Actions

Work Header

Get Jingle With It

Work Text:

Banner with art by walkingstardust

Bucky stands alone in a room full of Steve’s coworkers wearing a light-up Hanukkah sweater and holding a plate of terrible spinach puffs. It’s Christmas Eve, and they’ve been snowed-in, stuck with Steve’s coworkers for nearly a week at their company retreat. Steve is flirting with an asshole across the room while Bucky watches one of Steve’s overly-familiar coworkers making his way over to him, probably to ask Bucky about his sex life for the fiftieth time since this week began. Why does everyone keep asking about Bucky’s sex life? Because everyone at this terrible party thinks that he and Steve are not only a couple, but the cutest couple at this whole shindig. And that apparently makes them feel entitled to all of the information about Bucky's private life that they can get.

They aren’t entitled, and he and Steve aren't a couple. But that doesn’t mean that Steve isn’t the love of Bucky’s life.

Bucky nibbles on the edge of the nasty spinach puff and nearly gags.

Worst. Christmas. Ever.

❄ ❄ ❄

Two Weeks Earlier

❄ ❄ ❄

Bucky doesn’t expect a knock on his apartment door at 1 AM. Typically, he wouldn’t even be awake at 1 AM, but he has Sam and Natasha over, which means that he’s up later than his grandpa schedule usually allows. He says that they’re over in order to catch up on the Food Network shows they’ve fallen behind on during the past few busy months. They say it’s for moral support because Steve is finally going on a date with the guy from work he’s been pining for since the guy moved into the office next to Steve’s a couple years ago.

Joke’s on Steve, though. Bucky’s been silently pining for Steve for fifteen goddamn mother-fucking years with no end in sight. Take that, Steve’s comparatively tame pining that ended up with at least one actual date. Somehow, thinking that doesn’t make Bucky feel any better about it. In fact, comparing their situations just makes Bucky feel worse. He needs better defense mechanisms.

And then there’s a loud knock on the door, interrupting their episode of last season’s Halloween Baking Championship.

“Who the hell is that?” Bucky asks as Sam pops up from where he was dozing on Bucky’s couch, disrupting the bowl of popcorn that had been resting on his chest and knocking it onto the floor. Bucky winces; he’ll be the one who has to clean that up.

Natasha — the only one out of the three of them still mostly functioning at this hour because they’re old and boring — gets up and heads to the door to answer it. She has to go up on her sock-clad tiptoes to look through the peephole, which Bucky would call cute if he thought he could get away with it. Then she leans back and says, “It’s Steve.”

“Really?” Bucky asks, because shouldn’t Steve be getting lucky right about now?

She nods. “I can tell him you’re asleep—“

“I can hear you through the door,” Steve says, muffled but still audible from the other side of the entrance.

Bucky snickers. “Let him in. What’s the worst that can happen?” Probably a lot, if Steve gets into detail about his date, but he’s not going to think about that possibility.

Natasha opens the door. Bucky expects an exuberant Steve, grinning and bubbling over with excitement over his long-awaited date. But instead, Steve just stands there, looking a little wet from the heavy snow, shoulders hunched and eyes downcast. He looks like a golden retriever who just got put in the other room after jumping onto the table and trying to eat the Christmas ham. Bucky hates seeing Steve like that. Bucky also hates seeing wasted ham, even if he feels a little guilty every time he eats pig products, not that anyone in his family actually keeps kosher.

Bucky has just enough time to stand up before Steve is barreling across the room and practically throwing himself into Bucky’s arms. “Hey,” Bucky says, soft, going into his comforting mode. “What happened?” He wraps his arms around Steve and pulls him in tight. They’ve done this before. They’ll probably do this again. Still, it hurts every time Bucky sees Steve hurt.

“It was bad,” Steve says into Bucky’s neck.

Bucky rubs Steve’s back. “You need me to go kick his ass?” he asks.

Steve snorts, then shakes his head. “No,” he says.

“You sure?”

There’s a moment’s pause, then Steve says, “Yeah, I’m sure.” He sighs, then slips out of Bucky’s arms but stays close. His eyes are bloodshot and his cheeks are red. Bucky reaches up and pushes Steve’s hair off of his forehead. It’s an old habit, one he got from Sarah Rogers back when she’d do the same thing to a much smaller Steve with bangs that actually fell in his eyes because he didn’t know how to use product yet. Steve has a predictable response, frowning and pulling away. It makes Bucky smile. “C’mon Buck,” he says, rolling his eyes fondly.

“What happened?” Bucky asks, voice low.

“Yeah, wasn’t this your dream guy?” Natasha says.

Sam snorts. “Can’t be a dream guy if this is how you come back from your first date.”

Steve sighs. “Want to know the first thing he said to me when he got there twenty minutes late?”

“What?” Sam asks, crossing his arms over his chest and looking unimpressed.

“He told me that his girlfriend had been worried that this was a date, and how funny is that? Thinking that this meet up was a date? Because it wasn’t a date. He couldn’t even think about being on a date with me , of all people. We’re just hanging out, two buddies, two guys from work, and won’t I be a good pal and do half of his work for him for him in January while he fucks off to some resort in Sayulita.”

“No,” Sam says, eyebrows raised.

Steve nods. “Yeah.”

“But he asked you to Martinelli’s!” Bucky says. “You don’t just casually hang out with a friend at Martinelli’s!”

“Apparently he does, and then doesn’t pick up the check,” Steve says. “That’s another favor I can do for him, grabbing dinner. Apparently this month’s paycheck went to buying his girlfriend something or another. By that point I’d stopped paying attention. You know how angry I can get and I wanted to avoid that.”

“Fuck that,” Sam says. “Pop a squat. We’re switching over to the Holiday Baking Championship and we have Nutella and fresh strawberries.”

Steve exhales and leans on Bucky. “Can I crash here tonight?” he asks quietly as Sam and Natasha go to the kitchen for white wine and snacks.

“‘Course,” Bucky says, putting an arm around Steve’s hip and giving him a squeeze. He takes a breath. “I’m sorry about your date,” he says and it’s mostly true.

“I…” Steve pauses, takes a deep breath. “I really like him.” He looks up at Bucky. “I’ve never been someone who can just get over stuff like you can.”

Bucky swallows hard. “Yeah,” he says. He knows what Steve thinks about his romantic life. Bucky goes on a lot of dates. No one’s stuck around for long. It’s not that he doesn’t want to be in a relationship; he’d love to have a partner. It’s just that it’s hard to be with someone and go through the motions when you’re in love with someone else. That’s the part that Steve doesn’t realize when he says that.

“Buck, there’s something else, I—“

“I have wine,” Sam says, then pauses, eyebrows raised, as he looks over at the two of them. He knows how Bucky feels. Hell, most people probably do. Bucky’s never been good at hiding it.

Steve quickly steps away from Bucky, leaving Bucky’s arm just sort of outstretched and empty. Bucky just drops it, and looks away, not wanting to see the pity in Sam’s eyes.

“Wine sounds good,” Steve says.

“Yeah,” Bucky parrots. “Wine sounds good.”

❄ ❄ ❄

After three glasses of wine, Steve says, “Hey Buck?”

“Yeah?” It’s 2:30 am and he’s looking for a place that’ll deliver a pizza that won’t taste like crap. There aren’t many still open at this hour.

At this point, Steve and Bucky are the only ones left awake. Natasha left a little while ago so she could go back to Sharon’s to sleep on her more comfortable bed (aka: hook up), and Sam is passed out on Bucky’s bed. He and Steve are sitting together on Steve’s couch, reruns playing on the TV. They don’t want to commit to anything they want to actually pay attention to.

“I was thinking about your Hanukkah gift,” he says.

Bucky looks up from the computer and his half-completed pizza order. “Were you now?” Bucky asks with trepidation.

Steve has a bad track record when it comes to giving Bucky gifts, holiday or otherwise. Sure, every so often he’ll come through with a beautiful piece of art or tickets to something really special that makes Bucky remember why he likes Steve in the first place. But most of the time Steve lacks the self-awareness to realize that a dieting book doesn’t necessarily make a good birthday gift, no matter how much his friend has told him that they’d like to try that newfangled slow carb thing. He means well, but Steve oftentimes comes up a little short in that department.

“I was thinking that I could take you with me on my company holiday retreat.” Bucky snorts. “You haven’t been to the Catskills, right? And you said last year that you were jealous that you couldn’t go.”

“Thanks, but I’m good,” Bucky responds when he realizes that Steve is not, in fact, joking. “Got better shit to do than sit around gossiping about your coworkers all weekend.”

There’s a pregnant pause. Bucky looks back up from the pizza website. He narrows his eyes. “Wait, why all this suddenly?” he asks.

Steve doesn’t meet his eyes. “I thought it’d be fun,” he says, voice light.

“Sure, sure, the one weekend a year you get to go on an all-expenses paid vacation without any responsibilities or bullshit and you decide to take me along. How many people’d you hook up with up there last year, Steve?”

“Two,” Steve mumbles.

“Yeah, two. You think you’re gonna be hooking up with anyone with me stinking up your room?”

“It’d be fun ,” Steve repeats. “And you don’t smell that bad.”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “What’s the catch?” he asks.

“There isn’t one,” Steve says, hunching over a bit and picking at a loose string on one of Bucky’s throw pillows. Bucky doesn’t say anything, just looks at Steve until he looks back up at Bucky, then swiftly back down to the pillow. “Fine, okay, there’s a little catch.”

“There we go,” Bucky says. “Spill.”

Steve sighs, then flops over onto his back dramatically. “So, here’s the thing. You know how I get a little competitive?”

“A little?” Bucky asks, a slideshow of all of the bullshit Steve has put him through throughout his life just to prove a point flashing behind his eyes like a horror movie.

“A little,” Steve agrees, either not catching or, more likely, ignoring the sarcasm. “Anyhow, Brock is telling me all about his girlfriend and saying how funny the idea of us going out is, so I tell him that my boyfriend would think that’s hilarious.”

Bucky closes his laptop. “Boyfriend?” he asks, pizza forgotten.

“Yeah,” Steve says. “My boyfriend.” His voice sounds so tired.

“Steve, you don’t have a boyfriend,” Bucky says. They’re both pretty open with each other about their romantic lives. Bucky pays a little more attention to Steve’s than Steve probably does to his, but that’s a different story.

“That’s the thing,” Steve says. “It was really easy for me to just say that I had one, I wasn’t thinking too hard about it. Then he asked for a picture.”

“No,” Bucky says.

“And it was also really easy just to show him the background of my phone.”

Bucky groans. “No, no, no,” he mutters.

Bucky knows what the background of Steve’s phone is.

It’s a photo of the two of them from last October. They’d gone on a hayride together at a pumpkin patch, just for fun and an excuse to get out of the city. The cart had been a little crowded, so they were pressed up against each other, thigh-to-thigh. Steve had an arm around Bucky’s shoulders as he surveyed the setting sun over the fields of pumpkins. He looked beautiful in the orange glow of the sunset, hair mussed from the wind, and Bucky hadn’t been able to take his eyes away.

That’s when Natasha snapped the picture.

Steve thinks it’s just a cute picture. In the photo, he’s chuckling at something Bucky said, Bucky looking at him. When Steve looks at it, he doesn’t see the pure adoration in Bucky’s eyes, the embarrassing way he’d been wearing his emotions on his face. Everyone else can see it, though.

Bucky hates that picture.

The background of Steve's phone by debwalsh

The background of Steve's phone by debwalsh.

“He recognized you, from the times you’ve brought lunch to the office, and that time you came out drinking with everyone.”

“Creep,” Bucky mutters.

“And so he assumed that we’ve been together for a while, and I didn’t tell him no.” He sits back up. “He asked if you were coming with me to the holiday retreat so I said yes.”

“Some Hanukkah present,” Bucky says.

“I understand if you don’t want to,” Steve says, quickly. “But it is a free vacation, no strings attached. You wouldn’t even have to hang out with me — we could pretend to get into a fight after the first night and you can spend the rest of the weekend in the spa or skiing.”

“Are you trying to invite me on vacation and ditching me in the same sentence?” Bucky asks, incredulous.

“No!” Steve says, cheeks getting a little red. “That’s not it at all, I… I’d love it if you came. You… You make everything better, Buck. If anything, it’s just an excuse to hang out with you over the holidays. We haven’t been able to spend much time together during the holidays since I started having to go to this retreat, and we could rekindle some of our old traditions.”

“I miss those,” Bucky says. He sighs. “Ma would’ve wanted me to go with you,” he adds.

“Probably,” Steve says.

“She also would’ve laughed her ass off at this situation.” Though, Bucky tells himself, she’d’ve also stroked Bucky’s hair back off his forehead and tell him that it’s no one’s fault that Steve doesn’t understand the good thing standing in front of him, and that sometimes you’ve just gotta let someone love you the best they can while hoping that something else comes along. She spent a lot of time doing that.

“Yeah, same with my ma. They’re probably watching us from Heaven with glasses of whiskey in hand, hollering at the two of us for being so dumb all the time.”

Bucky levels Steve with a look. “The two of us?” he asks.

Steve sighs, sitting back up and scooting over on the couch until he’s pressed up against Bucky. He rests his head on Bucky’s shoulder. “It was my mistake,” he says.

“The food’s good, right?” Bucky asks.

“It’s all delicious,” Steve says. “And I’m not just saying that to get you to go. The food is genuinely good.”

“And you’re gonna make up a really juicy backstory for the two of us?” Bucky asks.

Steve nods. “Something that makes me look really pathetic where I pine over you for years and years. Something like that. It’ll make you look like a big hero.”

Bucky swallows hard. “That’s not pathetic,” he says, voice a little thin. He probably sounds pretty pathetic.

“I’ll think of something better,” Steve says with a shrug. “We’ve got a little time.”

Bucky sighs. “So when do we leave?” he asks with something like defeat in his voice.

Steve smiles, reaches around Bucky and pulls him in for a hug. “I love you,” he says. “You’re the best.

“Love you too, bud,” Bucky says, shutting his eyes and trying to shield himself from how much this moment hurts.

❄ ❄ ❄

Two Weeks Later

❄ ❄ ❄

“Holy crap,” Bucky says, looking at the huge lodge looming ahead of them.

“It’s a little ostentatious,” Steve says. “Especially since it bills itself as a cabin resort. It’s a cabin for giants.”

“It looked smaller in pictures,” Bucky says, pulling out his phone to snap a photo. He quickly texts it to Sam before putting his phone away again. He hates being that person who can’t get off their phone during a road trip.

“Tony likes big stuff,” Steve says, a little huffy.

“Yeah, that’s why he hired you, big stuff,” Bucky says, which just makes Steve roll his eyes.

But as much as he may be annoyed by Tony, Stark Industries isn’t a bad place to work. Steve’s been with the firm for three years, and all things considered, he likes it. It’s run by Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, who are innovators in green architecture. On paper, it’s Steve’s dream job. Steve likes the mix of design and science, and likes feeling like he’s creating the next generation of buildings. And most of the staff are great, and they get along, which makes something like the holiday retreat possible. Brock aside, Steve hasn’t been mistreated by anyone, which makes it a lot better than his last job, where the boss was a real piece of work.

Bucky likes that Steve is happy there, and he likes that Steve works much more reasonable hours and for a better salary than at his old gig. It’s just that Bucky isn’t so fond of Tony Stark, who has no filter and drags Steve out of town every year during the holidays to apparently hang out in the world’s most gaudy log cabin. He knows that most of the time Steve feels similarly, even if Tony Stark is kind of obsessed with him.

Steve pulls into a parking spot and turns to Bucky. “Thanks again,” he says.

“You’re welcome, but what brought that on?” he asks.

Steve exhales. “It’s going to be a weird weekend,” he says. “For both of us, probably.”

“Did you tell everyone that I’m coming?” Steve nods. “Then it shouldn’t be that weird. Just… we’ll hold hands a little, call each other a pet name or two tonight, then I’ll get out of your hair and you can go hook-up with whoever you want in their room.”

“I don’t want you to get out of my hair,” Steve says, frowning. Bucky’s half-surprised that he didn’t comment on the rest of that.

Bucky looks down at his lap, plays with a loose string on the edge of his t-shirt. He shucked off his coat when they got in the car, and needs to get himself back together before they get back out of the car. He doesn’t want to embarrass Steve this weekend. Not that there’s anything inherently embarrassing about Bucky, per se, but he’s very aware that they’ll be surrounded by Steve’s coworkers and friends all weekend. Being the asshole who shows up in twenty-five degree weather without a coat would be a shitty start to the festivities.

“Buck?” Steve asks.

Bucky looks up. “Yeah?”

“I want you to have fun this weekend, too. You know that, right? It’s a present, even if it’s not a very good one.”

Bucky nods. “Sure,” he says.

Steve reaches out and grabs Bucky’s shoulder. “We can turn around right now if you’re not feeling up to this. Just say the word.”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “Stop it.”

“You’re just not—“

“I’m feeling a little carsick,” Bucky lies. “Probably ‘cuz you’re such a shitty driver.”

Steve drops his hand. “I am not a shitty driver,” he says.

Bucky snorts. “Tell that to the parade of Nissans you cut off on the way here.” He smiles at Steve, who gives him a tentative smile back.

“My offer still stands. I’ll drive you back whenever.”

“I won’t wanna go back,” Bucky says, opening the door to the car as he slips his coat back on. “Now let’s get going, my vacation is about to begin, y’know.”

“I’ll race you to the door,” Steve says.

By the time he’s finished the sentence, Bucky’s already out the door and running, half of his coat flapping behind him.

❄ ❄ ❄

Despite an unfortunate slip in the parking lot, they check in without a hitch.

The first snag they encounter is when they get into the room itself.

“I should’ve thought this through,” Steve says as he looks at the one queen-size bed. “When I booked the reservation it was for one,” he explains. “I added you to the reservation, but never asked for a second bed. I didn’t think to,” he admits.

“Huh,” Bucky says, unable to take his eyes off of the single bed. The rest of the hotel room is nice. There’s the bed, a bathroom with two sinks outside of it in that weird way that hotels do, and a small sitting area with a blue couch and table. The TV is big and there’s only one bed .

“I can go down and ask for a room with two beds,” Steve says.

Bucky shakes his head. “Your coworkers are all mingling in the lobby,” he says. “It’d look real fishy if you went down to ask for a room with two beds. Maybe like, I dunno, you’re not actually interested in the guy you came here with. People could read into that.”

Steve frowns. “I saw Brock down there,” he admits.

“It won’t be a problem. I can sleep on the couch,” Bucky says.

“You will not,” Steve says. “We’ll both sleep in the bed. It’ll be fine.”

“You snore,” Bucky says, trying to find some excuse that will keep him out of Steve’s bed.

Steve shoots Bucky a dirty look. “I don’t snore, Buck! And besides, you’d be able to hear me snore on the couch, too,” he says. “It’s a moot point.”

“I have cold feet,” Bucky offers, but his argument grows increasingly weak.

Steve flops down on the bed and shuts his eyes. “I’ll warm ‘em up for you,” he says.

Taking that as his cue, Bucky quickly pulls off his shoes and socks and hops into the bed next to Steve. He wiggles around so that he’s perpendicular to Steve, and shoves his feet underneath Steve’s shirt.

Steve squeals , and Bucky howls with laughter as Steve tries to free himself from Bucky’s freezing toes.

“Do you have no circulation?” Steve asks as he wiggles himself out from Bucky’s feet and pulls himself upright. “You should see a doctor! That can’t be normal.”

“Aw, now you’re making me feel self-conscious about it,” Bucky says, just as Steve leaps over and tackles him to the bed. “What the hell?” Bucky asks, struggling to get out from under Steve, and trying to keep himself from laughing.

“Stop squirming, I’m gonna give you a wet willie,” Steve says.

Bucky rolls his damn eyes before struggling even harder. “You think I’m gonna just stop and say it’s okay when you announce your intentions like that?” he asks, managing to flip them over so that he’s on top of Steve. He grins, then reaches down and starts tickling Steve’s torso.

Steve immediately starts flailing around, trying to push Bucky off of him as he laughs. “Buck, Buck!” he calls, breathless, but Bucky is relentless, getting Steve’s ribs, under his armpits, anywhere and everywhere he can reach. He’s always been ticklish, and Bucky knows that only the most determined attack will leave Steve red-faced and incapacitated.

Steve is crying out for help when there’s a sharp knock on the door.

Bucky stops and rolls off of Steve and onto his back. “Who is it?” he mutters.

“Dunno,” Steve says as he pulls himself up.

Bucky’s cheeks go red, because Steve looks… a little debauched. His blond hair sticks up, his shirt is only half tucked-in. Bucky stifles a laugh, because to most observers, it would seem that the two of them got to the hotel, checked in, and immediately started fucking.

Which Bucky guesses isn’t too unusual for a young couple on vacation. It’s just that the thought of doing so is so far-removed from his day-to-day life that it seems a little odd. Especially since it’s Steve that he’s with.

“I’ll get it,” Steve says, pulling himself out of bed. He pauses just before the door to pick a wedgie out of his ass and Bucky chokes back a laugh. If it’s one of Steve’s coworkers at the door, he needs to at least try to look the same amount of debauched that Steve appears to be. So Bucky situates himself so he’s laying on his side, looking at Steve and the door and trying his best to appear coitus-interuptus, as opposed to ticklus-interuptus. He’s not sure how effective it is, but it’s something.

Steve opens the door, then immediately straightens up. “Brock!” he says, surprised and, much to Bucky’s irritation, excited.

Bucky sees the gruff, tall man on the other side of the door and his stomach clenches. He’s seen Brock in person before, sure, but not after he hurt Steve the way that he did. If he weren’t part of this silly scheme, Bucky would strongly consider just punching Brock in the face. It’d probably be pretty satisfying for him, though Steve — who has thrown a hell of a lot more punches in his life than Bucky has — would probably be horrified.

“Who is it, sugar?” Bucky asks lazily from the bed instead. If he can’t kill Brock with… himself, he’ll just try to make him as jealous as humanly possible.

Steve turns around. “It’s Brock,” he says with a puppy dog kind of smile that makes Bucky’s throat go dry. He’s having a lot of physical reactions to this and honestly? He doesn’t like it.

Steve greeting Brock at the door by debwalsh

Steve greeting Brock at the door by debwalsh.

“Uhh…” Bucky says, then purses his lips. He gives Steve a confused look.

“Rumlow? Brock Rumlow. We went to dinner a few weeks ago,” Steve says, and Bucky is grateful that he’s playing along. The charade can’t be one-sided if they’re going to make it the least bit convincing.

“Oh yeah, Martinelli’s. Did you read the interview with the head chef in the New Yorker? ” Bucky asks.

“No, I—“

“Steve,” Brock interrupts.

Steve turns back around to the door. “Oh yeah, Brock! It’s nice to see you. What’s up?” he says, sounding a bit more calm than he did a minute ago when he opened the door.

“Everyone’s meeting for cocktails downstairs. I’m grabbing anyone still in their room.” He looks over Steve’s shoulder at Bucky. “You can come, too,” he says, as he rakes his eyes up and down Bucky’s body. He smirks at him, and uh. Bucky’s not quite sure what the hell to make of that, but he gets himself up to sit at the edge of the bed so he feels a little less exposed. Brock’s eyes don’t leave him the whole time.

Bucky gets a bad, bad feeling about this.

“Buck?” Steve asks, turning around. “Wanna go?”

“I think I need a shower first,” Bucky says, changing tactics and looking at Steve like he hung the moon. Anything to get Brock to stop looking at him with unconcealed lust in his eyes. Doesn’t this asshole have a girlfriend? “But you go along, hon. I’ll be down in a jiffy.” Okay, maybe he doesn’t need to sound like he’s on an episode of Leave It To Beaver . But there’s something distinctly anti-sexy about Leave It To Beaver , so maybe it’ll work.

“Oh, uh. We could. Shower?” Steve stutters, turning redder than he already was.

It’s adorable.

It also kind of undoes any no-sexy vibes Bucky was trying to throw out into the universe, because even if Steve is playing the awkward virgin here, having him ask Bucky to shower is possibly the sexiest thing that’s ever happened to Bucky. Or, at least his dick is telling him that.

Bucky stands up, grinning at Steve and trying to will his burgeoning erection down. He moves across the room, humming in agreement. “Sure,” he says when he gets to Steve, putting an arm around his shoulders and kissing his cheek, lingering there for a moment. He looks at Brock. “You’ll give everyone some excuse for us, won’t you Brick?”

“Brock,” Brock says, face going cold.

“Yeah, that’s…” He trails off, looks back at Steve, then licks his bottom lip. “We’ll see you later,” he says, maneuvering the door closed with his foot.

They make it ten full seconds, standing at the door and staring at one another, Bucky’s arm still around Steve’s shoulders, before they burst out laughing. “Did you see his face?” Steve asks as he moves out from underneath Bucky’s arm, then back to the bed to flop down.

“It was hilarious,” Bucky says, grinning; though, he’s still not sure what to make of the way Brock was looking at him while he was on the bed. At least thinking about Brock is a boner killer. He has that going for him.

“Are you actually gonna take that shower?” Steve asks.

“Sure,” he says. “Do you wanna go first, or…?”

“No, I’ll just… I’ll watch TV,” he says, not quite meeting Bucky’s eye.

“Sounds good,” Bucky says, before grabbing a towel and heading into the bathroom alone.

❄ ❄ ❄

They spend a nice evening with Steve’s coworkers. Steve takes Bucky around the room, an arm around his waist, introducing him to the coworkers he hasn’t met before, and explaining that they’ve been together for about a year now though he was just a little nervous to talk about it with anyone. Bucky pretends to rib him for it, then settles into Steve’s side like he belongs there. Steve tells Bucky that he just didn’t want to jinx the relationship, that it meant too much to him for that. It would be pretty easy to pretend that it’s real, except for the way that Steve avoids touching Bucky any time they’re not in his coworkers’ eyes.

