

By the time he gets back to Steve’s he can hear movement in the living room, and Bucky nudges his shoes off like normal before letting Duke off his leash. The dog goes bounding through the doorway, and there’s a soft laugh and a quiet, “Hey, Buddy,” that has a smile on Bucky’s face before he even makes it to the other room.

Steve looks up just as Bucky makes it through the door, smile warm in a way that twists something in his gut. The blanket is draped over Steve’s shoulders, pulled in tight around him like he’s cold. Bucky can’t help but smile back, heading down the hall before Steve can say anything and putting Duke’s leash away.

By the time he’s back, and really, it’s only been about twenty seconds, Duke’s sitting on the couch with his head in Steve’s lap, and Bucky really shouldn’t feel jealous of a dog but that’s where he’s at now, apparently.

Steve’s looking up at him though, and there’s something on his face, something that looks a lot like nerves if Captain America got nervous. “Hey, Buck,” he says, and Bucky can’t help the dumb smile that spreads across his face. They haven’t been in the same space since he’d yelled at Steve, and something settles in his chest, feels right as soon as Steve speaks to him.

Bucky perches on the coffee table facing Steve. “Hey, get back late?” he says because he can play it cool, damnit.

Grey and black artwork of Steve and Bucky sitting facing each other. Bucky is on the right side of the image, and Steve is on the left. Bucky has his hair out and it comes down to his shoulders, and is wearing a long-sleeved sweater with the sleeves rolled to the elbow. He is turned facing Steve and has a small smile on his face. Steve is facing him with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, hiding most of his body, and is smiling slightly at Bucky. A small dog, Duke, is lying with his head in Steve's lap, asleep, and Steve has his hand on Duke's head, petting him.

Steve blinks, a little owlish, still clearly tired, then shakes his head, looks at the clock. “uh. Like… two hours ago? Crossed a few time zones though.”

Bucky scoots himself to the edge of the table, knocking his knees against Steve’s as he reaches out, scratches Duke’s ears. “I should let you sleep then,” he says without moving an inch.

Steve blinks again, then there’s a warm hand around his wrist. Steve’s grip is gentle, but Bucky knows he wouldn’t be able to break it if he tried. He goes still, and Steve’s jaw twitches, tenses, before he says, “Stay?” and Bucky can’t say no to that.

He nods, and Steve’s grip gentles a little, slides down to his hand before dropping back to Duke’s head. Bucky’s not sure what to make of that, of the offer so he stands and with a nudge he gets Steve to make room on the couch. He sits facing Steve, one leg tucked up, knee just shy of brushing Steve’s hip.

Bucky’s not sure what he’s expecting, but Steve leans back against the sofa, lets out a breath like he’d been holding it. “I wanted to say thank you,” Steve says out of nowhere, and shrugs as Bucky frowns. “For what you said, in the car that time.”

And oh. They’re doing this now. Bucky nods a little, not sure where this is going but not willing to stop Steve from talking.

“After hearing that sort of thing so often from my team I’d started tuning it out. It was a normal thing for me, I guess, but hearing it from you was different. I’m around them a hell of a lot, more so before I found this place,” he pauses waves a hand to indicate his apartment, “But the fact that you came in, and noticed so quickly, noticed and said something, it was a real… slap to the face.”

Bucky opens his mouth, to apologise or protest or something, but Steve gives him a look and he clamps his teeth down on the words.

“I’m lucky in a lot of ways,” Steve says as if Bucky hadn’t tried to interrupt. “I had an appointment within a few days of requesting one. SHIELD, because they’d never let Captain America talk to anyone else.” There’s something almost bitter in his tone and Bucky can’t help himself, reaches out and rests a hand on Steve’s shoulder. He squeezes and Steve shoots him a smile, soft and small, then takes a breath and keeps talking. “One of the things we talked about was you, what you said and why you said it, and I guess talking about it aloud with someone made me realise how much of an absolute ass I’ve been to you.”

Bucky hadn’t expected that, not in the slightest, but again Steve’s shushing him before he can say anything. This time though Steve’s hand curls around Bucky’s wrist, thumb rubbing back and forth over his skin, and he shivers at the feeling, tries to tamp down his reaction to any sort of contact with Steve.

“It’s true, I have. This whole situation has been weighted in my favour. The press I already deal with, the photographers, the fans, the social media. I’ve got no excuse for it, other than that I saw something I wanted, panicked, and made a decision based on that panic. Then I doubled down, because one thing I know how to do is dig a hole deeper, and it nearly cost me.”

“Steve,” Bucky gets out, and he doesn’t have anything else to follow that up with, just says Steve name again, softer. He knows what he wants Steve to mean, but knows it’d be too good to be true, knows it’d be something he’d never deserve even if he lived a hundred lifetimes.

“So,” Steve says, and his voice shakes a little as the world trails off. “I guess what I want to ask is if I can have a do-over? There’s something I’d like to try again if you’re willing to let me.”

Steve’s eyes are on him, and there’s something in them that has Bucky nodding, chin jerking down then up until the movement smooths out a little.

Steve clicks his tongue and Duke sits up, jumping off the couch when Steve gestures with his chin, and as soon as he does Steve is turning, not completely mirroring Bucky’s position but close.

“Hi,” Steve says, voice soft in a way it hadn’t been just moments ago. “I’m Steve Rogers, and I’d really, really like to kiss you.”

Bucky’s breath catches in his chest, heart skipping a beat, and he could swear that at least part of Steve was laughing at him – the part that isn’t tense, waiting for a reply. “Hi,” Bucky says, playing along, and he has no idea where he’s found the patience for it. Not now that everything he wants has just fallen into his lap. “I’m Bucky Barnes, and I’d really, really like to let you.”

Steve blinks, then there’s a smile growing on his lips, starting small but ending up almost blinding. Steve’s hand comes out, thumb brushing along Bucky’s jaw and Bucky tips his head into it, looking Steve in the eye as he says, “please.”

Then Steve’s leaning in, hand slipping around to cup the back of Bucky’s neck as their lips meet. It’s soft, testing the waters, but when Bucky only leans in Steve seems to take that as encouragement. The second pass of his lips is harder, a little more solid, and Bucky gets one hand around Steve’s wrist, holds his hand in place. He takes a risk, scrapes his teeth over Steve’s lip lightly and Steve pulls back a fraction of an inch. Bucky looks up at him, eyes nearly crossed but he manages and completely misses the slight smile before Steve’s pulling him forward a little until he’s nearly overbalanced. Just as Bucky’s about to say something, not that he knows what, Steve closes the scant distance and kisses him again.

Where the first two have been cautious, the third kiss is pushy, Steve’s lips nudging his open until he can sweep in. Bucky can’t help it, eyes fluttering shut as he lets Steve kiss him and kiss him and kiss him until he’s gasping for breath and Steve’s pulling back, lips pressing against Bucky’s jaw, his cheek.

“Really?” Bucky gets out, voice a little weak but sense of bravado kicking in. Steve goes still against him, tense, waiting, but Bucky just tips his head, scrapes teeth along the scraggly edge of Steve’s jaw. “That all you got?” He asks to the tune of Steve’s shiver, and laughs, delighted, as Steve hauls him forward.

Steve doesn’t let him go until Steve is good and ready, meaning Bucky’s flat on his back on the couch, sleepy supersoldier draped over him. Bucky shifts his head, trying to find somewhere he won’t get a crick in his neck, and Steve shifts his arm under Bucky’s head without comment. Bucky knows they really should put some words between them but he can’t bring himself to move. He threads his fingers through Steve’s hair, stroking the strands up into a mess of spikes before flattening them back down.

“I should let you get some rest,” he says eventually, fingers stilling in Steve’s hair just long enough to make him grumble before he starts up his gentle strokes again. “Don’t give me that,” he replies just like he’s talking to one of his clients, the easy banter falling from his lips without thinking. “Bed is far comfier than this couch. Even supersoldiers need to sleep.”

Steve lifts his head and Bucky smiles, brushes his fingers down Steve’s cheek and cups his jaw, freaking out a little bit at the fact that he’s allowed to touch Steve like this. His hand shakes a little, and for once it’s not just his old injury playing up. “You need to sleep,” Bucky says quietly before Steve can protest. “And I need to process.”

Steve grumbles a little bit more but slides sideways until he’s fully on the couch with one leg still hooked over one of Bucky’s ankles. “Fine,” Steve mumbles eventually then yawns, jaw cracking. “Text me when you get home?”

