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Schrödinger's Romance

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Bucky knew it was early when he opened his eyes, but there was no way he was getting back to sleep again. His head was pounding and he groaned, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.

"Morning."

He whipped his head around, which he immediately regretted when it caused the ache in his head to intensify, and saw Steve sitting propped up against the headboard with his phone in his hand.
Bucky really, really wished that Steve had been right, and that last night had just been the drink, but when he saw him with his messy bed hair and sleepy smile he wanted nothing more than to curl up next to him and kiss his neck... or his cheek... or anything.. shit.

"You okay?"

"Huh? Yeah."

"Hangover?" Steve smirked and Bucky nodded, rubbing the front of his head and groaning. "On a scale of one to 'I can't move', how bad is it?"

"A solid 8."

"This is why you should count your drinks."

"Shut your mouth, Rogers."

Steve smiled at him and stretched an arm out for a hug. Bucky knew he should say no, that he should get up and get a drink or something, but he looked so warm and.. fuck it. He shuffled over and lay back, nestling his head against Steve's shoulder and letting him wrap his arm around him. It made him feel a little better and a little worse at the same time, and he wasn't entirely sure how that was possible.

"Steve?"

"Mm?"

"I'm really sorry about last night."

"Bucky-"

"I always get like that when I'm drunk. I apparently tried to get Nat into bed once, and I'm about as straight as a roundabout."

"Yeah, I get it."

"I just don't want you to think it was 'cause I-"

"I know, Bucky." Steve snapped, more harshly than Bucky had expected. He looked up and saw Steve frowning at him, but his gaze seemed to soften a little after he looked at him and he sighed. "It's fine, Buck. Don't worry about it."

"Okay." Bucky said, his voice coming out as barely more than a whisper. He nuzzled against his shoulder and sighed when long fingers started stroking through his hair.

"It was my fault anyway. Shouldn't of kissed you like that when you'd had that much to drink."

"I'm just irresistible when I play piano."

He heard Steve snigger and looked up to see him shaking his head. "You were good. We should play together some time when we get back.. I mean, if you want. It could be fun."

"Or disastrous."

"Worth a shot though. How's your head?"

"Ugh."

"You should have some water. Hang on, I'll get some." Steve said, taking his hand out of Bucky's hair and pushing himself off the bed. Once he'd disappeared through the bedroom door Bucky grabbed his phone from on top of the nightstand and frantically typed out a message to Clint.

CODE RED I'M PHONING YOU AS SOON AS I HAVE A CHANCE

He heard his phone buzz on the nightstand a few minutes later, but by then Steve was coming back into the room with a glass of water. Bucky hadn't realised how thirsty he was, and he downed the glass before Steve had even sat back down on the bed. Once Steve had sat down he snuggled back up to him and closed his eyes, trying to will his headache away.

"So your mom wants me to go out shopping with her today."

"Mom's awake?"

"Yeah. I'm not surprised, I could hear your dad snoring from the kitchen."

"Mm. She probably just wants an excuse to tell you tons of stupid stories about me."

"Brilliant."

"You're going?"

"Yeah, I need to get you a present."

Bucky opened his mouth to protest but Steve just threw him a look so he lay back down, trying to prompt him to start stroking his hair again and failing horribly. After another few minutes Steve got back up and disappeared into the bathroom, leaving Bucky to roll onto his stomach and bury his face in the pillow, trying to convince his brain to go back to sleep. He was interrupted by the sound of his bedroom door opening and his mom tutting at him.

"You are definitely your father's son, James."

"You talk loud."

"Hm. Where's Steve?"

"Bathroom. Just don't be embarrassing while you're out."

"Why would I do that?"

"Because you're my mother."

He didn't even have to look up to know his mom was smirking at him and rolling her eyes. "You better be up when we get back because I'm putting the decorations up and you're taller than I am."

"Dad's taller than me."

"He's comatose upstairs."

"Steve's taller than me."

"James Buchanan Barnes do not give me that-"

"I'll get up just give me like twenty minutes." Bucky grumbled, rolling onto his back and looking over at where she was standing with her hands on her hips.

"How much did you drink last night?"

"I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know?"

"I mean I don't know. People handed me drinks and I drank 'em."

"James that is not a good attitude to-"

"Should I retreat back into the bathroom?"

They both turned around at Steve's voice and saw him standing in the doorway to the bathroom, glancing awkwardly at them both. Bucky shook his head and leant back against the pillow, groaning when his head throbbed again. He barely registered Steve coming up to the side of the bed until he was leaning over him, running a hand through his hair and pressing a soft kiss to his forehead.

"See you later." He whispered, and Bucky couldn't help but grin stupidly up at him, rolling onto his side so he didn't have to look at him anymore. He closed his eyes again and waited until he heard the sound of a car pulling out of the driveway outside to sit up slightly and grab his phone, not bothering to read what Clint had texted him and slamming the call button straight away.