Bucky notices that Brock spends most of the night avoiding them, and that’s perfectly fine by Bucky. But Steve’s gaze strays over to Brock every so often, and it makes Bucky shove mozzarella sticks in his mouth with abandon. It gives him a perverse sense of pleasure to eat them, because Steve is lactose intolerant. If Bucky has to spend all week feeling jealous and kind of nauseous, Steve can, too.

“Those look kind of nasty,” Steve says, eyeing Bucky’s plate of mozzarella sticks as he brings Bucky another beer.

“You mean my sticks?” Bucky asks.

Steve nods. “Yeah, kind of greasy. You know that I’m the worst at being lactose intolerant, but even I wouldn’t risk those. You want something better? The pot stickers Brock’s eating look delicious. We could split an order if you wanted.”

“You’re paying at lot of attention to Brock,” Bucky says, eating another mozzarella stick just to do it. Steve’s disapproval means nothing to him, or at least he tells himself that it doesn’t. They’re alone at a hightop table in one of the resort’s bars. A lot of Steve’s coworkers have already gone to bed, but there are still a few people lingering over drinks and appetizers. Brock is, which is why Bucky thinks they’re still there instead of in bed like he’d like to be.

Steve slips into the seat next to Bucky. “I mean, yeah,” he says. He looks down at the table with a frown. “It’s hard getting over someone. I’m not like you, Buck. I can’t just…” He sighs. “I’m not articulating that very well,” he says with an apologetic smile. Usually that smile can get Steve out of almost anything when it comes to Bucky. But maybe not tonight.

“No, you’re not,” Bucky says, dropping his half-eaten mozzarella stick back down on the plate. “What do you mean by that?” he asks.

“I just mean that you’ve dated a lot of people, right?” Steve says, reaching for a mozzarella stick and starting to pick it apart. He doesn’t look at Bucky.

“Sure.”

“And most of them weren’t for very long.”

Bucky shrugs. “Your point?”

He sighs and drops the mozzarella stick. “I just mean that I can’t do that. I’m not that…” He trails off.

“Shallow?” Bucky suggests, raising an eyebrow.

“You know that’s not what I meant,” Steve says, voice going cold. As cold as the plate of bad mozzarella sticks in front of them.

“Yeah?” Bucky asks. “What’d you mean, then? ‘Cuz I’m not buying’ what you’re selling here.”

“Stop being so obstinate,” Steve says.

“Then you stop being an ass!” Bucky says, trying to keep his voice down even if he’s angry. Steve purses his lips, brow going into his creased, stubborn mode. “God, Steve, do you even think before you talk?” he says, quieter. “How do you know that’s what I’m feeling? Have you ever bothered to ask ?”

“I—”

“And just so you know, I find it hard to let go, too.” He swallows hard. “It just happens that I know not to chase after a lost cause when I see it. I don’t let it ruin my life.”

“Buck, I’m…” He trails off, mouth half-open, eyes wide. For once Bucky seems to have managed to surprise him.

Bucky sighs, stands up. “I’m going to bed,” he says. “I’ll see you there.”

“Do you want me to stay down here?” Steve asks.

“Do what you want,” Bucky says, leaving the table and walking away.

❄ ❄ ❄

He doesn’t expect to walk into the same elevator as Brock Rumlow, but Bucky’s life has a habit of turning out that way.

“Bucky, right?” Brock says.

“Oh, hey,” Bucky says, unenthusiastic in his greeting. This is the last thing he wanted right now.

“Headed upstairs?”

“Yeah, seventh floor. Thanks,” Bucky says as Brock pushes the 7 button on the button panel. Bucky shoves his hands in his jean pockets and resists the urge to deck Brock for the sole fact that he could be with Steve Rogers, but chooses not to be. What kind of a stupid asshole would actively choose not to go out with Steve Rogers? Even if he’s an obstinate ass, he’s the best obstinate ass that Bucky knows. And also, he has a great ass. He probably shouldn’t be thinking these things about his friend, especially when he’s fighting with him, but it’s better than thinking of the reality of being stuck with Brock Rumlow in an elevator for seven floors.

“Steve said that you’re in advertising?” Brock asks, apparently eager to make conversation.

Bucky nods. “Yeah, I am.” He doesn’t offer anything else.

“You ever made an ad for something I know?” Brock asks, leaning against the side of the elevator. Bucky looks over for just a second and Brock smirks, and Bucky while may be tired and upset, but he thinks he sees him sort of… pushing out his pelvis.

Oh. Oh God.

How does Steve even like this guy? Sure, Bucky’s never been entirely sure about Steve’s taste, but this guy is just gross. Steve should have better judgment than this.

“No,” Bucky says, looking back at the button panel and willing this elevator to travel more quickly, wanting nothing more than to be in Willy Wonka’s glass elevator. Instead, they’re just making it past the second floor. Damn old American infrastructure.

“Hmm…” Brock says. “That’s a shame, because I think you could sell me just about anything.”

Bucky inches closer to the opposite end of the elevator. It’s like he can feel Brock’s ickiness inching towards him with every moment he looks in Bucky’s direction.

“You know Rogers long?” Brock asks, apparently changing tactics since Bucky can’t say that he invented the Kit Kat song.

Bucky nods. “Since we were kids,” he says, pretending to read the elevator safety instructions.

“Seems like a forgiving guy,” Brock says.

They’re only on floor three.

“Uh, sure he is. Why, you missed a deadline?” Bucky asks. “You should be fine as long as you don’t let it happen again.”

“No, I’m real dependable,” Brock says. “Maybe I could get you hired to advertise our next project. It’s kind of a big deal and I have a lot of pull at the company.”

“Don’t like to mix business and pleasure,” Bucky says, shaking his head. Not to mention the fact that he likes his job and never wants to come to another Stark Industries Holiday Retreat for the rest of his life.

“So you think talking to me is pleasure?” Brock asks, voice practically a smirk.

Bucky can’t help but glance over at Brock again, then looks back at the button panel. They’re on the fourth floor. This must be the world’s slowest elevator. Or maybe time just moves that much more slowly when he has to talk to Brock Rumlow. “I meant Steve,” he says. “I like talking to Steve. My boyfriend. He’s… pleasurable,” he says, wincing a little at how stupid he sounds. He doesn’t feel quite as confident as he did earlier being with Brock alone.

“It’s so funny,” Brock says. “I didn’t think Steve was in a relationship.”

“Why’s that?” Bucky asks, tone flat and disinterested.

“He never talks about you. Has that photo on his desk, but if you’ve only been dating for a year then he’s had it there since before you started going out.” He pauses. “I always noticed you,” he says.

Bucky looks back over. “Steve has a photo of us on his desk?” he asks, actually caring about what Brock’s answer might be for the first time since they started talking.

“Why wouldn’t he?” Brock asks, tough guy act slipping up for just a moment in his genuine confusion.

“We’re private,” Bucky says quietly as he looks down at his feet, willing the elevator to move faster before he says something stupid. There would be something kind of pathetic about trying to drag details about that picture out of Brock. And he already feels pretty pathetic as it is.

“Usually that signals some kind of problem in the relationship,” Brock says, finding his smarmy footing once again.

Bucky rolls his eyes. “It’s almost like you’re hoping there is,” Bucky says.

“Wouldn’t mind taking advantage of one if there was,” Brock responds. “You’re an attractive guy.” Bucky isn’t even looking at Brock but he can feel Brock’s eyes oozing over his body. He feels naked underneath his gaze and not in a good way. Bucky has to keep himself from actively cringing. At this point, he’s practically plastered to the opposite side of the elevator, trying to get as far from Brock as he physically can.

Bucky turns to Brock as the elevator passes the sixth floor. “I love Steve,” he says, and it’s not a lie, just the first time he’s said it aloud. He can feel the raw emotion in his throat as he says it. It makes him pause for just a moment before continuing. “You try making another move on me and he’ll kick your ass,” he adds, and it’s probably true. Regardless of however much Steve may like this asshole, if he knew that he was making Bucky uncomfortable, Brock would be a red stain against the wall. “He’s a good guy but he’s been in a lot of fights. He also spends a lot of time at the gym.”

“Doubt he feels the same when he keeps trying to make a move on me,” Brock says with a shrug. The elevator dings and the door opens. “It’s your floor,” he says. “I’ll be on nine, if you need me.” He’s smirking as Bucky walks out the elevator doors.

God. What a dick.

❄ ❄ ❄

There’s a muffled knock on Bucky’s hotel room door twenty minutes later. Bucky — wearing snowflake boxers and a white t-shirt while watching whatever trashy movie that was already halfway through on Lifetime when he got home — shuffles to the door, hoping that it’s anyone but Brock Rumlow.

“It’s me,” he hears from the other side, but somehow he’s not relieved that it’s Steve. Second worst person to be there, but hey. At least Steve isn’t Brock. Thank God for small blessings, at least.

He takes a deep breath, then opens the door. Steve is standing outside, carrying three plates with various appetizers on them. “I didn’t order room service,” Bucky says. He sees one of Steve’s coworkers passing behind Steve, looking at them with a bemused smile, so he adds, “but you’re looking like a snack” with a smarmy grin.

It’s so easy flirting with Steve. It’s just also kind of heartbreaking to do it.

Steve’s cheeks go a little red as his coworker chuckles. “Can I come in?” he asks.

Bucky rolls his eyes as he moves back and lets Steve through the door. “‘Course you can,” he says. “Your company is paying for the room. It’s under your name.”

“I brought some more of the mozzarella sticks, plus some potato skins, boneless wings, and some of those potstickers,” he says, setting the plates down on the room’s coffee table. “Also, an apology, if you want that.”

“Save your breath,” Bucky says, snatching a mozzarella stick from one of the plates. “I was stressed and blew up at you. That wasn’t fair.” He takes a bite of the stick. It’s not searing hot but it’s better than the last batch he had downstairs.

“Buck,” Steve says, deep and serious. “I haven’t been considering your feelings for a long time. I didn’t even realize that I wasn’t considering your feelings, which is wrong. Worse than I could’ve thought.” God, he looks so serious and thoughtful it makes Bucky want to tackle him into that bed just to make him shut up. Bucky’s feelings don’t matter enough to make Steve look like that, a full-blown golden retriever in apology mode. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Bucky says. “It’s not like I’m all that open about shit,” he adds, because it’s true. He’s had to spend the past fifteen years not talking about his feelings with his best friend because his feelings have been for his best friend. It’s not Steve’s fault that Bucky is a good actor and used to concealing and not feeling. And he’s not about to let it go any time soon.

Steve frowns. “You can be, if you want. I won’t judge. I want to be there for you.”

“I’m not worried about you judging me,” Bucky says. And he’s not all that worried about that. He just can’t stand the thought of Steve looking at him with pity in his eyes as he lets him down easy.

“Then what are you worried about?” Steve says. He takes a step closer to Bucky, bites down on his bottom lip. “What are you hiding from me?” he asks, voice going quiet and gentle, but also a little hurt. They’ve known each other long enough that Steve can’t hide that from him. Knowing the manipulative bastard as well as he does, Bucky doesn’t think that Steve wants to hide that from him.

See, this is the sort of thing Bucky’s been worried about this whole time. There’s a reason he’s been keeping his feelings from Steve for so long. If Steve knew how much Bucky’s been hurting over the past fifteen years, he’d never stop beating himself up about it.

“You make it sound like my sex life is some kind of terrorist plot,” Bucky says, grabbing a boneless wing and popping it into his mouth, just so he can chew and talk at the same time, which he knows drives Steve crazy. Anything to make this conversation as short as humanly possible. “I promise that I’m just a hopeless romantic, with an emphasis on hopeless.” He shrugs. “It’s not that big a deal.”

“Hopeless?” Steve asks, cringing at Bucky’s lack of manners. Good. It’s what he deserves. “Why would you be hopeless? You’re…” He trails off. “I don’t see why you of all people would have any reason to feel hopeless about romance.”

Bucky pulls out his phone. “Siri, what’s the definition of—”

“Oh stop,” Steve says, rolling his eyes as he grabs a potsticker. He chews and swallows before speaking again. “Who’s your lost cause?” he asks, not quite meeting Bucky’s eyes before reaching out for another potsticker. He dips this one in a little plate of sauce before saying, “You mentioned knowing when not to chase a lost cause, which means you have one, right? So who is it?”

Bucky sighs. Steve is too smart for his own good sometimes.

“Not worth mentioning,” Bucky says. “I try no to think about it,” he adds. Which is true. But that doesn’t mean he’s not constantly thinking about it, especially when he’ll be going to sleep in the same bed as his lost cause in about twenty minutes.

“I’m sure it’s worth mentioning if it’s causing you pain,” Steve says. He is a master manipulator.

“Not pain,” Bucky says. “Maybe just an undercurrent of discomfort occasionally.”

“Still,” Steve says.

“I shouldn’t’ve snapped,” Bucky says.

“Because I’m hassling you about it now?” Steve asks, finally cracking a smile.

“Exactly,” Bucky says. He pats the space on the couch next to him. “Pop a squat. Laurel is about to make her big love confession that Santa will overhear and then make her Christmas wish come true. It’s a real classic.”

“Be still my heart,” Steve says, but sits down and pulls the plate of wings onto his lap as he starts watching the movie with Bucky and munching on their snack.

Bucky lets himself scoot closer to Steve, lets himself close his eyes and breathe after Steve rests his head on his shoulder.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Steve says.

“Yeah?” Bucky asks.

“You’re my favorite person,” Steve says by way of explanation, and it makes something in Bucky’s gut clench.

An undercurrent of discomfort, maybe. Not so much occasional.

God, he’s not looking forward to the rest of this trip.

❄ ❄ ❄

Day two involves team-building exercises.

“I’m not actually part of the team,” Bucky complains. He didn’t sleep well. Not because he had to bunk with Steve — he’s done that hundreds of times over the years and it’s nothing unusual, really — but because his mind couldn’t stop racing. Between Brock Rumlow’s come-ons and letting it slip to Steve that he has someone he’s been pining over, this trip is already getting a lot more complicated than he’d anticipated. He should’ve expected it, but usually things with Steve are pretty simple: he pines, Steve stays oblivious, and they manage to have a good time anyway. This trip is turning out to be an anomaly, and it’s ruining Bucky’s beauty sleep.

Mostly, he thought this trip would just involve getting drunk on Tony Stark’s dime for a week. So far that hasn’t even happened. He was maybe tipsy last night, but definitely not drunk. Ridiculous.

Instead, he’s standing out in the snow with instructions to make a rabbit.

“I’m not wearing gloves,” he adds, looking at the mound of snow in front of him.

“So?” asks one of Steve’s coworkers. He thinks her name is Claudia. He doesn’t like her or the way that she’s eyeing him like he’s competition to be conquered in the high-powered world of team-building exercises.

“So, the snow is cold,” Bucky says, shoving his hands under his armpits as if to prove a point. “I don’t want to get frostbite.”

“Think of how much you could sue Tony for if you did though,” Steve says with a grin as he nudges Bucky’s side.

“Not worth losing my arm,” Bucky says, rolling his eyes. “I make enough money, thank you very much.”

“Or messing up your manicure,” Steve says. Bucky pokes his side, which makes him yelp.

“If you’re not going to be part of this team, you should leave. We don’t need any dead weight,” Claudia says as she inspects the paper sheet of instructions left to each team. She looks up with a glare. “Get a move on, Mr. Barnes,” she says, voice low.

“Claudia,” Steve says in a deep voice. “That’s my partner and you can’t talk to him like that. These exercises are meant to be fun. It’s not so serious that you need to behave like a middle school class president on a power trip. Bucky stays and he can complain as much as he’d like for as long as he’d like.”

Bucky snorts, pushes into Steve’s side again. Automatically, Steve wraps an arm around Bucky’s waist and gives him a little squeeze. He can’t help his smile, but what’s better is looking up at Steve and seeing him smile back at him.

Hearing Steve defend him like that shouldn’t make his dick twitch, but it does. God, Bucky is so desperate for companionship. Even if Steve is just doing this out of friendship, it gives him a bit of a thrill to be defended like that. He shouldn’t like it as much as he does.

Claudia rolls her eyes. “Then go get a pair of gloves,” she says. “You can complain but I’m not going to deal with someone who isn’t invested in finding solutions.”

She sounds like a corporate handbook and it kind of makes Bucky want to shove his head in a snowbank.

“I don’t think I even brought a pair of gloves. You’ll just do all the work for me, won’t you sweetie pie?” Bucky asks Steve, looking up at him with a grin as he bats his eyelashes.

Steve looks down at him for a long moment, then, in an instant, swoops in and pecks him on the lips. “Every team needs a freeloader. You just stand there and look pretty,” he says with a smile before turning back to the group.

Bucky just looks up at Steve, whose arm is still around his waist, and wonders what the hell that was about.

Steve Rogers just kissed him for the world — and Claudia — to see.

❄ ❄ ❄

“I hope that wasn’t weird,” Steve says that afternoon. They’re back in their hotel room after the team-building exercises, getting dressed for the fancy evening dinner. Steve just got out of the shower — having gotten pretty muddy during the morning and afternoon — and is standing around the hotel room, wearing nothing except for a towel around his waist. Bucky showered before him, complaining that he was freezing and needed to warm up immediately. He shouldn’t have brought his good-looking but impractical winter jacket instead of his warm-but-ugly one. If he’d known he was going to spend the day outside, he wouldn’t have tried to look so cute.

“Uh, what?” Bucky asks, pausing with his suit pants pulled halfway up his legs, his boxer briefs-clad ass kind of sticking out.

“The kiss earlier while Claudia was talking at you. I was thinking about it in the shower. I wanted to see if you thought it was weird that I did that.”

Sometimes, Steve says things that makes Bucky want to dig a large hole, wrap himself in towels, jump into the hole, and decompose.

Now is one of those times. That shower comment was one of those things.

The feeling is not unlike the feeling he had while talking to Claudia earlier today, but somehow it is so much worse.

“It wasn’t weird,” Bucky says before he pauses so long that it gets weirder than it already is.

“Because if it was weird…” Steve doesn’t finish the sentence, just frowns.

“I literally just said it wasn’t weird,” Bucky says, pulling up his pants up and buttoning them. “We’re supposed to be a couple. Of course we’d be affectionate. Lord knows that I’ve been talking all sorts of sappy shit about you. So kissing would be natural. It would be weird if we didn’t kiss.” He shrugs. “Were you uncomfortable?”

“No!” Steve says in a rush. “ I kissed you ,” he adds, as if Bucky could ever forget. It was chaste. It was simple. But it was Steve Rogers kissing him. That’s not going to leave his memory any time soon.

Bucky shrugs. “It was worth checking with you.”

“You don’t need to worry. I’m very comfortable. I’ll let you know if I’m uncomfortable,” he lies, with apparent and extreme discomfort.

“Okay,” Bucky says, holding back a snort. This whole situation is uncomfortable, in Bucky’s opinion, but if Steve is fine he’s chill. Mostly. Probably. And it’s not like Bucky doesn’t want to kiss Steve and doesn’t like flirting with him. It’s mostly just the oddness of actually living out what he’s been thinking about for fifteen years, and the knowledge that in less than a week, they’ll go back to how things used to be. It’s uncomfortable because Bucky wants it all, and he wants more . But he’s not going to ask or push for any of it.

“So I’m comfortable and you’re comfortable,” Steve says after a moment.

“Uh, sure,” Bucky responds after a long pause.

“Then would you mind doing some more of that?” Steve asks.

To quote Scooby Doo: ‘Ruh-roh’.

“More kissing?” Bucky asks, throat suddenly feeling very dry.

Steve nods. “If you don’t mind. I think we’d seem more natural that way if we really want to convince my coworkers that we’re together. And the more we do it, the more natural we’ll seem.”

“Isn’t the only coworker you care about convincing Brock?” Bucky asks.

It’s been a mercifully Brock-free day thus far. He was put in a different team-building group that was on the other side of the resort, so while Steve was disappointed, Bucky felt like he could go through the motions of the team-building exercises more at ease. He knows that he should tell Steve that Brock’s been coming onto him, but he’s afraid of what Steve’s reaction would be. There were times when they were kids that Bucky knew Steve felt jealous of him for various reasons, stupid reasons, in Bucky’s opinion. While Bucky never really understood why Steve felt jealous, he would never want to do something that made Steve feel worse, especially since the chances of Brock actually making a move on him are so slim. Bucky doesn’t want to ruin their relationship because of Brock. It would just give Brock what he wants.

Still, it doesn’t feel good to be keeping that from Steve. It feels like lying by omission, which is never something Bucky wants to do (minus the whole having feelings for Steve for the past fifteen years thing). But if it keeps Steve from being hurt, he’ll do it.

“It’s kind of nice not to have everyone else on my back about never dating,” Steve says with a shrug. “People pester me about it all the time, but since I started telling people that we’re together, they’ve stopped asking so many questions.” He pauses, then smiles. “Well, they’re asking me a lot of questions, but they’re different questions. They’re a lot more fun to answer. But if you’re uncomfortable, I can keep my distance.”

“Don’t keep your distance,” Bucky says. God, that’s the last thing Bucky wants. Ever.

“So is it okay if I kiss you again?” Steve asks.

Bucky shrugs, trying to keep his cool. “Of course,” he says. “If that’s what you want.”

At his core, he does want Steve to kiss him again. He wants Steve to keep kissing him forever and ever while the clouds magically clear and birds chirp around them. But he’s not sure that he wants to keep kissing Steve if it doesn’t mean anything. Fairy tale imaginings aside, Bucky knows that continuing to kiss Steve would feel good physically and possibly mentally in the moment, but Bucky doesn’t know how it will affect him emotionally long term. But is he strong enough not to kiss him if Steve wants to kiss? No. He’s not. He’ll let himself get hurt. Bucky has never been the smartest man in town. That’s Sam. Bucky just can’t compete with that level of intellect.

God, if this were Sam, he’d have enough self-respect not to kiss Steve. But Sam would never be in this situation in the first place — he has enough self-respect not to pine after the same dude hopelessly for fifteen years.

Bucky wishes he were more like Sam, but that’s not an unusual feeling for him.

“Okay, I’m glad to hear that.” Steve pauses, clears his throat. “Then maybe we should practice,” he says, voice sounding very nonchalant given the subject matter.

“Practice kissing?” Bucky asks. Steve nods. “Why, are you bad at it?”

“Of course not! I’ve been told by several people that I am a very good kisser,” he says, all huffy. “I just want to practice so we seem natural in front of my coworkers. Kissing for the first time is always awkward.”

“I think you’re probably just a bad kisser and you’re using this as an excuse to learn from the master,” Bucky says with a cocky grin. “Can’t get good if you’re just practicing with your pillow all night.”

“I am not a bad kisser!” Steve says, getting all bothered and stubborn, and God, Bucky loves that. He’s so ridiculous.

“Wanna prove it?” Bucky asks, wiggling his eyebrows as he grins. He knows that it’s the sort of thing that’ll make Steve definitely want to do it, because he’s never backed away from a challenge in his life. It’s almost not fair — Bucky knows Steve so well. If they were actually in a relationship, he’d be able to get Steve all riled up in an instant.

Of course, and as planned, Steve marches across the room, one hand on his towel to make sure that it doesn’t fall, until he’s face to face with Bucky. He looks at Bucky for a long moment, then moves one of his big hands to the side of Bucky’s face and draws in closer. “Tell me no if you don’t want this,” Steve says, voice low.

“I’m not saying no,” Bucky says, his own voice coming out weak, feeling suddenly like he’s been punched in the gut. He should say no, God, he should say no. He doesn’t want to say no. He’s wanted this for years and years, and Bucky has never been good at denying himself things that give him pleasure, even if they end up hurting him later.

“Punch me if you want me to stop,” Steve says before closing the space between them.

God, Steve was right for once. He is a good kisser.

Honestly, Bucky hadn’t expected it at all, and somehow that makes this all worse.

Bucky wonders who he learned it from. Did he and Peggy kiss in competition until they were both too good for their own good and had to break up? Did Sam teach him during their short time together, slow and gentle with lots of gap-toothed smiles before they decided that they were better off as friends? Or maybe it was Klargg, the New Zealand surf instructor Steve went out with during his year off-campus and who he told Bucky was the best kisser he’d ever met, even if he looked like a rock. At the time, Bucky had made a lot of jokes about Grease and drew devil horns on the handsome man on every photo Steve sent Bucky of the two of them. Now he feels kind of grateful.

But it doesn’t matter who it was who taught Steve how to kiss, Bucky realizes, when it’s Bucky that Steve is kissing now with hungry lips. They start off slow and a little tentative, just kissing like teenagers, all lips. But then, Steve presses in closer. As he parts his lips, he moves his free hand to Bucky’s hip, squeezing tight. Bucky moves his arm around Steve’s bare back, pushing in closer, loving every point of contact between them. Steve’s mouth opens and he slips his tongue inside Bucky’s mouth, and Bucky wants to groan with pleasure but keeps it inside, trying not to make a fool of himself so soon. He moves his other hand to Steve’s hair, wanting to wreck it, to let everyone at the stupid dinner know what he and Steve were just doing, that they’re—

He feels Steve’s wet towel drop onto his uncomfortable dress shoes. Yuck. Moist.

Steve pulls away suddenly. Bucky opens his eyes but Steve’s hand shoots up and covers them before he sees anything. “Shut your eyes,” Steve orders, breathing hard.

“Why?” Bucky asks.

“You just need to shut them.”

“I’ve seen your dick before!” Bucky says, irritated. It’s been a while, but he’s sure he’s seen Steve’s penis a number of times. They probably played doctor as kids, for Pete’s sake! They were in the same gym class for ages, and Bucky would keep watch over Steve as he changed to make sure no one gave his best friend shit, like they tried to. Steve had hated that. But he shouldn’t feel self-conscious about his dick around Bucky, of all people.