Bucky nods, can’t help himself, drops his head and kisses the frown off Steve’s face just because he can. “‘Course,” he says with a smile. “And when you’re awake again let me know, I’ll come over again.”

Steve looks like he wants to protest but nods instead, catches Bucky’s hand as Bucky sits up. When Steve looks like he’s about to go back to sleep on the couch Bucky leans forward, kisses his forehead. He’s pretty sure that keeping his mouth to himself is going to be a hell of a lot harder now. “Bed. Sleep.”

Steve snorts, but, after squeezing Bucky’s hand he lets him go, sitting up a little on his elbows. Bucky scratches behind the ears of the dog who’s snuck himself onto the other couch before patting his pockets. Once he’s sure he has everything he heads for the door, glancing back over his shoulder to find Steve watching him go.

Bucky’s walking on air the whole way home, hands tucked in his pockets, and as soon as he’s in the safety of his apartment he’s covering his mouth with his hand, muffling the laugh he can’t stop from coming out. It’s a pretty good reason to freak out, he rationalises. Steve Rogers, the Steve Rogers, had just spent the better part of an hour kissing him senseless. He grabs his phone, flicks Steve a message to say that he’s home before calling the one person that knows why he’d be so excited.

“There better be a good reason for this,” Nat answers in lieu of a hello, and Bucky laughs, he can’t help himself, laughs until Nat almost sounds concerned when she says, “Bucky?”

“He kissed me!” Bucky says, “He said he wanted to, so I said I wanted him to, and he kissed me!”

Nat’s silent for a second, then she says, “Isn’t Steve on a mission?”

“He got back today.”

“And he kissed you?”

“Uh huh.”

“Tell me everything.”

He does, detail by sordid detail, and eventually, she laughs in his ear. “I can’t believe this,” She says, before yawning into the receiver. “Sorry. Just got back from a work trip myself,” she adds, before tapping the phone at her end. The clicks echo down the line, and Bucky shifts his phone in his hands.

“I should let you sleep, too,” he says, apologetic. “Thanks for not ditching my call.”

“Shut it, of course I wouldn’t,” Nat responds. “Now I’m going to bed but tell me this – are you going to see him tomorrow?”

“Nat,” Bucky says quietly. “Do you really think I wouldn’t be?”

“Good. I want details later.” She hangs up before he can reply and he snorts. His phone buzzes as he pulls it away from his ear, notification light blinking, and when he opens the reply from Steve he can’t help but smile.

 

**

Bucky’s just dropped off his last client for the day when his phone buzzes in his pocket, the short staccato of his text tone. He pulls it out of his pocket as he heads down the handful of stairs off the porch, unlocking it with a swipe. He knows there’s a dopey look on his face as soon as he realises it’s from Steve, and he quickly opens the text as he merges into the foot traffic heading back into the city centre.

Steve: How long until you’re done?

Bucky shakes his head fondly as he taps out a reply, heading for the nearest subway station. He swaps his phone for his metro card, gets through the turnstiles, and by the time he’s on the right platform his phone is ringing for real.

Another swap and he’s answering, tucking his chin down when someone gives him a dirty look. “I’m in the subway,” he says instead of answering. “So I can’t talk long.”

“Bucky,” is the response, and it’s Steve’s voice, pitched up into a whine. “Please tell me you have dog treats left.”

Patting his pocket to check, Bucky hums in agreement. “Yeah, ‘course I do. Did you run out?”

“No, but Duke won’t eat the ones I have because he apparently knows you’re coming.”

Bucky squinted at the approaching train before stepping forward a little in preparation. “Like father like son, then. I’m about to get on the train, I’ll be there in fifteen.”

Steve gives an agreeing noise and hangs up, which is good because almost as soon as Bucky steps onto the train his signal cuts. Theoretically, it’s supposed to be fine until they’re in the tunnels, but he’s pretty sure the whole system hates him because even the new phone hasn’t helped in that regard. He finds a seat, sighs, and opens Candy Crush to pass the time.

After losing five times in a row Bucky gives up, staring out the window and counting the little doorways that are visible in the tunnel until they reach his stop. He’s out like a shot, almost jogging through the station. Luckily, it’s the lull between lunchtime and the home time rush and he gets out easily, flicking Steve a text as soon as he’s back on the street.

The five-minute walk goes fast, and he keeps his head down, eyes on the ground ahead of his feet until the pavement changes colour. He takes another left, then heads up the steps to Steve’s building, punching in the door code and heading up.

About halfway up the stairs, Bucky realises he has no idea what to expect from Steve, and the pit of his stomach drops. He hesitates at the end of the hall, looking at Steve’s door, chewing on his lip. He’s not even sure how to act, he realises, or how to greet Steve. He knows what he wants, knows Steve probably wants it too, knows that one of the first things he’s going to do once he’s through that door is want to kiss Steve. But, something makes him hesitate. What if Steve’s changed his mind? What if he goes for something that Steve doesn’t want, what if he makes it awkward? Bucky’s not sure if he could handle being awkward with Captain America after shoving his tongue down the man’s throat less than twenty-four hours ago.

The door he’s staring at cracks open before he can work himself further into a spiral and instead of the face he’s both dreading and hoping to see a fuzzy one appears a hell of a lot further down.

Steve’s voice is warm as he speaks to Duke, who’s shaking like he’s wagging his whole body along with his tail. “Is he there? Were you right?”

“Hey buddy boy,” Bucky says because Duke’s starting to whine, and the resulting bark makes him shake his head, grinning. He crosses the distance because he can’t help himself, stroking the top of Duke’s head before crouching and grabbing his collar tightly. “I’ve got him,” he says, not bothering to speak louder, and the door swings open the rest of the way.

Duke nearly bowls him over, sure, but Bucky’s still got a hand in his collar, and Steve is smiling down at him so it makes the whole thing a lot better than it should be. “Hi,” he says from his position on his ass at Steve’s feet, and Steve smiles wider.

“Hi,” Steve says in response, holding his hand out. Bucky takes it, lets Steve haul him to his feet with far too little effort. He follows Steve in, leading Duke by the collar and lets the dog go as soon as he hears the click of the door closing.

It’s a good thing he does, because there’s a hand on his hip, tugging, and as he turns he finds himself with his back to the entryway wall, Steve moving into his space like he belongs there. Bucky opens his mouth, not sure what he’s about to say, but Steve cuts him off with a kiss before he can get anything out.

As far as greeting kisses go, a tiny part of Bucky’s brain pipes up, it’s probably not the most appropriate. Steve kisses like they’ve been apart weeks, months, slow and deep but Bucky’s not about to complain. He gets his hands on Steve’s shoulders, slides them up and around the back of Steve’s neck, and just holds on.

Steve pulls back a little when Bucky’s gasping for breath, drags his teeth over Bucky’s lip as he does, and Bucky drops his head to Steve’s shoulder. Steve’s voice is low in his ear a few seconds later, the quiet “Hi,” making Bucky laugh incredulously.

“Feel free,” he says, needing a second to just breathe. “To say hello like that any time.”

Steve laughs, full on belly laugh, and kisses the top of his head after it settles into a soft chuckle. “That’s the plan,” he gets out around his laughter, before leaning back and taking Bucky with him. He lets Steve lead him through the apartment then sits beside him when Steve drops onto the sofa and pats the cushion next to him.

He takes a chance, leans into Steve and Steve’s arm ends up around his shoulders, tucking him in close. “So, this is okay then?” he asks, and Steve nods a little against his hair.

“I’ve wanted this for a while,” Steve admits quietly. “It’s more than okay.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Bucky asks, feeling bold. When Steve hesitates, Bucky drops his chin, kissing the shoulder close to his head. “You don’t have to tell me.”

Steve shakes his head. “I didn’t say anything because by the time I realised I might have a chance, you’d just yelled at me for, what I first thought, showing affection the only way I really knew how.”

“By buying things?” Bucky asks slowly, wondering how he’d completely missed that one and feeling like a tool for it.

“By… providing, I guess. You didn’t buy things for yourself, whether it’s because you didn’t want to spend the money, or you couldn’t, so I just… did. The thing made you happy or helped you, so I wanted you to have it.”

“Shit,” Bucky starts, but Steve cuts him off firmly.

“Then I actually thought about what you’d said and I realised that it wasn’t the case at all, so don’t worry about that.”

Still. Knowing he’d inadvertently hurt Steve like that makes Bucky frown, and he gets his arm around Steve, resting his hand on Steve’s hip. “I’m still sorry,” he says before Steve can continue, rubbing his nose back and forth over Steve’s shoulder. “I didn’t know it was about that. I just thought …” he sighs. “It felt like you were trying to buy me, at first.”