"Congrats on the sex." Clint said as soon as he picked up, and Bucky could almost hear his smirk.

"That is not what code red means, you asshole."

"I can dream."

"You dream about me and Steve having sex?"

"Every night."

"Wow, you're messed up."

"I know. So what does code red mean?"

"Right, so I was at Tony's party last night and-"

"You upper class motherfucker."

"Clint."

"I'm sorry, go on."

"And I got kinda drunk. Like, Nat level drunk."

"Fuck."

"Yeah. And me and Steve were doing our fake relationship thing, you know, and-"

"Ooooooooh I see what's going on."

"Shut up."

"You kissed a guy and you liked it."

"This is not a joke this is serious. I have no idea what to do. I'm here for two more weeks and now I've got to convince my parents that I'm into him while also trying to convince him that I'm not."

"You make it sound so complicated."

"It is complicated!"

"Okay, Bucky, I am about to give you some genuine advice so sit your ass down because it's about to get real."

"You make me uncomfortable when you act serious."

"Shut your mouth and listen to uncle Clint. Now, have you considered that maybe the reason you're enjoying this is because you've just missed relationships in general?"

"No."

"Bucky-"

"No."

"Barnes I swear to god if you interrupt again I will punch you through this phone. So, this whole thing is gonna make you more used to that whole relationship thing, and then when you get back next year you can get back out there. Then wham bam you're married with kids!"

"Maybe you're right."

"Wow, really?"

"No."

"Why did you even call me if you weren't going to listen to anything I said?"

"Sometimes, when everything is going to shit, it's nice to be reminded that although my life may suck, at least I'm not you."

"I'm glad I am able to brighten your life in some way, you complete dickhead."

"Love you, baby."

"Don't try and sweet talk me, Barnes."

"I know how you love it when I do."

"Oh yeah totally. Anyway I have to go. My sister in law is literally birthing my nibling right now."

"I have no clue how to respond to that. Just remember to let your brother know that if the relationship goes to shit I'll be happy to help him raise that child."

"You are so weird."

"It's not my fault he's hot."

"No but you don't have to keep reminding me of how willing you are to let him fuck you."

"I'm just saying if he's ever looking for a bit on the side-"

"Stop."

"Fine. See you later."

"You gonna be okay?"

"Sure, what could go wrong?"

"Just don't do anything dumb. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

"I'm pretty sure those two things are mutually exclusive."

"Asshole."

"Jerk."

Bucky hung up and tossed his phone onto the pillow next to him, closing his eyes for a few seconds before forcing himself to get out of bed and take a shower.
The shower didn't do much for his hang over, but slipping on the mat afterwards and almost cracking his head on the sink did at least wake him up a little. And after he'd got dressed and his life had stopped flashing before his eyes, he did at least have a bit more of a spring in his step as he headed up the stairs to see if his dad was still alive.
His mom's comment about him being his father's son suddenly made a lot more sense when he flung open the bedroom door and saw him lying face down on the bed and groaning.

"You are the picture of health, dad."

"Fuck off."

"Ma's gonna be pissed if you're not up when she gets back."

"She doesn't have total control of my life, you know."

"I don't think she got that memo."

"Give me five minutes." His dad grumbled, rolling around on the bed and opening his eyes a fraction to look over where Bucky was standing. "Where'd she go?"

"Shopping with Steve."

"You let him go out with your mother alone? Are you just asking to be embarrassed?"

"What's the worst she can do?"

"She can show him the haircut you gave yourself when you were four."

"We don't talk about that." Bucky mumbled, narrowing his eyes when his dad chuckled at him. "Besides if she's gonna tell him anything, she'd obviously go for graduation. That's still fresh in her mind."

"You know Tony still has that video? He plays it at meetings and office parties sometimes."

"Tony is going to die."

"Ten bucks says she'll show him the haircut before she tells him about your graduation."

"Bring it on, old man."

"Jackass."

Bucky grinned at him and turned on his heel, going back down the stairs and trying to decide if his stomach could handle food yet. After standing in the kitchen staring at cereal boxes for ten minutes he eventually decided it wasn't worth the risk and grabbed a glass from the cabinet, turning to go to the sink when he felt something touch his foot. He glanced down just in time to see the spider run over his foot and shrieked as he hurled the glass in his hand at it, smashing it on the floor and making the hellbeast scurry across the floor and disappear under a cabinet on the other side of the kitchen.

"DAD!"

"What did you break?"

Bucky couldn't take his eyes off the cabinet the monster had run under but he could hear his dad's voice from the archway, and didn't need to look at him to know he was raising his eyebrow at him.

"There was a spider and I panicked."

"Jesus, Buck."

"It was huge!"

"You are 21 years old."

"But it touched my foot!"