“I just need you to shut your eyes, Buck. Please,” he adds, voice sounding a little ragged.

Bucky sighs, but shuts his eyes as instructed. “They’re shut,” he says. “I promise. No peeking.”

He feels Steve remove his hand from his eyes. “Thanks,” he says softly as he rustles around, probably pulling his towel back up. “Thanks for uh, this,” he adds, then Bucky feels Steve’s lips gentle against his again. It’s different from the last kiss — it’s slow, it’s tender. It makes Bucky feel weak in his goddamn knees in a way that a simple kiss shouldn’t. “I feel practiced now.”

“Sure you do,” Bucky says, lips spreading into a grin as Steve pulls away. “Can I open my eyes now?” he asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Um, give me a twenty second head start.”

“Uh, okay,” Bucky says and starts counting to twenty out loud. At about second eight, he hears the bathroom door close again, so he goes ahead and opens his eyes.

He lets his finger stray up and touch his bottom lip. The lip that Steve just kissed. Steve Rogers. His best friend. Who kissed him slow, tender, in a way that Bucky feels like he’s never been kissed before in his life.

So, what the fuck was all that about? And how is he going to go back now?

❄ ❄ ❄

When Steve gets out of the bathroom, he’s suddenly normal again. Bucky isn’t sure what he expected, but some acknowledgement of one of the top five make out sessions he’s had in life was, perhaps, an expectation. Instead, Steve just puts on his suit while giving Bucky some shit for putting on the Food Network in his absence.

Honestly, it makes Bucky think that maybe Steve didn’t think that the kissing wasn’t in his top five, which is a bit disappointing. Sure, Bucky was distracted, but he was giving it his all! It’s not like he can ask Steve to grade him or anything, but he is a little concerned now that he’s not as good as he thinks he is.

By the time they make it out of the room and to the elevator, Bucky feels antsy. He wants to make out with Steve again, sure, but he also wants to leave this weird cabin where things seem to be simultaneously happening a lot and not at all.

Mostly, he wants Steve to kiss him again, and then to give Steve a blow job, and then to have Steve fuck him into the mattress while snow falls outside their window. And then after, he wants Steve to tell him that he’s the best he’s ever had and he’s ruined him for all other people.

None of that will happen.

This trip is not doing good things for Bucky’s psyche.

Steve must notice because he nudges Bucky’s arm. “If it sucks we can go back to the room and get room service,” he says.

“Okay,” Bucky responds.

Steve frowns. “The room service is good. They have buffalo wings.”

“That’s nice,” Bucky says, mind elsewhere.

“You like buffalo wings,” Steve unnecessarily reminds him. “We had them last night.”

“I know I do,” Bucky says. “And I know we did.”

Steve frowns. “Buck,” he starts, but then the elevator gets there and dings.

The elevator is crowded with people in suits, seemingly all Stark Industries employees from the way they each greet Steve by name when they push themselves in. Thankfully, not many of them seem to notice Bucky, which is just fine by him. He needs to keep control of himself or he’s never going to make it through the dinner, or the movie tonight.

“What’s the movie, again?” Bucky asks Steve.

White Christmas ,” he says.

“I’ll go hang with all of the other non-Christian people at the bar,” Bucky says with an eye roll.

Steve grins and wraps his arm around Bucky’s waist. “If I can let you out of my sight,” he says, then drops his voice as he adds, “You look really nice in that suit, Buck.” Bucky can feel Steve’s warm breath against his ear. He nearly shivers.

"Steve and Bucky in their suits by walkingstardust.

Bucky has seen Steve in relationships before. He’s never like this — all touchy feely, all glittery-eyed and smiley. It just emphasizes how fake all of this is. Steve is just pretending, being a good actor in front of his work associates so they’ll get off his back.

God, though, it would be easy to forget that this isn’t real.

“I don’t think you’ll make it through one movie without me to snore on.” Steve gives him a look. “You fall asleep five minutes into everything,” Bucky says by way of explanation. “You fell asleep five minutes into the video of your own birth, that one time.”

“You have a lot of experience with Steve falling asleep on you?” someone asks from the back of the elevator, which causes the rest of the elevator to erupt into laughter.

Steve goes very red. “Jean!” he says admonishingly. Instead of stepping away from Bucky, like Bucky would expect, he scoots in closer. “Everyone’s so mean to me,” he whispers in Bucky’s ear. He can feel Steve’s smile.

“You act like you don’t deserve it,” Bucky says, nudging Steve’s shoulder with his own.

Steve rests his head on Bucky’s shoulder. “It’s different when you snark at me,” he says, and Bucky doesn’t even know what to say.

What’s real? What’s not?

Bucky doesn’t even know.

❄ ❄ ❄

Dinner goes by quickly, Bucky’s mood improving with a hearty serving of braised short ribs and honey-glazed carrots. “Told you the food would be good,” Steve says cheekily as Bucky digs into the dessert, a creme brûlée — his absolute favorite.

“Shaddup,” Bucky mutters, pulling Steve’s dessert in front of him. “This is mine now,” he says, and some of the others at their table laugh. They were assigned seats for dinner in the large hotel dining room, each table seating eight people. Bucky didn’t know any of the people they were seated with; apparently, they try to pair up co-workers who don’t know each other well to encourage company camaraderie during meals. Bucky, for his part, is just happy to know that they won’t be forced to spend any dinners sitting with Brock. It’s a bigger relief to know that than he’d like to admit.

Steve grins. “Okay,” he says, then gently bites down on his bottom lip, just watching Bucky attack his dessert like a man who has not been stuffing his mouth for the past hour or so. He’ll go on a diet after New Year’s, he decides. Until then, he’ll eat all of the free creme brûlée he can get his hands on.

“Aya,” Steve says, turning to one of his coworkers. “Have you seen the renderings for the Anderson Project yet? I was hoping to swing by your department next week to—”

“Steve,” interrupts the man at Bucky’s side — Matteo, he thinks. “We’ve managed to almost get through one meal without talking about work. Can we try to keep this streak going? Please? For my sake? This is the closest thing I get to taking a vacation this time of year that doesn’t involve my mother-in-law.”

Steve chuckles, cheeks going a little red. “Sorry,” he says with a smile as the conversation around the table moves to some movie that’s just come out that Bucky knows Steve hasn’t seen. Steve is quiet, looking anywhere but at the other people at the table. Bucky reaches down under the table and gives Steve’s knee a gentle squeeze. Steve looks up at him with surprise, then his face softens into a smile. “You enjoying that?” he asks quietly, eyes darting over to the creme brûlée Bucky’s eaten most of already.

“Yeah,” Bucky says. “Want some?” he asks, pushing the more than half-eaten creme brûlée back towards its intended eater.

Steve laughs again. “Thanks,” Steve says, picking up his spoon. “You’re very magnanimous,” he adds.

“I try,” Bucky says, setting his own spoon down before getting into a heated conversation with Matteo about what kind of pie is the best kind of pie. He’s debating the merits of pecan pie when he feels a hand on his knee. He glances over at Steve, who pushes the last bite of creme brûlée back his way.

“Here,” he says. “Thought you’d want this.”

“Thanks,” Bucky says, aware that Steve’s hand still rests on his knee, thumb rubbing small circles, as he finishes the dessert.

❄ ❄ ❄

When Tony Stark declares the company dinner finished, the crew adjourns to a large ballroom, set up with sleeping bags and a buffet of popcorn, candy, drinks, and alcohol. There’s a large screen set up at the back of the room and twinkling lights hang above them.

“I’ll admit that this is cute,” Bucky says as he chooses a blue sleeping bag for himself and a red one for Steve. They head out into the room, staking out a little territory for themselves next to some of Steve’s work friends: Bruce, Thor, and Valkyrie. Bucky’s met them a few times before at various Steve-related functions — including the time at the bar where he met Brock — and he’s glad to see a few familiar faces. It’s nice to have a conversation with someone he doesn’t have to introduce himself to.

“Oh, look who the cat dragged in,” Valkyrie says. She has a tray of shots next to her sleeping bag. “Want one?” she asks Steve, who shakes his head. “You?” she asks, turning to Bucky and raising a glass. Bucky shrugs.

“That tequila?” he asks.

“Fireball,” Valkyrie says.

Bucky nods. “Hell yeah,” he says, dropping his sleeping bag, sitting down, and taking the shot glass from Valkyrie. It’s been a while since he’s done a shot, and he finds himself wincing as he swallows. “Woof,” he says, setting the shot glass back down on Valkyrie’s tray. There are still at least six full glasses and a couple empty ones, too.

“I hadn’t known you were bringing Bucky,” Thor says to Steve as Bucky reaches for another shot. He clinks glasses with Valkyrie before tossing it down.

“It was a last-minute decision,” Steve says. “Had to convince him that he’d have a good time here.”

“Think I’m done,” Bucky says as he sets the shot back down on the tray. He looks over at Steve. “Can you grab us some popcorn? And a couple glasses of water?”

“I only have two hands,” Steve says, raising an eyebrow. “You need to prioritize.”

“I can go with you,” Bruce volunteers, untangling himself from his sleeping bag and standing up. “I meant to get something to drink, too.”

“Okay,” Steve says, standing up again. He hesitates, then looks back at Bucky. “You want candy?” he asks.

“No,” Bucky lies because he’s afraid of looking uncool in front of Valkyrie. Valkyrie is very cool. Bucky doesn’t think that asking his fake boyfriend for Sour Patch Kids will impress Valkyrie very much, even if he wants them.

Steve grins. “I’ll get you Sour Patch,” he says before leaning down and pressing a soft kiss to Bucky’s temple.

Bucky’s too distracted by the kiss to overthink the fact that Steve knew that not only does Bucky want candy, but wanted that particular kind of candy.

Because it’s one thing to kiss in front of strangers and random work acquaintances, but these are Steve’s real friends, people he likes and interacts with on a regular basis. Does he really want to lie to them? What does Steve possibly have to prove to Valkyrie and Bruce? Well, Valkyrie is pretty cool, so Steve probably has something to prove to her, but Bucky isn’t sure that being in a relationship with Bucky will get him very far if it’s Valkyrie’s approval he’s looking for. He’d need something much cooler than a moderately attractive boyfriend to impress Valkyrie.

“I must say that I was not aware that you and Steve are partners,” Thor says, looking at Bucky with surprise.

“Yeah,” Valkyrie says. “When did that happen?” she asks before putting down another shot. It’s her third since Bucky arrived, and he doesn’t know how much she’d been drinking before then. Yet, she seems more put together than Bucky, who is already starting to see the world a little fuzzier after a glass of wine at dinner and those two shots. He’s not twenty-two anymore, which is a depressing thought. It almost makes him want to reach for another shot, in fact, just to prove a point to absolutely no one but the nagging voice in the back of his brain.

“Uh, a while,” he says, not 100% sure on when he and Steve’s epic love story was supposed to have begun.

“Certainly not before last year’s company getaway,” Thor says, brow furrowed. He takes a look at Valkyrie, who shrugs.

“No, no,” Bucky says, knowing they must be thinking of Steve’s company hook-ups at the previous retreat. “No, just after that,” he adds, thinking about how the Fireball is currently mixing with the wine he had at dinner in his stomach. Gross. This was probably a very bad idea.

“Ah, very good then,” Thor says with a smile. He’s very handsome, especially when he smiles. And that’s the alcohol talking.

“Definitely not surprised that one’s settling down,” Valkyrie says, gesturing vaguely in the direction Steve walked off in. “He wants the white picket fence.”

“As long as it’s designed in an ecologically-sound way and available in Park Slope, then yes,” Thor says. “Ah, it’s Loki!” he says, waving at a dark-haired man who just slunk into the room. “ LOKI ,” he shouts practically in Bucky’s ear. Bucky cringes and Valkyrie snorts. “Loki is my brother,” Thor explains. “He’s my plus-one for the getaway, though he acts as if he doesn’t know me half the time and like I’m a nuisance the other half.” He smiles. “He is my best friend.”

The sincerity is charming, but Bucky is a little concerned for Thor.

Rolling his eyes, Loki grabs a sleeping bag and heads over to their small group. “Was that really necessary?” he hisses at Thor, who is still smiling.

“Of course it was,” Thor says, patting the space next to him. “Settle in, the film should be starting soon.”

As if on cue, the lights start to dim as the projector starts up with one of those kitschy 3… 2… 1… countdowns on screen.

And then Tony Stark appears in the darkness.

Steve, returning with the drinks, the South Patch, and Bruce in tow, settles in next to Bucky. “Of course,” he mutters, though Bucky knows Steve is probably secretly into it. He gives Stark a lot of shit but thinks the guy’s a genius and genuinely likes his job. Bucky, for his part, gratefully opens up the bag of Sour Patch Kids and pops one in his mouth, trying not to think of how the Sour Patch, two creme brûlées, and alcohol are mixing in his stomach and probably finding ways to attach themselves permanently to his waistline. He’ll work out tomorrow. He swears.

“Is this thing on?” Stark asks, looking at the camera, then chuckles. “Of course it is. See, Pepper? I’m so funny and relatable here. Well, hello everyone! Welcome to our annual movie night. Pepper and Rhodey wanted to do this so we’d have a low-key way to end the evening. I was interested in arranging something a little more stimulating, but was overruled. Again.” He leans in. “There’ll be an after party in my room, for any interested parties.”

“After party in my room,” Valkyrie says. “It’ll be a helluva lot more fun than whatever he’s doing.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Bucky says, but before he can get another shot, Steve puts his hand on his.

“C’mon Buck,” he says.

Bucky rolls his eyes. “You promised me free booze,” he says.

“Yeah, but you can slow down a bit,” Steve says, reaching out and running a hand through Bucky’s hair. “It’s not like a contest and if it was, you’d definitely lose.” He smiles at his own joke.

“It’s true,” Valkyrie says with a shrug. “But to be fair, just about everyone in this room would lose, including,” she gestures up to the screen where Tony Stark is still prattling on, “that guy.”

“Anyhow,” Tony says, apparently having made his point. Bucky is tuning in and out, to be honest. Steve’s still stroking his hair and the effect is, frankly, hypnotic. He’s always had a thing for having his hair touched, and knowing it’s Steve’s fingers gently stroking his scalp is almost too much for his nervous system to handle. It’s like every nerve in his body is going haywire. He may have even popped an inappropriate boner, were it not for the fact that onscreen, Tony Stark was still droning on. “Enjoy the movie, eat some popcorn, and remember that the spirit of the holidays is all around us, blah blah blah.” Then the screen fades out and the overture to the movie starts.

Bucky yawns; he’s not looking forward to this one.

“Tired?” Steve asks, voice barely above a whisper. Bucky’s fake boyfriend is  conscientious like that. Unless he’s about to start a fight with some jackass in the theater, he won’t talk during a movie.

“A little,” Bucky admits. He didn’t sleep too well last night, what with all of the things he was thinking about and all of the Steve laying next to him, warm and untouchable.

“You can move your sleeping bag so your head is on my lap,” Steve suggests. The lights are low, but Bucky thinks he sees some red creeping across Steve’s cheeks. “If you want to. I know you’re not psyched about the movie.”

“I’m not,” Bucky admits. “But would you be…”

“Yeah,” Steve says. “Gives me an excuse to play with your hair some more,” he adds and Bucky is almost positive that Steve is blushing. He’s such a bad actor, being so embarrassed of his lines. He’d never make it in the pictures.

“They’re sickening,” Bucky hears Loki mutter to Thor.

“They’re in love ,” Thor says. “Which yes, can be sickening, but Steve is our friend so we would never begrudge him this happiness. And he does seem happy, looking at Barnes.”

“Wish I were that lucky,” Bruce says, kind of staring at Thor in a way that Bucky has to look away from. It reminds him a little too much of the ways that Bucky’s looked at Steve throughout the years.

“Okay,” Bucky says, moving his sleeping bag and laying down so his head rests in Steve’s lap. He’s pleasantly tipsy now and Steve’s fingers feel like magic as they stroke through his hair. For a moment, he wishes he still had long hair like he did in college, after his mom died and he stopped taking care of himself for a while. He doesn’t want to go back to that time, of course, but it would be really nice to have something for Steve to really pull his fingers through. But this is still so nice. It’s really… nice…

❄ ❄ ❄

It’s kind of embarrassing how quickly Bucky falls asleep. He could blame the Fireball or the long day or the mediocre movie, but it was really Steve’s fingers in his hair that sent him over. And now it’s Steve’s gentle voice saying, “Buck, Buck, the movie’s over,” that makes him grunt, try to snuggle in closer to Steve and keep sleeping. Distantly, he registers that his neck is stiff and will start throbbing with pain in about ten minutes, but that seems like too distant a worry for the moment. Steve chuckles and leans down to press a kiss to Bucky’s forehead. “C’mon. Everyone’s getting up. We’re gonna be trampled in a minute here if we don’t scoot.”

“Don’t care,” Bucky mutters, but opens his eyes to see Steve looking down at him, blue eyes shining and blond hair flopping over his forehead. “Hi there,” he says.

“Hi,” Steve says with a soft smile. “We can go straight to bed, but they’re shutting down for the night. We do really gotta go, Buck.”

Yeah you can go to bed,” Valkyrie says with a chuckle, then burps softly.

“I’m gettin’ up,” Bucky grumbles, pulling himself to a sitting position. He’d gone out hard, and takes a moment to rub his eyes and stretch, then disentangle himself from his sleeping bag.

“I’ll roll that up,” Steve says, already standing up and holding his hand out for Bucky’s sleeping bag.

“Thanks, Scoutmaster Steve,” Bucky says, passing it up to Steve before getting himself up. Steve was never even a Boy Scout, but it makes Steve chuckle,. And that’s what Bucky wanted.

He helps Steve and the others clear up their little area (and some other people's’ messes because Steve is that kind of guy), then they head towards the elevator. Bucky is glad for the nap; he thinks tonight may end up being another sleepless night.

❄ ❄ ❄

“Look who it is,” Brock says, sidling up to Steve and Bucky’s breakfast table and taking a seat in the empty chair. Bucky regrets not making plans to sit with Thor, Valkyrie, Bruce, and even Loki at breakfast. If he had, maybe he could’ve avoided whatever unpleasantness in his life is about to be caused by Brock’s arrival.

“Hi Brock,” Steve says, straightening up and smiling at their morning intruder. “Have you tried the french toast? It’s great. I got it last year, but I think it’s gotten even better.” As much as Bucky doesn’t want Steve to be flirting with Brock, Bucky almost feels bad. The boy cannot flirt with Brock for the life of him. Whenever Steve is actually invested in someone, any semblance of game he has flies out the window and he becomes a total goober. French toast is not a good foreplay topic of conversation, unless you have very particular kinks. For his part, Bucky thinks it’s charming, and if it were ever turned on him, he’d be there for it one hundred percent. But when less-deserving mortals encounter it, they tend to think of Mr. Rogers, not Steve Rogers, the man with a six pack so shredded you could could prep a carrot cake with it. Though, Bucky doesn’t necessarily know what kind of body Fred Rogers was hiding underneath those comfortable-looking cardigan sweaters. He could’ve been swole. It’s not fair of Bucky to assume.

Brock, whose plate is filled with eggs and bacon, shakes his head. “Can’t say I have. You like sweet things?” he asks with a little smirk.

“He’s got a bit of a sweet tooth,” Bucky says, then yawns. He’s gotta step away. It’s not like Steve can actually get his game on with Bucky sitting right next to him. It’ll be better for everyone — including Bucky’s psyche — if he makes himself scarce. “Gonna get myself another cup of coffee. Want some, Steve?”

“Sure, Buck. Thanks,” Steve says, handing his mug over to Bucky.

Bucky gives a pinched smile, takes the cup, and heads back to the buffet to fill up their mugs. While the previous day had been blissfully Brock free, Bucky knew it was too good to last. Still, he doesn’t have to like that Brock seems to be making himself comfortable at their table, leaning in as he talks to Steve, then looking over at Bucky to see if he can get a rise out of him. He doesn’t know what kind of twisted game Brock is trying to play here, and whether he’s genuinely interested in either Steve or Bucky. Either way, he doesn’t care. He just wants more coffee and for him to go away.

Still, he finds himself lingering at the buffet, not wanting to interrupt Steve’s time with Brock. That’s what Steve wants, right? To make Brock jealous, to make Brock see what he’s losing out on. Bucky would be a bad wingman if he interrupted them just because he’s feeling heartsick over the thought of losing Steve to suck a dick weed who doesn’t even see the great thing in front of him. It’s—

“You realize that you’re holding a pot of coffee in one hand, a mug in the other, and not doing anything with either hand,” says someone, startling Bucky out of his morose train of thought. “Woah there,” Tony Stark says, looking at Bucky with thinly-veiled amusement after he starts. “Don’t want you to spill that tepid brew all over me. It’d stain my clothes and leave me with a burn that’s probably more of a sunburn than a McDonald’s lawsuit burn. In fact, put that down.” A little dazed, Bucky does so. “We’re going to the coffee bar and getting something good, something real, something that will keep you from looking at me with big, confused, puppy eyes. And then we’re going to sit down with our cappuccinos and you’re going to tell me everything about your relationship with Mr. Steve “Private Life So Private That Even I Didn’t Know He Was Going Out With A Handsome Man For Nearly A Year” Rogers.”

“Uh,” Bucky says, not sure he captured all of that. Tony Stark talks very quickly. “I don’t know where to put the mugs,” he adds.

Tony grabs them from his hands and passes them to another employee, one that Bucky hasn’t met yet.

“Thank you, Mr. Stark!” the employee squeaks, looking genuinely happy that Stark noticed him. If Bucky’s boss tried to pull the shit that Stark did, he’d’ve quit ages ago. “Let me know what scoop you get from this guy,” the stranger adds, nudging Bucky like they’re friends, even though Bucky has not met this other man in his entire life.

He didn’t realize Steve was so well liked, nor did he realize that Steve’s love life was of such interest to literally everyone in the company, up to and including the CEO and founder. Steve has some explaining to do. Bucky probably also has some explaining to do about the separation of work and private lives and work/life balance. Maybe he can convince Stark to let him lead a seminar about it tomorrow.

“Come on, let’s go, I’ve got a meeting in twenty minutes. It’ll take me two minutes to walk there, so we have eighteen minutes to kibbutz about tall, blond, and snarky.”

Bucky steals a final glance back to the table. Steve laughs at something Brock says. Brock doesn’t even look, just shovels eggs into his mouth. It doesn’t look like Steve misses Bucky too much.

“Okay,” Bucky says with a shrug. “Show me the way.”

❄ ❄ ❄

“So,” Tony says once their steaming cappuccinos are in front of them. “I know you’ve known Steve for a long time because I’ve seen you lurking around the office once or twice. What I don’t know is when you two decided that you’re more than just friends.”

Bucky shrugs. “Happened organically,” he says, wrapping his fingers around the hot cup. It was chilly in their room last night — Steve stole all the blankets, the bandit — and Bucky still feels a chill in his bones. “Don’t know if there was an exact date, just a slow realization and a change.” It’s a better story than trying to make up some epic moment where Steve realized that it was Bucky in front of him all along and did something stupid, like chasing him through an airport or doing some kind of musical number. Lies about a drunken fumble, then a kiss are a lot more believable, even if they’re a lot sadder.

“That’s…” Tony narrows his eyes. “That’s adorable.” He looks half-disgusted with himself as he says it, like he was hoping for something that would give him a little more ammunition against Steve in the future.

“What can I say? I’m a hopeless romantic,” he deadpans, though he can’t help but smile at the end.

“Not Rogers?”

Bucky sets his cup down on its saucer. “No, I don’t think so,” he says. “He’s got his head in the clouds sometimes, but he’s… it’s hard to describe. He just barrels towards the things that he wants and then works for them. He doesn’t believe in fate, or anything like that. Not that I do,” he quickly amends, “but out of the two of us, I’m the one who would not want to elope.”

There’s a terrifying twinkle in Tony’s eye. “Oh, so is a wedding on the horizon?” he asks. “I love a company wedding.” It’s like Bucky can see the inner machinations of Tony’s mind begin to chug, and he knows he has to stop this before it begins or else he and Steve will have to keep this charade going until they’re standing in front of Tony as he officiates their marriage and pronounces them man and husband.

“First of all, I believe in work-life balance, so there wouldn’t be a company wedding. Ever. Period. Non-negotiable. Some of you may be lucky enough to be invited, but it’s not like we’re going to have Steve and Bucky, sponsored by Stark Industries.” A little of the excitement leaves Tony’s body, but he still seems a little too enthusiastic about the idea of he and Steve getting hitched. “Second of all, there’s nothing… I mean, we haven’t even dated that long. It’s—”

Tony ,” he hears Steve say from behind him. “I can’t believe that you just grabbed him like that.” He marches to Bucky’s side, frowning, hands on his hips like he’s about ready to give Tony a lecture. It’s not a completely unfamiliar pose on Steve, but it makes Bucky want to laugh, nonetheless.

“It’s not like you needed to be entertained, Captain,” Tony says, rolling his eyes. “Besides, he needed real caffeine, not whatever chuck wagon swill they’re serving at the buffet. All I needed to do was sniff the stuff to know that it’s no good at all. Both of you should be thanking profusely. You’re welcome,” he adds, magnanimously.

Steve looks down at Bucky, like he’s expecting him to deny it and defend the coffee and maybe, by proxy, Steve. Bucky is glad that he works in a place that seems to have simpler social rules than Stark Industries does; trying to tiptoe through each interaction with Steve’s coworkers is exhausting. It’s no wonder that Steve comes home from work so tired every day. The work may be gratifying, but Steve needs a raise just from sheer amount of effort he must spend on this social crap.