“In the interests of clearing this up,” Steve says, and when Bucky lifts his head Steve’s smiling at him, soft and inviting. “I want to buy you things, I want to spoil you. Because I can.”

Bucky snorts, leans in until they’re nose to nose. “Feel free. But no more super expensive things, okay?”

Steve just smiles, so Bucky kisses him to distract him.

It surprises him how easy it is to lose himself in kissing Steve. He leans against Steve, sighs softly as Steve holds him tight and follows Steve’s lead, lips parting with a gentle nudge of Steve’s tongue. Steve gives him a tug and Bucky ends up in his lap, legs tucked to one side and hand braced on Steve’s shoulder for balance as Steve doesn’t give him any time to settle.

Steve lets up a little, but before Bucky can break the kiss to ask Steve is turning them, Bucky landing on his ass on the sofa with Steve braced on top of him. He wiggles and Steve shifts, lets him get comfortable before settling in between Bucky’s legs, not letting up with the deep kisses as Bucky grabs onto his shoulders, grabs at his hair, tries to hold on. His legs end up around Steve’s hips, heels digging into the backs of Steve’s thighs and Steve’s mouth finally eases up, drifts to press kisses along Bucky’s jaw.

“Where are you going?” Bucky asks, surprised to hear how breathy he sounds, and jerks a little when Steve nips at his throat.

“Down,” Steve murmurs against the skin of his throat, kissing another spot a little below his last one. “Unless you want me to stop.”

Bucky has absolutely no doubt that if he asked Steve to stop he would, so he tips his head back, hums out a soft, “Keep going,” and waits for Steve to take up the invitation.

If Steve’s kisses were desperate his exploration is nothing but patient. Soft presses of lips, soft grazes of teeth, working his way down Bucky’s throat like he’s got all the time in the world. He gets to the collar of Bucky’s shirt, noses it down a little, then works his way back up the other side. He pauses just over his pulse point, closing his teeth around the heavy beat before setting his lips and sucking hard. The pull sends heat through Bucky’s body and he clutches at Steve’s shoulders, shifting restlessly as Steve sets himself to bringing a bruise to the surface of Bucky’s skin.

“Steve,” Bucky gets out, needing to at least say his name, needing something, anything. Steve nips the skin again, seemingly satisfied, and meanders his way back up, nose tucking along Bucky’s jaw before Bucky shivers again, pulls at Steve’s hair.

“I want,” he says, hesitates, tugs at Steve’s hair again until the man is lifting his head, braced over him. “I want,” he repeats, holding on as Steve watches him. He drags a hand down Steve’s jaw, presses his thumb to the curve of Steve’s lower lip. “But,” he adds and Steve’s gaze softens.

“Yeah,” Steve’s voice is rough as he presses his lips to Bucky’s chin. “Yeah. Okay.” He hesitates, arms going tense on either side of Bucky. “Is this still, do you want me to-”

Cutting him off with a kiss, Bucky gets his arms around Steve’s shoulders, pulls him back down to him. “This is fine,” he mumbles against Steve’s lips. “Just this.”

Steve smiles, an upwards twitch of his lips, and goes back to kissing Bucky’s breath away which isn’t exactly the worst way Bucky’s spent an evening.

Eventually, when it gets to be too much, Steve pulls back before Bucky even needs to say anything. He kisses Bucky’s chin, then his nose, before rolling to the side with a soft groan. Bucky stays on his back, breathing heavily, trying to coax his tongue into making words before turning his head to look at Steve.

The smile Steve gives him is blinding, part of that purely because it’s Steve doing it, and Bucky can’t help himself, brushing fingers over Steve’s mouth, tracing the upward curve of his lips. “Stay for dinner?” Steve asks, and Bucky finds himself nodding before he can even think about it. “I’ll drop you home after.”

 

**

The days that follow are some of the best Bucky’s ever had. Being around Steve is a treat in and of itself, but the way Steve lights up when he sees him, the way Steve’s mouth feels against his, it’s like something out of a dream.

Bucky can’t even be mad at the way paparazzi flock to them, not now that he’s got the warmth of Steve’s hand in his, knows that at the end of the night he gets to go home with Steve Rogers, knows that regardless of everything that’s happened, Steve wants to stick it out with him.

It’s nice, it’s really nice. Which typically means Bucky is terrified of fucking it up, especially when everything is so new between them.

It’s another night of the same, Bucky staying over for dinner, walking Duke with Steve in tow then snuggling on the couch for what always starts off as innocent kisses but always turn heated without fail.

Steve’s just pulled back, breathing heavy, forehead against his, when Bucky drags his fingers up Steve’s sides, under his shirt. Steve freezes, and Bucky’s stuck wondering for a second whether he’s gone too far, then Steve kisses his chin, relaxes again. “You’re warm,” Bucky says because he left his brain somewhere at the start of all this and it’s yet to catch up.

“Are you cold?” Steve asks immediately, lifting his head to look Bucky over.

“No,” Bucky says, smoothing his hands up Steve’s sides a little further, settling them at his waist. “Just… s’nice.”

Steve shifts his weight, enough that Bucky’s pulled to one side a little, and he grins up at Steve when Steve lifts a hand, brushes it over Bucky’s cheek. “I wouldn’t mind,” Bucky adds because apparently, that’s what he’s doing now. “If you wanted to.” When Steve raises an eyebrow, Bucky squeezes a little with his fingers, barely denting the taut muscle of Steve’s back.

He bites his lip as Steve just looks at him before Steve says, “Not minding isn’t the same as wanting.”

“Oh,” Bucky says, barely an exhale. “Oh. Trust me, wanting isn’t a problem.”

Steve’s eyebrows flick up again and Bucky groans quietly. “You don’t have to tell me,” Steve says next. “You don’t owe me anything.”

Bucky reluctantly pulls one hand out from under Steve’s shirt, uses it to cup Steve’s cheek. “I’ve slept with people for less,” he starts, winces a little at how it sounds. “After less time. But it mattered less when they cut and run. Then there was the army, and I haven’t exactly been in any long-term relationships since then.” Bucky snorts softly, drops his gaze to Steve’s chin. “And this, you matter. I don’t want to fuck this up.”

“You won’t,” Steve says immediately, completely and utterly sure of himself.

“I almost did,” Bucky points out, and Steve sighs, pets his hand down Bucky’s side. “Right or not, I almost did.”

That has Steve snorting and he shakes his head slightly. “Definitely right,” he says, and then there’s a squeeze at his hip. “I’ll wait as long as it takes for you to be ready but I promise that you won’t fuck anything up. Okay?”

Bucky hesitates, chewing his lip as he stews it over. It’s not really a hard decision – if Steve won’t let it come between them, then it won’t, he has no doubt. There’s still something niggling in the back of his mind though, and he can’t shake it as easily as he’d like. He tips forward, resting his forehead against Steve’s shoulder. “Okay,” he says quietly, muffled against Steve’s shirt, but he knows Steve would have heard him easily.

He feels a press against the top of his head, guesses it’s a kiss and smiles into Steve’s shoulder. “Can I…” he starts, muffled, then pauses. Steve hums in response, soft and inviting. He takes a breath and pushes the words out. “Can I sleep here tonight?”

Steve hums against his hair, and says, “Hopefully you don’t mean right here, this couch might be comfy now, but it’s really not after a few hours sleeping on it.”

Bucky pokes his hip with a finger, and Steve laughs once, short and sharp, before rubbing his face against Bucky’s hair. “Sorry,” he says, not sounding sorry at all. “’course you can. I’d like it if you did.”

That’s enough to make Bucky relax again, and he nods a little against Steve’s shoulder. “Okay,” he says again. “Do you have any trackpants I can borrow? I’m not sleeping in my jeans.”

Steve nods even as his hand creeps down to Bucky’s hip, thumb stroking along the hem of his jeans. “You look great in these.” It’s a little flirty, light, and Bucky smiles into Steve’s shirt. “But I’m not complaining if you want to walk around in my clothes.”

“I can do one better.”

At Steve’s little noise, a curious lilt that made Bucky’s gut clench in a way that had nothing to do with what he was about to say. “I can be in your clothes and your bed.”

Steve goes very still above him and for a second Bucky’s gut twists, fondness replaced by something sharp and bitter as he realises he probably went too far. Before he can speak Steve’s speaking, voice smooth as honey as he says, “That’s definitely better.”

 Bucky hides a grin against Steve’s throat before lifting his chin, speaking against Steve’s jaw. “You better go find me something to wear, then.”

