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Stop Trolling Me!

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Regardless of the unsolicited opinion of one Samuel T. Wilson, Steve Rogers did not need to get a life, thank you very much.

 

Steve had been doing good, great even. (Steve's old Sunday school teacher would have reminded him that Vincent de Paul did good, Steve was doing well, but that was beside the point). Life was good. Everything was copacetic. Just dandy, grooving along without issue.

 

And then he had run past Sam Wilson five years ago, and everything had gone to shit.

 

Steve had always been called the Star Spangled Man with a Plan, but really, that title should have belonged to Sam Wilson, the patron saint of I'm Planning A Social Activity So C'mon Steve, You Can Watch Shark Week Anytime!

 

Despite the name, Sam obviously did not understand that Shark Week was not on just any old time, ( just one week per year Sam!) and Steve had a lot of Dance Moms backed up on his DVR, and he couldn't just erase those to make room for Shaq Does Shark Week because then he would miss critical storytelling moments, and that just couldn't happen.

 

Unfortunately for Steve, Sam did not seem to sympathize with these struggles.

 

If Sam Wilson were a magic show, Steve Rogers was the reluctant audience member who cringed when the call for a volunteer went out, yet was still dragged up on stage despite his obvious I-don't-want-to-do-this expression.

 

Sam, thankfully, was able to pull the metaphorical rabbit out of the hat more often than not, Steve grudgingly admitting that some of the activities he had planned had actually been pretty fun, but still. If given the choice, Steve would rather hide in the bathroom until the show was over.

 

Thankfully the world needed saving from time to time, and Sam had become increasingly busy as the Falcon, the number of karaoke nights and bar trivia sessions decreasing exponentially as Sam's Avenging skills were more frequently utilized.

 

Steve was finally able to work through his backlog of Dance Moms, his nights more often than not once again being spent in sweatpants on his couch when he wasn't needed as Captain America, and really, that was for the best.

 

Steve liked his humdrum life; the perfect butt indent he had worked into his preferred side of the couch had taken time and dedication to craft, and finally, after all these years, Steve was able to return to his plushy throne, slight lingering Cheeto scent and all.

 

Once again, things were good. Steve was well.

 

Sam Wilson was not so easily satisfied.

 

"You need to get out more Steve!" He stressed, punctuating his remark with a stab of his fork through the air in Steve's direction, the impaled piece of strawberry hanging on for dear life. (Sam was the kind of monster who ate fruit salad at their post-run Sunday brunch, so he was obviously compromised when it came to making good decisions.)

 

Steve pulled his plate of waffles a little closer, shielding them protectively with one arm as he forked off another bite with the opposite hand, feeling defensive in more ways than one at the outburst.

 

"I get out," Steve argued, gesturing to the goddamn restaurant they were so obviously sitting in at the moment. "I'm out right now!"

 

Sam sighed the sigh of a man who had been tested well beyond his limits. It was entirely too dramatic, and Steve rolled his eyes preemptively, anticipating another SAM Talk.

 

"You're out because I dragged you out, just like I do every week."

 

"We've been doing the Sunday routine for literally years," Steve felt the need to point out. "You don't have to drag me here. I like it."

 

The determination in Sam's eyes softened a bit, his shoulders relaxing minutely with the admission. "I like it too man, you know I do. But tell me, honestly, for the rest of the week, what are you getting up to? Because without Sam Wilson around, I'm pretty sure Steve Rogers is sitting on his perfect ass every day, watching the world pass him by."

 

"I do things," Steve objected, wracking his brain for an example. It was… surprisingly difficult to come up with one. "I went to the grocery store this week."

 

It was Sam's turn for an eye roll. "Something fun, Steve, something social. I'm not around as much these days, and I need to know you're still living life when I'm off being the Falcon. You need to find a hobby, or a class. Make a few friends with some other people your own age, besides me.” The eye roll transformed seamlessly into a puppy pout, Sam’s brown eyes now wide and imploring. “One day a week, that’s all I’m asking. You don’t even have to tell me what you decide to do. Just please, give it a try, for me.”

 

Steve stared down at his waffles for an extended moment, trying to find a reasonable argument to get around this. One day a week wasn’t asking much though, and this season of Dance Moms had just ended. Besides being Cap, Steve didn’t have a lot on his plate right now.

 

“One day a week,” Steve finally relented with a firm voice, his own fork swinging through the air as he met Sam’s eyes. “One day a week, and I get to choose what I do.”

 

Sam’s gap-toothed smile was blinding from across the table, every inch of him radiating success as he stuck his hand out, the pact sealed with a shake. “Deal.”

 


 

Steve gave the agreement some honest thought as he walked home once their meal was finished.

 

As much as a class could be interesting, he couldn’t get involved in something that would move on without him if he had to miss a week or two at a time Avenging.

 

Sports were out, because Steve was basically a walking steroid, and that wouldn't be fair to the other team.

 

He needed a low commitment drop-in activity, something he could jump in and out of easily with as few people as possible recognizing him.

 

It also had to be something in his own age group, which was a fairly amusing stipulation considering Steve was technically now a triple-digit senior citizen.

 

Steve wasn't entirely convinced fate was a real thing, but as he waited at the crosswalk for the light to change, his eyes drifted to the flyers covering a nearby lamp post as he tried to will some sort of activity to mind. One brightly coloured flyer stood out to him immediately, almost glowing in the early afternoon sunshine as if it were a video game character that had an important quest for him. He stepped closer to the slightly weathered paper, the light changing and traffic moving on without him, and as Steve read the contents, he had to admit this was certainly a point in fate's favour.

 

His own age group, indeed.

 

Bingo.

 


 

"BINGO!" Steve yelled, smiling wide as an inconsistent smattering of applause was heard around the small community centre. (To be fair, it had been a rainy week, so there was bound to be some arthritis-related reluctance when it came to clapping today.)

 

There were only five other people in attendance for this round, six if you included Myrtle, the number caller, but Steve felt the thrill of the win regardless of the good odds, adding another tally mark to the little Bingo card he kept folded up in the deep dark depths of his wallet.

 

"How many does that make then, Steven?" Ruth questioned from her seat in front of him as she packed up her large collection of daubers, the Bingo session winding down for the day with the completion of this round. She always sat two rows down from him at the Wednesday afternoon game, and they had hit it off four months ago when Steve's usual fluorescent pink dauber had suddenly run dry. She had swooped in with a replacement purple for him to use, and when he had coincidently won that round he had given the $10 cash prize to her, despite her many protests. They had been locked in a kindness war ever since, Steve earning another imaginary point as he went over to help her finish loading up the wire basket of her walker with her Bingo supplies.

 

"This was number fifteen," Steve admitted with a grin, a hint of pride slipping into his tone. He had been playing once a week on Wednesdays for approximately six months now, usually sticking around for two or three rounds each time, so it was a fairly successful number to have reached so far. If Steve had kept the prize he would have made $150 by now, which was nothing to sniff at. Since money was no longer an issue for him though, thanks to some generous back pay accumulation while he had been in the ice, he had gotten into the habit of slipping the money back into the community centre donation box after each win, along with whatever cash he happened to have hanging out in his wallet. (The ceiling in the Bingo room had been looking a little more water-stained than usual in the last few months, but if he had happened to start carrying significantly more cash on Wednesdays, resulting in a larger donation, Steve would argue until his last breath that it was merely a coincidence.)

 

"If I could have your attention please," Myrtle spoke through the ancient sound system at the front of the room, and Steve winced a bit with his sensitive hearing at the screeching sound of the microphone's feedback. (He was the only one in the room without hearing aids, so he understood the need for the volume, but still. Oww.)

 

"I'm pleased to report," Myrtle paused, adjusting her bifocals as she squinted at the piece of looseleaf that obviously held her intended speech, "that we have finally raised enough money to begin some repairs to our beloved community center." Another uncoordinated round of applause went up, Steve clapping along with this one.

 

"Yes, yes, it is indeed wonderful news. Thanks to multiple anonymous donations, we have raised enough for a new roof, along with some other necessary repairs, with construction set to begin next week," Myrtle continued, looking up from her paper to squint into the crowd, directly at Steve. "We may be old, but we are not stupid Steven, so on behalf of all of us, thank you for making this happen."

 

Steve felt himself flush from the tips of his hair right down to his toes. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he deflected.

 

Myrtle harrumphed into the microphone, eyes rolling behind her glasses before her squint got even squintier. "Stop being so selfless. You're not getting a commemorative plaque because that money will be buying us a new coffee maker, so just take the thanks and move on."

 

Steve held his hands up defensively as six elderly sets of eyes turned to fix on him, their gazes somehow both exasperated and kind, daring him to refuse again.

 

"Ok ok, yeesh. You're welcome."

 

Myrtle bobbed her head, pleased with the admission, before looking back down to her notes. "Because of the impending construction, we will not be able to continue Bingo here until the work is complete. Now I've put some feelers out, and I'm happy to say the Russian Community Life Centre had agreed to let us join their weekly Bingo meets until our center is ready to go. Information on location and other details can be found on the bulletin board in the lobby..."

 

Steve admittedly tuned out a bit after that, going back to his own seat to pack up his own daubers and cards before absentmindedly scrawling down the new Bingo address from the flyer in his notebook. He said his goodbyes shortly after, patting Arthur on the back in congratulations for his upcoming eighty-fifth birthday, before stepping out onto the damp sidewalk, dodging a puddle as he began his short trek home.

 

He had started Bingo six months ago as a Fuck You to Sam, able to smugly say that yes, he was hanging out with people his own age once a week, (in actuality he was the oldest one there) but he had quickly gotten wrapped up in the community of it, and it was a valued part of his life now. The usual Bingo group was small, but they had a sharp wit about them and a lot of heart, and Steve had found himself looking forward to Wednesdays ever since. Not that he would ever admit it, lest Sam's ego expand to epic proportions, but the man may have been on to something with his suggestion all those months ago.

 

Steve cast one last look back at the community center, happy to know it would be getting the attention it needed soon, before continuing up the sidewalk, curiously considering what next week's Bingo at the Russian Community Life Centre would be like. Would they serve burnt coffee and those dry Danish tin cookies too?

 

Steve's phone chirped out a familiar noise, the Avenger's call to assemble, and he kicked his walk up into a sprint, all thoughts of Bingo instantly fluttering away.

 

Captain America had a job to do.

 


 

The Russian Community Life Centre, did not, in fact, serve dry Danish tin cookies.

 

They did, however, have the moderately better assorted tea time digestive cookies that always seemed a little stale regardless of age.

 

"Peek Freans!" Josephine exclaimed helpfully from beside him, and Steve bobbed his head, unable to speak as the tacky red center of a fruit creme vied for permanent lodgings between his two front teeth.

 

One paper cup of fake-fruit-center-dissolving hot coffee later, Steve had wandered over to claim a seat near the back of the room, aiming for low-profile as he perused the new playing area.

 

Most of the regular players from his neighbourhood were in attendance today, Ruth giving him a wave as she set up shop closer to the front, but a few were missing, and Steve made a mental note to request a weekly shuttle service for the foreseeable future in case transportation was the issue behind the absences.

 

As it was, there was a fairly decent turn out for 3:30pm on a Wednesday afternoon, around twenty players total, and the overall vibe in the room was cheery, the newcomers, Steve included, mingling easily with the home crowd.

 

Steve had worn his patented baseball cap and aviators disguise upon entry but had quickly removed them when he discovered he was once again the youngest (yet still oldest?) player in the room. The over-eighty crowd was typically unflappable, and besides a couple of nods of solidarity from a few other presumed veterans, Steve had been happily left alone, notwithstanding the usual greetings from his normal crew.

 

A tap on the microphone brought everyone's attention to the caller's area at the front of the room, Myrtle's needlepoint-crafted cat-themed sweater vest and blue hair arriving about five seconds before her. She gave a pink-lipsticked grin to the crowd before leaning in closer to the mic to speak, yet another piece of looseleaf in hand today. Time for a speech, then.

 

"On behalf of the players of the Brooklyn United Community Centre," she began, "I would like to thank our gracious hosts for their hospitality, and for welcoming us to their weekly Bingo games. Zinaida and I," she gestured to an extremely tiny and grandmotherly-looking woman beside her, "will be trading off alternate weeks calling Bingo, with Zinaida getting us started today. Thank you once again and best of luck players!" Myrtle finished with a smile.

 

Steve applauded along with the crowd, conscious of the fact that he should probably get some speech writing tips from Myrtle in the near future. She had a way of winning the crowd over that Steve had never been able to muster, past or present included.

 

Zinaida moved to the mic then, taking a seat at the podium as Myrtle settled next to the ball cage, ready to pull the numbers, and after her own small welcoming speech, the game was underway.

 

Zinaida's voice was fairly heavily accented with Russian as she spoke, but the numbers were stated clearly, and Steve's pink dauber got to work, marking down a B-3 and an I-22 with the first two calls.

