The thing is, Bucky should have seen it coming.
He knew what it was like to be baited by the press.
He knew that look an interviewer got in their eyes, that little tilt to their lips when they look over their notes and remember that their ‘gotcha’ question is coming up.
He’s dealt with it for years.
So, there’s really no excuse.
He hadn’t even pitched that day - and the game he had pitched, two days ago, had been an easy seven innings of shutout ball with Bucky throwing strikes like it was his job. Which, of course, it was.
He wasn’t in pain, wasn’t much more than sore, which he always was.
He wasn’t drunk. Hell, hadn’t even had a drink in something like three weeks because he was trying out this cleanse bullshit that Becca was bothering him with.
He wasn’t over-caffeinated. He’d been in that sweet spot just after his second coffee where he was mellow and not edging towards needing a third yet.
But all the same, despite all of the reasons why Bucky should have seen it coming and should have, once the question was out there, deflected it with a smirk and a shrug, he didn’t.
Because, the thing is, Bucky Barnes is a fucking idiot.
“So, this time last year, you were heating up Page 6 with photos of you and your boyfriend - but after you two broke up over this spring, it seems like you’ve been all work and no play.”
The interviewer gave Bucky a coy smile, leaned forward as if her display of cleavage would in any way entice Bucky. And, sure, she had great breasts, and if Bucky were the type to be dazzled by such things, he might be dazzled. But he wasn’t.
“I didn’t really hear a question in that,” Bucky responded with a polite smile on his face, already dreading where this was going.
“It’s just, ever since you and Brock Rumlow ended things, well, we haven’t really seen you out and about with anyone. Is there anyone special in your life right now?”
She had, at least, smoothed over the entire situation with Rumlow by stating that they had ‘ended things’, instead of dragging up all of those bad memories. Still, not being invasive about one thing didn’t make Bucky inclined to let her be invasive about something else.
“In my private life?”
“Yes,” she smiled, either oblivious to the line he had drawn or just willfully crossing over it.
“No, there’s no one,” Bucky sighed, because the truth, in this case at least, didn’t really matter all that much.
She made a sound, which might have been sympathetic except for the expression on her face, which looked hungry.
Bucky frowned, a little alarmed by that look.
“Well, if there’s no one special in your life right now - what are your plans for the offseason? The World Series ends next week and, irregardless of the outcome, you’ve had a fantastic season leading the Mets’ pitching staff with an amazing twenty-three wins and only five losses - not to mention your league leading two-hundred and fifty innings pitched. Surely you’ve earned yourself some rest?”
“ Regardless of the outcome of our game against the Yankees next week,” Bucky had to correct her. He had to. He was, according to people who didn’t hate him on principle, an easy-going guy. But there were a few things - the Yankees, Ronald Reagan, Chick-fil-A and fake fucking words - that got him worked up. “Yeah, I’m planning on relaxing for a few weeks.”
“Mm.” Her eyes narrowed, and yeah, she knew he had corrected her, and she didn’t thank him for it. “So,” she grinned again, smug as all fuck, and Bucky knew he should signal to her producer to wrap this up, but he didn’t. Instead, he leaned back in his chair and raised his eyebrows, daring her. “So, if there’s no one special currently in your life, tell us, who is your secret celebrity crush?”
He had known, when his agent booked this interview with Entertainment Weekly , that it wouldn’t be like going on Sports Center . He had known.
His celebrity crush?
“Your celebrity crush,” she repeated, completely unnecessarily. “Come on. We all have one.”
Sure. Everyone did. But not everyone got asked about it on a nationally-syndicated television program.
She arched an eyebrow at him.
“You really don’t have one?” she challenged him.
And, frankly, fuck her. And her fake fucking words.
He remembered her, remembered the things she had said about him when he came out two years ago. The way she had talked about his sexuality like something between a personal insult to her and women everywhere and a punchline.
There wasn’t a right answer to this question. Whatever Bucky said, somewhere on the internet or, if he was unlucky enough, in some garbage paper, it would be picked up.
“‘Course I do,” Bucky drawled. “We’ve all got fantasies.”
Take note, ladies , she had said, James Barnes is off the market after publicly stating that he is gay. This is a sad, sad day for women everywhere, who have fantasized about that man’s body ever since he pulled his shirt off when he won his first game in the Majors.
It was fine, Bucky got it. He was in the public eye. He had chosen a career, had worked damn hard to make himself the best he could be, and with that came the reality that he was someone that people had opinions about. And people felt the need to share their opinions about him with the rest of the world, Bucky’s privacy and his personal life be damned.