 

**

When Bucky answers the door a few days later, he’s left blinking, feet rooted to the floor. Steve smiles at him, charming, sure of himself, and it brings a matching smile to Bucky’s face without him even thinking about it. What has him confused is the person standing next to Steve.

“Hi,” Natasha says, “I have something I should tell you.”

Bucky blinks again, then steps out of the way wordlessly, trying to work out what it could be. Steve seems abnormally comfortable around Nat, he notices as they enter, Steve closing the door behind them. Not the ball of awkwardness he had been when he’d met Bucky’s sister the day before.

He watches Nat go make herself comfortable, then glances up when an arm sneaks around his waist. The smile that ends up on his face is reflexive, and he rocks up onto his toes to kiss the corner of Steve’s mouth. “Hi,” he whispers, gets another kiss for it.

“Hi, sweetheart,” Steve replies against his mouth, and Bucky’s about to kiss him again when Nat clears her throat from the couch.

Bucky can’t help himself, turns pink like a teen caught by his parents, and hides his face against Steve’s shoulder for a second as Steve laughs at him. Then he’s being led to the couch, and he’s thankful for his lack of space when Steve sits in the only remaining spot and tugs Bucky down into his lap.

Leaning Back against Steve’s chest, Bucky looks at Nat. “Spill,” he says, and she gives him a look.

“I’m an Avenger,” she says bluntly, and Bucky can’t help the disbelieving snort.

“You’re an accountant,” Bucky says flatly. “Did Steve put you up to this?” He twists to look at Steve, but Steve’s got his earnest look in place, wide eyes and small smile that cuts the legs out from under anyone who sees it, Bucky included.

“Didn’t you think it was odd that I was always away when the Avengers were deployed?” Bucky frowns a little. “Do you remember the time we went to the firing range?” Bucky goes still, because her words are digging up the memory again. “And I nearly outshot you, the trained marksman? And you asked-”

“’Are you sure you’re not a spy’” Bucky recites, because he does remember, remembers the hit to his pride to have an accountant of all people nearly beat him on the range. “And you said-”

“I said ‘I never said I wasn’t’.”

Bucky’s silent for a minute, processing. Then something occurs to him, something that sits heavy in his gut, and he asks, “Were you watching me? Did you befriend me for a job?” Steve’s arm tightens around his waist and there’s a brush against the top of his head, Steve kissing it probably.

Nat doesn’t look offended at the question, which is something at least. “Initially I was watching you because unsavoury types had their eye on you,” she says bluntly. Pulling the band-aid. “Once that was handled, I made contact because you were interesting. I thought about trying the sales pitch, but you were very clear that you were out, and had no intention of ever being back in.” She pauses for a second, glances to Bucky’s left, and he turns his head to see Steve’s expression.

“Is Bucky the one you were trying to set me up with for months?”

The question has Bucky even more confused than before. “What?” He says in a helpful contribution to the discussion.

“Yes,” Nat says bluntly. “But your dog is apparently a better matchmaker.” She turns to look at Bucky again. “I promise you this – our friendship had no ulterior motive. You were interesting, so I interacted once the mission was complete. I expected a conversation at most, not to find someone who would become one of my closest friends.”

“Not close enough to tell me the truth,” Bucky says, gets the first physical reaction out of Nat as she winces a little.

“I’m sorry,” She says and it’s the first time he’s ever heard her apologise. Steve is surprised too by the soft intake of breath by his ear. “I got used to just being Natasha around you. I was going to tell you, I’d have never gotten away with introducing you to Captain America otherwise,” she adds, amusement back in her voice. “But that never happened, so this conversation never happened.” She shrugs.

“Is that how you always knew what to say when-” he hesitates, not really wanting to admit how much he’d told Nat about Steve.

She takes pity on him with a look that he knows well. “Yes,” She says, sounding as amused as she looks. The flash of emotion is gone in a second, but he’s used to it. It makes sense now, at least. “Unless there’s anything else you want to ask me now, I’m going to leave you to it,” she says abruptly, standing. Bucky doesn’t bother getting up from Steve’s lap – Steve doesn’t seem like he’s inclined to let Bucky go either, his arm going tight around Bucky’s waist. “Are we okay?” She asks, stopped by the hall table. He looks over, surprised, but she’s not looking at him.

“Yeah,” he says on a sigh, not realising it was true until it’s out of his mouth. “Yeah, we’re okay.”

“Good. Text me,” she says, and then she’s gone as suddenly as she arrived.

Bucky watches her go, then is left staring at the door as Steve rubs a hand over his back. He licks his lips, finally looks at Steve.

“How long have you known?” He doesn’t mean to sound as resigned as he does, words pulled tight.

Steve’s response is immediate. “That she was your friend? Not long. That you didn’t know what she does? I found out when you did. She showed up just as I was about to knock.”

With a sigh, Bucky shifts in Steve’s lap and presses a hand to his face. “Did you really think I’d have kept it to myself had I known? C’mon, I’d have been teasing you about it every chance I got.”

Steve laughs, surprised and sudden. “True,” he says when he can speak again, grin on his face, arms relaxed around Bucky’s waist. “Do you still want to go out? We can just stay in if you’d rather.”

Sighing Bucky drops his head, kisses Steve’s cheek. “Let’s go,” he says, “Think you can keep me distracted?”

Steve’s grin is all challenge. “You can bet on it, sweetheart.”

 

**

Bucky wakes up warm, and, unlike the first time it’d happened, just relaxes into it, lets the steady beat under his ear slowly coax him awake. The fingers in his hair are nice too, he supposes, tipping his head slightly until the gentle drag turns into something a little more solid against his scalp.  He tries to speak, but it comes out more of a jumbled sigh and doesn’t bother cracking an eye open when those fingers tighten, tug lightly on the strands before going back to their gentle massage.

There’s a rumble of words above him that he doesn’t bother deciphering, just burrows himself deeper into the warmth. An arm goes tight around his waist, fingers a nudge against his hip, and he mumbles again, noise rather than words in a shifting tone. There are more words, and Bucky tunes in at the end just enough to hear a soft, “… -ke Duke out.”

Bucky lets out a noise that is probably classified as a whine and rubs his face against the chest under him, but the soft rumble of a laugh has him slowly blinking, squinting up at the asshole who won’t let him sleep.

Steve’s smile is soft, sweet as he looks down, and Bucky digs his fingers into Steve’s shirt as if that’s enough to keep him there, looking so sleep-rumpled and warm and Bucky’s. “Gonna let me up?” Steve’s saying and Bucky shakes his head, tightening his grip again because Steve’s clearly not getting it.

“I’ll be right back,” is the bargain, and Bucky frowns a little. “With coffee? And we can stay as long as you like.”

Bucky lets out a sigh but lets Steve nudge him sideways until there’s mattress under him instead of warm Steve. He tightens his grip in Steve’s shirt for just a moment then lets it slide between his fingers with a grumble.

Covers tuck up over his shoulders, and there’s the soft press of a familiar kiss against his forehead. Bucky closes his eyes but cracks one open again to watch Steve pull a jersey on over top of his shirt. Then he’s gone into the cold morning, and Bucky smiles against the pillow as he hears Duke’s excited barking as Steve lets the dog out of his room.

Bucky doesn’t bother looking, knows the angle out the doorway is too sharp to see down the hall, so he just rolls onto his front and buries his face into the pillow, shuffling the covers up a little with his shoulders.

He’s not sure how long Steve’s gone, but he’s woken again to the dip of the bed near his feet, the slow rock of the mattress as Steve crawls his way up rather than walking around to his own side like a normal person.

The covers nudge away from his hairline before a soft kiss is pressing to the nape of his neck. He hums, quiet, and tips his head forward into the pillow. His request is met, and there’s another kiss, a little lower. Then a third just below it and Bucky hums again, fingers clutching at the pillow as he does.

The covers nudge lower and the chill of the air has him shiver for a second but then Steve’s covering his skin with soft kisses, starting at his spine and fanning out. Bucky mumbles something approximating the words “That’s nice,” and Steve laughs in soft puffs against his skin.

“How awake are you?”

“No.”

Steve snorts, and the covers slip down a little more. The mattress shifts and Bucky lets go of the pillow with one hand, curling his fingers loosely around the wrist near his head and rubbing his thumb back and forth over the soft skin.

“Can I convince you to be awake?”

Bucky thinks for a second, mind sleep-slow, then tips his head to the side. Opening the eye not currently smooshed into the mattress he looks up at Steve, the side of Steve’s face just sitting in his peripheral vision. “Maybe,” he mumbles, dropping all the vowels but Steve understands him anyway.