 

He was just getting into the groove when suddenly the door to the auditorium slammed open, a dark-haired man emerging from the entryway with a packet of Bingo cards and a bulging plastic grocery bag held in his large hands.

 

He scanned the area quickly before eyeballing the open seat next to Steve and striding over to the table confidentiality, although prowling over may have been the more fitting term. Natasha had once taken Steve to a runway show during New York Fashion Week, and Steve knew for a fact that none of the models he had witnessed had mastered a walk quite like that. This man moved like sex on legs, and it was as terrifying as it was arousing.

 

Steve blinked as roughly fifty troll dolls hit the table beside him as the stranger abruptly upended his grocery bag onto the surface, the impact of the rubbery toys avalanching towards Steve startling him out of his sexy-thigh hypnosis.

 

The newcomer didn't seem to notice, settling into the hard plastic chair next to Steve and fanning his cards out in front of him, his black leather jacket moving with him like a second skin. He leaned back in his seat and Steve followed the smooth motion of his well-muscled arm down to where the man was pulling a red star-shaped dauber out of the front pocket of his obscenely tight jeans. He had to lift his hips and spread his legs slightly to work it out around the tautness, and Steve could feel his hands grow clammy at the sight.

 

The significant bulge at the front of the man's pants did not disappear with the eventual extraction of the dauber, and Steve's mouth went dry as he snapped his eyes back over to his own cards. This was absolutely not the place for… That.

 

Steve needed to focus.

 

The problem was, besides the almost unnerving levels of attractiveness radiating from his seat partner, the troll dolls were now obstructing Steve's cards.

 

“Hey,” Steve began tentatively, “your trolls-”

 

The newcomer looked up from his cards and met Steve's eyes, and shit, his face was literal perfection, that jaw, those eyes-

 

“James!” Zinaida shouted happily into the microphone, pulling the glasses strung around her neck on a beaded chain on and aiming her grandmotherly smile his way.

 

James’ head whipped back around to face the ball cage and announcer at the front, his own smile lighting up his face and causing the corners of his icy blue eyes to crinkle delightfully. Fuck, he was beautiful.

 

“Hello Zinaida,” he called, giving Steve a better look at his biceps as he raised an arm in a lazy wave, and damn it, that soft Russian lilt was doing things to Steve's insides.

 

“How is your grandmother?” Zinaida questioned from the front. “I didn't see her at knitting group on Tuesday.”

 

James nodded seriously, as if yes, his grandmother's whereabouts during knitting group were of the utmost importance to discuss publicly in the middle of a Bingo round. “She's fine. My sister was in town visiting so she had to miss it. She'll be back next week.”

 

“Wonderful!” Zinaida leaned on the podium at the front as if settling in for a long conversation, still speaking directly into the microphone. “How are Rebecca’s kids doing?”  

 

Steve glanced around the hall, not really believing that this was actually happening right now. No one besides himself seemed to mind the interruption, the Brooklyn United regulars smiling on as all of the Russian Centre crowd projected the same ‘proud grandparent’ vibe that Zinaida had stirred up.

 

Steve felt his eye twitch and his face must have been doing a thing, because James side-eyed him, frowning in his direction before answering. “They're great Zinaida, thanks for asking. For now, though, we should probably get back to the game, what do you think?” As his attention shifted back to the front, the frown morphed into a sexy smirk and he punctuated the suggestion with a wink at the end, Zinaida practically swooning along with the rest of the Bingo hall at the (admittedly) highly attractive maneuver. Ruth, the traitor, actually began fanning herself with her Bingo card.

 

Steve didn't know what was happening.

 

“Where were we?” Zinaida looked down at the last ball they had drawn.

 

"I-22!" Steve cried out, exasperated, pushing troll dolls off of his cards.

 


 

When the dust had settled and James was collecting his $10 winnings to the congratulations of the other Bingo patrons, Steve not included, Steve vowed that next week he would not be pulled into the sexy vortex of this Bingo playing bad boy.

 

If Steve never saw James, darling of the Bingo hall, Russian sex God, and ruthless troll collector again, he would be fine.

 

Just fine.

 

Chapter Text

 

"... And then, he didn't even offer to move his troll dolls! I had to play with them all over my side of the table!" Steve flailed around in his apartment as he got ready for his Thursday morning combat session, jumping on one foot to pull on his shoe.

 

"Uh huh," Friday replied.

 


 

"You can't just walk into a game late like that! It's rude! Plus I don't even know how he can walk anywhere in those jeans, they're obscene! There are seniors in attendance! Show some respect!" Steve cried, pouring a bowl of Froot Loops for breakfast on Saturday before plopping down heavily on his couch, chewing his cereal forcefully.

 

"Obscene," Friday repeated.

 


 

"He probably cheated," Steve grumbled Tuesday night after getting into bed, pounding the pillow under his head to try to mash it into a more comfortable shape. It wasn't cooperating. "He's probably some sort of swindler, rigging Bingo games and stealing social security numbers when nobody's looking."

 

"Right," Friday sighed.

 


 

"I hate him," Steve pouted on Wednesday morning, squeezing a blob of toothpaste onto his brush.

 

"With all due respect, Captain," Friday's voice came through tiredly over the intercom in his bathroom, (could an AI even be tired though? She sounded tired), "based upon the ample information you have provided me with this week, I believe you may be confusing your hatred for James with a combination of both jealousy and attraction."

 

Steve sputtered incoherently, almost choking on his toothbrush as toothpaste speckles hit the mirror. "That's… no. That's not right. You must be mistaken. I haven't really explained that much, so I can see how you would maybe think that, but no. Did I mention his jeans-"

 

"I have just reviewed over 15 hours of audio of yourself describing James, along with a number of human psychology texts, and can confirm I am not mistaken. He has done nothing to warrant hatred of any sort. Statistically speaking, it is very likely you are both jealous and enamored."

 

Steve rolled his eyes, spitting into the sink. " What do you even know?" He muttered under his breath.

 

"Almost everything," Friday replied cheerfully.

 

Steve didn't have a response for that.

 


 

"They're obscene! Offensive even!" Steve flapped his arms towards where James was standing at the other side of the room, surrounded by his Bingo groupies. His legs were encased in a different yet equally skin tight pair of jeans this week, and Steve was feeling… overwhelmed. With hatred.

 

They were all laughing at something James must have said, all the little old ladies cackling around him as James leaned back against a table, his arms crossed and resting against pecs that stood out prominently thanks to the snug black t-shirt he was wearing. The shirt was obviously well worn, the black faded to almost a deep grey, and the material was so thin that a small hole had developed up near one tanned collarbone. It was tiny, but Steve's enhanced vision picked up on it almost immediately, and his eyes kept wanting to jump back to that spot for some reason. James had a lazy grin on his face as everyone laughed around him, and his muscles flexed smoothly as he reached up to adjust the messy bun his dark, chin length hair was captured in today. Steve wanted to reach out and- Punch him. Yeah.

 

"Offensive!" Steve repeated. His rage was making him feel all hot and sweaty.

 

"I am also offended," Ruth agreed calmly from beside him, adding a packet of sweetner to her paper coffee cup. "He's teasing us with those outfits. He should just show up naked next time so I can stop imagining things and die happy, knowing exactly what's under those clothes. Is his Bingo dauber still in his pocket, or is that just him?"

 

"RUTH!" Steve cried, scandalized, his outburst turning the heads of everyone in the Bingo hall, James included. (James did not in fact have his Bingo dauber in his pocket still, which Steve knew because he had watched him set up his trolls and Bingo area very carefully not even ten minutes before. His star-shaped dauber was ready and waiting at his seat, right beside where Steve had already laid his own cards down previously. Everything going on in James' pants right now was 100% James, but Steve wasn't going to tell Ruth that.)

 

Since he chose not to answer the question, they ended up standing there awkwardly as everyone stared at them before Ruth finally broke the silence. "I almost added real sugar to my coffee," she fibbed to the room at large, gesturing to her cup. "I'm at risk for diabetes, and Steven just wanted to stop me before it was too late."

 

The awkward tension in the room started to dissipate, everyone turning back to their own conversations, but James didn't move, keeping his attention firmly locked on Steve from across the hall. It was extremely unnerving, and Steve shuffled around a bit, straightening the napkins on the snack table before pouring his own cup of coffee, his hands feeling useless and clumsy for some reason. He could feel James' eyes on his back the entire time, and Steve was suddenly thankful the caffeine wouldn't affect his enhanced metabolism. He was jittery enough as it was today.

 

in a moment of saving grace, Myrtle suddenly appeared at the podium at the front of the room, Zinaida at her side, and she greeted everyone cheerfully before asking that they all take their seats so the game could begin.

 

Steve shuffled hastily to his spot, extremely conscious of James as he sauntered over to his seat beside Steve, sliding down into the plastic chair easily and spreading his legs slightly as he slumped into a more comfortable position. Steve instantly felt bad for every person who ever had to ride the subway with him; his manspreading was ridiculous.  

 

Steve's anger-heat kicked up another notch at the sight.

 

As the ball cage rolled and Steve waited for the first number to be called, he uncapped his pink dauber and cast an eye towards the trolls that littered the table beside him. James had not been late today so he had had time to set up his space, and the dolls were positioned in an arc around the top of his cards, their weird wisps of hair and jeweled belly buttons taunting Steve with their exuberance. They were placed top to bottom according to the ROY-G-BIV colour scale, and it took Steve entirely too long to piece together that they created a rainbow in this formation.

 

James, the leather jacket toting, old lady charming, thick thigh having arch nemesis of Steve's life, had a rainbow of 50-something troll dolls above his Bingo cards right now.

 

A warm and spicy musk hit Steve's nostrils suddenly, and then James was leaning into his personal bubble of space, reaching across in front of Steve to press his dauber to a G-54 Steve had apparently missed while he had been... Gathering intel.

 

"Wouldn't want you to fall behind," James murmured in his slight Russian drawl, so close to Steve that he could feel the warm puff of his breath against the shell of his ear.

 

"I don't need your help," Steve whispered fiercely in response, not daring to turn his head even a fraction in that direction.

 

Steve couldn't see his face, but he heard the smirk in James' voice when he spoke nonetheless. "I never said you did."

 

He leaned back in his own seat again, facing the front of the room and going back to marking his cards as if nothing had happened, and Steve finally let out the breath he didn't know he had been holding, his brain nonsensically firing random tingles up and down his spine.

 

Steve was definitely falling behind now and shook his head to clear it, daubing his cards with vigor as he tried to get himself back in the game.

 

James didn't lean over to help him again, but when he chanced a look in the other man's direction, his full lips still held that infuriating smirk.

 


 

Steve stayed for five rounds that particular Wednesday, winning none and watching sourly as  James collected another $10 prize.

 

He gathered his used cards quickly at the end, his body suddenly demanding he get some air after being forced to inhale James' unique scent for the last two hours, and only gave a jerking nod to the Brooklyn Centre regulars before beating a hasty retreat, finally feeling like he could breathe again once he stepped out onto the sidewalk.

 

He still had his playing cards clutched tightly in one hand when he made it home, and Steve found himself hesitating when he held them over his recycle bin, that red star searing into his vision like a brand.

 

In the end, all the cards except one made it into the bin, the one with the red star finding a place on his nightstand instead.


Steve decidedly did not think about why. 

 

Chapter Text

 

For the next two weeks in a row, James sat directly beside Steve at the Wednesday afternoon Bingo game.

 

They didn't speak once. They didn't interact in any way whatsoever in fact, and although that had been what Steve had wanted all along, it absolutely grated on him.

 

Steve felt every small shift and movement of the man next to him. Every stretch of one long leg or minute rustle of clothing landed like a personal attack against Steve, but when Steve would finally find the courage to look over, James would always be looking down at his cards, daubing away with his own sly version of the Mona Lisa smile tugging at his lips.

 

He was perfectly polite, non-disruptive and relaxed, and his rainbow collection of trolls always remained arched symmetrically over his cards, the colourful little monsters not even coming close to touching Steve's side of the table.

 

Steve wanted to scream.

 

He finally cracked on the third week when the Bingo session had finished for the day and James pulled his plastic grocery bag out to begin slowly and silently packing his trolls away. The bag was obviously well used and very crinkled, the weight of the dolls stretching it as more were added in, their pointy plastic arms threatening to punch a hole in the side at any moment. It was an entirely impractical choice of bag for this purpose, and Steve latched on to this fact like a lifeline, needing something to cling to in these dark, angry times.

 

Steve slammed his hands down on the table, rattling the bolts in it slightly as he then pushed himself up to stand, pointing to the bag in outrage. "Why, WHY are you doing this?" Steve cried, running one hand shakily through his hair.

