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Photomanipulation of an airbnb advertisement for Stark Tower

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“See? It’s perfect!”

“I don’t know…” Becca frowned at the screen, clicking through the airbnb website. “Are you sure this is legit? Twenty dollars seems way too cheap…”

Steve rolled his eyes at his friend. Becca couldn’t be expected to know better--she was young and inexperienced in the ways of the world, lost without the additional year and a half of insight granted Steve by virtue of his earlier birth. “That’s the whole point of these house-share deals, Becca--they’re supposed to be way cheaper than hotels.”

“Yeah, but--twenty dollars? For a private room? In Manhattan? That doesn’t sound suspicious to you? Even on this site, the other private rooms are all seventy plus, and based on the address, this place must be right beside Stark Tower!”

“So it’s a good deal. That means it’s automatically a scam?”

“Well… yeah.” When Steve simply stared back at her, flatly refusing to budge on this issue, Becca shook her head at him and sighed. “I still don’t get it; why aren’t you just staying with Bucky?”

Steve felt the back of his neck turn red. “I’m not just going to barge in on your brother, Becca--I doubt he even remembers me.”

“He totally remembers you, moron. He asks how you’re doing every time he calls!”

“He’s probably just being polite, then. Anyway, I don’t even know how long it’ll take me to find an apartment near my new office.” Office. He could still barely believe that after years of doodling political cartoons in his studio apartment, he was going to be working in an office--albeit one that was divided into fifty cubicles or more. That thought alone made this move worth it. “Who would be okay with their baby sister’s friend freeloading for that long?”

“He seriously wouldn’t care, Steve. I can call him right now.” Her fingers twitched, obviously itching to reach for her phone.

“Nope.” Steve clicked through the menus, reserving the room and sealing his fate. “I will be staying with my new friend Tony while I’m in New York, and it will be amazing.”

--

It wasn’t that Steve didn’t appreciate Becca’s attempts to be supportive, but she had been way too excited when she’d found out about Steve’s massive crush on her brother. That had been back in middle school--high school for her brother--and since then he’d mostly managed to convince her that he’d moved on with his life, but she still held some deranged fantasy of her best friend and her brother getting together in a whirlwind fairytale romance, despite that fact that Bucky was three years older than Steve, had a successful career, and was smoking hot. He could definitely do better, and based on his Instagram, he frequently did. Sometimes multiple times a week, with different people.

Okay, so maybe Steve wasn’t completely over his crush, but that was just one more reason that taking Becca up on her offer would be such a terrible idea.

--

Steve was nervous and stressed about moving to a new city, and between that and his infamous inability to handle technology, it was maybe not all that surprising that it wasn’t until he was dragging his carry-ons out of the secure area of the airport that it occurred to him for the first time that maybe, just maybe, Becca had had a point in her suspicions.

This epiphany was inspired by the sight of a man dressed like a secret service agent, somehow already surrounded by Steve’s luggage, solemnly holding a sign that read, “STEVEN GRANT ROGERS.”

Against his better judgement, Steve made his way forward. “Uh,” he said, “I’m Steve Rogers, but I think there must be some sort of mistake?”

“No mistake, sir. The boss gave me a note for you, sir.”

Steve accepted the note shakily.

Hey Steve! it read, I know I said I’d meet you at the airport, but something came up. Sorry, but you know how it is, right? Anyway, taxis can be a serious pain, so I figured Happy could give you a ride over to the Tower. He gets sulky when he doesn’t have anything to do, it’s ridiculous. Can’t wait to see you! --Tony <3

“What,” Steve said.

“The car is this way, sir,” said Happy, picking up Steve’s luggage and heading off at a quick pace as though Steve’s entire life weighed no more than a school-child’s backpack.

“Um,” Steve said, tripping over himself to keep up.

“The boss is very excited to meet you, sir. He’s been talking about it constantly.”

“That’s great, uh, Happy?”

“Yes, sir.”

“It’s just… I’m a little… confused.”

“People generally are, sir, when they first meet the boss.”

Steve couldn’t tell if that was some sort of profound philosophical statement or commentary on the typical influence of Tony. Steve managed to swallow the more pressing, panicky questions he was holding--Who/what/why is your boss, exactly?--and settled on the more direct one. “So is this place really that close to Stark Tower?”

--

“Becca.”

“...Steve? Everything okay?

“Tony is Tony Stark, Becca.”

“...Holy shit.”

“Yeah.”

Wait, are you actually staying in Stark Tower?! Why was it so cheap? This makes even less sense!

“I guess he wanted to make friends, and he heard this was a great way to meet people.”

...I can’t even tell if you’re shitting me right now.

“...I really, really wish I were.”

--

There were probably words that could describe Tony Stark, but if that was the case, Steve’s double major in Journalism and Fine Arts was not sufficient for him to summon them.

“Steve!” Tony screamed from about 5 centimetres away from Steve’s ear. Steve wasn’t sure why Tony felt the need to try to gain his attention--Tony had had his arm around Steve’s shoulders for the past 2 hours. Tony was currently waving his other arm wildly, nearly sloshing his champagne all over the couple he was trying to introduce to Steve. “Steve, have you met Senator--Senator--uh, the Senator? Mr. Senator Person, this is my friend Steve!”

Mr. Senator Person was wearing a tuxedo. All of the men in the ballroom were in black tie except for Steve, who was wearing the faded hoodie and paint-stained jeans he’d arrived in.

“It’s an honour to meet you, sir,” Steve said, as he’d been saying for two hours to countless men in diamond cufflinks and women in diamond necklaces and babies in Armani onesies.

Mr. Senator Person gave him a cool nod and tried to excuse himself. The glittering woman on his arm clenched her fingers and held him in place. “Steve?” she asked, red lips curved upward. It could have been a smile, but Steve wasn’t optimistic. “Not Steve Rogers, the political satirist?”

Mr. Senator Person stiffened.

Steve cleared his throat, feeling himself flush. And to think, he hadn’t thought this evening could get any more embarrassing than it already had.

“Yes!” Tony bellowed, delighted. “Steve does comic thingies, pictures in the newspaper of idiot politicians being morons! They’re amazing!”

Steve… had not told Tony what his job was. He honestly hadn’t had time to.

“Uh, none about you, though, sir,” Steve said, laughing awkwardly.

Tony and Ms. Person laughed.

Mr. Senator Person bared his teeth.

And on the evening went.

--

Despite a minor battle as to how he would get to work--

(”No, seriously, Tony, I like taking the trains!”

“You’re lying, right? You’ve got to be lying. No one likes the trains. You’re definitely lying. Jarvis, is he lying?”

The disembodied voice answering every enquiry--even the ones made absently while in the shower--would never stop being weird.

“Mr. Roger’s heart-rate and body temperature did show a sudden elevation commonly indicative of dishonesty, sir.”

“That means you’re lying,” said Tony smugly.)

--Steve found that his new workplace was everything he’d dreamed of and more.

“So… Steve, right?”

