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The Moments and In-Betweens

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 The first time Natasha sees Steve and Bucky’s apartment, she rolls her eyes harder than she had all summer. It’s off campus housing, but they sure are treating it like it’s the same as the dorm rooms the two of them had shared during their freshman and sophomore years. They’re juniors now, so aren’t they supposed to know better?

“What the point of having a real apartment if you leave it bare and unorganized like the last place?” she asks, leaning over the couch to kiss Bucky where he’s absently tilted his face up at her voice. Steve takes that opportunity to land a critical hit on Bucky’s player, and the speakers bellow, “Finish him!”

“Shit!” Bucky yells and mashes at the Nintendo controller, hoping to get out of his predicament. Steve just laughs and continues to kick his ass as Natasha comes around and situates herself on the couch, throwing her legs over her boyfriend’s lap.

“Hey, Nat,” Steve tells her with a smile, and she digs a toe into his thigh in hello. He takes one hand off his controller to squeeze her ankle, and she can’t help but notice how big his hands feel wrapping around her, the same way Bucky’s do. She’s strong, always has been with her years of dance combined with self-defense training, but she finds herself feeling delicate when she’s with these two, despite the way they roughhouse with her on their walks between classes or will lean on her as much as each other stumbling home from the bars on a Friday night.

Bucky tosses his controller onto the coffee table and lets his hands rest on Natasha’s thighs and turns his full attention to her with a bright, eye-crinkling smile. “I missed you, lapochka.” He butchers the pronunciation as usual, the Russian sounding awkward on his Brooklyn-born tongue, but Natasha adores him for trying nonetheless.

“No more Russian,” she tells him. “I spent all summer there hearing nothing but Russian. Give me New York in all its glory, James.” She lets the accent she got rid of by ten years old go thick and unnatural as she goes on. “Give me America.”

Steve is laughing quietly at her and eggs Bucky on with an old-timey Brooklyn drawl. “Yeah, Buck, she’s in the land of the free now. She needs to hear truth, justice, and the American way in every syllable.”

It makes Bucky laugh too and Natasha is grinning. When Bucky’s thumb brushes at a ticklish spot on her inner knee, it sets her off, and the three of them are all gasping for breath in a few moments despite the fact that it isn’t really that funny, if it is at all.

When they finally calm down, Steve’s eyes go to his phone. “Shit, I’ve gotta get across campus.” Natasha raises an eyebrow at him and he explains, “I’ve gotta meet Pepper to talk about what the art department is doing for Freshman orientation on Monday. She said she wanted someone from the creative side of the department with her, but I think she mostly wants a buffer so Tony won’t try to spend the entire time flirting with her instead of trying to lead the engineering kids.”

“Good, now I don’t have to kick you out so I can make up for lost time with my girl,” Bucky says, grinning at Steve before leaning down to kiss Natasha. Natasha bats at his shoulder with a mock glare.

“I don’t know what you’re gonna do with the other 57 minutes I’m gone, Barnes,” Steve shoots at him as he gets up to grab his keys from the door. Bucky squawks defensively, and Steve’s smile is a mile wide. “I’m glad you’re back, Nat.”

“Missed you too, Rogers,” Natasha says, meaning it more than she knew. Steve waves over his shoulder as he leaves and Natasha is smiling softly when she turns her attention back to Bucky. She moves to kiss him, slowly and deeply, and she feels a little dizzy when she pulls back. “I missed you.”

Bucky’s smile is so sweet that it makes Natasha’s heart ache, and she says what she’d been feeling all summer while she thought about him half the world away. “I think I love you, James Buchanan Barnes.”

Bucky doesn’t say it back right then, but the way his eyes light up before they fall closed to kiss her again, over and over, Natasha knows he feels it too. He spends the next hour showing her exactly how much he feels it too.

The only time he takes a break from showing Natasha Romanoff how much he loves her is when he yells through the door at Steve to spend the night at Sam’s. Their happiness bubbles out of them in laughs and gasps until they finally make it to the shower and then collapse in Bucky’s still too small bed wrapped around one another.

Steve glares at them over his bowl of cereal the next morning a little half-heartedly, but neither of them has it in themselves to care much.

