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Schrödinger's Romance

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The Red Skull bar that Steve frequented was nothing like The Howling Commando. It was more open, and quieter, which gave Bucky the impression that Steve had the same aversion to big crowds that he did. Despite its menacing name, it had a softer atmosphere and didn't blare pop music loudly over the speakers, why the hell did he never come over to this side of town?

"So you're into your sports, huh?" He asked when he saw Steve's eyes glued to a TV screen in the corner, watching the football game it was showing intently.

"Are you not?" Bucky shook his head.

"My roommate gave up trying to spark my interest many months ago, I'll watch it if it's on but I don't really get some people's dedication to it."

"Huh. Thor and I have been friends since high school, so he kinda dragged me into it."

"Do people really call him that?"

"He's Norwegian, his real name's practically impossible to pronounce. It's kind of caught on with most of his friends now and they all go by crazy Norse names, his girlfriend insists we call her Sif now." Just the mention of her name brought back horrible memories of walking in on her and Clint together, and he couldn't hold back the shudder. "What?"

"Nothing." Bucky mumbled and Steve shrugged, carrying on from where he was interrupted.

"I don't know why she bothers with the nickname, their relationship's been on the rocks for a while. He's completely convinced she cheated on him before summer."

"That, uh... must be tough." Steve raised an eyebrow at him and he tried his best to keep a straight face, failing horribly.

"Did you sleep with her?"

"What? No, no I'm strictly into dick." He ignored Steve's unconvinced look and took a swig of his beer, hoping he'd let the subject drop. Instead Steve just moved on to a new, equally awkward subject.

"So what's the tattoo of?" Bucky glanced at his arm, where the tattoo was just about visible underneath the sleeve of his t-shirt. He pushed the sleeve up briefly so Steve could see his whole shoulder and get a better look at the tattoo, a red star with metal-like lines across it, before pushing it back down and shrugging.

"It's a really stupid story. When I first left for college mom had this horrible fear that I was gonna become some punk druggie, so I kind of made it my mission to find new ways of horrifying her whenever I came home. She wouldn't speak to me for two days when I got my tongue pierced." Steve made a face and he smirked, sticking his tongue out so he could see the piercing was no more. "Eating was becoming an effort. Anyways, Clint was going out to get some more crazy shit added to his sleeve and I got this brilliant idea to get a tattoo to freak her out, this was just the first thing that popped into my head."

"How long did she ignore you for after that?"

"She just calmly informed me that if I ever did anything like that again, she would no longer welcome me into the household." Steve cracked up laughing, having to grab onto Bucky's arm to keep from falling off the stool.

"She sounds great."

"You don't know her like I do. I mean, don't get me wrong, she looks after you when you need her to, but set a toe out of line and not even god himself can save you." Steve grinned at him and they both fell silent for a few minutes. "Okay, so do you wanna get some food? I'm starved."

"I'm literally on the edge of broke. I keep taking Peggy places and forgetting that these things cost actual money, and that I need money to live."

"Damn."

"We can go back to mine and I can cook something if you want?"

"Aw that's sweet of you, Stevie." Bucky teased, nudging at Steve's arm and smirking. They both headed out of the bar and into Bucky's car, arguing for the entire drive about whether or not Bucky should cook for him in return at some point. Bucky eventually won the argument, although he made sure to let Steve know he wasn't that great at cooking, but Steve insisted he wasn't either and they both left it at that.
There was someone sat at a table in the kitchen when they got in, grumbling and complaining about one of his college assignments. He looked up as they came over, his eyes darting from Steve to Bucky and back again.

"The fuck is this dude?"

"Bucky."

"That's a stupid ass name. Wait... you're crazy library guy, right?"

"Is that my reputation here?" Bucky looked back over at Steve, who looked like he was trying to stifle a laugh.

"This is Sam, who I have the joy of sharing a room with." Sam collected his stuff together and stood up.

"Yeah, a room that is off limits until I get this damn work done, seeing as you so rudely intruded on me here."

"It's a kitchen, Sam."

"I like to be surrounded by food, it helps me think." He shrugged, pushing past them and heading down the hall.

"Really? Am I really just the crazy library guy around here?"

"I did meet you in a library, and you are slightly nuts, so I think it fits."

"Yeah I can't really argue with that."