Bucky shrugs. “The cappuccino is good and he’s buying, so…” he trails off, shrugs. “And he’s right, you were preoccupied. Had to find my own entertainment elsewhere, even if the entertainment is kind of annoying.”

“Hey!” Stark interjects, but both Steve and Bucky ignore him as they continue on with their conversation.

“That doesn’t mean you can just wander off. I was worried!” Steve huffs, hands still on his hips as he frowns. Bucky doesn’t like it so much when his frown is directed at him, as opposed to Stark.

“Yeah, because I was gonna go get murdered at a breakfast buffet with every member of your company standing around watching. Steve, you’ve been listening to too many true crime podcasts, I swear to God. If you life live like you’re gonna get murdered any second you’re not gonna do much living.”

Steve’s frown softens and he blinks. Bucky knows he’s won this argument, though Steve would never admit as much. But that’s okay — Bucky can read Steve and know what he means without him having to say it.

He’s busy thinking about that when Tony speaks up again. “You should sit with me, Pepper and Rhodey at dinner,” Tony says to Bucky, then he looks up at Steve. “You can tag along, too, Cap if you’d like.”

“Gee, thanks,” Steve says. “You’re so gracious. You should try running a company.”

“Can’t help it that your partner is much more personable and handsome than you are,” Tony says with a shrug.

“He is not ,” Steve says, then turns to Bucky with wide eyes. “Not that you’re not personable and handsome,” he adds in a rush.

Bucky shrugs. “It’s like all the magic has gone from our relationship in just one snap. Next thing you know, we’ll be sleeping in separate beds.”

“So you live together?” Tony asks, perking up with a smile. “Is Steve finally out of that terrible studio apartment?”

“Not yet,” Steve says, rolling his eyes. “And my apartment is great, thanks. Though I don’t remember ever telling you about my apartment, which is a complete violation of my privacy. Anyhow, I think Bucky was talking about tonight in the hotel room. The couch looks really nice. Good for your back, too. You were just talking about how you didn’t think you had enough knots in there,” he adds, putting a hand on Bucky’s shoulder and stroking it down the length of his back.

Bucky pokes Steve’s side with his index finger. The bastard doesn’t even flinch. In fact, his abs sort of make Bucky’s finger just pop back out because they’re so ripped. Life is very unfair sometimes. He’d complain about his finger hurting, but he feels like Steve would just give him endless amounts of shit about it, not to mention Stark’s reaction to that.

But then the bastard, chuckling, moves his hand off of Bucky’s back. Steve reaches down and wraps his index finger around Bucky’s like they’re six year olds on the playground doing something really cute while their parents take pictures. He beams at Bucky and Bucky can’t help but smile back at him, give his finger a little squeeze in his.

Bucky is so into it he wants to die.

“Wow, that’s disgusting,” Tony says. “You’re both disgusting. You’ll be at our table for dinner tonight, get hyped.”

“Oh, we will,” Bucky says, giving Steve’s index finger another squeeze as Steve laughs.

❄ ❄ ❄

“Aren’t you supposed to be nervous about having dinner with your boss?” Bucky asks later that night as they’re getting ready for the main event.

“Tony doesn’t make me nervous,” Steve says with a shrug. They spent most of the day in more team-building exercises, but this time they were out of the snow, so Bucky was a lot happier. Still, he’s been in a bit of a funk since breakfast. He keeps looking out for Brock over his shoulder, certain that he’s going to make another unwanted appearance. Or, well, unwanted on Bucky’s end. Steve seems to still be pretty interested in Brock’s appearances, which only makes Bucky want him to show up even less.

So all in all, it hasn’t been a great day. The thought of an awkward dinner with Steve’s bosses isn’t cheering Bucky up any, either. Just a lot of pressure. This whole trip has just been a lot of pressure, to the point where Bucky knows it’s only a matter of time before he pops.

“I’ve been working for him long enough that it doesn’t really matter. I do also like Pepper and Rhodey, so it’s nice to eat by them. I’ll just ignore Tony for most of dinner. Leave you to entertain him, since you’re his favorite.”

“You sound bitter,” Bucky says. Steve flips him off.

“Am not,” Steve mumbles, sounding very bitter.

“I don’t think he understands boundaries very well,” Bucky says as he does up his tie while looking in the hotel room mirror. He just can’t seem to get it right. It’s probably because his mind keeps drifting elsewhere.

“Oh, he’s fine,” Steve says, waving him off. “I mean, he’s bad with boundaries, sure, but I’m used to it. Most everyone at the company is. He’d also knock it off if he knew it really bothered someone.” Steve pauses. “I think, at least. And you’ll only have to deal with him for another day before we leave.”

Bucky exhales, relieved. He’s not sure how much longer he could last sleeping in the same bed as Steve, but he’s sure it’s not long. But one more night? One more night he can do. That’s easy. Or, it should be. Or, Bucky can tell himself it is.

“Honestly, I think this whole trip is pretty much one big overstepping of a boundary,” Bucky grumbles because it’s easier than thinking and can also be construed in more than one way. Bucky’s so deep. It’s like when he got an A on his essay on The Scarlet Letter in high school.

“Why’s that?” Steve asks, pushing in close to Bucky so he can do up his tie for him. He didn’t need to be told that Bucky was having trouble with it.

Bucky rolls his eyes. “It’s just weird, okay? Putting everyone in this close, giving them lots of alcohol… You said it yourself that you usually spend the weekend hooking up with everyone in sight. Work-sponsored orgies seem a little irregular to me.”

“Not everyone,” Steve mumbles as he concentrates on Bucky’s tie.

“What?” Bucky asks.

“I didn’t sleep with everyone . It was just a couple people and hardly an orgy.”

“But you’ve had some awkward situations at work because of it, right?” Steve shrugs, never wanting to admit that he is wrong about something. “Anyway, I just think it’s all weird.”

“It’s just a long holiday party,” Steve says, looking over at Bucky. “And I think Tony uses it as an excuse to bring people together during a tough time of the year. A lot of us don’t have families to go back to and he knows that.”

Bucky blinks. “I’m your family,” he says in a quiet voice. “You know that, right? That I’m—” He can’t finish the sentence, because Steve is on him, enveloping him in a tight hug. Bucky isn’t exactly a small guy, but he likes that he can kind of curl into Steve, be made to feel safe and small and protected in his best friend’s arms. He shuts his eyes; he can tell that this’ll be a long one. That’s okay. It’s been too long since he’s gotten a long hug from his best friend in the world.

“Of course I know that,” Steve says, voice quiet in Bucky’s ear. “Don’t think for a second that I don’t know that, Buck.”

“Just making sure,” Bucky says, though his voice comes out muffled from his face digging into Steve’s shirt.

Steve says quiet for a long moment, just holding Bucky. Then he says, “You’re my favorite person. You know that, too, right?”

“I had a clue,” Bucky says.

“I’ll choose you over anyone else, every time,” he adds, something a little strange about his voice. “You’re…” He trails off.

“What ‘m I?” Bucky asks tentatively, a little afraid to hear the answer.

“You’re…” Steve exhales. “You’re Bucky,” he says, then releases Bucky from his grip. To be honest, Bucky wouldn’t mind another minute or two of hugging, but he knows any longer would probably be weird. In fact, it’s probably weird for best bros to hug that long, anyway. Thanks, modern toxic masculinity for ruining everything, including hugs from your best friend. Steve looks at Bucky with a little smile. “Hope that clears it up,” he says, a little self-effacing.

Bucky blinks, something cold forming in the pit of his stomach.

He’d been focusing on the modern toxic masculinity and not on the words Steve was saying. He can’t believe Steve has seen through him so perfectly, realizes what he’s been carrying for so long.

He can’t believe that now Steve is choosing to acknowledge it, to tell him that he knows and that there can’t be anything more between them.

Because, god dammit, Bucky knows . He knows that there’s nothing romantic between them! He’s known that for years and years, and he’s never needed an acknowledgement of that fact from Steve. So hearing it now, Steve telling him that he hopes that clears things up, it’s like a fucking punch to the gut. Did Steve really think he needed any confirmation? He’s not a dumb guy and he didn’t think Steve thought he was a dumb guy, but here he is feeling like he’s been slapped.

He swallows hard. “Yeah sure,” Bucky says. “Gotta…” Bucky starts, trailing off as he walks into the bathroom and shuts the door behind him. He puts the lid of the toilet down as quietly as he can, then sits, head in his hands, shutting his eyes hard and telling himself not to cry. He’s been strong about this for such a long time; to lose it now would be a bad move. He just needs to get through twenty-four more hours and he’ll be able to go home, spend Christmas getting shit-faced in his apartment alone, and try Tinder again. Just twenty-four more hours of pretending to be someone who’s not in love with Steve pretending to be in love with Steve. It shouldn’t be as hard as it is.

“Buck?” he hears Steve ask from outside the door. “Everything okay?”

“Breakfast didn’t agree with me,” Bucky says, just to be crass and to get Steve to leave him alone.

“Gross,” Steve says. “Can you let it disagree with you a little faster? We need to be downstairs in five minutes and I still haven’t done my hair.”

“Your hair looks fine,” Bucky calls, and then just to be a shit, adds, “And besides, no one will even notice what you look like with me standing next to you.”

“Because you look terrible, you’re right,” Steve says. “Forget about the hair. Continue shitting.”

Bucky rolls his eyes as a single, dramatic tear rolls down his cheek.

“Cue the violins,” he mutters to himself. “It’s about to get real pathetic in here.”

❄ ❄ ❄

Bucky, being the professional that he is at keeping his feelings hidden, emerges from the bathroom minutes later, looking fine, and heads down to dinner with Steve. A tuxedo-clad server ushers them over to the table that they’ll be sitting at and Steve rolls his eyes when he sees that it really is Tony Stark’s table, and that his earlier invitation was not just some joke.

“I’d half-hoped we’d be somewhere else,” he says, then Steve smiles and pulls Bucky’s chair out for him. Rolling his eyes, Bucky sits and lets Steve push his chair in for him, too. “Such a gentleman,” Bucky says. “Do you do this for all of your dates?” he asks.

“I try to,” Steve says. “It’s a little bit easier with you,” he admits before sitting down.

“Because you don’t actually care?” Bucky asks, keeping his voice as steady as he can. It’s a stupid thing to say, but he’s having a little trouble keeping himself put together tonight after the recent revelation that Steve knows how Bucky feels and is continuing to do all this anyway. He knows it’s too late for Steve to get out of it now without having his coworkers ask too many questions, but there’s a part of him that’s angry at Steve, anyway.

Steve’s face falls. “What?” he asks.

“I mean, it doesn’t really matter to you that this goes well, so…” He trails off, shrugs. “You don’t really care. It’s just fun for you to pretend. It’s not like a real relationship where there are… stakes.”

“I care that you have a good time. I care about you ,” Steve says, shoulders getting tense. “Are you—”

“Sitting at Stark’s table? Good for you, Rogers,” Brock interrupts with a smarmy smirk as he approaches the table. His demeanor is completely different from this morning. There’s an energy thrumming around him, something about his smirk that signals his displeasure, his anger . Steve mentioned more than once that Brock doesn’t always curry favor with the head honchos, including Stark, but especially Pepper and Rhodey. Maybe he’s jealous that Steve is here and he isn’t. That would explain why he’s so pissed.

Or maybe something happened at breakfast, Bucky realizes. Steve did leave Brock to go find him. Maybe the two of them had a disagreement. Steve hadn’t said anything, though, which seems a little odd, but it isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility. Steve gets into fights easily; though, he hasn’t fought much with Brock before because of his crush. Maybe this was their first real fight and it’s bothering Brock.

“Yeah thanks,” Steve says, not looking away from Bucky. His look is intense; Bucky feels itchy under his gaze. “Buck?” he asks, voice sounding a little desperate.

“Trouble in paradise?” Brock asks, eyebrow raised.

Steve turns then, a stormy expression on his face. “I’m trying to have a conversation with Bucky,” he says to Brock. It’s the firmest voice Bucky’s heard Steve talk to Brock in.

Brock’s expression falters for just a moment, but the angry smile returns just as quickly. He’s good on his feet, which makes him an annoying opponent. “Wow, that was pretty aggressive, Steve. You two must be having some fight.” He whistles, crossing his arms over his chest, and rolling back onto his heels for a moment. Brock seems to really be enjoying this, which just makes the situation all the more humiliating for Bucky.

“We’re not fighting,” Steve says. “But we are having a conversation that doesn’t include you.” This is also definitely not the tone that Steve was using with Brock at breakfast.

The two of them totally had a fight. Bucky wishes he could’ve seen it. It would’ve made his week.

“Thought you wanted to include me in everything,” Brock says. “I was telling Bucky the other night, actually, that you’re always trying to include me in everything at work, that I’m your favorite coworker.”

“Oh shut up,” Bucky says, rolling his eyes, patience running out at last.

Steve looks from Brock to Bucky. “You two talked last night?” he asks, face serious, voice low.

See, this is why Bucky should have told Steve about the elevator right after it happened. Lies by omission always gets him into trouble and he knows it. He glares at Brock anyway, choosing to blame him for his current circumstance. “We rode the elevator together on the first night we were here, when I left the meet and greet,” Bucky says. “We talked for maybe three and a half minutes. Longest three and a half minutes of my life,” he adds through gritted teeth.

“Though I gotta say, a conversation with your boy is like talking to a sack of rocks. Three and a half minutes? Felt like an hour,” Brock says with that same angry smile.

Steve exhales through his nose, jaw tightening. He looks pissed . “What?” he asks, obviously trying to keep himself under control but looking like he’s half-ready to throw a punch. Steve has a short temper, and it’s threatening to boil over. Usually, Bucky would be at least a little into the thought of Steve getting pissed at Rumlow like this, but the fact that Steve’s employers could be over here in just a minute, added to the fact that some of that anger will most likely be directed at him, makes Bucky want to pull Steve back a little. This dude is definitely not worth losing a job he genuinely enjoys over.

“I’m just saying that—”

“Brock, you’re at table four,” interrupts a tall strawberry blonde woman who approaches the table hand-in-hand with a shorter man in a suit, Tony Stark following them close behind. “They’re about to serve the salads. You’ll want to get over there. The dressing is a pumpkin vinaigrette and to die for.”

Brock smiles tightly; it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Thank you, Pepper,” he says, voice a lot lighter than it was a few moments ago. “Table four isn’t a long walk away and I was just having a conversation with Steve.” The corner of his lip twitches.

“Shoo shoo,” Tony says, making a dismissive motion at Brock as he takes the seat next to Steve. “Hey Captain, excited for our date?” he asks with a smile and raised eyebrows. Upon hearing Tony’s nickname for him, Steve shudders.

Thankfully, Brock rolls his eyes and shuffles away, muttering something about Steve being a kiss ass. Thankfully, Bucky doesn’t think that anyone but him is paying any attention to Brock anymore. A new annoyance has showed up, though Bucky will pick Tony over Brock every day of the week.

“Is that what this is?” Steve mutters as he turns around. He takes his napkin off his plate, unfolds it, and drops it in his lap. “I’m taken, anyway,” he says, a little louder. “You know that now.”

“Yes, the mysterious boyfriend.” Tony turns his attention to Bucky. “I still don’t know much about you, besides your obvious attraction to Steve and Brock Rumlow’s apparent attraction to you,” he says. Bucky glances at Steve, who doesn’t seem to take the comment as an admission of Brock’s… whatever. Pants feelings for Bucky. Ugh. Gross. “I’m excited to get to know you over the course of this delicious meal that I’m paying for.”

“Through the labor of your employees,” Steve corrects, a reminder to all of them that he organized a labor union for graduate students at his university just a few years ago.

Tony shrugs.

“I’m an enigma,” Bucky says, trying to break the tension. The last thing they need is for Steve go to totally Joe Hill on everyone; that can wait until he’s back on company time. Bucky reaches for the folded cloth napkin resting on his plate and drops it on his lap because it seems like the popular thing to do. “Can’t promise that I’ll reveal all of my secrets at once. Besides, we’re a pretty private couple.” He shrugs. “No reason to start talking now.”

“Oh, we’ll see about that. People have a tendency to overshare with me. I’ll bring the bottle of tequila, you’ll bring the childhood traumas.” That’s when the strawberry blonde woman clears her throat. “Oh right, these are my partners, Pepper and Rhodey. They think I need to work on my social skills.”

“Hi Bucky,” Pepper says with a smile as she sits down.

“Hey Barnes,” Rhodey says. “Nice to meet you.” He reaches out and shakes Bucky’s hand.

“I’ve heard a lot about all of you,” Bucky says with a smile as  Rhodey takes his seat. “Steve really likes both of you. It’s nice to put faces to the names I’ve heard so many times. And thank you for inviting us to sit with you tonight.”

“That’s very kind of Steve,” Pepper says. “We like him, too. And we’re very happy to have you sit with us tonight”

“Yeah?” Rhodey asks. “Doesn’t say the same about Tony?” He shoots Tony a smile, then raises his eyebrows.

“No, I do not,” Steve says with a benign smile as Tony balks.

“It’s because he doesn’t want to make his one true love green with envy,” Tony says, slinging an arm around Steve’s shoulders. “It’s okay, Cap. I’ll keep your secret with me to the grave, but you must know that I am very devoted to my partners. We did have a secret vote and hey, sorry to tell you, but you just didn’t make the cut to be on our team. Even for a single night. Pepper has taste, you know.”

“Oh darn,” Steve says. “Maybe I could just replace you? Rhodey? Pepper?” he asks, looking at each of Tony’s partners in turn.

Both Pepper and Rhodey burst out laughing as Tony continues to stutter with displeasure.

“See, this is why we like having Steve at the table,” Rhodey says to Bucky conspiratorially. “He can actually shut Tony up.”

❄ ❄ ❄

Dinner goes well. Tony seems to focus most of his attention on Steve, and Bucky is happy to talk to the other guests at the table, who are interesting and fun to talk to. It’s a bit of a nice change of pace. Bucky also likes Valkyrie, Thor and their friends, but their conversations are a bit inappropriate. With the exception of Tony, this dinner feels much more peaceful and professional. Bucky feels a little more in his element, letting himself escape a bit from the onslaught of feelings running through his head to just make pleasant dinner conversation with some strangers.

Then Steve’s phone starts buzzing in his pocket. He doesn’t seem to notice, but Bucky, sitting close to him, can feel the vibrations, so he nudges Steve’s side. “Your phone’s ringing,” he says. They’re just getting to dessert and Bucky’s been in conversation with Rhodey about a recent ad campaign for the company that they’ve been stuck on. Technically, Bucky should charge a consulting fee, but he doesn’t mind giving a little advice away pro bono if it means that Rhodey likes Steve.

“Oh,” Steve says, pulling the phone out of his pocket and frowning as he sees whoever’s name is on the screen. “I should take this,” he says, standing up. “Excuse me.”

“Uh, okay,” Bucky says, confused. Steve wouldn’t typically take a phone call during a meal; it’s just a little too rude for him. It must be important. Bucky immediately gets worried, watching Steve leave the table and then the room.

“What’s that about?” Tony asks Bucky when Steve is out of earshot.

“Not sure,” Bucky says, frowning as he looks down at the desert being placed in front of him. It’s a molten chocolate cake with a glistening scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Normally, he’d dig in, but concern has made his mouth go dry.

“Communication is key to a good relationship,” Tony says as if he’s offering a piece of sage advice and not something Bucky’s heard in a hundred different CW shows.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Bucky says.

“This looks great,” Pepper remarks as she pushes her dessert towards Rhodey. “I’m on a sugar cleanse that I read about on Goop,” she explains to Bucky and the rest of the table. “Though it pains me to give up my dessert.”

“Her loss, my gain,” Rhodey says, grabbing his spoon and digging in.

“Well, maybe just a bite,” Pepper says, reaching her spoon over and taking a scoop of ice cream from what is now Rhodey’s plate.

“Who’s he talking to?” Tony asks Bucky. “He’s not accepting that offer from Obadiah Stane to buy him out, is he? He can’t be. I’ve offered him—”

“He doesn’t like Stane and won’t work for him,” Bucky interrupts before Tony talks himself into a tizzy. “Besides, I don’t think he would’ve taken that call during dinner. That could’ve waited. And he likes working for you, God knows why.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Pepper says, apparently sensing Bucky’s discomfort while Tony preens at the compliment. Bucky’s actually a little worried that Tony really didn’t know that. Steve gives him shit, but he likes Tony, deep down. Maybe not as much as Tony likes him, but he likes him.

“Sure,” Bucky says, taking a bite of his molten lava cake and going back to his conversation with Rhodey, though both of them know that his heart’s not in it now. He tries not to look at the door every five seconds to see if Steve is back but it’s tough. He thinks he makes it to an average of about every eight seconds, which seems like a small win. But even with Bucky’s watchful eye, Steve doesn’t come through the door, and he still isn’t back by the time they start bussing the tables. “Can I uh…” he says to the table, gesturing to Steve’s untouched dessert.

“For the price I’m paying for this getaway, you can take two,” Tony says, gesturing towards the plate.

“Thanks,” Bucky says, taking the dessert, a napkin, and a spoon, then venturing out to find Steve.

He starts in the lobby, but it’s too noisy in there for a phone call, so he then heads to their room. When he finds that empty, he keeps going, molten lava cake in hand, ice cream mostly melted, outside of the resort where snow is falling gently. It doesn’t take long before he hears Steve’s voice.

“I don’t know,” he says. Bucky finds himself pausing, hearing Steve from around the corner. He doesn’t know why he doesn’t keep moving, but his feet stay planted where they are, unmoving. Snowflakes fall one by one onto the top of the cake and ice cream on his plate. “I don’t know what I want. I know I have feelings for him now. But Bucky being here pretending isn’t helping.”

Oh.

“But then I keep thinking that maybe I need to wait a little longer just to see if it… If there’s any sort of reaction at all. I’m not sure that’s fair to Bucky, but I feel like it’s what I need. Is that selfish? I know he agreed to it, but it seems selfish to…”

Bucky doesn’t need to hear anything else Steve says. He turns and goes back to the room, thankfully alone in the elevator as he eats Steve’s dessert, leaving the dish out in the hallway in front of someone else’s room so that Steve doesn’t know that Bucky brought the dish up at all.

He crawls into bed feeling hurt and a little sick to his stomach.

❄ ❄ ❄

“Hey,” Steve says, walking into the room twenty minutes later, shaking snow from his hair and off of the shoulders of his suit jacket. How he lasted so long out in the cold with nothing but the flimsy suit jacket, Bucky doesn’t know. “Sorry I missed dessert,” he says.

Bucky, back on the couch watching Lifetime Christmas movies again, shrugs. “It wasn’t that good,” he says as if he didn’t have his own serving, as well as Steve’s. Even if he ate the latter out of emotion, it was still darn good. “Who was it on the phone?” he asks.

“It was just a work thing,” Steve says with a shrug, toeing off his shoes by the front door and shaking the last of the collected snow off of his shoulders.

Bucky rolls his eyes. “A work thing?” he asks, unable to keep the incredulousness out of his voice. “At the company retreat? Seems weird that whoever it was couldn’t have just walked across the room to ask you a question.”

“It was a, uh, client,” Steve says, coming round the bed and towards the couch where Bucky sits.

“You don’t need to tell me who it was, but at least don’t lie to me,” Bucky responds, staring at the TV screen without really taking in what’s going on in the movie. This night’s feature includes a woman who moved away from her small town for a big city job, only to come back eight years later and fall back in love with the town (and her ex) all before Christmas. It’s not groundbreaking. Bucky wonders why no one besides Protestants are ever in these movies. Even small towns have some religious diversity, or at least an atheist or two. But all of these stories are just filled with Protestants. It would be nice to at least see someone Catholic, for a change. He won’t hold out hope for any non-Christian denominations, but a Baptist or two wouldn’t hurt.

Steve sits down next to Bucky, looking at him with wide eyes. “Sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to…” He sighs. “Well, I meant to lie, but I…” He trails off, shrugs.

“You didn’t mean to get caught,” Bucky says, corner of his mouth ticking upwards.

“I didn’t,” Steve says. “You know, you’re the only person who can really see when I’m lying.”

Bucky snorts.

“What?” Steve asks.

“You’re the world’s worst liar, Steve. I am not the only person. Everyone else just gives you the benefit of the doubt because they think you’d never lie without a good reason. But believe me. Everyone knows when you’re lying.”

“I like to think I wouldn’t lie without a reason,” Steve says, voice quiet.

Bucky swallows hard. “I’d like to think you wouldn’t lie to me without a reason, at least.” He meant for his voice to come out stronger than it does.

“Buck—” Steve starts.

“I should get packed,” Bucky says, standing up.

“We’ve got time in the morning,” Steve says. “We can finish the movie, then there are some people downstairs getting drinks. Fun people. I know Thor will be there. You like Thor, right?”

“I do like Thor,” Bucky says. He looks down at Steve, who is looking up at him with a small smile and a hopeful look in his bright blue eyes. “Just…” Bucky sighs. “Don’t lie to me again, okay? You don’t need to tell me everything, but just don’t lie. I deserve better than that.” He’s worth more than that. That’s what he has to keep reminding himself of.

“I won’t,” Steve says, smile dropping. “I’m sorry that I did. It’s just that…” He exhales. “I’m really confused,” Steve says, dropping his eyes to the floor for just a second before looking up and telling Bucky, “I’m trying to figure a few things out.”

“I just don’t want to be collateral damage,” Bucky says. “Of whatever it is that you’re trying to find out about yourself.”

“You won’t be,” Steve says, sitting up straighter. “I promise that you won’t be, Buck.”

“I’m kinda at my wit’s end here, Steve,” Bucky says, something bubbling up in his stomach that’s not made of molten chocolate.