 

James looked over serenely, his lips still curved up deliciously as he met Steve's angered gaze, his icy blue irises glinting in the fluorescent light as he widened his eyes innocently. "Why am I doing what?" James questioned calmly, as if he didn't know, his accent smoothing enticingly over the W sounds in his sentence.

 

"The thing with the bag, and the trolls!" Steve cried. "Why that bag? And why do you have so many dolls?"

 

James looked down to his half-filled grocery bag for an extended moment, as if just now noticing that yes, he did have quite the troll collection. His expression remained ever the same though when he looked back up, calm with a sort of lazy sexuality to it. Steve hated it. Steve hated him.

 

"This is the only bag I own," James replied with the slight lift of one shoulder, as if to say what can you do? "As for the trolls," blue eyes met blue eyes unflinchingly, the Russian lilt sounding noticeably thicker now, "they are my trophies. One for each person I have killed."

 

Steve felt his brain explode as the bottom half of his face flopped open, and he sputtered incoherently for a moment before waving his hands around uselessly, trying to get a grip on the bomb that had just been dropped. James continued to pack up his trolls in silence, his expression entirely unreadable.

 

"I… that's not. You," Steve sputtered, mentally trapped in a crazed little hamster wheel of thought. "You're lying," he finally decided on, wagging a finger in James' direction. "You're trying to fuck with me."

 

James shook his head, but his eyes were lit with something new now, something akin to mirth. "It is true. I only own one bag."

 

"THAT'S NOT WHAT I MEANT!" Steve exploded, ready to rip his own hair out at any moment. Luckily the Bingo hall had already cleared out, otherwise he would have been turning heads left and right. "You're lying about the trolls! That is not why you have them!"

 

James smiled fully this time, obviously enjoying the reaction he was getting, but Steve had no control left over himself. He literally could not deal with this right now, he could not!

 

"You're right," James finally conceded with a tip of the head, all his trolls packed away in the bag now. The sides were bulging obscenely, the plastic threatening to give out at any moment. "It is not a tally of the number of people I've killed. It's the number of people I've slept with."

 

And with that he turned on his heel and sauntered towards the exit, whistling an indiscernible yet upbeat tune as he moved, the ridiculous plastic bag swinging loosely in his grip.

 

Steve was left standing alone in the Bingo hall, confused, frustrated, and wondering what he had ever done in a past life to deserve this particular kind of torture, and why oh why it made his pants feel so tight.

 


 

When Steve masturbated in the shower later that night to the image of thick thighs and dark hair, tanned biceps and a solid chest, James' name slipped brokenly from his lips as he came.

 

Steve had to do something.

 


 

They were wrapping up a mission in Italy a few days later when Steve approached Natasha, her level of discretion essential for this type of op.

 

"I need your help," Steve said lowly as they were packing up the helicarrier. Takeoff wasn't for another two hours, so Steve knew they could sneak away for a bit, ideally undetected by the rest of the team.

 

She raised a perfectly arched brow but nodded when he slipped her an address and a time, knowing Steve's requests for help were generally few and far between.

 

They met on the sidewalk in Florence 20 minutes later, and Steve decided to just jump right in.

 

"I have an enemy I need dealt with," he began, and Natasha seamlessly shifted her stance, immediately and entirely tuned in to her surroundings.

 

"You want me to get rid of them?" She asked seriously, and Steve shook his head instantly at her assumption.

 

"Not that type of mission," he clarified, reaching over to the door of the storefront behind them. It was a men's shop, specializing in Italian leather.

 

"Which bag is more of a Fuck You?" Steve asked, gesturing to two messenger bags displayed on pedestals inside. "I like the brown leather personally, but he tends to wear black a lot. I don't want it to clash."

 

Natasha frowned, staring at the bags for a moment before turning her attention fully to Steve, a crease forming between her eyebrows.

 

"You need my help buying your enemy an Italian leather bag, and you can't decide which one to get?" She questioned in a flat voice.

 

Steve nodded, still focusing on the problem at hand. "Yes."

 

"These bags are $700 Steve," she stated.

 

Steve grinned, pleased with his devious plan. "That'll teach him to ever use plastic again, huh?"

 

Natasha continued to stare at Steve for a while as he inspected the bags, but he paid her no mind, running his fingers over the supple leather and examining the insides to ensure they met his standards for ultimate troll-holding capacity. There needed to be a bit of extra space in case James ever decided to add to the collection.

 

"Go with the black," she decided after a few silent minutes, reaching out to touch the smooth surface of the bag. "If that's his style you'll want to keep it in mind. This isn't about what you like. This gift is for him."

 

"It is not a gift!" Steve objected, offended she would even think such a thing. James was his arch-nemesis. And you didn't see Steve buying gifts for the Red Skull back in the day. This was a middle finger in cow hide, a tactical maneuver, an act of war. This was not a present.

 

"Let me know when we can meet your boyfriend Steve," Natasha called as she exited the store while Steve paid for the black bag. "We'll have him over for a team dinner!"

 

"He's not my boyfriend!" Steve yelled at her retreating back. "I hate him!"

 

"Would you like this wrapped, sir?" The clerk questioned, holding up a silvery grey wrapping paper. It was really sharp looking and would go well with James' overall aesthetic, Steve thought.

 

"Please," he agreed with a nod. He ended up picking out a black silk ribbon for the box too.

 

Nice.

 

That would show James.

 

No one fucked with Steve Rogers.

 

Chapter Text

 

Steve left for Bingo half an hour early the following Wednesday, wanting to catch James on his way in to hand over his token of aggression. He didn't know why, but it would have felt a little too weird doing it inside, with a nosy, elderly audience jumping to all the wrong conclusions the way Natasha had.

 

Outside was better, more private, so James could have a meltdown over Steve's genius plan in peace, with only a few pigeons as spectators.

 

Unfortunately something in Steve's body and/or brain decided to give out at the exact moment James sauntered up to the community centre, because James' plastic grocery bag wasn't the only thing swinging from him today.

 

The skinny jeans were gone, and James was instead wearing a pair of loose grey sweatpants, the outline of his dick jumping around under the fabric with every confident step he took down the sidewalk. His hair was slightly damp as well, the bottom starting to curl just slightly around his stubbled jaw, and Steve's excellent spy skills deduced that he had very likely just come from the gym.

 

It was. A lot.

 

Seeing as all the bones in Steve's body had just been reduced to jelly, Steve decided a tactical retreat would be best right now, and he threw the not-a-present at James' head before hightailing it back into the community centre.

 

The black leather bag was akin to a grenade, Steve thought, so really, it only made sense for him to get out of the blast zone as soon as possible.

 


 

Bucky just barely managed to get his hands up in front of his face to catch the large gift box Captain America had just hurled at him before running away inside. He set his plastic bag down on the community centre steps so he could use both hands to inspect the present in full, his curiosity peaked.

 

The wrapping paper was beautiful, thick with a hint of shimmer to it, and the silk ribbon felt like butter between his fingers when he gently touched the bow.

 

There was a card attached, a simple creamy white paper that held just the slightest hint of men's aftershave, Steve's scent, Bucky knew, from sitting beside him so often now, and he lifted the flap on the card curiously, wondering what the good Captain had in store for him now.

 

'Dear James, I hate you,' the card read, in beautifully flowing cursive, and below that, 'Sincerely, S.G.R.'

 

Bucky's eyebrows lifted once he opened the box and the present was revealed, a luxurious black leather messenger bag sitting beautifully in a nest of soft tissue paper.

 

Holy shit.

 

Steve was seriously into him.

 


 

James, unfortunately, did not look completely and utterly destroyed by Steve's wrath when he walked into the Bingo hall approximately ten minutes later.

 

He was carrying the bag though, the long leather strap slung casually over his thick shoulder, the trolls evidently having already been transferred over from their inferior plastic home.  

 

"I didn't know you were serious before," James said as he began setting his trolls up in his usual spot beside Steve, glancing back and forth from Steve to the table to the bag as he worked. "I thought you were just fucking around with me."

 

"You're the one that's been doing all the fucking!" Steve accused, but no, wait. That's not. What?

 

James hummed consideringly, his stupidly beautiful face fixed into that unreadable expression Steve hated so much.

 

"I really don't like you, James," Steve felt the need to stress, in case it was not yet abundantly clear. He had written it in the card and everything!

 

"All my friends call me Bucky," James smiled, setting the last troll of the rainbow in place. He glanced at Steve. "You should too."

 

Steve felt his cheeks flare with heat. "We are not friends," he declared.

 

The smile deepened, icy blue eyes shining bright. "We have not yet been intimate, so I do not know if the title of lovers can qualify at the moment," Jam- Bucky stated calmly, "but I appreciate your ambition. Hopefully we can correct this oversight soon," he added with a wink.

 

Steve's in-progress inhale got caught in his throat and he choked on air for a few minutes until Zenaida and Myrtle took to the podium, Zenaida calling this week as Myrtle pulled the balls.

 

Steve won the $10 prize that round, but only because Bucky leaned over to play his cards too, that star-shaped dauber moving efficiently as Steve sat frozen in stunned silence, only shifting once to watch as Bucky reached out to lightly stroke his fingertips over supple black leather.

 


 

There were cupcakes on Steve's side of the table when he showed up for Bingo the following week.

 

Rainbow cupcakes.

 

In an arch.

 

It was a perfect mirror to the troll rainbow beside them.

 

A double rainbow.

 

Bucky was leaning back in his plastic seat like it was the captain's chair on a luxury yacht or something, all long limbs and effortless style. He had a classic white t-shirt on under his leather jacket today, and the bag Steve had given him was resting casually on the table beside him. There were some white cake boxes with a Russian bakery logo stacked off to the side as well, obviously the source of the mysterious food.

 

"What is this?" Steve questioned suspiciously, squinting his eyes at the Russian.

 

"Cupcakes," came the frustrating but expected reply. Steve really should have known better than to ask a question like that though.

 

"I can see that," Steve clenched his jaw. He needed to try a new angle. No more open ended questions allowed. "How many cupcakes are on this table right now?"

 

"56."

 

"And how many trolls are there?"

 

"56," Bucky repeated. He had picked up his Bingo dauber and was flipping it in the air one handed now. It was incredibly distracting.

 

"Why do you have 56 trolls?" Steve asked, praying they were getting somewhere.

 

Bucky expertly flipped the dauber a final time before setting it gently back on the table. He stretched even further in his chair then, raising his arms above his head before relaxing and dropping them back down, his t-shirt riding up to expose cut abs and a small trail of dark hair leading-

 

"There is one troll, and therefore one cupcake, for every State I am wanted in," James interrupted Steve's very important visual investigation with a blatant lie.

 

"There are only 50 States in the US," Steve ground out, and Bucky rolled his eyes, an exaggerated motion if there ever was one.

 

"Yes Mr. America, but did I say I was only talking about the US? You Americans, always so self-centered." He shook his head seriously, but Steve could have sworn his eyes were dancing under the strands of hair that had fallen forward.

 

"First," Steve flailed his arms around a bit, trying to get his thoughts in order, "I am a captain, and on behalf of this great country, I am deeply offended by that remark. Secondly, why are you lying to me?" Steve could feel his skin heating up now, his frustration mounting with each unanswered question.

 

"Because I don't want you to know I have 56 cats at home," Bucky smirked. "One for each." He jerked his chin towards the cupcakes, decidedly changing the subject. "You should try a red one. They're strawberry shortcake," he suggested.

 

Steve sighed, peeling back the paper and stuffing the whole thing in his mouth. It probably wasn't poisoned.

 

"Fuck," Steve moaned despite himself. He licked his fingers clean, wanting to get every last molecule of icing possible. "That was delicious."

 

When he glanced back at Bucky after a final lick of the lips, he found the man's eyes were half lidded, the cool blue of his irises drowned out by the sudden appearance of black.

 

Bucky cleared his throat before standing up abruptly. "Good."

 

They wordlessly split the rest of the rainbow in two, passing out cupcakes to the other players before boxing up the leftovers. There was enough left for the rest of the Avengers, plus a few extra for Steve to enjoy later, he was secretly delighted to find.

 

The game started a few minutes after that and Steve was proud to say he handled his own cards just fine this time, no unwanted Russian assistance required.

 

Pulling answers from that man was like trying to draw blood from a stone though, Steve considered. He wasn't making any progress in that respect.

 

Their current location didn't help any; it was loud and bright, and there were too many people around to really allow Steve to get to the bottom of things.

 

He needed some place quieter, more intimate, so he could unleash his hard-hitting questions and finally get some real answers.

 

He gave Bucky a nod of thanks on the way out, his head lost in thought as his arms were laden with the remaining treats, Bucky packing up his own bag and sauntering off down the sidewalk with a small grin afterwords. He hadn't won anything while playing today, so Steve found it odd that he was walking away looking so accomplished.

 

Regardless, Steve had a new mission to complete.

 

He knocked on Natasha's door when he arrived back at the tower, passing her a cupcake as a bribe. "I need your help again."