***

Natasha makes them decorate their place the next week. She tells them there’s no reason to have an apartment and all the stuff that they do without putting it up and forces them to make the place look vaguely adult. She directs Bucky to put up the album covers he has for vinyl records that are scratched to hell to the point where they’re unplayable, and she waves an imperious finger at Steve to put up art projects he’s kept but hidden in a pile on his beat-up bookshelf. By the time they’re finished, Bucky’s bedroom walls are covered with evidence of his love of the indie music scene, and Steve’s room would do any art major proud. There are photos of their families and friends and the three of them together littered everywhere in between.

When Natasha brings string lights for both of their rooms a few days later, Steve and Bucky both protest, but help her hang them nonetheless. She smiles at the effect; it makes Bucky’s room match her own.

When she shows up the next day and there’s a poster of a Harley-Davidson Street 750 on one side of the giant TV in their living room and one for Inglorious Basterds on the other side, she doesn’t even roll her eyes. When Bucky wonders aloud if she’d still sleep with him if they started a beer can wall, she hits him with a pillow and it seems like all the answer he’s going to get. Steve tells her he’s grateful.

***

“I’m gonna fail this test,” Bucky groans and leans his forehead onto his book. Steve glances over and reads what he can on the page Bucky’s hair is covering and shakes his head.

“I can’t really help you there,” Steve says.

“No one can. I’m going to fail.” His words are muffled by the fact that he’s speaking directly into the book, but Steve understands him just fine. He’s had a lot of practice understanding Bucky Barnes throughout his life. He comes and sits down at the rickety table they’d put in one corner and kicks a foot out to shove Bucky to get his attention. Bucky turns his head and cracks one eye open at Steve.

“Is it too late to switch my major to basket weaving or something?”

“I’m not sure we offer either of those, and the study of textiles should be respected, Bucky.”

Bucky sighs and sits up, rolling his eyes at Steve. “I know, Steve. All majors require skills and work, I’m with you. But are you sure you don’t wanna switch homework assignments with me? You’re in that class where you’ve got to look at all those Picassos, right? I can draw someone with a nose where their eyes should be and you can go take this test on circuit boards for machines that run on dual power.”

“Tomorrow I actually have to give a presentation on how Cubism is reflective of the pre-World War I era and attitudes leading up to the conflict and which of Picasso’s works show that and steer away from that, but—”

“Jesus, I’ll take my chances with the circuit boards, never mind,” Bucky tells him and leans back in his chair. “You nervous about it at all?”

Steve shakes his head and he pulls Bucky’s book close to him before flipping it closed. “You shouldn’t be nervous about the test either. You do this every time you take the first test of the semester. You always do fine.” Steve’s hand squeezes the back of Bucky’s neck gently, trying to calm him down, and Bucky leans into the touch.

“Stark and Shuri are going to screw up the curve for the rest of us and make us all look like morons anyway, so I don’t know why I’m so worried. If I fail, I won’t be the only one.”

Steve rolls his eyes and repeats, “You’re going to be fine.”

They sit in comfortable silence for a moment, Steve still trying to work the tension out of Bucky’s neck. His hair is soft where it falls over Steve’s fingers, and he almost wants to thread them through it. It’s getting shaggier than Bucky’s ever had it and it makes him look much gentler than the near buzzcut he had in high school ever did; it suits him more.

“How long are you gonna let your hair get?” Steve asks without thinking. Once the words are out of his mouth, he lets himself give the back of Bucky’s head a rub to ruffle the hair in question up, but then he drops his hand. Bucky shrugs.

“No idea. It’s not awful is it?”

“I like it,” Steve tells him. He cuts his eyes away when he continues, “Nat must too, right?”

Bucky smirks at him, the expression almost a leer. “She likes to be able to get a handful of it when I—”

“All right,” Steve interrupts with a look of annoyance clear on his face. Bucky laughs at him and shoves him a little. He stands up then, and stretches, and his shirt rides up on his stomach, the dark hair trailing from his navel to the waistband of his boxers contrasting starkly with how white his skin is where his summer tan is finally fading. Bucky turns golden in the sun where Steve burns and gets freckles across his nose, and Steve has always been jealous of it. He reaches out and pokes Bucky in the stomach out of some impulse, maybe envious, maybe something else. Bucky lets out what uncharitably would be called a squeak and it makes Steve laugh.

“Punk,” Bucky calls him.

“Jerk,” Steve responds automatically with a smile flitting onto his face.

“You wanna go down to the underground and get sandwiches? The dining hall in Erskine is closed, right? I think Nat said she was done with her class at six and it’s about quarter to.”