“I brought you coffee.”

Bucky focuses on the nightstand in front of him and yeah, there’s a cup on it, steam curling up into the cold air of the bedroom.

He stares at it then squeezes Steve’s wrist slightly. “Don’t wanna move.”

Steve snorts, and the mattress shakes as Steve clearly decides he’s too far away and drops down from his hands to his elbows. The move presses Steve’s chest lightly against his back, and Steve’s so warm that Bucky’s eyes slide closed, sighing a little. “C’mon,” Steve says, coaxing like he’s talking to Duke, and Bucky’s not sure whether he should be annoyed before deciding it’s too much effort to work it out.

“Less now,” he says.

Steve works it out quickly because the warmth is gone, settling at Bucky’s side. Bucky can’t help but grumble at that.

“Coffee,” Steve says, but there’s a hand on his back again, so Bucky stops his grumbles and sneaks a hand across the covers. He just misses the handle of the mug, sighs. “You’re going to have to sit up.”

The whine that escapes Bucky surprises him. “Ugh.” He does though because Steve made him coffee, and Steve makes the best coffee, has his own machine and everything. Before he can settle back into the pillow, mug in hand, Steve’s cupping his shoulder, pulling him sideways a little, and Bucky’s not about to complain when he gets to use Steve as a pillow. He takes a sip, sighs happily, then takes another, before tipping his head back, kissing the edge of Steve’s jaw.

“Thank you.”

“Anytime,” is the response. Steve shifts a little then fall still again, phone in hand as he starts to skim through his notifications.

Silence falls between them, comfortable, and Bucky smiles into his mug whenever Steve rolls his eyes at something on his screen. Bucky’s just finishing up, only dregs left, when Steve drops his phone back on his nightstand. A second later there’s a kiss at his temple.

“Done?” Bucky asks softly, and Steve nods, now brushing Bucky’s skin.

“No emergencies overnight.”

Bucky smiles, an idea settling into the back of his mind, becoming more and more attractive as Bucky thinks about it.

He holds up his mug, empty, and Steve takes it. The soft tap as it hits the nightstand is loud in the quiet room.

Once Steve’s hand is clear of the ceramic Bucky twists, sheets holding him a little before giving him up as he turns to face Steve properly. When Steve raises an eyebrow Bucky smiles, brings one leg up and slides into Steve’s lap.

Hands immediately settle on his hips, steady and warm, so Bucky leans forward and kisses Steve’s chin, trusts Steve to keep him stable. He kisses the corner of Steve’s mouth, and Steve doesn’t move, eyes clear and curious. “What are you up to?”

Bucky smiles instead of answering, presses his mouth to Steve’s, coaxes him into kissing back. Not that it’s hard, Steve always seems willing to lose moments to this and now’s no different. One hand slides up Bucky’s side, around to his back, and Bucky plants his own hands on Steve’s chest as Steve pulls him forward. When Bucky breaks the kiss Steve blinks like he’s stunned, then a smile is creeping across his face. He doesn’t even complain about the morning breath, though Bucky’s fairly sure that’s the main reason why Bucky gets coffee in bed so often.

“I want,” he starts, and Steve looks up at him. His hands are warm, and their bed is warm, and the look Steve’s giving him is making him feel all gooey inside, and he’s not sure what to do about it. “I want you.”

Steve gives him the softest smile, says, “You’ve got me,” and it’s not what Bucky meant but he can’t help but kiss Steve after that.

“I know.” It’s true, he knows it in his bones, knows that what they’ve got is so damned unlikely but all the better for it, built out of nothing until it’s stronger than anything. It’s still so new, Bucky can’t wait to see what it’s like in a few months, a few years. “I know. But I want you.” He nips Steve’s lip, licks at the small hurt as Steve’s hands go tight on him and he feels the moment Steve clicks, Steve’s breath hitching in his chest before evening out.

Steve tips his head up, silently asking, and Bucky kisses him. Steve lets him control it, and he knows he’s letting him, can feel the way Steve’s holding himself back, so Bucky keeps it soft, keeps it sweet, little kisses until the tension starts to seep out of Steve’s shoulders. Then he deepens it, tongue teasing against Steve’s as his hands slide up over Steve’s shoulders, fingers of one hand ending up in Steve’s hair.

When he nips Steve’s lip again the hands on him tighten, tug forward. He breaks the kiss to grin, and Steve laughs into the space between them. “Tell me what you want.”

Bucky pulls back, huffing out a breath, but the look on Steve’s face means he can’t even pretend to be annoyed for long. He leans forward again, pressing his forehead to Steve’s. “Everything you want to give me. As far as you wanna go.”

“And if I want to give you everything?”

“Then that’s what I want.” Bucky shifts his hips to settle more comfortably in Steve’s lap, brushes his fingers along Steve’s jaw. “You waited, we waited because I wasn’t ready, and I’m so grateful for that you have no idea. And now I know you, trust you, and I… adore you. I do. I want us to go that next step because I know that it’s not going to change us. Except that there’ll be more getting off, probably,” he adds with a grin.

Steve’s serious expression cracks at the last sentence and he tips his head back as he laughs. At first Bucky’s laughing too, he is, but he quickly gets distracted by all the skin Steve’s just shown him and he drops his head, kissing wetly against the beat of Steve’s pulse.

There’s a hand in his hair before he can let go, but it’s not pulling him away – it’s holding him in place, so Bucky grazes his teeth over the spot, making a pleased noise when Steve shivers. “Now?” Steve asks like he’s making sure, like he’s worried despite Bucky’s words, so Bucky sets out to prove what he said was true.

He shifts his hips again, a teasing hint of friction as he kisses his way up to Steve’s jaw. “Now,” he agrees. “Please tell me you top.”

Steve snorts. “Usually.”

“Thank God, that would have been awkward,” Bucky says against Steve’s skin and grins at the laugh he gets.

“We’d have worked it out, probably.”

“Less fun,” Bucky shoots back. A second later he’s yelping as Steve turns them, rolls Bucky under him like he weighs nothing and smiles, smug.

The hum that comes from Steve is considering and sends a shiver down Steve’s spine. “Hmmm. Plenty of fun to be had without that though.” Fingers nudge up the hem of Bucky’s shirt and he lifts his arms, lets Steve nudge the fabric up then strip it off. “Is there anything you don’t like?”

Steve’s head drops and he presses kisses over Bucky’s shoulder, the scarring that always looks so raw and new despite the years that should have smoothed them out. Steve still hasn’t asked, and Bucky wonders whether he ever will, or whether he’ll just keep waiting until Bucky’s ready to talk.

Bucky hesitates, surprised at the question then surprised at his own surprise. Of course Steve would ask something like that. “Um. Don’t call me names? Pet names are fine and all that but I’m not into being called anything … derogatory.”

“People do that?”

Bucky laughs at Steve’s expression, rubs his thumb into the crease between Steve’s eyebrows. “Some people like it. I’m not judging, it’s just not for me.”

Steve makes the noise that he always makes when Bucky’s given him something to think about and leans in for another kiss. “Anything else?”

With a shrug of his shoulders, Bucky resettles himself back on the pillows to tug at Steve’s shirt. “Nothing comes to mind. Why don’t you tell me what you want to do, and I’ll tell you if there’s anything I’m not into?”

For a second Steve doesn’t reply, too busy pulling his own shirt off, but then he sits up a little to look down at Bucky. “You look good in my bed,” he says, voice like velvet as he tips forward again, cages Bucky in with his arms.

Bucky grins up at him then presses his hands up against Steve’s chest. He drags them down, slow and steady, then taps his thumbs against the furrows in Steve’s hips. The muscles are more defined, standing out sharply with Steve propping himself up, and Bucky, god Bucky wants to put his mouth there. Digging his fingers in for a second, Bucky takes a breath. Then another. “You gonna tell me? Or just leave me hanging?”

Steve drops his head a little, and Bucky jumps a little when there are teeth at his ear, tugging lightly on the lobe. “First I wanna taste you all over, learn what makes you tick, what makes you squirm.” The joke’s on Steve because his words, syrupy slow, have already got Bucky shifting on the sheets under him.

“All over huh,” Bucky says, trying to be smooth but it comes out breathy, completely missing the mark.

“Yup.” Steve’s lips are dragging down Bucky’s throat, and the vibration of the words has his fingers tightening on Steve’s hips. “Then I wanna eat you out. You wanna let me?”

Bucky can’t help himself then, the hitching little moan escaping him before he can think about what Steve’s said before he realises it’s a damned question and Steve’s waiting for him to answer.