 

"More present-buying?" She sassed, but she took the cupcake anyway, smiling like a cat when she bit down into it. It was from the orange arch. Mango, Steve thought.

 

"No!" Steve defended. How many times did he have to tell her the bag wasn't a present? "It's an interrogation," Steve explained.

 

Natasha perked up until Steve held up his tablet, open to the menus of two different restaurants in the city.

 

"Which one of these places looks better to you?"

 

Chapter Text

 

Steve peeked around the corner again. Good; the target was still in sight. He ducked back.

 

"Do you remember the plan?" Steve questioned, not for the first time, and Ruth huffed and swatted at him, likely irritated with his need to quadruple check everything.

 

Steve couldn't help it though. He couldn't remember ever feeling this nervous, even when he stormed Azzano. Punching and fighting and pursuing justice were simple concepts to him. This… whatever it was, was not.

 

"You just worry about yourself Steven," Ruth encouraged, the swat turning into a grandmotherly pat on the arm. "I'll get him warmed up for you."

 

She cast a reassuring smile his way before wheeling her walker over to Bucky. The Wednesday afternoon Bingo game had just ended, and Steve had been feeling fidgety and unfocused,  more concerned with sneaking subtle glances at Bucky the whole time than with playing the game. Now he needed to put his plan into action before Bucky left for the day. He seemed to be moving slower than usual though, lingering around as Steve sweated and reconfirmed everything with Ruth, which worked very well in Steve's favour. You couldn't interrogate someone without inviting them to the interrogation, after all.

 

Steve was very nervous.

 

"Hello James," Ruth smiled as she made her approach, and Bucky grinned back, genuine and bright.

 

"Ruth," he greeted with a tilt of his head.

 

"I noticed you were wearing sweatpants the other day. It was hard not to notice, in fact," she opened with, and Steve slapped a hand over his face. Things were already going off the rails. "Were you just getting back from the gym?"

 

Bucky's expression turned amused, the fine lines around his eyes deepening as he answered. "I was. I don't usually dress so casually, but I was short on time and didn't want to be late again by taking the time to go home and change. Some people have no patience when it comes to these things, so I decided not to risk it."

 

Steve crossed his arms over his chest, pouting behind the corner. That sounded suspiciously like a hit against him.

 

"That they don't," Ruth agreed. Steve's brow furrowed. She was supposed to be on his side! "It must be hard finding someone who can keep up with you, with all that physical activity. You'd almost need to be superhuman to be able to achieve that! You're very muscular."

 

Bucky chuckled, low and warm. "Thank you."

 

"And I suspect all that hard work builds up an appetite," Ruth continued.

 

"It does," Bucky's smile was huge now, his eyebrows raised slightly as if he was anticipating something.

 

"Do you have plans this weekend?" She switched topics abruptly, and Steve flinched a bit at the rough transition, but at least she was getting to the point.

 

Bucky was almost glowing. "Nope. Free as a bird."

 

And that answer was Steve's cue.

 

He stepped out from his hiding spot behind the wall, hands oh-so-casually hanging out in his pants pockets. They were very sweaty feeling.

 

"Steve! Oh Steve!" Ruth waved him over, as per the plan, and Steve started toward them, trying to look cool and collected.

 

"We were just discussing our weekend plans. James has none. What are you up to?"

 

"I actually had a friend recommend a restaurant to me, but unfortunately everyone is busy this weekend, so I'll probably stay home as well. It's too bad really, because I'm very active and need to eat frequently." Steve recited his lines smoothly from memory. "I have a superhuman metabolism, after all."

 

"Steve!" Ruth exclaimed, as if she had just discovered electricity, "James here was just mentioning how he also gets hungry from time to time. What a coincidence! You should go together!"

 

Bucky's blue eyes met Steve's, and Steve felt a million butterflies take flight in his stomach at once. "What do you say, Steve? Do you think we should have dinner together? From what Ruth has been saying, I gather we are very compatible." Bucky flashed his perfect smile at her and she practically melted at the attention.

 

Steve didn't know if he should answer the question or call for an ambulance. Ruth was going to be a puddle on the floor if Bucky smiled like that again. He went with answering the question in the end. "Y-yes. We should do that. Eat. Together."

 

"Great," Bucky grinned. "Give me your phone, so we can exchange numbers. You can text me the details."

 

Steve did as he was told and Bucky entered in his information in, sending himself a text so he would have Steve's number as well.

 

Instead of handing the phone back though, Bucky took a step closer into Steve's space, almost bumping chests with him. "I am very much looking forward to our dinner," he murmured lowly, his Russian accent sounding thicker than usual, and he reached one arm around Steve then in the ghost of a hug, sliding the phone smoothly into one of Steve's back pockets.

 

Then he pushed himself up on his toes very slightly, his height only an inch or so off from Steve's, and kissed him lightly on the cheek before turning and striding away.

 

"Text me!" He called again over his shoulder before the door closed after him.

 

Steve blinked.

 

"We did it!" Ruth cheered before glancing at Steve's stricken expression. "Do you need me to call you an ambulance?" Her finger hovered over her plastic necklace. "I have Life Alert!"

 


 

As it turned out, asking Natasha for help this time around had worked out even better than Steve had expected.

 

Steve had been a jittery, fidgety mess this week, counting down the days until Saturday night after texting Bucky to confirm that worked for him (a trial in it's own right), and the other Avengers were beginning to suspect something was up. Natasha ran defence like a pro though, seamlessly changing the subject when things got a little too intense for Steve, and generally diverting attention away from his stilted awkwardness when anyone asked if he was ok.

 

She was also really good at spy stuff; Steve was great to have around if you needed to kick a Nazi or two in the head, but Nat was good at infiltration, at getting information and staying undercover.

 

It was because of this that Steve decided to take Natasha's Top Three Tips for a Successful Interrogation to heart.

 

Tip #1: Dress for Success.

 

"Wear your black jeans with the navy cashmere sweater I got you last Christmas," she instructed, throwing a pair of black motorcycle boots his way as she dug around in his closet. "You can intimidate your target into revealing more if he is flustered or distracted by your appearance. Don't try too hard, but put some product in your hair, wear a touch of cologne, and add a nice wristwatch as an accessory. Analogue, not digital Steve!"

 

"But what if I need to do math!" Steve objected, casting a sad look at the calculator watch sitting on his dresser. Wouldn't Bucky be impressed by how Steve was adapting to technology? He quickly nodded when he received a look of death from the Black Widow though, making a bullet point in his notebook.

 

Analogue. Got it.  

 

Tip #2: Ask the Right Questions.

 

"Based on what you've told me about this guy, direct questions won't always be answered honestly. Ask leading questions, but not open ended ones, and use the combination of your newly gathered information to get closer to finding out what you need. Warm him up with easy ones, like asking him about his job or his childhood pets."  She tapped her fingers against her chin thoughtfully. "It's difficult to know what to coach you on when you won't tell me what exact information you're looking to extract from him, but that should get you going in the right direction at least."

 

She shot Steve a peculiar look, obviously hoping he would cave in and explain himself.

 

Saying 'troll origins' sounded silly though, so he kept quiet, much to her dissatisfaction.

 

The third tip was the most difficult of them all, and Steve honestly didn't know if he would be able to pull it off.

 

Tip #3: Be Nice.  

 

"You're not allowed to tell him you hate him," Natasha stated, and Steve groaned, because nooooo, that was so hard to do, considering how much Steve hated him!

 

"Nat!" Steve pleaded, but she would not break. She was truly a professional at this.

 

"Not only that, but you should attempt to throw him off his game. Compliment him. Bring him flowers."

 

"Reverse psychology," Steve nodded, catching on.

 

Natasha sighed and looked to the ceiling, for some reason needing a moment to gather herself. "Sure Steve," she agreed belatedly, "just keep it honest. Don't lie to him, and don't try to act a certain way to manipulate him. Be genuine, and he'll be more comfortable opening up to you."

 

Steve took a breath. He could do this.

 


 

Steve couldn't do this.

 

"You're gonna be fine. You've got this!" Nat encouraged after helping him get ready Saturday night, handing him his coat and smoothing down his shirt. "I've interrogated lots of guys. A few girls too," she smirked, and yah, Steve had once seen her get the combination to a safe by almost twisting some guy's ear off. Her methods were tried, tested, and true. "I've taught you everything I know. You have your mission and you won't fail. You regularly jump out of planes without a parachute," she pointed out. "You can handle this."  

 

Steve grinned, warmed through by her total confidence in him.

 

Steve grabbed his bouquet, mixed wildflowers that he had gotten at the farmer's market that morning, and was out the door before he could overthink anything else, his calculator watch cheering him on from the safety of the dresser.

 

Chapter Text

 

It turned out that tip #3 hadn't really been necessary to point out, because for some reason Steve's entire body betrayed him the moment Bucky opened the door to his apartment.

 

Upon arriving at the red brick building matching the address Bucky had provided, Steve discovered Bucky actually lived above the bakery he had bought the delicious rainbow cupcakes from. Steve recognized the unique logo, a Russian fairytale-style fox eating what looked to be a bun above the red cursive swoop of the name, Kolobok Bakery. It was a neat little place, the illustration and font interesting yet traditional, but thankfully not in that creepy way that old Grimm stories tended to be. It had a classic yet slightly curious quality to it, and while Steve hadn't given much thought to where Bucky lived, above a place like this seemed like a perfect fit.  

 

Look at him, already gathering intel. Natasha would be so proud.

 

Steve was escorted up the steps by the smell of delicious baked goods, the yeasty scent of warm bread making his mouth water slightly, but all that excess saliva dried up the instant Steve knocked and Bucky answered the door.

 

When asked, Steve had told him to dress comfortably but somewhat nicely, and Bucky had apparently taken that advice to heart. He was in a long sleeved knit sweater comprised of zig-zagging stripes in mixed shades of deep, rusty orange, a navy blue tone trimming the collar and adding diamonds and dashes into the pattern of the material. He had a soft looking pair of dark grey slacks on to complete the outfit, and while the whole thing together should have looked ridiculous, it did not.

 

It did not at all.

 

"I… You. Are." Steve swallowed. "Beautiful."

 

Bucky's cheeks turned a soft pink then as he tucked his hair behind one ear almost bashfully, the dark locks hanging free down to his chin and looking oh so smooth and shiny today. It was a decided contrast from the stubble that still graced his cheeks and chin, and Steve wanted to reach out and touch, to let his fingers whisper through that silky softness and rasp over Bucky's ever present 5 o'clock shadow, before replacing his fingers with his own cheek, his lips, to note the change in sensation in all possible ways.

 

Steve almost tipped over when Bucky reached out to feather his fingertips down the length of Steve's bicep and arm, his bashfulness being replaced with that sexy smirk Steve was so familiar with these days.

 

"Hello, Steve," he greeted, like a civilized person. Steve was still busy trying to coax his tongue to unstick from the roof of his mouth. "You look very lovely as well. I like the cashmere," he complimented, his fingers playing gently through the material of Steve's own sweater.

 

"Soft." Steve replied, slightly nonsensically. He had reverted to one word sentences apparently.

 

The look on Bucky's face was nothing short of precious though, as Steve stood there like an idiot, so he supposed he hadn't minded too much.

 

"Are those for me?" Bucky questioned, thankfully moving the conversation along since Steve was still attempting to move up at least one more notch on the evolutionary scale. He had been mildly ok with his caveman status, but that bodily contact had slipped him back down to tadpole levels, similar to when Bucky had kissed his cheek earlier in the week. (Steve had had to stop trying to analyze that particular moment because it just hurt his brain in the end, like one of those magic eye images where he couldn't see what the hidden picture was. He did admittedly replay it in his mind quite regularly still, but only to see if he had missed any crucial clues, of course. He had made very little progress so far. He would have to keep trying.)

 

Steve nodded and stuck his flower-holding hand out, his face falling when he realized what he had done. "Oh." As his white knuckled grip released the blooms all the stems flopped over, the flowers no longer able to stand upright. Steve had broken them all in his death grip of hatred. Fuck.

 

Bucky accepted the flowers as if he had just won the Miss America crown, gracefully and beautifully, sticking his nose into them and inhaling like some sort of Bambi-esque forest sprite.

 

"Thank you Steve, they're perfect," he smiled softly, his eyes crinkling slightly at the corners. Steve couldn't look away. "Let's get these in some water, hmm?" he suggested, completely ignoring the destruction Steve had rained down on them.

 

He grabbed Steve's hand and hauled him into the apartment, guiding him to a stool at the small kitchen breakfast bar before he began pulling things out of cupboards. A round, low glass vase was soon being filled up with water and then the flowers, Bucky expertly trimming the stems with a pair of kitchen shears above the breaks so they sat low in the shallow vase. Bucky worked in silence and Steve didn't offer anything in the way of conversation, but the quiet was surprisingly comfortable. Steve was able to look his fill at both Bucky and his home, which was decidedly masculine but warm. There was a wall to wall bookcase lined with both books and knick-knacks, tchotchkes, as Steve's mom would have said, and they were mixed in amongst the books in an eclectic fashion, the titles around them varying by both language and topic. The black leather sofa was softened by the faux-fur throw draped over it, and the exposed brick accent walls didn't seem harsh thanks to the soft lighting being cast around in warm shades by accent and floor lamps.