Steve was a dirty, filthy, rotten liar. He was not a terrible cook, hell, Bucky had eaten in five star restaurants where the food wasn't as good as this. Where the fuck had he been eating to think he was a bad cook, because, god damn, Bucky needed to go there. He'd actually had to take a few minutes to recollect himself after the first mouthful because, oh my god, it tasted of food! The chicken actually tasted of chicken. Bucky had forgotten such a thing existed.

"Are you okay?" He looked up and saw Steve staring at him with concern written all over his face. "You look like you're gonna cry."

"These are happy tears."

"It's sautéed chicken, not liquid gold."

"No, but... but you said you were a bad cook."

"My aunt made it better."

"Steve, we gotta bring her back." Steve chuckled and Bucky went back to cramming as much food into his fat face as possible.
He was just about ready to call it quits when he felt eyes burning into the back of his head and turned around to see a brunet in sunglasses staring at him, it only took him a few minutes to recognise him.

"Scott."

"Bucky."

"It's uh... nice to see you."

"Yeah."

"Yeah, we had some good times."

"I fucked you in a bathroom and you told me never to speak to you again."

"Yeah, good times." Scott shook his head and walked back out of the room, muttering to himself. When Bucky turned back around he saw Steve looking at him. "What?"

"Is that how you treat all your hook-ups?"

"He wears sunglasses inside and yet you're siding with him?" They both stared at each other for a few minutes before dissolving into laughter, which was actually pretty painful after the amount of food Bucky had consumed.

He ended up having to stay another hour purely because he'd eaten so much it hurt to move. Despite this, he managed to convince Steve to let him take some leftovers home just so he could see Clint's expression when he tried some.
The force with which he threw the apartment door open when he got back was enough to make Clint jump out of his skin and fall out of his chair.

"What are you so excited about?"

"Eat this food right now."

"What's in it?"

"Joy."

"Have you poisoned it?"

"Clint Barton, put this in your mouth right now or you will regret it for as long as you live."

"That is something I never expected you to say to me."

"Don't lie, I know you dream about it." Clint gagged and Bucky cracked up laughing, shoving the box in his face. "Now c'mon, taste it." Cautiously, Clint took the box out of his hands and Bucky went to sit down on the couch.

"Oh my god. Bucky, oh my god."

"Right?"

"Where did you get this?"

"Steve made it."

"I'm evicting you. He's my new roommate."

"You've never even met him."

"I don't need to, this is all I need." Bucky grinned and stretched out, trying to get comfortable, while Clint continued to construct an elaborate plan about how they should kidnap Steve and force him to cook for them for the next year.

Bucky hated Halloween. He had no problem with people throwing huge parties, and he had no problem with his friends going to those parties. What he did have a problem with, was his friends insisting he come with them.
Clint had managed to get out of it this year by putting off his English essay until the very last minute, and was getting great entertainment out of talking about it for the entire day.

"You could at least dress up."

"I'm going dressed as an unenthusiastic party-goer."

"It's very convincing."

He had the exact same conversation with Natasha when she turned up at the apartment, dressed in the skimpiest nurse outfit he'd ever seen.

"Nat, was it even worth putting on clothes at all?"

"Halloween is the one time of year I can dress like a cheap whore and get away with it."

"What was that about cheap whores?" Clint asked, coming round the corner, making a weird squeaky noise, and walking away again. Bucky rolled his eyes and headed out with Nat, driving them both over to the co-op house that was throwing the party.
He could hear the music blaring before they even went inside and it was making his heart pound. The most people he could handle at a party was about 100, and he already knew there were more than that just living in the house. What was it about Halloween that made people throw such crazy parties? It wasn't even a proper holiday.

"Sometimes I think you like making me uncomfortable."

"This is therapy. We are tackling your fear of crowds head on."

"I don't have a fear of crowds, I have a fear of hundreds of crazy drunk people in stupid costumes being around me all night. How many people are there?"

"500 I think, my friend said they bought like 15 kegs."

"Oh holy hell."

"It'll be fun, you can find a cute guy for the night."

"I don't want a cute guy for the night."

"Bucky, you always want a cute guy for the night."

He shot her a look and she giggled, putting her arm around his waist as they walked through the door. Fuck, there were a lot of people.
Surprisingly, he managed to calm himself down and talk to people for a while, giving and receiving serious bedroom eyes from a blond guy who kept walking past him. It wasn't until an hour later that his worst nightmare was realised; he lost Nat. She told him she was going to get them both another drink and disappeared into a crowd, and after five minutes, when she still hadn't reappeared, he started panicking. He scanned the crowd around him a few times but couldn't see any sign of her, so he made the dumb decision to go looking for her.
There were too many people and it was almost impossible to move, he was starting to find it more and more difficult to breathe and started looking around for some kind of exit point, giving up on the hope of finding Natasha. At this point he was hardly paying any attention to where he was walking, and ended up smacking straight into someone.