“That’s something you like, huh?” Steve says when Bucky can’t get any words out, and he jerks his head in a nod. “A lot, I think.”

While he’s not wrong, half of Bucky’s reaction is to the way Steve’s talking, the words spilling out of his mouth, and he has no way of getting that across eloquently, so he doesn’t bother. “Keep going,” he bites out, and Steve bites back, teeth closing around his pulse.

The wet press of a tongue against the same spot, soothing the small hurt, and Bucky sighs softly, nudges his knee against Steve’s hip. “Once I’m good and ready,” Steve says, and it takes Bucky a second to realise he’s continuing, not reprimanding. “I’m gonna get my fingers wet and stretch you out, then I’m gonna see how well you take my dick. Got any problems with that?”

Bucky shakes his head, then tips his chin up, takes a deep breath and finds his words. “I want it. Can I?”

Steve grins, he can feel the curve pressed into his throat, then lifts up. Bucky cups his cheek as soon as he sees him, pressing his thumb to Steve’s lips before tugging lightly. Steve goes, gives in, kisses Bucky deep, pushy, tongue sliding in before Bucky can catch up. He takes over Bucky’s mouth and Bucky lets him, and by the time he’s moving back down his throat Bucky’s panting, almost shaking from the intensity.

He gets his hands on the smooth skin of Steve’s shoulders as Steve takes his time exploring. It’s not the first time they’ve gotten this far but Steve’s acting like it is, kissing and nipping at every patch of skin that catches his eye, every scar standing out white against Bucky’s skin. His knee plants between Bucky’s thighs, distracting him long enough that Bucky jumps at the scrape of teeth over his nipple, pulls at Steve’s hair instinctively. Steve ignores the tug and licks before blowing air across the wet skin, seemingly just to make Bucky shiver – which he does.

Nails scrape over Bucky’s ribs and he gasps, sharp. “Steve.” He doesn’t know what he’s asking, but Steve gets the gist even if his response is a shake of his head then teeth set into skin. Bucky squirms, can’t help it, and Steve pauses, then does it again on the other side. He sucks, and Bucky can’t control the broken little moan that escapes him. Steve doesn’t let up until he’s ready and when Bucky props himself up on one elbow there’s a red flush from Steve’s mouth that’ll be a bruise by the end of the day.  

Steve looks pleased with himself and Bucky sits up, tugging at Steve’s hair a little until he can kiss Steve, hot and wet. Steve doesn’t let him have that for long, though. Soon there’s a hand on his chest nudging him back down, and he looks all too pleased with himself when Bucky hits the mattress with a thump. He presses a thumb against the corner of Steve’s mouth, against the corner of that smirk, and Steve kisses the pad of it before dropping his head again.

By the time Steve’s pulling at the drawstring of Bucky’s sweats, Bucky’s panting, out of breath like he’s run a marathon and so, so ready for Steve to do something about the arousal that’s thrumming through him. Steve opens his mouth and Bucky nods before he can speak. Steve tugs again, smile on his face, and Bucky catches his hands. He pulls those hands to his hips and Steve lets him, lets him tuck Steve’s fingers in the waistband of his sweats. “Please,” Bucky says, leaving Steve’s hands there and sliding his own up to Steve’s shoulders. “I want you to keep going.”

Steve nods, then he’s pulling at the fabric. Bucky lifts his hips a little, then Steve’s got his pants down to mid-thigh. Bucky kicks his feet a little as Steve moves, then the pants are gone and Steve’s staring. Bucky stretches himself out, finally feeling having gotten the jump on Steve.

“Do you usually…” Steve trails off, swallows, and the look on his face is slowly shifting from surprised to hungry as he catches onto the fact that Bucky’s been commando this whole time.

Bucky preens, can’t help himself. “Usually,” he replies, and Steve swallows again, throat working hard.

Steve’s hand lands on his knees, nudging them apart until he can settle between them again. “You gonna keep doing it?”

Hooking his heels over Steve’s calves, Bucky shrugs. “Depends.”

“On?”

“How quickly you get your pants off.”

Steve’s laugh is surprised but he listens, shifting away again just long enough to rid himself of the fabric, and his underwear, before his hands are on Bucky again. This time they make it higher than his knees, sliding warm up Bucky’s thighs even as Bucky props himself up on his elbows to get a look at Steve.

His mouth waters more than just a little at the miles of golden skin, the narrow waist that draws his eyes down to the almost delicate curve of Steve’s cock.

That’s probably the only delicate thing about it though. It’s thick - not that Bucky hadn’t worked that one out already from their somewhat regular make-out sessions – but thicker than he’d guessed at, head flushed red already. Bucky shifts his weight, reaches a hand down and Steve lets him, just braces those warm hands on Bucky’s thighs and watches Bucky.

Steve’s whole body quivers when Bucky takes him in hand and when he glances up Steve’s jaw is tight, pupils blown black as he watches Bucky. His cock twitches and Bucky’s attention is drawn down again, giving it a slow stroke. “Please tell me your plan is flexible,” Bucky says as he strokes again, keeping it slow. “Because I really want to get my mouth on you.”

Steve’s breath catches and for a second it sounds like he’s holding his breath before he lets it out in a slow, measured exhale. “I could be convinced,” he says and he sounds as tense as he looks like he’s a second away from taking over, cutting Bucky’s exploration short. “But you have to wait your turn.”

When Bucky pauses Steve takes his wrist, fingers gentle but firm. He pulls Bucky’s hand away, up to his chest and Bucky’s not about to complain about getting to touch all of that muscle. He splays his fingers as he grins up at Steve, but then he’s being pushed flat again. Steve’s head drops and then there are lips against his hip, his body sliding out of Bucky’s reach in a smooth movement. Bucky whines, the noise surprising even him, but Steve just hums back, mouth dragging along the ridges of muscle as he makes his way down.

Steve’s tongue drags up the length of his cock out of nowhere and Bucky’s hit with the full force of his own arousal, no longer distracted by Steve’s body. His mouth is plenty of distraction though, tongue curling against the head of his cock before it’s enclosed in heat as Steve sucks him in.

His hands fly down to Steve’s hair, grabbing on as he moans shakily. Steve’s grip on his thighs keeps him pinned down even as his hips attempt to push up. Steve doesn’t give him what he wants, not really. He sucks for a minute, pulls back to lick at the head, then moves on with a series of bites down Bucky’s thigh. The shift in sensation has Bucky shaking, hitching little moans escaping him as Steve meanders his way down.

“St-Steve,” Bucky gets out, tripping over his name, but Steve doesn’t pause, just glances up through his lashes and kisses Bucky’s calf. “Please.”

Steve doesn’t look like he’s about to have mercy, still working down towards Bucky’s feet before pressing a soft kiss to the jut of bone at his ankle. He finally starts to work his way back up the other leg, but as he does he puts one of Bucky’s feet on his shoulder, forcing his leg up as the kisses and bites inch higher.

By the time Steve’s got his lips against Bucky’s thigh Bucky’s foot has slid over his shoulder. Steve pauses to kiss the inside of his knee before he pushes his other leg up, and Bucky works out where he’s going. “Yes,” he bites out, hand ending up in Steve’s hair without even thinking about it. Steve’s laugh is low, dragging over his skin and making him squirm more, but he doesn’t seem like he’s about to stop.

There’s a bite against the curve of his ass, the small sting immediately kissed away. Between one breath and the next Steve’s leaning in, running his tongue teasingly up the line of Bucky’s ass. There’s a kiss against the sensitive skin behind his balls, then thumbs against his cheeks, pulling them apart.

Bucky moans brokenly as Steve gets right to it, seeming to give up on teasing now that he has what he wants, and Bucky’s on board with that, so on board with that.

He can’t think, the slide of Steve’s tongue driving all thoughts out of his mind except Steve, and please, and he knows he’s probably repeating some garbled mix of the two words as his toes curl against Steve’s back. Steve’s tongue presses harder, delicate licks mixed in with firm presses, Bucky’s muscles relaxing around him. Bucky jerks as Steve hooks the tip of his thumb in, moans as Steve pulls down a little, opening him further for that wicked tongue until he’s shaking, pulling at Steve’s hair desperately.