"So you threw a glass at it!?"

"It physically attacked me."

He heard his dad sigh and could feel him rolling his eyes at him. "Will you just get something to sweep the glass up?"

"I can't."

"Bucky, it's gone."

"It's not gone, it's just waiting."

"I'm not carrying you out of the kitchen."

"But dad-"

"No."

"Daaaaaaaad."

"You are a grown man I am not-"

"Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad."

"Jesus Christ. Where did it go?" Bucky pointed over to the cabinet and his dad sighed again, walking over and standing in front of it. "It comes out and it's gonna die, now get your dumb ass out of this kitchen."

He didn't waste any time in running out into the sitting room and his dad soon reappeared in the archway, leaning against it and shaking his head at him.

"What do you have to say for yourself?"

"I don't regret my actions."

"I can't believe I made you."

"Shut up."

"How much time would you say we have to get a new glass?"

"Not enough."

"Then, my son, you are a dead man."

"No, we can overcome this."

"You'll be missed. I'll be sure to use the refund money I get from your Christmas presents to pay for a nice funeral."

"I will fix this!"

His dad didn't look convinced as he turned around again to go and clean up the glass while Bucky headed back into his bedroom to get his phone, dialling Steve's number and tapping his foot impatiently as it rang.

"Just couldn't survive an hour without me, huh?"

"Shut up, you ass. I need you to stall my mom for half an hour."

"Do I even want to ask?"

"I broke a glass and I need to get a new one before she notices and kicks my sorry ass halfway across the country."

"Right.. I think I can manage that. Love you!"

"Yeah, love you too." Bucky said automatically, hanging up and shoving his phone into his pocket. Wait, what had he just said? Jesus Christ. Steve wasn't going to let that one go easily. Sighing, he grabbed his car keys and walked back into the sitting room, trying and failing to get his shoes on quickly.

"I will fix this!" He yelled at his dad again before heading out the door and into his car.

He managed to buy a new glass and make it home just minutes before his mom got back, and he and his dad hurriedly put it back in the cabinet and sat on the couch, trying to look as innocent as possible. His mom looked at them both suspiciously as soon as she came in, narrowing her eyes and frowning.

"What did you do?"

"What?"

"Nothing."

"We've been sat here since we got up, engaging in some good old father-son bonding."

"I feel so bonded to you right now, dad."

"That's creepy."

"You started it." Bucky shrugged, leaning back on the couch and giving his mom his best innocent smile. She stared at him for a few more seconds before sighing and disappearing into the kitchen.
As soon as she was gone Bucky heard Steve start sniggering and looked over at him, giving him a warning glare and shuffling over to let him sit next to him.

"So, Stevie, what horrific story did Freddie tell you?"

"What?"

"C'mon she must have told you something stupid about me. Me and dad were betting on what she'd tell you."

"Oh right, yeah she uh.. said you tripped during your graduation and they had to call an ambulance 'cause you gave yourself a concussion?"

"Fuck." His dad muttered to himself. Bucky didn't say anything other than hold his hand out and wait for his dad to drop the money into it.

"I knew one day that would pay off."

"Wait so that actually happened?"

"Oh yeah."

"Tony has it on video."

"Dad don't tell him that."

"Bucky you may as well prepare yourself. I guarantee you the minute he found out you were seeing someone he made a mental note to get him to see that video."

Steve pulled a stupidly smug grin at him and Bucky smacked him in the chest, struggling in protest when he wrapped an arm around his waist and pulled him closer to him. "You're such an idiot."

"If you didn't already know that by now, then your relationship is a sham." Bucky's dad mumbled and Steve and Bucky glanced at each other, trying to keep straight faces.

"BOYS!"

All three of them whipped their heads around in unison to where Bucky's mom was standing, holding up a glass and pointing to the price label on it.

"Anybody care to explain?"

"IT WAS HIM!"

"DAD!"

"What? It was!"

"You can't just rat me out like that, you're supposed to protect me!" Bucky protested, ducking down in front of the couch cushions to avoid his mom's stare.

"Have fun, kid."

"GEORGE! You let him get away with it."

"He gave me the puppy eyes!"

His mom narrowed her eyes and his dad sighed, hanging his head and making Bucky snigger. "Don't you start thinking you're off the hook, James."

"Sorry ma."

"You should be ashamed of yourself, Buck." Steve smirked, leaning back on the couch.

"And you, young man, have a lot of nerve considering you helped them get away with it."

"I-"

"Mm?"

"..Sorry."

Bucky couldn't help laughing at the shocked and terrified look on Steve's face and he collapsed in a fit of giggles, leaning against his arm while Steve looked too scared to move yet.

"Mom's not gonna eat ya, Stevie."

"Don't be so sure."

"In my defence, I did buy a new glass so technically it's like nothing ever happened right?"