"Bucky?" The familiar voice instantly relaxed the tightness in his chest and he looked up, breathing a sigh of relief.

"Steve." He breathed, fighting the urge to lean against him. Steve smirked.

"That's Captain to you." It took Bucky a few seconds to realise he was referring to the army uniform he was dressed in and he grinned, giving him a mock salute. He felt Steve put a hand on his shoulder, which helped bring his heartbeat back down to a somewhat normal pace. "You okay? You look a little dazed."

"Yeah, I'm fine... just not really a party person. You haven't seen a semi-naked nurse around anywhere have you? I seem to have misplaced her." Steve laughed and shook his head.

"What happened to being strictly into dick?"

"What? No, I don't mean like that! She's my friend, she was supposed to be getting me a drink but clearly she meant from a bar in another dimension because I can't find her anywhere." He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "She's probably gotten herself into a fight with someone, she's good at that."

"You think she needs some help?"

"Natasha? Please, the only person who'd need help is the one who got on the wrong side of her." He smirked but Steve didn't seem to be looking at him anymore.

"Do you know that guy?" Bucky glanced over his shoulder and saw the blond from earlier staring at him. Once they locked eyes the man started walking over, snaking his arm around Bucky's waist and pulling him away from Steve.

"Hey, pretty boy."

"Uh... hi." What was he doing? Why was he being awkward? This guy was hot, and clearly interested, what the hell was making him so hesitant? He glanced back at Steve, who was giving him a concerned look, and smirked. "I'll see you later."
The minute the words had left his mouth he found himself being yanked forcefully through the crowds and shoved into a bathroom. The blond let go of him briefly to snap the lock shut, before grabbing his hips and slamming him against the wall.

"You know, having my bones broken isn't on my list of kinks." He grunted, certain he was going to have bruises on his back the next day.

"You think I give a shit?" The man hissed, crashing their lips together and stopping Bucky from being able to protest any more. The blond bit down hard on his lip, forcing his mouth open, and he could taste the alcohol on the other guy's breath. Usually that wouldn't bother him, but everything about this guy was starting to turn Bucky's stomach. He pushed his face away to try and get his breath back but the other man had other ideas, and grabbed at his hair, trying to force him down. When Bucky resisted he growled. "It ain't gonna suck itself."
That did it. Bucky slammed his foot down on top of the other man's, shoving him away and unlocking the door. The crowds made it impossible to get out and he only made it a few metres before a hand was grabbing his shoulder and spinning him back around.

"Get the fuck away from me, you creep!" He yelled, shoving the man's hands off him. He went to move away but the blond was too quick for him, and the next thing he knew the back of his hand was smashing him across the face, dazing him for a few seconds. He barely registered the hand that appeared from behind him and hit the other man, or the arms that wrapped around his waist and pulled him back. It was only when he got outside and the cold air hit him that he came back to reality and realised Natasha was talking to him.

"Hey, hey, you're okay. Jesus, Bucky, I'm so sorry." She guided him over to the wall so he could lean against it and stroked his cheek where the man had hit him. He leant his head back against the wall and took a few deep breaths, his head was spinning and he wasn't sure if he was about to throw up or pass out. He only had to take another breath to know he was gonna throw up, and he just managed to push Nat out of the way so he didn't puke on her.
They both ended up sat on the pavement, with Natasha rubbing Bucky's back while he questioned whether there was anything left in his stomach to throw up.

"I bumped into my old high school friend and she wanted to catch up on everything I'd been doing. I should've come back and found you first."

"It's not your fault, Nat." He murmured, leaning his head on her shoulder.

"You didn't even want to come tonight."

" It's nothing to do with you, I just attract trouble."

"That I can agree with." She said softly, kissing the top of his head and squeezing his shoulder. "We should go back to my dorm, I can put on a movie and we can-"

"Nat, I just wanna go home."

"Let me drive you."

"You've been drinking all night."

"I'll call us a cab then."