God, he’s been lying to Steve for so long and it’s taken its toll. All this time, he’s been keeping himself from being honest, and Steve doesn’t deserve that, just like Bucky doesn’t deserve to be lied to. He doesn’t deserve to be collateral damage, either. They owe it to each other to be honest. Steve, that he knows what he wants from their relationship and that it isn’t love. Bucky, that he’s had feelings for Steve for ages, but he’s never let it get in the way of their friendship. He’d never do that. He’s never let it and he never will.

Maybe if he opens his mouth now and tells him, maybe if he can just let it out and be honest, maybe he can start moving forward. Maybe he can start writing a love story that isn’t a tragedy with someone else. It’s worth a shot, isn’t it? Bucky deserves love. He knows that. He also knows that he won’t find it sleeping in the same bed as Steve and thinking about all of the ‘what ifs’ that will never come true.

Bucky takes a deep breath.

“If we’re being honest, then I have to tell you. Steve, I lo—”

There’s a loud knock on the door and a whoop. “C’mon lovebirds!” he hears Valkyrie call from the hallway. “It’s time to go get drunk .”

“We could ignore them,” Steve says in a quiet but urgent voice. “If you want to finish what you were about to say. I’d like to hear what it is that you were about to say.”

“I’m—” Bucky starts again, but he can already feel his resolve draining from his body.

Another knock. “Please come out,” he hears Loki says. “These fools will keep making noise until you do and there are others in this hall that are probably already asleep and planning to call the front desk at any moment. I would like to not be kicked out of this hotel when there’s a snow storm on its way.”

Thor and Valkyrie cheer in response.

Bucky sighs, looking down at the floor.

“Just…” He shakes his head. Steve looks so serious, his brow furrowed, blue eyes barely blinking. “No,” Bucky says, finally. “It’s stupid.” And it is. Bucky’s feelings haven’t mattered in a long time. He shouldn’t get delusions of grandeur and think they matter now, when things are so complicated and Steve is already having confusing romantic feelings about Brock, despite the fact that they got into a fight and that Brock is a jerk. Bucky looks up instead, making up his mind. “Let’s go,” he says to Steve with a tight-lipped smile.

“I’m sure it’s not stupid, if it’s coming from you,” Steve says, standing up. He takes a step forward, close to Bucky. “I’d really like to hear what you have to say,” he adds, quiet. Bucky can feel his breath on his lips as he exhales. They’re very close to one another now. Bucky’s heart beats faster and his brain feels like it’s short-circuited.

“Steve, I’m—”

There is a series of thundering knocks on the door and one angry voice hissing, “ Brother .”

“Come on, friends! Before we break the door down! Which we will.” Thor calls in a cheery voice. “We know you’re in there and we won’t be taking no for an answer, not when it’s the last night of our getaway.”

“Unless you’re naked,” Valkyrie adds. “We may reconsider if you’re naked.”

“I don’t need to see any of that,” Bruce says, the first time Bucky’s heard his voice. “No offense!” he adds quickly.

“But if you’re naked, let me get out my phone,” Valkyrie says.

“Bucky,” Steve says with a determined look on his face. He moves a hand to Bucky’s hip. “I’m—”

The door opens.

Steve hops away from Bucky, nearly backing into the coffee table.

Valkyrie leads the group into their room. “Nicked this last night,” she says, tossing the room’s spare key card over to Bucky, who just barely manages to catch it.

“That’s quite the way to return it,” Bucky mumbles, shoving the card in his back pocket. It’s a lucky thing the hotel had given them three key cards to start with.

“Anyway,” she says, “it’s time to go. Whatever it is that you’re doing can wait until later.”

Bucky notices that both Bruce and Loki are still in the hallway, Bruce looking deeply uncomfortable and Loki looking annoyed. Bucky decides that Bruce is his favorite out of the group and nothing will ever sway his opinion.

“Come along friends, we’ve ordered spiked hot chocolate with Kahlua whipped cream,” Thor says with a big smile.

Bucky’s changed his mind. Thor is now his favorite.

“And we all know Steve can’t resist something sweet,” he adds with a wink.

Bucky no longer likes Thor. Bruce is once again number one.

Steve laughs, cheeks going a little red and, oh God…

Has Steve slept with Thor?

Bucky knows that Steve’s slept with a few of his coworkers, he does. Steve would always come back from the holiday retreat with a well-fucked glow, told stories of his conquests. But he never included names — because he’s a gentleman — and Bucky never really cared to know.

But God, how many people has Bucky talked to this weekend that Steve has slept with? What a joke he must be to everyone here; Steve’s “boyfriend” who walked right into the viper’s nest without a care. Not that he thinks anyone has very nefarious intentions towards him — with the exception of Brock — but it’s just embarrassing to talk to people without having a clue.

“Thor, stop it. I only ate that pie because I had a bad day.”

“What.” Bucky asks, voice coming out flat, rather than a question.

“Oh yeah, I remember that,” Valkyrie says. “God, wasn’t it a pecan pie? A whole pecan pie?”

“C’mon, Bucky’s right here.”

“Wait, so he’s talking about you eating a whole pie?”

“It was barely a half,” Steve mumbles.

“A whole pie!” Thor says, walking over and giving Steve a pat on the back. “What was the context again?”

Steve goes redder. “You’d just started dating that baker guy, remember?” Steve asks, looking at Bucky. Or, well, sort of looking at him. More looking at Bucky’s forehead.

Realization dawns on Bucky. “Oh, yeah. Antoni. I gave you that pecan pie he baked,” he says.

“Yeah, and I brought it to work with me and everyone was bugging me about it all day, and I was feeling jealous and unhappy, so.” He shrugs. “I ate some pie.”

“You were jealous?” Bucky asks. That was nearly three years ago, before Steve even met Brock. It just seems weird that Steve would be jealous of someone Bucky was dating back then.

Unless, of course, he’s lying again.

“Cute,” Valkyrie says with a snort. “Well, let’s go gentlemen. There’s hot chocolate, holiday cheer, yadda yadda, but we need to be at the bar to actually drink it.”

“Actually, Bucky and I were—” Steve starts, but Bucky interrupts.

“Let’s go,” he says. Steve looks back at him and Bucky smiles. “I like hot chocolate,” he says.

“But, I…” Steve frowns. “Okay,” he says, sounding almost defeated.

The group cheers and heads out of the room. Bucky moves close to a still-frowning Steve and reaches for his hand. Steve looks up at Bucky and intertwines their fingers. Bucky gives his hand a squeeze. “Can we finish that conversation later?” Steve asks quietly, so the rest of them can’t hear him.

“Sure,” Bucky says, figuring that one more lie can’t hurt too much.

Steve smiles. “Okay,” he says. “I look forward to hearing what you have to say.”

❄ ❄ ❄

After three mugs of spiked hot chocolate and more whipped cream than he cares to admit, Bucky feels pleasantly buzzed. He’s got an arm slung around Steve’s shoulders and is talking with Steve’s coworkers about the wonderful things they’re doing at their wonderful company, and Steve keeps looking at him with wonderful, sparkling eyes. It’s so easy to lean in, laugh, and let himself make believe that all of this is real. That he’s out with his boyfriend and their friends enjoying a happy evening together as the snow falls.

It’s easier with a few drinks in him, at least.

“I’m a little tipsy,” Steve whispers in Bucky’s ear, then starts chuckling.

“Oh you are?” Bucky asks, smiling.

“Yeah, I am,” he says. “Wanna know something else?” he asks, words slurring a little.

“What?” Bucky responds.

“There’s uh…” He lifts his arm and swings it a little until he’s pointing above him. “Mistletoe. It’s been here the whole time we’ve been here. You know that?”

“Oh, you were paying attention?” Bucky asks, unable to keep the grin off his face. Steve gets so cute on the rare occasions he lets his guard down and drinks a little more than he should. He’s always fun to be around, but there’s something so nice about Steve with a big smile and ruddy cheeks as he drinks a beer.

“Wanted to be a gentleman. Didn’t want to uh, ask you to kiss me.”

“Are you two about to start kissing?” Valkyrie asks. “If you are, let me know so I can take out my phone.”

“What’s with you and trying to film them?” Bruce asks, somewhat agog. Valkyrie just shrugs and drains her glass.

“There’s mistletoe above them!” Thor says with glee, ignoring the side conversation going on. “Of course they have to kiss now. It’s the rule. I would do the same thing if I were underneath mistletoe.”

“I bet you would,” Loki mutters as Bruce eyes the mistletoe, then Thor.

“Of course we do,” Steve says, smiling down at Bucky. “If you don’t mind.” He raises an eyebrow as his eyes dart down to Bucky’s lips.

“I don’t mind you kissing me,” Bucky says. “I don’t think I’d ever mind kissing you,” he adds, then could slap himself for saying something so stupid, so real.

If Steve finds something odd about the comment, he doesn’t say anything. Instead, he just smiles, moving his hand to the side of Bucky’s face, then leans in to kiss him. Bucky half-expects just a peck, but Steve inches forward, kissing him slow and sweet, his mouth tasting like chocolate. He takes charge. Bucky doesn’t mind.

Mistletoe kiss by walkingstardust.

Bucky shivers, and Steve takes that as an opportunity to pull him in closer, putting a steadying hand on the small of Bucky’s back. He pulls away for just a moment to whisper, “I’ve got you” before diving in again, slowly pushing his tongue between Bucky’s lips. Bucky parts for him without hesitation, just like he always knew he would if Steve would just give him a chance. God, Steve, just give him a chance.

He feels like putty in Steve’s hands, open and willing and wanting . Wanting Steve, wanting this, wanting warm chocolate kisses, and wanting to ask Steve if they could, even if it’s only for one night, if they could just lean in a little more, and—

God, he’s drunker than he thought.

He’s the one to pull away. He has to, or he’ll ask for things that he shouldn’t want and can’t have.

Someone wolf-whistles. Someone else makes some snide comment or another. Steve stares at Bucky, lips red and swollen, blue eyes boring into Bucky’s.

Bucky swallows, wondering if he should just damn it all and lean in again.

Then Steve smiles. “Your hair,” he says, reaching out and patting down the side of Bucky’s hair. “Better,” he says. “Sorry,” he adds, cheeks going red.

“It’s fine,” Bucky says, knowing that the moment is over.

“You two can really go at it,” Valkyrie says, raising an eyebrow as she slips her phone back into her pocket. “Who knew you just needed to put a couple drinks in Rogers to get him all riled up in public.”

“We all did,” Loki says, rolling his eyes. “You weren’t here last year.”

“Or the year before,” Bruce adds, then shrugs sheepishly. “Sorry,” he mouths to Bucky when he sees him looking.

“Let’s not talk about that,” Steve says, going redder. “It’s… That’s all behind me. I’ve got Buck now,” he adds with a little smile directed Bucky’s way. “He’s all I’ve ever wanted.” He reaches out again and takes Bucky’s hand in his.

“I, uh, I need some air,” Bucky says, pulling his hand out of Steve’s and standing up. “It’s… I may throw up,” he lies as an excuse, then makes his way out of the bar.

“Is he okay?” he hears Bruce ask Steve.

“I’m not sure,” Steve says, and Bucky knows that Steve will follow him. He always does.

He takes a circuitous course through the lobby out to a snowy porch on the side of the hotel. He’s pretty sure that during the summer they put tables and chairs out here; it’s attached to one of the restaurants. But now it’s barren, a few snow-covered benches at the edge of the concrete with a view of the pine forest in the near distance. Bucky brushes the snow off of one of the benches, then tries to shake the wetness off of his hand. It’s cold and he grimaces before sitting down. He knows his pants will get wet, but what does it matter? It’s not like he’ll see anyone here any time soon, besides Steve, of course. But Steve’s seen Bucky actually wet his pants. He won’t care.

Right?

Bucky shuts his eyes and exhales. He’s known Steve his entire life; he’s been the one constant in years of change. Steve has always, always been there. And Bucky’s always, always loved him, but it never affected anything. Bucky never let it make anything weird. But he doesn’t know how he’s going to be now that he’s kissed Steve. He doesn’t know how he’s going to be now that he’s felt like what it may be like to be in a relationship with Steve. Sure, he’s pretty certain that Steve won’t care that it looks like Bucky wet his pants, but that doesn’t mean that he’s not certain about his future with his best friend in the world.

“I’m so stupid,” he mutters. His breath comes out in little white puffs.

Of course, that’s when the door opens. “Wow, it’s really coming down,” Steve says, sounding a lot more sober than he did ten minutes ago.

“Yeah,” Bucky says. “White Christmas and all.”

“Yeah,” Steve parrots back. “Can I sit?”

“Sure,” Bucky says and watches as Steve does the same thing he did, sweeping the snow off the bench, shaking his hand, and wiping it on his pants. “Sorry,” he says. “It’s gonna look like you peed your pants.”

Steve shakes his head. “It’s okay. Wouldn’t be the first time and it’s not like you’ll judge me.” He pauses. “Everyone thinks you’re mad that they brought up my past hookups.”

Well, they’re not entirely wrong.

“Thor and Bruce feel awful,” Steve adds.

“And Valkyrie and Loki?” Bucky asks with a smile.

“They don’t care quite so much. Think the words ‘drama queen’ were muttered more than once.” He shrugs. “They’re both dramatic in their own ways, though. I wouldn’t take the criticism to heart. I’m also not sure that they’ll remember much of the conversation in the morning.”

“I won’t,” Bucky says, crossing his arms over his chest. He’s a little cold; he hadn’t worn a jacket to the bar. “I mean, I won’t take the criticism to heart. I will remember the conversation in the morning. I’m not that toasted.”

“But you’re cold?” Steve asks, because either he’s a mind reader or Bucky is telegraphing that he’s cold. It’s probably the latter, but there’s the stupid, romantic part of himself that wants to think that it’s the former.

“A little,” Bucky says.

Steve hesitates for just a moment, then wraps an arm around Bucky’s shoulders. Bucky rests his head on Steve’s shoulder.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Bucky shuts his eyes. “About what?” he asks.

“What made you want to leave,” Steve says, voice quiet. The world around them feels quiet, sound buffered by the layer of pristine snow on the ground. It’s both beautiful and suffocating. “You don’t need to, if you don’t want to. But I know you and I know that wasn’t the sort of thing you normally do. You’re upset. I’d like to know why.”

“Your kiss was really convincing,” Bucky says, eyes still shut.

“That upset you?” Steve asks.

“A little, yeah,” he says.

He feels Steve exhale. “Why?” he asks.

“I’m drunk,” Bucky says, with a rueful chuckle. “And confused. And kissing my best friend.” None of these things are lies, but he feels like he’s lying by omission once again. God, he’s such a hypocrite.

Steve moves his hand to the back of Bucky’s neck. He rubs a little, then touches the little, slightly-overgrown hairs there. “I’m sorry if I’m giving you mixed signals,” Steve says.

“You’re not,” Bucky says. “I know where we stand. I know why I’m here. And, it’ll be easier tomorrow. When we go home.”

“Yeah, when we go home,” Steve says, voice quiet. He moves his arm back around Bucky and gives him a little squeeze. “You wanna go back to the room?”

“No, I’m… I need a couple more minutes,” Bucky says.

“Do you want me here?” Steve asks.

“If you want to be.”

Even with his mind roiling, he still wants to be here, with Steve, his best friend in the world. They sit together watching the snowfall in front of them. Behind them, the familiar chorus of Judy Garland’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas starts to play inside the hotel. Steve sighs and presses his face to Bucky’s hair.

They wait until the end of the song, then go back to their room, Steve’s arm around Bucky the whole time.

❄ ❄ ❄

“Feeling better?” Steve asks the next morning, propped up on his arm and smiling, light from the window filtering into the room, lighting his blue eyes and shirtless chest.

“I was, until a certain perky asshole decided to wake me up,” Bucky grumbles.

Steve laughs, throwing his head back, and then looks back at Bucky, smiling. “Today’s easier,” he says. “Breakfast, then Tony’s parting remarks. After that, we go home.”

“I feel like I need a salad for breakfast,” Bucky says, groaning. “Having all that sugar so late at night was a mistake. Never thought I’d have a hot chocolate hangover, but here we are. And I don’t know if it’s from the booze or the chocolate. That’s the sad part.”

“You sound like you’re eighty years old,” Steve says.

“Ninety,” Bucky corrects, then sighs. “I’m getting old,” he says. “Every day, a little older, a little more stupid.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be getting wiser?” Steve asks.

“Maybe if I made a good decision now and then. But my judgment seems to be failing me with age.”

“I think you make plenty of good decisions,” Steve says, smiling like he finds the whole conversation amusing.

“Huh? Like what?” Bucky asks, heart fluttering a bit in his chest. If he didn’t know better, he’d think Steve is flirting with him.

“Well, I like your haircut,” he says, reaching out and grazing Bucky’s hair with his fingers. “That’s a good start.”

“Yeah? That’s it?” he asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, I think coming here was a good idea,” he says.

Bucky’s smile falters for just a second. “Was it?” he asks.

Steve nods. “Yeah,” he says. “I feel like we’re going to be closer now because of this weekend.” Steve’s smile is blinding.

Bucky smiles, but doesn’t say anything in response. He’s not sure that Steve’s right on this one. After kissing Steve, he doesn’t know that things can go back to being how they were, let alone better.

“We should get dressed,” Bucky says. “Wouldn’t want them to run out of coffee before we get there.”

“Did my snoring keep you so late that you’re running for the caffeine?” Steve asks.

“Yes,” Bucky says, then hops out of bed.

“Hey!” Steve calls as Bucky sticks his tongue out and gets into the bathroom first.

❄ ❄ ❄

Bucky’s eyes go wide as he reads the notice aloud.

“Due to heavy snowfall the roads around the lodge are impassable. Guests are advised to stay here until December 26th at the earliest.”

“Oh,” Steve says. “That’s a shame.” He doesn’t sound all that beat up about it.

“No,” Bucky says. He looks up at Steve, eyes wide. “This is supposed to be over. Today.” Visions of him getting trashed alone in his apartment on Christmas morning are flashing before his eyes as a now-impossible future.

“Buck,” Steve says, putting a hand on his shoulder. “If the roads are bad, then the roads are bad. There’s nothing we can do to change that.”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “I know that,” he bites out, feeling itchy underneath Steve’s hand.

“Are you okay?” Steve asks, voice dropping lower. “Is there some reason you need to be back?”

“It’s just…” He sighs, running a hand through his hair. “I just expected to be back tonight, that’s all.”

“I know it’s not ideal, but you’ll be here among friends. I’m sure Stark will foot the bill for the extra couple days and there will be good food. And we were going to spend Christmas together, anyway.” Bucky doesn’t correct him on that. “If I have to be trapped somewhere with someone, I’m glad that it’s you.” He smiles, just a little quirk of the lip, and Bucky feels himself melt, leaning into Steve’s touch when he wanted to shy away just moments ago.

“Guess there’s nothing I can do,” he says. “Guess I gotta spend the next few days with your ugly mug.”

“Don’t worry, Thor’s here and he’s plenty handsome.”

“That’s true. Think he’s single?”

Steve’s smile falls in an instant. “I don’t know,” he says. “I think Bruce may have a crush on him. But would you be interested?” he asks, pulling his hand off of Bucky’s shoulder.

“Maybe,” Bucky says. “He’s not really my type, but if he were interested.” It’s not untrue. If Thor asked him out, Bucky would probably say yes.

“What’s your type?” Steve asks, in a rush, brow furrowed. He pauses, swallows. “You don’t talk about these things with me.” It almost comes out as an accusation.

“Didn’t think you were interested in knowing,” Bucky says. “You never showed much of an interest before literally right now.”

For a moment, Steve just looks at Bucky, brows furrowed, almost like he’s at a loss for words. “I’m sorry if I’ve seemed disinterested before,” he says, then exhales. It takes Bucky by surprise.

“You don’t have to apologize. We usually just talk about your love life and I’m fine with that.”

“I should’ve paid closer attention,” Steve says, sounding frustrated.

“It’s really okay,” Bucky says, taking a step back. “Let’s get some breakfast, okay?”

“Buck?” Steve asks.

“Yeah?”

“I want to hear more about… you. And things I may have missed,” he says.

“You haven’t missed much,” Bucky says, trying to get away from Steve’s probing gaze. There are other people milling about the lobby, he knows, some of them being Steve’s coworkers. But it doesn’t feel like that. It seems like they’re the only people there.

“I’m serious, Buck.”

“Okay weirdo,” Bucky says in a light voice, just to try to break some of the unbearable tension. “Can we please get some eggs? I’m hungry and need to prepare myself for three more days of you and your coworkers.”

Steve smiles, shakes his head just slightly. “Yeah,” he says, coming over and taking Bucky’s hand in his. “Let’s go get some eggs.”

❄ ❄ ❄

“Incoming!” Bucky shouts as a snowball zooms over his head. He ducks just in time and hears a strangled cry as it hits someone else. He turns around and sees Jason, one of Steve’s co-workers, struggle to get snow out from behind his glasses. “Sorry,” Bucky says between clenched teeth as Steve jumps up from behind their fort, lobbing a ball over to the other side. There’s the sound of impact and someone swearing, so Bucky thinks it must’ve hit someone, though not who Steve wanted to hit.

“He’s hiding,” Steve mutters as he pulls another snowball together with his ungloved hands.

“Please put on gloves,” Bucky begs. “My fingers hurt just looking at yours.”

Steve scowls, then reaches down for even more snow because he’s an obstinate bastard. “I’m fine ,” he says.

“This is toxic masculinity,” Bucky says. “This is what all those women’s studies classes you took in college were telling you about. Like, how men are their own worst enemies? This is that. You are that.”

“This is not toxic masculinity,” Steve says through chattering teeth. Another ball comes their way but hits Thor. Thor just laughs, acting as though the snowball had no impact at all, then lobs a ball that ends up taking out a chunk of the other team’s fort. Bucky looks at Thor with wide eyes, then takes a step away from him. “Are you paying attention to me?” Steve asks, sounding irritated.

Snowball fight by debwalsh

Snowball fight by debwalsh.

“No,” Bucky says honestly. Bruce weakly throws a snowball to nowhere, then goes back to hiding behind Thor, which is actually a pretty smart strategy. Thor has a sturdier build than their fort does.

Steve rolls his eyes, then gets up and throws another snowball. Another swear. Another target hit.

“It’s not fair that Stark has that cannon,” Steve says. “I’m just trying to give it my all to try to—”

He’s cut off from his valiant lecture by a snowball to the face. Given its perfect circumference and the curve of its arc, Bucky’s pretty sure it comes from Stark’s fancy snowball cannon. Also, Stark’s rambunctious laughter from behind the other fort makes Bucky’s argument a little stronger.

Steve wipes the snow from his face, stoic anger pulsing through him. “It’s an unfair advantage,” he says before taking the ball Bucky’s been forming from his hands, tightening it up just a bit, and sending it flying.

Given the abrupt stop to the laughter, Bucky thinks it found its target.

Steve grins. There’s something half-evil about it.

Bucky doesn’t hate it.

❄ ❄ ❄

“See, this isn’t so bad,” Steve says later that night as they sit around a bonfire at the back of the lodge, sipping hot cider, Steve’s obnoxiously large Stark Industries Snowball Fight MVP trophy (3D printed on property by Stark) sitting next to him. “At least Pepper thought up some great entertainment. She’s really something, isn’t she?”

“Sure, great entertainment. Is getting pummeled with snowballs for three hours really considered entertainment?” he asks.

“It’s like paintball but colder,” Steve says. “That one guy took you to play paintball as a date, right? You liked it.”

It takes Bucky a second, but then he nods. “Yeah, he did,” Bucky says. “I think I liked it up until the point where I actually got hit by a paintball. Thankfully I have good enough aim that I could hit from afar, but the bruises the next morning weren’t worth it.” He doesn’t mention that not all of the bruises the next morning came from paintball. The guy was a little too rough with him the first time around.

“You were a sniper here, too. I saw you got some great hits in. You don’t throw just to throw; you only throw if you know it can hit a target.”

“I didn’t realize you paid so much attention,” Bucky says before taking a sip of hot apple cider. No alcohol tonight; he’s at least trying to be smart now that he knows he’s stuck here.

Steve shrugs. “I always pay attention when it’s you,” Steve says. Bucky waits for him to elaborate but he doesn’t say anything else. Instead, he just looks at the fire.

“The date, too,” Bucky says. “That was a while ago. I barely remembered it.”

“You went out with the guy a few times, though,” Steve says.

“Yeah, a few times. Maybe three. I wasn’t too invested.”

“I think it was more like six,” Steve says.

“Really?” Bucky asks. “I don’t think so.”

“It was six,” Steve says, still looking at the fire. “It’s nice to sit here with you,” he says with a small smile.

Bucky scoots in a little closer on the log they’re sitting on. It’s a quiet night; a lot of Steve’s coworkers have already called it a day. Steve wraps an arm around Bucky’s side and gives him a squeeze. But instead of letting go, his hand lingers. Bucky doesn’t really mind.

“Yeah, it is,” Bucky says. “And look, seems like there’s about to be a show.” He grins, gesturing over to a few yards away.

Thor and Tony start singing some drinking song Bucky hasn’t heard of while Pepper shakes her head and Rhodey films it on his phone. It seems like they’re having a riot, even if Pepper is pretending to be embarrassed about the situation.

Steve lets his head rest on Bucky’s shoulder. “I think ma would’ve liked it here,” he says quietly. Bucky can barely hear him over the song in the background.

“Thinking about her?” Bucky asks, just as quiet. Bucky’s ma died almost ten years ago now, and while it still hurts, he’s gotten more used to the quiet, aching pain of her loss. But this is only Steve’s second holiday season without his mom. Bucky misses her, too, but it’s not the same and he knows it. Steve and Sarah were so close and her sudden illness took a toll on him.