Steve looked up from where he was staring dazedly at his computer--his computer--on his desk--his desk--in his cubicle--his cubicle. He smiled nervously at the newcomer who was leaning against the cubicle’s wall in a way that made Steve slightly concerned about its structural integrity. “Yes, hi. Steve Rogers,” he said, standing from his desk chair--his desk chair--and raising his hand to shake.

“Great to meet you, Steve,” the other man said with an easy grin and a firm handshake. “I’m Sam Wilson. Gotta say, I wasn’t expecting our new hire to be a celebrity!”

“...What?”

“Man, you are all over the society pages this morning,” Sam laughed.

Steve stared at him. “I’m… Oh my god.”

“This your first time in the glam news, Steve?”

Oh my god.”

“Don’t worry, man,” Sam said. “The media mostly seemed pretty approving of Tony’s new hobo friend.”

Steve collapsed against his new desk and tried not to scream.

The news about their new coworker had clearly already made its rounds, but the ribbing he received from the rest of the department was all as friendly as Sam’s. Enough of the staff had experience with Tony Stark to be largely unsurprised by anything to do with him.

“So you’re actually staying with Stark, then? How’s that working out?” someone--Steve still didn’t have their names down--asked him, handing him a coffee.

Steve thanked him and took a polite sip, trying not to be too obvious about how much he really hated coffee as he did so.

Everyone laughed, seemingly interpreting his expression as commentary on his roommate situation. “Going that well, is it?”

Steve sighed. “I mean… He’s very nice.”

His new coworkers nodded encouragingly.

“And… he’s very enthusiastic. He’s very… very…”

“Yeah,” said Sam gently. “Stark is very very.”

And really, that was it. That was where Steve had tried and fallen short in his attempts to describe Tony earlier. Tony wasn’t an adjective--he was an adverb. Or a superlative. Or maybe he was all the adverbs and superlatives. He was just very extremely most.

“Yeah,” said Steve. “He is.”

--

“You have to help me out of here, Becca.”

Is everything okay? Did he do something to hurt you? Why didn’t you call sooner? I’ll call up Bucky right now, you call the police, I know Stark is rich, but--

“No, no--he’s amazing, seriously, he’s ridiculously nice, but I can’t handle living here anymore. When there aren’t fundraisers and charity balls, there’re heavy machinery and explosions, and sometimes they happen at the same time.”

“...What?

“Listen, Becca… Is your earlier offer still on the table?”

You mean Bucky?” Steve could hear the smirk in Becca’s voice even over the grainy phone connection. “Sure, I’ll call him right now. I think he’s off work, he could probably be there in like an hour.

“But, I mean, never mind, I can’t just leave. Tony would be so sad… I’d feel so bad for hurting his feelings.”

“...He is a grown-ass man, Steve. He can suck it up. But if you feel too guilty, you could always tell him that Bucky is your One True Love and you can’t stomach the thought of another second away from him. Whatever argument you had that caused you to seek other living arrangements pales in comparison to the bleak reality of life without him.

“...Yeah, never mind. I can handle this a little longer. I just need to step it up on the apartment-hunting.”

I can call him right away, Steve. Just say the word.

Steve paused. This was why he had called in the first place, but… was he really willing to sacrifice his pride and dignity over this? Just as he was preparing to play it off like he’d been joking, the floor shook with another explosion, and when the ringing in his ears faded, it was replaced by Becca in one ear shouting, “--ck was that?!” and Tony in the other, belting out, “I AM TITA-NI-UM!” 1 from the other room.

Steve cleared his throat. “Yes. Yes, please. Call him. Beg. Please.”

--

The Bucky who was shown up to the living quarters of the Tower was frenzied and wild-eyed. His hair was falling out of its hasty ponytail, and the faded T-shirt under his sports jacket was on inside-out.

He was the most beautiful thing Steve had ever seen.

The plaintive tone Tony had adopted as soon as Steve had broached the topic of leaving had firmed Steve’s resolve, and he was rushing over to Bucky, bags trailing behind him, almost before the other man had made it all the way through the door.

“Of course I’ll visit, Tony, don’t worry,” Steve was assuring Tony as he nudged Bucky back out the door. Bucky was gazing around in bewilderment, as though he was just realizing where he was.

“But when. You could just stay here, you know. Is it too expensive? You don’t have to pay.”

“No, no, nothing like that, Tony, it’s just--uh,” Steve’s mind grasped around blindly and came up with the worst possible excuse, “we’re dating!”

Damnit, Becca.

Tony blinked at him, finally confused.

Unfortunately, Bucky was staring at him in equal confusion.

“Bucky and I, we didn’t think it was a good idea to move in together, because, you know, of how it might affect our jobs--”

Bucky made a strangled sound in his throat.

“--But it’s been so hard being away from one another, and finally I decided that I don’t care about anything else, I just want to be with Bucky all the time!”

“I see,” said Tony, frowning at the two of them. “And you feel the same way?” he asked, nodding toward Bucky.

Bucky finally managed to tear his eyes away from Steve. “Absolutely,” he replied, pasting on a wide grin and wrapping his arm around Steve’s shoulders. “Stevie and me, we’re forever, you know?”

Steve and Bucky made it out the door amidst tearful attempts at scheduled reunions and hurried down to Bucky’s car with Bucky shooting unreadable glances in Steve’s direction the whole way.

“So,” said Bucky, flicking on his turn signal.

“I am so, so sorry, Bucky.” Steve could feel himself turning bright red. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Bucky’s mouth twitched into a grin. “I’m guessing Becca? She keeps on trying to solve all of my problems by setting me up with you. I can’t even follow the logic anymore.”

“...You too, huh? But, uh, we don’t need to, you know, talk about this or anything. I just really needed to get out of there, and Tony was so upset by me leaving, and I felt so guilty…”

“I get it.”

“I really am sorry. We can just forget this happened.”

Bucky laughed. “Not quite.”

“What?”

“We can’t forget it. See, you know how I work on mechanical designs?”

“...Yes?”

“Well, I’m employed by Stark Industries. So, when you were talking about how we can’t publically date because of our jobs? You were telling that to my boss.”

“...Oh, fu--I am so sorry, Bucky.”

“No big deal, Stevie. I mean, I’ve never even met the guy before, so I doubt it’ll make any difference. Just keep in mind that you’re gonna be my date for every company function from here on out.”

Steve sank down in his seat and tried not to look like someone who’d just been told all of his childhood fantasies were coming true.

--

Bucky’s flat was small and cramped, with books and papers and what appeared to be spare engine parts scattered along the counter and shoved into the corners. There was a second bedroom that was smaller than Steve’s closet had been in Stark Tower. It was a haphazard mixture of sparkling surfaces and heaps of random detritus and sheets, the bed stripped down to its mattress, as though Bucky had started to clean it and then abandoned the effort halfway through.

Steve leaned against the doorframe to his temporary bedroom and heaved a sigh of relief. Everything about the apartment screamed Bucky, right down to the way it smelled, and Steve hadn’t known how desperate he was for an anchor of familiarity in his new life until he found himself steeped in it.

“Sorry, sorry,” Bucky said, peering around Steve’s shoulder nervously. “Becca mentioned--but then you--anyway, I’ll clear all this out. If you’re tired, you can crash in my room until I’ve got this set up for you.”