"Nat-"

"I'm not letting you go home on your own, okay?" He nodded and she pulled her phone out of her bag, phoning for a taxi and then wrapping both her arms around him. "You're gonna be okay."
They sat in silence for the journey home, and when the taxi pulled up outside the apartment block Nat kissed his cheek and told him to look after himself. Forcing a smile, Bucky got out of the car and headed up the stairs slowly, trying to come up with a plausible story to tell Clint when he inevitably asked about the mark on his face.

"You're back early." He heard Clint call as he came through the door, tugging his jacket off and walking down the hall to the sitting room. Clint was sat at the desk with his head in his hands, staring at his laptop screen and, fortunately, not looking up when Bucky came in and sat in the armchair. "Tell me how shit it was so I feel better about missing it."

"So shit that even Nat left."

"Wow. And you're okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine."
He wasn't fine. His face was stinging and he could already feel his chest tightening again, he really didn't want this to happen. Pulling his knees up to his chest he desperately tried to think of something that could distract him, but everything led back to the same place.
He tried thinking of something normal, imagining sitting in the library with Natasha and Clint, and for a few minutes that was okay. But then his friends weren't his friends anymore, and the library wasn't the library, and he was back in the school locker room, being thrown onto the floor and punched and kicked until he was choking on blood.
So he changed tactics and started thinking about being at home with his parents, which settled his heart rate a little until his parents left, and suddenly Brock was there, shoving him into his bedroom and hissing into his ear that he should be grateful because he didn't deserve any of this, was too disgusting for anyone to love him.
He tried everything, went through every good memory he had, but all of them ended up warped and twisted and all he could think about was the man who'd hit him, and whether he could have followed him back, or if he'd followed Nat and now she was going to get hurt because of him. Because that was what always happened.
Everything was too hot... or too cold? He wasn't sure, but he could feel someone grabbing his shoulders and he pushed them back, realising too late that it was Clint he'd just shoved onto the floor. Bucky stared, horrified, as Clint picked himself back up and came over, putting his hands back on his shoulders.

"I... I didn't-"

"It's okay, Bucky, just breathe. You're okay." He tried to take a deep breath and realised he couldn't, his lungs were refusing to function and it felt his whole chest was about to collapse. He shook his head frantically at Clint, trying to tell him he couldn't breathe but not managing to get any words out. It felt like he was drowning, like something was stuck in his throat and cutting off his air, making him go dizzy. He could just about make out Clint's voice, but the sound was warped and sounded like he was underwater. "Bucky, it's me, you're okay just relax. You need to relax, nobody's gonna hurt you." Clint was rubbing his shoulders and he managed to take a few shaky breaths, leaning forward and letting Clint wrap his arms around him.
They sat like that for ten minutes while Bucky gradually got his breath back and stopped crying, although he didn't remember ever starting to. Eventually he got enough strength back to speak.

"Nat..."

"Nat?"

"She... she might be..."

"You want me to call her?" Bucky nodded and Clint let go of him, walking over to the desk and grabbing his phone before sitting back down on the floor in front of the armchair. He put Nat on speakerphone so Bucky could hear her, relaxing a lot more once he'd heard her voice and knew she was alright.

"Okay, so she told me to give you a kiss from her, but I'm not gonna do that. Don't take it personally." Clint smirked after he'd hung up, perching himself on the arm of the chair and putting an arm around Bucky's shoulder. "You okay now?"

"I think so."

"If I find the guy that hit you he's gonna wish he'd never been born."

"I didn't say anyone hit me."

"You have a giant bruise on your face and just had a full on panic attack, don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to put two and two together."

"I'm fine."

"I know you are, but he won't be. You want some coffee?" He nodded and Clint got up again, tossing him a blanket from under the couch before heading into the kitchen to start the coffee machine.
Bucky wrapped himself up in the blanket and curled up, leaning his head against the back of the armchair and trying to focus on keeping his breathing steady. He still felt shaky, and he was pretty sure if he tried to stand up anytime soon his legs would just give out underneath him, but he could breathe again, and he could hear Clint whistling to himself in the kitchen. Thankfully Clint knew how to react to his panic attacks now. The first couple of times they'd happened he was pretty sure Clint had ended up freaking out more than he was, but he was used to them now, although whether or not that was a good thing was another question.

"I don't understand how you can put so much sugar in your coffee and not puke." He said as he handed Bucky a mug, giving him an uncertain glance when he saw how much his hands were still shaking.

"It tastes like bitter disgustingness without it."