 

It was slightly rugged but cozy, and Steve was instantly endeared by it. It fit Bucky just as well as the bakery downstairs had, that sense that everything here was placed just so according to his preference. Steve didn't have a hard time believing the space had adapted to the man, though, rather than the other way around.

 

It was only fitting the world would bend to please Bucky.

 

Steve had excellent taste in enemies, after all.

 

The enemy in question was just placing the last bloom in the vase, his craftsmanship having created a low dome of flowers that looked modern yet rustic, matching the space perfectly. Once again, world-bending.

 

Bucky had obviously caught Steve staring, as the crinkles around his eyes only deepened when Steve finally met his gaze, but he didn't seem put off by it, only tossing the cut ends into a green bin under the sink (Bucky composted; more important intel) before washing his hands and drying them with a kitchen towel. The towel had roosters on it. (Important? Possibly.)

 

"Let me grab my coat and we'll go," Bucky smiled, heading for the bedroom.

 

Not wanting to forget anything, Steve pulled out his little notebook and pen, hastily scrawling a note for his future self while Bucky was out of sight.

 

He stared down at the words he had written in serious thought.

 

Bucky likes cocks?

 

Hopefully by the end of the night Steve would be able to find out.

 

Chapter Text

 

The restaurant was small and cozy, each booth separated from one another by little sliding door partitions. The level of privacy it provided was great, the intimate, almost romantic setting meaning that any conversation that filtered through to them was murmured at best. It was an ideal location for Steve to start in with his line of questioning. (The subtle background music and candles were a nice touch, too. Aesthetically pleasing, these things.)

 

Steve poked a piece of bread into the cheese pot as he considered how to start. They had already gotten basic pleasantries out of the way on the drive over, talking about their weeks and the weather, the last Bingo game, surface stuff, and now felt like the time to dive in to more advanced conversation.

 

He glanced up to see Bucky currently chasing a piece of chicken around the broth pot, his pink tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth as he concentrated on wielding his skewer.

 

Steve had chosen a fondue place for a number of reasons; the aforementioned privacy of course, but also because it would give him something to do with his hands, a way to keep his recently developed fidgeting to a minimum. Also, it was fun and fucking delicious, two decidedly positive bonuses to this information gathering undertaking.

 

Speaking of which, time to get started. Steve licked his lips, mentally coaching himself. Be smooth. Casual.

 

"So I don't believe I even know what you do for a living," he eased in. (It was too soon for troll questions. He had to pace himself.)

 

Bucky had successfully snagged his runaway chicken and was munching away happily now with his eyes half closed, looking all cute and content.

 

Diabolical, really.

 

He acknowledged Steve's question with a nod and then swallowed, taking a small sip of water before speaking. He had impeccable table manners.

 

"I own the Kolobok Bakery," he grinned, obviously enjoying Steve's startled expression at the news.

 

"You made those cupcakes?" Steve questioned, incredulous.

 

Bucky nodded again, pleased as punch. "It is a bread bakery, so we do not sell desserts like cakes or cookies, but that does not mean I am incapable of making them. I just prefer breads. I am known to bake a cupcake or two for special occasions though."

 

"Wow," Steve sat back, feeling more dazed than that time Clint had accidentally set off a flash grenade directly beside him. "What exactly is a Kolobok anyway?" he asked, genuinely curious.

 

"Kolobok is a round piece of dough from a Russian fairy tale, similar to what your gingerbread man would be here," he explained. "In the story, Kolobok rolls away from the windowsill he has been set on to rise. On his journey he meets many forest creatures who try to eat him, but he is cunning and escapes each time. There is a little tune he sings then, much like the gingerbread man song." Bucky rolled his wrist, a you know motion, and Steve nodded, because he did. "In the end he meets a clever fox, who distracts Kolobok by praising his singing. He is able to lure him onto his snout with flattery, and then he eats him. It is a lesson in ego," he summarized with a small smile.

 

Steve grinned, leaning back in his seat as he considered Bucky's swagger, his confidence, his style. Steve quirked an eyebrow, playfully. "Do you really think you've learned from it?"

 

Bucky laughed, loud and bright. "It depends, I suppose," he mused, casting an appraising look towards Steve, "on who the fox would be in that scenario, and who would be getting devoured."

 

Steve fumbled for his water glass, taking a large gulp as he felt his face flush with Bucky's words. They had obviously just turned the heat up in here or something, because Bucky was talking about bread dough and children's stories and nothing else, but Steve felt like he had a fever suddenly, a thought-to-be-impossible feat thanks to the serum. He hadn't been sick in over 70 years! What timing, today of all days, for it to fail him!

 

Bucky looked decidedly unaffected, relaxing back into his seat in that lazy looking I'm too cool for this planet way he had about him. All his school teachers had probably hated him, a teenage Bucky slouching in the back of the class in a leather jacket and torn jeans, probably carving something obscene into the desk with a switchblade. The mental image was too clear to be untrue, and Steve suddenly needed to know he was right about it.

 

"So did you get in trouble a lot growing up?"

 

Bucky raised his eyebrows in surprise at Steve's sudden change in topic, but then grinned wickedly, Steve already knowing the answer was a resounding yes.

 

"Oh Stevie," Bucky twirled his metal skewer between his fingers, "you have no idea."

 


 

As Steve walked Bucky back to his door two hours later, Steve felt the first tug of conflict to rise within him.

 

Bucky was… actually pretty ok. In a maybe I don't want you to die in a fire anymore kind of way, though, not like an ok ok, kind of way. Like if Bucky's car was stalled at the side of the road Steve still wouldn't stop to help, but he also would no longer swerve to try to hit him either. That kind of ok. Yeah.

 

After an evening of swapping stories about back alley fights and childhood hijinks, Steve had gotten the distinct impression that he and Bucky, maybe, twist-his-arm even probably, would have been friends if they had grown up together.

 

Bucky had grown up in Russia, and had discovered his sexuality right around the time he had hit puberty. He had quickly learned to take no shit from anyone, unwilling as he was to hide his true self, and had gotten a few broken noses over the years before he bulked up and learned to defend himself, refusing to back down or run away when people accosted him for being gay. His family had eventually moved to the States when he was a young teen in the hopes that they wouldn't have to worry about such intense discrimination, but it was hard to take the fire out of the boy once the kindling had been lit. Bucky had continued scrapping his way through the world, no longer in defense of himself now, but in the aid of others, getting detention more times than he could count for sticking up for the greater good.

 

It was a familiar story, and Steve felt a little smitten by the end of it. Smitten in the way that warriors are like, impressed by other warriors though. That kind of smitten.

 

"I had the skills and the body for fighting by then," Bucky had admitted of his time in high school. " What was I going to do, just stand back and watch after that?" He had shaken his head. "That's just as bad as committing the crime myself."

 

Steve may have fallen a little bit in love after that. (Again, in a warrior way.)

 

His head was positively swamped with new information and emotion by the end of the night, and because of this Steve was decidedly distracted by the time they reached Bucky's door.

 

"I had a really great time tonight, Steve," Bucky smiled quietly as he put his key in the lock. "Would you like to come in for a cup of coffee, or something to drink?"

 

"I'm not thirsty," Steve answered. He had had three glasses of water at dinner, so adding a coffee would be over the top at this point. "But thank you."

 

Bucky let out an odd little laugh, rolling his eyes before pulling Steve into a hug. "ты идиот," he whispered softly into Steve's ear, and Steve blinked cluelessly at the unknown meaning of the unfamiliar sounds. (Perhaps he should learn Russian to be better equipped to communicate with his enemy.)

 

"Will I see you at Bingo this week?" Bucky asked once he had pulled away. Steve's ten minute fever from before had long since passed, and now he felt curiously cold as Bucky's heat vanished from where Steve had unconsciously tightened his arms around him.

 

"Yeah, yes. Yes. Bingo." Steve nodded. "I will see you then."  

 

Bucky's smile was sweet and soft as he leaned in, pecked Steve on the cheek, (it made Steve's cheek all happy-tingly) and then turned to open his door. "You can call me or text me before then too, if you want."

 

Steve didn't know why in the world he would want to do that, but he decided to be agreeable anyway. Natasha had told him to be nice, after all. "Yeah, yeah ok. Same with you."

 

Bucky looked like he had just been given a precious gift, which was ridiculous, because Steve did not give gifts to people he hated (HOW many times did he need to say it??) but the smile fit well on Bucky's face, so Steve let it go.

 

"Goodnight Steve," Bucky wished as he started closing the door from the inside.

 

"'Night Buck," Steve replied back. He felt a little light-headed now too. Maybe all that water was affecting him.

 

Bucky gave him one last grin and then closed the door with a soft click.

 

Steve made his way back down the steps and returned to the cool night air, sticking his hands in his pockets to stave off the chill as he walked back to his car. His fingers brushed his notebook and he stopped with a jerk, cursing himself as he pulled it out to review it.

 

Steve had gotten so caught up in talking to Bucky he had entirely forgotten to ask about the trolls.

 

What a failure.

 

He couldn't trust Bucky to give a straight answer through text about such an important topic, so really, based on this new development, Steve had no choice.

 

He pulled out his phone and sent off a text to Bucky, thanks to the now invaluable permission he had just been given.

 

Can I see you again soon? He typed, his phone making a little swish sound as the message was whisked away.

 

Perhaps he could still ask one question too, a lesser caliber question, to at least feel some semblance of success tonight.

 

Also, do you like cocks?

 

It only took a minute for his phone to chime, and he opened Bucky's reply eagerly.

 

Yes to both ;)

 

Steve grinned all the way home.

 

Mission complete.

 

Chapter Text

 

"I need your help."

 

Natasha squinted in the light of the hallway, her eyes still adjusting from the darkness of her bedroom. Although she would never admit her age to anyone, she could confirm she was indeed getting to old for this particular brand of shit.

 

Steve, now finished frantically knocking, was currently pacing up and down the corridor, the put-together appearance of his suit ruined by the chaos that was his once neatly styled hair. He kept running his fingers through it, the move obviously anxiety based.

 

"It's literally the middle of the night, Steve," Natasha felt the need to point out, "so this better be worth it."

 

"It is, it is!" Steve defended. "This is actual, enemy related business. In fact, I think we should call the whole team in. I need backup."

 

Natasha felt herself become instantly more alert, already turning back into her room to grab her tac gear. "Friday, assemble the Avengers please, common room, five minutes."

 

"Avengers are assembling," Friday confirmed as Natasha heard her own phone chirp on her nightstand with the alert.

 

She suited up quickly and followed Steve to the common room, the Captain obviously not in a rush to put his own stealth gear on. Not a physical threat then. Maybe intelligence related?

 

Four minutes and forty five seconds later a majority of the team had gathered, Thor arriving last and fifteen seconds late with a shrug. "I'm not extremely late," he defended, "I was off planet! That has to count for something!"

 

"Can we focus?" Natasha brought the group back around. "Steve has threat to share with us."

 

"Not a threat, necessarily," Steve cut in, "more like an unsolvable problem. I don't know what to do."

 

"Lay it on us Cap," Clint visibly braced himself.

 

"I have just concluded my sixth interrogation session with a target, and I am still not getting the information I need!" Steve cried dramatically, throwing his hands in the air in defeat.

 

Natasha took in Steve's nice suit, the light smell of his aftershave, and noted the watch on his wrist. Analogue. This was intelligence related. Steve's lack of intelligence, specifically. "Please don't tell me-" she started.

 

"What happens when you try to interrogate them?" Thor interrupted.

 

"And why isn't it working?" Tony looked interested.

 

"What kind of threat are they posing? Global scale or individual?" Sam asked.

 

"Individual, and it's like some sort of biochemical reaction happens," Steve answered the questions rapid-fire. "It's like the serum stops working or something; I experience increased heart rate and body temperature. Sometimes I feel lightheaded, or my stomach will feel off. I get distracted easily and my train of thought will get lost, and by the end of the night I won't even have asked the questions I need answers to."

 

"Is it worse when the person in question comes into contact with you?" Bruce had his glasses on and was punching symptoms into his tablet as Steve nodded in confirmation.

 

"It's way worse when we touch. I feel like I can't breathe sometimes, or like my heart will just stop for a second."

 

Bruce shot an alarmed look at Tony, who was frowning back at him. "Could be some sort of chemical weapon deployed as a skin transfer," he guessed, "but I'm not aware of anyone manufacturing that type of tech. Could your mark be alien?"

 

Steve shook his head. "Definitely human."