He didn't get a reply from his mom, which he took as her forgiveness, and she headed back into the kitchen muttering to herself about how it was a miracle he hadn't killed himself living on his own. Bucky just giggled and snuggled up against Steve, who still looked slightly shell-shocked from being told off.

His mom had not forgiven, and she found a suitable way to make Bucky suffer for all the wrong he had ever done in his life. She was leaving him and Steve in charge of the Christmas tree.

"You can't do this, ma."

"Of course I can. This is the year you become a man."

"I don't want to become a man, I want to live a stress free life."

"Well that's just too bad." She shrugged, dumping a box of decorations on the floor and giving him a sly smile. "We'll be outside."

"Fine. Have fun being cold."

"Have fun yelling at branches, honey."

Bucky narrowed his eyes at her and she grinned, turning on her heel and walking out into the garden, with his dad following behind and struggling under the weight of several boxes of lights. He turned around to Steve, who was glancing inside some of the boxes and looked way more excited than any sane human being would about the task they had.

"I'm just gonna apologise in advance for anything I will inevitably yell at you while trying to assemble this piece of shit tree."

"How hard can it possibly be?"

"Oh you have no idea."

"Uh huh. Where do you want to put it."

"Somewhere that will make my mom regret leaving me in charge."

"Oh no, I am not conspiring against her with you again."

"You're such a suck up." Bucky said, smirking and sitting down cross-legged next to him. Steve gave him a sideways glance and said nothing as he opened the box for the tree and took everything out, ignoring Bucky's little yelps of protest when he dumped most of the branches in his lap. "Was that necessary?"

"No, but it was pretty satisfying."

"Jerk."

Steve pulled a smug grin at him and pulled out the instructions. "You know, I'd have thought your family would get a real tree rather than a shitty fake one."

"Nah, they mess with my allergies."

"Wow."

"Shut up." Bucky snapped, hitting him with one of the branches and folding his arms grumpily. Steve just sniggered, and nudged his arm.

"Okay I'm sorry. Now let's assemble this bitch."

"Your optimism will be short-lived."

"Just because you're an idiot who can't put a tree together, doesn't mean I won't be able to."

"We'll see."

For once, Bucky was actually right, and within ten minutes they had both yelled at at least one branch. Although admittedly Steve seemed to be keeping his cool better than Bucky was.

"FUCK CHRISTMAS!"

"Bucky it's just a tree, calm down."

"No, it's mocking me."

"Buck-"

"WHY WILL IT NOT GO ON!?"

"It doesn't go there."

"Yes it does!"

"No, it goes-"

"IT GOES HERE!"

"BUCKY I AM HOLDING THE INSTRUCTIONS IT DOES NOT GO THERE!" Steve yelled, grabbing Bucky by the shoulders and shaking him. "Pull yourself together, man!"

"I hate this tree, and I hate Christmas, and I hate you."

"That's not what you said on the phone earlier."

"For fucks sake I knew you would bring that up." Bucky said as he hit Steve over the head with the branch in his hand and just narrowly avoiding the one that Steve swung at him. "You're an asshole and a jerk."

"Why do you have to fight our love?" Steve teased, smirking at him and hitting him in the arm lightly with the branch. Bucky growled and threw himself forward, pinning Steve down on his back and glaring down at him. "Are you really this upset about a tree?"

"It's not a tree, it is the devil."

"You could've just let me do it."

"You were doing it wrong."

"I was using the instructions."

"They are also wrong. You can't use predictable methods, you have to use the element of surprise if you want to make this tree your bitch."

"My god, you've been driven insane by plastic shrubbery."

That broke Bucky's poker face and he giggled, leaning his head down onto Steve's shoulder and laughing against him. He felt arms wrap around him and ended up lying on top of him, still giggling like an idiot.
For a few minutes they lay like that until he heard Steve whisper something that Bucky couldn't make out and felt him tugging on his shirt until he sat up and they were face to face. Steve moved his hand up behind Bucky's neck and pulled him down so their lips met, cutting off Bucky's train of thought before he could ask him what he'd said. He gasped slightly when Steve started kissing him, too taken aback to put up a fight when he felt his tongue flick against his bottom lip and opening his mouth so Steve could deepen the kiss. He tasted sweet and Bucky pulled away again, frowning.

"What's wrong?"

"Why do you taste of cake?"

"Sorry?"

"Did you get cake with my mother!?"

"You told me to stall her!"

"But not with cake! She never lets me get food when I'm out with her, why did she get cake with you? What the fuck."

Steve smirked up at him and shrugged. "Maybe she likes me."

"You've crossed the line, Rogers." Bucky muttered, kicking at Steve's leg and sticking his bottom lip out at him in a grumpy pout.

"You get mad at the weirdest things, Buck."

"I do not."

"You really do. Anyway your parents have stopped snooping through the window so we can get back to yelling at a tree."