“I’m never not, really. You know how that is.” Bucky hums in agreement. “But I’m just thinking about how she’d like this, you know. Getting stranded. Having a bonfire. Us being together after all this time.”

“She’d get a kick out of it. She got me hooked on those bad TV Christmas movies and this is the sort of thing that would be a great plot for Hallmark.”

“Remember watching them on the couch, but as comedies?” Steve asks, and Bucky can hear the smile in his voice. “Your ma would give her such crap but they’d sit there for hours with a bottle of peppermint schnapps and a plate of burnt sugar cookies.”

“Hey, I burned those sugar cookies,” Bucky says, unable to keep himself from laughing.

“They were still the best sugar cookies,” Steve says. “We should make some when we get back home. Watch some movies, too.”

“Sure,” Bucky says, something clenching in his chest. Steve thinks things will go back to normal when they go back; he should take that as a good sign. But there’s still that stupid little part of him that’s watched too many of those Lifetime and Hallmark Christmas movies and took them seriously. That was the difference between him and Sarah Rogers — he liked the movies for what they were: cheesy and improbable love stories with a happy ending. It makes him want one for himself, which is a dangerous thing. There aren’t gay people in those movies and if there were, they probably wouldn’t be the main characters and would definitely have an unhappy ending.

“I wish she could see us. I wish both of them could see us,” Steve says.

“Why’s that?” Bucky asks, thinking that no matter how loving and awesome his mom was, she would give Bucky a talking to for being so gullible and letting himself get hurt, then turn to Steve and give him an even bigger talking to for being so oblivious and ignoring the way that Bucky’s hurting. It may be a good thing that she’s somewhere else and not able to witness this tomfoolery, no matter how cute Steve may think it is.

“I just do,” Steve says, then falls back to quiet.

Bucky’s not sure what to say, so he doesn’t respond, either. Just watches the fire crackle in front of them, listening to Thor and Tony, and the others that have now joined in their song.

“They’re singing I’ll Be Home for Christmas ,” Steve says.

“Not well,” Bucky responds. Steve chuckles. “Besides, we’re not home.”

“I am,” Steve says, voice so quiet that Bucky can barely hear it, but he does hear it.

But he doesn’t respond. If he did, he’d have to tell Steve that he’s his home, too.

❄ ❄ ❄

Bucky wakes up with Steve literally jumping on the bed.

“What the hell ,” he says, shooting up straight, convinced in his half-asleep daze that there’s an earthquake and death is imminent.

He quickly realizes that there is no earthquake, but death still may be imminent — Steve’s jumping pretty close to Bucky and could easily fall or take a step right onto Bucky’s dick.

“It’s Christmas Eve!” Steve says, grinning as he flops down next to Bucky. The momentum from Steve’s fall makes Bucky bounce up a time or two, and Steve reaches over to steady him, big hand splayed across Bucky’s bare chest.

“You are too enthusiastic,” Bucky mutters. “First, you’re supposed to be excited about Christmas morning, not Christmas Eve. I’m Jewish and even I know that. Second, you’re not getting any presents, even on Christmas morning. All of your gifts are at home. There’s no reason to be excited, go back to bed.”

“I’ve got plenty of reasons to be excited,” Steve says, still with that silly grin.

“What are those?” Bucky asks, shutting his eyes again, just to have Steve jab him in the side. Bucky’s eyes open. “ Hey ,” he says.

“Doing that, for starters,” Steve says, snickering like he’s gone back to being the rambunctious kid he once was.

“You’re evil. You’re an evil little boy and Santa isn’t going to bring you anything besides coal,” Bucky sneers.

“Santa hasn’t brought me anything in about ten years. Coal is an improvement over nothing. Besides, coal is worth a lot nowadays.”

“It’s the principle of the thing,” Bucky says. “You don’t wanna be on the Naughty List.”

“I’m just excited,” Steve says. “That’s half the fun of Christmas, the promise of tomorrow. And besides, there are things to be excited about that don’t necessarily include presents.”

“What would those things be?” Bucky asks. “It’s not like you’re going to church, either.”

“Well, we get to spend the day together, that’s a start,” Steve says. Bucky rolls his eyes. “Don’t roll your eyes. We’ve gotten some great time together this week.”

“Yeah, great pretend time,” Bucky mutters.

“It’s not like pretending isn’t giving us memories with one another.”

“Is that what this is about? Making memories? I thought it was making Brock Rumlow jealous,” Bucky says, though they haven’t seen Brock since their fight at dinner the other night. According to Bruce, Brock opted out of yesterday’s festivities to go drink at the hotel bar and flirt with some of the staff members stuck at the hotel. It hardly seems fair to the staff members, but Bucky was relieved to get away from Brock for another day.

“It was never about making him jealous ,” Steve says, frowning.

“Then remind me as to why I’m here,” Bucky says, quickly getting annoyed with the topic of conversation. Annoyed at himself for saying something that dragged Steve out of his good mood, too.

“Because I wanted to prove him wrong about me, I guess. I just… I’m worth loving. I know that.” He exhales, flipping over so he’s on his back. “I just wanted to remind him that I’m worth loving.”

Bucky blinks, stares over at Steve, who is looking adamantly at the ceiling, brow furrowed. He swallows hard.

“Sorry,” Bucky says.

“What for?” Steve asks, not looking Bucky’s way.

“For making that sound like a joke. I know it’s not.”

Steve pauses, then his face softens. He looks over at Bucky, then props himself up. He reaches into Bucky’s hair and starts massaging Bucky’s head a little bit. It feels really nice. Bucky hates how he becomes so relaxed all at once, just from a little rubbing. “It’s okay,” Steve says in a quiet voice. “It’s not like I’ve said that out loud before. But… it’s different when it’s you. I can talk to you about things I can’t tell anyone else. I know you won’t judge me for that.”

“I’m glad I can be that for you,” Bucky says, thinking of his own aching secret that weighs him down. It can be hard to reveal the things that are so important to you, that even make you, in some regards, even to the people you love. “And you do deserve love,” Bucky says. “If Brock can’t see that, he’s even more of a moron than I already think he is, and I pretty much think he’s scum. That doesn’t change the fact that you deserve… Shit, Steve, you deserve the world . And you deserve someone who makes you happy as hell.” He swallows. “I know you like Brock but you deserve someone better.” It’s a small thing, but Bucky feels better saying at least a small part of his truth.

Steve looks down for a long moment, hand still in Bucky’s hair. He looks thoughtful. “Thanks,” he says, voice soft. “But it’s… I’m feeling a lot better than I have been in a long time,” he says.

“Yeah?” Bucky asks.

“This week has changed things. It’s been… Well, it’s been sudden, but I don’t feel heartsick about Brock anymore.”

“Really?” Bucky asks. “Why’s that?”

“I’m not sure,” Steve says, not meeting Bucky’s eye.

“Really? You’ve been interested in him for such a long time. A couple weeks ago you were overjoyed at the idea of going on a date with him.” He pauses, shoots up to a sitting position, knocking Steve’s hand out of his hair. “Did he try to pull something?” Bucky asks, tone worried and harsh. “Did he do something stupid? I’ll chop his dick off.”

Steve chuckles. “Settle down,” he says, gently pushing Bucky back down onto the bed. “He didn’t do anything to me. We chatted a few times, sure. And we disagreed a bit, but it wasn’t him that changed my mind.”

“What was it, then?” Bucky asks, getting suddenly nervous. God, is there someone else? Did someone else come in and sweep Steve off of his feet when Bucky wasn’t looking? Of course, Bucky would be happy for him if that happened. If Steve could find someone who makes him feel great and who gets him away from Brock Rumlow, hell, he’d be overjoyed. Ecstatic. Hurt beyond all belief, but so, so unbelievably happy for his best friend.

“I just see how it should be like, being in a relationship with someone I love,” Steve says simply. He looks at Bucky. “You’ve helped me realize that.”

Bucky blinks. “Oh,” he says softly. “It’s… it makes me feel sad knowing that you haven’t felt good in your relationships before now, but I’m glad that I could help you with that, even a little. You really deserve the best, Steve.”

“Thanks, Buck,” Steve says, then pauses, looking at Bucky for so long that Bucky has to break the eye contact, looking back up at the ceiling. Out of his peripheral vision, he sees Steve come forward and he doesn’t have time to react before he’s kissing Bucky on the lips, just a brief peck, before pulling away. “Gotta shower,” he says before bouncing off the bed, back to his exuberance of just a few minutes ago.

Bucky lays there, eyes open wide and staring at the ceiling as he hears the shower start and Steve step inside.

That wasn’t for show. That wasn’t for practice.

It was just a kiss.

So what was it for?

Except.

Except if it was for Steve. Because Steve wanted it. Because Steve wanted to kiss Bucky just to kiss Bucky, like a normal couple would in the morning before getting up to shower.

Right?

❄ ❄ ❄

“It’s kind of touching that Tony remembered to get sweaters that aren’t Christmas-related,” Steve says, picking up the blue light-up menorah sweater that was sitting outside of their hotel room when they got back from the morning’s activities. It’s a tacky sweater: blue with a gold menorah, each light individually lit with little white and blue dreidels beneath it. It’s not something Bucky would usually be caught dead in, even at an ugly sweater party like they’re having tonight.

“Is this really touching?” Bucky asks, lighting each candle and watching as they pretend flicker. It’s pretty high-tech for a sweater. He wonders if it’ll malfunction while he wears it, and if he’ll be electrocuted by it, and if he’ll die because of it. It would be, all things considered, a pretty appropriate way for him to go. Steve could carry his body out of the room dramatically. Maybe he’d weep a little over Bucky. It’s probably more than Bucky deserves.

“I think it’s touching,” Steve decides, grinning. He’s been in an unusually good mood for most of the day; it’s sweet to see him so excited. And then he unfolds his sweater. “This one, maybe not so much,” he says, frowning before he holds it out to Bucky so he can take a look at whatever it is that Tony Stark decided Steve would wear to tonight’s party.

“Oh look, the reindeer are making love,” Bucky says, then squints. “Are there really three of them? At once? That seems a little gratuitous. I’m no zoologist, but I get the feeling that it would be really difficult for reindeer to have a threesome.”

“I’m getting a different sweater,” Steve says, getting all huffy like he does. “I’m not wearing this one.”

“Wait, so you can get a different sweater and I can’t?” Bucky asks, frowning. Sure, his sweater isn’t as bad as a reindeer menage a trois, but it’s not like he wants to wear clothing that lights up.

“Stark sent you that sweater because he knows you’re Jewish and was trying to be respectful. He sent me this sweater because he knows that I’m…”

“A Puritan?” Bucky offers, raising an eyebrow. He knows it’ll get a rise out of Steve. He’s not wrong.

Steve rolls his eyes. He looks like he’s halfway to stomping his foot a la Veruca Salt. “I am not a Puritan, Bucky. I do plenty of great things in bed!” He starts gesticulating wildly as he talks and it’s all Bucky can do not to burst out laughing. “I have a lot of moves; you just don’t know about them because I don’t advertise them. I just don’t want to wear a sweater that could come back to bite me if I’m photographed in it. I may want to find another job someday with a company that respects my personal boundaries and I don’t need this sweater broadcast across the Internet. Stark can’t trap me like that. This is worse than when he asked me to wear that Christmas thong.”

“Did you wear the Christmas thong?”

From the look Steve gives Bucky, the thinks that’s a no.

“Steve, I’m positive that this is not some kind of conspiracy to keep you working at Stark Industries until you die.”

“I’m not so sure,” Steve says, thoughtful.

And that’s when Bucky loses it, laughing hard while Steve stands there watching judgmentally, hands on his hips.

“I’m sure someone will trade with you,” Bucky says when he gets control of himself again. “My guess is that there are people with sweaters far worse than yours.”

“This party idea is ridiculous,” Steve says with a pout. He pauses, looks at Bucky like he’s expecting something. It’s such an unexpectedly intense look that it makes Bucky pause, fingers clutching the fabric of his own stupid sweater. What’d he miss? Then Steve rolls his eyes and sighs. “I’ll ask around,” he says, stomping away from their room like the carpeting has personally offended him and he wants sweet revenge.

Sighing, Bucky sits on the couch. The sweater is soft, at least. Most of these novelty sweaters are scratchy. So he’s glad he won’t be uncomfortable at the party, which is a relief.

Well, his clothes won’t be uncomfortable. He’ll probably be uncomfortable, but for different reasons. He’s still confused as hell, and this extra time with Steve isn’t helping matters any. And Steve’s been all over the place this week, emotions fluctuating in a strange way that Bucky isn’t used to. Steve is typically steadfast; sure, he has emotions, but he clings to them. He’ll be good, or he’ll be bad, and that’ll last for a few days and then he’ll move on. But it feels like Steve’s changing by the minute, happy, stormy, somewhere in-between. Frankly, it’s exhausting Bucky. He thought he knew Steve, that he could read his emotions. Maybe he was wrong.

His eyes stray over to their empty bed, made up by the cleaning crew in the hours between them leaving for the morning and them coming back this afternoon. And Bucky’s cheeks go red.

God, Steve talking about the things he can do in bed. Even if he’s just being a braggart for the sake of being a braggart, or, more likely, contrary for the sake of being contrary, it does things to Bucky’s poor heart. He’s so weary; he doesn’t need to think about how flexible Steve probably is in bed, how his muscles look stretched out above someone.

Still, he lets himself entertain some thoughts for just a few minutes. Steve isn’t around, and it doesn’t really hurt anyone if Bucky just thinks about it. It wouldn’t be the first time Bucky’s had dirty thoughts starring his best friend. It’s just the first time he’s had dirty thoughts about his best friend brought on by his — frankly prude — best friend’s apparently poor attempt at dirty talk. Imagining Steve trying to awkwardly engage in foreplay makes him grin.

God, Bucky’s going to hell. Even if Jews don’t believe in it. They’ll make an exception just for him.

A few moments later, the door bursts open. “Brock was willing to trade,” Steve says, grinning as he holds up another sweater. This one has a unicorn in Christmas attire barfing multi-colored candies on it. Steve holds it like it’s the best sweater he’s ever held in his entire life.

“Can’t imagine why Brock would give that up,” Bucky says. “Probably something to do with toxic masculinity.”

“He wanted the other sweater. Can’t imagine why,” Steve says, rolling his eyes as he plops down on the couch next to Bucky.

“Seems like you’ve got something to say about it,” Bucky says, unable to keep himself from needling just a bit.

Steve shrugs. “I think the sex sweater suits him,” he says with a self-satisfied smirk as Bucky’s stomach drops. Maybe Steve isn’t as done with his crush on Brock as he thought. He said he didn’t feel heartsick over him anymore. That didn’t mean he was over him, did it?

“Maybe so,” Bucky says with a forced smile, not ready to open up that can of worms again. “‘Bout time to get dressed up?” he asks.

“Sure,” Steve says. “Let’s light you up.”

Bucky rolls his eyes as Steve laughs at his own bad joke.

❄ ❄ ❄

Steve and Bucky in their sweaters by walkingstardust.

“Oh, spinach puffs,” Bucky says, picking five off of the tray a server is carrying around and plopping them onto his appetizer plate.

“Slow down,” Steve says, then adds as the server is out of earshot. “The spinach puffs are bad.

Bucky elbow’s Steve’s side. “Then why’d you let me grab ‘em?” he asks, honestly a little peeved. They’re taking up a lot of room on his plate and there are a lot of delicious appetizers that could be taking up that prime real estate.

“There was no stopping you!” Steve protests just as, oh good, Brock slithers up to the two of them.

“Gentleman,” he says, then looks down at his sweater. Somehow the reindeer orgy looks that much more wrong when it’s on Brock’s chest. On Steve it would’ve at least been funny. “Gotta say, Rogers, think this one would’ve looked good on you, too.”

“It didn’t fit right,” Steve lies and Bucky looks up at him with surprise, though Steve doesn’t look back. He’s not sure why Steve would lie to Brock about the sweater. Not wanting to wear a sweater with two reindeer fucking, let alone three reindeer fucking, is a pretty valid excuse. “Anyhow, it seems to fit you well.”

“Sure does.” Brock pauses, tugging on the sweater near his biceps. “Though I have to say, it’s a little small here. You wanna feel?” he asks. Steve reaches out and tugs the fabric, then frowns.

“Maybe a little,” he allows. To Bucky’s eye, it seems like the sweater is loose there. Brock’s muscular, but he’s not Steve.

“I’ve been hitting the hotel gym most nights,” Brock says with a self-satisfied smirk as if that’s really a reason to brag. “Can you tell?”

“I’m not sure I can in the sweater,” Steve says diplomatically.

“I could take it off,” Brock suggests with a smirk, eyes darting over to Bucky for the first time since the conversation began before settling on Steve, checking him out from the bottom up.

“I’m going to go get rid of these,” Bucky mutters, gesturing to the spinach puffs on his plate. If Steve notices him at all, Bucky doesn’t see as he walks pointedly to the edge of the room where he can go pout in peace with his plate of gross spinach puffs.

When one of Steve’s coworkers who Bucky doesn’t know begins to approach, Bucky seriously considers ducking behind one of the tables and hoping for the best. But then he remembers that his sweater is literally lit-up, so any attempt at staying hidden would be futile. Curse Tony Stark and the kind gesture of making sure Bucky wouldn’t have to wear a Christmas sweater when he’s not Christian.

“Hi,” the guy says. His sweater is blue and has a pooping yeti on it. All things considered, it’s one of the better options in the room.

“Hi,” Bucky responds, cautiously optimistic about the casual greeting.

“Mind if I hang here for a few?” the guy asks. “All this…” he gestures to the room with his free hand.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” Bucky says.

The guy nods, laughs a little as he scratches at the back of his neck. Maybe he got one of the itchy sweaters. Poor guy. “Exactly,” he says. “I’m new this year and I still don’t know a lot of people. The whole thing seems like a little much, in my opinion.”

“So it’s your first time at one of these shindigs?” Bucky asks.

“Yeah. You?”

“Yeah,” Bucky agrees. “My first time, too.”

“The last place I worked barely let us take a lunch break. Look at all of this.” He gestures to the crowd. “It’s a miracle that this place makes a profit when they’re blowing money on this kind of stuff. They could’ve given us a little party in the break room and I would’ve been satisfied. Actually, I may have had more fun.”

“They’re good at what they do and seem to make quite a bit,” Bucky says. “Though I agree. My firm barely acknowledges the holiday and I don’t mind.”

The guy stops, looks Bucky over for a second. “Do you not work for Stark?” he asks.

Bucky shakes his head. “Nah, I’m here as a plus-one,” he says.

“That’s nice,” the guy says. “All the perks with none of the work.”

“I do plenty of work,” Bucky says, laughing. “But I appreciate the free vacation. Keeps me from having to shell out to go to Hawaii or do something fun.”

“So, I’m assuming that if you’re here as a plus-one, you’re not single,” the says, giving Bucky a half-smile and a shrug.

He’s pretty handsome, even in the pooping yeti sweater. Steve asked earlier if Bucky had a type, and maybe it’s this: a guy willing to come chat with him who has a really nice smile. This dude seems to fit the bill pretty well.

Bucky exhales. “It’s a little complicated,” he decides on. It’s not a lie.

“Oh,” the guy says, sounding happily surprised. “Complicated enough that I could buy you a drink?” he asks.

Bucky tries to find Steve and Brock in the crowd. They’ve disappeared, so rather than focusing on that, he nods. “Sure,” he says, trying to keep his voice light. “Double whiskey.” He pauses, smiles. “And I think the drinks are free.”

“Well, that’s the thing about gift-giving, right? It’s the thought that counts.”

Bucky chuckles and watches the guy walk towards the bar. It’s not wrong to have a cute guy get you a drink, even if he is supposedly here with Steve. They won’t be pretending to be together for very much longer and if Steve and Brock’s conversation goes well, maybe they’ll fake breaking up tonight anyway. And Bucky knows that he needs to move on with his life and stop pining over Steve. Maybe this guy can be a start.

Then again, Steve kissed him this morning like they were a real couple. He still doesn’t know what to make of that and what it means.

It takes a few minutes — and another half-eaten spinach puff — before the guy comes back. “Here,” he says throwing Bucky another one of those cute smiles as he hands him the glass.

“Thanks,” Bucky says, taking the glass from him and maybe letting their fingers brush just a little. He just needs to remember what it’s like to flirt with someone who isn’t Steve, with someone who is taking it all a little more seriously. “What’d you get?” he asks.

“Dirty martini,” he says. “So what do you—”

“Bucky,” interrupts a deep voice, and there’s suddenly a hand on his shoulder. “You still have those spinach puffs,” Steve adds with a frown, looking down at Bucky’s plate.

“They’re never gonna give me up,” Bucky says with a defeated shrug.

“Never gonna let you down?” the guy asks with a grin, apparently not concerned with Steve’s appearance.

“Yeah, that’s—” Bucky starts, then Steve interrupts again.

“We really should get rid of these,” Steve says, taking the plate from Bucky with one hand and grabbing Bucky’s free hand with the other. “Thanks for keeping him entertained, Lars,” he adds, barely looking the guy in the eye before dragging Bucky away.

“Steve, Steve ,” Bucky says, digging in his heels so Steve will stop walking as soon as they’re far enough away that Lars is out of earshot. Steve keeps trying to go, but Bucky’s not moving unless Steve dislocates his shoulder. Eventually, Steve gives up and looks back at Bucky, rolling his eyes. “Don’t roll your eyes at me!” Bucky says, feeling a little hysterical, unreasonably angry at Steve’s interruption.

“There are trash cans on the other side of the room,” Steve explains, as if that excuses him from dragging Bucky away from the one decent conversation he’s had all night with someone who isn’t Steve, and the first guy to express actual interest in him in what feels like ages.

Unless, of course, Steve has expressed actual interest in him. But he just doesn’t know .

“You were really rude to Lars,” Bucky says. “And honestly? You were kinda rude to me, too.”

“How was I rude to you ?” Steve asks with tacit acknowledgement that he was, in fact, rude to Lars. At least he recognizes it.

“I was flirting with him!” Bucky says, annoyed. “And I think that was pretty obvious. Then you literally dragged me away from the conversation, even though you were just across the room flirting with Brock.”

“I wasn’t—”

“Weren’t you just telling me a few hours ago that you’re over the guy? Now you’re running around trading clothes with him and touching his muscles. That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you do with someone you don’t have a crush on.”

“That’s not fair,” Steve says. “Besides, I think you flirting with Lars was pretty rude to me ,” he adds.

God, Bucky is glad that most of the people in the room are on the dance floor and the music is loud. Bucky’s pretty sure no one is listening to their little tiff, which is probably a very good thing, given the direction it’s been going in. They’ve practically exposed themselves already to anyone who may’ve overheard and cared about the situation.

“How was that rude to you?” Bucky asks, setting his glass down on a nearby table so he can cross his arms over his chest for effect. Steve copies him a moment later by setting down the plate of spinach puffs so he can cross his arms over his chest, like the big copycat drama queen that he is.

“Because you’re here with me!” Steve says. “Because you’re my boyfriend and my date, and you’re here with me and it’s pretty rude to blatantly flirt with your boyfriend’s coworker just because you’re having a bad time at a mediocre party in an ugly sweater.”

It’s really good that Tony isn’t around to hear that, because Bucky’s pretty sure that calling something Tony Stark does mediocre is a pretty good way to get fired at Stark Industries. Or at least to set off some kind of weird chain of events where Stark tries his best to impress you but really just drives you insane.

“But I’m not really here with you, am I?” Bucky asks, some of the anger seeping out of him. “After tomorrow, I’m not your boyfriend and I’m not your date and I’ll be alone again.”

Steve opens his mouth, like he’s about to respond, then closes it. His face falls, and he lets his arms drop to his sides. He takes a step closer to Bucky and exhales. “Buck,” he says, voice serious and eyes probing.

“What?” Bucky asks, voice cracking, glancing away and tightening his arms.

“What if we really were here together?” Steve asks in a breathy voice. He reaches out and pulls Bucky’s arms out of their fold, then takes Bucky’s pliable hands in his. “What if we decided that we were really together . Properly. If you were my boyfriend.”

Bucky can barely breathe. He just blinks a few times as he looks up at Steve. “What?” he manages to croak out before the pause lingers too long.

“I think we should go out,” Steve says. Steve looks so goddamn nervous and hopeful in his barfing unicorn Christmas sweater, watching Bucky with wide eyes and holding his hands tightly in his. How could Bucky say no to that face?

“Yeah, sure,” Bucky says. “Let’s uh, let’s try that. We can try that.” His words come out too quickly, almost jumbled.

The grin on Steve’s face is almost obscene, lighting up the room more than Bucky’s sweater. He wraps Bucky up in his arms and kisses him, hard, like Bucky hasn’t been kissed before in his life. Steve kisses him like it’s a dream come true.

After someone wolf whistles, Bucky pulls away red-faced.

“Wanna go upstairs?” Steve asks with an energized grin.

“Sure,” Bucky says. “We can go upstairs,” he adds as Steve pulls him through the crowd. He thinks he sees Brock in the hoard, watching the two of them with narrowed eyes.

❄ ❄ ❄

It’s not how he thought he’d feel, riding up the elevator with Steve. There’s something nervous in the pit of Bucky’s stomach as Steve grins, something telling him that no, this can’t be real, that there’s something off about this situation. Steve’s had a few drinks tonight and a lot of drinks throughout the week as a whole. Bucky keeps stealing glances at Steve, who watches the floors light up with anticipatory excitement as they move upwards through the hotel. It seems like he doesn’t have a single misgiving about going up to his hotel room with his best friend and maybe boyfriend.