Steve blinked at him. “Were you getting this ready for me? Didn’t Becca just call you?”

“Yeah, but she mentioned a while ago that you were coming to the city and might need a place to stay, but then you didn’t?”

“And then I did.” Steve smiled ruefully. “Thank you so much, Bucky. I’m really sorry about all the trouble--”

“Stevie, if you apologize one more time, I’ll be sending you back to Stark.”

Steve laughed. “Fine,” he said. “Anything I can do to help?”

“Yeah,” Bucky replied. “You can call Becca and let her know you’re okay. We all know that if you don’t, I’m going to be the one she yells at.”

Steve acknowledged this with a grin. He wandered into the kitchen for a little more privacy and took a few steadying breaths before pulling his phone from his pocket and making the call.

Becca was going to be so smug.

“Hey, Becca,” Steve said as soon as he heard the call connect.

“Steve! Did your escape go as planned?”

“It wasn’t an escape, Becca, I just really needed to get out of there.”

”So, to summarize that in two words: you escaped.”

“Whatever,” Steve sighed. “It went alright. I don’t know how I can thank Bucky for doing this for me…”

“It’s fine, Steve--Bucky doesn’t mind! I’m sure he’s glad for the company.”

“Well, that’s good--”

“Unrelated, I e-mailed you some great articles on safe sex. You should look them over.”

Steve felt his face turn red. He surreptitiously looked over his shoulder, hoping Bucky wasn’t watching him. “...Becca.” He wasn’t in sight, but...

“Don’t be embarrassed, Steve! I just don’t want you to feel like you’re not prepared just because you’re lacking in experience, and--”

“What--Becca!” Steve hissed. “I have had sex before, you know.”

“What?! With who? Why?”

“What do you mean, ‘why’? And you know who; it’s not like I didn’t tell you.”

“I tried to block that knowledge from my mind.”

“Becca…” Steve began, before feeling a warm presence move in behind him.

“Becca!” said Bucky, leaning in close. Steve handed the phone to him, raising his eyebrows when Bucky didn’t move away. “Sorry to interrupt your call, but Stevie and I were just about to head out to dinner.” Bucky winked at Steve mischievously. “Yeah,” he continued in response to something Becca had said, “absolutely. I mean, I doubt Steve’s looking for anything too fancy right now, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be romantic, right?” Now Steve could hear the excited buzz of Becca’s voice through the phone’s receiver. “Yeah, didn’t Steve tell you? We’re back together for the very first time!”

Becca’s voice was still buzzing when Bucky moved away and tossed the phone back to Steve, grinning. “I’ve just gotta put on new sheets and vacuum, and I’ll be ready to go. Sound good?”

Steve glared at him, but Bucky simply returned to the second bedroom, smugness unphased. Steve hesitantly lifted the phone back to his ear. “...Becca?”

“STEVE, WHAT?”

Steve sighed, resigning himself to an embarrassing explanation. “Well--and don’t take this as a compliment--it’s actually all your fault.”

--

A week into his stay with Bucky, Steve could say that, rude phone-call pranks aside, living with Bucky was really, startlingly easy. As a roommate, he was careful and considerate, and as a companion, he was friendly and relaxed. Steve knew he was supposed to be looking for a place to live, but he found himself dragging his feet, and Bucky made no effort to rush him.

Steve usually got home from work earlier than Bucky, so he was already in the kitchen, humming to himself as he made dinner, when Bucky burst in through the door, white-faced.

“Stevie,” he said. “Stevie.

“...Yes?” Steve answered uncertainly. “Everything okay, Buck?”

”Tony Stark came to my work today.”

“Okay? Didn’t you say he’s your boss?”

“Yes, but he never comes to our office! He always just sends e-mails or minions, if that!”

“...Minions?”

“I’d never even seen him before I picked you up from the Tower! But he came today! He wanted to see my project! He asked how we were doing!”

“Well, that’s not so…”

“How we were doing! As in, our relationship! I think he’s trying to sabotage us so that you’ll move back in with him!”

“That’s ridiculous, Bucky. Anyway, even if he were, it wouldn’t work, since we’re not actually dating, right?”

Bucky paused in his frantic pacing for a moment. “Oh. Right. But--but still!” The pacing resumed. “He’s out to get me.”

Steve sighed and turned the heat on the stove down to a simmer. “Bucky,” he said, walking over to the other man and firmly pushing him down into a reclining chair. “Relax. Even if your worst nightmares are true, Pepper’s got Tony well in hand.”

Bucky squinted up at Steve suspiciously. “You’re sure?”

Steve sat down on the sagging arm of Bucky’s chair and wrapped his arm around Bucky’s shoulders. “I’m sure. What did he say about your project?”

Bucky scowled. “He loved it.”

Steve frowned at Bucky, uncertain. “Isn’t that… good?”

“It might have been if he’d loved it and kept his grubby hands off of it. Instead, I had to practically tackle him down to keep him from adding detachable rocket launchers!”

“Uh… What are you working on, exactly?”

Bucky shot him a sour look. “A prosthetic arm.”

“That’s what I thought,” Steve hurried to reassure him. “Just… I don’t understand. Why rocket launchers?”

“Because Tony Stark is insane! That’s what I’m trying to tell you, Stevie!”

“Well,” Steve managed. “He’s certainly… eccentric? But he means well.”

Bucky glared off into space for a moment. “He gave me this for you,” he said finally, pulling a crinkled envelope out of his jacket pocket and shoving it in Steve’s direction. He fidgeted as Steve fumbled to open it and read the short note. Steve must have been silent for too long, because Bucky finally broke and asked, “And? What is it?”

Steve’s eyes flickered over to Bucky briefly. He cleared his throat. “It’s an invitation.”

“I knew it! He’s trying to break us up!”

“An invitation for both of us.”

“...What?”

“To one of his and Pepper’s society balls or something.”

“Let me see,” said Bucky, making grabby hands at the cardstock in Steve’s hands.

Steve passed it over and sighed. “I guess we should go, it’s just. Well. These parties aren’t really my kind of thing, you know? But it’ll be nice to see Tony again. You don’t mind, right?”

“Hell, no!” said Bucky gleefully.

Steve blinked at him in surprise. “Really? I didn’t think you liked these things, either.”

“No, can’t stand ‘em. But this’ll give me a chance to get him to back off my man!”

“Bucky,” Steve managed. “You do realize that Tony’s married, right? His interest in spending time with me is purely platonic.” And also, we’re still not actually dating, he continued silently. He’d already reminded Bucky once this conversation, and he selfishly felt that was all that could really be expected of him.

“Sure,” Bucky scoffed, dismissive. “‘Platonic.’”

“I’m serious,” Steve insisted, but Bucky was already deep in his plans to defend Steve’s virtue, and didn’t seem to hear him.

“You and Tony,” Steve muttered, walking back to the kitchen, “are way more alike than you seem to think.” He glanced around at the shelves filled with screws and washers and wires. “Even beyond the ridiculous drama.”