Steve starts to shake his head no. “Get dinner with your girl. I don’t want to intrude. I can scrounge up something here.”

“Get your shoes on, c’mon,” Bucky says back. Steve can’t see him rolling his eyes, but he knows he’s doing it. “No reason to eat shitty mac and cheese when you’re sober.”

When Steve hasn’t moved from the table when Bucky comes back from his room where he’d pulled on a pair of jeans, Bucky picks up Steve’s shoes and throws them at him.

“You’re never intruding, Steve. So, shut up and come get dinner with me and Nat.”

The sandwich—pastrami on rye with spicy mustard and onions—and the ridiculous mound of potato chips they split between the three of them tastes better than anything Steve could have made himself at the apartment and the conversation they get into about who would win in a fight between a robot and an alien devolves into ridiculousness so boisterous that they get asked to leave the underground and have to sneak their leftovers out. It’s a good day, and Steve doesn’t feel once like he’s intruding.

***

Bucky doesn’t fail his test and Steve feels great about his presentation and Natasha’s in a good mood, so the three of them make sundaes in the dining hall. Steve steals the last cherry from Natasha’s, so she slides a finger through his whipped cream and smears it on his nose. Bucky scoots his chair away so far back from their table to avoid their fight that he winds up being flirted with by a group of freshman girls. He ends up being the only one to eat his entire ice cream concoction, but Natasha and Steve finish the package of cookies the boys have in their apartment as the three of them spend the rest of the night quoting along with Parks and Rec and ignoring whatever homework they should be working on.

Steve slides the very last cookie into Bucky’s open mouth when he’s dozing five episodes in, and Natasha’s laugh wakes him up. Steve grabs the cookie back before Bucky can bite down and eats it with a ridiculous grin. Bucky punches him in the arm and it makes Natasha laugh even harder.

***

“What time is it?” Natasha asks him without looking up from her phone. Bucky looks up from where he’s been checking his email.

“You’re looking right at your phone, Nat.”

“I’m playing a game, my clock isn’t showing,” she explains. Bucky rolls his eyes affectionately and tells her that it’s 6:22. His stomach rumbles as he says it, and Natasha must have heard it because she lifts one eyebrow. “Hungry?”

“I had a protein bar between Calc and Music Appreciation. You know Wednesdays are my busy days.” She nods and must finally lose at whatever game she was playing because she sets her phone down and unfolds herself to get off the couch.

“All right, let’s go find something to eat.” Bucky finishes the email he’d been writing to his advisor and slips his phone into his pocket as he stands up.

“We’d better bring something to Steve. He’s been in the studio since two and you know how he gets.”

“Oh, I assumed we were going to end up eating in the hallway of the art building,” Natasha tells him, and Bucky feels a surge of love for her for thinking about Steve too. It isn’t uncommon and Bucky isn’t surprised, but it makes him happy nonetheless. He takes her hand, half pulls her off the couch, and takes her in his arms to press a kiss to the crown of her head. He’s still getting used to the raspberry tint she’d dyed it with a little over a week ago, but it suits her as much as her naturally fiery locks do. He’d love her even if she bleached her hair and buzzed it half off, he knows.  He’s a sucker for her in every way.

“How’d I get so lucky?” he asks. She smiles up at him and just shrugs. She stays in the circle of his arms for a minute before he lets her go so that they can move.

“You want tacos?”

Bucky nods and follows Natasha as she heads out the door to her car. Her radio blares to life on the local hard rock station, and Bucky watches Natasha’s hands as they drum along to the beat against the steering wheel. They don’t have to talk on the way to Taco Bell; Bucky just watches Natasha enjoying the music and wishes that Steve were with them. He doesn’t know why exactly, but he likes the idea of Steve, whose taste in music leans more towards records their parents would have grown up on, putting up with this music. Bucky knows he’d do it because Natasha likes it.

They order their taco party pack and nachos to split with piles of hot sauce packets and drinks and are on their way to the art building in no time. Natasha stays in the hallway with the bag of food while Bucky heads toward Steve’s usual studio. He’d yelled at them enough about food around the art for them to know they’re going to have to drag him out to eat.

Steve is standing in front of an easel with his arms crossed. Bucky sees the tip of the paintbrush in his hand is stained blue and he hears Steve sigh. Steve doesn’t make a move, and Bucky knows he’s frustrated by the set of his shoulders and assumes he’s glaring at the piece in-progress. He knows when Steve hits a wall creatively, he won’t admit it; Steve needs an excuse to take a break.  