When they reach their floor, Steve grins at Bucky, taking his hand again. They’re barely inside the room when Steve is on him, kissing him hard and with tongue, slipping his hands into the back pockets of Bucky’s jeans. The hotel room lights aren’t on, but Bucky can see Steve in the glow of the Hanukkah sweater, which honestly gives a kind of romantic vibe to the whole thing, even if it makes Bucky feel just the slightest big sacrilegious. If only the Maccabees could see what the menorah was lighting up for in the modern age. He gets the feeling ol’ Judah Maccabee wasn’t thinking about gay hookups when he led the Maccabean revolt.

“This feels so right,” Steve mutters into Bucky’s neck before doing something that makes Bucky lean back against the wall and groan, his overactive brain shutting up for just a second, lost to the sensation of Steve’s lips against his throat. God, how many times has he sat alone in bed thinking of this, just this, Steve’s hands on his body, his mouth on his throat? It’s all so much better than his imagination could have conjured up.

“Do you wanna?” Steve asks, pulling away and nodding towards the bed.

Bucky could say no. Part of him thinks that would be the smarter idea. But he’s been waiting for Steve for years, to get his shot. This seems like the moment.

“Yeah,” Bucky says, taking a step forwards towards the bed. “If you think you can stand to see this…” He gestures down to the Hanukkah sweater. “Go on the floor.”

“I’d be thrilled to see that. In fact…” Steve steps closer, taking one of his big hands and slipping it underneath Bucky’s sweater and undershirt. Bucky’s breath hitches as Steve’s hand hits his bare skin, a finger trailing his abdomen. Then Steve pulls the sweater over his head, which is significantly less sexy as Bucky’s big head is sort of stuck in there for a few seconds while Steve finagles it off.

“Don’t electrocute me,” Bucky warns, muffled by the fabric. “Death by sex electrocution is not what I want in my obituary.”

“Believe me, that’s not my intention,” Steve says, laughing as he finally gets the sweater and undershirt over Bucky’s head. He drops it to the floor as Bucky lets his arms go down to his sides. Steve’s eyes don’t leave Bucky’s chest and leaves Bucky feeling nervous, vulnerable. He’s not usually self-conscious about his body but Steve’s eyes and the knowledge of how many sweets he’s eaten in the past few days make him scared. Restraining the urge to cover himself up, Bucky bites down on his bottom lip, some kind of apology forming in his mind. Then Steve says, “Wow” in a low, awed voice.

“It’s not like you’ve never seen me without a shirt on before,” Bucky says. “We’ve been to the beach together like, a million times. I slept shirtless last night, Steve! My chest should be pretty familiar to you by now.”

“Yeah, but it’s never been like this. For me,” Steve says. “It’s never been for me.”

Bucky looks away for a moment, trying to swallow down his disappointment. “I know,” he says. He should be happy that Steve wants this, wants him , at all. It shouldn’t matter that Steve is less serious about this than he is. That Steve doesn’t have the same kind of feelings that Bucky does. Right? There could be time, if Steve wants to be serious. It could start tonight. Bucky just needs to keep himself from fucking this up, his one chance.

Then Steve closes the space between them, one hand gently touching Bucky’s side, the other on his face. “You’re beautiful,” he says quietly, before leaning in for another kiss. It’s slower this time, Steve taking his time as he explores Bucky’s mouth with his own, pulling Bucky in with a hand on his ass. Bucky doesn’t know how long it is before Steve guides him down onto the bed, but he does, taking charge just like Bucky imagined.

“Hi,” Steve says, looming above Bucky in the darkened room. He can just barely make out Steve’s smile.

“Hey,” Bucky says back, voice coming out just a little hoarse.

“Having fun?” Steve asks, one hand playing with a strand of Bucky’s hair.

“Yes,” Bucky says, realizing that he is. It’s complicated and there’s a part of Bucky telling himself that this is a mistake, but he lets himself enjoy this. He doesn’t know if it’ll last, or what Steve truly wants, but if they only have a night, then it’ll be a night that he’ll let himself remember for the rest of his life. A night where he let himself believe that Steve could love him.

“Good,” Steve says with a sweet smile before leaning back in for another kiss. God, Steve takes his time with him before reaching for the button on his jeans.

“You’re still wearing your sweater,” Bucky says, already feeling a bit undone, just from kissing.

“What, you don’t think this is sexy?” Steve asks, looking down at his sweater.

“I just think you’re sexy,” Bucky says, feeling a blush creep on his cheeks. God, it’s like every line and move he’s used to get laid over the past ten years has completely flown out of his head all at once, and even the stuff that he’d normally feel fine saying feels small when looking at Steve, when he’s kissing Steve. But then Steve looks down, probably blushing himself, and Bucky feels a little bit better. Steve may be running the show, but at least he’s not completely immune to whatever it is that’s happening here.

“Thanks,” Steve says, then straightens up. He pulls off his sweater and drops it over the edge of the bed so that it pools in a pile on the floor next to Bucky’s sweater. “I’m going to take off my pants,” he says, standing up and doing just that, pants falling to the ground next to the barfing unicorn sweater.

And then Steve drops his boxers.

“No Christmas thong?” Bucky asks.

“Does that really surprise you?”

“From a Puritan like you, no,” Bucky says, then his eyes travel south.

Steve’s dick is gloriously hard. Eyes on Bucky, Steve gives himself a small squeeze, gasping as he does so. There’s a part of Bucky that feels proud of that, that he could have that kind of reaction out of Steve. And it’s that feeling that makes Bucky sit up, reach for Steve, and pull him back down onto him. Steve goes down with a bit of an umph, then a chuckle. “You’re eager,” he says with a bright smile.

“Yeah, I am,” Bucky says. “I’m eager. An eager beaver.” He winces, then laughs as he pulls a giggling Steve back in for a kiss. Bucky feels Steve’s hands fumble with the button of his jeans. “Need help?” he asks, pulling away from Steve’s mouth.

“I’ve got it, I’ve got it,” Steve mumbles, mouth against Bucky’s cheek. “Lemme focus.”

“So much focus,” Bucky says. “Hurry up.”

“Such a critic. I’m doing  the best I can.”

“Your best isn’t quite—” He feels Steve undo the button. “There we go, now it’s a party.”

Steve rolls his eyes, then rolls Bucky’s pants down his legs, followed by his boxers. “Oh hi there,” he says. “How are you?”

“Are you talking to my dick?” Bucky asks, half-charmed and half-freaked out. And Steve told Bucky that he had moves.

Steve looks up, then shrugs. “Maybe. That a problem?”

“No, but he likes to be referred to as His Highness.”

“Not His Majesty?” Steve asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Good point, you can call him—”

He doesn’t finish the sentence because Steve’s mouth is on his dick and every word Bucky knows becomes mush in his mouth. Steve Rogers’ mouth is on Bucky Barnes’ dick. If it weren’t happening and his eyes weren’t practically rolling up into the back of his head, Bucky would laugh, because three weeks ago this seemed like it’d top the list of Bucky Barnes’ least-likely things to ever happen, but here he is: getting his dick sucked by Steve Rogers.

Steve’s good with his tongue, sucking and licking and generally making Bucky inarticulate because of how good it feels. Unfortunately, after a minute or two, Steve pulls away.

“Ready for the main event?” he asks as if he hadn’t just been giving Bucky the best blow job of his life.

Bucky manages to groan out a response in the affirmative and Steve pops up and out of the bed. “Where’re you going?” Bucky slurs out.

“Getting supplies,” Steve responds, heading towards his still-packed suitcase in the corner of the room.

“You brought supplies?” Bucky asks, pushing himself up so he can see what Steve’s doing. He looks up just in time to see Steve popping up, a small case in hand. Bucky blinks. “Holy shit, you brought a pack .”

“I wanted to be prepared,” Steve says with a bashful chuckle as he plops down on the bed on his bare ass. Bucky slinks up behind him and starts kissing Steve’s neck.

“Thinking ahead?” Bucky asks between kisses.

“There’s always the possibility,” Steve says with a shrug as he pulls a small bottle of lube and a condom out of the case.

“Did you think you’d be sleeping with me?” Bucky asks, voice going a little soft, a little tentative. He’s no sure he wants to know the answer.

Steve hesitates for just a moment before zipping his pack back up. “I’d forgotten that I’d only gotten the one bed, remember?” he asks, voice deceptively light as he puts the pack on the bedside table.

“That’s not what I meant,” Bucky says, watching as Steve unwraps the condom and slips it on.

Steve turns around and smiles. “I know,” he says, climbing over to Bucky with a smile. Both of them want the conversation to end, so Bucky doesn’t press Steve any further. Steve uncaps the lube and squeezes some onto his fingers. “Ready?” he asks.

“Yeah, yeah,” Bucky says, moving some pillows around and positioning himself so Steve has easy access. A moment later, Steve’s finger is inside of him and Bucky falls back, eyes closing tight. Steve is good at this, which probably shouldn’t be surprising given that he’s dated and been in relationships, but somehow it’s surprising to Bucky, who always imagined this scenario in the reverse. He’d always thought that he’d have to coax Steve through the process, to convince him to like Bucky with his hands and mouth.

This is the opposite.

Steve takes his time with Bucky, fingering him slowly as he leans in and presses kisses to Bucky’s chest and abdomen, taking Bucky’s dick in his free hand and stroking it in time with his fingers. It’s a lot of sensation and feeling, and Bucky knows he’s practically a pillow princess right now, doing nothing but mumbling about how good it feels as Steve does all the real work. Despite that, Steve keeps murmuring things about how beautiful Bucky looks stretched out for him, how great he’s doing at this whole sex thing despite just laying there and taking whatever Steve is giving him. It’s like Steve’s just happy to be doing it with Bucky, and that in of itself is enough that it could make Bucky cry.

“Main event?” Steve asks long after Bucky’s stopped keeping track of time, and is already near climax.

“Huh? Yeah.” Bucky’s skin glistens with sweat. He’s half-embarrassed to be so completely blissed out from freaking foreplay.

“Okay, here I come,” Steve says.

“With a huff and a puff?” Bucky asks breathless, restraining a giggle. God, Steve’s such a dork, even in bed. Somehow that never crossed Bucky’s mind, that he’d be so completely and ridiculously Steve . But of course he would; Steve doesn’t lose himself for anybody or for any reason. It makes complete sense that he’d maintain his dorky integrity, even as he’s lining his dick up for sex. And it makes sense that Bucky would find that sexy as hell.

“I’ll blow your house down,” Steve says as he penetrates Bucky.

“G-god,” Bucky stutters out, because that line was the most unsexy thing he’s ever heard in what is possibly the most sexy scenario of his life, and it’s all just a little bit too much for Bucky to handle.

Luckily, Steve continues to show initiative as Bucky falters. He fucks Bucky to a steady but slow rhythm, keeping himself steady as he reaches for Bucky’s dick. Steve pumps Bucky’s dick as he fucks him, thumb gently rubbing over Bucky’s vein, hand slick with Bucky’s precum. They get into a rhythm, lost to sensation. The only sounds in the room come from the rustling sheets, Bucky’s heavy breathing, and Steve’s occasional grunt. Bucky doesn’t know how long they’ve been fucking, but he feels his orgasm build up inside of him.

“Steve,” he says, a little desperately, hands finding their way to Steve’s chest. “It’s time.”

“No, no, Santa won’t be here for a few more hours. I, uh…” He exhales heavily before starting again. “I checked Norad’s Santa Tracker before we started.”

“Oh my God ,” Bucky says just before he comes. Bucky orgasms to the sound of Steve Rogers’ laughter and the feel of Steve on him and inside him, and while Bucky has had many orgasms in his life, this is the weirdest and best of them all.

It doesn’t take long before Steve, still fucking Bucky, comes, too, then slowly pulls himself out of Bucky. Bucky is barely cognizant of the world as Steve pulls off the condom, ties it up, and throws it away. Nor is he paying much attention as Steve crawls into the bed next to Bucky, resting his head in the crook of Bucky’s arm.

They lay there for a couple minutes, just breathing. Steve’s hair tickles Bucky’s armpit a little bit, but it doesn’t really matter. It just helps him come back to planet earth, where he should be. Because he’s here, it’s real. He looks down and there’s Steve.

“How was it?” Steve asks after their long rest. “Was it good for you?”

“Pretty much perfect until you started talking about Santa Claus.” Bucky’s unable to keep the laughter out of his voice. Steve straight-up giggles, pushing his head into Bucky’s pec. “Don’t hide from me on me,” Bucky says, a little nonsensically.

“I’m glad you had a good time.” Steve readjusts himself so he’s looking up at Bucky with those wide, blue eyes. “I wanted you to have a good time, Buck.”

“I had a fucking great time, Steve,” Bucky says. “It was amazing.”  He pauses, reaches down and touches Steve’s hair. “You’re amazing.” His voice comes out soft and tender. He tells himself that he doesn’t need to hide that anymore, even if it still feels strange to be allowed to talk like that to his best friend.

Steve smiles, ducking his head like he does when he’s embarrassed. They’re both a little red-cheeked from the sex they just had, but Bucky thinks Steve would probably be blushing if he weren’t. Steve reaches out and rests a hand on Bucky’s abdomen, rubbing a little through the dark hair there.

Of course, that’s when Bucky’s stomach rumbles.

“Buck?” Steve asks, looking up.

Embarrassed as all hell, Bucky shrugs and looks away. “I didn’t eat dinner,” he explains. “Thought I’d eat at the party but the spinach puffs sucked.”

“Oh, you’re right,” Steve says. “I didn’t eat much, either. Want a snack?”

“Something would be nice.”

“Too bad they’re not doing room service tonight.”

“They’re not?” Bucky asks, trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice.

“Reduced staff because of the snow,” Steve explains. Bucky groans. “What time is it?”

Bucky stretches his head to read the clock-radio next to the bed. “Jesus, it’s only nine-thirty. Thought it’d be later given everything we’ve accomplished tonight.”

“The party’s still going on,” Steve says when he’s done laughing. “We could go downstairs and grab something to bring back up.”

Bucky isn’t sure that he wants to go back in public after what just happened, and especially without sitting down and actually talking about the fact that they just had sex and what that means for the two of them and the future of their relationship. But he also is really hungry and wants something in his stomach besides those nasty spinach puffs. As usual, his hunger wins out over his common sense.

“I’ll clean you up,” Steve says with a sly sort of grin. “If that sweetens the deal for you.”

Bucky raises an eyebrow. “Should it?”

Steve shrugs. “You tell me,” he says and both of them laugh again. It’s been a night full of unexpected laughter. Bucky wouldn’t want it any other way.

❄ ❄ ❄

Fifteen minutes and one very sensual rub-down later, Bucky is back in his Hanukkah sweater — still lit up by the grace of God or a decent battery pack — and back down at the party. Most of Steve’s coworkers have cleared out, since there’s only so much partying that even the best of them can do after nearly a week of drinking and fun, but there’s still a few people left and a small table with food still on it.

“Thank God,” Bucky says, wasting no time as he heads to the table and starts filling up a plate with lukewarm appetizers. Steve gets stuck in conversation with someone at the side of the room, so Bucky makes sure to grab double of everything so there’ll be enough for Steve once they get back to their room.

He’s getting excited over a plate of mushroom caps when someone slides up next to him. “Hungry?” Brock asks, raising an eyebrow as he looks at Bucky’s full plate.

“Half is for Steve,” Bucky says as a defense as he plops a half-dozen mushroom caps on the plate.

“You two must’ve worked up an appetite.” Brock isn’t even getting food. He’s just here to talk to Bucky. Ew.

“Sure did.”

“I remember the last time Steve and I fucked he was so athletic.” Brock grabs one of the mushroom caps off of Bucky’s plate. “Really flexible, too. Can make a guy work up an appetite,” he adds with a predatory grin.

Bucky’s stomach drops.

“What?” he asks, voice hoarse.

“You know, don’t you? Of course you do, it’s not like Steve’s been slacking at the gym. At least he wasn’t two months ago when he gave me that blowjob after the Halloween party. Man, I’ll never forget how quickly he dropped to his knees on that dirty bathroom floor.” He chuckles, patting Bucky on the shoulder. “Though I’m sure you two have talked about that.”

All of the flippant clap-backs that his brain usually provides him drain away. He struggles to think of anything at all, except that he doesn’t know where Brock’s hands have been despite having just touched his food. He doesn’t want to get sick because Brock was having dirty bathroom blowjobs before touching Bucky’s mushroom caps.

That is probably not what Bucky should be thinking about right now. But it’s what his mind attaches to because it lets him avoid the picture of Steve down on his knees and looking up at Brock Rumlow in the same way he’d been looking at Bucky just a few minutes ago.

“Or there was the last company retreat,” Rumlow says, still smiling, his posture relaxed as he speaks. “God, we were at it for hours.”

“Hours?” Bucky chokes out.

“Oh yeah, we tried things I hadn’t known existed.” He sighs. “Too bad he’s so clingy. He actually wanted to cuddle after sex, can you believe that? I guess you probably can since you’ve dated him for… how long was that?”

“’Bout a year,” Bucky says, though the words come out creaky. His throat feels so dry.

“Then that makes that blow job two months ago…” Brock trails off, then smirks. “But he told you about that, right? Any good boyfriend would. It’s only fair when you cheat on someone to let them know.”

Except Steve didn’t cheat on Bucky. Not that he can tell Brock that, but that wasn’t cheating.

Bucky looks across the room towards Steve, still engrossed in his conversation. He’s smiling, his hair still mussed. Steve looks like he’s having a great time. Steve doesn’t look like a liar.

Bucky takes a moment, exhales, centers himself. He tells himself that this is all okay. Brock has been trying to get under his skin since the moment he walked in the door; this is no different.

“No, but I’m not too worried,” Bucky says. “If there was someone I’d believe out of the two of you, it wouldn’t be you.”

The smile slides off of Brock’s face. “You’d think that, wouldn’t you?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“While I didn’t have the good fortune to film our encounters, I don’t think Steve could deny that they happened. Not in his blood.”

“Then why don’t you ask him?” Bucky ask, putting a hand on his hip, sure that Brock won’t take the bait.

Bucky was wrong.

“Hey Steve,” Brock calls. Steve looks up from his conversation and frowns when he sees Brock. “C’mon over.” He beckons Steve over with an innocent smile.

Bucky watches Steve apologize to whoever it is that he was talking to, then walk over to the two of them. “Hey, what’s up?” he asks, looking a little nervous as his eyes dart from Brock to Bucky and back.

“I was just telling Bucky how good you look on your knees,” Brock says, still with that annoying smile.

Steve’s face goes white.

“Is that enough of a confirmation?” Brock asks, sounding downright giddy that this stupid scheme of his is working.

Because it is working.

Bucky takes a deep breath. “You slept with him?” His voice is steady even if his hands are shaking.

Steve looks away from Brock and over to Bucky. His expression seems torn between anger and pain. “Buck—” he starts.

“You didn’t tell me that you slept with Brock.”

Brock, who is actually laughing.

Brock, who gets punched in the face by Steve a moment later.

There’s an audible gasp from the crowd as Brock dramatically clutches his face, howling with pain.

“Oh come on, it wasn’t that hard,” Steve says as he rolls his eyes.

“Why did you punch him?” Bucky asks, looking from Steve to Brock and back.

“Because he’s done nothing but try to manipulate the both of us since we got here!” Steve yells. Most of the other coworkers have scurried away. It’s notable, Bucky thinks, that no one has offered to help Brock, who scampers away, clutching his nose. “Bucky, I’m sorry,” Steve says, losing his heat. “I’m sorry.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Bucky asks.

Steve swallows hard. “I didn’t want you to think less of me.” He pauses. “I know it looks pathetic, chasing after him, now that you know.”

“You don’t need to tell me about pathetic,” Bucky says, thinking of all the time he’s spent chasing after Steve. “And I would have never judged you for it. Well, no more than I judged you for liking Brock in the first place.” Even if he’s been jealous and even if he thinks that Brock’s a total piece of shit, he’s never begrudged Steve for the partners he’s had in the past. All he’s ever wanted is to see Steve happy. “But you lied ,” he says, voice cracking.

“Buck.” Steve reaches out for Bucky’s hand, but Bucky draws his away before Steve can touch it.

“I’ve gotta… go,” he finishes, kind of lamely, already walking away from the scene and back towards the elevators. Steve calls his name, but a moment later he hears Tony Stark, probably coming to chastise Steve for punching his coworker. He tunes it out. He doesn’t need to hear whatever it is either of them have to say.

❄ ❄ ❄

Going back to their hotel room was a mistake. The sheets are still mussed from where they just had sex. The towel Steve used to clean Bucky up is still sitting in the sink. The whole room smells like Steve and it’s fucking torture to just stand there.

So Bucky starts grabbing his belongings and shoving them back into his suitcase as fast as he can. He’s wrinkling some shirts and chances are pretty good that the cap will fall off of his shaving cream, leaving everything inside his suitcase a total mess, but he doesn’t care. He probably has another minute before Steve makes it up to their room and wants to give some excuse or another, so he just has to go, go, go, as fast as he can.

When he thinks he has everything — though he can’t be sure, not at this speed — he gets out of the room and starts down the hall. Then skids to a halt; he doesn’t even know where he can go. The roads are closed; it’s not like he can get an Uber back to the city. He’s stuck here. With Steve.

“Fuck,” he says.

“Sir?” says a voice behind him, which makes him jump. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she says as Bucky turns around to see a woman in a hotel uniform. “Are you alright?”

“Is there any place around here that I could go to?” he asks, voice coming out in a rush.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” she says.

“I can’t stay in this hotel, it’s a long story.” He shakes his head. “Is there anywhere I can go within walking distance?”

“There’s a bus station down the street, “ she says. “Just a quarter of a mile or so to the west.”

“Bless you,” Bucky says, darting towards the elevator.

Of course, that’s when it opens, revealing Steve standing inside.

“Buck,” he says, eyes wide. It takes him a moment to look down, register that Bucky is carrying his bags with him. “What are you doing?”

“Leaving,” Bucky says, moving into the elevator.

Steve, of course, starts standing in the path of the door so that it won’t close and Bucky can’t go .

“Why would you do that? There’s nothing open. There’s nowhere to go.”

“I can’t stay here.”

“You can’t leave, either. There’s nowhere to go. Just…” He pauses, running a hand through his hair. “Bucky, I can explain things. Just come with me to the room and we can talk about this, okay?”

“All of this was a mistake,” Bucky says, not meeting Steve’s eyes. “I should’ve known better than to think this could be important to you. It’s not casual to me, okay? So I shouldn’t have started any of this.”

“What do you mean, it’s not casual?” Steve asks and it hurts Bucky’s heart to hear it. “I don’t get what you’re trying to say, Buck.”

Bucky exhales. Then he drops his bag, takes a step forward and pushes Steve as hard as he can out of the elevator.

“It means I love you, asshole,” Bucky says as Steve stumbles back, then watches as his eyes go wide. “And I deserve better than to be lied to.” And before Steve can respond, the elevator doors close.

Bucky takes a step back, sighing with relief as the elevator begins to move and the sound of Steve yelling his name grows softer in the distance.

Bucky leaving by debwalsh

Bucky leaving by debwalsh.

❄ ❄ ❄

Bucky wasn’t sure what to expect from a bus station on Christmas Eve in an area where the roads are closed, but it’s sadder than he would’ve even expected. The bored-looking teenager at the counter tells him that there will be a bus out to New York City the next morning, which is a relief. It’ll only be nine hours of sitting in the bus station with nothing to do, nowhere to go, and nothing to eat, and a phone that only has a 42% charge. He totally should’ve plugged it in before he and Steve had sex. That was a rookie mistake.

He sits down on an empty bench. There are people scattered around, mostly holiday-goers who got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and couldn’t get an extension on their hotel reservation. A few families huddle together, playing card games or sleeping. There are a few other people around, alone like he is. He’s probably the only one wearing a light-up Hanukkah sweater underneath his inadequate winter coat and just had… whatever happened with Steve happen to them, so he’ll consider himself the most pathetic person in the station, thank you very much.

He didn’t even bring a book to read. It’s going to be a very long nine hours.

“Hot cocoa?” he hears a man ask. He looks up and blinks, half-convinced that his eyes are lying to him. But no, they’re not. A man dressed as Santa Claus — who he swore hadn’t been in the fucking station just a minute ago when he was looking around — is looking down at him through a pair of silver wire-rimmed glasses and smiling as he holds out a paper cup filled with hot chocolate and topped with a big dollop of whipped cream. It looks delicious. It’s probably also filled with poison.

“No, uh, no thanks,” Bucky says, knowing better than to accept fancy beverages from strangers. His ma taught him that much.

“Really?” Santa asks, raising an eyebrow. “I’m sure hot cocoa is a favorite of yours.”

“That’s not a lie,” Bucky says, “but my ma always taught me not to accept drinks from strange men. I think she meant it as a general rule for frat parties, but I think it can also apply to men I meet in the bus station late at night.”

“Your mother was a wise woman,” Santa says. “Well, if you’re not going to enjoy this drink, I may as well. Hot cocoa is one of my favorite things, you know. Can I take a seat next to you?”

“Sure,” Bucky says, because tonight can’t get any worse or weirder, so sitting next to Santa while he still has sex hair can’t make anything worse than it already is. Santa plops down next to Bucky, smiling with a big grin and ruddy cheeks. He blows on the hot chocolate for a moment before taking a sip. “Shouldn’t you be busy tonight?” Bucky asks, the realization that it’s Christmas Eve really dawning on him.

“What do you mean?” Santa asks. He’s got a little whipped cream on his lip, which he licks off.

“Well, it’s Christmas Eve. Shouldn’t you be, y’know, delivering toys to all of the world’s girls and boys. Or, at least the girls and boys who are Christian and have money?”

Santa smiles at him as though his question is both cute and silly. “Christmas Eve is about miracles,” Santa says. “And I thought you could use a miracle yourself tonight.” He takes another sip of his drink.