--

Around ten every morning, Sam Wilson wandered over to Steve’s cubicle for a coffee break. This would have been wonderful--Sam was easily one of Steve’s favorite people in their department and was quickly becoming one of his best friends--except that the coffee break also contained literal coffee. Steve still hadn’t been brave enough to confess to his coworkers that he hated it.

“So, I hear you finally moved out on Stark.” Sam gentled the accusatory words with an teasing grin. “Couldn’t take any more very, I’m guessing?”

Steve winced guiltily. “Tony’s great, and we’re still getting along fine! I just needed a little, you know, space.”

Sam’s eyebrows shot up. “Stark Tower not big enough for you?” he asked sardonically.

Steve rolled his eyes. “Not physical space, obviously. Bucky’s entire apartment could fit into one of Tony’s guest bathrooms, easy.”

Bucky, hmm? And who is this stranger? Don’t tell me you left poor Stark for another man!”

No, I did not leave Tony for--wait, first of all, I did not leave Tony at all like that, because we were never together like that. I swear, between you and Bucky, I--”

“Dear, dear,” grinned Sam. “This Bucky is already jealous, is he? That won’t do, Steve.”

Steve used his stir stick to flick hot, overly sweet drops of coffee right at Sam’s smug face. Sam remained unphased.

“Honestly,” Steve sighed, “Bucky and Tony are both kind of jealous in this weird rivalry way. It's as though they're fighting over who’s the better big-brother friend to me. I mean, Tony invited us to some society ball or something, and Bucky immediately started coming up with plans to publically plant his flag.”

“Plant his flag in you?”

“...That was a terrible metaphor,” Steve admitted, flushing.

“This ‘ball,’ it’s not the function tomorrow evening, is it? Celebrating 50 years of scientific innovation?”

“Yeah, that sounds right? I barely skimmed the details.”

“Darcy and a few of the other science writers are going there, so there might at least be some familiar faces.”

Steve couldn’t suppress his relieved smile. “You have no idea how good that is to hear.”

“Yeah,” said Sam agreeably. “It’s always nice to know there’ll be people around to help you hide the bodies of your boyfriend and your ex.”

This time, Steve, threw the entire stir stick at Sam’s irritating, laughing face.

--

The first part of the function was extremely awkward. As soon as Bucky and Steve arrived, stiff in their rented tuxedos, Tony materialized before them, grabbed Steve’s arm, and dragged him off to introduce him around the room. Bucky, it seemed, was expecting this, because he simply held on to Steve’s other arm more tightly, making their progress through the crowds look like a human train. To make matters worse, whenever Bucky and Tony addressed one another, they flashed their teeth in something that was more snarl than smile, and Steve was forced to stand between them, trying to mitigate the tension through excessively mild conversation topics.

As it happened, the second part of the function was just as awkward, if for different reasons. Steve, having finally exhausted his reservoir of inoffensive topics, brought up work.

“Tony, Bucky mentioned that you stopped by his department the other day! What’d you think?”

And the relative peace exploded.

Tony felt that Bucky was too cautious. Bucky felt that Tony had no concept of words like “functional” and “plausible.” The argument went on and on, and Steve finally had to find a reason to excuse himself and escape.

He was at the bar, looking over the menu, when he was joined by Pepper Potts. He hadn’t had the opportunity to spend much time with her during his brief stay at Stark Tower, but he’d gotten the impression of a calm, down-to-earth woman with a steely resolution. Tonight, Pepper was resplendent in her gown, but somehow still managed to be friendly and approachable. She smiled at him as she leaned against the bar beside him and gestured back to where Tony and Bucky’s argument was gaining stares. “I see they’re getting along well, as expected.”

“I don’t even know why they’re griping at each other! They’ve actually got a lot in common… I would have thought they’d be friends!”

Pepper laughed, shaking her head and dislodging a few strands of strawberry-blonde hair from her elegant twist. “Give it time,” she advised. “Tony’s never been good at sharing, and I don’t know Mr. Barnes very well, but I get the impression that you, at the very least, are not something he’s willing to share.”

“Someone,” Steve muttered petulantly.

“Yes,” Pepper agreed. “Someone. They’ll come to that conclusion in time, too. And they’ll realize that the things they want from you needn’t overlap.”

“I guess. I just hope they realize that before I bash them over the head for being idiots.”

Pepper giggled into her champagne. “If it’s a rush job, they’ll probably need some help. Shall we?”

Armed with alcoholic beverages, Pepper and Steve headed back to where Tony and Bucky were standing, an area now devoid of other people, as the guests near them had been edging away for some time. Steve took a deep breath, ready to interrupt the argument, when he realized that there wasn’t one.

“And so what if we--”

“Yes, perfect, and then--”

“We could add--”

“Oooh, and maybe--”

“After all that angsting I did by the bar,” Steve hissed at Pepper, “are they getting along?

Pepper was watching Tony and Bucky’s enthusiastic conversation with a soft smile. “The nerve of them,” she whispered back, winking.

“Well, it looks as though your date stole my date,” Steve said. “What now?”

“Now,” replied Pepper, shoving champagne flutes at Tony and Bucky, who accepted them without seeming to be consciously aware that they were doing so, “we enjoy the party, Mr. Rogers.” And she wrapped her hand around Steve’s arm and dragged him away through the crowds of people, laughing.

--

“I can’t believe you abandoned me with Stark,” Bucky groused at Steve on their way home. Bucky was smiling, though, so Steve didn’t feel the need to take him seriously.

--

“Steve!” bellowed Darcy from across the endless room of cubicles.

Steve hesitated in entering the door, quickly going over everything he’d done in the past few hours since waking up and heading to work. Nothing seemed worthy of name-screaming, unless Darcy had figured out that he’d been pouring all the coffees his coworkers gifted him into the synthetic dirt of his potted plastic fern.

“Steve!” yelled Darcy again, this time from much closer range. She stopped in front of him by the open doors to his department and smiled brightly at him. “I just wanted to thank you for introducing me to so many big names yesterday! I’ve got a great story laid out already.”

Steve let out his breath, relieved. “Oh hey, no problem, Darcy! Anyway, really you should be thanking Pepper. I was just there to hold her champagne.”

Rather than laughing, Darcy immediately sobered. “Yeah, about that… Don’t let it get you down, Steve. People are going to think whatever they want to think, you know? All that matters as that you followed your heart!”

Steve stared at her, bemused. “I--”

“Anyway! Enough of that, am I right? I left you a little present at your desk,” she added, winking at him. “I’ll see you at lunch, okay?”

“Oh--Yeah, for sure,” he agreed weakly.

Waiting for him at his desk was a steaming mug of quality coffee. He stared down at it sadly.

“Steve!” he heard from behind him.

“Hey, Sam,” he sighed. “I’m getting really tired of people calling out my name like that.”

Sam laughed, seemingly assuming that Steve was joking. “I’ll bet. I’m also going to guess that you haven’t seen any of the headlines this morning?”

Steve frowned. “No? Should I have?”

“Steve, for a journalist, you are seriously out of the loop.”