“Come eat,” Bucky calls from right inside the doorway and Steve spins around. It lets Bucky get a look at the painting he’s working on: the shapes are overexaggerated to the point of near abstraction and the colors are at once soft and bold, and it makes something in his heart ache.

“The light isn’t right. It’s too harsh,” Steve tells him rather than responding to the request to eat. Bucky shakes his head. He doesn’t find it harsh at all, but Steve will be too stubborn to hear that right now.

“Come eat and then you can bounce ideas off me and Nat before you get back to work.”

“You’re not gonna try to convince me to come home?” Steve asks as he puts his paintbrush down and goes to the sink to wash his hands.

“Nah,” Bucky tells him. “I know you.”

Steve smiles at him with his eyes clear and happy and grateful. Bucky loves his best friend so openly in that moment that it takes him by surprise. He chokes it back and tells him, “Come on, get some tacos. Nat probably stole all the good nachos.”

Natasha had only stolen a few of the good nachos and had spread the food out as though they were having a picnic, and Bucky likes how Steve smiles at that.

“Tell me about the painting,” Natasha says when Steve is on his third taco, and he barely takes the time to swallow his food before he launches into what he’s working on. Bucky watches Natasha get wrapped up in paying attention to Steve and then he too is caught up in the explanation and is trying to help solve the lighting issue before he knows it.

None of them know how long they’ve been sitting there until Professor Jones comes out of her office or the darkroom, Bucky isn’t sure which, though he recognizes her from Steve’s description, and scoffs. “Go out and get a life, Rogers. I’m locking up.”

Bucky laughs at Steve’s blush and the three of them gather the remnants of their dinner and the conversation turns to their plans for the weekend as they head home.  

***

Bucky’s floored by Steve’s painting when it’s finally finished and tells him so. Natasha agrees. The light looks nearly ethereal and the colors blend naturally somehow and it’s beautiful. Steve insists it only turned out so well because they let him rant about it, but Bucky knows it’s just that Steve is Steve and always figures out a way to make things work. He and Natasha only have to be there for him when he needs and it isn’t an inconvenience at all.

Natasha tells Steve to shut up and take the compliment and then asks the two of them to help her study for her Latin exam. Bucky and Steve can’t pronounce a thing but they try.  

***

Bucky’s in the library and Steve is attempting to cook something when Natasha storms into their place on a Thursday in late October, fuming mad with a bottle of cheap vodka in her hand. She throws her illegally copied key into the basket on the counter that she’d insisted on buying for them earlier in the semester and starts to twist the top off the booze.

“Bad day?” Steve asks, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the kitchen entryway with a concerned look on his face. He’s always so earnest, and rather than annoying her, it makes her feel better; she knows he cares.

“You’d think people in an international relations class would have some knowledge of other countries and how they operate, but I swear, without Barton around it’s like everyone has gotten dumber. Why’d he have to go and do a thing like graduate?” Natasha’s scowl only deepens when she takes a swig directly from the bottle. Steve takes a cup from their cupboard and starts loading it up with ice.

“You want tonic water or orange juice?”

“Tonic.” Natasha appreciates that he doesn’t point out that it’s only 2:45 on a Thursday and she does have a Friday morning class unfortunately; he just pours some tonic into the cup and slides it to her across the counter. She appreciates it even more when he gets out another cup and takes a half empty bottle of whiskey from the top of their fridge and pours himself a drink too. He sits down on the other stool they have at the counter for a makeshift bar and taps his cup against hers before taking a drink.

The two of them sit in comfortable silence and drink slowly.

“I always figured there was something between you and Clint,” he admits after a moment. Natasha snorts.

“Yeah, well, I always figured there was something between you and Barnes.” Steve colors at that and glares at her. She grins at him; she’s mostly teasing, but sometimes she sees something.  She takes another drink. “Clint was a good friend to have. There could have been something there, but not after I met Bucky.” She rarely calls him Bucky to his face. “I met him, and then I met you, and that was it,” she tells him, speaking the truest thing she knows. Once James Barnes and Steve Rogers were in her life, it was hard to notice anyone else the same way as she would have. “Plus, Clint loved Iowa too much. I know if I stick by you and Barnes, I won’t have to leave a city.”

“We come as a unit?” Steve asks with a little bit of a laugh in his voice. Natasha rolls her eyes.

“You know you do.” Steve gives her half a smile in response.