 

Clint was perched in the corner still, uncharacteristically quiet as his head swivelled from Natasha to Steve, then back to Natasha.

 

Natasha rubbed her hands over her eyes. Jesus fucking Christ. "Steve, is your target James Barnes?"

 

"Yes," Steve sounded relieved, like finally someone was going to understand his plight.

 

"And have you been enjoying these interrogation sessions?"

 

Steve got all moon-eyed, his panic turning into that dopey lovesick expression he was almost constantly sporting these days. "Maybe." Steve scuffed his shoe across the floor.

 

Natasha sighed. Typical.

 

"Forget the biochemical angle, that's not it," she waved her hand in Bruce and Tony's direction. "I have a solution, and Steve is right, it will need to be a team effort. All hands on deck."

 

Six sets of eyes locked on to Natasha as she effortlessly decided to solve all of Steve's problems. Frankly, Steve was lucky to have her. He would never get laid in this century without her help. "We need a group interrogation. A.K.A, a movie night.”

 


 

Steve wiped his clammy palms off on his pants, took a breath, and pulled open the door to the Kolobok Bakery.

 

"Hey Steve!" Darcy, Bucky's front of house manager, grinned from behind the counter. "He's in the back, go right through!"

  

"Thanks," Steve smiled as he slipped around the counter, heading for the kitchen at the rear of the building. Steve had been here once before, picking Bucky up for a lunch break interrogation, and had gotten a tour of the place and an introduction to Darcy at that time. He had also gotten a loaf of the best sourdough bread he had ever tasted, not even offering a slice to the other Avengers before eating it all himself. (It was that good.)

 

Steve could already feel the heat radiating from the kitchen's ovens before he even pushed through the door, and opening it felt like an explosion of warmth across his skin as he entered the bright space, the room almost thick with heat.

 

Bucky was standing at the stainless steel counter in the middle of the room, the metal surface dividing the space between the pantry and the large floor to ceiling ovens. He was in one of those tight men’s tank tops (a racerback, a regretful hot yoga session with Nat provided) and the cut of the garment left his shoulders and a good portion of his clavicle exposed. His tanned skin was dewy with a light sheen of sweat as he pressed and pounded a large ball of dough into the counter’s surface, his biceps bunching up with each movement, and Steve followed the trail of his arms up to his broad shoulders, his neck, the sharp line of his jaw, over to his cleft chin where a small dusting of flour was caught in his ever-present stubble. Bucky’s dark brown hair was up in a messy bun today, keeping the heat off his neck, but a few pieces stuck out randomly, clinging to his damp temples and forehead in a way that really only Bucky could make look good.

 

As Steve stared, Bucky kneaded the dough down onto the counter with a low grunt, and Steve spun on his heel, suddenly needed… not here.

 

Unfortunately his quick spin kicked a broom that had been propped up against the wall beside the door, and as it clattered noisily to the ground Bucky’s head shoot up. Steve was officially SOL, escape-wise.

 

“You’re busy!” Steve squeaked, and since when was his voice ever that high? Was that how he always sounded? It was very high. “I can come back. You have…” Steve flapped his arms around. “Things. Happening. To me. You. I mean. You have things happening to you. Baking bread. And I will come back later.”

 

“Steve.” Bucky’s smooth voice stopped Steve’s malfunctioning body in its tracks, Steve frozen, bent halfway over, to pick up the broom before hightailing it out of there. He finally got himself together and righted it, settling it against the wall with an intense amount of concentration and then turned to face Bucky like the brave soldier he was. Bucky had wiped his hands off and come closer while Steve had been having his broom moment, and he was even more of a sight up close.

 

“It is very good to see you,” Bucky smiled, bright and beautiful from only a breath away, before leaning in and giving Steve a lingering kiss on the cheek.

 

Bucky had been kissing his cheek a lot lately, and Steve had thought that that was more of a French greeting than a Russian one, but honestly, who really had time to Google these things anyway, Steve was Captain America, he didn’t have time for that, so it was probably just best that he kept accepting the kisses as a social nicety in what was probably a very culturally normal and regular cool thing over in Russia.

 

Steve was a proud American, and he was raised right on Sarah Rogers Hugs, so he had started reciprocating in this cultural exchange too, hugging Bucky tight every time Bucky pressed a kiss to his cheek, as he did now. Bucky seemed to appreciate this, as he always leaned into Steve when they hugged, sticking the tip of his nose into Steve’s neck. It was very ...cultural, and, ask anyone and they’d tell you, Steve loved culture.

 

The problem was, usually Bucky had on more clothing, like a buttery smooth leather jacket or a worn in t-shirt or something, something that covered some of the skin that was decidedly uncovered now, all warm and soft and ripe with muscles when Steve’s hands touched it as part of the cultural exchange. Just last week Bucky had worn a suit to interrogation #6 when they tried that fancy new Italian place a few blocks over, and it had covered almost all his skin below the neck, but it had still somehow left almost nothing to the imagination. Steve had thought it couldn’t really get any worse than that, but it had, it had, because less clothing was decidedly worse. He had seen the proof himself now and had just made it official as the right honourable Mayor of Steve Town.

 

"I wanted to ask," Steve started, because he had to get this out, he had to, he Could. Not. Fail. "If you wanted to come over this weekend, to the tower, to meet the rest of the Avengers. We're doing movies and popcorn, and it's usually pretty fun…" Steve trailed off at Bucky's expression, which could best be described as that Puss and Boots face from that Shrek series Sam had made Steve watch a billion times because he was obsessed with it. (Steve liked the donkey/dragon  babies best personally.)

 

"You want me to meet your superhero family?" Bucky basically oozed joy and wonder at the thought. "This is a very big step," he commented, delighted. "I did not think we would get so far with you still being so unaware of what's happening."

 

"What?" Steve asked. He was picturing the donkey/dragon babies now. They were very cute!

 

"Exactly," Bucky agreed, to something, Steve didn't really know what. Was he coming to movie night?

 

"Are you coming to movie night?" Steve asked.

 

Bucky grinned. "Yes."

 

Chapter Text

 

Steve tossed another pair of sweatpants into the reject pile. The heather grey was too similar to the shirt he had already picked out. It would be too matchy-matchy.

 

"If you got the shirt in blue instead of grey, you could still get these sweatpants to go with it," Natasha chimed in helpfully from where she sat on the change room bench, tapping away at her phone and blowing the occasional gum bubble. "The shirt would bring out your eyes that way, too."

 

"Hmmm," Steve considered thoughtfully. So many choices. He had to make the right one.

 

"We need to get moving if you want to hit everywhere on your list," Natasha reminded him, not unkindly.

 

"Right, right," Steve nodded. "Blue shirt with grey pants it is."

 

Steve made the swap and they headed for the cash register, pulling out his itinerary on the way for reference. "After this is the confectionary, and then that home goods store for a new blanket."

 

"You're getting him a blanket?" Natasha lifted an eyebrow.

 

"What if he gets chilly?" Steve defended.

 

Natasha had a small smile playing on her lips. "Of course. What if?" She waved her arm in front of them as they left the store after Steve paid, his new lounge clothes successfully acquired. "Lead on Captain."

 

"So candy, then blankets, then home," Steve established as they got on the escalator.

 

Natasha nodded, leaning back against the railing. "Wanna make out on here for old time's sake?" She asked, her grin sharp.

 

"No, NO!" Steve swatted her away with a look of horror as she started pawing at him, eventually sprinting up the rest of the moving steps to get away from her.

 

"Steve, come back! I'm in love with you!" Natasha yelled across the crowded mall.

 

As helpful as Nat could be, Steve thought, he really should have picked Sam as a shopping buddy instead.

 


 

"Mr. Barnes in on his way up," Friday's gentle voice alerted everyone in the common room.

 

"This is your last chance to tell us what it is you're trying to get out of him," Sam reminded Steve, who was fidgeting beside the still-closed elevator doors. "We can help you more if you just explain things."

 

"That information is classified. Same goes for how we met, so don't bother to ask. Bucky has already been sworn to secrecy about that. Just be cool, like we talked about," Steve stressed, feeling ancy now. "Loosen him up and then I'll hit him with the hard questions later. Don't forget to keep your guard up, he's a tough opponent. And don't embarrass me!" He whisper-shouted as the doors dinged and Bucky stepped out.

 

Bucky had followed Steve's recommendation to dress comfortably and casually for the movie night, and was wearing a soft pair of sweatpants and a long sleeved shirt depicting a unicorn popping out of an an ice cream cone, the word 'unicone' scrawled underneath in pink glitter. His hair was shiny and a little wavy, the scrunchie on his wrist indicating it had been up at some point today, and as he toed his boots off, he revealed a pair of fuzzy black and yellow striped socks. Was he a Hufflepuff or a bee enthusiast?

 

Bucky must have caught Steve staring at his feet, as he answered the unasked question as he approached him.

 

"Hufflepuff," he murmured with a small smile as he leaned up to kiss Steve on the cheek. Steve wrapped his arms around Bucky's broad body, soaking in the feel of the man's solid shape against his own.

 

"Hey," Steve greeted quietly, his lips so close to Bucky with the hug they were almost grazing the shell of his ear.

 

"Hey Steve," Bucky replied quietly, pulling back far enough to showcase the luminous smile that had taken over his face.

 

Steve dropped his arms to end the hug eventually, moving one hand instead to the small of Bucky's back, guiding him forward towards the large couches further in the room where the rest of the Avengers were assembled.

 

"Hey guys," Steve started, "this is my mortal enemy, James Barnes."

 

Bucky gave a small wave with his scrunchie-clad arm. "Hello everyone, thank you for inviting me. And please, call me Bucky."

 

There was silence in the room, a few dropped jaws still hanging open as the team processed what they had just witnessed.

 

"Welp," Tony finally broke the silence, clapping his hands together once. "I need a drink. Who here needs a drink. I do."

 

It wasn't really said as a question so no one answered, silence reigning beyond the clink of Tony mixing something strong at the bar cart.

 

Thor had his eyes narrowed like he was trying to solve a complex quadratic equation in his head before he was evidently hit with inspiration, chuckling lowly as he got to his feet and approached Bucky for an enthusiastic handshake.

 

"I see what this is," he boasted cryptically, throwing an arm around Bucky's shoulders when the handshake concluded, like they were old friends suddenly reunited. "It is a pleasure to meet you Bucky. I must tell you, I have faced many a battle with your Steve at my back, and have never once feared I would be stabbed," he gushed as he lead Bucky towards the sofas.

 

That seemed to break the trance in the room and everyone snapped back to normal levels of animation, crowding around Bucky with introductions and accepting him into the fold without batting an eye. Bucky caught Steve's eye over the top of Bruce's head and grinned warmly before turning back to the group, something warm spreading through Steve's veins at the sight.

 

Clint was the only one still off to the side, blinking and staring at Bucky like he was some sort of apparition. "I… he's… beautiful," he whispered in an awed voice. "Did you see that smile? And those thighs, plus that accent. Oh my God, Steve," Clint turned to him, eyes wide. "He is making me feel things. I wanna touch his hair. I wanna take him home to meet my mom. Oh man." Clint blinked, startled with himself. "Am I gay? Is this what being gay feels like?"

 

"Shut up," Steve grumbled, crossing his arms. "You're being ridiculous."

 

"The only thing ridiculous here is that jawline," Clint waved a hand in Bucky's direction. "Look how wide his shoulders are," Clint pointed out, and yes, ok, they were admittedly very nice looking. "Does he have a six pack?" Clint asked rhetorically. "I bet he does."

 

Steve knew he did, from that time Bucky's shirt had ridden up a bit at Bingo, but he wasn't gonna tell Clint that. He was being too weird already.

 

"And those arms, fuck. He could give my arms a run for their money. And I have great arms!"

 

Bucky did have fucking fantastic arms, thick biceps and tanned skin with a light dusting of hair, hidden under the long sleeved shirt at the moment. Clint wished he could have arms that nice, Steve thought. Bucky's arms were the best.

 

"Do you think I should introduce myself?" Clint asked, looking a little pink in the face at the thought. "No, that would be silly. He wouldn't want to meet me. Look at him."

 

"Clint," Steve ground out in a warning tone as Bucky managed to finally break away from the main group, approaching Steve and Clint and sticking his hand out to the archer.

 

"Pleasure to meet you," Bucky greeted, and Clint giggled, fucking giggled, as they shook hands.

 

Clint didn't release Bucky's hand after two up and down pumps, the regulation amount of time needed for a handshake, in Steve's opinion, so Steve decided it would be best to intervene now.

 

"Ok, stop that," Steve slapped Clint's arm away (gently) (-ish), and wrapped an arm around Bucky's shoulders. "Go find your girlfriend, Clint."

 

"I have no need of a girlfriend anymore," Clint responded, as if it were a revelation. "I love men now."