“I’m a cartoonist! I keep up with the political news, not which celebrity is sleeping around this week.”

Sam coughed. “Yeah, about that. This week, it’s apparently you.”

“...What?”

Sam solemnly handed over a printout from an online periodical. He seemed to be trying to look consoling, but his lips were twitching.

Steve glared at him suspiciously, then squinted down at the paper in his hands and immediately blanched.

STARK’S MYSTERIOUS “FRIEND” SEEN ON DATE WITH POTTS

“What--I wasn’t--I don’t--What?”

Steve’s eyes skimmed further down the page and caught on a blurry picture from the night before. The photo did indeed contain both Steve and Pepper, but they were standing an extremely unscandalous distance apart, talking with all apparent enjoyment to recent Nobel Prize winner Jane Foster. They weren't even looking at one another.

He scowled at the caption, looking for clues to what could be going on.

Friends of Stark and Potts “unsurprised” at news--”I knew immediately that he was an extremely unsavory character,” says Stark’s close friend and colleague Sen. Alexander Pearson. Pearson is pictured above to the left of Potts and her “Gentleman” (center), who are speaking to physicist Foster (right).

Steve scanned the picture again, and sure enough, there was another person in the foreground of the picture, off to the side enough as to not be immediately noticeable. He was facing the other way from Steve and Pepper, and he seemed to be holding a conversation with an adjacent group. Steve hadn’t been introduced to this man last night, but he recognized him nevertheless.

“It’s Mr. Senator Person!”

Sam, who had apparently been valiantly holding down his mirth this whole time, broke out into laughter. “Mr. who, now?”

“That’s what Tony called him. I met him at that party, the first day I arrived in New York! Tony couldn’t remember his name, so he called him Mr. Senator Person to his face, and it was so embarrassing. Though really, now that I know his name is Pearson, the mistake seems a little more understandable…”

“Ah, is that the ‘close friend and colleague’? Yeah, he’s some asshole. A few of the guys in our department have been keeping an eye on him. Bad rumors going around about some of his political practices, that kind of thing.”

“Oh yeah?” said Steve grimly. “I don’t suppose you could hook me up?”

--

Becca: Omg steve are u alright??
Becca: Don’t take it too hard they’re all haters
Becca: Bucky knows ur not into her
Becca: Lol ur face in that pic tho
Becca: But srsly ur okay???

Bucky: Becca wants to know if you’re okay
Bucky: *I* want to know if you’re still picking up onions and eggs tonight
Bucky: Because we also need milk
Bucky: And more of your gross tea

Pepper: Steve, I’m really sorry about this. I’m afraid it’s a natural consequence of being in the public eye. It’ll all fade out soon enough.

Tony: LAST NIGHT WAS AWESOME
Tony: Hey, me and Rhodey are having a bro’s night soon
Tony: You and Barnes should come
Tony: There’ll be pizza or sushi or caviar or something
Tony: And maybe indoor fireworks
Tony: YEAH let’s do indoor fireworks!
Tony: Pepper says no indoor fireworks :( :( :( :(
Tony: But you should still come

Mom: I saw you in the news, sweetie. How does Bucky feel about you seeing this Ms. Potts?
Mom: Please call. I’m worried about you.

Aunt Peggy: Call your mother.

On some other day, at some other time, Steve might have been vaguely irritated to check his phone during his lunch break and see twenty-one texts waiting for him. At this moment, however, he was still humming with righteous fury, and so he simply set his phone aside and stared across the stained and scratched breakroom table at his coworker.

“So, I hear you’re looking for an in to the Pearson case.” Clint Barton crossed his arms and leaned back, affecting a cool, assessing look until he leaned too far back and tumbled off the bench.

“Fuck,” he groused. “Is it too much to ask for some fucking chairs in here? Is this my high school cafeteria, or what?”

Steve conscientiously helped Clint up and then resumed his position across the table. He straightened his back and lifted his chin, but it was impossible to assume the same gravitas he’d had a moment before. He cleared his throat. “Yes, I--That is, I was hoping to discuss the possibility of a collaboration.”

“I hope,” a voice purred, speaking directly into his ear, “that your motivations aren’t personal.”

Steve whirled around on the bench. Behind him stood the same woman he’d seen hanging off of Pearson’s arm at the first party he’d attended with Tony. “You--I met you at--”

“At the gala, yes,” the woman said, tone dismissive.

“I’ve spent all morning trying to find out who you were!”

“Please,” scoffed the woman. “Our colleagues know better than to write about me.”

“...Our colleagues?” Steve’s stomach dropped. He had a feeling this conversation was about to take a turn in a direction he wouldn’t like.

Clint cleared his throat. “Right, uh… Steve, you might not have had the chance yet to meet Natasha. She spends most of her time doing fieldwork, so she’s hard to catch in the office.”

“You’re a journalist? Wait, you’re--oh shit.”

“Yes,” said Natasha Romanoff, smiling at him sweetly. “I’m your boss.”

Natasha and Clint had been gathering information on Senator Alexander Pearson--”Mr. Senator Person, oh my god,” giggled Clint--for the better part of six months. The material they already had was scandalous at best, but their suspicions went much deeper. They wanted to wait in their release of the news until they had the evidence they needed for the full blowout story.

“I’ve managed to be his female companion to nearly a third of the events he goes on,” Natasha said. “I’ve been keeping a log on whom he seeks connections with, what their topics of conversation are, everything. It isn’t painting a very pretty picture.”

Steve paged through their notes of suspected crimes, aghast. Blackmail, nepotism, illegal weapons trading, both ends of the bribery stick--“But--how could he do this?! This undermines everything our nation stands for!”

Clint and Natasha gave him matching unimpressed looks.

“Uh,” said Steve, flushing. “Also, it’s not very nice?”

“...Anyway,” said Clint. “If you’re serious about wanting to help, there are a few things you could do to start with.”

Steve closed the manila folder they’d handed him decisively. “I am,” he said firmly.

“Well, it seems like he’s recently set his eyes on his Stark Industries. Their research and development resources could really propel some of his shadier business partners forwards. We’ll need your help keeping an eye on Stark.”

“Of course,” said Steve immediately. “Should I tell him what’s going on?”

Natasha raised an eyebrow. “And if you do, do you suppose he’ll manage to keep quiet about it long enough for us to find what we’re looking for?”

Steve winced, accepting the point. “Well, then, should I tell Pepper?”

“It might help for her to know,” Clint told Natasha softly. “She deals more with the business and political side of running the company, anyway, so she’ll have a better idea what to look for. And she knows how to be subtle.”

“Fine,” said Natasha. “Talk to Potts. You should still keep an on eye Stark, though--Pearson’s opponents have a habit of getting into trouble, and Stark is certainly the one he’d target.”

“I’m on it. What else?”

Clint and Natasha exchanged smirks. “We’re getting very close to uncovering the evidence we need,” said Natasha. “So practice your caricatures of our friend Mr. Senator Person. You’ll be needing them soon.”

--

Steve pushed through the front door of Bucky’s apartment with his work bag over one shoulder, his laptop over his other, and both his arms weighed down with grocery bags.