“I’m not sure when he’ll be back, you know. He’s in the library, if you were hoping to see him.” Steve’s stopped looking at her as he says it, and Natasha furrows her brow. That isn’t what she’d meant at all when she said they came as a set, and she feels a twinge of something like hurt that that’s how Steve took it.

“Sometimes I want to see you too, you know.” She shrugs and finishes her drink before Steve glances over at her again. “Just because he and I have sex doesn’t mean I don’t love you too, you know.”

Steve’s face does something that she can’t really read, but then he’s smiling. It’s as bright as sunshine, and it warms Natasha just as well. But the moment sits, almost too sincere, and she doesn’t really know how to get it back.

“Although, if you wanted to have sex, too,” she teases with one side of her mouth curling up into a wicked smirk. Steve goes beet red and she laughs. It seems to make things easier.

He sputters out something and gets up to get her more tonic water. “I’m gonna tell Buck you said that.”

Natasha shrugs and holds her glass out for him to pour another drink for her. “Go for it, just don’t stop pouring.”

Steve huffs out a laugh at that but does what she asks. She digs her phone out of her pocket and starts scrolling through Instagram while Steve goes back to whatever he’d been trying to cook before. She stops at a picture she finds on Steve’s feed.

It’s of Bucky, brow furrowed in concentration as he writes something down in a notebook he has resting on a propped open book. He’s outside, sitting under one of the trees near Phillips Hall, and there’s a single beam of sun coming through the leaves that’s glancing right off the arc of his cheekbone, making them seem even prominent than they are. Steve’s put a vignette filter on it to frame it, but otherwise it looks unedited to her eye. It’s beautiful, and Bucky looks great in it.

“Did you use any other filter on this picture?” she asks. She holds her phone up for him to see what she’s talking about when he turns. He shakes his head.

“No, I was just messing around, going to meet Bucky for lunch between classes and I thought the light was interesting.” Steve shrugs as he says it and turns back around.

“You made him look great,” Natasha tells him.

“Buck looks that way on his own. Good lighting just makes it more obvious,” Steve protests. Natasha accedes the point and takes another sip of her drink.

“You’ve got an eye, Rogers.”

“It’s almost like I’m an art student,” he deadpans, and Natasha snorts out a laugh inelegantly. She likes when Steve’s sarcastic; people forget that he can be, but he lets her see it all the time.

She keeps scrolling through her different social media feeds, but everyone is doing the same shit as always and she’s bored by it. She goes to Bucky’s last Facebook post, an article from NASA because he’s a bigger geek than he lets on. She must be too because she gets sucked into it to the point where Steve startles her when he returns to her side.

“Oh, that article about dark galaxies? Yeah, Buck wouldn’t shut up about it for like an hour after he read it. It was pretty cool.”

Natasha tries to cover the fact that she jumped at the sound of his voice by saying “You’re both nerds,” but Steve can clearly see through it.

“Whatever, you’re reading it too. And besides,” he starts with a smirk and grabs his drink to raise to her, “You love us. You said it already. No take-backs.”

She clinks her glass with him even though it’s almost empty. He gets up to get her more, and that’s when she knows she wouldn’t take it back even if she could.

***

By the time Bucky gets back from the library, Natasha and Steve are tipsy and playing Mario Kart and swearing at each other good naturedly. He kisses Natasha over the back of the couch so she can concentrate on beating Steve at Rainbow Road, and Steve directs him to the pot of macaroni and cheese on the stove. It might be a little coagulated and a little overdone, but Steve has never been much of a cook and Bucky’s starving. He grabs a bowl and scarfs it down before he flops onto the couch. Steve passes him his drink wordlessly and Bucky drains it.

Steve crows when he wins the level and Natasha mocks him and they switch to Mario Party and yell at each other for stealing stars and they keep drinking and laughing as though they don’t have class in the morning.

No one cares that they wake up on the couch with the TV still on, Bucky half drooling on Steve and Natasha’s head on his lap.  

***

Bucky cannot stop laughing even as he’s stumbling, and he hears his foot connect with something over his own laughter. He looks down and sees that he’s kicked someone’s fallen lighter halfway down the block on accident. He can just imagine how pissed whoever it belonged to is going to be when they dig into their pockets to try to light their cigarette. He’s been there enough before that he knows exactly how maddening it is when you know you had a lighter.  Steve and Natasha are weaving along right beside him, and Bucky can see Steve’s eyes find the lighter.