 

"Clint!" Natasha called from the couch area, and Clint came to with a jerk, glancing over at the redhead with a startled expression.

 

"Coming dear!" He cried, jogging over to her.

 

"Your family is very odd," Bucky commented, watching Natasha pull Clint down beside her on the couch as the group argued over which movie to start with tonight. Sam's Shrek suggestion kept getting shot down, despite his best efforts.

 

"Don't I know it," Steve sighed.

 

Chapter Text

 

"Steve's on popcorn duty!" Tony called as Steve and Bucky made their way back over to the couch Steve had called dibs on earlier in the night. (It had built in cup holders and super squishy seats, inarguably making it the best seat in the house.)

 

"Nawww," Steve groaned, but it was true. It was his week for popcorn duty.

 

"Let Bucky get settled in with the gang. I'll help you, man," Sam, ever a true friend, offered.

 

Steve took a quick glance towards Bucky, who nodded almost imperceptibly, he would be ok alone, and then shot his best glare at the remaining Avengers in the room, an unspoken reminder to not throw Steve under the embarrassment bus as soon as he was out of sight. (His odds were 50/50 no matter what, but the glare would at least make him feel like he tried.)

 

"So Bucky seems like a really sweet guy. Like a punky little teddy bear or something," Sam, ever a traitor, commented as they began the popcorn popping process. Each Avenger could eat like, five pounds of the stuff, so they had to make a lot.

 

"He is not sweet. He is currently ruining my life, so I would suggest you take that back, and change your thinking patterns from here on out," Steve advised.

 

"...'Kay," Sam eventually said. "But even if he's keeping secrets from you, is that a real reason to hate him? The man is entitled to a few mysteries. What'd he ever do to you?"

 

"Lots of things! So many things, I can hardly remember them all!" Steve exclaimed, grabbing a pot from the cupboard to start making a caramel sauce. The kernels would be a while and Bucky had a sweet tooth. He would probably enjoy some homemade caramel corn, one of Steve's specialties.

 

"If I may, Captain," Friday chimed in, "I still possess all the audio files you have saved on one James Buchanan Barnes. Would you like me to refresh your memor-"

 

"NO!" Steve cried, as Sam simultaneously exclaimed "YES!"

 

"Friday, don't you dare play those recordings!" Steve shook his spatula threateningly at the ceiling.

 

"Understood Captain," the AI intoned, and Steve sighed in relief. "I will briefly summarize them instead. James Barnes has committed the following so-called 'offences' against Captain Rogers. Please keep in mind none of these activities are considered criminal in a court of law. 1. He was late to a scheduled event. 2. His buttocks and buttocks-related clothing has offended the Captain's sensibilities. 3. He-"

 

"STOP!" Steve yelled, taking his mounting frustration out on stirring his caramelizing sugar. It was coming out smooth as silk. At least this kitchen session hadn't been a total disaster.

 

"I mean," Steve tried to level his voice out, "please stop. Separate and broken down to bare bones, all of these reasons sound silly. But piled together and in reality, I can assure you, these are heinous acts."

 

Sam was frowning at him, his face looking all constipated. "Does Bucky like caramel?" He asked.

 

"He fucking loves it," Steve answered grumpily.

 

Sam's face softened minutely as he finally turned to start salting the freshly popped kernels. "You seeing any other enemies these days?"

 

"Nope," Steve huffed. "Bucky's the only one for me."

 

Sam clapped Steve on the shoulder. "Then I'm happy for you man. You should make sure Bucky knows that too. It would probably make him feel real good."

 

Steve was still feeling a little defensive, but Sam had proven himself to be a decent idea man in the past. Maybe he would let Bucky know.

 

Maybe it would make Bucky feel good.

 


 

"Nonononono NO!" Steve yelled as he came back into the couch zone, plunking down the popcorn bowls and rushing over to Bucky.

 

He was sandwiched in between Tony and Bruce on the couch, the photo album of Steve's first 12 months out of the ice, lovingly dubbed 'BB Steve's First Year,' spread open on their collective laps. (Bruce found scrapbooking to be very relaxing.)

 

Bruce had his little reading glasses perched on his nose, and was currently pointing at a picture of Steve's initial scrub down once he had been defrosted. His muscles had felt like jelly on that first day, and he hadn't even been able to lift his arms to bathe himself. The bubbles in the bath kept the photo from being completely indecent, but it still wasn't one of Steve's proudest moments.

 

"Oh Brucie, look. His first Christmas," Tony wiped a tear away, (real or pretend? Steve honestly couldn't tell) as he turned the page. "Remember we got him that bike? Boy, I'll never forget the look on his face when he saw it under the tree. He drove that thing everywhere the next summer. 'There goes Steve on his bike!' all the neighbour kids would say. Ahh memories." Tony finished with a faraway gaze and a sniffle, Bruce reaching over to pat him on the shoulder comfortingly.  

 

"It was a motorcycle," Steve stressed, "and I drove it everywhere because you wouldn't lend me a car."

 

No one was listening to him.

 

"Shall I tell another tale of Steve's prowess at warfare, or is it time to watch Pitch Perfect?" Thor asked.

 

"Shotgun on the seat next to Bucky!" Clint cried.

 

"NO!"  

 


 

"This is very good caramel corn," Bucky whispered from beside him.

 

Brittany Snow was just about to approach Anna Kendrick in the shower, a classic Pitch Perfect moment, but all Steve could focus on was the press of Bucky's arm where he leaned against him on the couch, and the ghost of his breath as he whispered in his ear.

 

"Thank you," Steve murmured back, internally delighted.

 

Bucky pressed a little closer.

 

"Are you cold?"

 

Bucky tilted his head a little, considering. "Just a bit."

 

YES Natasha, a fucking BLANKET! Steve secretly cheered as he pulled his recent purchase from where he had ever so casually draped it over the back of the couch.

 

Bucky made some sort of pleasure noise in his throat as Steve gently tucked it around them. It sounded very Russian and made Steve's toes tingle.

 

"It's very soft. Thank you Steve."

 

Steve felt goopier than a bowl full of caramel suddenly. "Any time Buck."

 


 

The Bellas were just about to have their 'come together' moment on the bus thanks to a Miley Cyrus song, and Steve knew it was time to strike.

 

"What are your trolls for?" He whispered, leaning into Bucky's side a little further.

 

"It's a count of the number of times I've seen Pitch Perfect," Bucky answered without taking his eyes off the screen. "You owe me another troll after this."

 

"That's a lie!" Steve whispered back fiercely.

 

"Maybe," Bucky conceded. "Or perhaps it's actually for the number of flashlights I own."

 

"You're saying this like I don't know it's a Pitch Perfect 2 song reference!" Steve whisper-yelled.

 

"Oh my god, shut up over there and let me hear this stupid song, or I will get Hannah Montana herself to come over and kick both your asses!" Tony yelled from one couch down.

 

"I can trade seats with Steve!" Clint suggested.

 

"NO!"

 

Chapter Text

 

Steve had long given up his line of questioning by the time Pitch Perfect 3 was halfway through, frustration giving way to sleepy comfort as he began to shift his focus to the steady warmth of Bucky pressing into his side on the couch.

 

The Russian's eyes were heavy lidded when they flicked over to Steve, who had been caught not-so-subtly staring. To be fair, Steve's commanding control of discretion went to shit after midnight; He was like the Cinderella of obviousness once the clock struck twelve.

 

"You ok?" Bucky questioned softly in the quiet of the room. The rest of the Avengers had filtered out sporadically some time ago, Natasha, one of the last to leave, sending Steve an indecipherable wink on her way out.

 

It was just the two of them now, the TV volume low, but Steve kept his voice down too, something funny in his chest unwilling to compromise this quiet moment. "I wanted you to know, I'm not seeing any other enemies right now. I mean," Steve's thoughts started to stutter as the light from the screen danced across Bucky's intent expression, making his eyes glow. "I am seeing enemies, on a global scale, like, for missions and things, but not, like, at home."

 

Bucky raised an eyebrow, as if waiting for Steve to continue. Steve had been hoping that Bucky would take pity on him and immediately bail him out of the word dumpster he had just wholeheartedly thrown himself into, but life was never so easy. He would have to persevere.

 

Steve licked his dry lips. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that you're the only consistent enemy in my life. And I was hoping to be the only one in yours too."

 

Bucky's eyes were brilliant and wide in the dim light of the room, his perfect smile shining just for Steve. "You mean you would like to be exclusive with me?"

 

"Yes," Steve admitted, digging deep for bravery. This was somehow the emotional equivalent of jumping out of a plane, except ten times worse, because the only thing that would break when a jump failed was bones.

 

The stress of anticipated rejection soon dispersed from his body though, as Bucky's face became even more luminous with the suggestion.

 

"I would love to, Steve," Bucky whispered, soft and sure.

 

Steve's heart thudded in his chest as Bucky leaned in close for his customary Russian kiss, but the poor lighting and late hour must have affected his depth perception, as he missed Steve's cheek and instead landed on Steve's lips, Steve's mouth opening in surprise at the contact. Bucky used the opportunity to delve into Steve's mouth, his tongue tasting and teasing Steve's own, and Steve felt a full body shudder of pleasure roll through him at the sensation.

 

Bucky pulled back a few extended moments later, peering intently at Steve's expression, his gaze searching and a little worried looking. "Was that ok?"

 

Steve had to blink a few times, knowing a lightning strike from Thor would be less discombobulating than what had just happened.

 

"Yes," Steve finally answered, Bucky's face easing significantly at the news, "very ok." It was too. Very, very, ok. More than ok. Stupendous, even.

 

"Good." Bucky's smile was quietly pleased, as if he was trying not to show the extent of his current emotions. He wiggled himself back into position beside Steve, pressing in even closer this time, and took Steve's hand over the blanket they were now sharing.

 

Bucky let out a satisfied little sigh as the movie rolled on, his hand warm and grounding in Steve's own, and yes, this was all much more than ok. There were a lot of things that Steve was willing to do all day, but kissing and snuggling and holding hands with Bucky? That absolutely topped the list.

 


 

Steve felt like he was walking with cloud shoes on as he made his way to the weekly Bingo game, his steps light with joyous anticipation.

 

He hadn't seen Bucky since the weekend movie night with the team, the Avengers having been needed in South America later in the week, but the following morning had consisted of pancakes and waffles and eight different syrup flavours as Bucky smiled brilliantly from across the table at him.

 

Steve had had a hard time keeping a smile off his own face as well, the image of waking up next to a sleeping Bucky on the couch the next morning blazing a trail through all his other thoughts to become the constant main event in his brain.

 

Seeing his face softened with sleep and comfort had done something funny to Steve's insides, something that didn't feel like an enemy feeling at all. Steve usually wanted to smack his opponents in the face with his shield, he had considered that morning as he lay trapped on the couch slightly underneath Bucky's sleeping form, but he didn't feel like doing that to Bucky at all. In fact, now that not-just-on-the-cheek kisses were an option, Steve had the strangest urge to do more of that. Like, a lot more. Kissing. And maybe... Other stuff.

 

Just the thought of all the possibilities made his heart beat funny and his hands get sweaty.

 

It was decidedly not enemy behaviour though, and Steve knew it would require some contemplation at a near date.

 

At the moment though, he had a Bingo game to get to. He just had to make one quick stop first.

 


 

Steve was, on rare occasions, perhaps not always 100% the best at being totally aware of certain situations. He was not oblivious, ok, he was just a very busy guy with a lot of metaphorical balls in the air at all times, and sometimes his laser sharp observation skills failed him, causing him to miss a small minute detail or two.

 

On this particular Wednesday though, Steve's skills were sharp. He had gotten a good sleep the night before, and gotten up to fit in a good, long workout and a hearty meal before heading out that afternoon. Despite the walking on air feeling he was carrying with him, he felt calm and focused, ready to face the world with all he had.

 

It was this keen sense of perception, a once in a lifetime chance of the sun and the moon aligning to give Steve Rogers a desperately needed moment of clarity, that allowed Steve to witness exactly what he did.

 

He had greeted Bucky in the Bingo hall with a kiss, blatantly ignoring the cooing audience of elderly Bingo players, because Steve had been thinking about kissing all week and would not be denied one now, before pulling back to present a pleased looking Bucky with a small wrapped gift.

 

"In case you weren't actually lying about the Pitch Perfect thing," Steve explained as Bucky unwrapped the troll doll Steve had bought him. This one was dressed like a little wizard with a shock of pink hair, and was kind of cute in it's own ugly-doll kind of way.

 

If Steve's processing power hadn't been running at a perfect ten today he would have missed it, but it was, so he didn't.

 

Bucky's eye fucking twitched.

 

"Thanks Steve," Bucky recovered smoothly, so smoothly , because there was almost nothing to recover from, but Steve had seen it, the slight fluttering of his left eye, a classic stress response.

 

Weeks of interrogation work had yielded less results in the Great American Troll Dilemma than the act of giving this simple gift had.