“I’m gonna come,” he gets out, surprising himself with the coherency, and Steve licks again. When Bucky swallows hard, gets out, “I don’t-” Steve’s immediately pulling back, breath warm as he presses his mouth to Bucky’s thigh again. He’s breathing almost as hard as Bucky is and when he looks up Bucky nearly loses it just at the look on his face. There’s spit all over his chin, skin a little red from the friction, blush high on Steve’s cheeks betraying exactly how worked up he is. His eyes are almost black, only a sliver of blue remaining, the sight sending another shiver through Bucky. Steve looks like he’d be happy to continue, eat Bucky out for hours, and Bucky almost wants to let him.

But-

“I want. Want you in me.”

Steve jerks into motion at that. Slowly Bucky’s legs slide back to the mattress, then Steve’s crawling his way up after a kiss to Buck’s cock, his stomach, the centre of his chest. Bucky grabs at him as soon as he’s close, cupping his cheeks and pulling him forward regardless of where his mouth has been.

Steve though, beautiful, thoughtful, teasing Steve, only brushes his lips over Bucky’s before pulling back. “One sec.”

Then he’s sliding off the bed, ducking into the adjoining bathroom and leaving Bucky panting on the sheets.

He’s not gone long, living up to his promise, and when he kisses Bucky again his mouth is sharp with the taste of mint.

“You’re too much,” Bucky says, and when Steve just gives him a look, brows furrowed, Bucky smooths it out with a finger. “Ain’t ever had someone like you.”

Steve’s face softens a little, and his thumb comes to rest in the divot of Bucky’s chin before he leans in, and Bucky relaxes into the kiss all over again.

“Baby,” Steve says and it makes Bucky all goopy inside, soft and melted and warm. Then Steve has to ruin it by finishing, “never had an ass like yours,” and Bucky cracks, laughing aloud.

“You’re ridiculous.”

“You’re hot.” Steve shrugs like it’s obvious, then tips forward and kisses him again, all teeth and tongue and wet and Bucky’s amusement is shoved to the back of his mind once more.

He gets his hands in Steve’s hair, holds on as he gets kissed to within an inch of his life. He breaks it, pulls his mouth away to gasp in a breath, but Steve’s lips stay fastened to his skin, pressed to his jaw and nibbling. “Lube,” Steve says against his skin. “Drawer.”

Bucky wiggles until Steve’s hands loosen then he rolls to the side to dig in the nightstand. Steve’s hand lands on his ass as he does, grip tight. Bucky fumbles, tube almost sliding out of his hands before he’s throwing it in Steve’s general direction and falling onto his back again. Steve grabs the bottle, lands a bruising kiss on Bucky’s lips that he barely has time to respond to, and makes his way back down Bucky’s chest.

A click, and it’s a few seconds before Steve does anything with it but when a wet finger presses against his skin he almost laughs. It’s warm, like Steve’s worried that the slight chill from cold lube would have hurt him. That finger presses a little more firmly and there are teeth against his hip all at once, the dual sensations making Bucky groan.

“C’mon,” he gets out and Steve bites again but he does speed up, that finger pressing in deep before a second joins it.

Steve’s quick, but thorough. Not moving to the next finger until he’s sure it’ll slide right in, but not taking his time with it like Bucky had guessed he would. If his mouth isn’t on Bucky’s skin it’s speaking against it, low murmurs barely audible but sweet, so sweet, endearment-heavy and laden with praise.

He pulls his fingers out and Bucky whines, missing the stretch of them. Steve hushes him with a kiss, moving faster than Bucky expects to do so, and Bucky grabs at his shoulders in surprise before melting into it. There’s the sound of the nightstand drawer, then Steve’s sitting back on his heels, big hands smoothing a condom down his length.

“You still want this?” Steve checks in with a voice gone rough with want. Bucky nods once, holds a hand out to Steve.

“Yeah. Want you so bad.”

Steve doesn’t ask twice. He leans forward again, and Bucky takes the opportunity given to him, sliding his hands up Steve’s arms and around his shoulders to pull him in. Steve goes in for a kiss and Bucky leans into it, letting Steve kiss him as he feels blunt pressure against his hole. He can’t help the noise that escapes through his teeth, needy and wanton and demanding, but it gets Steve moving again, sliding a little deeper.

By the time Steve’s fully seated, hips tight against Bucky’s, Bucky has his fingers all but digging into Steve’s shoulders, struggling to hold himself back, to keep himself from coming just yet.

“Still good?” Steve asks, grates out from between clenched teeth. Bucky shifts his hips until he can get his heels linked behind Steve’s ass. Tipping his head back, he groans, low and cracked.

“Still…. Good.”

Steve drops his head, nods against Bucky’s shoulder, and Bucky smooths his hands over Steve’s back, revelling in the tension, the withheld power. When he’s sure he isn’t going to come as soon as Steve moves he digs his heel in a little, saying “More.”

Steve props himself up on his elbows, gets just enough room between them to move. The first draw out has Bucky biting his lip, then Steve’s hips are rocking back in slowly. Bucky does his best to make an encouraging noise but it comes out jumbled on another thrust so he gives up, arches his back and hopes Steve works it out.

Thankfully, he does, his next thrust a little harder. He doesn’t speed up, keeps his movements steady, but all too quickly his thrusts are shaking Bucky down to his bones, deep and solid until Bucky’s twisting in his grip, not to escape but to get closer, get more.

Steve grabs his hip, tilts them and Steve’s cock stops just sliding past Bucky’s sweet spot. The next thrust has Bucky shouting, wordless and broken. The second has him trembling, everything catching up to him and demanding from him, fire in his gut twisting in on itself. It’s good, so good, and as Bucky’s breaths get sharp, rapid, Steve bits at his chin, then kisses him wetly.

“I want you to come,” Steve growls out as his hips press in, stay in tight and grind in short circles. “Want to see you lose it.” He grinds in again, deep and filthy, and Bucky can’t hold back, comes with a surprised shudder and a sob.

His hips jerk up and he hears Steve make a noise above him, something akin to a growl but empty, punched out. Steve keeps moving and Bucky’s head kicks back, legs tightening around Steve’s waist as the aftershocks blend together. Steve slows for a second, breathing heavy against Bucky’s cheek, and Bucky gets out a “please, don’t stop.” It’s enough to keep Steve moving, though he slows down, thrusts shortening as Bucky sags into the mattress, spent.

“Please,” Bucky says again, mouth full of cotton and brain near to that as well. “Come, Steve.” He lifts a hand and it takes more effort than he expected, hooking his fingers around the back of Steve’s neck. He tugs and Steve comes to him, kisses him wet and sloppy as his hips stutter.

“Bucky,” Steve says into his mouth. His voice is hoarse, needy. “Bucky.” His hips jerk forward and Bucky whines into his mouth, forcing his eyes open to watch as Steve falls apart around him. He’s beautiful, that’s not new, but there’s something raw in his expression as his face goes slack, open and surprised like he’s not expecting how good it feels. His breathing hitches, once, twice, in time with the instinctive pushes of his hips and Bucky drags him in for another kiss.

His body lowers as his hips fall still, blanketing Bucky. He should be heavy, too heavy, but he’s caught on his elbows, still looking out for Bucky even now. Bucky clenches around him, instinctive, and Steve whines in response. Bucky holds on tighter, strokes a hand down Steve’s back.

They lie there for a few minutes as their breathing returns to normal, then Bucky notices something that almost makes him laugh in delight. He can’t hide the grin though, shifts his hips when Steve blinks at him.

“You’re still hard.”

Steve blinks. “Sorry,” he says, a knee-jerk reaction making Bucky’s smile drop a little. “The serum. It’ll go away.”

Bucky wiggles his hips into a better position then plants a foot, using Steve’s distraction in the changing pressure around his dick to roll the bigger man onto his back. “You’re putting words in my mouth,” Bucky says, and when Steve just stares at him, clearly having a hard time making words work, Bucky takes pity on him a little. “I’d rather have something else there.”

Steve blinks up at him, but the surprise change to something akin to need as Bucky rocks his hips to give Steve a physical hint too. Steve’s breath catches and his hips twitch, and Bucky’s glad for Steve’s self-control more than ever.

“Can I?” Bucky asks, and Steve blinks like he’s struggling to keep his thoughts in order. “Or I can-”

He doesn’t even get to his backup offer when Steve’s nodding, hands landing on Bucky’s hips and holding them still with tight fingers. “If you want to, you can.”

“Do you want me to?”

Steve hesitates, and Bucky appreciates why he’s not saying it outright but he needs to hear it as much as Steve does. “I want to,” Bucky reassures him. “But I need to hear you say you do too.”

Steve’s face softens a bit at that. “I want you, any way you want, I want anything you want to give me. Yes, I want you to.”