Bucky was, unusually enough, already home. “Hey, Stevie! Did you remember the milk?”

“Yes,” said Steve. “And the onions, eggs, coffee, tea, honey, beets, and the million other things you texted me to buy. Each item kindly separated into its own, dedicated text.”

Bucky smirked at him as he relieved Steve of the groceries. “Had to make sure you noticed, didn’t I? Your mom wants you to call her, by the way.”

“Yeah, yeah, I will in a second.” Steve set down his remaining bags and leaned against the kitchen counter, watching Bucky bustle around putting things away. “What do we even need beets for, anyway? Do either of us eat beets?”

“Tony said to bring food to his bro-night, so I hunted down the weirdest recipe I could find 2, and that recipe needed beets.”

“Great,” said Steve drily. “So I guess we’re going to that, then?”

Bucky paused and looked back at Steve over his shoulder. “Did you not want to go?”

“I do,” said Steve. “I’m just glad that you do, too.”

Bucky sauntered over and wrapped his arm around Steve’s shoulders, pressing a smirking kiss to Steve’s forehead. “Anything for you, babe,” he said, tone sounding distressingly sincere.

Steve was getting way too used to this. Any day now, he’d forget that the story they’d sold Tony wasn’t real, and then where would he be?

He cleared his throat. “Sorry I haven’t been better about looking for an apartment. It’s been pretty busy at work.”

Bucky leaned back a little, frowning. “Why would we need another apartment? Don’t you like this one?”

“What? No, I love this apartment, I just assumed you’d, you know, want your own space back.”

Bucky relaxed and squeezed Steve’s shoulders a little more tightly. “No way. Stay as long as you want, Stevie.” With one last shoulder-squeeze, Bucky straightened up and crossed the tiny kitchen to return to sorting the groceries. “If it were up to me,” he said to the mysteriously required beets, “you’d stay forever.”

Steve went to put away his work things, smiling. Maybe the emotional lines were getting a little fuzzy on his end, but at least it wasn’t in a way that bothered Bucky.

With a sigh, he picked up his phone and pressed Call. “Hey, Mom…”

--

“What’s up, Steve,” said Sam, slouching down in a borrowed chair next to Steve and sliding a mug of coffee across the desk. “Good thing I brought this. You seem like you could use a pick-me-up. Everything okay?”

Steve scowled down into the hated liquid.

“Love problems?” asked Sam, voice carefully blank. With two other conversants, that tone might indicate that one party was attempting not to upset the other by sounding pressuring or judgmental. In this case, Steve was pretty sure Sam was just trying not to laugh.

Steve slumped down in his chair. “My mom thought Bucky and I were dating.”

“So you told her you’re not?”

“Yeah. And then she thought that I was leading him on, because he’s obviously crazy about me.”

“Is he?”

“No! I’m like a brother to him, I was always the one who li--I mean--”

“Steve,” said Sam gently. “You’re seriously not subtle. So what then?”

“Then she thought that I was breaking his heart by seeing Pepper!”

Sam burst out laughing.

“It’s not funny! She was so upset with me!”

“So you explained the situation to her? Said you and Potts are just friends, and you were hanging out while Bucky and Stark were giggling over their robot designs?”

“Yeah, but she said Bucky would probably feel better about the whole thing if we were officially dating, because then he’d be more secure of his position in my life.”

Sam hummed softly to himself as he took a sip of his own coffee. “What’d Bucky say about this?”

“I haven’t told him, obviously. What if he got all weird about it? He already has Becca--my best friend, his sister--trying to set us up all the time. Finding out that my mom’s trying to do the same thing would make it so much weirder.”

Sam raised his eyebrows. “If you already have one collective family member trying to set you two up, I doubt a second one will add to the weird.” He kicked Steve’s chair teasingly. “It might even give you something else to share, you know? You each have a family member who thinks you’re soulmates.”

“I’m with Sam,” said Darcy, popping her head into the cubicle. “Oh, you already have coffee, Steve? I brought you some more.”

Steve imagined his smile was looking a little wooden, but he hoped they thought it was because of the conversation topic and not because his cubicle was starting to smell like a coffeehouse. “Thanks, you guys,” he said. “I’ll definitely keep that in mind.”

--

“Steve, it’s great to meet you,” said Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes, shaking his hand. Rhodey had been out of the country the whole time Steve had been staying at the tower. “This idiot has told me so much about you.”

“Likewise,” said Steve, grinning. “This is James Barnes, better known as ‘Bucky.’”

“Another James!” Rhodey shook Bucky’s hand, too. “How’d you get the name Bucky?”

“The consequence of a terrible first name--offense intended--and an equally terrible middle name.”

“My middle name is ‘Rupert,’” said Rhodey, unimpressed.

“Yeah, why don’t you try ‘Buchanan’ on for size?”

Rhodey winced. “Touché.”

“Hey,” said Steve, leaning in toward Tony. “Is Pepper here? There was something I wanted to talk to her about.”

All three men were suddenly staring at Steve.

“What?” asked Steve, shifting uncomfortably.

“So, you wanted to talk to her… alone?” asked Bucky carefully.

“...Yeah, preferably. Why?”

Bucky darted a glance at Tony. “Well, it’s just… uh…”

“Yeah, she’s around,” said Tony, visibly shrugging off whatever had been bothering him. “Jarvis! Ask Pepper if she’s free to meet Steve.”

“Ms. Potts has indicated that she is available to meet Mr. Rogers in her office,” Jarvis replied.

“What’s this about?” asked Rhodey, eyes not leaving Steve.

“I didn’t expect it to be such a big deal,” said Steve, frowning. He hesitated. He still agreed with Natasha and Clint’s point about letting Tony in on the story, but he also didn’t want to lie to his friends. “I just wanted to talk to her about something to do with those dumb articles that were coming out, and I didn’t want to do it around you,” he pointed at Tony, “or you,” he moved his finger to Bucky, “because you’re both such spazzes over everything.” Steve looked at Bucky and smiled despite himself at Bucky’s put-upon expression. “Mostly in a good way,” he allowed, and flushed when Bucky winked at him.

“That makes sense,” smiled Rhodey, nodding.

“Hey!” said Tony.

Rhodey ignored him. “Do you mind if I tag along, then?” he asked Steve.

Steve bit his lip. “Um,” he said, considering the man before him. Rhodey was clearly trusted by Tony and Pepper, and was just as clearly capable of keeping secrets. Pepper would probably tell Rhodey regardless. “Sure,” he agreed finally.

“Whatever,” said Tony. “Barnes and I will be having lots of fun in my workroom without you two losers.”

“Not too much fun, I hope,” said Rhodey drily. “We’ll all be sad if we come looking for you and find an empty crater instead.”

“See you soon, Stevie,” said Bucky, giving him a one-armed hug.

“I’m going down the hall, Bucky. I seriously don’t get what the big deal is,” Steve groused.

Rhodey give him a strange smile before he led the way toward Pepper’s office.

Behind them, Steve could hear Tony asking Bucky, “So… ‘Stevie,’ huh? Is that any everybody nickname or a you-only nickname? Can I call him Stevie?”