“Why’s that?” Bucky asks, more curious than defensive at this point.

“You look as though you’ve had a tough day, young man.” He looks around at the bus station. “I think most people here have. It’s hard to be where you don’t want to be on a holiday, even if it’s not your own holiday.” He gives Bucky a quick wink, then returns to his speech. “Wanting to be with the people you care about is universal, even if Christmas isn’t. And there’s something about this time of year that makes you want to hold close to the people you love.”

“That’s true,” Bucky says.

“And you’re not with the person you most want to be with,” Santa says. Bucky raises an eyebrow. “Why’s that?” Santa asks.

“It’s a long story. And a little inappropriate to tell Santa Claus, no offense.”

“Believe me, I know all sorts of things. Remember, I also write the naughty list,” Santa says with another wink. Whatever Bucky thought about Santa Claus, he never really thought Santa would be such an avid fan of winking.

“That’s saucy,” Bucky says and Santa chuckles in response. Sighing, and remembering that he doesn’t have much to lose, Bucky adds, “He lied to me. The person who I want to be with. He lied to me. That’s why we’re not together right now.”

“A big lie?” Santa asks.

“I think so,” Bucky says. “It’s… It’s a lie big enough that it hurt me. And it made me feel like he was using me, more than I already knew he was. And it felt like he was setting me up to walk into a trap. I didn’t like that, either.”

“He was using you?”

Bucky nods. “I agreed to it,” he adds, because that’s fair and true. He did agree to be used. “But he used me in more ways than one.” He stops speaking, because he doesn’t want to admit to Santa Claus that he had sex with his best friend tonight. That’d probably land him on the naughty list for life. Not that it should be a concern, because this is a dude dressed as Santa in a Greyhound station and also, Bucky’s Jewish.

“And that didn’t make you feel good,” Santa prompts, sounding rather like the therapist Bucky went to in college a few times before they told him he’d have to start paying for additional sessions and he quit. He should probably go back to therapy, now that he’s thinking about it. Maybe that can be one of his New Year’s resolutions that he won’t end up keeping.

“It didn’t make me feel good from the start, but I did it because I care about him. But tonight, I just had to listen to my instincts and get out of there before I got even more hurt. I don’t seek heartbreak, even if there’s evidence to the contrary.” He pauses, exhales. He starts picking at a stray thread on his coat. “It’s just hard when you find out that someone doesn’t feel the same as you do. It’s always tough. But when it comes from someone who you’ve felt things for that you’ve never felt for anyone else and don’t think you could ever feel for anyone else… when it’s someone you thought you could see forever with. It’s really painful.”

“It is, isn’t it?” Santa says.

“Have you been heartbroken, Santa?”

“Well, let’s just say that my courtship with Mrs. Claus wasn’t always candy canes and rainbow brights. We’ve had our troubles. We still have them at times. But every trouble makes us stronger, in the long run. Sometimes a rocky patch can lead to solidity going forward. Or some rocky road ice cream, which is Mrs. Claus’ favorite.”

“Or it could lead to me having to leave the most important relationship, the only steady thing I’ve had in my life, really, behind.” The realization hits him like a punch in the stomach. Is this how this ends? Him leaving upstate New York on a Greyhound bus and never talking to Steve again? Even thinking about that possibility makes it tough to breathe. “God,” he says. “It could just be… over.”

“Bucky, if this friend is as important to you as you say he is, I doubt he could see your anguish and keep himself from at least trying to make it right. If you love Steve this much, it’s for a reason. Give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Bucky shakes his head. “I don’t know,” he says. “I feel like I know him less than I ever thought I did.” He looks down at his hands. “I don’t know how to face him after this,” he admits. “Even if he wants to talk, I wouldn’t know what to say.”

“Why’s that?” Santa asks in a gentle voice.

“I told Steve that I love him. Even if people knew, I never said it out loud. I didn’t even tell my mother when she asked.” He takes a breath. “Even if he wanted to talk, there’s no going back from that.”

“The only way is forward,” Santa says. “In all things, the only way is forward. Looking back gets us nowhere. There’s always possibility in the future, even if it’s not what you anticipate.”

“You’re always looking forward to next Christmas?” Bucky asks.

Santa nods, a serious expression on his face. “Of course.”

“But that’s different. If you, for some reason, say, screw up Christmas because you spend all night talking to a sad Jewish guy instead of delivering gifts to the world’s children… You get a do-over next year.”

“Who says that you wouldn’t get a do-over?” Santa asks.

“Well, I guess that’d be up to Steve,” Bucky says. “But there’s no guarantee. He may decide that I’m not worth the trouble.”

“You know, the thing that I like about this season, regardless of who you are, is how it inspires love. While winter is cold and difficult, it brings people together. It always has. Whether it’s to celebrate a holiday, or just helping your neighbor out when their car won’t start, the long nights and sparkling sky make people want to form connections with one another.”

“You’re literally ignoring the entire southern hemisphere, but go on,” Bucky says.

“You’re contrary for the sake of being contrary,” Santa says, but he’s smiling. “I think you and Steve have that in common,” he adds before taking another sip of hot cocoa.

Bucky frowns. “How do you know he does that?” he asks.

“Lucky guess,” he says with a jolly shrug, still smiling like he knows a secret. “But I guess it’s beside the point. You love him.”

Bucky nods, pretending his voice doesn’t break when he says, “I do.”

“And he loves you.”

“I don’t know that,” Bucky says. “Or, I guess I know that he loves me, but not the way that I love him.”

“But you do know that he loves you. And that’s what loving someone does: it makes you fight for them. It makes you fight for your happy ending with them.”

“Sure, Santa. Sure it does.” Bucky can’t meet Santa’s eye.

“Give me a moment,” Santa says, standing up and walking across the station. He disappears behind a door for a few moments, then walks back out with a cup in each hand. When he approaches, he holds another cup of hot cocoa out to Bucky. It has an even bigger dollop of whipped cream on it than the first one did — Bucky’s favorite part of drinking hot cocoa.

“Here,” Santa says. “I swear that there’s nothing strange in there except for the faintest hint of peppermint. I always stir my hot cocoa with a peppermint stick. It’s a nice secret that I learned a long time ago.”

Knowing that he probably shouldn’t, Bucky takes the hot cocoa. If he dies tonight because Santa Claus poisoned him, at least he wouldn’t have to have some kind of confrontation with Steve. “Thanks, Santa,” Bucky says. He brings the cup up to his nose for a sniff — it smells delicious, with just the faintest hint of peppermint lingering in his nose.

“Drink your hot cocoa,” Santa orders in a gentle voice as he sits back down. “It’ll help warm you up. It’s a cold night out there, even if the snow has stopped falling. And I know you must be hungry from skipping dinner.”

“You’re right.” Bucky takes a sip of the hot cocoa. He blinks, then looks down at the nondescript cup it’s in. “This is really good,” he says. “Better than what I’d expect from bus station hot chocolate. It tastes like this should be eight dollars in a fancy coffee shop.”

“It’s an old family recipe,” Santa says with something like pride in his smile. “I’m glad you like it.”

“I really do,” Bucky says, taking another sip. Santa was right; he didn’t really eat this evening and even if the hot chocolate isn’t a solid food, it’s rich and filling. He feels absurdly grateful to this fake Santa Claus for letting him talk him through his problems — well, at least a bit — and drink his hot cocoa. This night has already been too weird to even try to digest, but at least he’s shared a bit of it with someone who doesn’t work for Stark Industries. That’s a start.

“I have a few other people around here that I need to talk to, but if you need me again, I’ll be here,” Santa says.

“Uh, okay,” Bucky says. “Thanks for the hot chocolate and the chat. I uh, I really appreciate it.”

Santa smiles. “It’s the least I can do for someone who’s always been on the nice list, but never managed to get a present out of me,” he says, then turns around. Bucky glances down at his hot cocoa, then back up to see Santa leave.

But when he does, Santa is already gone. Poof. What the fuck.

The guy can apparently move pretty quickly in that suit.

❄ ❄ ❄

The weird thing, Bucky notices about an hour later, is that even though he should’ve finished his hot cocoa ages ago, the cup is still mostly-full and hasn’t gone cold.

Also, he never told Santa his name. But Santa knew it.

The guy’s probably some weird stalker. Fuck.

But he’ll enjoy the hot cocoa anyway.

❄ ❄ ❄

He’s dozing off when the doors slam open. “Bucky!” he hears someone shout.

Startled, he drops the cup of hot cocoa on the ground. It had felt full a moment ago, but when it falls to the ground, it’s empty. Bucky breathes a sigh of relief; the last thing he needed was for his pants to be covered in hot chocolate and make it look like he pooped himself. That would’ve been a really shitty end to an already terrible day, no pun intended.

He’s busy thinking about pooping his own pants when he hears his name again and registers that, oh yes, Steve has found him.

He should’ve guessed that this would happen. Steve always did like charging forward into dumb situations without thinking about the consequences. Bucky wouldn’t be an exception to that rule. Recognizing that Steve is a human perpetual motion machine and won’t stop unless he finds what he’s looking for, Bucky cuts his losses, picks up his empty cup, and makes his way to the door. He tosses the cup in a trash can just before he gets to Steve.

“Stop making so much noise, Steve, jeez,” he says. “People are trying to have a shitty night in here and you’re kind of ruining the mood with all your noise.”

Upon seeing Bucky, Steve’s eyes go wide. His brows go from up high and worried to furrowed. His anxious expression schools itself into something more nervous. “Buck,” he says.

“Yeah,” Bucky says, shoving his hands into his coat pockets and looking anywhere but in Steve’s eyes. “Found me. Congrats. Want a medal?”

“You weren’t answering your phone.”

“It died.”

“You went out in the snow with a dead phone?” Steve asks, eyes wide.

“Yeah, I have a death wish.”

Steve reaches out and gently punches Bucky’s arm. “That’s not funny,” he says. His touch lingers, his hand wrapping itself around Bucky’s arm. “I was terrified that something happened to you. I thought that something happened to you.”

“I was fine,” Bucky says, gently pulling away from Steve’s touch. When he gets that Bucky doesn’t want Steve to touch him, Steve’s face drops, mouth twisting into a frown, blue eyes wide. “What’re you doing here?” Bucky asks, because the quicker he gets this conversation over, the sooner he can go back to waiting for the bus. Not that he’s excited to continue to sit in this Greyhound station, but he’s eager for Steve to go back to the hotel.

“Buck, I didn’t know where you were.”

“I got that much. You could’ve called Ski Patrol, or something.”

“That’s not,” Steve starts, anger flaring up in his voice for just a moment. Then he pauses, exhales, shakes his head. “I needed to talk to you.”

Bucky sighs. “Lay it on me,” he says, even though he’s far from ready to hear whatever it is that Steve has to say.

“Bucky, I… I think I’ve treated you really poorly for a long time. I hadn’t realized that I had been, but I have been. I’m sorry, both for acting in ways that hurt you, but also for being so thick-headed that I couldn’t even recognize that I was hurting you. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have. I never would have.”

“That’s not… it’s not something that you need to apologize for,” Bucky says, because it’s really not. It’s not like Bucky said anything. He never expected Steve to read his mind. He pushed his feelings down and away to avoid this very conversation, because hearing Steve beat himself up for hurting Bucky hurts more than Steve hurting him for being ignorant.

“It is, though. Buck, I never want to hurt you.” He reaches for Bucky’s hand again, which Bucky lets him take, if for no other reason than to just let Steve know that he’s still allowed. But he can’t look Steve in the eye, not now. There’s still the fact that Steve lied to him about Brock, and for seemingly no reason at all. “And I have some explaining to do.”

“Steve…” Bucky says, voice soft, almost a warning. In his heart of hearts, he doesn’t want Steve to continue. He doesn’t want to hear anything that will make all of this worse than it already is.

“Brock started working for Stark Industries while you were dating that baker. I remember, because I met Brock when I was putting that pecan pie tin in the dishwasher. I didn’t eat the whole thing like Thor said, but I ate a lot of it, and all at once.”

“That’s specific,” Bucky says, almost allowing himself to laugh at the mental image of Steve angrily eating a pie that some guy he dated made.

“I don’t know if you remember, but you were more serious with that guy than you had been about anyone for a long time, and I think something started going off in my head telling me that I needed to find something to distract myself, and quickly. It had been a long time since I’d been serious about someone with ma being so sick. And we’d been spending so much time together with ma that I didn’t think of what it would be like when you met someone. I think I sort of imprinted on Brock. He’s hot, he was nice enough, you seemed to dislike him.” He pauses for a second. “That seemed like enough.”

“Why would you want to date someone I don’t like, though?” Bucky can’t help but ask.

“Because it would get your attention,” Steve says, face falling. “And I think that’s what I really wanted.”

“That’s dumb,” Bucky says. “You could’ve just asked me for attention and I would’ve given it to you. You know that.”

“I’m not proud of it,” Steve says. “But I’m trying to be honest, here.”

“Brutally, but continue.”

“I think I’ve known for a long time that he’s not the guy for me, but by the time I could admit that, I’d had feelings for him for such a long time, and they were hard to shake. But I also felt embarrassed about it, more so after we slept together and then didn’t end up dating. That’s why I didn’t tell you. I felt humiliated, and I knew that you knew from the start that it was a bad idea and that he’d hurt me. You have good judgment, that way.”

“Thanks,” Bucky says quietly. “But it’s… there’s a lot that’s not quite adding up here, bud. Why did you care about my opinion so much?” he asks. “What do you feel about me now?” he adds, even though it hurts him to ask it.

“I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the past few days. I don’t know about you, but this has all felt right to me, like this is just the natural next step in the progression of the most important relationship in my life, my relationship with you. I’ve always had strong feelings towards you, Buck, but I could never place them because I never let myself acknowledge that they could be romantic. I love who we are as friends and I don’t usually love change, so it was easier to keep myself from acknowledging that we could have something romantic than to entertain the possibility. I also didn’t know how you felt, Buck. I really had no idea. But tonight you told me that you love me. And Bucky, I think I love you, too. And if you want to be with me, to be my partner, then I could let our friendship change.”

Steve’s smile is so hopeful as he lays out fifteen years’ worth of explanations that Bucky’s always wanted.

Bucky blinks back tears. “Steve…”

“I get it, if you don’t want to. If this week has been too much for you, or if you’re angry with me for lying and for hurting you. I’ll understand and I’ll do my best to go back to who we were as friends. But I think we could be great together, Buck. We could move forward together.” He squeezes Bucky’s hand.

And wasn’t that what Santa Claus was talking about? Moving forward? Finding possibility in the future?

He could find a future with Steve. He knows he could.

“Can I talk now?” Bucky asks.

“Of course,” Steve says, with a nod.

“I’ve loved you forever,” he says and it doesn’t hurt as much to admit it a second time. “Or, at least, it feels like it. You were my first crush and it’s never gone away. No matter who I’ve been with, what I’ve been doing, I always imagined that this, that what you’re telling me now, that this would happen. But I also convinced myself that it wouldn’t. I told myself that I’d find someone else someday and I’d be able to stop pining over you because I knew, with such certainty, that you didn’t feel the same. And I’ve rooted you on and supported you in your relationships while pushing my own feelings aside. So to hear you saying this, it’s both a dream and a nightmare. I don’t know where to go from here.”

“Buck—“

“Let me finish, okay? If I don’t finish now, I don’t think I’ll be able to.” he asks, voice cracking a little. Steve must see his anguish, because he just nods. “So I’m scared. I’m scared that you’re just being swept up in the moment and the illusion, and that once we’re home, you’ll see that it’s just me that you’re with, the guy you always known and never wanted before. I’m scared that you’ll lie to me again, and about something more important than sleeping with some asshole a couple times. And I’m scared that I’m just not going to measure up, and that when you realize that, I’ll be alone, missing my best friend. And that scares me most of all, because even if I’ve loved you, I’ve never held it against you, because I’d rather suffer silently than risk losing you, for any reason.”

He swallows hard.

“But someone told me very recently that you have to fight for the people you love. And I’ll fight for you, okay? Steve, I’ll fight for you, if you fight for me, too.”

“You can’t run away again,” Steve says. “I feel like you’ve been running away for a long time.”

“And you can’t lie. Also, you can’t fuck Brock Rumlow again, but I don’t think that’ll be a dealbreaker on your end.”

Steve barks out a laugh before dabbing at his eyes with the sleeve of his coat. “No, I don’t think so,” he says before squeezing Bucky’s hand again. He blinks a few times, and Bucky realizes that there are tears in his eyes, too. “I love you, Bucky.”

“I love you, too,” Bucky says.

“And I’m really sick of keeping myself from kissing you,” Steve says.

“Has it been a struggle?”

Steve nods, emphatic. “I put us underneath that mistletoe,” he says. “I knew it was there the whole time. I saw it as soon as we walked into the bar. And I positioned us underneath it.”

“So you’ve been planning this for a while?” Bucky asks.

“Maybe not as long as you have, but yes, Buck. I wanted it. I want it,” he corrects, then leans in for a kiss.

And sure, it’s Christmas Eve and they’re standing in the middle of a mostly-deserted bus station, and sure, Bucky’s pretty grimy and Steve’s no better, but Bing Crosby sings White Christmas over the bus station’s speakers and Steve’s big hand is on Bucky’s hip as they kiss and Bucky thinks that this is, maybe, the best Christmas of his life.

Maybe Steve’s, too.

But then Bucky has to pull away from Steve, looking at him with wide eyes. “Steve, I never told Santa my name,” he says, suddenly sure of it.

“What?” Steve asks, sounding a little breathless in his confusion. “Buck, what are you talking about?”

“Santa, where…” He looks around the station, but Santa is nowhere to be seen. He exhales, looking back at Steve. “Holy shit, Steve. I think I just met Santa Claus.”

“What?” Steve asks.

“The real one ,” Bucky says. “Not a stalker or just some weird guy. I met the real Santa Claus like, an hour ago in this bus station.”

And instead of rolling his eyes or calling a doctor, Steve just smiles. “Wanna tell me this story?” he asks, and Bucky really does.

And Steve believes him. Because they don’t lie to each other. Never again.

Bucky takes Steve’s hand. Steve winces, because that's the hand he used to punch Brock. Bucky laughs, then brings Steve's bruised knuckles up to his lips for a gentle kiss.

❄ ❄ ❄

Coda

❄ ❄ ❄

“How’d you get over here?” Bucky asks. “To the bus station. I walked but I’m a madman.”

Steve’s face falls in an instant as he stares into middle distance.

“What’s wrong?” Bucky asks, grabbing Steve’s arm. Did he get lost? Did it start snowing again? How long was he out looking? Will they need to amputate any limbs? Because Bucky would rather die of dysentery on the Oregon trail than even be present at a limb amputation.

“Oh, no, it’s just…”

A moment later, the door bursts open, revealing Tony Stark in what appears to be stylish and expensive red and yellow snow gear. He looks like a buffon. “Hello boys,” he says. “You miss me?”

Steve looks to Bucky with an apologetic smile. “He has a snowmobile,” he explains. “Once I figured out that you were probably here — which took me much longer than it should’ve, since I was upset and trying to convince Pepper to let me keep my job after punching a coworker — I knew it’d be easier if someone had some transportation.”

“And I was happy to be the chauffeur,” Tony says. “I like to give back to my employees. Some people drone on about useless subjects like work/life balance and boundaries but then an occasion like this arrives, where only I, Tony Stark, can save the day. And here I am. When you need me. You’re welcome.”

“And apparently we have to have Christmas dinner with him, Rhodey, and Pepper,” Steve says. “Sorry. It was the only way for me to keep my job.”

“I’m not the one who celebrates Christmas,” Bucky says with a shrug. “And hey! Keeps me from having to pay for a goose, or whatever it is that you all eat on Christmas.”

“Come along, then,” Tony says. “There’s just enough room on the snowmobile for three if you two don’t mind getting cozy. And, judging by the way that you’re holding hands and looking in each other’s dreamy eyes, I don’t think that getting cozy will be an issue for the two of you.”

❄ ❄ ❄

Epilogue

New Year’s Eve

❄ ❄ ❄

“Incoming,” Sam says, bringing over a tray of fresh-out-of-the-oven weenies in dough.

“I feel like this is our only tradition,” Bucky complains as he tries to grab one of the weenies off of the plate. It’s too hot and he drops it a moment later. When Steve’s done laughing, he reaches down, brings Bucky’s hand up to his mouth, and kisses the tip of his index finger. “That’s not even where it hurts,” Bucky says, rolling his eyes and pretending he doesn’t love it. Steve proceeds to kiss each of his fingers in turn, even on the hand that Bucky didn’t grab the weenie with.

“Weenies are the best tradition,” Sam says. “I’m getting ketchup from the kitchen. If someone’s attitude doesn’t improve by the time that I get back, they’re spending the beginning of next year covered in condiments.”

“Oh, I wonder who that was aimed towards?” Bucky asks.

“Could be Natasha,” Steve says with a shrug as he attempts a weenie. Of course it doesn’t have the audacity to burn him, probably because his smile already burns with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns, something that a mere cocktail weenie wrapped in dough couldn’t possibly match, even in its wildest, most delicious dreams.

“I have a very sunny personality,” Natasha says, deadpan.

Steve snorts and miraculously none of the weenie goes up his nose.

Sometimes life is a little unfair.

But then Steve smiles at Bucky and there’s a little piece of cocktail weenie stuck between his teeth. Bucky has to bite his bottom lip to keep him from doing something stupid, like picking it out of Steve’s teeth himself or asking Steve to marry him. His overreactions run the gambit, but apparently that’s part of being in love.

So instead he calls, “Hey Sam, can you grab the buffalo sauce, too?”

Moments later Sam sticks his head out of the kitchen. “You’re joking.”

“No.”

“You’re a tragedy,” Sam says moving back inside the kitchen.

Natasha actually giggles at that one.

But because Sam secretly loves Bucky, he brings out a little bowl of buffalo sauce along with the traditional ketchup and mustard. (Bucky’s post-holidays diet will start tomorrow, he swears.) The fact that they all love each other is probably their second New Years’ tradition. The third is that they all pile into Sam’s apartment and make a mess of the place, which is Bucky’s favorite tradition. Though, as they’ve gotten older, the messes have been kind of lamer and Bucky’s actually helped clean them up because he’s become a better person. He hates getting older.

“Fancy,” Natasha says, taking in the little bowls.

“Usually we just dump the ketchup onto the side of the tray, you know, like animals,” Bucky says, grabbing a weenie and dipping it in the ketchup.

Sam gives him an unimpressed look. “You make me open up a brand new bottle of Frank’s Red Hot and then refuse to eat it?” he asks.

“I like both,” Bucky says.

“Not at the same time, right?” Natasha asks, an eyebrow raised.

“No, I’m not actually an animal,” Bucky says, popping the weenie in his mouth, then nearly choking because he definitely needed to bite it in half first.

But it’s probably worth the choking hazard to know that Sam’s ending his year with a smile on his face. Or, at least that’s what Bucky tells himself to ease the embarrassment of choking on a wiener that’s not his boyfriend’s dick.

“Almost time,” Natasha says, glancing at her wristwatch. That’s probably a tradition, too — they don’t look at their phones during the evening. Or, at least they don’t look at their phones until midnight when they call their various friends and family members to say happy new years, since none of them were kissing each other.

Something tells Bucky that this year will be a little different. His sister will have to wait until at least 12:03 to get her phone call.

“Hey Buck, wanna go to the balcony?” Steve asks, looking half-shy as he smiles at him.

“Sure,” Bucky says before picking up a handful of weenies from the tray.

“You’re disgusting,” Sam says.

“Why?” Bucky asks, taking a bite out of one of the weenies while handing the others to Steve to hold for him.

“You’re about to go make out with your boyfriend and your first thought is ‘I gotta eat more tiny hot dogs’?”

“I feel bad for Steve,” Natasha says.

“Steve’s eating them, too!” Bucky objects, pointing to Steve, who literally has a weenie halfway to his mouth. He pauses, mouth agape, and shrugs before eating the weenie.

“Besides, it’s not like we’re not used to—”

“Do not finish that sentence,” Natasha interrupts. “This year was bad enough.”

Bucky laughs, then follows Steve out to the small balcony on Sam’s apartment.

It’s a cold night and there’s an inch or so of snow on the ground below them, though the balcony itself was spared thanks to the balcony above it.

“Hold some of the hot dogs,” Steve says, handing Bucky a few of the weenies.

“Like hand warmers,” Bucky says with a smile.

“Exactly.” He pauses, a smile spreading across his face as he looks at Bucky. A wave of warmth emirates from it, more powerful than his handful of weenies. “Just wanted to spend the first moments of the new year with you, Buck,” he says. “Just you.”

“Aw, that’s kind of romantic.”

Steve glances down at his electric wristwatch. “Just a few seconds now,” he says.

“Enough seconds to eat another weenie?” Bucky asks.

Steve laughs, stepping in close to Bucky and wrapping his weenie-filled hand around him. Bucky can feel the warmth of the weenies on the small of his back.

“I love you, Buck,” Steve says.

“That’s quite the coincidence, because I—”

He’s cut off by Steve’s kiss. He can hear Sam and Natasha’s cheers from inside the apartment, and fireworks popping somewhere in the distance.

When he pulls away Steve says, “Sorry, I didn’t want to miss my chance.”

“Your timing was perfect.” Bucky grins.

“Making up for a lot of missed opportunities,” Steve says, then exhales. “Happy New Years, Buck.”

“Happy New Years, Steve,” Bucky says before leaning in for another kiss.

The fireworks pop, the weenies grow cold, and Steve and Bucky stay together on that balcony as the world celebrates around them.

Bucky thinks it’s a great start to what’s going to be a really good year.

❄ ❄ ❄

Fin

❄ ❄ ❄