"What?"

Bucky glanced over his shoulder at the window and could just about see his parents hanging up lights outside it. He shouldn't feel disappointed, because he knew Steve only kissed him when his parents were around to keep up their pretence, but he still couldn't deny that his heart sank a little. Apparently the disappointment was written all over his face because Steve smirked at him and ran a hand through Bucky's hair.

"Dude your face fell the minute I mentioned that fucking tree."

"Hate the tree." He mumbled, trying his best to avoid Steve's eyes.

"You want me to finish it?"

"If you think you can take the pain."

Steve rolled his eyes and moved Bucky off him, sitting up and shuffling back over to the abandoned tree while Bucky stayed lying on his back in the middle of the floor.
After a few minutes he got bored and pulled a box of tree decorations over, seeing how many he could hang off the back of Steve's shirt before he noticed.

"What are you doing?" He asked as Bucky hung the fifth decoration from his shoulder.

"Decorating you."

"Okay then."

Bucky grinned at him and carried on, although it got more difficult once Steve was standing up so instead he just sat behind him and tried to catch the decorations as they gradually fell off his shirt again for the twenty minutes it took Steve to finish the tree. He didn't yell at it once in this time and Bucky wasn't sure whether to be angry or impressed.
Decorating it was less stressful, although they somehow managed to end up with more decorations on themselves than on the tree, and naturally Bucky's dad had come back into the house to get more things just after Steve had draped a load of tinsel around Bucky's neck.

"Unbelievable." He said as he came in, looking Bucky up and down.

"Don't hate me 'cause you ain't me."

"You know, Buck. As far as gay stereotypes go, you really take the cake."

"Excuse me? I am not the one wearing earrings." He said, pointing at the glittery stars he'd hooked over Steve's ears. His dad just shook his head and headed back out through the door, leaving them both giggling and leaning against each other.
After Steve's artistic brain was satisfied that it was perfectly decorated, Bucky started trying to climb up his back.

"What the fuck are you doing, Bucky?"

"I'm not tall enough to reach the top and we need to put the star up there."

"Why don't you just let me do it?"

"How dare you. After all I have been through today you want me to let you-"

"Okay fine." Steve said, sighing and crouching down a little so Bucky could climb onto his shoulders. "Jesus you're heavy."

"You're just weak. Now c'mon, don't make me kick you."

"Is this how you treat all your boyfriends?"

"Steve, if I had asked my ex to lift me onto his shoulders, I would not be here to talk to you right now."

"What?"

"I just doubt he would have taken it to well."

Steve glanced at him and Bucky gave him a gentle warning kick in the chest to get him to stand upright, finally managing to reach the top of the tree and attach the star in his hand to it.

"I don't have super strength you know, Buck."

"You kinda look like you should though." He shrugged, dropping down onto the floor and grinning at him. "We did it, Stevie. We conquered the tree."

"And you only had one mental breakdown."

"You shut your mouth."

Buying presents for his mom was, in theory, the easiest thing in the world, because she just liked anything that sparkled. The difficulty lay in deciding which shiny, sparkly object she would like the most. Steve, as per usual, was being no help whatsoever, and Bucky was starting to get bored of staring in the window of the jewellers.

"Maybe we should get food and then come back."

"Bucky you just have to chose one thing, why is it taking you so long?"

"Because I want to get her the nicest thing in here but I don't know what she thinks is nicest because she's not here. You're taking art, you must have some basic knowledge of what jewellery is most aesthetically pleasing."

Steve raised an eyebrow at him and sighed, pressing his face against the window next to where Bucky was. "Does she have a favourite gemstone?"

"I don't know, she's got some of everything."

"What's her birthstone?"

"I don't fucking know."

He heard Steve sigh again and glanced over at him. "When's her birthday?"

"October."

"Tourmaline."

"How did you just know that off the top of your head?"

"Because I'm a huge fucking nerd."

"You can say that aga-"

"There's a list of them right here in the window, you idiot."

"Oh."

Bucky looked down at his feet while Steve cracked up laughing and wrapped his arms around him, burying his face in his hair and giggling into it. "You're so cute, Buck."

"I am not cute, I'm manly and intimidating."

"Sure you are."

"You're a jerk."

"I know, you tell me that at least twice a day." Steve chuckled, squeezing Bucky tightly and then letting go of him so he could look back in the window. "Does your mom like pink?"

"I think so."

"Then I would go with tourmaline." He said, gesturing at a few pieces with the bright pink stone set in them.

"That was... strangely helpful of you."

"I help you a lot, you're just stubborn."