“Need a light?” he asks, then cracks up.

“None of us smoke, Steve,” Natasha protests with her own laugh. The three of them are all equally drunk, and Bucky sort of loves it. This is exactly what Friday nights are supposed to be in college. There’d even been some special going on at Shield’s where rail drinks were only $1.50, and Bucky lost count of how many rum and cokes he’d had. He knows he doesn’t have any of the twenty he’d been carrying left though and he doesn’t know how many rounds he’d bought versus what Steve had paid for.

“Not today, I guess,” Steve says. Natasha wrinkles her nose and looks so damn cute that Bucky can’t help but swing his arm around her other shoulder. He leans down and kisses her nose, and she keeps it wrinkled.

“Ugh,” she makes a noise of protest even though Bucky knows she’s drunk enough to love the attention. Plus, she leans up and kisses him on the cheek with a smacking noise in return, so he’s sure. Bucky grins at her, but she’s turning to give the same sort of kiss to Steve.

Except that Steve turns to say something and the kiss lands on his lips, and Bucky watches as what was meant to be silly and fun briefly turns into what looks like could be a real kiss. Steve stumbles back with a step that’s about to send him off the sidewalk curb and into the street, and Natasha and Bucky both reach out for him, Natasha finding his arm and Bucky the collar of his shirt. It stretches out and Bucky can see the blush that spread from his cheeks to his chest and collarbone.

Natasha is the first to laugh, but Steve is still blushing furiously. Bucky doesn’t know what is happening in his own mind really, because he laughs and pulls Steve towards him even while Natasha is still half snuggled under his arm. When Steve’s right in front of him, Bucky leans in and kisses him the same way Natasha had and he feels like he’s flying, to have his girl and Steve right there with him.

Steve’s eyes are wide when Bucky pulls back, but Bucky just laughs and puts a hand in his face to playfully shove him to the other side of Natasha. Natasha takes one of Steve’s arms as though he’s a puppet and plops it over her other shoulder, and the three of them are taking up the entire sidewalk. Bucky knows it’s an asshole move, but god, he doesn’t care at all.

“Let’s order pizza,” Natasha suggests as though nothing out of the ordinary just happened at all and Bucky shouts his agreement. He turns and catches Steve’s eye and smiles. It only takes a moment before Steve smiles back.

“Can we get a Hawaiian one?”

Natasha makes a noise of disgust and fakes a glare at Steve as she says “I love you, Steve, but no, that’s the worst idea. Hawaiian pizza is gross.”

“You’re wrong, Nat, and if I beat you at flip cup when we get back, we’re buying one and you’re eating it.”

“Oh, we’re playing flip cup?” Natasha asks at the same time that Bucky yells, “Yes, flip cup! Do we have beer at home?”

None of them need to drink more, but it sounds like a fantastic idea.

They do have beer at home, half a case of Miller Lite, and Steve decimates Natasha at flip cup because she gets distracted by Bucky stripping out of his jeans to wander around in his boxers. Steve cheers about it as he orders the pizzas, one Hawaiian and one pepperoni and garlic and onions. While Natasha glares at him for making her lose, Bucky slinks into her personal space and twines his arms around her to pull her close and kiss her. It’s not a gentle kiss at all and his hands wander and he feels his blood going from his brain down south before he pulls away to breathe.

“I’m still here,” Steve points out, and that makes Natasha laugh and extricate herself just a little from Bucky. He’s distraught at the loss of heat against him. “And I can see you’re half hard, Buck, come on, Jesus.”

Bucky’s had enough to drink that he thinks it’s only by some miracle of being 21 that it’s even possible his dick’s working at all, and he just shrugs at Steve. He notices the blush across Steve’s cheeks and grins at him before he moves towards the couch. He pulls Natasha along with him, and she reaches out to grab Steve so that the three of them fall onto the furniture and lounge.

Natasha crawls over Bucky’s lap, and his hands have a mind of their own as they span her hips and slide down her thighs in passing as she settles between him and Steve. She maneuvers Steve so she can lean against his ridiculously muscled chest under one of his arms, and if one of his hands ends up resting where his thumb would be able to tease at Natasha’s left nipple, no one points it out. Her calf is warm through her jeans against Bucky’s crotch, and the weight of her on him is comforting.

“I’ll go to my room when the pizza gets here,” Steve tells them with a glance. Bucky watches Natasha tilt her face up and stare at Steve from basically under his chin.