“Well?” she taunted. “Tell us!”
And now she was putting Bucky in a corner and making him do the same thing to someone else.
“You know,” he started to say, “it’s not really my place to go and-”
“Oh, Bucky , you’re going to make some lucky celeb’s day when he finds out you’re crushing on him.” She reached over and squeezed his knee.
And that - that went beyond the boundaries of annoying and straight into fuck right the fuck off territory, in Bucky’s book.
“You think so?” he asked, making his eyes wide and smiling his easy, bright smile.
Standing to the side, his agent bowed her head and hid her face, clearly knowing she was about to have to start cleaning up another of his messes.
“Absolutely. Tell America - who does Bucky Barnes dream of?”
Bucky let his smile turn into a smirk.
“Hawkeye?” she repeated. “The- the Avenger?”
“Yep. That’s the one.”
It should have ended there, with an awkward ‘huh’ and the internet gifted with a new meme of the interviewer looking slightly constipated as she tried to work out how James Barnes, star pitcher for the New York Mets, could have a crush on Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, America’s fifth favorite Avenger, and the one voted most likely to be found dumpster diving for puppies or pizza three years in a row. He had only lost that poll this past year when Captain America was actually caught on camera pulling a puppy out of a dumpster.
But it didn’t.
Because apparently, the universe hated Bucky, and because, well, pretty much it was because the universe hated Bucky.
Captain America didn’t call himself a Mets fan - he said his one true love was the New York Dodgers, but he couldn’t bring himself to root for them now that they were in California. And he had stated, repeatedly, in language that still gave the Avengers PR people aneurysms, that the Yankees could go fuck themselves. But, despite not actually being a Mets fan, Captain America had thrown out the first pitch every year since his defrosting, came to a few games every season, and was vocal on Twitter and Instagram about his loathing for the Yankees, and congratulated the Mets on their victories.
Even if he wasn’t a Mets fan, it turned out he was a Bucky fan.
Two days of slow news on the internet, and a really unnecessary tweet from Captain America, meant that that was not, in fact, the end of it.
@StevenGRogers said: Makes sense. They’ve both got great aim and they both hate the Yankees, may they rot in hell and never win another World Series. I’ll have to invite @JamesBuckyBarnes to the next Avengers movie night and see if they hit it off.
So, of course, the internet lost its collective shit.
Over the seven years since Captain America’s re-entry into land-based human society, he had become the mythical, adopted-millennial who both represented and opposed all that millennials hated about the world. When Captain America had posted his first tweet, he had actually broken the internet.
@StevenGRogers said: Please tell me this doesn’t work. I don’t want to.
It became the meme that wouldn’t die, copy and pasted onto so many images and headlines in the intervening five years that it was impossible for anyone in America to say Please tell me this doesn’t work or I don’t want to and not be assumed to be making a reference to Captain America’s infamous first tweet.
So, of course, when Captain America waded into the muck of Bucky’s celebrity crush, it went viral.
And it was absolutely not something Bucky needed to waste any brain cells on.
The World Series was down to the final game - Yankees and Mets tied at three wins each - and the Yankees had the home field advantage.
Say what you wanted to about the Yankees - and, really, fuck the Yankees - but Bucky didn’t think he would ever come to terms with the feeling of pitching in Yankee Stadium. It didn’t even matter that it wasn’t the original. There was just something about Yankee Stadium that did it for him.
So that’s what he should really be thinking about.
Not about the fact that he had had to stop even looking at his email, texts, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Not the fact that the fucking New York Times had printed an editorial about Bucky, and what a romance between Hawkeye and him could mean for queer kids in America.
Not about Captain America’s fucking tweet.
Not about his own sister - the goddamn traitor - responding to Captain America’s tweet with one of her own.
@RebeccaTheBarnes said: @StevenGRogers make sure you pick a scary movie so @JamesBuckyBarnes has to cuddle in Hawkeye’s amazing arms. Don’t worry - he’s a loser tho and thinks E.T. is scary.
And then Captain America had responded to her.
There had been an actual Twitter storm, between Bucky’s sister and Captain fucking America, about how scary E.T. actually was - and screw Becca, it was terrifying, and Bucky had still never seen the whole thing - and the status of horror movies in American cinema.
It would have been fascinating, if they didn’t both keep tagging him and dropping hints or digs about hooking Bucky up with Hawkeye.
At least Hawkeye wasn’t on Twitter. At least Hawkeye was, as far as Bucky knew, completely oblivious to Bucky’s existence.