"I'm not- look just shut up and come on." Bucky grumbled, pulling Steve into the shop by the sleeve of his shirt.
After spending another twenty minutes in there bickering over which exact thing he should get, he ended up buying a necklace and some earrings, insisting that the earrings would be from Steve and ignoring his protests that he should at least pay a little bit towards them. It wasn't until Bucky physically threw the money he tried to give him back in his face that Steve gave up and just let Bucky pay for them. Then they headed back out to his car and Bucky insisted he needed a drink because shopping with Steve wore him out both physically and emotionally.

The Winter Soldier was the only bar within walking distance of his house that was quiet enough for Bucky to feel comfortable going to during the day, even with Steve he still wasn't in the mood for bumping into people from school. So after they drove back and found somewhere to stash his mom's presents, they walked over there and found a table that was fairly out of view.

"Just to warn you, my mom's probably gonna suffocate you with hugs when she finds out you got her a present." He said after a few minutes of silence.

"Technically I didn't get her a present."

"No but it'll have your name on it. Besides, they've probably got you something crazy and unnecessary. They've been waiting four years to have somebody new to spend money on. If I get less cool stuff because of this, I am never inviting you over again." Bucky smirked, leaning back in his seat and taking a swig of his beer.

"Were you planning to?"

"Planning to what?"

"Invite me over again?"

"Yeah.. I mean if you wanted. Obviously we couldn't do it like this again, otherwise my parents would get carried away and start planning our wedding or something. But it's more fun having someone else here."

"What do you usually do then?"

"Do a circuit of all the clubs in town and fuck whoever's willing."

"How festive." Steve deadpanned. Bucky just shrugged and glanced at the empty bottle in his hand and nodding at Steve's, silently asking if he wanted another. When he nodded Bucky pushed himself up, heading over to the bar and ordering them another two beers, leaning forward on his elbows while he waited. He didn't notice anybody else at the bar, so when he felt a hand on his hip he automatically assumed it was Steve and was about to turn around to ask what he wanted when he heard a horribly familiar voice in his ear.

"I thought I heard your voice earlier, baby."

Bucky froze in place for a few seconds, hoping and praying that this was some kind of elaborate dream. After a few seconds the hand on his hip started to slide up the inside of his shirt and he finally managed to persuade his brain to start functioning again, slapping the hand away and turning around to where Brock was standing, just a few inches away.

"Don't touch me."

His voice came out more confidently than he'd expected, even if he had barely said it loud enough for anyone other than the two of them to hear. Brock seemed pretty amused by what he'd said, smirking crookedly at him and putting his hand straight back on Bucky's hip, digging his fingers into him painfully to try and remind him who was in charge. But this time Bucky was having none of it and he slapped him away again, harder this time, glaring at him.

"What are you doing here? Thought you got shipped off to Iraq."

"It's called leave."

"That's a shame. Would've been a nice surprise to find out you got blown up."

"You're so cute when you're upset." Brock said patronisingly, smiling at him and tilting Bucky's chin up with his hand. His other hand was back on his hip for a third time and Bucky was about to try running off when he heard Steve's voice next to them.

"How long does it take to- oh."

Bucky tried to turn his head to look at him, but Brock had a firm grip on his chin and stopped him from moving, looking over at Steve and smirking.

"Who's this?"

"None of your goddamn business."

"Oh I get it. You're someone else's plaything now, right?" Brock laughed. He was leaning in so close now that Bucky could smell the alcohol on his breath and it was turning his stomach. "Did you forget who you belong to?" He hissed, pushing him back against the bar roughly. Bucky tried to speak but all that came out was a pathetic whimper while he tried to struggle out of the vice-like grip Brock now had on either side of his waist.
Before he could do anything else Brock had let go of him, and when he looked up Steve was holding him by the collar of his shirt, glaring at him.

"Don't you dare talk to him like that." He said through gritted teeth. Brock just laughed and looked back over at Bucky.

"Aw, he's protective. Is this how you get about nowadays? With some big, strong fella to look after you because you can't defend yourse-"

Even though Bucky knew what Steve was capable of, and had seen the state John had been in after he'd finished with him, it still caught him by surprise to see him actually throw a punch straight at Brock's face, almost knocking him off his feet. He wanted to go over and pull Steve back so they could get out, but his legs were so shaky he was having to cling on to the bar just to keep himself upright. So he just had to watch, helplessly, while the pair of them tackled each other onto a nearby table, knocking glasses everywhere.
It wasn't until Steve was standing upright again and Brock was lying back and groaning that Bucky finally prompted his legs to move, staggering over and wrapping his arms around Steve's waist to pull him back.

"You should get outta here, Buck."

"So should you."

"I'm not finished-"

"Steve, just leave it. Leave him alone."

"Leave him alone!? Are you kidding me? Bucky he just-"

"He's just gonna get more pissed off if you stay here."

"So you're defending him?"