“You’re fine, Stevie,” Bucky tells him and reaches across Nat to squeeze at his knee.

 “I’m a third wheel, is what I am,” Steve says, the alcohol making the laugh at the end of the sentence sound a little broken, maybe a little bitter. Bucky’s shaking his head, but it’s Natasha who speaks up.

“But we’re a tricycle.”

It should be stupid—a tricycle—but it stops Bucky in his tracks, the floating, fuzzy feeling he’s been riding suddenly sharpens into a sense of clarity. He and Steve have always come as a matching set; they’ve been Steve and Bucky as long as anyone can remember, a pair where one is the shadow and the other is the light, necessary and ever present for each other to thrive. They don’t exist without each other, not wholly.  And he loves Natasha with a bright, bursting something that takes over him when he thinks about it too long.  She makes him better and Steve makes him and Natasha makes Steve laugh and Steve makes Natasha smile and, god, they’re absolutely a tricycle.

Bucky starts to laugh. It takes him a minute to reign it in, and he knows Steve and Natasha are both staring at him in different states of amusement and confusion waiting for him to get it together. When he does, he opens his mouth and says:

“When the pizza gets here, we can all go to my room.”

Steve’s eyebrows fly up and he starts to sputter in protest. Bucky stops him though. “Shut up, Steve; she’s right. We’re a tricycle.”

Then Natasha shifts and she’s got her hands on Steve’s face and Bucky watches her search it for signs of not wanting her and when she finds nothing, she leans down and kisses him, still a little drunkenly, but gentle and with feeling. Steve’s hands go to her waist. When she pulls away, she settles herself onto Steve’s lap, and then Bucky’s in the middle of the couch, putting a hand up to cup Steve’s jaw.

“It’s been the three of us for a while, hasn’t it?” Bucky asks, wondering, and Steve meets his eyes. The three of them may have been drinking all night, but this feels like where they’ve been unknowingly hurtling towards for months and months, and Bucky’s so glad they’ve made it there when Steve closes the gap between them and kisses him. It’s like coming home to feel Natasha and Steve like this at once. Bucky moves to deepen the kiss and one of his hands makes its way under Natasha’s shirt to get at her bra clasp.

That’s when the intercom buzzer trills, and Steve pulls away. The three of them can’t help but stare at each other for a moment, unsure of where to go, when the sound buzzes again.

“Pizza’s here,” Steve says, and Bucky can’t stop himself from cracking up as he gets off the couch and goes to the door. He waves off Steve digging into his pocket for his wallet and grabs whatever dollar bills he has left from his own as he almost trips down the stairs. He’s still laughing because what is his life? The delivery guy looks unfazed as he hands over the pizzas and takes Bucky’s money for a tip.

Natasha’s still on Steve’s lap when Bucky comes back with the pizzas, but they’re just talking. Both of them smile up at him and Steve holds out his hands to take one of the pizzas. Bucky laughs and hands him the Hawaiian one after he checks for which is which.

Steve takes a slice and shoves half of it into his mouth without shame, and Bucky cracks up while Natasha scowls, but not as deeply as she does when Steve tries to feed her a piece. Bucky leans forward and takes the bite Steve’s holding out with a wink and that gets Natasha to laugh.

“Enough pizza,” Bucky says when they’ve eaten half of each. “Let’s go to bed.”

Steve looks hesitant again and Bucky shakes his head. Natasha just grabs his hand and pulls him up as she gets up.

“We don’t have to do anything. Just come sleep.”

“I wouldn’t say no to doing things, though,” Bucky says, and if he’s trying not to yawn, that’s his business. He gives Steve a half-hearted leer.

“You’re a dog, Buck,” Steve tells him, but he reaches out and Bucky lets himself crowd into Steve’s warmth. He likes the way Steve’s hands fall to rest on the swell of his ass. “I’m not saying no; I’m saying no for now.” But he kisses Bucky after he says it, so that’s fine by Bucky.

The bed hasn’t gotten any bigger, but Bucky doesn’t care. They’re all giggling as they maneuver to fit together, but they find a way. Bucky feels entirely more comfortable than he ever expected to be in this bed, and that’s how he knows this was a good idea.

He kisses Natasha and then he kisses Steve, and he’s grinning as he closes his eyes.