Steve couldn’t hear Bucky’s response, but he knew what it would be anyway. Bucky had always gotten a little funny about other people calling Steve ‘Stevie’; he even got upset when Becca tried to do it.

Rhodey shot Steve a sidelong glance. “So, you’re already at the private-nicknames stage in your relationship?”

Steve laughed. “I mean, sure? But I’ve known Bucky for basically my entire life, and he’s always called me Stevie. I don’t think it’s actually a relationship thing.”

Rhodey shrugged noncommittally and wrapped his fist against a door. “Hey, Pepper!” he called.

Pepper answered the door, smiling. “Come on in, you two! What’s this about? I thought this was supposed to be some sort of male-bonding night.” She sat down and gestured for them to join her on the couch.

Steve rolled his eyes and grinned when he caught Rhodey doing the same thing. “Yeah, and we’ll get back to that, I just… I wanted to talk to you about those articles that were released covering that last party thing we were at together.”

Pepper reached across Rhodey to pat Steve’s hand consolingly. “Steve, I know it must have been startling to you, but I promise, it’ll all die down.”

“No, it’s not that! I mean, it’s that a little, but--” Steve cleared his throat. “In all of these articles, the journalists interviewed the same person--Senator Alexander Pearson.”

Rhodey frowned, trying to place the name. Pepper nodded at Steve and whispered to Rhodey helpfully, “‘Mr. Senator Person.’”

“Oh yeah,” said Rhodey. “That asshole.”

“I noticed that he was the one behind the story leaking, but to be honest, this isn’t much of a story. I assumed it was just him throwing a little fit at not getting as much media attention as he’d wanted.”

“That’s probably part of it, but I was asking around the department, and two of my coworkers are gathering some pretty bad stuff on him. I wanted to mention this to you specifically, because it seems like he’s targeting Stark Industries for a hostile takeover, and I guess his opponents have a habit of falling out of the way.”

Pepper and Rhodey exchanged glances. “Blackmail?” asked Rhodey calmly.

“Yeah, and pretty much every other skeevy thing you can think of, including smear campaigns. I know this seems small, but I’m a little worried that it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

“Yes, I see what you mean, Steve,” said Pepper. “We’d come to a similar conclusion, which was why we didn’t think it would be a good idea for me to see you alone, but I’m glad that you and your colleagues agree.”

“You… what?”

Rhodey shrugged. “We’ve had our eye on Mr. Senator Person for a while now. We were hesitant to let Tony in on it, much like you,” he grinned at Steve, “but Tony cares so little about commercial politics that he effectively forgot all about it within hours.”

Steve laughed. “Okay, yeah. Uh, would you consider pooling resources? Natasha and Clint seem like they’re pretty close to the endgame, so maybe if both groups work together…”

“Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton?” asked Pepper.

Steve blinked in surprise. “Uh, yeah.”

Pepper pursed her lips thoughtfully. “I’ll look into them, and I’ll let you know what I decide, okay? It would certainly be beneficial to have some third-party journalists reporting the story, and if we can trust their integrity…”

“One of the reasons stories about his shittier practices never get out is that the journalists are always bought out by Mr. Senator Person,” supplied Rhodey. “He’s got a lot of money to throw around.”

“But so do we,” said Pepper briskly. “It would just be preferable to not have to use it in this case. Accusing someone of bribing journalists doesn’t seem quite the same when the accusers have to put down their own bribes just to get the story out. Thank you, Steve. We’ll certainly be in contact.”

“Yeah, of course,” said Steve, standing up. “I guess Tony and Bucky must be missing us.”

Rhodey snorted. “We’ll see if they’ve even noticed.”

They hadn’t noticed.

Bucky and Tony had returned to the main lounge, but their heads were bent over blueprints together, both of them scribbling and arguing happily.

Steve smiled at them fondly, letting his eyes trace the spark in Bucky’s grey eyes and the glow in his laugh.

“What do you think,” Steve asked Rhodey. “Should we leave them be and start on food? Bucky prepped some sort of weird beet dish that’s already in the fridge, but I brought lasagna as a back-up. I just need to shove it in the oven to heat it up.”

“Works for me,” Rhodey shrugged. “I was just going to make a dip and throw chips at you.”

Bucky and Tony came out of their design daze when the lounge started smelling like food.

“Stevie, you remembered to take off the plastic under the foil, right?” asked Bucky, coming up behind him and resting his chin on Steve’s shoulder.

It was hard to be irritated even by very irritating questions when Bucky was so warm against him, his hands resting on Steve’s hips.

“Yes, Bucky,” Steve sighed, trying to sound as put-upon as he should feel. “I’m the one who made it in the first place--I know how to make lasagna and heat it up again.”

“And you remembered to--”

Yes, Bucky.”

“--top it off with the extra sauce before you put it in?”

Steve paused. “Shit,” he said, and headed to the oven.

“I mean,” said Bucky, peering in over his shoulder. “it’s only a little dried out.”

Steve poked at his lasagna with a fork, sulking.

“Who even cares,” said Tony. “Let’s eat!”

--

“So, that was fun,” said Steve as he and Bucky collapsed on their couch at home.

Bucky said nothing for a moment.

“...Wasn’t it?” asked Steve, suddenly nervous.

“Yeah, I had fun,” said Bucky, voice quiet. “What’d you want to talk to Pepper about?”

Steve shrugged. “I heard about a scoop going around the office that puts Stark Industries in danger, but I didn’t want to tell Tony in case he forgot to be quiet about it and let the guy know we’re onto him.”

Bucky stared at him.

“It turned out that Pepper already knew about it anyway, so it didn’t really matter.”

“Oh,” said Bucky. “I thought maybe--never mind.”

Steve frowned at Bucky. “You thought what? Wait,” a horrible thought suddenly occurred to him. “You didn’t think there was actually something going on between us, did you? First my mom, now you--”

Bucky laughed at him. “No, Steve, I didn’t think there was actually anything going on between you and Pepper Potts. I thought--well, you seemed a little down after the story came out, and so I wondered if you were talking about ways to sort of defuse the rumors. You know, like Pepper’s married and everything, but if the media knew you had a boyfriend--”

Steve gaped unattractively at Bucky. “I… I guess that makes sense. People would just assume I’m not interested in her because she’s a woman, never mind that I… But, Bucky, if I were planning on taking this fake-boyfriend thing public, I would have talked it over with you first. You know that, right?”

“I would have said no.”

Steve felt--just, shattered, like he was made of glass and Bucky had smashed him with a mallet. “I--yeah, okay. For sure,” he said weakly, not even sure what was coming out of his mouth. He stood up. “I’m pretty tired, so I think I’m just going to--”

Stevie,” said Bucky, “I’m trying to tell you something here.” Bucky pulled on Steve’s hand and tugged him back down on the couch.

“Wasn’t that it?” asked Steve, voice a little pleading.

“No. No, I wanted to say that fake-dating you around Stark has been bad enough. I can’t imagine trying to do that around everyone all the time.”

Steve nodded silently, not meeting Bucky’s eyes.