So Bucky turned off his notifications, gave his phone and iPad to his agent and accepted her Zune - and, really, Gamora, a Zune? - as a loan so that he could do his pre-game workout and warm-up with his usual playlist.
And that should have been the end of it.
Baseball players are superstitious. Maybe not all of them as bad as Bull Durham had led Bucky to believe, growing up, but not that far off either.
Bucky had lucky boxer briefs.
And, sure, he had won games wearing other boxer briefs. And he had lost games wearing his lucky ones. But he felt lucky when he wore the lucky boxer briefs.
So, for the last game of the World Series, for Bucky’s first chance at a ring and that trophy, he wore his lucky boxer briefs.
Even though they were licensed Hawkeye merch.
And Bucky had never given it a thought before - because before last week, no one but Becca had known that Bucky thought Hawkeye was hot as shit and had a low-key obsession with him.
But now, of course, he thought about it.
The same for his wristband.
It was purple. It had Hawkeye’s logo on it. Bucky had gotten it in college, at a stupid frat party, and he’d kept it.
Before, some of his teammates had asked, and Bucky had just shrugged and said it was lucky.
Now they fucking knew.
Now everyone did.
No one except his teammates and trainers would see the underwear - had seen the underwear.
But in the age of hi-def video, instant replays and telephoto lenses?
Everyone was going to see the Hawkeye wristband.
Bucky almost didn’t wear it.
He actually made it halfway down the block, towards the metro station, before turning around and going back to his apartment and getting it and putting it on.
It was lucky.
And yeah, his teammates gave him shit. But that was fine. He gave them shit right back.
They were family, they were allowed.
But then Fox wanted a pre-game interview.
And the goddamn interviewer saw his wristband, smirked, and asked Bucky to hold it up for the camera.
Bucky had been told his glare looked like what most people imagined a nuclear bomb looked like: white hot and burning.
He had a reputation, on the mound, of glaring down at the plate and being intimidating as hell.
The interviewer gulped and stammered an apology, and quickly changed topics.
But the damage was done, Bucky knew.
Sure enough, the goddamn jumbotron in the outfield helpfully showed a zoomed-in image of Bucky’s left wrist and the bright purple band.
Fuck the Yankees.
Bucky took the mound at the bottom of the first inning and glared down at the Yankees’ lead-off hitter and-
What in the actual fuck?
Behind home plate was a fucking sign.
A giant fucking sign with a purple heart shot through with an arrow and, in very large fucking letters:
J.B. AND C.B. 4EVA
The damn thing was held by two girls, decked out entirely in navy and white.
Fuck the Yankees.
Bucky struck out all three batters at the top of the Yankees lineup and stalked off the mound.
People threw purple shit into the dugout. Balloons. Hearts. Plastic arrows.
Yankees fans were the worst.
Bucky’s teammates weren’t any better.
This game was a big deal, and pitchers were, as a general rule, fucking weird and to be left Alone.
Sitting alone, at the end of the dugout, methodically wrapping a piece of paper around his left index finger over and over again, Bucky glared at the stained concrete under his feet and tried to visualize how to sit down the next Yankees batters he would face.
His fucking team, however, kept piling up the purple shit on the bench beside him, like some kind of pile of tributes.
And he knew the Yankees fans were doing it to try to throw him off his game.
And he knew his team was doing it to try to ease some of their own tension.
But none of that changed the fact that Bucky looked at the pile and felt himself blushing like a fucking teenager with a crush.
Because that’s what he felt like.
It felt like middle school all over again, and Bucky trying to work up the courage to kiss Matt Stevens and failing spectacularly.
When Bucky took the mound in the fifth inning, the Mets leading the Yankees 1-0, the heart sign behind home plate had been changed. Or flipped around. Something.
Now, it was a broken purple heart, and below it:
Or not. Nobody loves the Mets.
It wasn’t even a good insult.
In fact, it was stupid, and it was dumb, and it was-
Bucky gripped the baseball tightly in his left fist, dug his fingernails into the seams, and shook his wrist so he could feel the wristband against his skin.
Fuck the Yankees.
“So, how does it feel to win your first World Series?”
Bucky was soaking wet, uniform plastered to his skin with a combination of champagne and cooler water and Powerade, but he didn’t care.
He grinned at the same Fox reporter that he had tried to murder with his eyes hours earlier.
“It feels amazing,” Bucky said. He sounded hoarse. Sounded like he had been shouting for the last fifteen minutes at the top of his lungs. And he had been.
Because they had won.