 

This was a lead, a goddamn breakthrough of epic proportions, and yet Steve remained outwardly unaffected, unwilling to blow it all now. "One more for the collection," he commented casually (but not at all casually because holy shit this was actually going somewhere!) as Bucky placed the wizard in his customary troll rainbow arching across the table. "Do you like it?"

 

"One more," Bucky agreed with a small chuckle and a grin. "It's great."

 

Steve was dialed in, observation skills off the charts, alarms blaring and red lights flashing as he took in the slight strain in Bucky's voice, the tightness around his eyes and the way his smile didn't quite reach them.

 

Bucky was fucking lying.

 

Because it turned out, Bucky Barnes didn't fucking like trolls.


Chapter Text

 

Steve had been through months, literal days upon days, weeks upon weeks of torturous curiosity, and now, at last, he had a clue, a first and significant step towards solving the greatest and most infuriating mystery of his life.

 

This clue was more than just a simple clue, much to Steve's immense pleasure. It was a secret too, and that made it invaluable, particularly because the secret-wielder didn't know Steve possessed it. That was what made it so important, so powerful, and Steve would be a fool to show his hand now, while holding a card of such importance.

 

It had been a practice in torture, Bucky smiling smugly from across restaurant tables and bowling lanes, evading questions left and right with his superior all-knowing attitude, and Steve was only one confrontation away from finally having his answer.

 

Weeks and weeks and weeks, all for this, his ace in the hole.

 

…But maybe Steve could stand to wait just a little longer.  

 

The answer wasn't going anywhere anytime soon.

 


  

"It reminded me of you!" Steve gushed as Bucky unwrapped his latest gift.

 

The gifted troll had a little black leather vest on and electric blue hair coiffed into a mohawk, the sides of its head dyed with rainbow streaks. It had a colourful plastic electric guitar strung around its neck, and for a moment Bucky looked like he wanted to wrap that guitar around Steve's own neck and strangle the life out of him.

 

Steve had never been happier.

 

This was the seventh troll Steve had given him in the past two weeks, after placing a bulk order on eBay and laughing maniacally for a full hour. His plan was coming along beautifully.

 

"Steve, I told you. You really shouldn't have," Bucky ground out, stuffing the toy into his bag. Bingo had just wrapped up for the day and they were walking back towards the bakery and Bucky’s apartment together, Bucky's stormy face at odds with the clear and sunny day.

 

"It was no trouble," Steve grinned. "I just can't help myself when I see them and know how much you love them. Do you love it?"

 

"Yes." Bucky's voice held all the enthusiasm of a mud puddle. It was delightful.

 

Steve turned his smile into a pout, a difficult task considering he was glowing inside. "I would really appreciate hearing you say you love it, Buck."

 

Bucky stopped dead on the sidewalk, meeting Steve's eyes with murder flashing in his own.

 

"I. Love. It." The words could hardly be heard through his clenched teeth, but Steve made them out.  

 

"Great!" Steve enthused, slinging an arm around Bucky's shoulders and pulling him back into motion. He pressed a kiss to his temple, and Bucky softened slightly under his arm, but the thunder and lightning of frustration were still rolling off him in waves.

 

Weeks and weeks Steve had waited as Bucky had towed him along, and now Bucky was already starting to crack at week two of Steve's own Operation Troll Frustration.

 

Steve knew he wouldn't be waiting much longer for his answer, based on today's reaction. He was done with begging, and Operation Troll Frustration was proving to be very effective. Its premise was simple but undeniably fruitful when it came to getting a result.

 

The plan?

 

Kill him with kindness.

 

And Steve had kindness in excess, in the form of thirty-five more gift-wrapped trolls at home.

 


 

The end came after another Bingo session two weeks later, Bucky holding strong through an impressive month of rage poorly disguised as joy, and an additional fifteen trolls added to his collection. (Steve hadn’t even needed half of his bulk eBay order. Such a shame.)

 

Number sixteen was evidently the straw that broke the camel's back, Steve slipping the latest troll onto the table where Bucky was packing up his cards before retreating to the washroom to linger around for a moment and avoid the inevitable tsunami of barely disguised eye-daggers the Russian would soon be throwing his way.

 

Steve did not expect to be followed, and even less expected to be suddenly pressed against the wall, absolute fury radiating from Bucky's body.

 

"Why are you doing this?" Bucky's voice was low and a step away from threatening, one hand fisted tightly in Steve's shirt collar to keep him pressed up against the bathroom wall. Steve could always move if he really wanted to, hell, he could pick Bucky up with one hand if he wanted to, but their bodies were pressed together snugly and Steve was getting hard in his pants watching Bucky panting and swearing at him, his muscles bunching up under his sinfully tight t-shirt as he held tight to Steve, his thick thighs pressing up against Steve's own, his erection brushing against Steve's through their jeans, and oh.

 

Maybe they weren't actually enemies after all.

 

"I'm in love with you!" Steve realized out loud.

 

Bucky rolled his eyes and then attacked Steve's mouth with his lips.

 


 

They emerged from the bathroom twenty minutes later holding hands, thankful that the Bingo crowd had cleared out by then, not because Steve was embarrassed of their new not-enemies relationship status, but because he was 90% sure he still had a bit of a cum stain on his t-shirt, and yah. That was not the image an American icon needed to be projecting at a senior's center.

 

Their table had unfortunately been cleared off too, their coats and Bucky's troll collection missing, and Bucky frowned all the way back to the tower, upset over their loss.

 

“I don’t like the trolls,” he finally admitted, rolling his eyes but having the decency to grin when Steve let out a victorious whoop of success. He had been right! “But they are a bit of a sentimental thing now,” Bucky continued. “I’ve had them for a long time.”

 

"I'm sure it all just got put in the lost and found," Steve reasoned, making Bucky brighten a bit. "We'll go back and check tomorrow."

 

Moods improved, it was a handsy elevator ride up to the living area of the tower, Steve anxious to get Bucky back to his room for round two, when a familiar voice stopped them in their tracks as the elevator doors slid open.

 

Ruth was sitting on one of the sofas in the main room, surrounded by Avengers, the cup of tea in her hand sloshing a bit as she gestured along with the story she was telling.

 

"...And thank goodness they finally got their heads out of their behinds! I thought poor James was going to have an aneurysm if Steven gave him one more troll!"

 

Heads swung towards them as they stepped into the room, Steve's eyes immediately going to Ruth's walker, parked off to the side, the attached wire basket full of their missing items, troll collection included.

 

Ahhh.

 

"Steve!" Sam rose from his spot beside Ruth, his eyes as wide as saucers and his grin rivaling the intensity of the sun as he approached. "Ruth was kind enough to bring your stuff back to the tower, and fill us in on your new favourite hobby!"

 

"How did you even get in here?" Steve questioned Ruth, not unkindly, evading the Bingo reveal as he and Bucky made their way over and took a seat on the couch across from her. (There would be time to rub his hobby victory in Sam's face later. That would show him!) 

 

Ruth was too busy beaming at the sight of their clasped hands to answer, so Tony did it for her. "She talked to Friday at the front door and convinced her to let her in. Friday had confirmed that Ruth had your coat, and we were worried something had happened to you."

 

"Don't fret," Ruth chimed in, setting down her tea and leaning across to pat Steve's and Bucky's knees simultaneously, "I didn't let them worry for you. I told them you were having coitus in the bathroom and were in no danger."

 

Sam let out a hacking cough-laugh at that, having to turn away from the group for a moment to compose himself. Natasha’s eyes were creased ever so slightly at the corners, while Clint was a little more obvious with his reaction, clutching at his chest dramatically despite having heard the news before. Tony and Bruce looked like their childhoods had just been ruined. Thor just looked proud.

 

"I just didn't want your belongings to get taken while you were busy," Ruth smiled.

 

“That was very kind of you, Ruth,” Bucky patted her hand right back. “We appreciate it.”

 

“Oh, well!” Ruth flustered, suddenly turning pink. “You’re very welcome, James! You’re a very good boy, and it was my pleasure.”

 

“If we are all finished with the pleasantries, can someone please tell me why our good friend J.B.B needs an Italian leather bag full of troll dolls to play Bingo?” Tony questioned, everyone turning their attention his way.

 

“Oh my god, please!” Steve begged. (He lied before, he was still gonna beg.) “I need to know, Buck!”

 

Bucky grinned at him, warm and pleased. “You’ve waited long enough,” he conceded, “and now that I have gotten a fair taste of my own medicine, it is time. I will tell you.”

 

Steve kissed him hard, ignoring the wolf whistles coming from the group. “Thank you.”

 


 

"When we moved here fifteen years ago none of my family spoke English very well, so we immediately tried to find a Russian community while we learned the language,” Bucky began, sitting on the couch beside Steve with his own cup of tea in hand now. “My babushka joined the knitting group and would bring me with her after school to keep me from getting into trouble on the streets." Bucky ran a hand absently through his hair, his expression wry but fond. "Back then, Bingo was held at the same time as knitting, just across the hall, and while she did her group I would sit in the Bingo sessions, because they called the numbers in both English and Russian in those days. They still do call in Russian every so often," he explained as an aside, "but since your Bingo group has joined us, we stick to English, because all of our current players are comfortable with both languages. Anyway," he continued, "I would sit in and try to memorize the numbers in English, and eventually some of the other players noticed me and had me play too. When my babushka found out I was playing, she insisted I get a good luck charm. She has always been superstitious and it was easier to give in than argue, so I bought a troll. One troll," he emphasized. "This troll, in fact." Bucky reached for his bag and fished around in it for a moment, pulling out the troll in question with a flourish. "He is a pumpkin."

 

"I see that," Steve affirmed. It was indeed a pumpkin troll with a mess of fluorescent green hair, its outfit a bright orange onesie with a jack-o-lantern face on the front. The onesie had a hood that could be pulled up, and the doll hair was currently pulled through a hole in the top. It was… a lot to take in, visually and conceptually.

 

"Why this troll?" Bruce, ever the researcher, asked.

 

"He is a pumpkin," Bucky repeated, as if that answered anything. Steve supposed in some ways, it did.

 

"Once I took the troll to Bingo with me," Bucky was now saying, "that was when the trouble began. I was at least fifty years younger than anyone else there, and I think they all saw me as their adopted grandson. They were all very kind to me and when my birthday or the holidays would come around, they would want to give me gifts. I would always refuse to tell them what I wanted, because they did not need to spend their money on me, so I suppose they had to take clues from what they knew about me. I got five trolls for my birthday the year I turned sixteen."

 

Steve raised his eyebrows. That was quite the gift for a troublemaking sixteen-year-old to receive.

 

"I do not like trolls," Bucky stated vehemently, "I like this troll," he waved the pumpkin-monster still in his hand, "and that is it. But I did like these people, and I did not want to insult them or their generosity. I would bring the trolls every week with my own troll, so they would know I was thankful. Because my collection had grown to six, people then assumed I really liked trolls, and would give me even more, which I would display, and so on and so on. It became a vicious cycle." Bucky let out a sigh, weary with the burden of troll ownership. "I have been playing Bingo for fifteen years now, and have been given over fifty trolls in that time, not including the ones Steve has now added to the collection."

 

"Jesus Christ," Sam murmured at the story. Steve just blinked. That was not the explanation Steve had been expecting, at all.

 

“So you’re not some wanted bad boy with warrants out all over the globe?” Steve finally asked, trying to wrap his head around things. “I really did think they were all your murder trophies or the number of hearts you’ve broken or something!” He exclaimed. “But you’re actually just too nice to let a bunch of gift-giving old people down!?”

 

“James is a very good boy,” Ruth repeated, looking pleased.

 

"Why the rainbow?" Steve suddenly had to know. "What does that mean?"

 

"Before I met you, Steve," Bucky met his eyes with a warm expression and a small smile, "my trolls had no pattern. The way I dumped them on the table the day we met? I had done that for every game prior to our meeting. I became... interested when you showed up, and wanted to make it known to you that I was gay. I would not have been so subtle about it if I had known then that you are so…"

 

"Oblivious!" Natasha supplied.

 

"Thick-skulled," Sam shook his head.

 

"Stupid!" Tony cried.

 

"Hey!" Steve pouted.

 

"Unobservant," Bucky finished with a gentle smile.

 

“Unobservant,” Steve scoffed. Yah, right. “Speaking of which,” he excitedly addressed the rest of the Avengers, “you guys will never guess what happened! It turns out, Bucky and I have been in love the whole time! And you guys were all trying to help me with interrogations! Ha!”

 

“Interrogations?” Bucky asked, perplexed, but Steve didn’t hear him.

 

He was too busy trying to fend off Natasha, who was suddenly attempting to forcefully attack him with a pillow for some unknown reason. There was real determination in her eyes. Steve was a little scared.

 

“Good boys.” Ruth sipped her tea.