***

Bucky can feel Steve panicking when he wakes up, but he moves to kiss him calm and by some miracle, it works. Bucky does it again and smiles, and Steve smiles back. Despite the fact that there’s no way they all three should be in Bucky’s bed, he doesn’t want to move. When Natasha wakes up moments later, she says as much, smiling and turning to kiss Bucky and then Steve. There’s a glow of warmth in the room that no one wants to break.

Bucky has to extricate himself from the tangle of bodies to use the bathroom, though, and when he comes back, he announces that they’re going to need to invest in a bigger bed.

It gets laughs and nods of agreement from Steve and Natasha. But Natasha assures them that they’ll figure it out, and she’s not just talking about the bed. Bucky’s never believed anything more wholeheartedly.

***

He’s had a weird day and he wants to just relax with Bucky and Natasha until Monday; he heaves a sigh of relief that they’re both on the couch.

“Tony asked about the three of us today," Steve tells Bucky and Natasha when he throws his backpack onto the floor.

"Why were you talking to Tony Stark?" Natasha asks, and it hits Steve that maybe the three of them don't actually have a psychic bond because Tony is part of far more of his everyday life than he ever figured an engineering and mechanics student would be.

"Him and Pepper are on again," Bucky explains without missing a beat. Natasha nods, because honestly, that does explain everything she could want to know. Everyone knows where one of them goes, the other one does too when they're in an on phase of their relationship. The last few months have been rocky for those two, but Tony Stark has absolutely been around the art department building even if it hasn't always seemed like Pepper Potts wanted him there. Some days Steve wants to wring his neck. Today, when he asked, "So, a thruple, huh?" without any prompting was definitely one of those times.

"Did you tell him his patented genius struck again?" Bucky asks with a smirk. Steve shakes his head. It isn't that he's ashamed of what the three of them are doing--he isn't, he got over the shame fairly soon after they admitted what they all were to each other and what they all wanted. But he doesn't necessarily want to be the talk of the entire campus. And with Tony opening his big mouth, that's what it would be. This relationship would not be quiet. But Tony of course sees through bullshit, so when Steve had just glared at him, he clarified, "You and Barnes and Romanoff. You're all fucking, right?"

Thankfully, at that point, Pepper had stepped in, shoving Tony on the shoulder, "Don't be gross, Tony. Let people do what they want." She'd turned to Steve then. "I'm very happy the three of you are so close. Your work has definitely been something else this semester."

She of course had no idea that that 'something else' sprang from the fact that he finally got to touch Bucky Barnes and Natasha Romanoff both the exact way he had wanted to for a long, long time now. He got to so often that he wasn't sure how sunshine wasn't pouring straight out of his ears and eyes and every pore of his skin. God, he was happy.

"I told him to mind his own business," Steve says. Then he amends himself. "Or, I would have, had Pepper not come out and done that herself. But I didn't punch him in the face the way I wanted to." That gets both Bucky and Natasha to laugh, and the sound is basically every good thing that Steve can think of-- the crack of a baseball bat, the happy barks of a puppy, the way that thunder sounds when you know you can sleep in the next morning-- none of those meant anything next to the way Bucky and Natasha laughing in joy over something he said sounds. He smiles.

"I think he's probably just jealous," Bucky says with a smirk. Steve doesn't doubt him. He leans down and kisses him where he's sitting at the table. He moves to do the same to Natasha too.

"He probably is. But let him be. Let them all be."

"No one is going to be jealous if they don't know," Natasha points out. Steve just grins wide and bright before he plops down at the table and reaches for a handful of chips from the bowl they’re sharing.

"Let them be jealous of an idea then." Bucky rolls his eyes and so does Natasha, and she reaches over to squeeze his hand and then Steve's. Steve doesn't know what the hell to do with what he's feeling but keep grinning. He doesn't stop as he looks between the two of them. "Whatever they're thinking isn't as good as the real thing."

Natasha calls him a sap and pushes at his shoulder, but Steve knows he's right. He knows the three of them together is better than anything anyone can imagine, and he plans to revel in that as long as he can.

***

'As long as he can' turns out only to be a few more weeks. The three of them go out one Saturday night, and gossip of how they were all grinding with each other on the dance floor of Red Room spreads to the point where there’s no use in denying something is happening. Never one to back down from a challenge, Steve just makes sure that everyone sees he’s holding both Bucky’s and Natasha’s hand when they come with him to his spring art show. After that, everyone seems to know. The three of them don’t care. They have much better things to focus on and worry about: finals, going home, their senior year, and above everything else, each other.