Bucky had pitched the entire game, all nine innings, and the Mets had scraped by with that one run, to win the World Series, and it hadn’t been a perfect game - Bucky had ended up walking a runner in the ninth with only two outs to go and he had seen his life flash before his eyes, and he had allowed six hits overall.
The interviewer looked at the purple plastic arrow in Bucky’s right hand.
The first base coach had given it to Bucky. Had, in fact, used it to stab Bucky in the ass and tell him to go talk to the Fox reporter in the first place.
Fuck it, Bucky decided.
He used the purple arrow to scratch at his chin, letting the camera get a good shot of it.
“Any words for your… fans?” the Fox reporter practically squeaked.
And, hell, Bucky was a fucking idiot .
He was on top of the world - he had literally just won the World Series. He had pitched nine innings of solid baseball, had struggled through pain and anger and so much shit, and he had won .
And he was a fucking idiot.
“Hawkeye, if you’re out there, give me a call!”
Predictably, that was not the end of it.
Gamora refused to give Bucky his phone back.
Apparently, inviting Hawkeye to call him was the same thing as inviting people to somehow get his unlisted phone number and call or text him all kinds of propositions.
So he got a new phone and a new phone number.
But then people started sending him shit.
Purple gift baskets.
Purple balloon arrangements.
They just kept showing up at the front desk in his apartment building. Some days the lobby looked like a shrine to Hawkeye, it was so bad.
And Bucky- Bucky just wanted a break.
He wanted a break from the internet asking him if Hawkeye had called yet.
He wanted a break from his sister asking if Hawkeye had called yet.
He wanted a break from the purple shrine.
So he did what any self-respecting, successful adult making millions of dollars a year would do.
He took the train to his mother’s house in Brooklyn, let her make him dinner and ruffle his hair and call him her baby, and he curled up on his childhood bed in his childhood room and pretended the rest of the world didn’t exist.
That lasted for three days.
Because on day three, Becca came by for a visit.
Bucky loved his sister. He did.
In the ‘please stay at the other end of the world from me and go do great things, but don’t tell anyone all of the embarrassing shit you know about me, and please never speak to me in public’ way that he was pretty sure most siblings felt when they really loved each other.
So when she showed up, jumped onto his bed and woke him up from his amazing nap at three in the afternoon - he had won the World Series, he could skip leg day and take an afternoon nap - he wasn’t too thrilled to see her.
“What are you doing here?” he grumbled.
Because Becca was still in college, up at Brown, and the semester definitely wasn’t over yet. Bucky had an alarm set on his new phone for that day, so that he could run the hell away before she got home.
“Gosh, it’s so good to see you too, Buckyboo.”
He kicked her off the bed.
“I hate you,” he grumbled, and rolled over to bury his face in his pillow.
She yanked the blanket off of the bed.
“Get up. Come downstairs. Mom made those weird marshmallow brownies you like.”
Bucky perked up at that.
“Yeah, there’s vanilla ice cream too.”
Bucky rolled out of the bed and threw his arm around Becca’s shoulders.
“So good to see you, Becs,” he grinned down at her.
She rolled her eyes, but walked with him down the stairs and into the kitchen where-
“What the fucking fuck ?” Bucky squawked.
Squawked and immediately covered his crotch with his hands, because he was only wearing an a-tank and a pair of thin Hawkeye sleep shorts that Becca had gotten him last year and-
And sitting at the kitchen table, spoon in hand, bowl with marshmallow brownie and vanilla ice cream in front of him, was Clint fucking Barton.
Becca shoved Bucky in the back, and he stumbled into the kitchen.
Their mother sent Becca a withering glare.
Hawkeye set down the spoon and stood, pink-cheeked and so goddamn hot with his arms and his body and his eyes and his smile .
“Hi,” Bucky breathed.
Becca choked on a laugh.
Bucky elbowed her.
“Hi,” Hawkeye said, eyes raking over Bucky’s totally not appropriate for company clothing - and what the hell, Becca?
Hawkeye’s eyes lingered on Bucky’s hair.
Ever since Bucky had decided to let his hair grow out after getting called up to the Majors four years ago, it had become an absolute mess to deal with after getting out of bed. It didn’t matter what Bucky did to it, every time his head touched a pillow, his hair staged a full-on French revolution.
Bucky awkwardly patted at his hair and felt his face flame.
His mother cleared her throat.
Bucky shot her a pleading, desperate look.
“Becca, why don’t we take a look at… my letter to Congressman Sanders demanding he resign.”
And with that, and despite Becca’s protests, Bucky’s mother shuffled his sister out of the room and down the hall, and Bucky was left alone with Hawkeye.