“I want it to be real, Stevie,” Bucky whispered. The hand still holding Steve’s was shaking slightly. “I’ve wanted it to be real for a long time.”

Steve sat, frozen, unable to believe his ears. Bucky squeezed his hand gently and stood up. “You’re right. It’s gotten pretty late. I’m going to head to bed.”

“Me--” Steve cleared his throat. “Me, too.”

“Okay, Stevie,” said Bucky gently. “I’ll see you in the morning.” He looked away, rubbing one arm uncomfortably. “I will, right? You’ll still be here?”

“No, I--” Steve scowled in frustration. “I do, too. I mean, not about going to bed, I mean I want it to be real, too.”

Even over the sounds of traffic outside, Steve could still hear Bucky stop breathing for a moment.

“Yeah?” asked Bucky, the corners of his mouth tugging up into a smile.

“Yeah,” said Steve.

It wasn’t quite what he’d imagined, all those years ago when he’d had fantasies of Bucky returning his feelings, Bucky sweeping him off his feet, Bucky confessing his love to Steve in a rose garden surrounded by serenading violins and maybe a plate of spaghetti lying around somewhere.

But still, some of the furnishings were a little different, maybe, but all the important elements were there.

They simply stood there smiling at each other for what was probably an embarrassing amount of time before Steve said, “We should probably actually go to bed, though.”

And then it was just like every other night: shoving each other out of the way of the bathroom sink as they brushed their teeth together, arguing about who had forgotten to take the laundry out of the dryer and fold it, discussing lunch and dinner plans for the next day through the open doors of their respective bedrooms and they changed for bed.

It was the same as every other night, except--

“Hey,” said Bucky, leaning up against Steve’s door just as he was preparing to close it for the night. “Hey,” he said again, crowding in close to Steve. “Is this okay?”

His hand was cupping Steve’s face, his thumb tracing delicately over the ridge of Steve’s cheekbones.

He wasn’t asking about the face-touching, though.

Steve swallowed nervously and nodded.

Steve had told Becca, in detail, about every kiss he’d ever shared. This one, though, he was going to keep to himself.

Becca: Whatever weirdo I don’t want to hear about my brother making out anyway
Becca: Srsly ew
Becca: But yaaaaaay this is so exciting
Becca: So I’m thinking red and blue?
Becca: For the wedding themes obvs

Mom: I’m so glad to hear that you finally got your head on straight, sweetie. I can’t wait to have Bucky over for dinner when the two of you come home. Peggy’s already picked out the gun she’s going to threaten him with.

Pepper: I’ve contacted your friends about our little issue. Lunch meeting tomorrow at the Tower? I’ll send a car.

Bucky: ‘Night, Stevie <3333333

--

Steve was the last one to arrive at the Tower the next day. Pepper, Natasha, and Clint were already bent over one another’s documents gleefully.

“This is exactly what we needed to back up our claims!” said Clint.

“And this is exactly what we needed to press criminal charges on him,” said Pepper, glowing in satisfaction.

“I can already tell that I’m not going to have much to offer to this meeting,” Steve said wryly. “But I did brainstorm some ideas for a few comic strips.”

Clint actually rolled off the couch laughing when he saw Steve’s sketches. Natasha contented herself with a smirk.

“We’ll want a different comic to go along with every story release,” she said. “We’re segmenting the story out across different days to hold public interest longer, and then we’ll have updates on the progress of the trial. We might want a few blow-up prints to sell, too. I have a feeling that our man Mr. Senator Person will be a very popular T-shirt theme.”

“They’ll be ready,” Steve promised.

“Well,” said Pepper, raising her water glass in a toast. “To a fruitful partnership!”

“To a fruitful partnership,” they all chorused back, grinning.

--

Tony’s party this time was nearly as massive as his past galas, but it was a lot more casual and had a lot more friends. Tony had invited Steve, Bucky, and what basically amounted to Steve’s entire department to the Tower to celebrate the release of Clint and Natasha’s serialized exclusive coverage on the Life and Crimes of Mr. Senator Person. Bucky had also dragged along his design team, lovingly nicknamed the Howling Commandos, and Steve found himself making awkward conversation with some of Bucky’s closest friends.

“Oh yeah,” said Dum Dum (Steve wasn’t going to ask if that was a nickname or not). “We all went to Engineering school together, too. So we’ve been hearing odes to your eyes for so long. It’s a relief you guys finally got together, so maybe Bucky will send his damn rhapsodizing to the source and leave us out of it.” Mr. Senator Person glowered at Steve from Dum Dum’s chest. Tony had passed out shirts with Steve’s design at the entrance, and so variations of Mr. Senator Person’s caricaturized grimace were being worn by almost everyone in the Tower.

“Uh,” said Steve, bright red. “Sorry?”

The Commandos seemed to be delighted by his embarrassment. “What was it Bucky used to say?” asked Jim--another James--Morita. “About how blue his eyes are?”

Dernier, whom Steve had previously believed to be kind and polite, smirked. “He says, he has never seen a sky so blue as your eyes,” he told Steve. “Very romantic, your Bucky.”

“O-oh.” Steve looked across the massive room to where Bucky and Clint had their heads together, giggling over something. “That’s actually really nice.” Bucky looked up and met Steve’s eyes, still smiling. Steve waved at him, and felt a little giddy when Bucky grinned and waved back.

“Mon dieu,” said Dernier. “Which of them is the worst?”

“Steve!” came Darcy’s familiar close-range yell. “I brought you coffee to celebrate!”

“Oh wow,” said Steve, “Thanks so much! But, unfortunately, I just found out that I’m really allergic to coffee. It’s something in the--uh--bean.”

All the conversations in the room seem to fall silent.

Darcy squinted at him thoughtfully. “Does that count?” she asked the room at large.

“I say it does,” called Sam.

“Okay,” said Darcy. “Who had today?”

“I did,” said Natasha.

“Of course you did,” sighed Darcy.

“You placed a bet on… my coffee consumption?”

“We placed a bet on when you’d own up to hating coffee,” said Darcy.

Sam laughed at Steve’s disgruntled expression. “We were feeling really bad for your plant already. It’s probably getting moldy.”

Steve shook his head. “And you couldn’t just tell me, of course. Congratulations, Natasha,” he said.

Bucky wrapped his arms around Steve from behind and leaned forward to kiss his cheek. “No, congratulations to you, Stevie. We’re so proud that you finally came out to us as a coffee-hater.”

You already knew I hated coffee,” said Steve smiling back at him.

“Yes, you told me the first time I tried to give you coffee.”

“True love,” said Sam wryly.

“Yep,” said Bucky smugly. “Speaking of,” he gestured to the mug in Darcy’s hand and threw her a charming smile. “Could I have that?”

Darcy handing the mug over, blushing slightly.

“I,” said Bucky, “would like to call a toast, thanking Tony for posting an absurdly cheap airbnb advertisement. We wouldn’t be here together without him.”

He pressed another kiss to Steve’s cheek as the room cheered.

--

Becca: Ok, I guess u were right about the airbnb stay

-END-