"I'm not defending him I just wanna go home!" He yelled, trying to fight off the tears that were gathering in the corners of his eyes. Dammit. He hated when this happened. Why did he cry when he was angry? Who the hell cries when they're angry? He wasn't even sure who he was angry at anymore. He hated Steve for being a stubborn jerk who wouldn't just walk away from a fight, and he hated Brock for.. just about everything, and he hated himself for not even being able to say a damn word to defend himself.

"Aw you made him cry." Brock mocked from behind them, sitting up on the table and smirking that stupid smirk of his.

"Fuck off, Rumlow, you asshole." Bucky snapped as he gave up and wiped his hand across his face.

"Not my fault if you always get yourself worked up over nothing."

That seemed to make Steve snap again and he spun back around, driving his fist into Rumlow's gut and making him choke.

"Steve for fucks sake." Bucky groaned, grabbing at his shirt and trying to pull him back again. He was about to resort to more extreme measures to stop him from throwing more punches at Rumlow's face when a hand on his shoulder almost made him jump out of his skin and he spun around, coming face to face with a tall man in police uniform. "Officer." He mumbled cautiously, the word making Steve stop what he was doing and turn around.

"Arrest them, officer. They're homos." Rumlow grinned, pointing at both him and Steve. The cop gave him a stern look before muttering for them all to follow him back to the car, putting extra emphasis on the all and ignoring Rumlow's protests.
Despite Steve's best efforts, Bucky ended up wedged between him and Rumlow in the back of the police car, although he was just glad there was no risk of Steve deciding to start off another fight right there. For a little while he didn't say anything, until Rumlow started up again. "See, you fags just cause trouble wherever you go."

"You're a fucking hypocrite, Rumlow."

"Right, just 'cause you're desperate for my cock in your mouth again?"

"Desperate? It was you who went ballistic just at the idea that I was seeing someone else. You're just a jealous, needy asshole. You always have been."

Brock looked slightly taken aback that Bucky had actually insulted him and he sat there staring at him for a few seconds before he recomposed himself and growled at him. "You wanna watch your mouth, Barnes."

"Why? In case people find out what a complete dick you are?"

"I didn't do anything to you."

"Except for be an abusive, manipulative douchebag who made my last year and a half of high school a living hell because you couldn't cope with somebody actually standing up to you."

"Buck."

Bucky turned around to Steve and suddenly realised the car had stopped and that the cop in the front had turned to look at them before getting out and opening the door so Rumlow could get out with him, leaving Steve and Bucky sitting in the car in awkward silence for a few moments.

"So, uh.. I'm gonna go out on a whim here and say he's the asshole ex of four years ago?"

"What gave it away?" Bucky mumbled, looking down at his hands. Now that Rumlow was gone he could feel the panic coming back and tried to focus on stopping his hands from shaking. A voice from outside distracted him and he looked around to see the cop leaning in through the open door.

"Hey, we're gonna put that guy up in the drunk tank because he's way over the legal limit, but you two are free to go. Seems like you've already been through enough today."

The relief that he wasn't going to have to call his dad to come and bail them out was enough to put the oncoming panic attack at bay for a little while longer and he sighed, leaning back against the seat for a few seconds before letting the man help him out of the car and sending them on their way.
As soon as they were away from the station Bucky stopped and grabbed Steve's wrist, making him turn to face him.

"Steve, you can't.. my parents are gonna know something's wrong, so if they ask just say it was someone from my old school. You can't tell 'em it was him."

Steve frowned at him for a moment but then nodded, wrapping his arms loosely around Bucky's waist and sighing. "You're white as a sheet, Buck."

"'M fine." Bucky mumbled, wriggling but not really trying to get out of Steve's arms. He wasn't fine. His legs felt like jelly and he could tell from the way his stomach was churning that he was going to throw up, it was just a question of when. Steve didn't look convinced and pulled Bucky forward gently, moving one hand up to stroke his hair and pressing a kiss to his forehead. Bucky closed his eyes for a few minutes and leant forward, wrapping his arms around Steve's neck so he didn't move away. "Kinda hoped I'd never see that asshole again."

"He's gone now. He comes near you again and I'll skin him alive."

"That's.. graphic."

He felt Steve laughing against him and looked up at him, trying to pull the corner of his mouth into some kind of smile but not really succeeding.

"We should get going. Can you walk okay?"

"I'm fine, Steve."

"You gotta stop saying that." Steve said quietly, leaving his arm around Bucky's waist and helping him down the street.
He was never going to admit to it, but he did need Steve to hold him up. Every time he stopped talking Bucky's head would start spinning again, unable to stop thinking about what could have happened, and no matter how much he tried to convince himself otherwise he knew that if Steve hadn't been out with him he probably would have ended up going back with Rumlow.
A pair of hands cupping his face brought him back into reality slightly and he realised they'd got back home without him even realising.