Bucky smiles as he pushes himself up onto his knees. Steve slips out of him, and he has to pause for a moment, breath catching in his chest at the sudden shock of being empty, at the drag against oversensitive nerves as he moves. Steve’s hands are hot against his skin, steady at his ribs and Bucky breathes through it, then kisses Steve quickly.

Once he’s confident he can move without his legs sliding out from under him, Bucky starts to work his way down. Now that the burning pulse of his arousal has settled he can take his time, nipping and licking at any skin that catches his attention.  Steve’s trying to hold back and Bucky can feel it in the tension under his hands, so when he reaches Steve’s nipples he pauses, glances up. “Hey,” he murmurs, knows he has Steve’s attention immediately. “Relax. I got you.”

Steve nods when Bucky glances up but it takes a few minutes for Steve to start unwinding just a little. Bucky smooths his hands over Steve’s skin as a reward, then licks at the skin under his mouth. Steve’s back arches almost enough to push Bucky off and he grins against Steve’s skin before grazing his teeth over the same spot.

Steve groans, still quiet, and Bucky licks again before swapping sides, paying his other nipple the same attention before meandering his way down Steve’s stomach. He pays special attention to the grooves in Steve’s hips, nips at the bumps of his abs, lets his chin bump against the wet curve of his cock before stripping off the condom. He taps Steve’s stomach with a finger, says, “Hand me-” and before he can finish there’s a box being pushed into his outstretched hand.

“On or off?” He asks as he shakes the box, and Steve’s quiet for a long minute. Bucky rubs his hands down Steve’s thighs, trails them back up, and lets him think.

“Don’t care,” is the answer he gets eventually. “On is less messy.”

Bucky hums, taps Steve’s hip. “What if I want messy?” He asks, and Steve’s hips flex in his grip.

“Then leave it off. Whatever you want.”

“Hmm.” Bucky taps his fingers again, then tosses the box of condoms back up the other end of the bed. “Wanna taste you,” he says, and Steve groans in the back of his throat.

He doesn’t keep Steve waiting for long after that. He looks down, smiles to himself as he traces the length of Steve’s cock with a finger. “Tell me if you don’t like something.”

Dropping his head, he pins Steve’s cock to his stomach and licks along the fat vein there, tracing it from the curve of Steve’s balls all the way up to the head of his cock. He licks his lips, presses a kiss to the tip before darting his tongue out against the slit. “You’ll be the death of me,” Steve grits out and Bucky hums a laugh against the sensitive skin.

While Steve’s distracted Bucky sucks the tip between his lips and god but it’s already a stretch, more than he’s used to. He curls his tongue around the head as he slides a little further down, gets his hand around the base to hold him steady. He bobs his head, then pulls off to look at Steve again, grinning at the flush making its way down Steve’s chest.

“You alright?” he murmurs, then laughs at Steve’s wordless growl. He sucks at the head of Steve’s cock in apology, before sliding back down steadily.

He doesn’t get as far as he’d like, lips barely brushing the edge of his hand before he has to pull off, cough once. There’s a hand in his hair, gentle as it smooths the strands back. “I’m fine,” he says, before proving his point by sucking Steve down again.

He falls into a rhythm, switching between sucking Steve’s cock deep into his mouth and licking over the skin in teasing strokes.

Steve, to his credit, doesn’t grab or push or shove. The hand in his hair tightens like Steve’s holding on, but he lets Bucky run the show. His back arches after a particularly hard suck, head pressing back into the pillows, and Bucky can’t help but hum around him. That has Steve’s grip tightening in his hair, legs clamping a little tighter around Bucky’s torso, but he’s quickly relaxing like he’s forcing himself to.

Bucky pulls his head up, nuzzles into the crease of Steve’s hip as he tries to catch his breath. “It’s okay Steve,” he says, then repeats when he realises Steve had only caught his name. “Just let go.”

He gets his mouth on Steve again, sucks, and Steve arches up again, hips twitching until Bucky holds them still. He slides his hand up Steve’s stomach as soon as he’s settled, stroking over warm skin. Steve’s breathing grows ragged as he touches him, muscles jumping, so Bucky speeds up, bobbing his head.

Steve gasps out a warning, a strangled, “Buck, I’m-” and Bucky shoves his head down ‘til he’s gagging on it, as deep as he can go.

The noise Steve makes is garbled, syllables mixed up until it doesn’t mean anything anymore, then warmth floods his mouth as Steve comes. Bucky moans, can’t help himself, and the vibrations must do something for Steve because his hips flex.

It takes Steve a minute to come down, and Bucky stays right where he is, licking and sucking until Steve sits up and tugs at his hair. Bucky goes, of course he does, and Steve ducks down to kiss him. It’s wet, demanding, and Steve moans into his mouth when his tongue slips in. Bucky finds himself half dragged up Steve’s body, can’t help but laugh as he pets Steve’s chest in response. “Again?”

Steve’s laugh is breathless. “Any more and you might kill me, Bucky your mouth,” he says and Bucky kisses him again for the compliment.

Bucky tips himself to the side and Steve lets him slide off, but just before Bucky can fully pull away Steve’s hand is on his thigh, keeping one leg across his hips. “Where are you off to?” Steve says, words still spread out like he’s catching his breath.

Stroking his hand down Steve’s chest, Bucky can’t help but laugh as he hides his face in Steve’s shoulder. “Just getting comfortable,” he says as he rests his chin on Steve’s chest. He’s warmer than usual, and it makes Bucky want to stretch out beside him, over him, burrow into his warmth and never come out. He tips his head to get his eyes on Steve’s face when Steve doesn’t reply.

There’s something in his gaze as Bucky looks up at him, and it’s not nameless like all the romance novels describe. It’s deep, present, and so, so terrifying because it’s love, Captain Steven Grant Rogers is looking at him with love and Bucky knows he will do absolutely anything to be even remotely worthy of it.

He doesn’t know how to form the words he wants to say, doesn’t know if he could even bring himself to say them, so he just goes with “Steve,” and even a year ago if anyone had told him that he’d ever say a single name with that much reverence he’d have laughed at them.

They stare at each other, Steve’s chest slowly expanding with each breath he takes, Bucky’s head moving with each inhale and exhale, and eventually Steve’s breath stutters, just a little, then he says, “That okay?”

“Steve,” he says again, somehow softer, then Steve’s got his hand in Bucky’s hair and Bucky’s pushing himself up, and just before their lips meet Bucky’s breathing “yes” against his mouth.

“I know it’s fast,” Steve mumbles into his mouth and Bucky snorts.

He bites Steve’s lip, licks the spot, then says into the space between them, “We’ve known each other almost a year now. And to be honest,” he freezes when he realises what he was about to say, but Steve’s looking at him, soft and unguarded and curious, so Bucky knows he can’t back out now.

“To be honest,” he starts again, “I was in love with the idea of you for years. And then you came back, and I thought there was no way you could live up to this idea I’d built of you in my head because that’s how it is with celebrities and famous figures – no one ever is how the stories make them seem.” He pets his hands over Steve’s skin, braving a glance up to meet Steve’s gaze, expecting the worst.

It’s not what he gets. Sure, Steve had tensed a little under his hands when Bucky had started speaking, but he’s relaxed now, face open and trusting like he knows that no matter what Bucky’s about to say, it’s not going to damage what’s between them. Bucky can’t help himself, ducks forward and kisses Steve softly, smiling when Steve leans into it. “Then I met you, and, God Steve but you’re better than the stories, better than the you I had in the back of my mind. You’re kind, you’re honest, you actually give a shit about the people around you. You’re incredible, Steve, and honestly, I’ve been in a little in love with you since the second time we actually managed to hold a conversation.”

He grins, blinking away the wetness at the corner of his eyes as Steve looks at him like he’s the most important thing in the world. “So if one year is fast, what does that make me?”

Steve stares at him, silent for almost long enough to make Bucky squirm. Then, just as Bucky’s reaching his breaking point Steve’s arms wrap around him and they’re rolling. He gasps but Steve holds him steady, keeps him safe even though they’ve only switched positions. Steve drops his head, and Bucky pushes up into the kiss, soft noises escaping him as Steve pins him and kisses him senseless.

“I love you,” Steve whispers against his lips, “God, how did I ever convince myself I didn’t?”

Bucky doesn’t have an answer for him, so he does the next best thing and pulls their mouths together in another kiss.

Out of nowhere, there’s a wet nose pressed to Bucky’s foot and he yelps. There’s a bark in response, Duke helping himself to a spot on the bed as Steve starts laughing over him.

Bucky’s voice betrays his amusement.

“Damnit, Duke!”