"That's how coffee is supposed to taste."

"It tastes like shit."

"Then why do you even bother drinking it?"

"You gonna question my coffee habits all night?" Clint smirked at him and walked over to the dishevelled pile of movies to find something to watch.

"Dude."

"What?"

"Have you been tainting my movies with your gay again?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." He looked up and saw Clint staring at him with a copy of Grease in his hand. "I don't know how that could have got there."

"Sure you don't, I'm putting it on."

"So you complain about it and now you want to watch it?"

"What could cheer you up more than the gayest film to ever gay?" Bucky shrugged and didn't argue when he put it on.
Clint spent the first half of the movie criticising it and laughing at the stupid phrases they used, and the second half loudly singing along to all the songs with Bucky joining in for duets after he had finished laughing at the fact that Clint somehow knew all the words. By the time it was finished Bucky was so tired he could hardly keep his eyes open, and he could only just make out the sound of Clint still humming songs to himself before he blacked out completely.

When he woke up he was still in the armchair and could hear the sound of movement behind him.

"I have to go to work, you want me to bring your car back afterwards?" He looked up and saw Clint standing front of him, wearing the ridiculous purple shirt he had for his job at the department store, with a huge bird printed on the back.

"Yeah, keys are in my jacket. Have fun, budgie boy."

"It's a hawk, asshole." He muttered, fishing the keys out of the jacket that Bucky had left on the back of the couch and heading out the door, leaving Bucky to wriggle around on the armchair and work out if it was worth trying to get more sleep. His phone buzzed on his stomach and he took that as a sign he should just accept that he was awake, unlocking his phone and smiling when he saw the message was from Steve, although he wasn't sure why.

Hey, tried to find you again last night after what happened. You okay?

Fuck. He'd seen it happen. So much for his badass reputation... although that had been trashed pretty much from the moment they'd met.

Yeah I'm fine, now you see why I'm not a party person.

His phone buzzed again almost instantly and he glanced down at it.

That happen a lot?

Just thinking about last night made him aware that his face was still stinging and he pushed himself out of the armchair, heading into the bathroom to see how bad it looked, although he was almost scared to look.
It felt worse than it looked, and all that was really visible was a faint purple bruise, but it was still enough to hit him with memories of the party and, shit, this could not happen again. He could already feel his chest tightening and he stumbled back over to where he'd left his phone, grabbing it and dialling his mom's number. She picked up almost instantly and he opened his mouth to speak but she got in too fast.

"James, it has been weeks since you've called and yet you manage to chose the exact moment I'm about to start cooking. How do you do it? Do you have cameras? Do you have a-"

"Ma, I can't breathe." There was a pause as she seemed to take in what he was saying, and then when she spoke again her voice was softer.

"Just take a deep breath, sweetheart. You're okay." He focused on her voice and took a few short breaths, smiling when he heard her tut at him. "That is not a deep breath, James."

"I'm sorry my breathing doesn't meet your approval."

"You okay now?"

"Yeah, I think so. I'll see you late-"

"Ooooooooh no you don't. Tell me what happened."

"Ma-"

"Jamie, tell me."

"How many times I gotta tell you to stop calling me that? It makes me sound like a 5 year old."

"Mmhmm, and Bucky makes you sound like a porn star."

"Jesus, ma."

"Now tell me what's wrong."

"Nothing, just some drunk guy at a party-"

"Did he hurt you?" Bucky didn't say anything, curling back up on the armchair and waiting for her inevitable sigh. "James-"

"I'm fine."

"A minute ago you couldn't breathe."

"Yeah that was... it's nothing. You should get back to.. whatever you were doing."

"I'm going nowhere, mister."

For almost 2 hours he listened to his mom chatter away about her day, which then turned into her talking about her week, which then turned into her talking about her entire month. Usually he'd interrupt at some point, but he was just glad she was distracting herself from the original subject, plus it really had been weeks since he'd spoken to her. At one point she tried to bring the conversation back around to his love life, which she seemed to be able to work into every conversation he had with her, but after ten minutes insisting he didn't have time to date anybody, he managed to distract her by telling her about Steve, which seemed to grab her interest despite her frustrated huff when he told her he wasn't going to ask him out any time soon. After expressing how much she loved him multiple times, and getting him to promise not to leave it a month before calling again, she eventually hung up. Leaving him lying across the armchair and wondering what the hell to do with himself for the rest of the day.