“You should… eat that, before the ice cream melts,” Bucky gestured at the bowl in front of Hawkeye.
Hawkeye stared down at it, as if he had completely forgotten it.
“Oh. Uh. Yeah. I- You want to share it with me?”
Bucky slanted a look at the entire plate of brownies on the kitchen counter, then back at the bowl that Hawkeye shifted towards the middle of the table.
Bucky sat down at the table and, grinning, Hawkeye resumed his seat.
There was still only one spoon, and they both stared at it with extreme caution.
Then Hawkeye laughed.
It was a nice laugh - warm, rich. It made his eyes crinkle and his mouth pull up into the smile that Bucky had sort of been in love with for years.
Hawkeye picked up the spoon, sectioned off a piece of the brownie and ice cream, and then offered it to Bucky.
And maybe Bucky was supposed to take the spoon from him but- but how many times was Bucky going to get the chance to have Hawkeye spoon-feed him?
So Bucky just leaned down and swallowed the spoonful.
Hawkeye slowly withdrew the spoon, and okay, that had become unexpectedly erotic.
“Um, so. You- you pitched a great game to win the Series.”
Hawkeye fed himself, and Bucky could only stare.
“You watched the game?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, I watch most of your games.”
Hawkeye fed Bucky another bite.
And Bucky finally realized what he had just said.
“You- you watch most of the Mets games?”
Hawkeye laughed again, and scratched at the side of his head. There was a bandage around his right wrist, and, now that Bucky was looking past his eyes and his mouth and his biceps - seriously how were those real? - he could see there was a bandaid on Hawkeye’s neck and some faded bruising around his left eye.
“Uh, no, I mean. I watch the games when I can, but I actually try to catch your games?”
“So I can… watch you pitch?” It sounded like a question, as if Hawkeye himself wasn’t entirely sure.
“I didn’t realize you were such a baseball fan.”
“I’m not. I mean, nothing against it. I just- I don’t love it the way Steve does. It’s fine to turn on and watch, and nothing makes me feel rested like a mid-afternoon baseball nap, but - Not that baseball’s boring. It’s, it’s really great. Riveting.”
“No, it’s not.”
When he wasn’t pitching, when he was in the bullpen and sitting there watching a game that he was completely uninvolved in, it wasn’t at all riveting. He in no way blamed Hawkeye for using baseball as a napping tool.
“I mean, it is when you’re pitching?”
“Really.” Bucky was having a hard time wrapping his head around the idea.
“Yeah. You- you have this glare . It’s the hottest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s like you’re daring the batter to breathe, and if he does you’re going to knock his ass flat with your next pitch. I honestly think your glare is more intimidating than Natasha’s.”
“That’s… the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. You really think my glare is more intimidating than the Black Widow’s?”
“I mean, don’t tell her I said that? But, yeah. Hell yeah.”
Bucky’s brain caught up.
“And you think it’s hot. My glare.”
Hawkeye swallowed hard, met Bucky’s gaze, and nodded.
“What can I say,” Hawkeye offered him a lopsided smirk, “I’ve got a thing for gorgeous, dangerous people with intimidating murder glares.”
Bucky tapped the bowl, and Hawkeye looked a bit startled, but then he obligingly fed Bucky a bite of the brownie before taking another for himself.
“You might have heard,” Bucky said after swallowing, “but I’ve got a thing for you.”
Hawkeye’s lips quirked up again, and when he met Bucky’s gaze this time, there was heat and confidence in his eyes, and Bucky felt his mouth go very dry.
“Yeah. That was brought to my attention. Seems a shame, doesn’t it?”
“What?” Bucky asked, genuinely confused.
“Me, with my thing for gorgeous, dangerous people with intimidating murder glares, all alone, no boyfriend to speak of. You, with your thing for me, all alone, no boyfriend to speak of.”
“Yeah,” Bucky agreed, hoping this was going where he needed it to go. “Seems a shame.”
Hawkeye scooped up the last puddle of melted ice cream and offered it to Bucky.
“Wanna come over and watch E.T. with me?”
“I’m going to murder my sister,” Bucky growled when Hawkeye laughed.
“Don’t,” Hawkeye argued. “She’s the one who invited me over here.”
Which… fine. Fair.
That granted her a temporary stay of execution.
“So?” Hawkeye nudged Bucky’s knee under the table. “Wanna go on a date?”
Bucky didn’t even bother to pretend like he was going to play it cool or play hard to get.
“Hell yes, I do.”