"Sweetheart what happened?" His mom asked him, stroking his cheeks with her thumb and looking up at him. He couldn't speak but he needed to get away, so he pushed her hands away and staggered into his room as fast as his stupid shaky legs could go, managing to get into the bathroom just in time to not throw up everywhere.
Steve showed up a few seconds later, sitting down behind him and rubbing his back until there was nothing left in his stomach. For a moment he stayed slumped over the toilet trying to get his breath back, before sitting up and turning around to Steve, not sure of what to say.

"You want me to get you a drink?"

"I.. yeah just.. just not water. My mouth tastes gross."

Steve gave him a small smile and left, coming back a few minutes later with a can of flat coke that Bucky was pretty sure his parents must have been waiting outside to give him. He gulped it down quicker than was sensible, but thankfully his stomach had settled again and it stayed down.
It took him a few more minutes to get enough strength back to stand up, and even then he still needed Steve to give him a hand, pulling him to his feet and keeping his arms around him for a few seconds.

"You should get some sleep, Buck." He said softly, running his fingers through Bucky's hair. Bucky just shook his head and pushed him back a little.

"I need some air."

He didn't say out loud that he wanted to be on his own, but Steve seemed to get the message and nodded, letting Bucky go out in front of him.
Meg was waiting expectantly outside the bathroom, flicking his half-tail from side to side patiently and hobbling over when Bucky came out, letting him scoop him up with one arm.

"You comin' outside with me, Megsy?" He asked, nuzzling at the cat's face and smiling when he hit his nose lightly with his paw. Meg mewed at him and he rolled his eyes, grabbing a blanket from one of his drawers and holding it up in his free hand. "It's not even that cold out, Meg. Plus, you are covered in fur, so I don't see what you could have against the cold." Meg just purred contently once he saw the blanket, and nuzzled his face into the crook of Bucky's neck, staying in that position while he carried him out of the bedroom and through the door to the back garden. In Meg's defence, it was getting cold, and as soon as he got outside he wrapped the cat up in the blanket to keep him warm.
The garden wasn't huge, and most of it was taken up by the patio. But there was a patch of grass just around the corner and Bucky knew from experience that if you sat against the wall around there nobody could see you through any of the windows, so he carried Meg over there and sat with his knees drawn up to his chest, stroking the fur on the back of the cat's neck.
Despite being wrapped up like a burrito in the blanket, Meg managed to wriggle up and nuzzle his chin, licking at him and mewing until Bucky finally sighed and scratched his ears.

"Nothing's wrong, quit bothering me and- don't look at me like that. I'm fine."

If Meg was able to roll his eyes, Bucky was pretty sure he would do it right now. He had a hell of an attitude for a cat.

"I saw Rumlow at a bar, okay? Now will you sit still? You're my heat source."

At the mention of his name Meg hopped out of the blanket and climbed onto Bucky's shoulder, rubbing his face against his cheek to try and dry tears that weren't there. He wasn't sure what to think about the fact that his cat had essentially been conditioned to stop him crying whenever he heard Rumlow's name, but he just leant against him and let him carry on.
Once he was satisfied that Bucky wasn't actually crying, Meg jumped back down onto his knees, letting Bucky wrap the blanket around him again because he was a huge wuss who couldn't take the cold, and curling up to go to sleep while Bucky carried on stroking the top of his head.

Bucky had no idea how long he'd been sitting there, but it was dark and he was shivering from the cold when he heard footsteps approaching and saw Steve come around the corner with another blanket in one hand and a mug in the other. He didn't say anything when he sat down next to him, letting him wrap the blanket around him and taking the mug when it was handed to him.

"Hot chocolate." Steve said before he could ask, putting an arm around him and letting him shift over so he could lean his head against him. He tried to drink it slowly, but Steve seemed to have a gift at making anything taste a hundred times better than it normally would, plus he was freezing and this was warming him up. "Buck-"

"I'm fi-"

"Don't. You're not fine."

Bucky sighed and moved Meg off his lap so he could shuffle closer, pressing against his chest so Steve could wrap both his arms around him tightly. Up until that point he'd been doing a pretty good job of holding it together, but it was all for nothing now and once the tears started he couldn't get them to stop again. So he just sat for half an hour clinging tightly onto Steve and sobbing into his chest while he stroked his hair and whispering into his ear that it's okay and I've got you.
Eventually Bucky managed to calm down, and he sat, snivelling and choking out apologies for getting Steve's shirt wet. Then they sat in silence for another few minutes before Steve finally spoke.

"You know this would be a lot easier if I knew what was going on."

"I know."

"Still not talking?"

Bucky was about to try and come up with an excuse when he paused, looking up at Steve's concerned face and sighing. "I... it's a really long story. It took hours to tell Clint and Nat everything.. although I was also completely wasted and couldn't really talk properly but-"

"I don't exactly have anywhere to be, Buck."

"Right.." Bucky said quietly, nodding slowly and racking his brain to try and decide on the best place to start.